Doctors Say Hospitals Are Stopping Them From Wearing Masks Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

Neilly Buckalew is a traveling doctor who fills in at hospitals when there’s need. So in the midst of this pandemic, she feels particularly vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus — not just in hospitals but in hotels and on her travels.

When she got an assignment last week at Saint Alphonsus Regional Rehabilitation Hospital in Boise, Idaho, she packed her own personal protective equipment and drove to town. She disinfected her hotel room and stayed away from other guests, but worried about the coughing person in the room next door. So she donned her own fitted N95 mask that she uses for work.

“I wanted to protect myself,” she said. “I wanted to protect my patients.”

That first day at work, Buckalew said, she was told to take off her mask.

When she asked hospital administrators why, the reasons kept changing. First, Buckalew said she was told it was against hospital policy for health care workers to bring their own gear. Then, she said, administrators told her if she wore her own N95 mask, others would want to wear the masks as well and the hospital didn’t have enough. Finally, Buckalew said, it was that CDC guidelines don’t require the mask at all times.

“I said if I can’t wear it, then we have a problem,” she said.

Refusing to take off her mask, she said, got her terminated. Then, she said, after complaining she was reinstated and then terminated again — all within three days.

“I’m raising a huge big stink because it’s wrong. It’s unsafe. We’ll never flatten the curve if hospital systems keep acting this way,” she said, adding that she’s speaking now because she’s already lost her assignment and wanted to speak on behalf of those who can’t. “A lot of people can’t speak out because they’re afraid, or they know that they’ll be fired.”

The rehabilitation hospital is a joint venture by the Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center and Encompass Health. A spokesman at the medical center referred NPR to Encompass Health. Repeated calls to Encompass Health for comment were not returned. Buckalew said she filed a formal complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Buckalew’s account lays bare tensions between some hospital systems and health care workers on the front lines of this disease. Many doctors, nurses and other hospital workers say they don’t feel protected and are afraid in the midst of a shortage of masks and other protective gear. Some are bringing their own supplies, donated by friends and family or purchased at hardware stores. Meanwhile, some hospitals are instituting strict policies that bar medical workers from bringing their own personal protective equipment, or PPE, to work, or limiting how much protection a person can wear because of a shortage in supplies.

Leaders at the American Academy of Emergency Medicine says they have heard accounts like Buckalew’s from health care workers across the country.

“We’re hearing a lot of people saying that ‘I’m not getting adequate PPE at my job, so I was able to buy PPE and I’m using what I buy,'” said Dr. Lisa Moreno, the president-elect of AAEM.

But when they wear it to work, she says, doctors have told her, “‘I’m being yelled at. I’m being told to take it off. I’m being told that I’m scaring patients and that I’m scaring other people.’ We’ve had people who had their jobs threatened.”

Moreno said about two dozen people have formally complained to her organization. She said they’ve also received hundreds of calls from health care workers who are afraid to lose their jobs if they complain, but also feel that hospitals aren’t letting them do what they need to do to protect themselves against an infectious and new virus. A virus that causes a disease that has killed dozens of health care workers in Italy and already taken the lives of at least two health care workers at the epicenter of the spread in the New York City metro area.

“It seems that the hospital administrations are reacting to the fact that they are failing to provide adequate PPE for their staff,” Moreno said. “And when one individual provides adequate PPE, it seems to highlight that fact to the other staff who haven’t been able to purchase it.”

These types of masks are very hard to come by. A quick search at Home Depot shows pretty much every type of protective mask is out of stock. And everyone from federal and local officials to hospital administrators are struggling to get their hands on as much personal protective equipment as they can in the midst of this pandemic.

So Moreno says it’s vital that health care workers are allowed to do what they feel they need to, to feel safe. Because if they get infected, not only could they get very ill or give it to patients, but there would be fewer skilled health care workers to treat sick patients.

She said she’s also received complaints that hospital administrators are telling health care workers how much personal protective gear they can wear at work and when. Some doctors and nurses who want to wear their N95 masks at all times are being told no, she said, adding that one doctor told her that he needs to be extra-careful because his son has cancer.

Then there are cases like Henry Nikicicz in El Paso, Texas. He’s an anesthesiologist, so he does intubations on patients. He’s 60, has asthma and is particularly vulnerable to upper respiratory infections.

Two weeks ago, he was intubating a patient for respiratory distress on his overnight shift at the University Medical Center of El Paso. He walked into the hallway and saw people gathered in a group, so he slipped on his hospital-issued N95 mask.

The next day, a hospital supervisor told him he wasn’t allowed to wear the N95 mask when he wasn’t in the operating room or treating a patient with an infectious disease, because they are costly and in short supply. Nikicicz was also told he was scaring the patients. The supervisor texted him that he could get a “regular mask” if he felt he needed one.

When Nikicicz responded that he is susceptible to upper respiratory infections, the supervisor’s texts appeared to get more aggressive. He referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus,” a term that many say is not only inaccurate, but also stokes xenophobia. He texted in all capital letters that Nikicicz was the only one in the entire hospital wearing an N95 mask and that he would not be able to get one when the “real virus” comes in. Nikicicz texted back: “The real virus is here already.”

Nikicicz is an independent contractor who works with the placement company Somnia Anesthesia. He said he got a call from the company asking for his side of the story. He was told hospital administrators had complained. After that, Nikicicz said he was told not to go into work on Monday.

“I protect myself and protect the environment in case I am infected. In a situation like this, when we have social distancing, wearing a mask is one of the basic ways of stopping the spread of the virus,” Nikicicz said. “And I really feel that injustice was done to me because of the fact that the right thing to do is to wear a mask. To punish me for wearing a mask is something that I really feel is wrong.”

The University Medical Center of El Paso said in a statement that Nikicicz was removed from the schedule by Somnia Anesthesia for “insubordination.”

“The anesthesiologist was told on numerous occasions by his supervisor to not wear the N95 surgical mask while not in the Operating Room area or while not treating patients with infectious disease,” the statement said. “UMC is not unlike other hospitals in its efforts to conserve N95 surgical masks, especially when it comes to wearing them when not in the surgical/OR area. At the time of these incidents, the CDC did not require masks (and certainly not N95 masks) to be used by hospital staff when not treating patients or while in surgical/OR areas. Beyond this, we view this as a personnel matter between Somnia Anesthesia and its contracted anesthesiologist. “

Hours after NPR reached out to the hospital, Nikicicz was put back on the schedule.

Marc Koch, president and CEO of Somnia Anesthesia, said that Nikicicz was not removed for insubordination. Koch said he was briefly taken off rotation because elective surgeries are canceled and hundreds of contract workers are being laid off.

“To be frank, I was trying to reach out to him to try to get him to come back. At no point was he terminated,” Koch said. “He didn’t listen to his chief, yes he was not listening. But what we were trying to do was see our way through that and help him and reconcile that issue.”

Koch said protecting doctors has been his number one goal, even securing N95 masks to supply to hospitals that couldn’t find any.

“The clinicians want to be safe. They want to meet or exceed the CDC guidelines,” Koch said. “And the hospitals fear a run on supplies and [causing] patient anxiety.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Census Field Operations Further Delayed Until April 15 By COVID-19 Pandemic Saturday, Mar 28 2020 

While tens of millions of U.S. households continue to fill out 2020 census forms on their own, the coronavirus pandemic is forcing the Census Bureau to suspend field operations for the once-a-decade head count for two more weeks until April 15.

The bureau announced the change Saturday, more than a week after it said it was waiting until April 1 to resume hiring door knockers who are expected to visit unresponsive households later this year, as well as in-person counting in remote communities in Alaska, Maine and some American Indian tribal territories. The latest schedule change also pushes back when workers will continue leaving paper forms outside of homes in some rural communities, as well as in Puerto Rico and other areas recovering from natural disasters.

“The Census Bureau is taking this step to help protect the health and safety of the American public, Census Bureau employees, and everyone who will go through the hiring process for temporary census taker positions,” the bureau said in a statement.

The timeline shift is the latest in a series of changes the bureau has made to salvage plans for the constitutionally mandated count of every person living in the U.S. The numbers are used to redistribute political representation and an estimated $1.5 trillion a year in federal funding for Medicare, Medicaid and other public services to local communities for the next decade.

Last week, the bureau announced it was reducing the number of on-site workers at its facilities in Jeffersonville, Ind., that process paper questionnaires.

NPR has learned an employee at the site has tested positive for COVID-19. The bureau found out about the diagnosis on Friday, and the employee, who is now in quarantine, has not been at the facilities since March 17, Michael Cook, a spokesperson for the bureau, confirmed.

“We strongly encourage all employees to practice ‘social distancing’ to slow the spread of this coronavirus,” the bureau said in a message distributed to employees at the agency’s National Processing Center.

The building where the employee worked in Jeffersonville — which is located across the river from Louisville, Ky. — will receive a “deep cleaning,” according to the message, and employees have been advised not to enter it “until further notice.” Cook says “out of an abundance of caution,” the bureau canceled overtime work in Jeffersonville that was scheduled this weekend for the 2020 census.

Still, the agency is continuing to urge households to submit their legally required responses on their own now at my2020census.gov, over the phone or by paper form if they receive one. Reminder postcards from the bureau started arriving in the mail this week for households that are expected to self-respond to the census but have not done so yet.

As of Saturday, close to a third of those households nationwide have completed a form, according to the latest data released by the bureau.

Some census advocates worry, however, about lower response rates in some communities with greater shares of historically undercounted groups, including people of color and immigrants. The coronavirus outbreak has forced many community organizations to abandon in-person outreach plans and rely more on texting, phone banking and online videos (including one by New York City’s 2020 census campaign that features rap artist Cardi B) to encourage people to participate in the count.

As the pandemic continues, Cook says the bureau is continuing to monitor conditions for workers at its facility in Phoenix that also processes paper census forms, as well as at more than 200 local census offices, 10 call centers and six regional centers around the country.

Earlier this month, the bureau learned that a recently-hired census field supervisor in Iowa tested positive for the coronavirus.

Cook says suspending overtime work this weekend in Jeffersonville because of the latest COVID-19 case does not “negatively impact” the bureau’s ability to process the 30 million paper questionnaires it has been preparing to collect.

“We have procedures and processes in place to ensure that the work of the 2020 census continues,” Cook says, noting that the bureau is still “on target” to meet the Dec. 31 deadline to deliver to the president the latest state population counts that are used to determine each state’s share of congressional seats and Electoral College votes through 2030.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

President Trump Signs $2 Trillion Coronavirus Rescue Package Into Law Friday, Mar 27 2020 

Updated at 4:50 p.m. ET

President Trump has signed a historic $2 trillion economic recovery package into law Friday afternoon, shortly after the House of Representatives approved the bill.

In an Oval Office ceremony Friday, the president thanked Republicans and Democrats “for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first” to pass the legislation. Trump was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy. No Democrats were present at the signing.

The package will offer relief to state and local governments, individuals, small and large businesses, and hospitals affected by the coronavirus crisis.

The bipartisan legislation, known as the CARES Act, is the third aid package from Congress this month to address the growing pandemic.

This relief package includes direct payments to Americans, an aggressive expansion of unemployment insurance and billions in business loans and aid to hospitals.

The legislation passed by voice vote, which allows the House to approve a bill without requiring members to individually cast a vote. The move quashed an effort from Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., to require members to appear in person and each cast an individually recorded vote.

Leaders wanted to avoid a recorded vote because some members were self-quarantining or had concerns about risking exposure to the virus by traveling from their districts. Instead, leaders encouraged those who were at risk to stay home and post statements or videos on their position on the bill.

Massie’s Thursday push prompted many members to fly back to Washington, despite social distancing efforts, and threatened to drag on debate.

In addition to contradicting House leadership, Massie’s move drew the ire of President Trump, who on Friday slammed the congressman in several tweets, saying he should be kicked out of the Republican Party.

Later, Texas GOP Rep. Chip Roy tweeted that Trump should “back off” and that Massie was doing his constitutional duty in his plans to ask for a quorum.

“An emergency”

The House vote comes a day after the U.S. overtook China to lead the world in the number of coronavirus cases; the U.S. had more than 90,000 as of midday Friday, and more than 1,300 have died, according to John Hopkins University.

“This is an emergency, a challenge to the conscience as well as the budget of our country, and every dollar that we spend is an investment in the lives and the livelihood of the American people,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters a day earlier on Thursday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also lauded the plan.

“This is not another day in Congress; this is a time when we have to come together to deliver results,” McCarthy, R-Calif., said.

The Senate approved the bill late Wednesday in a vote of 96-0, capping days of tough negotiations. The four senators who were not present for the vote were all self-quarantining in connection with coronavirus concerns or other illness.

Social distancing in the House

In the House, four members have tested positive for the illness and more than a dozen others remain in quarantine.

As a result, House lawmakers had hoped to approve the measure on Friday with a smaller share of its more than 430 members and by a quick voice vote — a tall order for the chamber.

Massie’s plans to call for a recorded vote would have prevented that.

Already, the House is operating under new social distancing requirements. Members were asked to use hand sanitizer and enter separately through different doors.

“The floor will look different,” McCarthy said. “Those who are managing the bill will be further away. Members can’t sit next to each other.”

And for the first time, C-SPAN reserved airtime to post videos from lawmakers sharing support or opposition to the bill. The move came following a request from House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

What’s in the bill

The bill marks the largest rescue package in American history and a major bipartisan victory for Congress. In the recent days, it was the result of arduous negotiations between Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had introduced legislation last week, setting off a new wave of talks with Schumer, Mnuchin, Pelosi and McCarthy.

Trump had previously urged quick House approval for the plan and, on Thursday, congratulated the Senate for its efforts.

“I’m profoundly grateful that both parties came together to provide relief for American workers and families in this hour of need,” Trump told reporters Thursday evening.

Among the key provisions in the bill:

  • The plan includes $300 billion in direct payments to Americans of $1,200 or less, per person, depending on income level. Families could also receive payments of $500 per child.
  • It also includes $260 billion to aggressively scale up the unemployment insurance program, expanding coverage to four months and raise the weekly benefit by $600. It would also cover nontraditional workers, including the self-employed, freelancers and those working in the gig economy.
  • Another large share of the measure includes an estimated $500 billion in loans and other money for major industries, such as airlines. That provision comes with strings attached, banning use of the the funds toward stock buybacks, CEO pay boosts and other requirements.
  • It also provides $100 billion to hospitals responding to the coronavirus to boost equipment and treatment.

“We need more”

Now that the House has approved the measure, it will join the Senate in an extended recess as a result of the pandemic. But some lawmakers say their work is not done, and they’ll now weigh the potential for a fourth rescue bill.

Democrats have been clear that new legislation is needed, but Republicans have been less committal.

“This was a big, strong step, but we need more,” Pelosi said Thursday, later adding, “There are so many things we didn’t get in any of these bills yet in the way that we need to.”

Pelosi said the next phase should involve negotiations among the “four corners,” that is herself, McCarthy, Schumer and McConnell.

She said the House could take the lead, and the next wave of legislation should focus on worker protections, medical leave, pensions, food security and additional funding for state and local governments. For example, Washington, D.C., was not treated as a state in the latest coronavirus relief bill and will lose millions as a result.

However, McCarthy and other Republicans say they want to wait.

“I wouldn’t be so quick to say you have to write something else,” McCarthy said. “Let’s let this bill work, just as long as we let the other two bills work as well. Whatever decision we have to make going forward, let’s do it with knowledge, let’s do with experience of what’s on the ground at that moment in time.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Amazon Closes Kentucky Warehouse After Workers Test Positive Thursday, Mar 26 2020 

Amazon has closed a warehouse in Shepherdsville, Ky., until April 1, after several workers there tested positive for the coronavirus — the first prolonged closure of a facility confirmed by the company.

Workers in at least 10 other warehouses across the country have tested positive for COVID-19, prompting shorter temporary closures for sanitation and cleaning.

“At the order of the Governor the [Kentucky] site is closed until April 1st,” an Amazon spokeswoman told NPR in an email Thursday. “We will continue to work closely with health department and the Governor to reopen the site.”

The retail giant, which employs some 800,000 workers globally, has not confirmed a total number of its warehouse or delivery staff who have tested positive with COVID-19. Workers and local news reports have flagged positive cases in two facilities in New York as well as in California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas.

Earlier this week, Amazon told NPR that it was working with health authorities and medical experts to decide how to handle building closures for deep cleaning. This was said to include assessments of where the employee was in the building, for how long and how long ago, among other things.

The company has also highlighted its stepped-up “frequency and intensity of cleaning” and other changes meant to keep workers at a distance, like getting rid of stand-up meetings and staggering shift and break times.

Still, workers across the U.S. have been calling for Amazon to do more to protect staff who are being asked to keep turning up to work while much of the country is asked to isolate.

Amazon has promised two weeks of paid leave for workers who test positive for COVID-19 or who are asked by health or corporate officials to quarantine at home. However, Amazon’s employees — speaking on social media and in press conferences organized by worker groups — say they feel exposed every time they go to work. And they say they can’t afford to take unpaid leave but also struggle to receive pay without official testing results, which are hard to access across the country.

Hundreds of Amazon workers have signed a petition calling on the company to expand access to paid leave to staff who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, regardless of a diagnosis, among other things. A group of 15 attorneys general on Wednesday called on Amazon to “adopt a more generous paid leave policy.”

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote last week that the company has ordered “millions of face masks” for employees and contractors, but “very few of those orders have been filled.”

“This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress and uncertainty,” wrote Bezos, who’s the world’s richest person. “It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is its most critical. “

Amazon is planning to hire 100,000 new temporary warehouse and delivery workers in an attempt to keep up with the surging demand from Americans turning to online shopping during the coronavirus quarantines.

The company has also said it would temporarily raise its pay through April, by $2 per hour in the U.S. and similar amounts in the United Kingdom and Europe.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Trump Stresses Need To Reopen America While Continuing To Fight The Coronavirus Monday, Mar 23 2020 

Updated at 8:03 p.m. ET

President Trump stressed what he called the need to re-open America for business on Monday even as he said the government also would continue tackling the spiraling coronavirus pandemic.

The White House’s team will make an assessment after next week as to how effective social distancing and other mitigation measures have been in stifling the spread of the virus, said Vice President Mike Pence.

It’s possible at that time that Washington could lift some of the restrictions that have paralyzed the economy, Trump and Pence suggested, but they offered no guarantees and the details weren’t clear.

Trump said he didn’t know when life would get back to normal but it would be “a lot sooner than three or four months,” and he didn’t want the pandemic to disrupt the nation so badly that today’s economic foundering curdles into a depression.

“We’re not going to let the cure be worse than the problem,” Trump said.

Trump has come under pressure to at least give a date by which life might start to get back to normal. The isolation, quarantines and closures imposed to slow the spread of the coronavirus have crippled many sectors of the economy.

The nation is 8 days into this 15-day period, Pence said: “We’re doing this.”

It wasn’t clear precisely what assessment, or by whom, would take place at the end of the period and what metrics would be involved with deciding about preserving social distancing and other mitigation measures — or relaxing them.

Dr. Deborah Birx, a leader on the White House’s coronavirus response task force, said only two countries have climbed to the peak of infection curves and then subsided: China and South Korea.

Those were 8 to 10-week curves, she said.

Infections in other nations, including the U.S., are still climbing. And compounding the problem in monitoring the virus within the United States is that it was introduced in different places at different times, Birx said.

Washington state, she said, is about two weeks ahead of New York State. So notwithstanding Trump’s optimism about a quick return to normalcy, Birx’s description suggested that different parts of the country would continue to climb through their infection curves at different rates, requiring different responses.

Trump, all the while, sought to talk up what he said would be the quick return to business as usual, which he said would “not take months.”

The president described his vision for a coming period of weeks in which America might both try to get back to work but also continue to fight the virus: “We’re going to come up with a date,” he said.

Continued Trump: “We can do two things, three things, at once. We can do that and we can have an open country, an open economy.”

Congressional logjam

Meanwhile, members of Congress and President Trump are grappling over the practical politics associated with passage of a new relief and stimulus package.

Congress wants to try to ease the economic shock afflicting the United States as Americans stay home and avoid large groups — with grievous consequences for restaurants, brick-and-mortar businesses and travel.

The latest legislation has failed two procedural votes since Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., attempted to bring it in for a landing over the weekend.

Democrats are continuing to negotiate with majority Republicans, but they say they’ll only agree to something they say does more to help what they call individual cases, as opposed to offering the most support to airlines or other big players.

Trump didn’t have an update on Monday but he said he hoped lawmakers could reach a breakthrough.

“They have to get together and stop with the partisan politics,” he said.

Infection spares young, punishes older patients

Birx said on Monday that the latest mortality data she has seen from Europe affirms the perception that the coronavirus is toughest on the oldest and sickest.

The older the patient and the more preexisting conditions she or he has, the likelier a fatal infection becomes, Birx said.

That doesn’t mean that younger people can’t become seriously ill, she said — and authorities also warn that people can carry and transmit the virus without necessarily becoming very sick.

All the same, no child in Europe under 15 has died, Birx said. And officials are aware of only one case — in China — in which someone aged 14 died from the infection.

“That should be reassuring to the moms and dads out there,” she said.

Guard deployments

In three heavily afflicted states — New York, California and Washington — governors and their aides are getting access to National Guard troops and resources via the Federal Emergency Management Agency following an order on Sunday by Trump.

Air Force Gen. Joseph L. Lengyel, head of the National Guard Bureau, told NPR on Monday that around 8,000 National Guard personnel already are deployed around the country.

The Guard can support emergency operations for months, he said, in whatever range of ways the nation needs.

“Because we bring trained units and leaders and people who can take on really any task you need people to do — some people, for instance, in California, they’re managing food banks,” Lengyel said. “Arizona recently started using some National Guard members to stock shelves.”

And in countless other places, Americans, medical workers and elected leaders are coming to terms with a continued increase in new coronavirus cases, which topped 40,000 on Monday — up from just over 6,000 a week before. Around 500 people have died.

Millions of people could be out of work. Children across the country are home from school as states and districts cancel classes for weeks or more.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said on Monday that he was ordering schools in the commonwealth not to reconvene for this academic year and also ordered business such as gyms and theaters to close.

Officials also have warned that as the government closes the gap between its testing capacity and what officials call the valid cases in which people want tests, the results could show a disturbing expansion of the virus around the country.

“This is going to be bad and we’re trying to make it so that it’s much, much less bad,” Trump said at the White House news conference.

Crackdown on scammers, hoarders

Attorney General Bill Barr said on Monday that the Justice Department would crack down on people hoarding medical equipment or supplies as authorities discovered them.

Each of the department’s 93 U.S. Attorney’s Offices is appointing an official who’ll be charged with prosecuting hoarding or other such cases, Barr said.

The Justice Department also has said it’s targeting scammers taking advantage of the crisis, including those offering a “vaccine” for sale — as yet there is no vaccine available for coronavirus patients.

Praise for the Fed

Trump said he called Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell on Monday and praised his actions in response to the pandemic.

The Fed has cut the costs of borrowing to zero and Powell has vowed that the central bank will buy as many Treasury securities as necessary to support the economy.

Trump has faulted Powell many times for what he called poor or sluggish management at the Fed, but on Monday the president said he called the Fed chairman and told him “You’ve done a really good job. I was proud of him. That took courage.”

First Lady tests negative for COVID-19

First Lady Melania Trump tested negative for the coronavirus, Trump revealed on Monday.

She did not appear at the press conference with the president and other officials on Monday but Trump said “she’s great — she’s fine.”

Trump’s news about the first lady confirmed that both the two of them and Vice President Pence and his wife, Karen, all have been tested and learned they have not been infected.

Trump drops “Chinese virus”

Trump did not call the disease “the Chinese virus” on Monday and said in his briefing and on Twitter that he worried about aggression toward Asian-Americans.

The president had continued to use the term “Chinese virus” in the face of questions and criticism, defending the phrase as a legitimate descriptor based on its origins in the Chinese province of Hubei.

On Monday, however, Trump changed his tune. At one point the president alluded to a virus that took the nation by surprise “from whereever” and he stressed that there was no link between Asian or Asian American people and the coronavirus.

“It seems like there could be a little bit of nasty language toward Asian Americans,” the president said, and he doesn’t like that. Trump said he wanted to include Asian Americans in what he has called the national campaign to fight the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Intelligence Chairman Raised Virus Alarms Weeks Ago, Secret Recording Shows Thursday, Mar 19 2020 

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee warned a small group of well-connected constituents three weeks ago to prepare for dire economic and societal effects of the coronavirus, according to a secret recording obtained by NPR.

The remarks from U.S. Sen. Richard Burr were more stark than any he had delivered in more public forums.

On Feb. 27, when the United States had 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19, President Trump was tamping down fears and suggesting that the virus could be seasonal.

“It’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle. It will disappear,” the president said then, before adding, “it could get worse before it gets better. It could maybe go away. We’ll see what happens.”

On that same day, Burr attended a luncheon held at a social club called the Capitol Hill Club. And he delivered a much more alarming message.

“There’s one thing that I can tell you about this: It is much more aggressive in its transmission than anything that we have seen in recent history,” he said, according to a secret recording of the remarks obtained by NPR. “It is probably more akin to the 1918 pandemic.”

The luncheon had been organized by the Tar Heel Circle, a nonpartisan group whose membership consists of businesses and organizations in North Carolina, the state Burr represents. Membership to join the Tar Heel Circle costs between $500 and $10,000 and promises that members “enjoy interaction with top leaders and staff from Congress, the administration, and the private sector,” according to the group’s website.

In attendance, according to a copy of the RSVP list obtained by NPR, were dozens of invited guests representing companies and organizations from North Carolina. And according to federal records, those companies or their political committees donated more than $100,000 to Burr’s election campaign in 2015 and 2016. (Burr announced previously he was not planning to run for reelection in 2022.)

The message Burr delivered to the group was dire.

Thirteen days before the State Department began to warn against travel to Europe, and 15 days before the Trump administration banned European travelers, Burr warned those in the room to reconsider.

“Every company should be cognizant of the fact that you may have to alter your travel. You may have to look at your employees and judge whether the trip they’re making to Europe is essential or whether it can be done on video conference. Why risk it?” Burr said.

Sixteen days before North Carolina closed its schools over the threat of the coronavirus, Burr warned it could happen.

“There will be, I’m sure, times that communities, probably some in North Carolina, have a transmission rate where they say, ‘Let’s close schools for two weeks. Everybody stay home,’ ” he said.

And Burr invoked the possibility that the military might be mobilized to combat the coronavirus. Only now, three weeks later, is the public learning of that prospect.

“We’re going to send a military hospital there; it’s going to be in tents and going to be set up on the ground somewhere,” Burr said at the luncheon. “It’s going to be a decision the president and DOD make. And we’re going to have medical professionals supplemented by local staff to treat the people that need treatment.”

Burr has a unique perspective on the government’s response to a pandemic, and not just because of his role as Intelligence Committee chairman. He helped to write the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act (PAHPA), which forms the framework for the federal response.

But in his public comments about the threat of COVID-19, Burr never offered the kind of precise warning that he delivered to the small group of his constituents.

On Feb. 7, Burr co-authored an op-ed that laid out the tools that the U.S. government had at its disposal to fight the coronavirus.

“Luckily, we have a framework in place that has put us in a better position than any other country to respond to a public health threat, like the coronavirus,” Burr said in a statement on March 5.

He pressed a CDC official in early March as to why the nation’s pandemic surveillance capabilities had fallen short despite the millions in funding he had helped secure for that purpose through PAHPA.

But despite his longtime interest in biohazard threats, his expertise on the subject, and his role as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Burr did not warn the public of the government actions he thought might become necessary, as he did at the luncheon on Feb. 27.

Burr’s office did not directly respond to a list of questions sent by NPR.

His spokesperson Caitlin Carroll provided a statement that stressed Burr’s decades-long interest in public health preparedness.

“Since early February, whether in constituent meetings or open hearings, he has worked to educate the public about the tools and resources our government has to confront the spread of coronavirus,” Carroll wrote. “At the same time, he has urged public officials to fully utilize every tool at their disposal in this effort. Every American should take this threat seriously and should follow the latest guidelines from the CDC and state officials.”

One public health expert told NPR that early warnings about a coming health crisis and its effects could have made a difference just a few weeks ago.

“In the interest of public health, we actually need to involve the public. It’s right there in the name. And being transparent, being as clear as possible is very important,” said Jason Silverstein, who lectures at the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School.

“The type of language that could have come out there at the end of February saying here’s what we ought to expect could have, you know, not panicked people, but gotten them all together to have to all prepare,” Silverstein added.

NPR’s Huo Jingnan, Barbara Van Woerkom and Meg Anderson contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Trump Shuts Border With Canada, Blames ‘Chinese Virus’ As Coronavirus Spreads Wednesday, Mar 18 2020 

Updated at 9:45 a.m. ET

The U.S.-Canada border — the longest undefended border in the world — will shut down “by mutual consent,” President Trump said on Wednesday, the latest in a long series of actions aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

The pandemic has shut down travel around the world. Trump made his announcement on Twitter. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had not yet made the same announcement, and details were not available.

Trump said he would have a news conference on Wednesday about “some very important news” from the Food and Drug Administration about the coronavirus — a pandemic he is increasingly referring to as “the Chinese Virus.”

Details about the announcement were not immediately available. The White House scheduled a briefing to provide an update on its response at 11:30 a.m. ET. Watch it live here.


Trump has pivoted to using the term “Chinese virus” to describe the pandemic in tweets and statements. For example, on Tuesday he used the term in a meeting with CEOs from the hotel industry — a sector ravaged by the pandemic.

The outbreak has disrupted the economy, as people work from home to avoid contact and to look after kids shut out of schools. Travel and entertainment sectors have ground to a halt. Experts have said the worst is yet to come as the number of infected people grows.

Asked on Tuesday whether he would continue using the term “Chinese virus,” Trump rejected criticism that he was creating a stigma and said he was hitting back at China for statements about the U.S. military.

“China was putting out information, which was false, that our military gave this to them. That was false. And rather than having an argument, I said I have to call it where it came from — it did come from China. So I think it’s a very accurate term,” he said.

Trump also is scheduled to talk to doctors, nurses and business executives on Wednesday about how his administration is responding to the coronavirus pandemic that continues to spread across the country, paralyzing the economy.

The White House is scrambling to help states and cities ramp up testing sites and bolster hospitals expecting to see a surge in patients with the respiratory illness caused by the virus. The task force leading the response plans to meet on Wednesday with academic experts who have modeled the spread of the disease. Trump will hold calls with a group of physicians and a group of nurses.

Separately, Trump will talk to airline CEOs, the second time this month he has talked to an industry that has seen its traffic grind to a halt as people stay home. The industry says the pandemic has had a more deleterious effect on business than the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has sought a government bailout.

“We don’t want airlines going out of business. We don’t want people losing their jobs,” Trump said at a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re going big.”

Trump also was set to join a conference call with the Business Roundtable, CEOs from the country’s largest companies.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is asking Congress for $45.8 billion in emergency money that includes resources for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, funding for states’ public health needs, and research resources at the National Institutes of Health. The request comes as the Senate is expected to vote Wednesday on a separate House-approved package that provides economic relief to those affected and resources for testing.

The White House is also pitching Congress on an economic rescue package worth about $1 trillion. That’s 45% more than federal defense spending in 2019, and would eclipse the former Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus package of $787 billion.

NPR’s Claudia Grisales contributed to this story.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

WATCH LIVE: White House To Give Update On Coronavirus Plans And Tests Monday, Mar 16 2020 

Updated at 3 p.m. ET

The White House is slated to give its latest update on what it’s doing to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus at 3:15 p.m. ET on Monday. The briefing had originally been set for 10:30 a.m. ET, but the White House announced it would be held later in the day.

Watch live here when it begins.

The briefing comes as the government rushes to ramp up testing for the virus, starting with health care workers, first responders and people 65 and older with respiratory symptoms and fevers above 99.6 degrees.

Public health officials have said they expect a surge in cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected to issue new recommendations about social distancing on Monday.

States, cities, businesses and organizations have already taken unprecedented actions to keep people from congregating. Many schools are closed. New York City’s mayor on Sunday night said bars and restaurants would be limited to takeout and delivery to try to slow the spread of the virus; Maryland’s governor made a similar announcement on Monday.

“The worst is yet ahead for us,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, at a White House briefing on Sunday. “It is how we respond to that challenge that’s going to determine what the ultimate endpoint is going to be. We have a very, very critical point now.”

President Trump had a call about the pandemic on Monday with the leaders of the G-7 nations. In a joint statement released by the White House, they agreed to work together to accelerate and coordinate on the global response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Health ministers and finance ministers will have a weekly call to coordinate actions, the leaders said.

Trump also spoke to the nation’s governors. Afterward, in a tweet, he singled out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, for criticism, saying he needs to “do more.”

New York is one of the states hit hardest by the coronavirus. Cuomo has ordered schools closed in the state, and along with the governors of New Jersey and Connecticut, ordered casinos, gyms and movie theaters to close.

Concerns over the outbreak also prompted the U.S. Supreme Court to announce that it was postponing oral arguments scheduled March 23-25 and March 30-April 1. Among the cases the court was scheduled to hear was one involving President Trump’s financial records.

According to the court’s statement, it’s the first time the court has delayed arguments for a public health issue since the Spanish flu epidemic in 1918, when it postponed October arguments. Prior to that, the court shortened its argument calendars in August 1793 and August 1798 in response to yellow fever outbreak.

Late Sunday, the CDC recommended that gatherings of 50 or more people be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. This includes conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events and weddings.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

WATCH LIVE: President Trump’s Coronavirus Press Conference Friday, Mar 13 2020 

President Trump is set to hold a press conference on the ongoing response to the coronavirus crisis. Watch the press conference live at 3:00 PM ET.

Trump Suspends All Travel From Europe For 30 Days To Combat COVID-19 Thursday, Mar 12 2020 

Updated at 12:34 a.m. ET Thursday

President Trump announced a 30-day ban on travel from European countries to the United States, beginning on Friday at midnight, in a bid “to keep new cases” of coronavirus “from entering our shores.” The restrictions, he said late Wednesday, do not apply to travelers from the United Kingdom.

Homeland Security officials said the travel restrictions would only apply to foreign nationals, not American citizens or legal permanent residents, who have been in the Schengen region, 26 countries in Europe with open borders agreements, in the last 14 days. After Trump’s announcement, the State Department issued an advisory informing U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel abroad” as a result of outbreaks around the globe.

Trump also announced economic measures that he said would help the country overcome “temporary economic disruptions” caused by the disease.

The president’s primetime remarks Wednesday cap a concerted effort by the White House to calm a public made jittery by the rapid global spread of the disease and the concomitant economic turmoil. Indeed, globally, the number of cases of coronavirus has exceeded 125,000, with more than 1,000 of those reported in the United States, where the outbreak is expected to get worse.

Trump’s address followed a Wednesday announcement by the World Health Organization, which classified the outbreak a pandemic. In Washington, lawmakers scrambled to find ways to contain the economic fallout of the fast-spreading virus.

“This is the most aggressive and comprehensive effort to confront a foreign virus in modern history,” Trump said Wednesday night.

“I am confident that by counting and continuing to take these tough measures, we will significantly reduce the threat to our citizens and we will ultimately and expeditiously defeat this virus,” he added.

Trump explained the travel restrictions will be adjusted “subject to conditions on the ground.”

Global health experts expressed skepticism to NPR over the Trump administration’s travel restrictions, saying the move is not likely to hasten the containment of the virus.

“The president, counter to nearly all expert opinion, continues to treat the smaller number of known cases here (due to inadequate testing) as if it means we actually have a small number of cases and need to focus on keeping cases out,” said Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard University. “Now we should be racing to mitigate spread in the U.S., not wasting resources on keeping cases out.”

Jennifer Nuzzo, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security, was equally as dubious.

“We have limited resources and need to stay focused on liming domestic spread,” Nuzzo said, cautioning that if the restrictions will require additional screening and monitoring of foreign nationals entering the U.S. then “this will undoubtedly divert resources from protecting vulnerable populations, like the elderly and individuals with underlying health issues.”

Lawrence Gostin, a global health law professor at Georgetown University, put his assessment more bluntly: “It may have political value but [it] has zero public health value.”

Gostin continued: “Most of Europe has the same or fewer cases than the U.S. Restricting travel certainly won’t make America safer.”

Parts of Europe have been hard hit by the virus.

Italy, which is grappling with the worse outbreak outside of China, has had more than 10,000 reported cases and a death toll exceeding 600. The country has instituted a sweeping lockdown and most commercial activity has stopped.

Trump’s speech generated immediate confusion about exactly who and what would be affected by the travel ban.

During his address, the president said that the prohibitions would apply to trade and cargo from Europe, but a White House official subsequently clarified that the new ban applies only to travelers — not goods and cargo.

Trump attempted to assuage concerns that fears about the virus were spreading to the stock market, which has been battered in recent weeks. On Wednesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 5.9%. The slide moved the market decline from a correction to a bear market, which traders usually define as a drop of 20% or more from a recent high point. It marks the first time since the 2008 financial crisis that the Dow dipped into bear market territory.

“This is not a financial crisis,” Trump said. “This is just a temporary moment of time that we will overcome together as a nation and as a world.”

In an attempt to ease the financial strain on working Americans and small businesses, the president offered a handful of proposals he said would be presented to Congress in the coming days. These include a $50 billion program to provide low-interest loans to small businesses affected by the coronavirus.

“Using emergency authority, I will be instructing the Treasury Department to defer tax payments without interests or penalties for certain individuals and businesses negatively impacted,” he added.

That step, he said, would provide more $200 billion of additional liquidity to the economy.

Trump also said he would take emergency action to provide financial relief to people who need to stay home because they are sick, quarantined, or caring for others. There were no details immediately available on that measure.

As the coronavirus increasingly disrupts daily American life — from school cancellations to companies pushing employees to work from home to cities banning large public gatherings — the Trump administration and Congress were rushing to unveil countermeasures.

Trump said this week proposed payroll tax relief for hourly wage workers to shore up the economy, but faced stiff resistance from congressional Democrats, who argue that a payroll tax break would help the wealthiest Americans the most. Democrats are pushing paid sick leave, expanded unemployment assistance and food assistance.

At a meeting on Wednesday with bankers about how the outbreak is affecting the financial sector, Trump, who has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, suggested that the U.S. was blinded by how rapidly the virus is spreading.

“We’re having to fix a problem that four weeks ago nobody thought would be a problem,” Trump said.

Whatever shape the economic response takes, the nation’s top infectious disease experts are cautioning that the number of cases and fatalities linked to the coronavirus in the U.S. are expected to keep rising.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said federal officials are working to stay ahead of the virus, but efforts have been complicated by the number of infected people entering the country after visiting other parts of the world.

“I can say we will see more cases, and things will get worse than they are right now,” Fauci told the House Oversight and Reform Committee on Wednesday.

While more than 80% of confirmed coronavirus cases are mild and the risk remains low for those who are young and healthy, Fauci emphasized just how dangerous the coronavirus can be for the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions.

The seasonal flu, Fauci said, has a mortality rate of about 0.1%, compared with the coronavirus fatality rate, which is around 1% when all available data are analyzed.

In other words, Fauci said: “It is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu.”

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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