News Brief: COVID-19 Deaths, Progress Report And Criticism
NOEL KING, HOST:
The number of deaths from COVID-19 and the number of cases of the virus in this country are still going up.
DAVID GREENE, HOST:
But the White House is telling us that there may be some hope here. At the coronavirus taskforce briefing late yesterday, Vice President Mike Pence said this.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: I want to say to the American people that we are beginning to see the glimmers of progress. The experts will tell me not to jump to any conclusions, and I'm not. But like your president, I'm an optimistic person, and I'm hopeful.
KING: NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce is on the line. Good morning, Nell.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what is the progress that Mike Pence is talking about there?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: So in the glimmers of hope category, I would put slightly lower hospitalizations and deaths reported in New York. You know, it's just one datapoint. You'd want to see more to see a trend, but it is something. Then White House task force member Deborah Birx said that in Italy and Spain, things were looking better after four weeks of very strong social distancing there. And then in Washington state, here in the United States, Washington is sending back about 400 ventilators back to the national stockpile. So all of those are sort of tentative good signs.
But again, there are developing hot spots that people are still worried about. So those include Louisiana, Michigan, Illinois. And in the United States so far, there have been over 300,000 cases and over 9,000 deaths. We know that some deaths are just not being recorded, as well. If people weren't tested, they might not be officially counted as dying from the virus.
KING: OK. So we don't know a real death toll is one of the problems.
Nell, the number that we had seen that had a lot of people worried is 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in this country, in total, because of the virus. Now, those numbers were based on scientific modeling. Are the models now saying anything different, anything more positive?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, last night at a briefing, Dr. Birx said that the numbers were still coming in around 100,000. But new numbers put out by an influential modeling group at the University of Washington suggest it could be lower, in fact, maybe much lower. They said that there had been this massive infusion of new data. And their predictions now say there's going to be less need than they had thought for hospital beds, ICUs, ventilators. And those new predictions also put the number of deaths lower. So you know, 50,000 to 136,000. Now, you know, that's still a huge number...
KING: Yeah. Right.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...But it's - you know, it's about half of what they were predicting before. So it's, again, another potentially positive sign. That said, models are constantly being adjusted and changed. You know, they're only as good as the data that goes into them. And as we know, there's still problems with testing in the United States. You know, in a lot of places, it's really only the very sick people who are being tested. So we don't have a full idea of the scope of the epidemic.
KING: And for this week, we should expect a rise in the number of cases, right?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah. We should expect to see a lot of coronavirus deaths. And supplies will continue to be a concern. So you know, the main ones are those N95 masks and ventilators. You know, but as you hear a lot about ventilators, just remember that ventilators are not - they're a last-resort kind of treatment. Most people who get put on ventilators don't survive. So take social distancing very seriously. It's still needed here.
KING: You know, in the briefing yesterday, President Trump, again, said this anti-malaria drug should be used to treat coronavirus. Now, every time he says that, some medical experts seem upset that he's saying it. What information is President Trump working from?
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, I think he, you know - there are anecdotal reports that it could be positive. But they haven't been rigorously tested. And there's no medicine proven to fight this virus.
KING: OK. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce. Thanks, Nell.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you.
KING: OK. In New York State, which is the epicenter of the virus right now, the number of COVID-19 deaths fell on Sunday.
GREENE: That's right. So yesterday, the state counted 594 new deaths. That was down from Saturday. But as Nell just told us, I mean, that's one day. It is not a trend yet. And Governor Cuomo said he expects the state's hospital system to reach a breaking point in the coming days.
KING: Elizabeth Kim is with us now. She's an editor and reporter with WNYC and Gothamist in New York City. Good morning, Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH KIM: Good morning.
KING: So what's the latest? What's happening in New York right now?
KIM: So as of Sunday, more than 4,000 people in the state have died from coronavirus. But the daily numbers have just been staggering. From Friday to Saturday, a total of 630 people died from this disease. But the scary thing is, we've not even reached the peak yet.
KING: But there are models - right? - that suggest we might have some idea of when New York will reach the peak. What are they saying?
KIM: So basically, the governor has said that that is very much the big question is, when are we going to reach the peak? The models they've been using have predicted a very broad range of estimates on this, anywhere from just several days from now to as long as three weeks.
KIM: But the governor did say that the drop in the one-day death toll could be an indication that the state has hit a plateau with cases. But like you said, it's just one day's worth of data. And it's still too soon to tell, which is why the governor is still scrambling to get as many ventilators, supplies and medical personnel as he can. What the state has now clearly isn't enough. And with the cases piling up very quickly, it's difficult for them to keep up with the demand for supplies and equipment.
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ANDREW CUOMO: We're literally going day to day with our supplies, with our staff, et cetera, which is counterintuitive and counteroperational for the entire health care system.
KING: That was Governor Andrew Cuomo, we should say. So how is he planning to get more equipment and more medical personnel?
KIM: So over the weekend, the state received some very good news in the form of a thousand ventilators that they were able to secure from China with the help of this Chinese e-commerce giant called Alibaba. And then on top of that, Oregon donated 140 ventilators to the state. The governor has also said that he would issue an executive order to seize the unused ventilators in the state. Many of them are in upstate hospitals, which haven't seen as severe an outbreak as the downstate region.
And finally, he's also done what other governors have done. He's pleaded with the federal government to send more ventilators, more protective equipment, more staffing. And then he's also started to reiterate this idea posed by the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, that the federal government should think about drafting health care workers to help states facing the highest number of coronavirus patients - basically, a kind of national deployment of doctors, nurses and other types of medical workers.
KING: That would be an interesting development. Elizabeth Kim of WNYC and Gothamist in New York. Thanks.
KIM: Thank you.
KING: All right. So Governor Cuomo, of course, has been criticizing the federal government for not helping New York state enough.
GREENE: That's right. And it's not just him, Noel, I mean, other governors say that the federal government is not helping their states get medical supplies like ventilators. This is Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaking on CNN yesterday.
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JB PRITZKER: Well, the president does not understand the word federal - Federal Emergency Management Agency. We have a state emergency management agency. But if he were right, why would we ever need a Federal Emergency Management Agency?
GREENE: Now, at a coronavirus briefing later in the day at the White House, President Trump said Governor Pritzker, quote, "had not performed well."
KING: NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us. Good morning, Mara.
MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Good morning.
KING: So what has been happening, this dynamic between state governors and the president?
LIASSON: There is a real disconnect between the narrative that the president delivers from the briefing room - that states are getting everything they need from the federal government, that some states are asking for more than they need from the federal government; some governors are not appreciative enough of what they're getting - and then, as you just heard, governors, Republicans and Democrats, saying that there is not a good enough federal coordinating effort to make sure that states can purchase and obtain the medical equipment they need. Yesterday at the briefing, the president only criticized one governor by name, and that was Pritzker. Clearly reacting to his comments on that Sunday show, he said I hear him complaining.
KING: A few minutes ago, we heard that tape of Mike Pence talking about glimmers of hope. Now, Nell explained the science behind that. Is President Trump saying the same thing, that there's hope?
LIASSON: Yes. The White House is delivering a two-track message. On the one hand, they're bracing the country for a very bad week. The surgeon general said this week is going to be our Pearl Harbor, our 9/11. But then you hear them saying there are glimmers of hope. There's, quote, "light at the end of the tunnel." Dr. Fauci explained why that's actually not contradictory because there's a lag between new case and death numbers.
So right now, you could see the number of deaths spiking up. But if the number of new cases is lower each day, if the number of deaths is lower each day than the day before, that's a sign that the pandemic could be peaking. Administration officials say that's what they seem to be seeing in Spain and Italy. It's kind of - it's always darkest just before dawn.
LIASSON: So they're trying to tell the American people, don't give up on social distancing, but don't despair.
KING: And when we think about how quickly all of this has happened, one thing that is notable is that there is supposed to be a primary in the state of Wisconsin tomorrow. Now, this was, of course, scheduled before the pandemic. But it has turned into a fight over how people in Wisconsin should be allowed to vote. Right?
LIASSON: Right. It's a primary, but it's also a bunch of local elections. The Democratic governor of Wisconsin wanted to delay the primary, as other governors, including Republicans, have done. But in Wisconsin, that would take an act of the legislature. Republicans control the Wisconsin legislature, and they didn't want that to happen.
So this is a huge battle. It's not just in Wisconsin; it's also on the federal level. Democrats wanted more money in the aid bill to help states set up vote-by-mail, but Republicans are against voting by mail. They feel anything that increases overall turnout is something that would help Democrats and hurt them because there are more potential Democratic voters out there than Republicans. Even the president said if you agree to what the Democrats want on ballot access, you'd, quote, "never have a Republican elected in the country again."
KING: NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson. Mara, thanks so much.
LIASSON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.