News Brief: Trump Immigration Tweet, COVID-19 Testing, Oil Prices

Apr 21, 2020
Originally published on April 21, 2020 8:20 am
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump says he will temporarily suspend immigration into this country because of the coronavirus.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

That's right. He tweeted this late last night. There are not many details. But the administration has been using the pandemic to justify more restrictions on immigration.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Franco Ordoñez is covering this one. Hey, Franco.

FRANCO ORDOÑEZ, BYLINE: Hello.

KING: All right. So we have a tweet coming late at night. Do we have anything else in the way of details here?

ORDOÑEZ: Not much, you know? In the tweet, he said, you know - let me read it. (Reading) In light of the attack from the invisible enemy, as well as the need to protect the jobs of our great American citizens, I will be signing an executive order to temporarily suspend immigration to the United States. So, you know, it's not uncommon for him to break news via tweet. But he did not say what the measure would entail, how it would be implemented or how long it would be in place. We have reached out to the White House for more information. We expect to learn more today.

KING: Franco, I wonder, is there a legal basis for what the president is doing? Or is this going to be challenged in court immediately like so many of his other orders on immigration have been?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. We still have so much to learn about what this actually is, you know? But the courts have in the past upheld moves by the president to limit certain kinds of entry into the United States - take the travel ban, blocking people from, you know, several Muslim majority countries. And Congress has given the president broad authorities in terms of immigration and protecting the border. It is safe to say that advocacy groups, for example, though, are already speaking with their lawyers about what legal challenges they may have, as you note. And I've already heard from some of them, groups like Amnesty International, who are very concerned about this action.

KING: You know, you mentioned there are already, in this administration, restrictions on immigration. And on top of that, Franco, the pandemic would seem to have changed the way people move, at least for the moment. What immigration is there to put a stop to right now?

ORDOÑEZ: Yeah. That's right. This is certainly the most wide-ranging move that the president has announced to crack down on immigration as the coronavirus outbreak continues. But as you note, he's taken other steps. He's imposed restriction on people who have traveled anywhere in China recently from coming to the United States. He's largely banned foreign nationals from traveling from Europe to the United States. He's also issued emergency powers to, in many ways, close the southern border to asylum-seekers and those trying to cross illegally.

KING: The president said in this tweet that he's doing this to protect American jobs. Now, the U.S. has more than 20 million people out of work at this point. Is there some aspect of this that makes sense?

ORDOÑEZ: Well, you know, those close to the president on this issue - take Laura Ingraham of Fox News - have been pushing for this in light of that record unemployment. A source close to the administration tells me that there will, though, be limits on who is impacted, such as farm workers.

Remember, the State Department announced last month that it was stepping up the processing of guest workers who are here to pick fruits and vegetables for the United States. These measures are unlikely to impact those guest workers, as the president has made very clear that he will protect the supply chain. He wants to make sure that there are food on the grocery store shelves. But, you know, there's still a lot of questions.

KING: A lot that we don't know. Yeah. NPR's Franco Ordoñez. Thanks, Franco.

ORDOÑEZ: Thank you.

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KING: The United States does not have enough coronavirus tests. And until we do, governors across the country say they cannot or will not lift lockdown orders.

GREENE: Now, the White House keeps denying this. Last night at the White House press briefing, Vice President Pence said there are enough tests. This whole testing mess has been going on for weeks now. Reports of a new rapid coronavirus test had given us some hope. But now, NPR has learned that tests might not always be reliable.

KING: Health correspondent Rob Stein broke this story. He's with us now. Hey, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: All right. Tell me about this test.

STEIN: It's called the Abbott ID NOW test. And it's gotten a lot of attention because it's so fast. It can produce results in less than 15 minutes. And President Trump has bragged about it a lot at his White House briefing. And lots of people have been talking about how it might help, you know, reopen the country.

KING: OK. So what's the problem?

STEIN: Well, it appears it can miss more infected people than the other tests. I found out about this from Gary Procop. He's a top medical testing expert at the Cleveland Clinic. He shared with NPR the results of what could be the biggest study so far to take a look at this. He tested 239 samples with the ID NOW test and four other commonly used tests. He said the ID NOW test produced the most false negatives in this study. It detected only a little more than 85% of the positive specimens.

GARY PROCOP: So that means if you had a hundred patients that were positive, 15% of those patients would be falsely called negative. They'd be told that they're negative for COVID when they're really positive.

KING: So wait - 15 out of 100 people who test negative, who think they're fine, could actually be infected with the virus?

STEIN: Yeah. Yeah. And the concern is that, you know, they could unknowingly spread it to other people. You know, right now, the test is still a minority of the tests being conducted. But 50,000 of these tests are being produced each day. And that's increasing really fast. So for one thing, Procop says that makes it really dangerous to use this test to decide whether it's safe, for example, to, you know, start letting patients back into hospitals, like for elective surgeries. Let's listen a little bit to what he said about that.

PROCOP: If you have a patient coming in the hospital and you're going to put them into what has been determined to be a COVID-free ward, you have to have the most sensitive test available. Because once you put somebody with COVID into a COVID-free ward, it's no longer a COVID-free ward anymore. It's your new COVID ward.

STEIN: So Procop says his hospital has stopped using the test that way, and same goes with another test that looks like it's producing false negatives in more than 10% of cases. Instead, they're going with the other test that he tested that hit the mark between 96 and 100% of the time. Procop, you know, he also worries about the fast test giving people a false sense of security outside the hospital.

KING: The company that makes the test - Abbott, you said they're called - what do they say? What did they tell you?

STEIN: Abbott says the tests is very reliable and any problems are not being caused by the test, but by specimens being diluted instead of going directly into the Abbott machines like they're supposed to. But Procop says the company needs to prove that. And another researcher I talked to says he accounted for that and still found a higher rate of false negatives.

Now, Procop stresses that the test can still be very useful as long as people realize it might not be 100% reliable. And all tests can produce false negatives if the sample isn't collected the right way or at the right time. And just because someone tests negative one day, that doesn't mean they won't get infected the next day. So it's important to remember that.

KING: Yeah. Fair enough. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks, Rob.

STEIN: No problem. You bet.

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KING: All right. Something absolutely wild is happening with the price of oil.

GREENE: Yeah. You can say that again. For the first time in history, oil prices went negative yesterday. That means that traders were essentially paying people to take their oil contracts.

KING: NPR's Camila Domonoske is on the line. She covers energy for our business desk. Good morning, Camila.

CAMILA DOMONOSKE, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So what happened? Why on earth did oil prices go negative?

DOMONOSKE: So you ever tried to sell something on Craigslist and you weren't getting any biters, and you had to move out tomorrow so you have to sell no matter what? You might wind up having to pay someone to take your sofa away even though it's a perfectly nice sofa. That's basically what happened to West Texas Intermediate crude yesterday, specifically investors holding futures contracts - so an agreement for oil to be delivered in the future - in this case, in May.

They have a deadline. They have to sell that contract by today or the actual oil shows up on their doorstep. And if you're an investor who bought that contract in order to sell it, you don't actually want that oil. You don't have somewhere to store it. You have to find someone who does want it to buy it from you. And normally, that's not a problem because plenty of people want oil. But during this pandemic, things are different. I talked to Bob Iaccino. He's a co-founder of Path Trading Partners. And he said this.

BOB IACCINO: Yeah. If somebody were to say to a refinery here, just take my oil free, they would say, where am I going to put it? That space doesn't exist.

DOMONOSKE: Tanks are already full because of the pandemic. People are driving less. People are flying less. We're using way less oil. But it's still getting pumped. So it's just building up in these huge stockpiles. If that means that you don't have any buyers at zero dollars and you're up against this deadline, you have to go lower than zero.

KING: Why is it still getting pumped? If no one's using oil, why take it out of the ground?

DOMONOSKE: Right. So for a while, you might remember, Russia and Saudi Arabia had this price war going on. That's actually over now. But even that change isn't enough to balance the markets. Basically, demand dropped so, so fast because of this pandemic that the market wasn't able to keep up with it. It costs money for a producer to shut a well down.

Sometimes it can be hard to get a well back up and running after you've shut it down. So nobody wants to do that. And they'll put off doing it if they can. And eventually, the low prices will cause production to be reduced across the globe whether people want to or not. But it's going to take time. And it just hasn't been able to happen fast enough.

KING: Is there anything that the federal government could do to stabilize the market?

DOMONOSKE: President Trump talked about this yesterday at his press conference. There are some options that are being floated - filling the strategic reserve, which means the U.S. government buying a bunch of oil. Congress didn't fund it the last time Trump wanted that to happen. Of course, prices being negative is an unusual situation.

KING: Sure.

DOMONOSKE: To be clear, most crude still does cost money. Like a sofa that is usually valuable, you will pay money for crude. But in specific instances where supply is shorter, you don't have somewhere to store it, it is going negative. So you could buy crude. You could lease out space in the strategic reserves. He could block shipments of Saudi crude, which would reduce supply. Really, there are some unprecedented options on the table here. Things that once would've been unheard of are being discussed. But the oil industry is divided on whether they want these particular interventions.

KING: OK. NPR's Camila Domonoske. Thanks so much, Camila.

DOMONOSKE: Yeah. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.