Coronavirus Updates: New York Toll, Racial Disparity In Data

Apr 8, 2020
Originally published on April 8, 2020 5:47 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo had mixed emotions as he delivered today's update on the coronavirus crisis in his state. On the one hand, to date, more than twice as many people have died from COVID-19 in New York than died in the terrorist attacks on 9/11. It is a sobering fact, and flags are to be flown at half-staff across New York in remembrance.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

On the other hand, there is also this. New York, Cuomo says, is flattening the curve.

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ANDREW CUOMO: The number of patients hospitalized is down. Anecdotally, the individual hospitals - the larger systems are reporting that some of them are actually releasing more people than are coming in.

KELLY: New York's news is a heartening sign for anxious Americans working hard to adjust to life during the pandemic and wondering when or if things will ever get back to normal.

SHAPIRO: For more on what's happening in New York and what else we're learning about the virus, we are joined by NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang and White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Good to have all three of you here.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Good to be with you.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Hansi, I want to start with you because you're in New York City, the national epicenter of this crisis. Does it feel like New York may be turning a corner?

WANG: Well, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says, you know, based on the latest numbers of hospitalizations, it looks like social distancing, staying at home - those orders appear to be working. But we need to keep at it, the governor says - that this does not mean it's safe to go outside if you don't have to go outside because you have to keep in mind the number of people who are dying every day from COVID-19. That number continues to climb, and it's still hard to say what New York City will look like, you know, two months from now. You know, in late January, primary elections are scheduled to take place in this state. And Gov. Cuomo said...

SHAPIRO: You mean, like, June. You said January, but June you mean.

WANG: Thank you. June, that's right. I'm losing track of the time because of staying at home. But Gov. Cuomo said he does not want to force New Yorkers to have to choose between their health and civic duty, so he's signing an executive order allowing New Yorkers to vote by mail through absentee ballots.

SHAPIRO: Reminding us what just happened yesterday in Wisconsin - if I could ask you, Tamara Keith, to look ahead to when things do start to open back up again - we know that President Trump has expressed impatience about getting the economy started. What's the White House doing to prepare for that?

KEITH: Yeah, so today President Trump tweeted in all caps, flattening the curve, and he also tweeted that the country would be open sooner rather than later. But it's not really clear what that means. You know, the president was persuaded by the data and the scientific advisers to keep this days to slow the spread in place until the end of April. And Vice President Mike Pence described yesterday that the White House is beginning to work on this.

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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: There is a dual track that the president has already initiated. Some of the best minds here at the White House are beginning to think about what recommendations will look like that we give to businesses, that we give to states. But it'll all, I promise you, be informed on putting the health and well-being of the American people first.

KEITH: And this is all very much in the early stages, but there are recommendations coming from outside advisers close to the White House, people like former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, for instance. The Heritage Foundation has just launched something it's calling a recovery commission to study how to get things back to normal. And that includes influential conservatives and people with ties to the Trump White House.

SHAPIRO: I mean, this raises so many questions. How does anyone determine when it's safe for kids to go back to school or people to go back to a crowded office building?

KEITH: Well, medical advisers on the coronavirus task force have been working on it. They don't want to see a second wave of the epidemic flaring up. At this point, they don't actually have enough testing and data to really keep this contained. But they are on board with making a plan to figure out how a return can happen safely. Dr. Anthony Fauci was on Fox News today.

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ANTHONY FAUCI: If, in fact, we are successful, it makes sense to at least plan what a reentry into normality would look like. That doesn't mean we're going to do it right now, but it means we need to be prepared to ease into that. And there's a lot of activity going on. I was down in the White House in the Roosevelt Room last night until late at night discussing just what you're seeing right now.

KEITH: One thing at yesterday's briefing - Fauci was asked about timing. He was asked whether kids would be able to go to summer camp or back to school in the fall. He kind of dodged on the summer camp part but said that he did not expect that schools would still need to be closed in the fall.

SHAPIRO: Richard Harris, during yesterday's White House briefing, President Trump threatened to cut off funding for the World Health Organization. What was the reaction today at the WHO headquarters in Geneva?

HARRIS: Yeah. Well, when the president's comment came up at the WHO daily briefing, Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus launched into a really impassioned monologue. He vehemently pushed back on the idea that WHO had been slow to rise to this challenge, as Trump had asserted. Tedros also said there will be time when all this is over to look back and learn from the inevitable missteps, but he said now is not the time.

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TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS: We shouldn't waste time pointing fingers. We need time to unite.

HARRIS: This is a global challenge after all, afflicting about 1.5 million people right now with a known death toll approaching 90,000, and it's still growing rapidly. It won't be over until it's been addressed by all countries around the world cooperating. And Tedros said the only alternative is more body bags.

SHAPIRO: Hansi, I want to ask you about who specifically is being affected by the disease in this country because there have been growing concerns about the coronavirus disproportionately affecting the black community and other people of color. And I understand there's some new information about that out of New York today. Tell us what we've learned.

WANG: Well, New York City's Health Department released, for the first time since the outbreak, preliminary data on race and ethnicity of confirmed COVID-19 deaths. And we learned that, based on this preliminary data, Latinos make up the largest share of known COVID-19 deaths in York City at 34%. Black people who do not identify as Hispanic make up almost 28% of known deaths in New York City, and both of those stats represent outsized shares if you were to compare them with the population as a whole. And a point to remember - this data is incomplete based on death records and confirmed through electronic medical records by the city, and it's not clear if they accurately represent how these individuals would have self-reported their racial and ethnic identities. But city officials like health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who is Latina, says she's very concerned, particularly about the Latinx community. Let's listen to what Dr. Barbot said today.

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OXIRIS BARBOT: Even though we have made lots of efforts to reassure people that all of our public hospitals see individuals independent of their immigration status, the overlay of the anti-immigrant rhetoric across this country, I think, has real implications in the health of our community.

WANG: And Dr. Barbot says we need more data to really understand what's happening. But it's important to point out this crisis right now is highlighting existing disparities about who can afford health care in this city. And those who can't often have higher rates of chronic illnesses, and many immigrants within the Latinx community may not have the most up-to-date information on COVID-19 because of language access issues.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, we're just learning more about how this disease works every day. And, Richard, I understand there's some new research out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about how outbreaks can sweep through a community. Tell us about that.

HARRIS: Right. The CDC took a detailed look at how one person with mild symptoms in Chicago managed to spread the disease to 15 other people, ranging in age from 5 to 86. The individual had attended a funeral unrelated to COVID-19 as well as a birthday party, and it was sort of a domino effect. The CDC is using this as an example to remind people - really, it's important to stay indoors. And this was before the stay-at-home orders.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. I will be having a Zoom Seder tonight with a lot of far-flung family that is not going to be in my house (laughter). That's NPR science correspondent Richard Harris, national correspondent Hansi Lo Wang and White House correspondent Tamara Keith.

Thanks to all of you.

WANG: You're welcome.

KEITH: You're welcome.

HARRIS: Sure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.