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News Brief: Coronavirus, 2020 Primaries, Turkey-Greece Border

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

We have a portrait of health workers trying to do their jobs as a virus spreads.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

They're health workers in Washington state, a center of the outbreak of COVID-19, which is the disease caused by the coronavirus. California declared a state of emergency yesterday after one person there died of the virus. Washington state did so days ago. And in that state, the death toll is now 10.

Vice President Mike Pence visits there today as officials take extraordinary precautions. A school district near Seattle is going to hold all its classes online for up to 14 days. Seattle-area officials are urging anyone over the age of 60 to stay home, and they are telling everyone to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.

INSKEEP: So what's it like if you're in Washington state and your job is to come in very close contact with people? Will Stone of KNKX in Seattle has been talking with health workers. Good morning.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Who you been hearing from?

STONE: I've talked with people you could say are on the front lines of this situation. These are the paramedics, nurses, doctors and those who are running the local agencies that are spearheading this very big and challenging public health response. And there is concern among health care workers mostly revolving around whether they have enough information to do their jobs safely and not end up possibly expose themselves.

INSKEEP: Yeah. What is the basic situation they face?

STONE: Many of the serious cases and deaths are linked to a nursing home east of Seattle called Life Care Center.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah.

STONE: Those who've died are primarily in their 70s or older. But public health leaders have been candid that the new coronavirus is circulating here, and it's likely been here for longer than we realized. So just as an example, someone who died last week had been transferred from the same nursing home to a hospital, and that was actually before the first deaths here were reported. And it turned out after the fact, we learned that that person had been infected. But we didn't know that at the time.

INSKEEP: So if you're a health care worker and you're confronted with someone who is sick, you can't be sure what you're dealing with - at least at first. What does that lack of knowledge mean for doctors and their patients?

STONE: The state public health agency has managed to improve the capacity to test so people have a little more sense of what they're dealing with. I mean, understandably, people who are sick with flu-like symptoms want to know if they have the illness. And people who believe they may have been exposed also want to be tested. At the moment, that's just not feasible given the capacity here.

I spoke to Tove Skaftun, who's the chief nursing officer for the Community Health Center of Snohomish County.

TOVE SKAFTUN: Definitely an increase in visits. And then the patients that are coming in to be seen are fearful. They're anxious. They want reassurance that they're not going to get it, and that's not something that we can provide for them.

STONE: Skaftun says her clinic is now allowed to test anyone they suspect could have the illness. And they're getting lots of phone calls. But if they did that for everyone, they would quickly run out of supplies and kits.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Well, how does that affect first responders, like EMTs or firefighters, say?

STONE: They are taking new precautions. There's additional screening when people call 911. And if they come to a call that sounds anything like coronavirus, they just need to assume it is and wear all that protective equipment we've been seeing - gowns, gloves, so on. A bunch of firefighters who responded to the nursing home when there was a cluster of cases - Life Care Center - are now in quarantine. And that's because they responded to calls that did not seem related to any respiratory illness in the days before we learned about the coronavirus outbreak there.

INSKEEP: Well, can the first responders not in quarantine still do what they need to do in the community?

STONE: At the moment, they're making it work. They have enough staffing. I spoke with Evan Hurley, who is with the Kirkland fire and was not quarantined. He's still transporting patients this week back-and-forth from that nursing home and says it's taxing. The department has more than two dozen firefighters who are in isolation, and some actually are now showing flu-like symptoms.

EVAN HURLEY: You know, we've got a lot of husbands and wives at home that are having to be either isolated within their own homes, or I know of a few guys that are living in campers in their driveways, including people with young kids. So there's a lot of stress.

STONE: Hurley says that, you know, the best they can do is just wear all the appropriate equipment and just keep an eye out for anything that could be worrisome

INSKEEP: Wow, hard job. Will Stone, thanks so much.

STONE: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He is with KNKX in Seattle.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: At this point, the Democratic presidential contest is a question of math - which candidates can still see a way to add up enough convention delegates to win?

MARTIN: After big wins on Super Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden holds a slim delegate lead. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders - not far behind. Each campaign is facing challenges, even as other rivals back away.

INSKEEP: NPR senior political editor and correspondent Domenico Montanaro has been counting. Hi there, Domenico.

DOMENICO MONTANARO, BYLINE: Hey there, Steve.

INSKEEP: Where do things stand?

MONTANARO: Currently, it's Biden with the delegate lead with 566-501 over Bernie Sanders. Now, look; it's important to note that not all the delegates have been counted yet in California because of how large it is. And not all the delegates have been allocated from Super Tuesday. There's about 300 left to be allocated from Super Tuesday. About half of that's in California. But given how well Biden did outside of California, winning 10 of the 13 other states, he's likely to come away with a delegate lead, if not be a very close split out of Super Tuesday.

INSKEEP: Well, Sanders was the clear front-runner just a few days ago. What has not worked for him?

MONTANARO: You know, Sanders has really banked on young voters coming out for him. And the whole theory of his case has been that he can beat Donald Trump because he would turn out record-high numbers of voters under 30. But so far, that hasn't happened. And even Sanders is acknowledging that. Listen to what he said about this yesterday.

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BERNIE SANDERS: Have we been as successful as I would hope in bringing young people in? And the answer is no. We're making some progress, but historically, everybody knows that young people do not vote in the kind of numbers that older people vote in. I think that will change in the general election. But I am - to be honest with you, we have not done as well in bringing young people into the process. It is not easy.

MONTANARO: You know, that's a remarkable admission from Sanders. Before Super Tuesday, voters under 30 as a share of the electorate had only gone up in one state, in Iowa. And on Super Tuesday, in every state that had exit polls or entrance polls in 2016, young voters went down as a share of the electorate. So this is big for Sanders. And it may be him, you know, calling out his troops, saying, hey, guys, I need you now, or I might not be the nominee.

INSKEEP: Although, we have to note, just a week ago, things looked pretty bad for Joe Biden. How deep is his support, really?

MONTANARO: (Laughter) Yeah. I mean, look; every time we've thought that we have this race figured out, it's changed. So let's see what happens. But Biden has run up pretty big margins with black voters, which had helped - which have helped him in the South and the mid-South. He's winning big margins of older voters and moderates. Sanders, on the other hand, is winning wide margins with liberals, Latinos and those young voters. When you look at those coalitions, though, and the states coming up, Biden clearly has the inside track here. If those margins hold, you know, Biden is going to be favored in places like Florida and Georgia, which come up later this month - big states - and places like New York and New Jersey next month.

INSKEEP: Domenico, thanks so much.

MONTANARO: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: NPR's Domenico Montanaro.

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INSKEEP: We're going to take you to the border between Turkey and Greece now, where thousands of migrants are stranded.

MARTIN: Yeah. These people are from many countries. Some have fled the war in Syria. Others are from Iran, Afghanistan, elsewhere. They are in Turkey right now, which has encouraged them to actually move on into Europe. But the first country they come to, Greece, hasn't let them in.

INSKEEP: Durrie Bouscaren is on the Turkey-Greece border and has been reporting on this. Hi there.

DURRIE BOUSCAREN, BYLINE: Hi, Steve.

INSKEEP: What have you been seeing?

BOUSCAREN: So where reporters are allowed to get to, yesterday, it was a cornfield where these buses from all over the country have been dropping migrants off. And then they're told to walk. Basically, they walk towards the Greek border, and then they're pushed back, sometimes with tear gas, sometimes with live ammunition. The Turkish authorities say at least three migrants have been shot so far, some fatally.

So under this 2016 EU deal, Turkey was supposed to actively stop migrants from getting into Europe. It used to be very risky. People would leave in the dead of night. Now it's being broadcast breathlessly by pro-government media outlets, and people can go in the light of day. It's almost as if they're being encouraged. Turkey is not actively policing its border anymore.

INSKEEP: What are the refugees and migrants, then, telling you as they try to make this crossing?

BOUSCAREN: I mean, some are actually quite angry. They feel like they're being used as pawns, but they do it because they're desperate. A lot of them have lived in Turkey for a long time. The economy and government policies towards foreigners are making life harder.

Here's one father I met. His name is Walli Mohammadi (ph). He's from Afghanistan. And he shows me his 2-year-old son's eyes. They're bright red from what he says was being tear gassed when they tried to cross the Greek border. Here's what he said.

WALLI MOHAMMADI: (Speaking Dari).

BOUSCAREN: Now, it's in Dari, and he's telling me and my translator that he's been living in Turkey without papers for 2 1/2 years, eking out a living, doing farm work. And he says he has no future here. When he heard Erdogan's announcement about the border being open, he used his last savings to get to the border. So now he and his family members - there are 17 - 18 in total - they're stuck. They're staying in a mosque, and they have no idea what to do. They didn't know what they were getting into.

INSKEEP: Have any people been able to cross the Turkey-Greece border?

BOUSCAREN: Some do make it. The Turkish government claims that 130,000 have made it, but it really seems unlikely. What we're told is that when people try to cross the border, they're loaded onto buses and dropped back off on the Turkish side. Many people have tried multiple times.

I met one group camping out by a river. It acts as a border between Greece and Turkey. And at one point, they made it into Greece but were picked up by police, stripped down to their underwear and driven back to Turkey. Samiullah Sami (ph) - he's from Pakistan. He says his mom had to wire money from Lahore to get money and clothing for everyone.

SAMIULLAH SAMI: (Non-English language spoken).

BOUSCAREN: He's saying that Turkish organizations are coming by with tea and donations, encouraging them to stay and saying the border will open. So he's planning to keep trying, even if it takes a month.

INSKEEP: Very briefly, might the border be open in a month?

BOUSCAREN: I get this question all the time, and there's no indication that's going to happen. But Erdogan has been successful in getting the EU to the bargaining table on this. What he wants is support in Syria.

INSKEEP: Durrie, thanks so much.

BOUSCAREN: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's reporter Durrie Bouscaren near the Turkey-Greece border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.