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U.S. Coronavirus Cases Are Reported Coast To Coast

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're going to visit two communities in the United States now. They're on opposite sides of the country, but both desperately trying to contain the coronavirus. We'll hear from Washington state in a moment. The death toll and the number of cases are higher there than anywhere else. But let's begin in New Rochelle, just north of New York City. There are more than a hundred confirmed cases there, and now a containment area has been created. And New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, has deployed the National Guard to help.

Brian Mann with North Country Public Radio visited New Rochelle. He joins us on Skype. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN MANN, BYLINE: Hi, David.

GREENE: How did this cluster of cases emerge in this city?

MANN: Yeah, this ties back to one man from New Rochelle who got sick last week. And before he knew it was coronavirus, he had contact with family and friends and people at a local synagogue. And since then, it's just continued to spread. Also, more aggressive testing is turning up more and more people who are infected.

GREENE: OK. And explain this containment zone that has been set up now. And how is it supposed to work?

MANN: Yeah. So what state health officials have done here is they've drawn a big circle with a 1-mile radius that centers on this synagogue in New Rochelle where a lot of the cases originated. Thousands of people live inside the area. More than a half dozen schools are going to close - some of them starting today - churches closing, all gathering places shut down and no big groups allowed. This isn't like Italy or China. People can still leave their homes. They can go shopping, even leave the community if they want to. The hope, though, is that by limiting these big clusters of people, they're going to break the chain of transmission.

GREENE: I mean, this just has to be really scary for people who are living here.

MANN: Yeah. I talked to a lot of folks yesterday in New Rochelle who were just really - one woman described it like living inside a movie. The streets are empty. Shops are closed. It feels very real in New Rochelle, changing people's lives. I spoke yesterday with Rita Mabli, who runs one of the nursing homes in the area where visitors have been banned from seeing their loved ones. And she says this kind of restriction is upsetting.

RITA MABLI: We do have some families that are very angry at not being able to visit mother or father. And I understand that, and I so empathize with that.

MANN: But, you know, she says the risk of elderly people being exposed to this virus is just too high right now in this community.

GREENE: Sure. Well, I mean, there's the impact on people's lives and health, of course. Also, I mean, this has to hit a city hard economically.

MANN: Yeah, very, very hard. Like I said, the streets are empty. Things are just really shut down. And there's also just a spiraling cost of dealing with this health care and public services. I spoke with New Rochelle's mayor, Noam Bramson, yesterday. He says as this drags on, it's getting harder and harder.

NOAM BRAMSON: Particularly, those who are quarantined, having their lives disrupted in terms of work and school and normal interactions with their neighbors. At the same time, I'm very proud of how our community has risen to the challenge.

MANN: One other thing, David. More broadly, you know, with Wall Street continuing to take hits from coronavirus, this is going to affect New York state's larger economy. The state budget already had a $6 billion deficit. And so we're going to have to see where this goes economically.

GREENE: All right, Brian. Thanks for bringing us your reporting here on the situation in New Rochelle.

MANN: Thank you.

GREENE: That was North Country Public Radio's Brian Mann, again, reporting on New Rochelle, N.Y.

And let's turn now to another part of the country very hit by coronavirus. It's Washington state. The governor there, Jay Inslee, spoke with MSNBC and had this prediction should things continue to get worse.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JAY INSLEE: Seven weeks from now, we might have 60,000 people-plus infected.

GREENE: Let's go now to Will Stone. He reports from member station KNKX. He's in Seattle. Hi, Will.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.

GREENE: So a pretty ominous prediction there from the governor. What do we know about the number of confirmed cases at this point?

STONE: The latest tally puts Washington at more than 250 cases with 24 deaths. The majority of cases are still concentrated in the Seattle metro area, but that's also changing. Counties in all parts of the state are discovering cases, and that's because health care workers are able to do much more testing, and so these results are coming back within one to two days.

So far, people are voluntarily not getting together in large groups for the most part, but Inslee hinted that he may take some more restrictive measures to mitigate the spread of the virus in the coming days, like ordering major public events to be canceled.

GREENE: I want to ask you about one place in Washington state that we've heard a lot about. It's that long-term care facility in Kirkland called the Life Care Center, which was just overwhelmed by cases. How are they coping? And are other nursing homes seeing the effects of this?

STONE: It is a very grim situation at Life Care Center. The number of deaths in that relatively small group of people is actually quite staggering. Close to 20 people have died there. Others are hospitalized. Just a fraction of those initial residents who were there in mid-February still remain at the facility. In recent days, they've received some reinforcements from the federal government since the staff had dwindled after so many also caught the virus.

The latest news is that the public health department has found new cases at nine other nursing and long-term care facilities throughout the region. And this led Governor Inslee to put in place emergency rules aimed at limiting the spread of the virus in these, obviously, very vulnerable populations.

GREENE: What kind of emergency rules are we talking about?

STONE: They include mandatory screening of visitors and staff as they enter the facility, a log of who comes in, in certain cases, requiring people to wear protective equipment and isolating people who test positive for the virus.

GREENE: I mean, I can't imagine the pressure this is putting on local health departments dealing with all of this.

STONE: That's right. It's a huge undertaking for them. They're doing their best to relay information and field questions from the public, who are concerned that they may need to be tested. And it's not just the metro areas like Seattle, but also smaller communities.

I spoke with Theresa Adkinson, who leads the public health department in Grant County, about a three-hour drive from Seattle.

THERESA ADKINSON: I am concerned for our health care system. When you talk about the number of ventilators you have in your community and inability to transport out if our other facilities get overwhelmed - so there are some big conversations that are going to need to be had as we ride this wave.

STONE: Adkinson says at the moment, she can handle this kind of labor-intensive investigation of cases because they've only had one in her community. But that may soon no longer be feasible.

GREENE: And, Will, it sounds like the state is doing some things to try and expand health care coverage amid all this?

STONE: That's right. Citing the extraordinary circumstances, the state-run Affordable Care Act marketplace reopened enrollment for the next 30 days so people who are uninsured can sign up. And they did so on the basis that many people may have been exposed in the last few weeks even before we knew about these cases. Those who run the program say they don't want anyone to shy away from testing or treatment just because people are uninsured. It's just one way the state is trying to remove barriers to care during this outbreak.

GREENE: All right. So we get the picture there from two communities in the United States dealing with coronavirus. That was KNKX reporter Will Stone joining us from Seattle. Will, thanks.

STONE: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.