Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
NPR Health

News Brief: Coronavirus Effects And Trump Travel Ban

NOEL KING, HOST:

Here's the advice that medical experts are giving to slow the spread of the coronavirus - just stay home when you can.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That means empty cubicles, empty sports arenas, empty schools. Even Disneyland and Disney World are closed. Limiting travel and social distancing are good for public health but sort of bad for the economy. Yesterday, the Dow and the S&P 500 experienced their greatest single-day drop since the 1987 crash known as Black Monday.

KING: NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is on the line. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: All right. Where are the markets today?

HORSLEY: Overnight, Asian markets continued to slide. European markets, on the other hand, were up a bit, even though we continue to see a rapid spread of the coronavirus in Italy, where the government has enforced a pretty severe countrywide shutdown. Here in this country, the futures markets are pointing to a somewhat up day on Wall Street. So investors are optimistic they may regain a little bit of the very big losses from yesterday.

KING: Yeah. Yesterday was just an extraordinary day on Wall Street. President Trump at one point tried to calm the markets. Let's listen to what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The stock market, as an example, is still much higher than when I got here. And it's taken a big hit. But it's going to all bounce back. And it's going to bounce back very big at the right time.

KING: Or so we hope. What happened yesterday?

HORSLEY: The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 2,300 points - or almost 10%. The broader S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq were both down more than 9%. The sell-off started right from the opening bell. The S&P 500 dropped 7% out of the gate. And that triggered an automatic halt to trading for about 15 minutes. There was a little bit of relief in the afternoon when the Federal Reserve announced that it was going to pump $1.5 trillion into the banking system yesterday and today in order to keep credit markets from seizing up. But then the slump just accelerated as we got towards the end of the day. It was ugly.

KING: The point that President Trump was making is that market swings do happen. And we have seen the market go down, then go back up. Social distancing will not last forever. People will go back to work at some point. Is this a situation that we just need to ride out?

HORSLEY: You're right. It's not forever. But one of the challenges here is that it's not clear how long riding it out is going to take. And, you know, the very measures that you need to take from a public health standpoint are the measures that are costly for the economy. Yes, those costs are temporary. But temporary damage is still damage. And some of the lost spending is never made up.

This is the week that, you know, a lot of Americans began to seriously reorder both their work lives and their recreational lives in response to this pandemic. When you see everyone from NASCAR to the Metropolitan Opera turning their fans away, you're obviously hitting a pretty broad swath of the American public.

KING: So what are policymakers doing to mitigate some of this?

HORSLEY: They are working on it. And part of the sell-off yesterday, I think, stemmed from a feeling that policymakers were not on top of this crisis. And they're trying to change that narrative today. House Democrats negotiated through the night with the Trump administration on a package to at least cushion the blow from this epidemic. That package would include additional aid to states for what are expected to be higher Medicaid costs, as well as costs for unemployment.

Yesterday, we saw the Labor Department issue guidance to states that people who are unable to work because of the coronavirus - either because they're sick or taking care of someone who's sick or because their workplace is quarantined - should be eligible for unemployment. There's also a Democratic proposal to make larger companies offer sick leave. That's more controversial. And then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wants to see more testing, so people have the confidence to go back to work and back to shopping.

KING: NPR's Scott Horsley. Scott, thanks so much.

HORSLEY: You're very welcome.

KING: All right. As go workplaces and businesses, so go schools.

MARTIN: Leaders in five states and counting have shut down all K-12 schools. Officials in Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, Ohio and Oregon all announced statewide school closures for the coming weeks. Others are closing down specific school districts that are vulnerable, including in Seattle, which is the site of one of the largest outbreaks of coronavirus in the country.

KING: NPR's Cory Turner has been following all of this. He's in studio with us. Hey, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Hey, Noel.

KING: OK. So we have hit this point where entire states are closing all K-12 schools. Why is this happening now?

TURNER: Yeah. That is a great question. I think our first clue comes from something that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan said yesterday. He suggested that the tipping point for him was the state's first case of what's known as community transmission of COVID-19. That means the person who was infected hadn't gotten it while traveling out of state. I want you to hear this moment yesterday when Governor Hogan really seemed to anticipate the criticism of some Marylanders who might think he was overreacting.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY HOGAN: For Marylanders, the actions that I have announced here today will be disruptive to your everyday lives. And they may sound extreme. And they may sound frightening. But they could be the difference in saving lives and helping keep people safe.

TURNER: Noel, I've talked to several researchers now who say that community transmission is a really dangerous tipping point for communities. And we know that closing schools is one of the most effective tools we have to slow a contagion. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said public and private schools in his state were going to close for three weeks. That's actually a little longer than in Maryland. It's roughly 1.8 million kids. And he, too, said that the state had confirmed the infection of a man with no travel history outside of Ohio. DeWine said on Twitter that closing schools would hopefully keep the state's hospitals and clinics from having to ration limited resources. He said, quote, "we don't want our health care providers to have to make the decision of who lives and who dies." And as you said in the intro, late yesterday, we also heard about closures in Michigan, Oregon and New Mexico.

KING: That brings us up to - what is it? - five states now or six?

TURNER: Five. Plus, the governor of Kentucky issued what he called a significant recommendation to the state schools that they should close.

KING: So do you think other states are going to do the same?

TURNER: Yeah. I mean, it feels like we're at a turning point. And if there's any laughter in my voice at all it's because when I went to bed last night, there were only two states closed. So it really feels like we're snowballing here because it's not just states, too. We're seeing really big cities start to grapple with this, as well. As we said, Seattle schools closed. But yesterday, Washington's governor then closed all the schools in the three surrounding counties. We also heard about closures in San Francisco schools.

KING: I know that you've been digging in really deep on this story. And so I must ask you, is there any strong or legitimate case for not closing schools?

TURNER: Yeah, there are. I mean, I've spent the last several days on the phone with school leaders all over the country. And they say, look. Closing schools also poses public health risks. We have many kids going home. Their parents cannot afford to take off work. And we know that more than 20 million kids depend on free and reduced-price school meals. Like, this is a really big deal. And schools want to figure this out before they close.

KING: NPR's Cory Turner. Cory, thank you so much.

TURNER: Thank you, Noel.

MARTIN: All right. So staying home is the most effective way to limit the spread of coronavirus. But what about limiting travelers coming into the United States? President Trump says he aims to do just that by restricting most travelers from Europe. But is that really effective?

KING: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is back with us. Good morning, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So President Trump's ban on most travelers from Europe will start tonight at 11:59 p.m. What has he said is the rationale for this?

STEIN: Trump seems to be blaming Europeans for fueling the outbreak in this country. I mean, he said as much during his Oval Office address announcing the travel restrictions. And yesterday, Anthony Fauci from the White House Coronavirus Task Force elaborated on that while testifying before Congress.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ANTHONY FAUCI: If you look at the numbers, it's very clear that 70% of the new infections in the world are coming from that region, from Europe, seeding other countries - first thing. Second thing, of the 35 or more states that have infections, 30 of them now most recently have gotten them from a travel-related case from that region. So it was pretty compelling that we needed to turn off the source from that region.

KING: OK. He is making the case that there is a good reason to do this, right?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. And Dr. Fauci is very well-respected. But, you know, every public health expert I've been talking to over the last couple of days says, you know, no. It's essentially pointless. Here's Lawrence Gostin. He's at Georgetown University.

LAWRENCE GOSTIN: It's possible to shut your borders to immigration or trade. But it's really impossible to shut it to a microbe. There's no reason to believe that shutting our borders from Europe will do anything to affect the epidemic in America.

KING: Why is there no reason to believe that?

STEIN: Well, you know, it's become increasingly clear, Noel, that the virus has already spread pretty widely in this country. So basically, it's just too late. Take it from Ira Longini. He's a biostatistician at the University of Florida that I talked to about this.

IRA LONGINI: We already have a widespread epidemic throughout the country. So banning individuals coming from other countries that are infected will have, really, no real effect. To put it succinctly, the cat is out of the bag.

STEIN: You know, in fact, Longini, Gostin and others worry that the travel ban could actually make things worse. You know, it could be a distraction that could divert scarce resources, delay the really effective countermeasures that are urgently needed to fight the virus. And that's not all. Here's Longini again.

LONGINI: You don't want to do it because it has a lot of economic ramifications and also ramifications for people that have reasons to travel. And so you have to weigh the social cost of doing that against the public health benefits. And the economic and social cost is much higher than any benefit.

KING: All right. So given that, what is he saying should be done?

STEIN: You know, public health experts say that the top priority needs to be slowing down the virus. Test as many people as fast as you can. Keep people away from each other as much as possible. And, you know - and get hospitals ready to help what, unfortunately, could soon be a lot of sick people coming through their doors.

KING: NPR's Rob Stein. Rob, thanks so much for your reporting on this very important story. We appreciate it.

STEIN: You bet, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.