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Coronavirus Updates: Governors Speak, Model Guidance


Governors around the country have been sounding the alarm. They need federal help getting the tests and the medical equipment necessary to manage the coronavirus pandemic.


In an address earlier today, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York delivered a frank assessment about the, quote, "bizarre situation" that states are currently being forced into.


ANDREW CUOMO: It's like being on eBay with 50 other states, bidding on a ventilator. And then FEMA gets involved, and FEMA starts bidding. So FEMA is driving up the price.

KELLY: This as the need for ventilators and other equipment is only going to grow as people sick with COVID-19 are hospitalized.

CHANG: President Trump prepared the country for the difficult days ahead in tonight's coronavirus task force briefing.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we're going to see things get better all of a sudden. And it's going to be like a burst of light, I really think and I hope.

CHANG: This evening, we heard some more about why the task force is convinced we can turn things around in the next 30 days. So let's bring in NPR science correspondent Richard Harris and political correspondent Scott Detrow.

Hey, guys.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good evening.


CHANG: Richard, let's start with you. Tell us what we learned today from the scientists on the White House coronavirus task force.

HARRIS: Well, they finally laid out the data from the models that they've been using. And the basic idea that they tell, the story they tell is this whole thing will peak in about mid-April if the models are correct, and then it will slowly fade. It will not be the burst of light that the president referred to, but more of a long deep sigh. Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institutes of Health says cases will gradually fall after the peak, but we'll be seeing deaths for some time after that because time elapses between the time a person's case is reported and an eventual death. I think we have some tape of Dr. Fauci.


ANTHONY FAUCI: We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.

CHANG: And why does Dr. Fauci say that?

HARRIS: Well, we're' already seeing hints from California and New York and Washington state that social distancing is making a difference. It's not a big effect, but it's sort of a glimmer in that data. Staying home, people really have slowed the spread of the virus. That effect is much more obvious in Italy, where they've been doing social distancing for four weeks now. Dr. Deborah Birx, who is the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, showed a slide of the new cases in Italy going up and then cresting and then gradually starting to fall. She said, that's what our experience should be as well if we don't let up, if people continue to stay home and slow the spread of the virus.


DEBORAH BIRX: There's no magic bullet. There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviors; each of our behaviors translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic over the next 30 days.

HARRIS: And there's really no question that hospitals and medical staff are going to be in really rough times in the coming weeks as patients flood in and supplies and personnel are stretched far beyond their normal limits.

CHANG: Right. And, Scott, President Trump and the task force - I mean, they've been talking about an overwhelming number of deaths for a while now. But today, I understand, they really emphasized the numbers. Did this feel like a shift?

DETROW: It did. It felt a lot more stark than in recent days. In contrast, yesterday, at moments, the president was making jokes about his hair. More broadly, he was focusing a lot more on these worst-case models that show much higher death rates - upwards of two million - and saying this is a lot better than that. Today - a lot more stark, much more blunt and a lot about how many Americans could die, will die in the coming weeks and the sacrifice that everyone in the country is being asked to make right now.


TRUMP: I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead. We're going to go through a very tough two weeks.

DETROW: One thing that did stick out to me was that President Trump was largely off-mic for large segments of today's briefing, leaving much of the more sober assessments and the technical details to his task force.

CHANG: Interesting. Richard, assuming these models and these projections are correct and we see the worst of this pass during the month of April, as they say, what will it take to return to something resembling normal life in the U.S.? I mean, what do you think?

HARRIS: Well, testing, testing and more testing, which is still in short supply in this country even now, despite many, many promises that it's all fixed; and also then tracking down people who are sick so they can be isolated. But, you know, there are now some signs that the traditional gumshoe medical detective work won't be able to keep up with this virus. Enough people are infectious before they have symptoms that by the time the disease is recognized and public health authorities start to track them down and find them, the virus has already moved on. This is the result of a model published today in - online in Science magazine. It's out of the University of Oxford, and they suggest that this process could be at least sped up greatly if people would download an app onto their phone to help them track their movements and their contacts essentially instantly.

CHANG: Oh, wow. I mean, isn't that something that's similar to what happened in China and South Korea? Both countries had used apps like that, though, I guess, there are probably bigger concerns about privacy here in the U.S., right?

HARRIS: Yeah, no doubt there are. The paper suggests that people would use this app voluntarily. But clearly, you'd need to have a lot of people volunteering to make this work. Maybe if you say the alternative is to stay at home, maybe people would get - would believe, OK, it's worth doing this. But clearly, the social implications here are huge. There's no question. There's going to be a lot more conversation around this, I predict.

CHANG: Scott, I want to go back to you now. I mean, some of the governors around the country, including Gov. Cuomo of New York, as we heard, are clearly expressing frustrations about getting testing kits and other medical supplies. How are the governors on the front lines characterizing the federal response right now?

DETROW: Well, President Trump and Vice President Pence - and you heard it again today - are saying that things are going very well; they're getting states everything they need. But there is bipartisan frustration on a couple of key points. One is the supply for key materials - machines, ventilators, masks, testing kits. You heard that frustration with the bidding situation from Gov. Cuomo, and several other governors raised that same complaint on a call with President Trump yesterday. One other frustration, though, is basic test availability. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who is a Republican, told NPR this morning there is still a big shortage of tests needed to know who does and does not have coronavirus.

CHANG: Nevertheless, we heard a very sobering tone from the White House task force tonight. Do you expect that tone to continue?

DETROW: Well, the president has shifted back and forth several times during this crisis, and that is a big thing to look for in the coming weeks. When it comes to social distancing and stay-at-home orders, the governor set the rules. But the president really sets the tone for a lot of people. And even as he talked today about people who urged him not to shut down the country, just a week ago, he was comparing this to the flu and traffic deaths and questioning the need for social distancing. So a big part of this working could be the president sticking to the message that we heard today and not shifting back to questioning the need for slowing so much of life and the economy down.

CHANG: And really quickly, Richard, I mean, the death toll in the U.S. is now over 3,600, according to Johns Hopkins University. Can you leave us with a little glimmer of good news before we go?

HARRIS: Sure - just a small taste from China - a research study in China that found that, basically, the disease - if you're not very sick, if you're - and you're transmitting the disease, you're much less likely to pass it along. So that's a...


HARRIS: Yeah. That's a little...

CHANG: Little something.

HARRIS: ...Of hope. Yeah.

CHANG: That is NPR science correspondent Richard Harris and political correspondent Scott Detrow.

Thank you.

DETROW: I'll take that.

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

Award-winning journalist Richard Harris has reported on a wide range of topics in science, medicine and the environment since he joined NPR in 1986. In early 2014, his focus shifted from an emphasis on climate change and the environment to biomedical research.
Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.