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News Brief: COVID-19 And Kids, Beirut Blast Aftermath, Chicago Looting

NOEL KING, HOST:

So you remember how when COVID-19 first emerged, there was a lot of talk about how maybe kids don't get the virus, or they're less likely to get it than adults?

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Some new numbers cast doubt on that. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association reviewed state-level data. And they found 97,000 kids tested positive in just the last two weeks of July. Those numbers arrived just as many places are trying to reopen schools.

KING: NPR's Cory Turner has been following what's going on with the schools. Good morning, Cory.

CORY TURNER, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: So this data was all gathered together in a report - this state-level data from across the country. What does the report say?

TURNER: Well, as you said, 97,000 kids tested positive in just the last two weeks of July. And for context, that's about a 40% increase over the previous total, which has been slowly building since the pandemic began. According to these state-level data, at least 340,000 children in the U.S. have now tested positive for COVID. And that number and this report offer a really powerful rebuttal to President Trump's claim just last week that children are, quote, "almost immune" from this disease. Now, Trump suggested yesterday he meant kids don't get very sick. About that, he is right. But children do clearly get the disease, and they do spread it, especially older children.

KING: Another thing that President Trump has said over the past few weeks is that there's a surge in numbers because we're doing more testing. Is it possible that these 97,000 kids are - their test results showed up just because we're testing more kids?

TURNER: That is likely part of the explanation but not all of it. I spoke with Dr. Sean O'Leary. He's a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Children's Hospital Colorado.

SEAN O'LEARY: Clearly, more children are getting infected. I think we can say that because the rates of infection have gone up in the places where we're seeing more children getting infected.

TURNER: O'Leary says, you know, look at what was happening in the country during those last two weeks of July. Many states were seeing infection rates skyrocket. And researchers note, you know, those same states, largely in the South and the West, accounted for over 7 out of 10 of these new child cases.

KING: OK, so that part of it makes sense. As Steve pointed out, there's a fight going on right now over whether and when to reopen schools. Do you think this report is going to change that fight at all?

TURNER: Well, it might. Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear, who is a Democrat in a deeply red state, announced yesterday that he was recommending schools there delay in-person classes for a while longer. And he pointed to this new report.

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ANDY BESHEAR: Hopefully, y'all saw this news. Nationally, 100,000 kids tested positive in the United States in just the last two weeks of July. It is a myth that kids do not get this virus.

TURNER: Beshear and Kentucky stand out here because other states with relatively high infection rates have pushed for schools to reopen in spite of public health warnings. Noel, every expert I talked to says schools don't exist in a vacuum. And community infection rates should be central to the decision of when and how to reopen. That's why, with rates low, New York City is planning to reopen schools. But it's also why schools in Georgia and Mississippi, where rates are still high, are seeing infections follow kids and staff to school.

KING: NPR education correspondent Cory Turner. Thanks, Cory.

TURNER: Thank you.

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KING: Lebanon's government is resigning.

INSKEEP: Yeah, the Lebanese prime minister, Hassan Diab, admitted, quote, "chronic corruption" is responsible for a warehouse full of badly maintained chemicals that exploded last week. The government had been warned for years that those chemicals could lead to a disaster. And they did. At least 150 people are dead, and tens of thousands are homeless. Lebanese went out into the streets to protest. Now, Diab says he's going to stay in office until a new government can be formed. So what do protesters make of that?

KING: Nada Homsi has been covering this for NPR from Beirut. Good morning, Nada.

NADA HOMSI, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So the prime minister and his government are resigning. They will leave eventually. We'll talk about that in a minute. How are Lebanese people reacting to this news?

HOMSI: People in Lebanon are still grieving, to be honest. And they're really tired. And now they're getting to be really angry. They really don't have a lot of faith in a government resignation because they've honestly been there before. Just 10 months ago, when the economy was just beginning to collapse in Lebanon, there was a massive protest movement against the political class. And that culminated in the previous Cabinet resigning. So the previous government resigned just 10 months ago. And that's how Hassan Diab came in. He was touted as a technocrat. But it became very clear quickly that his government represented more of the corruption and the mismanagement of the previous 30 years, which people in Lebanon had been protesting against. So now that same corruption - it's culminated into this massive explosion that took out half the city. And people are even more angry than ever, in addition to grieving for all the dead and the injured and for their capital city.

I spoke with a former school teacher who was out protesting for the past three days straight with her two teenage daughters. Her name is Rina Nezhad Hareb (ph). And she basically was saying that taking down the government won't be enough because if the government only ends up serving the interests of the existing political parties, it's as if nothing happened, as if they're starting all over again from zero.

KING: OK. This is interesting. So the big question, then, would be what happens next? Is there an election?

HOMSI: We really don't know at this point. They haven't announced parliamentary elections yet. And Hassan Diab has been asked by the president to stay on in a caretaker capacity, which is pretty normal while the Parliament deliberate over what the next government is going to look like. But what the next government's going to look like is the big question. It's unclear if people are going to have a voice or if it'll be the usual faction leaders that join together to form a national government in order to protect their interests. And Prime Minister Hassan Diab took over just less than a year ago. So this is a really short-lived government. And after months of haggling and stalemate, his government ended up looking a lot like the chronic corruption of the previous governments.

KING: You can understand why people are so frustrated. Nada Homsi in Beirut. Thanks so much, Nada.

HOMSI: Thank you.

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KING: OK, here's what it looked like in Chicago last night. The bridges over the river were raised up to control traffic.

INSKEEP: Highway exits leading to the downtown area were blocked, and so were most trains. I'm looking at the Chicago Transit Authority website here, and it's a full page of service disruptions at the request of public safety officials. Chicago was trying to prevent a repeat of something that happened on Sunday night. Police shot a man on the city's South Side. And apparently in response, people went into the streets and looted stores. Last night was relatively calm by comparison, but protesters did converge on a police station.

KING: And WBEZ's Chip Mitchell was there. Good morning, Chip.

CHIP MITCHELL, BYLINE: Morning, guys.

KING: OK. So at this moment in history, we are being very careful about whether we use the word looting or protest. What happened in Chicago on Sunday was looting.

MITCHELL: Yeah, well, as many as - it was a few thousand people - started arriving along the main shopping corridor downtown around midnight. This is late Sunday as the weekend was coming to a close. Witnesses and video clips - they suggest that the main thing that was going on was smashing store windows and taking things by the armful or even filling up cars. There is a political dimension to that. But various sides here, including protest leaders who defend this activity - they're calling it looting.

KING: So the protesters gather last night outside of a police station, not there, obviously, to loot a police station. Why were they there?

MITCHELL: Yeah, it was about 150 protesters led by Black Lives Matter Chicago. They came to support alleged looters who'd been arrested the night before and were getting released from police custody. The protesters had this big banner. It was hand-painted. It said, our futures have been looted from us. Loot back. Ariel Atkins organized the protests and took questions from reporters about the looting.

ARIEL ATKINS: My people are struggling. People in this city are struggling through a pandemic. So I don't care if somebody decides to loot a Gucci or a Macy's or a Nike because that makes sure that that person eats. That makes sure that that person has clothes. That makes sure that that person can make some kind of money because this city obviously doesn't care about them. Not only that - that's reparations.

MITCHELL: She's talking about reparations for the injustices black people have faced since slavery.

KING: Of course. What started all of this?

MITCHELL: Well, the city's new police superintendent - his name's David Brown - he said the looting stemmed from a shooting by Chicago officers Sunday on the South Side. They shot and injured a 20-year-old man. Brown says the man had fired at the cops first. As the police were processing the scene, though, they got into a confrontation with a crowd of people. Brown said that crowd kept growing and that misinformation about the shooting spread through the crowd. He said social media posts then led to a caravan of cars that went downtown to loot. Mayor Lori Lightfoot said there is a big difference between protesting against police brutality and this looting.

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LORI LIGHTFOOT: This had nothing to do with legitimate, protected First Amendment expression. These were not poor people engaging in petty theft to feed themselves and their families. This was straight-up felony, criminal conduct.

KING: All right. So Mayor Lightfoot taking a strong stance there. Chip Mitchell, criminal justice reporter with WBEZ in Chicago. Chip, thanks so much.

MITCHELL: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.