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Federal Efforts On Coronavirus Relief


We're going to begin this hour with the latest on the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic. More than 8,000 Americans have died, and more than 300,000 Americans are confirmed to have the virus. That is the most confirmed cases in one country in the world, and it continues to grow. NPR science correspondent Jon Hamilton has been following this story, and he's with us now.

Jon, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So the president gave an update today with what's become an almost daily briefing. What did he have to say?

HAMILTON: Well, it was not a lot of new stuff. It was more sort of a greatest hits list. So we got a lot of criticism of the way the media has covered his administration and the virus outbreak. He stressed again that the country has to open up. He complained that some states are asking for too many ventilators. He noted that, you know, he's used the Defense Production Act to force companies to make medical supplies, even suggesting that, in fact, it was retaliation for their lack of - what he saw as their lack of cooperation. And he talked a lot about speaking to the heads of sports leagues.

And that brings up a sense that he's really getting antsy about how long this is going on. And remember, he said the country would be opened up by Easter, and that certainly doesn't seem like it's going to happen. He's clearly kind of struggling with, you know, the science that's saying that there's a dangerous outbreak versus the economy.

A couple of things worth noting - he's reiterated that he believes the drug hydroxychloroquine could work, although there's not good evidence so far that it could. He said the coronavirus is more contagious than other things we've faced - something that is patently not true. I think measles is usually the standard for that. And then he talked about how important it is to have good data - something that the country has really not had thus far with coronavirus.

MARTIN: Well, you know, to that end, Jon, also today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it's going to do more to let people know where the coronavirus is spreading. How is that going to work?

HAMILTON: Well, they've started publishing this weekly summary. They're calling it COVIDView. And it's an effort to do something very similar to what they've done for a long time with seasonal flu. The idea is that you synthesize a whole lot of data to get a better picture of what's going on. So they're getting data from testing for the coronavirus but also looking at data coming in from hospitals and emergency departments and clinics about flu-like illnesses that could give you a little sort of early warning that an outbreak is beginning to appear in an area even before you have a lot of tests.

MARTIN: Well, the CDC has been criticized for being behind the curve in tracking the virus. Is this going to change that?

HAMILTON: I'd say it's a step. Now, the CDC, of course, was, you know, part of the problem of getting tests out quickly. That's improving now, although it's improving because private labs and university labs, research labs, have stepped into this sort of testing breach. And this effort with the, you know, surveillance will try to get around some of the problems that you have from a lack of testing.

The idea is to get to surveillance. As opposed to just having sick people come in and saying, do you have the coronavirus or not, you're trying to get to where you actually know how much is out there. But we're a long way from that. And the other thing is that this new product they're trotting out - it's a weekly, and what people really want is daily information.

MARTIN: And before we let you go, Jon, as briefly as you can, there is a big push for more information. Increasingly, officials and advocacy groups are saying we particularly need more information about how people of color are being affected because it seems disproportionate. What do we know about this?

HAMILTON: Well, we really don't know a lot because there's not really good data on any group. You know, we've had this terrible problem with not having enough tests even - to even chart where this virus is going. And one of the things that has come out of that is that we don't know a lot about subgroups. And I know there have been concerns about perhaps tests being done more in affluent patients. That may be a problem. And we don't know because we simply haven't had enough data to break it down in all the ways we'd like to do.

MARTIN: All right. That is NPR's Jon Hamilton.

Jon, thank you.

HAMILTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jon Hamilton is a correspondent for NPR's Science Desk. Currently he focuses on neuroscience and health risks.
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