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Coronavirus Updates: States Encounter Challenges In Reopening Businesses

Originally published on May 4, 2020 8:29 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Gov. Ron DeSantis' stay-at-home order for Florida has expired. That means in much of the state, beaches, restaurants and shopping centers are open with some restrictions. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said today he thinks restaurants will comply with the guidelines to enforce social distancing.

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BUDDY DYER: Tomorrow's Cinco de Mayo, and I want everybody to remember we've spent the past six weeks in isolation, basically, and we don't want to ruin what we have successfully done in six weeks in one night.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Also open - the U.S. Senate, which reconvened today after a month-long recess because of the coronavirus. But questions remain about whether the country is truly ready to ease social distancing measures when the virus is still such a potent international threat.

SHAPIRO: To talk about all this, we are joined now by NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce, congressional correspondent Susan Davis and Miami correspondent Greg Allen.

Good to have all three of you here on a Monday.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Hey there.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Hey.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Hello.

SHAPIRO: Greg, let's start with you in Florida. How are things going on this first day? What's open? What's closed?

ALLEN: Well, it depends, Ari, where you are in Florida. The order that was announced by the governor last week doesn't apply in Miami-Dade County, Broward County and Palm Beach County, the counties in South Florida that are the most populous counties in the state and also the counties where we've had most of the coronavirus cases.

But the rest of the state is beginning to open up. Restaurants and retail stores can reopen to a limited number of customers, and that includes places like Orlando, where we heard Buddy Dyer, Tampa, Jacksonville, the other cities and all the rural areas in Florida. Restaurants are being allowed to expand their outdoor seating, and inside, just 25% of their occupancy is allowed, as we've seen other parts of the country. Here in Florida, no barbershops, beauty salons or other personal services can open yet. That has happened in some other states.

But besides Florida, about a dozen states are starting to do limited reopenings (ph) this week. And some are a little bit ahead of us, and some of them are just going a little behind us.

SHAPIRO: Well, here in Washington, the District of Columbia is still under a stay-at-home order. But, Sue, the Senate is back to work, and half the senators are over the age of 65, more or less. That's a higher-risk population. So why did Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell decide to bring everybody back now?

DAVIS: You know, he essentially made the call that the Senate just needs to get back to work. The Senate - the full Senate hasn't convened since the middle of March. And his message on the floor today was, we're essential workers, too. In the short term, McConnell says the Senate's going to focus on some pending nominations. They'll have committee hearings. But Democrats and - led by Chuck Schumer have been criticizing Republicans for bringing the Senate back without sort of urgent coronavirus-related measures to vote on. This was Schumer on the floor today.

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CHUCK SCHUMER: If we're going to make these fine people come into work in these conditions, let the Senate at least conduct the nation's business and focus like a laser on COVID-19. At the moment, the Republican leader has scheduled no significant COVID-related business for the floor of the Senate.

SHAPIRO: Sue, when Sen. Schumer refers to these fine people there, he's not talking about senators. He's talking about the staff of Capitol Hill - janitors, cafeteria workers, security guards. They all have to return if the Senate is in session. So what protections are being put in place to keep those people safe?

DAVIS: Well, last Friday, the attending physician of the Capitol, Brian Monahan, put out seven pages of guidance for offices to follow. Most of it is the stuff we all know by now. They suggest people wear masks, maintain social distance; don't have in-person meetings of more than a couple people. It also includes things like suggesting staffers and senators bring their own lunches to avoid things like gathering in the cafeterias.

You know - well, it remains to be seen, but it seems like people generally are complying. You could see on the floor today staff were wearing masks. The Senate chaplain delivered the opening prayer wearing gloves. You know, Ari, it's a reminder that this is not without risk, right? You know, Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky has already had the coronavirus. Another seven senators in both parties have had to previously self-quarantine because they had been exposed. Coming back simply means we can't rule out that additional senators could be exposed or infected with the virus.

And we have seen a little bit of difference in how the parties are approaching their return. One example is the senators gather for lunches every week. Republicans have considered - said they're going to continue to do that in person but with social distancing. Democrats are going to do it over the phone.

SHAPIRO: So it looks like people are complying with these regulations on Capitol Hill. In Florida, Greg, does it look like people are following the rules and observing social distancing?

ALLEN: Well, we will have to see, Ari. You know, the restaurants and retail stores are just starting to open up today. But we did see beaches begin to open up and parks over the last few days through the weekend and - although beaches are still closed in southeast Florida down here in Miami Beach and Palm Beach County and Broward County. They also reopened elsewhere in the state over the weekend, and they all have different sorts of rules.

For the most part, local authorities in all these beach towns say that beachgoers follow the rules. And I'm talking about places like the Panhandle and the Gulf Coast beaches here in Florida. And that means that - the rules are basically that groups no larger than 10 can be on the beach, and they have to stay six feet apart from other groups there. But from Pensacola down to Marco Island, you saw a lot of people out on the beaches - you know, crowds on the beaches. And at a time when much of the country is still on lockdown, I think a lot of people are going to find those images unsettling, even though people do seem to be following the rules.

Now, in Miami, as I said, beaches are closed here, but parks and boat ramps have reopened. We had long lines of cars pulling boats. Many couldn't get out this weekend with their boats because the marinas were so packed. In Miami Beach, a popular waterfront park there was closed because it became so packed with pedestrians. People wanted to get out and get the sun. It became difficult for authorities to enforce social distancing.

Face masks are a big issue there. Anyone using a park is supposed to be wearing a face mask. People weren't. Authorities issued more than 7,000 warnings to people who didn't have their face masks on and led to them closing the park, so we'll have to see what happens to the restaurants. But Cinco de Mayo will be the test tomorrow.

SHAPIRO: I want to get more of a national picture, and for that, let's bring in Nell Greenfieldboyce here. As more states like Florida are starting to ease social distancing measures, what are the national trends right now in the coronavirus outbreak?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, it still really varies state by state. I mean, Tom Inglesby, who heads the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, was just running through some numbers on Twitter, and he found that there's seven states that have had two-week declines in new cases, so that's good. You know, like in New York, cases are declining. But in 25 states, the daily number of new cases is actually rising. And so if you put all this together, you look at the nation as a whole, we've been kind of at a plateau for weeks. I mean, the country is steady at around 30,000 new cases daily and 2,000 deaths a day. And the concern is that if more places relax their restrictions, those numbers will start to go up.

SHAPIRO: The concern is underlined by a really frightening report in The New York Times regarding a leaked document that shows some internal modeling by the CDC that forecast a rise in deaths.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah, so that was apparently projections that came in from academic researchers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and they were in a chart in a presentation prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. And these projections predicted a rise in the number of cases and deaths from COVID-19, you know, reaching, ultimately, around 200,000 new cases a day by the end of the month and 3,000 deaths per day in early June.

SHAPIRO: How did the Trump administration respond to that?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, the White House put out a statement saying, you know, it wasn't a White House document. It hadn't been presented to the coronavirus task force. And the academic researcher who created the model apparently told The Washington Post today that the numbers were unfinished projections, and it was shown to the CDC as a kind of work in progress. The White House said it wasn't reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or analyzed by the task force.

But what I think it does reflect is a real worry of public health experts that the virus is still out there, and it's ready to take advantage of any opportunity for spreading if people let down their guard. So for example, there's one influential modeling group at the University of Washington, and it just revised some of their projections upward. You know, they're now projecting that deaths through the beginning of August will be anywhere from around 95,000 all the way to around 240,000. And the main reasons for their forecasts of more deaths is that states are relaxing restrictions and that mobility data from, like, cellphones is suggesting that people are already starting to go out and interact more.

SHAPIRO: Sue, just briefly before we have to wrap up, is Congress looking at more relief money? They've already approved nearly $3 trillion in coronavirus-related relief.

DAVIS: Well, we know they're going to have to do more, but it won't be as easy as the previous four bills that passed with big bipartisan margins. The key negotiators are drawing red lines. Democrats want more money for states. The president says he won't sign a bill if it doesn't have a payroll tax cut. And Senate Republicans want liability protections. And those three people don't agree on those three things, so negotiations need to happen.

SHAPIRO: That is Susan Davis, Nell Greenfieldboyce and Greg Allen.

Thanks to all of you.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

ALLEN: You're welcome.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.