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News Brief: Coronavirus Outbreak, 2020 Campaign, Israel Election


A second person suffering from COVID-19 in the United States has died. This is the disease caused by coronavirus. Officials in the U.S. are seeing more signs the virus may have been spreading undetected for weeks now, and they are trying to ramp up testing.


The man died in Washington state, where he was a patient in a nursing facility. It appears that many people are sick in that facility, including the first health care worker in the United States known to have contracted the disease. At least two schools have closed in Washington state. And the governor, Jay Inslee, has declared a state of emergency. We should also mention that new cases of the virus have been reported in New York state, Rhode Island and California.

GREENE: Let's bring in NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Good morning, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So an important distinction to make - I mean, we're seeing the numbers tick up now and a second death. But I mean, this could have been an outbreak that is just being detected now. but it could've been happening weeks ago.

STEIN: Yeah. You know, until last week, all the coronavirus cases we knew about in the U.S. were either all people who caught it overseas or who caught it from someone known to have caught it overseas. The first case in which someone apparently caught the virus in the U.S. through what we call community spread was reported in California at the end of last week. And right after that, another case like that was found in California along with similar cases in Oregon and Washington state. What's probably really happening is we're finally seeing testing done widely for the first time in this country.

Pretty much all the testing for the coronavirus was being funneled through the CDC in Atlanta, but state and local labs finally just got the go-ahead to do their own testing. It's likely that we're just starting to discover cases that have been here for a while and starting to get new ones quicker. And just yesterday, a new analysis came out of the genetics of the virus in Washington state. It suggests that the virus may have been circulating kind of silently in the state for weeks. And hundreds may already be infected and we're just realizing it now.

GREENE: I mean, Rob, I got to ask - why the delay? We've known that this virus, I mean, was - the outbreak in China, we've been reporting on it, and also suggestions that it could come to the U.S. Why the delay here?

STEIN: Yeah. So there really have been two issues about the testing. One is the first test kits the CDC initially sent to state and local labs, it just didn't work. And the CDC finally fixed that problem, letting states to start to do their own testing. The second problem was that the CDC was using very strict criteria for who could be tested. The agency finally relaxed those criteria. And the CDC says it was restricting testing because of the limited capacity to test, and so there was kind of a need to test only those who are most likely to have this new coronavirus because they had a connection to overseas travel.

I talked to Scott Becker about this. He's the executive director of the Association of Public Health Laboratories.

SCOTT BECKER: I certainly do wish that the testing was available sooner. There was this very unfortunate challenge in the production process, and it did put us a few weeks behind.

STEIN: So the worry is we may have lost a kind of a crucial window to contain the virus and let it kind of get a foothold and spread undetected. So the CDC is taking a lot of heat for this and a lot of questions about why we had this big delay when other countries were testing widely for a long time already.

GREENE: So a lot of important questions to ask. But for the moment, I mean, what happens now? I assume a lot more testing.

STEIN: Yeah. So testing is finally really ramping up now. Dozens of state and local labs are testing, and about a hundred should be up and running and testing this week. And the Food and Drug Administration is finally letting other places, like hospitals, do their own testing. So it wouldn't be surprising if we start finding infections all over the country. This might not mean that the virus is suddenly spreading a lot faster. It could mean that we're just finding this spread that's been going on for a while without anyone really realizing it.

GREENE: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Rob, thanks so much.

STEIN: You bet, David.


GREENE: All right. The Democratic presidential field is shrinking.

INSKEEP: Yeah. And one of the candidates, Pete Buttigieg, returned to his home city of South Bend, Ind., to give a speech.


PETE BUTTIGIEG: I will no longer seek to be the 2020 Democratic nominee for president. But I will do everything in my power to ensure that we have a new Democratic president come January.


INSKEEP: That was yesterday. Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. Fourteen states hold Democratic presidential primaries.

GREENE: And NPR political correspondent Scott Detrow is in one of those states reporting - Utah. And he joins us from Salt Lake City. Hi there, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

GREENE: All right. So we heard a little bit from Mayor Pete. We should say, I mean, he was not just in the race; he was doing pretty well. He technically won Iowa, came in second in New Hampshire. So I mean, what kind of impact could his departure have here?

DETROW: Yeah. He bet everything in those states. He succeeded to an extent there that no one would have believed when he entered the race. And he was actually third in the overall delegate race at the time he left. But he was never able to gain momentum anywhere else, particularly in more diverse states like Nevada and South Carolina.

There are some signals from Buttigieg and his camp that one big reason he's leaving is to not keep dividing the field in a way that could benefit Bernie Sanders. So you could see an argument that this could really help Joe Biden, particularly in places like California with so many delegates. And there had been a few polls that showed that Biden was right under that important 15% mark, about where you get delegates.

But right after this happened, I did talk to Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir, and he made the argument that Buttigieg voters may be more up for grabs. He said, people are far more complicated in their ideology than pundits like to suggest. And surveys on second choice for Buttigieg supporters do show that support going a lot of different ways. Of course, if Buttigieg makes an outright endorsement, that could change things.

GREENE: OK. You mentioned that Buttigieg was third in the delegate count. The candidates who are first and second - Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden. Coming out of South Carolina now, heading right into Super Tuesday, what does the race look like?

DETROW: Well, Biden in South Carolina provided - showed that he could win, particularly among black voters in that state, which, of course, are such a key demographic coalition for Democrats. More importantly, for Biden, it changed the conversation, changed the narrative. He showed strength, could talk about a comeback. And we have seen things like that really matter after a year of voters obsessing on electability and a lot of signs that, in the first few primaries and caucuses, a lot of voters made up their minds at the very last minute. So both Sanders and Biden are now treating this like a two-person race. Here was Sanders in San Jose yesterday.


BERNIE SANDERS: Time and again, Joe was on the floor of the Senate fighting for a balanced budget amendment that would have cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and veterans' needs.


SANDERS: Now, my point here is not to just be negative about Joe. My point is to ask you all, what campaign is going to defeat Donald Trump?

DETROW: And Biden is equally increasingly critical of Sanders. So they are both acting like it's a two-person race.

GREENE: I have to ask you one more thing, Scott. It's about something you tweeted last night. I noticed you wrote...


GREENE: ...Did Bernie break up Public Enemy during my hour-and-a-half flight? What happened?

DETROW: You could kind of argue he did. It's deeply ironic, given his campaign is all about fighting the power. He has been having a lot of performances from music groups. Chuck D performed in LA under the billing of Public Enemy. Flavor Flav was not happy. He sent Sanders a cease-and-desist, which of course made a reference to time in it. So last night, Public Enemy announced they are dropping Flavor Flav and moving forward without him.

GREENE: When you cover politics, you really cover everything. NPR's Scott Detrow...

DETROW: Oh, yeah.

GREENE: Scott, thanks so much.

DETROW: Thank you.


GREENE: OK. So Israelis are back at the polls today again. This is their third general election in less than a year.

INSKEEP: The last two elections ended in stalemates, with neither side able to form a coalition. Once again, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his political future on the line. After more than a decade in office and facing a corruption trial that's set to begin in two weeks, he's not giving up, wants to keep the job.

GREENE: And NPR's Daniel Estrin is at a polling site. Hi, Daniel.


GREENE: So third time voting in less than a year - can you remind us why we are here?

ESTRIN: We are here because Israel's political system is in deep crisis, David. Two big reasons for that - first, there is an inherent weakness in the way elections work here. Neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor his rival, Benny Gantz, have been able to build a majority coalition in Parliament. And the system does not force a decisive winner. The other reason for the deadlock is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He faces corruption charges. A lot of his political allies are no longer willing to join his government and stand by his side, and he keeps trying and trying.

GREENE: So what are voters telling you? I mean, are they saying that they're just sick of voting in general? Or are they hanging in there and want to do this until they get a result?

ESTRIN: It's amazing. You'd think repeated elections would bring fewer people to the polls. But voter turnout actually increased a bit from the first round to the second round last year. And I'm feeling the same energy this year. Voters realize, though, that, you know, something is wrong about holding election after election. I want to play you a clip from voter Savi Shapiro (ph).

SAVI SHAPIRO: There's something called shitat matzliach. It's success method where it doesn't really matter how you achieve success as long as you achieve success.

ESTRIN: And basically, he's saying he thinks there aren't any rules anymore. You just hold election after election to try to win. He blames Netanyahu for doing that. And I want to play you another clip of what a hairstylist told me. His name is Itzik Latati (ph). He is still undecided. And he, I think, sums up the spirit of where a lot of Israeli voters are.

ITZIK LATATI: I love Benjamin Netanyahu. I feel in the body Benjamin Netanyahu. While I think in the - for my...

ESTRIN: Your head.

LATATI: ...Head, Benny Gantz. In my body - in the inside, Benjamin Netanyahu.

ESTRIN: So his body is saying...


ESTRIN: ...Netanyahu. His head is saying Gantz. And the country really is split.

GREENE: Some voters doing some soul-searching it, sounds like. Any indication that results will be different on this third try?

ESTRIN: Quite frankly, they may not be. Voters have not really changed their minds. We could see another stalemate, maybe even a fourth election. There are some factors, though, that could tip the scales here. First of all, voter turnout will be key. Netanyahu has a major operation to get his voters out to the polls. Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel are voting, and they may have a strong voter turnout. They're mostly focused on booting out Netanyahu. And finally, David, coronavirus. There are fears that there are fake news rumors that could be going around about virus outbreaks that could suppress voter turnout.

GREENE: Wow. All right. NPR's Daniel Estrin covering the third general election in Israel in less than a year.

Daniel, thanks so much.

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

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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