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Around The Country: How States Are Planning To Reopen


In Chicago, they are sheltering in place. Residents in the country's third-biggest city are getting frequent reminders from Mayor Lori Lightfoot to adhere strictly to social distancing practices. But in South Carolina, some retailers have gotten the go-ahead from the governor to welcome customers back. In other words, the response to the coronavirus might look really different depending on where you live, and the debate over how best to proceed brings up all kinds of questions about public safety, the economy, not to mention politics. We're going to spend the next few minutes with three of our NPR correspondents talking through how things look from their corner of the country.

Leila Fadel in Los Angeles, Cheryl Corley in Chicago and Wade Goodwyn in Dallas; hey, you three.




KELLY: Wade, you start. The governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, says the state is ready for a partial reopening. Define partial. Define ready. And what's he basing this on?

GOODWYN: It's a first phase. They're going to reopen the state parks, where people, you know, tent camp in designated campsites. The social distancing rules are still in effect and so are the rules about the size of groups. The other thing is that retail stores can reopen. But like bars and restaurants, you won't be able to go inside and shop. Just pick up your order and go.

KELLY: Hmmm.

GOODWYN: The precipitous drop in oil prices yesterday - that was a nasty shot across Texas's bow, and it's beginning to feel as though the state is looking at the prospect of an economic rout, so that's added to the feeling that the state should try to do something.

KELLY: OK. Chicago - totally different story, right, Cheryl? We mentioned the mayor, Lori Lightfoot, saying the city is not ready to reopen. Is there any push there, either in the city or from the governor, J.B. Pritzker, to reopen the economy?

CORLEY: Oh, not at all, at this point. It's still more about cancellations and shutdowns than opening up. Today the city announced it was canceling a number of upcoming festivals and parades. And our stay-at-home order is up at the end of the month, and we expect to hear soon whether or not that's going to be extended. There have been more than 33,000 cases of COVID-19 in Illinois, more than 1,400 deaths. And the governor said today the new models project that Illinois won't reach a peak until mid-May, and he's working to make changes to the stay-at-home order. Got a little cough, here. Hold on.

KELLY: Don't worry.

CORLEY: It's not COVID-19 (laughter).

KELLY: Good. Glad to hear.

CORLEY: But, you know, it's been very sunny here, and the past few days, our beaches have been closed, aren't likely to be open anytime soon. Yesterday, the mayor was pretty critical of the governor of Florida's decision to open up the beaches there, saying - and I'm quoting her - "God help us all." She says she knows the restrictions that Chicago and Illinois have in place have been hard but are just necessary to save lives.

KELLY: Leila, what's it looking like in California? I know there have been some protests, people demanding that things start to reopen - but leaders there, generally, still holding firm on the stay-at-home policies.

FADEL: Yes. I mean, so far, there have been some protests, but very small - a few dozen people here and there in a state of nearly 40 million. For the most part, people are abiding by the stay-at-home order; some counties starting to slightly tweak restrictions. So in one county, golf courses are open with a lot of social distancing rules. Meanwhile, officials are really continuing to grapple with how to measure the spread and safely move to reopening. And that's a big question when California, like the country, is still severely limited in its testing capacity.

KELLY: Well, and California is interesting because it led the way, put stay-at-home orders in place first. You all have been doing this for longer than the rest of us. How has that made a difference?

FADEL: I mean, it seems like it really did make a difference. The state hasn't seen the hospitals overwhelmed in the way New York City has, although confirmed cases and deaths are still going up at a slower rate. But shutting down the country's most populous state is causing economic pain. And while the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is getting some pressure to begin a phased reopening, he has, so far, resisted.


GAVIN NEWSOM: We must have a health-first focus if we're ultimately going to come back economically. The worst mistake we can make is making a precipitous decision based on politics and frustration that puts people's lives at risk and, ultimately, sets back the cause of economic growth and economic recovery.

KELLY: Cheryl, let me bring you back in. I want to touch on something that Mayor Lightfoot has been outspoken about as well, which is calling the coronavirus a red alarm for communities of color, particularly in African American neighborhoods in Chicago, where COVID-19 has killed African Americans at a rate four times higher than whites. What is she doing about that?

CORLEY: Well, she's worked with community groups to create what she is calling a rapid equity response team - racial equity rapid response team. And they'll begin working first in three predominantly African American neighborhoods on the city's south and west sides and creating what Lightfoot calls a hyperlocal and data-informed strategy. So they'll be expanding testing in those neighborhoods. There will be distribution of thousands of masks and door hangers and postcards distributed to reach out to African Americans who are at greatest risk of contracting the disease because of age or underlying health conditions, those sorts of things. She says that's just the beginning. They're going to be looking at long-standing problems.

KELLY: Wait. The mention of masks there makes me think of something to put to you, Wade, which is, among the things that will happen as Texas reopens is hospitals are resuming elective surgeries. What does that mean for supplies of personal protection equipment for doctors and nurses? Do they have adequate supplies?

GOODWYN: It's interesting because the state's currently in the federal courts arguing that abortion should be banned. Why? - because every bit of medical personnel protection equipment and resources are needed for hospitals to battle COVID-19, and I think this announcement by the government undermines that legal argument. Doctors, I think, are trying to figure out how this is going to work. I mean, just take ear, nose and throat doctors who insert tubes into children's ears. Simple procedure - poke a tiny hole in the eardrum, insert the tube and repeat in the other ear. And it's not unusual for ENT doctors to schedule a day in the week where they do 20 procedures back to back. But you can't risk bringing a COVID-infected patient into the operating room. And that means each patient has to be tested. And Texas hasn't been great, you know, on the testing front in general. The governor says there's going to be a lot more kits on the way, but we don't know when exactly.

KELLY: Just one more thing to squeeze in here, which is the economy. And, Leila, I'm going to put this to you because California, as we said, has had stay-at-home orders in effect for the longest. What is the economic outlook like where you are in LA?

FADEL: You know, over the weekend, Mayor Eric Garcetti gave a chilling State of the City address. Here's what he said.


ERIC GARCETTI: All of us remember the 2008 recession. Until now, it was the biggest economic blow of our lifetime, and it hurt. But there's no way to sugarcoat this. This is bigger, and it will hurt more.

FADEL: Anticipated taxes and fees aren't coming in, and that translates to the mayor saying he needs to furlough 16,000 city workers. And a recent survey says more than half of residents of Los Angeles are unemployed - a 16% increase since mid-March.

KELLY: Cheryl, just a very quick last word from you, if you would - state of the economy in Chicago.

CORLEY: Well, right now the mayor says the city's finances remain strong. There is a substantial amount of cash available to weather the storm for now.

KELLY: All right, a sense there of how things are playing out in three parts of this country. That was Cheryl Corley, Wade Goodwyn and Leila Fadel all reporting.

Thanks so much to you all.

FADEL: Thank you.

CORLEY: You're welcome.

GOODWYN: It was our pleasure.

(SOUNDBITE OF BIBIO'S "THE FIRST DAFFODILS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Wade Goodwyn is an NPR National Desk Correspondent covering Texas and the surrounding states.
Cheryl Corley is a Chicago-based NPR correspondent who works for the National Desk. She primarily covers criminal justice issues as well as breaking news in the Midwest and across the country.
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