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We are now more than five months into this thing, and you might remember the first day it felt like everything was changing was March 11th. That was the day the NBA suspended its season. Now, today, the NBA playoffs are starting and for four weeks straight now, a single player in the NBA has tested positive.
One of the reasons it's worked so well is because across the board, everyone here has completely bought in.
That's NBA star JJ Redick, who plays for the New Orleans Pelicans. They didn't quite make the playoffs, but up until now, he has been in one place, Orlando, Florida, in a quarantine bubble with hundreds of other NBA players. They've been living and playing basketball games there since the end of July. Reddick talked about this to NPR earlier this month. We might be in the safest place in America right now. While they're in the bubble. Players get tested every day and there are strict health and safety protocols.
And that's one of the issues I think we're dealing with in this country, is that we haven't had nationwide protocols in place.
He's not saying everyone in America should live in a bubble. He's saying the NBA has made it work because everyone knows the plan. Everyone believes in the plan and everyone follows the plan. We've certainly given the rest of the country some sort of template for how this could work. Coming up, what is not working for the rest of us who aren't NBA players testing this month for the first time, the number of tests went down and schools that are opening up and closing right back down again.
This is consider this from NPR. I'm Kelly McEvers.
It's Monday, August 17th. This message comes from NPR sponsor New Belgium Brewing and its flagship beer, Fat Tire Amber Ale.
You can't brew great beer without healthy rivers, forests and soils. That's why Fat Tire Amber Ale is now America's first certified carbon neutral beer. More at drink sustainably dotcom. Support for NPR and the following message come from transfer wise, the smart new way to send and receive money internationally join over eight million customers in 80 countries who are already saving and try it for free at transfer wise dotcom slash NPR or download the app. More than 170000 people have died from the coronavirus in the United States and a report over the weekend says that number could be even higher.
The New York Times looked at data from the CDC and found that since March, at least 200000 more people than usual have died in the United States.
That's 200000 people who would not have died in a normal non pandemic year. And for weeks now, more than a thousand people have been dying every day. So why is the number of overall tests going down? Well, we've all seen the stories about the very long delays. The test results are taking 17 days to come back in some instances.
A of Harvard's Global Health Institute told NPR this week doctors might be ordering fewer tests because the results take too long to be useful.
People are less willing to get a test if they're not going to get a result soon. There are in some places, long lines to get a test. All of this, I think the barriers that we've put up to making testing simple and easy are really dissuading a lot of people from getting tested.
And let's be clear, the number of tests is not going down because fewer people are getting sick in some states like New York, where cases are relatively low, testing has gone up in recent weeks.
But in Texas and Florida, two very hard hit states testing has dropped more than 40 percent.
If you can't test people, you don't really know how much disease there is, how much disease you're missing.
And right now, I'm getting worried that we're missing a lot of cases in Texas and Florida and other states.
She says the U.S. should be testing at least four to five million people a day.
In the past week, we've been testing fewer than 800000 a day. There is a new test that some public health experts hope could bump that number back up again. It works with saliva and over the weekend it was approved by the FDA.
NPR science correspondent Allison Aubrey talked about that test, another kind of test and where this pandemic is headed with my colleague, David Greene. The saliva test was developed at Yale University with some research support actually from the National Basketball Association. The idea is that this will make it easier to be tested. You just spit into a cup. And on the lab side, it's a faster, streamlined process that should be cheaper. So labs across the country can now begin to use this test now that it's been authorized.
And it comes, David, just as many colleges are starting to reopen, some students returning to campus. UNC Chapel Hill, for instance, opened a week ago. The semester started last week. And already there have been outbreaks of covid-19 clusters reported.
And it's early days. But by winter, it could get messy, especially when we move into flu season. So there's going to be a big push for flu vaccinations.
But that's not for coronavirus, right? I mean, we should we should say flu vaccine can't protect you against the coronavirus. That's right.
But but think about it. If covid cases rise as more people spend more time together indoors and the flu could start to spread too, well, then hospitals could get overwhelmed.
So don't be surprised, even if you start hearing a lot about the flu vaccine now and some manufacturers are actually increasing their production of flu shots in anticipation that more people will get the shot.
I guess it's an important reminder here that some of the same behaviors that help us prevent coronavirus, I mean, washing hands and keeping your distance and all of that can can really help prevent the flu as well. That's right.
And people are probably so tired of hearing it, but that's what we have to keep doing. You know, it's important to point out, if you do get symptoms, you want to know which thing you have. You want to know, do you have the flu or do you have covered there? Obviously, if you have flu, you could take some medicines. It's important to know a company called Zaphod has created a new test that can distinguish between two types of flu, the coronavirus and RSV, another respiratory virus, all in one test.
I spoke to the company's chief medical and technology officer, Dave.
Pursing all of the viruses can present in very similar ways. And so we decided to put all four of those together. And it generates results in about 36 minutes for all four targets.
So another example of another new test. They hope to have this available for the winter. It would be used in hospitals.
I mean, hope is really the word here, right? I mean, it sounds like it's definitely going to be a long winter, but everyone wants to get back to some sort of more normal feeling. They're hoping there will be a vaccine at some point, but we just don't know, right? That's right.
I mean, and even after we have an approved vaccine, if that happens, the reality, David, is that there's not going to be some kind of magical day where we wake up and the virus is gone. That's not happening anytime soon. Anthony Fauci has said that the vaccine may only be 50 or 60 percent effective, meaning if 100 people get the vaccine, maybe only 50 or 60 get the full protection. We just don't know. I spoke to Carlos del Rio about this.
He's an infectious disease doctor at Emory University. And he says, you know, for coronavirus, we only achieve herd immunity once 60 percent or 70 percent of people have immunity.
But so far, only about 10 percent of Americans have had the virus.
So let's suppose that by the time we get to the vaccine, we are at 20 percent of the population being infected. While you're still going to have to get another 40 percent of the population immune with the vaccine in order to be 60 percent, which is the level of protection you need for this virus. So it's not going to happen right away. So bottom line, David, get used to the new norm.
If you don't have a comfortable mask, get one, you'll likely need it. NPR's Allison Aubrey talking to my colleague, David Greene. By the way, Alison talked about those outbreaks at UNC Chapel Hill a week into school. Starting today, UNC Chapel Hill announced that because of those outbreaks, all undergraduate courses would be moving fully online by Wednesday. So, yeah, schools around the country are under pressure to reopen for in-person classes, even in states where cases are rising at a dangerous rate.
In Idaho, public health experts say schools that are reopening might have to close right back down again. But some politicians think those decisions should not be up to health experts.
Here's NPR's Kirk Siegler super at the Brudno Grandview School District. A couple dozen teachers are crowded into the small library. They're doing a refresher training in online teaching.
It's fine if you want to design your Google classroom to be very student friendly, but you're also then going to need to do some kind of checklist for the parent. Parents in this district have the option to keep their kids home and do online, only go to school or some combination. Regardless, in a small school like this, teachers like Maya Davis are expected to run it all.
So that'll be a little bit challenging to navigate just because teaching online itself was a full time job. And obviously teaching in the classroom is a full time job, but we're just making it work.
Davis is using a break in the training to finish up a presentation for her kids on how this year will be different. Desks spaced apart, a shortened school day to allow for more online work and masks will be encouraged, but not required except on school buses.
In fact, Davis is one of only a handful in this crowded library wearing one. She commutes an hour each way from Boise.
I know that there's very few cases of covid in Grandview and so I don't want to be the one coming from Boise bringing covid into the community. But I will absolutely wear my mask while I'm teaching. And all the time.
There are fewer than a dozen known covid-19 cases in the two farming towns of Brudno and Grandview. This isolated school is literally surrounded on three sides by cornfields. And then if you walk out the back door, you're looking at the Snake River. Superintendent Ryan Cantrell says when they abruptly went to online only last spring, some of his students dropped off the map. Learning suffered, especially in outlying areas where there's little or no Internet. There's a general consensus of let's get moving, let's get the kids back in here so that we can find out where they're at, how we can help them.
But control is realistic about the plans. I think it's probably just a matter of time before we're back to all virtual. I expect almost immediately to have to start making decisions about who comes to school, who's quarantined. What do we do about Mrs. Smith's class? Do we need to shut school down for two weeks? This is the uncomfortable reality in Idaho, where most state leaders want businesses and schools open. Idaho is one of the reddest states in America, with a big red mark next to it.
Now as having one of the nation's fastest growing rates of infections, Republican State Senator Steven Thayn is vice chair of the Education Committee here.
At a recent hearing, he pushed a bill that would take authority away from those local health districts so they can enforce school closures or mass squirters.
Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach. I'm very fearful of an elitist approach. I'm also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism.
The argument is that local school boards should have the final say, not public health experts. For now, here's what third grade teacher Maya Davis is planning to do.
I'm hoping, you know, that I can keep myself safe and keep my classroom clean and teach my kids as much as I possibly can. I actually on Monday, I'm going to have my whole classroom.
Zoome with a doctor, a friend who's a doctor who's treated patients with the virus, will talk to the kids about how they can protect themselves and their families.
NPR's Kirk Siegler additional reporting in this episode from our colleagues at All Things Considered and Morning Edition.
And we want to tell you that NPR's coverage of the Democratic National Convention starts tonight, Monday night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. You can follow our coverage at NPR. Again, ask your smart speaker to play NPR or listen to your local public radio station. Supporting that station makes this podcast possible. I'm Kelly McEvers. We'll be back with more tomorrow.
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