PBS NewsHour full episode, Mar 18, 2020

PBS NewsHour full episode, Mar 18, 2020


JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. I’m Judy Woodruff. On the “NewsHour” tonight: at war with an
invisible enemy. The U.S. hunkers down to fight the spread of COVID-19, closing the
border to Canada, as lawmakers move to provide financial relief, while the economic fallout
worsens. Then: the coming crisis. The U.S. medical
community braces for the worst-case scenario: a cascade of patients and a shortage of hospital
beds. Plus: songs of comfort. World-renowned cellist
Yo-Yo Ma on the healing power of music in a time of global fear. YO-YO MA, Cellist: A virus is something that
travels globally, it knows no borders, no walls, no boundaries. And music is something
that actually looks into the inside. And that also knows no boundaries. JUDY WOODRUFF: All that and more on tonight’s
“PBS NewsHour.” (BREAK) JUDY WOODRUFF: The coronavirus pandemic is
hitting new highs and lows tonight. Infections in the U.S. have jumped to 7,700 confirmed
cases, with 133 reported deaths. And another wave of selling overwhelmed Wall
Street, as the Dow industrials fell 6 percent. Meanwhile, President Trump invoked new powers
to address the crisis. We begin with this report from William Brangham. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
It’s the invisible enemy. That’s always the toughest enemy, the invisible enemy, but we
are going to defeat the invisible enemy. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump, describing
the fight against the coronavirus as a war, announced new sweeping measures to mobilize
the country. DONALD TRUMP: So we will be invoking the We’ll
be invoking the Defense Production Act. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: The Defense Production Act
was first enacted during the Korean War, and it allows the government to force companies
to sign contracts or fulfill orders deemed critical for national defense. This also comes as public health officials
warned that the official count of confirmed infections will shoot up dramatically in coming
days. Dr. Deborah Birx, who’s helping coordinate
the response, says this is because much quicker viral testing is starting to roll out. DR. DEBORAH BIRX, White House Coronavirus
Response Coordinator: We will see the number of people diagnosed dramatically increase
over the next four to five days. I know some of you will use that to raise an alarm that
we are worse than Italy because of our slope of our curve. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Dr. Birx also urged young
Americans to follow CDC and White House guidelines and avoid large gatherings, like here on Miami
Beach today, even if they feel fine and show no obvious symptoms. DR. DEBORAH BIRX: I’m not only calling on
you to heed what’s in the guidance, but to really ensure that each and every one of you
are protecting each other. And so we cannot have these large gatherings
that continue to occur throughout the country, for people who are off work to then be socializing
in large groups and spreading the virus. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump today also
announced today that the Department of Housing and Urban Development will not enforce evictions
or foreclosures until April. WOMAN: The bill is passed. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And on the other end of
Pennsylvania Avenue, the United States Senate approved a $100 billion coronavirus response
bill. The bill, negotiated between Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and House Speaker
Nancy Pelosi, contains emergency funds to provide sick pay for workers and free viral
testing. It is Congress’ latest legislative step, as
it also considers ways to provide relief for small businesses and for workers and to stabilize
the roller-coaster financial markets. SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): The men and women
who pour their entire lives into small businesses do not need even more obstacles. They need
help. They need a lifeline. They need to know that Congress understands the historic obstacles
they’re facing, and that we have their back as well. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But Senate Minority Leader
Chuck Schumer said this pandemic demands an even greater response. SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Democrats are proposing
a Marshall Plan for our public health infrastructure. The sooner we act on it, the better. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: Meanwhile, President Trump
and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced today the U.S.-Canada border will
be closed to nonessential travel. Trudeau spoke from his home in Ottawa. JUSTIN TRUDEAU, Canadian Prime Minister: These
measures will last in place as long we feel that they need to last. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: President Trump said today
the U.S. is not moving to close down the border with Mexico. And across the United States today, daily
lives remain stalled. There are now confirmed infections in all 50 states. The normally
busy Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco is empty, after local officials ordered roughly
eight million Californians to shelter in place. Here, a shopping mall in suburban Virginia
closed indefinitely. Domestic air travel is collapsing, too. This is a terminal at Salt
Lake City’s airport two weeks ago. And here it is on Monday. And the same with American
car manufacturing. Ford, GM and Fiat Chrysler are all suspending production at U.S. plants
until March 30. In Las Vegas, America’s gambling mecca has
gone quiet, after the state took the unprecedented move last night of closing businesses, including
hotels and casinos, in the state for 30 days. Governor Steve Sisolak: GOV. STEVE SISOLAK (D-NV): This is only common
sense. At a time when people are getting sick from simply being near others is not the time
for gyms to remain open. This is not the time for casinos to remain open. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: And other nations around
the world are taking similar measures, shutting down public spaces to limit the spread of
this virus. In Antwerp, empty train stations and streets,
as Belgium’s prime minister today joined many European leaders and implemented a nationwide
lockdown. SOPHIE WILMES, Belgian Prime Minister (through
translator): Citizens are required to stay at home in order to avoid maximum contact
outside their immediate family, except to go to work, essential travel, going to the
doctor, the grocery store, the post office, the bank, the pharmacy, to get fuel or to
help people in need. WILLIAM BRANGHAM: But traffic jams stretched
for miles across other parts of Europe today, including the German-Polish border, after
the European Union yesterday announced it is closing their external borders to non-E.U.
citizens. And in hard-hit Italy, nearly 30,000 people
have now tested positive, and over 2,500 people have died. For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m William Brangham. JUDY WOODRUFF: And we turn again to our Lisa
Desjardins and Yamiche Alcindor. Yamiche, to you, first. The president today invoked the Defense Production
Act. He also enacted border restrictions. What do we know about how these measures are
going to be used to fight this virus? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: The president today said
that he sees himself as a wartime president. And with that in mind, he said he was taking
several emergency steps needed to stem the flow and stem the outbreak of the coronavirus.
So he said he was going to be signing the Defense Production Act. Now, this act would allow the federal government
to direct American manufacturers to produce items needed to fight the virus, including
masks or gloves or gowns. Now, the president said he signed that just in case he had to
invoke it in worst-case scenario. Only a few minutes ago, he tweeted that. So, it isn’t that this is happening right
now. The other thing to note, though, what is happening right now is that the president
is putting in new travel restrictions for the northern and southern border. That’s the
borders with Canada in Mexico. Here’s a bit of what the president is going
to be doing and is doing just put up there. The president is going to be enforcing something
that is an immediate removal of anyone who’s crossing those borders that are undocumented.
People aren’t going to take being taken to facilities or courts. There’s going to be
no due process. People are just going to be immediately removed.
The other thing is, the people that are exempt are Americans and Canadians and people with
proper documents. That means people with green cards or with work permits. They’re going
to be allowed to come in. And, last, this does not include goods and
trade. The president made it clear today that he doesn’t want this to impact the trade with
Mexico and Canada. But there are people, of course, that are pushing back, saying that
this is unlawful. But the president and the Trump administration
say they’re happy and willing to fight this in court, if needed, because they say that
this is a public health need and that the borders need to be shut down, at least to
the people that I just described. JUDY WOODRUFF: Yamiche, today at the briefing
at the White House, you asked the president how the White House is characterizing this
virus and how long it’s going to last. Tell us about that exchange and what he said. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the president has
been getting pushback for using the term Chinese virus. And there was also a White House official
who referred to the coronavirus as kung flu. So I questioned the president about whether
or not he thought those terms were wrong. Here’s what he said. QUESTION: A person at the White House used
the… DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
No, just the term. QUESTION: … term Kung flu. My question is… DONALD TRUMP: Kung flu? QUESTION: … do you think that’s wrong? Kung
flu. And do you think using the term Chinese virus, that that puts Asian Americans at risk,
that people might target them? DONALD TRUMP: No, not at all. No, not at all.
I think they probably would agree with it 100 percent. It comes from China. There’s
nothing not to agree on. YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Now, the president said
that he wants to continue to use the word and term Chinese virus because he thinks,
yes, this virus started in China. He also says China was trying to blame the United
States and U.S. service members for the virus starting in China. The other thing to note is, I questioned the
president about whether or not the coronavirus outbreak in the United States might last as
long as 18 months. That’s what some reports have been saying. The president said that’s
not correct. He doesn’t think it’s going to last that long. But Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin did say
that the unemployment rate could go up to 20 percent. That, of course, would be a big,
big number. And people are very, very worried about that, but the president saying the federal
government is doing all that it can do so that those things will not happen. JUDY WOODRUFF: Interesting. And so, Lisa, now over to you. Things are
moving really fast at the Capitol in terms of figuring out ways to help people, to help
businesses. Tell us where everything stands right now. LISA DESJARDINS: Judy, I think, overall, think
of the Capitol as a place that is trying to shore up a dam that is cracking in the middle
of an earthquake. They are trying to deal with now layoffs starting
to come in with — to the economy, at the same time as they know future problems are
going to be worse. And they’re not sure what tools exactly can fix these problems. So let’s go over exactly where we are. First
of all, today, as William reported, the Senate passed the Families First Act. That goes to
the president now. A reminder again, that helps deal with sick time for people who have
the virus or are quarantined, and family leave for those caring for children at home, as
well as testing and some food aid. Now, what’s next is that $1 trillion stimulus
plan. It could be more than a trillion dollars, Judy. And today, as Republicans gathered to
try and figure out their plan, outside came a new idea from Senators Lindsey Graham and
Mitt Romney. They would like to focus on unemployment insurance to the tune, Judy, of perhaps 75
percent of people’s salaries, up to $80,000. That’s just one idea. But it looks like that
idea of looking out for those who lose their jobs is emerging as a top factor in any of
the next plans. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, on the part of that that
addresses small businesses, what do you see emerging there? LISA DESJARDINS: This seems to be the most
clear consensus point in all of the parties, is that small businesses who may already be
worried about going out of business this week need more help. There is a plan emerging from Senators Rubio
and Collins in the Republican Party that would actually — they would give federal loans
to those small businesses to help them continue to operate. So long as those businesses use that money
for payroll and operations, Judy, this plan would later forgive those loans, essentially
make this a grant to perhaps thousands and thousands of small businesses around the country.
The cost of that Judy, $300 billion. But there is clear concern for small businesses,
more than almost any other sector of the economy right now here in the U.S. Capitol. JUDY WOODRUFF: So interesting. All right, so I want to ask both of you, quickly,
because you have both been reporting on this. And that is Bernie Sanders. Obviously, he
came in behind in these latest primaries that took place yesterday. Both of you have been in touch with his campaign. Yamiche, what are you hearing about what his
next plans are? YAMICHE ALCINDOR: Well, the Bernie Sanders
campaign and the senator himself have been pushing back very hard on the idea that he
is ending his campaign any time soon. They said that any reports of that are false. I have been talking to sources that are close
to Bernie Sanders who say that he recognizes that his path is nearly impossible to winning
the nomination, but that he wants to look at how he can possibly push Joe Biden further
to the left and push some more progressive ideals. But, today, the senator was very, very angry,
in a way that I haven’t seen him in the years that I have been covering him, because he
even sent an expletive to a reporter who was asking him about whether or not he would be
ending his campaign sometime soon. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, Lisa? LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. And, Judy, I was there, actually. That was
part of a conversation I was having with Senator Sanders. I asked Senator Sanders for comments
on the race. He said, no comment. I moved on to ask him about the pandemic. He had a lengthy conversation with me, I think
the longest he’s spoken to a reporter in a few days, about his concerns with the pandemic.
That’s obviously a top priority to him. Other reporters joined in, asked him again
about the race, asked him repeatedly. And that was when he had that pushback. He’s turned
to them and said, why are you asking me this? We’re in the middle of a — and then he used
a strong word — crisis. Now, it seems to me that he obviously is very
focused on the crisis. I asked him about the election and the crisis. And that clearly
is on his mind too. He has a lot of concerns about how the election goes forward. What he himself does, unclear, but he is factoring
in the pandemic into all of his thoughts. That much, we can say. JUDY WOODRUFF: The only thing better than
having one of you reporting on Bernie Sanders is having both of you reporting on him. (LAUGHTER) JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Lisa. And thank
you, Yamiche. LISA DESJARDINS: Yes. JUDY WOODRUFF: We appreciate it. Economic damage from this virus keeps piling
up, amid talk of sweeping financial aid. The Dow Jones industrial average, as we reported,
crashed again today, losing more than 1,300 points, to close below 19,900. The Nasdaq
fell 345 points, and the S&P 500 gave up 131. For insight into all of this, I’m joined once
again by David Wessel, director of the Hutchins Center on Fiscal and Monetary Policy at the
Brookings Institution. David, welcome back to the program. So it seems that, no matter what Congress
does — and we have heard from Lisa reporting on that — the markets, the investors just
don’t seem to be reassured. Is that what’s going on? DAVID WESSEL, Brookings Institution: Right. I think that what we’re seeing is the markets
and investors are — A, they’re talking — they’re realizing there’s a lot of uncertainty. Secondly,
they’re extremely risk-averse. No one wants to hold any risky assets. And they’re thinking that this might go on
for a while, and it might do some long-lasting harm to the economy. It seems like an overreaction,
but without any clear idea if this is going to be two quarters, three quarters or four
quarters, I think people are really just panicking. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you were sharing with us
that you have seen some forecasts that came out today, which contribute to the panic. DAVID WESSEL: Absolutely. J.P. Morgan, a big bank on Wall Street, their
economists predicted that the second quarter of the year will see a decline in the U.S.
GDP at a 14 percent annual rate. We have never had a quarter that bad since we started keeping
track of quarterly GDP in 1947. Now, I should note that they expect a bounce-back
in the third quarter. I hope they’re right. But we really don’t know how long this is
going to go on. JUDY WOODRUFF: Do they, do we have a sense
at this point of which sectors are going to be the hardest-hit? I’m asking because we’re hearing small businesses,
big businesses laying off, shutting down, at least for the time being? DAVID WESSEL: Well, when you basically tell
everybody to stay home, it’s not hard to imagine which businesses suffer first, hotels, terrorism,
airlines, and stuff like that. But I think that it’s going to be widespread.
And one of the problems that the government’s going to have is, every business is going
to be able to say, we’re hurting, and it’s not our fault. So they’re going to have to make some tough
decisions about who to help, who not to help, how to get paid back, who gets a grant, and
who gets a loan. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, what does it take at a
time like this? And I realize what you’re saying is, we have never seen anything like
this. What does it take, though, at a time like
this to give people some sense of reassurance, I mean, to know, there is a bottom here? DAVID WESSEL: Well, I think one of the challenges
of this event is that, by flattening the curve, by spreading out the virus, we’re doing, on
purpose, damage to the economy. And that’s going to be very upsetting to people. I think people want leadership. They want
confidence, if they get sick, they can get — be treated. And they want to be able to
pay the rent, or pay the light bill and stuff like that. And that’s why there’s a lot of talk about
providing cash to households, giving money to people who may be furloughed, strengthening
the safety net, in order to make sure that the most vulnerable among us don’t really
get hit hard. JUDY WOODRUFF: How much does it help? I mean, this is, I think, part of your answer,
that there is clarity in what the government — in the measures the government is taking? DAVID WESSEL: I think it’ll help a lot to
get clarity. It’s been very confusing. Some of the advice
from the White House podium has been confusing, all this back and forth between the House
and the Senate. So I think, as soon as we get some clear idea of what’s going to be
in this big bill, this trillion-dollar stimulus, people will begin to see, what’s it going
to mean to me? What are they going to do? But I think a second important thing is, I
hope that they build into this bill a kind — a trigger, so that, if this is prolonged,
the aid will automatically be extended. One of the things we learned during the Great
Recession is, if you’re not pessimistic enough, and the stimulus stops, then the economy takes
a hit. So, we want this one to be automatic. If unemployment rises and stays high, we might
have more checks to people or more loans to business. JUDY WOODRUFF: But it is it possible, finally,
David, to be able to say how much it’s going to take to reassure folks? (CROSSTALK) DAVID WESSEL: I don’t think it is possible. I can’t tell you how long this is going to
go on, how long I’m going to be — have to be working at home. And that’s true for everybody.
So I think that the government needs to do things now both to alleviate the pain and
to put some money in the system, so that, when the pandemic does recede, as it is apparently
doing in China, the economy can get restarted again. But uncertainty is really hard for people
to adjust to. And when people tell you, oh, this is going to be over by the summer, I
think we have all learned that those people don’t know what they’re talking about. So
it’s not very comforting. JUDY WOODRUFF: One-point-three-trillion, and
I hear you saying it could be bigger, bigger and bigger. DAVID WESSEL: Absolutely. JUDY WOODRUFF: David Wessel, thank you very
much. DAVID WESSEL: You’re welcome. JUDY WOODRUFF: A new analysis by researchers
at Harvard University shows that the bed capacity of hospitals in many parts of the U.S. will
be overwhelmed if the COVID-19 coronavirus continues to spread across the country. And, as Amna Nawaz reports, hospitals and
health care systems are working to increase their readiness. AMNA NAWAZ: Judy, the Harvard study indicates
that, when spread over a 12-month period, even a moderate number of coronavirus cases
will begin to fill some American hospitals to capacity, unless they free up already occupied
beds. The faster the pace of infection, and the
larger the numbers grow, the greater the shortfalls become. For what hospitals are doing to prepare themselves
and what more needs to be done, I’m joined by two people who focus closely on preparedness. Jeremy Konyndyk is a senior policy fellow
at the Center for Global Development whose research focuses on global outbreak preparedness,
among other things. He joins us by Skype. And here in the studio, Dr. Bruce Siegel.
He’s the president and CEO of America’s Essential Hospitals. That’s an association of more than
300 hospitals and health care systems. And welcome to you both. Dr. Siegel, I want to start with you here.
We know there will be a surge of patients. We know that’s coming. You told my colleague earlier, our hospitals
are moving quickly to prepare for that. What specifically are they doing right now? And
are you confident they will be ready? DR. BRUCE SIEGEL, President and CEO, America’s
Essential Hospitals: So, the good news is that millions of health professionals in our
hospitals are working hard to prepare. They are clearing out some of the elective
surgery cases, things that don’t have to be done right now, to get that space ready for
a surge in patients. They are expanding their capacity, you know,
bringing beds and floors back into use that were maybe not used, building tents for triage
centers and testing in their parking lots to keep sick patients away from the rest of
their patient population. There’s a lot going on. AMNA NAWAZ: How confident are you they are
going to be ready to meet with the expected surge? DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: I think that they will do
a good job of meeting that surge. I think they will do a good job of meeting
that surge. I think if we, as citizens, also try to make sure that surge as small as possible
by distancing ourselves from each other, as we’re doing right now, that will help a huge
amount. My concern will be, will they have the resources
for a sustained response? And that’s going to be something that Congress is going to
have to really think hard about and act on in the days ahead. AMNA NAWAZ: Jeremy Konyndyk, let me ask you
about this. Some people will look at the maps on this.
And it’s very alarming when you see how much of the country and how many of our hospitals
could become overwhelmed. Those darker red portions, by the way, represent over 1000
percent capacity for some of those hospitals. And that’s in a moderate scenario. Tell me how you’re looking at this. Do you
believe the health care system and the hospitals can get to the capacity they need to handle
even a moderate surge? JEREMY KONYNDYK, Former USAID Official: I
think it’s going to be an enormous struggle. And it’s complicated by the fact that we have
already lost quite a bit of time. We should have begun the process of this as soon as
we saw what was happening in Wuhan, China, in mid-January, the way that hospitals and
modern hospitals there were overwhelmed very rapidly by this virus. We’re going to face struggles with PPE. We’re
going to face struggles with health care workers becoming infected. We have lost a lot of time.
I think there are measures that we can begin to take. Some of the things that the president
announced today are positive. It would have been better if they’d been announced
a month ago. So we’re just kind of in catchup mode still. AMNA NAWAZ: What did you hear today that was
positive? JEREMY KONYNDYK: Well, I think the Defense
Production Act, I think the moving of the hospital ships, all of those things help somewhat
to relieve the pressure. But they’re also — it’s going to take a while.
We learned after the announcement that one of the hospital ships won’t be ready to leave
port for a few more weeks. Obviously, Defense Production Act work, if you start telling
a company now to start manufacturing ventilators or N95 masks, that’s not going to show up
in the supply chain for weeks or months. AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Siegel, the PPE that Jeremy
mentioned — that is personal protective equipment — that is what your front-line health care
workers need… DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: Absolutely. AMNA NAWAZ: … to be able to protect themselves
when they’re handling those patients. DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: Yes. AMNA NAWAZ: Are you close to having what you
need? And how dependent are you on the federal government to get that supply? DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: So, we are not close to
having what we need. We’re already seeing some spot shortages in
some areas. And that could get worse, a lot worse, as the surge materializes. We are very
dependent on the federal government for making this happen. And I’m glad that there are things happening
now to start to get manufacturing up and to sort of divert resources to this sector. But
my biggest concern is that we have stressed safety net hospitals in this country, stressed
rural hospitals with maybe a week of cash on hand. As they lose their paying business, as they
see a spike in uninsured patients coming in, as they have to spend millions and millions
on treating sick coronavirus patients, they’re going to run out of resources. They will literally
could run out of money. And we’re going to need Congress to make sure
that we have that backstop to be there for these communities, given how sobering this
is going to be. AMNA NAWAZ: The other thing people hear a
lot about are ventilators and the need for critical care in severe cases. Do you have
the ventilators you need? Are you confident you will get the supply that you need? DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: We are — we are working
as hard as we can to make it happen. We need the government to step in. Are we sure we
will have what we need? No, we’re not. Let’s be very clear about that. And I’m glad that we’re preparing and moving
all the things we need to in place, like the hospital ship. So, that’s going to take longer
than we expected. But we still have a long ways to go. And the decisions we make in the
next few days around resources, around the stimulus bill are going to be absolutely critical,
so we can really do this for the long haul, because this may go on longer than some of
us would ever, ever like. AMNA NAWAZ: Jeremy, you mentioned that Defense
Production Act the president put into place today. To what degree do you think that will fill
this gap Dr. Siegel is saying that we know we have right now? And what other levers of
the federal government could we be pulling and using right now, if needed? JEREMY KONYNDYK: Yes. I think the Defense Production Act will — it
basically forces companies to manufacture certain things. I think the companies would
probably be inclined to manufacture those things anyway, if it keeps the factories running
and if there’s money behind it. So I think it’s a helpful tool. It probably
isn’t a total game-changer. One of the things I’m still hearing about
from a lot of the doctors I talk to in New York City and in Northern California is lack
of testing. They are still struggling to get the testing that they need, both for their
patients, but also for themselves. If they are exposed, it’s quite important they be
able to get a test quickly to determine whether they’re infected or not, because, if they’re
infected, they have to go into quarantine. If they’re not, they can stay at work. Right
now, if you can’t tell, you have to take the precaution, and you lose them from the work
force. AMNA NAWAZ: Jeremy, when you see the president
speaking now, you see a number of different officials from different agencies working
together and working behind him. Are you confident that every single element,
every single resource at the government’s disposal, is being used right now? Or are
there other steps they could be taking right now? JEREMY KONYNDYK: I’m not confident. And I
think that that — I think they have made some headway, but they’re still not where
they need to be. We were in a sort of inactive mode for about
the first month-and-a-half of this, where we were really not moving out in an expeditious
way on preparing the homeland for the arrival of this virus. I think we have now moved into
reactive mode, but we’re still not in proactive mode. So, yes, they’re starting to get some things
in motion, but they’re still playing catchup. And I think it’s hard to have confidence in
the overall management of this, given what we have seen so far. But I hope it will… AMNA NAWAZ: Dr. Siegel, when we see some of
the projections, obviously, as Jeremy said, there’s a lot we don’t know. DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: Right. AMNA NAWAZ: We don’t know how long it will
take. We don’t know when the surges will happen, when those viruses will peak. How do hospitals prepare for this? Do they
go for the worst-case scenario? Or do they hope for a mild outbreak? DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: Oh, you have to think about
the worst-case scenario. So our hospitals are really thinking about,
how bad could this get, and realizing that make a bed in one community now, and maybe
it’ll get worse in another community some weeks later. But they have to be prepared
for the worst, or at least do their best to get to that point. We can’t be optimistic or — hope is not a
policy here. We have got to really — and I’m confident they are — our hospital leaders
and nurses and doctors prepare for how bad this could be, even though we hope to avoid
it by doing the things we’re trying to do right now. AMNA NAWAZ: We all hope those plans will come
together. Dr. Bruce Siegel and Jeremy Konyndyk, thank
you very much for your time. DR. BRUCE SIEGEL: Thank you. JEREMY KONYNDYK: Pleasure. JUDY WOODRUFF: And please join us tomorrow,
when we are hosting a virtual town hall, “Confronting Coronavirus,” at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, 7:00 Central,
on all PBS stations and streaming on the PBS app and on the “PBS NewsHour” social channels,
including YouTube, Facebook and Twitter. Please watch to hear some of your questions
answered by people who are on the front lines of the crisis. In the day’s other news: Alabama postponed
a Republican primary runoff for a U.S. Senate seat because of the coronavirus. It is being delayed until July 14. The race
pits former U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions against Tommy Tuberville, a former Auburn
University football coach. The winner faces Democratic Senator Doug Jones, the incumbent
in November A diplomatic feud between China and the U.S.
escalated today. Beijing defended its expulsion of 13 journalists with The New York Times,
The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. It cited tighter controls on Chinese state-run
media organizations in the U.S. But President Trump denounced the Chinese
response. DONALD TRUMP, President of the United States:
Yes, I’m not happy to see it. I don’t — you know, I have my own disputes with all three
of those media groups. I think you know that very well. But I don’t like seeing that at
all. I’m not happy about that at all. JUDY WOODRUFF: At the same time, U.S. officials
accused China today of hiding information on the initial outbreak of the coronavirus. Back in this country, an earthquake rocked
several million people around Salt Lake City, Utah, this morning. There were no major injuries,
but the tremor and the aftershocks damaged some buildings and knocked out power to thousands.
The city’s airport also shut down for a time. And the famed Alaskan sled dog race, the Iditarod,
finished today. Thomas Waerner of Norway crossed the finish line in Nominee just after midnight,
beating his closest competitor by five hours. Small crowds turned out, despite coronavirus
concerns. Congratulations to him. Still to come on the “NewsHour”: on the ground
in Iran, where state officials warn that millions of people could die in the pandemic; plus,
celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma on songs of comfort in a time of crisis. One of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19
is Iran. Thousands there have the virus, and the death toll is skyrocketing, amid preparations
for a subdued Iranian new year. The conflict with the United States is now
never far from mind there. As special correspondent Reza Sayah reports
from Tehran, coronavirus and that confrontation make for a volatile mix. REZA SAYAH: Once a year in the streets of
Tehran, Hajji Firuz welcomes to the first day of spring and Nowruz, the Iranian new
year. Like Santa Claus, this soot-covered fictional character’s job is to spread holiday
joy, but, this year, he’s not seeing many smiles. MAN (through translator): It’s the worst new
year ever. I have played for Hajji Firuz for 20 years. This is the first time I have seen
it like this. They’re not in a good mood. REZA SAYAH: A good mood is hard to find in
Iran these days. The coronavirus outbreak is exploding. The daily death toll is hitting
triple digits, more than 17,000 Iranians have tested positive. Mahmoud Sadeghi is among more than three dozen
public officials who caught the virus. The lawmaker recovered last week. He spoke to
us by video chat. MAHMOUD SADEGHI, Iranian Parliament Member
(through translator): I had totally surrendered to my destiny. I even started writing my will.
I almost finished. REZA SAYAH: Sadeghi says he’s heating the
government’s call to stay home. Many Iranians are doing the same. Tehran’s streets, usually
bustling with new year traffic, are nearly empty. With the coronavirus, a lot has changed. But here’s what hasn’t changed. At a time
when the U.N. is calling for global cooperation to fight the coronavirus, Tehran and Washington
are still in conflict, still damning one another, and, some say, edging closer to war. Last Wednesday marked the birthday of Qasem
Soleimani, the Iranian general assassinated in January in a U.S. drone strike. On Soleimani’s
birthday, a rocket attack hit a military base in Iraq, killing two American soldiers. One
day later, the Pentagon launched airstrikes targeting Iranian-backed Shia militias, saying
they were responsible. MOHAMMAD HASHEMI, Political Commentator: Things
are getting worse. REZA SAYAH: Tehran-based political commentator
Mohammad Hashemi says, at a time when both countries should be focusing on containing
a pandemic, war seems closer than ever. MOHAMMAD HASHEMI: This was the worst time
for such things happen, because everybody fear of another war in the region. And then, in the middle of the crisis, that
Iran is trying to deal with this coronavirus outbreak. REZA SAYAH: Tehran and Washington are feuding
over the coronavirus too. Yesterday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran of covering
up the outbreak. MIKE POMPEO, U.S. Secretary of State: Instead
of focusing on the needs of the Iranian people and accepting genuine offers of support, senior
Iranian lied about Wuhan virus outbreak four weeks. REZA SAYAH: Last week, The Washington Post
cited satellite images to report authorities in Iran raced to dig trenches at a cemetery
in the city of Qom in an effort to hide the death toll. The site was so vast, The Post
said, it was visible from space. Other news organizations picked up the story,
some calling the site a mass grave. HABIB ABDOLHOSSEIN, Press TV: Well, I was
shocked and terrified. REZA SAYAH: Habib Abdolhossein is a reporter
at Press TV, Iran’s state-funded English language news network. He says the site was no secret
and prepared to accommodate the Islamic custom of burying loved ones within 24 hours. HABIB ABDOLHOSSEIN: Satellite images cannot
prove that a mass grave exist somewhere or not. REZA SAYAH: Do you understand that some of
the critics of the Islamic Republic of Iran say that Press TV is the state’s news network,
and they don’t cover it objectively? HABIB ABDOLHOSSEIN: Of course. REZA SAYAH: You do? HABIB ABDOLHOSSEIN: Of course. Yes, of course. I cannot deny that there have been mismanagement.
Definitely, there have been mismanagement, dysfunction in Iran and other countries. But
this is something that happens, either in Iran or in Italy. This is not fair. They’re
just trying to blame Iran and pile up pressure on Iran. REZA SAYAH: This report written by a local
reporter in Qom three weeks prior to The Washington Post report announced preparation of roughly
100 graves at the same cemetery for victims of the virus, suggesting the site wasn’t a
secret. Numerous pictures posted on social media and
the cemetery Web site also show the site was prepared just as other graves are prepared
in Iran. Perhaps no voice in Iran is more objective
when it comes to the coronavirus than the World Health Organization. They neither represent
the Iranian government nor U.S. interests. They’re working to contain the virus. And
they granted us an interview. The sign says no entry without wearing a mask.
So we’re going to put on a mask. There have been critics of the Iranian government who
say they haven’t done enough, they reacted too slow. What is your response to those allegations? CHRISTOPH HAMELMANN, World Health Organization:
You know, two weeks ago, the response was a bit more difficult, because there were only
two or three countries which had self-sustained epidemic. So, there was a lot of focus on
what do they do different or maybe wrong or not to that scale as others? That kind of debate has vanished to a largest
degree. REZA SAYAH: Are you satisfied with the response
here? CHRISTOPH HAMELMANN: I’m very satisfied with
the response, in terms of the planning. The national plan has really all the components
we are recommending a national plan should have. REZA SAYAH: Here, on the eve of every last
Wednesday before the new year, Iranians hold a Festival of Fire. They cast aside bad luck
and look forward to happier days. With the coronavirus, many celebrated from
inside their homes. For them, happier days will come if Tehran and Washington can ever
set aside their differences. SAGHAR SAHADJAMI, Physician (through translator):
This is not the time for politics to be injected into the daily challenges of people. REZA SAYAH: And share in the fight against
a growing pandemic. For the “PBS NewsHour.” I’m Reza Sayah in
Tehran. JUDY WOODRUFF: As Congress weighs relief packages
meant to blunt COVID-19’s impact on the U.S. economy, lawmakers are also dealing with new
problems the virus is creating in their home states. Senator Bill Cassidy, a Republican from Louisiana,
is one of them. His state has at least 250 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. And, so
far, seven people have died. He is also one of three medical doctors currently serving
in the Senate. And he joins us now from Capitol Hill. Senator Cassidy, thank you so much for being
with us. So, the legislation the Senate passed today
providing free testing, paid sick leave, help for some of the poorest Americans, how much
do you think this is going to alleviate the hit many Americans are going to be taking
now? SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): I’m not sure. The goal is to alleviate it as much as possible.
But this is only the second of at least three packages. If there’s something that we can
do that has not been done in the first two packages, we shall do it. I mean, the American people need to know that
Congress is there with them. And, as much as we can, we’re going to get our nation through
this rough patch. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we know there’s a second
package being worked on, $1.3 trillion. It would include direct cash payments, among
other things. How confident do you think Americans can be
that these pieces of legislation are going to help people who are most in need? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: They’re going to pass. And if you’re speaking about a direct payment,
when I speak to a family, they’re concerned about their mortgage, their car note, how
are they going to buy groceries, particularly an issue for the lower income, less likely
to have savings. That’s where the money will be targeted. Mnuchin says we can have it out by the end
of the first week in April. Well, oftentimes, mortgage payments are oftentimes due the first
week in April. So, hopefully, we will get help there. But we’re also trying to do other things that
help businesses that employ people through this rough patch. And so, if you come back and you don’t have
a job, that’s not good. So we’re trying to help that small business, so that she can
stay in business and that she can keep her employees as employees. So, on all levels, we’re trying to address
this. JUDY WOODRUFF: The American people are so
used to looking at Washington, looking at dysfunction, frankly, looking at the two political
parties fighting with each other, rather than working together. What are we going to see right now? Is this
going to be an example of the two parties actually working together for a change? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: We are in this together. And let me speak on another divide. Sometimes,
there’s a divide between what people who are not in Washington think and what people in
Washington think. I can tell you now, speaking as a doctor,
if somebody at home decides to self-quarantine, maybe they have symptoms, maybe not, they
don’t expose six other people potentially to coronavirus, they have had more of an impact
on stopping the spread of the disease than all the doctors and nurses in your community,
because we don’t have an effective treatment. The best way to treat is not get infected.
So I would say, not only will there be unity between Republicans and Democrats, but there
will be unity between people in Washington and folks who are at home who sent us to Washington.
We have to have common cause if we are going to defeat this disease. JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Cassidy, as a physician,
you obviously know a lot about what’s going on here. How worried are you about what lies ahead?
And do you think the American people now have the full picture of what’s coming? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: I think the American people
are grasping it. And it seems a little surreal, but it is coming
home when you see that my state of Louisiana now has 257 confirmed cases and seven deaths.
Nine days ago, we had one case. Now we have 257. It is spreading. So I think that’s coming home. I’m very worried.
This has the potential to follow the track of what has happened in Italy, where there
is a rapid increase in the number of cases, and the hospital system becomes overwhelmed. I will say, I’m working closely with the White
House, closely with my governor, all levels of government, to see what we can do to expand
capacity. But, ultimately, Judy, if somebody doesn’t
go out, does not infect another, that has tremendous impact upon whether that other
person will live, flatten the curve, if you will. JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask you about public
health facilities, the ability of the health care facilities in your state of Louisiana
to handle what’s coming in terms of hospital beds, in terms of ventilators, whatever else
is going to be needed. Is there the capacity now to deal with what’s
coming in Louisiana? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: If it happens as it happened
in Italy, nobody is going to have the capacity, where you just had an exponential rise in
the number of cases. If we’re able to flatten the curve, and people
accept the disruption in their lives for the next few weeks or maybe a month or so, then
we can flatten the curve, and we will have capability. So, I think it really depends upon what we
do as a nation. If we stay at home, care for others people, if we have symptoms or not,
just stay at home, don’t expose others, we will have capacity. If not, we will be overwhelmed. JUDY WOODRUFF: We saw today, Senator, the
president issuing an executive order having to do with prioritizing allocating health
and medical resources. How much of a difference is that going to
make? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: It’s going to make a huge
difference. Right now, I’m continuing to hear folks that
back home cannot get viral transport medium to take their swab that someone’s taken for
the virus to actually get tested. Masks are in short supply, personal protective equipment.
I could go down the list. But we need those things. We need them rapidly.
Ventilators are being purchased, but I’m sure there’s going to be a backorder for that sooner
or later. Go down the list of what’s needed, we need more of it. JUDY WOODRUFF: And when it comes to prioritizing,
how do you look at that as a question facing the health care profession? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: We have to get more testing.
We have to protect medical providers. Medical providers are a limited capacity.
We can’t open up an old hospital and create more beds if you don’t have the nurses and
the doctors and the techs and everyone else it takes to run those. So, we have to protect our medical professionals.
It’s so gratifying. My professional — my colleagues are front-line. They want to be
front-line. But we have got to keep them healthy, because, if they’re not healthy, they can’t
take care of patients. We need them taking care of patients. JUDY WOODRUFF: And, finally, Senator, President
Trump has called this the Chinese virus. You’re not using that term. Why not? SEN. BILL CASSIDY: This is something which
happens regularly, where a virus moves from one animal into human beings. The Chinese physicians have been outstanding
in sharing medical information with the rest of the world. And I was, just before you got
on, reading several “New England Journal of Medicine” articles published by Chinese about
whether this medical therapy works, what’s the impact of children. I could go on. Speaking now as a physician,
the international collegiality among health care workers has been fantastic. And just
as we need Washington to work well with the parties and with people who are not in Washington,
our medical community has to work well internationally, because this is an international issue. We
are truly in it together. JUDY WOODRUFF: Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana,
we thank you very much. SEN. BILL CASSIDY: Thank you, Judy. JUDY WOODRUFF: At a time of national and,
indeed, global trauma, a leading artist offers us songs of comfort. Jeffrey Brown has that for our ongoing arts
and culture series, Canvas. JEFFREY BROWN: He is one of the world’s most
renowned and beloved musicians, and now he is reaching out in a new way in this current
crisis. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma recently began posting videos
of himself performing short pieces and songs that can speak to those most in need and to
all of us. Yo-Yo Ma joins me from his home in Massachusetts
by Skype. And, Yo-Yo, it’s nice to talk to you. Here
we are. You are stuck at home like most of us, but you’re still playing. Tell us about
this idea that you have, the project called Songs of Comfort. Yo-YO MA, Cellist: Well, this idea came by
pretty much spontaneously. I was in the office one day, and we were talking
and said, you know, let’s do something, because let’s do something in this time that actually
serves people’s needs. And we thought that, somehow, music always
has been comforting to me, this is what I do, and this is the best that I can offer.
And I know many people are doing everything they can from what they know. And this is
just something that I can do. JEFFREY BROWN: This is what you do. I mean, in what sense — what’s your sense
of what music or art can do? I mean, we talk about this all the time. People have real
needs. We have just had a whole program talking about hospitals and medical needs and food
and money, of course. What can music and art do? YO-YO MA: Well, I can tell you one thing. When I was 19, I had a teacher who said, Yo-Yo,
you haven’t found your voice. And I said, OK. And so I kept looking for
my voice. And I think my voice is in finding the needs of others and then representing
them. And that’s — and so, everywhere I go, it’s always about finding what people are
thinking, feeling, how they think about themselves in the world. And if I can find something that they need,
and if I can actually offer a little bit of something that is comforting, then that’s
how I would define my job. JEFFREY BROWN: So here you are now playing
and posting pieces, but it’s more than that, right? You want others to join in, to send
in their own songs, and it doesn’t even have to be music. Tell us about what you’re hoping will happen. YO-YO MA: Well, you know, what’s amazing is
that what’s already happened is that, since just a couple of days ago, there are people
who have posted from the Mayo Clinic. Two doctors have actually sung something. The lead singer from a rock band, Mashrou’
Leila in Lebanon, actually put in a song. And two women from Ireland and Germany sang
something on in sync, on — in troubled times. And so the idea is music is for everyone.
It’s not the practitioners doing music, but it’s something that does something for us.
Now, a virus is something that travels globally. It knows no borders, no walls, no boundaries. And music is something that actually looks
into the inside, and that also knows know boundaries. And if we can actually express
what is on our insides and show that, then this is the beginning of a deeper understanding
of one another. JEFFREY BROWN: We want to join you, your organization.
We at the “NewsHour” want to join and encourage people to send in their own videos to #SongsofComfort,
post them on Twitter, or Instagram, Facebook, wherever. And then what are we collecting? What are
you hoping that we get? YO-YO MA: We’re collecting what is personal,
what is true, what is trustworthy, what is community, because community is nothing, except
what is based on trust. And when you say something in music, it better
be true, because, otherwise, it doesn’t communicate. JEFFREY BROWN: All right, so we’re going to
do this together. And I want to tell our audience, please post
some videos, and we here at the “NewsHour,” we’re going to post — update this project
as we can on digital and broadcast, Canvas, for our arts coverage as well, joining Yo-Yo
Ma in this. And I want to say thank you to you for doing
this. And it’s a pleasure to be part of it with you. And, before we go, Yo-Yo Ma plays Dvorak for
us. (MUSIC) JEFFREY BROWN: #SongsofComfort. Yo-Yo Ma, thank you very much. YO-YO MA: Thank you so much, Jeffrey. JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Yo-Yo Ma. I can’t imagine anything more welcome at a
time like this. And, as Jeff pointed out, we hope that, if
you have art to share, you will join us. Upload your videos to Twitter, to Instagram or Facebook
using the hashtag #SongsofComfort. We will be watching, and we may use them in
the future on air and online at PBS.org/NewsHour. And that is the “NewsHour” for tonight. I’m
Judy Woodruff. Join us online and again here tomorrow evening.
For all of us at the “PBS NewsHour,” thank you, stay safe, and we’ll see you soon.

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