Coronavirus bill TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/20, All In w/ Chris Hayes

Ed Yong, Jeh Johnson, Betsey Stevenson, Larry Krasner, Stacey Abrams, Peter Hessler


ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: “ALL IN” with Chris Hayes is up next.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. 

Everyone has been asking the same question – I know I have – how bad is 

the pandemic going to be? And there`s all this data flying at us from all 

over the place. There are a million different variables and just about the 

worst person possible is running the country.


So as I spend all my day reading and texting and talking to experts and to 

sources about this crisis, I find myself mentally putting things into two 

buckets, the good news and the bad news as a sort of framework when 

thinking about this whole thing, so tonight, we`ll start with the good 



We are actually ramping up testing capacity quite a bit, quite quickly here 

in the U.S. We still have a ways to go but we are heading in the right 

direction. This graph shows our testing capacity. And it really is 

impressive because it shows you what can happen when you unleash the full 

capacity of America. You can really test a lot of people. 


In fact, it makes it all that more frustrating we did not start doing that 

earlier. We should have been doing this a month ago like South Korea. But 

the good news is that we are testing much more day after day after day. And 

as that is happening, multiple research teams, one in Mount Sinai in New 

York, one in the U.K., are starting to develop an antibody test that would 

allow people to know if they had the virus in the past and are now immune. 

And that is absolutely crucial when we`re through the worst part of this 

and get back out into the world. So that`s good. 


Another silver lining is as confirmed cases and fatalities go up, both of 

which have been brutal, especially here in New York, the overall fatality 

rate in the United States is really, really far below Italy and Spain, 

particularly in per capita terms. Now, we don`t know the whole answer on 

why that is at this point. Some of it probably demographics. It is 

something also that could change in the future. And it is certainly not a 

consolation to the families and friends who have lost dearly beloved family 

members. But for now, it is something to take some measure of comfort. 


Today, as more horrific numbers came out of Italy, there is a bit of good 

news there as well. It is clear their curve is flattening out. Two weeks 

after the country declared a strict and total lockdown, Italy has an eight 

percent increase in confirmed cases daily. That seems high, but it is 

better than the 20 and 30 percent daily increases from only a few weeks 



Another good thing, the basic supply chains in America appear to remain 

intact. There`s a great article in Texas Monthly about how Texas grocery 

chain HEB started planning for this far in advance in the Trump 

administration. In terms of the federal government, the Senate did pass a 

$2 trillion rescue bill unanimously, somewhat markedly. There`s a lot in 

there are some good, some bad, some ugly, but there is going to be some 

financial relief, some cash assistance, beefed-up unemployment insurance 

coming people`s way. That is good news. 


Now the bad news. The bad news is the U.S. continues to have the highest 

rate of growth of the virus of any major country. In fact, just a few hours 

ago, in a grim milestone, we officially passed China in Italy to have more 

confirmed cases than any other nation in the world. We`ve also crossed 

1,000 fatalities. New York added just 100 yesterday. And while fatalities 

have been concentrated among older people and people with comorbidities and 

pre-existing conditions, there are lots of brutally, sad, gutting, terrible 

cases of younger people dying as well. 


A 48-year-old nursing assistant at Mount Sinai West Hospital in Manhattan 

died yesterday. Photos shared on social media showed nurses at the hospital 

wearing plastic garbage bags as personal protective equipment because we 

still do not have sufficient equipment to protect all the doctors and 

nurses and frontline health care workers. 


The doctor I talked to you today in one of the New York City hospitals has 

been wearing the same mask for four days. There are still widespread fears 

of infections growing among hospital workers. Here`s another bad thing. We 

are now entering the phase where the hospital systems begin to get overrun. 

And we`ve been warned about this phase. We were warned by the doctors in 

Wuhan in China and in Lombardi in Italy, and now it is happening. 


There are some New York City hospitals that are already at capacity. This 

is what an emergency room doctor in Queens told The New York Times. 




COLLEEN SMITH, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Today is kind of getting worse and 

worse. We had to get a refrigerated truck to store the bodies of patients 

who are dying. We are right now scrambling to try to get a few additional 

ventilators or even CPAP machines. If we could get CPAP machines we could 

free up ventilators for patients who need them. 


And from our perspective, everything is not fine. I don`t have the support 

that I need, and even just the materials that I need physically to take 

care of my patients.




HAYES: The virus is still also spreading all over the U.S. New Orleans is 

looking more and more like a real hotspot. Louisiana`s governor has 

compared the state`s trajectory to that of Italy or Spain. And it makes 

some sense in a month after Mardi Gras in New Orleans would be a hotspot. A 

former health director in New Orleans told The New York Times, “the 

greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect 



We`ve got some more bad news today in the form of unemployment claims. They 

claim – came in at 3.3 million, never in our nation`s history. Well, at 

least since we started collecting data in 1967 have we hit a number of that 

high. It just completely blows up the charts. You can see here the previous 

biggest number was in 1982 with nearly 700,000 claims. Even the peak During 

the Great Recession hardly even makes a showing on the chart compared to 

this number. We are quite literally in uncharted territory. 


And what happens from here depends on the actions we all take as citizens, 

as humans, the actions of civil society, and of our political 

representatives. Joining me now to discuss all this, Ed Yong, a science 

journalists from Atlantic who wrote an incredible piece two years ago, this 

stayed with me ever since, about how unprepared America was for a pandemic, 

now has an incredible piece about how this all ends. 


Ed, your reporting and writing has been so crucial during all of this. 

maybe start with where do you see us as being in the development of this.


ED YONG, STAFF WRITER, THE ATLANTIC: I think we`re still in a worryingly 

early stage considering all the bad news that you just readout. We`re still 

not near the peak of this. So there is worse news to come and I think it`s 

the next few days, weeks, these are going to be crucial for defining how 

the next month or even year is going to look like. The decisions we make 

now are going to have massive ramifications for the losses or maybe even 

hopefully successes that we might expect to see.


HAYES: You have a line that when you look at the U.S. and you say, you 

know, we now have more cases than any country in the world, obviously, per 

capita, Italy has been hit much more brutally, but China is much bigger 

than us and managed to sort of flatten that curve much earlier. Why – how 

did we ended up here in the U.S.? What – you have a line about the 

original sin of our response. Why are we here at this moment?


YONG: Right. So, I think when I wrote my original piece in 2018 about 

whether America was prepared or not, I think the answer was no, but I think 

we`ve ended up being far more unprepared than anyone expected. And one of 

the main reasons for that is the failure of testing. None of the experts I 

knew, none of the people who have been working for years that a pandemic 

would be on its way, expected that America, with its biomedical power, 

would completely fail to roll out widespread testing for a new pathogen. 


The scope of that failure has really cascaded through the rest of the 

country`s preparedness measures. The hospitals had pandemic plans in place. 

Many of them did. And that would have allowed them to ramp up production of 

supplies to allocate places for patients. But those plans couldn`t be 

enacted because we had no idea where the virus was or how many people were 



And by the time we didn`t know, it was everywhere, which sent states into a 

situation where they had to compete with each other, but precious few 

resources, from dwindling international supply chains. 


HAYES: We still have a situation of a very federalized response, states by 

states the Mississippi governor issuing an order to override local 

authorities that tried to shut down. The governor of Alabama Kay Ivey just 

saying today, look, I think we`re OK right now, even though, you know, 

Georgia and Louisiana have terrible outbreaks. 


And there`s something just maddening about watching everyone make the same 

mistake over and over again, which is waiting until it`s too late. But 

there`s also something about the insane logic of pandemic spread that 

people can`t seem to get their heads around.


YONG: Yes. I think this idea of exponential growth is really hard for 

people to understand, like how quickly things can go wrong. And I think 

that`s exacerbated by the nature of this virus itself. The virus has a very 

long fuse to it. So it takes a long time for symptoms to show up during 

which time people can spread the virus to other people. And then it takes a 

long time for those symptomatic cases to end up in the ICU on ventilators 

on really intense critical care. And what that means is we underestimate 

the proportionality of the response that`s required. 


People go – people see social distancing. They stay in their homes for 

several days, and they think what is this for? Why am I doing this? The 

reason we`re doing this is to give the rest of the healthcare system enough 

time to prepare themselves. And it takes so long for these events to 

develop and unfold that we need to instigate these measures, these social 

distancing measures ahead of time before they feel proportionate. And for a 

long time, when they might not feel like they`re working, only then can we 

slow the spread enough.


HAYES: Ed Yong, you have been an incredible resource throughout this. Thank 

you so much for making a bit of time for me tonight. 


YONG: Thank you for having me. 


HAYES: Here with me now, someone who understands the decisions and the 

process for managing wide-scale disaster, Jeh Johnson, former Secretary of 

Homeland Security under President Barack Obama. Why – what is your answer 

to the question of how is the most richest, most powerful nation on earth, 

the largest military – we pride ourselves on being number one, end up in 

this situation where we now in sort of a numerical sense, have the worst 

outbreak in the world?



unprepared, Chris. This is an unprecedented, once in a century crisis. Not 

since 1918 have you seen anything like this, but it was not unanticipated. 

Those of us in the prior administration remember all too well the 

experience we had with the Ebola virus emanating from West Africa in the 

fall of 2014. 


Frankly, this – that was a fraction of what we are dealing with now. But 

the situation we have is a nationwide disaster. Normally, when we deal with 

disasters in this country, they`re state by state, region by region, this 

is a nationwide disaster. And unfortunately, our government has been slow 

to respond. 


There will be studies, there will be I.G. reports, there will be 

congressional investigations months and years from now to try to understand 

why we did not act sooner. I think the focus has to be what do we do from 

this moment forward? You`ve reported that U.S. cases have now surged past 

China. We`re number one on the list. So what are we going to do about this? 


And Chris, there is a widespread misapprehension of the respective roles of 

governments, national, state, and local, in dealing with something like 

this. It does require very much a federal-like response. Donald Trump, 

President Trump cannot command that we all go back to work before Easter 

Sunday. He cannot command the governor of New York or the governor of New 

Jersey to lift their executive orders to require us to leave our homes and 

go back to work. That is a local matter, depending upon the circumstances 

that exist in each community, in each city, in each state, so long as the 

political leadership in those jurisdictions understand what they are 

dealing with, and are ahead of the curve, and not behind it. 


The role of the US government in a crisis like this is to – is to surge 

resources, to make sure that hospitals have the ventilators, the test kits, 

the mask, and so forth. And at the federal level, at the national level, 

FEMA really ought to be the centerpiece of that effort. My concern is that 

FEMA has not been given the authority to marshal those resources and make 

sure that the ventilators and the test kits get to the cities and 

communities where they should be needed most. And it appears as though 

we`re entering into a bidding war between states for these very vital 

resources right now.


HAYES: There`s also a worry about – and just to cite two things that you 

talk about. History will be written just two headlines today. One 

ProPublica uncovering internal e-mails that show how chaos at the CDC slows 

the early response of the coronavirus. Of course, the CDC responsible for 

those defective test kits. 


Another headline today, Politico, the Trump team failed to follow the NSC`s 

on pandemic playbook, which had written out a 70-page playbook, both of 

those ignored, which adds up to part of what you`re talking about in terms 

of the federalization of the response. 


I wonder if you can weigh in here on this because, you know, there is a 

balance here between the fact that certain states have worse outbreaks and 

others, but then we`re ending up in a situation where every state is 

recreating the mistakes of the states that came before it. Many of them 

saying, look, it`s not so bad here. We don`t have to take proactive 

measures. And you`re going to end up with outbreaks everywhere if you keep 

doing that.


JOHNSON: Exactly. And you got to stay ahead of the curve and not be in 

denial and exist behind the curve. And you know, Governor Cuomo keep saying 

that New York State is the leader in terms of the spread of this virus. And 

so, it`s incumbent upon each governor and each mayor to stay ahead of this 

thing right now. 


Some governors are doing things that are pretty aggressive. I understand 

the governor of Alaska has basically mandated anybody who enters the state 

of Alaska has to go into a 14-day quarantine. I don`t know whether that`s 

completely necessary, but it`s certainly trying to stay ahead of the curve. 

And so, you know, I used to say to my people, you got to plan for the next 

attack, don`t plan for the last attack. And you know, you`ve got a tsunami 

right behind you, three feet behind you, and you`ve got to – you`ve got to 

sprint to stay – to stay ahead of it. 


You know, Chris a crucial part of this is once we do manage the flatten 

this curve, whether it`s six months from now, three months from now, we`ve 

got to figure out the proper benchmarks for when we can tell the public, it 

is OK to go back to work and leave your homes. There`s going to be some 

risk entailed in that and striking the balance between our economy and our 



HAYES: All right, Jay Johnson who served in the Obama administration as the 

head of DHS, thank you so much for making time. 


JOHNSON: Thanks, Chris. 


HAYES: Next, what will the economy look like on the other side of this 

pandemic? A member of President Obama`s Council of Economic Advisers joins 

me to talk about what to make up just the staggering unemployment numbers 

after this.




HAYES: Today, we got staggering new data illustrating the devastating 

economic effect of the coronavirus pandemic and our attempts to flatten the 

curve. More than three million people filed for unemployment benefits last 

week alone. It`s unlike anything we`ve ever seen. With just two weeks ago, 

we have a total of 282,000 people filing for unemployment benefits, now 

it`s 3.3 million. 


Historically speaking, there has never been a spike in jobless claims even 

close to this. This chart shows Unemployment Claims dating back to 1967. 

You can see there are peaks and valleys for the years until you get to the 

latest data and the line shoots up dramatically dwarfing any other week by 



What we`re seeing is the complete cessation of just an enormous amount of 

economic activity basically on a dime. In an extremely rare T.V. appearance 

on NBC`s “TODAY SHOW” this morning, Jerome Powell, the chairman of the 

Federal Reserve made the correct point that this is not like a normal 





JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: This is a unique situation, so I 

think this is – people need to understand. This is not a typical downturn. 

What`s happening here is people are being asked to close their businesses, 

to stay home from work, and to not engage in certain kinds of economic 

activity. And so, they`re pulling back. And at a certain point, we will get 

the spread of the virus under control, and at that time, confidence will 

return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work.




HAYES: This is all new. We have no real idea of what the economy will look 

like on the other side of this, though it is safe to assume it is going to 

be different than it was. Now, there are some folks out there largely in 

the political right, folks with a lot of money, who seem to be influencing 

the president. They don`t want to wait. They`re arguing that the cost of 

fighting the virus is just too high. And then instead of trying to save a 

bunch of old people`s lives, we have to get back to work. 


The billionaire who heads up the payroll company Paychex, told Bloomberg 

apparently on the record with his name attached to it, the damages of 

keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more 

people. Few more people. There`s also a growing chorus of economists saying 

there is no tradeoff between the economy and fighting the virus. That 

fighting the virus is necessary to bring back the economy. 


Joining me now is one of them, Professor Betsey Stevenson, former Chief 

Economist at the U.S. Labor Department, a former member of President 

Obama`s Council on Economic Advisors. Betsey, let`s start with the 

unemployment data just because you work for the Department of Labor where I 

believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics crunches all these numbers, so 

you`re familiar with these. And I watch people struggle to make sense of 

them. Like what, how do you make sense of that number and what it means 

about what situation we`re in?



data is put out by the Department of Labor and it`s real numbers. It`s the 

number of people who are filing for unemployment in a given week. Each 

state reports their numbers in to the federal – the U.S. Department of 

Labor, and then they put them all together and they give us a seasonally 

adjusted number. 


We`ve never seen a number like that before. You`ve r you`ve already said 

that. But I think if we think about you know what Jay Powell was just 

saying, it`s not that surprising of a number. You know, right now, there 

are 212 million Americans who`ve been told to stay home. This plane was for 

last week, right? So the week ending on Saturday. And I think at that time, 

about 150 million Americans had been told they needed to stay home. And so 

really 3.3 million is a drop in that bucket. I think we`re going to see 

another big spike when we see claims next Thursday. 


But what we are seeing is different. So in 2008, we had two years where 

initial claims were about 200,000 to 300,000 per week more than they 

normally are. So think about that. That`s like 104 weeks, 200,000 to 

300,000 people more than normal filing for employment. The hope here is 

that what we`re going to have is like three or four weeks, or you know, 

have two or three million people. 


So we`re going to get there pretty quickly. The question will be whether we 

end up with more people who are formerly furloughed, or you know, let go 

both during this crisis compared to 2008.


HAYES: In terms of what relief is on tap for those folks, I mean, boosting 

unemployment insurance is a big part of the bill, the Senate passed and we 

expect the house to pass tomorrow. There`s also cash assistance and I saw 

someone doing some of the math that was – that was actually fairly 

optimistic for me and that it sort of modeled through if you`re a family of 

four, two kids, two working parents both laid off a sizable $4,000 or 

$5,000 a month, somewhere in that neighborhood possible between the boosted 

unemployment insurance and the cash assistance. Do you think that the scale 

of what we`re going to likely have after passage tomorrow is up to the 

scale of the disruption?


STEVENSON: I do, actually. I think they did a really good job of trying to 

patch a lot of the holes that are in the unemployment insurance system. So, 

the reason to use the unemployment insurance system is because that`s going 

to get the money in the hands of people who`ve actually been furloughed who 

are bringing in an income. 


The problem with that system is so many people aren`t eligible for it. 

Maybe they`re gig economy workers, maybe their earnings weren`t quite high 

enough. And what the bill aimed to do was cover more people and then also 

give them more money because the real issue with unemployment insurance is 

it is trying to trade off the idea that we want – we don`t want your 

consumption to fall too much, but we want you to have an incentive to go 

back to work. 


Right now, we don`t want any incentive for you to go back to work, so let`s 

just replace people`s wages at 100 percent. What they did to do that was 

you get your normal U.I. plus you`re going to get that weekly pandemic 

relief check that add to your U.I., which will give a large number of 

people something that`s really close to 100 percent of their previous – 


HAYES: Final question for you about these sort of tradeoffs that we`ve seen 

at the quote in the intro, you know, where look, I mean, some people are 

going to die, but we America needs business to happen. I saw this great 

piece, there`s a study of the 1918 flu pandemic that basically said that 

cities that intervene earlier and more aggressively do not perform worse in 

terms of economic recovery, if anything grow faster after the pandemic is 

over. Meaning that there`s not a choice here, between the health the 

economy, they`re actually both arrows pointing the same direction. As an 

economist yourself, does that – is that how you see this?


STEVENSON: I think that`s right. I think you know, the paper has the 

typical academic warnings of who knows whether this is exactly relevant to 

today. But I think we can stop and think about what caused that. If we all 

went back to work tomorrow, there would be enormous disruptions. 


Some of us would do what we could to protect ourselves so we`d still stay 

home. Others would go to work, but large numbers of people within the 

office would get sick. And that would cause its own set of havoc. It would 

be much harder to recover from the kind of havoc that allowing the pandemic 

to play out would create. So we lose lives and we`d have worse economic 



HAYES: Yes. Betsey Stevenson, always a pleasure. Thank you so much. Coming 

up, the Senate`s Coronavirus relief package includes funding for election 

protection, but is it enough? Stacey Abrams on the fight to protect voter 

access in the midst of the pandemic next.




HAYES: The Coronavirus rescue bill that just passed the senate, expected to 

pass the House tomorrow, has $400 million to help states implement systems 

like absentee voting and voting by mail in the eventuality that what we`re 

going through right now with physical distancing and lock-downs will 

continue for awhile, possibly even in some form until the general election 

in November.


Now that $400 million supports the states to implement that. That number is 

far below what advocates wanted. They had asked for $2 billion, but it`s 

more than the paltry $140 million figure originally offered up by Senate 



Now, the there is still a ton of open questions what all this means for 

conducting democracy during a pandemic. Joining me now someone who thinks 

about this just about every second of every day, Stacey Abrams, who has 

been fighting for free and fair election, is the founder of Fair Fight 

Action, also a candidate for governor of Georgia.


Let`s start, Stacey, with where you are. You`re in Georgia.,And before we 

get to the bill on the elections, things there look pretty intense 

particularly in Atlanta. What is your assessment of where things are right 

now in your home state and how the response has been at a state level. 


STACEY ABRAMS, FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT ACTION: Today, the governor of Georgia 

and the mayor of Atlanta had a town hall. And they provided additional 

information. But there continues to be concern about the diversity of 

responses depending on which county you`re in, which city you`re in.


And so I think one of the challenges is making sure there is a unified 

response and so we`re waiting to see the next steps that the governor 



But I will tell you that I started, one of the organizations I started in 

the wake of 2018 election was called SEAP, the Southern Economic 

Advancement Project, because we know across the south, the 12-state region, 

that this is a region that has the most vulnerable populations. We have 

higher levels of poverty. We have lower levels of access to public benefits 

and those public benefits tend to pay less. We have less paid leave. And so 

almost every one of the issues that we`re facing in the wake of COVID-19 

are hitting the south harder. And so at SEAP, we`re working to connect 

people with resources so we have a map where we`ve connected with community 

networks and listing the organizations offering support from community to 



But I raise that because as much as we need the federal government to take 

action, we cannot forget the responsibility that states have. States like 

Kentucky and Louisiana and North Carolina, the governors have taken 

executive action to expand coverage of Medicaid to expand access to 

unemployment benefits,to ensure people actually receive the support they 

deserve and the public benefits meet the need at the moment.


And so I think it is critical in Georgia and across the south. We ask 

governors to go beyond the minimum and do what we need to ensure every 

person is protected in this crisis. 


HAYES: In terms of elections, there was a big battle, even a showdown, over 

the funding in this bill. The idea behind the $2 billion figures from 

advocates was they priced out that`s what it would cost to implement some 

form of no excuse absentee voting, vote by mail, in every state should it 

come to that in November. What is your assessment of where the legislation 

ended up?


ABRAMS: Of course, we`re disappointed the full $2 billion wasn`t allocated, 

but I`m pleased that we have $400 million, that`s much more than 

Republicans initially offered.


And what we know is that this has to be a down payment in our democracy. 

There is no do-over for the November elections. The contusion does not 

permit a delay of that election, which means we have to be prepared for 

there not to be a miracle in May that changes the world. We need to be 

prepared for a pandemic that disrupts our elections and we need to 

anticipate what the solution looks like, that means on-line voter 

registration, same-day registration, and the resources necessary for paid 

postage, because it`s not enough to say you can mail in your ballots if the 

post office is closed or if you can`t get there.


And so we have to assume that we need multiple solutions that is mail in 

ballots, that`s also making sure that we can have some locations for people 

to vote. 


There may be communities that have to into vote. We know Native American 

communities have very irregular post office access and that could be almost 

negotiable by this time. And so we have to anticipate now for November. And 

the reality as a nation we should be good at this by now. And my assumption 

is that the bill is a down payment and it`s a starting conversation, but 

more will be done. 


HAYES: You know, one of the awful realities of American politics is sort of 

partisan divide for voting access. Generally Democrats have sought to 

enlarge it, to increase access, and Republicans sought to constrict it 

where possible, sometimes they are just very flat out admit that. They say 

that`s their goal.


I do wonder in an environment in which people find their lives disrupted if 

the possibility of Republicans maybe getting religion on this or 

understanding the need to allow people to vote, particularly if their own 

constituencies who may have a hard time doing that, it might change that 

kind of partisan valance. 


ABRAMS: I think it could. I mean, we`ve seen Governor Mike DeWine, someone 

with whom I do not normally agree, take affirmative action to ensure that 

mail in ballots are going to be available in their postponed election.


In the state of Georgia, the secretary of state agreed with the Democratic 

Party that we need to mail ballots to every voter. Now, we`re still in 

disagreement about the fact that these won`t be postage paid, because in 

Georgia, a volunteer can`t offer to pay for a stamp, that`s actually a 

violation of state law, and so the state has to agree to pay for it. 


And we need to make sure that in every single state that we make access 

available. And we are hearing Republicans and Democrats say this is 

necessary because democracy isn`t partisan. We are partisan. We pick the 

sides, but democracy itself is about the conversation. And we have to 

remember that whether you`re a Democrat or a Republican or an independent, 

you have a right to pick your leaders and that happens in November and 

every person who wants to participate who is eligible should be allowed to 

do so. 


HAYES: Stacey Abrams in these bizarre, surreal times, it`s wonderful to 

hear from you. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.


Coming up, how to survive social distancing. Hear from someone who spent 

two months in quarantine with his family, described what it was like on 

lockdown, and what it was like to finally leave. His story right after 





HAYES: We`re all living right now through this era of physical distancing -

- I think it`s more appropriate than social distancing – wondering how 

long is this going to go on? What are the coming days going to be like? 


It`s very frustrating to say that we don`t know for sure, really. The 

closest we can come to knowing is just listening to folks in China who have 

already been through two plus months of lockdown. Think of it as a kind of 

dispatch from the future.


I came across this great Facebook post by Chinese-American filmmaker named 

Dayyan Eng who is quarantined with his family in China for the past 60 

days. And he talked about his emotional trajectory, weeks one and two where 

we are now, are filled with absolute confusion, anger, finger pointing, 

conspiracy theories, helplessness. By weeks three and four, realization 

kicks in that this shiznit is for reals and it`s not going to be over 

quickly. A little depression starts kicking in. 


Weeks five and six is, quote, hitting your quarantine stride, basically 

feeling like you got this.


By week seven and eight as the new infection numbers dropped to almost zero 

in most places nationwide, you begin to venture out slowly like a POW and 

realize the front gate has been left open.


I found all this very human and it gave me hope and comfort. So tonight, I 

thought we should talk to someone who has gone through the experience. 

Peter Hessler, who lives and works in Chengdu, China spent two months in a 

four-room apartment with his wife and kids quarantining there. 


He wrote about the experience and explains the slow exit from lockdown like 

this – on the 45th day of the lockdown our family went out to dinner for 

the first time. My daughter still hadn`t interacted with another child 

their age and there had been no announcement about school.


New Yorker staff writer Peter Hessler joins me now. And first, I guess, 

take me through the trajectory of your experience of the same feeling of 

how long this is going to go on? How long can we keep this going as the 

quarantine extended? 


PETER HESSLER, NEW YORKER: Yeah, that`s really one of the issues is the 

lack of certainty. I mean, we weren`t – you were never told this was going 

to be a month or two months. And, you know, so that`s part of what you`re 

dealing with. And of course, the other thing you`re doing is having 

children in the situation I think is really difficult, and especially the 

isolation from other kids. I mean, our kids just this last week they 

finally were able to see other children their age. You know, so that`s a 

long time, almost two months, very hard on them. 


HAYES: You did some reporting about the lockdown measures there and also 

the hospitals. Tell us, i mean, the lockdown in China strikes me as 

considerably more severe even than what we have here in the places that are 

under shelter in place orders. 


HESSLER: Yeah, I mean, in many places, you couldn`t even leave your 

building basically or they would let one person go out every two or three 

days. That was very common.


I think the main difference, though, in China was they were also gathering 

a lot of information. There was a lot of contact tracing. They`re figuring 

out where the cases are, what the spread pattern is. I mean, this is really 

important. I mean, you have to also do testing. 


You know, when we were in lockdown people come to our apartment three 

different times to gather information about where he had traveled. Where we 

were from. How many people we had. And they were using all that information 

to have plans for the future, because I think the other thing to remember 

is, you know, even a two month lockdown is not going to solve a problem. 

This is a year or two years, probably, until you get a vaccine.


And so you need to develop systems in place where you can track out breaks, 

you can have more flexible, you know, more individualized responses to 



HAYES: What – I imagine you have American friends who have been emailing 

you or WhatsApping you, or contacting you in some way or the other, and 

what have you been telling them? What`s your advice for those of us who are 

on this side of the time machine and you sit there and look back at us from 

the future?


HESSLER: I mean, my advice is just, you know, it can`t just be the social 

distancing. It can`t just be a lockdown. They have to – you have to have 

tests and you have got to have some kind of structures to get this other 

information going and to trace, you know, infection patterns. 


It is all possible. I mean, I think the United States spent a lot of time 

on anti terrorism we have spent a lot of time on foreign wars, we just have 

to approach this in somewhat the same way. I think there is a lack of 

realization that it takes this sort of effort and there maybe people think 

you just have to stay home for a couple months and then it`s over. 


But that`s not going to be it. And I think it`s not done here. I mean, I 

think it will bounce back in China at various points. 


But the societies that we have seen that have done well with this, South 

Korea has done well, Taiwan, Singapore, I think China has done fairly well, 

they all have had this element of tracing where the infection moves. And I 

don`t see that happening in the U.S. It concerns me, and I hear a lot from 

medical personnel, from doctors and other people in the medical industry in 

the United States. And they are really under prepared. And those people are 

disturbed by what they`re experiencing already. 


HAYES: What has it been like as things have slowly opened up? I think all 

of us are holding on in our minds that we`re going to get through this. 

This is not the new permanent normal. Some day we`ll go to a restaurant 

again like you write about. What has that process, how has China managed 

that and what has it been like just your experience of it?


HESSLER: I mean, you know, everything is different. I got my haircut 

yesterday. And I had to get my temperature taken. You know, as you go to a 

restaurant, they take your temperature and record all of that. And people 

are still wearing masks out on the street. But it`s sort of slowly 



An epidemiologist named Mark Lipsitch at Harvard described this to me as 

letting the air out of a balloon slowly. And I think that`s really what 

they`ve been trying to do here. And so now we`re starting to hear that 

schools may reopen. So, I think April 7, the first wave of students will go 

back. And I think my kids, who are in public school, will probably be back 

in mid-April.


So, I think there is a sense that you can return to normalcy, you can have 

– or at least to some degree of normalcy, but things are adjusted. And it 

happens slowly. 


HAYES: Peter Hessler who is a writer for The New Yorker in Chengdu, China, 

thank you so much. 


Still to come, the public health threat unfolding in jails and prisons 

across the country as the virus spreads within their walls. Philadelphia DA 

Larry Krasner has a plan to try and prevent that looming disaster and he 

joins me next.




HAYES: Today we got some dire news out of New York City`s jails where 

precisely the thing advocates, public defenders and experts have been 

warning about for weeks, is now coming true. According to a new analysis by 

the Legal Aid Society, there are 75 cases of Coronavirus in city jails, 

most of which are in the Rikers Island complex. 


Rikers is one of the largest correctional facilities in the world. And 

right now the infection rate there is seven times that of New York City, 

and 87 times that of the U.S. as a whole. And jails, as well as prisons 

across the country with cramped quarters and less than hygienic conditions, 

are contributing to the spread of the virus among both prisoners and the 

people that work there, corrections officers. 


Those corrections officers, and those employees, of course, can then bring 

that infection back to their families and their communities. And so it is 

all a huge public health threat. 


Some states and counties are starting to take it seriously, releasing 

thousands of low risk elderly or vulnerable inmates. The city of 

Philadelphia has a more proactive plan led by the District Attorney Larry 

Krasner, who joins me now. 


Start by sort of talking about how you approach this. It`s – I have been 

talking to advocates and public defenders for weeks who have been really, 

really terrified about massive outbreaks in incarcerated populations. How 

have you talked and planned for this?



there are many other lanes, but I`m happy to tell you our police 

commissioner here has been very decisive in deciding we will not move ahead 

with charges immediately for certain types of less serious offenses. What 

that does is it reduces very significantly the number of people who are 

going to be going into the front door of the jail.


What we are trying to do at the same time is we`re working on people who 

are in on bail who don`t need to be there, people who are coming close to 

the end of their sentence or maybe at the ends of their sentence who should 

be already out of there and working on people who are held on detainers 

because they may have some kind of a probation or parole violation, often 

for something very minor like testing positive for marijuana, something 

like that. We`re trying to get those populations out. 


But the real challenge, of course, is as the courts are shut down in 

Philly, which they have all over the country and you don`t have all of 

these courtrooms where you can litigate these things, so we have to work 

with partners to try to get this done.


HAYES: Yeah, that`s – I was reading about that, right? So the courts shut 

down, which they – I think is correct for a public health matter, right. I 

mean, I`ve been reading stories about, you know, just as recently as a few 

weeks ago you`ve got courts going with people running through, which is a 

public health nightmare.


But how do you do that, if the courts aren`t operating?


KRASNER: Well, you have to make sure you do it at a speed faster than 

government, I can tell you that. You have to do it at the speed of a virus, 

which is pretty fast. And that of course is difficult. Government, and I`m 

party of government, is not used to making quick, agile changes in 



So we have been working at the DA`s office for two weeks to identify sub-

groups of the jail population most amenable from the public safety and 

other perspective to coming out. The public defender has been very helpful 

with that, the commissioner is on board. And we have been trying to get the 

courts, which are moving more quickly now, to move along with us so we can 

make those improvements.


But understand we`re a big state. We also have a governor who has certain 

powers, including a power of reprieve, which is essentially a delay or a 

gap in the sentence that as far as I know, has not been used in over 100 

years in Pennsylvania. He could use it. 


We have a pardons board that has been extremely reluctant to pardon people, 

even very elderly people who present no risk to the public. They need to 

move in a different direction. We simply cannot do this in a slow glacial, 

info-marginal (ph) kind of way, these are people who have to be moving 

quickly and decisively right now. 


HAYES: The New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio who has come under a lot of 

pressure from folks here in the city, to decarcerate, to let people out of 

Rikers, to pursue some of the kind of categorical exemptions you`re 

pursuing there, said something along the lines of, look, people don`t stop 

being criminals just because there is a pandemic. 


And to folks that are watching this and saying, wait, if you`re going to 

let these people out, won`t that pose a risk to public safety, what do you 

say to to them?


KRASNER: Well, first of all, I say thank goodness for the people who push 

us, Decarcerate PA and No New Two and Five Jail Coalition (ph) in 

Philadelphia, have been tremendously effective. We had several council 

people who are pushing for this, and we`re seeing all across the spectrum, 

conservatives and liberals together, realize that this is absolutely 

something we have to do. 


But more specifically what I say is that, unfortunately, in criminal 

justice slogans are king, and science is not. The science in Philadelphia 

is the following, when our police commissioner decided not to push ahead 

immediately with the charging of certain types of offenses, and to wait, to 

bring those charges after, until a point after the pandemic, was somewhat 

under control, what we saw is that there was a decline, a decline in those 

crimes. Sorry, science says no. Science says this is not causing all kinds 

of crimes to happen that were not happening before. 


Obviously, we have to remain scientific and see if that changes, but 

unfortunately, we need to look to science as opposed to where we have 

always looked in criminal justice which is politics, and slogans that lead 

us astray. 


HAYES: There is a Louisiana judge today that was saying that they didn`t 

want to let drug users out of prison for the following reasons that they 

are too hygienic to be released from jail, that they`re among the most 

unhygienic populations. Obviously, there`s a lot of ways that people think 

about incarcerated populations. What`s your response to that?


KRASNER: My response is that that judge might want to remember we keep 

people in jail for the commission of crimes, not because a judge thinks 

that they`re dirty, that`s not how it is supposed to work. 


We have a constitution. We have laws. It`s not a place where he gets to 

stick people who he thinks should be there. 


HAYES: You know, one thing I`ve seen people say is that if there are these 

populations that are currently in jail, or in prison, that do not pose a 

public safety threat. And you know, you referred to the data, and we have a 

pandemic and we want to get as many people out of these conditions as 

possible, because these places are vectors for infection, why are they 

there in the first place, right?


Like, let`s say there wasn`t a pandemic. If they`re there, and there`s a 

bunch of elderly folks in prisons or there`s people in jail that we don`t 

think are a public safety threat, it sort of prompts a bigger question 

about why are all of these people being kept behind bars to begin with.


KRASNER: You know, it certainly does. Obviously, that`s not our focus right 

now. Our focus now is saving lives. And in the same way that we`re making 

decisions about cruise ships, we need to make decisions about jails. 


Philadelphia has essentially four jails. They`re all sitting there like a 

bunch of parked cruise ships. And they don`t just endanger the people 

connected to those jail, they endanger everyone, in the same way a cocktail 

party for billionaires endangers everyone if they are careless about how 

they deal with each other and the co-virus spreads. 


The same thing can happen here, right. So, we`ll have the luxury of looking 

back later and saying, wow, did that turn out to be OK to have these much 

reduced jail populations? But that`s no what we`re up to right now. What 

we`re doing right now, simply put, is we are simply trying to save lives, 

and that is part of the mission of prosecutors, to preserve public safety.


HAYES: District Attorney Larry Krasner of Philadelphia, thank you so much.


That is All In for this evening. The Rachel Maddow Show starts right now. 

Good evening, Rachel.








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