Coronavirus bill TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/20, All In w/ Chris Hayes
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.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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?
JEH JOHNSON, FORMER SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Because we were
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
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
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
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
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
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.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
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?
BETSEY STEVENSON, FORMER CHIEF ECONOMIST, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF LABOR: So that
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
LARRY KRASNER, PHILADELPHIA DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Chris, we have our lane and
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
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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protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the