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 news.
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 ago.
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 time."
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 infected.
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 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 health.
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 far.
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 recession.
(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 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 outcomes.
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 Republicans.
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 takes.
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 community.
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 this.
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 outbreaks.
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 returning.
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?
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 direction.
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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