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Army Corps TRANSCRIPT: 3/26/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

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

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

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes.  Everyone has been asking the same question -- I know I have -- how bad is  the pandemic going to be? And there`s all this data flying at us from all  over the place. There are a million different variables and just about the  worst person possible is running the country.

So as I spend all my day reading and texting and talking to experts and to  sources about this crisis, I find myself mentally putting things into two  buckets, the good news and the bad news as a sort of framework when  thinking about this whole thing, so tonight, we`ll start with the good  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. 


COLLEEN SMITH, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Today is kind of getting worse and  worse. We had to get a refrigerated truck to store the bodies of patients  who are dying. We are right now scrambling to try to get a few additional  ventilators or even CPAP machines. If we could get CPAP machines we could  free up ventilators for patients who need them. 

And from our perspective, everything is not fine. I don`t have the support  that I need, and even just the materials that I need physically to take  care of my patients.


HAYES: The virus is still also spreading all over the U.S. New Orleans is  looking more and more like a real hotspot. Louisiana`s governor has  compared the state`s trajectory to that of Italy or Spain. And it makes  some sense in a month after Mardi Gras in New Orleans would be a hotspot. A  former health director in New Orleans told The New York Times, "the  greatest free party in the world was a perfect incubator at the perfect  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.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, FEDERAL RESERVE: This is a unique situation, so I  think this is -- people need to understand. This is not a typical downturn.  What`s happening here is people are being asked to close their businesses,  to stay home from work, and to not engage in certain kinds of economic  activity. And so, they`re pulling back. And at a certain point, we will get  the spread of the virus under control, and at that time, confidence will  return, businesses will open again, people will come back to work.


HAYES: This is all new. We have no real idea of what the economy will look  like on the other side of this, though it is safe to assume it is going to  be different than it was. Now, there are some folks out there largely in  the political right, folks with a lot of money, who seem to be influencing  the president. They don`t want to wait. They`re arguing that the cost of  fighting the virus is just too high. And then instead of trying to save a  bunch of old people`s lives, we have to get back to work. 

The billionaire who heads up the payroll company Paychex, told Bloomberg  apparently on the record with his name attached to it, the damages of  keeping the economy closed as it is could be worse than losing a few more  people. Few more people. There`s also a growing chorus of economists saying  there is no tradeoff between the economy and fighting the virus. That  fighting the virus is necessary to bring back the economy. 

Joining me now is one of them, Professor Betsey Stevenson, former Chief  Economist at the U.S. Labor Department, a former member of President  Obama`s Council on Economic Advisors. Betsey, let`s start with the  unemployment data just because you work for the Department of Labor where I  believe the Bureau of Labor Statistics crunches all these numbers, so  you`re familiar with these. And I watch people struggle to make sense of  them. Like what, how do you make sense of that number and what it means  about what situation we`re in?

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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