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Your Saturday Morning Update: Unemployment and the Racial Divide, Tear Gas Could be Deadly During Pandemic, New Coronavirus Hot Spots Emerge

Photo: Maria Oswalt
Photo: Maria Oswalt

US unemployment drops unexpectedly to 13.3% amid outbreak

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. unemployment rate fell unexpectedly in May to 13.3% — still on par with what the nation witnessed during the Great Depression — as states loosened their coronavirus lockdowns and businesses began recalling workers.

The government said Friday that the economy added 2.5 million jobs last month, driving unemployment down from 14.7% in April.

Study: Black Americans most interested in COVID-19 news

The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — A survey says black Americans are following news about the coronavirus much more closely than whites.

That's from a Pew Research Center survey taken in late April, when the pandemic was dominating the news.

That's somewhat understandable given that the disease is disproportionately affecting the African American population in the United States.

A Pew analyst says the difference in interest was striking.

The survey found that 26 percent of blacks are talking about the story frequently with people they know, compared to 10 percent of whites. Roughly half of black people surveyed said they were closely following stories about the availability of tests and how their local hospitals were doing.

About a quarter of whites had the same level of interest.

Unemployment and the racial divide

The Indicator, NPR The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the jobs report for the month of May. And after having lost almost 21  million jobs in April, the economy gained back 2.5 million jobs in May. So the economy is at least gaining jobs instead of losing them. But we are not blowing the traditional celebratory air horns because, frankly, even though the report is a genuinely nice surprise, the labor market is still in terrible shape. The overall unemployment rate fell a bit to 13.3 percent in May, but after April that is still the second highest unemployment rate for any month since the Great Depression. Plus, so many massive changes have been happening to the economy, so quickly, that the numbers might just be bouncing around a lot from month to month. We just have to be cautious about reading all the data until a more consistent trend emerges. But one thing that  has been consistent in the report: The same labor-market inequalities that existed before the pandemic still clearly exist now. For example, the unemployment rate for white workers is 12.4 percent. That is really high, but it's not nearly as high as the unemployment rate for black workers, which is 16.8 percent. Or Hispanic workers, which is 17.6 percent.

Today on the show, we are going deeper on those disparities to try to better understand how this terrible labor market is affecting families differently. Because how an individual worker or a family makes it through unemployment depends on how much of a buffer they can fall back on. And a big, extraordinary new data set reveals that there are stark differences in those buffers between families of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

Haiti's COVID-19 warning

Tim Padgett, WLRN A month ago Haiti’s number of COVID-19 infections wasn’t even on the global radar screen. But a leading medical group warns that has now changed alarmingly. At the end of April, Haiti had reported only 81 new coronavirus cases and eight deaths. Those COVID-19 figures have since spiked to 2,800 cases and 50 deaths. The international medical nonprofit Doctors Without Borders says that due to a lack of testing, the count is likely much higher. Stephane Doyon is an operations manager for Doctors Without Borders, which last month opened a COVID-19 treatment center in Port-au-Prince. “We are now in an epidemic situation. It’s like exponential. So we’re filling up more rapidly than what we projected. Within Port-au-Prince you have some very crowded areas where social distancing is very hard to implement," Doyon said. Doyon points out another challenge is the social stigma coronavirus infection still carries in Haiti. That often prevents Haitians from getting tested or treated quickly enough. “Because it’s a disease that is not very well known, what we experienced is we have several people that died very quickly because they came too late. We couldn’t do anything for them," Doyon said. Haiti’s growing crisis is reflected across Latin America and the Caribbean – which scientists say is the global hotspot for COVID-19’s second wave.

Long read: New coronavirus hot spots emerge across south and in California, as Northeast slows

Martha Bebinger, NPR Mass protests against police violence across the U.S. have public health officials concerned about an accelerated spread of the coronavirus. But even before the protests began May 26,  sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, several states had been recording big jumps in the number of cases. The head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, registered his concern at a  congressional hearing Thursday. He shook his head as a congresswoman showed him photos of  throngs of people at the Lake of the Ozarks over Memorial Day weekend, and  crowdsin Florida that had assembled to watch the May 30  launchof the SpaceX Dragon crew capsule. "We're very concerned that our public health message isn't resonating," Redfield said. "We continue to try to figure out how to penetrate the message with different groups. The pictures the chairwoman showed me are great examples of serious problems." The U.S. is still seeing roughly 20,000  new cases a day. There's a wide range state to state, from one case a day, on average, last week in Hawaii all the way up to to 2,614 new cases a day in California. Specific areas in the Golden State have become hot spots, along with certain counties in  every southern state. The northeastern states of New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts — which among them accounted for a quarter of all COVID-19 deaths in the U.S., are seeing a substantial slowing of new cases. A closer look at these hard-hit areas highlights some of the common and unique challenges states face as they manage protests and begin efforts to re-open the economy amid the risks of more disease and death. Tennessee and the Carolinas among southern states showing jumps In the South, the timing of new cases appear linked to the reopening of restaurants, barber shops and gyms, which started in most states more than a month ago. Figures tracked by NPR show the number of cases in North Carolina and South Carolina this week is up by roughly 60% from two weeks ago. In Tennessee, that increase is 75%. Georgia and Louisiana look steadier, but they experienced some of the  highest case countsand  fatalities in the region in recent weeks, at the height of the pandemic. In Southern states that were quick to reopen, officials sometimes felt the need to explain big increases in case counts on some days. In Georgia, for example, a state health official said a big one-day increase was because of a  backlog of reporting cases from a commercial lab. In Tennessee this week, a daily jump of 800 cases was blamed partially on  an ongoing prison outbreak that yielded 350 new positive test results. Read the full article here.

Water parks prepare to reopen this weekend

Taylor Levesque, WUFT
After being closed for months due to COVID-19, some water parks in the state are preparing to reopen this weekend. Sun Splash Family water park is based in Cape Coral. Manager Sandra Greiner says the park has used its closure period to enhance cleanliness procedures. “We will be doing the 6 feet distancing even to get up on the slide, you’re going to be 6 feet from the next person. We will be washing everything down and sanitizing everything. I would also like people more to pay by credit card than by cash, even though they say right now it's not transmitted by a surface," Greiner said. In terms of water treatment, Adventure Landing water park Assistant General Manager Jeremy Christian says they will be paying close attention to the chemical levels in the water. “As far as the CDC and the Department of Health have mentioned, current procedures for disinfecting the water using standard chemicals and maintaining to the levels already recommended is appropriate to inactivate the virus and from what they’ve told us as of right now there is no proof of human to human transfer in the water," Christian said. Both Sun Splash Family water park and Adventure Landing water park reopen on June 6th.

Pandemic accelerates Mormon missionaries' transition online

The Associated Press

Missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have long knocked on doors, shaken hands or walked up to strangers to spread their gospel.

Now, the coronavirus pandemic has forced them to do their outreach online, in Facebook groups and through video calls.

The church hastily brought home more than 26,000 young people from overseas missions aimed at recruiting new members.

Many are taking their work to social media in their home countries.

Officials with the faith widely known as the Mormon church say the technology focus could be here to stay. A scholar says it'd be a major change that could diminish the appeal for young people.

Golf courses see increase in business after reopening

Hannah Bobek, WUFT Golf courses in Alachua and Marion counties are subject to social distancing guidelines as they reopen. However, these guidelines have not affected all golf courses in the same way. The Meadowbrook Golf Club’s PGA Golf Professional, John Reger, says the golf club hasn’t determined exactly how much business has increased but it has been a lot. Reger attributes the record turnout of golfers to more kids learning the sport. "There's very few things they can do, can't go to a playground, can't go to a park, can't go to a swimming pool. So I mean you start talking about all the things you can't do but golf you can, and golf has benefited," Reger said. On the other hand, Golden Hills Country Club is experiencing challenges amid COVID-19. Despite a 30 percent increase in golfers, five workers quit because of concerns over the coronavirus.

Caravan for justice: Cars offer socially distanced protesting during pandemic

Camila Domonoske, NPR Hundreds and hundreds of cars wound through the streets of San Francisco. Drivers honked. Children chanted. Signs read "Black Lives Matter "and "No Justice, No Peace" as protesters — socially distanced inside their own vehicles — added their voices to a national chorus of outrage. Caravan protests like the one on Thursday afternoon, and  an earlier demonstration in Oakland, have taken on new significance with a deadly pandemic and widespread street protests happening simultaneously. "We're sick and tired of seeing our black brothers and sisters being killed in the streets and it being OK," says Elena Fong. "It's being broadcast across the nation and no one's doing anything about it." Fong has two children, including a 3-year-old daughter with Down syndrome who is immunocompromised. A caravan protest felt safer than a march, given the risks of the coronavirus.

Fran Culp says that, as someone with major medical issues, she was "thrilled" to have the option to join a protest with her husband and her dog. Surya Kishi Grover was fine going to protests herself — she had taken her 6-year-old son to an outdoor demonstration already. But her 2 1/2-year-old and 18-month-old were another story. The caravan offered a way to protest as an entire family, with Grover, her husband and all three kids in the minivan. They made a sign that read "Asians for Black Lives" and practiced chanting. Erin Feher planned this protest as a safe option for people like Fong, Grover and Culp, who didn't want to gather in crowds during this pandemic — but also to bring the energy and passion of the ongoing protests into more parts of San Francisco. Her family has attended anti-police brutality protests downtown, and coming back to Outer Richmond, the quiet residential neighborhood where they live, was jarring. "To be so close yet live this very peaceful kind of unbothered existence was bothering me," she says. Feher had never organized a protest before. She was scrolling through Instagram this past weekend when she saw a post about a Zoom call offering ideas on how to turn outrage into action. On that call she learned about caravan protests, and picked up tips for how to organize. "One of the things they said that always sticks out to me was, 'You know, even if five people come, even if 10 people come, you did a good job.' " she says. "And I was like, 'OK, I can do that.' "
It wasn't five or 10 people. According to Chloe Jackman, a photographer who witnessed the caravan, it took nearly 3 hours for all the vehicles to pass her studio; she estimates well over 1,000 vehicles participated. Similar protests have been held in cities across America, from the large caravan in Oakland to ones planned in Wisconsin, Connecticut and the suburbs of Detroit on Sunday.

Long Read: Tear-gassing protesters during an infectious outbreak called 'a recipe for disaster'

Will Stone, NPR In nationwide demonstrations against the police killing of George Floyd and other black Americans, protesters are frequently pepper-sprayed or enveloped in clouds of tear gas. These crowd-control weapons are  rarely lethal, but in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, there are growing calls for police to stop using these chemical irritants because they can damage the body in ways that can spread the coronavirus and increase the severity of COVID-19. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, some experts said additional research was needed on the risks of tear gas — an  umbrella term for several chemical "riot control agents" used by law enforcement. It's known that the chemicals can have both immediate and long-term health effects. Their widespread use in recent weeks, while an infectious disease continues to spread across the U.S., has stunned experts and physicians. The coronavirus that causes the disease COVID-19 is highly contagious, spreads easily through the air via droplets and can lead to severe or fatal respiratory illness. Deploying these corrosive, inhalable chemicals could harm people in several ways: expose more people to the virus, compromise the body's ability to fight off the infection, and even cause mild infections to become more severe illnesses.

"This is a recipe for disaster," says associate professor  Sven Eric Jordt, a researcher at the Duke University School of Medicine who  studies the effects of tear gas. Jordt refers to these chemicals as "pain gases" because they activate certain pain-sensing nerves on the skin and in the mucous membranes of the eyes, mouth and nose. "You have this excruciating pain, sneezing, coughing, the production of a lot of mucus that obstructs breathing," Jordt says. People describe a burning and stinging sensation, even a sense of asphyxiation and drowning. Sometimes it causes vomiting or allergic reactions. In law enforcement, officers generally use two types of chemicals for crowd control: CS gas and pepper spray. The active ingredient in pepper spray, called  capsaicin, is derived from chiles. It's often sprayed from cans at close quarters or lobbed into crowds in the form of "pepper balls." CS gas ( o‐chlorobenzylidene malononitrile) is a chlorinated, organic chemical that can induce "very strong inflammation" and "chemical injury" by burning the skin and airways when inhaled, Jordt says. "Using it in the current situation with COVID-19 around is completely irresponsible," he adds. "There are sufficient data proving that tear gas can increase the susceptibility to pathogens, to viruses." Read the full article here.

What's next for the NBA? A plan for testing is the big key

The Associated Press

The first step of the NBA's return-to-play plan is done.

The league and its players have agreed on a format.

But there's a great amount of work left to manage, with coming up with the medical protocols that will be necessary for this season to resume foremost on the list.

The only way this plan to play will work is if the league and the players go above and beyond in the interest of safety. And testing will be the key to all of that.

Farmers find ways to save millions of pigs from being euthanized

Dan Charles, NPR A month ago, America's pork farmers were in crisis. About 40 percent of the country's pork plants  were shut down because they had become hot spots of coronavirus  infection. Pork producers who had been shipping, collectively, almost half a million hogs  each day to those plants suddenly had no place to send of all their animals, and little space to house the equal number of new piglets that are born every day. Pork producers and industry analysts said that if factories didn't re-open quickly, they'd be forced to euthanize  millions of hogs on their farms. But that worst case scenario seems to not be happening. According to estimates of pork producers and officials in the hardest-hit states of Minnesota and Iowa, hog farmers have been forced to kill and dispose of fewer than 200,000 animals so far. "Farmers are pretty inventive people," says David Preisler, CEO of the  Minnesota Pork Producers Association. He says farmers made some quick adaptations--they converted older buildings into additional housing for hogs, fed the animals low-energy rations that kept them from gaining weight rapidly, and sent some of their animals to local butcher shops. Other hogs were shipped halfway across the country, from Minnesota to Pennsylvania or California, to processing plants that could handle them. Minnesota's Board of Animal Health acquired two 80-acre sites that could be used to compost truckloads of hogs. As of May 29, the sites had accepted 17,058 hog carcasses. They could handle many more. Perhaps 100,000 to 150,000 carcasses have been trucked to rendering plants, which convert them into basic materials like grease and protein powder. In Iowa, the state is offering financial help to farmers who need to euthanize hogs. Farmers applied for funding to dispose of about 25,000 animals but have not yet told the state how many of them actually were euthanized. In mid-May, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig  told Iowa Public Radio that farmers in his state had been forced to kill fewer than 5,000 market-ready hogs so far. Hog industry officials say they've heard of few cases of euthanized hogs in other major pork-producing states. At the moment, the crisis appears to be ebbing. Most pork plants have resumed production, but Preisler says "it's too early to tell" whether farmers will be forced to kill more of their pigs. The plants, he says, are running at about 82 percent of their normal capacity, "but if we stay there, that's not good enough" to handle the backlog of hogs on farms.

Coronavirus and racism are dual public health emergencies

Short Wave Podcast, NPR Across the country, demonstrators are protesting the death of George Floyd and the ongoing systemic racism that is woven into the fabric of the United States. The protests come in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic that is disproportionately killing people of color — particularly black Americans. We talk to public health expert  David Williams about systemic racism that is at the heart of a long-standing public health crisis for Black America. And we discuss the risks facing protesters who are gathering, despite the dangers of coronavirus.

Bars, theaters reopen in most of Florida

The Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Universal Orlando Resort along with bars, movie theaters and other entertainment venues reopened with restrictions in most of Florida Friday as the state took another step away from the economic shutdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

Also allowed to reopen were bowling alleys, tattoo and massage parlors and arcades in most of the state.

The exceptions are in hard-hit Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, where bars and entertainment businesses remain closed.

Bars, theaters, concert halls and bowling alleys must limit their capacity to 50% of normal and keep groups at least six-feet apart.

Like what you just read? Check out our other  coronavirus coverage.

Danielle Prieur is a general assignment reporter and fill-in host at WMFE.