It's in our salad dressing, bread and most everything else we eat -- and it's doing tremendous harm to our bodies. How can we kick the salt habit?
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam (D) joined the program to talk about leading the commonwealth through coronavirus.
- Hours after Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) issued a stay-at-home order for his state, Northam followed suit for Virginia.
- Northam’s order began on March 30 and is in effect until June 10 — unless the governor amends the order to extend it, or rescinds it early.
- “Northam, a pediatric-neurologist-turned-politician, has consistently been slower than Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) to order measures to compel social distancing,” wrote Robert McCartney from The Washington Post in a recent analysis. “Northam was the last of the three to close the state’s schools, order a state of emergency and seek activation of the National Guard.”
- On The Politics Hour, Northam said, “We’ve been very aggressive. Each state has done what they have felt was in the best interest of their people and constituents.
- This week, Northam said that he’s expecting cases of coronavirus in Virginia to peak between late April and late May.
- Most of the state’s outbreaks are in northern Virginia, the Richmond area and on the Virginia Peninsula. The Virginia Public Access Project has created a map tracking the cases.
- The commonwealth received its third shipment of personal protective equipment from a national stockpile this week, but the governor says it’s still not enough.
- “The president has taken an aspirational approach to this. Governors have had to take a realistic approach,” said Northam on The Politics Hour.
The Baltimore Sun politics reporter Pamela Wood joined the show to give us the view from Maryland.
Maryland’s Response To The Coronavirus
- Governor Larry Hogan (R) issued a stay-at-home order for Marylanders this week. The order was quickly followed by ones in Virginia and D.C.
- “For folks who had been following all the guidance in the previous orders, it doesn’t change much,” Wood said on The Politics Hour. “But in a nutshell, you’re not supposed to go out for anything that’s not essential.”
- More than 84,000 Marylanders filed for unemployment during the week ending on March 28, almost twice as many as the week before. It’s taxing on the state’s Department of Labor, where employees have been working extra hours and on Saturdays.
- The state government is offering to boost the pay of frontline workers during the crisis by $3.13 per hour. But that’s less than the double-time rate that the state paid prior to the crisis.
Hogan Leads Governors In Coronavirus Response
- Hogan chairs the National Governors Association, and he has been working with the Trump administration on getting necessary aid to the states.
- Last week, President Trump released more funding to Maryland after declaring a major disaster in the state.
- In an interview this week with NPR’s Morning Edition, Hogan described the relationship between governors and the president with ambivalence: “We do appreciate some of the actions that have been taken. But we’re still not satisfied with some of the others.” Hogan also said that the president suggesting that the testing problems are over was “just not true.”
- In his capacity as chair of the National Governors Association, Hogan has been doing a lot of press (although not on The Politics Hour, despite multiple invitations). “I sometimes feel like I spend most of my days watching him on cable news,” Wood said on The Politics Hour.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) joined The Politics Hour to talk about the District’s response to the coronavirus.
- Bowser joined Northam and Hogan in issuing a stay-at-home order for residents. The order went into effect on April 1 and lasts until April 24.
- How will the District enforce the order? D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said he has advised his officers to only make arrests as a last resort.
- How do the stay-at-home orders in D.C., Maryland and Virginia compare? Here’s a roundup from WAMU on what the orders mean for the region. Plus, here’s a guide to what you can still do outside while the stay-at-home orders are in effect, courtesy of WAMU’s Mikaela Lefrak.
- On The Politics Hour, a listener asked if the mayor would consider closing any streets so residents can safely walk. “I am concerned about it … because what I don’t want it to turn into is a festival,” Bowser said.
- At a Friday press conference, Bowser presented modeling that shows the city could see as many as 93,000 coronavirus cases. The expected fatalities range from 220 to more than 1,000, as WAMU’s Martin Austermuhle reports.
- The District is expecting the peak of cases to happen in late June or early July.
- The D.C. government is working with hospitals to ensure they have access to the more than 5,600 hospital beds needed. On The Politics Hour, Bowser said that Providence Hospital was one of the 39 facilities that the government was looking into for beds, but the Army Corps was not recommending the location for use.
- Bowser also said that she thinks that schools will not reopen on April 27 as is currently planned.
- This week, 25 U.S. Senators called on congressional leadership to provide D.C. federal aid on-par with that of states. This included Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Mark Warner (D-VA) and Tim Kaine (D-VA).
- Van Hollen said that the latest federal relief package deliberately classified D.C. as a territory instead of a state.
- On The Politics Hour, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said there was a “good chance” that D.C. would receive more federal aid in future bills.
- D.C. received none of the ventilators, safety goggles or hand sanitizer it requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. On The Politics Hour, Bowser said that D.C. has been “self-procuring” medical equipment throughout the crisis.
Want up-to-date coverage of coronavirus in our region? Check out WAMU’s live blog here.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Cydney Grannan
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to The Politics Hour starring Tom Sherwood. He's broadcasting from home. I'm Kojo Nnamdi also broadcasting from home. Later in the broadcast we'll be talking with Mayor Muriel Bowser of the District of Columbia. and we'll also be talking with Governor Larry Hogan -- no. Not Governor Hogan. He never appears on this broadcast. We'll be talking about Maryland with Pamela Wood, a Politics reporter for The Baltimore Sun. And joining us now -- by the way Tom Sherwood, welcome. He's our ...
TOM SHERWOODHey, good afternoon everyone.
NNAMDITom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. And joining us now is Ralph Northam. He is the Governor of Virginia. Governor Northam, thank you for joining us.
RALPH NORTHAMGood afternoon, Kojo and Tom, it's great to be on your show and I hope that you and your listeners are doing well.
NNAMDITrying to stay safe. Governor Northam, there are a lot of callers who are already calling for you. I have questions. Tom has questions. So I'll ask you to try to keep your responses as brief as possible, but here goes. You have issued a stay-at-home order for Virginia residents this week. But in Washington Post piece earlier this month Robert McCartney compared your response to the virus to that of D.C. and Maryland noting that your orders to close schools, issue a state of emergency and shut down eating at restaurants came much later than Maryland and D.C. And you've drawn criticism from some fellow Democrats for lagging behind. Why didn't you move more quickly and do you regret not doing that?
NORTHAMThis has been a very dynamic pandemic and we -- you know, I'm doing everything that I can to keep Virginians safe. Also to give them accurate and updated information and, you know, Kojo, we've done some aggressive -- taken some aggressive measures such as you just mentioned closing down our schools. I was one of the first to do this. Closing down our restaurants to everything except take out and home delivery. As you know we have a stay-at-home order is in effect through June the 10th, which is longer than anybody else. So we've been very aggressive, but, you know, each state has done what they have felt is in the best interest of their people and constituents.
NORTHAMAnd, you know, there's been no -- certainly a lack of leadership at the federal level. So the responsibility that leadership has really landed in the laps of the governors. And, you know, I've been in touch with our governors almost on a daily basis. And I think we're all doing what's in the best interest of our states, but working closely together.
SHERWOODHey, governor, welcome to the program. You know, you have a state that's quite large. People don't quite realize from Loudoun County in Northern Virginia to Lee County which is further west thank Detroit, Michigan, but you have to address the entire state. Mayor Bowser, this morning, said that she expected the peak of this crisis -- public health crisis to correlate June maybe early July even. And that many -- where do you see the peaking of virus in the State of Virginia? And what would you be saying to Northern Virginians about what they should expect?
NORTHAMYeah. That's a great question, Tom. And I've been working very closely with the Mayor of Washington and also the Governor of Maryland. And we're looking at different models. I think to just kind of put things in perspective we're dealing with an unknown virus. We don't even know if it's seasonal yet. There's no vaccination. There's no treatment. And so a lot of unknowns, which has been quite a challenge. We are looking at different models of kind of averaging them out, looking at the data.
NORTHAMAs you know, I'm a doctor. So I'm all about data. Talking to a lot of specialists, experts, epidemiologists. So our peak looks to be in May. And, you know, the curve on the backside of that is questionable. So I have told Virginians all along, this is not a matter of weeks. It's a matter of months. And there's been no sugarcoating. I've tried to give them the truth. I think that's what Virginians want, but we're in this for the long haul. And so we're looking forward or toward the surge, which we think will be in the May timeframe.
SHERWOODYour counterpart Governor Hogan is the head of the governor's association. He's a Republican. He's been reluctant to criticize the President Trump in the past. But he has been quite critical more recently. And while everyone wants the governors of the country to work with the president and the White House and the Congress, there are legitimate criticisms that the White House did not respond quickly enough to support the states. Where are you on that spectrum?
NORTHAMWell, I've been working very closely with our governors. We talk two to three times a week. As you know Governor Hogan is the Chair of our NGA or National Governors Association. So we have put our thoughts and ideas together and funneled them to the president. We talk to the president, vice president and his experts usually once a week. But the way I would describe this, Tom, is that the president has taken an aspirational approach to this. Governors have had to take a realistic approach.
NORTHAMAnd so this, you know, this virus started in this country on January the 21st. And we heard from the president that things like it was going to be fine that the virus was very much under control. That 15 cases would go down to zero in a couple of days. On February 27 he said it would disappear like a miracle. Said that everybody could, you know, be tested. It's a beautiful test. Has told the governors on several occasions the cure is worse than the virus.
NORTHAMSo, you know, that's one thing to be aspirational. As you know, I'm a doctor. You know, it's one thing to tell someone you're going to be okay, but they need to know the truth and know what's ahead of them. And so I'm thinking on behalf of the governors that's what we have really tried to do is to take leadership roles and to tackle some very very difficult challenges and make some difficult decisions.
NNAMDIHere's Robin in Arlington, Virginia. Robin, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBINHi. Thank you for taking my call. And thank you, Governor Northam, for being on today's show. I'm President of Arlington Friends of Urban Agriculture and we're a non-profit focused on creating a sustainable and local food economy throughout Northern Virginia. And my question is about farmer's markets. We were very concerned that your executive order did not deem farmer's markets as essential businesses, like grocery stores, and whereas Maryland and D.C. have done that. And we feel that farmer's markets are a critical component of a secure local food system.
NNAMDIAllow me to have the governor respond to that. Governor Northam.
NORTHAMRobin, thank you very much. As you know, I grew up on a farm, and so the farmer's markets and the access to nutritious food is critical. I agree with you. The farmer's markets will continue to be open, but certainly with restrictions. We need to maintain our 10 or less, our social distancing, our good hygiene wiping down surfaces. So all of those things are being done. And as we get into the spring and summer months, I think that's, you know, an essential way that -- or means of people being able to get the nutrition they need. So I appreciate all that you do for agriculture and all that you're doing for our farmer's markets.
NNAMDISo you're saying at some point, Governor Northam, you will declare farmer's markets essential.
NORTHAMOh, they already are, Kojo. People can go to the farmer's markets as long as they abide by the guidelines that we put forward.
NNAMDIDocuments from the House Oversight Committee released this week showed that Virginia received significantly less personal protective equipment from the federal government than it requested. The New York Times reported that you requested 350 ventilators from the federal government and got none. Is that correct? What medical equipment have you received?
NORTHAMWell, it's a great question and it's certainly a challenge. Something that I've very concerned about. You know, we want to make sure that our hospitals are equipped to take care of the surge of patients that, again, we expect to come in the following weeks to a month. And so ventilators, Kojo, is certainly an issue. We did not receive any ventilators. And I understand a lot of those resources are going to, you know, cities like New York and New Orleans right now, but we will need more ventilators. Another area is our PPE. States are literally competing for the same supply and that has been very chaotic. We've had manufacturers step up. We've had volunteers in Virginia step up.
NORTHAMSo we've also ordered PPE from overseas, which hopefully will be delivered in the next few days. So we're ramping up for what we need, but it's been a very chaotic situation, again, because we haven't had any direction from the national level.
SHERWOODGovernor, you're trying to work with the president and you've called his remarks aspirational. Others might have said they're simply political denial of what the country is facing. Back you campaigned for governor you at one point called President Trump a narcissistic maniac. And I know you've long since dropped that. Right now in the White House briefings every day there's clearly some possible new plan, which is going to tell every person in the country to wear some kind of casual mask not to wait till you get sick, but just if it's a scarf or something else homemade. Again, as a doctor, what is your understanding and feeling about what people should do in terms of should they just wear a mask of any type when they go out into public?
NORTHAMTom, I appreciate the question. I certainly wouldn't discourage anybody from wearing something over their face when they're out and about especially if they're around a lot of other people on the sidewalk, street, etcetera. But I do want to emphasize we desperately need to maintain all of the equipment that is available to include masks to protect our first responders, our healthcare providers, social workers, etcetera, because we're desperately short in those areas. But as far as someone if they have a scarf or a handkerchief that they can put over their face when they're outside, I certainly wouldn't discourage it.
SHERWOODAnd if I could follow up on this, governor. I think in just a few days you'll be looking again at the state budget. I think something like $135 billion over two years. The District and all the states are having terrific troubles. What can people expect in terms of the laws that were just passed by the legislature like increasing the minimum wage and other pro-worker type bills that some people are saying should be delayed, because the county and the states won't have the money?
NORTHAMYes. Tom, two different questions I think. The first is the budget. And we had a great budget four weeks ago. We're the best state in which to do business as you know. But things have changed. And so as far as new spending all of that will be put on hold. The legislature will come back on April 22 for a reconvened session. And I've already had a discussion with a lot of our financial leaders or legislatures. And so we'll make plans of how we move forward over the next few months with no new spend, but no definitely plans have been announced.
NORTHAMAs far as the pieces of legislature, the new laws that were passed that affect the business community we're looking at those. I have a couple more weeks in which to work on those, but certainly listen to the people across Virginia businesses, etcetera. And we want to do everything that we can to maintain a strong business environment, because we need to come out of this strong. And I'll do everything that I can to keep us in that posture.
NNAMDIAfraid we don't have any more time, Tom Sherwood. We're out of time in this segment. Ralph Northam is the Governor of Virginia. He is a Democrat. Governor Northam, thank you very much for joining us.
NORTHAMThank you, Kojo and Tom. And remember keep your social distancing and wash your hands frequently. We'll get through this together.
NNAMDIOnce again than you very much. Later in the broadcast we'll be joined by Muriel Bowser the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Up next Pamela Wood, a Politics reporter for The Baltimore Sun. She'll be talking about what's going on in Maryland since Governor Hogan has declined to join us once again. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Tom Sherwood is our Resident Analyst and Contributing Writer for Washington City Paper. He is joining us from home. I'm also broadcasting from home. And joining us now is Pamela Wood, a Politics reporter with The Baltimore Sun. Pamela Wood, thank you very much for joining us. This is the politics however, and there's a new political party that is organizing in Maryland. It is called the Working Class Party. There was a party before that was called the Working Families Party or I should say is called that is also active in Maryland. So what's this new party all about?
SHERWOODWell, this is very simply people who think the working classes of the country are not being heard. They have to get 10,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot. You know, in the last year or so there was another group called Bread and Roses started by Jerome Segal, who got 10,000 people to sign petitions, put him on the ballot as a party. But it's a very small movement at this point in terms of affecting how state politics will play out. I'll just remind people Jerome Segal ran for the Senate against Ben Cardin back in 2018. Jerome Segal's Bread and Roses Party got 20,000 votes. Ben Cardin got 477,000 votes. So working people many feel like they've left out of the American economy with wages stagnating, etcetera, but just not sure how this is going to play given what we're facing now.
NNAMDIWell, is it that the traditional parties, the Democrats and the Republicans tend to be so prominent in people's minds that it's hard for them to consider voting for these kind of new parties?
SHERWOODWell, you know, like Bernie Sander's campaign itself within the Democratic Party even though he's not a Democrat, he certainly has changed the political discussion of what's acceptable within the Democratic Party. So I'm all for any and all small parties are getting started and trying to affect the public debate on what we'll do. You know, here in the District we have, of course, the Statehood Party, which is not very big. But it does have a role in promoting issues that the larger public should be interested in, and that goes for Maryland too.
NNAMDIJoining us as I said is Pamela Wood who's a Politics reporter for The Baltimore Sun. If you have questions or comments about Maryland now would be the time to call 800-433-8850. Pamela Wood, thank you for joining us.
PAMELA WOODThank you for having me, Kojo.
NNAMDIGovernor Hogan issued a stay-at-home order in Maryland on Monday. What does it change for Maryland residents and how will it be enforced?
WOODWell, honestly for folks, who had been following all of the guidance in the previous orders, it doesn't change much. But in a nutshell you're not supposed to go out for anything that's not essential. So it's okay to go to your job if you have an essential job. Get groceries, pick up food, go to the pharmacy or medical appointment. But they otherwise don't want people going to over to people's houses. They don't want you shopping. And you can go out and get exercise. But, you know, no basketball games, no tennis matches, that sort of thing.
SHERWOODPamela, is there a date certain where this is to end and it will have to be renewed. I was thinking, you know, we're getting very close to the Ocean City Shore vacation places that create millions of dollars for the state coffers, when does the current governor's order expire before he renews it?
WOODYeah. So each state has different end dates on their orders. In Maryland's it is open ended right now for the duration of the state of emergency until or unless, you know, the guidance changes or it's superseded by another order. So it is basically for the time being for the foreseeable future that Maryland will be under these requirements. And now also the state parks have closed their beaches. I believe Ocean City has closed their beaches. The only places open are, you know, grocery stores and take-out restaurants. So I think they've taken a lot of steps to, you know, cut down on that recreational travel that they don't want to have happening.
NNAMDIYou know -- go ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI know, Pamela, I think you did your first story back in early March when three people were infected in Montgomery County. And that seems like six months ago, not a month ago.
SHERWOODBut the governor as the National Governors Association Chairman, he has been in national and international news. You work for The Baltimore Sun. Has the governor been reaching out to media within the State of Maryland to get the word out on what's going on? Can you reach the governor when you want to?
NNAMDIBecause he certainly doesn't reach out to us, but go ahead, please.
WOODHe has been all over the place. I sometimes feel like I spend most of my days watching him on cable news. The other day he did some radio interviews. He was on an Eastern Shore radio station. He was on a country station in Baltimore City. We last talked to him a couple of weeks ago directly outside of press conferences, which seems like a lifetime ago, but, yeah. He has been all over the place.
NNAMDIWell, here is Sam in Baltimore. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHi. So we've heard reports from several jails and prisons saying that the Maryland Department of Corrections and county agencies that there are outbreaks of COVID there. And we -- I'm wondering what it will take for the governor to admit that the only way to minimize the risk of transmission in those facilities is to do large scale releases. And whether like there's any possibility of getting more people released to protect public health.
NNAMDIPamela, is that something the governor has talked about at all?
WOODThat is something the governor has been getting a lot of pressure on certainly from all sorts of advocacy groups, from certain prosecutors. They want to reduce the jail and prison populations. The latest numbers we have in state facilities, state prisons is 17 cases in correctional facilities. They don't have numbers on the county jails. There has been movement towards that. The governor has not made any announcements on that. We've also heard from the correctional officers and their union, who work in these facilities and they are concerned that they do not have enough protective equipment themselves given that they are in close contact with inmates. Inmates are in contact with each other. There are a lot of concerns in the prisons and Governor Hogan has yet to address them.
SHERWOODAnd that, of course, is a nationwide problem whether it's here, the jail in the District of Columbia or the Fairfax County jail. People, who have not even been convicted of crimes, but be being held for court cases are some people that should be released, many people are saying, but it's a significant issue given the close quarters of the prisons and the jails here and around the country.
WOODYeah. And I'd like to add one of my colleagues from the Capitol Newspaper in Annapolis had a story the other day about attorneys for people being held now using the coronavirus as a reason to try and get bail to, you know, get out of jail, while they're awaiting trial, because they believe it's, you know, safer not be in the jail.
NNAMDIWell, Tom Sherwood likes to say, "This is the Politics Hour." So I know he will appreciate Walter in Baltimore's question. Walter, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
WALTERTo your reporter, thank you, Tom, for sparing the Virginia Governor, you know, starting a fight between him and our president. But my question to your report is how the special election, I'm still waiting for my ballot for Cummings replacement. Have you any knowledge or information on that? And second part of my question is is that $1.5 billion going into the general fund or will Hogan get that directed to the Western Counties as he's done many times?
NNAMDIYour turn, Pamela Wood.
WOODSure. I can start with the election. Elections officials are this week mailing out those ballots. They said the last batch should go out in the mail today. So if you don't get it by Monday or Tuesday you may want to call your local Board of Elections to make sure they have the right address on file, but you should be getting that shortly. This is the special election to fill Congressman Cummings seat after he died last fall between Kweisi Mfume, the Democrat, and Kim Klacik, the Republican. It's being a mail-in election April 28, but you should get that ballot soon.
SHERWOODDidn't they also agree that there would be some places where you can physically go on the primary day?
WOODYeah. That has been sort of back and forth. The State Board of Elections had a meeting yesterday. It is up to Governor Hogan to make the final decision whether there will be some limited in person places to vote. We're told he's not making an announcement on that today. So we are waiting to see what the final decision will be.
NNAMDIIn the 30 seconds we have left, Walter also wanted to know about the $1.5 billion and where it was going.
WOODYeah. I'm not sure actually that the state knows for sure how much aid is coming to the state. Some of it, I believe will have to be directed to the counties, you know, by order of the federal government, but we're waiting to see how that money will be spent.
NNAMDIPamela Wood is a Politics reporter for The Baltimore Sun. Pamela Wood, thank you so much for joining us.
WOODThank you so much for having me.
NNAMDIWhen we come back we'll be talking with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Joining us now is Muriel Bowser, the Mayor of the District of Columbia. Mayor Bowser, thank you so much for joining us.
MURIEL BOWSERThank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIYou said today that D.C. could see more than 93,600 coronavirus cases, and for the death toll, you said that D.C. could see as few as 220 deaths, or more than 1,000. And you're expecting the number of cases to peak in late June or early July, but that could change. I know your team has been looking at a few different ways to model this scenario. Tell us about how you're making these estimates.
BOWSERWell, thanks for that question, Kojo. I just gave about an hour-long briefing to members of the Council about the District's medical surge planning. And, in that presentation, we shared with them our modeling that indicates the number of additional medical beds that we would need and when we would need them, and reported that out to residents of the District. We have been working hand-in-hand with our hospital systems to make sure we're ready to deliver those additional beds.
SHERWOODMayor, thank you for being on the program. I know it's an incredible and extraordinarily busy time for you and everyone in the government. You said that this could peak in late June and early July. What is the message now, to all of the businesses? Does this mean that businesses that are nonessential will have to remain closed, like public spaces? Parks will be closed until late June, early July, at least at this point?
BOWSERWell, what we know, Tom, is that we have to continue to assess the real, lived experience here in the District. And what our health professionals tell us is that they need to see a period of decreased infection. And that could be earlier, or it could be what the models suggest to be happening in June. So, we are going to be looking and monitoring cases decreasing in the District.
BOWSERWe're also looking, nationally, to all of the research which is pretty focused on, how do you dial up or dial back social distancing? So, I think everybody recognizes that in different parts of the country we're not just going to, you know, open up the spigot and go back to life as normal on a given day. But there may be things that can come back before other things. And so we will continue to monitor what makes the best sense for residents of the District and make those decisions when the data show that we can.
SHERWOODI asked Governor Northam about this. You have said in your public briefings, and I've watched them all, I believe, that you are not wearing a mask and you're not wearing gloves. You're being careful, as everyone should be. But there is some discussion now that people -- and the White House has not directly said this, but that people should wear some kind of casual mask, even, to limit the interaction between other human beings. Are you reassessing your policy of gloves and masks?
BOWSERThis just came up in our briefing. Our Department of Health will make recommendations for, not just the government, but what's important for the whole city. We have heard over the last couple of days that the CDC may update its guidance, which has kind of been our guidepost for recommendations related to PPE.
SHERWOODAnd let me, just before we get to other questions, I know we don't have much time, in your briefing today, you made reference to your young daughter and your elderly parents. So, on a personal level, it's a message to citizens, you keep saying, and I've gotten two of your recorded messages, stay home, and I'm doing that. But is there a larger message to families that are starting to feel the mental health stress and the concern that their children are out of school until the end of the year, possibly no summer jobs program? I don't know what's happening with the summer jobs program, but this is quite the toll individually on families and individuals.
BOWSERWell, I think it's a toll on our nation and on our world. And I think that we all know, though, however, that social distancing works. It can flatten the curve. It can decrease the number of people who succumb to infection or die. It can also take the stress off of our hospitals and our healthcare professionals, so that those most in need of hospital care will have a bed and doctor or nurse there to serve them. So, we know that it all works.
BOWSERAnd, certainly, nobody asked to be in this position, but it is a global health pandemic that we have all been dealt with. We are mindful that people are, you know, undergoing a lot of stress. Economic stress is some of the worst stress you can experience. And we know that a lot of people are hurting, economically. And so there are a lot of national and local programs that we are hoping to get online and get online quickly to help our residents and businesses deal with it.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Summer jobs? Summer jobs, madam Mayor? Summer jobs, is that in danger?
BOWSERWell, Tom, I couldn't even tick off all of the modified government operations that we will have to consider. But we haven't called off the summer jobs program. I don't know that we're at that place, but we will be evaluating all of our government operations. Keep in mind that, right now, more than half of our government employees are tele-working, not reporting to their jobsites and working from home. So, we've been operating under this modified government operation since March the 13th.
BOWSEROur kids have been out of school since March the 13th. We closed our restaurants to in-dining room service soon thereafter. So, we recognize that we've all been living under a very different way of life. But all that we know suggests that this could get us through this with fewer fatalities, with fewer strains on our healthcare system. And I promise everyone that we will look for ways to dial up normal life, even if it doesn't mean that we can turn the spigot all the way on.
NNAMDIHere's Steven, in Washington, D.C. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENThank you. Does your plan to provide extra hospital beds for COVID-19 patients include Providence Hospital? And if not, why not? And is Ascension Health, the owner of the hospital who closed it last year, cooperating with you?
BOWSERAscension is cooperating with us, and part of our briefing today talked about how we get to the additional beds. We have identified 75 percent of what we need. And I think the last tranche will be identified by Monday. Providence Hospital, along with 38 other facilities, have been reviewed for our use. The Army Corp is not recommending Providence to us right now because of a remediation that would have to be done there that puts it out of the time that we would need it. But Ascension has been cooperative with us.
NNAMDIHere now is Joshua, in Baltimore. Joshua, you're on the air. Go ahead, please
JOSHUAHi. Thanks for taking my call. Just speaking of those who've been economically hit by the closures due to COVID-19, most working people are concentrated in the retail and restaurant industries, and considering how high D.C.'s rent is compared to the national average, very pessimistic about how unemployment on steroids is going to help your citizens. Has there been any talk about back-rent forgiveness or canceling rent altogether?
BOWSERThere has been a discussion about rent increases and all the ways that D.C. residents can work with their housing providers, and that is what we continue to encourage everybody to do, along with the federal government stepping up and making more individual payments so people have cash in hand. I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have cash in hand. We were pleased to see the changes to unemployment that made more people eligible for unemployment and an increase in the payment. But individuals getting cash on hand is how we're going to get through this.
NNAMDIMayor Bowser, the Washington Post...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Tom.
SHERWOODI believe there's a limit, mayor, on evictions...
SHERWOOD...and you have said in the last week or so that you've recognized a problem with unemployment insurance. Many people who live in the suburbs, but work in the city, they have to file for unemployment in the District. You have said you tried -- you're setting up a call center and trying to fix computer glitches for the thousands of people who are applying for unemployment insurance. Where are we on that?
BOWSERWell, I don't have to tell you the kind of crush of calls and claims that -- not just us, but nationally, that we're seeing in unemployment offices across the country. The glitch you're referring to was actually a change that was required by the emergency legislation that the Council passed. And it was a good change, and one that I supported, to eliminate a waiting period and a seek work requirement, which required a change to a pretty cumbersome, clunky system.
BOWSERI think that change is going to be in place, but already, I think we've had 45,000 people that have -- 46,000 cases have completed their insurance claim. And many, many more people are still calling us. And I just have to ask people to bear with us. The literal crush of calls is overwhelming our call-taking. We're adding resources as soon as possible, but we will have to ask for your patience.
NNAMDIMayor Bowser, the Washington Post reported last night that D.C. received only a fraction of the medical equipment it requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The District received no ventilators, safety goggles or hand sanitizer. Additionally, the District got less than 1 percent of the requested gloves and respirator masks. What was your response to not receiving this equipment, and are you looking into other ways to get it?
BOWSERYes, Kojo. We have been self-procuring throughout this crisis, and we continue to do that. Today, I talked to the Council about all of the different needs that we have, from personal protective equipment to what we will need for the 3,100 new beds that we're going to put online, in terms of that PPE, but also just the regular hospital equipment that goes with a hospital room. In addition to helping recruit staff, doctors and nurses and support staff to support our hospitals in need. So, our procurement needs right now, just like everywhere else in the country, are pretty significant.
BOWSERWe've also been working with FEMA and the White House to understand the national redeployment strategy from taking federal resources from hotspots, places that are hot right now, and deploying them to cities and states as we need them.
NNAMDIIn the federal aids package passed by Congress last week, D.C. will get significantly less funding than states. You've talked with both President Trump and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi about the District receiving more federal aid. What's that going to look like? And will D.C. wait around for the next package, or is there something else in the works?
BOWSERWell, I try to work it from a couple of angles. The congresswoman assures me that the Congress will address it in the next round. The speaker also assured me of that. I, however, have asked the president if there's any way to at least fix the money difference. This business about treating the District as a territory I think has to be addressed by the Congress. But I think the administration has an opportunity to make up the money difference from Treasury. And so we will keep pushing on that point.
SHERWOODMayor, the D.C. Board of Elections just today announced that, because of virus infections, the Elections Office is closed to the public as of Monday. It is trying very hard to get everyone to register to get an absentee ballot to vote in the June 2nd election, the primary election coming up. But where -- are you at all concerned that the Board of Elections may be overwhelmed? Will we be able to have the election on June 2nd?
BOWSERWe will have an election on June 2nd. Last week, I think Friday, or maybe two weeks ago, I was with the Board of Elections chair, Councilmember Charles Allen. The Board has looked ahead and made a plan for not being able to train workers, not being able to staff all 144 precincts, and emphasizing the ability for people to request a mail-in ballot. I think they identified six ways to do that, including emailing them, using an app, calling. So, I know that they have mail-in requests, and there are six ways you can get it. And you can request it now and mail it in.
BOWSERAnd then there will be 20 early vote centers that will also be open on primary day, and for the Ward 2 special election. So, I would invite people to follow -- and I don't have it off the top, but go to the Board of Elections website and continue to follow their plan.
NNAMDIGot a tweet from Richard, who says: I've been trying to observe all the best practices for the epidemic. However, for weeks now, I've seen nothing but empty shelves for hand soap, hand sanitizers and cleaning product. Given poor supply hoarding and panic buying, what in the world am I supposed to do? Is there anything you can do to help, Mayor Bowser?
BOWSERWell, we continue -- and that is a good question, and we continue to tell everybody to buy what you need when you go to the store. Stop going to the store every day. And what I would tell the caller is, you know, you put yourself at more risk by going to the store every day looking for those items than you would just staying at home and hopefully making do with the things that you have. And we do know that those cleaning products remain some of the toughest things to keep on the shelves.
BOWSERThe grocers and stores are getting those items and they're selling quickly. And just a reminder to everybody, buy what you need. Don't overbuy, because that means your neighbor may be completely out and won't have access to soap or cleaning products. And, also, not everybody -- you don't need -- what do you call it, those Clorox wipes. If you have bleach, improvise. So, just please keep that in mind. But the focus on washing your hands, soap and water, without Purel, just soap and water will help curb the spread of the virus.
SHERWOODMayor, one good thing is the Metro budget has been passed by the region. You've been asking for late-night service to be restored. It's going to be restored, but it will be coming at a time in July when a lot of people are not working late at night. But they also, and very importantly, saved a lot of bus routes for now. Are you satisfied with what Metro has done in its new budget?
BOWSERTo be honest with you, I haven't seen it yet, but if all of those things are in there, I would be very pleased with that.
NNAMDIAnd, of course, D.C. lottery's plan to launch sports betting is indefinitely delayed because of the coronavirus and a lot of sports events not taking place. This would've added significantly, Tom Sherwood, to the state of the city's economy, because you're pointing out that the chief financial officer -- and I'll let Tom Sherwood continue with this -- says that we're looking at a significant hit on the District's economy. Tom?
SHERWOODYes. The sports betting actually is a few million dollars compared to the big picture. But, you know, just two years ago, the city tried to rush into sports betting. For a variety of reasons it hasn't started, and now it won't start, and partly because there's nothing to bet on because all the sports industries are shut down. But, Mayor, you've pointed out that, and the CFO has said, the city, the budget year ends at the end of September, that in the next month, you may have to present a budget to the council that could cut $500 million or more, maybe 750 million, out of the budget for this year. The total budget's 15 billion, 750 million is a lot of money.
BOWSERIt's a huge amount of money, and everybody recognizes how governments get money. We get money from taxes, from people going to restaurants and bars and stores, and those are sales taxes, from income taxes. But when fewer people are working, there are fewer income taxes. So, all of those things are driving down the amount of money that we have to operate the government and support the programs and services that we value in our city.
BOWSERSo, I can promise you this, that we are going to work extremely hard to make those changes in a smart way that doesn't impact basic service for residents in the District of Columbia. But I think you know, I had already gone through a series of budget engagement forums, talking about the priorities of the city, talking about new programs and services. And all of that discussion has to be changed based on the reality of the amount of revenue we have coming in.
SHERWOODIs it possible -- if I may follow up, is it possible that some of the -- so you said half the city workforce, 15,000 or so, are working at home, tele-working. Is it possible there might be furloughs?
BOWSERThat certainly would be a last resort for us. And we value all of the programs and services that we're delivering. And we're going to try to come up with a budget that preserves those things that make our city great. And certainly our staff is a part of that success.
NNAMDIMelissa tweets: please ask why nonessential construction like residential construction is still permitted. This is out of step with the rest of the country's hotspots, and it is not in support of critical infrastructure.
BOWSEROh, well, it is critical infrastructure. And there is a list of essential business activity that is permitted in the District. And you can go to coronavirus.dc.gov to see that.
NNAMDIHere is Tim in Washington, D.C. Tim, your turn.
TIMHi. Thanks for taking my call. Our wide streets and avenues and circles in the District are relatively empty of cars right now. And our sidewalks and parks are crowded. Mayor Bowser, would you consider closing any streets or portions of streets so that residents can safely walk...
NNAMDIWell, let me ask a question, Tim. We're on a stay-home order. Why are you encouraging people to walk out in the streets?
TIMExercise is essential (unintelligible).
NNAMDIYeah, but -- well, Mayor Bowser, you respond.
BOWSERWell, it is a strategy certainly that I've heard about, and I've heard about it from a number of people. I am concerned about it, however, because what I don't want it to turn into is a festival. I had to send the National Guard MPD around the Tidal Basin to keep people from going to see our beautiful cherry trees. And the streets around it is kind of like a festival. So, my only concern is I don't want to send the message to people to go out and have a festival.
BOWSERI will tell you another situation I'm concerned about, and you heard the focus on food, here, so I'm just going to use this as an opportunity to let people know that farmers markets shouldn't be treated that way, either. We treat farmers markets like groceries, but unfortunately, I get texts and messages about a couple of farmers markets in our city that look like, you know, business as usual and nothing has changed.
BOWSERSo, I asked my team to reach out to those organizers to make sure that they're observing social distancing, that people are going there, getting what they need and getting back home. But that is an area of concern for me, that could be a problem for social distancing.
NNAMDIMayor Bowser, as of Wednesday, 12 D.C. police officers have tested positive for the virus and more than 150 are in quarantine. Twenty-one D.C. firefighters have tested positive, more than 117 in quarantine. Is this putting a strain on our public safety system, and what can the city be doing to support these departments?
BOWSERWell, we certainly would love to have all of our public safety personnel at work and serving the residents in the District. And Deputy Mayor Donahue gave a really fulsome explanation of how our personnel strategies at both of those departments can accommodate people being off duty. For fire, they have some flex capacity of several hundred firefighters. And MPD has a strategy to deploy based on the number of officers available. So, we continue to do that.
BOWSERPart of my mayor's order was emphasizing to all of our workers -- essential workers who are reporting to their jobs, especially -- that the social distancing is even more critical for them. That they are social distancing when at home, so that they are best able to come to work, as well. So, we continue to emphasize that with both departments. Our chiefs have both been very, very focused on how to keep all of their apparatus and their duty stations disinfected, but also to make sure that they have access. So, we opened our first responder testing facility on Monday, and we continue to keep an eye on our members who are in quarantine.
NNAMDIAnd I’m afraid that's all the time we have. Muriel Bowser, thank you so much for joining us.
BOWSERThank you. Stay home, D.C.
NNAMDIMuriel Bowser is the mayor of the District of Columbia. Tom Sherwood, thank you for joining us, as usual.
SHERWOODThank you. I'm at home.
NNAMDIYes, but you were first in line at the local supermarket yesterday, is my understanding.
SHERWOODYes. But when it first opened -- you know, the elderly people get to go an hour before is why I was there. I was the first elderly person in line. Got exactly what I needed, and I came home.
NNAMDIToday's show was produced by Cydney Grannan. Coming up Monday, we'll dig into why Maryland gun shops and shooting ranges are deemed essential businesses, and look at the spike in gun sales during the pandemic. Plus, get ready for the first Kojo for Kids show, featuring Nats pitcher Sean Dolittle, first in a series for our younger listeners. It all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, have a safe and pleasant weekend. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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