Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Health Insurance, Jobs And What Kids Are Asking

May 20, 2020
Originally published on May 20, 2020 10:34 pm

On this broadcast of The National Conversation, we'll answer your questions about health insurance, job searching during a pandemic and breakups. We'll also hear from kids and the questions they have.

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This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. And we're here once again to answer your questions.

ETHAN: This is Ethan (ph) from San Francisco.

BRIANNA: This is Brianna (ph) from Wisconsin.

GABRIELA SUAREZ VARGAS: My name is Gabriela Suarez Vargas (ph). I am 9 years old. I have a few questions.

ETHAN: With most workers working at home now, how will the job industry change after pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: My question is whether insurance companies can even deny benefits during the pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: How long is the average hospital stay for COVID-19, and how much will it cost?

KENDALL: I would like to know how they make enough of the vaccines for all of the people.


KENDALL: Thank you.

MARTIN: NPR journalists and outside experts are on hand to offer solid facts, to tell you what we know and to correct some of the misinformation that's floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. You can send us your questions about the virus and about the economy or about all the adjustments most of us have had to make to On Twitter, you can use the hashtag #nprconversation.

And every night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today? All 50 states in the union have begun to open up in one way or another. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is pushing residents there to wear masks and to keep up social distancing to keep down the infection rate.


ANDREW CUOMO: If people get arrogant, if people get cocky, if people get casual, if people become undisciplined, you will see that infection rate go up.

MARTIN: Nearly half of all adults in the U.S., according to the census, say they've taken a financial hit as a result of the pandemic. Forty-seven percent of Americans surveyed said they lost employment income because of the coronavirus.

Cities big and small are struggling as tax revenues bottom out. Newport News, Va., Mayor McKinley Price says his city is scaling back so it can stay afloat.


MCKINLEY PRICE: You know, we can't jeopardize our safety services like our fire, you know, and police. So we have to make sure the - those things are in the forefront before we look at projects on the wish list.

MARTIN: At the same time, retailer Target says sales are booming, especially online. Online sales were up 141% over last year, they said.

Captain Tom Moore, a British World War II veteran, is being knighted by the queen for his fundraising efforts to fight COVID-19. Moore has been doing laps in his garden and has raised $39 million for British health care workers. He's even featured on a hit song in the U.K.


TOM MOORE: (Singing) When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high and don't be afraid of the dark.

MARTIN: One of the consequences of people losing their jobs in the U.S. is that millions of people have also lost their health coverage. Insurance can be a maze on the best days, let alone in the middle of a pandemic, so here to help answer your many questions about health insurance is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. She covers health policy for us. Selena, welcome back. It's so good to have you here on such an important topic.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So do you have a sense, first of all, of how many people have lost insurance since this pandemic began?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, we don't have hard numbers, and there's a lot of uncertainty here. How long will people be out of work? Will more people lose their jobs and their coverage? We just - there's so much we don't know. But we do have some estimates, and one of them is from the Kaiser Family Foundation, which came out last week. And that estimated that 27 million people may have lost their insurance, and that's not just people losing coverage because of their jobs, but it's also family members who lost coverage as dependents. In the end, the analysis found that most of those people will be able to find insurance by enrolling in Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges, and about 6 million may become uninsured longer-term. So even though it's alarming that millions more people may become uninsured in the middle of a pandemic, many health experts I spoke with were relieved it isn't actually going to be worse because there are options for most people.

MARTIN: So for all of the people who are navigating this right now, navigating unemployment in particular, what are some things they should know about getting health care coverage?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Well, there are three big buckets in terms of where to look for health insurance. The first is called COBRA. That option allows you to keep the plan you had before. Not everyone's eligible for it, but if you are, you'll get notified. And in that case, you have to pay the full premium. Your employer doesn't pick up part of the tab. So the advantage is everything stays the same as you had it before, but it can be really pricey, especially if you have limited income now.

The next place to look is the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, exchanges. So some states run their own. Others use the federal exchange. And to look into this, the best place to go is It'll direct you to the right place for your state. And the exchanges are certainly not perfect. It can - the plans can be expensive, but it is an important resource that has not existed in past recessions.

And then finally, there is Medicaid, which could be a good option for a lot of people. That is based on monthly income, which might be key if, say, you made a lot of money in the first few months of the year and now your income is really low. Medicaid is essentially free for beneficiaries. You can enroll at any time, but the income cutoffs and other eligibility rules vary from state to state, so you have to look to see if you qualify where you live.

MARTIN: OK. So let's go to our listener questions now. And this first one, Selena, I have to say is something that has come up quite a lot recently. And this is Sirkalam (ph) in Silver Spring.

SIRKALAM: The CDC and local health departments are telling the public to call your primary care physician. What about the millions of people who don't have access to primary care? What should these folks do if they suspect they are ill with COVID-19?

MARTIN: Selena, this has come up - I know you know this - a number of times. What should people do?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right. Yeah. I mean, it's true that a lot of people don't have access to primary care. And one estimate I saw is that one in four Americans do not have a primary care doctor, which works out to a lot of people. I think the answer is that if you don't have a doctor to call, check with your local health department because many of them have set up hotlines for people to get basic information on where to go for testing and, you know, how to evaluate your symptoms. So looking that up - looking up your local health department number and having that handy in case you need it is probably a smart thing to do.

MARTIN: Let's listen to a question from Judith (ph) in Utah.

JUDITH: I currently have health insurance through the ACA marketplace. I have been furloughed due to the coronavirus and I don't know when I will return to work. I am collecting unemployment, including the extra $600 per week. If this is more than I would normally earn, do I have to change my income information on my profile?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yes, Judith, sadly, you do have to update your income. You have 30 days to do that. And if your income changes again, if you go back to work, you have 30 days to update your income after that. It's a pain, but you want to do it so you don't have tax liabilities at the end.

And one quirky thing I wanted to note is the $600 extra per week that she mentions does count towards your income on the ACA exchanges, but it does not count towards your income for Medicaid because of how the laws were written in Congress. And that is a reminder of the politics here. The ACA, also known as Obamacare, is still a very hot partisan issue. The Trump administration is arguing before the Supreme Court right now that the law should be struck down. It has decided not to create a special enrollment period for so more people could sign up. So there are a lot of reasons why some policies that could make the ACA easier to use and more affordable are not being taken up right now.

MARTIN: If you have a question for NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin, send it to us at You can use that hashtag on social media, #nprconversation. Or you can call us and leave a message at 202-403-0386. Again, that number is 202-403-0386. Let's turn to this message that we got from Caitlin (ph) in Berlin.

CAITLIN: Right now, I am wondering what is being done in Congress and at the international level to ensure that treatments and vaccines for COVID-19 will be made affordable internationally and free to everyone whether or not they have health insurance. I had the experience of living with hepatitis C my whole life, and when a cure from Gilead finally became available, there were no drug pricing policies to regulate how much they could charge for it. Due to the $80,000 price tag, I was ineligible for treatment in the U.S., and I had to move to another country to be cured. I'm concerned that without regulation, drug companies will continue this pattern, creating further racial and class disparities in public health around the world.

MARTIN: First of all, I just have to say to Caitlin that, you know, I'm just very sorry for this experience. And, Selena, you know, what do we know about this?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So this is a big question, the question of how to lower drug prices in the U.S. in general. And the starting point here is that Americans pay more for their drugs than people anywhere else in the world, and there still are no federal laws to keep those costs down even though lawmakers from both parties have been talking a lot about how to do that and the House passed a bill in December. Of course, this is a unique circumstance in so many ways, and there is a chance that Congress might pass something that's targeted to COVID treatments or vaccines to keep those prices down. There was an effort to do that in the CARES Act, but it was watered down in the final bill. So what affordable means and how any attempt to control pricing here would be enforced is still very much up in the air.

And I wanted to mention that Caitlin mentioned Gilead Sciences, which is the drugmaker of remdesivir, a drug that has shown some promise in shortening hospital stays for people sick with COVID. And NPR's pharmaceuticals correspondent Sydney Lupkin has been doing some reporting on how remdesivir might be priced. And basically, it's complicated. Gilead wants to make it accessible, but also, the CEO says it needs to be sustainable to manufacturers. So the short answer is at this point, we have no idea what the price is going to look like.

MARTIN: Well, Selena, you can just see how much concern there is, just how urgent a concern it is for people really around the world. It's just, you know, a fascinating and complicated topic. So thank you all for being with us. That is NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thank you so much.


MARTIN: And if you have questions, we'd like to hear them. Go to On social media, use that hashtag #nprconversation. Or call us and leave a message at 202-403-0386. Up next, we're going to offer advice on how to find a new job if you've been laid off because of the pandemic.




Almost 37 million people have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic, and that number is sure to rise tomorrow. And even if you have not lost work, there's a good chance a friend or family member has. Lots of those people are starting to think about their options for getting a new job. Brie Reynolds is with us to talk about those possibilities now. Brie is a career development coach at FlexJobs. That's a remote job board. Brie, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: So let's start with the most basic question for anybody who's looking. Are there any fields that are hiring right now?

REYNOLDS: It is a bit hard to imagine, but the good news is, yes, there are some fields. So at FlexJobs, we see job listings that have either grown or held steady during this time in customer service, medical and health, education and training, sales and accounting and finance. Those are kind of the big areas, and it is largely industry-dependent on which, you know, fields are hiring right now.

MARTIN: Medical - I'm thinking - I don't know that everybody's qualified for that particular job (laughter). Can you just give us a sense of, like, what skills are needed?

REYNOLDS: Yeah, absolutely.

MARTIN: What kind of skill sets are people needing? You know, what skills do you have to have? I mean, medical degree - got it, but other than that?

REYNOLDS: No, there are - it's interesting 'cause a lot of people think, oh, I'm not a doctor. I'm not a nurse. What am I going to do? And there are a lot of physicians in the medical and health fields that are actually remote and more administrative. So a lot of the jobs are related to health insurance enrollment, sort of what you were just talking about, and case management and things like that - so not the actual doctors and nurses, but all the peripheral positions.

MARTIN: OK. So hold out hope. Don't have to - not just for M.D.s. OK, not the only people. I just had to clarify that. Well, so much is changing, and Naomi (ph) in Orlando had a question about that, and we'll play it for you.

NAOMI: How do you keep your job skills relevant while there's so much change happening?

MARTIN: What do you say, Brie?

REYNOLDS: Some of the skills that you should probably learn or grow right now are career-specific, but a lot of people have learned in the past couple of months that there are certain skills that almost any industry will need going forward. So with all of the change, I think it's a good bet to focus on things like digital communication skills. You know, so many jobs have removed - moved to remote work and will continue to be remote long after this crisis is over. And so understanding things like Zoom and Slack and different programs that allow you to work that way, that can be a really good skill to build for pretty much any industry right now.

MARTIN: So this may seem like a mundane question, but if people are filling out these applications, should they highlight something like that - that they're conversant with these programs? I mean, that might seem like a no-brainer, but do you think that's something that people should highlight on their resumes?

REYNOLDS: Yes, absolutely. And I talk to clients about that all the time when I'm doing career coaching. As you might think, well, of course everybody knows these programs. Why would I put that on my resume? But the reality is not everyone does know those programs, and you might have a higher skill level than other people in certain programs. So I would definitely put those on your resume. And in some cases, it makes sense to actually have a technology section on your resume that shows the programs that you're familiar with.

MARTIN: Here's our next question. This is Naomi in Orlando again, and she's curious about something that we've heard from a couple of people.

NAOMI: My other question is, is now the right time to consider a career change?

MARTIN: What do you think about that, Brie?

REYNOLDS: That's a tricky question. For some folks, it might be a good time. I think what I would ask Naomi or anybody who's thinking of this is to really think about why you would change careers right now. So in the middle of a crisis, sometimes it's completely normal to feel depressed or disconnected from work in general, so it might be a temporary feeling. But if this change has been in the back of your mind for a while, this might be a good opportunity for a career change. So it depends.

MARTIN: Well, I was thinking - I'm thinking that - and I'm not picking on this particular industry because I know a lot of people love it, but, you know, restaurants - I mean, there are those who were predicting that restaurants were due for a shakeout, you know, anyway. What about that? I mean, how would you go about deciding whether you should even really contemplate this seriously?

REYNOLDS: Yeah. I think if you are in one of those industries that's incredibly hard hit right now - restaurants is a really good example, travel and hospitality more generally - those are areas where it is not going to be easy to find work for many months or even years to come. So this might be a good time for a career change and going into something that might offer longer-term opportunity than what you've got right now in that industry.

MARTIN: And the next question is from somebody who needs to transition into work after not having had paid work for some time. This is Chelsea (ph) in Nevada.

CHELSEA: During this coronavirus outbreak, my husband has been laid off. And I've been working in the home for the past 10 years. I was just wondering if there's any resources or any type of hope or help for people who have been unemployed or pretty much don't have any work history for years backing them up.

MARTIN: What do you think, Brie? I'm sure this isn't the first time you've had this question, even in a different time. What do you say?

REYNOLDS: Yeah. No, there are definitely support systems for this sort of thing both online and then locally. You know, once it's kind of safe to go back into job centers and things like that, those exist in each state. But even online, there are retraining programs. There's different courses that Chelsea might look into to see where she falls in the workforce. You know, being out for that long, there are - you know, there's a lot of opportunities in front of her, but that can be very overwhelming which direction to go in and where her skills might lie. Depending on where Chelsea lives, there are also some economic development groups in different states that help pair people who live in rural areas with remote jobs. And I know Nevada has a good amount of rural space out there, so if that's something that she's interested in, in working from home, which is, well, you know, an area that has a lot of opportunity right now, that's something that she might look into is an economic development group in her area that can help pair her with that type of job.

MARTIN: Brie, as you know, looking for jobs can be really grueling. I mean, what do you tell people who are just striking out and just feel that they're in a rut? It can be so discouraging. And, you know, just looking at the numbers, the numbers that we are reporting every day, you can see where it could be easy to get discouraged. Do you have some advice about that?

REYNOLDS: Absolutely. I mean, even in a good economic situation, job searching is tough. So when you couple it with a pandemic and record unemployment, it becomes extremely difficult. So, of course, you have to keep at it every day. One of the best things you can do to be effective as a job seeker is to make sure that when you're sending your resume, it's edited a little bit before you submit it so it actually reflects the keywords from the job description that you're applying for. You don't have to rewrite the whole thing, but having those keywords that are the most important qualifications and skills can help. And then most importantly, I think it's really important to find ways to motivate yourself. So it's something as simple as playing songs that get you really excited before you dive into that job search each day. They kind of pump up your energy levels. And then setting goals for yourself on how many applications you'll send and treating yourself when you hit those goals, those are all really important steps.

MARTIN: Let's see if we can squeeze this last one in before we let you go. Here it is.

ETHAN: Hello. This is Ethan from San Francisco. With most workers working at home now, how will the job industry change after pandemic?

MARTIN: Brie, what do you think?

REYNOLDS: It will change a lot. So at FlexJobs, we're already starting to see employers who previously never considered using remote work saying that they're now convinced that remote work works and they want to continue to use it after the crisis is over, at least in some capacity. So I think when offices start to reopen, we're still going to see a lot of people working from home, a lot of hiring going on with remote work. And that hybrid situation when you're working from the office and from home a little bit each week is probably going to be the norm for a lot of people.

MARTIN: That's Brie Reynolds. She's a career development coach with FlexJobs, a remote job board. Thanks for joining us, Brie.

REYNOLDS: Thank you very much for having me.




Over the past two months, we've highlighted the challenges of many different people from all over the country and even, as you heard earlier tonight, some from overseas. Tonight, we want to focus on a group of people who are very important to us but who often don't get a chance to be heard. Still, they felt the effect of the coronavirus pandemic profoundly. We're talking about kids. We decided we wanted to hear from them directly about what's on their minds, about the challenges they're facing, especially challenges that feel unique.

To offer answers and perspective, we've called, once again, Suzannah Stivison. She's a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Capitol Medical Group. That's in the Washington, D.C., area. And also with us, Dr. Wanjiku Njoroge. She is the medical director for the Young Child Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She's an assistant professor of psychiatry at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for joining us.



MARTIN: So let me start with a question about COVID-19. And first up is Dominic (ph). And we'll just play it for you.

DOMINIC: Why does the coronavirus have little impact on the kids but the flu has a huge impact on kids? Thank you.

MARTIN: Suzannah Stivison, why don't you take this first?

STIVISON: So this is a great question. And the initial answer is - what you're probably going to hear a lot tonight - is we're not real sure. The first bit is that influenza and coronaviruses are two different kinds of viruses. Influenza is something that kids have been exposed to. Their bodies kind of know it. Coronavirus, they're exposed to different kinds of coronaviruses. And kids in general just have a higher level of circulating antibodies. And so the thought process is that the body of children keeps the virus from getting into the lungs and keeps it in the upper respiratory tract.

MARTIN: OK. Suzannah Stivison, I'm going to give you this next one, too. And this one is from 9-year-old Gaby (ph). And she called us from Tampa, Fla.

GABRIELA: I know that social distancing is important, but how can I make my friends do it when they aren't doing it?

MARTIN: What do you think?

STIVISON: This is a really hard one. And this is going to probably require a little bit of help from your parents. And what I want you to do, Gaby, is to brainstorm with your parents about some things that you would like to do with friends that you can do with a mask on and that you can do at least 6 feet apart. So some of the things that have come to mind from my patients that I've talked to is a bike ride where you ride parallel to each other but 6 feet apart with your mask and helmets on, and badminton - I really think this is going to be a badminton summer - or coloring two different posters.

MARTIN: OK. Badminton summer, OK.

STIVISON: I think so.

MARTIN: I feel the T-shirts coming, OK (laughter).

STIVISON: Only singles, though. No doubles. Only singles.

MARTIN: No doubles.

STIVISON: And you have to bring your own racket.

MARTIN: OK, Doctor, we're going to come to you next. We've gotten a lot of questions about a vaccine, so I'm going to start with Kendall (ph), who is 6 years old.

KENDALL: I would like to know how they get it out to the world and how they make enough of the vaccine for all of the people. Thank you.

MARTIN: Dr. Njoroge?

NJOROGE: Well, this is a great question, Kendall. And right now, we actually do not know how many doses that we're going to need. And so that makes it a little bit difficult. So we don't know whether we're going to need millions or billions of doses. As we get closer to the vaccine being the right one for all of us, then all of these companies will rapidly produce billions of doses. And the next problem with that is that that's probably going to exceed our current capacity to be able to make those vaccines. That means a lot of different companies are going to have to repurpose their facilities and maybe even building new manufacturing plants.

So once we've gotten that piece done, the next piece of your question is how do we get it to all the people. So that's going to really take a lot of effort and a lot of work, which is why people are working on this right now to figure out how we're going to get them to doctors' offices and health clinics and probably even some new places, like sporting arenas or schools or convention centers - like, really large places that we can get a lot of people vaccinated at the same time. And that will be happening all over the world.

MARTIN: I feel like that's almost its own show, isn't it?

NJOROGE: I think it is (laughter).

MARTIN: I think a lot of us are concerned about that. OK, Doctor, I have another question for you. And this is from Genesis (ph), who is 11.

GENESIS: Hi. When we do find a vaccine, how would it specifically be used on us? Thank you.

NJOROGE: OK, so...

MARTIN: Doctor, I'm kind of wondering if maybe the question is, where does the shot go? I'm kind of thinking that might be the question, but I don't know. You tell me.

NJOROGE: Well, you know what the cool thing about Genesis' question is - is that because there are all these people working on vaccines right now, they're looking at some really interesting ideas. So one of the ideas is for it not to be a shot, but for, actually, it to be needle-free. And the reason why that's important is because we just were talking about how we can get this vaccine all around the world, and part of the problems with vaccines is, typically, they need to be refrigerated. And so that can be a little bit tricky when you're trying to put into the trucks and trying to get it to all these various places. So if you can create a formulation that doesn't need to be refrigerated and then if you can also have it so it's needle-free, then that could mean that it could be like a skin patch, which, theoretically, could go through the mail and go to everyone's homes. And then you just stick that patch on your arm.

So one of the things that people are working on right now are trying to come up with novel ideas and novel ways to create this vaccine that would work on this really large scale and that could be rapidly deployed.

MARTIN: Dr. Njoroge, I think I may have - this may be about the vaccine, but it may be a broader question. So I'll just play it and just see what you think. Here it is.

GUS: My name is Gus (ph), and I live in San Francisco. And my question is, will it be safe to go back to school without a vaccine?

MARTIN: What do you think?

NJOROGE: OK, so I think Gus' question is a question that, just like the badminton summer, is something that everyone is really thinking about and worrying about. And right now, sort of the best recommendations really are coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics, is really to support school districts, as well as the local and state public health departments, in trying to figure out when it's safe to open schools. That's really going to depend on a lot of factors. And that really means for Gus, what's happening in San Francisco at the time, in terms of transmission rates and the ability to test people and contract (ph) tracing. And the Department of Health, both San Francisco as well as California, are working on all of those issues and monitoring the pandemic. And when they think that it's safe to reopen schools, then they will go ahead and do that and have a whole lot of measures in place to ensure that they can limit the spread of COVID-19 within the school setting.

And if we've learned anything over these past several months of sheltering in place, we know what to do to be safe. We know we need to screen. We know we need to monitor. We need to test, if at all possible. And then we need to do the things that we've been doing every day, which is hand-washing, just like Suzannah said, physical distancing 6 feet away. All of those things will be things that the school will do and school districts will do before they think that kids are ready to go back to school.

MARTIN: We need to take a short break. I hope you both will stay with us. We have lots more questions from our younger listeners. And we're very excited that you're here to help us answer them and answer them directly and respectfully, as you have been. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I hope you'll stay with us. We'll be right back after a short break.


MARTIN: We're back with pediatric nurse practitioner Suzannah Stivison and Dr. Wanjiku Njoroge. Dr. Njoroge, I apologize. I am just doing a real number on your name.

NJOROGE: (Laughter) It's OK.

MARTIN: And I will owe you many tote bags for your patience with me, so thank you for that.

NJOROGE: Not a problem.

MARTIN: So, Suzannah Stivison, I'm going to go back to you here because you said this is the summer of badminton. And I'm not sure that's the answer everybody wants. But I've got two questions about a really popular sport. And here it is - here they are.

QUINN: Hi. My name is Quinn (ph), and I'm 8 years old. And my question is, I usually play on a soccer team. Will we be able to play this summer?

GAVIN: My name is Gavin (ph), and I am 9. I live in Fairbanks, Alaska. Most summers, I play soccer and race BMX. Both soccer and BMX happen outside. My parents say I should probably take the summer off from BMX and soccer because the coronavirus. I think BMX and soccer are probably OK because they're outside and because they're fun and I'll miss them. What does the expert at NPR think?

MARTIN: Suzannah Stivison, we're putting you on the spot here.

STIVISON: Well, actually, it's OK because I am a soccer player, and I had my spring season canceled as well. So in addition to that, I was super excited to watch the national women's soccer team play in the Olympics this summer, so I am feeling the burn of no soccer. But the thing about soccer is that the coaches recommend 5,000 touches per day, OK? That's a lot. And most of those should be in drills. And those are really easy to do with one friend or just in your backyard. And you don't necessarily need one of the smart soccer balls.

For Gavin, for his BMX, I believe there is a way that the group could probably figure out a way to do that safely. Maybe it would be going on the course one at a time, which I think is probably pretty different. But I think that that is something that, by using guidelines that are on the CDC for camps and day cares reopening and things like that, I think they could probably follow some guidelines and get that up and running in some way, shape or form.

The other things are passing the ball in lacrosse, shooting on the goal. So there are ways to do these, but we're not going to be in that close contact, especially for the physical sports. Basketball you can definitely do. Everybody has to bring their own ball. And remember to wash your hands before and after. And no one-on-one - just playing games like knockout and horse.

MARTIN: (Laughter) OK, OK. All right, let's go to Ben (ph). And Ben is a freshman in high school in Washington, D.C. And here's his question.

BEN: Due to COVID-19, sleep-away camps and summer camps have been canceled. What are some fun activities other than schoolwork or chores I can do to keep myself entertained until the summer? Then, once summer hits, what are some projects I could do that would keep me entertained? Just some things that might help - I'm interested in meteorology. I like to take apart electronics. And I love biking and skateboarding. Thank you so much. Stay healthy.

MARTIN: OK. I think, Ms. Stivison, I think this has to be the last question. Did you hear that? Other than chores and schoolwork - got it?

STIVISON: I know. I keep getting these other-than-chores questions. So, Ben, first of all, go to JetStream on the National Weather Service at NASA. Check out their satellite meteorology website. They have a whole course for you. Outschool is a website, and they have super fun classes about things like "Percy Jackson," "Harry Potter," Stan Lee, Marvel and the history of comics. Go for your bike rides.


STIVISON: Go to MTB Project...

MARTIN: OK, got to leave it there for now.

STIVISON: ...To look for your trails.

MARTIN: Sorry, sorry. Suzannah Stivison's a pediatric nurse practitioner. Dr. Wanjiku Njoroge is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Perelman School at University of Pennsylvania.



We're going to talk about ending relationships now. It's often complicated, but it can be even more so in the age of COVID-19. Whether you're quarantining alone, with a now-ex-partner or soon-to-be ex, Damona Hoffman is here to answer your questions. She is a dating coach. And she's host of the podcast "Dates & Mates." Damona Hoffman, thanks so much for joining us once again.

DAMONA HOFFMAN: Glad to be here.

MARTIN: And I know it's a bummer, but we seem to have a lot of listeners going through divorces or breakups during this time. So first, I wanted to ask just briefly, do you think this would happen anyway, or do you think that this whole situation is accelerating certain situations? What do you think?

HOFFMAN: I definitely find that quarantining with someone will amplify whatever is already going on in the relationship. So if there are problems that you had coming into it, it may cause these issues to bubble up and boil over. But it's also a great opportunity, if you're in a relationship, to work through some of these challenges and see how you might be able to discover things on a deeper level that wouldn't have come to the surface without this opportunity.

MARTIN: Well, that's great. That's a hopeful way to look at it. So let's get to the questions. Here's Craig (ph) in Eugene, Ore. And he's curious about tensions within long-term relationships over social distancing.

CRAIG: I wonder if married couples have disagreements about it, or even other groups of people that live together - how they deal with this kind of disagreement. One person may think that their life is in danger. The other person thinks that it's time to get the economy going and there's no danger.

MARTIN: Damona, have you been hearing this? What do you think?

HOFFMAN: Yeah, so we just went right in the deep end. No softball questions here.



HOFFMAN: This is a major issue in relationships. So when we have conflict, you have two choices. You can talk about it, or you can ignore it. And the thing is this situation that we're in, it is temporary, ultimately. We don't know if it's going to be another couple months or another year, but this situation will end. So you can choose to not discuss. You know, we say in relationships you don't want to talk about politics. You don't want to talk about some of these heavy subjects sometimes. But depending on how serious the relationship is, you may need to talk about it.

So my rules for conflict resolution are to really focus on listening rather than trying to convince the other person of your point of view. And I'm sure a lot of these couples, and maybe the situation that Craig is in as well, is trying to convince his partner that his partner needs to do something differently. So if you can step back from that and try to focus instead of on getting to a point of agreement but trying to understand where your partner is coming from, that might help you be able to bridge the gap.

MARTIN: Well, you know what? We just heard from a listener who seems to be one of the couples that Craig was talking about. She's debating whether to break up with her partner who, quote, "won't wear a mask and is slipping into great awakening conspiratorial thinking." What is your advice for her?

HOFFMAN: Well, it depends, Michel, on how serious the relationship is and whether they're living together or not because we can jump to conclusions when we're in a situation like this and everything is heightened. But I'm hesitant to make one issue - any issue - a reason to end a relationship over. So I guess it depends on how far this great awakening takes you from your core values because that's really at the heart of any relationship - any long-term relationship to work out. You need to have shared values for it to be a long-term success. So I would try to tease out a little bit more about this conspiracy thinking that she's referring to and how this person views the world and whether or not they want the same things out of life instead of just thinking that the mask means something much greater about that person's belief system.

MARTIN: Here's a listener in college, and she tells us that she and her boyfriend broke up in late February. But now she's wondering how she can embrace this new single life. Here it is.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: COVID shut down my campus a week after the breakup, as well as all the bars and restaurants. So not only did I not get to experience the last of my senior year with my friends, but I also didn't get a chance to once again experience being single and going out, which has made getting back in the dating game much more difficult, especially with continued social distancing. Although I've done a good job of moving on, it's still tough when I can't see friends or really start dating right now when I'm stuck in my house with life on pause and no distractions. Do you have any advice?

MARTIN: Damona?

HOFFMAN: Well, first, I just have to say I'm really sorry to her that she had those moments taken away from her. And a lot of other people are going through that kind of loss. But I also have to remind her it's just her senior year of college. She has plenty of time ahead of her to be single and go out. Even if the situation feels unending right now, it is not.

And I have to also remind her about dating apps. My "Dates & Mates" podcast listeners know I'm a huge fan of dating apps. I met my husband online, and I've been helping other people do the same thing ever since. So they're an amazing tool right now to make new connections. Even though you can't go out on real dates, you can still practice your digital flirting skills through messaging. And that's a vital skill in today's dating scene. And in-person communication skills can be practiced through video chat dates. So even though you might not meet your soulmate right now - you might (laughter). I've actually had some listeners that have gotten into more serious relationships in the middle of the quarantine, so it could happen. But she just has to realize she's not stuck. She just needs a shift in perspective.

MARTIN: And we just heard from someone today going through a really tough breakup with the person she lives with. She says after the stress of lockdown and job loss, the breakup came out of nowhere. And she says she has to wonder whether they'd still be together if we weren't in the middle of a pandemic. What do you think?

HOFFMAN: Well, we could play devil's advocate. And we could look at all the what-if scenarios. But the reality is that the relationship has ended. And as I was saying earlier, this pandemic, this quarantine is amplifying issues that are already there. So even if those issues weren't apparent to her, they clearly were apparent to her partner. And it would be better to put that energy towards moving on. You know, maybe if she didn't get to say what she really wanted to say, maybe she can write a letter that she would never send, but just to get her feelings out on paper and begin to process the breakup that's happened.

MARTIN: And you'll notice that we don't have a lot of names in this segment because a lot of people were going through some stuff, but they didn't even really want their voices on the air. So I just want to point out that a lot of people are going through a lot of things right now. And you can really sense the strain. Very briefly, if you can, Damona, we heard from somebody who - couples who were in the process of splitting up before all this. And they say one of them was thinking about moving out, but now they're stuck. Any thoughts about how to weather this?

HOFFMAN: Oh, I feel for them. It's not fun being stuck with someone that you've already mentally moved away from. My recommendation would be to see, even if you're in the same space, if you can also make some physical space and physically move away from the person. So maybe that means moving into another room and then setting up some real boundaries and house rules to keep your sanity until you can get into your own space.

MARTIN: Well, thanks, Damona. Sorry to end on a bummer. But, you know, thanks for keeping it real. Damona Hoffman...

HOFFMAN: It's what I do.

MARTIN: ...Is host of the podcast "Dates & Mates." And I'm Michel Martin. And we'll be here tomorrow to answer more of your questions on THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.