Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Testing, Summer And What Kids Want To Know

May 22, 2020
Originally published on May 22, 2020 10:15 pm

On this broadcast of The National Conversation, we'll hear from kids on what questions they have about the pandemic. We'll also answer your questions about testing and the beginning of summer.

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This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. And each night, we're here to answer your questions.

ISABELLA: Hi. My name is Isabella (ph).

CHARLES: This is Charles (ph) in Atlanta.

MARY: Mary (ph) calling in from Brooklyn.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And my question is...

TRACY: How long does someone test positive for corona even after they have recovered?

STEPHANIE: How can I safely go about seeing my family this summer?

ZOLA: If we do return to school in the fall, what would that look like?

MARY: Does me having antibodies mean that COVID-19 has cleared my system completely and I'm no longer at risk to friends and family?

SIGRID: I want to find out how soon after exposure the virus shows up in a swab test.

BETH: What do you think?


CHARLES: Thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: NPR journalists and outside experts are on hand tonight to offer solid facts, tell you what we know and correct some of the misinformation that's floating around. And when we don't know something, we'll tell you that, too. Send us your questions about the pandemic and the way we live now at On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation.

Each night, we begin by answering the question, what happened today? President Trump says he wants houses of worship to open immediately. He even said he would override governors to make it happen.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important, essential places of faith to open right now.

SHAPIRO: It's unclear under what constitutional authority the president could force open churches in states that have closed them.

The Justice Department is joining in a lawsuit against the governor of Illinois for his stay-at-home order. They argue his order oversteps state law.

Dr. Anthony Fauci told NPR a coronavirus vaccine could be ready as soon as December. He also warned there could be setbacks.


ANTHONY FAUCI: The projection of the timeline I think is reasonable. But you always have to do that with some caution and I would say some cautious optimism.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force urged people to keep social distancing this holiday weekend.


DEBORAH BIRX: You can be outside. You can play golf. You can play tennis with marked balls. You can go to the beaches if you stay 6 feet apart. But remember that that is your space, and that's a space that you need to protect and ensure that you're social distanced for others.

SHAPIRO: There are 1.6 million confirmed cases in the U.S. and nearly 96,000 deaths. According to the CDC, more than 13.5 million coronavirus tests have been given in the United States. You keep sending us questions about tests, and Dr. Abraar Karan is here once again to answer them. He's an internal medicine physician and clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School, and he's also helping with the epidemic response in Massachusetts. Dr. Karan, good to have you back.

ABRAAR KARAN: Hey, Ari. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: To start, let's just clarify some definitions. We hear about viral tests, antigen tests, antibody tests. Help us all understand what we are talking about when we say the U.S. has done 13.5 million coronavirus tests.

KARAN: Absolutely. So I think that it's important to understand the three main types of tests and what they tell us. So the antigen test is a test that detects a viral protein and kind of tells you that someone is currently infected with coronavirus. The PCR test is a test that amplifies the viral RNA to detect the virus, and that also tells you if someone's infected. We'll talk a little bit more about that later on the show.


KARAN: The serological test is the test to detect antibodies against the virus that our body produces, and that tells us either that we had a recent infection or a past infection that was a longer time ago.

SHAPIRO: OK. Let's get to our listener questions, starting with Mary in Brooklyn, who wants to know about antibody test results.

MARY: If I test positive for antibodies, am I still at risk of passing on COVID-19 or does me having antibodies mean that COVID-19 has cleared my system completely and I'm no longer at risk?

SHAPIRO: Yeah, help us understand what that test result means, Dr. Karan.

KARAN: That's a great question, and there's a lot that we're still learning about immunity. So the IgM antibody is what is produced around seven or eight days into the infection, and that's kind of telling you in a patient that you've had a recent infection. What we know, though, is that you can still transmit virus and actually culture virus even up to about nine or 10 days. So there may be a couple of days overlap there where you may still be able to infect other people. But then later on, you'll develop your IgG antibody, which tells you that, you know, the infection's likely been cleared and that you have had an infection in the past. What we don't know is what that means in the long term. So you may have immunity for several months, but we don't really know later on if that immunity wanes and if you can still have another infection. And we need to wait to see.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, it's been another persistent question from listeners, and we just don't know. Can you clarify something else for us? The CDC said this week that it's been including antibody and viral test results in its reports of national coronavirus testing rates and positive rates. Some states have said that they've done the same thing. Does combining those two numbers, antibody and virus tests, muddy the statistics and the data that we're talking about?

KARAN: It absolutely does muddy that. And, you know, like we talked about, those are two different tests that tell you different things. And so keeping those separate is actually very important.

SHAPIRO: OK. All right, the next question here comes from Tracy (ph) in Kansas City, Mo.

TRACY: My question is, how long does someone test positive for corona even after they have recovered?

SHAPIRO: What do we know about how long you can test positive after getting sick?

KARAN: This is a great question. So in terms of the PCR test, you can have positive PCR tests for several weeks after, even up to about six weeks after, although that's very small proportion at that point. That doesn't mean that you're infectious or that you have live virus that can be cultured. It just means that they're - the test is detecting some viral RNA. So we have patients in the hospital who, you know, have tested positive, have gotten better from their infection, then weeks later, they still have a positive test.

SHAPIRO: Should I even ask what PCR test refers to or is it too much of a mouthful?

KARAN: Oh, no. That's the test that we talked about that amplifies the viral RNA.

SHAPIRO: No, I just mean the actual letters PCR.

KARAN: Oh, yeah. I mean, it's polymerase chain reaction, but that's....

SHAPIRO: OK (laughter).

KARAN: ...About being very helpful to average listeners.

SHAPIRO: All right. Karen (ph) in Pittsburgh wants to know about the process of the test itself for people with nosebleeds specifically.

KAREN: I'm curious as to whether a saliva test would be the best option in this case or if the nasal test may be performed in a way that is unlikely to trigger a serious nosebleed.

SHAPIRO: For people who aren't familiar, I saw a video of the nasal test being administered, and it looks like it goes very deep in there, Dr. Karan.

KARAN: That's right, Ari. I've gotten the test myself, and, you know, that test is pretty uncomfortable. They do go pretty far back. And if it's not uncomfortable, it may not have been far back enough. Some places are actually using an anterior nasal swab, so really just swabbing the front part of the nose, but not all places are doing that yet. So it kind of depends where you are.

SHAPIRO: And so for somebody who does get nosebleeds, it seems like if a saliva test is available, that might be a better choice.

KARAN: You know, you could - yeah. So a nosebleed, that certainly is a concern if you have, you know, a really deep swab. But, again, I think it depends what test they're actually using. So the anterior nasal swab is not saliva. It's just the front of your nose.

SHAPIRO: Oh, OK. All right, well, Sigrid (ph) in Oakland has this question for us.

SIGRID: A friend of mine will have to fly to New Orleans over Memorial Day weekend for work. Her plan is to immediately after she gets off the plane go straight to a test site and get tested. My question is whether a test will show if she got the virus over the weekend. Say she was exposed on Sunday or Monday. Will it show up in a test on Tuesday?

SHAPIRO: That's a really interesting question. How long does it take for the results of a positive test to show up after infection?

KARAN: Yes, that's a great question. So we know that one to three days kind of before you hit your peak viral load, which is around the day of symptoms starting, you do have virus kind of growing in the body. And so the higher that viral load is, the better chance you'll detect it. But you really should be able to pick it up quite quickly, so even the first couple of days after exposure.

SHAPIRO: OK. Our next question comes from Charles in Atlanta, who asks about why the nasal swab tests have to be so invasive, referring to an earlier question.

CHARLES: How can it be...

SHAPIRO: Yeah, here we go.

CHARLES: How can it be that a good sample is so hard to collect from an infected person, and yet it's apparently so easy for an infected person to pass the virus on to another person? This seems completely contradictory. What gives?

SHAPIRO: Dr. Karan?

KARAN: So no test is perfect. Obviously, there are going to be variations in how far and deep somebody actually does the swab. But he's talking about, you know, why there's a discrepancy between that and actually transmission. When talking about transmission, we're really talking about several minutes where thousands of droplets are being sprayed into the air. And so it's a matter of probabilities in terms of when you actually get infected, whereas with a test, it's a matter of a quick swabbing. So they're kind of two different processes. But I see, you know, where that confusion may arise from.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us a snapshot of where the country is in terms of testing right now? You have been with us for many of our last nine, 10 weeks on this program, and the picture has been changing a lot. Where do things stand as of today?

KARAN: So the key is that we need more testing. And I think, you know, most people would agree with that. But, really, most of the big research institutes talk about, really, at the scale of millions of tests, you know, when we're talking about the weekly level. And the key is what we're going to do with those tests and how we're going to utilize those tests to move forward from our public health strategy. So we have - you know, there's many components to that, but the bottom line here, Ari, is that we need far more testing.

SHAPIRO: We've heard at different points in the past about specific shortages that are the reason we're not able to get as many tests done as needed. Right now, is there a specific thing that we need more of? Is there one thing that you could snap your fingers and fix and go a long ways towards having the amount of tests that we need?

KARAN: I think there's - the thing is there are so many components to this. As I'm sure many people have been reading about, you know, you need the reagents. You need the laboratories. You need the personnel, the staff. There's - it's not quite that simple. There's a lot of aspects to this in operationalizing that. So I couldn't point at one specific thing.

SHAPIRO: Before we let you go, what is the trend that you're seeing right now where you are in Massachusetts?

KARAN: So, you know, I'm clinically working in the hospital right now. And so, you know, we're taking care of patients like we do every day. But, obviously, as we reopen everywhere in the country, we know that cases are going to continue to rise. And our challenge is to make sure that we detect those, that we have the hospital resources to treat the patients that need to be treated. And so we'll see what happens over the next few weeks, you know, as states kind of enter this first phase of reopening.

SHAPIRO: OK. Dr. Abraar Karan is an internal medicine physician and clinical fellow at Harvard Medical School. He's also assisting with the epidemic response in Massachusetts. Always good to have you here. Thank you.

KARAN: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Up next, more questions from our youngest listeners. What do kids want to know about the coronavirus? This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


Every week on this program, we receive hundreds of questions and work hard to get you answers to as many of them as we can. On Wednesday, we took questions from kids. They have felt the impact of the pandemic profoundly and don't often get a chance to be heard. And we want to make sure we answer all of the questions that we got from kids, so today, we are going to welcome back Dr. Wanjiku Njoroge. She is medical director for the Young Child Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Njoroge, thanks for coming back to go through the rest of these questions we got from kids.

WANJIKU NJOROGE: Yeah, thanks for having me back.

SHAPIRO: And let's start with one from a kid in the state where I was born.

JAMES MATTHEW: Hi. This is James Matthew (ph) from Bismarck, Dakota. I was wondering when coronavirus is going to end. And if it's not ending anytime soon, is it OK to play with friends?

SHAPIRO: Dr. Njoroge, what would you tell James Matthew of Bismarck, N.D.? Can he play with friends? And when is this going to be over?

NJOROGE: Yeah. Well, James Matthew, that's the hundred-million-dollar question. Unfortunately, we don't know when it's going to end. And that's why everyone all across the world's been working so hard to prevent the spread of this disease by sheltering in place, wearing masks, hand-washing and all the really difficult things that all of us have been doing, as well as you guys have been doing in Bismarck. So what that really means is playing with friends is going to look a little bit different than it did last summer. What I suggest is that you and your parents have to come up with some really creative and cool ideas and ways to play with your friends that includes physical distancing because we know that's how this virus spreads. Last time, on Wednesday, when we were talking with Savannah Stivison (ph), she mentioned this is the summer of badminton. Now, I have to be honest. That is not really a game that I particularly like.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

NJOROGE: However, if you like it, you should play it. And if not, you guys can come up with some really cool ideas and ways that you can still see your friends but still remain safe.

SHAPIRO: OK. On a similar note, here's a question from Peter (ph) in Lewisville, Va.

PETER: I just wanted to know if I would be able to bike to my friend's house in the summer, which in previous years I have done almost every day. Do you think by July or August I'll be able to do that?

SHAPIRO: Dr. Njoroge, could Peter bike to his friend's house?

NJOROGE: So the short answer is bike riding is OK. So biking to your friend's house is OK. Now, this is a little bit like James Matthew's question about playing with friends. So it's the being close to your friends that you probably aren't going to be able to do. Now, when you're riding a bike, of course, wear your helmet because we know that there are a ton of benefits associated with being outside that works for all of us, parents and kids alike. So if you're going outside, if you're biking, you still need to follow the same rules that we've been following, which is to physically distance, keeping 6 feet or more away from others, taking hand sanitizer. Don't touch anything outside of your bike. And then, you know, maybe you can just go by your friend's house, sit maybe on their porch. You guys can talk. And then you can bike back home. And hopefully next summer you'll be able to do what you did last summer.

SHAPIRO: That's great. And bring your own drinks and snacks.

NJOROGE: That's exactly right.

SHAPIRO: Next, we have a topic that is very popular among our young listeners. Let's listen.

ZOLA: Hi. My name is Zola (ph), and I'm calling from Southern California. My question is, are there discussions about returning back to school on a national level? And if we do return to school in the fall, what would that look like?

SHAPIRO: Dr. Njoroge, the CDC recently released back-to-school guidelines. What are some of the recommendations?

NJOROGE: Yeah. So, I mean, this just really happened just today, Zola. So the CDC now has a school decisions tool on their website. And, really, what it seems to be is a decision tree that's really going to help schools in thinking about what they need to do prior to reopening. So there are a lot of key things before schools reopen, and part of that's going to be the school districts really working in concert with local and state health departments to make sure that everyone's aware of what's happening in the time, and particularly for you in Southern California.

So what that will probably look like when school reopens is there'll be some sort of screening for both students and staff on arrival. This might just be asking you guys questions about how you're feeling, may include checking your temperature. You'll - they'll also need to have plans in place to protect vulnerable populations, both kids and staff. There will be a whole lot of hygiene measures with hand-washing, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces. I think they're even thinking about ventilation - how that might work. Of course, face masks.

They're going to think about group sizes and continue to restrict the physical distancing and group size numbers. And then there may be some innovative ideas that may come out of this in terms of staffing. So maybe the kids will stay in their classrooms and the teachers will rotate, or they'll do split schedules.

I think there's just a lot of thought that will be going on over the course of the summer as we get closer to the school year. But it's really going to be about making sure that when kids are ready to go back to school and when schools are ready to reopen that there will be protections in place to ensure that everyone is safe and you guys are able to learn.

SHAPIRO: It also sounds like policies might be different depending on where you are and that it wouldn't be one-size-fits-all for the whole country.

NJOROGE: Yeah, Ari. I think that's kind of the way this thing is playing out for - in almost every single thing is that this - the way that the spread and transmission is happening just really differs from city to city and state to state and even within states. And so I think that's what's going to make all this work a little bit difficult for everyone moving forward.

SHAPIRO: OK. Our next young listener, Nina (ph), is curious about COVID-19's effects on preteens.

NINA: I understand that older people, and especially those with underlying conditions, are the most affected. So my question is, will I, being the age of 13, have a slightly lower chance of being infected, or is there a much lower chance because of my age?

SHAPIRO: OK, so technically not a preteen. Thirteen is a teenager. But what - how would you put the risks for somebody around the age of 13 into context for Nina?

NJOROGE: Yeah. Well, so what we know - and, of course, this is always changing as we get more data. But right now, what we know for kids under the age of 18 is that although the risk of infection is pretty much the same as the general population, if kids do become infected, they just have a much milder version of this disease. And so the pediatric cases of symptomatic COVID-19 just are far less common when compared to adults and nowhere near as severe. And there's typically a pretty good prognosis with kids recovering within one to two weeks.

SHAPIRO: Well, that's...

NJOROGE: So I think that that's the good news of this story.

SHAPIRO: Yeah, that's reassuring. Let's listen to this question from Adela (ph) in New York, who has a big family event this summer.

ADELA: It is going to be my brother's birthday in August. He is going to turn 1 year old. When will there be small gatherings...


ADELA: ...To up to 10 people?

SHAPIRO: It sounds like her brother might have said hello in the background there.

NJOROGE: I heard that, too.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Njoroge, what would you tell Adela there?

NJOROGE: Well, Adela, first of all, this is super exciting. Turning 1 is a very big deal. And I'm a big sister myself, so I know what it's like to have a little brother and how important it is to celebrate birthdays. But right now, things are really different. And so families haven't been able to celebrate birthdays in the exact same way. So while there still may be cake and gifts and games, it's not going to probably be the entire family with all the people that you love there. This is what we kind of keep saying over and over again, is that where things stand right now, what we know is that when there are large amounts of people at birthday parties or events, that the disease can spread. Then, when people leave the party, they can spread that virus to other people, who spread it to other people and so on and so forth. And we've been calling that a superspreading event.

So the tricky thing about this is that sometimes people don't even know that they're sick. That's why we're wearing these face masks. So while birthday parties are fantastic, it's going to have to be like we've been saying all night tonight, which is it's going to look a little bit differently. And I think that as Ari just was mentioning a little while ago, that your state is going to continue to monitor what's happening in New York and in the city in which you live, and that they're going to - the state and city departments of health will work with the CDC...

SHAPIRO: Will make some determinations, yeah.

NJOROGE: ...To figure out what's going on at the time.

SHAPIRO: Dr. Wanjiku Njoroge, thank you for answering these questions for us.

NJOROGE: You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: She's medical director for the Young Child Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. And this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


Happy Memorial Day weekend. On any other year, this might be the weekend you head to the beach or barbecue with friends. Some of you are asking us about safe ways to do that. Others are looking ahead to the summer and wondering if any travel will be a good idea this year. To answer your questions, Dr. Abraar Karan of Harvard Medical School is still with us. And also joining us is Catharine Hamm. She is travel editor at the Los Angeles Times. Good to have you both here.

CATHARINE HAMM: Thank you, Ari.

KARAN: Thanks, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We just answered a bunch of questions from kids, and we have another good question from a young listener. This one is from Cora (ph) in Washington, D.C.

CORA: My question is, if it is safe to travel on planes, will there be rules about how far you can go?

SHAPIRO: Dr. Karan, what's the current sense of how safe air travel is?

KARAN: That's a great question. So in general - I'll start with the positive. Planes do have good ventilation systems. They do cycle air through HEPA filters quite regularly throughout a flight. But the key is that you're still in a - you're still very close to other people in a closed space. And you have staff who are kind of going up and down the aisles who are in contact with multiple different people. So there still certainly is a risk. We know there have been outbreaks of flu and SARS in the past on flights. And we know that even, you know, just normal speaking can likely transmit SARS-CoV as well. So I would say that the risk is still there.

SHAPIRO: Catharine, just from a travel perspective, can you tell us about what airlines are doing to keep passengers safe? I feel like I got a mass email from the United CEO on the same day I saw a passenger photo of a packed United plane.

HAMM: Well, there is that. But in theory, they are trying to social distance on planes by keeping the middle seat empty. They're also asking passengers to wear masks and to be cognizant that other people on the plane, of course, have special needs, that they need to be safe as well. So it's a - it's still a work in progress because that particular United flight was the result of several canceled flights during the day, and they all ended up on the same flight. Now, United has since said that they will try to let people know if flights are going to be booked like that.

SHAPIRO: OK. Well, here's someone in the planning stage of a trip trying to decide what her safest choice is. Let's listen.

STEPHANIE: Hi. My name is Stephanie (ph), and I live in Richmond, Va. I live alone and far from my family, and I'm making that work by making longer trips back to Wisconsin, where I'm from, twice a year. So my question is, how can I safely go about seeing my family this summer? I'm wondering what's the best procedure to follow if I'm going to make an extended visit. For me, time isn't an issue, and I think I have family members who would have separate facilities for me to use if I needed to quarantine first.

SHAPIRO: OK, Dr. Karan, it sounds like she's thinking through the right questions about this commute from Virginia to Wisconsin. What would you recommend to make it safe?

KARAN: She's absolutely thinking through the right components of this. You know, the key is to minimize the amount of face-to-face interactions you're having with other people, minimizing how much you're in crowded rooms, in crowded places, you know, wearing masks to reduce respiratory spread.

It's good that she mentioned that the family has a separate bathroom where she - and a separate room where she could isolate if she needed to. But remember; transmission can happen before you show any symptoms. And so, you know, even if she did start isolating after she had symptoms, there is possibility she could still transmit. Just keep that in mind.

SHAPIRO: OK. Our next question comes from Maria (ph) in Oregon.

MARIA: My daughter currently lives in Washington, D.C., and will be driving to Oregon this summer. She'll have to stay in a number of motels along the way. What should she do to protect herself from contracting COVID-19 during her travels?

SHAPIRO: Catharine, I know you've been looking into this. What are some steps that people who have no choice but to stay in a hotel can take to try to protect their safety?

HAMM: I think it's really important, first of all, to call ahead and make sure that the hotel is open and to find out what kind of procedures they have in place to disinfect. Are they doing electrostatic spraying? How have they reduced the number of touch points in the hotel? In other words, are you going to be greeted by somebody at the front desk, or can you do that all with your smartphone? Can you open the door with your smartphone, or do you need a key card? All of those things are important. The more protections in place, the safer I think people will be. At least they'll feel more confident.

SHAPIRO: Those sound like very helpful tips. Dr. Karan, would you add anything to that list?

KARAN: No, I think that's a great list. You know, if you think about it, most hotels should have general cleaning procedures in place before new occupants come in. If you're staying alone in your own room, then, you know, the risk should still be low in that kind of a circumstance.

SHAPIRO: Also seems like this person traveling cross-country is unlikely to be in a hotel room for more than one night. But if you are, maybe hang the do not disturb thing on your door. You don't need anyone unnecessarily coming into the room while you're staying there.

HAMM: Exactly.

KARAN: That's right.

SHAPIRO: OK. This next question comes from Laura (ph) in Charlottesville, Va.

LAURA: I have elderly parents that live in Alabama, and it's about, really, a two-day drive for me to go visit, so I usually fly. And my question is about traveling to be there on Father's Day, which is June 21. Is it safe for them for me to travel to visit them? And I'll just say that my father is 92, and his wife is 80, and she had a stroke about a year and a half ago.

SHAPIRO: So definitely in the high-risk group. Dr. Karan, do you think there's a way to do this safely?

KARAN: You know, I think it's a tough situation, Ari. I can understand how Laura would want to spend time with her parents on this important holiday, but I think that the risk here is very obvious. Community - the virus is still circulating in the community, and so I would have to say that the best bet would be to use something like FaceTime or Zoom and to try to avoid that right now while we're still trying to get things in a better place.

SHAPIRO: Catharine, what's your take here? I know many of your readers must be facing similar difficult choices.

HAMM: I have heard from many, many LA Times readers with this very same question, and it's one of those head and heart questions. Your head tells you that there may be a problem here, and your heart says, but I need to see for myself. Well, as Dr. Karan said, Zoom or FaceTime or something. But please be very conservative. You yourself may be asymptomatic, and you may unwittingly pass that virus to one of your parents. It's better to be safe than sorry, to use an old cliche. And you certainly don't ever want to have that on your conscience going forward.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. We have a question here from Dave (ph) in Los Angeles, who asks, last week, my friend flew back to LA from an international location unexpectedly. I didn't know one can fly back to the U.S. Isn't that illegal, he asks. He came in a chartered flight which was packed, he told me. Why is the U.S. allowing flights from anywhere back to the U.S.? Catharine, what is the state of play on international flights right now?

HAMM: We are receiving flights, international flights, and so it is not illegal. There are some places where we cannot go. For example, the U.K. has a quarantine, and Ireland has a quarantine - 14-day quarantine. We cannot fly. This is not international - this is domestic, but we cannot fly to Hawaii without a 14-day quarantine. But it is not illegal for those flights to come back to the United States.

SHAPIRO: All right. We are talking about summer travel with Dr. Abraar Karan and Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times. And if you have questions, we want to help. Go to On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. We're going to take a short break and then answer some more of your questions. Stay with us.


SHAPIRO: You're listening to THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. And we still have Dr. Abraar Karan of Harvard Medical School and Catharine Hamm of the Los Angeles Times with us answering questions you have about summer travel. Our next one comes from somebody who is planning to move in the next few months. Let's listen.

CALLIE KIM: Hello. This is Callie Kim (ph) calling from Anchorage, Alaska. My family is moving this summer from Alaska to California. My husband is planning to drive a U-Haul through Canada while I fly with my two children. Canadian officials state that all nonessential travel through Canada is prohibited. Does moving from Alaska constitute essential travel?

SHAPIRO: Catharine, how can Callie find out if she will be allowed to cross through the border?

HAMM: Well, that's a good question because there is no legal definition of nonessential or essential travel.


HAMM: Probably the best way she can do that is by calling the Canada Consulate nearest her and asking whether her husband will be allowed to drive across. It would seem logical that he is, but just to be 100% sure, it never hurts to call and ask.

SHAPIRO: Great advice. And because we did hear from so many listeners who are planning to move in the next couple of months, Dr. Karan, do you have any general advice for people who are trying to relocate and want to stay safe while they do so?

KARAN: Absolutely. It's the same key principles, so wearing masks when you have face-to-face contact with others, such as movers who may be helping you, you know, hygiene, minimizing contact with crowded areas, and any sort of high touch point areas - you really should be washing your hands afterwards. So those would be the key things.

SHAPIRO: All right, we got a lot of questions about summer family gatherings. This one comes from Maureen (ph) in Wisconsin.

MAUREEN: I'm wondering - my relatives have planned a family reunion at a state park in Ohio for a week in late July. Would it be safe for our family to travel across four states to get there and then spend time with family for a week?

SHAPIRO: And Maureen added that not everyone in the family is consistently social distancing, which adds another wrinkle to this situation. Dr. Karan, what do you think she should do?

KARAN: This brings up a few of the points we talked about - that she's going through these different states, she'll probably be staying in hotels, so making sure to take all the precautions that we discussed. And then she talks about a family reunion at a state park, which really brings up that they're going to be outdoors. So outside transmission is likely much lower than indoor transmission. But if she's spending time, you know, for a week over there, if she's staying in her relatives' homes and whatnot, the same sort of situation where indoor transmission's much higher. People can transmit without showing symptoms. And so for now, while virus is in the community and still circulating, I would minimize nonessential events like this.

SHAPIRO: OK. And our last question comes from a listener with a similar dilemma.

BETH: Hi. I'm Beth (ph) from Ohio. My sister would like to host a 60th birthday celebration for a family friend over a long weekend at the end of June. Three of us would be traveling through different states to attend, and there'd be seven of us staying in one house, sharing a bathroom. I love our family friend, but this just doesn't sound safe to me. What do you think?

SHAPIRO: Catharine, do you agree with Beth that this just doesn't sound safe?

HAMM: I think - yes, I do. I think that one should always trust one's instincts. As an economics professor used to tell me, trusting your instincts, that's your experience at work. So if you're hearing that little alarm bell going off in your head, pay attention. Don't dismiss it. It's telling you something that you need to know.

SHAPIRO: Catharine Hamm, travel editor at the Los Angeles Times, thanks for all the guidance tonight.

HAMM: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And Dr. Abraar Karan, global health expert at Harvard Medical School, great to have you with us again, too.

KARAN: Thanks so much, Ari.

SHAPIRO: If you have questions, go to On Twitter, use the hashtag #nprconversation. Coming up, how to find joy and humor in the midst of a pandemic. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


It can be hard to unplug lately. Even on a Friday night, things can feel overwhelming, which makes humor all the more important. Stand-up comedian and actress Retta is here to answer your questions about finding joy in a pandemic. You might remember her as Donna Meagle on NBC's "Parks And Recreation." She currently stars in NBC's "Good Girls," and she has also written a book, but the FCC would fine us if I said the exact title on the air, so I'm going to paraphrase and call it "So Close To Being The Bomb, Y'all Don't Even Know." Retta, how did I do there (laughter)? Thank you for joining us.

RETTA: (Laughter) I usually just say "So Close To Being The Blank."

SHAPIRO: "So Close To Being The Blank" - that works, too. How are you holding up during this quarantine, or quarantime (ph), as you've been calling it?

RETTA: My quarantime has been OK. I think Sunday was the first day that I literally sat in my living room and was like, what the hell is happening in my life right now, so...

SHAPIRO: It took you two months to get there, so that's good.

RETTA: Yes, yes.

SHAPIRO: I mean, some of us were doing that the first week.

RETTA: I'm starting to fray at the edges, but I got a new shipment of wine, so things are looking up.

SHAPIRO: OK. I got six bottles of wine myself today. I know you've been posting these daily Instagram stories chronicling your life at home. Tell us what that does for you. What's the inspiration behind it?

RETTA: When I first started doing it, I was just trying to see what the story thing was like. I used to do Snapchat. And then when Instagram started doing stories, I was like, rude. But then I tried it, and I reached more...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

RETTA: ...I reached more people. And now - and I've done this - whenever I'm not working, I tend to do my morning routine. And people say that it makes them - it helps them start their day and it makes them feel normal, especially now.


RETTA: So now I feel an obligation a little bit (laughter) to do it.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Yeah, I get that. Well, let's go to a listener. This question comes from somebody who wants to know how to use comedy to cope.

EMILY BAKER: Hi. This is Emily Baker (ph) from Washington state. And these days, I am leaning toward dark humor quite a bit. And I am just wondering what types of humor you find to be helping you through this.

SHAPIRO: Retta, what do you find? Is your pandemic taste different from your normal-times taste in humor?

RETTA: Not particularly, but I definitely find a lot of comfort in one Seth Meyers. I love the monologue - I don't know what it is - I think particularly because he goes at the administration that - (laughter) I feel like they're responsible for so much - that it makes me feel...

SHAPIRO: There's a bit of catharsis involved in that.

RETTA: A little bit.


RETTA: So I'm enjoying watching Seth.

SHAPIRO: I mean, as a professional, seeing all of these people making do broadcasting from their homes, doing these late-night shows that usually have such high production values, are you feeling schadenfreude or are you just in awe of what they're pulling off? Like, what is your perspective on this?

RETTA: I - honestly, I don't prefer it. And I think some people are - I mean, you got to make do, but it's funny to see who's got good Wi-Fi and who doesn't.



RETTA: That's what I tend to find my - you know, see myself thinking about. And I'm like, ooh, this service is not so great.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

RETTA: And then I'll watch somebody else, and I'm like, ooh, so crystal clear. What do you got going on? Do you have Spectrum? You know, like, wonder...

SHAPIRO: All right.

RETTA: ...What their service is at home.

SHAPIRO: We won't name names there. Our next listener question actually comes from somebody who does comedy for a living. Carolita Johnson is a cartoonist with The New Yorker. Let's listen.

CAROLITA JOHNSON: Jerry Saltz put up a post on Instagram that said all artists should be able to work in a crisis. As a cartoonist, my job is to be funny, and this post has haunted me ever since because I'm personally having trouble after initial rallies to humorous observations. I am actually taking some time off to recharge. What do you say to us humor workers who need someone to tell us that's OK?

SHAPIRO: That's a really interesting perspective. Retta, what would you say to Carolita?

RETTA: Humor workers are humans, too. And so people deal with things differently. So I think that, you know, you have to deal with it the way you can deal with it. To me, it's talking to my invisible audience in the morning that kind of gets me through it. And I talk about, you know, the anxiety I had the night before and whether I could sleep or not. And it makes me feel normal to be able to check DMs and hear people say, same, I couldn't sleep either, or, I'm having trouble, too, and, you know, that kind of thing.

When it comes to your work, I mean, and you have to put stuff out, I don't know what to tell you. I mean, I've had to do - like, I did the special - the "Parks" special - and I've done a couple of talk shows from home. And it hasn't been that hard because I'm home and I'm - like, I'm just sitting here anyway. But to have to put out new content, I would struggle with that, too. I don't know. I already have trouble writing, so...

SHAPIRO: I also feel like...

RETTA: ...If I'm...

SHAPIRO: I feel like it must change week to week and month to month. And just because things are bad today doesn't mean that they will be tomorrow. Or just...

RETTA: Right.

SHAPIRO: ...Because things are good today...

RETTA: Right. It's just like...

SHAPIRO: ...Doesn't mean they will be tomorrow.

RETTA: It's just like having writer's block. Sometimes you have it...


RETTA: ...Sometimes you're flowing.

SHAPIRO: One of your fans on Twitter asked how to stay "awesome and amazing" - that's a direct quote - when they are insecure about the way they look on video. I think so many of us are confronted with the Zoom webcam every day. What advice do you have for people trying to stay confident if they maybe don't love seeing their face on a computer screen?

RETTA: Invest in hats. I have...

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) Invest in hats - that's great.

RETTA: Yeah, I have quite a few scarves.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

RETTA: And so, like, I'm a big fan of scarves. I'm not scared of a hat. And so I tend to do that because I know I'm not doing my makeup.

SHAPIRO: I just want the staff of THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION to know I'm showing up to our Zoom editorial meeting in a scarf and a hat on Monday.

RETTA: (Laughter) Yeah.

SHAPIRO: I'm not even joking.

RETTA: Wrap it.


RETTA: Cover it up.

SHAPIRO: This question comes from Leo (ph) in D.C., and it's about your stand-up routines.

LEO: Retta, I noticed in a lot of your stand-up, you sort of, like, undulate between different kind of voice levels as you progress through the joke. And I was wondering, in your - I don't know if it's in, like, your writing process or just in the way you perform and it comes naturally, but how do you sort of decide when to shift those gears and kind of do those extra - that - you know, that, like, different voice, whether you're, like, narrating or being a character or just, like, shifting between thoughts?

SHAPIRO: Can you give us some insight into your creative process there?

RETTA: I try to be as much myself onstage as I can. And I'm - I feel like I'm an innate storyteller. And when I tell a story, I float in and out, I go up and down. I tend to - I try to paint a picture, and I try to make it colorful. So when I write, I try to write in my true voice. And, obviously, when I perform - it took me a long time to get there...


RETTA: ...But when I perform, I try to be as much of myself as I can. And me as a storyteller, in general, I'm a performer. I try to be colorful. I try to paint entire picture and make it interesting...

SHAPIRO: All right.

RETTA: ...So that you see what makes me laugh about the story. So I think it's more just my personality.

SHAPIRO: All right, Retta is a stand-up comedian, actress and author of a book with a title I cannot say on the radio. Thank you so much for joining us tonight.

RETTA: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: I'm Ari Shapiro. We'll be back on Monday to answer more of your questions. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.