Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Vaccines, Elections And Friendship

May 28, 2020
Originally published on May 28, 2020 10:18 pm

On this broadcast of The National Conversation, we'll answer your questions about the process to get a vaccine for the coronavirus, workplace safety and friendship. We'll also discuss issues around voting and voter registration as elections continue during the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit


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

CARRIE TAGGERT: Hi, I'm Carrie Taggert (ph) calling from Honolulu.

DEIRDRE: Hi, my name is Deirdre (ph).

BRIAN: I work in a restaurant that has reopened, and I don't really feel safe going back.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: I know cases where employees had a doctor's note but no access to testing and they were denied pay.

KENNETH: My question is whether or not there's a possibility that the presidential election will be postponed.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: What can we do if we disagree with our employer's ability to keep us safe?

YOULYN: When is it likely the vaccine will be found?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Has COVID-19 made our friendship's closer and stronger?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Thank you and be strong.


MARTIN: We have experts 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. This is our last week answering questions on THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION, at least for the time being. But every night we begin by answering the question, what happened today?

More than 40 million people have filed for unemployment since March. Another 2.1 million jobless claims were made last week. That's more than a quarter of the labor force. David Schmidt is the chief economist for the Nevada Department of Employment, Training and Rehabilitation. He told NPR his state has been hit especially hard by the volume of unemployment.


DAVID SCHMIDT: We had been averaging approximately 10,000 new initial claims every month heading into this. And in the first week of the pandemic, we had over 90,000.

MARTIN: In New York, businesses can now refuse service to someone not wearing a mask, following an executive order from Governor Andrew Cuomo.


ANDREW CUOMO: You don't want to wear a mask, fine. But you don't have a right to then go into that store if that store owner doesn't want you to.

MARTIN: The Boston Marathon was canceled today for the first time in the 124-year history of the race. Boston's mayor, Marty Walsh, says the race will be run virtually instead.


MARTY WALSH: This is a challenge, but meeting tough challenges is what the Boston Marathon is all about. It's a symbol of our city's and our commonwealth's resilience.

MARTIN: Wisconsin has canceled their state fair. The annual event typically draws more than a million people. Cases in that state have risen since the court struck down the governor's stay-at-home order. COVID-19 cases in the United States have now crossed 1.7 million, with 101,000 deaths. The world is racing to make a vaccine for the coronavirus to try and stop the spread of those cases and deaths. Scientists around the globe are months into human trials, injecting subjects with enough of the virus to develop antibodies without getting them sick. The goal is immunity, but there is still a lot we do not know about the virus and what we can expect. So to help us understand how a vaccine is coming along, we have NPR correspondent Joe Palca joining us one final time on THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION. Joe, it's good to hear from you.

JOE PALCA, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. It's good to be here. And I have to just correct one tiny thing you said. In these vaccines, they're not actually injecting virus. They're sometimes injecting parts of the virus that will generate an immune response. Small distinction, but I don't want anybody to think that they're actually having the virus shot into their arm when they make a vaccine.

MARTIN: Right, which some people will think. Well, thank you for that. So Youlyn (ph) in San Francisco has this two-part question, something I think everybody would like to know right now. Let's listen.

YOULYN: When is it likely the vaccine will be found? And once we have the vaccine, can we go out freely?


PALCA: Well, you know, I wish I could say for sure. It's one of those questions that everybody would like to have a definite answer for. And nobody has one. But there is a lot of activity going on. There are - I think at last count - 10 different vaccines that are starting or well along in trials in human subjects. The initial part of the trials is just to make sure they're safe and don't cause any dramatic illnesses themselves. The second stages will come along, and there'll be more vaccine starting out. So there's good progress.

In terms of whether we can go out freely, well, it kind of depends on how good the vaccine is, how soon it gets here, how many other people get vaccinated. There's a lot of questions that have to be answered before going out freely. I think you can be a little more comfortable once you know you've had a vaccine and others around you have had it.

MARTIN: We also heard from Nicholas (ph) in Ithaca, N.Y. He was a little skeptical that we're even going to get to the point where a vaccine is ready. And this is his question.

NICHOLAS: Has there ever been a vaccine developed for any other coronavirus? And if not, how much confidence should we have that there will be one for this? Thank you.

MARTIN: So Joe, first of all, do you mind reminding folks of what Nicholas means when he talks about the other types of coronavirus because I'm not sure everybody remembers that?

PALCA: Right, exactly. So there are seven known different types of coronaviruses. Four of them we're pretty all familiar with because they cause the common cold, and they've been around for a long time - I'm sorry, four of them. Three of them are these new viruses. One was SARS that caused an outbreak of illness in 2000, early 2000s. Then there was MERS that came along in the 2010s. And now there's SARS-CoV-2. And the answer to the question of why we think they - or why scientists think they can make a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 is they have in fact made vaccines against MERS and SARS.

The difficulty was they never got licensed because they never got tested because the illnesses went away on their own. There wasn't enough people exposed to test the vaccine. And so they just, you know, there was no impetus to make them. But they got fairly well along in development. And they think that helped them get prepared and confident that they can make one against this third dangerous coronavirus.

MARTIN: That's fascinating. Thanks for that. So here's our next question. And I know a lot of people have asked about this. This is Wendy (ph) in Henderson, Nev.

WENDY: Does the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 mutate like the flu virus? If so, could the COVID-19 vaccine in development now be ineffective next year?


PALCA: Great question. COVID virus - SARS-CoV-2 - is a RNA virus. RNA viruses are more likely to change over time than other kinds of viruses. But it turns out coronavirus has a special error-correcting mechanism inside it so that the RNA that gives its genetic instructions is replicated fairly carefully from one generation the next. The meaning of that is it doesn't change very much, so that's the good news. The bad news is it hasn't been around long enough to be sure that those error-correcting mechanisms are working properly in the SARS-CoV-2, so give it a couple of years and they'll be able to answer that question better.

MARTIN: Here's another interesting question about the success - the possible success - of a vaccine. This is John (ph) in New York. Here he is.

JOHN CARPER: This is John Carper (ph) in Dundee, N.Y. I know that with the flu vaccines, often the effectiveness is only around 40% to 50%. If a vaccine is found for COVID-19, what percentage of effectiveness would be declared a success?

MARTIN: OK, no disrespect to Mr. Carper, but Joe, I'm going to ask you first to truth squad the premise of the question. Is that true that with the flu vaccines that we're all familiar with the effectiveness is only around 40% to 50%? Is that true?

PALCA: In some cases, yes, that has been the case. Sometimes - flu is a complicated one to explain. But in some cases, the vaccine that comes out - because it does change every year - the vaccine that's built against the virus that they think is coming might be slightly wrong. So the vaccine may work if the right virus comes along. So I don't know if that makes complete sense.

MARTIN: No, it does.

PALCA: Yes, in some cases the flu isn't 100%, not even close to 100%. And it's an interesting question, which I talked to some vaccine manufacturers about. And they say we'll be, you know, we'll be happy to have 40% or 50%, not - they'd be happier to have 100%, but 40% or 50% is good. I mean, it's going to lower deaths presumably. But, you know, it's hard to get the efficacy until you've studied a vaccine for a while. And so it may be 80% or 90%, but you have to wait until you've had enough people not get sick, which is a kind of a crazy idea. But you have to have certain people getting sick and not getting sick, and when you compare a placebo and a vaccine, before you can say for certain how effective the vaccine. And then is it just not getting sick? Or is it not getting sick and going to the hospital? Or is it not getting sick and going to the hospital and going to the intensive care unit? Or is it not getting sick and dying? So there are several layers of what you want in terms of effectiveness.

MARTIN: And we have another question here - let's try to squeeze it in - about the whole question of what constitutes success. Ken (ph) in Portland was curious about how we can get enough vaccine to get it to people. Let's just play the question.

KEN: What happens after a vaccine is approved for use? At that point, enough would need to be manufactured for possibly billions of doses. What is being done now to prepare for this scale up? Are manufacturing companies already involved? And does the federal government play a role in managing the scale up and distribution?

PALCA: Yeah. Well, I can tell you that this is something that is very much on the mind of vaccine manufacturers. But the other interesting thing to think about is I talked to a vaccine manufacturer, and their vaccine requires five micrograms of this protein that they think will generate an immune response - five micrograms. Now, if you make a pound of this stuff, that's a half a billion doses. So if they're right that five micrograms will work, they don't have to make a ton of it in order to have a global supply. But then there's still things like needles and vials and distribution and getting it to places. So it's a huge, huge issue. Now, is the government coordinating this? Some parts of the government are. Is it coordinating it properly? Who knows? We'll see. But it is an enormous undertaking. And people are definitely thinking about it now.

MARTIN: Well, speaking of an enormous undertaking, NPR science desk correspondent Joe Palca. Joe, you've taken so much time to answer these questions these last couple of months. We all appreciate it. Just wanted to say thanks.

PALCA: Oh, you're very welcome. It's been an interesting, rewarding and I wish it was a happier time to be talking about this stuff. It's very interesting.

MARTIN: It is. So up next, we're going to answer your questions about how elections are going to go during a pandemic. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. And we hope you'll stick around.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. 2020 will surely be remembered as the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. But until early March, it was, above all, a presidential election year. A crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates was battling it out to challenge President Trump in November. Former Vice President Joe Biden swept multiple primaries, becoming the party's presumptive nominee. Turnout was expected to reach record highs, then everything, more or less, stopped. The pandemic seemed to put the election on pause for many people but clearly not for everybody. Many of you sent questions about voting and the election cycle. So here with some answers is NPR's Miles Parks, who covers voting and election interference. Miles, good to have you with us.


MARTIN: So let's jump right into the questions. First we have Deirdre in Philadelphia.

DEIRDRE: Because of COVID-19, voting by mail has been discussed more often and is being met with a lot of resistance. My question is, who cares? Why does it matter so much to people how we vote? Why the social media pushback?

MARTIN: Miles, what can you tell Deirdre?

PARKS: So she's right. I mean, there is a real divide right now when it comes to mail voting. But I think the real divide is between the White House, you know, President Trump and much of the rest of America. You know, broadly, people in this country support mail voting. More than 70% of Americans think every registered voter should have the option to receive a ballot if they want to in the mail. That's according to a Pew study from earlier this year. And states, both Republican and Democratic, are expanding access to mail voting right now. But almost every day we're also seeing tweets from the president and comments from people on his staff that this is a bad, a fraudulent way to vote, despite there being no evidence that that's the case and despite the fact that the president, he himself, has voted by mail in the last few election cycles. So you're seeing this conflict between, obviously, the person at the top of our government and the rest of the country on how voting should be done in this country.

MARTIN: Miles, what about voting online?

PARKS: So voting online is getting a lot more press right now because of the pandemic. I think people are looking at it as, like, a shiny object that potentially could kind of save us this year because of the pandemic. But when you talk to security experts, it is really not the answer right now. And the big reason is security. You know, it's kind of easy to forget that just a couple of years ago - or a couple of months ago - cybersecurity was the most important, you know, thing we were thinking about when it came to this election. The Internet just isn't a safe place right now.

And I know a lot of listeners are probably thinking, you know, I bank online. I shop online. Why can't I vote online? But that's not really the case. You know, it's not like there's not fraud in banking and shopping online. It's just those companies, you know, take billions of dollars in losses and make it up in fees or charges. And elections can't really work that way, is what cybersecurity experts say. We're just not there yet from a technology standpoint.

MARTIN: I have another question about safety. It's from a different vantage point. This is Chuck (ph) in New York. Let's listen.

CHUCK: I agreed to be an election worker up for the election that New York state holds in June. Is there any advice from your experts on how to conduct that election, how to avoid any of this COVID-19 illness? Appreciate any help you can give us.

MARTIN: That's an important question, Miles. What do you have?

PARKS: Yeah, absolutely. And, you know, I want to say thanks to Chuck for doing that. This is a problem election officials are having right now, is getting people who are willing to volunteer to work the polls. But basically, you know, the safety guidance is kind of the same in an election scenario as it is for the rest of the country. You know, election officials are stocking up on gloves, disinfectant. They should be thinking about trying to clean anything that multiple voters are going to be touching, you know, door handles. If it's a place that uses any sort of check-in machine or voting machine, they should be cleaning those.

But the toughest thing I think is going to be the socially distant part of this because a lot of these polling stations that election officials have traditionally used are in, you know, small community centers or small churches, where a line of 10 or 15 or 20 people wouldn't be a big deal a year ago. But now you think about a line of 20 or 30 people 6 feet apart, and now you're talking about a line, you know, wrapping around a building or stretching out into the parking lot or something like that. That I think is something that people who are working the polls really have to be focused on. I think it's not something that when voters go up to wait in line to check in, they're not going to be necessarily thinking about that distance. And that's going to be something that poll workers need to be kind of emphasizing.

MARTIN: Kenneth (ph) in Ann Arbor, Mich., has a very interesting question about November. Here it is.

KENNETH: My question is whether or not there's a possibility that the presidential election will be postponed if the spread of the coronavirus continues or is not under control as Election Day approaches. If so, what is the protocol for such an event?

MARTIN: Miles, is there any such possibility?

PARKS: I want to say no. You know, the Election Day has been set in federal statute - the presidential Election Day, I should say - as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. And that's been in federal law since 1845. We've kept that date through wars, through a pandemic - the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918. We have voted on that date. Legally speaking, though, it is technically possible for the date to move. It would be incredibly complicated. And it would involve a level of bipartisan support. You would need the Democratic-controlled House to agree with the Republican-controlled Senate and have the president sign off on any election date adjustment. And then you think about the fact that the Constitution, you would also have to have a constitutional amendment involved if you ever wanted to delay it past January. So it would be so incredibly difficult that most experts think it's basically impossible. There's definitely no executive authority that gives the president, for instance, the ability to move that date.

MARTIN: Kate (ph) in Washington, D.C., is wondering about voter registration.

KATE: With all of the focus on vote-by-mail and the upcoming election, I'm really curious about how voters at the other end of the spectrum are being handled in coronavirus. How is it that we are accomplishing voter registration when that's something that often happens in person and especially at large gatherings of people?

MARTIN: Miles?

PARKS: Yeah, I mean, this is a struggle. You think about DMVs, you think about college campuses, these are the places where people typically get registered to vote. And none of them are open right now. That's being felt in the data. You know, registration had been up, compared to the 2016 cycle and the 2020 cycle, up until the pandemic. But that has completely leveled off. The secretary of state of Kentucky spoke to my colleague Pam Fessler and told her that in February, they had a net registration of 7,000 new registrations. In March, that number dropped to 500. And then in April, they had a net loss of a thousand registrations on the rolls. So the numbers are being felt. The question is, are we going to be in a place in a few months where people can start knocking on doors again? I think the campaigns are kind of chomping at the bit to get out there and get people registered. So it's not, you know, completely certain that the registration numbers are going to dip. It just depends on what the next couple of months look like.

MARTIN: Miles, as briefly as you can, we talked about turnout at the very beginning of this, and you were saying that turnout was expected to be really high. What are people saying now?

PARKS: Yeah, two things. I mean, one is that people are expected to be voting by mail at higher rates than ever before. Experts are thinking 50% to 70% of voters are expected to be voting by mail. The other thing is that we just have no idea what the actual turnout's going to look like. I think people were expecting Wisconsin to be really low turnout, considering the debacle that happened there. We actually saw that turnout end up kind of normal. So it's possible that the political energy could cancel out some of these difficulties.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Miles Parks, who covers election interference and voting. Miles, thank you so much.

PARKS: Thank you so much.

MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. And we hope you'll stay with us.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. Many businesses are reopening now. And while the spread of COVID-19 has slowed in many places, it has not stopped. So many of you have asked us questions about who is responsible for worker and customer safety as America reopens. To help answer your questions, we have NPR's business correspondent Alina Selyukh. Alina, welcome. Thanks for joining us.


MARTIN: I'd like to start with a question about what rights employers have to set policies about wearing masks.

DAVID: My name is David (ph). I live in Ithaca, N.Y. And I was going to a big-box store to buy something from the garden department. There's a sign out front of the store that says if you come in the store, you have to wear a mask. People came in the store not wearing a mask. And I'm wondering if retail can refuse service to a person who is not wearing a mask.

MARTIN: Alina, what about that?

SELYUKH: Yeah. So companies can certainly decide the rules of entry to their turf. Remember, the classic no shoes, no shirt, no service. Well, now we're in the era of maybe please wear a mask or please don't come in a big group, maybe even leave your children at home. There are some laws about accommodating people with disabilities and medical conditions, like having a ramp, for example. And we have seen some people saying they can't wear a mask for medical reasons, like asthma. It gets a little complicated there because what's the accommodation there that's not putting that person or others at higher risk? And there is a big concern that some people are saying that they have these medical conditions simply because they don't feel like wearing a mask, which, of course, makes it harder then for people with legitimate health concerns, and that might actually play out in court. We'll see.

MARTIN: Well, we did see, though, as of today, the governor of New York issued an executive order saying that businesses - making that explicit.

SELYUKH: Right. And in some - exactly. And in some areas, these decisions about requiring mask wearing indoors are actually not up to the retailers or the stores at all but to governors and mayors that declare these requirements.

MARTIN: Brian (ph) in Bend, Ore., has a question about feeling unsafe at work. Here it is.

BRIAN: I work in a restaurant that has reopened, and we have an open kitchen. And because of how the ventilation is inside, I don't really feel safe going back. If I want to keep my job, I'll be forced to breathe in everything that is in the air inside of the restaurant. If I object to going back, they've said that they will consider me as having quit and I'll lose my job as well as my unemployment benefits. What can we do if we disagree with our employers' ability or willingness to keep us safe?

MARTIN: I think we've heard other questions like this, Alina. So what do you think?

SELYUKH: Oh, yes, this comes up so often, and it's very frustrating, but to stay working for a company in that situation, it's not enough to simply feel unsafe, unless, of course, we're talking about a particularly dangerous environment that's not in line with the CDC or OSHA guidelines, which is, of course, a whole other situation. There are some carve-outs for people who have underlying health conditions or people who have children without access to child care. The new laws have carve-outs to receive unemployment in those situations. In general, the best advice is always, you know, talk to your employer. Maybe they'd be open to some accommodations, maybe give you a bit more time before coming to work or keep you working outside, that sort of thing.

MARTIN: Now I'd like to bring in a business owner trying to navigate reopening right now. Will Cervarich owns betsy & iya. That's a jewelry design and retail company in Portland, Ore. Will, welcome. You there? OK.

WILL CERVARICH: Yes, I'm here.

MARTIN: OK. Hi. How are you? Did I pronounce the company name right?

CERVARICH: Hello? I'm here.

MARTIN: OK. So welcome. Glad to hear from you.

CERVARICH: I cannot hear the show.

MARTIN: Huh? Will cannot hear the show. Will cannot hear the show. OK. What should we do about that? OK. Well, let's go to the next guest. And we have other questions. Let me see. Katharine - we have another Katharine question. OK. OK. Katharine, are you there?


MARTIN: OK, great. Well, Katharine, it's good to hear from you as well. No disrespect to Will. We'll see if we can get - make that work. And we'll try to bring him back later on because we definitely want to hear about the jewelry business. I know I'm very interested. Katharine, I've seen that you're a cashier at a small food co-op - right? - in Eau Claire.

THOMAS: Yes, that's right, in Wisconsin.

MARTIN: OK. Well, first of all, I just want to say thank you for staying on the job. And I'm sure I'm not the only person who's told us - who's told you how much they appreciate you. But if that isn't the case, let me be the first or the second or the 10th to tell you how much we appreciate you. But tell us a little bit more about how the job has changed because of the pandemic.

THOMAS: Sure. Well, as a typical store, we're used to having just in-store traffic, and we've had to totally change. We still offer in-store shopping for up to five customers at a time. But we've also had to learn how to do online orders. We didn't offer that service before. So there was quite a learning curve in us figuring out how to do that all of a sudden. And we had a little interstitial period there where we were taking phone orders, and we had walk-in traffic, and we were figuring out online orders as well. So it was pretty chaotic back in March, April, but by this point, we're figuring it out. We have a better handle on things. So it's not as crazy as it was, which I'm grateful for.

MARTIN: And those new safety protocols, too, right? You had to kind of master those, I would bet, right?

THOMAS: Yes. So I mentioned the five customers in the store at one time. We also encouraged everyone - all employees to wear masks. And we have plexiglass shields up in front of the cash registers to minimize contact between customers and the employees.

MARTIN: I hear you have a question for Alina. So go ahead.

THOMAS: Yes. So I am wondering, the federal government is providing extra unemployment benefits for people who have been out of work because of the pandemic. I'm wondering if there are any plans from the federal government to offer hazard pay or other kinds of benefits for those of us who have still have to go to work, especially for those of us whose employer-provided hazard pay is coming to an end.

MARTIN: OK, Alina.

SELYUKH: Yeah. So the latest relief package in the House of Representatives did include about $200 billion in pandemic hazard pay for essential workers like you. It's a very broad category. It includes a lot of medical workers and waste water workers, anyone who's been out there working. My colleagues who cover Congress tell me that the fate of this legislation is a little bit up in the air. They are expecting another aid package to be considered by Congress. But the House bill was passed largely along party lines, mostly by the Democrats, and the Republicans in the Senate have not weighed in on any specific proposals as of yet.

MARTIN: All right. Well, Katharine, you know what? Thank you so much for doing what you do and we hope things will continue to go well for you. And it was good of you to call. We appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thanks for having me. And thanks to all the customers who are courteous and following the safety measures.

MARTIN: All right. We need to take a short break, but when we come back, we hope that we'll get our guest back on the line and take more questions with Alina Selyukh. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. We're talking about work in the time of the coronavirus. Please stay with us.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm here with NPR's Alina Selyukh, and we're answering your questions about reopening businesses. And I'm told that our guest that we were trying to get on the line with us earlier is back with us. Will, are you there?

CERVARICH: Yes. Hi, Michel. I'm here.

MARTIN: Hi. Well, good. I'm glad you made it. This is Will Cervarich. He owns betsy & iya. It's a jewelry store in Portland, Ore. And you made it, and we're so glad. What's your question for Alina?

CERVARICH: Yeah. My question is related to - we design and manufacture jewelry, and then we retail that in a brick-and-mortar store that's connected to our production facility. So my question is we have some reticence around reopening because we could both shut down our distribution and our production if COVID happens to come into our business. So we have a couple of employees who live with health care professionals. And right now, we're not allowing them to come into the building for - you know, for safety's sake. So I was just curious if I could get some information about the - about any - yeah. Any thoughts or - that your guest could share with me around that?

MARTIN: Can I just be clear on this? You're not allowing the spouses to come in or the employees who have spouses who are health care workers to come in?

CERVARICH: The employees, that's correct.

MARTIN: The employees - OK. Well, Alina.

SELYUKH: Yeah. So I actually talked to an employment lawyer about this and related questions. And the lawyers told me that this is very risky territory, I'm afraid to say. There are lots of legal concerns about sort of treating people differently using information about that person's marital situation, their potential medical conditions or what they do when they're not at work and especially if we're talking about potentially losing pay or, you know, other ways that people might not get the same working experience or opportunities if they're not onsite, the lawyers were saying, you know, the better approach might be is just to make sure that remote work option is an option for everyone, if it's an option. And then have all of the screenings for symptoms, temperature checks, all the safety measures that perhaps your company's already doing.

MARTIN: Well, Will that might not be the answer you want, but it's always better to know the truth, I would hope, right?

CERVARICH: Yeah. Yeah. It's helpful. Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Well, thanks so much for joining us.

CERVARICH: Thank you for taking the call. I appreciate it.

MARTIN: We're going to squeeze in one more question from Allen (ph) in Tulsa. And he has a question about a worst-case scenario.

ALLEN: With corporate America that's still open, when employees die from being infected at work, will the company be responsible?

MARTIN: Alina, do we have any sense of who would be liable in this situation?

SELYUKH: Yeah. Unfortunately, this is already playing out around the country in various companies. And typically in this situation, we're talking about worker's compensation claims from the family. And the lawyers I spoke with said that there are a few states where governors have now said, you know, if you go back to work and you get sick with COVID-19, they're going to - the legal system is and the comp claims system is going to assume that you got the disease at work. But elsewhere, it might be quite a big challenge to kind of go through the motions of proving that that person got sick exactly during work hours on the job and not somewhere else.

MARTIN: That's Alina Selyukh. Alina, thanks so much for taking the time to report these questions out thoroughly and give people answers, even if they aren't necessarily the answers they want to hear. Thank you so much.

SELYUKH: I'm sorry. Thank you (laughter). Thank you.

MARTIN: Up next, we answer your questions about maintaining friendships while social distancing. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. And we hope you'll stick around.


MARTIN: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michel Martin. Our social lives have changed pretty dramatically during coronavirus stay-at-home orders, but our friendships are as important as ever. But how do you show up for your friends who might be going through some of the worst days of their lives when showing up in person can be dangerous? To help answer your questions about friendship, we're joined by Aminatou Sow. She's a writer and cultural critic, along with longtime best friend and collaborator Anne Friedman. She hosts the podcast "Call Your Girlfriend." And she and Anne have a new book that they will be - that will be coming out this July, "Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close." Thank you so much for joining us, Aminatou.

AMINATOU SOW: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So this has been such a tough time for so many people. And you yourself have had to cope with having a parent diagnosed with COVID-19. I'm so sorry to hear that.

SOW: You know, it's a tough time for all of us. My father is in pretty stable condition and doing well, so I feel really thankful for that.

MARTIN: So I would imagine that, you know, if there were - circumstances were different, you know, I know I would certainly be showing up with a lasagna, you know, or a casserole, you know, something, right? Well, how have your friendships kind of responded to this whole situation?

SOW: I mean, you know, it's interesting because I don't think that there are enough times where everyone in your life is under the exact same kind of pressure. And so I think that everyone has really had to adjust to what it means to showing up. I try to take a really deep breath and remember that everyone who loves me does not actually live in the same city as I do. And so, you know, I think that it's important to remember that we are all a little bit practiced at having someone that we care about that lives far away and so really tapping into that impulse and tapping into that as a coping mechanism. And I've been really lucky, you know, to have everything from friends who have shown up for a socially distanced hang and friends who have checked in on the phone and friends who've sent letters and who've sent mail. There are a million ways to show people that you care.

MARTIN: Have these experiences left you thinking any differently about how to be a good friend? I know a number of us were talking about this because we said goodbye to one of our intern classes, you know, while this was going on. You know, we call them classes. They're not really - but you know what I'm saying, an intern group. And it was just really weird to not be able to get together to celebrate them, to bring the cupcakes. It just seemed strange. And yet it was kind of rich in its own way. I mean, we had to adapt, but I know we all felt differently about it. Has this left you feeling differently about how to be a good friend?

SOW: Oh, absolutely. It's something I think about all the time. Before the pandemic, I would say that I'm a pretty healthy introvert and leaving my house was not something I was interested in. And now I think all the time about, you know, the times that I did not show up to be in person with someone. And I know that that's a point of consideration for a lot of people. I think that there is also a tremendous opportunity to really adapt to a new form of intimacy, you know, and knowing that this moment will not last forever, and we will be together one day. And so it's very stretching to think about.

MARTIN: Let's turn to some listener questions, and this is one about connecting virtually.

KIM: Hi, this is Kim (ph) in Sacramento. My question is how can we use technology in a way to help people come together in a way that's genuine? You know, I also play music with my friends. We're starting to learn how to do this online. People are happy to see each other and be able to connect maybe not in real life but in real time. And so that seems valuable. And we just want it to be an experience people will come away from feeling happy about and not feeling even more disconnected. So any tips on how to use technology to connect meaningfully with each other, I really appreciate it.

MARTIN: Aminatou, what do you think?

SOW: That is such a good question coming from someone who I can tell is a very generous person in their lives. I - you know, I am very agnostic on technology. I don't think that it's good or bad. I think that it can be helpful depending on who is using it. I think that in the pandemic, technology is great because, you know, it really - it helps to bridge that gap. But I think that it's important to remember that it's just a tool, and it is not a solution. I for - I personally find that my days need structure, and my online presence also needs structure. So this person I would say it's great that you are learning music with your new friends. I think that you could set aside some time to practice for each other or set aside time to have some accountability. It would be amazing if you could organize a concert for other people. And I think that, you know, you have to constantly check in to people to see what they need. Friendship is a two-way street, and it costs you nothing to ask the other person how could this be meaningful for you and adapting to that.

MARTIN: OK. Aminatou, I'm sorry. We don't have time to talk more about this, but thank you all so much for all of your good advice and your good vibes. And I hope we'll talk again under happier circumstances, how about we put it that way?

SOW: Right. Have a wonderful night.

MARTIN: Aminatou Sow is a writer and cultural critic. Her new book with Anne Friedman is called "Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close." It will be out in July. Thanks for taking the time.

Finally today, this is our second to last broadcast of this program, at least for now. And I was thinking about how much I would miss doing this show, even though, unfortunately, as is true with so many things in the news, it has been a profound and, in many ways, wonderful experience born of deep pain. And let me just say at the outset, if you are one of the tens of thousands of people who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, we grieve with you and for you. If you are one of the tens of millions of people who've lost a job or suffered a setback because of the virus or the country's dramatic response to it, we grieve with you and for you. And even if your loss is something other people might not consider that important - your prom, a vacation trip, a semester abroad, an athletic season, hugging grandkids, singing in a choir or chorus or even just the little vacation of a trip to the coffee shop or nail salon - we feel your pain because we're going through it, too. And yet is it weird that I'm thinking about the things I'm actually going to miss when this is over, whenever that is? Things like having at least one meal with my husband and kids every day, like doing housework together even though or maybe because we all hate it, like seeing neighbors dropping off toilet paper to other neighbors they don't even know because they heard they needed some.

Can I just tell you, I'm not the only one who feels that way? I know because Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld, who leads a synagogue in Washington, D.C., shared similar thoughts with me even though he was ambivalent initially and didn't want to be seen as insensitive. He told me that at first he cried when he realized he'd have to close the synagogue, and he prayed every day for this all to be over. But then he said he realized that was not spiritually healthy to only do that. And when he did, he began to see other blessings, like being able to see his wife every morning to tell her he loves her because normally he would have left much earlier to lead prayer, like spending time with his college-aged kids and, like me, cooking and eating dinner with them every night. And he said there is a way in which he feels the world feels more united because this virus is a true common enemy.

Well, I confess I see that one a bit differently, but that isn't my point. The point is, he said, maybe we could all make our own top 10 things we will miss when this is over. There's probably something. As for me, well, getting to hear your stories and your questions and even your worries would be on my list. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.