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News Brief: Kentucky Protests, Coronavirus Cases, Hospital Data Rule

NOEL KING, HOST:

Two police officers were shot last night in Louisville.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Neither of the officers suffered life-threatening injuries, and police say they have a suspect in custody. Now, these shootings came on a night of protest after a grand jury ruling. The panel of citizens returned no charges against two officers who fired at Breonna Taylor. Her death in March triggered months of protest. Oprah paid for billboards featuring her face. Taylor was in her apartment when police broke through the door for what they said was a late-night drug raid. Taylor's boyfriend opened fire on the police saying he believed they were intruders. Police then fired at least 32 shots, which prosecutors say were justified because they'd been fired upon. Taylor was hit six times. The only charges in this case came against a third officer whose shots went into a neighboring apartment.

KING: Stephanie Wolf of WFPL was at these protests last night. Good morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE WOLF, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So there was a 9 o'clock curfew that the city instituted. People stayed out past that time. What did you see?

WOLF: Yeah. So following the announcement yesterday, protesters began marching out of downtown, and they eventually came face to face with police who declared an unlawful assembly, firing pellets with pepper spray into the crowd and arresting 13 people there. Police say they arrested at least 46 people during yesterday's protest. And much later in the evening, some small fires were set around the hall of justice, and that led to police calling an unlawful assembly again and dispersing crowds from that area. Then it was about an hour later that two officers were shot downtown. Police say one had to undergo surgery, and they have a suspect in custody. Earlier this week, Louisville Metro Police and the mayor each declared a state of emergency for the city. Police had set up barricades to restrict vehicle access downtown, and downtown businesses had boarded up in anticipation of the announcement.

KING: Because this is a very volatile situation and I know that you were talking to people while you were out there last night, what did they say? What did protesters say?

WOLF: I mean, this was not the news they were hoping for. A few protesters told me it was insulting, especially that the one officer who had already been fired was indicted for endangering Taylor's neighbors and not for his involvement in her death. I spoke with Louisville-based poet and activist Hannah Drake. She called the results a, quote, "joke."

HANNAH DRAKE: It's just another reminder as a Black woman that my life does not matter to the city. It's disappointing. This girl was in her house. She wasn't bothering anybody.

KING: Stephanie, you've been covering these protests for months now. How have they evolved?

WOLF: Well, you know, Breonna Taylor's shooting death in her own apartment has really impacted many people in Louisville and around the country. You always like to think that, if nowhere else, you're safe at home. So yesterday actually marked the 119th consecutive day of protests in Louisville. They've been out every day since late May demanding justice for Taylor.

KING: One hundred and nineteen days - and I suppose you get the impression that this will continue.

WOLF: Yeah. I repeatedly heard from protesters that yesterday's announcement will not end these demonstrations. Here's Nicole Williams, who often organizes local protests. She says she'll be out today and the next day.

NICOLE WILLIAMS: However many days, I will be here. No justice, no peace, and there's still no justice. And until there is justice, there will be no peace - period.

WOLF: So last week, the city settled a wrongful death lawsuit by Taylor's family, and as part of that, the city committed to implementing a list of law enforcement reforms, like a tracking system to flag officers who use excessive force. So what protesters and residents are waiting for is how much substantive change is put in place.

KING: Stephanie Wolf in Louisville, Ky. Thanks, Stephanie.

WOLF: Thanks.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KING: All right. President Trump has made clear that he would like a vaccine for the coronavirus before Election Day in November.

INSKEEP: Which is a tough timeline. There are reports that the Food and Drug Administration, which approves vaccines, says it will issue stricter safety guidelines, which would make that timeline ever more unlikely.

KING: NPR's Will Stone has been following this one. Good morning, Will.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: What is the FDA planning to do with these guidelines?

STONE: Well, the FDA has not issued any new guidelines yet, but they could come this week. And it's been reported they would make it impossible for a coronavirus vaccine to be authorized before the November election. This is something the president has said repeatedly he wants. So Trump was clearly not happy to hear this. He called it a political move. And this came on a day that the FDA commissioner, Steven Hahn, testified before a Senate committee, and he said when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine, quote, "science rules." And he assured the committee that politics would not be a factor. So once again, the president is undercutting his own public health experts.

KING: All right. So let's talk about the science, not the politics. This is all happening as the CDC has been looking into who and what is driving new infections. And they found out what exactly?

STONE: The CDC looked at data from the summer, and it turns out that 20-year-olds accounted for the largest share of new infections. In fact, more than 20% of all confirmed cases were in that age group. There were some regional differences, but this basic pattern was true for the entire country. So it's clear that young adults are behind the spread. I spoke to Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo about this. She's a public health professor at the University of California San Francisco. And she says remember when we opened the economy, the message was high-risk people, older people need to be careful. And younger people were told essentially to get back to work.

KIRSTEN BIBBINS-DOMINGO: Some of this is entirely predictable by who stayed home and who was out there on the front lines. On the other hand, we also know it was summertime. People wanted to be out and socializing again. I think there clearly are behavioral patterns in young adults that also feed into this.

STONE: And by that, she means young people will take more risks. They'll hang out in groups, go to bars. All the behaviors that keep this virus circulating.

KING: Well, 20-year-olds are also less likely to get very sick. So the concern about so many of them getting infected is not necessarily about them getting infected.

STONE: No. The worry is that young people don't exist in a vacuum. And when they get infected, eventually they can infect people in other age groups. And that's actually exactly what happened in southern states. The CDC numbers showed that first there was a spike in cases among young adults, and then within a week or two, there was also a jump in cases for older adults, and these are people over 60. And, of course, it's that age group that's much more likely to be hospitalized and die if they have COVID. Here's what Mike Osterholm had to say about this. He's an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM: We're going to see that spillover occur more and more. And so I think that the overall risk of transmission to older adults today is probably as high as it's been relative to the pandemic.

STONE: And this is a big concern right now because we are already seeing outbreaks on college campuses.

KING: NPR's Will Stone. Thanks, Will.

STONE: Thank you.

KING: The Trump administration is threatening to cut funding to hospitals that fail to report data about COVID-19 to the Department of Health and Human Services.

INSKEEP: That's according to internal documents obtained by NPR News. Now, until July, hospitals were sending data about COVID-19 to the CDC. But then the Trump administration instructed them to send it to the Department of Health and Human Services instead, which surprised and confused many health professionals. The administration now says that many hospitals are failing to report the data.

KING: NPR's Pien Huang and Selena Simmons-Duffin broke this story. And Selena's here this morning. Hey, Selena

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi.

KING: What is the data that hospitals are meant to be sending to Health and Human Services?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: There are dozens of questions, everything from the number of ventilators, the number of COVID patients in the ICU, masks, gloves. It's a long list. It requires input from lots of different parts of a hospital. And the Trump administration is requiring hospitals to send this information to their new data reporting system operated by HHS and a contractor called TeleTracking. It's adamant the hospitals have to provide 100% of this information. Most of it's required every day, including weekends. And the administration's argument is when it made the switch in July was that CDC was only getting 85% of hospitals to report COVID data. And the president wanted 100%.

KING: Are 100% of hospitals reporting their data?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: We got slides from an internal CDC presentation giving yesterday, and those slides show that only 24% of hospitals reported all metrics every day last week.

KING: That seems very low. What's going on?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: People I spoke with at hospital associations explained that long list of questions means that if somebody is out sick for a day in the pharmacy department, you're noncompliant for that week. Then there are glitches. So I'm told if you don't have pediatric COVID patients, you mark that blank, you're noncompliant for the week. Another problem is that the government is using outdated lists of hospitals, so you're not going to get answers from a hospital that's not open. But regardless, the government wants to get more compliance, and it has a plan. In the presentation, it's noted that the government is hoping to improve that figure by threatening hospitals' federal funding.

KING: And so how is the Trump administration responding to that?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: The lever they're using is Medicare. So the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or CMS, has already telegraphed that this was in the works, but now they appear to be following through. Basically, if a hospital isn't compliant after several warnings, CMS could cancel its Medicare provider agreement. And this is a big deal. For a lot of hospitals, losing this funding even temporarily could mean shutting down. This is Dave Dillon of the Missouri Hospital Association.

DAVE DILLON: It's really the nuclear option for CMS. That's a huge, huge portion of any hospital's book of business.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: He's really concerned by this move. I should say NPR reached out to HHS, which referred comment on this to CMS, and CMS did not respond by airtime.

KING: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Selena, thanks so much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.