Tested Podcast

Tested is a look at how North Carolina is dealing with COVID-19, and what we North Carolinians are learning about ourselves in the face of a global crisis. Hosted by journalist Dave DeWitt. Produced at WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio.

Available now on Apple Podcasts, StitcherGoogle PodcastsNPR One, Spotify, and the WUNC App.

Ways to Connect

In the past week, protests have taken place throughout North Carolina, and across the country, in response to the death of George Floyd. Floyd, who was born in North Carolina, was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis last week. In a video, Floyd can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” while the officer held his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.

The ongoing protests are also fueled by historic and longstanding violence and institutional inequalities perpetrated against black Americans- inequalities that have been illuminated by the pandemic’s death toll.

We talk with William Darity, director of the Samuel DuBois Cook Center for Social Equity at Duke University, and the co-author of the new book “From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century.” We also hear from Brianna Baker, a public health analyst with RTI International, about attending a protest in Raleigh on Saturday and why she feels an urgency to organize despite a pandemic.


Two heads of state clashed this week after President Trump put Governor Roy Cooper in the crosshairs of his active, and now partially fact-checked, Twitter account. Trump threatened to pull the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if Cooper couldn’t guarantee full capacity for the event in August.

On Thursday, the Republican National Committee sent Cooper a set of guidelines on safety at the convention, but Cooper has asked for more details on the vague game plan.

Meanwhile, the General Assembly is already looking toward November and voters' safety at the polls. A bill is moving through the state legislature that would grant easier access to voting by mail in the upcoming elections.

We talk with WUNC politics reporter Rusty Jacobs about the bill and how it might influence the way people in North Carolina vote this fall.


The main objective of the all the stay-at-home orders was to flatten the curve and make sure hospitals across the state didn’t become overrun. That has so far been successful in North Carolina. But, as "stay-at-home" becomes "safer-at-home," there’s been a spike in cases, percentage of positive tests and hospitalizations. Meanwhile, hospitals and health care workers in other states have seen a greater surge, and are now seeing a greater decline.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, health care employees have worked tirelessly to treat COVID-19 patients — and in many cases save those patients’ lives — while risking their own life in the process. The emotional and mental stress doctors, nurses and others in the medical field experience inside the hospital will likely stay with them after the pandemic subsides.

We check back in with Bevin Strickland, a nurse and doctoral student at UNC Greensboro who recently returned home after working on a contract at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens, New York. WUNC reporter Liz Schlemmer talked with Strickland about the transition back to North Carolina and the psychological toll of working in critical care during the pandemic.


Once North Carolina’s gradual reopening shifts into Phase 2 Friday afternoon, more places like restaurants, salons, and pools will be given the green light to open up again.

While some business owners are anxious to reopen as fast as possible, others are more cautious. How customers will balance feeling safe and resuming their pre-pandemic lives remains an open question.

We check back in with Christina Pelech, owner of the Fuss & Bother hair salon in Durham, about her next steps as a small business owner, and how she anticipates life in her shop to look during Phase 2.


Gathering

May 19, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper is considering an ease on more restrictions, as the date approaches for the planned move into Phase 2 of North Carolina's gradual reopening.

But reopening hasn't come quickly enough for some. Last week, a network of churches called "Return America" held a rally outside the state legislative building, demanding the right to hold indoor worship services despite Cooper's executive order limiting indoor gatherings to 10 people or less.

On Saturday, a federal judge sided with the church leaders who filed a lawsuit, temporarily granting churches permission to hold large worship services indoors.

But not every church is jumping at the opportunity to reopen its sanctuary. We talk with Rev. Nancy Petty, pastor at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in Raleigh, about weighing the decision to reopen the church and the intersection of COVID-19 with Christianity.


Since the onset of the pandemic, nursing homes have been hotspots for the virus. As congregate living spaces, COVID-19 can spread quickly among its residents, posing serious risks to people 65 and older.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reports around 100 ongoing outbreaks at nursing homes and residential care facilities across the state. Meanwhile, more than half of deaths related to COVID-19 in North Carolina have come out of nursing homes.

But the majority of facilities, thankfully, have yet to endure an outbreak. And many are doing their best to keep it that way, even if it means keeping their residents isolated. We talk with Dan Tunstall, a resident at Carolina Meadows in Chapel Hill, about coping with isolation and maintaining a healthy body and spirit amidst the pandemic.


As people return to North Carolina's stores and parks during Phase 1 of the gradual reopening, there are growing concerns about the health and safety of workers at meat and poultry processing plants across the state.

Last month, President Donald Trump deemed meat processing plants essential infrastructure, and ordered them to stay open for the sake of the country's food supply chain. But working shoulder-to-shoulder on an assembly line poses serious risks for workers, as health experts have repeatedly urged people to keep at least 6 feet apart.

We talk with WUNC's Celeste Gracia and Laura Pellicer about the conditions at two specific plants in North Carolina, and how workers are coping with the decision to go to work despite possible risks to their health.


Changes

May 8, 2020

Phase 1 begins today in North Carolina. Retail stores and state parks can resume operations, with some changes to try to ensure public health.

Another thing that many health experts say has to change: North Carolina needs to do more testing.

North Carolina's testing capacity has grown, and we are 15th in the country in total tests conducted, but we have still tested fewer people per capita than all but a handful of states.

Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, weighs in on testing and the state's Phase One re-opening.


Immunity

May 7, 2020

In making the decision on when to reopen North Carolina's economy, Gov. Roy Cooper says he is being guided by one thing: Data. 

One data point the state is not focused on: The number of people who have recovered from COVID-19. An even more unknowable number right now is how many people have had it, and, because they were asymptomatic, never knew it.

Those are two groups that could be vitally important, because their blood may contain antibodies that could provide some immunity.

We talk to Dr. Alena Markmann and Dr. Luther Bartelt about immunity, and the treatments they are utilizing now to treat COVID-19 patients.


It's National Nurses' Day. And this year, nurses - and all medical professionals - have certainly earned a little extra recognition. 

We talk with Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News and a registered nurse, about what nurses are experiencing.

Also, we hear from a high-school senior who missed out on his final baseball season.

 

Phased Reopening

May 5, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper's Phase One Reopening plan begins Friday. The announcement came after Dr. Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, said the COVID-19 data trends in North Carolina are "stable."

Phase One doesn't throw things wide open. Salons, gyms, and dining areas, for example, cannot open. But other businesses can reopen, if they practice certain social distancing measures.

Host Dave DeWitt and Reporter/Producer Will Michaels explain and analyze what people and businesses can do now, that they couldn't do before.


Paying The Rent

May 4, 2020

The National Multifamily Housing Council reported last month that nearly one-third of apartment renters in the country had not paid their rent in April. The numbers were slightly better in North Carolina, but they are on track to be worse this month. Gov. Roy Cooper signed two emergency funding bills today that could help, but the pandemic has forced tenants and landlords to come up with answers mostly on the fly.

Today, we examine how rentals have changed during the pandemic and get a glimpse of how tenants are coping and how landlords are adapting in Durham, a city where the housing market has been booming, but where most tenants were already spending more than 30% of their incomes on rent.

We speak with Peter Gilbert, supervising attorney at Legal Aid of North Carolina in the Durham eviction diversion program, and Michelle Ketchum, owner of Acorn and Oak Property Management Company in Durham.


Governor Roy Cooper is eyeing next weekend for a move into the first phase of re-opening the North Carolina economy, even as the key metrics and trends on COVID-19 in the state offer mixed messages.

We talk with Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News, about the trends and numbers, the crisis in meat-processing plants, and what kind of help hospitals can expect from the General Assembly.


Talking Science

Apr 30, 2020

There's perhaps never been a time where effective and accurate science communication has been more crucial. It's become, quite frankly, life and death for tens of thousands of people.

We talk with Holden Thorp, the editor-in-chief of Science, one of the leading scientific journals in the world.

Before taking that role, he was a chemist, the provost at Washington University in St Louis, and the chancellor at UNC-Chapel Hill.


Paying for the Pandemic

Apr 29, 2020

It's been another busy day in Raleigh as state lawmakers try to shape and support North Carolina's recovery from COVID-19, and decide how much money they will have and where to spend it.

There's some evidence that Medicaid expansion might have bipartisan support, at least during the pandemic.

We speak with WUNC's Capitol Bureau Chief Jeff Tiberii about the competing budget proposals, and what differences might need to be reconciled before the state can get financial relief.


Here And There

Apr 28, 2020

As they did last week, several hundred protestors marched in Raleigh today, calling for the state to be "re-opened" immediately.

At about the same time, the General Assembly began its short session, looking to allocate about $1.5 billion, and Governor Roy Cooper gave his latest update.

But instead of what's going on in the city, it's the rural and suburban nature of North Carolina that might be helping protect us from the worst of the pandemic.

We talk to Keith Debbage, a professor of geography at UNC-Greensboro, about why some states with similar sized populations are experiencing much worse Covid-19 outcomes.


Learning Interrupted

Apr 27, 2020

Our state's educational institutions have been turned upside down by the pandemic. School buildings are empty, and resources are evaporating.

The upheaval is being felt by the more than 1.5 million public-school students, and the 1 million students in public, private, and community colleges, as well as tens of thousands of teachers, faculty members, principals, food-service employees, bus drivers, etc.

We talk to WUNC education reporters Liz Schlemmer and Cole del Charco about the many changes students, parents, and others are facing.


School's Out

Apr 24, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper today announced that public school facilities in North Carolina would stay closed through the end of the academic year. It came a day after he announced a three-stage plan to re-open the state, when specific benchmarks are reached.

Republican leaders pushed back against his stay-at-home order, even as the two parties have worked in a more bipartisan fashion behind the scenes in legislative committees.

We speak with Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News, about what came out of those committees, and the ongoing challenges of getting information on the meat processing plant outbreaks in the state.


Today, Governor Roy Cooper extended his stay-at-home order until May 8. He also laid out a more specific, three-phase plan for re-opening North Carolina's economy.

In very simple terms, Cooper wants to see decreases or sustained leveling in four trends, twice as many tests conducted per day and twice as many people who can trace cases, and a larger supply of N-95 masks and gowns.

As benchmarks are hit, restrictions will be lifted. It's part of an effort to get the 700,000 or so North Carolinians who have filed for unemployment back to work.

Behind every number, of course, is a difficult or traumatic story. We talk with WUNC's Jeff Tiberii about how unemployed workers are getting by and how the state is trying to help.


Racial Disparities

Apr 22, 2020

About 21% of the people who live in North Carolina are African-American, but black people make up 39% of COVID-19 cases in the state - and 37% of the deaths.

These disparities did not begin with this pandemic. The racial differences in health care are well-documented by all manner of researchers, including those in the Department of Health and Human Services.

We speak with Benjamin Money, the Deputy Secretary for Health Services at DHHS about how COVID-19 has put a new focus on the longstanding problem of racial health disparities.


The South

Apr 21, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper says he is still weighing goals and will make a plan about what needs to happen before re-opening areas of the state.

Cooper's gubernatorial colleagues in the south are moving ahead, however, without similar considerations. Yesterday, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp said he was lifting restrictions across state within the next week on businesses from restaurants to hair salons to bowling alleys. Other governors in South Carolina and Tennessee are following suit.

Cooper is pointing specifically to testing; that we need to be able to do more than we can right now. Rose Hoban, the editor of North Carolina Health News, gives us an update on where North Carolina is with testing.
And we hear from a small-business owner who doesn't want to expose her customers to COVID-19, but she can’t stay closed much longer without help.


Critical Care

Apr 20, 2020

Bevin Strickland is a nurse and doctoral student a UNC Greensboro. She's 47 years old, and a single mother of three.

When the COVID-19 outbreak hit New York, Strickland immediately explored ways she could help. After looking to volunteer, her friend Eric suggested that she sign a two-month contract to work as a nurse at Mount Sinai Hospital in Queens.

WUNC reporter Liz Schlemmer has been talking to Strickland by video calls since she landed in New York City two weeks ago.

In this episode, Strickland explains what she's seeing and feeling, and she and Liz explore the importance of critical care in both of their lives.


To this point in the pandemic response, political partisanship hasn't been a major issue in North Carolina.

But that fight is likely to come. Soon.

Governor Roy Cooper is, of course, a Democrat. The state House and Senate are majority Republican. This is not news. It led, last summer, to a stalemate over the state budget.

While factions are developing over when to re-open the state's economy, the next big fight ahead will likely be over money. North Carolina has received about $2 billion in federal funds to deal with the pandemic, and another $2 billion is expected.

We speak with Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, about how the General Assembly may choose to spend that money, and the role partisan politics may play in the weeks ahead. And we also take a virtual visit to the North Carolina Zoo.


The Peak

Apr 16, 2020

It's been the subject of intense research and modeling by renowned experts, and a favorite parlor game for the rest of us: When will we hit "The Peak?"

Even the best models disagree about when, where and how we’ll get there, or even how many "peaks" there might be, but the models are all we have as we start to think and plan for how to dial back social distancing.

We speak with Aaron McKethan, a senior fellow in the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy, and one of the researchers working on models in North Carolina.


The Youngest Generation

Apr 15, 2020

Years from now, our kids will likely write essays about this pandemic. Right now, some of those future high school and college kids are busy learning their ABCs at home. But if their parents are essential workers, they might still need to rely on their local child care facility - that is, if it's still open.

We talk with Donna White, the interim president of Smart Start, about how the child care system is trying to adapt to the pandemic, and how the structure of the program she runs made it susceptible to a global crisis.

Also, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, one of the leading National Institutes of Health scientists working to come up with a COVID-19 vaccination, has strong ties to the Triangle.


Vulnerability

Apr 14, 2020

The pandemic is exposing weaknesses and inequities throughout our society and systems. Some are simply annoying, like hackers jumping into our Zoom calls, but others have serious consequences, like employer-based health-care, when so many are losing jobs and need coverage more than ever.

When it comes to public health, the most vulnerable people are at the highest risk. But so are the systems that serve them.

Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, explains why rural hospitals are at particular financial risk, and what that means for people living in those communities. Also, Duke professor Sandy Darity lays out the potential catastrophic level of African American unemployment.


The Week Ahead

Apr 13, 2020

The numbers for today are in, and they are both grim, and a little hopeful. As of Monday, 86 people have now died in North Carolina, but the number of hospitalizations has dropped by about 15% since Saturday.

Concerns are growing over COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes across the state, as facilities in Franklin, Chatham, and Orange counties report dramatic rises in cases.

In Dare County, they have a different problem: A burgeoning economic catastrophe related to the potential loss of tourist season. WUNC's Jay Price speaks with a county commissioner/restaurant owner about the current situation and preparations for the near future.

Also, student journalists at Riverside High School go to extraordinary efforts to publish the school paper in the midst of the pandemic.


Reporting

Apr 10, 2020

Today: Reporting.

Earlier this month, when Governor Roy Cooper issued his executive order that people stay-at-home, he listed out some essential businesses and operations that could continue.

The list included the obvious, like grocery stores and pharmacies. But the "essential" list also included car mechanics, hardware stores, and news media outlets. No one believes for a second that reporters are on-par with health-care workers or pharmacists on the list of most essential. But, access to verified, accurate information is important.

We speak about the essential nature of news with Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, and we hear from WUNC's Jay Price about how a reporter manages risk, and how this pandemic is different from the war-zone reporting he has done in the past. 


Congregate Living

Apr 9, 2020

Even if the term is unfamiliar, the situation probably isn't. If you've ever lived in a college dormitory, you've been in a congregate living situation… where you live side-by-side with other people, maybe sharing bedrooms, bathrooms, kitchens, and various public spaces.

That term has taken on new importance now, especially in places like nursing homes. It's led Governor Roy Cooper to issue new rules.

As the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to climb, so do the number of survivors. The Department of Health and Human Services is not providing statewide data on the number of people who have been treated and released from hospitals, but Dale Folwell is one of them. He's North Carolina's State Treasurer. Now in recovery, Folwell talks to WUNC's Jeff Tiberii.
 


State Vs Federal

Apr 8, 2020

In a conference call on March 16, President Donald Trump told governors it should try to get ventilators and other life-saving equipment on their own.

Three-and-a-half weeks later, states are competing against each other and against other countries for a limited supply of PPE, ventilators, and other vital tools in combating COVID-19.

We talk to Rose Hoban, editor of North Carolina Health News, about how that dynamic between the federal and state government is playing out in hospitals.


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