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News Brief: Trump Trip, NYC Schools, COVID-19 Hot Spot

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump is traveling to Kenosha, Wis., today, ignoring the governor's letter asking him not to come.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The president arrives in a city facing protests over the police shooting of Jacob Blake. It's a visit that fits a law-and-order theme of the president's reelection campaign. He plans to visit law enforcement and survey damage, though, not visit Jacob Blake's family. Yesterday, his Democratic challenger Joe Biden said Trump is the wrong person to bring order.

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JOE BIDEN: This president long ago forfeited any moral leadership in this country. He can't stop the violence because for years he's fomented it.

MARTIN: We've got reporter Maayan Silver of member station WUWM in Milwaukee with us. Maayan, thank you for being here. Let's talk about the reception that the president is likely to get seeing as the governor himself had said, please, don't show up.

MAAYAN SILVER, BYLINE: Yeah. Well, it's been tough for the city. Two people are dead, one is paralyzed and another injured. The city is rebuilding from damage and boarded up businesses throughout its downtown. And Trump has a history of inflammatory language. Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes tweeted, the city was on fire. And we need healing, not a barrel of gasoline rolling in. But there are plenty of Republicans who want to hear and see from President Trump like U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who said Trump has provided decisive leadership.

MARTIN: You've been out. You've been talking to voters in Wisconsin. What are you hearing from them about not just the violence and the protests but how it might or might not affect how they would vote in November?

SILVER: I did talk to a lot of people. If anything, this isn't changing anyone's mind. It's just sort of reinforcing already entrenched politics. One person I talked to was Jan Kaminski (ph). She was stocking up on pickling supplies at a farmer's market this weekend. Trump's message seems to be resonating.

JAN KAMINSKI: Well, there is something to be said when they say all these cities that are having problems are run by Democrats. I didn't know that, you know? You have to put it that - look what they did in Kenosha when the National Guard came in and enough backup came, you know? The rioting and all that stopped.

SILVER: Others, like Karen Cayman, believe Trump is making the violence worse. She voted for Trump in 2016, but now says...

KAREN CAYMAN: I will not vote for him again. He has no rules. And he fires everybody that he doesn't like and disagrees with him - and no morals. He just wants people to riot. He he instills riots and discord.

SILVER: Even though she's concerned about what happened in Kenosha and is worried about looting and violence, Cayman says Trump isn't helping. Protesters in Kenosha also told me they're definitely motivated to vote but that they always are. One activist said getting into the streets and marching is affecting more change on the issue of police brutality than the ballot box.

MARTIN: All right. Let's talk about this case, this 17-year-old who is charged with killing two protesters. Remember, he came from out of state to Kenosha, Wis. Video shows him with a long gun. There is footage from a car dealership where someone is shot in the head. It's unclear who the shooter is. But someone, allegedly this 17-year-old, runs away from the victim saying, I just killed somebody.

Then there's another video that shows the same person being chased by others before he trips and starts to fire into the crowd. So President Trump spoke about this alleged shooter sympathetically yesterday and said that he was threatened. He said such without evidence. Do prosecutors agree? I mean, what do we know at this point?

SILVER: So the shooting remains under investigation. Prosecutors in Kenosha didn't agree that he acted in self-defense. They've charged him with two counts of homicide - one reckless, one intentional. So that issue is going to be litigated in the courts.

MARTIN: All right. Maayan Silver of WUWM in Milwaukee. Thanks so much for your reporting.

SILVER: Thank you.

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MARTIN: All right. My kids had their first day of school yesterday, although, all through the computer, all virtual. Steve, I know yours have started, too. Kids in New York City are supposed to start school September 10. But now that is unclear.

INSKEEP: Unclear because yesterday, the nation's largest public school system moved one step closer to a teacher's strike. Educators are saying they do not yet feel safe returning to school buildings.

MARTIN: NPR education correspondent Anya Kamenetz has been following the story and joins us now. Anya, I mean, (laughter) there's been so much uncertainty for parents, families, students, teachers in New York.

ANYA KAMENETZ, BYLINE: (Laughter).

MARTIN: What is the situation right now?

KAMENETZ: OK. So the latest is that the executive board of New York's United Federation of Teachers met at 6 p.m. yesterday. And they passed a resolution that leaves the possibility open of a strike vote as soon as this afternoon. Negotiations are continuing, I should say. And the resolution is going to go this afternoon to the full delegate assembly. And either they will vote to authorize a strike or to ratify a safe reopening plan. And if the delegate assembly votes yes to a strike, that's not the last word. It's still in the hands of the UFT leadership whether they want to actually call that strike. And I should mention, Rachel, the Public Employees - strikes are illegal in New York under the Taylor Law. The last New York City teacher strike happened almost half a century ago.

MARTIN: Wow. So this is over teachers' concerns about their own health, I guess, because New York was going to do this hybrid thing where it was - some of it was going to be virtual. But some teachers were going to be in a classroom, right?

KAMENETZ: That's exactly right. So New York City is currently the only big city school district planning to have in-person classes this fall. And that is a huge testament to the fact that, you know, we were steamrolled here by the pandemic. And now infection rates are very, very low. However, the city and the teachers' union and lots of educator parent groups, you know, Facebook, email lists are burning up. There are so many concerns. The teachers' union and the city are furthest apart on the questions of contact tracing and testing. The union wants to test every teacher and every student before school starts. And that would be really hard to do before next week.

MARTIN: What's city leadership saying?

KAMENETZ: You know, Mayor Bill de Blasio has really been trying to sound reassuring notes. He's been talking about school reopening almost every day at his daily briefing. And overall, you know, he's saying, reopening is going to be good for the city. And we're working really, really hard. Here he is at Monday's briefing.

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BILL DE BLASIO: We're all working to resolve issues and get ready for what will be one of the most pivotal school years - I think, the most pivotal school year - in the history of New York City. And we have to get it right for everyone.

MARTIN: OK. He's saying we have to get it right for everyone. But it sounds like the problem is teachers have a different idea of how to do that, right?

KAMENETZ: That's right. I talked to Melissa Eaheart (ph). She's a school librarian in Brooklyn. Her husband is a public school teacher. And she also has two children in public school, one with special needs. And when I talked to Melissa, she said she is prepared to strike as necessary. She actually volunteered as a picket captain. She says she's worried about ventilation in her school building. Her husband teaches in a neighborhood where the test positivity rate is much higher than in the city as a whole. So she doesn't really think that's safe. Also, they live with her elderly mother. Here's Melissa Eaheart.

MELISSA EAHEART: I feel very trapped because, as a teacher, I see how unsafe these plans are.

KAMENETZ: So the looming issue over all of this, Rachel, is also the city's revenue, which has taken such an enormous hit. And without federal aid or the ability, possibly, to borrow more money, Richard Carranza, the city's chancellor, has said opening schools would actually be a non-starter. So you know, 1.1 million schoolchildren, their families, over 100,000 staff members are all waiting to find out what happens next.

MARTIN: NPR's Anya Kamenetz. Anya, thank you.

KAMENETZ: Yeah. Thanks, Rachel.

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MARTIN: OK. For months, world health officials were watching India really nervously. Because of the population density there, if COVID-19 started to spread quickly, it was going to be devastating.

INSKEEP: Now that may be happening. Today, the country reported almost 70,000 new COVID-19 cases, 70,000 in a day. The United States and Brazil still have more total cases than India. But India is where the virus is spreading the fastest.

MARTIN: We've got NPR's India correspondent Lauren Frayer with us. She lives in Mumbai. She's currently in Connecticut, though. Hey, Lauren.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: Hi, there.

MARTIN: So given the recent spike in COVID cases, why is India's government lifting restrictions in this moment?

FRAYER: Because it just doesn't want to see any more economic devastation. Last quarter, India's economy shrank by nearly 24%. That's among the worst performances in the world. India took drastic measures very early on in the pandemic. Back in March, it opposed - it imposed the world's biggest coronavirus lockdown. Nearly 1.4 billion people were given just a few hours' notice, told not to leave their homes.

Many white-collar workers adapted just fine to working from home. But poor laborers could not. And so what's worked in other places, lockdowns and such, hasn't really worked in India because hundreds of millions of people live in poverty. And they just haven't been able to survive the economic impact of this. Over the weekend, the government said everything can now reopen except for schools, cinemas, swimming pools and international flights. And actually, today, millions of Indian students are sitting for college entrance exams in person.

MARTIN: Wow, presumably not all 6 feet apart either. And meanwhile, the virus is just spreading.

FRAYER: Yes. So today, we have nearly 70,000 new cases. But in recent days, it's been nearly 80,000 new cases every single day. That's the most in the world. August saw - India saw nearly 2 million cases in that month alone. So that's the highest monthly tally anywhere in the world since the pandemic began.

MARTIN: What are the real-world implications of this? I mean, besides the fact that - it's a huge besides. But people are obviously getting sick facing this illness. But what about, like, hospitals? Are they at capacity?

FRAYER: Yeah. So the pandemic has really shifted geography within India. At first, the two biggest cities in the country - Mumbai and New Delhi - were hot spots. Hospitals were desperately overloaded. We had cases of people dying in the parking lot outside waiting to be admitted to hospital. Now Mumbai's infections have plateaued. And the virus is growing in poorer, rural areas. And that's an extreme worry - right? - because health care is already stretched pretty thin in those places. India is learning from its initial mistakes. It's boosting testing. It's doing more door-to-door testing and contact tracing. And that's something that China and some other countries did off the bat with some success.

MARTIN: Are they working on their own vaccine, Lauren?

FRAYER: Yeah. So India is actually the world's biggest manufacturer of vaccines. And an Indian company called the Serum Institute is making hundreds of millions of doses of vaccine. The idea is to have them ready when clinical trials wrap up to hand them out. Fifty percent of those will be earmarked for Indians. And this is a domestic population that just desperately needs it.

MARTIN: NPR's India correspondent Lauren Frayer. Thank you, Lauren.

FRAYER: You're welcome. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.