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    News O'Clock: The Uncertain Science Of COVID-19 & A Letter From Kobe

    Jared Kushner’s twenty-something bros didn’t do a great job procuring protective gear for doctors, we get real earnest talking about the letter from Kobe that Vanessa Bryant found, and BuzzFeed News science reporter Dan Vergano breaks down what we don’t know about the coronavirus.

    Nicolas Asfouri / Getty Images

    It's May 6th. The time... News O'Clock

    So it ends up that maybeJared Kushner’s twenty-something bros didn’t do a great job procuring protective gear for doctors. Also, our host Casey is totally enthralled with the remote version of The Voice and has to share.

    Plus we get real earnest for a minute talking about the letter from Kobe that Vanessa Bryant found on her birthday. And BuzzFeed News science reporter Dan Vergano breaks down what we don’t know about the coronavirus, and how big a mistake it might be for lockdowns to be lifted this early.

    You can listen to today's episode above! Another option: check it out on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to your favorite shows.

    Check out the full episode transcript here:

    Hayes Brown: Jared Kushner's handpicked pros didn't exactly do a great job finding protective gear for doctors.

    HB: Babies around the country are bursting into tears while watching Frozen 2 and it me, I am baby.

    HB: And BuzzFeed News’ science reporter Dan Vergano gives it to us straight about everything we don't know yet about COVID-19.

    Casey Rackham: The date, May 6, 2020.

    HB: The time, News O'Clock.

    HB: Hello friends. I'm Hayes Brown.

    CR: And I'm Casey Rackham. Welcome to News O'Clock. Hayes, before we go any further I need to talk to you about The Voice and what I just witnessed.

    HB: Not exactly how I expect you to kick things off today but I'm all ears, continue.

    CR: First of all, just know that I'm fascinated by The Voice and how America is connected to it and we could talk about later how in 2016, I knew Trump was going to win because of how voting was going on The Voice. But anyway ...

    HB: That's some straight up octopus predicting the world cup shift right there. So I'm fascinated but continue.

    CR: Anyways, I was watching The Voice last night and I was wondering if they were going to do, because they were delaying it and they're finally at the live portion where they sing, and I was like, "What are they going to do for the live? They usually have a crowd, blah blah blah ..." Anyways, watched it on Monday night and then last night they showed us how they set everything up and basically they sent packages to every single contestant full of mics, lighting, instructions, recording stuff and then they also sent it to the coaches, which is Blake Shelton and Nick Jonas. And it was just wild and crazy to watch all of these performances in their living rooms and they tried to give Photoshopped backdrops onto it so it seemed less wild than it is, but it was truly an insane experience. And then they got the results live with their families where they're quarantining in their homes, just standing there and there was that awkward delay that everyone is used to on Zoom and stuff like that. It was a truly surreal experience.

    HB: Oh man. That kind of reminds me of the NBA or the NFL draft or when they're picking the teams that go to the playoffs or the NCAA tournament. I kind of do love that idea though of them just being huddled up with their families, holding hands and everyone going freaking nuts when the results come in or if it sucks, at least instead having your mom maybe in the audience with you, you got everyone around you. So the weight is lessened.

    CR: It really was. It was a very supportive situation. Although I will say, one person had like 15 people surrounding them. And I'm like, "Tell me more about how you're social distancing."

    HB: Wait, do you have 15 people in your house? That doesn't sound good in any case.

    CR: Oh, who knows?

    HB: All right, it is time for today's corona update. Here are the three things you need to know about. Number one, the White House Task Force on Coronavirus might or might not be wrapping up in the near future even as the outbreak continues to spread. So here's what happened, Vice President Mike Pence told reporters yesterday that the task force was looking at shattering by Memorial day, so end of the month.

    HB: Right now, the task force includes medical experts like Dr Fauci and Dr Deborah Birx but also has members like the National Security Advisor, the Head of the FDA, the Treasury Secretary, and the White House Economic Advisor. But of course as ever, a tweet threw everything into chaos. Trump tweeted out this morning that despite what Pence just said, the task force won't actually end but will continue indefinitely while also working on vaccines and figuring out how to reopen the economy. Trump later added that, "I thought we could wind it down sooner, but I had no idea how popular task force is until actually yesterday when I started talking about winding down. It is appreciated by the public."

    HB: Number two, even though you think a health crisis would be good for business, US hospitals are set to lose billions from the pandemic. The American Hospital Association said in a report on Monday that hospitals and health systems will lose an estimated $202 billion between January and June and employment decline in the field by 43,000 jobs during just February and March according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. That includes job losses in dentist offices and physicians, 17,000, 12,000 losses respectively. John Hopkins found something similar that sustained decreases in how many people are actually coming into these health centers is really making things worse. So as people are choosing to hold off on treatment, hospitals are losing more money, which will then potentially cost all of us later when folks have to get those treatments that are currently on pause taken care of.

    CR: I mean it sucks that this is the situation that's happening that they're losing this mass amount of money, but it does make sense. I think some people's surgeries are deemed elective so they can't go in and get them. And then other people who maybe do want to go in for those elective surgeries don't want to be in a space that's so filled with the virus. I mean it's a scary time for everyone.

    HB: Right, exactly. And you know what? If you have a slight hurt in your leg and you don't want to risk going into the hospital, that could wind up being much worse later. So, "Uhh." is what I have to say to that.

    HB: All right, number three. Trump's son-in-law turned Senior White House Advisor Jared Kushner hired a bunch of 20 somethings to help source critical protective gear for doctors. And it went about as well as you'd expect. The New York Times published a massive story yesterday diving into Kushner's efforts finding that offers of help meant heard not by seasoned professionals, but by about a dozen volunteers who Kushner himself tapped. They were meant to sip through leads and pass on only the most promising to FEMA. But more often than not, they wound up just listening to demands from Trump donors and others who have the president's ear. Things were bad enough that one volunteer wound up writing a whistleblower's report and sending it to the House of Representatives.

    CR: Okay, Hayes. The only thing I could think about the entire time you were talking was how this sounds as if Jared Kushner hired someone like Jean-Ralphio from Parks and Recreation to do his bidding. And of course it would end up like this. Of course, nothing was done correctly.

    HB: I can see it so clearly right now. "Hello, hello, Jean-Ralphio here, taking all of your COVID needs. We've got the pandemic masks." It's pretty much exactly the way it went down according to the New York Times. They just probably couldn't print that easily.

    CR: All right. It's time for today's Good News, Bad News.

    CR: This is where I bring you some of the most awe and some of the most big yikes stories from around the internet. Good news, Miley Cyrus straight up said what we've all known. Celebrities are not going through this crisis the same way the rest of us are. I mean, duh. We've already seen that from their homes in the backgrounds of their Instagram Lives. Anyways, Miley brought up that celebrities are living differently through this crisis during an interview with the Wall Street Journal about the Instagram Live show she started called Bright Minded.

    CR: Apparently, some celebs she's DMed to come on have ignored her, which Miley said she gets. She said, "I'm sure some people I was reaching out to felt the same way I do, which is that my experience is so rare. It almost doesn't feel right to talk about. This isn't COVID-19 what I'm experiencing. My life has been pushed pause on, but really I have no idea what this pandemic is like." Which yes, true. There's at least one way that Miley's experience is relatable though.

    Miley Cyrus: I have not gotten out of these sweat pants for about five days and I have no plans on doing it anytime soon.

    CR: I want 100% relate to that. I have two pairs of sweat pants that I just rotate in and out, in and out.

    HB: My home shorts are going to be completely threadbare by the time we get out of here. I put on the hard pants, do the work of the podcast because it makes me feel more focused. But yeah, I live in one outfit otherwise and I can't wait for the ceremonial burning of all of our quarantine clothes when this ends.

    CR: Forget bra burning, it's sweatpant burning. Okay, so bad news for parents who just wanted to put on a Disney movie to distract their kids. It turns out babies can't stop crying when watching Frozen 2. One TikTok user first noticed that his baby would start crying during a part of the song Into The Unknown.

    CR: That was a full on wail from that baby who had to hide his little face in his mom's shoulder, but he's not alone. Other parents are reporting the same that these notes are causing instant tears from their babies. A bunch of commenters on TikTok were sure that this was a sign that babies are super empathetic and can tell that the song is sad.

    HB: I don't know how I feel about that, to be honest. Yeah, I get that these babies are clearly triggered by something. But I don't think it's like, "Oh this is minor key makes me feel these sad baby feelings."

    CR: Yeah. I'm like, it could that or it could be that it's some sort of pitch that they don't like with their little baby ears.

    HB: Right. Or it just sounds like another baby crying to them and they're like, "Oh no, now I'm upset."

    CR: Oh, okay. Well that is empathetic then.

    HB: More like ... No, actually you're right. That would be pretty empathetic of them. Like when one baby starts crying in a daycare, then all the babies are crying because they don't know what's wrong. But there's something wrong here.

    CR: Something is afoot.

    HB: "Something is not right." To quote the Madeline movie. All right, it's time for a quick break. When we come back, I'm going to be talking with Dan Vergano who's here to tell us some science. Be right back.

    HB: Welcome back. It's time for Say More. We're asking a lot of scientists these days as we struggle to figure out anything from how COVID-19 is spreading, to how to treat it, to who it's even infecting. And keeping track of what we know and what's out of date can be daunting. Luckily we have BuzzFeed News science reporter Dan Vergano with us today to help us out. Hello Dan.

    Dan Vergano: Hi Hayes, how are you doing?

    HB: Oh, you know, surviving thankfully. So it feels sometimes like guidelines and recommendations and really just what we know about this virus and how we should be responding, it's changing every day. So how should we be sorting through all of this?

    DV: The first thing in this, realize that a lot of it is uncertain that what you're watching, we all have our face pressed to the glass is how science actually works, on speed and all the uncertainty and confusion and backtracking, that usually plays out over a decade. And finding out something about a new virus has been put on the higher end cycle here. And we are seeing in real-time, confusion, mistakes, uncertainty. And the thing to keep in mind is when you see something is new or has come out on a new study just found or there's preliminary signs of blah blah blah, don't sell your house because of it. It's all tentative and contingent on a series of studies finding it all out or a series of results. So we're watching the mess.

    DV: It's a lot like when there's a report of something awful happening in the news and there's been a shooting or a plane has crashed or something. The first reports are always wrong. They get the location wrong. They get the number of people wrong. They get the number of assailants wrong. And this is just happening day after day after day after day because this is such a hideously complicated situation and it's hard for experts to get their hands around it. The chances that the first time you hear about something that's going to be right is very low. So you need to pay attention to the basic biology of this. Wash your hands. Don't be around people who are sick. Don't get other people sick. This is an infectious disease that is attacking people because we don't have any immunity to it and that's just the bottom line. But if you hear about a miracle cure or a shocking finding, then just realize that it needs to be checked out pretty carefully.

    HB: Yeah, just hit pause on that. So right now though we are seeing, speaking miracle cures, we're seeing labs around the world really just pushing themselves harder and harder to try and find a vaccine for coronavirus. We've heard a bunch of different estimates for when one might actually be available to the public. What's the latest on that?

    DV: Well there's some hopes that if we start actually building factories now to make stuff, even if we know it's not going to work ... Bill Gates has talked about building seven factories and maybe two of them will actually be a winner in terms of the vaccine model they go after. You could have a vaccine in about a year, which would be a miracle. That would be enough of this stuff to start giving it to healthcare providers and the most high at risk people, the elderly and people with illnesses that make them more likely to die if they get this. That's not going to be for everybody. There's 320 million people in this country and hopefully not all of them will have gotten the disease by then.

    DV: You're talking about tens of millions of people needing a vaccine and then billions of people worldwide. So it's going to be at best if that works out, that's a real gamble. There's no guarantees of it. Vaccines go bad all the time. We've seen this with HIV for decades. Then it's a year. Otherwise, people like Tony Fauci was talking about 18 months. Other people have talked about two years. Some people have looked at what you need to scale it up widely, we're talking more years. The hope is that we're gambling and that this is a virus that's amenable to vaccines. There's again some early studies, but take that for what it's worth, suggesting that might be the case. But any sooner than that, very hard to see.

    HB: Over the last few months, we've seen so many weird symptoms pop up related to COVID-19 in a way that we don't really see with other diseases. What should we make of that?

    DV: There's all kinds of ways to answer that. Nobody knows for sure is the first thing to say. The possibilities include the fact that this is a brand new disease hitting a naive human immune system, so it's exploiting all these weaknesses that individuals have in their own system that wouldn't have been tweaked for a disease that they had some immunity to, your rhinoviruses and the more common coronaviruses. It might be that we just aren't looking close enough. Maybe all kinds of viruses do all kinds of weird stuff like this all the time, but you have the entire medical enterprise now looking very carefully at these people trying to find any weird thing to find out as much as they can about it.

    DV: The main thing is people have this idea that we understand a hell of a lot about all these other diseases, but we don't. I mean, we don't really take this hard to look at them. It might be that measles does all kinds of crazy stuff, but it's not really ethical to give people measles and then see what happens to them. And so it's only here where we're having this hard look at a terrible disease that we're observing these kinds of things. That's all speculative, so we don't know.

    HB: You and Kadia Goba wrote a story recently that highlighted just how disparate the effects of COVID-19 have been on the black community versus everyone else in America. And what with the Tuskegee Airmen situation of the past and older people's minds and the way that everything is set up in the US, I'm going to go out on a limb and say structural racism plays a pretty big role in that gap of how this is affecting Black Americans versus the rest of the country.

    DV: Right, this disease is an X-ray or a way to rip the mask off of all the inequities in American life. I mean, clearly you have people in these meat packing factories getting sick. What's that about here? Here you have Black Americans who are overwhelmingly ... The poor ones stuck in these jobs where they have this contact of the public that puts them at risk. And so we're seeing this in cases, but there's also the structural racism that we're seeing where they don't get as good healthcare. They don't have as good healthcare conditions to start with. There is mistrust of medicine in the community dating to things like you mentioned, the Tuskegee experiments on sharecroppers and even going back further than that, the Antebellum Era of mistreatment. Hell, you couldn't get treated at some hospitals in the American South or elsewhere in the US and not just the South to pick on them if you were black for a long time.

    DV: So all those things add up to a hell of a worse situation. It's bad all the time of course, but it just puts these people more at risk. And so the effect is ... Yeah, we're seeing in some places they're getting hit really hard.

    HB: Okay, I'm going to go for a Hail Mary here and try and get something positive out of this. Dan, please. What is the most positive thing you have heard recently related to ending this pandemic?

    DV: The most positive thing, and it can't be said enough, is that most people realize how serious it is. Something like 80% of the population, if you believe the polls, gets it. So we're really yelling at the 20% of the population that somehow doesn't take this seriously. Most people understand it very well, take this seriously and have come together. I mean, everywhere you see people helping each other out, which is a great thing. It's the fact that the American people are so divided have for the most part understood this and taking it hard speaks really well of the country. The problem of course is the same old thing as always with America that until something terrible happens to you, a lot of people just don't seem to care. And so that's what we're going to see, looking at.

    HB: You were so close to ending that on a positive note.

    DV: I'm sorry. I don't do happy. Do this for three months, seven days a week, and you would see how depressed you were but it is beautiful to see how Americans have come together and how many of them do get this. Underneath it all, the country really does understand what's going on, I think.

    HB: So speaking of seven days, we've been asking people this week given that Mother's Day is this coming weekend and given that most of us are still in lockdown around the country, how are you planning on spending that?

    DV: I'm going to be working. I work seven days a week, but I will call my mother who is on the board of directors of an over-50 community. And so a lot of our chats with my mom now are these sort of technical discussions of masks and drive-throughs and so forth and what are the CDCs latest things. So it's become a weird sort of technical partnership with my mother, the politician dealing with the community and this problem.

    HB: I mean, I shout out to Mama Vergano for being the leader that her people need in this time though. And Dan, thank you so much for joining and for giving us all of this scary but extremely useful information.

    DV: Take care of yourself, Hayes. Great talking to you.

    CR: Hayes, it's Wednesday my dude so we're going to be playing a round of Gotta Pick One.

    HB: Do your worst. I'm ready.

    CR: You say that now. For those listening who haven't heard this bit before, here's how it works. We have two categories, each with four choices. Hayes will have to pick just one of those items to exist. The others become a myth, a whisper. Never happened, never seen.

    HB: Okay. I walked myself into this corner so what are today's categories?

    CR: First up, we have classic '90s sitcoms. Your choices are Friends, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Seinfeld, and The Nanny.

    HB: Oh no. This is not good. Okay, so Seinfeld, whatever. I'm sorry to all the Seinfeld fans out there, but I have no affinity for you. Friends, we got a lot of laughs and I'm sorry for all the revenue that Warner will no longer have, but got to get rid of you. So it's between The Nanny and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for me. I got to keep The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air for the culture. I'm sorry. the others can go, but The Fresh Prince must survive.

    CR: Let me play devil's advocate and just say this. She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, 'til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes.

    HB: I mean ...

    CR: Do you want that to never exist?

    HB: I don't. I mean, the fact that I even had to make this choice is terrible. But if West Philadelphia is no longer represented in song the way it is in The Fresh Prince theme, what do they have left? Answer, nothing. No apologies to you Philadelphia.

    CR: Listen, I understand. I just freaking love The Nanny theme song in California when growing up or Los Angeles, when public schools are overcrowded, they do this thing where everyone's on a rotation of when you're in school and I was on track A. So I went to school from August to December, but then my winter break, I didn't go back at the end of December until mid March.

    HB: Jeez.

    CR: So my parents had nothing for me to do for two and a half months and I watched The Nanny every morning. So ...

    HB: So you have just the complete Nanny in your head? I caught The Nanny in syndication like most people, but not the entire run. So kudos to you.

    CR: Okay, second topic which is sure to be harder, reality TV shows. Your choices are Vanderpump Rules, Survivor, American Idol, The Bachelor, The Bachelorette.

    HB: Okay. So I think that this is tough because American Idol gave us Kelly Clarkson, but it also gave us From Justin To Kelly. Vanderpump Rules, I love those beautiful idiots. Okay, I'm going to keep Vanderpump Rules. Everything else has to go. I'm so sorry.

    CR: That was my first one I was crossing off. Yes, season two and season three are defining seasons of reality TV as a whole, but oh my God, I don't even know why I'm saying this because I didn't even like the show but American Idol just feels so culturally important. Like my God, did that take the country by storm?

    HB: I mean, true. It absolutely did. But then you get to the later seasons and it's like, "Eh." Everything after Taylor Hicks, everyone stopped paying attention I feel like. That's just my opinion, man. Sorry Simon Cowell. Don't hunt me down and kill me, please sir.

    CR: Not to bring up The Voice again, but it is so interesting American Idol was able to turn all of these people into massive stars and hits and The Voice, I've watched every single season that show and I can't name one person that's one.

    HB: Here's the thing, you say all these people. But much like many of these reality competition shows, there's a couple but a bunch of seasons where you just don't remember anyone who won it. It's like the people who won America's Next Top Model, Project Runway down the line. It's same with American Idol, I feel like. We had Justin Kelly. We had Ruben Studdard and Taylor Hicks. We had Fantasia and that's everyone I can name from that show. By the way listeners, after we recorded I was reminded that Jennifer Hudson and Carrie Underwood both were on American idol. So stans of them, please again with the no murder request.

    HB: All right, so what do you out there think, listeners? Does the world fall apart without Seinfeld? Can we not survive without Survivor? Let us know. Send an email to And you can either write down your brilliant opinion or even better, record it as a voice memo and send it to us. That's or DM us on Twitter where we're also @newsoclock.

    CR: Okay. We have time for one more thing and it's all about love and grief.

    HB: Those things unfortunately do often go hand in hand. Yeah.

    CR: Yesterday was Vanessa Bryant's birthday and just last week would have been Gigi Bryant's 14th birthday, so it must have been a tough one for her. But she shared on Instagram that she found something really special the day before.

    HB: What was it?

    CR: It was an unopened letter from Kobe Bryant that he wrote before the crash that killed him and Gigi in January.

    HB: Oh wow.

    CR: I know. In her post, she said that the envelope was labeled to the love of my life from tu papi. And that while she wasn't going to share what was inside, she did say that the cover of the card was an artist drawing of her being held up by an angel.

    HB: Oh man. I just pulled up the post myself here and wow. Yeah. She ends with grateful to wake up to my three sweet girls today. Wish we were all together. This is a lot.

    CR: It really is, but it's just so, so sweet. I mean, I hope it was a comfort to her and I can't ... Finding words that your loved one wrote that you've never read before, I mean it is them. It's their voice. It's their thoughts. It's their love. You know?

    HB: I totally get that. I don't have anything quite like that myself, but there are people that I know who have found voicemails that they've forgotten about and things of that nature that just help them process and help them remember. And I really hope that that was the experience that Vanessa Bryant had here.

    CR: Definitely. My grandma actually passed away about three weeks ago from COVID-19 and when my mom and dad have been currently been going through their garage to clear it out. And she found a letter that she'd never read before from my grandma that was addressed to me and it was written the day after I was born and it told this whole story about what it was like, me being born and then how my mom and her got trapped in an elevator and my grandpa had to go find them. And it was funny and it was sweet and it was something totally unexpected. And I'm sure in that same way that Vanessa is treasuring that letter. And I'm just so happy seeing via social media the support that she's gotten from friends and loved ones and fans alike. I mean, Kobe Bryant is Kobe Bryant and she's definitely has the world's support and love.

    HB: Right. And like she said, she's got her three little girls to wake up to. So happy birthday, Vanessa.

    CR: That's it for today. Meet you back here tomorrow to talk to BuzzFeed books editor Arianna Rebolini about this month's BuzzFeed Book Club pick, Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth.

    HB: And remember, you can close Facebook and Twitter. I promise it can be done and I highly recommend it.

    CR: Be sure to subscribe to News O'Clock on the iHeartRadio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you go for your sound stories.

    HB: And please take the time to leave us a rating and review. It helps us figure out what you like about the show versus what you love about the show. Also, please tell your friends about us and make sure you all set your alarms so you never miss News O'Clock.