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Mar 28, 2020

Quarantine nation

Co-produced with PRX Logo

As the nation looks to quarantines as a way to contain the new coronavirus, host Al Letson speaks to a mom and her son, who decided to put themselves in separate quarantines after they each may have come into contact with the virus. 

Reveal’s Elizabeth Shogren follows with a report on new research that shows current quarantine guidelines may not be strict enough to stop the spread. 

For the roughly 2 million people incarcerated in the U.S., quarantine and isolation are more complicated – they don’t have a choice about living in close quarters. Our partners at KALW’s Uncuffed podcast bring us a conversation from inside California’s Solano state prison on the COVID-19 threat.

Emily Harris has the story of a 97-year-old woman who ended up in quarantine after boarding a cruise ship for Hawaii. Her story reflects how the country is weathering the pandemic with shortages, changing rules, broken promises and helping hands. 

Not long ago, California had a stockpile of more than 50 million N95 respirators, thousands of ventilators, multiple emergency field hospitals and tens of thousands of treatment beds. Our last story examines why the state gave up on medical stockpiles worth $214 million that would have been critical in battling COVID-19.

Credits

Reported by: Elizabeth Shogren, Jennifer Gollan, Will Evans, Will Carless, Lance Williams and Katharine Mieszkowski

Produced by: Emily Harris, Katharine Mieszkowski and Najib Aminy

Edited by: Taki Telonidis, Jen Chien, Kevin Sullivan and Brett Myers

Production manager: Mwende Hinojosa

Production assistance: Amy Mostafa

Sound design: Jim Briggs and Fernando Arruda

Mixing: Jim Briggs, Fernando Arruda and Najib Aminy

Special thanks: Eli Wirtschafter, Andrew Stelzer and Ben Trefny of KALW

Executive producer: Kevin Sullivan

Host: Al Letson

Additional editorial support from Esther Kaplan

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

The photo featured on this week's show is by by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA via AP Images.

Transcript

Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal's radio stories is the audio.
Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: It started here in California, the San Francisco and the Bay area ordering people to shelter in place. And as the coronavirus spreads, state after state has ordered non-essential businesses to close and people to stay at home. New York's governor calls it putting the state on pause. Indiana's says he's asking Hoosiers to hunker down.

 

Al Letson: As of March 25th, more than 100 million Americans were ordered to stay at home. Today, we're looking at people in the most extreme form of isolation, quarantine, and whether the current recommendation, 14 days, is enough to stop the virus from spreading.

 

Al Letson: Alexandra Trinkoff lives on Long Island in New York, and for her alarms went off a month ago, long before America's cities started going into lockdown.

 

Alexandra T.: So my son is a junior at Amherst College, and he was spending a semester abroad, in a program in Rome.

 

Al Letson: Her son's name is Zach, and he was having a great time in Italy, but all around him, the country was in crisis.

 

News Reporter: Every shopping business in this country shutdown, including- [crosstalk]

 

Al Letson: And each day the news was getting worse.

 

News Reporter: So, essentially, it was a kind of perfect storm. It wasn't- [crosstalk]

 

Al Letson: By the end of the first week of March...

 

Alexandra T.: We really wanted him to come home at that point, and he wasn't sure because his program kept saying, "It's fine, we're going to keep the program open." But we knew it wasn't. So, finally, we both all agreed that he would be on the plane on Sunday, March 9th, I think it was.

 

Al Letson: And as relieved as Alexandra was that Zach would soon be home, she wondered could he have the virus? Could he be bringing it back with him? Her husband's a doctor and she works in healthcare too, so at a time when most Americans were mostly going about their lives as usual, she made an extreme decision, and broke the news to her son just as he came off the plane.

 

Alexandra T.: When I met him, I had to tell him he had to go into quarantine.

 

Al Letson: Did you hug him when he first came off? Because, I imagine, like when my kids go away and I haven't seen him for a bit, the first thing we do is we hug.

 

Alexandra T.: No we did not. I had a mask on and gloves. First thing I did was hand him a mask and gloves, and we did not hug. We kind of smiled, and it was hard not to give him a hug.

 

Al Letson: After the drive home from the airport, Zach moved into the basement, which his mom had set up as his quarantine space.

 

Alexandra T.: I tried to envision what would a 20-year-old college kid, who just got pulled out of his dream place, want. I cleaned the basement and I filled up the refrigerator with cold cuts, and hot sauce, and bread, and pop tarts and double stuffed Oreos.

 

Al Letson: Is he still in the basement, right now?

 

Alexandra T.: He is, actually.

 

Al Letson: Can you get him to join us?

 

Alexandra T.: Sure, hold on.

 

Al Letson: Okay. He's going to be logging in from the basement, because he just can't be in the same room as Alexandra.

 

Alexandra T.: Hold on, I have to yell. Well, I guess I can text.

 

Al Letson: Zach, you there?

 

Zach: Yeah, I'm here.

 

Al Letson: Hey man, how are you?

 

Zach: I'm OK.

 

Al Letson: So, you leave Italy, take a long flight home, you get off the plane. What was your first reaction when your mom said, "You're going to be in quarantine when you get to the house"?

 

Zach: I get off the plane, and I see my mom waiting for me in a mask and gloves. At first, I thought it was kind of funny, because I had no symptoms. I was a bit confused.

 

Al Letson: Alexandra, the original plan was for Zach to stay isolated for 14 days, and things would go back to normal. But then, what happened to you?

 

Alexandra T.: After we set Zach up in the basement, I got a call that I had been exposed to someone who turned out to be COVID positive, and I sat pretty closely to the person in a meeting, and that I was being put on quarantine.

 

Al Letson: Wow. Where were you quarantining yourself at?

 

Alexandra T.: I'm quarantining myself in the main part of the house, where I have been. The other thing about my quarantine is, I had been walking around with my 17-year-old and my husband for three days already, having been exposed. We just decided that the three of us would quarantine in the upstairs, and Zach would stay downstairs.

 

Al Letson: How are you both feelings? Do you have any symptoms? Has anything popped up in the house?

 

Alexandra T.: No, thank God.

 

Zach: Yeah. I've been measuring my temperature every single day I've been here, and it's hovered below 98° the whole time.

 

Alexandra T.: Yeah, me too. I've been checking my fever, and I have none, so I'm really grateful.

 

Al Letson: You didn't have to do any of this though, right? I mean, this is something that you all decided to do for yourselves.

 

Alexandra T.: I had to, because I was required to by my work. But yeah, no one required Zach to self-isolate. We just felt like it was a really good idea, and that we could be good global citizens and not spread anything that we might have to our neighbors and friends.

 

Al Letson: Yeah. How are you guys filling up your time? What are you doing?

 

Alexandra T.: I'm boring. I'm literally working from 7:00 in the morning until 10:00 at night. Zach, what about you?

 

Zach: Yeah, interestingly enough, I still have my classes from the school in Italy. It's a little bit hard to focus on Italian class, when you're not in Italy anymore. But, it's a lot of watching Netflix, doing pushups, not too bad.

 

Al Letson: After being in Italy and seeing how serious it is, I'm curious what you would say to... a lot of young people your age feel like they're invincible, and they're not going to get it and they're going to be fine. What would you say to them?

 

Zach: Yeah. No, I definitely agree that some young people aren't taking it serious enough. I've seen social media people on spring break in Florida. While it may not threaten young people as much, young people can still spread it and make the situation even worse,

 

Al Letson: Zach, as a father to a 20 year old, I will tell you that the best lesson you can learn from this is always listen to your mom.

 

Alexandra T.: I agree.

 

Al Letson: That was Alexandra and her son Zach. They're quarantining for 14 days, which is pretty much the only number you hear about when it comes to how long you should isolate yourself. But new research suggests 14 days for people who may have come in contact with the coronavirus is not long enough to slow the pandemic. Reveal science reporter Elizabeth Shogren looked into that.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: The recommendation for 14-day quarantines comes from two pretty reliable sources, the World Health Organization and the CDC. Policymakers all around the world are making decisions based on it.

 

Eric Feigl-Ding: We're literally banning international travel and restricting people's movements, based on this 14-day number. It is actually one of the most impactful numbers.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Eric Feigl-Ding is an epidemiologist. He works for Harvard University and the Federation of American Scientists. He says, getting the length of the quarantine right is crucial to slow down this runaway epidemic. The 14 days is based on scientists' early estimates of how long it takes for people to get sick after being exposed to the coronavirus. That's called an incubation period.

 

Eric Feigl-Ding: The problem with that is, that some people actually have a longer incubation time than what the quarantine 14-day limit is.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: If those people leave quarantine after just 14 days, that could spread the disease to more of us.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: The World Health Organization and the CDC didn't have much to go on, when they set the 14-day quarantine. COVID 19 was new, there were hardly any studies of patients who got it. But on March 15th, Chinese and Canadian scientists released a study of more than 2,000 people who got the virus in China. It found that more than 10% of them didn't get symptoms until after 14 days.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Let's say all those people had been in a two-week quarantine. You'd have more than 200 people released to the streets, potentially infecting others. In those cases, the quarantine hasn't done its job. Eric says having a quarantine that's too short is especially risky. In countries like ours, where there's very little testing.

 

Eric Feigl-Ding: Because the quarantine is like a cordon, it's like a perimeter around someone who you suspect may or may not have this virus. But if you don't have a good testing system around it for someone that escapes this quarantine detection, then you better have a really comprehensive longer quarantine.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: So, according to this new research, a 14-day quarantine is not long enough for people who may have come into contact with the coronavirus. They could potentially infect others after their quarantines are up.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: But what are we doing when it comes to isolating people who actually get sick, and come down with COVID 19? How long are they being told to quarantine?

 

Kathryn  Pyle: My name is Kathryn Pyle and I live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I'm 74 years old, and I'm a filmmaker.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: A couple of weeks ago, Kathryn was feeling really lousy.

 

Kathryn  Pyle: I just crashed with real severe fatigue, a killer headache. But I also had a dry cough, kind of mild chills.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: After a few days of this, she went to the ER. Doctors told her they could not test her, because they were only testing people who'd traveled to countries with known outbreaks, or had been in close contact with COVID 19 patients. Still, they couldn't rule out COVID 19. They told her to go home, and quarantine herself.

 

Kathryn  Pyle: I've been self-quarantined since then, really confined to my house. A couple of friends have done grocery shopping for me, which has been great. I've just been careful not to interact with them.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Kathryn pulled out her turquoise appointment book, and started calling people. She tracked down friends and colleagues she'd seen recently, to warn them she might have COVID 19.

 

Kathryn  Pyle: The uncertainty has really been the most difficult part emotionally, for sure, because I didn't want to alarm people that I had been with. But I also felt responsible that I should tell them that there was this possibility, so that they could be alert for symptoms.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: As for how long Kathryn should remain isolated, there isn't clear guidance on that either. Based on her doctor's recommendation, she decided to stay quarantined for 14 days from the initial symptoms. The World Health Organization has much stricter guidelines. They say someone with COVID 19 should stay isolated for 14 days after their symptoms go away. The CDC on the other hand, says after your fever breaks, three days of isolation is enough.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Eric, the epidemiologist says, even if you feel fine, coming out of isolation too soon is potentially dangerous, because early research shows people still have the coronavirus in their bodies for days or weeks after their symptoms disappear.

 

Eric Feigl-Ding: Even after you're recovered, you could still have virus shedding from your body.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Shedding, meaning you could be infecting other people. That's something that worried Texas governor, Greg Abbott, after the CDC prematurely released a woman from quarantine.

 

Gov Greg Abbott: What the CDC did is completely unacceptable. I think they understand the magnitude of the error they made.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: The woman had visited Wuhan, China, and tested positive for COVID 19. She was put in quarantine in San Antonio. Weeks later, she was tested again. After two negative tests, the CDC released her. She went shopping and ate in a food court. But then results came back from a third test, it was positive.

 

Eric Feigl-Ding: Potentially, did we endanger the people of San Antonio because we did not quarantine on someone long enough?

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Eric says, until we know a lot more about the coronavirus, we need to play it safe and go with the WHO's recommendation for a longer isolation, 14 days after symptoms disappear.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Back in Philadelphia, Kathryn's quarantine is about to end. But she plans to keep to herself.

 

Kathryn  Pyle: I probably am not going to feel comfortable having transactions with people, buying things in a store for probably another five days, just to be cautious.

 

Elizabeth Shogr...: Being in quarantine has given Kathryn a lot of time for reflection.

 

Kathryn  Pyle: The title of a book that I'd read a long time ago kind of drifted into my mind, Love in the Time of Cholera, by Gabriel García Márquez. I started thinking about love in the time of Corona, and started collecting these, just kind of random reports that friends would send me about what was happening in their lives, that were just really helpful things or fun things or beautiful things. I mean, we don't have Italians singing out of their balconies, because that's not really how our cities are set up. But there's a lot of other things going on, that are just really worth focusing on.

 

Al Letson: That story was from Reveal's Elizabeth Shogren.

 

Al Letson: Experts fear we could be on the verge of an explosion of COVID 19, with millions of Americans getting sick. Our only hope of slowing it down maybe to follow Kathryn and Eric's lead, and take quarantining seriously whether we feel sick or not. Some people don't get to decide whether they're quarantined or not. When we come back, we'll hear from people inside a prison. And we follow the story of a 97-year-old woman, who was put in government warranty.

 

Janice Tiller: I feel like the people in this entire country should know what really happened, and what they can expect if a terrible emergency occurs in their home area.

 

Al Letson: You're listening to Reveal.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: Quarantines, social distancing, self-isolation are always, people are trying to keep themselves and others safe. But for the roughly 2 million incarcerated people in the US, it's a different story. They don't have a choice about living in close quarters, and their concerns about how quickly the virus could spread behind bars.

 

News Reporter: An inmate at the Massachusets treatment center in Bridgewater has tested positive for coronavirus.

 

News Reporter: One inmate at Rikers Island has contracted the coronavirus, and now families are worried about the safety of their loved ones.

 

News Reporter: Worries are growing about the viral outbreaks spreading through jails and prisons in Illinois.

 

Al Letson: How are people who are incarcerated dealing with the coronavirus? We partnered with San Francisco public radio station KALW and their podcast, Uncuffed, to find out. The show is made by radio producers inside California prisons.

 

B.F. Thames: We're at Solano State Prison, this is Uncuffed. I am Brian Thames, B.F. Thames, along with my Uncuffed buddies...

 

Damon Cooke: Damon Cooke.

 

Spoon Jackson: Spoon Jackson, the Knight of Realness.

 

Steve Drown: Steve Drown.

 

Bryan Mazza: Bryan Mazza.

 

Mayito Guzman: [Mayito Guzman 00:17:00].

 

B.F. Thames: We understand that people probably want to know our perspective as prisoners, of this whole coronavirus thing.

 

Damon Cooke: I think it's more dangerous in here, simply because we're in a closed environment. This is fish in a barrel, this is what's going on. In here, we can't move around. If I'm on the streets, I can go to my house and self-quarantine myself. I don't have to move around. But in here, I'm forced to be in there with the men. So if one infestation comes in from one outside source, everyone is doomed to get it because I live in a communicable environment. I live in a dorm.

 

Damon Cooke: There's 250 men in a dorm. So if one guy gets it, everybody's going to get it, because they're going to shut the door, and now I'm forced to have to breathe all the air in there.

 

Mayito Guzman: Clearly, it depends on your housing. I'm in the cell, I'm not in a dorm. So, in that sense, I feel like, on one hand I feel safer. But once it's in to the prison, that, what do they call that? Dormant stage? That's where it's scary, because you don't know at what point it comes in and at what point you touch what. It could be some of the smallest thing that you never thought nothing of, and boom, you find out a week later that you got that the cooties.

 

Spoon Jackson: I give the prison some credit for having a building, where they take people that are dealing with one of them viruses-

 

Uncuffed Speake...: A quarantine building.

 

Spoon Jackson: ... a quarantine building, and put them over there. So they do have that, in general.

 

Uncuffed Speake...: Does that fit into how the prison is preparing for the coronavirus?

 

Spoon Jackson: No, they're not preparing, they don't know what to prepare. What can you prepare for this thing, other than washing your hands?

 

Uncuffed Speake...: Nothing you can do. It's going to be here, it's going to come in here. People are going to get sick, and there's nothing that anybody could do anything about. Washing their hands? If you're going to get sick, you're going to get sick. Period.

 

Damon Cooke: I was at San Quentin, and Legionnaires kicked in. When that happened, everything shut down. The entire prison shut down, including the meals. You want to know what's fear is, is when they say there's no movement at all, and then no one comes, including the officers. And you start saying, "What is this?" Then they come in with hazmat suits, and they bring you out of your cell 10 at a time, and it takes all day just to shower you from trucks that they've drove into the prison.

 

Uncuffed Speake...: That's happened before?

 

Damon Cooke: Absolutely.

 

Uncuffed Speake...: San Quentin, a couple years ago.

 

Damon Cooke: It happened. [crosstalk]

 

Uncuffed Speake...: The feds [crosstalk] a water truck.

 

Damon Cooke: I lived it.

 

B.F. Thames: I wasn't aware of that.

 

Damon Cooke: I lived it.

 

B.F. Thames: My major concern being in this type of environment, I would be really concerned about people who work within the prisons, whether it's free staff, correctional officers, or otherwise, coming through and dehumanizing us. You know, that happens sometimes anyway. But that will be my only concern.

 

Mayito Guzman: That's the whole thought of being expendable. We're easier to cut off and get rid of, than the average citizen. In that light, what was it? A year ago when the hill was on fire up here? When that fire came through? From where I'm at, outside my window, we could see that. First thing that went was staff, they were suddenly gone. You could hear people start to freak out about it.

 

Mayito Guzman: Then when the smoke started coming in, and outside the window, you could see that thing coming down the hill. And then, now you got some guy in the door yelling, "Man Down," for 20 minutes, and he's freaking out. And there's no one to be seen. That's something that, at the end of the day, it's in the back of the mind.

 

Bryan Mazza: That's a good point, because I remember the power went out and all the air in the building was gone. Then the building started to fill up with smoke, and they left us in there, locked inside that building like that.

 

Damon Cooke: That's a different type of feeling, [inaudible] I can imagine, if we were on the street. Because if you know that somebody has the power to cut the power off, somebody has the power to walk out the door and lock the door behind them, that's a different feeling than you locking yourself in.

 

Damon Cooke: Just having that in your mind, you can't help but think, "Wow, we're expendable." Even though we didn't do anything to bring his virus into us, we're susceptible to a whole bunch of other things that people on the outside world aren't susceptible to.

 

Al Letson: Thanks for that story from the podcast Uncuffed, made by producers incarcerated in California prisons. This conversation came from Solano State Prison. Uncuffed is supported by the California Arts Council and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. All content is approved by a prison information officer. Special thanks to Andrew Stelzer, Eli Wirtschafter and KALW.

 

Al Letson: Nine days after this story was recorded, California prison authorities announced the first cases of COVID 19. Statewide, one inmate and five correctional staff. California prisons are operating at over 130% capacity.

 

Al Letson: Time seems to be moving differently in this age of the coronavirus. A day could feel like a week, a week like a month. Six weeks ago feels like another lifetime. That's February 21st, the coronavirus is spreading around the globe, but officially it isn't a pandemic yet. Tens of thousands of people have tested positive. In the US no one has died yet, and there are only about three dozen cases.

 

Al Letson: Janice Tiller is in San Francisco, about to board the Grand Princess cruise ship for Hawaii.

 

Janice Tiller: [Thirst] and I have taken several cruises, and we've always enjoyed them.

 

Al Letson: Thirst is Janice's husband.

 

Janice Tiller: Thirst, just like being thirsty.

 

Al Letson: Janice is 97 years old. Thirst is younger, he's 82, but he's not as spry.

 

Janice Tiller: He has had major heart attack, several back surgeries, he's diabetic, he takes four insulin shots a day.

 

Al Letson: Janice and Thirst didn't know this, but the coronaviruses is onboard too. An invisible, deadly stowaway, mingling with the three and a half thousand passengers and crew. No one knows exactly when the virus came onboard, but we do know this. A California man who got off the ship the day Janice and Thirst got on, later died from COVID 19. Dozens of people who had traveled with that man were still on board when the news broke.

 

Sharon Tiller: It was like, "Oh my God, this is the ship that my mother is on."

 

Al Letson: Sharon tiller is one of Janice's four children. She's a longtime journalist, she actually led our organization for several years and she reported for Frontline, including on epidemics.

 

Sharon Tiller: Having reported too, on SARS, I kind of knew what the trajectory would be and also what the risks were.

 

Al Letson: Janice has seen a lot in her 97 years, but nothing like this. The federal government sends all US passengers into mandatory quarantine, even though it may be too late for passengers who are already affected. The response to this single outbreak reflects the government's attempt to manage the pandemic. It's a story of shortages, changing rules, broken promises, and helping hands. Reveal's Emily Harris follows along, at a healthy distance.

 

Emily Harris: The day after the man from the previous voyage died, US officials order all Grand Princess passengers to quarantine in their rooms. Janice and Thirst sit in their suite, and they wait.

 

Janice Tiller: The captain would come on, maybe three times a day, and he would apologize. Because these people from the government, they kept changing what they wanted to do.

 

Emily Harris: The coast guard flies out tests, and 21 people on the Grand Princess come up positive for the coronavirus. But nobody knows how many are really infected, because fewer than 50 people are tested; only if they have symptoms or were on an earlier cruise on the same ship. Vice President Mike Pence promises the testing will expand.

 

V.P. Mike Pence: All passengers and crew will be tested for the coronavirus.

 

Emily Harris: That's the promise, but here's what happens. The ship docks in Oakland, California and passengers are sent to military bases for two weeks of quarantine. Janice and Thirst get put on a bus for Travis Air Force Base. It's only 50 miles away, but Janice says the process takes hours.

 

Janice Tiller: We sat, and we sat, and we sat. We were loaded on the bus at 6:00. We got to Travis Air Base at 11:00. By the time we were able to go to bed, it was 10 minutes at 1:00.

 

Emily Harris: Sharon only knows her mom is off the ship.

 

Sharon Tiller: There was no real information. Nobody said anything about checking their temperature or testing, anything of that sort. They just assigned them rooms, and up they went.

 

Emily Harris: The next morning the sun comes out, everything seems better.

 

Janice Tiller: This is really a very lovely facility here, I am amazed.

 

Emily Harris: Janice and Thirst are in a nice third floor room of the Westwind Inn, a hotel well rated by Air Force base visitors. Breakfast is served downstairs off the lobby, Janice wants coffee.

 

Janice Tiller: I went down, I could not believe it. People were lined up back from that big lobby area, back to the hall, pushing and trying to cut in, to try to coffee and food. I so regretted that I didn't have my phone, to take a picture that total chaos.

 

Emily Harris: And chaos won't contain the coronavirus, so the quarantine rules get changed.

 

Janice Tiller: They announced there would be no more food served down there. Due to the chaos of the morning, we would have all meals served to our rooms.

 

Emily Harris: "Good," Janice, thanks. "No fighting for food with people who might have a deadly disease." But room service has problems, too. I call Janice, almost every day.

 

Janice Tiller: Oh Emily, how are you today?

 

Emily Harris: I'm pretty good. How are you Janice?

 

Emily Harris: And she always tells me what food arrives, and when.

 

Janice Tiller: Today was one of the earliest for lunch, they came at about 2:20. Do you want to know what time they served dinner last night?

 

Emily Harris: What time?

 

Janice Tiller: 8:30 to 20 of 9:00.

 

Emily Harris: if Janice sounds like a gripy old lady, remember this: Thirst takes insulin for his diabetes four times a day with something to eat. If he doesn't take it on time, he can get really sick. Because of this irregular meal delivery, Janice starts skipping her lunch in case Thirst needs the food later. This works, to a point.

 

Janice Tiller: Not last night, but the night before, and actually it was at 4:00 in the morning, he had what we both term as diabetic downer.

 

Emily Harris: Thirst wakes up out of whack.

 

Janice Tiller: Then he must have passed out, because when I woke up, he told he had been calling me and calling me.

 

Emily Harris: Janice takes out her hearing AIDS when she goes to bed, so she hasn't heard him. She has a phone number for medical emergencies, that was handed out by the US Department of Health and Human Services. That's the agency in charge here, but nobody answers that phone. So Janice calls 911.

 

Janice Tiller: I couldn't get him up. I can't get him up. So he tried to help me slide over. With the help of both of us, he slid his back, and he got under the carpet. Then he could put his hands up on the bed, and I sort of get under his arms. But see, there's no help. I didn't have any Apple juice.

 

Emily Harris: Apple juice, that's her magic medicine for Thirst's diabetes. At home, she always has some on hand. Here in quarantine, the staff who show up after her 911 call don't have any. As far as Janice is concerned, they don't have anything.

 

Janice Tiller: I feel like the people in this entire country should know what really happens, and what they can expect if a terrible emergency occurs in their home area.

 

Emily Harris: Outside the base, a national emergency is unfolding. Colleges are shutting down. March Madness is canceled. People are warned to avoid large gatherings. On the base, Janice still hasn't been tested for coronavirus. She feels that ad hoc quarantine management, is making a tough situation terrible.

 

Emily Harris: She does find some bright spots. A CDC staff person hears about Thirst's diabetes, and goes out on his own to buy them some Apple juice. A British couple helps them haul their heavy suitcases upstairs, and a Lieutenant Colonel at the front desk digs up a shower stool. All these little things make quarantine a little better.

 

Janice Tiller: I mean, it's just unbelievable, the kindness. That's an incredible positive. But I do have to say, there's no organization. It seems to me, there's nobody in charge.

 

Emily Harris: Other passengers quarantined at other bases, are saying the same thing. By now, it's day nine of Janice's quarantine. I'm wondering if she's been tested, like Vice President Pence promised all passengers would be?

 

Janice Tiller: Oh, here it is, right here. Everyone will have the opportunity to be tested, and you are not required to be tested. The results of the testing are anticipated do take several days. If the results of your tests are pending, then it is possible it may delay your departure.

 

Emily Harris: So when you read that, what did you think?

 

Janice Tiller: Oh, I thought that I didn't want to be tested. I don't want to be quarantined here longer.

 

Emily Harris: Everyone here gets their temperature taken twice a day. They're all issued masks, which they're supposed to wear when they answer the door or go outside their rooms. Janice and Thirst don't show any symptoms of coronavirus, and they never get tested. Janice doesn't know how many people do.

 

Emily Harris: But one night, the British couple who helped with the luggage are out for a walk. There's only a small area, because the hotel has been fenced in for quarantine. Guards or even posted outside, presumably to make sure no one sneaks out. Anyway, Sue [Nacky] spots a man who looks kind of official.

 

Sue Nacky: He was on the other side of the fence, and we asked him various questions. He knew just how many of us were here, and how many people are tested positive. He didn't tell us not to take the tests, but all his answers made us feel that he wasn't particularly recommending it.

 

Emily Harris: HHS officials say, that more than 1,000 passengers eventually choose to take the test. Of the 800 or so initial results, almost 13% come back positive. Janice knows nothing of this. She perks up over the next few days. Her kids are sending packages. One has Lysol and little towelettes.

 

Janice Tiller: This morning I'm positive, because I'm able to clean and sanitize everything, even the fronts of the cupboard.

 

Emily Harris: Another is stuffed with candy, that she loves.

 

Janice Tiller: Between my gummy bears and my chocolate kisses, I'm doing really great,

 

Emily Harris: But when I call on day 11, something's different.

 

Janice Tiller: Hello?

 

Emily Harris: Hey, Janice. It's Emily Harris. How you doing?

 

Janice Tiller: I guess okay, Emily. [inaudible 00:33:09], not too sure. Just let me sit down for a second, all right?

 

Emily Harris: Janice has three days to go, in her 14-day quarantine.

 

Emily Harris: You sitting down?

 

Janice Tiller: I'm sitting down, yes. I can't quite believe what's happened here, all of a sudden. All the meals-

 

Emily Harris: Janice tries to stick to our usual conversation about logistics, about food. But she soon brings up what's really on her mind, it's her husband.

 

Janice Tiller: I don't mind, that he can hear this. I have noticed, very definitely, the mental stress he's under. This morning, he just really exploded at me. Not physically, orally. He accused me of, every time he says something to me that I get angry, or I jump on him.

 

Janice Tiller: It's very hard for me, Emily, right now. I don't feel I deserve that. Because, the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, is go over, make his coffee, take it to him. When the meals come, I bring it over here to the desk, and try to open up his utensils, ask what he wants to drink.

 

Janice Tiller: I tried to explain to him, that we're in this together and that we should try to really be kind or another. And so, Emily, it's not a good day for me. I'm sorry.

 

Emily Harris: I'm sorry.

 

Janice Tiller: Well, I know. But I think you want to know the truth of what's happening to people in here. I'm positive, I'm not the only one who is having real mental stress. I mean, this is... it's not a normal situation for any of us.

 

Emily Harris: The next day, I asked Janice if Thirst would like to talk a little bit?

 

Janice Tiller: Let me just turn around, and ask him.

 

Emily Harris: Okay. Thanks.

 

Janice Tiller: Would you like to just come, and talk to her for a couple of minutes? Emily, he is coming over.

 

Thirst Tiller: Hello, Emily.

 

Emily Harris: Hi, Thirst. How you doing?

 

Thirst Tiller: I'm hanging in there.

 

Emily Harris: Good to hear. Tell me just a little bit about your experience, if you don't mind.

 

Thirst Tiller: Not much to say about it, It's kind of frustrating to be detained on the ship for four days, and then coming over here for 14. It works on you a little bit, but you can try to laugh about it. The only thing you worry about, is getting home and paying the bills. I'm falling behind on the bills, now.

 

Emily Harris: Janice and Thirst leave Travis Air Force Base, 14 days after they arrived. CDC nurses take their temperatures one last time, and they get a certificate proclaiming them officially out of quarantine. Janice doesn't know this, but HHS later tells me, that passengers who are still waiting for their coronavirus test results get to leave too.

 

Emily Harris: On the bus ride off the base, Janice sees that seats are taped off so passengers won't sit next to each other.

 

Janice Tiller: But this couple in front of us had no masks on, no gloves. I did not take my mask or my gloves off, until I was in my house here.

 

Emily Harris: I called Janice again after, they get home. She's paying bills and trying to fill prescriptions.

 

Janice Tiller: Hello, Emily. What's up?

 

Emily Harris: I have bad news to share with her.

 

Emily Harris: I feel actually, very awkward about being the one to tell you this. But, two people who were on the ship have now died of coronavirus. One was taken from the ship to the hospital, and the other was on Travis Air Force Base for awhile. I wondered if you'd heard that, and-

 

Janice Tiller: No. Absolutely, not. And I'm really happy that you're telling me.

 

Emily Harris: It turns out Janice had asked a CDC staff member just before leaving the base, whether anyone had been taken away with symptoms of COVID 19.

 

Janice Tiller: They just nodded, and said, "Yes, a few." And that was the end of the conversation.

 

Emily Harris: She thinks back on her time in quarantine, and realizes there were signs that some people had been getting sick. Now she wonders how safe she is. in this changed world. We say goodbye.

 

Janice Tiller: It's been such a pleasure just talking to you, you allowing me to sort of vent.

 

Emily Harris: It's been a real pleasure talking to you, too. Bye. [inaudible]

 

Al Letson: That story from Reveal's, Emily Harris.

 

Al Letson: Across the country, hospitals are scrambling for medical supplies. Up next, we look at what happened in California, with a state, once had a huge stockpile to deal with a health crisis. This is Reveal, from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.

 

Al Letson: From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I'm Al Letson.

 

Al Letson: Today, we've been talking about how the country is responding to the coronavirus. One thing that's a huge challenge, is just having enough supplies on hand. As people get really sick, hospitals are seeking more ventilators to help critically ill patients breathe. In New York city, one of the hardest hit areas, the city's public hospitals are already desperate.

 

Bill de Blasio: If we don't get ventilators this week, we're going to start losing lives we could have saved. I can't be blunter than that.

 

Al Letson: That's New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio, speaking on CNN.

 

Bill de Blasio: I will take any help from anywhere, because what's happening out- [crosstalk]

 

Al Letson: The shortage of ventilators has become so dire, that General Motors, Ford and Tesla are talking about retooling their factories to start making ventilators. But we've learned about a stockpile, built for exactly this kind of situation. A stockpile that made California, here where we're based, one of the most prepared States in the US.

 

Arnold Schwarze...: I want you to know that California is prepared.

 

Al Letson: That's Arnold Schwarzenegger, speaking on his weekly radio address, back when he was governor of California.

 

Arnold Schwarze...: In fact, no state is more prepared to handle this type of emergency than California. We have been preparing for a flu crisis, for a very long time. We have all the essential building blocks in place, to protect the public. We have concerns, but we are also confident.

 

Al Letson: But since then, California let that stockpile slip away. Dr. Howard Backer was there for all of it.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: I am an emergency physician, who also has a degree in public health, and then state government experience in disaster medicine.

 

Al Letson: Dr. Backer worked for 25 years in emergency rooms, before becoming a top health official, overseeing disaster preparedness and planning for a pandemic.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: Bio-terrorism fears started after 911, so we began doing various kinds of disaster planning around infectious agents. First smallpox, and then anthrax, and then pandemic influenza.

 

Al Letson: But it was in 2006, that California got really serious about disaster planning.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: The main pandemic threat at that time was H5N1.

 

Al Letson: Better known as the bird flu. California decided to invest in stockpiling medical supplies.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: It was a pretty big investment. If I remember, it was close to $180 million, at the time.

 

Al Letson: It was ultimately more than $200 million. What the state got for that money were exactly the kind of supplies, that hospitals across the country are scrambling for now because of coronavirus.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: We invested in 95 respirators, which I think everyone knows what those are now.

 

Al Letson: Those are the masks that are now in such short supply, that some hospitals are rationing or reusing them. The state bought more than 50 million N95s. Then there were these hospitals in a box, they came with all the equipment. There were three of them with 200 beds each, and they could be set up in just 72 hours. They're called mobile field hospitals.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: These were complex enough, that they would have an operating room, intensive care unit, an emergency department and wards.

 

Al Letson: The state also amassed enough supplies to set up 21,000 beds for patients, in places like gymnasiums or community centers. Then, there were the ventilators.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: We had 2,400 ventilators.

 

Al Letson: COVID 19 attacks the respiratory system. For the worst cases, ventilators can be lifesaving. But when supplies run out, doctors can be forced into making life and death decisions, by deciding which patients get one and which patients don't. That's already happening in Italy. All the supplies California had gathered, would be clutch right now,

 

Dr. Howard Back...: They're exactly what you see needed right now, for COVID 19, N95 respirators, ventilators.

 

Al Letson: So, California built up a big stockpile to prepare for crisis like coronavirus. But then, the state ran headlong into another crisis, the 2008 recession. The housing bust crashed the state's economy, and put California billions of dollars in the red.

 

Gov. Jerry Brow...: Hi, I'm governor Jerry Brown. When I took office last year, California faced a staggering deficit of over $26 billion, and red ink as far as the eye could see.

 

Al Letson: Keeping up these emergency supplies, it wasn't a priority.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: These were large amounts of equipment, and required temperature controlled, thousands of feet of warehouse space.

 

Al Letson: The state had invested $214 million for the supplies. But to store and maintain that stockpile, there were annual costs that were comparatively, pretty small.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: A total of about $6 million, per year.

 

Al Letson: Dr Backer fought to keep the stock pile going

 

Dr. Howard Back...: With pandemics, we know they come around, but we can't predict exactly when. We knew it was just a matter of time, but we couldn't give anyone reassurances that, "Oh, this is going to happen in the next four years." It could have been another 20 years.

 

Al Letson: Times were so tough, that California was cutting deep. Slashing things that people were using right then, from state parks to healthcare. Responding to some future pandemic didn't make the cut. Dr Backer went outside the government, hoping to find a partner to keep the stockpile afloat.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: We went to large corporations, we went to health care systems, we went to foundations, and we went to nonprofits to see if they would want to partner with us.

 

Al Letson: But he didn't find many takers. Companies said, "Why should we pay for this? It's the state's responsibility."

 

Dr. Howard Back...: Well, there wasn't much we could say, since we represented the state. All we could say was, "Well, the state is in very difficult budgetary situation right now," and-

 

Al Letson: In the end, the whole stockpile concept just fell apart. California doled out ventilators to hospitals throughout the state, hoping they'd pay for the upkeep so the ventilators would be ready in a crisis.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: I have no idea how many of those are viable at this time, or even if the hospitals know where they were stored.

 

Al Letson: The California Department of Public Health told us, it still has 900 ventilators on hand. But when we asked whether they were in working order, they didn't respond. They also refused our interview requests. As for the rest of the stockpile, like masks, some were used during emergencies like California's wildfires, and they weren't replaced. The state is now distributing 21 million masks, but there's a catch. They're expired. The state warns against using those with COVID 19 patients.

 

Al Letson: And those 21,000 beds, that were going to be set up in community centers and gyms, the state gave some of them away and even looked into trashing them. But those fancy mobile field hospitals didn't go without a fight.

 

Sen. Hannah-Bet...: I appreciate the fact that we're here today to talk about an issue, that if, God forbid, but if and when it does happen, the public is going to expect and demand that we are as ready as is humanly possible.

 

Al Letson: That's State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, speaking at a 2015 hearing on emergency management. By this time, the state budget was healthier, nearly balanced. But the state had already given up on keeping two of the mobile hospitals at the ready, and they were about to defund a third.

 

Sen. Hannah-Bet...: Frankly, it seems to me like an incredible waste of resources, to have these things sitting inactive and unusable. I mean, this is, I won't say ludicrous, but it's kind of bordering on, what in the heck are we doing? So, could you tell us what efforts are being made to try to reinstate these facilities? We never know when that next disaster is going to occur, but if these things have been mothballed, there are going to be a lot of questions asked.

 

Emergency Meeti...: Certainly. Excuse me. Thank you very much for your question, Senator Jackson. We have never stopped pursuing all avenues to maintain the hospital program.

 

Al Letson: By 2016, the state revamped the mobile field hospitals. Opening them up to be used more often, but without the sophisticated medical equipment. So today, those hospitals in a box are now more like tents.

 

Dr. Howard Back...: What we had to do, is downgrade them from acute care level, to more of a shelter, low acuity level.

 

Al Letson: Now, California is one of the US hotspots for coronavirus, and desperate for medical supplies like masks. So much so, that the union, National Nurses United, is publishing video testimonials from California nurses.

 

National Nurses...: We're running low on gowns, we're running low on masks.

 

National Nurses...: We need the face shields. It's causing a lot of anxiety.

 

National Nurses...: We have a very limited supply of regular surgical masks. So limited, that they are being hidden or locked up by management.

 

National Nurses...: It is scary being a nurse right now.

 

Al Letson: As for Dr. Becker, he retired last year. It is hard for him to sit on the sidelines, watching how the crisis he planned for is unfolding in his state. He says he feels...

 

Dr. Howard Back...: Pretty impotent. It's disappointing, and frustrating. You look back and you say, "Okay, how could this have happened, that we had these resources and let them go?"

 

Al Letson: Squandering an advantage, that could be helping us fight the coronavirus right now.

 

Al Letson: That story was reported by Reveal's Will Evans, Will Carless and Lance Williams. It was produced by Katharine Mieszkowski.

 

Al Letson: This week's show was a huge group effort, with reporting and producing from Elizabeth Shogren, Jennifer Gollan, Emily Harris, Will Evans, Will Carless Lance Williams. Katharine Mieszkowski and Najib Aminy. The show was edited by Taki Telonidis, Brett Myers, and Jen Chien.

 

Al Letson: We had additional editorial support from Esther Kaplan. Victoria Baranetsky is our general counsel. Our production manager's Mwende Hinojosa. Score and sound designed by the dynamic duo, J Breezy, Mr. Jim Briggs and Fernando, my man, Arruda. [inaudible] help this week from Amy Mostafa.

 

Al Letson: Our CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Matt Thompson is our editor in chief, and our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado, Lightning.

 

Al Letson: Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation, the Democracy Fund, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

 

Al Letson: Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I'm Al Letson. Remember, the only way we get through this is together.

 

Announcer: From PRX.