Martin Kaste

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced police will no longer require people to wear masks in public, unless the absence of a mask presents a "serious danger."

One of the few silver linings to this pandemic is that in most places, there's been less crime.

"Calls for service are certainly down," says Sgt. Adam Plantinga of the San Francisco Police Department. "No open bars means there's fewer late-night brawls, and people are home more, so burglars are having a tougher time of it."

Police departments across the country are facing a new reality in the era of coronavirus. As familiar categories of crime fade, officers are being asked to handle unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable new assignments.

If life is going to return to anything like normal in the next few months, experts say we're going to need a lot more "contact tracers."

Those are the public health workers who get in touch with someone who's tested positive for a disease, to find out who else he or she might have been in contact with. It's a long-standing practice for illnesses such as tuberculosis and AIDS, and now, as states reopen, it'll be a crucial tool for keeping a lid on the coronavirus.

In mid-March, he was a cautionary tale for medical workers: an unnamed doctor in his 40s" with a case of COVID-19 so bad that he was near death.

Almost a month later, 45-year-old emergency physician Ryan Padgett is back in his home in Seattle, rebuilding his strength and marveling at how quickly the novel virus laid him low.

"This is very scary," he says. "That it's not only medically fragile patients, but young people can be cut at the knees and taken down by this."

Medical rationing is not something Americans are accustomed to, but COVID-19 may soon change that.

The specter of rationing is most imminent in New York City, where the virus is spreading rapidly and overwhelming hospitals with patients.

According to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the state has 2,200 ventilators in its state stockpile. Current COVID-19 case projections suggest the state may not have enough of the machines, which help critically ill people breathe, as soon as next week.

Could it really be true that hospitalizations of patients with COVID-19-like symptoms actually dropped 20 percent last week in Washington, according to state numbers reported last night by the Seattle Times?

As COVID-19 spreads, public health officials are telling people to stay home if they feel sick. But in jails and prisons, that's not an option.

Robert Greifinger is a physician who spent 25 years working on health care issues inside the nation's prisons and jails, and he says the "social distancing" advice we're all hearing right now isn't so simple behind bars.

"There are crowding issues, ventilation issues, security issues where people have to be checked and monitored fairly frequently," Greifinger says. "So it's really hard to do."

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The Trump administration has revived the debate over "end-to-end encryption" — systems so secure that the tech companies themselves aren't able to read the messages, even when police present them with a warrant.

"It is hard to overstate how perilous this is," U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a speech last fall. "By enabling dangerous criminals to cloak their communications and activities behind an essentially impenetrable digital shield, the deployment of warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society."

Cybercrime is booming, and victims are often at a loss about where to get help.

In theory, Americans should report the crimes to the FBI, via its Internet Crime Complaint Center. In practice, the feds get hundreds of thousands of complaints a year, and have to focus on the biggest cases.

But the other option, calling the police, can seem even less promising.

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Over the last generation, gun rights have expanded in America, especially the right to carry firearms, both concealed and in the open. The big exception to this expanding gun culture has been New York City.

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Time now for All Tech Considered.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

The secret to comedy, according to the old joke, is timing. The same is true of cybercrime.

Mark learned this the hard way in 2017. He runs a real estate company in Seattle and asked us not to include his last name because of the possible repercussions for his business.

"The idea that someone was effectively able to dupe you ... is embarrassing," he says. "We're still kind of scratching our head over how it happened."

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