MPR News with Kerri Miller

Minnesota Public Radio

Conversations on news and culture with Kerri Miller. Weekdays from MPR News.

All Episodes

Families are intricate, made up of interwoven and multilayered relationships. Sue Miller’s newest book, “Monogamy” examines these complex ties amidst a family who loses their beloved and gregarious father, Graham. After his death, his second wife Annie, discovers Graham wasn’t always faithful during their 30-year marriage. The resulting grief, anger, reassessing and, ultimately, acceptance is the work of being human. Sue Miller’s own life informed her new book, as she tells Kerri Miller in the above interview. But her book also taught her how to embrace the broken and beautiful bits of her own life. Guest: Sue Miller, author of many novels including the new book “Monogamy” To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS  

Sep 18

49 min

Here’s how presidential elections normally work: Votes are cast on the first Tuesday in November. Ballots are counted. And usually, sometime late that night, a winner is announced. Not this year. Election officials are expecting a big bump in mail-in ballots, which take longer to count. Some experts think up to half of all ballots cast this year will be done by mail. That means it could be days or even weeks before we know if President Donald Trump won a second term or if Democratic contender Joe Biden unseated him. Thursday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller will talk with two voting experts about what to expect on election night 2020.  Guests: Barry Burden, political science professor and director of the Election Research Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Kat Calvin, founder and executive director of Spread the Vote and co-host of Vote! The Podcast. Correction (Sept. 17, 2020): A previous version of this story misspelled Barry Burden’s name. The story has been updated. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Sep 17

49 min

Semisonic’s newest EP, “You’re Not Alone,” will be released Friday. It’s the first EP for the group since it reunited in 2017; Semisonic was founded in Minneapolis in 1995. MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with Dan Wilson about what the pandemic has meant for musicians and live performance. They also discussed how creative expression in his life informs his work and how vulnerability is part of the process. Guest: Dan Wilson is a singer, songwriter, producer and co-founder of Minneapolis-formed bands Trip Shakespeare and Semisonic. Semisonic’s new EP, “You’re Not Alone,” will be released Friday. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 16

48 min

There’s no denying President Donald Trump has reshaped the Republican Party. Under his leadership, the GOP turned away from decades of Ronald Reagan-style conservatism to a new gospel of populism and nationalism.  But that shift has split the party into two groups: those who are energized by the new direction and those who want to put the “Trumpism” genie back in the bottle. Tuesday on MPR News with Kerri Miller, we took a look at the future of the GOP. What happens to the party if President Trump wins reelection? What happens if he doesn’t? Will the transformation he started outlast his presidency? Should it? Guests: Annette Meeks, CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota Charles Sykes, editor-in-chief of The Bulwark and host of The Bulwark podcast Editor’s note (Sept. 15, 2020): Jennifer Carnahan was originally slated to be a guest on this show. Due to a last-minute scheduling conflict, she was unable to join. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 15

50 min

After a few days of a testing slowdown in Minnesota since Labor Day, data released Friday nearly reached 20,000 tests. In addition, there was only moderate new case growth, with 484 infections reported. On Monday, MPR News Host Kerri Miller talked with Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and the state’s infectious disease director, Kris Ehresmann, about COVID-19 testing, the spread of infection in the state and the return of children and adults to school this fall. Guests: Jan Malcolm is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. Kris Ehresmann is the director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Sep 14

49 min

MPR News director of programming Steph Curtis stopped by with an early fall edition of “The Five,” where she recommends things to read, listen to and experience right now. 1) “A Judge Asked Harvard to Find Out Why So Many Black People Were In Prison. They Could Only Find 1 Answer: Systemic Racism,” via The root. You can read the study it is based on, too. If you need a quick explanation of how pervasive racism is in the justice system, read this: Police are more likely to search or investigate Black residents. Law enforcement agents charge Black suspects with infractions that carry worse penalties. Prosecutors are less likely to offer Black suspects plea bargains or pretrial intervention. Judges sentence Black defendants to longer terms in prison. 2) Watch “Gold Digger,” a BBC family drama-romance-thriller about a recently divorced woman who takes up with a younger man — much to the horror of her children and ex-husband. Julia Ormond and Ben Barnes play the much-scrutinized couple. Your perspective on the relationship changes with each episode. It’s tense and addictive. Gold Digger: Trailer | BBC Trailers 3) “The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue” is a new novel from V.E. Schwab, one of the most talented and inventive fantasy and speculative fiction writers out there. Her new book is about a French woman who makes a wish that’s fulfilled by a dark spirit and, hereafter, is cursed with eternal life. What I love about her work is its depth. There’s a lot of fun fantasy out there that owes roots to fairy tales from Disney. Schwab's roots are in the dark folk tales that Disney sanitized. 4) Listen to “The Syndicate,” a new podcast about the drug trade that combines skydiving, some self-described "knuckleheads" from Minnesota, the DEA, buckets of cash, and loads of betrayal. 5) I love the new track from Jon Munson and Dylan Hicks, "Only Smoke." I am a huge fan of Harry Nilsson — and the clever, melancholy lyrics in “Only Smoke” remind me of him. Don’t miss the moments when the back-up singers join in! It’s gorgeous. Munson-Hicks Party Supplies, Only Smoke

Sep 11

8 min

Some movies are best enjoyed on a big screen, but the pandemic temporarily shuttered thousands of theaters across the country.  One silver lining for the silver screen? Drive-in theaters. Even as indoor theaters open up again, the outdoor theaters remain popular with folks who aren’t ready to congregate inside and want to soak up the last bit of summer. This very strange summer has breathed new life into a shrinking ecosystem of outdoor screens, and a new generation of moviegoers experienced the magic of watching new flicks and old favorites outside. On Friday, two film fanatics talked with MPR News about the magic drive-in movies and suggest titles to add to your must-see lists. Guests: Aisha Harris is a co-host of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour. Alissa Wilkinson is a film critic and culture reporter for To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 11

42 min

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the U.S. economy lost 22 million jobs and recovered close to half of them. Despite significant hiring gains over the past four months, the unemployment rate is at 8.4 percent. As recess comes to a close for Congress — and many families and small businesses look for a lifeline — Democrats and Republicans remain at odds over the amount of money the federal government should inject into the economy. Two economists joined MPR News host Kerri Miller Thursday for a conversation about the changing economic landscape and what a potential recovery might look like.  Guests: J Michael Collins is faculty director at the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Caroline Fohlin is an economic historian at Emory University. Minnesota aims for Quick turnaround on $300 unemployment boost To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 10

50 min

Six months into the pandemic, the United States still hasn’t met COVID-19 testing goals. More than half of states across the country aren’t testing enough residents to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Some epidemiologists say robust, rapid testing could be the key to safely reopening more schools, businesses and other places that have been shuttered throughout the pandemic. There is some concern that rapid antigen tests, while less expensive and simple to administer, don’t provide the same level of accuracy as the more widely used PCR tests. However, proponents of the rapid tests say increasing the testing volume by testing more people, more frequently can help identify early cases that might otherwise be missed.    Two doctors joined MPR News host Kerri Miller Wednesday for a conversation about the status of COVID-19 tests across the country. Guests: Dr. Jana Broadhurst is the director of the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit Clinical Laboratory and an assistant professor in pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. Dr. Alexander Greniger is assistant director of the UW Medicine Clinical Virology Laboratory and an assistant professor at the University of Washington. Bold hopes for virus antibody tests Still unfulfilled Antibody, antigen and PCR tests How reliable are COVID-19 tests? It depends To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 9

50 min

It’s been a challenging year, with 62 percent of surveyed consumers describing current conditions as unfavorable. Unemployment sits at 8.4 percent, and the pandemic is hitting low-wage workers and their families the hardest.  Being financially literate has perhaps never been more important, as knowing more about money, credit and debt can have an impact both on our personal finance and broader economic outcomes.  On Tuesday at 9 a.m., MPR News guest host Chris Farrell and producer Twila Dang talked with a financial coach about lessons she’s learned over time and why she wants people to understand money and credit better, and take listener questions about personal finance. They also discussed the forthcoming MPR News podcast, “Small Change: Money Stories From The Neighborhood,” which focuses on the creative and collaborative ways people without much money manage to achieve their dreams. Guest:  Tonia Brinston is an employment coach at Twin Cities R!se To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Sep 8

49 min

Have you ever wondered what mourners might say about you at your memorial service?  When Odd Einar Eide appears at his own funeral after a treacherous expedition to the Arctic, he finds his shocked and unsettled widow and a pastor spouting nonsense. Even Eide’s horse seems startled to see him. Peter Geye’s “Northernmost” swings between towering glaciers and hungry bears to a modern-day descendant of his family enmeshed in an unhappy marriage.The decisions his characters make in the novel seem to revolve around something that our explorer realizes: “A man should want a bigger life,” Odd Einar thinks. “He should want to make discoveries. To find a kind of happiness he could not find in his everyday lot.” Novelist Peter Geye joined MPR News host Kerri Miller for a conversation about the inspiration behind the family saga, the undercurrent of angst within relationships and how time forces us to reflect on the legacies we leave behind.To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Sep 3

52 min

Grandma can finally see the grandkids. But no hugs, please. Families with loved ones in care facilities were given more visitation guidelines in August by the Minnesota Department of Health. The new guidance seeks to support long-term care facilities as they weigh how to keep residents safe from the coronavirus without isolating them entirely from social connections. State releases COVID-19 guidance To allow more visitors in long-term care It’s a delicate balance. Of the 1,830 people who have died in Minnesota from COVID-19, about 73 percent were living in long-term care or assisted living facilities. So what next? If infection rates surge in the winter, will facilities shut down again? What has the pandemic revealed to us about the totality of senior care in America? Thursday, MPR News guest host Chris Farrell spoke with two industry experts about what facilities — and their residents — are facing. Guests: Patti Cullen, CEO of Care Providers of Minnesota and liaison to the American Health Care Association. Ruth Katz, senior vice president of public policy at Leading Age Correction (Sept. 3, 2020): An earlier version of this story listed an incorrect title for Patti Cullen. The story has been updated. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Sep 3

50 min

Farming is both a joy and a difficult job, requiring work around the clock. It’s also a profession impacted by a variety of challenges — weather, commodity price changes, a fluctuating economy and now the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic led to a disruption in the country’s supply chains earlier this year, impacting the state’s dairy supply chain and requiring Minnesotans to find new markets. It also affected processing plants as the virus spread among workers, impacting Minnesota’s pork industry.  On Wednesday, MPR News guest host Chris Farrell talked with an economist and a rural mental health counselor about the state of the agriculture industry and how farmers —and rural communities — are coping with stress. Guests: Joleen Hadrich is a University of Minnesota Extension economist and associate professor in the department of applied economics.  Monica McConkey is a rural mental health specialist and licensed professional counselor providing support for the agriculture industry. Marketplace Farmers grapple with stress and depression as they try to keep their operations afloat From April Farmers enter planting season amid low prices, COVID-19 Reliant on shuttered schools and restaurants Local farmers find new markets To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. This conversation is part of Call to Mind, our MPR initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.

Sep 2

49 min

This year started on a high note for women in the workforce. In February, right before the pandemic closed down the United States, women made up more than half the nation’s civilian, nonfarm labor force. The gender wage gap was also at its most narrow, with women making 81-cents for every dollar men make. But the pandemic has wiped out nearly all of women’s gains in the workforce over the last decade, leading some economists to call the current crisis a “she-cession.” Part of this is explained by the disproportionate impact the shutdown had on jobs that women work. Restaurants, tourism and retail — all sectors where women make up the majority of the workforce — were severely affected. But an even more important factor is child care. As daycare centers and schools shut down, so did parents’ ability to work,  and once again, women have been more affected than men. Among married households, mothers provide more than 60 percent of child care, even if both partners work full time. Mothers with young children are particularly impacted. They’ve cut their work hours five times more than fathers. Some are quitting altogether. Tuesday, MPR News guest host Catharine Richert tackled this complex topic. What does this mean for women, long-term? Is America reaching a tipping point when it comes to the child care crisis? And is there anything that can be done in the short term to prevent further losses for women? Guests: Caitlyn Collins, assistant professor of sociology and women, gender and sexuality studies at Washington University Elise Gould, senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Sep 1

51 min

For parents, unknowns can be difficult, especially when it comes to children’s health. The novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, brings a lot of unknowns with it, especially because we’re still learning what it means for our health. Here’s what we do know about kids and the virus: Overall, there are fewer reported cases of infected children than adults in the United States and around the world, but cases are on the rise. Data also show children are hospitalized at lower rates, suggesting that if they do get infected, their reaction typically is less severe or even asymptomatic.  That’s not always the case, though; some children develop serious complications like MIS-C, a multisystem inflammatory syndrome, and researchers are trying to understand those complications. They’re also learning more about the long-term health impact of the virus. In Minnesota Higher COVID-19 rates seen in Black and Hispanic children July 1 Inflammatory condition affecting kids surfaces in MN Meanwhile, kids are returning to school in a variety of ways and we’re still learning about their role in spreading the virus. New research suggests that they might play a bigger — and sometimes silent — role than previously understood. MPR News reporter and guest host Catharine Richert talked with two pediatric specialists Monday and took listener questions about children’s health and the COVID-19 pandemic. Guests: Dr. Megan Culler Freeman is a pediatric infectious disease fellow at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Gigi Chawla is the chief of pediatrics at Children’s Minnesota. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Aug 31

50 min

This year’s Democratic and Republican conventions have been unconventional, to say the least. Largely virtual because of the pandemic, the nominating weeks for both parties offered new style. But many critics say there wasn’t much substance. Did the Democrats cast a compelling vision of a potential presidency for former Vice President Joe Biden? Did President Donald Trump sway undecided voters to cast their support to him? Thursday, MPR News host Kerri Miller and NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson discussed all of it with political junkies from both sides. Guests: Mara Liasson is a national political correspondent for NPR. Michael Fauntroy is an associate professor of political science at Howard University. Annette Meeks, CEO of Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Aug 27

50 min

Minnesota Public Radio President Duchesne Drew started his position in May overseeing MPR News, Classical MPR, The Current and digital services amid a global pandemic.  MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with Drew about how this public health and economic challenge is being covered; how MPR News is preparing for the 2020 election and took questions from listeners about MPR’s three regional services. Guest: Duchesne Drew is the president of Minnesota Public Radio.

Aug 25

50 min

An interesting facet of the novel coronavirus is how seemingly healthy people transmit the virus to others through asymptomatic spread. Not to be confused with pre-symptomatic transmission, it’s estimated by the Centers for Disease Control that about 40 percent of people infected with COVID-19 have no symptoms — ever. We’re also learning more about our immune response to the virus. Early research points to a strong immune response, even in those who only showed mild symptoms. MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with a doctor and immunologist about what we know about transmission, immunity and antibody response and testing. Guests: Dr. Monica Gandhi is a professor of medicine and associate division chief of the Division of HIV, Infectious Diseases, and Global Medicine at UCSF/San Francisco General Hospital. Jennifer Gommerman is a professor of immunology in the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.

Aug 24

50 min

Following the killing of George Floyd, another wave of racial reckoning swept across the United States and reignited efforts to change how people of color are treated in this country. This has included the removal of Confederate statues and raised — again — questions of how we remember and learn about the history of this country and whose stories get told. On Thursday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with a historian and an education policy scholar about how to improve history education for students and teachers and incorporate anti-racist curriculum. Guests:  Julian Hayter is a historian and professor at the University of Richmond’s Jepson School of Leadership.  Leslie Fenwick is an education policy and leadership studies scholar who served as dean of the Howard University School of Education for nearly a decade. 

Aug 20

49 min

President Donald Trump needs suburban votes to win in November. He started blatantly targeting this key demographic on Twitter recently.  Trump tweet A few days prior, he wrote: Trump tweet But Trump’s approach to connecting with suburban voters displays a significant ignorance about who they are and how they view the world in 2020. The latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll shows the president would only receive about a third of the suburban vote today – a stunning decline from the nearly 50 percent support he enjoyed in 2016. Wednesday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with a political analyst and a historian about how the suburbs are changing – and whether the Democrats are appealing to this important demographic at this week’s convention. Guests: Matthew Lassiter is a historian who specializes in political history and urban/suburban studies at the University of Michigan. Khalilah Brown-Dean is an associate professor of political science at Quinnipiac University.

Aug 19

49 min

Political adviser and author Jennifer Palmieri writes that her usual response to losing a campaign is to keep fighting, but the 2016 election took a lot out of her. The former director of communications for Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 2016 campaign for president took a moment to see what the world would do. As she shares in her new book “She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World,” there was a turning point for her: the Women’s March in 2017. Palmieri writes: “As soon as I saw the news reports detailing the numbers of women who’d turned out for the march, I knew that women had turned a corner for good. Women in America had each other’s backs in a way I have never experienced before, and it made me grateful beyond measure. It also gave me hope.” MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with Palmieri Tuesday about the history of the suffrage movement, feminism, access to power and Palmieri’s vision of women declaring freedom from a man’s world and their worth. Guest:  Jennifer Palmieri is a Democratic political adviser and the author of “Dear Madam President: An Open Letter to the Women Who Will Run the World.” Her latest book is “She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man's World.” Editor’s note: August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, and racist policies kept too many women of color from the polls for decades beyond that.  As we mark this anniversary and weigh that history, MPR News with Kerri Miller is asking: What does it mean to be a woman in America today? This series airs weekly; our conversations have looked at the role of Black women and power over time and women’s access to political power following the nomination of Sen. Kamala Harris for vice president of the Democratic ticket.

Aug 18

49 min

A lot has changed since Gov. Tim Walz first issued a peacetime emergency in response to COVID-19. There have been over 65,000 cases confirmed in Minnesota since the pandemic began. Young Minnesotans between ages 20-29 have the highest number of cases within a single age group. However, around three quarters of the state’s confirmed COVID-19 deaths have been among people in assisted living or long-term care facilities. What does the latest science tell us about what to expect in the coming months? Monday at 9 a.m., MPR News guest host Stephanie Curtis and two guests opened the phone lines to answer your questions about COVID-19’s impact in Minnesota. Guests: Dr. David Hilden is vice president of medical affairs at Hennepin Healthcare.M. Kumi Smith is an assistant professor in the Division of Epidemiology and Community Health at the University of Minnesota. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Aug 17

49 min

 When Vivek Oji is born, his parents are surprised to find he has a scar that resembles a starfish. What’s surprising, though, is that his grandmother -- who died on the day of his birth -- had the same scar. “It tells them about reincarnation, which they are a little afraid to believe,” said author Akwaeke Emezi in conversation with MPR News host Kerri Miller. “I had written it like that because I’ve been really interested, since ‘Freshwater,’ about Igbo spirituality and the ways in which we’re disconnected from it in a contemporary sense.”  “The Death of Vivek Oji” is set in southeastern Nigeria during the 1980s and ’90s. Emezi weaves a tale about the death of the title character, while also looking at grief, different types of love and the search for self. Emezi spoke with Miller about the inspiration for the book. Guest:  Akwaeke Emezi is a video artist and the author of several books including “Freshwater.” Their latest book is “The Death of Vivek Oji.”

Aug 14

46 min

By the 2020 presidential election, at least 75 percent of Americans will be able to cast a mail-in ballot according to reporting by The New York Times. It’s a significant number that may come as a relief for voters as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and some areas of the U.S. worry about having enough poll workers. This isn’t happening without some political tumult, however. President Donald Trump has made false allegations about mail-in ballots. Meanwhile, the Trump campaign, legislators in some parts of the country and the Republican National Committee are trying to stop the expansion of mail-in voting. On Thursday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with two voting experts about voting by mail, voter safety in a pandemic and voter suppression efforts. Guests: Carol Anderson is a scholar, political scientist and chair of African American studies at Emory University. She’s the author of several books including “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.” Sean Morales-Doyle is a deputy director in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, where he focuses on voting rights and elections. MPR News Don’t let COVID-19 stop your vote. Here’s how to vote by mail in Minnesota Why is voting by mail (suddenly) controversial? Here's what you need to know Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Aug 13

50 min

California U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris has been picked by the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Joe Biden, to be his running mate. She would be the third woman to run for vice president on a major party ticket and the first woman of color. Women have run for and held political office for more than a century and in increasing numbers, but it hasn’t been without a struggle for better treatment and equality. Polls show more than 90 percent of U.S. adults feel it’s very important or somewhat important for women to have equal rights with men in this country. MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with two political scientists about the 2020 election and women’s access to political power. Guests: Andra Gillespie is an associate professor of political science at Emory University and the author of “Race and the Obama Administration: Substance, Symbols, and Hope.” Ange-Marie Hancock Alfaro is professor and chair of political science and international relations at the University of Southern California. Editor’s note: August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the 19th Amendment, and racist policies kept too many women of color from the polls for decades beyond that. As we mark this anniversary and weigh that history, MPR News with Kerri Miller is asking: What does it mean to be a woman in America today? This series airs weekly; our first conversation looked at the role of Black women and power in history and today.

Aug 12

50 min

COVID-19 is far from the first pandemic we’ve faced. While many make comparisons to the 1918 flu, we shouldn’t forget about challenging viral and bacterial illnesses of the past like the 1930 parrot fever pandemic, AIDS or Legionnaires outbreaks. And even with improved medical and scientific knowledge about how to cure and prevent illness, we can’t discount viruses and pandemics. As author Mark Honigsbaum writes, “the only thing that is certain is that there will be new plagues and new pandemics. It is not a question of if, we are told, but when.” MPR News host Kerri Miller and Honigsbaum talked Tuesday to discuss what we can learn from pandemics and illnesses of the past as we continue to face the COVID-19 pandemic.  Guest: Mark Honigsbaum is a medical historian, journalist and writer. His latest book is “The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris.” What the 1918 flu can teach us about Handling today's pandemic COVID-19 How it compares with other diseases in 5 charts To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or RSS.

Aug 11

50 min

Updated: 5:48 p.m. Minnesota set a record high for new COVID-19 cases over the weekend, just weeks before the school year is set to get under way. This has many Minnesotans worried that their friends and families are not taking the virus seriously enough. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Director of Infectious Diseases Kris Ehresmann acknowledged those concerns in a conversation with MPR News host Kerri Miller on Monday. Latest on COVID-19 in MN Worries rise over isolation in long-term care State's new COVID-19 guidance To allow more visitors in long-term care A portion of this conversation has been transcribed and lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full conversation with the audio player above. How have we gotten accustomed to the idea that 1,000 Americans are dying a day from this disease and that is a plateau that may not last once we get to fall. How have we adjusted to the idea of this? Commissioner Jan Malcolm: That's a really incredibly important point. I think hearing these numbers every day, we've gotten almost numb to it, it feels like, and we really have lost sight of the fact of what a sweeping catastrophe this is across the globe and in the United States. The rate of speed with which this virus moved around the world and has just come to upend everything is just breathtaking and it does seem like we just aren't quite, haven't wrapped our heads around how serious this really is. Why we grow numb to staggering statistics And what we can do about it Do you think it is still that enough of us do not have a family member who has been seriously sickened by this or we don't know anybody who has died from this? Malcolm: I do think that's true for many of us that we may know somebody who knows somebody, but still a relatively small proportion of us have been touched by this in a really direct personal way and I agree with you that will change as this progresses. Kris, I was reading an interview that you did recently with Stat by Helen Branswell and you were telling her about your dad being invited to visit some of his friends. He went and she said he wore his mask and he was doing the elbow bump instead of the shaking of hands. You said, ‘And the people kind of acted like, 'Oh, you drank that Kool-Aid' rather than we all need to be doing this.’ Tell us a little bit more about what your dad saw. Director Kris Ehresmann: He was invited to an outdoor gathering and so being my dad, he wore his mask and he got there and no one else was wearing masks. When he came, they said, “Oh, you're one of those people” and they wanted to shake hands and he did the elbow bump. He was a little surprised and I was a little discouraged, just simply because my dad is older. He's elderly and, and these people, some of them were healthcare workers, and so they commented on how they wear masks all the time at work. That disconnect was a little bit concerning to me. And particularly, as you've already mentioned, we're seeing the case numbers really continue to climb. There's no abatement. And so that worries me when people have that perspective. It's a silly way of looking at the world that “Oh, you're wearing a mask, like you believe in the pandemic,” and it's like, “Yeah, there is a pandemic going on.” Listener question: I live in southern Minnesota, a very rural area, and many of the people that I talk to and that I see believe it's a hoax. They're getting most of their information off of Facebook, the false information. They're not believing Dr. Fauci and the credible doctors. They are still going into the stores refusing to wear masks. How do we go about combating misinformation?  Malcolm: Thanks for what you're doing to try to help educate your fellow Minnesotans. It is so dangerous, just the fact that we can't seem to agree on fact, these days. Things do get filtered through kinds of political beliefs or other things or just mistrust in general of institutions, and that is a huge public health risk in and of itself if we can't agree on what is the science and what is accurate information. I am hopeful that with more and more people speaking out, more business leaders speaking up, for example. People should talk to their own trusted physicians, nurses, others, but we really need public figures of all political persuasions, all walks of life, to speak out, so that it's not just in a well, if you either believe in the state or local health department or you don't. It's so, so important that other public leaders also weigh in and help to try to persuade the folks that they really have a lot of sway with. A listener tweeted and says there’s endless bad information that many people believe, a lot of which comes out on social media. He adds in the lack of executive branch leadership for a national response and that he doesn't think it's we as a country are numb to this as much as we feel helpless to do anything to stop it. Do you think that's part of the equation here? Even though there are measures you can take, this seems very overwhelming. Ehresmann: Certainly. I absolutely agree with the thinking that yeah, this is overwhelming for people, and it may seem like pandemic global worldwide — it's too big. What can I do? You know, the journey of 1,000 miles begins with the first step. I think that we need to think about — You know what? You cannot control what the president decides to do. You cannot control what they decide to do in New Jersey. You can't even control what the governor decides to do. But you can, as an individual, take steps to protect yourself and protect the people around you. You can make sure that you're socially distancing, that you're wearing a mask to protect the people around you when you're out and about, that you're following all those things. I recognize that this seems just huge and you think, does it make a difference? But if each person is doing what they can do, then collectively we will have an impact.  Listener question: I'm a Ph.D. microbiologist and I haven't seen any studies on how fast the virus is killed in sunlight. It seems to me that people think that if they're outside, they don't need to wear masks and then they forget to social distance. What do we know about sunlight and the outdoors? Ehresmann: Yes and to the point of sunlight, we know that for many viruses, that sunlight helps to inactivate them. I haven't seen a particular study that indicates that sunlight inactivates SARS-CoV-2, but we know that that is the case with other viruses. So sunlight certainly helps, as well as the greater airflow and just more space and the ability to socially distance. I completely agree with the point that when people are outside, if you're outside and you're seated in a chair, and you've made sure that you're socially distanced from those individuals that you're interacting with, then taking off a mask makes sense. Do that because you're physically in place. But the challenge is if you're standing and people just migrate closer together and so I think it's important that being outside makes things better. But it doesn't mean that transmission can't happen. And I think that's really an important point to make is, it's definitely better. But it doesn't mean that transmission can't happen and so you need to still be taking precautions, and that's why I suggest that if you're getting together with people and you're putting your lawn chairs and you're all six feet apart, you're just gonna sit there and chat, that's great. And then you can feel comfortable.Take off your mask. But if you're going to be in any kind of mingling situation, that's more concerning. Listener question: I wonder why we're not hearing more about what it really means to get this disease and recover. We're getting statistics about how many people have tested positive, how many are in the ICU, and how many deaths there have been, but I'm not seeing a lot about the long-term effects or damage. Malcolm: Thanks for those comments. I think you're really very perceptive and it's a good example of how the narrative around this virus is changing as we learn more. Early on, everyone was stressing, public health officials included, that this is primarily a respiratory illness and the great majority of people have a fairly mild course, not intentionally downplaying the severity at all, but it was sort of what we knew at the time. It is becoming so much more clear that even folks with perhaps relatively mild cases do develop these other systemic effects. This, clearly now we understand SARS-CoV-2 attacks multiple organs of the body. It's not simply a respiratory issue. I think that is an important part of our messaging, to again, get across without denying what statistical probabilities are for different people in different risk groups that even for younger, healthier people, there can be very, very serious consequences to this disease, to themselves, as well as what we keep harping on about: risk to others that you can pass the virus to. When President Trump persistently for four or five months says it's a case of the sniffles, it's like the flu, 99 percent of people are just fine. They don't even know they've had it. Commissioner, that does get into the discussion stream and I think there are people, I don't know what their politics are, but they are legitimately confused about a message like that coming out of the White House. Malcolm: There's no question that there is still that sort of competing set of narratives around there, which unfortunately does seem to have sort of a political overtone to it about whether this is a serious public health threat or overblown and whether the public health mitigation measures are needed or excessive. That just is repeated day after day after day and layer on to that the fact that even the health messages have shifted over time, as we were just talking about, as we've learned more. Yeah, people are confused. But I'm just very hopeful that with a growing chorus of voices around, more concurrence on what the science is showing and the severity of this, that some of that hopefully will start to break through, but I couldn't agree more that the mixed messages and, and the pretty consistent underplaying of the risk in some circles is really damaging. Kris, Dr. Michael Osterholm teamed up with Neel Kashkari of the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis and wrote an opinion piece . One of the things they said was to successfully drive down our case rate to less than one per 100,000 people per day, we should mandate sheltering in place for everyone but the truly essential workers. By that, we mean people must stay at home and leave only for essential reasons: food shopping; visits to doctors; and pharmacies, while wearing masks and washing hands frequently. Can you see something like that happening at this point? Ehresmann: Well, I don't deny the rationale for what they have proposed. But as we talked about the public seems to be in a very different place with this pandemic than they were in March. And so it may be difficult to get people to reconsider something like that, and I'm not sure what it will take because, as you said, 1,000 deaths a day. That’s not right, yet people seem okay with it. So I think that's the challenge. We're at sort of a different place in people's minds with this virus and they don't seem to be taking it as seriously as they need to. I think it would be difficult to do, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn't consider it if it's going to be effective. Minneapolis Fed president National lockdown could be the economy's best hope Michael Osterholm on Where we are now with the COVID-19 pandemic Kris, do you think it's a time to seriously consider that again? Ehresmann: My concern is that we're going into fall. We're looking at colleges and some schools being back in session. We're going into flu season. I think we need to be thoughtful about how we approach the fall because we could certainly see case numbers increase even more than we have. I think it's something that we have to be thinking about. We have to constantly be looking at the data and looking at whether or not it's time to to dial back and I desperately wouldn't want to do that. But on the other hand, many people are not following the guidance and that is certainly causing challenges. Listener question: I've seen some health care workers on social media say that quarantine isn't worth the cost on mental health and that people with depression or suicidal thoughts will end up having reduced mental health services, which can be dangerous, or even more dangerous than COVID-19. I'm wondering what the reality of that is. Malcolm: Great point and certainly mental health is a huge issue that has been exacerbated by this pandemic. But certainly, the point of balance applies across other health concerns broadly and certainly we know the economic devastation that comes with these broader measures has its own short- and long-term health consequences. Balance is the thing that is then elusive, but it remains kind of the goal to strike that right balance between measures that we need. I just want to reinforce Kris' earlier point that we so strongly believe that if folks were following the guidance that is currently in place with the current set of the governor's orders around capacity limitations and social distancing and mask wearing, we could make a real difference and we just really want to stress how important these weeks are leading up to the fall that anything we can do, everything we can do to kind of control community spread now is going to help us with what we know is going to be a challenge in the fall. We've heard about cases ticking up on Saturday and then not quite as much on Sunday in Minnesota. I remember when the CDC came out to say the real case count is far higher than the daily statistics that we're seeing. How do you factor that in? Malcolm: We've been saying quite consistently for a long time now that what we know about laboratory confirmed cases is truly the tip of the iceberg. I think CDC's estimate was 10 cases for every one lab confirmed and we've felt that that's probably pretty reflective of our experience in Minnesota as well. I think it would probably be a good idea to continue to reinforce that point with the public, that the true impact is much broader than these daily numbers. The other thing, and this is kind of a data geeky thing, but it's useful, I think, for people to know, when we report every day about cases, what we're reporting is the laboratory confirmed cases that come back from processing on the prior day. Then from an analytic perspective, we go back and attribute each of those cases to the date on which the lab specimen was actually collected. We consider that sort of the onset date of the case. That's important because there's so much variability in lab processing time, especially in some of the national labs now being really slow and turnaround because of volume. So each day's numbers are not the full picture and not the picture that ultimately emerges. So on our website, we post lots and lots of different statistics and visualizations based on the date of onset or when the specimen was actually collected and that gives you a better picture of what's actually happening. If we have 5 million confirmed cases in the United States and you have to really multiply by some factor, we are in a much more dangerous place than we think we are.  Ehresmann: Oh, absolutely. And what we see is that each case, to get more cases, and it's a stone into a pond, and then the ripple effect and so we see the initial cases and then we see the downstream effect, which is a couple weeks out, we see more and more cases from those original cases and when the number of original cases increases, the secondary spread increases. Absolutely. We're in a place where all of the cases that we're seeing now are going to continue to result in more cases. I do think it's important that we acknowledge that while our laboratory testing has increased phenomenally, there are still limits. Yes, people have to realize that the number of cases that we're reporting is not the sum total of all the cases occurring in Minnesota. Listener question: When are we going to see more testing activity in the northwest suburbs? Recently, the Star Tribune published an article pointing to our greatest fears and something that we knew all along because of the high number of immigrants who work in the long-term care facilities. Many of those folks live here in Brooklyn Park, in the northwest suburbs and so we've seen a lot of cases in our community. I'm a city council member here in Brooklyn Park. And it's a real issue.  Malcolm: I totally agree with you that we need to continue to expand testing in the communities that we know are facing particular impacts of COVID-19. We have been stressing that people should go to their health care provider to get tests. The health systems have done really a great job trying to expand testing, but in addition to what's going on in our clinics and hospital systems, we have been really building up and intend to build up more these community testing events that really can be brought out to the community, especially in areas where there are concentrations of populations that may have trouble getting access to clinic based testing, or it's just for some people, it's a better option, a more comfortable option to, to be tested in a community setting by organizations that they know and so forth. So that is a priority of ours. We just are starting a new website to post where there are upcoming community testing sites and I will check and certainly pass along if Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center aren't yet on the list. I'll certainly bring that back to the team. So thank you for the suggestion, We had so many calls about the governor's decision on schools and then how school districts are going to handle this. What kind of comfort would you give parents who are really undecided about what to do with kids this fall? Ehresmann: Just as the commissioner mentioned earlier about the idea of balance, one of the things that we've worked with the Department of Education on is how do we balance making sure that kids have the opportunity for in-person education when it's appropriate, because it's so essential. All of the public health considerations and so the goal has been to help districts have options so that they can weigh what's happening in their community and look at disease activity within their community and use that to help drive their decisions. Certainly, we've seen transmission in children and we've seen it, more transmission, particularly in the middle school and older grades, than we have in the elementary and younger ages. I think what parents would want to consider is if you have a child that has underlying health conditions, and you're concerned about that, that certainly is something we know that there are things that make anyone at greater risk for severe disease and so that would be a consideration. I think in terms of encouragement, we know there's transmission but we have seen less severe disease in these age groups than we have in some of our older age groups. We know there’s an age-related risk. That's not to say that there isn't risk, but that it is age-related. I think those are all things that parents need to weigh, as they're making a decision about what would be best for their child, but certainly their individual child's own health status is something that I think is really important to consider. Many Minnesota teachers wary of Returning to the classroom For Minnesotans Walz’s school plan brings more questions than answers Minnesota’s rules for going back to school What you need to know Dr. Ashish Jha of Harvard, who has been doing a lot of statistical analysis on COVID-19, believes that any indoor gatherings of more than two people should essentially be banned, even with masks. If you look at high school classrooms, and you look at some of the pictures that we're getting out of states like Georgia, where older kids are in the hallways, and they're not wearing masks, and they're coming really close to each other and socializing. What do you think about the potential for disease spread in some of our high schools as they get back to in-person classes? Malcolm: Oh, that's interesting about Dr. Jha's comments. I hadn't seen that statement. But certainly I think everyone agrees that indoor environments just do pose some additional risks, which is why I think not only paying attention to what we know is going on with spread in the community, but what is the ability of schools to put in place the best practices around prevention and mitigation is part of the whole conversation that we're having with with school districts all around the state. But, again, I think back to the point on balance. It's going to just be critically important that we continue to keep our eyes on the data, see what emerges. We have to be humble enough to update our guidance and our advice based on new information as it emerges, and we certainly are committed to doing that. We're told that somewhere between 65 and 75 percent of us will have to have been exposed or protected from the virus because then the virus really has nowhere to go. Would a vaccine, even if it's rolled out in January or February, come soon enough, do you think, to lower those exposure thresholds? Are we going to get a vaccine, even if it's in the new year, soon enough for a lot of us to not have to end up being exposed to stop the virus? Ehresmann: Well, certainly I mean, one of the challenges, when you have a novel situation like this where the majority of the globe does not have any sort of immunologic interaction with this virus, even as fast as we're seeing it move, that means that when a vaccine does become available, literally everyone needs to get it. That certainly makes things challenging. One thing that's happening now that's different than what usually happens with vaccines is that usually you go through all of the the safety checks, which are all happening, but you don't start manufacturing or you don't start any sort of production until a vaccine has passed all of those safety checks because obviously, if it doesn't get to that point, you don't want to have invested the resources. That's a little bit different with the COVID vaccine. They're actually producing the vaccine even as it's being tested and there's a chance that a huge amount of that vaccine will just get wasted if it doesn't meet the criteria. But the goal is that there will be a vaccine available as soon as possible after a vaccine has been identified as being safe and effective. So that's something that's slightly different so that will help. But we do know that when the vaccine is first available that we will have to prioritize who receives the vaccine, whether it's individuals that are in essential service roles, and individuals who are at highest risk for complications of disease. That will be a challenging time. But at least the good news is that there have been some investments that have been made to say we're willing to have to trash a bunch of vaccines with the goal of having a vaccine that does meet the criteria, have some of it manufactured right away.  Given the timeline and the way the virus is spreading, it seems like even as the vaccines whenever we get them roll out, many, many of us are still going to be vulnerable. Right? Ehresmann: Absolutely. Yes. There's going to be a time frame where we have a vaccine, but not everyone who wants or needs to get the vaccine will be able to access it. And then that would make us susceptible to the virus.  Ehresmann: Yeah, that we will remain susceptible. We're susceptible right now and we'll stay susceptible until we can get the vaccine.  I think people think once the vaccine is announced, it's over. But it's not going to be over. Ehresmann: No, it'll still take time.  Listener question: What is the current thought about immunity if you've had the virus? I had it in late March and early April and I do wear a mask still, because I think it makes other people feel safer. But I'm just wondering, am I still at risk?  Malcolm: I think we are still learning and there's still just so many unanswered questions about the degree of immunity. It seems to vary from person to person, and how long it lasts. There, unfortunately, is not a lot of certainty. I think you're wise to continue to take precautions. But Kris may be more up on any more recent studies on that than I am. But I think the question is still just a very open one. Ehresmann: We're looking at that. At this point, CDC is recommending that once 90 days have passed and someone's had COVID-19, that if they would develop symptoms again, or develop issues, that we would think about, could this be a reinfection. We really don't have enough information to know at this point. But we are going to be looking at that. There's a lot of research going on right now into how long will the immunity last, not just from having experienced the disease, Kris but also from a vaccine, right? There's no guarantee that you are forever then immune to this virus if you've had a vaccine. Ehresmann: Absolutely. People need to remember that we have some vaccines, like the measles vaccine for which we expect that individual to have lifelong protection. But we have other vaccines, tetanus, you get that every 10 years and the influenza vaccine is necessary every single year. We're going to have to be monitoring post-COVID vaccines, how this virus or how this vaccine reacts with the virus and what duration of protection we have.  Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Aug 10

49 min

In recent weeks, we’ve returned to some of our favorite conversations with nonfiction authors including Ijeoma Oluo, Ibram X. Kendi and Verna Myers about race. But that isn’t the only type of written work that looks at and offers insight on the racial reckoning our nation is facing amid a pandemic. MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with two authors and the head of the National Book Foundation about what’s been on their reading list in terms of fiction, memoirs and poetry this year. Guests: Brit Bennett is one of the National Book Foundation’s 5 under 35 2016 honorees. Her first novel, “The Mothers,” was a bestseller and her latest novel is titled “The Vanishing Half.” Lisa Lucas is the executive director of the National Book Foundation. Kiese Laymon is the author of several works including his latest, “Heavy: An American Memoir.” Here’s what Bennett, Lucas and Laymon are reading: Novel: “The Glass Hotel” by Emily St. John Mandel Novel: “Actress” by Anne Enright Essay: “When the World Went Away, We Made a New One” by Leslie Jamison Poetry: The works of Wanda Coleman Nonfiction: “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson Poetry: “Homie” by Danez Smith Nonfiction: “Are Prisons Obsolete?” by Angela Y. Davis Fiction: “Parable of the Sower” by Octavia E. Butler Memoir: “Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey Nonfiction: “Breathe: A Letter To My Sons” by Imani Perry Nonfiction: “Begin Again: James Baldwin's America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own” by Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. Poetry: The works of June Jordan Poetry: The works of Eve. L. Ewing Poetry: The works of Jericho Brown Testimony: 1964 Testimony by Fannie Lou Hamer before the Credentials Committee, Democratic National Convention. Listen Author Brit Bennett explores colorism in ‘The Vanishing Half’ To listen to the full conversation, use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Aug 7

57 min

Earlier this summer, the Mellon Foundation — the largest humanities philanthropy in the United States — announced it was shifting its mission to focus more on social justice. It backed up that announcement with a $5.3 million grant to fund a collection of books to be placed in 1,000 prisons and juvenile detention centers across all 50 states. The Million Book Project was dreamed up by poet and legal scholar Reginald Dwayne Betts. It intends to curate a capsule collection of 500 books — Betts calls them “freedom libraries” — that will include literature, history, poetry and social thought, with an emphasis on books by Black writers and thinkers. Thursday morning, MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Betts and Mellon Foundation president Elizabeth Alexander about the project and what they hope to accomplish. Here’s a list of books and authors suggested by Miller, listeners and our guests: Fiction: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood; “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison; “The Round House” by Louise Erdrich; “Black Leopard, Red Wolf” (The Dark Star Trilogy) by Marlon James; “The Ox-Bow Incident” by Walter Van Tilburg Clark; “The Da Vinci Code” by Dan Brown; “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton;  “On the Road” by Cormac McCarthy; “One Hundred Years of Solitude” by Gabriel García Márquez; “Love in the Time of Cholera” by Gabriel García Márquez; “Hopscotch” by Julio Cortázar; “Peace From Broken Pieces” by Iyanla Vanzant; “My Ántonia” by Willa Cather; “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values” by Robert M. Pirsig; “Grimm’s Fairy Tales” by the Brothers Grimm; “The Redwall” series by Brian Jacques; "News of the World" by Paulette Jiles; “Life of Pi” by Yann Martel; “The Old Man and the Sea” by Ernest Hemingway; “The All Souls Trilogy” by Deborah Harkness; “Their Eyes Were Watching God” by Zora Neale Hurston; “The Ranger’s Apprentice” series by John Flanagan;; “A Door Into Ocean” by Joan Slonczewski; “The Count of Monte Cristo” by Alexandre Dumas; “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman; The works of Octavia E. Butler; The works of JD Robb; The works of Ilona Andrews; The works of N.K. Jemisin; The works of Franz Kafka; The works of Rick Riordan; The works of Ivan Doig; The works of J.R. Ward. Nonfiction: “Not by the Sword: How a Cantor and His Family Transformed a Klansman” by Kathryn Watterson; “March” series by Congressman John Lewis; “A Brief History of Time” by Stephen Hawking; “Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression – and the Unexpected Solutions” by Johann Hari; “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction” by Gabor Maté; “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg; “The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma” by Bessel van der Kolk; “The Souls of Black Folk” by W.E.B DuBois; “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents” by Isabel Wilkerson; “The Fifth Agreement” by don Jose Ruiz, don Miguel Ruiz and Janet Mills. Poetry: The works of Langston Hughes; The works of Emily Dickinson;  The works of Layli Long Soldier;  The works of Robert Frost The works of William Faulkner;  The works of Etheridge Knight; The works of Lucille Clifton. Guests: Elizabeth Alexander, poet and president of Mellon Foundation  Reginald Dwyane Betts, formerly incarcerated poet and legal scholar To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Correction (Aug. 8, 2020): “The Fifth Agreement” was originally listed under the fiction section. However, it is a work of nonfiction and has been moved to the correct section of the list.

Aug 6

49 min

Today, women lead voter turnout in the United States. They have voted at higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1989 — and in midterm elections too. Women have had the right to vote for less than half of American history. August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the adoption of the Nineteenth Amendment. And racist policies kept too many women of color from the polls for decades beyond that.  As we mark this anniversary and weigh that history, MPR News with Kerri Miller is asking: What does it mean to be a woman in America today? During the month of August, we’ll explore this question and look at how women have shaped American culture, politics and power in the last century. Kerri Miller kicked off the series by talking with historian Martha S. Jones about how Black women shaped the country and had to fight their own battle for the right to vote.  Guest: Martha S. Jones is a historian and writer. Her forthcoming book is “Vanguard: How Black Women Overcame Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All.” A portion of this conversation has been transcribed and lightly edited for clarity. Listen to the full conversation with the audio player above. Kerri Miller: I know Americans have a pretty ambivalent relationship with the idea of power and women. Pew research finds 92 percent of the time ‘power’ is used in a negative way when it describes a woman. We have a long way to go. I feel like, 100 years later, we're still figuring out what it means to use that power and be seen as people who should be able to use that power. I'd love you to reflect on that. I think you're absolutely right. And as we see American women entering into new spheres of power, don't we also see then, if you will, the backlash, the criticism, the commentary. Tuesday in The Washington Post, Michele Norris had a piece about the kind of critiques that have come to women like Kamala Harris as they're being vetted for a spot on the Democratic ticket for the November election — pointing out the ways in which, still, when women make themselves visible in public life, when they put themselves out front, they can expect critiques that probably would not come to men in the same position. Women in public life, particularly in political life, I think have to still anticipate that kind of criticism. Norris notes that this idea of ambition, of aspiring to an exalted political position, is still seen essentially as suspect in women when it is never questioned in men. I mean, there, you've seen the writing about how women who are aspiring to this vice presidential position, how it is seen as unseemly that many of these women are openly saying, ‘Yes, I'd love to have the job and I think I could be successful and bring a lot of value to a Biden presidency.’  I'm hearing the voice of Stacey Abrams in your, in your remarks, right?, Abrams, who's been very forthright and what that really brings up for me is the important degree to which this is an old critique of African American women in particular that goes back to the 1820s, when in a period during which slavery is ending, particularly in the northern United States, African American women are becoming free people aspiring to be citizens and occupying the public space in a city like Philadelphia. They will be caricatured and critiqued, 200 years ago, precisely for aspiring too much. Professor Jones, we did a show about some of the new statistics on who the pandemic is falling most weightily on , (and women are) still doing much of the child care, still doing much of the work that needs done around the home, still juggling the professional jobs, and still trying to make our case in a social construct where there remains a lot of skepticism about this. One of the things that came out in one of the surveys I relied on was that men believe they are doing equal housework and child care. That is one of the things that I find most infuriating. One of the things I think American women struggle against are the myths, right? About who does what, and who carries which burdens. When we aspire to professional, professional accomplishment and more, there is this erasure, isn't there, of the ways in which women continue to carry responsibilities, not only in their immediate families, but in their communities, but also the ways in which women are part of a whole range of civic enterprises, their religious communities, their charitable organizations, their benevolent organizations and more. But we get somehow mythologized either as women, people who cannot, or people who are somehow super and can do it all and it’s very difficult to bring that conversation back down. But I'd add that I think that is one of the reasons that this ongoing struggle for American women's political power includes a question about how to use it. And the question is how to put these questions not simply on the agenda in an exchange with a colleague or friend, right, but how do you put that question on the agenda in a state legislature in Congress for policy makers. That is where women's political power and the kind of risk-taking and the kind of barrier-breaking that women do is essential to moving beyond myth and getting us to some very concrete questions about the ways in which American women fit into the many facets of life, including political life. I note your use of the word ‘risk’ when you talk about how to put these questions into the policy agenda in our political institutions. Risks of what, would you say?  Well, I think that there is the risk of being dismissed, right? as somehow inventing concerns out of whole cloth. There is the risk of being accused of somehow, as the women I write about in the 19th century, were accused of unsexing themselves somehow — betraying or abandoning the perceived privileges of womanhood. So these kinds of critiques are, of course, part of the story. But we know, for example, that American women still face a series of scourges. Whether it's for African American women, it’s health disparities or economic disparities. Whether it's the #MeToo question and the prospect of sexual harassment and violence. These continue to be dangerous waters for American women. Even as these are old questions, I can tell you have their origins in the 19th century. It turns out that those concerns and those risks for American women continue even into the 21st century.  Listener question: My biggest concern is that returning to school in the fall affects teachers, a group that is still largely comprised of women, and the administrators and politicians, a largely male group, are the ones making the decisions about returning to class and safety and what that will look like. I think this is a feminist fight as well.  I'll add another word that is very much of our moment and that is the word “essential.” This rethinking, this new understanding, this illumination, of the ways in which many workers like teachers turn out to be essential workers in a complex and multifaceted American economy. Part of the focus and the urgency around the question of reopening schools is precisely because so many American women need to return fully to the workplace, and school is one facet of that. I'm interested in the ways in which perhaps we have a new opportunity to, if you will, reset the equation and to talk about women as having done the work and continuing to do the work, but more to the point, how essential that work is. Of course, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't talk about women as leaders, women as policy makers, women who are at the helm of these institutions. But I do think this focus on essential work gives us an opportunity to also talk about broad swaths of American women, many of them who have been unsung, unappreciated, unrecognized for the indispensability of the sort of labor that they perform every day. Listener question: I'm very involved in startups and venture capital and after the wake of the killing of George Floyd ... there's been a huge movement, which is necessary, to bring more capital to people of color. However, I see infighting and tension created within the startup and funding community between white women and people of color and women of color specifically.  Yes, it's a comment that really does invite us to take history as a set of lessons or at least as a cautionary tale. Because you're right to point out that for much and throughout most of the movement, the women's suffrage movement, the movement that gives us the 19th Amendment, racism becomes an instrument. Racism runs through the politics of women's votes in ways that very much prevent Black and white women from finding common ground, consolidating women's power as Women's Power, and instead you have the kind of fracturing that I think the caller is concerned about. One of my great issues sheroes from the 19th century was a poet, anti slavery lecturer, novelist, and political commentator, Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Watkins Harper was born in Baltimore, but became a activist of great reputation in part for her speaking style. And as a Black woman when she came into these fraught scenes, white men, Black men, white women, all speaking in narrow terms about their interests. Her wonderful line is “we are all bound up together in one great bundle of humanity.” And this value really comes to be at the core of African American women's quest for the vote. But as I suggested, when they confront racism, when they discover white suffragists using racism as part of their tactic to win the 19th Amendment, African American women pull back and continue to work in their own organizations, but do not find a hospitable, if you will, home for their political ambitions, in collaboration with white women. So it is a fraught history. That brings us to 2020. And the ongoing necessity for American women to struggle to find their own common ground, to discover how they are bound up together as humanity. And so I'm deeply sympathetic and appreciative in fact of the caller's work as she's described it, right, that this requires conversation, it requires listening, it requires some time ceding authority where one might enjoy it. But in my view, if we're going to talk about American women, as women in the 21st century, there's no way to do that without moving through as difficult and fraught, as it is the legacies of, among other things, anti Black racism in order to get there. I just think there's no shortcut around those conversations.  In some ways, it seems like the white suffragists felt that this was a zero-sum game as in, if people of color — specifically men of color — get the vote first, we will again have to wait. Could you describe how they saw the political landscape? So we're going back to a critical moment in U.S. history, the years after the Civil War. The Constitution is being rewritten. The nation is going through a Reconstruction that incorporates four million formerly enslaved people into the body politic as citizens. This is a revolution in the United States and it is also an opportunity for rethinking the fundamental terms of who is in and who is out when it comes to political rights. You're right to point to the opportunities of this period, which appear to many as coming out of Congress to be some protection for African-American men's votes, by way of the 14th and then the 15th Amendments to the Constitution. But within certainly radical political coalitions, there’s no companion proposals coming out of Congress for women's votes. So how to think about that? Well, there's not one way to think about that, of course, and notoriously, Elizabeth Cady Stanton will take the position that no one should win the vote in this era before educated white women. This is her position, right? Educated women should come first. Frederick Douglass sees the question of voting rights as a matter of life and death for African American men who are facing violence in the public square in the wake of slavery abolition. But I mentioned Francis Ellen Watkins Harper. Importantly, because oftentimes when we look back on that history, she and other Black women like Sojourner Truth who are part of the scene also get erased or overlooked. And yet I think that it's Francis Ellen Watkins Harper who sets the bar high, who says, in essence, no racism, no sexism, politics should not concede to either of those prejudices. And as a coalition, as a nation, we should be speaking about political rights in terms of humanity and all of humanity. This is a legacy that African American women leave to us. In fact, it turns out, the reason I call women like Watkins Harper “the vanguard” is that she articulates a political vision, a set of values that today in the 21st century, I don't think we would argue with right? Racism and sexism should have no place in arbitrating political rights in the United States, but she has that vision going all the way back to the 1860s. And of course, she's not successful, and there will be splinters and factions, and women's voting politics will proceed. Oftentimes, it’s by way of a dirty bargain with racism, particularly when that movement looks to bring white Southern women and their husbands and fathers sympathetically into the movement. African American women will be set to the side. They will be marginalized. And that is, frankly, one of the legacies as well of the 19th Amendment and it is a legacy that we still are grappling with even today. Listener question: The 14th Amendment, under the equal protection clause, women's rights are still not explicitly guaranteed even in 2020. I wanted to get your thoughts on how this impacts women today. Is it symbolic? Is it creating barriers? Or does it have no effect? The 14th amendment, it turns out, has no teeth of its own. We have, for a very long time, looked to Congress to give teeth to that amendment, to the 15th Amendment, to the 19th Amendment. And so it takes, for example, until the Civil Rights Act for the equality principle, in the 14th Amendment, to actually become something that both lawmakers and citizens can use. I think an even bigger point is that constitutional amendments on their own don't do the kind of work that we might hope they would do or that we need them to do. It requires, then, Congress to act on those and give teeth to those amendments. And it requires, of course, us citizens to be vigilant and to breathe meaning into something like the 14th Amendment. No American becomes equal by virtue of the 14th amendment. It's only when that amendment is put into practice, that we begin to see its potential. Today, American women are facing a gnarly fight over the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, still a live question many, many, many decades, almost a century after Alice Paul first put forward the Equal Rights Amendment. We are going to live in real time, both through the struggle for that amendment as ratification, and then, what does it mean to give teeth to the promise of equality to American women? That is something we will have to be vigilant about if we want that amendment to have meaning in our lives. Do you think the ERA is worth the investment of time and energy? Or should we turn our limited time and energy to other causes? I think we've come this far with the ERA and it's time to see it through. … We are as close as we're ever going to be and so I'm one who would like to see us see that amendment through to the Constitution.

Aug 5

49 min

2020 feels like a whirlwind of news and change. But even as new issues — like the coronavirus have arisen — previous problems haven’t gone away and their depths have been highlighted or exacerbated amid the pandemic. One of those issues is climate change. In the early months of the pandemic, the levels of two major air pollutants drastically dropped. And the need for fossil fuels declined as planes were grounded due to the lack of travel. But the world is trying to return to various economic and social activities as people figure out how to live with the virus, and so the green effects of the early months of quarantine are likely fleeting. In all of this, climate change activists are watching and weighing the lessons of the pandemic as they move forward. MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with a meteorologist and a biologist on Tuesday at 9 a.m. about what we’re learning about climate change, education and activism in this period of transformation. Guests: Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist, journalist and author of “The Future Earth: A Radical Vision for What's Possible in the Age of Warming.” Elizabeth Sawin is co-founder and co-director of Climate Interactive. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.

Aug 4

44 min

More than 150,000 people in the U.S. have died after being infected with COVID-19. It’s a sobering milestone that comes at a time when an increasing number of states are seeing an uptick in infections and hospitalizations. What we’re experiencing now is something Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm has likened to a “national forest fire.” During a time of surging cases, he told NPR, contact tracing and traditional testing aren’t going to go far enough to slow down the spread. MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with Osterholm about the management of the pandemic, vaccine development and the possibility of additional lockdowns. Guest:  Dr. Michael Osterholm is director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota. 

Aug 3

49 min

Gov. Tim Walz released the state’s much-awaited guidance for how schools should reopen this fall, encouraging a return to in-person classroom teaching. However, the state is leaving it up to the districts to make the call on whether to rely on in-person, online or a combination based on local health conditions. Health data and analysis will be offered to districts during the upcoming school year to help leaders, school staff and families determine if they need to alter plans. Meanwhile, the state will also pay for masks for all staff and students, along with the cost of testing. MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with superintendents, principals and listeners about what’s in store for their schools and communities. Guests: Christine Tucci Osorio is the superintendent of North St. Paul/Maplewood/Oakdale Independent School District. Jeff Pesta is superintendent of the Deer River Independent School District. Jeannie Mayer is principal of Menahga Elementary School. Abdirizak Abdi is principal of Humboldt High School.  Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Jul 31

76 min

Dr. Michele Harper says she doesn’t have any special powers. But for 36 hours every week, she works in a hospital emergency room and she has several jobs. She writes: “... I am called upon to be salve, antidote, and sometimes Charon. Most of the time my job is to keep death at bay. When I am successful, I send the patient back out into the world. When I’m not, I am there as life passes away.” In her first book, “The Beauty of Breaking,” Harper details what she’s learned about life, death and self-healing as a Black emergency room physician in the United States. She spoke with MPR News host Kerri Miller about the power in ‘breaking’ and what it means for growth in our lives. Guest: Dr. Michele Harper has worked as an emergency room physician for more than a decade. “The Beauty in Breaking” is her first book. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 29

48 min

The majority of white evangelical support went to President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and it’s a voting bloc that continues to hold the attention of campaigns and political analysts in the lead-up to the 2020 election.  That support in 2016 was’t necessarily a transactional or a “lesser of two evils” choice. Rather, it’s “the culmination of evangelicals’ embrace of militant masculinity, an ideology that enshrines patriarchal authority and condones the callous display of power, at home and abroad,” according to author and history professor Kristin Kobes Du Mez in her latest book. She also writes that it’s not a change that started with Trump, nor will it end when he’s no longer in office. In “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation,” Kobes Du Mez explores Christian manhood, the history and culture of this group and where American evangelicalism goes from here. She joined MPR News host Kerri Miller in conversation Tuesday morning. Guest: Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history, gender studies and urban studies at Calvin University. Her latest book is “Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation.”

Jul 28

49 min

Supplementary unemployment benefits are likely to end before Congress can pass legislation on a replacement package. House Democrats have been pushing to extend the extra $600 per week unemployment benefit, and on Monday Senate Republicans shared their plan to trim that temporary benefit to $200 per week. This news comes as unemployment claims are ratcheting back up. It’s estimated that 1 in 5 workers is collecting unemployment benefits.  The spread of COVID-19 has sharpened the focus on long standing economic inequality and stagnant wages. Before the pandemic, the number of Americans working low wage jobs was close to half. Those Americans experienced the largest share of job cuts, according to an early report from the Federal Reserve. MPR News guest host and senior economics contributor Chris Farrell spoke with two economists about unemployment and the path to an economic recovery. Guests: Jared Bernstein is a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He previously served as chief economist and economic adviser to Vice President Joe Biden during the Obama administration. Indivar Dutta-Gupta is co-executive director of the Georgetown Center on Poverty and Inequality. 

Jul 27

51 min

Hot enough for you? Here in the Twin Cities, this summer is the sixth hottest ever so far. In fact, as meteorologist Sven Sundgaard tweeted recently, if you are under the age of 65, you’ve only lived through five summers that have been hotter. On Friday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller got the details from Sundgaard about what’s going on. Can we chalk this up to climate change? Are dew points extra high because of corn sweat? And will the second half of summer be as sweaty as the first? Guest: Sven Sundgaard, Minnesota meteorologistTo listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 24

10 min

In 2013, a sit-in to protest the development plans of a historic park in Istanbul morphed into something else: an indictment on the government of Turkey and weeks of protests. It’s an important event in Turkish history and also plays a role in the latest novel from author Elliot Ackerman, “Red Dress in Black and White.” The novel, which takes place over the course of a day, dives into the lives of an American woman, her Turkish husband, son, and a photographer with whom she’s having an affair. Her goal is to return to the U.S., but the novel goes beyond this and the relationships between the four as Ackerman turns his eye to political intrigue. While the novel is set in Turkey, the look at politics goes beyond the country’s borders. Ackerman said what was freeing about writing the book “was it allowed me to engage with themes I think are also American themes, political themes that at this time, it’s very difficult to write about in a work of fiction because emotions here are so high,” he said. “There’s just not enough space to engage in a novel with politics that are immediate to this moment. Sometimes you have to take that step to the side to engage with similar themes.” MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Ackerman about his latest novel; writing about past emotional events in a way that readers can connect with; and how his life -- including his work as a journalist and time in the military  -- influences his fiction. Guest:  Elliot Ackerman is the author of several books. His latest is “Red Dress in Black and White.” Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Jul 24

39 min

Is 2020 the year of the garden? Anecdotally, more people are expanding their gardens or testing whether they have a green thumb for the first time. Garden centers and garden-related industries have reported an increase in seed and product sales during the pandemic. There’s even been talk of COVID-19 “victory gardens,” a throwback to the historical gardens of World War II. But the benefits aren’t just physical. Gardening, green spaces and plants can boost mental health as well. On Thursday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller will talk with two guests about the power of plants and talk with listeners about how to make their vegetables and blooms thrive. Guests Julie Weisenhorn is an associate professor in horticulture at the University of Minnesota.  Catherine Grant is the biology department greenhouse manager at the University of St. Thomas.

Jul 23

50 min

Initial results from three separate groups working on COVID-19 vaccines look promising, but that doesn’t mean doses will be available at a local pharmacy soon. Even if a formula gets approved, being able to manufacture and distribute enough doses at a global scale will be challenging. Getting community buy-in is another hurdle. Polling from May showed that roughly half of Americans would get a COVID-19 vaccine if it was available. A separate poll from June found that around 7 in 10 Americans were willing to get the vaccine. On Wednesday at 9 a.m., two experts joined MPR News host Kerri Miller for a conversation about the race to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.  Guests:  Angela Rasmussen is a virologist and associate research scientist at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Margaret Liu is chair of the board of the International Society for Vaccines.  To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 22

50 min

It’s the question everyone is asking: Will Minnesota schools reopen in-person this fall, or will education be digital again? To say it’s a complex issue is an understatement. Public health leaders have to balance the needs of children, who certainly benefit from being in classes, with teachers, who could be more vulnerable to COVID-19, and parents, who are overwhelmed trying to work while balancing child care.  Minnesota’s decision is expected by the end of the month. In the meantime, what can we learn from states and districts that have already announced how school will look this fall? On Tuesday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with two experts about how to weigh the risk.  Guests:  Scott Sargrad is a former U.S. Department of Education official and current vice president of K-12 education policy at the Center for American Progress. Dr. Kate Connor is a pediatrician at Johns Hopkins and the medical director of the Rales Center for the Integration of Health and Education. Unscientific survey shows Most MN families want in-person school, despise distance learning MN state officials To announce K-12 academic year plans by late July

Jul 21

49 min

Scientists are moving quickly to uncover new information about the novel coronavirus. However, their work also includes fighting back against the spread of misinformation. A survey from the Pew Research Center earlier this year revealed that 48 percent of respondents had seen at least some fake news about the COVID-19 outbreak. The spread of misinformation has reached the point of international involvement, and the United Nations has launched the Pause campaign, asking people to stop and analyze information before sharing it.  Meanwhile, fake information isn’t the only thing spreading. Twenty-two states and two U.S. territories have reported at least one record-high day of confirmed cases since July 1. On Monday, MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with an epidemiologist and emergency room doctor about the latest news on infection spread and treatment of the virus. They also talked about their work in addressing misinformation about COVID-19 and answered listener questions about what’s fact and what’s fiction. Guests: Dr. Craig Spencer is the director of global health in emergency medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center. Dr. Seema Yasmin is a multimedia reporter, medical doctor, poet and director of Stanford Health Communication.

Jul 20

50 min

In Brit Bennett’s latest novel, “The Vanishing Half,” twin sisters Desiree and Stella start out life together in the fictional Black community of Mallard, Louisiana. But their paths ultimately diverge, and one sister disappears to a life in which she’ll secretly pass for white. The tale delves into the concept of colorism, or discrimination within communities of color against darker skin, and it starts in the town the twins are born in.  In the book, the town of Mallard was founded by the freed son of a white master and an enslaved woman in the mid-1800s. It’s created as a space for Black people who strive to marry and have children who are lighter skinned, “Each generation lighter than the one before,” even though the town’s founder knows that lighter skin color will be a “lonely gift.”  “I was interested in writing about colorism as something that was not going to feel abstract or was not going to feel ... like I was kind of thinking about this only intellectually,” Bennett said. “I wanted to think about it as an embodied feeling and think about what the characters are experiencing within this society that is structured around such an insidious ideology.” MPR News host Kerri Miller had a thoughtful conversation with Bennett about her novel and about writing during a pandemic. Guest: Brit Bennett is the author of “The Mothers.” Her latest novel is “The Vanishing Half.”To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 17

40 min

MPR News program director Steph Curtis stopped by for a mid-summer edition of “The Five,” where she recommends things to read, listen and experience this week.   Read: “Why We Swim” from Bonnie Tsui is about the science, culture and history of swimming. It had Curtis annoying her family with swimming facts and tales, such as the first cave painting of people swimming and how swimming became a competitive sport. Finishing the book inspired Curtis to swim across Lake Nokomis and back through the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s Open Swim Club. Listen: For soothing, seasonal tunes, look no further than the Texas-based trio Khruangbin. Their music is perfect for a night spent sitting out on the porch. Play: The pandemic has canceled a lot of activities this spring and summer, but King of Tokyo is a board game that is easy to play with whoever you happen to be quarantining — kids included!  Watch: The Robert Redford movie “Quiz Show” came out in the ‘90s, but Curtis says it stands the test of time. The film depicts the game show fixing scandal from the 1950s. Bonus: If a romantic drama is more your speed, Kerri Miller recommends watching the Hulu series “Normal People,” which is based on Sally Rooney’s novel of the same name.  Reflect: Feeling stressed out? Researchers at Harvard have some advice for managing the myriad little things that can add up to a stressful day. Learn more by reading their article “Don’t Let Micro-Stresses Burn You Out.”  To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above.Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 17

14 min

In the United States, only 10 states and the District of Columbia are conducting enough tests to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The state-specific targets were generated by the Harvard Global Health Institute. Six states, including Minnesota, are considered “close” to reaching their testing targets, and 34 states fall far below the goal. The COVID Tracking Project follows testing data closely and also reports on racial disparities. They found that Black people are 2.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than their white peers. In several states, Hispanic and Latinx people are overrepresented, relative to their share of the population, when looking at confirmed cases of COVID-19.  On Thursday, MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with a public health expert and an infectious disease physician about racial disparities and the role of testing in understanding COVID-19.   Guests: Dr. Manisha Juthani is an infectious disease physician at the Yale School of Medicine. Thomas LaVeist is a professor and dean at Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He also serves as the co-chair of Louisiana’s COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Jul 16

43 min

It’s a tough time to be a worker. The economy is slogging forward and adding jobs after record 14.7 percent unemployment in April. But millions of people are still out of work and no longer have jobs to return to. And not all jobs are created equal. Even before the pandemic, low-wage work was pervasive. According to Brookings, 53 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 64 — about 44 percent of all workers — have a median annual income of about $18,000. Is the pandemic our chance to rethink our country’s approach to labor? Wednesday at 9 a.m., MPR News host Kerri Miller took a look at what makes some jobs bad – and how our economy could invest in better jobs. Guests: Zeynep Ton is a professor in the operations management group at MIT Sloan School of Management and president of the nonprofit Good Jobs Institute.  Rita Gunther McGrath is a professor at Columbia Business School where she directs the Strategic Growth and Change program. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS.

Jul 15

49 min

Whose job is it to address the challenges the United States faces right now? Can any one person — like the president — fix it?  These questions come up as the country grapples with the COVID-19 pandemic, a touch-and-go economy, and protests and calls for change following the police killing of George Floyd and  several other Black Americans.  America has faced an onslaught of challenges before, but it’s weighing on us. For example, 80 percent of participants in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey told pollsters that things are “out of control.” MPR News host Kerri Miller talked with a political scientist and a historian about how change happens and whether any one person or group can fix the situation we’re in. Guests:  Philip Chen, assistant professor of political science at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Leah Wright Rigueur, assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. To listen to the full conversation you can use the audio player above. Subscribe to the MPR News with Kerri Miller podcast on: Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts , Spotify or RSS

Jul 14

49 min

Minnesota recently surpassed a new milestone: More than 40,000 people in the state have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. While deaths and hospitalizations are holding steady, the number of confirmed cases and rate of positive tests have increased. These developments come as communities around the state — like Winona, Rochester, Mankato and the Twin Cities — have set mask mandates and the Walz administration weighs a requirement on the statewide level. MPR News host Kerri Miller spoke with Commissioner Jan Malcolm and Kris Ehresmann of the Minnesota Department of Health at 9 a.m. Monday to answer listener questions. Here are a few of the questions they addressed during the hour. What is behind the recent increase in infections? The first large spike in cases for Minnesota was in the middle of April and continued through May before declining significantly, Malcolm began, but since the third week of June we have seen increases again.  “We were actually expecting to see an increase” following the relaxation of the stay-at-home order and opening of businesses around the state, she said. However, it’s still concerning, in large part because the increases have been traced to people, especially younger populations, not following social distancing guidelines. COVID-19 tends to have a greater health impact on those 50 years old and older, so younger populations may feel they are not in danger, Malcolm said, but the virus can be deadly even for people with no prior health issues. “It’s rare but it can happen,” she said. People who do not experience a severe case can still spread it to others in their family and communities. Those not taking guidelines seriously may not realize how easily the virus is transmitted, Malcolm said, and it is essential that they understand the risks to themselves and others. How effective would a mask mandate be? It has been disappointing to see people treating the use of masks as a strictly personal choice, Ehresmann said. Wearing a mask is primarily about protecting those around you. The comparison to the flu is also fraught with misconceptions. COVID-19 is significantly easier to spread than the flu, nobody has had it before and is different from the flu in many other ways, Malcolm said. “There should be nothing political about this. This is a very serious public health threat where our behaviors are clearly affecting others,” Malcolm said, comparing the decision to wear a mask to the decision to smoke around others or drink and drive. Malcolm supports a statewide mandate and has made that recommendation to Gov. Tim Walz. To inform their suggestions, the state Health Department has been compiling data on how mandates have been working in other states. If I am infected, how soon am I contagious? When will I see symptoms? Recent data suggests that you are first contagious about two days before you start experiencing symptoms and you continue to be contagious while experiencing those symptoms, Ehresmann said. About 10 days after you start to feel symptoms, the likelihood that you will infect others drops off significantly. In general, symptoms will start to appear five to seven days after you were exposed to COVID-19. Messaging on how to stay safe has changed a lot since the beginning of the pandemic, how do we make decisions when we can’t see the impacts? When it comes to guidance like wearing masks and not gathering in large groups, “vigilance is what we’re looking for, not social shaming, but awareness,” Malcolm said. At the beginning of the pandemic it wasn’t yet clear what kind of masks were going to be effective against spreading COVID-19, which prompted health officials to discourage using them in order to save that equipment for health care workers. Now that we know more about the ease at which the virus is transmitted it’s clear that even a homemade cloth mask is helpful, Malcolm said. The science and research are building, and things will change. Usually there is a body of literature with which to work with to at least give some idea of how the virus will progress, Ehresmann added. That is not the case with COVID-19. Masks are still only suggested when people are indoors or in a situation where they cannot social distance. How bad is this year’s flu season going to be? “That’s certainly a scenario we are planning for and concerned about,” Malcolm said. The Health Department doesn’t know much yet about what the season will be like, which makes it even more important that everyone gets their flu vaccine. There is evidence that you can have both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. “Oftentimes flu season deaths are due to opportunistic infections,” Ehresmann said. If you have influenza there’s a chance COVID-19 could be that infection. Flu season will also be part of the consideration when figuring out how to make sure health care system is not overwhelmed later this year. What is behind the long wait times for testing, especially for health care workers? There is a testing command center that has been set up to advise the state, Ehresmann explained. There are several groups that have been prioritized for testing – including health care workers who have been exposed to the virus — but those priorities have not been adopted at the same rate within all hospitals. Individual health care systems have their own limited capacity and they are setting priorities, Malcolm said, and while the Health Department has tried to organize in such a way that health care workers don’t hit up against those limitations, the work is ongoing. What does the research say about long-term health implications? The challenge is we’re only seven months out from initial cases so it’s difficult to talk about long-term impacts just yet, Ehresmann said. However, we do know that even as people are recovering many do have prolonged symptoms. There’s also evidence that even asymptomatic and mild infections cases can result in issues down the road. “Every time we turn around there’s a new piece of information and it’s not usually positive,” Ehresmann said. What precautions should you take when pregnant? Data suggests pregnant people are at a greater risk, Ehresmann said. So, you’d want to be particularly cautious about where you’re going in public — limit interactions, make sure you’re socially distancing and asking loved ones to wear masks. “Limit exposure as much as you can,” she said. What does the data suggest when it comes to reopening schools? “There are so many issues to balance in all of these decisions,” Malcolm said. Everyone is aware of the many benefits of getting kids back to school, but it needs to be balanced with safety. The Health Department is looking at examples in other countries and states, but the decision will ultimately be informed by how easy it is for children to contract and transmit the disease. That risk appears to be small, “not nonexistent, but small,” Malcolm said. The safety of teachers will also be key. The suggestion is still for school districts to plan for three different scenarios because it’s possible that circumstances could change throughout the year. Guests: Jan Malcolm is the commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health. Kris Ehresmann is the director of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention and Control Division at the Minnesota Department of Health.

Jul 13

50 min

Writer and anti-racist trainer Robin DiAngelo first coined the term "white fragility" in 2011 to describe the ways in which many white people react emotionally and defensively when confronted with issues of race. DiAngelo told MPR News host Kerri Miller that for white people like her, it's easy to go through life without having to discuss issues of race. "Day in and day out I move through a world in which I'm racially comfortable," DiAngelo said. "It's rare for me to be outside my racial comfort zone, and generally, that's a situation that I can choose, and in both implicit and explicit ways all my life have been warned not to choose to be outside of my racial comfort zone." Previous discussion How to talk about racism Survey White millenials are sleeping on racism DiAngelo has devoted her career to educating people about race, racism and how generations of American history have led to deep racial divisions that many white people are not used to confronting, but need to be. And this includes white progressives, who DiAngelo says, can be the slowest to engage in self-reflection around racism. And DiAngelo should know — she identifies as a progressive white person. "So white progressives, we tend to put our energy on, when the topic comes up, establishing our credentials as 'not racist,'" DiAngelo said. "What we need to be doing is engaging in ongoing, critical self-reflection and knowledge, relationship-building, mistake-making, ongoing education, risk-taking, strategic, intentional action. Not just 'Hey, I'm good to go because I'm a nice person.'" DiAngelo's book is called "White Fragility: Why It's So Hard To Talk To White People About Racism. Editor’s note: This conversation originally aired on July 5, 2018.

Jul 10

51 min

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