Answering Your Coronavirus Questions: Unemployment, Exercise And Video Game Recs

Mar 25, 2020
Originally published on March 26, 2020 4:19 pm

On this broadcast of The National Conversation, NPR reporters answer your questions about what you can do if you've been laid off, how to exercise and practice social distancing, and video games.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I would love to have the country opened up, and they're just raring to go by Easter.


President Trump says he wants to get Americans back to work sooner than public health officials are forecasting. It's Tuesday, March 24, and this is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.


SHAPIRO: I'm Ari Shapiro. This hour, we take your questions about how to avoid catching COVID-19 beyond hand-washing and staying home.

KELLY: Where I live, there are a lot of former gymgoers out running. And if I'm moving 5 or 6 miles an hour, what is a safe distance to run behind somebody?

SHAPIRO: Also, ordering delivery from local restaurants can help keep a small business alive, but is it also a health risk?

SARAH: If germs on my hand are bad for my mouth, shouldn't germs on food be a potential risk as well?

SHAPIRO: Later, with record numbers of people filing for unemployment, we'll get financial advice for those who've been laid off. Plus, video games to get away from it all after these headlines.

This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. And we're here to answer your questions.

RILEY: My name is Riley (ph).

NATALIE RYAN: Hi. My name is Natalie (ph).

SARAH: This is Sarah (ph) in Washington state.

RYAN: I'm a small-business owner from Southern California.

SETH DEITZ: I was recently laid off my job of 10 years because of this recent pandemic.

RYAN: My business has been essentially ground to a halt.

DEITZ: Should I continue paying my mortgage and other bills, I will very likely run out of money very soon.

SARAH: My question is can the virus be transmitted through the bloodstream? If germs on my hand are bad for my mouth, shouldn't germs on food be a potential risk as well?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: And I was wondering if it was possible for the government to suspend all debt? Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thank you so much. Have a good day.

SHAPIRO: Tonight, we'll get to your questions about the impact of the coronavirus on all facets of life - politics, the economy, raising your kids and keeping your family safe and sane. Keep those questions coming. You can send them to us at or on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Use the hashtag #NPRconversation. Each night, we begin THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION by answering the question, what happened today? Well, today, President Trump told Fox News he hopes life can return to normal by Easter, less than three weeks from now.


TRUMP: It's such an important day for other reasons, but I'll make it an important day for this, too. I would love to have the country opened up, and they're just raring to go by Easter.

SHAPIRO: At the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, Dr. Anthony Fauci tried to lower expectations.


ANTHONY FAUCI: That's really very flexible. We just had a conversation with the president in the Oval Office talking about, you know, you can look at a date, but you've got to be very flexible on a literally day-by-day, week-by-week basis.

SHAPIRO: The epicenter in the U.S. remains New York City. More than 130 people there have died from the virus. The White House urged anyone who has been to the city recently to self-isolate for 14 days. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warned it will get worse.


ANDREW CUOMO: The rate of infection is going up. It is spiking. The apex is higher than we thought, and the apex is sooner than we thought. That is a bad combination of fact.

SHAPIRO: Ohio's governor, Mike DeWine, told us he has similar concerns.

MIKE DEWINE: We're in a shortage. Particularly, you know, that personal protection gear for our first responders - that's a big concern.

SHAPIRO: On Capitol Hill, Congress seems closer to a compromise on a bill that would send cash directly to vulnerable Americans and businesses.


SHAPIRO: Markets loved that and jumped more than 2,000 points. And internationally, India joined other countries in lockdown.


PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI: (Non-English language spoken).

SHAPIRO: That's Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordering India's 1.3 billion people to stay home for three weeks.

Now let's get to your questions. Our first expert today is NPR's congressional editor Deirdre Walsh, who's been following the debate of relief measures on Capitol Hill. Hi, Deirdre.


SHAPIRO: All right. There's a bit of a delay on your line, but I want to get to one of the first questions that will help us unpack where things are in Congress. This comes to us from Pamela (ph) in Georgia, who wants to know who would actually get the money from this bill?

PAMELA: Which ones would be entitled to the stipend that the government - I think they announced today $2 trillion direct cash payments to the citizens, and then another 4 trillion in making money available as loans for businesses and stuff.

SHAPIRO: So the question is to whom do those $2 trillion in direct cash payments go? Deirdre, this seems to be one of the sticking points over who exactly will get the money.

WALSH: It sure is. They are still writing the bill and working out exactly who gets the money and who will oversee how that money gets spent by the federal government. We do know that they are still planning to include a big chunk of the bill on these direct cash payments, and they would be scaled according to income. There is also going to be aid in there for small businesses, larger companies, state and local governments and hospitals. And as the listener said, on top of that, they're talking about leveraging another $4 trillion in lending authority to free up cash to help businesses of all sizes.

But this deal has been going on all day. The negotiations have been going on all day. Since around 9:30 this morning, top congressional leaders have been saying they are so close to a deal. Many of them have been using football analogies. We heard House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying they were in the red zone. Let's take a listen to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who's been the main Democrat negotiating this package with the Trump administration.


CHUCK SCHUMER: Last night, I thought we were on the 5-yard line. Right now, we're on the 2. As I also said last night, at this point, of the few outstanding issues, I don't see any that can't be overcome within the next few hours.

WALSH: I will say that we just heard a frustrated Senator Lindsey Graham, who is really tired of this football game still going on. And he was just on the Senate floor complaining that they need to get the defense off the field, have Mnuchin cut off the talks and move towards a vote. So there are still a lot of impatient Republicans.

SHAPIRO: Yeah. They've been saying that they're close for a while now. The price tag on this bill is so large. I mean, $2 trillion in cash handouts, $4 trillion in loans. We have a question here from Jill (ph) in Milwaukee, who says where's all this money coming from with our national debt so high?

WALSH: That is a great question. I mean, I looked this up earlier. The federal government takes in about roughly $3.5 trillion in revenue from income tax and payroll taxes, according to the IRS. So if we're talking about a $2 trillion package, that's obviously a big chunk of that. That's going to add already to the debt that a lot of lawmakers have been warning about.

But I will say that conservatives who have been sounding alarm bells about debt have really not been talking about this issue at all. What they are saying is in a crisis, it's time to stimulate the economy and start injecting cash into consumer - into individuals' hands and free up cash for businesses who are going to be struggling for a while.

SHAPIRO: Well, part of the reason that this bill has not passed is a debate about oversight, which is often an issue on Capitol Hill. We have a question from a listener about that.

JEFFREY KABAD: Hi. My name is Jeffrey Kabad (ph). I'm calling from Indiana, where I'm a nonprofit association consultant. And in my work, we talk a lot about fiduciary responsibility. So I'm curious as to how the financial guardrails for the fiscal stimulus package that's under consideration that the Democrats are proposing compare to what the Republicans required under President Obama in 2008 and 2009.

SHAPIRO: Interesting question there comparing the financial guardrails in this proposal to the stimulus during the Great Recession of 2008 and 2009. Deirdre, how do they compare?

WALSH: Right. I will say that this oversight issue has been a big sticking point. It's been the one thing that Democrats were really pushing to change from the Senate Republican bill that came out. Initially, that bill had the Treasury secretary sort of overseeing this roughly $500 billion economic stabilization fund. And then in the 2008 bailout, which was sort of crafted at the end of George Bush's term and was implemented under Obama, they put in some sort of oversight structure.

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was talking about language, adding an inspector general, a congressional board of review people. But we still are learning the details of that, and we haven't seen the language.

But I should say this is very different from the 2008 financial crisis. Both Republicans and Democrats are talking about this as a rescue package, not a bailout.

SHAPIRO: Finally, we have a question here from Nancy (ph) in Gainesville, Fla., who asks, are the senators allowing lobbyist involvement with the negotiations for the relief bill that they are working to complete? If so, that would seem very inappropriate, she says. How involved are lobbyists for the various industries that are hoping for a cash handout here?

WALSH: Well, I guess I would just say welcome to Washington. I mean, just like every big bill, there's always a lot of lobbyists involved.


WALSH: And this is actually something that Senator Graham was complaining about on the Senate floor a few minutes ago. He was saying every special interest group is trying to nickel and dime this bill.

I mean, I think the big difference is we have not seen a bill of this magnitude go through the legislative process so quickly. So these industries, like hotels, cruise ships, retailers, I'm sure, are burning up the phone lines. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi did say while she was trying to work on making this sort of a - what she called a more worker-oriented bill, she did say that she was talking to top executives, too, because she understood they had legitimate concerns about trying to get things in this package.

SHAPIRO: Well, thank you for bringing us up to speed on the negotiations. That is NPR congressional editor Deirdre Walsh.

And we're going to turn now to NPR science correspondent and senior editor Rob Stein with us once again. Hi, Rob.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: We heard at the top there President Trump saying he wants things to get back to normal by Easter. He wants to see church pews filled. Fact-check that for us. I mean, perhaps fact-check isn't the word, but is this wishful thinking or is this something that you're actually hearing from public health experts that could be feasible?

STEIN: Yeah. You know, Ari, everyone hopes this would end soon and life can get back to normal. You know, a lot of people are suffering. Paychecks have disappeared. Businesses are folding. Kids are bouncing off the walls. But none of the public health experts I hear from think this is realistic, unfortunately.


STEIN: The virus could now really - the virus could just be peaking in places like New York and could easily just be starting to go bad elsewhere. So, you know, the image of churches packed on Easter Sunday, you know, sent shivers down their spines. They say, look; you know, we can't let our guard down yet. You know, they're not saying there's no end in sight ever, but not that soon - probably not that soon.

SHAPIRO: Another question that gets at this issue comes to us from Katherine (ph) in Greenville, S.C., who asks, if governors continue to close schools and order social distancing but Trump orders the government to reopen, who wins?

STEIN: Yeah, so the governors win, really. I mean, they're the ones - state and local officials - they're the ones that actually have the power on the ground to do things like open and close schools and businesses - that sort of thing. You know, that's why you're already seeing things happening kind of a patchwork way around the country. And it makes sense to some degree to tailor things for the local communities.

But most public health experts say, look; it really would be good to have a single, coherent, uniform national policy when you're trying to fight something, like, as serious as a pandemic so that you don't confuse the public and you really have a strategy for how to beat this thing back.

SHAPIRO: All right. That is NPR's Rob Stein. And if you have questions about COVID-19, we're here to help. Go to or ask us on social media using the hashtag #NPRconversation. You can hear much more of our coverage when you download the NPR One app. Go to the explorer tab. Click on the coronavirus outbreak for a curated stream of stories. Up next, more of your questions about the science behind the virus and its spread. This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.


SHAPIRO: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. Over the past few days, the subject you have asked us about the most is the coronavirus itself and the properties of COVID-19 - how it transfers, how long it lives on surfaces, how it interacts with our food. And NPR science correspondent and editor Rob Stein is back with us to help answer some of those questions. Hi, Rob.

STEIN: Hey there, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Let's start by clarifying something that you and I discussed yesterday. You told me the virus couldn't be spread by mosquitoes. I asked you about dogs. You said, sure, go ahead and cuddle. You don't have to worry about your dog transmitting the virus to you. A lot of listeners said isn't the dog's fur a surface, just like a doorknob? This came from Jude (ph) in Carson City, Nev.

JUDE: Yesterday, your expert said that you could not get COVID-19 from your dog after visiting a dog park where a stranger petted your dog. Well, how do you know that that stranger didn't cough on your dog or sneeze or that your dog didn't lick that person's face? You know, I think dog parks are specifically designed for dogs to socialize and interact, including licking and nipping and sniffing and touching each other's owners, which is actually, to me, the opposite of social distancing. It seems like dogs should be considered a surface for possible contamination.

SHAPIRO: So, Rob, clarify this for us. Should people stay away from dog parks? Should cities close them down?

STEIN: Yeah. You know, I talked to several infectious disease experts and some vets about this today. And, you know, this is the deal with this. There have been a couple of dogs that may have caught the virus in Hong Kong that have been reported, but they didn't get sick. And the CDC and none of these experts that I talked to today are saying there's really any evidence that cats or dogs are spreading the virus to people. And they don't think it's very likely. And, look; you know, dog fur is not the same as, you know, a doorknob or cardboard box. Dog fur probably isn't a very hospitable place for the virus to hang out. So the chances - if there is any risk, it's probably very low.

You know, that said, you know, there's a lot about this virus we don't know. So one infectious disease expert I talked to said, look - hey, look; anything's possible. So if you want to be a hundred percent sure and not take any chances, then, you know, you're staying away from other people, so maybe you should stay away from other people's dogs and cats. And maybe you should keep your dog away from other dogs. But, you know, you're probably OK.

And if you do pet a dog or cat, just, you know, wash your hands really, really well afterwards and don't touch your mouth, your nose, your eyes, like you should be doing anyway.


STEIN: You'll probably be fine. And when it comes to your own dog, you know, that's probably the safest. And, look; we really need some comfort in these crazy times right now.

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. Thank you for doing that research for us. We actually got a lot of questions about surfaces beyond the surface of a pet. Let's listen to this question.

ULI BISHOP: This is Uli Bishop (ph) from Delta, Colo. I read that the CDC is saying that coronavirus RNA has been found on a cruise ship in cabins from those who are symptomatic, as well as asymptomatic. Does this mean the virus could still potentially infect a person after 17 days?

SHAPIRO: I think he's referencing reports there about the Diamond Princess cruise ship.

STEIN: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Rob, what insights do you have?

STEIN: Yeah, yeah. You know, when I first saw that, I said, whoa, what is this? But then when I looked a little bit more deeply into it, I found out there a couple - two things that are really important about this. One is, first of all, they didn't actually find the virus on the ship. What they found was genetic material from the virus, not the virus itself, that was hanging around for 17 days. And that doesn't mean they found virus that could actually infect anyone.

And also, you got to remember this was a cruise ship, and we've seen that the environmental conditions on cruise ships are pretty unusual and, you know, don't necessarily tell us much about anything about other places. So this doesn't really tell us much about whether the virus is going to hang around a really long time in other kinds of situations.

SHAPIRO: All right. If you're listening and you have questions you want to ask, just go to or use the hashtag #NPRconversation on social media. So beyond surfaces, Rob, we got a lot of questions about air droplets that might contain the virus. Let's listen to two of them, starting with Kelly (ph) in Arlington, Va.

KELLY: One of the hardest parts of the lockdown for me is the fact that my gym is closed. And like a lot of people, I've switched to running outside and doing free weights at home. And, of course, whenever I go out, I practice the recommended social distancing. But I'm wondering is 6 feet actually enough when I'm running? Where I live, there are a lot of former gymgoers out running. And if I'm moving 5 or 6 miles an hour, what is a safe distance to run behind somebody? And can I adjust this for the wind speed if I'm running downwind of her, because we have some really windy days in the springtime? Thanks for answering my question, NPR.

SHAPIRO: Not to make light of it, but, Rob, this reminds me of a physics problem. You have two runners going at 5 miles an hour and a wind blowing at 3 miles an hour and an air droplet that might contain the coronavirus. And we got a similar question from Travis (ph) in Raleigh, N.C., who asks if the virus droplets could float into his eyes. Would that put him at risk?

STEIN: Yeah. So to answer that first question about the runner, first of all, good for her for getting out and running. I mean, one of the best things we could be doing right now is regular exercise. I mean, really...


STEIN: ...Is something that's going to really keep your immune system strong to try to fight off the virus and help keep us sane during these crazy times. But, look; there's really nothing special about running. You know, you're outside. The wind is blowing. That's probably one of the safest places to be. And so stay 6 feet away from the other runners, just like you would do in any other situation. And when it comes to...

SHAPIRO: To the eyes question, yeah?

STEIN: Yeah, the eyes. Well, you know, that is true. The virus can get in through your eyes. That is one possibility. That's one of the reasons we're hearing so much about, look; don't touch your face. That's aimed at keeping your fingers away not just from your mouth and your nose but from - also from your eyes. And that's one of the reasons why, you know, you see these health care workers sometimes, they're wearing these full-face clear masks. It's to protect them from potentially getting infected through their eyes.

SHAPIRO: Another big area of interest has been food. We have a question about frozen foods versus fresh produce. This comes from Ken (ph) in San Jose, Calif. He wrote in to ask, a neighbor on Nextdoor posted a notice that Kaiser was recommending only frozen fruits and veggies, as traces of the coronavirus have been found on fresh fruits and veggies. Any thoughts?

STEIN: Yeah, so, look; I think the way to think about food is you think - is it's just like any other object. So if a piece of cardboard or a doorknob can get contaminated with the virus, then, you know, an apple could be contaminated by the virus. To suppose, possibly, if somebody coughs on it and then you touch it and then you touch your face, your mouth - but so you should just, you know, whenever you touch anything, whether it's a packaged food or an apple, you should just wash it off before you, you know, do anything with it, and then wash your hands really thoroughly after that.

And the key thing here is you're not going to get infected with the virus by eating food because that's not the way this virus gets into your body. This is a respiratory virus, and it evolved specifically to get into your body through your respiratory system - through your mouth, your throat and your lungs. That's the cells that it can infect. And if you swallow it, the acid in your digestive system will kill it. And the cells in your, you know, intestines and stomach - it just can't get in there. That's not what it's designed for. Now...

SHAPIRO: All right. Well, that might speak to the next question we have here about food, but because so many small businesses have been urging people to order delivery even if they can't go out to a restaurant, this does seem relevant. It's a question from Andy (ph) in Philadelphia.

ANDY: Current research says it's very unlikely that coronavirus is transmitted through food. But if I get coronavirus on my hand and then touch my face, it's likely I will get sick. So why is it different if a cook at a restaurant has coronavirus and prepares food for me and I eat that food?

SHAPIRO: Just in our last 30 seconds, Rob Stein, any insight there?

STEIN: Yeah, it's the same sort of situation. Sure, they could contaminate the food, but then that's - when they heat it up and cook it, it's likely to kill the virus. And, again, when you ingest it, you're not going to get infected that way because, you know, your stomach acid is going to kill it, and the cell - virus can't get into the cells in your digestive system.

Now, there are gastrointestinal symptoms of this virus that can - you know, just like the cough and the fever and all that other stuff - pneumonia. It can cause those symptoms, but that's not because the virus is infecting your gastrointestinal system. That's just another manifestation of the virus getting through your respiratory system.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Rob Stein, thank you for bringing some solid facts and research and knocking down some rumors for us.

STEIN: You bet, Ari.


SHAPIRO: And you're listening to THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. It's THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. Next, your questions about what the government can do to help people who are suffering financially right now because of the virus.

DEITZ: I was recently laid off my job of 10 years because of this recent pandemic. My question is this - should I continue paying my mortgage and other bills?

SHAPIRO: That's coming up after the newscast.



The economic slowdown from the coronavirus has led to record numbers of people filing for unemployment. So in this part of the program, we're going to answer your questions about personal finance, especially if you've been laid off. Send us your questions at or on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, use the hashtag #NPRconversation.

Many of you have questions about unemployment benefits, mortgage and rent payments and just making it through this pandemic financially. NPR economics correspondent Chris Arnold is here with some answers. Hi, Chris.


SHAPIRO: Let's listen to our first question right off the bat.

DEITZ: I was recently laid off my job of 10 years because of this recent pandemic. My question is this - should I continue paying my mortgage and other bills? I will very likely run out of money very soon, but I'm not sure when and if unemployment will cover my expenses.

SHAPIRO: That question comes to us from Seth Dietz (ph). And we wanted to chat with him, so we got him on the line. Hi, Seth.

DEITZ: Hello. Thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: I'm really sorry for what you're going through. Can we talk - can you tell us a little more about the situation that you're in?

DEITZ: Sure. Well, I've (inaudible) Portland, Ore. I've lived here for 10 years, and I've been gainfully employed at the same place for the past 10 years. And when all of this was let loose, I guess, you know, I had no clue that it would even affect me, you know? I mean, this totally seemed like a world away.


DEITZ: And then all of a sudden, I got a conference called in on a - on the end of my vacation and was suddenly laid off.


DEITZ: And you know, this - I haven't been unemployed in almost 15 years.


DEITZ: And this is - I mean, I have a mortgage payment. I have bills, like, on auto pay, and everything's coming out. And I just feel like, you know, mostly, we're getting so much mixed information...


DEITZ: ...From our government and everybody. And I don't have a lot of clear - I mean, nobody's is telling us what to do. Like, you know?

SHAPIRO: I understand. Well...

DEITZ: ...Like, how to handle this.

SHAPIRO: So Chris, what would you recommend for Seth?

ARNOLD: Well, Seth - actually, I think I have, like, all kinds of good news for Seth. I mean, first of all, we don't know a lot of...

SHAPIRO: I'm sure that's helpful right now.

ARNOLD: Well, I mean, this bill that's being hashed out right now in Washington is supposed - we don't know all the details yet, but it looks like it's going to raise unemployment benefits for people, so you will be getting more money when you get on unemployment. So that's one good thing.

Another thing that I think - like you're saying, there's so much information out there. We all want to know about droplets of coronavirus in the air. You know, there's so many things we're worried about. Some really important things have not been widely reported, and one of them is, it's very likely, if you've lost your job, that you can get a pause on your mortgage payments. And a lot of financial firms are moving very quickly to do this. The government's

SHAPIRO: But you have to actually ask for that. You can't just stop paying - right? - and assume that it'll be fine.

ARNOLD: That's right. You have to call up your lender, whoever you send your mortgage, you know, check to every month, and say, you know, I've lost my job; I need help; Please get me into what's called a forbearance program. Odds are, that's going to work. And you can try the same thing for your car loan, your credit cards, whatever. And lenders are recognizing if we just let people pause for two, three months, whatever it takes, the whole system's going to be better off.

SHAPIRO: Seth, I hope that's helpful.

DEITZ: Thank you. I appreciate it.

SHAPIRO: We appreciate your call, and hang in there. Let's take another question, this one from Pam (ph) in Pennsylvania.

PAM: I'm a yoga instructor, and I make and sell jewelry. So as an independent contractor, I don't generate W-2 forms, and I'm not eligible to receive unemployment compensation. Everyone that I've written to asks me to go on the website and ask for unemployment. But as a person who generates a 1099 rather than a W-2, I don't qualify for that type of unemployment. And I'm wondering what the state and federal governments have planned for people like me who have been locked out of their jobs because all the places they teach and sell are closed, and all the shows and markets are canceled.

SHAPIRO: Chris, I've heard this kind of story from so many people who live off 1099s, not just yoga teachers like Pam but freelancers from musicians to actors to photographers. What advice do you have?

ARNOLD: Yeah. Right, right. Yeah, I mean, look; a lot of numbers there - W-2s, 1099. The takeaway is she's an independent contractor, yoga teacher, like you're saying. Again, this bill that's being put together - if what we're hearing is right, there's some very good news here for contract workers and people who've been furloughed or gig economy workers. We're hearing that those people are going to be made eligible for unemployment, so it would be just as if you had a W-2 job.


ARNOLD: And you can apply and get unemployment. And again, we have - this is a source telling us this. We have to read the actual thing. But that's what it's looking like. Devil's in the details, but hopefully, there's going to be a lot more money reaching people like Pam.

SHAPIRO: All right. Let's take another question here from Natalie Ryan (ph).

RYAN: Hi, my name is Natalie. And I am a small business owner from Southern California. My business has been essentially ground to a halt because of COVID-19 outbreak. We are a continuing education company for hairstylists, and our business depends on our ability to travel. My question is about the moratorium on evictions going on. There is a moratorium on evictions in many of the areas around us, though not in our city or in Orange County.

But even if it were still applied, does that mean that I can or should stop paying rent since we have no idea how long we'll be without income? Our family does live month to month, and I'm worried that choosing to pay for April could mean not having the means to buy food for May, especially since the potential 2,400 that my wife and I could receive doesn't even cover our rent.

SHAPIRO: So Chris, you spoke about mortgage payments a little earlier. What about rent payments in this situation?

ARNOLD: Yeah. I mean, that's tougher.


ARNOLD: And look; I mean, I don't think it's - you don't want to advise somebody to stop paying their rent, right? So a few things - I mean, one is, there's - she's a small business owner. There's going to be a lot of help for small business owners, so that's good. But another thing is just talk to your landlord. And some of the same flexibility and payments for homeowners, landlords can get some of these same breaks on the mortgages that they pay for their properties that they rent to people. And mom-and-pop landlords might not even know this.

You could call up and say, hey, you know, I don't want to have to leave, and right now, a landlord doesn't want, you know, a vacancy in their building either. So, you know, talk to your landlord. Say, I need help. You know, talk to the bank. Maybe, they'll - they can help us - you know, to make it an us thing, you know.


ARNOLD: If it comes to it, like, you don't want to be in a heated battle with your landlord. But yes, it's true. They're banning evictions all over the place. And even in places where they're not, you know, you got to think the sheriff's department is not going to make it a high priority to put people out in the street in the middle of a pandemic.


ARNOLD: But, you know, before you go there, I would just advise everybody in that kind of situation to just ask your landlord for help.

SHAPIRO: We've just got one quick minute left. But if you can briefly answer this question from John Vincent (ph) in Pennsylvania. He writes, if the government forces my employer to shut down and I'm technically unemployed, will my employer-sponsored health care insurance still be active?

ARNOLD: (Laughter) Getting into the health care system in 45 seconds is difficult.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

ARNOLD: But here I - what I can say is part of this new bill - the idea is they're trying to craft it in a way so that employers can keep you technically employed so you keep your health insurance, and the government can pay you through unemployment because furloughed workers will get unemployment, too. The hope seems to be that that's going to be a big part of it. If you really do lose your insurance, then you're going down that rabbit hole of COBRA versus this versus that. But it's a longer conversation.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) NPR's Chris Arnold, thank you so much for the clarity in this confusing time.

ARNOLD: Thanks, Ari.



Let's bring in another caller now who is dealing with job loss. Opal Foster is with us. She's a graphic designer who lives in Maryland. Hi there.

OPAL FOSTER: Hi there. How are you? Thank you for having me on the show. My...

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Tell us your story.

FOSTER: Well, I'm a graphic designer that worked for a small printing company in Rockville, Md. We were told as of - me and several other co-workers were told on Wednesday that that was our last day. That was not an easy decision for our - my past manager, and I know that's something that he did not want to do.


FOSTER: My question is, well, twofold. One is, what aids are in place for small business owners that - because the message - even though he was giving us, you know, termination papers, basically - was, we want you guys back. What inroads are being made for small business so that they can get back on track and get their workforce back to what they were? My second issue...

SHAPIRO: Let's see if - we've got Chris with us. Let's get an answer to that question from Chris and then go for your second question, OK?


ARNOLD: And is this a question about how to get unemployment benefits the best way because it's been difficult or...

FOSTER: Well, and that's my second question...

SHAPIRO: OK. Go ahead.

FOSTER: ...Is - the experience that I've had is, in Maryland, the unemployment offices are closed - are only open from 8 to 2. With the higher caseloads, you'd think that those hours would be extended. I've called from the morning until the evening, and I cannot get through to anyone.


FOSTER: And I've gone to the website. The website said, no, you're a person who has to call. So what things are being put in place, I guess, for us on ground zero? (Laughter).

ARNOLD: I mean, you know, this - there's not a great answer. The problem that we're facing - and first, you are absolutely not alone, Opal. I mean, people in every state in the country, this is happening to. And even if you could get on the website, it keeps crashing before people can...

FOSTER: Right.

ARNOLD: ...Finish the application. They have to start over. I mean, the system - and there are probably - we don't know the numbers yet - but probably millions of people trying to get on these systems and use them. So what is happening, though, is that states are hiring as many call center workers and stuff as they can to man the phone lines or to run the phone lines. So you know, hopefully, that makes a difference for you, Opal.

And I would just say keep at it because, you know, maybe to get some help, you know, so that you have more time even if it takes seemingly, like, forever to do it because, you know, it can take a couple of weeks, once you get registered, for money to start flowing. So you really got to make it a big priority to just do it (ph).

SHAPIRO: And although it feels like this has been going on for a really long time, these layoffs have been in a wave in just the last couple weeks. Does it seem likely that states that might only have 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. unemployment office hours might expand that?

ARNOLD: You would think they'd have to. I mean, this is, like, unprecedented, right? I mean, there's just so many people calling. Yeah. I would just hang in there and keep calling, unfortunately. That's...

SHAPIRO: Opal Foster, a graphic designer in Rockville, Md., thank you for sharing your story with us. We appreciate your time today.

FOSTER: OK. Thank you.

SHAPIRO: And that was NPR economics correspondent Chris Arnold. We appreciate you helping us through this complicated time as well.

ARNOLD: Absolutely. You're welcome.

SHAPIRO: Up next - more of your questions after a short break.




SHAPIRO: This is THE NATIONAL CONVERSATION WITH ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Ari Shapiro. And in this part of the program, we want to help you find hacks that might help you get through the small daily challenges of this new reality. Let us know, how are you coping, and what would be helpful to you? Go to, or ask us on social media using the hashtag #NPRconversation.

Just scrolling through Twitter, it is obvious to me that a lot of you are finding comfort in video games, which - confession - I have not played since I had an Nintendo 64 in high school, so we have two experts here to help us with your video game questions and to offer some recommendations. Petra Mayer is an arts editor for NPR. Hi, Petra.

PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hi, Ari. And by the way, I still have an N64.

SHAPIRO: Oh, congratulations - vintage now. And Kathryn VanArendonk...

MAYER: Heck yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Is a TV critic for the website Vulture. But I understand that even though TV is on your business card, you have a passion for video games, too, Kathryn.

KATHRYN VANARENDONK: Yes. I had to find something to do that was not my work to unwind, and so now I play a lot of video games.

SHAPIRO: Perfect. Why don't you each just start by telling me one game that you are playing a lot of right now?


MAYER: Sure.


SHAPIRO: Sorry. Kathryn, go ahead.

VANARENDONK: (Laughter) Yeah. I, as I think most of the nation, has suddenly gotten into Animal Crossing over the last weekend because that recently came out for Nintendo Switch. So that's...

SHAPIRO: OK. I had never heard of this game, and now I'm seeing everybody tweeting about it. My friend Linda Holmes tweeted, I have to catch fish so an owl can open a museum. I don't know what she's talking about. Help me.

MAYER: It is most soothing game in the entire world.

VANARENDONK: (Laughter) Yes. It is extremely calming. It is - the premise is very simple. You have an island. There are very cute animals who live on the island with you. And the time passes in the game just like time passes in the real world. So if you play during the daytime, it's day on your island. If you play at night, it's night. And you just - you walk around. You fish. You set up your house. You get cute clothes. You can grow flowers. And then the nice thing about Animal Crossing at this particular moment is that if you are friends with other people who are playing the game, you can go visit their islands and, like, see what other cool things that they have done to set up.


VANARENDONK: I have to say, because I have been playing - I have children, and I don't have a lot of time - as much time to play as I would like. I went to my friend's island last night, and he had a whole garden set up when you come in...

SHAPIRO: It's like a virtual happy hour. That's great.

VANARENDONK: I was - he had, like, little toys.

SHAPIRO: Petra, give us a game that you've been playing. If Animal Crossing is the calming game of the moment, what's another one you've been reaching for?

MAYER: Well, to be perfectly honest, I have been playing Animal Crossing.



MAYER: So there's another game, also, that's big right now that a lot of people are playing. It is a great way to get out some of your less attractive feelings.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

MAYER: It's called Untitled Goose Game. And in it, you are a goose, and you run around an environment just messing with people. It's really - at its core, it's a puzzle-solving game. So you know, you have to figure out how to manipulate the various people that you encounter into doing stuff. You know, you have to steal a toy from a little kid and get him to buy it back again. You have to convince somebody to put on the wrong pair of glasses. And you do this by kind of running around and honking at them and stealing their stuff.

SHAPIRO: All right.

MAYER: So basically, it's a beautiful world, and you're a terrible goose.

SHAPIRO: So let's take a question. We've got one here from Mary (ph) in Brookline, Mass., who's looking for some distraction from quarantine reality.

MARY: I'm looking for some relaxing games to play. I don't have any special equipment, so I'm looking for something I can just play on my laptop, single player in an interesting environment and just maybe solve puzzles, just something to give me some distraction during the quarantine.

SHAPIRO: Well, sounds like you've already given her two good suggestions. Any the other titles you want to share?

MAYER: Actually, there's a website that I want to mention. It's been around forever. It's super old-school. It's called, and it's got a million browser games, all kinds of puzzles. This caller sounds like she might enjoy room-escape games, which, unlike the live-action ones, are very soothing. You're in a kind of cutesy room. Nice music is playing, and you just sort of putter around and solve puzzles. That's She might enjoy it.

SHAPIRO: Lovely. Let's give this next question to Kathryn, which comes from a listener who is seeking a game to cope with the anxiety of isolation.

AMIR BLUMENFELD: My name is Amir Blumenfeld. I'm a comedian, podcaster. And I, you know, used to play video games a bunch growing up. But with this recent self-isolation and quarantining, I find myself needing to pass more time. I'm one of the lucky ones that, you know, doesn't have a bunch of children or pets taking up my time. So my biggest issue is, you know, alleviating boredom at some hours and reducing stress and anxiety. So I was just wondering what video games people recommended for the Nintendo Switch, which I ordered just a few days ago.

SHAPIRO: Kathryn, what would you point him towards?

VANARENDONK: This is a person who needs Breath Of The Wild. It is a Legends (ph) Of Zelda game. And it's an open-world game, which means you have this massive space that you can walk around in. And you can drop hours and hours and hours into doing either playing the story, finding all of the shrines, doing all of the puzzles, or you can just wander around and collect things and make cute little cooking ingredients. It's a really lovely way to completely lose giant chunks of your life.

SHAPIRO: You know, what do you both think is so comforting about video games right now?

MAYER: Oh, gosh - pure escapism, honestly. I mean, I know that's the shallow answer, but there is just nothing like being in a world where the troubles are not yours. And I also just want to say...

SHAPIRO: Yeah. Kathryn? Oh, sure.

MAYER: This is a great time for us to be talking about video games. And we're actually launching a new game review column called Join The Game. It's going to be on every two weeks, so check that out.

SHAPIRO: Cool. And briefly, Kathryn, what do you think it is about this moment that has everyone reaching for video games?

VANARENDONK: I think the escapism is part of it. I think something that I also find really helpful about video games is that they have built-in accomplishments that are small and attainable, and they give you this sense of progress when the world feels like it's totally out of your control.


VANARENDONK: And I just really want to level up in some meaningful but also meaningless and useless way. Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Absolutely. That is Kathryn VanArendonk, TV critic for the website Vulture, and also Petra Mayer, arts editor for NPR. Thank you both.

MAYER: Thank you so much.


SHAPIRO: There will be different markers along the path of this epidemic. Last week, when I heard the Tom Hanks had COVID-19, I gasped. Then this afternoon, I learned that the playwright Terrence McNally had died of the disease, and I actually shouted, no. When I was growing up, Terrence McNally's work taught me about what it meant to survive a different plague - the AIDS crisis. In plays like "Love! Valour! Compassion!," he painted nuanced portraits of people struggling with mortality and what it means to live on after others have died. Now we are the ones continuing after a new epidemic claimed his life. Terrence McNally told The New York Times last year, I wanted to write things that mattered; I wanted to matter. Well, he did.

So what is getting you through these difficult times? Is it a song, a poem, a verse, a memory? We want to hear about it. Go to, or use the hashtag #NPRconversation. That's where you can ask us any and all of your coronavirus questions. We will be back tomorrow with more of your questions and the best answers we've got. I'm Ari Shapiro.