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China's Future; COVID-19 Surging Across U.S.; Interview With Fmr. Rep. Donna Shalala (D-FL). Aired 1-2p ET
Aired September 23, 2021 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello, everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR.
Here's what's coming up.
GOLODRYGA (voice-over): As President Biden's legacy-defining agenda hangs in the balance, the clock is ticking ahead of a deadline to keep the
government open and pay its bills. We break down what this means for Americans and how it's all playing out globally with former Democratic
Congresswoman Donna Shalala and former Obama labor chief economist Betsey Stevenson.
Then: Xi Jinping's not-so-quiet revolution. How the Chinese leader is rapidly turning the country back to its socialist roots, just as one of its
largest companies is on the brink of collapse.
KATHRYN SHERMAN, CRITICAL CARE NURSE: It's really hard to see these people suffering immensely for weeks on end and know that there was a way for them
to not suffer.
GOLODRYGA: As COVID continues to surge across the U.S., a Nashville nurse tells her Hari Sreenivasan what that looks like in her critical care unit.
And when nature breaks the law.
"Fuzz" author Mary Roach tells me all about drunk elephants and bears on the loose.
GOLODRYGA: Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York, sitting in for Christiane Amanpour, who will be back tomorrow.
Amid the flurry of diplomacy at the U.N. General Assembly this week, a crisis is brewing in Washington. President Biden's multitrillion-dollar
agenda is now in doubt, as the progressive and moderate wings of the Democratic Party have so far failed to see eye to eye. At stake is a
bipartisan infrastructure bill that would improve the country's roads, public transit and the electrical grid and a social spending package
covering everything from climate to health care.
To add to all of this, the U.S. is risking a catastrophic debt default, and a government shutdown is looming.
So to make sense of all of this and the real-life repercussions, I'm joined by former Democratic Congresswoman Donna Shalala and Betsey Stevenson, who
served as a top economic adviser under President Obama.
Welcome to the program, ladies. I'm sorry that there's not a lot of news for you to cover with us today.
GOLODRYGA: I'm joking, though.
Betsey, let's start with one of the crises that is transpiring right now. And that is that the government is set to shut down within seven days. OMB
has already sent its trigger provisions for federal agencies to prepare for a shutdown.
Now, we know that Congress has passed a C.R., a resolution to keep the government open, through the end of the year. But they have attached that
to either raising, a provision to raise the debt ceiling or freeze it. Republicans want nothing to do with that. So where do things stand, given
How worried are you that we will see one or either both of these crises take place?
BETSEY STEVENSON, FORMER COUNCIL OF ECONOMIC ADVISERS MEMBER: Well, I am actually quite worried.
And I'm worried because of the potential magnitude of the crisis if it were to happen. The really big threat is the debt ceiling. Now, I know that
sounds kind of boring to a lot of people, but this is really about whether the government continues to pay its bills.
And when you start to think about paying its bills, we're talking about the things that it basically owes us, right? So we're the -- we, the American
people, are the biggest lenders to the American government. And when the government says just artificially we're not going to keep honoring our
debt, that's going to cause a crisis in financial markets.
We have had a crisis in financial markets before, and that's really bad.
GOLODRYGA: So, can you walk us through exactly what would happen if we don't either freeze or raise the debt ceiling?
I mean, unfortunately, we have been through a few government shutdowns over the course of the past few years and decades. And that has been
consequential. But from everything that we're hearing -- for example, Moody's says that a U.S. debt default could wipe out six million jobs, $15
trillion in wealth.
Just explain the magnitude of the damage that that would cause here in the U.S.
So, as you noted, we have had shutdowns before. We know what sort of happens with the shutdown, which is the government pauses for a little bit
of time, sometimes several weeks, and then it picks back up.
The thing about defaulting on the debt is, we're going to forever change how people view the U.S. government's word in terms of paying its debt. And
that is why the magnitudes and how big it could be are almost -- some of them are even understated, because if people start to say, I think that if
I buy a Treasury bill from the government, I don't know that they're actually going to pay me back, well, they're going to start demanding
higher interest payments.
So the whole problem can become quite big. And I think that what we see is just this action that's happening right now, the threat of defaulting on
the debt actually starts to cause problems in markets already.
Actually going through with it, I mean, we have never done this before. So we don't know exactly what will happen, who will be the winners and who
will be the losers. But what we do know is, it will be so disruptive that there will be a lot of losers and there will probably be some winners.
GOLODRYGA: So, Donna, the Democrats' way of tackling this is to publicly shame the Republicans, Mitch McConnell in particular, by calling him
hypocritical, that, in the past, under President Trump, that Democrats have voted alongside with Republicans to raise the debt ceiling.
That having been said, I'm sure history speaks for itself. And Nancy Pelosi should know this, that there is no shaming for Mitch McConnell. Just look
at what the Republicans did under President Trump and his administration.
That having been said, let's just play for our viewers the bit of a hypocrisy many are pointing to in terms of Mitch McConnell's approach to
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): It's time that we got serious on a bipartisan basis to try to work this out, and not have the kind of chaos that goes
along with our inability to come together on these kind of important issues.
My advice to this Democratic government, the president, the House, and the Senate, don't play Russian roulette with our economy. Step up and raise the
debt ceiling to cover all that you have been engaged in all year long.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: So, Donna, we should note that first clip was from 2019, under the Trump administration, and the second clip was just this week.
In one he says, we're all in this collectively together. In the second, he pins this all on Democrats.
That having been said, now Democrats are in charge. There's no way, given what Betsey described could be the fallout from a default, that Democrats
will allow that to happen. So what can they do? Are we just going to see a separate reconciliation bill to raise the debt limit?
FMR. REP. DONNA SHALALA (D-FL): Well, let's separate the two of, closing down the government from the debt ceiling, because the Democrats in the
House of Representatives have already passed a temporary budget, a C.R., until the end of the year to keep government open.
They have also suspended the debt limit in that same vote. So, on the House side, Nancy Pelosi has done her job. What we're talking about is the Senate
side. Frankly, they ought to have a cardiologist on staff over there, because they go right down to the end.
The debt limit issue, I agree with Betsey, is very dangerous. We're talking about the delay in Social Security checks, the possible delay in veterans
benefits, not only the chaos in the markets. For 60 years, over 80 times, we have either extended the debt limit, suspended it. I think we should
abolish it personally.
But I will leave it to an economist, a distinguished economist like Betsey, to talk about that. But we have done it before. We have done it in a
bipartisan manner. And, by the way, the debt is bipartisan. It's the Republicans' debt. It's the Democrats' step. It belongs to all of us. It's
our past bills.
We're not talking about a debt limit for the future. We're talking about a debt limit to pay the bills we currently have.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. And Speaker Pelosi noted that and said only 3 percent of the debt that was accrued over the past year had fallen under the Biden
But that having been said, Donna, I mean, what can be done? Because the sort of waiting it out to see who blinks first is really putting the U.S.
economy in jeopardy, in a position that it's never been before.
SHALALA: Well, here's the -- well, we have been in this position before, because we -- over the years, we have gone right up to the edge.
But here's the choice the Senate has. They can do it in reconciliation. What McConnell is calling for is, you pass it with your votes. The problem
with that is, while you can avoid the 60 vote necessity, it takes time. You can't do it by October 1, which is when we need to do it, because you will
have a whole bunch of amendments, the whole process of reconciliation.
Now, they could do a narrow reconciliation bill. They'd have to go back to the House and then go to the Senate. But the process in the Senate is more
complicated. That's why we need Republican votes to get the 60 votes to do it cleanly and to get this over with. This is dangerous. They're playing a
GOLODRYGA: So, Professor Stevenson, now let's use your professor cap now and talk to our audience as you would explain this to your class and your
Why is it that we are dealing with a debt ceiling and a debt limit? This is sort of a self-inflicted crisis that we impose on ourselves. Many other
Western countries don't have this type of issue.
And I'm hearing from -- we have international viewers here wondering why this is even happening. And, as you heard from Donna, she believes it
should be done away with.
STEVENSON: Well, I agree with Donna 100 percent. There's no reason for us to have a debt ceiling.
What we need to do is have real, honest discussions about how much revenue we raise and how much we spend. And that will then determine how much debt
we have. We -- the way to deal with your debt is not to rack it up, and then fail to pay it.
And I think, again, a reminder that we owe this money to the American people. The American people want their money back. So we can't just stop
paying the people that have generously loaned the federal government money
What we have to do is figure out whether we want to raise more revenue to get the debt down. I think there's a lot of proposals on the Hill to raise
more revenue. We could -- there's a lot of things we could do there. I know Republicans would like to see a spending cut. That's the debate they need
It's not about whether we pay the people who have loaned us money back. I think that's just a really irresponsible way to govern. And it would be
really good policy if we just got rid of the debt ceiling.
GOLODRYGA: So, you mentioned raising revenue, which brings us to the next crisis that I want to talk to you about.
And, Donna, let's begin with you, because, obviously, this is President Biden's agenda that's on the line right now. And we have a vote set for
this Monday, that has really divided the Democratic Party. We have the bipartisan bill, the infrastructure bill, that has bipartisan support, the
$1 trillion bill.
And then we have the reconciliation bill that we still don't have an agreed-upon price tag on. And the only thing that we heard today from
Pelosi and Chuck Schumer is that they have agreed to some sort of framework as to how it would be paid for.
What are your thoughts? How do you interpret that? You are somebody who's been in many of these discussions in the past.
SHALALA: Well, first of all, I think Democrats are together on supporting the infrastructure bill.
Some of the Democrats, the progressive Democrats, have linked it to a vote on this reconciliation bill, because this is the Biden promise, Build Back
Better. It's got the environment. It's got child tax credit. It will transform what it means to be an American. It will lift people out of
And so many Democrats want that bill along with the infrastructure bill. That's where the argument is coming. We also have an argument about how to
pay for it. The Ways and Means Committee have proposed a number of things to pay for. And we have an argument about the size of it. How much money do
we want to spend?; $3.5 billion (sic) is the bill that has come up that many -- the majority of the Democrats, I believe, want to support that
But there's a minority that doesn't, that want a smaller number. They will work it out, I'm absolutely convinced. But all of this is about timing. And
holding up the infrastructure bill for this larger reconciliation bill is what is what they're arguing about now.
And the president, God bless him, is trying to bring the parties together, the moderates with the progressives, to get some agreement. And they're
working very hard at this. I will put my money on Nancy Pelosi, and on Chuck Schumer, and on the president. I think, at the end of the day, they
will reach some agreement.
GOLODRYGA: Listen, Nancy Pelosi, no one ever bets against her, given her track record of pulling rabbits magically out of hats, but this is a tough
position to be in.
And it seems that both factions of the Democratic Party have been schooled by John Podesta, who is a former chief of staff to Bill Clinton. And I want
to read for you an excerpt of a letter that he sent to every congressional member.
And here's what he -- congressional elected official. And here's what he said. He said that the Democrats, the progressives, need to pare back the
$3.5 trillion, or they're not going to have a deal. And to moderates, he said: "You are either going to get both bills or neither. And the prospect
of neither is unconscionable."
So, Donna, when you're hearing warnings like this, it's something that stands out to the American public. I'm wondering if it resonates to these
officials who have really stuck to their guns on wanting to uphold to their policies and their initiatives?
SHALALA: Well, 70 percent of the American people agree with the -- with the elements that are in that bill. They care very much about supporting
children, about eliminating poverty, about increasing our spending on the environment. I mean, there's no question about the support.
Reaching agreement about a number is what we end up doing. And John has simply put a framework around to two different poles within the Democratic
Party that need to come together. The president is trying to glue them together.
At the end of the day, it may not be $3.5 billion (sic). But, remember, that money is spread over a number of years. So whether they cut back on
the number of years or cut back on the investments in some of the programs, I don't know what they're going to do, but, at the end of the day, this is
the Democratic agenda. This is the Biden agenda. This is what they're going to run on in the next election, particularly the House that comes up every
And we have got some senators that are at risk. And I believe that they will come together, they will figure out a way to get this done.
GOLODRYGA: Well, Donna Shalala and Betsey Stevenson, maybe they could hear from you as well to help them move this process along.
I'd love to be a fly on the wall in your classroom, Betsey, as you're trying to navigate all this with your students in economics classes. We
appreciate your time today, ladies. Thank you so much for joining us.
SHALALA: You're welcome.
STEVENSON: It's good to talk with you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, now, only socialism can save China. Those were the words of Chinese leader Xi Jinping when the country's Communist Party celebrated
100 years this summer.
It's now becoming clear that this vision is being accompanied by a crackdown on the private sector, including tech companies like Alibaba and
an effort to redistribute wealth. Other sectors, from real estate to education, are also being reined in by regulators.
My next guest has just written about this in her latest piece for "The Wall Street Journal." Lingling Wei way is the paper's chief China correspondent.
And she's joining me now from New York.
Lingling, thank you so much for joining us.
This piece that you wrote was really eye-opening, because I think, from the perspective of how the U.S. and the West have viewed China lately, what's
happening internally is something that they haven't really been focused on. And what you're seeing is a real shift, not just in rhetoric, not just in
style, but in how leadership there is approaching business, capitalism and socialism in the end.
LINGLING WEI, "THE WALL STREET JOURNAL": Yes, thank you very much for having me.
Indeed. So, let's recap just a little bit what's happened in China over the past year. It all started in November, when President Xi Jinping personally
intervened to stop this massive IPO by a very big private tech company called Ant Group. It is founded by China's most famous tech billionaire,
And then, after that, ti just one action after another. You're seeing Alibaba, basically China's Amazon, getting hit by a record fine. And you
are seeing the government launching a cybersecurity investigation into DiDi, a ride-hailing app, basically, also very popular in China.
And in other sectors, as you mentioned, China also banned foreign textbooks and declared war on Hollywood style of fandom, celebrity fandom, even most
recently even trying to restrict the time children play in terms of playing digital games.
So we decided really to take a deeper look into what's going on in China, where Xi Jinping is taking China. So, we went through basically piles of
party journals and internal speeches by President Xi himself and interviewed people who are involved in policy-making.
And our conclusion is, this is more than a regulatory crackdown. It is much ambitious. It's a really a more ambitious plan to steer the overall Chinese
economy into a new direction, basically, back on the road of socialism, and further away from Western-style capitalism.
GOLODRYGA: Right. Common prosperity is how Xi Jinping refers to it. And it really is coming at the expense of private enterprise.
And before we delve deeper into that, I do want to get you to talk about the latest headlines there, with one of their largest companies, a real
estate development company, Evergrande, which is on the verge of collapse, a highly overleveraged company, that it appears that the government is not
willing to step up and bail out.
Many are referring it to China's Lehman Brothers. Does this at all play into this shift we have seen from Xi Jinping, or is this just a one-off of
a company that just was having bad business practices and should perhaps go under then because of that?
WEI: Yes, China Evergrande is a much complicated situation than meets the eye. It's a heavily indebted private real estate developer.
To be sure, the Chinese government under Xi Jinping has wanted to basically shake up the real estate sector for many years, reduce the economic --
economy's addiction to real estate.
So, recently, they started to tighten real estate lending yet again. But, this time, they definitely proved to be more serious than in the past. The
government -- it doesn't look like the central government will conduct a wholesale bailout of Evergrande, a private -- basically, a private
developer, the way they have rescued many state companies.
And it definitely fits with the overall direction the government is going, because part of the reasons why they want to crack down on real estate
speculation is that, in Xi Jinping's view, property speculation, it's just one of many capitalist things, the problems with China's application of
And he really wants to address the issue of widening income inequality in China, and trying to reduce the burdens on 300 millions of middle-class
families in China who are just really burdened by ever rising housing prices
And in many ways, the question and the issues over inequality and inequity within the country are similar to what we're facing in Western countries
like the United States as well.
But what's puzzling about the change that we're seeing from Xi Jinping is that China for over the past few decades has used, yes, the communist
model, but, at the same time, has allowed capitalism in the private sector to thrive, and to the point that really helped lift it to be the world's
second largest economy.
So I guess what many are wondering is whether or not Xi Jinping knows what he's doing from an economic standpoint, because many economists and those
in the private sector will say that, in the long term, this will actually hurt China's economy, if you start to control private enterprise and not
allow for entrepreneurship to thrive.
WEI: You're exactly right.
This new policy direction has created lots of tensions even within China. Years of embracing market forces and Western-style capitalism really has
led to enormous gross and a very prosperous private sector, vibrant private sector. And now the fear really is, with this put to the end, that
entrepreneurship that powered China's growth and innovation for so long -- one of the entrepreneurs we talked to basically told us, so if we really
are asked to share our wealth, then what's the point of trying so hard to build our own business?
But -- and I just also wanted to address the -- one of the points you mentioned earlier about this whole issue of wide -- narrowing income gaps.
Obviously, what Xi is doing, the common prosperity drive, is not that different from a lot of progressives in the West are calling for.
And in Xi Jinping's view, basically, the Western style of capitalism has been allowed to be implemented in China for too long, and now it's got out
of control. He felt like previous Chinese leaders didn't do much to tackle that. And now he felt like he has to do something to address that problem.
But the question is the main imbalance, the main distortion in China's economic system is not -- it's not mainly about the wealth accumulated by a
few billionaires, so tech stars. It's about the concentration of credit and resources in the state sector, in local governments.
So, that -- we're not seeing many signs of that getting addressed.
And if he were to view capitalism as just a stopgap, a temporary measure to get to overall socialism, as he wants to apparently go back to, and under
Mao, the country is still, per capita, considered a poor country. So it doesn't appear to have achieved that level quite yet. And now we're seeing
I want to play sound for you from a Chinese businessman and exile, Desmond Shum, who told Christiane that it was really the 2008 financial -- the
global financial crash that the changed everything in Xi Jinping's mind, at least. Let's listen to what he said.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DESMOND SHUM, AUTHOR, "RED ROULETTE": Before that, everybody believed, the entire leadership and I think most of people in China believed, we want to
be like the West. We want democracy.
We were happy more election. We will more have press freedom and all of that. It's the question, the argument around in the society and within the
leadership is, at what pace are we going to go and get there? That was the debate.
After '08, everything changed. They feel like, well, look at the West. The model is not that great.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: So he's arguing that it's '08 that started this change.
You argue that a large part of this change stemmed from COVID, and how COVID was handled by the U.S. and other Western nations, but, in
particular, the U.S., and even how the U.S. has let tech companies run amok, in many view.
I would say that I do agree that 2008 was the turning point in terms of Chinese leadership thinking of the Western model. What I'm arguing is that,
based on our reporting, that the trend toward -- away from capitalism, Western-style capitalism, really has accelerated under President Xi
Jinping, over -- especially over the past year also.
The COVID pandemic made leadership -- even the Chinese public felt that the Chinese system is superior. They were the first one to get hit by COVID.
But they were the first one to come out of it. And China's economy has been rebounding strongly.
So that gave Xi Jinping a lot of confidence. To be honest, before the COVID pandemic, Xi Jinping himself was under a lot of pressure as well. A lot of
people within Chinese governments and elite circles really were blaming him for his handling of the U.S.-China relationship, the trade war, and also
the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
But this COVID pandemic really rallied support around him.
GOLODRYGA: And it's not just the economic reforms that are under way right now, but social reforms as well.
And I hope to have you back on soon, so we can talk about the shifts and changing there that's under way in China as we speak.
A fascinating conversation, Lingling Wei. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.
WEI: Thank you very much.
GOLODRYGA: Well, turning now to COVID-19, which is now the deadliest pandemic in the history of the United States. Over 681,000 Americans have
died from the virus. That's more than in the 1918 flu.
And our next guest is seeing this unfold in front of her eyes.
Kathryn Sherman is a critical care nurse in Nashville, Tennessee, the state with the most COVID cases per capita. In a piece for "The Atlantic," and
"The Scientific American," she says the patients don't stop coming.
Here she is speaking to Hari Sreenivasan about what it's like caring for the sickest patients.
HARI SREENIVASAN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thanks, Bianna.
Nurse Kathryn Sherman, thanks so much for joining us.
Part of why we're having this conversation right now is that there are a lot of people in the country who are still kind of in that spring state of
mind, that we are over this pandemic. They might not see it in their immediate communities.
But you're in Tennessee. You have been working as an ICU nurse. What's it like in your hospital right now?
SHERMAN: It's worse than it's ever been, both by the numbers and anecdotally. We have more COVID patients than we have ever had before. More
of them are on ventilators than they have ever been before. They're coming in younger and much sicker.
They're needing to be intubated much more quickly. It's worse than it's ever been. And it blew my mind last year that I would leave the hospital
and see people on party buses and crowding up and down Broadway acting like nothing's happening. And it hits even worse now, because it is so much
worse inside the hospital, and people are still just acting like it's all a game or like it's not happening at all.
SREENIVASAN: So, let's talk a little bit about how the composition of your patients have changed, when it came to December or January vs. today.
Who are you treating?
SHERMAN: Right now, we're treating people in their 30s to early 50s.
We do still, of course, have people in their 60s, 70s and 80s. But whereas, last winter, the people in their 70s and 80s made up probably the majority
of my COVID patients -- it was a rarity if I had somebody under the age of about 55 -- nowadays, we have patients who are 55, 42, 49, one that was in
their early 30s. We have had some very early 20s.
And that just -- that was much rarer this winter. And now that is the majority of our patient population.
SREENIVASAN: And we have heard this from so many parts of the country.
Are the majority of the people who are ending up in the hospital or who have to be in the ICU unvaccinated?
SHERMAN: I have had one fully vaccinated patient through all of this.
And that patient was -- had extreme comorbidities and was immune- compromised. The rest of them are unvaccinated.
SREENIVASAN: And how frustrating is that?
It's -- frustrating doesn't even begin to cover it. And my anger is not it directed towards those patients because by the time you have someone roll
up into the ICU on a BiPap, struggling to breathe, just terrified, you can't be angry at that person because many of them just fell prey to, you
know, all of these misinformation campaigns that have really been overwhelming people all across the country. And a lot of them did not
recognize the severity of COVID until it came to their door.
SHERMAN: So, my anger is not directed at my patients because -- by the time they come to me, they know better. But it's really hard to see these
people suffering immensely for weeks on end and know that there was a way for them to not suffer. It would have been very, very easy for them to not
be in the ICU at all.
For us, I mean, it's with us all the time. Even when I'm not at work. I'm thinking about COVID. I'm thinking about my patients. You know, I go to the
store and I see people without masks. And the first thing that pops in my head is, if you got COVID, you would probably die, you know, based orphan
their age or whatever it might be. You know, that's -- I feel like I'm constantly triaging people based on whether or not they would survive
COVID. And that's not healthy.
Like I'm very aware of how not healthy that is, but when I say, we carry this with us, it is always there. It didn't have to be. We could have been
SREENIVASAN: Describe for me, most people have not been into an ICU and we're fortunate, but when you're on a shift, what are the sounds, what are
the sights, what are you living through for all those hours?
SHERMAN: So, right now, we have something like 35 ICU beds. Last time I was there, every single patient except for one was on a ventilator. You
hear a lot of alarms. It's constant alarms. And it's a little bit surreal right now because, like I said, all of our patients are on ventilators. So,
normally, even in the ICU, you know, you hear call bells where the patient will use the call light to call the nurse say like, I need help going to
the bathroom or, you know, I need some water, what have you.
There's no call bells anymore. None. It's just those red alarms for, you know, dangerously low oxygen saturation or dangerously high heart rate.
SREENIVASAN: Tell me about a patient that stands out. I know you have dealt with so many, but what's one that comes to mind?
SHERMAN: There was one a couple weeks ago who was -- she was on the younger end and she had been on BiPap for a couple days by the time I had
her and she was doing really, really well. And the thing with COVID that is so awful is we know exactly what's going to happen and we still can't stop
it. There are signs that are very, very clear that we all recognize when a patient is going to go downhill.
And this patient had been so well and then I started to see those signs. And it's just this like dread that hits in your chest because, you know,
she was the nicest lady. It's always the nice ones. Just the sweetest, sweetest lady. You know, and I started seeing her oxygen start going down
more and more and it took her longer and longer to recover. And when I was doing my last check in the morning before I left, you know, she kind of
grabbed my hand and she had that BiPap on, so her voice was really muffled and she just said, I don't want you to go.
And I knew in my gut that the next time I saw her, she was going to be intubated. You know, and I was right. When I came back for my next shift
two days later, she was intubated. And it just -- I remember them all. I don't remember all their names, but I remember all of them, and they are
SREENIVASAN: You are working in a state where I want to say right now the vaccination rate is about 44 percent. And when we look back at the past
couple weeks, the number of deaths is up 120 percent. This doesn't seem to be turning the corner. What are you afraid could happen in Tennessee?
SHERMAN: I think it's just going to keep getting worse. You know, like you said, we -- our vaccination rate is pretty abysmal. Our governor has not
done anything to contain the spread of the virus, adamantly against like mask mandates for schools, even for individual schools putting in mask
mandates. Adamantly against any sort of -- not even a full lockdown but any sort of restrictions on gatherings.
Mitigation measures here are slim to none. And viruses are exponential. You know, that's how they work. That's what they do. And until something
changes, numbers are going to keep going up. You know, I saw my mother yesterday and she asked me if things had gotten any better at work and I
was like, no, it's getting worse. And that scares me because we have already almost run out of ventilators. We have already run out BiPaps, out
Vapotherms. We've already had to keep ventilated patients on medical surgical floors, which are not equipped to handle ventilated patients.
Our poor ERs are filled with ICU holes, which means that an ER nurse who is already responsible for caring for five or six emergency room patients also
has to take care of an ICU patient who is being held down in the ER. The health care system can only bend so far before it breaks. And we're
pressing that button pretty hard right now. I'm not excited about seeing what happens if it gets worse, when it gets worse.
SREENIVASAN: Are your ICU wards full?
SHERMAN: Yes, we are over capacity. We have been over capacity for weeks.
SREENIVASAN: So, there is a reason they are called intensive care units. Now, what happens when you're over capacity? What happens to that patient
that needs it but when there's no space in had that ward?
SHERMAN: Sometimes they die. There have been multiple instances, none that I can think of at my hospital, but around the country, there's multiple
instances of patients in the ER, have needed an ICU bed and there have been none available within 100 miles. And so, they die.
You know, we have had patients at my facility who required some sort of like specialist care, you know, some sort of care that my hospital didn't
offer, like a specialist physician or surgery, what have you. And all of the hospitals that offer those services are full. And so, these people are
basically put on a waiting list. And when I say waiting list, what we mean is we are waiting for another patient in this specialty center to die so
that bed opens up.
Because with COVID patients, these people are in ICU beds for weeks. I mean, three weeks, four weeks, it is a long time. And, yes, we have had
some success stories, but for the most part, that bed opens up when somebody dies. And I just -- I want people to fully understand that because
when we are waiting for somebody to be transferred, we are waiting for someone else to die. And that -- just like as a nurse, that is so like
viscerally upsetting to me, that my patient getting quality care, getting the care they need depends on somebody else's patient dying. That's
SREENIVASAN: Take me into the break room, if you will, after you're seeing these patients. What are you nurses, ICU nurses, critical care nurses
SHERMAN: A lot of it is us talking about the fact that we don't want to do this anymore. Whether this is nursing in general, whether this is COVID,
whether it's all of the denialism and misinformation surrounding COVID. You know, I have heard so many of my co-workers say, you know, I just don't
want to do this anymore. And a lot of times we say it jokingly, but there's also that edge of like real trauma, for lack of a better word, underneath
Nurses are angry. Like I have seen very calm veteran, seasoned nurses just mad as all get out over this because they are angry at the fact that we
still have to do this. They are angry at the fact that, you know, we are still putting ourselves at risk, our families at risk by constant
constantly being exposed to these patients, who, for one reason or another, have not taken the steps to protect themselves. You know, you can only do
that so many times before something in you just breaks, and you're angry all the time.
SREENIVASAN: You know, there was a recent survey of more than 6,000 acute and critical care nurses done by the AACCN. And some of the numbers that I
just want to look at here. 92 percent of nurses surveyed said they believe the pandemic has depleted nurses at their hospitals. And as a result, their
careers will be shorter than they intended. Another one that was -- that leapt out of me, 66 percent feel their experiences during the pandemic have
caused them to consider leaving nursing.
Now, you are kind of the freshest of nurses. You graduated right into this pandemic. So, have you had second thoughts?
SHERMAN: No, I haven't. But I was made to be a nurse. That sounds really cheesy, but it's honestly 100 percent true. Like this is the only thing
that there is for me. I love it. I -- even during all of COVID, I love it. For -- there are a lot of fantastic nurses out there who do not feel the
same way about nursing that I do, and that's OK. You don't have to. You don't have to feel the way about nursing that I do to be a good nurse.
But there are so many people who understandably so, the risks and the pain that comes with this are no longer -- there are no longer enough benefits
to weigh -- to cancel it out. And I think that that is completely understandable. You know, I think that if you have to choose between your
mental health and your job, you should choose your health every time.
You know, nurses -- nursing has always been a high turnover profession because hospitals have always burned through nurses. And this is a very
long-standing issue that is beginning to come to light because there is such a dire need of nurses right now. But this is not a new issue.
SREENIVASAN: And I have to imagine here that if you are usually an ICU nurse that maybe just deals with one patient or possibly two, and you have
to take care of three, just logistically speaking, does that mean --
SHERMAN: Oh, it's a nightmare.
SREENIVASAN: Right. They're getting less quality of care.
SHERMAN: Yes. That's exactly the issue. I would say, typically, most two patients is difficult. If you have one patient, they are either on ECMO or
something called CRRT or they have a balloon pump, things of that nature that just -- you got to have eyes on that person all the time. Two is a
very typical assignment. And, you know, in the ICU, our patients are on titratable medications where every five minutes you're having to turn one
medication up and another down in order to get their blood pressure where it needs to be, their heart rate where it needs to be, their sedation where
it needs to be.
So, you can imagine, if you have three patients, all of whom on ventilators and requiring titratable medications, you know, you're -- you don't have
time to do anything other than keep up with tasks. You don't have time to support that patient emotionally. You don't have time for thorough
assessments. You don't have time to communicate with the family members, the doctors, other members of the team. Care absolutely suffers. Even the
best ICU nurses often struggle with being tripled because it's simply unsafe.
SREENIVASAN: There's a photo that you share on social media, and on the left side is this sort of young, vibrant, happy to be a nurse look. And
then on the right side is perhaps you after a shift.
SHERMAN: I was pretty tired. Yes, it's -- I -- that was actually in the middle of a shift. I think I had just gotten a COVID admission and had been
in the room for about an hour. Wearing my respirator and goggles and a face shield and these like plastic gowns that just make you sweat buckets. And
so, after I came out and took my PPE off, I just like went and hid in the bathroom for like five minutes just to get a minute to myself, to like cool
down and drink some water.
And I looked at myself in the mirror and I was like, wow, you look ratchet. You know, it just -- and when -- I remember when I looked at myself in the
mirror, I actually had that image of my composite picture from nursing school in my head because I was thinking the same thing you did. I was
like, you know, I remember like I had this twinkle in my eye. Like I'm almost done with nursing school and I'm going to be a nurse and COVID
hasn't -- I don't even know what coronavirus is yet.
I was like, wow. At that point, there had been less than a year between those two pictures. It was like seven or eight months.
SREENIVASAN: What would you tell maybe to your younger self that the one that is in that picture, the one that's about to graduate, or perhaps a
young student that's about to finish and come into nursing today?
SHERMAN: I'd tell them to buckle up and get ready. You know, like I said, I -- to me, it is still worth it. You know, I -- nursing is still worth it.
But for a lot of people, it isn't. And that's OK. You know, I would tell them, know your limits. Know your boundaries. Know when you have to shut it
down. When you have to shut your emotions down and just check out for a little bit because you're going to see a tidal wave of death, and nothing
prepares you for it.
SREENIVASAN: Nurse Kathryn Sherman, I'm sure you hear this all the time, but sincerely, thank you for staying in this profession and doing what you
do. And best of luck through the rest of this. Thanks for joining us.
SHERMAN: Thank you. My pleasure.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Extremely powerful testimony there that serves an as important reminder of the cost of COVID.
And finally, we're going to switch gears here. Ever wonder what happens when nature breaks the law. I mean, it happens. Well, that's the question
author, Mary Roach, grapples with in a new book "Fuzz." So, think about elephants trampling across crop fields, birds getting sucked into get
engines and even a jay walking moose. She also looks at impact of humans colliding with the natural world and an issue central to the climate
Mary Roach joins us now live from Oakland, California to dig into the sometimes-bemusing world of wildlife.
I'm so looking forward to this conversation, Mary. Welcome to the program. Congratulations on the book.
So, you are known, you are famous for taking a look at the quirky, weird, magical side of science at times and really examining aspects that a lot of
people don't. For example, the human digestive system and gulp, cadavers and stiff. What was it that drew you to focus on the human wildlife
conflict for this book?
MARY ROACH, AUTHOR, "FUZZ: WHEN NATURE BREAK THE LAW": Well, I kind of used up the human body, at least the approachable parts of it. So, I
thought, well, I needed to look somewhere else. And a number of things happened at the same time. But the one that I really trace it to is this
very bizarre 1906 book called "The Criminal Prosecution and Capital Punishment of Animals." And it covers the -- how we as humans dealt with
animals in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s. And in fact, animals would be arrested, put in prison, put on trial, assigned legal representation and
And I remember thinking, that's not a very good approach. The legal system is probably not the way to go. The laws are not -- obviously, not written
for animals. They are written for humans. So, I thought what has science brought to the table and what are some better ways to resolve -- not just
resolve these conflicts, but also prevent them from happening in the first place.
GOLODRYGA: Well, give us some examples. Because I know you talk about pigs being prosecuted. And that is more aligned with property, right? It's the
owner of the pig that's being prosecuted, but it still is a bit odd to see that the pig is being sued. But you talk about an example in Italy in the
17th century where caterpillars were eating crops are prosecuted. I can't begin to wrap my head around how that prosecution would have worked. I
mean, are they entitled to any defense of their own? Or I mean, how does this happen?
ROACH: Yes. Yes, that was crazy. Yes, it was 1659 in a province of Northern Italy. And caterpillars were doing their thing, they were ravaging
the crops, and the city fathers nailed to trees in the area a legal summons telling the caterpillars to appear in court on a certain day at which point
they would be assigned legal representation. Obviously, the caterpillars did not show up in court, but a legal process did occur and the wise city
fathers decided, well, we'll set aside alternate land for the caterpillars so that they may enjoy their sustenance and leave us alone.
And, of course, by then, the caterpillars had pupated and were gone. And so, everybody kind of left the legal proceedings satisfied. I think it was
just a way to show -- a way to show off, in a way, by those in power to say, we have dominion over all, even nature, even the lowliest caterpillar
and we will find a solution. But it was very bizarre. And I just though -- tried to imagine who the lawyer was for the caterpillars.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Right. I mean, probably not the proudest moments in Italy's esteemed legal history going back. But you spent a lot of the time
focusing on present day and how we live and coexist with animals. And you focus on bears and in Aspen where, I know many tourists come as well. And
Bears, I'm not to say that, you know, you've become used to it, but in a sense, there are many locals and tourist who see bears quite frequently,
and they changed their behavior, not the tourists, but maybe they do, but the bears. And you give examples of bears walking into restaurants, knowing
how to open doors, even unwrapping a Hershey's Kiss. I find that it stunning to believe, but quite impressive too.
ROACH: Yes, the issues with -- I mean, bears -- for the most part, people have encounters with bears that are in fact sort of lovely for the person
and the bears are sort nonchalant. But the danger happens when people don't secure the things that are attractive to bears. They don't secure their
trash properly in bear resistant containers, where they leave dog food out on the deck or they didn't wash the grill where they grilled meat, and the
bear starts to get comfortable being around humans, gets bolder. And eventually, boldness can become aggression. And there are cases -- this
person from Colorado Parks and Wildlife that I traveled with said, there's been times where people have been sitting at the dining table and the bears
comes in, grab something off the table and left.
Which, OK, no one was harmed, but had the bear panicked, had a dog lunged at the bear and the person got involved, I mean, that's how people end up
getting hurt. But the sad thing is that those bears, when people call them in, the -- what's done is that they are put down. They are destroyed. So,
safer to keep the two species at a safe distance. And also, just not to leave out things that attract them that they are going to, you know, bring
them into the human environment.
GOLODRYGA: Exactly. And because the protocol is to put them down, you explained that many locals there don't call for authorities to come in
because they know subsequently what will happen. But I was surprised to learn that there are rules in place in the U.S. and maybe each country has
their own, about how to handle an attack by an animal. And there, in fact, an investigation that goes on when somebody is killed or attacked by
ROACH: Yes. I went to a fascinating training seminar called the Wildlife Human Attack Response Training. And what this is, it's kind of a forensics
training. So, when an animal has attacked and killed a person, whether it's a bear or cougar usually in the United States, it's one of those two. So,
the crime scene -- I'm using "crime" with quotation marks. It's scene if, you know, sealed off with the yellow caution tape just like when it's a
murder case with a human-on-human crime. And professionals come in. And the first thing they have to do is figure out what species did this. Was it a
human? Was it a bear? Was it a wolf? Was it a -- you know, what species, because they have, you know, telltale marks from the claws, from the jaws.
So, first, you determine the species, but then they actually try to figure out which individual animal. So, they are going to be comparing DNA says
from saliva on the victim and saliva on -- if they put a trap and they've caught an animal, they will try to just establish linkage between the two.
And if it's not the right animal -- and I love this part, if they have caught the wrong bear, say, the suspect is released. It should be. Yes.
GOLODRYGA: Yes. Acquitted, right?
ROACH: Acquitted. Exactly.
GOLODRYGA: What I like that you do is you bring humor and levity to real life situations and crises. And that being climate change and also in
situations where you have animals and humans living in close proximity because of that. I mean, you give India, for example, where humans are
encroaching on land that was once roamed by wild elephants. And thus, obviously, conflict ensues. Before we get to the serious nature of what
happens when that occurs, I also learned that elephants like alcohol, which I never knew. I'm not sure many people knew that. But how did you find that
ROACH: Well, I was traveling with a researcher from the Wildlife Institute of India, Dipanjan Naja (ph). And he goes around to villages that have had
a lot of elephant/human conflict. So, one of the things -- and he talks about people about how to stay safe and what to do when elephants come into
the village, you know, to eat crops or even just passing through, they can trample a lot of the fields and cause a lot of damage. And he tries to
encourage people, you know, not to run out into the field and make the animals panic and scatter, et cetera, because somebody is going to get
But in explaining how these things happen, he mentioned that people often have kind of homebrew fermented alcoholic beverage and the elephants enjoy
a tipple. And so, they will bring the homebrew into the house to keep the elephants away not realizing it's quite easy for an elephant to knock down
a wall. And that sometimes happens and then, you literally have an elephant in the room.
GOLODRYGA: Exactly. And as our producers know, given their memories, right, and the vast memories, will alcohol impede that and would they
remember what they drank the night before? That's something probably for your next book that you can investigate.
GOLODRYGA: But really important conversation to be had about what happens when humans and animals coexist and how they can do it peacefully and when
the elements and climate change impact that and it turns deadly for both sides.
Mary Roach, always great to hear from you and read your fascinating books. They put a smile on your face and make you think as well. Thank you so for
joining us. We appreciate it.
ROACH: Oh, my pleasure. Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, that is it for now. You can always catch us online, on our podcast and across social media. Thank you so much for watching and
good-bye from New York.