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News Brief: Chauvin Trial, COVID-19 Vaccine Demand, Supply Crunch

NOEL KING, HOST:

Police used tear gas on protesters last night in Brooklyn Center, Minn.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's a suburb of Minneapolis and the place where police conducted a traffic stop yesterday afternoon, at the end of which a man named Daunte Wright was dead. Afterwards, some protesters threw objects at officers in riot gear. Police fired what are described as irritants to disperse them. And our colleague in Minnesota Public Radio reports seeing stores being damaged and people looting in a shopping center. The mayor has ordered a curfew, and the National Guard has been deployed.

KING: Now, all of this is happening just miles from where former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is on trial, accused of the murder of George Floyd. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Minneapolis this morning. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Noel. Good morning.

KING: What do we know about what happened in Brooklyn Center yesterday?

FLORIDO: Well, some of what you just described. The details of what happened are still fuzzy. But police said that they shot Wright after he got back into his car while they were trying to arrest him. By evening, a crowd of mourners and protesters had gathered at the site of the killing to pray with Wright's mother.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Father God, I'm asking that you give strength right now for this healing (ph). Give strength, Father God.

FLORIDO: But angry crowds also gathered outside Brooklyn Center's police headquarters. Police fired tear gas. And by late night, dozens of nearby businesses had been looted. There was also scattered looting in other parts of the Twin Cities, including areas still rebuilding from the rioting that happened after George Floyd was killed last year.

KING: Which gives us a sense of how close it was. So it's still early, but how are things looking this morning?

FLORIDO: Well, there seems to be an uneasy calm this morning. Overnight, police reported that the large crowds had gone home. Today, the community is taking stock of the damage. Tensions are soaring in the Twin Cities, though, Noel. They were already high because of the trial of Derek Chauvin for the killing of George Floyd. And a lot of people are worried that what happened last night is just a preview of how volatile things could get if Chauvin is ultimately acquitted in that case.

KING: Today begins the third week of testimony in that case. Bring us up to speed. Where do things stand right now?

FLORIDO: Well, after two weeks of witness testimony, prosecutors are close to wrapping up their case. On Friday, they called Andrew Baker, the medical examiner who conducted George Floyd's autopsy, to the stand to address a central question - why did George Floyd die? What killed him? Did Derek Chauvin suffocate him with his knee? Or was it, as the defense has suggested, a drug overdose and a heart attack that killed him?

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ANDREW BAKER: In my opinion, the law enforcement subdual restraint and the neck compression was just more than Mr. Floyd could take by virtue of that - those heart conditions.

FLORIDO: The prosecution has called several other expert witnesses to essentially make the same point.

KING: And so what else do we expect from the prosecution at this point?

FLORIDO: So today, we'll have testimony from at least one more medical expert. We also know that the prosecution plans to call George Floyd's brother, Philonise Floyd, to the stand at some point, possibly as soon as today. He's going to talk about Floyd's childhood and how much he loved his mother. Minnesota is unique among states because it allows prosecutors to call witnesses for the sole purpose of humanizing the victim, something known as spark of life testimony. It's a little bit controversial because it doesn't have anything to do with the evidence in the case. It's more about helping the jury build an emotional connection to the victim.

KING: And when does the defense start calling witnesses?

FLORIDO: It's hard to say for sure when the prosecution is going to rest its case. It could turn things over to the defense as soon as today. It will certainly happen this week. And one of the big questions we're looking out for is, will Derek Chauvin take the stand in his own defense?

KING: Still unknown. OK. NPR's Adrian Florido. Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Noel.

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KING: More than 3 million COVID-19 vaccines are being administered every day.

INSKEEP: But a mismatch between supply and demand is emerging. Health officials in some parts of this country say they have so much vaccine that appointments are going unfilled. In other places where cases are rising, there are vaccine shortages.

KING: NPR's Allison Aubrey is following this one. Good morning, Allison.

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So we talked to you a lot on the show lately about Michigan, where cases are really surging. Does that state have enough vaccine?

AUBREY: Well, Governor Gretchen Whitmer says her state needs more supply. She says extra doses could help quash hot spots. You know, so far, the White House COVID response team has said it will not shift the allocation program, which is based on a state's population. The administration has promised extra resources but not more doses, Noel. So Governor Whitmire continues to press the issue. Here she is on CBS yesterday.

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GRETCHEN WHITMER: We are definitely grateful for the boots on the ground that they're sending, the mobile units. But I am going to also continue fighting for my state. And we have thousands of partners who are ready to put shots in arms. We just need those vaccines to come into Michigan.

AUBREY: She says the variants help explain the surge. And around the country, Noel, there are still more than 60,000 new cases a day. This comes at a time when allocations of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are down due to a production issue at a Maryland facility where vaccine ingredients were kind of mixed up. That is still being worked out. So fewer doses of that vaccine are being shipped out.

KING: So places where there are shortages and then other places in the country where you have appointments, and they're going unfilled.

AUBREY: That's right. And some of this is the hesitancy that we've talked so much about. I spoke to Claire Hannan of the Association of Immunization Managers. She points to some areas in the South, including Mississippi, as well as Kansas and the Midwest, parts of North Dakota. Now, there are lots of efforts underway to directly reach out to people, including having primary care doctors reach out to their patients and other initiatives.

CLAIRE HANNAN: In Alaska, they're actually going door to door. And in North Dakota, they're getting their providers to record messages, to send out little videos to their patients, you know, encouraging the vaccine, stating that they've gotten the vaccine. And hopefully that is making a difference. But we're just kind of reaching that point where supply is ahead of demand in some areas.

AUBREY: Now, remember, public health officials say that we need 80% or so of the population to be protected to reach herd immunity.

KING: And herd immunity, of course, would be a global phenomenon, right? There's still inequity. Some countries don't have access to the vaccine or to much vaccine. And the Biden administration now says it will help. How?

AUBREY: Well, Secretary of State Tony Blinken has pointed to the partnership with Japan, India and Australia to increase vaccine manufacturing capacity. And on NBC yesterday, he said the U.S. has the responsibility to take the lead here.

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ANTONY BLINKEN: We're going to be the world leader on helping to make sure that the entire world gets vaccinated. And here's why. Unless and until the vast majority of people in the world are vaccinated, it's still going to be a problem for us because as long as the virus is replicating somewhere, it could be mutating and then it could be coming back to hit us.

AUBREY: And given what's happening in Brazil and in India with surging cases, Noel, it really puts the urgency into perspective.

KING: Yeah, it sure does. NPR's Allison Aubrey. Thanks, Allison.

AUBREY: Thank you, Noel.

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KING: All right. Top officials from the Biden administration are holding a summit with leaders of some high tech industries to address a supply chain problem.

INSKEEP: There's a shortage of semiconductors, the small computer chips that power cars and cellphones and just about everything else at this point. They're made almost entirely in Asia. And the shortage has forced auto manufacturers to interrupt production. And there are concerns that other industries could also see slowdowns.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow has been following this one. Good morning, Scott.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: How serious is the shortage?

DETROW: You know, as as Steve mentioned, cars are becoming more and more computerized. Demand for cars is surging right now. And there is just a huge supply shortage, not enough semiconductors to go around right now to make cars. So two more General Motors plants just announced temporary shutdowns because they don't have the materials they need. GM has caused more than a half-dozen plants now. Four Ford plants are temporarily shut down as well, among other automakers.

KING: And the reason our White House correspondent is covering this is because the White House is actually trying to do something about it, right?

DETROW: Yes, I did not just shift beats.

KING: (Laughter).

DETROW: So President Biden has already ordered a review looking at what the federal government can do to make sure more semiconductors are manufactured in the U.S. because there's the supply issue, also a sustained environment of trade wars and more economic nationalism with China in particular. So today, the White House is meeting with people from 19 different companies across a range of industries. I interviewed Daleep Singh about this. He's a deputy national security adviser in the Biden administration, also the deputy director of the National Economic Council. He says the White House knows this is a serious economic problem. And when you look at how many other industries rely on semiconductors, particularly the most high-capacity ones, that it is a big national security problem, too.

DALEEP SINGH: Pharmaceuticals, space but also weapons systems and satellites. So here's the problem - today, 100% all of the most advanced semiconductors are produced in East Asia. That's a critical vulnerability.

DETROW: The White House wants to spend a lot of money on this - $50 billion - to boost domestic manufacturing, the same amount to create a new department within the Commerce Department to take a look at this.

KING: So is today's summit actually about selling the infrastructure plan?

DETROW: That's a big part of it. And also, from the messages that we have heard, I think the White House also seems to be making it clear to these companies it is ready to intervene. Biden and top advisers have centered a lot of policy around the needs to make the economic interests of middle-class Americans central to both foreign and domestic policy and just as importantly for their political future to let voters know they're trying to do this. The administration's also taking a really active, expansive view of how to use the power of the federal government and making it clear that it's comfortable redirecting private industry when they think it's in the national interest - you know, in this case, making sure more semiconductors are manufactured in the U.S. And Singh was really blunt about this in our interview.

SINGH: The reality is that at home or abroad, we don't believe - I don't believe the private sector by itself is going to solve the biggest problems we have in our society and whether it's extreme levels of inequality and social disparity, whether it's an existential climate crisis or people dropping out of the workforce or stagnant wages.

DETROW: And you can see this mindset at play in this $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, a lot of areas it would just reshape how industries operate.

KING: NPR White House correspondent Scott Detrow. Thanks, Scott.

DETROW: Sure thing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.