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News Brief: Reopening Consequences, Charges Related To Epstein Case


People in Texas may look a little different on the streets today.


That's right. From the beginning, Governor Greg Abbott has insisted that he is the decider on face masks. Months back, he stopped local governments from requiring face coverings. He also reopened Texas earlier than a lot of other states, and the virus spread. So yesterday in an attempt to keep from shutting down again, Abbott said people have to wear masks in every Texas county with more than 20 COVID cases. At least one county says it's not going to comply.

INSKEEP: Bonnie Petrie has been reporting on this for Texas Public Radio. Good morning.


INSKEEP: What changed the governor's mind?

PETRIE: Well, he said COVID-19 is not going away. In fact, he acknowledged it's getting worse. He noted the hospital systems across the state are reaching or exceeding their maximum ICU capacity and that masks might make a difference. Let's listen.


GREG ABBOTT: Medical studies have shown that wearing a face covering slows the spread of COVID-19 and it protects you and your family. That is why, today, I am issuing a face covering requirement for all counties with more than 20 COVID cases.

INSKEEP: I guess we should note, Bonnie, there's nothing new here about the science, right? At the very beginning, experts weren't sure that masks were going to be effective. For a couple of months now, they've said masks are effective, and Abbott still resisted. But I guess the number of hospitalizations got to be just too much. Is that right?

PETRIE: Yeah, that seems to be the case. He, I should note, has been encouraging mask wearing for the last couple of weeks, but he was reluctant to mandate it. So now he's mandating it.

INSKEEP: And what are the exact rules?

PETRIE: So if you're indoors or outdoors, when safe social distancing isn't possible, you should wear a mask in all counties that have more than 20 cases of COVID. Now, there are some exceptions to the mandate. You don't have to wear a mask while you're exercising or voting. You don't have to wear one if you're younger than 10 or if you have a medical condition that makes face covering unsafe for you in some way. You don't have to wear one at a church or any other kind of religious service either. But you do have to wear one if you're at a protest that includes more than 10 people. The first violation of the standard is just a warning. And then he says subsequent violations could get you a penalty not to exceed 250 bucks.

INSKEEP: All right. So those are the rules. And this is, we'll remember, a numbers game. You don't want the number of COVID patients to exceed the number of proper hospital beds. So how bad are things in the hospitals right now?

PETRIE: Yeah, things are pretty bad in the hospitals right now in the big cities, the small cities. I talked to the head of the Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council, which is in charge of coordinating trauma care for an area of Texas that is the size of West Virginia. His name is Eric Epley, and he said at the rate that we're going, Texas is about two weeks max from an all-out crisis. Let's listen.

ERIC EPLEY: We're going to have to transfer people and load balance to all over the state and, you know, maybe out of the state. I mean, we're going to have to have additional capability at alternate care sites and those kind of things. I mean, that's several, several weeks away, but those are real possibilities.

PETRIE: So this mask wearing requirement is something that those who have been working to keep a lid on this surge have been asking for. So we'll have to see if it helps. But even if we are all diligent starting today when it's a mandate about this, we won't see any significant changes in this number of new positive cases in this curve related to the mask mandate for at least a week or two.

INSKEEP: Well, I know there's at least one county where officials have said we're not going to enforce this. But what about elsewhere in Texas? Are people receiving this news very well?

PETRIE: Well, in San Antonio in Bexar County where I am, the mayor and the county judge welcomed this news, saying it's about time. They and other city and county leaders across the state wrote the governor a letter two weeks ago asking for the power to mandate masks themselves in their local areas. He straight up said no to that. But then one of them in Bexar County here discovered a loophole that allowed them to mandate mask wearing in businesses. So they've been doing that since then.

INSKEEP: Bonnie Petrie of Texas Public Radio, thanks so much.

PETRIE: Thank you so much.


INSKEEP: Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, says mandatory face masks are not enough at this point. He's ordering 19 California counties to shut back down.

KING: California locked down early, and it did well in containing infections, but then in May, it eased up on restrictions. And ever since then, it's had trouble containing the spread. Here's Newsom.


GAVIN NEWSOM: We've now had a 56% increase in the hospitalizations over the two-week reporting period - 56%.

INSKEEP: Laura Klivans of KQED in San Francisco has been following this story. Good morning.


INSKEEP: How much of California is those 19 counties?

KLIVANS: Well, that's actually roughly 70% of Californians. Keep in mind, we are a huge state, and that means 70% out of 40 million people.


KLIVANS: And the kinds of businesses that are shutting down - yeah, it's a lot. The kinds of businesses that we're seeing shut down here, they will be shutting down for at least three weeks. And that includes bars, indoor restaurants, movie theaters, wineries, museums and zoos. And most of the affected counties had reopened many of these establishments. So it will be a reversal for a lot of folks.

INSKEEP: What's going wrong?

KLIVANS: So there's many reasons that we're seeing an increase in numbers. And I can point to a few of those things. So there's socializing. The state reopened, and people were excited to get together. Contact tracing has shown that in some counties, infections are coming from indoor gatherings like birthdays and funerals or graduation parties. We're seeing that not all businesses are complying with the public health rules. So, for example, in LA County in Los Angeles, half of restaurants visited by county inspectors were not complying. And another trend we're seeing is an uptick in cases in young people. And this is similar to many other states, too.

INSKEEP: Well, businesses not complying may be a self-destructive act because now they're having to shut down again. What does this mean for businesses?

KLIVANS: It's pretty bad, actually. I spoke to Sharokina Shams of the California Restaurant Association, and here's what she had to say.

SHAROKINA SHAMS: We began hearing from many restaurants who were saying to us, you know, I was in survival mode, and now I'm in a place where I just won't be able to survive. I will have to shut down. And that likely will be a permanent shutdown from my restaurant.

KLIVANS: She says about a 1.4 million people in California work in restaurants, and nearly a million of those people have been laid off.

INSKEEP: Wow, more than two-thirds of the people in that field. Laura Klivans of KQED in San Francisco, thanks so much.

KLIVANS: Thank you.


INSKEEP: Some other news now. A close associate of financier and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein has been arrested.

KING: Her name is Ghislaine Maxwell and just a quick warning that some parts of this story are really disturbing because of the nature of the alleged crime. Prosecutors say Maxwell helped Epstein recruit girls as young as 14 to sexually exploit them. Epstein died in prison, and authorities ruled it a suicide, but the investigation into what he was doing has continued.

INSKEEP: And NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has continued to follow it. Ryan, good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What are prosecutors alleging that Maxwell did?

LUCAS: The allegations in the indictment took place between 1994 and 1997 and relate to three underage girls who were allegedly abused by Epstein. Here is how the acting U.S. attorney in Manhattan, Audrey Strauss, summed up Maxwell's role.


AUDREY STRAUSS: Maxwell played a critical role in helping Epstein to identify, befriend and groom minor victims for abuse. In some cases, Maxwell participated in the abuse herself.

LUCAS: Now, what the indictment alleges is that Epstein and Maxwell had a method for luring these young girls in. They would pretend to befriend them. They would take them out shopping, take them to the movies, ask them about their school life. Maxwell would then encourage the girls to let Epstein pay for their travel and education. And prosecutors say that this was all part of a scheme designed to make these young girls feel indebted to Epstein. And once they had developed a rapport with them, prosecutors say that Maxwell would try to normalize sexual abuse in a couple of ways, by undressing in front of the victim or being present when Epstein was sexually abusing these victims. And in at least one instance, as we heard Strauss say, Maxwell allegedly participated in the abuse herself.

INSKEEP: So according to prosecutors, she was a crucial enabler. Where did he find her? How are they connected?

LUCAS: So Maxwell comes from a prominent family in Britain. She and Epstein dated for a period of time in the 1990s. She became a close confidante. And they had a professional relationship as well. But there have long been allegations in lawsuits brought by Epstein's alleged victims that Maxwell for years helped recruit young girls for Epstein. Even after Epstein killed himself, prosecutors said the investigation continued into his associates and possible co-conspirators. Maxwell was seen at the time as a likely person of interest for investigators. And now she is facing six counts in all. And those include conspiracy to entice minors to travel to engage in sexual acts and conspiracy to transport minors to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for allegedly lying about her role in Epstein's actions when she was asked about it under oath during a deposition a few years ago.

INSKEEP: So these allegations took place over the course of about three years, I believe you said, and, of course, Epstein's alleged activity and also activity for which she was convicted went over many, many more years than that. This is an extraordinary story. How much further is the investigation going to range?

LUCAS: Well, the top prosecutor, Audrey Strauss, said yesterday that this investigation is still open. She says investigators are committed to bring to justice anyone who facilitated or participated in the sexual abuse that Epstein engaged in, as you noted, over several years. Of course, this case has generated so much public interest, in part because Epstein had ties to a ton of prominent people. One example of that is Britain's Prince Andrew. And there are questions about what these other people knew about Epstein's activities. Maxwell here is facing serious charges. That could put pressure on her to cooperate and share what she knows about other associates of Epstein. For now, though, she's in federal custody. The government wants her to remain in custody pending trial. They say she is an extreme flight risk. She's got money. She's got international connections and zero incentive, prosecutors say, to stay in the U.S. with these charges hanging over her head.

INSKEEP: And an awful lot of famous people perhaps wondering exactly what she may be saying to prosecutors. Ryan, thank you very much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.