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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Police say a man who lost an election lost again when he plotted against the rival party.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Solomon Pena ran for state Legislature in New Mexico. The Republican refused to accept his overwhelming defeat, and according to police, he then paid people to open fire on the homes of Democrats. He's expected in court today.

INSKEEP: Our colleague Alice Fordham is with member station KUNM and is on the line from Santa Fe. Good morning.

ALICE FORDHAM, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What are the charges against this man?

FORDHAM: Well, they're numerous. He's charged with multiple counts of shooting at homes, shooting from a car, conspiracy, firearms offenses. All of them are related to four incidents in recent weeks where two Democratic county commissioners and two legislators in Albuquerque had their homes shot at. In at least one case, the bullets passed through the walls of a home. And Pena visited at least one of the county commissioners, uninvited, previously with documents falsely claiming the election he lost was fraudulent. No one was injured in these attacks, but of course, they were frightening, not just for those targeted but for other elected officials. Police say they have lots of evidence that Pena gave money and firearms to four men to carry out these attacks and personally rode along for at least one of them.

INSKEEP: This election that he was upset about was not exactly a barnburner, as they say.

FORDHAM: No.

INSKEEP: He's a Republican, ran in a heavily Democratic district, lost to an incumbent by 48 points, but made this claim that the system was rigged. Is this a widespread belief at this point in 2023 in New Mexico?

FORDHAM: Yeah. There are a lot of people in New Mexico. There are activists who believe that elections aren't conducted correctly. One prominent couple is David and Erin Clements, who travel the state and beyond, giving presentations falsely saying that Dominion voting machines are not to be trusted. They have a big following. And a former county commissioner from the south of the state, Couy Griffin, was convicted of trespassing after he participated in the events of January 6. But if these allegations about Solomon Pena turn out to be true, it'll be an intersection of violent crime and election skepticism in a way we haven't seen like this before.

INSKEEP: How are people responding who are in office right now?

FORDHAM: Well, he was arrested Monday, the day before the New Mexico Legislature began its 2023 session. So that was top of everyone's minds yesterday. Democrats have a majority in the House and Senate here, and the governor called for gun control legislation, including a ban on assault weapons. On the Republican side, state leaders have condemned the violence, praised police, but didn't address the alleged political dimensions of the attacks so far.

One person I spoke with was New Mexico's secretary of state, Maggie Toulouse Oliver. Now, she's personally faced threats which were investigated by the FBI, and she's highlighted the risk that local elected officials face, often while administering elections. She laid the blame for these alleged attacks on the widespread promotion of the lie that the 2020 election and other elections in the U.S. aren't valid.

MAGGIE TOULOUSE OLIVER: This is exactly the issue that I have been trying to sound the alarm on here in our state for the last couple of years, based on what I've been through and what others are now going through. This is when political rhetoric and, frankly, lies are used to incite political violence.

FORDHAM: And I spoke with Senator Linda Lopez, whose home was targeted, and she said that she was worried that people might not want to run for office if they thought the price would be putting their family and their neighborhood at risk.

INSKEEP: Reporter Alice Fordham with our member station KUNM. Thanks for your reporting.

FORDHAM: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: You could think of this as the winter of respiratory viruses.

MARTÍNEZ: Yep. You name it, someone's caught it. RSV, flu, COVID - they're all spreading fast this season, and some people come down with all three at the same time. So what does that look like? And who's most at risk? A new study from the CDC is out today.

INSKEEP: NPR health correspondent Rob Stein is here. Rob, good morning.

ROB STEIN, BYLINE: Morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Just to be clear on the science here - can people be sick with more than one virus at the same time?

STEIN: Yes, it definitely can happen. There's plenty of evidence of people testing positive for, say, COVID and the flu or flu and RSV. I talked about this with Dr. Tina Tan, an infectious disease specialist at Northwestern University.

TINA TAN: Absolutely. You can catch more than one virus at the same time. We've had kids that have actually had three different viruses. Some of them come in with RSV. They've also had influenza and enterovirus. There have been other kids who have presented with COVID and influenza. And so you can get more than one virus at the same time.

STEIN: And, you know, Steve, especially this year, which is so unusual because so many viruses have been surging simultaneously.

INSKEEP: Yeah.

STEIN: Now, you know, it's unclear just how often this happens because most of the testing for this sort of thing is done on hospitalized patients, who probably aren't representative of the general public. But some studies have found co-infections in up to 20% of those patients.

INSKEEP: Wow. Are some people more vulnerable than others to this co-infection?

STEIN: Yes. Yes, kids. Kids appear to be far more likely to get more than one bug on top of the other, especially very young kids. Here's Amanda Jamieson, who studies respiratory viruses at Brown University.

AMANDA JAMIESON: It could be just 'cause they're constantly being exposed to respiratory infections, but it could also be that their immune systems just haven't built up the immunity that older people have.

STEIN: And, you know, whatever the reason, lots of studies have found that kids are much more likely to get these so-called co-infections than older people. That said, co-infections can occur at any age, you know, and especially older people and others with weaker immune systems.

INSKEEP: If you get more than one virus, does that make you sicker?

STEIN: You know, it doesn't always, but there is growing evidence that it can. In fact, a new CDC study out today finds that's the case. The study, involving more than 4,000 hospitalized kids, found those who had COVID plus another virus, such as, you know, a cold virus, were significantly more likely to require oxygen to help them breathe and to end up requiring intensive care. Here's Dr. Nickolas Agathis from the CDC, who led the study of what he calls co-detections.

NICKOLAS AGATHIS: We found that children under 5 had about twice the odds of having severe illness when they had a co-detection compared to when they just had SARS-CoV-2 infection, and the children under 2 who had RSV were twice as likely to have severe illness compared to children who just had COVID and not RSV also.

STEIN: Now, the reason for that isn't entirely clear either, but it could be because multiple infections cause more inflammation in the body and because different respiratory viruses damage the lungs in different ways.

INSKEEP: Oh, yeah. So what can people do about this?

STEIN: So here I'm going to sound like a broken record and, you know, talk about all the things you've heard so much about over the last few years. Get vaccinated against both COVID and the flu. Wash your hands a lot. Wear a mask in crowded, poorly ventilated places, especially around sick people.

INSKEEP: Oh, sure. This is just a reminder that mask in a crowded place helps against any virus at all.

STEIN: Absolutely. Absolutely.

INSKEEP: OK. NPR health correspondent Rob Stein. Thanks.

STEIN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And we have some revelations today about businesses that received federal funds during the early phases of the pandemic.

MARTÍNEZ: Interesting new data is out on the Paycheck Protection Program - PPP for short. It gave potentially forgivable government loans to small businesses during COVID. And that data shows the vast majority of those loans have been forgiven. Sacha Pfeiffer of NPR's Investigations team is here to explain why that high forgiveness rate is troubling to many people. Sacha, people who got these loans were hoping they'd be forgiven, so what's not to like about these new numbers?

SACHA PFEIFFER, BYLINE: So there is no doubt that these loans were a lifesaver for many companies, and anyone who got PPP funding is probably relieved to hear that 92% of all the loans have been granted full or partial forgiveness so far. That's according to Small Business Administration data released this month. But a lot of that money went to businesses that didn't need it, wealthy celebrities like Khloe Kardashian and Tom Brady, for example. They have companies that each got a PPP loan of about $1 million entirely forgiven. Also, many businesses that thrived during COVID got their loans forgiven, like some manufacturing and construction firms.

MARTÍNEZ: Was it legal, though, for them to take that money?

PFEIFFER: Yes, it was. To qualify for a loan, you just had to say you thought you needed it, and to get it forgiven, you did not have to prove the money was necessary. So that meant not only did people get loans they didn't truly need; it also attracted scam artists. Here's how University of Texas finance professor Sam Kruger puts it.

SAM KRUGER: The PPP program seems to have resulted in billions of dollars of fraudulent loans that have ultimately turned into grants.

PFEIFFER: He estimates that $64 billion of the nearly $800 billion in loans show signs of fraud.

MARTÍNEZ: So why wasn't the government stricter with forgiveness? I mean, couldn't they have tried a little bit harder to weed out the fraudsters or told a business that prospered to repay the money?

PFEIFFER: I spent a lot of time asking those questions. The simple answer is the government wanted to get a lot of money out there very quickly, and it was willing to accept some waste. It also made forgiveness easy because that's what many businesses lobbied Congress for. I want to play something a former Treasury official under President Trump said to me. His name is Michael Faulkender

MICHAEL FAULKENDER: Because PPP got up and running, we did not realize the catastrophe that could have taken place had we failed. What would breadlines during a pandemic have looked like? Do we want to know? I didn't. And so we were going to get that program up and running.

PFEIFFER: He says the government prioritized speed over accuracy when giving out loans.

MARTÍNEZ: Is it me or did he sound a little testy?

PFEIFFER: He sounded testy to me, too. I would say he was, and so was a Biden administration SBA official named Patrick Kelley. He told me it frustrates him when his agency is criticized over the program because it was just carrying out a law passed by Congress. Here's part of what Kelley said.

PATRICK KELLEY: It's an easy sentiment to say, well, there goes the government again; why didn't they do it right? But to me, it ignores the awesomeness of what did get done right. I've met many, many, many, many, many more people who are thankful for their PPP loan.

MARTÍNEZ: So he's focusing on the good the money did, but can any of the PPP loans that went astray be recovered?

PFEIFFER: Well, prosecutors have up to 10 years to chase pandemic fraud, but no one will be asking rich people who didn't need a loan to please give it back. That money is theirs to keep. And by the way, A, that 92% forgiveness rate, it's expected to keep getting higher as more forgiveness requests are processed.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Sacha Pfeiffer. Sacha, thanks.

PFEIFFER: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
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