SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
The stock market plunged this week as the coronavirus spread rapidly across Europe and the Middle East and to the Americas. Last night, President Trump referred to the virus as the Democrats' new hoax, even as he appointed Vice President Mike Pence to oversee America's preparedness. Voters head to the polls in South Carolina today for the state's primary.
NPR senior editor and correspondent Ron Elving is in Columbia at one of the many voter events taking place today. Ron, thanks so much for being with us.
RON ELVING, BYLINE: Good to be with you from chilly South Carolina.
SIMON: Chilly - oh, I'm sorry. You mean it's cold in South Carolina. I thought it was the name of a town.
ELVING: I mean, it is surprisingly brisk - Columbia, S.C., Scott.
SIMON: And President Trump was also there. He held a campaign rally, and he tried to frame the coronavirus as a Democratic conspiracy.
ELVING: That's right. Just down the road from where I'm standing, the president told his rally crowd it was, quote, "the latest hoax," although it is now in 56 countries and new cases have been reported overnight in San Antonio and there are cases reported in California with no known link to foreign travel and the whole - well, the World Health Organization is saying the novel coronavirus poses a very high global risk. A rather colossal hoax, to be sure. But in the past, the president has labeled climate change a hoax as well, Scott, so he may be using that word as a synonym for inconvenient truth.
SIMON: Have some of the cuts the Trump administration has made to public health programs left this nation more vulnerable?
ELVING: It's hard to see how cutting back on public health right now, both research and disease fighting, could be a help in potential crises such as this. But perhaps the greater concern here is the attitude of the administration in general. Up to now, they've been saying the virus is not a big deal, that the vice president can handle it, that public health officials should not report directly to the public and the public should not be so concerned and the stock market is irrational for having its worst week since the financial crisis of 2008.
SIMON: How deep could this potential crisis run, Ron, let's say, if neighborhood pharmacies can't refill prescriptions because the pharmaceuticals are made in China?
ELVING: Well, there are many supply chains at risk of disruption, perhaps none so critical as the one you mentioned, but many important to businesses in America - not just tourism and hospitality, but manufacturing, for example, which is why the market dropped from record highs earlier this month to market correction territory in just a few dizzying sessions.
And, Scott, I should mention to you that right now, I am at the canvass launch event for Elizabeth Warren's campaign here in South Carolina, so you're going to hear some whooping and some excitement in the background.
SIMON: We assumed the - we assumed all those whoops were for you. Next Tuesday is Super Tuesday - follows just a few days from this vote today in South Carolina - 14 states and American Samoa, in fact, are going to vote. One-third of the eventual Democratic convention delegates at stake. Now, there in South Carolina, Joe Biden is shown to be ahead. Will a win there amount to much if also according to polls, Bernie Sanders, let's say, carries California by 20 points a few days later?
ELVING: Most observers expect at least a modest win for Joe Biden here tonight. He seems to have righted his ship to some degree. That would mean at least a handful of delegates. But the real prize at stake tonight is momentum. Now, Biden desperately needs to show some life if he wants to rally the non-Sanders vote around one candidate, and he appears to be, at this juncture, the only candidate with any real chance to do so. Otherwise, on Tuesday, Sanders may not have a majority of the votes in any states, but he will do well enough to get delegates in all of them, which the other candidates probably will not.
SIMON: Ron Elving from Columbia, S.C., thanks so much for being with us.
ELVING: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.