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CDC Confirms First Coronavirus Case of 'Unknown' Origin in U.S.; Trump Downplays Risk of Coronavirus; Dems Make Final Pitch Ahead of S.C. Primary and Super Tuesday. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired February 27, 2020 - 06:00   ET


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, February 27. It's 6 a.m. here in New York, and we do begin with breaking news.

A significant and troubling development in the coronavirus situation overnight in Northern California. Listen closely, because we now have what peers to be the first person in the United States to catch the virus through what is called community spread. You will need to know that phrase.

It means the person did not travel to any high-threat region or come into any known contact of someone else who is infected. He or she caught it in the community, out there. It means that the coronavirus may be circulating in some places in this country undetected.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: President Trump tried to calm fears at a rare White House press conference yesterday, insisting the risk here remains quite, well, quote, "very low." This is despite warnings from the CDC to Americans to begin preparing.

The coronavirus crisis is growing in Asia and Europe. Japan's prime minister is calling for all public schools nationwide to shut down for a month to protect children.

All of this continues to rattle global markets. Stocks in Asia are struggling to rebound. And U.S. stocks at the moment are pointing down to another down day, following a week-long blood bath that has seen the S&P 500 shed a whopping $1.7 trillion in value in just 48 hours.

So we begin our breaking news coverage with CNN's Dan Simon. He is live in San Francisco. What is the latest with this case, Dan?


It sure sounds like we're entering into a new phase here. Because the person who is infected had not traveled to a foreign country where the virus has been spreading. He had also not been around anybody with the virus. So the question is, does this mean that the virus is going to start spreading quickly in Northern California? That much we do not know.

We can tell you that the patient is at the UC Davis Medical Center. And what is also concerning here is that the diagnosis was delayed, potentially exposing this patient to other people, because the CDC did not conduct the test promptly like the hospital had requested.

I want you to listen now to a doctor from that medical center. Take a look.


DR. DEAN BLUMBERG, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, UC DAVIS MEDICAL CENTER: We can't say that there's definitely more, but I think that it's highly suggestive that, if there's one, there's probably more than one. There's probably other people.

That suggests that the virus is out there in the community, and that means pretty much that everybody's at risk. We don't know who might be carrying it. We don't know who we could get it from.

That other person probably exposed other people, and you have to realize that this virus is so new that none of us have any immunity to it. So anybody who's exposed is at high risk of getting infected with this.


SIMON: Well, as a matter of precaution, once the hospital realized that this patient had been infected, a few employees were told to self-quarantine at home and monitor themselves. Again, just as a matter of precaution.

Now, this is the 60th case of the coronavirus in the United States, the 28th in California. But remember, most of those people were infected on that cruise ship in Japan. Now it's just the proverbial wait-and-see game to see what happens.

John and Alisyn, we'll send it back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes, Dan. This is a big development. And obviously, we'll be following that all morning. Because news of this new case in California broke just hours to the public after this White House press conference.

The president was at this press conference. He was flanked by all of his experts there, and he was trying to tamp down fears. But he didn't mention that new California case. We don't know exactly what the White House knew.

BERMAN: There is reporting that the president knew of that case but did not talk about it when he was at the lectern.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Joe Johns is live at the White House with more for us.

Good morning, Joe.


Clearly, it's a mixed messaging going on here. The president of the United States continuing to play down the potential risk of coronavirus to the United States, at the same time trying to show his administration is on top of the situation.


JOHNS (voice-over): President Trump downplaying the threat of coronavirus in the United States.

DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Because of all we've done, the risk to the American people remains very low.

JOHNS: Despite experts from the CDC warning the threat will only get worse before it gets better.

TRUMP: I don't think it's inevitable. It probably will, it possibly will. It could be at a very small level or it could be at a larger level. Whatever happens, we're totally prepared.

JOHNS: Surrounded by top health officials, President Trump again softening the warnings from those experts.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In just the course of the last couple minutes, you have disputed some of what the officials that are working in your administration behind you have said about the risk of coronavirus and its spread. Do you trust your health officials to give you good information? Or do you trust your instincts more?

TRUMP: I don't think I have. They said it could be worse, and I've said it could be worse, too. I also think -- no, I don't think it's inevitable.

JOHNS: Earlier Wednesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced a 15th person tested positive for coronavirus in California.

And just hours after the rare White House briefing, the CDC said that case could be the first in the U.S. of a patient who had not traveled to the affected areas or had apparently not had exposure to another known patient.

The administration has come under fire this week after cabinet officials received a bipartisan grilling on Capitol Hill, arguing they are ill-prepared to combat an outbreak in the U.S.


Still, President Trump appeared to claim partial credit for the limited number of confirmed cases in the country.

REP. SEAN PATRICK MALONEY (D-NY): If you compare it to the response to previous situations like this, it's inadequate. And the most dangerous thing is trying to happy talk a national health emergency, because it suits some personal or political goal or because you're worried about the stock market.

JOHNS: The president also announced Vice President Mike Pence will lead the administration's response. "The Washington Post" citing five sources familiar with the situation reports Azar was caught off-guard by the announcement.

Sources tell CNN the president has privately expressed frustration with Azar, blaming him for not keeping him updated enough. It's unclear who's really in charge.

AZAR: I'm still chairman of the task force.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't feel like you're being replaced?

AZAR: Not in the least.


JOHNS: Now, Chuck Schumer requesting $8.5 billion in funding, saying the administration's number was not enough. A senior administration official telling CNN they are very confident that number is enough -- John and Alisyn.

BERMAN: We'll see. What's important here isn't the posturing. What's important here is to get it right.

Again, Japan, the prime minister just requested that all public schools shut down for a month. Imagine what that would mean in the United States. All public schools closing for an entire month.

CAMEROTA: And that tells you how worried they are in Asia about what's happening.

BERMAN: And then this one case in California of enormous new concern. Community spread, possibly, of this virus. What does that mean? Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he was in the press conference with the president last night. He pressed him hard on an important subject. He'll join us with some of the breaking new details, next.



BERMAN: All right. Breaking news. The CDC this morning is investigating what could be the first case of coronavirus in the United States involving a patient. This patient is in California, who doesn't appear to have traveled out of the country nor has been in contact with any known person infected with it. They caught this through what is called community spread. In other words, just out there from a coronavirus source that has yet to be detected in the United States.

CNN's Sanjay Gupta joins us live from the White House.

Sanjay, you attended this press conference with the president last night. We'll get to that in a moment. First, the news this morning. What does it mean that there is a possible case of community spread? Why is that concerning? And I understand you also have concerns about the process with which this patient went through over the last seven days.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There's no question. I mean, when we're talking about where -- you know, what is happening with coronavirus in this country, the idea that it will start to spread within communities has been the concern all along. If you talk to public health officials at the CDC, they have said, look, it's not a question of if but when.

And the question now is, is this the point now? Has this started to happen with this patient? As you mention, no relevant travel to one of these areas. And no known contact with someone who's infected.

Another concern, John, is that in many ways, the patient, you know, for many days had symptoms, may have been actually exposing other people to this virus. And did not get tested, in part because was told they did not meet the criteria for testing.

And to give you a little context near. In South Korea -- we've been talking a lot about South Korea -- they've been doing thousands of tests a day on people in South Korea. Here in the United States, they've done maybe up to a thousand total over the last several weeks. So this has been a concern. Are we being too strict with who's getting tested here, and as a result, are we missing people?

Keep in mind, you know, you've heard the numbers. The vast majority of people of the 60 who are diagnosed with this infection in this country were people who were repatriated from this boat, the cruise line. Fourteen people were travel or known to be in contact with travel. This is the one patient.

But this is at odds with, you know, what we're seeing in many other countries around the world now. So have we not been testing enough in this country? And as a result, have we missed what could be many more people who've been -- who are carrying this infection?

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, this one is a game changer, because this patient, as you're describing, breaks the mold, right? So -- so I think that in some ways, the CDC -- because this patient didn't fit any of the criteria, the CDC dragged their feet, as you're pointing out.

But do we now have enough testing capacity and testing kits. When people present at the hospital and it might look like the flu or it might look like some sort of respiratory thing, do we have the means to test everyone?

GUPTA: I don't think we do. And I think that this has been a glaring problem to be -- to be candid.

You know, again, you look at other countries around the world, including Korea. They have the testing. They've been doing the testing, up to thousands of tests a day. We know that some of the original test kits that were sent out to what

are called POC, point of care locations were flawed for various reasons. They didn't have the right control. They didn't have the right reagents, whatever it might be.

But I think, you know, the numbers change a little bit, but they -- maybe only seven different hospitals and locations around the country where you can actually get this testing done.

And look, anecdotally, I talked to my friends in the medical community, and they say, Hey, there's patients who may be fitting the criteria here. They weren't necessarily in China, but they were in Korea. They fly back. They're sick. They go to the doctor. They say, I should be tested.

They're told, no, you don't fit the criteria. And by the way, we don't have the test anyways.

I don't want to overstate this, but the concern is, you know, from a public health standpoint, readiness, really one of the first criteria is surveillance. And it's not clear to me right now that we have had the adequate surveillance in this country over the last several weeks to really get an idea of how significant this coronavirus outbreak is here in this country. We could be missing people.


BERMAN: Sanjay, you were in this news conference last night. And I felt that your exchange with the president was one of the most revealing. We'll get to that in a second. I want to know what you think the main takeaways were.

GUPTA: Well, you know, I think clearly, the goal for the many people on that stage was to project this -- this air of confidence and competence around this. And also to announce, you know, the vice president as sort of the quarterback of this entire process. Not a czar. They made -- took great pains to say this isn't a czar, someone who's going to oversee this, and someone different than -- than the health secretary. But I think that that was really the goal.

And you know, obviously, the president did most of the talking. They did have others, include Dr. Fauci, Dr. Shuchat say a few words. But it was really the president's show. The president taking a lot of these questions, you know, even some of the more scientifically-based questions about things.

But I think -- I think that was -- that was what they wanted to do. I don't think there was a lot of new information, by any means, that came out of that conference, other than the appointing of the vice president in this position.

CAMEROTA: There were many times the president expressed surprise --


CAMEROTA: -- about, certainly, the severity of the flu. He -- he kept saying that this was news to him. He didn't know how serious the flu was. I mean, he watches a lot of TV. You'd think that that one would have come up. But here's your exchange with him about the flu.


GUPTA: Flu has a fatality ratio of about 0.1 percent.

TRUMP: Correct.

GUPTA: This has a fatality ratio somewhere between 2 and 3 percent.

TRUMP: We think. We don't know exactly what it is.

GUPTA: Based on the numbers so far.

TRUMP: And the flu is higher than that. The flu is much higher than that.

GUPTA: There's more people who get the flu, but this is spreading, and it's going to spread, maybe, withing communities.

TRUMP: It may. It may.

GUPTA: That's the expectation. Does that -- does worry you?


GUPTA: Because that seems to be what worries the American people.

TRUMP: No. Because we're ready for it.


CAMEROTA: What did you take away from that exchange, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, there were a few things.

First of all, the president, I think, earlier was talking about the similarities between this coronavirus and the flu in terms of how it spreads. You know, there are similarities there. These are both very contagious pathogens.

I think there's two things that really surprised me. One is that, like you point out, that we've been talking about the fact that flu does kill tens of thousands of people every year. And apparently, he didn't know that up until right before this briefing. He was told this, apparently, by Dr. Fauci right ahead of time.

But also, in the midst of our exchange, all of a sudden he said, Well, no, flu mortality rates are higher than coronavirus. I don't know why he said that, where he got that. That it's not true.

I mean, here's the concern. If you have two transmissible pathogens, flu and coronavirus, they're both pretty transmissible. Flu mortality rates are about 0.1 percent. So 0.1 percent of the people who get an infection with the flu will die of it. With coronavirus so far, the largest study show the number close to 2

percent. That's a 20-fold difference. So if you have the same transmissibility, but one is 20 times more lethal, it is clear why public health officials are concerned about this.

And I guess I was a little -- little worried in an effort to sort of reassure people, I'm not sure the president understood that particular point, at least in our exchange.

BERMAN: That's a big deal, Sanjay. And that struck me as incredibly worrisome. It's dangerous if the president doesn't understand the coronavirus is 20 times more deadly than the flu. Twenty times more deadly.

Look, it is -- we may be able to do things to, you know, slow down the spread and there's no reason to panic, but you need to understand the facts here. And if one of the facts is it's 20 times more deadly, the president has to acknowledge that.

GUPTA: He has to acknowledge it, and it changes, I think, the entire approach. Right?

Going back to this testing thing. If you're dealing with something, you know, where you're worried that you have something that transmissible, and the criteria for testing has been too strict so that people are getting missed in this whole shuffle, they're getting looped in with flu or cold. You don't know if they actually have the coronavirus, all of a sudden, we could have a significant, you know, increase in the number of cases.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, we have you on standby throughout the rest of the program. Thank you very much for all of the facts this morning.

GUPTA: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Meanwhile, the Democratic presidential candidates blasted the president's response to this coronavirus situation. So how will voters view all of this as they head to the polls? That's next.



BERMAN: Fascinating and revealing CNN town halls last night with four of the Democratic candidates in South Carolina just a couple days before South Carolina votes and about five days before Super Tuesday.

CNN's Jessica Dean live for us in Charleston with the latest -- Jessica.

JESSICA DEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, John.

Yes, we get closer to Saturday's primary right here in South Carolina. And you heard it from the four candidates last night. We've heard it from all the candidates as they go all across the state. They are trying to convince voters here one last time before Saturday that they are the person who can beat Donald Trump in November.



DEAN (voice-over): Frontrunner Bernie Sanders is still the candidate to beat for the nomination as the Democratic hopefuls make their final pitches to South Carolina voters.

SANDERS: Joe is a friend of mine and a decent guy, but that is not the voting record or the history that is going to excite people, bring them into the political process, and beat Trump.

DEAN: Joe Biden strongly disagreeing in a CNN town hall last night, saying it's Sanders who's the real liability for Democrats and not just for the presidency.

[06:25:04] JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We have moved in a direction that, in fact, the progressive -- now progressive means Bernie.

And let's just be realistic here. It's not a criticism of him as a man. It's a criticism of whether or not you think you're going to be able to help elect a Democratic senator here against Lindsey Graham, which I'm going to help do.

DEAN: Earlier, Biden earning a key endorsement from the highest ranking African-American in Congress, Jim Clyburn.

REP. JIM CLYBURN (D-SC): I know Joe. We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us.

DEAN: Elizabeth Warren once again emphasizing why she's the better progressive choice on the ballot.

SEN. ELIZABETH WARREN (D-MA), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think it's becoming really clear that the Democratic Party is a progressive party and that progressive ideas are popular. We better have somebody who has a proven track record for getting things done.

DEAN: Amy Klobuchar highlighting why her pragmatic approach is the right way to defeat President Trump.

SEN. AMY KLOBUCHAR (D-MN), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I think some of my colleagues -- I'm not referring to the vice president here -- but some of my colleagues up on that debate stage were promising a lot of things that I don't think they can deliver. And I don't want to be that person.

DEAN: Pete Buttigieg warning a Sanders victory in South Carolina could give Sanders an insurmountable lead.

PETE BUTTIGIEG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: For anybody who wants a different vision, who made sure some of the ideals he talks about but recognizes that it is imperative that we win the White House, that we win up and down the ticket, I'm the candidate best positioned to do that.

DEAN: The candidates also bashing the Trump administration's handling of the coronavirus outbreak, especially in light of Vice President Mike Pence's appointment as leader of the government's efforts.

KLOBUCHAR: Well, I would think, usually, you might put a medical professional in charge.

MIKE BLOOMBERG (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: But the bottom line is we are not ready for this kind of thing. And the president is not a scientist is a nice way to phrase it; doesn't seem to believe in science.


DEAN: So again, we've got South Carolina's primary coming up on Saturday, but listen. The candidates are now also looking ahead to Super Tuesday when a number of states will be voting. A large number of delegates will be up for grabs. So they are now kind of starting to shift their focus outside of South Carolina. We'll have some of the candidates in Texas and North Carolina today, as well, John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Thank you very much for setting all of that up.

Joining us now, CNN political correspondent M.J. Lee who has been on the campaign trail with Elizabeth Warren; and CNN political analyst Alex Burns. He's a national political correspondent for "The New York Times."

Let's just play one more thing, which is the Joe Biden moment last night that's getting a lot of attention. And that was at the town hall where, you know, Joe Biden has been ahead in South Carolina in the polls far long time. And he was, you know, he says he has a relationship with the folks there. You heard Jim Clyburn say that very same thing.

And so he was asked -- well, the husband of one of the women, the parishioners who was killed in the Mother Emmanuel Church. She was at a prayer breakfast or prayer meeting, as we all know. And he had a moment with him where Joe Biden did what Joe Biden does really well. And that is connect with him about loss and about forgiveness. So watch this moment.


BIDEN: Reverend, I kind of know what it's like to lose family, and my heart goes out to you. You may remember after Barack and Michelle and I were there and my family, I came back on that Sunday, the regular service. Because I'd just lost my son. And I wanted some hope, because what you all did was astounding.

They forgave him. The ultimate act of Christian charity. They forgave him.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CAMEROTA: That's powerful. I mean, I don't know if that's what voters in this cycle were looking for, but that was a powerful moment.

ALEX BURNS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: It really was. And whether it's what voters are looking for enough to make Joe Biden the Democratic nominee, I don't know. But I don't think there's actually any question that voters are looking for empathy and real personal connection in whoever they're voting for in this primary and in the general election.

And when you talk to people on the trail, and not just in South Carolina, but even in states where Joe Biden did not do as well, this is something that they come back to again and again. Is just the sense of his personal character and his empathy for other people. And you don't need to go to that many Joe Biden events to see him connecting with people over a shared experience of grief exactly the way he did there.

The fact that he does have that really close bond with people in South Carolina, specifically, was just so vivid throughout that town hall. But no more, you know, never more so than in that moment there.

BERMAN: Alex has called it a home field advantage of sorts in South Carolina. And a combination of a decent debate performance. A combination of a good CNN town hall and a combination of the Clyburn endorsement.