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NYC Health Commissioner, Dr. Oxiris Barbot, Discusses the Coronavirus & City Preparedness; Jay Parmley, S.C. Democratic Party Executive Director, Discusses Primary, Clyburn Endorsing Biden, Tom Steyer Campaign, Harrison Vs. Graham Senate Race; Trump's Media Allies Downplay Coronavirus Risk, Accuse Democrats of Weaponizing Virus. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired February 28, 2020 - 11:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now is the health commissioner for New York City, Dr. Oxiris Barbot.

Thank you so much for being here.


BOLDUAN: Thank you, Commissioner.

So before we get to preparations and where stand right there, you did announce yesterday there is one person in New York who recently traveled to Italy that is being tested. When do you expect the results back?

BARBOT: We anticipate having those results back with about 24 to 36 hours.

BOLDUAN: That was yesterday. But not yet, obviously, coming back --


BOLDUAN: -- coming back.

If this person or anyone else -- as the governor says, someone in New York City is going to test positive, you should expect that, as everyone around the country should be anticipating because it will be spreading. If and when someone would test positive in New York, what do you do then? What happens then?

BARBOT: So I want to take this opportunity to remind folks, we have zero cases. And to date, we've only had eight individuals that are getting tested.

Our preparation from the very beginning has been with the assumption it was inevitable that we were going to have someone. We work to contain any potential spread.

This individual we would communicate with the people that he has come in contact with, we would find out places that he or she has traveled, and then work from there. We have got disease detectives that do this all the time, to contain it.

The reality is that viruses don't respect borders. And so it is inevitable that over time we will start seeing spread from person to person.

I think the important thing is to remind New Yorkers, remind Americans that there are very concrete things they can do to protect themselves now and when we see eventual spread.

BOLDUAN: What would be -- I think for a lot of folks, being told to wash your hands is not satisfying enough. I think that's what people are searching for often.

BARBOT: Yes, you know, honestly, I'm trying to find more exciting ways to get that message across, because the reality is that those basics are what are what's going to help us keep control of this situation. So washing your hands for 20 seconds, covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze


BARBOT: Into your sleeve, not into your hand.

The most important thing, if you travelled to one of these countries that has ongoing transmission, within the last 14 days, don't go to -- and you're feeling symptomatic, don't go to work, don't send your kids to work (sic). And call your doctor so you can get tested.

BOLDUAN: Part of the frustration I'm hearing from health experts is speed. There aren't enough cities, aren't enough states, aren't enough capability now to be allowed to test the virus and get the results quickly.

New York City is dealing with this. The reason you aren't getting it as quickly as you would want, New York City doesn't have the capability because of CDC guidelines.

You've been frustrated with that. Are you getting any sense that is going to change?

BARBOT: Let me start off by saying that, yes, we're frustrated but all the measures we have in place are is independent of whether there's a positive or not. We need to take a very forward aggressive stance to make sure New York is following those messages.

On the issue of the testing, we're working very closely with the CDC and we're working in parallel to see what the testing scheme can be that will get us to the fastest opportunity to test New Yorkers.


Is it going to change, do you think? Do you see potential that instead of 24 to 36 hours it could be less than that? I don't know if it is more equipment. I don't know if it is -- is that out there for you to get it faster?

BARBOT: Yes, so we have already bought all the equipment that we need.


BARBOT: We already have the people trained. The last step in this puzzle is getting the approved testing, you know, analysis protocols to be able to do it.

BOLDUAN: So you mentioned kids. New York City is the largest public- school district in the country. There are more than a million students.

The president's chief of staff this morning was asked if he thinks some schools, not in New York City, but some schools around the country should be shut down. And he said probably. Do you see that happening in New York?

BARBOT: You know, it is a very dramatic step to close schools. And I think that, even though that's something that is in our back pocket, we would think long and hard before disrupting the lives of New Yorkers.

I was through H1N1 when we had to close schools and we don't take those measures lightly. There's a lot we can and should be doing.

BOLDUAN: Is there a clear line of when you cross into, we need to close schools, territory. Is there a -- I don't know, a protocol for that?

BARBOT: There's no playbook on this. There's no playbook on this. And we use our individual judgment based on what is happening worldwide, based on what is happening on other parts of the country, and based on what is happening here in New York City.

But the bottom line is we're not going to be leading with closing schools.

BOLDUAN: Commissioner, thank you for coming in. You have a tough job. But thank you for coming in and spreading the word. Appreciate it.

BARBOT: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We really appreciate it.


Still ahead for us, the 2020 Democrats making their final pitch. Are they saying what voters want to hear? The executive director of the state's Democratic Party joins me next.


BOLDUAN: In in less than 24 hours, voters in South Carolina head to the polls. And that means Democratic candidates are all over the state this morning and for sure the rest of the day. [11:40:05]

Joe Biden, for his part, is optimistic. We have new video just in of Congressman Jim Clyburn casting his ballot. We would all assume for Joe Biden, of course, after he announced his big endorsement of Biden just this week.

Biden himself is projecting a win, doing so on CNN with John Berman earlier today.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I feel very good about it. I felt good about it from the beginning. It has been a launching pad for Barack and I believe it will be a launching pad for me.

We'll see how much I have to win by. I don't want to jinx myself here. I feel very good. I worked hard to earn these votes. And I think I'll do well. I think.


BOLDUAN: I think?.

Joining me now is executive director of the South Carolina Democratic Party, Jay Parmley.

Thank you for coming in, Jay.


BOLDUAN: Of course.

What are your expectations of tomorrow? Is it Joe Biden's to lose?

PARMLEY: I think so. I mean, clearly, the pressure is on the Biden campaign. He's been leading in every poll here for months. And the question is really tomorrow, like the vice president said in that clip, how -- what does he win by. So I think we're waiting to see what happens tomorrow.

We're going to have, I think, strong turnout. We've already surpassed 2016 numbers in our absentee in-person voting. I think we're very excited and ready for tomorrow.

BOLDUAN: Tom Steyer is a factor in South Carolina, and in more than any other state, obviously, than he's been campaigning in. He spent $22 million in ads in the state, more than anyone else. He's banking his candidacy on South Carolina.

What impact do you think that has had?

PARMLEY: Well, listen, Tom Steyer has done a great job campaigning here. He has the largest staff on the ground. His wife has basically lived here for the last couple of months. He racked up a ton of endorsements for -- from legislative leaders and local leaders.

And you're seeing it in the polls. Every poll that I've seen lately has Tom Steyer in second or third place here.

And, again, the question is tomorrow -- we don't quite know how the three or four, 500,000 Democrats are going to vote tomorrow here, but look for Tom Steyer to be in the top two or three. I think there's no -- really no question about that.

But his campaign, like many others, but his campaign has worked really hard on the ground, all throughout South Carolina.

BOLDUAN: We saw video played for our viewers of Jim Clyburn going on this morning. He said this morning on CNN that Democrats are worried that the wrong nominee at the top of the ticket could cause in his words, quote unquote, "down-ballot carnage." He's obviously for Joe Biden there, we should, of course, remind folks.

But you also have a big Senate race among other things go on. You've got Democrat Jaime Harrison taking on Senator Lindsey Graham. How important is the top of the ticket to that race?

PARMLEY: Well, listen, I'm not going to disagree with my congressman --


PARMLEY: -- particularly on live television. That will get me fired quicker than anything.

But the bottom line here is that I tell everybody, make your choice, make your choice for who you think best represents your values, and let's select our nominee. And, yes, the nominee often does have impact on down-ballot races.

But Jaime Harrison is a fantastic candidate. He has every opportunity to beat Lindsey Graham. We're building the strongest, largest grassroots field program that this state party and these campaigns have ever seen.

And while I think it certainly does have -- the top of the ticket has an impact, we are not going to know who our nominee is for probably a couple more months. So I'm not as worried about that as some other people are.

I just believe our job is to, whoever the nominee is, we got to defeat Donald Trump, and we have to defeat Lindsey Graham, and we can do both of those things.

I am simply not worried about it today. We can build the program -- we can build the infrastructure, the campaign organization. We have the right message.

And I'm confident that South Carolina can do what most people think we couldn't ever do and that's send a Democrat, Jaime Harrison, to the United States Senate. BOLDUAN: Got a bit before we have an answer on that.

You've got two things working in your favor. You're going to get answers tomorrow --


BOLDUAN: -- because you're getting people to vote. And, two, looks like it is a gorgeous day yet again in South Carolina.


BOLDUAN: So the weather, hopefully, is working in your favor.

PARMLEY: It is a stunning day. We're having incredible weather. It has been 30s in the morning. It is gorgeous in the afternoon. And it warms up to the evening. It can't get better than South Carolina. And I hope everyone gets out and votes tomorrow. So thanks.


BOLDUAN: Jay Parmley liking his job right now.

Thanks, Jay. Thank you for coming in.

Quick programming note --


BOLDUAN: I don't know why he's making me laugh.

Quick programming note for everybody. A special primetime event Monday night. CNN will host interviews with seven of the Democratic presidential candidates beginning at 8:00 Eastern.

We'll be right back.


BOLDUAN: With the global spread of the coronavirus, it is clear and also not an exaggeration to say there's something serious happening. If it wasn't, the president wouldn't have requested emergency funding. If it wasn't, the president wouldn't have formed a task force to address it. And if it wasn't, members of Congress wouldn't be getting multiple briefings a week.


But that's not what you'll hear from President Trump's most high- profile allies in the media. Their coverage of a public crisis is to downplay it and accuse journalists of fearmongering.

Here's just one example.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST, "HANNITY": I can report the sky is absolutely falling. We're all doomed. The end is near. The apocalypse is imminent and you're all going to die, all of you, in the next 48 hours, and it's all President Trump's fault.

Or at least, that's what the media mob and Democratic extreme radical Socialist Party would like you to think. They're now sadly politicizing and weaponizing an infectious disease, in what is really just the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump.


BOLDUAN: If a critical aspect of fighting a public health crisis is the public getting accurate and truthful information, what does that do?

Joining me right now, CNN chief media correspondent, host of "RELIABLE SOURCES," Brian Stelter.

Brian, on one level, maybe folks aren't surprised to see that happen, but facing a public health crisis, playing a game like that, like this, is serious.

BRIAN STELTER, CNN CHIEF MEDIA CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and these are people who are, for some reason, only making this about politics, trying to focus only on politics. And that's because they are hammers so all they see are nails.

Sean Hannity exists, in his mind, to defend Donald Trump, no matter what. So he is making this about Trump when ultimately it is not. This is about experts and scientists in Trump's government that are trying to get accurate information out to the public.

Unfortunately, the president and his lack of credibility is an issue, and the White House is under scrutiny on that front.

But it does seem there's an attempt by pro-Trump media to make this all about Trump and politics when that's really not the arena this is being fought in. But with -- the battle against this virus is not being fought in the public arena, but that's the only place they know.

BOLDUAN: He's not the only one, Sean Hannity.

STELTER: That's right. This has been going on all week long, especially with Rush Limbaugh. Here are a few examples.


PETE HEGSETH, FOX NEWS HOST, "FOX & FRIENDS WEEKEND": They're rooting for the problem to get worse. They're rooting for mysteries, unknown cases, quarantines in towns, for it to become an absolute national for crisis, for one reason and one reason alone. They have yet to find a reason to try to drag down the presidency of Donald Trump.

RUSH LIMBAUGH, CONSERVATIVE RADIO HOST: They don't care about the public health aspect of this, most of them. They care about how this can be used to damage Donald Trump and build up whoever the Democrats nominate.

LAURA INGRAHAM, FOX NEWS HOST, "THE INGRAHAM ANGLE": Democrats and their media cronies have decided to weaponize fear and also weaponize suffering to improve their chances against Trump in November.


BOLDUAN: I didn't know she had that graphic up.

STELTER: I wish I could just laugh at it. I wish I could write it off as being unimportant. But it's reprehensible for them to be out there saying the media is trying to take down Trump --

BOLDUAN: Right. It's not just --

STELTER: -- and weaponize fear.


BOLDUAN: But it's not just a media spectacle, defending, downplaying and taking that position. You're hearing some of that coming from the White House, too. Mick Mulvaney telling folks to turn off their TVs.

STELTER: Right. Don't watch, don't watch, don't look at the markets in freefall, et cetera. There's an attempt to kind of put on earmuffs and try not to pay attention to what's going on. And that -- (INAUDIBLE).

BOLDUAN: When you think about it, it's a little counter-intuitive, right? This is not a president who is one to downplay a crisis.

STELTER: So that's the thing.

BOLDUAN: Quite often, it's -- the experience in the last three years has been the opposite.

STELTER: Even before the president took office, when the Ebola scare happened in 2014, he was out there making noise when the media was hyping fears about it.

Now they feel the need to protect the president from potential political damage by saying the Democrats and the media are out to get you. I think most will see through it, but it is still reprehensible.

BOLDUAN: Even since the president has taken office. Again, never let a good crisis go bad, right? I mean never, like, not use a good crisis. I clearly think this time is quite something different.



BOLDUAN: Good to see you, Brian. Thank you so much.

STELTER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: I really appreciate it. Coming up for us, another dramatic drop in the markets, as we've been

discussing, as global fears escalate over the coronavirus. Is there any recovery in sight? Got more for you.

But first, CNN reveals the first CNN hero of 2020. We do that next week. Here's an update of last year's Hero of the Year, honored for her innovative efforts to end the stigma around menstruation. Now CNN's recognition has helped her open minds and doors back home.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, "ANDERSON COOPER 360": The 2019 CNN Hero of the Year is --



FREWEINI MEBRAHTU, 2019 CNN HERO OF THE YEAR: I just could not believe it. To work so hard for this moment, I felt like, oh, it is really important.


MEBRAHTU: Almost the entire town was waiting for me at the airport. I don't deserve it. But the cause deserves it.


The Ethiopian president, she's wonderful. It's like, wow, I'm in the national palace to talk about periods.

We have a lot of work to do, but the silence has been broken.


BOLDUAN: You can watch Anderson Cooper's full update and also nominate someone who you think should be a "CNN Hero" at

We'll be back.