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Vice President Mike Pence Expected To Speak On Coronavirus; President Trump Meets With Pharma CEOs And Vaccine Experts; Washington State Records Six Deaths, 18 New Cases Of Coronavirus; White House Briefing On Coronavirus. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 2, 2020 - 17:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:58:27]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're about to hear from the president's point person on the coronavirus. Any minute now, the vice president, Mike Pence, is expected to brief reporters on the outbreak, which we learned just a short time ago has taken more lives.

It's up to six deaths right now here in the United States, all in Washington state, by the way, 100 cases nationwide. We have got a panel of medical and public health experts standing by, including our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, to help make sense of what's going on.

Also, there are new reports emerging right now, the president saying he's weighing tighter restrictions on travel from hard-hit areas. We will take a closer look at that, take you to the epicenter in Washington state, where all six deaths have happened, and where first responders, including a quarter of the fire department in one city, are now under quarantine.

Meantime, the markets did bounce back dramatically today, the Dow Jones industrial average up nearly 1,300 points, a record point gain, after a week of record losses.

Plus, with all that happening, another Democrat gets out of the race for the presidency, as voters get ready for Super Tuesday tomorrow -- how Amy Klobuchar's departure and two new endorsements of Joe Biden, including hers, potentially could shake up the race.

I will talk about all of today's breaking news with our correspondents and analysts. They are all standing by. They're out here. They're here or in the field.

First, as we wait to hear from the vice president and top health aides working with him, let's go quickly to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, you are there in the White House briefing room. I know you're getting ready. You have plenty of questions. First of all, what are we learning about these new cases? SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're getting a

better idea of the connections between them. Many of them were connected to this long-term care facility there in Washington State. We also know that the ages of these patients now.

One person was in the 80s, three in their 70s, one gentleman, the first one was in his late 50s, and one in his 40s. We don't know a lot about their medical history otherwise.

But this is what public health officers are trying to do right now, figure out what was the connection between these six patients. Also, we are hearing from the public health officers in the area that they now expect that coronavirus is going to start spreading more quickly than influenza.

So, that is something to keep mindful of. That's why these tests over there really in some ways can't come soon enough, Wolf. We have been talking about that for some time.

BLITZER: Why do they think it's going to spread more rapidly than influenza?

GUPTA: Well, you know, it seems to be pretty contagious. They start to do this modeling, looking at how likely the virus has been in the area, how many people have been infected as a result. And they're trying to figure out as a result of that, how contagious this is.

And typically, you know, you think flu is going from one person, maybe to one or two people. With coronavirus, it seems more like it's going from one person to two or three people.

So, you know, it's still early on. They still have to do more modeling, but that's what they're planning for, Wolf, this idea that you could have more coronavirus patients, new patients, versus influenza within the next couple of weeks.

BLITZER: Yes. That's pretty scary indeed. What will you be listening for in this news conference that's about to begin?

GUPTA: I think one of the biggest things is keeping in mind what we just said, if these numbers do increase as we expect they will and maybe dramatically when we see this new testing come in, are we ready? I mean, that's the big question.

There is some modeling that actually come from the federal government itself, so it sort of gives an idea of how many people are likely to get sick, how many people are likely to need a hospitalization, be in the intensive care unit, be on a breathing machine.

We have all those numbers, Wolf, and I can tell you when you apply those numbers to what we have in this country right now, they don't matchup, we're short quite a bit. Maybe, you know, 100,000 ICU beds short.

This hospital system is not built for surge capacity so what do you do when there is a certain surge of patients. That's one of the things I want to address with the vice president.

BLITZER: I know you're going to be asking him questions at this upcoming news conference. Sanjay, we'll get back to you very soon. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta, is also in the briefing room getting ready for this news conference. So what are you hearing over there Jim? What do we anticipate we will hear from the vice president and the others who will show up?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right, Wolf. We're going to hear from the Vice President Mike Pence just a few moments from now, Deborah Birks who is the global AIDS coordinator for the administration. She is lending her expertise to this effort to combat the coronavirus.

Wolf, one thing we should point out, just a few moments ago the president was meeting behind closed doors. There was brief spray with the press where we got to listen on some of this where he was meeting with the major heads of the pharmaceutical industry.

And also vaccine experts who are sort of getting the president up to speed as to the challenge that it's going to be before they can get some sort of coronavirus vaccine on the market.

One thing that we should point out, Wolf, during the meeting is that several of these experts and the pharmaceutical industry, CEOs had to explain to the president sort of time and again that they cannot necessarily rush a vaccine on to the market.

The president was sort of asking as he was going around the room, well, how quickly can we get a vaccine out on the market? Can we do it in three or four months? And at one point, Dr. Tony Fauchi, who is the infectious disease expert for the administration, at one point told the president, no, it is still going to be about a year.

And these experts and these pharmaceutical CEOs were explaining to the president there needs to be a vigorous testing process for these vaccines before you can put a vaccine out on the market. Obviously, you can't put a vaccine out on the market to treat coronavirus if it has not been adequately tested.

And so these officials had to explain that to the president time and again. So you do get the sense, Wolf, that there is urgency on his part to try to address the issues and this is just not an instant gratification type of problem that we are dealing with right now, that this administration is dealing with right now.

One thing that the president did say when the reporters were in the room is that, yes, he is considering new travel restrictions. He did not get into specifically where these travel restriction might happen, but that is certainly on his mind.

And as he was leaving for a rally in North Carolina this evening, he was touting what happened on Wall Street, the big recovery on Wall Street.

[17:05:00] So the president is at least getting some kind of good news in a good bill of health at least temporarily for the stock market after that steep slide we saw yesterday, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Very impressive rebound today, almost 1,300 points on the Dow Jones Industrial average. All right, Jim Acosta, I know you've got questions for the vice president, the others who will there. We'll get back to you shortly. We are standing by for this news conference. The vice president will be walking out we're told momentarily.

Right now I want to bring in some more experts voices into the conversation. Former Obama White House health policy advisor, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, is with us. Also with us, Dr. James Philips, who practices emergency medicine here in Washington at George Washington University Hospital, just a few blocks by the way from the White House.

And our Chief Political Analyst, Gloria Borger is here with us as well. Over at the White House is our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is monitoring this for us as well.

So Dr. Phillips, first of all, what do you think we need to hear right now from the vice president and the team? I assume Dr. Fauchi and others will be there with him.

JAMES PHILLIPS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: So I think it's really important for people to hear confidence and honesty. Filtering of crisis communications is a mistake.

So, the more that we can get physicians and the scientists at the podium and having consistency so that everyday the American public is seeing the same people giving that message and knowing when the message is going to again. I think it's imperative to instill confidence in the public.

BLITZER: It is encouraging. They are doing the briefings in the White House briefing room. They haven't done that, you know, have briefings in the White House briefing room, over the past several months. And it's important for the American public to hear what's going on.

ZEKE EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE OBAMA HEALTH POLICY ADVIDER: Necessary but not sufficient, Wolf. You know, you need a briefing. You need an acknowledgement that this is a serious problem. It's going to get worse before it gets better. We're going to see more cases, probably doubling everyday. We're going to see more deaths.

And then we'd like to hear the plan. What is the plan? And you just heard I think from Sanjay something I've been saying for days and days now, we need surge capacity, not all over the country, but you're already hearing out of Seattle that they're thinking of renting a motel to isolate people instead of a hospital. They're thinking of using mobile homes and other items.

Now, that's, you know, that's a surge capacity --

BLITZER: Well, what is -- what do you mean by surge capacity? EMANUEL: Well, as Sanjay said, we have about 95,000 intensive care

unit beds in the entire country. Those include burn units and surgical intensive care units, pediatric intensive care units. If you have a lot of people who have to be on a respirator, they have to be in the intensive care unit, right.

And so you might need in a certain community more beds than you actually have in your intensive care unit. How are you going to handle those people? And for every medical staff to support them, you need protective personal equipment, not just the masks.

They, you know, have talked about they've gotten tens of millions of masks, but what about the gloves and gowns and you have to change it every time you go to different patients. So, this is a big logistical issue and you need to address it.

In addition, you need separate entrance ways now for emergency rooms to isolate these patients so they are not sitting in the same waiting area potentially coughing on other people.

All of -- that's part of a plan and you need to hear what's the plan and how are we going to get all of our communities in one -- with one voice? So, here is just another issue. Are we going to close schools? Are we going to close sporting events? Are we going to close shopping?

Well, what is the trigger for that? Has anyone defined what the trigger is? Well, we'd like to hear the White House actually have a clear plan about these things and yet we've heard none of that. I'm a little -- that's part --

BLITZER: You know - you're a little concerned about that, but Gloria, they do have a responsibility. The vice president, the team he has assembled, the president obviously as well to reassure the American public that they know what they are doing.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think what's reassuring to the American public is hearing from the scientists and hearing from the doctors and hearing from the people who are on the front line and less and less from the politicians.

I mean, it is clear from what Jim Acosta is saying, the President wants to rush this vaccine saying, all right, let's just get a vaccine in place and we will take care of it.

And that can't happen and the public needs to understand why that can't happen, and how they are trying, but you just don't rush a vaccine into place when it is not ready for use with the American public.

They do want to hear about the dislocation this is going to cause their lives, and a trigger as you point out, would be something that would be good for the American public to know.

So they want to be reassured. I understand that, but the reassurance comes from knowledge and not from a lack of knowledge and knowledge that comes from those who know and those who understand rather than those who have gotten involved in this late in the game and who are political.

So I would sort of -- I understand the vice president is leading up this charge which shows the American public how serious it is, and I think that's a good thing.

[17:09:59]

But in the end, if the decisions really do need to come from the medical professionals and I think that's what the public would like to hear. They would also like to hear, give us a briefing everyday. Give us a briefing at 10:00 in the morning and give us a briefing at 5:00 at night. Let us know.

BLITZER: I think that Sanjay can still hear me. Sanjay, are you still there?

GUPTA: Got you, Wolf.

BLITZER: I know you're in the White House briefing room. We're getting ready for this news conference with the vice president. Do we know for sure, six deaths now in Washington States in the Seattle or Washington area, how this virus, the coronavirus virus even wound up there to begin with?

GUPTA: That's a very interesting question, Wolf. The first patient was diagnosed in Washington State back in January 20th. So that was the first time that the virus was actually diagnosed and found to be in the state of Washington.

It's possible that maybe the virus actually had already been there, but what's interesting, a new study just over the last couple of days showed that that virus from January 20th basically matches or is very similar to the virus that has now caused these most recent infections.

Remember, the virus is mutating all along. So the fact that this was very similar suggests that the same virus from back on January 20th has been circulating in that area for some six weeks now. So that's, you know, when they talk about community spread, that may have been where it started.

We don't know that for sure, but when you start to think about that virus circulating for some six weeks that probably means, according to the modeling that's been done, some up to 500 people or so could have been exposed to the virus.

The testing -- the lack of testing because of that, we don't know. Maybe when we have this enhanced testing over the next few days we will get a better idea, but this virus has likely been circulating for some time and that's how these people got it, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, let me ask Dr. Phillips. If it's been circulating in that Seattle, Washington area for six weeks, what does that say to you?

PHILLIPS: It tells me that there is probably a virus in every state in the United States and that's what we're seeing. BLITZER: How can you make that conclusion?

PHILLIPS: Well, it's a conclusion based on the fact that we have seen other viruses like this. We've seen how quickly they can spread and we are starting to see sporadic cases pop up on both coasts and the south.

There's every reason to believe that containment was never part of this to even start with. I mean, the Chinese did their best. They took extraordinary measures that aren't even possible in other countries, yet the virus had gotten out before that.

We know it's here and if you are talking to the average emergency physician in the country, we know it's here, we're prepared for it. We've been preparing for this for our whole careers. This isn't two weeks of preparation watching the news. This isn't two-months of reading journals out of Cina.

This is 20 years of preparation from previous epidemics that have broken out. So those of us who have chosen a career in disaster medicine, we've been waiting for this. And so, while yes, surge protection or surge capacity is important, we do that on a daily basis, we drill (ph) this, we plan for this. There is written plans in our hospitals for it.

It's difficult to think of that on a national level undoubtedly, but in our hospitals on the front lines where those of us are going to be treating patients with these coughs and the fevers, we are prepared for this.

BLITZER: George Washington University Hospital, a major hospital here in the nation's capital, and you guys ready in the emergency room for something like this?

PHILLIP: I think that we are. So, I am not an official representative of George Washington University in this capacity, but I can tell you that we've had meetings every week and those are the sorts of things that I recommend to all hospitals.

We should have multidisciplinary committees, task forces, specifically dedicated to what are we going to do about the coronavirus, revising the plans that are in place, developing them if they don't exist and listening to the CDC and our local and regional partners to make sure that we are meeting surge capacity to the best we can, to minimize the patients that are in the emergency department and in our hospitals that we may need to try to find space.

So when it comes to disasters, right, this is a long term disaster. There are three major things, your space -- which you alluded to -- staff, and stuff.

And the president and his staff have talked about the amount of stuff that we're going to get, the strategic national stockpile that exists for masks and thousands of ventilators and some of these things that we know we have scattered around the country. But in addition to that, I have more concerns about our staff. It's important that we're protecting our staff, protecting our vulnerable staff, and we have plenty of doctors over the age of 60 with medical comorbidities that maybe at higher risk than someone who's 30 and healthy.

And then in addition to that, the questions I need from science to give me are when we do get sick, when I do get sick and I will get sick from this. When I get sick with this, when can I come back to work? When do I get back in the fight because I'm going to be going crazy sitting at home in quarantine as will all of my emergency colleagues wondering when can I get back.

BLITZER: Do you agree Dr. Emanuel that it's only a matter of time before these coronavirus cases emerge in all 50 states?

EMANUEL: Yes. I think most physicians who got experience with this thing, that it's in the community.

[17:15:00]

You've seen it in Florida. You've got community spread. You are seeing it in lots of places and so it is going to be a matter of time and we assume it's actually in the community now, we just haven't detected it because we haven't tested people and we don't know what the prevalence is, how frequently how many people have it.

So, I think that's a problem because you've got people walking around asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic who are probably spreading it and that is a concern more generally. And I do think that that's going to be, you know, a problem.

I would also point out, you know, as the intro ran, you know, you've got four firefighters, I think it's four firefighters or half the fire department out in Kirkland that are quarantined because they went to the nursing home and are testing positive.

That is a problem if you've got a lot of people around who are positive coming into emergency rooms and infecting nurses and doctors. And that is the medical staff that you just heard that could be threatened because they may need to be quarantined.

BLITZER: All right. Just want to remind our viewers, we're standing by to hear from the vice president of the United States, Mike Pence. He's going to be emerging with top officials, we're told, from the CDC and the National Institutes of Health, others, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Health and Human Resources.

They're going to be coming out briefing reporters. We're going to have live coverage of that. And as we look at the map of current cases that await this news conference, we'll go next to the epicenter of all of this at least right now here in the United States, the city of Kirkland and the state. We're talking about Washington State where the death toll has now risen from two to six.

And later on this Super Tuesday eve, Joe Biden's big boost as another Democratic presidential candidate drops out and gets ready to get behind him. All of that and much more when we continue.

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[17:20:00]

BLITZER: As we await the Vice President, Mike Pence, he is getting ready to brief the American public on the administration's response to the coronavirus epidemic. We are also following the breaking news out of the Seattle, Washington area where just a short time ago authorities announced three more fatalities, bringing the total there and nationwide to six.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us from Kirkland, Washington right now. The nursing facility there, that's clearly, Omar, at the epicenter of what's going on. Update our viewers.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. This place is exactly where investigators are honing in, investigating it as an outbreak.

When you look at the six deaths we have total across the state, five of them come from this county. And of those five, four of them stem from this life care center nursing facility. And of the 18 cases statewide, eight of those stem from this particular facility.

It's why again, as I mentioned, both at the state and federal level, they are looking at this place as an outbreak. And also tied to this, you have the first responders that came here -- 37 in total had been quarantined, all of those stemming from responding to this particular facility, just about a quarter of the fire department here in Kirkland.

And it's important to note, quarantining is one thing. It's more of a precautionary measure for people who were exposed to see if they do get sick. Well, as we are now learning, 19 of those 37 are now being moved to isolation, which means they are likely showing symptoms, Wolf.

BLITZER: Omar, what are you learning about the high school student who tested positive in Everett, Washington?

JIMENEZ: Wolf, of course, across the state, schools has been a major concern for officials. We know more than 48 high schools are closed either today or tomorrow. And then that particular school in Everett, this was a student who tested positive for the coronavirus late last week.

He had no relevant travel history that would have put him in a major infection zone. And he was set to go to class on Friday but learned of those test results right before going to -- or tight before being able to attend classes.

I should say, he was then moved to isolation. Some of the few students that this student interacted were placed in quarantine, again, as precautionary measure. And that particular school, Jackson High School in the county to our north here in the Seattle area, it was closed today and is expected to be so over the course of the next few days just to get the deep cleaning in, again, as a major precautionary measure here in the state, Wolf.

BLITZER: Omar Jimenez on the scene for us. Omar, we'll get back to you but I want more now on the school situation in that town. Joining us now is Ian Saltzman, superintendent of public schools in Everett, Washington. Also joining us is Dave Peters, the principal at the Henry Jackson High School there.

Mr. Peters, when you got the call on Friday that one of your students had come down with the coronavirus, it must have been a shock, I can certainly anticipate that. As the student was feeling better, had returned to school and didn't even know he had been tested for coronavirus, how did all that unfold?

DAVID PETERS, PRINCIPAL, HENRY M. JACKSON HIGH SCHOOL: Right. So, what we understand is that he wasn't feeling well, stayed home and went to the doctor and got himself checked out, but he started to feel better and hadn't received any results.

And so he attempted to come back onto campus. He didn't attend any classes by the time that he had received the word that the test results had come back presumptively positive. So, at that point he came directly home.

BLITZER: Any idea how this student got the coronavirus?

[17:24:52]

PETERS: No. Nope. I think that what we know is he hadn't done any traveling himself and hadn't, at this point, the health district information to us is that he has not become available yet that he came in contact with anybody who had traveled overseas.

BLITZER: Dr. Saltzman, the school was closed today so there could be what they described as deep cleaning. What does that entail? Are buses cleaned as well? Just share with us what's going on.

IAN SALTZMAN, SUPERINTENDENT, EVERETT PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Yes, sir, Wolf, thank you. When we found out right away, we put the team in action beginning Friday night for a three-day of deep cleaning, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and also cleaning the buses that are in the routes of that school.

Deep cleaning is a full clean of that school from every intensive cleaning that we can so that when the kids come back on Tuesday, the school is fully sanitized.

BLITZER: Mr. Peters, is it know how many students the infected student came in contact with? Are they being monitored right now?

PETERS: Yes, so the Snohomish Health District identified four other students that they believed had been in direct contact and were more at risk for exposure and so those students have been in quarantine at this time as well.

BLITZER: So, what kind of symptoms, Dr. Saltzman, did the student have and how sick is this person?

SALTZMAN: All we know right now from the health district was they have flu-like symptoms and the health district notified us and we put our plan into action.

BLITZER: So Mr. Peters, what's your message to parents tonight, many I'm sure are deeply concerned about sending their kids back to school tomorrow.

PETERS: Right. Yes, and understandably, too. But we are following the recommendations of the health district, which is that, you know, they have -- starting with their patient zero, doing their forensic mapping they have identified the students that the other student has come into contact with and have quarantined them.

And so in other words, if you haven't been contacted directly by the health district, it has not yet risen to the level of concern that they are at risk of exposure. And so all students and staff otherwise are planning to return to school tomorrow.

BLITZER: Out of an abundance of caution, Mr. Peters, would you consider keeping the school closed for another few days?

PETERS: I think that would be a question for Dr. Saltzman here.

BLITZER: All right, go ahead, Dr. Saltzman.

SALTZMAN: Well, we are concerned like everybody else nationwide for this. And right now at this time, we will have school on Tuesday, but what we are doing, we are communicating with our public, with our community to just let them know every step of the way. But like everybody else in the nation, we are concerned with this.

BLITZER: I'm sure you are. So what other, Dr. Saltzman, other precautions are you taking right now to deal with this crisis?

SALTZMAN: Right now, what we are doing is we have a daily fact sheet that runs every few hours, not only talking about hygiene, but working closely with our health district to keep us informed if they know anything.

They've done a great job keeping us informed, but really to all our community members, to students, teachers and everybody that lives in Everett, just good, good hygiene, and if you don't feel well, please call your doctor. Please do that.

BLITZER: Yes. That's an important advice. Dr. Ian Saltzman and Dave Peters, thanks very, very much.

All right, so, let me get some analysis, Zeke, first from you from what we just heard. What do you think?

EMANUEL: Well, I think they've done the right thing actually, that they've done a deep clean trying to get all the droplets that might have spread out. They have identified the students who he came in contact with after. What I'm a little concerned about is that they identified the students before, so he went on Friday or Thursday to get tested. What about the days before because he didn't just become positive at the flip of a switch on Thursday, and so that's very important.

I would say in response to your question what about keeping the school closed for a few more days, that's not going to really do anything, keeping it closed for a few more days.

I think, again, communication with the families, telling them, listen, coronavirus is spread by droplets. We've cleaned the school so there are no droplets around. It's not in the air. It's not just in the air system. It is very important in educating them that a few more days is not going to make a difference. So, I think that's quite important.

I think you also need to be careful about, you know, as I said, did he come into the contact with teachers or staff or other people who might see all the students, and that, you know, that again, is where we become worrisome that someone critical who sees many more than just a couple of people could become infected and distribute it much more widely.

BLIZER: We are told there is a news conference -- this briefing at the White House is getting ready. We're told the vice president and the others will be walking out momentarily and we'll have live coverage of that.

But Dr. Phillips, as you know, I asked that question of the superintendent out there, because in Japan, all elementary, middle school and high schools are closed and throughout the country for a month, this entire month.

[17:29:59]

PHILLIPS: And what a disruption that is, right? Not only to the students who are trying to get their education, but to the families who now have to figure out a way to have a parent home and take care of those children, which makes the economy suffer. And in our country where so many people are living paycheck to paycheck, we run the risk of people going back to work when they're still sick.

So, this virus I think more than anything is a lesson that we all have a responsibility, like every citizen in this country has a responsibility. Whether that's our elected and appointed leadership, we have a responsibility to clear and honest communication and to get us at our hospitals' money to fight this.

But there's also a responsibility from employers to their employees, making sure they have positive -- all the best public health measures, hand sanitizers at work, the ability to distance socially from people by doing telework from home, but also a guarantee that if they get sick and quarantine, they're not going to lose their job. And is there a way to advance maybe some paycheck so people can stay home and convalesce? Because we're going to see more down stream effects from this virus than just the people who are sick. BORGER: I just have a question for the doctors over here. Could we have been more prepared? I mean, I understand there were budget cuts that the group that looks into this and infectious diseases was killed, but --

BLITZER: All right, hold on one moment.

BORGER: Never mind, we'll have to answer that later.

BLITZER: It looks like the team is walking out and there's the Vice President. Let's listen in.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good afternoon. We just finished the Monday meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Since the time the President established task force here at the White House, he just literally met daily and we continue that effort today. We added the head of the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services Seema Verma, to task force today as well as Robert Wilkie with the VA.

First, a few basic facts and reports and then we'll hear from other members of the task force about ongoing efforts. At the present moment, we have 43 domestic cases of the coronavirus. Forty-eight cases of individuals who've returned to the United States. Of the domestic cases, 29 of the 43 are either in California or Washington State. And we have communities that are facing what the experts tell us could potentially be a cluster in those communities.

Sadly, today, there were four additional fatalities. Raising the number that six Americans have lost their life to the coronavirus. And on behalf of the President and all of the American people, we extend our deepest condolences and sympathies to the families of those that were lost.

Despite today's sad news, let's be clear. The risk to the American people of the coronavirus remains low, according to all of the experts that we're working with across the government. This President has said, we're ready for anything. But this is an all-hands-on-deck effort. Today's activity really reflects the President's effort to bring the best minds of private industry together, the best leadership from around the country at every level.

We had a good meeting this morning with governors from 50 states and three territories. I was able to convey to them the gratitude that the President, our entire administration feels, particularly for governors that are dealing with the coronavirus in their states, those that have taken repatriated personnel.

I can say that what I hear from the nation's governors is that there has been a seamless relationship between all the agencies of the federal government and states thus far. And we're encouraged to hear that, but I told them that we are committed to a full partnership with state governments and to their health officials and to local health care providers going forward.

We also met today with some of the leaders of the top pharmaceutical companies in the country. The President spoke to them not just about vaccines, which many of the companies are already beginning to work on. But just as importantly, the development of therapeutics.

And it is remarkable to think that there may well be a vaccine going to clinical trials within the next six weeks. The nature of trials, as the experts have explained to us, is that the vaccine might yet not be available until late this year or early next year. But the therapeutics, giving relief to people that contract the coronavirus could literally be available by this summer or early fall.

[17:35:04]

The most encouraging news from that meeting was that our pharmaceutical companies which are recognized as the greatest in the world, all have already formed a consortium to work together to share information in the development of therapeutics and vaccines.

A quick update. Yesterday we were fully implementing the new travel advisories for portions of Italy and South Korea and the implementation of screening of personnel from across those countries who are trying to take a direct flight to the United States of America. I was pleased in the White House Task Force meeting today to learn that within the next 12 hours, there will be 100 percent screening all direct flights at all airports across Italy and across South Korea.

The President has directed us to bring the full resources of the federal government and to bring the very best minds in this country to bear on this effort. And finally, today, I am pleased to welcome to our White House team, a world renowned global health official, and a physician.

She will be my right arm through this effort as the President has tasked me to lead the White House response to the coronavirus. And I'm grateful that Ambassador Deborah Birx, also Dr. Deborah Birx will be on our team. And even on her first day, she's already been contributing significantly to our discussions.

Dr. Birx serves as the U.S. government's leader today for combating HIV/AIDS globally, and has developed an international reputation as that. She's a scientist, a physician. Someone with three decades of public health expertise includes virulent diseases, vaccines, and has vast experience in interagency coordination. And Dr. Birx and I have talked about the importance of bringing all of these various entities together to bring about President Trump's vision for a whole of government response to the coronavirus.

So with that, I'd like to recognize Dr. Deborah Birx for a few introductory and welcome remarks, and thank you for stepping up one more time to serve our country.

DR. DEBBIE BRIX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Vice President. It's a pleasure to be here. I just arrived from South Africa last night. Everybody took great care of me. I had computer and phone and record time. It really shows the level of efficiency and expertise here to really get moving quickly. It's clear that the early work of the President both the travel restrictions, and the ability to quarantine has bought us this time and space to have this task force be very effective. I have never worked with such incredible scientists and thoughtful policy leaders, and I got to spend the day with them. I'm trying to get up to speed as fast as possible and I look forward to the days ahead really working together to end this epidemic. Thank you.

PENCE: Secretary Azar.

ALEX AZAR, HHS SECRETARY: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. I just want to first start out by saying how delighted we are that Ambassador Birx is going to be leading coordinating these efforts across the government. Dr. Birx, and I go way back, Dr. Birx, and basically, every leader at the Department of Health and Human Services go way back together. So we already have established relationships and maybe not to way back, right.

We already have very established productive working relationships that I think you're going to keep the interagency process working incredibly smoothly. And as the Vice President said Dr. Birx already has been asking the right questions and challenging us on all the right scientific and policy matters that we need to focus on.

I just want to begin by recapping the current situation that we faced with COVID-19. As the Vice President mentioned, as of this morning, we have 43 confirmed or presumptive cases of the virus in the United States, excluding our repatriated cases. Seventeen of those cases are travel related in one way or another. Twenty-six are believed to be person-to-person spread.

Because of the President's strong leadership and all the hard work that our public health professionals have done at the local, the state, the federal level, the immediate risk to any individual American has been and does continue to be low. But the risk for people with possible exposure to identified cases can be high. What every one of our experts and leaders have been saying for more than a month now remains true. The degree of risk has the potential to change quickly, especially if we see sustained spread of the disease around the world, which could qualify this disease as a pandemic.

As Dr. Fauci said this morning, we will see more cases of community spread in the United States. As we've emphasized for some time, now, we all need to prepare for the potential need, prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

[17:40:14]

In some places, we will have to use the range of our mitigation efforts. In fact, we already are working closely with Santa Clara County and the state of Washington and particularly King County to assist them and thinking through some of the best practices from our pandemic action plan, as well as learnings from Singapore and Hong Kong around the most effective community mitigation efforts, such as temporary school closures or even more titrated responses Dr. Schuchat has talked to you about such as having school, but perhaps not having assemblies in school.

That's why the President has taken an unprecedented whole of government approach to protecting the American people, including the steps in the last few days to radically expand and improve the testing that we have and to improve access to respirators needed by healthcare workers. And the Vice President, Dr. Schuchat of the CDC and I spoke with basically almost every governor that we have this morning, and we greatly appreciate their close cooperation with us.

I also wanted to now introduce an individual who I asked the Vice President have joined this task force, because the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services play such a vital role $1.3 trillion of spending here in the United States, providing health care to 60 million American seniors. And as we've seen, this disease can have a disproportionate severity impact on the elderly as well as the medically frail.

And so Seema Verma, our Administrator has a very important responsibility with regard to funding of care whether it's therapeutics or vaccines or diagnostics for our senior citizens. But also a vital role that you may not know of in regulating long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes and other health care facilities very important regulatory function.

So I'm delighted that Administrator Verma is formally joining the task force. And let me turn it over to Seema now. Seema?

SEEMA VERMA, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: Thank you, Secretary Azar. So for the Trump administration and CMS, patients come first and the health and the safety and welfare of America's patients and provider workforce is our highest priority.

So let me start with what CMS is. And as the Secretary said, we are the nation's largest insurer covering over 130 million Americans between Medicare, Medicaid, and the individual insurance market. And some of these are our nation's most vulnerable populations, those in poverty, the elderly, and children and so forth.

Critically, we do have a regulatory responsibility for pretty much every healthcare institution in America. This includes facilities such as hospitals, critical access hospitals, nursing homes, home health agencies, dialysis facilities, surgery centers, and the list goes on. And that gives us a very critical role in addressing the coronavirus.

We are responsible for enforcing the quality guidelines based in part on information from partner agencies like the CDC. And so let me stress that CMS has long standing infectious disease policies already in place that we've used effectively for other outbreaks such as influenza. And so healthcare facilities already have these procedures in place and should be prepared for what they may see. And we're going to continue to proactively update our regulations, we're going to be working with CDC.

Right now, like I said, those are already in place and it's our job to make sure that healthcare facilities are effectively implementing those guidelines. And we will work with the CDC to determine whether we need to update or change those.

Also, we are looking at what we cover and clarifying the types of products and services that our programs will be able to pay for in terms of Medicaid and Medicare. And with that, I'll turn it over.

AZAR: That's very good.

VERMA: Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you, Seema.

Thank you for stepping up. I want to recognize a couple of other members of our team, Anthony Fauchi, National Institute of Health. Thank you, Dr.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. I just want to make three comments and points. First of all, to underscore with the Vice President and with Secretary Azar said, we had a really extraordinary meeting with the CEOs a variety of individuals in the pharmaceutical and biotech business.

Several of whom were in the room where people were actually already actively collaborating with and their enthusiasm about getting involved in helping us along with the development of products and the availability of products, be they vaccines, monoclonal antibodies are therapeutics. It was very gratifying.

[17:45:02]

Second, I'm very pleased that the President and Vice President will be visiting the NIH tomorrow and we're going to have the opportunity to show them firsthand in real time the kinds of things we were doing. And finally, just one comment about Ambassador Dr. Brix. So a couple of people up here said, you know, I go back a long time with Dr. Birx. Nobody goes back as long as I go with Ambassador Birx. She was actually a fellow in my program as a trainee. And we knew she was a star then.

And now what has happened over the years, she's become a superstar. Together, we saw the first patients with HIV back in the early 80s. We were involved in a vaccine trial. That was the first successful trial with HIV. We've known each other through PEPFAR. I had the privilege and the honor among others of putting together the PEPFAR program for President Bush. And she was the ambassador in charge of the PEPFAR program. So I can't tell you how excited I am to finally, once again, get back and being a partner with Debbie Birx.

BIRX: Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. And finally, Dr. Bob Redfield, CDC. Bob.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President. What I would like to do is just recognize that CDC continues to work and provide support to really the backbone of our public health system in this nation, which is a state, local, tribal and territorial health departments. And these teams continue to work to identify new cases, isolate and contact, trace these to together -- to work together to try to limit the transmission of the coronavirus.

And working with our public health partners, we continue to be able to identify new community cases, as the Secretary said, we always anticipated. And use our public health assets to aggressively, again, confirm those cases, isolate, do contact tracing, to use our public health tools to limit the spread of this virus. I want to echo what was said by the Vice President and the Secretary, that despite seeing these new community cases, that shows you we have a public health community across this country and action, the risk of the American people is low.

I also want to add my looking forward and I know my entire agency is looking forward to the President and the Vice President's and the Secretary's visit, to come to Atlanta on Friday, and get to meet a lot of the wonderful people who form the backbone of this great agency. Thank you.

PENCE: Thank you, Bob. We will take questions. Steve Holland, Reuters. Where are you, Steve?

STEVE HOLLAND, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, REUTERS: Based on what we've seen so far, how quickly do you expect this virus to spread throughout the United States?

PENCE: Let me refer that to the experts. Go ahead, Bob.

HOLLAND: Are there any details about this cluster in Washington State that show us anything?

REDFIELD: I think the important thing as the Secretary said, from the beginning, we've anticipated to see community cases pop up. And now we have a number of new community cases which the health departments are aggressively evaluating to see if they can understand the linkage, who are the contacts, how is this virus spreading. And I think the American public should rest assured we have one of the finest public health programs in the world when you look at the state and local territorial.

So we're going to continue to see these cases as a consequence of them doing their job. And we're going to use the public health strategies that we can to limit that transmission. And I think we should focus on that right now. We're still working very hard in trying to contain these community outbreaks. But as the Secretary has said, we are blending that now with very strategic mitigation strategies.

PENCE: Dr. Fauci?

FAUCI: So, just to underscore something I said the other day, there are two aspects of this is about cases coming in, and then controlling the situation of the spread of what's already in here. And there are two things that are going on. It's the kind of restrictions of travel to areas where there are hotspots in the rest of the world, just like the original inhibition of travel here with China, I think is going to mitigate against the question of the widest spread, and the contact tracing and the isolation that's very aggressively going on.

I mean, we hope. You could never predict 100 percent of anything. But I think what's going on right now with the CDC and particularly, the state and local health authorities, is going to really I think, get us through this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President --

PENCE: Steve, it's something I learned along the way, is that when we have cases that emerge, state and local health officials are in the lead, but CDC is on the ground immediately helping to identify how that might have originated with that individual to find out any other people that they've been exposed to. But we know there will be more cases.

[17:50:05]

The President initially took unprecedented action to do all that we could to prevent the coronavirus coming into the country. And now we're focused on mitigation of the spread as well as treatment of the people that are effective. Kristin Fisher, Kristen Fisher here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just walked out.

PENCE: She walked out. Let me go with Hallie Jackson.

HALLIE JACKSON, CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NBC NEWS: Thank you. Two questions for you, sir. And if anybody else wants to jump in. Number one, President Trump hinted today at the potential for new travel restrictions on top of what we're already seeing, related to Italy, South Korea, China, Iran. Can you elaborate on specifically what countries you're looking at? Is Germany, for example, which has seen some cases of community spread, is that on the table? And then I have a follow-up, as well.

PENCE: The President is very clear. We're going to follow the facts and listen to the experts every step of the way. The action the President authorized this weekend, raising the travel advisory. The American people should know that we are saying that you should not travel to certain sections of Italy or South Korea.

Those advisories may expand, but we'll allow the caseload in those countries to define that. In addition to that, by establishing the screening protocol, which will be in full force and effect within the next 12 hours, in both countries, will ensure that anyone traveling on a direct flight to the United States of America receives multiple screenings at all airports in Italy and South Korea.

But to your point, the nature of the European Union is one doesn't require a passport to move around, so our task force spoke today about new cases and there were some in several European countries. Were following that very closely, and again, we'll listen to the experts. We'll watch the cases, and I know the President will make the decisions with regard to both travel advisories or restrictions on the basis of those facts. JACKSON: And my second question, sir, is just on the word pandemic. Do you, do your experts behind you here, do you consider this now a pandemic in all but designation only?

PENCE: I would just refer to the experts that -- our view is that would be for the World Health Organization to define, and our team, our task force team, was in touch with the World Health Organization today.

AZAR: Do you want me to mention that?

PENCE: Let me let the Secretary address that. But, you know, this isn't so much about semantics. I think our briefing today was we're in more than 60 countries at this point. And so, we're going to continue to focus on ensuring that we do all we can to prevent people coming into the country with the disease, to mitigate any spread of the disease once we identify cases, and of course, to provide treatment. Did you want to speak to that?

AZAR: Sure. You bet, Mr. Vice President. So I spoke with Dr. Tedros today, and Dr. Mike Ryan, the Incident Manager for the World Health Organization, about this precise question, because wanted to get a sense of their thinking, how they're assessing the designation of pandemic status. And I'll let them fully speak for themselves, but at the moment, while we're seeing community spreading in multiple regions of the world, there's not a -- there are many definitions that people use around pandemic.

And one issue that the WHO is focused on is just sheer magnitude. And while we've had very large numbers of cases and spreading within China, the actual absolute number of cases outside of China, while reflecting community spreading, are not of the magnitude comparable to any other pandemics that had been declared before. For instance, even the H1N1 where you have billions of individuals infected across the world. So what's their -- that's how they are thinking about this. And we're just going to keep working with them.

We don't have a view as to whether they should designate it a pandemic or not a pandemic. I made that very clear. I just wanted to get a sense how they're thinking about it and assessing it, and that's, I think, reflective of their current thinking there. But I'll let them -- I asked them if they could put out some points about how they're assessing this stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you take a follow up to that?

PENCE: Good answer. Good answer.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Can you take a follow up to that?

PENCE: Hang on. How about Ben with ABC, where are you Ben? Go ahead.

BEN GITTLESON, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, ABC NEWS: On screening passengers from Italy and South Korea. What exactly would that screening look like? Is that people taking temperatures? Is that every single passenger? Who will be conducting it, and will it be expanded to other countries?

And then how many number -- how many tests have been conducted? Last week I believe Secretary Azar said there were 3,600. What's an update on that?

PENCE: Well, let me just -- our State Department and an interagency group has worked out that arrangement with both Italy and South Korea. South Korea actually about three hours ago fully implemented the screening on all direct flights, all airports.

[17:55:02]

And as I mentioned, within the next 12 hours or so, Italy will have implemented the same thing. It will be multiple temperature checks in the airports for people before they are boarding. And we're working very closely to assist them in implementing that.

But let me speak about --

GITTLESON: To Dr. Hahn?

PENCE: Yes, Dr. Hahn can speak to you about the status of tests, because one of the things I heard from governors last week was the whole issue of test kits, the availability of testing, and I really want to commend Dr. Hahn and the FDA for some very swift work, making many more tests available, more kits that include multiple tests, and also authorizing local testing, which will now make it more possible, as our experts told us, to identify additional cases.

As we find more cases, it will mean our health officials are doing their job in large part, and the availability of those tests will contribute to that. Dr. Hahn?

DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Vice President. As you heard from the Secretary and the Vice President this weekend, we had the capacity in state public health labs to perform between 75,000 and 100,000 tests. On Saturday we issued a new policy allowing us to have some flexibility, regulatory flexibility, around the development of those tests. So academic centers, private companies can develop these tests, tell us that they validated those tests, and then begin to use them.

They alert us of that, and then later on within 15 days we can look at the validation data. They're having the responsibility to show the validation of those tests. With this new policy we've heard from multiple companies and multiple academic centers, and we expect to have a substantial increase in the number of tests this week, next week, and throughout the month.

There'll be a -- the estimates that we're getting from industry right now, by the end of this week, close to a million tests will be able to be performed.

GITTLESON: OK.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Real quick follow up with the list and we're talking about risk and you guys came out and said that, well, risk is low. But with so few tests being done and the incubation rate being as much as two weeks, how can we accurately say that the risk is low at this point? We haven't put out a million tests.

PENCE: Are you going to speak to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Anybody?

FAUCI: Yes. If you talk about the entire country, the whole 360 million people in this country, the risk is a low risk. I think the point you're making is that since we haven't done yet, but will happen really soon, the testing into the community, how do we know the risk is low? I would imagine it's still going to be low regardless of that. What happens in real time, which is the reason why we do this so frequently, is that things can change. But right now, today, on this day, Monday, if you look at the country as a whole, the risk is low.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All right, guys, last question.

PENCE: We've got one more. Ashley. Go right ahead, Ashley.

ASHLEY PARKER, WHITE HOUSE REPORTER, THE WASHINGTON POST : Families across the country are worried about spring break, they're worried about spring break and wondering if they should book travel or cancel their travel. It's sort of two parts. One is what is the expert opinion from the task force on sort of spring break travel and even domestic travel? And secondly, would you yourself feel comfortable bringing your family right now, including your three grandchildren and their partners, on a week-long trip to Disney World?

PENCE: Well, I can say there's been no recommendation about any limitations on travel within the United States of America. But let me let the experts speak to recommendations with regard to travel. You want to get that?

PARKER: Would you feel comfortable bringing --

PENCE: I'm -- I travel across this country all the time. My kids live all over the country. And, look, this is a time to use common sense. It's a good time to wash your hands and -- but this time of year, that's always a good decision.

But as we said, the risk remains low. And while we've had a tragic losses, four today, the reality is, as I said, 29 of the 43 domestic cases are in California and in Washington State and are centered in very specific areas that we're working to identify the source on. But I don't -- I think people should just continue to use common sense this time of year. And -- But with regard to international travel, let me yield to the expert.

REDFIELD: Well, I just want to echo what the Vice President said, that we want people to go about and live their normal lives in this nation right now. The Secretary's right, even before the coronavirus, if you had asked CDC what you should do about preparedness, we would give that every individual should think ahead and prepare, whether it's a hurricane. Those recommendations haven't changed. And I really want people to reflect that. In going to, you're allowed, there's no travel restrictions in the United States.