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Supreme Court Hears Abortion Case; Deadly Tennessee Storms; Coronavirus Deaths in U.S. Rising. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired March 4, 2020 - 16:30   ET




STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This after the state has confirmed six cases of coronavirus, including a 50-year-old attorney.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): His wife has also tested positive. His 20- year-old son has also tested positive. His daughter has tested positive.

And his neighbor who drove him to the hospital also tested positive.

ELAM: The New York City schools those children attended are now temporarily closed as a precaution.

Nationwide, the total number of positive coronavirus cases is at least 149, the number of deaths at least 11, one in California and 10 in Washington state. Five of those who died there were residents of Life Care Center of Kirkland, the long-term care facility at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in Washington state.

Day and night, ambulances pull up to take residents away. Families of the Life Care residents are anxious. They want testing and more information.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We don't know exactly what's happening. Why aren't they testing our families? And that that's the big one. And also, having been there with families, are we at risk?

ELAM: Multiple other cases are also connected to the facility, including one presumptive positive case in North Carolina. This person traveled via Raleigh, Durham, International Airport on February 22, after visiting a patient Life Care Center in Kirkland.

CHRIS KIPPES, WAKE COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DIRECTOR: We are happy to report that they limited their time out in the public.

ELAM: In Los Angeles, the county is declaring a public health emergency.

HILDA SOLIS, LOS ANGELES COUNTY SUPERVISOR: In the last 48 hours alone, the L.A. county Department of Public Health has confirmed six new cases of the noble coronavirus in our community.

ELAM: Public health officials, however, trying to reassure the nation.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: The bottom line of what we have announced is, if your doctor or public health official think you ought to get tested, you're going to be able to be tested.


ELAM: And we just got an update from King County that tells us that there is a another death that they're attributing to the outbreak here at this nursing home facility. That would take that number up to six people who used to be residents here at this facility.

Beyond that, King County Department of Public Health also saying that they do not have enough tests right now for the coronavirus for the people who actually want to get the testing done. However, because there's been a lot of discussion about the price, Jake, they're saying it is free if you get it done through their department -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Stephanie Elam in Kirkland, Washington, just outside Seattle, thank you so much.

Vice President Mike Pence is about to give an update on the White House's efforts to battle the coronavirus outbreak. The briefing comes as lawmakers increasingly express frustration over the Trump administration's lack of clarity about the number of tests that are available.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The biggest question, testing.

When and where? They could not answer how soon people would be able to get the tests.

SEN. LAMAR ALEXANDER (R-TN): There need to be more test kits available.


TAPPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins is at the White House for us.

Kaitlan, what do we expect Vice President Pence to say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, as Stephanie just laid out, testing here has really become one of the number one issues related to this.

So we are expecting the vice president and the Coronavirus Task Force members that he appears with to face questions over that, especially facing in light of a comment that the president made earlier today during a meeting with airline CEOs, where, essentially, he sought to place blame on the Obama administration by saying that they had made this decision that he had to undo that really was detrimental, he said, to their ability to test this nationwide, make that testing a lot easier and ease those strict restrictions that he said had been placed on this.

But when they were asked for clarity, you saw the vice president, Mike Pence, and the FDA commissioner -- or the CDC commissioner really seek to say that essentially there was this rule put in place that didn't let these privately run labs use these tests that they have developed before they have been submitted to the FDA for review.

But, Jake, we're being told that there was a no rule like that put in place during the Obama administration. So it seems like their blame here has been misplaced about that.

And that is likely something that they are going to face questions about when they're speaking with reporters, because what you have seen from the White House lately is, they're really trying to put a face on this to say, yes, we are adequately prepared to handle this. That's why you have been seeing them hold these briefings every single day.

And we should note, the vice president is going to visit Washington state tomorrow.

TAPPER: That's right. The vice president going to Olympia tomorrow.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

Some breaking news now. United Airlines becomes the first U.S. carrier to cut back on domestic flights because of the coronavirus.

Should Americans be worried about flying now?

Two top doctors in the country will weigh in next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: We're back with more breaking news in the health lead.

United Airlines becoming the first American airline to pull back on its U.S. flight schedule because of the coronavirus. According to an e-mail to employees, United says there's been a sharp drop in demand.

Joining me now to discuss, Dr. Zeke Emanuel, a former Obama White House health policy adviser. Also with me, Dr. James Phillips. He's assistant professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University.

Dr. Phillips, let me start with you.

People are worried. They're panicking in some cases. They're canceling trips. They're canceling flights. That's why United is canceling flights, because of a drop in demand.

What do you say to Americans who are changing their habits? And -- I mean, are they overreacting? DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Well, it's

always difficult to say if people are overreacting.

But the good news about flights is we do have data on this. People have studied virus transmission on airplanes for years. Just like in the general public, it's all about proximity to somebody with a virus and the amount of time you spend in proximity to them.


And so, on airplanes, it's been shown that if you're within two rows of somebody that has it, you might be at risk. People wonder about the air quality all the time, but what we know is the average airplane exchanges its air 20 to 30 times per hour through a HEPA filter that is small enough of a filter to pick those particles out.

So, there is some risk, typically, that droplet sort of risk that we talked about with this virus. But as far as the air quality goes, that should be pretty good.

TAPPER: And, Zeke, let me just ask you.

I mean, did we go through this with SARS and MERS and swine flu and Ebola? And I know they're all different in terms of infection rate, and then also in terms of what they do to the human body, but I don't recall it being -- people being this concerned.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ADVISER: Well, first of all, Ebola is a completely different situation.


EMANUEL: It was over there, not here. We flew a patient in -- well, a patient came to the United States that was hospitalized.

TAPPER: Right. To Texas, right.

EMANUEL: And then some of the health care workers came back. So that's a very different case.

There was a lot of uncertainty around SARS. A lot of patients ended up in Canada. But, again, that was a very limited exposure. It wasn't going out in the community. There wasn't the sense that anyone in the community could have it, that simply knowing someone who'd been to Iran or Italy would transmit the virus.

So I think this reaction is probably more reasonable, given the circumstances, to people. And I think the drop in demand that United is seeing, we're seeing conferences canceled all over the place, companies going to Internet Zoom, instead of meeting face to face, unless it's absolutely necessary.

You are seeing a lot of behavior change in response to it. You know -- and I think one of the things is, if you get exposed, and there's a chance you might have it, there's a 14-day incubation period, where you're out of circulation. And that I think, also, people are worried about, even if the illness

turns out to be mild for them. And so I think people are taking all this into account. Let me just add one other thing. There's a lot of uncertainty here.

TAPPER: Right. We don't know a lot.

EMANUEL: Which is very different than the regular flu situation for most people, even with H1N1.

And I think that uncertainty always breeds caution. And I noticed -- United Airlines cutting down -- dropping the flights because of demand. The Fed cutting its rate isn't going to change that demand, because it's not about how much money people have. It's about, I'm not getting on that plane, because I don't know what the situation is.

TAPPER: And there's a lot of concern right now about the Trump administration, how they're handling it, specifically when it comes to the number of testing kits.

Obviously, CDC had difficulty coming up with an applicable testing kit. They have testing kits, tens of thousands of them, overseas in places like South Korea. What is the problem in the United States and how concerned are you?

PHILLIPS: Well, that's a multifactorial question.

So I will tell you the concern for me, as an emergency physician, who, when I leave here tonight, I'm going to go to work. And I'm going to see patients overnight in the emergency department.

And the good news is, compared to the last time I had a chance to speak on CNN two days ago, we have testing now. We can send those locally here in Washington, D.C.

TAPPER: At G.W. You have testing, yes.

PHILLIPS: In Washington, D.C.

Our Department of Health has that capability now, and that's great. That's just a sign that the trickle down, the normal dissemination of testing from the CDC to our local health departments is making progress.

Now, obviously, the ideal situation will be when our own labs and our own hospitals can run those tests in two hours, and give you the results just like a rapid strep test or a flu test like we have right now.

And that's coming. Were there some delays? I don't know. There's so many things that go into it, it's tough to say. And if we're comparing it to test in other countries, we have a certain standard of quality here. And I think that we're also trying to make sure that our quality is as high as you can be.

TAPPER: And, quickly, Trump today said: "The Obama administration made a decision on testing the turned out to be detrimental to what we're doing. We ended that decision a few days ago, so testing can take place in a much more accurate and rapid fashion."

Do you know anything about what he's talking...

EMANUEL: I have to say, Jake, I don't know what he's referring to.

And, clearly, the FDA could have gotten ahead of that problem...

TAPPER: Months ago.

EMANUEL: Well, at least a month ago, in January, right? They put the travel restriction in.

And so that -- as many of us have been saying, that was time to prepare. Part of it is preparing the test kits and getting the regulatory situation in line for that.

And, frankly, I just don't know what the rule is that they're referring to that Obama put in place. They might have put in place for a good reason, and this needs to be adjusted.

TAPPER: All right. Thanks so much, Dr. Emanuel and Dr. Phillips.

Appreciate your both being here.

A controversial abortion case making its way to the Supreme Court today -- why conservatives are accusing Chuck Schumer of threatening Justices Kavanaugh and Gorsuch, and Schumer's response to those accusations.

That's next.




SCHUMER: I want to tell you, Gordon Sondland, I want to tell you, Kavanaugh, you have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price.



TAPPER: In our national lead, Republicans are accusing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of threatening the two conservative Supreme Court justices who heard a controversial abortion case this morning.

Schumer's spokesman says that Senator Schumer was just talking about political blowback for Republicans.

All of this, bigger picture, is over the debate about whether Louisiana can require doctors who perform abortions to have to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Advocates for the law say it's meant to increase public safety. Critics say it is a thinly veiled attempt to restrict abortion.

And if the Louisiana law takes effect, only one doctor in the state would be able to perform abortions.


I'm joined now by CNN's Joan Biskupic.

Joan, four years ago, the Supreme Court struck down a similar law in Texas . Back then, Justice Kennedy was on the court. He voted with the liberal majority. So why are they hearing the case now? Is it just because Kennedy has been replaced by a more conservative justice?

JOAN BISKUPIC, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, that's certainly the backdrop.

But what brought it up immediately was the fact that a regional appeals court upheld the Louisiana law, minimizing the Supreme Court's 2016 decision in the Texas case, which involved a very similar law.

So the justices essentially had to take this case. They could have summarily reversed what the Fifth Circuit did, but instead they took it up. And certainly, as you saw from the atmosphere at the Supreme Court today, both sides are very anxious about what will happen with these two new Trump appointees.

And the main discussion that went on in the courtroom over an hour worth of oral arguments was, how different could this Louisiana law possibly be from Texas? And will the Supreme Court be in any kind of position to suddenly undermine its precedent from just four years ago and uphold this law?

TAPPER: If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the Louisiana law, does that set a table for a situation where basically states will be able to restrict and regulate abortion, to the degree that it is essentially illegal or almost illegal, undermining Roe v. Wade?


It would undermine Roe v. Wade, which is the 1973 landmark that made abortion legal nationwide, and undermined the 1992 case that reaffirmed that. But, just so our viewers don't get the wrong idea, abortion will not suddenly be illegal nationwide.

But this will be an invitation to more state regulations. And right now, the regulations we're talking about are on physicians and on clinics. What could happen is that states might try more ban-type regulations that would outlaw abortion at certain points, and that would become the ultimate test of Roe v. Wade.

Right now, what's at stake is sort of access, especially for poor woman and women in rural areas, who would have to travel so far to find a physician who would meet the kind of criteria we're talking about in this Louisiana law.

So it has real world consequences, but it's not going to immediately overturn Roe v. Wade.

And, as you know well, Jake, it's going to come down to Chief Justice John Roberts. Once Anthony Kennedy left the court in 2018, that middle position on abortion is the chief's. And let me just tell you, the chief justice has never in his life struck down an abortion regulation.

This might be the first time, or it might not.

TAPPER: All right, to be continued.


TAPPER: Joan Biskupic, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A trail of destruction and tragedy in Tennessee. At least 24 people are dead, dozens more missing. We will have the latest details on the search-and-rescue efforts next.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our national lead: A desperate search is under way for at least 17 people still missing in Tennessee after a series of tornadoes ravaged parts of the Nashville area Tuesday morning.

At least 24 people in the state have been confirmed dead.

As CNN's Amara Walker reports, amid the tragic loss, there are some harrowing tales of survival.


AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Residents had a few minutes of warning before hunkering down in the storm, by daylight, at least 24 people killed in the deadliest day for tornadoes in Tennessee in seven years.

DECOSTA JENKINS, PRESIDENT AND CEO, NASHVILLE ELECTRIC SERVICE: This has been the most devastating storm of my career.


WALKER: An EF-3 twister tore through east Nashville, Donelson, and Mount Juliet, with winds up to 165 miles per hour.

A mother escaped with her 5-year-old daughter and husband, with only 30 seconds to spare, her home badly damaged.

ALEX VAUGHAN, TORNADO SURVIVOR: There's just -- there have been a lot of people helping out them, a lot of strangers, people I have never met before just showing up to help us clean up.

WALKER: And you can see inside this church winds ripped off bricks and opened up a hole. Putnam County had the most storm-related deaths.

Of the 18 dead there, five were young children. This woman in Putnam County rode out the storm with her four kids in a closet.

MARIE STOCKTON, TORNADO SURVIVOR: You could feel it like lifting the house and shaking the house while we were in there. You could feel the wind coming underneath the door. It was shaking everything in here. And I thought for sure that it was just going to take the whole house up.

WALKER: Many people lost their homes, including this newlywed couple.

MEG SELBY, TORNADO SURVIVOR: It kind of just feels like it's all been taken from you. And, I mean, we will get back on our feet.

WALKER: Many more trying to pick up the pieces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My house is all gone, except the bedroom is still standing, but all the windows are blown out of it. So, it's been home for a long time. I guess we will have to find a home somewhere else now.


WALKER: And, Jake, it really is a surreal feeling, seeing these big chunks of homes, parts of them missing, along with the tops of trees.

I also do want to mention that it's been such a heartwarming experience for me and the crew, seeing neighbors helping neighbors all day long.

All the work that's being done in these neighborhoods, these are volunteers who are helping to clean up the debris. That is the generosity and resiliency of Tennessee -- back to you.

TAPPER: All right, Amara Walker, thanks so much.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter @JakeTapper. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN.