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Top Health Official: Millions of Testing Kits Needed ASAP; Thousands in Limbo on Cruise Ship Awaiting Coronavirus Results. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 6, 2020 - 16:00   ET



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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Any moment, we expect President Trump to visit the epicenter for tackling the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.

The lead starts right now.

President Trump about to get an update from experts, as sources tell CNN he's also getting conflicting information from friends, which might explain why presidential adviser Kellyanne Conway today inaccurately claimed the outbreak is contained.

It is not contained.

An urgent call for more coronavirus tests, as the number of cases grows by the hour. When will they arrive? Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is getting answers.

Plus, the battle begins, Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders taking to Twitter and the airwaves hoping their voting records change voters' minds come Tuesday.

Any minute, President Trump will tour the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta amid the deadly coronavirus outbreak in the United States. It's a visit that seemed like it might not happen.

The White House initially said the trip had been canceled because President Trump did not want to interfere with the important work of the CDC. And then, of course, President Trump contradicted his own White House and said the trip was squashed because a CDC employee might have been infected with the virus, but the test came back negative, so the visit was back on.

The mixed messages are a continuing theme for the Trump administration, whose political folks motivated, it seems, entirely by the desire to project the image of the president on top of the crisis, the political folks keep falsely saying that the virus has been contained.

It has not, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, even as health officials acknowledge that the virus is spreading, the death toll is rising, and the U.S. doesn't not have enough testing kits to get a real handle on just how many Americans are infected.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After a chaos-filled morning at the White House, President Trump will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today after all.

The confusion started late last night, after Vice President Pence said Trump would sign the coronavirus funding bill at their headquarters today.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: President Trump is expected to sign the legislation tomorrow as he visits the CDC in Atlanta.

COLLINS: But then the trip disappeared from his schedule, and the White House gave conflicting explanations for why. At first, an official said the president wasn't going because he didn't want to interfere with their mission to protect the health and welfare of their people and the agency.

But after signing the funding bill at the White House this morning, Trump was asked about the cancellation.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They thought there was a problem at CDC with somebody that had the virus. Because of the one person, they didn't want me going.

COLLINS: The president said the test results came back negative.

TRUMP: So I may be going.

COLLINS: Shortly after Air Force One took off for Nashville, where Trump later toured storm damage, the White House said the CDC trip was back on.

Since the coronavirus outbreak, the president has been on a different page than health officials at the CDC. Today, CNN reported some aides are concerned he's getting conflicting information, some that's accurate, and some that paints a rosier and less accurate picture than the experts have. KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: The 14 deaths so far that are completely tragic and very sad in this country shows that this has been contained.

COLLINS: Airlines are one of the industry's hardest-hit by the outbreak.

But Trump says travelers scrapping their plans could be a good thing.

TRUMP: We're going to have Americans staying home, instead of going and spending that money in other countries. And maybe that's one of the reasons the job numbers are so good.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, is the president has been getting this conflicting information, the vice president has been briefing him up to four or five times a day on the top lines and the latest here, as these officials are really just trying to keep the president on message with everybody else.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Let's go over all this with our panel.

Kaitlan just reported President Trump sometimes giving, getting conflicting information, sometimes sharing conflicting information. There's a real risk for him here, because the virus has not been contained. It's clearly spreading. We don't even know how many people might have it because the testing kits are insufficient, how many there are.

And yet his political people and he seem inclined to share the silver linings of all this, which are in many cases false.


The president has been tweeting that there have been very few deaths, trying to highlight that, although we aren't even sure how many people, as you mentioned, could potentially have contracted this, because the reports coming out of California are a bit frightening, since we have seen "The L.A. Times" report is that -- as well as other outlets, that those testing kits are insufficient.

And they don't even have enough kits on Capitol Hill right now. And there's a potential that lawmakers there have been exposed. And we didn't really get much details coming out of the classified briefing that Hill lawmakers had earlier this week.


So there's a lot of unanswered questions.

TAPPER: Alexi, take a listen to Larry Kudlow talking to CNBC earlier today. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Frankly, so far, it looks relatively contained. And we don't think most people -- I mean, the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus.


TAPPER: I mean, yes, it's true, the vast majority of Americans are not at risk of dying of this virus. But the idea that it's relatively contained, we don't know that.


ALEXI MCCAMMOND, POLITICAL REPORTER, AXIOS: I mean, there's a lot that we don't know.

And I think that there is an incentive for the White House and the administration not to cause mass hysteria.


MCCAMMOND: We have seen the ways in which people are buying hand sanitizer and antibacterial soap off the shelves.

But people need correct information, especially at a time when there's a company, NewsWhip, that provided data to Axios about the online flow of information around coronavirus. The majority of the stories that are being shared and read by folks are coming from not reputable sources who are sharing misinformation about the coronavirus that is really inspired to -- or designed to inspire fear and panic in people.

And so if you're reading these things online and then hearing something like someone like Larry Kudlow saying there's not a lot to worry about, I'm worried that people aren't going to be protecting themselves in the way that they are, especially when we see the way in which President Trump is contradicting his own staff in his public statements about his own movements.

TAPPER: Yes, and we have heard health officials say -- a couple weeks ago, there's a health official who said that it had not been contained, containment was a bad strategy, and it was going to be spreading.

She's basically been silenced. We haven't seen her since then.

BILL KRISTOL, DIRECTOR, DEFENDING DEMOCRACY TOGETHER: Yes, I think you just can't overestimate how irresponsible it is to say the vast majority of Americans are not at risk.

That is true. But if you just take that as, well, I'm fine, I'm a healthy 35- or 45-year-old or something like that, but if you then come into contact with a not-so-healthy 35- or 45-year-old or your 75- year-old mother or father, you are putting that person at risk.

So the message has to be, be careful, err on the side of caution, not an alarmist, but it's one thing for -- people can pop off however they want. But these are senior government officials in the White House saying things that really are fundamentally irresponsible and dangerous.

TAPPER: And I guess, look, we all understand, as Alexi said, we all understand the idea of not wanting people to panic. And that's responsible.

But there's also an importance about sharing correct, accurate information. Take a listen to President Trump today talking about the cases in the U.S.


TRUMP: Our numbers are lower than just about anybody. And in terms of deaths, I don't know what the count is today. Is it 11, 11 people?

And in terms of cases, it's very, very few, when you look at other countries.


TAPPER: Do you think that he's doing this so that people don't panic, or do you think he's doing that because he wants to look good as president?


But I think, actually, one of the biggest scandals is the amount of tests -- the lack of testing that there is. And I think that in a moment of crisis, America isn't able to ask actually give out testing in the cases that other countries in the world are.

They're not able to -- we're not able to actually produce stuff and function in a moment of crisis. And I think that is the biggest thing that I think the Trump administration is also worried about.

And we should be. As the richest country on Earth, we should not be having shortages on testing kits. We should not be having shortages on hospital beds and seeing other countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, be able to respond to this moment, when, we as the richest nation on Earth, aren't able to do that, I think, is really embarrassing for this administration.

TAPPER: And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is going to be with us in the next panel to talk about what's really going on with the testing kits.

KRISTOL: Just one more point, I mean, why national leadership is so important.

I was talking to someone in organizations trying to decide whether to cancel a conference next week. And no one wants to look like, well, we've just wimped out, we have just canceled something, it'll be a fun conference, unnecessarily. But it probably is the right thing to do. You have got 300 people flying in from all over the country. You don't

know who they have been exposed. Several of the people coming to the conference are not so young.

TAPPER: That's how things spread.

KRISTOL: Right. And what you need -- this is where you need federal leadership to say, you know what, as a -- maybe it's an abundance of caution. But as a matter of prudence and caution, people who have conferences that aren't absolutely necessary should postpone them or cancel them or do them by videoconference or whatever.

If the president says that, or if a very senior administration official says that, then an awful lot of businesses and universities and others say, you know what, now we -- it's easier for us to do the right thing.

Donald Trump is making it harder for people in the private sector, people in local and state governments, people in universities to do what they kind of think now, my sense is, is the right thing. And so that's where the real -- it's not just Trump being foolish or silly. He actually is doing damage, I think.

TAPPER: And he's also -- Alexi, he's talking about -- President Trump said, oh, we expect a vaccine in a few months.

And Dr. Fauci, who's the head of the infectious diseases part of the federal government's health care,, says, no, no, a year to a year-and- a-half.

And Trump will say, no, it's a few months, a few months. Fauci, no, a year, a year-and-a-half. I mean, he's not even listening to people right like next to him.

MCCAMMOND: Yes. Well, that's Trump being Trump.


And I'm not making light of the situation. But this follows the exact pattern of behavior we have seen from the president since he was running for office in 2016.

The facts rarely, if ever, help Donald Trump's case. And he knows that. And he doesn't rely on the facts to tell a narrative about anything, whether that's health care and prescription drugs, immigration, birtherism with Obama, this situation.

The facts do not help him, so he tells a narrative in a way that he thinks is more compelling to people's emotions often than it is to their minds.

TAPPER: Everyone, stick around. We got more to talk about.

What is the coronavirus test? How does it work? Why is it taking so long to manufacture and then distribute enough test kits? We will have some answers next. Plus, new warnings for a large group of the population -- what they should and should not be doing.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: We're back.

And sticking with the health lead, a top U.S. health official says that millions of testing kits are urgently needed for the Trump administration to finally get a full handle on the size and scope of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

But as CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports for us now, despite ramping up production, there remain a mass nationwide shortage.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIH: We're going to need millions and millions and millions of tests.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The problem is, more than a month after the first patient was diagnosed in the United States, we still don't have nearly enough tests.

According to our review of CDC reports, only around 1,500 people have been tested total. It's a big difference from other countries like South Korea where nearly 160,000 people have been tested, even in the drive-thru. And in the U.K., more than 20,000 people.

It's basic surveillance, and in the United States, that lack of testing has led to a lack of planning.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's very important that there's an aggressive approach in the beginning, that you look for all of those cases because as case numbers increase, systems become overwhelmed. And so as much as can be done in the early stages of this, the better chance you have to delay and to reduce and suppress transmission.

GUPTA: The test itself is similar to one done for the flu, a swab from the nose or the throat. The culture is then sent to the lab to see if there are genetic traces of coronavirus. It takes about six hours.

So what happened here? Many point to two issues -- the initial test kits sent to state and county labs were defective, and then the initial CDC criteria limited testing only to those who travelled to areas impacted by the epidemic or had been around someone who tested positive. That greatly limited the number of people who qualify to get a test.

On Thursday, the vice president publicly acknowledged the U.S. effort is behind.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We don't have enough tests today to meet what we anticipate will be the demand going forward.

GUPTA: And even Dr. Anthony Fauci is making no promises that the problem will be fixed any time soon.

FAUCI: It got off to a slow start. There were some missteps. But up to this point, there has been a lag in the ability to get tests.


TAPPER: And Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now.

Sanjay, health officials in states and cities are sounding the alarm that they lack the capacity for mass diagnosis and the virus is spreading. What's taking so long right now to get these test kits produced and out the door?

GUPTA: I think that we started late, I mean, Jake. I think there was -- I think there was a lack of urgency on this issue. There were some specific things. You know, the first kits that were sent out to these point-of-care locations, POC locations, some of them were defective. As we mentioned, that the criteria for testing was probably too narrow.

But I really sense, and I think Dr. Fauci, he's very careful with his words, but he was whispering into the ears of people at the CDC saying, hey, you know, we need to expand the criteria, we need to get this testing out, and there wasn't a lack of urgency.

So, now, you're seeing catch up, essentially, trying to get state hospitals, university hospitals and also big organizations like LabCorp, you know, a major testing organization, verify to be able to do these tests.

So, hope that it will happen, but it's taking a long time. You're right.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, the Vice President Mike Pence suggested this week anybody who wants to be tested should be able to. Do you agree with that as a medical professional? Should anyone who wants to be able to be tested?

GUPTA: I think we've got to be a little bit careful. I mean, I sense that there's obviously a lot of people who are worried about this, but I think, you know, the idea that everyone should immediately go to the emergency room or their doctor's office if they have the sniffles or minor symptoms I think is probably not a good idea.

A couple of reasons. One is they could, you know, take that -- whatever virus they have and infect other people. But also I think a lot of doctors are going to want to say, look, is this the cold or flu first? Because those are more likely to be the cause of symptoms. If those come back negative, then test for the coronavirus. I think that's how it's going to play out among a lot of doctors.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, I assume if more testing is done, that would affect this fatality ratio we've heard from the World Health Organization of 3.4 percent.

GUPTA: Yes, Jake, and this is really interesting because I actually crunched the numbers myself overnight. South Korea, hundred -- close to 160,000 tests. They have had about 6,000 or so people who have been confirmed as positive, and some 46 deaths roughly.

If you do the math, it's about a .6 percent fatality ratio. Now, that's still significantly higher than the flu, which is 0.1 percent. I don't want to get too wrapped up in the numbers because as we have talked about the numbers are going to continue to change.

TAPPER: Yes, right.

GUPTA: But, yes, 0.6 percent, lower than the global rate we are hearing. That's South Korea, that's done some of the most -- you know, some of the most robust testing.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, there's been a lot of talk about a possible vaccine. Dr. Fauci said it could take a year, a year and a half to come with it. So, what happens between now and then, between a year and a half from now?


GUPTA: Well, you know, the reason it takes so long, again, as you know, Jake, there's a bunch of candidates for vaccine, a bunch of laboratories who say, we think we have it. It seems to work well in the lab. They have to test it, you know? And those trials take time.

What's interesting, I talked to some of the doctors at the University of the Nebraska last night. They have been doing work on all sort of infectious outbreaks, including Ebola and now, coronavirus, they're working on -- looking at antiviral therapeutics. So, it's not a vaccine, but think of that more like an antibiotic for -- in this case a virus. Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, the equivalent would be an antiviral.

There are few existing antiviral medications that they're now looking at and starting the trial against coronavirus. If those show promise, that come back much sooner, Jake, sometime over the summer or early fall. Again, we've got to wait a little bit of time but sooner than the vaccine.

TAPPER: A treatment but not a vaccine.

GUPTA: That's right.

TAPPER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

A new warning about coronavirus for anyone about a certain age. What experts now say those individuals should not be doing.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Continuing our health lead today.

Top health experts are asking anyone over the age of 60 or with weak immune systems to think twice about engaging in usual activities such as traveling in airplanes or being in large crowds or attending family events, as the novel coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

And as CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, tens of thousands of Americans remain stuck in limbo not knowing if they have the virus while remaining under quarantine at home or on cruise ships or in nursing homes.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On board the Grand Princess cruise ship, uncertainty and fear. How many, if any, passengers are positive, the testing continues. At least five from the ship's last leg of its voyage caught the virus. One died.

CYNTHIA TRAVERS, PASSENGER ON GRAND PRINCESS FEBRUARY 11TH-21ST: He was around a lot of us on the cruise up on the 14th deck where we all kind of lounged and hung out.

WATT: It's an older crowd, and that demo is hardest hit.


WATT: In Washington state where at least seven deaths are now tied to this nursing home, there's grief, fear, and now confusion.

Pat Herrick's mom among the dead.

PAT HERRICK, MOTHER DIED THURSDAY: I want her body tested. And I've been told, well, we don't do that. We just have to assume it's natural causes. So, I'm saying it's not OK. I need to have her tested, for the large picture.

WATT: The University of Washington just announced no more classes on campus. North Shore School District already shut down. At least 80,000 students in the Seattle area are now being kept home.

JESSICA READ, KIDS OUT OF SCHOOL UP TO TWO WEEKS: They said up to 14 day they might be closed.

WATT (on camera): Are you concerned that the virus is going to get in the your home and you and our kids might be infected?

READ: Yes. My middle son has asthma, so it's mild asthma, but that's a big concern. It seems its' really what it's going for is the lungs. WATT (voice-over): The number of confirmed cases across the country

climbing at nearly three per hour in just over the past day.

In Connecticut, Emma just back from Italy where nearly 200 have died, is in self-quarantine, just in case.

EMMA, COLLEGE SOPHOMORE IN SELF-QUARANTINE AFTER STUDYING ABROAD: I have been allowed to pet my dog every once in a while, but it's pretty lonely.

WATT: In New York state right now, more than 4,000 in a similar situation.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: This is like the flu on steroids.

WATT: Eleven new cases in the state announced today all connected to contact with one man, who's right now being treated in a Manhattan hospital.


WATT: And I just want to go back to that cruise ship off San Francisco for a moment. We were told by the cruise line, under 100 people were identified for testing. We just heard from the ship, no results back yet. So, under 100 being tested, but there are around 3,500 people on that boat, and it's scheduled to dock tomorrow.

And let's not forget the lessons learned from that other cruise ship, the Diamond Princess quarantined off Japan for a couple of weeks, aboard that ship, 700-plus people tested positive for this coronavirus -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thanks so much.

Joining me now is the chief of disaster and operational medicine at George Washington University Hospital, Dr. James Phillips.

Dr. Phillips, let's just start with the basic question. If you have -- if you're an older person watching a show from a nursing home or if you're somebody about our age who has parents in a nursing home, should they leave? Should you get them out of there?

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, CHIEF OF DISASTER & OPERATIONAL MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: That's a -- that's a great question. I know nursing homes are a big concern, and they're a big concern to us as physicians, too. These are the places where we have large congregations of people in advanced stage and often serious illness and even younger people with serious illness.

And I think it's clear that these areas are very vulnerable, and our government is putting out plans for that right now and how to address that. Visitation in nursing homes is certainly something that needs to be culled, and the idea of bringing people home from the nursing home is a little more difficult.

Sometimes people go to recover from a knee operation or something along those lines --

TAPPER: Uh-huh.

PHILLIPS: -- that doesn't require full-time from a -- from nursing staff and the nurse technicians that are there, that's a reasonable idea. Talk to the doctor.