Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

Trump Set To Address Nation On Coronavirus Pandemic; Interview With Rep. Denny Heck (D-WA); Surge In Massachusetts Cases Linked To Biotech Firm Meeting; NCAA Bars Fans From March Madness As Coronavirus Spreads. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired March 11, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Coronavirus fears now have driven U.S. stocks into bear market territory. The Dow Jones industrial average closing down more than 1,400 points today, more than 20 percent below -- it wound up more than 20 percent below its most recent high in February.

As the U.S. death toll just jumped to 37, large events across the United States are now being banned or canceled. The NCAA is now recommending that March Madness championship games across the country be played without fans in the stands.

Our correspondents, analysts and medical experts are all standing by as we cover this breaking story.

First, let's go to CNN's Nick Watt. He is joining us from California right now.

Nick, many local governments and communities, they are now taking very drastic action to try to contain this deadly virus.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is absolutely right, Wolf.

And here in Oakland in particular, they're hoping to get the final 1,000 passengers off that cruise ship behind me by nightfall. You mentioned the stocks. Carnival Cruise stocks took another hit. They are down 60 percent, 6-0 percent, this year so far.

Wolf, the coronavirus hurt is now being felt almost everywhere. Schools

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): Schools, houses of worship, other large facilities now shut down within this one-mile radius containment zone, New Rochelle uncomfortably close to the largest city in this country.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): You know you have an intense cluster, stop large gatherings where you have a large cluster of people who are infected. It's called common sense. And that's what we announced with New Rochelle.

WATT: In Washington state, now no gatherings of more than 250 people allowed across three counties, affecting nearly four million people.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): These events that are prohibited our gatherings for social, recreational, spiritual, and other matters, including, but not limited to, community, civic, public, leisure, faith-based or sporting events.

WATT: The governor has said that if more isn't done to slow the spread, Washington could see a quarter-million cases within a few months.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We would recommend that there not be large crowds. If that means not having any people in the audience when the NBA plays, so be it.

WATT: Life across this country is now changing. The Golden State Warriors will play to an empty arena tomorrow night.

STEPHEN CURRY, GOLDEN STATE WARRIORS: Been in this league for a very long time and never had to deal with anything like this. So it'll be different. It'll be weird. Obviously understand the perspective and the decision.

WATT: The Giants just canceled an exhibition game. San Francisco just banned all gatherings of 1,000-plus.

The NCAA just confirmed March Madness will go ahead, but with only essential staff and limited family attendance.

FAUCI: Things will get worse than they are right now. How much worse we will get will depend on our ability to do two things, to contain the influx in people who are infected coming from the outside, and the ability to contain and mitigate within our own country.

WATT: Symptoms and severity vary, but here's part of one patient's story.

CLAY BENTLEY, CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: Both my lungs are -- I can't think straight. Both my lungs have fluid in my lungs.

WATT: And he's living in isolation.

BENTLEY: I feel like I'm in a jail cell and just can't get away. So, hopefully, I will be out of here soon. It's very lonely. It is a lonely place to be.

WATT: Meanwhile, passengers from the Grand Princess who have been confined here in Oakland now arriving and entering quarantine on military bases. It's been a slow process. There were 21 confirmed cases on board.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's going to be about an hour-and-a-half before we start getting your bus unloaded.

WATT: And a difficult one.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm having a little difficulty breathing. I always suffer from shortness of breath.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, Seattle public schools are closing down. And we just heard Lake Washington, the next-door district, also closing down. So that will be around 80,000 kids kept home for 14 days.

And we should expect more of that. Over in Europe, entire countries are closing schools. Austria and Denmark, Wolf, just pulled that particular trigger.

BLITZER: Yes, most recently, Japan, just last week, they announced throughout the month of March, all of the kids won't be able to go to elementary, middle school or high school in the entire country of Japan.

Nick Watt in Oakland, California, for us, thank you very much.

Meanwhile, President Trump says he's made some decisions about his response to the coronavirus that he will reveal later tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, in an address from the White House.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

[18:05:00]

Jim, we will hear from the president directly later tonight, but the daily White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing with the vice president, that was canceled.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

That's to make way for the president. President Trump will be addressing the nation from the Oval Office later on tonight, 9:00 Eastern, here in Washington, as you said, to lay out his prescription for the coronavirus outbreak.

The president is insisting that the economy is still -- quote -- "strong," despite this steep sell-off on Wall Street earlier this afternoon.

One of the recommendations we could hear from the president tonight, new travel restrictions for passengers headed to Europe. One top Homeland Security officials told lawmakers earlier today those restrictions are under discussion, active discussion, as we speak.

Part of the problem for the president is that there is an outbreak of mixed messages and false statements coming out of this White House, as top health officials are now contradicting claims made by Mr. Trump on almost a daily basis.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the stock market plunging over fears of the coronavirus, the president told some of the nation's top banking executives he will make an address to the nation to lay out measures aimed at stopping the outbreak and turning around the economy.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If we get rid of the problem quickly, everything solves itself, we don't need stimulus.

ACOSTA: The top health officials for the Trump administration are cautioning the public that this virus is more dangerous than the seasonal flu, counter to what the president has been telling the public.

FAUCI: It is 10 times more lethal than the seasonal flu. I think that's something that people can get their arms around and understand.

We do not know what this virus is going to do. We would hope that, as we get to warmer weather, it would go down, but we can't proceed under that assumption. We have got to assume that it's going to get worse and worse and worse.

ACOSTA: Contrast that stark assessment from the administration top infectious diseases expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, with the president's claim that the flu is worse than coronavirus, tweeting: "Nothing is shut down. Life and the economy go on. Think about that."

TRUMP: When you 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we have done. Well, we're testing everybody that we need to test. And we're finding very little problem, very little problem.

Now, you treat this like a flu.

ACOSTA: While the president has been predicting the virus will disappear quickly, administration officials say, expect the outbreak to continue to spread.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We have been clear from the start we're going to see more cases. This is a virus. This will spread. We need to take steps to slow that, buy ourselves time.

ACOSTA: Another flash point where there is disagreement in the administration, large public gatherings. The president's reelection campaign is planning a large event in Milwaukee next week, while Dr. Fauci appears to be recommending the opposite.

FAUCI: We would recommend that there not be large crowds. But, as a public health official, anything that has large crowds is something that would give a risk to spread.

ACOSTA: In an interview with C-SPAN, Vice President Mike Pence said he's not worried.

QUESTION: Are you concerned about appearing in these large venues, these large rallies, you personally.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm not concerned. And -- but we will follow the facts every single day about what makes the most sense for the American people. ACOSTA: There is also a clash up on Capitol Hill over how to cure an

economy that is reeling. The administration is calling for a payroll tax holiday that could last months.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: If you're home because you're in a sick situation, you would get that money as well. That money would go -- that money is -- goes to everybody across the board to stimulate the economy.

ACOSTA: Democrats say, that's too expensive.

SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME): The estimates I have heard are from $800 billion to a trillion dollars on top of already a trillion-dollar deficit. This is a good example, by the way, Alisyn, that we shouldn't have been cutting taxes in the middle of economic growth and adding to the deficit.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And, Wolf, as we saw earlier this afternoon, the stock market had a very severe reaction to what's happening here in Washington, dropping -- there it is right there -- nearly 1,500 points, another wild swing in the financial markets.

And the president did address some of this earlier this afternoon, telling these banking executives inside the Cabinet Room that he believes there will be pent-up demand to spend money once the coronavirus eases.

He's predicting that will help the nation's economy. But the president is also conceding that there is severe Democratic opposition to his payroll tax holiday proposal. That is a signal that proposal right now is dead on arrival in the House of Representatives, which is, of course, controlled by Democrats.

And we did try to ask the president for his reaction to Americans who are worried that he is not taking this situation seriously enough right now. He did not directly respond to that question. But, Wolf, we will hear from the president at 9:00, later on tonight, in the Oval Office.

One of those proposals he may be looking at, we're told by an administration official, is that he may declare a national emergency to free up money immediately to address the economic response to this crisis, which has been very, very dire so far -- Wolf.

[18:10:03]

BLITZER: I'm sure he's not happy that the Dow has dropped almost 6,000 points over the past few weeks. That's a 20 percent drop. That's a serious, serious development.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Joining us now, Congressman Denny Heck. He's a Democrat of Washington state. Congressman, thanks so much for joining us. I know there's a lot of

problems from the coronavirus in your home state.

What do you want to hear from the president when he addresses the nation later tonight?

REP. DENNY HECK (D-WA): Well, frankly, Wolf -- and I'm not being facetious here -- I wish the president would just stop talking. He doesn't seem to add anything constructively when he enters into this dialogue about what it is we should do and can do going forward.

I'd much rather that he allowed the health care professionals that work within the administration to do their job. This is a serious situation, and it's getting more serious.

Unfortunately, I'm to the point, Wolf, where I'm getting nearly hourly updates on the number of infected cases in Washington state and deaths, frankly; 29 out of the 37 deaths so far in this country come from Washington state.

So, we have the tragic distinction of being ground zero. This is basic public health block and tackling. And that's what led Governor Inslee this morning to declare that there will be no public gatherings of more than 250 people in Central Puget Sound in and around Seattle.

We have to stop this in its tracks, or it could escalate out of complete control.

BLITZER: Yes, your state has been hit very hard. And, as you point out, the governor has banned events more than 250 people in various areas hardest-hit by this deadly virus, including part, by the way, we understand, of your district.

So what will that mean for the residents there?

HECK: So, obviously, we have had not only the governor's announcement of no public gatherings of any kind, weddings or church services or sporting events or entertainment events.

But we're also beginning to see -- and I do predict it is just the beginning -- large-scale school closures. This started in Seattle. They have closed for two weeks. I know that the people in Pierce County, which is the county to the south of Seattle, where Tacoma is, have begun discussing whether or not to close schools.

I think many of them will. Some already have. I think many more will.

And, of course, this is going to have an impact on the economy. Look, first and foremost, this is the human tragedy of people becoming sick and some people dying.

But, if we don't contain it, it also means that it bears with it the risk of spiraling this economy into a recession. And people get hurt in recessions too, Wolf. They lose their jobs, and then they lose their homes. And that's real harm to people too. All the more important that we

respect the recommendations of the CDC and the social distancing parameters that have been placed by Governor Inslee and some other governors.

BLITZER: Thousands of people visit Capitol Hill almost on a daily basis. A lot of tourists come to Washington.

As you know, Senator Dianne Feinstein, she has recommended, among others, that perhaps this be closed, the Capitol be closed, at least for the time being, because of the coronavirus.

What do you think?

HECK: Well, at least for the time being, I think absolutely nobody should be coming here if they don't really have to.

If they're coming here to petition their federal government, which is their constitutional right, I would strongly recommend they do that either via telephone, letter or e-mail. There's no reason to come here to make their concerns known at this time that outweighs the risk of flying on an airplane or being around hundreds of people in this kind of an environment.

BLITZER: You think most of your colleagues agree with you on that, that they think this is not the time for all these people to be coming to Capitol Hill?

HECK: As long as they have an alternative means of communicating and conveying to us what their concerns are, I do think that's the case.

Obviously, the first time a member of Congress is diagnosed, if that should happen with coronavirus, then it's going to put into very stark relief the difficult questions and decisions that will have to be made here.

We will just hope and pray that doesn't happen, as we do for all the rest of the population.

BLITZER: We know that six members of the House and Senate have -- are now in self-quarantine, because they were in contact with someone who did apparently have the coronavirus.

Congressman Denny Heck, thanks so much for joining us.

HECK: You're welcome, sir.

BLITZER: Just ahead: President Trump changing his outlook on the coronavirus pandemic, as the economic toll clearly mounts.

We have new details of what he's been saying behind the scenes.

We will be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:18:41]

BLITZER: President Trump is preparing to address the nation tonight, as he's under enormous pressure right now to do more to combat the spread of the coronavirus here in the United States.

We're learning that he may actually propose declaring a national emergency to free up aid.

Let's go to our White House correspondent, Jeremy Diamond.

Jeremy, you're learning new details about what's going on behind the scenes, the president's deliberations with his senior aides. What are you hearing from your sources?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.

Well, look, the president for weeks now has been publicly and privately minimizing the seriousness of this coronavirus epidemic, now, of course, a pandemic. But even as he has been continuing to do so publicly, some White House aides and people close to the president have told me and my colleagues that the president behind the scenes, they have noticed a shift in him over the last 48 hours, specifically beginning on Monday, when the stock markets were in freefall, some of the president's congressional allies were self-quarantining.

And the president had just returned from Florida, where he was getting an earful from friends and allies there, who were suggesting that he wasn't taking this seriously enough. And so, when the president returned to the White House, I'm told that he said, I want to do something big.

This was in a meeting with some of his top advisers, especially his economic advisers. And the president was referring to this idea of a payroll tax cut or some kind of broad-based economic stimulus.

[18:20:03]

Now, Wolf, the president has resisted actually proposing some serious economic stimulus up until now, particularly because he didn't want to have to admit that this economy, his economy, needed any kind of help and support.

But these officials tell me that they sensed a sense of gravity in the air over the last couple of days.

Of course, now we know that the president is planning to address the nation this evening. The key question, though, Wolf, is whether the president's private demeanor, whether he's going to be able to put that out in public, because even over these two days, when these aides are describing this shift from the president, we have still seen him describe things in fairly rosy terms, downplaying the pandemic, contradicting his public health officials.

So, tonight will be a serious test of whether the president can match those private feelings with his public demeanor and really strike the right tone -- Wolf. BLITZER: That's an important issue.

We will, of course, have live coverage later tonight.

Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our experts to discuss.

And, Dana, what do you make of this apparent shift that we're about to see on the part of the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We will see how it comes across.

We talked last hour. I was also hearing that the president has been making clear in private conversations that reality is setting in, that this is something that he cannot control or redirect with the power of persuasion that he has been used to doing successfully in his business career, and certainly in politics.

This is a whole different animal. How he takes that to the next level and shows presidential leadership in this address is another question. When it comes to some of the specifics that Jeremy was talking about, something big, the payroll tax, for example, the tax cut holiday, that -- to say that that was met with resistance on Capitol Hill in a bipartisan way is an understatement.

His fellow Republicans who run the Senate are not interested in that, for example. So there are other things they can do and they are doing. The Democrats are actually working with the treasury secretary as we speak to come up with a plan.

But that is different from the overall tone and tenor that the president is or is not setting with regard to this public health crisis.

BLITZER: Only a few days ago, David Axelrod, the president and his senior political aides were suggesting, it's not a big deal, it's already contained.

Tonight, he may declare a national emergency.

DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes.

BLITZER: That's a dramatic shift.

AXELROD: It is. And it shouldn't have taken a stock market plunge to get his attention. His public health experts should have been able to do that.

You can't spin a pandemic. And I think what is more necessary than anything tonight is just the truth. Level with the American people about the scope of the problem, but talk about what they can expect in the coming weeks and months, and then deliver a real actionable plan about what the federal government can and will do to deal with it.

The thing you can -- these things can go haywire on you as well.

Dana, you may remember when the oil occurred in the Gulf --

BASH: I remember.

AXELROD: -- there was real pressure on the president to give an Oval Office address about that.

When he gave it, it was underwhelming, because we hadn't worked through all of the answers yet. And it actually kind of compounded the sense of crisis.

So the president needs to -- he needs to be forthright and he needs to be comprehensive, I think, in his remarks tonight, or else it's not worth doing.

BLITZER: It's an important point.

Dr. Sheri Fink of "The New York Times" is joining us, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

You have done some amazing reporting over the years, but especially over the past few days. How badly did the Trump administration stumble in the early testing of this coronavirus?

DR. SHERI FINK, CORRESPONDENT, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, we know that the testing capacity in this country is a fraction of what it is in places like South Korea, for example, which has already tested over 200,000 people.

And we're just a fraction of that here, not doing surveillance, not doing monitoring. And it had to do with that CDC test. The CDC came up with a test for coronavirus. But when it sent it out the first week of February to the state labs all across the country, they couldn't validate it. They couldn't make sure that it was working.

And so there was this delay. And so that time that we bought with the travel restrictions, unfortunately, we were not monitoring our population. And we really had an obscured vision of what the situation was with the coronavirus here.

BLITZER: You know, it's interesting.

Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo is with us as well from Johns Hopkins University.

And we keep hearing these stories that people are coughing, they got sore throats, they got fever, they got temperature, they want a test, but they can't get a test for coronavirus. Why is that?

JENNIFER NUZZO, SENIOR SCHOLAR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: Well, we still have very limited capacity. The state labs are coming online, but they're not able to do many tests a day.

So, right now, with limited resources, we have to prioritize people who are severely ill. Doctors and hospitals need to know what virus their patients have, so that they can treat them and so that they can isolate them appropriately.

[18:25:00]

So, for people who are home, the most important thing that you can do, if you can't get tested, if you have got a fever and respiratory symptoms, please stay home. That's the single most important thing we can do to stop the spread of this virus is for sick people to stay home.

And I really hope that official leaders stress that point, so that -- model the good behavior, so that communities can understand that it is a serious thing, and it is something that they should take appropriate actions.

AXELROD: This is one of the areas, Wolf, where the president really compounded the problem, because he suggested that tests were available for anybody who needed them.

And that created the sense that you could just go and get tested. And so this is where clarity from the top is very, very important.

BLITZER: Everybody, stand by. There's more we're following.

We're learning more about the spread of the coronavirus right now in Massachusetts. Most of the cases are linked to one company's work conference.

We will talk about the NCAA's plans also to hold March Madness games without fans in the stadiums.

The coronavirus impacting our lives in more and more ways every day.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, as President Trump is preparing to address the nation, a new state of emergency is in effect in Massachusetts. The number of coronavirus cases has more than doubled in that state. The increase has been linked to a bio tech firm's meeting in Boston.

CNN's Martin Savidge is at the site where the conference was held. Martin, what are you learning about how the virus spread through this conference?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, this is a chilling lesson as to how quickly this virus can spread given the right conditions. As you point out, there are now 92 suspected or confirmed cases of the coronavirus here in the state of Massachusetts, 70 of which -- 70 are linked to a medical meeting that took place inside of the hotel behind me here at the end of February.

It was the 26th and the 27th, a two-day meeting of Biogen. It was a leadership meeting. He had about 275 attendees that came here from across the area, from across the country, some even came internationally. And at some point the coronavirus was introduced. Now, it's a typical kind of business meeting, it's not just business sessions but there're also social gatherings, there was breakfasts, there was also a dinner, even an award ceremony. People, co-workers greeting one another, hugs and handshakes and then it ends and everyone goes home.

A couple of days after that is when the first signs of illness began to be detected. There were three that were reported last week, and by Monday, it was up to 31. And overnight the number more than doubled to 70. And its Massachusetts that so far has borne the brunt of those cases.

But not just Massachusetts, because after that meeting, some of the attendees went to other meetings in other states, Indiana, North Carolina, down into Florida, also Washington D.C. It is now suspected that the contagion could possibly have spread to those locations.

There's been some criticism against Biogen, because even though this was held two weeks ago at that time some medical experts were coming out and saying that large gatherings, business gatherings like this were to be avoided. But Biogen went ahead with the meeting. It is quite clear now it had very negative consequences for the state and beyond. Wolf?

BLITZER: It certainly did. Martin Savidge in Boston for us, thanks very much.

Joining us now, the Boston Mayor, Marty Walsh.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

As you heard the latest that we've been getting is that your state has about 95 cases of coronavirus. Is that the correct number or do you have an update?

MAYOR MARTIN WALSH (D), BOSTON, MA: No, it's 95 right now. We've got three more cases. We're still, I think, waiting on some more testing. And in the city of Boston we're at 19. Of those 95, 19 out of Boston.

BLITZER: As you just heard Martin's report that as of last night, 70 of those cases in your state were related to employees of this company called Biogen that held their conference in Boston back on February 26th. Were opportunities missed to stop the spread from this event?

WALSH: I mean, I think it's hard to say that for this particular case, but certainly a lot of lessons were learned. We have been very aggressive here in the City of Boston. We want to keep -- first and foremost, keep our residents safe and healthy. We've canceled the St. Patrick's Day Parade. We canceled it a couple of days ago.

What we're looking at, a lot of conferences and meetings have been canceled since Biogen. We're working on policies in the City of Boston as far as city employees banning them from traveling for work, both out of international and domestic. We're taking lessons from that, very hard lessons. But what we want to do is we're very aggressive. We want to try and stop the spread as best we can. As you've heard, 70 of those cases were out of Biogen, which leaves us 25 cases not necessarily connected to Biogen. That's still relatively low considering other parts of the country. But we need to continue to take very aggressive steps here to prevent -- potentially prevent the spread of coronavirus, here not just in Boston but Massachusetts.

BLITZER: Yes, and maybe even beyond. Are all these people in quarantine right now? How are you tracking this?

WALSH: I believe most are in quarantine. There's a process that the department -- the State Department of Public Health goes and identifies who these people came in contact with and then monitoring the situation and moves on and to try and prevent the spread issue, as was reported.

[18:35:02]

Many of those conferences left are not from Massachusetts, so they went to other places. So I'm assuming it's very difficult to be able to trace steps that they've come in contact with.

We've only had, to my knowledge, one community transmission right now, and that's in Western Massachusetts. Certainly, we're concerned about that community transmission happening all over the commonwealth because that's where we're seeing these large numbers in New York, in Seattle and other places really kind of ballooning.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly are. What's your capacity -- you're testing capacity right now?

WALSH: Right now, I mean, again, that's all run by the state lab. A lot of it's coming from the CDC. But it's my understanding -- I was on a call today with the White House and I was on hearing people that other test companies are able to do this. I think right now for America, I think one of the biggest things we can do aside from washing our hands and trying to keep our distance from people and spreading this, is making sure we get the proper number of tests.

We need to get an accurate number how many people have the coronavirus. If we truly want to deal with this issue, we need to make sure that the number in, for example, in Massachusetts 95, we need to make sure the number actually is 95, not 950. It's something that we really need to do. If we want to stay on top of this and really come up with procedures and regulations that we need to do moving forward, we don't want to get to a situation I don't think that we're seeing in Italy where they're literally basically quarantining the whole country if there's an opportunity.

But I think that time is slipping by us, and I think we're heading to a position where it's going to be far beyond any type of prevention.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect that you're probably right. As you know, a lot of universities in your area, they're shutting down for the time being. They're moving online classes. Are you going to be closing schools, other schools in Boston?

WALSH: We're working right now on a policy on what do we do in the event of closing schools. We're going to be working -- we're going to be inviting our charter school and parochial school to a meeting. We're going to have a meeting tomorrow night to continue the discussion. We need to have a policy in place because 80 percent of the kids in our district schools are from low income communities. Many of those kids are on free and reduced lunch and breakfast. So, if we close our schools, we want to make sure we have a plan to be -- we get the food to those kids so they nourishment every day.

And we also need to decide as we move forward, do we have the ability to some online learning. And I do think in high schools, we potential have the ability to do some online learning so our kids don't lose depending how much time potentially you're out of school, they don't lose any time there. A little more difficult for our lower grades, but certainly we're looking at everything on the table to see how we move forward.

We have not made the decision yet, though, to close the school district. If and when we do that it definitely will be about stopping the spread.

BLITZER: Very quickly, because we're almost out of time. You've canceled the St. Patrick's Day Parade. What about the Boston Marathon next month?

WALSH: Yes, we're in conversations right now. I had a meeting today with all the cities and towns which the marathon goes through. We're going to make some decisions hopefully in the next several days here. We're contemplating what's the best approach here. Certainly, all indications are saying by April, the cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts and the country are going to be a lot higher. So all of that's going to be taking into account what's the next step here.

BLITZER: We'll watch it together with you. Good luck, Mayor Walsh. We really appreciate your joining us. You've got a lot going on right now.

WALSH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Just ahead, the important steps public health experts are saying you can take for protection as the coronavirus pandemic is clearly spreading.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:40:00]

BLITZER: Tonight, as the coronavirus pandemic causes large groups across the country to be called off, the gatherings, called off many Americans, are asking about actions they can take to protect themselves. Brian Todd has been looking into some public health steps that experts are recommending.

Brian, what are you learning? BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, you know, tonight, in some places, public gatherings of more than 250 people, in some cases, a thousand people or more are being banned. But many of us are asking what about those public places where we more commonly gather, like restaurants, malls, movie theaters. Tonight we do have some new recommendations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: In Seattle, market and restaurant traffic has slowed to a trickle.

ALEXANDER VAUGHAN, MANAGER, PIROSHKY PIROSHKY BAKERY: We've seen at least a 50 percent to 70 percent drop with tourists coming through the market and our sales.

TODD: Washington State's governor has just announced a ban in three counties of gatherings of 250 people or more.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): Parades, concerts, festivals, conventions, fundraisers and similar activities of that dimension are prohibited as we go forward.

TODD: But Washington State is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States. For the rest of the country there's important new advice from public health experts regarding our favorite places to gather in public.

Can we do something as simple as go out to a restaurant for dinner? And if we do, how we modify our behavior?

PROF. ERIN SORRELL, CENTER FOR GLOBAL HEALTH SCIENCE, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY: I think if we are a healthy adult that doesn't have underlying health conditions going to a restaurant is perfectly fine, thinking about washing your hands before you eat and also considering the cleanliness of the restaurant, making sure services are laid down and clean before you sit down to a meal.

TODD: But experts say the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, including heart or lung disease, diabetes should stay away from those places for a while.

DR. AMESH ADAJA, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: They really need to start to cocoon themselves and try and avoid as much non-essential social contact as possible.

TODD: What about going to the movies or to church where we could be sitting with up to 200 people in close proximity for maybe two hours at a time?

[18:45:06]

Precautions are advised.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Washing your hands. If you are sick I would stay at home, regardless of what you have, if you have an influenza-like illness, if you feel like you have common cold, stay home.

TODD: Wandering around our local mall is lower risk, experts say, because we're in motion but always try to stay a few feet from others.

Our common travel, taking trains, cabs, ride shares and buses to work, traveling by plane are still OK for normally healthy people according to experts. But now, try to wipe off handles and armrests with sanitary wipes or wash your hands after you touch them.

And remember one thing about planes.

DR. AMESH ADALJA, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: It's not the whole airplane if one person is coughing but the row, so it's important not to panic about that if you see someone coughing in the front and you're in the back.

TODD: Some of our favorite larger public gatherings are already affected. After warnings from top health officials, the NBA's Golden State Warriors will be playing at least one home game with no fans in the seats.

SORRELL: The virus spreads through large droplets and close contact. So sporting events or large events is a perfect opportunity for the virus to potentially spread to at-risk people.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Another question being asked these days is just how long are we going to have to modify our behavior when going out in public. Health experts say we'll probably have to do that at least until the end of this spring, but they also say with those basic behaviors, like washing our hands before we eat in restaurants, wiping down public surfaces with sanitizer on a train or a plane, it's good to continue doing those things pretty much indefinitely -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Very good advice.

Brian Todd reporting for us -- thanks very much.

Just ahead, the coronavirus takes a toll on March Madness. We'll discuss the NCAA's plans to host tournament games without -- repeat -- without crowds of fans in the arena.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:51:36]

BLITZER: We have more breaking news tonight.

The NCAA has announced that fans won't be allowed to attend the March Madness tournament games because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Let's bring in CNN sports analyst, "USA Today" sports columnist, Christine Brennan.

Christine, have we ever seen anything like this before? That the players will play but there won't be fans in the stadiums?

CHRISTINE BRENNAN, CNN SPORTS ANALYST: Wolf, never. Nothing of this magnitude without spectators, and it's the men's tournament and, of course, the women's tournament. The men's tournament last year alone just in TV and marketing brought in $847 million to the NCAA, and to the schools.

And so, this is a huge event. Really, second only to the Super Bowl in terms of a cultural event that sports -- leaves sports and goes into our culture. And so, that's why this is such a big deal.

But clearly, the NCAA looked at the landscape, looked at the concerns of course about the coronavirus and decided it was best for the players, best for those student athletes and of course the fans, the millions of fans who wanted to come to these games. To just quarantine them, not have fans, and just have the players there. It's certainly not the worst option, though. You could have cancelled the whole event.

Obviously, that was not in the offing, that was not a good option. And so, the players will play. They will have some family members, coaching staff, some university personnel. And, Wolf, we're not even sure right now if members of the media, credential members of the media will be allowed into the men's and women's tournament. We'll find out I'm sure shortly about that.

BLITZER: You all have to watch on television like the rest of us. Do you think it's a matter of time, Christine, before additional sports leagues come to the same conclusion? Specifically, Major League Baseball.

BRENNAN: I -- I think that's -- that's absolutely right, Wolf. This is huge. I -- we cannot overestimate what a big deal it is for March Madness to do this. We've got the Masters coming up in a few weeks. Right now, they are saying they're going ahead as planned. Major League Baseball starting across the country.

And we just saw today, the world figure skating championship, which is one of the marquee events on the Olympic calendar every year, that was cancelled in Montreal. So, I think, you know, the dominos, one starts falling, the others. They're all in conversation with each other. They're all watching each other.

And, of course, the big prize, the big -- the big story of all is this summer, the Olympic Games in Tokyo starting July 24th, Wolf. They have got a little time before they need to make this decision but I think we will see more and more spectator-less events, just as we are going to see with the men and women's basketball tournament where the athletes get to play, but the fans must stay home.

BLITZER: What are you hearing about the summer Olympic Games in Japan? What's the latest information you are getting?

BRENNAN: Wolf, every day, there's another conversation, another story, another quote. And it's always confusing.

One day, they're saying they're considering cancelling. The next day, they're saying no, no, no, everything's going on as planned.

The good news is they don't have to make that decision today. The top International Olympic Committee member a couple of weeks ago said that the drop-dead date to make the decision about the Tokyo Games would be end of May. So, that's still almost two months, a little bit more than two months away.

And so, I think that's -- I think the Olympics is right to hold off. But consider all of these athletes. Of course, the Ivy League today, cancelling all spring sports. So, not even having the spectator-less games.

[18:55:00]

And, of course, these Olympians preparing for that once-in once-in-a- lifetime moment.

These are the issues obviously if we're looking at and covering over the next few days, weeks and months.

BLITZER: It's a serious crisis going on right now.

Christine Brennan, thanks so much for joining us.

BRENNAN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. We're going to have more news just ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As CNN celebrates My Freedom Day, this is what freedom means to me. It means reporting the news responsibly and accurately, without fear of government punishment or censorship. Freedom of the press is critical to our democracy and to any democracy. We certainly have a responsibility to report the facts and the truth, but we can't do that if we face heavy-handed government threats and badgering.

Please join CNN on My Freedom Day and let us know what freedom means to you.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.