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U.S On Verge Of Shutdown As Outbreak Shows No Signs Of Slowing; House Democrats Expect Vote Today On Coronavirus Relief Deal; Anger, Frustration Growing Over Testing Shortage. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2020 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Parts of the U.S. now grinding to a halt as coronavirus cases rise all over the country. The country still struggles, frankly, to get a handle on how many people are actually exposed.

The outrage now channeled into a single question, where are the tests? Entire states, large cities are closing schools. That means millions of students, and, of course, their families affected by this.

HARLOW: Of course, sports tournaments, seasons ended, canceled, suspended, so are concert tours, late-night television show tapings. Disneyworld closed, Broadway dark, more and more areas banning any large gatherings. And Americans in Europe are racing, literally racing to get home before midnight tonight when the president's new travel ban kicks in. This virus knows, Jim, no borders.

SCIUTTO: It doesn't. And, really, anyone can be exposed to it. We know that. Things like this, the wife of the Canadian prime minister, she's tested positive for it. Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, says he will now go into a self-quarantine. We know this as well, President Trump and his daughter, Ivanka, were both in close contact with officials who have now tested positive. We know this because there are photographs. The White House still insisting though the president does not need to be tested or quarantined.

HARLOW: Meanwhile, President Trump this morning taking on the CDC and also the Obama administration in part for his administration's delayed response to the outbreak. He now claims widespread testing is ready to go. We know that people continue to have difficulty getting tests. That's just a fact.

Our team is covering this from coast to coast. Let's begin with our Correspondent, Martin Savidge. Good morning, Marty.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Yes, short of families getting the virus, it is the shutdown of schools that is likely to have the greatest impact on daily life, and that is truly starting to have an impact across the country. In some cases, it's happening in districts and other places. It's happening in entire cities. And now we know entire states are shutting down their public school system.

Let's just go down the list of states so far. It includes Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Maryland and New Mexico. If you start getting into the cities, I'll just mention a few. There's Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Seattle. Many more are going to be added to that.

There are governors that are also warning their populations that if the schools are not closed now, they should plan that they soon may be. They're obviously trying to give families a day or a weekend heads-up to try to plan as to how they're going to handle the daycare situation, not to mention millions of meals that now won't be served in schools.

It is a huge problem. New York City says it will keep its schools open. Poppy and Jim?

HARLOW: Martin Savidge, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Let's turn now to the president's travel ban. It goes into effect at midnight tonight. Americans overseas are scrambling to get home.

Nic Robertson, he is in London. Nic, tell us how this is affecting things there. Are you seeing an exodus for the airports?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Certainly seeing people who weren't expecting to be leaving at this time. I spoke to a couple of young students. They've been told by the university that they needed to get back home. Another couple I spoke to here in London on business and pleasure, they said that President Trump's message, even though the U.K. is not one of those 26 European countries that is banned, they figure that they just couldn't count on the U.K. staying out of some kind of exclusion for much longer. They're heading home.

Everyone I'm talking to is saying that they're paying higher prices for tickets. Some people are struggling to get tickets, period. A couple we spoke to over in Spain, they managed to get back to London because they couldn't get a direct flight from Spain to the United States, right now looking for tickets to get back to the U.S.

What is interesting here, Jim and Poppy, I have to say, is talking to people, I said, look, the British prime minister has talked about how bad the virus is going to be, that people are going to lose loved ones in their families. I said, when you go back home to the United States, do you think you're going to be less at risk than where you are in the U.K. right now? And the people I've spoken to have said, well, look, you know, we're all going to be exposed.

They're not feeling any safer by going home. They'd just rather be closer to their loved ones and more familiar surroundings if they were to get the virus. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: Nic Robertson at London Heathrow, thank you very much. Joining us is Dr. Leana Wen, Emergency Room Physician and formerly Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Dr. Sam Fink is also with us. He is currently treating patients with COVID-19. Good morning and our thanks to both of you for being here.

Dr. Fink, let me begin with you. You have been practicing medicine for more than 30 years, and you say you have never seen anything like this. Explain why and what it actually means for people at home, because I think we don't want to be alarmists. We want to arm them with the facts and the tools.

DR. SAM FINK, PHYSICIAN TREATING COVID-19 PATIENTS: Good morning. I agree, we don't want to be alarmists. But what bothers me is that a lot of people are getting infected.


I know of a group of 13 skiers, all of whom were infected. Three ended up in the ICU. Four were hospitalized. And I have not seen anything like that before, or the number of people that will probably be infected in this country, and this is a problem. And so what we have to do is make sure that healthcare systems are able to handle it.

The way to do that is to flatten the curve. We don't want the number of corona cases to do this. We want to flatten it. The best way to do that is with social isolation. As you know, I've been advocating for closing the schools and trying to keep kids apart from each other. We all need to stay apart.

SCIUTTO: Leana Wen, you have an enormous amount of experience with situations just like this. Let me ask about what Dr. Fink raises there, which is this concern about flattening that curve. Why do we talk about that? Because you don't want to overwhelm the healthcare system. There's been a lot of talk about ventilators. That's key to treating this disease. Sanjay Gupta talking on the air, the country that's about 62,000 plus 10,000 in reserve. Predictions of how a pandemic, what kind of needs that would create, that it would create a need for about that many ventilators.

Do we have enough, in your view, to treat the most severe cases of this? And if not, what can be done about that?

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Well, we don't know if we have enough, because we don't know what the trajectory of this disease is going to be.

In an ideal situation, we're able to take aggressive, bold and early action to flatten the curve, meaning that we'll spread out and reduce the rate of infections so that not everybody becomes ill all at the same time. And that way, not everyone needs intensive care unit beds, not everyone needs ventilators, and we don't strain the healthcare system.

But I hope that we're able to do that. And we can only do that if each of us takes matters into our own hands, because individual actions make a big difference. Even if we are young and healthy ourselves and may not get that sick, we can still spread the infection to other people. So those who are the most vulnerable, the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, they should already be staying at home and not exposing themselves.

But everybody else should also reduce the rate of infection so that we don't have this peak as we're talking about.

HARLOW: Dr. Fink, the most frequent question I'm getting from other parents is what do I do if I am diagnosed, I have tested positive for COVID, I live in a small apartment in New York City or a big house. What do I do? Do I see my children? Do I stay in my room for two weeks? Do I leave? Do I go stay in a hotel room, if that's even affordable? What do I do?

And I ask you specifically because you're treating patients, you're obviously not positive for this, but you're treating patients, and you have children, one of them at home.

FINK: Yes, that's right. I mean, it's a really difficult question, because, yes, you have to isolate yourself for at least 14 days. When you look at the implications of that, it's really very difficult. For instance, there are three people that I know of, and I'm taking care of two of them, they're all staying together in a little guest house, but not everybody has that option. This is going to be very problematic.

And I totally agree with Dr. Wen. She's right, it's about our social responsibility, how we protect each other, how we come together and help each other. And we can do that as Americans. We have always done that. And I know we're going to get through this.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, I want to ask another question, because we're learning as we go along, and we're learning particularly from the data that's coming in from China and Italy, the two countries, of course, that have experienced this most extensively. But in Italy in particular, severe cases of this are extending outside the elderly.

We've been told from the beginning that the elderly really are the only high-risk group here. We had a doctor on last hour who said there have been cases of that on the west coast, 40, 30-something-year-olds, with severe cases of this. Are we learning that the most severe risk is not concentrated in that older group? And I know it's early, but what is the data telling us?

WEN: The data are telling us that those who get the most severely ill are the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. But that doesn't mean that everybody else is going to be fine. There are some people who are young and healthy and otherwise well who will get very sick, and, in fact, will die.

And that happens with all illnesses, that you do see people who are the most at risk, but other people could still get very sick. And also remember that even if they don't, they could still be spreading the infection to other people too. And, again, not cause for alarm, just important for all of us to keep in mind. SCIUTTO: Doctors, thanks so much. And to our viewers, we'll make this pledge. We're bringing you the smart people, the folks who know the stuff well, and we're going to answer your questions as it comes in. Thank you, Dr. Fink and Dr. Wen.

WEN: Thank you.

FINK: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Developing fast, this just in to CNN. The chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club has announced that the 2020 Masters Golf Tournament has been postponed due to, quote, the ever-increasing risk associated with the widespread coronavirus, just the latest in a series of major sporting events, entertainment events, et cetera, being canceled or going forward without audiences.


We're going to continue to follow these stories, bring you all the updates as we get them.

And still to come this hour, right now on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats inching closer to an emergency aid package to help Americans like you impacted by the outbreak, but there are disagreements on what should be included in the deal. We're going to be on top of it.

HARLOW: Also ahead, living with coronavirus. Earlier this week, we spoke with a man in the hospital in quarantine, Clay Bentley diagnosed with COVID-19. He's going to join us again, let us know how he's doing. His wife, who's also quarantined at home, she'll be with us. Stay right there.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. This just in to CNN. House Democrats say a vote is expected today on the coronavirus measure and that the bill is, quote, basically done. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says that paid leave, which has been a key issue here, is, quote, pretty much resolved. Let's find out.

Joining me now, Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, also has a leadership position in the party.

So is this your understanding of where the negotiations stand?

REP. DEBBIE WASSERMAN SCHULTZ (D-FL): My understanding is that we're definitely voting today. We were going to be voting out a bill, whether there was a deal or not, but we've been told that we have the substantial makings of a deal, and they're just finalizing the last bits of it.

SCIUTTO: Including Republican support, is that the idea? SCHULTZ: Well, it remains to be seen whether House Republicans are going to fully support this. The speaker has been negotiating with Secretary Mnuchin, and so, primarily, those discussions have been going on with the administration.

We still haven't heard anything from Leader McConnell. He was continuing to criticize it all the way up until the end yesterday.

SCIUTTO: Okay. One of the key issues has been paid sick leave to accommodate the many people, perhaps millions of Americans, eventually, who have to stay home here. Is that issue resolved?

SCHULTZ: You know, I'm not 100 percent sure whether we're resolved, and I think that's probably still one of the sticking points. The difference was, do we do this permanently or do we have a temporary paid sick leave and family medical leave?

We've been fighting for 14 days of paid sick leave and three months of family and medical leave, and the administration did not want to make that permanent. We did.

And so my understanding is that we've been focused on a compromise, but I'm not quite sure yet what that compromise was. But there's a pretty clear contrast between, you know, what a Democratic presidential candidate like Joe Biden would have done and it wouldn't have even been a question, and where the president has been with that.

SCIUTTO: Are you saying that Democrats are willing to relent on demanding that paid family leave be permanent in any legislation?

SCHULTZ: What I'm saying is that the situation is fluid at the moment and we're being told that we are still hammering out the last details of that. We're going to vote today.

SCIUTTO: But you expect to vote today.

SCHULTZ: Yes. I'm certain we're voting today. Whether we're voting on a package that is what we support and we're just going it make sure that we put that out of the table, or whether we have an actual deal with the administration, I'm uncertain.

SCIUTTO: Okay, fair enough. We'll stay on top of that.

Let's get to the question of testing, because this has been, really, I mean, as you noted before we came on the air, the NIH Infectious Diseases chairman, Dr. Fauci, granted that this has been failing here.


SCIUTTO: When will that change? Because every week, you hear, millions of tests are going to be out there, and lo and behold, here we are weeks into this crisis, and only 11,000 Americans have been tested.

SCHULTZ: Well, we've had multiple briefings on this from public health officials, including Dr. Fauci. I had a chance to ask Dr. Fauci this question that elicited that response yesterday in the House Oversight Committee. The answer is, I don't know. We've not been able to get a straight answer.

They do keep telling us that there are mechanisms in place to ramp up to where we can have thousands -- you know, tens of thousands of tests available. There's a concern over how quickly they can process those tests. You know, in my state, we have a very limited ability to process the tests that have been actually given. So even if you do have that ability, your concern is are you going to be able to get the results. And then the mechanism, nationally, really is not in place yet to make sure that people can get a test.

And the bottom line is we have to make sure they can get a test for free, and it has to be analyzed as quickly as possible, and we have to make sure that we have consistency and certainty, which is certainly the last thing that's been coming from this White House.

SCIUTTO: That's another question of many questions where there's been conflicting information, often confusing information. Can people who are watching right now count on getting tested for free? Of course, you had the president say in his address earlier this week, test and treatment. Then that was walked back to say just testing. But there's even been questions about that for uninsured people. What is the answer?

SCHULTZ: Well, we fought hard to make sure that in the testing for free piece of this bill that there not be an income test. The White House wanted to do an income test on the testing. So that's not going to be part of this bill. Thankfully, we got agreement on that.

SCIUTTO: Okay, so bipartisan agreement on free testing, regardless of income.

SCHULTZ: Now, we finally do, yes, thanks to Democrats pushing for that. But it took far too long to get agreement on that. And even with testing for free, you still have a lot of confusion between the Centers for Disease Control and State Departments of Health.

The communication is really sorely lacking, like in my state.


My State Department of Health thought that they were following CDC guidelines with positive corona tests and cruise ship passengers coming off of those ships who sickened employees at the port. And our State Department of Health thought they were following CDC guidelines and didn't notify passengers. And after questioning in the Oversight Committee yesterday, now we've gotten them corrected, got them on the phone, and they are going to be notifying thousands of passengers coming off these cruise ships.

SCIUTTO: Goodness.

SCHULTZ: It's -- the administration is in chaos on this. They don't have a handle on this. We've been in these bipartisan briefings, Jim, and Republicans and Democrats alike walk out of them really just spitting mad, because we want to be able to get information out clear and concise and accurate information to our constituents, and we really aren't able to.

SCIUTTO: Just very quickly, because one key question here is if you have an exposure, it's recommended that you get a test. The president has had an exposure, a spokesperson for the Brazilian delegation who tested positive. White House is saying he has no need to test. Yes or no, should the president be tested for this as an example to the American people?

SCHULTZ: I mean, while it's a personal choice for every person, I certainly, as an example to the American people, he should be tested. He's been exposed multiple times and he should be instead setting an example.

By the way, he should also be declaring a national emergency. He declared a national emergency without a thought on a non-emergency at the border and stole billions of dollars from the military construction that is vital infrastructure. Yet, because he doesn't want to look bad and make this problem seem as bad as it is, he won't declare a national emergency.

And that's going to hurt our ability, like in Florida. We need a disaster declaration. We can't do that unless he goes ahead and takes that step.

SCIUTTO: And, of course, you have many retirees in Florida.

SCHULTZ: Yes, much more vulnerable population.

SCIUTTO: We appreciate you taking the time. Hope we keep up the conversation.

SCHULTZ: Thank you.

HARLOW: So many people across the country growing more and more frustrated over the lack of testing available for them and their loved ones. Critics say mixed messages from leadership, from the White House are adding to the confusion. We'll have some answers ahead.



HARLOW: Confusion over the availability and criteria for coronavirus testing is sparking outrage among some medical professionals and sick patients across the country.

SCIUTTO: No question.

CNN's Drew Griffin joins us now with more on that growing concern over the lack of testing.

Drew, I don't have to tell you how central this is simply to measuring the extent of this crisis. What are you learning? DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, it's critically important to fighting the disease. You have to know where it is, where to put your resources, what you're battling with. And right now, from all across the country, Jim and Poppy, people are telling us, medical professionals are telling us, you can't get tested, they don't know where this virus is.


GRIFFIN: From every part of the country, CNN is being told that despite what is coming out of the White House and out of the vice president's mouth, what you're about to hear is just not true.

MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: There was some concern that the guidance that doctors had had at the time was, if you were only mildly symptomatic, it did not indicate that a test was appropriate. We changed that, and that's when the president said that anyone who wanted a test could have one on a doctor's orders. There's no barrier to that now.

GRIFFIN: Not everyone who wants and even needs a COVID-19 test is getting one, even with a doctor's order. In Katy, Texas, school teacher Courtney Cherry has been home with the flu-like symptoms since Monday. Her doctor told her she doesn't have the flu. She says her doctor doesn't know what she has, but she can't get a coronavirus test.

COURTNEY CHERRY, TEXAS RESIDENT: She said that I did not fit one of the two CDC guidelines, which to her was, one, I had traveled somewhere where there's infection. Internationally is what they had initially had asked me when I went to the doctor. And, two, I had not come in contact with someone who was positive for coronavirus.

So --

GRIFFIN: But that's only as far as you know, right?

CHERRY: Exactly.

GRIFFIN: While testing is increasing in some areas, healthcare workers tell CNN they are furious they're not able to test their patients for coronavirus because of a lack of tests and the restrictive CDC guidelines. That's led to rationing, which infectious disease experts say will only hurt our ability to fight this disease, because without tests, we have no idea where it's spreading.

DR. CAROLINE BUCKEE, HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: We must start now testing people who are not just severe and hospitalized but also have more mild symptoms so that we know the scale of the problem. Unless we know the scale of the problem, we really can't prepare or mitigate the outbreak.

GRIFFIN: In Massachusetts, one doctor told CNN we are being crippled by our public health department and the CDC on our ability to combat this pandemic, adding, it's going to cost American lives.

An E.R. nurse from California says, we should be swabbing everyone who walks in the door who has flu-like symptoms. This is absurd.

Adding to the confusion, mixed messages between the White House, which insists tests are available, and the federal government's top infectious disease expert, who, within hours, told Congress, actually, they are not easily available.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The system is not really geared to what we need right now, what you are asking for.


That is a failing.

The idea of anybody getting it easily the way people in other countries are doing it.