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NBA Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas Discusses Sports Halted over Coronavirus & NBA Season Cancellation after 2 Utah Jazz Players Test Positive for Coronavirus; Good Samaritan Helps Elderly Couple Scared of Virus Buy Groceries; Soon, Trump Expected to Declare National Emergency over Coronavirus in Speech. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired March 13, 2020 - 14:30   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: The jolt that coronavirus has given the sports world is not over. The Masters Golf Tournament in Augusta, Georgia, has been postponed. Next month's Boston Marathon has been moved to mid-September. And March Madness is done for the season, in addition to several more NASCAR races.

They join an already crowded list of cancelled or delayed seasons, MLB, NHL. And of course, the biggest stunner of all, the NBA after two players on the Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus.

One of those players, Rudy Gobert, apologized on Instagram for joking about COVID-19 before he knew he had it, saying he was feeling a mix of fear and embarrassment.

Joining me to talk about all of this is Isiah Thomas, NBA Hall of Famer and former Detroit Piston, and also a co-founding partner of the Toronto Raptors, whose players are self-quarantining after playing the Utah Jazz.

Isiah, thank you so much for joining us.

And I just wonder what your reaction was when you heard that the NBA and all these other sporting organizations are saying, no, we're done.

ISIAH THOMAS, CO-FOUNDING PARTNER, TORONTO RAPTORS: I think all of us were surprised and shocked, but at the same time, understand that it's the right thing to do.

And not only is it the right thing to do but you're definitely more concerned about people's health than you are playing the game.

And when you look at what happened in the NBA, when you look at what's happened with the NCAA, definitely, it's the right thing to do.

KEILAR: Do you think it's an opportunity? I mean, we're seeing, say, celebrities like Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson. And we're seeing basketball stars who have tested positive and they're not going to be playing. That's the decision that's been made. Is this a teachable moment to sort of have them leading by example?

THOMAS: It's a very teachable moment. And not only teachable moment for sports leading by example, but, you know, this has always been the position that sports has kind of held in this country.

You know, when you look at some of the things that have happened around sports, whether it be race relations, whether it be the HIV virus that we dealt with in the NBA. The NBA has always had a way of dealing with these situations.


And I thought Adam Silver definitely made the right call in pushing the pause button and making sure that we had all the right information. And once you get all the right information.

Then you can start to, you know, put the information out, not only amongst the players but use the platform that sport has in terms of informing the audience and helping to inform the audience about what's going on with the virus in terms of testing, social distancing and so forth and so on.

KEILAR: This -- obviously, basketball, any of these sports leagues, huge business. What you see going on the field or the court is just the tip of the iceberg. The players aren't going to be playing.

But I mean, for instance, when it comes to basketball, ushers, arena workers, concession-stand workers, parking lot attendants, cleaning crews. We've heard of some folks donating money. Kevin Love announced he is donating money to support stadium employees who won't be able to work. The Calves say they'll pay arena workers as if they are still working, even though they can't.

Do you think other teams need to do that?

THOMAS: I think other teams will follow and I think other individuals will follow.

And, again, I smile when I say this because it only speaks to the impact of sport and how sport has been impactful in our society and just taking the lead role in a lot of these positions by putting the human being first in terms of humanity and then putting business and making money second.


THOMAS: I think that's what definitely what happened here.

When we, in the NBA, as an NBA family, and we, as a sports family, as you can see, what we always try to do is put the human being first. Again, whether it be race relations, viruses or what have you, you put the human being first and then the sport and the business comes second and third.

KEILAR: Look, we may not have basketball to watch but we may have to go watch some of the classic games, right? You have a specific one maybe we should be tuning to in the next several weeks?

THOMAS: Well, I'm an '80s guy, so anything that was going on in the '80s in terms of Pistons/Lakers, Pistons/Celtics, Pistons/Bulls, those were all classic games.

But not only classic games but when you look at what has happened, thus far, you can always go back and watch some Lebron James and go back to watch some Steph Curry in terms of how he was lighting it up a couple of years ago. So there's a lot of sports to watch.

I'm also an NFL fan. So you can go back and watch some of the old Bears tapes when Mike Ditka was coaching and when they won the Super Bowl. So I like to watch sports. So anything that's old is new for me again.


THOMAS: We can introduce this new generation to some of the old-school play.

KEILAR: Right? Well, you definitely have been thinking about this, Isiah.

Thank you so much for putting on our list. We'll have something to watch.

Isiah Thomas, we appreciate it.

THOMAS: Thank you.

KEILAR: We're seeing some really heartwarming examples of compassion during the crisis, including a woman who bought groceries for someone in her 80s who was terrified, understandably, to enter the store. We'll speak to the Good Samaritan next.

And as we await a news conference from President Trump, we're learning that he's expected to declare a national emergency at the top of the hour. Stand by for that.



KEILAR: The elderly -- and we've been talking about this -- are especially vulnerable to this coronavirus outbreak and that has left so many senior citizens afraid to go out into crowded public spaces, even if it's just to buy essentials, say, at the grocery store.

Professional runner, Rebecca Mehra, witnessed that firsthand this week and she tweeted this about her trip to the store:

"As I was walking in, I heard a woman yell to me from her car. I walked over and found an elderly woman and her husband. She cracked her window more a bit more and explained to me, nearly in tears, they were afraid to go in the store. Afraid to get sick as they're in their 80s and hear that the novel coronavirus is affecting older people disproportionately. And they don't have family to help them out."

"Through the crack in the window, she handed me a hundred-dollar bill and a grocery list and asked if I'd be willing to buy her groceries."

Well, this story went viral. It was shared nearly 90,000 times in just two days.

And this is Rebecca Mehra, who wrote that post.

Rebecca, it's just amazing because I think you're going to inspire a lot of people with this to think about how they can help.

But just take us through this moment and how this played out and what went through your mind as you learned this.

REBECCA MEHRA, ASSISTED FEARFUL ELDERLY COUPLE BUY GROCERIES: Yes, it was just a normal day at the grocery store. As I was walking into the grocery, I hear from --, you know, the corner of my eye, I see a woman kind of waving, leaning out of her car and saying, hey, hey, you.

So I walked on over, and I was so surprised, she said to me that she was afraid to go to the grocery store. I said, you know, what's the problem? And she said, well, I'm afraid. The first case of the coronavirus and just happened today, yesterday. And I'm nervous to go in the store. My husband and I are worried because it's disproportionately affecting older people. Would you be willing to buy the groceries for me?

And without a thought, cracked the window open more and handed me a hundred-dollar bill and a grocery list. And, without thinking, I took it and walked in the store and bought the groceries and walked out and gave it to her.

And I wasn't even sure I was going to share this story. I told my boyfriend about it and he said, oh, yes, you absolutely have to.



MEHRA: I am impressed --


MEHRA: -- by the response. Because I wasn't expecting it. But also, I think is such a trying time for so many people, particularly elderly folks. So I was glad to help and I was glad I could inspire tons of other people to do the same.

KEILAR: What do you want people to take away from this? What do you want them to think about what they can do, Rebecca?

MEHRA: Yes, you know, look out for your neighbors. Look out for the other folks in your community. It's a difficult time. You know, people are really scared. There's a lot of nerves. I see it in schools and grocery stores and other places around the community that I live in. But, you know, kindness helps. And be kind to your neighbor. And if someone is having a hard time or someone can't get basic essentials, reach out to them. You never know the kind of impact you're able to have.

KEILAR: You've had a tremendous impact, Rebecca Mehra. We really appreciate you're talking to us today. Thank you so much.

MEHRA: Yes, thank you so much for having me on. It's been an absolute honor.

KEILAR: Of course.

We are minutes away from President Trump taking the podium at the White House for a news conference on the coronavirus crisis. Sources tell CNN he's likely to declare a national emergency under the Stafford Act. We'll talk about what exactly that means when our special live coverage continues next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper, in Washington.

And at any moment, we expect President Trump to hold a news conference about coronavirus. The president is expected to declare a national emergency, according to two sources, that would help free up more federal resources and money to combat the crisis and curtail the spread of the virus, which has, so far, killed at least 41 Americans and infected more than 1,900 Americans.

Although, the real number of infections is certainly much larger than that given the lag time in testing members of the public. The Trump administration says more than 13,000 Americans have been tested as of now by government health officials.

That is a figure that does not include private lab testing. But whatever the actual number may be, it is, according to top health officials, not enough if the U.S. wants to get it arms around and solve this crisis.

Let's get straight to CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Kaitlan, the president, we're told, will likely declare a national emergency and invoke the Stafford Act. What does that mean?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Basically, If the president does this, which we're told he is likely going to, it will allow him to tap into the money that Congress has allocated for disasters and it is going to these states and to this fight against this coronavirus outbreak. By signing the Stafford Act, which the president said yesterday he's

basically memorized at this point because they've been talking about it so much and lawmakers have been pushing him to invoke it, the president would allow -- empower FEMA to go in and help these states we've been hearing from with officials that say they are overwhelmed.

Not only a state level but also on a local level as they're figuring out how to test people, how to respond to this, how they're going to treat the patients they're likely to get in the coming days and weeks.

And that is what you're likely to see from the president in the Rose Garden this afternoon.

We should note, the Stafford Act and its emergency declaration that the president is likely to go forward with is typically used in only geographical areas or certain states. Like if Tennessee has a tornado, for example. I don't think we've seen it used very often, maybe not at all, on a national level like this.

So those are the details we're still waiting to get from the president this afternoon. But that does appear to be what he will move forward with, trying to help the states that have been overwhelmed by this.

TAPPER: And we should note, this is a move that both Democrats and Republicans in Congress have been calling for the president to do.

Kaitlan, the politics of this, the communication and leadership aspect of this, the president's last address on the coronavirus, it, frankly, contained multiple factual errors about his own policies he was rolling out. It was criticized quite a bit, even by some of his supporters.

Is today's address, it is an attempt at a re-do of sorts?

COLLINS: It could be. That is why I said stay tuned for the details. If we were acting just on what the president had announced in the Oval Office, we were thinking that all travel from Europe to the United States was restricted. We later, in the fine print, found out that is not the case. So that could be situation here today.

We have not gotten any kind of briefing from the White House beforehand. Typically, they would do something like that to let us know exactly what we'll hear from the president. We have not received that so far.

And I think a lot of it has to do with White House officials don't want to get out ahead of the president because he could change his mind at the last minute.

We should note, this press conference was not on his schedule or on anyone's internal schedule at the start of the day. The president decided he wanted to hold this press conference. So really, they're waiting to see what he's going to say.

And this comes as lawmakers are urging the president to let people like Dr. Fauci, on the coronavirus task force, do the talking because that's a more effective way of handling the administration's response here.

But clearly, the president himself wants to come out today and make this announcement.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

As we wait for the president, let's discuss the situation today.

Let me start with Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, what does the president need to say today?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if this is, in fact, a national emergency declaration, what is the purpose of it, what are the American people going to feel as a result of it, how is it going to change things?

I think one of the biggest things, Jake -- and we've been talking about this for some time -- so much of the discussion is on testing, and understandably so. Dr. Fauci said that was a failure.

But looking forward now, I think what has been established and the cause for concern is that the virus is continuing to spread, even though we don't know the exact numbers. We have enough evidence that it is continuing to spread and that hospitals are going to start feeling that demand.


We have talked many times about what the hospitals are capable of providing in terms of patient care right now and what they might need to provide. And those two numbers don't add up.

A couple of simple examples, best estimates with a moderate pandemic, something that comes slowly, comes in a flattened curve, when all of the patients don't show up at the same time, even in that scenario, the expectation is that 200,000 ICU beds will be necessary. That is in the blue sort of scenario there.

By the way, if you look at the blue area and the red area, they're the same number of patients. I think people may understand this. It is just a question of the timing. Do all of the patients show up right away or do they kind of come in more slowly over time?

The question is, are we going to have enough ICU beds and enough ventilators? Some of this is hard assets, Jake. There's a lot of talk about organization and sort of the response overall. But if you don't have enough ventilators, there's not a lot of other logistical things that matter at that point.

So I'll be listening for that. Because these are the federal government's own projections in terms of what is necessary and it is not clear right now, to me, that we have enough to meet the demand.

TAPPER: Also with us in studio, the former surgeon general under President Obama, Dr. Vivek Murthy. What do you think President Trump needs to say?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I think this is a moment where he needs to be open with the people about the state of our response to the epidemic, to be honest about where our flaws have been and lay out a path to move forward.

In all fairness, with any epidemic or pandemic response, there are stumbles. There are places where we make mistakes. What matters is how quickly we recover and step up. And in this case, how quickly we get testing from the people who need it.

I think what people need to hear from him today is how are we going to make sure that everyone, who has a test, who needs a test, can get it.

And how will we make sure that we are providing the surge capacity that the health care system needs because they'll be overburdened, as they increasingly are with people coming in with coronavirus.

And, finally, how will we support everyday people who will struggle economically as people stop going to restaurants and stop using Ubers and Lyfts and taxis? Those are the messages that people want to hear today.

TAPPER: And, Abby, two days ago, the president addressed the nation and, almost immediately, the White House and the administration had to issue several corrections, from the Europe travel band and whether insurance companies will pay for treatment.

You've covered this White House from the front lines there. How much of today's announcement is clean-up from earlier this week?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think at least partly clean-up that the president wants to correct the record about his public image which I think has taken justifiably a hit in the last 48 hours after that statement.

But also, frankly, that first Oval Office address really failed to answer all of the questions that we just laid out, which is essentially, where do we go from here.

The president is calling this a foreign virus and talking about closing borders, and that is fine, but there's so much more that needs to be done that wasn't laid out.

And the opportunity here for the president is to correct some of that. To provide really vital public health information about what people should do, given that a lot of people are asking the question, if I get sick, where do I go, what do I do.

And then, secondly, assuring people that they're not going to go bankrupt by trying to get a test or treatment if they are sick, and showing a path forward for helping states and localities deal with this.

I think the White House knows that they have more to do. Hopefully, they do that.

It is interesting to me that they chose to do this around 3:00 p.m. Eastern. That is before markets close. And we know that when he was giving that Oval Office speech on Wednesday night, the futures were tanking. He has an opportunity to get it right this time.

But he has, in some ways, an obligation because markets are really fragile. They're looking to the federal government for stability and this is the opportunity to provide it.

TAPPER: And, Dana, we have seen the administration roll out some announcements earlier today in terms of FDA approvals and in terms of appointing a sort of testing czar at the Department of Health and Human Services.

There's a real opportunity for President Trump, who has, it is fair to say, imperially stumbled as a leader during this period. There's an opportunity for him to rise for the moment. The American people want him to succeed in combatting this.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. Leadership is really, in situations like this, a nonpartisan thing. I know that sounds Pollyanna for me to say but it is true.

People look to their leaders to figure out -- it has been -- certainly never in my lifetime -- people not had answers to such basic things -- none of us has -- about, do I send my kid to school and do I get in the car and go to the store. Really basic things.


Now any president is not an M.D.. But they do want to have some guidelines. And people want to follow those guidelines.