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America Shutting Down As Outbreak Shows No Signs Of Slowing; V.A. Official Says, Staffing Shortage Could End Up Killing People; Delta To Cut Overall Capacity By 40 Percent Due To Coronavirus Outbreak. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 13, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar live from CNN's Washington headquarters, and we begin with the very latest on the coronavirus. President Trump is set to have a news conference later this afternoon after a turbulent 48 hours.

In the course of two days, life as we know it has changed dramatically. There are more than 1,700 cases across 47 states and the District of Columbia, the death toll is now at 41.

And with the lack of testing and the clear vision forward, states are stepping up their efforts to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. Leaders across the country are banning public gatherings. At least seven states and D.C. will close schools affecting millions of children and their parents. A number of governors from coast to coast have made state emergency declarations.

Organizers for both the Boston Marathon and the Masters have postponed the sporting events, and that's in addition to sports leagues hitting the pause button as well. Major entertainment venues, like Broadway and Disneyworld have shut down. Travel restrictions slated to begin tonight at 11:59 P.M. ban travelers from dozens of European countries, rerouting flights and diverting thousands of airline passengers for medical screening. The administration announcing steps to speed up testing, including 24-hour emergency hotlines for laboratories.

And as all of this plays out, we're now learning that President Trump is likely to declare a national emergency when he speaks a little later this afternoon.

I want to bring in CNN's White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins live from the White House there. So, Kaitlan, just give us a sense, what kind of changes does this trigger if he does this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: OK. So it would be essentially the president declaring an emergency declaration under the Stafford Act. It's a little bit different than a national emergency. Because with the national emergency, that's what you saw the president do when he wanted to use those Pentagon funds to build that border wall. This would really just activate FEMA and unlock resources that the states don't have right now. That is something that we had heard was going through essentially the vetting process yesterday. And they are figuring out all of the details with that. But, essentially, it would free up more resources, supplies, things of that nature for these states.

So we are hearing that is something the president will do today. Yesterday, he said the Stafford Act something he had memorized essentially because they have been looking at it so much. And it comes as this administration is trying to take further steps here because they're trying to really contain the political fallout here.

You saw them try to do that with the president's primetime address in the Oval Office. They didn't have a great day yesterday because not only was the president making criticism for the omissions and errors he made during that pretty short speech, but also you saw that Brazilian press aide who is now testing positive for coronavirus, someone who spent time a part of the weekend at Mar-a-Lago with the president. And, of course, the president was unhappy that his speech hadn't done more to soothe the market.

So they are really trying to do things here to try to contain the political fallout they have been experiencing for the last several days, something the president doesn't feel they've been able to do so far.

KEILAR: And I wonder because he was exposed to the coronavirus to someone with it, Kaitlan, having met with that Brazilian official who has it, how in the world is the president not setting an example by following his own administration's guidelines to get tested?

COLLINS: Yes, that's a big question, because even with the CDC guidelines, where they're most restrictive, people who have been exposed to someone who had coronavirus were getting tested. They had a priority there. Yet the White House was still maintaining yesterday. The president had not been tested even though we knew he came in contact with someone and he spent the evening with this press aide in part of the party that he was with.

They are still insisting he wasn't going to get tested. But, Brianna, we've been checking with sources all day about this, and it seems that the calculus has been changing. Because as they were waiting on the Brazilian president to reveal his own result, which we should now note he has said are negative, the White House is starting to think maybe we should get the president to get tested on this even though they had said his own doctor had said he hadn't.

Now, they're still denying that he's been tested. There are some people close to the president who we should note don't believe that. They think he actually has been tested. But regardless, they say that even if he hasn't, this political calculus here is going to have to change because they just don't see how they can continue making this argument that he doesn't need this kind of a testing.

KEILAR: Yes. And if he's been tested and he's not being honest about it, that is just -- I mean that's crazy. Kaitlan, thank you so much, live for us from the north lawn there at the White House.

And in an effort to stem the spread of coronavirus, school districts across the country are closing down, telling millions of students to stay home. In some cases, there is no timeline for when schools will reopen.

CNN's Martin Savidge is in Yonkers, New York. And, Martin, the ripple effects of this, they're widespread in some cases. In many cases, school is how children get a meal, how they get fed during the course of the day.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there is no question that the closing of a school districts is probably one of the significant impacts that a family would feel short of someone in their family getting the coronavirus itself.


We started this morning with 10,000 schools closed across the country. 5 million students out of classrooms. The numbers have gone up since then. There are now seven states that have canceled or closed their entire public school system. That's Oregon, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Maryland, New Mexico and West Virginia, just to name some of them. Some are closed for two weeks, some are closed for three weeks.

The calculus that goes into the decision-making, it's often the local school district in cooperation and communications with the local health department that makes the final call.

Here in Yonkers, there are about six cases of coronavirus in the neighborhood, not in the schools. But out of an abundance of caution, they closed the schools here. They may be open next week.

So for a lot of these families, it's not just education, it's how will the children be fed that they were on government meal programs. And also the school, in some neighborhoods, was the safest place to be. Now, they will be either on the streets or in their homes. It's a problem of daycare for parents as well, so much to consider, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it is a big issue, Martin. Thank you. Martin Savidge there in Yonkers.

And today, the first public drive-thru facility on the East Coast will begin testing for the coronavirus. This is New Rochelle, New York, the nation's first containment zone, where Governor Andrew Cuomo has brought in the National Guard to respond to what he says is probably the largest cluster of cases in the U.S.

Brynn Gingras is in New Rochelle, where testing is currently underway. What can you tell us, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna. We have seen a number of cars coming through here. Some of the cars have entire families in them, some just a few people. Basically, what's going to happen or what is happening rather is behind me, you can where this says, keep all your windows closed, that's a safety. And then right beyond that, there are state police with masks on and they basically assist these cars and tell them to head down a bridge on to an island where the testing is happening.

There are six tents -- three tents rather set up with six different lanes so cars can go through. They don't have to get out their car. They are essentially swabbed by a medical personnel which goes into this little vial. This is sent out to a lab so it could be tested for the coronavirus. It takes 24 or 48 hours for any results to come back.

The state essentially says they can do 200 tests daily and then they're boosting that capacity hopefully by next week to have 5,000 tests done daily here. Obviously, they are prioritizing those tests. We know about the test shortages to people who are in New Rochelle, as you said, because there is a cluster here, and then, hopefully, they can expand that to residents of this area and then those who needs the tests most. Brianna?

KEILAR: Brynn, thank you so much, live from New Rochelle for us.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Paul Sax. He is the Clinical Director for the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital. Doctor, thank you so much for being here to answer these important questions.

Where right now is the country on testing and where does it need to be?

DR. PAUL SAX, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: So the country is getting much better on testing. After unfortunately a slow start, we've picked up a lot of speed. The commercial tests are now available at multiple different laboratories and also several hospitals are gearing up to do testing on-site. And that will decrease the turnaround substantially.

KEILAR: OK. So I want to ask you some viewer questions. There's a lot of people who needed information here. One is, after recovering from coronavirus, is the recovered patient then immune to the virus thereafter, and I would add, are they definitely not a carrier after recovery?

SAX: So most viral infections and coronavirus is likely to be similar, do confer of some degree of immunity from getting the infection again. And that is actually why the vaccine effort is so important. Because if we can figure what generates immunity, then we can figure out a vaccine to protect people from getting it in the first place.

Now, the issue of being a carrier, in general, these kinds of viral respiratory infections, people are not carriers long-term after they recover. There are maybe some isolated examples where that happens but it's very, very uncommon.

KEILAR: OK. And then another viewer wants to know if people should avoid going to the gym, like going out to public gyms.

SAX: That's a very good question, a very common question one, many of my patients have asked me. And in general, we are recommending social distancing, which means you want to keep at least six feet between you and other people and we want to keep people from getting potentially infected in public spaces.

Not all gyms are the same, some are bigger than others. Some are more spacious. If exercise is a part of your health routine, that's very important, and your gym is very well maintained, then it should be fine. So I don't put a blanket stop on this but I think people should at least be cautious.

KEILAR: OK. And that's where maybe some of those wipes come in handy, right? So you are wiping down equipment that other people have touched. And --

SAX: Yes, exactly.

KEILAR: OK. I want to ask you about a situation in my family that I think a lot of Americans are trying to navigate is they have older people in their families and they want to keep them healthy.


Multi-generational family living under one roof, grandma is 90, no symptoms. This also would apply for a family where a grandparent or an elderly person lives on their own with the families coming and going. What does that person, that elderly person need to do and what do the family members who are either living under the same roof or coming and going need to do to keep their elderly loved one safe, healthy?

SAX: It's an excellent and important question. Because as we are alluding to, the elderly are at the greatest risk of getting severe coronavirus infection. A message for everyone, wash those hands, and wash them with soap and water. It's really very effective, old- fashioned, works great to reduce viruses on the hands and makes it much safer for you to go from place to place and not potentially transmit the virus.

Message number two, no one with a respiratory infection, even a mild cold should visit someone who is elderly. Mild cold can be representing a symptom of coronavirus. Coronavirus can cause a wide range of symptoms. So only go visit your elderly loved one if, in fact, you are feeling fine.

So those are the two big messages that I would like to get out as strongly as possible to the public.

KEILAR: And elderly folks, should they be essentially staying home and basically quarantining?

SAX: No, I don't think quarantining is necessarily, because going outside is actually a very good part of a person's health and going outside is not generally a risk factor for catching coronavirus. It's more avoiding crowded spaces, avoiding contact with people that you don't know.

KEILAR: That is all very good advice. Dr. Paul Sax, thank you so much.

There is growing concern that the coronavirus is putting America's veterans at serious risk. How the virus is further straining an already taxed Veterans' Affairs department?

Plus, days after ensuring that any American who wants a test can get one, CNN finds case after case that proves that is just not true.



KEILAR: Patients at V.A. Medical Centers in California, Nevada, Washington State, Colorado and Louisiana have tested positive for coronavirus and there are worrying signs that the veteran community could be among the most at risk groups during this pandemic. And here is why. They tend to be older, and like other older Americans, that means they're more likely to have other medical conditions, and even for younger vets, their respiratory issues from toxic exposures that lead them vulnerable to this virus. Then add to that that the V.A. is dealing with a chronic staffing shortage so serious in some places that one official warns it could, quote, end up killing people.

And then we know that as of August, there were 49,000 vacant positions despite an increase in the agency's budget. So far, the V.A. has administered just 70 tests. No, your ears are not failing you, that is 70 tests for more than 9 million veterans. 8 percent of those tests have come back positive.

Joining me now to discuss this is the former Secretary of Veterans' Affair under President Trump, Dr. David Shulkin. Doctor, Secretary, thank you so much for joining us. And I should also mention you are the author of the book, It Shouldn't Be This Hard To Serve Your Country.

I mean, first off, Secretary, 70 tests, how is that possible?

DR. DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER SECRETARY OF VETERANS' AFFAIR UNDER TRUMP: I think we are seeing in the Department of Veterans' Affairs, what we're seeing around the community. We've been way behind on testing and this is so important that we now are beginning to see the testing become available. But with millions of veterans out there, as you said, so many of them older, we have 350,000 World War II veterans thankfully still with us. And we have to make sure that we're doing everything we can to protect their public safety interests.

KEILAR: What are your concerns about the staffing shortage?

SHULKIN: Many people don't realize the V.A. is the largest healthcare system in this country. It employs the most doctors, the most nurses, respiratory therapists. Unfortunately, there are staffing shortages, and what that's going to require real leadership to make sure that the staff that are there who are very capable staff in our V.A. Medical Centers are able to focus on those patients who need the help the most. So they're going to have to stop doing elective surgeries, elective admissions. And they are beginning to take those steps to prepare for this. And the V.A. has a big effort to prepare for emergency situations just like this.

KEILAR: You have said that if you were still running the V.A., you would have issued a directive the agencies to open its doors to civilians. Tell us about this and also how this would work considering and we are also talking about the staffing shortage.

SHULKIN: Yes. I think what we need to see across the country is a coordinated public/private response. Every community is local. We are seeing that where there are big areas of potential infection and other areas not so much. But we need to make sure that the scarce medical resources are available to our veterans but also to all Americans. And so that's going to require coordinating the number of negative pressure rooms available in hospitals. The number of ventilators, the number of staff, protective equipment.

And I would like to see, and if I were secretary, I would be issuing under Code Title 38, a statute in the federal regulation where V.A. has the authority under national emergencies to coordinate to help civilian populations. And I think vice versa, there are places where the civilian hospitals might need help for our veterans.

So I am glad the president is thinking about declaring a national emergency.


I think we've been several steps behind. But I hope it goes beyond just the Stafford Act. I hope this goes to actually looking into releasing some of the national stockpiles of ventilators that are sitting in warehouses. I believe it's time to start getting those out to those who need it. Other protective supplies, get those out. We can't wait until our hospitals are overflowing with patients. We have to get in and do those steps now. And now is the time to begin that coordination.

KEILAR: You've also noted that the V.A. has about a thousand so- called negative pressure isolation rooms that prevent cross- contamination. So you go into one of this rooms and the air from it does not through the the ventilation system to another. But you've said, there needs to be staff to operate these rooms. Is that staff there?

SHULKIN: Well, it's going to require that we take staffs from other parts of the V.A. system and get them trained. Now is the time to do that so we have the appropriate staff to be able to not only keep those thousand rooms functional and safely working but it is going to require an effort, and I do believe that the plans that V.A. take into account the ability to do that.

But those thousand beds are the most that are available in any health systems in the country. And if they're not being used to take care of veterans, I hope that we can coordinate the response so other Americans can take advantage of them as well.

KEILAR: All right. Secretary David Shulkin, thank you so much, former Secretary of the V.A. SHULKIN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Frustration is growing across the country as healthcare facilities reports a shortage of tests. And Americans worried that they have coronavirus struggle to get tested.

Plus, as the number of cases rise, how do we keep our hospitals and our healthcare system from failing, from collapsing? I'll ask an infectious disease expert straight ahead.



KEILAR: Just into CNN, Delta Airlines says it will make a 40 percent reduction to its overall capacity in response to the coronavirus. It is the largest production in Delta's history.

Let's get right to CNN's Kylie Atwood at the State Department. And just tell us what else you are learning, Kylie.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So these are some drastic cuts that the Delta CEO laid out in an internal memo to employees worldwide for Delta, saying that they are going to be make cuts unlike Delta has ever made in its history, even more drastic than airlines took after 9/11, because he says that the demands has fallen off unlike anything they have ever seen. Noting that over the next month, there are more cancelations than there are bookings for new flights.

So what do these cuts look like? As you said, they want an overall reduction of capacity of 40 percent. They are going to be grounding 300 planes and they're also speaking to employees and offering them to take on paid leave or to work part time on a voluntary basis. And we should know that they aren't saying that they are going to lay off any employees at this time.

But the CEO is asking its employees to help them save money. They are trying to protect their bottom line here and doing all that they can and he promises that he will come back to them with an update early next week.

KEILAR: All right, Kylie, thank you so much, Kylie Atwood from the State Department.

And there are a lot of questions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic. What should I do when if I get sick? Am I safe in public? How prepared is the U.S. health system?

Joining us now to talk about some of these issues is Dr. Gavin Macgregor-Skinner. He is an Infectious Disease Expert, an epidemiologist and the Director of Training for the Global Bio-Risk Advisory Council.

Let's talk first about what we do to stop the system from becoming overwhelmed. What needs to happen? DR. GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: Our priority right now, Brianna, is protect the national healthcare system, the hospitals, the clinics, the doctors, the nurses, the frontline health workers. And we need to ensure that every person in the U.S. understands social distancing. This is why we do it to protect our healthcare system.

But more importantly, let's tell them how to do it. It's not isolating yourself in home, in your house and not go anywhere. It's about make those -- don't make those non-essential trips. And when you make the essential trips, whether it'd by public transport, whether it'd be by your own car, whether you go into areas where there're other people, this is how you do proper social distancing.

And I'm telling people right now, ensure that you have clothes that you wear outside and clothes that you wear inside because when you go outside, you don't know what you have been exposed to.

KEILAR: It's interesting you say that. I remember once as we're dealing with germs for our kids. When they come home from daycare, we we're advised by doctor, change clothes. The clothes from outside from the daycare go into the wash, so that you have clean clothes, no germs or less germs at least.

OK. So if you are thinking you have symptoms, you're worried you have coronavirus, you want to do something, you want to call someone, do you go to the hospital?


Is there some place to call before you go to hospital? What do you think needs to happen?