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Dr. Gavin MacGregor-Skinner Discusses Hospitals Facing Critical Challenges over Coronavirus & Nationwide Shutdowns; Anger & Frustration Growing over Test Shortages; U.S. Intel Community Watching Foreign Countries as Virus Spreads; U.S. Army Spouse Quarantined in Italy as Coronavirus Spreads. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 13, 2020 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: If you thinking you have symptoms, are 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 will happen?

DR. GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT: If we think about this, Brianna, if someone thinks they have symptoms, and they do have coronavirus but it has not been diagnosed because we don't have the lab tests right now, and they go into a hospital and they spread that virus, that infection to our frontline workers, what's the impact on that hospital that's already very busy and has limited bed space.

So right now, we need to set up a system here in the U.S., like a poison help center line.


KEILAR: Poison control number, yes.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Exactly. The 1-800 number.

KEILAR: You have the magnet on your frig. OK, but that does not exist. How does that get set up?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: We set it up today.

KEILAR: Who? Who sets it up?


KEILAR: The federal government? HHS? Who needs to do this?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Great questions. Let's ensure that -- if the president declares a national emergency, there's money and resources set aside, like we have seen in other countries.

The U.K. has a NHS 111 number for those who are worried and sick or those have underlying medical conditions or for those just want questions asked, they ring that number.

Let's set up that 1-800 number now. Let's get staff. Let's ensure everyone on the staff know the appropriate answers. And let's ensure everyone knows not just in English. Everything being produced at the moment is in English. Let's ensure that -- within the U.S., down in our communities, people speak in languages.

KEILAR: Right.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: No everyone understands English. Let's get the service provided so when you ring that 1-800 number, we'll stay there, you will be OK, this is what you do, or we'll come and pick you up or take you to a hospital or maybe to an alternative treatment site.

KEILAR: On social distancing, I want to be clear about, you walked into the studio and I sort waved at you, we did not shake hands. You were sitting next to me and I said, should we be sitting further apart. You said, basically, probably, yes. So we distance you further so we are at an appropriate distance.

There's some places where that may be tough. You want to stock up on some goods so you don't have to go to the supermarket all the time. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with going to the supermarket? What needs to happen there?

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: This is not just about just giving people information and letting them decide what to do. This is about how to train the public.

How to train the public that this is what the distance should be. This is when you put on any types of gloves on or when you're going to touch a lot of things. This is when you take those gloves off and put them in the laundry or wash your hands when you've touched a lot of things.

This is also coming down the neighborhood level. How do we identify -- with where I live here in Washington, D.C., people don't have -- maybe cancer. They might have diabetes. They may have other underlying medical conditions. They may be a certain age range we think are at high risk.

How do we, as neighbors, good neighbors, go and help? I am going to do your shopping for you.

KEILAR: That's right.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Give me the list, I'll do the shopping for you. Oh, you need another errand? You need me to go to CVS or Walgreens to pick up medications? I'll do that for you. And protect the vulnerable populations.

KEILAR: We need an outbreak of kindness. As I've heard one doctor on our show say. It is so important.

Dr. MacGregor-Skinner, thank you. We appreciate you being here.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: You're welcome.

KEILAR: Health experts admits we just don't know how many people have COVID-19. And we won't know until more people are tested. Despite Trump administration assertions that millions of tests are out there, it's just not true because people are struggling every day. They're not able to get tested and the uncertainty is wearing them down.

Our Drew Griffin takes a closer look.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): 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, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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, schoolteacher, 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, UNABLE TO GET CORONAVIRUS TEST: 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 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 (on camera): But that's only as far as you know, right?

CHERRY: Exactly.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): While testing is increasing in some areas, health care 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.

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 & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The system does not -- 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, we're not set up for that. Do I think we should be? Yes. But we're not.

GRIFFIN: The lack of testing is so bad some firefighters in suburban Seattle feared they'd been exposed yet can't be tested unless showing symptoms.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have a number of friends that have told me they've been in quarantine and have not been able to be tested.

GRIFFIN: Health departments say they are following CDC guidelines, which call for testing if someone with symptoms has been to a foreign country, affected by COVID-19, or has had close contact with someone diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Dawn Clements, in Largo, Florida, has been sick since Friday. Her daughter went through it two weeks ago. She has all the symptoms, no flu, and can't get tested.

DAWN CLEMENTS, UNABLE TO GET CORONAVIRUS TEST: I didn't meet criteria, because I did not travel out of the United States to one of the countries.

In the meantime, I'm immunosuppressed with some health conditions, and I live at an ALF. And I don't know what virus I have. I'm running a fever, and I have chest congestion. And nobody can test us here.

GRIFFIN: Florida Health Department official confirms tests are being prioritized. Would not say if that's because of a shortage, only that Florida is trying to focus on those most likely to have COVID-19.


KEILAR: U.S. national intelligence now scrutinizing the coronavirus pandemic as experts determine the number of deaths is being underreported. How the nation's intelligence agencies are keeping tabs on the pandemic, next.



KEILAR: As the coronavirus continues to spread, information is important. Facts matter. And understanding the situation as a whole is critical to getting ahead of the outbreak. And that's why the U.S. Intelligence Community is monitoring foreign countries to keep track of the spread of the virus and whether foreign governments are being truthful about its spread.

I want to bring in CNN's Alex Marquardt to talk about this.

Tell us about what we are learning of these intel operations.

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, as you just mentioned, one of the most crucial things is understanding whether these other countries are being truthful.

So what the Intelligence Community, writ large, is doing is trying to understand the spread of this pandemic, how countries are responding. They obviously have unique capabilities that are helping the U.S. government paints a fuller picture.

So they have human intelligence. That's spies. They've got signal intelligence. That's basically eavesdropping on phones and electronics. They've got satellite imagery. And all of this stuff helps paint a bigger picture.

One thing we hear is that the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the CIA are giving daily briefings and providing updates to the oversight committees on Capitol Hill, keeping Capitol Hill, specifically the Senate and House Intelligence Committees up to date on what they're learning, specifically about that tally of cases around the world, whether countries are telling the truth and what they are doing in response.

Of course, they are giving daily updates as well to the president and the vice president.

There are going to be countries that they are looking less at. France, for example. They have no reasons to discuss the French.

Iran, however, is one of the countries that U.S. officials have repeatedly said is underreporting the cases that they have. Iran is one of those countries where it is difficult to have those human intelligence sources. To have those spies in the country. And that's where you will be relying more on the signals intelligence, on the satellite imagery.

We have obtained some satellite imagery in the city of Qom. It is the holiest city in Iran. It's ground zero for the outbreak in Iran.

And what it shows is two large trenches being dug in one of the main cemeteries. That goes beyond the normal activity, which, of course, is burying individuals. This was first reported by the "New York Times" and the "Washington Post."

And when combined with social media videos from there, specifically one that showed a cemetery worker with dead bodies saying that the number of dead was far greater than was being reported, it does paint a picture of a story that is being wildly underreported in places of Iran.


The Intel Community, of course, very active in the initial stages of the outbreak in China. They're definitely looking at places like North Korea. North Korea has said that they don't have any coronavirus cases. How likely is that?

So they are providing that unique insight. They do have these immense capabilities and are playing a vital supporting role in helping the Trump administration, the U.S. government figure out what's going on with this virus.

KEILAR: Alex, thank you so much. A very interesting report.

And just weeks before she's set to come home to the U.S., an American Army spouse is now quarantined in Italy due to coronavirus. She's sharing her story with us live in this week's "Home Front," next.



KEILAR: Today on "Home Front," our digital and television column where we try to bridge the civilian/military divide and bring you stories of military families, we bring you the story of a military spouse quarantined abroad.

Joining us now from Vicenza, Italy, which is a northern Italy where the outbreak has been most severe, is Bevin Landrum.

Bevin, you're an Army spouse. You're under quarantine. I know this has been a major change for you because you're very outgoing and involved in your community.

You've been watching the shift and how people have been moving about around you and also how officials have been cracking down. Tell us about this.


It has been a real change.

And I think the message that I want to get across today is, if I could only have told myself some of these things two weeks ago about how quickly it can change, really, from day-to-day and what we see even occur in the last 72 hours in terms of closure in Italy, I would just recommend to all Americans, definitely don't panic, keep calm, but start preparing now for what's probably going to be at least a 30-day closure and hunkering down at home with the family.


LANDRUM: It's a little bit to get used to here.

KEILAR: Specifically speak to what you wish you had done to prepare. You said that in the break. If I'd only known two weeks ago what I'd known today, I would have prepared. What do you wish that you had done specifically?

LANDRUM: Right. Groceries is probably the number-one thing. I don't encourage anyone to go out and do panic buying like you would if it's an apocalypse. Instead, just do some thoughtful purchasing for what your family will need for necessities to last you three to four weeks.

For us, we ended up going to go to the commissary after some closures were put in place and social distancing measures. So now, the commissary requires only a certain number of people to go in at a time. And even at the local grocery stores.

And everyone who's remaining outside in line to get in has to maintain a one-meter distance between customers to meet the mandates. So of course, that takes a lot more time.

And so if I had done it sooner and, over the course of a few days, I would have been well stocked and prepared. So a lot of things that would have been easier if you had done them sooner.

KEILAR: I understand that you might normally just -- you know, folks there might normally move about with their families and that's not actually flying. This is something that's going to be very tricky for Americans as well as they maybe have their kids to go somewhere.


KEILAR: Tell us about that.

LANDRUM: Exactly. I think, as Americans, we value our right to get to the car to go when we need to and that started shifting here about a week ago, pretty seriously.

And even this week, on Tuesday, I was out to go to the commissary and there was still some traffic on the roads. New information came out in decrees from the host nation.

And, by Wednesday, when the park center called me about a break appointment, there were very few people on the roads as I drove back and forth to the military installation.

And by yesterday, as we were all told to stay in our homes, unless we were going out for essential groceries, medical needs, pharmacy needs, banking or post office, the businesses are just shuttered. There's not people walking on the streets. And that's only in 72 hours.

So it's going to be a little bit of a change for Americans who are used to being out and about as we want to be. But it really is the absolute right thing to do. And perhaps lesson

learned. If Italy had, like South Korea, maybe imposed some of these restrictions sooner, we could have gotten ahead of it and it wouldn't still be surging.

New numbers today. We're still not great. And I certainly hope America will get ahead of it a lot faster.

KEILAR: That's coming from -- real quickly, that's coming from you, who had -- you were wondering what I think a lot of Americans are wondering. How bad is this really going to be?

We have about 30 seconds left. Can you just speak to that? You were like, how bad is it going to be.

LANDRUM: Three weeks ago, I thought it was just the flu. But as new cases started coming in, it started to get personal because I saw the demographics of who was dying from this.

And all of a sudden, I'm worried about my mom and she's 95 living in Florida, and for my friend who had chemotherapy recently. She's immune compromised. And for all of the other people in our population who were vulnerable to this COVID-19,

And we need to take it seriously to practice responsible social distancing.


KEILAR: Yes. We love these people. We have to be safe so they're safe.

LANDRUM: Absolutely.


KEILAR: Bevin Landrum, thank you so much -- that's right, yes.

Thank you so much for just giving us that message.

LANDRUM: Thank you.

KEILAR: If anyone has a comment or a story idea for "Home Front," please email them to me at And you can check out our column at

This just in out of New York. Andrew Cuomo said the state is doubling its testing capacity. He says, by next week, New York will be able to run 6,000 tests per day. Right now, they're processing about 3,000 daily. We'll have much more on that just ahead.

This is CNN's special live coverage.