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Administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Member of White House Coronavirus Task Force Seema Verma Interviewed on U.S. Preparedness for Ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic; NYC Suburb at Center of Coronavirus Cluster Outbreak. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired March 13, 2020 - 08:00   ET

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


[08:00:00]

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: But plan for the indefinite, I think is the best advice.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, but so helpful. Thank you, Christine. You really explained that so great to us.

Thanks to our international viewers for watching. For you, CNN Newsroom with Max Foster is next. For our U.S. viewers, American life as we know it is on pause as the coronavirus spreads. NEW DAY continues now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Life screeching to a halt across the country as officials work to contain the spread of coronavirus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Concerts canceled, spring break canceled, sports seasons suspended and postponed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Unprecedented, never seen anything like this really in the world of sports.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reduce the number of people, no gathering with 500 people or more.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All Broadway shows have suspended performances.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Testing has been going very smooth.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is a failing. The idea of anybody getting it easily, we're not set up for that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

BERMAN: Good morning. Welcome to your NEW DAY. It is Friday, March 13th, it is 8:00 in the east. And the coronavirus pandemic, it is shutting down life as we know it in America. Chances are, though, you know that because maybe you're working from home, maybe your child is home with no school, you've had an event, a game, a meeting canceled. You have seen for yourself, you are no doubt now living it.

There are now more than 1,600 confirmed cases in 47 states and Washington, D.C., 41 Americans have died. Six states and Washington, D.C. have now closed all of their schools. And there are others all over the country as well.

This amounts to, I would say at a minimum now, 5 million students K through 12 at home today. And that number is rising. New York, Washington, Oregon, Ohio, California, have all banned gatherings ranging from 100 people to 500. The NBA, NHL, MLS suspended their seasons. The NCAA canceled March Madness. Major League Baseball suspended spring training and delayed opening day for at least two weeks.

Here in New York, Broadway has gone dark for the next month, that means no shows. Disney parks in Florida and California, they're closed for first time since September 11th.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Anthony Fauci the nation's top infectious disease doctor admits the U.S. is, quote, failing in testing for coronavirus. President Trump has not echoed that conclusion. As far as we know, the president himself has not been tested despite coming into close contact with a top Brazilian official at Mar-a-Lago over the weekend who is now infected with coronavirus.

Overnight, an Australian official revealed he also tested positive days after meeting with Ivanka Trump and Attorney General William Barr in Washington. It is unclear if he was sick at the time. We have reached out to the White House for comment.

BERMAN: Let's get more on the Trump administration response. Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us, we'll hear from him in a moment. But first, Seema Verma, she is the administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and a member of the White House coronavirus task force. Administrator, thank you so much for being with us.

We are waking up this morning to the news that six states have banned large gatherings, all kinds of sports have suspended their seasons, 5 million kids are home from school today. There are social distancing measures being taken by states, governments, and businesses. What more does the task force, the federal task force on coronavirus, want to see in terms of social distancing?

SEEMA VERMA, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Well, the task force and the CDC have put out recommendations to communities so that they can have some ideas about things that they can do to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

So closing of schools, the shutting down of large gatherings, telling people that they're sick to stay at home. We have seen a lot of employers work -- go towards more tele-work. So those are all strategies that are being recommended by the CDC to help communities figure out what is going to work best for them, and how they can help us and help the whole country mitigate the threat of the virus.

BERMAN: You want to see more?

VERMA: I think that we have to work together as a country, as a community to take every precaution that we can. This could have an outsized impact with those with underlying conditions, especially the elderly. And so all of the work that we're doing as communities, as a country, is really going to help protect those individuals.

And I can tell you that I'm particularly concerned about the population living in nursing homes. Unfortunately what happened in Washington state where we had some nursing home residents pass away because of exposure to the coronavirus, and that's why we have been putting out guidance to tell people, hey, if you don't need to go to a nursing home, maybe you should rethink that. And we're asking the nursing homes to really screen people that are coming in and make sure that they don't have any other risk factors.

BERMAN: So yesterday we heard from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's lead infectious disease expert who acknowledged that the testing apparatus, the testing system that has been in place has failed. Let's listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

[08:05:05]

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It is a failing. Let's admit t it. 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: How has this failed, Administrator?

VERMA: Well, I think testing system that we have or that was set up when these types of issues come up has been -- basically it happens through the public health system and our public health laboratories. But if we want to have the widespread testing that we need, this needs to come up through the private sector. And that's why the administration --

BERMAN: I don't know about that. I don't know about that, administrator. Look, pandemics are something that all governments plan for. It is something that we have been told the Bush administration planned for, the Obama administration planned for. It is something that was done in a workshop in the transition from the Obama administration to the Trump administration. South Korea is a government that is testing 10,000 people a day. So how is it that the United States as of two days ago had only tested 11,000 people total?

VERMA: I think it's fair to say we need to do more testing. And that's why we're working with the private sector to bring up the capacity to do more testing. Just yesterday the commissioner of the FDA, Dr. Hahn and I met with over 1,000 hospitals to explain to them how we can -- how they can help us, how they can help their communities bring up more testing.

BERMAN: And do we have to get through these barriers, the likes of which one woman, Dawn Clements, told us that from Key Largo, Florida, listen to what she says.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAWN CLEMENTS, FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS SINCE FRIDAY, FLU RULED OUT: 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. I'm running a fever and I have chest congestion. And nobody can test us here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Nobody can test us here. Should she get a test. Is it the position of the task force currently that Dawn Clements needs to get a test?

VERMA: I think that people need to maybe the decision about testing with their doctors. The CDC has said that anybody -- it is really up to the doctor to decide if the person needs a test or not. So if the doctor feels like based on her particular risk factors that she needs a test, then the physician should order one.

BERMAN: Doctors are telling us that they can't get the tests. That they want to get the tests, but they can't get them. We have been told by the administration that a million tests have shipped, that 4 million will ship by next week. Respectfully, what does it matter if they've shipped if they're not being used?

VERMA: We certainly are focused on having more testing. I think the other issue is important that we let all Americans know that, if they're sick, if they are having symptoms, they really should call their doctor's office first, have a discussion with them, and think about whether they need to come in.

One of the things we want to bring up and make sure that people are aware of is the capacity to do telemedicine. To have that conversation with your doctor on the front end may avoid you having to go in, having to take transportation. And if you go to a healthcare facility, sort of avoid spreading that to other people. So --

BERMAN: You brought up the issue of capacity. Let's talk about capacity, because one of the things we have a great deal of concern about is capacity in terms of beds and hospitals, ICUs, the capacity for ventilators here. Are you convinced as we sit here this morning that the United States, for instance, has enough ventilators to meet a possible surge in cases of coronavirus?

VERMA: So one of the things that we have to prepare for situations like this is a stockpile. And there is over 12,000, almost 13,000 ventilators that we have so that if communities, hospitals, other organizations need to have these ventilators, we can ship that out to them. So we have a stockpile of materials, of protective equipment, and we're working with hospitals to make sure that they understand what is available.

BERMAN: Do we have enough?

VERMA: I think it is important to say that the reason why we are focusing so much on mitigation is to avoid that situation.

BERMAN: I understand. I understand. I just want to know that if it doesn't work if we have enough.

VERMA: The stockpile is there, and we hope that it is adequate. But I think it is important to know that that's why we're focusing so much on the prevention of this and trying to mitigate the spread, so we don't create a situation where our whole healthcare system is unduly stressed.

BERMAN: And that's about flattening the curve, which is something we have talked about all morning long. We put that graphic up there so people can see what that means. It means that maybe the number of cases doesn't spread, but when it happens, spread it out over time so that hospitals and medical facilities can deal with it more easily.

Administrator, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here with me as well and I know he has some questions for you.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Administrator Verma, good morning.

VERMA: Good morning.

GUPTA: Going back to this ventilator issue again, just because I've seen these numbers, and John was asking about do we have enough ventilators.

[08:10:00]

We know what we need. With a moderate pandemic we would need at least 64,000 ventilators. That's about the number that exists, and then you add in the stockpile, 72,000 or so is what we have in the country. The problem is, as you know, is that many of them are currently being used because it is flu season. It really does seem like there is a short fall. I was at a hospital in New Rochelle yesterday. They're already full, Administrator Verma. Right now, they're already full. How could you say that we possibly have enough to handle what is coming?

VERMA: At this time, Dr. Gupta, we only had a couple of requests for ventilators. But I think that's why -- I think that's why it is so important that we pull together as a community and do everything we can around the mitigation of this. And that's why I think the president's leadership on the travel restrictions was so important because we know that a lot of the infections, the new infections that were happening in America were traced back to people that traveled to Europe. And I --

GUPTA: Respectfully, respectfully, though, administrator, banning travel from Europe doesn't do anything for the cases that are already here, and we don't know how many cases are already here because we haven't tested them yet.

VERMA: But that's why -- but that's why you're seeing communities respond by having more tele-work, shutting down schools, encouraging people not to go to large gatherings. So this is a multipronged strategy. Certainly, the travel restrictions play a big role.

But there is also these other components that local communities are stepping up. And it is great to see governors and communities coming up with restrictions and other measures to try to mitigate the spread of the virus.

GUPTA: I think those are very important measures clearly, and people want to reduce the spread. But, again, administrator, I'm looking at moderate pandemic. This is a pandemic, and I'm looking at moderate numbers. Hopefully these mitigation things prevent this from becoming a severe pandemic, because then the demands go up tenfold. But even with a moderate pandemic, which is what this is looking like it is going to be, we don't have enough equipment.

And, again, I know you're dealing with many different things, but if you wait too long, then there is going to be situations as doctors prescribing to me yesterday where they're not going to be able to care for patients who would otherwise would have been able to get care. And I don't want to be too dire here, but the concern is that there might be preventable deaths. You have to act now, don't you?

VERMA: That's exactly what we're doing. That's exactly what we're doing. We're acting now to mitigate the spread --

GUPTA: I'm talking about the ventilators, Administrator.

VERMA: We have it. We have ventilators.

GUPTA: You don't have enough ventilators.

VERMA: At this time, we have heard from a couple of hospitals, and we're working with them. But I think that's why it is so important that we work towards mitigation to avoid that situation. I think we have ventilators in our stockpile, and we are prepared to work with the healthcare community to get them to the ventilators that they need. I think at this point it's premature to say that we don't have enough. I don't think we know that right now.

GUPTA: Those are the federal government's numbers. Those are the projections from the federal government, which looks at moderate pandemic. We're not make those numbers up. The numbers came from the government. I'm just saying, if you want to prepare ahead, now would be the time, because this happens in hours and days. You no longer have days and weeks.

VERMA: I think there is a stockpile in place. So that's number one. Number two, we're working with hospitals, if they feel like they need that, we're working with them. But I think it is these dire predictions that haven't quite happened yet. So there is a system in place to deal with hospitals and healthcare providers if they need supplies. We have a system in place to help them.

But I think our top priority is to avoid the situation that you're describing, right? So we're trying to work with healthcare facilities. We have been putting out guidance almost on a daily basis to help these healthcare providers that are on the front lines to avoid infections, to keep their healthcare workers safe. The whole focus right now is on prevention. We do have a stockpile of ventilators and other equipment, but to the extent that we can mitigate this, we won't strain the entire system.

I think we've also heard a lot of folks saying maybe you shouldn't have done the travel advisory, you shouldn't have done this, shouldn't have done that. The reason why we are taking such aggressive approaches is to mitigate the spread to not put an undue strain on the healthcare system.

BERMAN: Again, you say aggressive actions, aggressive if you had believed in the European travel ban would have been four weeks ago. Not tonight. I do want to say, you say --

VERMA: I think it is easy -- I think it is easy to second guess.

BERMAN: I'm not second guessing. We're asking about the measures that were taken. Part of preparing for a pandemic is to do it beforehand. That's what preparation means. If I can throw up on the screen here a chart so people can understand the growth of this overtime, people can compare what is happening in the United States with other countries.

We have a line graph here. This is P109 -- this is just as good. You see the number of coronavirus cases in the United States versus Italy from the days of first reporting, and you can see that the number of cases has risen roughly like Italy. This is another chart. It is a lot like Italy and Iran, which had very bad outcomes. I hope that we have much better outcomes in the United States.

[08:15:00]

I want to show people that it's not dissimilar to the rate of growth in those countries. Where the other countries you saw at the bottom, Hong Kong and Singapore, were able to flatten that line.

VERMA: And that's exactly why we are taking the measures that we are, because we want to mitigate the growth. And that's exactly why you're seeing the travel bans, the restrictions on large gatherings, and all of the advice that we're giving to individuals about how they can protect themselves. This is all about mitigating the spread to avoid the situation that we've seen in other countries.

BERMAN: And those actions from the governors and the states and those private leagues, those are in the interest of mitigating.

Seema Verma, administrator, thank you for being with us. We certainly hope we can get through this and we appreciate the work you're doing.

VERMA: Thank you.

BERMAN: Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: We'll be speaking more to Sanjay coming up about some of the things we heard and as well as your viewer questions.

National guard troops are now inside a containment zone just outside of New York City. What are they doing there? We'll talk to the mayor of that city, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CAMEROTA: National Guard troops on duty this morning, maintaining a one-mile coronavirus containment zone, just north of New York City.

New Rochelle, New York, has a cluster of more than 140 cases, all public schools there are now closed.

Joining us now is Mayor Noah Bramson of New Rochelle, New York.

[08:20:03]

Mayor, thank you very much for taking the time to talk to us.

Can you -- for people who are watching from around the country, not in the New York area, can you describe that is a containment zone?

MAYOR NOAH BRAMSON (D), NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK: Well, thank you for the question. It's very important to understand what it is and what it's not.

It's an area within which large gatherings within large institutions are prohibited, which is a sensible means of mitigating the spread of the virus in an area with a high concentration of positive tests. It's not an exclusion zone, it's not a quarantine zone. No one is prohibited from entering or leaving.

Homeowners are permitted to go about their daily lives, businesses are open as well. The National Guard is not here to maintain a sort of perimeter, but rather to assist with operations and logistics such as the delivery of meals to public school students, the distribution of supplies, cleaning public facilities -- the kinds of logistical challenges that would be beyond the capacity of a municipality the size of New Rochelle.

So, it's not as though we're under lockdown or martial law or anything of that nature. But we are facing a serious challenge, and our community is rising to the occasion. People working together, taking direction from public health officials and supporting each other as neighbors.

CAMEROTA: I think you're right, that when people hear that the National Guard has gone into a city, it gets people's attention. And so, can you just tell us what that looks like today?

What kind of vehicles are they driving? How many are there? Are they knocking on doors?

What is it -- what's happening in New Rochelle?

BRAMSON: So, they're driving around principally in rented minivans. They are in uniform, but unarmed. And they're working in close collaboration with our school district, with state officials, with local not-for-profit agencies, in order to help deliver food and otherwise support our community.

And I think as people understand that, they are welcoming these resources for the sense of gratitude, that the state has rightly recognized that we have a unique challenge here in New Rochelle and these kinds of resources and personnel are helping us to meet that challenge.

CAMEROTA: You've just clarified for people that businesses are open. You're trying to maintain the life as much as usual as possible. And so, what are you telling -- today is Friday. It is the weekend, coming up, what are you telling your residents to do this weekend?

BRAMSON: Well, it's about striking the right balance. You know, we need to have a level of concern and focus and attention that is proportionate to the issues before us. And a lot of that is common sense public health practices.

Certainly, if you're a senior citizen, if you have a compromised immune system, if you have a respiratory ailment, then you want to avoid any kind of public contact to the degree possible.

If you are a healthy adult, then sensible social distancing is adequate, but you don't want to withdraw entirely from the life and commerce of your community because that creates its own problems. And I think we all understand that if risk avoidance is taken to an extreme, then it can be debilitating and self-defeating.

So I think all of us, whatever our roles, whether it's citizens or leaders, we need to strike that balance successfully. I think New Rochelle has done so and will continue trying to do so.

CAMEROTA: But just sort of to put a finer point on it, should people go out to restaurants?

BRAMSON: Just yesterday, my family and I went out to lunch in the heart of the containment zone, at a restaurant, in order to support our local business community and demonstrate confidence in an entire neighborhood. But everyone needs to make a decision based on their own circumstances. As I said, if you're a senior citizen or someone with a compromised immune system, then you need to be extremely careful because that's where the risk is really greatest.

All the rest of us, if we practice sensible social distancing, use common sense, wash our hands regularly as is recommended, don't shake hands, measures of that kind can help mitigate the spread of the virus without shutting down our society, which, again, would entail its own costs and its own burdens for every one of us.

CAMEROTA: Well, Mayor Bramson, we really appreciate you explaining what's going on inside the so-called containment zone. I know you're trying to make it life as normal as much as possible. Thank you very much for taking time to talk with NEW DAY. We'll talk to you next week, I'm sure.

BRAMSON: Thank you for having me.

BERMAN: So, the state of Ohio is one of six states that has shut down all of its schools. What is interesting about Ohio is they only have five confirmed cases of coronavirus in the entire state, at least they did yesterday when they made this decision. So why, why be so proactive?

The governor of Ohio is going to join us to explain. This is really instructive. So, stick around.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[08:28:31]

BERMAN: New this morning, Oregon has just become the sixth state, along with Washington, D.C., to cancel all schools, K through 12, in response to the coronavirus pandemic. This affects millions of students and parents and teachers nationwide.

One of the states that made this decision is Ohio, and what's interesting is Ohio only has or had when they made this decision five reported cases of coronavirus.

So, joining me now to talk about this is the governor of Ohio, Mike DeWine.

Governor DeWine, we really appreciate you being with us, because I think your state is so instructive to the proactive measures that many people are now realizing need to be taken.

So explain why in a state that has as of yesterday only five confirmed cases, you decided to close down all the schools.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Well, I've been listening to the experts. We put together a panel of 14 Ohio doctors early on in this. I also have a great director of health, Dr. Amy Acton, and she and I have been working very, very closely. I've been listening to her.

And then yesterday, we again -- we reached out even beyond Ohio to a real expert on this who -- you know, experts tell us, look, two weeks is too late. You know, another week is too late. You got to try to slow this thing down early.

And even though we only have five confirmed cases, we feel that we could have up to 100,000 people in Ohio right now who are carrying around the coronavirus. This thing multiplies, we're told, every six days. And so, you're going to see those numbers just go out like that, that's what I've been warning the people of Ohio.