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CDC Says, No More Gatherings Of 50+ People For Next Two Months; States Take Aggressive Steps To Stop Community Spread; Trump Contradicts Top Expert, Claims Virus Is Under Control. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 16, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: All right. Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow, so glad you're with us.

As coronavirus grips the globe, the financial markets are responding to the Fed's attempt at a rescue with yet another precipitous decline for the market here in the United States. The New York Stock Exchange, again, halted trading right at the open this morning a day after the Fed cut rates to near zero for the first time since the depths of the global recession over a decade ago.

This is a country at a crossroads, and we all know it and feel it this morning. Case numbers doubling since Friday, but they're likely only showing a fraction of the people that are actually affected with coronavirus. Another sign with the seriousness of all this, CDC says we should wait before gathering in groups of 50 people or more for the next two months, at least.

More states are seeing what is ahead, taking drastic action. Hours from now, Michigan will join seven other states in closing down their bars and restaurants. They can remain open only for takeout and delivery service.

This morning, more than 30 million students are out of school in 33 states. New York City hospitals will be required to cancel all elective surgeries and the president is urging Americans to stop hoarding food as supplies at grocery stores, you see those -- some of those empty shelves. And grocery stores are changing their hours to try to handle and cope with panic buying.

The president says over the weekend the U.S. has, quote, tremendous control over the virus that is in direct contradiction to the top medical experts who say the worst is yet to come. We have every angle of this story covered this hour.

Let's begin again with our correspondent, Omar Jimenez. He joins us in Chicago, where they have also essentially made the city dark.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy. The order is set to go into effect tonight coming from Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker that all the restaurants and bars will be closing their doors except for carryout and delivery for at least the next two weeks. It means for stretches like where I'm standing right here in Chicago packed with restaurants, their normal primetime, lunchtime and dinnertime hours will look basically the same as they looked in the overnight hours. And even just taking a walk here, we observed already one restaurant stacking their chairs before the day even begins.

Now, all of this in response and as a response to the coronavirus pandemic that we have seen play out across the United States, and also in response to recent CDC guidance, the latest CDC guidance, restricting all gatherings to less than 50 people.

And now, what we have seen and what we are going to see, I should say, happen here in Illinois starting at 9:00 P.M. tonight. The state is not alone. We have seen multiple other states across the country take on similar measures, states like California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts. New York City is set to put in their own version of this order that includes restaurants and bars but also entertainment spaces as well, and, of course, the State of Washington that has been the most adversely affected as far as number of cases and deaths go, Poppy.

HARLOW: And so many people rely on those jobs as their source of income. What does this mean for them now?

Omar, thanks very much.

Let's talk about school closures across the country. Our Brynn Gingras joins us here in New York, where I know that very difficult decision was made to close all the public schools. What are we looking in here nationwide?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, not just here, Poppy, exactly nationwide. Dozens of schools are canceling classes for the next couple of weeks, sometimes a month and sometimes even more than that for the rest of the school year. But the fact is about 32.5 million, Poppy, children are not in a classroom this morning. And here particularly in New York City, it was a very difficult decision, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio, to close schools, because, of course, you have to keep in mind not just here but across the country the students who go to these schools.

There are students who get their meals from these schools, for those free lunches. There are also students who are kids of emergency responders, nurses, doctors, whose parents have to go to work at this time. And then, of course, the teachers. Earlier today, Robin Meade was saying -- she was talking to her sister-in-law who was just sad she won't even see her kids, possibly, for the rest of the school year. There are so many people impacted by this.

Here particularly in New York City, I can tell you, the school behind me is open only for the next week or so though, because we've been seeing some kids and their parents go in to get those free meals to bring them home for the next week.


We know about this battlefield of teaching that's going to be happening here in this city to get teachers on par with how to do virtual classrooms. There're also efforts here in the city to get internet into homes where kids don't have access, also to get them computers if they need. And we're seeing similar things happening all across the country. In L.A., there are going to be resource centers for kids to do basically the same thing, get food, get internet. I mean, this is a major issue for families, especially with schoolchildren. Poppy?

HARLOW: Can I ask you, Brynn, before we go, because we heard Ohio Governor Mark DeWine say yesterday on this network it's very possible that the schools in Ohio could stay closed the rest of the school year, and then New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he thinks the schools could even stay closed for the calendar year, so that would be until next January. If that happens, what is happening to the kids that -- where their parents have to go to work, first responders, doctors, nurses, et cetera? Is there backup childcare for them provided by the states and cities?

GINGRAS: And that's something that Governor Cuomo says needed to happen. There was a 24-hour plan of these sort of things that needed to be figured out before the city actually shut down the schools today. That's part of it. Can these kids get some sort of childcare?

But a lot of it is also just going to be leaning on neighbors. Can a neighbor who doesn't have to be at work, can they take care of these kids. And, again, you have to think about it, it's not just taking care of them, it's also trying to give them instruction so that they don't get too far behind during all these school closures.

HARLOW: Wow. Brynn, thank you for the reporting.

The president is asking Americans to, quote, relax, and, quote, take it easy and only buy what they need. Grocery stores dealing with panic buying right now are facing an unprecedented demand.

Vanessa Yurkevich joins us again at a grocery store here in New York. What are you actually seeing, right? What is sort of the fear scenario versus the reality of the supply of food that everyone needs?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Poppy. Well, this morning, we came here very early and we saw that a lot of the shelves did not have food on them. But right now, we're in restocking mode. Just behind me, this gentleman is putting eggs on to the shelf. And this is happening throughout the store, in the bread section, in the produce section and in the meat section.

But I want to bring in the co-owner of these Morton Williams Grocery Store chains. There're 16 around the city. This is Steven Sloan. How are you able to meet this new, increased demand?

STEVEN SLOAN, CO-OWNER, MORTON WILLIAMS: Well, obviously, this is unprecedented. We've never dealt with anything like this ever before. But we're working tirelessly with our vendors, our local vendors, to really restock the stores. Everyone knows disinfecting products, cleaning products, paper products, those are in high demand now, and they are limiting supplies on those items. But your regular basic supplies, milk, eggs, tomato sauce, things like that, pasta, which are selling out, we are able to restock those items right now. We have a lot of vendors we're working with. Even if you see empty shelves, just come back in later in the next day and we are filling them up as fast as we can.

YURKEVICH: Poppy Harlow wants to ask you, is there enough food for people? Should people feel comfortable that they will have enough?

SLOAN: The first thing I'll say is that all of our stores are open and will continue to be open. We have no plan on closing any stores. And, yes, there will be enough food. We've gotten no sense that there is a lack of food coming through the pipeline on your basic things. So I do anticipate that there will be enough for everyone. I just -- with certain items like the papers and hand sanitizers, I should recommend everyone, just take what you need, don't hoard it, and so everybody can have something.

YURKEVICH: And just, finally, a big concern has been about a lot of people being in a same space. There could be more than 50 people in this grocery store at any time. What precautions are you taking for your employees and for the shoppers here?

SLOAN: So, last week, we proactively started sanitizing our stores. We put in procedures that every couple hours, we're cleaning all the handles, all the freezer door handles, all the PIN pads, all registers, all the handles on the wagons and the baskets. Every couple hours, we're going around, we're disinfecting, we're cleaning as much as we can just to create a safe environment for everyone.

YURKEVICH: Yes. Thank you so much, Steven Sloan. A new reality, Poppy, that a lot of grocery stores are dealing with right now, both trying to keep their employees safe and keep the shoppers safe but also provide enough food for everybody. Poppy?

HARLOW: Thank you, Vanessa. Good to hear him say no supply chain concerns at this point. That's great news for people. We appreciate it.

So passengers arriving from Europe sent to the United States, of course, being screened and then seeing if they need to be tested for coronavirus. Some have had to wait hours, eight hours at O'Hare over the weekend in those small crowded spaces before going through customs and getting checked and it could get more chaotic tonight, because that is when the travel ban for the U.K. and Ireland kicks in at midnight tonight.

Our Miguel Marquez is with us again at JFK International Airport.

Do they have a handle on this, Miguel?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're going to find out in the hours ahead.


Look, the number of people coming in has certainly gone down more and more. Part of the problem here and part of the chaos was all those flights from Europe that were banned or restricted to just Americans coming back, then they added on the U.K. and Ireland. There was confusion whether it was midnight last night or midnight tonight. People sort of rushed in over the weekend creating really long lines at those 13 airports where people were meant to be screened.

But the confusion is not over. I have a microphone, a social distancing microphone here. Keith Palmer, who lives in a store in Queens here, you just got in from South Africa, which is not on the list of countries that are of concern. You got all the way home, they called you to come back. Why and what happened?

KEITH PALMER, CALLED BACK TO THE AIRPORT FOR SCREENING: Well, I got off the flight and I made it through customs pretty cleanly and easily, got all the way home, received a phone call from an officer with Customs and Border Protection who said, we'd like to give you a test to see if you are someone who has been exposed to the coronavirus.

MARQUEZ: Any indication why?

PALMER: He didn't say. He said, we've tested some other people on the plane.

MARQUEZ: So you think, great.

PALMER: I think, great, I'm going to get one of these coveted tests. I'll know for sure whether I've been exposed. He says, it would be prudent for you to come back with peace of mind. We highly recommend it.

MARQUEZ: So you went all the way home, came all the way back. Nobody wants to come to the airport on a good day. You came all the way back expecting to be swabbed in the nose and mouth. And then?

PALMER: And then they took my temperature, had me fill out a form and said, go on your way. And I said, well, I thought you're going to tell me whether or not I was exposed to the coronavirus, to COVID-19. And they said, no, no, it was just a screening.

MARQUEZ: They also had you come in to a special room here in JFK where people have had the virus. Is that right?

PALMER: Exactly. And I told him, I said, you've just, in fact, exposed me to more risk by bringing me back here than -- which is the complete opposite of what you said you were going to do, which is to give me peace of mind, now, I have less peace of mind.

MARQUEZ: And in a word, your sense of where government is on this right now?

PALMER: In a word, confused. In more words, it's a big mess and they don't know what they're doing. And I commend the people I met for trying to do what's best, but they have no idea what the protocol should be.

MARQUEZ: In fairness, Keith said more than a big mess a little earlier when we talked to him off camera. This is part of the confusion. Tonight, midnight, those rules for the U.K. and Ireland go into effect. And over the days ahead, there are less flights coming in, less people coming in, so they will probably get ahold of it because they have more people laid on, they have a somewhat better process now, but it's going to be a lot of confusion in the days ahead if you are flying if you are flying to the U.S. from overseas. Poppy?

HARLOW: I just can't get over that story. They call him back, then they exposed him to more risk, and then they don't test him and then say, go on your way. I mean, a mess, to say the least. Wow. Miguel, thank you. We hope he's okay. Thanks for the reporting.

Still ahead, what do you need to know to keep yourself and your loved ones safe in this outbreak. Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta is answering all of your questions on coronavirus. That is next.

Plus, looking for leadership in the face crisis, how mixed messages from the White House are generating more questions than answers as this outbreak spreads across the country.



HARLOW: This morning, the U.S. surgeon general says America is at a critical point in the coronavirus crisis. I think we all know that. He is urging Americans to follow the social distancing guidelines, trying to flatten the curve so that the healthcare system can keep up with the cases.

Here is where we are this morning, more than 3,600 cases reported in the U.S., 600 deaths.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta back with me to help us understand where we are.

So, Sanjay, put this in perspective for us. We're double the number of confirmed cases since Friday.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, some of this increase in numbers is going to be directly reflective of the slow increase in testing. So when you hear these numbers go up, it doesn't necessarily mean that there was suddenly a doubling of the numbers over the weekend. It probably more reflects that there's been this lag in testing.

It's not to say that the numbers aren't going to go up much, much higher as the testing goes up. Some say that there is evidence of community spread in many communities around the country.

So on one hand, don't be surprised if the numbers go up. That's entirely expected, but we've got to see where this sort of lands over the next several days. HARLOW: Do you think we're spending too much time and attention as a society on talking about testing and looking at numbers in testing and not enough at this point on how we're taking care of people and preparedness?

GUPTA: Absolutely, Poppy. I mean, I think this may be the most critical point. I think the number of tests has become the metric of success for some reason in this country. And I know why, because we've been talking about it for weeks, but this testing, frankly, the increase in testing should have been done weeks ago.

The point is that now there is evidence that because you have such significant spread within communities that the focus really has to be on what comes next. We know these patients are going to enter hospitals, we know these hospitals, many of them, are pretty full right now given that it's flu season. We know we don't have enough doctors, we don't have enough people who can actually operate these breathing machines, we don't have enough of the breathing machines, period. I mean, these are really tangible problems, Poppy.


This isn't subjective anymore, it's a very objective, definable problem.

HARLOW: You spoke with the surgeon general this morning. What did he say to you?

GUPTA: Well, I think what everyone has been saying, and I've talked to a few people on the task force, is, look, our focus is slowing the spread, flattening the curve, which is obviously a good thing. I think people understand this. But if you see the graphic there, it basically means the same number of patients may ultimately get the infection, the same size of the curve underneath the big one and the flat one, it's just that it comes in more slowly, which puts less of a strain on the medical system.

But, Poppy, even with moderate pandemic sort of scenarios, projections, with the slowing of the spread, it's still within -- seem to imply that we don't have enough of the breathing machines or ICU beds. Of course, we need to slow the spread, but we need to prepare for what seems to be coming.

HARLOW: So help me understand what you think the best case scenario is for that, because we heard in the debate last night, Joe Biden talking about fully mobilizing the military and setting up essentially like tents, like you would in a wartime, and fully using the capacity of those health professionals in case we need more hospital beds. Is that what we really could be looking at?

GUPTA: I think so, Poppy. And, look, people may see these military style tents in their towns around their hospitals, and, again, that may feel alarming, but I see that as a good thing. I mean, that's a sign of preparation. Look, when we declared a national emergency, people typically think of FEMA after a storm, getting up power lines and all that sort of stuff. The medical capability, especially from DOD, is probably one of the most important things. That, supply chains for food, because people are being asked to stay in their homes, medicines and soap, in addition to the medical capabilities. That's what we really need right now.

HARLOW: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much. And I know everyone can obviously listen to your podcast, Coronavirus, Facts and Fears. And then also you're going to have another town hall with Anderson Cooper Thursday night, 10:00 Eastern right here on CNN, all about your questions on coronavirus.

The president contradicting his own top medical experts about such a crucial moment in this country. Is that leadership? We'll talk about key leadership in this moment, next.



HARLOW: All right, significant breaking news. We have just learned that there are active discussions within the White House right now to encourage a possible curfew across the nation. That would mean that non-essential businesses -- not all -- but non-essential would have to close by a certain time every night. This is according to an administration official and another sources familiar with the conversations, of course.

You've got a lot of questions. We've got a lot of questions. What does this mean for you and when you have to be inside your home each night? We will tell you more as soon as we know it. And there is a White House briefing at 3:30 this afternoon that should answer a lot of those questions as well.

At a time when many of us are feeling stressed and anxious, we are getting contradicting messages from inside the Trump administration about just how serious the coronavirus pandemic is. Listen to the president just on Sunday.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: This is a very contagious virus. It's credible. But it's something that we have tremendous control over.


HARLOW: But the doctor leading the response to this pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is warning things will only get worse before they get better. Here is what he said minutes after the president.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Because, as I've said many times, and I'll repeat it, the worst is ahead for us. It is how we respond to that challenge that's going to determine what the ultimate end point is going to be.


HARLOW: Okay. A retired general and former Navy SEAL explained in a new CNN op-ed that, quote, like with any of history's hardest problems, leaders with steady resolve and a willingness to take action will see us through. The authors of that piece join me now, former Commander of the U.S. Forces in Afghanistan, retired General Stanley McChrystal, and former Navy SEAL Chris Fussell. Thank you both very much for being with us and for writing this.


CHRIS FUSSELLL, FORMER NAVY SEAL: General McChrystal, let me begin with you. When you heard the president -- and this is not about politics. This is just about what the American people need to hear in terms of clarity of message. When you heard the president that say that it's under tremendous control and that to be contradicted by his lead doctor on this, where does that leave America in terms of leadership?

MCCHRYSTAL: Yes. I think where we are is there's going to be plenty of time, months in the future, to figure out what wasn't done that should have been done and who's at fault. And right now, we're in the fight. We had a chance maybe to minimize or doge the full effect of the coronavirus, but that's beyond this.

So now, I think we're going to need leadership. And we're not going to be able to get it just from the national level. I'm talking leadership at local levels, in your business, in your families, actions that we don't normally think we're responsible for but we're going to be critical to now.

HARLOW: Chris, you both opened this piece by writing that this situation in this country, and, really, around the world right now, reminds you of the early months of fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq. What lessons can be drawn from wartime to now?

FUSSELL: Yes, it's a great point, Poppy. The interesting parallel here is that Al Qaeda, what we were facing in the previous generation (ph) was, it's a distributed network of fighters, right? This is a network-based Z spread, right?