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THE SITUATION ROOM

Dow Falls On Pandemic Coronavirus Concerns; New Jersey Statewide Curfew; New Guidelines Imposed To Control Virus Spread; Ohio Governor Calls For Delaying Tomorrow's Primary; Trump: New Coronavirus Reality Could Last Until July, August; Seventy-Four Deaths, 4,100-Plus Coronavirus Cases Confirmed In U.S.; French President Declares "War" On Coronavirus, Bans All Social Events, Including Family Gatherings; Spain In Partial Lockdown; Italy Reports 349 Deaths In Past 24 Hours. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 16, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're following breaking news. Another historic loss on Wall Street -- the Dow plunging almost 3,000 points amid growing global concern about the coronavirus pandemic.

The market closed moments after President Trump said the U.S. economy, and I'm quoting him now, may, repeat, may be heading into a recession. The White House just put out new guidelines to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The administration is now advising people not to gather in groups of more than ten and urging states that have seen community spread to close bars, restaurants, and other public places. Some states including New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey, have already taken that action.

And as the disruption to daily life intensifies, President Trump says it could be July or August, four or five months down the road before the outbreak subsides. Let's go straight to the White House. Our White House correspondent Boris Sanchez is joining us. Boris, the president says the markets eventually will bounce back but also that the coronavirus could continue spreading well into the summer.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. Really a marked shift from the president in his tone and his rhetoric about this coronavirus, really acknowledging the seriousness of this for the first time acknowledging that this virus is out of control.

Further, the president also saying that he would give his federal government's response to this outbreak a 10 out of 10, even as he suggests that more needs to be done by the average American to prevent the spread of this virus. And we see the death toll rise and the stock market plummet. Listen to more from the president now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: My administration is recommending that all Americans, including the young and healthy, work to engage in schooling from home when possible, avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people, and avoid eating and drinking at bars, restaurants, and public food courts.

It seems to me that if we do a really good job, we'll not only hold the death down to a level that is much lower than the other way had we not done a good job, but people are talking about July, August, something like that.

So, it could be right in that period of time, where I say it washes through. Other people don't like that term, but where it washes through. We'll see what happens. But they think August. And I've spoken actually with my son, he says how bad is this. It's bad. It's bad.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Are you considering instituting a nationwide lockdown, a nationwide quarantine?

TRUMP: At this point not nationwide, but -- well, there are some places in our nation that are not very affected at all. But we may look at certain areas, certain hotspots as they call them, we'll be looking at that, but at this moment, no, we're not.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You're not saying it's under control, right?

TRUMP: We're not referring to "it" meaning the -- yes, if you're talking about the virus, no, that's not under control for any place in the world. I think I read -- I think I read -- no, I did know. I was talking what we're doing is under control, but I'm not talking about the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your response to this crisis?

TRUMP: I would rate it at 10.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SANCHEZ: Wolf, the president saying that this is something no one saw coming a month ago, that is contradicted by his own statements. Let's remember, on January 30th, the president giving a speech in Michigan, already there were thousands of coronavirus cases confirmed throughout the world including some here in the United States.

The president saying, "we have it very well under control, we have a very little problem." That statement coming as experts was demanding that the federal government take further action to prevent the spread of this virus, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Boris, we'll get back to you, thank you very much. All of this clearly comes as the number of known cases here in the United States now tops 4,000, with 72 deaths. CNN's Nick Watt is joining us right now with more on the latest pandemic developments. Nick, officials and citizens across the United States, they are taking some very dramatic action.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They certainly are, Wolf. Sometimes you got to remind yourself that the year is 2020. We've had major league baseball pushing back opening day now, indefinitely.

[17:05:02]

The mayor of Houston having to come out and reassure his people that supermarkets, supply chains, remain intact. And the mayor of New York saying that we all need to adopt a wartime world view. And in terms of dealing with this now, pretty much everything is on the table.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): Closures and chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Inside or go home.

WATT (voice-over): The message, get used to it.

TRUMP: We'll see what happens but they think August, could be July, could be longer than that.

JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: We have the same number of cases now that Italy had two weeks ago. And we have a choice to make.

WATT (voice-over): Because in the past two weeks, Italy has seen more than 1,400 deaths. To avoid that fate as a society and this fate as individuals --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, that's the cough.

WATT (voice-over): We must now social distance. At 8:00 p.m. tonight all movie theaters, gyms, and casinos across New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, will close indefinitely. Bars and restaurants now take- out only. Other states and cities already doing the same.

ANDREW CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK CITY: You can purchase through takeout. And we hope that goes a long way towards alleviating any economic hardship.

WATT (voice-over): In New Jersey now, all nonessential travel strongly discouraged between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m. From midnight tonight in San Francisco, everyone must stay home except for essential needs. Looking ahead, do we have enough hospital beds?

CUOMO: It's still math at the end of the day. And it doesn't work.

WATT (voice-over): Here is his rough math just for New York State. Total population, 18 million, perhaps 40 percent will test positive, 17 percent of them might need hospitalization. That's 1.25 million hospital beds over the course of the pandemic in a state that has just over 53,000.

CUOMO: And that will keep you up at nights.

WATT (voice-over): So he's mobilizing the National Guard to convert buildings into backup hospitals. But that's only part of the problem.

ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: If you have enough ventilators that means obvious that people who need it will not be able to get it. And that's when you're going to have to make some very tough decisions.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, about 36 million school kids in at least 35 states now forced to stay home. Schools closed.

MIKE WEWINE, GOVERNOR OF OHIO: It would not surprise me at all if schools did not open again this year.

WATT (voice-over): At airports, long lines for screening international passengers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Very (inaudible) which is not ideal considering what this contagion is.

WATT (voice-over): Some stores now disinfecting hourly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When 9/11 occurred, I was around. The blackouts, we had hurricanes. Nothing has ever been like this.

WATT (voice-over): Supply chains slowing as demand explodes.

MIKE GRAHAM, BUSINESS OWNER: Right now we're not charging people when they come in. As long as I can keep getting deliveries, I'll get through. I might go bankrupt.

WATT (voice-over): Amazon under a surge of online orders now warning of delivery delays.

ADAMS: When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy, but there's every hope that we would be South Korea if people actually listen, if people actually social distance.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: Now, in South Korea, scene of social distancing and aggressive testing, they are now seeing a dramatic drop in the daily number of new cases, but it did take a little while. And then of course looking further down the line, what happens to our political process?

The governor of Ohio today joining other states saying that their primary should be pushed to June. And the economics of it all, the airline industry in this country already saying that they're going to need a $50 billion aid package, Wolf.

BLITZER: Well, the Ohio Democratic presidential primary is supposed to take place tomorrow, we'll see if it does. Nick Watt reporting for us, thanks very much.

Let's get some more on all of this. Joining us now is the Democratic governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy. Governor Murphy, thank you so much for joining us, I know this is an incredibly difficult and very busy day for you, all these days are. The new guidelines we heard from the president just now, very

stringent, they point to a level of seriousness, at least at this moment, that the president seemed to downplay as recently as yesterday at his news conference. What are your thoughts?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): Well, all the steps that I'm told he referred to today I think are steps in the right direction. In many cases, they are steps that we've taken in New Jersey.

Your colleague illuminated a number of the steps we've taken in concert with New York, Connecticut, I might add also with Pennsylvania. We also called up our National Guard.

Our collective job right now is to so-call flatten the curve. And the extent that we can do that over here, we take the pressure off the health care system over here and save lives in the process. So, any steps along the lines that they discussed in Washington today are constructive, and god knows we need them.

[17:10:02]

BLITZER: Tell us about your call with the president today, you and other governors. What did he say and how did the governors respond?

MURPHY: Well, it's a weekly call and we've had good open lines of communication. I spoke with the vice president on Friday night. You know, our asks are very straightforward. We need a significant amount of personal protective equipment.

We've gotten some of it from the strategic stockpile. We need more. We need boots on the ground. And the good news is, it was discussed on the call today, that FEMA has designated New Jersey as one of their 12 first wave states that they're going to come in and help us do drive- through testing.

And that's going to be a matter of days. And then thirdly, we're going to need an enormous amount of help to get our economy back on our feet some months down the road. The impact as you can imagine on small businesses, on our transit system, on individuals, is becoming overwhelming. We have no choice, but that's the reality and those are sort of some of the topics we spoke about with the president and vice president.

BLITZER: Well, you heard the president just say this could go on to July, August, maybe even further, and the U.S. economy may be on the verge of a recession right now. What was your reaction to that?

MURPHY: I'm not surprised. Sadly, this is something that is all around us, but I do believe your colleague just said we can hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I think the extent to which we can aggressively, as we have tried to do from day one.

We were on this in January. I established a task force on February 2nd. The key here is to be as aggressive, proactive as humanly possible, again, to flatten that curve. And all of the steps we took today, closing schools, closing bars and restaurants, restricting travel between 8:00 p.m. and 5:00 a.m., is intended to keep people home.

Work from home, by the way, would be on top of that, keep them from each other, keep them at home, and god willing, flatten the curve and get through this as fast as possible.

BLITZER: You announced the mobilization of the National Guard in New Jersey today. What kind of assistance are you asking them to provide?

MURPHY: Yes, it could be -- it could come, Wolf, in any number of different ways. On that list would be potentially helping us with testing, number one. Number two, we closed our public schools effective tomorrow, but we got to make sure we're caring for the kids who, for instance, rely on public schools for their only hot meal of the day.

The National Guard can play a role there. Also if we need to, and we have contingency plans along these lines to open wings of hospitals that are closed or open full hospitals or convert dormitories to places where we can quarantine people, the National Guard could be essential in all of the above.

BLITZER: The president rated his overall response in response to a question today, he rated his overall response to this coronavirus crisis a 10 out of a 10. How would you rate it?

MURPHY: Listen, that's above my pay grade. Do I wish that the federal government had gotten onto this earlier? Absolutely. We are where we are. We've got to play the hand that we are dealt at this very moment.

And for us at least, we're going to keep asking persistently from the federal government for their support, whether it's personal protective equipment, dollars, boots on the ground, all of the above, and then doing in New Jersey the things that are within our control.

Calling up the National Guard, aggressive social distancing, supporting our health care workers and health care system. And we play the hand from here.

BLITZER: Good luck, Governor Murphy. Good luck to all the folks in New Jersey right now. This is going to be a really difficult period. Thanks for spending a few moments with us.

MURPHY: Thanks for having me, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, and to our viewers, stay with us for more on the breaking news, the White House issuing strict new guidelines today to try to slow down the spread of the coronavirus including advising people not to gather in groups of more than 10.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:20:00]

BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. Just a little while ago over at the White House, the Trump administration issued strict new guidelines to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Among them, if you or your children feel sick, stay at home. If

someone in your house has tested positive, everyone should stay home. Older persons are advised to stay home routinely. And all Americans should avoid groups of more than 10 people which include eating in bars, restaurants or food courts.

Let's discuss this with our political and medical experts. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, you're our medical expert. The president said it might not be until July or August or even later until all this begins to recede. Is that a reasonable expectation?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I guess it's a reasonable expectation, Wolf, but you know, as we've been saying all along, and the same applies here, you know, we just don't know. I mean, that's the nature of a novel virus, a new virus like this.

We don't know how it's going to behave. Humans have not been exposed to this virus before so we don't have immunity to it. But obviously it was a very distinct change in how he was presenting this in terms of the timeline.

I should point out as well that, you know, these guidelines that you just mentioned, they are listed as 15 days to slow the spread, so it's sort of listed as 15 days of these sorts of guidelines, but then Dr. Fauci came out to the lectern at some point during the press conference and said, look, it says 15 days.

[17:19:59]

That means we're going to reassess it 15 days to see how long we'll continue to recommend these things or even stricter guidelines at that point. So, I don't know how long it's going to take, but you know, we're going to be in this for a while. We're going to get through this, clearly, at some point, but we're going to be in this mode at least for a little while, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. I believe you're absolutely right. Dr. James Phillips is with us as well, a CNN medical analyst. Dr. Phillips, even if the virus peaks and begins to come down a bit, it certainly, as Sanjay says, will remain a threat for a long time to come. So how long will Americans do you believe have to remain vigilant?

JAMES PHILLIPS, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Well, I think the easiest way to answer that is it's going to be longer than we want. We have used the flu as sort of a simple proxy for the public to understand how to deal with this virus. But we have to remember there are two types of flu.

There's a seasonal flu, and we hope this is like seasonal flu where it gets better in the summer. But our concern is and as Dr. Gupta alluded to, this is a novel virus, which puts up more like a category of the pandemic flu, sort of like swine flu. And the problem with that is that we're not sure when it's going to go away.

It can happen in the sort off-season months. If you look at the 1918 Spanish flu, it actually came in three different peaks over two years and the second peak was the deadliest peak. So, as we can hope for the best, we have to prepare for the worst.

BLITZER: That's an important point indeed. Gloria Borger is with us. Well, there's no doubt Gloria, the president has shifted his tone to a much more serious posture right now. So why is there still a disconnect between the president and state and local officials?

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, first of all, you're right, and I think its good thing that the president has shifted his tone, finally. But he did say today that he rated himself a 10 out of 10 on the way he has dealt with the virus.

And I think the reason that there is a disconnect between the president and the governors is I don't think the governors agree. And the president of course was picking a twitter fight with Governor Cuomo of New York, saying he should do more. And anybody watching what's been done in New Rochelle, for example, exactly knows that the president -- that Cuomo has done quite a bit for New York State.

BLITZER: Gloria, hold on for a moment, David Axelrod is with us as well. He used to work in the Obama administration. You heard the president say he would give himself a 10 out of a 10 for the way he's responded so far to this crisis. He's obviously, you know, pretty proud of what he thinks he's done.

DAVID AXELROD, FORMER OBAMA SENIOR ADVISER: Well, look, it's kind of immaterial how the president rates himself. He has habitually graded himself on a pretty generous curve. I wish he had been my professor in college.

But it doesn't matter. What matters is that the president gives honest, consistent, truthful information to the American people. And I think the place where I'd fault the president the most, there's question about how quickly the government should have reacted to this threat and mobilized people.

But he has sent the wrong messages repeatedly about the severity of this crisis. As late as yesterday, when he said it was under tremendous control and that people should relax. And today we get a much more realistic assessment.

The question is can he consistently deliver information that people trust. Remember, there was a poll yesterday that said only 48 percent of the American people trusted the information they were getting from the president of the United States. In a crisis like this, that's a very disturbing number.

BLITZER: I should point out, we're observing CDC guidelines.

AXELROD: We are. We're not as close as we normally are.

BLITZER: We're far apart. Normally you'd be -- you're a little bit closer, but we believe you've got to observe those CDC guidelines. Sanjay, let me get your thoughts on the government's recommendation today to avoid any gatherings of more than 10 people. Just yesterday the recommendation had been gathering of 50 people. What do you make of that change? GUPTA: Well, I think these numbers are arbitrary. I mean, you know,

the goal is to keep people as distant as possible, kind of like you and David Axelrod are right now. You know, you don't want large gatherings at all.

Part of the issue is not just the idea that people can spread the virus in that situation, but if someone subsequently tests positive, you got to go back and find all the people that person came in contact with and try and, you know, to contact trace them.

So, it's a big tax on the public health system. I think that, you know, what I think, Wolf, is that these guidelines were for two weeks, as Dr. Fauci said, and then they're going to reassess. These are still guidelines and recommendations, not mandates.

But you know, look, in two weeks it may be more stringent, either what they're recommending or stronger than recommendations at that point. So, 10 versus 50, it's an arbitrary number. Really, we've got to be distant from each other. That's clearly what the science and the public health officials are saying.

BLITZER: Yes, it's very important. Dr. Phillips, how do you see it?

[17:24:57]

PHILLIPS: I totally agree. I think that what I've seen as a change in the messaging from the government is I think we can start to see their overall strategy. Now, shutting the entire country down is something that would be unpalatable to most people if they came right out and said we're closing this, closing this, closing this.

Instead, I think we're starting to see incremental chunks that are more digestible as we get to an overarching strategy of real isolation. In addition to that, it's the same with schools. I'm a parent, my wife is a college professor, and we know that schools are not closed for four weeks in a lot of places.

But what I think is important for people to understand is I don't think those are going to be reversed. I think school is out for the rest of this semester and I hope that it starts back next fall.

I can't see any school board taking a risk and saying schools are going to be able to come back in. So, I think it's an unpopular but important message for parents that we need to prepare that schools are probably out for the rest of the year.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by because we have more coming up on the breaking news earlier this afternoon. Ohio's governor called for delaying tomorrow's presidential primary in his state, one of four primaries scheduled for tomorrow.

Governor Mike DeWine is standing by, there you see him. We'll discuss that and a lot more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:31:10]

BLITZER: Right now, take a look at this. There are 4,158 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States but probably a lot more people have it, people who've not yet been tested, 74 confirmed dead.

The breaking news earlier this afternoon, Ohio's Governor Mike DeWine called for the delay of tomorrow's presidential primary because of the coronavirus. Florida, Illinois, and Arizona also have Democratic presidential primaries scheduled for tomorrow. Georgia has already announced its postponing his -- its race next Tuesday for June.

Ohio Governor, Mike DeWine is joining us right now. Governor, thanks so much for joining us. What led to this decision on your part?

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Several things, Wolf. First of all, the CDC changed its guidelines to 50 people in a room. We can't conduct an election in Ohio and meet that recommendation.

BLITZER: Let me just interrupt. The White House today said you shouldn't be in a group of more than 10.

DEWINE: Yes. Yes, well, we clearly can't do that either. So -- but the second thing is, we were hearing from people who were very conflicted, and these are people who were elderly, over 65 years, women who are pregnant, people who have other medical challenges and they said, look, we're getting this advice, don't leave the home. You know, really, do everything we can to avoid being with other people. We want to exercise our constitutional rights and we're very, very conflicted about how we do that.

The other thing is we've got 35,000 poll workers. And so many of them are people over the age of 65 and they would be sitting there in Ohio for 13 straight hours with people coming in. And we don't know if, frankly, because you can't detect this early, someone could be carrying this who is coming in or one of the poll workers could be carrying it.

So we made the decision frankly reluctantly to do it but what we've recommended to the court, and the court will ultimately decide this, is that absentee voting can continue. Those who have voted, those votes are locked in, they're frozen, that's done. People who have not voted yet will be able to vote absentee up until June 2nd. Frankly, the reason we picked June 2nd is because we have to do that in time for the national conventions and we're, as you know, we're picking delegates to the Republican and the Democrat national convention.

So I worked with Frank LaRose, who is our early great Secretary Of State, and Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted. I really conferred with him a lot and came up with the conclusion that this is the best thing we can do. We preserved people's constitutional rights. We don't make anybody conflicted about choosing whether to exercise their rights or whether to risk their health. And it just seemed that we can extend this, let people vote when they want to. They can get the absentee ballot. And it just seemed to make a lot of sense.

I know it inconveniences people. I know someone who's run for office a lot. The last thing I ever would wanted that someone to say the day before the election, we're not going to hold the election because you get -- you're ready. But we had to what we thought was best to save people's lives and to preserve their constitutional rights.

BLITZER: Yes. And I remember last week when we discussed this issue, you were reluctant to do so but clearly, you came around to this decision very, very -- a very difficult decision very reluctantly.

Just yesterday, Governor, the President said that they had tremendous control over the situation. But today, the White House announced these aggressive new federal guidelines. Is that from your perspective that an admission that things right now aren't under control?

DEWINE: Well, I think things are what they are. And, you know, we've tried to rely on the best science and, you know, what we know about this, what the experts tell me, I'm not good at science, but what the experts tell me, and Dr. Amy Acton, who's our Director of Health, is that you're always behind in the sense that things have already happened.

[17:35:14]

People have already gotten it. They've already been infected. And what you're seeing is -- she says it's like seeing a star. And you know that star is already gone. And it's taken a long time to get there. So we're always a little bit behind.

We had a great conference with the President this morning, the governors. I think it took about an hour and a half. The Vice President was on there. I thought a really good exchange of ideas back and forth. He was listening, the Vice President was listening. We were listening to what they knew. And that's the type of communication that is just, you know, very, very helpful.

We're trying to take that and take it the next step, which is down to our, you know, 113 health departments around the state who are the real heroes in this. And I want to give a shout-out to them. They're doing a great job, and God bless them. They're making a big, big difference.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a lot of heroes out there right now. I suspect there will be many more. Last week when we spoke, there were five confirmed cases of coronavirus in Ohio, your state. I know there's many more right now confirmed cases but you told me last week that you suspect there could be 100,000 people in Ohio right now who have coronavirus. Do you still believe that?

DEWINE: Oh, yes. Look, I mean, there's this -- if you talk to the experts, no one knows how many are out there. But that is a decent estimate. And, you know, we could be a little bit off. It may be higher, it may be lower. But what we do know from the experts is that this reproduces in a sense. It infects people every six days in the sense that it doubles.

And so this is why, you know, it makes such a big difference to get in there early enough so that you can -- you can't stop it. You can't cut its feet off, but what you can do is spread it out. You can slow it down.

I mean one of the concerns that we have in Ohio, and I know across the country, is whether or not our folks can, you know, who are run in hospitals, and our people at the front line, are going to have enough equipment, whether they're going to have all the things that they need, whether they're going to have the personnel. So we've got to slow this down so that we don't have a spike like they've had in Italy where we see this just gut wrenching stories on the news about doctors, you know, making decisions, how they ration out this health care.

It's -- we do not want that in Ohio and across this country. And so we have to take a very tough actions. And I know a lot of people are upset today about what we did, I understand that. But we're looking at all the facts. We're trying to make these best decisions based on the best science. And our whole purpose is --

BLITZER: Yes.

DEWINE: -- every day, do everything we can to save lives and get people through this.

BLITZER: Yes. You're trying to save lives. Governor DeWine, I know these are very difficult decisions. Thanks so much for joining us.

DEWINE: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: All right. Coming up, thanks to CNNs global resources, we're about to get live updates from coronavirus hotspots around Europe.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:45]

BLITZER: French President Emmanuel Macron today gave a national address declaring war on the coronavirus. He banned all social events across the country, including family gatherings. The global death toll from the coronavirus is down near 7,000 with at least 168,000 people infected and likely many, many more. Thanks to CNN's global resources.

We're joined live right now by our correspondents in Spain and Italy, CNN's Melissa Bella's in Rome. Let's start though with CNN's Scott McLean in Madrid. Scott, walk us through these new restrictions in France. They're in line with what we've already seen in Spain and Italy, right?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right, Wolf. Today, the French President said that his country is at war with this coronavirus. And as a result, France will now be rationing face masks for healthcare workers. They've already done something very similar in this country in requiring any companies who have those face masks to sell. They're obviously a hot commodity here to turn them over to the government so that they can be distributed to the hospitals. In fact, they've just recently seized 150,000 of those masks and turned them over to the hospital to make sure that they have them there. As for the lockdown in this country in a little more than an hour from now, Spain will get even more locked down. The borders will seal up with some exceptions for Spanish citizens, residents, trade, things like that. There's also no longer going to be air or rail travel possible between Spain and Portugal to try to stop the spread of this coronavirus.

People here are not -- are already not allowed to leave their houses. This is the Plaza Mayor, one of the main squares in Madrid. You can imagine this would be packed with people on any given night. Tonight, it is absolutely abandoned. I can hear my voice echoing off of the buildings in this square. Normally, obviously there would be a lot more voices than mine here.

Local police have also been pretty proactive in ticketing people who are out without a good reason. They've given out in the last 24 hours, some 250 tickets. One other thing to mention and that's the rail traffic, people are still allowed to go to work, but today, we were actually at the train station and we found the trains, they're running about a half schedule.

[17:45:02]

They're supposed to be only 30 percent full but a lot of people were complaining to us, Wolf, that they are a lot more packed than that and they're concerned that people are getting too close and that may lead to the virus spreading further.

BLITZER: Yes, awful situation. Scott McLean in Madrid.

I want to go to CNN's Melissa Bell right now. Melissa, large spike in cases and deaths there in Italy where you are.

MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tragically, Wolf, once again a large rise more than 3,000 new cases, nearly 350 new deaths in the last 24 hours. We have not reached the peak. That was the message from the Italian Prime Minister this morning. This a week after he announced these extraordinary measures, a country entirely on lockdown. Citizens kept at home, the economy at a standstill.

I think the lesson from here, Wolf, is that what these governments now, Spain, France are doing is constantly looking at that calculation about what you need to do to keep people safe to prevent the outbreak from spreading further and what you need to do to try and keep the economy going. The lesson from Italy is that you need to lock it down early. That is your only hope.

Even here, it's been a week the spike hasn't come yet. We look at the north of the country where that outbreak began. We're hearing from doctors up there that they reckon they've got until about the end of March until they run out of beds if the numbers continue to rise as fast as they're rising.

This is not an outbreak that's under control, even in Italy, where these measures have been taken for some time. We've had these extraordinary scenes with people kept at home. On Sunday, the pope, out alone in these deserted streets, praying for an end to this pandemic, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. And the fear here in the United States is what's going on in Italy could happen here in a week or two. We hope it doesn't. All right, Melissa Bell, thank you very, very much.

Coming up, CNN investigates the shortage of coronavirus tests and how that's contributing to this outbreak.

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[17:51:45]

BLITZER: As the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the United States, testing continues to be a serious, serious issue. CNN's Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin is working that part of the story for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Head of the World Health Organization says it's clear who should be tested.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION DIRECTOR GENERAL: We have a simple message for all countries. Test, test, test. Test every suspected case.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): But in the U.S., while drive-through testing is rolling out in several states, CNN has found testing overall remains an issue across the country. Critical in Seattle, where Dr. Rod Hochman who heads up the 51 Hospital Providence St. Joseph network, says lack of testing is hampering response and putting caregivers in danger.

DR. ROD HOCHMAN, PROVIDENCE ST. JOSEPH HEALTH PRESIDENT AND CEO: We are still frustrated that there hasn't been enough testing.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): It's not just a lack of a quick test. Hochman says some facilities don't have the swabs they need to collect samples. Even pipettes used to transport liquids are running low. And that is limiting just how many people can be tested, even if they need it.

(on-camera): What you're telling me is that not everybody that doctors believe are medically necessary to have a test can have a test

HOCHMAN: Exactly. You got it.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): The delay in testing it's expected to improve over the coming days and weeks with public and private labs ramping up. But even in places where the situation is improving, there still aren't enough tests for people who don't have symptoms, but had been close to infected patients, a crucial next step. At the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, Clinic Laboratories President William Morice says they can do 500 tests a day now, keeping up with the hospital systems internal needs, with the hope that very soon they will ramp up to 2,500 a day.

DR. WILLIAM MORICE, MAYO CLINIC LABORATORIES PRESIDENT: Right now we're using a technique (ph) to really understand the problems of the COVID-A9 virus in their own community.

GRIFFIN: Many medical facilities say they are still following CDC guidelines which include not just symptoms, but also close contact with a person known or suspected to have COVID-19 or recently traveled from an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. The guidelines also include the warning that, "older patients and individuals who have severe underlying medical conditions or immunocompromised should contact their healthcare provider early, even if their illnesses mild".

In Texas, we first talked to school teacher Courtney Cherry last week. She's still sick, has been trying to get a test for COVID-19 since Wednesday. She just updated us to say she may never know.

COURTNEY CHERRY, KATY, TEXAS: Sunday, I contacted another doctor to see about whether there are any improvements and testing. And I was told that there's no way I would probably get a test that I would probably just have to accept that I am not going to get tested.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: -- in this testing backlog, Dr. Brett Giroir said a million tests are available now double that next week and within days, tens of thousands of Americans per day will be getting tested. Medical experts say that should help us understand how big a problem we are facing. Wolf?

[17:55:00]

BLITZER: All right, Drew Griffin reporting for us, thank you.

Breaking news next, the White House puts out strict new guidelines to slow the spread of coronavirus in the United States as President Trump predicts the outbreak could stretch well into the summer.

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BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with breaking news on the coronavirus emergency hammering the stock market paralyzing everyday life. The Dow Jones Industrials just closed down nearly 3,000 points sending a new record for the worst, one-day point drop.