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Task force says response won't work if young people aren't cooperating; Interview with Rep. Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) on the trillion-dollar coronavirus package; small businesses struggling to stay afloat amid outbreak; Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 17, 2020 - 15:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are back, you are watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. The White House task force on coronavirus made a specific call for help from young people today. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: And when we're asking the young people to help us with this mitigation strategy by staying out of the bars, staying out of the restaurants, really trying to distance yourself. Don't get the attitude, well, I'm young, I'm invulnerable.

You are -- well in some respects you're certainly less vulnerable than I am, however what you might inadvertently do and I know you don't want to do that, you don't want to put your loved ones at risk particularly the ones who are elderly and the ones who have compromised conditions.


BALDWIN: Let's go to Dr. Peter Hotez. He's a professor and dean of tropical medicine in Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Hotez, welcome back to you. You know just speaking of younger people, I know you are saying Italy is now seeing younger patients getting sick. I thought kids were fairing pretty well with this thing. No?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN, TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, so let's take it in a couple of steps. First of all, what Dr. Fauci said -- very eloquently said as he always does was absolutely right. We're very concerned about young people, young adults, spreading virus throughout the community and infecting the population that we know is at the highest risk, older individuals and we're also concerned about our health care workers.

But there's a few other things to note. That is one among young adults even though on average they are at less risk for serious disease, you're still going to get those outliers that get very seriously ill. So that is an important point, number one.

Number two, what we're seeing in Italy, and again this is not published in the scientific literature, so it's still the kind of the anecdote state, we're hearing about it, that there is an unexpectedly significant number of young adults that are getting seriously ill and in the ICU. And this is what is concerning a lot of us because you know, so much of what we've taken about this epidemic were based on what we've seen in China.

Which had a very clear pattern of overwhelmingly adults. But what we're seeing now in Italy looks like it is a little bit different. So, it is giving us pause for concern. Is the epidemic in the United States going to look more like China or what's going on in Italy?

And it's too early to say right now in the U.S. So, I think that is one of the drivers maybe for why we're being so aggressive right now in getting the bars closed, the restaurants closed, that there is somewhat of a heightened concern about young adults.

BALDWIN: And as Fauci said over the weekend, you know I'd rather be overly cautious. You know, make people stay into a greater degree and then on the back end be grateful and know that that was overly so, just so we can, you know, flatten the curve. As everyone is saying stop the spread.

HOTEZ: We're seeing 25, 30-year-old adults in the ICU. Not so much the adolescents and the kids yet, but we are -- occasionally it does happen as well. But it is that unexpected little twist that we're seeing in Italy that is giving a lot of people pause for concern.

BALDWIN: Yes. The President also this morning basically gave the green light to the Army Corps to build more hospital beds as health officials have been sounding the alarm on their stockpile shortages. Can you just tell us what medical supplies are acutely needed right now?

HOTEZ: Well, it seems very much to depend on the state level and the big one everyone is concerned about is ventilators.


Because if you start seeing a big increase in the number of hospitalizations and ICU beds those ventilators are going to be absolutely necessary to save lives.

BALDWIN: Because that's literally keeping someone breathing.

HOTEZ: Absolutely. So yes, that what worries a lot of us and Governor Cuomo, Andrew Cuomo has been out in front in saying, if some of the projections are correct, we will simply not have enough ventilators.

Now one thing that's very important to mention is that a lot of this is based on mathematical models run by epidemiologists, excellent epidemiologists, but their based on certain assumptions, and sometimes those assumptions are true and sometimes they are not. So, I think what you are hearing about our some of the maximal levels of numbers -- maximum number rather than some of the lower estimates. So, we really don't know. But boy, that is the last thing you want to be caught short on is having adequate numbers of ventilators.

So, you are seeing now a lot of activity, you know, really trying to get models, estimates of the need, trying to get those ventilators. And also, this is, on the science side, it is really accelerating the hunt to have some intervention ready to go in case those numbers really start to climb. So, there's a lot of activity going around. A new antiviral drug and some of the antibody therapies as well.

BALDWIN: We just -- forgive me for jumping in. We talked to one person out of the 45 who's actually volunteered for this potential -- this trial of a potential vaccine for coronavirus. Dr. Peter Hotez, we're going to continue this conversation another day. I appreciate your expertise very much. Stay healthy, stay well.

I want to move along. More changes in American culture including how movie chains are distributing films and changes to your Uber and your Lyft rides. Also, Amazon, how about this, Amazon is hiring about 100,000 workers amid this unprecedented demand, everyone is at home buying stuff. You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. This is CNN's special live coverage.



BALDWIN: The White House and Congress are now locked in discussions over that massive $1 trillion plan to keep the U.S. economy afloat as the coronavirus forces cancellations and closures nationwide.

With me now, Democratic Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania. She is a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Armed Services Committees. So, Congresswoman Houlahan, thank you so much for being with me. And I hope you are well through all of this.

REP. CHRISSY HOULAHAN (D-PA): I am, thank you.

BALDWIN: Just first, is there anything you don't support in what the White House is offering in terms of that trillion dollars?

HOULAHAN: I think that it remains to be seen how it will all come together, and it clearly is a very, very fluid situation. When I last checked in actually what I heard coming out of the Senate was that the Senate was actually going to take up the bill that we sent them late last week and they were going to pass that and in fact then there would be a third bill.

And so, this is a very dynamic situation and I'm absolutely in support of making sure that we first take care of the people which is what our second bill that we passed in the House does. And then that we move into the business to make sure that we're shoring up our businesses as well.

BALDWIN: In a briefing today, the Treasure Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that the administration is talking to Congress about sending cash to Americans over the next two weeks just to soften the blow. Do you support this and how would that money -- how would that be distributed?

HOULAHAN: I think the devil will be in the details, but I do support a short-term cash infusion. But I also think that we need to be thinking not only of the short term which I think will be an immediate help for people who are in acute pain, but I also know that we need to be thinking about the mid and long term implications.

I had the opportunity of doing two town halls, telephone town halls today, one with my community at large which has almost 4,000 people on the line and the second one a telephone town hall with nearly 1,000 small businesses on the line.

And everybody is concerned about sort of their short-term prospects and opportunities, and then the mid and long-term implications. And so we just need to be very take strategic about the delivery vehicles for help that we have. But clearly, we've heard that these cash infusions seem to have bipartisan support which is intriguing.

BALDWIN: One piece of all of this, of course, and you are a veteran, so I wanted your thoughts on this. Paul Rieckhoff, he's a veteran, he founded IAVA, this is what he tweeted. And I just want to call everyone's attention to this. He tweeted, a 100 tests total for a V.A. health system that serves 9 million vets, half of which are over 65. This is not getting enough national attention. The President, Secretary Wilke and Congress must be pressed on it.

And so just to you, Congresswoman Houlahan, what can you, what can Congress do to help our nation's veterans get the tests they need?

HOULAHAN: And thank you for pointing that out. One of the things that's been remarkable about these news cycles is how rapidly things are changing and how much information we're sharing with one another. I'm a beekeeper and I kind of think of this as sort of a hive mind mentality. And the hive needs to sort of adjust itself to where help is needed. And I can absolutely tell you if help is needed with the V.A. I'm a veteran and I will be swarming towards that area.


But I can also tell that help is needed right here in my own community, in Chester County and Berks County. We also have tests in the hundreds as well. And we're hearing that there are places where there are opportunities for thousands of tests to be done in a day and we definitely need to make sure that there is equity and that we understand where tests are available and how they are available.

BALDWIN: Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, Pennsylvanians, Americans are relying on you. Thank you so much and just stay healthy as you fight the good fight.

HOULAHAN: Thank you.

BALDWIN: Coming up next, Amazon is hiring an additional 100,000 employees just to keep up with the surge in online purchases. We'll take a closer look at how small businesses are faring through all of this.

And new details on a new, New York City contemplating a shelter in placed order, a dramatic move amid this outbreak. Contemplating it.



BALDWIN: As we are all forced to rely even more heavily on deliveries, Amazon is seeing a surge in online orders and it's planning to hire an additional 100,000 full and part-time workers to keep up with the rising demand. Amazon says it will also raise pay by $2 an hour.

CNN's Vanessa Yurkevich is live in New Jersey. And I know you, Vanessa, have been talking to all these small business owners, how they're weathering this coronavirus storm. What are they telling you?

VANESSA YURKEVICH, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Brooke, well, these small businesses are definitely not Amazon. They cannot weather this storm as much as these larger corporations. They're in dire straits, many of them looking at their bank accounts and having to look at their employees and make really tough decisions.

We spoke to two small business owners just a short ways away from where we're standing here in New Jersey and found out how they're coping.


LARRY BIRNBAUM, OWNER, EPIC AND THE LIGHTBULB STORE: It's scary, it really is. I wouldn't want anybody to be in this position.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Larry Birnbaum says he's losing $100,000 a month.

BIRNBAUM: I've never seen anything like this, where just everything grinds to a halt.

YURKEVICH: The factories in China where he gets his wholesale light bulbs are closed because of coronavirus.

(on camera): What percentage of your business comes from China?

BIRNBAUM: 95 percent.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): President Trump announced low interest small business loans.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These low interest loans will help small businesses.

YURKEVICH: As part of the $50 billion economic aid package.

(on camera): Would that be of interest to you?

BIRNBAUM: Possibly. But again, you just said the magic word, "interest." So, I'm paying interest on that loan and I'm paying interest on the credit line loan. And it just depletes everything.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): The National Retail Federation revised its initial assessment of the virus' impact. Saying it's, quote, expected to have a longer and larger impact on imports and major U.S. retail container ports than previously believed.

And a global slowdown will affect small and mid-sized companies more acutely. Birnbaum worries about his nine employees.

BIRNBAUM: I will take out of my savings and pay them, you know, until the day that there's nothing else to go.

YURKEVICH: Two miles away is MDR Supply, another wholesale business with 35 employees. Down to their last reserves.

(on camera): How long before this gets sent out?

RON MALKENSON, OWNER, MDR SUPPLY AND ASK WHOLESALE: 45 to 60 days is how long this product will last. Yes.

YURKEVICH: And then what happens after that?

MALKENSON: We hopefully get more product or we're in trouble.

YURKEVICH (voice-over): Ron Malkenson sells to construction companies and contractors. He's ordering as much additional product as he can before it's too late, to the tune of $70,000 and climbing.

MALKENSON: I'm ordering ahead of myself, having to stretch myself, and just order from as many different vendors as I can knowing that in the future, I may not be able to get goods for a period of time.

YURKEVICH: Malkenson is hopeful coronavirus won't mean an end to his business. Birnbaum is not as sure.

BIRNBAUM: There's no light like I said at the end of the tunnel.


YURKEVICH: These are just two of the thousands of small businesses that are suffering during this time, Brooke. But I want to just sort of leave on a good note here. We're at a food distribution company that is the middleman between food producers and grocery stores. They are seeing a very high demand here, up 50 percent, Brooke.

But they said that they are going to be able to manage it. They want to put Americans at ease, there is no food shortage, and this, like Amazon, is one of those companies that is going to be hiring Americans during this very, very troubling time -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: A little bit of a silver lining to all of this. Vanessa Yurkevich, I appreciate you, and appreciate you pointing that out, thank you.

The Mall of America says it's closing its doors in just a couple hours as the economic impact of this crisis seems to be snowballing. Uber, Lyft making changes to their policies as well. You'll hear from some drivers who say they can't afford not to work.



BALDWIN: With movie theaters around the world closing, Universal Pictures is making some of its recent releases like "The Invisible Man" available on demand starting this week.

Ride share companies are also changing policies. Uber and Lyft have suspended the pool option where multiple passengers can jump in and share a car. But Uber eats and single rides are still running.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought you know I have my little 91 proof alcohol. You know, it kills everything. It kills everything in a chemical lab. It will kill everything in this car.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I live without safety nets. As a result, you start your day, and you think to yourself, is today going to be the day where something bad happens and my financial life is going to be completely derailed? If I don't work, I can't pay my bills, period.