Return to Transcripts main page

THE SITUATION ROOM

White House Pitches $1 Trillion Economic Response Package Would Include $1,000 Checks For Americans; U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Reaches 100, 5,304 Cases; New York City Tells Citizen To Be Prepared To Shelter In Place; NYC Mayor Tells Eight-Million-Plus To Be Prepared To Shelter In Place; Decision To Be Made In 48 Hours As City Nears 1,000 Cases; NYC Councilman Tests Positive For Coronavirus; British PM: We May Need To Go "Further And Faster" In The Fight Against Coronavirus In The Coming Days; Report" NBA Star Kevin Durant Tests Positive For Coronavirus. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 17, 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]

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. We have reporters and analysts covering all facets of the coronavirus and relief efforts in the United States and overseas. We're following breaking news as Washington works on a possible trillion dollar coronavirus relief bill.

President Trump and the Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin say they're looking at sending Americans checks immediately, perhaps in the next two weeks, but many details still need to be worked out. This as so many Americans around the country are losing jobs. Secretary Mnuchin said the pandemic is, "worse than 9/11 for the airline industry."

And Marriott, the world's largest hotel chain, has started furloughing employees. Tens of thousands of workers could be affected. The relief talk from Washington played out well on Wall Street, at least today. The Dow climbed more than a thousand points today, following yesterday's record one-day drop of almost 3,000 points. The day after the White House released new guidelines for Americans to help contain the spread of COVID-19. A top member of its task force, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said today it could take at least, at least several weeks before we know how much those guidelines are actually helping.

According to CNN estimates, in just the last 24 hours, the last 24 hours, there have been more than 1,200 new cases reported in the United States alone. Yesterday at this time a total of 4,065 cases and 72 deaths. Today, at least 5,304 cases and 100 deaths.

Many state leaders have taken action today as well. Texas has activated the National Guard. New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the suspension of state debt collection for at least 30 days, and that includes student and medical debt. States mobilizing, but as Maryland's Republican Governor Larry Hogan said today, there are still not enough tests and the federal government does not have an answer. For more on all of this, let's begin our coverage this hour with CNN's Erica Hill, she's joining us from New York. Erica, what are you seeing, what are you hearing?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in New York City, you mentioned the jump in numbers nationally. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio telling us just a short time ago, there are 814 confirmed cases in this city. And there have been increasing questions what that could mean for New Yorkers as this virus spreads.

The mayor saying today that they should be prepared for a shelter in place. That is not the order at this time, but he says it is time to make a decision, recognizing how difficult that is. But it is a decision, he says, Wolf, that could come within the next 48 hours.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): Empty restaurants, lonely streets, millions ordered to stay in their homes without a clear end in sight.

MAYOR LONDON BREED (D), SAN FRANCISCO: These measures will be disruptive to day to day life but there is no need to panic.

HILL: The San Francisco Bay Area's shelter in place order has prompted questions about whether similar measures could spread.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Part of the fear, the anxiety, people spread rumors. Well, maybe you're going to quarantine New York City. And I have no interest whatsoever and no plan whatsoever to quarantine any city.

HILL: And yet concern is growing by the day about how long any measure will last and what will be left when it's over.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Small businesses are calling into my office one after another. And people are not going to the barbershops, are not going to the restaurants, residents are being shut down, et cetera. We are seeing a massive collapse in the economy around this country.

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D), OREGON: The unemployment requests, first time requests for benefits coming in literally this week as we sit here are overwhelming.

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The White House today announced help is coming. We're looking at sending checks to Americans immediately. Americans need cash now and the President wants to get cash now, and I mean now, in the next two weeks.

HILL: How much, when and who will be eligible remains unknown. The pledge comes as airlines are asking for an estimated $50 billion government bailout and dozens of retailers announced nationwide closings including Disney, Macy's, Nordstrom, and Foot Locker. Supermarkets across the US are adjusting their hours, opening early for seniors in an effort to minimize their exposure.

[17:05:01] State and local officials preparing for an anticipated surge at hospitals and medical centers as elective surgeries are canceled. Patients are discharged more quickly, and new facilities are prepped to offer additional capacity.

JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: We can't do our jobs if we do not have access to our equipment, we don't have access to, you know, fresh supply lines. And so, we need to do everything we can to stave that off.

HILL: The government has yet to provide a clear answer on how they'll meet the need for lifesaving ventilators. Advising states to get their own while calling on other industries to help meet the need for industrial masks.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: We're asking them to donate their N95 masks to their local hospitals and also forego making additional orders.

HILL: Questions about supply as the demand for answers grows.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HILL: Here in New York State where there are nearly 1,400 confirmed cases, Governor Cuomo says he's been speaking with experts, and based on those conversations he believes we'll see a peak in about 45 days. And those experts are also telling him what he needs to be prepared for in terms of hospital beds. He said they told him anywhere from 55,000 to 110,000 beds, and in terms of ICU beds, somewhere between 18,500 beds and 70,000 beds.

Here's the issue, Wolf. Currently in New York State, there are 53,000 hospital beds and just 3,000 for the issue.

BLITZER: Erica Hill reporting from New York. Erica, thank you very much.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, I want to get your reaction to what we heard today from the president. Do you think the administration is now acting as aggressively and with the urgency that is really needed to tackle this crisis?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's the question, Wolf. I think there's definitely been a change in tone over the last couple of days. And I think that's been really important. And I think there's been some more definitive guidance that is coming from the White House, because I think it's been sort of a patchwork of these things around the country, states and communities doing different things.

But, look, I think there's still two issues. One is that, you know, we are at this inflection point, as everyone has described, where, you know, we could potentially still go the way of South Korea and get more of a handle on these infections and try and curb the spread, mitigate the spread. The concern obviously is we could go the way of Italy, which has obviously seen a system that is overwhelmed, the hospitals over there.

You know, when you look at the difference between the two, it's more stringent, you know, in terms of social distancing. It's really, you know, eliminating these mass gatherings and really trying to create space between people all over the country. And I think while there has been a distinct change in tone, we're still not at that point yet.

I thought today, Wolf, maybe out of this press conference, there was going to be more of a definitive recommendation for the whole country. We're hearing those but it still feels a little bit patchwork still left up to the states and the communities.

Also the issue that Erica just brought up, that you and I have been talking about for over a month, we still don't know how many breathing machines we really have in the country and who is going to be responsible. The states, the cities, to get these breathing machines, because in Italy they've had to make some tough decisions in hospitals, Wolf, but who can have one of these breathing machines and who doesn't get a chance to have one.

We don't want to get to that point here, and that means preparing now. And they're talking about it but I'm not sure we're there yet.

BLITZER: Potentially, that means who lives and who dies which is such an awful, awful predicament. The testing is, you know, remains also a huge issue, Sanjay. The President spoke about the World Health Organization tests. What are you hearing from your sources about who has had access to the tests and what's the latest on that?

GUPTA: Well, what we're hearing is that, you know, this private/public sort of partnership is what everyone is touting, and we're hearing that there's been about 60,000 tests now in total that have been done. Again, you know, that's compared to, you know, about close to 200,000 tests in places like Korea. So we're still pretty far behind that. But 8,200 of those tests were done yesterday so it does seem like it's ramping up.

But, you know, Wolf, I think maybe two weeks ago we were hearing from Dr. Anthony Fauci that we need millions and millions of tests to not only be able to test people who have symptoms, not everyone should get tested, but people who have symptoms. But also for the public health officials to start doing surveillance in communities to get an idea of just how widespread this is.

We still don't know. And from that, everything is derived in terms of the strategies, in terms of really better understanding the fatality rate here. We still don't know the basic answers to those questions, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, we still don't know. Sanjay, stay with us. I want to bring in the governor of Rhode Island, Gina Raimondo, to join us. Governor, I know these are incredibly busy times, thank you so much for joining us.

You announced today that two more people tested positive for the coronavirus in Rhode Island. How has testing gone so far in your state and how many people have been able to get that test?

[17:10:04]

GOV. GINA RAIMONDO (D-RI): Yes. Thank you, Wolf. We are testing well over 100 people a day. And at this point, the state, our state, has been incredibly aggressive in dealing with this. Frankly the challenge is the federal government. Sanjay is right, it's a patchwork now. It's governors who are, in some ways, on our own out here on the front line, running as fast as we can.

But I can tell you here in Rhode Island, we have effectively established a number of testing sites. But the problem is swabs. You know, I've spent half of my day today trying to get a straight answer from the CDC and the federal government and FEMA, when can we expect swabs. And too often the answer is, try to get them on your own.

So it's really not the response that we need from the federal government. And the good news is they are taking it urgently, more recently, but the action isn't there. And they really need to step up the response and give states what we need in order to fight the crisis on the front lines.

BLITZER: I know, governor, you've asked the federal government also for access to other medical supplies, things like masks, gloves, in addition to the testing swabs. Where does that request stand at this point?

RAIMONDO: I wish I knew, Wolf. It is so frustrating. It's very difficult to figure out. You hear one thing from one person, another thing from another person. We are struggling to get access to our own stockpile.

So as a result, I'm doing what a lot of governors are doing in reaching out to my local manufacturers, asking them to dip into their supply chain. I can't emphasize enough that the federal government, the White House, and the Congress, needs to focus on states. Send supplies and money, and eventually economic stimulus to the states, because we're the ones on the front lines every day, hearing from folks who need the PPE, who need to be tested. And the supplies are just not getting to us.

BLITZER: I want to bring in, governor, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's got a couple of questions he wants to ask you as well. Go ahead, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Governor, I know these have been challenging times. And just the same question keeps coming up over and over again about breathing machines and ICU beds. And, you know, I've been able to look at the numbers for the country in terms of what is likely expected to be needed and what we really have. I'm wondering if you've been able to look at that in your state and how it's looking, and what are you going to do about it. This is obviously unfolding over the next several days.

RAIMONDO: Yes. So we are looking at that. And we, at this point, are in pretty good shape. We have taken very drastic measures, some who said Rhode Island has been the most aggressive as it relates to social distancing. So fortunately, we are in OK shape with respect to beds and ventilators. Having said that, we are putting in place surge plans, as you might imagine, to figure out how we can have excess capacity of both.

I heard today that the President announced an additional 5 million ventilators, that's great. I want to know how it's going to get to the states and how quickly that can happen.

GUPTA: And I'm curious as well, you know, it's really striking to me that actually we're hearing these recommendations from the federal government about the social distancing measures, you know, no gatherings larger than 10 people, yet certain states have, you know, they have their own policies on this. Rhode Island has been more aggressive. But if states around you aren't equally aggressive or states, you know, in the country aren't equally aggressive, are your policies over there going to have the impact that you want?

RAIMONDO: No, of course not. What should be happening is we should be having a robust World War II style federally-driven mobilization. In the absence of that kind of coordinated leadership from the federal government, governors are doing what we need to do, so I have -- I'm in constant contact with my fellow governors in neighboring statements, and on our own we're doing our best to coordinate our response.

At this point, we've all closed restaurants. We've closed bars. We've closed schools. So as you said earlier, it's a kind of a patchwork and we are doing the best we can to coordinate. But at some point the federal government needs to catch up, and they need to do a much better job of supporting states in a more comprehensive way.

BLITZER: Governor Raimondo, thank you so much for joining us. I know these are incredibly difficult times for you and your colleagues. And we'll stay in close touch with you. Sanjay, don't go too far away. We've got more questions for you coming up as well.

RAIMONDO: Thank you.

BLITZER: Also a live report from the White House and the negotiations over a new stimulus package which could include sending cash payments, cash payments directly to Americans.

[17:15:08]

Plus, panic buying. Store shelves bare of toilet paper, bottled water. New steps being taken to help seniors especially do their shopping. All of that and a new report from London when we return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Tonight, Washington haggles over a stimulus with a trillion dollar price tag. President Trump wants to put money in the pockets of Americans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said today, all relief aid must go through the Congress. Kaitlan Collins is over at the White House for us. Kaitlan, the President has been talking to Congress about helping to soften the blow for everyday Americans. What can you tell us? What are the latest developments?

[17:20:07]

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this could wind up being one of the biggest federal emergency packages we've ever seen coming out of Capitol Hill. And there are these discussions on- going between the White House and Capitol Hill. And earlier, the Treasury secretary said this could have a $1 trillion price tag on it.

And one of the things that the White House is proposing that we heard earlier in the briefing over here was sending cash directly to Americans. And they want to do so quickly with this $1,000 checks that they're hoping to send, like in two weeks, Wolf. That's a really quick turnaround. But that's what the Treasury secretary said. The President has given him the instruction to do and to do so quickly.

And really what that tells you is how big of a shift you've seen even here at the White House because it was just last week when the President and his aids were pushing a payroll tax cut. They thought that was a better idea but quickly, it did not get a good reception over on Capitol Hill. And now the Treasury secretary says they may favor this because it's going to get this money to Americans faster and they are realizing just how serious the economic impact of this is going to be, and how all of these is disrupting American lives.

So that's been one of the feature parts of this, but there are other things under discussion here as well. As money for airlines, businesses, deferred payments to the IRS when you're filing your taxes, even if you're an individual who owns a small business or a corporation, all of those things are under consideration right now as they are really quickly trying to get something together here.

BLITZER: It certainly does feel, Kaitlan, like a pretty dramatic shift in tone from even a few days ago.

COLLINS: Yes. You saw the President come out today, he essential tried to portray that he has been taking this seriously for weeks. He said he believed it was a pandemic before the World Health Organization labeled it one, though, of course, Wolf, we've been covering this two months now. We know that initially the President had been repeatedly downplaying it to where aides were concerned about the fact that he wasn't taking it seriously.

But there has been a shift in tone today at the White House at least. The question of course, even internally, is whether that's going to last with the President. But you have been seeing him publicly even take on a more forward-facing role in his administration's response to this.

BLITZER: OK. Kaitlan, thank you. Kaitlan Collins at the White House.

Let's go to the West Coast right now, where seven Bay Area counties including San Francisco, they are on lockdown orders. Dan Simon is joining us live. Dan, the shelter in place order that's affecting 7 million people in the Bay Area, is it mandatory, voluntary, what's going on?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it is an official order from the city but it's not mandatory in the sense that you need permission to leave your home. What the police department is saying is they are looking for voluntary compliance. That said, they do have the ability to write citations. But they say they don't want to do that, they just want people to comply with the order.

And we should point out that most people are. We are on Chestnut Street in San Francisco, a very popular street. Normally the sidewalk would be filled with people. But as you can see, the stores, most of them, are shuttered. You can see this store behind that's closed.

Now, there are a few businesses that are open like this Walgreens, for instance, people are going in, buying a few things. There are couple of supermarkets, there's restaurants offering takeout. But for the most part, you can see that this street is bare, Wolf.

BLITZER: You know, Dan, can you walk us through what are considered really essential activities? Presumably they include some businesses and some government functions.

SIMON: Well, Wolf, all the things that you would consider to be essential to have a functioning society. So you need to have a police department, fire department. They're obviously operating. Obviously you need supermarkets, you need pharmacies. So you do have the essentials that are operating, hospitals, et cetera.

We should also point out that people, they are allowed to sort of go on the sidewalk. Here's a guy on his bike right there. People are allowed to get exercise. In fact, you can get in your car and go to a hiking spot. The key term in all of this is "social distancing" which we've all become too aware of. They just want people to stay apart from others so the virus doesn't spread, Wolf.

BLITZER: Is there a timeline in place for when this order might be lifted?

SIMON: The order says April 7th but they say that it could extend. So we're looking at three full weeks of that. People seem to be in good spirits right now but we'll see how they are in a few or two week for now, Wolf.

BLITZER: They certainly will. All right, Dan Simon, on the scene for us. Thank you.

And as we've mentioned, New York's mayor, New York City's mayor says the city should prepare for a possible shelter in place there as well. Just ahead, we'll have the very latest on that. And we'll talk with a New York City councilman who is now self-quarantined after being diagnosed with the coronavirus.

[17:24:40]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: As you heard earlier, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says, city residents should be prepared, as he put it, for a possible order to shelter in place. Should that happen, it would be the largest single order of its kind in the nation. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is joining us from New York right now.

Shimon, are there anymore details as to what exactly this shelter in place policy might look in New York City and when it would actually begin?

[17:30:00]

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There aren't really specific details from the city officials as to what something like that would look like. They're certainly warning people. They're hoping people take the warning seriously and maybe start staying home on their own so that they don't have to enforce such an order. But that is perhaps maybe inevitable at some point. And so the mayor's office decided to issue that warning today.

Keep in mind, for people who have to go to work, such as the health care workers, such as first responders, anyone who would have to go to work, anyone who would need medication or if there's an emergency or if there's some good reason for why they need to be outside of their homes, they're going to be allowed to leave their homes, they're going to be allowed to be outside. This is a very serious measure that the city is considering. It would be something probably for the first time that the city has ever done something like this.

So, they're still working through the details about how they would even enforce something like this. What would the ground rules be? And how would people respond to it? Those are the big questions now that the city needs to figure out. But I think hearing that from the mayor today, it's very clear that this is perhaps something that is inevitable at this point, Wolf?

BLITZER: Shimon, do you have any insight as to why the mayor is considering this action now?

PROKUPECZ: Look, I think based on what they're seeing across the city, people are not staying home. And Wolf, if you can just take a look behind me, I'm going to step out of the camera here. This is Herald Square, one of the busiest shopping hubs districts here in New York City and people are out. In fact, Macy's behind me is still open. They're closing in about 30 minutes.

But we've seen a steady stream of people here all day coming, sitting here, eating, having their lunch, eating their hamburgers, eating French fries, having their coffee. And if you go around the city, it's not the way it normally is. But people are still out and about, and this is the reason why city officials, the mayor's office, they're not happy with what they're seeing. And so inevitable, it's very likely that they're going to enforce some kind of an order to keep people inside their homes.

BLITZER: Would New York Governor Cuomo have to sign off on this Shimon? And are he and the Mayor, Mayor de Blasio on the same page?

PROKUPECZ: So, it's not entirely clear. It does look like the Mayor would have the right to do this on his own. It's a city issue. It's something that local police, local officials would have to enforce. On a bigger scale, such as a quarantine, of course, there's a lot of fears across the city, across the country, that there's going to be some kind of enforce strict quarantine and that people would not be allowed to leave their homes.

The governor has said he has no intention on doing that. There's a lot of ramifications with something like that. He has no intention on doing that.

It does appear, perhaps, you know, the Mayor and the Governor are not always on the same page. They have a long history of not getting along, of not agreeing on certain issues. They have not been together, and if any of the press conferences, or any of the telephone conferences that they've done while the coronavirus situation has been going on.

So it's not entirely clear where they stand on this. But the Mayor certainly has the right to do this on his own. The Governor said it would involve something like a quarantine. He says he has no intention on doing that. For now, we wait to see what the Mayor and what city officials ultimately decide in the next 24 to 48 hours, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Shimon, thank you. Shimon Prokupecz on the streets of New York.

Joining us now, City Councilman Ritchie Torres. Councilman, thank you so much for joining us. I know you got the news last night that you were infected with coronavirus. How are you doing so far?

RITCHIE TORRES, NYC COUNCILMAN (via telephone): You know, I'm feeling fine. You know, my chief of staff who tested positive for coronavirus had far more serious symptoms, fever, coughing, but I've largely been asymptomatic. But upon finding out that I tested positive for coronavirus, I immediately committed myself to a quarantine for two weeks. I directed my staff to quarantine themselves. You know, I want to be careful not to spread the virus to others, especially my mother who's 60 years old has chronic conditions is part of the age group that is particularly vulnerable to coronavirus.

BLITZER: Do you know, Councilman, how you got infected?

TORRES (via telephone): I don't know the particulars. I suspect it's community transmission.

[17:35:03]

But I'm living proof. You know, I'm the youngest member of the New York City Council. I'm a millennial. And I suspect there are many young people who have a false sense of security. But the truth is the coronavirus affects all of us. And there are untold numbers of young people like me, who could be carrying and spreading the virus without even realizing it. BLITZER: Yes.

TORRES (via telephone): And so we have to think not only about our obligation to ourselves to avoid contracting the virus, we have an obligation to others to avoid spreading the virus. You know, we all have to practice social distancing, and we all have to act as if we have the virus and avoid spreading it.

BLITZER: Once you knew, Councilman, that you needed to get a test, how did you go about getting it done? Did you have any problems because as you know we've heard all sorts of horror stories about people wanting tests and not being able to get them?

TORRES (via telephone): The experience has varied widely. When I reached out and requested a test, I did receive one. So I found out that my chief of staff tested positive on Saturday. I underwent testing on Monday. And then that evening, I found out that I tested positive. And I immediately decided to quarantine myself and to direct my staff to do the same.

BLITZER: Yes. As you heard, Mayor de Blasio suggesting today there might be a need, might be a need for a shelter in place order for New York City. Is that something constantly that you would support and what does that look like in New York City?

TORRES (via telephone): Look, we're facing the greatest public health emergency in our lifetimes. We have to do whatever is necessary to slow the spread of the virus before it spirals out of control and crushes the healthcare system. You know, social distancing remaining at home is painful.

It's strange for me to isolate myself at home for two weeks. It's strange for me to be isolated from my own mother. You know, it might be painful in the short term, but it's a matter of saving lives and it's a matter of protecting our loved ones. And it's a matter of protecting the stability of the healthcare system here in New York City.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, we wish you a very quick recovery, Councilman. Thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you. Good luck to your mom. Good luck to everyone in New York City. Thanks for joining us.

TORRES: Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. We've all seen the pictures of empty supermarket shelves nationwide. Up next, some shopping advice to help you get through this crisis. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:21]

BLITZER: Worried shoppers across the nation are flooding supermarkets and smaller grocery stores. The panic of course is triggered by the sudden and very stark changes. We are now all undergoing. CNN's Brian Todd has been keeping track of all of this for us here in Washington. Brian, are these grocery store operators still under enormous strain from all of this?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are under strain, Wolf. You know, store operators at places like this and elsewhere are trying to get the word out that people, don't have to make a mad dash to these places, but they're going against some strong psychological forces.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In the predawn hours, senior citizens line up to get into a Houston area grocery store. The managers opened an hour early for people over 65. At his Morton Williams Supermarkets in New York, Avi Kaner is also giving seniors priority in the mornings. But the run on some items, he says, is still relentless.

AVI KANER, CO-OWNER, MORTON WILLIAMS SUPERMARKETS: Whenever we do get new rations in of hand sanitizer and wipes, we actually put them out by the registers and they go within minutes.

TODD (voice-over): Across the U.S., stockpiling seems to be everywhere.

(on-camera): We you trying to buy anything in there that you couldn't get?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes. Actually, all the toilet paper is gone. A lot of the frozen foods, a lot of the breads.

TODD (voice-over): Sera Tansever wears a mask and gloves when hitting her local grocery store in Washington, because she doesn't want to transfer germs to her mother who has an autoimmune condition.

(on-camera): Are you nervous, scared about this whole thing?

SERA TANSEVER, SHOPPER: Yes, I am. I am. I've been following it pretty closely now. And it's just I don't want us to be in a situation like Italy.

TODD (voice-over): The panic buying binge is exhausting people on the other side of the grocery industry, distributors racing to restock.

ALEX RIDINGS, CEO, RAINFOREST DISTRIBUTION: Right now we're seeing spikes in demand of a lot of staples. So frozen entrees, tomato sauce, paper products, dairy items, eggs.

TODD (voice-over): But some public health experts say let's slow down a bit.

DR. IRWIN REDLENER, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL CENTER FOR DISASTER PREPAREDNESS COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY: They don't need a year's worth of toilet tissue. They don't need cartons of, you know, paper napkins. They don't need to buy, you know, food for six weeks.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say it's important for customers to realize this situation is temporary. Focus on simple non-perishables that can sustain us inside our homes for a couple of weeks, like tuna or peanut butter and jelly. Prioritize what you'll really need.

DR. DAVID MARCOZZI, COVID-A9 INCIDENT COMMANDER, UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND MEDICAL SYSTEM: Maybe getting a three-month supply of medications or thinking about if they need to potentially schedule some things out in the community, how they can risk-mitigate so that they don't actually go out and actually conduct, have close contact with folks and be potentially exposed.

[17:45:03]

TODD (voice-over): Experts on trauma say during this pandemic, people have to fight off some strong psychological polls.

PRISCILLA DASS-BRAILSFORD, TRAUMA PSYCHOLOGIST, GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: People need to gain a sense of control, right? So panic buying is an attempt to gain control over something that they feel uncontrollable around, right that there's a sense of helplessness.

TODD (voice-over): But health experts point out, going out and crowding into your local grocery store just by itself isn't the healthiest move, that standing in those long lines within a few inches of people is not the kind of social distancing that's recommended. And they say, however, wherever you shop, do it calmly.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no reason to panic. There's no reason to rush out and buy every item on the shelves. First of all, what that does is just increases people's sense of doom and gloom here which will not be necessary.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, public health experts and consumer experts have some tips for other people who want to stock up during this outbreak. They say that if you have a favorite store that's open 24/7, you may want to go after midnight after they've just stocked up to get what you need. Or if it's available in your area, you may want to try a food delivery service to try to relieve some of the overall stress that many of us are feeling ,Wolf?

BLITZER: Good advice indeed. All right, Brian, thank you very much.

Up next, we'll take you to London, where they're ramping up the response to the pandemic.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:51:24]

BLITZER: After a lot of confusion, the U.K. government is now wrapping up efforts to battle the coronavirus. According to the World Health Organization, there are nearly 2,000 cases of the virus in the U.K. at least 55 confirmed deaths.

CNN's Phil Black is joining us from London right now. Phil, what are you learning?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Wolf, up until now, the British government has carved a very different path when it comes to dealing with the coronavirus compared to other countries by placing very few, almost no restrictions on people's lives and freedoms. But now it shifted dramatically and that's because the latest scientific modeling shows without a change in policy, without these tough new measures, hundreds of thousands of people here would be likely to die.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLACK (voice-over): Every Londoner knows the city's underground. The tube is a filthy breeding ground for disease, even on a good day. But the growing coronavirus threat didn't stop this crap. No social distancing down here. It's hot, crowded, and far too intimate.

These people were riding the tube as Prime Minister Boris Johnson finally advised everyone to stop sharing each other's personal space.

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: It's no clear that the peak of the epidemic is coming faster in some parts of the country than in others.

BLACK (voice-over): Only days after insisting, the science showed it was too soon to push for widespread social distancing. Johnson did just that. The new advice, don't socialize anywhere. Work from home. Quarantine your household for two weeks. If anyone shows symptoms such as a high temperature and persistent cough, the elderly and vulnerable should isolate for 12 weeks.

It's a dramatic (INAUDIBLE) for a government recently determined to go its own mile away, while other countries had already committed to tough social distancing policies.

JOHNSON: Why now, why not earlier, or later? Why bringing this very draconian measure? The answer is that we are asking people to do something that is difficult and disruptive of their lives. And the right moment, as we've always said, is to do it when it is most effective.

BLACK (on-camera): The government's initial response resembles what the scientists doing the modeling called mitigation. Well, you don't try to stop the virus from spreading. Just slow it down. Keep the levels manageable, something the health service can work with.

Then immunity grows in the population over time and eventually transmissions drop. And you achieve it without shutting the country down. That's the theory the Prime Minister has now abandoned. Because the latest modeling estimates it would result in the deaths of 250,000 people in this country.

(voice-over): Unlike other countries, the British government's not forcing people to stay away from pubs, theaters and restaurants. The Prime Minister thinks a polite request will be enough. And while scientists think closing schools will help reduce transmissions, the government's keeping them open for now because it fears the sudden burden of childcare might stop doctors and nurses from getting to work. The Prime Minister's early efforts and grave warnings were widely mocked online.

JOHNSON: Many more families are going to lose loved ones before that time.

BLACK (voice-over): For sounding a little too much like Shrek's Lord Farquaad.

LORD FARQUADD, SHREK'S ANTAGONIST: Some of you may die, but it's a sacrifice I am willing to make.

JOHNSON: You're going to get risky.

BLACK (voice-over): His lectures on hand washing word hit either.

JOHNSON: Right.

BLACK (voice-over): Now, Boris Johnson's finally made some big difficult decisions and will ultimately be judged on whether he made them early enough to save lives.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:55:05]

BLACK: So the government hopes that its new measures will deliver on what is predicted by the modeling and that is instead of hundreds of thousands of people dying in the coming months, they hope those numbers can be pushed down to 20,000 or less. Still, a horrifying outcome, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Phil Black, thanks very much.

We have breaking news coming into "The Situation Room" right now. The NBA Superstar Kevin Durant has just told the Sports News publication the athletic that he has tested positive for the coronavirus. Durant told the athletic and I'm quoting now, everyone, be careful. Take care of yourself and quarantine. We're going to get through this. Major breaking news right there.

In a moment, we'll talk to -- we'll take you to Los Angeles where the number of coronavirus cases is now on the rise but officials are warning that doesn't mean social distancing is not working. Stay tuned, much more coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)