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Are Emergency Rooms Prepared?; China Helping Other Countries Fight Coronavirus; Trump Passing Buck to Governors to Battle Coronavirus?. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 19, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It's a reality that is setting in across the world.

I am Brianna Keilar, and special coverage continues now with Jake Tapper.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper. I hope you out there are safe and healthy.

We begin, of course, with the health lead today and the coronavirus pandemic, the number of confirmed cases in the U.S. taking a big jump today, as more tests become available.

Now more than 11,000 people in the U.S. are confirmed infected. That's compared to around 1,000 week ago, though that number, of course, is expected to grow.

The death toll is also rising. It's now up to 164 in the U.S. At this point yesterday, that number was 120, now up 44 deaths. Now, the news from the medical front lines is of course, quite bleak right now.

What we're hearing from the White House today, however, is muddled. This afternoon, President Trump announced that he is pushing the Food and Drug Administration to fast-track treatments for coronavirus patients.

President Trump in the span of minutes said that the two drugs were -- that two drugs were -- quote -- "essentially approved," and that he hopes those and other drugs under evaluation could be a big breakthrough.

But what the president said was either confusing or just plain wrong, because the FDA commissioner minutes later said that, while these two drugs are approved for other uses, they're not yet approved for coronavirus. The FDA will start clinical trials to see if they are effective for this pandemic.

And he acknowledged, of course, there are side effects and risks with these two drugs.

More confusion as well regarding the move the president announced yesterday to invoke the Defense Production Act, the order to make the military work to increase available critical medical supplies for civilians out there.

Today, the president said he had not yet actually triggered it and that states should be picking up much of the work in getting supplies to places where they are needed.

As hospitals are sounding the alarm over supply shortages, another bit of confusion. Vice President Pence today said that 3M, the company in Minnesota, is making 35 million N95 masks. Those are the special masks that preserve somebody's respiratory system.

The vice president said that they are available -- quote -- "now," these masks from 3M. But it isn't clear how many of the 35 million masks the vice president mentioned are actually available right now. It's also not clear whether hospitals, which are reporting shortages from coast to coast, are aware of this information.

Moreover, at the same time that Vice President Pence was making that announcement, the CDC has new guidance to health care workers, instructing them that they may ultimately need to use scarves or bandanas as a last resort if they run out of masks.

I want to bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, who can hopefully help us understand some of what's going on here.

Elizabeth, President Trump seemed very optimistic today about how fast these antiviral drugs could be available specifically to treat coronavirus. Right now, we know one of them is used to treat malaria. What's going on here? Why do they think it will work for coronavirus? What's holding it back from just being available?


Well, Jake, it actually is available. This is a drug that has been used to treat malaria for many, many years. And they could it use it on COVID patients, or on patients with the novel coronavirus. But it's not clear that it works.

And some would say that Trump had a little bit more optimism than medical professionals would -- had -- would say that they have. So when you look at this drug, it has been tried on other viruses. And it didn't work very well. There was a lot of optimism, but it didn't work very well in actual people with viruses.

Some of them worked in the lab, but not on actual people. Now, the Chinese have said that they tried it, and it did work well on coronavirus patients. However, they didn't give any data. And so when you don't see any data, how can you trust that statement?

Something else that the president said I think is important, he said, you know what, it's safe. If we try it and it doesn't work, at least we didn't kill anyone. Actually, French researchers have published an article in a medical

journal saying, hold on a second. This drug is safe when used at regular doses, but there is a very narrow margin -- that's the term they used -- a narrow margin between a safe and a toxic dose.

You give a toxic dose, you could hurt someone's heart and kill them, possibly. So there's a lot of the -- again, the medical experts are disagreeing with the president.

TAPPER: Yes, and we could have used Dr. Fauci maybe talking about this more.

Vice President Pence today said that tens of thousands of Americans are being tested every day. And, of course, with all this new testing, we're seeing more and more confirmed cases.

But in terms of the testing that is going on, I still hear of reports directly from people about how they have symptoms, and they can't get a test. Are we anywhere close to how many tests we need?

COHEN: Oh, I am hearing the exact same thing, and I'm also hearing from doctors, Jake: I have patients that I want to test for coronavirus, and I can't because I don't have the tests.


Are there more tests than there were even just a few days ago? Absolutely. Is it easier to do than it was even just a few days ago? For sure. But are doctors testing everyone they want to test? Absolutely not.

And I think they -- that Pence and Trump can say over and over again, as much as they want, the tests are getting out there. Really, what you have to do is listen to the doctors. And if they say, I can't test the people I want to test, you know there's not enough out there.

TAPPER: Yes, there's a difference between projecting optimism that we will get out of this -- and we will get out of this -- and not being straight with the American people.

The Trump administration says private companies will help get more medical supplies to hospitals across the country. But when asked about the urgent needs for masks and for protective gear right now, President Trump seemed to be saying, well, that's not my job. That's the job of governors.

CNN's Boris Sanchez joins me now live at the White House.

And, Boris, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act yesterday. But now we're being told by the president and the White House that he's not going to use it right now. Why not?


The president had been called upon by lawmakers going back to last week to invoke the DPA to help produce more of these badly needed supplies. The president finally signing off on it yesterday, but just a short time later tweeting that he would not use it unless it were completely necessary.

It's unclear what he's waiting for, as we're hearing reports of shortages of very basic medical supplies lacking in emergency rooms, things like masks, ventilators, gowns, et cetera.

The president was asked about that today. He grew defensive, saying that the media doesn't know everything that he's doing, and then putting it on the governors to gather these much needed supplies.

Listen to more from the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governors are supposed to be doing a lot of this work. And they are doing a lot of this work.

The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts of items and then shipping. We're not a shipping clerk.


SANCHEZ: Trump was also asked about these reports regarding shortages, the president saying that he's not familiar with them, saying that what he has heard from people on the ground are only good things.

He also said, again, defending the administration, that they were totally prepared for this outbreak, saying that they only were unprepared for the media's response -- Jake.

TAPPER: "We're not a shipping clerk"? That's what he said about the need to get supplies to doctors and nurses? Unbelievable.

Thanks so much, Boris. Appreciate it.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has now ordered 75 percent of the work force in the Empire State to work from home, except for essential services, of course, such as health care workers.

The governor is warning that fear and misinformation may be more dangerous than the virus right now.

CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is live in New York City.

And, Shimon, Governor Cuomo also announcing some economic measures to help residents.


This is a big concern for many of the people who live in this state. I hear it from friends, from family. Everyone's worried about how they're going to pay for their homes, a lot of people getting laid off, a lot of people losing jobs.

And as you said, 75 percent of the work force here in New York state, all across the state, being ordered to stay home. And so, with that, the governor has said that he's going to offer some economic relief and 90-day mortgage relief,. It comes with some caveats. You have to have good credit. There are other things.

But for the most part, he's going to be offering 90-day mortgage relief. They're going to waive some mortgage payments, understanding that there's a lot of financial hardship all across this state. The governor also says he's going to be waiving late fees

And also, a big concern, obviously, for people who can't make these mortgage payments, is foreclosures, and if they're going to go lose their homes. And so he's saying that the state is going to postpone foreclosures.

So, all of this obviously a big concern for lot of the people in this state, who are really worried about how they're going to keep their homes, in some cases not having jobs, how they're going to feed their families. So he's trying to offer some kind of economic relief as this goes on.

And, of course, 75 percent of people ordered to stay home, people who -- at jobs, the work force here in the state ordered not to report to work -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Shimon Prokupecz, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, we're going to talk to an E.R. doctor on the front lines who was also behind the Netflix docuseries "Pandemic." What is he seeing in hospitals now?

Plus, Americans stranded as countries around the world close their borders. Some are stuck and desperately need the U.S. to help.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back to THE LEAD.

Emergency rooms across the country are preparing for a surge of coronavirus cases, but medical staff continue to raise the alarm that they do not have enough resources, space or supplies.

With me now is one of these doctors, Dr. Ryan McGarry. He's an E.R. doctor at Los Angeles County Medical Center. He also has a Netflix docuseries called "Pandemic" that preceded this pandemic in the U.S..

Dr. McGarry, thanks for joining us.

As an E.R. Doctor, you're on the front lines. Tell us what you're seeing. Tell us what you don't have enough of.

DR. RYAN MCGARRY, LAC+USC MEDICAL CENTER: Jake, I'll tell you this much.

I just came back from a meeting with our faculty and residents. And what I can tell you is that, for one, everybody should be really excited about the athleticism of my colleagues. And I just want to put that out there, that our doctors, our nurses are in these meetings asking, how can we get closer to these patients? What can we do to get in there faster and save their lives quicker?


That's awesome. That is an athleticism that's unique to this specialty and I think that's unique to the DNA of a county doc.

And I also just want to say that, when these patients are coming in, we're talking about a team response, nurses, and ancillary staff, and custodial staff. It's taking a two--to-three-hour turnaround to do what's called a terminal clean in these rooms.

And, of course, you're not hearing about that enough. These people are incredible. And I'm so proud to be a part of the front line.

I will say that, troublingly, this is familiar to us. Every doctor that works the E.R. in this country, every E.R. nurse, I think, would tell you that there's some of this that feels familiar to us, that this feels sort of like sometimes an average Tuesday, Thursday, Friday night, any weeknight, you name it, because we're always asked to be doing more with less.

That is sort of the E.R. tradition in this country. There are never enough ICU beds. Strangely, we're prepared because this is somewhat normal to us.

TAPPER: Do you lack supplies? For example, today, Vice President Pence said 3M is making 35 million medical masks. He said they're available now for hospitals.

The CDC just yesterday, I think, sent new guidance that health care workers such as you should be prepared to reuse masks in a crisis and, if you need to, use bandanas or scarves as a last resort.

Do you have enough masks? Are you going to have to be using bandanas?

MCGARRY: We have not gotten to the point of bandanas as far as I know.

We are currently being smart about what we have. And some of the masks, we're starting to reuse. That's a tough reality. I know our leadership's doing everything they can to help us.

But, again, I would I would argue that, when the dust settles on this, there are elements to this that feel, frankly, normal, that there are plenty of times where, whether it's a med shortage or a bed shortage, E.R. physicians and nurses in this country, we bootstrap. That's how we're trained to think and act.

TAPPER: How many patients do you have with coronavirus at L.A. County Medical Center right now, if you're allowed -- I don't even know if you're allowed to say that.

But, I mean, do you have patients with it? Are you seeing an influx as the curve goes up? Are you seeing an influx of patients?

MCGARRY: Jake, I will tell you this much, when it rains, most of us don't go and look at what the Weather Channel says how much it's raining.


MCGARRY: And I think we're at that point now where we know what's coming in the door.

Of course, there's a lag time between test completed and test sent and test resulted. So all I can tell you that it feels like it's raining, and it's raining harder.

TAPPER: But we're only a couple of weeks into this, and you're already talking about how you and your team at L.A. County, which is, by the way, not one of the epicenters -- I mean, Washington and New York and San Francisco areas are more of the epicenters than L.A., at least right now.

But you're already reusing masks. That doesn't really bode very well for the next week or two, unless the 35 million masks that Vice President Pence referred to are able to actually get to you.


I think what it is, is, it's just using a commonsense strategy to use -- nobody is being asked to put themselves, I think, in a dangerous position. And hats off to our team for knowing that.

I think what we're doing is saying, hey, there is some evidence as to what level of math we need, depending on the scenario. Let's not overuse the ones that we don't need, unless we absolutely need it.

TAPPER: I see.

I mentioned the docuseries that you co-created and directed for Netflix called "Pandemic." We're going to show some parts of the trailer right now.

This series debuted two months ago, before the first known case was reported in the U.S. Obviously, you had been working on it long before even it broke out in Wuhan, China.

What do you hope viewers take away from the series, particularly in light of what you're going through right now and the patients you're treating with coronavirus?

MCGARRY: For one, I think that there's some hope in this series. As a filmmaker and as physician, I'm drawn to outliers in this in this

industry, people who think differently and people who before this was even a thing knew that this would happen someday. Now, that's fascinating to me, that we have scientists and physicians out there who already had a hunch, and knew that it's statistically an inevitable event.

Well, they're on it. And thank goodness for some of those folks out there. And I think my series successfully celebrates those people.

As far as what to do in the future, boy, I hope this changes things. I mean, again, as is a front-line E.R. physician, I think I can reasonably speak for all E.R. docs and nurses out there and our ancillary staff that we go to war every night--


MCGARRY: -- and have been. And this shouldn't surprise anybody that when we are on that kind of brink every night, well, it's not going to take much to put us into -- go into the well here.

But I'm hopeful. I mean, really, I'm hopeful. It was so inspiring to hear our docs this morning say, we want to run into this. Let's do it.



MCGARRY: It's really, really inspiring.

TAPPER: Yes, you want to take it on. I get it.

We have been talking about the masks. We have been talking about ventilators. We have been talking about the availability of ICU beds.

What other things are medical staff like you and the people you work with going to need, going to run out of in the coming weeks, in addition to protective gear, ICU beds and ventilators?

MCGARRY: I think there's been some concern about the swab. That's a separate issue than the test kits themselves.

I believe there's been some national reporting on that. I am not a spokesperson for our hospital directly. This is sort of a national issue.

TAPPER: Right.

MCGARRY: If I could say, though, I think that every health care worker in America and, again, importantly, the people who support us there making very little money -- we're talking custodial staff, people who are answering the phones -- I think we all need some moral support right now, Jake.

The more that I think kindness can exist in society, it would be great to see our national leadership really building us up, as opposed to pointing fingers. And that dialogue is just not I think what anyone wants to hear on any E.R. shift. It's already one of the toughest jobs in America. We need encouragement.

TAPPER: Well, we certainly here at THE LEAD and CNN express our thanks to you and everybody at the emergency rooms right now dealing with us on the front lines.

Dr. Ryan McGarry, thank you so much for your time.

MCGARRY: Thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: As Italy's death toll surpasses China's today, Beijing is trying to say that they're stepping into help -- why global experts think there's more than just goodwill behind China's aid.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Tragic news today in Italy, when that country surpassed China as the country with the highest death toll from the novel coronavirus.

The Chinese government claims that their country has no new local cases of the virus, which, if true, would mark a major milestone in the global fight.

And, as CNN's Melissa Bell reports, China is now saying they want to provide critical aid to Italy and other parts of Europe in an effort to expand influence, charity? It's unclear.


MELISSA BELL, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was China that came to the rescue, as Italy shook, sending medical personnel, nine pallets of ventilators, electrocardiographs, and tens of thousands of mosques, all desperately needed by a health care system in crisis and appreciated by Italians stuck at home, singing China's praises.

That help from China coming in the absence of aid from Italy's European neighbors, some of whom have closed their borders, garnering international headlines, the frustration palpable in the towns bearing the brunt of the crisis, in Bergamo in Northern Italy, where the army is now transporting the dead to be cremated.

People are taking to social media to express their anger and their grief, like Roberta Zaninoni, who lost her healthy father to the outbreak.

"He didn't deserve to die like this. He died like a dog."

Beijing bringing its experience of a crisis it has now seemingly overcome to those in its midst, as it looks to rehabilitate its image and perhaps deflect blame in the crisis. KENNETH ROTH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH: We don't even

really know the accuracy of the figures coming out of China about prevalence currently for the coronavirus. And what they certainly don't want to talk about is what the Chinese government did in those early days, when early action might have prevented an epidemic, but their censorship worsened it instead.

BELL: But it's not just Italy, China also trying to curry favor by helping Japan, the Philippines, South Korea, Iran, Spain as it locked down, and most recently France, with one million masks promised to the country on Wednesday.

URSULA VON DER LEYEN, PRESIDENT, EUROPEAN COMMISSION (through translator): We are grateful for support from China, 200,000 masks, two million surgical masks, and 50,000 testing kits. This support is highly valued, and we are grateful for it.

BELL: All the more so that Europe had few other options. Donald Trump's America-first policy has seen a gradual worsening of the transatlantic alliance over issues like climate change, trade, and most recently, over Trump's failure to consult Europe over the coronavirus travel ban, with China now stepping into the global leadership role long abandoned by the American president.

Just last year, President Xi Jinping sought a new alliance with Italy, the Italian prime minister becoming the first G7 leader to back Xi'S Belt and Road Initiative, which seeks to loan countries money to build a network of infrastructure projects connecting Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

ALAN FRIEDMAN, ITALY-BASED U.S. WRITER: America has left a vacuum because of Trump's isolationism, and the Europeans don't feel like America is their friend.

BELL: While Washington continues to accuse China of being responsible for the outbreak.

TRUMP: It comes from China. That's why. It comes from China.

BELL: China is denying a cover-up and responsibility for the pandemic.