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Critics Blame China for Hiding Critical Information on Deadly Virus; China Sends Ventilators and Masks to Italy; CDC Study Says Adults 20-44 Make Up 20 percent of Patients in Hospital with Coronavirus; Surgeon General Urges Young People to Donate Blood; State Department Says to Americans, Do Not Travel Abroad. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 19, 2020 - 15:30   ET




MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: China is denying a cover up and responsibility for the pandemic. It says that its forceful measures slowed the outbreak. Now Beijing may be trying to turn a crisis into an opportunity by gaining ground in its longer-term fight for soft power globally.


BELL: Jake, here in Europe, the crisis continues to worsen. Tonight, we've had the worst figures so far here in France, in terms of the number of cases, more than 1,800. Another sad milestone for Italy, that you mentioned a moment ago. And again, the largest number of cases there since the outbreak began announced tonight.

This is a crisis that is going to get worse for Europe before it gets any better. We've had massive strain on the health care system only worsening over the course of that. Now in terms of the rest, I think we're going to have to wait for the dust to settle for the world to emerge from this crisis which I suppose at some time it will, in order to get an idea of just how much the geopolitical landscape has changed -- Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Melissa Bell in Paris, France for us, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Jamie Metzl. He served on the National Security Council and at the State Department during the administration of former President Bill Clinton. Jamie has written extensively on China. And, Jamie, the Chinese government claiming there are no new local cases, that would mark a major development if true.

But let me emphasize if true. The Chinese government have major credibility issues. They've been expelling journalists. They've been suppressing whistleblowers. They've been keeping information secret. So, how are we supposed to take this news? JAMIE METZL, SENIOR FELLOW, THE ATLANTIC COUNCIL (via Cisco Webex):

Well, it's definitely correct that we can't trust numbers out of China, but it looks that China has turned the tide on this virus and the ensuing disease. And they've used it with an incredible level of force.

And it was just said, it's kind of ironic that China's failure in the early stages of this disease have created this crisis, and China has used, in many ways, its authoritarian tools that has access to which hampered it in the beginning but to respond pretty effectively and aggressively now.

And now the United States, which has failed to live up to our traditional role of being kind of the world's -- I don't know if savior is the right word, but the lead helper is turning inward while China is seizing upon this opportunity. So, this has implications for this crisis but it's a much, much bigger geopolitical arena where this is also going to play out.

TAPPER: When this crisis is over, and it will be over at some point, we don't know when, but when it's over, there will be time to revisit all of the missteps. But one of the ones that seems most notable and problematic is the Chinese government silencing that whistleblower in the beginning. How much damage do you think that did in the initial response to contain the coronavirus?

METZL: Well Jake, it wasn't just one whistleblower. There were really five weeks from when China could have sounded the alarm, to when China ultimately did sound the alarm. And China did a great job, Chinese scientists did a great job of sequencing the viral genome but they waited a week before publishing that. They waited to let the World Health Organization in.

So, it wasn't just one whistleblower, there was a system failure in China, and a virus that could have very likely been suppressed early on then broke out. And the world is suffering as a result. And then on top of that, there were failures upon failures, certainly, here in the United States and elsewhere, as you and others have discussed extensively.

TAPPER: And how skeptically do you view China, you know, sending supplies to countries such as Italy, which obviously is a great humanitarian gesture, but also seems a pretty clear attempt to improve their image? And also, potentially try to take away American influence from the region of Europe?

METZL: Yes, so, on one hand, everybody should be giving all the help that we can to anybody. So, we have to recognize there's something very positive about this assistance. The Chinese leaders, they recognize that this could be their Suez moment. In the beginning of 1956, Britain had the same number of soldiers and ships as the end, but in the beginning of that year, it was a world power. And at the end, it was a regional power.

So with China stepping forward into this vacuum, and the United States not doing what we have done in past crises, like the Ebola crisis, to lead, to heal, there is a real opportunity for them, and a real danger for the United States. And this will extend way, way, way beyond this crisis.


So, if the United States wants to have a different future, we need to have a different present with leadership at home and leadership globally.

TAPPER: Jamie Metzl, thanks so much, appreciate it, stay safe, my friend.

Coming up breaking news, a major new travel advisory from the State Department. Plus, the White House is still considering grounding many or even all domestic flights. Stay with us.


TAPPER: We have some breaking news for you now. The U.S. State Department is raising the travel advisory to the highest level which basically says Americans should not travel abroad. CNN's Kylie Atwood joins me now from the State Department. Kylie, so this is an advisory but not a ban?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY REPORTER: Yes, this is an advisory, but it is the highest level that the U.S. State Department can issue to Americans considering travel abroad.


It is telling them do not travel. And to give you a little bit of context here, Jake, this is generally the level reserved for countries where there could be Americans that could face life or death situations, places like Afghanistan and Syria.

So, putting the world on par with those countries due to coronavirus shows you how seriously the State Department is taking the spread of coronavirus worldwide. And what they say in this travel advisory that just went out moments ago, is that any Americans who are in countries where there's commercial travel available for them to get back to the U.S., they should go ahead and get on those flights as soon as possible.

And it warns that if Americans do choose to travel abroad even though this advisory has gone out, they may face an indefinite amount of time that they are going to have to remain there. And now the question, of course, is also for Americans who are in countries right now that have closed their borders, that have shut down their airspaces.

We know that there are hundreds if not thousands of Americans that are already trying to get home, so this is going to put even more stress on the State Department and their system to try and get those Americans home. We know that is something that is being actively discussed at the State Department and within the White House.

TAPPER: What can they do? We've heard of thousands of people stuck in Peru, thousands of people stuck in Morocco. And obviously, that's just two countries. What can the White House do, or the State Department do? Can they send military transports? What options are being considered.

ATWOOD: Yes, they say all options are on the table right now. Which means, yes, there is the possibility that they could send U.S. flights. U.S. government flights to pick up these individuals.

Now, I spoke with a former senior State Department official who's been involved with these emergency flights in the past, however, who said that the U.S., the State Department, cannot do a global evacuation of its citizens.

So, there is a lot of pressure right now on the State Department. So, they are trying to figure out how to best handle this situation. And they are working around the clock. But they are facing some criticism from lawmakers who are hearing from their constituents who are abroad and aren't getting the answers that they need. So, there is a lot that is going to have to happen in the days and weeks ahead here.

TAPPER: You're also learning that the White House is considering grounding domestic flights within the United States.

ATWOOD: Yes, so that is under consideration. The White House, the task force, has discussed grounding some or all domestic flights within the U.S. And a source told my colleague, Vivian Salama that it's Dr. Fauci who has been pushing for this to happen.

But there are others at the White House who don't think it's a great idea. Specifically, because there is cargo that has to fly around the U.S. right now, that includes medical supplies that need to get to the places where they're in demand.

Now, of course one thing that they could do would be to ground all flights, except for emergency flights, except for business flights. So there are a lot of consideration that they're discussing right now. But the bottom line is that the airlines have already suspended so many of their flights. So even if they do choose to follow through with a ban on all or some domestic flights, the impact is questionable -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kylie Atwood at the State Department. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

If you're young and healthy, the Surgeon General says there is more that you can do to help besides just staying at home. What is it? We'll explain, after this.



TAPPER: A new CDC study backs up what health professionals have been trying to yell from the mountaintop, young people are not immune to the coronavirus. In fact, the new study shows that some 20 percent of those who have been hospitalized with coronavirus are young adults ages 20 to 44-years-old.

Let's bring in Dr. Paul Sax. He's the Clinical Director of Infectious Diseases at Brigham And Women's Hospital in Boston. Dr. Sax, thanks for joining us. So young people are getting coronavirus. We should note the risk of dying is higher with older patients. What's your take on why this is?

DR. PAUL SAX, CLINICAL DIRECTOR, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL, BOSTON: I don't think this is anything different than what has been seen elsewhere. When you consider the denominator, the number of people who are exposed and get infected, we are going to see young people with coronavirus. And some who have very severe disease and require hospitalization.

I think a lot of the focus up to now has been on the older people. Because as you mention they have a higher risk of needing intensive care or ultimately, dying. But yes, young people are at risk and they are very much at risk of getting this infection. In fact, in Korea where they've done some of the broadest highest testing, they find that young people have the highest rate of getting the infection.

TAPPER: In a way we've been focused too much -- it's hard to explain what I mean by that -- but too much on the fatalities because a young person might contract coronavirus and not die but the symptoms can be severe and potentially change that person's life.

SAX: Yes. Absolutely, that's the case. Just as with influenza only you know likely more so influenza every year takes the life of an unfortunate young person or more. You know many dozens of young people get sick from influenza and get hospitalized and some die.

The same is happening with coronavirus only at a higher rate. And even though most individuals who are young and healthy, who get coronavirus infection will be fine.


This small fraction are going to get very sick and need hospitalization and given the rapid rise of new infections in this country it's something that we're all concerned about and looking out for.

TAPPER: Today the U.S. Surgeon General made a plea to young Americans in particular to donate blood. Is there any risk for those who go to donate blood at the Red Cross or a medical facility? Should they consider that before they do so?

SAX: Well, the reason that plea was made is because not surprisingly under current circumstances the supply of blood is critically low. And the blood donation centers are still open, and they do that in a very sterile and very safe manner, and I think it's a very good altruistic thing for a young healthy person to do, absolutely.

TAPPER: You say that the supplies are low, is it because of this virus or is there something else going on? SAX: No, the supplies are low because people are afraid to go into

medical centers and other places where they typically donate blood. But I will say that they have not been closed. There is also potentially a theoretical reason why young people might want to donate blood and I think this was mentioned as well.

There is something called you know immunotherapy or passive immunotherapy. Which is that someone who's recovered from an infection perhaps their anti-bodies can be harvested and then given to another person as treatment. That's still theoretical at this point for coronavirus, but historically many years ago it was one of the first effective treatments of pneumonia.

TAPPER: Today the FDA Commissioner said his agency and others are testing what's called convalescent plasma. Here's how he explained it.


DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER: If you are exposed to coronavirus and are you better, you don't have the virus in your blood. We could collect the blood -- now this is a possible treatment, this is not a proven treatment, just want to emphasize that -- collect the blood, concentrate that and have the ability once it's pathogen free, that is virus free, be able to the give that to other patients.


TAPPER: You work in the realm of infectious diseases. Do you see testing like this on a fast track?

SAX: It is one of the many strategies for treatment of coronavirus that people have been discussing. In fact, a colleague of mine of Florida recently asked about it. Because there is evidence that anti- bodies are critical in protecting people from the disease and also may be helpful in therapy. And so, it wouldn't surprise me if this is one of the several strategies, one of the several avenues people go down to try and treat coronavirus, several others as well, as you're aware, anti-viral therapied and even immunotherapies.

TAPPER: Finally, doctor, we're approaching another weekend. Last weekend I think a lot of Americans were stunned to see images of packed bars, restaurants, nightclubs. This week we've seen packed beaches of spring breakers.

What is your message for young people out there as we approach another weekend? Because, yes, restaurants and bars have been shut down in some cities, but not everywhere.

SAX: Yes. Time has come really to stop congregating in big groups, even if you're young and you're healthy and you're not going to get a severe infection yourself. You could pass it on to someone else.

There are already have been described clusters of people who've traveled recently in the United States, who have developed coronavirus infection. Some of whom have gotten quite sick. So really, the cautionary note is do not do that right now. Keep all your social interactions to an absolute minimum and also practice social distancing. I can't emphasize that strongly enough. Both for your own health and for the health of others.

TAPPER: And for the health of your mom, your dad and your grandparents. Which you might --

SAX: Absolutely.

TAPPER: -- hurt. Dr. Paul Sax, thanks so much for your time and expertise, we appreciate it.

The CDC issuing some frightening guidance to healthcare workers saying that if they run out of masks, they might be able to use a scarf or a bandanna instead. We're going to talk to our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta about that, and much more. We're going to squeeze in one more quick break, stay with us.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

TAPPER: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are continuing our coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Minutes ago, the U.S. State Department telling Americans do not travel abroad. The State Department raising the U.S. travel advisory to the highest level. Do not travel.

Here in the United States, 164 people have now died from the coronavirus. The number of cases surging to more than 11,000. It's a stunning increase from just around 1,000 last week. Though we expect that number to continue to grow as more tests become available.

Hospitals already preparing for this pandemic to get even worse, exponentially worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issuing some stark new guidance for healthcare workers saying workers may even have to resort to using scarves or bandannas if they run out of hospital masks and even if they are exposed to coronavirus to continue working under some circumstances.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now, this is all a part of the effort to combat the coronavirus before it gets even worse.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's here. It's spreading. The FDA now fast tracking anti-viral treatments, one currently used against malaria.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be very exciting. I think it could be a game changer and maybe not.

WATT: But a full coronavirus vaccine still sometime away.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): It has changed everything. And it will for the foreseeable future.

WATT: Carnival Cruise Lines now offering up its fleet.