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THE SITUATION ROOM
Coronavirus Pandemic Growing; Interview With San Francisco, California, Mayor London Breed; Interview With Chicago, Illinois, Mayor Lori Lightfoot; Illinois, Connecticut, New York, California Ordering Residents To Stay Home; Unemployment Claims Soar Amid Coronavirus Layoffs; White House Says, Person In V.P. Pence's Office Tests Positive For Coronavirus; White House: Person in VP Pence's Office Tests Positive For Coronavirus. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 20, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM with breaking news on extreme new measures here in the United States to slow the coronavirus pandemic.
The governors of Illinois and Connecticut just followed the lead of New York and California in ordering most people across those states to stay at home. That impacts more than one in five Americans, New Jersey also now preparing to shut down nonessential businesses.
This comes as the death toll here in the United States has now risen to 225, and more than a quarter-million people around the world now have been infected with coronavirus.
Let's go to our national correspondent, Erica Hill. She's joining us from New York City right now.
Erica, most people in the state of New York are now under orders to stay home.
ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We -- those orders coming this morning from Governor Cuomo. They will go into effect Sunday night.
And New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio praising the governor's order just a short time, ago saying that the FDNY, the NYPD and sheriffs will help to enforce that order from the governor.
Mayor de Blasio also saying that New York City is now the epicenter for the crisis, with more than 5,100 confirmed cases here in the city.
HILL (voice-over): New promises from the White House.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I invoked the Defense Production Act, and last night, we put it into gear. We have millions of masks, which are coming and which will be distributed to the states.
They will be here soon. We're having them shipped directly to states.
HILL: Critical supplies now on the way, though it's not clear how many, when they will arrive, nor where the White House is getting them.
MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NY): If help doesn't come, we are going to lose people who should not die.
HILL: States, meantime, moving swiftly to try to contain the virus.
GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): It's time for all of us to recognize as individuals and as a community we need to do more to meet this moment.
HILL: California telling the state's 40 million residents to stay home. While they can go out for food, medical appointments, even a jog, officials are urging people to limit the excursions and the interaction.
New York's governor going further, mandating all nonessential workers stay home starting Sunday night.
GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We have talked to people all across the globe about what they did, what they have done, what worked, what doesn't work, and that has all informed this policy. We need everyone to be safe. Otherwise, no one can be safe.
HILL: The governor advising public transportation only if absolutely necessary. Any outdoor exercise must be done alone, visits with loved ones discouraged. The strictest rules will apply to the most vulnerable, those over 70, the immunocompromised, anyone with an underlying illness. The governor warning the new rules are not optional.
CUOMO: If somebody wants to blame someone or complain about someone, blame me. If everything we do saves just one life, I will be happy.
HILL: Illinois also issuing a stay-at-home order Friday afternoon.
GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): Left unchecked, cases in Illinois will rise rapidly.
HILL: As life comes to a halt, jobless claims skyrocketing. Economists at Goldman Sachs predict the next report will show 2.25 million Americans filed for unemployment in the past week.
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D-CA): There's no question that people are going to be so hard-hit.
HILL: Hotels, restaurants, airlines all announcing layoffs after an unprecedented drop in demand, many small businesses struggling, as some states order them to close.
The White House offering some relief, delaying the tax filing deadline until July 15 and waiving interest on federal student loans, while new measures at the southern border restrict nonessential travel between the U.S. and Mexico.
MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: Both our countries know the importance of working together to limit the spread of the virus.
HILL: Swift changes around the globe with one common goal.
HILL: Wolf, yesterday at this time, we were talking about how New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said they had two or three weeks' worth of medical supplies.
Today, the Department of Health in New York City put out a directive asking health facilities to not test patients who are asymptomatic for the coronavirus. They didn't want them to test asymptomatic or exposed health care workers and first responders.
And also note that, if patients were hospitalized, they didn't want them to be tested unless they had some sort of symptom as well. And this all goes back to, Wolf, the concern over not having enough medical supplies, not having enough PPE, that personal protective equipment, to keep hospital staff safe.
Just another new reality as we adjust to the changes, frankly, by the minute as we're following this pandemic.
BLITZER: Yes, very sad reality, indeed.
Erica Hill, thanks very much.
Let's go to the White House right now. Our correspondent Boris Sanchez is standing by.
Boris, as states across the country are ordering people to simply stay home, will the president enact a national lockdown?
BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the president was asked about that during the coronavirus task briefing this afternoon, the president saying he doesn't think so.
He pointed to places like New York and California and said that there are hot spots where a lockdown needs to happen, but then he suggested that most of the country isn't feeling the effects of the coronavirus that badly, places like the Midwest, where he said simply they don't have the same problems.
Of course, this is critical at a time where a number of people -- I know my friends have gotten them -- are getting text messages and all sorts of false information about a federal lockdown, the president saying flatly today, Wolf, "I don't think we will ever finding that necessary" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Boris, thanks very much.
Joining us now, the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy right now. We appreciate the time you're going to share with our viewers.
As you know -- and you were there when the governor made the announcement -- your state of Illinois, the entire state, has now been given a stay-at-home order. You were there. I assume you support this move. Tell us why.
MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL): I do support it. And we were involved in helping shape the parameters of it, in particular allowing for localities like Chicago to define essential services, essential business. So that's important.
Look, we are trying to do everything we can to save lives, pure and simple. And we know from the lessons of other countries like Japan and Singapore and South Korea that these seemingly extreme measures actually bend the curve and the arc of this virus, so we're taking these measures now to make sure that we slow the rate of this virus spread.
We believe that this is necessary to protect the public.
BLITZER: So what types of work and activities under this new measure would be allowed for the millions of people who live in Chicago?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, vital services, things like grocery stores, gas stations, things that we know that people need to be able to continue to go. All those things will be operational, also government services, essential services, public safety, police, fire, public health, emergency management.
All those things are exempted from this order, also, importantly, for families, day care. And the order actually provides for standing up more emergency day care. We're very concerned about relieving the stress on our health care workers and our first responders, and this particular order allows that to go forth.
BLITZER: Do you want, Mayor, to see this new provision enforced with any civil fines or is all of this simply recommended and voluntary?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, it's not recommended and voluntary.
But my hope is that we will educate people into compliance. The practical reality is, in Chicago, because of the measures that we had already taken over the last 10 days, many, many of our folks are already staying at home.
They're staying at home because they're over 60, they fall within a vulnerable medical condition, or they're teleworking because their employers have allowed for that.
So, you will see, if you came downtown in Chicago, most of our office buildings are close to empty. There's very little foot traffic on the street. But we do want to make sure that we're doing this in a way that keeps people safe, but allows them to get access to the basics.
Pharmacies are exempted. Restaurants can continue to provide curbside, walk-in service. But we want to make sure that we're doing everything we can to tell people, this is serious. And never before have we been so connected to each other and the individual decisions we make affect so many. So that's why this order is necessary.
BLITZER: It's very, very important, indeed.
The president says he doesn't see the need for something like this, stay-at-home or shelter-in-place recommendation, on a national scale all over the country. Do you agree with that?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, look, I really think that this has to be something that is enforced by governors.
But I will tell you that I have been very disturbed to see some of the images in states outside of Illinois, where they simply don't understand how serious and potentially deadly this virus is.
So there may be a point that we may need the federal government to impose this on a nationwide basis. But my hope is, governors and mayors all across the country will understand what they need to do to protect their public, to protect the vulnerable in their states.
And you just have to get people to stay at home, off the streets, because the spread is so, so deadly.
BLITZER: And it will save lives, indeed.
What's the latest, while I have you, Mayor, from Chicago's hospitals? How are they doing on the critical equipment, the beds to treat patients?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, in Chicago, I think we're doing fairly well.
Keep in mind, we prepare all year round. And so in Chicago, our public health has a great stockpile of essential equipment, ventilators, PPEs. The thing we're having a little stress around, which we are going to look to see how we can alleviate it with the supply train, is the swabs for the test and the reagents, so the little liquid that goes into the petri dishes to grow the samples.
That's where we're seeing some stress. We also need to make sure that we are being rational in the use of PPEs, and masks and other sanitation equipment, so we're not just giving it out willy-nilly, but we're reserving it for our hospital workers and our first responders.
BLITZER: Which is so, so important.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for what you're doing.
LIGHTFOOT: Sure. Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate it. BLITZER: All right, just ahead: CNN investigates the shortage of
coronavirus tests, as Dr. Anthony Fauci warns there is still a problem, yes, still a problem.
And Dr. Sanjay Gupta is standing by to join us. He's getting ready to answer more questions about what you should be doing and your family should be doing to stay safe.
BLITZER: We're following breaking news on millions of Americans right now in four states now under orders to stay at home, as the coronavirus pandemic worsens.
President Trump says he's not considering a nationwide lockdown, at least not yet.
We're joined by the former Secretary of Veteran Affairs Dr. David Shulkin. Also with us, our chief political correspondent, Dana Bash.
Dana, for most of the past week, the president has simply and appropriately deferred to the experts during the Coronavirus Task Force briefings. That wasn't entirely the case today, was it?
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No, it wasn't.
And it definitely led to some confusion and some uncomfortable, but incredibly diplomatic moments, from some of his experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, who is obviously as good as they come, particularly on the question of the drug that the president first talked about yesterday that he is indicating this is a drug that has been used for malaria, that could potentially be used, according to the president, for this.
But there was an open disagreement, very delicately done, again, by Dr. Fauci, but it does add to the confusion, which is, you know, in inherent and endemic to the situation we're in now.
And having that come from the White House briefing, with the president of the United States and the team that he has there, who are excellent, but giving a confusing message, does not help.
BLITZER: Yes. And we're all so grateful to Dr. Fauci...
BLITZER: ... for what he has done, not just now, but over these past decades.
BASH: No question.
BLITZER: Mr. Secretary, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now says it hopes it can start to retrofit hotels, dormitories, other spaces into temporary hospitals. They think they might be able to start this in three or four weeks.
Can it be done that quickly? How much hope does that give us?
DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Well, it's good to see that they're engaging.
I think I'd rather see us begin all preparedness that's possible while there's still time to be able to do that.
But I do not think that it is going to be an easy task. I think moving the ships in place, the Navy ships in place, is certainly going to be something that also we can fall back upon.
But our hospital leaders around this country and our staff are doing an amazing job, not only in doing things like canceling elective surgeries, but creating surge capacity and creating other opportunities to be able to house patients.
So, we're all pitching in together. And I think we are creating the best chance that we have to deal with a worst-case scenario.
BLITZER: Dana, the president says, at least for now, he's not considering a nationwide lockdown. He praised the governors, including Governor Newsom of California and Governor Cuomo of New York, who have taken strict action in their states.
So, what does that tell you about the federal government's outlook, at least right now?
BASH: They're taking it day by day.
And, you know, there have been rumors, there have been a lot of things on the Internet, which is why -- and people sort of in and around the decision-makers in the federal government, suggesting this is possible, which is why the president is asked the question every day, and so far, including today, as you said, every day, he has said, no, we're not considering that.
But -- and he talked about the reason, because there are places in the Midwest, for example, that aren't as badly hit as the big population centers, particularly states.
But it also feels like a slow roll that isn't being done at a federal level, but is being done, either intentionally or just because this is how it seems to be going, where it seems to be heading, by governors and big city mayors that feel that this is necessary.
BLITZER: Yes. That's an important point.
Secretary Shulkin, the current Veterans Affairs secretary, Robert Wilkie, says the VA is preparing, in his words, to deploy thousands of emergency personnel and resources. What kind of help can the VA provide in a crisis like this?
SHULKIN: The primary mission of the VA is to make sure that our veterans' health is taken care of. So I think, first, they have to assure that they can handle the volume. But the VA does have an important mission of serving as a backup system for the United States health care system in cases of national emergency like this.
And, of course, the VA has extensive resources and facilities throughout the country. So I think the VA is being very appropriate and responsible in beginning to coordinate with the private sector.
But the VA will experience the same problems that we're seeing in hospitals around the country, with staffing shortages and also shortages of equipment, mostly to protect its own staff and the patients that they serve.
BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point as well.
Dana, after downplaying the need to use the Defense Production Act yesterday, the president say she's begun to set things in motion. But did you hear anything in today's briefing to back that up?
BASH: No. And, again, it was confused.
Our colleague Kaitlan Collins did an amazing job of trying to press the president just to get information, because he, of course, said he invoked it and then tweeted late yesterday that it was worst-case scenario.
Then, today, he apparently told the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, that he did. And that's what he confirmed to Kaitlan Collins. If I sound like this is confusing, it's because it is. And what Kaitlan was trying to do was get specifics.
Well, if you have invoked this, which companies have you done this with? Which companies have you told the government is going to use your resources to produce masks and things like that?
And she didn't get an answer. In fact, the answer, effectively, was that the companies he is talking about have been doing it voluntarily. So it is a bit confused. And we don't know yet how it's going to work.
What we do know is that we keep hearing from the same governors that we have been talking about, and even others as well, who are desperate for help, because they're hearing it from their health care workers, they're hearing it from hospitals, they're hearing it from the people on the front lines. And in this war that the president calls it, those front lines are health care workers.
BLITZER: You're absolutely right. And we're grateful to all of them, because they are saving lives.
Dana Bash, Secretary David Shulkin, thanks to both of you for everything that you're doing. Appreciate it very much.
Just ahead: California and other states are now ordering residents to stay at home. I will talk to the mayor of San Francisco. That's coming up.
And a dire new estimate of unemployment claims around the country, as the coronavirus devastates businesses. I will ask the CEO of Burger King about the impact on his company.
BLITZER: We're back with breaking, American life growing even more paralyzed tonight because of the coronavirus.
Four states, large ones, have now ordered most residents to stay at home. We're talking about Illinois and Connecticut, following the lead of New York and California, in taking this drastic action to try to slow the spread of this deadly virus.
Joining us now, the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed.
Mayor, thank you so much for joining us, taking a few moments out of your very busy schedule.
As our viewers know, you ordered residents of San Francisco to stay in place on Monday. Now the entire state of California, 40 million people, the entire state is under a similar restriction. Do you wish Governor Newsom had acted sooner?
LONDON BREED, MAYOR OF SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA: Well, I wish at this point the country acts sooner, because we are at a place where this is exactly what we need to do in order to ensure public safety, public health.
We see that this has a tremendous impact on saving lives, and we need to act now. We can't wait until something happens. Something is happening in this country as we speak, with the number of infections increasing.
When I declared a state of emergency back in February, we didn't have one case, February 25, in San Francisco, and now we're at 76 cases. Clearly, something is happening, and we need to see this happen on a national front.
BLITZER: The shelter-in-place order is in effect until April 7. Do you anticipate needing to extend it?
BREED: Based on some of the information that I have, it is really possible that we will extend it.
But in the meantime, we are getting prepared, making sure that we have the infrastructure in our hospitals, seeking out help from the private sector to get the PPE that we need, not waiting on the CDC and the federal government to help provide us with equipment, protective equipment for our first responders and the people who are working in the health care industry, not waiting on the CDC for the tests and the other stuff. This is happening all over the country. We are not getting what we
need in order to deal with what is a crisis, a pandemic, all over the United States.
And so we have to take action ourselves in order to make sure that we protect and save lives.
BLITZER: Have the efforts been successful so far in keeping people at home and slowing down the spread of this deadly virus?
BREED: It -- let me tell you, San Franciscans are amazing. They have been so cooperative.
Even businesses that didn't know that they were supposed to be closed, when we reached out to them and explained to them what this order means and how it impacts public health, they immediately complied.
So I think, right now, it's really about outreach to people to help them understand that this order is in place, and we need everyone to cooperate. That's what we're doing now.
But for the most part, San Francisco is cooperating. You see so many people who are following that order. And for those who aren't, we are doing our best to educate them so that they can realize the importance of doing so.
BLITZER: California's statewide stay-at-home order now has come after Governor Newsom projected roughly 56 percent of your state's population, we're talking about 25.5 million people will be infected with the virus over an eight-week period potentially at least. Are you really bracing for that level of infection in your city?
BREED: I think the information the governor provided was the projection if we did nothing. If we basically allow this to happen and did nothing, then those numbers would be a reality. Now that we have a shelter-in-place, a stay-at-home order is basically in essence what we're asking people to do if at all possible, the likelihood that that number will be a reality is less likely.
So what we're putting in place in San Francisco and all over the state and what we need to put in place all over the country is exactly what we're doing here in order to make sure that the numbers don't get out of control and we start losing people at an alarming rate. We see how quickly things transpired in Italy. I mean, we have examples of how this can get really completely out of control if we don't respond. The time to act is now.
So I've been talking to mayors and governors all over the country and providing them with our order and what that means, frequently asked questions. People are like, well, what about this and what about a car service, what about hair care and so on and so forth, it's important to make sure that we're responding and explaining to people why certain businesses are essential and others aren't for the purposes of trying to get people to comply with these orders. We need to do it all over the country.
BLITZER: Well, good luck, Mayor London Breed of San Francisco. Thank you so much for joining us. We're grateful to you, grateful to what you're doing. We appreciate it very much.
BREED: Thank you, Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get to the economic impact of this crisis right now, as so many businesses are simply closing and workers' jobs are at risk. We're joined by Jose Cil, the CEO of the restaurant company that includes Burger King and Popeyes. Jose, thank you so much for joining us.
As you probably heard, Goldman Sachs is now predicting that 2.25 million Americans filed for unemployment this week alone. Have you had to lay off employees in the face of this crisis?
JOSE CIL, CEO, BURGER KING, POPEYES AND TIM HORTONS: Well, Wolf, I can tell you that I've never been prouder of our organization. We have over 10,000 restaurants with Burger King, Popeyes and Tim Hortons here in the U.S., about 300,000 employees and over several hundred franchise small business owners that run these businesses. We're open for business.
We -- obviously there's been an impact with all the social distancing and the containment that the mayor was just talking about that's so critical to eradicate this virus, but we're open for business. We're serving Americans. We're doing an essential service during a difficult time. And I've never been prouder of all the men and women that work for our branch, all across the country and the men and women that do this for other restaurant brands as well.
I also want to take a moment to tell those folks that have been impacted, because many have. We've seen the news and we've heard from many across the country. Employees that have lost their jobs as well as franchise owners and small business owners that are feeling the pain and seeing their cash flows impacted. Have faith, hang in there, help is coming and I think that's an important message for everyone to really hang on to.
BLITZER: Yes, that's an important message indeed. I'm told that for the first time, Jose, you're offering 14 paid sick days now to employees, but that's only for employees at the corporate-owned restaurants, not the franchises. So what percentage of these employees actually now have paid sick days?
CIL: So we're applying that to our company-owned restaurants and we're also encouraging our franchise owners across the country to do the same. With our Tim Horton's business in Canada, all of our franchise owners we have over 1,500 franchise owners in Canada for 4,000 Tim Hortons location. And they have done the same thing as well alongside a partnership with us to fund this paid sick leave. So we think it's important in this time and we encourage all franchise owners to do the same.
BLITZER: It's really important, especially if people start feeling some minor symptoms that could become major symptoms down the road. What happens if franchisees, Jose, don't follow the same policy? Are you concerned about people having to decide between staying at home, missing out on a paycheck or coming into work and potentially putting themselves and other people at risk?
CIL: Well, we've put tremendous procedures in place and have had a lot of training with our franchise owners all across the country with wellness checks, with heightened hygiene and sanitation, sanitizing our restaurants, making sure that the restaurants are clean, the contact areas are cleaned more frequently than ever.
And we've also implemented in our delivery as well as in our drive- thus and pickup areas, contact list procedures to make sure that our employees as well as our consumers and our guests stay safe.
So we feel confident we have the right steps in place, with wellness checks as well to ensure that everyone is safe in our restaurants as guests are coming in through the drive-thrus and through delivery.
BLITZER: And what does this crisis mean for your company, which is a huge company, especially if it extends into the summer or longer? And I know you're doing something specifically to try to help those school kids who are no longer in school and might be missing out on some critically important lunches and breakfasts that they might get at school that they might not be getting right now?
CIL: Yes. That's one of the most proud moments that I've had with Burger King in the 20 years I've been with the company. All of our franchisees as well as our team, our marketing team for Burger King came together and came up with the idea of providing free kids meals to those folks that are affected.
So we saw that the schools were closing. Parents rely on schools to feed their children, and so we felt we felt we could do an additional service to the country in addition to being open and serving food, but providing free kids meals.
And we've seen that the same level of interest on the part of our franchisees for Tim Hortons as well as Popeyes taking a step further to get closer to our communities and making sure we serve them in a time of need, in essential time of need.
BLITZER: Well, thank you so much for what you're doing, Jose. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in touch.
CIL: Thank you, Wolf. I appreciate it. Thanks for what you are doing.
BLITZER: And just ahead, CNN investigates the reasons for the severe shortages of critical coronavirus testing kits and now medical supplies.
Plus, our Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting ready to answer more of your questions about the virus and how to protect yourself and your loved ones. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: We're just getting in some more disturbing information here in The Situation Room, a statement from the vice president's office. And I'll read it to you and to our viewers. Katie Miller the Press Secretary to Vice President Mike Pence issued this statement.
Quote, this evening, we were notified that a member of the office of the vice president tested positive for the coronavirus. Neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence had close contact with the individual. Further contact tracing is being conducted in accordance with CDC guidelines, but clearly a very disturbing development.
Someone in the White House now has come down with the coronavirus in the vice president's office. We'll, of course, stay on top of this and get you more information, see if others at the White House need to be self-quarantined at least for the time being. Much more on this coming up.
Also tonight, infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says more still must be done to make coronavirus testing available here in the United States, even after some improvements. CNN has been looking into the reasons for the severe shortages around the country.
Our Senior Investigative Correspondent, Drew Griffin, is joining us right now. Drew, what are you learning?
DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, it's obvious now that mistakes, a lack of preparation and warning signs ignored are all making this crisis worse than it needs to be.
GRIFFIN: How did the United States end up in this position with a desperate shortage of coronavirus tests, a shortage of supplies to administer these tests, even a shortage of protective equipment for medical workers? The U.S. government knew the virus was coming back in the beginning of January.
On January 8th, when the CDC published an emergency health advisory on a reported cluster of pneumonia of unknown origin in Wuhan, China. Medical experts tell CNN the Trump administration failed to act at this critical time.
JEREMY KONYNDYK, CENTER FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: What we see is the lack of preparation over the last two months has now put us in a terrible position.
GRIFFIN: In late January, the first U.S. case of coronavirus was identified in Washington State. But while Chinese officials began locking down the City of Wuhan, President Trump was in Davos, Switzerland, telling the world that China's problem would not be the world's pandemic.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have it totally under control.
GRIFFIN: Trump barred most non-U.S. citizens from flights coming in from China, but behind the scenes, mistakes were already being made. As the numbers climbed to 35,000 cases worldwide, the CDC was creating its own coronavirus tests, a slower process that included sending the tests to public health labs to make sure the tests would work. Those public labs found out the test was flawed.
SCOTT BECKER, CEO, ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC HEALTH LABORATORIES: So they immediately reported that and CDC began an investigation very quickly. But more and more labs as they were verifying this through the coming days also found the same problem.
GRIFFIN: But three crucial weeks, testing was at a near standstill while the CDC tried to fix the problem and the U.S. health system was flying blind. The virus spreading across America and U.S. health officials had no way to test for it.
KONYNDYK: That kept us from having visibility on domestic transmission of the virus for weeks and weeks and weeks.
GRIFFIN: When CDC's new test was finally fixed and ready, there weren't enough to fill demand. This letter shows public health laboratories begging the FDA to relax restrictions and allow them to create their own tests.
It happened within days, but in a race to contain it, the virus was well ahead.
By March 6th, there are 100,000 cases worldwide and more confusion from the administration.
TRUMP: Anybody that wants a test can get a test.
GRIFFIN: When the president said these words, across the country, shortages were everywhere. Today, the shortages of tests include just about everything needed to administer the tests.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are shortages on many pieces of it.
GRIFFIN: Public health officials say it just didn't need to be this bad. Two years earlier, the White House made another potentially dangerous mistake, laying aside the pandemic response unit within the National Security Council. But the White House says the same roles exist, just under different titles.
The team President Obama had bolstered to combat global epidemics after an Ebola outbreak was gone.
Critics say that Trump administration decision hampered efforts with coronavirus.
JEREMY KONYNDYK, CENTER FOR GLOBAL DEVELOPMENT: I think it made us slower and it made us more prone to mistakes. GRIFFIN: Jeremy Konyndyk, who used to run foreign disaster assistance
for USAID, says all the shortages from testing to swabs to masks can in part be traced back to that one decision.
Beth Cameron, who under Barack Obama ran the pandemic response unit, says there is no doubt.
BETH CAMERON, NUCLEAR THREAT INITIATIVE: But would we have gotten more ahead of this if the office had been intact? I think absolutely.
GRIFFIN: The president, who alternately said he didn't know anything about disbanding the pandemic team and also defended it now denies his coronavirus response has been anything but perfect.
TRUMP: We were very prepared. The only thing we weren't prepared for was the media.
GRIFFIN: Wolf, just this past November another warning ignored. The Center for Strategic and International Studies releasing an urgent report asking the White House to reverse its decisions on the pandemic office and provide leadership and financing to respond to a worldwide pandemic. That report ignored. A month later, China was recording its first patients -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Got to learn the lessons to make sure it doesn't happen again.
Drew Griffin reporting for us, thank you very much.
Just ahead I'll speak live and ask Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the positive coronavirus test that we've just learned about happening in the vice president's office over at the White House.
BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. The White House just revealing that a person in Vice President Mike Pence's office has now tested positive for coronavirus. We're told neither President Trump nor Vice President Pence had close contact with the individual.
Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us right now.
So, Sanjay, what should the administration be doing right now to make sure it doesn't continue to spread through the team, the vice president's team over at the White House?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So the people who may have had close contact with the person who's tested, they're the ones who obviously, Wolf, are going to need to be monitored, and you want to make sure that they, you know, see if they're developing any symptoms. Now, what they've done in the past as you remember, Wolf, was some of the congressmen who came in contact with somebody who had tested positive for the coronavirus, they recommended a quarantine for those folks of 72 hours, checking them for symptoms and then they sort of went by their doctors orders as to whether or not they could return to work after that.
That's likely what's going to happen here. People who had close contact with the person who tested positive may need to be quarantined for a period of time mainly to see if they have any symptoms. So, they're arbitrary, Wolf, but that's been the sort of prevailing recommendation so far.
BLITZER: You know the White House, the complex over there, as well as I do, there's the West Wing, the East Wing, the White House, there's the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, we used to call it the old Executive Office Building, right next door.
BLITZER: Does it make a difference if this person was work in the executive office building or let's say in the West Wing?
GUPTA: Well, you know, I think just in terms of close quarters, you know, what they really look at is how close a contact did someone have with a person who tested positive, how prolonged was that contact? So, you know, in the West Wing, as you know, Wolf, it's denser, more tightly populated.
So, you know, it's what public health officials are going to do. They're going to sit there and contact trace, which can be challenging which I think you're alluding to because people are moving around. How many people -- you may not even know, Wolf, for yourself, how many people did you come in contact with today, that's what public health officials sort of have to put together.
What you read and what I heard as swell is the vice president and president did not have contact with that person. So, they've established that, and they're going to keep establishing like that with other folks as well.
BLITZER: But you don't know if the president or vice president had contact with others who may have had direct contact with the individual who's now tested positive.
GUPTA: Yes, so that would be considered second generation. So, first generation, direct contact with somebody who has tested positive. Second generation, they're not recommending any kind of quarantine unless one of the people in between subsequently tests positive. So even if the vice president or president had contact with somebody who had contact with the person who tested positive they wouldn't necessarily recommend anything other than what we're recommending to everybody which is to try to keep as much social distance, obviously monitor for symptoms.
If you start to develop any symptoms, at that point, you isolate yourself and possibly get a test.
BLITZER: Important information indeed.
Sanjay, thank you as usual for joining us. We'll continue these conversations down the road and we'll have much more news right after this.
BLITZER: With so much fast breaking news in the coronavirus pandemic, I'll be right here in THE SITUATION ROOM this weekend with up to the minute coverage. Please join me Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern and Sunday at both 10:00 a.m. Eastern and again at 1:00 p.m. Eastern. This coming weekend, we here at CNN of course are dedicated to keeping you informed during this crisis.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.