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"The Washington Post:" U.S. Intel Warned Of Possible Pandemic As Donald Trump Publicly Downplayed The Treat; Restaurant Closures Leave Millions Without Jobs; Americans Living Abroad Trying To Find A Way Home; Families Forced To Get Creative To Find Stress Relievers; Miami-Dade County Orders Hotels To Shut Establishes Curfew. Aired 8-9a ET

Aired March 21, 2020 - 08:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. We're so grateful to have you with us here on this Saturday. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you. Millions of Americans, maybe you, waking up this morning worried about a relative or a friend, wondering what comes next as the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continues to grow.

PAUL: Well, today at noon President Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force are again briefing the nation to give updates on the growing pandemic. Now the President has already invoked the Defense Production Act. He'll announce today if he will finally put it to use and direct manufacturers to start making key medical supplies. That's the big question. Will he do that?

BLACKWELL: Yes. Let's talk about the some of those medical professionals across the country who is warning that hospitals are running out of masks and ventilators and the other crucial equipment, and three more states, New York, Illinois, Connecticut join California they're ordering people to stay home.

Now 75 million people across the country are on lockdown. Stay where you are. The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. has surged to more than 18,000 and 258 people has died.

PAUL: And a new stunning report from "The Washington Post" this morning that says the President and other lawmakers were warned by U.S. Intelligence about a possible outbreak as early as January but took no action, even publicly downplaying the threat.

BLACKWELL: Let's start that with CNN's Natasha Chen in Atlanta.

PAUL: So Natasha, we know that more and more people are being told don't go anywhere unless it's absolutely necessary. What else are we hearing in regards to the steps that are expected to be taken in the next few weeks? NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, Christi and Victor, all of these steps are really in an effort to stop the spread in the communities. And what we're seeing in California and now followed by other states is the government asking people to please stay home unless there's a critical need to go outside.

And those needs could include getting groceries attend to go health care, getting prescriptions or commuting to those essential jobs that people who are working in the health care industry, working at the grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations who really are critical right now in this time to help others.

You talked about people potentially worrying about their loved ones and it's very possible that right now you are trying to communicate with those loved ones who are also hunkered down in another part of the country. Right now I want to share with you what Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said yesterday in reaction to how all of this has changed just in the last week.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES: This was the week that changed everything. And I know that this has been an emotional time for all of us. I know there's been a lot of crying, and it is okay to cry. I know there's been a lot of fear, and it's okay to be scared. But I also know that it's right to be hopeful because I have such rock solid confidence in you and this city that we will get through this moment, as difficult and as challenging as it feels.


CHEN: California is also leasing an empty hospital in Los Angeles, the St. Vincent Medical Center, as part of the effort during this pandemic. And right now there is a lot of concern about potential hospital bed shortages as the situation gets worse and hospitals of course as you mentioned are reporting shortages of supplies, personal protective gear, masks.

And what we're seeing is some businesses, General Motors included, partnering with Ventech Life Systems they're pivoting to create some of this respiratory care gear. Here at Georgia, one of the largest hospital systems is actually making face shields for their medical staff to wear over their N-95 masks to prolong the use of those N-95s. So people are getting creative, trying their best to make the best of this situation.

PAUL: Yes, no doubt. Natasha Chen, appreciate the update. Thank you.

BLACWELL: Let's turn now to this "Washington Post" report overnight that the federal government may have missed a chance to take on the coronavirus threat months ago. U.S. officials tell "The Post" U.S. Intelligence Agencies warned starting in January about the spread of the virus in China and later other countries, but the President and lawmakers publicly downplayed or dismissed the threat and didn't take action then that might have slowed the spread of the virus. PAUL: Now according to "The Post" the Intelligence Agency reports also, "Warned that Chinese officials appeared to be minimizing the severity of the outbreak".


SHANE HARRIS, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: The President was saying something remarkably different from what these intelligence reports were indicating, and to be clear, these reports were not saying the coronavirus is going to break on U.S. shores that date certain.

But from what people we understand who have seen these, the volume of this, it was coming every day. By early February the majority of reports that get disseminated out to key people throughout the government was looking at coronavirus it was sort of overtaking everything.



PAUL: Now the White House released a statement to "The Post" that says in part it's more than disgusting, despicable and disgraceful for cowardly unnamed sources to attempt to rewrite history. It's a clear threat to this great country.

BLACKWELL: Now President Trump and the coronavirus Task Force are expected to give an update from the White House. That's scheduled for noon eastern today. Of course this will be likely one of the initial questions from reporters.

PAUL: CNN's Kirsten Holmes with us from the White House right now. So there's an expectation Kirsten that he is going to address this in further detail.

KIRSTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christi that's right. And if he doesn't address it then of course we are there to ask those important questions. One part of that article in particular that I've been very focused on is this idea that aides were struggling to get through to President Trump just how serious the coronavirus was.

So a lot of questions surrounding whether or not his lack of taking this seriously contributed to the slower response by the U.S. so clearly a top of mind to your big questions today ahead of the briefing.

Now the other big question is all about this shortage of personal protective equipment for those health care workers on the frontline. We know that President Trump invoked something called the Defense Production Act on Wednesday. This essentially would give him broad wartime powers to control the supply chain.

He could force companies to produce very certain items that are critical during this time. Now shortly after that the business community pushed back and then President Trump issued a tweet saying he wasn't actually going to use it now a whole change of tone on Friday. He said he had already initiated it and that he was going to use it to help distribute these products. Take a listen to him.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We need certain equipment that the states are unable to get by themselves, so we're invoking it to use the powers of the federal government to help the states get things that they need like the masks, like the ventilators.


HOLMES: So it's unclear whether or not he actually is using it because after he made the statement he said that companies were volunteering to come forward. To be clear, the Defense Production Act would be a mandate to produce not a volunteer.

And as of last night we're told from sources that the administration still hasn't done a mass inventory of what is actually available in the U.S. but important question is when exactly are those health care workers going to get the equipment they really need.

BLACKWELL: Kirsten, let me ask you about the staffer and Vice President Mike Pence's office that is tested positive for the virus. Do we know about the degree of contact that the staffer had with the Vice President or the President?

HOLMES: According to the White House, they say that there was no close contact between this staffer and the President or the Vice President. But this is the first White House staffer that has been confirmed has tested positive for coronavirus.

And it couldn't come at a more critical time as we see the number of people testing positive continue to spike here, and there's a lot of questions as to how many people are exposed to our top officials.

Remember, we know President Trump himself has had multiple brushes with people who later tested positive for coronavirus. Now we did ask Vice President Pence earlier in the week if he had been tested.

He said, no, that he was in touch with the White House Physician and under those guidelines he was told he did not need to be tested but of course something else we're going to follow up on later on today.

BLACKWELL: Kirsten Holmes for us there outside the White House. Thank you so much.

PAUL: Now we know that these are anxious times and it's not always fun to wake up in the morning and hear a lot of what's going on though we need to. So we want to remind you that there are ways that we're connecting people and focusing on the positives because there are good people out there doing good things and that's why we want to bring this to you.

First of all there's a teenager in California who is trying to help those through this outbreak. Shivy Shah (ph) is her name. She recruited her fellow honor society members at her Orange County High School assemble sanitation kits for people who are homeless. They include hand sanitizer, anti-bacterial soap, lotion, reusable masks. So far the 15-year-old and her classmates have delivered more than 150 kits to three Los Angeles shelters.

BLACKWELL: That's fantastic. Let me introduce a brother and sister in Wisconsin. They found themselves in a situation that a lot of people with elderly parents across the country are finding themselves in. Their mother's assisted living facility won't allow in-person visits.

So they didn't Face Time. They didn't call. You see them here with love you, hello mom signs outside of her nursing home. The staff says that signs bring a boost to not just their mom but all the patients and the employees.

PAUL: And the nice thing about these ideas is that we can replicate them anywhere so not only are we seeing good being done it might encourage us to do good ourselves here. We want to know what's on your mind we hope that you join our conversation? You can tweet us @victorblackwell and @christi_paul.


PAUL: Those are our Twitter handles, we're also on Instagram but if you have questions for the doctors who will be joining us later in the show. Do send them to us, because we'd like to get those questions answered for you.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's take you to Italy now. They just saw the biggest spike in coronavirus cases since the pandemic started and will now rely on the military to keep people inside.

PAUL: Also, the restaurant industry particularly hard hit by the shutdown from the coronavirus. Now we're hearing from the CEO of one of the most prestigious restaurant groups in the country. The tough decisions he says, he is having to make.


BLACKWELL: The hospitality industry in the U.S., around the world, is under incredible strain right now.

PAUL: Yes, you have got forced closures and distancing guidelines and that means restaurants are having to turn away guests and let their staff go. Well, Danny Meyer is the Founder and CEO of Union Square Hospitality Group. It is one of the most prestigious restaurant groups in the country.


BLACKWELL: This week, he had to lay off 80 percent of his company's employees and Danny spoke with our Kate Bolduan about the difficult decisions that he and other members of the industry are having to make right now.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Having to lay off nearly 2,000 people, what has the last week been like for you and the entire hospitality industry?

DANNY MEYER, FOUNDER & CEO, UNION SQUARE HOSPITALITY GROUP: I think it's been gut wrenching for all of us. One of the great things about the hospitality industry is that we hire people who innately work for the purpose of making other people feel better than to take this bitter pill that says the only way that we can actually be around and hire you when this thing is over is to put you on unemployment just is you know it's the bitterest possible pill.

Somebody was saying to me yesterday that it feels like an economic version of Chemotherapy, which is that the thing you need to do to survive may almost kill you. And it's counter intuitive to every bone in our body tonight. My heart goes out to people who - the only thing they were guilty of was working hard as cooks and as servers to take care of people and now they're told that very thing we do is potentially dangerous for people.

BOLDUAN: You know someone I'm very close with who is deeply involved in the restaurant industry out west told me last night that an eight- week shutdown, let's say, especially for independent restaurants, is a death sentence. What can small businesses do?

MEYER: We're all trying to figure out that question. The first thing we're trying to think about, remember this is a dual pronged crisis. The first thing is health and staying alive. That's why we made a choice even before we were told to do so by the government to shut all of our restaurants because we did not want to be responsible for putting any of our team members in harm's way or of our guests in harm's way as well.

So we made that choice. We then said, all right, we don't know how long this is going to last but let's commit to paying all of our team members, and in that point it was about 2,200 people, through an entire week, let's give them their personal time off, a couple days of that.

Let's try to extend their health benefits which in our payments for those premiums through the beginning of April. Then when we learned that this was going to go on well more than one week and now this could be months at this point, we said, we can't survive if we keep doing that.

So the best thing we can do for our team is to lay them off so that they can apply for unemployment. So now you say how do you get to the other side? We all hope and believe there will be another side but how do you get there is what we're all thinking?

BOLDUAN: And that's - I mean, it's such a gut punch to hear how you're describing this, it really is but it is a harsh reality that we need to talk about because look you cannot Telework at a restaurant between the mandatory closures and the other guidelines out there. The entire industry is effectively been told to freeze. What does the industry need first and foremost let me ask you from the federal government? MEYER: I think it's a two-pronged approach. When we reopen, and I think we're really trying to plan with that optimistic sense, there will be a day when some higher authority gives us a green light and they say it's safe to come to work and then tell guests it is safe to resume doing what you've always loved doing and that is to use restaurants as a social gathering place.

When that happens, we know that we need to have a workforce that during that period of time managed to stay on their feet, they didn't get evicted. They didn't lose their health care. They were able to put food on the table.

So the first thing I would ask government is make sure to take care of the workforce. There are over 600,000 restaurants in America. I know in New York City alone there are 26,000 restaurants. That makes us as an industry the second largest employer after government.

A lot of people don't know that because they just look at big businesses. Most of us are independent companies, lots and lots of mom and pop businesses. So the first thing I would do is say keep our workforce healthy and solvent. The time that we get that green light we need to be able to recruit this team back.

BOLDUAN: Look, as my colleague Christine Romans said if you hit the pause button on the economy deliberately you then need to hit the pause button on people's bills. That goes for the workforce and that goes for the restaurant owners alike.


BOLDUAN: If you're out there, I know that one thing you've suggested is, buy up gift cards because that money you're going to be putting to a fund to help your workforce, do what you can to help restaurants if you can in this moment of crisis for all of us. It is unprecedented.


PAUL: And thank you to our colleague Kate Bolduan there with New York Restaurateur Danny Meyer. So the coronavirus pandemic we know started in China. Well now the World Health Organization says it is Europe that we have to keep our eye on. What countries are doing there to survive, particularly this morning when we're getting some really devastating numbers? Stay tuned.


PAUL: Think about this number, 75 million of you. 75 million are being told start your weekend at home and stay that way.


PAUL: One by one, states are shutting down restaurants, they're issuing lockdown orders, and they're warning us if you don't listen the death toll from coronavirus is going to grow.

BLACKWELL: There are roughly 17,000 cases in the U.S. - rather 18,700, I should say, on the New York area finds itself at the epicenter of the pandemic with roughly a third of those cases. In just a few hours President Trump's coronavirus Task Force they will give another update. It's not clear if the President will be there but there will be plenty of questions.

PAUL: Now some cities in the U.S. are preparing for lockdown over the coronavirus but this really is a worldwide pandemic. China, of course, was where a lot of the focus at the beginning of this. Now the World Health Organization has deemed Europe the epidemic of this pandemic - or the epicenter, I should say, of this pandemic.

Now in Germany, coronavirus cases spiked by 20 percent in just 24 hours, which brings their total number of cases to more than 16,047 deaths. In Italy 627 people died from the coronavirus in just the last 24 hours that's 26 people an hour and it's the largest single death toll in the world since this began. The military has been called in to enforce a lockdown there.

BLACKWELL: In France the streets are empty. The City of Niece will impose a curfew starting at 11:00 tonight to try to stop large gatherings. But let's go to China now where there are signs of hope. There have been no reports of locally transmitted cases in the last three days, but a second wave has not been ruled out.

PAUL: So obviously this is a global pandemic. We want to focus on what's going on in Italy with Barbie Nadeau in Rome, Barbie so good to have you with us. So we know Italy has surpassed the number of deaths in China. What is the state of things there now?

BARBIE NADEAU, ROME BUREAU CHIEF, THE DAILY BEAST: Well, it's dire. You know really is every day at 6:00 local time we get the new number of cases and the new number of deaths. Now you know yesterday we had nearly 6,000 new cases in a 24-hour period of time and that terrible death toll.

One of the reasons the death toll is so high, they're telling us, is because there's such an elderly population here. The lifestyle is healthy here. People live longer. The median age is 80. But it is the number of those new cases that is especially troubling because we've been under lockdown now for quite some time especially north of the country and it doesn't seem to be showing any effect yet.

The military is out to try to get people indoors. I heard this morning a car was going by my house with this kind of wartime loudspeaker telling people to go inside the house. It's very, very eerie. But there are so many people still out on the streets. They're just not handling the lockdown appropriately here.

People are still out and that's a problem and the government is just going to make things more difficult, I think, for the population by making more restrictions - keeping people inside. But it is a very, very depressing place to be right now to watch this country just sort of curl up, and it feels like it's dying itself. It's really, really tragic here.

PAUL: Barbie Nadeau, live from Rome for us. Do take good care there, Barbie. Thank you for letting us knows what's happening.

BLACKWELL: Well, Americans who are abroad, many of them are stuck. New travel restrictions are making it harder for them to get home with some countries completely shutting their borders. Here is our Kylie Atwood with those stories.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: There are thousands of Americans who want to get home due to the global impact that coronavirus is having and that is especially true for Americans who are in places that have closed off their borders or have closed off their international airspace.

It's also especially true because just this week the State Department put out its highest level travel warning telling Americans do not travel abroad anywhere. Now this is generally a level four that's reserved for places like Afghanistan or Syria where Americans could face seriously deadly situations.

But there are still Americans who are stuck abroad like Kirstin Monesmith, she is an emergency nurse. She is someone who wants to get back to the United States and is worried how long she is going to be stuck in Peru.


KIRSTIN MONESMITH, AMERICAN STRANDED IN PERU: My biggest fear is being here for long time. I need to get back to work. The hospital needs me. I'm terrified as to how long we we're going to be here without State Department intervention.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: These first efforts are combine commercial private flights that will fly and bring them back to a destination here in the United States so we'll do that. There are some that will travel back other ways as well. We've worked with the Department of Defense to say where there are spaces available we'll be able to bring them back on those flights as well.


ATWOOD: Now there was a charter out of Morocco for Americans who were stranded there on Friday. That was arranged by the State Department. The State Department also worked with the Pentagon on Friday to arrange an air mission for a women's Football Team who was stuck in Honduras.


ATWOOD: We are waiting to hear more specifics about what else the State Department will do to help Americans who want to get home. Kylie Atwood, CNN at the State Department.

PAUL: Kylie, thank you. You know we've been reading all of your messages on social media and Twitter and Instagram to us and you're stressed and you're anxious we know about how long this outbreak is going to last and whether you're going to be able to pay your bills? We have a mental health expert to help us manage amid all of the uncertainty that's coming. We have got some good information for us coming up next. Stay tuned.



PAUL: So right now the administration and health officials have not determined how long this new reality that we're living in could last, nor do they understand the magnitude of this outbreak just yet.

The uncertainty of it all is undoubtedly stressful, right? Mental health expert say anxiety over coronavirus is perfectly normal. You just need to learn how to manage it better? Well, in New York which is one of the hardest hit areas by the virus the Governor is urging people please don't panic.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We are battling two things, a virus and fear and panic. And I'm as afraid of the fear and panic as I am of the virus. I think the fear is more contagious than the virus right now. You take a place like New York City we are at near panic level.

Should everybody stay home, of course? Are we imprisoning people, no? Can you stay inside 24 hours a day, no? When you go out to shop or when you go out to take a walk and get exercise social distancing.


PAUL: So we have Dr. Jacek Kolacz. He is an Assistant Research Scientist for the Kinsey Institute Traumatic Stress Research Consortium at Indiana University.

Doctor, thank you so much for being with us, it is good to have you here.


PAUL: Absolutely. So I think people need to know that there are a lot - you know we're all allowed to vacillate between moments of clarity and calm and moments of panic, right? We need to know that that's okay and we're allowed to do that. But why do we have these wild swings back and forth and what first and foremost can we do to try to calm it?

KOLACZ: Well, research shows that uncontrollable or unpredictable situations cause changes in the brain and body and these reactions are normal way that the body and brain prepare for perceived threats even if we are not in immediate danger.

So some of these markers include vigilance racing thoughts insomnia as well as physical components like changes in appetite people might feel more abdominal pain or gastro and testicle problems.

All of these things are part of a stress reaction that gets us ready to meet a challenge but if it's extended over chronic times it might start to interfere with life. And two different types of these stress reactions that we study in our research laboratory are fight, flight mobilization.

So these are things that we might feel as irritability or restlessness but also shutdown which can be felt as lethargy lack of motivation kind of deep sadness. In both of those if you recognize them in yourself it might mean that you're having a chronic stress reaction.

PAUL: So when we have that moment where we feel like everything is just getting too much for us to handle, is there anything we can do there?

KOLACZ: All right, so recognizing these states in ourselves is important and sometimes it just means just taking a minute to checking with yourself, checking with your body, checking how you're feeling? And if you are feeling some of these things some stress reduction strategies include reaching out socially to others who can help you feel calm and that could be by phones, by videoconference.

If you're not able to get these cues of safety that come from the voice or from seeing people's faces on a video call, you know texting also works. It is going to be more effective to be able to have a kind of social exchange with a visual, with the voice.

Another thing could be to create a structured daily plan to help you reduce unpredictability in your life. So for instance you might check the news or social media at set points throughout the day. If you're really feeling distress by all of these incoming information you might turn off notifications and just make that plan to check social media at certain times.

Other things we can do are exercise, things like stretching, yoga you can follow along with an online exercise video, meditation. And I also do want to stress that if the distress is high therapists are holding sessions via videoconference and phone and this may be available in your area, might be available from your therapist. And if the distress is especially severe, crisis phone lines, online chats are still operational as well.

PAUL: So you mentioned a structured schedule. I know that as parents we're told that about children. That if children have some structure in their life it gives them a sense of security. How can we identify, though, if a child is stressed and they're not voicing it?

KOLACZ: Right. So you might be able to pick it up in body cues, in more distractibility, irritability in the child.


KOLACZ: And one thing to keep in mind too is that parent and the child are a system and you give cues to each other of safety and of danger. And so sometimes recognizing your own distress and managing it can also help your child as well.

PAUL: I think that people who already deal with anxiety and depression, this has to be amplified for them. Who is it specifically that might need some extra help right now so that even people who don't normally have anxiety we may be able to reach out and help them, but who is really vulnerable?

KOLACZ: So the most vulnerable are going to be people who have had trauma history in their past already. Who may have lived through dangerous experience and maybe have memories that come up or have had their stress response system tuned to respond to threats more strongly.

And so people with a trauma history, which have PTSD, people who have anxiety or depression or obsessive compulsive disorder.

PAUL: Do we know if crisis phone lines are still operational for some of these businesses that help people like that?

KOLACZ: Yes, they are.

PAUL: They are, okay. Doctor Jacek Kolacz such good information and so valuable for so many of us that are at home dealing with this. Thank you so much.

KOLACZ: Thank you for having me.

BLACKWELL: Always people were asked to stay home to stop the spread of the coronavirus, there's a new social media challenge asking who do you stay home for? Celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres are leading the trend. Watch.


ELLEN DEGENERES, CELEBRITY: Stay home for Porsha, for my mother who is 89-years-old and needs to be protected. Maggie my mother-in-law who needs to be protected, my nieces, both nieces Eva and Perry and just basically everybody because it's the safe thing to do.


BLACKWELL: So Ellen then passed off the challenge to Former First Lady Michelle Obama, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Bruno Mas, Leonardo Dicaprio and the weekend.

PAUL: So in anxious times and while so many of us are stuck at home there are a lot of people turning to music to lift spirits after this Gal Gadot shared this take on John Lennon's "Imagine" along with the help of a lot of celebrity friends. Take a look at this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Imagine there's no heaven.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's easy if you try.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No help below us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Above us lonely skies. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Imagine all the people.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Living for today.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Imagine there is no passion there.


PAUL: Gadot says she was inspired by a video of an Italian man playing the trumpet on his balcony as he and his neighbors lived through Italy's week's long lockdown together and what voices they all have.

BLACKWELL: I expected you to pick up the next line, Christi.

PAUL: What?

BLACKWELL: I thought you're going to pick up the next line, the next lyric.

PAUL: Uh, no.

BLACKWELL: I'm look over because Christi really - I mean, of course we were practicing social distancing. But Christi is may be what, 20 feet from me right now?

PAUL: Yes. Yes, it feels a little strange but we're still happy to be here with all of you.


PAUL: Does this mean I don't have to shower tomorrow?

BLACKWELL: No, you have to shower tomorrow. So we've got coming up in the next few minutes we have with us the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez an order coming out that the hotels have to be evacuated and some of the major businesses have to shut down in just a couple days. We'll ask why he made this decision and for how long will these businesses be closed? Mayor Gimenez with us in a moment.



PAUL: So spring break is over on Miami Beach. The city is one of the latest to take some dramatic action to stop the spread of coronavirus.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that includes ordering hotels to close and, starting Tuesday, there will be a curfew in effect from midnight until 5:00 am until further notice with us now the Mayor of Miami-Dade County, Carlos Gimenez. Mr. Mayor, good morning to you.


BLACKWELL: I'm doing well. Thank you. I hope you are as well. Let me ask you about the additional closures because this is not the first round. Now it's going to hotels explain.

GIMENEZ: Well, we wanted to close hotels because we don't really need to have more people that aren't Miami-Dade County residents here. There is not very much to do for a church to come in Miami. I closed the beaches a couple days ago, we closed all the shops and the restaurants and the bars. Night clubs they're all closed too. So there's really no need to have tourists here.

And it is time for them to go home. And so we're closing all the hotels. We also don't want to have any additional tourists coming down and so there were some events that were slated for April that we wanted to make sure that those folks that were intending to come down understand that there's no place to stay and really not much to do. Just stay at home.



BLACKWELL: For some of the people, the tourists who where in those hotel rooms as we discussed during the break, roughly 50,000 hotel rooms in Miami-Dade County, it's tough to get an international flight right now with a lot of the airlines limiting their travel. What provisions or allowances are being made for those folks?

GIMENEZ: There are allowances being made for them. If the individual can't get a flight out, they'll be allowed to stay in the hotel and accommodate those people. The hotels can accommodate also airline attendants, pilots, what we consider essential travelers that are still going to be there still going to be some travel between Miami- Dade and the rest of the country.

And so those people are counted. Well there are also hotels that service the hospitals, right next to hospitals. They service the families of members that may be in the hospital. Those hotels you can stay in. But by and large the vast majority of the people need to leave and the vast majority of the hotel rooms will not be available.

BLACKWELL: So there have been several rounds of closing businesses, all except the nonessential now are opened. Just the essential businesses are open I should say it that way. Some states, municipalities, have gone in the direction of a stay-at-home order. Is that coming for Miami-Dade?

GIMENEZ: Right now I don't think I'm going to do a stay-at-home order. I think there's really not much to do. People are just staying at home. The things that they're not staying at home for are essential or which I believe even in those states and cities people are allowed to do the things that are essential - go to the grocery store, they can go to the gasoline station, they can go to the pharmacy, they can go to the doctor and all that.

So those are the things that are open. And so I would expect people are doing that. We closed the parks, closed the beaches, closed the nightclubs and closed restaurants. I mean, there's really not much to do. So most people are staying at home so I'm not sure I want to do a stay-at-home order because I still have to let people do those things that are essential to their well-being.

BLACKWELL: Florida Governor Rhonda DeSantis has called for the President to consider closing down intra-country, the state-to-state travel to prevent the spread within the U.S. He says the relationship between Florida and New York, although some of the municipal decisions may be controlling or containing the virus in Miami-Dade, for instance or within the state when people come from New York specifically and bring it that may be a problem.

That's his characterization. Do you support cutting off travel to Florida cutting off flights from other states?

GIMENEZ: Yes, I do. I don't think there's any reason - unless there's a really good reason to be here. We're asking for some expertise to come down here. I think that this is part of this order. There's really nothing to do here. This is not the Miami, Miami Beach, South Beach area that tourists come down to. There really isn't anything to do the beaches are closed.

All those activities are closed and so really nothing to do here. The one thing that the Governor is thinking about and I'm thinking about is, look, maybe we control it here and then we would have a beat here and then some other part of the country doesn't and then it starts to infect the rest of the country. So I think that it's a good call and I support the Governor's stance on it.

BLACKWELL: Yes, essentially a de facto stay-at-home order, when you create an environment where there's nothing to do outside of your home, maybe people will stay where they are. Miami-Dade Mayor, Carlos Gimenez, thanks so much for spending a few minutes with us.

GIMENEZ: It's my pleasure. You all stay safe.

BLACKWELL: You, too, and good luck, sir.

GIMENEZ: Thank you.

PAUL: So we've been asking you to share your stories, tell us how you're spending your time at home? How you're dealing? Peter Wendler wrote this to us, he said I'm isolated at home with my English cocker spaniel gabby. She's been getting lots of hugs but this look is saying, okay, why are you home all the time?

Joann Lee wrote, I'm 63-years-old, spending my isolation making hats and scarves for the homeless. Hope to have plenty by winter here in Florida. We thank you so much for sharing with us. You know we're trying to keep your spirits up. You are doing the same for us.

So please join the conversation here. You can tweet us @victorblackwell and @christi_paul. Those are our handles on Twitter, we're also on Instagram. Keep sharing those stories because we really love to hear them and we want to make sure we get them out to other people as well.

So the pandemic of course in U.S. is rapidly growing. President Trump is expected to join his coronavirus Task Force for a briefing to the nation a little bit later today at noon. We're going to bring that to you live when it happens.


Expected to may be give us a little more information about what their plans on moving forward, maybe also address this "Washington Post" report that the administration knew in early January that this was coming and perhaps did not take the proper steps to take care of it at that point. So do stay folks.


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: The virus strains the thin blue line. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Here is the very latest data regarding coronavirus. The U.S. has at least 18,763 confirmed cases.