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Coronavirus U.S. Emergency Relief Package; California Coronavirus Response; U.S. Cases Surpass 23,000 With Nearly Half In New York State; China Reports No New Local Infections For Fourth Day; Kevin Bacon Encourages Social Distancing With "Six Degrees" Campaign. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 21, 2020 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

At this hour, 80 million Americans in states throughout the country under virtual lockdown, ordered to stay inside their homes. This, as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to fundamentally alter almost every aspect of American life. The number of Americans infected with the virus, once again, surging today to more than 23,000. The virus has killed nearly 300 people in this country.

Globally, cases have topped 300,000. Nearly 13,000 people have died. And those are the confirmed numbers. But in a potentially positive development, the FDA today authorizing a test that can detect the presence of the virus in just 45 minutes. That test expected to be available as early as next week.

Meantime, medical workers across the United States are warning they're running dangerously low on critical supplies. But the White House, once again, announcing that private companies are stepping up to assist with that.

Also here in Washington, the vice president, Mike Pence, and his wife, they've decided to get tested for the virus after one of his aides became infected.

Up on Capitol Hill, the Senate, which will be back in session tomorrow afternoon, still trying to reach an agreement on a massive Coronavirus stimulus package. One White House official says the price tag now could top $2 trillion.

Joining us now, the former Ohio governor, and Senior Political Commentator for CNN, John Kasich. Governor, thank you so much for joining us. Let's discuss what's going on. A handful of states, including California, Illinois, New Jersey, now they're ordering all residents to simply stay at home. Ohio has not gone that far yet. Do you think it's time for Governor Mike DeWine to follow suit and issue that kind of order? JOHN KASICH, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, Wolf, I think,

first of all, you've got to give a lot of kudos to Mike DeWine. He was on this early. And I think what he's doing is working no -- with his medical team around him on, literally, a minute-by-minute basis to try to figure out what next steps should be taken.

So, I have great confidence that when he looks, he'll figure out if there are other things that need to be done. He will do it because he has been very, very aggressive.

I think the other things that governors need to do is I think they need to convene their cabinet -- their cabinet meetings. And what they need find out is the weaknesses in the system. In other words, if you have a cabinet, you don't need political people. And you don't need people to tell you, you know, what you want to hear. You want them to tell you where the potential weaknesses are, so that you can address it.

And this is not quite but, more or less, a black swan event. And complicated systems have weaknesses. They can be fragile. So, by having your cabinet in there and directing questions to them to figure out where the breaking point is, we can get ahead of something, you know, that might be just down the road.

And, in addition to that, I think the governors need a demand from the federal government. You know, you have this task force going on right now. You need to have one place where a governor can go or his people can go to get a response to clear any of the federal bureaucracy or roadblocks that exist. In other words, sort of a fusion center concept, so that when a governor is not going to get running around be given, you know, double talk. We need to be able to get to somebody to be able to resolve their problems.

You do all of that and stay on top of it and listen to your medical personnel, I think you'll make -- you'll make good decisions. I am confident that Governor DeWine will do that.

BLITZER: Yes, I've spoken to him several times over the past few weeks and he really is on top of the situation in Ohio right now.

You've -- as you just said, your warning of the so-called black swan event that the epidemic could create something along those lines, in terms of local businesses and families. Do you think the stimulus pack package they're talking about up on Capitol Hill right now, some $2 trillion, will be enough to get Americans through this crisis?

KASICH: It's a staggering amount.

[20:05:05]

And I think part of this, in my judgment, Wolf, is designed to assure -- ensure people or assure people who might be losing their jobs, that there'll be some unemployment coming, trying to provide impetus for businesses. I don't know, fully, what's in this package. But what you want to make sure is you don't have a Christmas tree package. With both sides working together, I feel pretty good about the fact that they will come up with a package that can be effective. But it should be geared, fundamentally, to those people who wake up tomorrow, have no way to pay their bills. They're out of work. If we can calm them and assure them that they're going it get help, that's going to matter in some of these critical industries.

And also, of course, focusing on supply chains. That's another issue. So, when we talk about -- this is not quite a black swan event. Because Dr. Osterholm warned, in 2005, that something like this was coming. And I think, as you know, Wolf, having covered public affairs almost all your lifetime, you know that sometimes the immediate crowds out the necessary. So, we didn't pay as much attention. That's why it's not exactly a black swan event.

But what this event is doing is showing the weaknesses in many of our complex organizations. So, I would ask you this. Why -- I know we were thinking about being more efficient and more effective, in terms of supply chain or within our own operations.

But why did we allow all these drugs to be taken offshore? Was that just in the name of making money? But if all you're focused on is making money and you don't prepare for what could be a cataclysmic event, your whole operation could shut down. That is a -- that's some of the lessons that we need to learn once we get through this.

But, today, we have to focus on making sure that people continue to understand that they're in the battle and they can win this fight. All of us together can win it.

BLITZER: The death toll here in the United States, by the way, just now has jumped over 300. It's now 301 and that's going to continue, unfortunately, to rise. You probably saw President Trump's latest news conference earlier today. How do you think the Trump administration is responding to this epidemic?

KASICH: Well, you know, I'm very comforted by Dr. Fauci. Tony Fauci does one heck of a job. And that's where the medical personnel can come in and they can tell people what they see.

And what you notice with them, Wolf, is that they don't overpromise. You know, are we going to have an anti-viral drug? And what's the purpose of anti-viral? It's to stop the disease from being so aggressive and allow your antibodies to take over.

Now, they're working on anti-viral drugs. But if you listen to Fauci, he gives you the straight scoop on all that. I mean, when it comes to all these supplies and everything, I think, to some degree, we're a victim to the fact that we had ignored warnings that we heard all the way back in 2005.

And when it comes to the president, you know, look, I think you've got to have a tough skin. You know, if some reporter asks you a question, you don't need to be -- like, attack Peter Alexander because he asked you a little layup (ph). You've got to forget that. You can't be defensive in this circumstance. You know, and, frankly, let the medical personnel have their say. Be present but, you know, don't be overreacting or getting touchy about things. That doesn't help anybody. And for people to just want to attack him. You know, I understand the frustration. We'll have plenty of time to litigate how he's done in the future. But, right now, you know, let's just try to stay calm. And we can have our comments, but I want to get through this.

And the more we're together, Republicans, Democrats, all of us, our people -- Wolf, today, I was out with my wife walking. And somebody had taken chalk and written -- and had written on the sidewalks things like, we're all in this together. Remember to love your neighbor. I mean, it was just amazing. And I think people -- it's not amazing. It's the heart of the American people. And I think we are beginning to see the American people come together. You know, that's the good part of this.

BLITZER: All right.

KASICH: A little bit more community, I think.

BLITZER: Well, let's hope that happens. Governor Kasich, thank you so much for joining us.

KASICH: OK, Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: All right. And in a small glimmer of hope, as I now -- as I reported just a little while ago, the FDA announcing today it has authorized the use of the first rapid diagnostic test that could detect Coronavirus in only 45 minutes. The company manufacturing the test says it will begin shipping them next week. This announcement comes as the medical community here in the United States is scrambling to get quicker results to stem the spread of the Coronavirus.

Joining us now, Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo. She's the director of the Division of Infectious Disease at the University of Alabama Birmingham. Dr. Marrazzo, thank you so much for joining us. So, let's talk a little bit about this. A more efficient test could mean more efficient results. Right now, it takes at least two or three days to get the results. So, you -- how do you see this new development?

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, DIRECTOR DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA, BIRMINGHAM: I think it's incredibly exciting. And I think it's incredibly exciting in some particular circumstances.

[20:10:02]

For image -- imagine if a patient comes into an emergency room, for example. You could use a test like that to rapidly triage that patient. And decide, for example, if they should go to a unit where you might be grouping patients you know have COVID-19. You probably have heard that a lot of the challenge in our healthcare systems and our healthcare facilities is transmission within those facilities.

For example, in Italy, in particular, a lot of healthcare workers infected, which has been absolutely devastating to our ability to take care of these patients. So, if you had a way to rapidly determine a patient's infection status, you could really make a difference in how you handle that patient.

On the other hand, there are settings now, as I'm sure you've heard, Los Angeles, in particular, and I believe New York City today, who've now downplayed the role of diagnostic testing. Because they don't really feel it's even worth making the effort if you see someone who comes in with a syndrome that is compatible with COVID-19.

So, I think whether the rapid diagnostic test is going to be useful depends a little bit on where your individual setting is in the flow of this epidemic.

BLITZER: But I guess one question is, do you think these new tests will be as effective as the older tests, that they won't cause false positives or false negatives?

MARRAZZO: I think that the tests that we're using right now are all performing quite accurately. They're all based on something called nucleic acid amplification, which means they basically make many copies of the virus's genetic materials or its genes. And, really, that technology has gotten great.

So, the test that has come out today, or has been approved today by Cepheid, should be a really excellent test. That's actually the platform that we have used to look at diagnosing tuberculosis and drug-resistant tuberculosis, in many settings. So, I have no doubt it's going to be an excellent test. I think the test we've been using has largely been good.

If they don't perform well, it's often because people don't get an adequate specimen. And, as you've heard, I think bandied about a bit, it's not very comfortable to have a nasopharyngeal swab, right. You've really got to stick it in your nose and stick it in deep to get a great specimen. Or the test may not have been stored well.

BLITZER: Yes, we've heard the president complain about that test, saying it was not comfortable for him at all when he got tested. We're -- we've been hearing for a while now, this refrain, Doctor, that if you don't have symptoms, don't get a test. Does that still apply even when these new tests become available?

MAZZARRO: You know, I think it's all a matter of how you need prioritize your supply. In Alabama, for example, as in many settings, we're still struggling to find tests. And, in fact, we find ourselves in a catch 22 because tests are being, quote, unquote, "diverted to hot spots. But you can only define a hot spot if you have the test to find the infections.

So, you know, locales, that I think could conceivably be ahead of the curve and use these tests to deploy measures to really prevent that tsunami of infections coming in, are not able to do that. So, I do think that they will be useful if we can get them.

BLITZER: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, thank you so much for joining us and thanks to what you and all your colleagues are doing. You're doing incredibly important work. We are -- we are grateful to you.

MAZZARRO: It's a pleasure. Thanks.

BLITZER: All right, just ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM, how people and businesses in some states are coping with orders to simply stay at home.

But first, getting married during a pandemic. The couple was on the street and the officiant was several stories above. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are gathered here today to witness the exchanging of marriage vows of Amanda Wheeler (ph) and Ryan Jennings (ph). Do you promise to love, honor, cherish and keep her for as long as you both shall live? If so, say, I do.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As vested in me by the state of New York, I pronounce you married.

[20:14:13]

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BLITZER: All right, California Governor Gavin Newsom is making a statement right now to the people of California. I want to listen in.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA) (live): Some form of home isolation, stay- away orders against essential verses nonessential settings throughout the United States. This has been a very challenging time. And it's a time like this where we're filled with anxiety and filled with a tremendous amount of uncertainty.

And it's understandable people have a mindset of scarcity. You see that manifested in some of the purchasing decisions people are making, where they're overly indulged in getting a little more bread than they may need, a little bit more toilet paper than they may need, and the like.

At the same time, it is a remarkable moment, to be candid with you. And I cannot express more gratitude at the same time we're struggling through this moment. And that is the incredible mindset that also persists, not just here in California but across this country. And it's a mindset of abundance. Abundance of our belief that we can not only get through this, but in our capacity to meet this moment together.

Let me tell you a little bit about what I mean. I've had, just in the last 48 hours, the opportunity to speak to more scientists, more researchers, more engineers, more nobel laureates, more CEOs of companies large and small, than I have, quite literally, in years. I had the opportunity to have conversation with Tim Cook, who stepped up. And he said, in addition to the two million masks that the vice president said he would donate to the American people, this year and this week, he's going to additionally provide one million just for the state of California.

[20:20:00]

NEWSOM: Elon Musk working overtime at Tesla, to see if he can work with companies large and small, Phillips and others, to see if he can start working up components on ventilators. He announced to me today that he's going to provide 250,000 masks today for healthcare professionals just in the state of California. Also committing to over 1,000 ventilators just in a few days. The state of California working through his supply chains and partnerships.

Companies, large and small. I was talking to a small company that does a little bit of manufacturing up in Santa Rosa. They said they want to convert their manufacturing facility to help sew masks. The seamstress down in Los Angeles, down at the garment district, said they'll do the same thing.

Not only that, the largest companies, some of the largest manufacturers that happen to be based in the state of California, like the Gap, saying, we're ready to convert. We're ready to meet this moment. Tell us what you need.

Hospitals, incredible. Philanthropy, people that are literally sending planes to China on their own dime and bringing back resources and support from all around the world. It's quite literally not an exaggeration. It's not exaggeration at all. I imagine governors all across this country are experiencing the same thing. It's ennobling and it makes you feel like we truly can meet this moment.

Accordingly, we have had a remarkable response, in terms of the work that our teams are doing. We've been able to distribute and we have 21 million masks in our reserves. We've been able to distribute 10 million of those masks last week. We put out an additional million and a half of those masks just in the last few days. We've got millions more and we're going to try to get them out into our system as quickly as possible.

We were able to bring on Seton Hospital as part of our portfolio of surge. We were able to announce just today, St. Vincent Hospital, down in Los Angeles, now part of our portfolio. Four hundred and ninety rooms that will be operationalized; 750 in the next few weeks capacity. Community Hospital, the great work that was done down in Long Beach with Mayor Garcia. He was able to get 130 rooms up online. People already being transferred today and over this weekend.

Working with our Sutter affiliate, CPMC, in San Francisco; 157 beds we now have a term sheet to bring into our portfolio. We have folks in Coalinga. We have folks in Pacific Gardens that are committing with terms sheets to increase our capacity in our hospital system. That, by the way, all told, it's about 1,000 beds that we've been able to procure in just the last number of days.

We were incredibly pleased to get a call from the White House. I want to thank President Trump. I want to thank Vice President Pence. We were able to get eight field medical units into the state of California. That's going to provide 2,000-bed capacity for the state of California. These are those field medical stations that have been discussed across the last, well, few weeks all across this country. They're finally being delivered. They're on the way.

We got our first traunch last night down in Riverside of the strategic national stockpile. And we are, quite literally, opening up those boxes as we speak. And we're starting to distribute those assets all throughout the state of California. In real time, that's gowns. That's gloves. That's masks, and the like. It's just the first of four that will be arriving. We're told that they're already beginning to send --

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue to watch what the governor of California, Gavin Newsom, is saying. We'll monitor that. But I want to go to Los Angeles right now. Our own Paul Vercammen is there. He's watching what's happening on the ground. What are you seeing, Paul?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we're seeing the Californians, and especially here in Los Angeles, are observing the stay-away order. And part of the order says you can get outside. And if you'll notice, they're keeping their distance. They're keeping that distance of six feet apart. This is Lake Hollywood. It's not easy to get to but we've seen hundreds of people come out here. The most I've ever seen.

And part of this, also, is that some of these people have lost their employment. After all, this is an industry town. There's a lot of people in the so-called gig economy. And just over the hill, we were talking to some people at this one restaurant. They lost 40 of 47 employees. In other words, they had to lay them off. Tough times at a mom and pop shop here in California called Patty's.

BLITZER: In L.A. and, indeed, all over the country. Paul Vercammen, we'll get back to you. Thank you very, very much.

Senators, here in Washington, they are working this weekend on a huge stimulus bill for the economy that could now top $2 trillion. Will that be enough to keep the U.S. economy afloat?

[20:25:00]

BLITZER: We'll talk to a CNN expert. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Pharmaceutical companies across the United States, they are racing to tackle the Coronavirus. Earlier today, the New York Governor, Andrew Cuomo, made a hopeful announcement about a company in New York State that's already getting some results. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We're also working on a number of other drug therapies, an antibody therapy, possible vaccines. We have a company here in New York called Regeneron that is really showing some promising results.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[20:30:05]

BLITZER: -- Leonard Schleifer. He's the co-founder, president, and CEO of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals. You got a shout out also Dr. Schleifer from the President on Thursday when he said your company has done fantastically.

So what are you doing now to, A, come up with some treatments and be come up potentially with a vaccine?

DR. LEONARD SCHLEIFER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, REGENERON PHARMACEUTICALS: Right. Thanks for -- well, thanks for having us on. But first of all on the front line, and that includes Regeneron employees with literally their health so that we can try and move forward in this fight that we're hopefully going to win.

And I think that what Regeneron is trying to do is implement the strategy that the whole industry is trying to do. It's a basic, simple three-pronged approach. You start with what's on the shelf that we have now that we might be able to reposition, redeploy, use it for this coronavirus when it wasn't intended for that.

The second approach is what can we quickly get that might actually help people who are -- who are infected with this virus survive or prevent people from getting infected.

And then of course, there's the long term solution, which we would all love to have, which is a vaccine. But unfortunately that takes time. From our perspective we'll -- sorry, go ahead, Wolf.

BLITZER: No, go ahead, finish your thought.

SCHLEIFER: I was just going to say, from our perspective, we have two approaches. One is we have a drug that we're trying to see. It's a (INAUDIBLE) immune modulating drug. Those are big words, but really, it means that can we calm down the lungs, which are in a massive state of inflammation, reacting to the virus, and that we've had dozens of people already enrolled, and we're trying to see as quickly as we can work.

WOLF: When you say as quickly as you can, now, what do you estimate the time for the treatment and then potentially a vaccine? Because we've heard Dr. Fauci say it could be a year, maybe a year and a half before an actual vaccine is approved.

SCHLEIFER: Sure. So a vaccine may take a long time, but we haven't approached it's in between that.

So first of all, we have this approach to calm down the lungs, that will get results probably, I would say within a month or so, maybe shorter. The midterm approach, which we're very excited about is really the brainchild of our co-founder, George Yancopoulos, where he imagined that you could create mice, imagine, it's when he was a graduate student 35 years ago, you could create mice that if you immunized them with a protein or a virus or something else, they would make human antibodies. And he's used that to make about seven drugs already. And the most reasonable, which is to see if we could treat Ebola.

We took a piece of the Ebola virus, we put it in these magical mice and our scientists were able to find antibodies in there that with human antibodies that could neutralize the Ebola virus. And it was shown last year overwhelmingly that our cocktail EB3 was able to cure people who had Ebola. And if you got to them early, 90 percent would survive, which is a much higher survival rate than you would expect.

So we're using the same approach to go after the coronavirus or COVID- 19. What we're doing is we've already immunized these mice, these magical mice, they've made antibodies, these -- we've tested these antibodies, we've got thousands of them, how we can stop the virus from infecting cells.

We're transferring these antibodies into our special cells that allow us to make these things on a massive scale. We'll move that up to our manufacturing plant and we hope to start trials for that in around June to see if -- and that could be well, as you say, that could be like a vaccine, except as soon as you get the shot, you would be protected.

You don't have to wait or it could actually be a treatment as well. If you have the virus, it could mop up that virus and help you get better.

BLITZER: But I just want to be precise, Dr. Schleifer. Do you think that within a month or so you will have some new treatment that potentially could save the life of someone who has already severe case of the coronavirus?

SCHLEIFER: Well, so the first one, what you're referring to is a drug Kevzara, which we had developed with Sanofi as a rheumatoid arthritis drug. We are testing it now to see whether it's in the lungs. There are all sorts of reports. It's become standard therapy to China, but we have to follow the scientific method.

You know, my favorite president is Lincoln, Lincoln actually started and signed into law at the National Academy of Sciences, to advise the government. He knew that in times of crisis, we have to still follow the scientific way. And we're lucky to have people like Tony Fauci, the head of the FDA, people like Rick Bright at BARDA, who actually get the fact that they have to work with the scientific community.

So, yes, in miraculous time, we work with the FDA, we work with BARDA, and we work with Governor Cuomo, and we got trials up and running in New York, in literally a matter of days, which We work with BARDA. And we work with Governor Cuomo and we got trials up and running in New York in literally a matter of days, which normally would take six months or something.

[20:35:11]

And, yes, in a matter of a month or so, we should begin to see whether that could be really important in helping people who are very sick with the disease. That's still biology, we have to say. If I would have one antibody, which will be a cocktail like it was for Ebola, it'll get that we won't be able to start testing until June.

BLITZER: All right, well, Dr. Schleifer, thank you so much for -- with you and all your colleagues are doing at Regeneron. We're grateful to you. We'll stay obviously in close touch. And hopefully you guys will come up with some solutions fairly soon. There is so much at stake right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

SCHLEIFER: Thank you, Wolf, and stay safe.

BLITZER: You too.

Happening right now, the U.S. Senate is at work trying to negotiate a massive stimulus bill that could top $2 trillion. This as the epidemic triggers a wave of layoffs with Goldman Sachs. Now estimating that a record two million people file for unemployment last week alone.

Joining us now CNN International Business Correspondent, Julia Chatterley.

Julia, the big question now is this $2 trillion stimulus package that's in the works, is it likely to be enough to stabilize this economy?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf.

Let's call this a sizable start. Remember, I'm hearing it's more than $2 trillion, around $2.3 trillion. There's expected to be another trillion dollars added in the next week or two. But this kind of money is needed. Remember, this is a $20 trillion plus economy that we are effectively bringing to a halt for unexpected two to three months.

So if you -- if you size that up versus the economy, we're talking $4 to $5 trillion. We have never seen anything like this. We are sort of creating an economic crisis, tackling a health crisis because we're asking people to stay at home. This is of all sizes that's creating the economic crisis and all around the country, in every sector, all at the same time, at record speed, that's creating a financial crisis.

And the way that small businesses, medium-sized businesses, and large businesses deal with that level of uncertainty and the threat of bankruptcies, they make workers redundant. They fire people. And we're already seeing that, and 27 million workers are on the frontlines of this. They work in hotels, they work in bars, and in restaurants. And so the firings happen incredibly quickly.

So what this package has to do, it has to have multiple layers. Workers, give them cash to begin with, so that they can survive the next two to three months potentially, grants to small and medium-sized businesses so that they hold on to the workers and they don't go bankrupt.

And then large companies, you may not like it, the Democrats may not like it, but you have to -- we can't have all of them going out of business over the next two to three months as well. It's simply about stabilizing the system facing four massive, unique crises, Wolf.

BLITZER: If the stimulus package $2 plus trillion does get passed next week, and we spoke earlier with Senator Schumer and he was upbeat about it saying the Republicans and Democrats are working together -- working together with the White House as well.

A lot of folks are looking at the stock markets, they're worried about their 401(k)s, their retirement plans. How is that likely to impact the markets?

CHATTERLEY: Well, the breaking news there is actually that the Republicans, the Democrats are working together which I think investors will be optimistic about and happy about and the sheer size that we're talking about.

But, Wolf, like I keep describing, this is a unique crisis. So even if we see a bit of optimism in the stock markets, I'll still be very cautious because there's all that -- there's other issues. It's not just about the stock market here. There's the corporate bond market corporates are heavily indebted here too. And we don't know how long this is going to go on for. So there's still lots of uncertainty out there.

BLITZER: There certainly is. Julia, we'll stay very close touch with you. Thank you very much for that analysis.

And as the cases of coronavirus continues to grow here in the United States, China says it's not experienced what they say any new cases. But can we believe them? We're going live to Hong Kong just ahead. Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:40:36]

BLITZER: Now to China where this coronavirus outbreak originated, government officials there are now saying there are no new locally transmitted cases for the fourth day in a row. This comes at a time when the world is so desperate for hope.

CNN's Ivan Watson is joining us now live from Hong Kong with the very latest. Ivan, these fingers are coming. We're going to cannot independently confirm their validity. Should this reporting there'll be seen as reason for optimism as or is there reason to be skeptical?

IVAN WATSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think we always have to take some of China's official announcements with a grain of salt. But certainly there does appear to, if you look at the statistics that the Chinese government has been publishing throughout its crisis with coronavirus, the number of infections has plummeted.

Just a few weeks ago, China was reporting on a daily basis, thousands of new cases of coronavirus and hundreds of deaths a day. Now, the new figures for Saturday have just been published, and 46 new cases in the country on Saturday and it says that 45 of those new cases were all quote unquote, "imported," as in people flying in from outside the country, bringing the virus back to the country where it was first discovered back in late December.

[20:45:00]

Another headline from China's official statistics, Wolf, are that this is the fourth straight day with no new cases from Hubei Province, the capital of which Wuhan is where the disease was first discovered. Those are impressive numbers, if they're in fact accurate.

BLITZER: Indeed, if in fact, they're accurate. Thank you very much, Ivan, for that. Ivan Watson reporting from Hong Kong.

Just ahead, you might know him for being six degrees away from just about anyone, but now he's all about six degrees of staying home. There you see him Kevin Bacon. He's standing by live to explain. He's got some important messages for you.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[20:50:13]

BLITZER: All right. We've got some breaking news. We now know that the Vice President Mike Pence and his wife have tested negative for the coronavirus, this according to a statement just released by the Vice President's office.

There was concern after an aid in Pence's office tested positive. But once again, we can now report based on the statement from the Vice President's office that both he and his wife are negative for the virus. Good news on that front.

Meanwhile, the actor Kevin Bacon is adopting as well-known Six Degrees game to encourage social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic and it's trending under the hashtag, I stay home -- I stay home For. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN BACON, AMERICAN ACTOR: My folks, you know me, right? I'm technically only six degrees away from you. Every one of us, as you know I'm for. And I am staying home for Kyra Sedgwick.

KYRA SEDGWICK, AMERICAN ACTRESS: Kev?

BACON: Speaking of the devil. While I'm doing something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Hashtag I stay home for. The actor and philanthropist, Kevin Bacon, is joining us right now.

Kevin, thanks so much for what you're doing. You say you stay home for your wife, Kyra Sedgwick. How did you come up with this idea for this challenge to begin with?

BACON: Well, you know, I've always felt like six degrees was this crazy, you know, game that I kind of randomly became the center of, but it's never really been about me ever. You need to take me out of the game. And once you take me out of the game, you realize that we are all connected.

And sadly, this virus is a really good example of that the things that we do, the way that we live on the side of the earth, are going to affect people in our neighborhood and on the other side of the world, and we're all kind of riding this big boat together. So it seemed like as someone to kind of launch this idea of trying our best to social distance in this -- in this very crucial time, this -- I just seemed like a -- like the right person to do it just based on the game kind of randomly.

And it's taken off which is -- which is -- which is great, you know. I think this connectivity thing is so difficult because we really are hungry for connections with each other. I think that a lot of people have mining now. You know, since they've been trying to pull back, I know in my life my circle is closed and the people that I actually seen interact with is very, very small at this point.

And yet, I find myself reaching out to people all the time and connecting with people gratefully through internet and technology and phone calls, and it's hard. We don't know exactly how to do it right. But I think that a lot of us are trying.

BLITZER: You know what's impressive, Kevin, is that more than 20,000 people already have joined the campaign. Who were some of the other celebrities that have taken part?

BACON: Oh, wow. OK. There's a pretty long list. I wish I had it. Elton John and Brandi Carlile and David Beckham and Demi Lovato and, oh, wow, it's Mariah Carey. It just -- it just -- Ellen DeGeneres. My wife dishes off.

So yeah, thank you. And I -- and I'm so -- I'm so grateful for all for them for, you know, jumping onto this thing with us. I also want to say that I'm looking at the individual people and their own, you know, posts on the hashtag, I think, home for I saw a great one today with a guy that's holding up a sign. He's 97 years old, and he says, I stay home for me. You know, I've been here for 97 years and he wanted to take care of himself.

I also want to point out that there's a lot of people out there on the frontlines who can't stay home. And they are amazing, amazing heroes at this time. I mean, people that are unlikely heroes but they're working in grocery stores and sanitation people not to mention in the medical profession that on the first responders in the frontline.

So I personally would just want to thank them for what they're doing out there. And in a lot of ways, I think we're staying home for them to try to keep them safe as well.

BLITZER: And I just want to thank you, Kevin, for what you're doing. It is so important for folks all over the country right now to stay home. And we got to get through this crisis because unfortunately, too many people are dying and getting very, very sick in the process.

Kevin Bacon, thank you so much for everything you're doing.

BACON: Amen.

[20:55:54]

BLITZER: And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION -- for a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM" 10:00 a.m. Eastern. And once again at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.

In the meantime, stay with us for an encore presentation of our CNN Global Town Hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears."

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