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Coronavirus Pandemic; Interview With Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY); Stimulus Package Now At $2 Trillion, Leaders Race For Agreement; German Chancellor Angela Merkel Goes Into Self-Quarantine; Interview With Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE); Number Of Deaths In Spain Jumps By 30 Percent In One Day; Pressure Mounts For Trump To Use Defense Production Act; Experts Say OK To Go Outside With Precautions. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired March 22, 2020 - 14:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Happening now, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases jumping dramatically here in the United States. Now over 29,000 infections and 376 deaths. In the face of this truly global medical and economic crisis, Congress is working to get some financial relief to Americans.

Right now the U.S. Senate is coming to order up on Capitol Hill hashing out what appears to be a $2 trillion economic stimulus package. Something the White House is confident will get done.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I do think it will get do. We've been working around the clock in the Senate with the Republicans and the Democrats. I've been speaking to Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, the Speaker.

And I think we have a fundamental understanding, and we look forward to wrapping it up today.


BLITZER: Meanwhile, states on the front lines have a stark warning about the devastating consequences of this epidemic. In New York state, cases have skyrocketed to over 15,000. The number of deaths in New York has risen to 114.

The Governor Andrew Cuomo said today it will get significantly worse unless the federal government responds right now.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The federal government should nationalize medical supply acquisition. The states simply cannot manage it. This state cannot manage it. States all across the country can't manage it.


BLITZER: And joining us now, the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you have a ton of work you've got to do. It's so good of you to share some thoughts with our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

You said something so dramatic, so powerful earlier in the day. I'd like to elaborate. You said unless something is done, you estimate that what, between 40 percent and 80 percent of the residents of New York state -- we're talking millions of people potentially -- will wind up getting infected with the coronavirus? Explain what you had in mind.

CUOMO: Yes. Well, thank you, Wolf.

Our projections looking at the numbers, looking at the trajectory, looking at what has happened in other countries is you're going do see that number continue to increase. The virus is that contagious.

Remember, this is a virus that can live on the surface for two days. So when you get a dense environment like a New York City, a Los Angeles, a Chicago the infection rate is going to be tremendous. We estimate anywhere between 40 percent to 80 percent of the entire population.

So what we're trying to do now is just slow that rate so that it doesn't overwhelm the hospital system, because that's when we would have a real tragedy.

BLITZER: So what are the most important things that you've got to do right now working in conjunction clearly with the federal government?

CUOMO: Well, first, I said this morning, the clip that you referred to -- I think the federal government should nationalize the supply chain. They should take over the acquisition of all the medical supplies.

You hear all day long about how people are running out of masks and PPE and protective gear, ventilators, et cetera. We now have a situation where every state on its own is trying to acquire these goods. And Wolf -- we're actually competing against each other.

So we find a mask manufacturer. I'm trying to contract with them, California's trying to contract with them. Texas is trying to contract with them. Masks that we paid 85 cents for we're now paying $7. Ok?

Why have all of these states competing against each other to buy the equipment and have hospitals saying, we're going to close down if we don't get the equipment? Let the federal government take over that responsibility. A situation like this, you do what you can and everyone does what they do best. Here, the federal government should say, I'll do all the acquisition. Stop competing against each other, and then the federal government allocates that equipment, depending on need.

They know where the cases are. They know what the situation is in New York versus California. Let them acquire. Let them distribute. That's the best role for the federal government.


CUOMO: By the way, I said the exact opposite theory last week on testing. The federal government was doing all the testing, and that then was a bottleneck. I said, give the states the testing obligation. I have 200 laboratories. I can do it faster than you can.

So sometimes the states are better equipped. Sometimes the federal government is better equipped. When it comes to buying the supplies and the volume, stop the price gouging, let the federal government take the responsibility.

And, number two, let them use the Federal Defense Production Act, where the President can say to the manufacturers, I want you to make these products. Stop making what you're making. Make these because it's a matter of public health and actually get those big factories, those big machines, turned on to produce this equipment for the good of the people of the United States.

BLITZER: I know you've had a steady stream of phone conversations with your fellow New Yorker, the President of the United States. I assume you've raised these issues with him. What does he say?

CUOMO: Well, first, the President has started down this track. He's doing voluntary public-private sector partnerships, where he's asked companies to step forward and actually help make ventilators, et cetera.

I think he should now take it to the next step, and just say, I'm invoking my legal right to order the production of these goods. So we know the amount. We know the supply. We know the cost. We stop the competition.

And look, there's no reason why you should have hospitals across this country not having masks and gowns. I mean, this is not what we're supposed to be battling. We're supposed to be battling the virus. Not masks and gowns and test tubes.

So I think the President should step it up. And look, he is a fellow New Yorker, and I think the President -- this is the kind of guy he is. He is an executive. He is a get it done guy. In this situation, this is how you get it done.

If I were the President of the United States, this is what I would do. If I was governor -- as governor, if I had this legal power, you're darn right. I would say to the companies in this state, you must produce these materials, run that factory, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I will pay you, it's not a favor. I'll pay you, but we need the essential medical equipment.

We have nurses, doctors -- these people are heroes. They're putting their lives at risk. At least get them the right equipment.

BLITZER: Yes. They're putting their lives on the line right now. You can't expect them to go in and deal with these patients if they don't have the proper protective masks and gowns and surgical equipment, and everything that they really need.

The President tweeted a little while ago. Another tweet. He said, certain governors, in his words, shouldn't be blaming the federal government for their own shortcomings. He cited the governor of Illinois, J.B. Pritzker.

What do you say to that? He's going after the governor of Illinois, for example, right now?

CUOMO: Look, everybody has their own style in life. Right? I am working cooperatively with the President. This is not a time for politics. This is not a time for venting personal feelings. My feelings are wholly irrelevant.

I have one job. I have one mission. That's to help the people of the state of New York. I said to the President, I put my hand out in partnership. If you can help my people, if you can help this country, God bless you. I will do everything I can to do it with you. Forget this Democrat/Republican. We're all Americans.

And that's what matters, Wolf. Nothing else matters at this time.

BLITZER: Right, you are.

CUOMO: And I believe the President can do a great service for this country. Take over the supply of medical equipment. Let him buy it. Let him use his legal authority to the fullest extent. It's warranted and the people of this country will thank him.

BLITZER: Well, let's see if he does that. There's a briefing at the White House, as you know, at 4:30 p.m. Eastern. That's when it's scheduled. Usually runs a little bit late. The coronavirus task force usually shows up for that.

Let's see if he shows up and makes the statement that you and so many of your fellow governors would like to hear, so much of the American public would like to hear as well.

You're going forward, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers I take it, in New York City and New York state, getting ready to build hospitals. Temporary hospitals all over. Not only in New York but elsewhere as well. How's that going?


CUOMO: I went out yesterday and did the final scouting of sites. We took basically state universities that have big dormitories, big field houses where we can build inside that field house a temporary hospital, temporary medical facility.

So we're building two -- we have two sites on Long Island. One in Westchester where we have a terrible hot spot and then at the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, one of the largest convention centers in the country. And we've cleared those sites. I cut all the red tape.

I said to the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, as soon as you can get here, we are ready to go. We cleared the buildings. I asked them to come tomorrow morning. I'm ready.

I want to get up as many new hospital beds as possible, because at the current rate, Wolf -- we don't have half enough hospital beds. We don't have a third enough ICU beds, intensive care unit beds, with ventilators.

So we need tremendous capacity added immediately. And we did our part. The President called out the Army Corps of Engineers. I applaud him for it. He'd signed what's called the Declaration of Disaster for New York with FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency. I applaud him for that.

Now let's get to work. You know? We -- we have all the paperwork done. Let's put the shovel in the ground, and let's do it tomorrow.

BLITZER: Well, before I let you go, I just want you to elaborate on the headline that you delivered earlier today. The 40 percent to 80 percent potentially of the citizens and people of New York state. The population of New York, what, it is about 15 million people? Is that right?

CUOMO: Yes -- 19 million. Wolf -- we're not going to stop --


BLITZER: 19 million -- because I just want to say, if these steps aren't taken and millions of people come down with coronavirus in New York state, you -- even if the Army Corps of Engineers builds a lot of hospitals you're not going to have enough hospitals.

CUOMO: Well -- that's -- that's the $64,000 question. It depends on what the rate of the increase and the rate of spread is. If you can get it over a period of months, then we could get it down to a rate that we could handle.

And remember -- let's not lose the forest for the trees. The overwhelming majority of people will self-resolve. Many people have had coronavirus, didn't even know it.

We're talking about people who would need hospitalization, need acute beds. We're talking about senior citizens, immune-compromised and people with underlying illnesses. That's the population we're talking about but they will need acute beds.

So get down the rate of spread so the hospital system can deal with it. Increase the capacity of the hospital system at the same time. But that's who you're dealing with-- that acute population. I don't believe for a minute that we don't see the spread. The only question is, how fast and how far?

BLITZER: One final question before I let you go -- Governor. How long is this going to continue, based on what your experts are telling you right now? The lockdown, the shelter in place and all of that in New York state, for example?

CUOMO: You know experts, Wolf -- they never want to answer a direct question with a direct answer, because nobody really knows. But look. If you said the range was four, six, eight, nine months, look at China -- about eight months. Depending on what you do. How fast you close it down is how fast you get out of it. But it's a number of months by any one's calculus. And in New York, we have already closed every valve that we can close.

We learned from China. We learned from South Korea, and Italy. The lesson was loud and clear. Do everything you can as soon as you can. And that's exactly what we've done here in New York.

I can't do anything else. I'm at zero non-essential workers. You can't go below zero. So we have everything off.

Now, we keep testing. We keep tracking the positives. Isolate the positives. Slow the spread. Increase the hospital capacity.

And in the meantime, get the darn masks and ventilators and the PPE equipment. That's simple. I mean, I have apparel manufacturers who I'm asking to stop making dresses, to start making the masks that people wear.


CUOMO: This is what the federal government should be doing, and they should be doing it with their federal authority under the Defense Production Act.

BLITZER: Well, let's see what they announce, if anything, along those lines later at the White House briefing. We'll, of course, live coverage of that.

Thanks so much for everything you're doing -- Governor Cuomo. I know the stakes right now are enormous for everyone in New York, around the country, indeed around the world. And we're grateful for what you're doing.

Appreciate you joining us.

CUOMO: Thank you. And I think someone turns 21 years old today -- Wolf. I'm not sure who, but somebody.

BLITZER: I have no idea who you're talking about. All right. Thanks very much for that.

Appreciate it -- governor. Appreciate it very much.

Thank you.

Let's go to Capitol Hill right now where U.S. senators are working on a massive federal stimulus package.

Lauren Fox is standing by. She's got new information. So Lauren -- first of all how close are they to actually passing this $2 trillion plan?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL REPORTER: Wolf -- Senator Schumer just came out of this Democratic lunch that they've had the last hour and said that there were still serious issues to be worked out.

Now, we've heard from Speaker Pelosi in the House that she plans to unveil her own piece of legislation because she has deep concerns about what is being negotiated right now.

But a very different tone from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who said just an hour ago that he really thought they were on the right track, that he is still committed to holding that procedural vote this afternoon and then he wants to hold a final vote perhaps tomorrow.

And of course, there's urgency here, because everyone knows that tomorrow the stock market is going to open and there's a lot of urgency on Capitol Hill for lawmakers to find some kind of consensus sooner than later or face perhaps even more dire economic pitfalls -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And remind our viewers the breaking news that Senator Rand Paul, himself a physician, has now tested positive for coronavirus and is in self-quarantine. He's trying to recuperate -- right?

FOX: Well, that's exactly right -- Wolf. You have to remember as all of these negotiations are taking place on Capitol Hill and members are very anxious to get back home to their districts and to their states, there is this breaking news that Rand Paul has contracted coronavirus.

He says he's feeling fine. That he was asymptomatic. But out of an abundance of caution he got tested and he is positive. So certainly that's going to be weighing on the minds of lawmakers as they're trying to finish up this final negotiation -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we, of course, wish Senator Rand Paul, the first senator to test positive for coronavirus -- we wish him a speedy, speedy recovery, get back to work sooner rather than later.

All right. Lauren -- thank you very much.

There's more breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now.

The chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel -- she herself is now in quarantine.

Our Senior International Correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us on the phone right now. Another dramatic development -- Fred. What do we know? FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via

telephone): Wolf -- yes, an extremely dramatic development and we just heard that only a couple of minutes, what the German government is saying is that Angela Merkel apparently got a routine vaccination on Friday and then later the doctor that gave her that vaccination, that administered that vaccination tested positive for coronavirus.

Now, the German government spokesman said Angela Merkel is going into home quarantine or self-quarantine. They say that she's going to be continuously tested for coronavirus, because they believe that because this contact was only on Friday that at this early stage tests would probably not be conclusive about whether or not she herself has coronavirus. They say that she is going to be doing a whole work load as much as she can obviously, from her home or self-quarantine.

And it's really a dramatic development, also, Wolf -- because Angela Merkel only minutes before this announcement came that she's going into self-quarantine actually herself went in front of the media here in Germany and announced tougher measures to try and deal with the coronavirus outbreak here.

Germans now banning any gather gatherings of more than two people at once, also closing all restaurants except take-outs, closing other establishments as well.

And the numbers here in Germany -- Wolf, also going very high very, very quickly. And now the chancellor herself also now in this self- quarantine. And they're going to wait and see about how long that is.

They haven't announced how long it is going to be so far but she's going to be continuously tested to see whether or not she's also contracted the virus -- Wolf.

BLITZER: And we, of course, wishing her only, only the best. Let's hope that she's going to be just fine.

All right. Fred Pleitgen -- we'll stay in very close touch with you. Thanks very much.

We're going to continue our special coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.

You're watching a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Right now the U.S. Senate is coming to order up on Capitol Hill hashing out what appears to be a $2 trillion stimulus package.

Joining us now Senator Chris Coons -- a Democrat from Delaware who's involved in all of these the negotiations. Senator -- thanks very much for joining us.

I want to get your latest information on all of that, but first your colleague Republican Senator Rand Paul, he's now the first U.S. senator to test positive for coronavirus. What's your reaction to this and what are you doing to stay safe? Because I know you take that train between -- that Amtrak between Delaware and D.C. all the time.

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): Well, Wolf -- as I took the Amtrak train down here this morning, there was literally one passenger per car. There were only six passengers on an entire train.

So I did take the precaution of wiping down with a Clorox wipe every surface before I touched it, but I frankly felt fairly safe about that travel.

And I do think an important part of this large stimulus bill we're going to take up is support for Amtrak and for other commuter rail systems that have seen their ridership drop swiftly.

Wolf -- we've been working hard all weekend. Mostly on a bipartisan basis. And I'll remind you the last two bills that came through, the first one was $8 billion, the second $100 billion were done quickly and in a positive spirit between the House and Senate.


COONS: This one's run into some real speed bumps. We're supposed to take a procedural vote at 3:00, and most of us still haven't seen any language of the final bill.

The piece of it I've worked hardest on is small business lending. And that's actually done very well. There's been broad agreement between the Republicans and Democrats who have led negotiations on that part of the bill, which could put as much as $350 billion in quick, short- term help for both for-profit and nonprofit businesses that employ fewer than 500 people. I'm optimistic about that part.

But what I understand about the bill as a whole, there are still big problems. Not enough support for the front line public health workers in states and counties. The nurses and orderlies, the paramedics and the physicians who are providing so much assistance through our public health systems, in particular hospitals that are often run by county governments.

There's not enough in this for child care, for example, or for other support for workers who are going to be displaced, or have already been displaced. We're going to see record unemployment filings in the next couple of weeks and folks need to know that we here in the federal government are putting down the tools of partisan bickering and picking up the tools of national purpose and delivering the resources to allow great governors like Governor Cuomo who just spoke to partner with federal agencies like the Army Corps of Engineers and get solutions built quickly.

We have seen things this difficult before in the Great Depression, in the Second World War. And the United States mobilized like no other country and tackled and solved those great problems.

This is the challenge of our generation and we need to show here in the Senate that we can do it, but that means moving past some of the really unfortunate partisan bickering that's dominated the last day.

Frankly, we in the Democratic caucus, haven't even seen the final bill text and we're supposed to vote in 40 minutes. I hope we can move past this. And I hope we can together make a real difference for our country in the next 36 hours.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, I suspect that vote is not going to happen in the next 40 minutes. There's a lot of work obviously that still needs to be done to reassure the Democrats and the Republicans -- make sure all you guys are on the same page.

You've got to find --

COONS: That's right.

BLITZER: -- a compromise. Might not be perfect but you've got to do something because there are millions of Americans very, very soon are going to be suffering big time and they're going to rely on the federal government, the Congress, the executive branch to get some things done.

Let me get back to this notion of what's happening on Capitol Hill as you're all meeting. What's being done to ensure that other senators, Rand Paul now testing positive for coronavirus, and staffers are not infected as you continue this critically important work?

COONS: Well, our caucus is conducting its conversation about this bill remotely. We're all calling in to a conference call that's going on right now.

As you can imagine, a conference call is a fairly frustrating way to try and get 40 or 50 people to talk at the same time. It requires some real facilitation and we don't have the videoconferencing capabilities fully up to speed yet that I expect we'll be relying on.

We all have access to the Senate physician's office. I assume that's how Senator Paul got tested, although I don't know that. And it is concerning that we have two House members and one senator already testing positive.

Over the last few days, most of us have had most of our staff, working remotely. So there's virtually no one here in the capitol, except for key and sort of critical senior staff. But the folks who've been working all weekend on the appropriations negotiations and on some of the details of this bill and leadership staff -- they are all still here.

So this is a secure place now. There isn't the general public coming in and out. It is being cleaned regularly by the tremendous, capable staff here who work in the capitol. But we have to remember how much our country is asking of those folks who are cleaning buildings, those Amtrak cars we just talked about.

All over this country we've got hourly wage workers who often don't have protections, don't have health care that we're trying to make sure in this bill that the values that we show in terms of the relief we're going to provide to Americans all over the country take into account those folks who are often working multiple jobs and doing the risky work of cleaning and sanitizing our public spaces, our hospitals, and our key facilities going forward.

BLITZER: Yes. We are grateful to them indeed. And in many cases they're risking their lives in doing that.

Senator -- thanks so much for what you're doing. Thanks to all your colleagues up on Capitol Hill. As I keep saying, the stakes are enormous. Everyone is relying on this economic stimulus package to save people out there because there are millions of Americans are pretty soon going to be broke. They're out of work. They're going to need some cash and the federal government's going to have to come through and help.

Thanks so much for joining us.

COONS: Thank you -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right. There's a surge in cases and deaths sending shock waves through Europe right now as well. Spain is now one of the most impacted countries in the world. We're going live to Madrid when we come back.


BLITZER: As we monitor the coronavirus outbreak globally, the situation in Europe is quickly becoming dire. In Spain, in a single day, the number of deaths jumped has now jumped 30 percent to more than 1,700 and healthcare workers now make up more than 10 percent of the country's cases.

CNN's Scott McLean is joining us now from Madrid.

Scott, is Spain's government taking any new, drastic measures to fight the outbreak?

I think we got disconnected with Scott. We'll reconnect with him.


As we do that, the rest of the world is currently struggling with how to handle this crisis, hoping to slow the infection rate. CNN's correspondents are on the scene across the globe.


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: This is Barbie Nadeau in Rome, where the situation in Italy remains critical. We have seen, however, a slightly smaller increase in the number of new cases over the course of the last 24 hours. We had nearly 800 deaths between Friday and Saturday, and we've seen only 651 new deaths over the course of the 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday. The total number of cases is now approaching 60,000 and the country remains on lockdown. They have now prohibited all outdoor activity in the north of the country, and they have prohibited everyone from traveling from outside their own city.

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Max Foster in Windsor, just outside London, where the queen and Prince Phillip are currently self- isolating, sending an example out to other people in vulnerable groups to stay at home.

The government today writing to 1.5 million people in vulnerable groups do the same, to not go out and put themselves at risk.

The other concern here in the U.K. is how younger people are still going out in parks, for example, and congregating, getting within two meters of each other, creating a risk. The prime minister saying, fresh air in itself isn't a defense against this, and also people who may not become particularly ill, if they get this virus, could be making other people vulnerable by just contracting it and spreading it.

These are the concerns that the U.K. is currently grappling with as the virus spreads here.

PATRICK OPPMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Patrick Oppmann in Havana, where the Cuban government has announced strict measures, they say, to stem the flow of the coronavirus on this island. Starting Tuesday, tourism will no longer be allowed. You will not be able to come here as a visitor. If you are Cuban on a resident as I am and come from abroad to Cuba, you'll be forced to undergo quarantine for 14 days. These measures will last at least a month, perhaps longer.

The Cuban government says their playing their greatest strength that we are on an island, and if they cut off contact from the outside world, perhaps they can get the situation here under control. Many residents I've talked say they're worried the government here has acted too late.


BLITZER: All right. Patrick Oppmann, Max Foster, Barbie Nadeau, guys, thank you very much.

I want to get back to Scott McLean. We've reconnected with him in Madrid, Spain, right now where the number of deaths has jumped 30 percent to more than 1,700. What's the latest there, Scott?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Just this morning, Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced that he would ask the Spanish Parliament to extend the stay-at-home order for another 15 days now until April 11th. He also acknowledged just how difficult that will be for his country. Authorities also announced that the borders will effectively shut to anyone who is not a Spanish citizen, a resident or an essential worker as of midnight tonight.

Inside Central Madrid, there is still a very heavy police presence across the country. They've issued some 15,000 tickets for people being out of their homes when they shouldn't be and for good reason. The death toll just in the last 24 hours jumped up by nearly 400 now to more than 1,700.

Spain has yet to see much of a payoff for these restrictive measures that it's put in place, but this morning, authorities explained why it is so important right now to stay on the course. Listen.


FERNANDO SIMON, DIRECTOR, SPANISH COORDINATING CENTER FOR HEALTH ALERTS AND EMERGENCIES: We are approaching the time period in which perhaps if we are lucky, we will turn the curve, stabilize and it will start to go down. Models indicate that we are not very far away but relaxing measures prematurely would mean starting again. And we have to be very careful with continue implementing well and the necessary time.


MCLEAN: And, Wolf, we also learned that more than 10 percent of the coronavirus confirmed cases in this country are that of healthcare workers. That is straining a system that is already strained, using hospitals beyond the one like I'm standing in front of now to hotels, now to convention centers, where they're having to set up beds.

There is some good news though, and that is that, prior to this, Spain hadn't really been doing much widespread testing of people with only mild symptoms. That will change though. They now have tests that can return results in just 15 minutes. They're hoping to manufacture enough of those tests that they can do five times the testing they're doing right now, Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope that happens. Good luck over there. Scott McLean, be careful over there in Madrid yourself. I appreciate your reporting.

Up next, U.S. senators now calling on President Trump to invoke what's called the Defense Production Act to ramp up their production of critically needed medical supplies, supplies designed to save lives. I'll speak to one of those U.S. senators. That's next.



BLITZER: So the White House is set to hold another coronavirus task force briefing later this afternoon. We anticipate the president will show up as well. It comes amid criticism from state leaders across the country that the federal government is not doing enough in the face of this global pandemic.

CNN's Kristen Holmes is joining us from the White House right now. Kristen, we've heard from several governors today asking why the president a has not yet used the Defense Production Act to speed up manufacturing the critically needed medical supplies out there. What's the latest? What are you hearing from the White House? KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've heard from the president and from top administration officials who say it's just not necessary right now, that all of these companies are coming out, that they're volunteering to manufacture those critically needed goods.

But there's two things I want to note about that. The first is that on Wednesday when President Trump invoked that Defense Production Act, we know business leaders, the business community, pushed back to the White House. They did not want to be government-controlled companies, and they, the sentiment being, we will do whatever it is you ask, just don't put us under that Defense Production Act.


So that's what we'll kind of see now actually play out.

The other side of this, and you heard it from Governor Cuomo, is that it's no longer just about manufacturing but it's also about distribution to the states, getting those critically needed goods from the manufacturer to the people who need them the most.

And when we talk about the Defense Production Act, it isn't just about manufacturing. One thing that the president could do is step in and really streamline that distribution. It would go through the federal government to each of the places that need it the most. They would be able to essentially list where it needed the most and ensure that those places got those supplies.

As it stands right now, you have 50 states who are not only competing with one another but they are also competing with the federal government who is trying to stock up on supplies so they can get their orders out, and in some cases, they're actually competing with hospitals that are in line trying to get orders out to their healthcare workers on the ground.

So right now, it's really an all-over the place type of system. There is no streamline in place. And, Wolf, we will be asking about that today, asking why it is that at least this aspect of the Defense Production Act isn't put into play.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to hear what the president announces later at this briefing and we look forward to hearing that. We'll, of course, have live coverage of that coming up.

Kristen, thank you very much for your reporting. I appreciate it very much.

And stay with CNN's live coverage of the coronavirus outbreak. You're watching a special edition of The Situation Room. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: As panic and uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic spreads across the world, places of worship had been forced to close their doors in order to protect their congregations. And while those precautions are protecting worshippers' physical health, it's their mental health that's also right now at stake.

Rabbi Joshua Stanton presides over the East End Temp in Manhattan. Rabbi, thank you so much for joining us. It's a difficult time for you, for you, for your congregants. How are you able to help members of your synagogue keep up with the faith during this era, for example, of social distancing when they shouldn't be crowding a synagogue, for example?

JOSHUA STANTON, RABBI, EAST END TEMPLE: Wolf, we are fighting two pandemics. First is the actual physical pandemic and the second is the pandemic of isolation. People, in order to stay physically safe, are by themselves more than they ever have been, especially in a city like New York where people love to spend time together.

Our community has moved all of its operations entirely online. Religious school connects now virtually via Zoom conference, we have ongoing conversations, guest speakers, lectures, every single day online. We want to make sure that we are connecting with people as much as possible.

Our cantor, Shera Ginsburg, held Shabbat services this past Friday night online and we are reaching out to every single community member by phone to make sure that they know they're not alone and that we're here for them.

BLITZER: Well, these are really challenging moments, I'm sure, for your congregants, for people in New York city and around the country as well. What are you doing? I feel so horrible. Let's say you have to postpone or cancel or do online, a wedding, a bar mitzvah? How are you dealing with that?

STANTON: Last weekend, we did a bar mitzvah almost entirely online and this past week we actually did what's called a shiva minyan, a gathering for mourners virtually online so that they could recite sacred words of blessing.

The underlying principle especially with mourners is that one's loved one should ever be a blessing in their lives and that doesn't necessarily mean convening in person. In fact, it's about sharing stories and that's something we can do remotely.

So we're trying to move everything we do online so that we are actually more connected than ever before, even in the face of the social distancing that is taking place in physical terms.

BLITZER: So what's your basic message right now to your congregants, especially as we approach Passover?

STANTON: We are here for you through thick and thin. The story of Passover is the one of society somehow managing to overcome plagues and difficulties. Our community is trying to have the world's largest online Seder. It's going to be an interface Seder, so you don't need to be Jewish to take part, you don't need to a member of our community. We want to be there for you. Let us know how we can be there for you. We want to teach, learn, connect and share our love however possible.

BLITZER: Rabbi Stanton, thanks so much for what you're doing. I'm sure your congregants are grateful. These are really, really difficult times right now. Thanks so much. And if I don't see you before Passover, have a happy, happy Passover. I appreciate it very much.

STANTON: Thank you.

BLITZER: Millions of Americans are being told to shelter in place right now as the coronavirus pandemic spreads. But does that mean you shouldn't go outdoors at all? CNN's Brian Todd is working that part of the story for us.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Along San Francisco's Waterfront Walkway, the Embarcadero, people walk, jog, roller skate during a shelter-in-place order from the city in effect at least until early April. These folks were ordered stay at home. But there is an exception for what are deemed essential activities, and walking, hiking and running allowed if people stay six feet away from each other.

DR. JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR: We need to be out and about. And I think the guidance that says go and do those things but keep your distance, I think that's very prudent, because we have to stay true to who we are.

TODD: What about touching common surfaces outside?


We observed people playing volleyball in D.C.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're all touching the same surface. If anyone has coughed or sneezed, it's possible that they are transmitting to each other's hands.

TODD: But experts say that risk could be lowered if they wipe the ball with sanitizing wipes and wash hands after they play.

In Florida, beautiful weather, still drawing crowds to some beaches that remain open with people in close proximity to each other.

Are you concerned about health?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: No. Probably should be more so but --

TODD: Not a great idea, the experts say.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think you should be taking the same precautions outside that you would take inside. The recommendation is six feet away, smaller groups of people, not mixing large groups of people in close proximity where they could cough on each other. TODD: Getting some fresh air and getting exercise can help everyone keep it together in crisis, but health authorities plead, keep your distance and avoid larger groups. Young people especially may be tempted to go out.

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: They were feeling totally invincible, are feeling that way but they don't realize that they can be carrying lots of bad things home to their grandmother and grandfather and even their parents.

TODD: In San Francisco, couples were observed holding hands while walking outside. Is that a good idea?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you live with someone, you're sharing a household, you're in close proximity to them and neither of you are symptomatic, then holding hands with that person you're exposed to all the time is a low risk activity.

But you should both be very conscious about washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face, eyes, nose.

TODD: If you live with family, that's another factor in deciding how much you want to go out.

FAUST: I live with my wife and our daughter and they're out for a run in the stroller right now as it happens. But it might be different if we were living with an elderly relative who has chronic medical conditions or whose immune system is compromised in some way.

TODD: Health experts say that in some cases being inside for a long period of time could make an otherwise healthy or symptom-free person more susceptible to illness. They point out that you don't get the vitamin D that your body creates by being exposed to sunlight. And they say that if you're cooped up inside or isolated for a long time inside and you develop depression, well, that could compromise your immune functions.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


TODD: Thank you, Brian.

During this pandemic, we all know that shaking hands should be avoided. It's something the president has struggled to adjust to during this outbreak.


TRUMP: I'd shake his hand but I'm not supposed to do that. I'll get in a lot of trouble if I did that.


BLITZER: But it hasn't always been this way for the president. Long before he became a politician, I sat down for an interview with then businessman Donald Trump back at Trump Tower in New York in 1999. In that interview, he talked about his dislike for shaking hands, the health dangers the greeting poses and how he would adjust to the formality if he eventually were to become a politician. Listen to this.


BLITZER: Another quote from this documentary came out in 1997, I believe. One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands and then more successful and famous one becomes the worst this terrible custom seems to get. I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.

TRUMP: I certainly haven't changed. I mean, look, the concept of, the other day, a man comes up, he's looking at me. He sneezes. He grabs his nose and sneezes. And he says, Mr. Trump, how are you? Now, I'm supposed to shake his hand and be happy with him? The guy has got a terrible cold?

BLITZER: If you're a politician in your (INAUDIBLE), you've got no choice.

TRUMP: I guess if you're politician, so maybe, therefore, who knows. Look, I do shaking hands. I think it's a terrible custom. I think it's a very, very terrible custom. A lot of people agree with me. I have more letters on that one subject than anything where they're saying, you're right about shaking hands.

Who needs to do it? But I do it. I do it sometimes, begrudgingly. I mean, I've had many cases you're eating dinner and you see some nice gentleman come out of the bathroom and he comes over to you and grabs, oh, Mr. Trump, I want to -- the good news is you don't eat that roll. You just

put it away.

But the fact is it's almost barbaric in a certain way and especially nowadays. I don't think it's good, but I do it.

BLITZER: And sad to say, a lot of germs are passed along, colds and other diseases.

TRUMP: I've had a lot of good reviews on that one. I mean, you may be trying to be a little bit critical with that in terms of politics, but I've had a lot of good reviews and did a lot of stories on my little statement about shaking hands. And a lot of scientists have come out and said, you know, I don't know if it's a nice thing to say, but Trump happens to be right. A lot of germs are passed. So if we can avoid it, we can avoid it.


BLITZER: Pretty good advice from then businessman president -- now President Trump. That was 21 years ago, and with that advice that is now critically important as we all battle a pandemic outbreak.

Fredricka Whitfield is joining us right now.

Fred, thanks to our viewers for joining us. You don't think I aged at all over the past 21 years, do you?

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: I was going to say -- you read my mind, forever young and especially on today, reporting for duty, and it's your birthday, Wolf.


BLITZER: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Happy birthday.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.

WHITFIELD: So glad you shared it with us, and a consummate professional all the way around, 1999, 2020, you name it.