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NY Gov: States Competing, Outbidding Each Other For Med Supplies; Private Docs Prescribing Chloroquine Amid Hoarding Concerns; Fed Takes Emergency Action To Stave Off Potential Of A Depression. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired March 23, 2020 - 12:30   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: -- state to state and recommendation to recommendation just doesn't make sense, John.

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Right. I don't think it makes sense from a medical standpoint. It also can be very confusing from a political standpoint, if you're trying to get people to have the discipline, to social distance, to isolate, to be more careful. If you have the President saying one thing, a governor saying something else, a doctor saying something else, it gets pretty confusing.

And in the middle of all this, Sanjay, and our viewers can see the numbers on the right side of the screen there, they just keep going up the global cases, the U.S. cases. New York is the epicenter right now, a bit earlier in the day, the governor on the one hand praising President Trump saying, he did get FEMA to move in quickly to help with some emergency hospital beds in New York.

The governor is saying thank you for that. But then the governor also poking the President saying, look, everybody is now in a scramble to get masks, gowns, shields, other protective equipment. You have states competing against each other, private companies essentially having a competition. The governor says, Mr. President, take this over.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: I'm competing with other states. I'm bidding up other states on the prices because you have manufacture who sit there and California offers them $4, and they say, well, California offered $4, I offered $5. Another state calls in and offer $6. It's not the way to do it. I was speaking to Governor J.B. Pritzker yesterday about this. Why are we competing?


KING: The answer to the why is his view is that the President should use the Defense Production Act to essentially nationalize this, tell factories, you're producing mask, you're producing gowns, this is the price. Let's have a fair market price. But here's the price. And the federal government then distributes them according to need. But the President, maybe more of a political question than a medical question, sorry, doctor. The President seems reluctant to use that federal authority essentially believing the private sector will sort it out.

GUPTA: Yes. Look, and the other part of this is that these things that we're talking about, because this is a pandemic, are people everywhere on the planet want these things now as well. So it's becoming increasingly challenging for smaller, you know, states or communities to try and get their hands on these things.

You're right. I mean, the politics of this is very much at play. But from a medical standpoint, you know, when you have something that's become a scarce commodity, something that could have been obtained because the numbers were known in terms of the likely ahead of demand for ventilators, for masks, for all these things. It is frustrating for people at the community level at the public health community level, because they still don't have it. And now they're not sure that they can get it. It's a scarce resource in the entire in the entire world right now, John.

KING: And as the surgeon general talks about the bad week ahead. It's not just the more cases, it's just dealing with the supply chain as well. Dr. Gupta, appreciate you being with us. I'm sure we'll have more conversations in the hours ahead.

Up next for us here, more on prescribing the drug that President Trump calls quote, one of the biggest game changers but has not been approved by the FDA yet.



KING: Private doctors across the country now starting to prescribe an anti-malaria drug called, chloroquine. President Trump says it could be, quote, one of the biggest game changers in the history of medicine. That's from the President. But and it's an important but, the drug has not been approved by the FDA yet to treat the coronavirus.

Joining me now is our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, I understand that in response to the President's optimism, there are now concerns over people hoarding the drug.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, absolutely. So several states now have regulations in place. They've just done this over the past few days, saying, hey, look, if you're going to prescribe this, you need to have an actual diagnosis written on the prescription. And we're only going to give it to you for a short time. That's for all new prescriptions.

And the reason is that they are finding people, doctors prescribing it for themselves, prescribing it to their friends, prescribing it for their husband or wife and that is not OK. And now in these states, it is actually illegal. People need this drug to treat their malaria, their lupus, their rheumatoid arthritis. People cannot be hoarding this just in case they get COVID.

And in fact, these drugs aren't even proven to help you if you get COVID or coronavirus. They're being studied. So they may not even help. And they may not even be safe for this disease.

KING: And the World Health Organization has a view on this as well?

COHEN: They certainly do. So they have come out saying, hey, look, these are untested drugs. That's the quote from the director general. These are untested drugs, just because a small study says, hey, it might work, that does not mean that it does work. And the President has made it sound like it does work.

He has also said, hey, why not try it? We're not going to kill anybody. Well, that's not necessarily true. There is, as French doctors have put it, a narrow margin between the therapeutic dose and the toxic dose. This drug in a too large of a dose has been associated with heart problems, with eye problems.

You can hurt people. We don't know especially what it will do to patients with coronavirus, that's precisely why they're staying studying, studying yet. So now the WHO director general coming out saying what, Tony Fauci said days ago at the White House press briefing, we need to study these drugs.

KING: Tony Fauci also saying, the President does what he does. He's a scientist. He says, he does the science other people do other things. That's what Tony Fauci, said.

Elizabeth Cohen, appreciate that very important reporting. And there is a global impact of all of this. In Nigeria, several people have now overdosed on chloroquine, prompting officials there to issue a warning about the drug.

CNN's David McKenzie has the latest on this, David?

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: John after President Trump touted the use of chloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19, three Nigerians have overdosed from that drug according to Nigerian health officials.

Trump said that the Food and Drug Administration had approved the use of chloroquine. But in fact, that wasn't the case. Prices are going up for the drug in Lagos according to our reporting. But World Health Organization officials and Nigerian officials say, people shouldn't buy the drug to use.

David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.


KING: David, appreciate that.

Meanwhile, a massive shortage of critical medical supplies playing out in hospitals across the country. The dwindling availability of protective equipment to safeguard health workers on the frontlines of this outbreak, a growing concern.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky is the chief of infectious diseases division at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Doctor, just take us to the frontlines. What is today like at your hospital? Is it better than yesterday or worse?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Thanks so much for having me. We are definitely feeling like we're on the upswing. I can tell you just in compared to last week, our cases of patients with COVID disease have gone up about five fold. It got from about 20 to 30 percent from yesterday.

We're trying to get test rapidly done so that people who are suspected to have the disease can be ruled out or will do and we can give essential beds and protective equipment supplies to the people who need them the most.

KING: And what is the status when it comes to the masks, the gowns, the PPE, that so many hospitals have said, sure we've got some in the storeroom, but they're going to run out pretty quickly. Where are you?

WALENSKY: Right. We are still watching it very carefully over the weekend. I'm happy to say that we actually decided on a policy that would mask our employees coming into the hospital to protect our health care providers as well as to protect our patients since we do know that some of the disease can present without symptoms.

So we're masking everybody. That was a big move, I think, from Massachusetts General. And it's made us very concerned about our supply. And we're watching that very carefully.

KING: You can't avoid the political controversies here. I'm sure you've heard the President say he thinks there are drugs out there that are quote unquote, game changers. At Massachusetts General Hospital from your peers and colleagues, are there drugs that help or is the President winging it here?

WALENSKY: You know, we are watching the clinical trials in the space very, very carefully. Certainly, there's been some discussion about hydroxychloroquine that has shown some promise in the lab, some early signal in uncontrolled studies of less than 50 or more -- less than 50 patients.

So I'm not sure that's ready. I'm quite confident that's not ready for primetime. And I know that's in the trials. We're also looking at the trials of Remdesivir, this other antiviral that has been used in these clinical trials and for compassionate use.

I will say, that trial has been enrolling in China since about early February and rolled over 700 patients in different trials. I would think if there was going to be a huge sentinel of improving mortality that we might have seen it already. So it may show promise it may have some hope.

But in terms of being a game changer to completely cure people quickly and the disease, I worry that we may not see that.

KING: As your cases rise, take us through what you're seeing in the sense that has anything changed, are you surprised by anything in terms of whether it's the mortality rate, whether it's the age of the people coming in, what are you learning as we go through this and as your caseload increases?

WALENSKY: You know, we've done a quite a good job of emptying our hospital of things that are nonessential, nonessential visits, nonessential surgeries, and whatnot. I'm really preparing for a rapid upswing that we believe that we will see.

Our hospital is getting fuller by the day. Our ICU is getting fuller by the day. About 40 percent of our patients who come in are in the ICU. So we're very worried about obviously ventilators that everybody has been talking about, in addition about the medical staff to respiratory therapists, to use those ventilators, and to be able to take care of those patients.

So we are every -- I wouldn't say everyday, we're frequently opening units to be able to manage the intake of new patients. And we're working talking to our colleagues in New York City and Seattle recognizing we have the worst of the yet to come.

KING: And the President today is getting antsy. We are told about the 15-day guidelines the White House put in place. They are in place for one more week. The governor of Massachusetts, just today, Governor Charlie Baker, putting in place stay at home recommendations there.

From your health perspective, how much longer is it necessary to have what I'm going to call, severe social distancing, my words, not anyone else's, to help you deal with the problem?

WALENSKY: It's essential. We know from the data from China that even just moderate social distancing didn't work. I mean, it certainly helps slow things down, but it did not turn the curve downward.

So if we really want to turn those curve downward, we have to do what I think you're calling a severe social distancing, real isolation of people who have any symptoms at all. And so I would just urge that people hunker down, stay in place, stay away from people who have any symptoms at all, so we can gain some control over this.


KING: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you so much for your time today and more importantly, thank you and all of your colleagues for what you're doing to help us fight through this and with your facts and perspective and critically important at a time of considerable confusion. Really appreciate the work. Thank you so much.

WALENSKY: Thanks for having me.

KING: Thank you.

Up next here, a warning on unemployment. Could it really hit 30 percent?



KING: There are many warnings about the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy. But this one might stand out, as Congress now tries to hammer out a $2 trillion stimulus package, "The Washington Post" reports that James Bullard, the head of the St. Louis Fed is warning the unemployment rate in the United States may hit 30 percent.

Already millions of workers are filing for unemployment across the country as restaurants and retail businesses closed down. Markets are getting impatient. There you see the Dow right there down 255 points to its slipping 258 points. That's a bit of improvement actually from earlier.

The Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin pleading with small businesses, hang in there saying, help is on the way. Listen.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: All small businesses, we will have an immediate mechanism that's close to 50 percent of the U.S. economy for workers. We are encouraging small businesses, make sure you hire people back. If you haven't, let people go, don't let people go because we are providing you necessary liquidity. And we're going to get that money out fast. We are working around the clock today to make sure that the Senate passes this today.


KING: Joining us now is Larry Summers. He's the former treasury secretary and of course, as a top economic adviser to President Obama at the height of the economic crisis back in 2009 and 2010. Mr. Secretary, thank you so much for your time today. It's a very important moment.

Take us through what you learned back then, what works and what doesn't when you have a Washington that, yes, wants to help? Yes, is prepared to spend, in this case $2 trillion that is staggering. What did you learn from what was called, the bailouts? I know some people bristle at the term, back then about what works and what doesn't?

LAWRENCE SUMMERS, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: Look, there are a few principles. You have to tell the truth and make realistic and accurate forecasts. If you're not trusted, the fear drives the economy downwards. So public officials have to be very careful and honest in their statements. I don't think we've always seen that in the last month.

Second, you've got to recognize that markets and psychology do overreact. Therefore, policy has to overreact as well. There's much more danger in a situation like this of doing too little than there is of doing too much. Third, assistance has got to be focused on the most critical places.

At this moment, the most critical places is making sure that we don't have a downward spiral as people lose their jobs or unable to pay their debts, financial institutions down, get in more trouble, and the whole thing turns downwards. That's why I focus on getting money to workers within small businesses, government being willing to accept some credit losses when necessary is a what's appropriate.

Fourth, this is no time for free market principles. And no time for traditional thinking. We're going to have to have government borrowing and government spending on scales with deficits that people have not thought of before. That's what's necessary. The more and last, perhaps most critically, and this applies in the public health area as well, the more you do sooner, the less you'll have to do later. And the less you'll have to do in total.

That's why it's so important that the stimulus be delivered quickly. That's why it's so important that the public health part of the strategy, the social distancing, and critically the testing of individual cases move as quickly as possible. If we do less, we move faster now. The total amount of painful policy we will have to undertake will be reduced.

KING: And yet, many people acknowledge this could be 2 trillion and they say it's probably a down payment. It sounds like you agree that they'll have to come back and do something else. To the public health point, you mentioned, when you were dealing with this, you had a financial collapse, you did not have a pandemic with it.

Congressman Jody Hice of Georgia saying this today and the President has been sounding a similar tone, reality check, booming economy gone, businesses closing, unemployment soaring, hysteria and fear up, which is worse, the illness or our fix? You start to see agitation, that it's time to stop the restrictions, just flip the switch back on the economy. What's your thought on that?

SUMMERS: I think it's dangerously, dangerously misguided. If we do that, what will happen is we will have a catastrophic cascade of illness, which will stop the economy too. And we'll have a medical catastrophe, and an even worse, economic catastrophe.

This is something that starts small and grows exponentially. And the sooner you act to stomp it out, the less pain you have to take in stomping it out. Every day of social distancing today, saves a week, a month -- months from now, if we don't get this under control.


KING: Mr. Secretary, grateful for your thoughts and insights today. Please keep in touch as we go through this in the weeks and months.

Ahead up next for us here, new reporting on the President of the United States now itching to reopen the country and relax those social distancing guidelines. Brianna Keilar continuing our coverage after a quick break. Have a great afternoon. Stay safe.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar. And this is CNN's continuing special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Moments from now the Senate is expected to vote on a massive stimulus bill as the country struggles with equally massive changes to their everyday lives. Massachusetts, Michigan, and Maryland are the latest states to issue orders closing down nonessential businesses.

Ten states now have stay at home orders in place. Several other major cities are issuing similar orders in an effort to keep people at a safe distance. And the surgeon general indicating that this is a critical week in containing the spread of the virus while President Trump may be leaning toward relaxing some of his own social distancing orders early next week.

States meanwhile, say they are running out of supplies. Some hospitals warn they may run out of protective gear this week while waiting for help from the federal government.

And this hour the Senate will vote on that stimulus package, we're talking $2 trillion worth of help intended for businesses and workers. And our Manu Raju has been following all of this on Capitol Hill. So Manu, the vote was originally supposed to be held right now. Tell us what the holdup is?