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Pandemic Worsens In U.S., Hospitals Desperate For Supplies; China Reports No New Coronavirus Cases In Wuhan For Five Days; Oxford Scientists Developing 30-Minute-Result Virus Test. Aired 5:30-6a ET

Aired March 23, 2020 - 05:30   ET




JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: This morning, the president is deploying the National Guard to three states as governors, doctors, and medical workers on the front lines plead for supplies.

Joining us now is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, chief of infectious diseases at Mass General Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard's medical school.

Dr. Walensky, thank you so much for being with us this morning. And thank you so much for the work that you are doing. I know you are helping coordinate these efforts at Mass General, which is a wonderful institution which has helped many relatives of mine over the years -- that's a different story.

Listen, Doctor, you say you are instituting this policy of every medical worker needs to use a mask and a reuse policy, and you've never seen anything like that in your career.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: It's true. First of all, thank you for having me. Yes, this has been -- these are unprecedented times. I've been doing infectious disease for 20 years at Mass General and I've never instituted a reuse or an extended use policy for masks.

We believe now that there is coronavirus, really, in the community and that many people present potentially, with no symptoms at all or present before they are symptomatic. And so, we are actually using this policy at Mass General actually, not just for our health care workers but everybody coming to work every day is getting a mask.


And that is to protect the health care workers themselves, but also to protect our patients so that if we are asymptomatic we're not giving it to patients unknowingly. And if our patients are asymptomatic or if our patients have disease we, as health care workers, won't get it.

BERMAN: Why do you need to have this reuse policy? WALENSKY: We just don't know that we have the number of masks in order to do this for the long term. We believe we're on the upswing. We know we're on the upswing.

We have five to 10 times the number of COVID-19 patients as we had a week ago. We've talked to colleagues in New York and Seattle. We know what we're in for and we know that we need to have masks for the long term.

And so there is a lot of discussion as we put forward this every health care -- every worker gets a mask as to whether we'll have enough supply. And so we're very worried about that and we're using an extended and reuse policy at this point.

BERMAN: You think some level of federal coordination on these matters -- on the supply -- would be helpful. What would that do?

WALENSKY: I think we need coordination at every level. When I look at what happened in China and how they were able to finally turn the tide and create a downward epidemic curve there was coordination everywhere.

There was an influx of health care workers. There was coordination at the hospital level. There was coordination to make the masks and the supplies and the tests. There was coordination to get the PPE.

So I think we need federal coordination, and state coordination, and local coordination. And with that coordination, I'm really hoping that individuals will then watch and stay home themselves. So I think we need it at every single level.

It does no good to have one hospital have tests and another hospital -- or one hospital not to have tests and another hospital to not have swabs. And yet, a third to not have processing media for the labs. So I think we need it at every single level to make sure that we can -- we're in this for the long haul -- that we have enough supplies for everyone.

That happens at the bed level, too. We need hospitals to have beds, ICU care, ventilators, respiratory therapists to operate those vents, and that coordination just has to happen.

BERMAN: You said you think you're a week or two behind (audio gap). What kind of patients are presenting right now at Mass General and what are they typically presenting with?

WALKENSKY: You know, we have a lot of patients that are presenting just with regular upper respiratory symptoms. It's seasonal allergy -- you know, we're into seasonal allergies here and so it's very hard to discern whether your scratchy throat or your runny nose is about to escalate into something worse. We have people presenting that way.

We have people presenting sick with fever -- high fever and cough. And so I actually think they're presenting very similarly as they are in New York and Seattle. I think what's happening is that the volume -- we're just behind in the volume and we see that volume dramatically increase just from week to week.

BERMAN: One of the things our Dr. Sanjay Gupta has said is that if you wouldn't go to the hospital normally with the symptoms that you have, don't go now. He basically is saying if you have just a scratchy throat, don't go to the hospital because there's a pandemic. It's got to be worse than that.

How should people interpret that?

WALKENSKY: I think if people would have not called six months ago for these symptoms or not presented six months ago for these symptoms, there's no reason to present now.

Please understand (audio gap) really limited and constrained at this point. The phones are ringing (audio gap). And we have a lot of people who are furloughed -- who are not present because they're unwell. And so, we really want to make sure that the people who are getting the health care are the ones who really need it.

So if you are feeling unwell but you're a healthy young individual and you would have otherwise stayed home and rested and just not contacted anyone, then do that. We don't have the capacity at this point to have our medical care going in that direction.

Many people are asking for tests. Many people want to just know if they have coronavirus. I understand that. We've completely lost control of our lives and we don't really know and that's going to be regained, and so people want information.

But right now, we simply don't have the tests and we don't have the supplies. And we don't have the personnel and the PPE to do all of those tests. So we're really trying to limit them for the people who are quite sick, for the people who are in the hospital, so we know how to best care for them when they come.

BERMAN: Look, everyone has to do their part. Everyone needs to be their own public health administrator in a way so that we can help the overall community.


BERMAN: (Audio gap) various possible treatments and one of them is hydroxychloroquine (audio gap) correctly.


BERMAN: There has been a consequence already to (audio gap) this. What is that and how realistic is this as a treatment?


WALENSKY: You know, hydroxychloroquine is a drug that's been on the shelves for a long time. It's been used to treat malaria. It's used to treat rheumatologic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.

There is a small case series of patients, less than 50, from France that have some suggestion that it might decrease the viral burden more quickly. Those are the data we're talking about. We have some data from laboratory work, not in humans, that looks like it may prohibit viral replications through endosomes.

But we don't have enough real data to say that this is going to be the panacea that has been suggested, and we don't have a lot of the drug. We can't sort of sprinkle it in the water. We just don't have enough of it.

So I would say we really need this drug to do the studies to give it to the people who are sick and to try and see if we're going to get a signal there. There are large-scale studies that are trying to open up but we need the drug to understand whether it's actually working.

So I would encourage people to not go and try and get hydroxychloroquine prescriptions because we are -- we're not there yet.

BERMAN: It's already probably too hard to get for the people who actually do need it for the things that it is approved --


BERMAN: -- for treatment for already.


BERMAN: Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you very much for waking up early and talking to us this morning on NEW DAY. We really appreciate your time. And again, thanks for the work you're doing.

WALENSKY: Thank you so much for having me.

BERMAN: All right, Christine.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: John, scientists are racing to create a quicker coronavirus test amid a nationwide shortage. The latest on their research and when the test could be available, next.



ROMANS: All right.

Today marks two months since authorities in Wuhan, China instituted a strict lockdown to try to control coronavirus. China now reports it has had no new cases in that province in five days.

CNN's David Culver live in Shanghai with more -- David.


Yes, two months ago to this day, we were actually arriving back in Beijing after spending 29 hours in Wuhan, the original epicenter of all of this. And, of course, now you realize that over that stretch of time people have been spending most of their lives indoors there. I mean, they have been sealed off from the world, in many cases, and they've been undergoing what have been extreme and some have described as rather brutal lockdown conditions.

However, the Chinese government and the World Health Organization has argued it's been effective, especially when you look at the numbers. Now, the numbers in and of themselves have been questioned quite frequently as far as how reliable they are. And it's something that we, of course, have questioned.

But when you put that to the government and you try to get a clear picture of the data, the argument that they put forward is that they have really nothing to gain for not being transparent. That is to say, if underreporting and cover-up were to go forward here, that would perhaps put them in a worse situation than if they would just be open with where they currently stand.

Now, if you back to the origins of this when we were in Wuhan and the concerns of cover-up were widespread and the local government was (audio gap) until the central government stepped in and took over (audio gap) did the wrongdoing at the local level and then promised transparency (audio gap) going forward.

The question remains how authentic are these numbers? Are they accurate, reliable? And I hear it a lot but I think the reality is that it's for one, tough to question because the Chinese government and the National Health Commission as a whole is really our only source of this data. And two, you would have to question what they would gain out of not being transparent here if it were, for example, to be revealed that they were perhaps covering it up again.

So, Christine, there's a lot of back and forth on that, but the reality is --


CULVER: -- as of now, you've got to hope that they're true.

ROMANS: You know, David, quickly -- you know, the President of the United States had praised the Chinese President Xi back in January for his handling -- his grasp of the -- of the coronavirus problem. In the last couple of days, he has said he wished that China had told him sooner how dangerous this was. Any response from the Chinese about this recent criticism from the president?

CULVER: It is an interesting back-and-forth there -- President Trump -- because he will, to this day, continue actually to praise President Xi Jinping. But you're right, there's criticism towards the government and to the handling of this.

The Chinese side of this is hey, you saw what was going on early on -- even if they were looking at our own reporting on this -- go back two months -- and that should have been an early heads-up to start acting.

In fact, if you look at other countries like South Korea, for example, even the private sector there, Christine, started manufacturing testing kits early on, realizing what was happening in China and saying hey, we probably should prepare for this wave coming our way. So that's certainly the argument from the Chinese perspective.

And there's no question that there's a lot of allegations of cover-up at the local level early on. But once it was exposed, and we were even reporting on it --


CULVER: -- the question was why weren't actions taken sooner for other nations?

ROMANS: All right. David Culver, you've been covering this so well for us. Thank you so much. So glad to have your perspective and reporting -- John.

BERMAN: All right.

This morning, testing shortages being reported across the United States. Now health officials in New York City and Los Angeles are changing their strategy, recommending doctors avoid testing patients, except in cases where a result would significantly change the course of treatment. In the meantime, Oxford scientists are developing a test that gives results in just 30 minutes.

CNN's Nick Paton Walsh with that.


NICK PATON WALSH, INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Tests, tests, tests, says the WHO, but it can take days in a lab. Yet, in Oxford, England they think they've made a (INAUDIBLE) test usable anywhere -- the raw materials for which cost about $25.00.


WALSH (on camera): Now, this is in a hospital, of course, and these are not sterile. But the hope is you'd be able to take a specimen from someone's nose, put it in a test tube, and then get it tested in just about half an hour.

WALSH (voice-over): At Oxford University they can't test me, as it could contaminate their laboratory. But they work on a negative and positive control sample and had a head start six weeks ago with help from Partner (ph) Academics in China. Here, he adds positive control sample to their special mix of chemicals and enzymes before a colleague steps in to stop cross-contamination.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have done the positive and she's doing the negative for the second tube (ph).

WALSH (voice-over): She puts it into a machine that heats both samples to (audio gap) 6050 Fahrenheit for 30 minutes. Then, it's done. Pink is good; yellow is bad.

WALSH (on camera): There's a race against time here, too. They need clinical trials for about a week, then regulatory approval to be swift, and then mass production in clean facilities. They hope, though, that may all be possible within two to four weeks.

WALSH (voice-over): Nothing works until it works and there could be shortfalls here, but there's another bonus as well.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: For now, we are trying to push it that everything needs to be handle by the professional people in the hospital -- that we are doing it -- like doing some more development to hopefully, that we can have an easy kit that people can use it at home.

WALSH (voice-over): The test needs a temperature anyone can create with water at home.

WALSH (on camera): So, one part cold, two parts boiling hot.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Exactly, and then we just pop the test in and put the lid on.

WALSH (voice-over): There are kits that claim to be faster, but this is simple and could be used anywhere for even less than $25.00 if mass-produced. Possible cheap, quick clarity at a time when uncertainty rules.

Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Oxford.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Nick for that.

So, many elderly Americans choosing to stay at home because of coronavirus. Who's making sure they don't run out of groceries, supplies? The solution found by one city, next.



ROMANS: Welcome back.

(Audio gap) from coronavirus, many of them scared to leave the house.

In one California city, the fire department is stepping in to help, leaving hooks and ladders behind to go beyond the call of duty.

CNN's Stephanie Elam has the story.


STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): If it's a blaze --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A very quick response by the Glendale Fire to get in there.

ELAM (voice-over): -- or another emergency, firefighters know how to battle. But what if the enemy is an invisible and potentially deadly virus like COVID-19?

CHIEF SILVIO LANZAS, GLENDALE FIRE DEPARTMENT: We want to solve the problem and in this one, we've got to support the efforts that are being made to flatten the curve. We can't really solve it but we can certainly do our part to help.

ELAM (voice-over): And now that California is under a stay-at-home order, many of the vulnerable in Los Angeles County are afraid to venture out, fearful of getting the coronavirus. So the Glendale Fire Department has found yet another way (audio gap).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Audio gap) for food, medications or other special needs (audio gap).

ELAM (voice-over): (Audio gap) call the department so that its team of more than 100 volunteers can deliver necessities to seniors and people with underlying health conditions. The Glendale Fire Foundation is putting up the money the volunteers use to buy the goods, which the residents repay upon delivery.

ELAM (on camera): What made you say that you wanted to step up and do this?

EJMIN MIRZAKHANIAN, GLENDALE FIRE DEPARTMENT: As soon as I saw the e- mail, I responded. Like, I want to volunteer to help the people in my community. I got excited.

ELAM (voice-over): Ejmin Mirzakhanian jumped at the chance to help. Fresh off his 48-hour shift, he was tapped for his first delivery.

MIRZAKHANIAN: This is another opportunity to go above and beyond to help people who are in need.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We find out what the shopping list is, then we're essentially dispatching volunteers that are coming in off-duty to go to the store. We would only shop here in the city of Glendale, pick up those essential items, and deliver them to the home.

ELAM (voice-over): With preexisting conditions, this resident is deeply afraid of the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I really appreciate this.

MIRZAKHANIAN: We're here for you. It's our pleasure to help you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you very much.

MIRZAKHANIAN: All right, take care.

ELAM (on camera): So, Ejmin, you made your first delivery. How was it?

MIRZAKHANIAN: You know, I feel great. It was really good. I went shopping. It's a great feeling to help her.

ELAM (voice-over): As long as there's a need, Glendale Fire will answer the call --

LANZAS: It's what we do as firefighters. We're here to serve the public and we view this as a population that needs help and we're going to be there for them.

ELAM (voice-over): -- whether the call is for a fire or for food.

Stephanie Elam, CNN, Glendale, California.


ROMANS: What a great story.

BERMAN: Everyone doing their part. And we all need to do our part as well. I mean, I think every front line member of the fire department and the police force and the medical community will tell you to stay home so they can do their jobs, Christine.

ROMANS: Absolutely.

BERMAN: All right, we have a lot of new developments this morning including, perhaps, a new clue. Symptoms that may help doctors spot cases of coronavirus. NEW DAY continues right now.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The infection rate is going to be tremendous.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we are announcing action to help New York, California, and Washington ensure that the National Guard can effectively respond to this crisis.

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): We need millions of masks and hundreds of thousands of gowns and gloves, so we're out on the open market competing for these items.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Every single one of them has been on record preventing us from taking the next step.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The markets are sending a message to these politicians.