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Los Angeles County Reports First-Known Child Death From Coronavirus In The U.S.; World Health Organization: U.S. May Be Next Epicenter Of Pandemic; Trump Wants U.S. To Reopen By Easter, Churches Full; N.Y. Gov. To Trump Admin: You Pick The 26,000 People Who Are Going To Die Because You Only Sent 400 Ventilators; Navy Hospital Ship Mercy On Its Way To Los Angeles; Health Workers Tell Of Increasingly Dangerous Situation; One Hundred Twenty-Nine Coronavirus Deaths Reported Today, Deadliest Day So Far In U.S.; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 24, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:00:24]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM. We're following breaking news. We're standing by for a White House briefing of the coronavirus pandemic as the number of known cases in the United States now tops 51,000 with more than 650 deaths. Globally, more than 414,000 cases and 18,000 deaths are being reported.

Also breaking, Los Angeles County has just reported the first known death from coronavirus of a person in the United States under the age of 18. Meanwhile, New York now the hardest hit U.S. state, pleading for help. The Governor Andrew Cuomo blasting the administration's response, saying the state needs 30,000 ventilators far more than the government is offering.

As the number of American cases grows, the World Health Organization is now warning that the United States could be the next epicenter of the pandemic. But President Trump is increasingly anxious about the economic toll of the unprecedented nationwide shutdown. And now talking about having businesses reopen by Easter Sunday and he says he wants churches full despite warnings from top health officials.

Let's begin in Los Angeles right now. CNN's Nick Watt is on the scene for us. Nick, more disturbing developments right now.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. That first confirmation of a person under the age of 18 dying now, we have just heard from the county health department. They say that this is not a small child. We do not know the age yet, and they also say they are still investigating to find out how this person contracted the virus and also whether there were any underlying health conditions that could be affected.

Now, listen, this fight is now nationwide. But as you mentioned, Wolf, the frontline for now is up there in the northeast.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WATT (voice-over): We knew New York was bad, turns out, it's even worse.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The rate of increase has gone up. We're not slowing it. And it is accelerating on its own.

WATT (voice-over): Doubling about every three days, peak infection now projected to hit in just 14 to 21 days.

CUOMO: The apex is higher than we thought and the apex is sooner than we thought. That is a bad combination of facts.

WATT (voice-over): He's upped his estimates of New York's needs to as many as 140,000 hospital beds, they don't have enough. They need another 30,000 ventilators at minimum. New York says FEMA sent 400 ventilators this morning. Later, the federal government said they have delivered 2,000.

CUOMO: What are we going to do for 400 -- with 400 ventilators when we need 30,000 ventilators? You're missing the magnitude of the problem.

WATT (voice-over): You is the federal government.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And tomorrow there will be another 2,000 ventilators shipped from the National Stockpile.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: We all have to rally around New York, but then understand that there will be other places next. I can't predict which ones, but I believe California, Washington, Florida I am deeply worried about.

WATT (voice-over): After China, after Europe, could we be the next epicenter?

DR. MARGARET HARRIS, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION (via telephone): We are now seeing a very large acceleration in the numbers of cases from the United States. So it does have that potential.

WATT (voice-over): And this is going to last.

GEN. MARK MILLEY, JOINT CHIEFS CHAIRMAN: You're looking at probably late May June, something in that range. Maybe it could be as late as July.

WATT (voice-over): Morgan Stanley now saying GDP could fall 30 percent April through June, unemployment could explode to nearly 13 percent. Just last week's new jobless claims they say could be 3.4 million. If true, that's nearly five times the record set during the 2009 financial crisis.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And we have to go back to work much shorter than people thought. CUOMO: I understand what the President is saying, this is unsustainable that we close down the economy. But if you ask the American people to choose between public health and the economy, then it's no contest.

WATT (voice-over): Well, we'll see. By midweek, just over half of all Americans will be under some sort of stay home directive.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And clearly, there is some debate as to when and how we reopen for business. Governor Andrew Cuomo actually suggested maybe if there's some way that we can test if people have had the virus, therefore they hopefully have some immunity. Maybe they can go back to work.

[17:05:00]

And Morgan Stanley, by the way, is warning that if we reopen too early, it could backfire and, in fact, make the human and the economic cost even worse. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Nick, thank you. Nick Watt reporting for us.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, the pandemic is clearly worsening right now by the hour but the President says he wants U.S. businesses to reopen by Easter. He'd like to see churches full on Easter Sunday.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And the White House says there will be a Coronavirus Task Force briefing after all of this evening after indicating officials were opting for a town hall on Fox instead.

The President said as you said, Wolf, he wants the economy back up and running by Easter, adding he wants to see, quote, pack churches on that Sunday. But the President's push to return life to normal is worrying both Democrats and Republicans who say he's going too fast, causing confusion and quite possibly endangering lives in the process.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: President Trump is heading over --

ACOSTA (voice-over): In a televised town hall on Trump friendly Fox News, the President set a date for when he'd like to see the U.S. economy functioning without the current coronavirus constraints.

TRUMP: I would love to have the country opened up and they're just raring to go by Easter. I think Easter Sunday, and you'll have packed churches all over a country, I think it would be a beautiful time.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President insisted his plan could work by encouraging Americans to go back to their jobs in the weeks to come, while still practicing social distancing. TRUMP: We can socially distance ourselves and go to work and you'll have to work a little bit hard. You don't have to shake hands anymore with people.

ACOSTA (voice-over): When asked if she backs the President's goals for the virus, one of his top medical experts, Dr. Deborah Birx would only say she needs to see more data on the global pandemic during the nation's ongoing 15 days social distancing period.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Every American needs to continue the President's guidelines for these next six days or seven days.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President also denied his administration botched the shipment of coronavirus test around the country, even though some governors say that's exactly what happened.

TRUMP: He did not screw up --

ACOSTA (on-camera): But where this go wrong.

TRUMP: -- and I don't think CDC screwed up either.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Mr. Trump continues to make questionable claims about the coronavirus suggesting it's just as bad as the seasonal flu and car accidents. But experts say the coronavirus appears to be more deadly than the flu.

TRUMP: We lose thousands of people a year to the flu. We never turn the country off, we lose much more than that to automobile accidents. We didn't call up the automobile companies say stop making cars.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It's not just Democrats who disagree with the President.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: You have to stay in. And for the President to make light of that as if it's like, well, so what some people will die. But the economy will grow up. No, you hurt the economy if more people are sick.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Republican Congressman Liz Cheney tweeted, "There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses lay dying because we have failed to do what's necessary to stop the virus". But some of the GOP like Texas Lieutenant Governor, Dan Patrick said, some seniors may be willing to die to save the economy.

LT. GOV. DAN PATRICK (R), TEXAS: No one reached out to me and said, as a senior citizen, are you willing to take a chance on your survival in exchange for keeping the America that all America loves for your children and grandchildren? And if that's the exchange, I'm all in.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President also weighed in on the battle over the stimulus deal on Capitol Hill, revealing he turned down an agreement overnight. TRUMP: I cancelled the deal last night, I said I'm not going to sign that deal because Nancy Pelosi came in and put a lot of things in the deal that had nothing to do with the workers.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In hard hit New York State, Governor Andrew Cuomo blasted the Trump administration for failing to ship enough ventilators to overwhelmed hospitals.

CUOMO: FEMA says we're sending 400 ventilators. Really? What am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000?

ACOSTA (voice-over): The President fired back after hearing that.

TRUMP: He shouldn't be talking about us. He's supposed to be buying his own ventilators.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, the White House is looking at a variety of options for how to reopen the country, perhaps starting with states that have yet to feel the brunt of the coronavirus or encouraging younger Americans to go back to work first. But a source close to the Coronavirus Task Force said one scenario that hasn't been pondered quite enough is the possibility of needing to shut down the country again if it's reopen too quickly. That would complicate things according to the source, and Wolf, it obviously could end up being a big nightmare. Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly could. All right, Jim Acosta, we're standing by together with you for this White House briefing. We'll have live coverage of that once the Coronavirus Task Force comes out. We'll see if the President comes out once again as well.

In the meantime, let's get some more in all of these. The Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont is joining us. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

[17:10:02]

As you know, the President says he wants the country back operating fully by Easter with churches full. He's also doubling down on his concerns about the social distancing measures. I want you to listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: This cure is worse than the problem. Again, people -- many people, in my opinion, more people are going to die if we allow this to continue. We have to go back to work. Our people want to go back to work.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: How do you square that, Governor, with the very dire warnings we're getting from the medical professionals?

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): Look, I got to tell you, Wolf, number of people infected in Connecticut doubled over the last two days. It is escalating, it is growing and I'm afraid the White House has been under estimating, downplaying this virus for too long. Maybe it's time for the business committee to stand up and whether they think it's realistic to go back to business as you usual by Easter, or they want us to deal with this public health emergency in a serious way so we really can't get back on our feet later.

BLITZER: The President, as you heard, also reiterating that New York State needs to go ahead and buy its own ventilators. What goes through your mind when you hear the President accused Governor Cuomo, quote, complaining that New York isn't getting the help it needs?

LAMONT: Look, you saw how our country mobilized leading up to World War II. They're able to do with national production and taking the lead. And that's just what our federal government ought to be doing.

Let me just say one thing about Nick's analysis where he said New York City is the epicenter of the virus here in the United States. It's the New York City metropolitan area, that includes Jersey City, and that includes Fairfield County. So yes, New York City does need a ventilators. They do need the PPE, but so does Fairfield County. It doesn't work if you put out the fire in New York, but you still have it blazing in Fairfield County where our infection rate is through the roof.

BLITZER: So what's your biggest need right now, Governor?

LAMONT: Our biggest need by far, Wolf, is getting more of the protective equipment. I've got nurses who are worried about going into the hospitals. I've got a pump first responders. I've got folks who are sick working at nursing homes, I've got to make sure they're safe, so they don't get contaminated so we can get them tested so they have the protective gear they need so they're able to take care of everybody else who needs it.

BLITZER: Well good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Connecticut. I know you guys are in a very, very tough and potentially very dangerous situation. Thanks so much for joining us.

LAMONT: Yes, it's escalating. The President shouldn't downplay it. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. It clearly is. All right, thank you.

Joining us on the phone right now, Captain John Rotruck, the Commanding Officer of the U.S. Navy hospital ship Mercy which is now on route to Los Angeles. Captain, thank you so much for joining us. You departed San Diego for L.A. last night. Where are you now? When do you anticipate that you'll accept your first patient in L.A.?

CAPTAIN JOHN ROTRUCK, COMMANDING OFFICER, MEDICAL TREATMENT FACILITY USNS MERCY (via telephone): There will (INAUDIBLE) maybe to go down. We expect to be there by the end of the week. We expect to see our first patient the day after we arrived.

BLITZER: I don't know if you could speak up a little bit because I'm having a little tough time hearing you, if you get closer. You're on the phone, right?

ROTRUCK: Correct.

BLITZER: Just speak up a little bit more. I want to make sure our viewers out there can hear you. You've described your ship as a relief valve to allow local hospitals in effect to focus on coronavirus cases while you care for other patients. You're not going to have coronavirus patients aboard diversity area.

ROTRUCK: That is the intent, Wolf.

BLITZER: When you say that is the intent, you might wind up having coronavirus cases, is that what I'm hearing?

ROTRUCK: No, you're hearing it -- you are correct. We are not going to be taking coronavirus patients on the ship. We're just (INAUDIBLE) the relief valve to try to increase the capacity within the local hospitals to care for coronavirus patients.

BLITZER: To make room in the local hospitals for coronavirus patients, you'll take other patients who already there and move them, or new patients, move them to the Mercy. How will you ensure that you don't allow any highly contagious coronavirus patients, Captain, on board?

ROTRUCK: So we're partnering with FEMA as the lead agency and then local state officials in California, we're going to refine exactly what that screening process looks like before patients are transferred. But I'm confident that it will be effective.

BLITZER: So will everybody be tested? Every patient who comes aboard the Mercy will first be tested for coronavirus?

ROTRUCK: I think it's safe to say that every patient will be screened. Our force going to follow CDC guidelines, those loan (ph) emergency and with the local hospitals (INAUDIBLE) who actually needs to be tested.

BLITZER: Captain Rotruck, have you ever seen or done anything like this before in your years in the U.S. Navy?

ROTRUCK: I have not. And I can't tell you how so thrilled I am to be a part of this effort to support the American people.

[17:15:02]

BLITZER: I know you're out in the middle of the Pacific out there. You're moving towards Los Angeles. Captain Rotruck, thanks to you and the men and women aboard the Mercy. We'll be in close touch with you. Good luck.

ROTRUCK: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, stay with us. Once again, we're expecting the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing to begin very soon. We'll have live coverage as soon as it starts. You're looking at live pictures from the White House Briefing Room. I don't see any other reporters sitting yet, but you see they'll be separated. They'll be -- they won't be sitting on top of each other as normally they do in the White House Press Briefing Room.

Also just ahead, disturbing complaints from healthcare workers about worsening conditions and increasing dangers.

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[17:20:03]

BLITZER: We're awaiting the start of today's briefing over the White House by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. We don't know if the President will show up. He usually does. We'll have live coverage of that. That's coming up.

Meanwhile, CNN is hearing complaints from healthcare workers around the country about worsening conditions and increasing dangers. Let's go to our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin. Drew, what are you learning?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, the lack of proper protective equipment and the lack of testing, these two botched responses as part of the response to this crisis, are colliding in hospitals and emergency rooms across the country, health workers, these heroic health workers showing up to work knowing they're being exposed to the virus, knowing they don't have the protection and knowing they can't even get tested to find out if they have it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Health care workers from across the country are telling CNN they are increasingly in a dangerous situation. Being asked to work without proper protection, risking infection to themselves and their families. Oren Barzilay, President of the EMS workers in New York says 5 percent of his members are already out sick.

OREN BARZILAY, PRESIDENT, FDNY EMS UNION: If we lost 200 people in 10 days and our system is already thin stretched, I would assume within a few weeks, maybe three to four weeks, if we continue this pace, the system will simply collapse.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): At the heart of the anxiety is a lack of testing and proper protective gear. A doctor at New York hospital describes a third world country scenario saying so many doctors and nurses are falling ill, we have no sick call. Our sick call got sick.

Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, a longtime E.R. nurse and President of the New York State Nurses Union says every day the lives of medical personnel are in danger.

JUDY SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ, NEW YORK STATE NURSES ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT: We know there are people who have tested positive, we had one cluster in a unit where there were several positives and, in fact, in my own hospital and I don't think it's unique. We have a nurse who is on a ventilator right now who contracted the virus.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, New Jersey already has 35 doctors and nurses home sick. Chief Medical Officer Adam Jarrett says he fears a staffing crunch.

DR. ADAM JARRETT, HOLY NAME MEDICAL CENTER: If things don't slow down, I'm concerned about several weeks from now.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): With lack of testing, the CDC has posted guidelines for a non-test based strategy, which says infected healthcare workers can return to work without being tested. If it's been at least three days since recovery of symptoms at least seven days since symptoms first appeared. Every healthcare worker CNN spoke with pointed to the lack of proper protective equipment and guidelines that go against everything they've been taught about infection control.

SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: We are terrified. Everybody is terrified. We feel an obligation to take care of our patients everybody does, but we don't want to become sick. And we also don't want to become carriers, nor do we want to be so disabled that we can't care for people.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): And even bigger concern is if and when health care workers decide it's no longer worth the risk. A nurse in Ohio told CNN she just quit because her hospital was unable to provide protective equipment. And she fears bringing the virus home to her children.

Dr. Nisha Mehta who runs a private Facebook group for 65,000 physicians says we're not just there yet.

DR. NISHA MEHTA, RADIOLOGIST & MAINTAINS FACEBOOK PHYSICIANS GROUP: But at some point, people are saying, I don't want to be a martyr on a battle that is futile.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: Wolf, what these people are telling us is they've been to very tragic situations. Haiti covering floods, tsunamis, but they've never gone into a crisis anywhere in the world without the protective gear that keeps them safe. That's different this time around here in the U.S., they don't have the gear. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes, it's an awful situation. All right, Drew Griffin reporting for us. Thank you.

Let's bring in our medical and political experts to discuss. And Dr. Gupta, I want your analysis of what we just heard from Drew, how dangerous is the current shortage of personal protective equipment to the healthcare workers who are out there on the front line right now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is a very contagious virus. We know it's a lot more contagious than the flu. We know in hospitals, as much as we talked about social distancing, in other aspects of our lives. It's actually very hard to practice social distancing in hospitals, so that's another risk factor. And then obviously, hospitals are where the particularly sick patients are, so that increases the risk as well.

So there's already, you know, a tremendously increased risk of people actually contracting the virus and then getting sick as well. But I thought, you know, this point that Drew sort of raised at the end that look, you know, are there going to be a group of healthcare workers who are going to say, look, it's not worth it. I have, you know, either elderly people or young children or whoever in my home and I'm worried about bringing the virus back.

[17:25:01]

I've talked a lot of people like that already, Wolf. I have people who, you know, that they come home, but they're living in the garage, you know. They actually don't interact with their family. They don't know how long that's going to continue. So it's really challenging, I think, you know, not only in terms of the physical concerns about contracting the virus, but just how you live your life after that as well, if you're not sure you've been protected.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point. Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo is with us also. Jennifer, could hospitals, as they fill up and a lot more patients are there, some of them at capacity, plus, could they become a significant source of infection, those hospitals?

JENNIFER NUZZO, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Yes, this is deeply worrying. I mean, we have to do something to protect these health care workers. I don't understand we have been, for more than a decade, amassing personal protective equipment for the justice kind of public health emergency. The fact that doctors and nurses are putting their lives on the line without the appropriate tools they need to protect themselves, to take care of their patients, to protect their patients and their families. I mean, this is just absolutely unbelievable.

And this is really worrisome because all of the measures that we're taking right now are for the purpose of trying to preserve the functioning of the health system so that we don't overwhelm the health system. But if doctors and nurses can't be protected, and if we lose doctors and nurses because they become ill, and they can't see patients, then we're just going to lose healthcare resources.

So this is quite bad. And in many instances and other sorts of epidemics and outbreaks when health systems are not prepared to handle an influx of contagious patients and doctors and nurses get sick, then they become amplifying forces to spread the disease back to their communities and, you know, really exacerbate the tolls of what is already a very challenging situation.

BLITZER: You know, Dana Bash is with us also. You know, Dana, we're just getting word from our White House team that sources close to the Coronavirus Task Force are saying that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading expert on infectious diseases here in the United States, he is expected to be at the upcoming White House briefing. They're support to start fairly soon.

That's significant. He wasn't at the Fox News town hall with the President earlier today. Others were there. He wasn't at the briefing yesterday or the day before. And there have been clearly very different statements coming from Dr. Fauci and the President on some of the most sensitive issues.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: No question. Look, Dr. Fauci missed a briefing last week. So there is a history there. But it didn't happen in a vacuum that he wasn't there yesterday or at the town hall today. It happened in the context of, as you mentioned, the President being contradicted by Dr. Fauci.

And Dr. Fauci clearly feeling uncomfortable, although he handled it in a very diplomatic way, uncomfortable with some of the things that the President has been saying about critical drugs that could be used maybe down the road. The President leaned very far into it in a way that Dr. Fauci was not, you know, didn't want to go there yet.

And, look, the fact is you have the House Speaker I talked to earlier and others pleading with the President to continue to listen to the doctor that includes a lot of his Republican allies, some of whom I have talked to. So it is important that we're going to see him there just as a show of force and of unity.

BLITZER: Yes. And Dr. Fauci knows more about this than almost anyone. So --

BASH: Right.

BLITZER: We're grateful to him. We're grateful that he's going to be there answering reporters' questions.

Everybody stick around, a lot more coming up. Once again, we'll have live coverage of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Looking at live pictures coming in as soon as it begins.

Also, if you're feeling ill, how do you find a coronavirus test? We have details.

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[17:33:39]

BLITZER: All right, take a look at this. Still, a fairly empty over there. The reporters haven't yet started to come in in big numbers. There's going to be scattered seating as you can see social distancing in effect at the White House Briefing Room. The White House Coronavirus Task Force getting ready to brief and we're also told that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases over at the National Institutes of Health, will be there.

I assumed the President will be there, the Vice President, others as well. We'll, of course, have live coverage. It's first time in a few days that Dr. Fauci will be there.

Let's bring back our political and medical experts up. And Sanjay, like you, you know, Dr. Fauci is a national treasure, we can rely on him. We've known him for many, many years. I think it's significant that presumably he's going to answer reporters' questions and tell us the truth.

GUPTA: Yes. Wolf, thank you for that comment, too. But, yes, absolutely. Wolf. I think there's a big discussion that's happening right now. And, you know, you've heard -- you know, the American public's heard all sorts of different things about this 15-day pause, you know, 15-day starting last Monday, and then we were told, sort of least there was sort of an idea that maybe that would end after 15 days. President Trump has talked about it lasting until Easter, which is just over three and a half weeks.

[17:35:00]

I know Dr. Fauci and just about every public health official when they've talked about this in the past have said that this social distancing time, you know, these recommendations that have been made are difficult for certain, but are necessary. And I think that they have not been equivocal about that at all. Dr. Fauci hasn't. We'll see how he answers those questions today, because I'm sure they're going to come up.

I will point out again, Wolf, if you look at other places around the world, and there have been some good examples where some of the strategies that we're talking about have worked, you know, or seem to have worked, China and South Korea in particular, how long were the curves over there? There were sort of eight to 10 weeks instead, not two or three weeks. So it'll be very interesting to see how that part of the discussion goes at the grappling with wanting to open up the country versus the legitimate public health concern, Wolf.

BLITZER: And let me get Dr. Nuzzo. I want to play the clip of what the President said that he's looking at Easter Sunday is the day he hopes the country will pretty much back to normal. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Easter is a very special day for me. And I see it's sort of in that timeline that I'm thinking about. And I say, wouldn't it be great to have all of the churches full, you know, the churches aren't allowed, essentially to have much of a congregation there. And most of them I watched on Sunday online. And it was terrific, by the way, but online is never going to be like being there.

So I think Easter Sunday, and you'll have packed churches all over a country. I think it would be a beautiful time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Would be beautiful, but do you think, Dr. Nuzzo, it's too early, too soon to loosen these social distancing restrictions?

NUZZO: Yes, it's absolutely too early. I mean, a two-week period was really to see what could happen in two weeks and to assess the situation. But nobody believes that two weeks is going to be long enough. I mean, clearly, we need to figure out what the next phase is. We can't stay isolated forever. But the problem is as soon as we go back, unless we have other strategies, the case numbers are going to increase. And we still haven't gotten to the situation where we've reduced it enough such that we are not worried that our health system is going to crash. So, as much as I and probably everybody at home right now wants to very much return to normal, by Easter is not going to happen.

We need to figure out what the next phase is. But that's going to require resources that we don't yet have. We need to have doctors and nurses have personal protective equipment. We need to expand the testing that we're doing. We need to do a better job at finding cases so that we can isolate them, but we're not there yet, unfortunately, and we won't be by Easter.

BLITZER: All right, everybody stick around. There's a lot more we need to discuss. Once again, we're awaiting the start of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing live coverage coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:20]

BLITZER: As we await the start of today's briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, we've just received some disturbing numbers here in "The Situation Room". So far today, so far today, 129 coronavirus deaths here in the United States. That's the largest number so far. 129 coronavirus-related deaths so far here in the United States. 670 people have died from the coronavirus. The numbers keep going up and up.

The White House says coronavirus testing is expanding across the country with more than 300,000 tests conducted so far. Health officials playing catch up after test shortages and delays. Many Americans still aren't clear about when and where they should get tested, and if they need to be tested at all. We're going to have a full report on that coming up.

I want to go back and show our viewers live pictures coming from the White House Briefing Room. There you can see Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's standing there already. He's getting ready. He's awaiting, we assume, the President and the Vice President. Also Ambassador Deborah Birx is coming -- is there.

Here comes the President and the Vice President, he will open up with a statement.

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Been a very busy day. I want to thank the American people for the incredible sacrifices that they're making on behalf of our nation. And I want to encourage everyone to keep following our guidelines on social distancing. Avoiding large gatherings and hand washing and all of the other things that everybody knows they're supposed to be doing.

Ultimately, the goal is to ease the guidelines and open things up to very large sections of our country as we near the end of our historic battle with the invisible enemy. Been going on for a while, but we'll win. We'll win.

I said earlier today that I hope we can do this by Easter. I think that would be a great thing for our country and we're all working very hard to make that a reality. We'll be meeting with a lot of people to see if it can be done. Easter is a very special day for many reasons. For me, for a lot of our friends, that's a very special day. And what a great timeline this would be. Easter, as our timeline, what a great timeline that would be.

My first priority is always the health and safety of the American people, and we want to everyone to understand that we are continuing to evaluate the data. We're working with the task force and making decisions based on what is best for the interest of our fantastic country.

[17:45:12]

In order to defeat the virus, we must continue to be very strong. Your resilience and spirit has been inspiring to everyone. Right now, this virus is attacking 149 countries, but everybody looks to us and they're watching us.

And I'm very proud to be your President, I can tell you that. There's tremendous hope as we look forward and we begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Stay focused and stay strong. And my administration and myself will deliver for you as we have in the past.

Let me provide you an update on critical preparations and supplies in our war on the virus. Through FEMA, the federal government is distributing more than 8 million N95 respirators, 14 million surgical masks and many, many millions more under order, and they'll be arriving soon. 2.4 million face shields, 1.9 million surgical gowns, 13.5 million gloves, and more than 4,000 ventilators to the areas of greatest need have already been sent, and we have 4,000 being delivered to New York.

The federal government is using every resource at its disposal to acquire and distribute critical medical supplies. The core element of this strategy is my executive order authorizing the use of the Defense Production Act which has, as you know, already been activated actually a long time ago, quite a long time ago.

Private companies are heating our call to produce medical equipment and supplies because they know that we will not hesitate to invoke the DPA in order to get them to do what they have to do. It's called leverage. You don't have to use it from the standpoint of -- actually, it's been activated but you don't have to use it. But the threat of it being there is great leverage. And companies are doing as we ask, and companies are actually even better than that. They're coming through and they're calling us. And it's been really something to see.

This morning, Ford, 3M, General Electric Healthcare are making tremendous numbers. They've already, of respirators, ventilators and face shields. They're working together. We didn't have to exercise or utilize the DPA in any way. The fact that we have it helps, but we didn't have to, and for the most part, we won't have to. We're receiving full cooperation from companies with the understanding that the federal government stands ready to compel cooperation if need be. We haven't found that to be the case. It's been really amazing to see these big, strong powerful, in some cases, very small companies, family-owned companies, step up and make a lot of great product for what we're going through and what we will continue to be going through for a while.

The Army Corps of Engineers and the National Guard are building four hospital facilities in New York City at the Javits Center, which will be operational very soon. They've already started. In addition, they're building four separate medical facilities in different parts of the state. We're dealing with Governor Cuomo on that. So you're going to have four hospitals and four medical facilities at the highest level to really incredible facilities. Temporary but incredible.

We're also deploying the U.S. Navy hospital ship and that will be arriving in New York Harbor in the not-too-distant future. It's finishing its maintenance. They're doing a very big maintenance, and what we did is we condensed it very seriously. And, as you know, the other hospital ship, and these are incredible ships, it's already on its way to Los Angeles.

So we're in frequent contact with state and local officials, and getting a lot of work done. We're, likewise, building hospitals in Los Angeles. We're working also the state of Washington. We're working with the Governor of the state of New Jersey. We're building a medical facility, a hospital facility, and doing a lot of work.

I want to thank the people from FEMA, the great people from FEMA, and also the Army Corps of Engineers.

Secretary Mnuchin and the members of my administration continue to work closely with Congress. I'm pleased to report that we are working to pass the biggest and boldest financial relief package in action American history.

[17:50:02]

Senators will soon hopefully vote on a $2 trillion bill that will deliver direct cash payments to struggling Americans. No fault of their own. This came out of nowhere. Nobody can imagine this even happened. But it's not their fault.

We want to protect, and we will, all of the things that a person needs protected and a family needs protected. We're working on job retention loans for small businesses, and extended unemployment insurance for laid off workers.

The legislation will also include billions of dollars for additional resources for our, really, heroic -- these are incredible doctors, nurses -- brave, and hospitals as well as support for hard-hit industries such as the airline industry and the cruise ship industry which employ tremendous amounts of people and obviously serve very important functions beyond that. With very tough protections for the American taxpayer, the loans will be very secure and they will be very profitable and, at the same time, they'll bridge. They call them bridge loans. In many cases, they'll be bridging these companies back into very good health. Some of them are very important companies that four weeks ago didn't have a problem.

I'm also confident that the Democrats will do the right thing. I feel very confident they're working very hard together right now, Republicans and Democrats, and they're getting very close to a very fair deal and a great deal for the people of our country.

Today, as you probably saw, the Dow surged over 2,100 points. That's the all-time record in history of the Exchange. This is very encouraging. And I think part of the reason is they are looking at what is close to being passed and I think a very big part of it is they see that we want to get our country opened as soon as possible. They see we're working very hard on that. That's a very big factor, I think, in today's historic gain.

The legislation developed in the Senate is the first step to restoring confidence and stability to America's economy as we look ahead to the time when we can carefully and responsibly reopen our country for business, and we hope that's going to be very soon. I want to assure Americans that we have a team of public health experts. You've gotten to know them as well as I know them. They're great people, incredible, talented. They love our country.

Also economists and other professionals working to develop a sophisticated plan to reopen the economy as soon as the time is right. One based on the best science, the best modelling, and the best medical research there is anywhere on Earth.

Our great people have been -- especially when it comes to our public health experts and officials -- have been helping other countries, dealing with other countries, constant touch with other countries, helping them out, because many of them have never seen anything like what's happening. But our decision will be based on hard facts and data as to the opening. I'm also hopeful to have Americans working again by that Easter, that beautiful Easter day. But rest assured, every decision we make is grounded solely in the health, safety, and wellbeing of our citizens.

This is a medical crisis. This isn't a financial crisis. But it's a thing that nobody has seen for many, many decades. Nothing like this. Marshaling our economic strength is a key feature of defeating the virus, producing the material supplies and equipment that we need, and they're doing a really fantastic job.

We're helping the governors. We had a conference call the other day with the governors and we allowed the press join us on the call and the spirit between us and the governors has been really great.

We should never be reliant on a foreign country for the means of our own survival. I think we've learned a lot. We've learned a lot. This crisis has underscored just how critical it is to have strong borders and a robust manufacturing sector. For three years, we've embarked on a great national project to secure immigration system and bring back our manufacturing jobs. We brought back many jobs, records numbers of -- record numbers of jobs. And this really shows -- this experience shows how important borders are. Without borders, you don't have a nation. Our goal for the future must be to have American medicine for American patients, American supplies for American hospitals and American equipment for our great American heroes.

[17:55:02]

Now, both parties must unite to ensure the United States is truly an independent nation in every sense of the word. Energy independence, we've established that. And something incredible that we've established. We're energy independent manufacturing independence, economic independence, and territorial independence enforced by strong, sovereign borders.

America will never be a supplicant nation. We will be a proud, prosperous, independent and self-reliant nation. We will embrace commerce with all but we will be dependent on none.

Above all, we know that the best thing for our economy and the world right now is a very, very powerful victory over the virus. Every day, the American people are showing the unity and resolve that has always defined the character of our nation.

In New York, citizens are using 3D printers to make hundreds of face shields. They're making them by the hundreds. In Texas, businesses and churches are uniting to collect gloves and thermometers for hospitals. In the selfless actions of our amazing citizens, we're seeing enduring strength of our magnificent nation, a spirit that can never be broken, and a victorious future that can never be denied. It never will be denied.

Now, what I'd like to do is, perhaps, ask a person who has really established herself as maybe the world's greatest expert on what she does. If I could ask Deborah to come forward and say a few words, and then I'll ask Tony to come up and speak and then our Vice President and then we'll take a few questions and we'll do it quickly. And we'll probably see you again tomorrow.

So, Deborah, please.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. I think those of you who heard the town hall, we are continuing to accelerate testing at a record rate. We now have 370,000 tests that have been done. The majority of those, over 220,000 in the last eight days, which, those of you who have been tracking the South Korea numbers, put us equivalent to what they did in eight weeks that we did in eight days.

This was made possible because of the HHS team working together, bringing together the strength of the FDA with the CDC, and under the leadership of Secretary Azar. We're very proud of those numbers, but we know that we have to do more and we continue to accelerate in testing to ensure that those who need the test are tested first, and have access.

As we talked about yesterday, we're working on the ability for people to take their own sample. That does not mean home testing. That means taking your own sample in the front of your nose with available swabs into normal saline that can be transported to the laboratories. That will allow and free up all of the drive-throughs to be very sparing on PPE, because you'll be able to do that with gloves rather than the full PPE outfits. This will allow for more that PPE to be dedicated to our hospitals.

I think those of you who are tracking this epidemic closely, like I am, you will begin to see that there is encouraging results coming out of Italy. We are impressed by the decreases that are seen in mortality, the number of people succumbing to this illness, and the number of new cases.

Our new cases will continue to surge because we're still working on our backlog, although we will be in touch with the laboratories after this press conference to really find out how many are still in backlog and how many were run in the last 24 hours. Until we can get into a 24 hours cycle, we're going to have disproportional number of new cases compared to the actual new cases. And we will let you know when we've reached that equilibrium.

Finally, and I know Dr. Fauci will talk about this further, we remain deeply concerned about New York City and the New York metro area. About 56 percent of all the cases in the United States are coming out of that metro area and 60 percent of all the new cases are coming out of the metro New York area, and 31 percent of the people succumbing to this disease.

It means, because they still are at the 31 percent mortality compared to the other regions of the country, that we can have a huge impact if we unite together. This means, as in all places, they have to be following the presidential guidelines that were put out eight or nine days ago and this will be critical.

But to everyone who has left New York over the last few days, because of the rate of the number of cases, you may have been exposed before you left New York.