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U.S. Deadliest Day To Date, At Least 185 New Deaths; Source Close To Task Force Says Advisers Urging Trump To See Easter As "Aspirational Date" To Reopen Country; L.A. Gov.: New Orleans Could Run Out Of Ventilators By April 1; Senate Yet To Call Vote On $2 Trillion Stimulus Package; World Health Org Warns Against Easing Restrictions Too Early; Hospital System In New York City Sees Tenfold Increase In Positive Patients; World Health Org: "Significant" Global Shortage Of Med Supplies; Sources: Pentagon Orders 60-Day Freeze-In- Place For Overseas U.S. Troops; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 25, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:00:13]

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 and we're following breaking news. We're standing by for a White House briefing on the coronavirus pandemic as the number of known cases here in the United States now tops 63,000 with almost 900 deaths. And with at least 185 new deaths reported so far today, this is the single deadliest day in the United States since the pandemic arrived. Worldwide, there are almost 459,000 reported cases and more than 20,000 deaths.

New York officials are increasingly worried about the number of hospital beds available as cases there sore. The Governor Andrew Cuomo says the state has 53,000 beds, but expects to need 140,000 as the pandemic peaks there. But he also says there's evidence suggesting that social distancing is, is helping slow the spread of the virus in New York. The World Health Organization is saying there's still time for the country to, quote, turn it around and avoid becoming the next global coronavirus epicenter.

While we wait for the White House briefing to begin, we don't know if the President will show up. I anticipate that he will. Let's go to our National Correspondent Erica Hill, joining us from New York. Erica, that state is an epicenter in the United States right now. But other states are now seeing a very rapid rise in the number of cases.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, that's absolutely right. We should put out the word the World Health Organization a short time ago warning a significant shortage of critical supplies and that is what we are hearing from Governor Andrew Cuomo here in New York, saying the single greatest need in this state is still ventilators, hospital beds as well as as you mentioned. But it is not just New York that is facing these critical needs. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): A virus that once seemed distant hitting closer to home with each passing day.

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R), MARYLAND: The vast majority of people in our state who have tested positive so far are in their 40s. And we have children as young as 10 months old, who have the virus.

HILL (voice-over): In Alabama, Emmarie Grace, just a month old, is now isolated as a precaution after a nurse in the NICU where the baby has been, since birth, tested positive. Her father telling CNN he felt this moment was inevitable given the number of people tending to his daughter every day. In New Orleans, more than half of the city's EMS workers are now being monitored after exposure to the virus.

Louisiana has the highest growth rate for COVID-19. And the Governor warns his state's health care facilities could be at capacity by the first week of April. Michigan, one of several states facing a shortage of critical supplies. And while New York remains the epicenter, New Jersey now has the second highest number of cases in the U.S.

As more states and cities announced shelter-in-place orders, New York is seeing a slowdown in the need for hospitalizations.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: Evidence suggests that the density control measures may be working.

HILL (voice-over): The Governor cautiously optimistic, and also clear, now is not the time to loosen restrictions. Warning the peak in his state, which now has 30,000 confirmed cases is likely weeks away. And New York still needs tens of thousands of additional hospital beds and ventilators to meet the expected need.

Across the country, officials are pleading with retired health care professionals to return to work.

CUOMO: God bless them. 40,000 people have signed up as a surge health care force. That's a big, big deal. Because you can create beds, you can find the equipment, you have to have the staff.

HILL (voice-over): The fight against this invisible enemy is increasingly defined by those on the frontlines. The exhausted doctors, nurses and hospital staff working around the clock.

JUDY SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK STATE NURSES ASSOCIATION: 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.

HILL (voice-over): For the more than 800 Americans who have died, their grieving families facing another painful reminder of all that has changed.

DR. NGOZI EZIKE, DIRECTOR, ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: And for those who have passed on, their loved ones are now grieving and don't have the opportunity to celebrate their lives with traditional funerals, and weeks. Let's send our thoughts, our support and our prayers to all of these families and their friends.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:05:03]

HILL: And Wolf, if you think about how difficult that is for families who are not able to get together to mourn their loved ones as they would during a normal time. I should also point out Governor Andrew Cuomo today saying he's establishing a mental health hotline here to deal with the emotional trauma that people are feeling. He says, Wolf, 6,000 mental health professionals have volunteered their services so that they can offer those services to people in need.

BLITZER: All right, Erica Hill in New York, thanks very much.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, I understand you're learning new details about what's going on behind the scenes there as the President pushes to get the country back to work.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. But first things first, we're expecting another briefing from the Coronavirus Task Force at that bottom of the hour. It's been pushed back about 30 minutes. But you're right, Wolf, one looming question for the administration right now is how committed President Trump is to this goal he is set to reopen the country by Easter. A source close to the Coronavirus Task Force tells me advisors are urging the President to see that as an aspirational date, as the pandemic in the U.S. has hardly been contained.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Amid growing concerns President Trump could reopen the U.S. economy by Easter even with the coronavirus pandemic still posing a danger, public health officials both inside and outside the administration are urging caution.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: You can look at a date but you got to be very flexible.

ACOSTA (voice-over): CNN has learned advisors are trying to persuade the President to look at Easter as an aspirational date and to keep social distancing measures in place to flatten the deadly coronavirus curve. But those advisors are running into resistance from White House officials who are eager to rescue the flailing economy. Knowing full well, Mr. Trump is often fixated on what's happening on Wall Street.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 you. Easter is our timeline, what a great timeline that would be.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The World Health Organization is warning countries any moves to reverse course on critical pandemic guidelines could backfire.

DR. TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO DIRECTOR GENERAL: The lasting any country needs is to open schools and businesses only to be forced to close them again because of a resurgence.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One thing that could give medical experts more time the staggering $2 trillion stimulus deal, which would provide $250 billion in checks to individuals and families. $350 billion in small business loans, $250 billion in unemployment insurance benefits, plus $500 billion in loans to distress companies. One key provision, the package would block loans to Trump properties and any businesses controlled by Members of Congress or top government officials.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D), MINORITY LEADER: We have before us an imperfect bill but unnecessary one. Despite its flaws, it is far better than where we started. And it's time to pass it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But not all Democrats are on board like New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who argues the aid to his hard-hit state isn't nearly enough.

CUOMO: It will probably cost a several billion dollars when we're done. New York City only gets $1.3 billion from this package. That is a drop in the bucket as to need.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the federal government is also in a hole with the State Department appealing to other nations for coronavirus supplies for masks, gloves, gowns, eyewear, even hand sanitizer, ventilators and respirators. While the President is boasting the U.S. has now conducted more tests for the virus than South Korea, he's leaving out the fact that the U.S. population is six times larger than that of South Korea.

TRUMP: We've done more than South Korea in a short period of time. We're doing more now than South Korea by a lot.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite labeling himself a wartime leader, Mr. Trump is still posting tweets that sound more petty than presidential, like this one about Mitt Romney testing negative for coronavirus. "This is really great news. I am so happy. I can barely speak. He may have been a terrible presidential candidate and an even worse U.S. Senator, but he a RINO, and I like him a lot."

Contrast that with a tweet from former President Barack Obama who was urging social distancing to continue. "It's only going to get harder across the country. Another reason to maintain social distancing policies, at least until we have comprehensive testing in place. Not just for our sake, for theirs.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, White House officials say the President wants to get those stimulus relief checks out to Americans by April 6. But it's not clear whether there is enough time to make that happen. In the meantime, the biggest question at the moment is whether the administration will relax this -- the social distancing guidelines that have been in effect and will be effect until next week.

One advisor told me that at this point, any move to do that would spark a fierce debate inside the administration. And as for the struggling economy, White House Advisor Larry Kudlow just said that the White House is bracing for a very dismal weekly unemployment report. Wolf, they are expecting that tomorrow. Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly. All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thanks very much.

[17:10:00]

Let's get some more in all of these. Joining us now, the Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Governor, thanks so much for joining us. Let's talk about Louisiana right now. The number of reported cases in your state jumped by what, 400 today alone. Does this move up by your timeline for how soon hospitals in Louisiana might be overwhelmed?

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA: Well, it really keeps us on the current trajectory, the one that we've been using to model our estimates. And right now, we believe that by about April the 7th, in Region 1 which is down around New Orleans, that we would exceed our capacity to deliver healthcare in the hospitals and that's even as we're surging in our hospital footprint, we're bringing online the tier-two hospitals, the long-term acute care facilities, rehab hospitals, and so forth.

But even after doing all that, if we stay on the current trajectory, by April the 7th or so, we would lack capacity and we would lack capacity with respect to ventilators a few days ahead of that. And so, the count today went up by 407 cases. Sadly, 19 more deaths. We're at 65 deaths in Louisiana. And so we are in a very difficult place, number three per capita in the cases in the country.

And the reason that's important, Wolf, is any medical infrastructure is sized to meet the needs of a population. And so, if you look at the per capita case count, that kind of gives you an indication of whether you're at risk of exceeding what the capacity is when it comes to this coronavirus problem that we're having. And quite frankly, from where I sit, any date to reopen the economy fully, if it's a date certain, it has to be aspirational, because we are still very much on the fight here.

The numbers continue to climb, we're on a trajectory that is not looking good for us. We do know that the mitigation measures, social distancing, works. But only -- it only works to a degree that people engage in it. And we have yet to see the curve start to flatten here in Louisiana.

BLITZER: Yes. When you say New Orleans, the area around New Orleans, in fact, may run out of ventilators by the first week of April. So, what can you do to make sure there are enough ventilators, enough hospital beds? You're going to have a major problem there, unless you bring in a lot of support.

EDWARDS: Well, first of all, you've got to flatten the curve, so that you decrease the demand and get off the current trajectory. And then you have longer to deliver the care. But you do have to do everything you can to surge in capacity. And everything that they're facing in New York, I was listening to the program earlier, those are the same things we're facing in Louisiana and in every state around the country, the numbers are different.

Obviously, New York is a very populous state and so forth. The numbers are different, but the challenges are the same. So we're trying to acquire ventilators everywhere that we can, whether it's through the federal government, finding vendors. We actually distributed another 100 today, but we actually need 1,000 more just in the New Orleans area. And our numbers are growing all over the state. Here in the Baton Rouge region, up in northwest Louisiana, around Shreveport, the cases jumped up. Today, they have 93 there.

So, this is a big challenge. We're doing everything that we can. We are obviously asking for help from wherever we can get it. And to the extent that the federal government can facilitate the allotment, the allocation of more resources to Louisiana, we would certainly accept that and be grateful. But we know that this is a challenge, because we're not the only ones asking. Every state is asking for the same thing.

BLITZER: Yes, you're absolutely right. Governor, I understand you believe that many of the cases in Louisiana may have stemmed from the Mardi Gras celebrations in New Orleans. With hindsight, we're all smarter, obviously, with hindsight, do you think it should have been canceled this year?

EDWARDS: Well, you know, I don't want to entertain the question because there was not any suggestion by anybody, at the CDC or anywhere else, that the Mardi Gras would pose a risk to public health because of the coronavirus. I mean, I've never heard that. You know, it is my idea. I'm not an epidemiologist and the study hasn't been done. But we do know that the very first confirmed case coronavirus in New Orleans, in the state of Louisiana, in fact, came about 13 days after Fat Tuesday.

And we know what the period of time is between an area being seated with coronavirus. And when those symptoms appear in the test should start coming back positive. So that's certainly a working theory. My best guess is it had something to do with the concentration of cases that we've seen in New Orleans.

But given how populations move about and what happens in daily life, whether it's social life or commerce, that now is traveled all through the state of Louisiana and through the United States. But there was never any indication from anyone that we should have canceled Mardi Gras and I don't want to go back. I want to focus my attention on what we do going forward.

BLITZER: Yes. Well, that's important -- much more important right now. We can always look back later down the road, study what could have been, what should have been lessons learned and all of that.

EDWARDS: Yes, sir. [17:15:08]

BLITZER: But you've got a huge problem right now. We wish you, all the people in Louisiana only the best. Governor, thank you so much for joining us.

EDWARDS: Thank you very much, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. And to our viewers, stay with us. Once again, the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in the briefing room, we expect it to begin fairly soon. It was supposed to begin at the top of the hour and now they say at the bottom of the hour. We'll of course have live coverage as soon as it does begin. We'll see if the President shows up. We'll see if Dr. Fauci shows up today as well.

We're also taking a much closer look at that $2 trillion economic bailout bill working its way through Congress. What's in it for you? We have details.

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[17:20:06]

BLITZER: Once you, we're awaiting the start of today's briefing by Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. You're looking at live pictures from the White House right now. Reporters will be walking in momentarily, then we'll see the Coronavirus Task Force walk out.

I'm personally curious to see if Dr. Fauci is there once again. He was there yesterday. We assume the President, the Vice President will lead this briefing. We'll have live coverage coming up.

We're also following some major developments up on Capitol Hill where the U.S. Senate is expected to vote on a $2 trillion economic stimulus plan to cope with the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into this and how specifically it will be affected how you, our viewers here in the United States, will be affected by the bill. So what are you finding out, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you just mentioned, Americans are hearing tonight there's $2 trillion in this rescue package that it's the largest economic stimulus measure in modern American history. But, of course, what many of us really want to know is how much am I getting and when am I going to get it. So we have a basic breakdown for you.

Let's start with, if you are single, if you're single and your adjusted gross income is $75,000, a year or less, you will get a full $1,200 check from the government. But the more you earn, the less you're going to get. If your income is $80,000, you get a check for $950. If you make $85,000, you get $700.

If your income is $90,000 a year, $450 will be your check. If you make $95,000 a year, it's $200. If you make $99,000 a year or more, you get nothing. Now we also have to point out, Wolf, this is based on your tax returns for the year 2019. If you have not done those tax returns yet, they're going to base it on the 2018 returns.

Now let's talk about married couples. Couples earning $150,000 a year or less are going to receive $2,400 from the government. Couples making $160,000 a year get $1,900. Couples earning $170,000 get a $1,400 check. Those making $180,000 get $900. Couples making $190,000 a year, they get $400 and couples earning $198,000 a year or more get nothing.

We also have to talk about those important child credits, what a lot of people want to know about. Parents with children who are 16 years old and younger will get $500 for each child, but that child credit also phases out, Wolf, if your income is higher. For one child, a single parent who makes $109,000 a year or more gets nothing. For one child, married parents making $208,000 a year or more, they get nothing.

Now we have to talk about the crucial unemployment benefits. With this package, if you're getting those benefits, you're going to get $600 a week more on top of what your state gives you for up to four months. But there is some resistance among some Republican senators in Congress, and we have to see how that plays out.

We also should point out, Wolf, the so-called gig workers like Uber drivers and Amazon flex delivery people, they are going to be eligible to apply for benefits in this new package. But it is not clear, Wolf, exactly how much money they are going to get

BLITZER: Specific information, very important. The key question, though, Brian, how long will it take for people to start getting those checks?

TODD: It's a great question, Wolf. Everybody's asking it. You know, President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are pushing to get these checks mailed out within about two weeks. That is very, very likely not going to happen, Wolf. The best estimate we can give is that it's going to take at least until May, before the money starts going out.

So, of course, patience is being preached tonight. Everybody wants this money. They need it. But we have to just say to people, you've got to be a little bit patient. Look forward, maybe in May.

BLITZER: We got to pass it in the Senate. They expect to do that later tonight. Let's see if that happens. And then it goes to the House, they got to pass it quickly there as well, and the President that needs to sign it into law.

Brian Todd reporting for us, thank you.

Let's bring in our political and medical experts to discuss all of these. And Dana Bash, the stimulus bill has gone through a lot of changes over these past few days. A lot of people are losing their jobs. Congress needs to come up with something very quickly. Are we finally going to see something that can pass the Senate and then pass the House and then get signed by the President? DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, negotiators thought so. Negotiators on the Republican side, in the Senate on the Democratic side and at the White House, in the wee hours of the morning when they came out and said we finally have a deal. But, by definition, a deal is compromised. And it means that people on both sides of the aisle aren't going to be entirely happy with what they are seeing.

And, you know, Wolf, it's been so long since we have seen major compromise legislation moved through Congress in any successful way. We're kind of got used to seeing that there are bumps along the road, particularly given how urgent this is.

[17:25:05]

So for example, Brian was talking about the unemployment insurance, that's a real bump right now. Republican senators, a trio of them, including Lindsey Graham, came out today and they said that they don't like the notion of $600 a month from the federal government, because that's more than some states give.

Democrats are saying -- and by the way, Republicans who agreed to this are saying, you know, we just averaged it out and we're doing what we can to make it as simple as possible for the Labor Department and then ultimately the Treasury Department to get these checks out.

So, they're talking right now, they're trying to work this out. And one of the fears is that, let's say that they amend this or change this particular issue, then other people are going to raise their hand and say, well, wait a minute, I have an issue and I kept quiet for the good of the bill. And that is the fear among the leadership, again, on both sides of the aisle.

BLITZER: Yes, still a lot of work to be done. You know, Sanjay, the World Health Organization said today that the time to act on coronavirus was a month ago but emphasized that there's still an opportunity to try to control the pandemic. Do you agree?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Of course, I know they're looking at all sorts of data and they're also looking at what's happened in other countries to arrive at this sort of conclusion. But Wolf, you know, it -- the rest of that conversation is that this can happen but it comes with a lot of work that needs to be done.

I mean, obviously, the social distancing measures that are in place here, but also, you know, making sure healthcare workers have their personal protective equipment otherwise people can't get tested. Testing needs to increase, the ventilators, all the things that we've been talking about.

So yes, I mean, it's not by any means lost at this point but it's going to take a lot of work for some time still, Wolf. Not forever by any means, but for several weeks still, probably.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Jennifer Lee is with us as well. Dr. Lee, the World Health Organization is also warning that opening schools, opening businesses too early could lead to what is called a resurgence of new cases. What's your assessment?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's too early to do anything like that, because we just don't know how we're doing in the fight against the virus. You know, we know that New York is clearly the front lines of this war right now. But where I work and in many other places across the country, we're actively preparing for battle. And we don't know when or how bad the surge is going to be when it comes. And it makes it really hard.

You know, we are doing everything we can. We're conserving equipment, we're getting more supplies, we're moving patients to Telehealth, and all these things are working. But what really makes it hard is that we just don't have the testing, the testing to be able to see what is happening with the virus out in the community and when is the search coming,

Just to give you a sense of this, you know, I work in a number of places in the D.C. metro area and one of the sites I work at in Virginia. A few weeks ago, two weeks ago, I started my shift and was told that I had two tests available for the whole shift. Last week, I worked another shift at the same place and was informed I had five tests available for the whole shift.

So, there is more testing now available than there was before. But the majority of it is happening. 25 percent of all the testing in the country is happening in New York. That's very appropriate. We have to prioritize. It's our frontline. But we need more testing. I know it's going to get better in the next few weeks. And we need to be smart about what we do with those tests when we get the capacity.

BLITZER: Yes, that's critically important. New York right now, as you know, as all of our viewers know, the epicenter here in the United States.

All right to our viewers, stay with us, everybody stay with us. We're going to have live coverage of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing as soon as it begins. We expect it to begin momentarily.

And by the way, after the briefing, we're going to get live reaction from the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She will join us much more of our special coverage right after this.

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[17:33:59]

BLITZER: We're waiting the start of today's briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. There you see reporters, they're separated under social distancing guidelines. We'll have live coverage of that. We'll see when the President -- assuming the President shows up with the Vice President and members of the Task Force. See if Dr. Fauci shows up as well.

New York, by far, has the most coronavirus cases of any state in the nation and it's set up a fascinating, sometimes very confrontational, dynamic between two quintessential New Yorkers. We're talking about President Donald Trump and Governor Andrew Cuomo.

CNN's M.J. Lee gives us a closer look.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: President said it's a war, it is a war. Well then act like it's a war.

M.J. LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tension simmering between President Trump and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. As the state of New York emerges the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, Cuomo's handling of the crisis in the national spotlight as he scrambles to prepare for the worst.

[17:35:00]

CUOMO: We're now looking at a bullet train, because the numbers are going up that quickly.

LEE (voice-over): Cuomo and Trump butting heads on the federal government's response. The third term governor repeatedly calling on the Trump administration to do more and act faster, as the corona virus spreads at an alarming speed in his home state. As of Wednesday, New York State registering more than 30,000 positive cases. In New York City alone, that number more than a staggering, 17,000.

CUOMO: Our single greatest challenge are the ventilators.

LEE (voice-over): A shortage of ventilators, critical medical equipment for coronavirus patients in serious condition, a major source of concern. On Tuesday, Cuomo sharply critical of what he said was the federal government's inadequate response

CUOMO: But I need the ventilators in 14 days. Only the federal government has that power. And not to exercise that power is inexplicable to me.

LEE (voice-over): Trump on the defensive, insisting that Cuomo partially bears responsibility for the shortage of ventilators in New York.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And I'm not blaming him or anything else, but he shouldn't be talking about us. He's supposed to be buying his own ventilators. We're going to help. But, you know, if you think about Governor Cuomo, we're building him four hospitals. We're building him for medical centers. We're working very, very hard for the people of New York.

LEE (voice-over): But by Wednesday, Trump tweeting out public support for Cuomo, saying he personally likes the Governor, and that he is working very hard to help New York City and state. Cuomo also changing his tune on Wednesday.

CUOMO: And it's something that our team is working on with the White House team. And I want to thank the President for his cooperation and his team for their cooperation.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LEE: Now, the situation here in New York is so serious that the White House Task Force suggested this week that anyone who has traveled to the New York City area should self-quarantine for two weeks. Wolf, but Governor Cuomo and his team said today that they are dismissing that idea and that they would refer everyone to the official CDC guidelines instead. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, M.J.. Lee reporting for us, thank you.

Let's get back to our political and medical experts. And Sanjay, what about that dispute that yesterday we heard from the White House Coronavirus Task Force that people who leave New York, let's say they fly down to Florida, they should self-quarantine for two weeks, or they go to North Carolina or they go out to the Hamptons in Long Island. Self -- everybody from New York. And we heard a different assessment from the New York health experts today. What is -- what's going on?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, the New York Health Commissioner basically said he didn't think that was necessary. He didn't really advocate for it at all. Look, I think what the Coronavirus Taskforce is saying is New York's a hotspot. Therefore, we want to try and prevent as much what they call seating of patients from New York into other areas even outside of city -- New York City, and to other parts of New York State or certainly out of the state.

But I think the point that the New York City Health Commissioner was making is that, you know, it's pretty clear, Wolf, that the virus is spreading in many places. (INAUDIBLE) New York has done more testing and has more confirmed cases. You know, we also are seeing places, Washington and California obviously, but also Michigan, Louisiana, you were just talking to the Governor of Florida and Georgia, increasing by 20 percent every day. So, it becomes a question, viruses don't respect boundaries and borders. How big a difference will it make I think was the question the New York City Health Commissioner was raising.

Governor Cuomo really didn't know much about it. He just said, look, I defer to my medical experts on this. But you're right, it's totally different sort of approach here and the CDC does not have anything anymore on their website about quarantines. So this sort of, I think, confused a lot of people, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly did. Why don't they have anything about quarantines?

GUPTA: Well, because I think that they're not necessarily advocating quarantines for particular populations. I think what the recommendation now, Wolf, for the country is people should basically, you know, be at home as much as possible.

You know, when they brought back those passengers, remember from Wuhan in January, 195 passengers, they put them into quarantine for 14 days at that point. But there weren't really that many, you know, there weren't really any other cases in the United States at that point.

Now that there's more community spread, the advice is mostly stay at home so as to not spread this, behave like the viruses in your community, behave like you yourself might have the virus. That's going to be the most effective in terms of curbing the spread as opposed to isolating particular communities.

BLITZER: Yes, that's critically important advice. Dr. Lee, the World Health Organization has warning of a global shortage, a global shortage of critical medical supplies. Could this pandemic become even more difficult to confront in the coming weeks and months because of this shortage?

[17:40:00]

DR. JENNIFER LEE, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Oh absolutely, Wolf. That's what we're all concerned about. And that's the reason why those that are not actively seeing so many patients come in right now, like in New York, we're still conserving and trying to gather as many supplies and personal protective equipment as possible. And again, that goes back to the issue of not really knowing what is the search going to be and when is it going to come, because we don't have the testing available.

Now, I believe that in the next few weeks, our ability to test more patients will increase dramatically. But there are a couple things that we need to do to make sure that we can conserve our testing capacity and use that really strategically. And I think first, we need to make sure we have some national monitoring and management of the supply chain. A few weeks ago, our constraint were the swabs. We didn't have enough of the swabs because -- there was a national shortage because some of the plants that manufacture it, one is actually located in northern Italy.

And this supply chain is very fragile. The reagents, the bioculture media might also be in short supply as we do more testing. You know, second, we need to look at the priorities for testing. Right now, I think we're prioritizing as best we can, those who are the most ill, as well as frontline providers. But as we get more testing availability, I think we should think about how we do some random sampling in places across the country that might not have been hit- hard yet, because maybe we can contain it there.

And finally, we need a way to be able to see this data nationally, someplace where all the public and private data can be rolled up together so that we can know, again, what is happening with the virus. It's been called an invisible enemy. But it doesn't have to be if we had the testing and we had the data.

BLITZER: Yes, that's critically important. Dana, some of the President's advisors are urging him to treat his desire, and he's got a strong desire, as he expressed yesterday to reopen the country by Easter Sunday. And they're saying to him, that should be aspirational. Is this going to be a moving target?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, there's no question. Look, the President we have seen since last week, I guess, has been kind of toing and froing between trying to be realistic and trying to be optimistic.

And a lot of it depends on what he is listening to or looking at with regard to conservative media. And people who have been really pushing in a way that was kind of below the radar up until a few days ago and now has obviously made its way to the President, the notion that he and people in the government have gone way too far in shutting down the economy.

And so there's that side and then there's the other side of those who are saying we're doing exactly the right thing. And that's not just health professionals, Wolf, that's some Republicans I talked to who have aligned into him. So it's mixed messaging that he's getting and that is in typical Trump form showing up in every time he speaks.

BLITZER: And we'll see what his messages today. We assume he'll show up at his briefing.

Everybody stand by, we're going to have live coverage of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing as soon as it begins. And after the briefing, I'll get reaction live in an interview with the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Much more of our coverage right after a quick break.

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[17:48:05]

BLITZER: This just coming into CNN, CNN has learned that the pandemic is now impacting the movement of U.S. troops here in the United States and around the world for that matter. Our Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr is working the story for us. Barbara, you're getting new information from your sources. What are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Wolf. Defense Secretary Mark Esper tightening the restrictions on the troops. Now, there will be a freeze-in-place order. Troops overseas will stay put for 60 days where they are. Troops in the United States scheduled to deploy overseas, 60 days in place where they are, all due to the coronavirus pandemic

There will be exceptions. Navy ships that are at sea will have to pull back into port. They will have to let troops off those Navy cruise, off those Navy ships. This will impact about 90,000 troops and their families who may already be in the middle of moves to new post, new bases, planning to head overseas. Everything freezes in place for 60 days.

Why is this happening? The military has not flattened its curve. Every day, that growth of new cases in the Department of Defense and in the ranks continues to grow. They're trying to get a handle on it, Wolf.

BLITZER: So they think it's going to continue at least through April and May. Let's see what happens in June. Barbara Starr reporting from the Pentagon, thank you. Coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting ready to answer your questions about coronavirus and how to keep yourself and how to keep your loved ones safe.

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[17:54:23]

TRUMP: I want to thank the American people for answering the call, following our guidelines and making the sacrifices required to overcome this terrible threat more aggressively. We commit to social distancing. So important social distancing, such an important phrase. And we do it right now.

The more lives we can save and the sooner we can eventually get people back to work, back to school, and back to normal and there are large sections of country probably can go back much sooner than other sections. And we're obviously looking at that also. People are asking, is that an alternative? And I say, absolutely.

[17:55:06]

I have now approved major disaster declarations for New York, California, Washington, Iowa, Louisiana, Texas and Florida. That has great significance, as you know, and legal significance. We're in a constant grouping and I can say this, we have a large grouping of people that does nothing but communicate with the various officials including, we've been spending a lot of time with New York officials because that really is by far the hottest spot.

They've got a number of very tough weeks ahead of them. The Governor is doing a very good job. I spoke to the Governor, Governor Cuomo last night and this morning and he mentioned that, in his remarks, that he's using the -- that we are using, and I think he feels because he understands negotiation, he thinks we're using very appropriately the Defense Production Act. And we are. We're using it where it needed.

It's a great point of leverage. It's a great negotiating tool. But I've really -- I will tell you this tremendous spirit from people and tremendous spirit with respect to these companies. And I don't have to use it very much at all. They want to do it.

As you know, General Motors is involved, Ford's involved, 3M's involved, others are involved and they're all working very hard to produce product, different, all different products.

We had very little product when we came. We built it up and we've -- we give it away as fast as we can to the different states. We're also, as you know, building numerous hospitals and medical centers throughout certain areas in New York, it's at the convention center, the Javits Convention Center. We're doing four hospitals and we're doing throughout the state for medical centers there, somewhat different.

I want you to know that I'm doing everything in my power to help the city pull through this challenge. I'm working very hard in New York, it's really, by far, our biggest problem. Maybe it will be, maybe it won't be. But there's a lot of good capable people working on it with us and our teams are working very well with the state representatives.

We're also doing some very large testings throughout the country. I told you yesterday that in South Korea, and this is not a knock in any way because if -- I just spoke with President Moon, we had a very good conversation about numerous other things. But they've done a very good job in testing. But we now are doing more testing than anybody by far. We do more in eight days than they do an eight weeks. And we go up on a daily basis exponentially. So it's really good.

By the way, while I'm on it, I also spoke with Prime Minister Abe of Japan last night, and I congratulated him on a wise choice. I think it's going to be a fantastic Olympics 2021. I think it's going to be a fantastic Olympics. It was the absolute right decision to delay it for a full year and now have a full beautiful Olympics. It's going to be very important because it's probably the first time, maybe ever or certainly in a long time that it was on a odd year.

It's always on an even year they tell me. But he's going to have a fantastic success, and now they'll have even more time. He didn't need any more time. Everything was perfectly ready. What a job they've done.

But Japan, I want to congratulate Japan, the IOC and Prime Minister Abe on a great decision. I think it's going to be a fantastic Olympics. I told him, I'll be there. I'll be there.

As we fight to protect American lives, we're also protecting American livelihoods. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate are very close to passing an emergency relief bill for American workers, families and businesses.

This legislation in addition to the two bills I signed this month that includes, as you know, sick leave and we have all sorts of things in for the workers, for families, but we have a tremendous paid sick leave provision for workers at no cost at all to the employers. That's a big thing, no cost to the employers. We want to get everybody back working.

Together, this $2.2 trillion legislative package is bigger than anything I believe ever passed in Congress.