Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Sees Deadliest Day Yet As Coronavirus Deaths Top 1,000; 3.3 Million File For Unemployment This Week. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired March 26, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: You make for people because, look, there's a lot of people in your situation and they're going to be all over the world. But you have made a point that people can do this. You know, this is tough, but you found a silver lining in it in sort of, I guess sort of staying in with your baby for a few days.


KEILAR: Tell us -- tell us about that and what you want mothers who must -- they must be very scared. What do you want them to know?

WESTBROOKE: I was the same way. I was terrified. I cried many tears. But I actually called it our little love bubble for three to four days. We did not leave the room. We slept in the same room, we ate in the same room.

You know, I was able to have that alone time that I needed as a new mom to really connect with my baby. And, you know, learn little things about him in those first few days that maybe I wouldn't have been able to do if there were grandparents and family, friends and even my husband around to, you know, kind of interfere with that.

So I really look back and think that that was actually a blessing in disguise.

KEILAR: Well, Megan, thank you for sharing your story with us. Thank you for sharing Charlie with us. He looks like a doll. He is just -- he is doing great.


KEILAR: He is beautiful Megan.

WESTBROOK: Yes, thank you.

KEILAR: Megan Westbrook, thank you so much.

And it is the top of the hour. I am Brianna Keilar, in for Brooke Baldwin, and thank you so much for joining CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

We saw it happen in China. We are seeing this happen in Italy and now the United States is experiencing its first sense of the unforgiving COVID-19 battleground that doctors have been warning of for weeks.

"The New York Times" has just captured images inside Elmhurst Hospital in Queens showing overwhelmed hospital floors, under protected hospital workers and patient after patient arriving seriously ill and highly contagious from coronavirus, a refrigerator car was brought in for the bodies.

And as the hospitals are struggling to keep up, the numbers keep coming up; closing in now on 75,000 cases nationwide. The U.S. also passing the somber milestone of more than a thousand people in the country dying from COVID-19.

And with those kinds of numbers, New York's Governor says, no matter what plan you have, it will not ease the burden on hospitals and first responders.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, (D-NY): Almost any scenario that is realistic will overwhelm the capacity of the current healthcare system. So little reality, keep the curve down as low as you can. But you cannot get the curve down low enough so that you don't overwhelm the hospital capacity.


KEILAR: Coronavirus is also decimating the U.S. economy with a shocking 3.3 million people filing for unemployment benefits last week. It's the most ever recorded.

I want to turn now to CNN's Erica Hill. She is outside of Elmhurst Hospital where the situation there has been described by doctors as apocalyptic -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, medical professionals leaving the hospital telling CNN that the state of mind inside was a state of paranoia. That people are so concerned they don't know if they have the virus. They don't want to be someone who is going to pass the virus on either to their colleagues or to their loved ones at home. They said they are bursting at the seams.

And what is so important as we hear from folks inside, Brianna, is that across the country, people realize this, we're hearing from officials, is likely a precursor of what could be coming.


HILL (voice over): Empty streets lead to packed emergency rooms across New York City, the country's epicenter for this pandemic.


COREY JOHNSON, SPEAKER, NYC COUNCIL: It's insane to see those photos of nurses and doctors wearing garbage bags is shameful and it is shocking.


HILL (voice over): The need for gear including ventilators is unrelenting as the number of patients soars. At Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, 13 people dying in just one day.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: All the feet that you see, they all have COVID.


HILL (voice over): Dr. Colleen Smith documented 72 hours inside Elmhurst for "The New York Times."


DR. COLLEEN SMITH, ER PHYSICIAN, ELMHURST HOSPITAL: Leaders in various offices from the President to the Head of Health and Hospitals saying things like we're going to be fine. Everything is fine.

And from our perspective, everything is not fine. I don't have the support that I need and even just the materials that I need physically to take care of my patients and it's America and we're supposed to be a first world country.



HILL (voice over): CNN has reached out to Elmhurst Hospital about Dr. Smith's statements. Meantime, the line outside that ER today continues to grow.

Further south, at New York City's Bellevue Hospital, a makeshift morgue is being set up for a possible surge. NYU is allowing senior medical students to graduate early to help meet the demand for healthcare workers.


DEANNE CRISWELL, COMMISSIONER, NYC EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT: Everybody is doing things they have never, even in their wildest dreams, thought that they would be doing. It is a disaster that nobody could have anticipated.


HILL (voice over): Across the country, leaders are watching, urging people to stay home, knowing they may be next.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES: What we see in Italy or what we see in Spain or what we see in New York City, it is coming here. Nobody is immune from this virus. GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Just over two weeks ago, we had zero.

This crisis is ramping up exponentially. Michigan is currently ranked fifth in the nation with confirmed cases of COVID-19.


HILL (voice over): In Louisiana, where hospitals also face an urgent need for ventilators and hospital beds, a new focus on how the surge of Mardi Gras visitors in New Orleans may have helped the virus spread.


COLLIN ARNOLD, DIRECTOR, NEW ORLEANS OFFICE OF HOMELAND SECURITY AND EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: We had over a million and a half people in the city including international visitors, you know, all attending parades daily.


HILL (voice over): On the heels of America's deadliest day for this virus, doctors are facing increasingly difficult questions about who is treated.


DR. MICHELLE GONG, CRITICAL CARE CHIEF, MONTEFIORE MEDICAL CENTER: We want to do our best to save every life that comes through our doors. But during a pandemic, when resources become scarce, sometimes we have to engage in uncomfortable conversations.

MITCH LANDRIEU, FORMER MAYOR OF NEW ORLEANS: We saw some of this during Katrina, this is an awful position to put first responders and it is just really unacceptable.


HILL (voice over): The nation's voice of calm in this swirling storm, reminding the country this is unchartered territory.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: And you've got to understand that you don't make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.


HILL (on camera): Something else that we were learning from that doctor who shared her account with "The New York Times," she said, we are seeing people come in who are sicker than we did initially, and also who are much younger, Brianna.

And I think that's important to stress too, as we are reminded time and time again by the people on the front lines that this virus does not discriminate based on age. KEILAR: No, it sure doesn't. Erica Hill. Thank you. And we have some

new details now about how the White House is tracking this crisis across the country.

I want to bring in Kaitlan Collins and Kaitlan, I understand there's an effort to classify counties based on risk. Tell us about that.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is a new letter from the President to all governors in the States after they had a call earlier today, and it really talks about what their administration is going through.

It obviously talks about what has been one of the main topics this week, which is the President's desire to reassess those guidelines he issued on social distancing, and there's one graph here that's really important, Brianna and I want to focus on that to you where the President says that they envision because they have expanded testing capable abilities that will quickly enable them to publish criteria that they essentially want to be able to have robust surveillance testing, which allows us to monitor the spread of the virus throughout the country.

And under that data, they said they want to be able to suggest guidelines categorizing counties as high risk, medium risk and low risk. Essentially, they would be using those guidelines to determine, you know, what life looks like for people living in those areas, because that's something that President has been pushing, reopening certain parts of the country while other spots like obviously, somewhere like New York, would still remain under those stricter guidelines about what they can and cannot do, where they can and cannot go for the time being as they are trying to slow the spread of this.

But this is really notable because A, it is assuming that they have enough tests to be able to test this many people to develop this kind of a criteria, to be able to put peoples in these counties. And then of course, as you just noted in that interview with Peter Navarro, that was a really big slowdown at the beginning of this with the administration that they say that testing has improved throughout the nation.

And the other thing is, as the President has been pushing this Easter date for when he wants to reopen the country, you've seen a lot of governors say, you know, they hope the President is right that the country is able to reopen within just a matter of weeks and people can start returning to normal life, but they say they are going to be making those decisions for their own citizens and their states as they are moving forward, and they'll be basing it off the data that they have.

You think of people like New Jersey governors who just said that the other day that he will be making the decision about what their guidance is going to look like in their states.

So you have to wonder how the states are going to receive this guidance from the President whether or not that's something they're going to act off of, and really just how close we are to be able to, you know, label counties throughout their nation, you know, as the high risk, low risk, how that would work.

And of course, I think doctors are going to have questions about this, too, because you heard some doctors on our air even this morning saying you know, coronavirus, doesn't have a driver's license. It's not that specific.

It can spread pretty easily to people who are going in and out of certain areas. It's really hard to track where certain people have been. So the questions of whether or not this is going to be able to mitigate that spread is another one.


COLLINS: This is a letter signed by President Trump. It's not signed by any public health officials, though we'll be questioning later on, you know, how they came to determine that this is the method forward that they want to go.

But this does make pretty clear one thing, Brianna, it is that the President is still pushing ahead with that date timeline of in a few weeks trying to reopen at least parts of the country.

KEILAR: Do they realize, Kaitlan, they don't even have an accurate picture and the one that they have is inaccurate and outdated because it's taking so long to get tests. They don't know where infected people even are.

They don't even have the picture of what it looks like today. Do they know that?

COLLINS: Well, and that's the big question, because, you know, we just got this guidance this week that was telling anyone who has left New York in recent days to self-quarantine for 14 days, because they were seeing how people who were leaving New York City, they believed were actually creating hotspots in other areas -- Long Island -- they were fearful it could spread to other states.

And that's why you saw that guidance coming out of the White House, the guidance that later the New York City Health Commissioner said they were going to ignore because they didn't think it was helpful.

So if they're still at that stage, where they're telling anyone who's left New York City in recent days to go self-quarantine, you know, this is pretty, you know, specific if you're going to be able to label a county, you know, a county and Alabama as low risk, high risk or medium risk.

And of course, the questions would be, you know, just how specific would that be in each state? You know, it's a lot to look at here, and we're just learning this. We just got this letter, an e-mail from the White House. We will likely hear more on the President from him when he holds that briefing this afternoon.

But it is going to raise a lot of questions about how quickly they could be able to do something this specific.

KEILAR: All right, it sure does. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. So let's bring in a medical expert, right, to answer some of those questions that Kaitlan and I have.

Dr. Peter Hotez co-directs the Texas Children's Hospital Center for vaccine development, and he is also the Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Hotez, it's wonderful to see you again, and I wonder as you're hearing this idea about designating counties by risk when testing is still not widespread, and there is, you know, for a lot of people -- I mean, we've heard some people say it has taken nine days to get their test results. How can you have such a plan like that without data to base it on?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, right now you cannot make such a granular map of the country because we don't know enough about the virus and where this virus is arising.

And let me tell you why this is a really important point. What you're seeing now in New York, we just heard Elmhurst Hospital getting overwhelmed and other hospitals as well. That's really important because the mortality rate is directly linked to this.

The reason why the mortality rate was higher in Wuhan than elsewhere in China was because the hospital systems got overwhelmed.

The reason it was higher in Northern Italy is because the hospital systems were overwhelmed. They couldn't take care of all the patients at the same time. And there's a risk you're going to see that in New York.

So the point is, you have to do everything you can to prevent learning about your epidemic when you start seeing ICU patients first appear because it's too late at that point.

So this is unfortunately what we're seeing in New Orleans, what we're seeing now in Detroit. It is our first hint that there's a problem as patients are showing up in the ICU, and you've already lost the battle by that point, because you didn't have the testing that's in place. So I'm extremely not worried about New Orleans. I'm worried about Detroit.

We also don't understand the demographics very well. I suspect that one of the reasons that we're seeing this New Orleans and Detroit is because these are cities with high rates of extreme poverty and crowding. And in that sense, COVID-19 is now emerging as a health disparity. So this may be a new feature of the epidemic that we're seeing, maybe disproportionately affecting African-Americans who live in poverty who have high rates of diabetes and hypertension.

So to be able to say you're going to design a granular map now, when you're just learning about this new information is not really feasible. So I don't think we can wait on Easter and then and then say, okay, we're going to make the decision now.

You've got to let -- see how this unfolds, where the new hotspots continue to arise, especially if we're still ramping up for testing. Maybe in a month for now, you can reassess and start looking at the situation, but certainly not hold to that Easter date at this point.

KEILAR: Okay, so let me ask you what happens if they do -- if the White House does roll out something based on, you know, looking at county by county, but it's based on inaccurate, incomplete, outdated information? What would that look like for the health of this nation?

HOTEZ: Well, remember how this epidemic is unfolding. It is unfolding in the hotspot urban areas. We are so far unable to predict what urban area -- what urban area the virus is going to pick off next. I'm not sure I would have predicted New Orleans or Detroit.

So we still don't know enough about the virus to know where it's going, and if you don't have all of the testing in place, it's really -- it's a guess really knowing which city is going to be next and it's really important that you not wait to have ICU cases show up. Otherwise, you're going to reproduce New York over and over and over again.


HOTEZ: And it looks like we may have seen in New Orleans, and Detroit. So this is unfolding is really a humanitarian tragedy in these cities. And therefore, we've got to get our arms around understanding where the risk areas are for the cities. Are they disproportionately affecting the poor? Are they disproportionately affecting people of color? We're just learning about that.

So I don't know how you make a predictive map with the information that we have in hand. We're still in a very steep learning curve.

KEILAR: All right, Dr. Peter Hotez. Thank you so much. We'll see you again soon.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

KEILAR: And reminder tonight at 8:00 Eastern, Dr. Anthony Fauci and Bill Gates will join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta for a live Town Hall to answer all of your questions about this crisis, so don't miss that.

Record breaking numbers out today on the number of people who lost their jobs in the last week, more than three million people filed for unemployment benefits.

And I'll speak to a business owner here in D.C. about whether the stimulus package will help her keep some of her workers.


[14:20:40] KEILAR: So we're staying on the disturbing economic news today. This

morning's jobs report revealing a staggering 3.28 million people filing for unemployment last week. That number shattering the previous record that was set in 1982. That's millions of people who simply may not know how they're going to pay their bills or feed their families. Here's how Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin reacted on CNBC.


STEVE MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I just think these numbers right now are not relevant. And you know, whether they're bigger or smaller in the short term, you know, I mean, obviously, there are people who have jobless claims.

And again, the good thing about this bill is the President is protecting those people. So, you know, now with these plans, small businesses, hopefully will be able to hire back a lot of those people.


KEILAR: Let's bring in CNN Business anchor, Julia Chatterley, and Julia, the Flight Attendants Union and the New York Chamber of Commerce have already criticized Steve Mnuchin for that comment, you know, what do you make of it and the point that he is trying to make, which is that people will have unemployment money.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR, FIRST MOVE: My gut response was tone deaf, quite frankly. The worst word to use at a devastating time for all these people amid great anxiety already, but context to your point is very important and he is right that help is arriving.

The problem here, of course, is that one, we're coming up to month end when people have bills, rent to pay car payments to make, but also that it's just a promise right now. That money is going to take a bit of time to come through.

Just for context here, we are talking about more people than the entire City of Chicago in one week filing for unemployment benefits. Now, he suggested and maybe it's true that once this money starts to flow, those businesses -- small, medium and large -- will hold on to employees, and we won't continue to see these claims rise to the same shocking extent, perhaps even these businesses will hire people back as well and he and he might be right.

But the other issue here, of course, is that -- and it's a good thing, there has been an expansion of unemployment insurance in this country and that's going to capture whole pieces -- the gig economy -- that haven't been captured before.

So working out what the net effect is going to be at this stage is quite tough, but devastating for the people involved.

KEILAR: And so Congress is expected to pass this Stimulus Bill that's going to be providing an additional $600.00 in unemployment checks. How much will that help? How quickly can that get out? And how could the U.S. have avoided these staggering numbers if Congress had acted faster on a package or not?

KEILAR: Every single day counts, and I've been saying this for more than 10 days at this stage. So we did see politicking. But at the same time, it's a gigantic piece of legislation and negotiating that does take time.

The expansion of this unemployment insurance is critical. It's for four months. It's going to be a higher payment.

I spoke though, to the National Union of Taxpayers today, and they said it normally takes several weeks between filing that claim and actually getting that money through.

So I hope that they found a way, they can find a way to speed up that process. But there's going to be a great deal of uncertainty in the interim for people, just paying the bills, going out to get food in addition to the fact that you know, we've got fears about the health crisis, too.

I don't want to be so pessimistic about it, but you can understand how frightening it is for people going through this.

KEILAR: It is, when you say several weeks. We're going to have to keep an eye on this because you're talking about -- you're talking about people going hungry. You're talking about people losing things that they need to live. Julia Chatterley, thank you so much.

And there's many small business owners who have temporarily had to shutter their storefront doors to reduce public health risks, and now these same small business owners are wondering how are they going to pay their employees? How are they going to keep their businesses afloat?

I want to bring in Amanda McClements. She is the founder and owner of three businesses in Washington, D.C., and Amanda, so you run basically, I would describe it as -- you can see behind you, boutiques with very well curated household and gift items.

You're kind of a staple salt and sundry here in Washington, D.C. You had to temporarily close your storefronts and move to online only. Give us a sense what this meant for you. How many people do you employ? How many people have you had to lay off?


AMANDA MCCLEMENTS, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER OF THREE LIFESTYLE BOUTIQUES: Well, look, thanks for having me on, Brianna, and as a neighbor, hello.

You know, it's really been a heartbreaking week I think for a lot of folks and you know, I have 40 incredible employees across my shops here in D.C. and like you said, we made the decision to close back on March 16th, for their health and safety and for the safety of the community.

And essentially, our revenue stopped overnight because of that, and we had to make a really tough decision to cut, you know, essentially all part-time employees hours, and to reduce everyone else's pay by half.

And you know, these are devastating things to have to decide as a business owner and you know, it's been extremely stressful.

KEILAR: And so one of the things you're trying to do is, you know, yes, I walk by your store many, many days of the week and I see people in there. And these are my neighbors. It's terrible.

But, you, I wonder as you're transitioning to an online model, and how does that look? Is that something that's lucrative? Or is it really the jury is still out on that?

MCCLEMENTS: Yes, you know, online was a very small part of our business, you know, as a brick and mortar retailer, we really rely on foot traffic. So, you know, switching over to essentially, you know, online only, we're also doing deliveries within D.C., it has been really challenging, but, you know, we also feel really supported by the community. People have really been coming through and shopping online.

But, you know, basically every dollar that I'm bringing in right now is going to pay, you know, my team, which is my family, you know, as long as I can, you know, as we're weathering this crisis.

KEILAR: And real quickly, do you think this bill will help you?

MCCLEMENTS: You know, I think it's unclear, you know, we need to know how quickly aid is going to be available, and a lot of business owners are wondering, you know, how much debt we're going to end up having to take on.

I think, you know, debt forgiveness and grants are going to be a lot more helpful than loans at this point. Because a lot of us won't be able to bounce back from that, you know, in the long term.

KEILAR: Yes. How do you repay those? It's a very, very good point. Amanda McClements. Thank you so much.

MCCLEMENTS: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: So next, a perfect example of how quickly coronavirus can spread when people do not follow social distancing. I'll be speaking to a Yale doctor who fielded 100 calls from people who all attended the same party with a person who later tested positive.