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At Least 65,000 Cases, More than 900 Deaths in the U.S.; U.S. Senate Approves $2 Trillion Stimulus Package; Spain Overtakes China's COVID-19 Death Toll; Problems with Testing Hamper Response to Outbreak. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and across all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, Americans could soon get money from the government to help deal with the economic blow of the coronavirus, but will the $2 trillion stimulus be enough?

New York has most of the cases in the U.S., but officials say they don't have enough beds, supplies, and ventilators.

Plus, a CNN investigation. More testing kits are becoming available, but why is it taking so long to get results?

Good to have you with us. And we begin in New York where right now it is just past 4:00 in the morning. The dawn of another day at ground zero of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. On Wednesday at least 233 people died across the country, a new high for U.S. deaths reported in a single day.

Many of them were in New York. The city is struggling as the virus spreads like wildfire. There are not enough ventilators to go around. The state needs about 30,000 of them, but even after some help from the federal government, they will have only about half that number. At one New York hospital staff are setting up a makeshift morgue including tents and refrigerated trucks in preparation for what appears likely to come.

And after the U.S. Senate passed an historic $2 trillion economic relief bill on Wednesday night, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer grew emotional when he talked about New York, his home state.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): The talk after 9/11 was Manhattan was gone as a center of the globe, that no one would ever live or work south of Chamber Street. I always had faith New Yorkers would come back. The same now. They say, well, the density of population and everything else. We're going to come back, but it pains me and it pains you in a certain sense because you can't be with the people. You have to talk to them on the telephone. That bothers me. I like to mix and mingle and press the flesh. Press

the flesh is a bad word right now. And so I feel an ache for my people, and one of the things that guided me was to do as much as I could for them.


CHURCH: And the crisis is far from over. America's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says the pandemic is accelerating in the United States.

Here's what he told CNN's Chris Cuomo.


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


So you've got to respond in what you see happen, and if you keep seeing this acceleration, it doesn't matter what you say, one week, two weeks, three weeks, you've got to go with what the situation on the ground is.


CHURCH: And CNN's Erica Hill has more on how the U.S. is coping with the coronavirus pandemic.


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

LARRY HOGAN, MARYLAND GOVERNOR: 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: Louisiana is showing the highest growth rate for the virus. Governor Edwards warning 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. New Jersey now has the second highest number of cases in the U.S., and in New York the governor warning the peak in his state, which now has 30,000 confirmed cases, is likely weeks away.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We still have the trajectory going up. We have not turned the trajectory nor have we hit the apex.

HILL: But there are early signs the shelter-in-place orders are easing the strain on hospitals. Still, the state needs tens of thousands of additional hospital beds and ventilators to meet the expected need. And 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: 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: For the 900 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 wakes. Let's send our thoughts, our support and our prayers to all of these families and their friends.

HILL: In Alabama, Emery 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.


HILL: Here in New York state, Governor Cuomo is also looking to address mental health needs, talking about the emotional trauma that many people are going through, especially as their lives changed so rapidly. He has set up a hotline here, 6,000 mental health professionals in the state are now volunteering their time.

Back to you.

CHURCH: Thanks so much for that.

Well, as the coronavirus pandemic ravages the global economy, financial help for Americans could soon be on the way. The U.S. House is expected to take up a $2 trillion stimulus bill on Friday morning. That measure hammered out over days of intense negotiations unanimously passed the U.S. Senate late Wednesday.

And we get the details from CNN's Manu Raju.


MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Biggest rescue package in American history approved by the United States Senate overwhelmingly after Republicans and Democrats came together along with the Trump administration recognizing the damaging economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and realized that they needed to act aggressively, and they did just that, by approving this measure.

Roughly $2 trillion aimed at providing a jolt to the economy amid fears that the economy could fall into recession and amid fears that the country is struggling and unable to get its arms around the fallout of this pandemic.

Now this proposal is broken down into several different parts including roughly $500 billion that will go to -- for loans for distressed industries, companies, bigger companies that need a lifeline. Also, smaller businesses as well. Roughly $350 billion is set aside for that. In addition, there's money that would go to people who are filing for unemployment benefits, what they're calling enhanced unemployment benefits. More generous for individuals who need that support after losing their job.


Also, people would get checks from the federal government, direct payments if they make a certain amount of money, from $75,000 for an individual, up to $99,000 for an individual starting at $1200 for an individual. And that would phase down up until that $99,000 income level, and also to the people who made more than that wouldn't receive anything. But nevertheless, it's aimed at people who in particular could be hit hard by this economy.

Now the question is exactly what's next. How will Congress respond? The House of Representatives is expected to give approval to this measure soon, then it will go to the president's desk. How quickly will that get implemented? Another big question. Because this money, roughly $2 trillion, is going to take some time to get out into the economy. And will it have the impact that the proponents hope that it will?

That's why already behind the scenes they are deliberating their next step. Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, has made it clear that they're already considering another round of stimulus, another effort -- economic package that comes soon afterwards. She told her members if you didn't get what you want in this plan, let's worry about the next plan. And we can push forward on that.

So this is the biggest rescue package in history. The third effort so far by Congress in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. And there could be four, there could be five, because Congress and Washington are trying to figure out how to deal with this. And right now they don't know what the answer is. And the question is, what they passed today, while historic, is it enough?

Manu Raju, CNN, Capitol Hill.


CHURCH: So let's bring in CNN's Christine Romans in New York.


CHURCH: So for all-Americans, waiting for that check, their big question is, how soon will it come and will there be any effort to hit the pause button on mortgages and utility bills?

ROMANS: You know, that's a very good question. Well, first of all, the check. The Treasury secretary, you know, they'd like to get this out, April 6th is the number, a date that they have floated. But they're going to go as fast as they possibly can. And they're already working on what is the quickest way to do that.

There are some who have studied this, who've done it before, 2001, 2008, who say it's pretty hard to get it out that quickly, but the administration is going to try. In terms of pressing the pause button on your bills, some big banks have been doing that. And I really think that anybody in the United States who's watching this should be very clear to go to your lenders immediately and find out what kind of relief or forbearance they have right now.

Because the feeling is the economy will come back once we are through the medical part of this crisis and so they don't want to hurt their customers right now when they know that maybe they'll be able to get back on track later this year.

CHURCH: Yes. Very good advice there. And of course, so, Christine, the stimulus bill solves the economic pain. The biggest problem now is making those funds available to hospitals.


CHURCH: And getting personal protective gear to our heroic medical staff, along with those ventilators. When might that happen?

ROMANS: And they're trying to do this very quickly as well. The money is there now. I mean, it's got to go through the House of course. But the whole goal of this, Congress and the White House, to get this out as quickly as possible. $130 billion for hospitals and lots of money for communities so that communities who are really strained by the stress of it, all these people who need to be treated for coronavirus, they will get some money, too. So, again, it's all designed to get out there quickly.

There's a small business piece of this, Rosemary, I think that's really important as well. The Treasury secretary has said that the banks, the bank branches, as soon as this is all done and dusted, people -- small business owners will be able to go to local bank branches, walk in, apply for a loan, get the loan same day, and if they keep their workers, if they don't fire their workers, they'll have two months of operating expenses and they won't have to pay the loan back if they retain their workers. That is going to be a crucial lifeline for small businesses in the United States.

CHURCH: Absolutely. And a lot of people have lined up for unemployment funds from the government and that -- of course, we're waiting for those unemployment numbers. That is going to be a staggering number. That's just hours away now.

ROMANS: I've seen estimates everywhere from a million people to 3.5 million people in just one week filing for jobless benefits. We'll learn for sure in about four hours and 15 minutes. But in 1982 there was a peak of 695,000 people in just one week applied for jobless benefits. And economists are telling me there's no question that record will be broken. And it is not a good record.

What Congress and what that stimulus bill, Rosemary, are trying to do, is trying to convince employers, wait, don't fire people yet. We're going to get through this and we're going to provide the funds just to keep you whole.


You know, it's called a stimulus package but I feel like it's really a rescue package. It's meant just to get enough money out there to have everybody and pause for a minute while we figure out the medical part of this problem.

CHURCH: Yes. It truly is that, isn't it? A rescue package would be a better name for it.

Christine Romans, many thanks to you, bringing us up to date on all of that from New York.

ROMANS: You're welcome, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Many thanks and stay safe.

Well, in Spain the death toll is surging. The government reports more than 3400 people have died. And that means Spain has surpassed China's death toll. It's now the second hardest hit country in the world behind Italy. The government is extending its state of emergency through to mid-April.

Members of Spain's parliament gave health care workers a standing ovation there, but officials warn the outbreak's peak has yet to come.

So let's head to Madrid and journalist Al Goodman. He joins us now live.

Al, Spain's death toll surging. What is the latest on how the country is dealing with this? And on the much-needed personal protective gear that every medical worker there and of course across the globe is pleading for at this time.

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: Hi, Rosemary. It's safe to say that more than a standing ovation in parliament, Spain's medical workers would like to get that protective gear, which they said they haven't had. That's why 10 percent of all the infected cases in Spain are medical workers, 5400 of them. Two doctors at least have already died from this. So that's depriving the hospitals and the health centers of vital personnel.

The 5400 who are in quarantine, they can't come to work because of this lack of equipment. So Spain is scrambling, scrambling is the right word, to get enough equipment, ventilators first. They've just bought 950 ventilators from China. They need them right now. But they're going to come over between the next two months. They're going to start dribbling in in little bit of shipments.

They've also bought millions of masks and pairs of gloves and testing kits. Those also will be dribbling in. Spain's regional governments, the Madrid regional government, very hard hit, the region of Madrid, and also the area around Barcelona. That regional government had been buying things on their own from China. The Madrid regional government announcing a plane load of supplies from China a couple of days hasn't arrived yet.

So there's this massive scramble to get the gear. And there's a lot of second guessing right now on did Spain institute the lockdown or the stay-at-home order soon enough. It's been in effect since mid-March. It'll now be a month with this extension until mid-April. But the Health minister said on Wednesday now officials now see there were significant infections at the end of April.

And early in March here in Madrid, Real Madrid played Barcelona in a match with thousands of people in the main stadium here. There was that International Women's Day march a week later, 100,000 people, a couple of Cabinet ministers in the socialist government were at that march. They're infected. So people are wondering, did Spain get on this situation soon enough? And why didn't it have enough supplies on hand?

Back to you, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Absolutely. I mean, there are big critical questions.

Al Goodman, many thanks to you, bring us the very latest from the streets of Madrid. Appreciate it.

Well, President Trump boasts about testing in the United States, but some Americans who want the test still can't get it, and those who have been tested are waiting days for the results. We'll find out why. That is next on CNN NEWSROOM.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, critics have been slamming the Trump administration over the low rate of testing for the coronavirus in the U.S., but on Wednesday President Trump argued that the U.S. has done more testing than any other country in the world. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We have now tested with the best tests far more than anybody else. When I say anybody else, I'm talking about other countries. No country is even close.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CHURCH: Well, the president is partially right. The U.S. has overtaken South Korea in the total number of tests, but the U.S. has conducted far fewer tests than South Korea in proportion to its population, making the president's comments somewhat misleading.

And for those people in the U.S. who have access to testing, getting their results can be painfully slow. Our Drew Griffin is digging into that part of the story.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Commercial labs, even among the country's largest, tell CNN coronavirus testing results are seriously delayed because of backlog. Quest Diagnostics said the lab's current turnaround time is an average four to five days but can be as long as seven days, and although the company is "rapidly expanding testing capacity, demand for the testing is growing faster and we cannot accommodate everyone who wants testing and meet tight turnaround time expectations."

It's just the latest issue in a long list of disastrous delays of testing since coronavirus first arrived in the U.S.

DR. LEANA WEN, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: That lack of testing is preventing us from understanding the true spread of coronavirus in communities. It's almost certain that not only in New York and the identified hot spots but all over the country there are significant underestimates of the true number of coronavirus cases.

GRIFFIN: First there weren't enough test kits, then there was a shortage still ongoing in the supplies needed to conduct the tests. Now the critical delay, which is having a dangerous effect in hospitals and other health care facilities, is delays in getting test results.

DR. ALEX GLENINGER, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON'S DEPARTMENT OF LABORATORY MEDICINE: The turnaround time can save personal protective equipment. That's probably the most important thing right now.

GRIFFIN: When doctors don't know which patients are infected with COVID-19, they waste personal protective equipment because they have to switch out masks, gowns, everything in between patients to prevent the virus from spreading even more. It's making the uncertainty inside hospitals even more terrifying.


SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: People are very frightened of contracting the illness, of not having the equipment to protect themselves, transmitting it to other patients, transmitting it to each other and transmitting it to family members. There is absolutely not enough testing going on.

GRIFFIN: And shockingly, for the most powerful nation on earth, many health care workers cannot get tested unless their symptoms become severe. In New York City EMS workers say they do not have N95 masks or enough personal protective equipment. They are being exposed, getting sick, and told to just go home. They are getting no tests.

OREN BARZLAY, FDNY EMS UNION: We are not provided with any tests even after we've been exposed and showing signs and symptoms of coming down with the virus which is -- it's unacceptable to us.

GRIFFIN: Health care workers, first responders unable to get tested, unable to get proper equipment daily make the decision to go to work and risk being infected or give up. This nurse from Ohio quit, she says, to save her own family.

STACY FOYTIK, CLEVELAND OHIO: I feel that people should know that if we walked into rooms like this a month ago, a year ago we would have been reprimanded. We would have lost our jobs because, what were we doing? Not providing safe care.

GRIFFIN (on camera): The bottom line is, despite what the president is saying, testing remains an issue. We're hearing it from doctors, from hospitals, from nurses, and even the labs themselves. The demand for testing for this coronavirus is still far exceeding the capacity to process those tests.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


CHURCH: Very sobering report there.

And the U.S. Senate takes a giant step towards saving the U.S. economy from a recession, but it's not done yet and the first checks could still be weeks away. We will explain how much the average American might get.

Back in just a moment.