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U.S. Death Toll Nears 1,000 After Deadliest Day; Louisiana Sees Dramatic Spike In Cases And Deaths. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired March 26, 2020 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Continues right now.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.

And at this moment, the coronavirus pandemic in the United States is accelerating. This morning, the death toll is approaching 1,000 here after the deadliest day so far. New York, by far the hardest hit with nearly half of the country's cases. Conditions at hospitals at New York and across the country, these conditions are dire. In New York, hospitals are bracing for a surge of patients in the coming weeks. One hospital has constructed a makeshift morgue on the street. Nurses at a different hospital resorting to protecting themselves with trash bags because of a shortage of protective gowns.

CNN has learned that some hospitals in the country debating a universal do not resuscitate order for coronavirus patients. There is some reason for optimism in places. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says, there are signs that social distancing is working, slowing down the rate of hospitalizations that was doubling as of Sunday. It's now doubling at a rate of about 4.7 days. Alisyn?

CAMEROTA: Of course, John, this is not just a New York problem. This morning, we're seeing many states struggling, especially Louisiana. Cases there have spiked more than 1,500. And there is fear, of course, of running out of hospital beds.

There's also some breaking economic news. Overnight, the Senate passed the $2 trillion rescue package unanimously. The bill authorizes checks to more than 150 million American households. We have new information about when you could see that money. The House is expected to vote on that measure tomorrow.

And later this morning, the number that so many analysts are watching, the Labor Department will release weekly jobless claims. And there is every reason to believe that today's numbers will shatter records.

Let's begin with CNN's Brynn Gingras. She's live at Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, New York. And that's where 13 people have died in just the past 24 hours. Brynn, that number is staggering.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's the grim reality, Alisyn, right? This is what everyone has been saying could happen and it's here at this hospital. Listen, Elmhurst Hospital is 1 of 11 public hospitals in New York City, and it's being called the center of this crisis. And I can tell you that it has been described, there are reports that inside the E.R., it's described as apocalyptic.

Well, I've got to say, outside, it doesn't feel too great either. I mean, you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone walking around this area without a mask on. And then, of course, we have this line which we've been showing you all morning this entire week that just keeps growing.

I mean, Alisyn and John, I saw someone yesterday with a walker and her two family members all wearing masks hobbling over just to get in that line. Earlier this week, it was pouring out and there were people standing in line in the freezing cold just to seek care. And this is, again, to see if they can get tested for the coronavirus.

I just spoke to someone who works inside the hospital as they went into their shift and they told me, what can I tell you? We're busting at the seams essentially, saying, every bed is basically filled.

The hospital is already having to take measures, transferring patients to other hospitals because they can't keep up with the demand. Also they're having to bring in more doctors, more nurses, more equipment daily just to keep up with this demand. It's not sustainable, quite frankly, is what we're hearing.

And I want to mention that makeshift morgue that you guys referenced before you came to me. You know, that makeshift morgue, it's outside of Bellevue Hospital, which is another public hospital in New York City. That is part of the city's sort of disaster preparedness. Now, listen, if you're around here for 9/11, that makeshift morgue is familiar to you. They build it, it's the first thing they build. It's a refrigerated morgue to deal with the influx of patients, people, bodies that might come in in the future.

It's not being utilized just yet. But the fact that it's being built or that is built and the fact that we might be seeing refrigerated trucks outside of these hospitals, outside the Javits Center, where there's a federal hospital, it's the grim reality, guys.

CAMEROTA: Yes, there's no way getting around it, Brynn. Thank you for reporting on all of this for us.

Now, we want to bring in Dr. Rodrigo Kong.


He's an emergency medicine physician at Staten Island University Hospital, and Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, she's the Director of Infectious Diseases Divisions at University of Alabama at Birmingham. Nice to see you both you this morning.

Dr. Kong, I want to start with you because of what we've just seen at Elmhurst, your hospital as well, are you starting to see the predicted surge in patients that we've heard about? DR. RODRIGO KONG, EMERGENCY MEDICINE, STATEN ISLAND UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Good morning. First, I'd like to start by saying thank you to all the frontline healthcare workers who are working out there today, all the people who are taking care of the patient's day in and day out. Everybody from environmental, to the clerks, to the techs, to nurses, the M.P.s, the P.A.s, the docs, logistics techs, everybody, thank you for doing what you do.

Yes, we are beginning to see the surge and it's quite troubling. I think that there's a huge rise in positive cases New York and the United States. And luckily for our hospitals, I think the community around us has actually taken heed of this. And many of those cases that are mild luckily, in our case, are staying at home. And we also have tents -- a tent testing facility outside of our hospital who have mild cases can get tested.

But most troubling is that we are seeing sicker patients coming to our E.D. These patients require supplemental oxygen. Some of them require I.V. fluids. Some of them require breathing tubes placed in their throats to breathe for them. Some of them are quite full on resuscitation. We're seeing patients from all ages, pediatrics to the elderly, and, of course, the patients who are the most susceptible are the older and the medically fragile.

CAMEROTA: But, Dr. Kong, you're seeing pediatric coronavirus patients?

KONG: Yes, we've seen them. By pediatric, what I mean is an age group less than 18. We have seen these patients here.

CAMEROTA: And they are not the sickest or they are getting very sick?

KONG: For these patients that we've seen, the pediatric patients, I would not say that they are the sickest. They do require supplemental oxygen. They do require other interventions. Some of them have been admitted to the hospital for these things.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Marrazzo, what about what Brynn just reported for us, and that's these do not resuscitate orders, which doctors are having to decide in some hospitals, or at least they're having conversations in some hospital, of whether or not to abide by the DNRs, I mean, well, I should say, whether or not they will have to make the decision about the DNRs, regardless of what the patient wanted or what their families wanted? They may not have the ventilators and enough equipment to save some of those people and so they may, at a hospital, have to decide, we will not resuscitate.

DR. JEANNE MARRAZZO, INFECTIOUS DISEASES DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Yes, Alisyn, thanks for that question. I mean, the fact that we're having this conversation on national television on a Thursday morning about people's DNR decisions is staggering. And if it's not a wakeup call to people, I don't know what else can be.

I mean, one of our primary sort of self-determinants is our ability to decide how we want to die and how we want to be taken care of. And something like this is just so -- goes so much against everything that we care about in medicine, in ethics and really in our humanity, because you really can't make that kind of unilateral decision for people.

I'd also point out that not every 70-year-old, 80-year-old, 90-year- old is the same, right? I mean, we know plenty of people who are incredibly healthy, incredibly ambulatory, incredibly vital to our community who are 80, 85, 87.

So these unilateral decisions based on what we're characterizing as high risk really just go against everything that we as physicians and caregivers are trying to do. But this fact does emphasize that people are being pushed against the wall to make decisions like this. And that's the real tragedy that we're facing right now.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Kong, can you imagine having to do that at your hospital? I know you're not there yet. But can you imagine having to make those decisions for families?

KONG: It would be a very difficult decision to make and that would not be a decision we would make unilaterally. But I can't imagine in this crisis while we're having a crisis of resource, also a crisis of infection control. And these decisions is not just -- one has to consider not just what is happening with the patient but what is also happening with the team taking care of the patient as well.

There are many factors that go into this conversation. It would be very a difficult conversation to have but I think it's just around the corner.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Marrazzo, on, I guess, a better note, more optimistic note, the CDC -- one epidemiologist at the CDC predicts that we could see the peak three weeks from now.


That's when in the U.S., the coronavirus cases could peak. But can you just tell me how do they predict things like that? How do they know when the peak will be?

MARRAZZO: Right. So a lot of people like the phrase models are useful, but only as good as the data that goes into them. And the problem, as was emphasized in the prior hour, is that we still don't have the data we need. We don't know whether all those people lining up at the E.R. in Queens have the infection or not. And we don't know how really they're going to do. So we can't really model what's going to happen as much as we would like to.

I think we do have some data that suggests that social distancing measures are making a difference. For example, in Italy, we're on about the third day where they haven't reported an increase in cases. But on the flipside, you're still seeing an influx of cases in places like Hong Kong, where you've got travelers returning. I'm very concerned about places like Florida where people are leaving New York, right, to go down to that state to sort of seek a better or safer place or to be in a place where they can get healthcare. So with this very dynamic and fluid situation, people moving across borders, it's very hard to tell. And I would emphasize that these state-based measures are problematic, because this is a virus that doesn't have a driver's license. This is a virus that doesn't have a passport, right? Just because you're in a state that is taking measures to control this doesn't mean that your neighbors two miles away in the next state are experiencing the same measures that are going to be required. So that's why we need a really national, very strong regional approach to this control.

So a good scenario, maybe three weeks, but I think that's very optimistic.

CAMEROTA: And so would you be, Dr. Marrazzo, more in the camp of Dr. Fauci who says, we don't make the timeline, meaning the politicians and doctors, the virus makes the timeline?

MARRAZZO: As I've said before, I think it's a good idea to always be in Dr. Fauci's camp. He is a hero and he's brilliant, so it's a good thing. Absolutely, that's exactly right. And I think that we'll be getting a lot more data in the next two weeks, two to three weeks, so we can get informed about what's going to happen in May, what's going to happen in June.

But right now, I think we're looking at this as a long-term siege. And we really do need to settle in and continue to fight it.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Kong, I know that at the moment, at least what I've read, your hospital is not struggling with equipment shortages. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you have enough right now. Tell us if you have enough also protective gear for healthcare workers. And if so, what have you done right that other hospitals could emulate?

KONG: You're correct. At the moment, our hospital and our hospital system, we do happen to have enough PPE. But that's not to say that we are not careful with it. We absolutely have to be careful with it to use it as long as we can within reason.

Having this much equipment, what it represents is really hundreds of man hours of logistical and administration work to make sure the supply chains are in place, to make sure that all the material gets to the providers on the frontline.

It would be very difficult for me to say exactly what our hospital administration and our system has done to make this happen. I can say that we're given daily updates for how much equipment that we have. But the system looks -- where the system needs to have the material, the PPE, and it sends the PPE in there. So it's evaluating the entire system.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Kong and Dr. Marrazzo, let me just show you -- I don't know if you can see it but our viewers can. At some hospitals in New York -- at one one hospital, I should say, in Midtown New York, this is what the healthcare workers have resorted to. They're wearing garbage bags because they don't have the situation that you have, Dr. Kong, at your hospital. This is -- I mean, everybody is having to fend for themselves.

And when you see pictures like this, what do you think, Dr. Kong?

KONG: It's unacceptable. My heart goes out to these healthcare providers. We keep having a conversation about the PPE and how we need PPE. But the most important thing is not the PPE. It is the person in the PPE. If that person suffers illness, if that person is taken out of the equation, that person is highly educated, highly trained, highly motivated to take care of patients. If you take that person out of the equation, who steps in now to take care of all those patients?

It is highly troubling to see these images.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Marrazzo, it's so hard to know what the status of the ventilators and the PPEs are because we hear different messages.


We hear that businesses have taken it upon themselves, such as Ford Motor Company, to begin cranking these things out. We just saw an example of another company that actually does performances a-la- Broadway shows, they're now making PPE. I mean, it's been remarkable, the ingenuity. But do you have any sense if doctors will, at some point, soon have what they need?

MARRAZZO: Well, I think it's clear that they don't. I mean, that photo of our healthcare workers wearing garbage bags makes me heartbroken, it makes me ashamed and it makes me angry, because we are asking our healthcare workers to go into battle without the appropriate arms that they need. It's literally is asking like soldiers to fight a war and not giving them any ammunition or anything, any weapons.

And people right now are making hard decisions about who is going to get the optimal mask, for example, right? We have a whole bunch of different kinds of masks. Some of them you want to wear when you're doing a procedure on a patient. Perhaps you have to look down their stomach or look in their lungs for something like a pneumonia.

We're having to decide whether people doing those procedures get the best kind of mask or not. We're having to decide whether or not people in the E.R.s even have access to masks. That is insane. We are a country that has had lots of opportunity to make sure this doesn't happen. And the absence, frankly, of a national commitment and leadership to not have people in garbage bags at a New York hospital really, frankly, is stunning.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Jeanne Marrazzo, Dr. Rodrigo Kong, thank you for all of your expertise. Thank you for all that you're doing. We really appreciate talking to you.

KONG: Thank you.

MARRAZZO: Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: All right. There's a new hotspot in a battle to slow the coronavirus, and that's in New Orleans. Hospitals there are dealing with a surge in cases. Frontline workers described conditions, quote, like a war zone. A top health official in Louisiana is going to join us, next.



BERMAN: This morning, Louisiana experiencing an alarming spike in cases of coronavirus with nearly 1,800 cases, including more than 400 in the last 24 hours alone, 65 deaths, including 19 just yesterday. One Louisiana nurse says fighting the disease is like being in, quote, a war zone.

Joining me now to discuss this is Dr. Rebekah Gee. She is the former Louisiana Secretary of Health and the CEO of LSU's Health Care Services Division.

Doctor Gee, let me read you that full quote from the nurse. She said or he said, quote, the first night I worked with the entire unit was COVID patients, I got into my car and starting bawling. When I tell you, it's like a war zone, that's kind of putting it easy. What's the situation you see right now in Louisiana?

DR. REBEKAH GEE, FORMER LOUISIANA SECRETARY OF HEALTH: Yes, certainly, as a nation, we're fighting a war. And when you think about, how you fight a war. You need two things, you need to be equipped with what you need to fight that battle and you have to have personnel and strategy.

But, you know, unfortunately, our equipment is starting to reduce. We're a couple of days away from being out of masks. We're buying gowns on eBay, in some cases, one of our doctor in the health care network this week. And so we do need equipment and, really, that should be the federal government stepping in to say, look, we're going to run out of ventilator capacity soon.

And the governor yesterday said we are far outpacing the supply. Yesterday our -- the number of patients on a ventilator nearly doubled. We have in New Orleans, more than the rest of the state, but we need nearly 2,000 vents to meet the demand that we're going to have. And we have not seen the peak of this crisis yet.

So, absolutely, we, on the ground, our first line health care workers, I want to thank those at LSU and those are other hospitals are fighting a pretty tough battle right now.

BERMAN: Did you say that there are doctors and health officials buying gowns on eBay?

GEE: That's correct. Yes, I mean, making masks from office depot, plastic, new covers that you put on documents that you're trying to make look formal and putting string and punching holes in them. This is the kind of thing that's happening. 3D printers, a furniture store in New Orleans, that would furniture making masks, making protective gear. So, certainly, you're hearing these stories around the country. I think what's just as concerning is the fact that we need more ventilators. And that is something that the federal government needs to step in and fix. There is a strategic national stockpile. President Trump on Tuesday night approved the governor's major disaster declaration. But we need more vents. We have been promised a few hundred. We need hundreds more. We need personnel as well.

And so those are things as was mentioned by the last folks. You can make equipment pretty quickly. You can't make pulmonary critical care specialists. You can't make docs. And vents are hard to come by. So those are things that we're really worried.

And we think within two weeks we'll going to hit -- fill our beds completely and run out of capacity in our vents.

BERMAN: Well, one of the statistics that I saw that concerns me the most is that, in the State of Louisiana, statewide, just 29 percent of ICU beds are available. So less than a third of beds are available at this point and you think the peak is still a week or two away. So what happens if those beds don't become available?

GEE: Right. So then we don't have resources to save the lives we need to save. So that's why they the stay-at-home orders are so important. But the problem is we really implemented them last week. And so we only have another week before we start to see them come into effect. And so we'll not see these numbers reduce now.

We're still seeing great increases. In fact, yesterday we had the largest number of increases in positive cases in the last month.


And, unfortunately, we don't have the supply to meet the demand. And so we've got to have the federal government step in or others step in.

We have contracts with health care workers that we employed for hurricanes. We have 3,500 new contracts. Hopefully, they would come. Certainly the LSU docs, nurses, you know, and even dentists, or undergraduate students have been involved in trying to help. Our mayor or governor are doing the best they can. But we cannot meet -- because New Orleans has such an increase in cases and so outpaces other places, for example. L.A. county is 26 times larger than us has fewer cases than we do.

So we need help. Nationally. We need help from other partners. We need to get more equipment here and more supplies here but also more people here so that we can be prepared. Certainly, we're setting up big convention center where the mayor announced yesterday. We'll be putting 3,000 beds in. But that is not for ICU patients or patients on vents.

BERMAN: I know this is a tough question for people in New Orleans, especially, but what role do you think that Mardi Gras might have played in the alarming spread of this virus?

GEE: Unfortunately, we don't really understand the epidemiology of the virus, how it's spreading, why we have clusters, where we have clusters. Certainly, we would think New York and New Orleans had Mardi Gras at that time. It was probably one of the largest festivals going on in the United States. At that 1.4 million people came here. And at that time, we were not social distancing, obviously. We didn't realize that there was community spread. But, clearly, there was. And we're seeing the results of that because two weeks post-Mardi Gras day, we saw our first case.

So, certainly, that's likely had a role to play. But now we're focused on making sure that our healthcare workers are protected. And, again, we need the federal government to step in. Yesterday I talked to a leader at the V.A. and she said, look, we're nearly out of masks. And that is unacceptable. The fact that the V.A. in New Orleans, and we have -- all of the resources of the United States behind it is worried about their supply, it's very concerning.

And the federal government needs to step in. We need to increase supply to the strategic national stockpile. That needs to come to us in time.

The good news for New Orleans is the peak is going to happen and it's moving a little bit now but yesterday, April 7th. So we to have it by then. That gives us a week and a half, a little bit over a week-and-a- half to get ready.

And so shame on the federal government if -- and others who can help us if we don't get this in time. We have time to prepare. But we need to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. And we think, given that the need for ventilators nearly doubled yesterday in New Orleans, we're using half of our ventilators already. And unless we get some additional supply, we will not be able to care for everyone who needs it.

BERMAN: Look, we have been warned. Dr. Rebekah Gee, thank you for come and delivering this message. I hope people are listening. We wish you the best of luck moving forward.

GEE: Thank you.

BERMAN: A World War II veteran died of coronavirus but his family could not attend the funeral. Next, his daughter who had the virus herself gives her father the sendoff he deserves.