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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Trump Attacks Auto Giant Over Ventilator Price Tag; New York Nurse Dies from Coronavirus Complications; Walmart Vows to Install Sneeze Guards and Protect Customers. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 15:30   ET

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


[15:30:00]

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR, FIRST MOVE: -- how do we make the most amount of ventilators in the shortest amount of time, it requires leadership, Jake, ultimately and assuming responsibility. So, hmm, is my response to whether he should or not.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So I mean, just on that point you were talking about the need for efficiency being we keep interviewing governors and mayors who are competing with each other to order supplies. And the mayor of Los Angeles yesterday, Garcetti, told me that they had ordered I think a 100,000 PPE or masks, and then FEMA took them from them. They had the check cut and everything, we hear this all the time from governors. One of them described it as a Lord of the Flies situation.

CHATTERLEY: It's Hunger Games. We've got states stealing from each other, people are bargaining, nothing about this is coordinated. And, again, this is why people are looking towards this act and saying, look, if we had somebody that could control all of this, could look at the supply chain, could make sure, again, that we've got the right people making the ventilators themselves, the right people perhaps using idle facilities like the automakers for example, producing those component pieces.

You bring it together and you coordinate it and we could have more ventilators and then someone can send them to the places where they need them the most. It just requires coordination. Perhaps it wouldn't need this act if indeed the government was more organized about the process in the first place. But it doesn't look like we're seeing that and that is a critical problem at this stage. And everybody is voicing their opinion other than the White House.

TAPPER: And Julia, today the credit agency, Fitch, warned that the U.S. is at risk of having its credit rating downgraded soon. Obviously due to the recent shock to the system because of the coronavirus pandemic. The debt the country is taking on in addition could also prompt the lower rating. Would that trickle down to everyday Americans?

CHATTERLEY: Now, if this were a normal world, at a normal time, a second rating downgrade -- remember because S&P has already done this and another rating agency has downgraded them in the past -- it would mean higher government borrowing costs, it might mean a knock to the equity markets, a weaker U.S. dollar.

So, for consumers in this country that are buying things from abroad, televisions for example, they could get a little bit more expensive. But this is not normal times. Loads of different countries are racking up debt, spending like crazy of course.

In the battle of the economic uglies, Jake, the U.S. wins. So, I don't think it means much quite frankly to consumers or the government.

TAPPER: OK, again what passes for what is good news in this era. Julia Chatterley, thank you so much.

CHATTERLEY: I know.

TAPPER: We'll come back to you in the next hour.

The governor of New York says the peak of the pandemic in New York state may still be three weeks away. Coming up next, I'm going to talk to a top doctor from one New York City hospital about the tsunami they're facing there. That's next. Stay with us.

[15:35:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. As the number of cases across the country grow, so do the fears among health care professionals who are working in unimaginable conditions, reusing masks, risking their own lives to care for the most vulnerable.

A nurse at Emery Hospital in Atlanta pleading, pleading with people to donate masks and understand the fear and the stress that health care workers are battling.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SONJA REINERT, LABOR AND DELIVERY NURSE. EMORY HOSPITAL MIDTOWN: Call us heroes but you know we have families too. And all of us are so

scared. We don't want to be scared. I'm being told you can -- you have to reuse masks that are meant for one time and wear them to different patients, it's just insane.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: It is insane, Sonja. Joining me now is Dr. Peter Shearer. He's the chief medical officer at Mt. Sinai, Brooklyn. Dr. Shearer, you just came out of the hospital staff meeting. Tell us about the conditions on the ground there, tell us the latest.

DR. PETER SHEARER, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, MOUNT SINAI, BROOKLYN (via Cisco Webex): So, for us here, I'm outside of Brooklyn, we're in moderate sized community hospital and we have about room for about a normal day about 212 patients. We're up to about 225 patients in the hospital and 171 of them are COVID positive patients. And there are currently 20 patients or still in the emergency department waiting to get up to a hospital bed. So, it's very tight, very crowded and these patients are -- they're indescribably sick.

TAPPER: Do you and your staff have enough PPE?

SHEARER: At this moment, at this moment we do. We do sort of -- we want to try to control the flow of it so that it goes out to the unit at the right time and people are using it when they are facing patients.

But you know our strategies from last week have had to change because last week we had ten patients. Now we have 170. So, all staff are really encountering these patients and caring for them every hour of the day. So, all staff needed.

So, we have PPE out on the units. Sometimes if a patient crashes, all of a sudden you may need five people to go into a room to intubate a patient and provide care, so all your PPE is suddenly consumed.

[15:40:00]

And you have to replenish the stock, so there's a constant, constant effort to keep the PPE out on the units.

TAPPER: Congresswoman Grace Meng of New York tweeted, quote, a nurse at my Elmhurst Hospital -- that's in Queens -- who I don't know just called me crying. She said they need ventilators but more so need doctors and also doctors who are intensive care unit trained -- ICU trained. She told me they cry every day because they know they're going to die. They're begging.

You're on the front lines, it doesn't sound like it's quite as bad where you are as it is in Queens, at least according to that account. But are you hearing similar accounts and how are you and your staff doing in terms of your fear of this deadly virus?

SHEARER: I know -- and I know I have wonderful friends at Elmhurst Hospital and colleagues there. And they're really doing an amazing job under stressful situations. Queens and Brooklyn seem to be pockets of increased activity.

So, please, what I have going on here is absolutely unlike anything I've ever seen before. These 170 patients are -- they're incredibly sick. Within a span of a few hours they're oxygen levels will plummet drastically. Chest x-rays go from being mildly abnormal to a huge amount of inflammation in the lungs. So, this is going on across the hospital throughout the day.

And it is taking a toll, an emotional, physical toll on the nursing staff is at the bedside, watching this patients progressively become more and more short of breath and knowing that the thing that you could offer them in terms of a ventilator probably isn't even likely to save their lives.

So, there's an incredible amount of sense of frustration and hopelessness among staff. Because everyone, the nurses, the doctors, the PCA's, everyone in the hospital went into this to make people better. And the virus is so aggressive and so aggressive in the lungs that it really leaves us with this phenomenal feeling of hopelessness.

TAPPER: That's just devastating to hear. When you say that the ventilators might not even help some of these patients, obviously, it would help others. But why would it not help some of the patients you're talking about?

SHEARER: Well, because we're not necessarily helping underlying conditions. We're not eradicating the viral burden in the patients. We're not able to -- there is no treatment for that. So, what we're providing is the ultimate in support of care, putting someone on life support, hoping that over the course of a few days on a ventilator their lungs will improve, and they will get better just by their natural biodefense.

Unfortunately, ventilators themselves, because it's positive pressure being forced into the lungs, they can cause their own degree of injury on top of the inflammation that's there. So, we've had just most of the patients that we put on ventilators are still on ventilators. A few of them have died. We have not been able to successfully here transition people off of the ventilators back breathing on their own.

I'm fairly aware across the Sinai Health System, so we're talking hundreds of patients, not just my patients here. They've had a few successes, like one or two. But it's been very, very rare.

TAPPER: Dr. Peter Shearer, while I have you, if Governor Cuomo or President Trump is listening, if Dr. Anthony Fauci is listening, what do you want them to know?

SHEARER: Well, I'm sure that most of those people are listening and heard it. What we need, you know, we're getting some deliveries of masks, donations of mask, some food delivered to support the staff in the hospital, it really is a way of showing love from the community.

But we need more staffing. Nurses, PCA's are under tight supply. They're the ones at the front lines so often they're the ones who have gotten sick and have gone out. And then the ones that are working their hearts out I think they need -- they're going to need more support and they need to get a day off.

They need to get some space. Spend time with their families. I mean it's -- they are -- when we call it, they're on the front lines, it is just like that. It is the front lines of a war zone. So particularly more nurse and PCA staff, nursing assistants to help support the patients and the staff would be fantastic.

TAPPER: Dr. Peter Shearer, god bless you, and to everyone there at Mt. Sinai, Brooklyn, thank you so much for your time, thank you for what you're doing.

Coming up, Walmart now installing barriers between cashiers and customers. I'm going to talk to a top Walmart executive about that and getting products on the shelves and much more. Stay with us. [15:45:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: Welcome back. American retail giant Walmart is installing Plexiglas sneeze guards as checkout counters in thousands of Walmart stores to protect their workers and their customers from coronavirus.

The retail giant is also putting up reminders about the six-foot social distancing guidelines to help stop the spread of the virus. Joining me now is Dan Bartlett Walmart's Executive Vice President for corporate affairs.

Dan, good to see you again.

DAN BARTLETT, WALMART EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT OF CORPORATE AFFAIRS: You too, Jake.

TAPPER: So, Walmart the largest private employer in the nation. We've heard stories of Americans, consumers trying to quickly grab everything they can off the shelves, toilet paper, groceries, whatever they can get.

[15:50:00]

What's that been like for Walmart, since you provide so many of those goods to so many Americans?

BARTLETT: Well, frankly, it's been quite extraordinary, Jake. It's like having Black Friday day after day after day. And it started really in the early hours and days of this event, to be more about cleaning supplies, disinfectants and those things.

But then as the restaurant industry and others started shutting down, it really focused in on food and consumables as more and more families are eating at home and staying obviously with the order staying at home.

And so, we've seen an enormous amount of pressure on the system. But in recent days we've kind of reached a new normal if you will with regards to the supply chain. And I think that's because the American public is seeing that grocery stores like Walmart because of the hard work of our associates are keeping food in stock.

Manufacturers are working hard to make sure that we have that supply. We're taking it straight to the shelves. Retailers like ourselves have also managed our hours so we're shut down overnight. It allows us a chance to clean the stores but also stock the shelves. So these mitigation measures that we're taking or making it a little bit easier on the system. And I think as the public continues to see that the food will be there, that it will be a little bit more of an orderly process.

TAPPER: So, we saw the signs that your stores are putting out reminding people to keep six feet from each other. How do you make sure that a place that normally might be one of the most crowded parts of town, the local Walmart, doesn't become the place where people contract coronavirus? Do you limit the number of people in the store at any one time? What do you do?

BARTLETT: Quite frankly, it's a challenge. We are one of the few places in the country that are still a large gathering point for the public because it's such an essential need for the public.

And so we are taking different mitigation strategies like putting signage on the floors, the barriers that you mentioned, the Plexiglas to put at the cashier stands that are going in literally as we speak. Signage around the store itself that will continue to put up to help encourage our customers to adhere to those standards of the six-foot rule and those things.

But frankly, it is difficult, and we are in some jurisdictions where mayors or other jurisdictions have put placements as far as gating the amount of people who can come in. But this is a dynamic process. And we're learning each day how to manage this better and better and we'll continue to improve to make sure that we live up to our responsibilities to help make sure that this social distancing takes place.

TAPPER: So one of your part-time employees, a woman named Melissa Love, she's part of the labor advocacy group United for Respect, wrote an opinion piece in "The New York Times," I'm sure you saw, about her concerns over coronavirus.

She said, quote, if I or my co-workers develop symptoms we could face the impossible choice of going to work sick, and possibly infecting others, or risking our already precarious finances, there are over 1.5 million workers at Walmart who have trying to get ahead but they have nowhere to turn during this crisis. Hundreds of thousands of part- timers like me are feeling especially squeezed.

So, what do you say to her? What do you say to your workers who are going in every day and you know, they don't want to infect anybody, but they also need money to live?

BARTLETT: Sure. And it was disappointing to read that. I mean for the most part -- and I'll get specifically to some of those concerns. But tens of thousands of our over a million strong workforce have been going into those stores and serving and seeing this as part of their public duty. And we're doing everything we can to make sure that they have the information they need that we're passing along from the CDC and other public health experts.

The first and most important one is that if you are feeling any symptoms, if you feel symptomatic, if you have a fever, any of those things, you shouldn't come to work. And we've adjusted our PTO policies to make sure that they cannot be punished for not missing work. No one's going to get fired for staying home because they are feeling ill or just not feeling comfortable going to work.

And if they do contract the virus, god forbid, we have other policies in place to give them short term disability insurance. All of those things are in place. In addition, that, we spent $550 million giving a special bonus to

both full-time and part-time workers to reward them for the hard work they've been doing this last a couple of weeks. So, they are doing incredible, heroic work. And we're doing everything we can to make sure that that the standards we have in our stores around handwashing, around the distance control, all are in place because we know it's the best part of our company, our associates.

TAPPER: Dan Bartlett, thank you so much for your time and thanks to your workers who are doing a really important job at very difficult time in our nation.

BARTLETT: Thanks, Jake.

TAPPER: In minutes, President Trump is set to sign the $2 trillion stimulus bill, though there is one major player who has not been invited to the ceremony. But first we want to take a look at some of the CNN Heroes on the front lines of this pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST (voice-over): These CNN Heroes are on the front lines of the pandemic bringing medical care and supplies to those in need. They're ER doctors, putting their lives on the line.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have never been a part of a pandemic.

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We're seeing widespread illness. It's organized chaos, organized confusion. But we're there for a purpose.

COOPER: Bringing COVID-19 testing to the homeless.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's really important in these times to remember that we're all in this together, these are our brothers and sisters out here.

COOPER: And putting life-saving soap into the hands that need it the most.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In the last 2 1/2 months we have provided over 375,000 bars of soap to people in affected countries.

COOPER: Acts of selflessness and unwavering courage from everyday heroes, reminding us all that we're not in this alone.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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