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U.S. Leads World In Confirmed Coronavirus Cases; WHO Urging Major Action From World Leaders; Army Prepares To Treat Non-COVID-19 Patients At Convention Center. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, I'm Jim Sciutto in Washington.

Let's get right to the news this morning. There is now no other country on Earth with more reported coronavirus cases than this one, the United States now leading the world with more than 80,000 confirmed infections, and even with the death toll of nearly 12,000. And medical experts say we are still in the early days of this fight.

The president says he wants to reopen at least parts of the country within two weeks. But Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country's top expert on this, says that that Easter target date is, quote, aspirational, intended to give people hope. More than hope is what states need. They need supplies at the U.S. epicenter of this pandemic in New York City and then new hotspots emerging all over the


24 states now are seeing more than a hundred new cases in just a single yesterday. The president has pushed back at governors who say they need thousands more ventilators. He says somehow that's just not true.

Also breaking this morning, more proof the virus can strike anyone. U.K.'s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, so the U.K.'s health secretary, who's overseeing that country's response to this.

We're this story as only CNN all over the world and all over the U.S. I want to go to those hotspots around the country as they emerge. Let's begin with the center of the epicenter.

CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras is in New York. Tell us about the numbers today and what we're expecting to see today.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, really, Jim, there's no signs of slowing down. The numbers keep going up of cases, the numbers keep going up of hospitalizations, and, unfortunately, the numbers keep going up of the people who have died.

Just here in New York City alone, there are 281. At this hospital right behind me, which has seen probably the most cases, especially this borough of Queens has seen the most in all of the five boroughs of New York City. There have been four deaths just within the last 24 hours.

Slight improvement, I guess, that's the right word, from the day before, where there was 13, but still, of course, we never like hearing about deaths because of this virus, and that's what we're seeing.

Getting out of the way again, because you can see this line as the cars pass, it continues to just leave through the barricades, and it doesn't get any shorter. It just gets longer. Again, these are people who are just trying to get care.

And it's funny, Jim, I have friends who have the virus, they're at home trying to self-isolate, trying to get better themselves, and there comes a point when they are worried that they need to go to the hospital and don't want to because they're so scared of what they'll even encounter at these hospitals. It's reached that point.

One quick note, this particular hospital for those deaths, like I said, health officials say they're all tied to patients who were on ventilators. This hospital alone has received four different shipments of ventilators in the last ten days. The state is now authorizing doctors and nurses to be able to split ventilators between patients. I mean, that is the demand on these precious pieces of equipment just in this city alone. Jim?

SCIUTTO: No question. Another demand, of course, is on first responders there, and the NYPD says that 10 percent, more than 10 percent, in fact, of uniformed officers have called out sick during this. Can you hear me, Brynn?

All right, we lost Brynn Gingras there in New York. But let's go to Louisiana now because this is clearly becoming a national problem. There are multiple hotspots around the country. The state there seeing a big increase in cases and deaths in the last 24 hours. The U.S. surgeon general is calling New Orleans a hotspot nationally.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher is there with the very latest. And, Dianne, there has been a lot of focus on Mardi Gras as a possible kind of accelerant to the spread in New Orleans but also in the State of Louisiana. What are the latest numbers there?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jim, you mentioned the surgeon general there, his prediction that next week, things are going to ramp up even more. That is why they're trying to move in action right now. The convention center, which obviously opens up a lot of old wounds in New Orleans, 15 years after Katrina, that's going to be used as a staging area for these beds for these COVID-19 patients. 120 beds, again, will be put in that convention center by the end of this weekend. Eventually, it's going to hold up to 1,100 beds.

The governor last night, in what really was change in the meeting (ph), he was stern, almost angry sounding, said he had requested 5,000 ventilators from the national stockpile but had received none at this point here for his state. Now, they are getting ventilators from some different places, starting to get them in, but it's simply not enough, according to the governor. And in the New Orleans area, they may run out of vents by the beginning of April. So in just a few days' time they do not get some kind of help here. They said that if they can't flatten the curve, if they can't reduce the spike in cases, that it's not going to matter how many ventilators they get because they're not going to be able to get a handle on this.


Of the 83 deaths they had in Louisiana so far, 46 of those deaths, Jim, have been from Orleans Parish. So they have a concentration in the New Orleans area. They are working to try and get it under control. But like everywhere else in the country, if they have supplies now, they're afraid they're going to run out of them as those cases jump. We'll get another update from Louisiana at around 1:00 P.M. Eastern time today. They're doing it once a day, similar to the CDC. We've watched those numbers jump astronomically day-by-day in Louisiana as this happens.

SCIUTTO: Listen, that's a consistent message from governors and mayors, red state or blue. They're concerned about supplies regardless of what the president says. Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

Let's go to another state, of course, affected by this, the State of Georgia. There is not a statewide stay-at-home order there, but there is one in effect for the City of Atlanta. And we have Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms joining me now.

Mayor, thank you. I thinking everyone is taking time out of the day because I know you've got a lot on your plate but we want to get the word out to people, so I appreciate you answering the questions.

First of all, you've issued the stay-at-home order for the City of Atlanta. The governor has not issued a similar order for the state. Does that work just to have little pockets that have them but broader areas not?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D-GA): Well, it's certainly not ideal, Jim. We are one city in a very large metropolitan area. We have about just under 500,000 residents in the City of Atlanta, but our metropolitan area is around 6 million. And so what we are challenged with, even if I were to walk out of my front door not even a half a mile, I would be in another city that has different standards. But certainly as the mayor of the capital city, I feel like it's our responsibility to set policy that's in the best interests of the people who call Atlanta home, and that's what we've done.

And we've seen that some cities have followed suit. We issued a stay- at-home order several days ago. It seems to be working well within Atlanta, and it's my hope that at least the mayors from the surrounding cities will follow suit so that we can have some consistency.

SCIUTTO: No question. Listen, Dr. Sanjay Gupta will often say to me that the numbers you see today on our screen about the country, the world or a city like Atlanta are really backward-looking. They indicate where it was a couple of weeks ago, that reality today, there are more victims. Tell us about Atlanta's supplies to handle those victims as the number inevitably rises. Do you have a shortage of ventilators? Do you have a shortage of protective equipment for healthcare workers?

BOTTOMS: Well, right now, our supply is stable. We do have some hospitals who have already tapped into their stockpile. But what's most concerning to me, if you think of our major hospital in Atlanta, Grady Hospital, we had a flood just a couple months ago, so that hospital is not working at capacity. The anecdotal information I've received has said, the ICU beds are already around 90 percent, at full, that we will exceed our capacity by May 3rd.

And what people have to understand is the car accidents and the diabetes and the strokes and all these things that send people into our emergency rooms don't stop during this pandemic. And so, again, that's why it was important in Atlanta, we have some of the highest asthma rates in the nation. That's an underlying condition. I have four children who are asthmatic, one takes medication daily to help control his asthma, stressing that this virus can hit all of us or at least someone in our household. And we already know that our healthcare system is stressed.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I want to ask you, because the president has gotten into running public battles with state governors, red state or blue. Governor Inslee of Washington State, Cuomo, New York, but Republican Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker as well.

The president said on Fox News yesterday that a lot of the equipment that's being asked for by states -- these are his words -- that I don't think they will need. The president, in effect, dismissing these calls for help from the federal government. What's your response to that when you hear it from the president?

BOTTOMS: It concerns me. And what I would just say is we talk about ending endless wars. This could become an endless war for us if we don't take this seriously and stop the spread. We're not asking people to go in hiding because of genocide or fleeing famine, most of us are in the comfort of our homes with cable television. It's a small thing to ask for us not to have this become a prolonged battle for the country as a whole.

And what I would just ask of the president is to listen to the professionals, listen to the people who are fighting this war on the frontlines.


If they are saying they need equipment, I believe them, and I think the president should believe them as well. We hope to all be proven wrong, but certainly we all need the resources to help us get on the other side of this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, listen, best to you, the City of Atlanta, but also you and your children too, as you go through this. We're thinking of you and hope we could stay in touch.

BOTTOMS: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, overseas, two major British figures in the government are self-isolating now after they tested positive for coronavirus. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he revealed this morning he has the virus and mild symptoms as well. We learned about an hour ago that the U.K.'s health secretary, who is overseeing the U.K.'s response to this has the virus as well.

CNN's International Diplomatic Editor Nic Robertson joins me now from 10 Downing Street, the residence and office the prime minister there. Nic, what more are we learning about how the prime minister was exposed?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: We don't know precisely how he was exposed, and that's the conundrum, of course, with the coronavirus. And part of that, of course, as well, is who else has the prime minister met since he actually became infected with the virus.

Both the prime minister and the health secretary say that they'll continue to work. The prime minister says that he will continue to lead the country through this, working by video conference. We understand people inside number 10 Downing Street have been instructed if they need to contact the prime minister, they knock on the door and leave the documents or whatever it is outside, he'll open the door and take what he needs inside.

So that's the way that we understand that he's going to continue to work, but it does, of course, raise the question how many other people in government may have been affected. Officials here say that no one else is being tested at the moment. And staff inside Downing Street are told they themselves don't need to self-isolate even if they've had recent proximity with the prime minister, but they should be aware and on the lookout for symptoms, and if they have them, then, of course, they should begin immediately self-isolating. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Nic Robertson there at number 10, we'll continue to stay on top of his condition, the prime minister's.

Still to come this hour, the World Health Organization is urging world leaders to go big on actually to stop the spread of this virus. We'll speak to the COVID-19 special envoy to the WHO on what needs to be done and also what the U.S. can learn about experiences around the world.

Plus, this pandemic is not just a public health crisis or just an economic crisis. How it is impacting this, our national security.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. Listen to this fact. The U.S. now has more coronavirus infections confirmed than any other country on the planet. The latest count showing nearly 82,000 people have been infected across the nation. Despite that, the World Health Organization's director general says it is still not too late to stop, to slow the spread here.

Joining me now is Dr. David Nabarro. He is the COVID-19 special envoy for the WHO. Dr. Nabarro, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

DR. DAVID NABARRO, COVID-19 SPECIAL ENVOY, WHO: Thank you, Jim. Good morning.

SCIUTTO: Good morning to you. Is it correct to say the U.S. is now the epicenter in the world of COVID-19?

NABARRO: I try not to use the word, epicenter, because, really, this pandemic is growing in amplitude all over the world, and different countries are at different stages. But certainly the United States has got a very intense series of outbreaks of COVID all over the country.

SCIUTTO: What do you attribute that to here in the U.S., because there's been some criticism domestically, particularly about the slowness and the availability of testing early on?

NABARRO: I try not to look backwards at the moment. We've got such amazing challenge all over the world that we must look forward. And what I'm seeing in the United States is much greater solidarity across the nation on what needs to be done, and that's so important, having varied activities going on in different locations doesn't help, and this coming together of an aligned approach in the different states is absolutely critical.

SCIUTTO: So that is key, because this is the subject of debate here now, that the president is talking about -- kind of designating high risk, low risk, medium risk areas so that you don't have a national approach, you have kind of a tailored approach, rather, from community to community. Based on what you know and looking at the data the WHO has looked at in China, Italy and elsewhere, does that work, or do you need a national plan, a national approach?

NABARRO: We need a global strategy that is carried forward at the national level and local level, but it has to be tailored to the realities of where the outbreak is and what the challenges are. Where you have very dense populations with rapid spread, you need slight preferences (ph) than others.

But let me just be clear, this outbreak and the pandemics -- the pandemics are and the outbreaks that are associated with it can be dealt best with through local action, interrupting chains of transmission, supported, of course, by public health services, hospitals and the whole of government, and trying to make sure that we get organized everywhere to isolate people with disease on the basis of symptoms if we haven't got the test. That's the best way to get on top of it. Lockdowns help, but at the same time as having a lockdown, we've got to make certain that the basic public health functions of detect, isolate, contact, trace contacts and then quarantine the contacts is adopted as much we can.


If everyone of us takes that approach when you add together the total sum of human activity, we will end up slowing this pandemic and getting ready for the new reality of living with COVID-19 in our midst being saved in the face of it.

SCIUTTO: Can you -- I guess because folks at home here in the U.S., many are under these stay-at-home or recommendations, many are not. And some governors have not issued them while mayors of cities have. So you have people living right next door to each other, or in communities next door to each other, one is under one recommendation, one is under another. I'm just curious, does that work in terms of flattening the curve, as we often say, about the growth in infections?

NABARRO: So it gets back really to what I just said, that it's up to people everywhere to take actions that they know will keep themselves safe and also help to keep others safe. And that is keeping physically distant from each other. Maintaining a two-meter separation is the best way to stop spread, trying to make sure that people whose health is perhaps not as strong as others are protected by keeping them at home at all times and restricting their contact with other people, and then ensuring that those who are seriously ill can get to hospital and be looked after safely by very often, very hard-pressed health workers.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, they're the ones often facing the greatest risk here. Dr. David Nabarro, we appreciate the work you're doing and thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

NABARRO: Thank you. Thank you to CNN and best wishes to all American people at this time.

SCIUTTO: We appreciate it. We'll take those.

Still to come this hour, more help is on the way to fight the coronavirus as two Navy hospital ships are preparing to dock off the coast of the nation's two biggest cities and treat patients. We'll have an update.



SCIUTTO: Well, the U.S. military is at work on this. Right now, the U.S. Army is preparing the Javits Center in New York to treat non- COVID patients starting early next week. That's to clear up some room in the hospitals for victims. Yesterday, the Pentagon ordered a $15 million contract to retrofit the convention center there into a hospital. CNN Correspondent Shimon Prokupecz is at the Javits Center. Shimon, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to brief reporters in a short time. How soon will this center there be open for business for patients?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It could be as early as next week, Jim. We expect to see the governor here. He's going to do his briefing in an hour. And then we expect to even see more inside the Javits Center. Last time we were here inside, we saw the supplies, the beds, the ventilators, the cots, the medical supplies, the protective gear. All of that is inside. The military and construction corkers inside have spent the week building the hospitals. There will be many. There will be about a thousand beds, four different hospitals set up inside. We expect to see that today.

We're also seeing some more activity around the Javits Center here today. This is the most activity since I've been here all week that I've seen. You can see behind me there are more officers here, police officers from the NYPD, there is extra security staff as well as certainly the city and the folks at the Javits Center start to expect people, perhaps in some cases, will just be coming here on their own.

But one of the things that's important to note in all of this, they are not expected to see COVID patients here at the Javits Center. The whole point of this is to relieve the stress that is now going to occur with hospitals. Because of all the COVID patients, they want to try to relieve the stress on the hospitals and bring other patients who need other kind of medical care here at the Javits Center. So that's important.

Hopefully, they'll have this up and running next week. We expect, as you said, Jim, to hear from the governor in the next hour here.

SCIUTTO: We'll wait for that update. Shimon Prokupecz in New York, thank you.

To New Jersey now where there are more than 1,600 confirmed cases. Those numbers just jump so quickly every day. CNN's Athena Jones is at one of two state-run testing sites. She joins us from the PNC Art Center in Holmdel, New Jersey. Good morning.

These are popping up here and there around the country. Some areas have, most areas do not. How busy is it there where you are?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. Well, let me just show you what's going on behind me. You can see there is still a line at one of those tents of cars that are coming through. This is a site that opened on Monday, and I'm told from the folks here that those first few days, it was reaching capacity after about 15, 30 minutes. So far, we still see cars coming in, which means they still have tests. They've been cutting it off at 250 tests each day, and so that is why they go through these tests pretty quickly.

You can come here without an appointment.

[10:30:00] You just have to be a New Jersey resident who is showing symptoms. If you meet those two requirements, you will not be turned away.