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U.S. Takes Global Lead in Coronavirus Cases; Doctor Describes "Apocalyptic" Scene at NYC Hospital; Record U.S. Unemployment Claims. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 05:00   ET




ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow.

Just ahead on the show --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Back to work. Our people want to work. They want to go back. They have to go back.


CURNOW: President Trump is pushing his plan to reopen parts of the U.S. despite warnings from top health officials. This as the U.S. takes the global lead in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Plus, apocalyptic. That's how a doctor inside one of New York's busiest hospitals describes the scene. How are hospitals and how are they coping in the U.S.?

Also, an economic coma. The coronavirus taking a major toll on Americans as more than 3 million file unemployment claims. We'll look at the numbers and what relief is on the way.


CURNOW: Thanks for joining me.

So, at this hour, the United States has the highest reported number of coronavirus cases in the world. The WHO says it has now confirmed cases of the virus in more than 190 countries and territories. No one is immune. And despite the efforts of scientists around the world, so far there is no vaccine.

Johns Hopkins University has logged more than 533,000 cases worldwide with more than 24,000 deaths. Then here in the U.S., more than 82,000 Americans are now infected surpassing even China. The U.S. on Thursday reported 15,000 confirmed cases in just a single day, yet the U.S. president seems eager to move on.


TRUMP: Now, people want to go back to work. I'm hearing it loud and clear from everybody. I think it's going to happen pretty quickly. A lot of progress is made, but we've got to go back to, would. We may take sections of our country, we may take large sections of our country that aren't so seriously affected.


CURNOW: Let's go to New York. Brynn Gingras joins me outside Elmhurst Hospital in New York.

And that's where I think it was 13 people died yesterday. You're in the center of this outbreak. What's the latest now? Hi, Brynn.


Yes. So, 13 people as you said 48 hours ago. And over the last 24 hours, we've learned that this hospital has reported four deaths. We're told that those are primarily associated with patients who have to be on ventilators.

Now, of course, ventilators, ventilators, ventilators, that's all the state and local officials have been asking to get to their, you know, states so that there isn't a crunch on ventilators. And now, we're seeing and not just here in New York, but we're starting to see those requests trickle to other cities all across the United States. Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, they're all now starting to see the numbers going up just like we were seeing here in New York last week really.

So we're starting to see the sort of spread, right? That's why it seems unfathomable the president wants people to go back to work because we're not even close to the peak. Here in New York, the governor doesn't think we'll hit our peak of hospital surge until another three weeks from now, so that's what's happening on the ground. Inside that hospital, "The New York Times" did an excellent job getting video with the doctor who described the scene as apocalyptic. People filling almost beds -- really all the beds and then having to be transferred to different hospitals because there aren't enough beds.

I want you to hear about her calls for supplies, what they're needing inside the hospitals.


DR. COLLEEN SMITH, 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's 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 -- it's America. And we're supposed to be a first world country.


GINGRAS: And we're hearing now more supplies are going to the hospital on a daily basis. That's being assessed whether it is ventilators or more doctors and nurses.

But, listen, those pleas, those calls for help, those coming from the front line, those health officials.


I can tell you that we've been talking to doctors and nurses who've been walking in and out of the hospital as well. One of the nurses I talked to, who left the hospital on her way home, she still was in her entire, you know, protective gear. She still had her mask on. She said she's in a constant state of paranoia.

I mean, can you imagine going to work every single day and feeling paranoid that you're going to get sick, you're going to get someone in your family sick, but also get another patient sick? That's what they're dealing with in this particular hospital. Every morning, we see a line of people ready lining up as early as this morning, this is the first time we haven't seen people trying to get tested, just to get a test, never mind get possibly admitted into the hospital where it's already jam-packed -- Robyn.

CURNOW: I mean, it's extraordinary as that doctor was saying that this is happening in America, that everything is not fine. For our international viewers who are watching right now as well, just give us a sense of what New York is like, the city that never sleeps is essentially, you know, been told to stay at home. Describe what it's like for us.

GINGRAS: Yes. It's completely -- it's quiet. Easterly quiet, right? There are major streets, intersections like Times Square, Harold Square -- I mean, it's just quiet. There's just no one around. People are trying to abide by those social distancing staying in their home orders that are in effect.

But then you're hearing numbers coming in of 10 percent of the NYPD has called out sick over the last 24 hours. You're hearing in this neighborhood, the sirens. These come by more and more in our live shots we have noticed over the last week. You're seeing more and more people wearing the masks.

Nobody used to wear masks at all in this city and in this neighborhood. You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who wasn't wearing a mask. So, it's pretty surreal for this to be the biggest, greatest city in the United States, the crossroads of the world, but this is the reality.

CURNOW: It most certainly is. And as you say, the peak only potentially in three weeks' time.

Brynn, thanks so much. Great stuff. So, New York City as she's been saying is the focal point of the

epidemic. But they're also increasing fears about what is happening out on the West Coast. The mayor of Los Angeles said California could soon become the next New York.

Kyung Lah has the disturbing details from L.A. Here's her report.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to be clear, the worst days are still ahead.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: From the nation's most populous state, dire warnings of what's to come, from its health agency --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We see cases doubling every three to four days.

LAH: To its biggest cities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We could have a scenario similar to the one that is playing out in New York.

LAH: California preparing for the same pandemic as New York, as coronavirus testing expands.

Despite being the first state order its 40 million residents to stay at home, California has lagged behind New York in testing, a state that's half its size.

DR. MARIA RAVEN, UCSF CHIEF OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE: A system for testing for could he video individual 19 is at a state level very unorganized and very unpredictable. I would say that reflects what's going on federally.

LAH: UC-San Francisco chief of emergency medicine, Maria Raven, says private, public, for profit labs are fighting to get limited tests. Without one set of rules to work under, it's like the state is flying blind.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D), CALIFORNIA: We must focus on meeting this health crisis.

LAH: California's governor announced the state had tripled the number of coronavirus tests to try to catch up to the reality on the ground.

ELISSA RILL, ER NURSE, NORTHRIDGE HOSPITAL: Patients are frustrated and they are scared.

LAH: Still, Northridge Hospital emergency room nurse Elissa Rill says California's health care workers have to pick and choose who is sick enough to get tested. Rill suffering from coronavirus symptoms herself has now been quarantined.

Do you believe that you've turned away people who have coronavirus who could not get tested? RILL: Absolutely. Absolutely. We have seen so many patients that have

the classic symptoms, but they are still relatively healthy at that moment and we just don't have the capability to test them, so we just have to tell them assume they do and then send them home.

LAH: You have a cough?

GLORIA BOSSI, UNABLE TO BE TESTED: Yes. I have a cough. I have shortness of breath.

LAH: Among those rejected for a test, Gloria Bossi, mother of four in northern California. Bossi's sister is also sick with the same symptoms.

BOSSI: She was tested because she's in the dental field. She's a hygienist. And she still hasn't gotten her results.

I think there's much more sick people than we're aware of. It's kind of scary.

I am petrified. It's scary because you see some people that are going to the doctor, and by the time they are actually taking them and getting admitted, that it's too late.


Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: So joining me now is Dr. Ken Sepkowitz. He's a deputy physician in chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York, and a CNN medical analyst as well.

Doctor, good to see you. Hi. You heard our reporter there.


CURNOW: How are the folks that you work with and you speak with managing? How are you doing?

SEPKOWITZ: They're managing but they're managing and increasingly feeling bitter and betrayed, I think. They're willing to fight the fight, but the chaos at the top of the corona response, the COVID response, is very dispiriting.

CURNOW: What do you mean bitter and betrayed? Who are they specifically directing that towards?

SEPKOWITZ: Whichever governmental agency seems more dysfunctional at the time. The lack of three things: the inability to test, which is unbelievable, the lack of ventilators, which keeps almost getting better. And the third thing is the lack of protective insurance.

So, there's really three distinct failures, to provide stuff that you'd think as the people in California were saying, in Elmhurst, you think the U.S. could do that better than anyone. Historically, we've been the best at that sort of thing and we are the worst. You know, of a country, with money, we are by far the most disorganized and most chaotic and least promising in terms of what's ahead.

CURNOW: That's a damning indictment coming from a doctor, but also it's borne out, at least in the numbers. The U.S. hitting a rather unfortunate headline, of being the highest number of reported cases in the world right now. However, the --


CURNOW: -- president wants folks to start going back to work. What do you make of that as well?

SEPKOWITZ: It's a terrible idea. Whether or not it's a good political idea I will leave to the politics people. But the notion that there is in any populated area of the United States that is safe to put 500 people in a church for an Easter service is completely misguided and would be disastrous.

If you look at -- "The Washington Post" has a very interesting map this morning of the cases distributed by population by land mass, and it's everywhere. I mean, it's just everywhere. Smallish cities, 100,000, 200,000 similarly having cases.

It only takes a few cases. It always starts with a few, right?

CURNOW: It certainly does. And we have been reporting this broadcast is going on around the world and the U.S. So, we've been reporting on the effects in Spain and in Italy.

Some damning comments coming out from Italian doctors there in hospitals. They're having to make a choice between who lives and dies. They're having to pick and choose.

Do you think American doctors are ready to do that as well?

SEPKOWITZ: Ready? You're never ready for that. You are never ready for that Sophie's choice, as it has been called. So, the determinations, we have never had to do that in my career. Whether or not we will have to do it is so nightmarish. I can't imagine. But if we have to, we will do it.

You know, doctors and nurses who are probably getting to the heart of nursing are going to do what it takes. That's always been the attitude. I worry, though, that once we get through this, the sense of betrayal will endure and it's going to affect people's attitudes for years.

CURNOW: A sense of betrayal from doctors and nurses. Nurses in particular. How are they managing? In many ways doctors are sometimes the big guys, the big woman in hospitals.


CURNOW: It seems that a lot of nurses are the ones that are feeling the bankrupt. We have already had one nurse die here in the U.S.

SEPKOWITZ: A nurse, yes. A male nurse in New York died.

Yes, the nurses are the unreported story here. They are the heroes. They are the ones who spend the most time face-to-face with patients. They are stretched beyond imagining.

But they are also the most spirited, hard-working and focused people around. And so -- they will do this. They will do this. But the demoralized state of nursing after this is something I'm concerned about.

But kudos to the nurses here in Italy, in China, everywhere. They have been the ones who have held it together.

CURNOW: You seem sad.

SEPKOWITZ: Yes. It's --

CURNOW: You seem worried.

SEPKOWITZ: It's hard to wake up every morning and look at the numbers and just think, are we really arguing about whether 30,000 ventilators is too many, that we don't have the money for it? Do I really have to work with friends who are calling me saying, what, I have a few masks? Can I send them?

I mean, this is like a bake sale. People are having a bake sale to raise money. It's like that level of community engagement, which is great.

But, you know, goodness. This is -- this is very, very hard to witness. Very hard to witness. We assume when we go into health care that we are in a social contract, and we feel like -- a lot of us feel like that social contract has been frayed and that the government does not have our back.

So I think it's turned this week. It's getting harder and harder. The numbers are number one. We are in so many cities now are an inch away from Italian-level overwhelm, although I'm not sure we will ever hit that.

Everybody is wearing down. You can hear it in my voice.

CURNOW: I can. I can.


CURNOW: God bless you, all of your colleagues and nurses. We'll check in with you and hopefully things take a turn for the better. Godspeed. Thank you.

SEPKOWITZ: They always do. OK. Thank you so much.

CURNOW: Good luck. Thank you very much for being with us. Powerful words there from an American doctor. Coming up, 3 million Americans also, on top of all of this, making

unemployment claims. And that was only last week. How Washington, the Fed and those losing their job are handling such a dire situation because of the outbreak.

You're watching CNN. Stay with us.


CURNOW: So, according to the Federal Reserve Chairman, the market might already be in recession. Jerome Powell says the economy could recover, but the coronavirus pandemic has to be under control first. He told NBC the Fed has more ways to fight this economic meltdown even though rates are already at zero.


JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN, U.S. FEDERAL RESERVE: When it comes to this lending, we're not going to run out of ammunition. That doesn't happen. We may well be in a regular session. But again, I would point to the difference between this and a normal recession. This isn't -- there's nothing fundamentally wrong with our economy, quite the contrary.

We would tend to listen to the experts. Dr. Fauci said something like the virus is going to set the timetable. And that sounds right to me.


CURNOW: Well, the House will vote soon on the Senate's $2 trillion stimulus package. But there is no guarantee it will pass. Some lawmakers scrambling to fly back to Washington just in case they need to vote in person.

So, let's talk about all of this with Christine Romans. Christine is in New York.

And, let's unpack the unemployment numbers.


CURNOW: I mean, it's still the most staggering to comprehend the numbers, isn't it?

ROMANS: You know, more than 3.2 million people in just one week filing for unemployment benefits, that's -- you know, that's like more than the population of, you know, Chicago, downtown Chicago or the entire state of Iowa to put it in perspective for our U.S. viewers. That is a whole bunch of people, and that's four times as many as the previous record, which is back in 1982 and very terrible recession there, even worse than the Great Recession.

But, Robyn, this is -- this is on purpose in a way, because the American government has shut down, and the states have shut down the economy now for almost two weeks. And when you shut down the economy and tell people they can't go to bars, restaurants and they can't go to work in many cases, those people go and they file in their states for first-time unemployment benefits.

So, we are seeing basically, you know, layoffs just go through the roof because the economy has been stopped on purpose to fight this virus.

CURNOW: And what do you make of the stimulus package? Is it enough?

ROMANS: You know, it is a really good first start. It is the biggest rescue we have ever done in the American economy. It's gargantuan. It is packed with things for Main Street, like Main Street bailout here, and for a lot of big industries. They'll have to do more.

I'm pretty sure they will have to do more. There is the expectation they will have to do more. This is less a stimulus and more a rescue. It stops the bleeding, but it doesn't restart the economy.

You have the Fed basically saying it will not allow the financial system to fail. It has more ammunition. The Fed chief essentially saying that the Fed had built a bridge, the Fed was building a bridge from the economy of seven weeks ago which was strong at its core, the Fed chief says, to the economy after the virus is contained.

Right now, we are still in the middle, right? We're on that bridge overlooking the chasm. There will probably be a lot more numbers to come, Robyn.

CURNOW: OK, thanks for that, Christine Romans.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

CURNOW: A warning there, indeed, thanks.

So, let's take a look at European markets. They are definitely continuing to sink lower, all in the red. That's despite strong gains in Asian markets in recent hours. And Wall Street on Thursday, as you can see here, London's FTSE is down just under 4 percent. U.S. futures also currently lower but not as much, still point to go a negative start for U.S. markets, though, at this moment.

You're watching CNN.

Coming up, we hear from doctors at one New York hospital. We'll take you inside to see what workers are facing as they struggle to cope with this surge of coronavirus patients.



CURNOW: Welcome back to our viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

Now, the U.S. has overtaken China with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the world. They are now well over 82,000 infected people in the U.S., a staggering 15,000 new cases were just confirmed on Thursday. And it's worth noting that the U.S. has just a quarter of the

population of China. Globally, the virus spread rapidly in the last few weeks. Johns Hopkins reports half a million infections in almost every corner of the world. And more than 24,000 people have died.

But let's look at Louisiana. Louisiana reporting hundreds of new cases of coronavirus just on Thursday, more than 500 in just one day. So, that brings the number of confirmed cases into the state to well over 2,000. And the situation is so dire that a New Orleans official is calling this a disaster to define our generation.

Ed Lavandera is there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On a day where the nation's coronavirus death toll passed the bleak 1,000 milestone, the focus is shifting to Louisiana, a state that may have the fastest growth rate of infections in the country.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA: We're not doing as well as we should. Not when we know what is coming down the road in the not too distant future.

LAVANDERA: There is an urgent need for medical supplies as confirmed cases skyrocket, increasing by more than 500 in less than 24 hours. The governor says that time is running out. Ventilators and protective equipment are in short supply and hospitals in New Orleans alone could lack the capacity to provide proper care by next week without outside assistance.

MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL (D), NEW ORLEANS: We need resources from the federal government to unlock the change and really tear them down in the state of Louisiana so we can meet our people where they are and so we can give them the services they desperately need, and particularly our health care professionals.