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THE SITUATION ROOM

Awaiting White House Coronavirus Briefing; Interview with Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI); Interview with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY); California Sees 26 Percent Increase in Cases in One Day; New Hot Spots Emerge as U.S. Leads World in Cases; U.S. Navy Hospital Ship Mercy Arrives in Los Angeles; Under Pressure From Governors, Trump Invokes Defense Production Act, Ordering G.M. To Make Ventilators; U.S. Now The Epicenter With Most Coronavirus Cases In World; Experts' Advice On Caring For A Virus Patient At Home; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 27, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:45]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm wolf blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. We're standing by for a White House briefing on the coronavirus pandemic. We'll have live coverage.

Also, just a little while ago President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act, for the first time requiring General Motors to produce more ventilators to deal with the increasing number of hospitalizations. The U.S. now leads the world in the number of cases, close to 100,000 and more than 1,500 deaths. Worldwide, more than 586,000 cases in about 150 countries and almost 27,000 deaths.

Also, tonight, there is growing concern about emerging outbreaks in major American cities including Detroit, New Orleans, Chicago, Miami, Dallas, Atlanta, and Philadelphia.

Our national correspondent Erica Hill begins our coverage this hour. She's in New York for us.

Erica, first of all, California is also now reporting a very significant number of new cases.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a sharp surge, Wolf, up 26 percent in just 24 hours. California now has 3,801 cases. They've had 78 deaths. And I should point out, as all of these numbers are coming in, we're also waiting to hear from Mayor Bill de Blasio here in New York City. And we're expecting an update on the numbers here in the city.

Behind me, Elmhurst Hospital has been dealing with this. They are strapped. And in the last 48 hours there have been 17 degrees. And as we know, what's been happening in New York is a warning call for what could be coming across the country. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): As Americans across the country grow restless, those on the frontlines are increasingly clear. Stay home if you want to stay out of the E.R.

DR. JEFFREY KUO, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, OCHSNER HEALTH: We know that we are at the epicenter. We're at the tip of the sphere here. And to use a gulf south analogy, we are -- our concern is that at this point, we are perhaps just at the outer bands of a Category 5 hurricane, and this may get worse before it gets better.

HILL: With hospitals overwhelmed and supplies running short, Michigan's Henry Ford health system is offering a sober warning.

"Patients who have the best chance of getting better are our first priority."

A spokesman telling CNN while it is, quote, "not an active policy, it is part of our emergency response planning."

MAYOR MIKE DUGGAN (D-MI): What they put out was honest. Those who haven't formally put it out, every major hospital system in New York and Detroit and Chicago and Seattle are having exactly these same conversations internally.

HILL: Detroit now one of several new hotspots as cases in the U.S. Top 95,000 and hospitals plea for help.

DR. JONEIGH KHALDUN, MICHIGAN HEALTH DEPARTMENT: We don't have enough masks. We don't have enough gowns. And we need more from the federal government and others.

HILL: Chicago and New Orleans also are battling a surge as Atlanta braces.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D-GA): The anecdotal information I've received is that the ICU beds are already around 90 percent at full, that we will exceed our capacity by May 3rd.

HILL: In an effort just to stop the spread, one North Carolina county is banning all visitors and nonresident property owners, citing the unprecedented public health threat posed by COVID-19, as Massachusetts tells all travelers entering the state to self-quarantine for 14 days. Drastic measures for greater good.

BILL GATES, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: We're entering to a top period that if we do it right, we'll only have to do it once, for six to 10 weeks. But we have to do it. It has to be the whole country.

Arriving in Los Angeles, Friday, the Navy hospital ship, Mercy, on the opposite coast, New York announcing the status, hoping to add additional overflow hospital sites for an expected peak that is still weeks away.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We're looking at about 21 days for a possible apex. So we want to do everything we can to be ready for that increased capacity that could hit us.

[17:05:06]

HILL: A reminder that this battle is far from over.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (on camera): We are also learning today about four deaths, we're told they're older passengers onboard a Holland America cruise ship, the Zaandam, which is currently off of Panama. On Sunday, a couple of passengers reported flu-like symptoms on that ship. There are 1,200 passengers, almost 600 crew. We're told that yesterday a number of people were tested for the coronavirus, two were positive. But again, today, Wolf, we're learning four older guests have died on board that ship. The cruise line did not offer a cause of death.

BLITZER: All very, very sad. Thanks so much, Erica Hill in New York. Let's go to the White House right now. Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, after days of uncertainty, the president has now actually invoked what's called the Defense Production Act.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Definitely some action but still some confusion in Washington on the coronavirus. President Trump has signed the stimulus bill into law and invoked the Defense Production Act, as you said, to order General Motors to produce badly needed hospital ventilators. But we're still waiting for clarity from the White House on how exactly the administration plans to start reopening parts of the U.S. while the nation is still battling this pandemic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With the number of deaths in the U.S. growing rapidly from the coronavirus, top Trump administration officials are sounding like they're throwing cold water on the president's goal to reopen the U.S. by Easter.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, the president expressed really an aspirational goal. The president said he would love to see it around Easter. But whenever that day is that we can responsibly begin to open up portions of the country. But let me be very clear, there's going to be areas of the country where we need to continue to lean into mitigation efforts.

ACOSTA: During a CNN town hall, Coronavirus Task Force Dr. Anthony Fauci pointed to the rising number of cases, arguing that's no time to slam the brakes on social distancing.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That's when you have to hunker down, nail down, mitigate, mitigate, mitigate.

ACOSTA: The president has been all over the place on the need for medical supplies, tweeting, he wants to see top automakers producing hospital ventilators. "General Motors must immediately open their stupidly abandoned Lordstown plant in Ohio, or some other plant and start making ventilators, now! Ford, get going on ventilators, fast!"

The president tweeted, invoke "P." Invoke "P" means Defense Production Act.

The law that gives him the power to force companies to manufacture sorely needed virus fighting equipment. But on Fox News, the president questioned New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's plea for tens of thousands of ventilators for his state.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (via telephone): I have a feeling that a lot of the numbers that are being said in some areas are just bigger than they're going to be. I don't believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators. You go into major hospitals sometimes they'll have two ventilators. And now all of a sudden, they're saying can we order 30,000 ventilators.

ACOSTA: And Cuomo explained he's expecting his state's medical emergency will get much worse.

CUOMO: I hope we don't need 30,000 ventilators. I hope some natural weather change happens overnight and kills the virus globally. That's what I hope. But that's my hope. That's my emotion. That's my thought. The numbers say you may need 30,000.

ACOSTA: The president even attacked Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer who is battling her own coronavirus hotspot.

TRUMP: We've had a big problem with the young woman governor from, you know who I'm talking about, from Michigan.

I want to thank Republicans and Democrats for coming together, setting aside their differences and putting America first.

ACOSTA: The president signed the $2 trillion stimulus bill passed overwhelmingly by Democrats and Republicans in both Houses.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): No bill is perfect. But we want to make sure that at least it comes part of the way to being sufficient.

ACOSTA: But they had to use parliamentary procedures to bypass a stunt pulled by GOP Congressman Thomas Massie who forced lawmakers to return to Washington for a possible formal vote, putting the members and their families at risk. President slammed Massie as a third rate grandstander who just wants the publicity.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry topped that, tweeting, breaking news, Congressman Massie has tested positive for being an a-hole, he must be quarantined to prevent the spread of his massive stupidity. Finally something the president and I can agree on.

Massie was asked about his newfound infamy.

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: The president called a third rate grandstander? REP. THOMAS MASSIE (R-KY): I'm at least second rate.

ACOSTA: And the White House is expected to sort out its plans for the nation's social distancing guidelines over the weekend but the president's letter to the nation's governors yesterday hinting those measures may be relaxed has already caused confusion on the Coronavirus Task Force.

[17:10:00]

One source close to the task force told me earlier today the letter is just, quote, "hanging out there" and getting back to the president signing that stimulus bill. Just a short while ago, we can show you a photo of that onscreen, this is from the White House. Two things to point out in this photograph, Wolf, one is the officials in the room including the president are not practicing social distancing. The other very important thing to point out, very critical here, according to the White House, no Democrats were invited to this signing, Wolf, an hour like this where the president has said for days that the country needs to come together, you could not see that in that photo. Wolf?

BLITZER: That was an awful decision, you would have thought the president would have wanted to use this opportunity to show some bipartisan support on behalf of the American people. Have they explained why no Democrats, the speaker, the minority leader in the Senate, why they weren't invited?

ACOSTA: They have not, Wolf. And our colleague up on Capitol Hill, Manu Raju, says the speaker was not invited as we know. They have not -- the president and the speaker have not spoken for months, on a personal level. So obviously there isn't bipartisanship in the air when it comes to that relationship. But obviously this was an opportunity where the president could have tried to turn over a new leaf, and invite some Democrats over to the Oval Office for something as big and momentous as this, and it just seems to be an opportunity missed, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly was a serious opportunity missed on behalf of the American people.

All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Let's get some more on all of this right now. The Michigan governor is joining us, Gretchen Whitmer. Governor, I know you're incredibly busy, but thank you so much for joining us, spending a few moments with us.

The president is now using his powers as president under what's called the Defense Production Act to direct General Motors to begin producing ventilators. General Motors largely in your beautiful state. Will those ventilators get to hospitals in Michigan and elsewhere soon enough to save lives?

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Well, we certainly hope so. You know, General Motors is a quintessential American company that has contributed to building the middle class in our country, helped make Michigan and the United States the arsenal of Democracy to win World War II.

The leadership at General Motors is top notch, and I think that they are going to rise to this challenge. It won't happen overnight, though. Switching over from building cars to building something as complicated as a ventilator is going to take a while, and we don't have a lot of time to waste. And that's why I'm glad to see this action.

I would love to see more of this, more of the strategic powers of the president to be used nationally. We need a national strategy. This patchwork of laws based on who the governors are really isn't the best strategy going forward. And I think we all need to lock arms and not fight one another but fight COVID-19.

BLITZER: Well, that's an important point you're making, Governor. The president, as you well know, he personally attacked you on Fox News last night, he said he was having, in his words, a big problem with that young woman governor, and he referred to that young woman governor being from Michigan. So far, he's refused to act on your request for a major disaster declaration. Are your political differences, you're a Democrat, he's a Republican, preventing you from getting the badly needed assistance that will help a lot of people in Michigan?

WHITMER: Well, I can tell you this, Michigan, like states across the country, Republican and Democratic-led, we're struggling to get the PPE that we need. We're struggling to make sure that our nurses and doctors on the frontline have the N95 masks that are so precious. We've gotten a few of our shipments out of the strategic -- the national stockpile. But the fact of the matter is the latest one had zero of these masks, and that's what is so crucial right now.

I'm not going to fight with anybody. I'm going to fight for the people of Michigan, fight to make sure we've got what we need to combat COVID-19. It is spreading so quickly in our state. Up 801 cases today, 32 more people passed away in the last 24 hours. We need help. We need leadership. And we need to put political differences aside and focus on the real enemy, and that's the virus.

BLITZER: I know you haven't heard anything directly from the president, but have you heard anything from the White House, from other officials there, about your request?

WHITMER: Well, I know that they've received it. And I have talked to the Vice President Mike Pence, a number of times and I'm grateful for that opportunity. We have been working diligently with Army Corps of Engineers, making sure that we're working with FEMA, they have a seat in our state emergency operations center. We're just doing everything we can to pull out all of the stops. And I know Mike DeWine in Ohio and governors across this country are doing the same. We need to make sure that we have got the materials we need to protect people.

BLITZER: I know you told a local Michigan radio station this morning that medical supply vendors are being told, in your words, not to send stuff to Michigan, not to send stuff to Michigan. What did you mean by that? [17:15:12]

WHITMER: Well, we've entered into a number of contracts. And as we are getting closer to the date when shipments are supposed to come in, they're getting cancelled or they're getting delayed. And we've been told that they're going first to the federal government.

And I know Michigan is not alone. I saw Governor Charlie Baker, Republican from Massachusetts, say essentially the same thing. Same with Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles. This is an issue that we are confronting as a nation, where we're bidding against one another, where we're struggling to grab every PPE that we can get our hands on. This is part of why I'm hopeful that in addition to the Defense Production Act, our production act that we have -- adopt a national strategy and really focus on ramping up especially where we see the growth so fast, like in Detroit and Oakland County and Wayne County here in Michigan.

BLITZER: Governor, good luck to you and good luck to everybody in Michigan. I know these are going to be difficult days. It's about to get even more difficult. We appreciate you joining us.

WHITMER: Thank you.

BLITZER: And to our viewers, stay with us later tonight for a CNN Democratic presidential town hall. Joe Biden joins Anderson Cooper to take your questions about the coronavirus pandemic. That starts at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

And stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. We'll have live coverage of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing as soon as it begins.

Also, ahead, dire warnings coming in from doctors and medical workers at U.S. Hospitals. The chronic lack of protective gear puts their lives in grave danger.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:00]

BLITZER: Once again, we're awaiting the start of today's briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. We're looking at live pictures. That should be coming up fairly soon.

The same time, the World Health Organization is now warning about what it calls the urgent threat posed by the chronic global shortage of protective gear for medical workers.

CNN's Drew Griffin has been looking into the severe shortage here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): What does proper protective gear look like? Chicago anesthesiologist Cory Deburghgraeve sent this video. Double gloves, N95 mask, face shield, all as he demonstrates, needed to protect health care workers like himself whose contact, while intubating coronavirus patients, is near cheek to cheek.

CORY DEBURGHGRAEVE, ANESTHESIOLOGIST: So as you can see, my head is this close to the patient. So if they're coughing or having sputum, that's all going right to my face.

GRIFFIN: It is a far cry from this. A mask stapled together to last 'til the end of his shift. Nurses in upstate New York being told they get one surgical mask for five days because of shortages. And medical personnel getting sick on the frontlines.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We have about 41 people in our hospital who have tested positive for the coronavirus.

GRIFFIN: This week in one New York City hospital, an assistant nurse manager, Kious Kelly, who suffered from asthma, died. His sister said the last time she heard from him was Wednesday.

MARYA SHERRON, SISTER OF NURSE WHO DIED: He texted, said he was in the ICU. That he had the coronavirus. He said, I can't talk because I choke. He was having difficulty breathing. He said, I'm going to be OK.

GRIFFIN: Many medical workers are fighting this battle without the thinnest level of protection, the face mask, the plastic face shield, the flimsiest of plastic gowns that could mean the difference between treating the infected and becoming one of them.

Kelley Cabrera, an emergency nurse in the Bronx, New York, says she gets one set of gear to last the day, masks being reused for five days.

KELLEY CABRERA, NURSE: It's like we're going into a war with no protection. We know how this is transmitted. We know that this is incredibly contagious. And we're seeing it, we're being exposed over and over again. And it is criminal. This is absolutely criminal.

GRIFFIN: Supplies across the country are dwindling. In Arizona.

ARYA CHOWDHURY, EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR: I can tell you my biggest concern right now as an emergency room physician is the lack of PPE.

GRIFFIN: In Michigan.

DR. JONEIGH KHALDUN: I have now got doctors and nurses on the frontlines who are using one mask for their entire shift.

GRIFFIN: The biggest question we are hearing, where is it? Where are the strategic stockpiles the president and his administration talk about?

TRUMP: We've got tremendous amounts of equipment coming in. GRIFFIN: Only 12 percent of health care facilities say they've received supplies from the federal government, according to this recent survey of 1,100 health care providers. Nearly half do not have enough face shields. And nearly one-third are almost out or completely out of masks. Desperate medical workers don't know where to turn.

CABRERA: We just feel like we've been abandoned. We're being told to do things that are really dangerous.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (on camera): Wolf, because of the shortages of this proper protective equipment, they're being asked to do what they say would have gotten them fired just a month ago. They want us to tell you the stories because of the briefing you're about to hear. They say there is a shortage all across the country no matter what you're being told. They need help. Wolf?

BLITZER: They certainly do. Drew Griffin, very excellent report. Thank you very much.

Joining us on the phone right now is New York Democratic Congresswoman Grace Meng. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. Elmhurst Hospital is in your district in Queens and they've been overwhelmed by patients. We've been seeing the video.

[17:25:00]

I want to read a tweet you put out this afternoon. You say this and I'll read it directly.

"A nurse at my Elmhurst Hospital who I don't know just called me crying. She said they need vents," ventilators, "but more so need doctors and also doctors who are ICU," Intensive Care Unit, "trained. She told me they cry everyday because they know they're going to die. They're begging. Please."

Congresswoman, tell our viewers what it felt like to be on the receiving end of such an emotional plea.

REP. GRACE MENG (D-NY) (via telephone): Well, Wolf, thank you for having me and thank you for covering this important issue. You know, Elmhurst is the epicenter of what is happening here in New York, and New York is at the epicenter of the crisis around the country. This is a warning to the rest of the country if we don't do things right.

I got this call at about the same time that we were on and near the floor of the House debating this bill, getting ready to vote on this bill. And I couldn't help but feel so helpless. She's not the first person who has reached out to me. And I know that our Governor Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio and I have been working with the nearby Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, on this issue. They are trying their best. But we need the federal government, the Trump administration, to pick up the pace, otherwise we are going to continue to lose lives.

BLITZER: This is so, so important. I have a letter here that you and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote. This letter, you basically are begging the president to prioritize the transfer of ventilators and personal protective equipment to Elmhurst Hospital in Queens. Have you gotten any response at all?

MENG: Well, we just sent the letter. You know people have been pleading for weeks, you know, weeks since we knew what was happening in New York. Our governor has been begging. You know we have been asking for the president to do what he's finally did today, to invoke not by words but with action the Defense Production Act.

I mean, let's be part of the solution here. We were slow, we were delayed on tests, which led to lives lost. And now we're delayed on the PPE equipment which is continuing to lead the lives lost.

Our frontline health care workers, they are brave and they are compassionate, and totally willing to make this sacrifice and to help save lives. But we have to give them the equipment like we would with soldiers in any battle, to make sure that they're properly equipped and they're not further harmed than they need to be.

BLITZER: Yes. These are real heroes on the frontlines of this war. Is there any discussion, congresswoman, of actually transferring some of the patients at Elmhurst to other hospitals in New York or elsewhere, hospitals that perhaps have more resources?

MENG: Yes, our city and state are already doing this. Elmhurst is in a part of Queens, and it is in the heart of Queens. And it's a trusted institution, and that's why so many people are going there in the first place. But the governor and the mayor are -- have already begun the process to transfer non-coronavirus patients to other hospitals.

BLITZER: And we know that a U.S. Navy hospital ship is coming with a thousand beds for non-corona patients perhaps to be moved, to make room for the coronavirus patients in New York hospitals. What went through your mind, congresswoman, when you heard the president last night question whether New York really needs more ventilators?

MENG: You know, I -- day by day, I am just more and more heartbroken and horrified at the attitude with which he is treating fellow Americans. I've been so angry for weeks because first, you know we kept hearing weeks ago already from our health care practitioners that they didn't have the PPE that they needed. So, there has been more than advance notice to do what he needs to do to make sure that this is not happening and not worsening in the state of New York, but potentially in other states around the country as well.

BLITZER: Congresswoman Grace Meng, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to everybody in Elmhurst, in Queens and in New York. We know you guys are at the epicenter of this crisis here in the United States right now. Thanks for joining us.

MENG: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: We're going to take a quick break. We're awaiting the start of today's briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Also, ahead, we're getting advice from experts on how to care for someone who is staying at home and has the coronavirus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:34:27]

BLITZER: Let's bring in our medical and political experts as we await the start of today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Dana Bash, last night the President seemed to doubt the need for more ventilators but now he's just invoked for the first time the Defense Production Act to require, to mandate, to order General Motors to start producing ventilators. Why did it take so long?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's the question that governors across the country are asking including the Michigan Governor that you had on earlier in the program. Look, there has been so much confusion around this.

[17:35:00]

The President initially last week saying that he invoked this but then really meaning that he got himself the powers to do it, but it wasn't actually utilizing them. There was a lot of pushback among many -- in the business community, some conservatives who said that they thought that it had too much of a tinge of socialism for the government to take over big businesses, but they obviously couldn't come to an agreement. There are lots of -- there's lots of discussion about why that happened.

And the President has been very vocal in his criticism of the CEO of G.M. that is not new to this virus. So in the end, he did it. And it is welcome news to governors across the country. And it even elicited a rare congratulations from the Democrat who will likely get the nomination at this point, and that is Joe Biden.

BLITZER: Yes, it certainly did. You know, Sanjay Gupta, certainly welcome news to a lot of people who are in desperate need right now. But this doesn't necessarily mean any immediate relief for hospitals as far as ventilators are concerned, does it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: No. Unfortunately, it doesn't, Wolf. And to your question about taking too long, I mean, you've got to account for the fact that simply creating more production capacity, manufacturing capacity, doesn't mean you're going to start churning out more ventilators right away, it takes a while. I'm told some 90 days, I talked to some sources earlier today.

That also means that, you know, people aren't getting sick that are actually working on these lines. It means that you can get all the parts to make these ventilators. Keep in mind, everybody in the world wants these parts right now, Wolf. And then, you know, these are different than a lot of other types of devices. They got to go through these regulatory checks and all that as well.

So, you know, I think it was Jim Hackett from Ford Motor Company that said it would probably be early June, maybe when you'd really start to feel some of these ventilators coming through. So it's, you know, as you know, as you've been saying, Wolf, and a lot of places they're going to need the ventilators sooner than that.

BLITZER: They certainly are. You know, Dr. Daniela Lamas is joining us right now. You know, Doctor., you work at an ICU, Intensive Care Unit at a hospital in Boston where actually what, 51 of your colleagues have already caught this virus. What are you and your colleagues up against right now?

DR. DANIELA LAMAS, CRITICAL CARE DOCTOR, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: Yes. So, yes, 51 hospital employees have tested positive for coronavirus which is incidentally the same number that I recently heard of physicians who've died in Italy from coronavirus. You know, I think we're up against something that is very contagious, that is potentially deadly and that we are not fully equipped looking down the road to handle right now with PPE in this country. We're OK in Boston at my hospital right now, but our numbers have yet to surge. So clearly, this is something that we're looking ahead and we're worried about.

BLITZER: Yes, understandably. So you wrote a very moving article in "The New York Times", Doctor, about how hard this is for patients who can't have visitors, for doctors like you who are really, really potentially, you know, life-saving risk right now. What sort of emotional toll is all this taking?

DR. LAMAS: Yes, it's heart-rending. I mean, we had a conversation earlier with the family member of a patient who asked, you know, if my loved one dies, will I be able to see him before he dies? And our answer was that, we hope so but we are not sure. And these are conversations that are going to be replayed in the tens, you know, in the dozens, many, many conversations that we will have, many sort of heart-rending deaths. And we're worried that our patients will die alone and families will be left with that knowledge.

BLITZER: You know, Dana, everyone can certainly help these healthcare workers and they are heroes. I must say that by simply staying home, flattening the curve. But is the President moving forward with this county by county plan that he announced yesterday to relax some social distancing measures in various counties?

BASH: You know, we'll see. That's going to be one of the key questions he's asked in the briefing that should start any minute. The reality is that the President has the bully pulpit, but the governors and even more locally, the mayors have a lot of the power to decide the answer to that question.

And so, that is likely going to continue. I mean, if you think about it, in various places, Washington State, California, New York, now Michigan, here in Washington, I mean, the decisions to first close schools, then limit businesses then closed down businesses, except for those that are essential that is done at a local level. So we'll see what the President says and more specifically, how much power he has, if the people at the local level are at odds with him when he makes that decision, if he does. BLITZER: Yes. Let's see what he does. Let's see what he announces later today as well.

All right, everybody stick around. We're awaiting the start of today's Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force meeting. We'll have live coverage much more right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:44:53]

BLITZER: We're awaiting the start of today's briefing by members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Once it starts, we'll have live coverage.

As confirmed cases of the virus are soaring right now, people are facing the challenge of caring for a family member who's sick, but still at home.

[17:45:07]

Brian Todd has been consulting with medical experts to get their advice. What are you hearing, Brian?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as you know, a lot of coronavirus patients do not have to go to the hospital. In fact, most of them don't have to and that means a lot of coronavirus patients are at home, isolated and in need of care. That also means that their caregivers find themselves having to learn a whole new set of skills.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TODD (voice-over): In New York City, Jessica Lustig says she feels like she's living in a time warp. The deputy editor of "The New York Times" magazine has written a heart-wrenching Journal of what it's like to stay at home and care for her coronavirus, infected husband, who she says is "wearing the same pajama bottoms for days because it is too hard to change out of them".

Lustig writes that her husband, who she calls T is isolated in his room, away from their teenage daughter. Lustig says only she goes into T's room to care for him, which public health experts say is the right move.

GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, DIRECTOR OF TRAINING, GLOBAL BIORISK ADVISORY COUNCIL: Keep everyone else away from that rouge (ph). You keep them away from the clothes and their bedding and also their utensils and plates and anything else they've touched. And it's that one person that should be looking at being the care provider and looking after them.

TODD (voice-over): But for Jessica Lustig, that means an exhausting and stressful routine. She says she's rushing back and forth, making sure T has a little dinner, just a tiny bowl of soup, just an appetizer really that he is unable to smell, that he fights nausea to choke down, taking his temperature, monitoring his oxygen saturation levels with the fingertip pulse oximeter brought by a friend from the drugstore. Dispensing his meds, washing my hands over and over.

She can't leave a bottle of Advil in his room, she says, because she needs to handle that bottle. Anything her husband touches, she says, has to be carefully taken from his room to the kitchen or laundry room where she and her daughter tried to clean it without actually touching it with an exposed hand. Experts say, again, Lustig is following the playbook.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Ensure that all the utensils, the plates, when you feed them is kept separately and we wash them up separately. Keep their clothes separate, so we put them in the washing machine and do the laundry. We keep those separate.

TODD (voice-over): And experts say, home caregivers as well as their patients have to wear masks.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: Put a procedure mask on or they have one next to the bed they put that on when you go into given the food, when you go into giving them the water or you go into give them medication or you're going into help them to go to the bathroom.

TODD (voice-over): But frontline doctors say they're worried about home caregivers having everything they need.

DR. JENNIFER LEE, EMERGENCY ROOM DOCTOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON HOSPITAL: I have no confidence that they have the personal protective equipment they need to protect themselves and their patients.

TODD (voice-over): Home caregivers also have to deal with the emotional anguish of the patients more bizarre symptoms. Lustig writes, "The nights are hardest when the fear and dread descend, T feverish, lying on his back, murmuring hoarsely. Saying he almost just called their daughter CK by the name of his 20-years-ago ex- girlfriend".

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: And that's what experts say home caregivers also have to address here the issue of taking care of themselves during this ordeal, listening to music, reading, watching TV, anything that makes you happy, those things are so crucial. Also, finding someone else to talk to, someone to whom you can offload all of your anxieties. Wolf?

BLITZER: That is all so, so heartbreaking, Brian. And multiply that one case by the thousands all over the country at a date, all over the world right now. You begin to get a sense of what these people are going through right now. The enormity is just so, so awful.

Brian Todd reporting, thank you.

And as the pandemic clearly is spreading, people have more and more questions. Our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's standing by live. He will answer some of your questions when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:53:40]

BLITZER: Our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is joining us now. He's got some answers to your questions. We get a ton of questions, Sanjay. How about this one? What are your chances of surviving this virus if you are elderly?

GUPTA: An important point, I think, you know, as a lot of people have followed the story, I think some people think, look, if you're elderly and you can track this, it's preordained that you're going to get very sick, that's preordained that you're more likely to die. We know that elderly people are more vulnerable. But let me make a couple points. Wolf. First of all, you're still statistically more likely to not need to go to the hospital, statistically more likely to recover than not and statistically, obviously more likely to survive than not.

Wolf, let me share with you quickly a story that we just heard of this 102-year-old woman in Italy, an amazing story. I think we have a picture of her. She was admitted to the hospital early March, found to have coronavirus, spent 20 days in the hospital and is now recovered. Wolf, 102 years old.

BLITZER: Wow.

GUPTA: So -- and I think she's a second person we know that's over 100 years old who have recovered. So, it's important -- Wolf, she was born in 1917. When doctors were examining her and looking at her blood, they think she actually survived the Spanish Flu as well and now this pandemic. But there are lots of, you know, with all the tough news, Wolf, out there, there's some hopeful stories like this one as well.

[17:55:01]

BLITZER: Yes. And I see, by the way, Sanjay, some of the folks on the podium now started arriving. We're told the President and the Vice President will be walking out fairly soon. You see some guests that he's invited on the side over there. You see, you know, Dr. Fauci and Ambassador Birx, they're standing on the side.

I'm not exactly sure what's going on. But we will see. I see the Secretary of Education DeVos there, as well as we await for the President and the Vice President.

Here's another quick question, Sanjay, for you. If you get the coronavirus and recover, can you contract it again?

GUPTA: Well, chances are, you should be immunized. There have some immunity to it for a while. We don't know for sure. I mean, keep in mind, Wolf, obviously, this is something everyone is familiar with now, but we're still just three months or so into this. So what they're going to go do is then look at the blood --

BLITZER: All right, hold on, Sanjay. Hold that thought, here comes the President and the Vice President.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you very much. Great to have you. And thank you all for being here. My administration is taking new action to ensure that America has the medical resources and equipment needed to fight the global pandemic. It's been a brutal pandemic for over 150 countries all over the world.

We've had great success over the last month. We've, as you know, the millions and millions of pieces of equipment have been delivered successfully by us, purchased and delivered. And we've made it available to the states and the governors have been very gracious, for the most part. I would say, there are a couple that aren't appreciative of the incredible job. They have to do a better job themselves. That's part of the problem.

But, generally speaking, I have to tell you, the governors have been great. I just spoke to the Governor of New Jersey, Governor Murphy, and he's very thankful. And Governor Cuomo has been very nice. They've really appreciated I think what the federal government has done.

You look at the hospitals that are being built all over the country, by the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA, it's been really incredible. Nobody's seen it. They'll build hospitals in two or three days, portable hospitals.

This afternoon, I invoke the Defense Production Act, to compel General Motors to accept, perform and prioritize federal contracts for ventilators. Ventilators are a big deal, and we've delivered thousands of them. And oftentimes, you don't need ventilators very much. Hospitals don't have very many. And now we're turning out that we have to produce large numbers, but we've been able to do that and we're going to be doing a lot more.

This invocation of the DPA should demonstrate clearly to all that we will not hesitate to use the full authority of the federal government to combat this crisis. We thought that we had to deal with these, an example, General Motors and I guess they thought otherwise, they didn't agree. And now they do. They do agree and I think we might be able to pull it, but we let them know the way we felt. And they can't be doing that.

We'll work in partnership with the private sector, but we're an emergency exists. And it's very important that we get to the bottom line and quickly. We will do what we have to do and immediately exercise all available lawful authorities to get the job done.

This afternoon, I also signed an executive order investing and very, very strongly investing the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Homeland Security, with the full authorities available under the Defense Production Act, to respond to the outbreak of the terrible virus, the invisible enemy, as we say. My order also establishes that Peter Navarro, a very trusted person from the White House, and he's been an incredible. He's done an incredible job for me in terms of negotiation in terms of understanding where the world is going economically. But my older establishes that Peter will serve as National Defense Production Act Policy Coordinator for the federal government.

That's a very important position. More important, probably than it's almost ever been in our country. And so I want to congratulate Peter and his family. It's -- I know he's going to do a fantastic job. He's been doing that job over the last few weeks. Peter is a PhD in Economics from Harvard, has a master's in Public Administration from the Kennedy School, also from Harvard. And he's a tremendous guy, and he will do a fantastic job.

And I'd like to maybe ask -- before I continue, Peter, just say a few words, please. Peter? Thank you very much.

PETER NAVARRO, NATIONAL DEFENSE PRODUCTION ACT POLICY COORDINATOR: Thank you, Mr. President.