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U.S Coronavirus Death Toll Doubles In Just Two Days; Trump Backs Off Possible New York Quarantine, Will Not Be Necessary; Japan Marks Biggest One-Day Jump, 194 New Cases Reported. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired March 28, 2020 - 21:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

The newest numbers this Saturday night and we've just reached a tragic new threshold, CNN now confirms more than 2,000 deaths here in the United States from coronavirus. That means the death toll in this country has now doubled in a little more than two days. And, globally, now more than 660,000 cases, the U.S. has now more than 117,000 cases. That's the most anywhere in the world.

And just to put all these numbers in some sort of perspective, look at this, on March 5th, the U.S. reported just 11 deaths in the country. That jumped to 149 on March 19th. Three days ago there were just under 1,000 deaths in the United States. And look at how it's more than doubled now.

Also tonight, at least 215 million Americans, they are under stay at home orders. A large number of them in the State of New York, that's now the epicenter in the outbreak in this country. Nurses at one Bronx hospital echoing the fears and frustrations voiced by so many of their colleagues nationwide taking to the lawn of their hospital to protest the lack of desperately needed equipment to keep them safe.

And only moments ago, after sparking lots of controversy earlier today, by suggesting they might quarantine New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, a move the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, called illegal and a federal declaration of war. The president, President Trump now backing down. The president tweeting he will now instead ask the CDC the issue a strong travel advisory and that no quarantine is needed.

And more states are starting to feel the pandemic's devastating impact. In the last few hours alone, Massachusetts announcing more than 1,000 new case along with nine new deaths, while Michigan reports 19 new deaths and nearly a thousand new cases.

Worldwide, more countries taking very tough measures to try to keep their citizens safe. Russia set to close its border this Monday after previously halting most international flights. In Italy, a staggering 92,000 people are sick with more than 10,000 dead, including 51 doctors. Italy, by the way, now surpassing China in both the number of cases and death.

And in the U.K., where the streets of London are empty after the city was placed on lock down, more than 1,000 people are dead. The medical director of the national health service saying 20,000 deaths, 20,0000, he says, would be in his words -- hard to believe this, in his words, a good result.

Even with the threat of federal quarantine lifted bit president just a few moments ago, New York State, America's current epicenter for the outbreak, is still taking action to deal with moves outside its borders.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, we're joining us from the Javits Convention Center in New York City, where a large coronavirus hospital is now being built. Evan, give us the latest, what's going on in New York.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's been a very interesting day, because, as you mentioned, I am in front of the Javits Center, which a 1,000-bed, emergency hospital set up by the governor and federal officials to create more hospital capacity here in this state, in this city. And, you know, we spent a lot of the day talking about outside of New York's borders, even though the inside the New York border are where the epicenter of the corona pandemic in the United States is.

Now, most of the day, we're talking about this argument with back and forth between the White House and Andrew Cuomo, the governor here, which wasn't really an argument, it was more the president saying he might do some kind of enforceable quarantine. The governor is saying he can't. Now, we've learned that that's not going to happen. There's going to be some kind of travel advisory.

Of course, all the New Yorkers and members of the tristate area who would have been affected by that are still living under quarantine conditions, in a sense that if you're not an essential personnel, you're supposed to stay home, only go out for groceries, only go out for some kind of very restricted exercise, where you don't get close to other people. So that stuff is all still happening.

And then it's not the only conservative about the borders outside New York's border that we're having. Governor Cuomo also having a battle with not just the president but another one of these governors here in the region.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I think that's a reactionary policy. I'm concerned about people with the virus coming into my state, right? So I think that's a reactionary policy and I don't think that's legal.


And we're talking to Rhode Island now, if they don't roll back that policy, I'm going to sue Rhode Island because that clearly is unconstitutional.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Now, Wolf, I'm sorry I didn't tee that up perfectly well, but what that was was Andrew Cuomo responding to an order by the governor of Rhode Island to stop New York-plated vehicles when they are arriving in the state and inform everybody inside those vehicles that they are under a mandatory 14-day quarantine, which is very similar to the quarantine they're under in New York, which is that not supposed to leave the house except for groceries, be very careful and try to stay inside as much as possible in 14 days.

So that was something that the governor of Rhode Island put into place that Governor Cuomo also reacted to, saying he would sue the state for doing that, saying that that was also an illegal act.

So a day of discussions about outside New York borders while inside the state, we're still dealing with a potential apex that the governor talked about, next 14 to 21 days, requiring a big build up in hospital capacity and personnel. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right. Evan, thank you very much. Evan McMorris-Santoro in New York City for us, Evan, be careful over there.

Joining us now, Dr. Luciana Borio, she's the former Director of the National Security Council's Medical and Bio-Defense Preparedness Policy, also Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an Epidemiologist in Michigan, and CNN's Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash.

Dr. Borio, just hours after proposing a quarantine for at least parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, now the president is backing off that idea, is there a scenario where a quarantine like he originally proposing would be the right course of action?

DR. LUCIANA BORIO, FORMER DIRECTOR, MEDICAL AND BIODEFENSE PREPAREDNESS, NSC: Yes, Wolf, we have to remember that we're not going to be able to solve the situation that we're facing through quarantine. What we really need to do is rollout sound public health measures, tried and true measures that are powered by technology, 21st century technology today.

And by that, I mean, we need to diagnose people that have the infection, we need to be able to trace their contacts effectively so we can protect them well. That's what's going to get us to contain this epidemic across the U.S.

BLITZER: Dana, what do you make of this major reversal by the president?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Look, this is one of the hallmarks of the Trump presidency. Unfortunately, it is playing out in a crisis. And what I mean by hallmark is that he thinks out loud and he test things out loud, whether it's on Twitter or talking to reporters on the fly.

And that is what he did with this floating today of this notion of a federally-imposed quarantine on the tristate area. He backed down for various reasons, including what the New York governor said on our air that he felt that that was effectively waging war on New York.

It is fine and expected for federal officials, including and especially the president to be considering measures. But it's a whole another thing to be doing it out loud and to be confusing people even more than they already are.

BLITZER: That's important point indeed. Dr. El-Sayed, in your state alone, we're talking about Michigan, there's now just shy of 1,000 new cases of the virus over the past day or so, 19 more people reported dead. I want you to listen. Listen to this, this is an emergency room physician who was on CNN earlier today and her grim prediction for the near future. Listen to this.


DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: We're seeing the scenes from New York and we know that what's happening in New York is probably almost certainly going to happen in many other parts in our country and it just is untenable and really unimaginable.


BLITZER: So what do you think, doctor, what happened in New York, will happen elsewhere, including Michigan, all over the country, do you agree?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: We hope that in other parts of the country, we're able to see what's happening in New York and get ahead of the curve. Early on in this pandemic, Dr. Fauci said something really important. It's not enough to just skate to where the puck. You've got to skate to where the puck is going to be.

And I think people are starting to realize, particularly public officials, that there's a real responsibility to look at what is coming out of New York and say, that could be us soon. And we've got a responsibility to get ahead.

At the same time though, part of the challenges that you're dealing with a president whose principle capacity is the capacity for division. His beef with the governor of my state alone shows the frustration that I think governors across the state have -- I mean, across the country have, because they're trying to get ahead but they realize that they've been pitched into this competition for resources with each other.

We need centralized leadership. We need the ability to really take the Defense Production Act and start producing the means of being able to go ahead of the curve, like we talked about, and address the fact that those communities, other communities, could very well be New York if we don't act fast to get ahead of the curve.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point. Dr. Borio, I want to read an account from a nurse in New Orleans, who wants her identity protected, and I'll read it to you. Listen to this. We are averaging five to seven intubations and three to four deaths a day. We have had to set up a temporary morgue, white box, outside the E.D. next to ambulance ramp for those who expire from COVID-19, this temporary morgue is full.

When you hear those words, what do you feel when you hear those words, a healthcare worker right now on the frontlines?

BORIO: It's heartbreaking. It's heartbreaking. And I think it's an important reminder that it's up to us today to be able to shelter in place, to stay home, because we are public health and we have an obligation to alleviate the pressures in these hospitals. We need to be able to trend this curve.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly do. And let me get Dr. Al-Sayed, to tell us what emergency officials in your state, we're talking about Michigan, need most right now. In Louisiana, we heard from Senator Bill Cassidy earlier here in THE SITUATION ROOM, that by Thursday, they're going to be run out of ventilators in hospitals in New Orleans. Dr. Al-Sayed, the surgeon general of the United States specifically mentioned Detroit as an emerging hot spot.

AL-SAYED: Yes, that's right. From what I'm hearing from folks from the frontline, and I used to be the Health Director for the City of Detroit, from what I'm hearing, number one we need personal protective equipment for brave women and men who are in the frontlines taking care of the patients. They need N95 masks so if you have them, get them to the front lines. These folks are literally putting their lives and livelihoods on the line to take care of us.

Number two, we need ventilators. We know that the challenge here has always been that if we don't flatten the curve, this disease has the ability to overwhelm our healthcare system, and that is because we have a limitation in the number of ventilators that we need, because we know that these patients will suffer with real respiratory trust (ph) and will require mechanical ventilation. And without those ventilators, we're in a position where doctors are going to have to decide who lives and who doesn't.

And then third, we need beds and we need personnel. I know that right now, they're making decisions about turning the TCF Center, one of the largest convention centers in Detroit, into a makeshift COVID hospital. That's a good move. But we need to have done that about a week ago. And so in other communities, we need to make sure that folks are learning from the example of New York, learning from the example of Detroit that you got to get ahead of this and you've got to get those courses (ph) out to where they are needed most.

BLITZER: Yes, well-said.

You know, Dana, the White House just a few moments ago announced that there will be a coronavirus task force news conference tomorrow 5:30 P.M. Eastern Time. Does the president need to clean up some of his latest comments?

BASH: Yes. I mean, he started to do that this evening with his tweets that you started this hour with, trying to kind of explain that, no, he's not going to try to impose a federal quarantine on the tristate area, and instead there would just be CDC guidelines, which, you know, seems as though, it's the most appropriate and that it is going to continue to be when it comes to the actual mandates be done on a state level.

You know, there's always a desire for this president, especially right now, to have more clarity. And every time that we see him speak on some issues we do get more clarity. On other issues, it gets more muddled. And, specifically, you know, Michigan, is a great example. What happened with G.M. is a great example. Were there negotiations, according to G.M., the negotiations were going great and the discussions about making ventilators without the federal government mandating it. But then the president said okay that's going to happen.

Look, again, some of this is understandable that this is, you know, unprecedented situation, some of it isn't. The ventilators situation, we were all setting there, reading stories, exactly what is happening in Detroit and New York and other cities around this country happening in Italy. We're reading these accounts weeks ago. We saw this coming. We saw the train coming. And federal officials, state officials did not do enough to prevent it and to be prepared.

BLITZER: And these numbers are now -- these awful numbers are doubling almost every few days, more than 2,000 confirmed deaths here in the United States. And only three days ago there were 938 deaths, March 19th, 149. March 12th, 38 deaths. If they continue to double every few days like this, God only knows what's going to happen.


All right, we're going to continue. I want everybody to stand by. We're going to have a lot more coming up.

Also, we're following the coronavirus. It was notably more dangerous as we all know for seniors. But get this, officials in one state now say an infant, an infant who tested positive for coronavirus has died. We'll get the very latest.


BLITZER: Today, we learned of the first death of an infant who tested positive for the coronavirus reported here in the United States, the news coming to us from the State of Illinois. Officials there announcing the child was less than a year old and that they're now investigating the cause of death.

I want to go CNN's Ryan Young. He's joining us now from Chicago right now. What more can you tell us about this heartbreaking development, Ryan?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf, very tough. When the governor J.B. Pritzker stepped to mics and gave us this information today, you could hear everyone sort of just -- surely get quiet because you don't understand what was next here. A lot of people have questions about what the state will do next.


Of course, like you said, they are investigating this. This child tested positive for the coronavirus, less than one-year-old, but then passed away and did happen here in the Chicago area. That all combined with the fact that today more than 400 new cases were pushed forward, plus the fact at a Cook County Jail, we are told that 51 inmates have also tested positive there, bringing the total to 89.

And the reason why I bring that up is, they're worried about clusters, sort of increasing the numbers at the hospital around this area that can make things very difficult. In fact, we talked to an ICU doctor today who said they're doing they're very best with the supplies they have.


DR. OMAR LATEEF, CEO, RUSH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: Regardless of where we are today, the reality is there's an opportunity and a very real potential of running out of ventilators, and that has to do with the net number of patients. There's a fixed amount of resources in Chicago. And while today, there are ICU bed that are available and ventilators that are available, that does not mean tomorrow there will be, or the next day, there will be. If there is exponential growth just like other cities in the world, we will run out of those resources.


YOUNG: Wolf, obviously, the City of Chicago is the third largest city in America and a lot of people are worried about the sort of community spread in this area. So you hear CTA workers here, police officers, firefighters, all catching the coronavirus. One of the things they're sort of stressing is to make sure people are still sheltering in place. Famous Michigan Avenue's right behind me today mostly clear.

There were some people who were still sort of wandering around. The mayor and the governor stressing to everyone, let's stay home right now. To make sure that we can flatten this curve. But when you hear cases like the child today it takes your breath away.

Another thing that we we're told about the ICU doctor, they are seeing younger and younger patients show up, sick, worried, concerned, and that's something they're trying to stress right now. The age range has sort of been blown up and they want to make sure that people, when they get to the hospital, they understand that the hospitals already being stress by so many people coming in, they want to make sure they can take care of these patients, Wolf.

It will be an interesting week to see what happens as we hear about these numbers coming in more and more as the days go on.

BLITZER: Yes, numbers have just doubled over the past two or three days, the deaths here in the United States. Ryan Young in Chicago, we'll stay in close touch with you.

Back with us right now, Dr. Luciana Borio, Physician, former Director of Medical and Bio-Defense Preparedness over the NSC, and Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, an Epidemiologist in Michigan.

Dr. Borio, we know it's rare for children to get seriously ill from this virus. What's your reaction when you heard the news of this infant who died?

BORIO: First of all, my condolences to the family, this is a very, very sad event. It is rare for children, for infants to die from this disease. It appears to be a very rare event but it serves as a reminder that nobody is immune. There's a lineal relationship between age and morality but it doesn't stop at the young. It's -- everybody is at risk.

BLITZER: The latest information, Dr. El-Sayed, that you are getting, we used to think that only the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions were really vulnerable but it looks like there's some new evidence suggesting healthy people are pretty vulnerable as well.

EL-SAYED: That's right. I always tell folks, if you've got a pair of lungs and you're breathing, you're at risk. And I agree with Dr. Borio's point, We've all got a responsibility to keep all of us healthy. We don't know who is going to have a bad outcome and who doesn't. And although the data suggests to us that there's higher probability among certain groups of people, we know that there are cases of really serious disease in even younger people.

And so we have a responsibility to stay home, to stay safe, to make sure that not only ourselves but everybody we love is safe too. But the thing about public health is we have to do it publicly. It takes all of us together to do the work to protect all of us.

BLITZER: It certainly does, a very good advice.

Dr. Borio, the FDA has just authorized a new coronavirus test that promised results in only 15 minutes. deliveries are expected to start next week. How hopeful are you that this test will actually change the path here in the United States? How significant of a development potentially could this be?

BORIO: Well, this test is a game changer, not only because of the time it takes to get results but because it is available, can be available at the place where patients are actually seeking care. Now, we need to still continue to ramp up diagnostics test across the country and importantly, Wolf, we're going have to pair this with public health measures.

We need to rapidly be able to use the information that we get from diagnostic tests to conduct public health, to conduct contact tracing to be able to identify people that might have been exposed to the infected individual so we can then protect the them well.


It's very critical. And we can do that today with 21st century technology in a much more efficient way that's still comport to their privacy values. And, you know, this is going to be challenging because, historically, this type of public health work has been boots on the ground with clipboards and paper and pen. Now, we can -- it's just not scalable. So the federal government is going to step in here and help support the technology solutions so that we can achieve the public health goals that we all want.

BLITZER: And, Dr. El-Sayed, as you well know, hospitals around the country are facing severe shortages of critically needed medical supplies, like ventilators, for example. How would you estimate the impact this is having right now on America's death toll?

EL-SAYED: Well, we saw this sharp rise in just under two and half days. We saw a doubling of the number of deaths. Now, part of that is because the disease is moving. But part of that is because we're starting to bump up against the limit of how much care we can provide safely within the context of our hospital. And you're seeing this rush to increase that capacity. But we haven't quite gotten there yet and the cases are moving faster than we are.

And so it's highly plausible that this bump in deaths may also be a function of the fact that we're seeing -- that we're hitting that upper limit. This really pushes on the responsibility that the federal government has to kick in at Defense Production Act, make sure that we have the beds and the resources that we need.

I do think it's prudent at this point to be thinking about how you call up military resources in form of the National Guard and to make sure that we have all hands on deck personnel available to care for COVID cases, because we know the cases are going to continue to increase. The predictions suggest that we're going to get to a peak, especially in New York, within the next week or two weeks, and in other communities a little bit later than that, and so we've got to keep going.

Just one point I want to make about the test. I thought Dr. Borio's point was fantastic. For folks who don't understand, contact tracing is the workhorse of public health. It's people literally tracing everybody who is exposed and identifying who they might have exposed so that we are creating a net of source. And if that net goes porous, like it did early on, you see this massive spread of cases. And so having tests it is critical because it can tell us out of the folks who are exposed, how many of them actually got the disease, and so they need to continue to be trace and their contacts have been traced.

And so having tests that are quick like this, they reduce the overall burden of personnel that you need an effort that's needed to contact trace at scale. And so if we have an opportunity to keep this down after we hit that peek, it's going to be because we have contact tracing capacities. This test is really important to providing that opportunity.

BLITZER: It certainly is. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed and Dr. Luciana Borio, we're grateful to both of you, we're grateful to all the medical personnel all over the country, the doctors and the nurses, the medical technicians, they're risking their lives right now to save their fellow Americans. And we're grateful to all of them. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

EL-SAYED: Thank you.

BORIO: Good night.

BLITZER: And coming up, amid a national crisis that has rocked the U.S. economy, President Trump has defined political assumptions as his approval rating hits an all-time high in a brand new CNN poll of polls. We'll discuss what's going on when we come back.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news. President Trump now backing off his earlier consideration of a possible quarantine for parts of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. The president said he asked CDC to issue a travel advisory instead. We just got it and we're reading it. It basically tells residents of those three states to refrain from what's described as non-essential domestic travel for 14 days, effective immediately.

We should note all three of those states already had stay-at-home orders and we're also told that as recently March 17th, the CDC issued a similar travel advisory.

I want to bring back our Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash, right now. Dana, is this basically the CDC covering for the president and his comments earlier today in a very strong tweet that he wrote in all-caps calling for possibly a quarantine?

BASH: Could be or coordinating with to make sure that at least there is some face-saving by the president after he said what he said earlier. But you made such an important point as we are looking at these CDC guidelines now, is that they're really not that different from not just what the CDC has said but more importantly what the guidelines are and what the governors have said of all of these states already.

So, look, the president is looking for ways to show leadership and, you know, maybe this is one way to do it. But I can tell you, and I'm sure you've had conversations as well, Wolf, with people all over the country, governors, what they want, and local leaders and medical professionals, what they want is leadership when it comes to making sure the hospitals have the equipment they need, full stock, that's it. That's the most important thing right now.

BLITZER: Because it underscores a key question. How do Americans know who to listen to? How important is credibility in times like this?

BASH: It's everything. Credibility is everything. But, you know, these are still, even though we are in a national crisis and just on a human level, we are coming together in many, many ways.


We are still a very, very polar polarized a country and that has not been erased by this virus, unfortunately.

So, look, people do need to have clear leadership. They are seeing and hearing it from some leaders, again, on a local level. It's really noteworthy that local leaders have just certainly in my lifetime have never been as prominent and as important because this is being handled, you know, kind of close to home in a lot of places.

But when it comes to the supplies that are needed, we cannot emphasize this enough, we have learned the hard way in observing this and reporting on this and talking to people across the country that they need help from the federal government because I was just talking to one lawmaker about this who was very much involved in talking to her state's governor, for example, that it's like The Hunger Games, that these states are desperate for ventilators, desperate for PPE's, but ventilators in particular, and they really want the federal government to step up and make sure that those states that are hot spots, those cities that are hot spots get them.

BLITZER: This isn't the first time, Dana, that the president has feuded with the governor regarding this pandemic. I want to play what he said about the Michigan governor yesterday and whether Vice President Mike Pence should talk with her. Listen to this.


TRUMP: I tell them, I mean, I am a different type of person. I said, Mike, don't call the governor of Washington. You're wasting your time with him. Don't call the woman in Michigan. It doesn't make any difference of what happens.

REPORTER: The governor of Washington --

TRUMP: You know what I say, if they don't treat you right, I don't call. He's a different type of person. He'll call, quietly, anyway, okay?


BLITZER: And we also learned today that the vice president, Dana, did call Governor Whitmer of Michigan earlier this morning. Clearly, very different tactics by the two U.S. leaders, some suggesting good cop, bad cop, but, clearly, that Vice President Mike Pence is trying to be as pleasant and as respectful and as decent with these governors as he possibly could be during an enormous crisis like this.

BASH: And my understanding is that that conversation that the vice president had with the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, she is not just the woman there. She is somebody who has a name and it was a good conversation.

Look, this isn't the dating game. This isn't if you feel burned by somebody who you talked to, you don't call them. You can't ghost somebody when you're the president of the United States. And these are governors who, again, desperately need the help of the federal government. And this needs to be coordinated as best as possible. In any situation, in the best of circumstances, politically, it is very, very difficult. It doesn't help to have contentious conversations, contentious comments by the president or by some of these governors. But it certainly at least in the last 24 hours has been coming from the White House.

BLITZER: Yes. And to refer to elected governor of Michigan, that young woman, which he'd one now a couple of times, inappropriate to say the least.

The CNN poll of polls and average of the most recent reliable polls does show the president has his now highest approval rating at any point in CNN's polling during his presidency over the past three-plus years. It's now 47 percent approved, 48 percent disapprove. And a majority approve of the way he's handling this coronavirus crisis right now.

What do you think? Why do you think his approval now is reaching a new high?

BASH: Look, this is a kind of classic phenomenon at a time of crisis. You could argue it's a good thing, that people rally around their leaders. 47 percent as an all-time high is not the greatest if you're a president, but the fact that it is an all-time high is something that the president is obviously going to crow at. He's already crowing about it carefully, given where we are. But it is kind of the way things tend to go that presidents do better when it comes to approval at times of crisis.

But it has been -- you know, it hasn't been consistent for this president and it's changed a lot in the past few days, and that's why we saw in the poll of polls that was, as you said, the average of five major polls.

BLITZER: Yes, and it's something we watch obviously as political news junkies, as we are, closely. All right, Dana, thanks very much for joining us.

BASH: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, the U.S. is not the only country are record coronavirus cases. Japan just marked its biggest one-day jump in reported cases. We're about to go live to Tokyo when we come back.



BLITZER: New tonight, Japan has now reported its biggest daily jump in coronavirus cases to-date, 194 new cases today alone. That's according to the country's health ministry. This brings a total number of residents infected to more than 2,200 with the death toll standing at 62.

CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now from Tokyo. Will, these new numbers coming as the country steps up its efforts to try to stem the outbreak. What more can you tell us?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, for a long time, Wolf, life continued here in Japan relatively normally. Until the announcement the Olympics were postponed, the government has dramatically changed its tone. It's on the verge of declaring a state of emergency. And now we're seeing some rare late March snowfall, mother nature doing something the government has not been able to get Japanese citizen to do thus far, stay inside.


RIPLEY: Huge crowds pack Tokyo's Meguro River for Hanami, the viewing of the cherry blossoms.


They gather despite increasingly dire warnings from the Japanese government, warnings coronavirus cases could see a major spike.

KENJI FUMA, TOKYO RESIDENT: The situation is very, very severe.

RIPLEY: Kenji Fuma sees the crowds from his apartment window.

What do you think when you see all these people outside, some not wearing masks, close to together?

FUMA: Not good, yes, feel very worried.

RIPLEY: The Japanese government is worried too. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike calls the situation severe, cooperation critical. She says this may be the Japanese's capital's last chance to flatten the curve.

We would like to see each resident share the sense of crisis, she says, do what you can to avoid spreading it. Koike is asking people to stay home, avoid non-essential travel, be vigilant to slow the spread. So far, it's not working.

Despite guidelines to work from home, many offices this week full, public transportation packed. bars and restaurants open.

This weekend, the city's relaxed mood does seem to be changing. The Ueno Park's famous cherry blossoms closed, along with many department stores. And around 500 Starbucks closed, the iconic Shibuya Crossing always packed on Saturday, empty. People preparing for the kind of restrictions on business and travel that other nations imposed weeks or even months ago.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is moving closer to declaring a state of emergency just days after announcing the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will be postponed. Infectious disease experts warn of a steep price in human life if coronavirus spreads rapidly in this rapidly aging society.

DR. MASAHIRO KAMI, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MEDICAL GOVERNANCE INSTITUTE: It's very dangerous. Coronavirus is very dangerous to all the people.

RIPLEY: You have a lot of senior citizens right here.

KAMI: Yes, yes, in hospitals, in nursing homes.

RIPLEY: Masahiro Kami is executive director of Japan's non-profit Medical Governance Research Institute. He says most coronavirus patients in Japan are likely showing few, if any, symptoms.

Japan claims it can process close to 8,000 tests per day. In reality, they're testing less than one-sixth of that number, averaging 1,200 test per day. The Health Ministry says, as of Friday, just 27,000 people have been tested. 27,000 people in a country of 125 million, leaving many in Japan to wonder how many cases are really out there.


RIPLEY: A lot of people here are also wondering, Wolf, why only now, why after the Olympic announcement is Tokyo saying it's on the average of declaring a lockdown citywide, something that some people here feel should have happened long ago because the surge of cases we're seeing now does not take into account all those people we saw this week packing together, viewing the cherry blossoms, seemingly unaware or unconcerned about the danger of spreading the virus.

BLITZER: Will Ripley reporting for us from Tokyo, Will, thank you very much.

We'll take a quick break. Much more news right after this.



Finally, tonight, before we leave, this outbreak is testing all of us in so many ways, but people are rising to the occasion in touching ways. Tom Foreman has more.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: When the spring concert was canceled for this California high school chorus, the members sang anyway, each recording his or her parts, stringing them together online and the results are magical.

They are not alone. Coast-to-coast, people are finding ways to be brave, optimistic.

CHIEF TOM VAUGHN, SOUTHPORT POLICE: We're just kind of all getting together in figure out how we can help the best way.

FOREMAN: In Indiana, police have been delivering groceries and medicine to older and disabled folks. In Florida, volunteers are offering drive-up service for long lines in need of similar help. And in Tennessee, Country Star Brad Paisley --

BRAD PAISLEY, COUNTRY SINGER-WRITER: We're mobilizing volunteers to deliver groceries, one-week's groceries to elderly people that should not be out shopping on their own in these times.

FOREMAN: In Maryland, volunteers have been working almost around the clock making so far more than 35,000 face shields for hospital workers.

A half hour away, the Lawrence Family started saying the pledge of allegiance in their driveway each morning. Now, the whole neighbor has joined them, saying hello, checking in on each other.

A call for help right now from NBA star Frank Kaminsky and many others hearing that a lot of animal shelters are closing. Now, record adoptions are reported, including at this shelter, which was set to shutter with 50 dogs, now all have homes.

And on it goes, from Texas, where a couple learned a local restaurant was going dark and left a staff $9,400 tipped to Wisconsin, where an artist rendered fast mural for all who might pass.

FRED KAEMS, MILWAUKEE ARTIST: I'm just glad that I was able to do something that is bringing a little happiness to people.

FOREMAN: So, sure, the future is uncertain, the economy is in turmoil but the business of kindness, gratitude and hope is booming.


FOREMAN: And remember, all these generous folks are facing the same dangers, the same questions we all are, but they're doing good anyway.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN, Washington.

BLITZER: Thanks, to all those people indeed. And CNN is committed to providing you accurate information about the coronavirus pandemic. Re- watch the CNN global town hall, Coronavirus, Facts and Fears. That's coming up next.

Thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. I'll be back tomorrow, another special edition with THE SITUATION ROOM from 4:00 to 6:00 P.M. Easter. Thanks very much for watching.