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New York in Crisis. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired March 30, 2020 - 16:00   ET




DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So if we can hold that down, as we're saying, to 100,000 -- it's a horrible number -- maybe even less, but to 100,000, so we have between 100,000 and 200,000, we all together have done a very good job.


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That, of course, is a dramatic shift from about a month ago, when President Trump suggested cases in the U.S. would go down to zero.

Right now, new coronavirus hot spots are cropping up across the nation in places such as Michigan and Louisiana, though New York remains the hardest-hit so far in the pandemic in the United States.

Today, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, the U.S. Navy medical ship Comfort arrived in New York to ease the burden on overwhelmed hospitals in New York by treating non-coronavirus patients, of which there are many.

Globally, we should note, there are more than 770,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus around the world and at least 36,000 deaths around the world. That number, of course, assumes that the government numbers from places such as China are accurate, which, of course, is a big if, especially as it pertains to the Chinese government.

With experts warning that the peak of the virus in the U.S. is at least two weeks away, cities and states across the United States are preparing for the worst, as CNN's Erica Hill now reports from the current U.S. epicenter, New York.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Help arriving in New York with the Navy hospital ship Comfort, 1,000 beds on board to help ease overcrowding in the city's hospitals, so they can focus on those with coronavirus.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): If you are not preparing for the apex and for the high point, you are missing the entire point of the operation. It is a fundamental blunder to only prepare for today. That's why, in some ways, we are where we are. We have been behind this virus from day one.

HILL: As other states look to the epicenter for lessons in what's to come, Rhode Island telling all out-of-state travelers they must self- quarantine for 14 days, going door to door in coastal communities, setting up checkpoints, monitoring train travel, to spread the word.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If we see vehicles in driveways with no plates on them, we are going to knock on the door.

HILL: Texas and Virginia mandating self-quarantine for anyone arriving from several states, including New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Louisiana.

Hot spots in Chicago and Detroit also seeing their needs spike. Michigan's governor calling on states to work together to gather critical supplies for those on the front lines.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): I think that the most important thing that we all need to remember is, the enemy is COVID-19, and it is not discriminating against party. It is not discriminating against state. It is ravaging our country.

HILL: New York's governor echoing that sentiment and pleading with health care workers to also join in.

CUOMO: If you don't have a health care crisis in your community, please come help us in New York now. We need relief. We need relief for nurses who are working 12-hour shifts, one after the other. And we will return the favor.

HILL: As communities brace for the virus, the nation's top infectious disease specialist is warning that this is no time to lose focus.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: There are a number of areas in the country that have relatively few cases. Those are the ones that are vulnerable and dangerous.

HILL: To keep those areas from sparking, more stay-at-home orders are being added across the country, one of the latest in Maryland, on the outskirts of the nation's capital, officials vowing to crack down on anyone violating the orders.

LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): We have got a pastor outside of Baton Rouge driving around picking up people to go to church. You are going to have to start enforcing it, because they are going to spread it to other people, and we're not going to get on top of this until everybody listens to the order.


HILL: And as we're watching this play out across the country, we are hearing over and over again it is time to heed those stay-at-home orders.

Plenty of people out in Central Park today, Jake, I can tell you that much. Also, just behind me, the reason we're in Central Park today, there is a 68-bed field hospital that's going to open tomorrow. What's different about this one here in New York is that this is specifically for coronavirus patients.

As we have seen from some of the other field hospitals and even the Comfort ship, those are for overflow for non-coronavirus patients -- again, this one behind me in the park specifically for those with the virus.

TAPPER: An unbelievable sight.

Erica Hill, thank you so much for.

Joining me now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, Dr. Birx. said this morning, that this projection of possible deaths in the United States, 100,000 to 200,000, that she and Dr. Fauci brought to President Trump, she said that's a best-case scenario.


That's if everybody does everything right. That's a staggering bit of information.


But if you look at some of the initial other modeling numbers, there's all sorts of numbers that are obviously much higher than that. I don't want to unnecessarily cause people to be alarmed. But that's absolutely true.

I mean, that is if we actually are all basically abiding by these stay-at-home recommendations, which, Jake, we're not, as a country, certainly not, right now. So that's really worrisome.

As part of her comments, as you know, Jake, yesterday, she also said that we started late. I mean, she conceded that. I think we have all known that for some time, but we started late in this country. So that's 100,000 to 200,000 deaths if we do everything right, really, from here on forth,

TAPPER: There's going to be a lot of time to do after-action reports about this once we're through this crisis, but, just briefly, just to talk about how we got started late, what was the time when greater action could have meant far fewer deaths than what we're facing right now?

GUPTA: Well, I think there's a couple of points.

I think, certainly, I think the initial sort of steps to quarantine, something we hadn't done in this country in 60 years, was important. Those were good initial steps. The issue was, did we do enough after that with the time bought, the few weeks in between?

I think, during that time, I'm talking sort of mid-January through mid-February, there was still sort of this, is it really going to be a big deal here, even though public health officials sort of knew it was, because they saw what was already happening in China.

So, I think that that point was important. I think, if you look at Germany right now, Jake, they have a lot of cases. I think it's over 60,000 people who've been infected, but I think fewer than 600 people who've died, still a lot of people who've died,, but a much lower rate than here in the United States.

And I think part of the reason is that they tested early, they started acting early. And you now have a case example of why that made such an impact. Italy's fatality rate is closer to 10 or 11 percent, Jake, because they didn't act early.

So, again, I want to be optimistic. I think that it's great that these actions are now being taken, being extended. But we did get a late start, and we have some catchup to do here.

TAPPER: That's right.

The modeling that Dr. Fauci referenced suggests that the U.S. could need more than 200,000 ICU hospital beds, more than 30,000 -- I'm sorry -- 200,000 hospital beds, more than 30,000 ICU beds, not to mention all the ventilators.

Is the U.S. health care system going to be able to meet those requirements?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, the hospital system here in the United States is not really built with surge capacity. This may surprise people, but, in fact, we have fewer hospital beds and ICU beds than we did probably a decade or two decades ago.

We have actually gone down because hospital systems have wanted to become as efficient as possible. It's just they're very expensive systems to run.

What I think I have been sort of inspired by, Jake, is American ingenuity is something to behold at times like this, this idea now of splitting ventilators, mainly talked about just as a theoretical concept, the idea of trying to adapt existing other machines, like CPAP machines.

They can't do exactly what ventilators can do, but they can certainly help sort of bridge patients who are starting to have a little bit of difficulty breathing. So I think it's an open question still, Jake, in terms if we're going to be able to meet those demands.

The manufacturing by companies like GM, the issue there is that it probably will be a couple, three months before we recognize the impact of that manufacturing. It just takes a while to manufacture new vents. They have got to be regulated. You have got to source these parts from all over the world. Everyone wants these parts.

But I think the ingenuity that I'm been hearing about from a lot of my colleagues, I know you have as well, is pretty inspiring. And I think there may be some good solutions that come out of that.

TAPPER: The president extended the social distancing guidelines until at least April 30, a month from today.

And that, of course, could be extended even further. When you look at the projections, when do you think we're going to be able to start, on a bit-by-bit basis, getting back to normal? Do you think kids will be able to go to school in the fall? Do you think people will be able to go to the beach in the summer?

What's your best guess, as of today's facts?

GUPTA: I think, when you look at some of these other countries around the world -- and, again, keeping in mind we did start late a bit here -- you are talking about an eight-to-10-week sort of cycle.


I think that that's sort of what it looks like. And so, I mean, the end of April, I think would be sort of six weeks that we have been doing the stay at home. I would add on maybe another two to four weeks after that.

I think, at that point, there may be some start to return to normal activity, perhaps. It won't mean school this year for kids, but probably in the fall.

I think that the real question, Jake, for a lot of people is the confidence that people are going to have at that point, just almost from a mental standpoint, an emotional standpoint, even more so than from a physical standpoint.

Are they going to be nervous to touch an elevator button, to come in contact with people or not? That's going to -- and we have never gone through something like this. So that's going to be something we have to deal with as well.

TAPPER: Something -- yes, I mean, there are a lot of mental health professionals are going to be needed, not just now, but for the next few years.

GUPTA: That's right.

TAPPER: This is an internationally traumatic event, especially for children.

Sanjay Gupta, as always, thank you so much. It's great talking to you.

GUPTA: You got it, Jake. Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up: a medical war zone. That's how one E.R. doctor is describing the situation at a hospital currently overwhelmed with coronavirus patients in the United States, we should note.

We're going to take an exclusive look inside that hospital.

That's next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

The ICU is at capacity, patient beds line the hallways, and the morgue is overflowing. This scene I'm describing is not from China. It's not from Italy. It's not from Spain. It's from the United States. It's from New York City.

CNN's Miguel Marquez takes us for you for a harrowing look inside one hospital, a place that one doctor describes as a medical war zone.


MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Every corridor, every corner, every ward.

Every inch of Brookdale Hospital Medical Center in Brooklyn now inundated with those suffering from COVID-19.

(on camera): What are you looking at on a daily basis? How difficult is this?

DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE, ER DOCTOR, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: Well, this is a war zone. It's a medical war zone. Every day, I come in, what I see on a daily basis is pain, despair, suffering and health care disparities.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Through Sunday afternoon, Brookdale said it had at least 180 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with nearly 80 awaiting confirmation. More than 20 people have died, so far, from the disease.

On top of its normal emergency flow, coronavirus is pushing the hospital to the max.

MOLLETTE: We are scared, too. We're fighting for your lives and we're fighting for our own lives. We're trying to keep our head above water and not drown.

MARQUEZ: Doctors, nurses, even those keeping the floors clean, face a rising tide, uncertain how long it will rise, unsure this coronavirus won't sicken them as they struggle to stay a step ahead.

(on camera): What do you need right now?

MOLLETTE: We need prayer. We need support. We need gowns. We need gloves. We need masks.

We need more vents. We need more medical space. We need psychosocial support as well. It's not easy coming here when you know what you're getting ready to face.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): The deaths here keep coming. While filming, another victim of COVID-19 was moved to the hospital's temporary morgue, a refrigerated semi-trailer parked out back. The hospital's regular morgue is filled to capacity.

(on camera): How much room do you have in your morgue?

KHARI EDWARDS, VP, EXTERNAL AFFAIRS, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: Usually, we have 20-plus bodies that we can fit comfortably.

MARQUEZ: And you've gone over that?

EDWARDS: Gone over that. And the state has been gracious enough to bring us apparatus to help keep families and keep the bodies in comfortable areas because we didn't want bodies piled on top of each other.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Brookdale needs more of everything. Today, Edwards said the hospital has 370 beds. They'd like to add more, many more.

Two weeks ago, this was the pediatric emergency room. Now, it's dedicated to victims of COVID-19. Plastic tarp taped to the ceiling, offering some protection and a bit of privacy.

The intensive care unit filled nearly to capacity and sealed so fewer doors and less traffic than usual comes and goes. This window is the only place where family members can watched their loved one inside the unit as they chat with them via cellphone. It's sometimes as close as they can get, as COVID-19 takes another life.

As grim as it is right now, Dr. Mollette expects it will get worse.

MOLLETTE: It could end in the fall. It could end at the end of the year. This is why we're begging everyone not just to only put that pressure on the emergency department, but for also for everybody to help us to help them by staying home.

MARQUEZ (on camera): You think we're in it for the long hauls, this is months not weeks?

MOLLETTE: Definitely.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Another worrisome thing she's seen coming through the doors -- not just the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.

MOLLETTE: I work at two hospitals. I work here in Brooklyn and I work at another hospital in the Bronx, and it's the same thing. In Bronx, it's the same thing. I've had patients that were in their 30s, and they are now intubated, and they're really sick.

I've had patient that are well --

MARQUEZ (on camera): No underlying conditions?

MOLLETTE: No underlying conditions.

So the thing is between life and death as far as this coronavirus is that this virus sees no -- there's no difference, it has nothing to do with age, it has nothing to do with lack of access to health care, has nothing to do with socioeconomics, race, or ethnicity. This virus is killing a lot of people.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): Brookdale has one advantage. Hospital officials say it can do rapid testing for coronavirus onsite in its own lab.


Right now, up to 300 tests a day, they hope, to get to 500 a day.

ANDREI LEGOUN, LAB TECHNICIAN, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: And right now, we have 52 specimens in here, that we're preparing to test at the moment.

MARQUEZ: The hospital following Centers for Disease Control guidelines on who gets coveted tests. Patients admitted for possible coronavirus, health care workers showing symptoms and symptomatic long term patients. Each test, a laborious and time-consuming process.

LEGOUN: Very easy to make a mistake. Very easy. Just from an extra milliliter of reagent, adding it to the machine, can mess up the entire -- all the batch, the entire batch, all the 50 specimens.

We would have to start all over from the beginning.

MARQUEZ: ER doctors are used to stress. Dr. Mollette says she has never experienced anything like this.

MOLLETTE: I don't really sleep that well at night. I worry about my family. I worry about my safety. I worry about my colleagues.

I worry about how the shift is going to be the next time I come. I worry if a family member is going to be coming to be a patient as well and fall victim to the coronavirus. I worry about a lot of things.

MARQUEZ: The disease a marathon that health care workers alone cannot win or even finish.

MOLLETTE: It's not only up to the emergency department to pull through and to make sure the curve is flat. And this is a responsibility of everybody in the country to help us pull through. So --

MARQUEZ (on camera): So stay the F home.

MOLLETTE: Exactly. I'm very --

MARQUEZ: Is that literally? I mean, how -- how --

MOLLETTE: No, stay the F home. Exactly. Exactly. Because it's not just on -- it's not just us that has to help flatten the curve and take care of everybody. Help us help you.

MARQUEZ (voice-over): She says it will take everyone pulling together. The worst days, she fears, are still ahead.

(END VIDEOTAPE) MARQUEZ: So if anyone out there needed any more indication, any more sobering indication of where we are with this virus and where it is headed, that trip to that ER should have sold it.

The other thing that was really shocking to me, they talk about shortages of gloves and masks and goggles and all that stuff, they looked at the PPE, the protective gear that we were wearing, we had the proper gear with the hood and the boots and the gloves and the goggles and the masks, they looked at us like we were Christmas arriving, basically. They wanted the gear we had.

They said they should have the gear we had. A lot of people I spoke to there at the hospital said they stop off at Home Depot or shop on eBay for gear that they can use themselves or share with others -- Jake.

TAPPER: They're right, they should have that gear, it's a national disgrace that they don't.

Miguel, stay with us.

I want to bring in Dr. David Battinelli. He is the chief medical officer at Northwell Health, which is New York's largest health care provider.

And, Dr. Battinelli, I want to start with you.

Medical professionals are describing their hospitals as a war zone, saying they're scared for their own lives, the lives of their loved ones.

Are you experiencing the same thing at your hospital right now?

DR. DAVID BATTINELLI, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, NORTHWELL HEALTH: Well, I think everybody sees this as potentially overwhelming. But we're behaving as professionals, supporting each other as colleagues. It happens to be National Doctors Day. And our doctors are helping our nurses, are helping our advanced care professionals really deal with this. But be that as it may, behaving as professionals is one thing, but they're also human, they have fears.

TAPPER: It's not as bad where you are, though, as the hospital that Miguel visited? Or is it?

BATTINELLI: Well, I'm not in that hospital, but I know that we have lots of patients. As you know, we got 2,000 patients at our facilities. We have lots of patients in our ICUs.

We've been preparing for this for some time. We think we have adequate staff. We currently have adequate PPE. It is overwhelming to everybody.

TAPPER: Miguel, you saw how serious this is firsthand. What do Americans need to learn from what you saw in that hospital other than what Dr. Mollette said, stay the F home, it's the responsibility of every American to help flatten the curve? MARQUEZ: I think for me, nothing rattles an ER doctor, typically. She

was afraid not only -- look, almost everyone we spoke to has a plan for the way they live, they go to work, they stay six feet away from their family, or they live in different locations from their family, they can Skype or FaceTime with their husbands or wives but they can't actually see each other. So, it has completely disrupted their lives.

I think the thing that hit home for me, and I absorb and consume a lot of news and information about this, is that we're headed to a much worse place. We are in the first inning of a very long game, Jake.


TAPPER: And, Doc, let me read you what one nurse in New York told CNN. She said, quote, we have a new morgue now, I never in my life am walking around, sometimes I feel like I'm in a movie, it's unreal, it's so many intubated patients, how fast they get intubated.

Doctor, I know that's concerning picture that the nurse is painting. I want you to explain, a lot of people out there, I don't think they know what it means when a patient is hooked up to a ventilator, when a patient is intubated. My understanding is, and correct me if I'm wrong, please, is that quite often these patients are put on their stomachs, a tube is put down their throat, they're heavily sedated because it's so uncomfortable to have the tube down their throat and they're in such pain.

Is that what it means for somebody to be on a ventilator?

BATTINELLI: Yes, when somebody's on a ventilator, they are artificially ventilated. They hook up to the machine, the machine goes -- a tube into their lungs. The positive pressure forces the air into their lungs because they can't take those breaths on their own.

They're usually paralyzed and also sedated because that helps us control their ventilation. There are times we have to make them prone, put them on their bellies to actually make sure that that ventilation is more efficient. And that's the reason we put them on their bellies.

It's obviously harrowing for the patients and for the providers to see so many patients on the ventilators. As we've heard the other person talk about, it's not usual to have that many patients on ventilators throughout the entire facility.

TAPPER: I just want people to understand how serious this is, even for patients who we're talking about who might ultimately survive, it's an incredibly harrowing ordeal.

Dr. David Battinelli, thank you for the work you do, I appreciate it.

Miguel Marquez, great reporting, appreciate it to both of you. Thanks so much.

Coming up next, employees at major corporations delivering packages, stocking food on the shelves, basically they help keep you alive, are threatening to walk out. Plus, a brand new CNN poll debuting here on THE LEAD. What Americans

think about the response of the federal government to this crisis, and much more.

That's ahead. Stay with us.