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New Orleans Emerges One of Coronavirus Hotspots in the U.S.; New Jersey Cases Surge Past 13,000; CDC Issues Travel Advisory to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut; Field Hospital Built in New York City's Central Park; New York Hospital Workers on Frontlines of "Medical War Zone." Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us this Monday morning. Here is where we stand.

Shut down through April. The administration extending social distancing guidelines and this is why. Top Dr. Anthony Fauci says more than 100,000 Americans could die from coronavirus.

SCIUTTO: It's a remarkable statement and acknowledgment. Fauci says that the president got it right away when he saw the data, but the fact is, it's taken weeks, 32 days to be exact. Here is the president just last month.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have 15 people, and the 15, within a couple of days, is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.


SCIUTTO: He was talking about cases there. Now here he is last night on deaths.


TRUMP: 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 altogether have done a very good job.


HARLOW: All right. Well, here are the latest numbers. Identified cases skyrocketing in the United States to 140,000, nearly 3,000 Americans have died already. 1,000 of those deaths in New York state alone.

Today the FDA issuing an emergency use authorization for anti-malaria drugs allowing them to be used to treat hospital patients that are hit with coronavirus, and right here in New York, the epicenter of all of this, a scramble to create more room for the surge of patients.

If you can believe this, Jim, this is a field hospital being set up in the middle of Central Park.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's reminiscent of those hours and days after 9/11.


SCIUTTO: And next hour, the Navy hospital ship Comfort is scheduled to arrive. That will help relieve the city's overworked hospitals making bed space really. In minutes we will go inside one of those hospitals, the Brooklyn emergency room, likened to a medical war zone.

But the impact of this virus, listen, it's not just in New York. This is a national problem. Hotspots emerging across the country and we're going to be heading to those areas to get the latest on the ground from each but first let's begin with that big circle is there in New York, so far the epicenter of this crisis.

Brynn, tell us what the latest is.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, guys, I mean, kids should be playing baseball on that field at this point and it's now a hospital there in Central Park. It's just incredible to see. But it is right now all hands on deck according to Governor Cuomo, as you guys gave that grim statistic, a thousand deaths, because of coronavirus here in the state alone.

I can tell you the hospitals at least in New York City, the epicenter like Elmhurst right behind me, they are being flooded with resources at this point according to state officials. We're talking about equipment. We're talking about personnel and we're hearing that the emergency rooms across all hospitals in New York City have doubled in the amount of patients that they're seeing. The IC units are three times larger.

That is the reality of what is happening here on the ground. Even still the mayor of New York City just said on "NEW DAY" on Sunday it will be D-Day here in New York City. They will run out of supplies, the need is still greater than ever.

Of course, like you guys just said, we have the Comfort coming here to New York City. It'll be docking here later this morning. We have that 68-bed field hospital being set up in Central Park for COVID patients only, and also we're learning that now, the city is taking yet another step to increase social distancing, making this now a mandatory requirement from its residents, saying that you can be fined if you actually don't keep distance from each other.

HARLOW: Brynn, thank you very much for that reporting.

It's just amazing to see what's happened here in New York City. So we have heard from doctors about the dire situation in some of the hospitals especially here in New York, but I don't think you've seen anything like what you're about to see from our correspondent Miguel Marquez because he takes you inside an ER on the frontlines of this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Listen, a lot of folks seeing this, they compare it to the business of hospitals during wartime.


SCIUTTO: CNN's Miguel Marquez, he went to Brookdale University Medical Center in Brooklyn.

Miguel, it's a harrowing scene there. Take us -- take our viewers inside.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, look, John Berman and I spoke about this earlier today. You've covered many wars as well and the sensibility of the national purpose and what these people are facing every day, the only other place that I have seen that sort of focus are in places like Iraq and Afghanistan at war.

This was the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. It's largely African-American and Latino. On a good day they have plenty to keep them busy coming through their front door. The coronavirus has now pushed that hospital to the very edge.



MARQUEZ (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 100 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. They say 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 that 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 semitrailer parked out back. The hospital's regular morgue filled to capacity.

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

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

MARQUEZ: And you've gone over that?

EDWARDS: Gone over that and they've, 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 watch their loved one inside the unit, as they chat with them via cell phone. 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. But this is why we're begging everyone not just -- to only put that pressure on the emergency department but also for everybody to help us help them by staying home.

MARQUEZ (on camera): You think we're in it for the long haul?

MOLLETTE: Yes, definitely.

MARQUEZ: 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. So I work here in Brooklyn and then I work at another hospital in the Bronx and it's the same thing and the South Bronx is the same thing. I've had patients that who are in their 30s and they are now intubated and they're really sick. I've had patients that are well --

MARQUEZ (on camera): No underlying conditions?

MOLLETTE: No underlying conditions. So the thing is about between life and death as far as this coronavirus is that this virus sees no -- there's no difference, has nothing to do with age, 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 on site, 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 about 52 specimens in here, we're about to, 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, entire batch, all the 52 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 worried 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 about if a family member is going to come and be a patient as well, fall victims 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 up to just only to the emergency department to pull through to make sure the curve is flat, and this is a responsibility for everybody in the country to help us pull through. So --

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

MOLLETTE: Exactly. I'm very calm.

MARQUEZ: Is that literally -- I mean, 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 day she fears are still ahead.


MARQUEZ: Now what may be most intense about this is that, you know, we went in there for one day for a few hours to see what they deal with. Those people, not only the doctors, and the administrators, but the people who sweep up and empty the trash and clean the floors, they go in every single day and, you know, they're making arrangements for their own lives. Many of them haven't seen their families in weeks or months, because they are distancing, not just six feet, but living in a different apartment, living in a different place, just to keep working every single day.

Back to you, guys.

SCIUTTO: Miguel, it is moving to the point of emotional to watch a doctor like Dr. Mollette there dealing with this every day and taking enormous risks.

What do they say -- what does she and her colleagues say they need the most and are they getting it? Because there are so many claims being made about, you know, whatever they ask, they're getting but you were there in the middle of it. What are they lacking? Are they getting the help they need?

MARQUEZ: We almost felt guilty being there because we had sort of the proper tie-back, you know, the white, you know, hooded body suits with the boots and the goggles and N-95 masks and gloves, double gloved. They looked at us as though we were space creatures. They were like we want that. That's what we need. You know, she was talking to us in a surgeon smock essentially. It's made paper, made of paper so she had to get rid of it every day.

The people who clean the floors, their masks, they were using multiple times, and you know, they don't have enough of those sort of basics. They have thousands of people that keep that one hospital afloat from the very top to the very bottom and they need everything, especially just the very basics, gloves, masks, goggles. A lot of doctors buying their own, a lot of people we spoke to there saying they stopped by Home Depot, they're on eBay. They're buying stuff at retail to bring it to work for others to use.

HARLOW: That is unbelievable. Stopping at Home Depot on their way to work to take care of these patients.

Miguel, we've heard Dr. Mollette talk about a disparity. A disparity in health care, disparity in availability of resources. This is a largely African-American population there. Many of them underserved. Many of them living at or below the poverty line. What are they actually facing there?

MARQUEZ: Well, everything from the health needs are one thing, but even the food, there's a food pantry not far from there, where the line stretched for two blocks for people to get food. They can deliver food to the elderly in that area, but they can't get food to all the people who actually need it as well, so they have a food pantry that have run out of food in large part. Last week it ran out of food. They're hoping for more food this coming week.

But from the health needs to just keeping people fed, and we're only a few weeks into this. This is going to get much tougher as the weeks and months progress, and, you know. talking to her was absolutely sobering. She said this is -- we're looking the end of the year. This is -- you know, they're hoping they're getting to the peak now, but it's looking like months and months, not weeks.


SCIUTTO: Miguel, good to have you here. It's important for folks to see that because it brings it home to them, right?

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: It shows them how real this is and we appreciate the risk you took as well.

HARLOW: Yes. To your whole team, yes. Thank you, Miguel.

MARQUEZ: Happy to.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, Dr. Anthony Fauci said this morning here on CNN that he would not be surprised to see 100,000 deaths in this country from the coronavirus. The places he says we should be focused on, going forward, next.

HARLOW: Also, as calls to 911 in New York City skyrocket, paramedics across this city making life or death decisions every single day. One will join us.

And experts say the impact of this crisis, well, what it's having on our children not being able to go to school, the impact on their education, we'll ask for a long time, what can parents, what can all of us do to help?



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. If you imagine, this is a localized problem focused on particular states, cities --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Just get rid of that thought because we're seeing it balloon in a number of places around the country. One of them, Louisiana where cases of coronavirus are surging. The state has the third most deaths now per capita in the U.S., that figure over 150.

HARLOW: It's getting so bad, New Orleans is converting a convention center into a hospital like what we're seeing here in New York, and now New Orleans mayor says police will enforce the city's stay-at-home order. Ed Lavandera reports.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Poppy and Jim, this is going to be a crucial week here in the state of Louisiana, and in particular, the city of New Orleans as the number of coronavirus cases in the state continues to spike by the hundreds every day. We are up to more than 3,500 coronavirus cases across the state of Louisiana, nearly 1,400 of those here in the city of New Orleans alone and there have been 151 deaths.


The governor says this week is crucial because by this -- by this weekend, they will have -- they will see and expect to see a shortage of ventilators. The governor has said he has requested some 12,000 ventilators for hospitals in the state, and that so far, he's only received 192, and that none of those, the governor says comes from the national stockpile. He says those requests have been made to FEMA and the federal government, but they're still awaiting word on getting those ventilators here.

Hospital officials say they're having to get creative with the way they're using their equipment because of this shortage. And this is significant because according to medical experts, we're still several weeks away from seeing the spike of -- the top spike of cases, of coronavirus cases here in this state. So that's why there's a great deal of concern.

And everybody knows, newer places like New Orleans is a very social place, and that is why state officials and city officials here in New Orleans are very worried about not enough people following the rules of social distancing. In fact, over the weekend, an arrest warrant was issued for a man who led a second-line parade as part of a funeral procession, and that arrest warrant had to be issued.

So state officials, city officials here issuing stern warnings to people to start taking these social distancing measures much more seriously. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Listen, we've all got to listen to those measures. Ed Lavandera, great to have you there. We're going to speak next hour to Louisiana's Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser. Now, in New Jersey, this is the nation's second hardest hit state so far with more than 13,000 coronavirus cases.

HARLOW: Governor Phil Murray warning the state is quote, "still way short" on critical medical supplies especially when it comes to ventilators. Joining us now is the commissioner from the New Jersey Department of Health, Judith Persichilli. Thank you so much Commissioner for being with us, I really appreciate your time.

Could you just give us a lay of the land in terms of where things stand right now in New Jersey because you've said, at 71 years old -- you don't look it, I only offer up your age because you have previously. But you said, "I'm definitely going to get it. We all are. I'm just waiting." JUDITH PERSICHILLI, COMMISSIONER, NEW JERSEY DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH:

Well, first of all, thank you for having us on. New Jersey is my home state. I have been here my whole life, and I have been in healthcare as you can imagine for almost over 50 years. And I -- this is an unprecedented situation that we're looking at.

We've all lived through HIV/AIDS, Anthrax, we've lived through Ebola, H1N1. At this point, I think we're taking every tool we have in our toolkit in New Jersey to deal with this unprecedented virus. On March 4th, we had our first case. Today, we're looking at 13,386 --


PERSICHILLI: Cases testing positive, and unfortunately and sadly 161 deaths.


PERSICHILLI: We are a very tight state. You can -- you can travel from north Jersey to south Jersey in three and a half hours. We have 71 acute care hospitals, just about 19,000 acute care beds and 2,000 --


PERSICHILLI: Critical care beds. Our goal and we started this work back in the early February, Governor Murphy signed an executive order calling for coronavirus task force. Our goal is to increase our critical care beds by 100 percent. We believe at the peak, we will need a little bit over 4,000 critical care beds, and --

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you --

PERSICHILLI: Close to --

SCIUTTO: Judith if I can because as you rattle off those numbers there, and a lot of states struggling now to get to the resources they need when they reach that expected peak. Is New Jersey getting the help it needs from the federal government to meet those needs, whether it'd be protective equipment, ventilators, et cetera?

PERSICHILLI: I know that Governor Murphy speaks frequently if not every day with the White House --

HARLOW: Oh, it looks like --

SCIUTTO: Oh, we lost her --

HARLOW: Looks like we lost her there. But --

SCIUTTO: We'll follow up and we'll get an answer --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: To that question for you. But at least, Poppy, an update there from a -- HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: State that's right across the river, of course --

HARLOW: Right --

SCIUTTO: From the hardest hit state.

HARLOW: Well, it's amazing, Jim, to think that she is on the frontlines of this, and feels like she's going to be a patient at some point. I mean, imagine focusing your care and your expertise around the clock, and then also knowing that you are so prone to this as well. OK!

SCIUTTO: Indeed. All right, well, thanks to her, we will get an answer to that question about what help New Jersey is --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Getting. Joining me now to discuss the medical issues, CNN medical analyst Dr. Celine Gounder; she's a clinical assistant professor of Medicine and Infectious Diseases at NYU Med School, also host of "The Epidemic" podcast.


Always great to have you on. I want to begin with this number now, a remarkable change in messaging from the White House. The president who just a month ago was saying that this thing was basically done, is now saying the bottom, almost setting a bottom of 100,000 deaths at least based on the models here, and Dr. Anthony Fauci echoing that. What is that based on? Why the confidence in that kind of death toll at this point?

CELINE GOUNDER, CLINICAL ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES AT NEW YORK UNIVERSITY MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, Jim, honestly, you know, doing some quick back of the envelope math, that sounds really optimistic to me. So if you think about it, 330 million Americans, let's say 10 percent are infected, and the case fatality rate is about 1 percent, that would be 330,000 deaths.

So to me that actually sounds -- you know, you just heard, you know, someone from New Jersey saying she just assumed she was going to be infected. I think a lot of people have assumed that. So in order to reach 100,000 deaths, we're really going to have to slam on the brakes and really take social distancing seriously across the country, but the only way to do that is to not have transmission, not have people getting infected.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Gounder, do we have a better sense of what the death rate is from this infection because when you look at the numbers, even the numbers on our screen, 700,000 cases around the world, 34,000 deaths, that corresponds to 4.6 percent death rate, if I have that right. And again, I know that, that total cases number we probably don't know because there hasn't been much testing and we have doubts about China's actual figures. You look in the U.S., that's about a 1.7 percent death rate. What's the best information?

GOUNDER: Well, it's really dependent on whether the health system is overrun or not. So, that's why, you know, we're talking about ventilators and so on because once your health system is overrun, once you cannot meet the demand, the need for ventilators, that means all of those people in excess of what we have, they're all going to die.

So that's when your case fatality rate shoots up, and that's why in Wuhan for example, based on much higher rates of death than they did in other parts of China, because they were completely overrun. You know, and I think that's what we're trying to prevent here.

SCIUTTO: Now tell us where we are then on the curve in the U.S. Every time we look at the U.S. figures, you know, we're still on this kind of steep precipice, right? Climbing the mountain, no sign of it slowing. Have we seen as a country any effect in the statistics from the social distancing that people like myself and others viewing are practicing right now?

GOUNDER: Well, we're still seeing cases on the increase, we're still seeing deaths on the increase. So, we have not reached the peak yet. And I think you're going to see the peak happen earlier in places like New York that were hit earlier than in other parts of the country. So it's going to be sort of a rolling wave.

But you know, in New York, we still haven't really seen the full impact of the social distancing measures implemented here. It takes at least two weeks following that, because that's the incubation period. But you know, even in New York, I have concerns. You know, I don't think it's really surprising that Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was so hard hit in the outer boroughs.

People still have been needing to take public transportation. We're seeing it in the public transit numbers, and it's because they cannot afford to stay home. These are not people who can telecommute. They're the drivers, the food delivery folks, you know, people who really have no choice.

SCIUTTO: Understood. And listen, there's been a lot of look at the New York subways as a possible transmission means for this. Dr. Gounder, so good to have you on, thanks so much for answering our questions this morning.

GOUNDER: Sure, good morning.

HARLOW: Jim, I'm so glad she said that because you know, I went to buy some oatmeal this morning, and the woman who is there every morning for us told me --


HARLOW: It took her three hours to get in on two different trains this morning. She said Uber, I can't afford it. It's you know, it's $70 --

SCIUTTO: Yes -- HARLOW: Each way, so this is --


HARLOW: Real. All right, paramedics and EMTs in New York are working non-stop to keep up with the skyrocketing 911 calls in the city, as their own ranks are being infected by coronavirus. Up next, we'll speak with one of those emergency responders on the frontline of this battle, what brought him to tears for the first time in his 17-year career.