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THE SITUATION ROOM
White House Holds Coronavirus Task Force Briefing; New One-Day Record With 500-Plus U.S Deaths Reported Today, Total Dead Nearing 3,000; Illinois Cases Top 5,000 As Chicago Becomes A Hot Spot; Navy Hospital Ship Comfort Arrives In New York; Patient Beds Line Hallways, Morgue Overflowing At NYC Hospital. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired March 30, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It's going to be things that we have available to us that we did not have before.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: OK. Please. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President, Scott -- thank you. Scott Gottlieb, your former FDA Commissioner, wrote a road map for recovery after coronavirus.
TRUMP: Yeah. Very interesting. I saw it.
QUESTION: He suggests -- the road map suggests that everybody wear a mask in public. Is that something that the task force thinks is a good idea?
TRUMP: Well, we haven't discussed it to that extent, but it's certainly something we could discuss. We're getting certainly the number of masks that you'd need. We are in the process of talking about things. I saw his suggestion on that. So we'll take a look at it. For a period of time, not forever. I mean we want our country back. We're not going to be wearing masks forever, but it could be for a short period of time.
After we get back into gear, people could -- I could see something like that happening for a period of time, but I would hope it would be a very limited period of time. Doctors -- they'll come back and say for the rest of our lives, we have to wear masks.
QUESTION: Is the road map also talks about doing GPS for social distancing, maybe following people's phones and hotels for isolation for people -- giving them free hotel rooms. Are those ideas that you're looking at?
TRUMP: Well, the GPS -- that's a very severe idea. I've been hearing about it -- GPS. So what happens? A siren goes off if you get too close to somebody? That's pretty severe. But he's somebody -- he was with me for a long time. He worked -- he did a great job at FDA.
So -- so we're going to -- we're taking a look. I just -- I just received it a little while ago. He sent it over. So, very good. Go ahead. Let's give it a shot.
QUESTION: Sir, what do you say to Americans who are upset with you over the way you...
TRUMP: Here we go.
QUESTION: -- downplayed this crisis over the last couple of months? We have it very much under control in this country. The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA. It's going to disappear. It's like a miracle. It will disappear.
March 4: "We have a very small number of people in this country infected."
March 10: "We're prepared. We're doing a great job with it. It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away."
TRUMP: Well, isn't it true? It will go away.
QUESTION: What do you say to Americans who believe that you got this wrong?
TRUMP: And I do want them to stay calm. And we are doing a great job. If you look at those individual statements, they're all true. Stay calm. It will go away. You know it -- you know it is going away, and it will go away. And we're going to have a great victory.
And it's people like you and CNN that say things like that. That -- it's why people just don't want to listen to CNN anymore. You could ask a normal question. The statements I made are: I want to keep the country calm. I don't want to panic in the country. I could cause panic much better than even you. I could do much -- I would make you look like a minor league player. But you know what? I don't want to do that.
I want to have our country be calm and strong, and fight and win, and it will go away. And it is incredible the job that all of these people are doing -- putting them all together -- the job that they're doing.
I am very proud of the job they're doing, that Mike Pence is doing, that the task force has done, that Honeywell and Procter & Gamble and Mike, and all of these people have done. I'm very proud. it's almost a miracle, and it is -- the way it's all come together.
And instead of asking a nasty, snarky question like that, you should ask a real question. And other than that, I'm going to go to somebody else.
Please, go ahead. Please.
QUESTION: You expressed some concern in the past that medical supplies were going out the back door...
QUESTION: -- and that, perhaps, some hospitals were doing things worse than hoarding.
TRUMP: Well, I expressed what was told to me by a tremendous power in the business. He said that, at a New York hospital, for a long period of time, he was giving 10,000, maybe maximum 20,000 masks over a short time. And all of a sudden, he's giving 300,000. And I said, No matter how bad this is, could that be possible? He said, No. So there's only a couple of things that could happen. Is it going out the back door?
And I've reported it to the city and let the city take a look at it. But when you go from 10,000 masks to 300,000 masks, Mike, over the same period of time, there's something going on. Now, I'm not making any charges, but when everyone is looking for masks -- and, by the way, that's another thing: We're making a lot of masks. And the sterilization process is going to save a lot of time and a lot of masks.
But when you have the biggest distributor of product that distributes to many of the big hospitals and hospital chains, and he brings up a statistic like that -- and I know you're trying to make a big deal out of it, but you shouldn't be. You should actually go over to the hospital and find out why. You shouldn't be asking me. I'm just saying that's the way it is.
QUESTION: Are you...
TRUMP: You should go over there as a great reporter. I have no idea who you are, but that's OK. You should go over there, go to the hospital, and find out: How come you used to get 10,000 masks and you had a full hospital?
New York City, always full. And how come now you have 300,000 masks? Despite the virus and all, you have three -- -- how do you go from 10 [thousand] to 300,000? And this is very serious stuff. I mean, I could see from 10 to 20, or from 10 to 40 or 50 or something. But how do you go from 10 [thousand] to 300,000 masks?
So what I think you should do as a -- I'm sure you're a wonderful investigative reporter. You should go to the hospital and find out why.
QUESTION: Are you asking your DOJ to look into it, sir?
TRUMP: Steve, please.
QUESTION: You said there's challenging times ahead in the next 30 days. What's the U.S. economy going to look like when (OFF-MIKE) the other side?
TRUMP: Well, it's so bad for the economy, but the economy is number two on my list. First, I want to save a lot of lives. We're going to get the economy back. I think the economy is going to come back very fast. Steve is just asking about the economy, what's it like. We basically
shut down our country, and we did that in order to keep people separated, keep people apart. They're not working in offices, they're not in airplanes together. You know, we really shut it down.
And 150, 151 other countries are pretty much shut down. But here, we're the -- we had the greatest economy in the world. We had the greatest economy in the history of our country. And I had to go from doing a great job for three years to shutting it down. But you know what? We're going to build it up and we're going to build it up rapidly. And I think, in the end, we'll be stronger for it. We learned a lot. We learned a lot.
And I have to say, we've had great relationships with a lot of countries. China sent us some stuff, which was terrific. Russia sent us a very, very large planeload of things, medical equipment, which was very nice. Other countries sent us things that I was very surprised at, very happily surprised.
We learned a lot. We're learning a lot. And we're also learning that the concept of borders is very important, Steve. It's very important. Having borders is very, very important.
But we have done an incredible job. The economy is going to come back. My focus is saving lives. That's the only focus I can have. We're going to bring the economy back and we'll bring it back fast.
QUESTION: To follow up --
TRUMP: Go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. President --
QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. You said several times that the United States has ramped up testing. I will just talk a little quicker -- or a little louder.
Mr. President, you said several times that the United States has ramped up testing, but the United States is still not testing per capita as many people as other countries like South Korea. Why is that? And when do you think that that number will be on par with other countries?
And Dr. --
TRUMP: Yeah, well, it's very much on par.
QUESTION: Not per capita...
TRUMP: Look -- look -- per capita. We have areas of country that's very tight. I know South Korea better than anybody. It's a -- very tight. Do you know how many people are in Seoul? Do you know how big the city of Seoul is?
QUESTION: But the question is about...
TRUMP: Thirty-eight million people. That's bigger than anything we have. Thirty-eight million people all tightly wound together.
We have vast farmlands. We have vast areas where they don't have much of a problem. In some cases, they have no problem whatsoever. We have done more tests. What I didn't -- I didn't talk about per capita. We have done more tests, by far, than any country in the world, by far.
Our testing is also better than any country in the world. And when you look at that, as simple as that looks, that's something that's a game changer, and every country wants that. Every country.
So rather than asking a question like that, you should congratulate the people that have done this testing, because we inherited -- this administration inherited a broken system, a system that was obsolete, a system that didn't work. It was OK for a tiny, small group of people, but once you got beyond that, it didn't work.
We have built an incredible system to the fact, where we have now done more tests than any other country in the world. And now the technology is really booming.
I just spoke to -- well, I spoke to a lot. I'm not going to even mention. I spoke to a number of different testing companies today, and the job that they've done and the job that they're doing is incredible.
But when Abbott comes out and does this so quickly, it's really unreal. In fact, one company, I have to say, that stands out in the job -- and I think I can say this; I don't want to insult anybody else -- but Roche. Roche has been incredible in the testing job they've done. And they're ramping it up exponentially. It's up, up, up, up. And you should be saying congratulations instead of asking a really snarky question, because I know exactly what you mean by that.
You should be saying congratulations to the men and women who have done this job, who have inherited a broken testing system, and who have made it great. And if you don't say it, I will say it. I want to congratulate all of the people. You have done a fantastic job.
And we will see you all tomorrow. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: All right, so the president of the United States, spending about -- almost an hour in the Rose Garden right now updating us on the latest developments.
And he started with an important statement, saying that he believes the peak will be in another two weeks. Presumably, then it will begin to go down. He says he's saving at least one million, maybe two million American lives by going ahead with these new restrictions, these social distancing guidelines, keeping them until the end of April.
We have heard earlier in the day from his medical experts there could be 100,000 deaths here in the United States over the next few weeks, maybe as many as 200,000. But the president keeps saying that's obviously a lot less than two million deaths.
John King, you were listening as closely as anyone to what the president had to say. What stood out to you?
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the most important thing by far is the significant turnaround from the president on the policy, Wolf, the president now saying, America is on lockdown, at least through the month of April, possibly longer.
He says his job is about saving lives. Bringing the economy back will come after that. That is the most important thing by far that has happened at the White House in the last 24 hours.
But yet again in that briefing, we see sometimes the president loves to have combat with reporters, especially when they ask questions about accountability. Jim Acosta asked him about his own words at the beginning of this, minimizing things.
Yamiche Alcindor tried to ask him again about the testing issues that we have across the country. And she asked a very fair question. South Korea has tested more of its citizens on a per capita basis. That is a fact.
The president had his box at the White House today. He likes props, the new Abbott Laboratory test. Let's hope it's a game-changer.
But even on that call with governors again today, a lot of governors said, we don't have enough testing kits yet, or we don't have all the pieces of the kits yet to do what we need to do to figure out the scope of this virus in our states.
So this is still an issue in the states. The president does not like questions about accountability.
Two other quick things. He said at one point there, a month ago, nobody had heard of this. The first case in China was confirmed on January 7. That's more than a month ago. The first case in the United States in Washington state was confirmed on January 21, two weeks after the case in China.
That is 10 weeks ago. That is not a month ago.
Another thing, we always see, Wolf, this disconnect. Some of it matters, some of it not so much, but a disconnect between the president and his tone and his top two scientists, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.
The president said, I hope it doesn't come back, meaning a cyclical revival of the virus later this fall -- maybe this fall, when the school year starts up again. The president said they hope it doesn't happen.
Dr. Fauci comes up and says, you should anticipate it will happen. The president was asked, do you plan to have a nationwide lockdown? So many of these states saying stay-at-home orders. He was asked, should we have a national one of those? He said he didn't think that was necessary because in some places of the country they don't have it or they have very little of it or they're doing just fine.
Dr. Birx said she urged every governor and every mayor to think about this, because there are still some states and some communities that have no restrictions or very loose restrictions. It is clear his public health team wishes they would ramp those up.
But the president won't tell them to do it.
BLITZER: Yes, even in areas where there are maybe two or three or four cases right now, she specifically said that, within a few days, there could double, there could be two, then four, then 40, and then 400 very, very quickly. That could explode, as it has in New York City, for example.
So we're watching that closely.
I want to go to Jim Acosta, our chief White House correspondent, who was listening very carefully.
You were there in the Rose Garden.
You asked the president a question he didn't like. He suggested in response to you, Jim, that he simply wanted to keep the country calm, that's why he was making those statements.
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf.
I mean, that was the explanation that the president gave, that he didn't want to cause any panic during the run-up to the crisis we're in the middle of right now, and that was why he was saying things along the lines of, everything is under control and that sort of thing.
But, Wolf, he said it so many times, I think it does raise the question as to whether or not he was either intentionally downplaying the severity of the crisis that was on its way, or he wasn't listening to his medical experts.
You will recall there was a period for a couple of weeks where Dr. Fauci and President Trump were just not on the same page when it came to what was going on as these cases were building up here in the United States.
So I asked him about that, pressed him on that. Obviously, he didn't like the question. And at one point, he described the job that his administration is doing, the people inside his administration as being almost a miracle. Obviously, people around the country right now who are going through
some pretty difficult times would, I think, disagree with that. It has not been almost a miracle. It's been anything but that. And it seems, over the past couple of weeks, what this administration has been trying to do is sort of get its sea legs in responding to this crisis.
The other thing we should point out -- and I think John King was just mentioning this a few moments ago -- when Yamiche Alcindor from PBS was pressing the president on the number of tests in this country, you heard that at the very beginning of this news conference, the president touting the number of tests, Secretary Azar from HHS touting the number of tests that have been rolled out.
But as Yamiche was pointing out, we are still far behind what has been done in places like South Korea, where, per capita, they have conducted many more tests, because, obviously, they have a smaller population.
So to be in the same ballpark as the United States, obviously, they have been able to blanket their country with the kind of tests. And why is that important? As we know, Wolf, from listening to experts like Dr. Fauci, they need that testing to be done around the country sort of fanned out across many of these hot spots in places like New York, so they have a sense as to how big the problem is in specific parts of the country.
That will allow the administration, federal health authorities and so on to be able to respond to this crisis and this pandemic. They can't do that without adequate testing spread out across the country.
And so, Wolf, when the president is called to account for things he has said in the past and the job this administration is doing, he gets very upset about it. At one point, he said he wanted to be congratulated for all of this. Obviously, reporters in the Rose Garden covering the White House are not here to congratulate the president.
We're here to hold his feet to the fire -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, good point. Stand by.
I want to bring in our Daniel Dale. He's our CNN fact-checker.
You listen, obviously, Daniel, very closely. Any inaccuracies? What did you hear?
DANIEL DALE, CNN REPORTER: Yes.
So, Wolf, what we're seeing from Trump is a pattern now. We have seen this for the last two days, where he reflexively denies the premise of a reporter's question, even when the premise is entirely accurate.
And so you saw that today with Jim Acosta, who recited quotes to him from before where he repeatedly downplayed the crisis. One of the quotes was that the virus will just go away. And Trump said today, that's true. It is going away.
That's a -- that's a come on, Wolf. I mean, he omitted when he said that before the fact that they were be thousands and thousands of deaths before it did eventually, hopefully, go away.
And then when Yamiche Alcindor asked him today about South Korea and testing and said, when are we going to get on par in terms of per capita numbers, he reflectively said, it's very much on par.
It's not on par at all. As of late last week, South Korea per capita was testing three times as many people as the United States was testing. So when the -- when Trump keeps denying what reporters are asking him, without giving it too much thought, he's often inaccurate in his own denials.
BLITZER: An important point as well.
Sanjay Gupta is with us, our chief medical correspondent.
From a medical point of view, what stood out to you, Sanjay?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think there were there were a few things, Wolf.
First of all, this idea that the country -- there are places around the country where there are few cases, and, just a few days ago, Wolf, there was this idea being floated maybe we could start to open up those areas of the country, I thought it was very interesting today.
Ambassador Birx actually said,, look, when you start to really look at this data, even if there are fewer cases in some of these states, what you're seeing is a pattern, a curve, that very much is similar to what we're seeing in other places around the country, these so-called hot spots.
Even though it may be earlier in the curve, that's what we're starting to see. And that's why I think she raised some concern, look, we could have a couple cases now, but it could go to 20, it could go to 400. And that can happen pretty quickly.
And the president even mentioned that, in Louisiana last week, there were there -- I guess, two weeks ago, there weren't that many cases. And now it's one of the most -- one of the fastest growing in the country in terms of newly diagnosed coronavirus patients.
I think this is going to raise this question, Wolf. And I think it's going to have to be answered at some point. Should we keep doing this in a piecemeal fashion around the country, having all these various curves?
In New York, it's expected to peak middle of April, the number of patients with coronavirus, in Florida, middle of May. Could there be other places around the country, like where I am here in Georgia, where they're probably still not doing enough?
They don't really have a sort of a broad stay-at-home order here in the state of Georgia. So are we going to see even a later peak there? Is this just going to draw this out further and further?
I think that's going to be a big, important question. You know, Wolf, obviously, this is a big country. But there have been other countries smaller, admittedly, that have done these lockdowns and have probably had some good results to show.
Also, Wolf, just quickly, because this keeps coming up again and again, this personal protective equipment, why is so much of it being used, I think, was a question that was asked a few times today.
Look, I can tell you, Wolf, in hospitals, now, when you see patients in the emergency room, when you're seeing them on rounds, when you're seeing them in all these various capacities, doctors, nurses, therapists, everyone, they're working into the assumption, this patient might have the novel coronavirus.
That means every time you're seeing a new patient, you have to be wearing personal protective equipment. That's very different than the situation was, you know, obviously a month or two months ago.
That's why, all of a sudden, you need to have 10, 20, 30 times more of this personal protective equipment. I have heard from hospitals that say they have gone through their entire season's supply of this equipment within a week or two.
So that is part of, I think, what explains this difference in numbers, Wolf, when it comes to PPE?
BLITZER: Yes, that's a very important point.
Sanjay, I want you to stand by, everybody to stand by. We have a lot more to assess.
And, Sanjay, I'm also interested in getting your thoughts on what we heard from Dr. Fauci that, even if it begins to go down right now, there could be a seasonal return in the fall, wave two of this virus. What happens then?
Much more of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after a very quick break.
BLITZER: Welcome back to our special coverage. I'm Wolf Blitzer here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Sanjay, we were talking earlier about what Dr. Fauci said that, potentially, he said he has no doubt this virus, this coronavirus, could return for round two in the fall, sort of a seasonal, once it starts getting a little colder out there.
What did you think of his response? GUPTA: Well, I think he's been very clear about this now the last
couple times he's spoken.
In the past, when he was asked if this was likely to be seasonal, he sort of said, look, it's a new virus. We're going to have to wait and see. I think what he has seen is that, in the Southern Hemisphere of the world, Wolf, as it starts to get cooler down there, you're starting to see evidence of increased transmission.
So it really means two things. I mean, one is that seasonal variation does mean that we might get a little bit of benefit in the Northern Hemisphere as the weather gets warmer. The virus may not transmit as easily.
And that obviously would be a good thing. But, as you point out, Wolf, that means, as the weather gets cooler, the virus hasn't really gone away. And it's likely to come back and start spreading more easily.
I will say that Dr. Fauci did point out that, even though that that's quite likely a scenario, he believes that in the fall, in the cooler weather, that hopefully our testing will be improved by that point, so the diagnostics won't be as much of an issue for wave two as it was for wave one.
There's also many trials going on right now, Wolf, for these antiviral medications. We have reported on some of them. By the time the fall rolls around, there hopefully may be some luck and some benefit to actually having one of these antivirals going through the trial process and being approved.
And even the vaccine, everyone knows it -- a year to a year-and-a-half away. But Dr. Fauci said something very interesting, first time I have heard him really say that, in this last press conference, where he said, look, even earlier than a year, if we got what he called -- quote -- "an efficacy signal," meaning something that showed that the vaccine was actually working, he seemed to allude to the idea that maybe it could be dispensed, given to people even a little earlier.
I don't want to -- I'm going to dig into that a little bit more, Wolf. That would obviously be a big thing. But two points came out of it. There is likely to be a wave two, which means wave one may come to a slowdown, and that hopefully, for that wave two, we should be better prepared, Wolf.
He said, "I would anticipate that will happen in the fall," the return of the coronavirus. But you're right. He was -- he said, in his words, it would be a totally different ball game because of all the new therapeutic treatments that are under consideration right now, all the things the U.S. medical authorities have learned as a result of this.
And you're correct about the vaccine. While there could be some new therapies, the vaccine maybe is at least potentially a year away, maybe even longer. So he was very blunt with that.
All right, Gloria Borger is with us as well.
Gloria, anxious to get your thoughts on what we heard.
GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think that, today, what we heard is a president again who wants to tell the American public that things are under control, it is getting better, that we are doing huge amounts of testing, and that the states are getting all the equipment that they need, and showing us a new test that would take a very short period of time.
I think what we need to hear from more are the governors, because they had a phone call with the president earlier today. And there were governors, particularly from some rural states or from some smaller states, who say, we are not getting our fair share, we are trying, and we are trying to do contact tracing, which is what Governor Bullock of Montana was talking about, which is, we are trying to find where this is coming from, so we can help our citizens as they self-isolate.
And they weren't -- they weren't getting the response that they wanted. So there was a little bit of going back and forth. And I think this isn't an issue -- this is an issue that we have seen in the past, and it keeps coming up, which is that the states believe that the supplies are not being distributed equally, as they should be, to the smaller, more rural states, as opposed to just the larger states, like New York, who now have a tremendous need.
But, in the future, as this spreads -- and Sanjay can talk about it -- it is the -- it is the states in the parts of the country that haven't been hit so strongly that are going to get it next.
BLITZER: That's an important point as well. John King is still with us. John, the president said he perhaps is open to some sort of nationwide stay-at-home order although he hasn't decided to that yet, because some parts of the country, they are hot zones, hot spots, right now but other parts of the country have only a few cases.
JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He said he thought it was unlikely he would do a national stay-at-home order but he said it was something he would think of. But even that, again, just think of how far that is from where the president was just last week when he was talking about easing the restrictions that were supposed to expire on the Easter Sunday -- on Monday, sorry, on Monday. And we thought that he was going to extend it to Easter because he said he wanted to reopen the country after Easter. Now he says, all the way through April and possibly through May as well.
So the president has made a dramatic shift. He did not sound ready to do a national stay-at-home order. But look what's happening just today. The governor of Maryland has done it, the governor of Virginia has done it, the mayor of District of Columbia here in the D.C. region.
The governor of Arizona just did it out in the west. So we have seen governors who have been slower to decide that this would require drastic steps, especially some red state governors who have decided, you know, I'm not sure this would be popular if I used this much executive power. We're seeing a wide use of executive power to tell people to stay at home, to shutdown economies.
And so the president said he was not there yet, but he didn't think it would be necessary, not likely he would do that. But, again, what was interest in me is Dr. Birx came up right after him and said, maybe the president doesn't want a national one, but she urged every governor and mayor to look at this and look again at it. Because the point she can't make, and Sanjay was talking about this, you can look at cases -- you can go to states where there are maybe 100 cases or 200 cases, you can go to states where there are 500 or 800 cases, you can go to states where they're in the thousands, you can go to states where they're higher than that. And her point was, when you look at the track, every one of them, whatever the number is, the raw number is, every one of them is doing the same arc, the same arc up.
And so, she is definitely a fan of prolonged social distancing and other restrictions. The administration's position now is that states, you know, governors and mayors should be doing this, but we shall see. I think it really depends, and Sanjay is far on this than I am on, what the track shows us over the next 10 to 12 days, whether New York starts to bend the curve, whether some of the states that started enacting social distancing earlier, like California, whether they start to bend the curve. If you see it starting to works, I think you will see pressure for the states that have it to keep it on, for the state that don't have it, maybe to ramp it up a little bit.
But I think the next 10 to 12 days of our lives are going to be fascinating from a data stand point. They're also going to be incredibly sad of the number stand point, especially as the death count goes up.
BLITZER: Yes, right now approaching 3,000 dead here in the United States. And Dr. Fauci is saying, I wouldn't be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths in the United State.
Jim Acosta, the president also did say he wants to keep the current -- the social distancing guidelines in place, at least until April 30th, throughout the entire month. He also said he wants to keep in place all the travel restrictions that have been imposed. But on both counts, he suggested maybe he would even be tougher in both areas.
ACOSTA: That right, Wolf. That was one, I think, piece of news coming out of his press conference as well, is that the president seemed to suggest that the nation is going to maintain essentially where we are right now, in terms of the social distancing guidelines and the travel restriction, and if anything, go beyond that. And we're going to get more details on that tomorrow, or at least we're scheduled to at tomorrow's coronavirus task force briefing.
One other thing we want to point out, Wolf, is that at one point during this press conference, the president said that he knows South Korea better than anybody, when the question was raised contrasting and comparing the way U.S. has tested people versus South Korea. And the president said he knows South Korea very well. And he went on to say that Seoul, South Korea has a population of 38 million people. We should note to our viewers it's around 9 to 10 million people. And so he was wrong about that, had that little piece of information wrong there.
It's another one of those reasons, Wolf, why I think these briefings could be, I think, better designed. The president could come out, say a few words in terms of what his administration is doing, not have these, you know, P.R. stunts, like Mr. Pillow coming out and giving a plug for his company, and that sort of thing.
And let us hear more from Dr. Birx. Let us hear more from Dr. Fauci. At one point, Dr. Birx said -- you know, she was asked about that comment she made earlier today that if everybody does everything the way that they should, we may only have 100,000 to 200,000 deaths.
And she went on to reiterate that people need to follow very closely these social distancing guidelines issued by the CDC. And, Wolf, we can underline that enough that people need to do that in order to keep as many people as healthy as possible, Wolf.
BLITZER: Very important indeed. And we just learned, by the way, Jim, that there -- today, as of today, right now, 502 people here in the United States have died as a result of coronavirus. That's more on a single day so far that has taken place in the past.
The numbers keep going up and up and up, nearly 3,000 people are dead, nearly 3,000 as a result of coronavirus in the United States.
We have a lot more news coming up in The Situation Room. Just ahead, I will speak live with the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot, there you see her, as that city is emerging as a coronavirus hot spot. Is she getting what she needs from the White House? We'll ask her when we come back.
BLITZER: We are following the breaking news, the number of coronavirus deaths reported in the United States today topping 500 right now. That's a new one-day record here in the United States. And the total number of deaths in this country now approaching 3,000.
In Illinois, the number of coronavirus cases has now climbed to above 5,000 and Chicago is now emerging as a hot spot for the outbreak.
We're joined now by the mayor of Chicago, Lori Lightfoot. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know an incredible busy day for yourself.
You just heard the president reiterate the extension of the federal social distancing guidelines through the end of April. Could a similar announcement be coming at a local level for residents of Chicago? MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D) CHICAGO, IL: Look, I think that we are looking at this somewhat kind of modeling both here in Chicago and across our state. We think we are several weeks away at this point from the peak of the virus. And even once we reach that peak, we're still going to be in a bit of a danger zone.
So what I have been telling my folks is that we need to prepare for a marathon, not a sprint because we're going to be in this for, I think, a minimum through the end of April, if not, longer.
BLITZER: So no stay at home order in Chicago yet? Because I ask the question, because in Maryland, Virginia, D.C., they announced stay-at- home orders from the governors and the mayor today.
LIGHTFOOT: No, we definitely have a stay-at-home order. That was announced by our governor about ten days ago. And I have taken some very specific, concrete steps here in Chicago to make sure that we're compliant with that order. That order runs now through April 7. But I certainly expect that that will be extended.
BLITZER: Yes, that's the anticipation.
As you know, Dr. Anthony Fauci is now estimating that perhaps 100,000 people in the United States could die from this virus. Almost 3,000 are dead right now. This comes as Chicago is announcing plans to convert the huge McCormick place convention center into a care facility for coronavirus patients. What can you tell us about this effort and other steps you are taking to prevent a staggering loss of life in Chicago?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, we've been doing a number of things for some time now. Obviously, making sure that our healthcare system is viable, as one of the top priorities. So we've done, in addition to supporting the current hospitals who are treating patients that either have been diagnosed or under investigation for coronavirus, asking them to stretch their capacity for ICU beds, because that's a the really key indicator in how the virus is really taking hold in a city and having that additional ICU capacity is important to relieve the stress on the hospitals.
We've entered into contracts with hotels. We have about 3,000 hotel beds as a stepdown or for people who need to quarantine but don't need acute care that they would otherwise get in a hospital. And as you mentioned, we've entered into an agreement with the state and the Army Corps of Engineers to build out one of our large convention spaces here in Chicago so that we can have, in effect, a field hospital to add additional capacity.
In addition to that, at the state level, we are looking at three hospitals in the Chicago region that have closed down in recent years and reopening them to expand our hospital capacity. We don't know exactly what the number is going to be, but we know that we have to be prepared for a large number of hospitalizations. Our current modeling looks at about 40,000 hospitalizations just in Chicago by the end of April. So we need to be prepared because that far exceeds what our current capacity is. BLITZER: As you heard, the administration is insisting that the number of coronavirus tests that have been conducted here in the United States is a million now. Do healthcare providers in Chicago have access to enough testing material right now?
LIGHTFOOT: No, no one does. No one anymore in the country has access to enough tests. We are expanding our testing capacity as best we can. Abbot Laboratories have just received FDA approval on a more rapid test and that shows a lot of potential, but even they can only produce about 50,000 of these tests a day. That's not enough. But we're trying to do everything that we can under the current circumstances.
But I've heard that the president said today that we're doing more testing than any place else in the world. That's just simply not true. If you look at us on a per capita basis, as you must, we're still way below other countries in the amount of testing that we're doing, which is hindering our abilities to respond effectively to this crisis of our lifetime.
BLITZER: What is your city's greatest need right now?
LIGHTFOOT: Well, our greatest need right now, as we build up additional hospital capacity, is making sure that we get the staffing to go along with it.
So, we're going to build out McCormick Place. We've got all this hotel availability. We're looking at other hospitals, but you go to have the medical staff to be able to do that.
So, we've been in conversation with the state about things that they can do to relax some of the licensing standards, make sure that we give health care providers who are coming up and volunteering some waivers against liability. That's all going to be necessary if we're really going to meet this healthcare challenge that we have.
BLITZER: Mayor, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks in Chicago. Thank you so much for joining.
LIGHTFOOT: Thank you, Wolf. Appreciate all the work that you're doing.
BLITZER: Well, thank you. Thank you very much.
Just ahead, the U.S. Navy medical ship Comfort has arrived in New York, as we're learning more about the worsening conditions at a very hard hit hospital in the city. We'll update you on that when we come back.
BLITZER: New York City's overwhelmed hospital system just got some desperately needed reinforcements. U.S. Navy medical ship Comfort has arrived with hundreds of medical staff and patients onboard. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is over at New York harbor for us.
Shimon, how many patients will this floating hospital be able to treat, and how soon will it open?
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so the ship behind me should be able to take in about 1,000 patients, we're told.
Obviously, this is a full hospital. There's an operating room. There's all sorts of equipment, 12 operating rooms. There's equipment aboard the ship. There are doctors and nurses and all sorts of staff that will help relieve some of the pressure that hospitals in this city are facing.
Within days, we expect them to start taking in patients. And keep in mind, Wolf, of course, what's key about this is that they are not going to be taking patients who have coronavirus. That is still going to remain at the hospitals.
Here, it's going to be patients who are not suffering from COVID, have other ailments that need hospitalization. They're going to be brought here, Wolf.
BLITZER: What are you learning, Shimon, about the state of some of New York's worst hit hospitals?
PROKUPECZ: So it's really getting to a point where a lot of doctors and nurses are feeling that they're on the brink. They're on the brink. I spoke to a doctor today who told me and I'm quoting her that we are at the brink of not being able to care for patients.
This is a doctor at Elmhurst Hospital which has really taken the brunt of this, which has taken in a lot of patients certainly in the last week with people suffering from coronavirus. What's really significant there is that the number of critical patients they have I'm told by some of these doctors there are nurses that are caring for up to 30 patients in some cases, Wolf. And it's going to get worse, they say, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, so sad, indeed. All right. Shimon, thank you very much.
As the coronavirus related death toll in New York now surpasses 1,200, New York's governor says almost 10,000 people are currently hospitalized across the state.
CNN's Miguel Marquez went inside a New York City hospital for an exclusive and truly remarkable look at how one facility is trying to handle this crisis.
Miguel is joining us now live.
What are you learning, Miguel?
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Sobering is what I can tell you. We were at Brookdale in Brooklyn. On a good day, this is a hospital that has plenty coming through the front door to keep them busy. Coronavirus is pushing this hospital right to the 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 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?
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. It 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, right 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, 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.
MARQUEZ: Now, what was most clear from covering this story and going in that ward and it was shocking and sobering to see is that talking to Dr. Mollette, it's very clear, we are in the first inning of a very, very long game and we just don't know how long it's going to go on -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We saw you in all that protective equipment, and clearly, it was required. You seem to be more protected, Miguel, than some of the tech -- some of the medical personnel you were dealing with.
MARQUEZ: Yes, it was almost embarrassing because they looked at us as though we'd arrived from another planet. They were like that's the gear we want. We need to be in that sort of gear. That's the way it should be, the coated gear, the white stuff with the boots and gloves and goggles and masks.
They -- you know, I've heard from nurses who say they're down to their last box of gloves. They -- the doctor I spoke to was wearing a paper scrub for surgery. They basically need everything and need it quickly. They're running out fast -- Wolf.
All right. Excellent, Miguel. Thank you so much. Thanks to your, your producers and everyone else. A really important inside look.
And to our viewers, thanks very much for watching. We're going to continue to stay on top this coronavirus crisis. It's a huge crisis. We'll try to share as much information with you as we possibly can. Stay safe.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.