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Inside New York Hospital on the Front Line of Outbreak; Louisiana Struggles to Enforce Social Distancing; Coronavirus Pandemic Taking a Toll on People's Financial Lives. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired March 31, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So, just ahead on the show --


DR. ARABIA MOLLETTE, ER DOCTOR, BROOKDALE HOSPITAL: It's a war zone. It's a medical war zone. Every day I come in what I see on a daily basis is pain.


CURNOW: The ICU is at full capacity and the morgue is overflowing. We have an exclusive look inside a New York City hospital overwhelmed with coronavirus patients.

Plus, it has been a devastating few weeks for the U.S. economy and economists are warning this week will likely see millions more layoffs.

Also, Spain now has more coronavirus cases than China, but security concerns and lack of equipment have many doctors and nurses refusing to show up for work. We're live in Madrid for that.


CURNOW: So great to have you along with us this hour.

We begin, of course, in the United States where more than 3,000 people have died due to the coronavirus. Monday was the deadliest day yet. We know at least 574 people died and the rallying cry around the country is stay at home, a call that even came from the U.S. president, Donald Trump, who just recently was suggesting that people would be out and about by Easter. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: By very vigorously following these guidelines, we can save more than 1 million American lives, and this is a very vital 30 days. We're sort of putting it all on the line, this 30 days. Over 1 million Americans have now been tested, more than any other country by far.


CURNOW: So, right now, more than 3/4 of people in the U.S. are under some form of stay at home order. Life in cities, towns, counties has ground to a halt, but infectious disease experts say they had no choice. It was that or millions of deaths, and to make matters worse, we're also looking at a potential round 2 in the fall.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: In fact, I would anticipate that that would actually happen because of the degree of transmissibility.

However, if you come back in the fall, it will be a totally different ball game of what happened when we first got hit with it in the beginning of this year. There will be several things that will be different. Our ability to go out and be able to test, identify, isolate and contact trace would be orders of magnitude better than what it was just a couple of months ago.


CURNOW: So the U.S. now has the most confirmed coronavirus cases in the world surpassing China and Italy. Health care workers are facing an uphill battle as they run low on ventilators, basic protective gear and space for the dead.

One hard hit Brooklyn hospital gave CNN exclusive access to see how dire the action is. Miguel Marquez takes us inside. He has this piece.


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. But 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 haul, 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. 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. And 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.

Miguel Marquez, CNN, Brooklyn, New York.


CURNOW: Dr. Mikhail Varshavski joining me from New York.

Dr. Mike, wow. I mean, what a piece. What a brave doctor. So many of them on the front lines.

For you as a doctor listening to that, the reality inside of hospitals, what are your thoughts?

DR. MIKHAIL VARSHAVSKI, FAMILY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Well, it's very powerful listening to that message, but it's something I see when I work in my hospital on the front lines as well. The fact that we are coming together though as a nation, we are following the guidelines, we are staying home.


I know the media likes to show images of people who are disobeying these orders, and while they are in existence, they're few and far between. When -- I mean, I live a few blocks from Times Square, New York City. And on Saturday night at 9:00 p.m. when it's supposed to be the busiest time of the year for Times Square, there's not a soul there.

I think that's something to be said of how we're coming together as a nation, and we're really trying to do our best, our part, in order to decrease this virus's effect on our nation.

CURNOW: Yes, no, you make an excellent point. So many people are heeding the call. That must be applauded.

Also, I mean, I just really want to applaud the sacrifices doctors like you and nurses are making every single day. I think it's something many people recognize. I just want to bring up the latest "New Yorker" cover. It's a very

powerful image of a doctor face timing their own family back home while they're in the wards.

How does that make you feel looking at this image?

VARSHAVSKI: Yes, I've seen that image. It's a really powerful one. You know, not all of us have children but we all have families and we like to think of those families during our hard times because that is what we're there for. If we're not there for them specifically directly for them, we're there thinking about them.

When we try to imagine the patients that we take care of, their families, and we really put our lives on the line and then our family's lives on the line because we can potentially be bringing this virus home to our families. So, I think, now, more than ever we need to applaud those on the front line -- the nurses, the health care professionals, the janitorial staff, everyone involved in taking care of patients, because they're all putting their lives on the line.

You know, we have these rules that we're putting out into the society, speaking about six feet apart from one another. Many people think that that's 100 percent safe, meaning that if you go out, you stay 6 feet away from everybody, you're going to be perfectly covered. That's not true. That's advice we give to people like doctors, like nurses who have to go out, who have to workday in and day out and we try to keep them safe by giving them these guidelines but they're not 100 percent safe. There are well over 100 health care professionals that have succumb and died to COVID-19.

So, we need to take a moment and keep those health care providers on our minds.

CURNOW: Yes, and let's take a moment and recognize one of them, Dr. James Goodrich. He was the neurosurgeon that you might remember, I know many of our viewers around the world and the U.S. who will remember.

He was the man who helped to separate the twins Anias and Jadon McDonald. He has died from complications related to COVID-19. I know our Dr. Sanjay Gupta spent an enormous amount of time with him. Just another recognition of how --

VARSHAVSKI: Yes, the virus doesn't care about your status. It doesn't care about the color of your skin, your national. It's a violent virus.

And people who say this is like the flu, it's nothing to worry about, they are dead wrong and they ought to pay attention to how serious this is, how fast it can spread and what a mess it can make of our health care system if we don't take it seriously.

CURNOW: And you said obviously paying attention to the fact that many Americans, many people around the world who are watching this are home and there for the foreseeable future. We understand 3/4 of the U.S. is at some stay at home order. What about the other quarter, what do you say to them?

VARSHAVSKI: Well, you know, I think it depends where they live. I actually spoke to Dr. Anthony Fauci from the CDC coronavirus task force about this last week. And we mentioned how different pockets of the United States are going to react to this current coronavirus, depending on how many cases you have is how much we're going to be enforcing this lockdown.

We're actually going to be conducting trials in smaller counties and smaller cities and lifting some of these restrictions once we see a plateau and drop-off in cases. And only once we get the research done in those areas will we start extrapolating that into the smaller cities, like New York.

You know, I live in New York City and this is one of the hardest hit cities. So I don't expect those restrictions to be opening up anytime soon. But in other areas, in more rural areas, when you have more social distancing that happens naturally, I can see them coming off sooner.

CURNOW: Yes. But we don't want them too soon as well. So, certainly, a very tricky balance.

Dr. Mike, thanks for all you're doing. Stay safe. All the best to you and your family. Thanks a lot.

VARSHAVSKI: Thank you so much. Stay learned, not anxious.


So, the number of coronavirus cases continues to rise dramatically in Louisiana. A new modeling tool predicts the state could be hit hardest on April 10th. Hospitals are preparing for the worst as doctors and nurses are struggling to find essential equipment there.

Ed Lavandera reports now from New Orleans.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Louisiana and New Orleans in particular remains a coronavirus outbreak hot spot, health officials are urging people to do more about socially distancing. And in a city like New Orleans, that's just proving really tough to do.


(voice-over): This is a uniquely New Orleans tradition, a second line funeral procession down a neighborhood street. But in the age of coronavirus, this second line ended with police issuing an arrest warrant for the parade's organizer accused of violating the stay at home orders.

LATOYA CANTRELL, NEW ORLEANS MAYOR: We will have to enforce the laws every step of the way. We need law and order. LAVANDERA: The pastor of Life Tabernacle Church near Baton Rouge also

defied the orders and held Sunday services with 1,200 people. The pastor's father says church is the most essential thing in all of the world.

GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): It is grossly irresponsible for people to flagrantly disregard and violate these social distancing measures.

LAVANDERA: Louisiana is bracing for a week that's expected to strain hospital capacities across the state. Outside of the Tulane Hospital in New Orleans, a sign of the grim task unfolding inside. The hospital confirms these refrigerated containers are being used as a temporary morgue to hold all the deceased patients.

Medical teams are scrambling to salvage personal protective equipment.

A hospital worker shared this image with CNN of brown paper bags where medics store their masks to be reused.

The major concern here is hospitals could run out of ventilators by this weekend. The Governor says the state has requested 12,000 machines and has only received 192, none from the national stockpile. The governor says he's repeatedly requested ventilators from the federal government.

EDWARDS: I'm making the case as emphatically as I can, but even if we get several hundred ventilators that's not going to be enough based on the current modeling that we're seeing.

LAVANDERA: Tiffany Vega Gibson says she was diagnosed with COVID-19 almost two weeks ago. She's convinced she picked up the infection during Mardi Gras.

TIFFANY VEGA GIBSON, CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: I honestly at one point thought I wasn't going to make it and I couldn't breathe.

LAVANDERA: The 34-year-old says she saw firsthand the strain medical teams are enduring to treat coronavirus patients filling hospitals.

GIBSON: The nurses told me that the floor that I'm on, there are 33 beds, and every single bed is full. So, the nurses -- anybody who comes in the room has on like a protective plastic mask over their face. I feel like they've had to reuse -- the nurses like reuse the same one every shift, because I see it hanging outside the door.

LAVANDERA: After a week in the hospital, Vega Gibson was sent home to finish recovering. And just like that, another hospital bed is free for the next coronavirus patient.

(on camera): The coronavirus case total here in the state of Louisiana now tops more than 4,000 with nearly 500 cases added to that list here on Monday. The majority of those cases are from here in this city of New Orleans, and the governor here insists the trajectory they're on is not good. It will stress out the capacity for hospitals across the state for the foreseeable future.

And that is why they continue to pound away at the message of urging people to stay away from one another.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, New Orleans.


CURNOW: Thanks, Ed, for that great piece.

You're watching CNN. Still to come, it could certainly be a devastating week for the U.S. economy and a stimulus must come fast. Christine Romans is standing by in New York with details.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There should be more safety for them to bring the packages on the stairs, ringing people's door bells and being close to one another. They should get more pay.


CURNOW: So some Instacart and Amazon employees walked off their jobs on Monday requiring more protection and pay as they work during the coronavirus pandemic. Now, the protests came as both companies planned to hire tens of thousands of workers to keep up with demand from online shoppers even as much of the country is asked to isolate. And while these companies expand, Moody's says U.S. unemployment claims from last week could hit 4.5 million, which would be the highest in history, all the more reason why Americans need their stimulus check as soon as possible.

So, the economy this week will crater worse than we've seen in our lifetimes. There's going to be so many layoffs. State unemployment offices can't keep up.

So, Christine Romans is standing by to talk through all of that with us.

Just give us a sense of what this week is going to play out like.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I just think people need to be prepared because the headlines are going to be pretty dire here. Here's why. It's the end of the third quarter today so businesses have their bills due, right? Tomorrow is April 1st. That is a day when bills for consumers are coming due.

So, the bills are coming due but the rescue stimulus money isn't here yet and the White House is promising urgency. Washington is promising urgency. But you have this moment here where the true pain and suffering in the economy will be felt this week but the rescue isn't here yet.

So, that's why I think this is such an important moment.

Now, here's something the Goldman Sachs, the economists at Goldman Sachs this morning are saying. That you could see the second quarter GDP, economic growth in the second quarter shrink by 34 percent. That is astonishing and devastating.

But here's the hope. They say that it will bounce back and they expect the economy, economic growth, to come roaring back later this year.

So, we are in this moment, a sudden stop the Goldman economists call it right now. We are feeling the effects of that sudden stop. You can't even get through in some cases to the unemployment benefits offices in some of the states.

The states are saying, Robyn, be patient.


You're going to get your jobless benefits all the way back to the moment when you lost your job. That will be -- you will be made whole that way. We're just trying to get through this near term right now and the money isn't here yet.

CURNOW: No. And I think that's where we have to think about single moms who had two jobs, the bartenders, people in the restaurant industry, all of that. And, of course, also all of these Amazon workers who are also being forced to make a choice here. Yes, there's huge demand but, you know, they're making a -- as we said before, Sophie's choice between going to work or perhaps getting sick.

ROMANS: And it's so interesting because Kroger's is hiring, Walmart is hiring, Instacart is hiring, Amazon is hiring, a lot -- CVS is hiring.

This is an economy telling you that these are essential workers in the economy. These are people who are moving things and delivering things for an economy that shut down in isolation. So, never have these jobs been more important, but you can see the unease and fear in some of these folks who they know a couple of people maybe who are home sick with coronavirus.

These companies are saying that they're paying you if you're on isolation, they're paying you to stay home. Amazons says that if -- for the Staten Island, New York, location where there were some protests yesterday. If you don't feel comfortable coming to work, you can keep your job but you won't get paid if you want to sit it out for the next few weeks.

And if you are in quarantine for being in close contact with someone who had coronavirus, you will be paid. But still, it's such a stress for people with a job and without a job.

CURNOW: Yes, it certainly is. Christine, great to see you. Joining us from New York.

So, you're watching CNN. Still to come, the U.S. is rushing to increase hospital capacity. But up next, a look at the race to construct field hospitals in the U.S. Look at these images from Central Park. That's next.