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U.S. Seniors Isolated as many Nursing Homes Ban Visitors; Britain Scrambles to Contain Virus Spread; Spain's Health Ministry Says 849 More Deaths in 24 Hours; China to Start Reporting Asymptomatic Cases; Company Begins Antibody Testing in Colorado. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 1, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Rosemary Church with an update of our top story.

The U.S. has reported its highest number of daily deaths from the coronavirus with more than 800 new fatalities, but President Trump and his White House task force say things will get much worse over the next two weeks. Projections suggest the virus could kill between 100 and 240,000 people in the U.S. alone. For perspective, the global death toll right now is over 40,000.

One of the most difficult parts of the coronavirus pandemic is not being able to visit loved ones, especially the elderly. The virus is too contagious for nursing homes to risk allowing any visitors inside. Since the first outbreak in Washington state, about 400 long-term care facilities across the U.S. are reporting cases.

Joining me now is Melissa Gail-West. She lives in Seattle and her 95- year-old mother-in-law is in a nursing home there. Thank you so much for talking with us.

MELISSA GAYLE WEST, MOTHER-IN-LAW IN SEATTLE NURSING HOME: Thanks for being able to letting me tell my story.

CHURCH: It is so important, I think, for people out there to get the human face of this, because we're not seeing a lot of this because of the isolation. And I know how difficult this has been for you and your family, particularly your mother-in-law. You're also a psychotherapist, so that brings us a personal and professional approach to all of this. How is your mother-in-law coping with this prolonged isolation, and what is your biggest concern at this time?

WEST: I think she's coping relatively well. She's a Londoner and went through the blitz as a teenager, so she knows how to take things in stride, but she's really lonely, Rosemary. She's a woman for whom family's the most important thing. She's got three sons. And her family's the most important thing to her, and she's really feeling it that we can't actually come visit her.

CHURCH: Yes, I totally understand that. And I want to show everyone a video that actually went viral of you, your family serenading your mother-in-law. Let's just bring that up.


FAMILY SINGING: When skies are gray, you'll never know dear how much I love you --


CHURCH: This is so wonderful, because it's a ground-floor level, so it gives you that opportunity to look through the window, and you're able to do this. So many other people would not be able to do this. But talk to us about how important these moments are for your mother- in-law, for your whole family, and how often you're able to go and do this.

WEST: Yes, we were able to do this once, before -- in Washington state, we couldn't leave our homes at all, so we were hoping to do it every five days or so, but I'm glad we at least got that one-time in. And it was great, because since she was on the ground floor, the staff went around, once they saw what was happening, and had all of the other residents open their windows, so they got to listen to us as well.

CHURCH: Oh, I just love that. And of course, I understand that a number of residents at your mother-in-law's nursing home tested positive for COVID-19. Your mother-in-law did not. What procedures do they have in place to ensure that your mother-in-law and, of course, the other residents remain safe at this time?

WEST: They're doing the best they can, and they can't protect them completely. What they've done is taken the residents who tested positive to the hospital and they've moved everybody in her wing, which is the memory unit, to another wing today, and they're going to disinfect her wing and bring them back.


But the trouble is, I'm really concerned. We can't talk to her today because she's in transit, that she's not going to know where she is or why this is happening to her and why none of her family is talking to her, and we can't explain it to her right now. It's really hard.

CHURCH: So, was she having trouble understanding what was going on? Because I look at the picture of her, she looks incredible, and I can't believe she's 95 years old. But talk to us about her current condition, her vulnerability, and when you will get an opportunity to talk with her and try to explain what is going on right now.

WEST: Well, she's in reasonably good shape for a 95-year-old, but you know, her memory's going. And the more stress she is and the more tired she is, the less it works. And I know the staff there is working overtime and has probably explained it to her many times. But I think uprooting her and putting her in a completely different place without her family being able to talk to her, she's probably really confused tonight. It just breaks my heart that we can't be there and hold her hand and kind of explain to her ten times why this is happening and that she's safe. It's so hard not being able to talk to her at all.

CHURCH: I totally understand. It is heartbreaking. It is a story being told across the United States, across the globe. Our elderly, the most vulnerable at this time throughout this pandemic. Thank you so much for talking with us, and we wish you all the very best from all of us here at CNN. Do take care.

WEST: Thank you.

CHURCH: And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Still to come, as Britain prepares to face its peak number of cases, we go inside a massive pop-up hospital in London getting ready to open its doors. Back with that in a moment.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone.

Britain has recorded what is thought to be its youngest victim of the crisis, a young boy just 13 years old. The number of dead in the U.K., nearly 1,800. But a senior health official says he sees green shoots in the battle to contain the virus. It all comes as the country scrambles to get more beds with a huge pop-up hospital by the Thames getting ready to open its doors.

We turn to CNN national security editor Nick Paton Walsh. He's been taking a look around that facility. He joins me now live from London. So, Nick, tell us about that facility and when it will likely be ready for patients.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they hope in the days ahead. And while I think there was some fanfare in the hope that it would be available for people as of today, that seems when we were inside to have slipped slightly as a timetable. Understandable, really, given the gargantuan nature of the task and also, too, how the peak in U.K. cases doesn't seem to necessarily yet be upon the U.K. to the point where hospitals have the overflow that requires this enormous facility.

But yes, they were bleak figures, indeed, the most chilling. The fact that a 13-year-old boy whose family friend said had no pre-existing medical conditions, became the U.K.'s youngest victim. Remember, those of that age, below 20, frankly, are very unlikely to have to go to intensive care and even more unlikely to succumb to the disease fatally. And the government, too, saying that the death toll had risen the sharpest incline, frankly, in terms of sheer numbers, over 300, up to 1,789 total.

So, startling figures, as you say. Suggestions from government figures that could be green shoots, but they're also pointing out we're into some very difficult two weeks ahead of us here as we expect a peak in the U.K. The convention center down on the Thames, the ExCel, as it's known,

has been rapidly transformed in just over a week, and here's what we saw.


WALSH: Which is NHS Nightingale, potentially a 4,000-bed capacity pop-up hospital here in just over a week. And behind me is very much the showcase of what they want us to see about the United Kingdom's readiness for the surge in cases they think could possibly be happening in the week ahead. But it is still a work in progress. Tireless efforts to get up these separate booths in an area which was an empty conference center just ten days ago. A startling bid, to be sure, that in the event that they have to receive the overflow from other hospitals in London, that the equipment and the beds are ready here.


WALSH: So, you have to have a positive test to come here.

FORREST: That's right. I understand that if we have to open all our beds, then yes, I believe we will be one of the biggest hospitals.

WALSH: But of course, it's important, they stress, this will not be a hospital that directly receives patients that have to coordinate the task of trying to work out who amongst the other facilities around London and the United Kingdom urgently needs this kind of help and also manage expectations.

DR. ALAN MCGLENNAN, MEDICAL DIRECTOR OF THE ROYAL FREE: It is worth emphasizing over and over again that, actually, this is a hospital that gets referred to by another NHS hospital. So we don't have an A&E, we don't have a front door. It's really important that any critical care nurse who could volunteer, recently retired or domiciled elsewhere, if they came back into the system, that would be excellent for us, because those are the ones that are in the shortest supply.

WALSH: There's been a lot of publicity about what this venue might be able to do, but in the weeks ahead, they'll find out what the limits of that exactly are and also the troubling truth about exactly how many patients there will be that require intensive care in the surge in the United Kingdom that could possibly happen over the next two to three weeks.

It's the only country whose leader has been tested positive for coronavirus, and the efforts here are a bid to reassure people in the U.K. that everything that's possible is being done to be sure they're ready for whatever numbers come in the weeks ahead.


WALSH: And that's really the issue here with the extraordinary uncertainty with which the U.K. seems to be greeting this fortnight of lightly peak deaths ahead of it. We simply don't know how many people have had or have coronavirus in the United Kingdom.

There is testing, and the government is proud of the figures they're able to wheel out, but they're also yesterday struggling to explain how they haven't obtained the goals they've promised in the past. Government figures suggesting that some of the modeling or some of the not quite so fast as anticipated growth in cases is quote, green shoots. But it's a bit of a mixed message, frankly, to a population also being told to expect the very worst in the fortnight ahead here.


There is optimism, possibly, that some of the earlier containment of the population, particularly the vulnerable, might keep those numbers down. But you have to say, standing inside that ExCel convention center there, seeing the sheer scale of the task they've attempted. It's a bid to project confidence, but that wasn't immediately reflected in the number of beds available we saw there, possibly in the hundreds that we could lay eyes on, and they hope desperately to need very few more than that. Back to you.

CHURCH: Yes, and all this coming amid calls for mass community testing, but we are not seeing that anywhere. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh joining us live from London. Many thanks.

Well, now to grim news from Spain. It had its highest single-day death toll from the coronavirus Tuesday. The health ministry reported nearly 850 deaths in 24 hours. Officials say if they're not at the peak number of cases now, they are very close. Meantime, the government will offer more financial aid to help ease the economic impact of this pandemic.

Well, CNN's Al Goodman joins us now from Madrid. And Al, those grim numbers from Spain, and of course, the constant in all of this is medical professionals not getting the protective gear they need to save lives, despite what we're hearing from authorities. Talk to us about what you're learning overall.

AL GOODMAN, CNN MADRID CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Rosemary. The number in Spain of health care workers who are infected with coronavirus is more than 13,000. That's about 14 percent of all the cases. And they have complained vociferously about not having enough gear and that debate has been raging at the Madrid convention center behind me, which has been set up as a field hospital with 1,300 beds.

Over the weekend, a number workers, cleaning people and orderlies, refused to go into the areas where the patients were because they said they didn't have the right kind of gear. They and their unions complained vociferously.

CNN has also talked to a young resident doctor -- a family practice doctor assigned over here with some of his colleagues. He said it was chaotic when he showed up on Friday to start a series of shifts that continue to this day. He said that they didn't get the right equipment very quickly, the right kind of protection. He said they were waiting hours in other rooms not seeing the patients. He said that didn't seem like a good use of time. The Madrid regional government has said some mistakes were made, but

they're fixing things now and things are going to be better. Here's what the coordinator general of the hospital told CNN.


FERNANDO PRADOS, GENERAL COORDINATOR, IFEMA HOSPITAL (through translator): In no case have we ever had any professional say that they did not want to work ever, but it's true that they have said they don't want to work. There have been professionals who have been opposed to the work because it's not what they're used to doing, so logically, they have found difficulty in what they are now accustomed to handle.


GOODMAN: So, the government, the national government, has said that the equipment is coming on the way. It is arriving in drips and drabs from China. They're trying to produce some of this equipment, getting ventilators here nationally, but there's just not enough gear yet and it hasn't come as the surge is happening in Spain -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Many thanks to our Al Goodman, bringing us the very latest there from Madrid. Appreciate it.

And China is changing how it counts the number of coronavirus infections to now include patients showing no symptoms. There are more than 82,000 confirmed cases in China. That's according to Johns Hopkins University. Even so, officials are now starting to ease China's containment measures and restrictions.

So, let's go live to Beijing with CNN's Steven Jiang. He joins us now. So, Steven, this certainly explains why China's numbers seemed a little questionable, didn't they in the beginning? So, how will this likely impact the overall case numbers? And where does this leave -- you know, we're hearing China essentially lifting some of its measures it had in place. What is the reasoning behind that?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, that's right, Rosemary. You know, asymptomatic cases refer to people who have tested positive for the coronavirus but do not display any symptoms. As you mentioned, the government here does not count them as confirmed cases, which is controversial because of concerns over and to reporting.

But a growing public worry is that these people could be infectious, especially after one recent example of a woman in central China became infected after coming into close contact with a local friend who turned out to be one asymptomatic case. That's why to address these public concerns, the government is now disclosing a number of asymptomatic cases in their daily reporting. And their latest figures have shown on Tuesday they recorded 36 new confirmed cases nationwide, but also adding 130 new asymptomatic cases.

Now, the government, of course, is trying to tell the public, most asymptomatic cases have already been placed under quarantine and they will be counted as confirmed cases, if they develop symptoms during their isolation.


But still, of course, as you mentioned, as they start lifting these lockdown measures, people are worried about these cases, so the government is now vowing to plug this loophole by strengthening screening as well as quarantine measures targeting these asymptomatic cases -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, many thanks, Steven Jiang, bringing us that live report from Beijing. Appreciate it.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. The White House says it is focused on antibody testing to see who is immune from the virus. And we hear from one Colorado company that says it's already doing just that. Back in a moment.


CHURCH: Well, as well as dealing with the day-to-day elements of this crisis, top U.S. health officials are stressing the need to look at scientific breakthroughs that show the bigger picture, and that includes the need for antibody testing to get crucial information on who has already recovered from the virus. Earlier, the White House was asked about whether the U.S. should have tested earlier and brought up those antibody tests.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We really can't answer your question until we can get antibody testing out there.


Dr. Fauci and I are very, very focused on is getting serology testing out there to really figure out when it came.


CHURCH: Well, testing just like that is already under way in Telluride, Colorado, where one biotech company is testing every person in the county for these antibodies. CNN's Erin Burnett spoke with the company's chief officer. Take a listen.


LOU REESE, CHIEF OFFICER OF UNITED NEUROSCIENCE: It's obviously a new virus that we're learning a lot about, but the antibodies persist. So the important thing is that we can get our frontline workers back to work right now, and the 650 or 700 workers that are in Detroit right now that are part of the police force that aren't serving. Because they're stuck home can be tested and have robust antibodies can go back into the force and know that being on the front line, they're safe and they can protect other people. And I think that we're doing that now in hospital systems, and I believe it's just urgent for getting people, you know, taken care of.


CHURCH: Yes, and it isn't just in the United States. Germany is planning an antibody test that could show who is now immune from the virus, and that could ease some of the social restrictions we're currently facing and give some people some hope when it comes to the economy.

Well, here at CNN, we have the latest updated facts and figures as millions of people are being impacted globally. You can also find out how you can feed the hungry, protect health professionals, aid refugees, and support service workers during this pandemic. Just go to

And thank you so much for your company. Stay home, stay safe. Can't say that enough. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN NEWSROOM continues next with Robyn Curnow. Do look after yourselves.