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How Two Funerals Turned a Small Georgia City Into a Coronavirus Hotspot. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 2, 2020 - 16:30   ET


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The 75- year-old was presumably one of the first in Albany to be exposed to the coronavirus.


She was hospitalized, but not immediately tested. Other members of their family, their friends who attended the funeral began to get sick, too. And since then, several have died.

ALICE WISE BELL, DAUGHTER OF CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: I knew things that we're living in the days, I knew things were going to be bad, but until it hits you, you know, that's when you're really just like, wow, it's here, and it's now.

GALLAGHER: A positive test on March 10th from a visitor who attended the funeral tipped the Phoebe Putney Health System off. At least 20 of the first patients to be diagnosed with coronavirus in Albany had attended one of two funerals in town. A second trip to the hospital confirmed Murray was one of them.

From there, the cases jumped.

SCOTT STEINER, PRESIDENT & CEO, PHOEBE PUTNEY HEALTH SYSTEM: To the first day, it was six the next day, it was eight the next day. And it just began to cascade from that point.

GALLAGHER: So far, more than 5,000 people have been infected with the virus in Georgia, 163 have died. Nearly a quarter of those are from the Albany area. As the virus rips through their rural community, for so many here, it's overwhelming.

CAMIA HOPSON (D), GEORGIA STATE HOUSE: With us being a small city, we're not -- we're not in New York. But we are still impacted and when you look at the percentages of our population that's impacted, I mean, that still is a significant number.

GALLAGHER: Scott Steiner, the CEO of Phoebe Putney Health Systems which serves southwest Georgia says they blew through six months worth of personal protective equipment in one week.

STEINER: We got 4,500 warriors. That's what these people, they're flat out warriors that do this day in and day out. They put themselves at risk. They run into the fire when other people might run away from it. GALLAGHER: Some of the hospitals office workers have now traded their

computers for sewing machines, making mask covers, an attempt to extend the use of PPEs. But even still, Steiner says they only have enough right now for less than two weeks.

STEINER: We have seen that curve go up. We have not seen it bend over yet.

GALLAGHER: The governor deployed the National Guard to set up additional intensive care units.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R), GEORGIA: We have shipped necessary supplies and plan more shipments based on the needs of the Phoebe Putney System in the future.

GALLAGHER: As for Murray, she's back home now. But her daughter says like many in this family and small community, the road to recovery will be long.

BELL: It's hard watching her suffer.


GALLAGHER: Yesterday, Governor Brian Kemp issued a statewide stay-at- home order that goes into effect tomorrow. But they have been dealing with this for weeks here in Albany.

Jake, I asked that hospital CEO if he thought that they were turning a corner, if they had seen the worst of it already, and he simply shook his head, Jake, looked down and told me no, they have not.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right. Dianne Gallagher, reporting from Georgia, thank you so much.

We should note that Governor Kemp inexplicably said today that he did not know until the last 24 hours that sometime some of the people carrying the virus were asymptomatic. That, of course, has been common knowledge and publicly discussed by many individuals, including Dr. Fauci, literally for months.

Now, if you go south and west of Georgia, you will hit Louisiana, which is reporting a major spike in coronavirus cases with more than 2,700 new cases today alone. Louisiana now has the second highest death rate in the country from coronavirus per capita, just behind New York state.

Joining me now is Dr. Robert Hart. Dr. Hart is the executive vice president and chief medical hospital of Ochsner Health, the largest health system in Louisiana.

Dr. Hart, thanks for joining us.

The state reported 2,726 new cases, new cases in just one day. How bad is it on the ground in Louisiana? How much worse do you expect it to get before it gets better? DR. ROBERT HART, EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER,

OCHSNER HEALTH: Well, Jake, we are certainly seeing more and more cases day (AUDIO GAP). I think the big jump that we saw today was due to somewhat of a backlog of the testing that we've talked about frequently. And we were able to get a lot of those tests in.

So it did give us somewhat of a surprising spike, but one that we partially anticipated at some point. But it is -- it is a severe test for all of the health systems today and all the people. And I have to tell you, the way people have stepped up and responded to this, it's really been incredible to see.

But we know it is going to continue to get worse. We've all seen the numbers. We are (AUDIO GAP) stay at home order in place about ten days ago. So we know that takes about two weeks to see.

And so, we are hoping that we will see that have a nice effect on the number of cases, but currently, our hospitals continue to expand as we continue to take in these cases.

TAPPER: And, Doctor, New Orleans officials tell CNN one of the reasons -- they hypothesize one of the reasons that it might be hitting so hard in your state is the population just demographically has a higher rate of underlying health conditions.


Do you agree? Does that affect your planning for what could be an influx of patients?

HART: Yes, it certainly does affect our planning. But you know here in Louisiana, that we do have some of the highest incidents of hypertension, underlying kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease. All of those go into it. So we've had to really look hard at how we began to set up more intensive care beds.

We are constantly moving -- taking some of our beds that used to be medical and surgical beds and converting those to intensive care beds, because we know we're going to require more intensive care than perhaps other population without the underlying disease.

TAPPER: Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said that, in the last week, the number of coronavirus patients in hospitals have doubled in Louisiana and the number of patients on ventilators have doubled, and he warned that the state could run out of ventilators as soon as next week.

Is that true? Is it that dire? How soon could you be facing a moment where you actually have such a surge in patients you can't handle them all?

HART: Right. So, that's always in the back of our minds and that continues to drive our efforts to continue to get the ventilators in. We know that our ventilator usage is up over 100 percent from what would be considered normal prior to the coronavirus. Our ICUs, we have grown by probably 70 percent now and we anticipate to grow those ICU beds by another 30 percent to take in all the patients.

We do have shipments coming in off ventilators, but it is a concern to know that at some point, we may not have those options available.

The good news is, we have different types of ventilator that we can use based on the severity of the patient. So sometimes we have to use a step-down ventilator for a patient who may be continuing to improve and get better. So, we can use the more intensive care ventilators on those of our sickest patients.

TAPPER: Dr. Robert Hart, thank you so much, God bless you, and all the medical workers there in Louisiana, hope you get and have everything you need.

HART: Thank you. They're all working very hard. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: I know -- I know they are.

We want to take a moment to remember just a few of the literally thousands of people in the United States who have lost their lives to this terrible virus.

We'll start with Ben Luderer. He was a healthy 30-year-old teacher and baseball coach from New Jersey. His wife who is also currently battling coronavirus says this is how she wants him to be remembered.


BRANDY LUDERER, WIFE OF NJ BASEBALL OACH WHO DIED OF COVID-19: Every single person whether he knew you for five minutes or he knew you for, you know, his whole entire lifetime, he would give you the same respect and try to reach out and help you and make you laugh in anyway possible. You know, that was just the type of selfless person that he was, always worrying about everybody else before himself.


TAPPER: Conrad Buchanan was a healthy 39-year-old deejay. His wife and daughter fought to get him tested for days. They were denied. His wife Nicole says by the time he was finally admitted into the hospital in Florida, he was immediately intubated and then she never got to see him again.

May their memories be a blessing. Our hearts go out to their families and friends today.

Coming up, a look across the globe where an ice rink is now a make- shift morgue, and one country is running out of room for the bodies.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you now. The commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt is expected to be relieved from duty, a defense official tells CNN, the commander, Captain Brett Crozier warned in a memo to Navy leadership that more action was needed for the coronavirus outbreak open his ship.

The commander is being removed, we're told, because it is suspected he is the one who leaked that memo when he was pleading for help to save the lives of his sailors. The Navy aircraft carrier had almost 100 infected sailors on board. About 1,000 sailors have been evacuated from the ship and moved to shore to Guam, where the ship is currently in port. The Navy will no doubt face questions about why it is punishing somebody who is trying to save the lives of his sailors.

In our world leader, a horrific scene out of Ecuador, bodies being left on the street because morgues are to capacity. In the U.K., one town anticipating a similar situation. That town is turning an ice rink into what they hope will not be but could be used as a make-shift morgue.

And as most of the world is preparing to see the worst of this pandemic, some are looking to China as a window into their possible future.

But as CNN's David Culver reports, there are mounting fears from officials all over the world that the numbers and information provided by the Chinese government simply cannot be trusted.



DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the United States and the rest of the world locks down, China cautiously opening back up, easing travel restrictions. And next week, it will allow people to freely leave Wuhan, the birthplace of the pandemic, for the first time in more than two months.

The World Health Organization has consistently praised China's handling.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They're rapidly finding these cases, rapidly containing them using the principles that China employed.

CULVER: President Donald Trump also applauding the Chinese efforts just a few weeks ago.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I know this. President Xi loves the people of China. He loves his country, and he's doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation.

CULVER: But as numbers in the U.S. continue to rise, so does the skepticism over just how reliable China's numbers are, and how transparent it's been with its data.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reality is that we could have been better off if China had been more forthcoming.

CULVER: Video shows Wuhan's grieving residents collecting the remains of their loved ones.

"Caixin," a leading Chinese business publication, claimed there were thousands more urns delivered than the official coronavirus death toll. But worth pointing out, two days after the lockdown, Wuhan officials halted all funeral services in the city of 11-plus million. So it is plausible the urns are also used for those who die from something other than coronavirus.

But CNN's early reporting inside Wuhan back in January suggested the numbers were not adding up when compared with the stories from the front lines, in part because of something that now many countries are challenged with, a shortage of tests.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's really difficult. And it's really emotional for me.

CULVER: Dor Jong (ph) told us it took four days for her uncle to get tested, the results, also delayed.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don't think it's because they really want to control the numbers. But I think it's more about the capacity.

CULVER: Kyle Hui (ph) told us by phone his mother died in mid-January in Wuhan. She never had a nucleic acid test, he told us. Her cause of death was officially listed as severe pneumonia.

But during her treatment, the doctor said it was very likely that she had coronavirus, and yet she was not a confirmed case, and hence could not be counted. China says they first detected the virus on December 12 at this Wuhan seafood market, but they did not shut it down until January 1.

And during that three-week period, the people of Wuhan continued on with their normal lives, as local government officials censored so- called rumors about the then mysterious illness, and silenced whistle- blowers, like Dr. Li Wenliang, who tried to sound the alarm. He was reprimanded by police, later died from the virus.

And now the Chinese government is hailing him a hero. The country's National Health Commission officially began releasing daily figures on January 21, almost six weeks after the first detection.

Within days, they had reported a total of 1,052 confirmed cases in Hubei province alone. But, almost immediately, health experts at the University of Hong Kong challenged those figures, believing the real number to be 40 times that just in the city of Wuhan.

One possible reason? China in the early days not allowing international experts in the country. For weeks, Health and Human Services secretary Alex Azar said the CDC was ready to deploy, hoping to get a handle on the problem before it got out of control.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We're ready to go. CULVER: But a World Health Organization team did not land in China

until February 10, again, almost two months after the first detection. And now two months after that, experts still doubt China's official count.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But China's government data is definitely not transparent. The local government has the incentive to underreport the cases to boost the appearance of the good performance. We really don't have the information and evidence needed to be more confident about the Chinese government's number.

CULVER: It's a claim the Chinese government has repeatedly shot down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The fact is that China has always been open, transparent and responsible on informing the World Health Organization and the international community.


CULVER: Now, the one number that the Chinese government has pushed out quite frequently is the recovery rate here, Jake.

They're stressing that the vast majority of people who get this illness do survive. And just this week, after some pressure, health officials here began releasing data on asymptomatic cases.

There's been a lot of push for that. And the new concern here, as locked down restrictions ease, is that both people without symptoms and those infected coming in from other countries may expose others to the virus. And then we could see here a second wave of infections in the place where really it all began -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, David Culver.

President Xi of China certainly has a lot of blood on his hands. And it's not just of his own people.


Coming up: It's almost 5:00 Eastern, but some of you might already be breaking out the merlot and getting ready to watch "Tiger King" over a cocktail or five.

We're going to talk to a psychologist about how to cope in this new isolated life and how to know if your new daily ritual is becoming a problem.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Some are calling her their quaranqueen, after this clip of celebrity chef Ina Garten getting ready for cocktail hour, AKA, any hour, went viral. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

INA GARTEN, CELEBRITY CHEF: So just pour it right in. Oh, doesn't that look fabulous? Nice and cold, and lots of it.


TAPPER: Alcohol sales are booming right now, with so many people staying in and trying to deal with all this anxiety.

But where is the line between enjoying a drink, relaxing, and something more serious?

To talk about this and other quarantine life problems is our clinical psychologist Georgetown psychology professor Andrea Bonior for our weekly session.

Andrea, what are you telling your patients about drinking?


It's really tough, because if ever there were a time where people are more tempted to drink, even if they don't typically have a problem, it would be now.

We're trapped at home. We're feeling lonely and both antsy and bored at the same time. And the alcohol might be one of the only things that's left in our cabinets right now. So I'm seeing a lot of clients who are struggling with this question of what is too much and where to draw the line.

And the first thing that I work with them on is figuring out, are they trying to escape uncomfortable feelings? And if they are, might there be better and healthier ways to do that? Or are they just sort of loosening themselves up a little bit, taking a little bit of the edge off?

Because I think there is a slippery slope there between taking the edge off vs. developing a situation where your main coping mechanism is to try to numb the hard feelings. I mean, these feelings are tough.

We're sad, we're scared, we might be angry, we might be stressed, and very, very fearful. And so the more that we turn to alcohol to avoid those emotions, then the more that we teach ourselves that those emotions are scary and that we can't handle them.

And that's where a problem really starts.

TAPPER: Yes, I mean, I hear you. But I also wonder.

I mean, I don't know what it's like at your house. But we might be a little bit more lax with the screen time rules at chez Tapper these days, just because the kids are going through such a tough time. We don't need to pretend that these are normal times. And, obviously, nobody should be abusing any drug or alcohol. Do you have a rule? Do you tell people, in terms of the loosening up, as opposed to escaping their emotions part of it, I mean, do you say people you should only be drinking twice a week?

Or -- I mean, how do you gauge?

BONIOR: Yes, it's hard to quantify exactly. But I think what's less important than the actual amount is the feelings afterwards.

A lot of times, you kind of know when maybe you overdid it or when it's happening too much or when you feel worse afterwards because the problems that you were trying to escape and the specific worries that you had are now coming back in full force and you weren't able to do anything about them.

So I think, if there's one hard and fast rule, it's to observe yourself before and after. What are you running from? And then afterwards, did it help? Was it, OK, I was able to breathe and relax with that glass of wine, and now I actually feel better armed to get through tomorrow, or was it, oh, I drank too much, I feel gross and more scared than I did before I drank?

So it's hard to quantify because no two people are alike.

TAPPER: So, the homeschooling, remote education thing has been going on for a little while at our house and at your house, and the house of a lot of our viewers.

It seems a little tougher this week than last week.

BONIOR: Yes. Yes.

I think that's what's setting in for a lot of parents and also just folks in general, is that the first couple of weeks, it felt like crisis management, right? We all said, all hands on deck. Let's get through the day. And there's a little bit of adrenaline in that that just keeps us going.

I think what's so tough this week and what I'm seeing a lot of is that the uncertainty of the future is now starting to weigh pretty large. Like, OK, we sustained this for two weeks. But what do you mean that there's going to be another maybe month of this or two months of this?

And so I have seen in a lot of my clients that this week has been particularly hard, because it's one thing to kind of put a Band-Aid on stuff and slap together a daily schedule, but now we're thinking about the long term. And how can we actually put things into practice that we're going to be able to keep up for the indefinite future?

TAPPER: And I have been saying to my kids -- and we're almost out of time, but I have been saying to my kids, you're right, this sucks. This is awful. It's unfair. You have every right to be upset about it.


TAPPER: But we're going to get through it. And we're going to maybe even be stronger at the end.

Is that -- am I saying the right thing?

BONIOR: Absolutely, because what you're doing is that you're teaching them that having feelings, difficult feelings, and expressing feelings, and reaching out about feelings are positive ways to deal with those difficult times.

And that's such a great lesson to teach our kids. I think that's something that is positive that can emerge from this.