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White House Holds Coronavirus Task Force Briefing; Coronavirus Cases Surpass One Million Worldwide; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 2, 2020 - 18:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[18:00:01]

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Back when the governors first started and the health care professionals first started screaming for federal help, the president said, no, the private sector can handle this. The stockpile can handle this. You governors are overestimating what you need. It's a state responsibility, not a federal responsibility.

So, in using those powers again today, the president is essentially acknowledging, we have got to do more to try to get this right.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: You're certainly right.

I want to go back to the briefing. The vice president is providing some specific information. I want to hear what he's saying.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: ... who believe you have been impacted or have contracted the coronavirus, contact your local health care provider.

We anticipate in the New York area that your local health care provider will make the decision whether you are transferred to the Javits Center.

And, in all cases, simply look to the guidance of your local governors about how best to receive the care that every American, every American is entitled to have.

Beyond that, let me say that we have been working through FEMA's acquisition process, not only to deploy, but to gather up personal protective equipment.

And in just a few moments, you will hear from Admiral John Polowczyk about the extraordinary progress that we have made in deploying not just the Strategic National Stockpile, but also in identifying on the commercial marketplace around America and around the world literally millions of N95 masks, surgical gowns, gloves, protective equipment.

And, at this point, we have distributed some 7,600 ventilators. And you will hear today specifically about the states that have received those ventilators.

We're just -- this team has truly acted in an inspiring way, and literally is working with dozens and dozens of people at the FEMA Stabilization Task Force to make sure that we are leaving no stone unturned to find the supplies we need.

Let me also say, today, you're going hear from Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president of the United States, but someone that the White House Coronavirus Task Force directed to work with FEMA on supply chain issues.

And in recent weeks, he has been leading a working group, in conjunction with FEMA, that literally has identified millions of medical supplies around the nation and around the world.

And we're grateful for his efforts and his leadership.

Finally, you will hear from Peter Navarro, who will explain the action the president took today using the Defense Production Act.

But, as you hear details today about the medical supplies that have been distributed, those that have been purchased, those that we're making available, ventilators distributed to hospitals and those that are available, let me just remind every American that you can make a difference in ensuring that every patient has the treatment that they deserve, every health care provider, every doctor and nurse and nurse's assistant has the protective gear to provide the care that you would want your family to have, by putting into practice the president's 30 days to slow the spread.

I mean, we -- we want you to take to heart the president's coronavirus guidelines for America, first to protect your own health, to protect the health of your family, to protect the health of your community.

We know so many people are asymptomatic, and people that literally don't know they have the coronavirus, but have the ability to infect others. We want you to put these guidelines into practice, social distancing, using a drive-through at a restaurant, washing your hands on a regular basis.

But, as we focus today on supplies, make no mistake about it. Every American can make sure that our health care workers and, more importantly, Americans that are struggling with coronavirus have the equipment to support their treatment by putting these principles into practice, because the fewer Americans that contract the coronavirus, the fewer Americans will have to enter our health care system.

And that will continue to preserve the capacity in our health care economy.

So, we thank the millions of Americans who have responded in the first two days of 30 days to slow the spread. And I'm just absolutely confident that, in the days ahead, every American is going to do their part, for your health, your family's health, the health of your community, and to ensure the strength and vitality of the greatest health care system in the world.

With that, let me introduce Jared Kushner to speak about the work that he has been doing working with FEMA on ensuring a strong supply chain to meet this moment.

Jared?

JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR PRESIDENTIAL ADVISER: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.

And thank you for your great leadership on the task force.

And thank you to Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci as well. It's been an honor working with you these past few weeks.

When the vice president first asked me to help on the task force with different tasks, I asked the president what he expected from the task force and how I can best serve him and the task force.

[18:05:08]

What the president asked is that all of the recommendations that we make be based on data. He wanted us to be very rigorous to make sure that we were studying the data, collecting data. A lot of things in this country were happening very quickly.

And we wanted to make sure that we were trying to keep updating our models and making sure that we were making informed decisions and informed recommendations to him, based on the data that we were able to collect and put together.

The president wanted to make sure that we had the best people doing the best jobs and making sure that we had the right people focused on all the things that needed to happen to make sure that we can deliver in these unusual times for the American people.

The president also instructed me to make sure that I break down every barrier needed to make sure that the teams can succeed. This is a -- an effort where the government is doing things that the government doesn't normally do, where we're stretching, where we're acting very quickly.

And the president wants to make sure that the White House is fully behind the different people running the different lines of effort to make sure that we get everything done in a speed that the president demands.

The president also wanted us to make sure we think outside the box, make sure we're finding all the best thinkers in the country, making sure we're getting all the best ideas, and that we're doing everything possible to make sure that we can keep Americans safe and make sure we bring a quick end to this in the best way possible, and balance all the different aspects that need to be thought of while we do this.

This truly is a historic challenge. We have not seen something like this in a very, very long time. But I am very confident that, by bringing innovative solutions to these hard problems, we will make progress.

Today, we were briefing the president earlier. He asked me to come out and talk a little bit about what we have been doing on the Supply Chain Task Force, which Admiral Polowczyk has been leading.

And what he's been very impressed by is the way that we have been resourceful to find product all over the world, all over the country. And we are finding ways to solve the different problems.

The president's been very, very hands on in this. He's really instructed us to leave no stone unturned. Just this morning, very early this morning, I got a call from the president. He told me he was hearing from friends of his in New York that the New York public hospital system was running low on critical supply.

He instructed me this morning. And I called Dr. Katz, who runs the system, asked him which supply was the most supply he was nervous about. He told me he it was the N95 masks. I asked what his daily burn was.

And I basically got that number, called up Admiral Polowczyk, made sure we had the inventory. We went to the president today. And, earlier today, the president called Mayor de Blasio to inform him that we were going to send a month of supply to the New York public hospital system to make sure that the workers on the front line can rest assured that they have the N95 masks that they need to get through the next month.

We will be doing similar things with all the different public hospitals that are in the hot spot zones, and making sure that we're constantly in communications with the local communities.

One thing I will say, just based on data, is that we have been getting a lot of data from different governors and from different mayors and from different cities. One thing I have seen FEMA do very, very well over the last week or so is, now we're getting real-time data from a lot of cities, people who have requests for different products and supplies.

A lot of them are doing it based on projections, which are not the realistic projections. The projections change every day, as we see the cases, as we see the impacts of the stop-the-spread effort that this task force recommended and the president has been pushing forward.

So, I do think that we will see that, hopefully, there will be impact of that. And the task force has been working very hard through the FEMA group, with Admiral Polowczyk, to make sure that we're getting the supplies to people before they run out, and making sure that we're doing it in a proper way.

I'd like to just introduce Admiral Polowczyk, who, before coming to this -- I guess still is -- he's the vice director for logistics for the Joint Staff. I got a call from one of the senators saying, well, why don't you put a great military person in charge of the logistics and the supply chain and the Defense Production Act?

And I said, well, the president already did that. This is the best man that we have in the country for supplies and logistics. He joined the task force 13 days ago over at FEMA. And he's built a team, really at the direction of the vice president, that includes people from FEMA, OMB, the FDA, HHS, the White House and from everywhere else.

And what they have done over the last 13 days has been really extraordinary. We have done things that the government has never done before quicker than they have ever done it before. And what we're seeing now is, we have found a lot of supplies in the country.

We have been distributing them where we anticipate there will be needs and also trying to make sure that we're hitting places where there are needs.

So, I can tell you, the people in the task force, they're working day and night. You have got a lot of people in the government. We recognize the challenge that America faces right now. We -- we know what a lot of the people on the front lines are facing, the fear that they have that they won't have the supplies they need.

And our goal is to work as hard as we can to make sure that we don't let them down.

So, I just want to thank everybody.

And, with that, I will introduce Admiral Polowczyk, who's doing an amazing job.

BLITZER: All right. So, we will continue to monitor this briefing, get back to it when some of the questions and answers start.

[18:10:05]

But you heard Jared Kushner, the president's senior adviser and son- in-law, say that enormous progress is being made right now in the supply chain, FEMA getting critically needed supplies to hospitals, to states all over the country right now.

The president making the point that he was especially interested in helping these -- the Javits Center, this huge convention center in New York City, become a hospital for coronavirus patients, maybe 2,500 or even 2,900 patients.

He says it's going to be staffed by the U.S. military and the federal government.

John Harwood, you listened closely early on. The administrator of the Small Business Administration was there making the case they're going to get money to small businesses. The secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin, was there saying the checks are about to go out, the direct deposits are about to go out within the next two weeks, and a lot of money, billions of dollars, are going to be made available to the American people.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right.

And it's a huge test, as Steve Mnuchin said, of the ability of this administration to execute. And you can't say that the execution on the public health side of this has inspired a lot of confidence in that, but this is a task that's in front of them. I do, before getting more deeply into that, have to say that Jared

Kushner just related what I think is a stunning anecdote that illustrates the problem, rather than the solution, as I think he intended it to.

He just said that President Trump talked to a friend of his in New York the other day, who told him that hospitals were having trouble getting equipment, and that he, Jared Kushner, then called the head of the hospital, and the hospital administrator told him, we need N95 masks, and he then obtained the N95 masks and shipped them on their way.

Governors across the country, including Governor Cuomo, have been begging for this equipment for a long time. It's not a function of the president talking to his friends. And if it takes the president talking to his friends, that tells you what's wrong with the supply operation to begin with.

Now, in terms of the economic side, the administration, in conjunction with the Congress, given where we are on public health and the shutdown of the economy, has done the right thing by unloosing the spigots financially for the country.

Now the task is to get the money to those small businesses, with the condition that it would become a grant if they keep their employees on the payroll, to get those $1,200 checks out to families, including the ones for whom the government doesn't have direct deposit information.

It's a big challenge. He said that will take weeks, not months. And also a task for the unemployment offices in the 50 states, who are overwhelmed now with 10 million people filing for unemployment insurance over the last two weeks. Huge logistical challenge at every level of the government.

The government has not, certainly at the federal level, been delivering in impressive fashion so far. We will see how they do on the financial challenge.

BLITZER: Yes, there's a huge financial challenge, a huge -- a huge logistics challenge as well, getting these badly needed emergency supplies to hospitals and doctors, and nurses out there, not only for their own production, but to save the lives of these people.

And the numbers are simply exploding every single day.

Daniel Dale is our CNN reporter, does a lot of fact-checking for us.

So, Daniel, I want your analysis of what we just heard.

DANIEL DALE, CNN QUESTION: So nothing stands out to me as something I can immediately call false. We will see what happens in the Q&A portion, where the president usually makes most of his false claims.

But the one thing that got my sort of fact-check ears perked up was Trump's claim that 100,000 ventilators are either being built or are soon to be started. He didn't specify what soon to be started meant. How soon is that? When will they be done? Days, hours matter here. He wasn't specific.

And there's something I just heard a separate piece on from yesterday that didn't get much detention. Trump was asked yesterday if he was considering imposing temporary suspensions of domestic air and rail travel.

And he said, well, I'm thinking about it. But he said there are already safeguards in place, passengers on planes and trains are already getting very strong testing, both when they get on the plane and train and when they get off.

They're not being tested at all, Wolf. Most of them are not even being screened, asked any questions. They're embarking and disembarking as normal. So this is yet another false claim from the president on this critical subject of coronavirus testing.

BLITZER: That's an important point, indeed.

John King, we did hear first from the Treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, say that he doesn't think what Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, is recommending, a bipartisan Oversight Committee in the House of Representatives to try to oversee what's going on, make sure that the funds that have been appropriated are being distributed -- distributed adequately.

And then the president went out of his way to say, this is not the time for politics right now. He says there are endless witch-hunt, after witch-hunt, after witch-hunt. He says -- after saying there's no time for politics, he went on to attack the Democrats for suggesting maybe that there should be congressional oversight.

[18:15:10]

KING: And so sometimes we put politics aside. Politics was mostly put aside when they passed phase one, phase two and phase three.

Politics is back front and center as they now consider a big phase four. And now you have Nancy Pelosi saying, we must have a bipartisan -- this is not a Democratic-only committee. It would be a bipartisan oversight committee.

Look, Wolf, a lot of money's going out the door here, a $2 trillion stimulus bill. There's going to be another phase four coming up. The Fed is putting all sorts of federal dollars into the economy to prop up banks and businesses.

So Congress has every right, every right and, in fact, every responsibility to have oversight. But you get the bristling. This is the Mueller impeachment hangover effect, if you will, in that the president sees as an opportunity to go straight to witch-hunt.

Secretary Mnuchin trying to make the point, we have an oversight committee, we have an oversight panel to watch this that was created as part of the legislation that he's the head of and the members -- leaders of Congress get to appoint some members to. But, again, look, there are a lot of dysfunctional relationships in

this town. They have actually done a remarkable job, largely by keeping the president out of it. Secretary Mnuchin has done the tough negotiating with the Democrats on Capitol Hill to get all these things passed.

But, yes, just under the surface, Wolf, there's a lot of raw politics. Speaker Pelosi decided to go public with this proposal. She probably can't get the votes to make it happen for a while, because you have to vote to have such a committee established. And the House members are now spread out and all that.

But she's trying to plant a flag, saying, we don't like a lot of what we're seeing in the distribution of the benefits here, in the slow buildup, ramp-up of the testing, in the slow spread of the ventilators. We don't like what we're seeing. We're going to take a hard look at it.

She says that will be with Republicans, but it is a reminder, Wolf -- I don't even like to speak this sentence -- but we are in an election year. Politics are raw. These relationships are dysfunctional. They're setting aside for the most part, but not always.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point, indeed.

And, eventually, John Harwood, I assume there will be, when the dust settles a little bit and the country gets back to relative normality -- and let's hope it isn't too far down the road -- there will be some sort of 9/11-type commission of inquiry to go back, look at what happened, were mistakes made, could the country have reacted better to what happened to avoid what's going to be who knows how many deaths in this country, and learn the lessons, so that, if it ever happens again, God forbid, the country will be better prepared.

HARWOOD: There's no question, Wolf, that that's going to happen.

And I think the president's sensitivity on this point about the Pelosi committee underscores his high preoccupation with avoiding blame for the economic catastrophe and the public health catastrophe that have now unfolded on his watch.

No president wants to run for reelection when the economy is tanking. This is tanking. The economy's tanking right now worse than it has done since the Great Depression. We have got a public health catastrophe, 100,000 people minimum that his aides say are going to die because of coronavirus.

There is not going to be his -- an ability to escape accountability for that. And you can see the president and trying to say, oh, well, let's not have another witch-hunt.

It's one thing to say it's a witch-hunt when people are probing connections with Russia that are a little difficult and complicated to understand.

But everybody in the United States can see what's happening in the terms of the disruption of daily life, loss of life for people, loss of employment, loss of income.

This is something that is right in front of their faces, and there's going to be accountability for that.

BLITZER: Yes, I suspect there will be.

And Jared -- a lot of viewers probably are wondering. Jared Kushner are now playing a critical role in all of this on behalf of the president. He's a senior adviser to the president. He's also, as we all know, the president's son-in-law.

John Harwood, what are you learning behind the scenes about the exact role that Jared Kushner is playing?

HARWOOD: Well, one of the characteristics of President Trump throughout his business career and the administration is that he tends to, when the chips are down, rely on a very close circle of people, family, longtime close friends.

And in that scenario, given what the country is going through right now, it was inevitable that Jared Kushner, who has been given everything from solving Middle East peace to I don't know how many other special assignments he's been given, but he's getting drawn further into it.

He has a lot of confidence in himself, whether it's justified or not. And he is throwing his weight around within the task force, trying to get things done. He described it there. He said, I -- the president brought me in. I was told that they needed N95 masks, and so I called the head of the hospital.

[18:20:03]

Again, doctors, medical workers, governors, mayors have been begging for this equipment for a long time. And the idea that just because Jared Kushner walks on the scene, gets a piece of information via the president from one of the president's friends is not a confidence- inspiring picture of the decision-making process for the administration as a whole.

BLITZER: All right, White House reporters are beginning to ask some questions.

Let's listen in. This is Admiral John Polowczyk, who's working on the supply chain.

REAR ADM. JOHN POLOWCZYK, JOINT CHIEFS VICE DIRECTOR FOR LOGISTICS: ... transactions between hospitals and these distributors.

QUESTION: But just to clarify that step, explains why states say they`re bidding like they`re on eBay? Because the supplies are going to the private sector and then they have to go there to get the supplies.

POLOWCZYK: That`s normally how things work, right? So, I`m not here to disrupt a supply chain. So, look, these six distributors -- six, seven, they have 6,700 warehouses, they have trucks to go to the hospital to work every day.

We`re bringing product in, they`re filling orders for hospitals, nursing homes, like normal. I`m putting volume into that system. I would say that we`re -- we have the data now last -- so we put together this data element over the last, you know, what, 13 days? Get the people in, look at the problem, build this.

I am now seeing truth about what`s in the supply chain. And I would say that there`s been some abnormal behavior. OK?

QUESTION: Yes, thank you, Admiral.

House Oversight Committee Democrats, say that FEMA officials told them that the ventilators that the government has ordered won`t be ready until June, which is well after the expected peak.

Will the Defense Production Act memo signed today do anything to speed that up?

POLOWCZYK: Yes, it will. Mr. Navarro will talk about that. We`re online to receive several thousand ventilators in the month of April and saw a thousand more ventilators in May, ramping up to a big number in June.

Again, going from -- you know, an industry that produces about 30 annum -- 30,000 annum to a very big number.

QUESTION: Admiral, are you confident that this system means the state with the greatest needs are getting the supplies?

POLOWCZYK: It`s yes, yes. So --

(CROSSTALK)

Because a lot of governors are saying that they can`t get what they need and different states have more pressing urgency, depending on the caseload.

POLOWCZYK: Yes. So, we marry up -- we`re marrying up where CDC -- where the demand for COVID is to what`s in this commercial system. We`re providing that to these -- to the commercial system, and we are making allocations to those most pressing need.

13 days, we now have the data. We now can make informed decisions. And so, all of the -- I need -- I need -- I need, I now know the volume that has been happening and needs to be happening.

QUESTION: So, Admiral, with that, and Mr. President love for you weighing this -- weighing on this as well.

You talk about -- well, you alluded to the fact there is possibly some shady business going on. That the product is here in the United States, and --

(CROSSTALK)

POLOWCZYK: And coming here.

QUESTION: Yes, and it is coming here. It`s coming from China. It`s in Newark warehouses, it`s being made here in the United States, it`s in warehouses, but it`s going the highest bidder.

So, what can be done to keep those product here in the United States, not go overseas where companies are making a lot of money and get it, distribute it to the most critical places here in the U.S.

(CROSSTALK)

POLOWCZYK: Yes, I`m going to -- I`m going to Mr. -- I`m going to let Mr. Navarro talk about that.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISOR: Yes, sure.

QUESTION: I would love to hear from -- how is that being done? Because doctors -- I`ve talked to surgeons on a regular basis.

(CROSSTALK)

NAVARRO: OK. Great questions. Let me -- let me give you the bigger view of the DPA and we`ll directly address that. What we have essentially is a nation at war. We have a war-time president standing behind me. The Defense Production Act is one of the most powerful weapons this administration can use to fight the invisible enemy, the virus.

When I spoke with you last week, I explained the three points of the compass DPA can be used to hit. The first one is mobilization of the industrial basis. This can involve things like repurposing from say, a distiller like Pernod Ricard, from liquor to hand sanitizer.

It can also involve expansion of production, which is having Honeywell, which makes N95 masks open new factory in Smithfield, Rhode Island.

With respect to the second point of the compass allocation of resources, we have two issues there. If you look at the manufacturer itself, what you want to make sure is that the supply chain, which can go seven tiers deep, has enough component in that supply chain. So we can actually make what we need, and it -- once it`s made, you also want to make sure that it goes to the right people.

And then, the third point of the compass, which addresses what you talk about, is basically busting, I call it hoarding of critical or threatened material. So, let me walk through what the president did today in terms of strong action, what we`ve done, DPA, across those three points.

The first order President Trump signed was vigorous, swift. It was the G.M. order that direct the G.M. to make ventilators in Kokomo, Indiana in Trump`s time. Which is, he say as fast as possible.

As the president mentioned, he spoke to Mary Barra today, the CEO of G.M. That is moving forward. At the same time, as the Ford project is moving forward in Rawsonville, Michigan, and I`ve issued a challenge to those two companies, Ford versus Ferrari, this is Ford versus G.M. Let`s see who gets those ventilators out first.

Now, the second point of the compass which these two orders address today is this allocation of resource issues. The ventilator companies themselves expressed concern that in this rush to build ventilators, there would be pressure on that supply chains.

So, they requested that we do, and the president do, is to use the DPA to give this gentleman here, who`s one of the strongest gentlemen in the world in terms of applying things, is to give him the ability to prioritize that supply chain for those ventilator manufacturers.

And he will do things like give them what`s called the D.O. rating in the defense procurement which will allow them to...

BLITZER: All right, we're going to continue to monitor Peter Navarro, who's working on production of these critically needed supplies for hospitals around the country.

We will watch that. The president is now back in the Briefing Room. He's getting ready to answer reporters' questions.

We will, of course, have coverage of that as well.

Let's sneak in a very quick break.

Much more of our special coverage right here in THE SITUATION ROOM right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:30:00]

BLITZER: All right. We're waiting for the president to start answering reporter's questions over at the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Once that starts, we'll go back to the White House.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, in the meantime, is joining us. Sanjay, we did hear the president earlier say that he has now taken a second coronavirus test. He said this one was a lot more pleasant than the first one he took. He said it took about a minute. And within 14 minutes, he said, he got the results and it was proven to be negative, which is obviously good news. Tell us the difference between the first tests which he says was, you know, was not pleasant and the second which presumably will be made much more available around the country.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. There is a -- with the first test, I mean, part of the reason people found this so unpleasant is you really have to put the swab, you getting a specimen quite deep in the what's called the nasal pharynx, so back of the nose. It's unpleasant. I mean, you know, I have this done before to myself and it's one of the limitations. You've had a very hard time doing this to yourself or people who are doing in a self-administered test. But the big advantage of this Abbott test is the speed, Wolf. As you know, I mean the issue is someone is concerned they have coronavirus, they get a test that takes several days to come back. Well, what are they doing in the meantime? They -- you know, most of us should be staying at home regardless and sort of quarantining themselves, but how do you know if you might be even more contagious than usual.

So, he said, you know, it's curious, he didn't really need the test and I think the message still is for people out there, for the time being, until the testing really gets to the point where you wanted to be, that unless you have symptoms, you probably shouldn't get the test right now. But for him he said he was curious, he wanted to see how fast it would work, and it work pretty fast. It was supposed to be 15 minutes, he said it took 14 minutes. So, you know, that's going to be really helpful for people in terms of getting them some results more quickly and getting on with their lives, understanding if they're positive or negative.

BLITZER: What about reliability?

GUPTA: Well, these tests, you know, you measure these things in terms of false negative rate, false positive rate, and these tests are right around 3 or 4 percent false negative, so they are not perfect by any means. And, you know, for the Abbott test, it had to go through approval. So it's probably around that number. And, you know, one thing to keep in mind is that if you have a positive test, you are pretty confident that it's positive. If you have a negative test, it kind of means that you are negative right now. You know, sometimes we'll have to repeat those test if there's a high suspicion. But it doesn't say that you're going to stay negative. Obviously you could have another exposure or, you know, if it is a false positive, you may turn -- you know, the test may turn positive at some point in the next several days.

So it's not perfect, but it's a good test, Wolf.

BLITZER: The other major medical news is, Sanjay, that we're following is this letter that CNN has obtained from -- written by Dr. Harvey Fineberg. He's the Chairman of the Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Health Threats, which specifically says, if you have read the letter very carefully, I've read it very carefully, that the coronavirus can be spread not just simply by sneezes or coughs, but even, even, this is very significant, by talking and maybe even by breathing.

And Dr. Fineberg says, and we were speaking with him earlier here in The Situation Room, that he's going to start wearing a mask when he goes to a grocery store, for example.

GUPTA: Yes. This is -- you know, it's a very interesting letter.

[18:35:00]

And I think that it's interesting within the scientific community, you know, they have been talking sometime about this idea of what's called asymptomatic spread, Wolf. I mean, you and I have talked about it. And it basically means that even if you don't have symptoms, coughing, sneezing, things like that, that you could still be spreading it.

So I think for many in the scientific community, the idea that shouldn't be spreading it through talking or through just simply breathing made sense. I mean if you are asymptomatic and spreading it, that is then -- that means that just regular activities, breathing and talking would how you are spreading this.

I think the mask thing is interesting. And, you know, let me make it clear that when these people, the public health officials are advocating masks, no one is saying that it should be taken away from medical workers, it's not the surgical masks or the N95 masks that the general public should be wearing. But maybe clothe masks or something that they could use themselves, sometimes make but not the medical- grade mask.

But the purpose of the mask, Wolf, I think this is very important, is not so much to protect yourself from getting the virus, a cloth mask wouldn't necessarily do that, but it would actually help others from you. You know, it might lower the amount of virus that you're putting into the air.

So, you know, if you think, look, I don't know if I have it, I am asymptomatic, but I could still have it and still spread it, I mask my help. I think that's where we're sort of headed. And, you know, you're seeing it in several places around the country, Los Angeles. I think Mayor de Blasio just talked about that in New York City. My guess is you're going to see this in more and more places around the country.

We're not used to that in this country, wearing masks, but in many other places countries around the world, you know, they have been wearing masks for some time and I think we're going to see those recommendations, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. But the key is to make sure the masks that people wear, the face coverings that they use don't take away from the critically needed, much more specific masks that the surgeons, that the nurses, that the hospital technicians are using, first of all, to save their own lives, but also to save the patients' lives.

GUPTA: Absolutely. I think that's critically important. I think the two two important things with regard to what may come down the road in terms of these masks, if you go out in public, one, is they can't take away from healthcare workers. I think that should be pretty clear to people right now. There are healthcare workers in some places that can't get enough of these masks. That's a real concern, I mean, they are at high risk because they are taking care of patients who have the virus. And sometimes these patients are putting a lot of virus into the environment in the hospital. Healthcare workers need to be protected.

The other thing is the mask, you know, should not give a false sense of security. You know, if you have a mask, it doesn't mean now you can go out in public or lose your discipline about social distancing. Those are still the number one priorities, stay at home as much as possible. But for essential things, if you have to go out to do something essential, the idea of wearing a cloth mask or something, again, so that you are protecting others from you, I think, is the critical point that we may see, Wolf.

BLITZER: And you are right. We did hear Mayor Garcetti in Los Angeles earlier in the day, recommended people when they go out to start wearing a mask, a simple mask. Just as you say, you may not know that you have coronavirus, you may have no symptoms at all, but you could clearly give those -- the coronavirus to someone else.

Very quickly, possibly by breathing and even talking, that might happen, Sanjay?

GUPTA: If you have the virus in your nose and the back of your throat, it's there. Again, not causing you any illness or anything, but just by breathing or talking could potentially release some virus into the air around you.

Look, I think what the data will ultimately show is that this can happen, it's possible. But the greater source of spread, the greater driving of spread is still probably people who are symptomatic. So you obviously -- you know, if you are symptomatic at all, stay home. If you're out, you see somebody symptomatic, stay away from them.

But, you know, we are all learning a lot along the way, Wolf. And this is a new thing that is becoming increasingly clear, so that's why the masks may be recommended.

BLITZER: Yes, it's an important point. Sanjay, I know you're going to be doing something very, very important later tonight. Be sure to join Dr. Sanjay Gupta and our own Anderson Cooper later tonight for a live CNN global town hall on the coronavirus. They'll be joined, by the way, by Dr. Anthony Fauci and the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. That's tonight, 8:00 P.M. Eastern, only here on CNN.

All right, let's go back to the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, the president answering questions.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Go ahead.

QUESTION: I really want to ask you about masks, but I also just want to follow up on a couple hanging threads (ph) there. And just a question earlier about the bidding, what happens though when states are bidding against each other on those masks?

TRUMP: Well, they have that, and they have to work that out. What they should do is do shouldn't have long before this pandemic arrived, they should have been on the open market just buying. There was no competition. You could have made a great price. The states have to stock up.

[18:40:00]

It's like one of those things. They waited. They didn't want to spend the money because they thought this would never happen. And their shelves, in some cases, were bare. And by the way, in some cases, they weren't, they were beautifully serviced. They did a good job. But in some cases their shelves were bare. So the best thing they can do is when times become normalized, and they will, hopefully soon. And actually you're going to have a lot of excess material because so much is being done right now in terms of protective gear, protective outfits, lots being done. It's going to be -- within six months, it's going to be sold for the right price. They've got to stack up for the next time. But we are doing that and the admiral is doing a fantastic job.

Senator Schumer wrote a letter today and he said, you should put a military man in charge. And I said, Chuck, if you knew a little bit more, we have one of the most highly respected people in the military, the admiral, that's what he does too, very professionally. And he's in charge. But Chuck didn't know that.

Okay. Jeff (ph) first.

QUESTION: Mr. President, you tweeted this morning about your call with Saudi Arabia, MBS, we have some people say that the the figures that you cited between 10 million and 15 million barrels per day is not what they're agreeing to. Can you be more specific about what exactly --

TRUMP: I don't know what they are agreeing to. I think they might agree to more than that.

Look, Russia --

QUESTION: Did they tell you that, sir?

TRUMP: Yes, he did say that actually.

Russia, we talked about 10 million barrels. Russia and Saudi Arabia are fighting over this. And as everybody know, it's, you know, really killing an industry, hurting Russia badly, hurting Saudi Arabia badly. I said, this an easy one, it should be an easy one. And it maybe ten and it maybe more than that. I was actually told, it maybe ten, as I told somebody before. It may be ten, and it maybe more than that. Maybe it's 15. Maybe it goes up to 15, could be high as 15.

And you know, there is a tremendous oversupply right now. That industry was -- it was oversupplied before the virus, and when the virus came along, they lost 35, 40 percent of the world. And this is unbelievable, you can't get ship now. Every ship is loaded to the gills sitting out some place in the ocean. They're storage tanks. They're not even ships. They're storage tanks.

So it would be great for Russia, it would be great for Saudi Arabia. I hope they make that deal, but that's what they told me. They said it's -- well, I think it will be helpfully soon. I think, hopefully, they'll announce something soon.

Now, can a deal be broken? Can something happen or it doesn't happen? I guess, in which case there is another alternative. But I'd rather not see that other alternative. I hope they can make a deal. They both want -- I think they both want to make a deal.

And they are both smart, they love their countries, they want to make a deal. It's good, but it's also good for the world if they do because you'll save an industry.

Yes, please, go ahead, go ahead in the back.

QUESTION: What do you mean by cash payments?

TRUMP: I am going to let Mike, because we went over this specifically. I'll let you talk about it, Mike, because you responded last time.

PENCE: Right, thank you, Mr. President. As I said yesterday, the president has put a priority on ensuring -- no American has to worry about the cost of coronavirus testing and we've been working every day to make sure that Americans don't have to worry about the cost of treatment. And at this point, the White House Coronavirus Task Force is working on a proposal for the president to use some of the $100 billion that we're making available to hospitals to compensate the hospitals directly for any coronavirus treatment that they provide to uninsured Americans.

We're working out the details of that. The president will make a final decision tomorrow. We expect an announcement. But the president has made it clear, we don't want any American to worry about the cost of getting a test or the cost of getting treatment.

And we have expanded coverage through Medicaid, we expanded coverage through Medicare, health insurance companies around the country, including Blue Cross, just today, announced that all of their members will be waiving all co-payments on coronavirus treatment before those some 30-odd million uninsured Americans. The president has directed that the coronavirus task force to find a way to make sure that they know we will find a way to pay for your coronavirus treatment. And the president will be addressing that and announcing that tomorrow.

QUESTION: Mr. President, a point of clarification and then a follow up question. Yesterday, you said that you spoke to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis before he issued his stay-at-home order. Did you advise him to issue that order?

TRUMP: No, but I talked to him about it. And he wants to do what's right for the people of Florida. He's been a great governor. You could see that just by his popularity, which is extraordinary.

[18:45:00]

We are proud of him. He has done a fantastic job. And he made the decision. But we spoke before he made the decision, yes.

QUESTION: And he also said that he is considering -

And he had also said that he is considering putting people who are suspected of having coronavirus or who tested positive for it in isolation centers, and that --

TRUMP: I haven`t heard that.

QUESTION: So you haven`t consulted with him? TRUMP: I haven`t heard that.

QUESTION: Thank you, Mr. President. Ebony Bowden from the "New York Post." A few hours ago, Mayor de Blasio, mayor of New York, said that New York is leaving their homes to wear masks, they should also wear masks when they`re with other people. Are you considering that kind of recommendation on a federal level? And if you are, how would you prevent a rush on N95 masks?

TRUMP: I think they`re going to be coming out with the regulations on that, and if people want to abide by them, frankly, I don`t think they will be mandatory because some people don`t want to do that. But if people wanted, as an example, if people wanted to wear them, they can. If people wanted to use scarves, which they have, many people have them, they can. In many cases, the scarf is better, it`s thicker. If you`re -- depending on the material, it`s thicker. But they couldn`t do that if they want.

Our recommendation are coming out, we`ll see what that recommendation is, but I will say this, they can pretty much decide for themselves right now.

QUESTION: Would that be nationwide?

TRUMP: Nationwide.

QUESTION: Nationwide. And I think this is best for Dr. Birx, but we`ve heard some differing guidance here at the WHO and even the surgeon general have talked about various studies that show that masks in addition to maybe not even being helpful to protecting may actually increase the rates of illness because people touch the masks and they touch themselves. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of thinking on this?

TRUMP: Dr. Birx. And you might mention that other point also.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you. So I hope you got from the conference today that we are triangulating data that we know from the case numbers, the testing numbers, the supply chain numbers, to create an integrated picture so that we can really support hospitals in their needs. And I think that level of granularity is really critical.

Secondly, I just want to make the point that we really applaud the governors that are looking at a whole of state or a whole of metro approach. And what do I mean by that? The United States going into this at about 160,000 ventilators across the United States, and another 60,000 to 70,000 anesthesia machines. That`s about five times what most of the European countries have. But it`s a matter of distribution to need. And I really applaud the governors that are bringing together their public hospitals with their more private hospitals and their visibility across their state, because what we tried to talk about yesterday and he is every state, every county is different. And that`s why we are looking at it at that level of granularity. And as we move through this epidemic, the needs need to be very

tailored to those counties and, frankly, those hospitals. There is a reason why the president and Mr. Kushner have been very much involved in finding out what the public hospitals need. Why is that? Because public hospital sometimes has the weakest supply chain because they are often sometimes not as attractive to private sector distributors, or they may be too busy caring for the needs of patients to be really on top of their order forms and their supply chain.

So really listening to the community that is at the front of this fight and getting feedback from those specific communities no matter where they are, and listening to the front line health care workers, because it`s their reality that is important to all of us, whether you`re the mayor or the governor or the federal government. And if they are saying they need something, we have to work together to supply that. And so that`s what you`re seeing with this triangulation.

Every county will move through this differently, and that allows us to move around these vital issues that protect the frontline health care workers and protect the patients through the ventilators to make sure that the supply chain is aligned with the need as it happens. You have to have very good data in order to be willing to work in that level of granularity, and that`s what we`ve been working on to really develop that level of granularity to ensure that.

So I just wanted to say one other thing about testing, just to give you the bottom line data of what we are seeing. We appreciate the groups who are reporting. Not everyone is reporting yet. And this is part of us trying to understand at a very granular level. We do understand two states that do have 35 percent positives, and that`s New York and New Jersey. So that confirms very clearly that that`s a very clear and important hot zone.

[18:50:00]

Louisiana, though, has 26 percent of their tests are positive. Michigan, Connecticut, Indiana, Georgia, Illinois, so that should tell you where the next hot spots are coming, are at 15 percent test positive, and then Colorado, D.C., Rhode Island, and Massachusetts are at 13 percent.

There`s a significant number of states still under 10 percent, everyone that I didn`t discuss. California and Washington remain steady at an eight percent rate. So what we are seeing finally is testing improving, more testing being done, still a high level of negatives in states without hot spots, allowing them to do more of the surveillance and containment, and then prioritizing this new rapid test kit to those areas that may not have the same amount of access to the health services and to the public health institutions and the public health and state labs so that they can use that and start forward leaning into surveillance.

Now, we know there are people waiting for tests, and they`re waiting for tests because when these areas became very -- when they got onto the logarithmic curve, we prioritized peoples whose decisions where the test decision we make it critical for their care. And so we prioritized hospitals, and we prioritized nurses and doctors and frontline workers. So that means if you went through a drive-through, or you went through your doctor, you could have that delay.

So the masks. So what I tried to give you is how we are using data in a very granular way. And so there is experiential data when you look at communities that have oftentimes utilized masks in general for personal protection when they particularly are themselves sick and have used their masks in public. And we`ve looked at the rate of this COVID-19 and those populations, and then we are looking at the scientific evidence to bring those two pieces together.

Let me just say one thing, though. The most important thing is the social distancing and washing your hands. And we don`t want people to get an artificial sense of protection because they are behind a mask, because if they are touching things -- remember, your eyes are not in the masks. So if you`re touching things and then touching your eyes, you are exposing yourself in the same way. So we don`t want people to feel like, oh, I`m wearing a mask, I am protected, and I`m protecting others. You may be protecting others, but don`t get a false sense of security that that mask is protecting you exclusively from getting infected, because they were other ways that you can get infected, because the number of asymptomatic and mild cases that are out there.

And so this worries us, and that`s why the debate is continuing about the masks, because we don`t want when we are trying to send a signal that every single person in this country needs to stay six feet away from everybody, that needs to be washing their hands constantly and know where their hands are, to send a signal that we think a mask is equivalent to those pieces. So when the advisory comes out, it will begin additive piece if it comes out, rather than saying this is a substitute for. And we want to make sure everybody understands it is not a substitute for the presidential guidelines that have already gone out, and to be absolutely clear about that.

QUESTION: Dr. Birx, there`s a lot of evidence we`re seeing, that experts are saying a high number of these tests could be producing false negatives. But --

BIRX: Of the Roche and Abbott test?

QUESTION: That as many as one in three tests might be providing false negatives. Maybe you could --

BIRX: That would almost be impossible with having 35 percent positives. If that was true, you would have 100 percent positive or 66 percent positive.

So what I can tell you is the number of positive tests is tracking very closely with a number of cases diagnosed. So I will look into that. I look at the Roche and Abbott numbers every night. They are trending exactly in the same way, and that`s important when you`re validating data to really validate does the same site -- in other words, I`m looking between testing the sites to see are their consistencies, is there an anomaly, to make sure for what you just very specifically asked. So I will go back and look at it more carefully. I haven`t seen that kind of anomaly. This is the same platform that is being used across the country, and

that is a range from what I reported, three percent positivity up to 35 percent positivity. And that range reflects also what we are seeing with the hot spots and the number of cases. And frankly, we had to talk about it, but it also tracks with the hospitalizations independent of diagnosis and the mortality that we are seeing. So all of those pieces validate together.

[18:55:10]

QUESTION: People might be getting a false sense of security or that might not be seeing all of the data here --

BIRX: I`m telling you, I`m still missing 50 percent of the data from reporting. I have 660 tests reported in. We`ve done 1.3 million, so there is, and it could be those sites, so we do need to see -- the bill said you need to report. We are still not receiving 100 percent of the tests.

QUESTION: Dr. Birx, we regard to the tests, the president`s sample collection took one minute, results were reported back 15 minutes. I realize you`re the president of the United States, but when will everyone get to take a test that works that quickly and you get results that quickly?

BIRX: So these are new tests, and we have prioritized the groups that we think have the least access to testing now. And who do we mean by that? We mean the Indian Health Service. They are often in remote areas, rural areas. The governors of the northwestern states that may not have the advantage of these high throughput machines that often across the east coast and in high metro areas, Colorado and then across the west coast. So we`ve prioritized the presidential 15 minute test to the Indian Health Services and public health labs so that they can supporting nursing home testing and other areas where we think surveillance is absolutely key. So at this moment, there prioritized in that way.

(INAUDIBLE)

BIRX: Yes, 1,200 of them are going out in that way.

QUESTION: So more of those tests need to be made in order to ---

TRUMP: They are being made. They`re moving very quickly.

BIRX: So I`m glad you asked that, because today, there`s 18,000 of these machines already out there. We are trying to find out exactly where everyone is, because you can see that gives you amazing flexibility, because if people would allow it to be loaned to a state that`s in a hot spot or a state where you want to do additional surveillance, 18,000 tests -- 18,000 machines is a huge amount, and it really gets to your very question about how we can prioritize what we have at the same time we are moving out what is new.

And so really figuring out should those go to, who can we ask communities, because these will be in the community, to share those machines into the community who need the testing now. And I think that`s really an incredible question that really needs to be answered over the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: Dr. Birx, a point of clarity about the face covering guidance. You said it`s still a point of debate. You used the phrase the guidance, if it comes out. Is the guidance coming out? And when?

PENCE: Yes.

QUESTION: And when, sir?

PENCE: In the days ahead. We`re currently working through the task force, taking the consultation advice, CDC, our top health experts, and we`ll be bringing forward guidance from the CDC in the next several days.

BIRX: Just remember it`s not a substitute for everything that we`re asking people to do.

And just to everybody out there across the country, when we say no gatherings of 10, we`re looking at -- we want to be clear if you have a family of 10, we don`t want you to be split up. But we don`t expect people to be having dinner parties, cocktail parties. I mean, I know you`ve seen the slope in the United States versus the slope in Italy. And we have to change that slope. We have to change the logarithmic curve that we`re on. We see country after country having done that.

What it means in the United States is not everyone is doing it. So we`re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines to a tee. And I can tell by the curve and as it is today that not every American is following it. And so this is really a call to action.

We see Spain, we see Italy, we see France, we see Germany, when we see others beginning to bend their curves, we can bend ours. But it means everybody has to take that same responsibility as Americans.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: Mr. President, can I have a quick follow up on oil please? In your conversations with Russia and Saudi Arabia, did you have to make any concessions to get them to agree to cut their production? Like, did you agree to cut U.S. production of oil?

TRUMP: No, we didn`t discuss that. They want to do that. That`s good for their countries. And we did not discuss that, no.

QUESTION: NBC has learned that the Navy is set to fire the captain of the USS Theodore Roosevelt after he raised red flags about the COVID- 19 outbreak on his ship.