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U.S At Crossroads As 10 States Still Without Stay-At-Home Order; Top Administration Officials Said Last Year Threat Kept Them Up At Night; Contagion Writer Says, I never Would Have Imagined Federal Blunders. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 3, 2020 - 13:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon, I am Anderson Cooper. This is CNN's continuing coverage of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Right now, the number of cases in the United States has risen above 257,000. Deaths have topped 6,500. The last 24 hours have been deadliest yet for New York with more than 560 deaths. Governor Andrew Cuomo is looking for ways to restock his dwindling amount of critical medical supplies, especially ventilators, before it is too late.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): You do not have enough. The federal government does not have enough material to sit there and say whatever you need I can get you. Don't worry, California, don't worry, Michigan, don't worry, New York, don't worry, Florida. They can't. They can't. They have essentially said, I don't have enough in my stockpile to handle all of this.

Forget testing, vaccines. That's a separate problem. That's not where people are going to die in the near term. People are going to die in the near term because they walk into a hospital and there is no bed with ventilator, because there's either no bed or no staff or no PPE or no ventilator. That is what is going to happen.


COOPER: We could soon get new guidance on masks, and that could mean new recommendations that everyone should be wearing some sort of mouth covering when they leave their homes. That's expected to not include the N95 masks that are needed for healthcare workers.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio laying out the blunt truth today, saying that, unless the federal government steps up in a big way, he only has enough ventilators to last until Sunday. After that, he says, he's just not sure what will happen.

Our Shimon Prokupecz at the Javits Center, which is now being to COVID patients only. Shimon, there is some question about how the Javits Center and the Navy ship, Comfort, are being used or not being used, with only around 20 patients being sent to the Comfort, which has a thousand beds.

So the Javits Center is now -- is it COVID only and is -- what's up with the Comfort?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is really important, Anderson. So the Javits Center, yes, they will now accept COVID patients. Initially, they did not want to. And we heard the governor talk about this in his press conference where he said the federal government, FEMA didn't want to take those patients, those COVID patients. That's what the hospitals in New York City certainly need right now. They need relief from the less critical COVID patients.

And so the governor said he went to the president, he went to President Trump and said, I need help, I need you to allow and put pressure on the federal government to do this. And the president did it. So now, because of that, because of the governor going to the president, the Javits Center is going to be taking the COVID patients.

Now, the ship, which is behind me, they're not expected to take COVID patients. There's about 20 people on that ship right now that are being treated. But the military does not want COVID patients on there because it's going to be very difficult to disinfect the ship. So they don't want that. The doctors in this town, the nurses, the medical staff, they need relief from COVID patients.

There are a number of COVID patients in hospitals that are not on ventilators. So to focus on those that are on ventilators is that number is starting to climb. Today, Governor Cuomo said there are 3,700 patients in ICU. That is going to climb. And those patients need ventilators. So the doctors want relief from hospitals, from the government to take these patients into these federal hospitals, like the Javits Center, the less critical ones, so that they can relieve the pressure and specifically focus on the critical patients. That is now underway.

They're going to continue to need that help, Anderson. I spoke to one doctor who said, we need busloads of patients taken out some of these hospitals who are just on oxygen so that we can relieve some of the pressure. Hopefully, that process is now underway, pressure by the governor, pressure by the hospitals to get these federal structures that are now being used as hospitals to take the burden off of a lot of these doctors and nurses and the medical staff at these hospitals.

COOPER: So it's COVID patients who are not on ventilators, not in ICU's currently who are on oxygen but in hospitals, they would like those patients move to the Javits Center to whatever degree possible. And the Comfort still though -- who's decision is it whether the Comfort will ultimately allow even less critical COVID patients?


Is that up to the president?

PROKUPECZ: It's the Navy and perhaps the president. President Trump can ultimately tell the military you have to do this. And as the commander in chief, they would have to do it. They are resisting it from everything, we can tell.

The governor did say he was going to talk to military officials to try to put pressure on them to do it. That's the most important thing in all of this right now, Anderson. Hospitals, they're not seeing other patients. The majority of patients that are going into the hospital right now are all people who are suffering from the coronavirus. The idea that there may be other patients there or, in any degree, the other patients that are putting pressure on these hospitals, people with other kinds of illnesses, people who may have suffered some kind of trauma, that is not there right now. The pressure is from the COVID patients and they need them now. They need those that just need oxygen.

And then also just one final point. Some of the patients in these hospitals just can't go home. They have tested positive for the coronavirus but they just can't live. Perhaps they live with others. Perhaps there's no one to take care of them. So the hospitals don't want to just release them. They need someone to keep an eye on them, so places like the Javits Center, other places around the city, hotels, which are going to be turned into field hospitals as well, hopefully, that will get going in the days to come. Because, as we know, the numbers are only going to climb, Anderson.

COOPER: Yes. Shimon Prokupecz, I appreciate it. Be careful out there.

Today, Detroit becomes the first American city to get full access to a new 15-minute test for the coronavirus. Now, it is a critical improvement as some patients complained it takes more than a week to know if they're infected. A lot of patients have been waiting for longer than just a week.

And there's one lab reports a backlog of some 115,000 tests. So this new rapid result test was given to President Trump, who said it was a more pleasant experience than his first test.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And it took 14 minutes or something to come up with the conversion. And it said, the president tested negative for COVID-19. So that's the second one. I think I took it really out of curiosity to see how quick it worked and fast it worked, and it's a lot easier.


COOPER: CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now.

So how does his test work so quickly and how quickly can it be used across the country?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, exactly. That's a matter of distribution. As we have seen, Anderson, we are not great at that in the United States, right? In other countries, they seem to get tests out more quickly. And so it will be interesting to see what happens with this one. So with many viruses, there's a sort of a longer test and a more rapid test. You see that with flu and with other viruses as well. So it's a great thing that they came up with this. It would have been great to have had this earlier reports, but this whole testing process has been so slow.

So the results come in 15 minutes, we are told sometimes even less. In that way, if someone is positive, they're not sort of out there with their family our out there, god forbid, in the community. You tell them in 15 minutes, hey, you have this, you need to be isolated.

And so Detroit says that they're going to use it on employees and will help them make decisions about when people can go back to work. This is crucial when you are talking about first responders, you really want to get them back to work as quickly as it is safe to do so and this test will hopefully allow them to do that.

COOPER: And, I mean, who controls this? I mean, who decided it is going to be down in Detroit? Is it started there? How did this come about?

COHEN: You know, I think what we are seeing in this country, Anderson, is that it's really kind of whoever makes it happen, right? I mean, a company has the test. There is no rules about who they're supposed to give it to or not give it. Maybe there was some connection to Detroit. Who knows how exactly this happened. And that's, I think, one of the differences between how we're handling this in this country versus in other countries where they have single-payer systems.

And we can debate until the cows come home about whether the U.S. ought to have a single-payer system in the big picture. But for handling of a pandemic like this, it is certainly easier and more efficient when you have one group kind of making the decisions about where these sources go in the United States. It's a bit of a free for all whether it comes to tests or masks or gloves or whatever, everyone just sort of does what they want to do. It's very different than how it's done in other places.

COOPER: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much. I appreciate it.

Right now, more than 300 million Americans are roughly -- roughly 93 percent of the country are being ordered to stay-at-home. Ten states have no such orders in place. And the White House says, it can tell not enough Americans are following the coronavirus guideline because the much talked about curve is not flattening.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: 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, we see others beginning to bend their curves. We can bend ours. But it means that everybody has to take that same



COOPER: And that is not happening. Dr. Stephen Thomas is the Chief of Infectious Diseases at Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse, New York. He also worked on pandemics and epidemics during his 20-year career in the Army.

Doctor, three years ago, you wrote a piece titled, preempting the next pandemic, where you write about containment. You hear the White House say not every American is following the guidelines. At the same time, ten states don't even have stay-at-home orders for people to follow. Florida, for instance, finally decided to -- the governor decided to have one and yet religious services are exempt. Would a federally mandated lockdown help?

DR. STEPHEN THOMAS, WORKED ON EPIDEMICS AND PANDEMICS DURING HIS 20- YEAR ARMY CAREER: I think that it would. I think that that -- of not having that mandate is probably a decision that needs to be rethought. The fact of the matter is it is going to be very, very difficult for any location within the United States avoid having viral transmission and infection.

But what you can do with very simply public health interventions is reduce the impact of the transmission and reduce the number of infections, which has a very positive downstream effect in terms of keeping hospitals and healthcare system within their capacity to take care of the ill. It's going to have reduced economic effects. And most importantly, it's going to have a positive effect on preserving life and reducing suffering.

COOPER: When you think about this, I mean, where do you think we are in the arc of this? A lot of political leaders have been talking about two-week increments or 30 days. When you look at those graphs, I mean, this is a long -- we are in, it seems to me, early days of a very long battle.

THOMAS: I think your assessment is correct. This is definitely a marathon. This is not a sprint. I know locally the analogy that I am using is people think they're seeing light at the end of the tunnel and we really just paid the toll. We have just entered into the tunnel.

The curves are very disturbing. They have this inflection, which we call these logarithmic increases in cases, and that's very concerning.

COOPER: You know, who do you rely on for guidance, I mean, the CDC, the White House? In prior instances, normally, we would hear the CDC every day would be giving press conferences. This is now all being funneled through the White House. I assume you are a believer just in follow the sign.

THOMAS: I am. So we have to remember that this is a new disease to this planet as of three or four months ago, and so there's a lot of information that we don't know. But every day, we learn more. And there are places on the planet that have already been through this experience.

So, for example, one of the places we draw a lot of our guidance from is by having contacts and having communications with places that have already been through the phase of the curve that we are now very much in the middle of. So, for example, our university had a great conference call last Saturday with about 15 physicians from Wuhan, China. And they had incredible guidance to provide us. We are actively speaking to our physician colleagues who are down state right now, where, of course, it's a disaster.

But, we always follow up on information from the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from the New York State Department of Health and from our local Department of Health. And when there are gaps, then we need to fill those gaps with the knowledge that we have from being infectious disease physicians and being scientists and having experienced without the respiratory viruses.

COOPER: We have heard doctors and nurses as everybody in the medical field. And, frankly, these days, it's delivery people and, you know, UPS drivers, and these are frontlines. As a former service member, does it feel to you like a war setting? And if it does, what needs to change so that we are taking it seriously?

THOMAS: It very much does. Because, as you've heard before, and you've seen it on your show, obviously, fear is gripping everyone, and especially the healthcare workers. And the people -- and when I say healthcare worker, I am not just talking about physicians and nurses, everyone who is in the hospital to serve a function in the hospital is in that environment. And so there is this great deal of fear.

And so one of the things that we try to do, and, again, this was very much of the way in the military is that we try to give people the big picture of what is the mission.


Our mission is to care for people. Our mission is to protect our healthcare workers. And we tell people what point A is, we tell people what point B is, we give them as much information as we possibly can and then we trust them. We trust the managers and leaders that are on the frontline, whether it's in the emergency department or whether it's up on the medical surgical floor or within the ICU. We trust them to take that information and to make decisions. That sort of decentralized authority.

And so that's what we're trying to do, because this situation changes so rapidly and so fast that if all decision-making is made in a very centralized location, people are not going to be able to respond the way they want to. I mean, we are a moderately-sized hospital and healthcare infrastructure up here, but we have 11,000 employees.

COOPER: Dr. Stephen Thomas, I appreciate all you are doing and all your colleagues are doing, and keep at it. We are all in this together as perhaps never before for this generation. So, thank you very much. I appreciate it. THOMAS: Thank you.

COOPER: President Trump repeatedly said this pandemic was an unforeseen crisis. CNN has found evidence from his own administration showing otherwise. We'll talk about that ahead.

Plus, I will speak with the writer of the movie, Contagion. A lot of folks have been turning, watching that movie. We're going to hear from the writer who did an awful lot of research, talking to experts for contagion and what surprised him most about this pandemic.



COOPER: In a new KFILE report, CNN is learning how top administration officials sounded the alarm last year listing the threat of a pandemic as an issue that kept them up at night. This, of course, directly undercuts President Trump's repeated claims that the coronavirus problem is an unforeseen problem nobody could have imagined.

Joining me now is CNN's KFILE Senior Editor, Andrew Kaczynski. So, Andrew, what did you find?

ANDREW KACZYNSKI, CNN KFILE SENIOR EDITOR: Yes. So CNN's KFILE has learned that at a biodefense summit last year, two top Trump administration officials, HHS Secretary Alex Azar and Tim Morrison, who, at that time, was the top staffer for biodefense on the National Security Council, both warned of the threat of a pandemic.

Now, at this conference, which was basically about implementing strategies for biodefense and was sponsored by the government, both these officials listed the idea of a pandemic as the number one issue that kept them up at night.

In Morrison's case, he actually insisted the thought of a pandemic as something that worried him so much that they just weren't prepared for it.

COOPER: And after that, was there any follow-on, do we know?

KACZYNSKI: So part of the purpose of this summit was to implement this biodefense strategy from 2018. So at this conference, there was -- you know, there were people from both public and private sector. But what we know from this conference is that people in the top levels of the Trump administration were worried about this threat and it just sharply, sharply undercuts those comments that President Trump made on five different occasions where he said this is not something people were prepared for.

COOPER: Andrew, I appreciate it. Thank you very much.

The federal response to the pandemic has been thrown in the fire from the start. First, the administration relied on test from the CDC. That turned out to be faulty. The president's administration downplayed the pandemic in the early stages. Scientists talked about the loss month of February, the testing in hospitals were ill-equipped to deal with this in terms of supplies. And FEMA has only provided the states with a fraction of supplies requested. And the lack of ventilators and masks and beds, red tape has kept more patients from going on to the hospital Navy ship in New York.

And Treasury Secretary Mnuchin has promised today would be a day of massive loan program for small businesses kicking into gear. Sources tell CNN it is far from ready and the rollout will be rocky at best because of lack of direction from the administration, say, many banks (ph).

Our next guest, Scott Z. Burns, researched what a pandemic might look like inside the U.S. for the screen play, Contagion, which a lot of folks have been watching in the last few weeks. He consulted Dr. Larry Brilliant for the movie. It was a decade ago. They both join me live.

First of all, thank you both for being with us. Scott, I'm wondering -- I know that movie well, I have watched it numerous times over the years. I have been fascinated by viruses and pandemics for a long time. There is a relatively responsible leadership reaction in the film to a pandemic. Are you surprised by this administration's response?

SCOTT Z. BURNS, WROTE SCREENPLAY FOR 2011 MOVIE, CONTAGION: Yes. I mean, look, when we did the research for the movie, I went to the CDC as their guest. And it seemed to me at the time there that the people were very aware of this and there was solid preparation going on, I think. When I was contemplating the movie and speaking to experts, the notion that the richest country in the world where we live would have a three-month head-start on this and now finds itself as the sickest country in the world is something I would have never thought with my screen play nor would I have contemplated the kind of response we have seen from the federal government in terms of testing or blaming other people. And I certainly would have never thought that the president of this country would call a pandemic like this a hoax.


So, now, I would have never anticipated that.

COOPER: Dr. Brilliant, I talked to Bill Gates last week and he talks about a loss month, February. The president says, well, it stopped flights coming from China. But there was -- a lot of scientists do talk about this kind of loss month of February. And I bring this up and not to point fingers or trying to cast out for any political reasons, but nothing changes unless you acknowledge the mistakes in the past and this is a long battle. What do you think needs to change in terms of our overall response to what is going on?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, CONSULTED ON CONTAGION MOVIE: Well, you can't get the month back and probably at six weeks or eight weeks when a virus is growing exponentially. It's not the past eight weeks that you lose. It's the eight weeks of the highest point in the epidemic that you can't stop because you seeded the virus already. It's deeply disturbing that give a virus that grows this fast, a six or eight-week head-start. We have to do now is good epidemiology. There should be test kits, hundreds of millions of them. Anyone should be able to get that.

Right now, we are flying blind. We're like a boxer in the middle of a ring with kickboxer all around. Unless we have test kits, we are wearing a blindfold.

COOPER: And I talked to Fauci about testing. I think it last week. And one of the things he was saying is that the fact that -- first of all, the fact that there is not a nationwide stay-at-home order just seems scientifically like malpractice. It just seems -- it doesn't make any sense scientifically. I understand, politically, there are reasons for it, but scientifically. And especially in those states, Dr. Brilliant, where they claim they don't have a lot of cases, they need to be doing epidemiology. They need to be testing extensively and contact tracing so that it remains true that they don't have a lot of cases.

BRILLIANT: That's exactly right. We need to find every case. The way we do that is with testing. We need to then contact all of the contacts. We need to isolate them, quarantine them. That's the tool that we have. We don't have a vaccine. We are trying to put this epidemic curve two steps to the right so a vaccine shows up like the cavalry.

COOPER: Scott, what concerned me too is when you listen to -- Dr. Birx said it yesterday, and Dr. Fauci last week, when you listen to them talk about what needs to happen in the states that allegedly don't have a lot of cases or think they don't have a lot of cases, they say like, well, it's an opportunity for extensive testing and for contact tracing. They say it's an opportunity but it doesn't mean it's happening. And when you push, which I did with Fauci, he acknowledges, yes, it's actually not happening but that is what that should be happening.

You know, the governor of Georgia yesterday said he finally issued a stay-at-home order because he allegedly just learned that people who are asymptomatic can spread the virus. I mean, would you have written a character in your movie that would -- who is governor who had claimed after all of this that he just learned that asymptomatic people can spread the virus?

BURNS: No. I was as stunned as you are. I don't understand how somebody can have been paying attention in the last two months and have somehow missed that. And I'm sure there are really good public health people who are in Georgia who are trying to get that message out.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, the CDC is in Georgia. I mean, it sort of blows my mind -- I am sorry I interrupted you, Scott. But I do want to ask you, Scott, one of the things also from the movie I think that is so important and it's something I have seen in war zones in Somalia, in Rwanda, in Sarajevo over the last 20 or so years I have been doing this, is that there is a lot that's out of our control in a situation like this but there's a lot that's in our control. And not only is the social distancing and taking care of each other in our control, but how do we choose to behave with each other is in our control.

And that's something I think you kind of highlighted in the movie, this is a choice. Do we choose to lean into our humanity and our connections each other or do we choose to turn against one another?

BURNS: Yes. Look, that was a big part of what I learned from Dr. Brilliant and Dr. Lipkin. In the absence of a cure, we can be that for each other and it depends on if we can overcome our divisiveness and if we can respect one another and take care of one another. And that's what public health is about. And that has a lot to do with how we made the movie.