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Coronavirus Strains Emergency Services Across U.S.; Some U.S. Cities Tell People to Wear Masks; Funerals Turn Small Georgia City into Virus Hotspot; U.K. Vows to Test 100,000 People Per Day by End of Month; Germany Mobilizes 15,000 Soldiers to Help Fight Virus. Aired 4- 4:30a ET

Aired April 3, 2020 - 04:00   ET



NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello again, everyone. 4 a.m. eastern here in Atlanta, Georgia, where we're coming to you live from CNN NEWSROOM. We appreciate you watching. I'm Natalie Allen. We'll have the top stories here about the coronavirus including the strain on emergency services. How this pandemic is forcing first responders to face a new routine. We'll have that.

Also, record-shattering unemployment. 6.6 million Americans file for jobless benefits. That is the population of Los Angeles and Chicago combined. But how long can people live on the bare minimum? We'll talk with one worker about that.

And the United Kingdom vows to test 100,000 people per day, but the country is still unable to reach its daily target. We'll go live to London coming up here.

And thank you again for joining us. Our top story, a little over three weeks ago the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic. The number of coronavirus cases has been doubling every week since. Johns Hopkins University says the world has passed the 1 million mark. One week from now it might be double that. COVID-19 has already crushed every notion of normal. In the blink of an eye more than 50,000 people have lost their lives. Millions of workers are suddenly without jobs or income.

And as more and more Americans are told to stay home, experts have new reasons to worry. They suspect the virus can be spread simply by talking and breathing. And hospitals already pushed to the limits fear what is coming next. Beds full of sick and dying moms, dads, brothers, sisters, it is enough to break anyone.


ROCKY WALKER, CHAPLAIN, MOUNT SINAI HEALTH SYSTEM: It's very important part of my job to work with the staff, especially in times like now. A lot of my work is really focused on keeping the morale of the staff up and giving them a safe place to have their emotions heard. In this very ward we put up what we call a hero's room for just that, for the staff to be able to share their emotions and anything. So that's what I do.


ALLEN: I like that. With the worst of the pandemic thought to be about one week or more away, hospitals in major U.S. cities are increasingly overwhelmed though with medical staff exhausted and supplies and space running low. CNN's Erica Hill has that.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 90 percent of the country today ordered to stay home. But an exemption in some states for religious services is raising concern among experts and some faith leaders.

DANNY DE ARMAS, SENIOR ASSOCIATE PASTOR, FIRST BAPTIST ORLANDO: We love our city. We love the people here. The last thing we would want to do is to put people in danger.

HILL: In Texas one state lawmaker is sounding off. More than 40 students there have now tested positive after going on spring break.

DENNIS BONNEN, TEXAS HOUSE SPEAKER: Quit being an ass. Whether you think this is an issue or not, it is.

HILL: And there is new information about transmission. Experts telling the White House, currently available research supports the possibility that coronavirus could be spread directly by patient's exhalation. In other words, it's not just sneezing or coughing, but simply talking or breathing. This as the nation's second largest city tells people to wear masks.

ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES MAYOR: And when you have to go out, we are recommending that we use non-medical grade masks or facial coverings and not take the ones that are reserved for our first responders.

HILL: Laredo, Texas threatening residents with a $1,000 fine if they don't wear one in public. In New York, Mayor de Blasio says his city may run out of medical masks and other critical supplies by Sunday. Nurses there warning of dire consequences if they are not protected.

JUDY SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ, HOSPITAL NURSE: We are dying. We are getting sick. It doesn't matter how many ventilators we get if we are dead and cannot run the ventilators.


HILL: In Detroit at least one hospital is already at capacity as the city's convention center is transformed into a temporary facility with a 1,000 beds. In Boston, one of the New England Patriots planes arriving today with critical supplies from China. "The Wall Street Journal" reporting a dramatic scene. China giving them just three hours to land, load, and leave and they took almost every minute.

CHARLIE BAKER, MASSACHUSETTS GOVERNOR: Thanks to the generous and hard work -- generosity and hard work of the Kraft family and many other partners, Massachusetts will receive nearly 1 million N-95 masks.

HILL: And new warning from those closest to the disease.

NICOLE BUCHANAN, WIDOW OF CORONAVIRUS VICTIM: I need everybody to know that this is serious. People think that it's just going to affect people with underlying health issues, old people, but it doesn't.

HILL: Nicole Buchanan's husband Conrad was just 39 when he died from coronavirus complications.

(on camera): Here in New York City there is now new guidance from the mayor who is advising all New Yorkers when they go outside to cover their face with either a scarf or a bandana. He's stressing that masks should be left for healthcare workers. He also says that by Sunday the city needs an additional 1,000 nurses, 300 respiratory therapists and 150 additional doctors. Back to you.


ALLEN: So you see the desperation from inside hospitals there. That one nurse pleading for help, but there's also people that need help as well. For the men and women on the front lines of keeping people safe, they risk their lives as well. There's no such thing as a routine call anymore for police, paramedics or firefighters who are also on the front lines of this. Our Brian Todd has that story.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: One fire official here in Washington told us they're hearing estimates that tens of thousands of people in this city could get sick from coronavirus. This is of course stressing the resources of firefighters and EMTs here in Washington and across the country. In fact, just the precautions that they have to take to go on one given call are jarring.

(voice-over): In New York, front line EMTs and paramedics face an avalanche of calls.

ANTHONY ALMOJERA, LIEUTENANT PARAMEDIC, NEW YORK FIRE DEPARTMENT: When I left the Brookvale hospital there was about maybe 15 ambulances outside waiting to be triaged.

TODD: An EMT says it's overwhelming.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Call volume, it's, it's just ridiculous It's one after another after another. Most of station is out with symptoms. But though ones that are still working, we're still tired. We are extremely tired. We're working over 16 hours a day.

TODD: So many patients hospitalized, they are spilling over.

ALMOJERA: The hospital doesn't have any beds and they're using our stretcher to work up the patient, and the patient's on a ventilator at the moment and I can't get the stretcher back. TODD: And the dangers are real. On Tuesday Israel Talantino, an EMT

firefighter in Passaic, New Jersey, died of complications of coronavirus. While it's not clear how he got infected, his fire department is considering it a line of duty death. In the nation's capital, first responders are also decimated and bracing for an onslaught.

JOSEPH PAPARIELLO, UNION REPRESENTATIVE, DC FIREFIGHTERS ASSOCIATION: Our firefighter EMTs and paramedics are used to handling emergencies that they can see and feel. Whether it's running into a fire ground or treating somebody in cardiac arrest or an asthma patient. But this is an unknown enemy that we haven't dealt with before and that definitely raises the anxiety level.

TODD: Paramedic and DC firefighter union rep, Joe Papariello, told us about 10 percent of DC's paramedics and firefighter EMTs are out of commission tonight having tested positive for coronavirus or under quarantine. With potentially tens of thousands of cases on the horizon for Washington, Papariello and his teams are telling DC residents, only call 911 if it's an emergency, like difficulty breathing, not because you think you might have coronavirus. On the call describe all of your symptoms so they can prepare. Meet the paramedics outside if you can so they don't have to come in your house. And wear a mask if you have one to protect them from your germs.

PAPARIELLO: I think our members' biggest fear is bringing the virus home to our families.

TODD: If a responding team in DC arrives at a house with a suspected case of coronavirus, Papariello says, each responder has to take an extra few seconds to don a mask, face shield, gown and foot covers. He doesn't believe there's enough of a delay to compromise a patient's safety. But sometimes it's out of a responder's courageous hands.

New York paramedic, Anthony Almojera gives a gut-wrenching account of trying to comfort a coronavirus victim husband while social distancing.

ALMOJERA: When he realized that his wife had passed away and we worked are up and did everything we could. And then afterwards I went to tell him, and normally I would put my arm around him. But this time around I had to keep distance and I watched this man's grief come over him, his anger, his sadness. For the first time in my 17-year career I went back inside the truck and I cried.


TODD (on camera): The anxieties and the taxing of resources are piling up across the country for first responders, and that doesn't even include the simple steps that they all have to take each day to prevent coronavirus. At this station a truck like this one has to be wiped down two or three times a day. And after a given call where there might be symptoms of coronavirus, an ambulance has to be taken to a separate site and disinfected with some kind of decontaminating spray.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: Well, as far as the virus itself and what we're learning about it, last hour I spoke with global health expert Dr. Peter Drobac, from Oxford, England, as the medical community struggles to get a handle on this new disease. Here he is.


DR. PETER DROBAC, GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT, OXFORD SAID BUSINESS SCHOOL (via Skype): I think every day with every new discovery it's just a reminder of really how little we know about this virus, that we're in unchartered territory. And I think Dr. Fauci's admonition that we stay humble is really important.

ALLEN: Well, there doesn't seem to be a correlation with whether people have pre-existing conditions now, and whereas, what we have heard prior is that those who already had issues like diabetes, heart issues, lung problems are at high risk. And now it seems healthy people could also be at severe risk. That's the big question, isn't it?

DROBAC: Yes, I think it is both. It's not to say that individuals who have underlying medical conditions are not at risk. I think in some cases that still appears to be the case. What we're seeing now is that being healthy at baseline doesn't eliminate your risk or doesn't protect you from the risk of severe disease. And so, in some sense we're all vulnerable. And that's really a caution especially to younger, healthier people that they need to do their part to bend the curve and to social distance.

ALLEN: And now we learned that the -- yes, the 6-foot separation rule may not be enough social distance, that just breathing may be spreading the disease. How should people react to that as far as personal safety?

DROBAC: Again, this is a really difficult one. This is part of the renewed debate around whether everyone should be wearing masks. I think, at least with regard to the U.S., there's still not a national shelter in place order. And so, in a number of states people are still going about their business. And so, the first and most important thing that could be done would be to try to keep everybody home. But I do think that the shift towards using masks where possible for everyone who is circulating in public will help to further reduce that risk.

ALLEN: Right. Dr. Fauci says 100 percent of Americans should be sheltering at home but that just isn't happening at this time. We'll wait and see where that goes. Meantime, the United States is being ravaged by this disease. I know that you have worked in countries that have much less resources than the United States.

But let's talk about what's going on in the hospitals because it's surreal and what our doctors and nurses and front-line health workers are going through without the proper equipment. Sadly we've got a tussle still between the White House and the governors. This is just horrific what they're having to deal with. What are your thoughts?

DROBAC: It's really sad to see. And you know, for all of the health workers on the front lines, including many of my friends and colleagues, it's just so difficult that they put themselves in harm's way and are being sent into battle without proper armor.

One of the things that we saw in Italy was that when there were shortages of PPE, the hospitals themselves became epicenters of transmission as the sort of health system broke down. And so even if you're doing everything you can in the community to social distance, you can still have ongoing transmission between patients and health workers in hospitals and that can actually worsen the problem.


ALLEN: Global health expert there, Dr. Peter Drobac talking with me last hour.

Well, a rural county in southwestern Georgia is emerging as a coronavirus hot spot. State health officials say it likely started with two funerals in the city of Albany. So far more than 5,000 people now have been infected with the virus in Georgia, with almost one and four of them there in the Albany area. How did it happen? CNN's Diane Gallagher is there.


DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Emell Murray has endured a lot of pain over the past 30 days. Back on February 29th, hundreds of family and friends came to the small Georgia city of Albany to say good-bye to Andrew Mitchell, the man that she loved for the past 20 years. After several hours of crying and hugging each other, Marie started feeling sick.

ALICE WISE BELL, DAUGHTER OF CORONAVIRUS PATIENT: That night my mother went to bed. She had a fever. We didn't even know it at the time.

GALLAGHER: 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.

BELL: I knew things -- they were living their last days. I knew thing were going to be bad, but until it hits you, you know, that's when you 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 AND CEO, PHOEBE PUTNEY HEALTH SYSTEM: Two 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 5,400 people have been infected with the virus in Georgia. More than 175 have died. Nearly 1/4 of those from the Albany area. As the virus rips through their rural community, for so many here it's overwhelming.

CAMIA HOPSON, GEORGIA HOUSE DEMOCRAT: With us being a small city, we're not New York but we are still impacted and when you look at the percentages of our population that's impacted, I mean, that's still a significant number.

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

STEINER: We've 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 hospital's office workers have now traded their computers for sewing machines making mask covers, an attempt to extend 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.

BRIAN KEMP, GEORGIA GOVERNOR: We have shipped necessary supplies and plan more shipments based on the needs of 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.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard watching her suffer.

GALLAGHER (on camera): The statewide stay at home order in Georgia goes into effect on Friday, but they've been dealing with the effects of this virus for weeks now here in Albany. I asked the hospital CEO if he thought they had turned the corner, things were starting to get better. He simply took a deep breath, looked down and told me, no. They'd likely not seen the worst of it just yet.

Dianne Gallagher, CNN, Albany, Georgia.


ALLEN: This is CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. Still to come, we will take you all across Europe. Live reports to get the latest on situations there. And after being heavily criticized for its lack of testing, the U.K. now making big promises, but will they reach their goals? We'll have a live report. Stay with us.



ALLEN: After being criticized for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, the United Kingdom now vows to test 100,000 people per day by the end of the month. Still the country has not its current target of 25,000 a day. Until then preparations are underway to turn this ice rink in the town of Milton Keynes, England -- and this is quite depressing -- into a mortuary should that be needed. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh is live for us from another makeshift morgue in London. It's never a good sign when our reporters are in a situation like this. Nick, Hello.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, behind me here on the outskirts of London is a site frankly you never thought you would see in a European capital city in 2020. This is for the worst possible scenario. That may be the morgues, hospitals and the crematoriums overflowing in the months ahead and require extra storage space. Rapidly erected in the last few days.

Erected, too, very fast in the last 12 days is the ExCel center down on the banks of the Thames which will be open today by Prince Charles of the British Royal family. He has recovered, it seems, from his COVID-19 positive test and now appears to be able to open that via video link. Part of the British governments messaging to show that they are prepared. That makeshift hospital was supposed to have 4,000 beds but will open with 500. Frankly, no one could have been up to the task of creating that massive capacity quite so quickly.

Testing though has been now -- now become the central point of the U.K. government's message. Cast yourself back about a month ago. Scientific experts were suggesting really that testing wasn't that important because the disease was going to spread regardless. Now there appears to be a massive change to put the U.K. again on the side with much of the rest of the world considering testing to be vital.

Now Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, in charge of the COVID response, who was also been tested positive for COVID-19 but recovered enough yesterday to deliver this goal of 100,000 a day. Well, he also admitted this morning that that is quite a big ask. That it's something that's going to be hard for them to do. And frankly, it's a month down the line which possibly, if you look at some of the projections, may be towards the end of the peak or search here in the United Kingdom.

And this is really the British governments problem here. They're facing like every country, enormous supply chain problems. They seem to have been late in trying to get their hands on the testing kits. It's unclear what the problem has really been there. And now they're facing a key dilemma which has to do with the NHS -- the free U.K. health services front-line staff. There are figures from Matt Hancock today suggesting that 8 percent of those working in the NHS are not at work at the moment because they may be sick or maybe living with somebody else who is sick and have to stay away from work as a result.

If you can't test your front-line doctors, nurses, et cetera who deliver that care, then that massively reduces your capacity to treat the sick in the kind of pace and scale that will be required. Clearly this testing issue has become much more important as they realized they have to work out who in the NHS can and cannot go to work.


And as see increasing clamor across the British population for people trying to work out whether they have it or don't have it.

But really the U.K. here delivering free health care to everybody is part of the sort of taxes that people pay here dealing with a limited pool of resources and trying to work out how exactly that is best distributed.

But frankly, all of this messaging, all of this desire to show positive confidence in the face of the surge is going to be irrelevant, frankly, in the next ten days ahead or so when we expect the number of cases here to peak and then people will be looking for practical solutions and preparedness rather than lofty goals for some point down the line -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Right, the lofty goal, 100,000 people per day being tested. All right, thank you so much, Nick Paton Walsh for us there in London.

But now we want to turn to Germany. The military mobilizing 15,000 soldiers there to support local authorities with the virus. They'll be used to protect infrastructure, distribute medical equipment and set up makeshift hospitals. But they are in need of some protection themselves. Germany's defense minister says the military is experiencing a shortage of protective equipment just like many other agencies.

Let's get the latest now from there. CNN senior International correspondent, Fred Pleitgen, joining me now live from Berlin. Certainly they have their issues as well, but Germany has had it better than other European countries. What can you tell us about that?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi there, Natalie. Well, the certainly have. And I think the Germans are putting that down to two things. On the one hand, if you look at the numbers in Germany, it's highly interesting to see that the Germans actually have one of the highest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections in the world. I think right now they're at number 4 in the world with around 80,000 confirmed infections but the death toll is still fairly low.

There was a very sad landmark the Germans reached today which is they've gone over 1,000 people who have died of COVID-19 but that's still only 1/3 of the number you have in the U.K. even though the U.K. has a lot fewer confirmed cases. Now what the Germans are saying what they did early on, and they say

that's paying off right now, is they started testing a lot of people. The Germans are saying at this point in time they can do around 500,000 coronavirus tests every week. In fact, they said that last week potentially they may have done up to 900,000 tests. And so they say because of that they're able to identify a lot of cases pretty easterly on, try and isolate those people, keep them away, for instance, from vulnerable populations, like the elderly.

But also of course, in that number they have a lot of more mild cases. And that's why the death in Germany rate is actually lower than in many other places, in Europe and indeed around the world.

The other thing that the Germans have done -- and this is something that they are saying is absolutely key -- is they prepared for things to get worse. They say they know things are going to get worse, but they're really working very hard to prepare. They say the amount of ICU beds that they have here in Germany has been increased by about a 1/3 to about 40,000, the amount of ventilators to about 30,000.

The Germans are saying, look, they expect things to get worse. But they also believe that the capacities are not going to be exceeded like they have been for instance, in Italy and Spain. They say at this point in time they believe that even if things get worse, they can make sure that everybody in Germany who needs a ventilator will get a ventilator. And that certainly seems to be something that is keeping people alive, to have those ventilators up and ready -- Natalie.

ALLEN: You mentioned, very comforting to know if they get that as well. Yes, if they get it. Fred Pleitgen for us there. Thank you so much, Fred.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM live from Atlanta. And next, closed until further notice. The pandemic is causing all kinds of problems for people's livelihoods. We look at how the U.S. government plans to help small businesses.