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U.S. Death Toll Passes 8,000-Plus, Second 1,000-Plus Death Toll In Two Days; Trump Considering Second Task Force On Reopening Economy; Michigan Reports Significant Jump: 1,400-Plus New Confirmed Cases Today; Tenth Member Of NYPD Dies From Coronavirus; Building Hospitals From Scratch In New York; Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ) Is Interviewed About Coronavirus Cases In New Jersey; New Jersey Confirms 4,000-Plus New Cases For Second Straight Day; There Are 155 Confirmed Cases Of Virus On U.S. Navy Ship; Trump To Deploy Thousands Of Military Personnel To Boost Coronavirus Response; Germany Testing 100-Year-Old Tuberculosis Drug To Fight COVID-19. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 4, 2020 - 20:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

This is a special edition. We're following all the breaking news in the pandemic mark with horrific heartbreaking milestones. This is another one. The death toll from the highly contagious coronavirus just here in the United States alone, today passed 8,000 people. And for the second day in a row, more than 1,000 people here in the U.S. reported dead. That's just in the U.S. remember.

And globally, the numbers are also so grim. 1.2 million people infected around the world. More than 64,000 plus dead. President Trump today predicting that it's only going to get worse in the coming few days.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will be probably the toughest week between this week and next week. And there will be a lot of death unfortunately. But a lot less death than if this wasn't done. But there will be death.


BLITZER: The president's coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, underscoring that now is not the time to return to normal pre- pandemic life. Listen to what she said today.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: This is the moment, not going to the grocery store or not the pharmacy but doing everything you can to keep your family and your friends safe. And that means everybody doing the six-feet distancing, washing your hands.


BLITZER: Pretty stunning statement from Dr. Birx. Now the president today also clearly focusing on kickstarting the stalled U.S. economy. And he said soon - that despite his top medical advisers advised the nation. Listen today from the White House briefing. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But the one thing I am confident in. So, let's take this to the bank that mitigation works. So, it does. We've seen it in other countries. We've seen it in our own country. And that's the reason why I keep coming up at every chance I get to plea with the American people to please take a look at those guidelines that the vice president keeps putting up with his chart because every single one of those points has something to do with physical separation.

TRUMP: And mitigation does work but again we're not going to destroy our country. We have to get back. Because you know at a certain point, you'll lose more people this way through all of the problems caused than you will with what we're doing right now.


BLITZER: The president obviously continues by hot and cold with some of the governors' advice regarding medical supplies. The pleas for more medical supplies. The issue of state cooperation with the federal government. Today, he praised governors on their coronavirus response measures, including those who have yet to issue stay-at-home orders. But he also accused some governors of playing politics about their need for critical medical supplies, especially ventilators.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is joining us from the White House right now. Jeremy, the president said Americans should be ready to suffer a lot of deaths in the coming couple weeks but he still refused to issue a national stay-at-home order. What's the reasoning?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, today the United States has hit that marker of the most deaths in a single day so far. And as that happened, we heard the president warning that things are going to get a lot worse.

Talking about the grim reality ahead, that there will be a lot more death, saying that it will be a horrendous time for this country. But in the same breath, the president also talking about wanting to reopen the country. So, certainly another case of mixed messaging from the president today. Something that has marked his briefings in the past.

As far as that question about a national stay-at-home order. Wolf, I asked the president specifically about the eight governors, all Republicans, who have so far refused to issue stay-at-home orders in their states. I asked the president why he wouldn't urge those governors to do just that.


DIAMOND: You have said that you want to see as few lives lost as possible in the pandemic. But there are still eight governors, all Republicans, who have refused to issue these state-wide stay-at-home orders. Your own experts, including Dr. Fauci, have said stay-at-home orders are the most effective way to stop the spread of this virus. So why not do everything possible - right now to do that?


TRUMP: We have a thing called the Constitution, which I cherish, number one. Number two, those governors, I know everyone of them, they are doing a great job. They're being very, very successful in what they're doing. And as you know, I want the governors to be running things. Now, in some cases we'll supersede. But in this case, it's not -


TRUMP: I think it depends on the individual state that you're talking about. But they're doing very well and they're doing a magnificent job in running their states.


DIAMOND: Wolf, I also asked the president whether he -- the president actually said that he would change his tune if there are indeed more significant outbreaks in those states. But as we know, Wolf, because of the asymptomatic spread of this disease, once you do have a significant outbreak, it's already too late.

Now, Wolf, I also asked the president about the potential shortage of ventilators across the country even as those ventilator manufacturers are ramping up production. The apex of this virus is expected to come in the next six to seven days and that means, Wolf, that most of those ventilators, those tens of thousands of additional ventilators that are likely to be needed, experts predict that there will indeed be a shortage. And I asked the president about that and he said indeed there could be a shortage of ventilators in the weeks to come. Wolf?

BLITZER: So disturbing because they save lives, these ventilators. Another thing the president did, Jeremy, today. He kept touting a drug used for malaria and lupus that he basically suggested people should look into it, despite the fact that the FDA has yet to approve that drug for coronavirus treatment. Tell us about that.

DIAMOND: Right, Wolf. This is something that we've heard from the president for some weeks now. He has repeatedly pointed to this drug hydroxychloroquine as a potential treatment for coronavirus. Now there are some initial studies that suggest that it could be helpful but it's nothing conclusive so far.

That's why Dr. Anthony Fauci as well as the head of the FDA, both of them have refused to say that there's definitive evidence that this drug indeed works in the treatment of coronavirus. That's why they have clinical tests actually happening now in the country to determine whether or not it is useful.

Nonetheless, the president said that millions of doses have already been purchased by the federal government and put in a National Stockpile. And the president even suggested himself that he might even take hydroxychloroquine after consulting with his doctors. But again, Wolf, we need to note that there is no evidence so far to suggest that this is an effective treatment. At least no conclusive evidence. Wolf?

BLITZER: And before your doctor prescribes it, he or she should inform you of the potential side effects from this drug as well.

All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much for that.

We're also following staggering new numbers out of Michigan right now. The state which only lags behind New York and New Jersey for the most cases here in the United States, has reported nearly 1,500 new cases today alone. And according to Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services, that brings the state's total to more than 14,000. Officials there also reported 61 more fatalities related to coronavirus today. Bringing the death toll there to 540.

Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Dingell of Michigan is joining us right now. Congresswoman, thanks so much for joining us. So if cases continue to rise like this, are you worried your health care system in Michigan will soon be overwhelmed?

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): Our health care system is already feeling it. I hear from nurses and doctors every day that are very worried about the PPE equipment in the hospital. We don't have enough ventilators right now. And we're doing everything that we can, in a very bipartisan way, I might say on our congressional delegation to try to get that equipment in here.

And we're lucky that we have major manufacturers. Ford, General Motors, all three actually, Chrysler have stepped up in production of face shields, masks. Ford's beginning to produce the N95 masks. But the ventilators which both General Motors and Ford are going to make are not going to be online for this peek that we are going to see in the next couple of weeks. And yes, we are worried.

BLITZER: Is your state getting what it needs right now, Congresswoman, from the federal government?

DINGELL: You know, I don't think it's in anybody's interest right now to get into any kind of contest between federal and state government. There were shipments that were scheduled to come here that we had contracts for that were suddenly not shipped because the federal government was taking over distribution. Every single person I know is working on getting shipments.

We are having - look, I spent yesterday trying to find a plane to fly equipment in from China. There are a lot of the manufacturers are working with contacts that they have. Everybody is doing everything they can to get that equipment in. We get a report at the end of every day what the burn rate is at every hospital and what the days' supply is with PPE. BLITZER: Detroit's mayor, you know this, Congresswoman, has actually floated the idea of a curfew for the city if people don't obey the stay-at-home order. Would you support that?


DINGELL: I would. I, quite frankly, have been in my house for 21 days, Wolf. Nobody would put that a penny that I could stay put for 21 minutes. But too many people aren't taking this seriously. And every last one of us has the job to do. And for most of us who don't have the skillset to be on the frontline as a nurse or doctor and I'm so grateful to those grocery store workers and drugstore workers and the Amazon workers and the drivers of these trucks and the mail people.

Our job is to stay home and not enough of us are. They don't understand how important it is and the only way we mitigate this is for each and every one of us to stay home, sit on the couch and stop mingling with other people.

BLITZER: Yes. That's excellent advice. As you know, Congresswoman, this is the time of the year when so many so-called snowbirds, retirees, others, they leave the state during winter. But now they are - they want to come back home to Michigan and elsewhere if they've been hanging out in Florida or Arizona or other warm weather states. So what's your advice to them? Should they come back to Michigan right now or stay put in Florida, Arizona, elsewhere?

DINGELL: I think people need to stop traveling. I know it's really complicated. I've talked to a lot of people in both Florida, Arizona. A lot of them weren't taking it seriously down in Florida. They were stir crazy. They thought everybody was overreacting.

Well, people aren't overreacting. And no matter where you are, whether your governor has told you to stay home or not, you need to stay home. Wolf, I've lost 12 people I know in the last couple of weeks. Not everybody has been --- some of them were older. We don't know why they died.

Even someone that - a very well-known young person, 33, Graham Davis, was the mayor's communications director. His old dog was named Dingell. They're now thinking may have had COVID.

This is a real disease and it's killing people from babies. We had 107-year-old. It is -- people need to stay home. They need stay put wherever they are.

BLITZER: Before I let you go, Congresswoman. What's your bottom-line message right now to Michigan residents? So many of whom are so scared right now.

DINGELL: We're going to get through it. We're going to get through it because we're going to support each other. We're really lucky that we're a community. People are - that need supplies at home. We're making sure you have got your food, your medicine.

There are a lot of nonprofits working to take care of the community. We need thank our nurses and doctors and all the frontline workers. But if we all do what we're supposed to do, we're going to get through it. And we're going to be stronger and closer because of it.

BLITZER: Unfortunately - I mean, I total agree. We will eventually get through it. Unfortunately, in the next few weeks a lot of people in this country or indeed around the world are going to die and it's so, so sad. Representative Debbie Dingell of Michigan, good luck to you. Good luck to all the folks over there. Stay safe. We'll stay in close touch with you. Appreciate it very much.

DINGELL: Stay Safe. Thank you.

BLITZER: All right. The growing crisis in New York. Now the Federal government taking some dramatic steps, including opening a new hospital in the city. Can Americans feel safe sending their loved ones at the hospitals, to these hospitals being built from scratch? We're going to talk about that and a lot more when we come back. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The breaking news just coming in THE SITUATION ROOM.

A tenth member of the New York Police Department has died from a suspected case of coronavirus. There are also more than 1,600 uniform members of the NYPD who have tested positive for the virus. Officials say, roughly 18 percent of uniformed officers are now out sick.

New York remains the hardest hit state in the United States right now in terms of coronavirus cases. More than 113,000 and counting. And the governor says they're bracing to hit an apex in new cases over the next seven days or so.

To help prepare, they're working to convert the sprawling Javits Convention Center into a 2,500 bed hospital. But just last hour, the New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, told me they're going to need a lot more help and a lot more supplies in the days to come. Listen to what the New York mayor said in the last hour. Listen to this.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: We think at some point next week we could have 5,000 people on ventilators. We're going to need 45,000 doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, et cetera. We have to add 60,000 more beds in the course of the next month or so.


BLITZER: Awful situation in New York City right now.

Let's get right to CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro in New York. Evan, give us the latest on the preparations you're seeing for a whole lot more cases in the coming days and weeks. EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, as you mentioned, you know I feel like this has gone on for a long time here in New York. But already, we're still not at the worst of it according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the mayor as you talked earlier -- you talked to earlier.

Next to me is the Javits Center. It's a giant convention center that is being turned into a field hospital. It's all ready to go and on Monday, it's expected to see its first COVID patients. That's over 2,500 beds worth of space for COVID patients to be cared for by federal - federally funded and federally trained medical officials.

This state and this city are still in the preparation phase for the worst of this pandemic. They're trying to build out hospitals, find new equipment, find new personnel to staff that equipment. Here, the problem is still growing. As the governor mentioned in his press conference today, there's still new hotspots popping up around the New York City area.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Watch Long Island because it is like a fire spreading. And at one point the fire, it doesn't max out in one place.

But it consumes where it is and then it's moving out. You look at where it's moving. You see that Long Island numbers growing. I mean it's - it's been growing for the past 10 days, right? And it's been growing steadily.



MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, signs of new hotspots, new places where the virus is popping up and new problems for a city and a state trying to figure out a way to deal with this problem. Now, as you mentioned at the top of your piece - at the top of your remarks, 10 NYPD officers dead. It's a good perspective on just how much is happening, how fast in this region.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, in a press conference today and in a tweet later, mentioning that his state has already had 100 more people die than died in 9/11. New Jersey Governor Murphy saying that this pandemic is riding one of the biggest tragedies in his state's history. So things are happening very quickly here. But it's important to remember that things that are happening fast, are things that are pretty tragic. And there's more to come. Wolf?

BLITZER: Unfortunately are. Evan McMorris-Santoro in New York City for us. Thank you.

CNN medical analyst, Dr. James Phillips, is joining us right now. He's a physician and also an assistant professor at George Washington University Hospital. Dr. Phillips, thanks so much for joining us.

Let's talk about the so-called pop up hospitals like the ones in New York at the Javits Convention Center, another one at Central Park. If your loved one is sent to one of these so-called pop up, can you be confident they will get the kind of care that it's as good as they would get in a regular hospital. But say like George Washington University Hospital here in Washington, D.C.?

DR. JAMES PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I believe so. You know the federal authorities like HHS and the assistant secretary for preparedness and response, FEMA. These are organizations who are well- versed on the use of these types of facilities. They've been used in countless emergencies from the hurricanes, recently to Katrina. You can tell there's experience there by how quickly they were set up. I mean it's really amazing just from an infrastructure standpoint.

And what you saw today with a thousand medical providers being brought over from the DoD. The quality of physicians and nurses that are going to be manning those are going to be top notch. So, I think that the public should have confidence in the ability to receiving care there.

BLITZER: Will these doctors at the so-called pop up hospitals like the Javits Convention Center have the same resources, the same equipment at their disposal that you have at GW?

PHILLIPS: We certainly hope so and that is the ultimate goal of setting up these types of facilities. There will be certain types of patients that are considered the best patients to go to a facility like that. Probably the more mildly sick patients versus those that require full ICU care. Now some of those - some of those patients may have ICU level care within them.

But I don't think they're setting up a thousand ICU beds. However, they will have well-trained staff there. And the ability to shuttle patients back and forth from full hospitals to those medical facilities should they deteriorate and be found - and they have conditions that they think that can improve.

BLITZER: Here in THE SITUATION ROOM the last hour, I spoke to the mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He thinks they're actually going to need an additional 45,000 health care workers in the coming days to get through this crisis. What do you make of that?

PHILLIPS: Sure, wish I could be there. You know my family is from Long Island and my heart goes out to New York right now. I have a feeling it's going to be several other cities over the next two weeks as well. There are a number of sort of calls to arms for physicians and nurses to join the fight.

The idea of bringing some recently retired physicians and nurses back in. I think is reasonable as long as they're protected appropriately. I don't know where the number 45,000 comes from. But it breaks my heart to know that there's experts looking at it and estimating that that's the number that they need.

BLITZER: In this time of crisis, Dr. Phillips, what are you learning about the country's medical infrastructure right now?

PHILLIPS: Well, it's being taxed like it's never been taxed before. You know, there's multiple levels to it. You know where I work, here in Washington D.C. and in Bethesda, I see things going very well. We're also not being hit with a big wave yet. We see our health care coalitions, our regional coalitions of hospitals and our partners doing a good job.

And we see a number of governors managing their states extremely well and asking for the appropriate equipment. FEMA was brought in after the declaration of a national emergency. So, now you have full professional emergency managers trying to run the logistics and the decision making process from a medical standpoint. I just wish that we could get that completely in line with the messaging that we see from all members of the task force because I think there are some weaknesses there that could be improved.


BLITZER: Dr. James Phillips, thanks for everything you're doing. We're grateful to you, all the medical personnel all over the country. They're real heroes risking their own lives to try to save the lives of fellow Americans. Appreciate it very much.

PHILLIPS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And earlier, Evan mentioned the chilling words of the New Jersey governor as he compares this pandemic with 9/11. Just ahead, I'll speak with the congressman from New Jersey about the crisis. We'll get the latest information there. What congress should be doing right now to try to help? Stay with us. We have much more coming up.



BLITZER: Alarm -- alarming and very sobering numbers out of New Jersey right now for a second day in a row. The state has reported more than 4,000 new positive cases of coronavirus, bringing the statewide total now to more than 34,000.

Meanwhile, another 200 residents of New Jersey have died from complications related to the virus as the death toll climbs to nearly 900.

Flags are now flying at half-staff across the state to mourn those who have lost their battle against this deadly virus. And as Evan mentioned earlier, the governor of New Jersey has described the pandemic as one of the greatest tragedies in our state's history.

The New Jersey Democratic Congressman Josh Gottheimer is joining us right now. He's the co-chair of the House Problem Solving Caucus. Thanks so much for joining us, Congressman. Really appreciate it.

I want to get right to the news. According to Johns Hopkins University, Bergen County, in New Jersey, which falls in your district, now has nearly 6,000 confirmed cases, almost 200 deaths, what steps are being taken there to stem the crisis? Because those numbers are only going to go up? REP. JOSH GOTTHEIMER (D-NJ): Yes. You know, this was one of the earliest hotspots in the country. And I have to really praise our frontline health care workers and our hospitals. They've been working on this for weeks. You know, we're short on vents one day, short on personal protective equipment the next day, and they just keep fighting through it.

And, you know, we've got 9,000 people who have the virus in my district, overall, Bergen County, being the center of that. We've lost more than 200 lives. It's really awful, but we're coming together. And, Wolf, we're going to fight through this.

BLITZER: I'm sure you will. Your district, of course, borders, New York, does that complicate the response given what's happened in the New York City area?

GOTTHEIMER: Yes. Well, obviously, with a lot of people who go back and forth every day to New York, I think that helped lead to the spread and the fast spread here. Our governor is doing a terrific job coordinating. And we all work very closely with the administration with each other, with New York.

And I think the key is working together here and trying to learn every single day how to get ahead of it, but it's not easy. And, of course, you know, people out of school and people out of work, it obviously adds a lot of anxiety to it. And Congress, we're trying to do everything we can to help people. But, you know, people are rightly on edge.

BLITZER: I know you're working with fellow lawmakers in Washington, including Republicans to try to come up with some sort of commission to look back at some point when the dust settles and hopefully won't be too long to learn the lessons of what we did, right what we did wrong, and move forward, sort of like a 911 Commission. Tell us about that.

GOTTHEIMER: And that's exactly right. I mean, I think right now we've got to look forward and work together and do everything we can to get ahead of it. But, you know, with time, we're going to figure out what we need to have in place to prevent this from happening again. And of course, being fully prepared.

I think the question I hear from a lot of people, and I'm sure you do too, Wolf, is what are we going to be ready to reopen America? What's it going to take? And I think we need to start thinking about that right now as we're dealing with the health crisis and the economic crisis, is that making sure that we have the testing capability, and obviously, that's going to be coming on week after more capacity. Making sure that, you know, our businesses have what they need to keep people safe, if they're going to bring people back.

You know, what are the different benchmarks we're going to have to achieve as a country and in terms of protective equipment, in terms of, obviously palliative care, be able to -- we know that there's going to be antibody tests and making sure we can send back certain workers. So those are the kind of things are in a bipartisan way trying to think through, as we of course, take care of people and try to deal with the health crisis.

BLITZER: We're going to listen to a congressman to a very, very strong statement that Senator Bernie Sanders made last night about how the federal government should be dealing with those Americans who are simply out of work. Listen to this.


SEN. BERNIE SANDERS (I-VT), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: This is exactly what I would do. The main point is that we have to prevent a breakdown in the entire system. That's how dangerous it is right now. It is much easier to maintain the system than to fix it after it is broken. What does that mean?

From an economic point of view, it means that we tell every worker in America, you will continue to get your paycheck. We know you're not working. We know you're at home, you know, your business that you're working for, is not functioning. But guess what, we're going to do what the U.K. is doing, what Denmark is doing, what Norway is doing, what France is doing, you will continue to receive 100 percent of your paycheck.


BLITZER: Do you think that's realistic, Congressman? Is Congress going to pass something dramatic like that?

GOTTHEIMER: Well, I think Congress passed the Character Act, as you know, and right now, we actually are giving unemployment insurance at 100 percent of people salaries which is critical because they're obviously out of work not by choice or their own.


We're obviously taking care of small businesses, especially our main street businesses with forgivable loans. I think we're -- and we've got obviously direct cash dollars going to people to help them. You know, we need to stand by people. I think that's we're going to be looking at in our next package.

And for this crisis, it makes sense to help them and I think that's exactly what we should be doing for right now.

BLITZER: Congressman, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, good luck to all the folks in New Jersey. Thanks so much for joining us.

GOTTHEIMER: Thanks, Wolf. Thanks for having me and stay safe.

BLITZER: You too. Appreciate it very much.

A U.S. Navy Captain has now been relieved of his command after sounding the alarm about a very disturbing outbreak of coronavirus spreading through the close quarters of his aircraft carrier. Military personnel are finding themselves on the frontlines of this battle can more be done to keep them safe.

We'll have much more on that and all the day's dramatic news right after this.



BLITZER: President Trump today announced that thousands of U.S. military personnel will be deployed across the country to bolster coronavirus response efforts. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I want to thank our military for what they're doing. And we're going to be adding a tremendous amount of military to help supplement the state's, thousands of soldiers, thousands of medical workers, professionals, nurses, doctors, and it'll be a large number, it'll be -- we'll be telling them over the next very short period where they're going. And they're going into war. They're going into a battle that they've never really trained for. Nobody's trained for this.


BLITZER: Joining us now, the former Veterans Affairs secretary under President Trump, David Shulkin. Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us.

Are these troops really trained to respond to a pandemic like this or do you worry they themselves could be at risk?

DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER UNITED STATES SECRETARY OF VETERANS AFFAIRS: Well, of course, I think they potentially could be stepping into harm's way. We've seen so many first responders and health care workers get sick themselves. And that's heartbreaking.

When you don't have the right type of protective equipment, it's your true heroes that are stepping up. But I would not expect less from our military. These are people who have sacrificed and willing to do what it takes to serve the country. And this is a time that we need them and their presence there.

I agree that we need a surge in our cities like New York and in New Jersey, and New Orleans. We need to show that there are people all around the country that care and are there to support people when they're in need. And we're hearing desperation from our leaders out of New York right now.

BLITZER: And we certainly are and the U.S. military is unique in its capabilities, but we worry about the men and women who will be going into harm's way to deal with this enemy, this virus.

Let me ask you, Mr. Secretary, about Captain Brett Crozier of the USS Theodore Roosevelt aircraft carrier. As you know, he was relieved of duty after writing a memo, sounding the alarm about the coronavirus spreading through the ship's ranks. And he received arousing send off from his crew. We all saw that.

President Trump was asked about the episode earlier today, I want you to listen to what the commander in chief said.


TRUMP: The letter was a five-page letter from the captain. And the letter was all over the place. That's not appropriate. I don't think that's appropriate. And these are tough people. These are tough, strong people. I thought it looked terrible, to be honest with you.

Now, they've made their decision. I didn't make the decision. Secretary of Defense was involved and a lot of people are involved. I thought it was terrible what he did to write a letter. I mean, this isn't a class on literature. This is a captain of a massive ship that's nuclear powered. And he shouldn't be talking that way in a letter.


BLITZER: What do you make, Mr. Secretary, the President's comments?

SHULKIN: Wolf, I don't know all the steps that the captain took before he decided to go out to the normal chain of command, but here's what I do know, he put his people first. And that's what good leaders do. This is somebody who had 137 sailors that were sick and a lot more that could have been sick. And he put those people's lives in front of his own job. He was willing to stand up for what he believed in and he knew he probably lose his job over that.

But I have to tell you, that's the type of person I want in command of our military. That's the type of person that I believe is a great public servant who deserves our respect and admiration. And there's no better affirmation of that than to see the way that he was received by his own crew. They knew that this is a person who was a great leader who put their needs and interest first. And I really am proud of public servants who do -- who stand up for what they believe in and put other people's interests above their own.

BLITZER: Yes, you can see the crew members, they really do love him. He wrote this and I'm going to -- I'm going to read what Captain Crozier wrote. He said, "We are not at war. Sailors do not need to die. If we do not act now, we are failing to properly take care of our most trusted asset, our sailors."

Since then, by the way, the cases of coronavirus aboard that aircraft carrier have more than doubled. So you believe that this captain, in his own way, was trying to warn the Pentagon? You know, we got to do something and we got to do it right away.

SHULKIN: Well, I think that this Captain probably took a number of steps first, and we certainly aren't aware of all that. But if you go to the lengths that he did, I'm sure that he knew he was putting his career at risk, but that he was putting those sailor's lives first.


And, frankly, you know, when you go and you raise your hand to serve your country, when you're a parent and you send your daughter or son off to war, you want somebody like this, who's looking after the interests of your family and your loved ones. And they need to know that there are people like this looking out for them and willing to stand up for what's right.

And, frankly, this is what makes our military work if people don't have trust that their best interests are being put first, they're going to feel some reluctance before they raise their hand.

BLITZER: Yes, well said. And I just want to point out to you before I let you go, Mr. Secretary. Our own CNN national security analyst, John Kirby, who's a retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral, he called the firing unwarranted and reckless and its timing and petty in appearance. He has strong views on that. I'm sure a lot of U.S. Navy personnel agree with him.

Mr. Secretary, thanks as usual for joining us.

SHULKIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Scientists around the world right now, they're scrambling not only to try to develop a vaccine to protect against this global pandemic, but also try to find drugs to help those who are suffering. Could there be a new breakthrough in an old drug? We have information for our viewers, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: We're all, of course, looking for a sign of hope in the global coronavirus pandemic. Scientists in Germany are actually running some tests on a century old drug to see if it could become a potential lifeline.

A German microbiologist believes using an updated version of a 100- year-old tuberculosis vaccine may actually work as an interim treatment for coronavirus. The key word here is interim.

Our senior international correspondent, Fred Pleitgen is joining us now live from Berlin. Fred, do you get a chance to speak with this German microbiologist? How is this 100-year-old drugs supposed to help fight coronavirus in the interim?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the German scientists are saying that's a completely different approach than what most labs are taking right now. They say essentially, what most labs are doing is they're trying to develop a vaccine that's going to attack the virus itself, but they're saying their approach is different, and that they would boost people's immune systems to make sure that folk's body could fight off an infection with coronavirus.

Now, they say that this upgraded version of a tuberculosis vaccine can do exactly that. And they say, Wolf, they're pretty much ready to go to trials right now. Here's what we saw.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): As frontline health care workers struggle to deal with an influx of coronavirus patients and scientists around the world are racing to try and develop a vaccine, Stefan Kaufmann, a microbiologist from Germany's renowned Max Planck Society believes he may have an interim solution.

PROF. STEFAN KAUFMANN, MAX-PLANCK INSTITUTE FOR INFECTIOUS BIOLOGY: What we propose is we produce an intermediate stage of higher immunity, of higher protective mechanisms.

PLEITGEN: It's called VPM1002 and it's an enhanced version of an almost 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine named BCG.

And while tuberculosis and coronavirus have virtually nothing in common, TB being a bacterial infection, they both can cause severe respiratory problems.

Professor Kaufmann believes VPM1002 would boost the immune system to help it fight off infections with coronavirus.

KAUFMANN: To provide a kind of innate, nonspecific immunity against other infectious diseases and that also includes viruses that cause pulmonary diseases and coronavirus is one of them.

PLEITGEN: The researchers are gearing up for trials with groups at high-risk of suffering severe complications from coronavirus. Medical professionals and elderly patients.

An advantage of VPM1002 clinical trials as a tuberculosis vaccine have almost been completed, and so far, the drug has proven to be safe. Now they just need to see if it really is effective against COVID-19 which could take several months. Then it could be available fast, Professor Kaufmann says.

KAUFMANN: Our hope is that we can at least reduce significantly the proportion of individuals who develop disease and that hopefully the disease is also milder.

PLEITGEN: If proven to be effective, Kaufmann stresses VPM1002 should still only be used as an interim solution, saving lives until a targeted vaccine is market ready. U.S. experts believe it could work.

PROF. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: I think it's a very innovative idea. You know the vaccines that we're working on are against the virus itself. This would be a vaccine that stimulates the immune system so that it can fight off COVID.


PLEITGEN: And, Wolf, as scientists say, they believe the immunization from VPM1002 would last about a year and they say that's exactly that stopgap that is needed until a targeted vaccine can be developed. And they say that if these trials do prove that it does work, that does offer protection against COVID-19, they're already working together with some of the biggest makers of vaccines in the world. And they could say they could make millions of doses available very, very quickly around the world, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Interim measure would be very, very significant. Dr. Fauci keeps saying it will be at least a year, a year and a half before a real vaccine actually comes forward.

Fred Pleitgen, as usual, thank you so much for that report.


Meanwhile, the death toll of this virus already in the thousands, the emotional toll incalculable. Today, the president says get ready, the worst is yet to come. We're going back live to the White House. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.