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Crisis In New Kersey, More Lives Now Lost Than In 9/11; U.K Prime minister Admitted To Hospital With Coronavirus; Trump Touts Potential Unproven Drug Hydroxychloroquine. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 5, 2020 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.

Today, the top public health official in the United States, the surgeon general telling Americans that the week ahead will compare to Pearl Harbor, 9/11 in the scale of shock, heartbreak and human loss. Dr. Jerome Adams saying the coming week will be, in his words, the hardest and the saddest week in most Americans' lives.

He and other medical officials have focused on the fighting of the coronavirus pandemic, fully expecting the number of Americans infected and the number of Americans to die will both rise dramatically. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Well, this is going to be a bad week, Margaret, unfortunately, if you look at the projection of the curves, of the kinetics of the curves, we're going to continue to see an escalation. Also, we should hope that within a week, maybe a little bit more, we'll start to see a flattening out of the curve and coming down.

The mitigation that we're talking about that you just mentioned is absolutely key to the success of that. So, on the one hand, things are going to get bad, and we need to be prepared for that. It is going to be shocking to some. It certainly is really disturbing to see that. But that's what's going to happen before it turns around. So just buckle down, continue to mitigate, continue to do the physical separation, because we've got to get through this week that's coming up because it is going to be a bad week.


BLITZER: Now, we could hear more about what that week ahead could hold for all of us when we hear from the White House Coronavirus Task Force one hour from now, just announced by the White House, 7:00 P.M. Eastern. We'll, of course, have coverage. All day long today

we're watching the number of deaths here in the United States steadily rise. More than 9,400 people now dead, more than 331,000 people infected in this country. Overseas, some countries, like Spain and Italy, are now reporting for the first time a slowdown in the number of new cases and fatalities.

And this just in to CNN, very disturbing news, the British prime minister, Boris Johnson, he was admitted today to a hospital in London. Johnson was confirmed to have the coronavirus some ten days ago. He has been in isolation since then at his home, but now he is in the hospital. We're going to have much more details on that, much more on the prime minister coming up in just a few moments.

But, first, I want to go to New Jersey, one of the nation's hotspots. The state has now lost more people to the virus than it did lose on 9/11. As state flags fly at half-staff to honor those victims, the New Jersey governor, Phil Murphy, tweeting this, we've lost another 71 New Jersians to COVID-19, bringing our total to 917 deaths, 917 reasons to stay home and do your part to flatten the curve.

Governor Phil Murphy is joining us now. Governor, thank you so much for joining us, taking a few moments to share with our viewers here in the United States and around the world. You've said that ventilators are your number one need right now. And after multiple calls to the White House, you were finally able to get 500 more. Governor, is that enough?

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): Good to be with you, Wolf, and God bless the folks who have lost their lives and folks like the prime minister who are fighting right now to get healthy. The answer is, first of all, I was on the phone with the vice president this morning, we were on yesterday, we're very grateful for the fact that 500 ventilators -- I actually think they've already arrived in New Jersey. That's another incremental slug from the federal stockpile. We're deeply grateful. It won't be enough.

We're going to have, I think, not just a tough week ahead, but I think a tough several weeks ahead. Whether it's ventilators, personal protective equipment, beds, healthcare workers, those will all be constraints as we go through the next few weeks, and we're going to do everything we can to stay out ahead of this.

BLITZER: How dire is the situation, Governor, at your hospitals right now?

MURPHY: It's really tough in the northern counties right now. So for the folks who know New Jersey, it's the central and northern counties where folks are part of the New York metro reality. As you mentioned, we had 71 more precious lives lost overnight. Yesterday, we exceeded the entire toll on 9/11, and New Jersey was second in American states only behind New York on 9/11, another 3,400 positive tests today. So, we're in the fight.

This is war, there's no question about it. We're doing everything we can to stay out ahead of it.

BLITZER: How would you rate the responsiveness of the federal government, because you've been pleading for ventilators and a lot of help?

MURPHY: Listen, I think they're doing what they can, given the hand we've all been dealt. I suspect all of us would have liked to have gone into this tragedy and this challenge, this healthcare crisis with a lot more weapons at our disposal, so the communications are open.


I think there's a real spirit of trying to find common ground and do everything they can. But we've been dealt a tough hand right now as a country, and we're living that right now in New Jersey.

BLITZER: What are your scientific and medical experts in New Jersey tell you when your state will hit its apex?

MURPHY: We've spent a lot of the day today trying to get our arms around that very fact. First of all, the social distancing, we just can't say enough. At early stage -- it's way too early to declare any victory, but we know it works. So, please, God, if you're watching from Jersey or anywhere, stay home.

Secondly, I think, Wolf, we're at least two or three weeks away in New Jersey. Our reality is similar to New York, but we're a beat or two behind them in terms of numbers. But I think we're in for a really challenging at least next two or three weeks and then it will take a fair amount of time after that to continue to fight through it.

BLITZER: Yes. What I'm hearing, it's not going away any time soon.

Earlier today, the surgeon general of the United States, Governor, once again called on all of the governors -- the governors of eight holdout states -- to issue what are called stay-at-home guidelines. Does the president's refusal to call for a nationwide shutdown make it harder for those governors, for example, to stop the spread across the country?

MURPHY: Listen, Wolf, I can't speak to the specifics of their situation. We were one -- we've been one of the most aggressive. We were one of the first states to shut it down. I think if you base your decisions, as we have from day one, and that began for us in January, on science, on fact, on the data, the conclusion you come to is a pretty easy one. You've got to shut down. You've got to stay home. You've got to stay away from each other. And the faster you do that, the more comprehensively you do it, the more you enforce that, the faster, I think, we all come through this.

BLITZER: Well, do you think this is going to go on through the summer? You've got two NFL teams that play football in New Jersey, as you know, the New York Jets, the New York Giants. You think they're going to start playing some exhibition games, preseason games in August, because the season starts in September?

MURPHY: My crystal ball is not giving me a direct answer for that yet. This is certainly going to be a huge challenge for us, April through May, there's no question, and the evidence is increasingly showing this is going to spill meaningfully into the summer. That could impact, obviously, the NFL season. It will impact a whole lot of lives. This is the fight of our lives. None of us have gone through this before. We have to think of it that way. We have to treat it that way. It's nothing short of war and it's no time to panic, but it is certainly likewise no time for business as usual.

BLITZER: So many of your residents in New Jersey, Governor, have lost loved ones. What's your message to the families? And, unfortunately, there are so many of them who are grieving right now.

MURPHY: It's hard. And the other part of this, Wolf, and we have to stay this way, you can't even gather to memorialize the folks who have been lost, so this impacts funerals and any memorial services.

I spoke to a gal today from Nutley. Her mom is a healthcare worker. She passed earlier today. Just sort of walking through her life, what she meant to her, what she meant to the folks who worked with her, trying to honor as best we can, as you mentioned, we decided to lower the flags to half-mast for the duration of this crisis because we can't get to each one of these people, but we want each one of them and each one of their loved ones to know that they're in our hearts and in our prayers, and that slowly but surely, we will get through this together.

BLITZER: And may they all, those who have passed away, rest in peace. Governor Phil Murphy, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to everyone in New Jersey right now.

MURPHY: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: And we have more now on the breaking news about the British prime minister, Boris Johnson. He was admitted today to a hospital in London. We've just learned that he will now spend the night there. Boris Johnson was confirmed to have coronavirus some ten days ago. He's been isolated at his home since then.

I want to go right to CNN's Max Foster, who's joining us from Windsor. Max, what more are you learning, first of all, about the British prime minister? It's so concerning that after ten days, he's finally in the hospital. And I wonder if there are serious complications. Do we know, for example, if he's going on a ventilator, anything along those lines?

MAX FOSTER, CNN ROYAL CORRESPONDENT: No. We just know that he was going in for extra tests in relation to his diagnosis of coronavirus and the fact that he hasn't gotten better from those symptoms after ten days.

So, he's had tests. He's been kept in overnight, does that suggest that something has been discovered in the test or did he choose to stay in overnight, we just don't know.


Downing Street trying to contain any concern here, saying the prime minister -- this is a precautionary step as the prime minister continues to have persistent symptoms of coronavirus ten days after testing positive for the virus. We were told it wasn't an emergency process taking him into the hospital. It wasn't an emergency acceptance at the hospital. He was taken in. He's still in charge of government, still speaking to ministers and officials. But as you say, we've just learned that he's been kept in overnight. The optics of this very concerning, and people will be worried waking up on Monday morning hearing this news in the U.K.

BLITZER: Over the past ten days, while he was isolated in his home, Max, was he on television? Did the British public see him fairly often? Was he delivering speeches? Did he have meetings online, if you will? What was going on?

FOSTER: He was running things virtually, so he was running cabinet from his laptop computer in his office in self-isolation. That was a message going out. There was a video sent out from him that he had filmed, saying that he was feeling relatively well. He was able to run government. We also saw him coming out, not quite on the step of Downing Street, but behind the door. We saw him with the door open to clap the health workers of the U.K. for a national moment of clapping.

So, we have seen him. He hasn't looked particularly well. He never always looks particularly well. He's not necessarily a healthy man. He does jog, but he doesn't necessarily look that healthy at the best of times. So we won't read too much into that. But certainly the idea of taking him into hospital is very worrying.

I'm here in Windsor, where the queen put out a speech tonight. She was informed tonight as well, at the same time when she was trying to rally support for people to keep working towards containing this virus and not to panic. But, of course, this does worry people, the head of the government going into hospital, even if he is still in charge.

BLITZER: He's only, what, in his 50s, right?

FOSTER: Yes. As I say, he does keep fit, but we know he drinks as well. There are some famous occasions when he's done that, and he's a busy man. He doesn't necessarily do as much exercise as many people his age would be able to do. And he has been putting out this message, as I say, that he's coping quite well.

But this doesn't suggest that he is. It doesn't necessarily mean that his symptoms are getting worse, but they would be expected to be getting better at this point, and that's not the case. He's been accepted into hospital. Is that because he is running the country? It's not entirely clear or it might be that they are concerned about something. It is this idea that he's had tests tonight and he's been kept in overnight, which has got more people worried.

BLITZER: Did they say -- and I'm going to let you go after this, Max -- did they say over the past ten days, what symptoms did he have? Did he have fever, a high temperature? Did he have lung pressures, chills, other symptoms that are increasingly common with the coronavirus?

FOSTER: We just haven't been told the specifics, apart from he has the symptoms of the coronavirus. So, from that temperature, sore throat, for example. We haven't been told any more than that. We don't know whether he's got existing medical conditions either, which they might be testing tonight. I mean, in the hospital, there are certain procedures they will go through for an incoming coronavirus patient, and because of the pressure on the hospitals right now, they obviously don't want to keep them in unless they have to.

So, is it because he's the prime minister or is it because they're concerned about something, we hope to get an update overnight from Downing Street.

BLITZER: All right. Thank you very much. As soon as you get more information, let us know. Our viewers around the world are obviously very interested in Boris Johnson, the British prime minister. Thank you very much, Max Foster, joining us from Windsor.

Let's talk about all of this, what this could mean for the prime minister. Joining us now, our CNN Commentator, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a public health expert. He's author, by the way, of a brand-new book, Healing Politics: A Doctor's Journey into Heart of our Political Epidemic. Dr. El-Sayed, thank you so much for joining us.

Based on what you're hearing, someone who has up symptoms for 10, 11 days, 55 years old, is home, and all of a sudden is taken to the hospital, the British prime minister, how serious does that sound to you?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, it's certainly concerning. You never want to have a situation where anyone has to go into the hospital with serious symptoms of what we know is a deadly disease. Of course, we don't know much about any underlying conditions or his baseline state of health. We're wishing him and everybody who is struggling with this disease a speedy recovery, but it's certainly concerning. It's not what you want to hear.

And considering the broader sociological economic consequences of this virus, when you see that kind of course with somebody who's a head of state, especially an ally of the United States with whom we work so closely, it's really concerning, although it's really also important to remember that he's one individual. You've got folks all over the world who are struggling, and for all of them, we've got to be equally worried and equally concerned.


BLITZER: Yes, he's only 55 years old.

As you know, a lot of patients with mild symptoms for the coronavirus, they're home, they're isolated. What do you think doctors will be looking for as they monitor his condition? And, clearly, they wouldn't have sent him to the hospital, the British prime minister, knowing how much concern that would raise, if there weren't some serious problems.

EL-SAYED: That's right. The baseline at which you might send a prime minister to the hospital is considerably higher considering, like we talked about, the political consequences of that. The cardinal symptom that everyone is worried about when you're talking about the coronavirus is shortness of breath. And what that tells us is about somebody's functioning lung reserve.

We know that this disease, the way it kills, for the most part, is by causing this viral pneumonia, which is not like the usual pneumonias that you hear that are usually caused by bacteria. And what that does is it basically takes away the lungs' capacity to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, which is what the lungs do. And that's really concerning considering the fact that, well, you need oxygen to thrive and survive.

And so, that's really the most important thing that doctors are going to be looking for and worried about in any patient.

BLITZER: All right. Dr. El-Sayed, I want you to stand by. We have a lot more to discuss about what's going on here in the United States as well. We're going to continue our conversation.

President Trump has repeatedly pushed an anti-malaria drug as a potential treatment for the coronavirus. Why some of his top doctors are warning Americans against the president's suggestions.

And once again, at the top of the hour, we're standing by for a White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. we will, of course, have coverage, looking at the briefing room over at the White House. They just announced that a few moments ago. We anticipate the president, of course, will be there.



BLITZER: The U.S. death toll of the coronavirus pandemic now more than triple the number of people killed in the 9/11 terror attacks. One month ago, on March 5th -- listen to this -- there were 11, 11 coronavirus deaths here in the United States. Today, just one month later, there are now more than 9,400 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States.

Back with me, our commentator Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. Doctor, as the pandemic expands across the nation, the big questions involve -- among the big questions -- are President Trump and Dr. Anthony Fauci, his top infectious disease expert, working on the same page? On Saturday, the president promoted the potential of a drug called hydroxychloroquine as a possible remedy. Watch what he had to say on Saturday.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Last Saturday, the FDA also gave emergency authorization for hydroxychloroquine.

I hope it's going to be a very important answer. We're having some very good things happening with it.

It's going into the Strategic National Stockpile to treat certain patients. And we have millions and millions of doses of it, 29 million, to be exact. In addition to that, we're making it and we're also getting it from various other locations and countries.


BLITZER: But listen to this. Dr. Fauci, listen to what he had to say earlier today about hydroxychloroquine.


FAUCI: The data are really just at best suggestive. There have been cases that show there may be an effect, and there are others to show there's no effect. So, I think in terms of science, I don't think we can definitively say it works.


BLITZER: All right, so, Dr. El-Sayed, does the discrepancy between the president and his top adviser worry you, his infectious disease adviser?

EL-SAYED: Well, I'll tell you, I think they've been reading from a different playbook this entire time. Dr. Anthony Fauci is a respected scientist. He will always lead with the science. And the science shows that right now there is mixed evidence and none of that is all that promising, particularly considering that the gold standard kind of test that you're looking for is a randomized controlled trial and that evidence just hasn't panned out.

On the other hand, you've got President Trump, who, from the beginning, has been leading with a short-term political perspective, and his short-term political perspective is that he's looking for any ounce of hope, even if it's false hope that he can throw out there. And so, I think, unfortunately, we're starting to see a little bit of a fissure, where the president wants to continues to want to go back and say, look, we've got this drug, it's -- and he's not saying, but he's hinting, look, there is a miracle cure just around the corner.

And Dr. Fauci is just saying, look, there's a process we follow by which we decide if and there is a medication safe and effective in patients. Let's not give false hope, let's always lead them with the science. And when we lead with the science, what we say will be true.

BLITZER: As you know, it was only a few days ago the president said 100,000 deaths here in the United States would actually be, in his words, a good job in the battle against coronavirus. From your perspective, Dr. El-Sayed, what would success actually look like?

EL-SAYED: Well, you know, the thing about public health is that it's always about preventing a thing. And so, a good job would have been going back in time and doing the work of promoting public health, investing in the CDC, investing in state and local public health so that we never faced to this kind of pandemic in the first place. But we're here now, and we're fighting an inferno because we failed to put out the fire when it's small.

And if you look at the models, 100,000 to 200,000 deaths actually does look like a potential good outcome, because if you were to just let this thing go, as they say, you're looking at 2.2 million deaths.

At the same time though, I'm never going to say that 100,000 deaths is a good outcome for anything. We've got a responsibility to step back and ask, why were we so ill-prepared? Why are we in the position where low-income folks all over the country are making decisions between staying in and saving lives and not exposing themselves and their loved ones, versus going out and earning their livelihoods?


This is a hard position we are in, speaks to a structural fault line in our society. And so, the bigger-picture responsibility that we had, we had a long time ago.

A story just came out in The Times, reported about how President George W. Bush, of all people, had been preparing for a pandemic for a very long time. And that's the approach to public health. The approach is that you prepare, you prevent and then you don't have to deal with it when it's big.

BLITZER: In Germany, Dr. El-Sayed, scientists are testing an updated version of a 100-year-old tuberculosis vaccine to see if it might work as what's being called a stop gap or interim treatment for coronavirus. Explain how an interim treatment works and why that might be helpful right now as they search for a real vaccine that could take a year, year-and-a-half, according to Dr. Fauci, to get together.

EL-SAYED: Yes, so, we're right now in the process of phase one for testing a targeted anti-coronavirus vaccine. And what phase one does is basically make sure that this is not unhealthy, that it's safe in healthy individuals and that it has the intended effect on antibodies. But if you have an old vaccine that you already know is safe, what you can then do is start asking, well, if we know it's safe, is it effective?

And that's what the question here is. Is there another vaccine that we have in the armament that we could pull out that we know is safe so that we can bypass the 14 months of phase one that we're in with the targeted anti-coronavirus vaccines, and then potentially just ask, is it effective and go from there. And those phase two and phase three parts of vaccine studies take about four months.

And so the thought process goes, it may not be perfect, but we know it's safe. Is it also somewhat effective? Not as effective as a targeted vaccine might be, but is it somewhat effective that allows us then to use it in the population and get some level immunity that helps us potentially take down this pandemic and slow the spread?

BLITZER: We can only hope that happens. I know a lot of people are working on it desperately right now. Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, thank you for joining us.

EL-SAYED: I really, really appreciate you having me, Wolf. Thank you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

An update right now, the president just tweeted that the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing will now take place, according to the president, at 6:45 Eastern Time. That's, what, in about 15, 20 minutes or so from now. We'll, of course, have live coverage. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room. Stand by for that. We'll be right back.



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Once again, we're waiting for the briefing over at the White House, the Coronavirus Task Force is about to go before the news media in the briefing room. You're looking at live pictures. The president just tweeting it's scheduled to begin in about 15 minutes or so from now. We'll, of course, have coverage here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

Meanwhile, we're following breaking news this hour. The British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, he's in the hospital tonight some 10 days after first testing positive for the coronavirus.

CNN's Fareed Zakaria is joining us now live from New York.

Fareed, when you heard this news, what was your reaction?

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST, "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS": My reaction was, it was just kind of a strange metaphor for the strategy that Boris Johnson had been trying to implement. Let me explain what I mean. Boris Johnson initially felt that it was important to not try to do a quarantine or a lockdown. Actually, what he was saying is, look, let this infection pass through. It's not a big deal.

It will infect some large part of the public and we'll get immunity from it that way. That's, after all, what we do with the flu, but we do have a vaccine as a way of helping get what's called herd immunity. And the doctors and the medical experts said, yes, you can get to that point, but there's going to be a lot of pain and human suffering because this is a new virus, it's more deadly, it spreads faster, it kills more people.

And in a strange, sad sense, what has happened here is Boris Johnson has been a victim of that very strategy, where he is recognizing personally the pain of, you know, what it means like to get COVID, what it means like to get this kind of a thing. Because I assume that he -- you know, that this is not a mild problem, that you would not take him to the hospital if there wasn't a problem, if it wasn't reasonably serious.

I obviously hope he's going to be fine. I'm sure he's going to be fine, but it suggests, you know, what the doctors had been telling Boris Johnson, which is, this is a tough, new disease, you can't just approach it like the flu. And here he is personally experiencing that very medical advice that was provided by medical experts and epidemiologists to him.

BLITZER: Yes, I agree completely, Fareed. They wouldn't have taken it to the hospital, the British prime minister, unless there were some serious concerns about what was going on, especially some 10 days, almost eleven days, after it was first announced that he tested positive for the coronavirus. All this is happening, Fareed, also -- and I want your thoughts on

this -- only hours after the Queen made a rather rare televised address to the nation in an attempt to ease nerves. And this must undermine that attempt to reassure the nation now that the prime minister is in the hospital.

ZAKARIA: I think you're absolutely right, Wolf, but in a sense, it is reminding us of the nature and the gravity of what we're going through. The Queen has only addressed the nation like this four times in her history. And what it reminds us is, you know, look, this is really -- I mean, we get used to this, these cliches and these phrases, but this is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing.


You have not seen a pandemic like this since 1918. You have not seen an economic paralysis -- and this really is the great paralysis, it's not the Great Depression, it's not the Great Recession. It's much bigger than any of that ever in our history. So in a way all of this is making us realize something s really is the great paralysis -- it's not the great depression, it's not the great recession. It's much bigger than any of that -- ever in our history. So, in a way, all of this is making us realize something that, Wolf, our government has not been honest about, forthright about.

This is a really big deal. This is one of the greatest challenges we will face. It's not going to get over in the next two weeks. It is not going to get over in the next two months. And so, in a way, it's better that we all understand this. You know, honesty, particularly in democratic societies, is the first principle. Be honest, be consistent, tell people what's going on. And the Queen did that, and I think in an admirable way. And Boris Johnson's illness just reinforces the fact that we are in new, uncharted, and very serious waters.

BLITZER: Yes. More than 1.2 million cases now, Fareed, around the world, nearly 70,000 deaths around the world. In the United States -- I'm just looking at the numbers -- 335,000 cases here in the United States, almost 10,000 deaths here in the United States.

The president is about to, once again, address the nation from the briefing room over at the White House. What do you think he needs to say at this really sensitive moment?

ZAKARIA: I think the great tragedy of Donald Trump's stewardship of this is that you are not getting a clear, consistent message, and you are not getting openness and honesty. So, the president one day speculates, maybe I'm going to quarantine all of New York, but a few hours later, we discover that he's not going to do that. Sometimes he speculates, maybe we should just try these new antimalarial drugs. At another point, he says we're going to get a vaccine soon.

This is -- you're confusing people at a time when confusion means fear and insecurity and uncertainty. What we need is consistency, and we need to be honest with people, you know? This is going to be tough. This is going to be hard. And unfortunately, what you've gotten from the president has been a lot of happy talk. BLITZER: I think we just lost our connection with Fareed, but he's

making some really important points. We'll connect with him down the road.

We're only minutes away right now from the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. The president just announced that he will be there. That's coming up in a few moments. It comes at a time of a very grim warning coming in from the White House this weekend. Why the surgeon general of the United States is now saying this week will be like a Pearl Harbor or a 9/11 kind of week.



BLITZER: Once again, we're waiting for the briefing to begin over at the White House, the Coronavirus Task Force, about to go in. The president will be there as well. It's supposed to start in a few minutes. We're standing by for that. We'll have coverage for you, of course.

We heard earlier today from the U.S. surgeon general, Admiral Jerome Adams, who told us what we're all dreading to hear, namely, that this week will be a very, very tough one for all of us. Listen to this.


DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans' lives, quite frankly. This is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment, only it's not going to be localized. It's going to be happening all over the country. And I want America to understand that.


BLITZER: Those comments, very dire comments, coming from the surgeon general this morning after the president warned yesterday, and I'm quoting him now, "There will be a lot of death." That was the president, there will be a lot of death coming up this week and next week.

Joining us now, the former presidential adviser to four presidents, our CNN senior political analyst David Gergen.

David, you heard the surgeon general mentioned Pearl Harbor, a day that will live in infamy, but that day was also the start of a new American era, the call to arms for the greatest generation, a moment that rallied the country. Do you think this could be a moment like that as well?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: It could. Donald Trump's going to have to lift his game to do that, but he is commander-in- chief, and this is a moment when he needs to go before the public. You know, Franklin Roosevelt, just after Pearl Harbor, went up and gave a joint session speech, as you remember, calling it a day of infamy, and that's what this president really needs to think about. Now, the next few days, as we face this Pearl Harbor, I think the tone

of these press briefings really ought to change. They ought to be more serious. They ought to be less self-congratulatory. They ought to be sort of straight talk. But I really think what's important, Wolf, is after the next week or 10 days, the president ought to go before the country and rally people together.

So far, he has been sending out mixed messages. One day he seems to want to get serious about the health, public health side. The next day, he undercuts it. He announces in the same briefing everybody ought to wear a mask, but I'm not going to do it. He needs to -- this is a moment when he can revisit and change his course or get himself on a firmer course that he can be on for the next few months.

What you and Fareed just discussed, this is not going to end soon. It's going to take months. But we need to be rallied by a speech that's both realistic but offers some hope and is not self- congratulatory.

BLITZER: The messaging we're hearing coming out of the White House over these days, the task force briefing, the day-after-day briefings that we're seeing -- we see the president in the briefing room, not necessarily following his administration's own guidance on social distancing, for example, keep six feet apart. He also said, as you point out, he won't be wearing a mask, even though his administration is recommending that Americans do wear some sort of face covering when they leave their homes.

GERGEN: Right.


BLITZER: Listen to how Dr. Anthony Fauci addressed that issue earlier today.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I always essentially plead with people to please take a look at those very simple guidelines of physical separation. And they're very, very clear. There are like multiple different ways that say all the same thing, physically separate, six feet away, 10 people in a crowd. Avoid any interaction like movies and sports events and theaters, and things like that. Even in areas where you're not having a big explosion of cases, to the best of your ability, do that.


BLITZER: David, what do you make of the mixed messaging we're getting from the White House?

GERGEN: I think it's both confusing, and I think it gives people who don't really want to social distance, who really want to go on with their lives as they've always done, and they're shrugging off what this is about, I think it gives them more license to think in those terms. It's so important that he make a stronger appeal to his own base. What we know is that the states that are dragging their feet are all red states. They're led by Republican governors.

We cannot go forward as a divided nation. We really have to do this as one nation. That's what Dr. Fauci has been arguing. He's been right. The president needs to embrace that and bring the base along. It's one of the biggest contributions he could make is to rally his own supporters. And toughen up, hunker down, shelter. Let's get through this.

BLITZER: Your advice for American presidents, Democrats and Republicans. Do you think the president should still personally be giving these press briefings, the Coronavirus Task Force briefings, or leave it to the experts to do the talking?

GERGEN: Very good question, Wolf. You and I have seen what they do at the Pentagon that I think works so well, and that is, the secretary of Defense will come out on a major event, and he'll frame the issue. And then he'll step aside and leave the podium and leave the stage and leave it in the hands of the commanders who know what's going on the ground and can speak in expert fashion toward that.

These press briefings have, frankly, become a form of propaganda. And they're increasingly seen as that. And I think they're beginning to really hurt the president. I would think that his own advisers ought to say, this isn't really working. You need to get him in and get him out of there in just the first three to five minutes, and then let the experts go at it. You can always bring him on when there's something new and big, but he shouldn't be briefing every day.

BLITZER: All right, David, I want you to stand by. We're standing by to hear directly from the president, members of the Coronavirus Task Force briefing. We're going to have coverage coming up from the White House briefing room right after this.



BLITZER: Once again we're told that very soon the president of the United States, members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force will come out and brief the news media. You see reporters sitting, they're distancing themselves according to the guidelines. We're of course going to have live coverage. We'll see what the president has to say. We'll see what members of the task force has to say.

David Gergen is still with us as we await the president and members of the task force.

You know, David, we've heard from multiple officials that the next few weeks will be the hardest weeks. Let me ask you what I asked Fareed Zakaria just a little while ago. What advice would you give the president -- if you were still an adviser to the White House, if you were advising the president right now, as you know millions of Americans across the nation, they are worried, they're deeply concerned about what's going on, the loss of life is enormous already. What advice would you give the president? GERGEN: Wolf, I think he has to persuade the country that he's on the

right course. That they can have confidence in him and the plan that he's on. Nobody knows what his plan is at this point. We know we're going to have this Pearl Harbor type week but what comes after this? What comes after? The number start to peak in New York and we see -- if we peaks in Detroit and New Orleans in the next two or three weeks.

What comes after? A lot of people think, well, we've survived it. And the truth is, there may be new waves coming. Hong Kong and other countries have shown that, that if you begin to release these restrictions, there's -- a new wave can -- we need to be on the long- term path. Make sure people know what the path is and persuade people to come with him because this is going to be very, very rough.

BLITZER: Yes. We see Dr. Birx is now out there. We see some other members of the task force out there as well. I think that's Admiral John Polowczyk, who's handling the supply chain for the Department of Health and Human Services. I think that's him. But we're watching it very closely.

You noticed, David, if you can see, you know, what's happening in the briefing room. They're separated. I see Dr. Fauci sitting along the side over there. So he's going to be there as well. He's not standing right now. He's sitting along the side talking to some of the reporters as we await for the president. They should be -- he should be walking in with the vice president, we're told, very soon.

Usually members of the task force come out first and then the president and the vice president come out. The president opens up with a statement and we'll hear what he has to say. Eventually they'll get to the Q&A and we'll see what the Q&A is.