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Country Braces For Devastating Week As Death Toll Climbs; California Coronavirus Cases Rise To 15,000+; Former Intel Community Inspector General Says, Trump Fired Me For Doing My Job. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired April 6, 2020 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A good Monday morning to you. We're going to be with you through it all this week. I'm Jim Sciutto.


This is going to be a very difficult week one day after the surgeon general warns Americans to brace for a Pearl Harbor type moment, a stunning report this morning from a government watchdog. Our hospitals aren't even equipped to fight this virus the way they should be.

SCIUTTO: This coming from the HHS inspector general. The report says, hospitals are dealing with severe and widespread shortage of needed medical supplies. These are the facts. This is hampering their ability to test people, and, crucially, to keep staff safe from infection. City Mayor Bill de Blasio says the city is now just days away from running out of key supplies.

HARLOW: We're following all of the breaking news this morning. First, let's begin with Athena Jones. She is outside the Javits Center right here in New York City. And, Athena, just to give people a sense of the the magnitude, how big, this takes up city blocks. That's how huge it is. But it's now this makeshift hospital.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That's exactly right. This is a huge convention center, hundreds of thousands of square feet here on the west side of Manhattan. And this is a very important part of this whole plan, the city and state's whole plan to tackle the coronavirus and the surge in cases they are seeing, 2,500 beds at this facility.

Today is when they officially opened their doors to COVID-19 patients. And as of about a half an hour ago, we have from the mayor's spokesperson that they are already treating 36 patients with coronavirus. So still many, many more beds that can be filled.

And Governor Andrew Cuomo has high hopes for this facility. He said it represents a big operational shift. And as long as they can get it up and running and run it efficiently, it's going to make a dramatic change at a time when the city very much needs this sort of relief valve, is what he called it.

We know that New York State is the epicenter of the coronavirus crisis in America, and New York City is the epicenter of the epicenter. And so they have been working over the last weeks to make sure they have enough hospital beds, to make sure they have enough supplies to treat people.

One point I want to make about the Javits Center, and that is that a lot of folks are saying, look, it didn't make sense for them to -- originally, they were planning not to take COVID-19 patients. If you talk to a hospital administrator, other folks, including an E.R. doctor I spoke with over the weekend in Brooklyn, they say, most of the patients that hospitals are seeing are COVID-19 patients.

I believe you have an X-ray that the emergency room doctor shared with me showing a typical chest X-ray for someone suffering from COVID-19. It shows what's a bilateral interstitial pneumonia, so pneumonia in both lungs. That's what's causing these breathing problems.

And so they're saying that even people coming in for appendicitis or a stroke, when you end up doing a chest X-ray to admit them, it's showing sign of what they call the telltale signs of COVID. So it makes a lot of sense that this hospital now is going to be open to treating those patients and hoping to make a dramatic difference in terms of the capacity here in and around New York City. Poppy, Jim?


SCIUTTO: Well, joining us now, Deanne Criswell, she's Commissioner of the New York City Emergency Management Department, one of the people leading New York's response to this. Always good to have you on. I'd like to check in with you every week as you go through this.

First of all, help us put into context the numbers New York has seen in the last couple days here, Governor Cuomo talking about not a decrease in cases but a slowdown, in effect, in the rate of growth in new cases. Tell us what that means. Well, put that into context for us. Is that a hopeful sign or is it really too early to say?

DEANNE CRISWELL, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT: Yes, I think it's still too early to say, and I think the one thing we need to focus on is while there may be a slight decrease in the number of cases, the numbers that we're really watching is still the number of hospital admissions, the numbers that are going into the ICU and eventually on ventilators. And we're not seeing a decrease in those numbers yet.

And that's a really important point, because as we get into these next few days, as you heard just previously, is that those are the numbers that are really going to strain our healthcare system because, again, only 20 percent of the folks that get tested, we're finding, are needing this advanced level of care.

SCIUTTO: Understood, and that's what we should focus on.

When we spoke a couple weeks ago, you said at the time New York needed thousands, not hundreds, of ventilators that were being offered by the federal government.


Today, as I'm sure you're aware, a new report from the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services has found severe and widespread shortages, I'm quoting, from communities across the country. Tell us where New York stands right now on that critical equipment.

CRISWELL: It is still a very critical piece of equipment and we monitor it day by day. And so we have gotten several shipments of ventilators in, and we're very grateful for those, but we will continue to need more.

In our estimate as we're looking at the next 48 to 72 hours is where we think we have enough ventilators to get us through, and we're watching the numbers very closely to see if we're going to need more or how much more we're going to need after that, and then really trying hard to reach out to all different sources to get those.

I'm really thankful to the State of Oregon for sending us some as well, which is every little bit makes a difference right now.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I heard about that, as other states that come off their peaks, it's nice to see that they're sharing there.

But we still have this dynamic state to state where states are bidding against each other for crucial equipment. Even Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson talked about how difficult that is for his state. Is that the situation New York is in here, and would there be a way? Have you asked the federal government to step in and say, hey, stop this sort of eBay, right, for critical medical equipment?

CRISWELL: It's definitely a concern, right? It's a nationwide problem. It's not like any disaster that we've ever seen before, where it's usually focused in one state, maybe several states, as you see with major hurricanes. This is a nationwide impact and it's hard to adjudicate those resources across the nation knowing that you're not going to have enough for everybody.

We have definitely, you know, been in contact with the federal government about how we can help eliminate that kind of states bidding against states. And it's not deliberate to bid against them, it's just that we're all going after the same resources to support our residents.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's a remarkable reality. Listen, Deanne Criswell, it's always good to check in with you. You're one of the people doing yeoman's work here. We wish you and your team the best of luck.

CRISWELL: Thank you very much, Jim.

HARLOW: They certainly are. Our thanks to her and her whole team.

All right, let's talk again this morning with Dr. Kent Sepkowitz. He's an infectious disease specialist and the Deputy Physician in Chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering here in New York City. Dr. Sepkowitz, I'm so glad you can be with us.

And let's just begin on the message from the president over the weekend, which was that there The governor said there is a light at the end of the tunnel, is what he said at this point. And there are signs of slowing deaths in some places. Where do you see us this morning?

DR. KENT SEPKOWITZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, we're still talking about a light at the end of the tunnel. There will be a light at the end of the tunnel. This is not the week that it's going to be visible. We have a lot of people who are sick right now, some of whom are going to die, so it's very hard to talk about a light at the end of the tunnel.

But one thing that's clear is that social distancing works. It's really boring, it's really hard to do. It's nothing like taking care of patients or being a patient. It's a joke compared to that, but social distancing works, and so we are able to see a little bit of reduction of the acuity.

HARLOW: You raised the alarm bells the other week when you were on with us about rural and small town communities, and we've been thinking a lot about that and trying to shine a lot on it as well. And you have a new CNN op-ed in which you write the fourth wave of this. Can you talk about what you've learned when it comes to small towns across the country that don't even have hospitals with intensive care units?

SEPKOWITZ: Yes. I think if you look at the map of where the cases are, obviously, the hot spots are well known, but there are small outbreaks in communities. We featured one in Cleburne County, Arkansas, which has a single hospital of about 25 beds, no ICU. Right now, there is an outbreak around a meat packing group business in Hall County, Nebraska. And in the Navajo Nation, there is an outbreak as well that we're writing about.

So these areas don't have high tech. They don't have people who are used to running high tech. They don't have the means to manage them, and most importantly, if they want to send them to Tucson or Phoenix, those hospitals likely are full. Their ICUs will not be able to manage them. So we've hit gridlock.

HARLOW: What is that going to mean?


And given that -- Jim and I had a doctor on from Oklahoma last week in a small rural community, and they haven't been hit with the percentage of their population getting it as New York City and some other big cities have. Is there anything that can be done in the next few weeks to prepare these places that are ill-equipped for something that may come? I mean, what should the federal government be thinking about in terms of getting these states what they need for these small towns?

SEPKOWITZ: Yes, I think they need to consider one thing, which is that the old system of helicoptering people in from the rural hospital, choppering them into the bigger city hospital, that will work, but they're going to have to expand the capacity of the bigger city ICU, and that means ventilators, that means trained nurses, trained respiratory therapists, ICU specialists.

So we can do this but it takes a lot of planning, it takes a lot of prioritization and it takes a lot of coordination, which is what Commissioner Criswell was talking about. Oregon is sending ventilators. We can do this, but it takes someone coordinating this at the top.

HARLOW: Yes. What's the plan, right, the key question in all of this. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, thank you for being here and for shining a light on this. We appreciate it.

SEPKOWITZ: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Still to come, of course, there are new restrictions for those cruise ship passengers entering the United States. We'll take you live to Miami.

SCIUTTO: And cases in the State of California are on the rise. We're going to talk to the lieutenant governor of that state. What they are doing to combat the virus, ahead.

Plus, people in the rural areas of America could be some of the country's most vulnerable populations. We're going to speak to an E.R. physician from a small town who himself contracted the coronavirus. They are not immune from this, these small communities. Stay with us.



HARLOW: The CDC unveiled new restrictions for cruise ship passengers and the crew that are on those ships returning to the U.S., banning cruise travelers from taking commercial flights and ordering them into a 14-day quarantine.

Let's go to our Rosa Flores. She joins us again this morning from Miami.

Okay. So what do these restrictions mean after all of that back and forth we saw last week over the cruise ship coming into Florida there?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Poppy, these restrictions apply to all cruise line passengers. Regardless if they have symptoms or not, they must travel on charter flights and private transportation, they must wear masks throughout their entire journey and also self- quarantine for 14 days once they get home.

Now, we are learning that there could be some easing to these rules. CNN learning from an administration official that there could be exceptions for foreign travelers. But, Poppy, at this point, we don't know what those exceptions could be but we're working to learn more. Poppy? HARLOW: Also, you have the Coast Guard saying there are still 114 cruise ships out there with 93,000 crew members either in or near U.S. ports and waters. I mean, what happens to them?

FLORES: For now, unfortunately, they are stuck out at sea. But you mentioned 114 cruise ships with about 93,000 crew members on board, most of them, the majority of them are in the Miami area of responsibility, meaning that this is ground zero for this issue.

The Miami-Dade mayor say this weekend during a press conference that he is concerned, that he is talking to the cruise lines, asking them to bring those crew members home. But, of course, there's a lot of back and forth right now and these CDC regulations are making it a little more difficult for that to happen.

The latest cruise line to deal with this issue was Princess Cruises, with the Coral Princess, which you can see docked behind me. They actually learned about these new CDC rules while they were disembarking passengers. Two people had died on board. A third one had died at the hospital.

And here is what they said about these new regulations. Quote, this will unfortunately result in further delays in disembarkation and onward travel for many guests as we work through this complex, challenging and unfortunate situation.

Now, Poppy, they do say that they are working within the lines of these new regulations, telling CNN that they arranged for charter flights to California, Australia and the U.K. so far. Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. All right, Rosa, important updates. Thanks very much. Jim

SCIUTTO: Now, let's go down to California, where the number of confirmed cases jumped over the weekend, this after a lot of success in the recent weeks slowing the spread. I'm joined now by California Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis. Lieutenant Governor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, first, let's start on the numbers here. And I don't want to over/underplay them, because we have to look at this over a long term rather than any given day. But we did notice a surge in cases in California since Friday, 2,500 new cases, 72 new deaths, this after a lot of evidence that social distancing had helped keep the numbers in California down. Can you tell us where the state stands right now on controlling the progress of the outbreak?

KOUNALAKIS: Sure. I think what people should know is that California cases started about a week after New York's. The virus really got here a little bit later, which gave us some more time to prepare. And we started by working with modeling. The governor brought together experts to really try to understand if we flatten our curve, if we do all of this social distancing and stay at home, how should we be thinking about what to prepare for. [10:20:03]

And the number that we came to was 50,000, that our peak, which we expect to be at the beginning of May, so not for another month, that that peak will be about 50,000 more beds. So the fact that the numbers are growing is expected. We have been expanding the capacity of our hospitals rapidly. And so far, we are able to handle the increase.

But, of course, for California, for all states around the country, it really is a race against time to have the equipment and the supplies that we need as the number of people at our hospitals continues to grow.

SCIUTTO: Okay. I want to get to the equipment, but just on the social distancing, because California was early in this and folks have been asked to be at home for a number of weeks now. Given that you're not expecting your peak for another month, are you preparing Californians for these restrictions to continue for several more weeks? I mean, do you have a date in mind or is it too early to say when you would consider relaxing some of this.

KOUNALAKIS: So I think it's pretty clear that this is April, that, April, we're going to be staying at home, we're going to be washing our hands, we're going to be spending time with our family, we're going to be wearing cloth masks if we go out to the grocery. You know that's now recommended as well. And we're going to be working from home with only critical workers going to work. I think it's pretty clear at this point that this is what April is going to look like.

And then with the peak at the beginning of May, of course, the hope that on the other side of that, we're going to start to see the cases go down.

But in the meantime, people aren't sitting still. We have researchers across the University of California who are working on convalescent serums, new treatments, new medicines. So there is also a hope that new therapies that are coming at us will also be able to help us tackle this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let me ask you as well about the help you've gotten from the federal government. Governor Gavin Newsom, he has praised, at times, Washington for the help that California has received. It's interesting, yesterday, President Trump, has praised his relationship, sometimes in glowing terms with the Democratic governor of California.

Can you describe the help you're getting from the federal government and what has worked in terms of making that happen?

KOUNALAKIS: Well, let me just start by saying that the leadership of Governor Newsom has really been inspiring to all of us in elected office in this state. He set out these goals in a very rational way and put everybody to work.

And one piece of this, one big part of his message, has been this is not a time for politics and partisanship. We are not going to do that. And so, in leading that charge, he's been working very closely with the federal government to make sure that any assistance we can get, we will be able to get. And it has been robust.

SCIUTTO: And you're getting it? You're getting the help you need?

KOUNALAKIS: It has been robust. Excuse me?

SCIUTTO: Yes. And you're saying you're getting the help you need.

KOUNALAKIS: A hospital ship, the UNS Mercy is now docked off Los Angeles. So that has been a big help to relieve the number of patients in our hospitals in Los Angeles. They've gone out there in order that our hospitals in the Southern California area will have more capacity for cases.

They've also given us eight units of these military hospitals with about 2,000 beds, which is also helping us get to the ability to get to our goals to handle the peak. We're getting PPE. We're getting masks. But as you know, the National Stockpile doesn't have enough. So we have to go out on our own procure as well.

SCIUTTO: I was just going to say, I spoked to the head of the Army Corps of Engineers last week and he's the one spearheading this effort to get these military hospitals out and up and running.

Lieutenant Governor, thanks so much for taking the time and we wish you and all of our friends out in the State of California the best of luck as we get through this.

KOUNALAKIS: Thanks so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Well, in the midst of this pandemic, President Trump and his administration have fired, don't miss this, two independent whistleblowers, including the man who told Congress of the complaint that led to President Trump's impeachment. Stay on top of this story. It's important.



HARLOW: Well, the inspector general for the Intelligence Community says the president fired him just for doing his job. It's an extraordinary response, Jim, this morning from Michael Atkinson.

SCIUTTO: It is, and intentionally buried late on a Friday night. Michael Atkinson told Congress about the whistleblower complaint that led to the president's impeachment, deemed incredible.

CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood joins us now. And, John, of course, the president has fired or moved along or these people have lost their jobs or chosen to leave, virtually everyone who testified against him in the impeachment trial and now the inspector general, out.


JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think it's important, Jim, that we be clear about this.