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Coronavirus Hitting African-Americans Hardest; Acting Navy Secretary Submits Resignation; U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 12,000; As Trump Downplayed Coronavirus, January Memo Warned White House It Could Become "Full-Blown Pandemic"; Treasury to Ask for Another $250B for Overwhelmed Small Business Loan Program Plagued with Glitches. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 7, 2020 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The efforts that most Americans are making to stay at home and to practice physical and social distancing seem to be working, according to the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Dr. Redfield, who said this morning that, because of these efforts, the efforts of the American people, the death toll could be much lower -- lower -- than the up to 200,000 deaths previously projected.


But, of course, that comes along with new disturbing data showing that one group of Americans is being hit harder by the coronavirus.

Here's the surgeon general of the United States earlier today:


DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: And I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID. It's why we need everyone to do their part to slow the spread.

Every single person who stays at home, whether you're white, black, brown, or yellow, is a person who was not spreading COVID and is a person who can protect their neighbors.


TAPPER: The Centers for Disease Control director, Dr. Redfield, as well as the surgeon general, they are just two of many top health officials that are still urging Americans to stay home.

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House task force on the coronavirus pandemic even saying this week, this week was not the week to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, if you can avoid it.

Despite all that, of course, stunning images from Wisconsin today, long lines of voters for the state's primary, Wisconsin the only state to allow in-person voting to go on this month during this deadly pandemic. As CNN's Nick Watt, health officials across the country are telling

Americans that social distancing seems to be working and is changing the number of projected infections and deaths.

And they're using that to argue these precautions need to continue.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York state just had its deadliest day.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): That's 731 people who we lost. Behind every one of those numbers is an individual, is a family, is a mother, is a father, is a sister, is a brother.

WATT: But here on the front lines, the new case count appears to be flattening.

DR. RODRIGO KONG, STATEN ISLAND UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: For the past couple of days, discharging more patients than we are admitting. But this is actually the time when we should redouble our efforts.

WATT: The battle is not over. The war goes on board. The USNS Comfort, the Navy hospital ship docked in the city, a crew member has tested positive for coronavirus.

The NYPD just announced a 13th member has now died from the virus. And more than 500 New York Fire Department personnel have it.

ANTHONY ALMOJERA, FDNY EMS LIEUTENANT: And I'm still getting EMTs and medics call because they're upset -- they are upset they got sick, because they're not out here. I mean, that's -- I don't know what to say. I mean, that's who's taking care of you.

WATT: Nationwide numbers still rising.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: A lot of the other parts of the country are not anywhere near flattening the curve. They're still rising exponentially.

WATT: Michigan one of few states keeping racial data. The black population there is around 14 percent, yet 40 percent of coronavirus deaths are in that black population.

TYRONE CARTER (D), MICHIGAN STATE REPRESENTATIVE: There's still a huge gap between races when it comes to health care, and this is magnifying it.

WATT: In Chicago, black people make up 30 percent of the population, but 72 percent of COVID deaths, in Louisiana, similar numbers.

ADAMS: I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black and America. And I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID.

WATT: In Wisconsin today, social distancing at polling places. There's also a line in South Florida, but no social distancing, waiting for an unemployment form, after state Web sites had issues.

A staggering 97 percent of Americans are now under stay-home orders. Seven states still holding out, and approaches still differ place to place. In Texas, the governor just closed state parks. In Georgia, the governor has reopened state beaches, the president unwilling to implement nationwide guidelines.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Legally, I -- I can. But, morally, I -- I believe in our Constitution, much more so than most people.

And I'd love to be able to let the governors do what they have to do.

WATT: The administration is now looking to a light at the end of this tunnel.

ADAMS: Normal is going to be a different normal whenever we do reopen.


WATT: You know, it was interesting listening to that CDC director this morning talking about that terrifying model that said 200,000 of us were going to die.

He now says the number is much lower because we are social distancing. The original model, Jake, was based on only 50 percent of us paying attention, and a lot more of us are in fact paying attention.

Here in L.A., last couple of days, we have had some relatively encouraging numbers, but, still, on social distancing, we are being told to double down -- Jake.

TAPPER: Right. This is just an indication it's working. Keep at it.


Nick Watt, thank you so much.

Let's talk about this all with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who joins me every day now to talk about this.

Sanjay, let's talk about, I wouldn't call it good news, but big news from the head of the CDC that the death toll could be lower. It looks like it will be lower, if the American people continue to stay at home, continue to physical and social distance.

He said the models -- as you heard Nick Watt just say, he said the models assumed only about 50 percent of the American public would pay attention. And it's higher. More Americans than that are taking this seriously.

Again, it's what passes for good news in this grim era. But, still, what does that mean, 80,000 dead projected?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, look, I think that there is some good news in here, Jake, in terms of seeing this plateau and some of the hot spots that we have been talking about for the last few weeks now.

But take a look at this, these projections here, what we thought last week vs. this week, in terms of what we think the peak is going to look like. And as you look at these numbers, you will see potentially some good news in here.

This week, they say it's closer to 82,000. This is coming from the University of Washington Health Metrics evaluation model. That's lower than last week.

But look at the bottom line, though, as well, Jake. This week, the peak deaths, at the peak, they think it's going to be about 3,100 people dying in a day vs. 2,600 people dying last week's model. So you get more deaths in a particular time, but fewer deaths overall, Jake.

So that means you might have a more of a surge that might be short- lived in terms of the number of people who are hospitalized and sadly die from this disease.

One thing I want to say, Jake, first of all, statisticians like this quote. They basically say all models are wrong, but some are useful. And I think I would put this model in that category as well.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: It keeps changing.

And what shouldn't happen -- and I think Nick Watt was sort of alluding to this -- is that people shouldn't use this as an excuse now to say, we're doing OK, we're in the clear, maybe we don't need the things that we have been talking about for some time.

I think this model is sort of the -- one of the good or even best-case scenario models right now. It was based on really strict sort of social distancing out of Wuhan. They were looking at what happened in China and saying, could that apply here as well? They're now adding in data from other countries around the world. That's why it's fluctuating.

But we have got to be careful, Jake. These numbers are going to continue to bounce around. So I don't think anyone should get too married to them.

TAPPER: Right.

And, also, we should point out that even while most of the American people seem to be adhering to these guidelines, you saw the lines in Florida today, people trying to get unemployment. And, for some reason, the state set it up so that there was no social distancing, people wearing cotton masks, but that didn't look particularly secure to me.

We shouldn't -- I don't want to blame them. They're looking for unemployment. They need the money to live. But that didn't seem to be very well-planned by the state or the county there. You had the voting in Wisconsin. People seem to be social distancing there, but still a choice that people shouldn't have to make, vote or risk your life.

So we also have the states where they're not doing anything, the seven or so states. So, good news, and yet there are still -- there's still reason to doubt that everyone's doing everything they can.

GUPTA: Yes. No doubt, Jake.

In these other states, you remember, we followed this for so long now. There were states where we were looking at a dozen or 15, 20 cases a couple weeks ago, and those states have now have well into the thousands of people who have become infected.

We're also, Jake, as you know, a lot of people are becoming more aware of this. What are we looking at right now with these numbers? We're looking at a snapshot sort of from a couple weeks ago. A doctor today that I interviewed said, it's kind of like a Polaroid picture. You take the picture. It's from a couple of weeks ago, and it's just now coming into focus.

So the real question is going to be, how did we do over the last two weeks, because that's going to tell us -- we're going to see the impact of that a couple weeks from now, Jake?

Between the time someone gets exposed to the time they get diagnosed to the time they get sick, if they're going to get sick, most people won't, thankfully, or get that sick. It can be several weeks. So we're lagging a little bit in terms of the numbers. That's expected.

But we can't look at that and say, that's what America is today. That's what America was two or three weeks ago.

TAPPER: Yes. Right, exactly.

And let's talk about some really grim statistics. People originally were talking about this as the great equalizer, how you can get it if you're rich or poor, old or young. It's not the great equalizer. We see the deaths from this virus are disproportionately impacting the African-American community.

In Louisiana, for example, African-Americans make up nearly 33 of the overall population, but they represent 70 percent of the deaths from COVID-19.

In Michigan, African-Americans are about 40 percent of coronavirus deaths, even though they're just 14 percent that state's population. In Illinois, 42 percent of COVID deaths are in the black community. African-Americans make up only 15 percent of the state population.


So, what is going on here? How do health experts explain this? Is this a matter of the fact that African-Americans remain, unfortunately, disproportionately poor, with less of access to the health care system? GUPTA: I think that's part of it.

I mean, I spent a lot of time today talking to people about all the various factors that are driving this, and it's -- there are many, as you might imagine.

But while testing was poor in this country in the beginning, everyone has sort of conceded that, it was even more inadequate for African- Americans, who weren't getting tested as much as even other populations of people.

They're more likely to have preexisting conditions, African-Americans more likely to be front-line essential workers, upon whom we depend, Jake. And despite that, they have less -- oftentimes have less access to health care.

So there's all these different things. And when you talk about preexisting conditions, to be clear, we're all genetically susceptible to this virus. Nobody is more susceptible or not because of race, but people who have preexisting conditions are more likely to become more ill as a result of the infection.

And if you haven't had good access to health care, if you live in areas where you don't have good access to good foods, and food deserts and things like that, it magnifies the problem even more.

I think it's really infuriating for a lot of African-American doctors who heard this was going to be the great equalizer, that we're all in this together. And we are all in it together, but we are dependent on each other.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: So any particular population of people who doesn't get tested as robustly, doesn't get access to health care as robustly, is more likely to be on the front line, it's going to -- it's going to -- that disparity is going to be magnified.

And we have to pay attention to that. So it's the same tragic story every time, Jake, when it comes to whatever sort of health problem. Maybe there will be some lessons learned this time with regard to African-Americans and other disenfranchised groups.

And, again, there is -- they're disproportionately more affected by this. They're also disproportionately more our front-line workers, people who we're all dependent on for all kinds of things right now, Jake.

TAPPER: Right, EMS, nurses, police, et cetera.

Thank you so much, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

GUPTA: Food supply, everything.

TAPPER: Appreciate it. Yes.

Be sure to catch Dr. Gupta's daily podcast, "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction," on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts.

Up next: While President Trump downplayed the coronavirus threat for weeks, we find an internal Trump administration memo from January predicting that the virus could have a devastating and deadly impact on the American people. Why was that not listened to?

Plus, breaking news from the Pentagon, the Navy secretary out -- quote, unquote -- "resigning" just one day after calling a fired Navy captain stupid.

We will have new details on that next.



TAPPER: And we have some breaking news for you now. Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly submitted his resignation this afternoon to President Trump just one day after audio leaked of the acting secretary disparaging the ousted commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, Captain Brett Crozier, calling him naive or stupid during an address to his crewmates. Captain Crozier was relieved of command after he wrote a memo describing a terrible coronavirus outbreak aboard the aircraft carrier and it leaked to the media.

CNN's chief national security correspondent Jim Sciutto joins me now.

Jim, what are you learning about how did this went down? Was this a willing resignation?

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: No, this was a resignation under pressure. And I'm told now just in the last few moments that the secretary of defense, Esper, has accepted Modly's resignation. A replacement has already been named, that is the under secretary of the army, James McPherson. So, this is moving very quickly.

As you note, follow those comments from Modly, disparaging, dismissing the outgoing commander of the USS Theodore Roosevelt as naive or stupid. Now, after initially standing by those comments, Modly then in the last 24 hours released an apology saying he does not believe Crozier, the former commander of the Roosevelt, is naive or stupid.

But, Jake, I don't have to tell you that when you have a secretary of the Navy, an acting secretary of the Navy, calling a senior commander or a recently former one naive or stupid and then having to deny that, that's not a good look for the Navy as a whole. I'll tell you this as well, that this has been an episode that nobody in the five side of the building is happy with, going back to Crozier's comments.

I spoke to a lot of folks about his position and many were not happy with the public nature of those comments, those natures going out in public, though they respected him as a commander. But when it went even further, to have the secretary, the Navy secretary taking shots at the outgoing commander, that just made the situation worse. And one final note, Jake, I could note this, just to look at the

broader leadership here, you have an acting navy secretary, of course, he was never Senate confirmed, acting, now gone very soon after he took that post. He, of course, replaced the previous Navy Secretary Spencer who got into a flap with the president over the pardoning of a SEAL convicted of a war crime.


It has been -- it shows you instability in the military leadership under the Trump administration, and it's part of an ongoing issue here. But not an end -- Modly wanted not really an end that anybody in the Navy or the military wanted here.

TAPPER: All right. Jim Sciutto, thank you so much for that update, really appreciate it.

In late January as President Trump was repeatedly downplaying the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, one of his closest trade advisers, a longtime China hawk, was trying to sound the alarm of just how bad that virus could get if it came to the United States. Sources confirm to CNN top trade adviser Peter Navarro sent the White House two memos, one in January and one in February, warning that the coronavirus could become a full-blown pandemic in the United States and kill more than a million Americans.

But as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, it appears to be another warning sign that the president ignored.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Something that nobody expected.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Despite the president's repeated insistence that no one saw the coronavirus outbreak coming, a top aide of his did and tried to warn him about it months ago. Newly-uncovered memos reveal Trump's trade adviser, Peter Navarro, warned in January about the risk of a possible pandemic and how unprepared the country was to deal with it.

In a memo dated January 29th, first reported by "The New York Times," Navarro wrote that the lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full- blown coronavirus outbreak. Navarro, the highest level official known to have sounded the alarm, said it could imperil the lives of millions of Americans.

The president named his coronavirus task force the same day Navarro dated his memo, though he wasn't on it. And the next day, Trump restricted travel from China.

But, publicly, he continued to downplay the outbreak.

TRUMP: It looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that's true. COLLINS: "The Times" says Navarro's memo was circulated among top

officials but Trump's top economic adviser and the surgeon general claimed they never saw them.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: There are a lot of voices in the administration, some, how shall I say, more urgent than others.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I never saw that letter. Many people at all levels just did not expect something like this to happen at this magnitude.

COLLINS: Trump is also continuing his attacks on the health and human services inspector general who published a report detailing severe shortages in hospitals across the nation.

TRUMP: It's just wrong. Did I hear the word "inspector general," really? It's wrong. And they'll talk to you about it. It's wrong.

COLLINS: Instead of focusing on the substance of the report, the president only asked who wrote it. A career official who has served in both Republican and Democratic administrations.

TRUMP: Where did he come from, the inspector general? What's his name?

COLLINS: It came from the inspector general report.

TRUMP: No, what's his name?

COLLINS: And today, the president sidelined another oversight official, he removed the Pentagon's acting inspector general who was in charge of overseeing how his administration spends trillions of taxpayer dollars in coronavirus emergency funding.

A spokesperson confirmed that Glenn Fine is no longer on the pandemic response accountability committee.


COLLINS: And, Jake, on top of all of that there has also been a shake-up at the White House today. The press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, is out of a job, going back to the East Wing without ever having briefed reporters while in that position and instead, Kayleigh McEnany, who is the Trump spokesman, currently is going to take over as press secretary. And we should note that a few months ago, in a television appearance, she said she did not think the coronavirus would ever come to the United States. Now she's entering a West Wing that is in the middle of dealing with the outbreak and pandemic.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, happy birthday.

President Trump just finished a videoconference with banking leaders about adding more money to the stimulus program overwhelmed by small businesses rushing to apply for loans. In that meeting, the president's top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said he sees no reason why the second half of the year cannot resume strong economically.

Let's get right this with CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley.

Julia, good to see you as always.

The Treasury Department, they want another $250 billion on top of the $350 billion loan program that just launched not even a week ago, just last Friday. Banks have not cut the first round of checks, yet Congress is signaling that they're ready to add more money in just a matter of days.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: Logistical issues aside, adding more cash here, and the noises from both sides, parties in Congress, are saying they want to do the same, this is critical and the right decision. Part of tsunami-like response for these loans that we've seen is, one, because businesses are desperate for cash, we keep talking about this. But two, there's a fear of missing out.

Businesses have been afraid that if they don't get their application in early, they're simply not going to get the cash.


So Congress is sending a message today saying, more money is coming is crucial because the psychology is key. Businesses may make different decisions today if they think they'll get money eventually and that could save jobs. And that's what this program is about, Jake.

TAPPER: That's great, and it's great that Congress is being so responsive.

We heard repeatedly that the website banks are using to try to upload these loan applications keeps crashing. One source said, quote, we're building the space shuttle as it is rocketing towards Mars. Obviously, this is being done on the fly, everybody understands the logistical challenges.

But what is being done to address these technical issues?

CHATTERLEY: So the Small Business Administration, where the holdup has been is working with Amazon Web Services since last week on something called the Lender Gateway System to try and speed up this process. I hear today that that is now up and running.

So watch this space, and we'll have to see if it smoothes out. In two weeks' time, I think this will be a completely different story. But for now, of course, to use your analogy, the rocket certainly took off but someone forgot the landing gear.

TAPPER: Small businesses, of course, employ about 80 percent of Americans in the country and small businesses are shedding -- they're shedding these jobs at lightning speed in the face of this economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Is the small business loan program, is it the attractive offer for them to keep employees on the payroll that everyone hopes it will be?

CHATTERLEY: The beauty of this deal is that if you spend three quarters of the money on payroll, it's forgiven. But the downside of that is they have other costs, rent, utility.

What I'm also hearing from restaurants is, perhaps their workers would be better off claiming four months of benefits -- of unemployment benefits than then paying them for two months with the ongoing uncertainty. That's the challenge with this lending program and with the stimulus in general. The money has to come first and that's most important.

TAPPER: All right, CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley, always good to see you. Thank you so much.

Coming up next, a doctor in the nation's epicenter who himself has now recovered from coronavirus. He's one of the many health care workers who have become patients.

Stay with us.