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Louisiana Governor: Seventy Percent of COVID-19 Deaths in State are African-Americans; Michigan's Two Largest Healthcare Providers Say 2,000-Plus Staff Members Infected with COVID-19; Wisconsin Polls Open Despite Virus Concerns as Democrats Fight to Delay; New York Governor Sees Possible Flattening of the Curve; Peter Navarro Allegedly Warned White House of Pandemic in January; U.K.'s Prime Minister in ICU After Coronavirus Symptoms Worsened. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 7, 2020 - 09:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[09:00:13]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow.

This morning, some positive signs in some places. This as the nation now battles a pandemic that has resulted in nearly 11,000 deaths across the United States. From the epicenter, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says the curve could be flattening. But Dr. Anthony Fauci keeping optimism in check this morning and giving a stunning warning that the U.S. may never really get back to the way things were before this outbreak, especially without a vaccine.

SCIUTTO: Also this morning, did the White House know reports that a top White House adviser warned the administration about a pandemic and the potential deaths of perhaps millions of Americans? That, of course, directly contradicts what the president has been saying for weeks that no one could have predicted this.

We are on top of all the headlines here and around the world, live in London where the U.K. prime minister remains in intensive care. But, first, Athena Jones is in New York City, with the latest.

Tell us the numbers there, because folks hear some positive signs, at least a slowing of the spread, but on the other hand, concerns about running out of key equipment this week.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Jim. That's right. Concerns about supplies continue. But you're right. There is some hint that New York may be turning a corner. Of course New York state is the epicenter of this crisis in America, accounting for more than a third of the cases nationwide. And New York City accounts for half of the number of cases in New York state.

Governor Cuomo saying that deaths have been effectively flat for the -- for two days. This is what he said at his press conference yesterday. And so that's still early yet of course to see where things are going. But deaths essentially flat. Also the number of hospitalizations are down, the number of daily intubations, that's people who have such critical respiratory issues that they have to be put on a ventilator. That number is down.

And the number of intensive care unit admissions also down. And so while the governor says, look, none of this is good news, at least in terms of 5,000 deaths in the state of New York, but the possible flattening of the curve is better than the increases we've been seeing and so now we have to wait and see what the numbers look like over the next couple of days to see if New York state at least has reached the apex and to see how long the state remains at this high level of cases coming in.

But all of this, of course, is designed at -- looking at trying to keep down the hospitalizations. Keep down the rate of infections so that New York City's hospitals and the state hospitals are not overwhelmed. That is the reason we have extra hospital beds coming online, like the Javits Center behind me with 2500 beds. They are now treating COVID-19 patients.

Also the USNS Comfort, the Navy ship docked just off the West Side Highway in the Hudson River also taking COVID patients. But one thing I want to note, a crew member of that Navy ship has now tested positive for the virus. Now, this is not someone who had contact with patients. I want to be clear with that. But someone has tested positive. They are being isolated. And the people who had contact with that crew member are also being isolated and monitored.

Now, they tell us -- the Navy spokesperson tells us that this has had no impact on the Comfort ship's mission. They will still be able to treat COVID patients. But the fact they are now treating COVID patients is going to reduce their capacity from 1,000 beds to 500 beds because they needed to reconfigure the ship. So these are some of the challenges that New York state and city officials are confronting.

And not to mention the fact of rising number of cases of coronavirus and sick people in the NYPD. We know now that nearly 20 percent of the New York Police Department is out sick. Now not all of them are sick with coronavirus. But still, a good number of them, just under 2,000, 1935 uniformed members and 293 civilian members have tested positive for the virus. So still a lot of challenges being confronted here in the state of New York.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And we should note that those New York numbers, that's fewer deaths and admissions per day than the previous day, but the total continues to go up, just a clarification there.

Athena Jones, thanks very much.

Let's get to reports that the administration was warned about the risks of a pandemic back in January.

HARLOW: Our White House correspondent John Harwood is with us.

So Peter Navarro, the top trade guy at the White House, very close to the president, sent this memo in January, and looking at the numbers that he predicted here, they were pretty spot on. I guess the question is, did the president read it, who saw it, who didn't?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, whether the president read it or not, Poppy, he's running a government with a lot of people working for him and his government knew about this.

Look, step back, President George W. Bush, through his Homeland Security adviser Fran Townsend, did extensive work to prepare for pandemics.

[09:05:08]

It was a big preoccupation of President Bush. President Obama dealt with Ebola, left behind on the National Security Council a pandemic preparedness position. The Obama team briefed the Trump team when they were taking office about the risks of a pandemic. You had the Trump HHS did a huge pandemic preparedness exercise that showed that they weren't prepared.

All of that preceded what happened with COVID-19 and Peter Navarro, now we know that someone as close to the president as Peter Navarro, he's very close to him, was warning in January that the U.S. population lacked immune protection from this virus and that put millions of lives at risk. He sharpened that warning in February at a time when the president was downplaying the risk, saying that this was under control.

So the idea that the Trump White House did not know how bad this could get, when people like Peter Navarro, not to mention Alex Azar and Tony Fauci and others within the government were shouting that internally, it's simply not plausible at all.

HARLOW: And just the resulting fallout that we've seen.

John Harwood, I appreciate that reporting. Thanks very much.

Let's talk about the British prime minister. Boris Johnson is in stable condition but remains in the intensive care unit at a hospital in London after his coronavirus symptoms suddenly and rapidly worsened overnight.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen, it is a reminder that everyone is potentially at risk from this.

CNN's Clarissa Ward, she joins us now live from London.

Clarissa, do we know more about the prime minister's condition right now? Because there have been real questions about how widely information has been shared by the British government including with members of his own cabinet.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You heard from Michael Gove, who's one of the more senior members of the cabinet here in the U.K. earlier, saying that they were surprised essentially, that they were caught off guard when they found out at 8:00 last night that just an hour earlier the prime minister had been taken into the intensive care unit. What we know today, we have just had a sort of update from the

spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson. He is as you said in stable condition. He is not being intubated. He's not using a ventilator to breathe. He is conscious. He's also not been diagnosed with pneumonia. So those are some relatively positive developments, but what we haven't heard, which I think everyone in the United Kingdom would very much like to hear, is that there have been any meaningful improvements either to his health.

And there has been some concern here absolutely that throughout most of the day yesterday, the only updates we were hearing was that he was in great spirits and he was still leading the country and he was, you know, doing all his work from his hospital room. And then just hours later suddenly he was in the intensive care unit.

This is a time of political crisis. This is a time when people feel frightened and anxious, and they want to believe and feel strongly that their leadership is intact, that their government is unified. And that the prime minister is going to make a healthy quick and speedy recovery -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: Clarissa Ward, we hope that for him. I think it's shocking to everyone how quickly this has deteriorated overnight.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: And we're wishing him the best. Thank you for that update.

Let's talk about all of these developments with Dr. Celine Gounder, clinical assistant professor of Medicine and Infectious Disease at NYU.

Dr. Gounder, very good to have you. One thing that we're hearing a lot more about and the U.S. surgeon general actually talked about it this morning is African-Americans and why there is a higher percentage of African-American deaths, whether it's Detroit, whether it's Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, whether it's Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The surgeon general just said this morning, I and many black Americans are at higher risk of COVID.

Do we know why and what are the initial numbers telling us?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, there's a host of reasons why that's the case. So one of it is socioeconomic. These are the folks who are having to leave the home to do their service jobs, their essential service jobs, you know, things like working at the grocery checkout counter, driving our cars and so on. They're having to leave the home and so they're more likely to be infected in first place.

But then once they're infected, they're also more likely to have severe disease, so these are populations that have higher risks of -- or higher likelihood of having high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight, and on top of that, we're also seeing that people who live in counties where air pollution rates are worse are also at higher risk of severe COVID. So there is a number of factors driving this. SCIUTTO: I did not know about pollution. I want to ask you another

question, Dr. Gounder. This has been a curiosity of mine and I imagine maybe some of our viewers.

[09:10:02]

So flattening the curve as is, right, slowing the rate of growth in infections, that's really about not overwhelming hospitals. You don't have a peak of this when the hospitals can't handle the severely sick. Does that mean those of us who have not been affected are less likely to be infected ever, you know, throughout this outbreak, or just that we won't be infected or less likely to be infected during that peak? You know what I'm asking there?

GOUNDER: Right. So if you think of like a curve, you're flattening it, but that doesn't mean the area under the curve, you know, the number of people affected has gone down. So it's really about slowing it down, where hospitals are not overwhelmed and that matters because if we're overwhelmed, death rates shoot up because we are not able to cope with the volume of patients as well. So it does not mean you're less likely to get the disease, to have severe disease, but it means that if you get really sick, we're better able to cope with it.

HARLOW: What have you learned in terms of what this is going to mean for the communities where there still are not stay-at-home orders, for example? And I understand that there are not a lot of people traveling across state lines, but there still are people and so when you still do not have a national mandate, so that everyone behaves essentially the same, what are the repercussions of that?

GOUNDER: Well, it is concerning so that -- based on cell phone data, we can see which parts of the country are not isolating as well.

HARLOW: Right.

GOUNDER: And so that's largely in the south and in the Midwest, and that's very concerning because those parts of the country are where we're going to see this hitting next. You know, we've already seen some of the big cities in those areas, then it's going to start to trickle out into the suburbs in those areas. And so, you know, these projections that we've heard of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths are based on very optimistic scenarios where people actually do shelter in place through the end of May. So I think that the death rates in those parts of the country could stand to be much, much higher unfortunately.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Gounder, antibody tests. This is a big topic. We get a lot of questions about here at CNN. How soon -- and these are basically tests to see if your body has been exposed to the coronavirus already and has already developed a defense against it, in effect, how soon will this country have them on a broad scale because we don't have a great track record on broad scale testing on this? And in simplest terms, if you then have the antibodies, does that mean you're safe?

GOUNDER: So to answer the first part of that question, you know, there is a number of these tests, commercial tests that have been notified to the federal -- the Food and Drug Administration. FDA has basically said, you know, commercial labs can move forward with these. We don't have a lot of data on how well they work, so I wouldn't want them to be giving people a sense of false security.

Academic, medical centers can also develop their own in-house versions, but what we really need to do is study these tests to make sure that if you are antibody positive, that actually means you're protected and we don't have a definitive answer to that yet.

HARLOW: Dr. Celine Gounder, thank you very, very much for being with us.

SCIUTTO: Thanks. Thanks so much. So good to have the doctors on. I know all of you at home have a lot of questions, too.

Still to come this hour, voters in Wisconsin, they're headed to the polls. Today. This morning in the midst of the outbreak, after the Supreme Court allowed the primary to proceed as planned. This despite the governor looking for ways to spread this out, extend voting, et cetera. What does this mean, and this is key, for the election in November if there is another wave of this?

HARLOW: And a new report says coronavirus does not affect pregnant women any more adversely as other patients. What do we need to know in terms of expectant mothers? What do they need to be aware of and for their babies? We'll talk about that with an OB-GYN ahead.

We're also moments away from the Opening Bell on Wall Street. The Dow is said to jump when trading begins. This rally comes as the mood of investors seems to be improving, as countries around the globe work on trying to stimulate the economy and more and more people are staying at home.

Some jobless Americans could see those unemployment checks, the extra $600 checks coming as early as this week. Let's hope so. That depends on where they live. At the same time, some states are still having trouble processing a huge surge in jobless claims.

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[09:15:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Well, startling numbers, Jim, in terms of the disparity it appears in terms of death from --

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Yes --

HARLOW: Coronavirus. Louisiana's governor now says 70 percent of the people who have died in his state from COVID-19 are African-Americans, even though African-Americans only represent --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Just over 32 percent of the population there.

SCIUTTO: Now, we should note Louisiana has the fifth highest total of confirmed cases in the country. That's just so far, real concerns about this growing as an epicenter of this. CNN's Ed Lavandera, he's in New Orleans. Ed, the governor also says there are signs, however, that there are steps to do social distancing, maybe flattening the curve there. How much of a difference is it making?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they say that they still need a lot more data, and this is based on the data coming in over the last couple of days. But one sign is, you know, the governor has been saying for the last week and a half or so, he had been putting dates on when the state expected to run out of hospital beds and ventilators.

He's no longer doing that. He's kind of stepping away from that. There is still a need for ventilators, but there is not this kind of finale kind of date that they're looking toward or very concerned about.

[09:20:00]

So, he stopped kind of doing that yesterday. But there is still a great deal of need and concern for ventilators and personal protection equipment for medical staff working inside these hospitals. But they are looking at those numbers, and in fact, one of the projections say that they're beginning to see the beginning of the flattening of the curve, one projection even said that perhaps, this state was past its peak.

Everyone I've talked to here in the state isn't ready to celebrate all of that yet, because they say a lot of those projections are based on the assumptions that people will continue to socially distance, and not alter their behavior through the end of this month. And so if people start to celebrating that and relaxing on their behavior and changing their routines, they say that this can easily go back to being a much more dire situation.

SCIUTTO: I mean, that's the thing, the progress here notable, Poppy, but, of course --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Poppy, you've got to keep going, to keep the curve flat, curve flat. That's the -- it seems to be --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: The lesson.

HARLOW: Of course. And, Ed, thank you for focusing on those numbers and the disparity, and I think everyone trying to figure out why in so many states like Michigan, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Louisiana, the black death rate is so much higher right now in the middle --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

HARLOW: Of this crisis. A dire situation is developing in another hotspot, Michigan. Two of the state's largest healthcare providers say more than 2,000 healthcare workers there, if you can believe that, 2,000 healthcare workers have tested positive for COVID-19. This comes as Governor Gretchen Whitmer says hospitals are running dangerously low on personal protective equipment.

Ryan Young is in Detroit. How is Detroit making due, getting by with so many cases and so many infected healthcare workers?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, this is the scary part of this story. In fact, as we've been here, we have been talking to a lot of healthcare workers. And in fact, we get a lot of e-mails and people talking about what they're seeing inside the hospital. First of all, I want to read just some numbers to you. At one hospital, a group belonging to Henry Ford healthcare system, they have 734 healthcare workers who have tested positive.

At the Beaumont health system, they have 1,500 who are showing COVID- like signs. So they're not sure of all of them are positive or not. Think about the stress that is putting on the system. Something stood out to us, though, on Sunday, there was a group of nurses who showed up to work -- and I'll show you this video from Facebook, they were very upset about the staffing levels at the hospital.

The nurses felt like they were too few nurses to work with all the patients who were on the inside. They actually staged a sit-in demanding for more staff to show up. And at some point, some even chose to go home. Which shows you just the dire straits there. And we've been talking to people who say the hallways have been full with patients. Now, the hospital for its part said other nurses decided to stay that day and help the doctors work.

But you see, all the sort of precautions that people want to see in place in these hospitals to take care of people. One bit of good news, though, we should show you this video as well. Ford Motor Company, really stepping up their design of those face shields that a lot of doctors and nurses want to wear, that plastic covering over their face, they've produced more than a million of them so far.

A lot of volunteer work. In fact, they've gotten to the point where they can produce one of those every 60 seconds. So, you see on the lines there, they're really putting forth a lot of effort to keep these healthcare workers safe. But when you talk about the critical need and the fact that so many people in the city are sick, and 619- plus people have died across this state, you understand the need of those healthcare workers who want to go home to their families --

HARLOW: Yes --

YOUNG: And be safe.

HARLOW: Yes, of course, you do, Ryan, thank you for that update. Now, despite this pandemic, there's an all-out fight or there was an all- out fight by Democrats up until late last night to delay it. But primary polls if you can believe it are open in Wisconsin this morning. The state is pressing forward with voting today after a heated Supreme Court battle.

SCIUTTO: Listen, the officials there in that state were trying to protect people, tried to extend voting, avoid scenes like this where people are lining up, and to their credit, still coming out to vote. But look at the social distancing there. I mean, we've all been in grocery lines where people are doing that. But look at that polling line, that was quite --

HARLOW: Not like that -- not a line like that, wow --

SCIUTTO: Blocks and blocks long. And to be clear, this has implications, don't forget this, for the general election in November, we're going to talk about this enormously important here. First, let's go to CNN's Omar Jimenez, Ariane de Vogue is standing by as well. But Omar, people still coming out to vote today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are. At least what we have seen so far, we're here in Milwaukee at one of only five polling places open. Milwaukee typically has 180 polling places but due to a lack of poll workers that wanted to show up and work, we have only five, and as a result, we are seeing long lines, even before the polls opened.

You can probably see over my shoulder here, there are people lined up around the side of the high school, around the corner, through the parking lot, and then into the road and sidewalk that extends beyond that school as well.

[09:25:00]

So, that's one indicator of potential turnout today in the state. But then also, you look at absentee ballots, which has been the main point of controversy at least one of them in regards to how this election would unfold. We have already seen more than a million absentee ballots requested according to data from the Wisconsin Elections Commission. And by comparison for the Spring primary in 2016, that number was around 250,000.

But the more crucial component of that million is that there are thousands of people who requested their ballots, but won't receive them in time by the end of today. And the reason that is important is because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that any vote that would be counted between now and the April 13th date that is set must be post- marked by today, which leaves those voters with a choice, either risk potentially your health and show up in person to vote or don't vote at all. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Wow.

SCIUTTO: We have Ariane de Vogue on the line, she covers the Supreme Court for us. Ariane, put this into context here for us because this is not just about Wisconsin. The Supreme Court has piped in, in the simplest terms, does this mean that when November rolls around and if this country is in a midst of a second wave of this deadly pandemic, that there will be fewer accommodations for people to vote in the outbreak like vote by mail, like extended voting deadlines?

ARIANE DE VOGUE, CNN SUPREME COURT REPORTER: So, Jim, you're absolutely right. So, this case was about Wisconsin, but it's a sample of what's coming down the road, right? With Democrats, they do, they want more votes by mail, they want longer hours especially in a pandemic. And last night, what the majority, the conservatives on the court focused on is the role of the court.

They said, look, we look at these rules. Court precedence says you're not supposed to change the rules, too close to an election because you'll confuse voters. So they said, look, like every election, absentee voters here, they had rules to follow, and they had to get their absentee votes in. But that's the thing, Jim, that got Ruth Bader Ginsburg who wrote the main defense here for the liberals, that's what triggered her.

And she was kind of in disbelieve that the conservatives here would say, oh, this is like any election. She wrote in this dissent, the court's suggestion that the current situation is not substantially different from an ordinary election boggles the mind. And then she also wrote and keep in mind, she was writing last night, she said, "the court's order requires absentee voters to post-mark their ballots by election date, April 7th, i.e. tomorrow, even if they did not receive their ballots by that date."

That is a novel requirement. And you can see that she's just dripping with sarcasm. Because unlike the majority, she really focused on the pandemic, and she said, look, there are a thousand cases, there are deaths here. Voters are going to be disenfranchised. And more of these cases, even without the pandemic, we already knew that they were going to be more challenging to voting rights.

But now you have this pandemic going on, more of these cases in other states are going to go through the lower courts and hit the Supreme Court, and that really shows you what we're going to see between now and November. And it almost feels like last night, that opinion which was so political, right, the RNC versus the Democrats, kind of almost of hints of Bush v. Gore. That's what it seems, like that's what we're looking at, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Listen, you put a pin on it there. Voters are going to be disenfranchised, fewer people are going to be able to vote, it's the bottom line, that's really the facts. It's -- Ariane de Vogue, thanks as always.

DE VOGUE: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Understaffed and overwhelmed, EMS workers working tirelessly to answer the desperate calls of thousands. We're going to speak to a first responder in New York City, of course, the epicenter of all of this, that's coming right up.

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