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U.S. Measures to Slow Coronavirus Spread Increase; Interview with President of American Medical Association Patrice Harris; Interview with Illinois State Comptroller. Susana Mendoza Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired April 7, 2020 - 14:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: This is our special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm Anderson Cooper.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control, with this message for Americans: Go all-in in the fight against coronavirus, and keep up the social distancing. Dr. Robert Redfield says that's the best weapon against an unthinkable 200,000 deaths in this outbreak, a number predicted by some earlier models, anywhere from 100 to 240,000. That as the death toll soars past 11,000, including the largest single-day increase of deaths in New York just yesterday.

CNN's Nick Watt joins me now from Los Angeles, where he's (ph) look at the efforts nationwide to try to stop the spread -- Nick.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, it was very interesting, listening to that CDC director talking about that terrifying 200,000 model and the fact that they now think it will be much lower because more of us are taking social distancing seriously.

You know, they thought only about half of us would pay attention, and we are doing much better than that. But listen, the message from everywhere, pretty much, today, is we've got to keep at it.


WATT (voice-over): New York State just had its deadliest day.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We've had 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 (voice-over): But here on the frontlines, the new case count appears to be flattening.

RODRIGO KING, DOCTOR, 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 (voice-over): The battle's not over, the war goes on. 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 nearly 500 New York Fire Department personnel have it.

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

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK, NEW YORK: I want to really make sure none of us in public life tell you we have turned a corner until we are absolutely certain. We are not there yet.

WATT (voice-over): Nationwide, numbers still rising.

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. And there are plenty of places that are going to be getting -- hitting their apex days or even weeks from now.

WATT (voice-over): In Michigan, the largest health care system now has 1,500 employees out sick with COVID-like symptoms. In Wisconsin today, social distancing at polling places, the presidential primary and local elections are a go after the state's supreme court overruled Governor Tony Evers. He says thousands have to choose between exercising their right to vote and staying healthy and safe.

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 can. But morally, you know, 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 (voice-over): The administration is now looking to a light at the end of this tunnel.

JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Normal is going to be a different normal whenever we do reopen. We know that once we get a vaccine, we can get more back to the way we treat flu season.

WATT (voice-over): They're watching how other countries gradually reopen. Just hours ago, severe lockdown restrictions were lifted in Wuhan. People are now allowed to leave. And four months after the first case in that city, China now claiming a whole day without a single COVID-19 death nationwide.

Our latest death toll Monday: 1,332 Americans died.


WATT: And of course, the economic hurt continues and in fact grows. You know, today, the mayor of New York said that around half a million New Yorkers alone could lose their jobs or already have. And here's what he said about that. He said the only comparison you could make for that is the Great Depression, which scares me to death to even say -- Anderson.


COOPER: Nick Watt, appreciate it. Thanks very much for the roundup.

Today, the U.S. surgeon general has this warning for African- Americans.


ADAMS: 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.


COOPER: Statistics from some states drive home the grim reality of what the surgeon general is talking about. In Illinois, African- Americans make up 15 percent of the population, but represent 42 percent of deaths statewide from the pandemic. In Louisiana, black people make up one-third of the population and a staggering 70 percent of fatalities. Similar story in Michigan, where African-Americans are 14 percent of the population but comprise 41 percent of COVID-19 fatalities there.

Dr. Patrice Harris is the president of the American Medical Association, a psychiatrist. Doctor, thanks for joining us. I wonder what your reaction is to this reality. I mean, we've seen disasters in the past like Katrina, which expose inequalities which already exist in society, and it seems like we're seeing that certainly here.

PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: That is absolutely correct, Anderson. Certainly, these numbers are troubling and they do serve to highlight the already existing inequities in communities of color.

And that is why the AMA is calling on the states to certainly segment this data by race and ethnicity, and then publish this data so we can be better prepared. We need to be proactive and predictive, and then target services to communities of color. And as we've seen here, particularly African-Americans.

COOPER: It's also a message to doctors and health care workers. Because we know from studies in the past about different ways that people of color are treated oftentimes by the medical establishment.

HARRIS: That is also a known in our baseline. I have to say, that's why the American Medical Association recently established a Center for Health Equity. And just last week, we had an open house or a town hall with some of the leaders of the physician organizations representing physicians of color. And so we started to highlight this issue then, and we will continue to highlight this issue.

We have to make sure, certainly -- and by the way, I just want to say that it's not that African-Americans are necessarily more at risk, it's really about those pre-existing conditions. Hypertension, diabetes, obesity. It's also about the jobs. You have overrepresentation from communities of color in those jobs and workers that are still out there working, that don't have the privilege of staying home.

And I also have to say, Anderson, it's about misinformation. I spent the first two weeks of this pandemic -- just on a personal note, more even so than in my professional capacity -- telling people that it is absolutely a false rumor that African-Americans could not be infected with COVID-19. So we have to make sure that accurate information is out there.

COOPER: In terms of testing, it just seems like even -- you know, we all know the problems that have existed with testing and continue to exist with testing despite the administration's claims that, you know, everything is fine where that's concerned.

In order to ultimately get out of this and in that transition time, whenever that may be, testing is going to play an essential role in our ability to get back to a sense of normalcy. And it's -- I think a lot of people haven't really -- who are in leadership positions, you know, haven't instituted or begun to kind of continue the push of widespread testing that will help us get out of this.

HARRIS: And that is so important. While we absolutely are in this phase of extreme mitigation, if you would, and certain social distancing, physical distancing, I like to call it -- as a psychiatrist, I want folks to stay socially connected. But we cannot forget, Anderson, that we have to have the test.

And so we can do both, we can do more than one thing at a time. And we have to get testing out in the community, including the new test that will look at the levels of antibodies in folks that have already been exposed and had COVID-19. So we absolutely cannot forget the importance of testing, and that will be a key source of data for us planning the next step, and really -- in planning how we lessen some of these restrictions. But we are not there yet, we are not there yet.

And the AMA sent a letter to all the governors through the National Governors Association, to implement stay-at-home shelter in place immediately. We know -- the evidence shows that that is an important tool in our toolbox to prevent the spread of COVID-19.


COOPER: It also seems that the contact tracing of -- which is supposed to be done by public health officials in states, doesn't seem like that's being done to the degree that it needs to, again, in order to basically track current cases, but also to the stage where, you know, we're able to start to consider coming out of some of these more draconian measures. Unless there's contact tracing being done, it just seems like our system is not set up for that. HARRIS: Well, that's another one of those basic public health

principles. And I will tell you that contact tracing will be critical in areas that are not yet hotspots. So it's the testing and the tracing, it's this extreme mitigation, appropriate mitigation at this point. And surveillance.

We also, of course, still need to know the number of hospitalizations, the number of folks who are requiring ICU beds, the number of folks who need ventilators so that we can make sure that we are prepared for the worst.

We can absolutely hope for the best, but we need to be prepared for the worst and make sure the beds and the people and the space and the supplies -- PPE, testing -- all of that needs to work in concert as, again, we work our way through and ultimately out of this pandemic.

COOPER: Yes. You gave an address to the National Press Club today. In your speech, you had a line, you said the AMA, the American Medical Association, "calls on all elected officials to affirm science, evidence and fact in their words and actions."

It's such an important point because that is simply not happening right now. The scientists are not in the lead on this. Everything is filtered, now, through the White House.

HARRIS: Science has to rule the day. We need and must fall back on science and the evidence and facts, actually not just through this epidemic -- pandemic -- of course, we need to. But that -- we should remember that after we get on the other side of this evidence.

Science has been under attack, you know, over the last decade or so, maybe even longer. And our address today from the AMA was to make sure that we refocused, for those who need to hear the message, on science and the evidence.

COOPER: Yes. Dr. Patrice Harris, I appreciate all you're doing. Thank you.

HARRIS: Thank you.

COOPER: States, forced to battle each other for life-saving (ph) equipment. We've been watching this happen now, day after day. We'll talk to an official in Illinois whose governor has been described by President Trump as, quote, "complaining too much."

Plus, a White House memo that warned of the deadly catastrophe in late January. So why does the president say he never saw this coming? And why was the month of February such a lost month in terms of official action?


And when the White House started hyping drugs already on the market, doctors started hoarding them. What it means for people across the country, now in desperate need of their prescriptions.


COOPER: States are in an all-out battle for medical supplies. Governors are warning it may be just days before their hospitals run out things like gloves and masks and gowns and ventilators. The Illinois governor says it's basically impossible to find PPE.


GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D), ILLINOIS: Take note that this is not as simple as placing an order and having it arrive at your doorstep a few days later. There's a worldwide shortage that has us racing the clock and battling against other states and the federal government.


COOPER: The president, repeatedly saying it is the states' responsibility, not the federal government's, to secure PPE. That's left states to go to drastic lengths. Susana Mendoza is the Illinois state comptroller.

Thanks so much for being with us. You know all about these drastic measures because you sent someone from your staff racing down I-55h Highway with a check for $3.4 million for a rendezvous at a McDonald's, to some middleman, in order to get masks? Can you just kind of quickly explain that?

SUSANA MENDOZA (D), ILLINOIS STATE COMPTROLLER: Sure. Thanks for having me, Anderson. We actually did it twice. There was a two-day separation between the first employee Ellen Andres and our second employee Cortez Gillespie, who decided to do whatever it took to make sure that the money for those PPEs got in the hand of those vendors.

But, you know, this is what we've resorted to now as a state. It's essentially like -- almost feels like you're doing a sketchy drug deal on the side of the road, when in fact you're trying to save people's lives. But we shouldn't be in a situation where we are left to compete against our very own allies, which are our neighboring states and places like New York, that we love. But that's essentially what's happening in the absence of the federal leadership.

COOPER: Y es. I mean, the president's described your governor as, quote, "complaining all the time" because he's been asking for supplies. He blames states for not being prepared. He also claims that nobody could have seen this coming, which I guess he's using to explain why there was a lost month from the White House in terms of actually taking strong action on this.

MENDOZA: Look, the federal government has known about this since January, that's a fact. And the reality is, if they had invoked the Federal Production Act early on, we'd be able to be accessing these life-saving PPE directly from American businesses that would be producing this for us. Instead, we're left to our own devices. The states have been told, you're on your own. It's a Wild Wild West.

And what's happening is that we're having to secure -- hopefully, if we're able to get our hands on -- product from China, from Australia, whether it's ventilators or PPE. And we're paying six to seven times the price that we would, and we're not putting a single American to work saving their own country. That is shameful and it's a disgrace in today's day.


COOPER: Do you see this ending without more help from the federal government?

MENDOZA: Well, look, I mean, we've asked for -- for example, they promised us tens of thousands of PPE -- I mean of -- they promised us tens of thousands of tests, and millions more of PPE, yet we have received about three percent of what we asked for.

The president made a big deal about sending us the really important masks that we needed, but he sent us a whole bunch of surgical masks and not the respirators, which are so critical right now on the frontlines, that he had promised. So, you know, unfortunately they haven't been able to get much of it right.

And to blame our governor, who has been in incredible leader at the most critical time? I mean, really, Illinoisans couldn't be prouder of the governor and his effort to fight for every single life in Illinois. And if that means calling it out where it's important to call it out with the failed leadership at the federal level, well, he's going to do it and I'm going to do it from the Comptroller's Office. And whoever needs to do it, needs to do it.

But at the end of the day, we're getting the job done here in Illinois, but it's a whole heck of a lot harder for us. And I guarantee you, it's just as hard for every other state that's out there, fending for themselves. It'd be nice to have a coordinated federal response to this crisis. And you know, just a little too late and they could have done so much more so much earlier, it's a shame.

COOPER: Yes. Susana Mendoza, I appreciate your efforts. Thank you very much.

MENDOZA: Thank you.

COOPER: As New York City sees its highest single-day increase in deaths, we're going to talk to two doctors on the frontlines on the difficult decisions they're now facing, all the time.

We're also learning more about a memo warning the Trump team about the outbreak, back in late January. The White House responds.



COOPER: We're learning new details about the timeline of the White House response to the coronavirus outbreak. Peter Navarro, a senior trade advisor to President Trump, actually raised concerns about the threat back in January, late January. In a memo, Navarro said the virus could become a full-blown pandemic as he pushed for a travel ban on China, CNN has learned.

Less than a month later, even as President Trump was downplaying the threat, Navarro wrote a second memo, again warning of a catastrophe. And even suggested the coronavirus task force try to secure billions on funding. All this appears to contradict the president's repeated claims that we couldn't have seen this coming.


TRUMP: It's an unforeseen problem, what a problem. Came out of nowhere --

And it's nobody's fault, it's not like -- who could have ever predicted a thing like this.

I would view it as -- as something that just surprised the whole world.

Nobody knew there'd be a pandemic or an epidemic of this proportion.

Nobody would have ever thought a thing like this could have happened.


COOPER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House. Kaitlan, looks like the president either ignored Navarro's advice, didn't see it. Or I mean, he's not -- wasn't a top official in the administration particularly at that point. He's now the administration's Defense Production Act coordinator.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and Peter Navarro is someone the president has kept close. Other officials have tried to sideline him at times, but because the president has continued to bring him back in, time and time again, that's why Peter Navarro has remained in that upper circle of the president.

So that doesn't really seem to make sense, if that was the excuse. And of course, the question is, if the president didn't see this memo, then why, on the day that Peter Navarro wrote the first memo, which was dated January 29th, did the president start making moves, like naming his Coronavirus Task Force? And also the day after that was when he granted those travel restrictions to China.

So there certainly is a belief inside the West Wing that the president was aware of these memos. And, Anderson, it's really notable that after these memos were written, that the president continued to downplay it. And of course, that came after he formed that task force and imposed those restrictions.

And when you look at this and you listen to what the president has been saying for months, you know, no one could have seen this coming, and then you read what Peter Navarro wrote, he is actually someone who saw this coming.

One part of the memos, he says, quote, "The lack of immune protection or an existing cure or vaccine would leave Americans defenseless in the case of a full-blown coronavirus outbreak on U.S. soil." He says the "lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans."

Anderson, that is what we are seeing play out right now here in the United States, and Peter Navarro, this trade advisor, was the one warning about it even as early as late January, in a pretty well- written-out memo where he's laying out exactly what we eventually came to see.

COOPER: There were changes today at the White House, the press secretary who never actually held a briefing, Stephanie Grisham, she's out. Kayleigh McEnany is in. Do we know why Grisham is out? Because I mean, in terms of -- you know, she never held press briefings, but you know, she would go on "Fox" all the time and you know, double down on the president's attacks on people and you know, sort of make outrageous claims.

COLLINS: Yes. And she also did those interviews not from the White House lawn, like you saw Sarah Sanders do when she did "Fox News" interviews. She actually went to the bureau, so you couldn't even ask her a question after those interviews were over.

But, Anderson, this move was kind of one that people had seen coming inside -- in the White House for a while. Stephanie Grisham stopped attending senior staff meetings regularly.

People had the idea that when the president hired his new chief of staff Mark Meadows, that there could likely be a shake-up in the staff, as you've seen in times before. And now we're seeing a full- blown communications shake-up happening because the communications job was not holding press briefings --