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Report: U.S. Intelligence Warned of Outbreak of COVID-19 in November; Early Data Shows Coronavirus Hits Black Americans Disproportionately; Small Business Loan Program for U.S. Businesses Marred By Glitches and Breakdowns. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 8, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Some relief, a little bit of good news this morning. There's been a shift in a key model's predictions for the death toll from the coronavirus pandemic. Now projecting U.S. deaths to hit about 60,000 by August. Now that is down from the models earlier prediction ranging 80,000 to 100,000. And far lower than the high that the White House had been talking about of more than 200,000 deaths. Of course these numbers change every day.


SCIUTTO: But it is, Poppy, a positive shift.

HARLOW: It is. It is. But no one should let their guard down. This comes as the United States and New York City have their deadliest days so far in this crisis, 806 deaths reported in New York alone on Tuesday. But the state's governor says there are signs that social distancing is working. The CDC is urging Americans to keep it up or risk losing any progress that we are making right now.

Also today, another report of an early warning within the Trump administration, another one, and this one coming long before this crisis even hit the United States. This one from U.S. intelligence, Jim, back in November.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it is remarkable. How do Americans view Washington's response? A new CNN poll shows that a majority of Americans, 55 percent, now say the federal government has done a poor job of preventing the spread of coronavirus in the United States.

Let's begin with those new projection numbers. We should call them that, they're models, they're projections, these numbers, this morning. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us live.

Help put us into context, because folks at home they hear different numbers every couple of days and models are just that. They're models, they don't predict the future, they make it educated guess about the future. But what are we learning from these latest projections?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Jim, important to remember that phrase educated guess. These are models that make a lot of different assumptions. Tony Fauci himself has emphasized. This is not data, these are projections.

So let's take a look at what this very influential model at the University of Washington is telling us. You mentioned them earlier, Jim. In the United States they have been projecting 81,766 deaths and now they're projecting 60,415. This is not a reason to jump up and down and get excited. That is still 60,000 dead Americans.

That's -- you know, we need to keep this in some perspective, that is still a huge number. But as you noted, Jim, this is because we are social distancing. This is because we are actually doing relatively well with it, especially in some parts of the country, so we don't want to let up now.

HARLOW: There were also projections for certain areas, right? Because different cities, different regions have been hit differently in terms of the onslaught of this. What do we know about those new models for certain areas?

COHEN: Right, let's take a look at the positive news and some of the negative news. First let's take a look at California.


COHEN: And Louisiana where we're seeing those projections go down. In California, the projection was 6,100 deaths, now it's 1,600. That is a huge difference. And the experts tell us that is largely because -- not completely, but largely because California has been doing a much better job than other places with social distancing, very strict rules there. Louisiana, those projections down from 1,900 deaths to 900. But on the other side of the coin, take a look at New Jersey, the projections went up, from 2100 deaths to about 5300. In New York, 10,200 up to 13,300. So we can see that these projections are not uniform across the entire country.

SCIUTTO: And that's really important to say. Because the country moves at different times, at different speeds.


SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks for helping break those numbers down.

Even as we learn more about some positive signs, signals in the data, it was -- and listen, this is the reality of this -- still the deadliest single day yet in New York City. CNN national correspondent Athena Jones is live there.

It was heartening to see those numbers yesterday, in 24 hours, hundreds -- hundreds of people lost their lives.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim. That's right. Hundreds of people, these are people, sisters, brothers, mothers, friends, cousins, you know, New York saw the biggest single day increase in deaths, 806 people dying. And you can see here on " The New York Times" cover, the total deaths in New York, this is spiking all the way through the maps that had just shows you visually how much New York has suffered as part of this crisis. You know, this is the epicenter of the crisis.

And it's not really just New York. New Jersey next door also has the second largest number of coronavirus cases.


And New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, all three of those states saw their single biggest -- the biggest increase in deaths in one day. We also know that New York and New Jersey now account for more than half of the coronavirus deaths all across the country.

Now, there is some possible good news and that is that the curve could be flattening. That's according to New York mayor -- New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who said the number of hospital admissions is dropping. The number of people receiving breathing tubes is dropping. And the increase in the rate of cases each day is -- appears to be flattening.

So this is at least some good news as we approach this, Cuomo saying of course you have to look at the rolling average, a three-day average to make sure that we can see whether this is a trend or not -- Jim.

HARLOW: Yes. Athena, thank you. I know we're going to have you back in just a little bit because we want to focus a lot on the disparity here and why so many more African-Americans are contracting this in cities like New York and dying from it. So Athena will be back with us in just a little bit to really dig into that.

Joining us now is Dr. Jennifer Lee, former director of the Virginia Department of Medical Assistance Services and, Dr. Ashish Jha, director of Harvard's Global Health Institute.

Thank you both very, very much for being here.

So, Dr. Jha, let me just begin with you. In terms of this new modeling, they expect maybe fewer deaths, still upwards of 60,000 to 80,000 by August. It's still hard to comprehend, but I thought it was interesting that the head of the CDC, Dr. Redfield, said yesterday essentially our initial models didn't take into account that so many people would follow the guidelines. We only thought 50 percent of people would. So it's a positive sign?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: So it is a positive sign. Anytime the projections suggest that fewer Americans will die, that is a good thing. I think it's worth understanding that 60,000 is still more than all the Americans who died in Vietnam and it's all going to happen over a couple of months.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

JHA: So it's still a devastating number. Second, the model essentially assumes that no one is going to die after June 1, that the epidemic in some ways will be at least over for next few months. We know that's not true. We know that the number of cases will continue, the virus is not going away. And so I think and I worry that the model is underestimating what happens after the next few weeks, but we can keep our fingers crossed and it is true. Americans have done a good job on social distancing. And I think that's great. And that is helping a lot.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Lee, we noticed the CDC changed their guidance just in the last 24 hours on the use of some of these anti-malarial drugs, taking down dosage recommendations, that sort of thing. There have been a lot of questions about this. There's even been a public debate about it between the president who has touted the unproven success of this, Dr. Fauci who has urged caution saying the success is only anecdotal.

What do we know about the success of anti-malarial treatments and what is the significance of the CDC changing their guidance here?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, FORMER DIRECTOR, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF MEDICAL ASSISTANCE SERVICES: Well, I think that's very interesting. Because I'm not aware of any new scientific evidence that has emerged in the last 24 hours. You know, I think at this point in time, what we have before us are some -- what we call anecdotal evidence and very small studies that weren't controlled.

They were done in other countries like France and China and we have information from lab studies. And what we really need are these randomized controlled clinical trials to tell us whether these drugs work and we're talking about hydroxychloroquine, also known as Plaquenil, and in some cases combined with azithromycin.

You know, a couple of things about this. You know, I think my big message on this, on the use of this drug is that for the general public, you know, if you don't have COVID, but you're worried about getting it, or you have relatives, family members that you're really worried about how they might do if they got COVID, and you're trying to get this drug, hydroxychloroquine, you really don't need to.

Because one of the things I've seen, you know, these small studies, this is really for people who are very sick, in the hospital. And if you or your family member, your loved one becomes very sick, with COVID, and is in the hospital, your doctors, we, we will make sure that we try everything and we know about hydroxychloroquine. So you don't have to try to get this. And also it's dangerous because what's not talked about enough is that hydroxychloroquine, especially combined with azithromycin can lead to life-threatening cardiac arrhythmia.

HARLOW: Yes. It absolutely can and also the shortage in supplies, you know, as has been mentioned, for those who really need it, with lupus and other things.

Can I ask you, Dr. Jha, about suburban and rural areas? Because we talked so much about the numbers in big cities but you have great concerns about those regions.


JHA: I do. You know, the virus not only doesn't respect, you know, national or state borders. It also doesn't, you know, limit itself through just cities.


Obviously suburbs and rural areas are less dense and that doesn't mean that the virus isn't coming, it just means it's going to come a little later and it's going to spread a bit more slowly. So I think all Americans in the suburbs and rural areas will end up -- and we're seeing this in parts of Michigan and parts of other states -- more rural areas are starting to get hit. And I'm really worried because hospitals in those areas don't have as many ICU beds, don't have the same capacity. So unfortunately this is something we're all going to be dealing with no matter where we live in America.

HARLOW: Yes. Yes.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Lee, before you go, again these are models. They're not predictions of the future. As they show that social distancing is working to flatten the curve, some evidence of that, what does that mean in the weeks and months that follow for Americans who thankfully have not been exposed to this, but still have a risk of being exposed to it down the line, do they not, particularly if you begin to lift these restrictions?

LEE: Well, Jim, it's way too early for us to talk about lifting restrictions. I think what we -- the message here is that social distancing is helping, it is working, we absolutely have to keep doing everything we're doing. I can tell you from my own experience in the E.R., it is helping. Things would be so much worse if we were not doing that. And one of the things I'd love to see from the CDC because they are the experts in this is using this time that we've gained by doing this social distancing to put into place the solutions we need, the widespread testing, the widespread contact tracing that we're going to need to one day get out of this.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And those are the methods that worked in places like South Korea in terms of greatly, greatly reducing the deaths from this, but also the economic damage.

Dr. Lee, Dr. Jha, thanks to both of you.

JHA: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: A reminder to all of you to join Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Anderson Cooper for a new global town hall. They're going to be joined by special guest NBA legend Magic Johnson. This airs live tomorrow night only on CNN, starting at 8:00 Eastern Time.

And a new report from ABC News finds that U.S. intelligence officials raised red flags about the coronavirus outbreak in China as far back as November. According to ABC, warning the Trump administration that the virus could pose, quote, "a cataclysmic threat."

HARLOW: Months and months before we previously knew.

Let's go to our John Harwood. He's with us again this morning.

John, tell us what we know and even, you know, just on Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Defense Secretary Esper about this.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I was going to say, Poppy, we -- ABC continues to add depth to their reporting, which we're working on as well. But they did highlight on Sunday in this exchange between George Stephanopoulos and the Defense secretary exactly what the warnings could have been, might have been. Take a listen.


GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: Did the Pentagon receive an intelligence assessment on COVID in China last November from the National Center for Medical Intelligence at DIA?

MARK ESPER, DEFENSE SECRETARY: I can't recall, George, but we have many people that watch this closely.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you would have known if this were briefed to the National Security Council in December, wouldn't you?

ESPER: Yes, I'm not aware of that.


HARWOOD: Now, what this underscores is that the coronavirus pandemic is more perfectly suited to expose the vulnerabilities of this administration than almost any other kind of crisis you can imagine. First of all the president through the beginning of his administration has distrusted the intelligence agencies in part because of experiences out of Russia. Secondly, the people with the strength and stature in the administration to take and grab him by the lapels and focus his attention on something like this, people like Jim Mattis, John Kelly, Henry McMaster, they're gone, have been replaced by people of lesser stature.

And, third, when the president gets information like this before, and we've seen from the memos that Peter Navarro issued that these things were circulating in the White House. These grave warnings. But the president doesn't read a lot of printed material. And he's not the kind of person who plans far and ahead. So the idea that he would have taken this information and said, well, we're OK now, but we need to act aggressively in the future. That's not what he is wired for.

As he has said yesterday at his briefing, I'm a cheerleader for the country, I don't want to create havoc. And we're all seeing right now exactly how much havoc this crisis can create.

SCIUTTO: Well, he's also dismantled the national security policy- making process, right? Where you would assess these things and move them up through the system, and another consequence of that.

John Harwood at the White House, thanks very much. Still to come --

HARWOOD: And Jim, it's also notable --

SCIUTTO: Sure. Please.

HARLOW: Go ahead.

HARWOOD: I was just going to say it's notable that at a time when this pandemic is exposing those vulnerabilities, he is in various ways going after multiple inspectors general who have been highlighting problems with the administration's performance.


SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, Inspector General designed for oversight. John Harwood, thanks so much as always. Still to come at this hour, disturbing new data shows that black Americans in particular being infected at a much greater level by this virus. We're going to be speaking to communities all over the country about this issue and that's next.

Plus, could more money be on the way for small businesses still struggling to stay afloat during this crisis? We're going to update you on that.

HARLOW: We'll also get an update from London where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson remains in intensive care this morning. We'll bring you the latest on his condition ahead. Stay with us.


HARLOW: We are seeing major disparity in the toll that coronavirus is taking, particularly on African-Americans across the country, in so many states and cities. In Illinois and Michigan, black Americans account for more than 40 percent of coronavirus-related deaths, but make up just about 15 percent of those states' populations.


The numbers are just as alarming in Louisiana where 70 percent of COVID victims are black --

SCIUTTO: Yes. A real pattern here, similar story for instance in the city of Chicago. Nearly 68 percent of reported deaths are African- Americans. Our reporters have been speaking to people facing this issue across the country. We've got Ryan Young in Detroit, Ed Lavandera in New Orleans, Omar Jimenez in Chicago and Athena Jones back with us in New York City.

Ryan, first, let's go to Detroit, I mean, the numbers there as in so many other places remarkable, what do officials attribute this to?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We know one of the things we've been talking about, Jim, in terms of community leaders. They say at first, it seem like there was a slow roll-out in terms of the information, in terms of spreading throughout the community. A lot of people saw the internet and believed that the coronavirus could not be spread through the black community.

There were other people who were worried about the older people in the community who had issues with heart disease, diabetes, and that's where we really saw this taking hold. In fact, we went to a funeral home on Saturday, who told us basically, they were at capacity already. And they were very worried about the spreading, but unlike other cities, like Chicago, where they have a database by zip code, we don't have that bit of information just yet in terms of what communities are being hit hard by zip code.

We talked to doctors who say the way to do this would be to surge into certain neighborhoods that obviously need the help. Now, when we talked to doctors yesterday, on the west side of Detroit, they were telling us, there's a critical need for people to come to the hospital early. And in fact, what's happening is they've seen a lot of people who don't have money struggling and wait to the last minute, and then when they show up, they're very sick.

But listen to this Detroit bus driver. He's one person who sort of summed up this whole idea of how difficult it is to stay healthy in a city right now.


JASON HARGROVE, BUS DRIVER IN DETROIT: For us to get through this and get over this, man, you all need to take this serious. There's folks dying from this.


YOUNG: So, one of the things that we're going to highlight here is a lot of talk about people wearing masks. And what we've seen is people wearing bandanas. There's an interesting report in "The Washington Post" today talking about how people are fearful of wearing bandanas. I talked to some frontline workers who say they do not feel comfortable walking into stores wearing bandanas because they don't want to be profiled. So understand that as well.

And then moving forward, the frontline workers are also going to have -- buses going to have masks so people can actually pick up surgical mask when they get on the bus. So, they're trying to treat it on the other side right now. But there is still a lot of questions about how do you get these underlying conditions fixed in a short period of time.


YOUNG: There's really no easy answer.

HARLOW: Omar, let me go to you now because I want to talk about the city of Chicago where you have 68 percent of the COVID deaths so far among African-Americans there, and the mayor of Chicago, Mayor Lightfoot; who is the first black woman ever to be mayor in Chicago told "The New York Times" overnight, this is among one of the most shocking things I have ever seen as mayor. And I think they've been a lot of statements saying why is this, how could this happen? Well we know. We know about the disparity in care, in terms of -- and resources, et cetera. There's a lot we know about why this is playing out unevenly for so many African-Americans.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sadly, there's a lot that we know and there is a lot that Mayor Lori Lightfoot wants to know. In fact, you talked about that quote that she gave to "The New York Times", one of the most fired up times I have ever seen her was at her press conference two days ago when she announced some of these numbers for the first time when at that press conference, it was over 70 percent of coronavirus deaths in the city were African-Americans, were black Chicagoans, and more than 50 percent of the confirmed coronavirus cases in this city were black Chicagoans, even though they make up just 30 percent of the population.

And when I talk about how fired up she is, she's been constantly making sure the public is aware of their efforts into this. They along with the Chicago Department of Public Health have now made an effort, an order actually, to increase the amount of medical data that is being shared from these hospitals to include demographics. So that they --

HARLOW: Yes --

JIMENEZ: Can have a more complete picture of what exactly is happening in this city. And I want to read you one of the tweets that she put out yesterday, just how much she is trying to emphasize these efforts moving forward. And she said "the distribution of this terrible disease tells a story of resource inequality. Our challenge right now is to immediately do something about that with a laser-focus on those communities and individuals that are bearing the brunt of this pandemic."

And Ryan mentioned that we have database on zip code, and when you look at the south and west sides of this city, predominantly black, that is where we are seeing a majority --


JIMENEZ: Of these cases. So education comes into this, but also making sure they need the resources.


SCIUTTO: So, Ed, you're in New Orleans, another city that -- where the black population hit particularly hard. I mean, the numbers, 70, 7-0, 70 percent of the virus deaths there are African-Americans. What help then are African-American communities getting to help keep those numbers down. I mean, this is -- this is a -- you know, a rare glaring alarm bell.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. You know, we hear this is the land of gumbo and fried oyster po'boys, right? So, you know, people here know that the diet isn't particularly well, so there is a lot of underlying health issues that people -- especially here in the New Orleans and Louisiana area deal with. And it's awareness thing. But I spoke with a prominent doctor, physician here in New Orleans yesterday, his name is Dr. Corey Herbert, and he says to really look at this as simply a food and diet and exercise kind of issue really misses the point in all of this.

He underscores the importance of primary care that a lot of this -- the work to have prevented this should have been done years ago. It's not something you're going to solve in the moment of this crisis.

HARLOW: Yes, no question.


COREY HERBERT, PROFESSOR, LSU HEALTH SCIENCES CENTER: When we start talking about other states that did not expand Medicaid, that did not provide the primary care, these types of situations are going to perpetuate throughout the country. New Orleans is a microcosm of other urban centers. And let's be very clear, it's not just going to be urban centers, it's going to be places where people do not get primary care.


LAVANDERA: And Jim and Poppy, when you drive around New Orleans, what really stands out is a lot of the people who have -- who are essential workers, who have to go to work -- you go to a grocery store, you see the conductors of the iconic street trolleys here, the bus line, you know, the majority of those that I've seen, African-Americans here in this city still having to go out where as other people perhaps, you know, white-collar jobs, if you will, are able and will have the privilege to be able to work from home. That offers you some security in the moment of this crisis --

SCIUTTO: Yes, you cannot --

HARLOW: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Drive the bus from home. You cannot do these jobs from home. I mean, it's a clear economic difference there, right, Poppy?

HARLOW: A 100 percent. Athena, to you in New York, look, there's also been reporting on and concern over the lack of access to testing for some African-Americans, "The New York Times" highlighted that again here in New York this morning. But the public advocate for New York City, Jumaane Williams has written a letter to Mayor de Blasio basically demanding that data on race and ethnicity as it pertains to COVID diagnoses and deaths be released.

And senators are asking HHS to do the same thing. Are we going to hear more and get the numbers?

JONES: Hi, Poppy. That's it -- we really hope those numbers -- well, that's what we're hearing from state and city officials that New York will be releasing that kind of data later this week, including data on ethnicity. They've already released some data on zip codes. But it's so important to be collecting this kind of data to be able to address this issue. And Mayor de Blasio said the data will show that COVID-19 is

disproportionately affecting those in lower income communities, communities with historic health problems and communities of color. Here's more of what Mayor de Blasio had to say. Listen.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D- NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK): It amplifies the horrible health disparities that already exist, and it does very clearly cut by income and by race and the communities that for a long time people have not gotten the healthcare they deserve and need, are hitting it -- are getting hit by this very hard. What can we do about it? I'm going to talk about that later today because I think there are new approaches we can take to go out more deeply into communities to prepare people to navigate this challenge.


JONES: And you know, it's important to note here that this is -- does not come as a huge surprise to many people in the black community. This is what people are talking about when they talk about inequality, when they talk about a lack of investment in certain communities, and when they talk about people being left behind, even in a strong economy.

We heard from the surgeon general himself, Jerome Adams, talking about his own underlying health issues, issues like heart disease and asthma that could put him at a higher risk of dying from COVID. He called them the legacy of growing up poor and black in America, and that's just a fact. You know, the more -- blacks are more likely to be poor and more likely to have low-paying jobs that don't give them access to healthcare and access to paid sick leave.

And of course, even though we know the stimulus bill is covering treatment for COVID-19 patients, if you've had a lifetime of lack of treatments for these other issues, you're already at a disadvantage when you show up at the hospital for COVID-19 treatment.

HARLOW: One hundred percent, I'm so glad that you guys are all focused on this and that it's getting more attention. It needs it. Thank you very much to all of you.


HARLOW: Ahead for us, glitches, breakdowns, the administration small business loan program struggling to actually get that money to businesses on the brink. Will the program get another $250 billion boost from Congress this week? Next.