Return to Transcripts main page


U.S. Projected Deaths Revised Down; Interview with Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser; Confusion Over PPE Distribution Continues. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 8, 2020 - 14:00   ET



RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: -- are reporting that 40 percent of the deaths in this state are African-Americans. In the city of Detroit, we don't have a breakdown by race just yet. We do know the city's going to start passing out surgical masks for folks getting on buses over the next few days.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: You're watching CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm Anderson Cooper. A cautious optimism from the nation's top infectious disease expert and some governors, as one groups of researchers announce a shift in its projections for the outbreak.

The U.S. could have fewer overall deaths than previously thought. That, as the number of total cases surges past 400,000 while the death toll currently stands at over 13,000. Erica Hill has the details -- Erica.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, good afternoon. Here in New York State, Governor Cuomo says the curve is being flattened, but that can only continue if everyone continues what they are doing now. That, of course, means social distancing.

And in terms of the death toll, Anderson, he also noted that for the second day in a row, this state has now logged its highest single-day death toll, on Tuesday. That number, 779.


HILL (voice-over): A blunt assessment --


HILL (voice-over): -- with morgues overloaded, hard-hit communities are bringing in refrigerated trailers and more help. In New York City, hundreds of National Guard members and more than 50 active duty mortuary military specialists are now assisting the medical examiner's office.

As states and cities report a rising death toll, there is some hope. Projected deaths nationwide, now expected to be closer to 60,000 by August, revised down significantly thanks to social distancing.

The message from officials? This is no time to let up.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK, NEW YORK: We're all looking to finally get out from under this, but it's not that time yet. The progress confirms the strategy's working --

HILL (voice-over): Washington, D.C., one of three cities now on the radar as potential hotspots, according to the White House Task Force coordinator, who also singled out Baltimore and Philadelphia.

New CNN polling reveals a majority of Americans feel the federal government has done a poor job preventing the spread. More than half disapprove of the way the president is handling the pandemic; 80 percent feel the worst is yet to come.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: 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.

HILL (voice-over): The Department of Health and Human Services announcing Wednesday, G.M. will produce 30,000 ventilators for the national stockpile, costing nearly half a billion dollars. They're set to be delivered by the end of August, as hotspots around the country face concerns about meeting the need today.


HILL: Now, Anderson, I can tell you Mayor Bill de Blasio this morning said for the first time, he feels there's a little bit of breathing room in New York City when it comes to those crucial ventilators and supplies, that they're good for the next few days but not to the end of this crisis.

One other note, Governor Cuomo, talking today about the disparities that I know you've been covering in terms of race and how this virus impacts people of color and also disadvantaged communities, and he actually said the state is going to start, today, doing more testing in minority communities and also more research to better understand why so much of this disparity exists.

COOPER: Erica Hill, Appreciate the update. Thanks very much.

CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with me. Sanjay, explain what you think are sort of the most important takeaways from this new model.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the numbers have obviously come down. What is interesting is that the assumptions, the inputs, if you will, into the model are now taking into account not just Wuhan in China, but also looking at several countries in Europe as well.

And I think one of the big takeaways for me, Anderson, was, the assumption was, look, China did what it did. If we adopt some of those same strategies over here, here is what the likely impact is going to be. But it became clear -- as you know, as we've been reporting -- that we weren't adopting as stringent a strategy.

So then the question was, in countries that have been not as stringent as China -- still pretty stringent, but maybe a little later in terms of these stay-at-home orders -- how did they do? And when you look at them, you know, they seem to have had some good success by implementing these social distancing orders.

So now, taking into account all this data, updating the U.S. data, what they find -- and I think we have the numbers, we could put it on the screen here -- that the projected deaths, it's still a lot, I think it's going to be still jarring for people to look at these numbers, but they say that they're going to be significantly lower than they were just a week ago, which was lower than the week before that.

it is just one model, Anderson, and as we talked about yesterday, models are all wrong, some are useful. This is a useful one. We've asked the White House -- you know, they've really cited this particular model out of the University of Washington several times -- we wanted to know, are they going to be updating their numbers now because they are talking about 100 to 240,000 possible deaths? Will their numbers change as a result?


We haven't heard back, but we know they're looking at some dozen or so models to try and get to their sort of conclusions, or at least their assumptions in terms of the overall impact.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, the -- this model, I'm a little confused on this newer -- this new version of this model, because it's just changed -- I mean, I think we talked to -- is this the same model from Dr. Murray?

GUPTA: Correct, that's the one that -- you know, from the health metrics at the University of Washington. So --

COOPER: Right. So -- because you and I were talking to Dr. Murray --

GUPTA: -- yes, that's the one we've been following.

COOPER: -- was just -- yes, I think it was just last night, and it was 81,000, I think so now it's down -- now it's 60 with the new information that's been put in. This model, though, is it social distancing, does it -- is it based on the idea of social distancing? I think it's just through the end of May, is that correct?

GUPTA: Correct. It's through the end of May, I think it's first week of June. The way -- and it's a little bit of a loose figure, it's not an exact date because as you remember, Anderson, what they're really looking for -- and there's all sorts of different things that people are trying to pay attention to, to say, where are we on the curve.

What Chris Murray -- I think what he's really looking for is, do we get to a baseline level of deaths in this country. And I hate to sound so clinical about this, Anderson, but a baseline level of deaths of 60 or fewer every day. Once you get to that point, the belief is that all these other things can come into play, you know that you can sort of say that we can find those patients, we can isolate them, we can contact trace, you know, all the patients that are still becoming infected.

It'll be easier to control at that point, I think that's what he was saying. The virus is still going to be there, according to his model, but at a very low level sort of background activity.

COOPER: In the last hour, I've been talking to a number of doctors and epidemiologists, all of whom were talking about sort of what Governor Cuomo, I think, referred to as the bridge out of the pandemic to -- to economy opening back up, people being able to go back to work. And that bridge, according to Governor Cuomo, is testing. Testing -- antibody testing, but also testing to see who's positive, who's not.

If that is the case, a number of the people I talked to in the last hour were saying, we are not yet set up, state by state, to do that level of testing that is needed to form that bridge. And we're not set up to do -- public health systems are not set up to do the contact tracing that will also be essential at this point. Is -- do you think that's true?

GUPTA: I think that is sadly true, you know, given that we've been talking about this for a couple of months now. It is unfortunate. I think that they have a good chance at being able to address this over the next couple of weeks because this is going to be happening, real time, over the next couple of weeks, where we sort of are going through this curve in many places.

But that is critical. I mean, there's a list of factors that people are going to be looking at -- and we could put up the list -- of things that people are going to be looking for before the country can start to think about reopening. But central to all of that is testing.

TEXT: Milestones for Lifting Stay-at-Home Restrictions: Hospitals can safely treat patients without resorting to crisis standards of care; States able to test everyone with symptoms; States able to monitor and trace cases; 14-day reduction in cases

GUPTA: Just like at the beginning of the curve, Anderson, you would have liked to have tested people, known who was infected, been able to isolate them, trace their contacts. As it started to spread, you know, so significantly in communities, as you might imagine, that's harder to do. So many infections, so many contacts, it's a bit public health challenge.

At the end of the curve, hopefully you'll be able to sort of come back to that and really use that to accelerate, you know, the slowdown of the spread of this infection. You've also got to make sure the hospitals are still able to keep up, you know? If the hospitals at any point become overwhelmed, that obviously would not be a way -- time that you could possibly reopen things. So there's many different things that people are going to be looking

at, but you're right, testing was, is and will remain, I think, the central part of this because from that, you can isolate and trace.

COOPER: And when people talk about a reopening, President Trump last night talked about a -- he'd love to see a big bang of the economy. Obviously, that's an aspirational thing. Everybody would love to see the economy come roaring back, let's certainly hope that happens. But in terms of just actually bringing things back online, it's not something that's going to be a turnkey operation?

GUPTA: I don't think it's going to be a turnkey operation from a public health standpoint. It's going to be gradual. Interestingly, it may be sort of more dependent -- may be less dependent on geography and more dependent on this -- these antibody testing, which we've been talking about, giving people some confidence that in fact they may be immunized to this.


Short of a vaccine, that's one of the ways that people can feel most confident that they're not going to get this infection again. We don't know right now who's been infected for sure. There may be a lot of people out there who've already had coronavirus infection and not known it, and they in fact would have these antibodies in their system.

That may be one way to do this, but it's likely to be a gradual thing. And then psychologically, you know, when are people going to want to, you know, feel comfortable going back out in public and doing those things.

Anderson, I can tell you -- and you and I have covered, you know, a lot of these stories over the last 20 years. I think it will be somewhat remarkable how quickly things do change, though. I mean people have gotten very used to this way of life, we've always said, I think since the beginning, this isn't the way it's always going to be. This is going to come to an end at some point.


GUPTA: I think it'll be interesting to see how quickly that actually changes. It may happen fast because people -- you know, people's attention is diverted quickly.

COOPER: Right. And in some ways, that would be a great thing. In other ways, though, there's a danger in that, which is not learning the lessons of what happened and -- because there's going to be, at some point, another pandemic.

Just as this pandemic was, you know, Bill Gates, 2015, look at his TED Talk on warning about, you know, a huge pandemic. There could be an even worse pandemic because as bad as this was, there are, you know, potentially other viruses that could be spread in a much more -- in a much easier way, and have much faster and a wider spread. And there are thing to do to -- GUPTA: Yes.

COOPER: -- prepare for the eventual next pandemic.

GUPTA: We're not prepared, absolutely. You know, Anthony Fauci, who you and I have both interviewed several times, he gave a talk at Georgetown, I believe in 2017, where he said there will be a surprise pandemic within the next several years. I mean, he said surprise pandemic, which I thought was interesting because typically don't know about surprises, but that was the case.

And we don't think about wrapping -- I mean, we don't think about sort of planning for these sorts of things the way that we think about defense. But now, I think the lessons learned from this hopefully don't just sit in a drawer, but can actually be applied because they're going to need to be.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, Bill Gates talks about it costing tens of billions of dollars to, you know, to do the kind of preparation needed, which seems like a lot of money but then you think about well, wait a minute, we're talking now about trillions of dollars in bailouts and relief to people.

GUPTA: And defense overall. I mean, do we think of this as, you know, part of our defense, just protecting the country, protecting the people of the country?

COOPER: Right.

GUPTA: That is a redundancy operation, that is a surge capacity issue. It's something we don't often think about because we don't see these viruses, but I think there's going to be a lot of lessons learned here.

COOPER: Yes. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thanks very much. Appreciate it.

We know the virus is hitting black Americans especially hard. Up next, we'll talk to the lieutenant governor of Louisiana about the promise his state has made to find out why.

Plus, Barack Obama joins the push to get more Americans tested so the country can get back to work. What's standing in the way? Take a look at that.


And then states try to work with the federal government: We're hearing about one big problem? No one really knows who's in charge.


COOPER: Louisiana is promising to investigate the disproportionate number of coronavirus cases and deaths happening among African- American residents. More than 600 people have died statewide. That's up 70 in the last 24 hours. But African-American residents, who make up less than half the state's population, account for most of Louisiana's coronavirus deaths. That's left state officials concerned and surprised.


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA: It is very troubling to me. The results are similar in Chicago, in Detroit and Milwaukee and other places are coming online today, talking about how disproportionate the number of the deaths are for members of the African-American community.

So there might be something larger than just health disparities here in Louisiana, I just don't know. I don't know yet.


COOPER: Billy Nungesser is the lieutenant governor for the state of Louisiana. He joins me now. Thanks for being with us. What do you think is happening? Because many experts say health disparities are one reason. Obviously, you know, systematic social disparities long existing are another of the drivers.

BILLY NUNGESSER (R) LOUISIANA LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR: Well, I think -- and also a lot of the African-American community's on the frontline. They're working a lot of the service industry that unfortunately is still dealing with the public in the grocery stores, and some of the service industries that are still out there, doing the job we need them to do. And so they're bringing that home to their families.

And a lot of the way we live here in Louisiana, we have doubles where everybody's on the front porch together, and it's very difficult to get Louisianans to isolate and stay away from family and friends, and we saw that through this crisis. But I think a lot of the African- American community is on the frontline and is still out there, doing the jobs that we need done and paying the price for it.

COOPER: I was talking to Mitch Landrieu actually about this, weeks ago, really, before this became -- you know, I think it was back in January probably. And he was saying that, you know, one of the things that -- a situation like this, just like with Katrina, does, is that it highlights inequalities that exist previously. It brings everything to kind of -- it's like an X-ray, it brings everything to the fore in society.

Knowing what we know now, seeing these numbers, what's the solution to this? What's the step to take on this? Because the governor of New York is talking about more testing now in African-American communities, and also trying to study what's going on.


NUNGESSER: That probably is a good idea, the more testing. But also, it'll bring to light if there's any good -- and there's always good that comes out of any disaster.

But you know, living in -- and a lot of people living in smaller areas where they can't isolate or keep their distance. And those people, like I said, that are working on the frontline in the service industry, going on with no testing and -- you know, and if they've got the virus, infecting their families. So it has an ability -- or would have the ability to spread more quickly. And those numbers are startling.

COOPER: How concerned are you about just testing in general in the state? Obviously we know the problems that existed early on. But just looking forward -- because, you know, everyone I talk to says in order to get out of this -- and once, you know, to get the state back working, to get all of the states back working and people, you know, confident, testing is going to be essential, whether it's antibody testing to see who's already been -- you know, recovered from it and is therefore immune we hope, and to see those who might still be positive.

How is it in Louisiana? How much more do you need to kind of ramp up the testing?

NUNGESSER: Well, let me say this. I think the governor and his team has done a great job here in Louisiana, leaning (ph) forward, they're doing all they can.

Obviously, a lot of the testing sites, you've got to drive to them. Many of the people that work in the service industry don't have that ability. Public transit is their only way of getting around. So maybe we need to try to see it, isolate it or getting some of the testing into some of these communities where people don't have the ability to drive to those locations.

But the governor's done a great job of setting up many facilities all over the state, in as many communities as we had the manpower to do, to make sure we've increased the testing incredible over the last several weeks.

COOPER: And just overall, how do you feel about where Louisiana is right now in this curve?

NUNGESSER: Well, hopefully we're going to see this thing level out in the next week to 10 days and we can see light at the end of the tunnel. You know, it's been a struggle. And, you know, the numbers that are coming out now, they're going up but we expected that, and hopefully we'll see it level out and start to decrease and we can see light at the end of the tunnel and get back to the Louisiana we all know and love.

COOPER: Yes. Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, it's good to talk to you. I love Louisiana and it's good to see you.

NUNGESSER: Thank you, my friend. Good talking to you.

COOPER: You take care.

Congress is racing to get another $250 billion to help small businesses while (ph) negotiations are about to get ugly.


And are we getting any closer to seeing massive testing for the virus in the U.S.? I'll talk to a former FDA commissioner.


COOPER: History's still being written on the coronavirus pandemic, but already the timeline of America's response stands out. When did federal officials know about the dangers of the virus that appears to have emerged in Wuhan, China? When did they start to act, and who's in charge of that response now, like getting PPE and ventilators to the places that they're needed?

One congressional aide put it like this, "Is it FEMA? Is it the White House? Is it HHS? No one really knows who's in charge... who's making decisions."

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins me now with more. So the response has been confusing. What are you hearing from local officials?

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Anderson, I keep going back to a conversation I had yesterday with a state official in Louisiana, in which he said to me, look, we have a longstanding good working relationship with our regional FEMA workers here, given what we've been through -- Katrina, flooding, et cetera -- but he had some frustration in the lack of transparency, in the lack of guidance, of how decisions were being made beyond the regional level.

He told me, typically, we ask our regional FEMA folks for supplies we may need for hurricanes, they get it from their warehouse, it gets shipped over here. That's not what's happening here. And so there's frustration on a local and state level, in supplies coming in or rather not coming in, and who is guiding that and making that decision.

Now, FEMA is taking the lead coordinating role here, but there seems to be a lot of cooks in the kitchen, if you will, in trying to decide what works best when it comes to allocation. You have more than a dozen flights that have come in from overseas, and they're bringing in PPE et cetera. The way the government is handling that, FEMA charters it in, says half of that goes into the private market and half of that will go to critical prioritized hotspots.

FEMA, however, no releasing details as to where those hotspots actually are and what is getting to those priorities -- Anderson.

COOPER: The president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has gotten involved now with FEMA and HHS.


COOPER: There's been some criticism that he's telling officials to prioritize requests from people who are able to essentially get Kushner on the phone. He even said, you know, at one of the briefings, you know, a friend reached out to him for something and he was able to get --


COOPER: -- help for that person.


SANTIAGO: Right. We heard him talking about that last week at a White House briefing. He talked about how President Trump heard that the New York public health system was going to be running out of N95 masks, he made a call to the admiral and made sure that those supplies got to the hospitals --