Return to Transcripts main page


Virus Hitting African Americans Especially Hard; Wisconsin Hold Election Despite Health Precautions; Millions Filing for Unemployment Claims in U.S.; Trump: Initial Issues with Small Business Loan Programs; Travel Restrictions Imposed Across Africa; W.H.O. Says Cases in Iran are Flattening Off; Turkey's ICU at Over 60 Percent Capacity; New Zealand has Third Straight Day of Decline in New Cases; John Prine, Legendary Singer-Songwriter Dies at 73 of Coronavirus. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 8, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: In the United States, African-Americans are dying at a much higher rate from the coronavirus than other groups. In Louisiana alone, 70 percent of people who have died from the virus are black. The racial disparity is cause for alarm as the Surgeon General notes.


DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: 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.


CHURCH: Dr. Anthony Fauci says the virus is shining a bright light on how unacceptable the disparity is.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We've known literally forever that diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and asthma are disproportionately afflicting the minority populations, particularly the African- Americans.

Unfortunately, when you look at the predisposing conditions that lead to a bad outcome with coronavirus, the things that get people into ICUs that require intubation and often lead to death, they are just those very co-morbidities that are unfortunately disproportionately prevalent in the African-American population, so we're very concerned about that. It's very sad. It's nothing we can do about it right now except to try and give them the best possible care to avoid those complications.


CHURCH: And CNN's Ed Lavandera takes a closer look at possible reasons why African-Americans are at high risk.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Ronald Lewis embodied the soulful spirit of New Orleans. He led the Big Nine Social Club, which hosts epic second-line parades around his lower ninth ward neighborhood. Hurricane Katrina took his home, but friends say he came back and became like a godfather of New Orleans culture.

RACHEL BREUNLIN, FRIEND OF RONALD LEWIS: He loved New Orleans. He understood the complexity of New Orleans. He brought out the best in us, in our ability to come together.

LAVANDERA: On March 18th, Lewis was rushed to the hospital. Two days later, he died. It wasn't until the day of his funeral that his family says they learned he was infected with the coronavirus.

BREUNLIN: That was shocking. We didn't -- you know, he had just gone into the hospital. And I still really haven't wrapped my mind around it all the way.

LAVANDERA: Ronald Lewis' family says the 68-year-old suffered from diabetes and was recovering from a mild heart attack last year, but they never thought the COVID-19 infection would take his life.

The mortality statistics across the country are jarring. In Louisiana, African-Americans make up 32 percent of the population but make up slightly more than 70 percent of coronavirus deaths. In Michigan and Illinois, African-Americans make up about 15 percent of the overall population, yet account for about 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths.

DR. COREY HEBERT, PHYSICIAN: This is an abomination, but it's not unexpected. And I want everyone to understand that New Orleans is a microcosm of every urban center in America.


LAVANDERA: Dr. Corey Hebert has worked as a physician in New Orleans for 25 years. He broke down the factors contributing to the high death rate among African-Americans -- underlying health issues like heart disease and diabetes are prevalent. And if you drive around New Orleans, it's easy to find poor neighborhoods where people don't have access to health care. Many of these neighborhoods are also food deserts, where the best grocery store might be the corner store. It's a recipe for disaster, says Dr. Hebert.

HEBERT: When you are chronically oppressed, when you are chronically trying to get the scraps and the crumbs, that actually decreases your ability to have a good immune system. Because you're constantly in a fight-or-flight syndrome. Constantly with cortisol levels and epinephrine levels because you don't know where your next meal is going to come from. The odds of you saying I'm going to get broccoli for that next meal versus, you know, a hamburger -- that hamburger costs 99 cents and the broccoli's $3.99 a bunch, you know, that's a life-or-death situation for you, and some people really just don't understand it. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we're not worried about it at all?


LAVANDERA: But as the coronavirus started to spread around the world, social media conspiracy theories were spreading even faster.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minorities can't catch it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Minorities can't catch coronavirus.


LAVANDERA: Clips like these went viral. Medical experts worry this misinformation has kept and can keep many African-Americans from getting life-saving information.

Actor Idris Elba, who announced in March he was sickened by the coronavirus, took to social media to fight back at the disinformation.

IDRIS ELBA, ACTOR: Please stop sending the conspiracy theory nonsense about black people not being able to get coronavirus or COVID-19. It's dumb. It's silly. It's very dangerous. People need to know facts, need to understand the truth so that they can protect themselves. Stop sending this stuff out. It's very dangerous for all.

LAVANDERA (on camera): And the number of deaths due to coronavirus continues to jump here in the state of Louisiana. Health officials here report that in the last 24 hours, 70 more people have died. That is the largest increase in one day that this state has seen since this pandemic broke out.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, New Orleans.


CHURCH: Wisconsin held a statewide election on Tuesday, despite the pandemic. It was the only U.S. state to not postpone its April vote or switch to mail-in ballots. People lined up with as many precautions as they could take. Here's how assembly Speaker Robin Vos assured people it was safe to go vote.


ROBYN VOS (R), WISCONSIN ASSEMBLY SPEAKER: You can come to a polling place and do it safely. You have the ability to do curbside voting, just like they're doing here, even if it's in a different municipality without drive-up voting. You can request that the person come out. They'll deliver you a ballot. They'll check your I.D. You are incredibly safe to go out.


CHURCH: How assured would you be by that? A message of safety contrasting with Vos delivering it in full protective gear. CNN's Omar Jimenez has more now from Milwaukee on the state's strange election. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Throughout the day on Tuesday, we saw long lines at some of the polling locations. We saw voters and poll workers in masks and gloves. And many voters were actually happy to be able to carry out their civic duty. What they weren't happy about was that they had to risk their health to do so.

Now, the fact that we even had an election here at all came on the tail end of what was a long few days, even weeks, some could argue, of back and forth between legislature, courts, and the governor's office here in Wisconsin. Namely, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers issued an executive order trying to move this election to June 9th, saying it wasn't safe. The Republican-led legislature appealed to the state Supreme Court. The state Supreme Court shot that down, so the election continued.

And then at the federal level, I mentioned that deadline for absentee ballots moved to April 13th. That came from a federal court order. Then the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in and said, well, for those votes to be counted, they have to be postmarked by election day, which means for thousands of people who requested absentee ballots but hadn't received them yet, they had to choose between going in person to vote or not voting at all to have their voice heard.

Now, as this election came through, we mentioned Governor Tony Evers, who was against this from the very beginning -- at least holding the election on this day. Saying that while he still has health concerns, he is overwhelmed by the bravery, resilience, and heroism of the voters and poll workers he saw out here over the course of Tuesday. And again, we now wait until April 13th to see what the results of this primary is. And one of the most unique times in global history.

Omar Jimenez, CNN, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


CHURCH: Well, millions of jobless Americans are filing for unemployment as the pandemic forces businesses to lay off or furlough workers. And many state governments are struggling to keep up.


In Florida, people are being told to use paper applications as overwhelmed computer systems struggle to keep up with the crush of claims. And despite social distancing guidelines, people still stood in line to pick up a blank form. Some states say unemployment claims right now are running 25 times higher than usual. Incredible cues right there.

And CNN's Christine Romans is with us now from New York. Good to see you, Christine.


CHURCH: How long can states keep up with this skyrocketing unemployment level?

ROMANS: You know, they're hiring -- ironically, the unemployment office is hiring all over the country. In some states, they're bringing back retirees. In other states like Florida, they're saying we're going to go to the old-fashioned paper ballot because the computer systems just can't do it. They're hiring companies to help them upgrade their servers and upgrade their technology, but the point here is that these unemployment offices are not designed to handle such huge volumes of laid-off people, and more are coming -- 10 million in the past couple of weeks.

Janet Yellen, the former fed chief, says she thinks unemployment right now is 12 or 13 percent in this country, and you could see economic numbers heading to depression levels, albeit probably temporarily. Because we will eventually figure out how to get this economy reopened once the virus is under control.

But those long lines of people in Florida, stories coming out of North Carolina where you've got hundreds of thousands of people filing for unemployment benefits, it just shows you the depths of the crisis, a health crisis that is now a jobs crisis.

CHURCH: Yes, and it's so disturbing when you see the images there of people clearly not keeping that distance that's required. It is a real concern. I wanted to talk to you, too, about small business loans included in the stimulus package. We've talked about this for a few days now, and applicants have been experiencing a lot of problems, haven't they? When might those glitches get worked out?

ROMANS: Well, we've been told that they hoped to have things sort of sorted out by midweek. It is Wednesday. Friday was the first day officially that this PPP -- Paycheck Protection Program -- was opened for business, but some lenders are just now getting on board now.

The White House says that small community lenders have been really enthusiastic early -- early lenders for small business owners. But what we are hearing is that mostly people are very frustrated because they haven't been able to find out where they are in the line for their loan. Maybe they got their application through but they haven't heard yet back on whether the money is flowing.

And already in Washington, even as this is sort of rocky -- this rolling out so rocky, they're talking about how they know they'll need more money. The demand has been so great from small businesses to get this money that in Washington they're already talking about another big bunch of money for small business.

So, the promise is there, Rosemary. The money is going to flow. You know, your government in the United States wants you to know that there's going to be more money available, but it just isn't quite getting into the hands of those small business owners just yet.

CHURCH: Yes, it is a massive operation. There's no doubt about it. Christine Romans, always a pleasure to chat with you. Many thanks.

Well, more straight ahead, including New Zealand's Prime Minister says she feels cautiously optimistic about a recent trend in coronavirus cases in her country. We'll have the details for you, just ahead.



CHURCH: While the number of reported coronavirus cases is lower in the Middle East and Africa, long-running conflicts and economic and political crises may be crippling both regions' ability to fight the virus. For the latest, CNN's Arwa Damon sent us a report from Istanbul. But first to David McKenzie in Johannesburg.


DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in South Africa, authorities are taking a very strict view of the lockdown. More than 17,000 people have been arrested during this time for defying lockdown orders, according to South Africa's police minister.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, more than 2,000 people have been arrested. Many of them have been fined, according to state media there.

But in Uganda, in east Africa, at least 20 members of the LGBT community were arrested and then placed in prison because the authorities said they were defying public gathering bans. Human rights groups have said that civil liberties here in Africa and elsewhere shouldn't be impinged because of the fight against the virus.

And just over the last week, you've seen iconic cities in Africa, like Johannesburg and Nairobi, where they've stopped travelers from coming in and out, and even Lagos, the center of the economy in west Africa really shut down and brought to a standstill. Governments will be hoping that this is enough to stop the virus from spreading.

David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.



ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There may be a positive trend for the Middle East's hardest hit country, Iran, with the W.H.O. saying that they are observing a flattening off of the number of coronavirus cases being reported there.

And President Rouhani has told the population that some of them may be able to return to what's described as low-risk economic activity, pledging $1 billion to further stave off the spread of COVID-19.

Now, the region's other nation that is in the global top ten is Turkey. And the government here is trying to reassure the population that they have the situation under control. The minister of health is saying that ICUs are at about 62 percent capacity and that under 50 percent of hospital beds are currently occupied. Plus, the government is planning on turning two decommissioned airports in the Istanbul area, this being the hardest hit city, into hospitals. But there is quite a bit of criticism here that the government has not

implemented a full lockdown. Yes, businesses are closed. Some of them, public spaces, are off limits, but you're only under a government- mandated lockdown if you are under the age of 20 or over the age of 65.

Masks have now been made mandatory in places that could potentially be crowded, such as a supermarket, and masks are now free. Even pharmacies are not allowed to sell them. But the population here is very worried about what direction this country is going to be going in, especially if stricter measures are not put in place.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


CHURCH: And there's some encouraging news in the fight against the coronavirus. New Zealand is reporting its third consecutive day of declines in new cases. The country is in the middle of a month-long lockdown, and the Prime Minister is urging everyone to hold steady.


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: We may yet see bumps along the way, but as I stand here today, I remain cautiously optimistic that we are starting to turn a corner.


It's all the more reason to stay the course of our self-isolation as a nation.


CHURCH: They moved quickly and they moved aggressively, so more than 1,200 people in New Zealand have been infected with COVID-19 and there's been only one reported death so far.

You are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Still to come, John Prine, the American singer-songwriter beloved by millions, has died. A tribute to him. That's next.


CHURCH: John Prine performing there just a couple of years ago on "Austin City Limits." Prine died Tuesday in Nashville. His publicist says due to complications from the coronavirus. He's widely regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation and a favorite of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. John Prine was 73.


Well, the coronavirus is taking an enormous toll on healthcare workers on the front lines of this pandemic. One critical care physician at Mt. Sinai hospital in New York City recorded a video diary to reflect on her experience and share her concerns. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANAM AHMED, CRITICAL CARE PHYSICIAN: I was thinking about one of the patients who I saw who was very sick yesterday. She was only 34 years old, and she was really struggling with her breathing. She had acute respiratory failure, and I had to put her on a ventilator. It was pretty challenging to do so, but you know, we got it done safely and took her to the ICU to continue management for her respiratory failure with COVID.

When I think about the upcoming week, I'm going to be off tomorrow, and then from Tuesday on, I'm working the entire week. And it's a little bit scary because it's supposed to be the peak, but I also -- you know, we set up sort of a backup system so that if it gets extremely busy, then there's another physician who can help out.

Those of us who are in house, there are several critical care doctors in house. Even at night, there's several of us. And so, we always help each other out. But if we need more help, it's there. So, as we come into the upcoming week, it's a possibility that that might need to be used. Until then, I'm going to try to get a little rest and a little family time.


CHURCH: They are our heroes. A special thanks to all our medical professionals here in the United States and across the globe.

And thanks for your company. Stay home, stay safe, stay strong. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN NEWSROOM continues now with Robyn Curnow.