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Awaiting Experts At Coronavirus Briefing; Fauci: 100,000 Deaths Not Inevitable; Coronavirus Deaths Surpass 14,000 In U.S.; Gov. Cuomo: Curve Flattening In New York Despite Highest Daily Death Toll; Birx: D.C., Baltimore & Philly Could Be New Hot Spots; CNN Poll: 55 Percent Say Government Has Done Poor Job Stopping Virus; African-Americans At Higher Risk For Coronavirus; New Preparations In Chicago As Deaths Surge; White House Model Revises U.S. Deaths By August From 80,000 Down To 60,000; More Than 400,000 Coronavirus Cases In U.S.; Navy Hospital Ship In N.Y. Now Taking Coronavirus Patients. Aired 5-6pET

Aired April 8, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Thank you so much. Stay safe.

Thank you so much for joining us. If you are one who celebrates Passover, I hope you have a happy Passover or as happy as you could have under these circumstances. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room", and we're following breaking news.

We're standing by to hear from the experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic surpasses 14,000. With more than 400,000 confirmed cases worldwide. There are almost one and a half million cases and more than 87,000 deaths.

Tonight a new White House model is revising down the number of predicted American fatalities by August from 80,000 to 60,000. Ad Dr. Anthony Fauci says 100,000 total U.S. deaths is not inevitable, but there's growing concern about emerging new virus hotspots, including right here in Washington D.C., as well as Baltimore and Philadelphia.

Let's begin this hour with CNN's Nick Watt is joining us from Santa Monica in California right now. And Nick, the numbers may continue to rise.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the numbers absolutely do continue to rise. But within some of those numbers, there is also encouragement. Let's take Santa Clara County here in California. They were seeing cases double every two or three days that is now doubling every two weeks or more. That county was one of the first to adopt social distancing. And they say no question. It is working.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATT (voice-over): A glimmer of hope. A model used by the White House now predicts the nationwide death toll is down about 20,000 largely due to social distancing. But --

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Today is in a state of New York with very mixed emotions.

WATT (voice-over): Because day after day, the state is still seeing a rise in reported deaths. And --

CUOMO: The number of deaths will continue to rise as those hospitalized for a longer period of time pass away.

ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: With very sobering to see the increase in deaths. It's going to be a bad week for deaths.

WATT (voice-over): And about 60,000 Americans are still projected to die by early August, right now we're not even a quarter of the way to that grim total. And every number is a person a story. Zenobia Shepherd daughter Leilani just died, aged 27.

ZENOBIA SHEPHERD, MOTHER OF COVID-19 VICTIM: My husband and I both for in the room, you know, and, and then I was able to hold my baby's hands for the last time and it was, oh you're free, it was my baby.

WATT (voice-over): The new modeling also highlights some regional disparities projected deaths in New Jersey, more than doubled to over 5,200, projected deaths in California, down from about 6,100 to about 1,600.

DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE: We're looking very carefully at California and Washington to really understand how they've been able as a community of Americans to mitigate so well.

WATT (voice-over): A new CNN poll shows the majority of Americans now think the federal government has done a poor job in preventing coronavirus spread. It's 55 percent, up eight points in about a week. About two weeks ago, the President said this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I'm also hopeful to have Americans working again by that Easter that beautiful Easter day.

WATT (voice-over): Instead, Easter could now be in the deer. Saturday projected to see our peak need for beds and ventilators Eastern Sunday, reported deaths projected to peak nationally and more than 2,200.

CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: People say, well, we'll get to the APEX and we're done. Now I'd remind people that getting to the APEX a little bit like going up Everest, once you get to APEX, you still need to come down.

WATT (voice-over): The administration also still watching hotspots popping up around the country.

BIRX: We are concerned about the metro area of Washington and Baltimore, and we're concerned right now about the Philadelphia area.

WATT (voice-over): And still, we're told there's not enough testing going on.

BIRX: Other lab directors could look in their laboratories if they haven't an Abbott m2000. If they could get that up and running. We could double the number of tests that we're doing per day. Right now, about 80 percent of them are idled over a million test kits sitting ready to be run.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I hope that the federal government is doing more than you know, speaking this at a press conference. This is the key to opening us back up again, getting these tests online.

WATT (voice-over): So our antibody tests. The White House says they'll be ready inside two weeks.

[17:05:04]

CUOMO: That is going to be the bridge from where we are today to the new economy, people who have been exposed and now are better. Those are the people who can go to work.

WATT (voice-over): But for now, still, this must be our normal.

BILL DE BLASIO, MAYOR (D-NY): We have to recognize the progresses because people are doing the right thing.

GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): If you're watching from Jersey, please stay home.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And just a note on that model, it is a model and it can change and it is also based on us carrying on with this social distancing through the end of May. That's another seven weeks or so Wolf here in Santa Monica, to keep us honest, they've put a fence around the park. Back to you.

BLITZER: It's good idea. All right, Nick Watt, thank you very much.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House Correspondent, Jim Acosta is joining us.

Jim, President Trump wants things back to normal as soon as possible. But his own experts say it's not necessarily all that simple.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf, administration officials are developing proposals free opening the country members of the Coronavirus Task Force, were working into the night last night on a plan to return the country to normalcy. But top doctors on the Coronavirus Task Force are warning the U.S. still has some tough days ahead. Even as President Trump says he's eager to up the U.S. with what he calls a big bang.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) ACOSTA (voice-over): With administration official sounding more optimistic about the battle against the coronavirus. President Trump is already talking about reopening the country all at once.

TRUMP: I'd love to open with a big bang one beautiful country and just open.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But top doctors on the government's Coronavirus Task Force are being much more cautious warning a return to normalcy won't happen like a light switch.

FAUCI: The real challenge is if we do then try which everybody's talking about now, to get back to some degree of normality, not turning a light switch on and off. That's not going to happen but some degree of normality, we've got to make sure that we very aggressively and vigorously do not allow the resurgence of a case or two or three or 10 or 20.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President is all but declaring victory tweeting flattening of the curve as a new model on the pandemic in the U.S. is forecasting thousands fewer deaths than what was predicted just days ago.

With a new CNN poll finding only 41 percent of Americans think the federal government has done a good job preventing the spread of the coronavirus and only 37 percent comfortable returning to normalcy if social distancing ends. The President has settled on a new scapegoat pointing the finger at the World Health Organization.

TRUMP: They called it wrong. They call it wrong. They really they missed the call. They could have called it months earlier, they would have known and they should have known.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The WHO's director is pleading with the president to cut it out.

TEDROS ADHANOM GHEBREYESUS, WHO DIRECTOR GENERAL: Please don't politicize this virus. If you don't want many more body bags. Then you refrain from politicizing it. My short messages, please quarantine politicizing COVID.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But there are new indications the President and his team missed the warning signs themselves. As a report from ABC News finds U.S. intelligence officials were sounding the alarm that the Coronavirus was spreading in China as far back as November.

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS HOST: But to the Pentagon receiving intelligence assessment on COVID in China last November from the National Center for Medical intelligence of DIA.

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

ACOSTA (voice-over): And the President insists he didn't see a memo from his own trade advisor that warned of a costly pandemic back in January. TRUMP: I didn't see him, I didn't look for him either.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Former President Barack Obama tweeted the U.S. won't be able to shift away from social distancing until there's a robust system of testing and monitoring. Something we have yet to put in place nationwide. Task Force Dr. Deborah Birx says part of the problem is that process machines in U.S. labs aren't running the test fast enough.

BIRX: Right now about 80 percent of them are idle. There's over a million tests sitting -- test kits sitting ready to be run.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: Now, members of the Coronavirus Task Force are working on plans to reopen the country. White House officials tell us no date has been set but administration officials are eyeing the beginning of May as a potential target. One of the big worries though is that sending any signals about a reopening will lead people to relax social distancing guidelines, a development that could backfire, as those guidelines may have to snap back into place if people aren't putting them into place in their daily lives.

Now as for the economy, the dire economic situation that we're all experiencing right now in the U.S. a new CNN poll, and we can put this up on screen has found that only 39 percent of Americans see the economy right now as being in good shape, six in 10 Americans say it's in poor shape right now, Wolf, that is up 30 points since last month, a staggering spike in the number of people who don't see the economy doing well right now. Wolf?

[17:10:06]

BLITZER: Yes, indeed. All right, Jim Acosta at the White House. Thanks very much.

Let's check in with some of our correspondents and some other key locations feeling the powerful impact of the pandemic. Brian Todd is here in Washington. Brian, the nation is clearly -- the nation's capital I should say is bracing.

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. We have word recently that Dr. Deborah Birx from the Coronavirus Task Force has told lawmakers that Washington --

BLITZER: I think we've just lost our connection with Brian. We're going to reconnect with Brian.

In the meantime let's go to New Orleans right now. CNN's Ed Lavendera is standing by. Ed, the city where you are has been hit very hard.

ED LAVENDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It has indeed Wolf and it's a kind of a mixed bag of messages once again that we're seeing here (INAUDIBLE) mixed bag of information coming up New Orleans once again. The number of deaths, another large spike up to 800 -- 652 and 1,983 people hospitalized. So the deaths have jumped up but the number of people hospitalized has dropped and the number of people on ventilators has dropped as well.

So a mixed bag there because state and health officials here have been very looking very closely at the number of people on ventilators and the number of people being hospitalized as some of the more indicative measures by which they're following the path of the Coronavirus here in the state of Louisiana.

And this Wolf, as you know, has been a state that the issue of African-Americans dying because of this virus has been a very intense focus with more than 70 percent of those deaths accounted for by African-Americans. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Ed Lavandera in New Orleans. Thank you.

Let's go to Detroit right now. Detroit has almost 6,000 known coronavirus cases, CNN's Ryan Young is on the scene for us. Ryan what's the latest there?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes Wolf, tough statewide over almost 959 people have died from the coronavirus in this state. 40 percent of those folks who have die are African-American. A lot of conversation today about protection testing, and of course, inequity. And that's something that the mayor address just today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE DUNGGA, MAYOR, DETROIT: Nine years of my life at the Detroit Medical Center, I was running the hospital system that saw more uninsured, more Medicaid patients and probably more African-American patients than any hospital system, certainly in the Midwest. And we fought this every single day.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: So how do you stop this? How do you search for that has been the big question? Bus drivers actually met with the mayor today because they lost one of their own. One of the things they're doing inside the buses right now? They're handing out surgical mask to anyone who gets on and they're trying to get that critical PPE on bus drivers as well. Wolf, we haven't hit the peak yet, but the numbers are still very high in the state.

BLITZER: Yes, and they certainly are Ryan, thank you.

Let's go to Chicago officials they're making very grim preparations for the number of cases they're, they are clearly about to increase. CNN's Omar Jimenez is joining us. Omar there's a surge of deaths in Chicago. What's the latest?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well Chicago's Cook County has now officially acquired a refrigerated warehouse that can potentially store more than 1,500 bodies. They gave us exclusive access today as they work to get it operational as quickly as possible which they expect to do by tomorrow and the chief medical examiner tells me they expect to receive bodies within a matter of days as they went from 10 to 20 a week just a few weeks ago to now an average of 40 a day putting them very near capacity.

Now another need we are seeing in the city of Chicago is a need for more data, specifically in regards to demographics. In Chicago Department of Public Health putting out numbers showing that just under 70 percent of the coronavirus deaths here in the city of Chicago are in black Chicagoans despite just making up 30 percent of the population. Is why they have put in place an order working with the hospitals here in the city to put out and enhance the data that we are already seeing to include demographics so that the city can better track a crucial component of this ongoing pandemic. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much Omar Jimenez in Chicago for us.

As we await to the experts that today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing we're joined by the New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and the American Medical Association President, Dr. Patrice Harris. We're going to have a lot to discuss. I need to take a quick break. Once we come back. We'll talk, lots of news going on. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:18:59]

BLITZER: All right, we're looking at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room. You can see it's pretty empty right now. But eventually we're going to get the briefing will start. We'll have coverage of that, we're waiting for the experts to show up.

In the meantime, we're joined by the New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell, the American Medical Association. President Dr. Patrice Harris. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

I want to get right up Mayor Cantrell to New Orleans right now, as you know, obviously better than anyone, it's become a hotspot for this coronavirus. What are your city's health care providers and residents facing this week?

MAYOR LATOYA CANTRELL, NEW ORLEANS: Well, what we continue to face this week is ensuring that our health providers are receiving the PPE necessary as they're on the front lines, we're seeing increased testing, we're testing more in the United States actually second to Iceland. So we've seen an increasing case but at the same time, we see that our curves we're getting closer to that curve, and that our social distancing, our social mandates, they're working but we need to hold the line and to just stay focused by staying at home.

[17:20:13]

BLITZER: Yes, these are critical days right now. People should not let up at all.

Dr. Harris. So we've spoken several times. We are seeing a rather troubling trend right now emerge in coronavirus deaths, there seems to be in the United States a rather significant racial disparity, why are African-Americans at greater risk? PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, good to be back with you Wolf and certainly, these numbers are troubling. And I want to say I'm so glad at least we have these numbers. We certainly need to get these numbers from all states and not only collect these numbers, but disseminate these numbers so that that governors and mayors can know what to do.

So I think there are three main issues that are driving these numbers. And I want everyone to know it's not that African-Americans are more prone to be infected, but it's really built on a foundation of already existing health inequities. And some of the diseases that make folks more prone to more severe consequences, such as diabetes and hypertension, of course, disproportionately affect African-Americans, other communities of color. And so now we are seeing that play out in COVID-19.

The other issue, we have to think about the jobs, a lot of the jobs, the majority of the jobs, those essential workers, those workers that are continuing to go to work, so that those of us who, who have the privilege of working for home have a significant number of folks and say they are being exposed there.

And finally, misinformation. I shared that I spent the first two weeks of this pandemic, dispelling rumors that African-Americans could not become infected with COVID-19. So those are three of the huge issues that are driving these numbers.

BLITZER: Those are important points indeed American travel (ph) in your state of Louisiana, about 33 percent of the population is African-American, but 70 percent of the people -- 70 percent of the people who have died in Louisiana from coronavirus are African- Americans. I'm sure you're sensitive to this as well. So what are you doing to address this disparity in New Orleans and the rest of the Louisiana for that matter as well?

CANTRELL: Sure. Well, first of all, you don't wait into a disaster to focus on the health disparities that exist within your community in the state of Louisiana. Yes, African-Americans make up 33 percent of the state, but 60 percent of the city of New Orleans. We stood up a Center for Health and Health Disparities at Xavier University of Louisiana, because we understand right, that these disparities exist, but we have to be laser focused on our people who are dying.

And not only that, in terms of five times the national average from dealing with chronic illness. What we're witnessing here is the intersection really between the impact of race, gender, wage inequality, health disparity in terms of access to quality care, and even as relates to maintaining physical health and wellness. So it's across the board. These are issues that we've known exist. But it really is time to meet people where they are and provide them with the access that they need to be well.

And I have to agree with Dr. Harris, she's right on. One of the issues that I had to address with dealing with this pandemic is getting to my community and letting them know that, hey, this is not a disease just for white people that black people can get this disease. And so I had to have faith leaders and neighborhood leaders present to get that across to our people. Because at the end of the day, disproportionately we know that African-Americans are suffering not only from this disease or pandemic, but for any disaster that comes our way. So we have to do better.

BLITZER: Yes, that's a really important point. And Dr. Harris, a related issue, can you explain why testing both for the virus and for antibodies is key to making communities safe right now?

HARRIS: Testing is so key, and we have to make sure that the tests are equitably distributed to all communities. And we have to make sure that not only the tests, that shows active disease, but as we develop the test that shows the antibodies, we need to make sure those tests are available in communities and that members of communities who are disproportionately impacted really all communities need access.

For instance, some things we don't normally think about as if there are very few testing centers, transportation, which is one of those social determinants of health could limit access to those testing. So once we get testing in the community's a good penetrance then we know what we are dealing with and really they we have the data to move forward regarding the next step.

[17:25:08]

So I encourage everyone to really focus on making sure not only we are manufacturing the tests, but those tests are getting out to the communities, hospitals, community centers, clinics, FQHCs, and physicians offices, so that we know the full penetrance of the disease.

BLITZER: We're grateful to both of you. Thank you so much for joining us. Dr. Patrice Harris, Mayor LaToya Cantrell. Thanks very much.

And to our viewers. Stay with us. Once again, we're waiting for the experts at today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing and looking live pictures coming in from the briefing room.

We're also following new worries that more U.S. cities including Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia could become coronavirus hotspots.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:46]

BLITZER: Once again, we're ready for the experts. The White House Coronavirus Task Force to start that briefing. Once the experts are there, we'll go there. Standby for that.

In the meantime, I want to go to Brian Todd. He's here in Washington, D.C. Brian, we were told today that the nation's capital is bracing for the impact of the pandemic and could be one of the next hotspots.

Unfortunately, I think we lost Brian Todd, we've got a technical issue there. We'll try to reconnect with Brian down the road. In the meantime, I'm joined now by the epidemiologist, Columbia University Professor, Dr. Jeffrey Shaman. Dr. Shaman, thank you so much for joining us.

The White House has cited your model is as -- it predicted the trajectory of the virus and a new model now predicts thousands fewer deaths, maybe 60,000 by August. That's horrendous. That's awful, but it's down from about 80,000, an earlier projection. Does this new projection match the data that you're studying as well?

JEFFREY SHAMAN, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: It does, Wolf. You know, the reality is all these projections that you've been hearing are within the realm of possibility. The situation we're dealing with is very fluid. And so much of the outcomes really depends on what we do, what type of steps we take, as a society, to social distance, to isolate, to figure out how to quash this curve, get these cases reduced, alleviate the strain and stress on our hospital systems and figure out how to return our economy to normal without actually inducing more infections.

BLITZER: Right now in the United States, more than 14,000 deaths. Even with these projected lower numbers, 60,000 by August, we're still talking about a devastating loss of life. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. It's hard to see this is good news, isn't it?

SHAMAN: I absolutely agree. It can't be understated. In some sense, the numbers almost don't matter because the magnitudes are large no matter what the projection we see. We've already suffered a tremendous amount of mortality at this point.

The question that we try to address with these projections is how well are we doing, what does this say about what we might do better in the future, have we maxed out our capacity to social distance and flatten and quash the curve, and how do we actually go back to returning to some sort of normal economy. We really need to use these projections as guidance for what we might do in the future and how we have to modify our behavior going forward.

BLITZER: Besides continuing to social distance, can Americans do something else to ensure that the death toll is lower than the White House initially projected?

SHAMAN: You know, we don't have a lot of tools in our arsenal. Normally, we would love to have a therapeutic or an effective vaccine available, but it takes some time to develop that particularly for a virus like this, which we really don't have the experience developing therapeutics and vaccines. So we're limited to what are called non- pharmaceutical interventions. And these are the things that we hear about, the isolation, the quarantine, social distancing.

I would certainly encourage people to also wear face masks. I would encouraging telecommuting for the communities and the people who are capable of. And I would encourage the idea and understanding that we need to do this and we need to work together so that we can keep those -- that distance from each other and we can minimize the opportunities for transmission of this virus. BLITZER: As far as face masks are concerned, face coverings, would you recommend that everyone who leaves his or her home wear one no matter where they're going outside?

SHAMAN: Well, look, obviously we have a face mask shortage and we need to provide those for our healthcare workers, the first responders who are dealing with the surges in places where particularly a number of environments they're getting overrun right now. But people can fashion face masks out of materials at home. You can build them yourself, you can use scarves, you can use bandanas.

The reality is this virus has potentially multiple modes of transmission. It can be by droplet, it can be aerosolized where it's airborne and people inhale it or it can be accumulating on surfaces. The spray that comes out of our mouths when we breathe, when we speak and when we cough, some of that can land on surfaces and that's why you want to wash your hands. The face mask, particularly if you yourself are infectious, and often we don't know that we're infectious at the time because there's pre-symptomatic shedding and many people only experience mild or asymptomatic infections throughout the whole life course of their infectious period.

[17:35:11]

Those people don't know they're shedding the virus. And by going out wearing a mask, you're protecting others as well as protecting yourself potentially.

BLITZER: That's really good advice. So Dr. Shaman, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks so much for what you're doing. We're grateful to you, really appreciate it. Thank you.

SHAMAN: My pleasure, Wolf. Be well.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Coming up, I'll speak live with the captain of the U.S. Navy hospital ship treating patients, coronavirus patients in New York City right now. We're also waiting to hear from the experts at today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Much more on right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:16]

BLITZER: The Pentagon says the U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort is now treating coronavirus patients. The commanding officer of the ship Captain Patrick Amersbach is joining us now from the ship.

Captain, thanks so much for what you're doing with the men and women aboard the Comforter are doing, we are all grateful to you. And as you obviously well know, your hospital ship has been tasked now with caring for coronavirus patients in New York. That was not the originally stated plan when you deployed to New York.

Do you have the supplies needed to care for the critically ill coronavirus patients? Originally you're going to take patients who didn't have coronavirus to free up hospital beds in New York City.

CAPT. PATRICK AMERSBACH, COMMANDING OFFICER, USNS COMFORT (T-AH 20): Yes, Wolf, that is correct. You know, we are missing change, which is OK. The bottom line is we came to New York to take care of New Yorkers and we will do that. So we have actually already taken on patients that are corona positive. And they are getting outstanding world class care.

We made extra efforts again to ensure that the crew remains safe and away from the threat as much as possible. We've actually separated the ship into zones. The HVAC systems, and the way that the ship is designed allows for some actual physical separation between the hospital units and the rest of the ship which will be beneficial to the crew overall.

BLITZER: How many coronavirus patients are now on board? I take it you have beds for about 500 potentially, is that right?

AMERSBACH: That's correct. I don't know the exact number of how many that are corona positive. I know that we have a little less than 80 on board at this time and we continue to take admissions from the city.

BLITZER: Do you have enough ventilators?

AMERSBACH: At this time we do. We have enough ventilators and we also have enough of those critical supplies necessary to take care of that population.

BLITZER: Well, what do you need now? Because I want to make sure that the patients obviously are well-treated, but I want to make sure the crew, the doctors, the nurses, the medical professionals, they're safe from this highly contagious virus. How are you dealing with that?

AMERSBACH: Absolutely. So, again, we're following the CDC guidelines. We are adhering to the strictest practices related to the use of PPE, hand washing, social distancing, which we've actually been able to move some of the direct clinical care staff to a local hotel to keep them away from -- well, to open up some of that social distancing and decompress the birthing and the working (ph) mess eating areas, or those areas that we congregate. So we're taking every step and making every effort to ensure that we protect our crew from the virus.

BLITZER: I know there's about 1,000 members, 1,000 sailors and marines aboard your ship. How many have already tested positive for coronavirus? I had heard one or two, but I want you to get an update from you.

AMERSBACH: Sure. We've had one crew member that has tested positive, and they are doing fine, actually. So they are recuperating. We have them separate from the rest of the crew. The individual in question actually had never been around any of the patients that we've cared for, and minimal contact with the crew. So they're doing fine, and we're hoping for a speedy recovery for the individual.

BLITZER: We certainly are. How long do you anticipate, Captain, that you'll remain in New York City? AMERSBACH: Wolf, we're going to be here as long as the mission continues. We'll provide outstanding care to the citizens of New York and take care of our crew in the process. Our goal is to do the best we can while we're here for the maximum number that we can care for, and get everybody home safely.

BLITZER: What was so impressive is the fact that you were able to leave Virginia and get up to New York so quickly. Originally, it was supposed to be two or three or four weeks. You did in a few days. How did you do that?

AMERSBACH: It was truly a team effort, Wolf. The civilian mariners and Military Sealift Command, the Norfolk Naval Base, and of course, the crew made all the difference to ensure the ship was ready to go when we got up here.

BLITZER: And just to be safe, you have everything, Captain, that you need right now to deal with this mission?

AMERSBACH: We do. We have the PPE required, we have the medications required, and we have, most importantly, a motivated staff in which to accomplish the goal. Even last night, we had an opportunity to relieve some of the pressure on local hospitals. They were having some issues with their infrastructure. So we took on 10 vented patients or ventilated patients right into our ICU in just a short amount of time to help that hospital out. So that's what we're here to do. And we'll do that until we're ordered away

[17:45:10]

BLITZER: And you have potentially room for 500 coronavirus patients. Hopefully, you won't need to deal with 500. Let's hope it doesn't happen. But I know that everyone in New York, everyone around the country is grateful to you and the men and women aboard your ship.

Thanks so much for joining us, Captain Amersbach.

AMERSBACH: Thank you, Wolf, appreciate it.

BLITZER: Thank you. And just in, you're going to see the number on the right of your screen. Global coronavirus cases have just passed 1.5 million. When we come back, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's standing by to answer your questions about coronavirus. We'll be right back.

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[17:50:39]

BLITZER: As we wait to hear from the experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, I want to bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, thanks very much for joining us. We have a lot of questions from our viewers. They want to ask you. Let me get right to the questions. Here's the first one, should I ask for a coronavirus antibody test?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think the answer to that is going to be yes, but it's not going to be widely available as of yet. There is one company, I believe, that has emergency authorization from the FDA to start administering these tests. There's a lot of other companies out there.

My colleague, Elizabeth Cohen's been reporting on them, but many of them are not FDA approved. So you got to be a little careful. Make sure that if you do pursue this antibody test, that it's one of the ones that's at least approved under the authorization from the FDA.

Wolf, you know, but just to reiterate, the antibody test is not looking for the virus. It's looking for the response to the virus in your body. If you've been exposed to the virus, your body makes these antibodies to help fight the virus. If you have these antibodies, it means two things, one that you've been exposed and you've maybe recovered from the infection, sometimes you don't even know it. A lot of people have minimal or no symptoms, Wolf.

The other thing that it means is that you could probably be immunized now to this because you have the antibodies, it's very unlikely that you would become re-infected. We don't know that for sure because we're only a few months into this, but that's what it's looking like. So I would, you know, if it were available right now, Wolf, to me easily, I would get the test. I would want to know.

BLITZER: If it were -- the keywords, if it were available right now easily. It's not yet available easily. Here's another question we have from a viewer. Are there certain preexisting conditions that make it more likely to have serious complications if you could track coronavirus?

GUPTA: Yes. We talked about these vulnerable populations of people. You know, you've heard that elderly people are more vulnerable and people with conditions including heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, and hypertension are four that are always mentioned. There are a few others that put you at increased risk as well.

A couple of points. One is that you think about your body's ability to fight pathogens. Aside from Coronavirus, Wolf, your body may have fended off several pathogens today, we all do, on a regular basis. If your immune system is weakened, it becomes harder to fight off those pathogens including coronavirus. That's why these preexisting conditions put you at higher risk.

But, Wolf, you know, it's worth reminding people that even if you're not elderly, and even if you don't have these conditions, you still have to take these precautions. We are hearing of younger people who are not only getting infected, but getting quite sick. At one point in this country, 20 percent of those hospitalized were between the ages of 20 and 44. So the same precautions that you've talked about that I talked about on a daily basis, really apply to everyone, stay home and behave like you have the virus.

BLITZER: Yes, that's really important advice. I got another question from a viewer. If you need to be hospitalized, how should you prepare for your stay? GUPTA: Yes. Most people again will not need to be hospitalized thankfully. You know, the statistics are that about 80 percent of people, eight out of 10 people will, you know have more -- they may have more moderate illness. I don't want to say that it will always be mild.

You know, we're seeing what our colleague Chris Cuomo is going through, he is home, he doesn't need to be hospitalized. But it is a significant illness in people so I don't want to minimize it, but a smaller percentage will need to be hospitalized. And an even smaller percentage will need to go to the ICU.

If you think you need to be hospitalized, definitely call ahead because they're gone need to put you in isolation. And also, you know, you're likely to be there for a while. These average hospitalizations, Wolf, have been quite long, a couple weeks. You're probably going to want to FaceTime or have some way of communicating with your family. So think about those things ahead of time as well.

BLITZER: Yes. Good advice from Sanjay Gupta. All right, Dr. Gupta, standby. We're going to have a lot more with you and to our viewers to find out how you can help and how you can get help during the coronavirus outbreak, visit CNN.com/impact and you can impact your world.

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We're going to hear from the experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force as the number of U.S. deaths now surpasses 14,000.

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BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "THE SITUATION ROOM". Experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force are scheduled to begin briefing the public very soon. Standby for that, we'll hear from the experts.