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Federal Government Blocked Private Labs from Using Coronavirus Tests in Late January; Sources: Trump to Announce Second Coronavirus Task Force Solely Focused on Reopening Economy; 16.8 Million Americans File for Unemployment in Three Weeks. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired April 9, 2020 - 16:30   ET


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As coronavirus was racing around the world in late January and February, the federal government failed to use the massive arsenal of hundreds of laboratories across the United States for emergency testing, it actually left road blocks in place to prevent non-government labs from assisting.


That is according to documents obtained by CNN and interviews with more than a dozen scientists and physicians involved in coronavirus testing.

DR. AMESH ADALJA, JOHN HOPKINS UNIVERSITY CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: At the very beginning of this pandemic, it was the federal government that had the sole ability to do the testing. It made it very difficult for private labs and university labs to make their own tests based on several regulatory hurdles.

GRIFFIN: Several hospital and university-based labs have told CNN they saw the pandemic approaching, were developing their own tests as early as January to detect the virus. But the red tape with the FDA's regulatory process prevented them from moving forward -- meaning labs sat idle.

DR. GLENN MORRIS, UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA: Rather than entrants listing the tremendous strength and power of the U.S. laboratory capacity, getting everybody working on this and creating tests and having widespread test availability, we had CDC trying to keep running everything by itself.

GRIFFIN: The federal government was prepared to enforce the rules, sending this memo on February 6th telling state health departments to actively police against labs using their own coronavirus tests. The reasoning behind the tight regulations were good to ensure the safety and efficacy of tests. But Dr. Glenn Morris of the University of Florida says the FDA rules were written for normal situations, not a crisis.

MORRIS: When we suddenly hit the point where we were looking at China and seeing what was going on there, what we needed was extremely aggressive leadership. We got to move fast, because, otherwise, we're going to run into a problem. GRIFFIN: The problem developed as soon as the CDC rolled out its own

tests for verification. It didn't work and weeks were lost as the CDC scrambled to make a new test.

SCOTT BECKER, CEO OF THE ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC HEALTH LABORATORIES: So we really were in a basically on a pause for a few weeks within the public health system. And meanwhile, the academic laboratories who had developed their own tests also were not able to test because the regulations didn't allow it at that time.

GRIFFIN: What's even worse in 2018, after the Zika outbreak, the CDC came up with a plan to avoid the very testing disaster that's happening. CNN obtained a copy of this memorandum of understanding between the commercial and public labs and the CDC that was supposed to increase national laboratory testing in an emergency by engaging commercial labs early in the response.

It didn't work. Dr. Karen Kaul who runs the laboratory services for NorthShore Research Institute in Evanston, Illinois, was one of the labs pushing to start its own tests and was stopped by overbearing red tape.

(on camera): It seems like this is a bit of a failure.

DR. KAREN KAUL, NORTHSHORE RESEARCH INSTITUTE: I think there is a definite room for improvement. What's happened is we've had a number of laboratories and a number of manufacturers and groups that are not all working together in a coordinated fashion.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): In a statement to CNN, the FDA insists there was nothing wrong in its process and instead blames individual lab delays where labs did not understand the FDA process and mistakenly believed there was more work involved.

Despite that, the FDA did publish new guidelines on February 29th allowing labs to begin testing. Experts tell CNN, it was just too late.


GRIFFIN: Jake, this afternoon the CDC gave us a written statement saying they did keep the lab community informed but did not answer our question, if you did know this was happening, why didn't you allow these big labs to get testing way sooner, like January? Jake?

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, Drew, I want to ask you we just learned today the Trump administration is pulling back on federal support tore the testing sites by the end of this week. Is that going to have a negative impact on testing? Or do states and cities have this and they're dealing with it fine?

GRIFFIN: You know, it's a mixed bag. Here in Georgia, the state says it can handle it. Others may not be able to do it. It all comes down to the supply chain and whether the states have the supplies and the manpower to conduct these tests. And, you know, that's been a mixed back, Jake. The other thing is to test our way out of this problem, we're going to

have to test a whole lot more people than we have been testing. And now, having that all being relied upon, local and state governments, that could be a heavy lift for some of these state governments.

TAPPER: Yes, how do we get south of this would some nationwide testing? Health officials say it has to happen.

Drew Griffin, thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, it's the equivalent of North Carolina and Tennessee combined, 17 million Americans filing for unemployment for the first time in just the last three weeks. What economists are predicting, next.



TAPPER: Welcome back.

President Trump is preparing to announce a second coronavirus task force focused solely on reopening the U.S. economy. Multiple sources tell CNN the White House is considering a group of administration officials along with beings leaders and even some major sports teams to work on this effort.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, they are keeping a very close eye on the calendar.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, President Trump is preparing to announce a second coronavirus task force aimed at reopening the U.S. economy. This one will likely include a mix of government aides like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in addition to economic experts from the private sector. Their goal will be restarting the nation's economy and Mnuchin hopes it can happen by May.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think as soon as the president feels comfortable with the medical issues, we are making everything necessary that American companies and American workers can be opened for business.


COLLINS: After he was forced to abandon his goal of reopening the country by Easter, Trump now says he's not putting a deadline on it.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're doing well in terms of the numbers. I can't tell you in terms of the date.

COLLINS: The nation's top infectious disease expert sounded optimistic today that life could somewhat return to normal this summer if Americans continue to follow the guidelines. DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY &

INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But hopefully and hopefully, by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction.

COLLINS: As Trump focuses on the economy, his aides are concentrating on protecting the chain of command.

For days, the president has downplayed questions whether he should distance himself from the vice president.

TRUMP: Mike had his test a couple of days ago. I had my test a couple of days ago. .

COLLINS: Officials say they don't need to because both have been tested and everyone who meets with them is also being tested. The administration is also weighing testing everyone who works in the White House complex.

TRUMP: I don't see it for myself. I just -- I just don't.

COLLINS: But some of his top aides are taking their advice. The deputy national security adviser has been wearing a mask for weeks now, and Attorney General Bill Barr said he also wears one when he's at the Justice Department.

BILL BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I actually wear a mask and my security detail wear masks when we go in every morning, when we go home.

COLLINS: First Lady Melania Trump is also breaking with her husband and tweeted this photo of herself wearing a mask to remind Americans of the CDC guidance.


COLLINS: And, Jake, we've now learned that the White House is going to test all of the reporters for coronavirus today, the ones who are going to attend that briefing with the president and vice president and other officials after a member of the White House press corps started showing symptoms of coronavirus. So, it's not clear whether or not they are positive or negative for it.

And it's also not clear if this is going to be a daily practice. As we did note, they are considering testing everyone who comes onto the White House grounds for coronavirus as well.

TAPPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much.

More staggering unemployment numbers. The Labor Department says 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment for the first time last week. Add that to the previous three weeks, that is 16.8 million Americans now out of a job, about 11 percent of America's workforce.

And, of course, those numbers reflect just a small fraction of the economic pain being felt out there.

Let's bring in CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley. And, Julia, today, Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said that the

U.S. is losing jobs with, quote, alarming speed, but he also said that the spike in jobless claims will be necessary. The Trump administration keeps hyping a robust restart. Is that possible, a robust restart?

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: I want to say everything is possible. You know, I tackled Jason Furman who was President Obama's economic adviser on this exact point today. And he said, look, the good news is half of the people claiming and asking for help here could just be furloughed workers. They could be added back really quickly. He said, but even with that, it could still take him five years to get back to where we started in terms of the labor market.

The bottom line here is -- and Jay Powell said this -- the best way to ensure a robust recovery is a national plan for reopening the economy and avoiding a false start here, resurgence and a re-rise in some of the cases that we've seen. It's a challenge.

TAPPER: Right before the Fed chair made his comments, the Federal Reserve released its own kind of new stimulus $2.3 trillion in various programs to try to help the economy, plus $600 billion in loans for small businesses. Explain what the Fed did here, if you could.

CHATTERLEY: This is the Fed opening up the bank vault and saying, if you want to borrow money, you get it. It was lending to states, it was lending to municipalities, to small businesses, too, four-year loans, one year, you don't have to pay any money.

But Jay Powell also said, look, this is lending, it's not spending. That's down to governments, and the beauty of the loans to small businesses was the bulk of them would be forgiven if they are spent on payrolls. This is just buying Congress time to come up with more money, Jake.

TAPPER: And speaking of Congress and small businesses, today Senate Democrats blocked efforts by Senate Republicans to add another $250 billion to the small business loan program, which you and I have discussed several times. It's overwhelmed, but because of all the demand as well as some of the technical issues. Among other objections Senate Democrats say they want the bill, the legislation to guarantee access to these smaller underserved companies.

What's your take on all this? Do you worry the politics will get in the way of the bigger goal? Are the Democrats right here? Are the Republicans right? What do you think?

CHATTERLEY: I think this is more of a case in context in process and timing here.


I think the Republicans wanted three weeks to see how the money was working. The Democrats are saying, fill the gaps now. Both sides agree, states, health care, individuals need more money. It's just when they come up with the goods.

This lending program was the only thing that had bipartisan support initially, and they need to find that again, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Julia Chatterley, CNN business anchor, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. See you tomorrow.

Coming up: the global devastation of coronavirus -- one country now investigating images depicting dead bodies left on the side of the street.

We're going to go to our reporters who are all around the world.

That is next. Stay with us.



TAPPER: Two nurses in Suffolk County, New York, have died from coronavirus, and nearly 900 employees at a Michigan hospital system have been infected by COVID-19.

Doctors and nurses risking their lives to save you and me and patients, and they still do not have enough of the masks and other personal protective equipment, or PPE, needed to protect themselves from this virus.

It is a national outrage.

I want to bring in the dean of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, Dr. Dennis Charney, who's a psychiatrist by training, as well as an expert in depression and post-traumatic stress.

Dr. Charney, one doctor told NPR that going into work was like -- quote -- "walking into Chernobyl without any gear -- unquote.

How serious is the emotional toll that this is taking on our doctors and nurses and health care workers?

DR. DENNIS CHARNEY, DEAN, ICAHN SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT MOUNT SINAI: There's going to be a serious emotional toll, because the health care workers are heroes, but they're also warriors.

And they're being exposed to the terrible disease and they're faced with death literally every day. So, we're concerned that they are going to develop high levels of post-traumatic stress disorder, just like veterans from Vietnam and the first responders from 9/11.

TAPPER: And it's not just a matter of the fact that they don't even have the PPE, so they have to worry for themselves, they have to worry for the members of their family.

They're also day in, day out working double shifts surrounded by incredibly sick people, people who are dying. And, I mean, that is -- that's dark enough, I mean, without having to then worry about their own lives.

CHARNEY: Exactly.

It's as stressful as being in combat, or, in terms of 9/11, being the first responders, where you saw all that debt surrounding you. So it's really hard. And it is incumbent upon us, as a health system and as a government, to provide the kind of health care to our health care warriors to help them deal with this trauma and stress.

TAPPER: I mean, from your mouth to God's ears. We're not even providing them with the PPE they need.

Take a listen to this one ICU nurse in New York.


SIMONE HANNAH-CLARK, ICU NURSE, MOUNT SINAI HOSPITAL: Yes, it does feel like a war to us.

I hesitated to use that analogy, because war is not a joke, but it really does. The patients keep coming. There is more death. That is more of that. So, yes, emotionally it -- there's a lot of anxiety.


TAPPER: I assume that you're hearing that from other nurses, other doctors and others?

CHARNEY: We hear it every day. And, at the same time, it's really unbelievable here at Mount Sinai and other major academic medical centers dealing with this.

It's also inspiring, in terms of the courage and the bravery that our nurses and our doctors are experiencing, and reflecting, at the same time dealing with all the stress that we're talking about.

TAPPER: You talked -- you compare this to war. She -- the nurse we just ran the clip of, she described this as a war.

Why does it feel like a war to the people going through it?

CHARNEY: Because you come in every day, you know that you're going to be fighting an enemy that is very tough and invisible. There's death all around you, until we come up with new treatments or a vaccine.

So you're fighting an enemy. So it is like a war. And we have teams of very brave people fighting that war every day, day in and day out.

TAPPER: And these medical professionals are also coming home to families, in many cases. We hear from so many of them about how terrified they are about giving this disease to their partners, to their children, to their -- to anyone else who might live with them, their parents.

How can they begin to cope with that?

CHARNEY: Yes, that's another problem, because many times they have to stay separate from their family members, so they don't infect them.

So they're not getting the kind of support that they really need. So it's tough. And I just emphasize again, we -- we need to help them. And it's going to be really hard when this is all over, and they have the memories of this experience that stay with them perhaps for life.


TAPPER: Well, I'm glad that you are with some of them.

Dr. Dennis Charney, stay in touch with us. Let us know how to keep shining a light on the amazing work that these men and women are doing and what we -- what more we need to do to help them and support them.

Thank you so much.

CHARNEY: Thank you.

TAPPER: In our world lead today: Italy's prime minister saying it could be -- quote -- "the end of Europe" if the European Union does not financially help the hardest-hit countries.

Sweden is reporting a spike in deaths in that country for a second day in a row. That nation has yet to implement any sort of nationwide lockdown. Instead, the government is asking people over 70 to stay home and for people to practice social distancing.

Ecuador's president is calling for an investigation now after disturbing images of bodies left on the side of the road surfaced last week.

We have reporters around the world joining me now to talk about what's going on around the world.

Let's begin with CNN Bianca Nobilo in London.

And, Bianca, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, we're told, is now out of intensive care.


He spent 72 hours there, and he has now been moved to a basic recovery ward, where he is in the early stages of recovery. And Downing Street are keen to emphasize that. They say that he's in extremely good spirits. So that's good news as far as the prime minister's health is concerned.

Now, obviously, there's been a massive emphasis on Boris Johnson's well-being, for obvious reasons. He is the leader. He's the person charting the course through this outbreak for Britain. But we are seeing a devastating toll on the country at large, over 880 deaths today in the United Kingdom.

And for front line-health care workers -- you were just speaking to somebody talking about the lack of PPE and the deaths that happen as a result of that. And we have seen Dr. Abdul Mabud Chowdhury, a 50-year-old doctor, pass

away after battling from coronavirus. And, even more tragically, he actually wrote to the prime minister asking for more PPE for that front-line health care staff in the United Kingdom just two weeks ago -- Jake.

TAPPER: Bianca Nobilo, thank you so much. Tragic.

The death toll in Spain has now surpassed 15,000 -- 638 more deaths in just the past 24 hours in that country.

CNN's Scott McLean joins me now live from Madrid.

And, Scott, a CNN analysis of the death toll in Madrid suggests that the number could be significantly higher than what's been reported in terms of actual deaths because of coronavirus.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, by several thousand in Madrid alone, Jake.

Consider that, in the last half of March in Madrid, 9,000 people died, whereas, in a typical year, you would only see about 2,000 deaths. That's a difference of 7,000 deaths. Now, about half of that can be explained by Madrid's official coronavirus death toll.

The other half may well also be related to the coronavirus, but they weren't counted because those people were never tested to be sure. On top of that, Madrid's regional government says that thousands of people have died in nursing homes with coronavirus symptoms. But, again, they weren't counted because they weren't tested.

Now, the Spanish government says it is counting according to WHO guidelines, only deaths where people have had a positive coronavirus test, though it says it is doing its own analysis to understand the discrepancy.

And one other thing to add, Jake, and that's that the Spanish Parliament officially voted today to extend the stay-at-home order until April 26. The prime minister, though, he said this country had reached the peak of the outbreak. He expects to have to extend that stay-at-home order again into May.

TAPPER: All right, Scott, thank you so much.

Japan enacted a state of emergency this week, but you might not know it when you take a look at the crowds commuting to work, almost business as usual, except, if you look a little closer, you see masks.

CNN's Will Ripley joins me now live from Tokyo.

Will, are people in Japan not taking this state of emergency seriously enough? Am I misreading what we see there?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I think the problem is, Jake, a lot of people just don't have a choice, because 80 percent of Japanese companies are not able to allow their employees to work from home. That's according to government data from last year.

And so for companies, they didn't tell people they have to go to work. They don't have a choice. The number of commuters is down, but it's not down even close to the 70 to 80 percent that the Japanese government says needs to be reduced in order to stop this city from having 10,000 infections in two weeks and 80,000 cases potentially in a month.

And I'm talking to an epidemiologist who says nothing short of a total lockdown will accomplish that. The problem is, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to balance public health with the health of the economy, seemingly ignoring the fact that the economy could be devastated if the cases do skyrocket here, like we're seeing in other cities.

And Tokyo's numbers in many ways are just several weeks behind cities like New York and whatnot.

Jake, I also spoke with a coronavirus patient who says she was tested. She's showing symptoms. She has to wait 10 days to get her results in the mail, not e-mail, post mail.

TAPPER: All right, Will Ripley in Tokyo, stay safe, my friend.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay inside. We will see you tomorrow.