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THE SITUATION ROOM

Awaiting Coronavirus Briefing; Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 16,000 In U.S.; More Coronavirus Cases Now In U.S. Than Italy, Spain and France Combined; Cuomo: Current Outbreak Only "First Wave" Of Pandemic; Sources: Trump To Announce Second Task Force Focused On Reopening Economy; 6.8 Million In U.S. File Jobless Claims This Week; 16.8 Million In Last Three Weeks; Experts: Warmer Weather Won't End Pandemic; 6.6. Million U.S. File Jobless Claims This Week; Airlines And TSA Report 96 Percent Drop In U.S. Air Travel; Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 16,000 In U.S.; WH Task Force: Baltimore, Philly And D.C. Next Coronavirus Hot Spots; California Sees 1.9 percent Drop Of People In ICU. Aired 5-6pET

Aired April 9, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


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

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Stay healthy. Stay safe. Stay inside. We'll see you tomorrow.

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".

We're standing by to hear from the White House Coronavirus Task Force as the U.S. death fell from the pandemic surpasses 16,000 with more than 452,000 confirmed cases that's more than the number of known cases in Italy, Spain and France combined. Worldwide, there are now more than one and a half million, one and a half million confirmed coronavirus virus cases and more than 94,000 deaths.

Also tonight there's growing concern that Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and Baltimore could become the next U.S hotspots of the virus. I'll speak live to the mayors of Philadelphia and Baltimore in just a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Americans filed more than 6 million new jobless claims this week bringing the three week total to a staggering 16.8 million jobs. 16.8 million jobs.

CNN's Nick Watt is joining us now from Los Angeles. Nick, there are very grim new pandemic numbers also out tonight.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There are Wolf. I want to start with a very small number 22. We have just heard that today in California there are 22 fewer people in the ICU than yesterday and the governor says that is more evidence that social distancing is working. But you are right, some of the other numbers out there are just staggering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATT (voice-over): More than 15,000 have now died nationwide and Detroit health workers say people are dying in ER hallways. This Chicago jail now America's largest known site of infection outside medical facilities, 400 plus cases among inmates and staff.

In New York military doctors now deployed not just to field hospitals, but inside city hospitals.

DAVID NORQUIST, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: But they're suffering from -- is doctors getting sick or nurses.

WATT (voice-over): This city, the crossroads of the world now has more confirmed cases than any other city on Earth. According to data from Johns Hopkins University.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): It's been 18 days since we closed down New York. I know it feels like a lifetime.

WATT (voice-over): New York State's curve is now flattening the numbers are now encouraging but the message stays the same. Do not stop social distancing.

CUOMO: Because we can't handle the worst case scenarios. We can't even handle the moderate case scenarios.

WATT (voice-over): The President regularly hails his imposing travel restrictions on China in late January.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: I cut off China very early.

I closed down our country to China which was heavily infected.

WATT (voice-over): That likely help but the epicenter shifted to Europe. A new research suggests the virus now raging in New York actually came in through Italy.

ANTHONY FAUCI, COORDINATOR, CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE RESPONSE: Given the travel and the air traffic from anywhere in Italy, but also particularly northern Italy. It's just not surprising that unfortunately and inadvertently New York was seated before they really knew what was going on.

WATT (voice-over): Nearly 17 million Americans have now filed for unemployment in just these past three weeks. That's more than 10 percent of the total workforce.

JACORY WRIGHT, FURLOUGHED ELEVATOR DISPATCHER: I already can't swim. And I literally feel like I'm drowning.

WATT (voice-over): Air travel in the U.S. down is stunning 96 percent year on year, according to various metrics reviewed by CNN. Dr. Fauci says we might still be able to take summer vacations this year.

FAUCI: It can be in the cards and I say that with some caution. We have to be prepared, that when the infection starts to rear their heads again, that we have in place, a very aggressive and effective way to identify isolate, contact trace, and make sure we don't have those spikes that we see now.

WATT (voice-over): This summer it might still be very different to the last, just listening to the Santa Clara County, California supervisors' virtual meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't expect that we'll have any sports games until at least Thanksgiving and we'll be lucky to have them by Thanksgiving.

WATT (voice-over): For now in Brookhaven, Mississippi a drive by show of support for 90-year-old Bryant Johnston sick with the virus that just killed Betty, his wife of near 60 years.

BRYANT JOHNSTON, HUSBAND OF COVID VICTIM: I don't get to see her. I didn't get to hold her hand. I didn't get to tell her goodbye.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[17:04:59]

WATT: Now, Easter Sunday Wolf, is still projected to be our worst day in this country in terms of reported deaths. Of course it is also a big religious celebration. The governor of Kansas, tried to limit religious gatherings to fewer than 10 people, but he failed. One state senator, there saying she doesn't want the governor using this crisis to try and restrict constitutional rights. Wolf.

BLITZER: More than 16,000 deaths from coronavirus already here in the United States. 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, I understand you're learning some new information about the administration's response to this pandemic?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf, with more devastating unemployment numbers rocking the administration. White House officials tell us they are working on set up -- setting up a separate task force aimed at reopening the U.S. economy. But President Trump and his team have yet to set up a nationwide Coronavirus Testing System to make sure Americans are safe to go back to work.

The President assumptions we should remind you about the coronavirus have been wrong before.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): With one task force battling the coronavirus, aids to the President are preparing to stand up a second team of officials and business leaders to revive the pandemic ravaged U.S. economy.

TRUMP: We're also fighting an economic war to ensure we can quickly turn to full financial strength. We have to get our country back. We have to get going. Everybody wants to get going.

ACOSTA (voice-over): That second economic task force will face a colossal challenge with 6.6 million Americans filing Unemployment Claims last week, bringing the number over the last four weeks to nearly 17 million, a staggering figure. The Federal Reserve just launched a $2.3 trillion loan program to households and businesses to try to stop the bleeding.

STEVE 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 open for business.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Trump administration officials are making it no secret, they're eager to wind down the nation's social distancing guidelines.

WILLIAM BARR, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think we have to be very careful to make sure this is you know that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified and they're not alternative ways of protecting people.

But I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One big obstacle to reopening the economy. The administration has yet to figure out how to expand testing for the coronavirus nationwide,

CUOMO: Rapid testing and testing is going to be the bridge to the new economy and getting to work and restarting, right? Well, how do you know who can go back to work test them? You have rapid testing capacity. We have to bring it to scale we have to bring it to scale quickly.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Despite what he told Americans earlier this year, the President may not be getting any help from the warming spring weather. Government scientists just sent their latest coronavirus study to the White House that concludes changes in weather alone will not necessarily lead to declines in cases without extensive public health interventions. A reminder Mr. Trump had predicted the virus would disappear by April.

TRUMP: Looks like by April, you know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. Hope that's true. But we're doing great in our country.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Going back to work may not be the same for a while. The First Lady is encouraging Americans to listen to government guidelines and wear face masks when heading outside even though the President said he won't be following that advice.

TRUMP: I don't know I think wearing a face mask as a great Presidents, Prime Ministers, Dictators, Kings, Queens other. Somehow I don't see it for myself.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And Dr. Anthony Fauci is urging people to give up on shaking hands.

FAUCI: Just forget about shaking hands, we don't need to shake hands we got a break. We've got a break that custom, because as a matter of fact, that is really one of the major ways that you can transmit a respiratory borne illness.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Fauci is also trying to shake off conspiracy theories from conservative commentators who say the government is somehow inflating the number of dead from the pandemic.

FAUCI: There is absolutely no evidence that that's the case at all. You know, it -- I think it falls into the category of something that's very unfortunate these conspiracy theories that we hear about.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And also the President will listen to the scientists as he makes decisions on reopening the U.S. economy. But the President has had no problem publicly deferring with his scientists before the President has not only downplayed the pandemic in the past, he has touted treatments for the virus that have not been fully embraced by the scientists bias experts.

And Wolf we should point out, the White House's having all the reporters covering this briefing today undergo a coronavirus test I just had mine a short while ago. They gave me this fact sheet before giving me the test. We have not gotten the results back. And so the briefing for this reason I believe has been pushed to 6:00, could be pushed later as we're all waiting for these results to come back in.

[17:09:59]

But Wolf, the fact that we're getting a test doesn't really sit very well when we know so many Americans out there who need a test can't get one. Wolf.

BLITZER: That's an important point too. Jim Acosta, thanks you very much.

There's growing concern that Philadelphia, Baltimore and here in Washington D.C., that these cities could see a surge of coronavirus infections.

Our senior national correspondent, Alex Marquardt is in Philadelphia for us. Alex, so what are officials there saying about being considered one of the next hotspots?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, they're saying that there is real concern. There should be concerned that this could be a next hotspot, but they're saying that it might not be as hot as the White House thinks it is. When they hear the data that is coming out of the White House, when they listen to the assessments that are coming out of the White House, like Dr. Deborah Birx saying there are some 1,400 new cases of coronavirus in the metropolitan Philadelphia area every day. They say they don't know where that data is coming from. They say that data might be old and in fact the new number of cases is slowing.

And in the words of the health commissioner earlier today that they're flattening, that there might be a plateau. Listen to what Thomas Farley told CNN earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS FARLEY, PHILADELPHIA HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Our mortality rate though is 1/10th out in New York City. And I've been a little more optimistic in the last two or three days that our case count each day has been more or less stable.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: So Wolf, there you can hear that very cautious optimism in his voice. He did update the numbers today, there were 494 new cases of COVID-19 here in Philadelphia today, that's compared to 505 yesterday. So in that similar range, you can see that plateauing that he's talking about.

Meanwhile, as of today, 104 deaths here in the city of Philadelphia. Meanwhile, that concern that the White House has for the city of Philadelphia, according to the governor and other officials say, has resulted in an emphasis on that desperately needed protective equipment for the city of Philadelphia. Wolf.

BLITZER: And we're going to speak to the mayor of Philadelphia in a few moments as well. Alex Marquardt, thank you very much for that report.

Washington, D.C. also bracing for a dramatic increase in patients. Our national correspondent Suzanne Malveaux is over at Howard University Hospital here in the nation's capital. Suzanne, how is Washington preparing for a possible search?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: But Wolf, Howard University really at the front lines of this the hospitals especially because it really is a world class trauma center. It has a great deal of experience with dealing with the underserved community, predominantly African-American and for community sections of Washington D.C. that don't have a major hospital, those who they come here to Howard University Hospital.

Also, they have been tasked by the mayor, Mayor Bowser to participate to be one of the COVID-19 hospitals as a go-to-facility they're opening up a wing of this hospital to provide 170 extra beds. The mayor says she may need up to 1,000 if not more. There's also a triage center that we were shown today that has been set up a tent outside of the hospital, that is where they will actually be assessing people they're asking to come in. They'll assess them to see just how sick they are, whether or not they have to be admitted into the hospital.

But Wolf, talking with the president of Howard University, Dr. Wayne Frederick, he says they believe two to six weeks that is the window they're dealing with for the peak, they'll be ready talking to another doctor who actually treats these COVID patients. She says already, they are doing exercises, breathing exercises between one patient into another to deal with the anxiety and anticipation of what is to come. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Susan, I thank everyone for us over at Howard University. We're relying on them. Thank you very much.

And joining us now, two mayors, the mayor of Philadelphia Jim Kenney, and the mayor of Baltimore, Jack Young. Mayors, thank you so much for taking a few minutes to speak to our viewers.

Mayor Kenney, the White House Coronavirus Task Force is concerned about a spike of cases in your city of Philadelphia. Does that match the data that you're tracking?

JIM KENNEY, MAYOR PHILADELPHIA: Look, I respect their opinion and if their opinion means that we're going to get more people PPE and more rapid testing kits and more help with medical staff at our search hospital. I'm in favor of the all.

Dr. Farley is extremely capable individual, a very brilliant doctor and has done is been health commissioner for the city the size of New York. I believe what he says about what he sees the numbers doing. But we never know -- you never know when it may surge back and you want to make sure people don't get too complacent that they start stopping the social distancing that we've been encouraging them to do. And then we definitely will have something come back in a surge.

But right now if the federal government believes that we're a potential hotspot, send us all the equipment that we need and will really appreciate it.

BLITZER: Yes, you got to be prepared for the worst, God forbid. And that's what --

KENNEY: Yes.

BLITZER: -- everyone wants to do. Mayor Young, Dr. Birx -- Deborah Birx from the Coronavirus Task Force has also identified the Baltimore areas of potential hotspot. Is your healthcare system prepared for such a dramatic potential surge in coronavirus patients?

[17:15:00]

JACK YOUNG, MAYOR BALTIMORE: Yes, we are. We're blessed in Baltimore to have some of the greatest hospitals in the entire country with Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland and Sinai, and MedStar. We have some world class hospitals here in Baltimore. And we have formed the public private partnership with Kaffirs (ph), Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, where we're going to have 211 number where people can call in and get real time information, and also refer them to a physician if they need to do so.

We're prepared. We've been prepared. My health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa was on this ever since January when we heard about this virus. We wanted to first in the state to set up our Emergency Operations Center. We're really prepared in Baltimore, and we also set up what you call a testing site at Pimlico. at the racetrack thanks to our partnership with the Stronach family. And we're really focused on making sure that our citizens get tested. We know that we might be a hotbed. I'm hoping and praying that we're not.

But with the medical institutions that we have, in Baltimore, we're ready. We also have our convention center set up as well, for 250 beds. So Baltimore is really ahead. And we're hoping that we can slow the curve by accidental residents to really practice social distancing, it's really important. If we do that we can slow the curve, and we can be back to normalcy in a short period.

BLITZER: And we're, of course grateful to Johns Hopkins University for all the information they're providing us in the world about the coronavirus.

Mayor Kenney, the Vice President Mike Pence, told your state's governor that aid is coming. Are you getting the support you need right now from the federal government? And what is Philadelphia's greatest need right now?

KENNEY: Well, we appreciate the support we need more, for sure we need PPE, we've been scrounging up PPE now for weeks, we need rapid testing kits, that if we're going to get back the economy, back to where we need it to be rapid testing kits are going to be key to that. So that we can start to begin to investigate where people have gotten the disease and then go back. And hopefully by that time, we'll have some kind of vaccine a year or so from now or more, and to be able to inoculate people to it.

But I'm not -- I'm not going to argue and fight with the federal government in the middle of a -- of an epidemic. If they're willing to give us the equipment we need, we'll gladly accept and thank them.

BLITZER: Yes, obviously, that's so, so critical. Mayor Young, data from around the country shows and this is very disturbing that African-Americans are often at much greater risk for this virus. In your state of Maryland about 31 percent of the population is African- American, but 44 percent of those who have died in Maryland from coronavirus were African-Americans. What are you doing in Baltimore, specifically Mayor to try to address this disparity?

YOUNG: Well, what we have done is, you know, initially said that we set up a testing site at the Pimlico racetrack because we knew, because African-Americans have the highest rate of heart disease, diabetes, and all those other health issues. So we made sure that we set up a testing site right there. And like I talked earlier, without properly partner -- properly partnership without public institution, I mean, a private institution will really, really, really tackle this epidemic. And we have been on the forefront. Like I said earlier, we're the first one to set up Emergency Operations Center where people can call in and get real time data. And we're ready to tackle this. We have the greatest institutions, medical institutions in the whole country.

And I brag about that all the time. Johns Hopkins, University of Maryland, and our other major hospitals in the city of Baltimore, and we're prepared.

BLITZER: You know, Mayor Kenney, let me ask you the same question this disparity that African-Americans are suffering disproportionately from this coronavirus, and they're dying in much higher numbers than there are in the general population. What about Philadelphia?

KENNEY: We're trying to continue expanding our communication and outreach, especially on social distancing. And with the holiday coming up this weekend on Sunday. It is really critical that you pray from home, that God can hear you from home. And we're trying to make sure that people understand that it's critical that you distance yourself from each other, and that you figure out a way to interact with folks from a six foot distance and continuing to do that outreach medically and socially, to our poor communities to make sure that they're prepared.

BLITZER: And if you go outside of your home wear a face mask and some gloves. That's critically important as well. Mayor Kenney, Mayor Young, thanks so much for what you're doing, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.

KENNEY: Thank you Wolf.

YOUNG: OK, thank you.

BLITZER: All right, and stay with us.

Once again, we're waiting to hear from today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing looking at live pictures it's been delayed a bit.

[17:20:05]

Also ahead, California is reporting far fewer cases and deaths than New York. What is the state doing right? I'll speak live with San Francisco's mayor when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: All right we're standing by to hear from today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing and looking at live pictures. It's been delayed a bit, we'll have coverage. Stay with us for that.

In mid-March, California and New York had about the same number of coronavirus cases. But now New York story is about eight times higher. So how is California managing to hold down the total?

[17:25:05]

Joining us now the mayor of San Francisco, London Breed. Mayor Breed, thank you so much for joining us. So experts right now from across the nation, they're looking at California as an example of how to slow the spread. What is your state gotten right, as it faces this health crisis?

LONDON BREED, MAYOR SAN FRANCISCO: Well, I just think Wolf, this is a part of our DNA here in San Francisco and in California, as you recall, during the 1980s, during the AIDS crisis, when the federal government denied the real challenges around that particular virus here in San Francisco, public health experts lead the way in that fight. And it's just naturally a part of who we are in terms of paying very close attention to the data, to the science and making the right decisions about what to do to protect public health.

BLITZER: So what specifically is San Francisco your city be doing as you fight this viral pandemic?

BREED: Well, we've increased the number of ICU but ventilators and beds that we have in the hospital. We have been testing and expanding our testing capacity. We've been working with the private sector to add more PPE, to our inventory. Our hospitals are coordinated. We have just been creative in increasing our capacity to help people. As we know the numbers go up. Today we have 724 cases in San Francisco with 10 deaths.

And we continue to focus on making sure people are staying at home and how this could potentially impact them. I think it is having an impact but we can't let up. We can't get complacent. We know that the worst is yet to come. And we remind people every single day how what they are doing by staying home is not only making a difference for other people in the city, it's helping our healthcare workers reduce the number of people in the hospital.

BLITZER: So when you say the worst is yet to come, elaborate a little bit. What do you anticipate? You know, we hope it doesn't happen, what potentially could happen in San Francisco?

BREED: Well, in one of our congregate living settings in some of our shelters, we noticed that there are a number of cases one shelter, we had four cases. Laguna Honda Hospital, which serves elderly patients had 12 cases, 10 of those were employees and two of those were residents. And we know that we have concerns around the congregate living settings, where once things get started, they can go completely out of control, which is why we have additional hotel rooms, why we're acting fast in order to spread people out as quickly as we possibly can. When we identify a problem area in our city, we have to be ready to go. We have to be able to act quickly because as you can see, in places like New York, this thing can take off and then our healthcare system wouldn't be able to handle what would come its way.

BLITZER: Well, good luck. I'm Mayor Breed. I know that these are very, very difficult days and not just for you but for everyone in San Francisco in California, around the country indeed around the world. Thank you so much --

BREED: Yes.

BLITZER: -- for joining us.

BREED: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: Mayor London Breed of San Francisco.

Still ahead, a scientific panel just weighed in contradicting President Trump's claim that the virus might go away when the weather turns warmer.

And we're also waiting now for today's White House Coronavirus briefing. Stay with us here on "The Situation Room".

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:33:28]

BLITZER: This week, a national scientific panel advise the White House it doesn't expect the coronavirus to go away once the weather warms up. And that contradicts what President Trump has been predicting.

Joining us now is Dr. Harvey Fineberg who's the chair of the National Academies Standing Committee on Emerging Infectious Diseases and 21st Century Disease Threats. Dr. Fineberg, thank you so much for joining us. As you probably know, the President has repeatedly, over these past several weeks, suggested that warm weather will make coronavirus, in his words, go away. Listen to this, listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.

A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April.

It is a theory that in April, when it gets warm, historically that has been able to kill the virus.

And I think when we get into April in the warmer weather that has a very negative effect on that and that type of a virus.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: But you joined this prestigious group of scientists in presenting a new report to the White House, explaining that the change in weather alone will not cause the number of cases to decline. What led you and your colleagues to reach this conclusion?

DR. HARVEY FINEBERG, CHAIR, NATIONAL ACADEMIES STANDING COMMITTEE: Well, thanks, Wolf. Basically, we looked at all the evidence. We looked at laboratory studies, we looked at experience in the field. It is true that many pandemic viruses have a natural way of increase and then decrease and sometimes, in fact, often with influenza pandemics, they will come back in a second way. But that may not have very much to do with the season.

[17:35:06]

In the laboratory, you can show that as you increase temperature and increase humidity, this virus does less well. So that is a hopeful sign. That may affect the ability of the virus to spread from the environment where you might touch it and then take it to your mouth. But there are lots of other studies in the field that suggests this is not a very reliable change.

In Australia, it's summer. The epidemic is raging. Iran is in its springtime. The epidemic is raging. In China, when they looked at the differences in the epidemic in different cities, that is some cold and some relatively warm. China has some subtropical and some very cold places. They didn't find a very strong relationship between the internal climate and the degree of spread of this virus. So our main message in this report is that the scientific evidence does not support a firm conclusion or expectation that this could go away in hot weather.

BLITZER: So if we can't rely, Dr. Fineberg, on warmer weather to eradicate this coronavirus, what do you recommend that we do right now to try to slow the spread?

FINEBERG: A lot of the things that we're doing, Wolf, are being helpful. Physical separation, number one. If we could test more completely and everyone is talking about getting more testing available, we could identify the cases and isolate them, we can trace the contacts more successfully. And if you've been exposed to someone who had the disease, you could go into a quarantine situation.

The key idea from a health point of view is you slow this virus from spreading by separating those who are infected from those who are still vulnerable and not yet infected. Over time, we're going to discover also people who've previously been infected and have antibodies, they may be relatively immune from illness. And that's a very important fact also to know.

BLITZER: It's really important indeed. Dr. Fineberg, thanks so much for everything you and your colleagues are doing. We are all very, very grateful.

FINEBERG: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And coming up, we're also going to take a closer look at the devastating economic impact of this pandemic, as millions more here in the United States seek government help after losing their jobs.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:42:06]

BLITZER: Looking at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room. We're waiting for the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing to begin. It's been delayed a bit.

Today brought still more evidence of the economic catastrophe caused by the coronavirus pandemic. The government reports another 6.6 million people here in the United States have just filed for unemployment benefits. It brings the total to almost 17 million unemployed over the past three weeks alone.

Let's bring in our Business Anchor Julia Chatterley. Julia, nearly 17 million Americans out of work over the past three weeks alone. The Federal Reserve took some extraordinary measures today to try to deal with all of this. Tell us about that.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: So there's lots going on here to your point that 17 million people nearly that are now wondering when they're going to get money, when they're going to get support if the jobs are coming back and they have no clarity on how soon the economy can pick up again. There's so much uncertainty what -- you mentioned there from the Federal Reserve, I think was key. This was them flinging open the bank doors and saying, if you want to borrow money, you get it, whether you're a state or municipality, even a small business.

And remember, they're so important because they represent the bulk of jobs in this country at this moment. The problem with what the Federal Reserve did, it's lending, it's not spending. This money has to be paid back. All the Federal Reserve did today, I think was by Congress a bit more time to thrash out a deal to get more money to people and to get it out there quicker.

BLITZER: What are you hearing from the experts, Julia, just the recession or maybe even a depression?

CHATTERLEY: What we're looking at here in terms of numbers has no precedent, no model. This speed has just been so shocking for everybody. The dip that we'll see in terms of production output last in the United States will be depression style. What's going to be key is the recovery. How we support that recovery? Jay Powell, the central bank chief said today, look, a robust recovery requires maintaining the distancing. It requires getting cash to people fast and a national, I repeat, national plan, that reopening the economy and we know that comes down.

All the experts say, testing, testing a game, tracing people. The two things can't be separated. Science and stimulus or financial aid, they have to be combined. And we need a big plan.

BLITZER: And as you know, we're getting a clearer picture of just how hard this pandemic is hitting all sorts of industries, especially the air travel industry. What are you learning?

CHATTERLEY: That people simply aren't traveling. I mean, that's the bottom line here, Wolf. Industry body, Airlines for America said of the flights that are going, just one in 10 seats have filled. One is because of course these airlines have tried to save money, they've cut capacity with all staying at home at this moment.

But people are also afraid and that again is the challenge. When does the economy reopen, when do people have the confidence to fly again, when only when we get a handle on this pandemic and that's the big unknown.

[17:45:11]

BLITZER: Yes, very unknown. All right, Julia, thank you very much. Julia Chatterley, reporting for us.

Coming up, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting ready to answer your questions about the coronavirus pandemic. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:50:17]

BLITZER: All right. So with the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic, now topping 16,000 people. A lot of folks out there have serious questions, more serious questions than ever about the virus and for understandable reasons.

Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. He's got some answers for us. We got a ton of questions, Sanjay. Let me get to the first one right now, here it is. "If you get the coronavirus and recover, can you contract it again? How long will antibodies last?"

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, you know, we were not sure about this because this is still a novel virus. And, you know, we're only a few months into this. But the answer very much seems to be, yes, we've talked a -- yes, that you will be immunized after you recover, your body makes these antibodies in response to the virus. So the next time the virus, as you're exposed to it, the antibodies are trained to basically attack it and get rid of it. That's what the immunity is really all about.

This has to sort of be proven in trials, but that's certainly how other viruses have affected the body, including other coronaviruses. Wolf, as you know, we -- I asked Dr. Fauci about that specifically and he believes it's going to be a significant issue, a good point, because once you have that immunity, obviously, the chance of you getting the virus again, the infection again anytime soon is very low.

BLITZER: OK, that's encouraging to hear that. Here's another question, Sanjay. Grocery stores are putting social distance measures in place, but lines are long. "Is it safe to wait in line or should I try to rely on food delivery?"

GUPTA: Well, you know, it is possible to both social distance and wait in line. I know that it's a strange thing to see, but even at the whole foods in Columbus Circle, you do have these long lines. Longer than usual because people are staying six feet apart and still being in line. So that's possible.

You can use food delivery. What we're hearing from many, especially larger cities around the country is that they are pretty overwhelmed. So it may be hard to get your food on time. Couple tips, mornings, we're finding typically tend to be the quietest time. And it's also typically right after they've done deep cleaning within the store. So that's a good time to go.

There also many grocery stores now, Wolf, that reserved time within -- for shopping for people who are considered vulnerable, either elderly or have pre-existing conditions. So look for those things as well, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that's important. Here's another question from a viewer. "I am skipping routine doctor visits due to the threat of contracting the virus, but could that lead to health problems later?" That's a fair question. People aren't going away without their annual physicals or women aren't getting mammograms as they routinely get, what do you think?

GUPTA: Well, it's different for every patient obviously, and if it's a routine thing, I think for -- as things stand now, it might make sense to skip. Talk to your doctor, obviously, about this. And keep in mind that one of the big things that's come out of the Coronavirus Task Force, Wolf, is the sort of increasing reliance on telehealth.

So the idea that you could have a telehealth visit, it's obviously not the same. They can't do a true physical exam, their blood work and things like that. But it might be a good sort of conduit for the next few weeks, or however long, you know, month or so, whatever it's going to be before you can get back in. But keep in mind, you know, people go to hospital, coronavirus is circulating in hospitals. So you don't want to, you know, inadvertently become infected.

BLITZER: Yes, hospital can be a dangerous place potentially as well as you well know.

All right, Sanjay, stick around. We have a lot more coming up. And I just want to alert our viewers, be sure to tune in later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern for a live CNN Global Town Hall Coronavirus Facts and Fears, our own Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. They will be joined by a special guest, the basketball legend Magic Johnson. They'll also be joined by Dr. Robert Redfield, the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

And then tomorrow morning, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, he will join CNN New Day live in the 7:00 a.m. Eastern hour. So once again, we're standing by for the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. We're looking at the live pictures. Reporters are beginning to show up there. We'll have coverage much more of our coverage right after this.

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[17:59:05]

BLITZER: We want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room". The latest coronavirus death toll now more than 16,000 here in the United States with at least 450,000 infected. That's more cases than the European hotspots of Italy, Spain and France combined.

Experts worry new epicenters could be emerging here in the U.S., Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington D.C. are a very special concern right now. The pandemic is taking a major toll on the U.S. economy as well, 6.6 million Americans file jobless claims bringing the three- week total here in the United States nearly 17 million.

Let's get right to the latest coronavirus developments. CNN's Erica Hill is joining us from New York. Erica, what's the latest? ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, as we're looking at how this virus is evolving in New York State, we've talked a lot about hospital beds and the need.