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Dr. Fauci Says, Now Is No Time To Back Off Social Distancing; White House Watching Philly As Next Possible Hot Spot. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired April 10, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: That begins just momentarily. Jackie Kucinich, David Gergen, I appreciate your help today. Thanks for joining us.

Anderson Cooper picks up our coverage right now.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: I'm Anderson Cooper, you are watching CNN's special coverage, the coronavirus pandemic. Thanks very much for joining us.

You are looking at the White House briefing room there. Any minute now, President Trump, Vice President Pence and others are expected to give an update on the efforts to fight the outbreak. As the president continues to push to reopen the country as early as in May, one of his top advisers on this crisis says the country needs to keep up with social distancing right now.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The kinds of mitigations that we are doing right now, the curves we're seeing flattening and coming down, that's exactly and precisely because of what the American public is doing. So even though we are in the holiday season, now is no time to back off.


COOPER: Well, for many medical professionals want more testing, which the president says the U.S. does not need, is a key factor in deciding when and how to restart the economy. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo certainly agrees.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The key to reopening is going to be testing. I have said that from day one. It's not a light switch where you flip this economy like you flip a light switch. It's not going to be everybody goes back next Thursday. It's not going to be a happen that way. It's going to be a gradual-phased process and it's going to be reliant on testing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: Today, some new numbers show just how dire situation is in New York State, which now has more reported cases than any other country in the world, ahead of Spain, Italy, France and Germany. In total, more than 470,000 Americans have tested positive for the virus, more than 16,000 have died.

As we wait for the White House task force briefing, I want to go to CNN's Kaitlan Collins in Washington. So what are you hearing about President Trump getting pressure from Wall Street, from folks he is connecting with there to reopen the economy?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. My colleague, Dana Bash, is hearing, the president is hearing from several people on Wall Street, hedge fund executives, economists and people who deal with the economy mainly that are pressuring the president to put some kind of date on the end of the social distancing guidelines, Anderson. We know this is something that has been at the top of the president's mind in recent weeks. He has been focusing on those unemployment numbers, watching the stock market really closely. And now, he is telling his team to essentially get a game plan together for what's going to happen when these guidelines are up at the end of April.

Now, the question is what is that going to look like, because we know internally there have been disagreements over how they should move forward with this between the health experts and the president's economic advisers, and now we are seeing that spill out into the public view and it's going to come a head as they get closer and closer to April 30th.

You heard not only what you just said there from Dr. Fauci this morning but also from Jerome Adams, the surgeon general, who earlier said maybe some places in the United States can think about reopening on May 1st. He said, think about it on May 1st. But he said, for the most of the country, that is not going to be the reality.

COOPER: And what do we know of the second coronavirus task force? Is it up and running? What stage is it at? Do we know?

COLLINS: No. And they haven't even announced it yet. It's notable, the president was supposed to announce it yesterday. Most people thought he would but then he pulled back. They have not announced it yet. It's not totally clear to us why that hasn't happened. And we are expecting this to not be as formal, I guess, you would say, as the task force that you see now, where they meet every day for hours on in and then come out to these briefings.

But this is going to be a mix of administration officials and private sector people who are going to focus on what exactly it's going to look like because they know it is going to be a complicated situation to actually get the country to reopen. And, of course, a lot of this is going out to involve coordination with governors, because they're really going to be the ones, Anderson, who ultimately make that decision about when the country is going to reopen since they are the ones who closed it.

COOPER: And, Kaitlan, there certainly seems to be a conflict going on between the scientists and obviously the president and those who -- and everybody wants the economy to get back to normal and people working again and getting things back to the way it was. And it really seems to be boiling down to the question of testing and the role that testing will play. Are you hearing much about that? Because, I mean, that does seem like one of the now essential issues.

COLLIN: When you talk to the people who are focused on the health aspects of this, yes, you don't hear as much from the people who are pushing the president to reopen the economy. They are pretty confident that they're going to be able to get there by May 1st, but not everyone is.

And it's not just testing for coronavirus. It's -- you have to be able to test for coronavirus on a widespread basis. You also have to be able to do these antibody tests. Basically, have you had the coronavirus, that's another big question.

And, of course, the contact tracing is going to be something that's really crucial to this to figuring out if people feel comfortable going back to work. So that if someone does get it, once other people have gone back to work, they can find that person who has it and easily find out who they have been involved with.


And that requires a lot of staffing to do that kind of contact tracing.

So there are so many facets of this that are going to go under consideration. And the question is is if they are there yet. Right now, we are hearing, no, they are not.

COOPER: All right. Kaitlan Collins, we appreciate it as always. Thanks very much.

I want to go to CNN's Shimon Prokupecz. He's outside of Elmhurst Hospital in Queens, one of the few facilities that's been hardest hit.

On the issue of testing, Governor Cuomo is urging the federal government to step up. Shimon, tell more about what he said.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, I am sorry, Anderson, you cut out, so I could not hear you because -- in my ear. So just repeat the question.

COOPER: Just -- the governor was talking about testing and the importance of testing. He calls it a bridge to reopening.

PROKUPECZ: Yes, he does. We heard the governor for so long talk about needing ventilators. And now, we are hearing from him that this city, that the state needs more testing because that's really the only way that things can get back to normal.

Of course, they want to do the type of testing where they can go back and look and see if anyone was infected with the virus, didn't know. And, of course, they want to do other kinds of testing for coronavirus because they feel that this is the only way to get the city back up and running.

Here in Elmhurst, this was the epicenter of the epicenter at one point. Scenes out here much different today from what we saw in the past. The tents outside the hospital, Anderson, still up. We don't see the lines certainly that we saw in the weeks leading up to this outbreak as things escalated here.

But inside the hospital, there are still a lot of very sick patients. I spoke to one doctor this morning who says that it's just really sad what's going on inside, the number of patients who are really, really sick. She called it brutal. The fact that they all need -- a lot of patients need ventilators, there're still a lot of critically ill patients inside the hospital for the doctors and the nurses and the staffs inside this hospital, they're still very busy. They're still doing a lot of work. And some tough times still ahead for them.

Of course, the governor also talking about the number of people that are continuing to die across the city, and that is because a lot of them are on ventilators. They have been on ventilators for quite some time. So it's going to be quite some time before hospitals certainly return to normal. And, of course, as you say, Anderson, it's all about the testing now. This city, this state, they need to ramp up the testing, and that's what the governor wants to do.

COOPER: And the hospitalizations are declining in the state. I understand there's a new problem that has been increasing.

PROKUPECZ: Right. So the hospitalizations are down. ICU, the people who are getting intensive care, actually, for the first time since this started, was in the negative, according to the governor. But the doctors and the nurses, you're going to hear stories. They'll continue to say they don't feel that this is, in any way, over yet. The incoming is not there.

They're not getting the same number of patients that are outside of the emergency rooms that are waiting to get in and be treated. But the number of sick, the people that are critically ill, people who could potentially die at some point, that much is still keeping them very busy. The equipment, the supplies, the things that they need to continue to take care of these patients, they still need more of, they're still going to continue to do it and there is still a lot of tough days ahead for the hospitals, for the nurses and doctors, of course.

COOPER: Yes. I mean, you see it on the screen there, 777 deaths on Thursday in New York State. It's just stunning. Shimon Prokupecz, I appreciate it.

I just want to remind you, we are waiting for the White House task force briefing. Obviously, it's usually later in the day but just going to be taking place any moment, we are told. It looks like it might a little while. It looks like they're still adjusting some lights there.

With me now is former surgeon general, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who is the author of Together, the Healing Power of Human Connection in a Sometimes Lonely World. It will be out in a hard cover later this month. It's certainly the right time. It really does feel like a very lonely world with all of this social distancing and isolation.

The president, Doctor, the president has conceded that -- I mean, he said mass testing is not going to happen. I guess -- what is the definition of mass testing? But he's trying to push to reopen the economy in May, perhaps. I'm wondering what your reaction is to that idea and what would it look like to be able to get back to work? I mean, how can anyone feeling confident going into a large office where they work if the people in the office have no access to a rapid test that can tell if your cubical mate's cough is just a regular cough or not?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, Anderson, I think it's dangerous at this point to say that we're going to reopen the economy on May 1st and have the entire country resume their way of life that they experienced two months ago. Because the truth is, while we all want to get there as quickly as possible, we know that there are a few key things that we have to have in place before we start to relax these restrictions.


And those key things, sort of we have to be able to test adequately, to trace adequately and to treat adequately.

Right now, if you look at our testing, Anderson, what you see is that we've made progress over the last month or so. But we are still averaging less than 150,000 tests per day in the United States. And by all estimates, we need at least four or five times that amount to be anywhere near the range of adequate.

The other thing to keep in mind with testing is it's not just the number of tests you have, it's also how broadly accessible those tests across the country, as well as what the turnaround time. Right now, we still have facilities that are reporting, it's taking them three, four, five days to get results back.

So the bottom line is that testing is the way that we see where infection is. We were blinded earlier in this pandemic. We are still trying to catch up. But if we open up too early before we have our vision clear, then we're going to be in the same boat with another spike of infection that we saw a few months ago.

COOPER: The contact tracing, which Dr. Fauci has talked, the head of the CDC has talks, we interviewed him last night. And yet when you actually try to push for, what does that actually look like? I mean, we all know public health departments in every state have been underfunded for decades, and that's not attacking this administration. That goes back to many, many administrations. Often, that's -- they have their budgets cut or not raised as much as needed. So it's up to public health departments to do the contact tracing.

But to really do contract tracing, I mean, it requires, I'm told, a lot of people. It's not just calling the person who is sick and say, yes, call up all the other people you've had contacted with. It's actually having somebody do that work. In a state like New York City, how many people would you need in a public health situation to actually do contact tracing or in Florida or wherever it may be?

MURTHY: Well, I'm so glad you asked that question, Anderson. Because with all the focus on testing, there has been much less attention on the tracing and quarantining effort that we need to be prepared to undertake.

If you look at other countries, if you look at China, for example, they ended up employing hundreds of thousands of people to do the extensive contact tracing that was required. It is not easy work.

COOPER: Well then that means a thousand (ph).

MURTHY: Yes, and it is not easy work, because you not only need to trace people's contacts but you also need the capacity to quarantine them. If you find somebody sick, you send them back to their home, they're at risk of infecting other people in the home.

And so you also need to have the ability to figure out where you can put people where they would be safe, where they would be comfortable and taken care of. Maybe those are public facilities. Maybe they are public credit partnerships. But all of this is what states are trying to figure out right now. And there is dramatic variability right now and the capacity of states to do this work.

So what we need to think about is that we really want to open up the economy quickly, what we need from our government is a clear plan on how we can get the testing and tracing and treatment capacity that we need as soon as possible. We are hearing of what's being done. What we are not hearing about is where we need to be in terms of number of tests, in terms of number of people who are able to contact trace.

And until we have clarity on that, I don't think people are going to feel comfortable that we are in the right place to open up.

COOPER: I saw that there was sort of a pilot program being done in Massachusetts or they talked about it. I'm not sure what the status of it is. And they were talking about hiring a thousand people to do contact tracing.

MURTHY: Yes. And I think that there are creative approaches that states are engaged with brainstorming right now. Some are trying to think, how do we take people who are laid off in the current economy and rehire them back for the public health needs that have.

But the truth is that this experience with COVID-19 is unmasking so many of the holes that we have in our public health system. And what we really need to do is a process, not as a patch work trying to fill in a hole here or a hole there.

We really need to conceive the equivalent of a marshal plan for our healthcare infrastructure and our public health infrastructure. We need to rebuild. We need to take this opportunity to do so, not only so we can prevent future episodes of COVID-19 infection but so that we are protected against future pandemics. COOPER: Dr. Murthy, I appreciate it as always. Thank you very much.

MURTHY: Thank you, Anderson.

COOPER: Coming up, one of the new hot spots mentioned by the White House task force is Eastern Pennsylvania. That state's secretary of health joins me live next on what's being done to contain the spread there.

And we are also waiting for that coronavirus task force from the White House, where President Trump and Vice President Pence, we believe scientists, Fauci and Dr. Birx, but we'll see.

Plus, even as Florida registers more than 17,000 cases of the virus, the governor says he's considering opening up schools in some parts of the state.


And Massachusetts is launching an investigation to what happened at a veteran's home where at least 18 patients died from the virus. The attorney general joins me live.


COOPER: We're standing by for the White House task force briefing. It is expected to begin shortly. President Trump, Vice President Pence, their team of health experts will give us update on efforts to fight the outbreak. We'll bring it to you live when it begins.

Though White House says it is watching which cities might be the next coronavirus hot spot, Philadelphia is one of them, the government's latest tracking does show the virus is not hitting the cities hard as it has in places like New York.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The newer ones that we talk about in Washington and Philadelphia and Baltimore, it looks like their attack rates and attack rates in Denver and some of these other states that we have been talking about are much lower than New York and New Jersey.



COOPER: Well, Pennsylvania is under a statewide stay-at-home order until the end of the month but state health officials' word now (ph), it is not the time to let its guard down. They say, while the pace of infections may be trending down statewide, there are spikes in some areas.

Rachel Levine, who is Pennsylvania Secretary of Health, joins me now. Thank you so much for being with us. You heard Dr. Birx talk about seeing a lower attack rate in Philadelphia. How concerned are you about Philadelphia becoming the next hot spot? What are you actually seeing?

RACHEL LEVINE, PENNSYLVANIA SECRETARY OF HEALTH: Well, we are certainly seeing an increase in the number of cases of COVID-19 in Philadelphia, as well as the suburban counties around Philadelphia and also in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

But as Dr. Birx said, we have been able to bend the curve so it is not rising at that exponential rate. It's more of a linear rate. So although we are very concerned about it, we are hopeful and confident that the situation will be under control.

COOPER: What does it take -- the whole idea of getting back online, reopening the state, reopening the economy, from a health standpoint, how do you see that happening? Governor Cuomo talks about testing being a bridge. Are you set up at this stage? I mean, I don't think anybody will say that they are, but, I mean, what does it look like? Are you set up to do the kind of contact tracing, the kind of testing that would be needed to get back online?

LEVINE: Well, so I would certainly agree with Dr. Fauci that the virus determines the timeline more than we determine the timeline. And so this opening up will have to go in a very slow-phased approach progressively through Pennsylvania to be able to prevent further spread of the virus.

It is very important to be able to expand testing. We have been able to do that, although we can continue to have challenges obtaining the reagents and chemicals we need. But we have been able to expand testing and we'll be looking forward to continuing to expand testing as we go forward.

COOPER: But right now, somebody wanted a test, can they get it? Do doctors have protocols of -- well, to only people who have symptoms, who have been in contact or whatever the protocols may be?

LEVINE: So we have priority testing for our State Department of Health. But most testing is done through hospitals and health systems and they either do the test themselves at those locations or they send it to commercial laboratories, such as LabCorp or Quest.

Most of the testing is done on physician's orders. Although there have been two mass testing sites, one in Philadelphia and one in Montgomery County. And the one in Montgomery County will continue. And we're looking open up another drive-thru testing site in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

But we are emphasizing testing people with symptoms. We do not have the population-based testing that some have talked about to be able to test large segments of population even without symptoms.

COOPER: Is it clear -- I mean, how would it work, say, in a company when, you know, the company, the government says, okay, you can go back to work, just be cautious of anybody who has symptoms. I mean, would a company have to have testing abilities that are rapid so that they can test employees, where they take people's temperature every day when they come in? I mean, just as a theoretical exercise or thought exercise, do you know how that would work?

LEVINE: Well, we are not going to be able to have right now that type of population-based testing, where you just test everybody. So what we want to do is for the company to take very careful measures in terms of social distancing of the employees when they return.

We do have asked and the governor has asked everyone to wear masks and remember that my mask protects you and your mask protects me. So companies would ask their employees to wear mask. And then we will do targeted testing of employees that have symptoms.

We are also looking forward to the introduction of serology or antibody testing to find out who is immune. The first test was approved by the FDA last week. And we are hoping to be able to get those in the next several weeks or months and that would help us out a lot.

COOPER: And then for the contact tracing, I mean, public health departments -- I keep on repeating this, but I just find it something that I think is important to point out. Public health departments have been underfunded for a very long period of time and for many administrations, Republican and Democratic, it's up to public health departments officially to do contact tracing. But often now, contact tracing is -- they called the -- an infected person will say, just get in touch with -- whether it's for this virus or something else, get in touch with everybody you have been in contact with and let them know and they should be tested. Is that the kind of contact tracing that we would end up with moving forward?


LEVINE: Sure. We did very careful contract tracing when we were in the containment phase, and that would have been at the in beginning of March. But now that we're in the mitigation phase where there is widespread community transmission of COVID-19, really, throughout Pennsylvania, we have just under 20,000 cases that we've recorded. We are not able to do widespread contact tracing at this time.

But after the condition is more stabilized, we are hoping to resume contact tracing. We are looking at different software packages in technology that might help us with that work (ph).

COOPER: Dr. Rachel Levine, I appreciate your expertise. Thanks so much, really interesting.

LEVINE: Thank you.

COOPER: Coming up, even with the 17,000 coronavirus cases in Florida, the governor says he's considering reopening some schools in the state. We'll tell you how that might work.

Plus, any moment, President Trump will give an update on the efforts to fight the virus. We'll take you to the White House's task force briefing when it begins.