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U.S. Blocked Private Labs from Using Tests in January; Italy's COVID-19 Toll Surpasses 18,000; Italian Mayor Say Death Toll Likely Much Higher; Spain Extends State of Emergency Until April 26; 13-Year- Old Girl Who Inspired CBD Movement Has Died; Health Care Workers Wear Smiling Photo on Their Gear; Award-Winning Distillery Shifts from Spirits to Sanitizer. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 10, 2020 - 04:30   ET




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 and made it very difficult for private labs, for university labs to make their own tests based on certain regulatory hurdles.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): -- Several hospital and University base 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 enlisting 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 rule, 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, assure the safety and efficacy of tests. But Dr. Glen 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're looking at China and seeing what was going on there, what we needed was extremely aggressive leadership, we've 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 test 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 at a pause for a few weeks within the public health system. And meanwhile the academic laboratory who had developed their own test 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 University Health System in Evanston, Illinois was one of the labs pushing to launch its own test and was stopped by overbearing red tape.

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

DR. KAREN KAUL, LABORATORY SERVICES, NORTHSHORE UNIVERSITY HEALTH SYSTEM, EVANSTON, ILLINOIS: I do think there's definitely 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.

(on camera): In a written response to CNN's questions, the CDC said it did keep laboratory communities up to date. They were informed on what was happening, but the CDC did not answer questions as to why the agency didn't pursue those laboratories getting involved in this massive testing program sooner.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


ALLEN: And a footnote to Drew's report there. We are learning that a panel of top U.S. scientists is sounding the alarm on testing. It is telling the White House that the tests now being used to tell if someone is infected with coronavirus are far from perfect. In one study, tests missed about 30 percent of the patients who were actually infected. The panel also says the tests to detect immunity are imperfect as well.

Well, Italy's Prime Minister plans to address the country later Friday and is expected to extend the country's lockdown until May 3rd. Two months ago -- excuse me, two months into the pandemic the country's death toll stands at more than 18,000 and there are still almost 100,000 active cases, but as CNN's Ben Wedeman reports from Rome, the number of deaths appears to be much higher than what is being reported.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is the last photo of 40-year-old Fodio Federici joking he was a prisoner in quarantine. He died on the 27th of March from coronavirus.

I brought groceries because he couldn't go out, recalls his daughter Roberta. I left it outside the door. He said good-bye from the window. That was the last time I saw my father.


On the same day her father died Roberta's maternal uncle, Delio, died at home. A veteran of the Carabinieri, the Italian paramilitary police, Delio had coronavirus symptoms, pneumonia and high fever. Because he was neither hospitalized nor tested, however, he wasn't included in the coronavirus death toll.

Another uncle, Mario, died the week before in a nursing home. Roberta believes the cause may have been the coronavirus.

Nursing homes in northern Italy last month saw a sudden spike in deaths. Italy has suffered the world's highest death toll from the virus, but the actual number of COVID-19 deaths may be much, much higher.

Early on mayors in northern Italy where the virus has hit hardest sense the data was amiss.

From the beginning we understood something was happening that wasn't reflected in the official data, says Claudio Cancelli, mayor of the small town of Nembro. The mayor of the nearby city of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, noted the same irregularities.

I received the data and saw that the dead were many more than those who had been infected, he says. He contacted other mayors who confirmed his suspicions that the number of deaths was much higher than the same period last year, although the vast majority of this year's deaths weren't attributed to coronavirus.

Bergamo journalist, Isaia Invernizzi, also investigated the anomaly which was plain to see in the obituary pages in his newspaper, "Eco di Bergamo."

Usually we would publish one page of obituaries, maximum two, he tells me, but last month saw a sudden rise with as many as 13 pages a day of obituaries. The coronavirus death toll, Invernizzi and others concluded, was at least twice what was being reported.

Health ministry officials tell CNN the priority now is dealing with the crisis but that eventually they hoped to come up with a more accurate reporting.

Roberta who lost a father and two uncles understands the authorities are overwhelmed. Here in Bergamo it was like a tsunami, she says. Perhaps we're paying

for the illusion of omnipotence. When we first heard about the disease, we thought we would overcome it, that we were stronger, but it's a hard battle and it, coronavirus, is stronger than us.

And, indeed, whatever the actual numbers, Italy is paying a very high price.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


ALLEN: Spain is extending its state of emergency amid hopes that its coronavirus outbreak is coming under control. The Prime Minister though says the country has reached the peak of the pandemic but warns the public not to be complacent now.

Al Goodman is live for us in Madrid with more about this edict. Especially important, Al, considering the Easter weekend.

AL GOODMAN, JOURNALIST: It is Good Friday, and this is Easter weekend. It's been holy week in Spain, which is such a huge event for this traditionally Roman Catholic country. So this day and the recent days there would have been millions of Spaniards observing processions in the streets for their faith and for just a social gathering. That hasn't happened.

Basically TVs nationally and in the regions are showing last year's processions to try to help people. And there are processions off of balconies. But the country is more or less stoically accepting this this extended lockdown, which is now going to go to 6 weeks, almost to the end of April.

The police say that more than 100,000 people have been fined starting at $100 each for violating the lockdown order, and there have been more than 1,600 arrests. But the Prime Minister in a contentious Parliament session on Thursday got the approval for the extended lockdown order with the opposition criticizing more harshly for what they said was mishandling.

The Prime Minister warning them and also the whole nation that he expects to be back in two weeks to ask for a further extension which takes it into May.


Because he says and if health officials say that even though the numbers are looking better, the numbers of new cases rising very in a small manner compared to at the beginning of the crisis. The number of the deaths over 15,000 and but percentagewise rising at a very small rate now showing that the thing under control. But they don't want to go back and let everybody out and then have to do this all over again.

So they're ramping up testing, which has been one of the faults here. They haven't had enough testing here. They're going to ramp up the testing and try to really see how they're going to let people out progressively. Some workers like construction workers are expected to be allowed back to work after Easter -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Yes, that is the really tough question. How to start bringing people out, when, what workers? We hope people stay safe and stay in this holiday weekend for many. Thank you. Al Goodman in Madrid for us.

A little girl's struggle to survive led to a medical breakthrough that has changed how the world looks at marijuana. We remember charlotte Figi's pioneering therapy and her brave fight against a rare illness. Sanjay Gupta with her story next.


ALLEN: A 13-year-old girl who inspired the medical marijuana movement has died from pneumonia and possibly COVID-19. We first met Charlotte Figi when Dr. Sanjay Gupta told her incredible story of survival and recovery. Now Sanjay is saying good-bye to his courageous and pioneering friend.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For the last 20 years, I have straddled the world of medicine and journalism and in both professions, I am always reminded, stay objective, do your best work. But don't get too close.

But with little Charlotte Figi that was impossible.


She just had this way about her. That smile, that giggle, that just got you and captured your heart.

(on camera): Remember me?

(voice-over): That was June 2019, the last time I saw Charlotte and she was doing great.

PAIGE FIGI, MOTHER OF CHARLOTTE: I can't imagine back then imagine she'd be 12 years old and seeing her at 12-years-old and what that would look like. She was dying.

GUPTA: When I first met Charlotte, it was 2013, for our first film on medical marijuana called "Weed".

(on camera): Pitter patter, pitter pat, tip toe, creep crawls in a cave.

(voice-over): We had heard about this amazing 6-year-old from Colorado who had a rare form of epilepsy. She had a seizure every 30 minutes, everyone potentially fatal. No treatment had worked. And then one day, desperate, her parents gave her a non-psychoactive ingredient from a cannabis plant, called cannabidiol, or CBD.

PAIGE FIGI: This is Charlotte's web. She didn't have a seizure that day and then she didn't have a seizure that night. Right, I thought this is crazy. GUPTA: And it was at that moment people started to see that

marijuana, which had been considered dangerous, could also be a therapy. She changed my mind and opened my eyes to the possibility that this was a legitimate medicine. And in the process, she changed the world.

PAIGE FIGI: Probably the most important thing I'll ever do was to help my own child and then share that information and help others.

GUPTA: Charlotte Figi was the entire CBD movement wrapped up into a sweet little girl with a big smile and an even bigger heart. Her story changed policy about cannabis. States were inspired by the story of Charlotte Figi and made CBD more accessible around the United States to treat epilepsy. And in turn, scientists around the world wanted to study Charlotte's special CBD oil. Research that before Charlotte no one really seemed that interested in doing.

MATT FIGI, FATHER OF CHARLOTTE: I was begging researchers and physicians to work with us and help us understand the phenomenon that we were seeing, and they absolutely wouldn't even talk to us. We were laughed out of rooms. Now they begged to research our product.

PAIGE FIGI: (INAUDIBLE) being outside and this her (INAUDIBLE).

GUPTA: Charlotte lived her short life to the fullest. And while she was almost this mythical miracle, she was also just a little girl who loved to do go tandem biking with her mom. And while the last month was not easy, she had symptoms of COVID-19 while never testing positive, she eventually developed pneumonia which once again unleashed her seizures.

Her mother, Paige, says Charlotte was still smiling and happy until the very end when the seizure became more than her fragile little body could handle. Charlotte's life ended just as it began, in her mother's arms, surrounded by family who loved her, cherished her and protected her.

All forever changed by this little girl who forever changed the world and everyone like me who were caught in her glorious orbit. Please rest in peace, Charlie.




ALLEN: OK, that's not a pack of wolves. That's people in Denver, Colorado, howling at the moon. It has become a ritual every evening. One couple in the city started a Facebook group called go outside and howl at 8 p.m. They say they were inspired by the balcony music performances from people guaranteed around the world. The group now has almost a half million members from several countries. Many also posting their howling videos on Twitter using #howlat8. Just told they don't scare the actual wolves in doing so. The healthcare workers treating coronavirus cases are trying to make

their patients feel more at ease by -- get this, cute idea -- taping photos of themselves over their protective gear. Derek DeVault took this photo of his colleagues at a Los Angeles hospital. And he says, patients are isolated from visitors in masks. So seeing what their nurses and their doctors look like brings them comfort. And Robertino Rodriguez took this picture for his patients. He says a reassuring smile can make a big difference to someone who is scared and very ill. One can understand. More of that.

Well, now she had another example of everyday people stepping up during this pandemic. The husband and wife team who run a U.S. distillery had now switched from producing hard liquor to making what we really need maybe a little more, hand sanitizer. Here's their story.


DAN MCNEILL, MISCELLANEOUS DISTILLERY: I got a message from my father early in March. He said, have you thought about making hand sanitizer. I thought, no, you know, it's just going to be silly for us to get into it. And then know less than a week later I was already making bulk alcohol for hand sanitizer.

MEG MCNEILL, MISCELLANEOUS DISTILLERY: It has been a wild ride to learn how and to try to get all of the pieces in place.

The last couple of weeks have been scary for everybody, and I think especially as a small business to try to quickly make choices. What do we keep doing? What do we cut back on immediately for the safety of our customers and our staff? How can we be in action? What can we do differently during this time?

DAN MCNEILL: Making alcohol is what we do here every day anyway. The heavy lift is to now start making sure we're making the right percentage of alcohol for hand sanitizer, maximize our production capacity to meet a need in the community.


MEG MCNEILL: The partnership with Meals on Wheels I think was motivating but also it felt like we had a focus. You know, it felt like we had, OK, this is a particular partner that we can help.

We've gotten them over 800 bottles for them to bring out to their volunteers and at their distribution site. So that the people who are bringing these meals out and getting them to people in need can stay safe in between those chances they have for a safe handwashing.

STEPHANIE ARCHER-SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, MEALS ON WHEELS OF CENTRAL MARYLAND: Last week alone we produced, packed, distributed over 43,000 meals. This week we're on track to do 58,000. We have basically seen a dramatic and rapid spike in the need for our services.

We were planning in early March how we were going to respond to this. We had actually gone out and gotten disinfectant wipes, and we thought we were ahead of the game. And we went through all of those and there were no more.

Thanks for coming today, ladies. The first thing I want you to do is sanitize your hands.

Miscellaneous Distillery came through with the hand sanitizers that they've made and that's what we've been using. All of our volunteers use it, all of our staff use it, all of our drivers have it in their vans. And we've actually been using it to also sanitize our surfaces.

It really has been just a community effort. There are so many pieces of this where people are just stepping up doing whatever they can.

MEG MCNEILL: We did this last time. It's just hard. So many of us feel stuck and so to be able to do something small, it does feel good.

DAN MCNEILL: We're very happy, very grateful that we can continue to work, continue to be supportive of the community, continue to be supportive of our staff and serve a function in this time.

MEG MCNEILL: Of course, I never thought in a million years that we would make sanitizer. This is a moment in time that we all navigate and then there will be other challenges and other things that we get to make choices on in the future.


ALLEN: How about that one. We'll end be on it.

Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie Allen. The news continues right after this break.