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THE SITUATION ROOM

1.6 Million Coronavirus Cases Worldwide with 100,000 plus Deaths; Prominent Coronavirus Model Now Says Today Peak Day for New Deaths; Trump: May Shut Down Country again if Cases Spike upon Reopening; Task Force: Encouraging Signs but We haven't Reached the Peak; Gov. Cuomo: "Cautiously Optimistic" As Hospitalization Falls Despite Climbing Death Toll In New York; Task Force: Philadelphia, D.C., Baltimore Mayors Changing The Curves In Their Cities; Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 18,000 In U.S.; NY Times: New Models Show Cases Spike If Stay-At-Home Orders Lifted After 30 Days; Coronavirus Model Now Says Today Peak Day For New Deaths. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 10, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

Announcer: This is CNN Breaking News.

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.

The breaking news this hour, another very grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic, as the worldwide death toll tops 100,000 with more than 1.6 million cases tonight. The U.S. death toll, by the way, has surpassed 18,000, with almost half a million confirmed cases. The White House Task Force says there are some encouraging signs in the outbreak. But Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that this is not the time to pull back "at all" on social distancing. And the influential university of Washington coronavirus model often cited by the White House is now calling today the peak day for new deaths.

And as President Trump presses for the country to reopen as soon as possible, "The New York Times" is now reporting that new models show the number of coronavirus cases spikes if stay-at-home orders are lifted after only 30 days. That would be at the end of this month.

Let's go straight to the White House right now. Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, the president and his task force, they wrapped up a 2 1/2 hour - very, very lengthy briefing on the pandemic.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was a very long briefing, Wolf, but a lot of big questions were asked. And I think the biggest question of them all is how the president is going to go about reopening the country. We've been talking to our sources over the last several days who have all been indicating the president wants to reopen the country around May 1st. And he announced during this press briefing that just wrapped up a short while ago that he plans on putting together what he's calling an "opening our country council," sort of panel of economic experts, other people from other industries who are going to lend their advice as to how the president should about it about doing this. And the president at one point described this idea of reopening the country as the biggest question of his presidency, the biggest call of his presidency. And here is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I will say this. I want to get it open as soon as we can. We have to get our country open, Jeff.

QUESTION: Can you say, Sir, what metrics you'll use to make that decision?

TRUMP: The metrics right here. That's my metrics. That's all I can do. I can listen to 35 people. At the end, I've got to make a decision. It's the biggest decision I've ever had to make.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Now, the president also said he's going to be listening to his doctors, people like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx, in terms of making this decision about reopening the country, though he did not go as far as to say that he is going to follow their recommendations.

But Wolf, I did ask him at one point whether or not he would be willing to shut down the country again if he reopens the country and there's a spike of infections. He did indicate that, yes, he would be willing to do that to either parts of the country or the entire country again if the coronavirus makes a comeback.

And one other point that came up towards the end of the briefing that we should point our viewers to is when I asked the president about these many complaints that you and I have both have heard for days now from medical experts, from doctors and nurses about these critical shortages that exist in hospitals across the country. I asked the president whether these briefings are just happy talk, because he seems to be painting a rosy picture of what's happening across the country. And here is how he responded to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: Mr. President, we hear from a lot of people who see these briefings as sort of happy talk briefings.

TRUMP: No happy talk today.

ACOSTA: You and some of the officials paint a rosy picture of what is happening around the country. If you look at some of these questions.

Do we have enough masks?

No.

Do we have enough tests?

No.

Do we have enough PPE?

No.

TRUMP: Why would you say no?

The answer is yes. I think the answer is yes. Who said no to that?

ACOSTA: I'm saying --

TRUMP: You're saying no. But who said no? You asked me.

Do we have enough masks?

Yes.

ACOSTA: We hear from doctors. We hear from health experts.

TRUMP: No, no. You don't say that. You said -

Do we have enough masks?

Yes.

Do we have enough tests?

Yes.

Plus, we're developing new tests.

Do we have enough ventilators?

Yes.

Do we have enough hospital beds?

Yes.

We've built 20,000 hospital beds. We have enough hospital beds.

Go ahead, Jim. Let's go.

ACOSTA: But do you say to - I mean you watch the coverage. You watch a lot --

TRUMP: Well, a lot of it is fake news.

ACOSTA: No, no.

TRUMP: A lot of it is fake news.

ACOSTA: Doctors and the medical officials who come on our air and say we don't have enough tests - we don't have enough tests.

TRUMP: Depending on your air, they always say that because otherwise you're not going to put them on.

Let me just say something.

The governors have said, last night they had a group of governors, 14 governors. They were together someplace.

[17:05:03]

And they said, it's been unbelievable what's happening, we've been totally responsive. Ventilators, everyone has the ventilators they need to a point where we're getting calls from foreign countries saying, you have all the ventilators. Can we get some? And we're going to try and help some of these countries. These people have done an incredible job. This is not happy talk. Maybe it's happy talk for you. It's not happy talk for me. We're talking about death. We're talking about the great --

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ACOSTA: And we should point out, Wolf, we've been talking to a variety of sources. I've talked to a source close to the Coronavirus Task Force who said, no, the country does not have adequate testing in place to reopen the country at this point, so the president is just wrong on that. Wolf?

BLITZER: Interesting. All right, Jim Acosta, we're going to get back to you. Thank you very much.

Meanwhile, officials are seeing potentially critical changes in the outbreak in New York, which now has more confirmed coronavirus cases than any country in the world. Our national correspondent Erica Hill is joining us from New York with the latest. Erica, the death toll there continues to climb. But perhaps very significantly, hospitalizations are down.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's a key point, not just hospitalizations but also those who need to go into the ICU. And Governor Cuomo was clear today. He's cautiously optimistic in looking at those numbers but was also stressing that the reason we're seeing that decline in hospitalizations, for example, is because the social distancing measures put in place weeks ago are working and it's proof they need to continue.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): There are now more positive cases in New York state than in any country around the world. And yet, there are signs of hope. Hospitalizations and the number of patients in the ICU both down across the state.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOISE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: For a long time, they were over 50 percent of our cases and 50 percent of our new cases. That has dramatically changed because of the impact of what the citizens of New York and New Jersey and across Connecticut and now Rhode Island are doing to really change the course of this pandemic. HILL: Governor Andrew Cuomo stressing any move forward will require massive testing, and the power of the federal government.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We have 9 million people we want to get back to work. You need more than several thousand tests per week if this is going to happen anytime soon. If I had a Defense Production Act in the state, I would use it. I would use it. I don't have that tool. The federal government does.

HILL: New York City now burying as many as 25 unclaimed bodies each day in a public cemetery on Hart Island to free up desperately needed space in the city's morgues.

In Houston, a potential hotspot according to the White House Task Force. The parking lot at NRG Stadium transformed into an overflow hospital.

While in San Antonio, thousands of families turning out for much- needed help.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have to do this to survive.

ERIC COOPER, PRESIDENT AND CEO, SAN ANTONIO FOOD BANK: This food distribution is like none we've ever had in the food bank's 40-year history.

HILL: A similar scene near Miami.

Florida's governor, meantime, says he may soon reopen schools county by county.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We're going to look at the evidence and make a decision. For whatever reason it just doesn't seem to threaten, you know, kids.

HILL: Governor DeSantis citing a lack of deaths in his state for those under age 25. Though that is not the case nationally. 16 states have already closed schools for the remainder of the academic year. Others extending current closures into next month. As officials remind those celebrating Easter this weekend, the virus doesn't pause for the holiday.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL): We've seen people who have been going to church and ignoring the admonitions, ignoring the orders, getting sick. Ministers dying. This is deadly serious. And you can express your faith in lots of different ways. But it can't be by congregating.

HILL: For some, simply being home is reason enough to celebrate. In Miami, cheers as two COVID patients are discharged. A similar scene in Louisville. And from a hospital at the epicenter, a message of strength. Mt. Sinai's chief medical officer praising her staff as they mark the end of the beginning, assuring them, quote, "we will prevail."

(END VIDEOTAPE) HILL: In terms of that antibody testing, you heard Governor Cuomo saying they need the federal government to help. He was actually talking today about the president of course invoking the Defense Production Act. The president was asked about that a short time ago at the briefing. He said, Wolf, he didn't see a reason that he would need to do that in terms of antibody testing.

BLITZER: Erica Hill in New York for us. Erica, thank you.

Joining us now, the Mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

[17:10:01]

We know this virus has not yet reached its peak in much of the country. What are residents of Miami, especially your health care workers, among others, facing right now?

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R-FL): Well, they're facing very difficult circumstances. We're very fortunate that -- like Governor Cuomo, you know we put in place very early on some very strict measures. We were the first city to put stay-at-home order. First city to put -- implement a curfew. And we also implemented just recently, you know, a mask requirement for those who are grocery store workers and those who actually you know go to grocery stores as well -- customers.

And we're starting to see as well, a flattening of the curve from the data that we're looking at. Obviously, we don't want to become complacent and we don't want to be, you know, someone that feels that we have victory in our hands. We still have to continue to discipline ourselves, and the discipline that we are demonstrating is what's helping us right now.

BLITZER: Your state's governor, as you know, Ron DeSantis, says he's considering reopening schools in Florida. Do you think children should return to school in the midst right now of this pandemic?

SUAREZ: I think it's too early to tell here in Dade County and in the city of Miami. We are still either at the peak or close to the peak or just past the peak. It's very difficult to tell. It's way too early right now to make a call of that magnitude. We have an enormously large school system. I think one of the largest school systems in the United States. And so, we're still in my opinion, weeks away from being able to make a decision of that kind.

BLITZER: The president said today he has confidence in Governor DeSantis. Do you share that confidence?

SUAREZ: You know, the governor has communicated with me throughout this entire process. You know, he supported our decisions here locally to restrict -- for the stay-at-home orders. I know that, you know, he's been criticized for some of the things that he's done and some of the decisions that he's made. But I can tell you that he has been supportive of decisions that we've made locally, and those have borne fruit for our residents. BLITZER: Because a lot of people are worried, as you know, Mayor, that if children return to school, teenagers or even younger kids, they could still contract the virus, have no symptoms at all, and then spread it to their parents and their grandparents, other family members, brothers and sisters. That's a serious concern.

SUAREZ: It is a serious concern. And we're seeing it happen throughout the city, where families themselves are getting infected throughout the family because it's very difficult to isolate away from family. And so, that's definitely one of the concerns.

The other concern is that children are not as responsible - don't act as responsibly as adults. We saw that during spring break, with all the spring breakers that were down here in South Florida when some of our local officials refused to close the beaches timely. So those concerns are definitely concerns that we need to share. I think it's just too early right now to be able to make a call like that for a place as dense as Miami is.

BLITZER: Religious services are exempt from Florida's stay-at-home order. The Vice President Mike Pence today urged Americans to refrain from gathering to worship this weekend. How are you recommending residents in Miami observe religious holidays this weekend?

SUAREZ: We're doing the same thing. I think most of the churches here if not all the churches here have all gone to virtual services. I know that's something that's atypical or something that's unconventional. We haven't seen that probably in our lifetime. But that is definitely the norm now for all different kinds of churches, for all different kinds of faith in our city.

BLITZER: Yes. And that's the way it should be, at least right now. Mayor Suarez, good luck to you, good luck to all the folks in Miami. Thanks so much for joining us.

SUAREZ: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: Up next, New York prepares for mass burials, digging long trenches for the bodies of coronavirus victims.

And later, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's with us. He will answer your questions about the pandemic. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:18:22]

BLITZER: All right. This hour, the worldwide death toll in the coronavirus pandemic now tops 100,000 with more than 1.6 million cases, confirmed cases. The U.S. death toll has surpassed 18,000 with almost half a million confirmed cases at the end of this truly devastating week.

Let's compare notes with our chief political and - our chief political correspondent Dana Bash and our medical - chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, I want you to listen to what Dr. Birx had to say just a little while ago about what she sees as potentially some positive signs with caution.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIRX: So, it's really about the encouraging signs that we see. But as encouraging as they are, we have not reached the peak. And so, every day we need to continue to do what we did yesterday and the week before and the week before that because that's what in the end, is going to take us up across the peak and down the other side.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That's one model, as you know Sanjay. This is the peak might be today. How important though is it for Americans to continue to follow the public health guidelines right now?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, if you look at any of the data, you know, which suggests that the numbers thankfully have been coming down, they're all predicated on this idea that we are continuing the stay-at-home orders. Even the models that are sort of most - most-cited. This one that shows sadly some 60,000 people dying. A lot lower than the previous models. It sort of counts some people staying at home until the end of May.

[17:24:56]

One thing I think it's important to point out, Wolf, there's a lag time. You're looking at a picture, some in the audience may remember polaroid pictures, you know, you take the picture and it takes a while for the image to actually show up. That's a good metaphor for what's happening here. Between the time someone is exposed to the virus to the time they end up in the hospital, a small percentage go to the hospital, to the time if they sadly die, that period time could be three weeks.

What that means, Wolf, is right now, if we let up, then three weeks from now we may see a resurgence of deaths. So, I don't think anyone is suggesting, really across the nation, that we let up at this point. I think the question is will it go into and through May as well, maybe even further than that. I think that's the big question. But everybody knows that if you sort of let up at this point the concern is you'll see an increase in cases.

BLITZER: Yes. You really got an err on the side of caution.

Dana, you have some interesting reporting about the various conversations the president has been having with his friends on Wall Street. What are you learning about the pressure the president is under right now to reopen the U.S. economy sooner rather than later?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: A lot of pressure, I'm told by a source familiar with the president's conversations, that he is hearing from friends on Wall Street, hedge fund managers, others in the financial world, really saying to him, come on, you've got to give us a date certain to reopen the economy. And, you know, so if you combine those kinds of conversations that I'm told the president is having with his own instinct, when he looks at his reelection campaign in particular, and how focused he has been historically on the economy, and how worried he is just politically speaking about how much a bad economy could hurt him, you know that is a really big factor in the president's thinking.

To be fair, though, I am also told by people who are not medical professionals but also really policy people, his close policy and political aides, not all of them, there's a split, but some of them are saying, please don't listen to them. They're focused on their portfolios. They're focused on the financial bottom line, and we need to be focused on the bottom line of the health and wellness of America, because frankly, even if you take the long view, if you look at that in the short view, in the long view that's going to help the economy because if you open too early, which Sanjay is alluding to, everything that's happened until now is kind of for nothing. And that is a conversation also being had.

BLITZER: It's important information indeed.

The president, Sanjay, did tell our Jim Acosta during that lengthy White House briefing, he would consider shutting the country down again if cases were to flare up. But by then wouldn't it be too late to prevent another potential huge wave of disease and death?

GUPTA: I think it would -- I don't know if it's too late but it would be really challenging, you know, at that point, if you sort of had this resurgence, especially if the infrastructure that we keep talking about in terms of testing is still not in place, because, you know, part of the problem right now, Wolf, is that what you would like to do is test people, if somebody comes back with the virus, you isolate them and then you trace their contacts. That's how you sort of contain something like this.

If the virus is spreading so freely within a community, as we've seen in a few communities around the country, it becomes really hard to do that and therefore it just sort of develops this exponential growth as people have heard that term. So, it would be kind of like going back to square one, Wolf, I think. You know, it's been a long road. You'd hate to have to get close to the end and then have to start over again, which is I think the real risk of opening too soon.

BLITZER: That's very serious indeed.

You know, Dana, "The New York Times," as you know, is reporting that new models show that cases will spike if stay-at-home orders are lifted at the end of this month after this 30-day period. Is that factoring into the president's thinking?

BASH: It absolutely should. And you know, look, the president has been on a bit of a roller coaster, which frankly, all of us have, in terms of trying to marry these competing problems - unprecedented problems, which is the economic disaster that we are in right now, and the health care disaster that we're in right now. The latter caused the former. And we all know that. And so, he absolutely is being told about this information, we know that now. And you know one of the interesting things that I heard tonight from a source who is in communication with the president, Wolf, is that one of the ways that he can kind of make it so that all of the pressure isn't on him when it comes to reopening, the hardest decision he will ever have to make, as he said many times in his press conference today, is to do it in conjunction with the governors, to do it properly, to have buy-in from the governors who have been -- and even the mayors, who have been on the frontlines of this and to take it step by step, but do it together.

[17:25:05]

And that way, first of all, just in terms of responsibility, you have a partner in that, but also, you have more of a realistic view and a sense of how it's going to go in each state.

BLITZER: Yes. OK, good. Guys, stand by, there's more we need to discuss. Also coming up, the shocking reality of dealing with the pandemic. In New York, we see long trenches as the state prepares for mass burials of coronavirus victims.

And we'll also go live to Philadelphia. Can the city change the curve and head off the worst?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:30:37]

BLITZER: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo says he's cautiously optimistic as hospitalizations in New York decline even as the state's death toll climbs. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is joining us right now. Shimon, very sobering images from New York, where the city is digging trenches in a public cemetery to bury the dead. What's the latest?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's very sad situation, Wolf. And the Mayor have been very sensitive about it and city officials trying to be very sensitive about how they're going to handle this. The bottom line is you have thousands of bodies now, you know, some of the people who died behind me here at Elmhurst Hospital.

And so now the city is going to have to figure out what to do with a lot of these bodies. They do expect some of them to go unclaimed, some families not being able to set up funerals right away, some families not being able to afford funerals. And so some of these bodies are going to lay in, sadly, in refrigerated trucks or at the Medical Examiner's Office. So it's going to come to a point where the city is going to need to do something with those bodies.

And so what they're going to do is they're going to bury some of these bodies on this island, Hard Island. It's just off of the Bronx. You can't get there by any way other than boat and they're going to bury some of these bodies there. And at some point, if families want to retrieve the bodies and when they're ready to retrieve them, they're going to let them do that. But it's a very sensitive issue. As you can imagine, Wolf, sad, very sobering certainly. BLITZER: Yes. We already see the coffins in those that trench -- those trenches over there. What other measures is the city taking, Shimon, to deal with the surge in deaths?

PROKUPECZ: Well, one of the things that they're dealing with is bodies in people's homes, people dying at home. In some cases, there are reports of, you know, 200 bodies that the city almost on a daily basis has been dealing with in responding to people's homes. So they've asked the National Guard for help, they brought in funeral directors from out of state to try and help some of the local funeral directors in dealing with all this.

It's a lot to handle for a lot of the funeral directors, for the Medical Examiner's Office. So they're trying to make things better, trying to speed the process along for a lot of these families. It's a really, really tough situation, Wolf, for a lot of these families in the cities, just try and do whatever they can to perhaps make it easier for them as the days and really the weeks go by here.

BLITZER: Yes. It's so, so heartbreaking. Shimon, thank you very much. Shimon Prokupecz reporting from New York.

Let's go to Philadelphia, where federal officials feared a surge of cases. Our Senior National Correspondent Alex Marquardt is joining us right now. Alex, Dr. Birx praise the mayors of D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia where you are for really starting to change the curve after warning they could become the next hotspots here in the U.S. So you're in a field hospital in Philadelphia. What are local officials they're saying to you?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, this is, as you say, it's a field hospital. They're calling it a search facility at Temple University. This is their biggest sports complex. This would normally be their basketball court. As you can see, it's filled with beds of around 180 of them. Local officials here are hoping to never have to use them. The situation in hospitals in Philadelphia right now is OK, but if they do have to use them, this will be filled with coronavirus patients who have tested positive.

Now that number is starting to slow. We did hear from Dr. Birx, as you said earlier, she praised officials here in Philadelphia, including the mayor for starting to change the curve. That number of positive cases is slowing by the day. We heard from the Health Commissioner today, he said that it was 522. That is a similar number that we've heard over the past several days. But health officials are very much warning that they are not out of the woods, that things could change that there could be a surge again, in the virus if it finds a new populate.

Now we spoke with the Managing Director, Brian Abernathy for the city of Philadelphia earlier. Here's what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRIAN ABERNATHY, PHILADELPHIA MANAGING DIRECTOR: We are optimistic. The last few days have shown signs of a plateau but we're not taking that for granted. Certainly the virus can find another population to spread in. We're certainly remain concerned about the spread and community spread of the virus. And so while I think the last few days have been relative good news, we're not out of the woods by any means.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARQUARDT: Now, Wolf, at the same time as those numbers are slowing. The deaths are trailing behind that. We have seen the highest daily death toll here in Philadelphia that was 33 that was announced today bringing the total for the city to 137.

[17:35:11]

Now, Wolf, as we've been hearing across the country, officials here are saying that this is no time to stop socially distancing. That is the most important thing. At the same time, the Secretary of Health for the state is saying they're starting to plan for that day. It's not coming anytime soon, but they're starting to plan for it because, in her words, it's very important to have hope. Wolf?

BLITZER: Certainly is. All right, Alex, thanks very much. Alex Marquardt in Philadelphia for us.

Coming up, we'll talk about the breaking pandemic news with our medical experts. And our Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he will answer your questions about the coronavirus. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:40:21]

BLITZER: President Trump says the decision about when to reopen the country is the biggest decision he's ever had to make. Medical experts are strongly cautioning him not to do it too soon, or it will cause another spike in coronavirus cases and deaths.

Joining us now, the epidemiologists at Columbia University Professor Dr. Jeffrey Shaman, and Dr. Ashish Jai, he's the director of the Harvard University Global Health Institute. Doctors, thanks to both of you for what you're doing, thanks for joining us. And Dr. Shaman, new federal projections obtained by "The New York Times" now show that infections would spike if these shelter-in-place orders are lifted after 30 days or at the end of April. Does that match the data you're studying?

DR. JEFFREY SHAMAN, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY PROFESSOR: Yes, it does, Wolf. It's simply a matter of having too many people who have yet to have the infection. If we have a lot of people who remain susceptible because they simply have never been exposed to and infected with the virus, that virus will take off in communities. If it's introduced there, it will go back to spread, if we lift all social restrictions.

What's really critical is that we return to work in a very staged fashion so that we are cautiously returning to certain things and allowing commerce and business to open in a gradual stepped way. A new normal, if you will. BLITZER: That's important. Dr. Jha, if restrictions are lifted before widespread testing practices are in place, what kind of an impact could that have on the spread of the virus here in the U.S.?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so well, thanks for having me on. And this is indeed the big fear that a lot of us have is that if we don't have a robust testing infrastructure in place, what we're going to see -- especially if we open up and try to go back to life as normal which we shouldn't -- but what we will see is widespread increases in infection. And we will unfortunately I think end up having to shut down again.

So we want to be smart about this opening. And we want to open in a way that lets us stay open. And that means staged opening, and it means a robust testing infrastructure.

BLITZER: Dr. Shaman, is there a point at which large revisions to these models projecting the death toll in the U.S. will slow down? As you know, there were early projections of 100,000 to 240,000. Now down to 60,000 deaths here in the U.S. by August, what's your analysis?

SHAMAN: Well, you know, all those were in the realm of possibility, because so much depends on what we do as a society. It's very difficult to really understand how effective the social distancing and other isolation measures that we put in place that are limiting person to person contact are going to be on this virus in our society. So the projections actually show up broad swath of possibilities that are out there.

A couple of them were mentioned 100,000 and 240,000. But certainly lower numbers were within the realm of possibility. It all dependent on how much effort we were able to put in and how effective and how much compliance there was with the social distancing measures we wanted to see effective.

BLITZER: Yes. So clearly, this is no time to let up at all. Dr. Jha, Dr. Fauci says the antibody testing will be scaled up in the next week or so. How will the fight against this virus change once more Americans are able to be tested for what are described as these protective antibodies?

JHA: Yes. So, Wolf, I'm really looking forward to those tests. I think they will tell us a lot about how widespread the infection has already been. It's possible that many Americans have been infected, but they just didn't know it, they had mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. I think that will help us identify people who are immune, but that doesn't substitute for the testing. We need to identify who's actually infected. So we still need to make that our top priority, I believe, but the immunity tests that are coming in the next few weeks, I think they'll be an important supplement to our testing strategy.

BLITZER: So what do you think, Dr. Shaman, what's the most important thing that the country needs to do right now to avert even greater disease and death?

SHAMAN: What we need to do is we need to maintain the social distancing that we have, we need people to not be mixing in public, we need the use of face masks. What we're looking for is a real quashing of the curve. We don't just need a flattening of it, we need to actually bring cases down substantially.

And this will have two effects. Firstly, it's going to begin to alleviate the burdens on our healthcare system. We're going to need to pull back in places like New York City where the ICU bed capacity, ventilator capacity has been above normal capacity. There has been a surge there. We're going to have to pull that demand down and that's going to take a number of weeks.

In addition, we need to see the cases start to reduce. We need to see that the growth of this virus of the infection in the community is not growing anymore, it's actually declining. And that indicates that the basic reproductive number, that number that so many of us hear about is less than one.

[17:45:14]

We want that to be substantially less than one, because that gives us the wiggle room to begin to stage out, returns to commerce and a rebooting of the economy in a very staged gradual fashion.

BLITZER: Dr. Shaman and Dr. Jha, we're grateful to both of you. We will certainly have both of your back. We need your analysis right now. Thanks so much for joining us.

JHA: Thank you.

SHAMAN: Thank you for having us.

BLITZER: There are so many questions about the coronavirus outbreak. Coming up next, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting ready to answer some of the questions that you are asking. We'll be right back.

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[17:50:42]

BLITZER: All right. We'll be getting lots of questions about the coronavirus and the pandemic. Right now, our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us once again with some answers. Let's get right to the questions, Sanjay, and these are good questions from viewers. "Can dizziness or a headache be signs I have coronavirus?"

GUPTA: Yes, they can. In fact, there's a very interesting paper that was just published basically looking at the fact that people can have what are called neurological sort of effects from the virus. Sometimes those can be the only thing that they notice for a period of time. I get a list of them up there, Wolf, on the screen. Dizziness, headaches, people may have impaired consciousness.

One of the big ones you may have heard, Wolf, loss of smell, that can be a first symptom that people develop with this. Loss of taste sometimes goes right along with it. They don't know for sure why that is. It could be that the virus itself causes inflammation at the base of the brain, which may cause some of these symptoms. It could be that you're getting a lung infection and you're getting more generalized inflammation in the body. They're not sure but, yes, if you haven't -- if you have a sort of unusual neurological manifestation like that, and nothing else to explain it, you know, something to keep an eye on and it could be an early sign of this

BLITZER: Does -- If you have loss of smell or loss of taste, does it come back after you get out of this disease?

GUPTA: It seems to but, you know, these are early days again, Wolf. So, you know, you'd like to be able to say a year from now that we follow these patients. And, yes, their sense of smell, sense of taste came back. There are, you know, not that many patients but when you follow some of these patients, you do have reports now where those sensors do come back.

BLITZER: All right, that's encouraging. Here's another question. "Do any of the vaccines or medicine trials look promising?"

GUPTA: Yes. I mean, there is some promise. First of all, there's a lot of trials going on. You know, I think we hear about a couple of different medications, they get a lot of attention. But there are a lot of trials going on around the world, both on vaccines and therapeutics, medicines, potentially.

The World Health Organization has this thing called the solidarity trial, and that basically allows countries from all over the world to be a part of this. One of the challenges in doing a trial is you got to get enough patience. You got to get enough people to participate so that when you get results, they're meaningful results. Sometimes it's hard if you just have one community or one state or one country, you start adding in a lot more places, you can really start to ramp up the significance of these studies.

There's a couple -- Remdesivir is a medication, it's an antiviral medication. World Health Organization has a lot of faith around that one. There are a couple of anti-HIV drugs that were trialed. There was a lot of promise initially, Wolf. That trial was started one week after the first patient was diagnosed. It doesn't look like the results for that one are promising so far.

Obviously a lot of people have heard of hydroxychloroquine. Those trials are underway right now. Different countries are reporting different early results. It's just too early to tell with some of these things. The vaccine trials are several different candidates. But the thing about the vaccine, Wolf, no matter how good our technology is, no matter how good we've gotten at biotechnology, it still takes a while for a vaccine.

You get to trial that out over time. You got to do it at a time when the virus is circulating. So you know, a year is typically what you hear for that.

BLITZER: Yes. Sometimes even a year and a half. All right, we got a lot more questions, Sanjay, I want you to stand by. And to our viewers to find out how you can help and how you can get help during the coronavirus outbreak, visit CNN.com/impact and you'll be able to impact your world.

Coming up, the coronavirus death toll here in the United States now surpasses 18,000 as top health officials are warning now is not the time to let up on social distancing at all. We'll be right back.

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[17:59:02]

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 coronavirus death toll here in the United States now surging past 18,000 as the total number of U.S. cases approaches half a million. More than 100,000 people across the world have done.

Experts on the Coronavirus Task Force say they're encouraged by some of the recent data but Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning it's not time to let up at all. And a virus model frequently cited by the White House now predicts that today could be the peak for deaths in the U.S. Also tonight, a report from "The New York Times" found federal models forecast a spike in coronavirus infections if, if stay-at-home orders are lifted after 30 days which would be at the end of April. New York remains the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. with more confirmed cases in that state than any country in the world.

Let's go to CNN's Nick Watt, he's joining us from Los Angeles right now. Nick, give us the very latest.