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THE SITUATION ROOM
Mass Burials in New York; Interview With Thomas Friedman; Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 18,000 In U.S.; Global Coronavirus Death Toll Passes 100,000; Italy Extends Nationwide Lockdown Until May; China Slowly Returns to Normal, But Fears Second Wave of Infections. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired April 10, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Let's go to CNN's Nick Watt. He's joining us from Los Angeles right now.
Nick, give us the very latest.
NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, this is just one picture of the economic impact of what we are going through.
The L.A. Regional Food Bank today, in this parking lot in Inglewood, has handed out more than 7,000 near 40-pound boxes of food for more than 7,000 families.
These are, many of them, hospitality workers who have no idea when they will be going back to work. And, of course, Wolf, meanwhile, we are still trying to fight this virus.
WATT (voice-over): There are triumphs, cheers for the recovered.
Numbers in New York's ICUs are actually down for the first time, some encouraging signs.
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We're starting to level on the logarithmic phase, like Italy did about a week ago, 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.
WATT: But still so much pain.
Tara Gabriele's mom now gone, but more than just a statistic.
TARA GABRIELE, LOST MOTHER TO CORONAVIRUS: My mother was a real person. She was loving and selfless and kind.
WATT: In New York now, the bodies of unclaimed COVID-19 victims being taken to Hart Island for burial. The official death count of more than 5,000 in the city could be undercounted, with people dying untested at home, according to "The New York Times."
That state now has more confirmed reported cases than any country on Earth, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
In L.A. now, you have to wear a mask in a store.
MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D-CA): If you're not covering your face by Friday morning, an essential business can refuse you service.
WATT: In Florida, they're thinking about reopening schools.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If we get to the point where people think that we're on the other side of this, and we could get kids back in, even if it's for a couple weeks, we think that there would be value in that. This particular pandemic is one where I don't think nationwide there's been a single fatality under 25.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Yes, people under 25 have died of coronavirus disease in the United States of America.
WATT: Florida's governor has now walked that last part back a little.
DESANTIS: So, in Florida, we have had no -- no fatalities under 25.
WATT: From tomorrow in Michigan, you can't travel from one household to another. In Illinois, they're warning all big events could be canceled until there's a vaccine, months, perhaps even a year or more away.
MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL): Today's Good Friday, Easter Sunday.
We have to stay inside.
WATT: But, in Kansas, the governor is still in a legal battle, hoping to limit church services to 10 people.
GOV. LAURA KELLY (D-KS): The need to congregate is important, but not during a pandemic.
WATT: Weeks into that pandemic, still some doubts testing. In one study of 51 coronavirus patients, the current test missed 16 of them.
An antibody test, we're told, perhaps just a week away, would identify the recovered, but can the country start to reopen May 1, as the president hopes? And what might the toll be?
FAUCI: Don't let anyone get any false ideas that, when we decide at a proper time when we're going to be relaxing some of the restrictions, there's no doubt you're going to see cases.
WATT: So, May 1 still an aspirational, though we have heard from Vermont today where they have just extended their stay-home order, Wolf, through May 15. We also just heard from the commissioner of the New York Police
Department, who quite rightly calls this the fight of a generation Wolf,
BLITZER: Yes, it certainly is. You got to err on the side of caution right now. The stakes are too enormous.
Nick Watt reporting for us, thank you.
Let's go to our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.
Jim, the president made it clear at his two-and-a-half-hour news conference today that he's eager to reopen the U.S. economy. Is he listening to his medical experts as he weighs that decision?
JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That is a critical question, Wolf.
President Trump said he would listen to his administration's top doctors, who are raising doubts about reopening the country at the end of the month. Still, the president is already moving forward with those plans to end the current shutdown of the U.S. economy, telling us today that he will announce a special council aimed at opening up the country.
But the president doesn't seem to be coming to grips with complaints for medical professionals and from across the country who say they don't have enough equipment to deal with this crisis.
ACOSTA (voice-over): At his daily press briefing on the coronavirus, President Trump insisted he will listen to his administration's top doctors when it comes to reopening the country, while not committing to following their recommendations.
TRUMP: I will certainly listen. I will certainly listen.
ACOSTA (on camera): Will you take that advice?
TRUMP: There are two sides. Remember, there is -- I know -- I understand the other side of the argument very well, because I look at both sides of an argument. I will listen to them very carefully, though.
ACOSTA (voice-over): A sign that he's determined to move forward with ending social distancing guidelines perhaps as soon as May, the president then announced he is putting together what he called an opening our country council.
TRUMP: I will have a council. It's going to be announced on Tuesday with names that you have a lot of respect for, a lot of great names. Different businesses, different people. Top...
ACOSTA: But the president's medical experts aren't so sure, with Dr. Anthony Fauci raising concerns that there will be new coronavirus infections after the country reopens.
FAUCI: Don't let anyone get any false ideas that, when we decide at a proper time when we're going to be relaxing some of the restrictions, there's no doubt you're going to see cases. I would be so surprised if we did not see cases. The question is, how do you respond to them?
ACOSTA: And Dr. Deborah Birx saying the peak of the pandemic is still to come.
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.
ACOSTA: The president described his upcoming deliberations as one of the biggest calls of his presidency.
TRUMP: I'm going to have to make a decision, and I only hope to God that it's the right decision. But I would say, without question, it's the biggest decision I've ever had to make.
ACOSTA: Mr. Trump was also asked what metrics he would use in making his decision.
TRUMP: The metrics right here. That's my metrics.
ACOSTA: The president bristled at the question of whether he's painting too rosy a picture of what's happening across the U.S., as doctors and nurses complain of shortages of medical equipment, and health experts warn there is not adequate testing in place yet to reopen the country.
TRUMP: This is not happy talk. Maybe it's happy talk for you. It's not happy talk for me. We're talking about death.
These are the saddest news conferences that I've ever had. I don't like doing them.
ACOSTA: Now, heading into the Easter weekend, the president urged churches across the country to make sure their congregations stay home, as some pastors have been ignoring the government's guidelines in recent weeks and holding services anyway.
The president is calling on those pastors who aren't following the guidelines to wait for the country to -- quote -- "get healed."
And on this question of reopening the country too quickly, the president did tell me he would be willing to shut down the U.S. again, if it is necessary. Wolf, nobody wants to see that kind of situation happen.
But the president said he would be willing to do it if an outbreak were to occur after a reopening of the country -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, let's certainly hope that doesn't happen.
ACOSTA: That's right.
BLITZER: Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you.
"The New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman is joining us right now with more analysis.
Tom, thanks very much for joining us.
And I remember, a lot of our viewers will remember a column you wrote some two weeks ago, in which you urged the president to develop a specific plan to, in your words -- and I'm quoting you now -- "fight this virus, save everyone we can, and rapidly reopen the economy, based on science and data."
Has he developed a viable plan yet?
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": You know, Wolf, two things I take away from the president's news conference today, although I can't believe was two-and-a-half-hours.
The first is that President Trump, along with other leaders around the world, is going to be asked to make the biggest life-and-death, who shall live, who shall die call that any American president has made probably since Harry Truman in Hiroshima, because whenever we decide, the U.K. decides, Canada decides to open up and return people to work, it's going to be, as Dr. Fauci said, in the context of the coronavirus still out there, until we have a vaccine.
So I do take this call enormously seriously. The other thing I would say, though, Wolf is, the president, I think, would be doing the country so much of a favor if he had structured these briefings, as I argued in that piece a couple weeks ago, around a plan.
Imagine, Wolf, that for the last month, the president came out with each briefing and had three charts. The first chart was, how many people are in the hospital, how many people tragically died today, and where do we stand in terms of getting the emergency equipment, the ventilators, the PPE, the masks that our front-line health care providers need?
Every day, you would get an update. This is the number of deaths, these are the hospitals, this is where the PPE is coming from the federal government, state sharing, et cetera.
Second chart would be showing basically, where is the curve going? Who's bending the curve? Who's flattening it out? Who's still soaring? Where are we in the country? And what are we learning, therefore, about how and where the pandemic is spreading? The third graph would be, what do we need by way of tests, who's got
them, so we can gradually, slowly, on a risk-stratified basis, phase people back into the workplace. Who has the tests available to do that, so we know when people are going back to work, who's got immunity, who doesn't, who's carrying the virus unknowingly.
So if you had those three graphs, imagine the president did that every day. The country would have a sense of where we really are.
Instead, unfortunately, he comes out, he throws around numbers, without any context. We don't know where he is. I wish Joe Biden would one day actually come out at the exact same time Trump does, and actually give a briefing with those three graphs, and show us what a real president would sound like and look like in making this incredibly difficult life-and-death call.
BLITZER: Yes, these really are life-and-death decisions.
CNN, Tom, is reporting that the president's talking to his friends from Wall Street, hedge fund managers, others in the big business, financial world who are pressuring him to open the economy up as soon as possible.
Everybody wants to see the economy opened up as soon as possible, but you got to have confidence that people won't be dying and there won't be increased numbers in the process.
Do you have confidence he will let science and medicine, rather than big business and Wall Street, guide his decision-making?
FRIEDMAN: You know, Wolf, I was actually one of the first people to raise this whole issue back now three weeks ago of, how do we harmonize the need for public health and the need for economic health?
Because, obviously, depths of despair because people lose their jobs, their livelihoods, their savings, that will cause enormous harm as well. The question is, how do we harmonize the two?
And the only way to do that is with a strategy that says, let us remain -- continue to sequester and protect the most vulnerable, those in their late 60s and those who are the most immune vulnerable, or compromised. How do we do that? And how do we then test for those people who have had the disease have gotten over it or have been quarantined or sheltered in place for a long time?
We know that they don't have it. How do we slowly phase them into the workplace? There's only one way to do that. What you learn from Korea and Singapore and China, Wolf, is that if you do it too early, it will come back.
And the worst thing, the worst thing in the world would be if we opened up and had to shut down again.
BLITZER: Yes, that would be terrible. That would be so sad. And the deaths could escalate dramatically.
In terms of reopening the economy, Tom, the majority of the major decisions lie with the individual governors out there. But the reality is there are some governors, especially those close to the president, like the governor of Florida, for example, who take their cues directly from the president.
Is that the problem with state-by-state approach right now, as you see it?
FRIEDMAN: Yes, I mean, you want everyone to be making these decisions on the basis of the best scientific input, and not from really any other source.
They have got to be concerned about their economies. I totally get that. I sympathize with it. I'm concerned about our economy here in Maryland. The governor just said state budget is going to have to be slashed. It's a real question.
But we have to do it the right way. And the right way is phased in, based on real testing, surveillance, tracking and tracing, so we know who's going out, that the first phase is going out, and they're going into the most important jobs, and we know that they're likely to be safe.
And if people do filter in there who are carrying the virus, we can track and trace them. It's not going to be perfect. I go back really, Wolf, to the first point.
It is a tough call, because whenever we do this, it's going to be in the context of this disease, this virus still being out there, because there's only two ways to be immune from this. One is through a vaccine. The other is with herd immunity. That is 60 to 70 percent of us get that. That could be a hellish prospect. So it's got to be done in a really smart, delicate way.
And if the president approached this process from the beginning in a really fact-based, scientific way of, where are we, where is the health need the greatest, where are we bending the curve, and what is the state of the testing, so we can phase people out there, I would have a lot more confidence that this decision was being made not by the president calling pals on Wall Street or listening to quack doctors anywhere in the system or on the Internet, but based on a real gathering around the table.
Here's the doctors, here's the science, here's the needs of the economy. If he did that, even under the best of circumstances, though, Wolf, it will be a very big, big, tough call for him, other leaders around the world, governors or mayors.
We're talking about Harry Truman and the decision to drop a bomb. In this case, it's a very, very tough call. And to -- I would say, to the president's credit, he talked about how tough that will be.
And it is a tough call for him. I just want it to be made with the best scientific input possible. BLITZER: Yes, he says it's the toughest decision he's ever had to make
in his life.
You tweeted this today. And I will read it.
You said: "The U.S. should have made the stimulus a race to the top for COVID-19 combating innovations."
What would that have looked like, in your opinion?
FRIEDMAN: That would have said, we're going to give our stimulus to the countries that can make the best masks fastest, the best ventilators fastest, the best hospital beds fastest.
Wolf, one of the things that I'm so worried about is that we have already spent $2 trillion, roughly, bailing out the economy and workers. That was absolutely necessary, just to keep the economy afloat.
We're probably going to spend at least another trillion more on stimulus to create jobs. It is so vital, Wolf, that we spend that money right, so if we're putting the next generation of Americans deeper into debt, we're doing it in a way that gives them the tools to actually thrive and compete in the 21st century, the way FDR did in the Depression through rural electrification and the WPA building infrastructure.
Then it was roads and bridges. Going forward, it's going to have to be the technologies of the 21st century, but broadband to every house in the country, for instance, scientific research, 5G. You just go right down the list.
Let's make sure, if we're going to go deeper into debt, we're doing it around the technologies that will enable the next generation of Americans to realize their full potential, because lord knows the debt burden they're going to be carrying, we're all going to be caring, but particularly your kids and mine, our girls, Wolf, we want to make sure they have got every chance to realize their full potential, pay that debt back in multiples because we have given them the tools to be more productive than ever.
BLITZER: And he's got to start rebuilding the country's infrastructure right now, with so much -- so much of it is a disaster.
All right, Tom Friedman, thank you very much, as usual, for joining us.
FRIEDMAN: Great to be with you, Wolf. And happy Passover.
BLITZER: All right, thanks. Same to you.
Just ahead: Will the U.S. economy be open for business next month? President Trump says it's the biggest decision he will ever make. Plus, horrific images out of New York City right now, where authorities are burying unclaimed bodies in trenches. You can see the coffins right there.
And we will bring you an update from the epicenter here in the United States.
BLITZER: All right, let's get some more expert analysis on the coronavirus pandemic.
We're joined now once again by our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and former FDA Commissioner Mark McClellan.
Guys, thanks very much.
Sanjay, as the global death toll from the coronavirus now tops 100,000, the health experts on the White House Coronavirus Task Force, they say they see some encouraging signs right now. Do you see some promising signs, even as the death toll continues to climb, more than 18,000 confirmed dead in the U.S., and some of the projections say by August could be 60,000?
DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
Yes, I think so, Wolf. I mean, you want to see these trends sort of continue. I think it's sometimes hard for people to get their arms around the fact that between the time someone is exposed to this virus, potentially, to the time they develop symptoms, then a small percentage of them have to go to the hospital, and obviously a very small percentage of them pass away from this, there's a lot of time in between.
It could be three weeks, Wolf, so it doesn't -- it's not entirely unreasonable that you would still see death rates sadly go up, but hospitalization rates are down a little bit or at least plateaued.
That means that in a week or so, two weeks, that we should see a decrease in death rates as well, hopefully. Again, you want to see these numbers be a trend vs. a few data points.
But, yes, I think that can be considered encouraging, Wolf.
BLITZER: Let's hope.
Commissioner McClellan, you co-wrote a very important report about reopening the country. Tell our viewers the key recommendations for getting people back to work safely.
DR. MARK MCCLELLAN, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Well, first off, Wolf, is seeing the trends that we're starting to see now continue, that the downward trend in the number of cases means that our health care systems will have plenty of capacity if we keep these distancing measures in place for a while longer to absorb any new increase in cases, any new outbreaks.
So, number one is keep doing what we're doing until we have seen a steady downward trend and we're past the horrific images like the ones that you just showed. We never want to go through that again.
Second, to make sure this doesn't happen again, we need the capacity in place to detect outbreaks early and hopefully prevent them. And that means lots more availability of testing and the ability to trace the contacts of people who test positive and support them, so that we don't get any more big outbreaks, like what we have seen in the last couple of months and what we're still living through now.
Those are the most important things to start with.
BLITZER: And those are important things.
Sanjay, the president says widespread testing, national testing, that would be nice, potentially, but not necessarily necessary. Medical experts largely disagree with that outlook.
Is that what your impression is as well?
GUPTA: You know, Wolf, I have heard this conversation a few times. I'm not sure if there's some confusion in terms of how people are defining widespread testing.
The president said the other day, we don't need to test everybody in the country, some 325 million people. I think he's right on that. We don't -- I don't think that anyone's suggesting that 325 million tests are going to be done or need to be done.
But we do need to have widespread testing, Wolf. And it's hard to put a number on exactly what that means. But I think, for starters, it means not just people who are coming in with symptoms to the hospital, but starting to do surveillance.
So, for example, Scott Gottlieb was talking about this today, but people go into their primary care office, I think there's some four million visits a week, roughly. If you start to think about every time someone comes in for a visit, maybe they get tested, even if they're not necessarily showing symptoms.
That's how you start to get an idea of surveillance. But what does that mean? That means 750,000 tests roughly a day that would need to be done for a period of time. And then, if someone is positive, they have the virus, as the commissioner was just talking about, you isolate that person.
You have to trace their contacts. That's a big job. I mean, think about it, Wolf. Before all this began, how many people did you come in contact with in a few days? Lots. How do you figure that all out? It can be challenging.
I have heard some estimates that we may need to have another 300,000 people who are just sort of working on that issue alone, really contact tracing. The point is, it's laborious work. It needs to be done. Doesn't mean testing everybody in the country, but it means a lot more testing, I think, than we're doing now.
BLITZER: Commissioner McClellan, you served as the FDA commissioner.
The president once again touting the use of the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus, but serious questions remain about the drug's safety, effectiveness, side effects. What's your analysis?
MCCLELLAN: I don't think the evidence is convincing yet.
I think the important thing for people to know is that there's some further tests going on now that really are designed to determine how well it works and whether there are important side effects. For people who have underlying heart problems, for example, it can arrhythmias.
Since there is so much pressure, understandably, to bring new drugs to the market fast, I think these steps to learn more about treatments when they're on the market are going to be very important.
So, health plans, health care systems are taking some new steps to collect better data to enroll patients in studies. And, hopefully, Americans will participate in those efforts, and we will be able to learn more, so that we don't have to make these very limited-evidence decisions that can matter for people's lives.
BLITZER: Yes, they certainly can.
Commissioner McClellan, thank you so much for everything you're doing. Sanjay, we will obviously not let -- we're not going to let you go. We have got more coming up.
Just ahead, an awful situation in New York City, where officials are truly overwhelmed with the bodies of coronavirus victims.
Also, the surging death toll in Michigan, as authorities struggling right now to keep up with the new cases. We will update you.
BLITZER: We're following the breaking news. More than 18,000 Americans have now died during the coronavirus pandemic and nearly half a million have tested positive. Let's discuss with the mayor of Washington, D.C., Muriel Bowser. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.
As you may have heard, Dr. Deborah Birx praised you today along with the mayors of Baltimore and Philadelphia for taking various action that is starting to change the curve. Tell our viewers, Mayor, what's working in the nation's capital.
MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D-DC): Well, thanks for having me on, Wolf. And we have been very focused since the middle part of March and various orders to limit activity and the spread of the virus in our city. We are among the first jurisdiction to close our schools, modified our government, closed down our bars and restaurants and large facilities and those top (INAUDIBLE) we have at the Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Institution.
Our economy has been shut down and a lot of people have suffered. But we have been trying to push down the peak of surge in our city, and push out, so that we can have our medical surge capacity ready.
BLITZER: Are you considering further action to protect residents? I know you've issued some sort of order that anybody who wants to go to a pharmacy or go to grocery store has to wear some sort of face covering.
BOWSER: Absolutely. We want to keep our first line workers safe. And we know that one way to do that and keep the food supply active is to have all of our residents look for homemade face coverings, scarves and the like, and that we know that will help us stop the spread of the virus.
BLITZER: How do -- the healthcare workers in D.C., what do they need right now the most? Are you short an any truly critical supplies?
BOWSER: Well, we continue to look for PPEs. We're trying to source it directly. We have requested from FEMA for more PPEs. But that is what we want to make sure all of our medical providers have access to. And our medical providers need us to have more testing available. We know to get out of the posture that we're in, we're going to have to have a more robust regime of testing. And we really need national for those supplies and materials so that our providers can get those tests done.
BLITZER: As you know, the vice president, Mike Pence, today urged folks to refrain from gathering in groups to worship this weekend.
How are you recommending that Washingtonians observe religious holidays, whether Passover this weekend or Easter, what are you recommending happen here in Washington this weekend?
BOWSER: Well, I joined a moment of silence today at 11:00 A.M. with residents across Washington, D.C. and our faith community. We are ending Holy Week in the Christian tradition and Easter Sunday coming up. We know our Jewish friends will the Passover and our Muslim friends will celebrate Ramadan at the end of the month. So this is a very special time for people of faith. And we are telling them while we are -- our celebrations might be different, this coronavirus hasn't changed our faith.
So we do not allow any gatherings of more than nine people in the district, and that includes church. So we are encouraging people to use the instrument, stream their services to do online giving, and only to celebrated with their families. We don't want anybody to let their foot off the gas and think that they should gather in big parties for a celebration, because that will only spread the virus. BLITZER: Yes, it certainly will. All right, Mayor Bowser, good luck to everyone here in Washington, D.C., thank you so much for what you are doing.
BOWSER: You bet. Bye.
BLITZER: All right. Let's get an update from the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States. Our Shimon Prokupecz is joining us from New York City.
Shimon, very sobering images from New York today. The city is actually digging trenches in a public cemetery to bury the dead. What's the latest.
SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. That's Hart Island. It's just outside of the Bronx. It's an island, really, a place where the city has previously used the space to bury bodies, unclaimed bodies, unidentified bodies.
And in this case, because there are so many bodies, very sad, of course, Wolf, they are prepared to bury a lot of people there. Certainly, they expect that some bodies are going to go unclaimed. Some folks just -- families may not be able to afford funerals, some families may need some more time before they retrieve bodies that are now laying inside refrigerated trucks all across the city.
So the city, in an effort, they want to do this respectfully, of course, what they are planning to do is dig these trenches, put these bodies there, and then, at some point, when the families are ready to retrieve them, they're going to dig them back up and have the families take possession of them.
All very difficult stuff, Wolf, of course, in the days and weeks to come here in New York.
BLITZER: We're seeing those coffins and those trenches, so painful right now. Shimon Prokupecz reporting, thank you.
Michigan also seeing an alarming rise in new cases and deaths. Let's go to our National Correspondent, Ryan Young. He is in Detroit for us.
Ryan, Michigan just had its largest one-day death count. How are officials there handling what's being described as a surge?
RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. It's obviously been a very tough day. We have seen a massive uptick in operations here. You can see some of the units that have arrived here, more than 100 extra National Guards, people have arrived in a hotel just down the street.
But, Wolf, we wanted to show you this video, sort of drastic, and show you what they're trying to ramp up for, extra trailers that have been brought in to house the bodies should they run out of space.
Yesterday, in the State of Michigan, over 205 people died from the coronavirus. This is the largest total so far. But we want to show you this as well. Back here at the TCF, so they are going to open this facility right here. This facility will be able to house 970 patients. Today, the first 25 were able to go on the inside. We'll show you the video from the inside as well. We got a tour of this operation.
The guards people who arrived here, they're going to be staffing this entire area. They're going to bring in extra healthcare professionals. We know the hospitals in this area have been stressed to capacity. This should help alleviate some of that pain that healthcare officials have been feeling over the last few days. Wolf?
BLITZER: Let's hope. All right, Ryan, thank you, Ryan Young reporting for us.
Just ahead, more on the racial disparities exposed by the coronavirus pandemic.
BLITZER: We are tracking the latest developments in the coronavirus pandemic. I want to bring in a special guest right now, a doctor on the frontlines of the outbreak, Dr. Myron Rolle. He's a neurosurgery resident in Harvard. He's got an amazing story. He's also a former NFL football player. Dr. Rolle, thank you so much for joining us.
I know you're on the frontlines of this pandemic. I wonder are there any similarities between how you battle your opponents out there on the football field and how you approach battling this coronavirus?
DR. MYRON ROLLE, NEUROSURGERY RESIDENT, HARVARD MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Well, thanks for having me, Wolf. And, absolutely, there are crossover traits that I'm seeing from my time playing football at Florida State, Tennessee Titans, Pittsburgh Steelers to now. Discipline, focus, hard work, teamwork, it's a real team effort here at Mass General Hospital, from infectious disease doctors, critical care doctors, nurses and even some specialties, like neurosurgery, who are now helping to manning staffs some of these hospitals and hospital clinics for COVD-19 patients.
But I think the best crossover trait has been mitigating pressure and knowing how to stay focused and being adaptable and flexible in moments like this.
So, yes, football has taught me a lot and it's certainly helping me right now in my life now as a physician.
BLITZER: And you make a real important point like in football, you need a team effort to succeed. And you really need a team effort. You work at Mass General.
What are you seeing right now with coronavirus?
ROLLE: Well, I'm seeing, as you mentioned, the team come together. Our hospital leadership has been amazing and keeping us abreast as to new policies and procedures. We obviously had to adjust how we do our neurosurgical outpatients clinic. They're all done virtually now. The operating rooms, the all elective cases have now been canceled or postponed. Our neurosurgical floor has been transformed into a COVID- 19 only floor, and our neurological residents like myself and my colleagues have been repurposed and redistributed around the hospital to help mend some of the COVID-19 patients.
But we have amazing people at the front lines. Nurses who have been exposed and re-exposed, and re-exposed again to patients coming off the streets. It's been a great team effort. I think everyone is trying to be proactive and aggressive of how we deal with this, because we know in Boston, the influx of patients is high, and the surge may increase in a week or so.
BLITZER: Yes, and just like in football, you need protective gear. You need a helmet. You need shoulder pads.
But right now, in hospitals, you need a lot of protective gear as well.
I want to ask you, Dr. Rolle, about what the surgeon general today said. He address the high rate of infections among the African- American community, the alarming rate of death among the African community. Are you seeing that high rate reflected in the patients you are treating at Mass General?
ROLLE: So, I think from my -- you know, it's a great question, first off and a great point. Any patient who comes off the street, whether you are from Cape Cod, Nantucket, you have a private jet from Bahrain, or you're from inner city projects of Rochester, or Dorchester, or Roxbury, you know, you're going to be treated with priority here.
But what I think COVID-19 is doing in Boston, and maybe even other places around the country is further eliminating this healthcare disparity gap between those who have and those who don't have. If we're asking people to social distance and be physical distanced apart, if you live in these low socioeconomic places, black and brown people in close quarters, it's kind of hard to practically do that.
And in a lot of times in these communities, you either don't have access or you can't afford to see a primary care physician. So you may not even know that you have some of these comorbidities and pre- existing conditions that make you even more susceptible to the virus like this, like COVID-19.
So, there are a lot of issues that are happening right now. We know that this gap has already existed. But COVID-19 is kind of illuminating it even more. And hopefully now that we see it in real time and in the stats that are just really staggering, we can help to address it in the future.
BLITZER: Yes, like our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon.
You're a neurosurgeon, we are grateful to you, Dr. Myron Rolle, we'll certainly have you back here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks for everything you're doing. ROLLE: Thank you for having me. Appreciate it.
BLITZER: And just ahead, we're going to go live to Italy. That's a hot spot for the virus, where authorities have just extended the nationwide lockdown. We'll tell you why.
BLITZER: Italy leads the world with almost 19,000 virus deaths, and with the country still under lockdown, the Easter weekend will look very different than normal.
Let's go to our senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman.
What are you seeing in Rome, Ben?
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what we're seeing, Wolf, is that people are beginning to get impatient with this lockdown, which has been in place since the 8th of March. Now, this evening, we heard Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte say that it would be extended until the 3rd of May.
We are today, of course, is Good Friday. We are in the, it will be the beginning of a long Easter weekend. It's spring. The weather is nice.
People are getting impatient. I have a colleague who was in one part of town where she saw a police car going down the street shouting to people through a megaphone, you on the corner, go home! You walking your dog, that's enough, go back home!
There really is a feeling that people are getting restless after all these weeks of confinement. But we heard the prime minister say, let's not waste the work that's gone into confining or slowing down the spread of this virus, just because people are getting a bit impatient -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Very impatient, indeed.
All right. Ben Wedeman in Rome.
Let's go to China right now, where life is slowly returning to normal.
David Culver is joining us from Shanghai.
What are you seeing there, David?
DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, it's interesting hearing Ben there talk about the impatience and then complacency, too, and that is a concern here as well, to the point where we've had in the past week an easing of restrictions, certainly within the original epicenter of all of this, Wuhan.
But in the same week, we are now seeing a new lockdown take effect, and that's happening in the northeastern part of China, right along the border with Russia. It's a town of about 70,000 people. And it is now under the most strict of lockdowns where folks have been essentially sealed inside their homes.
They are now also converting office buildings, one in particular, into a massive hospital. It's a makeshift hospital. It took about 48 hours to convert. All of this to add to the hospital capacity and treat the growing number of infected there.
BLITZER: Very interesting, indeed. We'll stay in very close touch with you, David Culver in Shanghai. Thank you.
And we'll have more news, just ahead.
BLITZER: Finally tonight, this is a special time of the year for many of us. Christians celebrate Easter this Sunday. Jews are observing Passover, and Muslims will mark Ramadan later this month.
Although we will not be able to gather as we traditionally do, we can come together through virtual services and gatherings. Through this sacrifice, we can stop the spread and hopefully return to our places of worship relatively soon.
We're all in this together as we do our part to socially distance during these holidays that mean so much to all of us.
I'll be back tomorrow night for a special SITUATION ROOM at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. Please join us then.
Until then, thanks very much for watching.
"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.