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Every State Under Disaster Declaration; Michigan Bans Travel; Interview With Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH); Federal Government Blocked Private Labs From Developing Coronavirus Tests In Late January; Dr. Patrice Harris, American Medical Association President, Discusses Government Blocking Of Private Labs To Develop Tests, Antibody Tests To Be Available Soon, Use Of Unproven Drugs; Italy's Coronavirus Death Toll Nears 20,000; Families Celebrate Easter & Passover By Staying Apart. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 11, 2020 - 17:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Erica Hill in New York, in today for Ana Cabrera.

We begin with a staggering new number in the Coronavirus crisis. The death toll in this country has now topped 20,000. And every single state is under a disaster declaration simultaneously. New York State, alone, has more than 181,000 confirmed cases. That is more than any single country outside the U.S. Of course, there's a caveat with that, when it comes to China's numbers. But, still, that is staggering.

The country's largest school district, New York City, there's a fight there for the schools -- the system's 1.1 million students, and when they'll be back in the classroom. Mayor Bill De Blasio, on Saturday morning, announcing the city's schools will be closed through September. And then, hours later, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, no decision has been made, calling the mayor's announcement his opinion.

Meantime, in Kentucky, state police are at the ready. They plan to record the license plate information of church goers at Easter services. The governor warning anyone found attending a service in person is facing a misdemeanor violation and a mandatory 14-day quarantine.

Beginning today in Michigan, people can no longer travel between two homes. If they do, they risk a $1,000 fine or even jail time. That ban is sparking pushback in a state where owning a vacation home is actually fairly commonplace.

Meantime, in L.A., it is now mandatory for both employees and customers to cover their faces, their nose and their mouth, when going into essential businesses, like grocery stores.

We begin, though, this hour in New York where we are seeing scenes like this one. This is Heart Island in New York City, a public cemetery. Crews digging trenches there for the bodies of Coronavirus victims. Victims whose bodies were not claimed or identified by next of kin. Now, this does happen, of course, around the country. And, in New York City, those unclaimed bodies are given dignity and respect at burial in the public cemetery.

But what's different about this is, normally, the city has maybe 25 people a week who are buried unclaimed. Now, we're told, it's about 25 people a day.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is live in New York City. And, Evan, as we look at the numbers in New York, of course, number one, which is not where you want to be, when it comes to cases in deaths in New York. Although, we are seeing hospitalizations go down which is a good sign. There's also this battle now between the mayor of New York City and the governor of the state about when schools will reopen. What do we know?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, this is all part of a conversation that New York is having now about what comes after coronavirus. As you mentioned, you know, still many deaths, many hospitalizations. But signs that some of this stuff is plateauing and, perhaps, going to be towards the back end of the curve on this stuff.

And so, you have a situation, now, where people are talking about what comes next. And a big question has been the schools, because this is the largest school district in the country, a million students. A very big part of life here in New York, the public schools. And what we're going to do about them in the next coming weeks of the school year.

So, Mayor De Blasio came on this morning and said, very strongly, that the schools will remain closed through the end of the year. Parents have been advised about that. School administrators have been told about it, that the schools in New York City will remain closed.

But shortly after he finished saying that, Governor Cuomo came on in his own press conference and suggested it maybe wasn't as final a decision as it sounded.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: You can't make the decision just within New York City without coordinating that decision with the whole metropolitan region, because it all works together. But we're going to do it in a coordinated sense with the other localities.

That's his opinion. But he didn't close them, and he can't open them.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, to put this in some context, basically, what's happening here is there's a bit of a political spat, between Albany, the capital of New York, and New York City, going on right now. Basically, the governor saying, look, I'm the person that can reopen the schools, because I'm the person who closed them. And the mayor saying, no, they're going to be closed and I'm the person who can close them.

Stuck in the middle, of course, are teachers and students and administrators. I've been talking to teachers throughout the day today. And, you know, a lot of them said, look, they're expecting the schools to remain closed. They don't know what's going to happen exactly but they're expecting it. Parents have been told already to expect them to be closed.

It's a big deal because of what it takes to keep the schools closed here and what it requires to plan for a long closure and the school system here in New York City wants to get on with that planning. So, that's, really, what's going on here in New York City right now -- Erica.

HILL: Also, the limbo, of course, for parents, as they wonder what's going to happen with their kids. How that impacts them. And going back to work.


HILL: Evan McMorris-Santoro, appreciate the reporting. Thank you.

One of the country's most aggressive stay-at-home orders went into effect this morning in Michigan. That new order bans residents from traveling between homes, between residences. It's a state where vacation homes are common. You can imagine there's a little pushback there.

To justify the new order, though, Michigan's governor is citing these numbers. More than 22,000 confirmed Coronavirus cases in that state. More than 1,200 deaths.

CNN's Ryan Young is live for us now in Detroit. So, Ryan, was this more an issue of people going back and forth between their own homes or is this a concern that, I'm going to go visit my grandmother for Easter because I don't want her to be alone?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's one of the things that we're seeing, people wanting to get together for family gatherings. In fact, the police in Detroit have had to break up several parties in the area, because people want to get together as well.

Look, today's Saturday. It's a beautiful day here in Detroit. And we've seen nothing but people, sort of, walking around the lake front. We've seen them out, more so than we have in the last few days.

But we also know, these new restrictions apply to stores as well to try to keep people more separated. They're trying to flatten the curve here. But I can tell you, this is one of those stories that really hits you right in the heart. Because no matter where you go in the city, you meet someone who's had a loss.

And we talked to one family who had to make a decision about how many people could attend a funeral.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He didn't want to go away like this. And he didn't. But just know this. We done the best that we could. YOUNG (voice-over): These short cell phone videos of her husband

Rayshawn's (ph) funeral were the only way Mareni (ph) Smith could see it from quarantine.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: His name is Rayshawn Smith.

YOUNG: She hasn't left her house, since testing positive for the same virus that killed him.

MARENI SMITH: I didn't want him to leave here alone. Like, I just feel like he was there for everybody and I feel like he was alone. Like nobody was able to be there for him. I had to make an executive decision to keep myself and my daughter home. We don't want to go to another funeral.

YOUNG: In the last three weeks, Mareni says she, her father, and her brother have all tested positive for COVID-19.

SMITH: People in the family started displaying flu-like symptoms. No idea what's Corona. Nothing like that. Just, hey, I don't feel so good. My husband, his symptom was a high fever.

YOUNG: With strict social-distancing rules in place, their trip to the hospital March 16th would be the last time she saw him.

SMITH: They was, like, you can't be in here. You can't be in here. And they sent my daughter and I out. You know, we were sitting in the car asleep, waiting to hear from him. He said, baby, they're going to admit me.

YOUNG: Their next conversation, the last-minute gesture from a worried nurse.

SMITH: So, the nurse felt so bad for my daughter and I. She used her personal phone and Facetimed us, which I thought was really, really nice. So, she let us speak with him. And I just told him, you know, I asked if he was scared. And he said, yes. My husband -- everybody that knows my husband knows he's not afraid of anything. But he was very, very scared.

YOUNG: Just seven days after arriving at the hospital, he was gone.

SMITH: He went in the hospital on a Monday, and he passed away on a Monday.

YOUNG: The speed of the deadly and contagious Coronavirus is leaving families, like the Smiths, holding unexpected and underattended funerals at a frightening pace.

MAJOR CLORA, FUNERAL DIRECTOR: It's very, very challenging.

YOUNG: At Major Clora's Funeral Home in Detroit, no more than 10 immediate family members can pay their respects in person.

CLORA: Just receiving so many death calls at once. You know, this week has been one of the, you know, most overwhelming weeks that I've ever had in my career.

SMITH: I'm doing everything I can to safeguard myself and my family.

YOUNG: And as for those still waiting to say their last good-byes?

SMITH: I promised her, when this is all over, we're going somewhere. We're going to scream and cry. And hold each other. And we're going to go visit her dad.

YOUNG: Yes, absolutely tough conversation to have with a nine year old. Look, I had called Major Clora today to talk to him about what's going on at his funeral home. He told me, now, he's getting several families coming in who are all dead. So, --

HILL: Oh, my goodness.

YOUNG: -- several different members of the same family dying in the same household. When you hear that being repeated, it's very tough. And even his family is starting to be hit by the Coronavirus. So, you understand why people are wanting to see something flatten out, in terms of the curve.

But, then, there are other folks who live in this community who haven't had the Coronavirus just yet, and some of them are wanting to come out and enjoy some of this weather or go to the store or do whatever they're going to do.

So, Erica, as you know, as you've seen across this country, this is a tough conversation to have as it repeats itself over and over.

HILL: It is. And it may be a beautiful day, but, you know, all they need to do is hear the pain Mareni Smith's voice. And just think about what it's like for her and for all those other families we've mentioned. Ryan, such an -- such an important piece and you told it beautifully. Thank you.


HILL: As President Trump pushes to reopen the economy as soon as possible, a standoff may be brewing between the president and governors who may want to continue stay-at-home orders. Just ahead, we'll speak with the governor of Ohio.


HILL: There is some good news out of Ohio today, one of the first states to issue social distancing guidelines. The state's Health Department just releasing an updated forecast which now projects, during its peak next week, Ohio will likely see 1,600 new cases per day.

Now, let's put that in perspective. That would be a significant drop from the 10,000 daily cases that have been previously projected. Even so, there are dire warnings that all of these gains could be erased, and fairly quickly, if the economy and the country reopen too soon.


DR. CHRIS MURRAY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS AND EVALUATION, UNIVERSITY OF WASHINGTON: It's enough to say that if we were to stop at the national level May first, we're seeing a return to almost where we are now sometime in July.


MURRAY: So, a real -- a rebound. That rebound doesn't happen in every state because some states are much farther along. But, definitely, there's a very substantial risk of rebound, if we don't wait to the point where most transmission is near zero in each state.


HILL: I'm joined now by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine. Governor, good to have you with us today. We're hearing a lot about what's been happening behind the scenes, in terms of these conversations about reopening the economy. We know it's very important to the president. He said it's the most important decision he will make.

That being said, he can't really make the decision and say, here's my order. The entire country must reopen. Governors have a really important role to play in this. So, as you look at that decision for your state, how do you make that decision?

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Well, you know, I think we first have to start off with the fact that even if we open tomorrow, which we're not going to do, the economy's not going to roar back until, you know, people have more confidence. If people are scared to death, literally, they're not going to go out.

So, what we have to do is to, as we look to the future -- and we were working on this, frankly, today with my team. But how do we get people confidence? And I think we're going to have to have a lot more testing. Very, very significant testing. We're going to have to have -- you know, trying to separate the individuals who -- find out who has already had this -- had it. Some of the people who have had it maybe not know they had it.

So, that's the type of work that's going to have to occur as we move forward. And I think the reopening is going to have to be, you know, one step at a time. One stage at a time. And so, we're going to continue to look at this. Continue to evaluate it.

Everyone wants to get back. Everyone -- you know, it's a beautiful day here in southwest Ohio, and people want to get out and do what they want to do. But we don't want to be premature. But we also, you know, want to assure people that we're planning for this.

HILL: And what are you hearing from folks in Ohio? Right, because a lot of this does depend on the community that you live in and how hard that community or even your family has been hit. Are you feeling pressure to move forward and move away from some of these measures that you put in place very early because of what you're hearing from some folks in Ohio? DEWINE: Well, we have had some success because of what the people in

the state of Ohio have done. They have heeded the call to distance themselves, to stay home. By and large, they've done it very, very, very well. And so, we've seen that projection, which you talked about, which was going up like that.

You know, that projection, now, is a lot, lot better. Our first concern was that we were going to totally overwhelm our healthcare system. And, you know, it doesn't look like that's going to happen. But we're still cautious, as we move forward.

But, sure, there's a real desire for people to get back. And for life to, you know, go back to normal. But I think the message is, it's not going to go back to normal overnight, no matter what the state does or doesn't do. People have to have confidence that they can go out. They can go to a ball game. They can go to a restaurant. And so, we have to help them get that confidence. And that's part of the -- part of the rollout of what we do as we slowly reopen.

HILL: If the president were to put in place some sort of a national order, which, again, would be more of a recommendation just based, again, we know, on the way that the country works and the Constitution. But even still, if that went into effect, saying open up in May, how would you handle that?

DEWINE: Well, you know, I think that the president is doing what a president should do and that's be aspirational. When he talks about, you know, I want to open up -- he talked about by Easter. We all wanted to open up by Easter. And I don't think there's anything wrong with that. We all want to be optimistic.

But, ultimately, every state is different. And we're at a different stage in every state. As I talk to my fellow governors, they're -- each one is a different stage. So, ultimately, we're going to have to make that decision in Ohio and what's best, you know, for our state, based on the facts that are unique to Ohio.

HILL: As we look at what's happening across the country, we hear different things from different cities. And I know it depends on the day how certain hospitals are doing. The president was asked, specifically, about whether those on the front lines have what they need yesterday at the task force briefing. Here's that moment.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Why would you say no? The answer is yes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do we have enough medical equipment?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the answer is yes. I think the answer is yes. Who said no to that?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm saying, this is --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no, you're saying no. But who said no?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hear -- we hear from --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But you asked me, do we have enough masks?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We hear from doctors. We hear from --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, no, you didn't say that. You said, do we have enough masks?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does the country?



HILL: The president went on to say that he does feel everybody has enough of what they need. What is the situation today in Ohio, and how are your healthcare workers feeling about their needs?

DEWINE: Well, we want to protect not only the healthcare workers, frankly, we would hope to protect the people, you know, who are working at nursing homes. Not just the people in hospitals but the people in nursing homes. Our first responders. We've also got people, you know, in grocery stores who need to be protected.

So, we're looking at it, kind of, from a wholistic point of view. If you ask me where we are, we're a lot better than we were a week ago. And a whole lot better than we were two weeks ago. I mean, we were working on this last night. My staff stayed up until 3:00 a.m., securing, you know, five million of the masks, the high-grade masks. They're coming out of L.A. And, you know, we're happy to have those.

So, you know, this -- these are important. It's important for us to be able to tell our health workers, we got your back. And we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that you have the equipment that you need.

HILL: And it sounds like it is -- it is an equation, as we hear from many officials, that is changing sometimes by the hour.

Quickly, before we let you go.


HILL: Your neighbor next door, Governor, the governor in Kentucky, is concerned about a handful. He said, maybe six churches that are planning to hold Easter services tomorrow. And has put out word that they will take down license plate information. They will make sure they know who those folks are who are going to services saying what is really an act of faith, in his view, is sacrificing a little bit too protect your neighbor. Are you concerned at all about Easter gatherings tomorrow in Ohio?

DEWINE: Well, here's what I've told, and most of our churches are doing this online. They're doing -- they're great. You know, they're pulling people together, but separating them physically.

But what I said at a press conference this week, and I talked directly to the ministers who might be thinking about doing this. I said, look, there's no religion, that I'm aware of, where endangering someone else is considered to be a good thing. So, you know, please be very, very careful.

And the vast, vast majority of our rabbis, our ministers, our priests in Ohio are doing a great job. They've either cancelled services or they're working it out so people can listen on the radio or they can listen on the Internet. So, they're -- people get it.

HILL: Governor Mike DeWine, appreciate your time this afternoon, sir. Thank you.

DEWINE: Thank you.

HILL: In the crucial early days of the spread of coronavirus, a CNN investigation found the federal government actually blocked private labs from using tests. Those details are next. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



HILL: Shocking new details on the rollout of coronavirus testing. CNN has learned some private labs were eager to develop the testing as early as January, anticipating the inevitable outbreak. But as CNN's Drew Griffin reports, the federal government actively blocked those tests from being produced and being made available to the American public.


DREW GRIFFIN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As Coronavirus was silently racing around the world in late January and early February, the federal government not only failed to use the massive arsenal of hundreds of laboratories across the United States for emergency testing, it actually left roadblocks in place to prevent nongovernment labs from assisting. That is according to documents obtained by CNN and interviews with more than a dozen scientists and physicians involved in Coronavirus testing.

DR. AMESH ADALJA, JOHNS 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.

GRIFFIN: Several hospital and university-based 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 rules, sending this memo on February sixth, 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. Glenn 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 were 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, THE ASSOCIATION OF PUBLICHEALTH LABORATORIES: So, we really were in a -- basically, on a pause for a few weeks within the public health system. And, meanwhile, the academic laboratories, who had developed their own tests, 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.


GRIFFIN: 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 Research HealthSystem, in Evanston, Illinois, was one of the labs pushing to launch its own tests and was stopped by overbearing red tape.

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

DR. KAREN KAUL, CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF PATHOLOGY & LABORATORY MEDICINE, NORTHSHORE UNIVERSITY HEALTHSYSTEM: I do think there is a 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 and informed of what's happening. But the CDC did not answer questions on why the CDC didn't pursue those laboratories getting involved in this massive testing program sooner.

Drew Griffin, CNN, Atlanta.


HILL: Joining me now is Dr. Patrice Harris. She is president of the American Medical Association.

Doctor, good to have you with us.

That report from Drew shows how the federal government didn't use labs for emergency testing. In fact, actively kept those private labs from helping test for coronavirus. When the government ultimately did decide to move, I mean, how much was lost in that? Did they move too late? Did they have enough urgency?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, Erica, thank you for having me today.

And certainly, we are behind when it comes to testing in this country. And there will be time and should be time for a thorough after-action review in the early days and what happened with our testing capacity and ability to ramp that up.

But as of today, again, still being behind, we need an all-hands-on- deck approach to get more widespread testing. And we need the diagnostic testing, we need the antibody testing.

And that's why, early on, the American Medical Association asked the president to use all the levers within the federal government to ramp up not only testing but the supplies needed for testing, but also the personal protective equipment needed for physicians, nurses, and health care workers on the front lines.

HILL: As you mentioned, testing -- and we've talked so much this week about antibody testing -- Dr. Fauci saying that, you know, it could be available in a week or so. We know that here, in New York State, the governor has said the Department of Health already has a test that's been approved in terms of antibody testing.

If it can be rolled out quickly, how much of the population should be getting that test?

HARRIS: Well, certainly, leave those specific numbers up to the epidemiologists and Dr. Fauci to make that recommendation. But clearly, we certainly need more testing as soon as we can.

And it will be important. And I think the antibody testing will allow us to know those who may have had a mild or moderate course, even an asymptomatic course. And so we will have a better idea of how many folks have been infected.

And that, actually, will be an important data point as we look ahead to reopening our country, if you will.

HILL: The president has been aggressively promoting, as we know, the anti-malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine, as a therapy for this virus. Top medical officials have signed off on it. I know you have a very strong opinion about this. And I want to touch on that.

But I also want to play what the CDC director had to say at our town hall the other night when Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked him how he feels about recommending Hydroxychloroquine.


ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I'm not going to recommend it and not going to not recommend it.

CDC, as an organization, as you know -- you and I have talked about it before -- we're not an opinion organization. We're a science-based, data-driven organization.

At this moment in time, we're not recommending it but we're not not recommending it. We're recommending for the physician and patient to have that discussion.


HILL: Science and data can, of course, influence an opinion. I know you are not on the fence about this one at all. Explain to our viewers your thoughts here.

HARRIS: Well, the view of the American Medical Association is Hydroxychloroquine or any medicine that is untested for a particular disease needs to go through the rigorous clinical trial process. Fortunately, that is under way at this point. Other therapies are being studied.


And that's what we need to have before we recommend any medication. We have to start and end with the science and the evidence.

HILL: Dr. Patrice Harris, always appreciate you joining us. Thank you. HARRIS: Thank you.

HILL: Coming up, Italy, one of the country's hit hardest by the coronavirus. The death toll there now nearing 20,000. We will take you live to Italy next.


HILL: In Italy, the number of people who have died from coronavirus has jumped by more than 600 since Friday, bringing the country even closer to a grim milestone, nearly 20,000 dead.

This comes as the Italian government says its heavy social restrictions will stay in place now through at least early May.

CNN contributor, barbie Nadeau, is in Rome.

This so-called curve flattened a bit, Barbie, but the impact of the virus, understandably, is far from over and devastating. What is the latest there?


BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, we were hoping by now that we'd be on the other side of the curve. But we have had about a week of this stabilization of numbers. And that means a couple thousand new cases every single day.

But the death rate is what's really devastating here. Six hundred today. The day before that, it was over 500 additional deaths.

It's really taking a toll on the country when you consider how many sacrifices people are making, personal and economic. We've been in the lockdown now for well over a month. People have missed paychecks. People are in dire economic state. And we're not seeing the results from that.

A lot of that is because some people are just not respecting the lockdown. They've seen a lot of movement here in Rome. They've seen movement around in the north of the country too.

The authorities are saying you just got to stay put, respect the lockdown for it to be effective -- Erica?

HILL: Got to stay put and respect that lockdown.

Barbie, thank you.

For millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, respecting those restrictions, while also celebrating Holy Week and Passover, well, it was a reminder of how much is different this year. So, how do you keep the faith and their traditions alive? That's next.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


HILL: It is sure to be an Easter performance like no other.




HILL: Legendary opera singer, Andrea Bocelli, will perform "Ave Maria" and other sacred songs from an empty cathedral in Milan tomorrow. Bocelli says he hopes his music will offer healing and hope to millions.

Under typical circumstances, millions of families would be coming together this weekend to celebrate Easter or maybe Passover. This year, though, many are observing the holiday while staying far away from one another.

We've seen a number of Zoom seders. You're looking at one right now.

And services are also adapting.




HILL: Many places of worship, of course, are closed.

As CNN's Tom Foreman reports, others are putting faith before health.



TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the holiest week of the year for Christians, a battle is brewing between some government leaders convinced any churches still open are putting everyone at risk for the virus --

ANDREW WARREN, STATE ATTORNEY, HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA: Everyone needs to, right now, at this moment, act like you have it and thank God that you don't.

FOREMAN: -- and some religious folks who flatly disagree.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to open up, so that people that are in spiritual need right now more than ever, our churches need to be open.

FOREMAN: Government enthusiasm for cracking down on worship services has been lukewarm in places. Of the more than 40 states with stay-at- home orders, 15 have given churches exemptions, despite outbreaks and fatalities already associated with religious gatherings, such as here in California.

In Florida, where one pastor was arrested after a huge convocation, the governor's office has now defined worship as an essential service, even though someone municipalities strongly object.

WARREN: This is not only undermining our ability to implement social distancing here. It's really undermining the sacrifices that millions of Floridians have been making across the state for the past couple weeks.

FOREMAN: In Louisiana, where the virus is raging, a Baton Rouge pastor is still holding services allegedly drawing hundreds.

The governor there?

JON BEL EDWARDS (D), LOUISIANA GOVERNOR: We're not going to enforce our way out of this.


FOREMAN: At the Vatican, Palm Sunday typically draws massive crowds to St. Peter's Square. The view this year, startlingly different.

And, to be sure, many places of worship in the United States have shifted to online services.

CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN, ARCHBISHOP OF NEW YORK: Easter's the easiest day to preach, because all of us long for hope.

FOREMAN: Yet, in some corners of the religious world, that's just not enough.

So, in Arkansas, the Awaken Church continues to hold services, while telling worshipers to spread out and avoid hugging or handshakes.

The governor there is also pushing back only lightly.

ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS GOVERNOR: We don't recommend that, but if it's within the guidelines, then that's understandable.


HILL: Joining me now, CNN Religion Commentator, Father Edward Beck.

Father Beck, always good to see you.

As we move into Easter tomorrow -- and we saw this with Passover seders on Wednesday and Thursday night -- most people are listening to these stay-at-home orders, as much as they may want to be at a service in that pew or be around the table with their family.

What's your message, though, to those folks who say it is actually a sign of their devotion that they are showing up to a church service where there will be dozens of other people, perhaps more?

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: I would say that a sign of your devotion, if you really love God and neighbor, like we are commanded, it means stay home.

You don't know if you are sick. You don't know if you will contract the illness. You could make matters worse. And I don't get how somebody cannot see that.


I don't get -- so some people have said, well, God will protect me. The blood of Chris will protect me. So all of these people that got sick, God didn't protect? They weren't faithful? I mean, none of that makes sense.

Love of God and love of neighbor, right now, means staying home and worshiping in your domestic church.

HILL: How do you keep that community, that sense of community? For some people, whether it's going to maybe a sunrise service on Easter, going to mass, or being at an Easter egg hunt with family, these traditions really mean so much. How do you keep that tradition and sense of community going?

BECK I think we have been creative with developing new ways during this pandemic. And, Erica, it's not ideal. I get that we want to hug one another. We want to receive communion. We want to sing songs together.

But for this period, I think this isolation can teach us something new about spirituality. There are contemplative aspects of it. I mean, I think you saw all of those images of the pope standing alone in that massive St. Peter's Square. And yet, he was connected. He was connected to God and he was connected to us. And that's the heart of faith.

So I think you keep some traditions virtually, and you celebrate with your family. It's appropriate. But I think we have to do it a different way this year, and maybe learn something different about ourselves and our faith.

HILL: I know you also had a funeral earlier this week. People are mourning in different ways as well. We had a heartbreaking story from our correspondent, Ryan Young, of a family who couldn't be together. A woman who couldn't say good-bye to her husband. Her daughter couldn't say good-bye to her father.

How do you handle mourning in a time when people can't do that together?

BECK: It was really hard, Erica. We gathered at the gravesite. This elderly Chinese woman had died. She had five children. And the cemetery only allowed 10 people at the graveside. So thank God these five children and their spouses could gather.

And it was Thursday, Holy Thursday. It was pouring rain. I thought, how are we going to do this. And we were standing there. It was her tomb, her grave. They gathered as couples physically distancing from each other. We prayed. The rain stopped, the sun came out as we were praying there, and they told stories about her.

And it's the mystery we're celebrating right now. It's about being in the tomb. But it's not the final word. She was alive in their love, and in how she had left her imprint with them. And it gave me such hope.

And I don't them, you now, I couldn't sprinkle the holy water, because that's kind of forbidden now for gravesides. So I was feeling a little badly about that. Do you know, when we ended that service, the rain started, and that coffin got sprinkled with the rain. I mean, it was cinematic. You couldn't make it up.

Yet, there was such a peace with this family at being there. And I thought, you know, love is stronger than death. That's the message, that love ultimately prevails.

Even if you're not Christian, even if you don't believe in the physical resurrection, I mean, an itinerant Jewish preacher, 2,000 years ago, with no army, no power, no possessions, and today, we have amassed more than two billion Christians following that same message.

So if that's not a miracle, if that's not that the message still leaves, that love is stronger than death, I just know what is.

HILL: I think love is a beautiful place to end this segment.

Father Edward Beck, always good to see you, my friend. Thank you. And happy Easter.

BECK: Thanks, Erica. Happy Easter to you.

HILL: As we look at how this virus is affecting people around the country, we have a very real snapshot for you of life during the pandemic. Teresa Tomassoni's grandmother has dementia. She's isolated now in an assisted-living facility.

But to brighten her day, Teresa now relies on visits through the window.



The first time I saw her through the window, I was super emotional. I have never not been able to hug her or hold her hand.

Bring her down so she can see you.

My grandmother has dementia so she doesn't understand why she can't come out, or why I can't go in.

UNIDENTIFIED GRANDMOTHER: I could go with you if you want me to go away from here.

TOMASSONI: I do want you to come out, but right now, I want you to stay healthy and safe.

UNIDENTIFIED GRANDMOTHER: Oh, I'm not worried about that.

TOMASSONI: I try to answer all her questions, but what is sinking in is not really clear. She'll ask, why can't I come outside, why can't you come in? Is it because of the dog? I think they allow dogs in here.

I'm just trying to maintain the connection she has to the rest of the family, her children and her grandchildren.


Sometimes we just put our hands up against the window. She gets a kick out of that.

UNIDENTIFIED GRANDMOTHER: I'm going to get one more hug.

TOMASSONI: She's like, OK for now. But next time, we're going to work something else out, wink, wink.




HILL: Thanks for joining us on this Saturday in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Erica Hill.