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Coronavirus Latest; New York Death Toll Surpasses 7,800; U.S. Health Officials Shift Focus to Antibody Testing; Trump to Reconsider WHO Funding; Brothers Return to U.S. from Russia to Visit Dying Father. Aired 12-12:30a ET

Aired April 11, 2020 - 12:00   ET




MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Hello, everyone, and welcome to CNN NEWSROOM. I am Michael Holmes.


HOLMES: Thanks for your company.

The chaos and danger in the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, globally now close to 1.7 million cases, according to Johns Hopkins. And not long ago, the U.S. passed half a million cases on its own. The country also saw its highest death toll so far, reporting more than 2,000 deaths on Friday, alone, bringing the total to more than 18,000.

New York, of course, remains the U.S. epicenter. The state has more cases than any in the world. In New York City, you see there, they are digging mass graves for people who have not been claimed by relatives or a loved one.

Meanwhile, the stalled economy and skyrocketing unemployment also plaguing the U.S. The federal government weighing its options, though. A new model reported by "The New York Times" shows that cases will spike if stay-at-home orders are lifted at the end of the month.

Now the U.S. president, well, he obviously wants to jumpstart the economy and soon. But his advisers say move too fast and we will just see many more deaths. Jim Acosta tells us what Mr. Trump is considering.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (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...

QUESTION: Bipartisan?

TRUMP: Bipartisan.

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: On the issue of equipment, a source close to the Coronavirus Task Force tells CNN the U.S. is not quite where it needs to be on testing. On the question of reopening the government, the president told reporters earlier in the day that he is willing to shut down the U.S. once again if it is necessary -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


HOLMES: The virus has claimed more than 7,800 lives in the state of New York and New York City now facing the grim reality of what to do with the mounting number of unclaimed victims. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz reports.


SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: There continues to be some good news here in New York City. As the governor said, the number of people that have been hospitalized has plateaued, including the number of people who have been in the ICU, people who are entering the hospital and need intensive care, need those ventilators.

And that is actually down for the first time since the height of the pandemic here in New York City, hospitalizations have plateaued. Sadly, the number of people who are dying continues to be high. Close to 800 people in the last 24 hours from Thursday to Friday, have passed away.


PROKUPECZ: Over 7,000 people have died across the state and about 5,000 people, now, have died just in New York City.

The next part of this, obviously, is going to be what happens to a lot of the dead. The bodies that are now being stored at the medical examiners' offices, also at these refrigerated trucks, all across the city. The city, today, the mayor is saying that some of those bodies are going to be buried on an island off of the Bronx in New York City.

It's called Hart Island. Some of those bodies are going to be buried there because a lot of the families are not going to be able to claim them right away. So temporarily, basically, the city plans to put those bodies on that island and then, at some point, allow the families to retrieve those bodies so that they could have the proper burial.

Of course, the city is trying to do this in a very sensitive way, being sensitive about the fact that these families want to pay respect and treat the bodies the right way.

That is going to happen in the next few weeks, the next few days, as the city continues to grapple with this, deal with number of dead and of course, the number of sick -- Shimon Prokupecz, for CNN, in New York City.


HOLMES: New York hospitalizations at least are going down.

How are other U.S. hospitals managing the virus?

Dr. Anish Mahajan, the chief medical officer at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center joins me from Los Angeles.

And thanks for doing so. Let's start with your hospital.

How is it coping?

What are the problems?

What are the fears going forward?

DR. ANISH MAHAJAN, HARBOR-UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Well, we are in preparation mode. We have planned a ability to triple the capacity to take care of critical care patients and we are seeing a steady increase of COVID-positive patients coming into our hospital and our sister hospital through the Los Angeles region.

HOLMES: Obviously far from over and it's interesting, to that point, "The New York Times" reporting that if the administration lifts the 30 day stay-at-home orders, the death toll could be as high as 200,000 and even if the schools are closed during the summer.

There is plenty of talk the administration is possibly trying to reopen the economy as early as May.

What, as a medical professional, is the risk of premature reopening?

MAHAJAN: We are just at the beginning of this pandemic. We are on the upswing in California. In California, we were fortunate that stay at home, safer at home orders were made in the middle of March. That gave us time in California to get prepared for patients coming in with the illness.

It has lowered the steepness of the curve, it has flattened the curve. The only reason the curve is flatter is because people are staying at home. If we were to lift the stay-at-home order anytime soon, we will see a resurgence in a great number of infections happening rapidly. So it is far too soon to talk about lifting stay-at-home orders.

HOLMES: Does it worry you that it might happen for political reasons?

MAHAJAN: Well, I could just say we have to do what is right for protecting the public and protecting all of us. It is important that people understand that we don't yet have the ability to understand how much infection is out there.

One of the things that we really need to do is develop those antibody tests and if we are trying to understand how much of the population has already had the virus and developed immunity to the virus, until we have data like that, it is far too premature to begin to resume a normal life. HOLMES: To that very point, despite what we hear from the White House,

it does appear that testing is woefully inadequate in terms of testing enough people to know who is asymptomatic but spreading and to possibly do those important links of identifying, isolate and contact trace.

That is still vital to get a grip of where this is and where it is going, right?

MAHAJAN: Absolutely. We need to do a lot more testing than we are doing and we are seeing improvements in the ability to test not only sick people in the hospital but now we are beginning to test people in the community.

That will help us understand the spread of the virus and, to your point, it is very important to isolate people who have the virus, important to help keep people away who may have been exposed. These are public health measures that we have to do more of to be able to control the spread.

HOLMES: I was curious what you thought, you know, you are in the system.


HOLMES: Do you think this pandemic has exposed some real holes and failures in the public health system?

Not the professionals who are in it but the system itself, things from preparedness to equipment and also, it has to be mentioned that the issue of who is not insured in this country.

I read the words of a doctor today who said they had a patient, he told them he needed a ventilator and the man was gasping for air.

He said who is going to pay for it?

What has coronavirus exposed about the system?

MAHAJAN: In our system, we have inequalities and those inequalities relate to people's access to health care and people's insurance status. The pandemic only exacerbates and magnifies those inequalities.

So what we are seeing is that people who are low income, people who have limited access to health care are disproportionately affected by this virus. They are having worse outcomes because often it is these people who have other chronic health conditions that are not well controlled.

And we know that when a person who has, say, diabetes or asthma or heart disease, gets the virus. It is harder for them to fight it off.

HOLMES: That's a very important point. Those are the people who don't have access for financial reasons, usually, to health care. We don't know if this will have a seasonal component for sure, correct

me if I'm wrong, but the real impacts have been in the Northern Hemisphere.

Do you worry about the impacts in the Southern Hemisphere when the colder months begin and then coming back again in the north?

MAHAJAN: Absolutely. I think we all are learning so much about this novel virus, that there is so much more that we need to know.

At this point, the modeling suggests that we are not necessarily out of the woods in the warmer months, even in the Northern Hemisphere.

Modeling suggests here in Southern California, by August, even if we were to maintain our stay-at-home orders through the summer, some 30 percent of the population is likely to have contracted the virus. So these are large numbers, even through the warmer months.

HOLMES: Sobering but important to know. Dr. Anish Mahajan, thank you so much in Los Angeles. I appreciate it.

MAHAJAN: Thank you.

HOLMES: British prime minister Boris Johnson is taking short walks, apparently, after being moved out of intensive care. He does remain in the hospital, though, where he has been for almost a full week now. Mr. Johnson was hospitalized last weekend, when he displayed persistent coronavirus symptoms, 10 days after testing positive. An official spokesman says he is in very good spirits.

When we come back, U.S. health officials are turning their focus to antibody testing. When we return, we will find out what this could mean in the fight against the coronavirus.

Also, the World Health Organization has come under fire for its handling of the pandemic.

But is that criticism fair?

We will take a look. Stay with us, we will be right back.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

U.S. officials say they expect an antibody test for the coronavirus to be available soon. Now these are the tests that can tell if people have been infected and if their body has built up immunity. CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes a look at what that could mean in the fight against the pandemic. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): According to the Coronavirus Task Force, more than 2 million tests have now been performed in the United States. And yet there are still people who need to be tested, such as health care workers, who can't get one.

It's part of the reason there is now so much interest in a different kinds of test, an antibody test.

Dr. Fauci told CNN on Friday it's coming soon.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I'm certain that that's going to happen, that within a period of a week or so, we're going to have a rather large number of tests that are available.

GUPTA: But what exactly are antibodies? They are proteins in the immune system that develop days after someone has been infected.

And it's the antibodies that make someone immune to becoming re- infected. It means two things. You were previously infected and you are now likely to be protected, at least for a while.

STEPHEN HAHN, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: We think it'll be a tool to help us get people back to work. It'll be additional information, because, as you know, if you have an antibody, that means you were exposed and have recovered from it. That, with the information about diagnosis, should help.

GUPTA: That's why public health agencies around the world want these antibody tests, because it could help some people get back to their daily lives.

You remember the swab test we're all familiar with. Well, that tests for the virus itself, specifically its genetic material. The problems are, first of all, at some point after you recover, that test will be negative.

And, secondly, a lot of people have had trouble getting that diagnostic test in the first place. The antibody test is more definitive. There are only a few reasons you would have antibodies in your blood. You got someone else's antibodies by an injection of their blood, you got a vaccine, which teaches your body to make antibodies, or you were infected.

The antibody test requires a sample of your blood and this strip, which has proteins from the virus on it. If your blood reacts to that strip, it means you have antibodies in your blood.

BIRX: And I think really being able to tell them -- the peace of mind that would come from knowing you already were infected, you have antibody, you're safe from reinfection 99.9 percent of the time.

And so this, I think, would be very reassuring to our frontline health care workers. GUPTA (voice-over): Another benefit of antibody testing, surveillance. In places like Miami-Dade County, Florida; Santa Clara County, California and Telluride, Colorado, they've already started using antibody tests to get a better sense of how many people, many of whom will be surprised to learn have already been exposed to the virus.

LOU RESSE, CHIEF OFFICER, UNITED NEUROSCIENCE: Whoever volunteers is getting tested twice and the purpose of that is to see whose seroconverts and develops the antibodies, meaning who was actively infected during this period of quarantine.

GUPTA: A CDC spokesperson told CNN the agency has already used these tools to, quote, monitor contacts of infected people and to identify individuals who, due to mild infection, may have not known they were infected.

Getting the antibody tests up and running, much like the tests to detect the virus itself, have been challenging. In a rush to get these tests to market, the FDA lowered regulatory standards. And what followed were a lot of unreliable and inaccurate tests.

BIRX: There's a series of antibody tests out there that have not been validated. Some of the tests that may be available on the Internet may have very low sensitivity and specificity and give you a fall reassurance, that you either -- give you a false positive or a false negative, implying that you may be protected.


HOLMES: All right, well that was CNN's medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

The U.S. president, Donald Trump, once again taking aim at the World Health Organization, far from the first time he has done it. In recent days he has been critical of the way it has handled the coronavirus pandemic and how much money the U.S. has spent on the WHO. Friday, explaining why he is reconsidering U.S. funding for the organization.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are going to talk about the WHO next week in great detail. I didn't want to do it today. Good Friday. I don't want to do it before Easter.


TRUMP: I also didn't want to do it before we had all the facts but over the years, many years, we have been paying them from $300 million to $500 million and even more millions a year. China has been paying them less than 40 over the years. So we are paying them more than 10 times more than China. They are very, very China centric.


HOLMES: Mr. Trump has also blamed the WHO for being slow to respond to the pandemic and he is not alone. CNN's Isa Soares takes a look at the criticism and whether that is justified.



ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On March 11th, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic. At this stage, China had been openly battling the virus for about two months. The WHO says it had been monitoring it closely since early January.

But the WHO's actions and words have done little to convince some it has been ahead of the crisis.

TRUMP: They called it wrong. They called it wrong. They really, they missed the call. They could've called it months earlier.

SOARES (voice-over): To put it into perspective, according to the WHO, by March 11th, 114 countries had already reported cases of COVID-19, with well over 4,000 killed worldwide. In the U.S. alone, CNN's tally puts the cases at over 1,000.

JAMIE METZL, ATLANTIC COUNCIL: In the early stages of this crisis, China was keeping experts from the WHO and the CDC out. And that was a major mess-up by China and we are all suffering the results of that. Then the World Health Organization went in.

Could they have sounded the alarm earlier?

Absolutely, yes.

SOARES (voice-over): It's not just the WHO's handling of the virus that is under attack but also the body's decision not to support the president's early travel restrictions with China.

TRUMP: He wanted me to keep the borders open.

SOARES (voice-over): On its website, the WHO makes the case that it opposes most travel restrictions because they are usually ineffective and may have significant economic and social impact.

STEVE TSANG, UNIVERSITY OF LONDON: There seems to be good evidence that the WHO had prioritized a sensitivity of the Chinese government over its basic duty over the public health of people of the world.

SOARES (voice-over): President Trump is not alone in his criticism of the WHO. The deputy prime minister of Japan has slammed the WHO saying it should be renamed CHO, China Health Organization, for what he argues is a soft stance towards Communist China.

SATOSHI HAMADA, JAPANESE POLITICIAN (through translator): Early on, if the WHO had not insisted to the world that China had known the pneumonia epidemic, then everyone would've taken precautions.

SOARES (voice-over): The WHO argues it is color blind and has no favorites. Taiwan, who was blocked from the WHO membership because of its complex relationship with China, says it asked WHO about human to human transmission in late December but was ignored.

In a statement to CNN, the WHO says it replied to that email from Taiwan but it had no mention of human to human transmission.

As it battles coronavirus, the WHO is also fighting back at criticism of the body and is defending its response to the crisis.

GHEBREYESUS: We will do everything that will help us to have no regrets at all. But in that process, we may make mistakes. We are not angels. We are human beings.

SOARES (voice-over): While President Trump criticizes the WHO and threatens to suspend the U.S. contribution to its budget, leaders from the European Union and Africa are throwing their support behind Mr. Tedros, praising his leadership and calling for global unity, solidarity and cooperation -- Isa Soares, CNN, London.


HOLMES: We are going to take a short break, CNN NEWSROOM will be right back.







HOLMES: Welcome back. A few days ago we brought you the story of an American ballet dancer, Julian MacKay, and his photographer brother. Nicholas. They boarded a plane to Moscow to fly back to see their father, who was dying of cancer. The brothers have been living in Russia for a while, while Julian pursued a successful ballet career.

But as they were on board and waiting to take off, the flight was suddenly canceled for coronavirus related reasons. And they were told to get off. And they posted that terrible moment on Instagram. We later spoke to them in Moscow about the obvious pain and disappointment.


JULIAN MACKAY, AMERICAN STRANDED IN RUSSIA: I think everybody is really nervous about what the future is going to bring and about kind of what more restrictions are going to be put in place, especially for the foreigners that I was speaking to, mainly now the Americans. Most other countries have brought back their citizens.

It's really hard not being able to be there and physically help. As a ballet dancer, you never make a lot of money and you are never really able to use the kinds of things your parents that, I think, any son would want to. But the worse is you can't actually physically be there.


HOLMES: We do have an update to bring you. On Tuesday, they managed to get on a plane just in time. Julian told us he and Nicholas spent Thursday, their father's last day, by his side with the rest of the family. He told us this. I want to read the quote.

"He passed away peacefully this morning on his 63rd birthday after we sang "Happy Birthday" to him. He was a classically trained pianist turned programmer to support his family and deeply loved the classical arts. And we are so grateful to have been by his side for those precious moments."

A sad ending but we are glad that they got back for him.

Thank you for spending part of your day with us. Wherever you are watching around the world, be safe, be kind to one another. Maybe thank those who are keeping things running for the rest of us.

If you can, help those who might be struggling, whether it is getting takeout from a local restaurant or donating to those who can't afford to and are going without today. Please stay home if you can.

I am Michael Holmes, stay tuned for "INSIDE AFRICA."