Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

U.S. Deaths Top 18K after Largest Single-Day Increase; Trump versus Experts on Reopening Economy; British Prime Minister Taking Short Walks; U.S. Health Officials Shift Focus to Antibody Testing; COVID-19 Hitting Poor Populations Hardest; California Hospitals Brace for Peak; Easter Celebrations amid Social Distancing; Himalayas Once Again Visible in Northern India. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired April 11, 2020 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We have not reached the peak.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Warnings from health officials as America scrambles to contain the coronavirus. From Los Angeles to Philadelphia, see reports from across the nation this hour.

Also, we are learning more about a test which could help to open up schools and businesses.

What it is and when can we expect it?

And some good news around the world, people are staying oof off the roads and it is clearing the air -- dramatically.

Welcome to our viewers in the U.S. and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen live from our studios in Atlanta. And this is CNN NEWSROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: Thank you so much for joining us.

Of course our top story, the latest from the coronavirus. The U.S. is grappling with multiple grim milestones. Confirmed cases crossed the 500,000 mark Friday, according to Johns Hopkins University. And daily reported deaths topped 2,000 for the first time. That brings America's total death toll to well over 18,000 as you see there.

But there is hope. Those daily figures may start declining. An updated influential model says that Friday was the peak for daily deaths in the U.S. as a whole. Still, the researchers also warn some states still may not hit their peaks for weeks to come.

Meantime America's epicenter, New York, is trying to manage the bodies of virus victims that are going unclaimed, a very grim picture right there. Some are being buried in newly dug mass graves on an island in New York City. CNN has correspondents around the world reporting on this pandemic.

Let's first zero in on the U.S. Erica Hill has the latest on hard hit New York and other crisis spots around the country.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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

BIRX: For a long, time there were over 50 percent of our cases and 50 percent of our new cases. That has dramatically changed because of the impact of what the citizens of New York and New Jersey and across Connecticut and now Rhode Island are doing to really change the course of this pandemic.

HILL (voice-over): Governor Andrew Cuomo stressing any move forward will require massive testing and the power of the federal government.

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

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

In Houston, a potential hot spot, according to the White House task force, the parking lot at Energy Stadium, transformed into an overflow hospital. Experts watching the progression as a former FDA official says the warmer months may offer reprieve.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: Hopefully, the fact that we're heading into the summer and the summer should be somewhat of a backstop against transmission of this virus as we head into June, July, August, that is going to help us.

Coronas typically don't circulate in the summertime, so there is a seasonal aspect to coronaviruses generally. This one's so novel that it's likely to continue to transfer into the summer. But drop in transmission becomes less efficient in the really hot, humid months.

HILL (voice-over): Florida's governor, meantime, says he may soon reopen schools, county by county.

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

HILL (voice-over): Governor DeSantis citing a lack of deaths in his state for those under age 25 though that is not the case nationally.

Sixteen states have already closed schools for the remainder of the academic year.

[04:05:00]

HILL (voice-over): Others extending current closures into next month as officials remind those celebrating Easter this weekend, the virus doesn't pause for the holiday.

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

HILL (voice-over): For some, simply being home is reason enough to celebrate. In Miami, cheers as two COVID patients are discharged. A similar scene in Louisville.

And from a hospital at the epicenter, a message of strength. Mount Sinai's chief medical officer praising her staff as they mark the end of the beginning, assuring them, quote, "We will prevail."

HILL: The governor of Kentucky on Friday announcing in his state anyone attending a mass gathering over the weekend, their license plate information would be taken down and handed over to the Health Department.

And those individuals will be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. The governor saying it is not an act of faith to attend a service in person; it is an act of faith to sacrifice so that you can protect your fellow Americans -- back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: As the crisis drags on, the U.S. president, as you can imagine, is anxious to jumpstart the economy soon.

The question now, how will Mr. Trump make that decision?

Jim Acosta tells us what he is considering.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Joining us now Moschos, associate professor of cellular and molecular sciences at Northumbria University. He is joining me from England.

Good morning, thanks for coming in. We just heard President Trump saying -- not saying actually what metrics will be used to open up the economy. It seems that the White House is wrestling with this very important decision.

But considering still the mysteries of COVID-19, how critical is this decision?

STERGHIOS MOSCHOS, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY: It is extremely critical and we've seen that there are countries out there that have been able to do the job properly, China to begin with. They have been able to restart their economy.

[04:10:00]

MOSCHOS: And they are being very cautious because of the unknowns of what happens to the patients that recover. And we also see, of all places, Greece. And I'm not saying this because I'm Greek but because they have managed to do it. They have reduced the transmission rate so much that it is possible that they might be open for the holiday season.

ALLEN: That is encouraging to hear. And President Trump also said Friday that there isn't a need to test over 300 million people. We know that less than 1 percent of Americans have been tested.

Should there be population-wide testing before societies and economies are gradually reopened?

MOSCHOS: OK, the way we (INAUDIBLE) outbreaks is by finding people who are infected, finding the people who have been in contact, close contact, of those that are infected and isolating them and monitoring them and then treating them if necessary.

You need to break the transmission chains. If you don't, then we'll get to the whole population wide testing requirement because it will be completely out of hand.

Both the U.S. and the U.K. have a chance to do this right now.

ALLEN: The U.S. and Italy apparently are close to an antibody test.

How important is that test in the process of what needs to be done along with the diagnostic testing and also contact testing?

MOSCHOS: I think the antibody test is a very useful tool to understand what is happening in the wider population. It does not tell you that the people who are actively infected right now are in front of you.

If you were to give the same person an antibody test and the so-called PCR test, the PCR test would be positive, the antibody test would be negative. So (INAUDIBLE). You need to put the right test in the right people.

The antibody test might prove useful in the reopening of the economy, provided we understand the risks to everybody else who have not been exposed to the virus. I would not make that choice.

I would rather see the virus stopped and it is still possible to do this rather than people entering the economy and maybe reinfecting people and this complete potential mess that may perpetuate for months, if not years.

ALLEN: A mess for sure because it could cause another spike.

MOSCHOS: Multiple other spikes, not just another spike.

ALLEN: Until there is a vaccine and, of course, that is in the works, there is a massive global effort to find effective treatments.

Is there anything promising on the horizon that you see and what will you be looking for as a breakthrough in that?

MOSCHOS: So we have the antivirals that try to stop the virus from doing its business. And we have treatments that are trying to stop the immune response from going haywire.

The biggest problem is the latter, the patients that are in intensive care units, these are the treatments that we should be focusing on. There is a lot of attention on antivirals.

But the history of antivirals, research tells us they work in the early days of infection, not when the people are in the ICU.

ALLEN: Well, we appreciate your time and your expertise so much. We'll speak with you again as we learn more. Thank you.

MOSCHOS: You're very welcome.

ALLEN: Well, researchers say many people infected may not even know it and they may already have immunity to it. We were just talking about this. We'll have more on the antibody test and how it could help as we push on with this pandemic.

Also spiritual needs are clashing with public health concerns in the U.S. just ahead of Easter. We find out how some religious leaders are adapting and others are pushing back.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:15:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: British prime minister Boris Johnson is taking short walks after being moved out of intensive care. He is still in the hospital, where he's been since last Sunday after displaying persistent coronavirus symptoms 10 days after testing positive. Britain's health minister says Mr. Johnson is in very good spirits.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT HANCOCK, BRITISH HEALTH SECRETARY: The prime minister is recovering and I'm sure the whole nation is delighted to see the news that he is getting better. And the fact that he was so ill demonstrates once again just how serious this disease is.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ALLEN: And Hancock went on to say that the government has been functioning very efficiently.

Great Britain recorded 980 coronavirus deaths on Friday alone, that is the biggest spike anywhere in Europe since the crisis began. And it brings the total count in the U.K. to almost 9,000 dead. The country's health secretary says there are more than 19,000 coronavirus patients currently hospitalized.

Let's get the latest now from London, Isa Soares is joining me now.

Good morning to you. Sobering statistics to be sure but encouragement, hopefully, to people that Boris Johnson has improved significantly.

ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Very much so. Good morning to you, Natalie. You know, we've seen good news from the prime minister. He is starting to walk again after, you know, being in hospital for several days now and is out of ICU.

But those numbers out of the U.K. are incredibly sobering; 980 people died in a single day. That is the highest daily rate that we've seen, higher than what Italy or what Spain recorded in a single day. And, Natalie, these are not records that anyone wants to try to achieve, important to point that out.

[04:20:00]

SOARES: What the government has said is that behind every single -- everyone who is actually losing their life, excuse me, there is a name, there is a loss, there is a family that will never be the same again.

In terms of those losing their lives, in terms of the numbers in London, the number has in fact decreased. But in the north of country, in the Midlands, that is increasing. Let me tell you as well in terms of the ages of the people that are dying, patients who died between the ages of 27 to 100 years of age, all but 56 had underlying conditions.

And that is important. And we've also seen the last 24 hours that coronavirus has claimed the lives of another doctor, another NHS, National Health Service doctor, bringing the total to 10.

This is why we have seen a huge media blitz in the last few days by the U.K. government basically telling people stay at home during the Easter weekend. I know there is a desire to see family and friends and with the warm weather people want to go out.

But they are calling on people to stay at home, to stay isolated and protect themselves, their loved ones and those fighting coronavirus on the front lines.

ALLEN: Yes, it is so critical. And it is just staying home. It is not like you are asking too much. So hopefully people will continue to do so. Isa, thank you. Appreciate it.

U.S. officials say there soon will be a new coronavirus test that can identify people who may not even know that they have been infected. The test will tell if a person has developed antibodies to the virus and now are probably immune. Our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta explains why this may be a game changer.

(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 tests, an antibody test.

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

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: 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 reinfected. 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.

[04:25:00]

GUPTA: 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.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: So the U.S. is close to this test and Italy says that it is close to having its own approved antibody test and it is hoping that will help identify people who have had the virus, recovered and as you heard developed antibodies and immunity. Those people could then donate plasma to treat people who are sick. Barbie Nadeau is in Rome for us.

Tell us about the test and the plans for it there in Italy.

BARBIE NADEAU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They are using it to a certain extent in two of the hardest hit regions in northern Italy. They are using the antibody test to see if doctors and other first line health care workers are immune.

We've had so many health care workers become infected and over 100 doctors have died from the coronavirus. So it is important to make sure that the health care workers are potentially immune so they can be on the front lines.

And they are expecting to roll out more of a nationwide antibody test sometime in May. And, you know, everyone is really excited about that because that is really going to be the first step toward opening the country back up in a way that brings it on a new normal.

ALLEN: Absolutely. They have been on lockdown for so many weeks now. And there is a growing restiveness in parts of the country, people pushing back on isolation.

Until this test takes place, is that still an issue?

NADEAU: It is. And especially this weekend. Easter is such an important holiday in Italy. And people are with their families, they want to go to the beach. And police have said that they will be out in full force with helicopters over the cities and drones to make sure that people aren't holding parties on their rooftops and things like that.

It is so crucial to keep the lockdown enforced. And police are warning that they will be out this weekend for sure, making sure that everybody adheres to this lockdown. And that is especially important in the south, where they haven't had as many cases and people are less lick likely to believe that they need to be locked down.

ALLEN: Yes, that is so important but sounds so odd, lockdown over Easter celebrations. But that's where we are at. OK, thanks, Barbie. Take care.

The coronavirus does not discriminate but it does hit some people harder than others. Thousands of families sitting in line for food, the most vulnerable populations impacted by this pandemic. We'll have that for you next.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING) ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Natalie

Allen.

In the U.S., the coronavirus pandemic is disproportionately impacting the poor. Take what happened in Los Angeles on Friday. More 7,000 families packed an arena parking lot only there for food.

The regional Food Bank typically serves around 300,000 people per month. But since the outbreak, that number has surged by about 150,000. CNN correspondent Tom Foreman has more on the pandemic's effect on vulnerable populations.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One-third of all U.S. residents sick enough from the virus to be admitted to hospitals are African American, way more than double their share of the population.

That is the suggestion from a small early sample of cases studied by the CDC. It's not definitive, but it implies, in cities such as New York, Milwaukee, New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit, the pandemic is particularly threatening black communities.

LT. GOV. GARLIN GILCHRIST (D-MI): This hits home for people. I have lost 15 people in my life to this virus here in the city of Detroit.

FOREMAN: Yes, the virus can be lethal to anyone, but:

TRUMP: Why is it three or four times more so for the black community, as opposed to other people?

FOREMAN: The answer?

More African Americans are living in poverty than almost any other group as a percentage, often in densely populated cities with inadequate nutrition and education, less insurance and access to medical care, leaving them more likely to develop those related health issues proving so deadly.

MAYOR MURIEL BOWSER (D-WA): We know that underlying conditions like hypertension and diabetes and heart disease, this virus is particularly hard on.

FOREMAN: The surgeon general suffers from some of those problems. He's only 45.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: I represent that legacy of growing up poor and black in America. And I and many black Americans are at higher risk for COVID.

FOREMAN: What's more, as skyrocketing unemployment makes free food lines explode, poor communities are certainly growing poorer.

And unlike many people in better-paying positions, even those low- income folks who can hold onto their jobs often can't do them from home. LT. GOV. BILLY NUNGESSER (R-LA): They're working in a lot of the service industry that, unfortunately, is still dealing with the public and the grocery stores and some of the service industries that are still out there doing the job we need them to do.

And so they're bringing that home to their families.

FOREMAN: It's not new. Studies have shown, in almost every type of calamity, poor communities are less prepared, less able to compete for resources, less quick to recover.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): Whatever the situation is, natural disaster, Hurricane Katrina, the people standing on those rooftops were not rich white people.

Why?

Why is it that the poorest people always pay the highest price?

FOREMAN: Again, COVID-19 is an equal opportunity threat. Anyone can get it anywhere. But these early indications do seem to show some of the poorest communities may be paying the biggest price for this pandemic and they may be paying it for a lot longer than most of us -- Tom Foreman, CNN, Bethesda, Maryland.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[04:35:00]

ALLEN: There has been a big increase in coronavirus cases in Texas in the past few days. So in Houston, a field hospital is taking shape in the parking lot of a major stadium there.

And in California, health officials are also bracing for the worst. We get more from Stephanie Elam.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm standing in what is now known as the Los Angeles surge hospital. This critical care unit here in the heart of Los Angeles is going to start taking on patients that are coronavirus positive.

This is not going to be a normal hospital in that it won't have an E.R., these will be patients transferred from other hospitals and then brought here to treat them solely for coronavirus.

You can see that they have their ventilators set up and they have these rooms, some of them are private, some are not because these are people who are all fighting the same battle.

This is one of the 11 hospitals opening throughout the state of California before the expected peak. What we've seen in a lot of these hospitals is setting up of negative pressure rooms. This is a place where we know the virus cannot get out. And this could be a place where they would put patients who really are

in the biggest fight for their lives. One of the things that they are able to do is treat those patients together and that means setting up beds to cohort them because they are all suffering from the same illness, all the supplies they need will be right here in this one area.

At full capacity, this surge hospital will have 266 beds available. It has been a public-private partnership, so that means the state of California, the county of Los Angeles, Kaiser Permanente and Dignity Health working to open up this hospital.

Ventilators, PPE, all the equipment that is necessary has been hard to get and it will be up to the state of California to make sure that they have what they need. And looking at which hospitals in the area need to transfer patients out because they may be at capacity.

L.A. County will step in and figure out where patients need to be transferred out to make sure there is more beds freed up in those areas.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: That is California. Now the U.S. city of Philadelphia continues to see a slowdown of new cases but despite that, it is also taking precautions including setting up a special facility for patients on the mend. CNN's Alex Marquardt takes us inside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: This is a surge facility or something of a field hosp here in Philadelphia at Temple University. This is their main sports complex. Officials here are hoping that this never has to be used. The hospitals in the city are actually doing OK.

But if it does, there is a capacity here for around 180 people. You can see here all these beds and the people who would be here are patients who have tested positive for coronavirus who are in recovery and who can't yet go home. Now Dr. Debra Birx who is on the Coronavirus Task Force, she has praised the mayors of Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., all of those cities, they said, could be among the next hot spots in this country.

She praised them for as she said changing their curves. And that is what we're hearing from local health officials here in Philadelphia, that the number of new positive cases is slowing down, that the number of positive cases every day is similar. So that is good news.

But health officials are warning that that could change, that the virus could find a new population. We spoke with the managing director for the city of Philadelphia, Brian Abernathy. Here is what he had to say.

BRIAN ABERNATHY, CITY OF PHILADELPHIA: We are optimistic. The last few days have shown signs of a plateau but we're not taking it for granted. Certainly the virus can find another population to spread in. We certainly remain concerned about the community spread of the virus.

And so while I think the last few days have been relative good news, we're not out of the woods by any means.

MARQUARDT: Local officials here are saying that the most important thing is to keep socially distancing and that is, of course, something we're hearing all across the country. And at the same time the secretary of health for the state of Pennsylvania saying they are starting to plan for a day when the guidelines might be relaxed not because it will happen anytime soon but when it does, it will happen little by little, community by community. And she says it is important to talk about it now because it is important to have hope -- Alex Marquardt, CNN, Philadelphia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: A surreal site at the Vatican on Good Friday. St. Peter's Square deserted save for a cross. The pandemic is putting holy week in a new light for those who celebrate. More on that coming up.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:30:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: Churches around the world are closed due to the pandemic but that is not stopping Italian opera star Andrea Bocelli from holding an audience free concert on Easter Sunday at Milan's historic Duomo Cathedral.

The beloved tenor will be accompanied by the church organist. The Bocelli Music for Hope Concert will be streamed for free through his YouTube page. He is also scheduled to perform in the One World Together at Home benefit concert next week. We can't get enough of that beautiful voice.

Pope Francis celebrated Good Friday by holding a liturgy in an empty St. Peter's Basilica. Traditionally there is also a Way of the Cross at the Colosseum with thousands in attendance but it moved to St. Peter's Square due to the health crisis.

The pope has been praying for priests who have died during the coronavirus pandemic calling them saints next door.

For Christians around the world this year's holy week has been filled with many canceled or scaled-back religious services.

But can a deeper meaning be found this Easter without the crowds and ceremonies?

Lynda Kinkade looks at what Christians are doing to celebrate in these trying times.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A procession without pilgrims, just a few clerics trailed by photographers walking the route that Christians believe was the path that Jesus took. His final steps before being crucified.

A somber ceremony that is part of the holy week before Easter, a time of faith that perhaps takes on a deeper meaning during a global pandemic, a time when many are suffering.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I think to those who are in the hospitals and in the houses fighting with coronavirus, in some way, they are walking a very hard and (INAUDIBLE).

[04:45:00]

KINKADE (voice-over): Leaders around the world are asking people to stay at home this Easter. Many religious sites normally packed this time of year are empty and quiet.

In Rome where the pope would traditionally lead prayers at the Colosseum, the great amphitheater is dark. Tens of thousands of people would normally gather here. The Vatican says its Easter services, including mass this Sunday, will be livestreamed.

Only a handful of visitors sit in silent reflection at this religious shrine in Bosnia. More than 2.5 million people come here each year. The isolation for some is a blessing.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): What is happening in this time will be beneficial for many of those who are growing in faith and they will grow even faster.

KINKADE (voice-over): A message echoed in the burned out chambers of the Notre-Dame cathedral, which was engulfed by fire nearly a year ago. A mass held there was attended by a small group of people, a sign that life and faith will go on, even in the most trying of times -- Lynda Kinkade, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: Of course Christians have been celebrating Easter together for millennia. But in the state of Kentucky in the U.S., the governor is warning those attempting to hold mass gatherings, they risk having police take note of their license plates and that could lead to a quarantine order. As Natasha Chen explains, there's also defiance in other states.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It is hard to keep church and state fully separate over Passover and Easter as debates rage over whether religious institutions should be allowed to stay open during a pandemic.

In Kansas, the department of health says three coronavirus clusters are tied to church gatherings. The state's Democratic governor filed a lawsuit after a majority Republican legislative council threw out her order to limit religious gatherings to 10 people.

In Philadelphia, Greater Exodus Baptist Church protested from the pulpit.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My friends, the moment the church starts taking orders or instructions from the government about what to do with her doors and her sanctuaries, we have entered a slippery slope that we'll never get back.

CHEN (voice-over): In New Orleans, religious leaders are taking social distancing to new heights, literally. The archbishop who just recovered from coronavirus flew over the city in a World War II era plane to send blessings below.

And in a show of interfaith unity a rabbi then did the same.

On the ground, St. Rita Catholic Church held drive-thru benedictions. But Miami archbishop Thomas Wenski is not even taking a risks with drive-throughs. He only permits his priests to hold mass via livestream.

ARCHBISHOP THOMAS WENSKI, ARCHDIOCESE OF MIAMI: We are together. We're not separate but we are distant at this particular time. We are united in the one body of Christ but we have to maintain the social distance for the public good, for the common good.

CHEN (voice-over): For those who participated in virtual seders over Zoom, one traditional question asked every Passover is, why is tonight different from all other nights?

That question, says the CEO and founder of City Winery, means so much more this year as he organized his annual entertainment seder done via livestream.

With more than 40,000 views across Facebook and YouTube --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think this can be a nice extension to expand the reach. Give this message a broader breadth. And I do think that is a positive.

CHEN (voice-over): -- everywhere people are embracing different ways to keep their traditions and connect both spiritually and technologically -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ALLEN: What so many people staying home do to the pandemic around the world?

At least one thing has been cleared up, the air. People are taking in views they haven't seen in decades. And Derek Van Dam will join us live with the good news about pollution right now.

(MUSIC PLAYING) (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[04:50:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

ALLEN: People in Northern India are getting a fresh if distant look at what has been shrouded by pollution for decades. Take a look. Back there, the towering Himalayan mountains, one person said that he could see the peaks from more than 100 miles away.

The nation has been under lockdown for more than two weeks and that has dramatically improved the air quality. There has been a trend of cities worldwide reporting cleaner air since the lockdowns were put into place.

(WEATHER REPORT)

[04:55:00]

ALLEN: Thank you for watching CNN NEWSROOM. Please don't go anywhere, I'll be right back with another hour of news for you.