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U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 20,000; NYT Article Paints Damning Portrait Of White House Response; Dr. Birx Says U.S. Coronavirus Curve Is Leveling. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 11, 2020 - 21:00   ET




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of the Situation Room. The United States has now reported more deaths from the highly contagious and deadly coronavirus than any other country in the world.

More than 20,000 people here in the United States have died since the first confirmed fatality that was in late February, only about 42 days ago. Most of them in the state of New York and in New York City. Worldwide, the numbers are simply staggering. 1.7 million people infected.

More than 108,000 people are confirmed to have died. Some very cautious optimism in France today. Public health officials there say patients being admitted to intensive care units dropped for the third straight day and they're pleading with people there to continue whatever they've been doing to try to contain the deadly virus.

Over at the Vatican, Pope Francis delivered his Easter vigil to an empty Saint Peter's Basilica. Worshippers are staying home and the church is urging Catholics around the world to dispense with Easter traditions that put people in close proximity to each other.

The governor of New Mexico meanwhile tweeting, just a short time ago, officially saying, no gatherings of people tomorrow at churches for Easter Sunday services. Also today, the IRS says the first wave of stimulus payments have now gone out to American taxpayers who qualify for them.

The IRS confirmed that the first bank deposits were made today and they'll continue issuing the payments "as fast as we can." Meanwhile, we're learning from an explosive new report in The New York Times about the Trump administration's stalled actions in the early stages coronavirus' spread here in the United States.

The Times reporting details involving several instances that show the President simply brushing off warnings from key experts and advisers about the danger posed by the deadly virus. All as he was downplaying the virus threat here in the United States.

CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us right now. So Jeremy, first of all, what do we know about the White House's actions or inactions in those early days of the outbreak and specifically those three weeks in late February, early March?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well Wolf, in the third week of February, top government public health officials convened for a table top exercise to try and map out the spread of this coronavirus and to see in what way it could evolve into a pandemic.

The results of that exercise were sobering for those officials and an administration official has just confirmed to me that indeed the top government public health experts concluded at the end of that exercise that they needed to begin to move from a containment strategy to keep the virus out of the United States and instead move towards a mitigation strategy which would include these aggressive social distancing measures.

They actually planned to brief the presidents on that and to push him to move towards this mitigation strategy when he returned from India - from his trip to India at the end of February but those plans were scrapped after the president on Airforce One returning to Washington grew furious at comments made by Dr. Nancy Meissonier, one of the government's top public health experts warning of severe impact to the daily life of Americans.

That meeting was then cancelled wolf, between these top government experts and the president. Instead the president had a news conference, renounced the Vice President Mike Pence was going to be taking over and that took the administration's response in a different direction.

They were very focused at the time on messaging, on not having those kind of alarmist comments as some administration officials felt, those that came from Dr. Nancy Meissonier but what we know Wolf, is that it took the president more than three weeks after that actually announced the social distancing measures despite the fact that there was this growing consensus inside his administration, among these health experts that they needed to move to this mitigation strategy.

But of course Wolf, it wasn't just those three weeks. We also knew that in January and in February, key administration officials, intelligence officials, national security officials were raising concerns, warning of the risk of a potential global pandemic.

And of course we know from the president's public comments in January and in February Wolf, he was downplaying that situation, insisting he had everything under control.

BLITZER: Yes, we certainly know that from his public comments. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thank you very much. Two major updates today from New York state and New York City where more people are sick and more people have died from the virus than anywhere else here in the United States. One, a very cautious bit, very cautious bit of good news from the

governor who announced that that the so called curve described by medical experts continued to flatten and that's sparking some hope that the number of people who need to be hospitalized may have peaked.


But there are still new infections statewide and the numbers - but those numbers, I must say are fewer. Also today, the Mayor of New York City announcing that public schools there will remain closed for remainder - for the remainder of the academic year and won't reopen until September.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is joining us now. Evan, that school issue was a huge deal. This is the largest school district, New York City in the country. Keeping them closed for the rest of the school year but the Governor Andrew Cuomo saying, not so fast, wait a minute. Is it he the one who eventually has to make that call?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well in a word yes, he thinks that is the case. Look, it's been a day for New York City residents that are expecting their government to operate as one during this pandemic, finding it operating in any other way but that.

The day began with governor - with Mayor Bill De Blasio of New York city holding a formal press conference, issuing a formal release, saying that the schools will remain closed in this city until you know through the end of the academic year on June 26, which was you know a change.

People didn't know that was going to happen for sure. They've been closed for a while. They'll be close for a while longer no matter what but then shortly after that formal announcement was made, parents were alerted, teachers were told, administrators were alerted to it.

Shortly after that Governor Cuomo came to the mics and gave his own very different take on the situation.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): You can't make a decision just with 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 the governor essentially saying that the Mayor's press event earlier in the day were essentially him expressing his opinion, about closing the schools and that the governor would make - I'm sorry about reopening the schools.

And the governor would make that call in conjunction with other governors in the rest of the states. You know what this is really about is that New York and New York City are starting to think about what happens after this pandemic is over and what that means or what today has suggested is that when that time comes, politics among the city and the state will play a big role in how this place reopens and how things start to get back to normal. Wolf.

BLITZER: It's a critical issue when the schools will reopen. So many of the kids obviously, New York relying on the meals that they get at school, nutritious meals. Hopefully, they're getting them even as the schools are closed but that's a big, big issue as we all know. All right Evan, thank you very much. Evan McMorris-Santoro reporting from New York.

Meanwhile, another very grim statistic to report this evening. 37 veteran residents have died in Holyoke Soldiers Home in Massachusetts as of today. 31 of them tested positive for the coronavirus. Another 76 residents and 43 employees at that facility have also tested positive.

CNN reported earlier this week that a federal investigation has now been launched at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Staff and Union reports say it had systematic issues for years that could have led to this outbreak. We'll continue to watch this horrific story.

Meanwhile Massachusetts is bracing for another very, very difficult week. The governor Charlie Baker has called up an additional 3,000 National Guard troops, raising the total now up to 5,000 troops authorized statewide to assist in the pandemic response.

But nerves are clearly on edge of Boston. Despite the empty streets, Boston knows the surge is coming and it doesn't want to become the next New York City. Mayor Marty Walsh is joining us from Boston right now. Mayor, thank you for spending a few moments with us.

What do the current models tell you about what's about to happen in Boston?

MAYOR. MARTY WALSH (D) BOSTON: Well Wolf, we've seen our numbers double this week along - more than double this week so I guess we're in the in the beginning of - in the very early part of the surge. We - it's really important and incumbent upon all of us here in Boston and in Massachusetts and in the country to continue to practice what we've been saying about social distancing and staying at home.

You know these numbers are alarming. We've had 50 deaths in the city of Boston and I think that had about 668 in Massachusetts and we are starting to see those numbers go up every day in a significant way.

BLITZER: So disturbing. As you know Mayor, the governor, Governor Baker also announced that - what's called contract tracing to track the spread of the virus will go on. He says essential workers, grocery store workers, delivery workers can get tested even if they're not symptomatic. How helpful do you think those measures will be?

[21:10:00] WALSH: Well, that's important because our front line workers, those workers you just mentioned and our first responders and nurses and doctors, they're on the front line every day and I think it's important incumbent upon all of us to make sure that they - they get the proper attention that they need.

I mean, they are providing essential services to all of us and to give them a little peace of mind. I think it's really important we do that. They're interfacing with - with the public every single day and they have been for the last 3.5 - 4 weeks here and for the foreseeable future, they are the other ones on the front lines.

So I agree with the governor in that case and I think that ultimately we have to get the testing for everyone that needs a test or wants to test as we continue on here. It's really important for us.

BLITZER: It certainly is and I know Mayor Walsh, you're not necessarily waiting for help from the federal government, neither are a lot of your fellow mayors. How are you helping each other right now? What are some of the actions that you can take and - and what - what can you do to help others?

WALSH: Well, I think with other mayors, the best thing we can do is stay in communication and I'm in constant communication with mayors here in Massachusetts and mayors around the country. I think that that's important.

I also think it's important to share best practices. You know, we have - we've got out early for the homeless population, making sure that we created space and beds for Covid positive homeless folks and for doing some social distancing in our shelters.

So I shared that with some mayors around the country and - and Jenny Durkan as I mentioned before on the show, from Seattle, called me very early on to - to kind of explain to me what she experienced very early on, on Seattle and we did a lot of that.

We - we took it very serious in the very beginning. Shutting things down and I - I think that you know it's incumbent now all of us to do our job. I think our senior population is very vulnerable and it's important that we - we pay special attention to keeping social distancing and also supporting, whether it's nursing homes or supporting assisted living facilities.

And we've been reaching out to those in Boston and working just to make sure they have the support and supplies they need and working with the state, quite honestly. I think having a strong relationship right now and working through any concerns you have and not - not bringing your disagreements public but working on them behind the scenes is key.

BLITZER: Certainly is and I know mayor, you're very troubled by the racial disparity, when it comes to coronavirus infections and fatalities. What are you doing to address the situation in Boston?

WALSH: We put a task force together. They had their first meeting today. And you know, we have disparities, we've seen disparities in African-American community, particularly men. We've seen disparities in the Latino community and a lot of it you know, a lot of the basic solution here is making sure that we continue to express social distancing and stay-at-home advisory.

But also we want to make sure people have the access to the healthcare like everyone else and access to the tests. That's going to be key here as we move forward here. Underprivileged communities or underserved communities if you will, over generations have been kind of left and - left behind here.

We're not going to that happen here in Boston and we're going to continue to make sure that we're treating everyone the same, regardless of who you are, where you come from, your economic background, the color of your skin and it's important for us to get ahead of that and not have people feel that they have been - their back have been turned on by their leaders.

BLITZER: Very quickly, how long are schools going to be closed for?

WALSH: I mean, we're close right now till May 4 but I think that it's very complicated. I think looking at the surge and the numbers and seeing the other side of the curve that everyone talks about, I wouldn't - I wouldn't be surprised if schools don't - don't continue this year in Boston, in Massachusetts.

But I think we're - we're taking it as a day at a time and we're going to see exactly how it looks in the next week or two and then we'll make decisions based off of what - what the doctors and scientists and the numbers are telling us.

BLITZER: Well, good luck over there in Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh, appreciate what you're doing. Thank you very much.

WALSH: Thanks Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, the coronavirus is taking a very deadly toll but African-American communities around the country, they've been hit especially hard. We're going to examine why and what can be done about it. That's coming up next. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.




BLITZER: There are very alarming statistics out this week, breaking down the coronavirus infections and deaths along racial lines here in the United States. In many major cities, the African-American community is suffering far more deaths than white residents. In Louisiana for example, African-Americans make up about a third of the population but account for 70 percent of the coronavirus deaths.

In Michigan and Illinois, African-Americans make up about 15 percent of the overall population but account for just over 40 percent of the coronavirus deaths and a CDC study of early cases found that one third of all U.S. residents admitted to hospitals for coronavirus are African-American.

On Friday, the Surgeon General of the United States laid out some of the underlying reasons for such a disparity. Watch this.


DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: African-Americans and native Americans, excuse me, develop high blood pressure at much younger ages. It's less likely to be under control and does greater harm their organs.

The chronic burden of medical bills is likely to make people of color, especially less resilient to the ravage of the Covid-19 and if possibly, in fact likely, that the burden of social ills is also contributing.

Social distancing and teleworking, we know are critical and you've heard Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci talk about how they prevent the spread of coronavirus. Yet only one in five African- Americans and one of six, Hispanics has a job that lets them work from home.


People of color are more likely to live in densely packed areas and in a multi-generational housing situations which create higher risk for spread of a highly contagious disease like Covid-19.


BLITZER: Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi is joining us right now. She's a Professor of Medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Services. Dr El-Bayoumi, thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for everything you're doing as well the numbers are ramping up I understand, at your own hospital right now but are you seeing the same racial disparity there?

DR. GIGI EL-BAYOUMI, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Yes, of course we are and sadly, this is just the latest example in health disparities. You know Wolf, there's a saying when America gets the cold, blacks get the flu and so these health disparities have been around for decades.

There's a huge body of literature about this. Unfortunately, this is the latest example. The positive thing, the silver lining if you will, is now we're kind of a captive audience so Americans have an up, close and personal view of how - how the disparities are impacting people disproportionately and resulting in death.

BLITZER: Explain to our viewers Dr. El-Bayoumi, this isn't necessarily about genetic predisposition to coronavirus, anything along those lines but the results of societal factors, is that right?

EL-BAYOUMI: That's absolutely right. You know, there's the social determinants of health. When we think about what contributes to that, about 20 percent actually has to do with healthcare, accessing the healthcare system. 80 percent according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has to do with food, food access, where you live, what is the air that you breath, what water do you drink, the economic developments of your community, what your education level is.

So for example right here in Washington DC, if you live in Georgetown, you can expect on average to live 94 years. If you live in Anacostia, 66.6 years. So imagine that's within a 10 mile span of the capital of the United States of America.

BLITZER: Yes, that's pretty disturbing indeed. As far as you could tell Doctor El-Bayoumi, is there enough testing available in the cities, the urban areas, especially in the African-American communities?

EL-BAYOUMI: Well, I mean, I'm happy to say that our mayor, Mayor Muriel Bowser has set up drive throughs in southeast. United Medical Center is one of the hubs of that. We have many and so she of course is advocating as well as the various societies as well as the communities.

So we are lucky in that regard. I'm not sure how testing is necessarily going to change the outcome so we'll - we'll see because as I mentioned, it is those social determinants of health.

BLITZER: It is such a - such a big problem here in the United States. What can the hospitals and the health care workers do now to try to address these disparities? I know this is a long-term project, it's going to take years to try to figure it out and work it up but what can they do now to at least help?

EL-BAYOUMI: Well, I don't know that hospitals or healthcare systems can necessarily do anything in the immediate. However, we as a society systems, whether it's the local or federal government, can provide food. Food is one of the strongest social determinants not only of physical health but of mental health.

And when we're interacting and - and in touch with our community partners, they say that food is an issue and the mental health services. So if we can just focus on those two things in the immediate and then tackle solutions, not just studying because I think in our African- American communities, people are sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And we know that there are solutions that work so it's time that we actually apply those solutions.

BLITZER: Yes, we got to learn - learn from what's going on right now and fix it. It's going to take a while. Some of these causes as you well know, they're deep-seeded issues. It's going to take a while to remedy. Are there any short-term steps that we should be doing? Do you have any advice specifically for people of color to try and to protect their health?

EL-BAYOUMI: Yes, we at the Rodham institute which is dedicated to improving health equity in DC have been doing a series of webinars with our anchor institutions, whether we are - whether they're faith- based or non-faith-based. So I would really implore all of the academic institutions, other community based organizations or not for profits, this is the time to do education because there are lots of myths out there.

African-American men in particular are scared and worried about wearing homemade face masks because of being stopped by the police, etcetera so we have done sort of facts and fiction around Covid-19. We did a session just yesterday night about food preparation to help people learn first what are the foods that you could - should include in your diet and then food preparation to minimize getting the Covid.


So there are immediate steps right now that especially those of us that are in the education space and the healthcare space can immediately ramp up to at least reduce the number of people who are getting infected.

BLITZER: Dr. Gigi El-Bayoumi of George Washington University, we are grateful to you for everything you're doing and please thank all the doctors and nurses, healthcare professionals who are in the frontline in dealing with this very, very deadly virus. Appreciate you joining us. Thank you very much.

EL-BAYOUMI: My pleasure. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: And as many of our viewers probably know by now, Philadelphia is one of several large American cities taking steps to try to curb coronavirus and it may repeat, may be working but there are certainly not in the clear yet. We're going to explain. Stay with us. Much more coming up, right here in the Situation Room.



BLITZER: The White House coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says that for the first time, she is seeing some very, very cautiously optimistic signs. A leveling of the so called curve here in the United States, specifically in cities like Baltimore, Washington DC once projected to be the next hot spots.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is also in Philadelphia. That's a city trying to avoid becoming the next hot spot.


ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is what's being called a surge facility or something of a field hospital 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. Deborah Birx who is on the coronavirus task force, she has praised the mayor of Philadelphia along with mayors of Baltimore and Washington DC. 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 curve and that's 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's what he had to say.

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

I think the last few days have been relative good news, we're not - 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's of course something we're hearing all across the country. At the same time, the Secretary of Health for the state of Pennsylvania saying, they are starting to plan for a day when those guidelines might be relaxed.

Not because it's going to happen anytime soon but when it does, she says it'll happen little by little, community by community. She says it's important to talk about it now because it's important to have hope. Alex Marquardt, CNN, Philadelphia.

BLITZER: Thank you very much Alex. President Trump meanwhile has been promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible coronavirus treatment but Japan's Prime Minister is advocating for a very different drug. It's also unproven against the virus. Our own Will Ripley, he's standing by in a live report from Tokyo. He'll join us when we come back.




BLITZER: By now most of us have heard of hydroxychloroquine. That's the malaria drug touted by President Trump as a potential but still untested treatment for coronavirus. Meantime in Japan, the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is promoting another drug, one used to fight the flu as a possible coronavirus treatment.

CNN's Will Ripley is joining us now live from Tokyo. Will, what more can you tell us about this drug? What are the concerns surrounding it? WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Epidemiologists are telling me Wolf, that because it's going to take likely such a long time to develop the vaccine, if that ever happens, the best hope right now is to find an existing drug that works to treat the novel coronavirus.

And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is so confident that this drug Avigan holds promise, he's giving it away to 20 countries for free and clinical trials are soon beginning in Massachusetts.


RIPLEY: As the world battles the novel coronavirus pandemic, U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are peddling possible treatments. Trump is touting malaria drug hydroxychloroquine despite slim evidence, it's actually effective against the virus.

DONALD J. TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What do you have to lose, I'll say it again, what do you have to lose.

RIPLEY: For Abe, it's anti-flu drug Avigan, the Japanese brand name for Favipiravir made by Fuji film. We will triple the current stockpile of Avigan and expand the use for 2 million people, he says because. Researchers point out key differences between the pills promoted by President Trump and Prime Minister Abe.

Is what Shinzo Abe doing any different from what President Trump is doing?

STERGHIOS MOSCHOS, RESEARCHER, NORTHUMBRIA UNIVERSITY: Marginally different. Favipiravir has been around for quite a while. Unlike hydroxychloroquine, it has been used to test its efficacy on the viruses.

RIPLEY: Reports in China do show Favipiravir has been effective in treating coronavirus but research is limited. Clinical trials are under way in Japan and set to begin in the U.S. Japan plans to provide the drugs for free to 20 countries. There are potentially dangerous side effects including birth defects.

If someone has coronavirus, would you recommend that they take this drug?

PROFESSOR KIMIYASU SHIRAI, SENRI KINRAN UNIVERSITY: This Covid-19 drug may cure people. So life or death. What do you choose?

RIPLEY: Hydroxychloroquine can also have serious side effects like heart trouble and eye damage. Researchers around the world are testing all kinds of drugs. They may be the only hope until a vaccine is developed, if a vaccine is developed. Patients under quarantine, isolated in their homes can battle loneliness and desperation.



RIPLEY: Chika Miyatake's Tokyo apartment is full of supplies. She has to wait up to ten days for her coronavirus test results. Miyatake is frustrated.

MIYATAKE: Japan hasn't set up any kind of computer system, you know. Even test result will come in post in letter so not email. That makes me really get anxious. And getting test results as soon as possible is more important stressing on using the idea at this stage.

RIPLEY: She wonders why her government is focusing on an unproven drug instead of speeding up the testing process for patients in limbo.


RIPLEY: There are 15 minute tests available here in Japan but the coronavirus patients we've been speaking with Wolf say, they are told they may have to wait more than a week for a letter to arrive in the mail.

The problem is if they don't self-isolate at home during that time, they could be out in the community, potentially spreading the virus to others.

BLITZER: Yes, that's so, so worrisome as you know Will, Japan's Prime Minister is warning that urban areas under a state of emergency are not necessarily reducing human contact drastically enough to slow the infection rate. Why aren't more people over there staying home?

RIPLEY: You know a lot of people Wolf, I think just don't have a choice. Prime Minister Abe said, if you're - if you can work from home, do it but if your job is important, still go into the office. This is a salary man culture. Everybody wants their employer to think that their job is important and 80 percent of Japanese companies are not equipped to allow their employees to work from home.

So I've been hearing from people who say they're getting on crowded subways even during the state emergency, fearful but they don't have a choice because they need to go to work. They don't want to get fired. They don't want to lose their paycheck but we're seeing every day here a record spike in the number of cases.

And there are also concerns that people are leaving Tokyo to go stay with their parents or relatives in rural areas that are less populated with a lot more senior citizens, potentially bringing the virus outside of the 7 Japanese prefectures that are currently under a state of emergency.

BLITZER: A lot going on over there as well. Will Ripley reporting live in Tokyo. Thank you Will. Up next, a new way to spread the message of safety against the very deadly coronavirus.


DOUG E. FRESH, RAPPER: Everybody, keep your face mask on. Don't take it off because corona's strong. And wash your hands for 20 seconds. (END VIDEO CLIP)

Doug E. Fresh. He's standing by to join us live. We'll have more of his new video. Lots going on. Stay with us. You're in the Situation Room.




BLITZER: So how many times have you heard the advice wash your hands and do it a lot. If you're still not clear on that maybe this will help.


FRESH: Yo wassup yall. This is Doug E. Fresh coming at you with a message. You got to hear. Everybody, keep your face mask on. Don't take if off because corona's strong. And wash your hands for 20 seconds long. Six feet keep. Six feet keep. Six feet social distance is on. On. On. On.


BLITZER: All right, so how can you ignore the advice of the Human Beat Box also known as Doug E. Fresh on Twitter. He says he loved making this video with the Novant health team to help get the word out about staying safe and my good friend Doug E. Fresh is joining us right now.

Doug E., thanks so much for doing what you're doing. I think you have a powerful video there, a video that is going to save lives but tell our viewers why you decided to make the video.

Doug E., I want you to hold on hold on a moment. I think we lost your audio. We're going to try to fix that. Can you hear me OK Doug E.? We're - we're trying to restore - we need to hear from Doug E. Fresh. He's doing some really important work right now, very significant work. We got to hear what he's saying.

Doug E., stand by for a moment. We'll take a quick break. We'll fix the technical problem. We'll discuss right after this.





BLITZER: All right, there's the video. My good friend Doug E. Fresh is joining us once again. I think we fixed those technical gremlins. So Doug E., tell our viewers why you decided to make this important video. FRESH: Well, I was saying to you - you can hear me? You can hear me?

BLITZER: I hear you fine now. Go ahead.

FRESH: OK, yes. The reason why I did this record and I did the video as you know, we have a mutual friend Paxon and he gave me a call and then he told me, there was a young lady named Vicki who worked with us as well, who was doing some stuff from was working with Novant healthcare and they wanted to do something special.

And I was saying to myself, I was trying to do something to make a difference, to get people motivated and understand the seriousness of the situation so I was just trying to figure it out and I said well, if I can take my song, which is a classic and which something that everybody know and I could just change the words and flip it, I said it'll make them hear this song, the response of the song because they like the song.

But when they hear new words on this song that relate to the situation that's going on right now, with the face mask and keeping six feet or more and the different things, I said that this can help to save lives and that was the complete motivation behind it.

BLITZER: So important Doug E. In your neighborhood, tell us how people are able to stay home, follow the guidelines, what's going on from your vantage point?


FRESH: Well, I think that when it first started, people didn't really believe that it was as serious as it is and I think as time went on, like when I did this song and other things that are happening, they got more serious and then there's so many people in the black community that are dying from this, that is unbelievable.

I mean you know, you get calls from you know emergency calls from family members who are connected to other family members so it's just, I think that everybody understands the seriousness of this and people are getting more motivated to follow these guidelines that are - that are that really should be followed to save lives.

I mean, it's - it's just - I never in my life thought that you know we will be at this place that we're in right now. This is like a - like a - like a dream or a nightmare you know.

BLITZER: It is a nightmare, I think it's fair to say. You - at the beginning of the video, you're wearing a mask. The CDC recommends that when people go outside, they should all be wearing some sort of face covering but it's also a fact as you well know, that some members, young men especially in the African-American community are concerned about wearing a face covering like that.

They're concerned about being racially profiled. What do you say about that?

FRESH: I say that at this particular time, we have to be - we have to be logical about this and we have to look at how our actions can affect each other and you know, putting on a face mask at this particular time, I think is the most important thing that you can do you as saving somebody else's life, you're saving your life.

You know the gloves, just the whole, just everything, this is so important for us to do this and - and I mean, I really see that you know, a lot of people are really taking this thing a lot more serious and they know. It's important to stay home. I mean and - and I mean, it's important to wash your hands, 20 seconds or more.

I mean everybody is really seeing it and I'm going to tell you what I think really what brings it to life is because you know, the numbers are staggering. The death toll is unbelievable and especially in our community you know.

BLITZER: And - and I want to thank our mutual friend Paxton Baker for introducing us ten years ago at the BET Soul Train awards. We've been friends ever since. Thanks so much Doug E. Fresh for what you're doing. Our viewers are grateful and we will stay in very close touch. Appreciate it very much.

FRESH: Thank you Wolf, thank you all the time. Take care yourself man.

BLITZER: You be careful over there as well and it could take some time before we know how this pandemic will change life here in the United States but one way, that our world may never be the same, the end of the handshake.

This week the top infectious disease expert here in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci said we may all be better off if that custom simply becomes a thing of the past. Listen to this.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: I don't think we ever should have to shake hands ever again to be honest with you. Not only would it be good to prevent coronavirus disease, it probably would decrease the incidence of influenza dramatically in this country.


BLITZER: Well, that may be hard up for some of us, the President of United States would certainly welcome that. I interviewed him back in 1999 at Trump tower in New York when the topic came up during our interview. At the time I quoted from a book he had written a couple years earlier. Watch this exchange we had, 21 years ago.


BLITZER: Another quote from this book remember which came out in 1997 I believe, one of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands and the more successful and famous one becomes, the worst this terrible custom seems to get.

I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands which I do as much as possible. TRUMP: I certainly have a change I mean, look, the concept of - the

other day a man comes up, he's walking at me, he sneezes. He grabs his nose, he sneezes. And he says Mr. Trump, how are you. Now I'm supposed to shake his hands and be happy with it. The guy's got a terrible cold.

BLITZER: If you're a politician in the rope line, you got no choice.

TRUMP: I guess - politician, so maybe therefore, who knows. Look, I do the shaking hands. I think it's a terrible custom. I think it's a very, very terrible custom. A lot of people are agreeing with me. I have more letters on that one subject than anything where they're saying, you're right about shaking hands. Who needs to do it but I do it.

I do it sometimes begrudgingly. I mean, I've had many cases. You're eating dinner and you see some nice gentleman come out of the bathroom and he comes over to you and he grabs, oh Mr. Trump, I want to - well, the good news is you don't need that roll. You just keep it away.

But the fact is it's - it's almost barbaric in a certain way and especially nowadays. I don't think it's good but I do it.

BLITZER: And scientist say a lot of germs are passed along, colds and - and other diseases.

TRUMP: I've had a lot of good reviews on that one. I mean, I think, you may be trying to be a little bit critical with that in terms of politics but I've had a lot of good reviews. There have been a lot of stores on my little -