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Dr. Anthony Fauci Expresses Cautious Optimism Regarding COVID- 19 Outbreak; USS Theodore Roosevelt Has 585 Sailors Who Tested Positive For COVID-19; Hospitalizations Down In New York But Death Rate Still High; Kansas Church Open on Easter Despite State Ban on Mass Gatherings; U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson Released from Hospital; D.C. Mayor Urges More Data Collection In Communities Of Color; Surgeon General Calls High Infection Rate Among Blacks "Alarming"; CNN Heroes Persevere In The Face Of Coronavirus Pandemic. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired April 12, 2020 - 16:00   ET




All right. The next hour of the NEWSROOM starts right now.

Hello, again, everyone. I am Fredricka Whitfield. Thank you so much for joining me.

We begin this hour with a blunt new assessment from our nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci. a key member of the White House's Coronavirus Task Force, now admitting that lives may have been saved had the Trump administration done more at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I mean, obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kind of decisions is complicated. But you're right. I mean, obviously, if we had, right from the very beginning, shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.


WHITFIELD: Despite that, Dr. Fauci says he has reason for cautious optimism, citing a decrease in the rate of hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and intubations.

We have a team of correspondents across the country on this Easter Sunday covering the latest development in the coronavirus outbreak. Let's start with CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

So, Jeremy, what is the administration saying about this new assessment from Dr. Fauci?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Fred, President Trump said on Friday that it might be the biggest decision of his presidency, deciding when he could release those -- relax those social distancing guidelines and begin to reopen the country.

The president is spending the weekend mulling that decision. And today, of course, is the day when he had hoped that he could reopen the country. Easter Sunday is the date that the president had talked about a few weeks ago. Of course, since then, the president decided to extend those social distancing guidelines for another month.

But as you mentioned, Fred, we did hear from Dr. Anthony Fauci just this morning, and he said that he believes some reopening could begin next month. But he said, it shouldn't all happen at once.


FAUCI: It is not going to be a light switch that we say, OK, it is now June, July, or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on. It's going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you've already experienced, and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced. So it's going to having to look at the situation in different parts of the country. I think it's going to have to be something that is not one-size-fits-all.


DIAMOND: And Dr. Fauci has also said that there needs to be expanded testing across the country, as well as that serology testing, which tests for antibodies in individuals to see if they've been infected with the virus previously, before you can begin to open up parts of the country. But we do know that the president is hearing from other voices, including some in the finance world, who are urging the president to put a date on the calendar that they can look forward to begin reopening the country.

And that really has been the story of this response from the White House is that the president is getting conflicting advice, both from inside and outside of the White House. Some advisers urging him to focus on the economy. Others telling him to focus on public health. And others of course trying to find the balance between those two issues.

We do know, of course, that during those three weeks in late February and early March, between when an administration official told me that these top public health experts decided that they needed to move towards these stronger mitigation efforts, and in three weeks later when the president actually announced this, there was fierce internal debate about what the president should do and how far he should go.

Dr. Fauci today acknowledging that there was pushback from inside the White House towards those social distancing measures, when they began to consider them. And then, of course, you heard Dr. Fauci this morning saying that lives could, indeed, have been saved had they put those mitigation efforts into place much earlier -- Fred. WHITFIELD: Right. I spoke with two reporters of "The New York Times"

reporting last hour who also substantiated that there were a lot of warnings and signals being sent to the president pretty early.

All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

And this just in to CNN. We're now learning that 585 sailors from the USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for coronavirus. The Roosevelt of course is that aircraft carrier where Captain Brett Crozier was removed from his command for sounding the alarm about the spread of the virus onboard.

CNN Pentagon Reporter, Ryan Browne joining us with more. So the numbers have only increased. Now what?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: That's right, Fred. The number of sailors that have tested positive for the coronavirus has reached 585 as of Sunday. Now, again, when Captain Crozier issued that warning over a week ago, the number of cases was actually under 100. And so we've seen a rapid escalation in terms of the number of cases.

Now, some 92 percent of the crew have been tested and the Navy has had some success in evacuating sailors from the ship, placing them into isolation on Guam either in empty hotels or on military bases in Guam.


That's something they had struggled with initially, testing the sailors. Now they have tested over 90 percent of them. Most of the results are in. They're still waiting for some results. But it just goes to show that Captain Crozier's warning really did anticipate a lot of the things he warned about, that spreading across the ship did, in fact, happen. And his warnings once it got out of course led to some major disruptions within the Navy and eventually the resignation of the acting Navy secretary over how he handled the entire issue -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: And Ryan, you mentioned many of those who've tested positive are, you know, at hotels and, you know, in Guam, but with this kind of number, are the majority of the people who have tested positive on that aircraft carrier been removed from the carrier? Or some --


BROWNE: So only those who have not tested positive have been moved into hotels, per the agreement with the Guam government. Those who have tested positive have been put in isolation on the Navy base. And we saw that one case a few days ago of one of those sailors became unresponsive, fell unconscious, was taken into the intensive care unit. So they're keeping a close eye on those sailors who have tested positive.

There has only one hospitalization so far, but it's something they're very much keeping an eye on as they move forward.

WHITFIELD: Got it. All right, Ryan Browne, thanks so much.

BROWNE: You bet.

WHITFIELD: All right, now to New York where the curve appears to be flattening. Governor Andrew Cuomo says he wants to reopen the state as soon as possible. However, in order to do that, he says, more testing needs to be available.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We want to reopen as soon as possible. The caveat is, we need to be smart in the way we reopen. What does smart mean? It means a coordinated approach, a regional approach, and a safe approach. Nobody wants to pick between a public health strategy and an economic strategy. And as governor of this state, I'm not going to pick one over the other.

We're going to need testing, more testing, faster testing than we now have, when you start to move people back to work. And we're going to need federal help. There is no doubt about that.


WHITFIELD: Evan McMorris-Santoro is in New York for us.

So, Evan, the governor also said that while new hospitalizations are down, the death rate is still terribly high. What did he have to say about the state's new numbers?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Let me just read you these staggering numbers that was announced by the governor today. New York, which of course has been the epicenter of this pandemic in the United States, total cases, 181,825. 9,385 dead in total through this pandemic crisis, with 758 of those deaths coming yesterday. And the day before that, a similar number. The day before that, a similar number.

What those numbers mean is that a lot of tragedy is going on in this city and in this state, as we're still trying to deal with this pandemic. What they also mean, according to the governor, is that the plateau in cases that we have been looking for here may have finally arrived, which means that we can start thinking about the future, possibly, even as this tragedy is still going on. And that's what the governor is still trying to talk about.

On the one hand, feeling good about the fact that he maybe has equipment that he needs now, and has the -- you know, the proper medical facilities that he has now to deal with these cases, and can maybe thinking about opening the government up, opening up the state, but still dealing with deaths that are coming in just staggering numbers every day -- Fred.


CUOMO: So we have good news because we deserve some good news, Lord knows. Change in total number of hospitalizations is down again. This is the number that we have been watching, because the great fear for us was always overwhelming the hospital system, the capacity of the hospital system.

You're not seeing a great decline in the numbers, but you're seeing a flattening. And you're also seeing a recurrence of the terrible news, which is the number of lives lost, which is 758.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Fred, I'm sorry, I threw to you instead of the governor. I would never confuse you, usually. So this is a story in New York. We're just trying to figure out what comes next after all of this pandemic crisis continues to work its way through the state.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And a lot of tough calls that the governor is, you know, sharing, that have to be made, but it has to be done in a gradual sense.

Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

All right. CNN is learning that the Department of Justice plans to take action sometime next week to regulate religious services amid calls from the government to continue practicing social distancing.


This as some churches in Kansas, one in particular, remaining open this Easter Sunday despite the state's mass gathering ban.

CNN's Gary Tuchman joins us now from a church where he saw lots of activity earlier today. And even upon exit, some of the folks decided to talk to you -- Gary.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Fred. On this frigid Easter Sunday in the state of Kansas, from Dodge City in the west, to Kansas City in the east, it is now against the law to have a church service on Easter with more than ten people inside.

I talked to many churches in this state over the last couple of days. Almost all of them have said they will remain closed because of the coronavirus threat. However, there are exceptions, like this church in the Kansas City suburb of Bayshore. Big exception, they have three services today. The one at 7:00 a.m. had more than 50 people. The one at 10:00 a.m. have more than 50 people. And they have another one tonight at 7:00. The pastor says he expects another 50 people.

We watched as people arrived at the 10:00 service, men, women, children, even a baby came in. The church does fit 300. The pastor says they're doing some social distancing inside. He wouldn't allow us inside to confirm that, but it does fit 300 and we counted about 45. He said there were 55 people for the 10:00 service.

He also says he believes he's not breaking the law. Why? He says there's a loophole in the law. In the executive order signed by the Democratic governor, it states that preachers, readers, choir or musical performers don't count as part of your 10. And he says, well, everyone who comes into my church who is singing, they're part of the choir. They are musical performers.

So is it a loophole, is he just rationalizing? It may not matter, because the Republican attorney general of this state who did not agree with what the Democratic governor did says that people should voluntarily not go to church now since it is the law, but he says nobody should be arrested if they break the law.

One more thing I want to tell you, Fred. Right up the street from us here in this suburb is a Catholic church. A couple of hours ago, two people came by here and they were very upset and I said, why, and they said, they wouldn't allow us in the church because the Catholic church was only allowing 10 parishioners inside for today's mass -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Gary Tuchman, thanks so much.

All right, meantime, there was some good news out of the UK today. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson now out of the hospital, recovering from the coronavirus at home. Johnson was hospitalized when his symptoms suddenly and dramatically worsened. And in a video statement, Johnson admitted it could have gone either way for him. And he warned his country that social distancing needs to be maintained.


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And the reason in the end my bodied did start to get enough oxygen was because for every second of the night, they were watching and they were thinking and they were caring and making the interventions I needed. So that is how I also know that across this country, 24 hours a day, for every second of every hour, there are hundreds of thousands of NHS staff who are acting with the same care and thought and precision as Jenny and Luis.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Bianca Nobilo is in London. So are people in the UK getting that message about social distancing?

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's been a message that the government has tried hard to reinforce -- Fred. They were particularly worried about this weekend. Easter weekend is a bank holiday in the United Kingdom. We've had some of the best weather that we've had all year. I'm actually standing in front of a church, you might not be able to see now because it's dark. It was deserted today. I haven't seen any large groups meeting, which I have seen throughout the week, some of which have been broken up by police.

The traffic seems to be down after a brief spike a couple of weeks ago. So all the signs are encouraging. The prime minister keen to thank the country for abiding by those social distancing guidelines. Of course, that's not the case all over the country. In certain cities, the police have had to break up large parties and gatherings. But on the whole, the country is performing better and adhering more closely to the guidelines than the behavioral experts that are advising the government's initially expected.

Fred, you mentioned this good news to come out of the United Kingdom today. The fact that the prime minister is on the mend. He's out of hospital. Indeed, it is, for the country, and for his family.

But it is juxtaposed with wrenching news and the milestone that the UK has hit with over 10,000 coronavirus-related deaths just in hospitals alone. That is likely to be heavily underreporting the actual number of deaths because of the lag, because it's only taking into account hospitals and not care homes, which are so badly affected.

So the focus now really shifting after the drama and the concern over the prime minister, to making sure that all the medics that are on the front line get the PPE that they need.


There have been plenty of issues reported with that. In fact, the doctors' association in the United Kingdom saying that some medics were being asked to hold their breath because they didn't have the right PPE. So that is a huge focus for the government now.

And his own advisers have also been suggesting that had the government worked harder initially to test wider amounts of the population, that they may have been able to buy the health service a bit more time, Fred. So the government under a lot of scrutiny on those two key issues of testing and PPE.

WHITFIELD: All right, Bianca Nobilo, thank you so much in London.

All right, coming up, the World Health Organization says that coronavirus is advancing around the globe.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We think it's going to be a virus that stalks the human race for quite a long time to come.


WHITFIELD: Plus, she called conditions at a New York hospital apocalyptic last month, so has Dr. Ashley Bray seen any improvements? I'll talk to her live.



WHITFIELD: Across the country, doctors and nurses are painting a devastating picture of what's happening on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. And one word that has been used to describe the situation is apocalyptic. Hospitals being overwhelmed by the rise in patients and the critical need for supplies. A "New York Times" video revealed what health care workers at Elmhurst Hospital in New York have been seeing.

Dr. Ashley Bray is a first-year resident of internal medicine at Elmhurst and she's joining me right now.

Thanks so much for taking the time out. So, in late March, you told the "New York Times" the situation was, you know, apocalyptic. What has happened since then?

DR. ASHLEY BRAY, INTERNIST, ELMHURST HOSPITAL CENTER: Yes, so thank you so much for having us on here. First, I want to say, I'm speaking out as a CAR leader. CAR is a committee of interns and residents at Elmhurst, but it's a union, so I'm speaking out on behalf of all the residents here.

The word "apocalyptic" was used because this situation was completely unprecedented. We've never seen anything like this in our lifetime. We've never thought that we would, especially with all the medical advances that we have. It's not a flu, it's killing people in all sorts of ways, it's affecting the body and all types of organ systems and the hospital has completely changed.

WHITFIELD: Mm-hmm. So your observations incorporate what you're seeing in patients. You know, the conditions presented as a result of this, you know, pandemic. But then also your observations, you know, encompass the experiences of those of you on the front lines, the lack of supplies, equipment, et cetera. What has happened over the course of the last few weeks. Anything? Any differences?

BRAY: Yes, so over the last few weeks, a lot of positive changes have been made. In terms of patient care, a lot of patients have been transferred out to other facilities, like the Javits Center, which we're very grateful for, like the Navy Yard, which is really, really wonderful, but there's still a couple of things that we need in terms of PPE.

WHITFIELD: Like what?

BRAY: We need tons of donations from the community, from face shields to bunny suits to masks. It's really overwhelming and the generosity just keeps coming in and it's great. And the hospital is still working on getting more PPE. We need a surplus of N-95. It's really happening.

WHITFIELD: And how do you all hold up mentally? I mean, as you mentioned, you know, this is unprecedented. This isn't something that anyone has really encountered, even though you prepare for the worst as, you know, members of the medical community. There's nothing to compare this to. So how are you handling it personally?

BRAY: So, of course, we all became physicians because it's our calling, it's our career. We love, we obsess over helping people and getting them better when we can. But right now, it's really difficult, as you can imagine. Some of the residents have young children or are living away from their families to limit the exposure that their families have to the virus. It's really, really been difficult. We never expected to see these many deaths over this short period of time.

And just like the public is being quarantined, which is a great thing, social distancing is working, we also, of course, we go home to home quarantine. So we don't have those same outlets that we normally do. We're not able to go to the gym or go out with friends. And on top of that, we're working more hours. So it's just less free time in general. So it takes a really big toll mentally. Yes, it's been challenging.

WHITFIELD: Yes. So many are so grateful for what you all are doing.

Dr. Ashley Bray, stay safe, stay well, and thank you so much.

BRAY: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Up next, hope in Spain as officials begin easing coronavirus restrictions, but is the country really out of the woods yet?

First, Christine Romans has a preview of the week on Wall Street.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: How much damage has coronavirus inflicted on companies? We'll start to get an idea this week as earnings season kicks off. Analysts predict profits for the S&P 500 will drop 10 percent in the first quarter. That's the biggest decline since 2009, the financial crisis. The second quarter looks even worse with earnings expected down 20 percent.

But the truth is, no one really knows. Many companies have suspended or withdrawn their outlooks for the rest of the year. And that's a problem for the stock market, which does not like uncertainty. At the same time, the economic damage from the pandemic is coming in to sharper focus. Last week, another 6.6 million people filed for first- time unemployment benefits. Altogether, nearly 17 million workers, about 10 percent of the U.S. labor force, have filed claims in just the past three weeks.

In New York, I'm Christine Romans.



WHITFIELD: Spain now says it will begin gradual steps toward easing coronavirus restrictions. The prime minister warning the steps will be, quote, "progressive and measured." The country has been one of the hardest hits in Europe with more than 166,000 cases reported so far.

CNN's Scott McLean is in Madrid.


So, Scott, you know, how is the government expected to ease these restrictions?

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Sure, Fredricka. So, officially, the lockdown ends at April 26 though officials and the prime minister are already warning that that's likely to go on into May.

But tomorrow, some non-essential workers in sectors like construction and manufacturing will be allowed to return to their jobs. This does not, though, mean that restaurants, bars or shops will be opening anytime soon. It's important to understand, though, the whole reason why this segment of the workforce was told to stay home in the first place is because they didn't want the hospitals and the ICUs to be overwhelmed.

Well, right now, remember that Spain is still using a convention center and 13 different hotels to house patients. And so, they need to be careful here. We spoke with a public health expert earlier today who said that Spain is easing restrictions far too soon.

Case in point, more than 600 people died in this country from the coronavirus in the -- this last 24 hours, though that is less than the peak. Similarly, more than 4,000 new cases were discovered. Again, that's less than the peak. But listen to what the expert says.


PETER DROBAC, GLOBAL HEALTH EXPERT: It's not a small amount of active transmission happening right now. So, I have to say, I have some concern about easing any of the physical distancing measures at this point because there's still fairly widespread transmission. I'd like to see that number come down further; and at the same time, hopefully, that would buy time to increase testing capacity.


MCLEAN: And testing capacity is something that Spain has really struggled to ramp up in a significant way. Right now, it's doing about 20,000 tests per day. The country has distributed about a million -- excuse me -- testing kits to the 17 regions of this country. But again, they're really struggling to roll it out in a very quick way.

Regardless, though, things will be eased as of tomorrow. They will, though, be handing out some 10 million face masks at transit points. They're also going to be keeping the trains running more often than usual. And on the face masks point, Fredricka, that is something that is really unthinkable at the beginning of this outbreak considering the fact that they didn't even have enough for health care workers.

WHITFIELD: Wow. All right. And now, they feel that they're going to have enough to hand out to everybody?

MCLEAN: Well, 10 million, at least, for tomorrow to make sure that if people can't social distance on the train, at least they'll have a mask, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: That's amazing. All right, Scott McLean in Madrid. Thank you so much.

All right. Meantime, France recorded its lowest daily increase in coronavirus deaths since early April. The French Health Ministry says the country is seeing the start of what it is calling a very high plateau. CNN's Jim Bittermann is in Paris. So, is the country taking this as a sliver of good news?

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think it's a little bit of a good news, but it's still 561 people died in the last 24 hours, so you can't really say it's terrific news. But, in fact, it is a glimmer of hope, anyway, for people who are wanting to see the optimistic side of this. The other little part of it is that there are 38 people less in ICU units, in the intensive care units today as opposed to yesterday at this time. So, that is something. But there's still more than 6,000 in the ICU units. So, it's a long way to go.

Now, the health ministry is warning that this plateau -- it's a very high plateau -- that the restrictive measures that have been put in place have got to stay there if the French want to see this pay off.

In other coronavirus news today, the carrier, the French aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, pulled into port in Toulon in Southern France 10 days early. It was on a three-month mission, but they cut it short when they found that 50 of the sailors onboard tested positive for the coronavirus.

The 50 were taken off, but the other 1,900 sailors will also have to be taken off, and they're going to be in quarantine for the next 14 days. The entire ship and all of its airplanes and helicopters and everything else have to be entirely disinfected before they can put out to sea again.

And then finally, I think what most people here are looking for and looking toward is the speech by President Macron tomorrow night. The presidential palace has already said that the confinement period here is going to be extended beyond April 15th, the original deadline. But how long after that, we don't know.

The president has been consulting with scientific experts and other people around France this last week, making this decision about how much longer -- a lot of rumors running around. But at the moment, we don't really know. Fred?

WHITFIELD: All right. A lot to be determined. Jim Bittermann in Paris. Thank you so much. We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: A "World Health Organization" official who serves as the special envoy for the coronavirus delivered an ominous warning today about how this infectious disease may pose a problem for countries around the globe for years to come.


DR. DAVID NABARRO, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION'S SPECIAL ENVOY ON CORONAVIRUS: We're not so sure that it will come in waves in the way that influenza does. We think it's going to be a virus that stalks the human race for quite a long time to come until we can all have a vaccine that will protect us. And that there will be small outbreaks that will emerge sporadically, and they will break through our defenses.

So, the key for this particular virus is that every community has a kind of defensive shield, can pick up cases as soon as they appear, isolate them, and stop outbreaks from developing.


WHITFIELD: Jessica Malaty Rivera is a microbiologist and an infectious disease expert. And she's also a member of the COVID-19 dispersed research network, joining us now from San Francisco. Good to see you, Jessica.


WHITFIELD: So, when you hear that, you know, this virus could be around for a long time until a vaccine is ready, what kind of wake-up call is that?


RIVERA: Yes. I think it's a tremendous wake-up call. I think the data is showing that until we have a vaccine, this virus is going to persist. We don't have any indication as to why this or if this virus would behave like influenza in that influenza tends to slow down during warmer climates. That's usually because, you know, the virus doesn't like to replicate or can't replicate and spread as easily.

We're seeing this virus spread continuously even in warmer climates. And so, we think it's going to be persistent. And the only real milestone that we have as far as disease prevention besides the mitigation efforts we're doing right now is a vaccine. So, it's going to be persistent until then.

WHITFIELD: Today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order to expand testing for people eligible for antibody testing. So, how important will antibody testing be especially if, you know, officials want people to get back to work and even school?

RIVERA: It's incredibly important from a public health perspective. I mean, we don't have a good number of who has the disease right now and we don't have a good number of who had it and recovered. And so, from an epidemiological perspective, we really need that data. And it will help us figure out how to move forward.

But the issue that we're seeing right now is that some of the false negative rates for these antibody tests that have been used are too high. And that can create some problems as far as giving people who either get a false positive report, you know, dangerous concept of security when they think they could have the antibodies and they don't. So, we really need like verified and reliable, accurate testing, so that we're not giving the community any false hope of herd immunity.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Anthony Fauci, leading infectious disease, you know, expert for the U.S., you know, admitted to CNN today that some lives would have been saved if mitigation efforts to control the coronavirus had been put in place earlier. Do you agree with that?

RIVERA: I do. I think it's really easy to say hindsight is 20/20. But in the public health community, especially those who are involved in pandemic preparedness, they've been sounding the alarm on this for quite some time. In fact, you could even say they were sounding the alarm for some years. And so, in many ways, while this is unprecedented, I don't think it's fair to say that it's -- that it was unpredictable.

WHITIFIELD: Do you believe that a lot can be learned from the cities or even states that did seem to respond, particularly, I guess, quicker than others?

RIVERA: Absolutely. I think California stands out as an incredible example of leading and heeding the encouragement of public health officials. The mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, just responded quickly. Governor Newsom set the tone for the country when it comes to statewide shelter in place orders. So, yes, I think we're going to learn a lot from states like California on how to respond. And I think we all need to have a more concerted effort and united effort moving forward.

WHITFIELD: This week, a fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institute released a theory suggesting that what was perceived to be a nasty, early flu season in California really was COVID-19 spreading undetected throughout the community. Do you see this as something to be explored?

RIVERA: Yes. I think that theory has been a bit debunked. I mean, the researchers have been sequencing the virus' genome and they get it from a number of different samples. And so, they can trace it back to the origin. And the earliest detected case we have seen was in mid- November, early December. And the first detected case we have here in the United States was January 20th in Washington State.

So, you know, from a genetic perspective, it doesn't seem plausible that that would have happened on top of the fact if it had happened, it really would have wreaked the havoc we're seeing now in our ICUs in our hospital systems.

WHITFIELD: Yes. You talked about -- so, the November dates you're talking about are in China, not necessarily, you know, any kind of cases that could have been in California in November.

RIVERA: Correct.

WHITFIELD: All right. Got it. All right, Jessica Malaty Rivera, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Be well.

RIVERA: Appreciate it.

WHITFIELD: We'll have more on coronavirus in just a moment. But first, the pews at the national cathedral were empty on this Easter Sunday. But there was an online service and a virtual chorus of more than 400 people who performed from home. Take a listen.






WHITFIELD: The mayor of Washington D.C. is calling for a national effort aimed at collecting data on coronavirus deaths in communities of color. This has lawmakers begin to focus on early number showing that black Americans are dying of the virus at a disproportionate rate.

Joining me right now to discuss, Dr. Wayne Frederick, the president of Howard University in the nation's capital. Dr. Frederick, good to see you, always good to see you and Happy Easter.

DR. WAYNE FREDERICK, PRESIDENT, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: Same to you. Happy Easter to you, Fredricka.

WHIFIELD: So, your hospital is among those the mayor has asked to expand capacity by 125%. You have turned one of your campus dorms into residences for your front line staff. What has this been like to take in so many coronavirus cases?

FREDERICK: Well, you know, we really are ramping up. We don't quite have the surge that is anticipated, but the mayor wisely and her department of health has really mobilized the city to try to get ready for it. And I think that that preparation actually lots of kudos due to that.

It's very complicated, as you can imagine, to add that many beds. We're going to attempt to add between 225 to 250 beds in our already- existing facility it's going to require. There will be also build a type of field hospital in one of our parking lots, as well, where we can house patients.

So that's very complicated, as you can imagine, running gas lines, looking at the different utilities. We have to bring in potentially a new chiller, as well, because of the heating and cooling requirements. And all of those things, as you can imagine, are going to be very complicated to coordinate while taking care of patients.


WHITFIELD: So, tell me about these field hospitals. Is that what we're seeing in these tents that have already been erected, you know, outside the hospital in the campus community?

FREDERICK: Well, our -- the current tent is really set up more for triage. That's where we're going to be bringing in patients who have symptoms that are consistent with coronavirus. We're going to be able to screen them there before bringing them into the hospital and try to get a disposition on them in that -- in the current triage tent that's set up.

This other tent that we will have to put up in the coming weeks will be a tent that where we'll actually be giving care to patients who are either highly suspicious for having COVID or already tested for the virus, tested positive for the virus.

WHITFIELD: Well, that's a very extraordinary scene. I mean, a very different campus right now deserted of students. But the bottom of, you know, Georgia Avenue, that hill, your hospital presence has now spilled into the usual busy city streets.

So, kind of describe how this is for you. I mean, you're a Howard University, you know, graduate. You're also the president of the campus and you know how usually the student body is what, you know, is the pulse of that community. But these are very different circumstances right now.

FREDERICK: They're very, very different circumstances. Eerie in a way but at the same time I take a moment for us to reflect how the university has been in that community through riots, through upheaval, through good times and bad times. And I think once again, we're proving the need to be there.

And while the majority of our students aren't there, what we are about and that's serving the community, I think this could not be more symbolic of the relationship that Howard University has had with the Washington, D.C. community, being there, standing up, having the front line workers do all that we can while we're still doing distance learning and our students are getting prepared to then become the foot soldiers to help that very same community and others around the country.

WHITFIELD: So, Dr. Frederick, you said there's no surge now, but the D.C. Mayor, Muriel Bowser, is warning that it's coming, that that surge may be coming to the nation's capital in D.C. So, how do you psychologically prepare? You're showing us, you know, logistically, how you are preparing. But how do you psychologically get ready for something like that?

FREDERICK: You know, that's an excellent point. And I think tied to your prior question, we've been really communicating with our entire community letting everyone know that this is a full effort of the entire Howard Community, our alum, our students, our faculty, our staff. Whether they are all on campus in the hospital or not, this is really a community effort in terms of us trying to get ready for this.

We also are trying to communicate with the staff very often. We're also holding virtual town halls for the physicians to talk to them about coronavirus. We've stood up on our website at howard@edu. We have a bod (ph), a very top (ph) that is COVID-19 information.

As you know yourself, a graduate of the school of communications, we have a radio station and TV station. We've been using those assets to speak to our experts on campus and to get them to be pushing the message out as to what's to come. And then, we really are trying to make sure that we support our front line workers completely, getting the PPE, and speaking to them about testing, et cetera, and exposure.

WHITFIELD: All right. Clearly, you've assessed it all and feel the benefits far outweigh the risks. You're a practicing physician, an educator, university president, father, husband, and now also welcoming an entire coronavirus community there to the Howard University campus. Dr. Wayne Frederick, thanks so much for your time. Appreciate it and be well.

FREDERICK: And thank you, Fredricka. We appreciate all that you do as well.

WHITFIELD: Thanks so much.

All right. We've been bringing you stories of our incredible CNN heroes going above and beyond during this pandemic. Here now is Anderson Cooper.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: These CNN heroes are finding new and unique ways to help their communities in the face of COVID-19. Whether that's bringing their programming online for those recovering from addiction --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For somebody in recovery, social isolation can often lead to the relapse. It's crucial to keep each other connected. So now, you can come to a class every hour of the day.

COOPER: -- delivering meals for children who no longer access them in school programs.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We used to serve a thousand pound of pasta a week. Last week, we served 5,000 pounds. It's telling you the demand.


COOPER: -- or providing supplies and emotional support to struggling members of their community.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have intensified our food distribution to about 2,000 families in the past week. We are sewing masks and gowns. COVID-19 has taught us that nothing, nothing can break the human spirit.


WHITFIELD: All right. Go to for more. And thank you so much for joining me this Easter weekend. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. A special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM with Wolf Blitzer is next.