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More Than A Dozen Tornado Reports Across The South; Interview With Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) About Easing Social Distancing In New Mexico; New Mexico Uses Cell Phone Data To Create Social Distancing Models; Dr. Anthony Fauci Says Reopening The U.S. Not Like Clicking A Light Switch; Small Businesses Hit Hard As Pandemic Wreaks Havoc On Economy; Kansas Church Defies Order Limiting Size Of Religious Group Gatherings; At Least Three Dead As Tornadoes Hit Southeastern United States. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 12, 2020 - 19:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN's 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 death toll from coronavirus globally is now approaching 114,000, and nearly 22,000 of those deaths are right here in the United States. The U.S. also reported more than 550,000 cases spread across every state and nearly every U.S. territory.

Also, today, some stunning word from the nation's top infectious disease experts. Dr. Anthony Fauci telling CNN he believes more lives could have been saved if -- if the White House put out social distancing guidelines earlier as health experts inside the administration had recommended.


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


BLITZER: Also this is new tonight, New York City is now reporting more than 5600 additional -- additional -- cases of coronavirus. So that brings the city wide total to over 100,000 confirmed cases.

More on the pandemic coming up in just a moment, but we are getting some breaking news coming into THE SITUATION ROOM right now. Reports of people hurt and catastrophic damage in a large part of Mississippi right now. At least two large tornadoes touched down there just a while ago. This is one of them, this picture taken in Yazoo County, Mississippi.

We're also hearing from officials in Covington County, in Jefferson County, all seeing very dangerous severe weather this afternoon.

Our CNN Meteorologist, Tom Sater is watching these tornadoes right now.

Tom, is still an active, very dangerous situation?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: It sure is, Wolf. In fact, all the ingredients needed for severe weather to continue are actually peaking. It's been a terrible Easter Sunday. It actually started yesterday. The storm moved across the border of Mexico. We had softball-size hail in Del Rio. This morning, damage, heavily damaged buildings in what was a mobile homes community. That was in the hill country of Texas, west of Austin.

Then this morning, Monroe, Louisiana, tremendous thunderstorm producing damage that really pretty much raked from the east -- west side of Monroe to the east. I-20 and Arcadia shut down with debris. Overturned tractor trailers. At least 250 homes damaged. And this is what authorities say injuries.

But you get into southern Mississippi. If you look at the radar, we're going to show you where you have tornado warnings in effect right now. And this is in purple. We've had dozens of tornadoes today but it was south of -- areas of Collins and the town of Bassfield. Bassfield was hit not once, but twice by two tornadoes. Debris ball, this is a signature on radar that actually shows debris such as roof shingles, trees, power lines, farm sheds getting lifted inside these vortexes.

And again, we thought at the time, and we were hoping, it was going to be open farmland but now the sheriff there is saying, as you mentioned, it's catastrophic. Now community numbers are a little bit smaller in some of these areas, such as Bassfield, population 300, Collins 2500, Laurel, that's 18,000 people. But yes, those cities' tornado same one that hit Monroe stayed on the ground for 100 miles.

Now as you take a look, we're going to get in a little bit closer because the National Weather Service not only in Shreveport, Jackson, Mississippi, but now Birmingham, Alabama, have been extremely busy. The watches that you see here now in red, this is tornado watch. Earlier today Wolf, the Storm Predictions Center not only put out this tornado watch, but they issued what's called PDS, a particularly dangerous situation.


That was in effect for Louisiana, Arkansas and Mississippi. Well, now the watch in effect, the tornado watch for Alabama into south central Tennessee, in effect until midnight, also comes along with a PDS. It's extremely rare to have to two PDS issued by the Storm Prediction Center in the same day. Take a look at our outlook. The Storm Prediction Center three days ago

gave us an outlook of a level four out of five. Rare to have a three- day forecast to give us this kind of -- patched areas that you see here, kind of the markings will show you this 15 percent we're looking at. That tells us that there's a 15 percent chance of tornado within 25 miles of any given point. That's extremely high.

But as I mentioned moments ago, Wolf, the ingredients such dew points are rising. This has got to spike in intensity as these storms break across Alabama and into Georgia during the worst time of the evening, the darkness of night.

So again I cannot stress enough to everyone that we are really going to have to just make sure our phones, your cell phones, go to settings, go to notifications, make sure your emergency notification alerts are turned on and your phone is not on mute. Because you will get the warnings you need, you'll get the information from of course the Emergency Management Agency in your location to take action immediately.

Wolf, this comes at an odd time as you know. Everyone hunkered down at home. Social distancing, lockdowns. Many are wondering how do we all seek shelter if we have COVID-19 person in our family, who's quarantined. The American Meteorological Science and the National Weather Service says taking shelter from a tornado takes precedent. Get into your shelter, lowest level of your home, basement if you can, bathrooms are great, interior sections because of the piping.

But again, there is not going to be much time and it's going to be a little frightening into the evening period. Overnight tonight, Wolf, the threat then moves over night into tomorrow morning for almost all of the East Coast and the storms are pretty much going to continue to hang onto this energy. So we're not over with this yet and we've seen dozens of tornadoes already.

Wolf, as we've said, some catastrophic damage. So far no reports of fatalities, just injuries.

BLITZER: We just -- as you were speaking, we got the first confirmed fatality in Mississippi, one death. That's the first one at least so far.

Tom, we'll stay in very close touch with you. Very disturbing developments indeed.

Tom Sater, reporting for us.

Let's get back to our coverage of the coronavirus right now. I'm joined by the governor of New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you heard, we all heard what are described as some stunning words today from Dr. Anthony Fauci who said there was pushback early in the pandemic to take aggressive nationwide mitigation measures against the virus.

Would an earlier, earlier, more forceful warning from the president, from the federal government for that matter, have saved lives in New Mexico?

GOV. MICHELLE LUJAN GRISHAM (D-NM): I think it would have. Look, I was the former secretary of Health here in New Mexico for former governor Bill Richardson. And public health policies The earlier you engage, right, the better your outcomes including mortality rates, in particularly for states like New Mexico, while we have, you know, only -- we lost six more people today. It's tragic, I can't even imagine the pain of these families for a total of 26 which might seem so minuscule as we're dealing with a worldwide pandemic.

But given the demographics of a state like New Mexico, where, you know, we're one of the poorest states in the country. We're a minority majority state. We have populations that are older and have many more chronic care conditions including diabetes means we're more at risk. So the more that we could do to mitigate and prevent the transmission of this virus, the better we would have been. No question.

BLITZER: The president just a few moments ago tweeted something directly aimed at you, the nation's governors, and I want to read it once again. Here's what he tweeted. "Governors, get your state's testing programs and apparatus perfected. Be ready, big things are happening. No excuses. The federal government is there to help. We are testing more than any other country in the world. Also, gear up with face masks."

So, Governor Grisham, how do you interpret what the president just tweeted? What impact does it have for you when he says big things are happening, be ready?

GRISHAM: Well, you know, I look at it two different ways. I have to say that in the last couple of weeks the administration has been more responsive to specific requests. Like we have a problem in the northwestern part of the state, very concerned about our small rural communities there and tribal nations including the Navajo Nation.


And so look, we've got to have double the number of ventilators that we have requested for that area of the state. And in fact, we got them in, frankly, short order. And we're beginning to get that kind of quick attention.

But the other side of that coin is, is that we didn't started with a national strategy that included the states. So when you tell me to gear up, and I know that you've got backlogs in the private sector, that everybody is doing testing, hospitals have long had relationships, they've done point of care testing.

The CDC and the FDA, every time there is a new strategy, they have to both endorse it, right? It's got to be approved by FDA and then all this calibration has to occur before you can run a single test. And then it basically does this. It has every state competing with each other for testing.

So we don't have a strategy. We're not doing surveillance. And I am really concerned that we continue to pit one state against another state, instead of serving every American citizen and being really clear.

If we work together and we're clear about testing strategies, I think we would be a much better job for every single person. And we would be protecting them to a much higher degree. Frankly, I spend most of my time chasing personal protective equipment and-or testing supplies. And I can tell you that after this job, I would be effective at identifying any kind of laboratory equipment or testing kits you might need anywhere in the world.

BLITZER: You know, Governor, I want you to stay with me because your state has actually started a controversial practice of using some cell phone data to see whether your residents are actually following the social distancing guidelines. I want to ask you about this. But first, I want to make sure our viewers understand the technology how it's being used.

CNN's Sara Sidner has this report for us. Watch this.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Official government orders to stay at home stare you in the face, but are you obeying them?

A tech company Unicast knows. Grading the nation state by state, even county by county, as of Friday, Nevada, Vermont and California were at the top of the list as far as residents staying put. Six states were near failing. Overall, the United States got a C-plus.

How did they do it? By tracking cell phone data. And now, some state governments are hiring companies to do it, too. They developed social distancing models that gauge how well residents are adhering to stay- at-home orders.

GRISHAM: As we dig deeper, using cell phone data --

SIDNER: The state of New Mexico is one of the first to go public about hiring a company, Descartes Labs, to get cell phone geolocation statistics.

MIKE WARREN, CO-FOUNDER, DESCARTES LABS: We came up with a way to measure statistically how far a typical person in a community was going away from where they started the day.

SIDNER (on camera): So, you actually could track cell phones to show that people were following or not following the stay-at-home order?


SIDNER (voice-over): Mark Warren says other states have also signed on during the pandemic. China goes even further. It's using citizen smartphones to control their movements around their cities. A QR code on their phone determines where they can go.

(On camera): Americans are really concerned about that kind of personalized tracking. Is that concern addressed by the technology? WARREN: Absolutely. I mean, I personally am concerned about that as

well. So, we've got a number of controls that prevent us from tracking individuals.

SIDNER (voice-over): He says the data sold to the U.S. government is just statistics. Anonymous information that does not reveal who the phone belongs to.

You play a role and being tracked, too. When you download certain apps and agreed to let them use your geolocation on your phone, that data is being used by third party companies and advertisers. And now some state and local governments.

There are plenty of companies buying the tracking data. For example.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Not on spring break.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. Not really. That's not happening.

SIDNER: Remember those spring breakers who flocked to beaches even after the warnings to social distance? X-Mode collected spring breakers' phone data. Another company, Tectonix, was able to show where those spring breakers ended up. Those little points of light are cell phones pinging from the beaches.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As we zoom further and further out, it becomes clear just how massive the potential impact just one single beach gathering can have.

SIDNER: If just a few of those spring breakers had contracted coronavirus, they could have spread it far and wide. Now, governments want this kind of data in part to see if stricter measures to distant citizens are needed.

Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


BLITZER: Good report, Sara. Thank you.

Governor, I'm sure you can understand why some people out there would be uncomfortable with the government tracking their movement, but you feel this is not necessary. Tell us why.

GRISHAM: Well, I'm uncomfortable with the terminology about tracking people's movements. Right?


This is a data analytics company. There are many. And they can give us useful information that is intended to both measure, do the social distancing aspect to identify how well do they work, where could we do better. And quite frankly, they motivate individuals, aha, you know, I can do this better and I can get more deliveries and that means less contact if I go out to the grocery store. I think the notion that any government including this government would

be interested in any personal information or tracking an individual outside a court order, you know, quarantine that's very specific and we aren't doing that here. This is data that allows me as a policymaker to get a sense about what are the transmission risks that I have based on the way in which an entire state moves.

And that is very helpful. And I'm really grateful for that information. But it is really important for your viewers to know there is absolutely no excuse for any company who would be tracking an individual or utilizing any personal information or any government doing that as well.

BLITZER: Well, that's good to know. Governor, thank you so much for joining us from New Mexico.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, appreciate it very much. I know you guys are very, very busy understandably so out there. Thank you.

GRISHAM: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: So we're going to continue tracking these storms across the south right now. Very, very dangerous as well as the impact of the coronavirus across the nation.

Up next, I'll speak to a doctor from Johns Hopkins University about whether he thinks reopening of the country on May 1st, for example, is safe or even possible.

Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: More of the breaking news right now we're following. We're getting our fist images of what's being described as truly catastrophic tornado damage down south. At least one person was killed in the state of Mississippi where the National Weather Service had warned about a twister with the winds of greater than 200 miles per hour. And in Louisiana between 200 and 300 structures already have been damaged in the city of Monroe alone. Fire crews at this hour conducting searches to make sure no one is trapped.

We'll of course continue to bring you updates as we get them. We are watching this very closely.

With more than half a million coronavirus cases now confirmed here in the United States. And nearly 22,000 deaths now confirmed here in the United States, health officials are scrambling to accelerate testing in order to stem the outbreak.

But regardless of whether testing becomes more available, the question remains, when will it be safe to reopen America for business? It's an issue that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease specialist, addressed earlier this morning right here on CNN. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAUCI: We are hoping that at the end of the month we can look around and say, OK, is there any element here that we can safely and cautiously start pulling back on? If so, do it. If not, then just continue to hunker down.


BLITZER: Dr. Tom Inglesby is the director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

You know, Dr. Inglesby, Dr. Fauci added that he prefers to be an optimist over a pessimist. How optimistic are you that potentially we could start to see certain parts of the country, certain cities reopen by May 1st?

DR. TOM INGLESBY, DIRECTOR, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: Well, I think it's going to be challenging. I think as oppose to picking a specific date, what I think we need to do is to work as fast as we can to create conditions in all states where we can more safely begin to ease social distancing. And I think there are a couple of conditions that are most important.

The first is that we should be seeing a very clear trend downward day after day of cases. So hopefully a two-week trend of downward numbers every day. We definitely need, as Dr. Fauci said, we need much more testing. Right now only the sickest people are getting tested for the most part. We don't have it available for all the moderate cases that states may see. And then we need to make sure our hospitals are ready in case we have a new surge when things do begin to open. Right now a lot of doctors and nurses don't have masks that they need.

And finally, we need to really build up case identification and contact tracing like the countries that have had most success have in place. And we don't really have that in place around the country. So we need to be working as hard as we can to get those things in place so that when we do lift we're better prepared.

BLITZER: Yes. So those are important points. I just spoke, by the way, with the mayor of Seattle. She says that their modelling shows that if they don't maintain the social distancing that they're engaged in right now, they could potentially see a resurgence and a spike even worse than their peak. Do you think there are areas that could reopen and avoid that fate?

INGLESBY: I think it's really going to depend on the numbers and depend on their public health capacity and what kind of things we have in place. I mean, I think it's important for people to know that the U.S. has more cases and more deaths than any other country. And we don't have a lot of the things in place that other countries have built over the years especially contact tracing and case identification and public health systems.

So when we do begin to ease social distancing, we're going to need to do it very carefully and measure our success carefully over time because I certainly agree with the mayor that it is possible that we could get a resurgence in cases when we begin to reopen. So we got to do everything we can to try and prevent that from happening.


BLITZER: We certainly do. Do you see signs that this is going to be what's being described as a seasonal virus or will COVID-19 remain present until there is a vaccine?

INGLESBY: Well, one form or another, COVID-19 will be present until there is a vaccine. It's still unclear whether there will be any kind of seasonal change, whether it will go down in the summer months in the U.S. We do see that there are certainly cases getting transmitted in countries which are much warmer than ours, for example, Singapore, countries in Africa, but when there is a relative slowing down, I think we just don't know yet.

BLITZER: Dr. Tom Inglesby of Johns Hopkins, thank you very much for joining us.

INGLESBY: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: It's an uncounted victim of the coronavirus. We're talking about the economy. Congress is taking unprecedented steps to try to avoid a total collapse. What small business owners say the CARES Act has created a wild grab for cash that could end up hurting them more than helping them. We'll explain when we come back.



BLITZER: For many Americans who own small businesses, the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic not only means lost revenue, but it threatens their entire livelihoods.


KEVIN CLARK, OWNER, HOME GROWN: We may lose our business. I mean, that's -- I mean, the worst part, but I mean we could.


BLITZER: Behind each small business that is struggling right now are teams of employees who have bills to pay, families to care for. The government has promised to help, but some small business owners say it's not nearly enough.

Joining us now CNN Business Editor-at-Large, Richard Quest. Richard, the Federal government announced -- what -- $350 million in forgivable loans to small businesses, but we've heard from small business owners that it's now a wild grab for cash. Explain what's going on.

RICHARD QUEST, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR AND EDITOR-AT-LARGE: Right. So the money is there, but it is first come first served. And once it's gone, unless Congress puts more in, that's it. So small businesses across the country are rushing to get the money if

they can now, but what many are telling me is they don't need it now.

If you're a restaurant or a bar, or you're a bed and breakfast or a shop, you don't want the money now, Wolf. You want to leave yourself furloughed for the moment because you want to be able to be ready when business opens again. That's when you want to be able to use the loan. That's when you want to when slow business begins because you don't know how bad it's going to be.

However, you have to take the loan now, and you risk furloughing somebody later, which means those forgivable loans, forgivable grants, if you like, could become real loans. They could become debts.

This is, Wolf, well, this is a serious problem because businesses have to get the money now, but many say they don't need it until they can reopen in a few weeks or months' time.

BLITZER: Is more help, Richard, coming for the small businesses and realistically, how much will it take to keep them afloat?

QUEST: The U.S. Treasury Secretary estimates another $200 billion will probably be needed. So that's on top of the $350 billion, so you're looking at nearly half a trillion that will be going towards small businesses.

However, the real -- back to my first point, the real trick here is not loading your business up with more debt. You need it to remain as a forgivable loan -- a grant.

And the terms and conditions are extremely complicated. Wolf, businesses are going to have enough problems as they get started. It's not going to be a light switch on back to the races. It's going to be slow. It's not going to be pleasant, and they're not going to want more debt, which is exactly what this could end up being.

BLITZER: Yes, as you know, as Americans brace for another week of economic uncertainty amid the pandemic, what economic indicators, Richard, are you looking at? What do you -- what do they indicate for everyday Americans?

QUEST: What you look for, Wolf are those numbers that you can forecast out, extrapolate into the future. So for example, next week, we have manufacturing data, we've got industrial production, we've got business inventories, and of course, we'll have more initial claims.

Now, we know these numbers will be bad. That much is a given. But if we know how bad, we can then say, right, business inventories were this, therefore economic growth three months down the road should be this. Manufacturing now is this, we expect this.

So these are very important numbers crucial to giving us an idea of what the economy will be like when they start to switch it on again, sometime May, June, July.

BLITZER: President Trump tweeted this week and I'll read a part of it. He has tweeted, "Our economy will boom perhaps like never before." Do you agree that there can be a really rapid rebound, it will take off? Will that be more than just the markets, the jobs and wages and everything that Americans with bigger worries than let's say stock portfolios have right now?

QUEST: Here's my warning, Wolf. Do not confuse a big bounce of pent up demand after this long closure with a booming recovery. All you'll be seeing is this surge as things get going again. Businesses start picking up, lost orders, pent up demand is what economists call it.


QUEST: But longer term, the underlying damage, we won't see that until the end of the year into 2021. One economist overnight is now saying he believes it won't be until the middle of next year, before you'll be back to where you were.

Don't think for a moment that by the time we get to November, and the general election, that things will be back where they were. Superficially, there will be a bounce, but there will be deep damage that will only show itself into next year.

BLITZER: Yes, that is so, so deeply concerning. Richard Quest, as usual. Thanks very much for that analysis.

Meanwhile, Christians across the United States opted for their couches instead of pews and tuned into their Easter Services remotely.

But not one church in Kansas, it is defying an order upheld by the State Supreme Court that limits the size of religious gatherings. We're going to take you live to Kansas where the church's third service of the day is about to get underway.



BLITZER: We continue to follow the breaking news, truly catastrophic tornadoes across the south. Right now, we've just learned that in the City of Monroe, Louisiana, at least 200, perhaps 300 structures have been damaged. Crews are searching for victims right now.

And in Mississippi, at least three people were killed when the storm system hit. The National Weather Service reporting one tornado may have packed winds in excess of 200 miles per hour.

There have been more than a dozen tornado reports across the south today. Of course, the timing couldn't be worse when hospitals and emergency services are already strapped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In fact, listen to this, in Starkville, Mississippi, people are actually trying to practice social distancing while hunkering down in a tornado shelter.

Much more on that coming up. Meanwhile, the Department of Justice is planning to take action this

week and examine the social -- the impact of social distancing regulations on religious institutions across the United States.

A spokesperson saying today that the orders must be applied evenly and not singled out -- and not singling out religious organizations. This coming as some churches in Kansas remain open this Easter Sunday flouting the state's limits on mass gatherings.

I want to bring in seen as Gary Tuchman. He's outside one of those churches in Kansas for us right now. So what are you hearing from the church goers attending services today, Gary?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the congregants, Wolf who have come here are not so happy about the government being involved in their churchgoing experiences.

Today inside this church, they've had three services -- well, actually two and they're about to have a third, 20 minutes from now, but the first service had more than 50 people, the second service more than 50 people and they are expecting more than 50 for tonight's service, which is way over the law right now in Kansas.

We've seen men, women, children, and at least two babies go in. We saw one or two of the people with a mask, but most of the other people were not with masks. And of course, this attitude they have, the people we've talked to. It's important to keep in mind that here in the State of Kansas, there have been three clusters of COVID-19 that have happened that originated during religious gatherings.

Now, in this state, there is a political Battle Royale that has been going on between the Democratic governor and Republican state legislators, but right now it appears the victor is the governor after last night, the state Supreme Court upheld an executive order she sign that said that religious gatherings cannot have more than 10 people inside churches, mosques, synagogues in the days and weeks to come, an indefinite time period.

Now, there have been a lot of churches today. Most churches haven't, but a lot around the state and we know that for a fact that we talked about these four or five that are kind of ignoring the laws, this church though, is interpreting the law and let me explain it to you.

This is the Risen Savior Lutheran Church in Basehor, Kansas. This is a suburb of Kansas City. What the pastor is telling us, he is practicing social distancing in the church. He says there are 300 seats in the church, although we are not allowed in to witness it ourselves.

So he says he is practicing social distancing. He also says he is not breaking the law. Why? If he has more than 50 people when the law is 10, he cites something that is in the governor's Executive Order.

Now this could be seen as a loophole. It could be seen as a tricky rationalization, it could be seen as both. But in this executive order, it does say that, "Choir or musical performers do not count as part of your 10 people." Well, he says everyone who comes into his church sings, and therefore

they are choir or musical performers. So that being said, even if the judge won't agree with it, it probably will never get that far because the Attorney General of the state is Republican. He did not agree with this Executive Order.

He is saying that people voluntarily should not go into church, but it's also saying that if people do go to church, that nobody should be arrested.

We talked to congregants when they're coming out after the second service today, and they like what their Attorney General has to say, and don't much like what their governor has done.


QUESTION: What made you decide to go to the service today if it's against the law?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, as per the advice from the Attorney General, it says it's not, so we're following the advice from the Attorney General.

QUESTION: Yes, but the Executive Order, which the Supreme Court ruled is in the law right now says it is against the law.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But it is according to the Attorney General who is the highest law enforcement officer in the state, so this is the way they would have to figure that out. We are following his advice. I appreciate it. Thank you.


TUCHMAN: Wolf, one thing I want to tell you that have talked to or seen the websites of scores of churches here in the State of Kansas over the last couple of days, almost all of them have been shut down for Easter Sunday today, and most of them have COVID-19 warnings on their internet page, which say we are closing to protect you and our congregation and protect all the people in Kansas -- Wolf.


BLITZER: All right, Gary Tuchman reporting for us. Gary, thank you very much. Right now, baseball stadiums across the country should have been full. My Washington Nationals, for example should have been playing the Dodgers tonight.

Instead, the empty national stadium has been turned into a community kitchen to help feed local families and those devastated by the coronavirus.

Up next, I'll speak to one of the Washington Nationals officials who is behind this conversion. Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: Amid all of this coronavirus pandemic, another major need right now is food as millions and millions of people are filing for unemployment across the United States.

In Texas, look at this, the San Antonio Food Bank says it gave away more than one million pounds of food on Thursday to at least 6,000 families who say they have nothing to eat at home. Car lines stretched for over five miles.

In New Orleans, another Food Bank is being forced to move to a larger facility to keep up with demand. And here in Washington, D.C., the Washington Nationals are teaming up with the World Central Kitchen to feed a lot of hungry families while sports remain on hold in stadiums sit empty.

Joining us now is Jonathan Stahl, he is the Vice President for Ballpark Operations and Hospitality for the Washington Nationals. Jonathan, thank you so much for what you do and the Lerner family, the entire Washington Nationals team are doing right now.

You guys are certainly no stranger to feeding hungry families. You've been doing it for years now, but this is different. Can you tell us how this partnership came to be and how many meals you're producing each day to help hungry families here in the nation's capital, especially today on Easter Sunday?

JONATHAN STAHL, VICE PRESIDENT, BALLPARK OPERATIONS AND HOSPITALITY FOR WASHINGTON NATIONALS: Wolf, thanks for having me. So, about two weeks ago, we realized when we weren't playing baseball, we wanted to do what we could with this great public building and as stewards of that building, we reached out to Jose Andres' team in World Central Kitchen to see if we could be of assistance.

We have a lot of experience serving a lot of guests at the same time. We have great firepower in our kitchens and they were going to go empty, so we figured hey, let's use them and do some good with that.

So we got it stood up. It took us about a week to get everything organized. We started producing meals last Tuesday, and we got a thousand meals out last Tuesday, over 5,000 meals out yesterday, and coming out tomorrow, we expect to be doing about 7,000 meals a day and keep scaling up from there as the need grows.

BLITZER: So how do you distribute the food? Because it's so important, there are a lot of hungry people out on the streets in Washington, D.C. right now.

STAHL: So we're working with World Central Kitchen and Nationals Philanthropies, to get a list of individuals who are in need around the city in the D.C. area.

Those lists are coming into World Central Kitchen and those go on to our production list for the day. We individually package each meal. We give them a piece of fresh fruit, a hot meal, and those get sent out via partnership with Uber Eats and they're taken out to the individual locations to make sure that the food is getting to those who are in need.

BLITZER: Tell us about the role that Chef Jose Andres, the founder of World Central Kitchen. This is a partnership you have with him.

STAHL: That's correct. So we're working with his team, and following their lead. They're producing the recipes. They're getting the ingredients into the building.

Our partner at Levy is helping prepare the food along with Nationals volunteers. And so together, we're working on getting the food out.

BLITZER: Because you guys at the Nationals Park, you have huge kitchens there that can help prepare these meals and then individuals come in to package them individually because you don't want to have crowds standing by.

STAHL: Correct. We don't want anyone coming out to the ballpark and we want to make sure that food gets out to the guests. So we're individually cooking these meals. We're using two kitchens right now at the ballpark. We expect as the need grows, we'll expand and start using a third kitchen and maybe even a fourth.

And then we're bringing those meals -- those hot prepared foods into a central area where we're individually packaging them by volunteers. Everyone's wearing a face mask. They have a whole sanitizing process that they go through before they even come into the room to make sure that we're keeping the staff healthy as well as the food that's going out.

Those individually prepared meals are then going out to those who are in need. But no, you can't come to the ballpark and get a meal. We're taking it to them.

BLITZER: Full disclosure. I love the Washington Nationals, our world champion team. Jonathan, thank you so much for what you're doing, for what the whole team is doing. We are grateful to all of you. Good work. Thank you very much for joining us.

STAHL: Thank you. Have a great evening.

BLITZER: You, too. Finally, I want to thank all of our viewers for spending such an important weekend with us. I know for millions of families across the globe this week, and this weekend, were meant to be a very special time surrounded by loved ones at places of worship.

Thank you for staying home. Thank you for staying safe. Happy Passover. Happy Easter. I'll be back tomorrow 5:00 p.m. Eastern in THE SITUATION ROOM. "CNN Tonight" with Don Lemon starts a special edition right after a quick break. But I want to leave you right now, with the legendary tenor, Andrea Bocelli, offering the gift of song on this evening in Milan.