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More Than Half A Million Cases In U.S., 22,000+ Deaths; Chicago Health Department Reports, 72 Percent Of Deaths In City Are African- Americans; New York E.R. Doctor Shares A Day In Her Life Fighting Outbreak. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired April 13, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone, I'm Poppy Harlow.

This morning, with over half a million coronavirus cases in the United States and 22,000 deaths, the CDC director says, we are close to the peak of this pandemic. The surgeon general says several of the cities hardest hit by the virus, New York, Detroit, New Orleans, are now seeing cases plateau a bit, but the fight very far from over.

Right now, for the first time in U.S. history, every state in the country is under a federal declaration while nearly 30,000 National Guard troops are on duty nationwide responding to this crisis. The debate raging over when to restart shuttered economy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says, possibly as soon as May in some areas. The challenge though when, where and how to lift a patch work of stay-at- home orders. It's a battle unfolding within the administration between the president and his own public health officials, and outside of it, as state governors across the country plan to make their own decisions. They're the ones that get to decide.

Let's begin in New York with National Correspondent Athena Jones. And, Athena, I do think people might believe that the president can just say, okay, everything is open, but that's not how it works. It's up to the state governors, like here in New York, Governor Cuomo, to make that call.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. That is exactly right. President Trump is focused on this May 1st date, but it's not going to be up to him and governors are clearly not really -- they're not taking their cues from the president. I mean, Governor Cuomo didn't consult with the president when he put in these stay-at- home orders, very dramatic stay-at-home orders.

And these leaders all want to see the economy going again. They talk about being able to open as soon as possible but doing so in a smart way that doesn't put the economy over public health. And they're echoing the concerns of CDC director, Robert Redfield, who said, this has to be a gradual, careful, step-by-step process.

Listen to what Governor Cuomo has to say about this, as well as the governor in New Jersey, Phil Murphy, And Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire.


GOV. PHIL MURPHY (D-NJ): I fear if we open up too early and we have not sufficiently made that health recovery and cracked the back of this virus, then we could be pouring gasoline on the fire even inadvertently.

GOV. CHRIS SUNUNU (R-NH): There's still a long way to go. We're not getting out of this in a couple of weeks or probably even in a couple months. We need to keep this momentum going.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We need a public health strategy that is safe, that is consistent with an economic strategy.

The last thing we want to see is an uptick in that infection rate and an uptick in those numbers that we worked so hard to bring down.


JONES: And you heard the governor talking about the last thing we want to see is another wave of this, and certainly in a state like New York. This is very important. This has been the epicenter of the crisis, the state accounting for almost 40 percent of the cases all across the country. So they don't want to see a return to the state where we are now.

But Governor Cuomo is beginning to look at how they're going to reopen. He's focused on coordinating with New Jersey and Connecticut, since there is so many people who work in one place and live in another. They want to do this in a coordinated way. And key to him is going to be antibody testing, making sure you can test people to find out if they've been exposed to the virus, got over the virus and have some immunity, and therefore, can be the first ones to go back to work.

HARLOW: Yes. Athena, thank you for that reporting.

Well, the governor of Texas says he plans to issue an executive order this week that will give guidelines on how to reopen some businesses in his state. He says his state will focus on protecting lives but also livelihood. He says that both can be done at the same time.

Let's go to Polo Sandoval. He's in McAllen, Texas. We don't yet, right? We don't know what Governor Abbott is going to say in terms of what businesses can open when and what sort of guidelines there will be, right?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, what we have to do is consider what it's called here. It's the small business initiative that we're supposed to hear from the governor later today, which could suggest that potentially some of the smaller businesses, those mom and pops that have been perhaps hit the hardest by these restrictions could be the ones to get at least some kind of restrictions lifted here.

So I think what a lot of people are asking that here in South Texas, but really throughout the state here, will this be a slow roll-up, that gradual opening that we're expecting that ultimately it's up to the governor to do. What people here in Texas are talking about, they're certainly are not or at least very mindful of the fact that their state could potentially be the first to take these kind of steps.

But when we hear from the governor later today, don't be surprised if you hear questions, if you even hear a certain level of criticism because though some of these numbers are (INAUDIBLE) the country, there are states like Texas that have not peaked yet, according to experts, here in the whole county, for example.


We have 190 cases so far, which is relatively a small population, and that number is expected to increase

So to your point, or at least what you've just mentioned, the governor of Texas saying he can protect both lives and livelihoods. But the question here, Poppy, we'll be looking after later today, exactly how that (INAUDIBLE) balance.

HARLOW: Yes. The mayor of Houston, the most densely populated in all of Texas, said, we're not ready today and we're not going to be ready to open next week. So, Polo, thank you. We'll track that announcement a little bit later today.

Let's talk about all of the developments over the weekend. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz is with me again. He's an infectious disease specialist and a Deputy Physician-in-Chief at Memorial Sloan Kettering right here in New York City.

We'll get to your fascinating new CNN opinion piece about New York in just a minute, but I'd like to start on antibody testing. You've been bullish on this. But I think we also have some questions in terms of what it can and can't tell us, right, how long an immunity may last, for example. What do we know and what don't we know about it?

DR. KENT SEPKOWITZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We don't know much because it hasn't been broadly applied. We do know that it will be very meaningful for the months ahead, that if someone is positive reflecting in the blood that there is antibody and protection, therefore, against new infection, we do know that those people can be relatively safely redeployed into the workforce. We don't know at all how many people that's going to be. 8 million people in New York, 9 million people in New York? Is it 1 percent, is it 10 percent? We don't know.

And we also have a little misgiving about right now until we've seen that that antibody test really predicts who is safe. I'm going to have a little bit of concern about just saying, go for it, because we're trusting a critical decision for a test that's brand spanking new.

HARLOW: Some good news, I think, from the FDA just in the last 24 hours. They have green lit a system, Doctor, that uses vaporized hydrogen peroxide gas plasma, if you will, to decontaminate millions of N95 masks, those the ones that so many hospitals have a shortage of. Welcome development?

SEPKOWITZ: Always welcome development. All of these incremental developments that we wish had happened six weeks ago when we truly had a crisis in N95s, everything is welcome. Never ever turn away from it. But these are the sorts of things that had we prepared way back when would have had a much more critical utilization.

It's a little bit scoring touchdowns in the fourth quarter when the game is already out of hand. We needed it way back when.

HARLOW: Governor Murphy of New Jersey said something interesting yesterday, which was essentially we'll need, in his opinion, a 9/11 style commission to really deeply report out what we've learned so that if a tragedy like this were strike again, how can we be better prepared.

Look, you have a new CNN opinion piece and the headline is, Why New York has been hit so hard from coronavirus. Let me read you the paragraph that struck me the most. Quote, the disease is killing New Yorkers disproportionately. The density explanation may explain some of the difference but not all of it. New York's densest borough, Manhattan, while relatively sprawling, sits at fourth and out of five. But Queens has more than twice the cases and twice the rate of cases as Manhattan. So what is it?

SEPKOWITZ: Boy, if I knew I would tell you. It's quite heartbreaking. We have tremendous pride in our healthcare here in New York City and our hospitals. We think we have the best healthcare workers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists in the world, but we're -- our death rate is in the 6 and 7 percent range, which is much higher than the rest of the United States.

Right now, it's a combination, I think, of the sorts of patients we have here. We have people with a lot of comorbidities, and more importantly, I think we have delays in people seeking healthcare.

The avalanche of cases that happened a month ago, three weeks ago, that are still happening scared people away from coming in, people who were cautious about coming in because they didn't want to bankrupt their families. People were cautious about coming in because they had work to do. So I think we have seen a combination of delays, distrust in the healthcare system, a population that is not as fit as we wish it were.


And a lot of this has broken along racial lines as well where there is a higher death rate in blacks and Hispanics in New York than what (INAUDIBLE), a lot of it, very heartbreaking. HARLOW: It's heartbreaking. I said it before, it's a national tragedy to see the disproportionality when it comes to infected and deaths among minority communities in this country. Dr. Sepkowitz, thank you for your time. I'd encourage everyone to read your piece this morning on

Still to come, it is a sobering reality. In several states and cities, including Chicago, as we were just talking about, African-Americans disproportionately adversely impacted by COVID-19. Chicago's mayor will join me to talk about what they're doing on that front.

Also, the day in the life of a New York physician on the frontlines of this pandemic.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's hard to think that some of your patients that you diagnose today might not be here tomorrow.


HARLOW: How she is handling the pressure of being both a doctor and a mother of three in a moment like this. That report is just ahead.



HARLOW: Well, African-Americans are among those hit hardest in this coronavirus pandemic. Take a look at Chicago. 72 percent of the coronavirus deaths in that city are among African-Americans. That is despite just accounting for 33 percent of Chicago's population.

On Friday, the president was asked about it. listen to this entire exchange.

REPORTER: Mr. President, we know that these health disparities have existed for a long time among African-Americans, Latinos and other people of color. Why didn't the administration possibly have a plan directed at those communities to prevent high death rates knowing that the health disparities were there?

DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: Well, we do have a plan, and one of the things I'm most proud about is what I've been able to do for the African-American community, the lowest job numbers in the history of our country. This was --


TRUMP: This was just before the virus came up. I'm just saying, because it's been here for three weeks, right?

So just before, the African-American community had the lowest unemployment numbers, the best employment numbers, more African- American people and communities have been thriving.


HARLOW: Well, respectfully, it's not about whether you have a job or what the employment rate is.

I'm joined now by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. That was more of that exchange that I read through. But, Mayor, the president did not address whether there was a plan for the African-American community, knowing about the disparity that existed in terms of how far before this virus hit. Have you heard from the White House?

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-CHICAGO, IL): I haven't heard from the White House about this issue in particular. But, I mean, the truth is there is no federal plan on this, like there's not a federal plan on many other aspects of what should be a robust, federal-led response.

And, look, the truth is why African-Americans are seeing this disparity in our community in the way that we are is because of the underlying health conditions, whether it's diabetes, heart conditions, upper respiratory. This virus attacks those underlying conditions in a very, very ruthless and unsparing way.

The answer is to make sure that people get connected up with healthcare. So the efforts made over the last three-and-a-half years to kill the Affordable Care Act, the efforts made to stop the expansion of Medicaid are exactly the wrong things that should be happening. If you want to help this community, what you do is you expand access to affordable high-quality healthcare. You don't try to kill it.

HARLOW: Right. And the discussion has been going on for a few weeks now about whether to reopen that enrollment period for Obamacare so that more people could get insurance. The data shows you're more likely to seek help, testing, et cetera, if you know you've got that insurance. Let me ask you about, first of all, you -- I mean, you. You lost someone over the weekend very close to you, an African-American man with underlying conditions, and it happened so rapidly. It's personal for you. I'm very sorry for your loss.

And I just want to know specifically what Chicago is doing because you said, we are targeting the south side areas where we're seeing this disproportionate death rate among African-Americans. What specifically has been effective there?

LIGHTFOOT: Well, one, we make sure that we get the data. What we were seeing is that while we have three-quarters of the data that provide demographic information, there was a recorder of the information being put out by providers where they essentially skipped filling in race, ethnicity and other demographic information that was important for us to really measure the full impact. So we've mandated that that must be now provided.

We're also being very transparent about the data and making sure that we put that out there. And then we immediately formed what we're calling a racial equity rapid response team. This is a team of healthcare providers, public health officials and community-based organizations that are going into these hyperlocal circumstances and really understanding why there is a disconnect between what's happening on the grounds in those communities and what the response is.

So we're bringing people into the healthcare system, we're making sure that we ask specific daily questions about what their well-being is, what their health is. We've done other things like shut down the hours for liquor sales because we saw that in a lot of black and brown communities, people were congregating at liquor stores because those are the only places that you can get healthy food, so that's a huge problem as well.

And the other thing that we've done is for our workers who can't afford to stay home and tell -- or don't have the kind of jobs where they can, we're putting in extra buses and doing other things so we can decompress the areas where they have to gather to get from their homes to the workplace.


HARLOW: That's welcome news to them, I'm sure.

On that note, if I could ask you, you saw over the weekend Governor Cuomo of New York here mandated, executive order that all essential workers have all the protective gear they need, paid for, supplied by their employer. Have you had conversations with Governor Pritzker about a similar move in the State of Illinois?

LIGHTFOOT: We haven't had that conversation with the governor, but we are looking at that issue here in Chicago, because we see more and more regarding community spread. There is some concern about asymptomatic people actually having the virus. So that is an ongoing conversation that we're having. And we're going to take some steps to address it in Chicago.

HARLOW: Let's just end on the Cook County jail, which I understand is a county jail. It's not under your authority, but you've got 300 jail detainees that tested positive, more than 200 staff, and there are, I believe, even with the recent releases, about 4,400 inmates. And my question to you is are you preparing for a scenario if this gets a lot worse there that it could overwhelm hospitals, right, that those who can't be treated in the jail itself have to go to the hospitals? And I'm just wondering where your head is on that and what could come.

LIGHTFOOT: Well, obviously, (INAUDIBLE) settings, and particularly, jails are the most complicated places to make sure that you're responding appropriately. But we have been in conversation with the sheriff and the county folks literally from the beginning of this pandemic. And our health department is providing daily technical assistance to the jail.

So jail itself has a hospital where patients can go, and they are there, but we are making sure that if people are getting released, they're getting released into a strong, supportive safety net. We've set up a lot of structures in the city to deal with those folks that are most vulnerable, most in need. We have hotel space set aside. We are working with our healthcare providers. So we don't want people just getting released and dropping into a void. We want to, in a sense, give them a sticky handoff so we can connect them up with the services and the infrastructure that we've built up in the city. And I think, in addition to the technical assistance, that's the biggest value add that we can provide to help ease the situation of the jail.

HARLOW: Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, to you and all the mayors out there and all the governors, and to the president, the White House, we wish everyone luck as we start another week with this.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you.

HARLOW: Thanks very much for you time.

LIGHTFOOT: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course.

It is a daily struggle for medical professionals fighting to save lives during this pandemic. You're going to want to see this next piece. We take you inside one New York hospital to find out how much their lives have changed.



HARLOW: So, hospitals in New York continue to just be overwhelmed, even as a number of new coronavirus patients is beginning to plateau. Doctors and nurses face their own daily battles trying to save as many lives as possible. So what is life like for them during an outbreak like this?

Our Clarissa Ward has a look inside of one of New York's hospitals, a doctor fighting on the frontlines, and she has so much on her plate. Clarissa, tell us about her.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, full disclosure, Poppy, I'm a little bit biased on this one because Dr. Melanie Malloy is a very dear and old friend of mine, my college roommate of four years. She's also an attending physician at Mt. Sinai Brooklyn Hospital. It's a relatively small hospital and it has been completely inundated since the pandemic began. Take a look.


DR. MELANIE MALLOY, ATTENDING PHYSICIAN, MOUNT SINAI BROOKLYN HOSPITAL: Hello. My name is Dr. Melanie Malloy. I am an attending physician at Mt. Sinai Brooklyn and Mt. Sinai in Queens. I'm on my way to work.

WARD: We've asked my old friend to show us what life is like on one day in one New York hospital.

MALLOY: So I'm picking up my PPE. I'm going to get some scrubs, I'm going to get mask, face shield, everything that I need to be safe on my shift.

WARD: For Dr. Melanie Malloy, this is the new normal.

MALLOY: I am going to start my shift.

WARD: The emergency room at Mt. Sinai Brooklyn Hospital has been overflowing.

MALLOY: I walked in and they said, everybody is intubated. And it's true, actually. Most of our beds are taken up by intubated patients, meaning patients who can't breathe on their own and are on a ventilator. Almost everybody is on oxygen and almost everybody is a COVID patient.

WARD: Since the pandemic began, more than 1,200 corona cases have flooded in, pushing the hospital to more than 150 percent its capacity.

MALLOY: So, today, there are 43 people in the department. That's pretty much full.


But I have to say it's feeling a lot better than a couple weeks ago when we had 86 to 96 in the department, 40 people boarding.