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CA Gov Newsom Outlines Moves To Reopen State; NY Gov: Trump "Spoiling For A Fight" Over Power To Reopen U.S.; Battle Escalates Between Trump, Govs Over Reopening U.S.; Farmers Destroy Crops As Consumers Struggle To Find Food; U.S. Death Toll Surpasses 25,000; Cases Nearing 600,000; Trump Implies Governors Who Rejects His Claim Of "Total" Authority Engaging In "Mutiny"; Connecticut Reporting 602 Deaths, 13,000+ Cases; Harvard Scientists: U.S. May Need Social Distancing Until 2022. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 14, 2020 - 17:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: -- state. I'll talk about it in a moment that we're the director of the California Department of Public Health.

Meanwhile, there's a troubling new warning from scientists who project the U.S. may repeat may have to continue their social distancing until 2022. If no coronavirus vaccine is developed before them -- before then.

Our national correspondent Erica Hill is joining us right now. Erica, states in the west and states in the northeast, they're working on their own plans to reopen various states but the President is suggesting that would be mutiny.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It is suggesting it would be mutiny and two of the most outspoken governors in those regions, Governor Gavin Newsom of California Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, making it clear Wolf not only do they have the authority to do what they feel is right for their states. They will not be bullied by the President.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I put my hand out in total partnership and cooperation with the President. If he wants to fight he's not going to get it from me. Period.

HILL (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushing for unity as the President falsely claims he alone has the power to reopen the economy. Governor's on both coasts banding together for a coordinated science based response.

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT); I still have an infection it's growing and most of the state this is no time to relax.

HILL (voice-over): And warning life will not be the same for some time.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): You may be having dinner with a waiter wearing gloves, maybe a face mask. Dinner where the menu is disposable.

HILL (voice-over): Governor Newsome also warning there won't be any large gatherings for a while, including sports.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, open to a similar effort with neighboring Michigan and Wisconsin, while stressing information will be key.

GOV. TIM WALZ (D-MN): The only way that this can happen is that we have widespread testing.

HILL (voice-over): As researchers say some form of stay-at-home orders may need to continue into 2022 unless a vaccine becomes available.

Meantime in South Dakota, hundreds of confirmed cases at this port processing plant now closed indefinitely. While the state remains open.

STEVE ALLENDER, MAYOR, RAPID CITY SOUTH DAKOTA: We've been identified as one of the nation's hotspots in Sioux Falls. And so it's just a question of when does it infiltrate the rest of our rural communities.

HILL (voice-over): Local officials are pleading with the governor to take action as the area battles one of the nation's largest coronavirus clusters. Elsewhere, farmers struggled to get their products to market.

SAM ACCURSIO, FLORIDA FARMER: Right now, we are still dumping squash in the field.

HILL (voice-over): And Americans struggle to feed their families.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're seeing the 75% increase right now of individuals and families seniors and veterans who need support.

HILL (voice-over): Louisiana schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year. Boston University warning it may not reopen until next January. Florida Surgeon General telling his date to buckle down.

SCOTT RIVKEES, FLORIDA SURGEON GENERAL: But I cannot emphasize enough that we cannot let our guard down at this present time. Until we get a vaccine, which is a while off. This is going to be our new normal and we need to adapt and protect ourselves.

HILL (voice-over): As Tennessee's governor announced his plans for a phased reboot beginning May 1st, and those watching the virus each day, urge caution.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That we are planning to do this appropriately in a way that prevents continued spread of the virus and more deaths. May 1 is a -- is a pipe dream.


HILL: Well, Dr. Anthony Fauci calling papers a bit overly optimistic, and he also said in terms of the requirements that would be needed for reopening. We're not there yet. Wolf.

BLITZER: Erica Hill, reporting for us, Erica, thanks very much.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is covering all this for us. Jim, as we're standing by to hear from the President and his task force, they'll be in the Rose Garden, momentarily we're told, the battle he started with governors over reopening their states that battle, Jim is clearly escalated.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right Wolf, President Trump is expected to offer more details about the working group he is putting together to advise him on reopening the U.S. But the President has a lot more to answer for after Monday's off the rails news conference where he claimed he had total authority over ending social distancing in this country, even some Republicans agreed that remark reflected a total misunderstanding of the constitution.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF UNITED STATES: Is a rough, a rough playing I call it the plague. I call it the scourge. I call it whatever you want to call it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): It was not a total reversal. But as you met with coronavirus survivors, President Trump sounded more willing to work with governors on reopening the U.S.

TRUMP: We have tremendous support from governors. And what I do is going to be done in conjunction with governors.

You know, you're a fake.


ACOSTA (voice-over): Contrast that with the ranting and raving one day earlier when the President insisted he had absolute authority over relaxing the nation social distancing measures, a false claim that served as a temporary distraction from the mounting number of dead in the U.S.


TRUMP: When you say my authority, the President's authority.

Not mine, because it's not me. This is when somebody is the President of the United States. The authority is total. And that's so it's got to be.

CUOMO: The President is clearly spoiling for a fight on this issue.

ACOSTA (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo told CNN he would fight the administration in court if the President mandated a timeline that threatened the lives of his residents.

CUOMO: If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state. I wouldn't do it. And we would have a constitutional challenge between the state and the federal government. And that would go into the courts.

ACOSTA (voice-over): President was clearly savoring the controversy he started tweeting, tell the Democratic governors that "Mutiny on the Bounty" was one of my all time favorite movies, a good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the captain to easy.

But even Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney was quoting the Constitution's 10th Amendment on states rights, tweeting, the federal government does not have absolute power.

What's more strange, the President said he was leading social distancing decisions to the governors less than two weeks ago.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Why not take the power out of the hands of the governors and you just issue a stay at home or for every --

TRUMP: Say to different. So you have to look -- you have to look and say you have to give a little bit of flexibility.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Even as the President is assembling a new working group to offer advice on reopening the U.S. perhaps as early as May 1st.

TRUMP: Mitigation.

ACOSTA (voice-over): One of the administration's top health experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci is raising questions about the nation's readiness. Telling the Associated Press, more coronavirus testing is needed saying, "We have to have something in place that is efficient and that we can rely on and we're not there yet".

Fauci went on to describe the May 1st goal as a bit overly optimistic. The doctor is still offering words of caution one day after the President defended his decision to tweet out a social media post that included the hashtag, fire Fauci.

TRUMP: This was a person's view. Not everybody's happy with Anthony, not everybody's happy with everybody. But I will tell you, we have done a job the likes of which nobody's ever done.


ACOSTA: As far as close to the Coronavirus Task Force has said some officials on the task force aren't sold on the idea of reopening the country on May 1st, the source said quote, what happens over the next week to 10 days will be key. And earlier today, we should point out the President was continuing to tout hydroxychloroquine even though the malaria drug is still not a proven treatment for the coronavirus and on the President's meltdown at Monday's briefing. A Trump advisor was sharply critical of Mr. Trump's performance. That advisor compared the propaganda video played at that briefing to an ad for Trump steaks. Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that was pretty awful. You know, very quickly the briefing today is going to be in the Rose Garden as opposed to the briefing room. We got live pictures coming in from the Rose Garden. Tell our viewers why.

ACOSTA: Well one of the reasons why Wolf is because I think the President wants to just have a different setting than where he was in yesterday in the -- in the briefing room. And one thing that our viewers should be taking a look at as this unfolds over the next hour to two hours, yesterday's briefing went longer than two hours, is that in the Rose Garden, sometimes the officials who handle the microphones have the ability to pull those microphones away from the correspondence from the reporters, asking questions. And so yesterday, the reporters were essentially all mic'd when they were grilling the President about what he was doing in terms of his coronavirus response.

One thing to look forward to Wolf, as we're watching this unfold is whether or not the microphones are pulled away from these reporters as they're trying to ask follow up questions. It's something to watch Wolf.

BLITZER: We will be watching very closely. We'll stand by for that. Jim Acosta at the White House for us. Thank you very much.

Joining us now, the governor of Connecticut Ned Lamont.

Governor, I know you're incredibly busy. Thank you so much for spending a few moments with us. You said you will not lift restrictions in Connecticut before May 20th. If the President were to tell you though, to start reopening before you feel it is safe, are you prepared to join your neighboring Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York in rejecting those presidential orders?

LAMONT: Well, if I think it's going to work out like the last time the President said I want a mandatory quarantine and shut down the Greater New York City area, and we talked it through with them and said that's an impossible to enforce. And we reached a common ground. I will tell you that the COVID Task Force and Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci and Vice President Pence there we're working very collaboratively, you know, with the federal government, the rest is just noise.

BLITZER: Well, noise but that's the President of the United States speaking. So, you know, he has a powerful voice as you, as you clearly know.


You're part of that task force of governors who are not working together which is very impressive on reopening the northeastern part of the United States.

The President tweeted today, implying governors are engaging in what he called mutiny. He used the word mutiny. What's your response to that characterization? As the President insist, he has what he calls and I'm quoting him now, "Total authority".

LAMONT: It's not very helpful. And I've got to work with the Federal Government. I've got to work with the COVID Task Force, we need their help on PPE. We got to come up with a testing regime that makes sense around the country. We need a lot of the agents and the such that allow us to do more broad based testing. So I don't want to get distracted over there with a lot of Mutiny on the Bounty talk. I want to focus on making sure we can keep our entire region safe. And that starts with Connecticut.

BLITZER: Yes. He said earlier in the day that Mutiny on the Bounty, he said -- I'll read it to you. He said "Tell the Democratic Governors that "Mutiny On The Bounty" was one of my all time favorite movies. A good old fashioned mutiny every now and then is an exciting and invigorating thing to watch, especially when the mutineers need so much from the Captain. Too easy!"

So he's having some fun with that as well. What metrics, Governor, are you monitoring right now to determine when reopening Connecticut, your economy and Connecticut will be safe reopening the schools, the businesses, the restaurants, et cetera?

LAMONT: Yes. Well, for looking A, at hospitalization, and seeing the fact goes down, so we see what type of capacity we have there. Our testing will tell us the number of people that are infected at the rate of infection and how that's spreading, but they ought to have a pretty good idea of where we stand in the next four to six weeks.

BLITZER: Because your state has not yet reached the peak of the outbreak according to various models. Are you getting what you need right now from the Federal Government as your healthcare system braces for some very tough days ahead?

LAMONT: We've got what we need right now in terms of events as long as we keep our social distancing. Obviously, the N95 masks are in desperate need, and we're running out of the key ingredients to allow us to expand our testing. I think there the Federal Government should be very helpful.

BLITZER: Well, Governor, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Connecticut. Obviously, these next several days are going to be incredibly, incredibly tense. And we'll watch it closely together with you. Thank you for spending a few moments with us.

LAMONT: Nice to see you, Wolf. Thanks.

BLITZER: Thank you. And stay with us, we're waiting once again for the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. You're looking at live pictures once again from the Rose Garden. Today, we'll have coverage plus the breaking news. The Food and Drug Administration has just tightened enforcement on antibody testing, which will play a key role in the country trying to get back to normal.


BLITZER: As we await today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, which is going to be as you can see the Rose Garden today, as opposed to the briefing room, doesn't look like many people are there. No one in that shot is there yet. We'll have live coverage of that coming up. We'll see what the President has to say today as well as the experts on the Coronavirus task force.

In the meantime, I'm joined by California State Health Director, Dr. Sonia Angell. She's an expert as we all know as well. Governor Angel, thank you so much for joining us. The California Governor Gavin Newsom says your state has what he calls -- he says it has bent the curve. What signs of progress are you seeing right now?

SONIA ANGELL, DIRECTOR, CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. So, well -- so we've been using models, as many others have to sort of forecast the direction of what might be predicted or anticipated given what we know so far about the movement of COVID-19 in our population. And this bend the curve comment indicates that, in fact, we are doing really well. And I got to give California residents the credit for staying home and doing all of the things that we've challenged them to do through the orders that we have. They've decreased the number of people who have ended up in the hospitals as a result of COVID-19.

So as we track going forward, we see that curve sort of turning downward. Now, we're not out of the woods yet, and this is cautious optimism. But what we do think at this point is that it's the right moment to start talking with California's about what it might mean to transition or to modify our current practices in a way that would look forward until the time that we ultimately have population or immunity or a confident that Californians or no longer risk from COVID-19.

BLITZER: Until there's some really legitimate treatment and certainly a vaccine would be great. But that could be a year or so away.


BLITZER: At the same time --

ANGELL: It could be.

BLITZER: -- Dr. Angel, the Los Angeles County, Los Angeles County today reported its highest number of deaths in one day, 40. Are there still areas of concern in California?

ANGELL: Look, there are absolutely areas of concern throughout the state. And we're watching and being very cautious about this. We do know that death sort of lag in the -- as an indicator, right, because that's the -- that's after the infection has occurred. It's developed, they've become symptomatic. They've ended up oftentimes in the hospital.

And so time has passed since the infection originally occurred. So we don't think that deaths are suddenly going to stop, we do expect them to continue to trend. We do care very much and we're caring -- paying very close attention to this. But we also know based upon indicators, like the number of hospitalizations that have occurred over the past week or so, we know that it's sort of leveling off, which gives us hope that we're really making great progress there.


So we continue to work very closely with some of our counties and our areas where there are higher rates of transmission. Again, we're watching very carefully. We're not sure that this is the end of it. But we do think it's a good moment for us to take stock and all the progress that's been made. The fact that our care delivery system is prepared to receive those patients is providing care for them. And so, it's a moment also to look forward about what it might be like for California,

BLITZER: Well, all of us would love to see a California, indeed the entire country, reopen, get back to some sort of normality. Your Governor, Governor Newsom has declined to offer a specific date for possibly reopening the state. So what factors or metrics as they say are you looking at to make that kind of decision?

ANGELL: Yes. And so, there's a number of indicator, six indicators that we laid out today that I can share with you again, that will help us make a decision. But let us be cautious that a decision that we're making is not about a decision to necessarily open the state or return to normal tomorrow.

Governor Newsom was very clear today that what we're looking at is a signal that we are ready to start progressing to start transitioning and modifying the current orders that we have in place, which are stay at home orders. They're pretty jarring to our communities in our economy. It is no small feat for people to stay at home, or for those that are in our specific essential sectors to continue working under these conditions.

What we are really working towards here is signaling a point at which we can start making modifications in a way that's safe for California and helps protect all of us.

I think one of the key things also is that the health impact of COVID- 19 is not only the disease, and disability and deaths that are associated with its movement, the health impact is also the impact of changes in our care delivery system that we've had to make in order to prepare for surge, meaning that there's been elective surgeries that have been canceled, people are delaying some of their preventive care. We know that's not good for people. Being isolated in houses can be very difficult and we know it has health impact.

And the impact in the economy --

BLITZER: I just want to --

ANGELL: ... we know affects health --

BLITZER: Dr. Angell, you made an interesting point. Sorry for interrupting, but I just want to get to this before we run out of time. Earlier today you said --


BLITZER: -- the new normal in California will look very different going -- as far as schools are concerned, restaurants are concerned, concerts are concerned, explain what potentially could be the new normal in California.

ANGELL: So the new normal will be about creating space for those people who we think can move more carefully through leaving the homes in a way that doesn't put them at great risk, but at the same time, making sure that those populations that we know are very high risk, may remain still at home.

So for example, the new normal may continue to be that those who are older, those who with existing comorbidities may not be moving around, may not be leaving their homes, are encouraged to leave their homes anytime soon. The new normal may mean that our restaurants are designed a little differently so that there are fewer tables so that people can have greater physical distance when they're dining out. The new normal may affect also the way our schools look and the way we access education to make sure that there's greater physical distancing throughout the course of the day when we're doing our normal activities.

BLITZER: Yes, which is smart. You got to err on the side of caution until there's a vaccine or some real significant treatment that will prevent death from this coronavirus. Dr. Angell, thank you so much for what you're doing. Thank you so much for joining us.

ANGELL: Of course. Thank you. It's a pleasure.

BLITZER: Thank you. And to our viewers, stay with us, CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he'll be joining us shortly. He's going to answer questions that you've sent us about the coronavirus, at least some of the unproven coronavirus treatments that the President keeps pushing.

Also, we're standing by for today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. It's in the Rose Garden today. We'll have coverage, stay with us.



BLITZER: All right. So once again, we're waiting for today's Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force briefing. We'll have live coverage coming up.

In the meantime, I'm joined by the former city health commissioner of Baltimore, Dr. Leana Wen, she's an emergency room physician. Also joining us, our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, there's a report out, a team at the Harvard School of Public Health now saying that we all could be forced to keep up with these social distancing measures until 2022. What's behind their analysis, their prediction?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was, you know, one of the trajectories that these authors proposed was possible, this idea that we would have at least intermittent distancing for some time to come because the virus is still out there, is sort of their point, it's still circulating. So there's people who are still vulnerable, and in the cooler months of the fall and winter, it may come back. I think that's what's really prompting this thing.

But there's a lot of there's a lot of things that influenced this Wolf, I mean, people who become infected or exposed to the virus, people who may not have even had symptoms, they may have immunity, that would change the trajectory.

If a vaccine comes out, that's a big factor, Wolf. You know, we keep hearing year, year and a half, but that obviously would be next year sometime.


That would be a big factor that would reduce that. But yes, I mean, the virus is here to stay for a period of time, I think is what the author's -- that's what their point was.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Yes, that's really pretty disturbing. When you think about, Dr. Wen, even if some areas of the country begin in the next few weeks to loosen their restrictions, will people still have to assume that the virus is lurking out there and potentially deadly until there is a vaccine?

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Yes, and also, we need to recognize that we just don't know what is the extent of the spread of coronavirus here in the U.S. I mean, we've been talking about the issues of lack of testing. And I just want to keep on emphasizing this because until we have widespread testing, we really don't know -- I mean, certain areas look like they may have one case or no cases, but it doesn't actually mean that there is no case of coronavirus. It just means that we haven't tested to find out if there is community spread in that area.

And so even though we may be seeing a peak in certain parts of our country and there may be good news in certain parts of a country, thanks to social distancing and other measures, we may be looking at many other outbreaks. Because there's no single outbreak in the U.S. There are many communities that could have many peaks and many epicenters of this outbreak. And we really need to keep up our vigilance while we ramp up testing and ramp up all these other capabilities that we need in order to in order to establish our infrastructure to fight this disease.

BLITZER: Yes, that's an important point as well. You know, Sanjay, the FDA, you know, has approved, just approved a new coronavirus test that you can use through saliva instead of a nasal swab which could be a little, you know, uncomfortable. How much will that help us get a sense of where the virus is? GUPTA: I mean, this could be a pretty, pretty significant thing, Wolf. One thing I should mention this was approved under an emergency authorization and, you know, there's been other things recently, Wolf, approved under emergency authorizations, which then had to be sort of dialed back because they wanted to validate some of those testing. So this this is approved that way, it's not to suggest that it's not going to be a very useful tool, but it was based on basically doing 60 of these saliva tests, comparing into 60 swab tests and finding that they correlate it 100 percent. That was enough data to get this emergency authorization.

But it could be pretty significant, you know, you -- instead of having an uncomfortable nasal swab, as you mentioned, being able to kind of use your saliva, kind of like those ancestry tests, Wolf, one of those genetic tests very similar to that. And that would be significant because, you know, right now, health care worker has to wear personal protective equipment to do one of these tests. They wouldn't have to do that in this case, although they say, this still does need to be done in a hospital or a clinic or something like that.

I think this might be one of those tests, Wolf, that ultimately could be done via telehealth, which would be very interesting to be able to have the health care provider, do the visit via telehealth, do this completely at your home, send it in. If they can do that, that would obviously be very useful, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, that would be incredibly important. Dr. Wen, as you know, Dr. Anthony Fauci says -- and I'm quoting him now -- he says, we're not there yet in terms of testing. What level of testing will we all need to reach before things can at least start to reopen?

WEN: Look, right now the problem is that we don't have our hands around what is going on with the number of cases in the U.S. We just know that they're escalating in most parts of the country. What we need is to stop the blunt instrument, which is the social distancing over time, but in order to do that, we have to reduce the number of infections and we have to have widespread testing. The numbers that I'm seeing would include testing up to a million tests a week, and we need point of care testing and just better availability in order to reduce these other measures.

BLITZER: Dr. Leana Wen, by the way, congratulations. Sanjay, I don't know if you know, but Dr. Wen just had a little baby girl --

GUPTA: I know.

BLITZER: -- few days ago, she's with us right now, Isabel. Congratulations, Leana.

GUPTA: I can't believe she's here. It's amazing.

BLITZER: She's a wonderful woman and amazing woman, a fabulous mother and we're thrilled --

GUPTA: Super woman. BLITZER: -- that she's here in "The Situation Room" with us. Guys, Sanjay is going to be back, Dr. Wen, we'll have you back very, very soon. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

There's breaking news just coming into "The Situation Room". Right now, the Food and Drug Administration just tighten enforcement on something known as antibody testing. CNN's Brian Todd is joining us now. Brian, tell us why this is so important. What have you learned?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've learned that antibody testing is going to help public health officials determine who can go back to work and who can't, but the questions surrounding those tests tonight have to do with their reliability and availability.


TODD (voice-over): Patients who've come out the other side of having coronavirus call them built in hazmat suits, they're known as antibodies. And tonight, there's a push to have as many Americans tested for them as possible. The test scene is crucial to getting Americans back to work.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you're trying to find out whether a person is infected, that's the test we always talk about.

TODD (voice-over): A test for antibodies is not the same as a standard coronavirus test. Antibodies are proteins developed by your body when you're infected with a virus like COVID-19 to fight it off. If you've recovered from coronavirus, your antibodies remain and give your immune system a memory of the virus. So if you get exposed to corona virus a second or third time --

DR. MICHAEL MINA, HARVARD T.H. CHAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Those antibodies that are floating around in their blood will recognize that virus and it will hopefully neutralize it.

TODD (voice-over): So how can testing as many people as possible to determine who has antibodies against coronavirus and who doesn't. Help get the economy open again? First, by testing people individually and clearing them to return to work.

DR. AMESH ADALJA, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: Whether or not this person can end social distancing, maybe this person should be a frontline worker because they've got antibodies to it.

TODD (voice-over): But also, by testing a whole community or at least getting a representative sample.

ADALJA: Antibody testing in a community might tell you that your community was hit pretty hard with this coronavirus and there's a lot of herd immunity. Meaning, lots of people were exposed and this virus is unlikely to find that many victims in your community anymore. TODD (voice-over): But right now, antibody tests are not the silver bullet that will get America's economic engine humming again, at least not as fast as President Trump wants it to. One reason is because, according to one public health advocate, a lot of antibody tests that have been tried out have been unreliable.

SCOTT BECKER, ASSOCIATION OF PUBLIC HEALTH LABORATORIES: The danger in these tests if you don't understand the quality is that it could give you a false positive, could give you a false negative, you don't know the accuracy of it. And you could really put people in danger by giving them the wrong information. You could let people go back to their lives when in fact, they're still infected.


TODD: And indeed, several top scientists recently warned the White House about unproven antibody tests. Another problem with these tests is that there are not enough of them available. Although Dr. Anthony Fauci, another top health officials say they're trying to push them into the marketplace as soon as possible.

The FDA has not yet approved any antibody test, but the agency is expediting its review process in an effort to get these tests out to the public. Still, Wolf, these tests may not be widely available for weeks or maybe even months.

BLITZER: Brian Todd reporting for us. Brian, thank you very much.

Coming up, some disturbing questions about the origins of the coronavirus. I'll speak with the author of a "Washington Post" column about warning signs some two years ago by U.S. officials who were deeply worried about safety at a research lab in Wuhan, China.



BLITZER: So you're looking at live pictures coming in from the Rose Garden. You see the reporters are seated already. We're waiting for the President and the experts to walk out. This is where the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing will be taking place today. We'll have live coverage of that coming up.

We're also taking a closer look at some very disturbing questions emerging right now about the possible source of the coronavirus. In a "Washington Post" column, CNN Contributor Josh Rogin writes that two years before the pandemic U.S. embassy officials in China were warning of safety issues at Wuhan, China. That's the laboratory -- a laboratory, they're studying coronaviruses in bats.

Josh Rogin is joining us right now. Excellent reporting, Josh. You describe this 2018 visit by American diplomats to that Chinese lab in Wuhan. What did they find so alarming that they reported back through these sensitive diplomatic cables to the State Department?

JOSH ROGIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, thanks, Wolf. To be clear, we don't know where the virus originated. But we can't rule out that it came from one of two labs in Wuhan that happened to be near the outbreak and we're doing research for years on that viruses and their potential transmission to humans.

What I revealed today in the "Washington Post" was that State Department science officials in the embassy in Beijing were so concerned about this research that they went to visit the lab several times, and were so alarmed by what they saw as serious safety concerns that they wrote back to Washington twice. To warn them this research posed a risk of a SARS like pandemic, if the lab wasn't operating properly. Their warnings weren't heated. These cables recirculated inside the administration after the outbreak and fueled the debate inside the Trump administration in the government over whether or not the lab is actually the source of the virus originating.

BLITZER: You know, while the reports that the coronavirus may have originated in what are called those wet markets where they sell, you know, live animals, bats and monkeys included.

ROGIN: That's right. That was the original Chinese government story. Over the last two months, that story has seemed not to hold water for several reasons. One is that that turns out that marketing sell bats and, two, the bats that started the coronavirus came from 1,000 miles away. Three, they bleached the whole market, which is like the opposite you would do if you were trying to actually prove that there's evidence there.

So as this story started to fall apart, a lot of people inside the administration started to look at this lab and they started to talk about these cables. And basically what the cables said was, we've got a problem here and this lab is doing very risky research. And they -- according to their own scientists, they don't have the right safety procedures. And they predicted that this could be a source of a pandemic.

And now that we have a pandemic that comes from bat coronaviruses, it's making people take a second look. Now that's not a smoking gun. It doesn't prove that it came there from there. But it's evidence to that side of the ledger.


BLITZER: Yes, that's really significant. You know, Josh, tell our viewers why it's so important to learn where the virus came from. And also, all these suggestions out there widely reported that China has been hindering that effort.

ROGIN: Right. The origin story is crucial, because without knowing exactly how the virus started, we can't really know how to fight it. And we certainly can't know how to predict the next one. And the Chinese government, from the very beginning has pursued a campaign of censorship and suppression. They've jailed doctors, they've jailed scientists.

Just last this week, the CNN reported that they restricted and censored all research about the virus origin. They didn't provide any samples to Americans who wanted it. So they shut down the lab that that revealed the genome. And this is all part of their system, right. There's no bad news in China. They don't allow themselves to be blamed for anything.

So that means that the international community is now going to call for more transparency, more investigation. And unless we have that transparency and investigation, we'll never really get to the bottom of this and it is a matter of life and death.

BLITZER: It certainly as a matter of life and death. Excellent reporting, Josh. Thank you very much. Josh Rogin, working the story for us.

ROGIN: Thank you.

BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by for the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing we're told it's about to begin. Also coming up, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's getting ready to answer your questions about coronavirus and the pandemic. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: As we await the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing, I want to go back to Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, we've got some excellent questions about coronavirus and the pandemic from our viewers, and let's get right to them because you have the answers. Here's the first one. I've heard there are new studies about the antimalaria drug the President talks about, what do they show?

GUPTA: Well, there's been a few studies now, small studies I will caution about hydroxychloroquine. This is this malaria drug that a lot of people have been talking about. Just over the past few days, the results around the drug have not necessarily been encouraging. In Sweden, they gave guidance that hospitals should stop using the drug because of concerns about side effects in Brazil. They also said that the medication appeared to be toxic at high doses and did not show benefit in terms of overall patient outcome.

And then just now, Wolf, out of France, where some of the initial studies on this drug came, the headline is that it did not help hospitalized patients with coronavirus and was associated with heart complications. Wolf, a couple things. These are small studies, the ones that show benefit and the ones that show harm or no benefit are all small studies. That's why we need larger studies.

Also, Wolf, there's two things that are being trialed about this drug. One is does it help people who are sick, the other does it prevent them from getting sick in the first place, sort of as a prophylactic. And those trials are still sort of ongoing, Wolf. So, all these trials are ongoing. But so far, the data on whether this helps somebody who's already sick have not been very encouraging at all, Wolf.

BLITZER: That's very interesting because even today at the White House, the President was once again promoting hydroxychloroquine -- GUPTA: Yes.

BLITZER: -- insisting that it was really, really, you know, great, potentially. But we'll see what happens with these actual trials on these and these studies. Here's another question for you, Sanjay, can coronavirus be transmitted through food?

GUPTA: That's a great question. And, you know, the answer is no. This is a respiratory virus so it's spread through respiratory droplets. The droplets can hang out in the air for a period of time, someone might touch a surface that's contaminated with the droplets and then touch their face and become infected that way.

So if you -- if the virus is in your food and you eat this virus, that's not how you're going to get infected, which is, I think, what people typically think of a foodborne illness. Now if you're touching, packaging and things like that, could the packaging have the virus on it, you touch the packaging that's contaminated, then touch your face, possibly. Not likely, but possibly, that's why, you know, some are recommending that you at least wipe off the packaging, a food that you may be getting from the store.

BLITZER: Yes, I do that as soon as the packages come in, wipe it all off. If I'm running outside -- here's another question -- if I'm running outside, should I avoid being directly behind someone even if I'm farther away than 6 feet?

GUPTA: These are -- you know, it's interesting because I'm a runner too. And I do think about this when I'm running, you know, there's nobody around. I mean, it's just -- I'm totally isolated. I mean, I think this common sense here, there's no magic number here, that's always going to be exactly six feet and then beyond that, no virus will spread or in front of that virus will always spread. You know, I think you got to use common sense, stay as far away as possible, you know, if you can. Keep them out of eyeline or eyesight, rather, if you can.

And also keep in mind that -- yes, I still run, I look at the data, I asked Dr. Fauci, Wolf, he still runs even late night after some of these press briefings. So the data suggests that you can still do it. Just keep away from people.

BLITZER: That's the most important thing. Keep away from people. All right, Sanjay, you're going to be with us. We're going to watch this briefing. We'll have analysis afterwards.



BLITZER: Don't go too far away. Once again, we're standing by for the coronavirus briefing. The President expected to announce an economic taskforce. He calls, an opening the country council. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BLITZER: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in "The Situation Room". We're standing by for a coronavirus briefing over at the White House Rose Garden. You're looking at live pictures.

The President is expected to announce a new taskforce on reopening the U.S. economy as Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning against prematurely easing restrictions saying, and I'm quoting him now, we're not there yet.