Return to Transcripts main page


Scientists, Governors, Industry Leaders Say Not Enough Testing for Return to Work; 5.2 Million New Unemployment Claims Filed Last Week; Trump Gets Pushback over Reopening Country; Thousands Protest Michigan Governor's Stay-at-Home Order. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 16, 2020 - 11:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: The president today promises to introduce new federal guidelines aimed at getting the country back to work. The reason for the rush to reopen is obvious, just look at the gut punch economic numbers in the last month.

Government data shows another 5.2 million Americans lost their jobs this week. That puts the total of people out of work due to coronavirus disruption at 22 million in just the last month.

Part of the return-to-work solution is better testing. Drug therapy is another. The federal government today, a big ask. They want all coronavirus patients who beat the virus to go and donate plasma.

The curve might be flattening in hot spots but vast majority of scientists, governors and even industry leaders agree the country simply is not ready. There simply is not enough testing.

Let's bring in Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Jennifer Lee with us right now to discuss the challenges ahead here.

Sanjay, a major challenge for the president as he wants to reopen the country is to ramp up testing. Although he says testing is absolutely fine, you know from talking to people in the medical community -- he heard this himself from businesspeople on his call yesterday -- that is not the case.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's -- you know, there's obviously been an increase in the number of tests that have been done, 3.3 or 3.4 million, I think, as of yesterday. That's obviously a significant increase.

I think there's a couple of issues, though, as I started to really dig into this. Some of these big testing companies say they've actually slowed down the number of tests they've been doing. Some of that could have been the holiday weekend. But how could it be as we need more testing that these companies are not doing overall as many tests.

I think in many places the criteria for who is getting tested is still too strict. You have to have symptoMs. It doesn't make sense, John, anymore. We know people who are asymptomatic, people who are pre- symptomatic, meaning they're about to develop symptoms, can still be spreading the virus. We clearly need to be doing a locality more testing.

It's hard to put an exact number on it, but maybe several hundred thousand to a million tests a day, John, in order to get not only an idea of who is infected but what the surveillance is in the country as well.

Sort of a litmus test that I've been talking about, John, is this idea that, right now in the country, wherever you are, if you needed to get tested, would you know how to do that. Who would you call? How would you make that happen? Could you get a result back today?

Even though the number of tests has gone up, I think a lot of people in the country still can't answer that question.

That's not to say, to be clear, that everybody in the country needs to be tested. And 325 million tests don't need to be done. But if we started getting to roughly a million a day or a million every couple of days or so, we would not only have a better idea of who is infected but how widespread this is.

Right now, someone said how much is coronavirus affecting the United States? I think it would be a hard question to answer right now because of that limited testing, John. And it's absolutely necessary to start thinking about reopening things.

KING: And, Dr. Lee, there's both diagnostic testing, the antibody testing and then the contact tracing that would be necessary if you are going to get people back to work.

I want to show, from Harvard's Global Institute, who has been checking around on testing. He said between April 2 and April 8, we average 140,000 tests per day. Between April 9 and April 15, we average 147,000 tests per day. Another week, another week, little to no progress. He asked, what's going on.

And this is on the question of diagnostic testing. If you want to send Americans back to work, if businesses are going to tell their employees it's safe to come back to work, you make the case that we're nowhere near ready to do what's necessary.

Because there will be additional cases. We see front line workers getting infected now. And you have to find out, who did you talk to, who are you close to, who did you need to track down?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Right, John. It actually doesn't surprise me that we're seeing the rate of testing drop a little bit in recent days.

I completely agree with Sanjay that we need to look at the criteria for testing again.

Even now, people with symptoms often are not getting tested. I can affirm that myself. I saw patients last week who I thought we really ought to be testing but they didn't meet the criteria. And that's one part of it.

The other part of it are the supplies. The supplies needed for the testing, it's not just the test kits, but it's those nasal swabs, it's the chemical reagents needed to process the test and also PPE for the workers who are doing the testing.

And until the federal government steps in and makes sure that we have a sustained supply of all these various components needed for testing, we're going to have issues and shortages at various choke points along the way.

This is something states cannot do, as Governor Cuomo and others have said. The federal government needs to step in and do this.

KING: Sanjay, another piece of it, again, the testing comes up every single day no matter who you talk to, a governor, mayor, health care professional, testing comes up again and again and again.

Another piece of it is how many people are walking around asymptomatic but have the coronavirus. And if you open the floodgates and say, go back to work, even on a limited basis, you raise the risk there.

We're learning new information about that, right?


GUPTA: Yes, we are learning new information. We talked about, and we've known for some time, maybe as early as the end of January, that people who are asymptomatic -- I think the country is learning all these new terms because of Dr. Lee and I talking about them all the time, and you, John.

But asymptomatic means people who don't have symptoms and really means people who never develop symptoms or very minimal symptoMs. They have the infection, they get through it, and never really know they had it.

But now what this new study has shown is people who are pre- symptomatic, so they're about to develop symptoms, they don't know it yet. Two to three days later, they develop symptoMs.

But what they found as part of this new study, was within those two to three days before they developed symptoms, they might actually be more infectious than when they're actually sick, when they're actually having symptoms, which is pretty interesting.

It could be you have more virus in your nose and throat at this time before you actually start to get sick and you're definitely spreading it.

Going back to Jennifer's point about contact tracing, if you're sick, you may be more likely to stay home. So contact tracing might be a little bit easier.

If you had to go back, John, and ask in your life before this whole quarantine stuff started to happen, how many people, who are they that you came in contact with the two three days before you got sick, that's challenging for most people to remember all that. And it would be a laborious task for contact tracers to then go and find all those people.

When it comes to contact tracing, we need to be talking about a brand- new industry in our country, hundreds of thousands of people who may be required to do that sort of the work, but it's necessary in order to start reopening things.

KING: And it is necessary at some point, Dr. Lee, to reopen things. Look, the president is right about that. The question is when.

I just want to show you, if you look, a five-day average of new cases. You look at cases moving in the wrong direction, Iowa, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Texas. These lines are not moving in the way that would encourage you to rush to open businesses.

We do see some other states, Michigan, Louisiana, Tennessee, where the curve -- another new term like contact tracing and asymptomatic -- those curves do appear to be flattened.

But if you look at another month close upon us and the president is clamoring to reopen the economy, when you go state-by-state and look at the data, do you think we're at that point or do we need a week, two weeks more to just let this settle in?

LEE: Well, John, I think we can take a lot of our cues from what's happening in Europe. So there are countries like in Italy and Spain that have seen more of a flattening and a sustained decrease over time, but they're not rushing to open everything up right away. They're being very cautious about it.

They have increased testing. They're doing it very carefully. And they want to make sure that they have the capacity in place in case there's another spike or an outbreak to be able to handle that.

So I think we need to have very clear criteria in place. We've talked about the need for a much more widespread testing. The contact tracing, we're still a long way away from where we need to be with that. And we still haven't solved the PPE issue.

I think another issue we haven't talked about is, even for those states, as Dr. Birx talked about yesterday, where there might be fewer cases and they may have more capacity relative to those cases, if they wanted to open up, what are they going to do about interstate travel?

You know, people don't stay in one place. And the virus doesn't respect state borders. So how is that going to work if a state or region wants to open up first?

All these questions need to be asked and answered before we go take a step towards that.

KING: We'll get a sense later today, at least the president's views on that subject. He will make that announcement.

Dr. Lee, Dr. Gupta, I very much appreciate your insights. Quick programing note for us. Tonight, Joe Biden, Dr. Deborah Birx,

Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Dr. Chan, will join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Gupta for a new CNN town hall, "CORONAVIRUS, FACT AND FEAR." You can watch that tonight 8:00 p.m. Eastern here on CNN.

In Detroit today, evidence of how testing is critical to solving the get-back-to-work part. At least 600 police officers there had to quarantine over coronavirus concerns. This morning, Detroit's mayor, Mike Duggan, now says at least 700 are back on the job after taking rapid coronavirus tests. Duggan credited the rapid lab tests for having his department back in full force.


Up next for us, new numbers on those filing for unemployment benefits. Millions more out of work because of the coronavirus.


KING: The Labor Department today reporting another eye-popping number of new unemployment claims. And 5.2 million Americans filed for jobless benefits for the first time last week. That brings the job- loss count in the last month to 22 million.

Joining me now, CNN business anchor, Julia Chatterley.

Julia, another depressing conversation. Break these numbers down for us.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS ANCHOR: It is depressing. The jobs crisis we're seeing here, John, also relentless. As you pointed out, a further 5.2 million people either losing their jobs, seeing their jobs furloughed, or simply just fearful for what the future holds, and without any sense of where this ends. That just in the last week.

We're talking about an unemployment rate in the United States now of around 15 percent. That dwarfs anything that we saw during the financial crisis. And it happened at speed. And it's unprecedented in scale at the same time.


I think the biggest issue, despite the downward trend we appear to be seeing in the volume of claims on a weekly basis, we know that the states are still challenged with processing these claims and even getting money out to people, which is one of the problems.

The other, of course, is the gig economy. It represents around 23 million people in this country. And I've had emails from people in various different states saying, I simply can't get access.

Just to give you a sense of the problem, if you go back to January, these countries -- these states were processing around 200,000 claims a week. Now we're talking in the millions. That's the challenge that we're facing. And I think the double whammy, of course, at the heart of this is the program to try to protect jobs and businesses in this country, and that's of course running out of money to date.

So a double blow for people in this country and without a view on where this ends.

KING: That's the hard part, without a view on where this ends. That's the hardest part to swallow.

Julia Chatterley, appreciate it. Yet, again, sad news but we need to bring it to our viewers.

This just in, to the point Julia was just making, the White House account, which is different than the president's Twitter account, tweeting moments ago about that small business aid program that's about to run out of money, quote, "Congress must immediately increase funding for the Paycheck Protection Program. A simple one-page bill will get the job done. No liberal pet projects."

"Hard-working Americans," the White House says, "deserve their money now and the Trump administration is doing their part to get it to them. Why isn't Congress?"

That from the White House moments ago.

This comes, of course, as President Trump promises to release new federal guidelines to begin the process of reopening the country. But there's significant pushback. Many governors and even business leaders, who are part of the White House working group, say there must be a quantum leap in testing resources before it would be safe to go back to work.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, once again, advising everyone to patient when it comes to a vaccine.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASE: I said a couple of months ago, I think a month and a half ago, that it would be about a year to a year and a half. It is possible to shave a couple of months off that but you don't want to over promise. We'll have to see how it goes.


KING: CNN's John Harwood joins us now.

John, we know the president wants to unveil this. You just heard from Dr. Fauci, the vaccine is still months and months down the road. Business leaders want testing. What will be in the president's guidelines?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the key is going to be recognizing, as Anthony Fauci has said many times, it's not going to be a simple on-off switch and it may be different in different places.

Obviously, as you mentioned, all the large metropolitan areas and the states containing those areas, New York, California, New Jersey, recognize that they are nowhere near ready in this pandemic to reopen.

But I do think what the White House is going to do is take advantage of a subset of states where there are fewer cases and use those as a symbol of the beginning of reopening America.

This is what Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the Coronavirus Task Force, had to say about that yesterday.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I'm inspired by the American people who continue social distancing. These cases continue to decline because of the strong work of the American people.

I also wanted to let you know that we do have nine states that have less than a thousand cases and less than 30 new cases per day. So we're looking at states and metro areas as individual areas.


HARWOOD: Obviously, that is good news in those nine states if they can sustain it, if they're not simply hiding, through lack of testing, a potential outbreak that's coming.

I don't know exactly where all those states are on their curves, but we do know that most economic activity in the country takes place, John, in these large metropolitan areas and states. In fact, the 24 states with Democratic governors, 58 percent of the economic activity takes place in those states.

So unless you get buy-in from those governors, who are very concerned, as are their businesses, as are the public health authorities, you're not going to have much of an economy to reopen.

KING: A major afternoon at the White House. We'll see exactly how the president wants to describe these things.

John Harwood, very much appreciate it.

And maybe is time for the vice president to give a copy of that stopping-coronavirus chart he likes to waive around at the White House briefings, to the president's daughter and son-in-law. The rules, it appears, just don't apply to Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, who, of course, has a lead role in the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

They traveled from Washington to New Jersey last week so the family could celebrate Passover at the Trump golf property in Bedminster. The trip ran afoul of stay-at-home orders in Washington, D.C., and a travel advisory in New Jersey limiting domestic travel to essential trips. [11:20:10]

Protesters are taking to the streets in several cities demanding that governors lift stay-at-home orders and other restrictions. We're looking at some of the protests here in Michigan, Kentucky and North Carolina. Horns honking, flags flying, people chanting it's time for their states to reopen.

The governors are making it clear they will not back down as the coronavirus crisis continues spreading in their states.


ANDY BESHEAR, (D), KENTUCKY GOVERNOR: We do ask the folks up here in Kentucky today -- and everybody should be able to express their opinion, who believe we should reopen Kentucky immediately right now -- folks, that would kill people. It would absolutely kill people. We know we're not to that point.

ROY COOPER, (D), NORTH CAROLINA GOVERNOR: This is in order to protect people's public health and to try to slow the spread of this virus.

GRETCHEN WHITMER, (D), MICHIGAN GOVERNOR: We're seeing continuous positive tests in precisely events like this that contribute to how long we'll be under the stay-at-home order that they're protesting.


KING: CNN's Jeff Zeleny is in Lansing, Michigan, for us.

Jeff, the protests against the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, was by far the largest and the most personal, some even shouting, "Lock her up," a familiar refrain. What's happening there?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: John, it was an extraordinary scene here at the capitol yesterday where thousands of protesters quite literally driving around the capitol. Many getting out of their vehicles as well.

Yes, they were organized. It had the feeling of a Tea Party rally or a Trump rally but the anger was very real. So now the health battle has become a political one.

We spent the afternoon inside Governor Gretchen Whitmer's office to find out how she's tackling both of them.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And it's kind of been like the losses have been devastating. And we've had very little to offset that.

ZELENY (voice-over): Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, is listening, making her daily check-in call with doctors and nurses on the front lines of the fight against coronavirus.

WHITMER: How are you taking care of yourself? I mean, I can't imagine the stress that you're under.

ZELENY: Just outside her office window, the front lines of another fight.


ZELENY: Protesters surrounding the capital in a drive-by demonstration --


ZELENY: -- sounding off against the strict stay-at-home orders she is trying to impose to slow the deadly outbreak.

On the job for 15 months, Whitmer is front and center in the battle between the nation's governors and the White House.

WHITMER: It's been an incredibly challenging time.

ZELENY: She's become one of the most visible Democratic governors in the country, with President Trump dismissively referring to her like this.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Don't call the woman in Michigan. It doesn't make any difference what happens.

ZELENY (on camera): What went through your mind when you first heard President Trump say, "The woman in Michigan?"

WHITMER: I didn't sleep that night. Honestly, you know? I'm not looking for a fight with anyone, frankly. I'm looking for help. When that happened, I was very concerned that it might undermine the ability to get help that Michigan needs.

ZELENY (voice-over): And Michigan needs help, with her state recording the third-highest coronavirus death toll, following only New York and New Jersey.

She extended the statewide order until the end of April, with some of the nation's most strict restrictions, including prohibiting people from most travel between their residences and visiting vacation rentals in the state, and closing businesses she deemed non-essential, including gardening shops.


ZELENY: Her actions sparked a conservative group to organize a protests Wednesday.

WHITMER: It looks a lot like a political rally out there as opposed to something that is really about the substance of the stay-home order and why it's important that we take this aggressive stance of COVID- 19.

ZELENY: She knows she will be judged by how Michigan weathers the pandemic and rebounds from the economic toll it's taken on the still fragile manufacturing state, a critical battleground in the 2020 presidential race.

In 2016, Trump narrowly carried Michigan. Two years later, Whitmer was elected. She's now a national co-chair of Joe Biden's campaign. And by his own admission, on his list of potential running mates, showering her with praise on his new podcast.

JOE BIDEN, FORMER VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES & DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE (voice-over): Governor Whitmer is an outstanding governor. She is one of the most talented people in the country, in my view.

ZELENY: For Whitmer, it creates a delicate balancing act. She acknowledges the cast for recovering from the crisis depends on a working partnership with the White House and the federal government.

(on camera): Do you care about what President Trump thinks about you?

WHITMER: You know, all I care about is making sure I'm able to deliver for the people of Michigan. I will work with anyone who is in the White House in order to do that.


ZELENY: You've held your tongue a little bit. You've not perhaps said things publicly that you may otherwise have.



WHITMER: Because I've got to get things done.


ZELENY: So, John, the politics, of course, is just the underlying factor of all of this.

But it works both ways as well. President Trump also needs to show the state of Michigan, a critical state for him, that he, too, is concerned about their needs as well, as well as Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and, indeed, all of the country.

So, John, as this fight is joined between the public health discussion and the political one, tough choices for these governors here.

When I asked Governor Whitmer if she will follow her own direction of the experts here or the White House, she said she needs to do what's good for Michigan.

John, there are still thousands of people being tested every day. Michigan has the third-highest death rate. So that is the real point here. The economy also reeling, John, but these two factors will be the subtext for the next several months -- John?

KING: They'll be the subtext for the next couple hours, too, Jeff, in the sense that the president is speaking with governors this afternoon.


KING: Governor Whitmer welcome to be on that call. Does she plan to speak up about reopening her state as the president said it's time to get American back to work?

ZELENY: That's one of the interesting things we asked her, and she said she will follow the metrics, as she's been pointing out. And she, like other governors, say there's not enough testing. They simply do not know how many other cases are out there. But they seem to have the equipment that they need. That was an issue early on.

But We'll see if she speaks up or not. But, John, it is clear the politics of this, so fascinating. But again, they work both ways. It's not just Democratic governors here. These battleground states also need the president, and he knows it -- John?

KING: Yes, does he.

Jeff Zeleny, in Lansing for us. Jeff, appreciate the reporting there.

Coming up for us, are businesses ready to reopen with the president's push to do it at the beginning of the month?