Return to Transcripts main page


White House Outlines Road Map to Reopen, No Details on Lack of Testing; Jacksonville, Florida to Reopen Beaches with Restrictions; Report: Remdesivir Drug Shows Promise as Coronavirus Treatment. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A good Friday morning to you. We made it. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: We made it. What a week it's been once again. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

On a day when coronavirus has killed more than 2400 people in this country, the president says it is time to start a, quote, "rejuvenation of the economy," suggesting under new guidelines some states could reopen in less than two weeks. And in a complete reversal, he's now making very clear that governors will be the ones to call the shots, just days after he claimed, quote, "absolute authority" over what states could do.

SCIUTTO: Here's one of the key challenges with the White House's proposed approach to reopening. Part of it hinges on the one thing any governors, business leaders as well and lawmakers in both parties say is lacking and that is widely available testing. I'm sure you've had this experience where you live. Without it, they are telling the president again and again it is not safe to reopen yet.

And this morning, signs the worst of this pandemic isn't unfolding as many thought. An influential model now shows that the peak has lasted longer in some of the hardest hit states while southern states may not be hit as hard as initially predicted.

HARLOW: Yes. One of those places where they think the peak is lasting longer a little bit longer is right here in New York. So let's begin here with our national correspondent Athena Jones.

Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. The president is laying out these new guidelines for opening the country, but the plan itself acknowledges what governors and experts have been saying for days now. It's not going to be like flicking a light switch. The process or the return to normalcy is going to take a lot longer than the president initially envisioned.

That's because federal officials are saying look, we may need to keep some of these social distancing guidelines in place through the end of the year to prevent a new outbreak.


JONES (voice-over): President Trump revealing the White House's new guidelines for opening up America again. With no start date, his three-step plan outlines an effort to gradually restart the economy beginning in areas least affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We took the greatest economy in the history of the world and we closed it in order to win this war, and we're in the process of winning it now. We are not opening all at once. But one careful step at a time.

JONES: In phase one, a soft reopening of parts of United States. For example, while the vulnerable still shelter in place, working from home will still be encouraged, but some Americans can slowly begin to go back to their offices. And businesses like restaurants and gyms could open using strict safety measures. But no large gatherings.

Phase two, relax some social distancing efforts like opening schools and allowing elective surgeries and nonessential travel again. For phase three, normal life resumes as much as possible. No staffing restrictions at work and big sporting and entertainment venues will be back in business again with limited restrictions. Those most vulnerable asked to still practice social distancing while they're in public spaces.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Not every state, not every region is going to do it at the same time. Sooner or later, we will get to the point -- hopefully sooner with safety as the most important thing, to a point where we can get back to some form of normality.

JONES: But before states begin the path toward lifting restrictions, the guidelines suggest they have a decrease of coronavirus cases across a two-week period. A return of pre-crisis hospital conditions and an adequate supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. And have the ability to set up safe and efficient screening sites.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: The criteria that the federal government has recommended are fairly strict. And that's to give states really the time to really set up exactly how they're going to contact trace with the CDC in the background as supporting.

JONES: While unveiling the plans in a phone call with governors, a source familiar with the conversation said the president told them you are going to call your own shots. And that's what many state leaders are already doing.

GOV. LAURA KELLY (D-KS): Our thought process now is right now is that we would look at what areas in the state of Kansas could we start using these take-it-slow guidelines to reopen.

GOV. JOHN CARNEY (D-DE): I'm still saying stay at home, stay safe, we're still not out of this, we still haven't peaked.


JONES: And here in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo is extending the stay-at-home orders until May 15th, saying that we got to keep doing what we're doing to make sure these numbers continue to come down. And one more thing, as of 8:00 p.m. tonight, anyone traveling on public transportation or in a for-hire vehicle needs to wear a mask or some sort of face covering and drivers of for-hire vehicles, buses and the like have to wear masks.


Officials also encouraging people to wear masks in stores and drugstores, grocery stores, places where you can't safely socially distance. You don't have to do so on the street if you're far away from others, but in every other instance they want to make sure people are wearing some sort of face covering -- Poppy, Jim.

HARLOW: OK. Athena, thank you very, very much.

So let's talk now about all the developments with infectious disease specialist Dr. Carlos del Rio and emergency medicine physician Dr. Jose Torradas.

Thanks, gentlemen, for being here. Take a quick listen to the president just yesterday.


TRUMP: I think 29 states are in that ball game. Not open -- not for opening, but I think they'll be able to open relatively soon. I think the remainder are just getting better.


HARLOW: Dr. Del Rio, to you first, let's say that's the case for those 29 states and they move to open more quickly and there is more travel on airplanes and more, you know, travel across the country. Then doesn't that essentially affect every state?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: Absolutely it does. You know, unfortunately, opening some states and not others is a little bit like, you know, as somebody said to me, it's a little bit like having a peeing section of the swimming pool. It's not going to protect some people, right?


DEL RIO: I mean, at the end of the day -- at the end of the day you have a country, we all move, we go to different places, so imagine if Georgia was open, but Alabama wasn't. It wouldn't make much of a difference.

HARLOW: Yes. DEL RIO: I think one thing that's really missing in the White House

plan is the number of tests that need to happen. It says we need more testing, but it doesn't say how much more testing. And I would tell you we're still far away. We roughly calculate that we have tested maybe .3 percent of the U.S. population. Most experts believe that you need to test at least .8 percent to 1 percent of the population to be ready to open the country.

So we have to scale testing maybe twice as much or three times as much of where we are right now in order to get there. And your reporting quickly said that. We simply are not there yet testing. And until we get the testing to that level, I don't think we can talk about opening the country.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Torradas, I mean, we've been asking this question, you know, folks around the country, and here we have some from Atlanta, Georgia, and you in Pennsylvania. you know, is there any move, substantive move towards having the resources necessary to test on a broad-based basis? Do you have that where you are? And do you see it happening in the next couple of weeks?

Because, you know, there is talk about reopening next month. That would then presume, would it not, that you'll get what you need to test before that happens?

DR. JOSE TORRADAS, EMERGENCY MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: That's a good question, Jim. And the difficulty here is that you're seeing discrepancies not just state by state, but hospital by hospital and locality and countywide. So every place is seeing a different onus in terms of what they're able to get and how easily they're able to test.

And once you start talking about phase one, which talks about being able to, you know, broadly test those individuals to know who is safe to go back to work, because you can't simply say, OK, well, stay at home if you're sick, especially if we're seeing that so many people are transmitting the disease when they have absolutely no symptoms, so they're going to be sending people to work and if you don't have the proper guidelines in place, proper precautions in place, you're just going to be seeing folks transmitting to their co-workers, to their colleagues, to customers, and you won't know until it is potentially too late.


HARLOW: Dr. Del Rio, the chair of Metro Sciences at University of Washington, Dr. Christopher Murray, who's been modeling a lot of this stuff, said one of the things they've realized is that the peak of this virus has actually lasted longer than they thought it would in some cities like here in New York. Any idea why that would be and what the implications are then?

DEL RIO: I think there are two things. Number one, what was mentioned previously is this ongoing transmission from asymptomatic or pre- symptomatic individuals. We now know that maybe 40 percent to 50 percent of transmissions occurs early in the disease and before you manifest the disease. So it's really hard to stop a virus when you don't know it's being transmitted. And I think that's one of the issues.

But the second issue is that in a way, social distancing is making the peak last longer, but that's OK. We want to flatten the curve. We want to be sure people come to the hospital not in boluses but in small amounts. But I want to remind people, people are all focused on the peak. And peaks, you know, I think about Everest. Just because you got to the peak of Everest doesn't mean you're done. You still have to come down. And the coming down is as dangerous as the going up.

And we have to think that the peak is not the end of this epidemic. And I think that that's something we need to emphasize. The peak is just a point where the number of new cases is beginning to slow down or begin to come down, but it has to come down consistently over several days and weeks before we can claim victory and we're not even close to that.

SCIUTTO: And Dr. Torradas, given the experience we're seeing in other countries that reached their peak, relaxed and then saw a -- cases spike up again, you've seen that in China, you've seen it in Hong Kong, Singapore, even some of the countries who got a handle on this very early, what flexibility do communities like yours need to then ratchet up social distancing, if need be, if there is another, if not outbreak, another just increase in cases?


TORRADAS: Well, I think incredibly important part of this is that while we do start to work our way forward, we need to be able to have enough pride to say, OK, maybe this didn't work, if you are starting to see spikes again. So it may be one or two steps forward and then taking a step back because, you know, we're modeling things based on human behavior and if there is anything I've learned in my, you know, 30 some years on this earth is that humans are difficult to predict and so you may say that things are working now, but that's because the measures we've taken have been quite drastic and drawn out throughout the country.

However, if you start to really relax these things, and everybody starts to just go back to their normal life, do not be surprised to see that especially in areas that are not taking it as seriously that you're just going to continue to see these spikes and problem with these spikes is that the minute you start to overwhelm the health system, you then put doctors and nurses and the medical community in tough positions where you have to ration ventilators, you know, and these are difficult decisions that will inevitably cause serious mental health problems to both the patients, their families, and the medical community.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we're all going to be have to be nimble, right? We're going to have to be flexible and move as necessary.

Dr. Del Rio, Dr. Torradas, thanks to both of you.

DEL RIO: Delighted to be with you.

TORRADAS: Thank you. SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, what do governors and mayors

thinking about as they decide how and when to open their states? We're going to speak to leaders in Utah and Texas this hour.

Plus, promising news on the search for a treatment, patients in one trial recovering faster and going home sooner after taking an experimental drug. We're going to speak to the principal investigator working on that drug.

HARLOW: And later, the small business loan program, it is a lifeline right now for so many businesses. It's out of money, leaving tens of thousands of businesses shut out at least for now. What is holding up Congress from getting this money allocated?



HARLOW: Just minutes from now, we will hear from Florida's Governor Ron DeSantis. This is just ahead of his meeting today with his newly created taskforce to plan for the quote, "resurgence and reopening of Florida". Meanwhile, the mayor of Jacksonville already announcing beaches and parks will reopen later today with certain restrictions. Let's go to our Rosa Flores, she joins us this morning from Fort Lauderdale.

So, Governor DeSantis, southeast Florida, of course, which has been hit much harder, could be treated apparently from the governor differently than other parts. Is that right?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right and he has maintained that throughout just because the southeast part of the state has been the hotspot here in Florida. But as you mentioned, Governor Ron DeSantis meeting with his taskforce today, he was set to announce his plan to reopen the state next week. But the Jacksonville mayor beating him to the punch, announcing that he is reopening beaches and also parks.

There will be restrictions, restricted hours and social distancing enforced according to the mayor. But he said that he consulted with first responders and law enforcement, they're in Jacksonville and they've decided to go ahead and reopen. And he did cite Governor Ron DeSantis' stay-at-home order that was issued statewide that says that recreational activity such as running and walking and swimming are essential activities.

Now, the mayor went on to say that even surfing is an essential activity. Now, the numbers here are important. Duval County reports more than 770 COVID-19 cases of the state's 23,000. As for deaths, there is 14 reported in the county of the state's more than 630 cases. Now, but Poppy, you probably remember the very controversial decision that Governor Ron DeSantis made by not closing beaches here in Florida very early on, he left that up to the localities.

And Jacksonville now, of course, exercising that power, but the governor had said yesterday that he wanted to start reopening Florida by allowing elective surgeries to begin. Well, he got beat by the mayor in Jacksonville. Jacksonville reopening beaches and parks.

HARLOW: Rosa --

FLORES: Poppy?

HARLOW: Thank you. I think everyone sort of waiting cautiously to see what this means, and hopefully, not a resurgence of the virus. Thanks very much. Jim?

SCIUTTO: To Utah now, where the person leading that state's coronavirus taskforce, the lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, says that opening parts of the economy could happen, quote, "much sooner than expected". And he joins us now. Lieutenant Governor Spencer Cox, thanks so much for taking the time. So you say may happen sooner than many expected. How soon are you discussing?

SPENCER COX, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF UTAH: Well, definitely in the next couple of weeks, we believe that certain parts of the economy could be open. We actually -- the president announced his plan yesterday, it's very similar to Utah's plan that we announced three weeks ago. We're following the metrics very closely. We've been working hard to ramp up testing and tracing capacities because that's the surgical approach.

We've had to do this hammer approach because we just didn't have testing. Now that we do, there's an opportunity to allow people, again, very cautiously, we want to avoid that second spike, but allow people to start participating in economic activity in a serious way.

SCIUTTO: OK, so, you said recently, fewer than 2,000 people in Utah were being tested a day. Has that ramped up significantly, and can you reopen safely without broad-based testing so that you know exactly who has been exposed?


COX: Yes, so our biggest problem has actually been getting people to get tested. We were -- we were one of the first states to ramp up capacity. We've been in the top ten per capita in testing. And our biggest problem right now is getting people who want to be tested, who have symptoms that need to be tested. We can test upwards of 5,000 people a day right now.

Yesterday, we tested over 2,000, and so, we've relaxed the testing criteria, and over the next few days, we'll be putting in place sentinel testing capacity so that we are testing for more asymptomatic people. This really is about tracing.

SCIUTTO: I'm curious what help you're getting from the federal government, because we ask people every day, both statewide officials, local officials, mayors, do they have testing capacity? And the answer almost across the board is not yet, and they're not getting the help -- the help they need. As you know, the president has made a lot of very rosy predictions about how broadly the country will be able to test.

Are you getting help from the federal government? Are you or is Utah doing this in effect on their own?

COX: So we have a model here in Utah that we believe in being just self-prepared and doing things on our own. We appreciate the federal government. We know they've been focused on the hotspots, unfortunately, Utah has not been one of those hotspots. We were -- we were one of the first states to limit mass gatherings to try to get ahead of this. And so this has really been a Utah effort. We've been doing this on our own, we pulled out all the stops.

We're actually working with the private secretary, the business community, we refer to as Silicon Slopes here. We have a national lab at the University of Utah that has expanded capacity significantly, but we've just realized we're going to have to probably do this on our own and not wait for help, and that's what Utah does best.

SCIUTTO: Do you, as you go forward, do you feel you have the ability to ratchet these restrictions back up again if there is further outbreak? If as you relax, there are more cases and therefore you have to ask people, hey, guys, you know, you've got to stay at home for a bit?

COX: Yes, there's going to be a critical piece of our messaging. I mean, there really is everyone working together. If we want this to work, we have to be extremely careful. And those dials, we can't just turn the faucet all the way back on, it is going to be a slow process. We -- moved those dials, and watch very carefully -- and we have mobile testing labs now that will allow us to get into some of those most impacted communities and try to find those hotspots ahead of time.

So, it's again not a sledgehammer. It's surgical, but we do have to be extremely careful and be willing to -- I think your previous guest mentioned, be humble --


COX: If things go -- willing to make those --


COX: Hard decisions.

SCIUTTO: Your fellow Utah Republican Senator Mitt Romney, he's the only sitting GOP senator who's been left off the president's bipartisan commission on reopening the economy. I wonder just in the simplest terms, is that good for the state of Utah, for the people of Utah?

COX: Well, I'll tell you one thing. Senator Romney, whether you love him or you don't, the one thing he knows a lot about, I mean, this is what he did for a living was he fixed businesses and economies that were broken. And he has a great rapport with his colleagues. I know he talks regularly with Mitch McConnell and others, and that they seek out his advice.

You know, those issues, I'm not worried about. We're all in this together. He's helping Utah, Senator Mike Lee is helping Utah. We have an incredible congressional delegation, and they're working every day to make Utah -- make sure Utah has what it needs to move through this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Lieutenant governor, thanks for taking the time. We wish you and the people in Utah the best of luck.

COX: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, a drug trial in Chicago is showing promising results fighting coronavirus, especially among severely ill patients. We're going to speak with a principal investigator leading a similar trial on this same drug in Cleveland ahead.



HARLOW: This morning, new hope in the fight against coronavirus, according to a trial out of Chicago. The University of Chicago, some patients severely infected with COVID-19 are recovering quickly after taking a drug called remdesivir. That report says that most people who have taken it are going home within days. The drug was originally tested against Ebola with little success, but now several studies in animals show it could prove both prevent and treat viruses related to COVID.

That includes other respiratory illnesses like SARS and MERS, it is a drug from Gilead Sciences. They're expecting results from their own trial later this month. Joining me now to talk about all this is Dr. Leila Hojat; she's an infectious disease physician at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center and a principal investigator on this Gilead study. Nice to have you, thanks for joining me.


HARLOW: I've been hearing a lot about remdesivir for a few weeks now. And it certainly hasn't gotten the headlines that hydroxychloroquine has. But it looks like at least the University of Chicago study here pretty promising. What are you seeing?

HOJAT: Well, so we've had a lot of our patients improving and going home, and I think that we're all really pleased to see that. It's hard to know at this point if that's related to the study drug or not, but we're expecting results as you said a little bit later this month, at least on the first several hundred patients that were studied.

HARLOW: Yes, this is a big -- it's a broad trial that Gilead is doing. They're sponsoring tests, you're part of this.