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Remdesivir Shows Promise; Testing Obstacles to Reopening States; Pence Cal on Small Business Help; Texas Mayor Talks about Reopening the State; Aired 9:30-10a

Aired April 17, 2020 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, this isn't a big -- it's a broad trial that Gilead is doing. They are sponsoring tests. You're part of this, in 2,400 patients with severe Covid-19 symptoms at 152 different trial sites around the world.

Can you explain to people that this drug does? How does it work?

HOJAT: Yes, of course.

So it's an antiviral drug that basically -- it starts itself into the virus as it's trying to copy itself, and causes that process to stop. So the virus can't make copies of itself. And that prevents the infection from progressing.

HARLOW: One thing I think is interesting is that when they tried this in the past, not that long ago, right, during the Ebola epidemic, it wasn't that successful in combatting Ebola. Do we know why that was and why it may be much more successful with Covid-19?

HOJAT: Well, each virus is a little bit different. And it is, you know, difficult to say how something is going to perform in humans just by the data that you get from earlier trials or animal trials. So, you know, despite that, it didn't look like it was very helpful for Ebola. That doesn't necessarily mean that we're not going to see better results for this virus. But it remains to be seen.

HARLOW: Do you -- have you looked at whether it could be used as a prophylactic, meaning whether or not it could actually help people before they contract this to help prevent contraction rather than just a treatment?

HOJAT: You know, it's possible that it would have some effect. The reason probably most likely that that's not being studied right now, as far as I know, is that it's a drug that has to go in through the vein. And so these patients are all hospitalized and, as you mentioned, most of them are sicker patients. So they haven't been looking at or focusing on prevention. HARLOW: What about risks, right? With Hydroxychloroquine, a risk is

severe potentially death for people who have very severe heart symptoms and heart issues. Is there risk with Remdesivir?

HOJAT: Yes, so part of the benefit of this having gone through trials in Ebola is that even though we -- it wasn't able to show efficacy there, at least we got a lot of data in terms of its safety. And it was generally a really well tolerated drug.

There were some minor lab changes that were reversible and pretty tolerable side effects that were reported. And so far there hasn't been any new, major reactions that have been reported at least. But, you know, we're -- the trial now is being expanded to thousands of patients. So we'll have a lot more opportunity to decide for sure if it's going to have additional problems or not.

HARLOW: And if -- finally, quickly, if this drug does prove out to be as successful as you guys are hoping by the end of this month, when Gilead releases their results, because they've already produced this drug, I would assume a mass production of it wouldn't be that time consuming?

HOJAT: Well, there's a lot of people that are -- that are looking out for this drug and there's a lot of patients that I think could benefit for it. But I can't really speak to how like their production volume, but I know that they are going to do everything they can to try to make sure as many people as possible get on this drug.

HARLOW: Dr. Leila Hojat, thank you. This is fascinating. Thanks for being on the front end and studying this. We appreciate it.

HOJAT: Sure. Thank you.



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A sign of hope there.


SCIUTTO: The Infectious Disease Society of America, a prominent medical association, says that we need to ramp up effective and proactive testing before cities and states reopen. We cannot emphasize this enough, because all the experts agree widespread testing is essential to any phase reopening plan. We've heard that from the lieutenant governor of Utah just moments ago. That includes testing to find the virus and testing to learn if people have antibodies, those who have already been exposed.

So what kind of antibody tests are available in the U.S. right now and how many are there so far? CNN investigative correspondent Drew Griffin has been doing some digging on this.

So, Drew, let's start first with the antibody tests themselves. What type of tests are already out there and credible today? DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: That is the big

question. There are just four, Jim, that received emergency use authorization, but they're really not widespread because these companies haven't been able to get up to scale yet. In fact, the first company, Sellex (ph), actually cannot get their tests out of China right now.


They wanted to send 100,000 tests, donate to the city of New York. Those tests are sitting in China mired in red tape. The other companies trying to get theirs up to speed. So even though you're hearing about these antibody tests that are being not necessarily approved by the FDA but giving emergency use authorization, they're still not out there because they're not being tested.

Once they get out there, great. Finger prick, put on a piece of paper and we'll find out if you may or may not have had Covid.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, testing is included in the president's own guidelines. But you hear, I mean, the lieutenant governor of Utah just told me, it's Utah itself that is getting this up to speed as opposed to with national help.

So across the country, how much testing is actually happening in the U.S. right now?

GRIFFIN: You know, we've been talking about testing and we've been talking about ramping up. I just want to make it clear, Jim, despite what you're hearing out of the White House, we still don't have enough testing just for people who are sick, OK. SO this whole idea about, if you're sick you're going to get a test, you are not.

I was talking with a guy just this morning, cough, fever, chills, went to the hospital, was told he still is not sick enough to get a test. That testing is ramping up, but, you know, like we're seeing, these molecular tests that we're talking about, the tests for really sick people, they involve the nose swab test that you send off to a lab or go to hospital lab. Still short of the nose swabs and the reagent chemicals.


GRIFFIN: There is the new saliva test that's been approved. But, again, that's just been approved. It's very small, manufacturing numbers coming out of there. And then you have that rapid ID test, which could be great, you know, 15 minutes, we know if you have it or not. The problem is scale.


GRIFFIN: Abbott sent out, I think, 600,000 of those tests since they began. We need millions and millions and millions.


GRIFFIN: No national plan. No direction. And it's still, we're way behind on testing.

SCIUTTO: So if that is true, there is no national plan -- again, I've heard that, not just from you, I've heard it from doctors, I've heard it form state and local officials. When, then? Or will it happen, right? I mean we're only a couple of months away from May when the president is talking about recommending opening parts of the country.

GRIFFIN: Jim, I'm focusing on the testing side. I'm working with these companies and these suppliers. Our colleagues at the White House and you up in D.C. are trying to figure out what the heck the national plan is. And, you know, you get all this waffling. I don't see a national plan. I'm reading the transcript of these briefings.

I'm hearing what Dr. Birx, what Dr. Fauci is saying. We've even talked to Brett Giroir, the guy who is supposedly in charge of testing. There is no national plan. So what you have is hospitals, states, cities, all competing for very few supplies with each other. It's not a good situation.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. It's remarkable.

Drew Griffin, glad to have you on the story, as always.

Coming up, the government loan program designed to help, to rescue small businesses, it's struggling to survive right now and, as of yesterday, it's out of money. $350 billion. Why is this program falling apart at this crucial time?



SCIUTTO: Well, if you own a small business or work for one, this is important. In hours, Vice President Mike Pence will get on the call with Senate Democrats. This as the government's nearly $350 billion well for small businesses dried up. And tens of thousands of those owners did not get any money before that fund ran dry.

HARLOW: So what is Congress going to do to fix this? It sounds like it's going to take a lot more funding.

Our congressional correspondent Phil Mattingly joins us.

So, first -- first, the phone call. Do we know what Pence is expected to tell Democrats?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So this has actually becomes fairly regular. And, interestingly enough, given where Senate Democrats are on the current administration, particularly the man who resides in the Oval Office, Vice President Pence has gotten pretty high marks for how he's addressed Senate Democrats in these calls.

It's more of a listening session than anything else, trying to get a sense of what various senators are hearing from their home states, what their needs are. I think there's no question at all that this small business lending program we're talking about will come up. It has come up in past calls.

But also one of the key things to keep an eye on after this call is Democrats are pressing very hard on the issue of testing. And I think that is going to come up as well.

The interesting element, the vice president is not really key in the negotiations for the small business program, but he has served as a conduit before. And whether he takes information back from this call related to this program specifically will be interesting to watch, guys.

SCIUTTO: OK, so where does that issue stand? Democrats, as you mentioned, pushing for more money for testing. And we've heard from folks across the country that they're in the getting federal support for that. But also other things, for instance, minority owned businesses, rural businesses that don't have as much access or relationships with banks. Where do those issues stand?

MATTINGLY: Yes, there are a couple of pieces to this. Democrats -- look, Republicans have been very clear, they want a clean bill to replenish the funds up to $250 billion for this program as it currently stands. Democrats have made a couple points.

One, they believe it's also urgent to have money for hospitals, to have money for states and local governments which are facing budget crunches right now and they want specific stipulations on the small business program.

One of the concerns Democrats have been hearing from their districts, for their states, from their constituents is that individuals from smaller companies, you know, it's up to a 500 employee threshold, but those with only 10, 15, 20 employees maybe haven't gotten the access that they believe that they should. Those without long-standing bank relationships, credit lines, under banked, unbanked businesses are having access issues as well.


And so those are stipulations that they want to address.

I think the issue right now is that speed is of the essence, right, guys.


MATTINGLY: This is something that small business owners need now. There are thousands of people who had applications in that were not able to get their applications through before the money ran out. And so these negotiations, whether you're on one side or the other, there needs to be a resolution quickly. And I think right now the expectation is this is going to drag on into next week without any question.

HARLOW: Phil, I saw a number, a trillion dollar number, that has been floated about what it might take to fund this in the end. Is that what we're looking at long-term? MATTINGLY: Yes, you know, it's a great question.

Look, when I was covering the drafting of this program -- and let's make something abundantly clear, this small business lending program, which is designed to get money to employers to be able to pay the salaries for their employees, even though the doors are closed, and those loans would be forgivable if they proved that that's what they've done, this was a bipartisan program. This was by far the most bipartisan program of the $2 trillion stimulus as it came through.

However, as they were drafting this program, there was a recognition that the depth of this economic crisis, this economic devastation that was occurring, was going to require more money than the $350 billion originally. And everybody that I'm talking to right now, particularly banking industry officials, analysts, are saying that the extra $250 billion that the administration has asked for is not going to be enough either. They are going to need more money.

And just to give some context here, they ran through $349 billion in loans in less than 14 days. Over the course of the last 14 years, the Small Business Administration has not processed that many loan applications.


MATTINGLY: That's the urgency, that's the need, that's the desperation, more money is needed and it's going to be a lot more, I think, than has even been asked for at this point, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A trillion dollars here, a trillion dollars there, pretty soon you're talking about real money, right?

HARLOW: Right.

SCIUTTO: That's a -- the old quote I think was a billion dollars here, a billion dollars there. But, anyway, the price keeps going up.

Phil Mattingly, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Thanks, Phil.

SCIUTTO: And we'll be right back.



HARLOW: Hours from now, Texas Governor Greg Abbott will lay out his plan to reopen the state. But in the state capital, Austin, the mayor is already extending the stay at home order beyond the first of May.

SCIUTTO: It is the first major city in Texas to do so with the new extension running so far through May 8th.

Joining us now, Austin Mayor Steve Adler.

Mayor, good morning. Thanks for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So the governor looking to reopen at the start of May. You're extended through May 8th. Who do you listen to on this? Do you go forward with the extension of your stay-at-home order or do you modify that based on the governor's direction?

ADLER: Well, ultimately, we'll be modifying to be consistent with whatever the governor does. He trumps us in these situations.

But we extended ours through May in part so that we would be able to see what he did at the end of his order, which runs through the end of April, so that we would have time to be able to react and adjust our orders.

It goes through May. Certainly if something happens in the intervening time, we could -- we could readjust our order. We just don't know what the state's going to do.

HARLOW: Correct me if I'm wrong, Mayor, but I believe that this actually happened in Florida early on, that the governor could give you -- could give mayors latitude, could give you leeway and say, here's what I'm saying for the state, but if you think it's not right for your city, you're welcome to go another direction. Is that -- is that right? Is that something Governor Abbott could do? And, if so, do you want him to if he decides to reopen sooner than you think is correct for Austin?

ADLER: You know the -- the -- we certainly have that ability in the state. And as we were coming into the shelter in place, our governor gave the cities and counties discretion to be able to do -- he repeatedly said it was a local decision.

And there's a balance there because you want to have some protections that are in place statewide so that everybody is protected. We don't know what the governor's going to say. You know, I would anticipate -- he's listening to some of the same people we're listening to here.

I think everybody wants to figure out how it is that we open the economy, but I think that everyone else -- everyone wants that to be a scientific and data-driven decision that really takes advantage of all the hard work that people in Austin and throughout Texas have done.

We're -- we have -- we have successfully the signals successfully flatten the curve, but it's precarious. And something could go wrong. We could have some cluster flare-ups and be in a horrible place. So control of risk environment requires us to have a lot of things in place, have a lot more testing than we have.

SCIUTTO: Well, if you don't have that testing in place yet, is it safe to reopen as soon as the end of this month?

ADLER: Well, it's not safe to open right now. And how safe it's going to be open at the end of the month, I think the world seems to be changing here every two or three days. We need a lot more testing in our city in order to be able to do that.

We have to have a lot more resources to do contact tracing so that if there is a problem, we can -- we can hit it all at once. We have to have the isolation and facilities. We need to be able to do cocooning more completely and on an ongoing basis because there will be certain parts of the population that are real susceptible that you're going to want to be able to isolate and separate from that activity.


ADLER: So -- but the conversation and the discussion about how it is that we do move to a place where we can start (INAUDIBLE) is an appropriate conversation to have so long as everybody recognizes that the only thing that is the perfect solution is a vaccine. Absent a vaccine, there is going to be some risk in whatever we do. We need to control that risk. And, for us, we're going to be prioritizing people's health and safety.

HARLOW: Thank you. Good luck to you, Mayor.


HARLOW: I know it's been hard for every city and for Austin with South by Southwest cancelling and all of that economic pain. We wish them the ability to rebuild after the health crisis is dealt with. Good luck.

ADLER: Well, thank you, and we will.


So, tonight, something very important, Don Lemon and Van Jones, for a special look at coronavirus in communities of color. That is, excuse me, tomorrow night. They'll also share messages of hope from Sean Diddy Combs, America Ferrera and Charles Barkley and many more. "The Color of Covid." It is a CNN special report. It's tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Well, President Trump is telling the states now they can call their own shots as he lifts some guidelines, but as we just talked to the mayor of Austin about, where is the testing to make this all possible?