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Remdesivir Rumored to be Shortening Coronavirus Recovery Time; New China Coronavirus Case Prompts Quarantine Questions; Interview with SEIU Healthcare President as Nursing Home Workers Concerned for Safety. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 17, 2020 - 10:30   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: -- this morning, Remdesivir. What more can you tell us and how far along are the tests here, the trials?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. What happened here, Jim, is that some doctors were caught on-camera unknowingly, on a video, talking about how this drug looked promising. But it's just chatter. We're going to need much more than that for this drug as well as for others, before we say that they work to great COVID patients.


COHEN (voice-over): It seems to be President Trump's favorite drug --

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it could be something really incredible.

COHEN (voice-over): It's hydroxychloroquine, and early study results suggest it might not work and it could cause heart problems.

Thursday, the head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told "The Washington Post" that he doesn't feel political pressure to push this drug forward as a treatment for COVID-19.

STEPHEN HAHN, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: I can promise the American people that FDA will use science and data to drive our decisions, always.

COHEN (voice-over): And there are other drugs being studied to see if they might work against the novel coronavirus. On Thursday, in just one day, nearly 40 new clinical trials to study potential treatments for COVID-19 were registered here, on this government list of clinical trials.

Biotech company Genentech announced Thursday that the FDA had given approval to move on with the next stage in trials for its drug, called Actemra, which is already used to treat arthritis and other ailments. A similar drug, called Kevzara, from manufacturer Regeneron, is also being studied to treat COVID-19. And in a video leaked to the health news website "Stat," doctors from

the University of Chicago discussed how their patients taking an experimental antiviral drug called Remdesivir were recovering quickly. But it was literally just talk, not published research. So no one knows for sure -- not yet, anyways -- whether Remdesivir, which was designed but didn't work for Ebola, will work for COVID-19.

And beyond drugs, the FDA has put out a call for people to donate blood plasma if they've already recovered from coronavirus. Their antibodies could help people who are currently suffering. Studies are under way in New York and at universities around the country.

The ultimate weapon, a vaccine, is moving along at research centers around the world, including at the University of Oxford in England. They announced that they've teamed up with an Italian manufacturer to make a vaccine, all with an eye towards putting an end to the pandemic.


COHEN: Now, getting back to Remdesivir, the drug that's making headlines this morning, it may turn out to be great, it may turn out to be very useful for COVID patients. But it could turn out to be useless -- Jim and Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So, Elizabeth -- to know that critical question, what else needs to be discovered? Because there's that University of Chicago study, those doctors on camera that found it very effective, even for severely ill COVID patients?

COHEN: Right. So you don't want to take what a doctor says. Because you know what, his next set of patients -- or her next set of patients -- may not do so well. You want the clinical trial to end. And I know it's hard to be patient during this time.

You give the drug to a group of people, and then you give a placebo pill --

HARLOW: Right.

COHEN: -- basically a sugar pill, to an equal-sized group of people who are just as sick, so they're very similar. And you see if the drug works. That's the only way to do it.

I mean, I don't know if you guys remember this, but during Ebola, there was so much excitement about various treatments, and this one works, and that one works. In the end, it turned out most of them were useless.


SCIUTTO: That's why you want --

HARLOW: Yes, exactly.

SCIUTTO: -- you want the doctors to talk about it, the researchers, not the politicians. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you as always.

COHEN: Right.


SCIUTTO: Officials in China, they have revised the number of people killed by coronavirus in Wuhan -- of course, the start of this -- up, revised up by 50 percent and those numbers are raising more questions about China's overall transparency.


SCIUTTO: Well, China's economy just experienced its worst quarter in decades, shrinking nearly seven percent in the first three months of this year.

HARLOW: It literally hasn't happened since the mid-1970s there. But despite the tough road to recovery ahead, some analysts think there could be a bounce-back in the economy this year, still. Let's go to David Culver. He's with us in Shanghai. It was just so long ago that China ever experienced anything like this.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Oh, no question, Poppy and Jim. And as always with numbers in China, there is skepticism. And that also is involved when it comes to the numbers for the economy here. And you see this drop, it's really the worst three-month period that they have experienced, dating back, as you pointed out, to the 70s, to the Cultural Revolution towards the end of it, which was obviously a devastating period for this country.

And so now, we did anticipate -- obviously -- that this would be a blow, given that everything was shut down and we had what were brutal lockdown conditions in which people weren't even, in some cases, able to leave their homes, let alone businesses open up. But what we have now seen since is that businesses are starting to reopen.

And here's what's interesting, I want to show you some video because we were invited on a tour by the local Shanghai government to see some small businesses opening up -- an animation studio and a place that makes food for airlines -- and they wanted to show us that things are coming back to life.

And that is true in some cases, but it is not widespread. I mean, the lockdown doesn't end and then you jump right back into normalcy. Things are still slowly coming back online, people are still trying to get back to their places of work, in some cases. And even within Wuhan, there are still restrictions in some subdivisions and apartment complexes, preventing people from leaving.


Ultimately, though, it is believed that China will actually see some growth this year, believe it or not. But that's because, as the rest of the world has slowed, they're able to now start producing things --

HARLOW: Right. CULVER: -- the question's going to be, is -- are they going to suffer

further, Poppy and Jim, because, you know, their customer base is gone. Look at the rest of the world, not buying, they're in the midst of lockdowns now.


SCIUTTO: Big issue with China -- certainly on economic numbers, but also on health numbers, is just transparency, accuracy, credibility. China, now up, increasing the number of coronavirus deaths reported. I mean, a big increase, 50 percent. Why now? And is this new figure any more credible than the previous ones?

CULVER: Jim, you know we have been hitting this hard. And our early reporting also raised the question, you know, why is it that several people were either not getting tested right away -- so there were delays in testing -- some people weren't getting tested at all.

And so what was happening, from folks that we were speaking with, is that their loved ones would pass away, and that in some cases, the doctors would say it was just severe pneumonia and that's what would be put on the death certificate equivalent, and so they weren't counted towards the coronavirus death toll. So we were saying, the numbers really aren't adding up when you talk to the people on the ground.

It seems like China is, in some sense, responding to the worldwide criticism on that because it has been an increasing criticism that they have faced, and skepticism as to how accurate those numbers are.

And so here, they have now revised the data. They said they've gone back through and they've looked at some of these past cases and they've carefully combed through them, and they have since raised it now some 50 percent, a significant number within the city of Wuhan alone. It's not clear if that's going to happen in other parts of China, but that is notable that it's happened at the original epicenter of all of this.

And they say they have done it to show respect to the people, and so that history reflects it properly. State media, of course, points out here -- Jim and Poppy -- that this was not in response to the global criticism, and certainly not in response to the criticism coming from the United States.

HARLOW: All right. Well, David, before you go, you've got Beijing still essentially shut down. But what have you learned about new --


HARLOW: -- a new imported case that has apparently led to multiple people there getting infected?

CULVER: Poppy, we call Beijing "the fortress" right now, and it's -- part of the reason we're still in Shanghai, it's very difficult to get there without having to go through government quarantine. Essentially when Wuhan reopened, they restricted travel to Beijing, so you could go anywhere else in the country but the capital. It was heavily protected, fortified in many ways.

This one imported case is interesting. It's a student, a Chinese national, came back from Miami to China, to Beijing, went into quarantine for 14 days, tested negative not once, not twice but three times; got out and then, a few days later, apparently transmitted it to his own family members.

And so now, multiple people have it. They're, of course, now in quarantine. But the reason it's so significant here now, Jim and Poppy, is it's raising questions, is 14 days enough for quarantine?


CULVER: They're now considering maybe 21 days.

HARLOW: It's an important question. David, thanks for the reporting on all fronts this morning.


America's nursing homes, you remember hearing so much about them at the beginning of this crisis in the United States. Will the remain under siege from coronavirus? What is being done to help those vulnerable residents and all of the people that care for them? We'll talk to the head of the union representing thousands of health care workers. He's with me next.


HARLOW: Well, this morning, New Jersey officials are beginning a statewide investigation into the tragic, growing onslaught of coronavirus deaths at nursing homes, and it comes after the discovery of 17 bodies piled up in a nursing home in Andover, New Jersey, 33 people there had died from COVID-19.

And it's not just New Jersey. Nursing homes across the country are dealing with a staggering number of coronavirus cases. In Maryland, medical teams from the National Guard are being deployed to nursing homes across the state as the cases surge there.

And in California's Alameda County, the district attorney's office is investigating after 13 residents died at the Gateway Rehabilitation and Care Center. That is 36 percent of the county's deaths at just a single facility.

Greg Kelley is with me. He is the president of SEIU HealthCare Illinois, Indiana, Missouri and Kansas. It's a union that represents some 91,000 workers, many of them health care workers in nursing homes.

Greg, thank you for being here. Look, I think a lot of attention was paid to nursing homes in this country at the onset of the virus, but not enough attention has been paid to the workers and the people that risk their lives every day, going there. You call this a tragic situation. What is the reality on the ground for them? GREG KELLEY, PRESIDENT, SEIU HEALTHCARE ILLINOIS, INDIANA, MISSOURI

AND KANSAS: The reality on the ground is that our members are anxious, they're afraid, they're angry. And mostly, they just feel out of -- in the dark about what's happening in the homes. The owners aren't telling them when there are sick patients, they aren't providing them with the right amount of equipment, PPE. They aren't paying them appropriately. And so there's a lot of angst on the ground amongst our members in nursing homes.


HARLOW: All right, there is a lot to unpack there. So let's just begin with the situation that you say is some of your members, at least, are not being notified by nursing home owners and operators if they are taking care of COVID-19-positive patients? I mean, that --


HARLOW: -- how can that be? There should be a sign on every door or on everyone's chart, and they should all be being tested, obviously.

KELLEY: We would think so. In fact, we know of many cases in which our members are finding out about COVID-19-positive patients after they've died, and having heard about it on TV. And so it really is a tragic situation. As I've said, our members are scared, they're angry and really feel that there needs to be something done.

HARLOW: You've said there was a pre-existing crisis in nursing homes, even before coronavirus due to the profit-oriented business models. And obviously, that doesn't go for all of them, right? They're all --

KELLEY: That's right.

HARLOW: -- different. But it's an issue you've seen across the board. one question on that, in terms of pay, is discussions about hazard pay, right? There are some lines of work where you get additional pay when you are risking your life to do it on the frontlines in a situation like this. Are any nursing home employees getting hazard pay at this point?

KELLEY: There are some, but it is not widely done. We've been fighting and advocating around this for quite a while now, and I think your original point is the right one. This is a crisis that just has come into fruition, right? It's been bubbling for many years: underpaid, understaffed nursing homes has been a problem in our country for a long time. And this crisis has only made it worse.

And so we're saying to nursing home owners that our members are on the frontline, and they ought to be treated as such. They're risking their lives, every single day. And they deserve to be treated better than they are right now.

HARLOW: What -- do you have any examples of places where it is working? Are there any models of nursing homes that are doing it right that others could practices of? I mean, what would keep them most safe? KELLEY: Well, I think, you know, what we have seen, we represent

about 101 facilities, just in the state of Illinois. And if they could just simply communicate with their staff in a better way, provide them hazard pay, pandemic pay and give them the necessary equipment they need, you could see a difference. But in far too many homes, that just is not the case.

HARLOW: The disparity we've seen in the numbers -- very quickly -- in terms of more African-Americans contracting COVID and dying from it. Obviously, many frontline workers in jobs like this are minority workers.

KELLEY: That's right, that's right. Here in Chicago in particular, 70 percent of those who have died from COVID-19 are black. Our membership in nursing homes is largely black. Also, you know, other workers of color and poor white folks.

But it has had a disproportionate impact on black workers, who often have to work two and three jobs because they're so poorly paid. They're delivering groceries, they're working in a nursing home. And so they're carrying, potentially, COVID-19 into other areas of the community. And so we have a really serious problem. And we're here to say -- and we've been trying to say to anyone who will listen -- that we need to really take care of those workers who take care of all of us.

HARLOW: Well, we're listening, Greg, and we're thankful to them. Thanks for your time and good luck.

KELLEY: Thank you so much. Thank you.

HARLOW: Of course.

All right. So on that issue of disparity in terms of race during this crisis, join Don Lemon and Van Jones for a special look at coronavirus in communities of color. They'll also share messages of hope from Sean "Diddy" Combs, America Ferrera, Charles Barkley, many more. "THE COLOR OF COVID," it's a special CNN report. It's live, tomorrow night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here.


We'll be right back.


SCIUTTO: A video coordinator for the University of Georgia football team finally left the hospital after a six-week battle with the coronavirus. And watch what happened on his way out.



SCIUTTO (voice-over): Health care workers there lined the halls of a Georgia hospital to say goodbye and congratulations to Jeremy Klawsky on his recovery with a hero's walk.

HARLOW (voice-over): Oh, wow. Just 32 years old, he had no idea he had coronavirus when he was hospitalized back on March 10th. We are so happy for him and grateful to those employees.


SCIUTTO: Yes. So young, too.

Well --


SCIUTTO: Imagine this, not being on Earth for months, only to return to a world really completely different from the one you left? That's exactly what astronauts Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan and Oleg Skripochka are experiencing right now. Each spent more than 200 days in space, meaning when they left earth, people were -- remember things like this? -- shaking hands, hugging --


SCIUTTO: -- going to concerts, to church? Not happening now.

HARLOW: Just -- I know. And they saw the news, obviously, up there, and knew what they were coming back to Earth literally for, but now they're here to see it.

The group landed safely this morning on an already significant day for NASA. Fifty years ago today, Apollo 13 --


HARLOW: -- returned --