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Actor Sean Penn Discusses CORE's Effort to Offer Free Coronavirus Testing in California; 33 Coronavirus Deaths at Nursing Home Where 17 Bodies Found; Coronavirus Response Headlines from Around the World. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 17, 2020 - 13:30   ET



ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Expanding coronavirus testing in the U.S. is becoming an all-hands-on-deck situation. Some private enterprises are stepping up to supplement what federal and state governments haven't been able to do.

Actor and humanitarian, Sean Penn, is one of those people teaming up with the city of Los Angeles right now. His disaster relief nonprofit, Community Organized Relief Effort, or CORE, is working with L.A.'s mayor and other city and county officials to offer free testing across California. The goal is to try to conduct 10,000 coronavirus tests daily.

Sean Penn is joining me now.

Sean, thanks for being with us.

The CORE is helping train volunteers to run drive-by testing sites so first responders, like firefighters, who have been manning them, can spend their time in other places where they are needed.

And Los Angeles is your hometown. Tell me how you decided to get involved in this and how you see it working?

SEAN PENN, ACTOR & HUMANITARIAN: I had the benefit of an existing infrastructure in emergency and response. And we have been working for 10 years as you well know, starting after the Haiti earthquake, going through the cholera epidemic there and then moving into the American southeastern hurricane belt. So it was sort of for us a no brainer.

What we had, in a very unique way, was a front-row seat into governmental leadership, because when it works, it really works. And from Mayor Garcetti's office, which runs very deep through the Los Angeles Fire Department, and Deputy Mayor Jeff Gorell, they have the EOC, which is the Emergency Operation Center, full of exceptional people of service.

So we were able to be, as an organization, plugged in to be able to relieve firefighters being on test sites, which is not a very high- skill activity, particularly the sites we are doing, which are self- testing. So we have people, animators, talking to the people as they come in

through the site, talking hem through the way to self-test and observing to make sure they do it correctly. And the closest they get is a 20 percent open window and they take it out.

That's not the sort of thing firefighters should be doing. They need to be out on the streets and in the station where they can respond to all kinds of emergency services and needs of the city.

It was really kind of the fact that we had the infrastructure and, when we came into play, we came into a highly functioning governmental response in Los Angeles.

COOPER: The situation with testing, it is one of those infuriating situations, which you dealt with a lot and hitting other places, where it seems that the goal is to clear, getting more testing and more kinds of testing, and ultimately contact tracing as well.

But getting there seems to be -- I mean, it has become a political issue. Pretty much everybody seems to agree, except perhaps the president, that testing is critical for opening up.

PENN: Testing is the essential complementary component to what the heroes at the hospitals are doing. It is the way surveillance is fulfilled, the data is collected, so we know where we are with this.

Not only that, but it's also the way in which those who are notified as testing positive know immediately to, first, self-isolate and then there's the contact tracing part component, which we are all trying to get to.

When we were talking about Haiti those years ago, there were so much that I felt that I needed to advocate for. In my position here now, as it stands now, I can defer that advocacy to an exceptional governor in Governor Newsom and an exceptional mayor here in Los Angeles, an exception mayor in the city of San Francisco and others in leaderships in the state.

So I have to make the arguments everyday internally to understand really pipeline supplies can come from in terms of expansion and that sort of thing. Fortunately, I don't have to be the screaming, yelling zealot.

COOPER: It is not just the tests itself, but getting results verified and getting results to people in a timely manner. It is the swabs. It is the reagents. It is not just the tests themselves.

Do you see a situation where -- I mean, do you have a sense of how many -- how much more does this have to kind of upscale -- upscale is not a word -- but how much more does it have to grow in order to really start to meet the needs of reopening? Or of treatment?


PENN: Well, first thing is, you know, never underestimate your enemy. This is clearly, even for the scientists, a very elusive virus. What it's overall impact can be on a human body, even if one survives it, all of these things are unveiling themselves. So we have to stay extremely fluid.

In terms of, because the tests change, we hope to have a mass expansion of rapid tests, the serology tests that are accurate to COVID-19, which is the significant question with those. And clear communications about all these things.

But in terms of full expansion for what the needs of the country is, we really need federal guidelines because, for example, our organization, we need the PPE. We need the N-95s.

But how much is legitimate in terms of scientific and public-health balance for us to be using verses these first responders in hospitals, who I equate them - if anyone say the movie "Hurt Locker," you've got the explosive ordinance test suit. And these people are going in there every day with partial blast suits. We need these federal guidelines.

And in the meantime, it is sort of everybody to their own instinct and credible amounts of networks of communications and criticisms and over-boasting, it really just -- we really need to have clear guidelines and a national strategy for all of this.


Sean Penn, I appreciate what you are doing and what CORE is doing right now. Thank you very much. Appreciate it as always.

PENN: Thank you, Anderson. Thank you for the public service you and your partners are doing. And those Cuomo brothers that remind me of the Kennedy brothers a bit.

COOPER: I will pass it along to Chris. It is going to make his head swells probably more than the fever made his head already swell.


PENN: Thanks.

COOPER: Yes. He's doing a great service for a lot of people.

You can find more information about CORE and the work they are doing at

More than two dozen people have died at a nursing home facility in New Jersey amid the pandemic. I'll speak with one woman, who lost her mom at that nursing facility, and try to figure out what happened.



COOPER: We are learning more of the New Jersey nursing home where an anonymous tip led police to finding 17 people who have died inside a morgue that was intended to hold no more than four people. At least 33 coronavirus deaths have been to the Andover Subacute Rehab Center and more than 100 people have tested positive.

Lee joins us now. Her mom, Lily, was a patient at the nursing home where she died last month at the age of 84.

Lee Repasch, thank you for being with us.

I am so sorry for you and your family's loss. I know your mom was battling dementia.

You and I were talking right before we started, you were saying she didn't need to end this way. It did not need to happen this way. Can you talk about what did happen?

LEE REPASCH, HER MOTHER DIED UNDER QUARANTINE AT NEW JERSEY NURSING HOME: My mom had been in the nursing home for a little over three years and she had vascular dementia. She had been deteriorating. We visited her every day. Our family was lucky and we made time for her and we all visited her.

And then the COVID-19 virus hit and they put the nursing home on lockdown. So we were not able to visit our mom.


COOPER: Were you able to get information much?

REPASCH: No. That was what the most difficult and heartbreaking thing was. When they locked down, we had no connection with our mom. We have, in the past, tried to get nurses to Facetime us in but they all are overworked. We lost all connection with my mom. And I think my mom losing the connection with us expediated her death.


REPASCH: I mean --



REPASCH: I'm sorry. But it's just we had connection. No information coming from the nursing home, nothing. It was

COOPER: That's infuriating.

REPASCH: It was. It was heartbreaking. Because, I think I told you, my sister, Donna, climbed up to a window to Facetime me and communicating my mom. My mom has dementia and communicating that way -- she needed us in person. it does not work for people like her. And they were so --


COOPER: I know you would try to call. Did people answer the phone? Did people -- would people --


COOPER: Were you able to talk -- you weren't even able to talk to your mom even on the phone.

REPASCH: No. So we would call the nurses' station and, occasionally, we'd get a response. One of the nurses did tell us our mom is doing well or fine but said your mom had not eaten. We knew she stopped eating. But she done it before. Once we encouraged her, then she would start eating again.


COOPER: Right.

REPASCH: But we didn't have a sense of how bad it was. My sister did inquire if she could have COVID. We were on lockdown for it. And they did not have any testing going on. And they, I believe --


COOPER: There was no testing?

REPASCH: -- had it. That the nursing home did not have any COVID cases when, in retrospect, that could not have been true.

COOPER: Yes. Do you know why -- I mean, if someone died at the nursing home, why they -- did they not call the mortuary?

REPASCH: No, so we were -- So we were a bit -- it was a bit different for us. On the day of my mom's death, my sister and I have been petitioning to visit her. We would do whatever it took to be with my mom.

COOPER: Right.

REPASCH: So my sister, Dana, was able to go out there. They allowed one family member in the room. They gave her mask. I believe she wore gloves. And she went and saw my mom. My mom, she sent us a picture and she did not look good. But we didn't understand how bad it was.

My sister left to go home and I think, within hours, she got a call from the nurse, the head nurse of that shift, to say that my mom was having trouble breathing. And by the time my sisters and my brother were able to get to the nursing home, she died.

COOPER: Oh, my god.

REPASCH: Yes. So that was the extent of the communications on the day she died. We didn't get much information.

And we're not the only one. The people in the nursing home were our community, too. They're families are feeling the same pain.

COOPER: You -- you know other people in the nursing home who are there now? REPASCH: Yes. Yes, we do. We were talking about this earlier in the

week. We became friends with other residents and their families. And --

COOPER: And are you worried about them?

REPASCH: Yes. We were very worried about them because, again, there's still no communication coming from the nursing home. The families, we all chat. We all chat on Facebook. We chat in private groups. We chat and via texts and everybody is worried.


REPASCH: It's the lack of communications is just awful. Other thing I thought is, why could there been some telecommunication equipment there so we could visibly see our relatives and assure them that we are here and we are not abandoning them.



COOPER: Or even Facetiming them. I mean, it's unthinkable.

REPASCH: Anything.

COOPER: Yes. What was your mom like?

REPASCH: She was wonderful. I could talk about her for days. She was vibrant. She was a firecracker. She was outspoken. She loved everybody. Except for kids. She struggles having patience with them.


REPASCH: She loved our family. She was a knitter, a baker, a sewer. She was unparalleled in all her skills that way.

Her sense of humor.


REPASCH: And her ability to swears in ways nobody else can. Really --



COOPER: Did you say swears in ways that nobody else can?

REPASCH: Oh, my gosh, she could -- yes. She could take down anybody.

COOPER: That's funny.

REPASCH: She was a bright woman. And she -- they didn't have a lot. My parents did not have a lot growing up. But everything they had, they gave to us and to other their grandchildren. We have always surrounded our family with love. We are a very

connected family. My father died about four years ago right before my mother. We had been going to the nursing home.

It has just been very difficult. I mean, we thought this stress of taking care my father of Alzheimer's was contributing to some of this.


REPASCH: But with them with my mom and then my father passed away and she declined so rapidly so she never had that time.

COOPER: Well, it's -- it is such a difficult -- I mean, dementia and Alzheimer's, such a horrible thing to -- for your mom to go through, for your dad. For the whole family, it is devastating. Clearly, she was surrounded by love for a lot of her life from all of you.

Lee, I appreciate you talking about her. Lily Repasch is her name. She was 84 years old?


COOPER: Well, thank you for joining us.

REPASCH: I had to think about it. She was born in 1935.

COOPER: OK. I hope some things change at this nursing home or at least the families get more information because it is just unthinkable.

Lee, thank you very much.

REPASCH: Thank you.

COOPER: A company in the United Kingdom said it's close to an antibody test that will give results in 10 minutes. We'll have details on that ahead.


Plus, Dr. Oz and Dr. Phil are coming under fire for the way they've been talking about coronavirus on TV.


COOPER: In Kenya, the governor of Nairobi is facing criticism for putting bottles of Hennessey (ph) in coronavirus care packages to residents. The governor calls the liquor, quote, "throat sanitizer." Keep in mind, the World Health Organization says alcohol does not protect against the virus and could make symptoms worse by hurting your immune system.

For more international headlines, I'll go to my CNN colleagues around the world.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen, in Berlin, where Germany says it has now pushed the reproduction factor of COVID-19 below one. That means, here in Germany, one infected person infects less than one other infected person.


And that's significant because it means the social distancing measures are pushing the virus back. The Germans say that means they're able to loosen some of the restrictions that have been in place here.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: I'm Nick Paton Walsh, in London, where a British company set to get European self- certification for a vital antibody test that may, in the weeks ahead, be available at home for just $1.50.

This vital move, to perhaps help some people get back to work if they see they have immunity, comes as the mayor of London goes a little bit against the established policy of the British government by suggesting people should think about wearing masks when they're on public transport in the capital.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ivan Watson, in Hong Kong. Sports may be cancelled around the world but, in Taiwan, it's game on. The Professional Baseball League just started their new season there, in part, because the island's done so well against the coronavirus pandemic with only around 400 cases confirmed out of a population of around 24 million.

They can't have humans in the stands, so they've set up some cardboard mannequins. But they're broadcasting this live for free to sports star fans around the globe.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matthew Chance. Russia, the world's biggest country, has confirmed coronavirus infections in every one of its 83 regions, plus annexed Crimea.

Officials say outside western Siberia, with one of the least populated regions, was the last to report a case. According to official figures, Russia now has more than 32,000 confirmed infections, forcing the Kremlin to impose strict lockdown, introduce electronic passes to monitor peoples' movements.

They've even canceled an annual May military parade, one of the most important days in the Russia calendar.


COOPER: Still ahead, new projections show the south may not be as hard hit by coronavirus as expected because social distancing has been more adhered to than projected. But some of the hot spots may stay at their peak longer. We'll break down those numbers ahead.