Return to Transcripts main page


White House Outlines Road Map To Reopen, No Details On Lack Of Testing; Coronavirus Survivor Shares Story Of Recovery. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 17, 2020 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Basic materials for tests, like swabs.


In a CNN town hall last night, Dr. Deborah Birx called it unrealistic to expect that every worker in the country can get tested. So where does that leave all of us this morning?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: So, Alisyn, we're also following reports of promising news this morning on the treatment front. A new report quotes a doctor involved in a trial of a drug called remdesivir. This doctor claims that patients have recovered quickly from severe symptoms. So the report alone caused a frenzy in the stock market overnight.

We're also standing by for new modeling to be released soon. It's expected to show that southern states may not be hit as hard as expected by coronavirus. But hotspots like New York seemed to be stuck at their peak levels for longer than originally expected. These models seem to go up and down and they're revised often after the fact.

The important number right now, thousands of people are still dying every day from coronavirus.

CAMEROTA: Okay, John. Joining us now is Dr. Mario Ramirez, he is the former acting Director of that office of pandemics and emerging threats under President Obama, that you've heard so much about and CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Celine Gounder, she's an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist. Great to have you both of you.

Dr. Ramirez, I want to start with you because of your experience in the pandemic office under President Obama. We have learned so much about that office since it was disbanded. So when you see the federal guidelines that came out yesterday, these three different phases, what's your take on it?

DR. MARIO RAMIREZ, MANAGING DIRECTOR, OPPORTUNITY LABS: Well, thanks for having me, Alisyn. And just to clarify, actually, my office was at the Department of Health and Human Services, not the National Security Council, which is the office that (INAUDIBLE).

But I think, overall, the impression is that this is a good strategy document. I think we, as Americans, should be excited and we are starting to develop plans to get the country back up and running.

But we need to be clear about what the document is. It's a strategy document. And strategies on a whole, as well know, are easier and really aware this thing is going to be won and lost is down at the tactical level and the actual implementation of these guidelines. And I think some of your earlier reporting talks about how much trouble we've actually had administering the tests on the ground level. That's really where my concern is.

BERMAN: Yes. What it does is it shows us or lays out some expectations of where things could be along the way in reopening the economy. Phase 1 suggests that people still shelter in place. And put this up on the screen, schools remain closed, gatherings of no larger than ten people. Phase 2, you start opening schools. And then phase 3, it gets even more open where there are people interacting in society while involved in social distancing.

That's all well and good. I don't think that, in and of itself, is controversial. But, Dr. Ramirez, it's the gating. It's how you get there that seems to lack not just specificity but any effort at all, right? What you see from the guidelines is they want a downward trajectory in the number of cases within a 14-day period. What exactly does that mean? A trajectory to what exactly and how are we supposed to know?

RAMIREZ: Right. I think you're asking the most important question, John. As somebody who is out seeing patients right now on a daily basis, there's a lot of uncertainty about what that means. What the guidelines state is that we need a downward trajectory of influenza- like illnesses cases or downward trajectory of confirmed COVID cases. But there were no numbers sort of listed to give us some information about what that means. Is that 5 percent of the cases? Is it 50 percent of the cases? Without really having that information, it makes it very hard to really decide what to do.

And at the same time, I think it's worth noting that we will expect influenza-like illnesses to go up in the winter months because that's when influenza starts to come back. So, by definition, the way that these guidelines are written, we should expect closures again. And my hope is that we'll have more specific testing at that point.

But with these gating criteria alone, it's hard not to imagine a situation where we're forced to close again in lots of different places in the fall and winter.

CAMEROTA: That would be bad news. Dr. Gounder, what do you see in the federal guidelines?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, there are also some measures outlined in terms of contact tracing and testing. And so the idea would be you do contact tracing of people who have been exposed to known pieces of COVID and you would be testing people who have symptoms or who may have been exposed.

But, again, this is not a test for every single American. And they're also talking about doing surveillance testing. So perhaps a random survey of Americans to see who may have been infected at some point in the past. It's really to get a sense for where the disease is and where it's moving. It's not to provide the average person who might be tested or not with some sort of reassurance.

So a big picture, that has me very concerned because we still know we don't have the testing capacity. We don't have nearly the boots on the ground to do the contact tracing.


We've lost about 25 percent of public health department staff at the local and state department levels over the last several years since the 2008-2009 recession. We simply do not have the level of staffing required to do this kind of thing.

BERMAN: And to that extent, Dr. Gounder, it's a political document, isn't it, as much as a medical document? It's giving the governors what they want, and they all agree, they want the ability to make these decisions by themselves. And over the last 12 hours, we've heard governors say, that's great. It's great that this document outlines that.

But what the governors also want is some help with tests and testing and getting the testing that they want. And we just don't see anything here. What is it, do you think, the governors would want to see in a real federal strategy in terms of testing?

GOUNDER: Well, I think they would want support in terms of building up their capacity to do the testing, do the contact tracing. That's really going to require hiring a lot of staff, that's going to require sourcing not just the tests themselves but the reagents, the swabs.

Here in New York, one of our biggest bottlenecks for testing is actually the swabs, it's not the tests themselves. So, really helping with those kind of issues and not creating another situation as we had, for example the ventilators, where it's a free for all among the states to try to source these things. I think needs to be done at a central level in a rational way to make sure all the states' needs are met.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Ramirez, do you understand why they can't get swabs? How hard is it to produce a swab needed for testing?

Dr. Ramirez, can you hear me?

RAMIREZ: Yes, I'm sorry. You're back, Alisyn. So there is some evidence that there is an increase in the production of swabs. I think just yesterday, the FDA approved a new swab that will be coming to the market. But I think Celine is absolutely right. There are big concerns about the actual substrate production and the materials that we need to actually run the test, just being able to run 1.5 million tests like the president cited yesterday doesn't actually mean that that's what we can really do.

BERMAN: And, Dr. Ramirez, having worked in the administration before, the idea that this -- The Washington Post has some interesting lines in its main report today which suggests that this document was to provide cover for the administration if things don't go well in the reopening. As you suggest, they may not. There are going to be cases. Dr. Fauci admits there are going to be setbacks, which means people are still going to get sick in the future. Is this the type of document that would allow the administration to say, it's the governor's fault, they're the ones who made all these decisions?

RAMIREZ: Well, you know, I'm not sure that that's for me to say. What I will say is that the document clearly tries to devolve it back to the states. But like any national crisis, we need to be concerned about whether there's adequate coordination. I think what we saw with the early stages of the pandemic were that things were not well- coordinated between the states. And my concern is that this strategy follows that same pathway.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Gounder, there is a development in terms of tracing that The New York Times is reporting. Apparently, the CDC plans to hire hundreds of contact tracers to locate those who have been exposed to coronavirus. And 25,000 Census Bureau workers can help with this contact tracing. So can people who have come home from the peace corps, volunteers. They might also be deployed to help with the contact tracing. So that's a concrete plan. I mean, that's progress in terms of how we're going to do this.

GOUNDER: No, it certainly is. It certainly is a step in the right direction. I still do have concerns about the numbers. If you look at how Wuhan was able to do their contact tracing, how many people that would require in the United States to do that level of effort, and that's really what it took for them to control their outbreak. That would be the equivalent of 300,000 people in the United States doing that work.

And so, yes, this is definitely an improvement from where we are now. But I'm still concerned it's not going to be enough.

BERMAN: Dr. Ramirez, I want your take on a report that came out overnight. This was in Stat News, which quoted a doctor involved in a trial with remdesivir, which is this antiviral drug. Again, it quoted the doctor talking about the study. This is not the results of the study itself but this doctor is reported as saying, and this is P-28, we do see when patients do come in with high fevers, they do reduce quite quickly.

We've seen people come off ventilators a day after starting therapy. Most patients are severe and most of them are leaving at six days. So that tells us the duration of therapy doesn't have to be ten days. You know, they're saying the best news is that most of our patients have been discharged, they're suggesting.

So when you see a doctor involved in a study say this, what's the takeaway?


RAMIREZ: Well, I think it's good news. It's good news for America. But I think it's important to contextualize what that means exactly. So the study included 125 patients. So it's relatively small and it wasn't a double blinded trial, meaning that they weren't using a placebo. So it's not -- in terms of the scientific integrity, it's not the ideal study setup.

But if that data is true, as it's recorded, and I think it's worth remembering that this is recorded data, not reported data, if it's true, that's a very good sign. And I think we should all be excited to see what additional studies show.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Gounder, your take on that. I mean, as Dr. Ramirez just said, since the process wasn't exactly ideal, what will your takeaway be?

GOUNDER: Yes, I agree with Mario. They basically were comparing two different durations, five versus ten days of remdesivir. There was no placebo control in the study. So you can't really say, maybe they would have gotten better at that same rate anyway. We just don't know.

So I think this is promising, this is exciting, but this is not going to mean that remdesivir is going to be our standard of care moving forward. It doesn't mean it's the magic bullet for this.

I think we do need larger studies, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trials. And so that's where we're going to be headed doing more research on this.

BERMAN: All right. Dr. Gounder, Dr. Ramirez, thanks so much for being with us this morning and helping us understand everything that we're seeing as we wake up.

So now that the White House guidelines have been released, what are business leaders ready to do in terms of asking employees to come back to the office? That's next.




DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: We must have a working economy and we want to get it back very, very quickly, and that's what's going to happen. I believe it will boom.


CAMEROTA: That's President Trump eager to reopen the U.S. economy. But are employers ready to have workers come back to the office?

Joining us now is Seth Harris. He's former acting Labor Secretary under President Obama. Mr. Harris, great to have you back.

So you read the federal guidelines that the White House out out yesterday, I am sure. And so what do you think the most important step is to getting workers back into the workplace? SETH HARRIS, FORMER ACTING LABOR SECRETARY, OBAMA ADMINISTRATION: So, Alisyn, if I were an employer who read the president's plan, I would feel like the federal government was hanging me out to try and providing me with no support. And let me talk about three particular areas. There is nothing in the plan about the federal government helping with testing and contact tracing.

The plan talks about employers keeping sick workers home. But we know that workers who show no symptoms can also transmit this disease to other people. So employers are sort of left with no way to protect against asymptomatic workers coming into the workplace and making everybody sick.

The second thing is, the plan doesn't include anything about the federal government helping to make sure that employers have all the personal protective equipment they need, the N95 respirators, masks, shields, gowns, gloves, the kinds of things that governors are having trouble getting. How are individuals, particularly small employers, supposed to get them if the federal government hasn't deployed the Defense Production Act to get the industry focused on producing the things that are needed most?

And, finally, employers are looking at the occupational safety and health administration and wondering where is the specific guidance I need for my workplace? What specifically should I do? You need different protections in different workplaces. OSHA has given only very high level guidance. And if you're a worker, OSHA has told you, we're not going to enforce the law. Except in the healthcare industry or if somebody dies, we're not going to enforce the law.

So I think that this plan is seriously lacking. It lets governors make the decisions but there is no meaningful federal role to help employers and workers.

CAMEROTA: So where does that leave workers who are desperate to get back to work?

HARRIS: Well, Alisyn, what we know is that thousands and thousands of workers are contacting the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, complaining that COVID-19 is in their workplace, maybe they have a sick worker, maybe they have somebody who just had symptoms, maybe they're just scared because they're afraid they're going to get sick.

They're looking at places like the Smithfield pork processing plant in South Dakota, where more than 600 workers have gotten sick. They had to close the workplace down.

But federal OSHA is not responding. We know that there are also almost certainly thousands more workers who are complaining to their state occupational safety and health agencies seeking help.

I think workers are scared. I think employers are not getting the help that they need. And when you talk about reopening the economy, that means getting people back to work, getting them back into the workplace. Well, if you can't do that safely, then our workplaces are going to turn into killing fields, and that's absolutely the worst possible outcome about reopening the economy.

CAMEROTA: I mean, the term killing fields is obviously chilling. That's what you think is going to happen when the doors open again and in the big places that you're talking about that don't yet have any protective gear?

HARRIS: Well, if we don't do it right, that could happen. We're already seeing workers getting sick and dying in workplaces all around the country that are open right now. Grocery store workers, the United Food and Commercial workers report that more than 3,000 of their members have already gotten sick, in hospitals, on transit systems. So we have to do this right.

I think we can slowly, carefully reopen the country, but we have to do it in a way that makes sense and that keeps workers safe. And the president simply washing his hands of any responsibility for anything in this crisis is not the way to get there.


We need a coordinated federal state effort. We need the federal government to play the role that only the federal government can play with respect to workplace safety and health and producing the protective gear that we need. I'm really worried about it. And I think that the experience we've had so far is not encouraging.

CAMEROTA: I want to ask you about the unemployment numbers. 22 million people in just the past few weeks have lost their jobs and filed for unemployment. And, obviously, when we have the great recession in 2008, it took seven or eight years for those jobs to come back.

This is a different situation. We're always reminded that this was a voluntary shutdown of the economy. This was sort of self-imposed. But what about those 22 million? How many of those do you think are going to be able to get their jobs back and how many are gone for good?

HARRIS: Well, that's a fantastic question, and I want to be humble about answering it because the truthful answer is we don't really know. We've never had an experience like this before.

Let me just add to your numbers a little bit. 22 million have lost their jobs or have filed for unemployment claims in the last four weeks. There were already 7.1 million Americans who were unemployed even before we got those numbers. And I think that there are many millions more who have left the labor force or were unemployed and just haven't gotten their unemployment claims filed yet. So I think the number is almost certainly higher.

My expectation is that a sizable percentage of those people will be able to get back to work. But that's going to depend upon whether we can keep their businesses going, whether large businesses that were already deeply in debt end up going into bankruptcy, whether it's small businesses can survive. And that's going to require the Congress to get together and pass legislation that funds the loan programs that are available, provide money to state and local governments so they can provide the supports that are needed, provides money to hospitals so that they can do what they need to do to help keep people safe and hopefully recover.

But so far, we're stuck in a political fight on Capitol Hill because there's a lot of intransigence about only funding the small business program. I think that that's a mistake. We're going to need a lot more money than it has already been spent in order to keep businesses functioning so that workers have a workplace to go back to.

So there's a lot of contingencies here to know whether or not we're getting back to work quickly or if some of those workers are going to be out of work for a good long time.

CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, even after they agree in Congress on the funding, then there's how to implement it. There's the process. We had a representative on yesterday who represents the Bronx, which is a very poor district. And he basically explained that there are barber shops, there are nail salons that have been there for years, that are part of the fabric of the community but that will never come back because they're not able to get the PPP or the small business loans.

HARRIS: Right. I share that concern completely. I am worried that the money is going to hedge funders on Wall Street rather than going to the neighborhood pharmacy or to the local barbershop or hair salon, the folks who really are the core of the community. So I share that concern.

And, again, our employment picture is going to depend upon small businesses surviving. So far, the small business administration has let out about 1.7 million loans. We have 30 million small businesses in the United States. We need to put out a lot more money, we need to get it out quickly, we need to have unemployment insurance going out quickly to every worker who should be eligible.

We're hearing horrible stories about states like Florida that are being preposterously chintzy in denying workers their benefits. That is money that gets spent in small businesses, in grocery stores, goes to rent, goes to utilities. That's what keeps our businesses going in addition to the loan programs that come from the government.

Now is the time for government to open the spigot. Let's worry about the consequences later on because the consequences if we don't open the money spigot is that we could end up with an economy that's in depression for a good long time.

CAMEROTA: Former acting Labor Secretary Seth Harris, we really appreciate all of your expertise in this. Thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Scientists are racing to develop coronavirus tests so that people can tell if it is safe to go back to work, if they themselves are safe. One company may have an answer that costs less than $1.50. We'll explain, next.



BERMAN: So it has been exactly one month since Jason Hartelius first experienced symptoms of coronavirus. Just days later, he was in the hospital struggling to breathe. And what's so unique here is that he filmed the struggle and this journey.

Jason Hartelius joins me now. Jason, first of all, great to see you, glad you are feeling better. My question to you, first off, is 30 days after the beginning, how much better? How close to 100 percent are you?

JASON HARTELIUS, RECOVERING FROM CORONAVIRUS: I still got a ways to go to 100 percent. It's been sometime this weekend will be three weeks since my last symptoms. My biggest issue now is just fatigue. I'm tired all the time, sleeping a lot, body clock is all messed up.

I went, for the first time, for a walk around our block, which is probably about half a lap around a track and I was a little winded when that was over, but we'll get there.

BERMAN: So 30 days in, you still can't walk around the block without getting winded?

HARTELIUS: It wasn't dramatic but c could feel it more than I normally would.

BERMAN: All right. And still a heck of a long way from where you were when this began. I want to play, people, video from day 4 of this for you. This is, I believe, you were in the hospital and could barely breathe. Let's watch.

HARTELIUS: The video is in my bathroom.

BERMAN: Okay, bathroom.


HARTELIUS: It feels like I can't breathe.


The deeper the breath is I take, the more it actually hurts.