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Contamination At CDC Lab Likely Cause Of Early Testing Days; Morgue Filled To Capacity In One Of New York's Hardest-Hit Counties; Trump Says, Protesters Defying Stay-At-Home Orders Seem Very Responsible; Dallas Mavericks Owner, Mark Cuban, Discusses When NBA Can Restart & Being Tapped For Trump's Panel On Reopening Economy; Former U.S. Ambassador To The U.N., Samantha Power, Discusses Her Message To Trump On Handling A Pandemic Globally. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired April 18, 2020 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
And we begin this hour with breaking news. Multiple health officials confirming to CNN that contamination at a CDC lab was likely behind those critical early days in rolling out the testing for the coronavirus. We have the details straight ahead.
First, consider where we are right now in the U.S., the staggering numbers. The U.S. has more than 700,000 known cases and a death toll that has surpassed 37,000.
In New York State, an order is now in effect requiring everyone aged two and older to wear a facemask in public, from the subway to the sidewalk to the grocery store. Governor Andrew Cuomo warning the state is barely in a stable public health position.
On the west coast, these are images of long lines of people in California waiting to pick up donated food. Many of them now are out of work in what the governor describes as a pandemic-induced recession.
And in Virginia, at least 25 people at a juvenile corrections center have tested positive and have been receiving around-the-clock medical care.
We have also learned 30 states have now been ordered to or have been recommended to implement statewide school closures through the end of the academic year.
And this just in, Canada says, its border with the U.S. will remain closed for another 30 days.
But in Florida, we are seeing attempts at re-opening. The mayor of Jacksonville allowing a soft opening for the beaches there, saying people are taking social distancing seriously, although some of these images would suggest otherwise.
We are waiting to hear from the White House directly today an update from the coronavirus task force is scheduled for 5:00 P.M. Eastern, so about two hours from now. President Trump tweeted he will be there. Of course, we will have it live for you here on CNN.
More now on our breaking news, that contamination at a CDC lab was likely the cause of critical early delays in rolling out testing. CNN Political Correspondent Sara Murray joins us. And, Sara, what more can you tell us?
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I've been reporting this out with my colleague, Nick Valencia. We've been talking to a number of officials across the government. And what we have learned is that, here, there was this critical couple of weeks in February where the CDC started sending tests out to public health labs and those tests were malfunctioning. It took a while to figure out what was going on and to get these kits up and running.
It turns out in this period of time, there was some confusion about whether there was a problem with the design of the CDC tests or whether there was a manufacturing issue. So an FDA official actually got on a plane, went down to Atlanta and went to check out the CDC labs to try to figure out what was going on. And what was determined, an administration official tells me, is that there was contamination in the manufacturing process.
So then the CDC and the FDA had to go forward and to work out how they could try to remanufacture some of these tests without this contamination issue and also try to issue guidelines to these public health labs about how they could use the tests they already had on hand. So they were trying to juggle all of these things simultaneously.
But in the process, what was lost, essentially, was precious weeks where there was very, very limited testing capacity in the U.S. And when we talked to public health experts, particularly ones who worked in these departments out on the west coast, in places like Washington, in places like California, they say essentially they knew at that point that the virus was spreading in the communities around them and they had very little way to test for it.
CABRERA: Sara, stand by. I want to bring in CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, as well Dr. Rochelle Walensky, Infectious Disease Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Elizabeth, I know you've been making calls. What more are you learning?
ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: What I'm learning is that Sara and Nick's excellent reporting seems to point to a larger problem at the CDC. A source within the CDC was telling me that they have been trying to get answers to what extent was this contamination, to what extent was this problem manufacturing?
[15:05:03] And, by the way, everybody acknowledges that this was a mess and totally chaotic. And even they inside the CDC cannot get answers to this.
And I'll tell you, over the past couple of years what I've been hearing from people within the CDC or with ties to the CDC is that the CDC is this venerated institution. People from all over the world look to the CDC for answers and respect it as an institution but that there have been issues with it becoming too bureaucratic, with it not sticking with its focus as it should be. These are people who care about public health, that's why they're at the CDC, but that the institution hasn't been functioning as efficiently and effectively as it should be.
CABRERA: Dr. Walensky, we are at 37,000 deaths in the U.S. right now. And I think back to when the testing was first rolled out, and we learned of the test didn't seem like it was working right initially. It seemed like ages ago, but I think we were talking about dozens of cases at that time. We have more than 700,000 who have been people infected with coronavirus now. If there hadn't been this delay in the testing roll out, what might have been different in the U.S. response?
ROCHELLE WALENSKY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE CHIEF, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL, HOSPITAL: Good afternoon, Ana. So, a couple of things I just want to mention. First is we know that this test is an RT-PCR test. That kind of test, when it gives us false positive results, generally does so from Contamination because it takes just a very minute amount of virus to lead to a positive test. We want to detect small amounts of virus when they're in a human. So the test really is specified in order to do that.
So, oftentimes, when an RT-PCR test, like the COVID-19 test is positive, it's due to -- falsely positive -- it's due to contamination. So this is actually not a big surprise, at least, I don't think.
What happened though is that while we were waiting for this test, we were losing time in the containment phase of this epidemic. We couldn't rapidly test people, we couldn't contact trace them and isolate the infected persons and then quarantine their contacts. And during that time, we got community spread. And because there was community spread, of course, now we've gone to the mitigation phase, which has escalated the number of cases, escalated the number of deaths and required this stay-at-home mandate.
CABRERA: Elizabeth, how long did it take before this contamination was discovered and fixed? Do you know?
COHEN: You know, it seems like it was certainly weeks for them to discover it. I'll tell you that I was on those early CDC briefings from the middle of January. And one of the first things they said was we have to get a good diagnostic test out there. So they knew that this had to happen quickly and they emphasized that, of course, we have to get a good test out there.
What we will hear from doctors over and over, a bad test that gives you false positives or false negatives is worse than no test at all. But it took some time to figure out this contamination and then it took some time for the CDC to realize, the part we're having trouble with, we don't actually need. We can get a perfectly fine result without it, so let's go there.
It was just the sort of stumbles after a stumble after a stumble when, really, the people I'm talking to said this really should have been accomplished much more quickly. This is a -- to Dr. Walensky's point, it's a test where you need to make sure you get it right obviously and it can be easily tricked but it shouldn't be that hard to get it right.
CABRERA: Sara, as you're reporting, they knew there was a problem back in February, February 22nd, the FDA officials traveled to the CDC to investigate what was going on exactly and what specifically the problem was with the testing. So why are we just learning about this now?
MURRAY: Well, I think we did hear, in fairness, from CDC officials relatively soon in February that there was some issue with this test. They were trying to work it out. They hoped to have it resolved quickly. And I think there were also a smattering of reports that didn't get attention in March that there may have been a contamination issue at a CDC facility.
But it has taken until now to really weave all of this together and to realize that the reason that we had this weeks' long delay was because the test was malfunctioning, they were sorting out that it was a contamination issue and they were trying to figure out what they could do to get some of these tests up and running in the states.
And it is a little bit perplexing that we haven't seen public officials, particularly from the -- you know, we see these White House briefings every day -- at the White House level and the CDC level being more forthcoming that there was this contamination issue in their labs.
CABRERA: Elizabeth, when the CDC first learned of these issues why did it not just use the tests from the WHO? Wouldn't that have helped to speed up the process dramatically and maybe prevented these critical delays?
COHEN: Right. So, Ana, I think this is such an important point. First of all, let's be clear, what WHO has been saying is that they were giving basically instructions for how to give a test or how to make this test and that other countries, for example, Germany, picked that up very quickly.
So, Ana, this is a really important point that needs to be addressed. Why didn't the CDC just do what other countries would do and follow those directions? You know, the feelings I got from talking to people at the CDC was they thought, we have this, we're going to do this quickly, we can make this happen. And then they ran into these stumbling blocks and perhaps, Ana, it took them some time to raise their hand and say, yikes, we have a problem, we need some help here.
CABRERA: And, quickly, Dr. Walensky, if you will, do you have confidence that testing is where it needs to be right now?
WALENSKY: I think that we can understand the test that we have right now. I think estimates are somewhere between -- that we have somewhere between one-third and one-tenth the number of tests that we need in order to think about being on top of the testing issue.
CABRERA: OK. Dr. Walensky, Sara Murray and Elizabeth Cohen, my thanks to all of you.
And with some states planning to lift restrictions as early as next week, where does that leave professional sports? This was the reaction of NBA team owner Mark Cuban when he first learned court side that the NBA was suspending the season due to the virus after a player had tested positive. He joins us next to discuss the future of the game and the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.
CABRERA: Welcome back. One New York City suburb has been a major hot spot for coronavirus cases. The number of deaths there has been so big, the morgue is filled to capacity and the county has been pushed to its limit. CNN's Miguel Marquez reports.
MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The Suffolk County Morgue nearly overflowing with victims of coronavirus.
STEVEN BELLONE, SUFFOLK COUNTY EXECUTIVE: Not only are we seeing that death toll rise now, unfortunately, we're expecting to see it rise for the foreseeable future.
MARQUEZ: The county added two semi-tractor trailers, those two filled to capacity. A month ago, Suffolk County had no coronavirus related deaths, now, the toll is in the hundreds and growing.
BELLONE: We have on average 30 trauma deaths a month in this county. We're seeing a toll of 50, 60 people dying a day from the virus.
MARQUEZ: All COVID?
BELLONE: All COVID related. Yes, the numbers are staggering.
MARQUEZ: So staggering, the county has now called back into service the coolers of an unused meat processing plant. How many total will you be able to get into this facility?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is set up now to hold 300. We can get to 450 in this facility if need be. MARQUEZ: 450?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 450.
MARQUEZ: Let's hope it doesn't come to that.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I agree.
MARQUEZ: The county once farmland and wide open spaces now a second home for many of New York City's wealthiest families but about 20 percent of its 1.5 million residents are Latino, many speaking Spanish only.
The virus is much worse for the Latino community, she says, because we have no guarantees of work, healthcare or education.
Maria Cortez (ph) has a family of six. Now laid off from her job, she says she knows many people with coronavirus and several who have died. The entire family now home. Today, they're loading up with food they hope will last for two months.
It's hard to keep a job if you haven't been tested but you can't get tested unless you have symptoms, she says. And now with the virus, healthcare and everything is very expensive.
Hospitals and healthcare workers have seen a constant stream of critically ill patients, old, young, minority and white.
JENNIFER ZEPLIN, EMERGENCY DEPARTMENT, SOUTHSIDE HOSPITAL NORTHWELL HEALTH: Being an emergency room nurse, this is what you sign up for. You sign up to be there no matter what comes in the door. This is on a much bigger scale.
MARQUEZ: Here at Southside Hospital, the wave of patients in the E.R. has slowed, with a hospital that had 305 beds now has 418. A new tent is being constructed for coronavirus-only patients.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were maxed out. We've been maxed out for a while. Everyone is talking about New York City, but our local community has had a widespread disease and we've actually within the health system have had a very high percentage of patients in the ICU.
MARQUEZ: For the many suburban counties nationwide, Suffolk's executive has a simple message.
BELLONE: If I can convey anything to people across the country who haven't been hit, it's how quick this happens and how intense it gets and to do everything you can to prepare. Because once it does come, you are in for something that you've never seen before.
MARQUEZ: Miguel Marquez, CNN, Suffolk County, New York.
CABRERA: Coronavirus didn't start in the U.S. and America can't fight this enemy alone. Samantha Power was the ambassador to the U.N. under President Obama and joins us live just ahead. What did she learn from the fight against Ebola that President Trump needs to listen to before it's too late?
CABRERA: As states continue to deal with rising death tolls and testing and supply shortages, President Trump is defending protesters who are demanding that stay-at-home orders be lifted.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: These are people expressing their views. I see where they are and I see the way they're working. They seem to be very responsible people to me. But, you know, they've been treated a little bit rough.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: This follows a series of tweets from the president declaring that three states all led by Democratic governors be, quote, liberated, including in one tweet bringing up the Second Amendment. This is despite the fact that President Trump has left it up to governors to decide when it is safe to re-open their states.
CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond is live for us outside the White House. Jeremy, the president himself extended social distancing guidelines until April 30th. It's only the 18th today. So why is the president calling for states to be liberated? What does that even mean?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ana, just a day after President Trump said it was up to governors to call the shots about when they could begin to re-open their states, the president yesterday contradicting that message by tweeting at these three Democratic governors to liberate the -- talking about liberating those states. He is targeting three swing states in the 2020 election campaign, Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia, all critical to his re- election bid, all three with Democratic governors, supporting those protesters in those states.
Of course, we know that the backdrop to all of this beyond the fact that the president has been rearing to get the economy opened up again particularly ahead of his 2020 re-election bid, the president has also been facing backlash from some of these governors, both Democrats and Republicans, we should note, over the fact that there still is insufficient testing capacity. But I think it's pretty clear by looking at what the president is tweeting and the states that he's focused on that this is a political play by the president.
There are several other states in that same region of the Midwest, for example, Republican Governors in charge there, where they have very similar stay-at-home orders and yet we have not seen the president tweet similar things even though there are also protests in those states.
CABRERA: All right. Whatever happened to safety first is my question. Jeremy Diamond, thank you. We'll be right back.
CABRERA: For basketball fans, March Madness certainly took on a whole new meaning this year. And now, one month since the NBA season was abruptly suspended, instead of the NBA playoffs tipping off today, fans are still digesting the words of NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, who still can't say when or even if the season will restart.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ADAM SILVER, NBA COMMISSIONER (voice-over): Everything is on the table. I mean, it's clear that if we were to resume play we're looking at going significantly later than June, which is historically when our season and draft would have been completed.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: So with no foreseeable restart to the season in sight, NBA players have now agreed to take a 25 percent pay cut starting next month for any missed regular season games.
My next guest was watching his team host the Denver Nuggets last month when he saw the news flash, the league was shutting down after a player for the Utah Jazz tested positive for the virus. His stunned reaction seen around the world.
Mark Cuban is the owner, of course, of the Dallas Mavericks, the billionaire entrepreneur known to TV audiences as one of the investors on "Shark Tank."
And this week, President Trump tapped him to join an advisory panel on how to re-open the economy.
Thanks for joining us.
First, I want your reaction to Commissioner Adam Silver. Do you believe the NBA should resume this season?
MARK CUBAN, OWNER, DALLAS MAVERICKS: I hope so but we'll do what is best for everybody. It's going to be safety first and we'll defer to scientists and the doctors. There's nothing else we can do.
CABRERA: How soon?
CUBAN: Whenever the doctors say it's OK. I mean, setting a date doesn't accomplish anything. We'll just be agile as we can be.
CABRERA: Let me play a clip from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Of course, he is the nation's top infectious disease specialist. He had an idea for sports to return sooner but with a lot of conditions. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Nobody comes to the stadium. Put them in big hotels, you know, wherever you want to play. Keep them very well surveilled and have them tested like every week. And make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their families and just let them play the season out.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: Is Dr. Fauci's plan realistic if it involves taking whole teams hundreds of millionaire athletes and putting them in a hotel for several weeks?
CUBAN: Dr. Fauci is a rock star. Yes, that is certainly an option. There are so many things involved in pulling that together. Like Adam said, everything is on the table and we'll explore that among many other options.
CABRERA: Can you give us a peek behind the curtain as to what is going on behind the scenes among you and other owners and coaches and other leaders of the league in terms of trying to put together the plan for moving forward?
CUBAN: You know, again, there's not really a plan we can put together. The biggest mistake we can make is trying to rush. That is the topic going on around the country, right, when do we start acting as if things are normal or when can we dip our toes into opening up businesses.
There are so many tasks involved in that. Just simple things like masks or no masks. How do you do training to put on or take off a mask? What do you do with masks when they are disposed of? There are a thousand different little elements that have to be taken into consideration.
Do we allow immediate family? What about children? How do you train children to take a mask on and off? A 10-year-old is going to be playing with their face all day long.
There are so many components we have to explore and get right because we can't put anybody at risk.
CABRERA: The mayors of the two largest cities in the U.S. are warning it'll be a long time before fans are in the stands again. Let's listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ERIC GARCETTI, (D), LOS ANGELES MAYOR: It's difficult to imagine us getting together in the thousands any time soon so I think we should be prepared for that this year.
BILL DE BLASIO, (D), NEW YORK CITY MAYOR: If we move too quick we put 50,000 people in Yankee Stadium and that's part of why you see a resurgence of the disease that would be the worst of all worlds.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CABRERA: You are on the president's advisory board on how to re-open the economy so what are you telling him?
CUBAN: Just that. Not to take a chance and to get it all right.
I think what's missing and what I'll say the next time we convene is we need a task force that deals with all the little things that are required to open up any business.
It is not just about opening an arena but when we have any type of opening, if you are a local restaurant or retail store, and people want to touch the clothing before they buy it, what touch points are you going to allow?
How do you deal with 50 million people who have allergies and are going to sneeze into their mask? We don't know which may or may not be affected with COVID or anything else for that matter. What are the protocols for disposing of masks? Providing masks?
There needs to be a task force that deals with all the minutia required of opening up a business. The restrooms, right? How do you make sure people are washing hands? How do you train people to do all these things and make sure -- not necessarily make sure but hope they comply?
There are so many things that go into opening up the economy and getting it right so we don't have a resurgence of the disease.
That is one thing I'll be focusing on, detail, detail, detail, so the smallest of business doesn't feel like they are making it worse and can open up with confidence and safety.
CABRERA: I want to ask you more about that because we now know 22 million people have filed for those unemployment claims in the last four weeks I believe. The government obviously has a role in helping the millions of Americans find an economic lifeline right now.
But privately, people are also weighing what they can do to help, whether it is a small business that keeps paying its employees while their revenue dries up or a household that keeps paying a housekeeper.
Your team actually made the decision to keep paying all the workers at your arena. Do you think it is fair to ask all major sports teams to do that even while the games are canceled?
CUBAN: I mean, each owner for any business, whether a sports team or any type of business, has to make their own decision. Everyone is in a different financial position.
All I would suggest or ask is that, if you can afford to do it, continue to do it because it is really important to the bigger picture, really important to the economy. And those people who are living paycheck to paycheck need it more than anybody.
If we're going to rebuild this economy, it's not going to be the old- school trickle-down approach. That failed. What we need to do is recognize this needs to be trickle-up.
The more people we can keep paid, the more people we can keep working, the more people we pay, even if they're not working, the better chance the economy has a resurgence, sooner rather than later.
CABRERA: Here is your chance to throw out a challenge on live TV to all those other sports team owners in order to do what you're doing and paying the workers for those games.
CUBAN: Again, I'm not going to tell others how to spend their money.
But I will say this. Anyone who owns a business, the longer you can keep your folks on the payroll, despite the uncertainty of what is going on with the PPP programs and other SBA programs, the better it is for the economy.
And be transparent. Be honest. Communicate. When we try to get through this, the best ideas and opportunities are going to come from talking to your employees.
All the people at the top can talk all we want, but the reality is where the rubber meets the road and where the employees talk to customers and prospects, that's where the resurgence is going to come from. Those are the people we need to focus on. Those people are far more important than people like me or our shareholders.
CABRERA: People all over the country know you as one of the investors on "Shark Tank," all about getting small businesses off the ground. When you look at everything that is happening right now, where these business owners can't get the loans they need, how does small business and innovation possibly survive?
CUBAN: Well, that is what makes this country great. The innovation will always be there. Entrepreneurship will always be there.
The question becomes, you know, there are 30 million small businesses, probably 20 million of them have more than one employee. They're not sole proprietorships and only 1.6 million were funded. You got to figure there are 10, 15, 20 million small companies really in a struggle right now.
So everybody needs to continue to apply for the PPP loans. Call your Congress people, your Senators, and really push to get this thing funded.
Even with what has been discussed publicly, the $250 billion, that's just not enough. And so we really have to put into place exactly what needs to be done.
And the circumstances of the distribution have been awful. Right? Banks are doing their best but they were just not prepared. They didn't have the manpower to process all the applications, knowing that there's so much uncertainty of what will or won't get repaid to the banks.
I mean, if it were up to me I'd install a lottery where each applicant would have a number assigned. It would be put into a pool. And however many applicants there are, 20 million, whatever it may be, we go through a lottery. That way everybody has an equal chance. There's nobody with connections that gets an advantage. It doesn't matter if you've known your banker for 10 years or 10 minutes, you have an equal chance.
It's not the best solution but the only way to be fair.
CABRERA: You became a billionaire during the dot-com boom when people were walking around with cell phones and you predicted that much of what we use computers for right now would wind up in the palm of our hand.
And when you were asked some years ago by CNN Business what was coming next, you saw a future involving wearable health meters.
Obviously whenever society does re-open, we all face a completely uncertain future. But as someone who has a history of spotting trends before they happen, what do you think society looks like five years from now?
CUBAN: You know, America 2.0 is going to be completely different. I think, technologically, we'll do a lot more with personalized medicine. All this push to get a vaccine is helping us understand the human body and how we respond to treatment. We'll deal with robotics.
I think if we're going to bring back manufacturing to the United States and try to compete -- because of all of this, we've learned we need core products, whether it's medicine or PPE and other things. We need those manufactured in the United States.
You know, the old manufacturing 1.0 approach, where we just put people on the line, those days are gone. They can't compete.
In order to compete in America 2.0. we really need to invest in, quote-unquote, "the infrastructure of robotics." Japan, Germany, China, all kicking our butt in robotics.
By implementing robotics and being good at it and investing in it as a country, as part of the infrastructure programs, we can bring a lot of jobs back over here. We can bring the core, key products back over here. Robotics will be key.
Then finally artificial intelligence. Vladimir Putin, the Chinese, they both think that whoever dominates A.I. will dominate the future and they're absolutely right.
It hasn't been a focus of ours. We need to make it a focus of us. And we need to use it in a manner that helps not just big businesses where it is being applied now but also small businesses. We don't want to be in a world of A.I. haves and have nots or a country of that. But those are the key areas, personalized medicine, robotics, and artificial intelligence, that we're going to have to be great at as a country in order to compete and continue our standing in the world.
CABRERA: But won't those wipe out millions of jobs?
CUBAN: Exact opposite. With robotics, as an example, right now, jobs are overseas and being outsourced because it is the least expensive way to do it. By bringing it back over here and using robotics, you can make it even less expensive than what is being done overseas.
And by doing that, you bring back so many jobs dealing with the creation, the maintenance, the monitoring, the software, the evaluation of the robotics, that it'll exceed traditional manufacturing employment. You know, that's the only way it's going to work.
CABRERA: Mark Cuban, good to have you here. Thank you very much.
CUBAN: Thanks for having me on, Ana. I appreciate it.
CABRERA: Be well.
Straight ahead, the ambassador to the U.N. under President Obama, Samantha Power, joins us live. What her message to President Trump is for trying to handle a pandemic on the global stage.
CABRERA: The world has become smaller and smaller as a result of globalization. Products made in multiple countries sold around the planet. Workers in several continents can join a meeting at the same time virtually face to face.
This also means the ease of transportation and our interconnected nature has led to a global pandemic that has changed society as we know it in the blink of an eye.
The bottom line, whatever happens there, wherever there may be, very much happens here.
I'm joined by Samantha Power, the former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Obama, and author of the recent memoir, "The Education of an Idealist," in which she describes the mobilization of a global coalition to fight Ebola.
Ambassador, good to have you here with us.
When you were on CNN earlier this week, I heard you call President Trump's decision to suspend funding the world -- to the World Health Organization obscene.
But now we have the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying he believes there are issues with the WHO as well and that once the pandemic is over Japan will review its funding, too.
You obviously know what the global fight against Ebola entailed from a perspective few can share, the tough calls, the cooperation involved the world over.
So if the U.S. pulls back from engaging the world through the WHO at a time when information and resource sharing is so crucial, what fills that void?
SAMANTHA POWER, FORMER U.S. AMBASSADOR TO THE U.N. UNDER PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Nothing fills that void. It's called a vacuum. And it is what we're experiencing right now.
The United States leads, no matter what it does. And so it is not all together surprising, even, that you would see the Japanese government picking up Trump's call at just the time we all need to be coming together and looking out for those parts of the world that have none of the infrastructure that the Japan and the United States have.
Both of us are struggling mightily to wrestle this pandemic to ground. Imagine if you live in a country that has a total of four ventilators, which is true of South Sudan, or a country like Nigeria or Brazil or Bangladesh where people are living in incredibly close quarters in either slums or in refugee camps.
This is going to be immensely challenging for developing countries and vulnerable communities, even within developed countries, as we, of course, also see here in the United States. It is at just that time that we have to come together.
And as we think about how we procure just what we need in terms of protective equipment for our own citizens that we are looking down the field and recognizing that, for as long as this disease is raging in hot spots around the world, we are not going to be able to return to normal. The global economy is not going to return to normal.
And even though President Trump may wish it were the 18th century and we were disconnected from events in other parts of the world and disconnected to humanitarian emergencies, this is one that respects no borders.
CABRERA: There's a question over just how forthcoming China has been in terms of the virus's impact. For instance, the country claims less than 4,000 people died in Wuhan where this started. However, that's pretty hard to believe when we know more than 17,000 people have died in New York alone.
We also learned this week that the U.S. is exploring the possibility that this virus actually started in a Chinese lab in Wuhan and was accidentally released to the public. That is not the leading theory but it hasn't been ruled out.
Does China need to be held accountable on the global stage and if so in what way?
[15:49:56] POWER: China is an authoritarian country. China covered up information, vital information that the world needed in the earliest stages of the epidemic. That should surprise nobody. This is why democratic governance, accountable governance, transparent governance is so important.
So people who may have been drawn to the China model before this struck, I think they should think again.
And there has to be accountability. The Chinese people deserve accountability as it rips through their communities. And instead of locking up doctors and others who raised the alarm, China should be celebrating and learning the lessons of that cover-up.
This is a really important task and one that China needs to learn from, one, the World Health Organization, which was teed up and what China needs to learn from.
But right now, we still live in a world that is connected. And it's also extremely important that the United States and China begin to do a better job communicating, coordinating, mobilizing other countries.
What we did on Ebola was, when the United States led and made the investment of public health professionals and resources into West Africa. We leveraged that to get other countries to do far more.
Again, right now, we're at completely cross purposes. The United Nations hasn't even issued a statement where the major countries of the world embrace a global cease-fire. It hasn't even declared the pandemic a threat to international peace and security, even though we know that it is.
So in order for the international system to work, tempting though it might be to hope that the World Health Organization can do this on its own, it's going to require the major powers coming together and that requires U.S. leadership.
CABRERA: You have a thought-provoking new piece in "Time." You write about how 9/11 changed U.S. priorities.
First providing a sense of focus on fighting terrorism but later expanding to include wars and policies that, you write, quote, "Diverted high-level governmental attention that should have been focused on China's rising power and Russia's military and digital aggression. The national security establishment concentrated on terrorism dedicating paltry resources to battling climate change or preventing pandemics, the deadliest threats of all."
You even put a number on it, writing, "Since 2010, the U.S. has been spending an average of $180 billion annually on counterterrorism efforts compared to less than $2 billion on pandemic and emergent infectious disease programs."
That would have been when President Obama was in office. Did any recent administration take the threat of a pandemic seriously enough? POWER: I think, certainly, the infrastructure that was left in place
put the United States in a strong position to predict what was happening, to work within the WHO to ensure China did not have too much influence.
But the Trump administration, as you know, did away with the White House office responsible for pandemics, migrating it into a part of the White House where it didn't belong and where it didn't have the kind of clout it needed to mobilize prevention and response in the way that we need.
The White House, as you know, tried to cut World Health Organization funding well before this pandemic, tried to cut in half the WHO budget. Did dramatically reduce the number of CDC professionals who were working in China, who may have been able to sound the alarm even sooner than they did. Unfortunately, Trump ignored the alarm when it was sounded. But It could have come sooner, perhaps, if we had the people on the ground.
So I think some of the infrastructure was there, some of the resources were there.
But, no question, our conception of national security needs to be far broader than it is. Our over reliance on the U.S. military, where we have our soldiers who are fighting on their fifth, sixth, seventh tours in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, when the deadliest threat to strike America has been a pandemic, we have to get this balance far more right than it has been in the last decade.
CABRERA: Ambassador Samantha Power, I really appreciate and value your experience and insights. Thanks for being with us.
POWER: Thank you for having me.
CABRERA: We all want to help, of course, but sometimes that means putting yourself at risk. That's par for the course for volunteers with team Rubicon, a nonprofit that helps veterans give back during times of crisis. Founded by a former U.S. Marine and 2012 "CNN Hero," Jake Wood, the group is serving their country once again.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JAKE WOOD, "CNN HERO": Team Rubicon has launched a team nationwide neighbors-helping-neighbors campaign. Our volunteers are engaged in hundreds of communities all across the United States, ranging from helping to establish testing and screening sites in collaboration with major health care systems to assisting organizations like Feeding America and Meals on Wheels.
Veterans may have taken the uniform off, but they still have service in their hearts. They still have those incredible skills. And in times like this, we should be turning to the veterans in our communities.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
[15:54:48] CABRERA: Jake is encouraging all Americans to volunteer with his latest campaign. Anderson Cooper shares more about what he's doing, and how you can get involved at CNNheroes.com.
CABRERA: Thanks for joining us. You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera, in New York.
Breaking news right now, confirmation from multiple U.S. health officials that the American response to this coronavirus pandemic was delayed for (ph) weeks.