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U.S. States Grapple with Reopening; New Jersey Investigating Nursing Home Deaths; No Current Specific Treatment for COVID-19; Texas to Partially Reopen in Coming Weeks; U.S. Government Says Contact Tracing Crucial; U.K. Launches Vaccine Task Force; U.S. Surpasses 700K Cases; COVID-19 Affects People Differently; Air Pollution Decreasing during Lockdown; Married Nurses Embrace in Full Gear. Aired 4-5a ET

Aired April 18, 2020 - 04:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): The race to reopen the United States, critical questions are being asked, are there enough tests?

And is it simply too soon?

Also ahead --


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who have I seen in the last two weeks, where was I in the last two weeks, who was I in contact with, where do I work?

ALLEN (voice-over): It is called contact tracing or really trying to remember everything from the past two weeks, the new normal to avoid a resurgence of coronavirus cases.


ALLEN (voice-over): Also, the hug seen around the world. You'll hear from the husband and wife team risking everything to help save the lives of strangers. Love that photograph.

Hello, everyone. Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen. CNN NEWSROOM starts right now.


ALLEN: Thank you for joining us.

The U.S. fight against the coronavirus is getting increasingly political as much of the focus for the world's virus epicenter shifts to talk of reopening the country. This despite a week that has seen a surge in cases and deaths. Johns Hopkins University reports that the U.S. has more than 706,000 cases and more than 37,000 deaths.

Meantime, as a battle is brewing over plans to reopen the country, testing is seen as the key to do it safely. The White House insists that the capacity is already there to begin the process. But President Trump is not giving a timeline.


QUESTION: Which states are ready to reopen in your mind and how soon?

TRUMP: I want to let the governors make that decision. We're watching very closely. If we see something happening bad this we think is wrong, we'll come down very strong on that.


ALLEN: But he went on Twitter Friday and singled out several states led by Democrats, highlighting how many governors find themselves at odds with the president. CNN's Erica Hill has the latest.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): This is mayhem. We need a coordinated approach between the federal government and the states.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York Governor Cuomo repeating his plea for help with testing supplies and funding as the president tweets, states have to step up their testing.

CUOMO: Don't pass the buck without passing the bucks.

GOV. RAY COOPER (D-NC): When governors are faced with global supply chain breakdowns, when it comes to supplies and equipment, the federal government must help more.

HILL (voice-over): A handful of states may soon be ready for phase one of the president's guidelines but there is no one size fits all solution.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R-OH): Ohio's plan is going to be by Ohioans for Ohioans.

HILL (voice-over): Hospitalizations are down in New York City but all events there now cancelled for the month of May.

Texas schools will remain closed but not state parks.

In Jacksonville, beaches reopened Friday with limited hours.

MAYOR LENNY CURRY (R-FL): Folks, this can be the beginning of the pathway back to normal life but please respect and follow these limitations.

HILL (voice-over): Mississippi's shelter in place orders extended to April 27th.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): I know we cannot stay in this position for much longer but we are still in the eye of the storm.

HILL (voice-over): As New Jersey's governor warns face coverings may be here through the fall. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would bet the answer's yes, we will be masked

when kids go back to school.

HILL (voice-over): The president encouraging protesters in Minnesota, Virginia...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't keep healthy people locked in their houses and watch the economy just go down.

HILL (voice-over): -- and Michigan, as that state's governor doubles down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's better to be 6 feet apart right now than 6 feet under. And that is the whole point of this.

HILL (voice-over): In San Antonio, seemingly endless lines for food. And across the country, outrage and concern for some of the most vulnerable Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: When they lock down, we have no connection with our mom.

HILL (voice-over): A New Jersey facility now under investigation after more than a dozen bodies were found in its morgue, 36 deaths there now linked to COVID-19.


HILL (voice-over): Those on the front lines also sounding an alarm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Underpaid, understaffed nursing homes has been a problem in our country for a long time and this crisis has only made it worse.

HILL: And it is not just nursing homes that are a concern. In New Jersey, 50 residents at veterans' homes have now died of COVID related illnesses. In fact, 75 combat medics with the National Guard were dispatched to assist in those veterans' homes.

And in Massachusetts, the Holyoke Soldier Home, 47 veteran residents have died there. In fact, a federal investigation has been opened into the care at that facility. Back to you.


ALLEN: There are fears that the United Kingdom will be the hardest hit country in Europe because of the government's strategy at the beginning of the pandemic. National Health Service providers say there is a critical shortage of clinical gowns. They tried to get emergency deliveries from other country but it was too late.

Those countries had also run out of personal protective equipment. We know that's abbreviated as PPE. The U.K. is one of the most affected countries when it comes to this deadly virus.

We do not have a vaccine for COVID-19 or officially approved specific treatments and there are also many questions about testing. Let's get perspective from an expert. Gary McLean is a professor at London Metropolitan University.

Good morning, thank you for coming on.

Can you hear me?


ALLEN: Good morning, thank you so much for coming on.

MCLEAN: Good morning. Sorry about that.

ALLEN: That is all right. We're all trying to figure it out, live reporting in this era. I want to talk with you about -- just mentioned that the United Kingdom is still seeing shortages in PPE and is still behind in testing.

What do you see as issues facing the United Kingdom right now?

MCLEAN: Yes, obviously case numbers are still increasing. Europe is the epicenter of the outbreak right now. Many countries in Europe are really suffering. I think that we have to continue the way we are with the lockdowns.

The PPE issue is really an ongoing problem. We're seeing the frontline NHS staff really lacking for the essential equipment that they need. The government is, however, ramping up the testing for those people that are on the front lines, so we're seeing more people getting tested and hopefully that will continue.

And we'll consequently see case numbers dropping soon.

ALLEN: That hasn't been the case yet but that is a positive note. We'll take it.

We also know that there are many, many agencies around the world working on a vaccine. One is headlined (sic) in Oxford.

Are you encouraged over the search for a vaccine?

MCLEAN: Yes, it seems like this is an unprecedented effort. At least 115 different candidates underway. And these candidates have the full spectrum of platforms from killed or inactivated viruses to subunits, small pieces of the virus or even much more experimental approaches with the vectors put into other viruses and then used or even just RNA or DNA vaccines.

And we have to assume that these platforms worked in the past and that one will work in this case. But it will take time. The safety issues, regulation takes at least a year, in my opinion.

ALLEN: So meantime, until there is a vaccine, there is diagnostic tests, there will hopefully be an antibody test. We're hearing more about contact tracing, the need for that.

How do you get ahead of this disease other than social distancing right now?

MCLEAN: It is extreme testing. We have to test as many people as possible, really understand the dynamics of the virus and the outbreak and how many people do get infected.

It is always the old simple question, when there is a new infection, the population is not immune. We have to understand what proportion of the population do get immune and what proportion of the population do get infected.

We have to assume, once you are infected, you do become immune and that will protect all the other people. Until we have that, the only exit strategy is effective immunity, which is a vaccine. And it is just going to take time, more research, more understanding.

ALLEN: And you talk about the belief that, once someone has had coronavirus, they are immune. But we're hearing about a case in South Korea.


ALLEN: A mystery where 163 people who recovered have now retested positive.

MCLEAN: Yes, there is a lot of debate about that. It is an intriguing story. I'm not sure on the exact specifics of those cases and whether or not they had very high levels of antibodies initially or not.

A lot of this also depends on how effectively the test was done, what they are looking for in these situations is the virus. They need to swab inside the airways or through the nose, back of the throats, to find the virus. And if that is not effectively done, you could get a false negative presumably.

People with antibodies that get reinfected?

We know there are at least three different stratifications of antibody responses, the high, medium and those who may carry very few or no antibodies. So maybe some of these people did not have a strong antibody response in the initial stages of the infection.

ALLEN: Let's talk about the United States for a moment. We're in the middle of this battle. So many deaths, so many people have this. And the president is encouraging some states to reopen.

Without widespread testing, is now the time for the U.S. to ease up on distancing?

Everyone wants their economy back.

But is this the time?

MCLEAN: Well, it is really a fine balance. I think you've got to balance out the effects on the economy, which are going to be huge worldwide. It is not just the United States. Everywhere will suffer from this. And you have to balance that with the health aspects. I do understand

that it is very difficult and the authorities and President Trump have not got an easy job on this one. But I think that it is too soon to relax these measures of lockdown and quarantine.

These are the only effective measures in a pandemic such as this, where we don't have immunity or a protective vaccine, the only way of stopping the virus. And I think that it would being more dramatically worse to release things too early and see the virus come back.

At the epicenter in Wuhan, they had an 11 week lockdown. And I think the United States should look at what is happening in Europe first, because they are a little ahead in terms of case numbers. And we're not going to relief measures here in Europe just yet.

ALLEN: Agreed. Yes, Wuhan had many more deaths than we knew about, we just learned about that as well. Professor Gary McLean, thank you so much for your time.

MCLEAN: You're welcome. Thank you.

ALLEN: Just ahead here, the U.S. state of Texas, though, is ready to get back to normal, whatever that is. And the governor has a plan to make it happen sooner rather than later. We'll have a report from Dallas.

Plus, can you remember everyone you were in contact with weeks before the lockdown started?

People who were infected might have to answer that question before their lives get back to normal.






UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I feel like it is just entirely too soon. Don't go from making it seem like it is a huge deal and people, bodies literally dropping and say, oh, we can just open it back up.


ALLEN: Despite concerns about reopening everything too soon, some local U.S. governments are itching to get things back to normal. The states of Texas and Vermont have announced plans to reopen some sectors in the coming weeks. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Texas governor Greg Abbott has announced what he described as a phased approach to reopening the Texas economy. He made four major announcements today, the first being that Texas schools will remain closed for the rest of this academic school year. It will all remain online.

Secondly, he is outlining what he describes as, quote, "retail to go," essentially allowing retail stores to reopen in a limited way, allowing customers to come up to the doors and place orders and drive away with whatever it is that they are buying.

Thirdly, Texas state parks will reopen on Monday.

And then the fourth announcement, that an easing of restrictions on what kind of surgeries can take place surgeries can take place in hospitals and the governor says in the next 10 days or so they are even considering allowing more elective surgeries.

All of this happening as the stay-at-home order will remain in place for the rest of the month but that he will reevaluate that, depending on the medical data that we have and the flattening of the curve here in Texas and where the coronavirus cases stand.

But all of this really happening under a huge cloud here in Texas. This is a state with 29 million people and it has a dismal rate of testing. Less than 1 percent of the population has been tested.

The governor says a massive amount of private lab testing will come online by the end of April into early May. But there were few details about how many tests would actually be online and exactly how all of that would unfold and actually play out in reality.

So that is where we stand now, as many leaders in cities like Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin have expressed a great deal of concern about the low levels of testing in this state -- Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


ALLEN: U.S. public health officials say there is a crucial step needed for a safe reopening and that is contact tracing. That means tracking down anyone an infected patient might have come in contact with to contain the virus and keep it from spreading. But as CNN's Sara Sidner shows us from Los Angeles, it is not that easy.



SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Amy Driscoll says coronavirus had a her in a vise grip that wouldn't let go for weeks.

DRISCOLL: Every breath, every humidity, every raising your arms, rolling over in bed, every single thing is painful.

SIDNER: Less than two hours after arriving home from the hospital, her phone rang. [04:20:00]

SIDNER (voice-over): It was the county health department, asking lots of questions.

DRISCOLL: Who have I seen in the last two weeks, where was I in the last two weeks, who was I in contact with, where do I work.

SIDNER: The Health Department was doing what is called contact tracing.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): You have to trace every person who comes up positive. Trace means investigate. Investigate all those prior contacts.

SIDNER: Driscoll traced her steps. She had gone to work. Her boss and staff had to be contacted.

She went to a restaurant for lunch. She went to her hair salon, they had to be contacted. She went to a Cleveland Cavaliers game. All the family members who sat with her were contacted.

This kind of contact tracing is happening across the country and the world.

From those suffering through the deadly COVID outbreak in New York and those connected to the first major U.S. outbreak in Washington state, to California, the first place where a statewide stay-at-home order was announced.

Experts say without contract tracing and enough testing, America and the world cannot reopen safely.

JOSHUA MICHAUD, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION: We're going to be at risk of resurgence of this disease, not just in the fall, but going into next year.

SIDNER (on camera): So you're saying without contact tracing, without testing a massive amount, we could find ourselves right back where we started?

MICHAUD: I think we could find ourselves very much at risk of another resurgence.

SIDNER (voice-over): But the U.S. does not have enough people to do the tracing. State health officials estimate there are about 2,000 people doing this work now, but Johns Hopkins University warns we need at least 100,000.

(on camera): For now, contact tracing is only as good as your memory. This is hard. I mean, before stay-at-home orders, can you remember all the people you had close contact with over a two-week period, say, at the coffee shop? Or at the grocery store? Or at a restaurant? Or at your child's school?

And that's where big tech like Google and Apple are jumping in. They will soon have an app you can voluntarily download that works with health departments so they can see detailed location data from your cellphone. But the public may be skittish about it due to privacy concerns.

Contact tracing requires serious legwork. L.A.'s mayor is pushing for federal help.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D-CA): We're probably going to need hundreds of thousands of people who would be put to work. It should be funded by the feds by enacted locally.

SIDNER: As for Driscoll, her contacts have been found. The Health Department tells Driscoll that none of the people she was in contact with have symptoms so far. But testing is still a problem.

DRISCOLL: I've had no additional testing.

SIDNER: Amy says she was supposed to have two negative tests to make sure that she was no longer spreading the virus. She wouldn't have the testing because they don't have enough and it makes her worried to go back into the community safely.

And as far as how important contact tracing is, the CDC announced a pilot program and sending out protection teams to eight states to try to help ramp up contact tracing -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Los Angeles.


ALLEN: And, of course, these are all the steps being taken until there is a vaccine. The British government forming a vaccine task force to help fight the coronavirus, it is investing more than $17 million U.S. to help bring a vaccine to market as soon as possible. Nina dos Santos is joining us now.

Nina, may the NIH people win that come up with the vaccine that is safe and ready to go but it may be a while.

NINA DOS SANTOS, CNNMONEY EUROPE EDITOR: It may be many months from here, according to the government's chief scientific adviser. In a press conference yesterday afternoon, one of the daily coronavirus briefings that the government has been giving, it was up to the business secretary to announce these new measures that they are putting in place to try to ramp up protection of the vaccine with the announcement of this task force here that will encompass the private sector and some really big and effective pharmaceutical firms like GlaxoSmithKline and AstraZeneca.

And also they will be able to harness the academia that we have here in the U.K. as well, scientists at Oxford University and Imperial College claim that they could be close to having some kind of viable vaccine perhaps as early as September.

Also in the United States, some scientists have made similar claims at the NIH as well. However the broader scientific community also still remains slightly skeptical about this, saying that any vaccine could only be up and ready by the month of March. And a vaccine is a key way of ending the lockdown as safely and

perhaps as soon as possible. The other, of course, being mass testing to find out who has had the virus and who hasn't.


DOS SANTOS: So that those who have can go back to work and the economy can get back up and running.

ALLEN: Absolutely. We know that the United States is struggling with testing.

What is the latest from the U.K.?

They have had their issues as well.

DOS SANTOS: That's right. And one of the things that they have been trying to get at least in front of is being this issue of vaccines because, when it comes to as you discussed with your previous guest earlier personal protective equipment, the government strategy has been heavily criticized on that front.

The other one that is being criticized in terms of responses has been antibody testing kits. The U.K. has continued to set rather aggressive targets, up to about 100,000 people to be tested per day by the end of this month, according to the health secretary.

He announced that the U.K. is woefully way away from those kind of levels of testing. In the press conference I was mentioning earlier, the business secretary said that the U.K. now has the capacity to test around 38,000 workers.

Of course at the moment they are focusing the tests on those National Health System workers, the workers who are most potentially exposed to coronavirus. But he said not all of the people have been able to take them up. The level of testing, it is only around about the 20,000s and they will need to scale it up massively if they are to hit the 100,000 target.

And then, of course, there is the embarrassment of having bought millions of dollars' worth of tests from China that seem don't actually work.

ALLEN: All right. A long way to go. Nina dos Santos, thank you so much.

COVID-19 hits some people hard while others never have any symptoms. Next we take a look at why that might be.

Also during this pandemic, a tale of two cities, Singapore and Hong Kong. Both had aggressive strategies from the start. But now that they are fighting a second wave of cases, one of them has a clear edge. We'll look into it.





ALLEN: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

More now on our top story this hour, the growing political feud over how and when to reopen the U.S. economy. A day after insisting that governors would call the shots in their own states, President Trump tweeted for several Democrat-led states to be, quote, "liberated."

Meanwhile the country's cases and reported deaths are surging. There is now more than 706,000 infections in the U.S. and the number of deaths has surpassed 37,000, according to Johns Hopkins University.

Surviving coronavirus is not as simple as a patient's age or pre- existing conditions. Many healthy people have fallen victim to the disease while others never show any symptoms. Dr. Sanjay Gupta looks into why this may be.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): These were some of the first heartbreaking images we saw of the coronavirus in the United States. It was an outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, a nursing home. At the time, it made sense.

Earlier studies had shown the disease was more severe and more deadly among people who were older and had underlying conditions. Yet, all along, we kept hearing stories of young, healthy people also becoming extremely sick, like 30 year old Ben Luderer (ph).

BRANDY LUDERER, BEN'S WIFE: He came into our bedroom where I was laying and he said, I got to go. I have to take myself to the hospital.

I said are sure you want to go there?

Like are you sure?

He said yes, I need to.

GUPTA (voice-over): Or 39-year-old Conrad Buchanan --

NICOLE BUCHANAN, CONRAD'S WIFE: That day he was starting to decline because he did not have a horrible cough this whole time and then 20 seconds when I brought him to the hospital.

GUPTA (voice-over): Young couples, husbands and wives all infected. Yet, in these cases, the wives stayed relatively healthy, while their husbands became suddenly critically ill and died.

BUCHANAN: They would not let me in the hospital as he was begging that I need my wife. My wife makes my decisions. They told me to park the car. We thought I was going to get to go in with him and, when I walked up to the doors, the hospitals was on lockdown. They would not let anybody in. And that was it. I never got to see him. I never got to say I love you.

GUPTA (voice-over): Two days after Ben Luderer was released from the hospital, he was back home in bed.

LUDERER: I could hear through the door that he was still breathing and I fell asleep.

GUPTA (voice-over): By the time Brandy woke up in the morning, Ben had passed away.

Why does COVID-19 hit some people like Conrad Buchanan and Ben Luderer so hard, while many others have mild or no symptoms at all?

It is a question that Dr. Anthony Fauci posed to me when I spoke with him on my podcast.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I am fascinated, Sanjay, by what I would call the pathogenesis. You get so many people who do well. Then some people who just, bingo, they are not on a respirator and they are on ECMO and they're dead.

I mean, the dichotomy between that -- there is something there, Sanjay, that we are missing from a pathogenesis standpoint. I don't think if it's only if you are elderly or if you have underlying conditions. There is something else going on there that, hopefully, we will ultimately figure out.

GUPTA (voice-over): We still do not know the answer to this. But even over the last few weeks, I have been talking to multiple scientists and frontline workers, trying to better understand what is happening here.

For older and more vulnerable people, it could be that the virus itself overwhelmed their immune system. For younger people, it could be that their immune system was almost too strong, reacted too violently, resulting in a storm of inflammation.

AKIKO IWASAKI, YALE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: The cytokines are immune defense molecules that are normally used to control the infection. But when it is triggered in this way, it is an uncontrolled level of cytokines that ultimately damage the tissue, such as the lungs or the blood vessels.

GUPTA (voice-over): Some have told me, maybe it is the amount of virus itself.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: For reasons we do not understand, frontline health care workers are a great risk for serious illness, despite their younger age. Maybe it is due to a higher dose of virus they are receiving.

GUPTA (voice-over): A number of researchers brought up the idea that the answer could be in our genes, that maybe there is another risk factor besides just being older or having underlying disease.

DR. LEANA WEN, E.R. PHYSICIAN: Studies show that those who are more likely to have severe infections are those who are older or have medical chronic conditions.


WEN: But it is unclear what exactly counts as a chronic medical condition. Some things are very clear but some things are not.

BUCHANAN: There is no discrimination when it comes to this virus and seeing what my husband had to go through was horrible. Now our life has turned into this horrible nightmare.


ALLEN: So many families in so much pain.

Singapore had been getting praise for its efforts early on to stop the spread and now the country is reporting more than 600 new cases, bringing the total to more than 5,000.

The health ministry there says the overwhelming majority of these new cases are workers from abroad who live in dormitories. The tourism industry says it may use cruise ship to house foreign workers once they recover. Johns Hopkins University meanwhile is reporting that Japan is about to hit 10,000 confirmed cases.

And there is another story in Asia making headlines. Singapore and Hong Kong have very different plans to combat the coronavirus. Both are fighting a new wave of infections but one of them seems to have found a winning strategy. We get this story from Kristie Lu Stout.


KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): It's a tale of two cities amid one pandemic, Singapore and Hong Kong, two wealthy Asian societies that have launched aggressive virus fighting campaigns from the start.

Both cities tightened borders in late January; both turned away many visitors in March. And as both face a second wave of infections from residents returning home from overseas, cases spiked, especially in Singapore.

On April 13th, Singapore had more than 2,900 cases while Hong Kong had 1,009.

So how can Hong Kong, with a larger population sitting right next to Mainland China, manage to keep the numbers lower, at least for now?

Observers say it could be due to the people here and their collective memory of another pandemic.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: SARS remain very fresh on the memories of Hong Kongers. When COVID-19 broke out, the people knew we needed masks, we needed to be away from one another, we need to start becoming very hygienic about things, we need to listen to the medical people, we need to close borders.

The basic protocol that I think are found in any government in cases of pandemics in crisis, the Hong Kong people knew exactly what do. And they did it.

STOUT (voice-over): Nearly two decades ago, the SARS outbreak killed 774 people, just under 40 percent of the fatalities in Hong Kong. So at the start of the latest pandemic, Hong Kongers were quick to wear masks while in Singapore --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You don't need to wear a mask if you are not sick.

STOUT (voice-over): A government public service announcement said healthy people did not need to wear masks. Months later, it is now mandatory to wear a mask outside.

Another key difference, social distancing. In late January, Hong Kong closed schools and government offices, pressuring private companies to work from home while Singapore left its schools and government offices open. After a sharp rise in cases, including an outbreak among foreign workers in cramped dormitories, the city state changed course.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have decided that instead of tightening incrementally over the next few weeks, we should make a decisive move now to preempt escalating infections.

STOUT (voice-over): Singapore has closed schools and most workplaces and has also banned all social gatherings as part of a circuit breaker to fight the virus. From the start, they have been screening, quarantining, contact tracing and yet, months later, the city is under virtual lockdown.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That is the price we have to pay to combat pandemics such as COVID-19. Social distancing will be an integral part of all the lockdown or circuit breaker measures.

But the critical thing is that the government and the people have to remain eternally vigilant because it may be COVID-19 this year and the next year but there will be future pandemics.

STOUT (voice-over): With an outbreak, there are no shortcuts, only lessons learned from a still unfolding tale of two cities -- Kristie Lu Stout, CNN, Hong Kong.


ALLEN: There is definitely one upside to the widespread lockdowns and it is the air. It is so much cleaner right now, all around the world. We'll talk with our guest about that coming up here.





ALLEN: Here is a bright spot in the midst of this pandemic. This is Venice, Italy, the water is clear, the air is clean. Satellite images that you can find on give you a sense of why.

This one was taken about a year ago. You see the water around Venice, teeming with boats. The water is virtually empty now. It has been nearly seven weeks since the nationwide lockdown began, cutting off the flow of tourists.

While there are obvious economic concerns, there are also obvious environmental benefits. The lockdown is allowing Mother Nature to have a comeback as people remain indoors, cars remain parked, wild animals have come out to party.

In South Africa, an African penguin casually strolls through the parking lot of a restaurant near a popular beach. The restaurant is closed.

And in Argentina, sea lions are seen on an empty street by a harbor. The significant decrease in traffic has also done wonders for air pollution.

This is Los Angeles. Normally with endless traffic and smog, it is now clear. But this new cleaner air may not last long for the United States.

Reports say that the Trump administration has weakened regulations on mercury, a dangerous toxin, and air pollutants earlier this week, an apparent attempt to help the struggling coal industry. Let's talk more about this, joining me now from Oxford, England, is George Monbiot, he's an environmental campaigner and writer.

Good morning, thanks for coming on. First I want to talk about these beautiful pictures that we're seeing around the world. I personally have never seen such blue sky that we're seeing in Atlanta, normally a city with a lot of smog and traffic. Speak to that first.


And we are seeing in a recent poll here in the U.K. huge numbers of people saying we don't want to go back to normal when this is over. We want to stick with our low levels of air pollution, we want to be able to see the sky, we don't want it covered in a fabric of contrails.


MONBIOT: Let's try to lock in some of the positive environmental aspects of this terrible crisis so that, when we come out of this, we come out into a new economy, a green economy, one which doesn't depend on the burning of loads of fossil fuels.

And I think a lot of people around the world are feeling that. One extraordinary likely fact is that, overall, the pandemic could actually save more lives than it kills because of the huge numbers of people who die as a result of air pollution every year.

There are now more people dying of air pollution worldwide than of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. So we could well see that the awful tragedies and fatalities caused by the COVID-19 virus will be balanced out by a reduction of fatalities caused by air pollution.

ALLEN: That has been an interesting aspect to the story, has it not?

And you know, it also goes to speak to the reluctance for the world to tackle climate change, when we see what just parking cars and limiting businesses to some extent and how they run things, we can see the difference, it is right there. It is almost tangible. You can feel it in the air.

MONBIOT: It is very interesting, isn't it, because we're being told now for years, oh, you can't possibly make the changes required to prevent climate breakdown, the economy wouldn't stand it, people wouldn't stand it, no one would put up with it if you were to say, let's change lifestyles in order to prevent this great crisis from materializing.

And yet what we're being called to do as a result of this pandemic is a much more drastic and extreme change of lifestyles. We're not talking about the need for a lockdown to prevent climate breakdown; we're just talking about the need to change the way that we travel, to change the way that we heat our homes, to change the sources of energy that we use.

There will be some lifestyle changes but they're not nearly as far- reaching and severe as those required in the pandemic. But suddenly, you see, hang on a minute, it can be done. All these people who have been telling us that it was completely impossible to make such changes, well, we've made far more drastic changes and people do accept it.

ALLEN: Absolutely. Well, the one drawback might be the Trump administration, which has continued to roll back environmental protections.

Is there any hope there with this administration, with what we've seen their record become?

MONBIOT: It is quite extraordinary, isn't it. Last month the Environmental Protection Agency suspended all monitoring and enforcement of pollution. So companies can do as much air and water pollution as they like because there will nobody around to stop them.

This is quite extraordinary. Companies are saying that, because of the pandemic, we can't prevent releases of air pollution and water pollution.

You think, why not?

You can continue to operate your plants, you can keep the refineries going, you can keep the chemical plants going.

But there is something about this pandemic which stops you from maintaining pollution controls?

It is preposterous. This is a classic example of disaster capitalism, of people operating within emergency, making use of that emergency to get what they always wanted.

Unfortunately, Trump has always wanted to give them these moratoriums on public protections, to basically sweep away the protections that look after our health, that look after the natural world and give the big companies what they want.

And he is locked into that position because he is completely enmeshed in the society of the people who want a complete removal of those protections. And so, unfortunately under the Trump government, it is very hard to see that changing.

ALLEN: That is one unfortunate aspect. As the skies stay clear, we'll continue to hear the voices thinking, why not, why can't we keep it this way?

George, thank you so much for talking with us this morning, thank you.

MONBIOT: Thank you very much.

ALLEN: A fleeting moment caught on camera, married nurses in full gear share an embrace. They talk about that moment and what it is like on the coronavirus front lines ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM.





ALLEN: Now a photo that has tugged heartstrings all over the world. Two nurses married to each other, embracing in full protective gear. That's Ben Cayer and Mindy Brock, both nurse anesthetists in Florida. Erin Burnett spoke with them and asked what led to that moment right there.


MINDY BROCK, NURSE ANESTHETIST: It was like the second day we (INAUDIBLE) new COVID-19 airway team in our hospital. And Ben and I were actually on the way to work, driving that morning. We were a little stressed out. We were arguing about like who was supposed to empty the dishwasher or what music we were going to listen to on the way to work.

And we get into work and we do a couple of cases, do all these intubations. And we were sort of in between cases when Ben came over to my room. He was right beside me and that is when that picture was taken.

At that moment, we were just telling us each, this is something we've never seen before, you know, anything like this in our lives and that we just need to be here together for each other and all of that stuff we were arguing about, the mundane things, that doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things.


ERIN BURNETT, CNN ANCHOR: Ben, what was going through your mind at that moment when you walked into the room and saw Mindy?

BEN CAYER, NURSE ANESTHETIST: I was just checking on her because it was her first day, it was my second day. And I had talked to her the first night and she didn't understand why I was acting like (INAUDIBLE) mentally drained. And so I wanted to check on her and see how she was doing.

My day hadn't been perfect, either. So I went in there and it was like she was stressed but she was doing it, she was doing a great job. When I went in there, it is like we were just like what were we arguing about?

Why were we arguing about this stuff in the car.

This has never happened to us before and there are bigger things to worry about. And we definitely just -- I felt a strong bond that we were able to do it together like colleagues as well as being (INAUDIBLE).

BURNETT: It is an incredible thing.

Mindy, I know you and Ben volunteered, You were referencing it but I guess the airway team. So you are actually intubating patients. And that, as we now all know, the highest risk thing that you can possibly do in terms of exposure and just, of course, the tragedy of what you see, of people who are so sick and some of them dying and some of them not able to obviously see their own families in those crucial and painful moments.

Did you make the decision to join this team together?

BROCK: Yes, we definitely discussed it and we just felt like we wouldn't want to look back on this day and regret anything that we did, you know. I think this is the kind of thing that sort of defines you and you want to be there to help others.


ALLEN: Ben and Mindy, what a couple and what a great photograph.

I'm Natalie Allen. I'll be back with another hour of NEWSROOM, the latest on the coronavirus right after this.