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U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 38,000; Trump Says Pandemic Response Should Not Be A "Partisan Witch Hunt" But Criticizes Democratic Governors; Op-Ed: Doctors, Scientists Should Lead Briefings, Not Politicians; Governor: California in "Pandemic-Induced Recession"; Unemployment Claims Surge And Government's Small Business Loan Money is Gone. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired April 18, 2020 - 19:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM. The number of people here in the United States sick from the coronavirus now more than 732,000. The death toll surpassing 38,000 and rising.

Some perspective. A month ago, a month ago, on March 19th, there were 149 confirmed deaths here in the United States. Look at how it has exploded within a month. Around the world, those numbers are also soaring; 2.3 million people infected, more than 150,000 confirmed dead, but probably a whole lot more than that.

Despite the rising infection rate and deaths, President Trump says he believes some governors in the United States have, quote, "gotten carried away" with asking people to behave more safely and use so- called social distancing measures. Meantime, some states this weekend already starting to relax measures designed to contain and control the virus.

Look at Jacksonville, Florida. Officials announced a soft opening of the beaches there for a few hours each day. In Texas and Minnesota, state officials told residents they would lift some distancing measures while encouraging people to avoid crowds.

Also, some more perspective. A month ago, once again, there were only 149 confirmed deaths in the United States, and look how it has exploded over the past month. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters.

Let's begin with more from the White House briefing that just concluded. Our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us right now.

Jeremy, the President took direct aim at several of the nation's governors today. Tell our viewers what he said.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. Well, this was the latest attempt by the President to deflect blame and responsibility for some of the shortcomings of testing in the United States amid this coronavirus pandemic. The President taking aim at governors, Democratic governors in particular, even suggesting at one point that they simply don't want to use the testing capacity they have.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: And now they're giving you the other. It's called testing, testing. But they don't want to use all of the capacity that we've created. We have tremendous capacity. Dr. Birx will be explaining that. They know that. The governors know that. The Democrat governors know that. They're the ones that are complaining.


DIAMOND: And Wolf, that was just one instance where the President went off against Democratic governors accusing them of complaining even though the President's own health experts have acknowledged some shortcomings with the testing system in the United States. The President himself, in fact, yesterday said that the government was going to ship 5 million testing swabs to the states because of the shortages that some of those governors are facing.

And Wolf, it's not just Democratic governors. We also heard from Republican governors like the Governor of Ohio who has said that there are shortages of some of those critical testing supplies, namely the chemical reagent needed to conduct some of these tests and to really scale this testing situation up.

Wolf, the President also took aim at Democratic senators who had a call with the Vice President yesterday where they also raised concerns about this testing issue. And Wolf, this was really part of a broader pattern that we saw from the President today. It was an airing of grievances like one that we see from the President from time to time. The President focused really here on pushing blame and responsibility to others while avoiding any questions or any criticism of his own actions as President of the United States. Wolf.

BLITZER: He did also refer to this new study that came out, this estimate, this model from the University of Washington medical school suggesting that by April (ph) 4th, there would be an estimated 60,308 deaths here in the United States. 60,308, right now approaching 38,000. And he pointed out it could have been a whole lot worse. 60,000 deaths is clearly horrendous, but he once again suggested it could have been a whole lot worse.

DIAMOND: He certainly did, Wolf. And - of course, it is under the previous estimate that the President had been talking about, which was 100,000 to 240,000 deaths. That was the one that he cited when he enacted those 30 additional days of social distancing guidelines that end at the end of this month. Wolf, the President has even compared this to what would have happened

had we done nothing, that there would have been 2 million deaths. Of course, nobody in the United States, no American would expect that the President, in the face of a pandemic, would do nothing. So that comparison there, Wolf, seems to not ring quite true.


BLITZER: All right, Jeremy. Thanks very much. We're going to get back to you.

Jeremy Diamond is our White House Correspondent.

So how dangerous is it to reopen America when we see people flouting social distancing guidelines in public. The President spoke about the protest to reopen America at his briefing just a little while ago. Listen to this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: --these protesters are protesting your social distancing guidelines?

TRUMP: I don't know. I mean, I noticed there are a lot of protests out there. And I just think that some of the governors have gotten carried away. We have a lot of people that don't have to be told to do what they're doing. They've been really doing everything we've asked them. We have a few states where, frankly, I spoke to the governors, and I could have gotten them to do, if I wanted to do, what would have been perhaps politically correct, but they've been doing incredibly--


BLITZER: All right. Joining us now, the President of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris. Also joining us, CNN Medical Analyst, infectious disease specialist, Dr. Celine Gounder.

Dr. Gounder, in an op-ed for, you say it's the doctors, the nurses, the scientists who should be leading these White House coronavirus briefings, not politicians. And clearly, the President is a politician. But why do you say that?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST & EPIDEMIOLOGIST, AND HOST, EPIDEMIC PODCAST: Well, Wolf, I spent two months as an Ebola aid worker in Guinea, and at the time, they had their own presidential elections. And you had people who were, quote- unquote, "health educators" going door-to-door wearing the yellow T- shirts and yellow scarves of the ruling party.

It would be like having somebody coming to your door with a Trump or Biden T-shirt or baseball cap telling you this is how to prevent coronavirus. And that's really what led the people in West Africa to say Ebola is not real, this is just an election tactic, and not to believe the very important messages being delivered by scientists and doctors. And I think we're seeing a similar problem here where unfortunately

the President is taking advantage of these briefings for - to replace really what would be his rallies. And that really distracts from the messaging. It needs to be apolitical and by people who are really just focused on the science and the medicine.

BLITZER: Clearly, Dr. Harris, the President is among those pushing to reopen America. We all want to see America reopened. But what do you make of it? Is it too soon right now? It's unlikely the President is going to turn his briefings over completely to scientific and medical professionals.

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, Wolf, about three weeks ago, the American Medical Association sent a letter to the National Governors Association, asking them to all put statewide stay-at-home shelter-in-place orders in place.

And so, today, we also are urging extreme caution as we loosen those restrictions. We know that our testing capacity needs to be robust and that our surveillance needs to be robust, the ability to test and track. And that will require an enormous public health infrastructure.

We also need to see the number of cases and infections go down. And certainly in some places, it is, but we are seeing new hotspots every day. So we advise extreme caution. Social distancing is working. And we are not out of the woods. And so we really need to exercise extreme caution in loosening any restrictions. And really, let science and the data guide any decisions around loosening restrictions.

BLITZER: So, Dr. Gounder, when you see people out there protesting against social distancing right now, what goes through your mind?

GOUNDER: Well, I see those - I see those groups of people and I think, wow, how much transmission is occurring among those folks, and it has me very worried for their health. In 14 days, we might see outbreaks of cases of coronavirus among the people that were standing in those rallies just this past week. And that has me very concerned for them.

BLITZER: What did you think, Dr. Harris, when you heard the President go after the Democrats for keep talking about testing, testing, testing. Why - tell our viewers first of all why testing is so critically important right now.

HARRIS: Well, it's important that we have the data. We need to know how many infections we are seeing daily. We need to know the number of hospitalizations. We need to know the number of hospitalizations. We need to know the number of deaths. We need to know the community spread. And in order to know the community spread, we need the testing.

We need the diagnostic testing so we can know who has an active infection. And we also need the antibody testing, so we can know who may have had an infection and didn't even know it. We know that there are asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic carriers. So we really need the data to lead any decisions about loosening these restrictions.


And also, we are in - this is a public health crisis, and it requires public health focus. We need clear and consistent messaging from our public health leaders, and we really need to take the politics out of this. Lives are being lost. The data points on those graphs are people. And they're families. And we really need to make sure that we keep focused on the science and the data and not the politics.

BLITZER: Yes. And when you just look at the numbers, and as I said before, these are mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. These are all real people. They're not just numbers by any means.

Dr. Harris, Dr. Gounder, as usual, thank you very much for your expertise, and we're grateful to both of you for what you're doing.

And just ahead, we're going to get the latest from the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He'll join us live. Also, California's Governor says his state is now coping with what he calls a pandemic- induced recession. Stay with us. Lots of news. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: The world's fifth largest economy is now in free fall because of coronavirus. We're talking about California. The Governor there says his state is now in, what he calls, a pandemic-induced recession. The unemployment rate soared in March alone to 5.3 percent. That's the biggest jump in recent memory. More than 3 million Californians filed unemployment claims in just over the past four weeks.

Paul Vercammen is joining us from Los Angeles right now.

Paul, that city has just reached, unfortunately, very sadly, a tragic new milestone.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. A new death toll released. In the last 24 hours, 81 deaths, that's the most in Los Angeles County since the coronavirus outbreak and also 642 new cases. What's causing that mounting rise in deaths? Perhaps one indicator, county health officials alluding to their extreme concerns over COVID- 19 in nursing homes.

Now, for that economic pain you alluded to, Wolf, 5.3 percent unemployment, we're starting to see very long lines at those free food distribution events. This one in the farming town of Santa Paula. $50 billion in cash receipts. That was the latest number tabulated by the state for all of that agriculture and for farmers and growers. They say there just are not enough restaurants, stores and suppliers to buy their produce, and that's having a ripple effect.


SCOTT DEARDORFF, OWNER, DEARDORFF FAMILY ORGANIC FARMS: Our harvesting crews average from 80 to 100 people. And so we would normally be working five or six days a week, harvesting celery and various other vegetables. But because of the decrease in demand, we're only harvesting a few days a week just to cut to order and special orders for customers who already have contracts with us. So consequently, our employees are working less hours and less days.


VERCAMMEN: So less hours. We've got unemployment, underemployment, and that farmer, Wolf, he says that he is losing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

BLITZER: Paul, California was already dealing, as we all know, with a really massive homelessness crisis before all of this coronavirus crisis erupted. The Governor out there announced action on that today. Tell us what he's planning.

VERCAMMEN: Well, what he wants to do is get homeless people off the streets and into hotel rooms. He's secured about 11,000 so far, and he will secure more. He toured a site in Campbell, California, a Motel 6. And he says this is not only to protect the vulnerable homeless people but also to protect those frontline nurses and doctors in the hospitals, because if there's a COVID-19 spread in the homeless community and they started jamming up those hospitals, then you've got a real problem. So they're being very proactive with that, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. The homelessness problem, not only a problem in California, but all over the country. Here in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, you always see some homelessness going on. But in the last couple, three weeks, I've seen a lot more. Unfortunately, very, very sad.

Paul Vercammen in L.A. for us. Thank you, Paul, very much.

Joining us now, Larry Summers, the Former Treasury Secretary under President Clinton and also a former chief economic adviser to President Obama during the great recession that we all remember as well.

Mr. Secretary, I want you to look at the national economic picture in a moment, but first, we just had that devastating report. You heard it from California. Record jump in unemployment there. 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits across the country over the past four weeks alone. How much of a bellwether is California for the U.S. right now? Because this is a real crisis and I suspect even worse than the great recession of 2008-2009.

LARRY SUMMERS, FORMER TREASURY SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON & FORMER ECONOMIC ADVISER TO PRESIDENT OBAMA: I think it's much worse than the great recession. In the worst week of the great recession, between 700,000 and 800,000 people applied for unemployment insurance benefits. We've now had three weeks where the number was above 5 million. So we're talking about something very different. I think the unemployment rate is likely to get up near 15 percent or possibly even higher. So the increase in unemployment will be twice what it was in the great recession. And I think it's - we're seeing in the hundred ways that this is

manifesting itself worst for the people who are most disadvantaged in our society, who have less room to physically distance themselves, physically, who are in less of a position to continue working at home than some of the rest of us are, who have less access to medical assistance that they may need, who often in part because of their disadvantage have worse health conditions or more likely to have high blood pressure or more likely to be overweight.


So this is going to be far, far more burdensome than anything that has happened since the Second World War in terms of its impact on the poor. And anyone who thinks we are halfway through this is making a very, very serious mistake.

BLITZER: Yes. I suspect you're right. The President - the Former President, President Obama singled out your work in helping the nation to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. Right now, what's the most important thing you believe that President Trump and the Congress should be focusing on when it comes to this economic emergency?

SUMMERS: Prudently, social and physical distancing. Look, I had a health - I had a problem in my legs, ruptured tendons, a year ago. I was eager to get back running, get back exercising, get back doing all my things. And my doctors told me, you can do that if you want, but if you do that, you'll be back at square zero because you'll reinjure them and you'll have to go through the whole process of rehab again. I listened to them, and I'm doing fine today.

If we try to come out of this too soon and too fast, we're going to be back locked down harder for longer. So number one, we got to stay prudent in terms of the pace. And number two, we've got to be making massive investments with effectiveness in testing, in contact tracing, in masks, in infrastructure to support distancing.

People think there's like, well, there's a little bit of money we've got to spend doing the health stuff right, and then the big money is in some stimulus program. The truth is that we should be spending tens of billions of dollars, which will pale off tenfold by averting depression in a health infrastructure to move us past this. And that's the way we've got to be thinking.

Instead of talking about new stimulus programs, which are absolutely going to be necessary to support demand, we need to be throwing every resource we have into testing and contact tracing and things that will enable us to live with this. And the tragedy is that that's where we are massively under-investing.

Look, the 14th century solution to epidemic or pandemic was nobody could get near anybody else. The 21st century solution is to be smart about testing and targeting and using resources wisely.

BLITZER: To err on the side of caution when it comes to all of the above. The small business loan program, as you know, that came out of the $2 trillion stimulus package is already out of money. We're talking about $349 billion. It burned through in less than two weeks. So how much damage is it doing to the U.S. economy while Americans wait for their program to be funded again? As you know, there's a split between the Democrats and the Republicans in the Senate and the House right now.

SUMMERS: Look, we should not be having partisan wrangling about funding businesses that people have built over a lifetime on which whole communities depend that need the cash now. That we're having partisan wrangling reflects terribly on our system.

I suspect we're going to need the amount of money we've spent again. But we need to use it - we need to learn from our experience. We need to rewrite the rules so that hedge funds can't apply, so that consultants can't apply. The Senate people were able to apply is too broad. And we need to target really small businesses.

Most of the money right now is going to businesses that aren't General Electric or Facebook, but businesses that have hundreds of people working for them and millions of dollars flowing through their accounts.

What we need to do is open a window that really works for the smallest businesses for what most Americans think of as small businesses; florists, barbershops, local stores in disadvantaged communities, restaurants, liquor stores, small - genuinely small businesses, pizza shops, sushi shops, sandwich shops.


Those are the businesses that most are on the brink right now. And they need the money, not mining companies, restaurant chains and the like.

The tragedy is that the people who least need the money have the lawyers and accountants most on hand to apply for money. What we need to do in this next round is cut out the hedge funds and reinforce the smallest businesses. A country like ours should be able to figure out how to do that.

And we've also got to recognize that just as important as the work that small businesses are doing is the work that small towns are doing, is the work that small non-profit organizations giving relief are doing, is the work that community hospitals are doing. And we've got to give money to those who aren't in life for a profit, but who are in it to help others, and who desperately, desperately need that money--


SUMMERS: --at a moment when more than ever people need help.

BLITZER: Yes. The challenge is enormous right now. Secretary Summers, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.

SUMMERS: Thank you. BLITZER: All right. New York City, more deaths than almost any other country right now, at least confirmed deaths from the coronavirus. The city is going to change in ways unimaginable only a few weeks ago. I'll speak live with the Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio. He's standing by. Stay with us. You are in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER,: Turning to the nation's coronavirus epicenter, we are talking about New York City, the site of more than 135,000 coronavirus cases and more than 13,000 deaths and both of the totals by the way, higher than those from all but a handful of countries outside of the United States.

The New York State Governor, Andrew Cuomo declared that the state is not going to reopen until testing is ramped up, and the Federal government steps in with more funding and the New York City Mayor, Bill de Blasio has echoed that, adding that major cities around the United States are simply running out of money right now.

Mayor de Blasio is joining us right now. Mayor, thanks so much for joining us on an incredibly busy weekend. As you know, the President pushed just a little while ago on calls for a national testing plan. He says, some states just don't know how to use the tests. Can you reopen your city, the Great City of New York, without Federal help on testing?

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY: No. Wolf, the answer is no -- 8.6 million people here at the epicenter of the crisis. We have been asking for testing from the beginning, and Donald Trump blew it in January, in February and in March. He did not get us testing.

If he had, it could have changed the entire course of this crisis. I can't tell you how many thousands of lives and we will never know, but I know it would have been thousands and thousands of lives that could have been saved.

And now, he is in denial. Now, he is trying to blame people who -- we can't make testing appear out of thin air. The Federal government is supposed to marshal the resources of this country. He has never used the Defense Production Act to the fullest. He has never really taken charge of this situation.

And so -- and I have spoken to him repeatedly, Wolf. I have appealed to him to understand because all he wants to talk about is restarting the economy. I want to restart the economy, too.

But if New York City and the cities all over the country don't have testing, we cannot restart. If we are going broke and we can't provide basic services for our people, we can't restart. You won't have an economic recovery if this President does not step up.

So he blew it the first time. He has got one last chance, literally one last chance. History is going to judge him, Wolf. Did he do something at this moment in April of 2020? Did he actually take responsibility? Did he provide the testing? Did he provide the money that cities need to get back on their feet in this stimulus bill that is being talked about right this minute in Washington? Did he raise the voice and pushed the U.S. Senate to act or did he remain silent and deny that he had any responsibility?

If he fails this time, history will have its final judgment that he is the reason why this crisis got so bad and when he had a chance to do something about it, he was silent.

BLITZER: Your city is first, the community testing sites, I understand opened up on Friday. Tell us about those, and how residents should be using them.

DE BLASIO: Wolf, we have seen in this crisis another crisis, which is the disparity crisis. We have seen that this horrible disease hits harder in communities that already lacked healthcare, that were poor and that had had so many disadvantages already -- communities of color, immigrant communities. That is who has borne the brunt, and so we are doing the testing now in the hardest hit communities for people who are older and have those preexisting conditions that really endanger them.


DE BLASIO: We want to make sure that the testing is focused on their needs and of course, as always on our first responders and the healthcare workers, but we are doing it with a limited supply.

We don't have much testing. We don't have enough PPEs -- personal protection equipment. We have just now had a little bit more personnel to work with, but only now.

It has been hand-to-mouth for weeks and weeks, Wolf. And the reality is that the Federal government never took charge of this crisis. Donald Trump was never really hand-on-the-wheel addressing what we needed to.

So, cities and states are trying as best we can to come up with something that we can do to protect our people, but we didn't create an international pandemic, and our nation has left us in so many ways defenseless. But we are trying, we are trying to reach the people who are hit the hardest.

BLITZER: The President keeps referring to the beds that the Federal government helped to put in place at the Javits Convention Center, and the U.S. NS Comfort, the U.S. Navy hospital ship that is in New York right now.

He says a lot of the ventilators went there. What do you say to him when he makes those points?

DE BLASIO: Wolf, I will always give credit where credit is due. I had numerous conversations with the President where I asked for those very same things. And I am very appreciative as a New Yorker that that help arrived. It

was very important to us. But, Wolf, it is not like the crisis is, you know, convenient and it ends really easily just when one ship comes in and it is all over here, we can all say, we're done here.

No, this is something we are going to be dealing with for months and months until we are finally safe, until our people are safe. So I talked to President several times in the last few days and I said, look, thank you for what you sent, but if we don't get the testing, we can't get back to normal.

If we don't have a stimulus that makes us whole, we will literally go broke. I said to him. I know he appreciates the New York City Police Department and our firefighters, our first responders and I said, Mr. President, we are not going to be able to provide those services if we don't have any money.

Wolf, I announced my annual budget. We are predicting over $7 billion in lost revenue. I spoke to the Mayor of Miami who told me about the vast amount of money they have lost, the Mayor of Denver told me the same, the Mayor of Carmel, Indiana told me the same.

I'm talking to Democrats. I am talking to Republicans and they are all saying the same thing. We can't restart if our local government can't even provide basic services so you can have a functioning economy.

Business leaders, labor leaders, they are all saying the same things. If the cities are not working there, the economic engine for this country, for every region of the country, if we can't provide the basics, how on earth are you going to have an economy that functions?

And we can't -- where am I going to find $7 billion in the middle of a pandemic and a global economic crisis? The only place that can come from is the Federal government. You know what? They are talking about it right now in Washington.

Speaker Pelosi and Senator Schumer have said this should be part of the package right now, stimulus 3.5. I said to the President directly, if you would just say the word, the Republican Senate would jump. Mitch McConnell would jump, all you have to say is, this is the right thing to do, and he has been silent. And that is on him.

If our cities fail, if our economy fails because he refused to act, then Donald Trump not only blew it the first time, he blew it the second time, and that will be on him for the rest of history.

BLITZER: Yes, so much of the -- all of the major cities whether New York or Miami or L.A. depends on hotels, restaurants, and tourism, and coming in, and none of it has happened at all.

I just want to thank you, Mayor de Blasio for coming in. Good luck. Let's see what Congress does, and the House and the Senate and what the President does as well. I know you're desperate for some cash coming in from the Federal government. Appreciate you joining us.

DE BLASIO: Thank you, Wolf. BLITZER: Coming up, take a look at this, we are showing you live

pictures from Jacksonville, Florida, right now, where the beaches are open and the crowds are out. Is social distancing going out the window there? We will have a live report.



BLITZER: It has been less than a month since the Florida Governor Ron deSantis closed down the Sunshine State beaches. The decision which took effect March 23rd came after it became clear the spring break crowd could not manage the concept of social distancing, but as some state beaches relax the rules, there is more trouble potentially brewing.

Look at these pictures from last night, Jacksonville, Florida where some of the beaches were reopened. CNN's Randi Kaye is joining us.

Now, Randi, it is clear that at least some people aren't paying much attention to keeping those safe distances. What have you been seeing during the course of the day?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: What we are seeing a lot of, Wolf, is this right here. This is a beach officer, he is trying to tell the people that the beach is closing in 15 minutes, because the hours are limited here in Jacksonville, so they come through on the regular basis and they announce for people that they need to keep the social distance.

They also tell them the hours which are 6:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. in the morning and 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the evening, so just a few minutes left here.

But as you mentioned there, social distancing, we are not seeing a lot of it and that seems to be a real problem here. I mean, the crowd has certainly thinned out, because it is close to closing, but throughout the day, we have seen people hovering together. They have set up their beach blankets. They have set up their coolers. That is what is not allowed.

Only essential activities are allowed according to the Mayor of Jacksonville, and that would be running and swimming and surfing and walking your dog and fishing perhaps.

But you can't -- you are not supposed to congregate. You're not supposed to set up a cooler. That is just not allowed.

So we actually called the Mayor's Office and we said, how do you think this experiment is going? This soft launch or this soft reopening? And we got a statement from them saying that they do think people are taking it seriously, including the social distancing.


KAYE: They think that many people are following the guidelines, but they said they do need everyone to follow the rules which is clearly not happening, and they did reiterate that they should stay six feet apart from anyone who does not belong to your household. ' We are not seeing that. People walked right through our area, as we were getting ready even just to talk to you. They are just not paying attention to those rules, and that they are only supposed to use the beach for exercise, Wolf, which again, we are not seeing. We are seeing them congregate on their beach towels and sitting with their coolers hanging out.

BLITZER: We will see what happens on that front, all right, Randi. Thank you very much, Randi Kaye reporting.

A crisis, meanwhile, on the USS Theodore Roosevelt. The latest on the plight of those sailors. That is next. We will be right back.



BLITZER: Right now, the coronavirus crisis aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt is growing worse and worse. According to the U.S. Navy, four additional crew members from the aircraft carrier have now tested positive, that brings the total number of crew infected to 669.

Of those with confirmed cases, eight currently are in the hospital with one sailor in intensive care. As of today, 94 percent of the crew has been tested.

Dr. David Shulkin is the former Veterans Affairs Secretary under President Trump. He is joining us right now on the phone. Mr. Secretary, when you look at how this outbreak was handled, what message does it send to these sailors and Marines aboard this aircraft carrier?

DR. DAVID SHULKIN, FORMER VETERANS AFFAIRS SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP (via phone): Well, I think that it is most important to our men and women who serve that they know that they have officers that are looking out for their best interests.

And we saw with the Captain that was dismissed that he was looking out for their interests and he knew that he needed to get help, and we want our officers to be able to stand up and do what's right.

Because watching men and women get sick like this, they can't do their job. They can't protect their country and we have to keep them healthy and well to be able to defend the country, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, the President ridiculed the Commander -- the Captain of the Theodore Roosevelt because he wrote letters complaining. Those letters were leaked and the President said he is writing letters, who does he think he is, Ernest Hemingway? That was pretty awful when we heard the President speak about this Captain of the Theodore Roosevelt the way he did.

The President also says some areas of the country could start reopening this month. But just today, The Pentagon announced that it is extending travel restrictions for the entire Defense Department, all the U.S. Military personnel, the civilian personnel, through June 30th. What does that tell you, Mr. Secretary?

SHULKIN: Well, it says that there's a big problem in the Department of Defense with the infection growing, and the very first mission that you have in the Department of Defense in terms of health is to have mission-ready personnel, and so they're taking the actions that are appropriate to make sure that they have as many of our soldiers and sailors and Air Force personnel ready should they be needed.

And I think they have to be very processed about moving quicker than we really should because not only is this a very contagious virus, but what we know from all pandemics, Wolf, is that there are often second waves that come.

So we have to be very careful monitoring this and we have to make sure we have the testing capabilities to make sure we know what type of infections are out there in the community.

BLITZER: We certainly do. We have to err, as I keep saying, on the side of caution right now because lives are at stake. You're also warning, Dr. Shulkin, that the next major crisis looming over the country could be a very, very serious drug shortage. Just explain what you have in mind.

SHULKIN: Well, I think that this pandemic has exposed a lot of problems with our healthcare system with access to care to fragmentation of care. But one of the most serious ones people aren't talking about is our supply chain issues.

So many of the drugs that we rely upon, that Americans rely upon, are not manufactured in the United States. They come from India. They come from China, and those countries have put some exports on key ingredients we need here in the U.S.

And so our hospitals are running out of very common drugs and very common supplies, and this is putting everybody at risk. Unfortunately, we're not talking about it.

The F.D.A. has told us there are shortages, but haven't told us which drugs are in short supply. And frankly, we need to be much more open about this if we're going to solve this problem.

BLITZER: We certainly do. That's a very, very important point. Dr. Shulkin, the former Secretary of Veterans Affairs, thanks so much for joining us.

SHULKIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: As the U.S. coronavirus death toll climbs and climbs, President Trump is calling for state social distancing restrictions to be relaxed. But who should be making those decisions? We'll speak live with the former White House Chief of Staff, the former Mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. He's standing by. Stay with us here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


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