Return to Transcripts main page


Mayors Beg Washington; Interview With Former Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D), Chicago; Texas Set To Reopen; Interview With Mayor Sylvester Turner (D), Houston; Interview With Former Surgeon General; Contamination At CDC Lab Likely Cause Of Early Testing Delays; Food Banks See Surge In Demand As Unemployment Soars; Communities Of Color Hard Hit By Coronavirus Pandemic; More Than 1,300 Inmates Test Positive For Coronavirus At Three Ohio Facilities. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired April 18, 2020 - 20:00   ET


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.

Globally right now, more than 2.3 million people have contracted the virus. More than 150,000 of them have passed away. Here in the United States, the death toll is now above 38,000 people, 38,000 fatalities. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, not just numbers. The number, by the way, was zero, get this, only seven weeks ago. Over the past seven weeks, more than 38,000 Americans have died.

But with some cities still overwhelmed, by the way, by sick and dying Coronavirus patients right now, new potential hot spots being identified. President Trump remains focusing -- focused right now on returning -- trying to return the country to some sort of pre-pandemic normality. Even lashing out at some state governors for what he calls getting carried away with orders designed to keep people safely apart from one another. To keep people safe and alive.

Here's the president just a little while ago over at the White House.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are a lot of protests out there. And I just think that some of the governors have gotten carried away. You know, you 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 anyway.


BLITZER: The president also blaming governors over and over again for not doing enough testing right now. Even though many states are reporting dire shortages of critical testing supplies. And, also, a shocking revelation today. Federal health officials now confirming to CNN the reason the United States was slow to roll out Coronavirus testing in the early days of the pandemic. FDA officials now say contamination at a CDC laboratory caused weeks of delay -- weeks of delay that greatly impacted the U.S. response to this public health emergency. With the government's first explanation for what stalled those early initial crucial tests.

Let's go to Jeremy Diamond, our White House Correspondent, right now. Jeremy, so, what were some of the major takeaways from what we heard, a little while ago, from the president?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, what we saw, from the president earlier today at the White House, was his latest airing of grievances. And the president, in particular, shifting the blame and the responsibility for the testing shortages, that we are seeing in several of the major hot spots around the country, to governors, Democratic governors in particular.

The president, at one point, even suggesting that some of those governors don't want to use the testing capacity that's available.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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: Now, Wolf, we see the President there going after some of those governors, despite the fact that his own public health experts have acknowledged some shortfalls with the testing issues in -- across the country.

Of course, we know that many of these places are not able to test as much as they could. Some of these labs, in fact, are sitting unused because of the facts that they are missing some of these critical supplies. And it's not just Democratic governors.

We've also heard from Republican governors, including the governor of Ohio. Who have said that they are missing critical supplies, including that chemical reagent that is needed to actually conduct these tests. And to ramp up the scale of the testing that they are actually conducting across the country.

But, Wolf, this was the latest attempt by the President to shift blame onto others. We have seen this president repeatedly. And testing, of course, has been one of those major issues throughout the entirety of this pandemic. The president, earlier, had said that he takes no responsibility at all for the testing shortages.

Instead, we have seen him blame a rotating cast of characters, Wolf, everyone from the media to the Obama administration to the World Health Organization and even China. That was a big focus today.

Of course, Wolf, there are different issues to criticize China on for the way that it responded to this. Its lack of transparency. But, then, Wolf, the question is raised as to why the president, during those critical weeks when the virus began spreading in the United States, he wasn't criticizing China. He was, in fact, praising its transparency -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes, he was. All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House. Thanks, once again, for joining us.

As we saw tonight, the president continues to stoke his feuds with different governors. But the nation's mayors are also playing key roles in this fight. The former Chicago mayor, Rahm Emanuel, previously served as chief of staff to then President Obama. His new book, by the way, is entitled "The Nation's City: Why Mayors Are Now Running The World."


BLITZER: Mayor Emanuel, thanks so much for joining us. As you --


BLITZER: -- as you probably heard today, the U.S. Conference of Mayors issued a statement. It was an important statement. Let me read it to you, in part. "Without federal support, many (cities) will be forced to lay-off employees and make cuts that will hurt public safety."

What's the worst-case scenario that the mayor of Chicago, the mayor of New York, Miami, L.A., so many mayors around the country, are facing right now, if they don't get a lot of federal financial support and don't get it soon?

EMANUEL: Well, Wolf, I mean, they're going to make -- they're going to be faced, and the publics are going to be faced, with horrible choices between public safety, public health and all the basic services that mayors are trying to keep going in their cities. Just think about, also, all the sanitation you're going to need and the capacity.

Look, the economies in their cities have been adversely affected, as it's true across the country. And the ability to keep funding basic functions of municipal government are going to be adversely affected which is why the Congress and the White House, and I know the Congress under Nancy Pelosi's leadership, understands and hears the -- not the complaints so much as the aspirations of the mayors and governors across the country to keep basic functions of a city operable.

And you need the United States government to be that partner. They're not asking them to do the job, but they're asking them to be the partner in helping execute that job and putting the resources there.

BLITZER: Otherwise, these cities are simply going to go broke, because they're not going to have money to pay the bills.

EMANUEL: Well, it's not just -- it's broke. But it's also -- remember, it's to pay the bills of a police officer, an EMT worker, a firefighter called on an emergency, garbage services that keep a certain level of sanitation. Your own city in Chicago, you have six community health care clinics that provide basic preventative care throughout the neighborhoods and adversely in poor neighborhoods. All those type of functions, and more, would be adversely affected.

So, it's more than just keeping the lights on. It's actually delivering essential services as we, as a community, come together and try to help the most vulnerable in our cities.

BLITZER: As you heard, the president just said, a little while ago, that some governors, he's referring to Democratic governors, have gotten carried away, his words, with social distancing measures. Does that put pressure on state leaders to open up their states more quickly?

EMANUEL: You know, Wolf, look, I really wish the president focused on how to -- as much energy on how to bring the country together, lay out a clear, concise plan with milestones, what needs to happen so those milestones could be achieved, as he does trying to figure out who to blame and shift responsibility.

Look, early on, China was clearly putting a disinformation campaign on. Unfortunately, President Trump was also acting in a totally dysfunctional manner. And the truth of the matter is, you need testing. You need an entire public health system set up to handle what's going to be waves of, obviously, sickness here.

Everybody wants to see some level of the economy and society and their community come back. But to do it in a responsible way requires a partnership between federal, state, and local governments with clear capacities, understanding.

And one of the things that we just say to you is, what is I think we should all take note of. While there's a lot of blame to go around, there's one place I would put, one in particular, praise to the American people for taking on the responsibility of understanding, what it means, their role in public health. They have been incredible.

And if you're honest and forthright with them and say, here are our four milestones over the next four months. Here's what it's going to take from you. Here's what we're going to do. The American people will go forward and understand their role and function that way.

Look, every governor, Democrat and Republican, who have been clear with the public, here's how we're going to change your life. They have seen their poll numbers go up, even when they've been honest about something tough. The public will handle this. Don't lose sight of that.

And rather than shift blame, try to point fingers, be forthright. Everybody wants to see the same thing, a balance of good health and public health with the ability to have some sort of normalcy return. Knowing that we're never going to be normal until -- fully normal until there's a vaccine. And given that, just be upfront with people. Tell them the role they have to play. Here's what we're going to do. And if we all do this, we can actually achieve both a balance between our -- saving our lives and saving our livelihood. Rather than making this an either-or choice.

BLITZER: I just want to get your reaction, Mayor, to what the president just said. He was -- as Jeremy Diamond was just reporting, he blamed a lot of various institutions, people for the awful situation that the U.S. is going through. The world is going through. But he also, specifically, blamed the Obama administration. You were the White House chief of staff under President Obama. He said, we inherited a broken, terrible system.


BLITZER: Our cupboards were bare. We started with garbage. So, what's your reaction, when you hear the president go after the former president in a way like this?

EMANUEL: Look, there have been repeated pandemics. And you know, President Clinton, in 1999, set up the first reserves. President Bush, in 2005, really built it up. President Obama was very clear about what we needed with an early warning system around the world. How to put the reserves in place, so we could actually be on the front end.

The key to any pandemic, which is why President Obama set up the system inside the national security and our early warning system around the world, is what you do in those first weeks will allow you to stay ahead. And those first eight weeks, President Trump was dithering, was dysfunctional, in denial about what the problem is. Those are lost eight weeks that are not like any other eight weeks.

Now, rather than I -- as I said, rather than try to spend all this energy trying to point fingers at either China, President Obama, governors, the media, take responsibility, not just the authority. And if you do that, the country will respond. But he is spending all his energy trying to divide America and figure out who to blame, rather than be accountable and responsible and being forthright with the American people.

I actually -- I've said this before, Wolf. Everything that's required of a leader in a crisis, being honest, being forthright, being a unifier, being understanding, what it takes and being clear about what it takes, are all going to run against his instincts. He wants to spin. He wants to not follow the science data. He wants to divide, not unite people. This is a challenge, and it's going to work against Donald Trump, because it runs against every instinct of his.

And crisis require a level of leadership, of forthrightness, unity, and also understanding what the facts are. And none of those things, in his last four years, have you seen him been -- actually those are things he has aspired to or been transparent about. And I think it's going to be a real problem for him, as you're seeing right now.

BLITZER: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, thanks so much for joining us. EMANUEL: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, despite new cases and a lag in testing, Texas could be the first state to reopen in a matter of a few weeks. But will Texas mayors follow suit? The mayor of Houston is standing by. He'll join me live.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Let us work. Let us work. Let us work. Let us work. Let us work.

BLITZER: Protesters gathered today in Austin, Texas, calling for the state to reopen one day after Governor Greg Abbott announced a May first target date for exactly that. Which means Texas is now, potentially, on track to be the first state to reopen, despite lagging far behind other large states, when it comes to Coronavirus testing capacity right now.

The governor assembled a task force to look at incremental steps for reopening, as he balances pressure to reignite the world's tenth largest economy, with warnings from medical experts about the deadly consequences of a too-early restart.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is on the scene for us with more.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Texas Governor Greg Abbott has announced what he describes as a phased approach to reopening the Texas economy. He made four major announcements. The first being that Texas schools will main closed for the rest of this academic school year. They will all remain online.

Secondly, he's 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're buying.

Thirdly, Texas state parks will reopen on Monday. And then, the fourth announcement that the governor made is that an easing of restrictions on what kind of surgeries can take place in hospitals. And the governor says, in the next 10 days or so, they will even considering allowing more elective surgeries.

All of this happening as the governor says the stay-at-home order will remain in place through the rest of this month. But that he will reevaluate that, depending on the medical data that we have in 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, Coronavirus testing, at this point. Less than one 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's 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.


BLITZER: Thanks very much, Ed, for that report. With Governor Abbott's target date, by the way, of May first, less than two weeks away, he says Texas is past the worst of the virus. But the state's data this week shows Texas's trend line, in cases and deaths, is still on the rise.

The Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, is joining us right now. Mayor Turner, thank you so much for joining us. Do you agree that the worst of the pandemic, as far as Texas is concerned, is behind you?

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D), HOUSTON, TEXAS: Well, Wolf, we haven't yet reached our peak yet. Some say we're getting very, very close. But, today, for example, we added another 121 cases confirmed positive to the city's total. We are now -- we are now right at about 2,700.

The good news for the city of Houston is that we didn't add any deaths. And so, we're the fourth largest city. We have 31 deaths from COVID-19.


TURNER: But we are still -- we're still in the storm. There are -- there are very positive signs. I'm encouraged by that. There are slower -- more fewer admissions to our hospitals. Our medical professionals are telling me that it does appear that we'll be able to handle the caseload within the existing capacity. All of that's good news.

But the testing has been very limited. And we need a lot more of that before I'll -- before I'll start to feel even more comfortable.

BLITZER: At his news conference a little while ago, President Trump mentioned your governor, Greg Abbott. I want to play those remarks, and then we'll discuss. Listen to this.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I can tell you, the governor of Texas, Greg Abbott, he knows what he's doing. He's a great governor. He knows exactly what he's doing.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: So, what do you think? Is that May first target date, that the governor has set, is that realistic, as far as Houston is concerned?

TURNER: Well, let me -- let me just say this. We're all anxious to reopen the economy. I'm certainly anxious to reopen the city of Houston. That's important. But it is important how you do it.

I do agree with the governor, that it needs to be in stages. It needs to be in incremental steps. I do agree with him in canceling the school classes for the rest of the school year. And I do agree with the retail stopping, you know, picking up and taking the items away. I agree with all of that.

But the precursor to opening up this state or to the -- opening up the economy is the testing. And the testing needs to be robust, ubiquitous in nature. And, right now, it's just not enough.

For example, for the two public sites that we have set up by FEMA in the city of Houston, we've reached our maximum capacity at about 3:00 this afternoon. We were scheduled to go until 7:00. So, we tested a total of 1,000 people. We need a lot more of that.

And then, we know that there is more community spread. Even though it's 2,700 cases, I know there's more community spread within the city of Houston. So, before you can open up, you need to know where this virus is so that you don't open up too soon.

As long as we are acting in accordance with the medical professional advice. That we have robust ubiquitous testing. We have plenty of supplies and plenty of capacity within our hospitals. Then, we can take those next steps towards opening up this economy.

BLITZER: Well, we hope you'll get to that point and get there soon. All of us want to see it, but everybody wants to be safe at the same time.

Mayor Turner, good luck to everyone in Houston. We appreciate your joining us.

TURNER: Thanks. Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Some states, like Texas, look to open. Many are lagging behind in this critical issue of testing. We're going to tell you why proper testing is simply so important to getting back to any sort of normality here in the United States.



BLITZER: Shutdowns, face masks, quarantines, those were some of the immediate reactions, as the Coronavirus pandemic began sweeping the United States. But, as many areas are starting to see the important flattening of the curve right now, the focus turns to reopening and figuring out the new normal. And that's where testing comes in. But not everyone understands its full importance. Listen to this.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: I spoke to one of my daughters last night, who shall go nameless. But she said to me, what are they all talking about, testing? Which was sort of sobering. I think I'm communicating information, facts, and my daughters are probably some of the most informed people on the situation, given the hardship they endure being my daughter during this period of time. And she was, like, I don't understand all of this about testing. Which is, again, it's a wake-up call to me.


BLITZER: All right, let's discuss with the former surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy. Also Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo is joining us from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. Dr. Murthy, help us understand why widespread testing is so critical right now.

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thank you, Wolf. And it's good to be with you. Here's a simple way to think about testing. Tests serve like our -- the function that our eyes serve. They allow us to see what is going on in our community and around us. And if we can't see where the infection is, it makes it hard for us to direct our efforts at containment, and certainly at treatment.

And that's what's happened, actually, over the last few months. Is we haven't had the ability to see clearly. And so, in fact, the virus has run rampant. And we detected it, often, too late. And it's, you know, run the risk of overwhelming some of our health care systems.

So, that's why, as we think about going forward, we know that, in order to open up, you've got to have the ability to test really broadly in the population. Because what we don't want to do is -- after having asked people to make extraordinary sacrifices to stay at home, to take economic hits, to keep their kids home from school, to make all the gains that we've made right now, we don't want to risk another massive spike, because we don't have the ability to test and contain infection clearly.

And, finally, keep in mind this. That when we talk about testing, there are actually three components that are critical. One is the number of tests that we're able to do per day. But, also, the distribution of tests matters. We need to make sure that they are widely available everywhere.

And, third, the turnaround time matters. Right now, there are still place that are waiting three, four, five days for results.


That's time and then delays that effectively lead us to burn through more protective equipment in hospitals and make it harder to really make our containment efforts efficient.

So testing is at the heart of what we need to do if we want to open up quickly, if we want to open up safely.

BLITZER: It's critically important right now.

Jennifer, the United States is what doing about 150,000 tests a day, but some Harvard researchers say the U.S. will need to get to 500,000 tests a day to successfully reopen. How do we get there?

JENNIFER NUZZO, EPIDEMIOLOGIST: Well, it's a good question. I mean, one of the things that we need to do is to understand what the bottlenecks to testing are. It's shifted over time. Initially, it was because we couldn't roll out the test to the state public health labs. That's no longer an issue.

The state public health labs can do it. But there now seems to be other bottlenecks, like shortages and the supplies that the laboratories need in order to run the tests, shortages and supplies that clinicians need in order to take a specimen from a patient and send that specimen to the lab.

And critical shortages and personal protective equipment that's needed for the people to use when they are taking the specimens. We don't want them to get sick while they're right up in someone's face and obtaining a specimen.

BLITZER: That's a very important point indeed.

Dr. Murthy, we now know CNN has confirmed that contamination or the CDC lab was likely the cause of some critical early delays in rolling out a COVID-19 test. How does something like that happen?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, when you're dealing with a new entity, in this case, a new coronavirus and you're trying to both learn about it and act at the same time, and you're trying to do all of that quickly, things can break.

And so, you know, I know that in many of the responses that we've had in Republican and Democratic administrations, you've seen stumbles. But the real question though is not always is there going to be a stumble because there will be, something will go wrong.

The question is, how quickly do you recover from that? What do you learn from that? And can you be honest and transparent with the public while you're going through your response effort?

And I think what we've seen is that, well, they're incredibly bright people in the administration in the CDC, across HHS, who are helping to work on this pandemic. And I know this because I've worked with many of them in prior years. We've seen an uneven effort, I think, when it comes to communicating clearly and making sure that decisions are being driven by science, instead of by other sort of means.

And so I think as we -- as we move forward, what's going to be really important for the administration is to make sure that it is really hitting on all cylinders and pulling out the stops to ensure that the three critical things need in order to open up our testing capacity, our ability to trace and quarantine and our ability to treat effectively, which means that we have all the PPE and other materials that we need.

They've got to be making sure that they're pulling out this tops on that. And to me, that means what we needed at this point, given that we do not have time to waste, this time equals lives loss, is we need to have a pandemic production board. We need the government to take over the supply chain of critical elements of testing as well as protective materials. And we need that production ramped up quickly and coordinated by a board the way President Roosevelt did during World War Two with his wartime production board.

Time is really of the essence and pandemic responses time equals lives lost. And that's why I worry in so many other public health experts do that every moment we waste not using every resource at our disposal to ramp up production, is time that we cannot get back.

BLITZER: And very quickly. Jennifer, did those faulty early tests leave us blind to the spread of this virus?

NUZZO: Absolutely. We lost a tremendous amount of time. I mean, we should have -- back in January, I've been thinking about how we were going to expand testing one to figure out the virus was already here, and how widespread it was. But now we've essentially only really started thinking about this in March. And so that's several months lost that we basically allowed cases to accumulate to the point where our health system was on the brink.

BLITZER: Dr. Nuzzo, thank you so much for joining us. Dr. Murthy, thanks to you as well. Thanks to both of you for what you're doing.

There are some shocking and truly sobering images from across the country this week and they're revealing the growing number of Americans who simply can't put food on the table.

Coming up, how states are trying to make sure families simply have enough to eat.



BLITZER: Another 5.2 million American workers file for unemployment benefits last week alone. Since mid-March, four weeks ago, the total number of Americans who will apply for these unemployment benefits is a staggering 22 million. Many are simply turning to food banks to feed themselves and their families.

But even as demand is soaring, farmers are actually being left with little choice but to destroy some of their products, as demand from restaurants has simply dried up almost overnight.

Joining us now the former Agriculture Secretary under President Clinton, Dan Glickman. Now, Mr. Secretary, thanks for joining us. And it's amazing because farmers in California, they're actually letting crops rot in the field. Other farmers, they're simply pouring milk away. But people in so many cities right now we live paycheck to paycheck are unemployed, they are hungry, they need food on the table. How do you get this kind of food to the people who really need it?

DAN GLICKMAN, FORMER AGRICULTURE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT CLINTON: You're right, Wolf. This is just such an enormous anomaly that's happening. A lot of farmers and ranchers can't get their food to the table for a lot of reasons. Meat and poultry plants have shut down for the short time.

A lot of other processors have shut down because their workers have tested positive for the virus. So there's no place for them to take their food. And a lot of this food needs to be refrigerated. And so in the short term, ironically, it's being thrown away, and that's one big problem.


And the other -- the other problem is that we've never had such an increase in the number of poor so quickly, even greater than the Great Depression.

So while a lot of these people may qualify for food stamps, or the SNAP program, in the meantime, they've got to get food to survive. And we've got to find a way in this crazy but very complicated supply system for food that we have to get food directly to them.

So far, I think we're going to be able to do that. But if this thing continues for a long time, and if restaurants aren't buying, if the schools aren't in session, it's going to be a really tough problem for the suppliers of food and for farmers as well.

BLITZER: Well, we're seeing more and more food processing plants are simply shut down due to these localized outbreaks of the coronavirus. How great of risk is this to the overall food supply in the United States right now?

GLICKMAN: Well, it's not a risk to food safety, per se. The virus is not a problem in terms of the safety of food. But if you don't have people working in the meat and poultry plants, and if other processing plants are impacted, let's say fresh vegetables and fruits are affected, it's going to affect supply.

And because food needs to be refrigerated and trucked and sent all over the country, it could have an impact on what people can buy in the grocery stores.

Right now, there is no crisis. The biggest crisis is for the poor. There's just dramatic increase in unemployment, making sure that these food banks have enough food and making sure that people know how to qualify for food stamps and the SNAP program. That -- that's the biggest challenge right now. But we've not seen a food supply problem like this probably ever, even during the Great Depression. And so, you know, the system's just going to have to open up as your previous speaker said, we need much more testing in order to get regular order going so the plants can reopen, and so that people can get food.

But a big chunk of this problem is the traditional supply of food and restaurants, hotels, colleges, universities, those are just completely shut down right now.

BLITZER: So to speak, as a former Agriculture Secretary, a former member of Congress from Kansas, what's the one thing that keeps you up at night right now when it comes to America's food supply?

GLICKMAN: Well, two things actually kick me up. One is lots of poor people not having access to food. I think we, in our generosity, the private sector, the public sector, the charitable organizations, the nonprofit world will do our best to see that from happening.

The other thing that really worries me is that if you get an increase in the virus in these plants, these plants often have people working very closely together meat, poultry, and other food processing plants, we've got to figure out a way where those plants are safe enough for the virus is reduced so that they can operate, even at a somewhat reduced level.

Otherwise, what will happen is there won't be any markets for farmers. And so you're going to see farmers and ranchers hit really hard at us at the time when the people of the -- of all the country, rich and poor need food, but particularly the poor are the ones that are going to be hurt the hardest.

BLITZER: Secretary Glickman, thanks so much for joining us. We'll listen carefully to everything you said. I appreciate it very much.

GLICKMAN: You're welcome. Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Communities of color have been disproportionately hit very hard by the coronavirus, and a new CNN special later tonight hosted by our own Don Lemon and Van Jones, will take a very close look at the effects on those communities. Both of them, they're standing by live. We'll do a preview when we come back.



BLITZER: We're just learning this evening that more than 1,300 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus across three facilities in Ohio alone. CNN has been told that inmates are tested positive and inmates who did not test positive are now being separated.

CNN's Don Lemon and Van Jones are with us right now. Their special, the color of COVID airs later tonight at 10:0 p.m. Eastern. We're all looking forward to that. We're going to discuss that in a moment. But, Van, I want to get to you first. You worked with the Trump administration to pass what was called the First Step Act, which focused on criminal justice reform here in the United States. What needs to be done now to prevent situations like this one in Ohio?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, I think people have to understand that the prison population could really super accelerate the virus for everybody. People says, geez, people are in prison, I don't care. I've got my own problems.

We've got 2.4 million people in prisons, the biggest prison population in the world, a quarter of all prisoners, and the virus is spreading at5 to 15 times the rate there, which means that as the guards come in as food sources come in, they're going to be re-infecting that population and then the community that's dangerous for everybody.

So what you got to do is three things, you got to take the old folks, the sick folks and people with minor charges, get them out through compassionate release, have them in home confinement. Number two, you got to stop putting people back into prison for minor little offenses. You know, probation violations, because anybody arrest right now could be a death sentence. So you want to only put in people who are serious.

The last thing, you've got to rush in masks, you've got to rush in medical supplies because people in the prisons cannot socially isolate. And so PPE becomes a life or death matter in the prisons. So what you want to do, get people out safely and intelligently. Don't put more people in unless you have to, and then rush in those medical supplies.


The Department of Corrections under Trump has given orders like that, but we're going to slow and implement them. And you got all 50 governors across the country. The National Governors Association, along with Reform Alliance, where I work, have put these guidelines forward. But we need action quickly before it gets out of control.

BLITZER: Yes, it was very strong point. Very strong point. Go ahead, Don.

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: There are foundations that are helping out like that. Robert Kennedy's foundation, Kerry Kennedy contacted me the other day saying that they had, for the past three weeks, they have bailed out more than 200 people in 10 cities and going to other cities. They are getting people who have even small violations as low as $25. And up bailing them out for jails for low violation, because they're coming in contact with COVID.

And just people who just can't even afford to get out of jail for $25. And so I'm sure they're saving probably hundreds of lives or people from at least from getting sick. And that's Kerry Kennedy. So I just want to give them a shout out for what they're doing to help people who are incarcerated at this time, and not -- no longer incarcerated. JONES: Yes. And honestly, you know, courts, they should just drop the bail for everybody who's minor to zero and just get them out. But I definitely applaud Kerry Kennedy for what she's doing.

BLITZER: You know, Don, give us a preview of what we can expect in your really important special that airs right after our special SITUATION ROOM later tonight at 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

LEMON: Well, Van and I want to talk about along with some very important people, especially people who are on the front lines of this. We talk about why people of color seem to be affected more by this. And it's not because people have a genetic predisposition to this. It is because number one, there are health disparities when it comes to this healthcare, disparities when it comes to this.

It's also because people live quite honestly it's because of race. It is because of economics, it is because of poverty. It is because of where people of color have been placed in the society. It is because of, we need to take care of ourselves, as always, as usual. And I don't want to blame the victim.

But we need to look at the structure of racism in our society, and why people are more prone to all -- not just this particular tragedy or pandemic, why as the governor of New York said, there weren't rich people or rich white people who were on rafts are struggling on roofs during Katrina

Why it seems to be affecting poor people and immigrants and Latino people and black people and brown people in this country and beyond. So we're going to look at that. We're going to look at the experts. And we're also going to have some famous faces who are going to talk to us about this as well. And we're going to have our Van Jones as well, who is, you know, our criminal justice warrior and our race warrior here to talk about all of that as well.

BLITZER: Well, speaking about famous faces, Van, I want you and Don to listen to this. This is one of them who is going to be joining you later tonight, Will.I.Am. Listen to this.


WILL.I.AM, MUSICIAN: What's up everybody? This is Will.I.Am. I'm here in Los Angeles, California quarantined in my studio. And I want to take this moment in time to show a lot of love and appreciation for all the nurses and doctors fighting in the hospital in the frontline. I also want to thank all the drivers and delivery folk and all the people working in the supermarket, keeping the world moving. Without you guys, the world would really be a mess. Thank you so much.

I also want to thank all the mentors and the teachers teaching online and all the students that are doing a great job focused during these times. I know firsthand that these kids, especially the kids, in low income communities, how hard it is for them if they don't have laptops or connected Wi-Fi. That's why we at the I.Am.Angel Foundation are equipping our students with Wi-Fi and laptops so they could move forward with their dreams to go to college and not only go to college to fill jobs, but to create jobs.

Our students are focused on science technology, engineering, and mathematics, and these are the fields that are going to be needed right around the corner. So if you want to help out, I.Am.Angel Foundation and all our students during these times, please look under I.Am.Angel so you can see the work that we do and the students that we help out. Thank you guys so much. That's what I'm focused on during these times. And we could use the help. Thank you.


BLITZER: Very nice. You know, Van, who else among the personalities, the special guests that you're going to have later tonight will join you?

JONES: We've got -- Sean Diddy Combs is going to be giving shout-outs to people. We've got America Ferrera. It's going to be an unbelievable display of love and support and hope. It's not just the hard hitting facts which we got to get into, but we also -- there's hope but people breakdowns can lead to breakthroughs if we use them right. And there's -- some beautiful work is going to be lifted up by some of these celebrities tonight. It's going to be beautiful tonight at 10:00 o'clock.

BLITZER: We're going to watch it very, very closely. And thanks to both of you guys for putting this together. Thanks to CNN for orchestrating a really important hour that we're going to see later tonight. 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right after our special SITUATION ROOM. Guys, thanks, very, very much.


LEMON: Thanks, Wolf.

BLITZER: The color of COVID coming up 10:00 p.m. Eastern.

More news coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Louisiana was once a hot spot for the Coronavirus here in the United States. But as numbers their start to come down, President Trump is pressuring governors to reopen the states.

I'll speak with Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana. I'll ask him what he makes of the President's approach. Much more of our coverage right after this.