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THE SITUATION ROOM

President Donald Trump Says Pandemic Response Should Not Be A Partisan Witch Hunt But Criticizes Democratic Governors; Louisiana Governor: More Work To Do Before State Begins Opening; Health Officials: Mall Owner's Plans To Reopen "Premature"; Coronavirus And Its Impact On Japan's Sex Workers; Is San Francisco's Aggressive Approach Paying Off; Actor Sean Penn Helping Bring Free Testing To California. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired April 18, 2020 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to the viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer this is a special edition of "The Situation Room." Globally right now more than 2.3 million people have contracted the Coronavirus, more than 159,000 of them have passed away.

The number of Coronavirus fatalities here in the United States has now passed 38,000 and that number continues to rise. But tonight, President Trump stood over at the White House and he lashed out at least at some State Governors he not only accused them of failing to use all of their available testing ability, but he also said some Governors are overreacting, being too strict with health and safety measures designed to help keep Americans alive. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The President saying that the Democrat Governors are in his words as you just heard complaining. Even though Governors from both parties Democrats and Republicans they are reporting right now severe shortages in testing supplies and the President's own health experts also point out that Coronavirus test equipment is right now unfortunately in short supply around the country.

Let's get more on what came out of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing just a couple of hours or so, we got to our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond is joining us right now. Jeremy the President took particular aim at the nation's Democratic Governors, and really didn't give a lot of time to his team of public health experts, at least not today.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's certainly right, Wolf. What we saw from the President earlier today was an airing of grievances, one that has become all too familiar of course from this President but Wolf as we're seeing these reports of testing shortages across the country.

Capacity that is not being fully used in part because of lack of supplies needed to ramp up testing, the President who has said that he bears no responsibility for testing shortages across the country instead seeking to blame Democratic Governors even suggesting that some of them don't want to use all of the testing capacity that they have.

BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, I think we had a sound bite that unfortunately didn't play. But very quickly, when the President says he inherited a broken, terrible system, our cupboards were bare, we started with garbage he's clearly at least in part blaming the Obama Administration for the lack of equipment, the lack of testing, a lack of all sorts of other things. What he doesn't point out is that he has had three years-plus to try to get his house in order if it was so bad when he took over?

DIAMOND: That's right Wolf. And that's the bottom line ultimately from what we saw from the President during this press conference. So the President was focusing once again on trying to blame others for the comings that we have to see in this administration's response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

At one point, he was talking about blaming the media, as mentioning as specific reporter from "The New York Times" then he blamed the Obama Administration, as you mentioned, for the shortcomings of the national stockpile.

Of course not mentioning the fact that he's been in office for three years before this Coronavirus became, came into existence. So of course the President did have plenty of time to restock the national stockpile if he felt it was under stocked.

But Wolf again this is what we have seen from the President is as he has faced questions about his own response, the President has chosen instead to shift blame. Another target of his blame increasingly has become China Wolf.

And while of course there is a lot to criticize in China's response to the Coronavirus, and its lack of transparency the President of course during those critical weeks when this virus was spreading not only in China, but beginning to spread in the United States, the President was praising China's response, including its transparency.

BLITZER: All right Jeremy thank you Jeremy Diamond reporting for us over at the White House. New Orleans certainly has been one of America's Coronavirus hotspots but during today's White House Task Force briefing Dr. Birx highlighted the city's large decrease in cases listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: You can see clearly, New Orleans, about a month ago, very low levels probably less than 50 cases. Large peak and spike around the beginning of April. And they have come down, and they are down to very few cases again.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Joining us now, Senator Bill Cassidy from Louisiana. Senator, thank you so much for joining us. I know you have a lot going on. We appreciate the time. As you heard the President is going after largely Democratic Governors where in his words getting carried away with social distancing restrictions.

[21:05:00]

BLITZER: He's blaming them for testing shortages. Why do you think he's attacking these Governors right now instead of using his powers as President these briefings to try to bring the country together and avoid all the partisanship?

SEN. BILL CASSIDY, (R-LA): I can't speak for the President. I know these he has had good close working relationship with my Democratic Governor and who I think has done a good job in terms of encouraging people to stay at home. On the other thing I really think, I really think Wolf we have to look how to go forward?

There is a mismatch between the people ordering tests and the amount of test there are. There are capacity that is unused but there are people who need to be tested. I would say if we're concerned in New Orleans or elsewhere about a racial disparity between people who are getting sick and dying versus not?

Why don't we go in the neighborhood that we can highlight knowing they have a high degree of risk factors diabetes, high blood pressure, diabetes pro actively screen people. Fill up all those testing trays and then in the meantime if somebody is testing positive quarantine them to protect everybody else. We need to be proactive social distancing has helped now we need to go to the next step.

BLITZER: Yes. Your speaker with us some medical back - you're a physician you're a doctor so you understand these things very well. The President as you heard is also continuing to encourage people at these a protest stay-at-home to protest the stay-at-home measures.

Do you believe you're a physician you're also a Senator that that jeopardizes the worked a lot of people are doing in your state and other states to flatten the curve and keep out of an abundance of caution these social distancing measures in place?

CASSIDY: So clearly social distancing has helped but clearly there are people getting restless. One fellow called me I don't care what the President says. I don't care what the Governor says. I'm going out. So I think we need to start applying science. If we know that there is a neighborhood that is at high risk because there's cases being identified there we need to proactively screen. If there's a neighborhood where is nothing happening all we can be a little bit more shall we say tolerant of people having interaction because people are going - if they don't see a scientific rationale they are going to rebel.

Let's give them a scientific rationale by doing the proactive testing to say oh you're good not so good. It's not perfect but people are getting restless. I think this is a way to address the restlessness.

BLITZER: In Louisiana right now and New Orleans there are specifically do you have enough testing equipment?

CASSIDY: So I'm told by people running the test as so the trays will come like 200 in a tray. They're running like a 170 in a 200 tray that's 30 slots that are missing. In some cases it's even more that's why I think we need to start pro actively finding where to test going into neighborhoods screening people.

And fill up those trays but also pro actively identify people at risk. That's how we continue to flatten the curve decrease transmission but allow a little bit more freedom in the economy.

BLITZER: There was a major news today that broke that multiple health officials Senator not telling CNN that it was contamination in one of the manufacturing sites at the CDC the test for the Coronavirus was ongoing at that time and that contamination caused weeks of delay slowing the U. S. response to the pandemic. What's your reaction to that?

CASSIDY: Well, there's going to be if you will an analysis afterwards in medicine we called a postmortem. Let's figure out what went wrong? Right now I think what was more important to go forward. Yes, mistakes are made but on the other hand what is the plan going forward that lowers - flatten the curve, increases economic freedom and saves lives and that's where I think we need to focus.

BLITZER: New Orleans certainly right now based on the numbers that we see is trending in the right direction but your Governor John Bel Edwards has said that state overall is not ready for a phase one reopening plan. The President issued phase one, phase two and phase three. Do you agree with this approach?

CASSIDY: Now so what I was told and I've not read it directly that our Governor is going to begin to allow medical offices open for things like elective surgeries. I think that's a great idea. Dentists and Physicians are used to wearing masks having universal precautions they will set the example for the rest of society disinfecting chairs after people come in and sit and go back to the to the exam room.

So I - so what my understanding is that is the way we are progressing. I actually think that's a reasonable way to do so.

BLITZER: I know it's really important to have to go to the dentist and go get the exam done at your doctor's office. But I suspect a lot of people are going to be nervous about doing that right now.

CASSIDY: I suppose but for example the Gastroenterologists. I'm Gastroenterologist I'm going to speak like one. He goes a patient calls me up and he's having blood in his bowl movement.

[21:10:00]

CASSIDY: Now that's not a lot of blood and it's not an emergency but it's not really elective. This is something that I think we should look at and look at sooner. Someone else told me my wife has a skin cancer needs to be cut off not emergent but not really elective. We would like to get it done.

She's going to walk in they're going to be Lysol white being down the entire place she's going to lie. Everybody's going to be wearing a mask and a shield she will be reassured but our skin cans will be removed. I think that is the way to begin to reopen.

BLITZER: Yes, with these are really important measures and we're grateful to you as always Senator Cassidy for joining us. We'll continue this conversation down the road. Thanks very much.

CASSIDY: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up as the President appears to push for states to begin relaxing their social distancing measures there are cases in some rural areas right now that are clearly starting to rise. One state in particular, we're talking about Nebraska saw 30 percent spike of new cases this week alone. We'll take a closer look at what's behind the rise?

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[21:15:00]

BLITZER: As Coronavirus cases begin to plateau in some big cities and along the coast they are starting to surge in rural states while the President accuses some Governors of getting carried away with Coronavirus measures. The increases in cases are most pronounced right now in states without stay-at-home orders including an 82 percent jump in Iowa for example at 205 percent spike in South Dakota.

In Arkansas which just saw a 60 percent jump in cases. The Governor there is eyeing a phase one reopen on May 4th. And in Nebraska which experienced a 30 percent bump this week when shopping mall will reopen next week and the Governor is not going to stop it.

CNN's Ryan Young is outside the mall for us. He's joining us right now. Ryan the mall owner is moving ahead with this plan are they expecting shoppers to actually show up?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well that's the plan so far Wolf. Here's the thing though the stores might not all open up. There are some major tenets at the mall behind me and I can tell you some of them have corporate policies where they've closed down. But he hopes that this sort of expands throughout the country what the owner was telling us is he thinks that they can use as a template for the rest of the country. Maybe they can do social distancing maybe they can do - projects. Maybe they could have employees just come in to get the stock ready to start selling it.

We know people are antsy they want to get back to shopping but if you're a healthcare professional and you hear something like this you're worried about not being able to flatten the curve. In fact we talk to both sides about this hot button issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We look at kind of where things are headed and that may be a good time to get them all up and running. But you have to have a soft opening to start getting the stores back trained start developing best practices.

So we started working with our retail brands but look at Nebraska there's a case study so to speak of how you're going to interact with customers employees brand landlords? How we're all going to work together to create a safe environment?

BRIAN NOONAN, NEBRASKA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: It's premature right it's irresponsible it's you know really we just be patient for another three to four weeks. I don't know we know we can predict the timeline but again we've got to listen to our scientists and public health experts.

They're the ones tracking this data and looking deeply into how it's spreading? So we have to be confident that they know what they're doing? We've done a good job so far so you know why stop short? We need to keep continuing to be vigilant.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: Wolf I've heard the argument across the country people saying how can Walmart be open and we can't be open? Especially what all the people who work in retail they sort of want to get back to work and you can understand that. But I've been in Seattle, Chicago, Detroit and it hasn't hit Nebraska as hard as those cities just yet.

And that's what the healthcare professionals are basically saying. We don't want to hit that hard here especially with the fact they don't have the same number of beds as those largest cities do. So some people are hoping that maybe it'll be a softer open than what this mall owner is hoping for. But we'll have to wait and see what next week brings?

BLITZER: We'll see what it is. All right Ryan Young on the scene for us as he always is. Thank you very much. Joining us now Dr. Wayne Riley. He's the President of Downstate Medical Center in New York also joining CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Seema Yasmin and she's the Former CDC Disease Detective.

Guys thanks so much for joining us. Let me pick up right where we just saw that report from Ryan Young to each of you and I'll start with a Doctor Yasmin. Is it safe? Do you believe right now for shopping mall even in Nebraska let's say to reopen after it states saw a 30 percent bump in cases?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: That's absolutely terrifying as a situation Wolf that even as the pandemic is peaking in some of these areas that this rush to reopen which can endanger lives.

And I think I'm especially concerned about rural America where one in six Americans live because generally rural Americans are older, poorer and sicker competitors who live in cities where a few years of a shorter life expectancy and higher chances of dying from chronic lung diseases.

So you're already starting off with this terrible baseline where folks don't have health insurance live in health - place where they can't get access to good healthcare to then think about rushing to reopen in places where communities are already so vulnerable is just setting up a situation for a disaster.

BLITZER: What do you think Dr. Riley?

DR. WAYNE RILEY, PRESIDENT, DOWNSTATE MEDICAL CENTER: Absolutely correct. Wolf it is a clear and present danger for state governments to reopen "Their communities precipitously"

We need to take signals from the Governors around the country particularly in the northeast the superb leadership of Governor Cuomo here in New York Governor Murphy in New Jersey Governor Lamont in Connecticut.

[21:20:00]

DR. RILEY: Governor Baker in Massachusetts Governor Whitmer my own home State Governor Edwards. We have to do this carefully, methodically. And again the problem is Wolf we still do not have the testing capacity. Testing capacity remains anemic and that is the - as Governor Cuomo says testing is the bridge to getting to the new normal in United States.

BLITZER: Need more testing equipment out there and more tests. In general Doctor Yasmin you might think though this is the argument there are rural areas like Nebraska let's say would be safer because there just aren't as many people as there are in New York City is that logic misguided?

DR. YASMIN: That is misguided for those reasons I just outlined Wolf those higher rates of poverty and higher rates of chronic health conditions to begin with. We already know about COVID-19 that especially preys on people who have these pre existing conditions.

So when looking at areas that sure they may not be so densely populated like cities but we're dealing with communities that have higher rates of cigarette smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes those risk factors. And I can tell you from having worked at the CDC and being sent to investigate epidemics in rural parts of America I would turn up and be astonished that these rural Health Departments were operating on skeleton stop.

It would be like two public health nurses that were doing the work of a dozen and those are exactly the kind of resources and people we need on the front lines to do testing. But also to do contact tracing because as we think about peeling back containment measures we have to have a constant eye on a second wave and guarding against future pandemics and future outbreaks of COVID-19 that means the boots on the ground staff and frankly many rural counties do not have those resources.

BLITZER: How worried are you Dr. Riley about a so called second wave let's say coming in August or September?

DR. RILEY: Wolf, I'm very worried and I share the concern of many other medical and public health professionals that we are likely a set up for a second wave. And Doctor Fauci has supported that view as well.

That's again why we have to get the testing right. I hope in six months once we enter a second wave that will be able to have point of care testing at doctor's offices quicker access to results. We'd be able to search what I refer to a surge testing into communities particularly black and brown communities that are so heavily disproportionately affected.

So we have to get the testing right and yes, we cannot do anything that gives fuel to the prospect of a second wave of six or seven months from now.

BLITZER: Yes, we might have to wait a year or so according to Dr Fauci for a legitimate vaccine out there but maybe there are at least in the next few months could be a legitimate treatment some drugs that will minimum prevent you from dying if you do get Coronavirus. We can only hope for treatment might be coming forth at least in the short term.

Doctor Yasmin thank you so much for joining us thanks to what you're doing. Doctor Riley thanks to you as well we're certainly grateful to both of you.

DR. RILEY: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: The effects of the Coronavirus are being felt across the world and some of the most vulnerable members of society are fighting ourselves hardest hit. We have details when we come back.

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[21:25:00]

BLITZER: Sex workers are a part of every society but as a pandemic sweeps the globe, they've become some of its most vulnerable members. CNN's Will Ripley is joining us live from Tokyo right now. Will, you say this outbreak has made an already risky profession even more dangerous?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Wolf. We know that members of our community who are of lower income that don't have a voice; they face a far greater risk during this pandemic. That's certainly true for Japan's 300,000 sex workers.

The rain normally doesn't keep people away from Kabukicho Tokyo's red light district. I remember my first visit here 5 years ago in 2015. The cold, wet streets of this sleepless town were always full just like the sharps lining these dimly lit holes.

Prostitution is against the law in Japan, but everybody knows what is really for sale. Fast forward five years to 2020 Coronavirus is doing what the rain cannot turning off the neon lights. In all my years of living in Tokyo, I've never seen Kabukicho this empty.

Normally, these streets are lined with women who are trying to lure customers into their shops. The shops are closed now, and the women have to find other, more dangerous ways to make a living.

A woman called Komica asked us to hide her face and change her name. Her family doesn't know she's been a sex worker for ten years. These days, with all the shops closed, she goes directly to customers, often older men, a risky proposition, with the virus spreading quickly.

Of course I worry about my health, she says but I worry more about how to survive? What if I can't afford to buy food? As a young girl, she wanted to be journalist. Life didn't work out that way. She's not asking for sympathy, she's asking for help. Sex workers can't stop working she says, but we don't want to spread the virus. Japan's estimated 300,000 sex workers are eligible for the government's Coronavirus cash handouts about a $1000 dollars

[21:30:00]

RIPLEY: Advocates for sex workers say that money won't be nearly enough to keep most off the streets. There's a lot of discrimination toward sex workers says Junichiro Kakuma just before his toddler makes a brief appearance.

There are many different types of people in the sex industry he says like single moms who need to earn money. They may be scared about Coronavirus but they're more scared of losing their jobs. His nonprofit tries to help sex workers find new jobs. Jobs they're not afraid to tell their families about jobs that won't put them and their children at risk.

This is the sad reality of the situation Wolf here in Japan and around the world there are many women who have to make a choice do they feed their children or they go out into these jobs and have direct contact with other people that could put them in their whole families at risk of Coronavirus?

And for sex workers and for any workers frankly here in Japan it remains incredibly difficult to get tested for Coronavirus, despite the fact that the number of official cases here has surged over 10,000 just in the last few days.

On Wednesday here in Tokyo Wolf the city of 13.5 million people just 277 people were tested in all of Tokyo. So if the official numbers are rising just imagine how many cases we don't know about?

BLITZER: Yes, I can only imagine. All right Will Ripley excellent report. Thank you very much for joining us. Meanwhile there's breaking news coming into the situation room right now. The Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro is calling for the postponement of the country's parliamentary elections because of the ongoing pandemic.

The elections were originally scheduled for December of this year Maduro now says it would be irresponsible to carry them out in this environment. He's asking for them to be held in January of next year instead.

Back in February San Francisco took some drastic measures in order to stop the spread of the Coronavirus and while it seems to have turned a corner. There are new details coming up vulnerable populations. There is still very much at risk San Francisco's Mayor standing by to join us live. We'll discuss what's happening in her city when we come back?

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[21:35:00]

BLITZER: In late February, the San Francisco Mayor declared a state of emergency in her city even though San Francisco had not yet confirmed a single case of Coronavirus at that time it was just the first of several very aggressive steps the Mayor took to shutdown a bustling city in protect its citizens.

As a result San Francisco's COVID-19 numbers are well below what you would expect for a city of its size. As of today, the San Francisco Department of Public Health lists 1,137 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and just 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

Mayor, London Breed is joining us now live with more. Mayor thanks so much for joining us. Those case counts indicate the bay area may have turned a corner in the outbreak fewer new cases than the week before? What is your biggest concern right now?

MAYOR LONDON BREED, (D) SAN FRANCISCO: Well Wolf, my biggest concern is that people may think that the fact that the numbers seem to appear to be lower than we anticipated, that that would mean that people should get comfortable and go back to their normal lives and we should be opening up businesses.

But the last thing that we need to do is let up. And I remind people of what happened with the Spanish flu in 1918, when in November of 1918, the city was reopened a month after September, when the cases first started to hit. And all of a sudden, it went back to what was problematic.

All of that time that people had spent closing businesses closing libraries and schools and everything else, it didn't even matter because there were more people infected, more people who died. We don't want to repeat history in this case.

BLITZER: We certainly don't. Beginning Wednesday, I'm told you're mandating face masks for anyone who is indoors or in close proximity to others such as grocery stores, public transport for example. How important is this step? I know in some cities like New York they're recommending face masks for everyone to and older?

BREED: Well, we are recommending it for those who are 12 and over. We say face coverings because what we want people to do is not get panic and run out and feel like they have to find masks. You can't find masks in many places. So you can use a scarf, you could use anything that you - when you're out to cover your nose and mouth.

It's just something that is necessary, based on the behavior of what we're seeing. It doesn't take the place of social distancing. We want to use both of these tools hand-in-hand, because ultimately we know this is going to help to reduce the spread as well.

And it is really necessary in order to keep our essential businesses open. We're seeing grocery store clerks getting infected at higher rates. We see bus drivers and other people who are trying to provide essential services getting infected with the virus. We want to protect you, but we also want to protect them as well.

BLITZER: We certainly do. In some cities right now, we're actually seeing protests emerge against the stay-at-home mandates and other measures to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. If a similar protest erupts in San Francisco, how are you prepared to respond?

BREED: We've had protests where protesters in their vehicles and maintaining social distancing. I think ultimately, what we will do in any instance is to make sure that people are social distancing, and that we manage those protests in a way that doesn't lead to someone being infected.

[21:40:00]

BREED: I mean I understand people are ready to get back to their lives but at the same time this is really a matter of life or death. And we all need to participate and we know that they're not everywhere - we're not going to get 100 percent compliance. There are of course going to be people who are upset about that.

But we will handle it appropriately. We will do what we need to do in order to protect public health in the city and law enforcement plays an important role in doing just that, as they would with any protest whether it's during this time or any other time.

BLITZER: Like a lot of major cities around the United States including - I am here in Washington D.C. there's a major homelessness problem right now. I know San Francisco has been a major homeless problem as well. What are you doing to try to help these people?

BREED: So the first thing we did Wolf is our shelter system sending out our shelters moving the most vulnerable those who are over the age of sixty or have underlying conditions out of the shelter system and then eventually thinning out our shelter systems with other people who are in their moving them into hotels.

We've also started to outreach to people who are on the streets and bring in the most vulnerable in first again. But it has been very, very challenging and although we've been able to get almost a 1000 homeless people into hotels in San Francisco.

The management of that has been difficult the logistics and the capacity to really manage and maintain this has also been challenging. People who suffer from substance use disorder people who suffer from mental illness those don't just go away because we're in the middle of a pandemic.

So it means that we need more people more support in the age of social distancing in order to help work with a very challenging population. So it is been - it's been tough but we've been doing it and I'm really proud of the work force here.

People who don't necessarily work with the homeless like our librarians I reckon park staff people who work in other city departments have stepped up are working at these hotels learning to work with this population and to see the people of this city step up. It's been incredible but it's also very challenging.

BLITZER: And it's really, really important. I spoke to Mayor De Blasio of New York earlier tonight in the situation room. He's really worried about his city going broke. They're running out of money right now. What's it like in San Francisco? I know a lot of cities are really begging the Federal Government to come up with some cash?

BREED: Well, the fact is it's not coming fast enough and here's San Francisco we anticipate a 1.1 to $1.7 billion budget step deficit. We have really looked in and dug into our budget to find money that we have not already spent.

We've done the hiring freezes. We've taken resources and being creative and we partner those with philanthropic dollars to try to get their hands in the people to serve food, to help pay rent, to help with our small businesses.

We've been redirecting already limited resources but we need the Federal Government to kick in sooner rather than later because people are hurting today. So this is going to be hard on our city not just now but in the future as we come out of this.

It's going to be very difficult because we rely on tourism and it's not going to come back that easy. So I set up economic recovery task force so we can start planning for the future. But we need those federal dollars right now.

BLITZER: Certainly do. All right Mayor Breed thank you so much for joining us. Good luck to everyone in San Francisco. Right now we'll stay in close touch with you.

BREED: Thank you Wolf.

BLITZER: Some Republican Governors are looking to reopen their states as early as next month but medical experts say that's impossible without proper testing in place. Sean Penn is standing by live. We'll discuss what's going on? What he's doing? He is working with officials in Los Angeles to get more people tested, critically important. We'll be right back.

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[21:45:00]

BLITZER: More than a month into the pandemic in the United States, testing for the Coronavirus remains a very serious problem because of critical shortages in supplies and staff. But now some private enterprises are stepping in to try to help.

The Actor and Humanitarian Sean Penn is one of those people, teaming up with the City of Los Angeles. Right now his disaster relief non- profit community organized relief effort or core is working with L.A.'s Mayor other city and counsel officials to offer free testing across California.

Sean Penn is joining us right now. Sean thanks so much for joining us. Truly a wonderful thing you and your friends and colleagues are doing. How many tests have you conducted so far? Tell us why it was so important for you to get so personally involved with this.

SEAN PENN, FOUNDER & CEO, CORE: Well, the organization, I think, let me refer to a note to make sure I get this right. Yes, so we're two weeks on the ground as of this evening, we'll be north of 20,000 tested in the City of Los Angeles, and on pace to do, with the current sites, 100,000 a month.

We're looking to expand our partnership with the Mergo City's team with Los Angeles Fire Department. The reason was important to me is I think the same reason is important for you to go when you have access to a network to share that critical information.

[21:50:00]

PENN: I had access to an infrastructure of disaster response with CORE which is now 10 years of disaster response experience and what was fortuitous is that because certainly we never worked in California before.

We had worked in the hurricane down here in the United States. But because we are going steady in L.A. Fire Department had such an extraordinary what plan in place and the Fire Department was already running sites that we took.

We were able to just be plugged into their system and relieve the firefighters with their exceptional skill sets and responsibilities on the street and the station will lead them to get them back to serving people in the ways that they do pass the paramedics et cetera.

And because the lane of testing is not doesn't take an enormous amount of experience. We can train our Chester's very quickly and move people very deliberately through the drive thru test site and then come up with you know both surveillance and notification for people in their own circumstances and those with whom they had contact.

BLITZER: Yes, this testing is so, so critically important. As you probably know Sean the President just tonight repeatedly blamed Governors for not making full use of Coronavirus testing capacity in their states. Even though many of those Governors say they simply don't have enough supplies right now.

As someone whose organization is conducting testing what advice would you offer to folks who are watching right now?

PENN: You know I part ways with the President on this rather dramatically. I am seeing it day to day. I'm in contact with the Governor, the Mayor of the City Los Angeles I do know what's happening with these simple supply chain short of materials supplies from the N- 95s that are so critical to the test kits themselves and to the lab turnovers with those results et cetera?

And all the things that will keep the scientists that were ultimately get us out of this mess with a vaccine. But this is also a kind of you know we're going to have to take those silver linings on this. This is a mandatory rehearsal for things to come and that we are going to have to deal with it as a society.

And so in that I would suggest that people strongly advocate for the President to set up federal guidelines and to make a robust use of the Defense Production Act. This is the area, this is the single most important thing that can happen and it also is a Hoover Dam like project.

This is something they can create. Current jobs in safe made work sites because we're learning how to do that? And so I think that's really what I would say to people is right the President and just say please you know get this country's greatness back into that work into that work force of defense production all these necessary life saving critical materials so desperately needed by our nurses and doctors. And those of us who complement the work that they do with that the component testing.

BLITZER: Finally Sean if people want to donate to your cause? If they want more information on how to get tested where can they go?

PENN: Yes, they can go to CORE Response. So CORE like this response.org/COVID-19.

BLITZER: That's an important place to go. Sean Penn thanks so much for what you're doing. We're grateful to you and all your colleagues and friends. And let me just once again a reminder to viewers they can get more information about Sean's organization and the work it does coreresponse.org/covid-19. Sean thanks very much for joining us.

Add to our viewers' thanks very much for watching tonight. I'm wolf Blitzer here in "The Situation Room" I'll be back tomorrow night with another special edition of "The Situation Room" at 6:00 pm eastern.

The color of our COVID a special presentation about Coronavirus in communities of color is next. But before we go the healing powers of music a violinist performs a rooftop concert at an Italian hospital as the nation remains under lock down for Coronavirus a reminder that there is still beauty in the world despite the crisis confronting all of us.

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