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Mnuchin Says They are In Very Close To A Deal Today On Small Business Package; Governors Dispute White House Claim Of Adequate Coronavirus Testing; Interview with Sen. Tina Smith (D-MN). Aired 3-4p ET

Aired April 19, 2020 - 15:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin in Washington where a new deal to save businesses is close to getting done, according to top leaders from the White House to Congress. The new proposal calls for an extra $310 billion in the Paycheck Protection Plan for small businesses.

Funds from the initial $350 billion Emergency Coronavirus Relief Package ran dry in just a few weeks. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are confident a deal is nearing the finish line.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY: I'm hopeful. I think we're very close to a deal today and I'm hopeful we can get that done.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): I think we're very close to agreement.


WHITFIELD: All right, we start our coverage at the White House. CNN's Jeremy Diamond is there. Jeremy, why so much optimism?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, usually, Fred, when you hear both sides of a negotiation saying that we are close to a deal, it really means that you're close, and that is the sense that we are getting, is that this is a deal that is imminent.

There are a few fine points that are still being worked out, it seems, but if you listen to Secretary Mnuchin in particular, who has been the lead negotiator on this for the Trump administration, he says that this deal could pass Congress in a matter of days and be on the President's desk by middle of the week. Listen.


MNUCHIN: I'm hopeful that we can reach an agreement that the Senate can pass this tomorrow, and that the House can take it up on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, we'd be back up and running. (END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And as you mentioned, Fred, this would provide $310 billion of additional money for that Payroll Protection Program. The small business loans that are so needed at this time of economic distress. There's going to be $75 billion for hospitals, $25 billion in additional money for testing.

Those were some of the key sticking points for Democrats as these negotiations have stretched over the past week. That was the additional money that they were looking for, the reason why they initially would not go along with passing a bill that just included the money for the Payroll Protection Program. But it does appear now they are close to a deal.

We also are just learning from our congressional correspondent, Manu Raju that the President was on a call with Senate Republicans just a few moments ago, and Senator McConnell, the Majority Leader, indicated that Democrats will not be getting the funding for state and local governments that they had been seeking.

Those other concessions, though have been made, and we heard Mnuchin earlier today saying that funding for state and local governments could come during a future economic stimulus package.

WHITFIELD: You know and prior to that, yesterday the President was selectively critical about certain state governors. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: 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 Democratic governors know that. They're the ones that are complaining.


WHITFIELD: And many of those governors did respond to that criticism from the President.

DIAMOND: They certainly are pushing back, and of course that criticism from the President is just the latest attack that he has lobbed against Democratic governors, but of course, as you will see in this video that I am about to toss to you, both Democratic and Republican governors are raising the same alarm bells as it relates to testing shortages that they are facing. Listen.


GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): I think this is probably the number one problem in America, and has been from the beginning of this crisis, the lack of testing.

The administration, I think, is trying to ramp up testing. They are doing some things with respect to private labs, but to try to push this off to say that the governors have plenty of testing and they should just get to work on testing, somehow we aren't doing our job is just absolutely false.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: The President and Vice President are saying over the past few days that the U.S. has enough testing capacity for states to begin opening back up if you feel you're ready to go into phase one. Is that the case in Virginia? Do you have enough tests to do the tests you need to do?


GOV. RALPH NORTHAM (D-VA): Jake, that's just delusional to be making statements like that. We have been fighting every day for PPE and we've got some supplies now coming in. We've been fighting for testing.

Now, it's not a straightforward test. We don't even have enough swabs, believe it or not and we're ramping that up before the national level to say we have what we need, and really to have no guidance to the state levels is just irresponsible, because we're not there yet.

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): It would be nice if we had a national strategy that was working with the states so every state knew precisely what was coming in, but end of the day, you know, we, governors are doing the best we can with what we've got.

We could use some assistance, though to make sure that the supply chain issues are addressed, and we can do the robust testing that every epidemiologist in our country tells you is absolutely essential as we prepare to think about reengaging sectors of our economy.


DIAMOND: And as you can see there, the uniform and coherent message from Democratic and Republican governors that they are facing shortages of some of the critical supplies needed to scale up testing.

The President meanwhile has been willing to claim credit in the past for advances that they've made on the testing front, but now amid these shortages, the President is passing the buck on to these governors -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jeremy Diamond at the White House. Thank you. So, U.S. Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin also addressed that issue today on "State of the Union."


TAPPER: So it sounds as though there is going to be not money for testing, money for hospitals, money for small businesses, but it doesn't sound like state and local government funding will be in this bill at the very least?

MNUCHIN: The President has heard from the governors and he is prepared to discuss that in the next bill. Right now, we have a lot of money that we're distributing to the states. We have $150 billion. We've distributed half. We'll distribute the other half and the President is willing to consider that in the next bill, but wants to get this over the finish line.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is in New York. So, Evan, the governor, you know, made a plea saying without Federal funding, they won't be able to do everything that they need to do.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Fred. The Governor of New York had been saying for weeks now that the economic impact of this pandemic is going to have a dramatic effect on state finances and local finances.

It's not just him saying it. Mayors like Bill de Blasio here in New York City have been saying the same thing, and if you want the state and the city to reopen with some semblance of the way they were before Cuomo and de Blasio say, you're going to need Federal help to pay the bills.

Cuomo said again today in his press conference --


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): If you don't help the state government and local government, then how are we supposed to have the finances to reopen? And if you don't give state and local government support, you know, we're the one who support the schools. We support the police. We support the fire. We support the hospital workers. We support the transit workers.

So if you starve state and local government, all that means is, we have to turn around and reduce funding to the people who we are funding.


SANTORO: So Cuomo outlined in that press conference today just how dire the situation may be. He said that future budgets here in the state may include cuts to things like hospitals, which he suggested is kind of a strange thing to be doing, in the middle of the current crisis we're having.

But this is exactly why he needs or says he needs that Federal money, and as Jeremy just reported from the Senate phone call, it sounds like it won't be happening in this bill, and the Governor and the Mayor here in the city might be waiting a little longer to get some of that Federal help -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much.

All right, Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne is an emergency physician and an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland's Prince George's Hospital Center. Good to see you, Doctor.


WHITFIELD: So what's the status of cases in the State of Maryland and the surrounding D.C. area?

CLAYBORNE: So Maryland is definitely seeing an increased number of COVID positive patients. Some models are saying that we're in the middle of our peak, but there is discrepancy on that.

I know that specifically for me and my hospital, we have seen an increase number of acutely ill people and we are seeing a lot of people arriving in respiratory distress so we are bracing to continue to see an increased number in the coming days.

WHITFIELD: And you wrote a piece for "USA Today" and you talked about how you never worked in such a heartbreaking and traumatic environment as the coronavirus pandemic.

Tell us about what you and your colleagues are experiencing, and we certainly have been doing as much reporting as we can, particularly on the disparities of healthcare. Prince George's County is predominantly black. So a good number of the people you're treating are black Americans, disproportionately affected by coronavirus.

So, what are you experiencing firsthand?


CLAYBORNE: Yes, absolutely. Even before this pandemic hit, we already served a population that had a lot of comorbidities or underlying diseases and you know, had a lot of issues, and we were already a very busy ED, so the pandemic certainly has compounded the factors of those underlying health disparities and our population is very hard-hit.

I do see now that the stress not just among the providers, the people trying to provide care that the patients and the families is at an all-time high and people are very scared and anxious.

And with that, I think a lot of people don't know what to do, and so I always get asked as an emergency provider what can I do, Dr. Clayborne to help you? How can I make a difference?

And I think besides listening to your health officials, making sure that you're following instructions to stay home, stay safe, and those types of things. Another thing I always emphasize that people can do is to plan ahead, and what I mean by that is have an advanced care plan.

Too often, when I am in the ER, I see people arrive in acute illness, can maybe not speak for themselves and hadn't taken the time to talk to their family about what their wishes would be, and that puts the family members or the patient in just a terrible situation, and then as a provider, I have to make a decision in minutes that might dictate whether this person lives or dies or what happens to them.

It's easier to do that if that had been thought about ahead of time and documented, and so, you can go to to get state-specific forms for advanced directives or use an online platform, like, which I find to be very helpful to keep everybody on the same page.

WHITFIELD: So, that's your advice now. People are very much aware, but so many were just caught by surprise, caught off guard by this and you know, how -- I mean, there have been so many stories I've read about many of them in the Washington, D.C. area.

You know, Maryland is my home state, so I've read a lot about you know, personal stories of people who were just within a week, you know, losing their loved ones to this disease and not knowing really what hit them.

But now that people are a little more acutely aware, you're saying, it should be a discussion that every family is having right now. You know, what is our plan? What happens if someone gets sick? You know, where are the responsibilities within our family? Who's going to make the decisions?

Boy, that's a tough conversation for families to have, but you say, you know, you've got to do it right now.

CLAYBORNE: Absolutely. And it is no matter what age. It's actually for younger people that this ends up being more difficult. You might have seen in the pieces -- I actually am -- I am seven months pregnant. I am practicing as a pregnant provider, it puts me at increased risk, and so I had to have a conversation with my husband about if I get sick, this is what I think is important in my life. This is what I would want done, this is what I would want done to protect my baby.

Those are difficult conversations to have, but especially as an emergency provider, I feel like it's important to lead by example, and so I've had those conversations, I've documented them. I've shared them with my family and my medical providers and you know, it's better to be prepared. Because you just don't want to be caught off guard because as you said, Fred, you can get sick very quickly and then you may not have the capacity to make a decision for yourself.

WHITFIELD: That you're seven months pregnant, you have great reason to just step back and say I'm going to approach Medicine differently, but you are still choosing to be right out there. What is keeping you from saying, right now I want to be on the sidelines?

CLAYBORNE: It's definitely a decision I weigh every day. What I do is not without risk. Every time I cross the threshold of the hospital, I'm putting myself at risk and my family as risk as all frontline providers do.

I'm in a bit of a unique situation because there are two other pregnant ER doctors are in my group, and so the three of us got together and decided we were going to stay as we felt we could adequately protect ourselves.

And so that decision gets weighed every day, and as we get more busy and we see an influx of critically ill patients, I might have to stop. I might have to decide that I want to serve in a capacity not doesn't mean clinically working because I don't want to become ill, I don't want to put by baby at risk. I don't want to go from being someone who helps the healthcare system to becoming a strain.

And so, it is a difficult decision and I just take it a day at a time right now.

WHITFIELD: We are wishing you well, Dr. Elizabeth Clayborne. Thank you for being with us. Be well. Be safe. You, baby, husband, whole family.

CLAYBORNE: I appreciate it, Fred. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up -- protecting the frontline workers when social distancing is not about option. A California Nurses Union is speaking out.

Also, later, millions are under another severe weather warning just a week after deadly tornadoes hit the south.



WHITFIELD: In California, officials are reporting more than 30,000 coronavirus cases and more than 1,100 deaths, this as the state's nursing homes say they are struggling to stop the spread of the virus. CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Los Angeles. Paul, what can you tell us?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are standing right now at one of the hot beds of this problem. In fact, this bureau, the CNN Bureau is on Sunset Boulevard and just down the street is the absolute worst case at a nursing home in Los Angeles County. It is called Breyer Oak. They have had 80 patients with COVID-19 and 62 staff members.

If you look at all of L.A. County, there's 148 cases, and that's part of the bigger number of 261 across the region. They are struggling to try to get this under control. We've reached out to the nursing home and they said they're doing everything they possibly can.

The demand is they want more protective gear for these workers in these nursing homes and not just sort of garden variety cloth masks. They want the best of the equipment. They want more testing. They want the state as well as Federal officials to come in and help.


VERCAMMEN: We spoke with the organizer of the union rep for these nurses who said one problem with this is anybody who works in these homes can't avoid contact.


APRIL VERRETT, PRESIDENT, SERVICE EMPLOYEES INTERNATIONAL UNION: These workers are resilient. They continue to go to work every day and do the very best what we they have. They are loving, caring people and they make sure the residents get fed, they get bathed. You can't do that at a social distance. Right?

You've got to touch people. You've got to love people. You have to care for people.

And so, that's what's happening on the inside of these facilities. But unfortunately, that is also how this virus spreads because you can't socially distance yourselves from the people you are there to care for.


VERCAMMEN: And I also spoke with a nurse over the phone, she did not want to be quoted directly, but she said, the biggest problem is that they are just flat understaffed at these nursing homes. Back to you now -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: This is just a traumatizing -- it is a sad situation. All right, Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

All right, just hours ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the coronavirus is spreading in nursing homes -- just like in California there -- like fire on dry grass and while the lockdowns will help prevent the spread, it's leaving the elderly feeling even more isolated.



WHITFIELD: The U.S. has now crossed a grim new threshold. The country is now reporting more than 40,000 deaths. Meanwhile, in response to heavy criticism, Florida Governor Ron deSantis is now releasing the names of nursing homes and long-term care facilities that have confirmed coronavirus cases.

The governor says there are more than 1,600 cases at facilities in the state including residents and workers.

Meanwhile, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo warns that nursing homes are the single biggest fear in all of this.


CUOMO: Nursing homes are still our number one concern. The nursing home is the optimum feeding ground for this virus. Vulnerable people in a congregate facility, in a congregate setting where it can just spread like fire through dry grass.

We have had really disturbing situations in nursing homes and we're still most concerned about the nursing home.


WHITFIELD: With me now, Jay Newton Small, she is contributor for "Time" magazine and founder of MemoryWell, a digital platform that helps seniors tell their life stories. Good to see you, Jay.


WHITFIELD: So we've heard from two governors now just in the last 30 seconds say how vulnerable nursing homes are, and yet we're also hearing about staffing shortages, people in these facilities who are getting sick while they are caring for people who are sick, and now dying.

Do you feel like the problem is being underreported, mainly because of, perhaps, access?

SMALL: Absolutely, Fredricka. I think that are aren't hearing about what's happening in these facilities exactly because of what we saw in Florida, which is, the government is saying, no, we're not going to give out the names of these communities that have experienced COVID.

It took a lawsuit essentially, and a lot of pressure from groups like AARP for Governor deSantis to finally release the names of those 302 facilities, because I think there's a lot of worry that people have that their seniors potentially not being cared for or might get infected in these places.

They might then move to try to pull them out and they're trying to limit the amount of interaction of people going into these communities and people visiting their loved ones at this time, so that it won't spread further.

But it is a real concern when you have, frankly, the oldest and the frailest of our society all gathered in one place.

WHITFIELD: Right, and it really is not cut and dry. Perhaps you heard the employee at the Los Angeles nursing facility that Paul Vercammen spoke with earlier talking about people who are caring for folks in these nursing care facilities.

I mean, they're working in very close confines. You know, they are having to be very personal. You can't social distance. You have to bathe them. You might be feeding them. You know, you are also, you know -- really showing them love.

You know, so it's a very difficult situation, because many of the care workers have to be in close confines, you know? And you are talking about what may be a very vulnerable population on top of that.

SMALL: Absolutely. I mean, Fred, it's really difficult, I think, for a lot of these frontline caregivers. Most of them make minimum wage and for them, it's just potentially not worth it to go into work if it means exposing their family, putting their families at risk.

You've seen -- I have seen communities where nursing homes have to transfer patients and shut down in states, because they haven't had enough staff show up, or dozens of staff simply said we're not going to risk it, we're not going to be showing up to work and putting our own families at risk and so they have to transfer the patients to other places. And one way, I think the government could actually solve this is to

simply say, hey, Medicare and Medicaid, let's pay overtime for some of these workers.

Let's give then benefits of overtime, which right now they do not enjoy and so they are limited to 36-hour workweeks really getting minimum wage, which means, they often have to double up on jobs working at two different facilities or working in home care, which then doubles the exposure.


WHITFIELD: And then that's another -- right, that's another potential problem because now you're potentially -- maybe you're asymptomatic and now you're going to another facility and potentially exposing others.

SMALL: Exactly. It's a real risk for these workers. And so one simple way to solve that is to just allow for overtime that's one immediate step the government could take.

WHITFIELD: Do you see that potentially there will be other maybe long-term changes in the making as it pertains to how the elderly are cared for? How these facilities receive supplies? Equipment? How they're able to do their jobs?

SMALL: Sure. I mean, you have seen so many times now where these facilities, they've tried so much to test to make sure that they're staff doesn't bring the disease into the community, but the tests aren't 100 percent. They're not foolproof. There's a lot of false positives or false negatives.

And there's a lot of asymptomatic people who don't have fevers, who aren't coughing, who are carriers of the disease.

And so I think we really fundamentally, as country coming out of this are going to have to rethink, are we still going to want to house and pool all of our oldest and frailest in one place? Or we are going to rethink that model, maybe not have them in a building.

There has been a lot of movements in recent years to move away from a building model where you're putting them in all in a corridor where the risk of potential infection is a lot higher than let's say they have -- for a lack of a better word -- they call they granny huts or they put them on a property, there's a bunch of little huts.

They each have their own sort of HVAC systems. They are able to isolate when they need to isolate but come together in communal spaces when they want to get together.

Now, that's obviously more feasible, I think in states like Florida or Arizona where the weather is nicer in areas -- but in urban areas, how do you do that? And it is going to be difficult for states to sort of simply take thousands of nursing homes and turn them into those kinds of facilities, it's almost impossible.

So, I think there is going to be a lot of thinking at how we really handle and treat seniors and the elderly moving forward after this.

WHITFIELD: Yes, our most vulnerable of our population made even that much more vulnerable under the current circumstances. Thank you so much, Jay Newton Small. Appreciate it.

SMALL: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: A new deal to save small businesses devastated by the coronavirus may be close to getting done. Top leaders from Congress and the White House say they are working out the details of a new $310 billion plan to infuse the Paycheck Protection Plan with more cash.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is optimistic.


MNUCHIN: I'm hopeful that we can reach an agreement that the Senate can pass this tomorrow and that the House can take it up on Tuesday, and Wednesday we would be back up and running.


WHITFIELD: The plan comes after many small businesses struggle to get any of the funds allocated during the last stimulus package. Funding for that ran out in a matter of weeks. CNN's Kyung Lah has more.


TOM SOPIT, EMPLOYEE ONLY OWNER: We have served several hundred, over a thousand for sure.

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tom Sopit and his team load hundreds of meals bound for the USC medical Center.

Sopit, the owner of Employees Only Restaurant and Bar donating, even though he is in need himself.

A month ago, fear gripped Sopit as coronavirus shut down Los Angeles restaurants.


LAH (on camera): Are you scared?



LAH (voice over): Now, that has turned to anger, as a married father of a toddler waits for a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program or PPP from his bank, Wells Fargo.


SOPIT: And then I was calling basically almost every day, I'd wait on the phone for about an hour. So every day, we're just looking at our bank account, just waiting for the money.


LAH (voice over): But now, the Small Business Administration says the PPP program is out of cash. It is a life line, a forgivable loan that gives businesses two and a half times their monthly payroll, 75 percent of that must go to workers. It's been a battle to get the available money.


ALEX HARTUNIAN, STUDIO METAMORPHOSIS OWNER: We're desperate for this -- for this relief from the government. And if we're just --



LAH: It's been call after call to the bank for Alex Hartunian and Jen Yates, owners of Studio Metamorphosis, a fitness center in Los Angeles, shut down for a month, unable to pay bills or staff until finally this notification.


LAH (on camera): What does this now mean for you guys?

HARTUNIAN: This means we have hope. We know we're assured at least to pay our staff.

JEN YATES, STUDIO METAMORPHOSIS OWNER: That was the number one thing for us is to take care of our team.

HARTUNIAN: Okay, guys. We have something to announce.


LAH (voice-over): On a staff call, the owners shared the news. The PPP loan will help cover the payroll.


HARTUNIAN: So, it looks like we're going to get some money for you guys.



LAH: Until the end of May. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That's amazing.



LAH (voice over): Cheering here is Matt Wood, Studio Metamorphosis employee.




LAH: And new dad to two-week-old, Lavender.


WOOD: I understand there's so much that has to happen to get a bill passed, but it's very scary waiting for that money to come through.


LAH: These funds stop after eight weeks. Their message to Capitol Hill, arguing now over the next stimulus bill, the clock is ticking.


WOOD: There we go.

YATES: We need the funds now. We cannot wait.

HARTUNIAN: Put partisanship aside.


HARTUNIAN: You know, you came up with it. You all come together for us. We need it.


LAH: Sopit has even less time. His business and donations to hospitals have only days before he is completely underwater.

Kyung Lah, CNN, Los Angeles.



WHITFIELD: All right, joining me now to discuss is Minnesota Senator, Tina Smith. She is a Democrat who sits on the Senate Banking Housing and Urban Affairs Committee. Senator Smith good to see you. SEN. TINA SMITH (D-MN): Good to see you, too, Fredricka. It's great

to be on.

WHITFIELD: Wonderful. So, how close are you and your colleagues to reaching this deal?

SMITH: Well, by all accounts, we are quite close. There has been a lot of really productive discussions and you know, listening to stories of those small business owner right before I came on to talk with you, I've heard the same stories myself in Minnesota.

Little businesses that are -- they have weeks, not months of cash in order to make it through a situation like this, and actually, this is what we Democrats have been fighting for and I'm glad people are coming in our direction to make sure that the dollars are getting down to those smallest businesses that are really struggling. These businesses that are -- you know, these are people's lives and souls and dreams.

WHITFIELD: It's everything. And so, so many of the smaller businesses, I mean, the small of the small, who didn't get, you know, any kind of grant money, you know, emergency loan money. Nothing.

Do you feel like this next wave is going to be enough to cover them all?

SMITH: Well, we wanted to make sure that they did get access to that, and that all of the loans didn't go to the bigger businesses and the big banks, that community banks working on Main Street had a chance to really help their customers, and help businesses that are small businesses, minority-owned businesses that don't have that kind of banking relationship.

So I am really optimistic and I also don't know that this is going to be all that we need to do. I think that we can't really see how deep this is going to go.

WHITFIELD: Do you think the execution will be different? Because there was criticism from a lot of really small businesses who said, yes, like you said, they didn't have a relationship with the bank so didn't really know.

They were trying to navigate, and the next thing you know, once they got through the whole application process, moneys run out. So, do you think the same process will be under way, or is that being reformed?

SMITH: Right. Well, that's what we're working on. That's what really have been pushing for. And as I said, I'm glad that the administration has come our way on this.

I think everybody wants to get these dollars out to small businesses. We just need to make sure they're getting there. And you know, I'm thinking about a story I heard last week about a small community bank in Minnesota who called up one of their customers in St. Paul, a business that has been a staple of St. Paul for decades, and when they told them that they had gotten that loan, the owner of the business literally fell on the floor crying, because he had been so scared that he was going to lose his business.

And those are the people that we are -- we have to keep our focus on here.

WHITFIELD: Yes. CNN has learned that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told his members this morning that demands for food stamps, state and local funding, will not be included in this final package. Is that a mistake?

SMITH: Well, I think is a mistake. We can see the huge demand for -- at food banks across the country. Certainly, here in Minnesota. Families that never thought they would be waiting in line for a box of food for their families.

You know, you think about state and local aid. What is that really? That is help to make sure that police officers and firefighters can stay on the job. It is help to make sure that counties that are dealing with an upsurge of people experiencing homelessness have the ability to shelter those people. That's what we're talking about here, and that's what we've been fighting for.

WHITFIELD: Some of the money will go towards testing. What do you want to see ultimately? I mean, to make a real big dent because you're hearing from all of these states who say, we may have some components of testing, but we don't have entire testing kits.

SMITH: Well, I have to say that I'm just so angry at the way this administration has handled this testing. Too slow, too late, not coordinated, not comprehensive and unfortunately, we can't really legislate competence here.

So, we are fighting in this legislation, which I hope we'll be able to pass as soon as the next few days, to get additional resources for testing, and I have been leading efforts with my colleagues in the Senate to have -- let's do a scan of where we are with testing.

Let's have an inventory. Let's figure out where the gaps are and then let's have a coordinated plan to fill the gaps, and that I hope will be included in this package.

WHITFIELD: All right. Senator Tina Smith. Be well. Thank you so much. Good luck because a lot of people need a whole lot of help.

SMITH: Thank you so much.

WHITFIELD: All right. And we'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right, Illinois Governor, J.B. Pritzker is having a briefing right now. He is being asked about coronavirus-related protests and school reopening. Let's listen in.

QUESTION: My first question is that we've seen people loudly protesting in states like Michigan and Wisconsin. Today, we actually saw a few cars driving around the block here also protesting this stay-at-home order, specifically.

What do you stay to people who just want to get back to work, and especially to those who may be planning protests that may not be abiding by the social distancing rules, as we saw in Wisconsin yesterday?


GOV. J.B. PRITZKER (D-IL): I think, I would say to all of those folks who legitimately want to get back to work that I do, too. I want people to get back to work. I want people to go back to school. And I want us to have a great summer.

And so I'm looking for all the best ways to make that happen. But we're in the middle of an emergency, a pandemic, and it's like nothing that we've ever seen, at least in our lifetimes.

And so we're listening to the experts and the scientists and, you know, you've seen some of them here at this podium before. And I've talked about them, the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, UIC and Northwestern and others -- SIU.

The experts that we're relying upon and the national and international experts, former heads of the F.D.A. and others -- C.D.C. and so on. I've had personal conversations with Dr. Fauci.

And the fact is that we have got to be very careful as we make decision about change in the stay-at-home order to keep people safe. And I'm looking at all of the ways in which we can open things up and keep people safe.

And so, I want us to get where they want us to get to.

QUESTION: Next question. You ordered schools to remain closed through the end of the semester. President Trump is talking, of course, about opening the country, possibly in stages.

And there are parents out there today who have giant concerns wondering if their company says they are one of the people who has to stop working from home and has to start going back into their businesses, while their kids are still home. Can you answer what Illinois might be able to provide to those parents?

PRITZKER: In terms of child care, for example, we've created emergency child care. In fact, all across the state, that's something that we did weeks and weeks ago, because of the essential workers and their needs and there is capacity out there, and we, of course, want to encourage people to become emergency child care providers.

So, to the extent that people will go back to work and their kids will be at home during the school year, you know, that is one option for people.

Of course, during the summer people who normally work and their kids would be not in school during the summer, they'll have that same problem if the kids were otherwise going to go to some congregant setting, a day camp or something else.

And so we'll want to continue to provide that kind of child care capability all across the state.

QUESTION: All right, my next question --

WHITFIELD: Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker. All right, coming up, we're following tornado touchdowns in Texas and Louisiana. Tom Sater will join us for the latest on the severe weather moving across the southeast.



WHITFIELD: Fifty million people across the south are once again bracing for severe weather today. This is Alabama where hail left holes in at least one house, and damaging winds knocked down trees, flattening several homes in another area.

CNN meteorologist, Tom Sater with a look at the forecast. Tom, this is a tough time and these weather systems are very fierce lately.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: We just went through this, Fredricka, last week. It was Easter Sunday into Monday. It will go down in history as far as the outbreak we had last weekend.

Two-day event, Sunday/Monday last week, 132 confirmed tornados, and with that, devastating loss of life, 36 fatalities, and it's the same area under the gun today.

Let's take a look at the radar and you'll get an indication of where these thunderstorms are firing up and just how intense they are with the lightning strikes.

Again, it's Eastern Texas. It is Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. On the right of your screen, the rain moving through South Carolina.

That already dropped two to four inches of rain in the first batch. But now, we've got ourselves a problem and in fact, as far as the tornado watches are concerned, Eastern Texas through Louisiana until now, 10:00 p.m., it was 3:00 Central Time, they've extended it into the southern parishes of Louisiana.

Mississippi's tornado watch is about 7:00 p.m. for it to expire. But again, this is going to continue to be the story as more watches and more warnings will continue to be the story.

Now, just south of Houston a little while ago, we did have a confirmed visual on a tornado, and that was in Brazoria County and for the most part, moving in now toward Galveston County. That was one. It is a severe storm now. But now, also, if you get into the areas of Louisiana. Notice Monroe,

Louisiana. They were devastated last Sunday, hundreds of homes were damaged. A lot of injuries, and of course, the fatalities is something that we just do not -- 15 percent area here, which means anywhere in that striped, hatched region could have a tornado within 25 miles of their home. That's a 15 percent chance.

This is almost exactly the set-up that we had last Sunday and Monday. So it continues to race through the afternoon hours, through Mississippi and Louisiana. It will be Alabama later on this evening, in toward Georgia.

The flood threat is great, after already dropping two to four inches and then much more on the way. So, area rivers and streams are up, and that severe threat will then make its way towards the Carolinas tomorrow.

All the ingredients from last week, Fredricka, are here. Again, hopefully not the outbreak that we had last night.

WHITFIELD: Hopefully not. Tom Sater, thank you so much, and thank you, everyone, for being with us this weekend. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.