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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER
Global Pandemic; Georgia to Begin Reopening?; Testing Delays. Aired 4:30-5p ET
Aired April 20, 2020 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: But, basically, they're using the DPA to give this company more money.
That's what they're in talks to do, so then the company can increase its industrial capacity and then make more swabs, though we should note this contract has not been awarded yet.
JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Would have been nice to award it maybe two months ago.
Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Appreciate it.
Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says Senate negotiations will pick up tomorrow over emergency loans for small businesses. Sources tell CNN the talks are focused on how to provide money for hospitals and community health centers, as well as how to spend money to ensure coronavirus testing is carried out on a much wider scale.
I want to bring in CNN business anchor Julia Chatterley to talk about this and more.
Julia, these loans, we have been talking about them for a month now. They're intended for small businesses. So do we know how big-name restaurant chains like Ruth's Chris Steak House, Potbelly, Shake Shack, which is giving back their loan, how did they manage to get the money to begin with?
JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN BUSINESS ANCHOR: We do know. And I know it feels wrong.
Two things important to focus on. One, they had strong banking relationships, and therefore they got in early. Two, the rules stipulate that businesses with less than 500 employees can apply. However, the rules also say that, if you have 500 employees or more dotted around the country collectively, clearly, far more than that, you can still apply.
So these businesses did nothing wrong. But plenty of people stepped up and said this feels immoral, particularly when companies like these can get money from other sources, and plenty, millions of small businesses have no other options.
TAPPER: Right. And that's what Shake Shack said, ultimately, that they can get money from other means.
TAPPER: They don't need this -- these loans from the government.
Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida today came out blasting the loan program, saying that millions of dollars in it are being wasted, going to the wrong people, not going to small businesses. Do you agree? And what changes does he suggest?
CHATTERLEY: Some of that, I think, is fair. The point about getting money to the smallest businesses in the country is very valid.
Some is not. Remember, 90 percent of this country, more, is in shutdown. Businesses, companies of all sizes are going to be impacted. So we have to remember that. I'll keep coming back to the idea that if you add conditions to individual loans, you will slow an already very slow process down.
However, when a quarter of the cash goes to 2 percent of businesses, we have a problem, Jake. And that's what we saw. So I think Congress deciding to segregate some of this cash, making it only available to the smallest lenders, the online lenders, and getting that money to small businesses is crucial.
We can make the system fairer, I think, without making it slower.
TAPPER: And let me ask you about making it fairer, because somebody reached out to me, a small business owner. He said he can't get a loan because he was once convicted of a felony within the last five years. And for that reason, he wasn't eligible for one.
You looked into this rule today. Why is this rule there? I mean, if somebody has paid their debt to society, why can't they get a small business loan?
I have spoken to a number of lawyers, and they said this was a trip wire created because of the speed that this program was built. What officials did was, they copied an existing lending program at the Small Business Administration. And they copied all the restrictions too.
This restriction against former felons was just one of them. Other restrictions included venture capital-backed small businesses. You imagine how hard the lobbyists worked to try and break that one and failed.
The fear is that only Congress can act here, and the likelihood is, they won't. It's awful for people who've served their time trying to reform their lives and get on with things and can't get access to this program.
TAPPER: Quickly, oil prices dropped to a record low, between zero to negative-$37 a barrel. Is this because of the pandemic?
CHATTERLEY: It is, because we're not driving. We're not flying as much. There's very little demand out there.
But it's also a supply issue. There is still too much supply out there. And now the fear is that particularly in the United States there's nowhere to store it, Jake. What we're talking about when we're seeing negative prices is oil producers having to pay buyers to take oil off their hands.
It's critical for the jobs in this industry. And that's my big fear now, help required.
TAPPER: All right, Julia Chatterley, thank you so much, as always. I'll see you tomorrow.
Valuable time lost? New CNN reporting on how failures crippled the U.S.' early response to the coronavirus.
Stay with us.
TAPPER: CNN has learned exactly why the United States was weeks behind in coronavirus diagnostic testing.
With the clock ticking, lives on the line, in the early days of confronting this invisible enemy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention screwed up.
The CDC lab producing the test kits was contaminated, according to a senior administration official.
CNN's Sara Murray is part of the team that combed through documents from public records requests, internal records from a private testing facility, as well as interviewing current and former government officials, to find out exactly what went wrong with the testing.
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The early U.S. response to the coronavirus crisis was crippled by the CDC first flawed test, a flaw likely caused by contamination at a CDC lab in February, a senior administration official says.
DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Thank you, Mr. Vice President.
MURRAY: But, in Washington, top health officials, like CDC Director Robert Redfield and Health and Human Service Secretary Alex Azar, were assuring the White House the situation was under control.
[16:40:08] DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're testing everybody that we need to test, and we're finding very little problem, very little problem.
MURRAY: In fact, public health labs couldn't get the test to work, and it would take roughly three weeks in February to get to the bottom of the problem and devise a fix, precious time squandered, as the virus spread across the country, largely undetected.
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It is failing. Let's admit it.
MURRAY: A CNN investigation found overly optimistic health care officials, a contaminated CDC lab, government red tape, and a president who downplayed the coronavirus.
TRUMP: One day, it's like a miracle. It will disappear.
MURRAY: All contributed to the delay in scaling up testing , a shortage that still persists, despite claims from the White House.
TRUMP: We have tremendous testing capacity.
MURRAY: In mid-February, the Food and Drug Administration was getting mixed messages from the CDC about why its test was malfunctioning.
A diagnostics expert from the FDA traveled to Atlanta to visit the CDC lab and found the lab was contaminated, most likely causing the problem with the test, an administration official said. An FDA spokesperson said: "CDC did not manufacture its test consistent with its own protocol."
A CDC spokesperson said, the issue is under investigation and routine quality control measures were not sufficient in this circumstance.
FAUCI: No doubt that, early on, we had a problem.
MURRAY: States were allowed to use a work-around to deploy the existing test kits that had been malfunctioning. New kits were also shipped with the help of an outside manufacturer.
Meantime, there was no coordinated strategy from the White House to ramp up alternatives. It wasn't until February 29 that the FDA loosened regulations to make it easier for clinical and commercial labs to develop their own tests.
REDFIELD: I can tell you, having lived through the last eight weeks, I would have loved the private sector to be fully engaged eight weeks ago.
MURRAY: Even now, three months after the first reported coronavirus case in the U.S., the struggle continues.
DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: That lack of testing is preventing us from understanding the true spread of coronavirus in communities.
MURRAY: Now, Jake, spokespeople at the CDC and HHS defended Secretary Azar, as well as Robert Redfield.
But the bottom line remains, the U.S. got a painfully slow start to testing -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thanks so much.
We're joined now by Dr. Rochelle Walensky. She's the chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Dr. Walensky, thanks so much for joining us.
We knew there were problems with testing from the beginning. But now we learned it took the CDC about three weeks to sort out these failed test kits. What's the real-world impact that you and other doctors and hospitals saw on the front lines?
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Good afternoon, Jake.
The first thing I want to just mention is that these tests, these tests are PCR tests, and they're designed to find very little virus. They want to be able to detect very little virus if you have it, so that they can say they found it, even if you only had a very little bit.
And when those tests are designed them, their biggest challenge is that they can get contaminated. And so when we get false positive results, it's usually due to contamination. So this is actually not that much of a surprise from the scientific community that a PCR test would have challenges associated with contamination.
Now, what about how this impacted what happened in the country? And what I will say is, when we think about pandemics, we think about a containment phase. That containment phase involves finding every last person who has the disease, finding every last person with whom they had contact, and quarantining them, so isolating the people who we knew had disease, and quarantining all of those contacts.
That is how we contain a pandemic. When you can't do that because, in fact, you didn't -- couldn't find them, you couldn't detect them because you didn't have a test, then we go into mitigation phase, and that is other ways that we can stop viral spread.
That is stopping travel, washing our hands, stay-at-home orders, all of those other ways that we can stop viral spread. So, when we have to think about going back from mitigation back to containment, that's really why we need so many tests, because, to get back to containment, we need to find every last person with disease and their contacts.
TAPPER: Yes, we weren't even doing anything remotely resembling that.
Cruise ships would come in, and there would be somebody with coronavirus on the cruise ship, and everybody would be left off -- let off, nobody would be tested, they would drive back to Ohio or Michigan or wherever, and the disease was spreading.
This failure of the testing was a combination of this contaminated lab, red tape that denied many sick people access to tests, and, of course, not having an agreement of support between public and private labs.
I guess the bigger question, looking back, was this avoidable?
WALENSKY: Well, we do know other cases where massive testing happened.
So if you take a country like South Korea, they were doing hundreds of thousands of tests before we were really scaled up to test. So I don't necessarily -- I think hindsight is 20/20 here.
But I do know that it's -- there have been other examples of other countries, South Korea, Germany, that have been able to remain in containment phase because they had adequate testing.
TAPPER: A new study from Harvard found that the U.S. needs to triple or quadruple its daily testing before the country can really seriously, responsibly begin to reopen again, up to like 4.5 million tests a week. We're at about 1.5 million.
How badly did these early missteps set the U.S. back when it comes to the kind of widespread testing needed?
WALENSKY: Well, I think right now we are in a mitigation phase, and everybody wants to sort of move backward to containment.
So what does it take to move backward to containment? A huge volume of tests? We know we're already behind there. So what does it take to scale up? This Harvard study is one of numerous studies that have looked at how many tests do we need to actually do?
I have seen estimates everywhere from 4.5 million a week to 10 million a week. We can generally tell how we're doing with testing based on how many tests turn positive when we test. In Massachusetts now, we're testing only high-risk symptomatic patients and patients who come into the hospital.
About 25 percent of people who are tested in Massachusetts are -- have COVID disease. So that's like one in four, one in five. You look at a case like South Korea, that's -- 3 percent of their people have a test -- have a positive test, three in 100, which means they're testing a huge volume of people that are much lower risk.
So I think it's about right. We need to triple, maybe increase tenfold the number of tests that we're doing in order to get back from mitigation to containment.
TAPPER: You're the chief of infectious diseases at Mass General. You're in a state with a Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who takes this very seriously and has set in place strict guidelines. What goes through your brain when you see governors in places like South Carolina or Florida or other places where they are beginning to talk about or they're actually enacting opening up beaches, as they're doing in Jacksonville?
What goes through your mind as an infectious disease expert?
WALENSKY: I just worry. I see what we're dealing with in the hospital right now. And we are at really maximum capacity.
My heart has gone out to the health care workers in New York and the families in New York. And I just worry that the medical care in those areas will not have the capacity that they need.
And we're talking -- we're talking beds, we're talking ventilators, we're talking dialysis. We're talking manpower to handle what may be coming their way, because they haven't taken the seriously.
TAPPER: I hope -- obviously, I hope you're wrong.
WALENSKY: Me too. Me too.
TAPPER: But I can understand why you're concerned and worried.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, thank you so much for your expertise. We really appreciate it. Good luck to you and your family, of course.
Breaking news: One state may soon open up gyms, barbershops, even restaurants -- the new details next.
TAPPER: Breaking news: a stunning move from Georgia's Governor Brian Kemp, announcing that his state will allow some businesses, including gyms and salons, to reopen this week.
This comes as Georgia has 733 deaths from coronavirus and nearly 19,000 confirmed cases.
CNN's Amara Walker joins me now to discuss.
Amara, what businesses can open and when?
AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so here are the details.
And, yes, like you said, it really is an extraordinary move by Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia. So what he is doing is, he's lifting the order and now allowing the incremental opening of some business. And this is statewide.
So as early as this Friday, in a few days from now, you can start seeing in Georgia some businesses, indoor facilities, like barbershops and hair salons, nail salons, gyms, all kinds of fitness centers, bowling alleys, massage therapists, these people going back to work. Again, it'll be up to the businesses whether or not they will reopen, but they will not be restricted under the shelter-in-place orders that were supposed to remain in effect until the end of April.
Now, as early as Monday, we can also start seeing theaters and restaurants reopening. But the governor did say that some of these restaurants, if they do want to reopen, they will have to meet certain guidelines before they do.
And he said, Governor Kemp, that he will be releasing the details on what restrictions that they will have to meet before these restaurants can reopen. We do want to reiterate, though, bars, nightclubs will remain closed, but, again, extraordinary move by the Georgia governor to reopen the economy of Georgia -- Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Amara Walker, thank you so much.
In our world lead: The French government saying the country has passed the peak of the pandemic, but the French prime minister says France will not return to normal for quite some time, until there is a vaccine or treatment.
Turkey now has over 90,000 confirmed cases, surpassing the total reported by the Chinese government, though, of course, as always, we should note, questions remain over the transparency and honesty of anything coming from President Xi's government.
In Bangladesh. 100,000 people defying lockdown orders to attend the funeral of an Islamic political leader, sparking fears of a mass coronavirus outbreak there.
The number of active cases in Italy is down for the first time since the pandemic started, and now Italy is starting to look towards possibly reopening.
And antibody testing could be critical to prevent a second wave of cases. But there are questions over just how reliable these antibody tests really are.
CNN's Ben Wedeman took the test himself to learn more.
BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Just three drops of blood are enough for a Chinese-made antibody test
for the coronavirus now going through a trial run in Italy, just one of several tests being examined by the Italian government.
Other countries have had mixed success with such quickly designed tests, but we give it a try.
(on camera): We were up in the north of Italy in the red zones for 17 days, so we are very anxious to see the results of this test. (voice-over): Unlike swabs, this test gives results in just eight
The result says, Dr. John Dominique Basone (ph), can tell us three things, either, you never had anything, or that you are currently infected, or that you had the infection, but overcame it and have antibodies that are no longer contagious.
I received a clean bill of health.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nothing.
WEDEMAN (on camera): Negative?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Negative.
WEDEMAN: And never had it?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Never.
WEDEMAN: Never had it.
(voice-over): Alfredo, who drove us all over Northern Italy for two weeks, also negative.
CNN's Rome's veteran cameraman Alessandro Gentile, however, had a different result.
Positive, says, Dr. Basone. He had the virus in the past and has brilliantly overcome it. Alessandro never had any symptoms.
But our bodies can take time to produce antibodies, so experts caution that these tests may miss some recent current infections, unlike the more common swab tests, which should be able to detect whenever someone is shedding the virus.
Antibody tests like the one I got, quick, painless and inexpensive, just around $20, can show who's already been infected with COVID-19 and may now be immune to the virus, a critical step as Italy shifts into phase two, the phase when the country reopens.
WEDEMAN: And that phase begins on the fourth of May, in theory, unless the government changes its mind.
And they still haven't actually decided which test, one of these Chinese tests or a locally developed test, will be adopted for mass use in the Italian population.
TAPPER: Ben Wedeman, thank you so much.
Germany is slowly starting to get back to some semblance of normalcy, with stores opening back up to the public.
CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin. Fred, I know the -- Chancellor Angela Merkel dealt with the virus very
aggressively very early. Is there any concern that reopening Germany too soon could lead to a second wave?
FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there certainly is. And there certainly is on the part of Angela Merkel.
You're absolutely right, Jake. She always has been one to move fairly slowly as far as loosening some of these restrictions, always had all of that rooted in science as well. And the other thing that she's also done, she's also been in lockstep with state governors here in this country to make sure that everybody moves forward at the same pace.
Now, Angela Merkel today said, look, the fact that Germany has been able to loosen some of these restrictions is due to the discipline of many people in Germany, who really adhered to all these physical distancing measures.
Now some smaller shops were able to reopen. And she said, people really need to watch out, not be complacent, because if there is another spike in corona cases, all these new freedoms will go away again, and certainly there would be other restrictions as well.
Now, Jake, today I was actually in one German town, and you could see more people out in the streets still sort of physically distancing. But it does seem as though some people might be a little more lax with some of these measures, and they could be, and certainly Angela Merkel says it's a point of concern for her, Jake.
TAPPER: All right, Fred Pleitgen in Berlin, thank you so much.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing starts in just a few minutes.
Our coverage on CNN continues right now.