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Interview with Former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen; European Countries Prepare to Reopen Their Economies; Interview with Former Small Business Administration Administrator Karen Mills. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired April 20, 2020 - 10:30   ET



GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: -- were infected by coronavirus --

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Public health experts are hoping to eventually conduct widespread antibody testing across the nation. If enough people are immune, then possibly the country could start safely opening up again.


COHEN: Now, recently, a French study of 84 people -- which is a large study, in this period of time -- showed that not only did hydroxychloroquine not work, but actually was associated with heart problems for those who took it -- Poppy, Jim.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Elizabeth, thank you for that reporting -- Jim.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: With me now, Dr. Leana Wen. She's an E.R. physician, former Baltimore City health commissioner. Doctor, so good to have you on today.

So a lot of attention focused on this particular treatment -- though there are many that are being considered for this -- hydroxychloroquine, with mixed results so far. What does that tell you as a doctor?

LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Well, it tells me that we need to do a lot more research to understand what the most effective treatments are. And it's not just a question of what's the most effective overall. We also have to understand more about the specific treatments. There may be some treatments that are most effective for patients with very severe illness, who are critically ill. There may be others for -- that are better for those will mild illness, that may help to prevent that severe illness from happening.

And that's the reason why we have clinical trials. The last thing that we want to do is to give people false hope.

SCIUTTO: Yes. WEN: And as we've seen in the case of hydroxychloroquine, it's an

existing medication that people use for lupus, rheumatoid arthritis. And we don't want for those patients to now not have access to the medications because there's a run on these -- on these pills. And so we really have to take it -- we really have to do things stepwise and follow the existing medical protocols for research.

SCIUTTO: As you look out there, are there other hopeful treatments? And again, it's early because you need data over time for hard answers. But for instance, another one that's gotten attention is Remdesivir, another drug. And again, early stages, but are you seeing other hopeful signs from other treatments?

WEN: They are. I mean, you mentioned Remdesivir, which is an anti- viral medication. There are a number of other medications that are also being tested. And they do show promise, but I think it's important for us to be cautiously optimistic. These are existing medications. So ideally, one of them can be repurposed for COVID-19, but we have to follow the existing --


WEN: -- scientific and ethical protocols so as to not give false promise.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And Dr. Fauci said it, as we showed in the segment just before. He said there are no proven treatments yet.

So I wonder, in effect, is social distancing the only proven medicine, if you want to call it that, to combat this disease at this point?

WEN: Yes, it's a really good point. At this moment, we don't have a vaccine, we don't have treatment. And that's why we have to rely on what we call the non-pharmaceutical interventions. And social distancing is key to that. Social distancing is what you can do to prevent the transmission of the virus from person to person.

And I know it's a blunt instrument, right? This is not ideal. Ideally, we want to get to the point that individuals receive medications to prevent them from having it. But until we get to the point that we have few enough cases that we can do contact tracing, and to isolate those individuals, until we can be sure of the numbers that we're actually seeing in the community, social distancing --


WEN: -- is the blunt instrument that we have to stop the spread.

SCIUTTO: Before I let you go, I mean, you've heard the politicians inject themselves -- right? -- into the medical debate here -- right? -- about -- and you've heard the president. I mean, he pitched hydroxychloroquine as a treatment, saying, what do you have to lose? Take it.

As a doctor, is that helpful when politicians are making recommendations like this on treatments? WEN: No. And actually, it's confusing. Patients are desperate, people

are desperate for information. I mean, they're scared. And we know in medicine that to be credible, you have to tell the truth. And sometimes, the truth is hard. Sometimes the truth involves us saying, here's all this that we don't know.

It's a time of great uncertainty, but it's much worse to spread lies and misinformation about something that's a life-threatening issue.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, anybody who's ever had a relative face a health crisis, they know that a lot of these answers just aren't simple, right? When it comes to treatments for difficult diseases. Dr. Leana Wen, we appreciate your help.

WEN: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Well, the U.S., certainly not the only country hoping that antibody tests will be a help to reopen the economy. Italy, now doing its own trials. The CNN team there tried one of the tests under consideration. What they found, coming up.


HARLOW: Antibody testing: It will be key in managing the coronavirus crisis. In the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci says we still have a way to go before widely available antibody tests are broadly on the market.

SCIUTTO: So in Italy, the curve of new cases, beginning to flatten there. And as that government plans for phase two of managing the outbreak -- including some reopening -- health officials are choosing which antibody tests they will use. CNN's senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman and his team actually tried one of those tests.




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 gave it a try.

WEDEMAN: 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.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Unlike swabs, this test gives results in just eight minutes. BOSONE (PH): (SPEAKING IN ITALIAN)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The result, says Dr. John (ph) Dominic (ph) Bossone (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 and are no longer contagious.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): I received a clean bill of health.



BOSONE (PH): Si. Negative.

WEDEMAN: And never had it?

BOSONE (PH): Never.

WEDEMAN: None of my -- never had it. Oh.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Alfredo (ph), who drove us all over Northern Italy for two weeks, also negative.

CNN Rome's veteran cameraman, Alessandro Gentile, however, had a different result.


WEDEMAN (voice-over): Positive, says Dr. Bossone (ph). 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.

PIERPAOLO SILERI, ITALIAN DEPUTY HEALTH MINISTER: (inaudible) the test will be done, eventually --

WEDEMAN (voice-over): Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri, who caught the virus and has since recovered, says such tests will initially focus on critical sectors before becoming widespread.

SILERI: -- sample, I mean, who is working in the health system should do the test, who is working for every public (ph) utilities (ph) should do it. Plus I would check the population especially in the north.

WEDEMAN (voice-over): The number of new coronavirus cases in Italy is slowly declining, but the daily death toll remains high, while the International Monetary Fund warns the country's gross domestic product could plummet by more than nine percent this year. Striking a balance between the economy and public health will not be easy.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Rome.


SCIUTTO: How soon will we see those tests here in the U.S.?

Also overseas, for the first time in a week, shops and businesses across Germany are now open, the German government, taking small steps to reopen its economy as the rate of coronavirus infections there slows down.

HARLOW: Fred Pleitgen joins us live in Berlin.

There are still, though, Fred, some restrictions in place? Is that right?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Mm-hmm. Yes, there certainly are, Poppy. And it's one of the things that the German government is warning about. It's warning people not to become complacent.

I don't know how much you can see behind me, but there's a lot of people who have come out today, the first day that smaller shops are allowed to open, like the ones in the pedestrian zone that you're seeing right here.

And in front of a lot of these shops, there's actually lines with people waiting to get in, folks telling us, we've been waiting so long for these shops to finally reopen, for us to finally be able to just get out of our houses and go shopping again.

And of course, shopkeepers are saying exactly the same thing. They're saying being closed down has been an absolute disaster. They did get really quick help from the German government. They said that was paid out, but a lot of them certainly were afraid that they were, quite frankly, going to go out of business if this went on any longer.


The German government, guys, says it managed to get the coronavirus under control, with cases here going down while the number of people who have overcome coronavirus continues to go up through rigorous testing, through ramping up of the -- of the health care system. And then also of course, from people being disciplined.

However, Angela Merkel just came out a couple of minutes, on TV, and said, look, people, don't become complacent. We're going to watch these numbers closely. If they spike again, all the things that you see here, people being able to go out, all that could go away again -- guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, they did what the health experts say, right? Test broadly and do contact tracing. Fred Pleitgen there in Germany.


HARLOW: Many small businesses, left out in the cold from the Paycheck Protection Program. What is being done to make sure that they get the funds that they need to stay afloat? It sounds like a deal between the White House and Congress is nearly done. What does it need to entail? We'll ask the former head of the Small Business Administration, next.



HARLOW: President Trump says a new deal to add funding to the Paycheck Protection Program could happen today. That program was put in place to help small businesses hurting financially because of the coronavirus pandemic. It was funded initially at $349 billion, but it ran out in literally just a handful of weeks. Karen Mills is with me, senior fellow at the Harvard Business School. Of course, she ran the Small Business Administration under President Obama from 2009 to 2013, and served on his National Economic Council.

Karen, it's really good to have you. So here's the deal. It helped a lot of businesses for sure, that's great. But a lot of small businesses were left out in the cold. A lot of restaurants, a lot of small, small offices, a lot of mom-and-pop shops. I just spoke with the CEO of Shake Shack. They got $10; they're giving it back. Here's what he told me. Listen.


RANDY GARUTTI, CEO, SHAKE SHACK: The very people, the small businesses, our friends who own small restaurants couldn't get access to this capital. And they were in line, or their banks couldn't get it done. That doesn't seem right to us.

And as we've watched this opportunity play out over the weeks, it's -- it was very clear that the program was underfunded, and it wasn't set up for everyone to win.


HARLOW: Is he right? What happened?

KAREN MILLS, FORMER ADMINISTRATOR, SMALL BUSINESS ADMINISTRATION: Well, he's exactly right. You know, one of the good things is that $349 billion got out. The bad thing, of course, is that the money ran out much too quickly and the big guys were in the front of the line. I am really worried about the smallest of the small businesses because there's 30 million small businesses out there, and only under two million have gotten this funding. And many of them only need under $40,000. So what I'm hoping will happen is, first of all, they'll pass this

next tranche of money as soon as possible. And secondly, that it will be more than $250. We're hearing $300, $350. That would be good. My number for overall (ph) is $750 minimum. And then they set aside some of this money for small-dollar loans, for loans under $40,000 (ph). So --


MILLS: -- these small guys can get in.

HARLOW: So the way that Mnuchin -- Treasury Secretary Mnuchin defended it yesterday, when Jake Tapper asked him about this. And he said something, that it's just a fact that it's easier for you to get a loan when you have an existing bank relationship. And guess who has existing bank relationships and ones that are strong? Is generally the bigger businesses.

You have warned that you think 20 percent of small businesses in America may never open again. Can anything be changed, sort of last- minute, in this next tranche of money, to help those folks the most?

MILLS: Well, let me give you a little piece of -- bright spot of good news, which is that at the end of -- at the beginning of last week, we actually saw Square and PayPal and QuickBooks get approved as SBA lenders. So now, this week (ph), it's not just going to be the banks. And we know that PayPal, for instance, has relationships with 10 million small businesses --

HARLOW: Right.

MILLS: -- they know are (ph) real, and they can verify them. And the average loan in the queue on Square (ph) is $25,000. So my hope is that pretty soon, after this money gets allocated, small (ph) businesses --


HARLOW: That's --

MILLS: -- will get funded, and that some of those people will get the money at the front of the queue, not the end.

HARLOW: That's a good point. You wrote a whole book about fintech, so let's hope that helps.

Let me just ask a final question. You worked in the Obama administration, but you do have a message for Democrats. Right now, you've got a number of Democrats -- well, we saw initially, last week, Senate Democrats, blocking the attempt by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to add $251 billion to the program because they want $150 billion for states, $100 billion for hospitals. You seem to be saying, don't delay at all, just get more money in there?

MILLS: Well, actually, I'm saying hospitals clearly need the money, and I think states do too. And this message was not for Democrats, it was really for Republicans and all of Congress. I don't know why Mnuchin would object to money for hospitals, and why not make it more money? And make it as simple as possible. So I'm glad to see that they're getting together and they're going to get the money out.

HARLOW: Look, he reiterated -- Mnuchin yesterday -- how important the money is for the hospitals. The president, interestingly, said he is open to the money for the states too. I think we'll see how this all shakes out. But thank you -- thanks for being here, and I just think we all really, really hope that the businesses that need this most get it in the next tranche. Thanks, Karen.

MILLS: They need to. Thank you.


HARLOW: And thanks to all of you for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King is up right after a short break.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington. This is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Another global benchmark quickly approaching, 2.5 million confirmed cases worldwide. The --