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When Did Coronavirus Spread Really Begin in United States?. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2020 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And, as CNN's Nick Watt reports, as doctors and scientists learn more about this deadly virus, many are sounding the alarm about states lifting social distancing guidelines too quickly and too soon, and even warning of another possible wave of the virus this winter.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): We thought the first coronavirus death in the U.S. came the last day in February in Washington state. Not true. Now we know COVID-19 killed someone in the Bay Area more than three weeks earlier.

DR. SARA CODY, SANTA CLARA COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DEPARTMENT: The fatality on February 6 was a 57-year-old woman.

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: That is a very significant finding. The things we put into place in late January, like the travel ban, the virus was already here by then and probably circulating quite widely.

WATT: Meanwhile, the president plane states are safely coming back, but one model used by the White House now says 12 states, including Georgia, should wait the longest, at least another six weeks, before relaxing social distancing.

Georgia's governor forced to defend even on FOX what he calls a measured step to open gyms, hair salons and the like this Friday.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): The fitness owners, I have great confidence in them spreading people out when they're doing a workout. It's not saying they have got to screen them. These are best practices. They could do temperature screening.

WATT: While others preach caution.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): And it will look more like a turning of a dial than the flip of a switch. We will not be able to lift many of the restrictions by May 4.

WATT: In New York, that Navy hospital ship no longer taking patients, pressure on beds easing in the city, but the body count continues to mount. Some dead will now be stored in freezer trucks in Brooklyn, waiting for the backlog at cemeteries and crematoriums to clear.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): In talking to many local officials, they feel political pressure to open. I get the pressure, but we can't make a bad decision. Frankly, this is no time to act stupidly.

WATT: In Texas, daylight emerging between the Republican governor, who is expected to soon announce business openings, and the Democratic mayor of the state's biggest city.

SYLVESTER TURNER (D), MAYOR OF HOUSTON, TEXAS: When it comes to allowing something like the surgeries, which will start today, I agree with it. But if you go much further than that, if you start opening up everything, like what is taking place in Georgia, then I think you run into a serious problem of creating a resurgence of this virus.

WATT: A pork processing plant in Iowa just finally closed after pressure from local Democratic officials and resistance from the Republican governor.

QUENTIN HART (D), MAYOR OF WATERLOO, IOWA: I understand the impact that this has on our national food chain, but, in order to be able to stop the spread, this was the best course of action.


WATT: Now, all 2,800 workers in that plant will now be offered COVID- 19 testing. Can't help but think that maybe the horse has bolted.

But, moving forward, data is obviously the key to all of this. And we just heard from the governor in New York they are now launching basically an army of contact tracers who will fan out over the tristate area as we begin to reopen.

If there's a case, they will trace contacts, and those people will be isolated, if necessary. And former Mayor Mike Bloomberg is kicking in some expertise, and also more than $10 million to help with that initiative -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt, thank you so much.

Joining me now, chief CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, a key coronavirus model often touted by the White House, the one from the University of Washington, says many states will need to wait longer to reopen. The model predicts that June 19 is going to be the date that it's safe for Georgia to reopen.

The governor is, of course, allowing some businesses to reopen there in 48 hours, long before June. What do you make of this situation?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think the governor is falling into a trap here, Jake.

I don't think he's recognized that these measures that have gone in place, these social distancing, physical distancing measures have had an impact. He's thinking, things look OK here.

First of all, they don't look OK. I mean, the data is pretty clear on this. And the numbers don't lie. I think it was very interesting to hear how Ambassador Birx sort of phrased it yesterday. She basically said, hey, look, we put out guidelines. We made it as easy to use as possible.

There are still outbreaks happening. The numbers are going in the wrong direction. So, I don't know how you could possibly do this, but maybe they will get creative, was essentially how she put it.

I don't know how you get creative in a situation with some of these businesses that would open.

I also -- the other concern, Jake, is this. And we have talked about this. But between the time someone might get exposed, after these reopening occur -- and people will get exposed -- it can be a -- 14 days, right, the incubation period, before they start to have symptoms, several days after that before they need to go to the hospital, if they do, and several days after that before people, unfortunately, might die.


So, my point is that people may look at Georgia and say, two weeks later, hey, everything still looks OK. And then, three weeks later, all of a sudden, things start to -- the numbers start to go up.

I hope that people don't follow that lead if Georgia in fact does reopen, because there is a latency here. And people have just got to remember how this virus behaves.

TAPPER: So, obviously, the other big news today is that we now know that the first deaths from coronavirus were long before the one that we thought was the first one, early February in California, not in Washington state.

What's the significance of this?


As Ashish Jha was just talking about, it is significant, I think, very significant, but not surprising. It's significant because, if you look at the various benchmarks that we have been talking about that have made this of increasing concern, first of all, that it was a novel coronavirus, right, we knew that -- it made this jump from animals to humans.

And then it started transmitting, we know, from humans to humans. And then we know that human-to-human transmission was happening within the community. And, after that, we learned that it could happen asymptomatically.

But what this sort of suggests, Jake, someone died of this on February 6 in California, no known travel to China. That means it was already spreading in the community. And if you do the math backwards again, so the person died on February 6. When were they likely to have been exposed? Probably beginning of January, three to four weeks earlier.

So, we probably had community spread of this virus in this country at the beginning of the year, Jake, January 6, so, I mean, maybe even earlier than that. Who knows the exact date.

But the point is that it's been around for a lot longer. I think people have suspected that for sometime. I don't think we thought that the first patient that we diagnosed was definitively the first patient diagnosed, the first patient here. But this is quite a bit earlier, I think, than even public health officials anticipated.

So, it was spreading within the community in early January, spreading as a very contagious disease, spreading asymptomatically. You could have a lot of people out there who've likely been exposed to this.

TAPPER: And we don't know if the 57-year-old woman who was the first patient that we know of who died of this in the U.S., we don't know if she had preexisting conditions, but she is, A, under 60, or was under 60, and, B, a woman, not a man.

And we know that it affects men worse. California is now the first state to recommend that asymptomatic patients in high-risk situations be tested. Do you think that that should theoretically be the way it is for every state in the nation?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that that's what's going to have to happen.

And if you want to start putting some numbers on it to make it more tangible for people, out of every 10 tests that are performed, only one should come back positive, meaning that you're basically surveilling enough people that you're starting to get a real sense of where the virus is.

But, even more specifically, Jake, when you start going back to work, when I start going back to work, going back into a public building, where there's people around, we may need to be tested not only before we go back to work, but then again on a regular basis of some sort, to make sure that, in fact, we are not harboring the virus in our bodies.

Obviously, if we have symptoms, we should not go to work. But let's say we're totally asymptomatic. We should still need to be tested on some regular basis to make sure we don't have the virus and can spread it to other people.

The metaphor that I have been using with some of my medical colleagues is sort of like how diabetics test their blood glucose. This isn't a blood test that we would be talking about for the virus, but sort of thinking -- starting to think of it that way.

You can do this more regularly. We won't need to do this in perpetuity. A vaccine should change that, ultimately. But for a time being, yes, testing has to be available. We have got to have some confidence that I'm not carrying the virus right now. I'm going to go out. I might not be able to physically distance myself. I'll wear my mask. I'll do all the right things. But what I'd really

like to know, do I have the virus right now? I can't sufficiently answer that question for myself and a lot of people can't. That's where we need to be, Jake.

TAPPER: And the CDC director, Dr. Redfield, yesterday, in an interview with "The Washington Post," he warned of a horrific possible combination this winter, when the coronavirus pandemic, perhaps even another wave of it, coincides with the seasonal flu, overwhelming the health care system.

Is there any way to avoid that?

GUPTA: Well, one way to slow -- to mitigate it, I guess, a word that we now use a lot, is for people to get their flu shot.

I mean, I don't mean to sound trite here, but fewer than half the adults in this country get their flu shot every year. I mean, flu is a significant concern. I mean, we have said that from the start.


A couple of years ago, 60,000 people died of the flu in this country.

So, yes, getting a flu shot will certainly help, but also recognizing that all the -- all the things that we have been talking about for the last three months, making sure hospitals have surge capacity, making sure that health care workers have enough personal protective equipment, making sure we can do testing and contact tracing, as we have talked about, those -- those issues are not going away.

We may get a little bit of a lull as the weather warms. There's some predictions that could happen. But this second wave, especially if it coincides with flu season, we're going to need all those same things again, and more of them.

So I think that's what Dr. Redfield really meant. The virus is the constant here. The virus is a contagious virus.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: It obviously can be a lethal virus for some people. That's not changed.

But what changed is the circumstances and the sort of stacking on top of flu.

TAPPER: Right.

FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn said this morning that testing, which I believe is about a rate of 150,000 to 200,000 people a day, he predicted that it could double by this week. Take a listen.


DR. STEPHEN HAHN, COMMISSIONER, FOOD AND DRUG ADMINISTRATION: That could be done this week if the appropriate identification occurs at the state level, and then the supplies are there for them.

And so this is everyday working with the states, unlocking that capacity, getting the supplies where they're needed, and actually informing the state public health officials about what alternative supplies are available.


TAPPER: Is that really possible? Could testing realistically double this week?

GUPTA: I -- there were two ifs that he put in there, if you listened. One was if the states can identify and if the supplies are there.

I think that the capacity -- and I think people define this maybe in different ways, but there are labs now. There's public health labs, there's these big commercial labs like Quest, there's university labs.

I think the lab capacity has focused their attention on this coronavirus. So I think the capacity has certainly increased. But still the supplies, everything from the swabs to the reagents to the medium that you transport the swab in, they have been lacking in certain places.

And if you don't have even one of those things in the supply chain, it's tough to get a test done. So, if those supplies are there, I think you could get to that number.

I have no doubt, Jake, that we're capable of this in the United States, not only getting to that number, but getting to a million tests a day, which is probably where we need to be. I think we can do it.

I think we just have to at this point. We have to -- this has to be priority number one, I think.

TAPPER: And there needs to be leadership, not just in the states, but on the federal level, to help, especially with the supply chain issues.

Sanjay, thanks so much.

GUPTA: You got it.

TAPPER: Be sure to tune in for a CNN global town hall hosted by Sanjay and Anderson Cooper tomorrow night. Their guests will be Grammy Award-winning artist Alicia Keys, who will debut her new song honoring health care workers. That's tomorrow at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up next: a return to the epicenter. CNN is live on the ground in Wuhan, China -- what life is like now in the place where coronavirus was born.

Plus, some states in the U.S. also now trying to get back to a new normal of sorts. We will talk to an expert about the measures you may experience as businesses begin to try to reopen.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our world lead today, a CNN exclusive. In the United States, a return to the place where this all started, in Wuhan, China, the first epicenter of this epidemic.

CNN's David Culver was in Wuhan in late January as authorities started to lock down the entire city to try to control the outbreak. He got out just hours before.

Now he's back inside to see what life looks like now that the Chinese government are lifting some restrictions.


DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): CNN back at the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak, Wuhan, China, and its more than 11 million residents, navigating this post-lockdown uncertainty.

Among them, American Christopher Suzanne.

(on camera): Let's switch out mask, what's your preference here.

(voice-over): He suggested we upgrade our protective equipment before going for a stroll. It's a city he knows well.

CHRISTOPHER SUZANNE, WUHAN RESIDENT: So, this place is -- you know, I was married here, I had a baby here, I've been here for the past ten years.

CULVER (on camera): This is home.

SUZANNE: Yes, this is home.

CULVER (voice-over): Christopher's home is slowly emerging from a brutal 76-day lockdown. He returned to Wuhan in the midst of it.

SUZANNE: I'm real happy to see people at least keeping their distance while going about their day.

CULVER: But just two weeks after the reopening, some here are closing the gap on social distancing. Many stores and restaurants keeping people from coming inside. But that's not stopping crowds like this one from standing shoulder to shoulder waiting outside for their orders.

In places like our hotel, there are noticeably stricter measures. Staff spraying us down each time we walk in and checking our temperatures. Inside, even the elevators telling you where to stand, offering you a tissue to touch the button tons. But will it last?

SUZANNE: Like we are afraid there is going to be the second wave. I think everybody here knows.

CULVER (on camera): You think it's coming?

SUZANNE: Absolutely.

CULVER (voice-over): Yet there is growing skepticism over where the first wave actually originated.

(on camera): So this is where Chinese health officials believe the source of the novel coronavirus is, this is the Huanan seafood market. Of course, they believe other things may have been sold here, hence the transmission from animals to humans of this virus.

But you can see it's all closed off, still.


This has now been since January 1 that they shut it down. However, I want to take you now to the lab where U.S. intelligence is looking into the possible origins of this virus having come from there.

(voice-over): We drove to the lab inside China's Centers for Disease Control just down the street from the market.

(on camera): This is one of the labs within Wuhan, not too far from the market either.

(voice-over): It's an origin theory Chinese officials quickly dismiss. They also push back on claims that their reported number of cases and deaths is far less than reality, even as numbers have repeatedly been revised upward to account for previous undercounts. Just last week, another 50 percent was added to the Wuhan death toll alone.

SUZANNE: Whether or not they want to share that information with the public, it doesn't really concern me. I'm really more concerned about my family and what we can do.

CULVER: And others like this convenience shop owner, more worried about resurrecting their businesses.

I'm a bit worried. I don't know when we will resume completely.

As China claims to get the virus under better control in places like Wuhan, there's now greater concern about those coming in from elsewhere. From our arrival in the city to the interview on the street, we were questioned repeatedly.

(on camera): I'm from the U.S. but I live in Beijing.

(voice-over): A group of plainclothes and uniformed police growing increasingly uneasy with our being there, a reflection of both their fear of imported cases and a mounting distrust of foreign media.

(on camera): We'll go in the car. We'll go.


TAPPER: And, David, we saw you getting sprayed down just to get into your hotel. You left Wuhan as the lockdown order was coming down in January.

Just how different is life there now from when you left it?

CULVER: I would say the mindset has completely changed really, Jake. I mean, I go back to where we were three months ago to this day, that was the day before the lockdown. And we were going and talking to folks in nearby markets, the original seafood market had already shut down, and many of them were not wearing masks. Many of them said they believed the government had it under control and that things would pass. Of course, we know that just a few hours after we were talking to them, that unprecedented lockdown took place.

And you look at it as, though, kind of different layers of complacency, if you will. I see that in how people are addressing, now two weeks after the reopening, we have people who, of course, are still wearing masks because it's now mandatory and the law, but some go head to toe in that protective garment and others are shoulder to shoulder outside of restaurants as you saw in that piece, comfortable to kind of resume life.

TAPPER: David Culver, thank you so much, appreciate it.

There's breaking news just in from "The New York Times". A top doctor removed from his job with the U.S. government. Why he believes he was removed, that's next.



TAPPER: Breaking news, the doctor who was leading the Trump administration's vaccine program up until yesterday is now saying he thinks he was removed from his position at the Department of Health and Human Services because he was calling for rigorous vetting of hydroxychloroquine, the drug President Trump repeatedly pushed as a coronavirus treatment until recently when it became clearer that medical experts were quite skeptical of the drug's effectiveness. The story was first reported by "The New York Times."

Let's go now to the White House where we find CNN's Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what else is Dr. Rick Bright saying in this scathing statement?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake. This is really something. Yesterday, we found out he was abruptly leaving his position. He was in charge of the agency basically that's in charge of leading the production and purchases of vaccines. So, a really important agency at a time like this. It's not well-known, but it's well-funded and powerful.

And he had been there since 2016. So, it raised a lot of eyebrows and all of sudden, yesterday, it was announced that he was no longer going to be leading it, that his deputy was actually going to be taking over in an acting position. And instead, they said in this release that we got from the health and human service department that he was going to be moving to the National Institutes of Health, he was going to be working on this public/private partnership.

They tried to downplay his departure, Jake. But now, we're getting this statement from his attorneys where he is saying he believes this was retaliation because he was not essentially giving in to exactly what the administration was thinking on responses to the coronavirus. He says: I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress into safe and scientifically vetted solutions and not in drugs, vaccines, and other technologies that lacked scientific merit.

Jake, he says, unfortunately, his push for this resulted in clashes with HHS political leadership. That seems to be the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who, of course, has played a leading role in this.

And he says: Including my criticism for the proactive efforts to invest early into vaccines and supplies critical to saving American lives. He says he also resisted efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs that were promoted by those with political connections. That's a really loaded sentence there.

But, Jake, I also want to point out a few other things he says in this very lengthy statement where he basically says that some of the drugs that they were pushing had potentially serious risks associated with them, including increased mortality observed in some recent studies in patients who had coronavirus. He says he was sidelined in the middle of the pandemic and placing politics and cronyism --