Return to Transcripts main page


Interview With General Stanley McChrystal; Interview With Sullivan's Island, South Carolina, Mayor Pat O'Neil; When Did Coronavirus Spread Begin in U.S.? Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 22, 2020 - 15:00   ET




ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: If you say it's safe...


CAROLYN GOODMAN, MAYOR OF LAS VEGAS: Anderson, you are too smart for this.

Anderson -- Anderson...


COOPER: OK, so you're not willing to sit on the casino floors with -- when they're reopened and breathe the refiltered air?


GOODMAN: First of all -- first of all, I don't gamble. I used to gamble when we first came to town. I don't have the time.

I work seven days a week. I have so many things that I have to attend to. I can't sit on a casino floor.


COOPER: I wouldn't want to sit on the floors either. I'm with you on that one.


COOPER: Mayor -- Mayor Carolyn Goodman, I appreciate your time. And I wish you the best for the people of your city.


GOODMAN: And I know I went to school right around the corner from where you grew up on the East River.


COOPER: Oh, that's nice. Well, thanks. But I would -- if I were you -- I would just advise you to talk to

Mayor Garcetti about what you might be able to do to improve testing in -- because testing and contact tracing is the way forward, according to every scientist. So...

GOODMAN: Well, I did -- I have spoken with him about the homeless, which are of greatest concern to me...


GOODMAN: ... and about our middle-income and low-income families that are now shut out of work and earning a livelihood.

And so that's where he and I talk, because the reality is...


COOPER: OK. Well, you could talk about testing, because I would -- that's important too.

GOODMAN: That's not my job, unfortunately. Sadly, it's not my job.


GOODMAN: I just assume everybody can be an asymptomatic carrier.


COOPER: I guess Mayor Garcetti has a larger job portfolio than you do.

GOODMAN: Yes. Oh, definitely he does.

COOPER: Mayor Goodman...

GOODMAN: Thank you.

COOPER: All right. I wish you the best. Thanks very much.

GOODMAN: Thank you.


COOPER: Our special coverage continues with Brianna Keilar.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington. It is Wednesday, April 22.

And today, as the death toll from coronavirus in the United States tops 45,000, we're learning that it started claiming lives a full three weeks earlier than we previously thought.

In California, two deaths have now been linked to the virus from early to mid-February. And this sparks questions about just how early it was spreading in the United States, apparently undetected.

Plus, as parts of the country begin to reopen, some businesses, the CDC director is warning this isn't going away anytime soon, that we could see another wave of coronavirus this winter, and it could be even worse than what we're seeing now. The latest projections putting the death toll in the U.S. at 66,000 by August.

I want to bring in CNN's Nick Watt. He's live for us from Los Angeles.

And, Nick, Georgia is just days away from its aggressive reopening plan. And President Trump says that states are -- quote -- "safely coming back," but that's not really how health experts see it.


I mean, listen, there is some new modeling, Brianna, out of the University of Washington, and they are basically saying which states should relax social distancing when. The first tranche would be May 4. But Georgia, which is opening tattoo parlors and nail salons this Friday, is among 12 states that these researchers say need to wait six weeks or more before they relax social distancing.

So it is just modeling. And governors have the power to do whatever they want to do. The president has made that very clear.

I also just want to touch on something you were talking about in the introduction there. Listen, we know data is key to fighting this virus. And it turns out that one of the key pieces of data that we have been using turns out it's wrong.

We thought the first death in the United States from COVID-19 was up in Washington state the last day of February. Well, they have been doing some autopsies down in Santa Clara County in the Bay Area in California, and they have now discovered that a 57-year-old woman died of coronavirus, died of COVID-19 in Santa Clara County February 6.

So she likely contracted the virus even before those China travel restrictions were imposed. We have just heard this morning from people in Santa Clara County, from health officials. And they say this shows us that this virus was probably moving through communities much earlier than we thought.

And they describe each of these cases as a potential iceberg. You have got one person who's died from the virus. OK, who did they infect? Where does that pyramid go? Where -- how far, how deep do their contacts go in the community? So data is key.

And now, today, in terms of data moving forward, New Jersey, Connecticut, and New York are going to cooperate, collaborate with this army of contact tracers that they say is now going to be necessary to fan out across that area that was one of the worst hot spots to contain, to box in this virus, as we do begin to reopen -- Brianna.


KEILAR: All right, nick, thank you so much for that.

And autopsies now revealing, as Nick said there, that the United States' first coronavirus deaths happened in early to mid-February. That was three weeks earlier than previously thought.

So let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, to break that down.

It's stunning that officials are just finding this out now, Elizabeth, especially considering this doesn't appear to be someone who traveled. This appears to be a community spread issue.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That is the key part of this, Brianna. That's what we need to remember.

Let me show you sort of a little calendar that we drew up that explains how all this happened.

So, "The New York Times" reporting looks at autopsies that were done February 6 and 17, where they saw that these folks had coronavirus. They had no known travel history. The coroner said they got it just out in the community in California somewhere. On February 26 was when the CDC said we have our first case of unknown origin, so well after those deaths on the 6th and the 17th.

And then, on February 29, the CDC says, we have our first death in the United States, obviously well after the ones on February 6 and 17th.

And I will tell you, Brianna, that I asked federal officials at this time, right around at this time, how do we know that this isn't spreading in the community? How do we know that people aren't dying, because it looks like the flu? It was a bad flu season. You have someone who dies of the flu. How do they don't have coronavirus?

And they said, we know. We don't think that's happening. This is a disease of people who travel or their close contacts. They were very confident about that back in early to mid-February -- Brianna.

KEILAR: And California is recommending that all people in high-risk settings get tested for coronavirus. This is even if they are showing no symptoms. It's the first state that's doing this, Elizabeth. How big of a deal is this?

COHEN: It's a very big deal. And the doctors I have been talking to say that it is a very smart move.

We now know that people who are asymptomatic, they can look perfectly healthy. They can have coronavirus, either because they haven't yet started showing symptoms or maybe they will never show symptoms. So it makes sense to test people, even if they don't have symptoms.

There's no downside to it. The testing isn't going to hurt them. The only reason really why we haven't been doing more widespread testing is that we haven't had enough. So I guess, at this point, at least there, they feel like they have enough tests to do this.

KEILAR: All right, Elizabeth, thank you so much.

I want to bring in Dr. Carlos del Rio. He is an infectious disease expert, and he's chair of the Global Health Department at Emory University's School of Public Health.

Sir, thank you so much for joining us.


KEILAR: You're there in Georgia, which is set to reopen here in just a couple of days. And there's new modeling that shows the state actually won't be able to safely relax social distancing measures until at least June 19.

You just heard our reporter say that. What is your advice to Georgia residents?

DEL RIO: Well, I think that most of us will continue practicing social distancing. Most of us will continue doing what we're doing, using high hygiene -- hand hygiene, covering our cough, not going out, if not necessary, because the reality is, I want to personally avoid getting infected. I want to avoid bringing the disease into my family.

So the more we can do to not get infected, the better it is.

KEILAR: When you hear Governor Kemp say that he does expect cases to rise as businesses reopen, what are your thoughts on that?

DEL RIO: Well, I think it's -- I think he's saying exactly what we all expect, that cases will go up.

But I think it's really important that this state, as well as other states, we really have to ramp up testing. And in that part, we have a lot of work to do. But there's there's going to be a partnership -- there is a partnership already between private and public partnership.

And, also, my university, Emory University, is involved in that, in helping to ramp up testing. We believe that Emory, for example, can ramp up to about 5,000 tests a day. And we have to do, as you heard before, lots more testing.

Currently, in the United States, we're doing about 160,000 tests a day. Some people say we need to do 500,000. Some people say we need to be doing 1.2 million. A recent study from Harvard said we need to do three million tests a day.

But even if we go to a lower limit of 500,000, that's still three times more that we're currently doing. So we have to do a lot more testing, not only in Georgia, but really throughout the United States.

And I agree that if we can get testing up, we can increase it by three- or ten-fold, we would be in a much better position to confront this epidemic as a nation.

KEILAR: Do you think, I wonder, Doctor, if people who don't have symptoms, but they're in high-risk settings, that they should be tested across the U.S.?

DEL RIO: I think, the more we test, the better it is.

I can tell you that, right now, the seroprevalence in most places we're testing right now in the United States, it's about 20 percent. We got to bring that seroprevalence down to somewhere between 3 to 5 percent.

What does that mean, is that you're testing a lot of people that don't have the disease. And what we have learned about this condition is, there's probably about 80 percent of people that have it either are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic.


And if we don't test people, if we just wait to test people with symptoms, we're going to miss a lot of people. So, yes, for example, elderly, people who are in nursing homes, health care workers, first responders, the more we test people, the more we're likely to prevent spread of this infection, and the more we're likely to pick up cases rapidly.

You have got to identify and you have to isolate individuals. The report you had before about the autopsy to me is not surprising at all. With what we know about this virus today, we know that this -- the number of flights from China to the U.S. before we knew this virus was even described was probably in the order of about 1,500 flights came from China to the U.S. with thousands of passengers.

So, I'm not surprised this virus was already spreading in our communities before we didn't know about it.

KEILAR: So, and -- but if you do the math on that, Dr. del Rio, you're talking about someone who died who did not travel. So either they got it from somebody else who did or did not travel.

At the minimum, when would that have put coronavirus in the country?

DEL RIO: Well, again, if you go back, you would probably think somewhere in January, right? Somewhere in the middle of January to late January is when probably the first passengers -- and I can tell you that, in January, we knew there was a case.

I think the first diagnosed in L.A., if I recall, was January 21 or 25. So we knew that this -- and it was a traveler, but a traveler could have come from China, bring the disease, connect -- give it to somebody in the community, that person be asymptomatic, you never knew about it, and then that person eventually dies.

And that's how this disease spread. It is not the asymptomatic individual that we're worried about. The asymptomatic individual, we're worried because that person can transmit to others, and then cause mortality.

So we have to diagnose everybody, both symptomatic and asymptomatic people. KEILAR: Yes, it's a very good point.

Dr. Carlos del Rio in Atlanta, thank you so much.

DEL RIO: Happy to be with you.

KEILAR: Next, I'll be talking to one mayor who is trying to keep restrictions in place, even as the state's governor tries to reopen.

Plus, retired Four-Star General Stanley McChrystal will be joining me. We will talk about his advice to President Trump on fighting coronavirus like a war.



KEILAR: South Carolina has begun reopening beaches and some stores, but a key tracking model from the University of Washington which the white how often cites shows the state cannot safely reopen until at least June 5.

There are four beach towns that have implemented beach checkpoints to ensure people social distance, saying in a joint statement: "There is no evidence from medical professionals that indicates that the threat of COVID-19 in our region has diminished. New cases could begin to grow quickly if social distancing restrictions are lifted."

Let's talk to Mayor Pat O'Neil of Sullivan's Island, which is one of the areas which has restricted this access.

Sir, thank you so much for being with us today.


KEILAR: This is, as I said, one of these four checkpoint areas for beach entrances.

Explain how this works after the state reopened beaches yesterday. And just tell us a little bit about why you decided it was so important to add that layer of caution.

O'NEIL: Well, the three -- the four communities you mentioned are all barrier islands, so essentially just one way and one way out.

So we are able to -- they can control access to each of the islands. In the case of Sullivan's Island, we're restricting access between 7:00 in the morning and 7:00 in the evening to people who are residents of the island or who work here, have businesses here and so on.

But anyone else is not allowed access to the island. And that's a way that we can control the numbers of people who are on the beach at any one time. After 7:00 p.m., people, in the case of Sullivan's Island, are welcome to come out here and enjoy and even walk on the beach if they choose to, and maintain distance.

KEILAR: Are you comfortable with the governor's decision? And are you comfortable with stores reopening?

O'NEIL: Well, the part about the stores is largely not involving Sullivan's Island. We're a very small community, only 1,900 with a very small commercial district.

As far as the way that the governor handled the reopening of the beaches, we four mayors, as you mentioned, did communicate with Governor McMaster over the weekend, both collectively and individually, and tried to impress upon him the importance that we retain the capacity to maintain our own safety and protect our residents and all our visitors when the beaches were reopened in general, in other words, when he dropped this prohibition.

And I'm happy to say that he did hear us and in his order specifically allows local authorities to implement the measures that they think are necessary to ensure safety.

KEILAR: Right now, it is April. The weather is certainly not as warm as it is going to get as we move into summer.

You have a lot of kids who are out of school. They are restless there. Are you confident that you're going to be able to keep those checkpoints operational and make sure there isn't -- social distancing on the beaches?

O'NEIL: Well, we plan to maintain the checkpoints as they are, or some modifications, as long as necessary.


And you're right. We're having spectacular beach weather, except it's been beach weather sans beach, because the beaches were closed. But there is a lot of pent-up demand for the beaches.

The greater Charleston area has 700,000 or more people, and only four very small beach communities, only three of which are within easy day tripping distance.

So, we do need to keep some control of the numbers of people that are coming into different communities at any one time, although, in the case of Sullivan's Island...


KEILAR: Sorry. I cut you off there. What did you say?

O'NEIL: We just don't have the staff to maintain social distancing on the beaches.

We have more than 20 access points to the beach itself. And if we had unlimited numbers of people out there, there is no way we could safely maintain social distancing and the kinds of measures that are so important now. KEILAR: All right, Mayor, thank you so much, Mayor Pat O'Neil of

Sullivan's Island, South Carolina.

We thank you for joining us.

O'NEIL: Thanks a lot.

KEILAR: Coming up, we are live on the ground from Georgia, where the governor is beginning to reopen some businesses in the state. Are people they're on board?



KEILAR: In a word, it's been pathetic.

That is what one of the nation's top retired four-star Army generals said about the federal government's response to COVID.

And we're joined now by Retired General Stanley McChrystal, who commanded all us and coalition forces in Afghanistan, and whose leadership of the Joint Special Operations Command in the 2000s really transformed the organization.

Sir, thank you for being with us.


KEILAR: So, we're watching right now, you're watching states, and you have you have talked about this, approach this reopening, and they're doing it mostly haphazard, generally uncoordinated.

There's the exception of some regional alliances that we're seeing among governors.

You commanded JSOC, which is the organization that really brings the elite of all the service branches together, and your specialty was really forcing cooperation between those organizations. And I wonder, from that vantage point, what you think the federal government and states should be doing here.

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, it's interesting. When I was younger and wanted to be a soldier, like my father, I thought of the fighting end of it and the great decisions I might make if given the opportunity.

But as I got more senior, what I found is, as we saw with Dwight Eisenhower, the real magic in operations is bringing a coalition together and getting organizations and people to work together.

What I found, in Joint Special Operations Command, as you mentioned, was the hardest part of it was to get the other pieces to work together, not just in our command, but the other parts of the government and other nations that were working. I would say, right now, what we need in America is a unified effort.

If we try to fight this as 50 separate states or countless separate cities and towns, municipalities, we're guaranteed to pay a much higher price, because you're less effective.

You don't have the expertise, you don't have the resources. You can't mask against the problem where the problem is rising at any moment. COVID-19 is an opportunistic enemy. It goes where it can. We can't be sure where it'll go. But what we can do is respond to it. And that's what I think is key.

KEILAR: You have written a book rather recently on leadership and what makes a leader.

Just tell us how you assess the leadership coming out of the White House, coming from the president.


Well, we tend to want to believe in the great woman or man theory. We want to put them on a pedestal and we want them to tell us where to go and what to do.

In our state, that's never been the true model of how leadership works, nor should it be now. When I think of great leaders, we included Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in our book, and when I left studying him -- and I had grown up very aware of Dr. King, but I walked away understanding that what he really did was, instead of just being an orator or a symbol, he pulled together a very disparate civil rights movement, without ever being really the formal leader of it, with having organizational power or title.

And yet, through force of personality and through management and leadership, he pulled them together into a nonviolent movement, when there were a lot of different views.

I think that's what we need from our leadership now. We need candor. We need commitment, commitment to an outcome. We need a willingness to be humble, that we don't have all the right answers. We're going to have to search for them, and then grasp them as they become available to us.

And that's what I hope we can see.

KEILAR: He's not doing that. I mean, when you describe what you look at as capable leadership, the president isn't doing that.

So, in the absence of that, what can states do? Or is it that they can only do so much, in the absence of federal leadership?

MCCHRYSTAL: Well, they can only do so much, but they can do an awful lot.

We see some of the governors standing up right now, very publicly, and taking a leadership role. Others are more [15:30:00]