Return to Transcripts main page


Updated Modeling Projects Several States Including Florida Should Wait Longer to Safely Reopen; Trump's Coronavirus Response Follows a Pattern of Openly Disagreeing with Science. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

At this hour, the death toll from coronavirus stands at more than 47,000 in the United States, nearing that horrific 50,000 mark.

This time last month, the death toll was 500, so much loss, so quickly, and, sadly, expected to grow.

Of course, along with all this loss and almost 850,000 total cases -- and, let's remember, even many who survived this will endure agony and health issues -- there is also deep economic pain caused by this pandemic shutdown, and figuring out the balance between lives and livelihoods is immensely challenging for every political leader.

Tomorrow, the state of Georgia will join South Carolina in reopening some businesses considered nonessential, as other states across the nation plan to try to do the same soon, even as the influential model often cited by the White House says that no states should consider those moves until at least May 4, May 4 for five states, even later for most others.

In the last hour, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned that the U.S. is not where it needs to be on testing.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I am not overly confident right now at all that we have what it takes to do that.

We're getting better and better at it as the weeks go by. But we are not in a situation where we say we're exactly where we want to be with regard to testing.


TAPPER: Fauci's opinion shared by the National Governors Association, which late this afternoon released a road map to recovery for states.

Step one, of course, is testing, which the association writes continues to be inadequate in this country.

We're also learning more today about the silent spread of coronavirus. "The New York Times" now reporting that a Northeastern University model reveals early hidden outbreaks. According to this model, on March 1, in Boston, Seattle, Chicago, San Francisco and New York, when the official case number in those five cities was just 23, there may have actually been 28,000 people infected in those five major cities.

And, as CNN's Martin Savidge reports for us now, New York state now estimates close to 14 percent of its residents have likely contracted coronavirus, according to preliminary results of an antibody test.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The staggering numbers jumped again today, revealing the wider pain of a pandemic. Another 4.4 million people filed for unemployment claims, bringing the five-week total to greater than 26 million.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm sitting here without a paycheck with no definitive answer on when I will be returning to work.

SAVIDGE: It's roughly 16 percent of the entire work force.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have gone through all of our savings. You know, we have really had to dig in.

SAVIDGE: The economic turmoil is pressuring a number of states to begin easing stay-at-home measures, allowing some nonessential businesses to reopen.

Tomorrow, Georgia will allow businesses like salons and bowling alleys to reopen. South Carolina reopened some businesses Monday. And Texas is expected to make its reopening announcement tomorrow.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): You're going to be able to go to a hair salon. You're going to be able to go to any type of retail establishment you want to go to.

SAVIDGE: But, as states rush to reopen, medical experts when they're making a deadly mistake.

FAUCI: There is a danger of a rebound. And I know there's the desire to move ahead quickly. That's a natural, human nature desire, but going ahead and leapfrogging into phases where you should not be, I would advise him, as a health official and as a physician, not to do that.

SAVIDGE: Even as states open, coronavirus continues to spread into the heartland of America, triggering new outbreaks in public fear, new hot spots in Midwestern communities, often home to meatpacking plants and manufacturing facilities.

Boston still hasn't hit its peak.

MARTY WALSH (D), MAYOR OF BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS: And the surge is going to continue.

SAVIDGE: And, in Wisconsin, at least 19 cases are now tied to in- person primary voting.

And a new modeling study reveals a hidden explosion of coronavirus was rapidly spreading through U.S. cities long before many Americans and government leaders understood what was happening. According to research at Northeastern University reported by "The New York Times," outbreaks were blooming in New York, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago and Seattle long before testing revealed any serious problems.

DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: You have a lot of community transmission that was really unknown. And our efforts in the beginning to sort of contain and mitigate were -- it was definitely out of the bag at that point.

SAVIDGE: And in a preliminary study announced by New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo today, 13.9 percent of New Yorkers tested positive for antibodies, which could prove the virus spread wider than first thought.


SAVIDGE: And there is a key coronavirus model that is often cited by the White House that is constantly updated, and it makes reference that many states should delay any kind of reopening for quite some time.


It also talks specifically about Georgia. It says that Georgia, according to that model, won't be able to open safely until at least June 22.

Remember, the governor is partially reopening things tomorrow.

One of the complaints that the National Governors Association has made is that there isn't enough testing going on. That's certainly true in the state of Georgia. The governor of Georgia says they're trying to make good on that. But we're still way behind here.

And the governor says, look, we will do the testing as we reopen. The medical experts say, no, you do the testing first to figure out if you can reopen. A lot of confusion and concern about tomorrow here -- back to you, Jake.

TAPPER: The testing still lagging.

Martin Savidge, stay safe, please.

Join me now, Michael Osterholm. He's the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Dr. Osterholm, thanks for being here. Good to see you again.


TAPPER: "The New York Times" reporting on this data from Northeastern university that shows a hidden spread of the virus weeks earlier in Chicago, New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Seattle, at a time when the officially confirmed cases for those five cities was just 23. But they're actually saying it was in the tens of thousands.

What does that tell you and other health experts? And how might this change your approach to the virus?

OSTERHOLM: Well, first of all, that study doesn't really tell us much at all, other than that it's another modeling study that confirmed what we knew, that, in fact, there was lots of virus out there.

The study that you didn't just talk about, though, which I think is important, is the one that Governor Cuomo announced today showing that, basically, about 13.9 percent of New Yorkers may have antibody.

Now, that I think is really an important study, in the sense that, first of all, it's done by a very good lab. I might have some slight changes in the study protocol. I wouldn't just have done grocery store shoppers, because they're the people likely to be out, not the entire closed population.

But the fact of the matter is, whether it's 13.9 percent or 10 percent of New Yorkers that are infected, what that's telling us is, think of all they have been through, and yet how far we have to go, because this virus will keep marching until we hit 60, 70 percent positive for antibody, meaning you either got it through disease or you get it through a vaccine, and vaccine isn't coming soon.

So it just tells you, even in New York, how much further we have to go with this situation.

TAPPER: That's grim news.

We now know, according to "The Los Angeles Times," that the first death in this country to coronavirus, due to coronavirus, is currently believed to been back in early February, a 57-year-old woman. She was seemingly healthy. It's being called one of the first cases, and also through community spread.

She didn't apparently get it through travel or through contact directly as a health care provider with a patient.

What do you take away from that?

OSTERHOLM: Again, I think it's just confirming that what many of us said, that this was here.

Back on January 20, our center announced -- I put out a document saying that this was going to be a worldwide pandemic, the transmission was already occurring in many countries around the world, and it wouldn't become apparent necessarily for weeks later, until we had enough cases, in the absence of testing, that would just be able to demonstrate, in a community, you have a COVID outbreak. So I don't think this is in any, way shape or form for most of us new

news. But what it does is confirmed it. But what it also does point out is, again, I come back to this. As bad as it's been so far, we really are only in the second inning of a nine-inning game.

And we have a lot to go yet. Even with all the dynamic transmission we have seen so far, we just really are just starting this whole entire pandemic experience.

TAPPER: So you think that we're just in the beginning stages of this.

And you have projected as many as 800,000 deaths or more in the U.S. over the next year-and-a-half. How do we make sure that doesn't happen without completely killing our economy?

OSTERHOLM: Well you actually, in your lead-in, had a very, very important line in there about the whole living with it and livelihood, this idea that we have to do both.

And this is a critical discussion that has to happen right now. And it can only happen if, number one, we all agree we really do have a major challenge ahead of us, with the fact that it'll take 60 to 70 percent of the population to be infected and become immune before we stop this transmission.

Second of all, we can't lock down. This idea that we're going to lock ourselves down permanently -- we have to do it now. This is very important to get this particular wave flattened down. But this is going to continue.

And what we have to figure out is, do we come up with a strategy that says, if you're younger, people who are not as likely to have severe illness or dying, that they can come back into the economy, that, in fact, if they get infected and recover, they actually are like rods in the virus transmission reactor, where they don't let transmission occur as much?

These are the discussions we're not having. You know the discussions in intensive care units right now, where they don't have enough ventilators, is, who gets the vent?


What an incredibly difficult discussion. We have to have, as a population, the same discussions about not just how we're going to die with this virus, but how we're going to live with it for the next 16 or 18 months, and recognizing that this is not a battle, this is a war.

It's a whole set of battles. And we need to figure that out. So I -- our group is trying to facilitate threat kind of discussions, to say, how do we live with this virus while at the same time contain it as much as we can?

Hopefully, we're going to get a vaccine.

TAPPER: We need frank and honest dialogue, indeed.

Let me just ask you before you go, what do you make of the states like Georgia, Colorado, others beginning to reopen? My colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta is concerned that this could end up leading to another surge in those states.

What do you think?

OSTERHOLM: I think you're putting gasoline on fire.

I think, right now, this is one of the things we have learned. If we're going to learn to live with this, then you just don't walk in the face of it and spit in its eye, because it will get you.

And I think that that's a really important issue right now. When we have transmission increasing, when our hospitals are not able to take care of it, we don't have enough testing to even know what's going on, then that's not the time to loosen up.

So, if we're going to loosen our society up, if we're going to do this idea of living with it, this is the worst example of how to start that discussion. I wouldn't do it. I think that they will -- there's an old commercial from the old days, oil FRAM commercials, you can pay me now, or you will pay me later.

I fear that these states will have to pay a big price later on because of what they're doing.

TAPPER: All right, I hope you're wrong. But you're certainly not alone in saying that.

OSTERHOLM: I hope I am too.

TAPPER: Michael Osterholm, thank you so much for your time and -- I know you do.


TAPPER: Yes. Oh, I know you do. Thank you. Thank you so much, sir. Good to see you, as always.

Be sure to tune in tonight for a special CNN global town hall hosted by Anderson Cooper, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Their guests include FDA Commissioner Dr. Stephen Hahn, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, renowned chef Jose Andres, and award-winning artists Alicia Keys.

That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. only here on CNN.

Coming up: As President Trump disregards some of the science when it comes to coronavirus, we're going to take a look at his long battle with science and facts next.

Plus, it's the equivalent of all of Florida and South Carolina combined filing for unemployment for the first time, all of them in just the last five weeks.

We're going to discuss the economic devastation ahead as well.

Stay with us.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Breaking news, the influential University of Washington coronavirus model used by the White House has just been updated and it shows that some states should wait even longer to safely re-open.

I want to bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen now to break it all down for us.

Elizabeth, the model found Florida, for example, should now wait until June 14th to re-open instead of June 11th. Explain.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. These models are constantly changing. They are a work in progress. The reason why, Jake, they are tracking, A, how is the virus spreading in any given location, which is always changing, those numbers are changing. And how are we doing with these community mitigation measures, the social distancing measures.

So what they're saying is, you know, on Tuesday, we gave you a certain set of dates which we thought dates could safely reopen again. And now, we are adjusting them. In the case of Florida, in the case of Georgia, it's a few days later. In other words, the picture is looking worse than it had before and that's how they make these decisions. And this is a model that a lot of people are paying attention to, including the White House.

TAPPER: Elizabeth, the estimated death toll has also been revised sadly upwards to 67,641. By August, it was just under 65,000 previously projected.

How do they explain that?

COHEN: You know, there is an important note that we need to make here, Jake. That is with community mitigation measures. That horrible number you just read is if we continue social distancing? If we lift these measures, that number goes dramatically higher.

And so, we have to remember that that number is with community mitigation measures. So what's happening is they are closely tracking how is this virus spreading and they're seeing that maybe it is speeding up a little bit in some areas. And so, that's why they put the number at a higher number. So they're constantly watching, how is this virus spreading? How are we doing it containing it?

TAPPER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

We've seen a division between what President Trump tells the American public and what we've heard from his administration's top scientists, first on how serious the pandemic is and on whether hydroxychloroquine should definitively be described, it continued on and off in that vein and continues too today at the most recent briefing on the same podium within just minutes of each other. Dr. Anthony Fauci backed up the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, warning the coronavirus will still be around this fall, only for President Trump to say, well, maybe it won't. Even if it does, it won't be as bad.

As CNN's Alex Marquardt reports for us now, for a man who's long sided with conspiracy theorists over experts as to whether vaccines work or climate change is real, even a global pandemic has not stopped President Trump from questioning scientific experts.


ALEXANDER MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's a showdown that plays out again and again, the president versus science.



MARQUARDT: Armed with facts, figures and some of the smartest minds in the country, President Trump chooses to instead go with his gut.

TRUMP: Now, this is just my hunch.

MARQUARDT: Or what he hopes will happen.

TRUMP: It was also possible it doesn't come back at all.

MARQUARDT: The latest episode was saying Wednesday, that the coronavirus may not come back later this year. It was in response and direct contradiction to the head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, telling "The Washington Post" that the virus could come back in the winter and be even more difficult when coupled with the seasonal flu.

When Dr. Fauci took the microphone, he backed up Redfield and set the president straight.



MARQUARDT: The other expert on the coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx, also unwilling to agree with the president.

TRUMP: There's a good chance COVID-19 will not come back?

BIRX: We don't know.

MARQUARDT: Trump has said he wants to give people hope, that there's light at the end of the tunnel. But false hope can be damaging, even deadly.

President Trump has promoted the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine with no proof that it's effective against COVID-19.

TRUMP: If are you a doctor, a nurse, a first responder, a medical person going into hospitals, they say taking it be every the fact is good but what you do have to lose? They say take it.

MARQUARDT: Several new studies, including one by the V.A., said the drug may actually harm critically ill patients.

TRUMP: So what do I know? I'm not a doctor. I'm not a doctor. But I have common sense.

MARQUARDT: Trump's boosting of the treatment is a part of the firestorm that resulted in a top HHS scientist losing his job. In a stunning statement on Wednesday, Dr. Rick Bright said that he was sidelined after he resisted, quote, efforts to fund potentially dangerous drugs promoted by those with political connection.

Bright said he had insisted that money for the coronavirus be invested into safe and scientifically vetted solutions and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. One of those was hydroxychloroquine.

The president claimed Wednesday, he'd never heard of Dr. Bright.

TRUMP: The guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was. Maybe he wasn't.

MARQUARDT: Another scientist the president has heard of is Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. She infuriated the president after warning in late February that severe illnesses in the U.S. related to the coronavirus were not a question of if but when.

The president got the news as he boarded Air Force One in India to head home. He then cancelled a meeting with top health experts about mitigating the virus after he heard what Messonnier had said and the stock market crashed.

Trump's skepticism for science extends well beyond the COVID crisis. It's been a thread throughout his term from pulling out of the Paris climate accord to ripping up environmental regulations, even disputing the past of hurricanes.

TRUMP: That was the original chart.

MARQUARDT: Last September, showing a map of the path of hurricane Dorian, that the president changed with a sharpie to include Alabama, even though meteorologists said there would be no impact on the state.


MARQUARDT: Now, we know that the president is not a fan of people whose messages go against his and after Dr. Nancy Messonnier spoke out in February, she was allowed to keep her job. Jake, she was no longer allowed to speak on behalf of the CDC about the coronavirus. Instead, the CDC has not had their own press briefing since last month and there's has essentially folded into the daily coronavirus task briefing which, of course, is now led on a daily basis by President Trump.

There is one more thing we should note about the coronavirus task force. "Reuters" is now reporting that when the secretary of health and human services, Alex Azar, stood it up back in January, the person he put in charge of day-to-day operations was his young chief of staff, a 37-year-old named Brian Harrison. Now, Harrison had no healthcare experience no, medical experience, no scientific experience. In fact, in the six years leading up to joining HHS, he was a dog breeder in Texas. He bred Australian labradoodles and people in the White House would, in fact, refer to him as the dog breeder. Jake.

TAPPER: Alex Marquardt, thank you so much.

Joining me now to discuss, former Obama senior adviser David Axelrod and CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

David, let me start with you. This is a clear pattern of the Trump presidency, disagreeing with the science. Now his advisers say the president is just trying to project optimism and giving American people hope, be the cheerleader in chief.

What do you think?


DAVID AXELROD, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Look, I think it's one thing to give people hope and cheer them up. It's another thing to engage in pure fantasy that causes people to act in ways that are not in their self interests.

That director at the CDC in February was trying to tell the nation for what was coming. She predicted disruptions and severe illness. She was right. The president was wrong.

Dr. Bright was warning that hydroxychloroquine was an untested answer and could be damaging. He was right. The president was wrong. Now, the president is saying as he was about the first wave of the second wave might not come and we might not have a virus in September and November in the fall.

This causes confusion among the public. It's also the reason, Jake, that I think his numbers are so low in terms of trust when it comes to information, the "A.P." had a poll out today that said that just 23 percent of people had high competence in the information he is giving them. Even though show talking to them on a daily basis.

The governor versus much higher rates and the scientists are at the top of the list. He should listen to them and take his direction from them.

TAPPER: Kaitlan, you heard David just mention Dr. Rick Bright. He was in charge of coming up with a vaccine and reassigned. We heard in Alex's piece, of course, he was removed from his job and is complaining that he was trying to fight back against people pushing hydroxychloroquine for mass consumption. He was OK with it being prescribed under doctor's supervision.

What are Dr. Bright's lawyers saying about all of this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, I had someone predict to me last night that this is going to be a fight that plays out. And now, it seems we're starting to see that because while the White House has refused to really rebut any of the allegations he makes in that lengthy statement he put out yesterday so far, we did have a spokesperson from the Health and Human Services Department put out a statement saying it was actually Dr. Bright who wanted the authorization, emergency authorization to put chloroquine in the strategic stockpile.

And now, a person close to Dr. Bright is responding, that was basically a compromise and he was directed to do so by HHS political leadership. That seems to be a reference to the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar and Dr. Bright's attorneys are now putting a statement they have not filed that whistle-blower complaint yet, that one he hinted at in his statement yesterday. But it says they say they intend to do so soon because they said the administration is making demonstrably false statements about Dr. Bright.

The only statement we've gotten is that HHS statement beyond the president denying knowing who he is. So, we are seeing this become an argument between the two sides over who is right. But we should note, Dr. Bright is still trying to get his old job back. That is why he's hoping and he makes clear in his statement through his attorneys that he is still believing he can get that position back and go back to being the director of BARDA.

TAPPER: David, after the news broke about Dr. Brights after you tweeted, quote, where does it leave is? If medical experts who urged cautions that are proven out are fired for telling the American people the truth, you know, as Kaitlan just pointed out, that Rick Bright, Dr. Bright is now fighting back, trying to keep his job. Do you think health professionals will hesitate to publicly disagree with the president based on what happened here with Dr. Bright?

AXELROD: Look, I think one of the most remarkable stories about the siege has been the way in way Dr. Fauci, for example, Dr. Birx and others have had to maneuver the president as they are trying to confront this virus so as to not to offend him or contradict him without trying their own integrity. I think it's a very, very hard line to walk.

By the way, this doctor, Dr. Bright, was the lead doctor in the government searching for a vaccine that is the key to relieving America from this great siege we're under. The fact that the president had no knowledge or professes no knowledge of who he was, it's not good either way. Either he doesn't know and he should or he does know and he's not telling us the truth again.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins, David Axelrod, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

Coming up next, we're going to talk to a member of President Trump's economic task force about how best to get the America back to business as millions of Americans yet again file for the first time for unemployment.

Stay with us.