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Hidden Coronavirus Outbreak in the U.S.? Trump First Praised Georgia Governor Before Criticizing Him on Reopening His State; Interview with Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune about COVID-19 and Reopening of Businesses. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


A hidden explosion, a stunning "New York Times" report just out shows at a time when the United States thought the coronavirus was really just occurring in China, at that point, thousands of infections were already silently spreading undetected in major U.S. cities in early February. According to researchers at Northeastern University, there could have been 28,000 infections in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle by March 1st.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It changes the timeline, the scope, just a stunning new detail about the first known death in the U.S. linked to the virus.

Here's the headline. She was healthy, a 57-year-old woman had no underlying conditions, and died suddenly way back on February 6th. This new information prompting more states to begin retracing their own timelines. At the same time, more states also moving towards, well, the opposite direction, reopening, but is it with or without the president's support?

Last night the president said that the Georgia governor's plan to open up businesses starting Friday is just too soon. We're learning members of his task force had to convince him to change his view on that.

HARLOW: All right, first, let's get more on this study, Elizabeth Cohen is with us. I thought we couldn't get more sort of jaw-dropping than the headlines yesterday. And this is far beyond that.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Absolutely. And this is -- I think this is -- this is something that we need to remember. This is something that many of us were asking folks, federal officials very early on, hey, is it possible that this is spreading more than what we think? I know I talked to one very prominent federal official and he said, no, I don't think that's the case.

But let's take a look at this. Let's take a look at what the "New York Times" found when it spoke to modelers at Northeastern University. They thought that there were maybe 20 something cases in the entire country around March 1st. And what they found is that in Boston alone there might have been 2300 cases. In Seattle, also 2300 cases. In Chicago, 3300, San Francisco, 9300, New York, 10,700.

In other words, the CDC and other federal officials did not recognize that it was already spreading, if this modeling is correct.

HARLOW: Can I -- Elizabeth, can I just ask you something? Because I just -- I'm trying to get my head around how they can know that from modeling without testing, right? So I was --


HARLOW: I was really sick with this cough that was -- and Jim can attest to it -- unlike anything I had felt before for, like, a month, but I didn't have a fever and I tested negative for the flu, right? And -- the question is not about me, it's about more broadly. Is it people that reported symptoms like that or is it a model or what -- how do they know basically without those tests?

COHEN: So, you know what, Poppy, I'm going to answer your question by talking about you first and people like you because I've heard this from other people as well.

HARLOW: So many. Yes.

COHEN: I know people like you, and I asked federal health officials how do we know this isn't COVID because we're not testing these people, and the answer I got was basically, don't worry, we're confident that if this person hasn't been to Wuhan, China, they don't have COVID. And I really pushed them and they were so confident and I think --


COHEN: Maybe it was kind of hubris, maybe it was this overconfidence. As far as the modeling goes, the modeling does not rely on symptoms or anything like that. The modeling relies 100 percent on just educated guesses. They're looking at data, they're looking at, gee, how many cases do we have in Boston at this state? Let's look backwards.


COHEN: What does it mean. Modelers will tell you that their information -- that their results by definition are incorrect, but they're educated guesses.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, there is also data, though, is there not because in California, for instance, you do have a tissue sample from someone who died in early February that is now tested positive for it, post mortem. So in addition to the models, you have datas that are indicated.

I mean, it's just remarkable, Poppy and Elizabeth, the -- you know, how this might change the understanding.

HARLOW: For sure. Elizabeth, thanks for that --

COHEN: And what we need to do is we need to put together that data with the modeling. And you put that together.



COHEN: And we might have a different picture of what was going on in February and March than what we've been thinking.

HARLOW: Yes. So building the plane as you're flying it, right? It's all they can do at this point.

COHEN: Right.

HARLOW: Elizabeth, thanks, thanks so much.

Let's talk about all of these developments, Dr. Rob Davidson is here. He's an ER doctor working with patients.

I want to highlight this, Doctor, in rural communities, you are an ER doctor in a very small hospital in Michigan.


And the word for it is a critical access hospital. So we're going to get to your challenges in a moment, but could you just react to the headline that we're reporting from Elizabeth Cohen?

DR. ROB DAVIDSON, ER DOCTOR: Yes, I think it really underscores how little we still know about this virus and certainly how little we knew about it at the beginning. And, you know, truly what a critical failure it was for the entire month of February not having the testing ramping up to the point where just less than a week ago I was able to start testing everybody with symptoms in my rural hospital and really across Michigan.

You know, the less we know, I think the less hubris we should come at this with even now when the governor of Georgia and, you know, everyone is trying to reopen so quickly. I think we need to take a deep breath and learn as much as we can and get as much data as we can to do this right.

HARLOW: I'm glad that you finally are able to test everyone. You know, we heard the governor of Michigan just a few days ago on CNN say she didn't have enough of the re-agents and swabs, et cetera. So I'm wondering, A, if you do have enough for your community, and B, if there were a huge outbreak in your community akin to what we're seeing on proportional level in Detroit, for example. You know, at night sometimes you're the only doctor there. There's you and then there is one respiratory specialist and that's it.

DAVIDSON: Right. It's me, it's my nurses, our hospital -- I'm an emergency doctor. Our hospital started via telemedicine, and you know, we have plans in place to have extra staff perhaps, but, again, it's a very small community. It's a very rural county. People are older, people tend to have less likely to have insurance, lower income, and so certainly if this virus comes tearing through our community with our hospital, with, you know, just a handful of ventilators and ICU beds, it could very quickly become a major crisis.

HARLOW: One very scary finding out of the biggest health system here in New York, and I wonder if you're seeing it, is what they're calling unprecedented blood clotting? Some of what is leading to strokes in very young people, in their 30s, 40s and 50s. Even people that are asymptomatic.

Jeffrey Lawrence, a hematologist at Weill Cornell, said the number of clotting problems I've seen in the ICU related to COVID is unprecedented. Are you seeing that?

DAVIDSON: Yes. You know, we have the advantage of being -- in my neck of the woods we haven't hit our peak yet. And I know doctors, myself included, around here are learning from our colleagues who have kind of weathered this storm of this initial wave. And absolutely, it's just adding to the battery of tests that we're ordering on a lot of these folks really early up front so we can stay on top of it.

It's part of the critical blood shortage, people needing clotting factors and other products, you know, from blood donations. That's why we should encourage people to donate blood.

HARLOW: I mean, the concern is so acute among some doctors. There's reporting some are raising the controversial potential of giving preventative blood thinners to everyone with COVID-19.

Let me just ask you one final question, you brought up ventilators. Again, a study out of the biggest healthcare system here in New York has shown that the ventilators, those that go on the ventilators, granted many have pre-existing conditions, but 88 percent of those with COVID-19 on ventilators at Northwell Health died, about 20 percent of those on ventilators there with COVID-19 did not.

DAVIDSON: Yes. We know that the pathophysiology of the virus, once it gets into the lungs, once you get viral pneumonia or something called ARDS, and you get just really stiff lungs, so they're wet, they're stiff and they're hard to ventilate, normally when you breathe, that's a negative pressure, it's very gentle. When you have to use a ventilator when there is no other way to get oxygen, then you have to blow air into people's lungs and (INAUDIBLE) some damage.

So a lot of people are rethinking, you know, kind of early ventilation and using other strategies, even maybe tolerating lower oxygen levels that we normally would never dream of doing in order to preserve these people's lung function as long as we can.

HARLOW: Dr. Rob Davidson, good to have your expertise and thanks for what you're doing for all the people in your community. We'll have you back soon.

DAVIDSON: Thank you.



SCIUTTO: Always good to hear from those doctors.

More states are moving now to reopen businesses despite guidance from experts encouraging people to stay at home, even guidance from the White House. Here is a look at the states who will have some businesses reopen by the end of this week. Among them, Georgia, whose Governor Brian Kemp was criticized yesterday by President Trump for opening businesses like salons and bowling alleys early.

HARLOW: But we're learning today the president's task force had something to do with that. Our Jim Acosta is getting this story for us and he joins us on the phone.

So, I mean, what is it? Does the president like what the governor is doing in Georgia or not?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via phone): Well, he was certainly giving signals, Poppy and Jim, that he agreed with Governor Kemp's decision to reopen some of these businesses. But what we're hearing this morning, Poppy and Jim, members of the Coronavirus Task Force had to convince Trump to change his view on Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's decision to reopen businesses in the state later this week.


At a meeting just prior to last night's briefing, members of the task force were discussing the likelihood that some of the doctors on the panel like Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, would be asked by reporters about Kemp's controversial move to open up these businesses and during that meeting, Dr. Anthony Fauci, others on the task force, noted that there would be a glaring inconsistency if the scientists were not in agreement with Trump on this Georgia issue.

At one point during the meeting, I'm told by a source close to the task force, Dr. Fauci said I cannot defend this publicly, talking about Georgia's decision. And then members of the group agreed it was necessary to try to change Trump's mind on this subject. Now members of the task force then asked Dr. Deborah Birx who is the task force coordinator, to try convince Mr. Trump during a more private meeting that she had with the president, just prior to the press conference.

And to the relief of other members on the task force, Trump went on to say he disagreed with Kemp's decision. Now the scientists on the task force were not in agreement with Trump and the CDC -- on the CDC director Robert Redfield's interview in the "Washington Post" in which he warned of these difficulties of the second wave. That was something that couldn't be avoided, I'm told by this source.

But it is remarkable, Poppy and Jim, that even during the task force meeting before the briefing, there was this anxiety that they had to try to change President Trump's mind about what Georgia is about to do. SCIUTTO: Jim Acosta, quite a back and forth there. Thanks very much.

Well, one state that has already begun reopening some businesses is South Carolina. And we're joined by Myrtle Beach Mayor Brenda Bethune.

Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: So some nonessential businesses have now been allowed to reopen this week. You've actually had a difference with the governor on some things, for instance keeping beaches closed. Tell us, is it too soon for South Carolina to begin opening these businesses?

BETHUNE: Well, first, let me clarify, I'm not in disagreement with the governor at all. And actually the governor gave the local municipalities the authority to do what was right for them when he chose to open the beach accesses back up. And it is not too soon to begin the recovery, the reopening process, but it has to be done very carefully and methodically and that's exactly what we're doing.

We are working with a task force, a business recovery task force that involves local business leaders, our chamber of commerce, our hospitality association to develop a plan for reopening and for recovery because that's what we thrive on. This area thrives on hospitality and tourism, and we want to make sure we are as safe as possible so that we can welcome our visitors back at the right time.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you, you say you're consulting with the task force of businesses, et cetera. As you know, the White House has put out guidelines for when it is safe to reopen, and one of which is two weeks of a declining number of cases. Do you believe South Carolina should meet those guidelines before opening businesses?

BETHUNE: I think that we have to look at our individual communities and not the state as a whole. Because every community, every county is different. So that's the approach that we're taking. We're looking at what is right for our area, our businesses, and we want to welcome our visitors back, but we want it to be safe when we do.

SCIUTTO: But the thing about a county-by-county judgment, as you know as well as me, there aren't walls between those counties. People travel back and forth between those counties. And a virus certainly knows no county borders. How does that work to open up a business in one county and, you know, not in another, when people can move back and forth so easily?

BETHUNE: Well, absolutely a concern, especially with the visitors who will be coming here. And Myrtle Beach sees between 18 million and 20 million visitors a year, so, of course, it is a concern, but our businesses cannot afford to stay closed long term. I mean, they are hurting so badly right now. And that is exactly why we are taking this approach of a very well thought out plan, one that does include the businesses, and, you know, it just is not a cookie cutter approach.

And we are all in unchartered territories with this virus and everyone is doing the very best that we know how to do.

SCIUTTO: Listen, I understand the hurt to businesses and their employees. We speak to them on this broadcast every day. And I think like most Americans I know people in that category. But, if you reopen too soon, don't you put those same businesses and those same employees and their customers at risk if they're going back to work or opening up when the virus is still swirling around? And then what do you do if the cases spike again?


BETHUNE: That's absolutely a concern especially for this area. And we know -- we are focusing on education, making sure that the businesses are going to be opening safely, giving them time to re- train their staff on what are the proper safety guidelines, cleaning guidelines, especially for our hotels and resorts.

So it is a collaborative effort, and it's something that is ongoing. And as I said, it will be done very carefully and cautiously and inclusive of the businesses themselves.

SCIUTTO: Mayor Bethune, we wish you, we wish the community the best of luck going forward.

BETHUNE: Thank you, thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, experts say that contact-tracing is one of the best ways, necessary ways to get a handle on the spread of the virus. But how does that work in a city as large and as concentrated as New York?

HARLOW: And Michigan's governor says she is planning to make an announcement on how her state will re-engage economically. She'll join us live this hour. And more devastating news for the economy, another 4.4 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits this past week. That puts it at over 27,000 in 5 weeks -- 27 million, excuse me, in 5 weeks.



HARLOW: On March 1st, New York City announced its first coronavirus case, but a stunning new report and modeling shows the number of unknown cases in New York City, that very same day, could have actually been above 10,000. So, how does the city, home to roughly 8.4 million of us, trace where the virus has been to prevent spreading it further.

Mayor Bill de Blasio is banking on new unprecedented contact-tracing on a huge broad scale. With me now to talk about that and a lot more of the work they're doing right now, we're glad to have back Commissioner of New York City's Emergency Management Department Deanne Criswell. Deanne, I know you're just seeing this modeling as we are out of Northeastern University. What do you think when you see numbers like that, that there may have been well over 10,000 cases in this city alone back on March 1st when everyone thought there was just one?

DEANNE CRISWELL, COMMISSIONER, NEW YORK CITY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT DEPARTMENT: You know, I think that we always knew that there was going to be coronavirus or COVID-19 here in the city before we saw our first case. I think the numbers are pretty amazing. It will be interesting to read more about this study to see why they came up with that number. But I think as some of the things that we're seeing as we think it's been in the United States longer than the first case was reported.

HARLOW: Let's talk about easing back in and reopening parts of the economy when it happens. Obviously, it's going to be much later here in New York City than in places like Georgia, which is reopening in part tomorrow. But how is the contact-tracing program going to work? I know you don't oversee it, but it's massive and it's tristate, it's not -- it's not just New York. Do you have a sense of how this would actually function?

CRISWELL: You know, it is massive. We have a whole team here in New York City that is focused just on testing and contact-tracing, and it's going to work in coordination with how we open up the city. It has to be opened up very deliberately and in a very phased approach. So we can test those that we need to test, and then isolate those that we need to isolate.

Very similar to what we did in the very beginning when we were screening flights coming in from JFK, but now that we have more information, doing it on a much more deliberate and focused measure.

HARLOW: A Bloomberg philanthropy is giving over $10 million to try to do that because there is a lot of technology involved here in order to accurately trace all of someone's contacts if they tested positive. What about antibody testing? Which is ramping up and it does not guarantee full immunity. But if a test comes back negative for antibodies for someone, is it essentially then not safe for that person to ease back into society without a vaccine?

CRISWELL: I think that there's still a lot of questions around the antibody testing and how accurate the tests that you are given is going to be. Again, the same team that we have here in the city that's focused on just general testing is also looking at the antibody testing, and they've been having calls daily with the CDC and the White House taskforce to figure out how they're going to implement that here in New York City.

HARLOW: OK, final question to you, and not to be too much looking back, but obviously things in the past can inform what we do going forward, right? So, I know you saw former CDC Director Thomas Frieden said that if New York City and New York State had adopted widespread social distancing measures, even just two weeks earlier, that perhaps the number of deaths in our state might have been decreased by 50 percent to 80 percent. And when you look at the decisions to, for example, close the schools

here, right? Mayor de Blasio and the governor of the schools were closed in New York City after 329 cases in mid-March, where as in San Francisco and Ohio, those schools were closed after just five cases. Thinking about going back next year, thinking about all of our children going back to school and all of this.

Is there a lesson to be learned there, and do you think lives could have been saved if New York City and New York State had made these moves even two weeks sooner?

CRISWELL: You know, I think that there's going to be a lot of interesting looking at what we did and when we did it as far as how we're going to propose moving forward with this. There's going to be a lot of lessons learned from all of the actions that we're taking. And I think the important thing right now is that we have learned a lot already about how this virus is spreading and what it does to individuals and those that are at risk, and really taking those lessons and applying them to all of our next steps. Which is why we're taking a very deliberate and phased-in approach to how we reopen this city.


HARLOW: Commissioner Criswell, thank you -- I'm sorry, I lost you at the end there. We're going to have to fix my audio in here, I apologize. But thank you for coming and I hope we'll have you back soon. Ahead for us, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer is feeling cautiously optimistic, saying it is time to begin loosening restrictions, she'll join us live, next.

SCIUTTO: And we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, and on a day we're seeing terrible news for the economy, 4.4 million Americans filing for unemployment benefits just in the last week, futures right now, just a little above flat, investors keeping a close eye on oil prices. Also, earnings season in full swing, and some companies are doing well because people are stuck inside.

Target saw 7 percent increase in the first quarter, Domino's sales jumped 7 percent as well between March 23rd and April 19th.