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Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) is Interviewed about her State's Coronavirus Situation; House to Vote on Relief Package; Tyson Closing Two Plants; China Denies Wet Markets Exist. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 09:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[09:30:26]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says she may start loosening some restrictions while still extending the state's overall stay at home orders. She says new data appeared to show a downward trend in new cases in Michigan, though that before nearly 1,300 new cases were reported yesterday. She says reopening the state has to be done very carefully.

And Governor Whitmer joins me now.

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

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): Glad to be with you.

SCIUTTO: So let's begin there with that question, you say the data you received in last week has shown you it's time to re-evaluate the stay at home order. Where do you stand now? Could you be ready to announce as soon as tomorrow reopening some businesses?

WHITMER: Well, I think it's important that as we are navigating steps in this global pandemic, something none of us ever anticipated and certainly none of us have ever confronted, that we are continually assessing the data, understanding what the testing is telling us, understanding our testing capabilities, making sure that our hospitals have the kind of PPE that they need.

You know, being a novel virus, there's no vaccine, there's no cure, it's highly contagious and so we've got to get this right.

I've heard governors across the country on both sides of the aisle say it's not going to be like flipping a light switch. We're not just going to go back to pre-Covid-19 posture. We've got to be strategic and thoughtful. And so every day we're getting more data. Every day we're learning more about this virus. I've got one of the most aggressive orders in the country and so to start to release maybe a few things that are, you know, pose very little risk, I think it's appropriate to keep doing that assessment and we may have some announcements in the -- in the coming days. SCIUTTO: OK. Give us an example of some of those few things that you

would feel comfortable with reopening under restrictions first.

WHITMER: Well, as we are grading every part of our economy, we're assessing risk, asking questions like, is it public facing? Does the majority of the work happen indoors or outdoors? Does it require more than one person using a set of instruments or machinery. All of these are -- so these are three of many questions that we're asking to assess risk inherent in different sectors of our economy.

Now, having one of the more aggressive measures in the country, we are watching other states. So perhaps we can make some changes in the coming days. But I don't want to announce it on the show because I -- we're -- we're -- everything's not finalized, but it's coming.

SCIUTTO: OK. I got it. We'll be -- we'll be watching for that.

Let's talk about the economic damage here. I don't have to remind you of this. And this is happening in states across the country. But your state's been hit particularly hard. Twenty-two percent of workers now out of a job and applying for unemployment insurance.

Given that health experts expect subsequent waves of this in the fall, perhaps in the spring next year, I wonder if you and your state are preparing for long-term joblessness, for people who have -- who are now out of work.

WHITMER: Well, from what we know is that the worst thing we can do is to not be smart about re-engaging and bring on a second wave of Covid- 19. As hard as this economic crisis is on us, we know that a second one would be absolutely devastating. And so that's why as we re- engage, we're going to be really smart about it.

I'll also say, we know that a lot of people are struggling. There's no question. We talked to business owners who spent a lifetime building up their small business and now they're not sure if they're going to make it. It's -- it is heart-wrenching.

But I've also talked to so many Michiganders who have lost a loved one to Covid-19, who are afraid to go back to work. And so, for the health of our business climate, for the health of our people, we've really got to get this right and be data driven, listen to the science, and be smart.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Understood.

On the question of politics, you say on the prospect of being the vice presidential candidate under Joe Biden in the fall, that you'd be willing and honored to serve.

I wonder, given the challenges that Michigan is still facing, with the outbreak, but also the economic damage from this, can Michigan spare its governor if you were chosen and were out on the campaign trail instead of home -- back home in the office doing the job of governor?

WHITMER: I'll be very frank with you. The job that I want is the one that I have. I worked for two years to become the governor of the state of Michigan. And while it's been challenging, and there have been some tough days, there's no place I'd rather be than right here in my home state, making decisions that are saving people's lives.

[09:35:00]

I think it's -- it's -- it's the honor of my lifetime to be here. I am honored to be included in a bigger conversation, but that's not something that I'm promoting. It's not something that I'm spending energy on. Every ounce of energy I have is going into protecting people in Michigan, making sure that we're smart about how we reopen our economy and -- and defeating Covid-19 and enlisting every support I can get in that fight. We can't have politics divide us right now. We have to be united against a virus that is indiscriminative.

SCIUTTO: If asked, would you turn down the job?

WHITMER: You know what, I think Joe Biden would be a phenomenal president. I have -- am a big fan of his. I am a big supporter of his. And I'm going to continue to support him in any way that -- that I can be helpful.

SCIUTTO: Final question, before we go. You recently canceled, as you know, a no bid state contract that was awarded to two firms linked to state and Democratic consultants. Was awarding that contract a mistake?

WHITMER: So, my department of health and human services, so they are not political, they went with a firm that they thought were the best positioned to help in terms of the contact tracing. They didn't go through the appropriate process through our state emergency operations center. I got wind of it and I -- I killed the contract. It is now going through the appropriate process. We will have a new vendor and we will make sure we get this right.

I can't afford to have anyone be suspect of what we're trying to do to protect public health. And that's why I killed the contract.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

Michigan Governor Whitmer, we wish you and the people of Michigan the best of luck as you go through this.

WHITMER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, you can join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta tonight for a new CNN global town hall. Their guests tonight include Dr. Stephen Hahn, Governor Andrew Cuomo, and Chef Jose Andres and special guest Alicia Keys will perform the world premiere of her new song for the heroes of this pandemic. "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears" begins tonight, 8:00 Eastern Time, only on CNN.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: That's going to be an amazing town hall.

So millions more Americans filing for unemployment again last week. Small businesses now waiting desperately for that additional PPP funding. The House set to vote on it in just hours.

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[09:41:35]

HARLOW: In just a few hour, the House will vote on a roughly $484 billion coronavirus relief package. A lot of that aimed to try to help small businesses. The other money going to hospitals and testing.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I mean, this number is just enormous. It comes on a day we're seeing other devastating news for the economy. Another 4.4 million Americans filed for first time unemployment last week. Those numbers staggering.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans joins us now.

Christine, first on this new money for small businesses.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Sure.

SCIUTTO: You know, big problems with the first round. One, a lot of small businesses couldn't get access unless they had relationships with the right banks and a lot of big, public companies got money, you know, millions of dollars, that perhaps they shouldn't have considering who the target of this was. Does this new legislation correct both those problems?

ROMANS: No, it doesn't, but there's now this new level of public shaming, I think, and a lot of these big, public companies know that they will be in the headlines if they tap these funds that are meant for small businesses.

There is one segment here that I think is important, $60 billion is earmarked for small lenders, like credit unions and really small, local banks. And the idea there, I think, is that those are the people who are more likely to have lines of credit already or business relationships with real small mom and pop kind of operations, main street operations, and so that guarantees that some of the money gets there.

But, look, you know, $300 billion more to fill up the pot, really important, but, you know, all the estimates I've heard is this could run out really quickly. You've got a lot of people who are waiting for money the first time around and were left behind. So there's a really long queue here of folks who want to get their hands on some of this money to keep their -- keep the lights on and keep paying their workers.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: I Know Treasury Secretary Mnuchin thinks it's going to be enough. He doesn't think the trillion dollar estimate is necessary. But I'm not so sure because that line for claims is already really, really long. Christine, before you go, can we talk about this 4.4 million number.

ROMANS: Yes.

HARLOW: New unemployment claims last week. So over the last five weeks we're around almost -- just under, what, 27 million Americans?

ROMANS: Twenty-six and a half million in five weeks. This is unimaginable. Every one of those numbers is a person who lost a job or who has been furloughed and has bills to pay and no clarity about when they can get back to work. The number is so staggering. You're approaching a 20 percent unemployment rate. That's not controversial to say in the United States right now. That's worse than the Great Recession. That's worse than 1982. You're approaching Great Depression level unemployment joblessness.

But there's no playbook for it because we've done this on purpose, right? We've steered the job market into this -- into this sleep so that we can fix the other problem.

So that's what's so interesting here, the conversation about reopening. It's much more dramatic when you have so many people out of work. But you also have to be careful not to hurt consumer and employer -- employee confidence, otherwise the economy won't come -- you know, won't come back strongly. So a very, very dangerous moment here, I think.

SCIUTTO: The challenge is immense. Man, I mean, it's something we're going to be talking about for years and years.

Christine Romans, thanks very much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: This morning there are growing concerns about the vulnerability of the U.S. food supply chain and the safety of the workers who keep it going.

HARLOW: Huge concern about the safety for those workers.

Another Tyson Foods plant, this time in Logansport, Indiana, will close by the end of this week because of Covid-19.

[09:45:01]

Our national correspondent, Gary Tuchman, joins us in Waterloo, Iowa.

The Tyson pork plant there, the largest of theirs in the country, Gary, closed. We had the mayor of Waterloo on yesterday. He's so thankful for this. He's been calling for it for a month now.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Poppy and Jim.

What's happened inside meat processing plants around the United States is very upsetting and very nerve-wracking. This particular plant is one of the largest pork processing plants in the United States here in Waterloo, Iowa. This is Blackhawk County, which is the northeastern portion of Iowa. And, as of now, 182 of the employees who worked inside here have tested positive for Covid-19. That number sounds high, but it's much lower than it's going to be. It's going to go higher. And that's because there are more than 2,800 employees who work here.

That's now been temporarily closed. But most of those 2,800 employees haven't been tested yet. The company vows they will start testing employees tomorrow. That number is likely to skyrocket.

And we're talking about Logansport, Indiana, that's 400 miles east of here, another Tyson pork processing facility. At this point, 146 people who worked there have tested positive. That number is expected to go higher.

What's really important to point out is that you have many people here, and in the state of Indiana, who have been saying, please close these plants, days ago, weeks ago, because they were very concerned because they heard what happened at other plants.

In this particular county, Blackhawk County, you had the mayor of this city here in Waterloo, you had the sheriff, you had state representatives, state senators calling for the governor and this company to shut down the plant days ago. The governor made the decision. She could have closed it. She made the decision not to. And Tyson, yesterday, as we said, made the decision to shut down the plant.

Here's a statement from Tyson after they decided to temporarily shut this plant. Tyson says, while we understand the necessity of keeping our facilities operational so that we can feed the nation, the safety of our team members remains our top priority. The combination of worker absenteeism, Covid-19 cases and community concerns has resulted in a collective decision to close.

Community concerns is certainly an understatement.

Jim, Poppy, back to you.

HARLOW: I was also very struck reading that statement, Gary, about the repeated use of the phrase worker absenteeism. I wonder how many of those workers didn't come because they felt like they could lose their life.

SCIUTTO: Right.

HARLOW: Gary, thank you.

The U.S. now calling on China to permanently close all wet markets like the one where coronavirus may have first originated. What China's saying. We'll take you live to Wuhan, next.

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[09:51:57] SCIUTTO: This morning China is denying the existence of so-called wet markets, like the one in Wuhan, where the coronavirus may have first started. This as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says wildlife markets create risks for the spread of this and other viruses. And a foreign affairs spokesman in China says a comprehensive ban is in place on the trading in illegal wildlife in particular.

HARLOW: Now, after 76 days of lockdown in Wuhan, the city is starting to return to a new normal.

Our David Culver is there.

Certainly not normal seeing what you have to do just to get into a hotel there as you showed us yesterday, but let's talk about the issue at hand, which is U.S. intelligence and national security officials say the virus may have originated in a Chinese laboratory.

Do we have any more facts on that front?

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is all based around the origin theories, right? And we hear from two sides, the U.S. side and, of course, the Chinese side, which tends to shoot down pretty quickly and dismiss any of those claims.

Now, the U.S. intelligence claiming that this originated in a laboratory is something that the Chinese really don't like to follow through with because it -- they feel that this was naturally started based on transmission from animals to humans in a market, likely Juana (ph) seafood market, which we've taken you to and it's not far from where we're standing.

Now, as far as where things lie vicinity wise, I think it's important to lay that out, kind of the context here, because we've also heard contradicting stories on all of this.

As far as the seafood market, if you go just a few hundred yards from where that is, you have the China CDC office, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Their equivalency of what the U.S. has but here for the mainland. And then if you go about eight miles from there, you have the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is another lab where they do a lot of tests, perhaps even involving bats and other animals that could likely transmit diseases. So that's one case that they're laying out. The U.S. intelligence officials, that is. And that's one theory that they're investigating, looking into. They say they have many theories and they also say it's not based on bioweapons testing according to sources that have spoken to CNN.

However, the other side of this has to go to those wet markets and the real concern that wildlife are being sold illegally and consumed, and that that is causing the transmission of these diseases.

Now, we did go, my team and I here, to a wet market that has reopened since the lockdown. And Chinese pushes back saying they don't have wet markets. I think what they're trying to specify is they don't sell the wildlife within those. However, we know that's the case in some parts of China that those have been sold, and that is, according to medical experts, very likely what caused all of this.

And going into the wet market, I can tell you, though, Jim and Poppy, I mean you do see things that, for those of us from the U.S., we'd find very strange. I mean a bag of toads you'd find right next to snakes in a bucket. I mean, so it's very different. But they stress, no wildlife.

SCIUTTO: David Culver, thanks very much. We're also glad to hear that you and your team tested negative so far for the virus.

CULVER: Right.

[09:55:02]

SCIUTTO: This morning, other news we're watching. Experts are now rethinking -- and this is key -- the whole timeline of the outbreak. A new report says that hidden outbreaks of the virus were spreading through major cities in this country far earlier than Americans knew. This has a lot of significance. We're going to have more on that just ahead.

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HARLOW: Good morning. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

While the U.S. was watching the coronavirus outbreak in China, a stunning new report that thousands of infections were already right here in the U.S., spreading undetected in several major U.S. cities. According to researchers at Northeastern University, there could have been some 28,000 infections in New York City, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, and Seattle by March 1st.

[10:00:03]

HARLOW: It's remarkable.

Also today, new details about the first known death in the United States linked to coronavirus.