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Trump Clashes with Top Scientists on Coronavirus Timeline; 4.4 Million Americans Filed for Unemployment Last Week; Detroit Hit Hard by Pandemic; Trump Reverses Course on Georgia Governor Reopening; Doctor Says He Was Removed from Federal Post after Questioning Drug Trump Praised; New Report Says Coronavirus Was in America Earlier Than Thought; Medical Experts Say Testing of Asymptomatic Americans Needed; Dr. Richard Besser, Former CDC Director & Dr. Mark Levine, Vermont Health Department Commissioner, Discuss Need for More Testing of Asymptomatic Americans. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 11:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King, in Washington. This is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's the start of Ramadan and the majority Muslims in Malaysia now banning Friday prayers at mosques and public gatherings to break the holly fast.

As Germany eases some coronavirus restrictions, Chancellor Angela Merkel warns, quote, "They are on the thinnest ice." She says moving boldly will undo fragile progress.

The global debate at the moment is just that, when and how to reopen the economy and society. The big split is go now verses go slow.

Here in the United States, that tension plays out on this very sad canvas, nearly 800,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, nearly 47,000 Americans dead.

President Trump's instincts are to go now. But we have fascinating new reporting today on how he was persuaded to make clear that he thinks the state of Georgia needs to slow down because of health and safety risks.

We're also seeing some fresh tension between the president and his top scientist. He says it's not a sure thing coronavirus will be with us this fall when he faces his reelection test.

The scientists say there's zero doubt about a coronavirus second wave. The only question to them is how big and how viral it will be when this new virus overlaps with the normal flu season.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Dr. Robert Redfield was totally misquoted in the media on his statement about the fall season and the virus. Totally misquoted.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: -- accurately quoted in the "Washington Post." You were accurately quoted, correct?

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: I am accurately quoted in the "Washington Post."

TRUMP: It might not come back at all. We'll be watching for it. But it's all possible, it's also possible it doesn't come back at all.



KING: New numbers from the government today on how coronavirus is also killing American jobs, by the millions. The numbers say 4.4 million more Americas filed for unemployment. Trace the economic devastation week by week, this pandemic has put 26.5 million Americans out work in just five weeks.

There's some help on the way for those teetering on the edge of survival. The House today will pass a second wave of funding for an emergency loan program designed to help small businesses meet payroll.

But the new numbers remind us even tens of millions of dollars in new government spending not enough to stop the bleeding. This of it this way, 4.4 million people filed for unemployment last week. That's the entire population of Kentucky. And the five-week total of nearly 26.5 million? That is roughly the state population of giant Texas.

Joining me now, CNN Business anchor, Julia Chatterley.

Julia, the numbers again, it's not six million like it was last week, but 4.4. On top of everything else, the hole keeps getting deeper.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: It does. These claims are the economic fear gauge on a weekly basis now for the U.S. economy.

When you're talking over 26 million people who have either lost their jobs, had their jobs furloughed or simply are afraid of what the future of their job looks like, you get a sense it's one in six U.S. workers that are in that situation and are facing that fear now on a daily basis.

We have more than wiped out all the job gains that we saw since the financial crisis. This is millions of people now asking, when is the money going to come, when am I going to get my job back, and even if I try to get back into my job, am I going to be able to do this safely. We could be looking at an unemployment rate in this country now of up

to 20 percent. You have to go back to the Great Depression to find something that compares in any way.

It brings it right back to what you were saying there, John, about the need to get money flowing to the smallest businesses in this country. They represent half of employment.

And the delay that's already been had, the lack of access for small businesses, is being played out on a weekly basis in these numbers.

KING: We'll see if the new money helps some small businesses keep their employees on the payroll. But more than 26 million Americans in five weeks, it is sad and stunning.

Julia Chatterley, thank you so much.

Of course, those are statistics. That means you, your neighbor, someone you know. A closer look at how this pain plays out across America. In Detroit, thousands suddenly out of work. In Michigan, as a whole, 24 percent, 24 percent of the state labor force has applied for unemployment benefits in these past five weeks.

CNN correspondent, Omar Jimenez, is in Detroit with that story.

Omar, you've been talking to small business owners and workers. What are you hearing? I'm guessing it's not good.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's not great, John. But one thing I have heard from the many businesses and people I've spoken to here is they've been through a lot in the past decade and a half. And one thing they say they know how to do is survive, especially as the pandemic has had a huge and significant impact on the economic way of life here, from layoffs to newly uncertain futures for businesses.


JIMENEZ (voice over): Quiet downtown streets, economies grinding to a halt, all too common sights across America amid the coronavirus pandemic. And Detroit is no different.

JIMENEZ (on camera): The planning for a place like this takes years.


JIMENEZ: And then here you are weeks away from opening.

FRASSETTO: Yes, we -- we would have been ready to go at the end of March.

JIMENEZ (voice over): Now that timeline is up in the air while he navigates unemployment for the first time after also being laid off.

FRASSETTO: Things aren't great all the time, but we've always made it through.

JIMENEZ: But for many, these are uncertain times. Officials hope part of the solution is a better understanding of the present.

Detroit is the first major city in the country now opening coronavirus testing to all essential employees regardless of symptoms.

HAKIM BERRY, CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER, CITY OF DETROIT: And that was the thought behind it, those that are at the grocery stores, those that are at the pharmacies and the restaurants that are still operating with carry-out service. How do you ensure that they're safe and healthy and able to serve the public?

JIMENEZ (on camera): They'll make their appointments beforehand. Their information will get radioed into this tent here where these masked and gloved workers will then direct them to one of 12 tents where these employees will get their actual coronavirus tests.

JIMENEZ (voice over): Detroit is trying to get back to work. Thousands in the city are unemployed, as are millions across the United States. Michigan's overall unemployment rate soaring to 20 percent, even affecting companies doing life-saving work.

Die Tech and Engineering in the Grand Rapids area has been working as part of a partnership with General Motors to help make ventilators. And the owner says even they had to lay off 20 percent of their staff.

BILL BERRY, PRESIDENT, DIE TECH AND ENGINEERING: Even though my guys are working and my company is still operating and we might be one of the least affected companies, well, nobody is safe.

JIMENEZ: In Detroit, city officials have been working hard to make sure the current climate doesn't become a permanent one.

The Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and others have helped to give out grants to over 1,000 businesses. And the city of Detroit is literally paying restaurants to help make food for first responders.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can bring it right to your door so they have no contact, OK?

JIMENEZ: Hugh Smith's jazz club is now a full-time kitchen for survival, emblematic of the larger picture in Detroit.

HUGH SMITH, CO-OWNER, BAKER'S KEYBOARD LOUNGE: Eighty-six years, never shut down through all crises. I don't think there will ever be anything greater and I don't wish there to be anything greater than this challenge. But we're here to survive. We're survivors and we will beat this.


JIMENEZ: And moving forward, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says they're looking for ways to re-engage. She says the data they received is pointing to re-evaluating the stay-at-home order. But as to what exactly that will be, we're expecting that announcement by the end of the week -- John?

KING: Omar, what's out there is the "we will survive" attitude. Amid this devastation, the attitude and resilience of people is remarkable.

You're on the ground in a city that is an important experiment, in the sense that as people go back to work, the question is, can we test more of them, can we figure out how asymptomatic they are. Detroit is trying to test every essential employee or is at least trying to. Is that correct? What are they learning?

JIMENEZ: Right, they've expanded their testing capability to now be able to offer testing to all essential employees. You saw that scene in the fairgrounds a few minutes ago. That fairground testing site was already a testing site before that testing began yesterday. But before, you had to be symptomatic and follow the initial guidelines we say to get that testing.

Now, whether you're symptomatic or not, you can sign up and make an appointment as they have made to go and get tested. And we understand from the officials that number is already over 9,000 for those who have signed up to make an appointment and go get themselves tested.

They have the capability of testing around a thousand people a day at that site, so that total process is going to continue even as more people sign up to get tested.

But it's being looked at around the country as a potential first step to trying to get the economy reinvigorated, having a baseline for who is positive and who isn't and then moving forward from there.

KING: Omar Jimenez for us in Detroit. Omar, thank you for being on the ground reporting where it really matters in America.

The devastating impacts are exhibit A, as the president pushes to reopen the economy ASAP. Yet, it isn't all full speed ahead. After calling Georgia Governor Brian Kemp and offering support for Kemp's reopening plan, the president reversed course and said he could not support some elements of that plan, like opening tattoo parlors and massage parlors.


That pivot coming after pressure from inside his own Coronavirus Task Force.

John Harwood covering the White House for us.

John, take us inside that big decision by the president to pull back.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: John, what we've seen is another example of the president wavering back and forth depending on the pressure that he gets.

As you mentioned, the immense economic pressure had led him to urge states to reopen as soon as possible, put pressure on Democratic states, and had that friendly phone call with Brian Kemp on Tuesday. And you saw Deborah Birx at the podium saying that, well, I can't

imagine that you could have tattoos safely with social distancing, but people are creative. It was a very accommodating briefing on Tuesday.

Then you had Wednesday come. The president had a second phone call after getting pressure from within his task force, and here's how he talked about Kemp yesterday.


TRUMP: I told the governor of Georgia, Brian Kemp, that I disagree strongly with his decision to open certain facilities, which are in violation of the phase one guidelines for the incredible people of Georgia.

But at the same time, he must do what he thinks is right. I want him to do what he thinks is right. But I disagree with him on what he's doing.


HARWOOD: In an unequivocal statement, he said he should do what he thinks is right, but nevertheless he did criticize the decision. You could see thereafter in the briefing where that pressure came from, because Tony Fauci, who had been absent from briefings for several days, came in. He said privately, I can't defend this publicly.

And at the briefing itself, he said, John, if I was advising Governor Kemp I would tell him not to take this step.

So far, Governor Kemp has not indicated he is going to reverse this step, but it's only Thursday, and it's scheduled these to take effect tomorrow.

KING: It's fascinating, John, yet again, the president maybe reluctantly at first but accepting the advice or at least yielding to the pressure form Tony Fauci and other scientist there to take a more cautious approach.

But there's a separate controversy brewing. It came up at the briefing yesterday. A top doctor in the administration, someone who works on vaccines, who you would think would be incredibly important right now, has been sidelined.

His name is Dr. Rick Bright. Pushed back, he says, because he was inside the government saying, go easy when the president was pushing this malaria drug, Hydroxychloroquine. Dr. Bright says he was saying, whoa, whoa, whoa, be careful, and he was shut out. What do we know?

HARWOOD: What we know is Dr. Bright put out a statement. I'll read it to you. It says, "I believe this transfer was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated for the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientific solutions, not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit. I'm speaking out, because to combat this deadly virus, science, not politics or cronyism has to be the most important consideration."

We're still looking for details on what exactly what he meant by cronyism, what companies he might have been encouraged to be financing with respect to hydroxychloroquine.

What we do know is we've had research in the past few days, not conclusive research but preliminary research, raising significant doubts about the effects of hydroxychloroquine, and the fact that some people died as a result of taking it.

And we know that both the president and his FOX News supporters, who had been encouraging to tout that drug, they have stopped touting it.

KING: They have. It's very important to continue following, A, that research, but, B, the paper trail of what happened to Dr. Bright inside the administration. We'll stay on top of that story.

John Harwood, on both fronts, very much appreciate the reporting from the White House.


Up next for us, a new report shows the virus was spreading undetected to thousands of people in major American cities far earlier than we knew the virus was here on U.S. soil.


KING:: Let's get to big medical developments now, including some new reporting that underscores why so many medical professionals say they're not sure when you'll be able to get out of the house, let alone, if you should even think about planning a summer vacation.

Scientists are still mapping how the virus spread. New reporting today challenges some of the early assumptions. According to the "New York Times," a Northeastern University model identified hidden outbreaks, a silence chain of transmission, it's called, in Boston, in San Francisco, in Chicago and in Seattle back in early February.

Let's go to CNN's Elizabeth Cohen in Atlanta.

Elizabeth, take us inside what was said and why it matters.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Let's go to the Northeastern survey or modeling found. This is according to the "New York Times."

On March 1st, if you look all the way at the left, at that tiny little bar, according to the CDC, there were 23 cases. Nearly all of those were people who had traveled to Wuhan.

What this model says is, look, when we look backwards at what was going on, our model, our estimate, our guess is that in Boston and Seattle each there were 2,300 cases, Chicago 3,300, San Francisco 9,300 and New York 10,700. This is a model, right, John, and you and I have talked about models

before, they are educated guesses. Looking at what we know now, this is what they think happened.

Again, this is March 1st. According to the CDC, the first case of community transmission, in other words, not a traveler to Wuhan coming back and getting his wife sick but getting sick out in the community was February 26th.


So this does not mesh at all with what the CDC says. What this says is, hey, community spread was happening on a very large scale much earlier than what the CDC thought.

KING: And let's try to rewind the tape, if you will, in the that every day we're learning something new. Yes, it's a model, but if you meet somewhere in the middle, it's a lot more than anyone thought at the time.

Take us back, then. Northeastern, this model says there were a lot of cases especially in these urban areas starting to spread out. Community spread was already in existence. What were officials saying back then?

COHEN: You know, around this time, I was actually pressing federal officials, how do we know this isn't all over the place. How do we know there isn't large scale community spread and people are getting sick and dying, and we're thinking it's the flu? It was the middle of a very bad flu season. How do we know this isn't happening?

They were pretty confident, John. They said, no, no, that's not happening. Maybe a few cases here and there, but we don't think this is spreading undetected. They were quite confident about this.

And I think, at the end of the day, when the history of this outbreak is written, I think one of the things that's going to be talked about is that there was an overconfidence at this point that somehow we were catching nearly every single case.

Because according to this modeling, as well as all this data coming out about autopsies that are being done on people who died in February is that they weren't catching every single case, not even close.

KING: It's a great point. We're learning more and more. What we know today versus yesterday, it'll be fascinating a year from now when you pull it all together, people will have a very different history of the coronavirus than we think we have at this moment.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you again for your great reporting.

More and more now you hear from the experts, they all say we need more testing of asymptomatic Americans to get a better understanding of how widespread the virus really is.


The asymptomatic piece may be the tip of the iceberg. In fact, it would be the iceberg underneath the surface. We think it's fundamental both for right now and going through the fall, because that will be our early alert if any of the COVID virus reappears.


KING: Let's discuss why that matters so much and other important developments. Joining me now, Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC, right now, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. And Mark Levine is the commissioner of the Vermont Health Department.

Dr. Besser, let me start with you.

When you hear Dr. Birx, especially out of the reporting we just heard from Elizabeth Cohen that there's a Northeastern model that says there were hundreds of cases well before anybody thought there was community spread or a significant number of cases, why is it so critical now as we try to get people back to work to have wider, broader, deeper, better testing of asymptomatic people?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, PRESIDENT & CEO, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION & FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: I think this makes it really clear. One of the real challenges with this virus is that it doesn't spread just from people who have symptoMs.

So right now in America, most health care facilities are testing people with severe symptoMs. So they're testing them to see do they need to be hospitalized, are we concerned that they could be an individual who is going to need specialized care?

In America right now, about 20 percent of all tests are positive. The World Health Organization says you really need to be doing testing to the level where that percentage is below 10 percent, which means having the capability to test people with even mild symptoms.

As we move from an approach where everyone is hunkering down at home to the next phase where we start to open the economy, you want to be able to identify every person with symptoms who may have the coronavirus so they can be isolated, you can identify the people they may have infected, and provide everybody with the opportunity to safely isolate or quarantine.

KING: So, Dr. Levine, you're trying to do this in your state. One in 50 starting to walk up to this experience of when and how quickly to reopen. A, I know you want more testing there trying to do best you can.

We also have debate playing out and someone in your profession has to advise a governor what to do. As we move into May, then June and July. There's a big debate over what we're going to have when we get to September and October. I want you to listen here. The president has one view, his experts a

little different.


TRUMP: It might not come back at all. We're going to be watching for it. But it's also possible it doesn't come back at all.

FAUCI: We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility it has in the global nature. What happens with that depends how well we're able to contain it when it occurs.



KING: I'm going to guess, Dr. Levine, you're more with Dr. Fauci than the president the idea that the coronavirus will be with us come fall, the question is just at what scale.

In that context, what do you have to do, as a state health director, to say this is the challenge today that builds toward being ready for August, September, October?

DR. MARK LEVINE, COMMISSIONER, VERMONT HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Well, I think that testing is really a big, strong component of all of this, and having the right strategies in place so that you have the capacity to test, your population has that ability to access testing and that you begin to broaden the amount of testing you're doing in populations you couldn't do previously because you didn't have capacity.

So in Vermont, we're clearly looking at strategies right now to expand testing to a variety of populations, some of them high risk, some of them more average risk, as we start to try to reopen the economy in Vermont, in our Restart Vermont Program, which we're very much on a graduated basis trying to make happen at this point in time, a very phased approach.

Testing is a core component to that approach. It will need to be really accelerated as will the contact tracing part of the testing, isolating and contact tracing paradigm dictates.

KING: And if we look at a map right now, to both of the doctors, this is the IMHE modelling about when it thinks states should consider reopening. If you look closer to home, it says nobody is ready today, and some states, already moving forward now, should wait weeks. Those governors are going to make their own decisions.

This is the Republican governor of Vermont, Phil Scott here. Listen to Governor Scott here making the case, like it or not, he's going to watch what's happening in Georgia, watch what's happening in Florida and elsewhere and maybe learn some lessons.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. PHIL SCOTT (R-VT): I'm going to continue to make decisions based on the science and what is best for Vermont as a whole and the health of Vermonters. We'll see what happens when states open too quickly. I think there's a bit of an experiment going on in Georgia as we speak. And we'll see how they benefit over the next three to four weeks or not.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Dr. Besser, from a public health perspective, if you were sitting back at the CDC, or if you were in Dr. Levine's chair as a state health director, you may disagree with what the governor of Georgia or what the governor of the state of Florida is doing, what the governor of Texas is doing, or what any governor out there is doing.

What would you be doing now? OK, they're doing this. So these are the three questions have to track. Is this going to work or is this a disaster?

BESSER: John, there's so much information we're still lacking. If you look at the data we're getting from states and cities that are able to look at it, certain populations are getting slammed by this. Black Americans and Latinos are dying at about twice the rate they should be based on population.

We need to see how this is playing out in each community and have the ability to test thoroughly and protect citizens before we think about opening up.

At this point, we're nowhere near that. We don't have the capacity in health care broadly. We don't have the availability of personal protective equipment beyond the health care setting. And there, it's in short supply. We have so many people who are working in essential occupations who aren't being provided with what they need to do that safely. You need to have those pieces in place.

Then the contact tracing piece, that Dr. Levine was referring to and others around the country are talking about, that requires training up a public health force nationally that may be in the hundreds of thousands.

Until you have those pieces in place, it really is a dangerous move to unleash the economy.

KING: Some of those pieces clearly will not be in place as some of these states start. We'll watch the experiment play out.

Dr. Besser, Dr. Levine, I appreciate your insights today. We'll keep in touch in the dicey days and weeks ahead.

A programming note for us, a very important one. You can join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta tonight for a brand-new CNN town hall, "CORONAVIRUS, FACTS AND FEARS," tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

[11:59:15] Still ahead for us, a look at the big global coronavirus developments. Including, the German chancellor's warning about opening up her country too fast.