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House Expected to Pass $310 Billion Small Business Relief Package as 4.4 Million Filed for Unemployment Last Week; Tyson Foods Accused by Employees of Ignoring Coronavirus Threat; Update on Coronavirus Across the World; Air Pollution Falls by Unprecedented Levels During Outbreak. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 14:30   ET

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


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[14:30:52]

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Some startling numbers out today. Another 4.4 million Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits in the week ending April 18th. Since mid-March, 26.5 million people filed first time claims, more evidence of the economic toll of this pandemic.

It is now the fifth week in a row to see a spike as businesses are forced to close and lay off workers. But there's more help on the way.

Today, the House is expected to pass a second round of funding for a loan program to help small businesses, bringing another $310 billion in relief for that sector of the economy. And it also includes new funding for hospitals and coronavirus testing.

Manu Raju on Capitol Hill for us right now.

Manu, so the first stimulus plan, obviously, criticized for letting big corporations get most of the money. A lot of small businesses got left out, couldn't get loans. Are there any guarantees they'll get priority this time?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: In this package, it sets aside $60 billion for the smaller facilities in the attempt to deal with the exact concern you're referring to. But larger companies could presumably still come in and get the pot of money that's still going to be authorized for this money.

Now the Treasury Department did come out today and try to disincentivize some of the companies from taking advantage of the popular program. We'll see if that has any effect.

But already, we're expecting both sides that this is probably not going to be enough money. The question is, how quickly will it run out and how quickly to move on to another package.

And already, Anderson, we see the fault lines form over another round of funding. After this package will pass today, $484 billion, that will include not just the small business release but funding for hospitals and for testing and the like.

But next round, Democrats are already calling for more money for states and localities part of a large package, presumably, in the range though, historic stimulus package enacted last month to the tune of $2 trillion. We'll see if they get this high this round.

But Senate Republicans in particular are pushing back on moving forward on anything to that extent, particularly on states and localities, the way the Democrats are demanding.

They're saying they're not going to move on anything in May until after this package passes. But, Anderson, what could change the calculus is if this money goes out quickly, goes as fast as the last round, essentially dried up in less than two weeks.

How will it change the calculus on Capitol Hill and will both sides come together again to deal with this historic rescue effort we have not seen since the Great Depression -- Anderson?

COOPER: Obviously, because of health considerations, voting on this bill, it's interesting. Obviously, it looks a lot different.

RAJU: Yes, it does. Members are actually not allowed to be all on the floor at the same time. Only about 60 members allowed to be on at the same time on the floor of the House.

They're spreading this out so the one vote will take about two hours long. Typically, a vote will take about 15 minutes long but they're trying to cycle through the number of members who can come out and vote.

They're asked by the capital physician's office to wear a mask. Most are wearing masks. I've seen some who have not worn masks, like Louie Gohmert of Texas, Jim Jordan of Ohio, and Republicans I've seen not wearing masks. Most on both sides of the aisle have been wearing masks while seated and then taking them off while speaking.

And then after they vote on this first vote which would establish this new committee to investigate all aspects of the coronavirus response, including potentially the president's actions, then the House chamber will actually be cleaned, Anderson, for half an hour. And then they'll come back and vote again in the same procedure and clear that $484 billion relief package in a couple of hours here -- Anderson?

COOPER: Manu Raju, appreciate it. Thanks, Manu.

[14:34:41]

Growing concerns about the nation's food supply. Tyson Foods shut down the largest pork plant after a coronavirus outbreak among workers. We have details on that ahead.

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COOPER: Food conglomerate Tyson Foods is being accused by its own employees of ignoring the growing coronavirus threat. The meat processing company was forced to shut down the largest pork plant in Iowa after hundreds of workers contracted the virus. Now two more plants are about to suspend operations.

And employees say the company knew it was dangerous but gave them no choice about coming to work.

National correspondent, Dianne Gallagher, joining us.

What are you learning about the conditions? And what's Tyson response?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Anderson, we've been talking to employees. Most are afraid to reveal their names or come forward about this because they didn't want to lose their jobs.

But my colleagues and I, we've been sort of building this. And it seems to be the consensus amongst the employees we spoke with that everything that was done was just too little, too late. There was a lack of communication.

They say when there was PPE available, it was either inadequate or almost always inconsistent. So if there were masks available one day, they may not have them other days. And that they and didn't implement masks until starting April 6th.

Mind you, that local officials had been calling for the plant to close for weeks.

[14:40:07]

I spoke with the sheriff who heads up the coronavirus response in Black Hawk County and he said when he toured the plant after they started having positive cases amongst employees, Anderson, when he left, he said he was afraid and just really flabbergasted. He felt like the defenses they had built up were completely blown.

Tyson said they have addressed some of the concerns, including social distancing.

They gave us a statement saying, quote, "Protecting our team members is our top priority and the reason we've implemented numerous safety measures during this challenging and unprecedented time. Despite our role of feeding American families, the combination of worker absenteeism, COVID-19 cases and community concern has resulted in our decision to stop production."

That line there, workers absenteeism, that really upset a lot of the workers we spoke with, Anderson. They felt like Tyson was blaming them for putting their health first.

I've been saying, talking about these meat packing plants but so many people feel like being essential employees they're being taken for granted as sacrificial employees expected to put health on the line without the adequate safety measures to continue the food chain in operation.

COOPER: Did you say they didn't get a mask until April 6th? GALLAGHER: That is when masks were mandated. So some were using their

owns masks, Anderson. They were brining bandannas from home or using paper masks sometimes given there.

But one of the workers we spoke with, he let us use the first name, Donald. He said when that happened, he came in, there was a box of rags after the temperature scan that they were walking through. And at that point, he realized, I'm going to have to bring something from home. I'm not going to put a rag on my face.

This is a bloody, sweaty, difficult job and they get dirty. They're close together. It is difficult to put these measures in effect. We recognize that, they recognize that, but they say it's not worth their life.

Donald told us, "I have grandchildren and children and I'm not risking their lives coming home sick to cut up some damned hogs."

COOPER: Dianne Gallagher, I appreciate all of your reporting. Thank you very much.

After a 76-day lockdown, we'll take you inside Wuhan, China, and show you how the city is slowly trying to return to life.

Plus, medical workers have been praised as heroes around the world. In Mexico, they're being attacked over false fears that they are somehow spreading the virus.

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[14:46:54]

COOPER: A tragic assessment from the World Health Organization says as many as half of all coronavirus deaths in Europe are connected to long-term care centers like nursing homes. It comes as many countries, including the U.S., struggle to keep people safe inside those facilities.

We'll take look at more international headlines. I want to check with our CNN correspondents across the globe.

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MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Matt Rivers, in Mexico City, where officials tell us they have recorded at least 44 attacks against health care workers since last month. These workers enduring everything from having bleach thrown on them to being punched in the face.

Authorities say the motive here is misinformation, rumors that it's actually health care workers that are spreading the virus.

This is not to say it's the majority opinion here in Mexico. Most Mexicans will tell you they support health care workers.

But doctors and nurses are afraid. One doctor told me that when she goes to work, she only wears street clothes. She puts on her scrubs when she gets to the hospital because she fears she'll be targeted.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm David Culver, in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. It's here that media portray things are coming back online. That may be true for some businesses.

We are seeing just as many that have remained closed after what was the 76th day harsh lockdown. In fact, some of those businesses say they may not be able to reopen. They have just been crushed financially.

Those that have reopened are finding new ways to operate like keeping customers out of their stores and doing business in the front of their store fronts, so as to avoid any contact with other people.

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Fred Pleitgen, in Berlin, where German Chancellor Angela Merkel is warning that Germany could squander the gains it's made in combatting the novel coronavirus.

Germany recently eased some of the physical distancing measures in place after new coronavirus infections have been in decline for several days.

Angela Merkel say she now fears some states here in Germany might be getting too lax in enforcing the restrictions that are still in place.

All this comes as the number of dead from coronavirus in Germany has now topped 5,000.

CLARISSA WARD, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Clarissa Ward, in London, where there's some optimism as scientists at Oxford University begin the first human trials for a vaccine against the coronavirus today.

This is one of four vaccines currently being tested on humans of the more than 70 being developed across the world.

Those behind this vaccine at Oxford University say they hope it may be ready as soon as September, but experts are saying it will likely take quite a bit longer.

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[14:49:43]

COOPER: The mitigation efforts to slow the spread of the virus have slowed air pollution dramatically for the time being. The question is, can the worldwide pause do anything to reverse decades of environmental damage. We'll take a look at that, next.

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COOPER: Pollution levels have fallen by unprecedented amounts in major cities, from Los Angeles to Delhi to Buenos Aires. The cleaner air stemming from dramatic drops in traffic all due to government-imposed shelter or stay-at-home orders.

CNN chief climate correspondent, Bill Weir, joins me now.

People have noticed really around the world in a lot of different places the global traffic pause seems to be having a major impact on visible pollution.

[14:55:08]

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. There's this the thing called the sliding baseline syndrome where you can't really explain to your kids what the stars were like when you were a boy because he doesn't know what he's missing. Now they know what they are missing.

There's a big difference between local on-the-ground pollution and the heat-trapping gases that are really driving the climate crisis.

While, yes, we're seeing more animals in the streets and more clear air and that feels great, ultimately, there's no silver lining when it comes to coronavirus and the climate crisis.

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WEIR (voice-over): On the golden anniversary of Earth Day, it's as if Mother Nature has sent us all to our rooms to think about what we've done and to give us a glimpse of life without us.

The penguins of Cape Town had the streets to themselves while wild pigs used sidewalks in Portugal. Kashmiri goats are helping themselves to the shrubbery in Wales. And a sea turtle hatch in Thailand is reportedly setting modern records.

A normally shy puma ran a stop light in Santiago. With no visitors to Kruger National Park, a pride of South African lions can snooze in the road. And with no wall of cars to navigate, the Yosemite Park rangers are seeing more bears than ever.

UNIDENTIFIED PARK RANGER: For the most part, I think they're having a break.

WEIR: While they are unheard of in New York City, these days, it's hard not to be shaken by vultures circling over the Navy's floating hospital the "Comfort."

(on camera): Man, it will be a great day when the only big Naval ship docked in New York City is a museum. When the "Comfort" finally sets sail, surely those vultures will sly away. And we can finally come out of our homes, surely, all those wild critters will go back to what's left of theirs.

But what about effects harder to see? What is this pause in the industrial revolution doing the chemistry of our sky?

(voice-over): Locals in northern India say they can see the Himalayas for the first time in decades. Before-and-after satellite imagery shows how nitrogen dioxide pollution over North America's big cities is down by as much as 30 percent.

But the blanket of heat-trapping gases around our planet is still thicker than ever.

(on camera): There seems to be this perception that maybe the virus has helped humanity buy some time when it comes to global warming. What's wrong with that assumption?

DR. JONATHAN FOLEY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, PROJECT DRAWDOWN: We would have to keep doing this even more and do it for the next 30 years to really begin to bend the curve on the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It's like having a huge bathtub in the sky filled with pollution. We have the faucet pours, pouring, pouring more in. And all we've done is turned down the faucet a little bit but it's still filling up.

WEIR (voice-over): Thanks to the current oil crash, when the lockdown is lifted, we'll see the lowest gas prices in generations. And with Donald Trump's Environmental Protection agency gutting dozens of regulations, experts say a spike in pollution seems inevitable.

Both the EPA and Earth Day were born when the air and water got too foul for everyday Americans to ignore.

Fifty years later, science is warning that storms, floods and fires of the climate crisis are growing too frequent and too severe to ignore. Saying what's left will take everyday folks everywhere deciding that their planet deserves more than one minor holiday, like a dead president. Deciding that to save the planet as we know it, everyday should be Earth Day.

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WEIR: More and more scientists I talk to about this point out that this really is part of an ecological crisis, the COVID-19 pandemic.

Because as we take apart wild places and devour everything in sight, eat the animals or use them for traditional medicines, or wet markets or poor communities that depend on bush meat to survive, a lot of them are the workers that are taking down rain forests or wild places in order to grow palm oil or develop or farm and these sorts of things, that that unleashes these viruses that otherwise would have remained locked in the wilderness.

So they've express the hope that maybe seeing a bit cleaner air, understanding the planet could be with this, without all of the horrific pain and death and economic shutdown, with a little more foresight in how we manage our land, our water, if anything comes out of it, maybe it's just that awareness that everything is connected and every little decision adds up -- Anderson?

COOPER: Yes. We're seeing that now.

Bill Weir, appreciate it. Thank you very much.

Our special coverage continues right now with Brianna Keilar. I'll see you tonight on "360" at 8:00 p.m.

[14:59:59]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi, there. I'm Brianna Keilar, in Washington. Today is Thursday, April 23rd.

Right now, the death toll in the United States is more than 47,000 people.