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Trump Dismisses Science as Top Vaccine Doctor is Ousted; First U.S. Virus Death Was a Healthy 57-Year-Old California Woman. Aired 6- 6:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 06:00   ET



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: The director of a key federal agency says he's been pushed out of his job, because he resisted efforts to widen the availability of a drug that was pushed by President Trump.


DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Guy says he was pushed out of a job. Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR OF THE CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It's important to clarify this. I didn't say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more difficult.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dr. Redfield's concern is that there also might be flu at the same time. And the whole task force is concerned about the second wave.

TRUMP: It is estimated it might not come back at all. It may not come back at all.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASE: We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It's Thursday, April 23, 6 a.m. here in New York.

The virus is the virus. That's what Dr. Fauci and Sanjay Gupta tell us. Coronavirus kills. That's what the numbers tragically tell us. Fact-based public health saves lives. That is what history tells us.

Politics doesn't change this. Politics can't change this. But there is new reporting this morning that the president is trying.

The doctor in charge of the federal government's search for a vaccine says he was forced out of his job for questioning the use of hydroxychloroquine. That was the drug that the president has been hyping for weeks. Dr. Rick Bright claims he is a victim of political retaliation, and he's filing a whistle-blower complaint. He says science, not politics or cronyism, has to lead the way.

Now when asked about it, President Trump insisted he doesn't know who Dr. Bright is. We're going to speak to Bright's former boss in just a moment who says she owes it to the country to speak out on his behalf.

The president also tried to get the director of the CDC to walk back his own quote about a second wave of virus this fall. Dr. Robert Redfield said he was accurately quoted, and moments later, Dr. Anthony Fauci directly contradicted the president about pretty much the same thing.


TRUMP: May not even have corona coming back.

FAUCI: We'll have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So the latest models suggest that many states should wait to reopen until June. That includes Georgia. But the governor there does not want to wait. So he will allow gyms, hair salons, spas, tattoos -- tattoo parlors and more to reopen tomorrow.

President Trump now claims he disagrees with Governor Brian Kemp's decision to do this so early. CNN has learned the president and vice president called Governor Kemp earlier this week to support and praise his decision to reopen. So why is the president now saying the opposite? Well, we'll get into that reporting.

And a new study on the effectiveness of the drug hydroxychloroquine. It is the biggest study yet, and the results are in. So why are researchers not showing it to the public days after they promised?

We have a lot of new developments. But let's begin with CNN's Joe Johns. He is live at the White House. What is the latest there, Joe?


The significance of this is that it's apparently the latest example of the Trump administration disregarding science and the experts. The Trump administration getting rid of a veteran point man on vaccines. He says it's because he would not buy into an unproven treatment that, by the way, the president until very recently has been pushing hard.


JOHNS (voice-over): While scientists race to find a coronavirus vaccine, one of the nation's top experts say he was abruptly ousted from his position overseeing its development.

Dr. Rick Bright led BARDA, a biomedical research subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services and was reassigned to a narrower position at the National Institutes of Health Tuesday.

The reason, Bright says in a statement, "was in response to my insistence that the government invest the billions of dollars allocated by Congress to address the COVID-19 pandemic into safe and scientifically vetted solutions and not in drugs, vaccines and other technologies that lack scientific merit," adding, "To combat this deadly virus, science, not politics or cronyism, has to lead the way."

Bright also claimed his opposition to broad use of hydroxychloroquine contributed to his demotion. The drug, typically used to treat malaria, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, has been heavily promoted by President Trump as a possible coronavirus treatment despite little evidence that it helps at all.

TRUMP: I've never heard of him. If a guy says he was pushed out of a job, maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. You'd have to hear the other side. I don't know who he is.

JOHNS: This major shakeup, as President Trump makes the current health crisis political, dismissing the science from researchers. Trump had the CDC director try to clarify his warning of possible difficulties caused if a second coronavirus wave hits during flu season.

REDFIELD: I think it's really important to emphasize what I didn't say. I didn't say that this was going to be worse. I said it was going to be more complicated -- more difficult and potentially complicated, because we'll have flu and coronavirus circulating at the same time.

JOHNS: Even after Dr. Robert Redfield reiterated that he expects the virus later this year, the president made this bold prediction about the disease's potential resurgence.

TRUMP: If it comes back, though, it won't be coming back in the form that it was. It will be coming back in smaller doses that we can contain.

JOHNS: But experts leading efforts against the coronavirus are less optimistic.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: I think we are assured that the CDC is putting in place today what we are going to need in the fall so that we can stay in containment if, potentially, the virus comes back.

FAUCI: We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.


JOHNS: Bright said he will file a complaint with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services and ask the I.G. to investigate.

By the way, Senator Chuck Grassley, a powerful Republican up on Capitol Hill, sent a letter earlier this week to the White House, telling the president not to interfere with the work of IGs

John and Alisyn, back to you.

BERMAN: All right. Joe Johns for us at the White House. Joe, thanks very much.

Joining us now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She is a White House correspondent for "The New York Times" who broke the story about Dr. Rick Bright.

Also with us is former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Health and Human Service Department and Dr. Bright's former boss, Dr. Nicole Lurie.

Maggie, I do want to start with you. Just to remind people of who Dr. Rick Bright is. He did oversee BARDA, which was the office, or is the office overseeing vaccine research. He was in that position since 2016. And he says his transfer was over his skepticism of hydroxychloroquine.

Joe Johns laid this out. You broke the story. What's going on behind the scenes here and what's the White House response?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Sure. So, John, it's interesting. The White House actually has said extremely little. And when I spoke to folks yesterday before we got Dr. Bright's statement, the White House was saying they didn't really know a whole lot of what was going on here and were looking at HHS.

At HHS, officials have been saying on background things that contradict Dr. Bright's claim about specifically why he was transferred. They don't disagree that he was transferred. Their argument is he was transferred, because he was difficult to work with or that he had a confrontational management style. That this had been in the works for several months, and that it abruptly came to a head now.

That -- that could be true. If there is not an I.G. investigation, I think that all of that will be looked at.

But I certainly think, John, the timing is going to raise a lot of questions. Getting rid of somebody like Dr. Bright while you are still in the middle of a pandemic, while you are still trying to find therapeutics that can be effective for a full return of this virus, and a vaccine beyond that.

So we will know more, I suspect, in the coming days. And it could be more complicated than the situation that Dr. Bright is complaining about or describing. But it's remarkable that Dr. Bright, again, is on the record saying all of this. And we have not heard the same from HHS so far.

CAMEROTA: Yes, great point. He didn't do this off the record.

HABERMAN: Exactly.

CAMEROTA: He used his name. He put out a statement. He's being as direct as he possibly can.

Maggie, I know you pointed out that is often unusual --

HABERMAN: That's right.

CAMEROTA: -- for people in the administration.

But what he says, Dr. Lurie, is that this was about hydroxychloroquine. When he wasn't willing to, you know, be as bullish and as -- you know, fund it as much as the president wanted. He wanted to follow science.

I'll read P-16. This is part of his statement. He says, "Specifically, and contrary to misguided directives, I limited the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, promoted by the administration as a panacea, but which clearly lacks scientific merit."

That's why he says he lost his job and was transferred. But you hired Dr. Bright years ago at BARDA. So tell us about him and about his tenure there.

DR. NICOLE LURIE, FORMER ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR PREPAREDNESS AND RESPONSE, HHS: Dr. Bright is a strong scientist. He's a visionary leader. He's able to make decisions. He gets things done. And h CAMEROTA: e believes and he stands on strong science.

I think this was about something larger than hydroxychloroquine. And I think it is really about listening to scientific opinions, scientific perspectives and standing up for strong science.

BERMAN: It's interesting you say that. Because obviously, this happened during the same time period where we saw the president on stage, more or less forcing Dr. Redfield to try to walk back a statement he made that -- dealing with coronavirus in the fall could be more difficult. He didn't. He said he was accurately quoted.

And Maggie, the thing is, is that the virus doesn't care. The virus doesn't care what the president thinks about hydroxychloroquine. The virus only cares whether it works or doesn't.

The virus doesn't care whether the president thinks it's coming back in the fall. The virus is going to come back in the fall on its own accord, if that's what happens here. And it just seems that we see examples of the president trying to push around science, essentially.

HABERMAN: I think that's right. Look, to the doctor's point a second ago, our understanding is that this is part of a larger series of complaints.

The specific incident that Dr. Bright was talking about was related to the hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine and whether FDA standards were going to be changed too much to make it unsafe to prescribe broadly before it had really been tested on coronavirus cases, which is not what it's intended for, obviously. But whether this is a pattern and a culture that had been created at BARDA and at HHS throughout the last couple of years. [06:10:22]

And to your point, the president has a history of trying to will things into reality. A former adviser described it to me as his way of magical thinking. That was their -- their term, not mine. And basically, just trying to make this reality come into existence.

We've seen him do it with these small protests that have cropped up around the country, where he is trying to make them into something bigger, and he so far hasn't been successful.

He's not going to be able to make an anti-malarial drug safe for patients with COVID, or really suitable for people to take at a certain point in their illness, just by talking about it. Is there more research to do? I'm sure that's true. We're very new into this.

But his concern, as he has put it, is that he wanted a certain set of rigorous criteria to be followed. Not that he objected to the idea in the first place. He objected to the speed with which it was being done and the lack of regulations and standards that were being put in place.

CAMEROTA: Hey, Maggie, something else about your reporting and something that got my attention from Dr. Bright's statement. At least twice he mentions, quote, "political connections" to hydroxychloroquine. I'll just read one portion. He says, "I will request that the inspector general of HHS investigate the manner in which this administration has politicized the work of BARDA and has pressured me and other conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections as well as efforts that lack scientific merit."

What are the political connections to hydroxychloroquine he's talking about?

HABERMAN: He's not being specific in that statement. If I had to guess, and it certainly sounds as if he's talking about something broader than just this incident. But if I had to guess, it relates, in part, to the fact that there was an effort by the president to create a platform -- and it ultimately did go ahead in some fashion -- through the tech firm Oracle, where there are some influential political people who support the president or have worked with the president before, that this was coming at their suggestion.

Again, I don't want to speak beyond what I actually know. We don't know what the details of those are. But at least in one instance, I would assume that that's what he's talking about.

BERMAN: So Dr. Lurie, I think what America should care about is whether or not this action makes them more or less safe. So what is the impact of mid-pandemic, maybe even at the beginning of a pandemic, removing someone like Dr. Bright from the job that he was doing?

LURIE: Well, first of all, I think that you need to let him execute on what was a very good strategy to develop vaccines and to develop therapeutics. Secondly, once you have them, the public is going to need confidence

that they were developed appropriately and that they're safe. And when you have this sort of thing going on, it's pretty hard for the public to have confidence.

And thirdly, we can only get there with an appropriate investment of funds. The funds given to BARDA are taxpayer money. They're not somebody's piggy bank to do what they want to with their favorite project. The projects need to be scientifically vetted before they go forward so that you know at the end of the day that you're going to end up with something that's going to be effective or can do its job for the American people.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Lurie, you know, when someone speaks out against the administration and leaves in this sort of abrupt fashion, often we see their reputation besmirched somehow.

And we already see people around -- at HHS around Dr. Bright starting to go say, well, this isn't, you know, sort of the first time that he clashed with colleagues.

And so from -- because you know him, because you hired him, are you surprised that he's willing to risk his career and reputation to do this? To say -- make this statement?

LURIE: You know, the last question I asked Dr. Bright before I hired him is whether he thought that he was tough enough to resist political pressure to use taxpayer money for things he thought were inappropriate, whether they came from a senator, whether they came from a lobbyist, whether they came from somewhere else. And he said, yes, he was.

So this doesn't surprise me at all. He's a person of incredibly high integrity.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Lurie, that is really helpful to get your personal take on who this man is. And Maggie, thank you so much for all of your reporting, as always.

BERMAN: Be sure to join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta tonight for a new CNN global town hall. Their guests will include the FDA commissioner, New York's governor, chef Jose Andres. Also singer/songwriter Alicia Keys will debut the world premiere of her new song for the heroes of the pandemic. Join us for "CORONAVIRUS FACTS AND FEARS," tonight, 8 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

CAMEROTA: OK. We are learning new details about the first American to die of coronavirus. This was in early February, much earlier than we had previously known. So we'll tell you about her and what some states are now doing to figure out when their first cases were.


CAMEROTA: We have new details about the death of a California woman in early February, now believed to be the first coronavirus fatality in the U.S. This is much earlier than what researchers had previously known.

CNN's Dan Simon is live in San Francisco with the latest. What have we learned about her, Dan?


This further highlights how much the world has really changed in the last couple of months and how much we now know about the virus.

We're talking about 57-year-old Patricia Dowd. When she died suddenly on February 6, her family just assumed that she had a heart attack. But now they know the truth, that she did, in fact, have the virus. And they are shocked, according to Dowd's brother, who spoke with CNN.

This is somebody who was active, did not smoke, was seemingly healthy. No underlying conditions.

But according to "The L.A. Times," she had some flu-like conditions in January. And then she seemed to recover. She was working from home. She was actually taking calls from colleagues the morning she died.

Now, her brother says she was a frequent world traveler because of her job. She worked for a semiconductor company. But he doesn't know exactly where she traveled in the days and weeks leading to her death. But we should point out that Santa Clara county authorities believe that she got the virus from community spread.

The bottom line here is what her case shows and what we've been reporting, is that the virus had been in the country, had been, specifically, in Santa Clara County much longer than anybody had previously thought -- John and Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting, Dan. Thank you very much.

So some states are now retracing their coronavirus time lines after the discovery of that first death, which was February 6.

Joining us now to talk about this and more, we have Dr. Colleen Kraft. She's the associate chief medical officer at Emery University Hospital. And Crystal Watson. She's a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

So Dr. Kraft, some states want to now retrace their time lines. But how will they do that? How are they going to figure out if people who passed away in February actually died of coronavirus but we just don't know that?

DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, ASSOCIATE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, EMERY UNIVERSITY: Yes. Many of us that were rounding in the hospital, especially during February, are going back through our cases and looking to see if there were things that syndromically looked like coronavirus, like COVID-19.

And so on some of this, it will have to be sort of a clinical suspicion. As I said yesterday, we had an individual that we strongly suspected did have severe COVID in February. But in testing her serologies, you know, 2 1/2 months later, they were negative. So it doesn't show that she's been exposed to COVID-19. But indeed, we do think there -- syndromically, there probably were people in our hospital during that time.

BERMAN: -- then is what does it mean for us now? How does it change our understanding of this virus and the pandemic, that it was here earlier and killing earlier than we thought?

KRAFT: I -- I think that one of the things that it tells us is that we -- you know, we -- we have a lot of community transmission that was really unknown. And our efforts in the beginning to sort of contain and mitigate, you know, were -- it was definitely, you know, out of the bag at that point.

CAMEROTA: And so Dr. Watson, that leads us to where we are now, right? So we're trying to retroactively, basically, trace the first cases at the same time that I know you're involved with and now New York's governor, as well as New Jersey and Connecticut, moving forward contact tracing. And so tell us what that -- what this is going to look like.

I mean, now that Governor Cuomo has announced that they're going to engage in this very ambitious future contact tracing, how is this all going to work for us?

CRYSTAL WATSON, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: Right. So by adding up to our workforce and adding training for contact tracing in New York and other places around the country, this is how we really get a handle on the community spread as we're seeing. There's been a lot of community spread around the country, as well.

So we -- we do contact tracing in order to manage this on a case-by- case basis. And once we can do that, then we can break chains of transmission and stop this from spreading widely enough so that we can maintain a steady state until, hopefully, we have a safe and effective vaccine and manage this pandemic going forward.

BERMAN: How much tracing do you have to do? How many contacts per sick person?

WATSON: Right. We need to find every case, so every person who's symptomatic and -- and we know is infected and trace as many contacts as possible, because the more people we have out there who are infected and don't know it and are passing it along to others, the worse these efforts will be.

CAMEROTA: So just explain to me how that's going to work. So let's say, heaven forbid, tomorrow I get sick. You go back how far in time to try to figure out exactly how many people I crossed paths with? And then do you or I call them all, and how far out does that circle go?

WATSON: Right. So right now the standard is looking back about two days before symptoms appear. Because we think that's when you're possibly most infectious.

So public health will contact you, try to understand where you've been, who you were in close contact with, what the quality of those contacts were. Were they -- were they very close? Were they just passing contacts?

And then trace them down. Ask those people to self-quarantine at home for the duration of the incubation period, which the maximum is 14 days. And then hopefully, they won't pass it along to someone else.


BERMAN: So Dr. Watson, one of the -- I'm sorry, should say Dr. Kraft, one of the things that we're so hungry for here is facts and data. And the "Journal of the American Medical Association," "JAMA," published a really large study, or at least packet of data over the last 24 hours about patients in New York City with coronavirus, showing that high rates of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, those are the preexisting conditions that I think we knew made things worse for people. But here you see it on paper.

The thing that jumped out for a lot of people, an 88 percent mortality rate. Eighty-eight percent of people put on ventilators ended up dying. So what do those numbers tell you?

KRAFT: I think the numbers tell us that we have a -- a disease that's really being introduced into a population that doesn't have any immunity to it. And so there are a lot of individuals that are going to have, you know, bad you know, immune reaction because their -- their body is trying to fight off this disease.

And that's leading, actually, to a lot of lung inflammation, leading to people needing to be on the ventilator.

And so I think that -- you know, it tells us that we need to be very careful with this. We need to continue to improve our diagnostic testing, improve our clinical care and our -- and our contact tracing as Dr. Watson is saying to make sure that we're finding people early enough to be able to support them during -- during these different phases of disease, which may be severe.

BERMAN: But the thing is, is that nearly nine out of ten people who did end up on the ventilator, the ventilator wasn't enough to save their lives.

KRAFT: Yes, and you're going to see as we -- as we collect more data, this is variable across the United States. And so we are -- there is a large critical care group that continues to meet nationally, if not informally, to try to figure out the best way to support these individuals.

We are seeing that people are very rapidly infected with severe lung disease at times that they become that severe and -- and really getting them on the ventilator as soon as possible has been helpful. That's not typically what we do for people that have these types of lung disease.

CAMEROTA: We are so grateful for the steep learning curve that you all are tackling and sharing the information, just by the hour and day with us. Thank you both very much, Dr. Kraft and Dr. Watson. BERMAN: All right. Breaking overnight, a deadly outbreak of tornadoes

across the south. It continues with a tornado warning at this moment in Mississippi. We have the breaking details, next.