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Doctor Heading Government Agency Charged with Finding Vaccines Claims He was Ousted for Political Reasons; President Trump's Promotion of Hydroxychloroquine Draws Controversy; CDC States Coronavirus Spread Will Likely Recut in Fall; Tyson Closes Largest Pork Production Plant Over Virus; CNN Goes Inside Wuhan, China, Three Months After Lockdown. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 23, 2020 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: United States and around the world, this is NEW DAY.

Coronavirus doesn't care about what drug you want to work. The virus doesn't care whether you don't want it back in the fall. The virus doesn't care about politics. But there is new reporting that politics battling right now with the science of the coronavirus response. 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 is the drug that President Trump has been hyping for weeks. Dr. Rick Bright claims he's a victim of political retaliation and he's filing a whistle-blower complaint. He said science, not politics or cronyism, has to lead the way. When asked about it, President Trump insisted he doesn't know who Dr. Bright is.

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 the same thing.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: So, John, latest models suggest that many states should wait to reopen until June. Now, that includes Georgia. But the governor there does not want to wait, so he will allow gyms, hair salons, spas, and tattoo parlors to reopen tomorrow. President Trump now claims he disagrees with Governor Brian Kemp's decision. But 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? We'll get the reporting.

Let's begin, though, our coverage with CNN's Kaitlan Collins, she is live for us at the White House. There is so much breaking news coming out of the White House, Kaitlan, where do you begin?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's start with Dr. Rick Bright, who was leading the little known government agency that is very powerful, because it is in charge of the purchase and production of vaccines. He was pushed out of his job earlier this week after leading that agency for four years, working there for a decade, causing some confusion. And now he says the reason he was pushed out is because he was being retaliated against because he was not pushing to make a drug that the president himself has pushed more widely available.

He said in a really scathing statement yesterday after he obtained an attorney that he believed he was pressured to move forward with this drug that the president has pushed. He believed it was not being rigorously vetted enough, and he wanted to see more of that being done before it became more widely available.

The White House is not responding directly to his specific allegations in this letter, though you saw President Trump yesterday at that briefing saying he did not know who Dr. Bright was, and maybe he was pushed out of his job, and maybe he wasn't. And now HHS is pushing back, saying he was the one who actually requested an emergency use authorization of that drug, hydroxychloroquine, that we have seen the president talk about so many times, but not talk about lately as the result of studies of whether or not it works are coming in.

Rick Bright says he is going to file a request with the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services because he wants a review of what happened to him, why he was removed from this post, and whether or not he and other scientists were politically pressured to do their jobs. And we should note right now there is no actual permanent person in that role as the inspector general for HHS. Instead it is a deputy who is filling that position. And that's someone the president has clashed with on multiple occasions after they published a report talking about hospitals across the country.

Now, all of this is going on, and this agency that was not well known is now in the spotlight basically of the administration's coronavirus response, as the president himself is clashing with his own doctors in real time. Listen to what happened yesterday when there were conversations in the briefing room about whether or not we are going to see a second wave of coronavirus this fall.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: Next fall and winter we're going to have two viruses circulating.

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Excuse me, excuse me, to have corona coming back, there is a good chance that COVID will not come back.


TRUMP: And if corona comes bak, it is in a very small, confined area that we put out.

BIRX: Well, the great thing is we'll be able to find it earlier.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature.


COLLINS: So you see there, John, something that we have been reporting on for months as we were reporting on this coronavirus outbreak, where the president and his doctors often contradict themselves, where the president tries to offer a vague statement, maybe coronavirus won't come back, and his doctors say, no, it likely will, and we are going to prepare for it to do so.

BERMAN: Kaitlan Collins at the White House this morning, thank you for keeping us posted.

Joining us now is former HHS secretary, and former governor of Kansas, Kathleen Sebelius. Ms. Secretary, thank you for being with us right now. What questions does it raise for you if Rick Bright was forced out of BARDA because he had questions or concerns about hydroxychloroquine, what questions does that raise for you?


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, (D) FORMER HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, I think that the American public needs to understand that BARDA is an inconsiderably important organization. It is put together with one specific job, which is to advance the development and stockpiling of medical countermeasures -- devices, drugs, vaccines -- to protect the American public. That's its role. Work with the NIH, work with Food and Drug Administration, be the purchasing agent, and make sure that we are prepared for what may come at the American public.

So having that agency led by good science, making sure that people are not looking at who is running what drug company, are they a donor, who is friends of whom, but following the science, following what the scientists say may be coming down the pike, and then making sure that those drugs and medical countermeasures get purchased, manufactured, and stockpiled is really how you get a vaccine program, how you get a treatment.

The fact that we would have the leader of BARDA, which is in the office of Health and Human Services, under emergency preparedness, the fact that the leader of that office says that he was pushed out because he would not promote a drug that now has been widely disputed having any effect that is positive on patients, and, in fact, patients have died. A recent study was that twice as many patients died when they took hydroxychloroquine as did not, and that drug has been promoted by the president of the United States, something I've never seen, a president pick a specific drug, tell people to go ahead and take it, a drug that is needed for malaria treatment and for other treatments but has not been proven to be effective against COVID, and then suggest that the scientists who pushes back on that, which seems to be the case, be fired and removed from office is really terrifying. It is a very dangerous place to be, if science is going to be overridden by politics or favoritism, or -- I have no idea why this drug is being promoted, but it isn't about science. BERMAN: Where we are on hydroxychloroquine is we're waiting for a

good study with control groups and is peer reviewed. At this point the government guidance on it is they don't have enough information to recommend it, they don't have enough information not to recommend it right now. They are suggesting you don't take it in combination with azithromycin, that is another matter. Secretary, the science here, so what are you seeing in terms of this administration's relationship with science?

SEBELIUS: Well, I think it seems to be rocky at best. I'm really pleased I had the great privilege of working with Tony Fauci for the five-and-a-half years I was secretary. He is the gold standard for infectious diseases all over the world. He is front and center. I've been a little dismayed that the experts from CDC, Dr. Anne Schuchat and Dr. Redfield and others who -- CDC are the epidemiologists, again, looked at as the gold standard anywhere in the world. They have not been very actively involved in daily briefings. You rarely hear from the CDC. But they're the disease trackers, they know about patterns, they know about how you -- if we're going to do contact tracing, how we need to follow up with people. So they should be leading this effort, they should be talking every day about what they know and what they don't know, and let the politics come at a different time. But Americans need to hear from the scientists because they're afraid, and want to know --

BERMAN: That's my next question is, what is the implications, what are public health implications? What does it matter if the president is overruling the science? Or what message does it send to the American people to watch the briefing yesterday and have the president say, oh, maybe coronavirus won't come back at all in the fall, and then have Dr. Fauci say, I'm convinced it is coming back in the fall?

SEBELIUS: John, you've seen people just be whipsawed in the last couple of weeks. Extending social distancing guidance to the end of April, putting out staged guidelines by the CDC, which had very specific platforms -- disease should be going down for 14 days, you need contract tracing in place, you need other things. And then immediately the president tweets that some states should be liberated, that citizens should really protest what their governors are doing in accordance with the federal guidelines. The more of those messages get mixed is really about putting lives at risk. It's putting lives of first responders at risk. It's putting lives of vulnerable population at risk.


Everybody wants to get back to work. Everybody wants life to be the way it was. It's a scary time both in terms of health and in terms of the economy, but what people need is a consistent, positive message about we're all in this together, and guidelines that make sense and driven by the science so that we save lives and we get people back to work in a safe fashion.

BERMAN: Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, thank you for being with us this morning. We do appreciate your time.

SEBELIUS: Great to visit with you.

CAMEROTA: OK, John, joining us now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, let's just start right there with what has happened to Dr. Rick Bright. He believes that he was removed from his post because of politics. And this is worrisome because he was the scientist in the federal government tasked with coming up with a vaccine for coronavirus, which is what we all are clamoring for.

And so, this is the person who dedicated his life to vaccine research. We don't know the full story, the full political backstory yet of what happened, but what does this mean today for doctors and the rest of us?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very concerning. If this is true that somehow, for extraneous reasons, a scientist who was asking to follow the scientific method, to put this medication, in this case hydroxychloroquine, through clinical trials and do what we have always done, what we have always learned since medical school to do, if somehow he was sidelined because of that, that's very concerning. And I think it is going to start calling into question other stuff then that we're hearing. How do we know that there is not some sort of extraneous influence on other information that is coming out?

The clinical trials are the clinical trials. We have been following these hydroxychloroquine trials for some time. We know that that data is now being presented to the FDA. We know that there are independent researchers who are also evaluating that data, and it is going to be very important to hear from them. We want to be sure, and I want to be able to say to you and report when we report this, that this is not contaminated, not tainted in some way. It's the numbers, it's the data, it's the evidence, and that doesn't lie. I think it is the one luxury we've had in all this to be able to go to the numbers and the data, as uncomfortable as, as jarring as it may be for people to hear the numbers at some point, even to predict how many people might be affected by this coronavirus, how many people might die, I don't think anybody takes any joy in saying that sort of stuff, but the data is the data. And hopefully we can continue to trust that.

BERMAN: Sanjay, let's talk about the data right now, because it is the science of this that should matter to people and the public health that matters more than anything. And we have been looking for data. And the "Journal of the American Medical Association" put some out based on thousands of the patients being seen here in New York City. And I think it is interesting. You have higher rates of hypertension, obesity, and diabetes among those who were treated. I think that makes sense given the pre-existing conditions we were talking about. The number that jumps out is the 88 percent mortality rate for those requiring intubation. Nine out of 10 people who went on ventilators died. Only about one out of 10 survived. That is a fairly stunning number, at least to me. What do you see there?

GUPTA: Yes. I think there is three important things. And I've been following this study along for some time. But in talking to some of the colleagues up in New York who have been responsible for caring for the patients, first of all, with 5,700 patients, it is still not all the patients that were being cared for during that same period of time. So in order to get a best picture of what was happening in New York at those hospitals, you ultimately want to see all that data, which we will.

Number two is that you start to look at other hospitals around the country, big hospital systems, including here in Atlanta, and the numbers were not that high. They weren't as high as what we saw in New York in terms of that percentage of patients dying once they were on the ventilator.

The third point is I think the reason for that is that New York was overwhelmed. We have said since the beginning that what is going to determine the fatality rate of this, certainly the virus is the virus. It is the constant in this, and it can be a lethal virus. But why do some places, why do some countries have so much higher fatality rates than others? Humans are humans. Why would it be affecting people so much differently?

There are some variances -- smoking, for example, age overall, but a lot of the reason for the variance was because of the pressure on the medical system. When you see extreme pressure on the medical system, you don't have enough, in this case maybe respiratory therapists, patients are being delayed in terms of getting on the ventilator, whatever it might be, that pressure on the medical system I think is a big driver of why the rates are so high.

Finally, and this is the subjective part of this, if I could just throw this in there, this virus does seem to behave differently. It is a respiratory virus.


So looking at the lungs, thinking about ventilators is the logical place to go. But it does seem, we don't know this yet, this is the more subjective part this virus seems to affect the body in different ways.

People show up with inability to smell as a first symptom, how does that happen? Why does that happen?

People having problems with their blood and clotting and things like that. What's going on here? There is more to the story that we still haven't learned yet.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, Sanjay, thank you very much for all that information.

And be sure to join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta tonight for a new CNN global town hall and tonight, their guests will include the FDA commissioner, New York's governor and chef Jose Andres and singer/songwriter Alicia Keys will also debut the world premiere of her new song for the heroes of this pandemic.

So, join us for "CORONAVIRUS: FACTS AND FEARS" tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, only on CNN. So there are concerns about America's meat supply after one of the

largest pork production plants is forced to close because of the virus. We have a live report, next.


CAMEROTA: Tyson Foods is closing its largest pork processing plant. The Waterloo, Iowa, facility has been linked to almost half the coronavirus cases in the county.


And a growing number of its 2,800 workers have been calling out sick.

CNN's Gary Tuchman is live at that facility in Iowa with more.

So what is the situation, Gary?


This is one of the largest pork producing plants in the United States of America. This is also the site of one of the largest COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States of America. This is the Tyson Pork plant this is Waterloo, Iowa.

Inside this plant, we now know that more than 180 people who worked inside have tested positive for COVID-19. Three hundred and seventy- four cases here in Black Hawk County in the northeastern portion of Iowa, that's roughly half the amount of cases in the county.

And here is the great big concern, there are, as you said, about 2,800 people who work here and most of them haven't been tested yet. The great fear is that the number will get much higher. Testing will begin this Friday for most of the employees, the employees are getting paid by Tyson, they will get tested on Friday, but the fear is the number will get much higher.

What does Tyson say about all this?

They have released a statement, because many people in this community, including politicians have been calling for many days to close this factory, they asked the governor, they asked Tyson. Tyson finally made the decision yesterday.

Its statement: 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.

Worker absenteeism, many workers were afraid to come here for weeks because they heard about other meat plants around the country, and they are right to be fearful because so many have now gotten sick.

The mayor of the city says this decision needed to be made earlier. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR QUENTIN HART, WATERLOO, IOWA: I believe it needed to be closed. They went ahead and did that today, which will give us an opportunity to close, clean, test the employees, put in stronger preventative measures and get this plant opened back up. It's a very credible need for our entire country and the world.


TUCHMAN: Everyone praises these employees, the question now is how many more of them will be getting sick?

Alisyn, back to you.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We'll see what the testing reveals. Thank you very much, Gary.

Well, CNN is back in Wuhan, China, where life is trying to get back to a new normal. We have a report from the ground in Wuhan, next.



CAMEROTA: CNN is getting a firsthand look at life in Wuhan, China, after the 76-day lockdown was lifted.

Our reporter David Culver got out of Wuhan, just hours before that lockdown months ago. He's now traveled back there to see what has happened since and David joins us live from Wuhan.

David, great to see you, as always. Your reporting has been riveting.

But we want to talk about a big story here in the United States this morning. The man who was -- the doctor who was in charge of the federal government's effort to come up with and create a vaccine for coronavirus has been abruptly reassigned for his position and he says it is because of political reasons, because he wouldn't fund and tout that drug hydroxychloroquine. He is now filing basically a whistle- blower report with the I.G. and this just sounded eerily similar to the story that you brought us, weeks ago, of that first doctor who became a whistle-blower and tried to sound the alarm in Wuhan for what was happening with the government and with this disease.

So, your thoughts this morning.

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It is interesting to hear this, Alisyn. And I've seen this brought up now several times on social media and people saying, well, if China is two months ahead of where the U.S. is, go back two months and you're right, we can go back to that time frame and that's when we brought, I think actually right here on NEW DAY with you, talking about the Dr. Li Wenliang's story.

He spoke with us exclusively as foreign media, foreign TV network, just less than a week before he passed away. This is a doctor who was one of several early whistle-blowers here in China. This is the guy who did not want to be a hero. He simply wanted to share with his friends that there was a SARS-like illness going around and late December, he sent out a message.

Police got that message. They brought him in. They reprimanded him. They said, you are to stop spreading rumors and they sent him back to work.

It's then he contracted the virus and he later passed away. But in the midst of that, he's become a national hero. But it is highly politicized as well, Alisyn, because what we have seen is a lot of the folks in the West will look at that and say that was somebody trying early on to speak out and to share what was coming and could have perhaps even prevented where we are today, with how far this outbreak has gotten, and even the Chinese supreme court weighed in, posthumously to say that Dr. Li Wenliang could have been somebody who stopped all of this from getting as bad as it has gotten.

But then you see here in China, they're saying that's simply the West take on it, that's not how it is perceived this is somebody we recognize as a national hero, they called him a martyr here in China. And so, they are desperately trying to hold on to that narrative and maintain it, though they have faced opposition amongst Chinese social media and had to use heavy censorship to keep that message straight.

So, it is very interesting to hear that now coming out of the U.S., but certainly within China, the silencing of whistle-blowers is something that is quite familiar.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The virus doesn't care about politics, David, in the United States or China. I think we know that and it is interesting that whistle-blowers being silenced is something that happens in China. We'll see how it is handled here in the United States.

I do want to ask, here in the United States also, in Georgia, we're seeing tattoo parlors, barbershops, massage parlors, nail salons, they will be opened tomorrow in Georgia. If as you say Wuhan is two months ahead of us, what is happening there with these types of businesses? Are you seeing them open and what's the result then?

CULVER: When I saw that in the U.S., John, I decided to spend the day with my team and go around and got a feel.