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Navy Leaders Recommend Reinstating Captain Removed for Sounding Coronavirus Alarm; White House Mixed Messages Confuse Governors and Leads to a Patchwork of Reopenings; FDA Warns of Serious Side Effects of Drug Trump Touted; Researchers in China Say Have Cloned Antibodies from Recovered Coronavirus Patients; V.A. Study Finds Higher Death Rate in Patients Taking Hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 24, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Gave them a very unusual and somewhat profanity-laden speech about everything and Mr. Modly then proceeded to lose his job.

So, a lot to sort through here. So how will the crew react? Because this has been so sensitive, because it is a headline that has careened around the world, the Navy is going to want to get this ship healthy, back out to sea and stop being the object of so much of this kind of attention and get back to its regular Navy business we're told -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR: Yes because they're not healthy at this point in time, right, Barbara. Can you give us an update on that? We know that one of the sailors aboard actually died.

STARR: My colleague Ryan Browne has been following this literally hour-by-hour as to how many sailors of the crew of nearly 5,000 have tested positive and Ryan is reporting today that over 800 have now tested positive.

I should add very quickly, the Navy and the Centers for Disease Control are now jointly conducting an investigation in how this virus spread so fast across this ship and why so many of those who were asymptomatic and tested negative, so many of those sailors then turned around and tested positive. There is a lot about the Roosevelt medically that is still a big mystery -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. We know that you and Ryan will be watching that. Barbara Starr, thank you so much.

And in, you know, in Georgia right now, might be surprising but if you wanted a massage you could actually get one. In Florida you could go to the beach. You can shop at flea markets in South Carolina. But in Connecticut, you shouldn't leave your house for nonessentials until at least May 20th. So why are there these big discrepancies on reopening plans? As CNN's Jeff Zeleny reports, the White House's mixed messaging may

have something to do with it.


JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As states across the country inch toward reopening their economies, there is one thing governors have learned they could count on. Mixed messages from the White House.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We're starting to open our country again.

ZELENY: That much may be clear, but the question is how and when? In the absence of clear and consistent direction from President Trump, a messy patchwork of state by state rules are now emerging of what is open and what is closed in America.

A case in point is Georgia where Governor Brian Kemp is leading the way by allowing several businesses to reopen starting today -- from gyms and salons to tattoo parlors and bowling alleys. He thought he had the President's blessing until he didn't.

TRUMP: I wasn't at all happy because -- and I could have done something about it if I wanted to but I'm saying let the governor's do it. But I wasn't happy with Brian Kemp. Spas, beauty parlors, tattoo parlors, no.

ZELENY: The contradictions from one state to the next, you can get a haircut in Georgia, for example, but not in South Carolina. Or the culmination of weeks of confusion over just who is calling the shots. First Trump said it was him.

TRUMP: Well, I have the ultimate authority.

ZELENY: Then it was not.

TRUMP: Governors will be empowered to tailor an approach that meets the diverse circumstances of their own states.

ZELENY: But the President's condemnation of Kemp could offer the clearest signal yet for what other governors should and shouldn't do in trying to bounce back from their coronavirus fight.

TRUMP: I told him very distinctly, I said, Mike was there, I said you do what you think is best. But if you ask me, am I happy about it? I'm not happy about it.

ZELENY: But the Presidential rebuke is reverberating in state capitols across the country where governors are deciding just how far and fast to go.

GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): I'm as eager as anybody to get our economy back open, spinning on all cylinders again, but again we have to be careful and cautious in what we're doing. GOV. HENRY MCMASTER (R-SC): We want to go as quickly as we can, as

safely as we can to restore our economic vigor while also restoring our personal health.

ZELENY: It is a complicated balance of studying health models, the rate of new cases and even anticipating the President's own reaction.

TRUMP: A lot of the governors have done a really terrific job. Some I don't think have to be honest.

ZELENY: But he's far from consistent. In Oklahoma, Governor Kevin Stitt also allowing personal care businesses like barbershops to open today. A decision that did not draw the President's ire. One unquestionable dynamic at the center of navigating politics of the pandemic is pleasing the President.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has made clear from day one that he's eager to be in Trump's good graces.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Make America great again.

ZELENY: And that loyalty could now play a role in deciding how fast to start up the Florida economy. With some beaches already partially reopening in his state, the Governor has made clear he's itching to move quickly in the face of some public criticism.


DESANTIS: For those who try to say you're morons, I would take you over the folks who are criticizing you any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

ZELENY: What is less clear is what signals could be coming from the President.


ZELENY: Now, aides to several governors are telling us that they are watching and listening to the President's words very carefully hoping to avoid a rebuke that Georgia Governor Brain Kemp received. But, Brianna, it's clear that the road to reopening is starting out as a bumpy one.

KEILAR: Yes, it certainly is. Jeff Zeleny, thank you for that great report.

And up next, the new warning for a drug that the President wants promoted as a potential miracle. Well, the FDA now saying that it hasn't been proven effective or safe for coronavirus.



KEILAR: The FDA issuing a stark warning about the side effects of drug that the President had touted for weeks as a potential miracle drug. Let's bring in senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. And Elizabeth, what do you make of this warning when the President has been pushing hydroxychloroquine as a potential solution here?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, I think we have all been concerned, Brianna, about things that the President has said about hydroxychloroquine not to mention other medical issues. And so I actually take this as a good sign that at least some of his administration is listening to the science and basically defying their boss.

So, the Food and Drug Administration saying, look, hydroxychloroquine can cause heart problems. It should only be used for COVID patients when it's part of a clinical trial.

The National Institutes of Health a few days saying basically the same thing. So, they're telling doctors, look, the benefits of this are -- doesn't look like it is going to outweigh the risks so be very careful.

KEILAR: And, Elizabeth, I know you're tracking some news on a potential step forward in the treatment of the novel coronavirus. There are Chinese researchers who say they successfully cloned these antibodies of patients who have recovered from the virus. Tell us how that would work? Is that something that is promising in the near term?

COHEN: It's promising in the much closer term than, say, a vaccine. If this works and it is an if, it could be useful in months and not the 12 to 18 months timeframe for a vaccine.

So the way it works, Brianna, or that theoretically it would work, is that when someone recovers from coronavirus, they develop antibodies. So you could take antibodies from the person who recovered, give them to someone who's suffering and we hope that the antibodies will work.

But then you can't really scale that, you can't really get that up to any kind of a mass scale because it is just one person. It's much more efficient to take those antibodies, particularly the really good antibodies, and clone them and turn that, in effect, into a drug that you give someone who's suffering and hopefully that would work.

So, two caveats. You need to see if it works because it is not a sure thing, also you need to see if it is safe. Because you can run into some side effects when do you that. Some bad things can happen.

But once they work through these clinical trials, the doctors that I'm talking to are quite excited this could be an effective treatment, but we do still have to see.

KEILAR: All right. They're quite excited. That's fascinating stuff, Elizabeth, thank you so much, Elizabeth Cohen.

Veterans Affairs now saying that they will continue to treat veterans with the drug that one study linked to a higher coronavirus death rate. I will talk to the head of a leading veterans organization next.


KEILAR: Today on "HOMEFRONT," our digital and television column, where we aim to bridge the civilian military divide and tell the stories of military families. We are highlighting one group of Americans suffering greatly at the hands of this pandemic, and that is our veterans.

The Veterans Affairs Department has recently come under fire for testing hydroxychloroquine on several hundred COVID patients at V.A. facilities only to find that not only were they just as likely to need ventilators but they were dying at a rate more than two times that of patients not on the drug.

This as we continue to hear reports about V.A. hospitals operating under terrible conditions both for veterans and for the medical staff as they see those shortages of PPE that other hospitals are experiencing.

Joining me now is the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a nonprofit that particularly focuses on post-9/11 vets. Jeremy Butler with us. Jeremy, thank you for joining us.

JEREMY BUTLER, CEO, IRAQ AND AFGHANISTAN VETERANS OF AMERICA: Thank you, it's always great to be with you, Brianna.

KEILAR: How do you make -- how do you square this? The FDA warns that hydroxychloroquine carries significant risks and they say it has no proven benefits for treating or preventing infection with coronavirus. Do you see the V.A. using veterans here as a guinea pig?

BUTLER: Yes, I don't square it. I think that's exactly what is going on here. It's really frustrating. From the beginning of the pandemic crisis, the IAVA has been calling for more transparency, more communication, more dialogue from the V.A. at all levels. From the Secretary on down, especially from the Veterans Health Administration and we just haven't seen that.

We didn't see it when the debate was around shortage of PPE, shortage of personnel, shortage of testing, and then we really, as far as I could tell, were not well informed that the V.A. was using hydroxychloroquine especially to the extent that it appears they were using it.

Certainly, didn't hear the negative results from it until this study came out. And then when it did come out, it seems like the V.A. really downplayed the study, or they called it not peer-reviewed, observational but then passed on anecdotal evidence that it's apparently working better among younger and middle age veterans. But we've seen no proof of that. And now it seems like the FDA is really kind of walking back their views on hydroxychloroquine.

So, it all goes back to just needing more information from the V.A., more transparency about what they're doing. Why and how they're making decisions about the care they're giving not only to veterans but now that they've expanded as fourth mission, into some cases, into the civilian community as well.

KEILAR: Yes, I mean look in this time of health crisis there are a lot of studies being discussed that are not peer-reviewed, just because of the situation that we're in. That is unusual but maybe not unusual for COVID-19.


As you're aware, the FDA, Jeremy, is actually still allowing this drug to be used on patients in hospitals. In fact, in clinical trials despite there are these deadly risks, I mean the FDA has said that. But a V.A. spokesperson just told our national security reporter, Zach Cohen, that they plan to continue using that. So, what do you make of that?

BUTLER: Yes. I think it's terrifying. It tells me that the government is comfortable using veterans as a testing ground for this drug. Where is the evidence that they're using to determine that it's safe to continue, when we've got this study.

We have seen no other evidence coming out that it is beneficial. If they do have evidence, then it's on the V.A.'s -- they should be sharing this. This is exactly the time where we need to be hearing more from the V.A. about why they're making these choices. What they're seeing in terms of if it's useful in some cases.

They need to be sharing that information so that the entire country, not to mention the entire world, can react and potentially benefit it is actually useful. But we're not seeing into that, if anything we're seeing a stonewalling from them about the decision process they use to determine when and if they're going to prescribe hydroxychloroquine to veterans.

KEILAR: Jeremy, we had you on several weeks ago to talk about burn pit exposure among young vets, among post-9/11 vets. We had you on along with a vet who is dying of colon cancer from burn pit -- linked to burn pit exposure.

And that's something that's really important when we're talking about COVID because of the lung issue here. Yesterday, Senators Amy Klobuchar and Mike Rounds sent a letter to the V.A. about taking additional measures to help these kinds of vets who have been exposed to burn pits. Tell us about what steps that you may be seeing from the administration here and that you want to see.

BUTLER: Yes, we were really pleased to see the Senators send that bipartisan letter, because this is really, in my view, a very clear opportunity for the V.A. to step forward, admit that exposure to burn pits not only has caused but is causing damage to veterans that were deployed, especially in Iraq and Afghanistan. And to raise the call that those who were exposed are at greater risk of suffering very dire effects, if they're exposed to COVID-19. Again, we were pushing again for more clarity, more transparency from V.A. about this.

Eventually, they did post a small warning on their burn pits site on the page, sort of soft balling, saying, you know, if you have underlying conditions, that are, you know, chronic, that are lung or heart-based, then you should be a little bit more careful. But that's not nearly enough. We really need to be raising the alarm about this.

Because as we saw from your interview, and we really appreciate you raising this with Sergeant Black, about how deadly this is, and how much more has to be done by the V.A. to care of our veterans that have been exposed to burn pits. Especially now that we know that they are at greater risk from dire consequences of COVID-19.

KEILAR: Yes because cancer is something that's linked to it. But these lung issues, these breathing issues are really the biggest hallmark of burn pit exposure. And Jeremy, we really thank you for being on. Jeremy Butler with IAVA. Thank you.

BUTLER: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: If you have some questions, concerns, may be some story ideas, please send us a note at We look at those ideas, we read every single one of them.

And ahead, we will talk to Dr. Sanjay Gupta about the President's bizarre comments. Plus, states beginning to reopen even as experts warn that it's too early.

But first, a look at one CNN Hero, Maggie Doyne who is doing her part to save lives both inside and outside her home in Nepal during the coronavirus pandemic.



We're running a children's home for 54 kids.

Sheltering in place and lockdowns, it means different when you're in this part of the world. Rampant food shortages, it's really hard when there's mothers struggling, and children are hungry. Every single day it seems to get worse. Homes have been broken into for food. People were surviving on salt and chili powder. I've never felt so scared or overwhelmed. But I've never felt more hope that we couldn't do something and mobilize to make the situation better for many, many people.

I'm just hoping that more help is on the way.




ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

The death toll in the United States this afternoon now reaching what was once an unthinkable number. More than 50,000 people in the United States lost to coronavirus. To put this in perspective, at this hour a month ago that number was 646 dead. Health experts caution the actual death toll assuredly much higher than 50,000.

Exactly two months ago President Trump tweeted, quote, the coronavirus is very much under control in the USA.