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THE SITUATION ROOM

Awaiting White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing; Despite Warnings, more States Set or Enact Reopening Plans; FDA Warns of Serious Side Effects, Deaths from Two Drugs Touted by Trump to Treat Coronavirus; U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Surpasses 50,000; Businesses Are Reopening, But Are They Safe?; White House Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 24, 2020 - 17:00   ET

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


[17:00:00]

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK (D-CO): And he's given municipalities and localities the ability to adapt their policies according to the guidance that he's given. And that was very helpful.

And so, when we look at them where we recognize it. We cannot fly as of Monday this week - coming week. But if we extend it out, we can put some things in place that are important to us, but also can assure give greater confidence to the consumers of Denver as well as our industries that we're going to do everything we can to keep everyone safe and healthy as we ease out of these orders.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: OK. Mayor Michael Hancock, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

This Sunday on "State of the Union," I'll ask Colorado Governor Jared Polis what he thinks. Our guest will also be Speaker Pelosi, Stacey Abrams and Dr. Deborah Birx.

"The Situation Room" with Wolf Blitzer starts right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news. We're standing by for the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing to begin. It should be rather lively today, just hours after a tweet from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging proper use of disinfectants. The message apparently prompted by President Trump's truly jaw-dropping suggestion at yesterday's briefing that disinfectant might be used internally to treat patients, and lying about it today, claiming he was simply being sarcastic. He wasn't being sarcastic yesterday. Another federal agency is now warning about two drugs often touted by Mr. Trump as potential coronavirus treatments. The FDA now says they can result in serious side effects and possibly even death.

Meanwhile, Georgia and Oklahoma are allowing some businesses to reopen. Starting today, even as the number of cases continues to rise. I'll speak to the mayor of Atlanta in just a few moments.

First, let's get straight to the White House. Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is standing by. Jim, the president has repeatedly trying to downplay some of his most outrageous statements by claiming he was simply joking or being sarcastic.

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And as you just mentioned, the Centers for Disease Control posted a tweet today contradicting the president's suggestion that people could inject themselves with disinfectants, warning Americans in this tweet from the CDC. We can put this up on screen. That household cleaners and disinfectants can cause health problems when not used properly, that warning from the CDC.

President Trump is doing some damage control after suggesting that people could inject themselves with disinfectants to kill the coronavirus. The president is falsely claiming that he was just being sarcastic when he made those comments but it's obvious from the video. Take a look at it for yourself. The president was not being sarcastic.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA (voice-over): Cleanup in the oval office. President Trump is finding it hard to explain away his dangerous suggestion that Americans could inject themselves with disinfectants as a cure for the coronavirus.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I was asking a sarcastic - in a very sarcastic question to the reporters in the room about disinfectant on the inside. That was done in the form of his sarcastic question to the reporters.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But the president is not telling the truth. Take a look at the video, and the reaction on the face of coronavirus task force doctor, Deborah Birx, when Mr. Trump made the suggestion. He's not being sarcastic.

TRUMP: And then, I said, supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or -- in some other way, and I think you said you're going to test that too, sounds interesting. And then I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute, and is there a way we can do something like that -- by injection inside or -- or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs. It would be interesting to check that. So that you'll have to use medical doctors but it sounds -- it sounds interesting to me.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Asked for an explanation, the president was still trying to justify his comments.

TRUMP: I do think that disinfectant on the hands could have a very good effect.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president was reminded that he was looking at Dr. Birx as he made the remark.

TRUMP: I was looking at the doctor. I was looking at some of the reporters.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Asked about the president's suggestion that disinfectants or sunlight treatments in the body could fight off the virus, even one of Mr. Trump's own advisers told CNN, "I wanted to hide. It was a tough moment to watch."

Dr. Birx wasn't buying it.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Not as a treatment. I have not seen --

TRUMP: I think it's a great thing to look at.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The head of the Food and Drug Administration tried to be diplomatic.

DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER: No. I certainly wouldn't recommend the internal ingestion of a disinfectant.

ACOSTA (voice-over): A statement from the maker of Lysol said, "...under no circumstance should our disinfectant products be administered into the human body."

In Maryland's Emergency Management Agency tweeted the same. Noting: "We have received several calls regarding questions about disinfectant use and COVID-19."

[17:05:06]

But there's another speedbump on the Trump traveling medicine show, on the drugs the president has often touted as a cure.

TRUMP: What do you have to lose?

ACOSTA (voice-over): The FDA said in a statement hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine have not been shown to be safe and effective for treating or preventing COVID-19. They are being studied in clinical trials for COVID-19. Mr. Trump was asked about that too.

TRUMP: Well, I never spoke to a scientist. Look, I'm not a doctor. A study has to be done. And maybe it's -- if it helps, it's great. If it doesn't help, don't do it.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's doctors have been differing with Mr. Trump all week, on testing.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I am not overly confident right now at all, but we are not in a situation where we say we're exactly where we want to be with regard to testing.

ACOSTA (voice-over): On a second wave of the virus.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: But they may not even have corona coming back. FAUCI: There will be coronavirus in the fall.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And on whether the doctors are being misquoted.

TRUMP: He was misquoted. Totally misquoted.

ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: I'm accurately quoted in "The Washington Post." As -- as difficult but the headline --

TRUMP: That's not what the headline said.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ACOSTA: And one other piece of evidence that the president was not telling the truth when he said he was being sarcastic about injecting disinfectants. Earlier in the day, the new White House press secretary insisted in a statement that the president was simply being taken out of context by the media but no mention of sarcasm in that statement.

And finally, Wolf, over at the Pentagon, our colleagues are reporting that the chief of Naval Operations has recommended to Defense Secretary Mark Esper that Captain Brett Crozier be restored to command of the USS Theodore Roosevelt. It was Crozier who tried to sound the alarm about the outbreak that was spreading quickly on board that aircraft carrier, and Wolf, as we all recall, there were sailors cheering for Crozier as he was being removed from duty. That video went viral, obviously, around the world, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's not forget, Jim, every bottle of disinfectant, we've got some right here, it says, "warning: for external use only." Every single bottle has that warning. So we should remember that. Jim Acosta at the White House. Thank you very much.

Also tonight, the U.S. coronavirus death toll has now surpassed 50,000. 50,000 people have died here in the United States over the past few weeks. More than 800,000 confirmed cases. But even as the virus continues to spread across the United States, some states are beginning to reopen.

Let's go to our national correspondent Erica Hill. She's got more on the late-breaking developments. Erica, there is broad consensus that any state is still weeks away, possibly, from being able to reopen safely.

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's true. But we know that a number of states are moving forward, Wolf. And just as there's no one size fits all solution for the country, it seems for those states, within states themselves, we're actually seeing some pushbacks and some different decisions. In Colorado, for example, regulations will be lifted on Sunday across the state. But a number of counties are extending orders in their regions through May, as is the city of Denver, which just goes to show that there is still a long road ahead.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HILL (voice-over): An unprecedented experiment now under way in Georgia. Salons, tatou parhatattoo parlor all have the governor's bless to go reopen.

JORDAN TOLER, GEORGIA RESIDENT: It's a health hazard. With everything that's going on, it's way too early.

HILL (voice-over): Customers weighing health concerns as owners must also confront mounting bills.

TRA GLYNN, HAIR SALON OWNER: I'm going to try it. I just feel like us as a country, we're going to have much bigger problems financially if we don't.

HILL (voice-over): Oklahoma moving forward with a similar plan, though not everyone is on board. Tulsa's mayor noting cases in his city are on the rise and will likely continue to increase as statewide measures are relaxed.

MAYOR G.T. BYNUM (R-OK): Waiting on those cases to decline as people for 100 miles in every direction are being encouraged to ease social distancing would be futile.

HILL (voice-over): Golf courses are open in Wisconsin today. Public libraries and craft stores can offer curbside pickup. The state reporting 23 people who voted in-person or worked at the polls at the primary there earlier this month have now tested positive for COVID- 19. Curbside pickup is available today at retail stores in Texas. Tennessee's state parks have reopened. More Florida beaches will soon. And diners can now eat at restaurants in Alaska. The capacity is limited to 25 percent and tables must be 10 feet apart. A packed workers response unfolding as experts warn the country is not out of the woods.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: People are keeping -- you know, talking about the peak as though it was the end game. And it's not the end game. It's simply a model. And as such, a model needs to be looked at but it also should not be taken as gospel.

[17:10:03]

HILL (voice-over): Meantime, the maker of Lysol issuing an extraordinary statement, saying under no circumstances should its disinfectant be administered into the human body. After the president floated the idea as a way to combat COVID-19.

TRUMP: Is there a way we can do something like -- by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs so it would be interesting to check that.

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D-GA): In addition to advising people to please stay home. Now I have to add to that list, and don't inject your body with Lysol. It's like we're living in "the twilight zone."

HILL (voice-over): More than 50,000 Americans have now died as a result of the virus.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HILL: And, Wolf, of course it is so important to remember that each one of those deaths represents someone's loved one, a friend, a family member, and the concern, of course, as we know, is that will continue to rise and that the actions taken in the coming days, we'll only know their impact in a matter of weeks. Wolf?

BLITZER: Yes. We often say, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters. These are people. 50,000 people. And only five weeks ago, 149 confirmed deaths in the United States. In five weeks from 149 to more than 50,000 wonderful people have died as a result of this coronavirus.

Erica Hill, thank you for that report.

And joining us now, the mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms. Mayor, thanks so much. I know this is a difficult -- very difficult time for you, for everyone right now. We just heard you refer to this as "the twilight zone." When you hear these baseless, very dangerous bits of so-called information coming out of the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings specifically from the president, where are you turning right now for guidance as this fight against the pandemic continues?

LANCE BOTTOMS: Wolf, thank you for having me. And when I hear the president, the first thing that comes to mind is that words matter. Our children are listening. And the same way, when our governor announced that it was OK to go to the barbershop and go to the hair salon and nail salon. My 18-year-old came running in to tell me the governor said it was safe to go out. So, my concern when I hear the president of the United States tout injections, ingestion of household products is that my children are listening. And I just hope that he will allow the professionals and the scientists and the public health experts to speak on this.

But I am so concerned about where we are headed as a country. When I look at the numbers in Georgia, as of noon today, our death rate was up 37 percent from the same day last week. And the number of people who have tested positive up 28.8 percent. We are not on the other side of this. It's like we are in a tunnel and rather than walking straight through toward the light, we're spinning around in circles and we'll never get to the light if we don't continue to do what we've done thus far, and that's to separate ourselves socially from one another.

BLITZER: Have you had to do outreach, Mayor, within Atlanta, your own community, right now, it's a major city here in the United States, to clean up the misinformation that stems from the president's comments?

LANCE BOTTOMS: I've done as best that I can using my voice as mayor to just say to people, use your commonsense. And I can tell you, in our state there's so much confusion. People are asking, is it safe. You know, I don't know what to do. I'm hearing one thing from the governor. I'm hearing one thing from the health experts. And people are also concerned, obviously financially, about the hit that they're taking. But they're also concerned that if they refuse to go back to work after the governor has opened up certain businesses, that they will not qualify for unemployment benefits because they will then be deemed to have refused to go to work. So, it's a very confusing time for people. But the one thing that's been very clear, that the messaging has been clear on, is to stay home to save lives.

BLITZER: Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's orders, and despite the very serious warnings from public health officials that it is not yet safe, many nonessential businesses in Georgia are open today. What's your chief concern there?

LANCE BOTTOMS: My chief concern is, especially in the African American community where there is a beauty and barbershop on every corner, that we are going to compound an already big problem by opening up hair salons and barbershops and nail salons and these nonessential businesses.

[17:15:06]

We know that African Americans are dying at much higher rates. And when you have people flocking into barbershops and hair salons, it's not only a risk for the people who work in those salons but it's a risk for a community as a whole. That concerns me greatly.

BLITZER: As you know, the governor of Georgia has mandated that no local ordinance, for example, the city ordinance, could restrict businesses from opening up today. What's your response to that effort to curb your power as mayor of Atlanta?

LANCE BOTTOMS: I found it quite ironic, Wolf, because our governor often speaks of local control. And in fact, when we began as a city to put measures in place, and even when our school systems across the state began making decisions to close down, the governor said that he would defer to local control. But on this, he didn't defer to local control. And in fact, there was no input from anyone from Atlanta, the largest city in the state, Augusta, the second largest city, Columbus, Albany, Georgia, where we have the largest outbreak. And so, it's mixed messaging. But again, if I had had an opportunity to speak with the governor beforehand, I think perhaps he would have gotten another set of thoughts on where he was headed with this order. But instead, it's left people more confused and even more anxious in so many ways.

BLITZER: You would have thought he would at least have the courtesy of checking in with the state's major mayors to make sure that they knew what was going on, we're on board but he apparently didn't check in with any of the mayors, as far as we know. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Atlanta. I know this is going to be a very, very difficult several weeks and months that are upcoming. I appreciate it very much.

LANCE BOTTOMS: Thank you.

BLITZER: And stay with us. Once again, we're awaiting today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. I suspect it's going to be rather lively.

Also, "The New York Times" columnist Tom Friedman and our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, they are both standing by live. I'll ask them about President Trump's leadership during the coronavirus crisis. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:21:40]

BLITZER: We're awaiting the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the briefing room, on a day that the president already is trying to clean up what he said last night about ingesting disinfectants to potentially fight a coronavirus infection. We're joined now by "The New York Times" columnist and bestselling author Thomas Friedman and our chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Tom, I want you to watch what the president said in the briefing room last night and how he's trying to spin it today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TRUMP: Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous -- whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light. And then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body in which you can do either through the skin or -- in some other way. And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute. One minute. And is there a way we can do something like that -- by injection inside.

No, I was asking a question sarcastically to reporters like you just to see what would happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: By injection inside. You write in your latest column for "The New York Times," Tom, that this crisis is putting leadership skills under a microscope. What is this showing about President Trump?

THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORK TIMES": Well, Wolf, I think what it's showing is that his daily coronavirus briefing has itself become a public health hazard. And CNN should actually put under the screen there, a crawl that says, you know, "parents beware, President Trump is speaking about public health." It really has become a public health hazard.

And you know, Wolf, I have to say I wish every one of our reporter colleagues in that room today would ask the same question. Mr. President, what is wrong with you? What is wrong with you? Seriously. Because what he is doing up there, Wolf, we have two problems we face now. We need immunity to this virus. But we also need to fight the kind of falsehoods and misinformation that this president is infecting our society with.

I have a friend, a teacher, Marina Gorbis, a futurist. And she talks about cognitive immunity. And cognitive immunity is our ability to sort out truth from lie, fact from fiction, science from, you know, quackery. And what Trump has done throughout his presidency, but particularly through these briefings, is that he's destroying our collective cognitive immunity, with the help of people like Rush Limbaugh and Fox, you know, hosts on their show. They're destroying our cognitive immunity to sort out what is fact, what is science, what is not.

I know that Dr. Gupta is on there, and I so admire him, of all the medical experts I see on TV, whenever he's on I say to my wife, wait, honey, I want to hear what he says, because I trust him. But we have lost the trust of our president, Wolf. He is destroying our cognitive immunity and in the process, that's going to lead to undermining our physical immunity.

BLITZER: As I've often said, Dr. Sanjay Gupta is a national treasure. And Sanjay, the American people are used to hearing exaggerations, boasts, even downright lies from the president. But it's very different when it's about crowd size, for example. This is a matter of life and death, isn't it?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is. And can I just say thank you to both of you, and, you know, the feeling is very mutual, as you know.

[17:25:05]

It is a matter of life and death. And, you know, I think that you know sometimes when you're dealing with a novel coronavirus, there's a lot that we're learning along the way and there's a -- I think there is a humility that is necessary from the scientific community. I mean, we're used to saying, based on 10 years of data or based on 20 years of data, we can't even say that number in weeks or days, sometimes, in terms of data. So, there is a humility. But there are some things that we know and there are some things that we know that aren't true as well. I think I was really struck by the fact that they were talking about these disinfectants and possibly ingesting or, you know, injecting or ingesting these disinfectants.

And saying, look, why don't we just study it. It was sort of presented as a very reasonable thing, why don't you just study it. That's crazy. I mean -- and, you know, just lunacy. Because you don't -- everyone knows that this is dangerous. And in order to study it, what you're suggesting is that you would knowingly give some people these disinfectants in their body and compare it to people who didn't get it. You would definitively harm people. And we know that. We don't need a study to show that.

So, I think what frightened me about it beyond the obvious, which is that you shouldn't do this, is that somehow these things are sometimes presented as, you know, reasonable, we'll just study it and get some answers. No. Dr. Hahn, who I have tremendous respect for, I mean Dr. Hahn used to run the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center which is a you know world-renowned cancer center. And he said on the town hall, and again, I say this with great respect, but he said, these are conversations that are happening between patients and doctors all the time.

No, they're not. I don't think there's many patients who are going into their doctors saying, hey, I think it's a good idea to inject disinfectant into my body, what do you think, doctor. No. We have a certain fundamental level of knowledge that we should you know pivot to, not run away from. And that really - I think that part of it concerned me the most. BLITZER: You know, Tom, your colleagues at "The New York Times" reported today that the president rarely attends these Coronavirus Task Force meetings that take place in the afternoon before the White House press conferences, the briefings, as they're called. How concerning is that when more than 50,000 Americans have now lost their lives in a matter of only a few weeks?

FRIEDMAN: Wolf, it's shocking. And you really have to ask Republicans and Republican lawmakers, all of you people running companies, you know very well, if the CEO of your company didn't show up at his desk until noon after spending all morning watching television, did not prepare for a two-hour briefing he gave at the end of the day, would you be, you know, retaining him in that job? He wouldn't survive as a local bank manager if he behaved that way. Yet we have an entire party, Wolf. We have Mitch McConnell covering for this behavior of this president in what may turn out, Wolf, to be the greatest certainly public health crisis and maybe economic crisis in our country's history. They are playing with our country's future. They are putting politics, OK, ahead of their own kids' future. It is shameful. But most of all, it is shocking and it is terrifying.

BLITZER: And the ramifications are so, so enormous. Tom Friedman, as usual, thanks so much for joining us. Sanjay, stick around. I know you're going to be joining us in a little bit more, our viewers have questions for you.

And for those of you with young children at home, CNN is partnering with "Sesame Street" for a truly very special town hall. Elmo, Grover, Abby, Big Bird, among others, I'll join, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Erica Hill to answer questions from kids and parents on the coronavirus pandemic. "The ABC's of COVID-19" airs tomorrow morning - tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. Eastern right here on CNN. It's 90 minutes. Stick around. You'll want to see that tomorrow morning.

Up next, a closer look at the risks of the coronavirus spreading in businesses and other places now reopening. Once again, we're also standing by for today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Lots of questions for the president. He needs to answer them. We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[17:34:25]

BLITZER: As businesses in Georgia and other states begin to reopen, medical experts are warning about the renewed dangers of coming into contact with the coronavirus. CNN's Brian Todd has been looking into the risks for people who do decide to go out anyway. Tell us more, Brian, what are you learning?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there is a lot of angst tonight over businesses reopening in places like Georgia and Tennessee. Many business owners who have decided to reopen are taking a look at the dangers involved in that specific to their businesses.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) SHANNON STAFFORD, OWNER, NEW ERA HAIR STUDIO, SAVANNAH: No mask, no entry.

TODD (voice-over): Shannon Stafford wrestled with the decision to reopen her hair salon in Savannah, Georgia. She says she'll take the temperature of clients as they enter, make sure they wear face masks, but ask for social distancing.

[17:35:08]

STAFFORD: That's not going to be possible not with a client and our stylists. You can try to distance between the next two people throughout the salon. But it's going to be difficult because we're so hands on.

TODD (voice-over): Keira Johnson owns a restaurant in Valdosta, Georgia called Steel Magnolias. Despite the declaration from Georgia's Governor that restaurants can reopen with social distancing measures in place, Johnson refuses to open.

KEIRA JOHNSON, OWNER, STEEL MAGNOLIAS RESTAURANT, VALDOSTA: I have a 19 month old son, one of my managers has three little girls. Most of my chefs have children, and we all have to know what we're going home to at the end of the night is safe. That we are keeping it safe for them at this point.

TODD (voice-over): Georgia Governor Brian Kemp's decision to allow hair and nail salons, gyms, restaurants and theaters to reopen is drawing enormous criticism from President Trump to mayors and other officials in the state to public health experts who have an ominous warning tonight.

DR. MARK RUPP, INFECTION CONTROL CHIEF, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA MEDICAL CENTER: So I think undoubtedly there will be additional infections as we try to open up businesses. So this virus has not miraculously just gone away, it's still there. It's still looking for ways to exploit frailties (ph).

TODD (voice-over): Next week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is allowing restaurants and retailers to open at 50 percent capacity. One expert says that may not go far enough and explains how coronavirus can spread in a restaurant setting.

GAVIN MACGREGOR-SKINNER, DIRECTOR TRAINING, GLOBAL BIORISK ADVISORY COUNCIL: This virus spreads through droplets as well as direct contact. So anyone who's touched anything I know, fork, spoon, plate, cup, glass, we have to treat it as hot with real virus (ph).

TODD: In one study, person A1 here marked in yellow had lunch in a restaurant in China on January 24, and then soon felt sick. Nine others marked in red seated nearby were diagnosed within the following 12 days. In gyms now reopening in parts of Georgia, experts say the risks could be even higher, even for people in pre-symptomatic stages. If they're working out too close to others.

RUPP: If one of those persons goes to a gym and works out vigorously and is breathing hard, exerting themselves, that seems to me to be kind of a recipe for spreading that virus in that pre-symptomatic stage.

TODD: So is it impossible for any salons, stores and restaurants reopening to operate safely right now? One expert says, not impossible, but those businesses have to quickly train their employees.

MACGREGOR-SKINNER: The business employees are going to require the training but also the necessary equipment to protect their eyes, nose and mouth. It could be glasses, it could be another face covering, it could be just better use of disinfectant or hand sanitizer or soap and water. But we can do it, but it's going to be done slowly.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

TODD: Now, despite the encouragement by some governors to reopen many businesses in the states that are doing that have told CNN they are not going to reopen right away. For many, they say the costs of reopening with all the safety measures they have to take are too burdensome. But for some, the overall risks are simply too great.

One theater owner in Atlanta told "The New York Times", hell no. When he's asked if he was going to reopen, he said, if he does that, and there's another outbreak trace to his theater, quote, you know what that would do to my business? I wouldn't have one. Wolf?

BLITZER: All right, Brian, thank you. Brian Todd reporting.

Joining us now in "The Situation Room" is the President of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris. Dr. Harris, thanks as usual for joining us. You're in Atlanta, you're based in Atlanta, what's your advice to people in Georgia right now and Oklahoma for that matter who want to get their haircut, for example, today or go to the gym or go to a spa? What's your advice to them?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Wolf, the health and safety of the public has to be priority number one here and it is just way too soon to open. Even looking at the taskforce guidelines, we do not have a 14-day decrease in the number of cases or the number of infections. There is such a great risk for the infections to continue to increase.

I heard earlier in the package around taking temperatures but we know that they're asymptomatic carriers. And also I wonder about the priority of the businesses to open. You know, so many physician practices have closed or reduce their hours and --

BLITZER: Dr. Harris, I'm sorry, I want to interrupt for a moment because I want to hear what the President has to say.

HARRIS: OK.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you. We continue to see evidence that our aggressive strategy is working, working at a very high level. Nationwide, the percent of tests that come back positive has declined very significantly. Last week, roughly 38 percent of the tests in New York were positive. This week, that number is down to 28 percent. New cases in New York are down 50 percent compared to a week ago, and fatalities are down 40 percent over the same period.

[17:40:05]

In Louisiana, the rate of positive test resulted decline from 25 percent down to 15 percent in the last seven days alone. Eighteen 18 states now show a decline in a number of positive tests in the last seven days. So over the last seven days been very, very significant progress.

Half of all Americans live in states that have now taken steps to open their economies. Just yesterday, Governors Gavin Newsom, California, Tim Walz of Minnesota and Billy of Tennessee announced additional plans to restart certain sectors. We asked every American to maintain vigilance and hygiene, social distancing and voluntary use of face coverings.

We're opening our country. It's very exciting to see we have a lot of talent involved from governors down to people that just stand there and help you with the doors. There's been tremendous talent involved and tremendous spirit from what country. Country is a great place and it's going to be greater than ever before. I really believe that. I think there's going to be a tremendous upward shift.

I spoke with Tim Cook today of Apple, and they have a good sense of the market and he feels it's going to be a V. The V is sharply upward later on as we actually get it fully open.

Today, I signed the Paycheck Protection Program and Healthcare Enhancement Act providing $320 billion to keep American workers on the payroll. $30 billion of the Paycheck Protection funds will be reserved for small financial institutions, including those that serve minority and distressed communities extending vital relief to thousands of African-American and Hispanic-American small business owners and their employees.

The bill also deliver $75 billion for hospitals, so badly needed for hospitals. They've taken a very big hit. And medical providers in areas less affected by the virus, hospitals and doctors should work with their state and local health officials on ways to safely resume elective medical treatments and care.

Under the CARES Act, we're sending direct payments to millions of American workers. More than 80 million Americans have already received their payment. $3,400 for a typical family of four, $3,400. That's great, and you deserve it. The CARES Act requires that the federal government send out a notice of what benefits Americans are receiving to fulfill the requirement.

The Treasury Department is mailing a letter to me. It will include the amount, their economic impact payment, how it will arrived, direct deposit, check or prepaid, debit card, as well as a message to the nation letting each American know that we are getting through this challenge together as one American family and that's what's been happening. The whole world is watching us. You have 184 countries out there that have been hit, and now it's probably higher than that. But they're all watching us. They're all watching and they're calling and they respect what we're doing so much.

I spoke with the leaders of numerous countries today. They're asking if we can send them ventilators and I'm agreeing to do it. We have tremendous capacity. Now over capacity of ventilators. We're filling up stockpiles for our states and for ourselves.

The federal government has over 10,000 ventilators and we could have a lot more if we wanted to do that. But we're helping Mexico, Honduras, Indonesia, France. We're sending to France, we're sending to Spain, we're sending to Italy, and we'll probably be sending to Germany should they need them.

Over the last three years, we built the strongest economy and the most successful country the world has ever seen. Greatest economy the world has ever seen. Nobody's ever done anything like what we were able to do. And we will rebuild that economy. Our economy in the not too distant future. I really believe with all that we've learned and all that we've done will be just as strong and maybe stronger than ever before, even stronger than it was just two months ago.

Some interesting note is that the FDA approved the first at-home COVID-19 test kit, just got approved. And Dr. Stephen -- where is Stephen, Stephen Hahn, Stephen -- is going to say a couple of words about that and some other things. I want to thank Stephen, the FDA has been incredible. They've been approving not only this, but they've been approving many things that are paced that's never happened before.

And they're being very safe about it. As Steven told me, he's told me very strongly, but at the same time, they're approving things that record numbers in a record at a record rate and it's really been helpful.

[17:45:08]

Many tests are going on, many vaccine tests and tests of every different guide. And things are happening just like this event, things are happening very rapidly. And I'd like to have Stephen tell you a little bit about it. Thank you very much.

DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER: Thank you, Mr. President. I appreciate the opportunity to tell you about what's happening at the FDA. We have a team of more than 18,000 employees, including 10,000 scientists, doctors, pharmacists, and nurses. And they've been working around the clock because as you probably know, many of the medical products that are being used for the COVID-19 outbreak are in fact regulated by FDA.

The staff had been hard at work authorizing tests and other medical products. As part of these efforts to support diagnostic test development during this global pandemic, the President has asked us and under his leadership to actually cut down as many barriers as we possibly could to get medical products into the medical community. And we have done that to, of course, recognizing the urgency of the situation.

I do want to emphasize what the President said that is that we are very much paying attention to safety, and with respect to test validity and reliability of those tests. And I think it's really important to understand how far we've come in just a few short months. The academic community, which I come from, the private sector, the government, we've come together to develop diagnostics for a completely new infectious disease.

And it's really important we've heard from many test developers, both in academia and in the manufacturing world. This normally takes years to develop. You've heard Dr. Birx talk about the fact that HIV tests have taken many, many years to develop. This has happened in weeks and months.

We've been laser focused on working with both industry and academia to actually make this happen. To date under our Emergency Use Authorization approach, we've quickly reviewed and authorized 63 tests, both diagnostic as well as serologic. That is the antibody test. We've had several point of care tests, and that's important because those can be done in emergency room, in a doctor's office, et cetera, and much more convenient for the patient.

And this week as the President said, we authorized the first at-home test by a company called LabCorp. This is a test where under certain circumstances with a doctor's supervision, a test can be mailed to a patient, and the patient can perform the self-swab and then mail it back and get the results after that time, all under the guidance of a licensed physician. And we're not just letting up with the 63 tests we've approved. We are working with more than 400 test developers who are pursuing authorization for their diagnostics under our current policies.

And under our regulatory approach, which is quite flexible, many other tests are becoming available. We have heard and have reported to us 220 labs around the country have begun patient testing using their own validated tests. This has allowed us to increase significantly tests around the country.

I updated you earlier this week on serologic tests, these antibody tests that are used to detect natural immunity, and the FDA's approached to help make these tests available. While these are just one part of our larger response effort, they can play a role in helping move our economy forward by helping healthcare professionals identify those who have immunity to the COVID-19.

And just finally, when it comes to therapeutics, we are leaving no stone unturned in finding treatments for COVID-19. You do know that we don't have any approved currently therapeutics for COVID-19. But we are actively involved with both the academic and the commercial and private sector to find those. Seventy-two trials of therapeutics are underway in the United States under FDA oversight, and 211 are in the planning stages. So we expect to see more. This includes convalescent plasma, as well as antiviral therapies. Work continues on vaccines, and two firms have announced that the FDA has authorized their trials to go forward. One of which we've mentioned here before.

And finally, in response to the presence and test force requests, we've stood up the coronavirus treatment acceleration program. We are leaving no stone unturned, as I said, and we're working around the clock to develop these therapeutics for the American people. Thank you very much.

TRUMP: Thank you very much.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Dr. Hahn, (INAUDIBLE) antibody testing?

TRUMP: Doctor, are you going to maybe --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's a quick question. And it's timely because just about an hour ago, a subcommittee with oversight released some findings that the FDA doesn't have any review of the antibody tests that are on the market. There are no guidelines to tell which ones should be out there. And there's no way to test their accuracy. They're quite worried that these are junk tests on the market because they weren't reviewed before they were approved, is that true?

HAHN: So under our policy, we provide a flexibility. What we've told manufacturers is that in order to market in the U.S., they have to validate their tests. They have to tell us that they validated their tests.

[17:50:06]

And then in the past package insert, they have to let people know and users, labs, et cetera, that those tests were not authorized by FDA. We've authorized for, as I mentioned, more in the pipeline. And these tests that have come in without any information to us, but have been self-validated.

As I mentioned at the podium a couple days ago, we are working with the National Cancer Institute as well as CDC to perform our own validation of the tests that have been sent to us. So we'll provide as much information as we possibly can. And there is transparency in our website about those tests and also the tests that we have authorized. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

TRUMP: Thank you very much. Mike, please,

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Thank you, Mr. President.

From early in this effort, President Trump has called forth a whole of government response to the coronavirus epidemic in America. And by that, the President made clear when he asked me to lead the White House Coronavirus Task Force, not merely a whole of the federal government, but a full partnership with state and local governments across the country. And today we renewed that with our latest conference call with governors all across America. We've met with them today specifically to speak about the progress that our governors are making, expanding testing across the country. And we were pleased to hear about the extraordinary and rapid progress that governors are making.

At the outset of the call where we had more than 50 of our nation's governors, we of course had Pete Gaynor of FEMA report on progress. More than 35,000 national guard stood up, 5,000 active duty military deployed in 10 states. And we were also pleased to report that FEMA, HHS, and the private sector have coordinated the delivery of shipments to states around the country, including nearly 67 million N95 masks, 105 million surgical masks, surgical gowns, shields, gloves, more than 10,000 ventilators and more than 8,000 federal field medical station beds.

Beyond the report that we provided to the governors, we assured them that at the President's direction, this is one team, one mission. And we've made it clear to the governors that we know we're all in this together and the partnership that we have forged together really begins with mitigation efforts. It moves to making sure our healthcare workers have the support they need, but also testing is in the forefront of all of our minds. We're working to make it possible for every governor to access the existing capacity to enable our states to be able to reopen responsibly under the phased approach that the President unveiled one week ago.

A little bit of context, you may recall that one month ago, all of the testing that had been done in America, 80,000 Americans had been tested. But as of this morning, 5.1 million Americans have been tested for the coronavirus.

A quick reminder to our fellow Americans, and this was something from our scientists today at the task force, we reminded governors of this as well, that as testing increases dramatically across the country, cases will increase as well, but people should not be discouraged by those numbers. We are looking at very positive trends in hospitalization, in emergency room entrances and we continue to see, as we've said at this podium every day over the last several weeks, we continue to see positive progress, not just on the west coast, but even where the coronavirus epidemic has most deeply impacted in areas of greater New York city area, New Orleans, Detroit, and elsewhere.

On our nearly two-hour phone call today with those governors, we heard of the progress governors were making in implementing the resources that we've been working to provide them, not just the medical equipment but also, as you recall, that map a week ago that showed where all of the equipment is all across the country in all 50 states.

Governor Cuomo joined us for the call today. He spoke favorably of his meeting here at the White House, Mr. President, and his recognition that testing is a partnership between the federal and state governments. As Governor Cuomo said today, he understood that the federal government works with national manufacturing and supply chain and the governors deal with the labs to expand and implement testing at the state level. Governor Cuomo also explained how he's using his licensing authority as a Governor to stand up the more than 300 labs that can do coronavirus testing in the state of New York. And we congratulated him for his leadership in that, urged other governors to use their authority similarly.

[17:55:10]

In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee told us that he's deployed the National Guard to stand up more than 20 drive-through test sites. They're testing 10,000 people a day. They've already tested more than 130,000 people in Tennessee and they expect to surge another 15,000 people in testing sites this weekend in Tennessee.

Massachusetts in an area we're continuing to watch very closely as cases have not yet stabilized, and Governor Charlie Baker, after he -- he thanked us, Mr President, for the Army Corps of Engineers deployment of four field hospitals. He described how they have rapidly expanded testing all across Massachusetts. We commended him for that. And beginning of March, he said they had just one testing site in the state of Massachusetts, and now thanks to Governor Charlie Baker's team, they have more than 30 testing sites.

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, reflected on the call today about the partnership he's forged with the Mayo Clinic, the University of Minnesota and state health department. They're actually collaborating to perform 20,000 molecular tests and 15,000 antibody tests per day. And I'm looking forward to traveling to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota on Tuesday of next week to learn firsthand from the Governor about their efforts across the state to expand testing.

Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds, gave us an update, Mr. President, on her progress. She's literally tripling testing capacity in her state through a partnership with the private sector, with the University of Iowa and Iowa State University. She also launched the testiowa.com website, which actually creates an access point for people to fill out a questionnaire about whether or not their symptoms or circumstances would justify a test. She said in the first 72 hours, 150,000 people went to the test site to receive an assessment and Iowa is now testing 4,500 people a day in their state.

In Indiana, I spoke also today with Governor Eric Holcomb. They've tested 72,000 Hoosiers to date. They're adding drive-through sites. They'll have 10 drive-through sites established by the state of Indiana before the end of the weekend. And as other governors have done, Governor Holcomb last week opened up half of their elective surgery sites and hospitals across the state and they'll be opening up the balance of their elective surgery sites the next week.

In Maryland, another area that we're watching very closely, Governor Larry Hogan expressed appreciation for federal support as he's continuing to scale testing. He had been in touch with the National Institute of Health, which is opening up its laboratories for Maryland to do testing and we were also able to confirm to him that Walter Reed hospital's laboratory capacity is available to Maryland.

And in Utah, Mr. President, Governor Gary Herbert told us that he actually diverted 1,200 state employees to do contact tracing in their state. In the last 36 hours, 23,000 residents have also signed up for what they're calling their Healthy Together app. And they have 50 different testing locations across Utah and have tested 82,000 people in the state already.

Other state examples, Mr. President, were just as inspiring. Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey has forged a partnership with Rutgers University, working closely with the FDA. They've authorized a saliva- based test that is being deployed just at that site that's expanding their ability to track what continues to be a very challenging environment in New Jersey.

And governor Mike Parson of Missouri, Mr. President, also told us how they'd worked with Google marketplace to create an online portal for more than 200 companies in Missouri who have repurposed their manufacturing lines to create medical supplies to meet their need within the state. And in Connecticut, Governor Ned Lamont, spoke about a positive trend lines in Connecticut which has been really at the center of the outbreak in the greater New York area. But he also said they were hoping to double testing over the next week.

Mr. President, that's just a sampling of what we heard today and I know it's an encouragement to you and I trust it's an encouragement to people all across the country, that at your direction, we are implementing a testing strategy that is supported at the federal level, but it is deployed and managed at the state level. And we want to express our appreciation to every governor across the country that are standing up all of those labs that are available, that are working with us and our supply chain personnel to make sure that the reagents and the swabs and the equipment is there to be able to process the tests. And we're going to continue to increase testing dramatically in the weeks ahead.