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THE SITUATION ROOM

Global Death Toll Approaches Three Million People; Georgia Reopens Salons, Gyms, Bowling Alleys And Tattoo Parlors As The State Death Toll Rises; Maryland Governor Says, Hundreds Called Asking About Ingesting Disinfectant Following Trump Remarks; Wisconsin To Remain Shut Down Until At Least May 26th; White House Adviser Says U.S. Faces Great-Depression-Era Unemployment; California Eases Social Distancing in Areas As Cases Exceed 42,000. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired April 26, 2020 - 18:00   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[18:00:00]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.

Around the world right now, nearly three million people -- 3 million people -- have been infected by the coronavirus. And more than 205,000 people have died. More than a quarter of those deaths happened right here in the United States. The number of Americans dead from this virus is now more than 54,000. By the way, it was exactly one month ago today that the death toll here in the United States was just over 1,000.

At the same time, more states are preparing to crack open the doors to their economies, doors that were slammed shut weeks ago when the pandemic hit. Stay-at-home orders expire tomorrow morning in a few states where restaurants and some stores will be allowed to open under strict safety rules. But officials at the White House tell CNN that social distancing directives are not going away any time soon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another as we move through these phases.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: This public health crisis is not the only unprecedented catastrophe looming over the United States right now. The U.S. economy is enduring week after week of staggering losses, and Americans are out of work in numbers not seen in decades. One of President Trump's economic advisers is projecting an extremely grim picture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEVIN HASSETT, WHIET HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: This is the biggest negative shock that our economy, I think, has ever seen. We're going to be looking at an employment rate that approaches rates that we saw during the great depression -- during the great recession. Remember, that was a financial crisis around 2008, that we lost 8.7 million jobs in the whole thing. Right now we're losing that many jobs about every ten days.

The next couple months are going to look terrible. You're going to see numbers that are as bad as anything that we've ever seen. I think the unemployment rate is going to jump to a level probably around 16 percent or even higher in the next jobs report.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The past five weeks alone, 26 million Americans have lost their jobs and are filing for unemployment.

Let's go to the White House right now. Our Kristen Holmes is joining us. Kristen, you just heard a White House economic adviser there saying the coming months, in his words, look terrible, but that's not necessarily the tone coming from everyone in the Trump administration. A lot of mixed messages coming out of the White House, even on this day.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. I mean, this was a much bleaker picture than we've seen before. And to be very clear, the surprise is not the numbers. We know that economists have privately been saying that the unemployment numbers could reach those levels. The surprise is that it's coming from a White House economic adviser.

The messaging coming out of the White House has been really steady and very upbeat. We know President Trump has said on multiple occasions that the economy is going to have a big bounce back. And even earlier today, the treasury secretary, Steve Mnuchin, painted this much rosier picture.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think as we begin to reopen the economy in May and June, you're going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September. And we are putting in an unprecedented amount of fiscal relief into the economy. You're seeing trillions of dollars that's making its way into the economy, and I think this is going to have a significant impact.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: So, I do want to make one thing very clear before I break that down. I don't think there's a single American who hopes or who doesn't hope that that is what's going to happen, that the economy will not bounce back. I think everyone is looking at this, they know that there is a high level of unemployment. Most people know someone who is unemployed, and people are watching their businesses and wondering if they're going to survive this.

But there are a lot of questions as to whether or not the economy can come back as strongly and in that short of a timeframe, particularly big cities, those big cities that house a lot of these unemployed Americans, that have a lot of these businesses that drive the economy, when are they going to be opening back up, we still don't have a timeline for that.

And the other big thing that economists just can't predict is what is society going to look like once it does reopen. Are people going to actually going to go out and frequent these businesses like they once did, Wolf.

[18:05:03]

BLITZER: You know, Kristen, it's interesting, we just discovered here at CNN about some letters being sent to people all over the country right now, personal letters from the White House. Tell us about that. What are these letters all about and who's getting them?

HOLMES: So, if you were one of the people who received any sort of stimulus money from the stimulus response, you also likely got a personal letter from President Trump. And as you said, we just discovered these viewers sending them into us earlier today, and essentially, they came in an envelope with an IRS stamp that paid for fees and postage from the Treasury Department.

And it was a note that, one, had a message of hope, saying the White House, the administration was there for these families during these times, and two, just provided basic information about those stimulus payments, how much money this person received and how exactly they got it, whether direct deposit or check.

Now, one thing that we have learned is inside of the legislation, there is a section in there that says that anyone who is paid within 15 days will get a notice in the mail that talks about those basics, how much money they got, how they got that money, just so that they are aware. But it doesn't say that it has to come from the president.

So, of course, we've reached out to the White House to see who made the decision, when it was made to have President Trump have his own signed note to these people receiving the money. But we also know President Trump likes to be the face of all of these positive aspects of the coronavirus response, like his name on those stimulus checks to begin with.

BLITZER: Yes, important point. Kristen Holmes reporting from the White House, thank you. We'll get back to you.

I want to go to Georgia right now, where, tomorrow, restaurants will be allowed to reopen. This comes just a couple of days after the governor there allowed operations to resume at barber shops, nail salons, gyms, even bowling alleys. Those plans, despite the fact that Georgia has not, repeat, not seen a 14-day downward trajectory in cases.

CNN's Natasha Chen is in Atlanta for us. And, Natasha, what has the reopening been like for businesses? What can we expect to see tomorrow? NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, tomorrow, movie theaters will be allowed to reopen along with those restaurants doing dine-in service. And that comes with a number of restrictions. For example, employees have to have face coverings, no handshakes, a lot of requirements for sanitation and washing of hands, and there are no more than ten customers allowed per 500 square feet.

I have to say, when I was in South Carolina covering some businesses opening there last week, the density allowed was a lot stricter than this. So Georgia is going with ten customers per 500 square feet.

Now, when we talked to business owners of barber shops, of bowling alleys, you know, there is a level of uncomfortable awareness that there is a health risk here, but they also have not gotten any of the financial aid that they've applied for. So there's a huge amount of pressure to open their doors just to earn any kind of income.

We know that there are a number of restaurants who have told us directly or posted online that they don't feel that it's time yet to open their doors for dine-in service, so they are holding off, though we know a handful of restaurants as well as at least one large chain that is going to do this.

And Governor Kemp did say that cases may go up with this reopening here, but he also says that this state is more prepared to deal with that than they were a month ago, Wolf.

BLITZER: We've got some live pictures I want to show our viewers, live pictures from downtown Atlanta, Natasha. This is not very far away from the CNN center. You can see, I guess, some people moving up, not many, very few cars, if any, at all. Have you heard any reaction to the governor's decision to allow businesses to reopen, specifically from communities, Natasha, hardest hit by the coronavirus?

CHEN: Absolutely. Well, Albany is a hotspot here in Georgia, and the mayor spoke with CNN's Ana Cabrera about this. He was talking about how he wishes that in his community, the situation, in his view, requires that they do shelter-in-place or stay at home for a longer amount of time. Here is what he said about that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR BO DOROUGH, ALBANY, GEORGIA: We were upset that the governor did not allow us to continue our shelter-in-place ordinance. But our citizens are generally going to be guided by the environment that we're in. And we're finding that most churches have no plans to reinstitute worship services at this time. Most of our restaurants will continue to offer only curbside and delivery.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And so, he's also saying that Governor Kemp has said that if there is an uptick in cases in Albany, that the state will offer whatever resources are necessary to help get that under control.

So, really, a lot of conflicting emotions here from local leaders as well as businesses, trying to make the best call for public health but also for their wallets, Wolf.

[18:10:00]

BLITZER: All right, Natasha. Thanks very much, Natasha Chen, in Atlanta.

Let's stay in Atlanta right now. The Mayor there, Keisha Lance Bottoms, has been critical of Governor Kemp's decision to reopen the state. The mayor is joining us right now.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. Based on what you've seen this weekend so far with businesses, like hair salons, gyms reopening, for example, how concerned are you that now restaurants will follow suit tomorrow?

MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GA: Wolf, I am extremely concerned. And as an elected official, we often want to be right. But I can tell you that this is one that I hope that I'm wrong about. And I've said it before. I'll say it again. I hope that the governor is right and I am wrong, because if he is wrong, more people will die.

And this notion that we can somehow deal with more people who are sick is ludicrous, because we don't have a cure, and there are healthy people walking into hospitals dying from this illness. And so, simply because we may have a bed to offer them or a hospital room for them doesn't mean that we can save their lives. And I think that therein lies the problem.

I understand that people are hurting economically and people don't want to have to make this choice, but it's important so that we can flatten this curve for a sustained period of time. When I look at the numbers, the numbers that I have received from this afternoon, our deaths are up 32 percent from this time last week, our positive tests up 26 percent from this time last week. We aren't headed in the right direction, and my fear is that we're compounding this problem.

BLITZER: Yes, people are concerned. We just showed some live pictures in downtown Atlanta, not far from the CNN center, and very few cars. I didn't see hardly any people over there. Take a look at this. You can see what's going on. Normally on a Sunday at this time, it would be jammed. People would be moving around.

What would you say, Mayor, to a restaurant owner though, who is facing potentially losing his or her business if they don't reopen?

BOTTOMS: You know, Wolf, what I can say, there are a number of restaurants in this state and in the city who have said, we absolutely will not open. But what I would say to someone who is potentially looking to lose their business is my heart goes out to them.

And as an elected official and as a leader, we have a responsibility to try and help people recover from this. We have a responsibility to put money in the pockets of the small business owners who need this, who are depending on this. But it is irresponsible in the middle of a pandemic for us as leaders to be irresponsible. And I think that when you say to people, you can open with certain guidelines, and our answer to them is, and if you get sick, we have a bed for you? I don't think -- to me, it's a lack of understanding of what COVID-19 is doing to people across the globe.

BLITZER: A federal health official, Mayor, tells CNN Georgia was expected to run out of unemployment funds within 30 weeks. They believe this played into Governor Kemp's decision to reopen. Do you think the governor reopened is a way to avoid paying unemployment claims?

BOTTOMS: Well, I know that has to be a consideration because our state is facing a $4 billion budget shortfall over the next several years. But, you know, we know that when people fill out unemployment applications, the question is asked, did you refuse to work? Can you return to work?

I believe the labor commissioner in our state has now said you can earn up to $300 a week and still receive your unemployment benefits, so that helps a bit. But I know that this is an economic consideration because we're hurting in the state in the same way we're hurting across the world.

But what I can also say is this, Wolf, we are not a first generation who's faced adversity. We are not the first generation who's dealt with a pandemic. We'll get to the other side of this but only if we make responsible decisions. We can't keep turning back and take two steps forward and then take ten steps back. It only prolongs this crisis that is facing this globe.

BLITZER: And the stakes, as all of us know, are so, so enormous. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms in Atlanta, thank you so much for joining us.

BOTTOMS: Thank you.

BLITZER: Good luck to everyone there.

Meanwhile, in the middle of a global pandemic, Americans are desperate for the latest medical information about the coronavirus, but the president is giving out some dangerous misinformation. Two doctors will join us live to give all of us the truth about what's going on. Stay with us. You're in The Situation Room.

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[18:15:00]

BLITZER: The White House has spent the weekend trying to clean up President Trump's suggestion that perhaps putting disinfectants into the body could kill coronavirus. Well, experts in the administration, like Dr. Deborah Birx, have clarified that this dangerous theory is not a treatment at all. At least one state is already trying to deal with the enormous fallout. Here is the Maryland Republican governor, Larry Hogan, earlier today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): We had hundreds of calls in our hotline here in Maryland about people asking about injecting or ingesting these disinfectants, which is, you know, hard to imagine that people thought that that was serious. But people actually were thinking about this, was this something you could do to protect yourself?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The suggestion came, perhaps, from the president himself.

Joining us now, the infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins University, Dr. Amesh Adalja, and President of the American Medical Association, Dr. Patrice Harris.

[18:20:03]

Dr. Harris, clearly this, kind of misinformation is extremely, extremely dangerous. How should public health officials right now minimize the confusion, disseminate the correct information in a critically important moment like this?

DR. PATRICE HARRIS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, Wolf, words do matter, and it's important in this public health crisis that we have the voices of physicians and scientists and public health officials out first. We need to make sure there is clear and consistent messaging on what to do and what not to do.

So I know that over the last couple of days, and it's unfortunate that we are here, but public health officials and physicians are having to say that no one should ingest or inject these household cleaners. And so, we just, as physicians, the medical community need to continue to be out front and give clear, concise messages.

BLITZER: Yes. And as I keep saying, Dr. Adalja, any one of these disinfectants, like Purell, for example, right here, read the warnings. Right on the warning, it always says for external use only, so you've got to be really, really careful.

Dr. Adalja, it's understandable that people may be desperate for ways to protect themselves, so what should they be doing to seek out what we can call credible, safe information?

DR. AMESH ADALJA, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR HEALTH SECURITY: They should be talking to their doctors. They should be looking at trusted sources of public health information, like their local public health agency, their state public health agency, the CDC, the NIH.

There are lots of sources there. And, unfortunately, people have a lot of faith in what the president says, and sometimes it's not going to be accurate, and you really need to look at health professionals and scientists to actually guide you through what to do, what's safe, what's not safe.

BLITZER: It's really important. And, Dr. Harris, given a chance earlier today to provide very accurate, specific medical information on a really sensitive life-or-death issue like this, the White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Birx, instead -- listen to this -- she defended the president. Watch this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: What should the American people know about disinfectants and the human body?

BIRX: Well, first, that was a dialogue he was having between the DHS scientists and himself for information that he had received and he was discussing. We have made it clear, and when he turned to me, I made it clear and he understood that it was not as a treatment. And I think that kind of dialogue will happen.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what about that? Normally, Dr. Harris, a dialogue in a sensitive issue like this would happen between a leader, the president of the United States, and the experts, the advisers, that would happen behind closed doors, not in a public briefing with journalists and the whole world, basically, watching on television.

But with the Trump White House, they often take place live in front of cameras, and that's pretty dangerous, right?

HARRIS: Well, I think what we should always focus on is listening to scientists. I agree with my colleague here that everyone is different and should always consult their own physician about the issues. You know, in an address I gave a couple of weeks ago now, based on -- or on behalf of the American Medical Association, we really focused on the need to make sure that our public health officials are able to speak to the American public without any political influence.

This is not about politics. This is a public health crisis, and we need to make sure that public health leaders are on the forefront here and are speaking to our nation.

BLITZER: Dr. Adalja, this is a sensitive issue that has come up. I want to ask you about immunity. Yesterday, the World Health Organization issued a statement, and it said this, there is no evidence yet that people who have had COVID-19 will not get a second infection.

That was the specific statement. But then the WHO decided it had no choice but to issue a clarification, saying they do expect people to have what they call some level of protection after recovering. They issued a second statement to clarify that the first statement wasn't necessarily true.

What about that? What do you make of that, these two, apparently very different statements coming from the World Health Organization? What is the answer?

ALDAJA: Well, first statement was really accurate from a medical standpoint. But when you take that and try and translate that into everyday language, that gives you the impression that you have no immunity. It just meant that there was no evidence yet.

Obviously, we haven't looked at these people long enough to actually test and see do they have immunity, do you re-challenge them with the virus, do they get exposed to the virus again and not get re-infected. We don't have that type evidence.

[18:25:00]

But we know from other infectious diseases, including other coronavirus infections, that people do develop antibodies and people are resistant to infection for some period of time. We need to understand what that duration and are they completely resistant to reinfection or did they just get silent infections, like with other coronaviruses, all of these are important questions.

But we do believe that once you recover for at least a period of several months, you probably are unable to be infected, but we desperately need to get all of this quantified so that to turn this into actionable advice for people.

BLITZER: And to their credit, the World Health Organization did issue that clarification earlier today. Dr. Amesh Adalja, thanks so much for joining us, Dr. Patrice Harris, thank to you as well. We'll continue these conversations down the road.

In the past five weeks, 26.5 million Americans have filed unemployment claims, and economic experts are warning it's going to get even worse. You're going to hear why a former economic adviser of Presidents Clinton and Obama now says it's time for an economic reset. We'll explain when we come back.

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[18:30:31]

BLITZER: Right now Wisconsin's economy is being hit particularly hard by the downturn sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Some dairy farmers are simply dumping their cows' milk with hotels, schools and restaurants shuttered.

And take a look at Wisconsin's rising number of new cases of the coronavirus. The state has no plans to begin reopening at least within the next month.

Want to go to CNN's Miguel Marquez, he's in Milwaukee for us.

So, Miguel, which industries in Wisconsin are getting hit the hardest right now by this economic slowdown?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, the bottom line is all of them right now. 12.6 percent of Badger State workers have already applied for unemployment. That's just since the middle of March. There's a state study, a model that they're looking at, one scenario that the unemployment rate in the state could hit 27 percent, more than one in four workers out of work. It is just breathtaking how big this could be. We spoke to one economist who is looking at sort of activity right

now, because it's very hard to come up with those numbers on unemployment and how it's kind of going. He's taking cell phone data at 50,000 different locations, anonymous cell phone data, and looking at economic activity across restaurants, hospitality, manufacturing, every aspect of economic capacity here, and it is down 50 percent already across the state.

In manufacturing, it is down 60 percent in some areas. We've talked to people that we've dealt with here before, and new orders for one factory, for instance, up in Manitowoc are down 90 percent. That's the sort of stuff we're talking about.

People are starting to feel it and feel great anxiety about what the future holds. Many of them are holding onto as much money as possible. One other interesting thing that economists are tracking is that those safer-at-home orders that have become somewhat controversial, they see that most the economic activity dropped off before those orders went in effect, so the assumption is that even once we pull out of this, until there is a vaccine, until there is a cure, consumers are not going to be particularly interested to go out to a restaurant, go on a trip, or do anything else until they're sure that they're not going to pay a health cost for doing so -- Wolf.

BLITZER: We're showing viewers the streets of Milwaukee earlier today, basically empty right now, like in so many cities around the United States.

Miguel Marquez reporting for us. Thank you very much.

Very sobering message out of the White House earlier today regarding the fate of the U.S. economy. The top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, warning that we're entering an era right now not seen since the Great Depression and adds -- and I'm quoting him now -- we're going to see numbers that are as bad as anything we've ever seen.

This as more than 26 million Americans have already filed for unemployment. They've lost their jobs in simply the past five weeks.

Gene Sperling is the former director of the National Economic Council under both President Clinton and President Obama. He's joining us right now.

So, Gene, do you agree with Kevin Hassett's assessment?

GENE SPERLING, FORMER DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: You know, I couldn't be more sober myself. And I think Miguel had it exactly right. We debate all the time as a government official going to say it's open or not open. What's ultimately going to matter is do individual people trust that it is safe to go back? So there is no solution without a health solution, without massive testing or treatment or a vaccine.

And an economic solution has to take that into account because if you were to reopen too quickly, if people were to see it spike, then people would become even more risk-adverse. There's the fool me once, you know, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. People might stay back, stay away even longer.

Secondly, we have to realize, Wolf, this is going to be long. You know, Secretary of Treasury Mnuchin talked about there getting growth in the third quarter. That's a little bit like saying that your basketball team went down by 40 points in the second quarter and you're going to come up five or six points in the third quarter.

I mean, yes, you might be trending up a little, but the Congressional Budget Office says in that third quarter, they're expecting 16 percent unemployment. They're expecting over 10 percent for two years. I think it will be over 20 percent in April.

[18:35:03]

That means we've got to stop thinking like on these short-term programs and start thinking, how do we get long-term unemployment insurance? How do we get real payroll protection for small businesses? How do we get help to states and localities and make it automatic, don't rely on all these new budget deals?

Have it automatic. Our attitude must be for as long as it takes, as much as it takes, because if we spend -- if we're spending well, we can't spend enough. The harm is much greater of doing too little and letting this kind of human pain and economic pain go on too long.

BLITZER: Well, you mentioned Steve Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, in contrast to what the economic adviser to the president, Kevin Hassett, said, what you've been saying. Mnuchin offered up his own outlook this morning, striking a totally different tone than last month, for example. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The real issue is not the economic situation today. The real issue is what economic tools are we going to use to make sure we get through this? Because this is a unique situation. Later in the year, obviously, the economic activity will pick up as we confront this virus.

So I think as we begin to reopen the economy in May and June, you're going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September. We've never seen anything like this. This is not the financial crisis.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: So, what do you make of that change in tone coming from the Treasury secretary?

SPERLING: You know, I always felt when I worked in the White House that, of course, you don't want to be overly dark. Of course you want to be encouraging to the people. But first and foremost, be credible. And again, I think my basketball analogy is right. People are estimating at an annualized basis that growth will go down 40 percent in the second quarter. Saying that you're bouncing back up a little while you might still

have 16 percent or 20 percent unemployment is not really being frank with people about the real challenges, and it matters because we're going to do too little and we're not going to start doing the automatic extensions of unemployment insurance, the payroll protection, to get to small businesses who need it, not those who are best connected. It's been disgusting just seeing what's gone on in the Payroll Protection Act.

And Wolf, you just saw the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, talk about allowing states to go bankrupt? I mean, that's not a financing option. That's a decision to add to the misery, laid-off police workers, laid-off first responders, less health care, less health care workers. That would be the wrong thing morally. It would be wrong from a humanitarian point of view. But that would make this economic pain even worse.

BLITZER: Yes. Teachers, too, would suffer as a result of that.

SPERLING: Yes.

BLITZER: Gene Sperling, thanks so much for joining us. We'll continue this conversation with you down the road. Appreciate it very much.

SPERLING: Thank you, Wolf. Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: All right, coming up, U.S. officials are warning of an alarming wave of cyberattacks on government agencies and medical institutions amid this coronavirus pandemic. So, who is behind these attacks? We have new information. We'll share it with you when we come back. We'll be right back.

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[18:42:20]

BLITZER: Much of the world may be in lockdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, but cyber attackers, they are not taking any time off at all. They've been targeting U.S. hospitals, research labs, government agencies, in a series of daily strikes on coronavirus research.

CNN's Alex Marquardt is joining us now.

Alex, what do we know about the suspected hackers? Exactly what are they after?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, in the words of one cybersecurity expert we spoke with, they are trying to steal everything. And you're absolutely right, U.S. officials now sounding the alarm, specifically about the attacks on the medical sector -- hospitals, labs, biomedical research facilities. And one of the more alarming attacks, series of attacks, that the country's national security apparatus is seeing is against the Department of Health and Human Services.

They, of course, oversee the CDC, which is helping lead the response to the coronavirus. And one U.S. official who is familiar with the attack says that they are seeing a mounting, daily surge, a wave of attacks, against them. And when you look at the sophistication, the scale, the scope, according to this U.S. official, he says that only Russia or China could be behind them.

Now, the Trump administration is calling out China for its attacks, specifically on research into finding a vaccine for coronavirus. The Department of Justice, its head of National Security Division, John Demers, he says, quote, that the -- "There is nothing more valuable today than biomedical research relating to vaccines for treatments for the coronavirus."

Now, Demers adds, Wolf, that whoever gets the vaccine first will have a significant geopolitical advantage, not just in dealing with this pandemic, but going forward.

Wolf, we did reach out to the Chinese embassy here in D.C. They did not respond to our request for comment.

BLITZER: But it's not necessarily just China and Russia that are involved, right?

MARQUARDT: No, China and Russia are typically the biggest cyber adversaries for the U.S., along with Iran and North Korea. And you can add on top of that a number of criminal groups. All of these places involved in these attacks on the U.S. during this pandemic.

The threat analysis group from Google, they said that they've identified some dozen government-related hacking groups. And you are seeing attacks that run the gamut, all sorts of attacks, whether it's denial of service, malware, ransomware, the disinformation campaigns.

All these different groups and countries are trying to steal information related to coronavirus, take advantage of the coronavirus in order to steal information, or simply trying to sow chaos and destruction, taking advantage of what is really a unique moment -- Wolf.

[18:45:14]

BLITZER: Excellent reporting, Alex. Thank you very much. Very disturbing information. Alex Marquardt working the story.

Meanwhile, some California beaches are reopening. Take a look at this. Got a live picture at one of them where people are now flocking to beaches as health officials urge them to practice social distancing while on the beach. We're going to have a live report when we come back.

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[18:50:06]

BLITZER: California right now nearing 43,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. And the virus death toll now surpassing 1700. Despite that, officials in California are beginning to ease some of the social distancing restrictions at least in some parts of the state.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is joining us now.

Paul, we know there is a heat wave in California right now. What are you seeing where you are? Where are you and what are you seeing?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: OK, so I'm in Ventura County, Wolf, and this is where some of those restrictions have been eased.

Look behind me. People are allowed to go to the beach, cool off just so long as they don't gather around and have a large cookout or get together with 20 people and start playing touch football. They say observe social distancing and you can stay. But just a mile down the road or so, we're in L.A. County, it's absolutely barren, empty. That's because L.A. County's law against going to the beach is still in effect. You're not allowed down there.

So it's a patchwork of rules in Southern California. It's bene confusing for people at times. So what we've seen is L.A. County residents went into Orange County or in Ventura County because they say in so many words they will be becoming unhinged staying at home in the heat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAY FORRESTER, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: As a person who loves to get out, I wanted to get out. You know, we've been stuck inside. And honestly, how can you stay inside on such a beautiful day? You know, as long as we're abiding by the rules that they are giving us, why shouldn't we be able to do what we want?

CHRISTA PALIGE, CALIFORNIA RESIDENT: Our own four walls around us at home are starting to feel like prison. So, you know, if we can walk around outside on our street, why can't we walk around at the beach? As long as we're social distancing.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VERCAMMEN: So the L.A. mayor has chimed in. Eric Garcetti via Twitter, and he said we won't let one weekend ruin a month of progress. He also said while the sunshine is tempting, we are staying home to save lives. He has been very out and front about social distancing.

We should also note, an idyllic picture live behind me, but going up and down that beach, there are people who are unemployed, they want their jobs back, and they are exhorting state leaders to give sort of timeline as to when they might be able to return to work, Wolf. It's really a juxtaposition here frustrating one for all of them. Now back to you.

BLITZER: All right, thanks very much, Paul Vercammen out in California for us.

Coming up, in business world, where 60 years of favorite spot of presidents and celebrities, a D.C. landmark has survived some very dark times but may not necessarily be able to survive the coronavirus shutdown. It's not only happening in D.C., it's happening all over the country. We'll update you when we come back.

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[18:57:35]

BLITZER: An update now on some news that potentially could offer some hope. In China, officials now say all hospitalized coronavirus patients in Wuhan have been discharged. Wuhan of course was the original epicenter of the pandemic. It's important to keep in mind, though, that U.S. officials have questioned the legitimacy of China's reporting before including the number of confirmed cases and deaths there.

Meanwhile, in Belgium, listen to this, people are being asked to eat twice the amount of French fries all in an effort to prevent food waste. Might seems strange but according to research, Belgians already typically eat fries at least once a week. But potato farmers say if everyone doubles the amount of consumption, it could prevent nearly 750,000 tons of surplus potatoes from going to waste.

Now it's an important measure at a time when so many in the world are simply hungry because of this pandemic.

Meanwhile, here in Washington, an iconic restaurant that survived riots, epidemics of crime, gentrification, could face closing because it can't beat one thing, the shutdown caused by coronavirus.

CNN's photojournalist Ronnie McCray Jr. here in Washington visited the Ben's Chili Bowl to see why the idea of losing this restaurant is simply unthinkable to so many Washingtonians.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ben is a staple in the dishes of Columbia.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's iconic.

DAVID HAMILTON, CUSTOMER: Ben's Chili Bowl was everything to the community. I like to some more. I love the chili.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ketchup.

HAMILTON: The chili is the best.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their hamburgers with French fries.

EBONY NEPTUNE, CUSTOMER: I have been coming to Ben's Chili ever since I was a student in Howard University. And I graduated in 1972. And I remember when U Street was a different U Street. So it's good to have an anchor that reminds me of the old days.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It survived the riots in 1968 after Dr. King was murdered. The crack epidemic of the '80s and '90s. So this business has had its share of adversity. But I'm not sure about COVID. SAGE ALI, OWNER: It's been very challenging. We were poised to have

our best year ever. Our business here is down -- we went down probably at least 80 percent. We had to lay off employees in the other locations, you know, just because we wanted to (INAUDIBLE) be taking care of the unemployment or whatever. But at the same time we've got to keep going as best as we can.

We've always had a motto in the family that U Street never closes. We're struggling. We're not the big corporation with big budget. We are a little family business.