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White House Cancels Today's Briefing, Instead Will Allow Small Group of Reporters to Cover Economic Remarks; Scientists, Doctors Struggle to Understand How COVID-19 Kills. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 16:00   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: There remains a very real fear of a spike in deaths and illnesses and even longer that the U.S. has to stay at home, as the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Dr. Birx, told me yesterday.



TAPPER: Are you concerned about a potential surge in new cases and deaths after these states take these actions?


And that's why we put out key, key gating criteria.


TAPPER: It's unclear that any of the states and locations we have just mentioned have met those key gating criteria Dr. Birx talked about, namely, 14 straight days of declining cases and the ability of the state to test and contact-trace the whereabouts of anyone infected.

And yet we see these scenes, not only from those states, but from states where stay-at-home orders are still in place, Californians at packed beaches amid a heat wave, with similar scenes at crowded parks in New York City.

As CNN's Kyung Lah reports for us now, health experts across the country are warning, even states with large declines in cases and deaths should see spikes as they reopen.


KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In New York, home to the nation's largest COVID hot spot, the state's governor signaled a pivot is coming, as numbers flatten to a high plateau.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): May 15 is when the pause regulations expire statewide. I will extend them in many parts of the state. Some regions, you could make the case that we should un-pause on May 15. But you have to be smart about it.

LAH: Being smart, says Governor Cuomo, means showing a 14-day decline in cases. That's not exactly being followed in other states, open for some seating in Georgia, with plastic grocery bags over chairs, other seats roped off, the new dining normal rolled in.

Restaurants and movie theaters, with restrictions, are operating again in Georgia, though it's unclear if any diners are ready.

From Georgia to Montana to Alaska, the national push to reopen expands this week. At least 13 states will reopen some of their major businesses. With as many sanitation preparations as possible in Colorado, this barbershop is moving forward, desperate to get business back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be cautious. We need money.

LAH: Each state's governor is calling the shots, leading to an uneven and dangerous national response to the pandemic, warns this Georgia corner.

MICHAEL FOWLER, CORONER, DOUGHERTY COUNTY, GEORGIA: I think it's like playing Russian roulette. Every time you walk out your house and goes to a place without a mask and practice social distancing, you are playing Russian roulette.

LAH: Some state level Republicans now tell CNN they're wary of reopening too quickly after President Trump publicly rebuked Georgia's governor.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I disagree strongly with his decision.

LAH: Florida's governor likely taking note, after being criticized for taking too long to shut things down, this morning signaled more caution.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): This is going to be slow and steady wins the race. It's going to be very methodical, very data-driven.

LAH: The most important metric, testing and lots of it, is still not where it needs to be, warns the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

BIRX: We have to have a breakthrough. This RNA testing will carry us certainly through the spring and summer but we need to have a huge technology breakthrough.

LAH: Dr. Birx adds, social distancing will be the rule through the summer.

The White House economic adviser predicted testing would catch up.

PETER NAVARRO, DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE OFFICE OF TRADE AND MANUFACTURING POLICY: We will be able to ramp up rapidly in the testing, just as we did in ventilators. (END VIDEOTAPE)

LAH: In just the last few minutes, Texas announced that their state would join the others and beginning to reopen.

Texas' governor said that, when the statewide executive order requiring businesses to shut down, when that expires on April 30, on Friday, May 1, those businesses allowed -- they will be allowed to come back online, Jake.

So, starting Friday, at 25 percent occupancy, Texans will be able to go back to malls, movie theaters, and dine-in restaurants -- Jake.

TAPPER: Kyung Lah, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Joining me now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay, "The Washington Post" and "Financial Times" both have done analyses that find the death toll in the U.S. and around the world is likely much higher than the official numbers. And this all comes as Dr. Birx is saying we need a big breakthrough in testing and more to get out of this, in other words, a vaccine or treatment.

Are you confident that there will be such a breakthrough?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there's going to be new testing that's going to come around.

I think the question is going to be, as has been with these previous tests, is, how much can we rely on the accuracy of these tests?


"The Washington Post," by the way, the number of deaths that they're talking about that was actually higher, in large part, is because of people who may have died during this time period, a number that's higher than a similar time period from years past, because they oftentimes did not seek medical treatment in the midst of this pandemic, people who may not have been counted who actually had COVID- related disease.

So there's all these different tragic ripple effects of this that they're starting to get a better handle on.

But, as far as the testing, Jake, goes, let me just show you the three tests that we're now talking about mostly, the test for the actual virus itself. And that's called the PCR test. This is -- there you go, PCR test. And that means polymerase chain reaction.

Basically, Jake, you're finding a little piece of genetic material, you got to amplify it to actually see if you can detect it or not. That's a hard test. That's the one that relies on these reagents and all these various things.

So, even if you have the labs, if you don't have those other supplies, those tests are hard to do. Serology is the antibody test. Tells you if you had been infected.

What Dr. Birx is talking about is this bottom one called the antigen test. That's just looking for a protein on the virus. You don't need the same reagents. This is like the rapid strep test, Jake. I don't know if your kids have ever had that done. Throat swab. You can get a result back pretty quickly.

That's the sort of test that you would like to have.

TAPPER: Right.

GUPTA: But the thing is, Jake, it's got to work well.

Right now, some of these rapid antigen tests have pretty high false negative rates. So, you got to have a rapid test. But the breakthrough is making sure that it works well.

TAPPER: You saw the images, Sanjay, people on -- packing beaches in California, packing parks in New York.

Dr. Birx also says some form of social distancing should last for months, although it's an open question that people are even doing it in states where they have an order to.

How do we fully reopen economies and still have social distancing in place, or is it impossible to fully reopen an economy with social distancing?

GUPTA: I think it's impossible to fully reopen the economy with social distancing.

And that's -- again, Jake, I take no joy in saying that. You and I have had this conversation now for months about this. The social distancing is important.

There is a contagious virus that is still out there. And the good news is that we have seen the impact of people largely staying at home. I mean, these are some very difficult times.

But, Jake, even when you look at those restaurants -- and you -- I guess I appreciate the efforts that are going -- that people are going through. And I recognize the hardship economically, but somebody coughs or sneezes, and then those respiratory droplets are on a surface, on a door handle, someone touches that, they touch a chair, whatever, it's just very hard.

Aside from just keeping people six feet apart, which is a bit arbitrary, as we know, but important, but in those types of places, it's just very hard to accomplish the goal that we're trying to accomplish here, which is to basically stop the spread of the virus.

Everything becomes a potential source of contamination. That's the issue. So, essential businesses, I understand. And it's a risk-reward proposition, like most things are in life.

But for other things, I mean, you're taking a gamble right now. It's not forever. But, right now, you're taking a gamble.

What needs to happen as well, Jake, is, going back to this testing, can I walk into a place confident that I'm not harboring the virus in my body? Can I be confident, based on testing, that the people I'm about to interact with, Jake, if I was going to have lunch with you, that you are not harboring the virus?

We have to get to that point. I mean, it's a mind-set shift, at least for a while. I have given you the metaphor before of diabetics who check their blood sugar often. Start thinking about it like that, and I think you will get a better sense of the kind of testing that needs to take place in this country.

TAPPER: And I spoke with the Democratic governor of Colorado yesterday on "STATE OF THE UNION" about his decision to reopen parts of the economy in a measured way, much as they're trying to do in other places, Tennessee. Georgia, et cetera.

But there is a very real fear that there will be a spike in cases or, God forbid, deaths as restrictions are eased. How concerned are you?

GUPTA: I'm nervous, Jake.

I mean, I think, for a lot of people, the question ultimately is going to be, like, what, what is the gamble? Like, what's it worth to you in terms of people likely getting infected, possibly needing hospitalization, and possibly dying?

I mean, I think at any point that we start to do this, you are going to see infections occur that otherwise would not have, and possibly hospitalizations and deaths. It's always going to be that gamble.

But now it seems like a bigger gamble. I mean, preventable deaths are the worst thing. I mean, to say, look, these are deaths that could have otherwise been prevented, that's never going to be a thing that people are going to be comfortable with, obviously.

I think the other part of this, Jake, is that, again, just the time course. So you and I are going to be talking about this for the next several weeks.


Right now, as we open, if people become exposed, the time period before they start to develop symptoms and possibly need hospitalization, when they get counted, would be three weeks or so.

So, for three weeks, people may say, hey, we made the right decision. Look, things are fine here.

And I get that. But you got to know the science. You have got to understand how this virus behaves in the environment and how it behaves in people's bodies.

So, we really -- we have got to keep our heads up on this and just keep watching things very closely. TAPPER: The former head of the CDC, Tom Frieden, said that, if they

had acted quicker in New York City and New York state, they could have saved tens of thousands of lives, potentially.

Sanjay, thank you so much.

Be sure to listen to Dr. Gupta's daily podcast, "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction," wherever you listen to your podcast. It's a must-listen.

Coming up: It's on. No, it's off. OK, it's back on.

The White House's wild back-and-forth about whether the president will address the nation this evening and how those briefings could soon change.

Plus: a major supplier now issuing a warning about trouble getting food to your table, as the CDC jumps in to try to help keep the food supply safe.

We will explain. That's coming up. Stay with us.



TAPPER: The Trump administration is trying to rewrite the narrative, today canceling the planned coronavirus task force briefing and instead allowing cameras to watch the president meeting with various CEOs before what is now called a Rose Garden news conference. It's part of a larger strategy to try and shift the focus to rebuilding the economy. This comes, of course, after that disastrous briefing last Thursday where the president mused aloud about the possibilities of injecting disinfectant into the human body as a possible coronavirus treatment which prompted aides and allies to further try to convince the president to stop leading the daily coronavirus briefings.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, the president made clear through an angry Twitter tirade that he's not happy about the backlash he's facing.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As the president vents over media coverage, the White House scheduled, cancelled, and rescheduled his first appearance in front of cameras since Friday.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We're not tracking a briefing for today because there will be a press avail at 4:00 p.m. with the president and retail CEOs.

COLLINS: The press secretary canceled the daily coronavirus task force briefing this morning only to announce hours later that Trump would hold a news conference in the Rose Garden this evening. President Trump hasn't taken questions since Thursday when he suggested injecting household disinfectants could help treat coronavirus. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It would be interesting

to check that so that you're going to have to use medical doctors but it sounds -- it sounds interesting to me.

COLLINS: The president's new communications team is looking to avoid a redo of that fallout and is hoping to scale back press briefings that go off-script as one of his top doctors spent the weekend defending his comments.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: It bothers me that this still in the news cycle because I think we're missing the bigger pieces of what we need to be doing as an American people to continue to protect one another.

COLLINS: The White House is also expected to scale back the task force meetings. The group did not meet Sunday or today despite meeting nearly every day for the last two months. Trump spent the weekend behind closed doors, lashing out as he vented about media coverage that he says has been unfair.

Within 48 hours, the president said briefings weren't worth the effort because reporters only asked hostile questions. He deleted a tweet calling for journalists to return their Noble Prizes, criticized Fox News and "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board, said "Washington Post" employees were slime balls, and denied reports that he is considering firing the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.

At one point, he also retweeted a conspiracy that death numbers of coronavirus are being inflated to hurt him politically. Without his usual outlets like golf or having lunch with friends, insiders say Trump is frustrated by internalizing negative news coverage now more than ever, and he's frustrated by internal polls that show he's down among voters.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, we should note in the Rose Garden today we are expecting the president to talk about testing. He's supposed to release two documents, one laying out what the administration has done so far to ramp up testing and another being really a blue print for what they see going forward.

Now, the White House had a briefing on this earlier to give reporters a preview of what these documents. They did not invite CNN, but we obtained the documents anyway and really what it lays out is how they envision federal government, state government, and local governments acting in the weeks to come as these states do start to reopen, in addition to the private sector.

And we should note under the federal government section of this blueprint, it says it should act as a supplier of last resort which, of course, has been a big point of contention between the governors and the administration so far.

TAPPER: All right. Let's hope they get that testing up to speed. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Joining me now, CNN's chief political correspondent Dana Bash.

Dana, you have some brand new reporting about the conversations that the Trump administration officials are having with governors as they try to ramp up testing. Tell us about that.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. The vice president and other top officials had a call with all governors today. And as part of that call, they presented the documents that Kaitlan was just talking about. But more broadly, this was a follow-up to a series of phone calls, this is according to one of the governors on the call who I spoke with, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, where administration officials were data collecting from the governors, asking exactly what they believed they need when it comes to testing.

So the call today was the vice president and others telling the governors, we hear you, we're culling the information, we're going through it, and we're going to get back to you in the next couple of days and let you know exactly what we think we can give you. And this according to the governor I spoke to is specifically about, you know, about reagents and about swabs, the materials that these governors are so desperately in need of in order to get the testing up and running.


I should just add that the governor I spoke to said this is so key, having the visibility in what is coming is really critical to developing a testing plan. We can have any plan we want, but if we don't know what's arriving, we don't know how many sites to operate and so forth.

So there's a lot of hope that this will work, asking the governors what they want and then delivering what they say they need.

TAPPER: Let's hope so.

Sources tell CNN in addition that some of the president's allies were worried that his comments in general at these long press briefings were hurting his chance for reelection. Now of course the Lysol-gate happened. Now the White House says the briefings, quote, might have a new look to them, a new focus to them, unquote.

This isn't a president known to stay on message. What do you expect from the president in the rose garden in a few minutes?

BASH: I mean, it's really going to be the first test since he and his aides have telegraphed that there will be a change in how he presents his information and how he spars or doesn't spar with reporters. And I have heard, as I'm sure you have, Jake, from many Republican sources, allies of the president, they're breathing a sigh of relief that there haven't been a series of unwieldy press conferences over the past few days. They say it's pretty clear that the president, that he -- one source said to me that he, like a child, touched the stove, he was burned, because he was clearly embarrassed by all the fallout by his musings about Lysol. The question is, as you are clearly alluding to, how long is that

going to last. And again, today's Rose Garden event will be one of the tests. It won't be a traditional press conference but he will be before reporters and we'll see if he can stay on message, as you said.

TAPPER: We've gotten I wouldn't say used to but we have certainly noticed a pattern that the president tweets bizarre things, says bizarre things, and then, of course, there are all these bizarre retweets. This weekend was something else, a retweet suggesting --

BASH: Yes.

TAPPER: -- the president's rivals are inflating the death rates to hurt his reelection chances and a retweet of a deepfake which we have been warning about for years, people using images and technology to make it look as if public figures are doing things or saying things that they aren't. We expected it to come from Russia or China but this is President Trump putting it forward, a deepfake of Joe Biden. It's just indecent and obscene. I'm stunned to see it.

BASH: Stunned to see it when it is a president, but maybe not surprising that it is this president, because he has retweeted so many things that he should not have done, including something a couple of weeks ago that said he should fire Anthony Fauci which he clearly either realized or didn't realize. This is the danger of the president having his own megaphone with Twitter, especially when he's agitated.

TAPPER: All right. Dana Bash, thank you so much. Really appreciate it.

BASH: Months.

TAPPER: Months of this nightmare with more than 200,000 lives lost around the world and there's still so much we do not know about the novel coronavirus. We'll dig into that with a former CDC disease detective. That's next.



TAPPER: We've been consumed by this deadly virus for months but in some respects, coronavirus remains a mystery. Why do some patients show severe symptoms and others none? How does the virus kill people?

"Science" magazine recently listed nearly every organ as being vulnerable to the disease -- the brain, the eyes, nose, lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, even intestines. Or as award winning science journalist Carl Zimmer put it recently, quote, is there any other virus out there that this weird in terms of its range of symptoms?

Joining us now, Dr. Seema Yasmin. Dr. Yasmin is a former CDC disease detective.

Thanks for joining us as always. We always appreciate it. So, for weeks, we've heard the common coronavirus symptoms, are fever, dry cough, shortness of breath. But according to JAMA, "The Journal of the American Medical Association," as many as 70 percent of patients sick enough to be admitted into New York's hospital system did not have even a fever.

Why are symptoms all over the map?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Yes, Jake, this new study in "The Journal of the American Medical Association" is the largest look yet at COVID-19 health outcomes in the U.S. They looked at 5,700 patients across 12 New York hospitals and found that 70 percent of patients who were sick enough to be hospitalized don't present with a fever.

Yet the CDC and other organizations, they still list fever as one of those top symptoms. And this is worrying because, you know, in the U.S., people have been turned away from testing centers simply because they did not have a fever. So, studies like this one are starting to shift that.

To answer your question about why there are so many differences, we're thinking that when you have a situation with such a wide range of disease severity and disease symptoms, this is pointing a lot more to the --