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More Than a Dozen States Reopening Some Businesses This Week; Dr. Birx: Unclear How Long Coronavirus Immunity Lasts; Trump Deletes Tweets, Lashes Out at Media; Heartburn Drug Being Studied as Coronavirus Treatment; Thom Peterson, Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner, Discusses Tyson's Chair Saying "Food Supply Chain is Breaking"; Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, (D), Discusses Worker Concerns over Health Coverage & Business Survival. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 11:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King, in Washington. This is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

There are steps to reopen across the globe, some tentative, some more aggressive. This morning, from the World Health Organization, as governors debate these new safety measures, so-called immunity passports are a bad idea, the WHO says, because immunity from the coronavirus, more wish than scientific fact.

Italy among the country's most-devastated, lifting a ban on funerals, promising more restrictions will end in the weeks ahead.

In Britain, Boris Johnson is back on the job. And while the prime minister says there are, quote, "real signs" the U.K. is passing through the peak, he used his own personal bout with the virus in urging Brits to, quote, "contain your impatience."


BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: If this virus were a physical assailant, an unexpected and invisible mugger, which I can tell you from past experience it is, then this is the moment where we have begun together to wrestle it to the floor.


KING: Here in the United States, more than a dozen states reopening some businesses today. Many other governors say they are nowhere close to jump-starting American life.

The nationwide numbers will turn anyone ashen. Take look there. The U.S. will soon eclipse one million cases and 55,000 Americans dead. In the last two weeks, the United States added nearly 500,000 new confirmed cases. It took 12 weeks to rack up the first 500,000.

The go-when debate is pitting fear of a second wave against fear of a new Great Depression. Sources say President Trump could soon issue some new guidelines on what businesses can open first and how to do it without endangering lives.

The top White House economic adviser saying today the U.S. GDP will go negative by 20 percent to 30 percent in the second quarter. That would be, by a mile, the worst number on record since 1947.

The states easing restrictions are now test cases. Oklahoma allowed salons, spas and barber shops to reopen on an appointment-only basis. Look at the data here. Oklahoma is on a three-day decline but its 14- day track is full of peaks and valleys.

Listen to the governor, though, and he says it is time.


GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): People are still going to get it, but Oklahomans are safe and we're ready for a measured reopening. You can always play Monday morning quarterback and say, hey, let's wait until we have 100 folks in the hospital in Oklahoma, or 50 or zero, but I just don't think that's practical.


KING: Here with me to share her expertise and her insights, Dr. Leana Wen.

Dr. Wen, like it or not, agree or not, these states are now ahead in this great experiment. It will be, what, 10 days or two weeks whether we have an update to know if this is OK or this is horrible. What are you looking for most?

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN & FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: John, I hope we're drawing the correct lessons from these experiments, if you will, that are being done around the country. Because there's going to be a lag in time.

Even if we assume there will be an uptick in cases immediately, which there may not be, right? It may be that it takes several days or a week for exposure to happen. There's a lag in time between when somebody is exposed and when they get infected.

Then another lag in time between when there's an infection and when people end up in the hospital and, unfortunately, succumbing to COVID- 19.

So I hope that other states are not looking at these initial states and saying, oh, well, a week has passed or two weeks has passed, it doesn't look that bad, so I'm going to reopen, too.

I really fear that we're going to be drawing the wrong lessons and there's going to be premature reopenings all across the country in a way that's not actually based on data. KING: To your point, we're going to have to wait for that data. As you

said, it could be 10 days, it could be two weeks. It could be a little more as people get out circulating and the like.

And if you so this, I always say, it's the magic of our United States as a republic. You have 50 states, and sometimes it can be confusing and confounding in a place like this where you have 50 decisions being made and sometimes decisions within states, certain counties.

I want to look at some states. If you look Alaska, Hawaii, Montana, for example, the trend line is going down. And you can see why the governors say, in our states, we're going to give this a try. We think we're ready to reopen. Some with aggressive plans, some with gradual plans.

Then you look at states heading in the other direction, Utah, Virginia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Nebraska. The question is, some of these states neighbor each other, or once you do get the economy up even into second gear, you're talking about interstate commerce, people moving back and forth.


How does a state that's in a go-slow approach watch its neighbor that might be going more quickly?

WEN: Yes, it would be really hard to do that. And it also depends on whether we trust the data that's coming out, which, frankly, I don't. We know that we don't have testing nearly at the level that we should.

So even if it looks like a state is in decline in terms of the number of cases, do we actually know that that's the case? Or are there outbreaks somewhere in a county where there just hasn't been testing and that's why we're not picking up on that uptick?

Again, I do hope we end up drawing the right lessons. And that there's a willingness on the part of these governors, who are leading the pack now and reopening, I hope that they recognize they may have to dial it back and reimpose these restrictions, too.

And the question is, what's their tolerance for doing that and communicating it also with the residents?

KING: It's a great point as we go forward.

One of the here-and-now debates, you hear a lot of conflicting information about testing. There's a need for diagnostic testing, also a need, you hear more and more about the antibody testing.

I want you to listen to Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, talking about the antibody testing challenge and her long-term perspective.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: WHO is being very cautious. I think what WHO was saying, we don't know how long that effective antibody lasts. I think that is a question we have to explore over the next few months and over the next few years.


KING: The issue there, correct me if I'm wrong, is if you get the coronavirus, the antibody, how long are you then resistant or immune to the coronavirus. She says we don't know and we're going to have to study this over months and years.

That is a fact as these governors take this calculated risk of reopening that we still don't know a lot, right?

WEN: That's right. And that causes concern. Because our hope is that if you get COVID-19 that somehow you're immune for a long time and you're not going to be able to get this disease again.

But if it turns out you are actually not immune and could get the disease in less-severe form or could get it again in six months, that would really change the calculation.

We also don't know if you need a certain level of exposure. Maybe you have to be really sick to be immune. We just don't know that.

So the last thing we would really want is to give people a false hope that as long as they test positive for the antibody they're safe to go back to society and back to work. Actually, they could still end up getting sick. And we could see a second wave emerging if everybody believes they're immune and they're not.

KING: A lot of questions as we begin this experiment.

Dr. Wen, as always, I'm grateful for your insights.

President Trump, cleaning up his angry Twitter feed today, deleted some bizarre rants -- you see them here -- which he repeatedly suggested there's a Nobel Prize for reporting. Accept the president called it the Noble Prize, N-O-B-L-E.

His anger, as is often the case, is misdirected. The president is lashing out at the media to explain why he plans doing fewer White House coronavirus briefings.

Here's the real reason why. His own political advisers and other top Republicans are worried the president's erratic suggestions, including dangerous musings about things like injecting yourself with disinfectants, are damaging his standing with the public and putting his re-election at serious risk.

With me now to discuss, Seung Min Kim, who covers the White House for the "Washington Post."

Seung Min, it's just amazing to watch. The president now deleting Nobel Prize tweets, Noble Prize tweets, as he puts it.

If you look at his Twitter feed this weekend, he is angry. He is lashing out at the media. The issue, if you talk to people around him and other senior Republicans around town, is the guy in the mirror, right? They are worried that his performances at these briefings are doing serious political harm.

SEUNG MIN KIM, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think that's exactly correct.

What we've seen for the last several weeks is that these press briefings, while it is a wonderful opportunity for us to ask the president of the United States and other top members of the administration questions about the ongoing pandemic, it's also been an outlet for President Trump to talk and talk, air a lot of grievances.

Particularly about the media and the press coverage and the tough press coverage he's gotten about his administration's handling of the pandemic.

So for now, the president's appearances seem to be on a brief hiatus. He's using his Twitter feed, like he always has, to air those grievances.

Last Friday, he was there for about 20 minutes and did not take any questions, did not have briefings over the weekend. The one that was scheduled for today at 5:00 was canceled by the White House.

But he has used his Twitter feed as an outlet to complain about media coverage, particularly coverage about the dismissal of his Secretary Alex Azar as fake news. We'll see how long this drought goes for the president not doing press briefings.


I've talked to Republican insiders in the last few days and they say they're working on their stories. They say, look, sometimes it would be better for the president to defer to the medical experts and the other experts on his team to answer a lot of those questions.

Because they know, once he starts engaging with the media, the focus becomes on that fight with reporters and not the critical, essential information that the administration needs to hand out to the public in a time of crisis.

KING: And part of the issue is, whether he's talking or tweeting, a lot of what he says or tweets is just not true.

I'll give you one from the weekend. Part of his rants was, "Informed the fake news from the Thursday White House press conference had me asking questions of Dr. Deborah Birx. Wrong. I was speaking to our laboratory experts."

So the president says in his tweet says, wrong that he was talking to Dr. Deborah Birx. Here's the president.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Deborah, have you ever heard of that, the heat and the light relative to certain viruses, yes, but relative to this virus?

BIRX: Not as a treatment. Certainly, fever --


BIRX: -- is a good thing when you have a fever. It helps your body respond. But not as -- I've not seen heat or light --

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


KING: Not wrong, as the president says in his tweet.

This is part of the thing that makes your head spin. Does he not know we have the tape?

KIM: Not only the tape but the official White House transcript, which makes it clear, and that video does, that he was addressing Dr. Birx.

In another falsehood in one of his tweets, when he was criticized the coverage about the circumstances surrounding his HHS secretary, Alex Azar, he said the press never reached out, never called to check on these reports.

You look at every one of those stories documenting the controversy over Secretary Azar, there's a comment, and on-the-record comment from the White House how the.

So there are falses that are very easily disproven if you look at the reporting or the tape or the transcripts out there.

And credibility matters. We've talked so often about how the president had a record number of falsehoods, as tracked by our fact checkers and other outlets out there. And kind of misleading and falsifying basic things like this, clearly continues to not help his case.

KING: As my mom used to say, the first rule of holes, stop digging.

Seung Min Kim, appreciate your insights there.

Moving back to the medical story, hospitals in New York are giving patients a common heartburn drug as a treatment option for coronavirus. Nearly 200 patients taking part in this clinical trial. Preliminary results could come out in the next few weeks.

For more, let's bring in our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, what drug are we talking about and what's behind this decision?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, John, the drug is called Famotidine. It's the active ingredient in Pepcid, which is sold generically. And what happened, the reason they came up with this is an astute doctor in China, an American doctor who was helping out there, found that heartburn patients seemed to be doing better than others.

And actually, it was the poor heartburn patients, not the rich ones. And they thought, hmm, maybe they're all using the same drug. It turned out many of them were.

Then they did some computer modeling and found that actually this drug might work against COVID.

So let's take a look at some of the specifics. Eventually, they plan to have 1200 patients. This is being done at Northwell Health, which has about two dozen hospitals in the New York City area. Half will get Famotidine, half won't. That's very important so you can have a comparison group. They expect to have preliminary results in the next few weeks.

But, John, I will tell you, they have emphasized, over and over again, do not go out and start hoarding this medicine. The patients in the study are getting it by I.V. in mega doses. We don't want to hoard a drug that real legitimate heartburn patients need.

KING: Again, follow the advice of medical professionals. And we'll come back -- Elizabeth Cohen will come back with us as soon as they have the findings.

Elizabeth, thank you so much.

It's important to watch of these trials ahead. To Elizabeth's point, do not run out, based on what you see on television. Talk to your doctor.


Up next for us, the head of Tyson says, quote, "The food supply chain is breaking."


KING: "The food supply chain is breaking" -- that warning coming in a full-page ad from Tyson Foods in several newspapers Sunday as coronavirus disrupts meat processing plants across America.

This map right here lays out how many major plants are closed right now in several states. Some indefinitely, some temporarily.

One of the latest, the JBS beef production plant in Wisconsin. The company says the Green Bay plant feeds nearly 3.2 million Americans every day.

Three of the largest pork processing plants in the country also off line indefinitely. Together, they account for approximately 15 percent of pork production. The JBS pork processing plant in Worthington, Minnesota, is one of them.

Joining me now is Minnesota's agriculture commissioner, Thom Peterson.

Commissioner, thank you so much for being with us.

If you look at the stats, beef processing down 27 percent from last year. Pork processing down almost 20 percent from last year.

Should Americans around the country be worried, in addition to dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, they may have food supply issues?

THOM PETERSON, MINNESOTA AGRICULTURE COMMISSIONER: You know, John, it's a great question. And right now, we're in decent shape around the country on our food supply.

But as this coronavirus, as it continues and we're figuring out how to safely operate these plants, you know, down the road, we're going to see disruptions. We're already seeing that as Americans are changing the way they eat. Eating home 80 percent of the time also has had a big impact on that.


So a really big concern. But right now, we're in good shape. As it continues, we'll be concerned for sure.

KING: Take us through what you're learning from a safety standpoint, because these are front line workers. These are people who are not told to stay at home because they're helping feed America and feed the world in many cases. So they have safety issues.

And they're also, in some ways, instructive as a governor or mayor starts to decide to loosen restrictions to try to let more people go back to work. We are seeing these front-line workers continue to get sick.

How do you go through these safety steps to figure out, OK, here's what's happening, what do we need to do better?

PETERSON: Again, we've been aggressive in Minnesota. We have a guidance for all of our plants that call for social distancing in the plants, for taking their temperature when they're coming into the plants. All of these things that are important.

We need those workers to feel safe, first of all, being in there. We need them to be safe, to be healthy. It's so important to keep this food supply moving.

So as we work, our Governor Tim Walz, we've been offering testing for those plants, trying to work and do everything we can to either keep the ones running in Minnesota or get the ones that are closed back up and running as soon as possible.

KING: And you know how these work. I've been in some of them around the country when I'm blessed to travel.

CDC put out some new guidelines. Normally, it's pretty packed. It's a pretty packed environment. You're right across from each other on a belt. You're side by side. And you see some of them here. The CDC is recommending, if you can, space people out, if you can, put in partitions next to each other or across from one another.

How quickly can these plants refit and reimagine this workplace?

PETERSON: John, they've been doing very quickly. It's amazing the technology and everything that we can do in our plants.

We had another plant in Minnesota go down last week. They were able to do some of this, test their employees, and that plant went back up this past Friday and is back up and running. We have another plant down right now. They're doing a lot of that.

Our plants really are implementing. They're learning from each other and doing what they can to protect the workers.

Again, it's in all of our best interests for those plants to be running, but they have to provide safety for the workers.

KING: It certainly is. You strike the right balance right there.

Minnesota agriculture commissioner, Thom Peterson, we appreciate your time, sir. Best of luck.

PETERSON: Thank you. Appreciate it.

KING: Thank you.

Wisconsin is in a go-slow state in our new national debate over reopening. It's stay-at-home order extends now through May 26. The state has almost 6,000 confirmed cases, more than 270 deaths.

A visit by CNN's Miguel Marquez found workers worried about health coverage and about business survival.


SUSAN BERNA, UNEMPLOYED WISCONSIN RESIDENT: I pay almost $300 a month and it only covers me for $15,000 in a year.


BERNA: Total.

MARQUEZ: So if you get coronavirus?

BERNA: I'll either be in huge debt or I won't be treated. I don't think they can turn people away, but I don't see relief for people like me who have insurance. The government will cover people who don't have insurance, but I do.

BRANDON WRIGHT, OWNER, HAMBURGER MARY'S: Our sales are down about 90 percent. We'd be good to survive through the current. What they're saying, by the end of May, if it goes any further than that, then we'll have to do a lot of adjustments.


KING: With me now is the lieutenant governor of Wisconsin, Mandela Barnes.

Sir, thanks so much for being with us.

So you hear the stress of workers, what if I get sick, is my health care going to cover this. You hear the stress of businesses.

Your state, your governor, your team has decided we're going to take a slow go approach here. How do you strike the balance of saying, OK, telling those businesses you need to wait, you need to be patient?

LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES (D-WI): I think it's the go-smart approach. As you see the rates of outbreaks have been increasing in Wisconsin, we've had our single-day high just over the last couple days. So we want to take the most appropriate approach to reopening the state of Wisconsin.

On top of the health care, over the last two election cycles, we debated Medicare For All. I think the case is making itself right now as people are losing their jobs. People had health insurance plans they liked and they thought they could keep it. Unfortunately, a lot of people haven't been able to keep their jobs in the middle of this crisis.

So health care in America is something we need to be working on as a whole so all 50 states, people all across America, can have better access to health care and won't face such an uncertainty in a situation such as this.

KING: As some Americans start to see Oklahoma, Georgia, Montana, places start to reopen, I think some people naturally think, oh, we're done, or we're getting better, right?

You made the point about your cases. I'll put them up on the screen. The 14-day trend, you're still going up. The latest day, down a little bit, but you see it right there.


What are you seeing in terms of pressure on your hospital system, pressure on your testing system?

BARNES: Yes, and that's the thing. We still don't have enough testing capacity to fully reopen our state. And that's part of our Badger bounce-back plan.

Part of the criteria is making sure we have adequate testing so we can get about 80,000 tests per week so we can make sure we know where the concentrations of outbreaks are.

And also who is contracting the virus and how -- excuse me, also making sure there's contact tracing so we can trace the rate of spread and we can trace the transmission back to where it started so that, hopefully, we can get this under control. But that hasn't been the case. We don't have that yet.

Like I said, Wisconsin isn't the only one. All across America, we're having the shortage of testing kits being available and the contact tracing, which is, again, also one of the most important and critical parts of keeping this thing under control.

KING: Your state is one of the states where there have been organized, limited, but vocal protests. How do you counter those who say, hey, look, we're America, we're tough, we're Wisconsin, we're tough, we can't be shut down, we need to get back to work?

BARNES: Yes, that whole tough approach is what gets you in trouble. People think they're too tough for this disease, but that's not the case. It doesn't matter how tough you think you are. You can attract coronavirus. There's a good chance that you are going to be down for some time.

And also impacting others. It's the selfish approach. It is the I, me, mine. I think I'm doing OK, the people around me are doing OK, so everything is fine, totally ignoring that people are losing their lives across the state and across the country.

Again, I want to caution the people who want to come out to protest to think about somebody other than yourselves. This is not just about you. This is a society that we have to maintain and protect. This is about the health and safety of someone other than yourself. What are you going to do for other people?

And if we go forward with folks just living with this individualistic mentality, we're all going to be doomed.

KING: Mandela Barnes is the lieutenant governor of the state of Wisconsin.

Sir, thank you for your time today. Appreciate it.

BARNES: Thank you.

KING: Best luck in the days ahead.

Up next for us, growing pressure on governors to reopen even as coronavirus numbers climb.


MATT BRICE, OWNER/OPERATOR, FEDERAL GRILL: I'm a businessperson and I have a lot of employees that are hurting at the moment. A lot. You can see the economy just absolutely crashed. When I say that our employees are in bad shape, (INAUDIBLE), but I do need to get us open.