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Some U.S. States Begin Reopening; Interview with Tybee Island Mayor Shirley Sessions; Antibody Tests Yield Unreliable Results. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: -- of worship with a focus on hygiene practices and keeping people properly spaced apart. So we begin this hour with CNN's senior national correspondent Kyung Lah.

And, Kyung, last hour, I was talking to our colleague Martin Savidge in Atlanta, who was, you know, sitting at this table in a restaurant because they have reopened -- obviously, with precautions. And he said it was a very lonely experience, but that was Georgia.

You there are in Los Angeles, it's a different story. Some states, though, are starting to open up. What are you seeing where you are?

KYUNG LAH, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, here, there isn't that discussion at all, really. There's a peek into the future, some of the words that we're hearing from the governor, but nothing substantive at least in this state.

But that is not the story in other parts of the country. What we are seeing is a loosening of state restrictions, a real-time experiment of the hunger to restart state economies versus the coronavirus.


LAH (voice-over): From Georgia to Tennessee to Alaska, the national push to reopen expands this week. At least 13 states will open parts of their economy.

With as many sanitation preparations as possible in Colorado, this barber shop is moving forward, desperate to get business back.

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

LAH (voice-over): While many are following stay-at-home rules, there are signs of growing impatience from a packed Newport Beach in California, to people wanting haircuts. Governors reopening their states point to a dire need for economic relief. But doing that before 14 days of decline in coronavirus cases, warns a coroner in Georgia, is a dangerous game.

MICHAEL FOWLER, CORONER IN DOUGHERTY COUNTY, GEORGIA: I think it's like playing Russian roulette. Every time you walk out your hours or go to a place without a mask and practice social distancing, you're playing Russian roulette. There's a chance that you might catch this virus.

LAH (voice-over): In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, seeing numbers flattening to a high plateau, is turning to plans to begin reopening. First, in Upstate New York.

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

LAH (voice-over): But the most important metric, testing, and lots of it, is still not where it needs to be, warns the White House coronavirus response coordinator.

DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE: We have to have a breakthrough. This RNA testing will carry us, certainly through the spring and summer. Bu we need to have a huge technology breakthrough, and we're working on that at the same time.

LAH (voice-over): Dr. Birx adds social distancing will be the rule through the summer. And for treatment, there is still no approved drug.

A New York hospital system is trying out this untested remedy: high doses of the active ingredient in low-cost heartburn medication Pepcid, pumped into patients after an unpublished Chinese study suspected positive results among those who used it.

Despite the science failing to keep up with the hunger to restart the U.S. economy, the White House economic advisor predicted testing would catch up.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISOR: We'll be able to ramp up rapidly in the testing, just as we did in ventilators.


LAH: And here's a warning about what we are seeing in these states as they're opening up. There is likely, very likely going to be a lag in our knowledge of whether they were right or wrong, because remember, Brooke, it takes two weeks -- up to two weeks -- for coronavirus symptoms to show up. We may not know until two weeks after we see the results on the ground, whether or not these governors were right -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Right, which can be the potentially frightening part of all of this. I've got a doctor waiting in the wings. We'll talk to him about all of that. Kyung, good to see you. Thank you.

Dr. Peter Hotez is a professor and dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. So, Doc, nice to see you again. Welcome back.

PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Good to see you, welcome back. BAKDWIN: Thank you. As we close in on a million cases of coronavirus

here in the U.S., Dr. Birx says social distancing will need to continue for months. But as Kyung just mentioned, you know, today in Georgia, we're seeing restaurants and movie theaters opening, some beaches in California are open, other states are already outlining plans to reopen or revising stay-at-home policies. What's your biggest fear?

HOTEZ: Yes. Well, the big fear of course is that we're doing this too soon and COVID-19 will come back. You know, if you look at the models coming out of the Institute for Health Metrics at the University of Washington, one of the things they do -- and anybody can do this, you just go to and click on your state.

And they give specific recommendations of when you can go back into containment mode, meaning when there's fewer than one new case per million residents per day, which is about what they believe you can handle in terms of a public health department with all the contact tracing that's needed and really keeping going back to containment mode. For most states, that's around the beginning of June. In some cases, as late as the middle of June. And now you have states opening up much sooner.


So what this means is, the only way you can really get away with that is if you have an entire system in place where you can do testing at places of work or wherever there's large numbers of people together. So regular testing on a weekly basis, maybe every other day basis, that you have maybe a saliva test so it's not an invasive test. And then you could --

BALDWIN: And if I can just jump in -- if I can just jump in. Because on the point of testing, you know, Dr. Birx also said that we need a breakthrough innovation on testing in order to screen, you know, big groups of people.

You just heard, though, the clip from Peter Navarro over at the White House just a moment ago, on ramping up testing. But the first U.S. coronavirus case was in late January. Governors, hospitals, scientists, you know, you've all been begging for more tests for months. What is the holdup?

HOTEZ: Yes. I mean, the holdup has been a number of things. We haven't had tests that are rapid, we haven't had tests that are either very sensitive or specific, we've had lots (ph) of (ph) false positives and false negatives. And now you've got the problem, we've got so many different types of commercial tests, how do you harmonize that. You've got multiple different companies or state testing labs or academic labs.

We've got to figure out a way to harmonize that all together very quickly. And as I said, we've got to be able to do this in the workplace. You don't want to have a situation where you're going to work -- you know, doesn't matter where it is, whether it's working at Target or Walmart or a law office -- you want to know your colleagues next to you are not asymptomatic spreaders of COVID-19. So the only way to know that is to test.

And then you have to do the contact tracing. We need public health departments to ramp up to have large numbers of individuals that can go around to individuals who are positive, not only (INAUDIBLE) isolate or quarantine them, but their colleagues as well who have been exposed.


HOTEZ: And then syndromic surveillance. So all that together -- and a system (ph) of communication. So you put all that together, it's doable but it's very complicated -- it's doable --

BALDWIN: It's a lot.

HOTEZ: -- it's a lot of people, so.

BALDWIN: It's a lot. And then just adding to all of what you just outlined, this weekend, there was a piece in "The Washington Post" about the number of young and middle-aged people who had mild COVID-19 symptoms, but are still dying of strokes, dying of strokes. And it's just one example of how this virus isn't just a threat to, you know, your respiratory systems, but nearly every major organ in your body.

And we also know that symptoms vary widely. So how much harder is it to develop a vaccine, just given the unpredictable nature of this virus?

HOTEZ: Well, there's a few things there. You're absolutely right, we are seeing it among young adults. And this was early on in our U.S. epidemic, you know, the word (ph) that was out (ph) from China was this is mostly older individuals -- and that still is the case -- who are getting sick, but we're seeing lots of young adults as well.

And this is a virus that binds to what's called the ACE-2 receptor, and causing a lot of vascular events, blood-clotting events. And we're only now beginning to understand the full spectrum of the illness.

In terms of developing a vaccine, it's straightforward in the sense that we know we have to interfere with virus binding to that ACE-2 receptor through the immune response, that's how our vaccine works, that's how most vaccines work for COVID-19 that are in -- that are either in preclinical studies or now moving into clinical trials, hopefully like ours.

But how you do it in a way that's the most effective, in a way that's safe, that's going to take at least a year and maybe longer to work out. So we've got to have that strategy in place, of what you do if you're bringing back the people in the workplace before we have that vaccine. And it's not trivial, it's doable.

But what we're seeing now are governors, increasingly, they're putting together economic recovery teams but it's completely delinked to the public health component. So (ph) oblivious to the fact that this virus is going to come back this summer unless we put that public health system in place, so that's why I'm worried. Everyone's focusing on the --


HOTEZ: -- economic, and I get that. But if you don't link it to public health, the whole thing will fall apart by this summer or fall.

BALDWIN: To your point a second ago about how there were things we thought we knew about this virus, that it was targeting certain groups of people and we didn't really have to worry about our kids, right? That they would sort of seemingly be immune.

But today, we're getting -- Dr. Hotez, we're getting this urgent alert from the U.K., doctors are warning that kids with severe coronavirus are also having very serious complications, including what they say is the Kawasaki syndrome. What is that and how threatening could this be?

HOTEZ: Yes. This is a very interesting story. So it's a rare event happening in the U.K., but they're describing kids coming in who have difficulty breathing, low blood pressure, they appear to be in shock, in septic shock.

And have -- they have a unique rash, which resembles, somewhat, this condition known as Kawasaki disease, which has been a mystery illness to pediatricians like pediatric infectious disease experts like myself for decades. We think it has an infectious etiology (INAUDIBLE) virus that caused (ph) it, but it's been elusive in identifying the virus.


Interestingly, when you back to that Kawasaki's literature, there are studies that have been able to link it with coronaviruses, including coronaviruses that bind to the same ACE-2 receptor. So maybe we're going to get -- make some progress on uncovering the cause of Kawasaki's.

But it's another very worrisome trend that we seeing (ph) young kids getting sick as well. The bottom line is, this is not a virus (INAUDIBLE) take lightly. This is a serious illness, and we have to be able to do the contact tracing and testing on a scale that's far larger than we're doing it currently, if we're going to safely open up the country.

BALDWIN: Not to oversimplify, but having had it and talked to so many people who have had it or loved ones who have had it, it's just not a cookie cutter virus. Every single person is experiencing this so differently. Dr. Hotez, thank you so much for all you're doing. Nice to have you back on.

Coming up, she lost the fight to keep her town's beaches closed, leading to a surge in visitors just over this past weekend. The mayor of beautiful Tybee Island, Georgia joins me next.

And a new report, raising serious questions about the reliability of antibody tests, the same tests officials are looking at to help guide their reopening decisions. And the coronavirus took her 32-year-old husband, the father of their

children. This wonderful woman joins me this hour to discuss the goodbye note she accidentally found on her husband's phone after he'd passed.

You're watching CNN, I'm Brooke Baldwin. We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: Welcome back, you're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

Folks in Georgia may go out for dinner and a movie tonight. It's all part of Governor Brian Kemp's easing of restrictions, allowing dine-in restaurants and theaters to open; places like bowling alleys and salons opened Friday. CNN's Martin Savidge has a look at how today's rollout is doing.


MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Martin Savidge. In Georgia, round two of reopening, this time, covering restaurants allowing people to dine in. But judging by the Waffle House here, which is part of a chain -- it opened at 6:00 a.m. -- a vast majority of customers have decided they're going to carry out, thank you very much. Only about a handful of customers actually took advantage of being able to dine in. It's clear, though businesses are ready to open, many customers are not quite ready to return.


BALDWIN: Thank you, Martin Savidge. And one place Georgians are ready to return to? The beach. Even as the governor kept beaches open in his shelter-in-place order, that is something my next guest calls -- and I quote -- "a reckless mandate." Shirley Sessions is the mayor of beautiful Tybee Island, a beach town near Savannah.

So, Ms. Mayor, a pleasure to have you on. Welcome.

MAYOR SHIRLEY SESSIONS, TYBEE ISLAND, GEORGIA: Thank you very much. It's a pleasure to be here.

BALDWIN: Just over this weekend, Tybee Island saw its busiest beach day of the year so far. Were you happy with what you saw? And were people social distancing?

SESSIONS: Saturday was the busiest day. We saw over 6,000 cars come onto the island. And previous, the higher numbers were maybe 3,000. So Saturday was very busy, and there was not a lot of social distancing.

There were people who continued to go through the sand dunes rather than using the designated areas that Tybee has set up for entrance. We still have our crossovers closed because they don't allow safe spacing, six feet spacing. So they're closed, and people still want to cross over those. So what we're going to do this week is we're going to revisit what we

can do to keep people safe. We still are seeing people --


BALDWIN: What can you do, Mayor Sessions? What can you do to force people to sit X number of feet away from each other?

SESSIONS: There was -- there's really nothing that we can do. I mean, the governor asked (ph), he said he wanted people to be able to exercise on the beach, meaning walking and running, but with no chairs and no, you know tents. But unfortunately, people are still bringing those.

Our Department of Natural Resources have been designated as the officials to enforce that. And right now, really, all they're doing is just warning people to not do it. As I understand it, they're not giving citations. Tybee Island Police Department has a different role to play, so it's been very confusing and very alarming for many of our residents, who have chosen to remain at home or to visit -- walk and get their exercise in other ways.

What we're seeing is --


BALDWIN: I -- I know you have thoughts on this. I just want to read some quotes, and then I want your thoughts because I know you have a reputation for certainly speaking your mind, which is appreciated. Here are some quotes from beachgoers.

"How long are we supposed to imprison ourselves? This is much safer than going grocery shopping."

Another person, "I'm no concerned, as long as it's not packed."

And when asked about businesses reopening, one man said, "Get it on."

Mayor Sessions, what do you say to these beachgoers?

SESSIONS: What I say is, this is about safety, it's about trying to protect you and your family and your loved ones. If you choose not to do that, if you choose not to wear a mask, if you choose not to space distance, no one can stop you. I mean, they really can't.


It's just very unfortunate that people are becoming complacent because that's really what we're seeing, a lot of people who are so anxious to get out. And I understand. I want to go to the beach, I want to go swimming. We do not have lifeguards at our beach. We have very dangerous rip currents that we've lost lives over the past years because people refused to follow directions and rules.

So you -- there are some things you simply cannot do. I have come to accept the things that are without -- not under my control. Rather, I'm trying to work with our city council, our residents and our businesses to look at what we can control, and try to take a positive approach and try to continue to warn people.

This is -- we're not warning you because we don't want you here, we're warning you to save your life and the lives of others. And it's very --


BALDWIN: Sure, of course -- and Governor Kemp -- if I may jump back in -- Governor Kemp, you know, you may not agree with him, and certainly clashing with him is certainly something you are familiar with. I know you feel -- I can tell, you feel deeply about protecting this precious island off the coast of Georgia.

You know, but at the end of the day, he is the governor. So legally --

SESSIONS: Exactly.

BALDWIN: -- what can you do?

SESSIONS: Exactly. And this is nothing personal against Governor Kemp, nothing personal. This is strictly about safety. And I don't know what he looked at, in deciding to make these decisions. We are trying to adhere, to the best of our ability, to what he has asked us to do.

But at the same time, using what power we do have -- which is very limited -- to protect our residents and to help our business community. We want them back at work too, but not before the safety zone has passed. And right now, we -- I don't feel that it's time.

However, he has determined that it is, so we're going to do everything that we can to try to keep our island and our residents, our businesses and our visitors safe. That's what we're going to do.

BALDWIN: OK. We appreciate it, good luck doing that. Mayor Shirley Sessions, Tybee Island, Georgia --

SESSIONS: Thank you.

BALDWIN: -- thank you, thank you.

SESSIONS: Thank you --

BALDWIN: And speaking of Georgia, two counties in Georgia have decided to begin random door-to-door antibody testing. But are those tests even accurate? I wanted to talk to an expert, after one study found only three out of 14 available tests was actually consistently reliable.


Plus, New Zealand claims it has -- this is their word -- "eliminated" coronavirus, but its reopening will still come in phases.


BALDWIN: A lot of people are pinning their hopes on antibody tests as a way to get back to work and get the economy back up and running. And these tests look at whether people have been infected with the virus and subsequently have antibodies.

But there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding them at the moment. For one, it's not clear how long one's immunity lasts. As the White House task force's Dr. Deborah Birx acknowledged to CNN.


BIRX: WHO is being very cautious.

I think what WHO is saying, we don't know how long that effective antibody lasts. And I think that is a question that we have to explore over the next few months, and over the next few years.


BALDWIN: "The New York Times" reports over the past few weeks, dozens of scientists have been evaluating whether 14 antibody tests now on the market are reliable, and the results are falling short. Scott Hensley is an associate professor of microbiology at the University of Pennsylvania.

So, Scott, thank you so much for being on with me. And I just wanted to ask you, first, about the reliability of these antibody tests. And just total transparency, this is my first day back at work after recovering from coronavirus, and I'm currently trying to find an accurate FDA-approved antibody test.

And I read this piece over the weekend in "The Times," where it talked about -- you were quoted, these 14 antibody tests, but only three had consistently reliable results, and then only one of the three didn't deliver a false positive. So my takeaway is that we're still very much in the wild west, are we not?

SCOTT HENSLEY, DEPARTMENT OF MICROBIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF PENNSYLVANIA: Well, Brooke, that's one way to put it. I'm glad to hear that you're feeling better. And yes, there are so many tests out in the market right now. And, you know, some of them are probably pretty good and others not so good.

And these -- the antibody testing is just so important as we try to think about coming back together as a society. And it's unfortunate that the market's been flooded with some of these tests that are just not accurate.

BALDWIN: Help me understand. Use me as an example, right? I had COVID, I just, a couple days ago, tested negative for it, cleared me so I could come back in and do what I'm doing right now. If I took an antibody test and it came back positive, does that mean I'm immune?

HENSLEY: OK. So, yes, let's take you as an example. So I think you're up in New York, right? BALDWIN: Yes.

HENSLEY: So let's say we bleed (ph) 100 people in New York, we take the blood from those hundred individuals and run a test. If there's a five percent false positive with that test, that means five of those 100 people that we just tested are going to come up positive, but they weren't really exposed.


Well, say that seroprevalence in New York right now is a true five percent, that would mean --