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CNN Looks at Coronavirus Affects across the Country; U.S. Economic Outlook; Conspiracy Theory about Patient Zero; NBA Could Open Facilities. Aired 6:30-7a ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 06:30   ET



ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: While the head of the national security division for the Department of Justice says, in terms of a vaccine, there is nothing more valuable today.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Athena Jones in New York, where three class action lawsuits have been filed against area universities. The lawsuits against Columbia, Pace University and Long Island University argue the schools failed to adequately reimburse students for tuition and other fees they paid to attend in-person, on campus classes. The suits note that Columbia and Pace Universities have offered some refunds, but the students contend they don't go far enough. The lawsuits argue that online only instruction is less valuable and should cost students less. CNN has reached out to the schools for comment. Pace University responded saying in part, housing fee adjustment for students who had to leave their residence halls are being issued. We are planning to use CARES Act funding to support our students when it is available.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: OK, our thanks to all of our reporters around the country.

Meanwhile, there are mixed messages from the White House about the U.S. economy. Do they think it's dire or do they think it will rebound soon? We discuss, next.




KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE 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 unemployment rate that approaches rates that we saw during the Great Depression.


CAMEROTA: Acting like this isn't forever. Like, the -- JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That's the White House top economic adviser offering a bleak assessment of the U.S. economy, while Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin insists it will rebound this summer.

Joining me now is CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans and CNN anchor and correspondent Julia Chatterley.

Romans, that was Kevin Hassett we just heard from. Let's hear from Steve Mnuchin because has a different take.


STEVE MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: I think as we begin to reopen the economy in May and June, you are going to see the economy really bounce back in July, August, September.


BERMAN: So, Romans, which is it, the Hassett version or the Mnuchin version?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know, we don't know what's going to happen in the future. We do know what's happening right now. And right now, you know, Kevin Hassett is right, these are depression level numbers here that you're talking about. You had 26 million people lose their jobs over the past six weeks. During the Great Recession it was 8 or 9 million. And that took months to achieve.

You look at what's going to happen probably with GDP in the second quarter, it's going to crater. You know, in the Great Depression it was, you know, down 27 percent. You could see that happen, 20 to 30 percent are some of the numbers that you're hearing here. So, in the right now, that grim assessment gave me the chills, but I'm not surprised. These are the numbers that we've all been talking about for weeks now.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't know that there's anything political about it, Julia, to admit that things are awful right now because the economy was shut down.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT: I couldn't agree more, John, actually. And I think they could both be right. As Christine said, we are -- we're in a crater because of the lockdown situation, because of the shutdown. Just because we start to see states opening up, we will see a bounce back. But think of Covid-19 as a tsunami that's hit the U.S. economy. That brings a lot of mud.

Beyond that initial couple of months' bounce back, we're going to be wading through the mud of social distancing, the fear of reinfections, travel restrictions for many months to come. So, yes, we've got a safety net in the money that's been given to individuals, yes, just because of the math we'll see a bounce back in the economy. But beyond then, I think we're really going to struggle. So it's what jobs come back, what more cash is needed, but we're not going to look like -- anything like normal until we get a vaccine. And let's hope Mnuchin knows something about bumped up testing capabilities that they haven't yet shared with us because, again, it's going to come back to that to give people confidence to get back out there and do what we did in the past.

BERMAN: Yes, testing is absolutely necessary for a full running economy.


BERMAN: Christine Romans, today's a big day.


BERMAN: Today is the day when the next batch of small business money goes online. A lot of questions about how this will work. If you applied the first time around but for whatever reason didn't get the money because they ran out or the banks couldn't process it in time, do you have to reapply again?

ROMANS: So the guidance from the SBA, the Small Business Administration, and the Treasury Department last night was that they are encouraging lenders to consider the applications that are already in the queue. So they're encouraging lenders to consider them and to give them the money quickly if they qualify. So that's the guidance from SBA. So that's not a -- that's a, please do it, but not necessarily you must do it. So we'll see how that shakes out.

Now, there's 60 billion in here that I've been watching that I'm very, very keen to see get disbursed quickly here and fairly here. There's 60 billion that has been earmarked for small community lenders that work with people, business owners that aren't necessarily banked or really plugged into the traditional banking system. So 60 billion has been earmarked for that and that's going to start going out today too.

BERMAN: You know, Julia Chatterley, things may have changed in the last 90 minutes, but 90 minutes ago, when I was preparing for the shows, the world market and futures were looking up a little bit because certain countries around the world and certain states in the U.S. are starting to relax some restrictions and open some businesses.

Is there a sense of optimism that this is beginning in the markets?

CHATTERLEY: I think there's a sense of optimism that at least we can start the path. We recognize that we're just at the beginning of that. I think you have to separate what's going on in the U.S. economy from what we're seeing in stock markets completely. A wall of cash has been provided by the Federal Reserve. And that's creating a sense of, I think, optimism that you would be foolish to look at and specifically see.

But if we compare that to what we're seeing in the U.S. economy and go full circle to depression-style economics, those two things are very different and you have to separate them right now. This is a long road. No one that's looking at this situation, looking at what China is doing. China closed. Beijing closed gyms, remember, a week and a half ago. They're struggling even with the testing capabilities that they're seeing. Long road.

BERMAN: I will say, every economist and business leader I talk to says the one thing they fear the most is volatility. Things snapping back and forth. The virus getting worse, getter better, getting worse again.


BERMAN: That could hurt in and of itself.


Julia Chatterley, Christine Romans, thanks very much.

A conspiracy theory about the origins of the coronavirus tries to blame a U.S. service member. Why she now fears for her life. Details in a CNN exclusive, next.


CAMEROTA: A U.S. Army reservist has had her life turned upside down by a conspiracy theory that falsely claims she is coronavirus patient zero. Chinese media has spread this conspiracy leading to her home address being posted online and even to death threats.

Donie O'Sullivan joins us now with a CNN exclusive.

So what's this about, Donie?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN REPORTER: Yes, Alisyn, we often hear about the dangers of online conspiracy theories. But imagine becoming the target of one.

Maatje Benassi, a U.S. Army reservist, is living through that right now. We spent the past few weeks talking to her and her family.

Take a look.


MAATJE BENASSI, VICTIM OF CONSPIRACY THEORY: It's like waking up from a bad dream going into a nightmare, like day after day.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): This is Maatje Benassi. She and her husband Matt are in the center of an elaborate conspiracy theory promoted by George Webb.

GEORGE WEBB: This goes back to our story here, which is Patient Zero, which is Maatje Benassi.

O'SULLIVAN: He's a conspiracy theorist who has nearly 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.


He falsely claims, without any evidence, that Maatje brought the virus to China during a cycling competition.

Maatje is in the U.S. Army Reserve and last October she competed in the military world games in Wuhan, China. Six months later, comments under Webb's YouTube videos about the Benassis have become the stuff of nightmares.

MATT BENASSI, VICTIM OF CONSPIRACY THEORY: Execute them by firing squad. We need to be killing these key people. These people will get a bullet to the skull.

WEBB: This is March 20th here.

O'SULLIVAN: The conspiracy theory has even reached China. Webb has been featured in media controlled by the Chinese communist party which has sought to deflect blame for the coronavirus.

MATT BENASSI: We've got law enforcement. Because they're not direct threats, there's not a lot that they can actually do. For folks like us, it's just too expensive to litigate something like this.

O'SULLIVAN (on camera): Could you talk me through the specific evidence you have that she is, as you described, coronavirus patient zero.

WEBB: Yes. Well, I have to -- there's a lot of circumstantial evidence and then there's a source here that I cannot reveal.

O'SULLIVAN: So, but specifically on Maatja Banassi, how do you know that she has the coronavirus or has antibodies or -- how do you know that for sure?

WEBB: Well, I have a source at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital. And she -- she actually works at -- or I have someone saying that she works at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital and she tested positive for the coronavirus.

O'SULLIVAN: She denies that.

WEBB: She denies that? Does she deny that she works at the Fort Belvoir Community Hospital?

O'SULLIVAN: She denies that she's had the coronavirus, that she's had any symptoms of the coronavirus.

O'SULLIVAN (voice over): A YouTube spokesperson told CNN the company is committed to promoting accurate information about the coronavirus and taking down misinformation when it's flagged by users. YouTube took down some trending comments under Webb's videos after CNN asked about them.

MATT BANASSI: A couple years ago I was diagnosed with a rare cancer. Dealing with that situation is way easier than trying to deal with this George Webb situation.

MAATJA BANASSI: It's getting out of hand and it needs to stop.


O'SULLIVAN: You can see there how this clearly has upended their lives. While the allegations about the Banassi's may be widely untrue, the threats they face and the fear they feel are very real.

The couple say they've tried to keep track of these false videos on YouTube, but it has been overwhelming.

Alisyn, clearly, YouTube, which is owned by Google, needs to be doing more to -- to stop the likes of this.

CAMEROTA: Donie, I think you just exposed, in a very effective fashion, what conspiracy theorists do. They've heard something, they draw some lines on a white board because they see connections in places. They have one source who may have heard something somewhere. I mean it's just all nonsense. And yet people fall for it.

O'SULLIVAN: Yes, and you can see there are real life victims here. And, of course, this is all in the sort of a stew (ph) of a geopolitical tensions right now between China and the U.S. China, of course, trying to blame, in some way, the U.S. government for the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Something, which, of course, we should mention the U.S. government says is ridiculous.

CAMEROTA: Thank you for exposing it. We certainly hope that her family gets the protection and relief from this that they need.

Thank you, Donie.

OK, here's some comic relief. Did you see "SNL" this weekend? If not, don't worry, we will catch you up. A special edition of "Late Night Laughs," next.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sent me supportive, inspiring and sometimes graphic e-mails.




BERMAN: This morning we're learning a report that the NBA is set to reopen some practice facilities as soon as Friday. The question is, when might we see games actually returning?

Andy Scholes with all of that in the "Bleacher Report."

Good morning, Andy.


Yes, reopening the practice facilities is all about giving the NBA players a safe place to go and practice. According to this ESPN report, this is still a not the first step in terms of when the NBA is going to resume their season. So players that live in those states that are loosening stay-at-home restrictions, such as Georgia, will be able to go to an NBA practice facility starting on Friday. Sources tell ESPN that these are for individual workouts only. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban joined CNN last night. He said he hasn't received any guidance from the league office on reopening his practice facility. But he remains confident the NBA will be able to resume this season.


MARK CUBAN, OWNER, DALLAS MAVERICKS: We're a little bit more confident that the technology and the medicine is going to be there. But we're not ready to make any commitments. And that's why when this report came out earlier today, I was caught off guard. I read it on Twitter like everybody else. There's no new news that I'm aware of. And the last thing we want to do is not only put our players and important personnel in jeopardy, but obviously the fans. And so we're not going to do anything until it's absolutely, positively safe.


SCHOLES: Yes, and Cuban added that if they can find a way to resume games just on TV, John, they are absolutely going to try to do that because we all need something in terms of live sports to watch right now and certainly something to root for in these times.


BERMAN: Yes, it's a sign of how well the NFL draft did last week shows the appetite out there for this.


BERMAN: All right, Andy, thanks very much.


CAMEROTA: OK, John, there's also an appetite for comedy. And we got some this weekend. Dr. Anthony Fauci, of course, has become a household name, so it seemed only a matter of time until he got the "Saturday Night Live" treatment, which is why when he was on NEW DAY a couple of weeks ago, I asked him this.


CAMEROTA: Which actor would you want to play you? I'm -- here are some suggestions that I've heard, Ben Stiller, Brad Pitt. Which one?



CAMEROTA: All right. Well, on "Saturday Night Live" this past Saturday, art imitated life. Here are your "Late Night Laughs." (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BRAD PITT, ACTOR, "SNL": Now, there's been a lot of misinformation out there about the virus and, yes, the president has taken some liberties with our guidelines. So, tonight, I would like to explain what the president was trying to say. And, remember, let's all keep an open mind.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We -- they're there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.

PITT: OK. A couple of things. I don't know if I would describe the test as "beautiful," unless your idea of beauty is having a cotton swab tickle your brain.

Also, when he said everyone can get a test, what he meant was, almost no one.

TRUMP: And then I see that disinfectant, where it knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection?

Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it's ultraviolet or just very powerful light.

PITT: I know I shouldn't be touching my face, but --

Now, there is a rumor that the president is going to fire me. Let's see what he said about that.

TRUMP: Today, I walk in, I hear I'm going to fire him. I'm not firing -- I think he's a wonderful guy.

PITT: So, yes, I'm getting fired.

And to the real Dr. Fauci, thank you for your calm and your clarity in this unnerving time. And thank you to the medical workers, first responders and their families for being on the front line.


CAMEROTA: Well, John, there was a lot of excitement at the Camerota house on Sunday morning when we realized that, in fact, what Dr. Fauci had said he thought would be great did end up happening.

BERMAN: I have to say, it was awesome. Now, obviously, Brad Pitt was the right choice to play him because Anthony Fauci is a handsome, handsome man.


BERMAN: But what I didn't know is that Brad Pitt was going to do such a good job.

CAMEROTA: I know. He -- I guess he just has that accent waiting in there for just this occasion.

But, I mean, what I mostly took way from this is that Brad Pitt will do whatever I say. That's my message that I'm taking away.

BERMAN: How has that gone for you?

CAMEROTA: Well, I have a long list of future suggestions for Brad Pitt.

BERMAN: What's the -- yes, I was going to say, what's next? What's next on the list after Dr. Anthony Fauci?

CAMEROTA: I mean just a lot of like how -- things around the house, my house, for him to do.

BERMAN: He's out call his lawyer, by the way.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I know.

BERMAN: It was -- look, it was super funny and I think most important of all was what Brad Pitt had to say at the end of it. To thank Dr. Fauci and all the front line workers. Really, it was incredible to see. And when I saw it the next morning, I screamed. I'm like, oh, my God, Alisyn did it. She really did it.

CAMEROTA: I could come up for something for this Saturday, so I'll get to work on that.

BERMAN: Fantastic.

CAMEROTA: Yes, that was great.

OK, NEW DAY continues right now.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: States like Georgia, and Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arkansas, where dining in restaurants can resume this week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We were upset that the governor did not allow us to continue our shelter in place ordinance. Most of our restaurants will continue to offer only curbside and delivery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's a combination of both office jobs, as well as manufacturing jobs that are opening up. This is not like an all or nothing approach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're all worried about a potential for a second spike.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We have to realize that we have to have a breakthrough innovation in testing. We have to be able to detect antigen (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The next normal is going to be a new normal and a different normal than we've had in the past, without question. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

CAMEROTA: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY.

The number of coronavirus cases worldwide is approaching 3 million. And nearly one million of those cases are here in the United States. The U.S. death toll is approaching 55,000 people this morning. And, at the same time, people are desperate to get back to work. So, this week, several states will begin to ease the stay-at-home restrictions. At least 13 states will reopen some of their major businesses this week.


That includes restaurants and movie theaters in Georgia, in -- there will be curbside retail business in Colorado. There will be --