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Governors Move Forward with Reopening Despite Warnings; Key Model Projects Higher U.S. Death Toll as States Reopen; White House Says Federal Government a "Supplier of Last Resort."; U.S. Agriculture Chief Estimates Tens of Thousands of Pigs Might Be Euthanized to Make Space on Farms Amid Plant Closures; New Jersey Rolls Out Saliva-Based Testing for Coronavirus. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2020 - 09:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


On the rise again. Here is the sobering number this morning. An estimated 74,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the U.S. by August. A leading coronavirus model has raised its predicted death toll, citing longer peaks in some states and signs that people are going out in public again. More and more governors moving forward with their plans to reopen state economies and relax restrictions.

HARLOW: But health experts have made it clear there needs to be nationwide widespread testing. The president released his administration's testing plan last night. Also making it clear that the onus for that is on the states and the federal government should act as the, quote, "supplier of last resort."

We are covering every angle this morning. Let's begin this hour with our Martin Savidge who joins us again from Atlanta.

Good morning, Martin. Of course that being a city and a state that is open.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And they continue to every day open up a little bit more.

Good morning to you, Poppy. Good morning, Jim.

As we know, there are now at least a dozen states that have either started to open up or allowed businesses to reopen or have announced plans to allow that process to begin. The problem is that there are a number of those states where coronavirus continues to rise. Number of cases. And we should remind everyone of what was the White House and the federal guidance that states shouldn't consider reopening again until they've had two consecutive weeks of declines of coronavirus cases.

So let's look at two states as examples. Georgia is one of those, we're talking about it, we're here. You know, of course, that they the personal service industries. That was Friday. The salons and all of that. And then yesterday in-place dining at the restaurants. Now you take a look at the numbers. Georgia continues to see the cases increase. 24,200 plus cases now confirmed and sadly today we could go past 1,000 deaths.

And then you take a look at the state of Ohio. Now in Ohio, the governor there. Mike DeWine, is saying that on Friday certain medical procedures could begin. These are not emergency and these are ones that won't require an overnight stay in a hospital. But there again, you see the numbers are continuing to go up. Next week he's going to allow some manufacturing and some offices to reopen. In Ohio, at 16,325 confirmed cases, 753 deaths.

This flies in the face of what all the medical experts have been advising. And this is why they're so concerned that as Americans get out, move about, why you're going to see those numbers of deaths continue to increase, Jim and Poppy, and those are just two states.

HARLOW: Martin Savidge, thank you for that reporting.

Despite warning from health officials, both Texas and Louisiana also easing restrictions this week but some businesses allowed to reopen as soon as Friday.

SCIUTTO: Yes. It's balancing act we're seeing take place across the country. CNN's Ed Lavandera is in Dallas this morning.

So, Ed, are there limits, restrictions on how many businesses can reopen and how?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: There is. This is what the Texas governor described as a phased approach. We're standing in the parking lot of a popular movie theater in northeast Dallas. This parking lot has been empty for weeks. But it's exactly the kind of business that's starting on Friday the governor here says can reopen.

A quick list of what can be open. The stay at home order in Texas is set to run out and expire on April 30th. So that means on Friday, May 1st, retail stores, malls, restaurants, theaters, can open but only at a 25 percent capacity. Libraries and museums can also open and people can also engage in outdoor sports with no more than four people.

Now if you look at the trajectory of coronavirus cases here in this state, the stay-at-home order was put into effect on April 2nd, and that trajectory has gone up. But state officials here say they believe they're beginning to see the flattening of the curve and they feel that because of that, they can begin to open the economy up here a little bit. They say that the one thing that they'll be looking most at here in the coming weeks will be death -- the death rate and also the number of people hospitalized because of this.

What is not included here in Texas is hair salons, nail salons, barbershops and gyms. The governor here says that could be until mid- May. But there is a great deal of concern as to what this will do and a flare-up again here in the coming weeks, and big city leaders we've spoken to say it will take some time to see the effects of this easing of the restrictions and that's what they're concerned about.

And then when you contrast that with what we're seeing in neighboring Louisiana, that stay-at-home order was put into place on March 23rd and the governor there now says that stores can begin offering curbside pickup and that restaurants can offer outdoor seating with no wait staff.


And there you can also see that trajectory, that stay-at-home order was put in place March 23rd. The governor, Jim and Poppy, has extended that stay-at-home order until mid-May there in the state of Louisiana.

And also there's been a little bit of back-and-forth between these two states. The governor of Texas had put on some restrictions and quarantine rules from people traveling from Louisiana into Texas. The governor says here in Texas is lifting that and doing away with that. So no longer -- if you're traveling from Louisiana to Texas, apparently no longer needed to quarantine because of that -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Ed Lavandera in Dallas, thanks very much.

Joining us now Dr. Megan Ranney, she is an emergency physician and an associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University.

Dr. Ranney, great to have you on this morning. I wonder if there is a question here about -- there is not one size fits all in effect. I mean, is it that some states are ready to reasonably reopen and others are not?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN: So it's certainly not one size fits all. We're seeing different patterns of the virus in different states. The things that we as medical experts are saying is that, first, you need to see the number of cases declining. And in order to measure that accurately, you need an adequate number of tests. If you don't have adequate testing, you should see the number of hospitalized patients significantly declining in order to be ready to reopen.

I'm not convinced that all the states that are reopening are there yet, but we certainly are going to have to take this on a community- by-community basis. New York is different from Montana or Nevada. Right? So there is going to be a little bit of state-by-state aspect to this, but we need more testing in order to do it accurately.

HARLOW: To that point, Doctor, listen to what the president said in terms of the toll the virus has taken on the country. He said this just last night.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The fact is that there has been so much unnecessary death in this country. It could have been stopped, that it could have been stopped short, but somebody a long time ago, it seems, decided not to do it that way. And the whole world is suffering because of it. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HARLOW: Doctor, there is also very recent inaction that has contributed to this, is there not?

RANNEY: There is. To be clear, that's somebody who could have done something a long time ago would have been our federal government three months ago. We should have had adequate testing for everyone who is symptomatic to get tested and for random testing of people across the country who are asymptomatic. We should have had adequate protective equipment for every healthcare worker on the front lines.

And we should have had adequate supplies like ventilators and other machines for people in the hardest hit areas. This was unprecedented, but not unpredictable. The government continues to promise that they're increasing testing, but we are continuing to run out of tests and other protective equipment across the United States. So there is absolutely more that can and should have been done, and that someone is very identifiable.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Well, Dr. Ranney, hold that thought for a moment. You brought up testing. This is so key at every level.

Drew Griffin has been looking into this because the White House, of course, released its blueprint to increase capacity, Drew. But leaving the onus on states.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it wasn't really a blueprint. It was a checklist of what the federal government has already done. In fact, there were eight items, eight plans going forward, seven of them were checked off, as if mission accomplished. The eighth one was basically we're going to help the states fight it out for the supplies.

And it's those supplies, Jim, that we've been saying for weeks now, it's almost as if either the federal government, the White House, just is not getting the message or this is just capitulation realizing they can't solve the supply line problem, which is getting all of the things you need to conduct a test to the right spot at the right time, when the doctors and the patients need it. That has been a rolling failure across the United States, continues this morning as we're hearing from hospitals systems, from state health labs, et cetera.

The big, big labs, the big corporate labs, they seem to be doing OK. It's these point-of-care locations that can't seem to get the supplies when they need them, and begging the federal government for some kind of oversight or some kind of control so that you don't have hospitals, states, and individual lab groups competing against each other and the world for these limited supplies -- Jim.

HARLOW: Yes. Drew Griffin, thanks very much.

So, Dr. Ranney, back to you, when it comes to testing, another component of all of this is the peak. When do we see a peak in different states and cities, and that the new modeling out of the University of Washington that we showed at the top of the show shows more projected deaths, right? And I'm wondering if you have any sense of why some states, quote-unquote, "peaks" are lasting longer than others.


Is it just a function of who is better at staying at home?

RANNEY: So to the best of our knowledge right now it really is a function of whether we are better staying at home and also whether we are better at doing that testing and identifying both the people that are sick, but also the people who are asymptomatic and spreading the disease.

The third thing that I'll add, though, is that some states really have not rolled out testing in any sort of comprehensive manner both because of that lack of supplies, but also perhaps some inaction on the part of government. And in those states, it's tough to trust the numbers that are being reported. Many of us are looking death counts or total numbers of hospitalizations, instead of looking at number of positive tests because we know that that testing is so limited and is likely picking up such a small percent of the total number of people that are infected.

SCIUTTO: There is a certain inevitability, is there not, to an increased number of cases when you relaxed social distancing, right? I mean, is there any way via testing and contact tracing to then prevent an uptick in deaths being inevitable. You get the question I'm saying here? Because of course you can't -- people can't be locked in their homes forever. But you don't want the price for relaxing social distancing to be increased number of deaths.

RANNEY: Absolutely. And heck, I'm a parent of two, I am suffering with the social distancing just as much as anybody. I can't wait for us to get out and have this done with. There is -- this virus is going to continue to spread until we have a vaccine. The goal of social distancing is not to get rid of the virus completely. It is to flatten that curve. It is to slow the spread. And the goal of slowing the spread is two things.

First, it allows us in the health care system to have adequate facilities to take care of people. So that we don't face a situation like what they had in New York, where their hospitals were completely overwhelmed.

The second thing is the longer that we can slow the spread of this disease, the better we are as doctors at taking care of patients who are sick. Already we have developed new treatments, new strategies, we're doing a better job of identifying what to do to save people's lives, and we have more supplies, more testing, we're able to protect ourselves as health care workers better, not completely, but better than we were a month or two ago.

So flattening the curve is not going to get rid of the virus, but it's going to give us more time to prepare and it's going to allow us to do a better job of saving lives.


HARLOW: Something you guys do every day.

Dr. Megan Ranney, thanks so much for being here.

And to everyone out there, make sure you tune in on Thursday night, CNN's new global town hall, Bill Gates will join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta live for "CORONAVIRUS FACTS AND FEARS." That's Thursday night, 8:00 Eastern.

Still to come here for us, officials are rolling out a new saliva- based test in the state of New Jersey. Why those tests could be a game changer for the state. That's ahead.

SCIUTTO: Plus experts are beginning to worry that more and more people are suffering from quarantine fatigue. How cell phone data reveals that people may not be staying home as much. Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: Outbreaks of the coronavirus have been forcing major meat processing plants to close across the country. Now some farmers on the brink of bankruptcy. Three of the nation's largest pork processing plants are currently shut down, combined they account for about 15 percent of the nation's pork production.

House Agricultural Chairman Collin Peterson estimates that pork producers could now be forced to euthanize as many as 70,000 pigs a day, just to make space at farms, imagine all that wasted food. I'm joined now by Iowa pork producer Jen Sorenson, she's also a president- elect of the National Pork Producers Council. Mr. Sorenson, thanks so much for taking time today.

I know that the Iowa governor as well as Senators Ernst and Grassley, they sent a letter to Vice President Pence saying that help is needed immediately for pork producers. Give us a sense of how dire the situation is.

JEN SORENSON, PRESIDENT-ELECT, NATIONAL PORK PRODUCERS COUNCIL: Yes, I mean, we're so thankful for the tremendous leadership we have here in the state of Iowa. Our packing capacity right now as of last night was down 33 percent. Our hogs have been backing up for over four weeks now, which means that we have no place to market our hogs to.

We're exhausting, you know, every plan, every resource to, you know, prevent farmers from having to euthanize our hogs. So, we're definitely in a terrible situation of peril right now, and we're asking for help. We've got some significant asks of our county, state and federal government to help keep these packing plants stay open for us.

SCIUTTO: Is it a situation of -- if you're talking about for instance 15 percent of the plants or plants producing 15 percent of the nation's pork are out of business or closed down right now. Are we at a point where folks going to the grocery store are going to start to see shortages?

SORENSON: You know, it's actually 33 percent as of last night, and, no, I don't think so. Right now the -- right now, the crisis is on our farms. The crisis is our hogs that are backing up, they have no place to go, we have new hogs coming into our barns and we need a solution, you know, we need our county, state and federal, local officials to work together and wrap our arms around the food chain and try and keep these plants open.

You know, our leaders here in the state have asked for the National Defense Protection Act to help us keep the plants open, and we need wide collaboration amongst county, state and federal officials.

SCIUTTO: I suppose the question is how do you do that safely, right? Because there seems to be an issue of density at these plants, workers working in close proximity that has helped aid the spread of the virus.


How do you get the plants open to save the farmers, but also not worsen outbreaks?

SORENSON: Right, you know, I don't -- I know our plants are doing everything they can in terms of PPE, in terms of testing, in terms of -- in terms of being in constant communication with the CDC and public health officials just trying to pull out all the stops to keep the plants open. I don't have that answer. But we do know that there's a significant crisis going on for hog producers right now. We need indemnification for our hogs, we need direct payments, we're losing about $70 per hog right now.

And we're in a downward spiral. If we don't do something quickly, we're going to see further consolidation and a loss of thousands of family farms.

SCIUTTO: That's the issue here now, is it not? It's about bankruptcy, farms just not being able to stay in business, is that right?

SORENSON: We're in complete peril. We have some significant asks in the COVID-4 package. We need help, we need direct payments, we need support, and we need indemnification and support as we look to euthanizing a large number of hogs, which is inevitably what we're going to have to do if we can't keep our parking plants open.

SCIUTTO: Jen Sorenson, we know farmers are working hard. We wish you and the people you represent the best of luck going forward.

SORENSON: Thank you. Thank you, Jim. Thanks, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, hard hit New Jersey has been rolling out a new saliva- based coronavirus test this week, a lot easier than the swab. Could this be key in the state's battle to combat the spread? We're going to speak to a doctor who is behind that test.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures are higher this morning, optimism growing among investors over states easing coronavirus restrictions and what that could mean for the economy. Stocks closed higher Monday with the Dow recording its fourth-straight day of gains, investors shrugging off a huge sell- off again in the oil market. We'll keep a close eye on this.



HARLOW: Welcome back. New Jersey is rolling out new testing, they could be a game-changer for that state and maybe for the country. Five new testing sites will now be available to have a saliva-based test administered. Developers at Rutgers University say they can test up to 10,000 cases a day with this. With me now is one of the neuroscientists who helped develop this. This is fascinating. Dr. Andrew Brooks, he serves as COO and director of Technology Development at RUCDR Infinite Biologics.

Thank you, doctor, I'm reading a lot about this. So, this is a week when this is getting rolled out a bit more. Can you explain to people how it works and the accuracy of it?

ANDREW BROOKS, HELPED DEVELOP A COVID-19 SALIVA TEST: Sure. The saliva collection is quite different as you can imagine from some of the swab collections that exist in that it's completely non-invasive. And the ability to self-collect makes not just the experience, but the test a lot more robust. You open a device from a blister pack, you spit into a funnel that goes into a tube, up to a line, takes a minute or two, you screw a cap on to the top of the device that has a blue preservation agent in it.

So that we know when the solution is blue, the sample is preserved and off it goes to the lab. Beyond that point, the test is somewhat similar to what we do with swabs, and that we extract the viral nucleic acid and then we test it by PCR to determine if you are actively infected and shedding virus in either symptomatic or asymptomatic patients.

HARLOW: Now, one of the hang-ups you're still going to have is the issue of reagents and those other supplies on the other end, right? This doesn't totally solve the testing capacity issue if it is implemented wide scale, and if it gets that broader FDA approval beyond the emergency use approval, right?

BROOKS: In some respects, but in some respects no. So, the downstream activities in the lab have many more supply chain avenues than something like, you know, the swabs and the media which has been a real problem to this point. Because there are many life sciences companies that create these reagents and the E-way process allows labs to tailor what they're doing based on these specific reagents.

So instead of there being one or two manufacturers, there are many that you can choose from to accomplish the same goal.

HARLOW: So reading more about this, and looking at what the FDA has approved, they have approved emergency use, right? This is non- approved for sending it home and home collection as displayed in that graphic. But that's obviously the ultimate goal. I know that you've been speaking with the White House, you spoke with them earlier this month, you were recently in talks with the FDA.

Can you update us to the extent you can share in terms of where that approval process stands for someone to actually be able to receive this at their home, utilize it, send it in, because that's not where we are yet.

BROOKS: Yes, that's a great question, and we have it in talks with the White House, with the FDA, and as of about a week ago, a little over a week ago, we've submitted a fair amount of data, we collaborated with the FDA on what they felt was required to make sure that home collection is safe, and that the sample --

HARLOW: Yes --

BROOKS: Is stable.

HARLOW: Well, also --

BROOKS: So, we've done all of those studies, we've submitted that data and we're just waiting on a final decision from the FDA as to whether or not we can put that in play, which would be done within --