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CNN NEWSROOM

Trump On Testing: "We Are Doing A Great Job"; Trump Meets With Florida Governor At White House; Dr. Celine Gounder Discusses Reopening States, Safety, Testing; Waffle House CEO, Walt Ehmer, Discusses Reopening Stores In Georgia And Tennessee; Boston Mayor Marty Walsh (D) Discusses Why His City Not Ready To Reopen; Ongoing Tug Of War Between Governors & President On Testing. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2020 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[11:00:10]

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.

Three million confirmed cases worldwide this hour, but countries are inching towards normal, or new normal, despite some red flags that doing so may end badly.

In Germany, the infection rate is climbing again. This after some restrictions were eased. A top European authority predicts the wave for a vaccine will last through the end of 2021 in, quote, "the most optimistic of scenarios."

The United States on track to pass one million confirmed cases today. Still, reopening is the president's priority. He is meeting this hour with the governor of Florida, the third-largest of our 50 states. Texas is second. And it's governor received a morning shout-out from the president

Safely and quickly is the president's reopening message today. it is worth noting, at this hour, not one state meets the full letter of the White House reopening guidelines. Some, Florida, Arkansas, Oklahoma, are trending down or at least flat. Others, including Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, you see lines heading up, trending in the wrong direction.

What the White House likes to cite is out with a more grim outlook. From 60,000 Americans dead by August 1st, now to a projected 74,000 American lives lost by the end of August.

Testing is the problem that won't go away, no matter how many times the White House insists everything is fine. New Harvard analysis out today shows 31 states and the District of Columbia still doing too little testing to even consider rolling back stay-at-home orders.

The president, though, praising himself on Twitter this morning for, quote, "a great job." His top health expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is clearly worried about the pace of reopening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If we had the capability of identifying, isolating and contact tracing in a highly effective and efficient way, then the numbers may stay low. It may be 80,000, whatever, 70,000 like the model says.

If we are unsuccessful or prematurely trying to open up, and we have additional outbreaks that are out of control, it could be much more than that. It could be a rebound to get us right back in the same boat that we were in a few weeks ago.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Let's get straight to Miami, CNN's Rosa Flores.

Rosa, this is a fascinating moment. The governor of the state, Ron DeSantis, in Washington, meeting with the president. He was leaning forward on reopening. Seems to pull back. Now he's up in the air. It's the second-largest state. What is the governor looking for from the president?

ROSA FLORES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, probably some direction. Until now, we've seen that Governor DeSantis listens to President Trump.

Like you mentioned, Florida is one of the largest states in the union. And Governor Ron DeSantis has not made an announcement about if or when he plans to reopen the state, how he plans to do that.

He's actually one of the few Republican governors who hasn't made that announcement. Look at Georgia, look at Texas, Governor Abbott ready to reopen the state of Texas on Friday. But here in Florida, Governor DeSantis has said he is in no rush. He wants to be smart and methodical about this.

We're watching his meeting with the president very closely because Governor DeSantis listens to the president. He praises his administration and the president at just about every COVID-19 press conference.

And he also takes his cues from the president. So much so, Governor Ron DeSantis did not issue a statewide stay-at-home order here in the state of Florida until, according to the governor, he saw a, quote, "change in demeanor" in President Trump's response to the COVID-19 crisis.

If you look at Florida, it's almost a microcosm of what we're seeing in America. Just like we're seeing governors around country do their own thing, reopening their states at their own pace, that's exactly what we're seeing in the state of Florida where we see cities and counties reopen beaches and public spaces, John.

We're seeing, for example, Jacksonville opening their beaches. Here in Miami-Dade, that's not happening. But Miami-Dade is getting ready to open city parks and waterways. Yet Miami is staying, nope, we're not ready for that.

So we're seeing that same patchy response we're seeing in America right here in the state of Florida -- John?

KING: Be fascinating to watch. We're going to hear from the governor and the president, I believe, at the bottom of the hour. We'll bring that to you when we can.

Rosa Florida, live in Miami. Very important day for citizens of Florida. Thanks so much there.

With me now to share her expertise and insights, the infection specialist and epidemiologist, Dr. Celine Gounder.

Dr. Gounder, thank you for being with us.

We just left Rosa. I believe we can put on the screen a 14-day trend in the state of Florida. The governor meeting with the president. This is a Republican governor who often takes his cues from President Trump. He's trying to figure out, what do I do? You see it. Fourteen days, you see the last few days, that's down a bit, but if you're doing the whole 14 days, you have a couple peaks in there.

[11:05:13]

My look at that as a layperson is, OK, things are flattened but I would be a little bit more cautious. When you look at those numbers, do you see a case to reopen or a case to wait?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTION DISEASE SPECIALIST AND EPIDEMIOLOGIST: I would say we have a case to wait, John. You really do need to wait that full 14-day period, because that's the duration, the incubation period for the virus, the time that everyone is exposed until they get the disease. Everyone is different. You're not going to get the exact same for everybody, and that's why you have some variation.

The other piece for that is you have to have the testing capacity in place. We simply do not have what we need to be doing in the country.

So if you look at WHO targets for adequate testing, which are less aggressive than what the South Koreans have done, we should be doing probably half a million tests per day nationwide, and we're at about 200 to 250,000 tests a day.

In addition, if you look at where we expect to be with number of cases, say, come May 1st, and how many people need to be tested in that time including their contacts, that's also about half a million we're projecting. For a lot of different reasons, that's sort of the number that we're converging on, and we're still doing less than half that many tests per day.

KING: So, then, let me follow up on that. What do you make of what we heard from the White House yesterday? The governors, public health officials have been screaming and raising alarms about this for weeks. The White House came out yesterday and said, we're going to do more,

we're going to help, still saying they believe the federal government is the last resort when it comes to supplies.

But an analysis today. Two million tests per week would make a dramatic testing increase, yet it also represents the low end that many public health experts say will be required to safely reopen.

So progress from the White House, or we've heard promises in the past that have not turned out to be delivered. Do you see it as progress?

GOUNDER: We've been hearing this for a couple months now, right? Every American who wants a test can get a test. That is clearly still not the case.

And based on what we know, not just about test availability, but also all of the other supplies, in particular the nasal swabs but other reagents as well that we're running short of, in a lot of places it's actually the nasal swabs that have become the bottleneck for testing.

I really do think this would be a place where the production act should be invoked to really speed up the capacity for testing.

KING: And another point is this new IHME model. The White House cites it off and no model is perfect. But it now projects more than 60,000 American deaths by August 1, now up to 70,000-plus August 1.

And Chris Murray was on with Don Lemon last night. He said the one reasons is they're seeing people move out and move about more, and if people are out and about more, the infection rate is likely to go up. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. CHRIS MURRAY, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS & EVALUATION: Our best estimate is going up, and we see these protracted, long peaks in some states. We're also seeing signs in the mobility data that people are getting more active, and that's also feeding into our assessment.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: So assess those two factors there. One, this is a stubborn virus. Even in a place like New York where we watch the numbers come down, they're coming down slowly. Massachusetts flattened at a bad point.

The mobility part, I think, is what Mr. Murray was talking about. You can see people are starting to move around more this week than they were last week.

GOUNDER: The weather is getting warmer and people want to be outside more. That's not entirely surprising. They're also getting frustrated with the duration of the lockdown. And because there has been at least a flattening of the curve in some places, I think there may be a false sense of security that some people may have. And then you have people who really are just struggling to make ends meet and are having to go back to work and so on to be able to survive. I think there's a lot of factors at play.

I think, regardless, we know that when social distancing measures are lifted, you will see an increase in transmission, and that's precisely why we want to make sure you have the testing and contact tracing capacity to deal with that when that happens.

KING: The conversation we're having in 10 days, two weeks from now will be very telling about how much of an increase we get with this reopening.

Dr. Celine Gounder, always appreciate hearing your insights there.

Waffle House a barometer of sorts as America deals with the crisis. Last to close, first to open is a cherished goal of the Waffle House franchise. So many of its locations are back east, in the Obama administration, the FEMA director had what he called the Waffle House Index to assess hurricane damage based on the service available in Waffle House locations.

[11:10:08]

Now you might call Waffle House a coronavirus case study. It has 1,250 restaurants open for takeout and delivery. Dine in allowed again at 330 locations in Georgia, 70 in Tennessee.

Joining me now is the CEO of Waffle House, Walt Ehmer.

Rolf, thanks for being with us today.

I want to start with your anecdotal evidence or data on the first day in Georgia, Tennessee, you're allowed to open up again. Are people coming out to dine in, or are they hesitant to do so?

WALT EHMER, CEO, WAFFLE HOUSE: Sure, thank you, John.

People are coming out. I was listening to your previous guests, and I do see a lot of traffic out in the communities. But not a lot of traffic in the businesses. So I think people are moving about from here to there.

What I saw in the restaurants yesterday, I was in the restaurants all day and I was in them again this morning is, it's a little bit more traffic, but people are still practicing social distancing. They are wearing masks. They are standing clear from one another.

So even though we didn't really reopen, we just added some limited in- house dining to what we were already doing, I'm seeing so far that our customers, the citizens are still behaving according to what they've been instructed to do in terms of social distancing. So that was good to see.

KING: What's your sense of protecting your brand and your employees? Maybe it's a family crowded into a booth, maybe it's someone pulling up to the side of the road who wants an old-fashioned dining experience and sit at counter and your shoulder to shoulder. That world is over.

How are you doing that to protect your brand and your employees as people begin slowly to dine in again?

EHMER: Sure. We're following all the CDC guidelines. We're certainly following the governor's guidelines in states where they've allowed us to do a little bit more.

We have set up our restaurants for social distancing. No longer do you sit shoulder to shoulder next to someone at the counter. You can sit there by yourself. You can sit in a booth with people you came with, but there's not somebody sitting directly next to you in a separate booth.

We have, in essence, cut the capacity of our restaurants down so that we could give people enough space in the restaurants where they could be at least six feet away from one another.

Waffle House is a little bit unique compared to some other restaurants. Obviously the fast-food folks have had a little advantage going through this process because they have the drive-through window that can hand you a bag of food.

But people have been walking into our restaurants for the last six weeks placing to-go orders and waiting patiently at a distance from one another for their food to be cooked, and then they take that food and they go with them. The only thing we really added different this week is at the distance they were waiting they could sit there and eat.

So people do seem to value a little bit of a sense of normalcy and a hope that maybe better days are ahead, but it's definitely a gradual process that will take us to the next stage of this.

KING: And you are going to be both a barometer of people's comfort zone, whether they're willing to go out and dine in more, but also a barometer of whether people are starting to spend more in businesses like yours that have been kicked in the teeth here begin to come back.

What are you seeing in terms of the finances?

EHMER: Well, I tell you, we're really pleased with the unemployment help that has been given to the people of America, and I think that is taking care of the most vulnerable folks in our society right now.

So right now, you know, I don't know exactly what the long-term prospects are going to be, but what we're really concerned about is there's a growing economic crisis here, and people's ability to provide a living for themselves and for their families and a roof over their head. Long term, I think, is where the real challenge is going to come.

So short-term, people are able to eat and shop and do the things they need to do, but long-term is what we're pretty concerned about at this time in terms of what will the ultimate impact of the economy be with so many people being out of work for so long.

KING: We'll keep in touch as this experiment keeps expanding.

Walt Ehmer, from the Waffle House, really appreciate your time, sir. Thank you.

EHMER: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

Coming up, I'll talk to a mayor in Boston on why his city will remain shut even if his governor decides to reopen most of Massachusetts.

First, though, Deborah Birx sharing how she likes to give information.

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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I'm a PowerPoint kind of gal. I'm very data driven. I really like to use the time to educate the American people. So if I have a graph behind me, I'm extraordinarily happy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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KING: The coronavirus case count in Massachusetts is flattening, though still up a bit in recent days. So Governor Charlie Baker faces a tough choice as he decides this week whether to ease a stay-at-home order that currently runs through next Monday.

Boston's mayor says he already knows enough, and that in his view, Monday, May 4th, is too soon for the city to let down its guard.

Mayor Marty Walsh joins me right now from Boston.

Mr. Mayor, it's good to see you. Wish the circumstances were better.

I want to put up the 14-day trend. The 14-day trend in Massachusetts not so great.

In "The Globe" today, if you read it, it says, "If the state's current restrictions were allowed to expire in four weeks and replaced by minimal restrictions May 5th, the simulator predicts catastrophe. The outbreak would accelerate again in July killing over 27,000 people. If the restrictions were lifted in just two weeks, the model reports 42,700 deaths."

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When you review data like this, deaths. When you review data like this, you've already said next week too soon, no way, when in your view is Boston safe to reopen? MAYOR MARTY WALSH (D), BOSTON, MA: I think reviewing the data, it

changes. And here in Boston, we've obviously seen the surge between the 26th and the 28th, we've seen these numbers increase in a big way. In the last couple days, we've averaged 300-plus coronavirus positives here in Boston, so we still have some work to do here.

I think that at least for the next two or three weeks, we'll be looking at this data very closely to see if we can see reductions here, to see the work that's been done with the stay-at-home order, the physical distancing and the masks and all that works.

We're going to see if that continues to trend -- will begin to trend down, not continue to trend down. It hasn't begun yet. But I do think it's important for us to err on the side of caution, to continue to take very drastic steps in order to keep these numbers down, keep people safe.

I had a conversation with the governor today. We had a really good conversation this morning about how we're going to move forward. I think there's an opportunity here to look at how we reopen, don't get too far ahead of the game understanding the data may not back up some of what we want to do here.

KING: We've seen other states, I'll give you Georgia as an example, Texas is another, where some mayors, particularly mayors with Republican governors are having a hard time, saying there's a lack of communication. It sounds like you're at least trying to stay on the same page with the Republican governor there.

WALSH: We are. We're staying on the same page. Last week, I was getting a lot of pressure or a lot of questions about are we going to extend the stay-at-home order, are we going to extend the stay-at-home order. I think the governor is going to address that in the next couple days here.

At least for Boston, I know there was no chance at all we were going to open up on May 4th. And I think having predictability for businesses and people understanding that is important to have.

Right now, it's about communication. It's about getting as much information out to people as possible. And that's really how it needs to happen here. I've watched what's happened --

KING: I think we lost the mayor's shot there. Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston. We'll circle back and check with the mayor. It's hard sometimes with the technology in these difficult times.

We appreciate the mayor's time. We'll check back with Boston as well.

Up next, the ongoing tug-of-war between governors and the president over testing.

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[11:27:29] KING: President Trump is full of praise on Twitter today for himself and for states beginning their reopening from the coronavirus lockdown. Texas gets singled out in one tweet, another praises many states for moving, quote, "safely and quickly."

It will take a few weeks before we know whether this really is safe, meaning whether these re-openings lead to a spike in infections.

But the president likes to think if he tweets it or says it that it is true. Like he said yesterday that America leads the world in testing and that many states have enough testing to reopen safely.

Many governors and mayors say that's just fiction. But they do say this latest promise from the White House to help brings some progress.

Joining me now to discuss, CNN Chief Political Correspondent, Dana Bash. Along with Michael Bender, White House reporter for the "Wall Street Journal."

Let's start first with the question we saw from the White House yesterday. Last week, the president said the governors have enough testing. If they don't know where to find it, he questioned their intelligence. Yesterday the White House said we're going to help you.

Let's listen first to a sampling of governors who say we need it and it's overdue.

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GOV. JAY INSLEE (D), WASHINGTON: We have been woefully short of test kits. The federal government has not provided us adequate test kits to actually test as many people as we want to test.

GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (R), MASSACHUSETTS: Antibody testing needs the federal government and especially the FDA to step up and give states and providers a lot more guidance than we have now.

GOVERNOR NED LAMONT (D), CONNECTICUT; We keep asking for masks, we keep asking for gowns, we keep asking for reagents, and I'm tired of asking.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Dana Bash, one of the questions is, and let's hope the answer is yes, does the White House actually mean it this time? Will the coordination be real, will the supply chain be more efficient?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: We don't know the answer to that yet, but what we do know is that the governors have been contacted individually.

They have these big conference calls or video calls with all of the governors. But each of the states in the territories have been contacted by members of the administration's team, including and especially the admiral in charge, to say what exactly do you want. I spoke to one of the governors yesterday who was contacted. He said

that they gave the administration not just their wish list but their must list. This is what we need in order to process the tests. And so they were told that the administration will get back to them over the next couple of days with what they can deliver.

So we're not going to know the answer to your question, John, about whether or not they mean it this time until we see and hear from the governors as to whether they're going to get what they specifically asked for.

[11:30:07]

But at least we're in a place where there's that communication, where the federal government is understanding that they have to at least in some way, shape or form control the supply chain.