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U.S. Cases Near 1 Million As Several States Reopen; Researchers to Study If Estrogen Can Reduce Symptoms; Kremlin: Too Early to Predict End of Lockdown. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 28, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCOHR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers here in the U.S. and all around the world. Thanks for joining me. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So just ahead here on CNN:

Despite a rise in death toll and warnings from health officials it may be too soon, states around the U.S. continue to push ahead to reopen.

But not everyone is on board. Some businesses refuse to open their doors. We'll hear from one restaurant owner on his decision.

And then the 2020 Olympic chief has warned of a possible cancellation. We're live in Tokyo for this developing story as well.


CURNOW: So in just a few hours' time, the United States will have 1 million coronavirus cases. That's a third of the total number of cases from around the world. We know in the last few months, the virus has spread like wildfire through 50 states, killing more than 56,000 people, isolating millions of others, and bringing the country's economy to a complete stop.

But several states are now making plans to go back to work despite warnings that it might be too soon. And more testing is needed first.

Now, some states on the West Coast are working together to modify stay-at-home orders to reopen slowly but safely.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump was back in front of the cameras on Monday despite saying he was done with the briefings. This time he talked about testing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've launched the most ambitious testing effort likewise on Earth. The United States has now conducted more than 5.4 million tests, nearly double the number tested than any other country, more than twice as much as any other country. Think of that. Today, we're releasing additional guidance on test to go inform the

states as they develop their plans for a phased and very safe reopening. Our blueprint describes how states should unlock their full capacity, expand the number of testing platforms, establish monitoring systems to detect local outbreaks and conduct contact tracing. We have it all.

Other countries are calling to find out what are we doing and how do you do it? And we're helping them. We are dealing with a lot of countries, helping them on testing.


CURNOW: And although President Trump is touting 5.4 million coronavirus tests conducted in the U.S., that number is only a little over 1.5 percent of the U.S. population. That's important to note.

So, CNN's Erica Hill has more on the states where businesses have been allowed to open their doors to the public -- Erica.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dinner and a movie back on the menu this Friday in Texas.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R), TEXAS: All retail stores, restaurants, move theaters and malls can reopen May the 1st.

HILL: Occupancy will be limited to 25 percent. The governor's new executive order supersedes all local measures. The mayor of the largest city in Texas urging caution, holding up a copy of the "Houston Chronicle" with a headline: Local cases more prevalent in at risk communities.

MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON, TEXAS: I know people want to open up, I got that. But many of the people who live in these communities, these are individuals who are serving the tables, and these are the people who are riding the bus. And what they are asking for is not necessarily when we are going to open but, Mayor, tell me what are you going to do to keep us safe?

HILL: Denver's mayor choosing to delay reopening as his state moves forward.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK, DENVER, COLORADO: We didn't feel like we were ready. We felt like more needed to be done. This virus is not going away. It's going to remain with us for a long while. And we need to make sure we're building an infrastructure for the long haul.

HILL: Mississippi still urging residents to stay home, maintaining its ban on gathers of more than 10 people, yet allowing retail stores to open today with restrictions. In Florida, more beaches poised to welcome residents as the governor, once pushing to go reopen, adopts a cautious tone.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: I'm less concerned about a specific date than I am about getting it right.

HILL: Ohio, one of the first states to take aggressive measures, announcing today its stay-at-home orders will remain in place, though a phased reopening begins Friday.

Retail however won't resume for another two weeks.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: I have an obligation as governor of the state to do two things now. Go to work every day, and get people back to work and keep them safe.

HILL: In New York, expect some areas, including hard hit New York City to open much later.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: In some parts of the state, some regions, you could make the case that we should unpause on May 15th.


But you have to be smart about it. There is no light switch where you flick a switch and everybody goes back to doing what they were doing.

HILL: More than a dozen states have started easing restrictions as business leaders and health officials warn, more testing is needed.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: What you are seeing now are governors, increasingly, they're putting together economic recovery teams that's completely delinked to the public health component.

HILL: Tyson's chicken processing facility in Shelbyville, Tennessee, now closed for a deep cleaning amid new questions about the country's meat supply. The company's chairman warning the food supply chain is breaking as experts note there is enough food, though the variety may change.

(on camera): It's important to point out, there are concerns about the enough supply from the suppliers themselves. We know hog farmers for example in Minnesota are concerned as processing plants are taken off line for cleaning that they will have excess animals that they may need to euthanize those animals. We're also hearing of dairy cooperatives in Upstate New York that had to dump the milk they had because their normal supply chain wasn't there with restaurants and schools obviously not operating in the same way.

To that end, here in New York, Governor Cuomo today announcing an initiative that would bring some of the excess dairy, find a home for it downstate in New York, where the need at food banks has grown exponentially. In Westchester County, just north of New York City where I am, the need in some areas is up 200 percent.


CURNOW: OK. Thanks to Erica Hill there.

So, there's still so much we don't know about this virus. Researchers around the world continue to study it, hoping to understand how it spreads, whom it affects and whether we can develop immunity. So, here's what we do know, the virus appears to be killing men at a much higher rate than women. At least that's according to some of the limited data we're getting from a handful of countries.

But researchers here in the U.S. are now trying to figure out if there's actually some truth to that. So, they are conducting a study to see if estrogen, a female hormone, can reduce the severity of symptoms in men.

I will be joined by Dr. Sharon Nachman, an associate dean for research at Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, and also, from the same university, Dr. Antonios Gasparis, a professor of surgery.

Thank you very much to both of you, because I want to talk about the study that is fascinating.

Dr. Gasparis, I understand it was your idea, you thinking out of the box. You looked at the gender gaps in the death data particularly and you had an idea. Tell us about it.

DR. ANTONIOS GASPARIS, PROFESSOR OF SURGERY, RENAISSANCE SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Yes. It was a simple clinical observation. As you mentioned, the gender difference and severity of disease was between men and women. That's really what started everything.

CURNOW: And what was your idea?

GASPARIS: Well, it was basically why -- the question was why, you know? As you mentioned, about 80 percent, when you look at the risk of requiring intubation or mortality or death, it's about 80 percent male versus 20 percent or 15 percent in females. So, why such a difference?

And that led to me trying to see in the literature what do we know. When you look at the strain of coronavirus that was responsible for COVID, it's a little bit different than what it is for other previous infections such as SARS. And that gender difference was observed also in SARS.

Now, when I looked at the literature, what I saw was that animal studies showed that in female mice, it had also a protective effect and when there was a block of estrogen in those female mice, that protective effective was gone. So the female mice were similar to the males.

So making that clinical observation that I mentioned earlier as well as this data that I found, the question was, can estrogen administration give a protective effect to males or post-menopausal women for that matter to prevent low progression to requiring intubation.

CURNOW: That is fascinating. So, I understand that you have enrolled the first patient, putting men on estrogen, this female hormone.

Dr. Nachman, tell us about what you're actually doing. DR. SHARON NACHMAN, ASSOCIATE DEAN FOR RESEARCH, RENAISSANCE SCHOOL OF

MEDICINE: So this study is a randomized study because we don't know if, in fact, it will work. So what we are doing is randomizing patients who are men over age 18 or women over 55, and that their postmenopausal, to, by chance, either get an effort general patch put on for seven years or placebo, and to see how they do if there are less hospitalizations for COVID, less admissions to the ICU and, in fact, less intubations.

CURNOW: So, with you, Dr. Nachman, just to stick with that, I mean, how do you think estrogen changes the body's immune response to coronavirus? I mean, what are you looking for here? What are you hoping it does to a man's body that it's already seeming to be doing to a female body?


NACHMAN: So, we hoped that it will, in fact, help their immune response when they see the virus. This amount of a patch, seven days put on for just once will not have any feminizing effect on the men who are getting it. It may help the women who are over 55 to feel a bit better when they are post-menopausal, but it will not have any downside feminizing effect for these patients.

We do hope it will help protect them against the virus. We are only enrolling people who are symptomatic, with positive COVID testing. So, we are thinking everyone in the study will in fact, have already acquired COVID. So we are hoping it will protect them from progressing from the disease.

CURNOW: It is so fascinating.

Dr. Gasparis as well, I mean, I'm also understand, I have spoken to a few midwives and OB -- obstetricians. And many pregnant women, many pregnant women it seems get a mild version of corona. And, of course, when you're pregnant, your bodies are pumping full of estrogen and progesterone.

So, do you think that might lead for you to suggest that, hey, this might be something here?

GASPARIS: Yes, exactly what you're saying. Even though pregnant women can get infected, they get very mild symptoms --


GASPARIS: -- as they have high estrogen levels. That's another reason to think this may have a benefit, protecting from progressing the disease.

CURNOW: So, what are you looking for? What is your time frame here, Dr. Gasparis?

GASPARIS: We're looking to enroll about the first 100 patients first and see, you know, we expect if there's a significant difference we will see a trend for that after our first hundred patients, which we hope to get within the next two, three months.

CURNOW: Oh, that is quite soon. You started? I mean, what do you tell men, Dr. Nachman? You say to them, you know, they are coming in with a cough that they might have symptoms? How are you convincing them they need to take female hormones? Is that a problem?


GASPARIS: Well, we're not phrasing it, take this female hormone. We are telling them that this short timeframe of using a patch with a medication called estrogen will, in fact, help their symptoms perhaps go away. And we are getting uptake from most of the men.

I think the young men are perhaps a bit of a harder sell because they are worried about any downstream effects from the estrogen. But after talking with them for a few minutes, they do recognize this is a serious and significant infection and, in fact, this short-term estrogen patch may help. As you know, because it's a patch, and if there's any side effect from the patch, it's easy to remove and levels of estrogen in the body go down relatively quickly. So there is no long-term sequellae from it.

CURNOW: I mean, I know this is also -- there's so many -- so many doctors like you, researchers, kind of throwing ideas out there, trying all sorts of things, whether it's drugs, whether it's vaccines, and all of that. There is one -- I mean, one of the criticisms, how do you explain that elderly women who have a reduction in hormones, as you were saying, after menopause, are still outliving men? I mean, if sex hormones are to play the primary factor in this disparity, then wouldn't also elderly woman also fair poorly?

NACHMAN: So we believe that elderly women, even if they are fairing poorly, are not fairing as poorly as men are doing. The entire story can't be just about estrogen, but if estrogen is a part of it, this study will help give -- shed some light on the discussion.

We don't expect that there will be a silver bullet. There will be something magical that anyone who takes this medication or any other medication that's being tested will protect everybody for all ages all the time. But if estrogen is part of the answer, this study will help address that issue.

CURNOW: Oh, that's interesting. And, finally to you, Dr. Gasparis, I mean, this was your idea. And you're obviously going to be looking at all the data. What is the best case scenario for you?

GASPARIS: I think the best case scenario is that we can significantly reduce the severity of disease in men and in older women. I think we're not going to eliminate the disease. But in early phases when they develop symptoms, if we can help stop progression or reduce it significantly, we're talking about a difference of 80 percent in men versus 15 percent in women requiring intubation or dying.

So that's a huge difference. Is it really a hormonal? And if it is, using estrogen potentially can help bring those numbers down from 80 percent. CURNOW: Well, good luck. I really appreciate you guys joining me.

NACHMAN: Thank you.

CURNOW: I know it's early. It's 5:15 in the morning on the East Coast. But I know you've a lot of work to do and I really appreciate you joining us. A fascinating study. And yes --

GASPARIS: Thanks for having us.

CURNOW: All of you good luck. Hopefully, more people will join the study so we can have as much data as possible.


NACHMAN: Thank you.

GASPARIS: Thank you. Have a good day.

CURNOW: You, too.

So, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Still to come, we take you to Russia which has nearly 90,000 coronavirus cases. Why the Kremlin is saying, predicting the end of a lockdown there is like taking a shot in the dark.



PRES. TRUMP: We're doing very serious investigations, as you probably know. And we are not happy with China. We are not happy with that whole situation, because we believe it could have been stopped at the source, it could have been stopped quickly and wouldn't have spread all over the world.

And we think that should have happened. So, we'll let you know at the appropriate time. But we are doing serious investigations.


CURNOW: So that was U.S. president Donald Trump there, stepping up his criticism of China. On Monday, he once again accused Beijing of failing of the stop of the pandemic and vowed to hold them accountable. He also suggests that the U.S. would seek damages from the country but didn't provide details on that.

In recent weeks, Mr. Trump has ramped up his criticism of China, but has stopped short of blaming Chinese President Xi Jinping whom he's called a good friend.


Well, President Trump also told reporters it was not his fault people were using disinfectants improperly. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Now, other states, Governor Larry Hogan, specifically said they have seen a spike in people using disinfectant after your comments last week. I know you said they were sarcastic --

TRUMP: I can't imagine why. I can't imagine why. Yes.

REPORTER: Are you taking responsibility --

TRUMP: No, I don't. I can't imagine -- I can't imagine that.


CURNOW: Remember this, when he suggested last week that ingesting disinfectants to be a cure for the coronavirus. Take a listen.


TRUMP: Right. And I see the disinfectant knocks it out in a minute, one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside or almost a cleaning.


CURNOW: Well, Mr. Trump has since claimed his comments were sarcastic. But as the reporter mentioned in that exchange we just heard, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan told CNN his state is getting hundreds of calls from people asking whether injecting or ingesting disinfectants is an effective way to combat coronavirus.

And moving to Russia now. A spokesperson for the Kremlin says predicting when the country's lockdown will end is like taking a shot in the dark, arguing it's just too early to make that call. With nearly 90,000 cases nationwide, President Vladimir Putin is meeting with regional governors on Tuesday to discuss the spread of the virus.

Well, Matthew Chance joins me now live. Matthew is our Moscow correspondent, but he joins us now from a rainy London.

Matthew, hi. What do we know about what's happening in Russia? Hi.

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi. First of all, the past couple of minutes the Russian authorities updated their casualty toll. They raised it to 94,500 people have now confirmed as having coronavirus. It's not altogether, you know, clear how -- how much we can believe in those figures.

And from the access in Russia, there has been a certain amount of skepticism that the Russians have gotten an accurate picture of the extent of the pandemic in their country. There's a lot to do with the testing, there's been sort of some anomalies in the number of people that have been announced as having the virus. But, I mean, there are still only 900 people in the country that are confirmed as having died of the coronavirus, which is extraordinary in a country of 140 million people. Remember, here in Britain, there are 65 million people and there are

more than 21,000 people who have been confirmed as being killed, unfortunately, because of this virus. So I think the expectation in Russia is that those figures will go much, much higher before we get a real true picture of the situation in the country.

Russians have been under tight lockdown, however, for several weeks now since the beginning of -- of the end of last month, in fact, the end of March. They were supposed to come, those measures, to an end in the next few days. The expectation is now they will be extended indefinitely. We don't know to what point.

You mentioned a shot in the dark for Kremlin officials. But we'll get a better picture I think later on today because Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is going to be meeting with regional governors. And at that meeting, we think he's going to say something about how long these current measures may be extended for.

But certainly, no one in Russia, given the -- given the extent of the outbreak, given the seriousness of it, is thinking that those measures will be lifted any time soon -- Robyn.

CURNOW: No. Thanks so much, our Moscow correspondent Matthew Chance. Thanks, Matt.

So, in the next hour, Britain will full silent to remember its front line health care workers who have died in this pandemic. The government says 82 National Health Service workers, 16 in social care, are known to have died. On Monday, they set up a life insurance scheme, meaning families of staff who've died will actually receive a payment of 60,000 pounds. That's around $75,000.

And remember that World War II veteran who raised a ton of money for Britain's National Health Service on his birthday. Well, people from all over the world wanted to thank him for his work.

So, they sent more than 100,000 birthday cards last week. I mean, it was just amazing. As you can see in this picture, a few weeks ago, Captain Tom Moore celebrated his 100th birthday by walking 100 laps in his garden. It was part of an effort to raise funds for the NHS. In all, he raised, wait for it, more than $16 million. And those medals show he has had an extraordinary life as well.

Now, New Zealand's prime minister declared the coronavirus eliminated in her country. Lockdown measures are beginning to ease there. About 400,000 New Zealanders are returning to work on Tuesday with many businesses and restaurants reopening safely.


But Jacinda Ardern warns that New Zealand is not out of the woods yet.


JACINDA ARDERN, NEW ZEALAND PRIME MINISTER: So with more people going back to work today, we need to be more vigilant at level 3 to prevent any inadvertent spreading of the virus. We must continue to stay home if possible, including for work and education. Please stay regional and limit non-essential travel. And even though you can expand your bubble, keep it as small as possible and exclusive.


CURNOW: And hundreds of New Zealanders celebrated the lifting by heading to McDonald's.

You saw this queue for one drive-through there. Some excited Big Mac fans were lining up at midnight. Of all the things you wanted to do.

Anyway, well done to New Zealand. Fantastic leadership there from the prime minister.

So, much more to come here at CNN. Still ahead:

Here in Georgia, many restaurants and businesses are reopening this week against health experts' warnings. But others are still closed over the threat of this coronavirus. I'll speak with the owner of an iconic Atlanta restaurant about the impact, next.


CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow live in Atlanta. It is 5:30 in the morning here on the East Coast.

Welcome to all our viewers in the U.S. and around the world.

So here in the U.S., in the state of Georgia, where the CNN Center is, Georgia is leading the charge to reopen businesses that have shut down over this coronavirus pandemic. As of Monday, restaurants like the famous Waffle House are officially allowed to.