Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Big Pharma Pfizer Testing Vaccine in U.S. Soon; Governors Lay Out Reopening Strategies as U.S. Cases Top 1 Million; President Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open Despite Outbreaks; Three Meat-Packing Plants in Green Bay, Wisconsin Tied to More Than Half of Virus Cases in One County; U.S. Navy Launches Broader Inquiry into Virus-Hit USS Roosevelt. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 29, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:01]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

The race, though it's going to be a long one, for a vaccine now. Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer says it will begin testing a new, experimental, we should note, vaccine in the U.S. as early as next week, adding it could be ready for emergency use in the fall, but not widely supplied until the end of the year.

And moments ago, Gilead scientists, the makers of the drug Remdesivir, says it has positive data in its study of this potential COVID-19 treatment, though there was another study that raised some questions earlier.

HARLOW: Yes. We're waiting for those results. This comes as the U.S. reaches a tragic milestone, over a million cases of COVID-19 in this country. In just three months, this virus killed more Americans than died in the entire Vietnam War. Still, states moving forward with reopening strategies. We'll hear more about those plans today.

But a key sign of returning to normal may not happen at all. Top infectious disease Dr. Anthony Fauci says sports may have to skip the year if the safety of fans and players cannot be guaranteed.

So let's begin this hour with our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen on this experimental vaccine.

What do we know?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know what, Poppy, at this point, they are all experimental vaccines. So we know that Pfizer has teamed up with a German company, and there's lots of that going on. You have a big pharmaceutical teaming up with a smaller group. That's been happening all over. So this now puts it in the same category as some other ones that we've been talking about. There are about seven now that are in human clinical trials. The first

one would have started its human trials back in March. And they've sort of been coming since then. So that we now know of about five with specific dates. So this puts Pfizer somewhere around number four as far as when they started in human clinical trials. The bottom line here is that this is good. It is good that these companies are moving so quickly.

It is good that they are already in human clinical trials. I think I've been told this is moving with unprecedented speed. No one has seen a vaccine trial move this quickly, or I should say vaccine trials. But we shouldn't expect to see this vaccine anytime soon. Everyone I'm talking to is still holding to at least 12 to 18 months, which is the timeline that's been put out there by Dr. Fauci.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's what we want to emphasize throughout. This is early data. It will take time on all these things, whether it be a vaccine or treatment.

So let's talk now about Remdesivir because there was some early hope, there was some news last week that a study didn't pan out on this. I mean, is there anything conclusive at this point?

COHEN: No, there is nothing conclusive. And it's interesting, Gilead is playing this very differently than some of the other pharmaceutical companies. They put out a press release that talked about looking at five days of treatment with Remdesivir versus 10 days in saying that it looked about the same. There doesn't seem to be a difference.

That's not what doctors want to hear about. The doctors I'm talking to are saying that's not useful information at this point really for them. What they want to know is, does Remdesivir work at all? It doesn't really -- you know, it's good to know, but it's not so helpful to patients to know that five days works as well as 10. What they want to know is, does this work at all compared to doing nothing. They don't have an answer to that just now.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And there are financial incentives, of course.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: For the makers throughout all this.

COHEN: Yes.

SCIUTTO: We should keep that in mind.

COHEN: And we need to remember that. We need to keep that in mind, right?

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: We've also invited them on the program. I'm sure you've been trying to talk to them, Elizabeth, as well. COHEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

Joining us now, Dr. Jennifer Lee, an emergency room physician and clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University.

So you're a doctor, we have these questions to the doctors here. When you hear these percolating studies here and there, small form, early data, whether it'd be on a vaccine or on treatment, what's your reaction?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, ER PHYSICIAN: Well, I think we're all very hopeful that we're going to have an effective and safe vaccine as quickly as possible because the vaccine is really the key to us getting back to normal life, to life as we know it. But in the meantime, I think we cannot lose our focus on the measures that will bridge us from now until when we get the vaccine. And that's really the testing, the testing, the testing, the contact tracing, and, you know, all of the effective measures that people are taking right now, the social distancing, wearing the masks when out in public, hand washing. We're going to be need to be doing all these things for quite some time.

HARLOW: When you hear Dr. Fauci talking about -- you know, he talked about normalcy, while having some baseball games and basketball games and football games is normalcy, right, but if he said those may have to be suspended throughout the entirety of the year, what does that tell you, right? Because I just wonder with the amount of people that go in such close, you know, spaces, without a vaccine, do you see sports reopening in a safe way?

[09:05:09]

LEE: It's hard to imagine that because, yes, you're pooling so many people together, you know, for these events in close proximity. And it's hard to imagine families, you know, individuals saying feeling comfortable, going into those environments. And also you -- the sporting leagues will want to be responsible and not put people at risk as well by holding the events. So I think Dr. Fauci is exactly right that we just need to be realistic about what is going to be possible in the near future. Hoping a vaccine comes soon, but what can we do? In the meantime, there is a lot that we can do to get ready for that time.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Lee, listen, these are difficult decisions for health professionals, for elected leaders, when, how much to relax, et cetera. But I know heads are spinning at home because people in the same day, the same hour, the same minute might hear a guidance from their governor says it's OK to come out and guidance from Dr. Fauci or other doctors saying it's too early. Who should folks at home listen to?

LEE: It is confusing. You know, we in the United States have approached this in a sort of a patchwork of strategies, rather than having one of very clear and consistent national strategy, and this is the result that there is different guidance and different states, even in different localities in the states, and it is hard to know what to do. You know, I think that what -- one of the things that will be a marker for us to know whether it's safe to reopen is whether anyone and everyone that has symptoms is able to get tested for COVID.

You know, we're not there right now. And until we get to that point, I don't think people are going to feel comfortable. And so, you know, what we really need is for the federal government to not be the supplier of last resort, to not just offer guidance, but to really leverage the full power and authority that they have, the manufacturing leverage that they can wield, the purchasing power, the coordination power, and set a goal for us, a national goal.

How about a number of tests and a date, a deadline by which we can reach that, and then I think we'll have a better sense of security and confidence in being able to reopen?

HARLOW: Sure. Sure, it's a fair point. That's how societies operate in war time, right? And this is --

LEE: Exactly.

HARLOW: This is a war that we're fighting against the virus.

Dr. Lee, thanks very much.

California's Governor Gavin Newsom says it will be months, not weeks, before he makes any meaningful changes to his state's stay-at-home order.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now from Los Angeles.

Stephanie, tell us what more you're learning. Because there has been some discussion of this for some time, when and how. I mean, the governor is not completely opposed to relaxing these things. Has he set a timeline? Has he set standards?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a four-phased plan. That's the way to put it, Jim and Poppy, of looking at how they want to get the state back to that ideal of being open again. And so right now we are in the first phase, which is really about making sure that the essential workplaces are safe, that the PPE, those protective equipment, are there for the people who have to go to work right now. That's where we are now.

But based on the data, where we're starting to see stabilization in the number of cases and also in the number of lives lost to COVID-19, he's saying that this is now just weeks away to moving to stage two. These are some of the key indicators that they're looking at, being able to handle the surge capacity and so forth. In stage two, that's where you can start seeing daycares perhaps opening back up.

Some modified school programs, he also floated the idea of starting the next school year and at the end of July or early August as well, just a little footnote in there for parents who are wondering when that's going to happen. And then also getting those lower risk workplaces back up and running like manufacturing. Then all of that being weeks away, but months away he is saying phase three and phase four, or phase three, that would be getting a haircut, going to salon, going to the gym.

And phase four, he says that would require some sort of therapeutics, meaning herd immunity or having a vaccine, which we know is probably months and months away. So he's saying the idea of concerts and conventions and those live sporting events, that is going to be a very long time. And that means for sports fans that the idea of seeing sports again this year, that's just a very, very small idea right now. That is not even on the roadmap to where we are at this point -- Poppy and Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Similar guidance to what Dr. Fauci is now saying.

Stephanie Elam in Los Angeles, thanks very much.

Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, he's expected to lay out his plans to reopen today as local leaders begin reopening some parks, even community swimming pools.

[09:10:02]

HARLOW: Our Rosa Flores joins us again this morning from Miami Beach.

What do we know about this plan?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy and Jim. Good morning. We're here in southeast Florida, mayors in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach are taking a regional approach. They announced the reopening of parks at the same time. But you can see the beaches in all three counties continue to be closed and that's by design because they know that beaches attract so many people.

But parks, they opened at 7:00 a.m. this morning. So are walkways like the one that I'm walking on right now. And you'll see that there's people out and about, but there are strict restrictions. Facial coverings are required and we've seen police patrol and other members of the city also patrol, telling people that they have to wear face masks. Social distancing is also required of at least six feet and hours of operation are restricted to 7:00 a.m., to 7:00 p.m. And there are hours for seniors so that they can have time to walk in these parks and enjoy the outside and of course we know that they are the most vulnerable community.

Now, you can see behind me that there are some people out walking. We've seen people all morning today. Now, as for the state of Florida, we're expecting Governor Ron DeSantis to announce his plan sometime today -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Rosa, thank you very much.

Tune in to a new CNN global town hall, it is tomorrow night. Bill Gates will join Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta live for "CORONAVIRUS, FACTS AND FEARS." That begins 8:00 tomorrow night. Still to come, the president orders meat processing plants to remain

open during this pandemic. Will plants that have closed because of such a large COVID outbreak actually be forced to reopen?

SCIUTTO: Yes, what happens to workers there who tested positive? Plus states pushing their plans to reopen. We're going to speak to the progressive governor of Colorado who is facing pushback from officials in his own state.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: President Trump has now ordered meat processing plants to stay open. This despite several outbreaks at facilities, some of them very serious.

POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: In Green Bay, Wisconsin, CNN has learned that three meat-packing facilities account for over half of all of the confirmed cases in that entire county. That is a similar story, by the way, in some counties across the country. Our correspondent Omar Jimenez joins us from Green Bay. So, what are the plants saying and how many workers are sick there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, at this point, that count on workers is one that the county and of course the company themselves are keeping a close eye on at this point. So you look at the total cases that we have seen, you mentioned more than half of all coronavirus confirmed cases in this county stem from meatpacking facilities.

And when you look at President Trump's executive order, it would compel some of these to reopen, and then that executive order would declare these plants critical infrastructure in the United States. Despite us seeing coronavirus clusters not just here, but in places across the country in total, thousands of workers are either showing symptoms or had been hospitalized.

We've seen at least 20 that sadly have died. Over 20 closures of plants again, across this country, and some of the locations of those plant closures stem from Pennsylvania to South Dakota to Iowa and, of course, here in Wisconsin. Now, Green Bay specifically, there are three meat-packing facilities that have been affected in this, two of them are still operating under CDC guidelines, and doing so as safely as possible.

But one of them, JBS, had to close or they voluntarily closed, I should say, over the weekend. They are the most significantly affected here, employee-wise, with more than 250 employees testing positive and at least 79 linked cases. Now, it should be noted all three of them passed in CDC state and county official walked through for best coronavirus preventative practices last week.

But this is the fourth JBS location, specifically to close in the midst of this pandemic. Two of them have now reopened, but under President Trump's executive order, it remains to be seen whether others will soon join. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: OK, Omar Jimenez, thank you very much. In Sioux Falls, South Dakota, of the more than 2,300 cases across that state, just under half of those have been tied to one pork processing plant, that is Smith Field Food there in Sioux Falls. Minnehaha County which is where Sioux Falls is located, of course, the most popular city in the state has over 1,900 confirmed cases, six people have died, having worked there.

Despite the numbers, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem says the plant could reopen in a matter days. She also -- I should note, refused to institute a stay-at-home order, this is her fellow Republican, Sioux Falls Mayor Paul TenHaken has pleaded for a stay-at-home order for weeks. He joins me now, and I should note, you called the company executives weeks ago before they closed this plant, essentially begging them to do so.

Thank you, mayor, for being with me. So, the president has signed this executive order, essentially saying all meat processing plants in the country need to be open. Have you talked to -- have you talked to Smithfield Foods CEO since then. What does that mean? Will this plant be opening?

MAYOR PAUL TENHAKEN, SIOUX FALLS, SOUTH DAKOTA: You know, I haven't had a chance to talk to Smithfield Foods yet since the president announced that proposed executive deal. Obviously, we want to unpack that and understand what that means because the safety of the employees continues to be the top priority. You know, and right now, we haven't seen a report from Smithfield or any confirmation from Smithfield that they are ready to reopen.

You know, my hope is that they're taking the measures to reopen shortly. You know, the CDC was on the ground here last week preparing a report for them that they received.

[09:20:00]

It outlined a bevy of recommendations that they need to look at implementing in the plan, but ordering them to open and open in short fashion, while I want them open more than anyone. We need to make sure it can open safely for those employees that need to go back there.

HARLOW: Well, look, I wanted to have you on after reading your comments over the last month. You want them open now, but safely. I mean, you have -- I know you've struggled with this as a Republican and being in line with some of what the governor has thought in terms of independence of decisions by individuals, but ultimately, all these cases and deaths you thought it was beyond time for them to close.

I just -- I read that CDC report and 11 of the 15 pages outline 100 suggested safety changes. They talk about 30 people in a room, in a break room at a given time, they talk about not having touchless sanitizer dispensers. My question is those are recommendations. Given this executive order from the president, does Smithfield have to institute any of that, and have they said they will? TENHAKEN: You know, that's -- I think that's the question I have as

well, Poppy, is if they can go ahead and just reopen without implementing those CDC recommendations. You know, this plant here is over a century old. This is not a modern facility. So some of these recommendations from the CDC, quite honestly, simply aren't possible facility this old and of this age. And so, I think that's the question they're going to have to answer is can they --

HARLOW: Yes --

TENHAKEN: In good conscience feel like they can open, protect those employees and keep them safe. You know, for us in Sioux Falls, Smithfield Foods is our fourth largest employer. I mean, they --

HARLOW: Yes --

TENHAKEN: Have 3,700 employees. My wife is a daughter of a hog farmer. I understand what is happening, having this plant shut down, what it's doing to the pork industry. And so I want them open, but we're still --

HARLOW: Yes --

TENHAKEN: Trying to figure out what this means from the president's office yesterday.

HARLOW: Oh, I understand. I mean, we heard the plea from -- you know, and the reaction from pork farmers in Minnesota where you're from, talking about what this meant for them. I guess my final question is, when you called for the shelter in place in Sioux Falls weeks ago, the governor, Governor Kristi Noem again also a Republican like you rejected it, and she said quote, "I'm making a decision to actually do good, not to make decisions that just make people feel good. Did her decision cost lives in Sioux Falls?

TENHAKEN: You know, I don't think so. And actually, when we originally called for a shelter in place in Minnehaha in Lincoln County, our spike, we were just at the beginning of the Smithfield outbreak, and it was tough. I mean, we were growing at an exponential rate surpassing a lot of large metros around the country. Since that time, our data has shown that, that spike has started to flatten and we started to flatten the curve.

So, I called back on that. I said, listen, a shelter-in-place or stay- at-home maybe isn't the right thing for Sioux Falls, and I quite honestly don't know if that would have prevented this outbreak at Smithfield. Because as a critical infrastructure facility, they would have continued to operate, continued to work. And so, it's easy to arm-chair quarterback the past and say would that have prevented it? I don't know --

HARLOW: Sure --

TENHAKEN: If it would have been in this case --

HARLOW: Sure. I think we all wish for the best going forward as these folks, when they go back to work, that they have the safety precautions needed --

TENHAKEN: Yes --

HARLOW: Thank you, mayor, good luck to you guys.

TENHAKEN: Thank you, Poppy, all right --

HARLOW: You got it. Jim?

SCIUTTO: We have this breaking news in to CNN. The Navy is now launching a broader investigation into the "USS Teddy Roosevelt", the aircraft carrier hit hard by the coronavirus, of course, the captain relieved of duty after coming to the defense of his sailors in the wake of that. Joining us now at CNN Pentagon correspondent Ryan Browne. The chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Gilday, recommended five days ago to reinstate Crozier. That recommendation ignored here, delayed, what's happening exactly?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Jim, it's not entirely clear. Now, the Pentagon is not officially commenting on this and the Navy has yet to announce anything formally. The defense officials are telling us that the Navy is expected to announce this broader inquiry today. Now, what does that do to the previous recommendation that they have made to reinstate Captain Crozier?

That's not immediately clear. It's expected it would delay that possible reinstatement. Now, the Navy had conducted its investigation, the chief of Naval Operations had recommended Friday that Captain Crozier be reinstated, we're being told. But Secretary of Defense Mark Esper was not prepared to immediately endorse that recommendation on Friday, saying he wanted to take time to review the recommendations.

Now, again, we're not exactly sure what happened between that -- then and now to merit this broader inquiry. It's possible that there was other inputs made into this process. But it is a surprising turn of events. The Navy had expected the Secretary of Defense to endorse its recommendation, now what's going to be happening to Captain Crozier not entirely clear.

SCIUTTO: Normally, is it not? The Defense Secretary defer to the service chiefs on recommendations like this? How unusual is it for the Defense Secretary to hear from the chief of Naval Operations who we should note conducted his own investigation into this and concluded that investigation?

[09:25:00]

How unusual for the Defense Secretary to then say, not good enough for me, I want something broader?

BROWNE: Well, the whole process has been fairly unusual. And a spokesman for the Pentagon initially said that this secretary was inclined to accept maybe the leadership's recommendation. But now with this broader inquiry, it looks like they want to have a broader picture of everything that went on, not just the Captain Crozier situation, whether or not that will impact the actual Captain Crozier reinstatement is yet to be determined.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Browne at the Pentagon, we know you'll stay on top of it, thanks very much.

BROWNE: You're welcome.

HARLOW: Ahead for us, more evidence today of this pandemic's impact on the economy, what it means for you, that's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: There is more proof that the pandemic is doing real damage.

END