Return to Transcripts main page


Trump Clashes with Experts on Whether Virus Will "Disappear"; Flurry of Coronavirus Vaccines Trials Underway; Kushner: We're Exceeding Testing Goals; U.S. Economy Shrinks by Nearly 5% in First Quarter; Dr. Sam Page, County Executive, St. Louis County, Discusses Why They're Not Ready to Reopen as State Lifts Stay-at-Home Order; Trump Uses Defense Production Act to Keep Meat Processing Plants Open; Kim Cordova, President, UFCW, Local 7, Discusses Trump Ordering Meat Processing Plants to Stay Open Despite Sick Workers; Trump Promises Number of Cases "Will Go Down to Zero". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired April 29, 2020 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Look forward to some of those weddings ahead, even if they're by Zoom.

Thanks for joining us. We'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.


"NEWSROOM" with John King starts right now.

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.

Greece appealing today to summer vacationers: We want you to come here. Russia's prime minister said it's impossible to predict when coronavirus restrictions will end there. And France plans to divide itself into red or green zones. That color determines how quickly lockdown measures will go away.

Here in the United States, now one million-plus confirmed cases. The U.S. coronavirus death toll now outpaces the number of American war dead in Vietnam.

Look at the data from the past two weeks and the deaths are coming -- not coming down. At least not down consistently. CDC data hints that 58,000 is likely an undercount because total deaths in some of the hardest-hit states are 50 percent above typical levels.

Today, just wow numbers on the depth of the economic paralysis. The American economy shrunk in the first quarter by nearly 5 percent. It's the first contraction since 2014. The worst drop in GDP since the pits of the 2008 financial crisis. And we know the second quarter will be worse. Those new numbers make clear the urgency of restarting the economy.

But these new numbers tell us most Americans want to go slow and to put health and safety first. More than two-thirds of Americans say they're hesitant to go to sporting events, return to school, eat out at restaurants, or return to work.

The president's top experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says we may have to go without baseball this year, if we cannot guarantee safety.

Testing, of course, a key piece of the puzzle. There's also promising talk today of possible vaccine progress.

Deciding who you can trust is critical when making big decisions in the middle of a pandemic. Once again, the president spinning a much more optimistic take than his top expert.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think what happens is it's going to go away. This is going to go away. And whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we'll be able to handle it. We'll be able to put out spurts.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: If, by that time, we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well. If we don't do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter.


KING: Let's get straight to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Sanjay I want to start with this reporting from Pfizer this morning. It says it's making progress on vaccine development. Could have something ready this fall on an emergency basis. What do we make of that?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it sounds optimistic, John. It's not the first time we have heard that kind of enthusiasm from one of these companies that are trying to develop a vaccine.

There are seven of them now that are starting these trials. And 80 more than are in pretrial sort of phase. We heard from Oxford that they said, as well, they may have something by the fall.

And even the NIH, Dr. Corbett, over there, who is helping spearhead that trial, said an emergency use of a vaccine for maybe health care workers, for example, could be by this fall. But there's a lot of "ifs" here.

Just to give you little background, the type of vaccine they're talking about is a vaccine that has never been created before. Vaccines typically take 10 years or so. They're using a little piece of the virus to stimulate an immune

response. In this case, they're basically using a blueprint of a certain component of the virus to stimulate an immune response. It's called an MRNA vaccine.

They had a head start, John, a little bit, all these companies, because of the work on the SARS vaccine and the MERS vaccine in the past, which ultimately weren't needed, but they built on that knowledge. They were able to get through the safety data a little more quickly.

But we have to see, John. We don't know if this is going to work. It has to be tested on a large population of people where the virus is actually circulating so you can get meaningful data. And we have to see what that shows.

I would love it, you would love it, everybody would love it, but we have to temper expectations a little bit here -- John?

KING: When you see these releases from these companies, you want to say, wow, great. But that's just it. Are they building up expectations in an unreasonable way? We'll keep on top of it.

Sanjay, you're spending a lot of time studying the testing issue. Obviously critical anyway, even more critical as states begin to reopen. I want you to run through your numbers and your assessment.

But, first, I want you to listen to the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who says, on FOX News today, things are good.


JARED KUSHNER, SENIOR ADVISOR TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx gave the innovation team and Admiral Giroir goals that they would like to hit on testing. We have been able to so far exceed those goals for the month of April.

Somebody asked me why it took so long. I said, you should look at, how did we do this so quickly.


KING: Every time I talk to a mayor or governor, public health expert, they're much less rosy than that. Take us through your numbers.


GUPTA: One thing to keep in mind as we look at these numbers, John, is that it matters that we're increasing testing. And we are. But we did get a late start here.

I'm not trying to be unnecessarily critical, but it's not just the amount of testing. It's when you're able to start it. Because we started late, there probably was a lot more widespread of this virus in the country, and that's just a fact. That's a public health fact.

But let's take a look at the numbers. Where are we now with testing? About 5.5, close to six million tests now have been performed.

If you look at, for example, what the expectation is from the White House plan in terms of where they want to get, they talk about doing 2 percent a month of the country. That's about six million to seven million people a month.

But, John, the delta in terms of what they're thinking about and what these various road maps have to get us sort of back to a path of reopening are just wildly different. I mean, they say -- the Harvard road map says five million tests a day by June. A couple months from now. And 20 million tests a day.

Now, to be clear, if you're doing 20 million tests a day for a month, that's 600 million tests, close to double the population of the United States.

That doesn't mean -- that could be many tests for some people, right? It's maybe regular testing for a certain segment of the population to get them back to work, to give them the confidence they don't have the virus, and they're not spreading it to others. Those are the numbers.

John, one point I want to make -- and I think this will be a critical point we should stay on -- is there's been some real concerns even about the accuracy of these diagnostic tests. Dr. Michael Osterholm wrote a great article about it yesterday.

But if you look at these tests -- and we can't take our eye off the ball on this -- there's a 15 percent false negative rate on some of these tests. If it's that high, you're going to start to lose confidence in people actually being able to trust these tests. They have to get more accurate and more widespread.

KING: A continuing issue as we go through it.

Dr. Gupta, as always, appreciate your insights and analysis.

A deep look at the horrible new economic numbers. The government says GDP shrank by nearly 5 percent last quarter. As bad as that is, the report captures just the beginning of the coronavirus economic blow.

Here with me to share their reporting and their insights, CNN chief business correspondent, Christine Romans, and Jeanna Smialek, Federal Reserve reporter for the "New York Times.".

Christine, let me start with you.

You say GDP down 5 percent, that's wow. That's been a long time since we have contracted. But we also know that's the last quarter. The one we're in right now is likely to be even worse.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good-bye to the longest economic expansion in American history, and officially hello to the coronavirus recession.

These numbers, I'm sure, are going to be revised even lower. You know, the government even said in its technical note that they couldn't even capture all the data in the last couple weeks that are going to animate these numbers.

And the forecast for the third quarter, John, 20 percent, 30 percent, 40 percent contraction in the U.S. economy. Those are depression-level numbers.

The difference between a recession becoming a depression is how Washington rescues it and whether they can get the aid where it needs to go quickly.

KING: Interesting point there.

And, Jeanna, let's look at the numbers. Over the last five weeks, 26.5 million Americans filing for unemployment. Retail spending down 9 percent almost in March. Home sales down 21 percent in March.

The Federal Reserve meeting again today. The Federal Reserve has even created some new weapons here to do some unprecedented things. Interest rates are about as low as they can go.

To Christine's point about what can Washington do, what can the Fed do if it can do more to try to at least keep a foundation under this sputtering economy?

JEANNA SMIALEK, FEDERAL RESERVE & ECONOMICS REPORTER, "NEW YORK TIMES": I think that's the critical question right now. You know, when you talk to Fed officials, when you hear from them publicly, they'll often say what they can't do is spending. They can only do lending.

What they have been setting up is a series of programs meant to keep credit flowing into the economy. That's useful, and it certainly helps, and it can help with the rebound.

The issue is it's somewhat limited at a juncture like this where what you really have is households going without income, people are not pulling in paychecks. Unemployment is likely to be in the 20 percent, 21 percent in the coming report.

And so, in that instance, it's not super helpful to take on more debt. What these people really need is more money. So the Fed is doing what it can. Those tools may be limited at this point.

KING: Christine, a lot of people have never been here in the sense that it's so bad, not just a financial crisis like we had in 2008. This is everywhere, and it's global.

The Ford CEO, Jim Hackett, saying this on an earnings call, "There's no future if we don't have an economic system that's always on. We didn't realize there was an off switch. I never had a business plan that was called pandemic."

So you have all these companies trying to figure out, hey, when can we go back to work, how do we make the workplace more safe. The prognosis looking ahead, uncertain at best?

ROMANS: Uncertain at best because you're starting to see these tiny steps into the economy, whether it's a mall company or the automakers trying to restart some lines.


But when you survey Americans, they're like, I'm not ready to go back yet. The majority are not ready to go out there as they were before. So we're talking about a new kind of maybe American austerity in the next couple quarters until people feel comfortable on the health front of this.

That switch metaphor is so interesting because we did flip the switch off, but you can't flip it back on. It's a dial, and that dial is controlled by the American consumer, and the American employee who wants to go shopping and go back to work. And that's the challenge.

KING: And you see it in the numbers, the hesitation to do that.

Christine Romans, Jeanna Smialek, appreciate your insights. This one is going to be with us for a bit. We'll bring you back to talk about it.

Missouri lifting its stay-at-home order on Monday. But one important piece of the state not ready to go along. The mayor of St. Louis says the case count is not dropping fast enough to ease restrictions in the city. And officials in St. Louis County, a separate suburban area, now taking the same position.

St. Louis County has just shy of 3,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and 159 deaths. Those deaths, nearly half of the state death total.

Dr. Sam Page is an anesthesiologist and the St. Louis county executive.

Sir, thanks for being with us today.

In your part of the state, obviously, hardest hit, the governor wants to reopen. You say we need to wait. How deep is the resistance from the business community? I understand some people are even saying they may go to court.

DR. SAM PAGE, (D), COUNTY EXECUTIVE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI: Well, we expect some opposition. It is a little bit confusing, certainly, when the governor has made a decision for the rest of the state.

But he's also recognized that St. Louis County is very different. We have, as you mentioned, almost half of the cases in the state. We had 20 deaths reported yesterday, and we're not out of the woods yet.

We took very aggressive action early on in St. Louis County, one of the first jurisdictions in the country to initiate a stay-at-home order. And we're in a pretty good spot as long as we don't come out of the stay-at-home order too soon.

KING: Define too soon? What do you think you need, two more weeks, three more weeks, don't know?

PAGE: We need the same variables to make that decision. We need a strong robust testing environment, we need good contact tracing in place, and we need to demonstrate that our hospitals have the capacity to handle new patients.

KING: I want to look at the demographics of your county. I love that area. There's St. Louis city. Then you move out to St. Louis County. About 67 percent, 66 percent white, 20 percent African-American, 4.5 percent Asian.

Is one community in your county being hit harder than others? And do you understand why the county seems to be disproportionate, if you look at the state-wide numbers, is it just population density or something else?

PAGE: It's population density. But certainly, our African-American community in the St. Louis region has been hit hard, as you would expect. Any community that has limited access to health care and high prevalence of chronic medical conditions is going to get hit hard by the COVID-19 virus.

And this virus really has shined a spotlight on what we have known for decades, is we have serious health care disparities in the African- American community.

KING: Dr. Page, really appreciate your insights. Best of luck in the days ahead. We'll check back in a week or so to see if, hopefully, the numbers are going down. Appreciate your time.

PAGE: Thank you.

KING: Thank you, sir.

Coming up for us, President Trump orders meat packing plants to stay open despite waves of coronavirus. First, though one business owner -- we introduced you to last week -- said reopening hasn't been what he hoped.


MARIO ZELAYA, CEO, BAD AXE THROWING: We had over 40 locations across North America, and Atlanta was the first location we opened up. Unfortunately, it did not go according to plan. We had a total of two customers that came through the door the whole weekend.

And I think that points to a bigger macroeconomic problem we have. Atlanta is serving as the canary in the coal mine that is able to warn us and give us an indication of what customer sentiments are going to be as the closures happen.




KING: President Trump meeting this morning with agriculture leaders. That, in the wake of his executive order demanding meat processing plants stay open even as they deal with big spikes in coronavirus among the workers.

More than 20 of these facilities have closed because of major outbreaks. One of the largest, the Tyson food plant in Waterloo, Iowa. The White House said it worked with Tyson on the executive order.

Our Omar Jimenez is in Green Bay, Wisconsin, home to another one of those closed meat plants.

Omar, obvious tension. The president says you is to keep the food supply chain open. A lot of workers say we need to be safe.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And look, when you look at just the three major meat packing plants in the Green Bay area alone, they now account for more than half of all the confirmed coronavirus cases in this entire county.

Including at one, JBS, that closed over the weekend. They have more than 250 employees alone that have tested positive, along with 79 cases.

And as we tried to get in touch with many of these employees, we understand it's a heavily Hispanic population that has been affected here. Many of them undocumented that we're told as well. So many of them are fearful to come forward with potential conditions at many of these places.

Now, to be fair to the three that are in operation here, they did pass CDC, state, and county inspections last week over coronavirus prevention methods.

But with this executive order compelling them to keep open, if we see these numbers go up, as we have seen in many clusters across this country, the stakes of that rise even more.

Now, one of the major fears in this as well has been the effects on the food chain. As we have seen, as you mentioned, more than 20 closures of meat packing plants across this country. And that ripple effect extends all the way even up to farmers who would be selling to these meat packing facilities.

We spoke to one farmer in Indiana who described to us what her outlook is right now amid this pandemic.



HEATHER HILL, INDIANA PORK FARMER: You know, right now, our top priority is taking care of our pigs and making sure that there's pork for all of us to eat. And you know, you think a lot of changes, you know, we're going to have to look at things in our farm in the future. Right now, we're definitely in survival mode and let's get through this, and then I think strategically.

(END VIDEO CLIP) JIMENEZ: And for JBS here, they closed their facility at this location. It was their fourth location they had to close. But now, two of them reopened.

And we'll see if this executive order plays into the others getting online as well.

KING: Omar Jimenez, again, appreciate the reporting.

Uncertainty in the food chain, uncertainty from the farmers, uncertainty from the workers. Keep an eye on this one.

Just to follow up on Omar's point, take a look at these hot spots. And 84 percent of the cases in South Dakota in Minnehaha County, home of the major Smithfield plant. In Black Hawk County, Iowa, home to a Tyson's food plant, 15 percent. Weld County, Colorado, has 11 percent of the state's cases. The JBS plant there has seen more than 100 cases and five deaths.

Kim Cordova is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, Local Chapter Seven, covering Colorado and Wyoming. She's also the international union's vice president.

Kim, thank you for being with us today.

So the president has an executive order that says, no, we need to keep the food supply chain up and running. Therefore, the plants need to stay open. You would say what?

KIM CORDOVA, PRESIDENT, UNITED FOOD & COMMERCIAL WORKERS UNION, LOCAL SEVEN: That he is putting the workers at risk. This is reckless and irresponsible of him to do this. These workers are the critical link to the food supply chain. They need to have the protections that they need.

And by not allowing these plants to close to properly sanitize when there's an outbreak, or to make sure that these workers have priority testing and that sick workers are not allowed to go back to work, you're going to -- they're actually -- he is going to accelerate the break of the chain if they don't take care of their workforce.

KING: The White House says it reached out to Tyson, some of the companies, as it drafted the executive order. Did it reach out to the union and say, what do you guys need?

CORDOVA: No. In fact, you know, they have tried to stifle the workers' voice. You know, they're the important part. Nobody has asked them what they needed. You know, how they felt about this.

Workers are sick. They're human beings. They have no control over whether or not they're working in an environment with asymptomatic employees. If you force them to go back to work, because they're keeping these plants open, then there's going to be a lot of harm and maybe more deaths happening in the plant.

We had five workers die already at the JBS plant in Colorado. And they reopened that plant without testing. So we still have workers that are asymptomatic. In fact, we had 20 workers just over the weekend test positive. So if you bring them back into the plant, you just start the system instead of doing what you have to do to mitigate it and protect the workers.

They're the essential part of -- they're absolutely critical and essential to the food supply chain, but you have to protect them.

KING: To me --


CORDOVA: We need stronger laws that are enforceable.

KING: I'm sorry. To me, it's a fascinating debate. Number one, from what we see right now, the safety of your workers. But, number two, is all these governors now decide we're going to send more people back to work when the people that we know, like your essential workers, are getting sick.

I want to go through the numbers. Twenty-two plants closed at some point, 5,000 meat packer workers impacted, 1500 food processing workers impact impacted, 20 deaths. You say, in the Greeley case, they're not even testing.

Are any of these companies deciding, OK, we need to spread people out, maybe we need to bring in some partitions, we need to do testing, we need to spread out the break areas, or are they just saying come back to work?

CORDOVA: No. This is why closing the plant was, you know, it was important. While the plant was closed, JBS did go in and they have put in some plexiglass dividers. They have made some structural changes to help mitigate, you know, the problem with social distancing.

But the biggest problem is that allowing a workforce to go back to work without companywide testing, that's a problem. Because it's almost impossible in some areas of those plants to social distance.

And if you don't know that you have the symptoms, you know, are you going to work in the same way you would, you know, and not be careful about how close you got to somebody? There's a lot of fear with workers.


And if you have an unhealthy workforce, you can't be as productive. It is -- you know, our workers, our members are not irreplaceable or disposable objects. They're being sacrificed.

KING: Kim Cordova, very much appreciate your insights. Please stay in touch as the conversation continues and this debate continues about whether workers are safe as the president says go back to work. Kim, thanks again very much.

Back here in Washington, President Trump pushing states to reopen, meeting this hour with one of the governors taking a slower approach. Louisiana Governor Jon Bel Edwards just extended his stay-at-home order through mid-May. Reporters are being allowed into some of that meeting. We'll bring you there if there's any news.

It comes amid a White House messaging reshuffling. The president frustrated with the Coronavirus Task Force briefings, now looking for other ways to communicate. You could say it's been a rough experiment so far, though.

Remember, back in February, the president predicted we would be down to zero cases soon, and that the virus would disappear in April. You see the numbers on your screen. We have more than a million cases. And more than 50,000 Americans have died so far in April.

Yet, the president somehow insisting yesterday he called it right.


TRUMP: It will go down to zero ultimately. And you have to understand, when it comes to cases, we do much more testing than anybody else. So we can go to some of these other countries, as an example, China, if you test, you're going to show more cases. So we're testing. We're doing more testing than any other country by far. And at the appropriate time, it will be down to zero like I said.


KING: Let's discuss with two great White House reporters. "Washington Post's" correspondent, Toluse Olorunnipa, and NPR's, Tamara Keith.

Tamara, to you first.

The president can't erase the things he said in February, but he continues to try. Ultimately, it would be down to zero, he says. What's your take so far? The president has decided I don't like those briefings, I'm going to do more press conferences, get away from Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx to a degree. How is it going?

TAMARA KEITH, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, NPR: Well, what they're trying to do is push out a positive message, which is why you have what you had yesterday, where they're pushing the idea that PPP has been successful in bringing forward some success stories.

What they're trying to do is go on the offense with their message, and they're trying to shift the focus. Whether they will actually succeed at shifting the focus -- you know, the White House, the president, is ready to move on to the economic recovery phase and wants to find positive stories. But, I mean, look at GDP today, and that was based on basically two weeks of coronavirus shutdowns.

So as much as the White House is going to try to push forward a new story, the old public health story, the public health crisis isn't gone yet.

KING: No, not at all gone. And this has been a bit of inconsistency sometimes. Maybe some is understandable because you're in an unpredictable pandemic.

But last week, the president is telling the governor of Georgia, slow down, you're doing too much too soon. Of late, he's leaning in, pushing states to recover. Tamara, there's a reason why, the economy is in tatters, it's an election year.

But I'm noticing a little message dissonance. This is the president yesterday being rather optimistic.


TRUMP: But I think what happens is it's going to go away. This is going to go away. Whether it comes back in a modified form in the fall, we'll be able to handle it. We'll be able to put out spurts. And we're very prepared to handle it.


KING: What I have found interesting, listen here, this is Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx. Now that they're not on the same stage with the president and they tend to be doing more individual interviews, to me, tell me if you think I'm right, they're starting to sound much more cautious, not as optimistic as the president.


FAUCI: If we are unsuccessful or prematurely try to open up, it could be a rebound to get us right back in the same boat. It's not going to disappear from the planet.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Social distancing will be with us through the summer to really ensure that we protect one another.


KING: Do you agree with that, that they sound a bit more less optimistic, I guess, than they do when they have to stand right next to the president?

TOLUSE OLORUNNIPA, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "WASHINGTON POST": I do agree. I do think they're starting to sort of talk past the president, past the White House, down to the governors, down to the American people.

And telling them, even if the president is trying to cheerlead the country and say all these positive messaging about how things are going to be back to normal, and we have heard similar messages from the vice president saying look to Memorial Day. We have heard Jared Kushner say by June or July, everything will be rocking and ready to go back to normal.

The health experts are saying to the American people it's not going to be a snap back to normalcy. It will be a situation where we have to continue social distancing. The president's idea that it all disappears and it won't come back in the fall is based on a fallacy. [11:30:06]