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Some State Reopen but Different Plans Spark Confusion; New York Doctor Treated Virus Patients Dies by Suicide; What to Expect in First-Quarter U.S. GDP Report; British Airways May Cut 12,000 Jobs; Retired Farmer Sends N-95 Mask to New York Governor. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired April 29, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Georgia is one of the states that's already allowing some businesses to reopen, despite the steady rise in coronavirus cases. And now, according to a model shared by the CDC, the state is projected to see its number of daily COVID-19 deaths nearly double by early August. Georgia isn't alone in the push to get local economies running again. Tom Foreman has more on the confusion that's coming with it.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The beaches are open and they are closed. Restaurants are bustling and silent, too. You can get your nails done, or maybe not.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't keep the economy dormant. A lot of people are suffering.

FOREMAN: Amid calls to reopen the American economy, states are responding, and a patchwork of rules is spreading as haphazardly as the virus itself, making it hard to know what is being enforced, by whom, and where. Take Tennessee, where counties are getting to decide.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're just glad to be back.

FOREMAN: Andy Marshall is confident social distancing will keep everyone healthy at his grocery and eatery, but a short drive away --


FOREMAN: -- Christopher Hartland knows about the rules limiting seating and recommendations for masks, but he knows this, too --

HARTLAND: Many restaurants won't enforce them, which means people are go to the restaurants that are enforcing at bars and be served by people without masks. I just don't feel comfortable opening up.

FOREMAN: In Florida, the governor was stunned by criticism of overflowing beaches early on. Now he's crowing about ending the lockdown in a few days. RON DESANTIS, FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Everyone in the media was saying

Florida was going to be like New York or Italy, and that has not happened.

FOREMAN: Nearby, Georgia's governor is pushing the most aggressive reopening plan. And like some other governors, overriding local rules to the contrary. Happy business owners are promising to follow safety advice.

NJERI BOSS, WAFFLE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC RELATIONS: We want to be here to make sure that everybody who wants to and has the opportunity to, can take care of themselves and their family. That's the American way.

FOREMAN: But the move is terrifying those who fear a resurgence of the virus could soon follow and overwhelm hospitals.

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS, ATLANTA MAYOR: What we are essentially saying in Georgia is, go bowling and we'll have a bed waiting on you. That's not what our approach should be to COVID-19.

FOREMAN: From community sports to elective medical procedures to limited retail sales, it's all coming back here and there in fits and starts, met with everything from go-slow determination in Massachusetts, where reopening plans were just delayed --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't afford to make any mistakes.

FOREMAN: -- to frontier fatalism in South Dakota, where the governor was given a makeshift parade for her efforts to keep the state open, come what may.

KRISTI NOEM, SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR: This virus will spread more. There will be more positives, which is just a fact that we need to realize will happen.

FOREMAN (on camera): And the rationale for all these decisions is kind of a mess, too. Some states clearly are looking for a downward trend before they start reopening. Others appear to be nowhere near their peak with cases still mounting, but they're opening anyway. And still more are in a great big, murky middle.

Tom Foreman, CNN, Bethesda, Maryland.


CHURCH: Well, officials in Wisconsin say dozens of coronavirus cases have now been connected to the state's primary election. Earlier this month, the state's decision to hold in-person elections during a pandemic was met with strong criticism, including from residents who had to wait in long lines to vote. At least 52 people who voted that day or worked at polling stations have tested positive.

And we must never forget those on the front line of this pandemic. Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers risking their lives to save others. And in one tragic case taking their own life. Emergency room Dr. Lorna Breen died by suicide Saturday morning. She had recovered from COVID-19 and was continuing to care for virus patients. CNN's Chris Cuomo spoke with her father, who said that after she returned to work, the pressure became too great.


DR. PHILIP BREEN, FATHER OF DR. LORNA BREEN: She was a doctor every bit of the word what a doctor should be. She put her life on the line to take care of other people. She was in the trenches, so to speak, right in the front line as people were dying left and right around her. And indeed as you pointed out, she contracted the virus herself, went home sick. Had it proven that she did have the virus, and indeed, stayed home for just a little more than a week, which I don't think was enough in hindsight.

But I think she felt an overwhelming sense of wanting to help her colleagues and her friends who were still fighting the good fight, and so, she strapped on her harness and took the bit in her mouth and she went back. And I talked to her just before her final 12-hour shift.


And during the time she was on that shift, she basically went down in the traces like a horse that had pulled too heavy a load and couldn't go a step further and just went down. And so, she went down. She was retrieved and brought back by her family to Charlottesville, Virginia, where she was hospitalized for a brief period of time, judged well enough to be out on her own, but clearly was not better. And her sisters told me that you could see in her eyes that there was something not there.

But any rate, as of Sunday, she took her own life because I think she was tired. And she was the kind of person that somebody has very aptly put it, she was like the fireman who runs into the burning building to save another life and doesn't regard anything about herself. So, she has paid the price, and she has been in the trenches.


CHURCH: It is tragic beyond words. And for anyone out there struggling, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline here in the United States is always there for you. Just call 1-800-273-talk.


CHURCH: Well, in just a few hours from now, we will get a better sense of how much the pandemic is hurting the U.S. economy when the first- quarter GDP report is released. And Christine Romans joins us now from New York. Good to see you, Christine.


So, what can we expect from those first-quarter numbers, do you think?

ROMANS: I mean, this is going to be grim. It's going to show that the first quarter was the end of the longest economic expansion in American history and the beginning of what's probably going to be a nasty recession. I mean, the estimates are 4 percent seems to be the consensus for a 4 percent drop in economic activity.


It's really rare to see an economy crash like that so quickly, and it's probably all of this happened in the last part of the quarter. So the second quarter you could see 20 percent or 30 percent decline in economic activity, GDP fall by 20 percent or 30 percent. So, this is just really kind of an ugly situation. As one economist said, this will be a squall right before the hurricane.

The big question, though, Rosemary -- and this is where the hope comes in -- is what does it look like on the other side? You know, the President said you're going to have an explosion of economic activity, good GDP in the third quarter, in the fourth quarter. He's forecasting what's called a v-shaped recovery. But clearly, consumers were trenched, people stayed home, the economy not only stopped but actually contracted for that first quarter, and I think that's what we're going to see.

CHURCH: And of course, we've all been watching various U.S. states open up for business and others get ready to do the same. What impact will this start to have on the economy and how quickly do you think? Of course, one of the problems is, they might open up, people might not come. That's a problem, isn't it?

ROMANS: Or they open up and you spread the illness more and you have a deeper freeze in the fall. So there's a lot of risk, of course. You know, we're hearing from the big automakers that they will start up their assembly lines again. It may be around May 18th. That's the date they have floated. Of course, in the assembly line, you've got all these people working closely together, and a lot of people in those plants, so they're going to have to really take measures to make sure people stay safe.

We know the President has ordered the meat processing facilities to stay open. Again, another question of how you're going to keep those people on the meat processing lines safe.

And this morning in "The New York Times," Simon Properties, it's the biggest owner of malls in the country, said they're going to open 49 mall properties over the weekend, mostly Texas, Indiana, Georgia, and Missouri. So, Rosemary, you're seeing a little bit of a thaw in the deep freeze of the American economy. Everyone's nervous, but you're starting to see some attempts to reopen.

CHURCH: Yes, we'll watch it very closely to see who emerges from their cave to go shopping. I mean, it's a difficult one, isn't it?

ROMANS: It is.

CHURCH: Everyone wants to do their part to help the economy, but they want to stay safe at the same time. Very difficult balance. Christine Romans, many thanks, as always. Well, British Airways may be forced to cut 12,000 jobs due to a

collapse in business from the pandemic. The airline says it needs to restructure the company in order to weather the crisis. Its parent company, IAG, which also includes Spanish airline Iberia, reported 579 million dollars in first-quarter operating losses, and it warns losses in the second quarter will be significantly worse.

CNN's John Defterios joins us now from Abu Dhabi to talk more about this. And John, this news, of course, comes as flight bans and other restrictions are threatening to bankrupt airlines around the world. So, how bad do you think this could get?

JOHN DEFTERIOS, CNN BUSINESS EMERGING MARKETS EDITOR: Well, I think it's very fair to say, Rosemary, that the airline industry is first on the runway when it comes to business destruction. That is the harsh reality we see today. Business travel has been curtailed way back, people working from home. It's extremely difficult to try to plan for the summer months and holiday right now, so that's just not taking place until, as you were suggesting there with Christine, you get further clarity of how the economies around the world, not just the United States, are going to be opening up.

So, IAG, the parent of British Airways, not waiting and taking action here, cutting nearly 30 percent of their workforce, 12,000 employees. And I thought this was interesting, the language around IAG. They said about the second quarter being even worse but that we could have profound changes in travel patterns going forward as a result of what we've seen with the coronavirus.

Now, it's so severe in the United States, President Trump decided to put forward a $50 billion bailout in two tranches for the airline sector -- so low-interest loans, access to capital, so they can keep moving when the economy opens back up again.

But this is filtering into many levels of the economy. For example, TripAdvisor, the travel site, is laying off 25 percent of its workforce because people are not making their plans, as I was suggesting. And even the behemoth in the internet sector, Alphabet Google. It beat expectations on its revenues and the total group made over $41 billion in the quarter, which is extraordinary. But the guidance for the second quarter was very similar to the airline guidance. It's going to get much worse. They're very dependent on the auto sector, the retailers, restaurants, and the like, for the search ads and the ads that run accompany to those searches. So you can see the turbulence it's having through every level of business society.

CHURCH: John, we need some good news. John Defterios bringing us that live report from Abu Dhabi. Many thanks.


Well, a simple gift is worth 1,000 words. A farmer sent an extra face mask he had to New York to help frontline workers. And I talked to his wife and asked her what prompted this selfless action. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. A family dog in North Carolina has tested positive for the coronavirus. Researchers say it could be the first known case in dogs in the United States.


HEATHER MCLEAN, RECOVERED FROM CORONAVIRUS: The symptoms were really very mild. Pugs are a little unusual that they cough and sneeze in a very strange way, so it almost seemed like he was very gaggy. And there was one day he didn't really want to eat his breakfast. And if you know pugs, they really love to eat, so that seemed very unusual.


CHURCH: When Stern was tested after three of the four family members got the virus, everyone has recovered, including the dog. The CDC says protect your pets like you would any other human family member. There you go.

All right, so, you may remember the retired farmer from Kansas who sent a single N-95 face mask to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo for someone on the front line to use.


Well, despite having fears and concerns about protecting his own family from the virus, Dennis Ruhnke wanted to help the state of New York. And here's the letter he sent.


ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK GOVERNOR: Dear Mr. Cuomo, I seriously doubt that you will ever read this letter, as I know you are busy beyond belief with the disaster that has befallen our country.

I am a retired farmer, hunkered down in northeast Kansas with my wife who has but one lung and occasional problems with her remaining lung. Enclosed, find a solitary N-95 mask, left over from my farming days. It has never been used. If you could, would you please give this mask to a nurse or doctor in your state?

You have five masks. What do you do? Do you keep all five? Do you hide the five masks? Do you keep them for yourselves or others? No, you send one mask, one mask to New York to help a nurse or a doctor. How beautiful is that? I mean, how selfless is that?


CHURCH: And joining me now by phone is Dennis' wife, Sharon Ruhnke. Thank you so much for talking with us.


CHURCH: Now, we just heard Governor Cuomo read out your husband's letter, and what an incredible gesture that was to donate your one remaining N-95 mask to a health worker in New York state. Why did you and your husband decide that you wanted to do that?

RUHNKE: Well, you know, my husband has been a farmer for all of his life, and he's used the mask here on the farm. And he's retired now. He retired a few years back. And I guess when all this started, he was pretty sure he had some of those masks, because he went looking for them, and he came home with them. And he said, OK, we'll check and see if J.C. needs these.

My niece, J.C., is a paramedic here in Atchison, Kansas. And she let me know that she had plenty, that you know, her ambulance was well equipped. So, after that, it was just kind of up to Dennis. He went to his quiet place, which was down at the pond, and wrote a letter. So, I was not -- you know, I knew he wrote the letter. I didn't read it. So, some of the things in it, you know, I was, you know, surprised to hear, not that anything was not true. It's just that, he's a quiet man. He doesn't say anything. He really said a lot in that letter.

CHURCH: And in your husband's letter to Governor Cuomo, he does mention that you have only one lung and you're also having trouble with your remaining lung. So, how are you holding up and how are you and your whole family coping with this pandemic?

RUHNKE: You know, I have everything that's on the list, except cancer, and I'm quite fortunate that I don't have that. My one lung, which was removed when I was 17. I had chickenpox. That was a long time ago when we didn't take shots for chickenpox. And since then, I've had some trouble with my other lung, and I do have asthma. So you know, I just had everything on the list.

So, we've been -- we're fine. I mean, we're doing quite well. I've watched every rerun there is, of course, and so has he. But we have a good support group. My son, he gets our groceries for us. And I have several neighbors and friends here that keep their horses here on the farm. They bring in groceries, and we do everything right. We put everything outside and put it in a cooler and spray it down, and you know, wait a day, then bring it in. So, we're doing everything that we're supposed to be doing, and hopefully, we'll be safe.

CHURCH: Yes, that's very smart because you are particularly vulnerable with just one lung. And of course, you're clearly doing all the right things. So, how surprised were you when you found out that Governor Cuomo had, indeed, read your husband's letter out loud for all the country, and indeed, the world to hear?


RUHNKE: Well, on Friday, at about 3:00 here, the phone started ringing. And I had got a message from the Farm Bureau here in Troy, and they said they were tracking us down. And I said, well why would you be tracking us down? You know, most everybody knows that we live here.

And they asked if we had sent a letter -- well, the first thing he said was, did you send a letter to New York? And I said, you're going to have to tell me a little bit more, because, remember, I am 70, and why did I send a letter to New York? And he says, well, did you send one to the governor?

And of course, then I realized it was the letter Dennis had sent. And some gentleman had said he'd been searching the internet for hours trying to figure out which Sharon and Dennis in northeast Kansas. And I'm, you know, it's amazing. And there must be several of us.

CHURCH: It is a wonderful thing. And I think you started a movement of people donating their N-95 masks and a whole lot of other things. And we want to thank you, Sharon Ruhnke, for talking with us on CNN and for your incredible gesture.

RUHNKE: Oh, thank you for calling in. And you know, my heart goes out to New York.

CHURCH: Absolutely. Thank you so much. And you take care.

RUHNKE: Thank you.

CHURCH: Such wonderful, good people. We love to see this and tell their stories. And to find out how you can help others and how you can get help during this coronavirus pandemic, do go to

And thank you so much for your company. Stay strong and get through this. I'm Rosemary Church. CNN NEWSROOM continues next with Robyn Curnow.