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Analysts State Testing Capacity in U.S. Not Adequate for Reopening Economy; Vice President Mike Pence Criticized for Not Wearing Mask while Visiting Mayo Clinic; Trump Orders Meat Plants to Stay Open During Pandemic. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired April 29, 2020 - 08:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. And as of this morning, there are more than 1 million confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, more than 58,000 Americans have died. There were more than 2,000 new deaths reported just yesterday. So it's true that the number of deaths is no longer growing exponentially, but it's also true that the daily death count seems to have settled at a level that is very, very high. So what does that tell us?

Also this morning, as more states begin loosening their lockdowns, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, is warning that a second wave of the virus is inevitable, and just how bad it is will depend on keeping up measures designed to stop the spread.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's not going to disappear from the planet, which means as we get into next season, how we handle it will determine our fate. 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.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Different states, as you know, are taking different approaches. Today, Florida's governor will outline his plan to reopen businesses. The Texas governor has decided to allow malls and restaurants to open this Friday with limited capacity. That's a stark contrast to California, where Governor Gavin Newsom says his state is, quote, months, not weeks away from allowing businesses like hair salons and gyms to reopen.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to brag about the U.S. being ahead on testing, but actually far fewer people per capita have been tested here than in other countries. Medical experts say we are far from where we should be. And the president is sticking by his remarks from February that coronavirus will simply vanish.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Back in late February, you predicted that the number of cases would go down to zero. How do we get from your prediction of zero to 1 million?

DONALD TRUMP, (R) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well it will go down it zero ultimately.


BERMAN: It is not zero. More than 2,000 people reported deaths just yesterday.

Joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Paul Biddinger, he's the director of the Center for Disaster Medicine and chief of Emergency Preparedness at Massachusetts General Hospital.

And Sanjay, I do want to start with you on the 58,000 deaths and the fact there were 2,000 deaths, new deaths, reported just yesterday. We've talked about the fact that the death rate is no longer growing exponentially. I know that's a good thing. But to have the daily deaths at this settled level above 1,000, some days over 2,000, what does this tell you?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that there is some concern here, that we thought, I think a lot of people thought you are going to have a peak to a curve, that's how some people were envisioning it. But instead it has come up to this level and sort of plateauing at this point. As we've talked about many times, when you're looking at these tragic deaths, you are seeing a sort of reflection of a picture from two to three weeks ago.

So if things improved after two to three weeks ago between then and now, hopefully we'll start to see some more significant death decreases and a trend of that. If things don't improve in terms of staying at home and stuff like that, those numbers could continue to go back up.

I will say, John, that part of the reason we saw the numbers overall go up is because they started including some of these probable cases of coronavirus infection, hospitalizations, and deaths as well. So that has changed the numbers. But I think when you see these numbers not going down, staying at that high level, I worry that at the protracted plateau and it could mean that the curve may start it teeter back upward again.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Biddinger, what are your thoughts on where we plateaued, because if we put that graphic back up, we have been bouncing around between more than 1,000 and more than 22,000 deaths per day for two weeks now. What do you think of the plateau?

DR. PAUL BIDDINGER, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISASTER MEDICINE, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: I think it is somewhat what you expect when you flatten the curve, that all of these physical distancing efforts that we have taken were to decrease the number of total cases, decrease the number of people who needed medical care in the hospitals, who might have died if they had not gotten access to an ICU. However, when you flatten the curve, you absolutely prolong the peak, and that's still what we're seeing here in Massachusetts, which is our hospitals are still at the plateau of admissions, not yet fulling in a decreasing number of cases. And that unfortunately does mean we're going to see tragic deaths and still a very full healthcare system in a lot of parts of the country for a little while longer.

We have been looking at some of our comparison of data, say, compared to Italy, and it may be actually that the decreasing number of cases may go more slowly than we saw on the rise going up, which means it may take a while for this to resolve.


BERMAN: You said, Dr. Biddinger, a full capacity in Massachusetts. One interesting things that some people point out when they're suggesting it is time to reduce or loosen the social distancing measures is that the reason for the stay-at-home orders was to take the pressure off of the healthcare system, to create capacity in the healthcare system. To what extent has that happened? And if that has happened, what does it tell you about whether it is time to loosen some of the restrictions?

BIDDINGER: So absolutely the goal was to decrease the pressure that might exceed healthcare capacity, that could basically push us beyond the number of ventilators or newly created ICUs that we made. But still, in my own hospital, and in our healthcare system, at Mass General Brigham, we have still a lot of people in the ICU, we still have surge measures in place, and we're not anywhere back towards what would have looked like normal operations. And so it will take us a while to start getting back to what probably is a new -- I don't think back to fully normal for quite some time.

CAMEROTA: It is really important to hear about that, what is happening on the ground, because as we always talk about these numbers can be theoretical or feel as though they are academic on some level, and then we go back to the emergency rooms and we find out what is really happening on the ground with these numbers.

And, Sanjay, about the testing, the president continues to say something that is just not accurate. He keeps touting how much testing the United States is doing, but we have a graphic, it's P-18, where it shows other countries, compared to the United States, and if you look at it per capita, how much -- what percentage of the population of the country is being tested. Look at Iceland, 13.5 percent of that country has been tested. Iceland is obviously easier to get your arms around than the United States. But look at Spain, 2.2 percent has been tested. Italy, which we talk so much about, three percent of the population tested. Then look at the United States, 1.7 percent of the population has been tested. How much of the population of the United States would have to be tested for you to feel comfortable with getting back to so-called normal and reopening?

GUPTA: That's a really good question. It's an important question. We're a bigger country, obviously so doing more tests here still might mean fewer per capita. But I think that your question is the important one, Alisyn, is like, what is the right level of testing ultimately? There's all sorts of different ways to look at it. Some people say you have to be testing enough people where most of the tests are coming back negative. That means you're starting to really penetrate into the communities. Some people have said that is a 10 percent positivity rate, which would make sense in that case. If you have to put then a number on it, according to the road map from Harvard, Dr. Biddinger's, they say initially you'd have to get to 5 million tests by June. That's per day. And then ultimately to 20 million tests per day by June.

Now, keep in mind, we're saying tests, not people. I hope people understand that because people may need to be tested more than once, several times even. So 20 million tests a month would be 600 million over -- sorry, 20 million tests at day would mean 600 million tests in a month. Obviously, we don't have that many people in the country. The point is that you have to have regular testing for people to, a, find out that they don't have the virus, they're not harboring the virus in their body, and, b, I think to give them the confidence and people around them the confidence that they can start reopening.

We're not at that point by a long shot right now. And I wish we were because I would like to see things start to open up again as well. But that is a -- everyone has said that from the beginning. We need to have that level of testing in place.

BERMAN: And we don't, not right now. Everyone says it. Dr. Fauci said it again yesterday, it is just where we are at this moment.

Dr. Biddinger, we're there, until we get a vaccine in this country. And, look, there are new developments every day on this front, and it is hard sometimes to assess how significant they are. We talked a lot yesterday about the study out of Oxford, which is accelerating some of its vaccine trials. And we learned overnight from Pfizer that they're now on a bit of an accelerated path to testing a new vaccine. What does this tell you? I don't want to get people's hopes up that it is going to come, but at least it is happening more quickly than in the past, it does seem.

BIDDINGER: Absolutely. There is no question that there are unprecedented efforts to try and find a vaccine, to test it, and then ultimately people I think are thinking ahead towards manufacturing, because it is one thing to find a vaccine that is effective, you have to make sure it is safe, but then you have to make hundreds of millions for the globe, you have to make billions of doses. And that can't happen overnight. So I think people are thinking in that direction.


But I do agree, I want to come back to the testing, I think the most important thing that will help us keep cases low is when we can identify every new case, go back and contact trace, figure out who that person came in contact with for the last 48 hours, and then help them either quarantine or isolate so that we interrupt that chain of transmission. That's one of the most important steps is find every case, interrupt the ability of that case to transmit to others, especially because there is so much asymptomatic transmission with this disease. That's really a prerequisite for opening.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, I do want to just get your thoughts on the Pfizer vaccine because how can they rush it to market? As you've told us, there are certain protocols, you have to go through these certain gates. You have to have part one, two, and three. I don't understand how you can circumvent something to get it to market faster.

GUPTA: Yes. And I don't think you can circumvent things. But I think the potential advantages here, if this works, is I think a couple of things. One is that, first of all, it takes typically a long time to make vaccines, right. I think people need to be reminded of that, a decade would not be unusual to try and get a successful vaccine. So we're talking about a very accelerated timetable here.

Part of it is that I think they have a little bit of a head start, the Pfizer trial as well as Moderna and even the NIH trial because of the work that had already been done on SARS, and MERS, two other coronavirus outbreaks that ultimately had vaccine research begin but did not get completed. They're building on some of that.

Second of all, typically, when you think of a vaccine, you say I'm injecting a little bit of the virus or a little bit of an inactivated form of the virus into someone's body, stimulating an immune response. This is a little different. They're essentially trying to use a blueprint for part of the virus and hoping that that actually creates the antibody response within somebody's body. So that could be potentially safer, could be faster as well, again, building on that previous research.

I think one of the big things, I've done a few interviews on this now, is that you have to make sure when you're trialing this, you're trialing it in a large population of people where this virus is circulating. That's how you get enough numbers. I'm going to give it to 10,000 people over here. I'm going to not give it to 10,000 people over here who are similar people and see are people more or less likely to get the infection as a result.

If they start to allow some of these vaccines to be released early under emergency use authorization, for example, for healthcare workers, like Dr. Corbett talks about from the NIH, that could accelerate the timetable, that could accelerate the trials. And I still think it is next year for the general public, but certain populations of people potentially under emergency use could have access to it earlier.

CAMEROTA: Really interesting. Sanjay Gupta, thank you very much. Dr. Paul Biddinger, we really appreciate your time. Thanks for talking to us.

BIDDINGER: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: OK, Vice President Mike Pence, he heads the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Yet he did not wear a mask when he toured the Mayo Clinic yesterday, even though he was informed that masks are the hospital's policy and he was interacting there with patients. Now a source tells CNN that the vice president's staff realizes this

was a mistake. CNN White House correspondent John Harwood joins us now. John, he's the head of the coronavirus task force. The idea that in that room, I can't think of a more telling video than that every single person, doctors and patients, are wearing masks, and only Vice President Pence at the mayo clinic was not wearing a mask. So, OK, his staff now realizes it was a mistake, maybe optically, but does the vice president think it was a mistake not to wear a mask?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, they think it was a mistake because they got negative press coverage about it. But make no mistake, this was not an accident. This was a deliberate choice. When you go into a clinic like that, where you know what the policy is, they've told you, where you can see that everyone else is wearing one and you're not, you stick out like a sore thumb, the vice president said later that he wanted to look everyone in the eye. That would make sense if public health authorities were asking us to wear blindfolds to stop the coronavirus, but they're not. They're asking us to cover our nose and mouth.

But what happened is that this is a vice president who works for a boss, Donald Trump, who lives by the slogan of that old Andre Agassi camera commercial, image is everything. He talks about hiring cabinet members who look like they come out of central casting, and Donald Trump has decided, he said so out loud, that it doesn't look right for the leader of the government, him, and by extension Mike Pence, to be wearing a mask. He wants to look large and in charge, we're winning, and that looks like we're on the run if he's wearing a mask, and therefore Mike Pence channeled that sentiment, did not wear one. And it's telling about the values of the administration when you're the head of the Coronavirus Task Force, every public appearance you make sends a message to millions of Americans.


And instead of sending a message of prudence to them, you feel the need to send a message to your boss.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, one other message that it sends is the rules don't apply to me. The rules don't apply to me is the message that it sends. And, you know, obviously, we all remember a time when Republicans were up in arms about when they thought presidents thought the rules didn't apply to them.

But then here is Vice President Pence not doing what we have all been told repeatedly for weeks that when you're out in public, when you're going to be coming within six feet of another human being, you must wear a mask so as not to endanger them. Now, what Vice President Pence said was because he had been tested negative, he thought he didn't have to wear one.

But, you know, as Sanjay Gupta and all our doctors said, that's a snap shot in time, at that moment, at that hour, that you were negative. In the next 24 hours, you may have become positive. So, even that logic is faulty.

Do you expect that he will say something about this today?

HARWOOD: I expect that the next time they have a briefing and he takes a question from the press, he's going to get a question about it. And he'll figure out something to say that doesn't get in cross ways with President Trump.

But you're exactly right. And it underscores the issue that in terms of privilege that has come up time and time again, not just with respect to the administration, but with respect to people who are well-positioned in society, they can get testing, they can get reassurance that they're not sick, but others cannot. And by not wearing a mask and emphasizing, well, I get tested every week, Vice President pence underscores that concern as well.

CAMEROTA: John Harwood from the White House, thank you very much for all of the reporting.

HARWOOD: You bet.

CAMEROTA: President Trump is ordering meat plants to stay open because of food shortage fears. Given all the virus outbreaks at plants, how can workers be assured they will be safe?

We're going to ask the former agriculture secretary, next.



CAMEROTA: President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act to order meat processing plants to stay open during this pandemic. What about the workers' safety?

Joining us now is Tom Vilsack. He's the former secretary of agriculture in the Obama administration and former governor of Iowa.

Secretary Vilsack, great to have you here. Thanks so much for being with us.

I want to pull up some numbers right now so people can get the context of the impact of COVID-19 has had on the meat industry, and meat processing. Five thousand workers have been hospitalized or have shown symptoms of having coronavirus. At least 20 workers have died from the coronavirus, 22 plants have closed in the past two months. This has impacted 35,000 workers.

So, the fact that President Trump has now invoked the DPA to try to keep providing meat to Americans during this time, whose responsibility is it? If the workers have to show up, whose responsibility is it to keep them safe?

TOM VILSACK, FORMER AGRICUTLURE SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think it's a shared responsibility on the part of the government. I think the president obviously directed Sonny Perdue, Secretary Perdue, to ensure that healthcare guidance was followed when the plants were reopened or the plants continue operation. I think it's also a responsibility of the company to make sure that

they actually protect their workers. It may slow -- may slow the line down a bit, it may require them to expend some resources for protective equipment, and for other safety measures.

But at the end of the day, this is essential work for the country and these are essential workers. And they deserve adequate protection.

CAMEROTA: And are you confident that they can work in -- you know, obviously, they have been working shoulder to shoulder. Obviously, these assembly lines are grueling work and they are very, you know, close work.

Do you think that all of these changes can be made to keep them safe?

VILSACK: I think they need to be made and I believe they can be made. It may affect the amount of product processed, so it may be necessary to extend the workday. You may have to pay -- over time, you may have to have an additional shift. Obviously, that's an economic cost and maybe the companies need to talk to the government about that issue.

But there's no reason why you can't slow the line down, no reason why you can't provide adequate protection for workers, especially since they are now being deemed essential to the economy.

And the reality is that they are essential. This is about our food supply. It's about employment and it's also about maintaining the affordability of food for all of Americans, particularly those who are struggling right now with unemployment.

CAMEROTA: Secretary Vilsack, I also want to ask you about this really tragic paradox we're seeing where farmers are having to destroy their product, they are destroying food while we're seeing unprecedented lines at food banks. So, here are some recent headlines: 2 million chickens will be killed in Delaware and Maryland because of lack of employees at processing plants, dumped milk, smashed eggs, forgotten vegetables, food waste of this pandemic.

And so, can you just explain the disconnect of why it is better to throw out your milk and destroy your chickens than to somehow find a way to get those to people in need?

VILSACK: Well, food banks have seen a dramatic increase in need. And they historically have received most of their donated food from the retail sector. Well, the retail sector doesn't have food to donate because we're buying it off the shelf.

Farmers have seen significant decline in prices and their income has dropped significantly. Dairy farmers in particular are seeing a very difficult time.

And here's the unfortunate situation, which is it is economically better off for farmers and processors to destroy and dump than it is to donate.

So, it is necessary as a result of this virus that we begin to create a bit more fabric, a bit more of a resilient system that allows farmers and co-ops to work directly with food banks, sort of circumventing the retail side of this to make sure that we actually have resources that are available to people in need.


But they're going to have to provide some financial payment to the farmers, otherwise they are faced with this dilemma that it is at the end of the day, financially better off for them to destroy and dump than it is to donate, and that's a tough situation. Farmers don't want to do that, they would prefer to donate it, they're looking for creative ways to do that. It's happening in some parts of the country, but we need to do more of it.

CAMEROTA: No. I mean, obviously, farmers don't want to do that. It's a tragic situation.

But do you think that the government should pay farmers that, you know, subsidized farmers to get it to the food banks. Is that how that would work?

VILSACK: I think that's one way. I think government and philanthropic organizations could reduce that disincentive to the point where it becomes feasible for farmers and processors. You can take the milk to the processing plant, but the processing plant is going to spend money basically developing the product. And then they give it to the food bank. It is a significant financial cost associated with it.

We've done this for the airlines. We've done it for other industries. There's no reason why we couldn't do something like that.

I think Secretary Perdue is working with this boxed (ph) idea that he's got, maybe that will work. Hopefully it does, to help get product to food banks.

But I think we have to do more than that. And I think we have to create more permanent system so that the next time we have a pandemic or the next time we have a serious disruption or food supply, we're in a position to be able to pivot more quickly and more effectively.

CAMEROTA: Understood. Secretary Tom Vilsack, thank you very much for sharing your suggestions this morning.

VILSACK: Thank you.

Take a look at this video. Excuse me. Police say thousands of people were mourning the death of a rabbi here in New York, despite the social distancing guidelines you can see were not being paid attention to. So, we have details on what the mayor and police did about this, next.