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Positive Early Data on Remdesivir as Possible Treatment; At Least 31 U.S. States to Partially Reopen this Week; Two Companies Say Vaccine Could Be Ready by End of 2020; Economists Expect Another 3.5 Million U.S. Jobless Claims; Fed to Use Full Range of Tools to Help U.S. Economy. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2020 - 04:00   ET

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


[04:00:00]

ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM, and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, hope is high for an experimental drug which could help shorten the time it takes to recover from COVID-19. The U.S. is in its worst economy ever warns the Fed as we wait to find out in a few hours how many more Americans have filed for unemployment. Most of Florida is getting ready to reopen next week as California's governor prepares to shut down the state's beaches.

Good to have you with us. Well, for the first time, we are seeing evidence that an experimental drug could help patients recover faster from the coronavirus. According to America's top infectious diseases expert, early trial results show remdesivir has improved patient's recovery time by 31 percent. U.S. President Donald Trump called the news positive. And when asked if it changes his thinking about reopening the country, he said it's a building block. As CNN's Erica Hill reports this comes as more states are trying to restart their economies.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Florida ready to reopen.

RON DESANCTIS, FLORIDA GOVERNOR: There is a light at the end of the tunnel. This new phase will start on Monday, May 4th, and will for the time being exclude Miami Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach counties.

HILL: Nearly 30 percent of the state's residents including hard hit Miami Dade County, excluded from the governor's plan giving restaurants and businesses the green light.

At the "Tampa Bay Times" reports the state's death toll may be incomplete noting Florida officials have not released information on coronavirus deaths in more than a week. An earlier report in the paper found the number from county medical examiners was 10 percent higher than the state's official count which now stands at 1,218. Haircuts in Georgia, one of the first signs of that state's reopening.

While in California, any professional trends are still months away. A striking example of just how different the next steps will be.

JARED POLIS, COLORADO GOVERNOR: We have significantly less cases than we had two weeks ago, than we had three weeks ago, but it's time to enter a more sustainable phase.

HILL: More than half the states in the country announcing plans to ease restrictions despite none appearing to meet White House guidelines for a 14-day decline in positive cases. Meantime, new hope for a treatment.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Remdesivir has a clear cut, significant, positive effect in diminishing the time to recover. A drug can block this virus.

HILL: The next big retail experiment comes on Friday when three dozen Simon owned malls and shopping centers will reopen in eight states. Restaurants in Georgia and Tennessee welcoming diners, yet it's not clear Americans are ready for these changes.

New polling shows 8 in 10 think opening restaurants for onsite dining is a bad idea. Nearly 2/3 say the same about returning to work without further testing. 85 percent say students shouldn't go back to school without more testing. When they do return, it's likely to look different.

GAVIN NEWSOM, CALIFORNIA GOVERNOR: It's not back to normal, it's modified. That means potentially staggering school times for different cohorts of kids. It means the recess period being radically modified. It means the cafeteria being shut down and people getting food around their desk. Deep sanitation.

HILL: The economy continuing to take a hit, first quarter GDP down nearly 5 percent. The President using the Defense Production Act to keep the countries meat processing plants open. More than 20 facilities have closed over the past two months because of positive cases. At least 20 workers have died according to the union representing many of them.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They're absolutely critical and essential to the food supply chain but you have to protect them.

TOM VILSACK, FORMER U.S. AGRICULTURAL SECRETARY: It 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 worker for the country and these are essential workers and they key deserve adequate protection.

HILL: In some states employees who choose not to return may lose government benefits.

KIM REYNOLDS, IOWA GOVERNOR: It's a voluntary quit and so therefore they would not be eligible for the unemployment money. [04:05:00]

HILL: Farmers unable to process their livestock creating a damaging ripple effect as the need for food assistance skyrockets.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're alone. You know, even my neighbor, she's alone, too. So that's why we appreciate it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's an experience, you know. The kids, it's hard for them.

HILL: Lines stretching for miles. Many Americans turning to food banks for the first time in their lives. In Little Rock, a plan of four-hour food distribution ran out in just an hour, each box offering each family the equivalent of 40 meals.

(on camera): Here in New York state the number of confirmed cases is now just shy of 300,000 -- according to the latest numbers from Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday. The governor noting that hospitalizations and intubations are down, however, COVID specific hospitalizations are, in the governor's words, up a tick and he says that is not good news. Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CHURCH: And our thanks to Erica Hill for that report.

And as we mentioned researchers are expressing hope that the drug remdesivir could be used to treat the coronavirus. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen takes a look at the studies behind it.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Finally, some good news about the COVID-19 pandemic. Researchers have found that a drug does seem to work. Now, it's not a cure all. It's not going to take care of the problem, but it does seem to fight the virus.

It's called Remdesivir. They've been studying it for a couple of months and it's been in the news.

So, let's take a look at what Remdesivir is. It's an experimental drug that was developed for Ebola, but it didn't work very well for Ebola, and as a matter of fact, it's not on the market for any disease.

In this study or Remdesivir, more than 1,000 patients in the United States, Spain, Germany and other countries were randomly assigned to either Remdesivir or to a placebo, which is basically a medicine that doesn't do anything. The placebo patients had 15 days to recovery, the Remdesivir patients, 11 days to recovery. That's a four-day difference and doctors say that that's important for two reasons. One of them is that four fewer days in the hospital means 4 fewer days where something might go wrong, on the ventilator, or perhaps getting a hospital-acquired infection.

The second reason is that it's an indication that Remdesivir is doing something and so, they can take that knowledge, look at what it's doing, it's actually blocking an enzyme that's needed for replication and try to make other drugs that might do a similar kind of thing or maybe there are other drugs that would go with Remdesivir. So, this is not the end of the road. We are still at the beginning of the road but it's good that they've had this first step. So, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease doctor in the U.S., says that now this means that Remdesivir will become the standard of care. In other words, it will become standard, not experimental to give patients Remdesivir.

Back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

I'm joined now by Muhammad Munir, a virologist at Lancaster University in the U.K. And joins me from Lancaster. Thank you so much for talking with us.

MUHAMMAD MUNIR, VIROLOGIST, LANCASTER UNIVERSITY: Good morning.

CHURCH: I do want to talk first about the good news. Because we received this and of course certainly, this is great news for COVID-19 patients experiencing severe symptoms in hospital. We haven't yet seen all of the data on Remdesivir. But Dr. Fauci says a preliminary trial shows recovery time went from 15 to 11 days. How significant is this considering it's really mainly these people who are experiencing severe symptoms in the hospital.

MUNIR: Yes, well, I think this is really good news. Especially if you look onto how many remedies have been tried and many of them really fall down. So 31 percent speedy recovery is really good news for people who are already sadly sick and that means that they will leave the hospital four days earlier. And if we look on to the other established remedies, for example, Tamiflu is treating flu, that is also not very different than the results that we are seeing now with the Remdesivir. So overall it's good news. Of course we don't yet know if this would have any impact on reducing the mortality or to the overall ability in terms of different age groups. But this is certainly good news and really hoping it will turn out.

CHURCH: Right, and there is some suggestion that it did decrease mortality somewhat.

MUNIR: Yes, certainly, it did decrease, but the study -- of course, this is probably the best study conducted so far for looking on to the efficacy of drugs on COVID patients all across different countries.

[04:10:00]

So overall the randomized model that's been applied is pretty convincing but yet these are preliminary results. A lot more need to be seen but this is certainly one to begin now to emphasize that this is really good news in many days we have seen so far.

CHURCH: Yes, and that is exactly what everybody wants. So Remdesivir will help those COVID-19 patients in the hospital. But for everyone else, we will need to continue social distancing, wearing masks and hopefully getting better access to testing while we all wait for the elusive vaccine. So how worried are you are you that if the U.S. and other nations open up too quickly -- and we're seeing that happen now -- without sufficient testing in place, that we'll see another deadly wave of this pandemic and perhaps erase everything that we've gained so far?

MUNIR: Absolutely. I think this is a really critical time. We do understand that everyone is touching patients when it comes to the lockdown. Because it certainly a social disruption of normal life to have that. What we have achieved so far, if we look onto the data, onto the new number of cases and mortalities, they are flattening or decreasing. So this is certainly a good time to re-emphasize that we have to carry on practicing social distancing and so on.

But the matter of the fact is that whilst a majority of people in the United Kingdom and the United States, and across the world are still uninfected. And these will certainly be, you know, bearer of words on to the floor and that is will not to keep burning it until it's runs in the few. So we have to really emphasize that we don't provide enough fuel to the virus and we have to carry on with the social distancing and the control that we are following.

CHURCH: Yes, that is critical. Sometimes that message gets lost. But I did want to ask you this. Because they lot of questions surround the number of infections being recorded in various countries as well as the death tolls. Some being viewed as more reliable than others. And we've also seen the U.K. revise their numbers now counting all COVID- 19 deaths even if they occur outside of the hospital, which seems logical and perhaps should have been done and should be done throughout the world. So how reliable are any of these numbers in getting a true picture of what we're dealing with here?

MUNIR: Yes, Rosemary, I think this is really critical. A question that we have been emphasizing right from the beginning of this crisis that number of cases, the numbers that are documented are certainly not the true representation of actual disease severity. And probably this is the major reason for unpreparedness in the countries. Because until you don't really know the severity and scale of the disease in the country, you can't estimate what is the demand for PPEs, what is the demand for overall preparedness in the hospitals.

One of the contributing factors has been asymptomatic carriers. So until someone is not showing clinical signs overall, they stay healthy, and like 25 percent of people who contract the infection they stay healthy, therefore, it is really difficult to pass that on until you apply testing. And testing has been a problem right from the beginning in terms of scaling it up and so on.

In the U.K. situation has been like that way for a while. And we have been stressing that we need to calculate all of those people who are dying inside the hospital, to be part of the calculations of the people who have been dying outside the hospital, for example, care homes or in the community hasn't been a part of calculation. So that was the reason for the last three days we were seeing that there was a decline in the mortality which was good news. But once they started calculating the people who have been dying outside the hospital it seems like we are not getting down, we report, leveling or flattening. So that is certainly something of concern in the near future as well.

CHURCH: Still so much to learn, so much to do. We are really struggling all across the globe. Muhammad Munir, thank you so much for talking with us. Appreciate it.

Well, two companies say they could have a vaccine ready for emergency use before the end of the year. A U.S. drug giant and a German biotechnology company are working together. Human trials of their experimental vaccine could begin in the U.S. next week. In Germany they have already started. And CNN's Fred Pleitgen is in Berlin. He joins us now. So, Fred, we are looking for any positive news regarding vaccines. What is the latest on this joint effort?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well certainly, this company BioNTech here in Germany says it has now surpassed one of the first really important milestones in trying to get this vaccine market ready or at least trying to get the trials moved further along, Rosemary. They say that they have just completed their first dosing of the trial vaccine. That means their first cohort of participants has been vaccinated with this trial vaccine just called BNT-162.

[04:15:00]

Now for now, it is 12 people who are part of that first cohort. And the company says it now wants to move towards a second trial phase fairly soon to then administer the trial vaccine to about 200 people. And they're also going to use a different dosage of the trial vaccine. And of course, one of the things that they're looking for, Rosemary, is on the one hand whether or not that's effective. That of course is extremely important. But then also, very important is whether or not it is safe to use. And that, of course, is something that does take a little bit of time in these trials.

Now BioNTech, as you stated, is the international partner of Pfizer. So you have a giant American pharma company and a very important, very good German lab working together on all this. And Pfizer and BioNTech have said that they could potentially start trials in the United States very soon as well. Pending getting approval from the regulatory authorities there. They believe that that is imminent and that could happen soon. And if their trials move along the way that they hope that they'll move along if this vaccine is both safe and effective against the COVID-19, then they say by the end of the year potentially they could have millions of doses available if, indeed, they are permitted to use it for emergency use that quickly -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: It is all very encouraging and offers all of us some hope. Fred Pleitgen joining us there live from Berlin. Many thanks.

Well, South Korea tested aggressively and the strategy is paying off in this incredible new statistic. Zero new locally transmitted cases for the first time since mid-February. South Korea recorded just four imported cases Wednesday. About 240 people have died from COVID-19 in South Korea. At one point it was one of the hardest hit countries in the world. Well, the latest numbers on U.S. jobless claims are due out soon and

will give us a better sense of how the pandemic is impacting American families as businesses start to reopen.

[04:20:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We're going to see economic data for the second quarter that's worse than any data we've seen for the economy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: Federal Chair Jerome Powell there not sugar coating the state of the once booming U.S. economy. He says the Fed will use their full range of tools to help the economy bounce back from the pandemic. Policymakers have already agreed to maintain interest rates in the range of 0 to 1/4 of a percent.

And we are also expecting the latest report on U.S. unemployment claims in the coming hours. Economists expect another 3.5 million Americans will have filed first-time claims. And CNN's Christine Romans is with us from New York with the details. Good to see you but unfortunately, of course, we've come to that time again. What can we expect from these unemployment numbers when they are released in just a few hours?

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is just misery. You know, I mean, that's what is happening in the economy. And it's for millions of people who are concerned about how you pay your rent or your mortgage payment tomorrow, on Friday, May 1st. So this is really a tough spot for the American economy. The Fed chief is calling it heartbreaking, too, that so many people who made gains in the good economy are now the first ones to lose out in this one.

I think 3 1/2 to 4 million new jobless claims in the most recent week is pretty likely and that brings total job losses over seven weeks to almost 30 million. Rosemary, that number is just unimaginable. And every one of those people trying to file for jobless benefits, sometimes without success. Waiting for a stimulus check. Trying to find money to last them the month. This has been a really, really awful April for so many people.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean, I just can't get my head around the numbers. That is more than the Australian population unemployed. It's just extraordinary all looking for food for their families.

And I do want to talk more about Fed Chairman Jerome Powell's announcement on interest rates, job losses and other matters. What more did he have to say about all of this?

ROMANS: You know, we call it Fed speak, right. It sounds sort of, kind of economist talk and very boring and bland, but when you listen to him, you hear someone who's being very blunt about the damage that's going to happen. Saying that you're going see numbers that we have never before seen in the American economy, the biggest, strongest economy in the world. And I think he's telegraphing to people that this is a moment where all those numbers of unemployed Americans are basically doing a public service for the health part of this scenario.

We have on purpose shut down big parts of the American economy and these are people who have lost their job for the social good. And now as a society, by either The Fed or Congress, it is up to them to make sure this recession -- coronavirus recession doesn't turn into a coronavirus depression. And so he is saying the Fed will do whatever it takes for the medium term and long term to make sure that the economy has the oxygen it needs to breathe here.

And Congress has promised money. You know, you've got stimulus checks that are starting to go out. Jobless claims, jobless benefits that are longer and more robust than usual. I'm sure there will be more stimulus coming. I mean, Congress knows that to prevent something really terrible and long-lasting in this economy they're going to have to come up with new ways to support the American people.

CHURCH: And of course, part of that is helping small business. But we're still hearing from a lot of these really small businesses that need the help, that they're getting squeezed out by these bigger businesses that, of course, can have their accountants and their lawyers help push and get more money. And again, the little guy is getting squeezed.

ROMANS: You know, I talked to a small business owner last night who told me he did get the emergency loan. There's an emergency loan that's actually an emergency payment. It's not even a loan, it's just an emergency $10,000 payment and also got the PPP loan. And I was so relieved because this is somebody who had been working for weeks trying to get that money and had been shut out.

[04:25:00]

So it is starting to reach other corners of the economy, no question. The Treasury Department has said that anybody who gets $2 million or more of a loan, before that is forgiven, they are going to really scrutinize it to make sure it is not a big public company that had other means of getting that money. So there is going to be more oversight.

But Congress didn't write this to keep the big guys out, I mean, they didn't. I mean, the lobbyists were there saying make sure hotel workers who work for bigger companies are treated just like hotel workers who work for small companies. So these big luxury hotel chains legally got that money. I think there will be oversight and scrutiny and I hope that there could be more funding down the road. I mean, we have so many small businesses in America, it's just hard to have to go through this process over and over again and be in limbo. That's the difference between the U.S. and other countries. In other countries, Rosemary, the governments just stepped in and paid payroll. We didn't do that here. The United States does it differently and it has been anxiety ridden.

CHURCH: Yes, it's a good point. I mean, each person has to fight on their own. If you don't speak up, you don't get the help in this country.

ROMANS: It's like Hunger Games for money.

CHURCH: It really is. It really is. We're seeing that play out and it's horrifying. Christine Romans, thank you so much as always.

Well, the pandemic has us stuck at home and looking for new ways to pass the time. Many are taking up with bread baking with proof all over social media. And this 1,000-year-old mill in England appears to be benefitting from this trend and is producing flour again due to so much demand. The Sturminster Newton Mill was last fully operational in 1970 before it turned into a museum. A silver lining there.

Well, the U.S. state of Georgia has allowed some businesses to reopen, but that doesn't mean customers are willing to come back. And I spoke with the owner of a nail salon in suburban Atlanta whose shop is open but mostly empty. That's just ahead.

Plus, Los Angeles is offering free virus testing for all its residents. More on how California is fighting the pandemic. That's next.

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