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Top Medical Expert: Remdesivir Drug Shows "Positive Effect"; At Least 31 U.S. States to Partially Reopen This Week; Boris Johnson to Face Questions on Coronavirus Response; Volunteer Doctors & Nurses Helping New York Through Crisis. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired April 30, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the U.S. and around the world.

I'm Robyn Curnow here at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

So, just ahead on CNN --




CURNOW: Show of optimism for America's top health expert for an anti- retroviral drug -- antiviral drug that could help patients fight the coronavirus. But as states push to reopen, health care workers are worried about another wave of infections. We'll speak to one nurse who's helping New York tackle the pandemic.

And the U.S. economy sees its worst downturn in more than a decade, as more Americans are expected to file unemployment claims.


CURNOW: Great to have you along with us this hour.

So, here in the U.S., there is hope that an experimental drug can soon be used to treat coronavirus infection. So, that's according to America's top expert on infectious diseases. We know that early trial results show that remdesivir has helped patients recover from the virus much faster. This comes as he warns against lifting restrictions though too soon.

However, that's what many states are doing. In fact, by the end of the week, 31 states will have partially reopened. Keep in mind though, this is key, the death toll is still rising in some of those areas.

But the president is keen on restarting the economy.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I don't want people to get used to this because this virus is going to be gone and when it's gone, you want to get back to normal. You're not going to have a stadium that's 30 percent the size of what it was three months ago. If I watch Alabama play LSU, I don't want to see 20,000 people instead of 120,000 people. We want it to be the way it was.

Now, we've got to wait until it's gone. And it will be gone. We've done a lot to get rid of it. But we want to open our country. The people want this country open.


CURNOW: However, California is actually taking additional steps to contain the outbreak. California's governor plans to close all beaches and parks by Friday. Los Angeles is also now offering free coronavirus tests to all of its residents.


MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI, LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: So if you think you might have COVID-19, want the reassurance that you don't, you've been around people that you have seen with symptoms, get a test. We can do it.

And I want to remind everybody, these tests are free for the public. No cost at all to you. But you can't put a price on the piece of mind knowing that you can't infect somebody around you.


CURNOW: Well, Nick Watt has more on how state leaders and health officials are trying to fight this pandemic -- Nick.


FAUCI: What it has proven is that a drug can block this virus.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Very early results from trials of remdesivir suggest this HIV drug actually might treat COVID- 19.

FAUCI: The data shows that remdesivir has a clear-cut, significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recover. This is really quite important.

WATT: This is not a cure. In studies touted by Dr. Fauci today, it lowered mortality and shortened the duration of the illness.

DR. KATHLEEN NEUZIL, CORONAVIRUS VACCINE RESEARCHER: For an antiviral to work in a positive way in these very sick patients, to me, is indeed very good news.

WATT: Many states in this country now planning to reopen, and soon, despite dire warnings from Dr. Fauci for the fall. FAUCI: It is more likely than not that we will see this again and again until we really stick the nail in the coffin of this outbreak by a vaccine.

WATT: Pfizer now says it will begin testing one in the U.S. shortly and claims it could supply millions by the end of the year.

Oxford University in the U.K. started human trials last week of its own possible vaccine.

Still, America's biggest mall operator plans to start opening 49 malls across ten states Friday.

Parks reopened in Miami.

Florida's governor, who was late to close, just unveiled his plan for reopening the state.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: This new phase will start on Monday, May 4th, and will for the time being exclude Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach Counties. These counties have seen the lion's share of the state's epidemic.

We need to focus on facts and not fear.

WATT: But there's concern Florida's death toll may not be accurate. The medical examiner's commission stopped releasing its list of coronavirus deaths, which were often higher than official state tallies, after the health department intervened. This according to "The Tampa Bay Times". They say the list might need to be redacted, hence, the delay.

Right now, it does not appear that any state meets the vague advisory White House guidelines that call for a downward trajectory of documented cases within a 14-day period before any reopening.

Haircuts are already allowed in Colorado and Georgia. In California, we're told that's still months away by a governor now feeling pressure from those earlier openers.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): There's no question it puts pressure. I would be lying to suggest otherwise. I'm worried we can erase all the gains in a very short period of time.

WATT: Meanwhile, a new Marist poll shows 65 percent of Americans think it's also a bad idea for people to return to work without further testing, and 91 percent think we shouldn't be holding large sporting events yet.

FAUCI: I hope that there's some form of baseball. I mean, it's for the country's mental health.

WATT: Around 2,500 just attended the funeral of a popular rabbi in Brooklyn. Twelve summonses were issued for violating social distancing and refusing to disperse. The city's mayor called out the entire Jewish community on Twitter and was criticized.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. That was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love. It was anger and frustration.

WATT: That model often cited by the White House says 74,000 will have died by August 4th. It could be sooner.

(on camera): One more note on that drug, remdesivir that so many people hope will fight COVID-19. Right now, it's not approved for use anywhere in the world for anything, but the FDA here in the U.S. is now in talks -- ongoing talks with its maker to try to get that drug to patients as quickly as possible.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: Thanks, Nick, for that.

So, I want to talk more about this drug. Elizabeth Cohen joins you now and takes a look at the research behind it -- Elizabeth.


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 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.


CURNOW: (AUDIO GAP) Elizabeth, for that.

So, of course, people are understandably desperate to get back to work, and that's a sentiment shared all over the world, not just in the U.S.

So, could a treatment like remdesivir actually help countries reopen their economies?

Well, earlier, a key researcher who studied the drug spoke with my colleague Chris Cuomo.


DR. ANDRE KALIL, KEY INVESTIGATOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA REMDESIVIR TRIAL: I can tell with 100 percent certainty remdesivir is -- should not change even with the daily data, with the positive data that we can shorten the time of disease, we can potentially save lives with remdesivir.


Remdesivir will not do anything to -- in terms of public health. Remdesivir is strictly is going to benefit people with morbid to severe disease right in the hospital. So, just having the remdesivir available, let's FDA approved, and I feel it's great, it's going to be great to benefit patients that are sick, very sick from COVID in a hospital.

But when it comes to public health, remdesivir is not going to have absolutely no impact, because remdesivir is not a drug to be used to prevent an infection. It's not a drug to be used in somebody with a mild infection who is at home and they have to do improve or cure without any medications.

Remdesivir is for a very specific, a small proportion of patients that get real sick, that have a high risk of death and this is the patient population that will benefit from this. So, remdesivir should not have any significant impact in terms of public health policy, in terms of opening or closing. This is a whole different subject that will not be influenced by the availability of remdesivir.


CURNOW: OK. So that was Dr. Andrew Khalil from the University of Nebraska speaking there with Chris Cuomo. Now, on the vaccine front, the U.S. will launch operation warp speed.

A senior Trump administration official says the goal is hundreds of millions of doses by the end of the year. The problem is, there's no vaccine yet, but there are more than 80 currently in development around the world.

At least seven have reached the clinical trial stage, which means they're approved for testing on humans after successful animal trials. One of those is taking place at Oxford University where human trials started last week.

Here's Professor Andrew Pollard, a member of the group developing this experimental vaccine.


ANDREW POLLARD, PROFESSOR OF PEDIATRIC INFECTION & IMMUNITY, UNIVERSITY OF OXFORD: What we're hoping with the vaccine is that we can make much better immune responses so that we get longer term protection. We have a little bit of evidence that that might be the case from work on very similar vaccines to this one where we have been able to see protection or at least antibody levels that last for a long periods of time. But, really, we won't know for the vaccine until we've done the testing.

We are in a race. But we're in a race against the pandemic virus. We're not in a race against other vaccine developers. We need not one vaccine to be successful. We need lots of vaccines to be successful.


CURNOW: So, now, also, to a developing story from London. The British prime minister will be back in the spotlight after a pretty eventful few weeks. Today, Boris Johnson will face the prime minister's questions on the coronavirus response, the first time since he became ill with the coronavirus and then also became a father again after his partner Carrie Symonds gave birth yesterday.

So, Nick Paton Walsh joins me now in London with more on this.

So, first, I want to talk about Boris Johnson and the kind of questions he's going to get. I mean, I think a lot of Brits have been needing answers about that initial response.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Yes. The key two numbers that will be thrown at him, the revised death toll for the United Kingdom at 26,097 since the virus began. That was changed because they've been counting those who tested positive in the hospital and then died. Now, they're just been counting the figures of all of those who tested positive and then subsequently died.

So, there may be others who have not had a test who increase that further in terms of deaths. But even so he, that is deeply chilling because 26,000 is right now the second worst in Europe behind Italy but only by a matter of 1,000 or so. And given troublingly that the U.K. seems to have 700 or so as of yesterday deaths every day counted, it could be the worst death toll in Europe by the end of the week, a week in which Boris Johnson has to make key decisions about whether social restrictions can be lifted.

We are expected another decision point on May 7th. And informing that too will be testing. Testing key to the last number I talked about. You can't test if someone has the disease. They won't necessarily be part of that original death toll.

But testing, too, was one of the main key goals that the U.K. government set itself. They wanted to do 100,000 by the end of this month, by today. They're not going to make that target.

So the questions he'll face will be around that. Why that particular goal was set and why it has not been met. There are probably ten of thousands short at least in terms of those actually being done. They claim the capacity is significantly large people aren't getting to the tests.

And then also what can Britain do about the lockdown? Will they tweak the lockdown? Will they extend it or will they try to ready the British population for very difficult weeks and months ahead where the economic damage is startling -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Yes, OK. And then let's also talk about a vaccine, are we having some good news from one of the Oxford studies?

WALSH: Yes. It's great to be part of a story where we can see glimmers of light here and there.


This Oxford study is still a very zygotic thing, so to speak. We are talking about a few hundred people who have been given this experimental vaccine. And now, of course, they hope to see whether or not that stops them getting the disease or certainly reduces its impact upon them. They hope by mid-June to be getting results from that.

Now, at that stage, that doesn't mean suddenly this can be rolled out globally. But it will mean they have solid day so they can build upon, perhaps to the regulators, and if they are finally content that the vaccine is safe, remember, a vaccine can be very damaging if it hasn't probably being assed in terms of its long-term consequences on people.

Then they have a key partner in this, a drug firm AstraZeneca who said they'll work with Oxford University who are pioneering this study to produce it at bulk, at cost. So, not for profit. And that could be a potential, of course, huge gain for countries struggling to produce a vaccine themselves.

And, also, of course, United Kingdom which doesn't have the mass production capability in terms of Oxford University. So it needs to partner with a drug company like this.

Good news here, always important to stress, though, very much in the early stage of the early stage, so the U.S. government's desire to see warp speed production by the end carries with it some risks. But at least here, the enormous efforts being made by medicine to get ahead as fast as they can, seems to be yielding fruit in a kind of real-time way which fits with global fascination and attention daily on what we can do to get out of this pandemic -- Robyn.

CURNOW: Thanks so much. Nick Paton Walsh there, appreciate it, Nick.

So, it is no secret the pandemic is taking a huge toll on the U.S. economy. A preliminary report shows first quarter GDP shrunk by 4.8 percent, its worst performance in almost 12 years. But there are signs of hope. We know U.S. stocks surged higher on Wednesday. Investigators optimistic about that potential coronavirus treatment called remdesivir that we've been telling you about.

So, let's take a look at the markets all in positive territory, the Dow, the Nasdaq, S&P futures, all firmly in the green there.

Well, Christine Romans joins us later on this hour from New York with more on the economic impact of this pandemic. It's quite a lot to talk about with Christine.

And then also, we have Kyung Lah in Las Vegas where the virus has brought the tourism and entertainment industries to a grinding halt.

We'll speak to both of those talented ladies.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Also still to come, a registered nurse in Georgia volunteered with hundreds of others to work on the frontlines of New York City's coronavirus crisis. We'll speak to her about her experience.



CURNOW: Welcome back.

More than two dozen U.S. states already reopening their economies at least partially. New Jersey, which has one of the highest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases in the country, is expected to reopen parks and golf courses this weekend. The governor says the number of new infections is headed in the right direction, even as the death toll approaches 6,800 people.

New York is also looking to begin reopening mid May. The state is almost 300,000 confirmed cases but the daily trend has been mostly downward. And we know that more than 23,000 people in New York have died from that virus. That's almost 40 percent of the U.S. total.

And the virus certainly remains a threat all over the world. We know experts are warning premature openings really risk a new surge in infections. Now, because New York City has been so hard hit, hundreds of health care workers from around the U.S. have actually volunteered to help the city through the crisis.

And one of them is a registered nurse from Georgia who signed up for three weeks in New York's hospitals. Take a listen.


REEMA KHALID, NURSE WHO VOLUNTEERED IN NEW YORK CITY: So just feeling really home sick and I am really happy to be here to help. I'm still allowed to have feelings of sadness, right?


CURNOW: Well, that nurse is Reema Khalid who joins us from New York. She's been documenting her experience on Instagram.

Reema, good to see you. I know you're based here in Atlanta. Thanks for all you're doing, all of your colleagues.

I also know you have a family. You have a young son. Your husband is a doctor. But you still decided to leave them here in Georgia and go up to New York to help out.


KHALID: Hi, Robyn.


KHALID: Well, you know, when COVID-19 first came to the U.S. and we started seeing the death toll raise in New York, you couldn't help but feel the pain in your heart. Not just pain for the patients that were suffering and dying, but pain for the health care providers that were dealing with this crisis.

As a health care workers myself, you just watched hopelessly. When I had the opportunity to actually come over here and help, you know, it was hard to say no because you just want to come over here and you want to help out your fellow health care workers in getting a handle on this pandemic. So --

CURNOW: So, where are you? You signed up for, what was it, 21 days, back-to-back 12-hour shifts.


CURNOW: Where are you now in that period? What's it been like?

KHALID: OK. So I'm actually currently on day 16 of 21. So I'm definitely well into my three weeks and all I have to say it is it is definitely absolutely grueling. It is difficult.

We knew this when we were coming in, but, you know, we were focused. We were here to help. They're long 12-hour days and, you know, we go back to back to back really with no time off. So, it's very difficult, yes.

CURNOW: And you walk -- just talk us through the kind of situation you walked into in New York. I know that in one of your posts you said, you know, in addition to just nursing, you're doing a lot of MacGyvering. That this has also been a lot of --


CURNOW: -- figuring things out on the job day by day, hour by hour.

KHALID: Absolutely.

So, you know, the resources are -- that's the problem here.


We have low -- we're low on resources. You know, we're essentially at a war, it's a pandemic and we're low on resources. It's nobody's fault, it's just the way it is.

So, really, you have to -- that's where your critical thinking comes into play and you have to get clever about getting certain things to work or coming up with something, an alternative if you don't have a resource at hand. So, that's kind of what I meant by MacGyvering.

CURNOW: And give us a sense of what has been your most difficult day for a moment.

KHALID: Honestly, I would have to say the most difficult part of this whole experience is seeing the patients -- sick patients, dying patients without their families. By far, I have -- every health care worker here, they've all said the same thing.

It is really hard to see them, you know, sick without their loved ones at their side, to see them dying without their loved ones at their side. That's probably what really hits us hardest.

CURNOW: Yes. I mean, it hits you as a human being. What have you said to them? How have you comforted them?

KHALID: You know, I'm a registered nurse and not just me, but actually all of us. We're really a team. You know, the best we can do is we become their family when they're here. We are there for them. We encourage FaceTime calls with their family. We encourage conversations with their family.

We really, you know, sort of become the point person in making sure they feel as connected as possible to the outside world while they're here.

CURNOW: And one of your happiest moments?

KHALID: You know, obviously when our patients do better, you know?


KHALID: It's really nice when instead of a patient decompensating and going downward, they start improving and they start actually responding to some of the interventions that we're using. So, it's always a celebratory moment. I know that I work -- some of the -- my co-workers and peers that work

during the day shift, they often will celebrate their patient's discharges, they'll party and they'll have applause. It's really wonderful to see.

CURNOW: How has this changed you, this experience?

KHALID: You know, definitely this experience has already changed me and I imagine when I head back home to my family, it'll change me even more. Obviously, you start to have a -- you know, you start to have a new respect for essential workers that are out there working and health care workers that are out there working -- really everybody that's doing their part. Not only that, but you start to feel very thankful for your health, for your family, and you just -- you know, you start feeling even more grateful.

CURNOW: Yes, I'm sure you do and I'm sure when you give your baby boy a hug when you see him, it's going to be a big one.

KHALID: I absolutely cannot wait.

CURNOW: I'm sure you can't. I'm sure he can't as well.

You really are so brave and we're so proud of you. Thank you so much, Reema, to all of you and your colleagues there on the other night shift. Thank you.

KHALID: Thank you so much for having me, Robyn.

CURNOW: All the best.

KHALID: Thank you.

CURNOW: All these people, heroes wherever they are. So extraordinary, isn't it?

So, President Trump reportedly says China's handling of the coronavirus outbreak it shows it wants him to lose the re-election. We'll have the details including China's blunt response in a live report from Beijing. That is next.