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More States Loosen Restrictions As Death Toll Rises; Dr. Birx Says, Coronavirus Vaccine By January Is Possible On Paper. Aired 6-7p ET
Aired May 3, 2020 - 18:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN THE SITUATION ROOM: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of The Situation Room.
Just a few hours from now, the national experiment to begin reopening the United States for business expands by a few more states. Starting tomorrow morning, governors in more than 30 states will further loosen their stay-at-home regulations or let them drop altogether. Some gyms in Arkansas and offices in Colorado will be allowed to open with strictly limited capacity. Shopping malls in parts of Northern California open tomorrow. Golf courses in New Jersey opened this weekend. That's just a few.
This gradual reopening of the country is happening while some states are still recording disturbingly high numbers of new cases of coronavirus and hundreds of deaths. The governor of Illinois reporting 63 people dead of the virus in the last 24 hours alone. Chicago's famous lion statue this weekend fitted with a face mask to inspire people there to do the same. And in New York, 280 people reported dead from coronavirus in just the past 24 hours.
Across the United States right now, more than 1.1 million people are infected and more than 67,000 people have died. And as staggering as that number is, Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House Coronavirus Task Force warned today it could still get a whole lot worse.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Our projections have always been between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost, and that's with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's go to the White House right now where President Trump returned earlier this afternoon after spending yesterday over at Camp David. While he didn't take questions upon his return, he did send out a tweet just over an hour or so ago, aiming to try to clear up the timeline regarding what he knew about the coronavirus threat and when he knew it.
Let's go to our White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond. Jeremy, so what can you tell us about the president's latest claim?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, the president did, indeed, just return from Camp David, a working weekend is how administration officials described it, but we saw from the president, was mostly him on Twitter, tweeting a variety of things.
And one of the latest tweets, Wolf, the president is claiming that intelligence officials did not brief him about the coronavirus threat until late January. He writes, intelligence has just reported to me that I was correct and that they did not bring up the coronavirus subject matter until late into January, just prior to my banning China from the U.S. He adds, also, they only spoke of the virus in a very non-threatening or matter-of-fact manner.
Now, Wolf, here is what we know from our reporting, from reporting by other outlets, including The Washington Post, is that the president's daily intelligence briefing, known as the PDB, as early as January 3rd, included references to the coronavirus outbreak and its potential to spread to the United States. The Washington Post also reported that in January and February, the president was warned about the coronavirus threat in more than a dozen intelligence briefings.
The question, Wolf, is whether or not the president actually read those briefings. We know, actually, Wolf, from our previous reporting, that the president is not known to read his daily intelligence briefing every day, instead mostly relying on the oral briefing that he receives from some of his national security or intelligence advisers.
So, again, we do know, according to our reporting, that coronavirus was included in a briefing to the president as early as January 3rd. Whether it was relayed to him directly by intelligence officials in that oral briefing is not clear, and whether the president actually read it is not clear either.
What we do know, Wolf, is that regardless of whether the president first learned from intelligence officials about the threat of this coronavirus in early or late January, we know that the president publicly downplayed the threat of this virus, not only in January, but in February and even in early March. As recently as March 9th, Wolf, the president compared the coronavirus to the flu.
BLITZER: Where do things stand, Jeremy, on a possible fourth economic stimulus deal? A lot of states and cities, they're in desperate need of direct financial assistance from the federal government.
DIAMOND: That's right, Wolf. And today, we heard from the White House's chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow. He didn't say whether the administration is going to move forward on a fourth stimulus package. He said that for now, the administration is in a bit of a pause.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: There may well be additional legislation. There's kind of a pause period right now.
What I would say to you at this particular juncture, let's execute the continuation of what we've already done. Let's see what the results are. The outlook in the weeks and months ahead directly is not positive, as you've noted. The unemployment is very, very high, almost 30 million people. We are covering them with generous relief packages, just trying to stabilize things and get folks through this, and then we will see.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And Wolf, Kudlow said that the White House is going to be taking the next couple of weeks to assess how the latest relief package is helping the economy rebound as some of these states begin to open up. And the question is whether they will authorize additional aid.
What we do know, Wolf, is that whether it's governors or it's economists across the country, they are saying that more aid is, indeed, needed now. In fact, just a few days ago, the Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome Powell, called on Congress to pass additional relief funds immediately. Wolf?
BLITZER: All right, Jeremy, thank you. Jeremy diamond over at the White House.
Let's go to Florida right now where businesses in all but three counties will start reopening their doors tomorrow. Governor Ron DeSantis says Florida restaurants and retail spaces can open to customers, but only at 25 percent capacity. Staying closed for now, movie theaters, bars, gyms and hair salons, this as more than a million Floridians have now lost their jobs and have applied for unemployment benefits since mid-March, with only a fraction so far receiving payments.
Let's go to CNN's Randi Kaye. She's joining us from West Palm Beach right now. Palm Beach County, Randi, as you know, along with Miami- Dade and Broward Counties, the three largest counties in the state, not reopening tomorrow. The rest of the state reopening, not those three counties. The governor saying businesses there will begin phase one when it's safer. What more are you learning?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it could be a few weeks before those counties in Southern Florida, including this county, Palm Beach County, where I am, do reopen, Wolf, as you said. But for now, much of the state will begin phase one reopening tomorrow. That will include state parks. That will include many of the state's more popular beaches, such as Clearwater and Destin and Pensacola.
The governor here has said that he has cited that DHS study, the same study that the president has cited before, that the hot weather, the heat, the sunshine, the humidity can kill the coronavirus, even though the DHS, as we've reported, has said that's just in the preliminary stages, that study. It certainly hasn't been published and it's still under peer review.
But as you mentioned, the restaurants will be opening to limited capacity, some of the retail stores as well, the golf courses are open, and so are the boating ramps. Elective surgeries can continue. They're still asking people to social distance. They're asking them to wear masks. And they're also, Wolf, limiting the number in group gatherings to just ten.
Here is the governor today talking about the big reopening tomorrow.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Being safe, smart and step-by-step is the appropriate way to consider that. And I think we're going to respond well and I think we're going to be able to continue to take some good steps. But tomorrow is just one step. It's certainly not the Florida that we had in February, but I think that we obviously want to get to where we're back in the saddle doing a lot of great things.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: And, Wolf, as you mentioned, salons and spas will remain closed. The governor did meet with salon owners just yesterday over the weekend, saying that for now he's going to keep them closed. So those salon owners are pleading with the governor, saying that they have a system worked out. They can keep their customers in the car, text them when they're read so they don't crowd inside. But that will keep them closed for now, and so will those three counties, which is about 30 percent of Florida's population 6.2 million people.
And I did speak with the dean of the college of medicine, Wolf, at the University of Southern Florida, Charles Lockwood, and he said that's the right call, keeping the three counties closed, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. He said that's the epicenter and he also told me that 60 percent of all the cases, all the deaths and all of the hospitalizations are taking place in those three counties, Wolf.
BLITZER: Yes, that's Miami, Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach. Once again, those are the three biggest counties in the state. Randi Kaye in West Palm Beach for us, thank you very much.
Just west of Florida, out in Mississippi, the governor there says he's changed his mind on reopening, at least for now, after the state reported its largest number of new cases yet. Right now, the state has lost more than 300 people. It has more than 7,500 confirmed cases.
The Republican Governor, Tate Reeves, is joining us now. Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy. We're grateful to you for spending some time with our viewers.
So, you've just had this big spike in cases. Today, the White House says it's still projecting right now between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus.
67,000 are dead right now. Where is your head right now, Governor, in terms of moving forward when you hear those awful numbers?
GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): Well, Wolf, thanks for having me on. And those are awful numbers, but I think it's very important to recognize the situation that we have in some of our metropolitan areas around the country, in New York, in New Jersey, in Detroit, in Chicago, and obviously in South Florida as well to a certain extent, is very different than what we're seeing here.
We did have a number of cases come in on Friday. We had 390, which was our largest single-day number. I had a press conference at 2:30 and said, hey, we're going to pause just a little bit, check out the data, because every step of the way through this process, we have been data- driven, we have worked with our public health officials, every decision we've made has been cleared by them. And what we've found, which is what we expected to find, is that, really, that large increase on Friday was a data dump from a private lab.
And so, we're working very hard to reopen our state. We had -- we went from 390 new cases on Friday down to 220 on Saturday, and we only reported 110 new cases this morning. Again, we are getting ready to reopen. Where my head is, is I'm looking at tomorrow to announce some additional re-openings.
And, by the way, Wolf, reopening is defined differently from state-to- state. I've heard some governors talk about when they start reopening, they're going to reopen outdoor construction, for instance, or they're going to reopen manufacturing. In Mississippi, neither one of those ever closed down.
And so, when we talk about reopening, the businesses that are currently closed are restaurants to in-room dining, barbers, salon owners, gyms, things such as that. And we're going to look to loosen those restrictions as early as tomorrow.
BLITZER: I know you've had a conversation with Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus task force coordinator. Have you met in Mississippi the guidelines that the White House has put out, 14 consecutive days of a downward trend?
REEVES: We have not met those guidelines. But I will tell you, in my conversations with Dr. Birx -- and we've had numerous ones on telephone calls with governors and we've talked one-on-one as well. And in our analysis, it's very clear that -- and this is why those people that are calling for a national strategy don't understand that things are very different, particularly in rural areas.
I'll give you an example. I've got a county up in Northeast Mississippi, Alcorn County, that has had one new case reported in the last 14 days. So why on earth would we have a national strategy that allows for what's happening in the major metropolitan areas to be different than what's happening in, that doesn't recognize that they are different than what's happening in Alcorn County? So we haven't met those guidelines, but I will tell you, in my conversations with Dr. Birx, we don't believe that those particular guidelines work for every single state. If you take a state like Mississippi, which has not had a major spike, we've had basically an uptick in cases early on, and for the last 25 to 35 days, we've been hovering around about between 150 and 300 new cases every day. For instance, the 110 new cases we got yesterday was barely a 1.5 percent increase in the overall number of cases.
And, oh, by the way, Wolf, we've been testing a lot in Mississippi for weeks and weeks. We've been talking about testing when other states were talking about other things. And so, we think the more you test, obviously, the more cases you're going to have, but we do not have -- we do not have a challenge with our hospital system.
Some of the earlier models, Wolf, said that Mississippi would need about 1,100 ventilators right now. Overnight, we had 72 Mississippians on ventilators. Our healthcare system is safe. It is secure. We can handle any new cases. And that's the reason we've got to realize that although there's a public health crisis in this country and in our state, there's also an economic crisis, and we've got to be willing and able to deal with both simultaneously.
BLITZER: But you know the numbers can change, Governor. And I know you're studying this very closely. These are life-and-death decisions. We heard Dr. Birx say today the White House projections still, in her words, are between 100,000 and 240,000 American lives lost in the coming months. Right now, 67,000 Americans have lost their lives.
And what they worry about so much is that, what, only a couple of months ago -- and I'm just looking at the official statistics -- on February 6th, there were only 12 cases in all of the United States, 12 confirmed cases in all of the United States. Right now, there's 1,100,000 confirmed cases in all of the United States. 67,000 Americans have died.
You have to worry about that when you look at the relatively small number of people who have cases and have died in Mississippi, right?
REEVES: Well, there's no question that I worry about every decision that I make. It weighs heavily on me. I've been in office for 100 days. I never anticipated that we would have the kind of tornadoes that we've had.
We had two EF-4 tornadoes in Mississippi on Easter Sunday. I never imagined that we would have a 40-year flood. I never imagined that I would inherit a prison crisis or ethic scandals at the Department of Human Services, and I definitely never imagined that I would be dealing with right now a pandemic the likes of which we haven't seen in our country in over 100 years.
But we are where we are and we've got to make the best decisions available for Mississippians. My first case in Mississippi was March the 11th. And as I look at the data, the data drives our decisions. And the thing that I will tell you is the reason I am so proud of President Trump and Dr. Birx is because they recognize that the numbers do change, and that's why the governor needs to have the flexibility to make the best decisions for their state.
The fact is, what's happening in New York City and what's happening in New Jersey and what's happening in Michigan has very little effect and very little impact on what's happening in rural counties in Mississippi, so the governors need the flexibility to deal with our state. And I appreciate the president and I appreciate Dr. Birx and the entire coronavirus task force for recognizing that and allowing governors to do their job.
BLITZER: Well, good luck, Governor. Obviously, as you well know -- and you've been on the job now not very long -- these are enormously significant decisions that you have to make, and we're hoping you're right, of course, and this has a plateau and begins to decline dramatically. We'll stay in very close touch with you. Good luck to everybody in your state.
REEVES: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: The coronavirus response coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, said this morning that a vaccine by January is possible on paper, but Americans aren't looking for a vaccine on paper. They want one in real life. So, what exactly does that mean? Our medical experts are standing by. We'll discuss that and more when we come back.
BLITZER: All right, take a look at this. Once again, these are live pictures coming in from Hollywood, Florida. That's in Broward County, just north of Miami Beach. Normally on a day like today, a beautiful day like this, that boardwalk over there on the beach would be packed. I don't see anybody anywhere near that boardwalk or in the waters, or certainly not on the beach right now. We'll continue to follow that story as well.
As the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic rises -- it's now about 67,000 -- the biggest question on a lot of people's mind is when will we see a real vaccine, more specifically, could it be ready by the start of 2021? It's an issue Dr. Deborah Birx, the key member, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, addressed earlier today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIRX: On paper, it's possible. It's whether we can execute and execute around the globe, because you also, for phase three, have to have active viral transmission in a community in order to study its efficacy.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, let's discuss with Dr. Patrice Harris. She's the president of the American Medical Association, and Dr. Jeremy Faust, an Emergency Physician.
Dr. Faust, you heard Dr. Birx say that on paper -- her words -- on paper, a vaccine is possible by early next year. In reality, what are the challenges? What does that mean on paper?
DR. JEREMY FAUST, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, BRIGHAM AND WOMEN'S HOSPITAL: I'm glad that we're talking about vaccines, which is something that we know will change the game, as opposed to unproven technology. So we're on the right track here. The question is, when? And on paper, that means if everything were to go amazingly, we could do better than we've ever done in human history.
Now, if we get a vaccine in 12 to 18 months, which is the game changer that I think is realistic, that would be fantastic. If we get it sooner, that's wonderful, but it's going to take collaboration. We don't need a new technology. That's a good thing. We just need to do what we know works, and that just takes a little bit of time.
BLITZER: Do you think, Dr. Harris, that January is a realistic timeline for a real vaccine?
DR. PATRICE HARISS, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Well, that is certainly an ambitious goal. Clearly, we have researchers and scientists across the globe working on this in parallel. I think Dr. Birx was very cautious today. She said, on paper. And so, I think that 12 to 18 months actually was also ambitious.
So we will have to see. What we will have to make sure is that a vaccine is not only effective, but also safe. And so, as long as those two criteria are met, we could certainly have a vaccine. But she was careful to say on paper, and as Dr. Faust said, if everything goes as planned.
BLITZER: Dr. Faust, earlier today, an Oxford University professor working on vaccine development said they'll know pretty soon if a vaccine in the U.K. is showing real promise. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BELL, OXFORD PROFESSOR: We're pretty sure we'll get a signal by June about whether this works or not.
Coronavirus doesn't mutate at the pace of flu, as far as we can see, but it's also quite a tricky virus in terms of generating longstanding immune responses to it. And as a result, I suspect we may need to have relatively regular vaccinations against coronaviruses going into the future. That, of course, remains to be seen. But that's my bet at the moment, is that this is likely to be a seasonal coronavirus vaccine.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: So, what do you make of that, Dr. Faust?
FAUST: As he says, step one is to find something that you think works. Step two is to see if it does. That did not happen overnight, but that's the process. And, again, boosters are a real tricky part and we're going to have to see how willing the American public and the people around the world will go with that.
We've had problems with vaccine hesitancy in the past. It has cost many lives. We can't afford that now. And so, hopefully, what they'll develop works and there will be hunger among the population to be highly interested in receiving those vaccines so that we can save lives.
BLITZER: All of us get, Dr. Harris, a flu shot, almost every year, right? Every year, we get a new flu shot. What would be so bad if we had to get a new coronavirus shot every year? That would work for me.
What do you think?
HARRIS: Well, Wolf, I hope that everyone gets their flu shot every year, but we know that we don't always get as many folks getting their flu shot as needed. And certainly, if need be, I think a lot of folks would be willing to get an additional shot every year, if that is the case.
But certainly, again, we are a ways off of that. And so, while we are waiting on a vaccine, we know there are some promising treatments, but that is a ways off, too, so we really need to make sure that we are doing what we know works best right now, and that is physical distancing, washing our hands, and, really, all the states should be very cautious in their opening and make sure that they have a robust testing capacity to go along with a slow step-wise reopening of our economy.
BLITZER: As far as treatments are concerned, forget about a vaccine for now, but treatment, Dr. Faust, of remdesivir, are you giving that drug to really severe coronavirus patients right now?
FAUST: Right now, that medication is given in the context of studies and what's called compassionate use. It's not standard of care yet. And so, we're waiting to see the real data. Last week, there was as little bit -- Dr. Fauci told us about some information, but scientists need to see the actual studies to know whom it works for and at what extent. We were told that it might decrease hospitalization length of stay by a few days. We were hoping to find out that it saved lives. And we need to know which patients had that benefit and which didn't.
So we are a way ways away from knowing whether remdesivir is going to really change the curve of even our capacity. We know it won't change the mortality is what we're hearing, at least on a large level, but we don't know about capacity yet. We need to see the data, and I just don't know why we don't have it yet.
BLITZER: Yes. And, Dr. Harris, very quickly, the president did authorize the emergency use of remdesivir on Friday. Maybe it will help. Maybe it won't help, but it's worth a try. Is that your thinking as well?
HARRIS: Well, certainly it is appropriate in the context -- first of all, I think everyone should know that this medication is given I.V., through the veins. And so it has been approved by the FDA for use in the hospital, and certainly, we will just have to wait and see. You know, it's okay to be optimistic, but as always, we have to wait until the science and the data tells us that the medication works.
BLITZER: Let's hope it does. All right, Dr. Harris, thanks, as usual, for joining us. Dr. Faust, thanks to you as well. We will continue these conversations down the road.
Meanwhile, in Texas right now, malls, restaurants, movie theaters, retail stores, they're now open with limited capacity, as the state begins to reopen. But the mayor of Houston is warning residents -- and I'm quoting him now -- the virus is not gone, the virus is not under control. The mayor is standing by live to join me. We'll discuss when we come back.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: More than 30 states across the country have either relaxed or are planning to relax stay-at-home restrictions. The state of Texas sees many of their restrictions on Friday, allowing movie theaters, restaurants, retail stores to reopen in a limited capacity, but Texas hasn't seen a decline in cases, which the White House said was a benchmark to reopen.
Take a look at this graphic showing the number of new reported cases in the state over the past two days. The numbers are holding relatively steady.
Joining us now, the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner.
Mayor Turner, thanks so much for joining us. Appreciate the time you're giving us. We've seen pictures from --
MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER (D), HOUSTON: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: -- your terrific city this weekend, groups of people in parks without masks, and as you know, Dr. Deborah Birx says projections for the nation's death toll have always been, still today, between 100,000 to 240,000 lives lost in the United States. 67,000 lives are already lost.
Are you worried that more of those deaths could be in your community if people ignore social distancing guidelines, wearing masks, et cetera?
TURNER: And Wolf, the answer's an emphatic yes. In fact, today I reported 73 more positive cases and four more people in Houston have died as a direct result of COVID-19. And today I just put out on social media, just tweeted out, and said that to the people in the city of Houston, there are too many treating this virus as if it's yesterday's news.
It is not. The virus is still here. And until there's a vaccine, we are going to have to learn how to manage this virus as we go forward. But too many people, too many people are walking around in public or in public, period, without putting on a mask or some sort of face coverings. I am concerned.
BLITZER: It's certainly concerning. You've said that the Texas Governor Abbott's order has taken some powers out of your hands locally. You're the mayor of Houston. Yesterday your city matched its highest daily death toll from the virus. Do you wish the governor had waited a bit longer?
TURNER: Well, you know, we're moving a little bit too fast for me. I think it's better to be cautious and move back gradually. And look, I want the economy to open. Literally, there are hundreds of thousands of people in the state of Texas and the city of Houston who have been adversely affected with layoffs, losing their jobs and facing financial economic struggles. I understand that. I get it.
And so, I, too, want us to open up, but I want us to open up in such a way that a month from now, five or six weeks from now, we're not having to shut down and start this cycle all over again. But the good news, I will tell you, Wolf, is that I've been out over the last three days -- this is day three of the order -- and for most Houstonians, they are choosing to be cautious. They are either staying at home, they're continuing, for example, their curbside service.
They're not rushing out, even though places are opening up. They are not rushing to go. They've become much more informed, more educated, and they understand that this virus is still in our community, and we need to be very careful.
BLITZER: So, basically, what I hear you saying is the folks, at least in Houston, are paying attention to these new guidelines, for example, a strict 25 percent capacity for restaurants. Officers, I assume, are enforcing that in your city. Is that right?
TURNER: Yes, in most cases, but it's a lot on self-policing. I will tell you, we had one case in which a strip club recharacterized itself as a restaurant. The city moved in on Friday to shut it down. They filed a temporary restraining order, surprisingly. The judge did grant it. But she indicated that there was some concerns with the governor's order.
And so, we've asked the state to be very clear that they are phase one, doesn't apply, for example, to strip clubs, that that is not intended. We are asking the state attorney general to also step in and to help with the enforcement. The county judge here to date indicate that if people are seeing situations where people are violating the governor's order, to please report it.
But we are going to rely a lot on people, self-policing, other people being out reporting what they find. But for now, for most of our businesses in the city of Houston they are complying. I want to thank them for it. Most of the people in the city of Houston they are not rushing in just because something is open. They're not rushing in. They understand that the virus is here, that it is deadly, and unless we engage in social distancing, staying at home when we should, wearing our face covering, that one person infected can infect several more others and then here we go again.
BLITZER: Yes. The numbers can explode very, very rapidly, as we've seen in the country from early March. Just a few cases, now more than 1,100,000 confirmed cases in the United States.
Good luck, Mayor Turner. Good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Houston. We'll continue our conversations down the road as well. Thank you.
TURNER: Thanks. Thanks, Wolf. Be safe.
BLITZER: All right, be safe to you as well.
In February, President Trump said the coronavirus would disappear like a miracle. On Friday, he said he's hopeful that the virus will kill fewer than 100,000 people.
Up next, we'll have a preview of Jake Tapper's new Special Report examining what the president did and did not do to prepare for the pandemic. Jake is standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.
BLITZER: Tonight, right here on CNN, an in-depth look into what really happened at the highest levels of the American government as the threat of the coronavirus grew and grew, how U.S. leaders, specifically the president, reacted to the possibility that a deadly pandemic was headed our way.
The CNN Special Report "PANDEMIC AND THE PRESIDENT" is hosted by CNN's own Jake Tapper, who joins us right now.
Jake, we're going to give our viewers a closer look at your special in just a moment or so, but first, the president today, just a few minutes ago, just retweeted a real conspiracy theorist whose post claims with absolutely no evidence that it was President Obama who was behind the so-called -- in the president's words -- Russian hoax.
What's your reaction to this tweet coming as the death toll from the coronavirus clearly surpasses 67,000 here in the U.S.?
JAKE TAPPER, CNN CHIEF WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, two things. One is, obviously, it's astounding that an American president would be retweeting something like that in any situation but that he's doing so at a time when more than a million Americans have contracted the novel coronavirus and more than 70,000 have died from it is just astounding.
And thankfully, nobody close to me has died from this, but I can't imagine what I would feel if I were somebody who had lost somebody and you pick up your phone and you see the president is talking about this. Second of all, the very fact that the president is so un-allegiant to
facts and proof is something that we've seen in this coronavirus pandemic and the controversy surrounding it. President Trump for weeks, even after he took the action that many experts heralded, to ban some individuals coming from China to the United States, spent a lot of time spreading misinformation about the seriousness, the gravity of the pandemic, weeks and weeks, in which the American people were being told by their commander-in-chief that this was nothing more than the flu, it was not serious, the number of cases was going to go down to close to zero.
It was not true. None of it was true. And the idea that the president was saying this -- we'll never know how many lives were affected by that, but certainly, we have seen in the press obituaries about people who thought that this was a big hoax and a controversy created by Democrats and the media, only to die from it.
So, to me, it's emblematic of one of the ways, although not the entire record, but one of the ways President Trump has dealt with this horrific pandemic.
BLITZER: Yes. It's really an amazing development. And let's talk about your special report later tonight, "PANDEMIC AND THE PRESIDENT." Look at this. It's from back before even the first case of the virus reached the United States. Let me play it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, eventually, Alex Azar, secretary of Health and Human Services, goes to the president to talk about this coronavirus issue that is emerging from China. The president is completely preoccupied with other issues. He wants to talk about vaping and the sale of flavored vaping products. And it just shows you kind of how the president's focus was not on this coronavirus issue.
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Which is worse, the impeachment hoax or the witch hunts from Russia?
TAPPER: His focus, much of it, was on the U.S. Senate.
REP. ADAM SCHIFF (D-CA): And ready to present the Articles of Impeachment against Donald John Trump.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In his view, it was the so-called deep state, people in government who were hell-bent to bring him down. So, by the time the coronavirus pandemic really started to worsen in the United States, and scientists and experts were telling him about the problem, he saw some of these people as just an extension of the deep state. And so that led to I think some of the skepticism that he had towards the advice he was being given.
TAPPER: And China's government in late January still downplaying. DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Health officials in
Wuhan held a press conference yesterday. They say this is preventable. They say this is controllable.
TAPPER: The next day, the U.S. had its first confirmed case of the coronavirus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: And Jake, from that first case to now more than 1.1 million confirmed cases here in the United States. It's exploded so rapidly and the death count continues.
TAPPER: And one of the reasons we did this documentary now, Wolf, is because this isn't over. We are just at the beginning of this pandemic. It's going to be going on for a long time, even though a lot of states seem to be under the impression that everything can soon go back to normal. We wanted to look at what lessons can be learned so we don't repeat them, although I'm not sure that that is happening -- Wolf.
BLITZER: We can only hope. Jake Tapper, thanks so much. Thanks to you and your team.
And let my viewers know right now, Jake and his report is really, really significant. It airs later tonight, the Special Report, "THE PANDEMIC AND THE PRESIDENT," at 10:00 p.m. Eastern. Must-watch TV.
Jake, thanks so much for doing this.
In the early, crucial days of the spread of the coronavirus in the United Kingdom, the prime minister there was bragging about shaking hands, some officials were brushing off concerns, and there were gaps in testing. CNN investigates the U.K.'s response to the coronavirus. That's next, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: The U.K. could soon pass Italy for the highest death toll in Europe. And this is raising serious questions over the government's handling of the outbreak.
CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more.
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR (voice-over): Britain is close to having Europe's worst death toll. So what did it do wrong or differently?
When global alarm bells were ringing loudly, the U.K. was clear it wouldn't lock down too early and that some spread was unavoidable, even desirable. PATRICK VALLANCE, U.K. CHIEF SCIENTIFIC OFFICER: If people go too
early, they become very fatigued. It's not possible to stop everybody getting it and it's also actually not desirable because you want some immunity in the population.
WALSH: Hindsight always gives a clearer, unfair verdict. But new, updated government figures show the death toll, just in England, was a lot larger than known at the time in the days leading up to the lockdown. And the prime minister said he was still shaking hands.
BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: And I shook hands with everybody, you'll be pleased to know.
WALSH: And no deaths were announced. Four people had already died in England when Cheltenham horse races criticized for going ahead, ended the U.K. toll was officially 10 when really 58 had died. And when the lockdown slammed pub doors shut publicly, the toll was 359. But really 847 had died in England alone.
Should the U.K. have moved faster?
NIGEL EDWARDS, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NUFFIELD TRUST: It is too early to tell. But there are some early signs looking at experiences in some other countries that if we'd gone a bit earlier, we might be looking at slightly better results now.
SIAN GRIFFITHS, CHAIRED HONG KONG GOVERNMENT'S INQUIRY INTO SARS AND CUHK: It's more likely to be next year when people in the cold light of day can look back at all the different countries and different things have been done, what worked and what didn't work.
PROF. KEITH NEAL, EPIDEMIOLOGIST OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF NOTTINGHAM: If you're taking different measures at different times, then different people would become infected. If we had come in a week earlier, then probably less people would have died up to now but as we -- as the disease continues to spread through the population, a different series of people will die.
WALSH: Testing and contact tracing was a problem from the start partially dismissed and then heavily embraced.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 100,000 tests per day.
WALSH: Many grand schemes were announced, home antibody tests, apps, a volunteer army. But this one actually happened, nearly on time, albeit late. It can't have helped decision-making that Boris Johnson was nearly killed by the disease, too, at its peak.
EDWARDS: Some of the messaging has not been as consistent or as clear as might have been helpful. I give the government a bit of the benefit of the doubt. These are somewhat unprecedented times.
WALSH: Still, despite the huge toll, the U.K.'s health service was not overwhelmed. Even huge overflow hospitals like this in London were barely used. Half those who died in England, so far, were over 80. Did the U.K. not protect them enough or was there little that could be done?
Tough questions that time and grief will answer.
Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.
BLITZER: Much more coming up in our special SITUATION ROOM in the next hour. Before we go to break right now, though, a beautiful moment serving as a reminder that we are all in this together. The U.S. Air Force Band leading the military bands of six other nations to virtually perform "I'll Be Seeing You" to celebration International Jazz Day on Thursday.