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Dr. Deborah Birx: Vaccine Possible "On Paper" By January; Trump's Administration Identifies 14 Vaccines to Focus on for Development; China Disputes U.S. Claims Coronavirus Came from Wuhan Lab; Florida Uses Phased Approach in Reopening the State; California Counties Defy Governor's Stay-at-Home Orders; Trump Revises Projected U.S. Death Toll to 100,000. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 4, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

The president now says that the coronavirus outbreak could be far deadlier here in the United States. Just making a major revision upward to a possible 100,000 deaths or more.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We did the right thing. I do look back on it, because my attitude was we're not going to shut it down. Look, we're going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people. That's a horrible thing.


SCIUTTO: Today the death toll stands at over 67,000 Americans as we are seeing a growing divide among states. Those that are moving to reopen and those that are standing firm on social distancing restrictions.

We are in effect conducting a national experiment, relaxing restrictions with uncertain results in the spread of the infection.

We're live this morning across the country. Also today we are getting more information about the race for a vaccine and an administration official has told CNN that scientists have now identified 14 potential vaccines to focus on for development going forward. Of course now it's all going to be in the testing what works.

We've got all the angles covered. Let's begin, though, with CNN's Rosa Flores in Miami.

Rosa, tell us what you're seeing in the state of Florida today.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, the state of Florida using a phased regional approach, most of the state reopens today except for the counties of Miami-Dade, where I am, Broward and Palm Beach. These three counties make up about 30 percent of the state's population, but they account for about 60 percent of the cases, and 60 percent of the deaths.

That's why it's no surprise that the mayors from these three counties got together, decided to reopen together. Now they are exempt from phase one but on Wednesday, they did reopen waterways and green spaces with some restrictions, of course, like face coverings and social distancing.

But when it comes to the rest of the state reopening today, restaurants and retail spaces will be able to reopen with 25 percent capacity. Restaurants will also be able to have outdoor seating but seating will have to be at least six feet apart. Elective surgeries will be able to resume. And the governor also announced the opening of 80 state parks.

But this is only phase one, so schools will remain closed, bars, gyms, salons will also remain closed. Now moving forward as the state looks towards phase two, Governor Ron DeSantis saying that he will continue to look at the facts and testing. Now he waived for pharmacists to be able to administer COVID-19 tests so very soon here in the state of Florida, we will see tests being administered at CVS, at Walgreens, even at Walmart.

Now he wants to push a lot of this testing, Jim, into nursing homes as well because there's been a lot of deaths relating to nursing homes. There is an RV that has been retrofitted that will be going around the state to do that -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Rosa Flores there in Florida, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Dr. Marissa Levine. She is a professor of public health at the University of South Florida and a former Virginia state health commissioner.

Dr. Levine, so good to have you on this morning. You say that Florida needs adequate public testing and contact tracing, which is something we hear from health professionals across the country. Does it have today and if it does not is it moving too quickly by easing social distancing restrictions?

DR. MARISSA LEVINE, FORMER VIRGINIA STATE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: I think we're very concerned that we're not quite there. There's definitely been a push for more testing and many more people are coming on board with the health department to do the contact tracing. I think time will tell if we have adequate support resources, but it would have been better I think to make sure we had all that in place before we opened.

SCIUTTO: Time will tell. I mean, in effect, is this an experiment that Florida's conducting here, but also other states as well, opening up with uncertain results in terms of how this affects the outbreak, or a potential rise in cases?

LEVINE: We're definitely in uncharted territory. We are doing our own form of that national experiment that you talked about and there is no playbook here so it's really critical that we have good information, good data that we're looking at that data regularly, and trying to understand what it's telling us, and how we need to adapt to what it is telling us.

SCIUTTO: Now, to be fair, Florida has managed to keep infections and deaths below some of the more alarming forecasts in the early stages of this outbreak here. Has the state of Florida done something right?


LEVINE: I think it's a combination of things. Clearly people here have taken it very seriously. That's been my impression, and I think that that activity by individuals and collectively has had a huge impact. I certainly think a number of the governor's efforts have really critical protecting the skilled nursing facilities and congregate care, for example, certainly has impacted the death rate.

And I think that going forward, I'm concerned that the message is not clear to everybody that really nothing has changed with respect to the virus. We still do not have a treatment, despite the efforts at play, and we still do not have a vaccine, so the only tools we have are physical separation and all the hygienic practices we've talked about. And I think now face covering, too, is a critical part of that.

SCIUTTO: I guess folks at home, you know, whether they're in Florida or elsewhere, their heads must be spinning here in terms of knowing what's safe to do for themselves or their families, folks in Florida. But is it safe for them to go out granted perhaps wearing a mask, but can they go to the beach now? Can they go to work if they work for a business that has been allowed to reopen?

LEVINE: I think you bring up a great point. We can open up. We can say we're open but at the end of the day whether we're really open is going to depend on how safe people feel. People who go to work and people who seek services, so I think we have to really hear what's happening in our community, what people are concerned about.

I am worried that denial might be our biggest challenge right now, and if there's mixed messaging about what opening means, that is if people interpret that as things are actually OK, and we have another big wave, I'm concerned what that will do to us.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, Dr. Levine, we'll be watching closely. Thanks very much for joining us this morning.

LEVINE: You're welcome. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, a big fight is unraveling in the state of California over the governor's stay-at-home order there. A few counties are now defying the governor's orders, going ahead and reopening their businesses regardless of the statewide direction.

CNN's Stephanie Elam is live in Los Angeles this morning.

So, Stephanie, who is pushing back and as county leaders push back, are people -- who are the people listening to, the governor or county officials?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well that's the thing. There is some confusion about this, there's no doubt about it, Jim. One of the counties that has reopened up some of their businesses is Modoc County which is in the far northeastern corner of the state. It's a county of about 9,000 people, so it's a very, very rural county, and as of now, our last check, they have zero cases of the coronavirus.

So as of Friday, they were saying that they were going to start reopening some of their businesses, their schools, their churches and allowing those to happen. They're still asking for people that are 65 and older or with underlying conditions to still shelter at home, and they're also asking for people to stay cognizant of those social distancing guidelines, so that's a smaller county doing this.

And then you have today two much larger counties that are still rather rural but north of Sacramento. You've got Sutter County and Yuba Counties. They do have cases of coronavirus, both of them do, but they are looking on easing some of the restrictions. And just let me tell you what things are looking to open up. Some restaurants, salons, malls, they're saying gyms can open up as well, tattoo parlors.

They're saying that more risky businesses have to stay closed and any of those personal care businesses they have to limit their business to 30 minutes and then move away from these people, though. Obviously one question that a lot of people have is whether or not the state government here in California is going to respond to these counties and force them to shut down. That is not clear at this point -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: There are protests as well unfolding in some places. Who is organizing them? How big are they?

ELAM: They are definitely -- there's definitely some anger in the beach communities of Orange County. They feel targeted by the governor's decision to shut down their beaches, this while we've seen in San Diego that their beaches are open and it looks like officials are happy with how the people are socially distancing there.

We saw the temperatures rise the weekend before last and so people crowded there, so at the end of the week last week we saw people flocking to Huntington Beach, about 2500 to 3,000 people to protest the beaches being closed, and as the governor responded to this, he said that listen, it doesn't know -- this virus doesn't know if you're a Democrat or a Republican but we've got to stay safe.

And he also pointed out that we're just days away from easing more of these restrictions but obviously, Jim, people are getting very fatigued of these stay-at-home, shelter-at-home orders here in California.

SCIUTTO: Yes. We hear it around the country. Understandable.

Stephanie Elam, thanks very much.

It is a major revision, the president now says the death toll in this country could hit 100,000. That's far higher than what he said just two weeks ago.


Jeremy Diamond joins us now from Washington.

So, Jeremy, what's driving this change? I mean, you look at the numbers on the side of our screen, you can't fight the numbers but is he getting guidance that he's listening to now from health experts?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, Jim, as you mentioned, it was just two weeks ago that the president was saying that the death toll would be projected to be between 50,000 and 60,000 and in fact, Jim, last week the president was saying that the death toll would be 60,000 to 70,000, but as the United States is now surpassing those numbers, President Trump last night saying that it could now be as high as 100,000.

What's important to note here, Jim, is that just yesterday, Dr. Deborah Birx the White House's coronavirus coordinator said the White House had actually never officially moved off of its initial projections of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths if indeed social distancing and all those mitigation efforts are indeed put into place.

But, Jim, this morning there are questions about what the effects could have been by the president revising those death tolls previously. Remember, when the president says this death toll is lower than we thought, that's him saying essentially, you know, this isn't as bad as we thought it could be.

Now of course we know there's a clamor in certain states to begin reopening, how much of that is due to what the president was saying.

SCIUTTO: OK, so the vice president, we're familiar now with the pictures of him flouting the rules inside the Mayo Clinic during a visit last week regarding wearing masks. There he is there, the only one who didn't do it. Initially his spokesperson said they did not view that as a mistake but now the vice president says differently.

DIAMOND: That's right. Katie Miller, the vice president's spokeswoman, last week told our Jim Acosta that this was not a mistake. But despite that, Jim, we had already been hearing from our sources that people in the vice president's office felt that this was indeed an oversight and we know that last week after the vice president did not wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic. He later opted to wear one during a tour of a GM manufacturing facility.

The question, though, now is whether the president will be wearing this mask tomorrow. President Trump will be making one of his first trips out of the White House in quite some time, heading to a manufacturing plant at a Honeywell plant in Arizona, so will the president wear a mask then? That's a big question.

SCIUTTO: All right. So when the president was warned about the extent of this outbreak, he's made a lot of competing claims. Now he's admitting that there was an intelligence warning in late January, but not early January. How do the dates line up and what's the truth here? DIAMOND: That's right. President Trump saying yesterday that the first

briefing that he got directly from intelligence officials about coronavirus was on January 23rd.

Now Jim, what our reporting in other outlets reporting has previously shown is that President Trump was in fact received information about coronavirus in his daily presidential briefing as early as January 3rd. Now it's not clear whether the president at the time actually read that information.

In fact, Jim, our reporting has shown as you know that the president frequently does not read his daily intelligence briefing, instead relying on the oral briefing that he gets from intelligence officials and from his national security adviser, but again, this is raising questions about how early the president actually heard about this and knew about this from officials.

The president suggested, though, that January 23rd he was told that this virus could be coming to the United States. We should note that that was three days after the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the U.S. -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Jeremy Diamond, covering the White House, thanks very much.

In just the last few minutes the Treasury secretary was asked on CNBC about the future of international air travel in the midst of the outbreak. Here is what Steve Mnuchin said.


MARIA BARTIROMO, FOX BUSINESS NETWORK ANCHOR: Do you think international travel will be opened up this year?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: Too hard to tell at this point, Maria. I hope down the road it is, but I'd say we're taking this -- our priority is opening up the domestic economy. Obviously for business people that do need to travel, there will be travel on a limited basis, but this is a great time for people to explore America.


SCIUTTO: That interview on FOX Business, not CNBC.

Still to come this hour, Dr. Deborah Birx says there is hope for the possibility of a vaccine by January, but what if a vaccine comes later, if it's never developed? A credible one? That has happened before.

Plus global backlash against China over coronavirus. President Trump has called it a coverup, and now China's firing back calling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo evil.

And how is the pandemic affecting our nation's food supply? Farmers hard-hit by coronavirus, they're now speaking out.


JIM SCIUTTO, ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Welcome back to the race for a vaccine now. White House taskforce response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says that having a vaccine by January of next year is possible at least on paper. An administration official tells CNN that scientists have now identified 14 different potential vaccines to focus on for development going forward.

I'm joined now by Dr. Ashish Jha, he is director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. So, Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx, they say it's possible by January of next year. Tell us how realistic that time frame is, based on what goes in to developing a credible vaccine.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so good morning and thanks for having me on. So, that is an incredibly ambitious time line. Like usually, vaccines take several years to develop. Obviously, we are trying to speed the process up as much as possible, and I've been saying 12 to 18 months, if everything goes super smoothly, January would be only about seven months away.

So, look, miracles can happen. It could come together, but I'm certainly not banking on it and, I don't think we should all bank on a January availability, but I'm hopeful that sometime in 2021, we will have a vaccine.


SCIUTTO: OK, so the administration has now identified 14 potential vaccines. Do you know what has gone into that decision-making? Are those 14 credible candidates at this point?

JHA: So, there are a good number. I don't know the specifics of what criteria they used. I can say there are at least eight or ten that are either in clinical trial or entering clinical trial. They may have identified others that they think have a lot of potential. The good news here is, we're going to have a whole lot of different efforts and we're going to take a lot of shots on goal.

And so even though we're trying to do this super fast, we've never built a coronavirus vaccine before all the way to the end, and had one ready for humans, so we're kind of playing in new territory, but I think we're trying so many different efforts that I am optimistic one of them will work, sometime in 2021.

SCIUTTO: That's a key point right there because people are used to flu shots by now, and every year, the flu shot is different because they add protection against whatever the newest flu strain is. But you're saying this has not been done with the specific kind of virus, the coronavirus. So does that mean it's necessarily going to happen? I mean, are we going to figure that out?

JHA: Yes, so there are a lot -- there are people who think we are not -- we may never be able to develop a vaccine or might take us many years. Again, I'm more optimistic, but you have to remember, like there are viruses we've been trying to build vaccines for. HIV, we've been trying to build a vaccine for HIV for --


JHA: Twenty five years. We still haven't built one. So this is not a guarantee, and this is not like the flu vaccine, because we do know how to build flu vaccines. We do that every year. This is a novel virus. I'm optimistic, but optimistic is not the same as I am sure we're going --


JHA: To get there.

SCIUTTO: Wow, listen, you've got to keep that in mind. OK, so for folks at home, obviously, all of us want this to happen, and so much is riding on this. What testing or what degree of testing data over time is necessary to establish that a vaccine actually works credibly for a large portion of the population?

JHA: Yes, so there's a lot of work going into that right now, because part of what we need to understand is what does immunity look like? So, we don't even know for sure yet, though, I hope in the next few weeks or couple months, we will. We don't even know if you've been infected and recovered whether you're immune, but we think you are.

One of the things we're going to do is look for immunity markers and make sure that they actually do protect you. And then when we build the vaccine, and as we test it in people, we're going to first look for some of the same immunity markers, and then obviously we're going to look to see if any of those people, if they're exposed to the virus end up getting infected.

And the hope is going to be, people can mount an immunity -- instead of immunity markers, and then if they end up being exposed to the virus are able to clear it and not get sick. If those things happen, then we'll know that we have a vaccine that's effective. We obviously also want to make sure it's safe.

SCIUTTO: You've raised a question there before we go that we've talked about a bit on this broadcast, and that is that as antibody tests become more available -- I mean, there is a question mark about antibody tests. Does testing positive for antibodies meaning you've been exposed to this virus. Does that necessarily give you immunity or some immunity? Where is the data right now on that question?

JHA: Yes, so again, it's a little bit of like we have a lot of hope. I mean, we believe scientifically that it ought to give you immunity. It should, but you're hearing from me should and ought to, not it does. New virus, right, we haven't dealt with this virus before. So I think in the next month or two, we're going to start getting data that will give us more confidence.

I just -- I wouldn't bet on it right now. I think it's likely going to turn out that way. But I wouldn't put my life at risk and say yes, if I've --


JHA: Got those immunity markers, I'm a 100 percent sure that I've got the infection, I don't think we're there yet.

SCIUTTO: So many unanswered questions, well, Dr. Jha, always appreciate having your expertise on the broadcast.

JHA: Thanks for having me on.

SCIUTTO: Well, China is firing back at the White House in its claims that there is evidence that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan. They, the Chinese want to see proof. A live report from China is coming up.



SCIUTTO: China today is angrily pushing back against claims made by the Trump administration that the coronavirus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Personally, I think they made a horrible mistake, and they didn't want to admit it. We wanted to go in, they didn't want us there, even World Health wanted to go in, they were admitted but much later, you know, not immediately. And my opinion is they made a mistake, they tried to cover it.

MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE, UNITED STATES: I can tell you that there is a significant amount of evidence that this came from that laboratory in Wuhan.


SCIUTTO: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has not yet given details of what that evidence is. Today, the Chinese state media has called the secretary quote, "evil", accused him of repeating a lie. With me now from Shanghai, CNN international correspondent David Culver and also former House Intelligence Chairman and CNN national security commentator Mike Roger joining us from Washington.

David, first, just the view from the ground here. I mean, the Chinese pushing back very angrily against this line of criticism, not just from the Trump administration, but to be clear, you're hearing from other governments now as well, the government of Australia, even some governments in Europe raising questions about China's responsibility here.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's going to really put to test the narrative that the Chinese state media in particular is trying to put out there. And that is a narrative that suggests that the U.S. is putting forward a lie, they're pointing specifically at Mike Pompeo as you pointed out, just in the evening newscast tonight, the "CCTV" state broadcaster which carries heavy propaganda.