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States In U.S. Begin Easing Restrictions Put In Place To Combat Coronavirus Pandemic; President Trump Downplays Early Intelligence Briefings On Coronavirus Pandemic; Secretary Of State Mike Pompeo Says Coronavirus Came From Chinese Lab In Wuhan; Concerns Grow About Easing Restrictions Too Quickly. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 4, 2020 - 08:00   ET



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Which is 40,000 less than the lowest number thought of.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: That was April 19th. That was April 19th, two weeks ago he was predicting 60,000 deaths. We're already at 67,000, so we're already higher than what he was predicting just two weeks ago. And the daily count of new deaths is stubbornly high, and it's important to note, this is without knowing whether there will be any effects from the states around the country that have decided to reopen.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: That reopening, of course, coinciding over the weekend in many places with just an absolutely gorgeous couple of days of weather, and in many parts of the nation, that then led to packed parks and beaches. Pictures for you from New York, from Texas, from Florida, from Georgia. Much of Florida of course actually reopens today. By the end of this week, 40 states plus will be partially open.

Take a look at the scene in Central Park over the weekend. This actually prompted a warning from Governor Cuomo about false comfort, reminding New Yorkers that a decline in numbers in no way means this virus is gone. Also reminding New Yorkers the stay-at-home order is still in effect.

The White House, meantime, continues to raise hopes for a potential vaccine, the president now says by the end of the year.

BERMAN: Let's begin our coverage with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Sanjay, great to have you here. In this death count --


BERMAN: -- the 67,000 deaths, where we are today is really with full mitigation. The impact of the numbers we're seeing up until today and probably for a few more days is still through those stay-at-home orders being in full effect through April. GUPTA: Right.

BERMAN: This is with the strictest measures in place.

GUPTA: Yes, I was surprised by that. I talked to Chris Murray, who is one of the authors of this projection, IHME projection, and he said yes, the numbers have been going up even not taking into account the fact that these states are reopening. So we're going to certainly see increasing numbers on these projections as it is, as these states start to reopen.

I can tell you here in Georgia, we had the second largest number of deaths over the weekend, about six days after the states started to reopen up. So it's not entirely surprising that the numbers will go up. I will tell you that these projections overall have been from IHME, have been kind of low compared to other projections out of Columbia, out of the CDC.

So there's a large range from 30,000 to 150,000. Obviously, it's not going to be as low as 30,000 now. We know what the lowest number is going to be, but these models have sort of been all over the place, and depending how you look at them, when you look at these mitigation measures going into place, it gives you very different numbers.

HILL: As we look at them, though, right, if they are at this point all we have to go on, and even though, as we know, they should not be written in stone, as I know you talk about all the time, Sanjay, but you don't want to look too far back, but you can learn a lot from what has and has not happened in this country.


HILL: Even just in terms of mitigation, what could have been put in place sooner, what changes would that have made, and what does that tell us heading forward if we are perhaps reopening in some areas too soon.

GUPTA: I think that is the critical point. So yes, full mitigation measures however you define that, number one. But number two, when did they go into place. It's one of those things where in the moment maybe we don't spend as much time looking in the rearview mirror, understandably, but Erica, you're absolutely right.

There was an article that came out from two epidemiologists that said if these mitigation measures as we put them in place on, I think, March 16th, if they had gone into effect a week earlier, it could have prevented 60 percent of first wave of deaths, one week earlier. Two weeks earlier, again, according to these epidemiologists, could have prevented 90 percent of this first wave of deaths.

Now, again, that is tragic to think about, because then you think how many, how much did we miss by delaying putting these mitigation measures in place. But it's significant. It's not just a question of what you do. It's a question of when you do it.

And I think that was an important lesson that we learned in the past, but hopefully we won't forget that lesson, because look, this is going to come up again and again. I think some of these states that have been reopening, as we've seen in other countries, then for a period of time have to close down again as the numbers start to go back up.

BERMAN: People are going to say, oh, that's crazy, two weeks would have made that difference. But think of how many crowded subway cars in the two weeks, think of how many packed stadiums might have existed in those two weeks, and then watch that growth go exponential after it. That's how these things happen, which is why, Sanjay, I know the pictures of people out over the weekend make you crazy filling the parks, filling the beaches. That said, I know people have to get outside. The question is how do we do it right, now?


GUPTA: Right. Yes. You could be outside. People always say you're saying you can't go outside and that's nuts and why can't we go outside? You can go outside. You even should go outside probably for your physical and mental health.

The issue is exactly what you're saying. This is not rocket science at this point. People sort of understand, there is a virus out there. It is spreading. We need to separate ourselves. We all know this at this point, and that's not doing it.

You look at these images, most doctors will look at those images and say I see something you don't see. I see a microscopic virus that is happy as can be jumping back and forth between all these humans, laying on these surfaces that we subsequently touch, not realizing that we touched it, mindlessly doing these things, then touching our face, and essentially infecting ourselves.

It's preventable. We have a lot of stuff to do in terms of diagnostics, therapeutics, maybe even a vaccine. But the idea, the basic preventative measures, if we're not putting those into effect it makes it seem like all those other things are going to less of an impact. We've got to do this. We've got to do it now. Not forever, because eventually we'll get ahead of this, but right now this virus is clearly still outpacing us.

HILL: It's interesting, too, because we heard from the CDC from these findings on Friday, too, where they specifically pointed to what helped fuel the early rise of this virus in the United States, and among the issues were large gatherings, and they pointed specifically to Mardi Gras, they pointed to a large funeral in Albany, Georgia, where we know there was a major cluster, to medical conferences.

As we look at all of that, though, and we look at people wanting to get outside, you also hear Ohio Governor Mike DeWine talking about masks, and saying you can do something. You can't do it all, essentially. You have to know what you can do, and pulling back on the mask order, when you hear things like that happening, Sanjay, is that -- I don't mean this in a political way, I mean from a medical perspective, is that the right approach?

Government can only tell you to do so much. It's true, but if that so much is perhaps keeping you or your neighbor from getting sick, is that when you pull off? Pull back?

GUPTA: I don't think we should pull back at this point. I think it's all been in the messaging around this. First of all, no matter what, the virus is the constant in this equation. It's still out there. It's contagious, and we know it can be lethal. I don't enjoy saying that, but it's the truth. And the truth really does matter right now.

We have not -- we have not gotten beyond this thing, despite the fact that it very much seems like it in some places around the country, people taking victory laps and spiking the football, whatever it might be, the virus is still out there.

Two is that the masks are not a panacea, but they can help. We need every tool in the tool belt right now until we have something that's a very effective medicine or a vaccine to really combat this.

Finally, I think that this message, take risks if you want to. You want to talk about liberty? You can have your liberty, you can take risks for yourself. But you're taking risks for me. You're taking risks for my kids and my parents. That's just the truth of it. This is a contagious virus.

When we say we're all in it together, that means my health depends on how you behave, and your health depends on how I behave. I'm not going to take chances on behalf of your health and you shouldn't do it on behalf of mine. People coming home and spreading this virus to their loved ones, that would be tragic for these people. It would be a tragedy they won't get beyond to think that they brought a virus home and potentially got their loved ones sick.

BERMAN: Sanjay, could we finish with a vaccine reality check, because I think people have heard a lot of words about vaccine which sounds as if the timeline has changed, but I don't really think it has. Dr. Birx is being clear that on paper, if everything's perfect, you can get one maybe by January. The president said by the end of the year, which sounds like happy talk. But the science is still in the same place on this, right?

GUPTA: Yes. There's some things about the trial you can't accelerate. There's no question, with some of these platforms, including these genetic, these MRNA platforms, they had a head start. They had done some work with the SARS and the MERS vaccine, which I think gave them a head start.

So they're doing phase one, phase two trials in some places simultaneously, the Oxford study, for example, they should have several thousand people enrolled by the end of this month, which is speedy. Vaccines can take years and years to make.

But we still don't know if it works. If it works, that's great. If it doesn't, we're going to have to be looking at some of these other platforms. The type of vaccine that everyone's excited about, the Oxford one that you've heard about and others, are using these types that haven't been mass produced before.

So we'll see. The Oxford one, they had a really interesting trial where they looked at monkeys, they infected a bunch of monkeys with the exposure of the virus and they all got infected. They vaccinated six monkeys and exposed them to the same dose and none of the monkeys became infected.


So that was significant. But there's a saying in public health that mice lie and monkeys exaggerate. We've got to see how this looks in humans.

HILL: And also once there is a vaccine, there's the whole question who has access, who is paying for it, how do you actually get it to people.

GUPTA: That's right.

HILL: So much to come down the road, as we know. Sanjay, appreciate it as always, thank you.

GUPTA: You got it, thank you.

HILL: President Trump says intelligence officials did not brief him about the coronavirus until late January. That claim contradicts reporting by CNN and other outlets that the president was warned of the virus threat weeks before restricting travel from China. CNN's John Harwood joining us now live from Washington with more. So the president saying he didn't first hear about this, and even when he did, they weren't really making a big deal of it January 23rd.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Erica, the president has seen that in opinion polls most Americans think that he was slow and behind the curve in responding to the virus. So what he's trying to do now is absolve himself of that charge by saying that the warnings he got were not as early as our reporting has indicated, and were not as serious as they sound on its face.

So we know that Dr. Redfield was notified by his Chinese counterpart on January the 3rd about the seriousness of the outbreak. We know that was included in the president's daily brief, intelligence brief. Don't know if he read that brief, but it was included.

We know that Secretary Azar called the president on the 18th of February to alert him to the threat of the coronavirus, and that the president was not particularly receptive to talking about that threat. He didn't want to talk down the economy, which was going very well at the time, stock market was going very well, and he sees the economy as the key to his re-election.

Now he says, well, I got this warning on January the 23rd, and our colleague Vivian Salama has reported that the national security adviser briefed him on that day. But the president says it was very matter-of-fact, it wasn't presented as an urgent priority then.

Of course, we know that within 10 days he had shut down some travel into the United States from China, accepting American citizens, but he's trying to make the case that I wasn't so slow, I wasn't so late. And we've seen what the results of the pandemic are, and that's an argument that is going to play out over the course of the re-election campaign.

HILL: And I'm sure we'll continue to hear more about it, as well.

I also want to get a little bit more of what we're hearing from Secretary of State Pompeo who over the weekend said there's enormous evidence that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan lab, also said the best experts believe that it was manmade, which in fact contradicts findings by U.S. intelligence.

HARWOOD: I heard that the secretary, Erica, suggesting that it had, the virus was being studied in the lab and had accidentally escaped from the lab, as opposed to being concocted as a bioweapon by the Chinese. The evidence so far as I'm aware and all the reporting that I've seen suggests that the evidence is circumstantial. There are virology research labs in Wuhan. They talk about the wet market, but it's not clear that that's exactly where it was. We don't know the answer.

And so as the administration tries to points at China as the cause of this crisis within the United States, you're going to have a lot of ambiguity. And I would expect Secretary Pompeo to continue to talk about China's role and whether they were transparent. Did they try to cover this up? The president talked about embarrassment among the Chinese at the FOX town hall last night, suggesting they didn't want the world to know that this had happened.

Again, another argument that's going to play out over the course of the year, and we know that President Trump's re-election campaign is trying to tie Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate against him, as being soft on China.

HILL: John Harwood, always good to see, you my friend, thank you.

HARWOOD: You bet.

HILL: There is no question that more people are out in public as states ease their restrictions. Our next guest, though, says that even after months indoors, the virus has gone nowhere. The threat is far from over. He explains, next.



BERMAN: By the end of this week, more than 40 states will be partially open, but it could come at a huge expense and we won't know, at least until a month from now.

Joining us now is Andy Slavitt, former Acting Administrator for the Center of Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama. Andy, thanks so much for being with us. I've been looking forward to this discussion.

And to an extent, the news has caught up with some of the things you were writing about over the weekend. I want to talk about where we're going. But first, I want to talk about where we are -- where we are at 67,000 deaths in this country.

Now, we're already higher than the administration had been projecting for the last month. We're still at 25,000 to 30,000 new cases a day. So, when you look at that where we are, what do you see?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR FOR THE CENTER OF MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, if you take out the Northeast -- New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, which have gone over the hump and are seeing declining cases, you're seeing about a 20 percent growth in cases around the country.

So, if the U.S. was a country, outside of just New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, we will be looking at a very rapidly growing case count, about 20 percent per week and the 10 biggest hotspots now are outside of New York, all of the biggest hotspots are now in rural areas. So, I know Americans are feeling a sort of pent up sense of kind of emotional ping pong, where we've been bounced from tragic situation to maybe it's not so bad, and then things look a little bit better.

But what they have done staying indoors, we have been slowing down the spread. But what we haven't done is gotten rid of the virus.

The virus is still out there and it will wait us out.

BERMAN: I want people to look at three charts here, which explain to an extent what you're talking about here. You can see the rate of new cases in New York has largely been going down, creeping down, but look at Illinois. Look at Minnesota.

There's a steep curve, a steep rise in the number of new cases over the last 14 days. Iowa is the same.


BERMAN: Now there are states like Montana where the case load is going down. But you can see how whatever gains might be being made in New York and Massachusetts say, certainly being met by bad news in other places.

SLAVITT: That's right. And I think we have a situation now where governors are feeling a tremendous amount of pressure, and it's a fairly loud, but small minority of people that are -- that the governors are reacting to.

Most of the polls, whether they're state polls or Federal polls, show that 80 percent of Americans are in fact feeling comfortable staying home, want to feel safe, would rather wait for testing and tracing capabilities so that they can go out more safely. Even people who are working paycheck to paycheck don't want to endanger themselves or their families.

So America gets it. We've invested a lot of time come in, yet, I think, in part because of the President pushing, in part because we've got governors who are feeling political pressure, and it's true both parties by the way, it's not just Republican governors -- it is Republican and Democratic governors.

BERMAN: You were working with former F.D.A. Commissioner Scott Gottlieb a lot. Dr. Gottlieb said over the weekend, officials face intense pressure to reopen and the reality is stark. Continuing to spread at some near current levels may become the cruel, new normal.

I think there is a discussion to be had, which is, has this country accepted where we are? Have we accepted 2,000 new deaths a day, 30,000 new cases a day? And if so, what does that mean?

SLAVITT: Well, you know, I am someone who never thought that we could accept shootings in schools and churches and concert venues as much as we have, and I'm not suggesting that anybody likes those things.

But we have gotten used to them. We've gotten inured to them. When they happen, they don't make the news as often. And I'm afraid the same thing happened here. The day we hit 3,000 deaths was far more of a potent day than we started hitting 3,000 deaths or so every day.

And I think you make a really important point that people get used to it. Now, today 10 percent of people also say they know someone who died from COVID-19. I think to the extent that that number grows, and the number we're likely will grow, that may change people's outlook a little bit, it'll seem more real.

There are probably parts of the country where there are people that don't know anybody that has died from COVID-19 and it may feel like an abstraction, and the real life feels real.

BERMAN: It is so interesting. Now, up until this point, to an extent we've been talking about where things are. So, the daily number of new cases we've been showing you where things are, the 14-day trend, where things are. That's 67,000 deaths as of today.

Now, let's talk about where we'll be a month from now. Because the country has begun to reopen, 40 states to some extent will be open by the end of the week. So, that decision has been made largely. So, what will the impact be in 30 days?

SLAVITT: Well, first, I want to -- first, I want to start by saying something optimistic, which is, it depends. And the reason I say it depends is because for most of us, we don't let our governors or politicians decide what we do if it doesn't make us feel safe.

So Americans can hear that they're allowed to do something unsafe, it doesn't mean that they necessarily have to do it. But if we do take advantage of, I think, some of the things that are now becoming part of the normal, be part of what's acceptable, the infection rate will grow.

And even if the infection rate was growing at the same level outside of New York, and it's growing today, we'll go from about 30,000 cases a day to close to 50,000 cases by Memorial Day. But because of the lag and this is, I think, an important point you're

making, it won't be very noticeable. The hospitals won't be starting to fill up. We won't see the death kind of rise in May, until the end of May, Memorial Day in June and I can -- you can picture a circumstance under which we have a relatively seeming stable Memorial Day because we're used to these numbers, people get together and have big events.

And then we really pay the price for May in June. I hope we don't do that.

BERMAN: A lot of that's on us, a lot of that is on how we choose to live as the states reopen. And I do get a sense that people are doing things differently even as they begin to go out and go for a run or go to the park or do something.

One other point I want to make here is people are going to say, oh, you're talking about the number of new cases. That's rising only because we're doing new testing. People say, well, that's not totally true, either.

Or because most of the new testing or a big chunk of the new testing in the State of New York, for instance. Right? So, we're not necessarily testing to the extent that we could in some of the places where we're seeing this steep incline in the curve.

I want to put up a map here, too, which illustrates a little bit of what we're seeing. I know you probably can't see the map as we're putting up because of technology, but it's a map of the United States, where the pink states are the states where the cases are going up for the past 15 days.

The yellow states where they're about the same, and the green states where they're going down, and it's a three-way split. I mean, it's evenly split between the three and it's spread out throughout the country.

So, what impact do the decisions and the realities in one state, what impact will they have on a neighboring state?


SLAVITT: Well, look, I think because this is so hard to sustain for people, we ought to be allowing for some regional differences.

You know, asking people in Montana to stay in for months and months and months only to have the outbreak happen there in July doesn't make a lot of sense and we do have to have a certain amount of trust in one another to do this.

So you know, it's a big country. We're not going to be experiencing everything at the same time. At the same time, we all do, as Dr. Gupta said, have to understand that the decisions we make don't just affect ourselves and our family, they affect everybody else, and everybody else's family. And they particularly affect essential workers and healthcare workers

who don't have a choice but to get up and go to the grocery store and work every day or deliver food every day, or take care of you if you get sick every day. And those people are scared. We put them in a really untenable position.

And so anybody who has unsafe behavior, if you're not going to think twice about it, because you don't feel vulnerable, and a lot of younger people may not feel vulnerable personally, we should think about the fact that as a society, we are really connected here.

BERMAN: Where do you think we'll be? If you had to bet right now, where do you think we'll be on Memorial Day?

SLAVITT: Well, look, we've been trending above the rest of the world, I think, sadly, we will continue to trend above the rest of the world.

I worry that the political season isn't going to help us because as we get closer and closer to November, we're going to see more and more push to be opened up and to be to sort of have a normal life.

But here's the challenge with that. If I thought this was a tradeoff between our health and our economy, then I say, boy, this is a really interesting debate and we really have to struggle with it.

It's not it's a tradeoff between our health and sociology, being with our friends, and so forth, but the economy is not going to move in this period of time. The economy moves when consumers feel comfortable spending. It moves when businesses start hiring, when they start making big investments in equipment, when people start flying on airplanes, again, buying cars again, that's not going to happen in this interim period.

So we're not trading off being, you know, this kind of great tradeoff where we think, fine, we'll let the death toll rise, but in return, the economy is going to come back. I just don't think we're going to find that, unfortunately.

BERMAN: Yes, look, this has been a great discussion. We didn't even talk about testing, the one thing that you do need if you are going to begin to reopen, which is we have, is you need a lot of testing -- probably a lot more than we have right now. Definitely a lot more than we have right now.

Andy Slavitt, I really appreciate this. I look forward to extending this conversation soon.

SLAVITT: Thanks.

BERMAN: The Secretary of State says there is enormous evidence that coronavirus originated in a lab in China. Wait until you hear what Chinese state media just said about Mike Pompeo. We're live in Shanghai next.