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Dramatic Shift, Models Project More Deaths As States Reopen; Administration Officials Say, Models Projecting Death Increases Won't Affect White House Plans To Reopen U.S. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 5, 2020 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This morning, White House officials are telling CNN that disturbing new death projections are not changing plans to reopen the country. One key model has now doubled its previous estimate, saying that more than 134,000 Americans will die just by early August. It is pinning that increase on something simple, states easing those social distancing restrictions.

HARLOW: And the president himself making a decision to leave the White House today for non-essential travel, heading to Arizona in a minute to visit a protective mask factory. We're watching for any comment from his team this morning on this.

Also today, pharmaceutical giant Pfizer announcing its testing and experimental vaccine in humans now in the United States.

Let's talk about all the headlines. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is with us. Good morning, Sanjay.

I guess I'll just start with Pfizer, because a vaccine is the only way, really, for the country to truly the turn corner, an effective one. What does this test comprise of in humans and what are you looking for in terms of a timeline out of it if it proves to be effective?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So this is a pretty anticipated trial. We've been following it closely. They've started human trials. They started in Germany first, and now, as you mentioned, here in the United States. They want to have several hundred people enrolled. This is a genetic vaccine, an mRna vaccine.

So, basically, when you think about vaccines, you think about using a little bit of a virus to try and give to somebody to stimulate an immune response. Sometimes you can give them an inactivated virus, a dead virus. What this virus has, basically, is a genetic blueprint of a part of a virus. And the hope is that by putting that blueprint into the body, the body will start to actually make the antibodies in response to the virus. So it's kind of like you're making -- you're letting the body make the vaccine in a way. And it's never been done before.

There was a lot of enthusiasm around it. There was some knowledge that was built around this during the SARS epidemic 17, 18 years ago now. And so that's helped sort of turbo boost this. It's never been done before and everyone wants to see well, A, is it safe, which it appears to be, but, B, how well does it actually work?


SCIUTTO: Sanjay, on this question of when to reopen, how much to reopen, and, in effect, I keep saying we're in the midst of a big national experiment now. I mean, we're going to see. And the models predict there will be more cases and more deaths, that's a fact. So how many?

I just wonder, from your perspective, is there an argument beyond the economic benefits, is there an argument for relaxing social distancing, exposing more of the population to achieve herd immunity, right, so that more of us do have immunity before whenever you get to a vaccine? I mean, is there a scientific argument for that?

GUPTA: Well, I think there's two points here. One is that that is sort of predicated on the idea that once you are exposed to it, you're going to have protection. And you could say that that's probably true. We don't know that for sure, but I think you could presumably say that's true, because other viruses, including other coronaviruses, have behaved that way. But we don't know how long that protection is, we don't know how strong it is. That's number one.

Number two is that people can get really sick from this. I've had people say to me, hey, why don't we just power through this. There will be a small number people, a small percentage of people who will get sick, a small percentage who will die. It is a significant cost, I think. And the reality is that there are people who do survive. They'll be put in the recovered column, but it's a long road for them to get there. They get very sick along the way.

We're starting to learn more about people who are unexpectedly getting sick, younger people, even kids. So I'm not sure that, A, because we don't know how long that protection lasts, B, because people can really get sick from it and that we don't know who those people are, but that makes the most sense. There're countries around the world that have tried this. Sweden is the one that everyone points to. Their fatality rate is about ten times as high as neighboring countries, so I'm not sure that's the way to go.

We need to outpace this virus, that's true. And as Poppy said, we've got to get to the point where we have a vaccine. Can we sort of last long enough for that to happen? I think that is counterbalance here.

One thing I will say is there are guidelines in place, right? 14-day downward trend, have testing in place. Those were the gating criteria. They are still the gating criteria. Just because states have become impatient and said, we want to do this now, and I get the impatience, but if you want to do this right, there are criteria by which to do it.

HARLOW: Yes. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much on both fronts.

Let's talk about California, because California is the latest state to roll out its next phase of reopening.


Governor Gavin Newsom says retail stores there they can start reopen in some form or fashion this Friday. You might not see that in the state's two largest cities.

So let's go to our Correspondent, Dan Simon, in San Francisco this morning. So, Dan, walk us through Phase 2 of the governor's plan?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Well, this is a symbolic day, will be a symbolic day for California on Friday. Governor Newsom is saying that retail shops can open with some modifications. So you're talking about florists and clothing boutiques, bookstores, et cetera. And it's not going to be the full shopping experience but it does allow employees to get back to work and allow some of these small businesses to begin generating revenue once again.

But you're right, it's not going to be uniformly applied across the State of California. Mayor Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles is saying that he wants to be informed by his local health department to make sure that they're ready to go in terms of opening their retail stores, and the same goes for San Francisco.

Conversely, there might some communities that want to be a bit more aggressive when it comes to reopening and they'll be allowed to do that as well provided they meet certain benchmarks when it comes to having enough testing kits available or enough hospital beds in their local communities. Poppy?

HARLOW: Governor Newsom is also recruiting what they're calling a tracing army. Obviously, it's contact tracing? How many people? When does it start or has it already -- how will it actually take shape?

SIMON: Well, the first thing you need to do, Poppy, is you need to train workers. And Governor Newsom announced that there will be an online academy that's being put together by UCLA and UCSF. And that's going to begin this week where state workers can begin training on how to become contact tracers. This is complicated stuff. But the goal is to have as many as 20,000 people in place within the next few months.

So this is going to be a gradual rollout, but the goal is to have thousands of people in place so they can begin contact tracing throughout the State of California. Jim, we'll send it back to you.

SCIUTTO: It's been a long time coming. Dan Simon there in San Francisco, thanks very much.

Washington State was originally ground zero in this country for the coronavirus outbreak. Now, it like a lot of other states, is making moves to reopen. Today, the state will once again allow residents to fish, hunt, golf and use state parks during the day.

Let's speak now to Dr. Amy Compton Phillips. She is Chief Clinical Officer at Providence Saint Joseph Health in Seattle. Doctor, good to have you on this morning.

And, listen, this is judgment call that states across the country are making now. Washington State, of course, was earlier into this. Do you believe that all the necessary criteria have been met now to allow for easing of some social distancing restrictions?

DR. AMY COMPTON-PHILLIPS, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Yes, Jim. I wish it was like a clear black and white answer. And so what we have to do in every single state is make judgment calls on what is the right time.

There're five key factors that states look at, and that is, is the virus under control, and so you hear people talking about, has it been on a downward trend for the past 14 days, right? You say, do we have testing capacity? Because the traditional tools for epidemiology control for stopping infection is to be able to test and then contact trace and then isolate, so the other ones. And then the last big factor is, do we have capacity in our healthcare system so that if the virus does surge back up again, do we have ICU beds and ventilators and PPEs so we can take care of people?

So each jurisdiction, each state, each locality it looking at those five factors and making the judgment call, where are we on the five and can we get ready to open?

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this. All the models show that as you relax social distancing, the sad scientific fact is, right, that cases go up, and if cases go up, generally, you can expect tests to go up as well, hospitalizations, et cetera. Is that, in your view, just a necessary reality as states and communities relax some of these restrictions? In other words, is that something that we all have to live with?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: The downside of living with that is it's admitting defeat and that we haven't done enough work during this pause, during this time where we've used the very blunt tool of social distancing across the continuum, across everybody, to be able to create the sharper tools to much more selectively, say, let's test you, figure out who is positive so that we can isolate you, infected person, and the people who you've been in contact with, right?

So what would be ideal is, as we're relaxing, we have testing ramped up dramatically so that we can narrow the focus of who has to stay home and let everybody else get back to work.

SCIUTTO: I get that. I suppose it gets to how Americans deal with this, right? Because people are looking for guidance here and it's a really tough one.


Because your governor may say it's okay now to do these things. A lot of people are saying, I don't feel safe doing that. I just wonder, what do you recommend to people who are struggling with this decision right now for themselves, for their family, for their children, for their grandparents, right, who were in a more vulnerable category? How should people process the conflicting recommendations they're getting?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: I think every individual is going to have to make this really difficult decision, saying, I know if I go out, I might potentially expose myself, and then everybody back in my household to this virus. And so every interaction you have is potential to be exposed to somebody.

So the things you have to do to protect yourself, what we've been talking about all along, wash your hands, cover your face, use hand sanitizer, don't touch yourself, right? And it's important now more than ever, because we know the virus is still out there.

We also know that people will not trust the rest of the people to take care of them, and so businesses need to be doing what they can to make their customers feel safe. Do they have hand sanitizer at the door? Are they enforcing social distancing? Because otherwise we can turn on the economy and nobody will show up.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, I got it right here in front of me. I feel like all of America, it's like a new requirement wherever you go.

Final question, if I can. The other issue is testing, is it not, that states, communities have to be able to test to know who is infected and therefore you can isolate those people and figure out how far it spread. Has Washington State reached that point that it has the capacity it needs?

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: The testing is continuously getting better, and particularly the RNA testing for the virus itself, those nasal swabs, and now you can even do saliva. So it is continuously ramping up. So it's on its way to getting better and it's not solved yet.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, we'll stay on top of it. We wish you and the folks in Washington State the best of luck. Dr. Compton-Phillips, thank you.

COMPTON-PHILLIPS: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: So, new modelling shows that reopening the economy in dozens of states and relaxing social distancing could come with a big human toll. Up next, we'll get reaction of these latest numbers from the president's senior economic adviser, Kevin Hassett.

SCIUTTO: We want to hear from him. And happening this hour, President Trump is heading to Phoenix, Arizona despite that state still being under a stay-at-home order. How the local officials feel about that visit? We're going to talk to the mayor of Phoenix just ahead.


[10:15:00] HARLOW: New models show a stunning increase in projected deaths from COVID as states relax restrictions, but administration officials tell CNN those models will not affect the White House's plans to reopen the economy. This as questions surrounding a different model presented inside the House that are swirling. That showed deaths dropping in stark contrast to other estimates.

The Washington Post over weekend reported the Trump administration used those numbers in part to justify the push to reopen the economy.

My next guest is the one who created this chart that you just saw, continues to do so today. Kevin Hassett is a senior economic adviser to the president. Kevin, it's very good to have you. That actually we'll bring it up in a minute. That's today's chart that you're sending to the administration.

Look, your data points that are drawn in there in black, those are fewer deaths than I, to me, has been projecting. Just tell me what --

KEVIN HASSETT, SENIOR ECONOMIC ADVISER TO PRESIDENT TRUMP: Poppy, I can't see whether you changed the colors on the chart that I sent you, but the jagged line is the actual data. And so the point of the exercise is not to come up with an alternative model for the University of Washington. We love those guys. It's to just overlay the forecast that they're making with the data so you can see how their forecasts are doing.

And so what we did, as we put down like for March 27th, what their curve was, and then the jagged dark line is what the data did, and you can see that they did a really amazing job at forecasting April. The jagged line pretty much is centered on the top of their curve.

They've subsequently revised, and now the revision shows like a much bad tale going out into the summer. And whether the data looks like that or not is an open question, but they've got a great track record to this model and it's something you have to take seriously.

HARLOW: Really basic first question to you, Kevin, on this is why did you do it? Did anyone ask you to do this and why are you creating these?

HASSETT: Yes. So what happened was that when I arrived on March 20th, we had a national emergency because we didn't -- nobody really knew where all the ventilators were, there were forecasts there we're to be hundreds of thousands of ventilators short.

And so what we did is we've built a data function to forecast how many ventilators would be needed and also to figure out what the supply was by looking at these data to find all the ventilators. And then we made basically a national ventilator bank that move the ventilators to the places that needed the most and nobody died because they didn't have a ventilator.

And so in order to do that for the demand for ventilators, we got an enormous amount of assistance from the really, really open and professional model of the University of Washington guys. But what we started to do was the guy -- this Chris Murray, the guys that they're on the chart that you showed. But what we wanted to do right from the beginning was see how their model did, and so we took their March 27th forecast for the next couple weeks. And as the data came in for the next couple weeks, we looked to see if they got it right.

And the red line on the chart I gave you that if --

HARLOW: Yes, we can pull it back up.

HASSETT: That's just basically -- if you have really wiggly data and you wonder how a curve that somebody else has drawn fits the data, then you can smooth through the data just so your eyeball can compare it.


But the thing is that I think was incorrect, I think, was to assert that this was relevant for decision-making. This was our -- we just -- that CEA -- well, I'm not a CEA (INAUDIBLE). I'm an economist. So what the economic team wanted to know, because we were forecasting ventilators, how these models were performing, and this is a very standard statistician's tool kit kind of thing to look at, to visualize how models are performing relative to the data. So you have to smooth through the ups and downs a little bit.

HARLOW: The red line, which is known as the cubic fit, if you will, but that is your modeling there. That is now far below, far fewer than what IHME is now predicting. And you know what the University of Washington is saying.

But, Kevin, I want to move on to some other topics. My question is The Washington Post reporting is that Jared Kushner really grasped on to this. You say it didn't go to the president or the task force, but it was used to push forward a more rapid opening of the economy.

HASSETT: In fact, I never did that. I was in the oval with Doctors Fauci and Birx and always agreed with their forecast. I had plenty of opportunity to say, no, it's going to go lower. I never once did. And then I even asked Chief Meadows this morning. I said, did you ever see anyone take this chart to the president and say, hey, Hassett says that things are going to be better than they say, and he said, no. He said that I could quote him on the record on CNN. He never saw that happen.

And so it's just -- it is true that if you don't understand like what cubic fits are and you don't understand the purpose of data visualization, if you're not a statistical guy, which maybe is the people who wrote about this, maybe we can misunderstand what's going on. But if you wonder like how has their forecast evolved and how has it responded to news in the data, then this is a standard, statistical technique and it's not used for (INAUDIBLE), as far as I'm concerned.

And, again, it's just something that was produced by the economic team as part of this tremendously successful ventilator project.

HARLOW: And the chart we showed is today's, and you're continuing to do this day by day.

I want to get to some really pressing economics issues because we have a jobs report that is coming Friday that it looks like it's going to be devastating. Economists are predicting 16 percent unemployment for the month of April, 22 million, perhaps, jobs lost in April. Do you think those numbers are about right, Kevin?

HASSETT: Yes, I'm a little bit above those. I think that one of the problems is that when you map initial claims for unemployment insurance to the unemployment rate, there are some people who lose their jobs but don't get their unemployment insurance because there are states that have like outdated computer systems and so on, and so the claims get kind of lost along the way until somebody goes back and reloads it.

And so I think that my guess right now is that it's going to be north of 16 percent, maybe as high as 19 or 20 percent. So we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the great depression. It's a tremendous negative shock, a very, very terrible shock. But --

HARLOW: It's terrible. But, Kevin, let me just ask as a follow-up question to that, because you told me when we talked a week ago that the June unemployment rate would be 20 percent. Now, you're saying we're looking at this Friday getting the 20 percent unemployment rate.

HASSETT: It could be that high. Yes, that's right.

HARLOW: I'm wondering, Kevin, when you told me a week ago, we could see a 20 percent unemployment rate for June, was that forecast based on job losses caused by a new round of tariffs, potential tariffs between the U.S. and China, or were you assuming the trade pact stayed in place, because you heard the president on Sunday saying that tariffs on China could be the ultimate punishment for how they handled this COVID crisis? So was that not even factoring in more potential tariffs?

HASSETT: No. The tariffs -- basically, the way that I've been building up the unemployment rate forecast and the unemployment jobs report forecast is just looking at the initial claims for unemployment insurance, which come out ahead of time and then building a forecast. We have econometric models that build a forecast from that.

And so what's happened is that the -- we've now got 30 million people who have filed a little bit more for initial claims for unemployment insurance. And when you add them all up and then think about how many people are unemployed in the whole country, then you can estimate the change in unemployment rate, and that's what we've been doing.

And so, basically, we've got a little bit more data since we last talked of claims that are worse than we expected.

HARLOW: Okay. So it could be even higher than that if we see another round of tariffs.

So let me just ask you finally before we go, stimulus, a fourth round of stimulus. The states are begging for it. You heard Mayor de Blasio of New York over the weekend. And you heard Larry Kudlow on with Jake Tapper on Sunday who said there is, quote, kind of a pause moment right now, but the Fed chair, Jerome Powell, said direct fiscal support may be needed. Isn't it risky to pause stimulus right now in the middle of the worst economy in the history of the country?

HASSET: Well, we aren't pausing stimulus in the sense that there are three packages that have already been passed.

HARLOW: No, but a fourth one that the states say they need --

HASSETT: Poppy, let me finish, please.


HASSETT: So the point is that the states are beginning to open up, and then, hopefully, as the economies get going, then the burn rate on things like the small business loans goes down, because the small businesses are actually up and running again.


And so exactly how much more we might need to do in that is something that is going to depend on the data that comes in now that economies are starting to open up.

And so it's appropriate right now to watch the data and think about next steps, but it's not a very long pause where we watch the data. We're going to have -- a week from now, we'll have a lot of information about what's going on.

And the president has said that he's absolutely open to talking about a Phase 4 deal and even putting state and local aid on the table as long as it's not a bailout for things along the distant past. And so I think that when Mayor de Blasio, God bless his soul, was attacking me for saying I don't know if there's going to be a Phase 4 deal, that's just basically saying, look, as an economist you look at scenarios.

And is there a scenario where people decide that, well, yes, the economy is going up enough that we don't need to do it. I think that that is possible and we can at least entertain that thought, but I guess it's not, right? You know me, I've been pretty ahead of the curve on sort of saying this economy is going to be a big negative shock, and I think that's probably what my expectation is right now too.

HARLOW: We've to go, we're out of time, they're telling me. But we'll have you back maybe on Friday around jobs. Kevin, I appreciate it. Thanks very much.

HASSETT: Yes, thanks a lot Bye-bye.

HARLOW: Sure. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Goodness, worst unemployment since the great depression.

President Trump is heading to Arizona any minute now to tour a mask production plant there just as that state is beginning to reopen. We're going to speak to the mayor of Phoenix. Does Phoenix welcome this visit? That's coming up.