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Ousted Vaccine Chief Files Complaint, Alleges Warnings Were Ignored; Top General Says We Don't Know Where in Wuhan The Virus Originated; Trump's Pick for Intel Chief Grilled on Virus Origin; California to Train 20,000 People As Contact Travers. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 5, 2020 - 15:30   ET




BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Coronavirus pandemic we've been covering for many weeks now but certainly not the latest huge threat in the U.S. in the last couple of years. Think back to just 2014, the Ebola outbreak had health experts here in the U.S. and around the world on high alert.


Nearly 30,000 people were in infected and more than 11,000 died and while it was centered in West Africa it did emerge in the U.S. with 11 total cases. And my next guest, Lara Salahi studied the Ebola outbreak extensively. She is an assistant professor of journalism at Endicott College and she's the co-author of the book. "Outbreak Culture: The Ebola Crisis and The Next Epidemic."

So, Lara, thank you so much for coming on and just sharing your knowledge. So, you pointed out recently that the U.S. and the world failed to learn its lessons from the 2014 Ebola outbreak. What do you mean by that?

LARA SALAHI, CO-AUTHOR, "OUTBREAK CULTURE: THE EBOLA CRISIS AND THE NEXT EPIDEMIC" (via Cisco Webex): Well, what I mean by that is that we, as I studied the Ebola outbreak and then I looked at past outbreaks I started to see that there was a pattern that emerged. We looked at SARS and MERS and AIDS and realized that there is a pattern that emerges in how we respond to outbreaks regardless of the name of the pathogen that's involved.

And then we also then surveyed responders to the Ebola outbreak, some of whom had responded to previous major outbreak. And that really confirmed was that there are similar patterns that occur during an outbreak that don't have much to do with the makeup of the virus. So regardless of whatever virus is kind of placed into the environment that we're in, you know, there are things that manifest, behavioral things I guess that manifest during an outbreak.

And so then between outbreaks we have an opportunity to learn from them and then to move forward and implement what we've learned from them and unfortunately what we're finding is that some of the same experiences so far with COVID-19 have been similar to what we've seen in these past outbreaks.

BALDWIN: And when it comes to, you know, the response, I'm just curious how much does politics seep into how, how, you know -- to the response?

SALAHI: Ye, politics is certainly a driver of a response. And it is not uncommon in any outbreak, really. And like what we've seen in the 2014 Ebola outbreak for example is, you know, this similar situation. So, things like, you know, the downplaying of the severity or the seriousness of an outbreak, right. The delay and then inconsistencies in response.

And then even it trickles down to the population level, right. Like challenges adhering to prevention measures. Things like, you know, calls for social distancing for example and we saw something similar to this during the Ebola outbreak. With Ebola, like those of us who are outside of the hardest hit countries, which were Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea looked at communities that were hardest hit and criticized them for not complying with health messages that would fundamentally change the way of life.

Now they were asked not to attend funerals, right, to keep physical distance even from a family unit, to isolate. And yet we're seeing some of the same rejections take hold with COVID-19. And as time passes on and as politics drive things forward, we're seeing outbreak fatigue.

BALDWIN: We are. And just to your point about I just cannot imagine first just losing a loved one, not being able to hold his or her hand, not being able to physically attend some sort of funeral if that's important to you. Just what people are dealing with now and then as well. Lara Salahi, thank you very much for all your work.

I want to get to this breaking news. The President and the Secretary of State float theories over the origin of the virus. The top U.S. general just issued a blunt statement on what the U.S. really knows. Stand by for that.



BALDWIN: More breaking news now. The top U.S. general in the United States just said there is not any conclusive evidence on the fact that whether or not coronavirus actually originated from Wuhan, China. This is just coming in despite strong suggestions both from President Trump and his Secretary of State that it did come from a lab in Wuhan, China. So, let's go to straight to CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr. And Barbara, what did General Milley say?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, General Milley, of course, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the senior U.S. military adviser to the President of the United States, and he was having a fairly regular press conference with the press corps, was asked about the origin of the coronavirus and what he could say about what he knew about how it emerged and where it came from? Have a bit of a listen to what he talked about.


GEN. MARK MILLEY, CHAIRMAN, JOINT CHIEFS OF STAFF: I'm not going to discuss any detailed intelligence. But this straight fundamental issues here, one, is -- is it natural or was it manmade somehow or somehow manipulated by manmade procedures? As I said the last time and I am still where I was the last time, the weight of evidence, nothing is conclusive. The weight of evidence is that it was natural and not manmade.

Secondly, the second issue is was it accidentally released, did it release naturally into the environment or was it intentional? We don't have conclusive evidence in any of that. But the weight of evidence is that it was probably not intentional.


STARR: Not intentional. He also went on to talk about where exactly in Wuhan could I have come from?


Did it come have the virology lab, from the Chinese lab in Wuhan or emerge somehow through the so-called wet market there in that city, that animal market? A real suggestion is circulating around that it might have come from natural causes originating in that wet market even if somehow it was worked on, transferred to the lab and worked on there. But the real bottom line for the Pentagon is echoing the Trump administration's view to a large extent they want to see more transparency from China.

General Milley making the very strong point that international investigators, health professionals need to get into China and see exactly what happened and get those lessons learned so if this happens again the world will be much better prepared -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Barbara Starr, thank you very much.

STARR: Sure.

BALDWIN: And to her point, you know, this debate over the origins of the virus played a huge role today in the confirmation hearing for the man President Trump would like to serve as his next Director of National Intelligence. Texas Congressman John Ratcliffe a staunch support of President Trump's was up for the job last year but withdrew after revelations that he exaggerated his resume. Today he walked a fine line when asked about where the virus came from.


SEN. ANGUS KING (I-ME) (off camera): In your position as a member of the House Intelligence Committee or as the nominee for DNI, have you seen any intelligence that finds with high confidence or any confidence for that matter that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan rather than the market?


SEN. TOM COTTON (R-AR): Let me follow up on Senator King's questioning. He asked if you had seen any intelligence that the coronavirus originated in one of the two labs in Wuhan and you said no. Have you seen any intelligence that supports the Chinese Communist Party's claim that it originated in a seafood market in Wuhan?



BALDWIN: Congressman Ratcliffe was quick to clarify that he hasn't had a classified briefing on coronavirus in a while because, of course, Congress was out of session.

In California, a massive effort is underway to create what the governor is calling a tracing army. We'll talk to one of the women in charge of that proverbial army of contact tracers next.



BALDWIN: California researchers are ready to launch a massive contact tracing program they hope can quell the coronavirus spread in that state. The University of California, San Francisco plans to build up and train an army of people who can trace the trail of potential coronavirus exposure. And the program is starting just as the state is about to start a soft reopening of the economy this week.

And with me now, Karen White, the project director for this virtual training academy at UCSF joins me now. So, Karen, thank you for being on. And, you know, for people who aren't as familiar with the concept of contact tracing, explain how it works. And feel free to use me as an example because I tested positive, you know, four weeks ago. So how many people, for example, in my world would you trace and at what point is it just too much?

KAREN WHITE, UCSF PROJECT DIRECTOR FOR THE VIRTUAL TRAINING ACADEMY (via Cisco Webex): Yes, well, right now we're trying to reach almost everyone. We started in the city of San Francisco, and then we're going to go on like I said to train people across the state. For example, in your case, there's basically two functions. There's a case investigator who every time someone turns positive, that test result is reported to the health department. So hopefully someone called you from the health department, did that happen?


WHITE: OK. Well, someone should call from the health department, at least in California that's the idea. And they'll ask how you're doing? They'll talk to you about whether you're able to self-isolate in your home. And then they'll ask you about who you might have been in close contact with a couple of days before you were feeling symptoms and then until you were able to self-isolate, So, who might have been infected or exposed. And then we generate a list of names of your close contacts.

And then the next phase would be the contact tracing piece where we would call all those close contacts of yours. And right now, it's basically household contacts because we're on shelter in place. We anticipate that those close contacts will be a larger group later on.

And then we call all of those contacts and we would be asking them -- we'd be letting them know that they had been exposed to the coronavirus and asking them to quarantine in their homes for the next 14 days to prevent the spread.

BALDWIN: Let me jump in, Karen, because it's incredible work that you and hopefully folks will be doing across the country. But here's the "but," is as there's going to be the soft opening in California, and more and more people will be out and about, that means more and more people could get sick, which means more and more contacts will need to be traced. How are you going to handle this?

WHITE: Well, that's why we need an army. So yesterday the governor announced this virtual training academy that UCSF and UCLA will be supporting. We're going to try and train 10,000 and possibly up to 20,000 folks working in both the case investigation and the contact tracing roles.

And so, in order to get these people, normally these are done by public health disease investigators and we just don't have that many out there. So, we're going to start training up other state and city employees. In San Francisco, for example, we've trained up a cadre of librarians, city attorneys, assessors, retirees. Basically, anyone we can get our hands on that can be trained up in some of these skills.

And I think the important thing is that we're trying to train them not just in the messaging and the technical parts of it but also, I think it's really important, the motivational interviewing. How to build rapport. You only have a few minutes with these people.

BALDWIN: Sure, and you're asking for incredibly private personal information, I know some people are leery to do that. Listen.


Best of luck with your work, I'm sure it feels good for these folks, so they feel like they're helping with the containment of COVID-19. Karen White, good luck, thank you very much for coming on.

WHITE: Thanks so much for having me.

BALDWIN: You got it. Coming up next, more on CNN's reporting that the White House will, quote unquote, phase down the coronavirus task force briefings by the end of the month. We'll be right back.


BALDWIN: All is not lost for the class of 2020 who had their graduation ceremonies canceled. YouTube just announced this huge virtual graduation with Lady Gaga, Alicia Keys and wait for it, Barack and Michelle Obama as --