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Trump Says White House Coronavirus Task Force Will Continue Indefinitely, One Day After Pence Confirmed It Could Be Disbanded By Memorial Day; New Hotspots Emerging As States Loosen Restrictions; New genetic analysis, virus spread quickly starting in late 2019. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2020 - 10:00   ET




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


This morning, the president now says the task force is staying put, staying in action. Talk of winding it down sparked backlash as cases of coronavirus continue to rise in the United States. Many states still reopening despite the numbers that we're seeing.

SCIUTTO: So take a look at this graphic. It really explains what's going on. While cases and deaths in New York are going down, that's the smaller hump on the left side of your screen, when you look to the rest of the country, in fact, cases are still going up. So the curve not so much flattening as moving to other parts of the country. All this adding to fears that reopening will actually backfire, not just in terms of the outbreak but also in terms of economic damage.

And we're learning more about when the very first wave of this outbreak may have started, a new study finding that it's been mutating and circulating only since late last year.

For more on what the study means, CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now.

Now, this is one study. And I know, Sanjay, that whenever we talk about this, I would say we're learning so much about this, really every day. But the key finding here seems to be that this would be only about 10 percent of the population so far has been exposed. What does that mean going forward?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, it's hard to really pinpoint these numbers in terms of exposures in part because you need to have more robust testing to really know that. But I think the larger point is that it's still a smaller number than what people would think that they would need for what's called herd immunity. Two things. Once you're exposed to the virus, become infected, you should develop antibodies and those antibodies should offer some level of protection for a period of time. We still don't know how long that protection is or how strong that protection is. And that's a big, big thing investigators need to figure out.

But then, after a certain percentage of the population, closer to 60 percent or 70 percent become, you know, have these antibodies, then you can start to develop herd protection, especially around people who are vulnerable, for example, in whom an infection can be a much more significant problem.

So I think what this study showed among other things was that we're not really anywhere close to that herd immunity. That's a good thing. That would mean a lot more people possibly getting infected. But, you know, we shouldn't count on that as a form of protection going forward. We still have to keep the stay-at-home orders to best protect us.

HARLOW: And, Sanjay --

SCIUTTO: Keep that away for the vaccine, I was just going to say. Sorry, Poppy.

HARLOW: No, not at all. But my question, yes, is on that, on the vaccine. I mean, we're talking to a doctor in the last hour who pointed out that we still don't really know what kind of vaccine this is going to have to be to be most effective, right? Will it be like the flu vaccine that we have to get every year or something like a polio, MMR vaccine. When will we know that and is there a difference in how effective one or the other is?

GUPTA: Well, this is really interesting, and I should point out that some of what we're seeing right now in medicine and in developing these vaccine trials have never been done before. So we're seeing a chapter in medical history being written right now. There's a few different vaccine types. There's the type where you actually take a portion of the virus. You give it to somebody and the body makes antibodies to it. You can take an inactivated portion of the virus and the same sort of thing.

These mRNA vaccines, which a lot of people have heard about now, are basically taking a blueprint of the part of the virus and giving it to the body and letting the body essentially be its own antibody, its own vaccine victory.

Here's an important point though. Even if antibodies, in general, don't seem to offer as long or as strong of protection, the whole point of doing a vaccine trial is you're going to pick the antibodies that will offer the longest and strongest protection. So just because antibodies may not offer as much protection doesn't mean that the vaccine necessarily won't in the long run. That's what the trials are for.

SCIUTTO: So much to discover. Sanjay, stand by because we've got a lot more questions for you. But, first, an update from Chicago, CNN's Omar Jimenez there. And, Omar, a big question, of course, has been whether this number on the right-hand side of our screen, as staggering as it is, actually understates the number of deaths in this country. You said officials where you are plan to review deaths from as far back as November. Why and what are they expecting they might find?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, thanks. For starters, Jim, I should say, that they're going to be looking at cases as far back as November. And they only expected it to be a handful of cases at this point. And they said they could very well go through this entire process and find that the first confirmed case was exactly when they thought it would be, but the implications of that not being the case would change the entire way this virus has been studied so far.


Now, specifically, as we mentioned, they were looking at cases as far back as November. They would be looking at deaths where we have seen viral pneumonia involved and also heart attacks that were not brought on as a result of heart failure. And let's say they find a case that was coronavirus positive from back in November, that would actually prompt them to look even further back. And, of course, the entire purpose of this is to find if this was spreading in the U.S. before we knew it was. To give you a brief timeline.

The first confirmed case we saw in the Chicago land area was back on January 24th. It was the second confirmed in the entire country at the time. Since then, we have seen cases grow by tens of thousands and deaths right around 2,000 here in the Chicago land area. Poppy?

HARLOW: Omar, thanks for that reporting.

So a biotech company says it might have a treatment for COVID-19 available by the end of the summer. It is based on a concept more than 100 years old, but it's implemented through new cutting edge technology.

Our Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, explains.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The key to making a brand-new drug for COVID-19 could be in this vial of blood. It comes from this man, Eli Epstein, who has recovered from coronavirus.

Now, doctors at the Rockefeller University in New York City are searching his blood for just the right antibodies.

DR. MICHEL NUSSENZWEIG, THE ROCKEFELLER UNIVERSITY: You really want something very potent. Potent means can neutralize, kill the virus.

COHEN: It's a twist on the use of convalescent plasma where someone who has recovered from COVID gives blood directly to someone who is sick. That can work, but it's old technology. Dr. Emil von Behring won a Nobel Prize for his research on convalescent plasma in 1901. The new approach uses monoclonal antibodies and it's cutting edge. Here is how it works. When someone is sick with COVID, antibodies inside their blood fight off the virus. After the person recovers, they donate blood. Scientists select the most powerful antibodies and clone them and turn it into a drug. It's one of the hottest areas in COVID research.

Companies in New York and San Francisco, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, even the Department of Defense and many more are involved in monoclonal antibody research.

We caught the team at Vanderbilt as they picked their favorite antibodies. The treatment could possibly prevent infection or treat those already sick. Vanderbilt's lead researcher on the project, Dr. James Crowe, specializes in vaccines, but he said his monoclonal antibody research will be faster.

DR. JAMES CROWE, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: I think antibodies will be finished first, and will be the bridge toward longer immunity, which will be conferred by vaccines.

COHEN: So fast that the pharmaceutical company, Regeneron, says they might be able to have their monoclonal antibody drug on the market by the end of the summer. Their technology is already used to treat cancer, arthritis and asthma.

DR. GEORGE YANCOPOULOS, REGENERON: We can clone out the best of antibodies from recovered humans. We selected the best ones to create an antibody cocktail, as we call it.

COHEN: With so much work on this --

CROWE: I think the more groups we have working on it, all the better and the more shots on goal we have for getting an effective prevention or treatment.

COHEN: The hope is high for this old therapy turned new.


COHEN: Now, a question you always want to ask about a new drug is, is it safe? The answer here is that there is hope that it will be particularly safe because it originated in humans. This originated in antibodies from human beings so hoping that there won't be serious side effects. Poppy, Jim?

HARLOW: That's fascinating, Elizabeth. Thank you for that reporting.

SCIUTTO: Joining us now is Dr. Saju Matthew, he is CNN Medical Analyst and public health specialist, and Dr. Gupta back with us as well.

Listen, so much is coming across the transom pretty much every day on this, but, Sanjay, we had a doctor on last hour, Dr. Reiner, who served in the Bush administration, he mentioned something that I hadn't heard before, and that is the possibility that the strain of this virus that New York has faced may be more virulent than the strain, for instance, that California has as an example of how these mutations matter and may make a difference here. I mean, is there -- is that a possibility that you see evidence of?

GUPTA: Well, there have been these sort of pipelines of genetic research that have been done now looking at this virus and how it's changed as it's gone through some 3 million people. You know, as this virus moves and it infects more people, there are small mutations that happen. The questions, are these big enough mutations that the virus is fundamentally different or not, that doesn't appear to be the case.

Like with the flu shot, for example, you get a different one every year because there's enough drift in the overall virus that you need a new flu shot.


It's not clear that that's the case here with coronavirus yet. What is interesting, I think, is that there does appear to be two different strains overall. The one that was predominantly circulating in Europe was different than the one that was earlier circulating in China. And the one that was predominantly in Europe was different in the sense that it was more contagious, but it didn't seem to be more deadly or virulent in the sense that more people weren't hospitalized or becoming critically ill because of it. It was more contagious so it's no surprise that has become more of the dominant strain in the world.

So I think that's the one that the vaccine researchers are really going to focus on. It appears to be relatively stable. But, obviously, they're going to keep an eye on that so they make a vaccine for the right virus and the right proteins on that virus.

HARLOW: Dr. Matthew, so this new analysis, I'm sure you have seen from researchers in Britain, that says that they believe that coronavirus is circulating, as we reported, for a long time before this, months before identified, meaning that only 10 percent of the global population has been exposed to the virus. If you do the math and you look at 10 percent, and then over 70,000 deaths in the United States, what does that portend? Does that mean that without an effective treatment, without a vaccine for every 10 percent exposed, We're going to see that many more deaths?

DR. SAJU MATTHEW, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Poppy, that's a good question. You know, if you think about it now with the number of deaths in the U.S. and how many people have died all over the world, we're only saying 10 percent to 20 percent of the population have only been exposed and there's been already this much damage.

Dr. Gupta just talked about herd immunity, for an infectious virus like COVID-19, you want that herd immunity up in the 90, 95 percentile range. So, yes, as states start opening back up again, and we know that the numbers are not going down, it's the exact opposite, especially in states like Georgia and many other states, it is a grim statistic to realize that as people go out there with only so few people exposed, when you look at the world numbers, that there are going to be more deaths and more cases to come.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Sanjay, this graphic, New York Times put it out following the data here, just showing the difference in the rate of increase in infections. We put it up on the screen, but New York versus the rest of the country. And what it shows -- actually, there's a different one that we had up earlier, I think, we'll put on the screen, but what it shows, I'm sure you're familiar with it, is that -- there it is -- slower growth in New York, declining rate of infection there, rest of the country, it's going up. Is this really migrating, the outbreak, as opposed to flattening?

GUPTA: I think there's different waves of this virus. I mean, that was anticipated. We saw that it wasn't sort of going to affect the entire country all at the same time. The coasts were more likely to be infected or people were more likely to be infected in those areas first, obviously, in places where you have a higher density population and places that have big international airports, I mean, because I think a lot of migration of the virus into the United States at various times. But this is not surprising.

And, you know, overall, if you take New York out of the picture and just say how is the United States doing overall with regard to the coronavirus, the numbers are still going up. And that's, you know, obviously, nobody wants that to happen. We want to see it not only plateau but start to see the back end of the curve. And it's not clear as a country -- I mean, it's not even -- it's not clear. We can say as a country that we are not -- we're nowhere near the back end of that curve, and most of the places we're still sort of on the upward trajectory.

HARLOW: Wow, wow. And that migrating point, Jim, is a good one. I mean, it just looks so much focus, I think, has been spent on this city, New York City, and New York State, and look at the rest of the country now. Thank you both, Dr. Matthew, Dr. Gupta. I appreciate you.

Coronavirus, what to do, what to avoid, when to see a doctor? CNN's new podcast, Sanjay's podcast, has all of those answers. You can join him for Coronavirus, Fact Versus Fiction, every weekday, there's a new episode. Listen wherever you get your podcasts.

More states loosening restrictions today. Many are not meeting one of the most important criteria laid out by the Trump administration, which is a 14-day decline in the trend of cases. Some of those states are actually seeing an increase, but they're opening anyway.

SCIUTTO: And happening now, a key hearing on Capitol Hill, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, who was supposed to be facing lawmakers, the White House prevented him from appearing. May sound familiar to you. We're going to keep a close eye on this going forward.



SCIUTTO: This morning, states across the country are moving ahead with plans to reopen. This as new data shows that there are new emerging hotspots forming across the country.

HARLOW: That's right. Ed Lavendera is with us from Dallas. No sugar coating it. Local leaders are taking a major gamble, reopening like this, seeing these numbers.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. And it will take several weeks to fully kind of grasp just what the effects of this reopening will be.

But it is interesting to see this graphic put out by Axios this morning. If you take a look at this graphic, they essentially averaged the number of new cases in all of the states across the country over a seven-day period, over the course of the last week. And what it found was the most worrisome places where you see trends in the country, Minnesota, Nebraska and Puerto Rico.


And you see the most positive trends in Arkansas and Wyoming. There are about 12 other states that are moving in the right direction, but Poppy and Jim, about a third of the country, these states where you see the number of new cases continuing to grow, and that includes Texas and Virginia, and Texas has been a particular focus because the governor here announcing new openings here this week starting on Friday. Hair salons, barber shops, nail salons can open this Friday, moved up from what the governor had originally said would probably be a mid-May starting point. But there are another round of businesses that will be able to open up mid-May.

The governor here insists that he has a great plan in place that has been signed off by Dr. Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and because of that, they're looking at not just the data of new cases but other data as well in terms of positive infection rates and that sort of thing, and that's one of the things that they're leaning on to make these decisions, but a great deal of skepticism coming with all of this as well. Poppy and Jim?

SCIUTTO: Dan Simon, he is in San Francisco. So, Dan, California, it was ahead of the game on a lot of the social distancing stay-at-home orders, now it's going to relax this for some stores on Friday. Tell us what you're hearing.

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim. On Friday, we'll begin to see a partial reopening for the retail sector in California. And this is not going to be the full shopping experience, by any means. This is curbside pickup only. But it does mark an important milestone, and it does allow some employees to get back to work in some of these small businesses to begin generating revenue once again.

We have seen some counties, Jim, in Northern California, operate in a more aggressive fashion, Yuba and Sutter counties. These are rural counties. They have about 170,000 people between them. They have already opened up restaurants and hair salons. And it did get a tongue lashing from Governor Newsom yesterday when those counties went above his order. But he doesn't seem to be taking any action. We should also point out that Los Angeles and San Francisco, of course, the two biggest cities in California, they will not be opening up their retail stores on Friday. They're going to take things a bit more slowly. The mayors for those communities, Mayor Garcetti, London Breed, say that they're not quite ready. They're going to do things at their own pace. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Yes. All right, Dan, thanks for that reporting.

Ahead for us, pharmaceutical giant Roche is now touting an antibody test which it says is far more accurate than a lot of other ones out there. They actually take the blood out of the body in a different way. We're going to talk to the company's chief medical officer about it and what makes this so different.



HARLOW: So, every day, we're learning more about this virus and its origins. A new genetic analysis out of London shows the virus is believed to have been circulating around the world since late last year, so months earlier.

SCIUTTO: Antibody testing, of course, a crucial component to better understand just how far and how fast the virus has spread because if you have the antibodies, it means you have been exposed. This week, the FDA approved emergency use authorization for Roche's new antibody test, which the company says is more accurate.

Let's speak now to Dr. Alan Wright. He is Chief Medical Officer for Roche Diagnostics. Dr. Wright, good to have you on.

So tell us how much more accurate is this test, and is it, therefore, a reliable measure, because this has been an open question, but a reliable measure of just how many people have actually been exposed?


Yes, we've -- this test is more reliable than previous tests. I think what had happened in the urgency of the weeks and months before is that in order to get testing into the market rapidly, every test was brought into the market. But as we have learned more about the virus and, in fact, as we've had time, as Roche has had time to develop their test, we have had the time to develop a very sensitive, very specific, high-quality test for testing for antibodies.

One of the things I want to point out is that we have compressed what usually takes us three to five years in development and compressed that down to three months. I couldn't be prouder to be part of the two teams that brought the PCR test and the antibody test to market.

HARLOW: Alan, one thing that I thought was so interesting just reading a little bit about what you guys are doing is that the way that this withdraws blood, it's not a finger prick test, right? It's through a vein. So I wonder if you could explain, is that part of what makes it arguably so much more reliable than the others out there?


WRIGHT: Actually, this is a venous blood draw.