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Johns Hopkins: U.S. Death Toll Now Tops 71,000; Trump Pivots Away From Fight Against COVID-19; Pfizer Starts U.S. Trial of Potential COVID-19 Vaccine; Against U.S. Facing Worst Unemployment Rate Since Great Depression. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 6, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow in Atlanta.

So, just ahead here on CNN NEWSROOM --


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.


CURNOW: President Trump pushes to get the U.S. economy back open, even as a new poll suggests Americans want the opposite.

Plus, the White House economic adviser says we could soon see the worst U.S. unemployment rate since the Great Depression. We'll look at the state of the economy.

And subways in New York City just reopened after they were closed for the first time in history. Take a look at these images. Closed for a deep cleaning.


CURNOW: New research says COVID-19 has been spreading since late last year, long before anyone was aware of it, but not nearly long enough to offer any widespread immunity. In the U.S., though, we are looking at a death toll that is now reaching beyond a staggering 71,000 people. That's according to Johns Hopkins University.

Remember, though, it was just last week that the model used by the White House projected there would be around 74,000 deaths months from now. Well, that key model now forecasts the death toll will nearly double by August.

And if you take a look at this graph, take a look here. The U.S. is still adding roughly 25,000 new cases a day. An infectious disease expert tells CNN this is a long-running pandemic.


MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We're only in the second inning of a nine-inning game. What we've seen so far is just the start. About 5 percent to 15 percent in New York, maybe as high as 20 percent of the population have been previously infected. This virus is going to continue to transmit in people, by people, with people, for until it at least gets to 60 percent or 70 percent before it will slow down.


CURNOW: So, reopening the U.S. economy is the biggest gamble playing out across this country right now, and the stakes are really unknown. Many states are taking their own approach. And a new poll says many Americans just aren't ready. 63 percent of those surveyed say they're concerned restrictions may be lifted too quickly.

Now, despite the rising number of dead, the president, Donald Trump, is phasing out his COVID-19 task force.


REPORTER: Can you just explain why is now the time to wind down that task force?

TRUMP: Well, because we can't keep our country closed for the next five years, you know. You can say there might be a recurrence, and there might be, and you know, most doctors or some doctors say that it will happen, and it will be a flame and we're going to put the flame out.


CURNOW: Well, New York has been hard hit the worst in the U.S., as you can see from this.

And Governor Andrew Cuomo has a message for Washington, saying the virus is not a marketing situation.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: If it's open versus reopen, everybody votes reopen, but that's not the choice. It's how do you reopen? Do you just open the gates or do you do it intelligently? And what we're doing in the state, we're talking about reopening, but reopening intelligently, reopening based on facts and data.

They want it over. That is clear. But the virus doesn't care. The virus doesn't listen.

This is not a marketing situation. You can't talk your way around this. That virus is there. That virus is going to infect people. People will die. Those numbers will go up.


CURNOW: We do have one more troubling statistic to give you. One study says African-Americans account for nearly 60 percent of COVID-19 deaths, even though the African-American community makes up less than 14 percent of the U.S. population. It comes from a team across four universities, an AIDS research non-profit, and Seattle center for vaccine innovation. Their work has not been peer reviewed or published yet.

Meanwhile, President Trump is back at the White House after a visit on Tuesday to Honeywell factory in Phoenix, Arizona.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attracts the particulates --



CURNOW: The plant, as you can see, is making masks for the federal government's response to the pandemic. Mr. Trump says Americans have a new normal, and he was asked by ABC News if he can cope with the potential loss of life to restart the economy.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you believe that's the reality we're facing, that lives will be lost to reopen the country?

TRUMP: It's possible there will be some, because you won't be locked into an apartment or a house or whatever it is. But at the same time, we're going to practice social distancing, we're going to be washing hands, we're going to be doing a lot of the things that we've learned to do over the last period of time, and we have to get our country back.


CURNOW: And as you saw there, he wasn't wearing a mask on that tour of a mask factory.

Now, a U.S. official who was overseeing the development of a vaccine has filed a whistle-blower complaint after he was demoted last month. Dr. Rick Bright says his early warnings about the coronavirus were ignored and that his caution at a treatment favored by President Trump led to his removal. Bright was demoted last month to a new position at the National Institutes of Health, and he's expected to testify on Capitol Hill next week.

Many millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses could be available by the end of the year. Well, that's the very optimistic view of the company partnering with Pfizer on a trial that the world is certainly watching very closely. Participants in this trial got their first injections on Tuesday. Pfizer's partner, BioNTech, started human trials in Germany in late April and so far has vaccinated a total of 12 participants.

Well, Fred Pleitgen has been speaking to BioNTech's CEO and he joins me now from Berlin.

Just 12, but a very good start. Hi. What did he have to say, Fred?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there, Robyn. You're absolutely right, the company says it has been a very good start, and they also say that the fact they are now able to conduct these trials in the United States is also a big milestone for them. They say they want to expand these trials as fast as possible with up to 200 participants very quickly here in Germany and about 360 in the United States.

And they do say that if things go well -- and of course, as we know, Robyn, that is a very big if -- they could, indeed, have millions of doses ready by the end of the year and possibly hundreds of millions in 2021. I was able to speak to BioNTech's CEO, and here's what he said.


PLEITGEN (voice-over): A simple injection that some hope could help bring an end to a global pandemic. Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech announcing today they dosed the first participants in the U.S. with a vaccine candidate in a clinical trial.

Twelve study participants in Germany received doses last month.

BioNTech's CEO saying preclinical data showed good results.

UGUR SAHIN, CEO, BIONTECH: We've seen vaccine responses, we've seen strong vaccine response at even low dose, and we believe that this vaccine responses, we have seen that in different animal models, will also translate in vaccine response in human subjects.

PLEITGEN: The program is called BNT 162. And it's actually a group of four trial vaccines using what's called an mRNA, or messenger RNA approach, which causes the body to produce a protein that triggers an immune response.

Pfizer and BioNTech claim if the certification process goes smoothly, they could have millions of doses ready by the end of this year, hundreds of millions in 2021.

BioNTech's CEO saying he believes regulators will move fast.

SAHIN: The benefit of a vaccine in a pandemic situation is much, much greater. And therefore, therefore, approval and authorization of a vaccine in a pandemic situation has to follow other rules than what you have seen in the past.

PLEITGEN: But there is a long way to go and a lot that can go wrong. Pfizer and BioNTech are only two of a flurry of companies and institutes trying to develop a coronavirus vaccine ASAP. The World Health Organization says there are currently more than 100

vaccine candidates under development, though only have been approved for clinical trials. The first was an experimental trial vaccine spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health.

In the U.K., researchers at the University of Oxford are also in clinical trials with their own vaccine candidate. The chief researcher telling OUTFRONT they're hoping to make the vaccine ready for use by fall.

ADRIAN HILL, LEAD RESEARCHER IN OXFORD'S VACCINE TESTING ON HUMANS: We'll probably enroll as many as 1,000 people into this trial, partly because we've used this type of vaccine before for other indications, and partly because we believe the safety should be very good.


PLEITGEN: Of course, Robyn, we always need to caution that these trials are still very much in early stages. There can, of course, be a lot of hitches along the way. And quite frankly, of the many vaccine candidates that are currently being developed around the globe, it's unclear whether many of them will ever be able to be marketed.

Right now, of course, experts continue to say there really isn't much of an alternative to real lockdown measures and also hygiene measures to push the virus back and then also to being smart when trying to open countries back up.

And that's exactly what's happening here in Germany this morning.


Not far from where I'm standing, Angela Merkel is right now set to start a meeting with German state governors, where they are talking about possible further measures to open the country back up, talking about possibly opening larger stores again, bars and restaurants as well, and then also possibly getting the German soccer league, the Bundesliga, back up and running, all of it, of course, under hygiene measures.

Angela Merkel so far has been very careful in her opening up of the economy. She says the last thing Germany wants is another spike and then possibly another mass lockdown -- Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. Good point there, Fred Pleitgen at a very iconic location there in Berlin. Thanks for joining us, Fred.

So, a new genetic analysis of the coronavirus is revealing some startling, new details. So, a study by researchers in the U.K. shows that the virus has actually been circulating in people since late last year, and must have spread extremely quickly after the first infection. The virus is changing, but that doesn't mean it's also getting worse. We know research has looked at virus samples taken at different times and at different places for more than 7,600 patients around the world. So, joining me to discuss all this, Dr. Ron Daniels, a critical care

consultant at the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

That's a bit of mouthful, but either way, you're a frontline doctor, you're an ICU doctor. That's why we're talking to you.

And I do want to get your sense about this new research that COVID-19 has potentially been circulating in people much earlier than we thought. You've been treating people in ICUs. Do you think you might have treated COVID-19 patients back in December when you thought maybe it was just really bad flu?

DR. RON DANIELS, UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS BIRMINGHAM NHS FOUNDATION TRUST: So, I think I hadn't seen any cases quite like this prior to Christmas. This illness that's caused by this SARS-COV-2 virus, COVID- 19, it's unlike pretty much anything we see. A few cases develop complications that are very like septic shock, very severe sepsis-type response, and it's possible that some of the cases that I presumed to be sepsis prior to Christmas were, in fact, COVID-19, but they didn't share some of the other hallmarks.

But nonetheless, if this research is correct, it might well be good news, not only for our population in the West but for the global population.

CURNOW: Yes, because hopefully, that means that more people might have immunity. So I want to talk about that in just a moment.

But clearly, the headlines here at CNN is what is happening in America. The death rate here is the worst in the world, and it's not slowing down. We're hearing from many models that it might double by August.

As a doctor, particularly as a frontline doctor, what do you make of those numbers here in the U.S.?

DANIELS: Well, they're frightening, aren't they? I mean, they're shocking. And I speak as someone who's living and working in the European country that's had the highest death rate in Europe. But we're alarmed by what's happening in the USA at the moment.

Now, every government everywhere around the world has been acutely aware that this is a delicate balance between lives lost needlessly and needless effects on the economy. And if we skew that balance one way or the other, we're going to break one of those things, and the concern is that if we do open up every state in the U.S. with a total relaxation of lockdown, that that death rate's going to soar even higher.

CURNOW: Yes. And I mean, I know that we might have some images of this, but folks at least where we are here in Georgia, and I know across the country, have been going out to Cinco de Mayo parties, people are on the beaches. There is a sense that perhaps the worst is over so people are going out. But there's still so many unknowns, as you said, and who's had it and

who could be immune, and that certainly also impacts on a potential second wave.

DANIELS: Well, absolutely. And that's the danger of taking research like the research you're talking about today and assuming that it's the gold standard, assuming that it's absolutely correct or even that it applies in every country. We simply don't know.

We don't know whether 80 percent of our population have been exposed, and therefore, a majority of people are immune and most people have had very few symptoms, or whether it's as low as 3 percent. If it's 80 percent, then the second wave is probably a bit of an urban myth and it may well not happen, and if it does, we'll see few cases severely affected. If it is toward the 3 percent end, then we're in for second waves, which are likely to be scarier than the first wave, and that's the big unknown here. We don't yet have a vaccine.

CURNOW: Yes. And when you talk about big unknowns, it's not just about what comes next, it's also what you're dealing with as doctors, because initially, people perhaps shrugged this off and said, hey, this is just about elderly people, people who have compromised immune systems. But I understand doctors like you are seeing a variety of symptoms, this virus attacking various parts of the body -- strokes in young people, inflammation in children, a variety of presentations that are strange.


What is the strangest for you and what is the most concerning?

DANIELS: I think it's the diversity. It's difficult to select one individual symptom, but you're quite right, we need to reinforce the message. My intensive care unit is not unlike any other in the western world, or indeed, across the world. We have people much younger than me who are healthy in my intensive care unit as well as people in their 70s and beyond with this condition. It's indiscriminate.

We've heard from professor Mitchell Levy at Rhode Island this morning around the COVID tow, the fact that this can affect not only causing life-threatening blood clots in the lungs and in the major blood vessels, but also tiny blood clots in the fingers and toes which give us frostbite or chill-type appearances. But it's really about the diversity, it's about the fact that no two patients look identical with this condition.

And it's about the fact that it has this relatively flat course for a few days. During that time, people don't know whether they're going to be the one that gets critically ill or whether they're going to be the one that gradually recovers. But what we're finding in people who do recover is that the neuropsychological after effects are pretty significant.

CURNOW: Yes, and that's a concern as well.

We could talk all day. Great to talk to you, though. Thank you very much, there in England. Thanks for all the work you're doing, Dr. Ron Daniels. Appreciate it.

So, U.S. jobless numbers are out on Friday, and they are expected to be the worst in decades. Ahead, what is expected to be a horrendous unemployment rate and how the Trump White House is reacting. That is next.




KEVIN HASSETT, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: My guess right now is it will be north of 16 percent, maybe as high as 19 or --


HASSETT: -- or 20 percent.


HASSETT: So, we are looking at probably the worst unemployment rate since the Great Depression.

HARLOW: Wow, well, then --

HASSETT: It's a tremendous negative shock, a very, very terrible shock.


CURNOW: Well, that's President Trump's economic adviser speaking to CNN's Poppy Harlow about the unemployment report releasing on Friday. Those dire predictions could be what's driving Mr. Trump to get economic aid out as quickly as possible.


TRUMP: We're supplying vast amounts of money like never before. We want that money to get to the people, and we want them to get better, and we want them -- you can never really come close to replacing, when you've lost some -- no matter how well we do next year, I think our economy's going to be raging. It's going to be so good.


CURNOW: Well, Christine Romans joins me now from New York.

Hi, Christine.


CURNOW: Good to see you. I mean, you could see the look on Poppy Harlow's face there. I mean, that said it all when he spoke, that pretty blunt talk there. It's extraordinary numbers. ROMANS: They really are. When you've seen 30 million people lose

their jobs over the past six weeks, it's not hard to get to that 20 percent unemployment figure.

And for some context here, Robyn, you know, during the Great Recession, it took months and months to lose 8 or 9 million jobs to take the unemployment rate as high as 10 percent, and that was painful, that 10 percent. This has taken weeks.

And according to Kevin Hassett, you could see 20 percent. Even back in 1982, 10.8 percent was the high unemployment rate in that terrible, terrible, painful recession during the Reagan years. So, 20 percent, I mean, that tells you a big chunk of the American labor market is sidelined, not working. The president in that clip there you hear, they designed a big rescue, hundreds of billions of dollars of money for unemployment benefits and extra unemployment benefits to try to keep as many people as possible whole, but it is still a big, big shock.

CURNOW: Yes, it certainly is. We're talking about all the numbers. We're also hearing shocking numbers this time from Disney. Not such a happy place anymore.

ROMANS: Well, look, profit fell 91 percent. I mean, they've closed these theme parks. They have cruise lines. I mean, this is a company an entertainment behemoth that's been sort of stopped in its tracks.

Disney Plus, by the way, its streaming service had good numbers there in terms of subscribers, and that shows you the flip side of the story, right? People are staying home. But to see Disney, such a powerful performer in the economy, sidelined by the coronavirus pandemic, it's pretty notable. I will say that in shanghai, the Disneyland in Shanghai's getting close to reopening with new measures. We'll be watching very closely to see how Disney tries to navigate coronavirus and get people back to its parks.

CURNOW: And you used the word navigate. Let's talk about travel. Those who are getting on airplanes, at least there's one silver lining to all of this, you won't be jammed in a middle seat. But either way, we do know airlines are trying to take this seriously, trying to offer a safe trip. And that's important.

ROMANS: You know, look, they're appealing to consumers' confidence. I mean, the real economy is not going to really come back raging, as the president said, until people feel comfortable doing things the way they used to.

Delta said about half -- it's going to cap capacity at about 50 percent of its first-class cabin and 60 percent of its economy cabin, so it won't be so crowded. American not selling as many seats in the middle, middle seats, and frontier is going to allow you to buy the middle seat, so you basically make sure that that real estate next to you is empty.

CURNOW: OK. So, let's hope that works. And also, you know, each company in their own way is trying to manage

this, but we're also hearing every day of more layoffs, more closures. Who are today's victims? I mean, also including Airbnb, just one of them.

ROMANS: Yes, Airbnb. We've heard that United Airlines is asking its employees to take some unpaid days off and that there will be layoffs in the future there as that company tries to right-size. We've heard from, you know, engine-makers and all different kinds of the economy that they're looking forward to what things are going to be like on the other side of this and they think they're going to need fewer workers.

So I think you're going to be hearing more and more about companies right-sizing for the new normal, and right-sizing, of course, is a euphemism for more layoffs.

CURNOW: OK. And there's one also, when we look at the bright side, perhaps, at least for some companies, it involves those folks who have perhaps nothing else to do but play games on their phones. We know that at least one company is seeing some pretty good results for people having all this extra time.


ROMANS: It's interesting. It's sort of a nesting phenomenon or, you know, this is Activision Blizzard, and they have had a nice pop in their earnings in the quarter, like 21 percent, I think. And also noted that it's "Call of Duty," a pretty popular game, the most recent iteration of that game has already broken records compared with all the other "Call of Duty." So I think it shows you that people are learning how to entertain themselves, right, and doing things --

CURNOW: You can always read a book. There's always that.

ROMANS: That's true. I personally have never played "Call of Duty."

CURNOW: Me neither.

ROMANS: But I have been reading a lot of books.

CURNOW: Me, too. Although I think we're not the target market on that one.

Christine Romans, lovely to speak with you. Have a great day.

ROMANS: You, too.

CURNOW: So, a vaccine can't come soon enough. We all know that, especially in countries hardest hit by the coronavirus. As Britain faces a grim milestone in its death toll, the country has questions for its prime minister. We're live in London with that, next.


CURNOW: Welcome back. I'm Robyn Curnow here at the CNN Center in Atlanta. It is 5:30 a.m. in the morning here on the East Coast of America. Thanks to all of our viewers in the U.S. joining us as well as all of you around the world.

So, this is our top story. New polling shows a majority of Americans think it's just too soon to lift restrictions aimed at keeping people safe from the coronavirus, but some of those who disagree are taking dramatic action.

In Florida, look at this, one barber shop reopened illegally. The owner explains his desperate decision.


DANIEL LIRIANO, FLORIDA BARBER SHOP OWNER: We have not received no stimulus. We didn't get no unemployment.