Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Pence Staffer Tests Positive For Coronavirus; 24 Counties In PA Move Into Reopening Phase Today; State Reopenings Spur People To Leave Home. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired May 8, 2020 - 12:30   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[12:30:00]

JOHN KING, CNN HOST: -- Executive Office Building, many administration staffers work in that building. It's a big office building. When you come down the stairs to come across to the White House, there's a long railing. Most people touch the railing. Those are the surfaces we're not supposed to touch. Then they come across. They opened the door to the West Wing, which is on the right side of your screen there.

You can't see it. It's blocked by the trees in the driveway. You're touching a door handle. You're going into an office that's full of cubicles and desks and you're sitting down, and you're being handed papers and folders and envelopes. This is the conversation the country and the world are having right now. But is my workplace safe?

And again, you're right. There's access to testing there. But two days in a row, people who were close to the President of the United States and the Vice President of the United States have tested positive. Are they changing the protocols?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And we know that the President was pretty upset when he was informed that a valet who works obviously closely with him and the first family had tested positive. We don't know what the Vice President's reaction to that has been.

We should note, they did not cancel this trip. They're still making this trip to Iowa. The Vice President has several other staffers, reporters, and even a few lawmakers on board with him on this -- on the way there. So we're waiting for them to land basically to see if they say anything or if the press secretary says anything when she comes out at this briefing shortly.

But obviously this is ramping up concern inside the West Wing about not only the President's exposure, the Vice President's possible exposure, but also the senior staffers that work around them. So that's why it's really crucial to know, you know, who the staffers who they were in contact with, and whether or not it's going to change the way that they're living inside the West Wing right now, which is what we know is they're not wearing masks currently, when they go into work. Most staffers aren't. We should note a few of them are. KING: Right. If this is the laboratory, as the country and the world debate going back to work and what should be the most secure environment. It certainly does raise questions.

Kaitlan Collins, come back as you get additional reporting. Let's bring into the conversation. Dr. Kent Sepkowitz, he's the deputy physician and chief for Quality and Safety at Memorial Sloan Kettering, also a CNN contributor.

So Doctor, let me ask it this way, the President and the Vice President obviously are incredibly essential workers at this moment as the country faces a pandemic, and as the country has to do all of the other business the country has to do in the middle of this pandemic. But if your executive assistant somebody who works outside your office tested positive, and then you took a test and you were negative today, does that mean you would go about your business and see patients or does that mean you would self quarantine yourself?

DR. KENT SEPKOWITZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I would not see patients. No. I think that we have learned a lot and we have failed to learn a lot of these very practical questions. Right now, I would not see a patient. I would you just tell them, televisiting. I would wear a mask if I had to see a patient because sometimes we have to.

I think this revolves around the insensitivity of the lab test, which is known to have imperfect detection. And also the need to social distance and wear masks. One is good, the other is good, together they're very good. So you can't come out testing one. You can't come out on testing one.

KING: So help me through, if there is one, what would be a reasonable compromise? Because I am not trying to be difficult here, the President and the Vice President are incredibly important to the country. The American people, people around the world, seeing their leadership working through a crisis is an incredibly important gesture and symbolism.

At the same time, they are supposed to be setting an example for the country as they lead this debate about what should we do if we go back to work? Is it safe to go back to work? The President is having meetings. He met with the governor of Texas yesterday. He's down at the World War II Memorial today on this historic day, 75 years since victory in Europe.

The Vice President right now is on a plane with other people to the State of Iowa where he is going to have meetings. Are those steps in your view reasonable or should they dial it back and try to find some middle ground?

SEPKOWITZ: I think they need to dial it back now. We don't know if it's two people affected in the area or a lot. Usually the rule of thumb is if you have to, you have an upgrade. Perhaps that's true and perhaps it's not. Until we know the extent of the spread, if there is spread, I think they need to pause and get some facts. We can know a whole lot tomorrow. There's not that big a hurry. In the meantime, just as we have all done through this, you can conduct 98 percent of your business remotely. And if you have to meet, you can stay six eight apart with (INAUDIBLE) an elegant but it works.

KING: And just quickly, if I came in contact with somebody who's infected and say in the last 48 to 72 hours, I know that I was in contact with someone who is now infected, and I was tested today and that test was negative. Does that mean anything to you or does that mean I need to be tested for 10 days, two weeks?

SEPKOWITZ: Intubation time on average is five days. Typically, we would say we don't need to test you unless you get symptoms. However, we're revising that as we make testing more available. We had to make decisions when we couldn't get tests. And a lot of places still can't get tests. We may evolve into more frequent testing of exposed individuals. But our guidelines were built around the difficulties we had getting tests. So we had to prioritize them.

[12:35:27]

KING: Dr. Sepkowitz, really appreciate your expertise and insights as we could go through this difficult situation.

I want to bring into the conversation now the New York Times White House correspondent, Michael Shear, who has written about this today. Michael, so again, it's a question and I understand the White House is not, some of it is they're trying to get their own ducts in order? Some of it is they're not the most forthcoming administration anyway, when it comes to these questions.

But a military valet, somebody who works inches away from the President, on a regular basis has tested positive. Some of the Vice President's office we don't know who this staffer is yet maybe you know, I don't know who this staffer is yet. But it was enough of a concern to pull some of the Vice President's staff off of Air Force Two deciding they should not make the trip to Iowa because they may have been in contact with this staff member.

The Vice President decides to go on. You wrote about this today about the sort of the scramble inside the White House to try to figure out how big of a war is this? What should we do about it? Where are they?

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think they're still scrambling. And I think the doctor's comments that he just made to you just now about the question that is at the heart of all of this -- when you get these positive tests, the question that that's at the heart of it is not just do the people who you tested, are they infected? But how broad has the infection spread, right?

I mean, because as you described, the White House is an active workplace. People are coming and going. They're moving around. They're touching, you know, things that other people are touching. And I think that the real worrisome, you know, point inside the White House but then also for all of us, as we're watching the Vice President and the President begin to move around the country is, you know, how much is the -- are the people in government who were supposed to be leading this response and protecting us in the first place, how much are they themselves, you know, obviously inadvertently but spreading the virus around?

And I think that was the concern yesterday when I talked to one of the granddaughter of one of those World War II heroes that had -- that was at the Memorial today. She was very concerned about her grandfather. I'm sure the people in Iowa, who the Vice President is going to sort of meet with today, have to have at least in the back of their minds, a more of a worry today about well, you know, what possibility is there that some of the people who are traveling with Vice President are infected and don't even know it yet.

KING: Right. And again, it's an incredibly difficult balance. And so some people watching think we're being judgmental, A, it's an election year, B, we're in the middle of a pandemic, C, the country wants to see its leadership at work. However, my question is, is how serious are they going through this process in the building. I was going through this with Kaitlan. You know it very well.

I come to work every day. I'm coming to the studio every day, right? That's a risk. So what do I do? I go to my office which is cleaned repeatedly. I come to this set, which is cleaned repeatedly. I clean it myself even if I've watched the cleaning and people go away. I leave and go home. You can't do that at the White House because of the campus.

A lot of these aides work in the other building. So they're in their offices there, they come across, they're outside. Again, there's the railings you're going to come down. Normally, people have their hands on the railings. They're coming through doing all the things we're told we're not supposed to do. We assume they're being extraordinarily careful.

However, if this is just proof that even people who are being extraordinarily careful can make a mistake and you write in your piece today about how this almost seems to be a symbol of strength or macho, I'm not sure how to make it. The culture is people aren't wearing masks on the complex when they certainly could be.

SHEAR: Right. And look that is both an issue substantively, you know, for the people on that campus, whether they be reporters or staffers or the political officials themselves, but it's also a symbolic question, right?

This week, the President of the United States, the Vice President, the leadership of our country are trying to send the message or should be trying to send the message to the rest of the country to go along with these guidelines, these things that we have to do to stop the spread, that's a tough message to sell to a country that doesn't fundamentally want to be stuck at home, doesn't want to fundamentally be standing six feet away from everybody that they know and that they love, they don't want to be wearing these silly masks.

The message is that much harder to describe when you see these images of the President and the Vice President, you know, not wearing masks, standing closer than maybe the guidelines suggest. And, you know, and what underscores it now is that is the fact that you've got at least two people infected on that campus and, you know, that's got to worry about them and the rest of us that are watching.

KING: And let's hope it's only two. And let's wish the best to both of the military aide and the aide to the Vice President. But most of the doctors would tell you if you have two, that number usually grows once you get past one.

[12:40:02]

Michael Shear, appreciate your insights. We'll continue to monitor the story and do more reporting. Again, the breaking news a day after we'd learned an aide to the President was tested positive. Now we know an aide to the vice president was tested positive as well.

You heard Governor Cuomo at the top of the hour he's a voice of caution about opening up. Next, we talked to the Lieutenant Governor of Pennsylvania, his state also beginning carefully to ease restrictions.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Today, nine states are easing coronavirus restrictions either for the first time or adding to the list of businesses already allowed to reopen. That includes North Carolina where retail stores can now reopen with 50 percent capacity. And in Alaska bars can open at 25 percent capacity.

Pennsylvania is on that list too, taking action. You see it there in color coded phases. And today, 24 counties are moving from a red phase to a yellow. Joining me now is Pennsylvania's Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman. Sir, thank you for your time today.

As you go through, if you look at the map and I can ask our controller to put it back up there. So in yellow areas, they are in better shape than the red areas. The red area, the stay at home order is in full effect. So you're starting to ease open in areas where your case count is down or your hospitalization count is down. How worried are you that as some areas reopen, you know, people just can't resist and people go from the red into the yellow and back and forth. And then in a week, again, we're having a conversation about a problem.

[12:45:21]

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Yes. I mean, obviously, everyone takes the virus very seriously. But the areas are the counties that you've highlighted that are in yellow, are very rural counties with low population densities, and the case loads are very, very low.

This approach in this rollout has been entirely data driven. The governor has sought out to constantly balanced lives with livelihoods and reopening makes sense. And he's going to announce later today that a whole different stage of counties is going to open up in Western and Southwestern Pennsylvania including Allegheny which is home to Pittsburgh. So, you know, everyone needs to remember, we must remain vigilant. This is now not the time to throw everything wide open and get back to normal. But this is a significant but important step back towards a more open society with the acknowledgement that we have done a really good job in containing and suppressing the virus in these areas. But we also can kind of take our eye off the ball, so to speak.

KING: And so take me inside the room when you're having those conversations because you know, these numbers and they're painful numbers, and you know them better than I do. If you look at Pennsylvania initial unemployment claims in the last seven weeks, I mean, it has been hell across the country and hell in your state. A 1.7 million claims 26, more than 26 percent of the labor force in Pennsylvania.

And so you're in the room and you know the pressure, you want to get the economy opened yesterday. But you're also looking at the data about the virus. Just how do you go through this, you, the governor, the health experts in trying to make these incredibly difficult calls?

FETTERMAN: Yes. It's, you know, Pennsylvania is much of the rest of the country with our unemployment. It's a true Black Swan scenario. The largest number of our system had ever encountered previously was immediately after the Great Recession. And around 100,000 claims a month, we've now processed over 1.7 million. So that's 17 times larger than the record, previous, it's unimaginable.

But again, it's an inexact science, but it's very much grounded in science as well, too, in terms of reopening. And striking that balance is critical between lives and livelihood. And trying to also recognize we can't politicize this. You know, you don't care about people living or dying if you do want to help reopen the economy backup. But at the same time, we also have to take this virus seriously. And we also have to realize that things like social distancing, things like wearing masks, like certain businesses can't reopen yet, because we just can't afford to have a resurgence of this virus.

KING: And if you look at the metrics, we're going to talk more about this in a later segment. But in social distancing index, Pennsylvania gets a 40 ranking that's ninth among the states. That's pretty good. Percentage of people staying at home, 28 percent, that's 10th among the states. The other thing that sticks out though here, is where are you in testing? The, you know, if you look at some of the studies that believe in a lot of testing, they would say that by the middle of the month, you need 62,000 minimum daily tests, and you're way below that right now. Do you agree with that? And where are you in terms of ramping up testing?

FETTERMAN: We might be a little bit below. But we're rapidly gaining ground that. It's about scaling up because the governor set a clear mandate that we need to get as close to our economy reopening as we safely can. I want to be clear. Our governing philosophy is you can't have a healthy economy with a sick population. So this idea that that we're just throwing the gates open, is just not accurate.

The counties that are opening have done an outstanding job and the case loads are very, very low. The counties that will be announced in a few hours that can open also are in that. So much of the viral activity is largely confined into the southeast of our state in the Philadelphia area and the rest of southeastern P.A.

And those areas are already on red stay at home orders through early June at the earliest. So this is a very methodical and data driven approach but it's not an exact science because there are other considerations too. But it is always driven with this idea that you can't have a healthy economy if you have a sick population.

KING: Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman it's a great comment from the Pennsylvania. Sir, appreciate your thoughts and insights today, best of luck in the days ahead.

FETTERMAN: No. Thank you. Thanks for having me on.

KING: Thank you.

[12:49:28]

As states reopen, new data shows just how they're doing with social distancing. We'll take a look just a minute.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Researchers are keeping an eye on people as states reopen, watching how many of them are traveling across the states and across state borders, watching how many people are staying far apart or is not social distancing as much as they were.

Let's look at some of the numbers. These are from the University of Maryland's laboratory here, social distancing index, the higher the number, the better, down 25 in Alabama, down 24 points in Georgia, down in South Carolina, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Indiana, down in the 20s. And all of those states as they begin to reopen, people are not social distancing as much, maybe that's logical to you, but also a drop here staying at home.

People can go to a restaurant and get takeout people or some people going back to work, some people moving around more. In Alabama the percentage of residents staying home down, Georgia, down, South Carolina, down, Mississippi, down, Tennessee, down, Indiana, down, that's inevitable as economies reopen. The question is, then what happens? Are people being safe? Does the case counts start to go up?

[12:55:06]

Here's another dynamic though that the University of Maryland researchers say caught their eye. The State of Georgia in this area was the first to reopen. These are trips to Georgia from neighboring states or nearby states. From Florida up 17 percent, from South Carolina up 12, North Carolina up 11, Virginia up 11, Tennessee up 11, Alabama up 11, state -- people coming from these states into the state that recently reopened. The White House Coronavirus coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx asked about this at our CNN Town Hall last night said, that can be dangerous. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WH CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: I think it also puts themselves at risk those who chose to come into an area where we know that there is still circulating virus. And that's why I've asked every state to not only and I'm sure they're very diligent about their individuals and the governor's are concerned about every member of their state.

But I've also asked them to really make the data available to the public. And so whether you're in the state or out outside the state, you can really see what's going on.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Here with me now to discuss Dr. Asaf Bitton, he's primary case physician and executive director of Oregon -- Ariadne, sorry about that, Labs and Professor Lei Zhang, director of the University of Maryland's Transportation Institute which collects those numbers we were just talking about.

Let me start with you, Professor Zhang. When you look at the numbers, were you surprised less social distancing, more moving about, what jumped out at you most?

LEI ZHANG, DIRECTOR, UNIV. OF MARYLAND'S TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE: Well, good afternoon, John. I think we are expecting as you mentioned, some level of reduction in social distancing when these days started partially reopened. But what the results even surprised our team here at University of Maryland, because we are seeing major, major reduction in social distancing, percentage of people stay at home going down by more than 30 percent, almost overnight flooring reopening.

So we actually wasn't anticipating this much reduction. So it's almost like people were staying at home for too long and they just going to wait for a cue to go out.

KING: They just couldn't wait. You said it's human nature, I guess. But it's also risky in this situation. Dr. Bitton as we continue the conversation, I just want to put up on the screen a map of the United States just to show the trends right now. If you look at this where the average of new cases going up in the past week, if you look at that, right now, only 15 states are going down from week to week.

Twenty-eight states are going up, seven states holding steady. When you see that people are starting to move around including going into neighboring states if that state is more open, what is it -- what worries do you have, what questions do you have?

DR. ASAF BITTON, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Well, it's hugely worrisome, John. The fact of the matter is that most states that are reopening have an increase in their daily average number of cases. And they have an increase in their share of positive tests, which suggests that even of the tests that they're getting, they're not getting enough people tested. And so this increase in case number, this increase in testing positivity rates, and an increase in movement as the professor's model is showing all points to a lot of concerning directions for these states to be headed in the wrong direction in terms of the spread of COVID.

KING: Right. And Professor Zhang, you talked about the human nature, I just want to show you Virginia and Illinois, these are states that are not reopened yet, at least not in any significant way. And you say that, you know, you see movement and you see the movement in the States, what does that tell you about human nature, about patients, about listening to elected leadership?

ZHANG: Well, even before these part of reopenings actually took place, just conversations and media coverage, about positive reopening and protests have also, you know, we've already seen that, their impact on reduction in social decision behavior. What really worried our team the most, one, we, you know, says we track this data every single day on our platform data.covid.umd.edu is really this huge increase, huge or major increase in number of trips even in states that have not partially reopened yet.

And even worse, people in the states who have not yet reopened are flooding into the states that have reopened, that's -- I think that's what Deborah was saying earlier on your show, because that just potentially can bring viruses from locations, current hotspots, to the places that have recently reopened.

KING: Right. And Dr. Bitton, we have, this is from a different data sources from SafeGraph, but I just want to show you Boston area and Atlanta area foot traffic. And the gold line at the top of the screen is what it looks like last year. The bottom is what is happening now. You start to see a slight curve up there in the Boston Cambridge track. You see more of a curve up there in Atlanta, which has reopened to a degree, it's a limited reopening but has reopened.

So you see when something reopens that line is trying to get back to where it used to be last year versus this year. The Boston line still down but bending a little bit. Does that worry you?

[12:59:54]

BITTON: It does. Listen, here in Massachusetts, we've been one of the hardest hit states. We've got here. huge number of cases and though case numbers have gone down a little bit there in a sort of plateau phase and long plateau, which I think is an important message to a lot of state leaders.