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White House Scrambles To Contain Coronavirus Outbreak. Aired 7- 7:30a ET

Aired May 11, 2020 - 07:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world this. This is New Day.

And this morning, the Trump administration is scrambling to contain a coronavirus outbreak inside the White House. The valet to the president and the press secretary for Vice President Pence have both tested positive.

Now, three top health officials are in some form of self-quarantine. We're told the vice president and three other members of the White House task force will not self-quarantine. So how does this work? What are the rules in the White House?

CNN has learned that President Trump is worried the White House outbreak will undercut his plan that the pandemic is fading. The White House is now conducting strict testing and contact tracing, two tools the president repeatedly tried to downplay.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: This morning, the death toll in the U.S. is almost at 80,000 people. At least 12 states are still seeing an increase in cases. At the same time, the majority of states will relax stay at home orders this week.

And that key University of Washington model now estimates that the U.S. death toll will surpass 100,000 by next Friday. That's Memorial Day weekend, before it, in fact, this is because of what they call an explosive increase in mobility among the American people.

There is also new concern about coronavirus in children. More than 80 kids in New York have been hospitalized with severe symptoms. Three children have died, all suffering from this mysterious inflammatory disease believed to be linked to coronavirus.

CAMEROTA: Okay, John. Joining us now is CNN Political Analyst, Maggie Haberman. She is a White House Correspondent at The New York Times. Maggie, great to see you.

This morning, let's talk about what's going on inside the White House. So these two people in the inner orbit of President Trump and Vice President Pence, Katie Miller, the spokesperson for Pence, and President Trump's personal valet have tested positive. Now that they're doing contact tracing, do they know how these two people were exposed?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: As far as we know, Alisyn, they don't. And if they do, they have not said. And we should be very clear, they have publicly released very little information about both cases and the case of Katie Miller, reporters were not reporting her name as they were refusing to release it at the time. And then the president blurted it out in part because he is annoyed that there is another case that is close to him at a public event on Friday.

So we don't know how they caught it and they may never know, but we do know that it created a sense of enormous anxiety within the White House, not for everybody, but for a number of people who are now scared that it is going to just tear through the west wing in the coming weeks that some of them may have already been exposed to it, that some of them could be asymptomatic.

We know that most people are getting tested, everybody who is within a small circle around the president is getting tested. People who see him right before meetings get tested. But that still leaves out a lot of people.

CAMEROTA: And tell us more about that. Because, I mean, I had read your tweet where you said people are freaked out. So is there -- are they just scared the way everybody is scared because when somebody close to you gets it or is there something going on in the White House freaking them out?

HABERMAN: No. There's -- look, there is fear that you're working in cramped quarters within the White House and the hallways are small, the offices are generally very small. People spend a lot of time together in confined spaces. There is just fear that people are going to catch this or that it is lurking around in a way that just hadn't seemed, I think, real, frankly, for a lot of White House officials.

And, candidly, Alisyn what this brought home within the White House is the same fear and, again, not for everybody, but for some people, same fear that a majority of Americans are having about resuming their lives. This is something that the president has been sort of not really acknowledging, not focused on as he's been pushing to reopen. He's been trying to harness unrest and pushing protests that have still been relatively small.

A lot of aides recognize privately that this could end up impeding or at least complicating their messaging as they're trying to tell the public to feel safe. The White House is the safest place to work. And if people are getting sick there, that doesn't send a great message to businesses that don't have widespread testing available.

CAMEROTA: Maggie, do you have any reporting on the president's response to one of his top economic advisers, Kevin Hassett, saying he feels scared? I mean, quote, that going to the White House is scary and he'd feel a lot safer sitting at home?


HABERMAN: The president doesn't want to hear that people are afraid right now. There is an irony, Alisyn, in the fact that this is a president who likes to fight more than anything else and has who has thrived by inspiring fear in people and now fear is subsuming his presidency. And it is fear within the public, fear among the public, it's fear within his White House. Those are not comments he generally wanted to hear. He wants people to suggest that this is -- yes, this is bad, but we're not afraid. He doesn't like the optics of wearing a mask. Mike pence, you know, didn't wear one and did wear one. There are going to be more aides around the president now wearing masks because this is a recognition that this virus is actually there.

CAMEROTA: You know, the policy seems to be haphazard, I think is fair to say. So explain why are three members of the task force self- quarantining, whereas four, and I think we have a list that we can pull up of those who are -- so here are the three that are going to be in self-quarantine because of the folks who are in the inner orbit that have tested positive, and then here are the four who are not. So what is the rule?

HABERMAN: There is no rule, and that's the thing. This is basically up to individuals to decide what they're going to do. And, again, you know, the problem is that a strict order was given to folks at the lower level and saying that the lower rung of press aides, they were told to telework. They were not given the option to come to work.

Other workers who are deemed essential are the ones who come to the White House every day, that includes certain members of the task force. I think it is not a surprise that Dr. Fauci is at least partially self-quarantining, although I don't really know what partially means, and I don't think that's been very well explained. But I think that he is in a position where he feels like he has to send a message, the message is still to the public, that some of this is optional. And because of that is why you are still seeing the virus break out.

Look, I think the White House is grappling with real issues. The state of the economy is not sustainable. These job losses are staggering and people's lives are ruined. And those are very real set of concerns that they're dealing with. But the message has been sort of fitful and stop and start. Some of that is because this is a new virus and they're feeling their way. Some of that is because the president and some of his aides have not seen this as a serious threat. And when you see it that way, you practice it that way when you're in the White House, and that is the message the public is getting.

CAMEROTA: President Obama spoke out about this. I mean, it was a private phone call with supporters. But, you know, we don't hear him talking much about the current administration, so it was notable and he said that he believes that the response to the coronavirus from the Trump administration has been, quote, a chaotic disaster. I believe we have a portion of this phone call that we can play. Listen to this.


BARACK OBAMA, FORMER U.S. PRESIDENT: It's part of the reason why the response to this global crisis has been so anemic and spotty and it would have been bad even with the best of governments. It has been an absolute, chaotic disaster when that mindset of what's in it for me and to heck with everybody else, when that mindset is operationalized in our government.


CAMEROTA: Maggie, do you have any reporting on if President Trump plans to respond somehow?

HABERMAN: The president has been dealing with President Obama by trying to push the questions around the Michael Flynn investigation on to Obama. And so I think you will see this become a part of that potentially depending on how much of it the president sees on television. I'm not so sure that he's going to, based on what he's been watching mostly, he's going to see a ton of it.

But, look, I do think that you can expect that President Obama is likely going to be speaking out more than he had been. And I think that's what is so notable about that audio. He is really generally refrained, you know, with the exception of some moments in the midterms, but from being, you know, frontally attacking or seen that way of his successor. And I think that, you know, you are likely to see that changing as we go forward and as the election becomes hotter.

CAMEROTA: Maggie Haberman, thank you very much for sharing all of your reporting with us. Great to see you. John?

BERMAN: All right. That was a great discussion there.

I want to bring in now CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Richard Besser, he's the former acting Director of the CDC and now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Great to see both of you.

Sanjay, in addition to being a neurosurgeon, you're also a terrific reporter, and you've been digging on how the administration is responding to this outbreak or at least the emergence of cases inside the White House. We mentioned that Fauci is sort of partially self- quarantining.


Redfield and Hahn, they are self-quarantining, but other people are not. Is there any medical logic to who is and who isn't?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what I've been trying to dig into. And I think it does seem a bit inconsistent right now. First of all, there is a significant amount of testing available in the White House. But the testing itself is not really dictating the quarantining or not quarantining.

First of all, as we now know, I think most people that these tests are not perfect. You can have a significant amount of false negatives with these tests, 15 percent false negatives, which really becomes significant, especially when you're starting to use that to determine whether or not you're going to put people into isolation or not. Second of all, you know, as you mentioned earlier, John, it's very hard to physically distance people within the White House. It is just that it is a small space, people do come in close quarters, same sort of thing happens in hospitals too, by the way. Even in places where you're not taking care of COVID patients, people are wearing masks to try to give themselves some protection or protect other people from them.

The White House, because of the lack of masks, that also, I think, factored into how they classified these exposures, so low risk versus medium risk versus high risk exposure. Dr. Fauci, for example, is classified as a low risk exposure, he's been tested negative but still decided to modify self-quarantine, meaning he may come into work with a mask if no one else is there, I think is how he described it.

There are the others, the surgeon general, Ambassador Birx, who, also part of the task force, not doing that at this point, saying that they're primarily going to work from home, but not actually saying that we're going to abide by some sort of quarantine.

And this needs to be sort of clarified because this is the country now at this point that is now looking to this particular situation and saying, so how exactly are we going to handle it? The CDC guidelines are clear, but it's clear that those guidelines are being uniformly applied within the White House.

BERMAN: Yes, I don't know if we have the map available. But if we throw up a map in the west wing, if we have it, people can see how small these rooms actually are. A lot of small rooms, often a lot of crowds -- not crowd, meetings with a lot of people crammed into these small rooms. So you can see you can get passed around pretty quickly.

Rich, Dr. Besser, you ran the CDC during the H1N1, the swine flu, back in 2009. I'm curious, what precautions you took then not to get infected yourself or not to have to self-quarantine like Dr. Redfield is now and what the impact would have been, if you were, in a way, taken off the playing field.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Yes. You know, when I was running CDC at the start of swine flu, it was really early days in that outbreak and we had a good sense of where this was. And we were also pretty much locked down within the building. Atlanta was not one of the places that was getting hit.

John, one of the things that really strikes me here is that we're trying to develop a national culture around this, that we're all in this together, that we are all responsible for protecting each other's health. And in order to do that, you have to see that trickling down from the top. So that what's recommended for everyone across America is being demonstrated by our leaders. We're not getting that.

And I worry that as hard working people go back to work, as states open up, this idea that everything is being done to protect workers' health, it is not going to carry a lot of water if we're not seeing that taking place in the highest workplace in America, which is in the White House. BERMAN: It is interesting. You model behavior as a parent, you want to model behavior inside the White House if you're trying to get the American people to pay attention.

I want to talk a little bit about children and what is happening now with these inflammatory cases. And, Dr. Besser, you're a pediatrician by training, if my memory serves. What do you make, more than 80 cases in New York now of kids presenting with these inflammatory symptoms, there are three deaths? What should the takeaway here be?

BESSER: Well, I think the big takeaway is that this is really early days. And we are -- we have a lot to learn about this virus. First, we have to learn is this truly caused by this virus or not. It is another reason why it would be so valuable to be hearing from CDC every day. I know that this is something they're investigating. We should be hearing from them in terms of what are are they seeing, what are they learning, what can parents do to protect their children. It's another reason why while most people will do well with this virus, they'll have mild infection, we don't know yet the long-term consequences. And so it's in everyone's interest to try and prevent the infection for themselves and for others.

BERMAN: Sanjay, I know that for you, this has gone from curious to a real concern fairly quickly. And it really wasn't even on the radar in the early stages of this pandemic in China. Explain.

GUPTA: Yes. So there has been a couple of sort of perplexing things.


And Richard and I both sit on the National Academy and the National Academy of Medicine will send out these alerts. So a couple of weeks ago now, maybe three weeks ago, there was an alert that went out of the U.K. And it was an alert that went to all the hospitals that basically said, you know, be on the lookout for this.

This is something that is starting to bubble up, maybe these children who are developing these symptoms, it seemed to be consistent with Kawasaki. You showed a picture of the sort of characteristic rash. It's an inflammatory disorder that affects many different organs in the body. The skin being the largest organ is the one that people see but affects many different organs, including the heart. And the said, essentially, be on the lookout.

And at that point, I was sort of regularly corresponding with some sources in Asia and China and Japan where you typically see higher rates of Kawasaki disease. And I said, have you seen this as well. And sort of surprisingly, they said we really have not seen an uptick in Kawasaki around this pandemic. So that was the first curious thing.

And then it was a question, are we going to start seeing this in the United States? And we seem to have started seeing this now in this country. It's a little unclear, as you pointed out, what exactly is the relationship, if any, to coronavirus? There does appear to be a relationship. And the first 15 children and were studied, for example, the states, four of them were actively diagnosed with coronavirus. Six appeared to have the antibodies to coronavirus, so had some previous exposure. And five didn't seem to have any sort of relationship that, you know, that could be documented by a test. But I think this is enough of a concern, still rare. You know, I think parents will hear this. I'm a parent. And it's going to be understandably concerning. But it's still something that is rare that we're talking about here.

I think there is two points that sort of came out. One is, first of all, is it affecting different parts of the world differently and why? Two is children still are largely protected, seemingly, from this virus. But there may be some cases where they developed something like this, and it may happen after the fact, even maybe more likely. So even after someone has recovered, stay vigilant.

BERMAN: It is something that bears watching going forward.

Rich, Dr. Besser, just very quickly, I want to mark one thing on testing. The testing isn't where it needs to be or as plentiful or available as it needs to be. But less than 10 percent of tests now are coming back positive in the United States, and that's an important marker. So what does that tell you?

BESSER: Well, you know, I would be really careful with that marker because you need to break it down, not just as a nation, but by state and within state, by region, by neighborhood, by race and ethnicity. Because this virus is spreading in different rates and different places, and so we're seeing outbreaks in different stages of severity in different places.

The reason the number though at a local level is really important is that's the number that the World Health Organization says that you should target. If you're percent positive is less than 10 percent, it means you're testing a lot of people who have mild symptoms, not just those who are short of breath and have fever and cough. That group that has classic symptoms, everyone is testing them, but in order to open up safely, you need everybody who has even faint symptoms of coronavirus to have access to testing. And we know across America, that's not the case.

BERMAN: Dr. Richard Besser, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, I have to say, it is always an education to get to speak to both of you in the morning. Thanks so much for being here with us.

BESSER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: So, experts have warned the coronavirus could be with us for years. So how will we know when the pandemic is over? A top researcher shows us what we can expect, next.



BERMAN: This morning, a key model now projects that 100,000 Americans will die from coronavirus by next Friday, more than 130,000 by the 4th of July. These numbers account for more people leaving their homes as states ease their restrictions.

Our next guest is focused on when and how the pandemic will end. Joining us is Dr. Jeremy Greene, he's Director of the Institute of the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Greene, it's great to have you on.

And this is a really interesting discussion because you say there are two ways that pandemics end. There is a medical, and that's if there is a vaccine or a pandemic is somehow eradicated, and that's actually a very high bar, very unusual, and then there is a social end. So what does that mean and what is the difference?

DR. JEREMY GREENE, DIRECTOR, INSTITUTE OF THE HISTORY OF MEDICINE, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: So, I'd clarify a bit here, John. Thanks so much. The distinction here is between what I would call the biological epidemic and the social epidemic. And the biological epidemic has us thinking about knowledge of the virus itself, who gets sick, who dies, what the processes are if it moves through a population. And the social epidemic is, in many ways, our responses to it.

Both of them disrupt daily life, right? The biological epidemic disrupts daily life by sickening and killing people. The social epidemic disrupts daily life really by undoing all of the basic structures that we expect our day-to-day life to pass. And both of these things are tightly intertwined with one another. I think the trouble is in mistaking one for the other.

BERMAN: That's really interesting. When you talk about the social end of a pandemic, fear is often a key ingredient to that. So how does one or how does a society get rid of that fear?

GREENE: So, history doesn't give us a single answer. I think that when we look back at past epidemics, we find models of solidarity, we find moments in which communities come together, we also find models of nativism, of deep xenophobia, as has been covered in many other places in this pandemic as well.


I think there is no single vaccine to fear, but I think a lot of what we see when we study when effective interventions come together has to do with building trust and both in the transparency of facts and the basis on which knowledge is made, and in the process by which leaders make decision and share that information.

BERMAN: I have to tell you, it is always fascinating to me when I speak to doctors and people in the public health field how much they fall back on that issue of trust, that public health and public trust are one and the same thing. And that is so striking as I look at new polling this morning from Q, for instance, were states right to lift restrictions was a question they asked. 68 percent say no. These numbers to me indicate that there isn't at least right now a social end in near sight to this pandemic. What do you see when you see those numbers? GREENE: I think that any end is still a while away at this point. And I think that you are speaking to two very important topics here. One is how do we get to a point where we collectively feel the transmission of this virus can be controlled to a point that we can start slowly and then gradually more robustly resuming what looks like normal activities. And the other is how do we have a process of reinstituting a sense of broader trust in that information and the governments by which it takes place.

And when we look at protests taking place throughout state capitols today, this is not simply a statement of ignorance, it is a statement of a fractured sense of how information moves through a community and a body of people come together as a political unit.

BERMAN: When you talk about a social ending to a pandemic, how much of that is an acceptance of some level of death, an acceptance of some level of risk?

GREENE: I think that this language you've had very recently about how much death we're willing to accept is very dangerous. And it's not something that I think historical examples of epidemic disease control gives us -- should give us any sense of comfort.

But, again, I feel that so much of what we do when we talk about the social epidemic, right, when we talk about these disruptions that we've all been learning to live (ph) is to understand that not everyone feels these social disruptions in the same way, right? So that some of us are much more able to work from home than others. Some of us are much more able to figure out how to get food at this moment, right?

And so I think part of building an effective social response is having a set of structures in place so that everybody can feel that they will actually benefit from taking part in these social distancing measures that should benefit us all. And I think that level of trust on some level, that we as a nation, be it as a set of communities, we need to be able to convincingly communicate to all people that we do actually have their back, that we expect everyone to come together. And America has not done a good job there yet.

BERMAN: Public trust. Dr. Greene, I couldn't thank you enough for coming on this morning. Thanks so much, a very interesting discussion.

GREENE: Thank you.

BERMAN: A standoff this morning between South Dakota tribal leaders and the state's governor over checkpoints. Details on the clash that could end up in federal court, that's next.