Return to Transcripts main page


Dr. Peter Hotez Discusses Reliability of Coronavirus Tests Used by White House; New Cases Decline in 28 States as Most of U.S. Reopens; Why Some Cases Are Declining as Nearly all U.S. States Reopen; Wisconsin Bars Packed after Court Strikes Down Lockdown Orders; Kroger to End Extra "Hero Pay" for Frontline Workers; Asian- American Doctors Create Video to Show Racial Hate; Trump's New Vaccine Chief: Early Data Suggests Doses by End of Year. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired May 15, 2020 - 13:30   ET



DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Is it possible by the end of the year? Sure. That's the shorter end of what he says. Is it probable? Everyone I spoken to have said, no, we don't think it's probable. It is probable that it can happen. It seems probable that it won't. We don't have to think of this in a black-and-white way.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Dr. Hotez, I have a question of the coronavirus test that the White House had been using, which is relevant now that we have seen some cases in the White House.

This is the Abbott Labs test. The president was asked about it because it's got a mixed record here, right? He said that it is great, rapid and portable. And he called it quick. He said it could be double checked if it is positive.

What do you think about it since it seems to be something that may have an issue with reliability?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: It does have positive features. It is very tough. This is what happens when you are accelerating technologies. Version 1.0 often has flaws and you have to revise it. That's a good lesson learn for the vaccine.

This Abbott test looks promising. It's very rapid. But it's got a significant sensitivity problem or false negative problem, meaning compared to other tests that are picking up coronavirus cases, this one is missing something. Abbott is a fantastic company. I am sure they'll work it out.

You know this is what happens when you are trying to do something difficult, which is accelerating new technologies during the pandemic. And this is what is going to be important for those vaccines timelines, not to rush, because it could have serious consequences if we get it wrong. I mean, the worse that could happen, I think, is, in some ways, that

you try to bring pit a vaccine under what they are calling emergency use authorization -- which I don't know what it means for a vaccine. I understand what it means more diagnostic or diagnostics and ventilators but I don't know what it means for a vaccine.

But if you bring it out prematurely, it shows significant safety or efficacy issues and people treat the vaccine like Hydroxychloroquine, which has been so discredited, then it has the potential to disrupt our entire nation's vaccine program for things like measles and everything else.

Remember, there's an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby out there. And I know them all too well because I am public enemy number one. Many times, they go after me because I wrote a book called "Vaccines Do Not Cause Autism." And that's one of their central tenets, that vaccines cause autism.

There are two other tenants. That vaccines are rushed. And they have big safety issues. And we know it is not true.

But if you start using things like names like "Operation Warp Speed," you start to say we'll have a vaccine in this record period of time, it is a bit tone deaf. They're playing right into the hands of this anti-vaccine lobby that's grown so strong and aggressive over the last couple of years.

And so now we are in a situation where we are already hearing a significant percentage of Americans are not going to take the coronavirus vaccine to the point where you could even have a situation that enough Americans opt out of taking coronavirus vaccine that it won't create efficient herd immunity and won't interrupt transmission.

We actually working now with a group at the University of New York. I had a colleague of mine, Bruce Lee -- a different Bruce Lee - who -- we are going to look at what percentage of Americans will have to get the vaccine to ensure it will work. So that's going to be an issue as well.

KEILAR: I am so glad you bring it up, Dr. Hotez. It reinforces that this vaccine, they need to nail it. If they put something out there that's not safe, people won't trust it. Why you blame them right? So that's why this is so important.

We appreciate your perspective, Dr. Hotez.

And Sanjay and Elizabeth, thank you as well.

Right now, as more states are reopening this weekend, cases across America seemed to be down. Why is that? We'll discuss.

Plus, the Wisconsin governor warns of the Wild West after his lockdown order is overturned and as crowds flocked to bars. I will speak to one bar owner who still can't open his doors.

As retail sales hit a historic collapse, one fed chair warns that America will see 18 months of economic pain.


This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: At least 15 states are reopening today. We are entering a new phase of the reopening process, all with guidance that people stay socially distanced.

Delaware is allowing farmers markets to do business. In Hawaii, the beaches of Kauai are opening under a pilot program. In Montana, theaters, museums and gyms can now open. In Oklahoma, non-essential travel can resume. In Virginia, it is time for retail shops and places and worship to open their doors.

CNN Tom Foreman is joining me now to talk about this.

Are the numbers of cases increasing as states open up?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The number, the absolute number of infections, yes, it is going up across the country. What we are talking about are trend lines. Are we doing better than what we are doing? We are doing better enough then we can reopen.

Take a look at this U.S. map. It will give you an idea of the trend line. It is good science here. It is only seven states in the light red to dark red area. It shows they're increasing. Everything else is -- that tan color is steady. Green color means it is dropping.


Again, these are new cases. You may have South Dakota dark red and Montana is dark red. And Minnesota is evening out a little bit. Alabama is better than last week. If you look at New York and New Jersey that are green right now. They still have whopping number of cases. Illinois is steady but really big number.

Don't confuse of the idea that it is disappearing. Look at Texas. Texas is interesting. On May 1st, they started reopening their businesses, thinking we have encouraging signs here. And now if you look at their trend line, it is also not going in a great way at the moment. This is the fear that so many people have about reopening. People pop the cork and say let's get back to business as usual and, two weeks later, the number start to look really bad.

Do look another this. The percentage of new tests that are positive of the country right now, you can see a very steady march down here from March 30th. Percentage of new tests that are positive moving down. Those look like good news and we hope it is good news.

Look at the word "percentage" with skepticism. You know, Brianna, as well as I that percentages can be confusing verses raw numbers. If I test 10 people this week and they all test positive, 100 percent, next week, if I test 10 more and I expand and do 20 and get more, looks like I am 50 percent down in my percentage but I have just as many people sick.

A lot of numbers to look at here. There's some encouraging news but I would not get carried away about that now -- Brianna?

KEILAR: Still very serious.

Tom, thank you for explaining all of that to us, walking us through the numbers.

Let's get some analysis on why some cases in some states are trending down even as the nation is opening back up here.

Let's talk to Dr. Jennifer Lee. She's a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at George Washington University. She's also a CNN medical analyst.

Doctor, what do you make of this downward trend?

DR. JENNIFER LEE, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Sure, Brianna. I think there are a couple of points we should make of these trends we see in the states. As Tom said, the virus is not going away. These are just trends. There's a few things we need to know about these numbers.

First is that we still do not have a complete picture of what the virus is doing now. I can say that because, when you look at the number of tests to take to find one confirmed case, we are testing, doing seven tests and only to find one confirmed case.

The larger the outbreak you have of the virus, the more tests you should be doing in order to get a complete picture of what the virus is doing out in your community.

Those countries that have done a good job of getting a handle on the virus have done, like New Zealand, for instance, have done over 180 tests per each confirmed case, or Taiwan, 150 tests for each confirmed case. We have done seven. That number is going up when we did testing, which is why you saw the percentage that Tom showed going down. But we don't have a complete picture of what the virus is doing.

Second, these numbers we are looking at are not real time. There's a delay in the testing. Once someone gets infected, it takes a few days to develop symptoms and it takes some time to get the test done and to report the test results. So we are not seeing real time what the virus is doing.

We don't have a complete picture. We are not seeing real time of what's happening. What we are seeing is a reflection of what the virus is doing a week or two weeks ago in these numbers.

Lastly, we can't let our guard down even when the trends are going down. Let's look at other countries, like South Korea, where they got their numbers way down, almost down to zero in some days, and still there's some outbreaks.

And that's to be expected. That's why testing capacity is so important so that, when there's an outbreak, you can detect it early and you can isolate and do contact tracing in order to minimize the outbreak.

KEILAR: Georgia was one of the first states we saw reopening on April 24th. This was three weeks ago. Tattoo parlors and bowling alleys, they got the green lights to open their door. But if you look at the five-day average of cases, there's no spike so far.


What do you think is going on there or does this speak to what you just said about how there's a delay and we have a snapshot a week or two ago and we are still waiting for accurate data?

LEE: Brianna, it is a little too early to say with certainty that the reopening has been safe and successful. It is encouraging certainly that we are not seeing a big spike but we have to get a little more time behind us before we can say with more certainty.

I do think one thing that has been good, is something that we are doing now that we were not doing weeks ago, that more people are doing masks.

Wearing masks, we're find as more and more research is done -- there's a study done with researchers from Hong Kong and Europe shows -- they did modeling.

When you have 80 percent of the population wearing masks, you can cut the rate of community transmission down to a 12th to what would have been if no one is wearing masks.

So as more people go out, more people are wearing masks. It is important that you do that when you go out to public place. And that may be part of why we are not seeing bigger spikes, which is a good thing.

KEILAR: That's a very good thing. Thank you so much for highlighting that.

Dr. Jennifer Lee, we appreciate it.

Retail sales in America collapsing in April. How much will reopening help?

Plus, I will speak live with a bar owner in Wisconsin who opened his place once the lockdown was overturned but then had to close it again.

One Asian doctor says, in one trip to the store, someone directed racist insults toward her while another told her to stop wearing a mask. She the racial hate that these doctors and nurses are facing.


KEILAR: Some bars in the state were opened for business and packed with customers. You can see few masks being worn here and many customers ignoring social distancing guidelines.

Following the ruling by Wisconsin's top court, the governor says the residents were living in the Wild, Wild West.

Tyler Reilly is the owner of the Shop Bar and Grille in Appleton, Wisconsin. And Chris Mitchell is the general manager there.

I want to thank you both for joining me to talk about this. So many people were in the position you were in.

Tyler, you opened up your bar right after the Supreme Court ruling and you had a big turn out and now you have been ordered to shut down by the councilman, what county, what were you told?

TYLER REILLY, OWNER, THE SHOP BAR AND GRILLE: We opened for about two hours after we heard the Supreme Court ruling. And the next day we were told that we could reopen. We opened for lunch. And about an hour after that we are told to shut down. And they would be enforcing the order.


REILLY: So we were pretty upset.


KEILAR: You were upset and disappointed. What had the crowd been like and did you feel like they were behaving appropriately to keep people safe?

REILLY: Yes, we had COVID guidelines on our door that we were going to be checking temperatures. Everyone that walked in. Masks and hand sanitizer were going to be provided. And everyone was respecting what our decisions were to be open, and no one seemed to be having any issues until we said we needed to lock back up and they finished up or take the order to go.

KEILAR: Everyone in there was wearing masks?

REILLY: Masks were provided. I think two people had masks on but we weren't getting too packed for lunch. It was starting to get busy but then told we needed to close down.

CHRIS MITCHELL, GENERAL MANAGER, THE SHOP BAR AND GRILLE: The guidelines, yes, the guidelines we were given said they're optional but we have them for people who do want them.

KEILAR: OK, so, Chris, what do you think? Where the governor is saying it's like the Wild, Wild West if you reopen things, is that how you see it?

MITCHELL: I can see how it could look that way but people are smarter than that. It's been taken seriously but they are tired of being stuck in their homes.

REILLY: Small businesses I've been talking to, owners say they want to be given the option or choice to be able to open. And we just want some guidance on how to do that so we can keep everyone safe. And the guidelines we have were above and beyond what were set for the state or any of the big box retailers that are open and those ones are the ones that, it's packed.

KEILAR: Chris, I wonder, what has this meant for all of the folks working there previously who previously worked there at your location. You've been in business for less than a year. Alcohol sales, you don't have what you have obviously. You're back to doing carry out food.

What does this mean for the people who depend on this for a job?

MITCHELL: We do the best we can to give everybody hours and split it up equally, but it's tough because you obviously don't need as many people. We don't have enough revenue coming in.

We've lost money month after month. We're still paying our bills and payroll, things like that, but it's getting tougher and tougher as times go on.

KEILAR: And, Tyler, how long can you do this? How long can you do it this way that you've had to adjust?

REILLY: Not much longer. We're doing the best we can, like Chris said. I'm doing everything I can.

The PPE was a huge help. We didn't get approved for that and got the funds, helped big time to keep the payroll and keep our team, being able to feed their families right now.

KEILAR: Tyler, Chris, thank you so much.

You know, so many people in your situation, so many people dependent on businesses like yours for a job, and we just really appreciate you talking to us as we look at these different regulations with the state and the county and everything you're dealing with.

Thank you and good luck.

REILLY: Thank you.

MITCHELL: Thank you.

KEILAR: The pandemic is highlighting a cruel irony in the American economy. Some of the most essential frontline workers are also the lowest paid. Starting Sunday, grocery store chain, Kroger, says it plans to eliminate the $2 per hour bonus hero pay for 450,000 workers.

With me now, CNN political commentator Van Jones, who is also the CEO of the Reform Alliance.

Van, grocery chains are some of the business that are thriving. When we think of where our money goes in our budget, I can tell you where mine is going. It's grocery stores.

What do you make of them eliminating hazard pay for the employees who take a huge personal health risk and for this pandemic, for all of us, it's far from over?

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: It is far from over. And I wonder if any of those CEOs would be willing to stand in those stores and confront person after person after person and possibly risk taking a killer virus home to their family for the pay they're getting, even with the hazard pay, let alone without the hazard pay.

I think part of what's going on is we are starting to fatigue a little bit and we're starting to think, OK, we just got to go back to normal. Nobody told the virus we're going back to normal. The virus is still out there, still killing people.

And you see a lot of those essential workers, whether it's meat packing factories or nurses, janitorial staff or grocery store workers, bearing the brunt and they need to have the pay and the protection to be able to survive.

KEILAR: We're also seeing some factory workers who are returning to work and these are really high-density workplaces when you're thinking about manufacturing plants.

Elon Musk, he just won his standoff to reopen Tesla. But if the business reopens, workers no longer qualify for unemployment. It really puts people in a tough spot here.


JONES: Yes. Well, I mean, what's so interesting about Elon is he's sort of saying the government is forcing people, it's coercing people and taking away their freedom. Yet, he's doing the exact same thing to his workers and coercing them to go into a very potentially dangerous situation.

He's not saying, listen, I'm going to be flexible here. If you want to go back, we'll make room for you. If you've got an underlying condition, we're going to expand ADA protection for you.

Basically, he's being tyrant. He's giving less protection to his workers than America's governors giving to the American people.

KEILAR: You're hosting tonight, Van, such an incredibly important conversation about how this pandemic is disproportionately affecting people of color. Two Asian-American doctors created a video actually highlighting some of the racist attacks they've been targeted during this pandemic and this is a clip from that.




KEILAR: The U.S., Van, it's worth noting, has had more cases than any other country. So why do you think that this racism persists here?

JONES: Well, whenever you have a pandemic, they always pick some group to blame, going all the way back to the Spanish flu. But this is really dangerous.

I was talking to Andrew Yang and Lisa Ling from the CNN family. It's a daily threat. It's a daily sense of threat because this has been presented as, quote unquote, "the Chinese virus," that kind of thing and it's really dangerous.

What we have to be able to do is very loudly and very clearly say, this virus does not know what color anybody is. The one we're dealing with on the east coast actually came through Europe. It didn't even come through Asia.

So we need to stand together and make sure -- and that's the reason Don and I are so happy to be doing "THE COLOR OF COVID" special. So we can go deeper into the pain and circumstances of different roots as they fight this situation.

It's not just the virus but there's a pandemic of hate, a pandemic of fear. And it's being disproportionately and unfairly targeted at Asian-Americans. We have to speak out against it.

KEILAR: Such an important conversation.

Van, thank you. We'll be tuning in tonight.

You can watch this, "THE COLOR OF COVID" with Van Jones and Don Lemon, tonight at 10:00 Eastern only here on CNN.

You're watching CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. I'm Brianna Keilar.

And we will deliver. That's a very big promise, from the man tapped by President Trump to lead the U.S. development of a COVID-19 vaccine, even as the president's timeline has been called too optimistic by many experts.


MONCEF SLAOUI, APPOINTED BY TRUMP TO LEAD "OPERATION WARP SPEED": Very recently, seen early data from a clinical trial with a coronavirus vaccine. And this data made me feel even more confident than we will be able to deliver a few hundred million doses of vaccine by the end of 2020. And we will do the best we can.


KEILAR: That announcement coming as the month of November, the Trump administration wants to distribute the first batch of doses, some 100 million batches in total.

As nearly all states move to reopening by this weekend, the president had this message for the nation.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to make something clear. It's very important. Vaccine or no vaccine, we're back.


KEILAR: Arthur Caplan is the head of medical ethics at NYU School of Medicine. He's also a CNN medical analyst. And Dr. Rob Davidson is an emergency room physician and the executive director of the Committee to Protect Medicare.

Art, to you first here.

We heard the head of "Operation Warp Speed" saying he's confident a vaccine can be ready by year's end. But in an op-ed for the "Boston Globe" yesterday, you actually wrote in an op-ed it could take -- brace yourself -- 20 years to determine if a vaccine is safe and effective.

Is this goal by the White House of a vaccine by the end of the year, and the president said available for everyone, is that even possible?


DR. ARTHUR CAPLAN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: No. It's ridiculous. Vaccines have to really be proven very, very safe, as well as effective. You're going to roll them out to hundreds of millions, if not billions of people. That's going to take more than testing it on humans by the fall.

You also have manufacturing quality issues that have to be tended to very, very closely.