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Study Says U.S. Would Have Hit 35 Million Coronavirus Cases by End Of April if No Social Distancing; 14 Sailors on USS Roosevelt Test Positive; American Camp Association Releases New Guidelines on Day and Sleepaway Camps; W.H.O. Chief Agrees to Independent Review of COVID Response. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 15:30   ET

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


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KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: From government officials to medical experts, social distancing is being credited as a key factor in slowing the spread of the coronavirus around the world. But how key are these policies? Can you measure the real impact?

A new study did just that out of the University of Kentucky. It's findings eye-popping, that without these restriction like shelter-in- place orders, bans on social gathering, closings of schools and shutting down things like movie theaters, restaurants and concerts and bars, without that, the United States, they project, would have seen 35 times more cases of the virus by the end of April. 35 million cases compared to the 1 million plus that the country saw at the end of April.

Joining me right now, the co-author of that study Charles Courtemanche, associate professor at the University of Kentucky. Thank you so much for being here.

CHARLES COURTEMANCHE, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF ECONOMICS, UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY: It's a pleasure.

BOLDUAN: Thanks. As I was looking through this, I realized, you're an economist. What was it that you wanted to find out that led you to this study?

COURTEMANCHE: That's right. So, my co-authors and I are health economists which means we're used to studying impacts of policies related to health care in one way or another. But it does mean we come at it from a little bit of a different perspective.

And really the first thing we tend to notice is the economic damage of these different policies. Right, and then so, you know, which you can see just from unemployment totals and claims and so on. So, we tend to look at it from the -- we're well aware of the economic damage. Was the public health benefit kind of as advertised and ultimately worth it, worth these large economic costs? BOLDUAN: And so, when you see these numbers really startling without social distancing, the country would have been looking at 35 times more cases, what does that mean?

COURTEMANCHE: So that's right around 35 million. Yes, at the time -- so you always want to take exact numbers like that with a grain of salt. But the idea certainly, you know, order of magnitude or so more cases, you know, and that really points to exponential growth, right.

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Something both economist, and epidemiologists understand well. And that with all of these different restrictions together we were essentially flattening the curve by about half. In other words, the daily growth rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases was roughly half of what it would have been without these measures.

But where that really that gets powerful is compounding it day after day, after day, after day, and then by the end of, you know, a several week period you end up with something like 35 times more cases. So, it's hard to see necessarily one day to the next day to the next day, but all of a sudden it is like the boulder gets going running downhill and you get this exponential growth.

BOLDUAN: Did you find that one specific measure was more effective in this than others?

COURTEMANCHE: So, we looked at four different measures that you named. And what we found is the closing of restaurants and other entertainment-related businesses was important. Also, roughly equally important, the imposing the shelter in place or the stay-at-home orders on top of the other prior restrictions.

The other two restrictions interestingly we could not find any evidence that they did anything. So that was the closing of public schools and the banning of events over a certain size, typically 50 people. So those tended to be the earlier and what we call the lighter measures and they really didn't seem to be enough and then the stronger measures that tended to come on board a few weeks later were very effective, though.

BOLDUAN: Really quickly, what does that mean? What do you take from this or should people take from this going forward? States are now opening up or in some phase of reopening so what should folks take from this?

COURTEMANCHE: Well, you can't -- you really can't take it as we need to keep full lockdowns in place all the way to a vaccine and that is just obviously not practical, right. You know whether one would argue health wise it was ideal or not, almost doesn't matter because it's not practical and it's not going to happen.

So, what I think you should take from it is that we are, in fact, playing with fire here. I think a lot of places across the country, you know, I live in Kentucky, kind of places off the coast, right, tend to look at this and say, well, you know, our hospitals aren't overcrowded, they never got overcrowded. We never got the kind of death tolls that were projected and tend to use that to kind of dismiss the threat, right.

And what we're finding and arguing here is that, well, the reason that didn't happen is because we took these steps and we took these kind of preventative measures, these very strong measures before it got to that point where it would have overrun the health care system even in places like Kentucky.

So really to take -- rather than kind of rushing to just say, well, it was over blown, you know, let's get back to normal to realize that we are, in fact, playing with fire and should take, you know, a careful measured approach and really pay close attention to the guidelines that are out there.

BOLDUAN: Yes, hearing that from medical experts and now health economists as well. Charles, thank you so much.

COURTEMANCHE: That's right. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, new concerns about the USS Roosevelt as more crew members who have already recovered from the virus and were cleared now testing positive again.

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BOLDUAN: There are now 14 sailors from the USS Roosevelt who tested positive for coronavirus after recovering from the illness and returning to the ship. These sailors were thought to be in the clear. Let's get more on this, Barbara Starr is joining us now from the Pentagon. Barbara, what are you learning?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, you know, this is at a very awkward time for the carrier Theodore Roosevelt. It's still in port, pier-side in Guam. They are beginning to try and run some exercises, try everything out with the crew that's on the ship so they can get back out to sea.

But as this is happening, 14 sailors who as you say had thought to have been negative had been tested twice after having the virus, twice tested negative, that meant, according to the military protocol, they were supposed to be clear but they came down with symptoms and now they are testing positive.

Obviously, they are off the ship and the question is, why is this happening? It is something that medical investigators are trying to determine right now. Is it possibly an issue with the testing? Were there false negatives?

Did they have some very low level of the virus still in their system that the tests simply did not detect? And of course, that's important for all of us, you know, to understand how and if this virus lingers in the system even if you test negative after having it. So, this is a very significant issue for the Navy, the medical

community, to try and figure out. I mean, it should be said that there are several hundred sailors that so far have successfully returned to duty aboard the carrier. But there are still more than 600 active cases of the virus amongst the crew -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Wow, Barbara, thank you for that update.

Let's turn to this now. The University of South Carolina has just made a major announcement that is going to end in-person classes after Thanksgiving.

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And also cancel fall break in hopes of preventing a second wave of the coronavirus. On top of that, another big announcement that a lot of people have been waiting for, an update on summer camps across the country. CNN's Polo Sandoval is tracking both of these. Let's start with the University Of South Carolina. What is their plan for the fall?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN U.S. CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kate, so this is important information for parents. Be it parents of small children looking ahead to summer camp or perhaps some older kids and those that attend the University Of South Carolina. That University announcing two key changes that is, there will be no fall break and face-to-face instruction will be ending after Thanksgiving. It was a schedule they released by USC. You can see it for yourself.

It shows what students and staff there can expect in the next few months, the first classes would be held on October 15th and 16th in order to accelerate the semester and then after Thanksgiving expect the face-to-face interaction to end.

The main reason here they're trying to reduce any possible risk of a second wave. Because if you think about it or the way university officials are thinking about. Some of these students and staff they may go home for the holidays, then they go back after Thanksgiving after potentially being infected and then it creates a bigger problem.

So, as you hear from the USC's President, Bob Caslen, he says he understands that many people will be disappointed that they want to have that mid-semester break. But ultimately it's about the safe and safety of everybody on that campus and the way the University President describes it, it is the new norm that has to be embraced.

And then finally for parents of the younger children, finally the American Camp Association, also the YMCAs of the United States rolling out this list of guidelines for summer camps should they proceed with opening. Including sleep-away camps that they're saying that the staff would have to be dedicated to each cabin if they do open. Also, restrictive access to those cabins to only the people or the children who are staying there.

Sleeping areas would also have to be modified. Sleepers would be positioned in a head to toe configuration and vice versa and then finally some physical barriers that would have to be put in place.

But ultimately what you're hearing from these two regulating bodies, so to speak, are three key pieces of guidance here which is the facilities, these summer camps need to ask themselves, should they be reopening?

Are there proper measures in place? And now also are there proper safety measures in place to continue to monitor those numbers should they be forced to close up again? So again, what you're seeing are various changes, yes, and after the phase one is completed in some states, there are still some of those guidelines that not only universities, but summer camps should follow.

BOLDUAN: Yes, Polo, thank you.

Still ahead for us, the origins of the coronavirus. World leaders calling for an investigation and China responding in a very surprising way.

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BOLDUAN: The World Health Organization has now agreed to an independent review of its response to the coronavirus outbreak. That commitment coming today from the Director General during a virtual meeting of more than a hundred countries. Let's check in now with some of the great reporting from our correspondents positioned all over the world.

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NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: I'm Nic Robertson in London. There does seem to be great consensus at the World Health Organization Assembly, rather than target a resolution calling for an investigation of specifically China but to broaden the terms of that investigation out so it would involve all countries around the world. That is gaining broad consensus, more than a hundred companies seem to have signed up to this resolution crafted by the European Union.

Interesting, some of the comments that have been made have been talking about W.H.O. unity, the importance of it -- UN Secretary General saying that, the German Chancellor saying that and perhaps a reference towards the U.S. deciding or not deciding to pull funding from the W.H.O. The Swiss President said you cannot get a lot from an organization if the funding is hit and miss.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Ivan Watson in Hong Kong. The leader of China, gave a speech to the annual gathering of the World Health Assembly via video conference.

He commended the World Health Organization for its role in battling the coronavirus pandemic. He pledged some $2 billion over two years for global efforts against this deadly virus and pledged a lot of aid to African countries as well. And in response to these calls for an investigation into origins of

the disease which were first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan back in December, he said that he would support an independent review, according to science and fact, but only after COVID-19 has been brought under control.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo. Brazil has surged past both Spain and Italy in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. In Sao Paulo, the mayor has warned that the city is on the verge of collapse if residents don't start respecting social distancing measures.

He said 90 percent of intensive care beds are full, and yet less than half of the population is sheltering at home. Lockdown could be coming. Meanwhile President Jair Bolsonaro joined yet another anti- lockdown protest in Brasilia where he posed for photos with supported and even did push-ups with men in red berets.

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BOLDUAN: Thanks all. Really appreciate those reports from around the world.

Coming up still, sniffing out coronavirus, literally. Researchers are trying to determine if dogs may hold the key. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thanks for joining me. THE LEAD with Jake Tapper is next.

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JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Good afternoon and welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

Last night President Trump bizarrely and falsely accused me and other members of the news media of breaking the law by reporting on him.

The President has been falsely accusing all sorts of folks in the media and politics of breaking the law in various ways these days, promoting a conspiracy theory that a different TV news anchor is responsible for a murder.