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Live Coverage of White House Press Conference. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 22, 2020 - 14:00   ET

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


[14:00:00]

DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: -- areas.

Next slide?

So we also look at daily cases, and daily case numbers. And I know that you all know that that's a very erratic -- and it depends sometimes on how the tests were reported, how the cases were reported. And so you often have to look at it over a three- or seven-day period.

This is looking at daily cases on a seven-day rolling average. You can see the number one, the top peak, that has now come down dramatically, is the New York metro area.

Underneath that, you can see our concerns about Chicago, and our concern in the yellow line, the Washington, D.C. area. Because these are two areas that went through their logarithmic phase, and are now at a high plateau with an unchanging number of cases, day over day. That's the orange line and the yellow line.

You can see that the daily case numbers per 100,000 are below the yellow line and the orange line of Washington, D.C. and Chicago, and that's New York, Boston and many of the others. Providence is also up as a per-100,000, and that's the way we like to look at it because we can really then understand it in relationship to populations.

The other groups that have very low levels that once had a peak, this is Detroit, very low level now. This is Boston in the gray, which has come way down also. And you can see down here, is Atlanta and Miami.

Next slide?

Now, sometimes -- and I think recently -- there have been publications about where the world was before we started the Stop the Spread, and before many states shut down.

And just to take you back to that moment, on March 14th, before Stop the Spread, this is showing New York. I didn't even put Match 14th on there because New York on March 14th had less than 50 cases reported. Chicago had less than 10. Washington had less than 10. L.A. had less than 20. The large state at that time, that had a significant number of cases, was the Washington area -- Washington State, which had 100 cases. On March 14th, we had about 500 cases distributed around the United States, not in any dramatic hotspot per se, but the majority of those cases and the hotspot at that moment was Washington State.

This is how the New York metro area, which includes obviously northern New Jersey, northern parts of Pennsylvania, parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island and the dramatic decline that they've had in the number of cases -- and I know you know that also mortality has started to decrease in that northern New Jersey and New York area.

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But I wanted you to see how we bring all this information together on a daily basis. The red line in this graphic are the emergency room visits, so those are the syndromic visits that I discussed with you at the beginning.

The blue line is the test-positive. And again, it's very erratic because of the reporting of when cases sometimes from the entire weekend are added on a Monday morning. And then you can see the actual case numbers in the black bars. And so that's how we bring everything together.

And what we want to see is all of the -- all of the items trending down. We want to see the number of positives that you find -- because we really have states now looking for asymptomatic cases. So we want to ensure that both asymptomatic cases, symptomatic cases are all declining, as shown in the blue line. And emergency room visits are declining and the actual case numbers are declining together. And of course, then there's mortality behind that in the green lines -- green bars that are hard for you to see.

Next slide?

But this is the Washington area. And so that's why I wanted you to see that contrast. You can see there's not been that dramatic decline in the blue line, there's not been that dramatic decline in the black bars of cases, and there's not been a dramatic decline in the emergency room visits with COVID-like illnesses.

BIRX: So even though Washington has remained closed, L.A. has remained closed, Chicago has remained closed, we still see these ongoing cases. And I've asked the CDC, and the CDC is working with the local areas in Chicago, and this area in L.A. to really understand where are these new cases coming form, and what do we need to do to prevent them in the future.

Next slide?

This is Chicago. Again, just to show you, going up into this high plateau, that has been fairly persistent.

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[14:05:00]

And this is Los Angeles. So you can get a flavor of where we have concerns, of where cities have remained closed and metros have remained closed but have still persistent high number of cases.

Next slide?

BIRX: So then I wanted to talk to you about outbreaks, because throughout this all there's been a large part of America that has been in many states, that have really been finding their outbreaks, containing those outbreaks by testing everyone and doing contact tracing, and then stopping them and stopping those outbreaks in their tracks, what we have been talking about everybody being able to do across the United States. And so this illustrates the counties that had 100 percent increase in new cases over the last few -- of the last three days.

Now, the reason I wanted to show this, because I see more and more graphics out there that talk about cases going up versus cases going down. Just to give you an example of Wyoming -- and I think many of the -- the groups now have Wyoming as a red state of cases going up. Wyoming three days ago had five cases confirmed, and today had -- yesterday had nine. So they qualify, almost, and show up as this large increase. We -- it's a good alert for us. We immediately look and look and see what exactly is happening at the state website.

But you can see, when you have very low number of cases, you can have a doubling, from five to ten number of cases, and show up as a 100 percent increase. And so each of these have to be investigated separately to really understand what this is. It is the way we find outbreaks in prisons. It's the way we have been finding outbreaks in nursing homes. And we have this graphic; it goes through all of the counties, as well as -- next slide.

So this is one state's analysis. And yet, what they have shown -- and they have been able to find each of their outbreaks, contain every one of their outbreaks, close those outbreaks and call them closed cases. In this case, the dark blue is community spread. The rest of it, 50 percent of their cases, have been coming from outbreaks that they've been able to contain. The largest group in this is meat-packing plants, and what they've been doing is going in and testing 100 percent of the individuals in the meat-packing plant, and also finding 100 percent of the individuals that are associated with those individuals in the meat-packing plant. They've been able to go into group housing, social gatherings.

So just as a -- as we discuss all of this, and when you go out for this weekend of Memorial Day and you want to do some kind of social gathering, it's very important to maintain that six-feet distance, and very important to have your mask with you in case that six-feet distance cannot be maintained.

But it also talks about long-term care facilities. Now, interestingly enough, 50 percent of their total cases since they've been tracking came from these outbreaks. Almost 70-plus percent, 76, of all their mortality, though, came from these outbreaks. And this is why we have been really pushing both in the original opening up America again. In the testing blueprint, we talk about proactive surveillance, proactive monitoring and testing in areas that you know are particularly susceptible to outbreaks.

Every state has this acknowledged now, and this type of analysis. And so when they have these kind of analysis, what we're asking them to do is proactively go and test everyone in meat-packing plants, to proactively go and test 100 percent of the residents and workers, and then a follow-up of the workers in every single long-term care facilities. And this is to find the asymptomatic cases. I know CDC yesterday released, and they thought 35 percent. We started with the understanding that we thought it was around 11 to 15 percent, based on the experience with one of the Princesses. But now we know it's at least 35. It may be greater than that because it may be so age- dependent that there may be a lot of people under 30 that have the virus and are shedding the virus and aren't aware they have the virus. And so proactive monitoring, proactive testing will become absolutely critical to find these asymptomatic cases. Next slide.

So this is my last slide, and this is just to show you what an outbreak looks like. So if you look at this axis, it's normalized through 100,000 population. But you can see -- this is what we want to see. We want to see very low case number. We want to see that they've identified an outbreak, they've tested 100 percent, they've contained 100 percent, and then they don't find any more cases.

And so this is what's happening across the country, county by county -- this is a county map -- to really show you the work that's going on. And since the last two months, we've gone from, I think less than 4,000 contact traces to nearly 50,000 contact tracers.

And this is what's been happening behind the scenes, but I really want to applaud the governors, and state, and the health and local -- the health commissioners and the local health departments who've really been working quietly in a non-assuming way to really find these cases, track these cases, isolate these cases and ensure there's no additional spread.

And you can see in many of these instances they've gone more than two weeks without any additional spread. And so this is what we are hoping goes across the United States, now we all have to admit it's going to be much more difficult in metro areas because you have to really identify where are those asymptomatic cases and how will you find them?

And it's why there's been a lot of additional resources going in to disadvantaged areas, in to the federal community clinics to be able to proactively be able to test for this virus and find asymptomatic individuals.

When someone gets sick with COVID -- excuse me. When someone gets sick with COVID you've heard the cases, some of them have very high fevers, and so they're not out walking around. So they may have been shedding virus for one or two days before they got significantly ill and they had to be in bed because they felt so terrible.

[14:10:00]

Now think of that, they were maybe out two days. And so if they're 50 percent of the cases they're only out for two of the days that they may be spreading virus. An asymptomatic individual that doesn't know they have COVID, they be spreading and shedding the entire time that they're in the community.

So instead of two days, it may be six days, or it may be seven days. And so when we talk about proportions -- 35 percent that are asymptomatic that are out in the community is very -- it's much more opportunity for transmission that someone who is getting sick and is only out in the community for two days.

And so we know we have to find both, and we've been working with states about what proactive surveillance would look like in this case to find people who are asymptomatic. But it's also why we continue to recommend to the public very clearly that you can't tell whose infected.

And so that's why you have to continue to social distance, that's why you need to continue to maintain six feet apart. I remember in the early days of HIV people told me all the time that they could -- they knew who was infected. And I would say, you don't know whose infected -- I could be infected. You're just saying you don't think I'm infected because I look healthy. There's a lot of healthy people out there with COVID that look healthy.

And so we're asking continuous for you all to be outside, to enjoy your Memorial Day weekend, to play golf, to hike as Dr. Fauci said, to play tennis with mark balls (ph), and to be out with your families that you have been in-household with, and to even consider sharing social distance space as long as you have utensils that are -- belong to individuals and that maybe can be thrown out immediately. There's a lot of things to think through. I know you can do this -- I know the American people can do it.

And so, please, as you go out this weekend understand you can go out, you can be outside -- you can play golf, you can play tennis with marked balls (ph), you can go to the beaches if you stay six feet apart -- but remember that that is your space, and that's a space that you need to protect and ensure that you're social distanced for others.

Thank you.

MCENANY: I want to start by -- Dr. Birx, if I could have you stay here for just a moment or two. Zeke (ph), I believe you e-mailed me a question about nursing homes and testing this morning, if you want to ask it I'll have Dr. Birx give you an answer?

QUESTION: That'd be great (ph), thank you. Dr. Birx, last week -- or two weeks ago, you and the vice president told us (ph) you wanted 100 percent of nursing home technician staff tested within two weeks. Most cases aren't going to be that (ph) -- some two weeks later haven't even started to try (inaudible), are you disappointed? And also, what are the consequences of that inaction? BIRX: No, I know many of you don't know me. I'm a very aspirational and hopeful person that likes to put out challenges because I think that's what needs to be done. We've had it in the Open Up America guidance where we asked them to test all the nursing homes residents (ph) and workers. We know that that group is very susceptible and has significant mortality.

And so we continue to ask the states -- we always look at the side (ph) of the ones who haven't been able to get it done. There are some that are getting it done, and I think what we will learn is from those who are able to get it done how to do this more efficiently and effectively so that we can work together to ensure that not only we have the baseline testing, but we continuously test the workers within the homes to prevent any asymptomatic spread back to the residents once we show they're negative.

We only have a million nursing home residents, we're testing way over a million people per week, getting closer to over 2 million people a week. So over that 4 million per two weeks, I was hoping that a million of those could be our nursing home residents.

I think week-over-week as we see testing expand it's not going to just be -- and that's why I keep coming back to this, it's not the number of people you have tested. We see this all the time with other diseases. We have a lot of worry dwell (ph) that will come back frequently to get tested.

We want to test, and we want states testing in areas where we know there's higher vulnerability to susceptibility, to worse outcomes like our nursing homes -- areas where we know there have been outbreaks such as prisons, meat packing plants -- particularly areas where people are transported to plants together, or live together in a single residents or multiple residents, but there's multiple group- home kind of housing situations.

And among out inner cities where we know people may have as not -- not as much access to testing, that's why money has gone to the federal clinics for testing. It's why money and working with others have really improved tested through the pharmacies and ensuring more accessibility.

I know it's a long answer, but we should never be discouraged by those who can't cut it down, we should be encouraged by those who've shown us that it can be done. And then on the governor's calls, we have those governors present to the other governors how they did it.

QUESTION: And following-up on the president's announcement regarding places of worship being an essential and then having them all reopen, what guidelines and encouragement do you have for pastors, rabbis, and (inaudible) as they prepare to reopen? Should -- is that appropriate nationwide right now? What precautions do they need to follow if they're going to reopen their houses of worship?

BIRX: So we -- and I've checked all 50 states have on their website what their new cases were over the last 24, 48 hours. We're trying to get every state to do that by community, by zip code. So -- because I really, firmly believe a knowledgeable community can really make judgments for themselves. I think each one of the leaders in the faith community should be in-touch with their local health departments so that they can communicate to their congregates.

[14:15:00]

Certainly people that have significant comorbidities, we want them protected. I know those houses of worship want to protect them. And so really ensuring that maybe items -- maybe they can't go this week if there's high number of COVID cases, maybe they wait another week. But there is a way to social distance like you are here, in places of worship.

And I think what we're trying to say with the CDC guidance is there's a way for us to work together to have social distancing and safety for people so that we decrease the amount of exposure that anyone would have to an asymptomatic. And I say it that way because I know all of you -- and all of Americans, if they didn't feel well, they wouldn't go to church that day.

MCENANY: One more for Dr. Birx. John (ph)?

QUESTION: Yes, Dr. Birx, could you comment on the latest study on hydroxychloroquine? There's this Lancet study that suggests, again, that the drug could cause heart problems and even increased mortality. The president's obviously said that he's been taking it. What's your recommendation? And what's your recommendation on using that drug as a prophylactic?

BIRX: Well first, I think the FDA has been very clear on their website about their concerns about hydroxychloroquine particularly when it's combined with (inaudible), and I think you see that in the study. And I think the study, although it is open-label and it is -- I'll tell you what I take home from the Lancet study, and I hope everyone here does in addition to what you just commented on.

It clearly shows the comorbidity that puts individuals at more risk, and I think it's one of our clearest study (ph) because there were so many -- tens of thousands of individuals involved that the doctors clearly annotated who had heart disease, and who had obesity. And you can see dramatically the increased risks for that.

There are still control trials going on, both for prophylaxis and pre- exposure prophylaxis, as well as controlled trials looking at, in a hospital setting, how these drugs do. And I think those are still pending.

But I hope everyone looks at those comorbidities. And for all of our Millennials out there, they get data like this? Look at that. Go through and see if your parents or your grandparents have any of those things, and make sure you're helping protect them.

I'm really worried about people in my generation because we're very social at times. And we have a habit of forgetting social distancing or forgetting that glasses -- and when you're eating, you can't eat in a mask. So even if you're far enough apart, you have to watch every utensil, everything you touch.

I really am asking our great generation of Millennials to get some YouTube videos about how to do picnics outside with your friends and still protect everyone and still ensure that there's no co- contamination of food and utensils. I think there's a way to do it, but I want it explained in a YouTube video.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Thank you very much.

Dr. Birx, I know you need to get back to work so thank you very much.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: You can do a follow-up with me.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: And, wait, actually --

QUESTION: Dr. Birx, is it possible to do a quick follow-up?

MCENANY: OK, you can go ahead. But before I start my portion of the briefing, there were just a few things I wanted to note for you all.

Pursuant to those -- some of those very encouraging graphs we saw, where the states moved from red and orange to green, and we saw the United States increasingly become green.

It's encouraging to see that America's reopening alongside that, with Homebase, data from Homebase noting that two-thirds of America's small businesses are opening; an OpenTable study said Americans are now starting to dine out again. Another Homebase study, 67 percent of local food and drink businesses are open, Apple is saying Americans are driving and walking at near-normal levels. And Google mobility data reflects the same.

So it's encouraging to see America start to reopen, and the great work President Trump has done for the faith community going into this weekend. We have a First Amendment, it's very important that we protect that. And these -- these churches, these synagogues, these mosques, they are essential. And President Trump underscored that.

And finally, before getting started, I wanted to note that the president, as you all are well aware, donates his salary to various initiatives and parts across the federal government. And this quarter, he will be donating his salary to HHS, Health and Human Services, to develop new therapies for treating and preventing COVID-19 so that we can safely reopen.

here's the check amounted to $100,000 that will go directly from President Trump and his paycheck that he does not take, but rather donates it to various noble initiatives, including, in honor of COVID this time, and those who have passed and the studies under way, he'll be donating it to HHS. [14:20:00]

And with that, I will take questions from you all.

QUESTION: Kayleigh?

QUESTION: Kayleigh?

MCENANY: Yes.

QUESTION: A couple of questions to follow up on the president's announcement. First, just to clarify, he came out and said, "I'm calling upon governors to allow churches and places of worship to open up right now."

Dr. Birx just said in areas where they have high cases of COVID-19, maybe they should think about waiting a week. So which is it, and why the mixed messaging?

MCENANY: That's up to the governors. As it said in our guidance, we note that while many types of gatherings are important for civic and economic well-being, religious worship has particularly profound significance to communities and individuals including, as a right protected by the First Amendment, the president wants to see these communities open.

Dr. Birx was integral to making these guidelines, and they lay out a pretty clear path for faith communities to reopen.

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: But, Kayleigh, the president said he's going to override the governors. Under what authority would he do that?

And to your point, he said, several weeks ago, this is all up to the governors.

MCENANY: Well, I think you're posing a hypothetical, and I think we can all hope that we see governors...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: No, he said he could override the governors.

MCENANY: You're posing a hypothetical, though. You're assuming that governors are going to keep churches shut down and keep mosques shut down and keep synagogues shut down. That is a hypothetical question, and we will leave it to these faith communities to reopen...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... the president stood there and said, if governors don't listen to him...

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: We'll leave it to faith communities to reopen...

QUESTION: ... he's going to override their authority.

MCENANY: Kristen (ph), I think we can all -- we can all hope that this Sunday, people are allowed to pray to their gods across this country. That's a good thing...

(CROSSTALK)

QUESTION: ... what authority would he use to override them?

MCENANY: And I'd also note, there's detailed guidance in here about the way that you can clean your facilities, promote social distancing. So this is something that we should all look and be thankful that we are encouraging these faith communities to reopen, and do so in a safe way. And we'll leave it to parishes to open in a safe fashion.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: Yes?

QUESTION: Kayleigh, does the White House now support these churches that are defying governors' orders and opening up?

MCENANY: The president's been very clear. He wants churches to reopen, he wants them to do it safely, he wants them to do it in accordance with our guidance. It's laid out, very detailed. It's posted now so you can all take a look through it. And he wants to see all of those churches open in a safe fashion.

QUESTION: But if the governor does not allow that, does the White House support churches defying these executive orders?

MCENANY: The president's been very clear. He wants to see churches reopen in accordance with his guidelines.

QUESTION: So the answer is yes?

MCENANY: I just said -- I gave you an answer.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: The president would like churches to reopen and do it in accordance with the guidelines.

QUESTION: And just to follow up on what Christian (ph) asked, what specific provision of federal law allows the president to override a governor (inaudible)?

MCENANY: The president will strongly encourage every governor to allow their churches to reopen. And boy, it's interesting to be in a room that desperately wants to seem to see these churches and houses of worship stay closed.

QUESTION: No, but the president said that (inaudible)...

MCENANY: Yes, yes.

QUESTION: Kayleigh, I object to that. I mean, I go to church. I'm dying to go back to church. The question that we're asking you, and would like to have asked the president and Dr. Birx is, is it safe? And if it's not safe, is the president trying to encourage that, or does the president agree with Dr. Birx that people should wait?

[14:25:00]

MCENANY: Jeff (ph), it is safe to reopen your churches if you do so in accordance with the guidelines, which are laid out, very stringent detail here, about promoting hygiene practices -- and there are five bullet points -- and cloth face coverings if social distancing is not possible, it's recommended. Intensifying cleanings, promoting social distance -- we lay them out meticulously.

So I am thankful that we have a president that celebrates the First Amendment. The same amendment that gives you all the ability to ask me questions is there to have the freedom of worship so imams and pastors can go to their churches, can go to their places of worship and can celebrate what is a First Amendment right in this country, which is to pray to your God and to practice your faith. (inaudible).

QUESTION: And we celebrate that, too. I just want to follow up by saying, we celebrate that, too. Certainly, the First Amendment (inaudible)...

MCENANY: And so we should be thankful that there are guidelines that allow us to reengage in that behavior.

QUESTION: But we're not -- but we're not asking -- we're not asking you if -- if the president and our people are allowing Americans to pray. That -- that's not the (inaudible)...

MCENANY: To gathering in their places of worship, to attend church services, to pray together, and the president has laid out a clear path. The CDC has laid out a clear path for this to take place, for our First Amendment to be exercised in a way that is safe and robust, and that is something that is a good thing. I'm thankful that we have a president who celebrates the First Amendment and helps it to celebrated in its fullest and most robust way possible.

Chanel (ph)?

QUESTION: Thank you, Kayleigh. I'd like to switch gears, asking about President Obama. We had a -- an -- does the president -- would -- we had an interesting article from Joel Pollak this morning, and I would like to ask you if the president has considered pardoning President Obama for illegally wiretapping on Trump Towers, illegally (inaudible) and some other potential -- potential crimes out there. Has he considered that?

MCENANY: So I have not spoken to the president about that, but who I did speak to about President Obama and unmasking Michael Flynn were the men and women in this room. I haven't spoken to him on that specific point; have spoken to him about the matter generally, and I laid out a series of questions that any good journalist would want to answer about why people were unmasked, and -- and all sorts of questions. And I just wanted to follow up with you guys on that. Did anyone take it upon themselves to pose any questions about Michael Flynn and unmasking a President Obama spokesperson? Oh, not a single journalist has posed that question, OK.

(CROSSTALK)

MCENANY: So I would like to lay out a series of questions, and perhaps if I write them out in a slide format, maybe we're visual learners, and you guys will follow up with journalistic curiosity.

So number one, why did the Obama administration use opposition -- opposition research funded by a political organization and filled with foreign dirt to surveil members of the Trump campaign?

Number two, why was Lieutenant General Michael Flynn unmasked, not by the intel community entirely, but --

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: All right, you've been listening here to the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, and then that was Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany, taking over.

But a few big headlines here. The president, deeming houses of worship essential. He said, at his direction, the CDC has guidance for communities of faith. He is demanding that governors allow them to reopen this weekend.

He threatened to override those governors even though -- let's be really clear -- he can't, he doesn't have the authority to do this. He's talked about doing this before when it comes to reopening government, and he just doesn't have the authority, right? So we've been there, done that on that issue. He does not have this authority. He can, however, create a lot of chaos, which I think we should probably expect here.

Now, after he spoke, Dr. Birx was asked about the study that showed a higher risk of death in coronavirus patients from the drug that the president is touting and taking, hydroxychloroquine. She did not answer the question, right?

So I want to bring in Gloria Borger. We can start -- I mean, there's so much to cover here, Gloria. Let's start with churches --

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes.

KEILAR: And the other thing I will say is, I was listening to Dr. Birx because, look, she is someone who knows what she's talking about when it comes to public health, but I found her answer to be incredibly --

[14:30:00]