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Major Lab: COVID-19 Test Results Can Take Up To Two Weeks; GA Hospital Strains To Handle Patient Surge As COVID Cases Spike; Biden Rolls Out Economic Proposal Focused On Caregivers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired July 21, 2020 - 12:30   ET




JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Testing delays are now complicating efforts to slow the coronavirus summer surge. The major lab Quest Diagnostics says test results can take, get this, up to two weeks in some cases. And we see this across the country, long lines at testing sites.

With me now to discuss the importance of this performance, CDC official Dr. Cyrus Shahpar now the director of Prevent Epidemics Team at Resolve to Save Lives. Doctor, it's good to see you again. I want -- let's just start by listening to Dr. Fauci here. Dr. Fauci says this is a problem we must fix and quickly.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think the thing that we need to make sure if it occurs, that we correct it, that we get the results of the test back in a very ample amount of time because if the test comes back multiple days later, it kind of lessens the impact of why you're doing the test to begin with. So I think that's one of the important things that we need to focus on.


KING: Help us walk through why that is so important. Why not just for me or you if we're getting a test, of course, we want to know in 24 or 48 hours, we don't want to wait two weeks to find out if we have COVID but walk through the domino effect of this long wait.

DR. CYRUS SHAHPAR, DIRECTOR, PREVENT EPIDEMICS TEAM, RESOLVE TO SAVE LIVES: Yes. Essentially if we take too long to get test results, we're missing the time when a person is infectious, so they're not informed about the period of which they could transmit disease to others, and they don't find out that they perhaps have COVID until after that period is done.

So there's this delay in diagnosis, which leads to ongoing transmission and spread of disease. We need timely testing, and it's a huge problem. But you know, John, we don't even know how we're doing when it comes to test turnaround time. We looked at 50 states data dashboards and none of the states report on test turnaround time.

So we hear media reports or we hear anecdotes around delays in testing but we don't have consistent standardized information on test turnaround time. And that's a huge problem.

KING: It is a huge problem because transparency helps if you can identify a problem then you can direct both public attention and whatever resources are necessary to fix it. To that point, this is from -- if we look at the delays, what we know about the delays. Quest says if these are the seven day average of new cases, but Quest says the slow downs are the Northeast, the South, and the West, that the South is the biggest problem right now.

Obviously, you have the biggest problem with cases there, as well. I'll ask the question in this context, we had testing issues at the very beginning of this in February and March and April. Here we are talking as we get near the end of July. Should this have been anticipated? Should they have ramped up? Should the federal government -- I assume the federal government would have to be involved, you know, LabCorp and Quest or private companies, should there have been a significant ramping up so that we were not having this conversation now?

SHAHPAR: I think systems should have been prepared to deal with more tests. We still aren't at the level of testing we need to be out in this country. So we anticipated that we needed, you know, hundreds of thousands of tests per day. I think we hit 700,000 plus this week.

But we're still not at the level we need to be at. And we're already seeing capacity constraints right now and problems because of it, you know, and things like test turnaround time. So I think, yes, we should have ramped up our ability to process a lot of tests and to also get better information about the test. Who's getting tested? What groups perhaps aren't getting tested enough?


And then a distinction between the number of tests done and the number of people getting tested. There's that important distinction, but we don't have good information on that. So there's a lot of information about testing that needs to be improved, as well as our capacity to test.

KING: And so do you trust this number? This is what we do know, 8 percent positivity right now, nationally, in the testing data we do have available to us. But if some of that is old, meaning that, you know, the people being added to that or in the negative column from that is from 10 days, two weeks ago. Is that a useful number? And what does it tell you?

SHAHPAR: Yes. I think test positivity is a useful indicator. It helps figure out if we're testing enough people to have eyes on the virus. So I think tracking that information over time is important. And we've seen a rise in national test positivity and also in some of the states exceeding 20 percent in some of the problem areas. So looking at that information, really to see, you know, where the hotspots in the country? How is it changing over time? Yes, the certainly delays are not ideal, but that remains an important indicator.

KING: Dr. Shahpar, as always appreciate your insights. And hopefully, in one of these conversations, we're talking about progress making these backlogs go away not the complications that they cause. Again, thank you so much Doctor.

And up next for us, more evidence of the summer surge inside of Georgia hospital that's turning shipping containers into hospital rooms because of the patient surge.



KING: In Atlanta today a judge recused herself causing a bit of a delay in what would have been the first hearing in the fight over the city's mask mandate. You might recall Georgia's Republican Governor Brian Kemp, trying to block Atlanta's Democratic Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms from mandating masks.

The mayor also wants rollback reopening guidelines. The governor saying that's -- he doesn't want to mandate as even as the state sets new record in cases and hospitalizations, that's Atlanta. Georgia statewide also dealing with a summer surge here.

CNN's Gary Tuchman went to a hospital in northeast Georgia to see what the situation is like right there. Take a look.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'll be with you on a second.

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She is not doing well, a female COVID patient, being transferred from her room to her intensive care unit at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center in Gainesville, Georgia, a state where COVID deaths have nearly doubled since earlier this month.

KRISTINA HABEN, REGISTERED NURSE: It's exhausting. It has pushed me to my limits. It has shown me that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was.

(voice-over): Kristina Haben is an R.N. at this hospital, which is in a part of Georgia that was a hot zone early on in the COVID crisis. The numbers started dropping. The state started reopening. Leading experts say to what's happening now.

HABEN: Just when had you think we might be getting ahead of this thing, it's going to come back and we're starting all over again.

(voice-over): This used to be a corridor for regular hospital inpatients. It has now been transformed into an additional intensive care unit just for COVID patients. Dr. Stephen Morgan is treating many of them.

DR. STEPHEN MORGAN, NORTHEAST GEORGIA MEDICAL CENTER: Yes. I have to admit, I thought we were probably in the clear, you know, I think a lot of us did.

(voice-over): Dr. Morgan says the rising coping numbers make the job more difficult, more fatiguing.

MORGAN: Let's move.

(voice-over): He checks on a middle aged COIVD patient and is gratified by his progress.

MORGAN: A real strong guy, got started out on some Remdesivir since he came to the hospital.

(voice-over): But it's a very different feeling as registered nurse, Haben, walks into this room. This man is being treated in a specially designated COVID unit. This is not the ICU, but there is worry that he might end up going there.

(on camera): This patient has been here for two days. There's a lot of concern obviously for anybody in the COVID unit that particularly for this man, because he's very old.

HABEN: There you go darling.

(voice-over): He has been given sugar water to keep his blood sugar up, as well as insulin.

HABEN: One of the hardest things is knowing that the last time that that patient's family saw them could possibly be the last time that they get to see them.

(voice-over): This Medical Center is prepared for more and more patients being admitted. This unusual looking structure sits in a hospital parking lot. Patients will soon start getting moved inside.

(on camera): This rapidly constructed hospital edition consists of 44 shipping containers pieced together. There are 20 rooms for COVID patients.

BETSY ROSS, NURSE MANAGER: Everything that you would get in a traditional hospital room inside the hospital we are capable of doing here in this unit.

(voice-over): Everyone we talked with here expresses pride in what they are doing. But as the numbers go up, so does the concern and in some cases, fear.

TAMIKA JOHNSON, CHARGE NURSE: Well, I guess you know what post traumatic stress, that's how I feel. I mean, it's like, I feel like something that we should be able to prevent from happening. It's like we have no control over it in reality and then the patients pass away, it's almost like we get so close to them. It's like losing a family member. (voice-over): These doctors and nurses also consider each other family members, people they work with, like this virus with for as long as it takes.

Gary Tuchman, CNN, Gainesville, Georgia.


KING: Great reporting there from Gary Tuchman and a reminder we should everyday be saying thank you to those frontline health care workers and others on the frontlines as we go through this now summer surge.


Up next for us, the global perspective, the European Union hammers out an unprecedented deal on a big coronavirus recovery package.


KING: European nations today reaching agreement on a major coronavirus recovery plan this after weeks of testing negotiations. More on that as our correspondents explore the major global developments.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in France, all eyes very much on that historic decision, that historic deal that was reached in the very early hours of this morning, John, in Brussels, a suggestion by Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron from May of a 750 billion euro rescue package for Europe.

Its adoption after many days of wrangling means that Europe is really going to change very much in the way that it has functioned so far. Hence, all the divisions to get here, it will now be able to raise capital from the markets and take responsibility for debt. Europe will now function differently. Brussels gains more power.


This had been a move that had been resisted for so long. It took the virus and all of the economic fallout with countries like Spain and Italy that have borne the brunt of the crisis so far with already fragile economies facing possible collapse.

It was the threat to the single market in the end that forced European leaders despite reservations to move on towards something like a form of federalism, something that had never been willing to consider before.

Melissa Bell, CNN, Paris.

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here Barcelona, Spain's second largest city is facing a fresh coronavirus outbreak. Over the weekend, 3,000 new cases were detected that is a steep jump for this region.

Now when I pressed a local official as to what can be done to contain it, he said that they are woefully understaffed. He admitted they had less than half of the 2,000 people they would need to trace and isolate those infected with COVID-19.

So the local government has issued a recommendation for people to stay at home urging more than 3 million residents to do that. But they stopped short of making that a mandatory order. So there's been confusion among residents here. Over the weekend, the beaches were packed, people are out and about doing their usual business, and many have actually left town all together to head for their summer holidays.

Now, one epidemiologist I spoke to said she is very concerned that the outbreak may at this point be out of control.

Atika Shubert, CNN, Barcelona.

SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Here in Brazil, the health ministry reported more than 20,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total number of infections to over 2.1 million. More than 80,000 people have died from the virus.

The President, Jair Bolsonaro remains in semi isolation after testing positive himself two weeks ago. On Monday, he again walked out doors to greet supporters. He said he was doing well and also commented on two cabinet members who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday, the Minister of Education and the Minister of Citizenship.

Bolsonaro announced that both are taking the controversial drug hydroxychloroquine and he says doing very well. Bolsonaro has been a vocal proponent of the malaria drug which has not been proven effective against the coronavirus. But he attributes his very mild case of COVID-19 to the drug's use.

Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.


KING: Up next for us, a return to domestic politics, 15 weeks to Election Day, Joe Biden outlines his plan to help the economy by supporting caregivers.



KING: One hundred and five days now until the general election, 15 weeks from today, the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, today rolling out his latest -- the latest piece of his build back better economic plan. This part focused on helping caregivers and includes tax credits and plans for tens of thousands of new childcare facilities.

CNN's MJ Lee tracking this story, she's in New Castle, Delaware, where the former vice president will be speaking about it a bit later this afternoon. MJ? MJ LEE, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, Joe Biden has been over the last few weeks rolling out his major economic plan. And here in Delaware today, he's going to be unveiling a plan that is focused on people who care for children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Now this is a plan with a hefty price tag of $775 billion over the course of 10 years, money that the campaign says will come from repealing certain tax breaks for certain real estate investors and also by enforcing taxes on certain wealthy people.

Now, this is a big plan with a lot of different components. But a couple of the highlights, it includes eliminating the waiting lists for Home and Community Care under Medicaid. It also includes hiring 150,000 community health care workers, tax credits for families with children, and also the creation of a pre-K program for all children between the ages of three and four.

Now, as you know very well, John, Joe Biden has been laser focused on talking about the coronavirus pandemic over the last few weeks, particularly going after President Trump and his handling of the pandemic. As the campaign puts it, they believe this is a plan that will particularly help people who have been vulnerable in this pandemic, the kinds of people that we just talked about, people who are caring for people who need help like children, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Now, to make a quick political point here as well, last night, we heard Joe Biden make a little bit of news, sharing some details about the vetting process that is ongoing for his future running mate. Here's a little bit of what he said.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESUMPTIVE DEMOCRATIC NOMINEE FOR PRESIDENT: I am not committed to naming any but the people I've named and among them, there are four black women. So that decision is underway right now. It is important that my administration, I promise you, will look like America, both as from vice president, to Supreme Court, to cabinet positions, to every major position in the White House.


LEE: Now Biden also said that they have done extensive vetting for about four of the women on that list, and that once they have narrowed that list down he is planning on having personal discussions with the women who are on that final shortlist. John.


KING: Big speech today, big decision soon. MJ Lee, appreciate the live reporting.