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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Trump Administration Blaming Employees For Getting Sick?; How Washington State Avoided Coronavirus Surge; Vaccine Race. Aired 4:30- 5p ET

Aired May 07, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: The Moderna vaccine goes into phase two, then potentially phase three. Tell us more. What does that look like?


I mean, you typically -- to get to this point already is a couple, three years, So, we should find that somewhat hopeful.

Phase two typically is to see if this thing is starting to show any evidence that it works, that it's effective. Sometimes, in phase two, they look for what are called efficacy signals, starting to see these little hints that it works.

And, as Dr. Fauci talked about, if they see enough of these sort of efficacy signals, they may start to manufacture this virus, even before they get final phase three results, just because they want to be ahead of the game.

But this is moving pretty quickly. They're also sort of blurring the lines, look for safety and effectiveness at the same time to try and make this go faster.

Obviously, that's what everyone wants to accomplish Jake.

TAPPER: How optimistic are you about Moderna's vaccine? And how is it different from the dozens of others -- of other vaccines that are in development right now?

GUPTA: Well, this type of vaccine, which is called an mRNA vaccine, or messenger RNA vaccine, has never been done before. There's never been one of these before.

They started working on it with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, which was also a coronavirus. So they're building on some of that knowledge, but there's never been one that's completed, so just putting that as a preface.

But I think there is a reason for optimism. This is a vaccine project that the federal government has put nearly half-a-billion dollars behind. Dr. Fauci described the phase one process and the enrollment of that trial as breaking land speed records. And we got to see if it's effective, but there's good reason to

believe that this could at least show some effectiveness. Does it get through phase three? Does it become the vaccine? We have to wait and see, but it's just basically using that genetic code, as opposed to using the virus itself as a vaccine.

TAPPER: All right, but until we get to a vaccine, testing obviously remains a huge component to a safe reopening, as you and I have been discussing for months.

I want you to take a listen to Dr. Francis Collins, director for the National Institutes of Health, talking about the rapid-response tests that are offered by the company Abbott.


DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I think the other concern has been that it does have about a 15 percent false negative rate.

And if you're in a circumstance where you really, really don't want to miss a diagnosis of somebody who's already carrying the virus, you would like to have something that has a higher sensitivity than that.


TAPPER: Fifteen percent false negative rate, I'm a layman, but that sounds kind of high.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, that means that 15 out of 100 people will be told that they don't have the virus, and, in fact, they do.

You layer upon that, Jake, the fact that you don't have to have symptoms, can be asymptomatic, and still spread the virus. So the scenario could be, 15 times out of 100, that someone feels fine, they get the test that says they're negative, and so they're out and about.

And that leads to more spread. That's the concern. Now, this company, Abbott, we have been talking to them as well. They say that they have identified a specific problem that led to that high false negative rate, that poor sensitivity. Now they're addressing that problem. It's a particular -- one of the -- one of these mediums that we talk about in the testing process.

So, hopefully, they will get that fixed. But it's absolutely important to get test results early, to make sure they're accurate, and make sure those tests are easily available.

TAPPER: And some doctors are urging the continued use of the HIV drugs, two HIV drugs, to treat severely ill patients with coronavirus, even though a recent study found no significant difference in recovery time between patients taking the drugs and those who are not.

As a physician, what do you make of that?

GUPTA: This is a big discussion in the medical community right now, Jake, this particular regimen of drugs, lopinavir and ritonavir.

There was an article in "The New England Journal," a letter in "The New England Journal," basically saying, we have gone back and looked at that data that showed it didn't work. And on our secondary analysis, we're finding some evidence that it did seem to reduce mortality. We're finding some evidence that it was underpowered to look at the overall disease.

So, there's been a lot of optimism around this. I think a lot of people were surprised when those results came back that it didn't work. So I think it's prompted this -- these re-investigations.

My guess is, we're going to see another trial around this. The first trial did not show that it worked, but they're looking for more evidence, I think, at this point.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, with all the latest on the medical front, thank you so much. We appreciate it, as always.

And be sure to tune in tonight for CNN's global town hall, "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fears," hosted by Sanjay and Anderson Cooper. Their guests tonight include former Vice President Al Gore and film director Spike Lee. That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. right here on CNN.

Coming up next: one state's possible success story, how it started as number one in coronavirus deaths, and now it's not even in the top 10.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Early aggressive action may explain why the pandemic is not worse in Washington state, the first state to confirm a case of coronavirus in the U.S. back in January.

Now, new cases still fluctuate, but Washington state has managed to keep the death toll relatively low, compared to other states, all the more remarkable, considering Washington was the first to face the outbreak in the U.S.

CNN's Sara Sidner now explains for us why.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This E.R. in suburban Seattle was in the first U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

(on camera): Describe what that was like.

DR. KEVIN HANSON, EVERGREENHEALTH: Yes, it was a little chaotic.

SIDNER (voice-over): Two months later, it's a symbol of how to contain the virus. Washington state has less than 1,000 COVID deaths, while densely populated New York has more than 25,000.


HANSON: We're down to probably 10 to 15 percent of what we were seeing with COVID at sort of the peak.

SIDNER (on camera): Wow.

(voice-over): Washington state avoided the predicted COVID-19 search, partly due to its reaction to a discovery by Dr. Francis Riedo. In February, he tested two patients with no connection to infected countries. Both came back positive.

(on camera): What did you think?

DR. FRANCIS RIEDO, EVERGREENHEALTH: It was a moment of recognition, realizing that now everything had changed.

SIDNER (voice-over): Then, the first node COVID-19 death in America occurred here. Washington Governor Jay Inslee took immediate action.

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): I declared an emergency. And so this was an all-points bulletin.

SIDNER (on camera): Three days after the emergency declaration, we were here. There was a noticeable emptying of the streets.

That's because the tech giants headquartered here in Washington, like Amazon and Microsoft, urged all their employees who could to stay home before any order. That was not by chance, according to Seattle's mayor.

JENNY DURKAN (D), MAYOR OF SEATTLE, WASHINGTON: We include them in our plans and conversations from the beginning. The data is really clear. That first phase of having people telecommute and not come downtown really started breaking the back of the virus.

SIDNER (voice-over): The governor then banned gatherings of 250 or more, ordered schools closed, then restaurants and bars.

(on camera): Why not say, all right, we're closing everything down right away?

INSLEE: If you're going to lead a parade, you have got to make sure someone is behind you. And if you go too fast and the public is unwilling to accept, then you have lost your connection to your community.

SIDNER (voice-over): It's a page right out of the CDC's pandemic handbook on communication.

Finally, the stay-at-home order came. We watched boards go up over businesses, and now, two months later, those boards beautified by artists commissioned to remind the public the city is not down and out, just on a break.

(on camera): The world's most famous coffee shop, a Seattle original, is no longer just drive-through only.

(voice-over): The state's largest private employer, Boeing, slowly taking off, but cutting its work force, empty parks now family playgrounds again, construction back in business.

Washington went from number one in U.S. COVID-19 deaths to 18th. Still, there's a slow march to reopening here.

INSLEE: And the pace of that will be dictated by the data. It will be based on what we learn every day. This is very important, because, as we move away from the blunt instrument of social distancing towards the smart weapon of testing, contact tracing, and isolation, we have to have that capability up and running.

SIDNER: One thing Governor Inslee isn't being praised for, the nursing home at the center of the deadly outbreak went more than a week without any hands-on government help.

(on camera): Should you have stepped in and said, we got to get people in there faster than this?

INSLEE: This corporation had a responsibility for the medical care of their patients. We couldn't just walk in on day one, without some coordination with them, to really understand the circumstance.

SIDNER (voice-over): But just like hospitals, it was struggling to get testing and worrying about securing protective equipment.

INSLEE: And we did not have enough PPE for nurses in many facilities, and still don't.


SIDNER: He says, though, that there is simply no way his state can fully reopen without enough PPE, without enough testing. And so he's made that very clear.

However, this was like seeing a silent movie. This is the famous Pike Place. And now it is more bustling than we have seen it when I got here in March. You see folks out here.

Now, some of these places have been open, Jake, but there just haven't been the customers. There are now. We're seeing far more people out here, commerce, some of them in masks, some of them not. So, clearly, the state is starting to reopen and people are starting to respond -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Sidner in Seattle, Washington, thank you so much.

As food workers continue to contract the virus in those highly dense food plants, a top Trump administration official is now apparently at least partly blaming the employees for getting sick.

His stunning comments -- next.



TAPPER: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar is being criticized for comments he made about meat plant workers infected with coronavirus.

A source tells CNN that, on a call with a bipartisan group of lawmakers last month, Azar seemed to blame the workers, saying they most likely contracted COVID-19 because of the way they live, as opposed to the difficult and close quarters in the plants themselves.

The story was first reported by Politico.

I want to bring in CNN's Dianne Gallagher.

Dianne, you have been covering the issue of food shortages and high rates of infections at some of these processing plants. What are you hearing from workers?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they're hurt, but they're not surprised.

I talked to several workers at plants that are both closed and those that have recently reopened dealing with outbreaks. And when talking about the secretary's comments, they all said it was something that they'd heard before.

They refuted it, saying that it was simply crazy to feel that way. One meat worker pointed out to me that the whole reason why they wanted these plants to shut down and to make changes is because they didn't want to bring this virus home to their family.

Another worker told our colleague Ann Colwell that they had heard their companies say those exact same type of comments to the workers themselves. And one woman pointed out that there's so much talk about keeping the food supply chain intact right now, why would you say that about the people who are processing your food right now?

Now, Secretary Azar's office did release a statement. I want to read part of it to you here.

Michael Caputo, the spokesperson, saying: "Secretary Azar simply made the point that many public health officials have made. In addition to the meatpacking plants themselves, many workers at certain remote and rural meatpacking facilities have living conditions that involve multifamily and congregate living, which have been conducive to a rapid spread of the disease."


Jake, I want to remind you that nearly two-thirds of meatpacking plants are people of color. About half of them are immigrants.

TAPPER: And, Dianne, this is not the first time to plant workers have felt like people in authority have kind of otherized them and diminished their importance.

GALLAGHER: Now, not at all.

In fact, I hear that quite a bit at almost every level. It's when that industry kind of, hey, what have you thought about this here? Have you thought about how they live?

But it's that dehumanizing language. And we saw another example of it at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The chief justice, I wanted you to take a listen to what she said.


PATIENCE ROGGENSACK, WISCONSIN SUPREME COURT CHIEF JUSTICE: Due to the meatpacking, though, that's where the Brown County got the flare. It wasn't just the regular folks in Brown County.


GALLAGHER: Yes, Jake, I would say that the people who work in those plants are regular folks as well.

TAPPER: All right, Dianne Gallagher, thank you so much.

Masked firefighters and White Plains, New York, said goodbye to their department's deputy chief, Edward Ciocca, paying respects outside his funeral on Tuesday. The 62-year-old third-generation firefighter died Friday from coronavirus.

Fellow firefighters described him as a loving father, a stalwart leader and a caring friend who was calm, cool and collected, whether inside a burning building or in command of operations from the outside.

Krist Angielen Castro Guzman was a 35-year-old nurse. The mother of three, including a 4-month-old baby, had just ended maternity leave and returned to work at a nursing home outside Chicago. She contracted the virus there. She died Saturday.

Her husband, Omar, who worked with her at that same nursing home, also just tested positive for coronavirus.

May their memories be a blessing.

We will be right back.



TAPPER: Just in this afternoon, the Justice Department is dropping its criminal case against President Trump's former National Security Adviser retired General Michael Flynn.

Flynn, as you may recall, was charged with lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Moments ago, the president reacted to the news.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I didn't know that was happening at this moment. I felt it was going to happen just by watching and seeing, like everybody else does.

He was an innocent man. He is a great gentleman. He was targeted by the Obama administration.


TAPPER: Of course, it was the Trump administration that was prosecuting the case against General Flynn.

Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe said in response to the news -- quote -- "Today's move by the Justice Department has nothing to do with the facts or the law. It is pure politics designed to please the president" -- unquote.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now.

Sara, President Trump has called Flynn innocent. He confessed his guilt in open court, and the judge even ruminated as to why he wasn't being charged with a tougher crime. Why drop a case against somebody who has already admitted his guilt?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's certainly a very unusual set of circumstances that's going on.

In this filing, what the Justice Department says is, this interview where Flynn lied was untethered to and unjustified by the FBI counterintelligence investigation into Flynn. It goes on to say that the Justice Department cannot say without a reasonable doubt that Michael Flynn lied and that those lies were substantial.

Obviously, this is very different from what the Justice Department has been saying now for years, and it comes as Bill Barr is now leading the Justice Department. He's brought in outside U.S. attorneys to take a look at some of these convictions. And this is what we are now seeing in this filing.

It's really an about-face when it comes to these charges against Michael Flynn, Jake.

TAPPER: And what does it mean that the prosecutor in the case withdrew from the case right before this all went down, which also, we should note, happened with Trump confident Roger Stone right before he was sentenced?

MURRAY: That's exactly right, Jake. And it was Brandon Van Grack.

He was the lead prosecutor who struck this plea deal with Michael Flynn. He withdrew just before this filing came out. He didn't give a reason in his filing as to why he was withdrawing, but we saw (AUDIO GAP) Roger Stone.

It was all of these prosecutors that pulled their names off of it. And it was a clear signal that they didn't agree with what the Justice Department is doing. It's certainly possible, maybe even likely, that that is what Brandon Van Grack is doing.

I think it's also notable, Jake, that this filing is not signed by any career prosecutors at the Justice Department. It is signed by a political appointee. That's -- that's pretty unusual.

TAPPER: And I know that this is already being -- Attorney General Barr is already being accused of creating a special justice system just for President Trump's friends.

MURRAY: Absolutely.

I mean, you see that from the McCabe's statement you just read. We have a statement out from Adam Schiff, the Intelligence chairman, saying that this doesn't really have anything to do with justice; this has to do with politics.

And so I certainly think that you can expect a lot of blowback coming Bill Barr's way from Democrats, as well as from former officials at the FBI, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Sara Murray, thank you so much for this breaking news. We appreciate it.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

Stay healthy. Stay safe.