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FDA Approves New Coronavirus Test; Hospitals in New York Face Strain on Resources Due to Coronavirus Spread; President Trump Invokes Defense Production Act to Order General Motors to Produce Ventilators; President Trump to See Off Navy Hospital Ship USNS Comfort as It Heads for New York City; President Trump Signs Economic Stimulus Bill; Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) Interviewed on Possibility of Second Economic Stimulus Package as Coronavirus Pandemic Continues; Medical Supplies Run Low as Number of Coronavirus Patients Increases across U.S.; Restaurant in New Orleans Providing Meals to Health Care Workers. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired March 28, 2020 - 10:00   ET




CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: We want to wish you a good morning. Thank you for being with us. It is Saturday, March 28th. I'm Christi Paul.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Victor Blackwell. You are in the CNN Newsroom.

PAUL: So the FDA has authorized this new test that can give results in just 15 minutes. The company that makes those hopes to deliver 50,000 of them per day starting next week. But shortages of critical equipment used to collect samples from patients could slow down that testing.

BLACKWELL: And the number of cases in the U.S. is now more than 102,000. Those people have tested positive for the virus. On Friday alone, consider this, one day, 400 Americans were killed by COVID-19. That number just a fraction of the global number. More than 28,000 people around the world have died from the virus. At least 615,000 have been infected.

PAUL: The alarming lack of supplies is still one of the biggest hurdles here. Yesterday President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act. He's requiring now General Motors to produce more ventilators.

BLACKWELL: Officials in several cities, we're talking Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, to name a few, they say they do not have enough of what they need. Michigan and Massachusetts now joining several states in receiving federal assistance. President Trump approved those requests for disaster declarations.

PAUL: And let's take you to New York because hospitals there are overwhelmed. More than 45,000 cases have been reported there. That's a new number, 45,000. The state's governor warning they may be weeks away from even hitting its peak. We want to begin there with CNN's Athena Jones who is outside New York's Elmhurst Hospital. Thirteen patients died in just one day. Athena, so good to have you with us. Help us understand what's happening there today.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Christi. Look, I can tell you that the line of people, the people who have symptoms, they believe, of coronavirus has decreased pretty substantially in the last couple hours. I should mention, it's been raining here, it's expected to rain for much of the day. But this hospital, Elmhurst Hospital here in Queens has been called the epicenter of the epicenter. We know that New York state accounts for nearly half the cases in the entire United States. We know that New York City accounts for the vast majority of the cases in New York state. And Elmhurst Hospital, this hospital in Queens, a public hospital that serves a large community, has borne the brunt of a lot of this. It's very overcrowded, we've heard, at times in the past week.

We spoke with an E.R. physician who said that there are so many patients on stretchers that the stretchers are lined up in rows of three, three deep. And it makes it hard to even get across the room. I can tell you, though, that the city and state have been surging resources, not just here to this hospital but to hospitals all across the state that need supplies, supplies like those N95 respirator masks, those masks that are so important to keep health workers safe, help keep them from catching the virus and spreading it further. Gowns, surgical gowns, they're bringing in supplies of that.

This particular hospital, Elmhurst, has seen an increase in the number of ambulance staff. They brought in more nurses and physician's assistants and other staff to help out. We also know that they're going to bring in another 105 nurses here to Elmhurst just today.

You mentioned that Governor Cuomo said that he doesn't think the peak of coronavirus cases right not come for another 21 days, and so that is why hospitals like this are seeing a big influx of people, and they're hoping to prepare hospitals. Hospital capacity is a real issue here. Hospitals for the most part in America don't sit around with a whole bunch of empty beds. Many of them are for profit, and it doesn't pay to have a whole bunch of empty rooms. And so hospital beds, hospital capacity is a real issue.

And Governor Cuomo has announced in addition to the four 1,000 bed hospitals, temporary hospitals being built by the state and the National Guard, including the one at the Javits Center that they put together in just a few days in Manhattan, the governor is also asking for permission to build another four 1,000 bed temporary hospitals in the New York area. So that would be another 8,000 beds to try to meet demand that could come as a result of this virus spreading.

BLACKWELL: Athena, before we let you go, tell us what you learned about this 15-minute test that the FDA has now authorized.

JONES: Well, the FDA has authorized this test on an emergency basis, which means that they believe it's proven its validity and that the benefits outweigh the risk. The good thing about this test, it's being called a point of care test, so you get it from a medical professional, is that it can get the results quickly. That could really speed the process of finding out who has coronavirus, who needs to be isolated in particular, and that sort of thing.


Of course, we're all supposed to be staying at home, but this is going to be, some people think, make a big difference, especially considering the number of tests they're planning to supply. The one caveat here, though, is that medical professionals still need the proper equipment, the proper gowns, et cetera, to make sure they're protected while they take those swabs to do those tests. So that could still be an issue. Victor and Christi?

BLACKWELL: Athena Jones for us there outside Elmhurst, thanks so much.

PAUL: So the first responders on the front lines of this pandemic are facing real concerns of contracting this virus. We've heard them say they feel like lambs going to slaughter, like they're going into war with no protection. Doctors and nurses working with COVID-19 patients are still not getting that protective gear that they need.

BLACKWELL: We're talking masks, gloves, the simple equipment here, all running low. A lot of nurses and other health care workers are forced to reuse the masks, hoping to make it last for two, three, four, five days. I spoke with two nurses earlier this morning. They work in New York and hospitals there, and they say that they have never seen anything like this.


LAVITA PAYTON, REGISTERED NURSE, NEW YORK PRESBYTERIAN HOSPITAL: What we used to see was a lot of patients who had like strokes and heart attacks. Right now, our emergency room is about 95 percent with COVID patients. So it's like you're walking into a warzone. You're seeing people on ventilators alone. And it's really saddening. I even saw a husband and wife couple, they both ended up on ventilators because they both had the disease. And this is a very serious matter. And in the midst of all this, health care workers should not have to worry about their PPE, our personal protective equipment. We should not have to worry about rationing masks, gowns, or gloves. We should have plenty of that so we can do our job to our best ability.

SARAH BUCKLEY, REGISTERED NURSE, KALEIDA HEALTH HOSPITAL: I don't know if you can imagine, but you come home from work and you see your child who has asthma. And they brighten up because they want to see you and they want to hug you because you're home from work. And you hesitate because you're like, what am I bringing home to you, because I wasn't provided the proper equipment. Health care workers really want to take care of their patients. There's nothing more. I have coworkers who have been trying for years to get pregnant, they're pregnant. Another coworker who has been hospitalized twice this year for lung issues, but they want to run in to this virus that everyone else is trying to avoid through these drastic measures. We just need the protective gear, which we could get through the DPA if it were fully used.


BLACKWELL: Just imagine the balance, Christi, these doctors and nurses are trying to strike, trying to hit this as hard as possible. But without the gear that they need, they're putting their families in jeopardy potentiality. And it's a battle they fight every day. We thank them for the work that they do.

Let's talk about the president now headed to Norfolk this afternoon to see off the USNS Comfort.

PAUL: The Navy Hospital Ship is one of two vessels that is being used in the fight against the coronavirus. The Comfort leaves Virginia, it's going to dock in New York City, expected on Monday. The second ship, the Mercy, is already docked in Los Angeles. But Ryan Browne is in Norfolk right now. Ryan, so we understand the president is expected to speak this afternoon as well.

RYAN BROWNE, CNN REPORTER: That's right, Christi. It's the president's first trip outside of Washington in nearly three weeks. He's coming here to see off the USNS Comfort. You can see it behind me. It's a massive hospital ship, nearly 900 feet long. It has 1,000 medical beds aboard. It also carries about 1,200 personnel. They will be arriving in New York on Monday. It's going to take about 24 hours or so to set up operations there. They'll be treating non-coronavirus patients, helping to relieve some of the strain that the coronavirus is placing on many of the civilian hospitals in New York City. But as you mentioned, it's one of two hospital ships, part of the U.S. military's effort to assist local communities as they respond to this coronavirus pandemic.

BLACKWELL: He also implied that he might call up former service members to help fight coronavirus. Tell us about that.

BROWNE: That's right. The president signed an executive order on Friday which gives the Secretary of Defense the authority to potentially call up members of what's called the Individual Ready Reserve. These are former active duty service members. When they leave their active service they go into this system. They're rarely called up. it's something that's only been done a few times in history, when there's a real burden on military operations. So it's a rare instance. They have the authority to call them up.

The U.S. Army is also asking for retirees to volunteer to help medical personnel primarily, to volunteer, to help alleviate some of the strain that this coronavirus is putting on the nation's civilian and military medical workers. So these are two efforts that the Trump administration is pursuing. President Trump spoke about it last night.



DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This will allow us to mobilize medical, disaster, and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members, including retirees. We have a lot of people, retirees, great, great military people, they're coming back in, who have offered to support the nation in this extraordinary time of need. (END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWNE: So we'll look forward to seeing what Trump has to say while he's here, but again, this is just the latest of many military efforts to help battle the coronavirus. Victor, Christi?

PAUL: Ryan Browne, appreciate the reporting, thank you.

These Navy hospital ships, they are so impressive. They've brought much needed aid to people around the world. And our next guest has spent time aboard this exact ship, the Comfort. We have retired Rear Admiral John Kirby with us now, a CNN military and diplomatic analyst. So good to see you again, admiral. Thank you for your service, thank you for all you do.

I want to get your perspective on something that Ryan was just talking about there, first of all, that's in the news this morning, that the president may be considering calling up former service members to help in this crisis. Do you think that's a good idea?

REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST: Well, I think it's certainly an option he ought to be considering, absolutely. There is a wealth of talent in the Ready Reserves and the regular Reserves that is designed to be used, and in the case where you don't want to overwhelm the active duty ranks. And remember, the active duty ranks, they've got a 3 million plus force to look after too in the Medical Corps. So this is an option I think that certainly he has available to him and he ought to look at it.

It's not clear right now based on what I've read from the executive order exactly how he's going to use the troops, how many are actually going to be mobilized and where they're going to go. For instance, if you look at the Mercy and the Comfort, the doctors and the nurses and the medical staff on those two ships are actually active duty medical personnel coming from the hospital in San Diego and the hospital Portsmouth, Virginia, respectively. So it could be that you use these reserves to backfill those land hospitals in the Navy. There's all kinds of ways that the president can use them.

PAUL: So I want to get to your expertise in this particular situation since you have been on this ship, on this vessel. Tell me about it. When you walk in, as I understand it, it's 1,000 beds, there are 12 operating rooms here. Talk to us about what it's like. You walk in and you feel like you're in an E.R.?

KIRBY: They are a -- it's an immense hospital. When you walk in, there's no question, as soon as you get aboard that ship that you're on a hospital ship. They are old oil tankers that were built in the 1970s, and in the 80s, the mid-80s, converted to hospital ships. They're about three football fields long, 10 stories high. The only ships that we have in the Navy that are bigger than these are aircraft carriers, so they're enormous. And they have tremendous capability, about 1,000 bed capability, as you rightly said, and they take about 1,200 personnel, medical staff, and crew.

They're crewed by civilian mariners, and they're just tremendous assets. We have used them in Desert Storm, the Comfort was used in the Haiti earthquake. The Mercy was used in the Indonesia tsunami back in 2005. And so they have lots of real world practical experience. And what they're designed for is mostly trauma medicine because they're built to support combat operations and humanitarian relief operations.

But talking to Navy officials last night, they have altered the kind of medical personnel that they put on board because they don't think they're going to be seeing quite so much trauma. They're going to be seeing more internal medicine type normal patients, so they have actually altered the kind of medical service personnel that they put on board the Comfort and the Mercy to deal with the kinds of cases that they think they're going to see in Los Angeles and in New York.

PAUL: So we're hearing that we're going to hear from the president as well, about 1:00 today is what's expected. As a former retired service member, knowing where he's going to be there at the shipyard, what do you think the armed service members need to hear from the president today?

KIRBY: I'm glad he's going, quite frankly. And I know he's going to be staying away from the ship so he doesn't pierce the bubble around the ship in terms of their ability not to have any disruptions or infections. And I think what they need to hear is that he's proud of them, that he's going to make sure that they have all the resources that they need to get the job done because we don't know how long they're going to be in New York or in Los Angeles, quite frankly, and that they are supported not only by him but by the American people. And I think that's a powerful message. And again, I'm glad he's going.


You know, Christi, I talked to Navy officials last night, and they told me without question that the crew on both ships and the medical staff are very, very excited about this mission. Not that they wish this on anybody, of course, this virus, but the morale is sky high. They're very happy to be doing this, and they want to really contribute, they want to help their fellow American citizens out. So I think this is an important time for obviously these two cities, important for the country, but also important for these individuals to go and execute and do the kinds of missions and the tasks that they've been trained to do.

PAUL: We're always so encouraged by your and their enthusiasm to serve and to serve this country in any possible way. John Kirby, appreciate your service, appreciate you. Thank you so much.

KIRBY: Thank you, Christi.

PAUL: So every day medical professionals nationwide are risking their lives, obviously to help stop this pandemic. Don't think for a second that it's going unnoticed.




PAUL: Listen to that. Our producer, Vanessa, who we love, captured and took part in this incredible moment. This was in Atlanta last night. And throughout the week, neighbors cheered on -- that's what you're hearing there, the cheers for hospital workers as they went in and out of work. It's a small gesture. You hear them calling "USA." A small gesture there to thank all of you for your hard work and your sacrifice. We can't imagine what's it's like for you, what you are dealing with and what are seeing what you're taking home with you, but we are with you, and we stand by you, and we appreciate you, and we want you to know that.

BLACKWELL: Yes, thank you for the work you do.

Coming up, the president has enacted this $2 trillion now relief law to help the U.S. economy, to help families. We'll tell you where the money is going, when you could see some of the money from the government. That's coming up next.

PAUL: And we are consistently learning more about coronavirus, including how it spreads, who's affected. We're going to get answers to some of your latest questions next.



BLACKWELL: Back now to that aid package, the largest in U.S. history. President Trump signed this $2 trillion stimulus into law after a couple of days of negotiations on Capitol Hill. Question now, is this enough, when will you see some of the money? Let's go to Sarah Westwood in Washington with some insight. So let's start with those two questions, with a good morning to you.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Good morning, Victor and Christi. Whether this big is big enough to stave off economic disaster is the big question. We've heard administration officials suggest that this was modelled after a 10 to 12 week scenario, meaning that if the outbreak, if the economic fallout lasts longer than those three months, then Congress might have to pass another stimulus bill.

But even so, this is the largest stimulus bill ever passed in American history, so a historic milestone we saw on Capitol Hill yesterday. I want to walk you through just a little bit of what's in this $2 trillion bill. There's a component to help individuals, to help families, and also parts of the bill that help businesses. The $250 billion from that bill will be those direct payments to individuals, to families, $350 billion will be loans to small businesses, and $500 billion will be loans for distressed companies.

I also want to break down a little bit of who is going to be eligible for those direct payments from the government right now. Americans earning $75,000 or less can expect to see $1,200 appear in their bank account or come in a check in the mail in the weeks ahead. Married couples who together earn $150,000 or less, they can expect to get $2,400. Parents can also expect to get $500 per child. That's where the administration is getting this estimate that they keep putting forward about a typical family of four. If you earned $99,000 as an individual or $198,000 as a couple or more, you will be phased out of those payments, so you won't be eligible.

The other big question that you mentioned, Victor, when will Americans expect to see those checks? That is still up in the air. On Wednesday Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin said that three weeks from the day that the bill is signed is when the administration is hoping to get the checks out, but it's not clear that they will be able to execute something that quickly. The IRS will be doing this massive undertaking, getting these direct payments to Americans in the weeks ahead, Victor and Christi.

PAUL: Sarah Westwood, appreciate the update and the walk through. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: With us to talk about the stimulus is Democratic Congressman Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico, serves as assistant speaker under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I want to talk about the stimulus, talk about New Mexico, a few other things. Congressman, thank you so much for being with us.

REP. BEN RAY LUJAN (D-NM): Good to be with you, Victor. Good morning to you.

BLACKWELL: Good morning to you. Let's start here, the $2.2 trillion stimulus law is less than a day old and already some are talking about the next $1 trillion. Governors, I heard mayor Bowser in D.C. say there's not enough money to compensate for their shortfalls. Is it time to talk about the next stimulus, the next relief bill?

LUJAN: It absolutely is time for those conversations to begin, understanding that this package, which I would describe more as a relief package to all of the impacted small businesses, individuals across America, local governments as well, states that are picking up the bear of this responsibility, we have a great governor in New Mexico, Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is at the helm and making those tough decisions, but leading us in a great way. But this package as well as the previous clip just showed is important to help people that have been negatively impacted with those direct payments, with the increase in the unemployment insurance.


And Victor, one thing important to note is when Mitch McConnell first authored his package, that was not in there, there was not enough effort to focus on hardworking families across the country. And that's why I was so proud to work with Speaker Pelosi and Leader Schumer, and my Democratic colleagues in the House, ultimately earning bipartisan support to make a positive difference.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about that amount of money, $1,200 for each individuals, $2,400 for couples, of course with some income caps. Is that enough now considering there will be weeks until potentially people get it. And $1,200 really doesn't go as far in California where the median monthly cost for people with a mortgage is about $2,300, and in, let's say, West Virginia, it's less than $1,000. Was it enough?

LUJAN: Victor, when Republicans were suggesting $1,000, many of us on our side of the aisle said that that would not be enough and that we needed not just one payment but we needed to figure out how to make sure that we were providing support to families. People lost their jobs through no fault of their own. The coronavirus has spread across the country. We're seeing governors make those tough decisions about sheltering in place and small business closures and schools that have been closed and children at home with their families. That was not through their fault, and that's why we need to provide the support directly to these hardworking families.

BLACKWELL: Should there be another payment? Should there be another $1,200, or $1,500?

LUJAN: What's that, Victor?

BLACKWELL: Should there be another $1,200, or $1,500 or $2,000 considering the difference in cost of living across this country?

LUJAN: Look, Victor, I'm on the side that we need to make sure that we look to maximize how much we can get direct payments to people, whatever that amount is. I'm open to that. But we need to not just do it once. It needs to be done a few times, especially with all the forecasts surrounding the coronavirus.

Here in New Mexico we saw the numbers uptick from yesterday to today. In New York we're see seeing the numbers grow dramatically as well in different parts of the country. And so, absolutely, the Congress needs to begin those conversations, and I can tell you that Speaker Pelosi has already been bringing committee chairs together to have conversations.

BLACKWELL: Congressman, let me jump in here, because we're running low on time, and you mentioned the uptick in New Mexico. And let me ask you, what is happening there, because there's been a 40 percent increase in cases in a single day? The numbers, raw numbers still pretty low, up to 191 now with one death, just ran numbers on a list, New Mexico is near the bottom. But is this a new hot spot in the country?

LUJAN: We're not seeing the thousands in other states in New Mexico. Our governor has done an excellent job in maximizing how we can get people tested. And we're seeing in a large state like New Mexico geographically the governor has spread those areas to get tested regionally with the focus of trying to get set up in every one of our 33 counties. And so there are areas where we're seeing more cases. But nonetheless, New Mexico is in the same position as all other parts of America. This is spreading, and that's why New Mexico and small states as well, we need to make sure that we have the tools that are necessary to test, to provide safety to our health care workers and everyone on the front lines as well.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you, finally, about the election. You are running for Senate there. Experts, there's a new piece up on of experts warning about how coronavirus could jeopardize the integrity of the 2020 election. If this does not calm down, stretches into, November there could be an effort to delay the election. There would be a flood of lawsuits, a constitutional crisis. What are you doing in the House to protect the 2020 election as we've seen delays in the primary season already?

LUJAN: Well, I can tell you from the very beginning, from the Russian hacks to defending our democracy, Democrats have been leading the initiative to make sure that we're securing our elections. And most recently it was Democrats in the House and the Senate that have been advocating for all the security vote by mail initiatives to get ready there. And so our secretary of state, she has been sending notices out. She's been planning. She's a leader among secretaries of state across the country, Maggie Toulouse Oliver. And so we're getting ready. And it's going to be incumbent for all of us to work together across the country to make sure that we have this election in November. And President Trump doesn't try to find a way or an excuse to cancel this election. We have to defend our democracy --

BLACKWELL: More than saying, Congressman, that you're getting ready, and I don't know, we're figuring out this new Cisco effort, I don't know if you can hear me when I jump in. I apologize for that.


BLACKWELL: More than simply saying you're getting ready, what are you doing to make sure that this election will happen in November and on time?

LUJAN: So our Secretary of State in New Mexico, Maggie Toulouse Oliver, has been reaching out to officials. She's a leader among secretaries of state across the country. And we are preparing to see what needs to be done to have strong vote by mail. We have that in New Mexico. And we need to spreading that across the country.


But it's incumbent upon Congress to make sure the secretaries of states continue to get the investments. And there was a provision in the package that was being proposed, but it still required a match by secretaries of states. We need to shore that up to make sure that we're able to defend and protect our elections, and that it happens in November.

BLACKWELL: Representative Ben Ray Luhan of New Mexico, thank you so much for being with us.

LUJAN: Thank you, Victor.

PAUL: Doctors and nurses across the country are sounding the alarm, saying they need more personal protective equipment. They're worried about what it's going to mean not just for their patients but for their own families. If they don't get this, what does this mean? We're going to speak to an E.R. physician about her conditions and ask the questions that you've sent us. Stay close.


PAUL: It's 34 minutes past the hour, we're following some breaking news out of New York right now. Some of the hospital staff at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx are protesting right now over the lack of protective equipment. We know health care workers there and across the country have been treating COVID-19 patients amid these shortages of masks, gloves and ventilators. Frustration is understandably running high as they put themselves and their families at risk every day.

BLACKWELL: We have now Dr. Leana Wen, emergency room physician and former Baltimore City health commissioner. Dr. Wen, good morning to you, good to see you again.


So let's start here. And Christi talked about the breaking news in New York, the protests over PPE. There was an interesting, shall we say, suggestion that was -- or reference that was made by Tennessee Health Department of potential replacements for some PPE. We've heard about bandannas. I want you to hear what was mentioned in a webinar by the state health department, and then we'll talk about it.


DR. MICHELLE FISCUS, TENNESSEE IMMUNIZATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR: You may have to come up with some alternatives to surgical masks, because they just have not been widely available. So you can get bandannas. I have seen reports in other countries of people using diapers. They have handy Velcro side tabs that can be sometimes stretched around the head.


BLACKWELL: Diapers as PPE. First, how did we get here that that's even part of the conversation? And your response to the simple recommendation that this could be some type of protection?

WEN: I can't believe what I'm hearing. This is totally shocking. We are health care professionals and we know what the medical standard of care should be. We've trained learning that for patients with respiratory illnesses, we should be wearing a full N95 respiratory mask and gowns and goggles. And then we were told that we're running low on these particular respiratory masks, so use surgical masks. And then we're told that these single-use masks now have to be used multiple times or even multiple days, and that health care professionals have to secure our own equipment.

I have my colleagues all across the country who are begging over social media to have families and friends purchase things from Lowes and try to cut garbage bags to make their gowns. And now we're hearing that we're supposed to use bandanas and diapers that are totally unproven and in fact are dangerous. This is dangerous not only for the nurse and doctor and frontline providers, it's also dangerous for patients because if frontline providers are infected or were using masks and gowns that are not authorized and are actually carrying the virus, then we're also spreading it to other people, too.

And I think you asked the right the question, how did we get to this point? We saw what happened in China, We saw what happened in Italy, we knew that this was coming our way. And I would like to see the federal government take this seriously and say we need to ramp up production all across the country. We can't wait until we're running out of masks and gowns before we say that health care workers are our frontline providers. And the least we could do is protect their lives so that we can continue to save patients all across the country.

PAUL: Dr. Wen, I'd like to get to some of our viewer questions as we've been inundated with an awful lot of questions from people. First of all, "Are there different COVID-19 genotypes? It's perplexing why two equally well people can get such different intensity illness." Is that because of the illness or is that because of the individual?

WEN: So we know that COVID-19 is relatively new, it's been around for just over three months, and there's a lot we don't know yet about the illness. It does appear that people get different severity of illness, that most people do get a milder form of illness that do not require hospitalization but some people become very ill. It seems that this is related to a person's underlying medical condition, although we also know that healthy people, young people could get ill too. There are still a lot of studies out there that are looking at exactly why that's the case, and we need to await new research. But in the meantime, everyone should know no one is immune from COVID-19, and that's why we should take this seriously, not only to protect the most vulnerable, but also to protect ourselves and everyone around us, too.

BLACKWELL: Here's another question before we go. "It makes sense for the virus to be spread by cough or sneeze, but how does a person who is asymptomatic spread the virus?"

WEN: The virus is also present in our mucus, in our saliva, and so people who are not actively coughing and sneezing onto other people can still spread it, too.


So here are the things that everyone should keep in mind. Wash your hands very well with soap and water. We keep on talking about this, but this is critical. Stop touching your face as much as possible. Practice social distancing because the virus is spread from person to person, including, as the viewer mentioned, from asymptomatic people, people with mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. And so keep at least six feet away from others. And do not gather in groups. In fact, don't go for play dates and parties and celebrations at all. This is a time for us to practice face time instead of face-to-face time.

PAUL: Dr. Leana Wen, so grateful for your insight, thank you for being here.

WEN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: A new program in New Orleans is providing meals for emergency workers, and restaurant workers are getting paid to do it. We'll talk to Chef's Brigade cofounder next.



PAUL: I know the world looks really different right now, and it sounds different. Have you noticed that? There's so much silence and emptiness from the streets of New York to the towers of Paris.

BLACKWELL: We've shown you the pictures of deserted public places. This is where we are now, a world frozen, silence. Watch this.





BLACKWELL: Health care workers, first responders treating coronavirus patients, they're living out of vending machines. They really don't have time to stop for a full meal. But there's a group in New Orleans who wants to make sure that the community helpers, the people working there, do not go hungry.

PAUL: There's a pilot program called Chef's Brigade that launched this week, and it's providing meals to the emergency workers, and restaurant employees get paid through all this.

BLACKWELL: With us now on the phone, Troy Gilbert, cofounder of Chef's Brigade in New Orleans. Troy, good to have you. Good work you're doing. What inspired you to do it?

TROY GILBERT, CO-FOUNDER, CHEF'S BRIGADE, NOLA: I'm good friends with a lot of restaurant owners, and so I was getting a lot of direct information about what was actually happening to these restaurants during this thing. And so these being good friends of mine, I just started -- I was drinking wine on my back porch and just mulling over the problem. That's actually how it originated, 13 days ago.

PAUL: Thirteen days ago. So what have you been able to do since then, and how does it work?

GILBERT: So what we've done is, with the current situation, first responders not being able to get meals, hot meals like you were saying earlier, eating out of vending machines, and once this thing really goes south, we have to look at the amount of people these hospitals are going to be handling. So the cafeterias at hospitals are set up to feed whatever, say 200 patients and 100 staff, whatever it actually is. Within the coming weeks that's probably going to be 10 times that number.

Outside the hospitals, what are you going to have out there? You're going to have National Guardsmen, you're going to have NOPD, you're going to have military MASH units, you're going to have federal and state agents. Who's going to feed these people? So the concept is -- a single restaurant couldn't actually do this. So what we've done is we've taken our restaurants and bundled them together and to a kind of force multiplier. So we take 10 restaurants, put them together as a brigade, and point them directly at a distribution point. Each of those restaurants is capable of -- or is responsible for three meals a week, and turn it on, and suddenly we are producing, those 10 restaurants are producing 3,000 meals a week.

BLACKWELL: Wow. Wow. Let me ask you this, before we let you go. You call this a tourniquet for the culinary industry, restaurant industry. Tell us how.

GILBERT: We don't have a lot of money. We're crowdsourcing this right now. So we're trying to build just a little bit of a financial bridge, kind of a low financial current to these restaurants to be a bridge to help supplement what they're doing right now with takeout business and get them to the SBA loans. So the brigade system is totally scalable. And if we set up 15 brigades, basically our output would be 45,000 meals a week. And I could actually literally set up 10 brigades, or 15 brigades by next Wednesday, pumping out and turn it on, 45,000 meals a week.

PAUL: This is so smart, because not only are you helping the people that are in the middle of this crisis, who are trying to help these patients, but you're helping these restaurants and pay people who need that as well. Kudos to you, Troy Gilbert, thank you so much for taking time to talk to us. We wish you the very best. Go ahead.


BLACKWELL: Let me jump in here before we let you go. Very quickly, if people want to donate where can they do it? You've got five seconds.

PAUL: Yes.

GILBERT: Chefs Brigade,, dot-org, yes. Chefs Brigade

BLACKWELL: Got to save time for that. Thank you, Troy.

PAUL: Absolutely. Good luck, Troy, thank you so much.

GILBERT: Thanks, you all.

PAUL: So that's one way that you can help. If you're looking for others way to impact your community and help people who are affected by the coronavirus, you can visit our website at We appreciate everything that you are doing to help all of these folks.

Thank you so much for watching. We hope that you go out there and make good memories today.

BLACKWELL: Much more ahead in the next hour of CNN's Newsroom with Fredricka Whitfield up next.