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New York and New Jersey See Highest Single-Day Death Toll from Coronavirus; Frontline Doctors Face COVID-19 Surge; 6.6 Million Americans Filed Jobless Claims Last Week; Officials Concerned About Spikes of COVID-19 in D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia; New York and New Jersey See Highest Single-Day Death Toll; Democrats and GOP Clash Over $250 Billion Small Business Relief Bill. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired April 09, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


The country is now barreling toward what is believed to be the peak of this pandemic, and hitting sadly another day of record deaths. Nearly 2,000 people died yesterday in the United States alone from coronavirus. And as we see some, some signs of light here in New York, the Coronavirus Task Force is worried about what they're seeing in other major cities, pointing to a spike in cases in Washington, D.C. and in and around Philadelphia.

In areas with fewer infection, governors credit strict stay-at-home orders, some extending those orders out of fear that going back to, quote, "normal" will drive the numbers right back up -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and that's what's working, the social distancing is working.


SCIUTTO: Saving lives. Still, CNN is learning that the president's aides are in talks about plans already to reopen the economy as soon as May and the federal government is now adding to the list of responsibilities for states saying that it will end federal funding for the test sites that are so sorely needed to get a handle on the real scope of this pandemic. Many cases being missed out there because of so few tests.

Other news we're following this morning, another record-breaking week for the economy, a sad one, frankly, 6.6 million Americans filing new jobless claims just in the last seven days, making it 16.5 million over the past three weeks.

We're covering this story across the country. Let's begin, though, with CNN national correspondent Athena Jones in New York. And Athena, yes, some positive signs that social distancing is slowing

the rate of growth in effect, but on the other hand, some of the deadliest days New York has seen.

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim, that's right. Another day, another sad record. New York reporting the most -- the largest number of deaths in a single day for the second day in a row. Another grim milestone the state has reached is that this state, New York state, with over 150,000 cases of coronavirus, has more cases than any country in the world. Even hard hit Spain and Italy.

But there are signs that New York may be turning a corner because we're continuing to see hospitalizations fall. The three-day average of hospitalizations continues to fall and so the hope is that this will continue in this direction, but what you hear from Governor Andrew Cuomo who we'll be getting an update from just a couple of hours and also from the White House coronavirus task force and others is that this is working.

Social distancing is working to flatten the curve, but we have to keep doing it. Now is not the time to let up. Now is not the time to relax these restrictions because that is precisely what is working and needs to be continued.

One more thing that's interesting to note and that we've been talking about for the last couple of days is this data about racial disparities and the coronavirus' impact and that is something that we're seeing not just in New York, but also in other states like Louisiana, Illinois, Michigan. In New York, the numbers also show a disparity, although it's not as great as in some places.

Blacks and Hispanics and here in New York City make up 62 percent of the reported fatalities. But they only account for about half of the city's population. So this is something that the governor has said he's concerned about. He has called for state to begin increasing testing in minority communities to try to get to the bottom of this, to try to better understand how the virus is impacting them.

One thing that folks have noted, there's been a lot of blacks and Hispanics in the city in particular work in these front line essential jobs. Bus drivers, subway drivers, food preparation, that sort of thing. These are not people who have the luxury of staying home and kind of sheltering in place sort of thing. They have to take public transportation which is often crowded. So that could be part of it in terms of the racial disparities.

One more important note that we've discovered from reporting just over the last couple of days, a new study released by Mount Sinai shows that according to researchers who have looked at the genome, the genes of the coronavirus infections here in New York, that the infections here came not from China, but most likely from Europe, or from other parts of the United States. And so that is pretty interesting indication about where this virus began.

HARLOW: Athena, thank you very, very much on all fronts. Joining us are doctors from two of the hardest hit hospitals in the

country right now, Dr. Vasantha Kondamudi, chief medical officer at the Brooklyn Hospital Center right here in New York, and Dr. Daniel Varga. chief physician executive at Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey.

Dr. Kondamudi, let me begin with you because just such a stark description of what you're dealing with at your hospital from "The New York Times, " quote, "There were patients in their 80s, in their 30s, patients from nursing homes, patients who had no homes, pregnant women, some of whom would not be conscious when their babies were delivered to increase their odds of surviving to raise their children." That is what you're facing right now.

DR. VASANTHA KONDAMUDI, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, THE BROOKLYN HOSPITAL CENTER: That's true. That's right. We have been very, very busy with this endemic for the past almost five weeks.


It started with a surge in the emergency department, followed by increased hospitalization and finally now we are -- a lot of patients in our intensive care units. Yes, we are dealing with different age groups, even though majority of them are elderly and vulnerable populations, but we do have some of the younger ones, including -- we have seen three pregnant ladies suffering with COVID and thank God that they all have successfully came out and recovered, and the babies are doing well, as well as the pregnant ladies.

Yes, I mean, you know, being in the inner city hospital, we do face a lot of challenges with the space and with the, you know, equipment and the staffing and various other things.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Varga, given that New Jersey has actually seen its estimated death toll rise, whereas in other places you see some of the estimates come down, I just wonder what your reaction is when, as there is evidence of flattening the curve because of social distancing, when you already begin to hear folks, officials, the White House talking about relaxing these social distancing restrictions as soon as next month, what is your reaction as you continue to treat cases there?

DR. DANIEL VARGA. CHIEF PHYSICIAN EXECUTIVE, HACKENSACK MERIDIAN HEALTH: Well, I mean, we're clearly a touch behind New York in terms of our timeline. We have been lucky in the last three weeks or so where we have gone from kind of mid-double digits, you know, 15 percent or so daily increases down to the low single digits. So, you know, while New York is actually seeing declines, we're seeing a significant slowing in the increase.

And we're in no way shape or form up for relaxing social distancing or anything else. I mean, it's clearly making a difference for us here in New Jersey. We are really stretched and our hospital capacity, in our staffing capacity and our PPE and everything else. And we've got something that seems to be working and we're still strongly committed to it. HARLOW: Dr. Kondamudi, we heard in the last week or so Jared Kushner

who works closely with the president talk about calls that the president was getting from friends in New York saying the public hospitals there, you're one of them, are very low on supplies, they don't have enough, and that Kushner said that resulted in the president getting some supplies directly to Mayor de Blasio to get to the hospitals.

Let me set aside for a moment the concerns about sort of that way of getting supplies to people, the most important thing is that they get to those who need it. Have you gotten those supplies in the last week or two?

KONDAMUDI: Absolutely. Actually three days ago we got almost seven days supplies, 1500 PPEs and we're very thankful for that.

HARLOW: You have enough?

KONDAMUDI: Yes, we have enough for five more days, I would say, yes. And also, you know, overwhelming response from the community with the donations and have been getting a lot of supplies in that way.

SCIUTTO: Yes, not a big margin there, but it is good to hear you're getting supplies. And we are hear something anecdotal evidence of that as we speak to doctors around the country.

Dr. Varga, before we go, how should people who are listening at home in the state of New Jersey, of course, that is facing this, but also other states that haven't seen a big number of cases yet, how should they process the news as they hear, hey, wait a second, you know, the national death toll may be lower than some of the worst forecasts. Social distancing is working.

How should they process that? Should they say, well, you know, this is going to lift soon or that what's happening now is working?

VARGA: So anything that gives us hope and optimism that the death toll is going to be lower, I take as exceptional good news. And if that's linked to the interventions we're taking and I think we all do believe that it's linked to the interventions we're taking, then my strong message to everyone would be stay home, wash your hands, stay locked down, and let's get through this together.



SCIUTTO: Well, listen, Dr. Kondamudi, Dr. Varga, we appreciate the work you're doing. We know you're facing risks yourselves every day, and we wish you and we wish your patients good luck.

VARGA: Thank you.

KONDAMUDI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: There is breaking news this morning on another story we've been following and perhaps affects some of you, many of you who are watching. Personally. 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits just in the last week.


Poppy, I mean, these numbers, every week, they've literally never been seen before in this country.

HARLOW: No. They never have been seen. Let's put it all into context. Our chief business correspondent Christine Romans is with us.

That is, Christine, more than 16 million jobless claims in the last three weeks and as you have been rightly pointing out, it's even worse than that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Yes, because the states can't process all of these claims, right? So when you look at a labor force in March that was 162 million people and you take 16.7 million out, that's 10 percent of the American labor market that has lost its jobs just in the last three weeks. And the number, the unemployment rate is probably much higher than that. Maybe 14 percent, maybe higher, because they can't even process all of these claims.

Now the state unemployment offices tell us that eventually you will get your jobless benefits and it will be retroactive to the day that you lost your job. That has been very frustrating for millions and millions of Americans because simply the system wasn't built for this much job loss. When you look at a line chart of jobless claims, you can see that jobless claims are averaging 200,000 or something a week for a long, long time.

And then that spike, it actually distorts the graphic because we have seen such a disruption, such a collapse in the American labor market here. And when I look at what kinds of jobs are being lost, this started in hotels, and in restaurants and in bars but is spread throughout the economy here, small and midsized businesses, really hammered here, and they are still waiting for their bailout money from the federal government as well.

And, Jim, you recall from last week, we saw healthcare lose jobs for the first time in ages. A lot of doctor's offices actually are laying people off.


ROMANS: Because if it's not an emergency situation, a lot of dentist offices have closed, any kind of elective surgery has been shut down, so even healthcare, which is such an important part of the economy, is losing jobs now.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Christine, put that graphic back up on the screen. What's amazing there, when you look at the spike in jobless claims, it makes 2008, which we talk about in such apocalyptic terms because it was difficult.

ROMANS: Yes. SCIUTTO: It's barely a blip when you look at those numbers. Just very

quickly before we go, Christine, a lot of these hopefully are furloughed workers, rather than workers let go.


SCIUTTO: But I suppose we don't really have a way of measuring how many of these jobs come back because it depends on if these businesses can survive.

ROMANS: And those furloughed workers is really important because that shows a confidence in the economy coming back. You have some companies, a lot of retailers in fact, and hotels and others who have put their employees on furlough, which means they're going to keep their health insurance through their company, the government is going to pay these enhanced unemployment benefits and those companies want those workers on their books so that when this thing is said and done, they can get back up to speed.


ROMANS: So that's really important for how well the economy recovers eventually.

SCIUTTO: Well, we want to see that. We do. And we know a lot of folks who are watching right now are going through this or someone in their family is going through this and we certainly wish you the best of luck going forward.

Christine, thanks so much as always.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, officials are worried that cities such as Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. could see major spikes in coronavirus cases in the coming days and weeks. We're going to be live. Plus, an ICU nurse says this feels like a war. An inside look at what life is like for those workers who are dealing with patients every day.

HARLOW: And in China, the government is using surveillance to track coronavirus patients and pretty much everyone else to stop the spread of the virus. Obviously A lot of questions about that. We'll address it ahead.



POPPY HARLOW, CO-ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: The White House coronavirus taskforce is worried about a spike in cases they're seeing in Washington, Baltimore and in and around Philadelphia. The warning coming --


HARLOW: As the mayor of D.C. issues a series of new social distancing guidelines.

SCIUTTO: This is the thing about this, right? When one area gets it under control, of course, the worry is, where does it pop up again? CNN's Suzanne Malveaux, she joins us now from our nation's capital. Suzanne, what is the city doing to prepare -- I mean, to some degree, it's been a long time coming, you know, given Washington D.C.'s proximity to New York City and other places that have already had spikes.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the area has had some time to prepare, but also, they really kind of gearing up in high gear if you will, we heard from the D.C. mayor saying, look, she believes that one in seven residents of D.C. will actually be impacted and come down with a coronavirus. We heard from Dr. Birx of the White House Corona taskforce saying that this is the next hotspots.

So, how are they preparing with all of this? You have the mayor who certainly has issued the order stay at home, order social distancing. You have the governor of Maryland who is setting up these strike teams to deal with potential outbreaks and nursing homes and group homes. And you also have the governor of Virginia postponing the primary, congressional primary races at least for another couple of weeks.

So there are some things that they are already doing. This is fondly called the DMV, for those of us who grew up in this area, representing D.C., Maryland and Virginia. And Washington D.C. really has a great hospital center, one of them, of course, is the one that is behind me here, that it was Howard University Hospital, it specifically serves the underserved primarily the poverty-stricken areas, the seventh and eighth wards, predominantly the African-American community.

We've been talking a lot about the disparities in healthcare as well as the ravaging impact of the coronavirus on a particular community. And this morning, I had a chance to talk to the president of Howard University, Dr. Wayne Frederick; a medical doctor himself, who says that this center and this hospital is a part of the unit and part of the facilities that will be on the front lines of dealing with the disease. The mayor has reached out into directly to assess what the situation is, it's going to be in the community and take action. Take a listen.



WAYNE FREDERICK, PRESIDENT, HOWARD UNIVERSITY: So, the D.C. Department of Health has been very good about giving us information to the mayor's office. And what they're looking at is a potential surge that's going to occur anywhere between the next two to six weeks. A wide range and that range will require at least a thousand more beds in the city and that's what we're preparing for.


MALVEAUX: And the hospital will at least provide about 150 additional beds, they'll open up another wing at the hospital and a triage center, big tent in front, we're already looking at about 10,000, more than 10,000 cases in this region. Poppy, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Ten thousand, goodness. It spreads so quickly, everybody has to remain on alert for this. Suzanne Malveaux, thanks very much. CNN's Alex Marquardt, he is in Philadelphia. Alex, Philadelphia on that list of other cities expecting a spike in cases, vice president warning, it's turning into, quote, "an area of particular concern." Tell us what the numbers are like now, and is Philadelphia prepared for this?

ALEX MARQUARDT, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the taskforce really sounding the alarm, Jim, as you say, indicating that it could be the next potential hotspot. The Vice President saying that this is, as you say, an area of particular concern. He has spoken with the governor about getting more resources here. He has also said that now more than ever, Philadelphia needs to enact social distancing, an indication that they don't feel that this city is taking that measure nearly seriously enough.

Now, Dr. Deborah Birx who is actually from the area, she says that there is some 1,400 new cases every day, and that is what is giving them that cause of concern. But Jim, that's where we're starting to see a break-down between what the federal government is seeing and the local authorities are seeing, is on the numbers. Local authorities are actually saying that the number of daily increases is slowing.

They say that the picture is not as grim as the federal government -- the taskforce is painting it out to be. The Philadelphia Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, he said, quote, "Philadelphia like other large cities in northeast has been hit hard by the epidemic. I doubt that Dr. Deborah Birx is looking at numbers as updated as we are. I'm glad she's concerned about Philadelphia, but at the moment, things are looking a bit better."

So the Philadelphia authority saying that they do have more updated numbers than the federal authorities. They're not saying that it is plateauing. They're not saying that it is -- that it's growing. They're simply saying the numbers are slowing down. No one is disputing that there is a cause for concern here, Jim, but we are following that difference in the approach to do the different sets of numbers as we follow this city. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, that's relief to hear. Alex Marquardt in Philadelphia, thanks very much.

HARLOW: Well, New York remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak at least in the United States. More than 151,000 cases and over 6,000 deaths here alone. Simone Hannah-Clark is an intensive care nurse at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital. And you may recognize that name because she wrote a powerful opinion piece this week in "The New York Times" saying that this feels like a war.

And she takes us through her unimaginable days and details the grim reality of losing a patient. Here is part of it. "We wrap the patient's body securely, stroking her brow and wishing her well in her next journey. My colleague removes her jewelry carefully, we know her daughter will want it. I have to collect her belongings because security isn't allowed to come into the room. It moves me to see her wallet, her planner, her toiletries, only a week ago, she was a person with a future, with plans, with cherry-flavored lip balm."

Simone Hannah Clark is with me. Good morning. It's hard to read that, again, even though I've read it a dozen times, that's what life is like for you every day.

SIMONE HANNAH-CLARK, INTENSIVE CARE UNIT NURSE IN NEW YORK: Yes, it's pretty grim. Yes, it does feel like a war to us. I hesitated to use that analogy because war is not a joke, but it really does.

HARLOW: One of the other things that was so striking in your piece, you said, you know, "this feels like a war, I grudgingly respect our enemy's tenacity, unseen, ruthless and random." What do you want people to know about the -- the reality of day in and day out, because we're all calling you heroes because you are. But what is not getting enough attention right now?

HANNAH-CLARK: Well, we're in our little bubble in the hospital, and I feel like it's so intense to us and it's so serious to us. But I don't know if everybody understands how serious this is and how important it is to stay home. To stop this tenacious enemy of ours. The fact that, you know, it appears it can spread when you're asymptomatic, you know, that's why everyone has to stay home and treat themselves like they are -- with COVID-19, that's how I treat myself and actually everybody around me.


HARLOW: You talk about waking up obviously so early in the morning, and leaving for work in the dark and coming home from work in the dark, and walking into your house and, you know, not even being able to greet your husband or your two children with a hug because the first thing you have to do is race -- you know, strip off your clothes and race to the shower to disinfect.

Can you just talk about emotionally what that's like and the toll that's taken on you and what it's like for your family?

HANNAH-CLARK: Yes, I mean, like every single healthcare worker does the same thing, yes, that I do. And we do talk about it with each other. I mean, I think, look, when you work in a hospital, when you work in intensive care unit, you're used to a certain level of that kind of thing. High stress, people dying, very sick patients. But this is just -- everyone has the same thing, the patients keep coming, there is more death, there is more.

So, yes, emotionally, there is a lot of anxiety. But you know, my colleagues and I -- we talk to each other, we joke around, we really try and like keep it together. But yes, it is definitely an anxious time.

HARLOW: Do you ever -- do you ever, Simone, wake up in the morning and think for a moment at least, that this is just a nightmare? That maybe that isn't the reality that you're walking into again?

HANNAH-CLARK: Yes, there is definitely a surreal aspect to this whole thing. Yes, sure, I wake up and you sort of forget for a second, but then it comes crushing back.

HARLOW: Yes, I guess the final thing I would ask you is some glimmer of hope, are there things that you see and hear from patients, from your fellow nurses and doctors that give you a little bit of hope?

HANNAH-CLARK: Yes, I mean, just being around other people that I work with here are also brilliant and amazing, and we come up with ideas. I mentioned in my article, like hegs(ph) that help preserve our PPE and like brilliant things that my fellow nurses and doctors and healthcare workers come up with. That gives me hope, and you know, we're a great team. So, I just -- I know that whatever comes, we will get through it.

HARLOW: Thank you for what you're doing every day. And thanks for writing this. I hope anyone who hasn't read it should read it. Good luck to you. Thanks, Simone.

HANNAH-CLARK: Thanks, bye.


SCIUTTO: Doctors are giving us some of those moving accounts from the front of all this. Other news we're following, with lawmakers scattered across the country today, the Senate will try to pass additional funding for small businesses. But it might not be easy and we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. We're going to see how investors will react to the latest jobless claim numbers, again, just off the charts, 6.6 million additional Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits last week.

The same number from the week before since the economy came to a grinding halt just over three weeks ago. More than 16.5 million Americans have filed for jobless benefits.