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White House Rejects CDC Guidelines for Business Reopenings; Dr. Richard Besser, Former CDC Acting Director, Discusses White House Rejecting CDC/Task Force Reopening Guidelines, White House Ending CDC Briefings, White House Downplaying Need for Testing; FDA Clears Moderna for Phase 2 of Coronavirus Vaccine Trial; Valet to President Trump Tests Positive for Coronavirus; 3.2 Million New Unemployment Claims Filed Last Week; U.K. Central Bank Warns of Worst Slump in 300 Years. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 07, 2020 - 11:00   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

The White House is making it very clear they want to see states reopen. So why, then, are they rejecting their own expert's advice on how to do that safely? CNN confirmed the Trump administration has rejected 23 pages of recommendations for safely reopening places like schools, restaurants, other businesses.

Just as a new analysis shows only 13 states are reporting a downward trend in new coronavirus cases over the last 14 days, a key benchmark set by the CDC and the task force for states to meet before reopening.

And 19 states are seeing an upward trend in new cases. Yet, by tomorrow, all those 19 will have started reopening, bringing the overall total to 44 states beginning to open up. None of them meeting all of the CDC guidelines for doing so.

And with the death toll in the United States approaching 75,000 people, President Trump now has this to say about what he understands opening up could mean.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: There seems little question that by beginning the reopening process and continuing it, there will likely be more cases of coronavirus, more deaths than there would have been had everything stayed shut down. Will the nation just have to accept the idea that by reopening, there will be more cases, there will be more deaths?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We can't keep our country closed down for years. And we have to do something. And, hopefully, that won't be the case, Jim, but it could very well be the case.


BOLDUAN: Let's start off with CNN's Nick Valencia.

Nick, why is the White House rejecting those recommendations for safely reopening many aspects of life coming from the CDC?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: We reached out to a task force official with the White House who said the president laid out April 16th guidelines. Those guidelines are what they're going off of.

They didn't directly respond to exactly why they rejected the 17-page document, which they asked the CDC to compile and put together.

There's obviously a lot of frustration, a lot of anger from the CDC officials I've spoken to. They're saying at this point this is nothing new, dealing with the White House through this pandemic response, they're used to the chaos that ensues after they're asked to do something.

This senior official, being very frank, saying, in their opinion, this all has to do with the liability that could be incurred by businesses under the current recommendations.

Over the last week, this 17-page document has been the topic of some intense internal debate specifically between the medical advisers and the business advisers to the president.

Many feeling on the business side that the draft documents would leave businesses vulnerable to lawsuits from workers who may get sick or potentially die from getting COVID-19 at the workplace.

And this, according to the CDC, is very sound public health advice. But late last night it became very clear to the seniors there at the CDC that the White House was not going to implement their guidance.

What they're doing now is they're pivoting and trying to get this to the states and seeing if the states can implement these recommendations.

They're very confused at this point. They feel like they've been getting mixed messages.

I also spoke to Trump officials who said they're not happy over the last several weeks with the work output of the CDC, saying it hasn't been, in some cases, very well thought out.

Just real quick here to wrap up, Kate, this 17-page document, which we first reported about along with our colleague at the White House unit, giving proposed guidelines for things like restaurants, single-use plates, utensils, CDC guidelines for schools, not eating lunch inside, and limiting large gatherings.

Just to wrap this up, Kate, what we're hearing is the Department of Labor had some problems with the business recommendations. Health and Human Services' Office of Human Rights felt like churches were being singled out.

All of this, of course, playing into the White House rejecting these documents, and the CDC very fearful that this could lead to thousands more deaths, potentially -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: And in the absence of that, what guidelines are there?

Thank you, Nick. Great reporting.

Joining me now, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC, and president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Dr. Besser, thank you, as always, for joining me, especially today.

What do you think of this, the White House rejecting safe opening guidelines from the CDC that the White House asked for?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, PRESIDENT & CEO, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION & FORMER ACTING CDC DIRECTOR: Kate, I find it very concerning. You don't want to get into a situation where public health and public health science is set up as the enemy of restarting the economy.

You know, clearly people are suffering. Everyone wants to get back to work. But you need to do it in a way that's safe, that protects workers, protects others in the community.


If you don't do that, front-line essential workers, those who have been getting hit hardest to date, they're going to feel the brunt of this in a big way. As we've talked before, black and Latino workers, they're getting hit very, very hard.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely.

This is also what we're, what we play out, is how the CDC has been sidelined really since the beginning of this pandemic. You especially understand the importance of the CDC in such a crisis.

I want to show everyone, play some video from 11 years ago to the day, as acting CDC director, and you became front and center during the H1N1 crisis because of the hours you spent briefing the public.

Now as you heard from Nick Valencia, CNN reporting is the White House asked the CDC to stop briefing. They wanted the president to be front and center. What is the impact of a decision like that?

BESSER: During a crisis, a public health crisis, one of the most critical success factors is trust. Does the public trust the leaders that leaders, that they are doing things to protect their health?

You get that trust by being transparent, by going with the public health science, by having your public health leaders out there every day answering tough questions from the media so that they're addressing the issues and concerns of the public. We haven't gotten that. We haven't seen CDC out there since March 9th. The guidance they put forward makes a lot of sense. States are looking for this. They're looking for something at the federal level that will give them a template to work off of as they're looking to open different sectors. You don't want to see different things in different states.

And these are the kind of guidelines that would be very helpful in protecting workers and saving lives.

BOLDUAN: The guidelines themselves, as Nick was reporting them out, recommendations like sneeze guards, guards at cash registers, kids in classrooms sitting six feet apart.

But the White House responding, according to Nick's reporting and others, that the guidelines were too restrictive, they were overly specific, and that seemed to be a problem. Does that make sense to you?

BESSER: I think what people are looking for, and what states are looking for, is that kind of specificity. If you're going to go back into a restaurant, if you're going to go to a gym, if someone is going to go back to work in a factory, or get on the subway, they want to know that the precautions are in place to keep them safe.

And they'll know that if they know that they came from the most trusted public health agency in the world, and that's the CDC.

Without that, there's always the concern that things are being done for other than health reasons, for political reasons. The economy and public health don't have to be enemies. It just means investing to make sure that people's lives are protected.

BOLDUAN: Can I ask you, during the H1N1 crisis, was liability for businesses a calculation that you were asked to consider in making recommendations?

BESSER: What we were told was that we should put forward recommendations based on the best available public health science. And they weren't always adopted fully. There were other factors that would go into the decision making.

But we were allowed to be transparent in terms of here's what public health recommends.

And here's why. As we learned more -- because early on, and we're in early days with this pandemic. Early on what you don't know greatly, greatly outnumbers what you do know. So you're going on the best available advice and evidence from experts. And you have to have trust in those experts.

BOLDUAN: You said something that's so important, that we're still early on in the course of fighting this virus. And that leads me to another bit that leads to what you can trust, testing.

The White House press secretary was asked if Americans should feel safe returning to work without widespread testing. Let me play for everyone what the press secretary said yesterday.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: If we tested every single American in this country, at this moment, we would have to retest them an hour later and an hour later after that, because, at any moment, you could theoretically contract this virus.

So the notion that everyone needs to be testing is just simply not nonsensical. The people that need to be tested are vulnerable populations.

We have been strategic with our testing and we have done that so far.


BOLDUAN: No expert has ever suggested testing every single American every hour, for sure. What is the impact of downplaying the need for testing as we have heard the president do, very clearly?

BESSER: I think it's a big mistake. As we move from this setting where everyone is asked to stay home and shelter-in-place to opening up the economy, we have to have enough tests so that even people with mild infection can be tested.

Right now it is vulnerable populations, it is people who are very, very sick to see if they have to go in the hospital.


But as we open up, you want to be able to identify people who are infected very quickly, because even if it's mild and they'll do well, they could spread it to someone else.

So you identify. You identify who they've been in contact with. You provide a safe place for all of those people to isolate or quarantine so they don't spread the infection. That's a total shift. And it requires testing on a very different scale than we are currently able to.

And you have to be able to break down that testing by race and ethnicity so you can see within your state, within your city, are there certain groups that are getting hit harder than others so you can address protective measures in those settings.

BOLDUAN: I've asked this of a few governors and they haven't given me a good answer, and I wanted your take. With states that -- as we're seeing most states begin that process of reopening, do you think there's one benchmark or one data set that the states should be looking at to know if they need to reverse course, if they have opened up too fast and they need to lock it down a little more?

BESSER: Yes. It's a challenge.


BESSER: I am one of the New Jersey representatives on the seven-state New England group, and he with talk about this.

You don't want to use hospitalizations as your indicator because it takes a while between the time someone is infected and gets sick enough to be hospitalized. You definitely don't want to use deaths. You want to track those pieces of information. So it is very challenging.

There's something around looking at what percentage of your tests are positive as an indication. That's a great indication if you're testing enough. Because right now, a high percentage are positive because we're not testing people who are mildly infected.

It's a bit of a confusing issue. But you want to have so much testing out there that fewer than one in 10 of those tests is positive. That will give you a sense that you're capturing most of those people who could be spreading disease.

BOLDUAN: It may be and is confusing to the general public, but that is why we all must lean on the experts like yourself in times of a public health crisis. And as you said, we are in the beginning of it. Though it seems like it was a very long March, a very long April. We are only in May.

Dr. Besser, thank you.

BESSER: It's a pleasure. Thanks, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

We also have new developments in the quest for a coronavirus vaccine. The drug maker, Moderna, says it has received FDA approval for phase two trials of its vaccine candidate.

CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is joining me now with more on the vaccine front.

Elizabeth, what does that mean?

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, this is definitely good news that they are moving forward into phase two. Others are headed in that direction. They all seem to be roughly at the same spot.

Let's take a look at what these phases mean. Phase one of a trial, which has ended for some of these folks, and others are still in it, is where they look at safety. It's dozens of patients. It's not that many patients. Basically, they want to make sure they're not hurting anyone. That's the most important thing.

Then you move on to phase two, which is typically hundreds of people. And you look at safety issues. You look at dosage. Is this the right dosage? You look at, does it produce an immune response in the body?

Then and only then do we move on to what I think people think of when they think of clinical trials. This is phase 3 where it's thousands of people. And you're looking at the efficacy. Does it work or does it not?

That is the trickiest phase because you need to find a place to do this where there's plenty of coronavirus circulating, because you give some people the placebo, some people the vaccine. You wait a period of time and then you say, hmm, is there a difference in how many people got coronavirus.

For that to work, you have to have a lot of coronavirus around so you have to find the right city, find the right place.

BOLDUAN: It's so interesting. There may also be a bit of a reality check of a lead researcher working on another vaccine. Is a January timeline looking too optimistic right now?

COHEN: Let's just go with what Tony Fauci said back at January of this year. He said 12 to 18 months. That puts us to January to June of next year. And he was clear that that was aspirational. That's what we're trying for. That's what we're hoping for. We have to be very clear that this is a process that can be rushed only to a certain extent.

But you're referring to Dr. Mulligan, who is with Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. Let's take a listen to what he said last night on CNN.


DR. MARK MULLIGAN, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST & LEAD RESEARCHER, LANGONE VACCINE CENTER, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY: Normally, it takes three or four months to establish that the vaccine is safe. That's actually the most important first question. And then we want to know if it's tolerated well and if it produces an antibody response that might be protective.

So I do think we're talking about end of the year and into early next year before we would have a definitive answer.


COHEN: Right, so early next year. Really, that's anyone's call, January, February, March, who knows. He didn't say we'll have it on the market. He said whether we'll have an answer.

Now, we all have to keep this the back of our mind, Kate, this vaccine or any vaccine might not work against COVID. It is possible. We've been trying to find a vaccine for HIV for decades and it hasn't worked. We all hope that's not the case, but that could be the case.


BOLDUAN: Elizabeth, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: We also have this just into CNN. A member of President Trump's personal staff has now tested positive for the coronavirus.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is joining me on the phone right now with the latest developments.

Kaitlan, what's going on here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): Yes, Kate, this is a member of the U.S. Navy. They are assigned as one of President Trump's personal valets. Basically there are members of this elite military unit. They're dedicated to the White House. And they work really close to the president and the first family.

We've now learned that one of those valets has tested positive for coronavirus. This is supported by reporting by my colleague, Peter Morris, and we're told this valet was exhibiting symptoms yesterday. They were tested, they are now positive.

We're told that President Trump was upset when he was informed that one of the valets had tested positive. So he and the vice president were both subsequently tested for coronavirus once again. As you know, they're tested as you know, they're tested regularly. And the White House said they both tested negatively since learning about this valet testing positive.

They confirmed out reporting in a statement that said they were notified by a medical unit that a member of the military, who works on the White House campus, tested positive, and they said they remain in great health.

But of course, Kate, this is going to raise questions about how close he is to the president, the exposure, because this is someone who works very close to him. The question is, were they in the West Wing, were they in the Oval Office. We know he's on the grounds yesterday, but it's unclear exactly what this person's activities were.

BOLDUAN: It's also clear that we know you can spread the virus before you are even symptomatic, so that could be days before even yesterday.


BOLDUAN: Correct me if I'm wrong, Kaitlan, but this is the first person that is this close to the president and the vice president that has gotten infected.

COLLINS: Yes, that we know of. This is the closest person.

Kate, remember, there was a member of the Brazilian delegation that tested positive after they were all at Mar-a-Lago one weekend. And that, of course, caused a big stir. It caused several of the president's top aides to self-quarantine at home for several days because they had come in contact with this person. They were waiting several days to get a test back, not like the White House waiting for 15 minutes now.

This is, of course, the person we know was the closest. Of course, it's going to raise questions about whether other staffers will have to be tested again, who interacted with this person, whether or not they're doing contact tracing with this person as to who they came in contact with at the White House as well. Because so far, the policy at the White House is basically they test

people who meet with the president, the senior staffers who come in regular contact. But we don't think they're testing every single person on the White House grounds. They're doing temperatures checks for them, but not testing necessarily.

So does this change that calculus? What does it change about going to the White House going forward?

BOLDUAN: I was going to say, my question is, are you hearing any policy change or change in who gets to be around the president and vice president in light of this?

COLLINS: We were told, when this news went around the West Wing, it basically caused quite a stir because that was a revelation people were having. Because, so far, the White House often relies on saying, we're all tested regularly. If someone were positive, they would be sent home. And we haven't really heard of anyone being sent home yet because of that. This is really the first instance.

So, of course, it's going to cause a lot of questions inside the White House. We'll be asking the White House about their policies going forward. But, so far, we have not learned of any.

BOLDUAN: Much more to come on this.

Kaitlan, thank you very much. We appreciate it.

We'll continue to follow this breaking news and bring you updates as Kaitlan and the team get it.


Coming up for us, 3.2 million more Americans filed for unemployment this week. As states begin to reopen, how soon will jobs come back?


BOLDUAN: Devastating new jobs numbers out this morning, 3.2 million new unemployment claims filed this week. That means 33.5 million Americans have filed since mid-March. Unbelievable.

And important to note in the midst of all of this, a new poll shows the furloughs and layoffs are not affecting everyone equally. African- Americans and Latinos far more likely to be laid off than whites.

Let me bring in CNN business anchor, Julia Chatterley, on what today means.

Today's numbers are tragic. But they also, Julia, may only be a preview of what's coming tomorrow with April's job report.

JULIA CHATTERLEY, CNN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS ANCHOR & CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. I wish I had better news for you, Kate. It's going to be record and heartbreaking numbers of jobs loses we're looking at. We could be looking at an unemployment rate somewhere between 15 and

20 percent of American workers. I see many comparisons to the Great Depression, so we have to go back decades and decades.

My honest feeling is that this underestimates the number of people, of families that have seen wage cuts of some sort, hours cut. It could be as much as one in three workers.

I think for everyone's sake, for confidence's sake here, the conversation needs to turn to what does the safety of reopening these states look like and how many of these jobs come back.

BOLDUAN: That's what I was going to ask you. So states are starting to reopen. What are you hearing about that expectation of how quickly jobs could come back?


CHATTERLEY: Quickly, I think, is the key here as well, in addition to how many. It's a critical question. It's also a complicated question as we reimagine what the world looks like under physical distancing.

Construction and manufacturing, I think, will come back quickly. Then it's about the consumer. This is the key driver of the economy, and whether it makes sense for bars, restaurants and people to bring their workers back.

What you were just looking at there's the fact that right now an estimated 38 states have workers that are, on average, earning more or equal to what they were earning before the pandemic currently on benefits.

That's a challenge for people fighting to come back. Is it better to stay on benefits for the short term? That's going to be a problem for businesses, too, so it's tough to gauge these numbers.

BOLDUAN: Absolutely. It is bad here, but the virus obviously is impacting economies all over the world. What is the broader perspective of the international picture right now?

CHATTERLEY: It's an interesting one. Economic devastation, if we look at Europe. But if we home in on the U.K. particularly, because we have fresh data from them, the U.K. is saying this is going to be the worst recession they've seen in 300 years.

But they handle it very differently to the United States. And this is where the comparison is interesting. The government backstopped salaries, 80 percent of salaries up to a certain point. They literally gave companies the money in order to pay their workers.

The government and the central bank said today we could see, at worst, an unemployment rate that is less than half what we're talking about in the United States.

Short term, it looks like a success, but it's priced for perfect reopening of the U.K. economy. And I think the fear is that rate rises as the U.S. comes down.

BOLDUAN: Great to see you, Julia. Thank you.

CHATTERLEY: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Let's get back to our breaking news right now. A member of President Trump's personal staff, a personal assistant, has tested positive for coronavirus.

With me, back with me, is CNN senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, I just want to get your thoughts on this breaking news. What questions do you have as there are a lot surrounding this news coming out?

COHEN: Kate, the biggest question in my mind is what exactly does a valet do? Never having had one, I don't know. But it sounds like a valet would be close to the president. In other words, the valet is not sort of outside on the grounds. The valet would be inside the living space. So how close did this valet get to the president?

Another thing that comes up in my mind is that, remember, the White House staff has to go home every night. The White House staff, those folks have families. They have communities.

So it is not shocking that someone would have COVID-19 working at the White House. They're not kept in a bubble. They're out in the community. Coronavirus is spreading in the community. This is what can happen.

BOLDUAN: Just looking right here, some reporting from Kate Bennett that's just coming through, that valets in the West Wing, they do not wear masks, according to a White House official telling CNN.

Another interesting aspect. That's a question as we think about our daily lives and what we have all been told to do to take safe precautions when being out in public and coming back to our families. How that is applied at the White House is another part of this.

From what we've learned about the virus, how quickly it spreads, how it can spread, how long it can survive on surfaces, what do you think needs to happen now as you now have a confirmed case of coronavirus to someone who is very close, gets very close to the president and the vice president?

COHEN: I mean, certainly, if I were working in the White House, I would feel much safer with a mask. I mean, it just makes sense.

You know, experts do have a variety of opinions about masks and what they can protect against and can't protect against. But one thing I hear consistently from expert to expert is, look, if you're in your house alone or just with your immediate family who you're always with, you don't need a mask. If you're taking a walk and nobody is going to be anywhere around you, you don't need a mask.

But if you are in a grocery store, wear a mask. If you're out in an enclosed space, wear a mask.

We notice when the vice president went to the Mayo Clinic, everyone, except him was wearing a mask. And it wasn't just because it was a hospital. It's because it's an enclosed space and people are near each other. I don't know why in the world you wouldn't wear a mask under those conditions.

BOLDUAN: And we know that the White House has this rapid lab test and they have been testing the president and the vice president and they have obviously tested negative for the coronavirus.

What is known about the incubation period of the coronavirus? How long is going to be this window where there could be a real question of if the president or the vice president or anyone else at the White House, on the White House staff, could be at a higher risk right now?


COHEN: Right. To your point, Kate, testing in this situation can only go so far. All you know is that that person is not getting a positive test at that moment.