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U.S. Farmers Feel Economic Pain; John Hopkins: 3.7 Million Cases Worldwide with 263,000 Deaths; Trump Plays Blame Game over COVID-19 Response; Susan Rice: We Left Them a Pandemic Playbook; Pompeo: I've Seen Evidence Virus Likely Came from Wuhan Lab. Aired 5- 5:30a ET

Aired May 07, 2020 - 05:00   ET



ROBYN CURNOW, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Robyn Curnow.

So just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM, a top medical expert warns this is just the beginning. America's coronavirus deaths are expected to rise but the Trump White House insists we must reopen the economy.

This as a new round of unemployment data will be released in the coming hours giving us a closer look at the economic pain Americans are feeling. And among those suffering, workers in the food supply industry. Farmers in Minnesota tell us closures of meat plants have forced them to make tough decisions.

U.S. disease experts say the country has not seen a significant drop in coronavirus cases yet most states we know are moving ahead. As you can see here with plans to relax stay-at-home restrictions and reopen businesses and public spaces. The number of deaths in the U.S. continues to climb by the thousands each day. Johns Hopkins reports more than 73,000 fatalities so far. And one expert predicts it will soon top 100,000 deaths.


DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: It's really bad and sadly looking at the U.S. as a whole just calculating forward from the number of people whose infections have already been documented, there will be tragically at least 100,000 deaths from COVID by the end of this month.

Second, as bad as this has been, it's just the beginning.


CURNOW: Sobering words there.

Now, the U.S. has 1/3 of all global cases. President Donald Trump is now comparing the pandemic to 9/11 and World War II.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is worse than Pearl Harbor. This is worse than the World Trade Center. There's never been an attack like this. And it should have never happened. Could have been stopped at the source. Could have been stopped in China.


CURNOW: But the trend across the U.S. is beginning to scale - is to begin scaling back mitigation. It's a move President Trump embraces as he claims he has saved millions of lives.


QUESTION: Will the nation just have to accept the idea that by reopening there will be more cases, there will be more deaths?

TRUMP: So I call these people warriors. And I'm actually calling now, as you know, John, the nation warriors. We have to be warriors. We can't keep our country closed down for years and we have to do something. And hopefully that won't be the case, John, but it could very well be the case.

We saved millions of lives by doing what we did.

We have saved millions of lives.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There were supposed to be 2.2 million deaths and we are at a point where we're far lower than that and thanks to the great work of the task force and to the leadership of President Trump.


CURNOW: Now, U.S. State of Georgia could offer a preview for the rest of the country. It was one of the first and most aggressive in reopening. The number of infections in that state where CNN Center is has now climbed to more than 30,000 with well over 1,300 deaths.

And for a closer look at what has been happening around the U.S., here's Nick Watt. Nick?


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The New York City subway closed overnight first time in over 100 years to clean the cars.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We have turned the corner and we're on the decline. You take New York out of the national numbers, the numbers for the rest of the nation are going up. What we're doing here shows results.

WATT (voice-over): Across the country as a whole, the case count is not falling, hovering somewhere over 20,000 every single day.

SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: I think that we need to understand. This may be the new normal, we may not be able to get transmission down much more. I hope we can.

WATT (voice-over): But many places, reopening anyway. Hotspots now growing in cities like Dallas, some more rural flare ups to like those in Nebraska and Minnesota, but better testing might just play into all of this.

MAYOR DAVE KLEIS (R-MN), ST. CLOUD: I don't think there's anyone that didn't know that there were more cases out there. They just weren't known because the testing was so low.

WATT (voice-over): A former CDC Director told lawmakers today that the U.S. death toll will exceed 100,000.

FRIEDEN: As bad as this has been, it's just the beginning.

WATT (voice-over): Airlines now hoping we'll get back in the air. Average passengers per plane is up 23 from just 17 last week.


All but these seven states are now taking steps to get back in business. On Monday, restaurants could open in Florida. On Tuesday, cops in Jacksonville had to break up a tailgate party at a taco stand.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Their risk of the coronavirus is a scam.

WATT (voice-over): One company working on creating therapeutics using blood from the recovered now says it might have something on the market by the end of the summer.

DR. GEORGE YANCOPOULOS, REGENERON: We can clone out the best of antibodies from recovered humans. We selected the best ones to create a antibody cocktail as we called.

WATT (voice-over): And who is this Coronavirus infecting? Well, around 90 percent of positives in San Francisco's Mission District are people unable to work from home, according to a new study. 95 percent of them Latinx. Another new study finds that black Americans are 13.4 percent of the population, but counties with higher black populations are home to nearly 60 percent of all COVID-19 deaths.

MAYOR LORI LIGHTFOOT (D-IL), CHICAGO: We're still seeing a disproportionate number of black Chicago as people who are dying as a result of COVID-19.

WATT (on camera): And some good news for the 10 million people of Los Angeles County, stuff will start reopening Friday. Starting with some trails, golf courses, and some non-essential businesses we're told. Florists and car dealerships among the first wave. But we are being warned that this process will be very slow and no beaches. Not yet.

Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.


CURNOW: Thanks, Nick, for that update. Now we know that clinical trials are underway for a handful of potential vaccines. Despite the massive global effort, it could still take scientists many, many months to reach the goal of finding an effective treatment. One lead researcher says that most likely timeline even if this accelerated case is early next year.

And the challenges of course are daunting. First a viable vaccine has to be identified. Then it has to be shown to be safe and effective for people. Finally, enough of it has to then be produced to protect the global population.

So, Dr. Saju Mathew is a CNN medical analyst and a primary care physician and joins me here in Atlanta. Good to see you, Doctor. I just want to go back to the death toll that we started the program on.

I mean, we are getting warnings that it could be 100,000 Americans by the end of the month. That this is just the beginning. As a doctor, what are your thoughts when you see these numbers?

DR. SAJU MATHEW, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Robyn. You know when I see these numbers, I go to this basic public health thinking. We need to look at parameters to decide if it's time to open up a state. The World Health Organization continually warns states that are opening up too early to look at parameters. So, for instance, the White House parameter of a downward trend of two weeks of cases has not been met.

Were' still getting about 20 percent of people to test positive. We need that percentage much lower.

In New York, they did the hard work, Robyn. You know Governor Cuomo has done an incredible job with the New York citizens to stay at home and observe all these tight, tight regulations and sacrifices that people have made.

But now, if you take out New York and you look at the graph that we have shown on CNN multiple times, the cases are going up. So, to me, and in my medical opinion, Robyn, we are not meeting even the basic parameters to open states back up again.

CURNOW: But they're being open and the president and many people believe that there needs to be a balance, you know, in terms of economic health and public health, that this just is being done. And so it is going forward. We heard Nick Watt lay out what's happening in California.

So, if this is just the beginning, we also know that one expert says the pandemic will last at least 36 months, what does this mean then for medical workers and for the hospital system?

MATHEW: It means that we're in this for the long haul. Without a viable vaccine, and we talk about vaccines all the time, Robyn, the question number one is -- I'm not trying to be an alarmist, is we need to make sure that we can develop a vaccine in the first place and even if we accelerate the development of a vaccine, which usually takes years and years, we're trying to do this at a lightning speed, we still have to be able to produce the vaccinations for billions of people. So, without a good vaccine really in place, antivirals that are still being studied like remdesivir which by the way is showing some hope. We are back to the basics.

You know I was telling a friend the other day, yes, this is being compared to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.


And guess what worked then? Cities that closed early and stayed closed longer have the lowest mortality rates. I know we're opening back up. And since we're opening back up, the big question I have is what price are we willing to pay? And unfortunately, the cases will continue to go up and the mortality will go up. We need to keep protecting our healthcare workers. I know I've mentioned this before, but PPE shortages are still there.


MATHEW: We need to make sure that we provide mental health. I don't ever think, Robyn, that physicians, nurses and our health care workers will ever be the same again due to this trauma that they've experienced on a daily basis.

CURNOW: Yes. It's certainly life changing not just for the general population but also for medical workers as you say. So I want to ask you. You're a primary care physician. Somebody comes in and says, listen, how do I protect my family? Folks are going out to restaurants. Some people are playing golf. You know car dealerships are open here in Georgia. Hairdressers have been open for two weeks. And if that's the case, if the general population is reopening at whatever stage, wherever you are in the states, how do you self- distance? Are you seeing the next 36 months people are going to make that decision not to do any of that? Where do people draw the line in terms of their own personal choices here?

MATHEW: You know it is tough advice when I have to sit down and talk to patients, number one, about cabin fever, Robyn. People are going crazy staying inside a house. And remember, not everybody can stay-at- home. Just like our reporter said, a lot of essential workers still have to get on subways. They're exposing themselves every single day. There's a disproportionate number of African Americans that are dying. You know for so many different reasons.

So, what do I tell my patients? I say, listen, ultimately use your commonsense. If you can wait to get that haircut, I would say wait. Playing golf, yes, you have to make certain decisions. Can you stay six feet away? Can you play tennis and stay you know six feet away continuously?

We have to decide of a new normal way of living. I've heard some people throw out the term quarantining. People who have been isolated for so long are trying to sort of build bubbles as they describe it in Europe of people that they want to re-establish contact with. But they're tough decisions to make. Ultimately, my job and in my medical opinion, it's all about saving lives. And I feel like it is definitely still a gamble, Robyn, when you make certain decisions to go out there and start mingling again. But I know that it is happening.

And just really quickly, Robyn. I look at what Sweden is doing which is based on a trust-based model. People are out there. Restaurants are open. They are sheltering the elderly in place. But guess what, they've paid a price. The number of deaths in Sweden is significantly higher than their counterparts in Finland and Denmark. So, there is going to be a price to pay. I still think we need to establish some level of commonsense and make decisions that are concrete and solid.

CURNOW: OK. Thank you for that expert medical advise, Dr. Saju Mathew. Appreciate you joining us this morning. Thank you.

So, do join us also for our next global town hall on the coronavirus. Hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And as you can see here, our guests include Director Spike Lee, the author of "The Coming Plague," Laurie Garrett and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. They are (INAUDIBLE)

And a top UK official says, there have not been any final decisions yet in which coronavirus restrictions will be eased next week.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis says people will have to wait until the prime minister's announcement on Sunday to learn the details. UK Media though have reported several proposals.

Isa Soares joins us now from London with more on all of that. Hi, Isa. Good to see you. What can you tell us?

ISA SOARES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Robyn. That's right. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to give a televised speech to the nation on Sunday where he's expected to announce some sort of easing of lockdown restrictions which some may take effect as early as Monday.

As you hind to their British media, some British media reporting, that we could be seeing be allowed out for longer periods of time, that those who can go to work while maintaining social distancing will be encouraged to do so. These are just reports, Robyn. But if you look at some of the tabloids this morning here in the UK, you'll get a sense, you'll probably thing that we're going to see an end to the lockdown altogether. One newspaper going with magic Monday, another one saying, first steps to freedom.

Look, it's a very fine balancing act here for the government. Trying it of course to balance the concerns about health while listening to worries about mental health, about well-being and about the economy.


But Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he's looking at the data before making any decisions. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BORIS JOHNSON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: We'll be working with the opposition, with unions, with business to make sure that we get the un-lockdown plan completely right. And you know what he says is absolute commonsense. It would be an economic disaster for this country if we were to pursue a relaxation of these measures now in such a way as to trigger a second spike.


SOARES: Of course, this is something that Prime Minister Boris Johnson said time and time again, trying to make sure that we avoid a second spike. Of course, what we would expect, what we're hearing at least is that we're not going to see a sudden unlock, Robyn, of these measures. Perhaps these will be baby steps considering, of course, that we've seen the number of deaths in the UK top 30,000. That's more than any other country in Europe in the last 24 hours more than 600 people have died, Robyn.

CURNOW: OK. Thanks for that update there. Isa Soares there in London.

So, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Still to come, President Trump is playing the blame game over America's response to the coronavirus pandemic. We'll hear who he says failed to prepare and their blunt response.



CURNOW: Testing, testing and more testing. That is the refrain from U.S. health officials on how to safely reopen the states. That's also one of the key criteria mentioned on the White House website on opening America. And it was just weeks ago that the president said that anybody who needs a test can get a test. Here's what the White House press secretary has to say now.


MCENANY: Yes, let's dismiss a myth about tests right now. If we tested every single American in this country at this moment, we have to retest them an hour later, and an hour later after that because at any moment, so you could theoretically contract this virus. So, the notion that everyone needs to be tested is just simple nonsensical.


CURNOW: And as has been the case in the past on other issues, the White House is trying to deflect the blame on to President Obama even though the Obama administration prepared a plan on how to deal with an outbreak. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: What we inherited from the previous administration was totally broken, which somebody should eventually say not only were the cupboards bare, as I say, but we inherited broken testing.

The last administration left us nothing.

The last administration left us nothing. We didn't have ventilators. We didn't have medical equipment. We didn't have testing. The tests were broken.


CURNOW: Well, now here's a former Obama administration official pushing back on President Trump's claims. Take a listen.


SUSAN RICE, FORMER U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We had understood clearly, as frankly did the Bush administration before us, that a pandemic was inevitable. President Obama gave a speech in 2014 as we were dealing with the Ebola epidemic, warning precisely this.

I established an office at the National Security Council in the White House for precisely this sort of thing called the Office of Global Health Security and Biodefense. Its sole purpose was to prepare for this kind of event. We also left them a pandemic for dummies playbook, as I like to call it, 69 pages of questions to ask, things to check, do we have the supplies, do we have the surge capacity, do we have the testing. All of the things that are standard in this kind of scenario.

We had experts that we had posted to China to be inside our embassy to work to be early warning systems. The Trump administration removed those people. So, they dismantled the office we established in the White House, they moved people out of China, they discarded the playbook. They were not focused on the reality that a pandemic was not just going to happen sometime but could happen any time.


CURNOW: Well, Susan Rice also said the Trump administration's focus on the U.S.-China trade deal and the economy prevented them from using the months of January and February to prepare for the pandemic.

But it also looks like the president is not just blaming the Obama administration, he's continuing to blame China for this outbreak. Alleging that if Beijing had been more transparent from the start, the pandemic would have never taken place.

Now, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is doing the same despite initially saying he couldn't be certain of the origin of the virus. Pompeo then doubled down on these claims that the coronavirus came from a Chinese lab.


MIKE POMPEO, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: We don't have certainty and there is significant evidence that this came from a laboratory. Those statements can both be true.

We don't have certainty about whether it began in the lab or whether it began someplace else.

I've seen evidence that this likely came from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Happy to see other evidence that disproves that. We should get to the bottom of it. That's why we've been asking for months now to give westerners access to this information.


CURNOW: But China is fighting back. Let's go straight to Beijing. Steven Jiang joins me now live with more on all of this. Steven?

STEVEN JIANG, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, Robyn, the Chinese government has now directly challenged Mike Pompeo to present evidence to back up his claim that this virus may have come from a Wuhan lab. After calling the U.S. Secretary of State an evil and insane liar who now keeps contradicting himself. So, this kind of strong language and strong push back from Beijing is really part of their strategy now.

They're trying to really sew doubt and division among governments and peoples from around the world including among U.S. allies as officials here see these assertions from Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Trump as well on the origin of the virus, increasingly at odds with the U.S. own Intelligence Community as well as other experts and scientists.

So, the Chinese are really trying to discredit, isolate the Americans on the global stage as part of their counterattacks against the U.S. Here is what the Chinese government spokeswoman has said.



HUA CHUNYING, CHINESE MINISTRY OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS SPOKESWOMAN (through translator): We want to urge the U.S. side once again to stop spreading false information, stop misleading the international community. Take a good look at its domestic problems and try to find out ways to control the pandemic in its country as soon as possible rather than continue playing the blame game.


JIANG: But this blame game between the two governments is not only ongoing but also intensifying, really turning into a tit-for-tat mudslinging game or a contest on a daily basis as the Beijing government here is determined not to be blamed for causing this devastating global pandemic. Robyn?

CURNOW: Thank you so much Steven there in Beijing. Thank you.

Let's go to Germany now. Chancellor Angela Merkel has now laid out her country's plan for a gradual reopening. After weeks, long restrictions, shops will be allowed to open their doors again with hygiene measures in place. There will be still limits and social contact until June 5th.

Germans are now allowed to meet with members of one of the households but must maintain social distance and cover their faces in public. Mrs. Merkel also says Germany's top football league can begin playing again in the second half of May though she did not give details about whether spectators would be allowed. She did say the first phase of the pandemic is behind them, but officials will remain vigilant.


ANGELA MERKEL, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): We have very, very good developments regarding the new infection rate figures. And these have made it possible to take further steps. We have to be careful that we don't lose control of the situation and that's why I have a good feeling about this emergency mechanism.


CURNOW: Now, even the White House is calling America's job numbers very, very chilling.

Coming up, we're expecting to learn a whole lot more about them in the next few hours. The details ahead.