Return to Transcripts main page

New Day

Majority Of U.S. Reopens As Death Toll Nears 90,000; China's President Rejects Notion That They Weren't Transparent; Pennsylvania Loosening Restrictions This Week. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 07:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: Welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is New Day.

And this morning, why are coronavirus cases spiking in Texas? What does that tell us? The largest single-day increase in cases we have seen there yet. Why are cases up in a third of the country and down in another third? What does that tell us? These are the questions that are so important now that restrictions are being lifted across the country.

Beaches in New Jersey drew crowds with people being asked to observe social distancing. Some retails stores are set to open in that state today along with Florida, where the full state begins relaxing some restrictions.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: So, John, about a third of the states are seeing a drop in cases. Only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, are waiting and watching the numbers before they move to reopen.

Meanwhile, tensions between the White House and the CDC are growing. CNN is reporting that a senior official from the CDC is expressing anger and frustration after White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro's scathing criticism of the CDC. Navarro said the CDC had, quote, let the country down on testing.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is Andy Slavitt. He is the former acting Administrator for the Center Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Obama. Andy, thanks very much for being with us today.

I know you've been looking at the country over the last few weeks and considering it as this patchwork of reopening there. And so we are faced with these new questions every day, which is New York and New Jersey, the cases continue to drop day by day. Texas, we've seen the largest single-day spike in the number of new cases.

So, looking at Texas, for example, right now and let me put the graph up on the screen here so people can see it, do you have explanations for why? I know there's been new testing, particularly around Amarillo, where there is a meatpacking plant. ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: Well, good morning. I think it's going to be impossible to find a positive effect for everything we see as we see it. In retrospect, it might be easy. In real-time, I think because we recognize that we have testing deficiencies that we're making up for, because some of the data lags when people are experiencing things and because the orders that governors put in place tend not to take effect for a little bit of time, you know, may, I think, I described as a month where we're going to be a little bit of bliss (ph) because we're not sure.

I do think we want to be careful, as you were just pointing point, to try distinguish between opening stores in Texas and a safe way if that's what with they're doing and with modest traffic and number increases that may come from meatpacking plants in other parts of the state. And so it may very well end up being safe to open up certain things as they're not related to other things.

We're in kind of a bit of an experiment though. We're just going to have to see as we get through this month what happens.

CAMEROTA: Yes, absolutely. This does feel like the start of an experiment. People are going to have to crunch the numbers and look at if there is an outbreak somewhere, why and what does what tell us, and the states that are doing really well, why and what does that tell us.

And one agency that might be good for crunching all of those numbers would be the CDC. And at the moment, the CDC is embroiled in this now public fight with the White House. The White House has been casting about four people to blame. And so sometimes it's China, sometimes it's somehow Dr. Fauci. Sometimes, recently, it's the CDC. So we just heard Peter Navarro basically blame them because they had testing screw-ups at the beginning.

And then the CDC felt compelled to remind the White House that, in fact, the head of the CDC was appointed by President Trump and it is supposed to be part and parcel with the administration. So what do you make of this feud now?

SLAVITT: Well, look, I think we all be better off with a little (INAUDIBLE) finger pointing. But be that as it may. I think what Navarro said isn't incorrect. I think you can find fault anywhere. And anywhere you look, nobody has clean hands, including the White House. And the long period of time that Trump spent essentially saying that this was to be no effect and we shouldn't be taking action on it.

And so while the CDC has clearly made mistakes, a bunch of people who are well-designed, as you said, to help us through this process and through the cycle, I want to know if, like Peter Navarro was saying, is that admission of guilt. Is it an admission that they didn't direct the agencies, because the White House, remember, directs all of these agencies? And they just that they didn't direct agency well enough, why are they just admitting it now?

They've been saying for quite some time.


President Trump has been saying that testing is not a problem. Anybody who wants one can get one and all of these other things.

So I'm curious whether or not that there's an admission that they had a role to play in this. I suspect they're not going to say that.

BERMAN: Yes. No, I don't think Peter Navarro is standing and saying, we blew it, we blew it. I think he is, in fact, trying to do the opposite and say they blew it and they're not us. The fact of the matter is, is that the CDC is us if you're the government. It is, in fact, the government agency.

Peter, I am struck -- I mean, sorry, Andy, I am struck, again, as we relax restrictions around the country how people are telling us about how they feel in this process. There's new polling out. This is P-37. Do you think it's safe to attend gatherings of ten or more people? Only 9 percent, only 9 percent think it's safe now. Only 10 percent think it will be safe at the end of May.

And I think one of the reasons is that as places are reopening, people are looking at them and saying, I'm not sure I feel comfortable there. Let's talk about Disney, for instance, which is opening up Disney Springs, the shopping mall area here. Disney has got a warning that it is sending out to people as they start booking that says, quote, COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. By visiting Walt Disney World, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure of COVID-19.

You could die if you come here, Disney is saying, but it's not our fault. And I do think people are saying, maybe we want to be careful here.

SLAVITT: That's it's great advertising for Disney. Look, I think even if we want to have the legal analysts, by the way, to take a look at that, if they don't do their jobs. But, look, you're making an important point. And I think that's why this is such an unknown, people are going -- people get it. There's a real question as to whether or not just because the governor says, okay, it's legal for you to go, share popsicles again at the good humor truck -- that's what they had when I was kid -- that you're then -- the people are going to go do that.

I think people know that this is infectious. They don't want to get sick. They don't want to infect their neighbors. And it could very be that it's culturally driven. We could go through this whole month in Texas or in Georgia and find that people really do make judgments.

And I want to make one point if I have time, for a second, which is that your point about liability protection, think about this. This is the number one thing that Mitch McConnell calls it as red line. He won't throw any more money to any bill for any relief unless he can get businesses liability protection against not showing up to work and getting sick. That doesn't communicate to me that they think they're safe and ready. It communicates that they want to open and they don't want to have any responsibility if they're safe and ready. And we should all be wary of that.

CAMEROTA: Andy, there was a big development over the weekend in terms of what we think about whether or not you can catch COVID-19 once you think you have resolved it. And that is that 13 sailors on board the USS Theodore Roosevelt, that's off of Guam, had tested positive. They had symptoms for COVID-19. They then isolated for 14 days. They then felt better. They then got tested. They were negative. They then felt symptoms again and have tested positive.

That is -- I mean, who knows if that's just about testing. But if it's not just about testing, doesn't that change how we see coronavirus?

SLAVITT: Yes. So, look, it's going to be really frustrating for all of us to watch what I would call the process of science, which is we are in the middle of learning these things and trying to use the data we see to draw conclusions, and it's very testing. But it will feel like a roller coaster because new information is going to keep coming in all the time.

I think that the latest thinking, look, nobody knows. I think that's the answer people have to be very honest about and very comfortable hearing it. We don't know for sure. But what people believe is that this virus can stay with you for quite a while and be dormant. And then -- but that in those cases, it's more likely that the virus never left and that it was just sort of playing out and then maybe some symptoms showed up. They're not sure yet. We don't know how this virus behaves.

I wouldn't take the conclusion yet by any means that we don't believe that you'll then will not get any antibody protection whether the virus could come back. It's way too early to reach a conclusion like that.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Andy Slavitt, we really appreciate all of your expertise on all of these topics. Thank you very much.

SLAVITT: You got it.

CAMEROTA: Moments ago, China's president addressed the World Health Organization about the pandemic, what he said about transparency as pressure grows on China.



BERMAN: All right. Breaking news, Chinese President Xi Jinping just addressed the World Health Organization assembly. He rejected the notion that China has not been transparent about coronavirus. CNN's David Culver live in China with the breaking details.

People are waiting to see how he would handle this. Now we know, David.

DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this was his opportunity, John, to address the world and push back against the many allegations that China hasn't been fully transparent. The president is saying they have been transparent, they have been open, but in the same breath, he also apologized and expressed his condolences for the many lives lost due to the pandemic.

Now, he goes on to say that they're pledging some $2 billion to the World Health Organization over the next two years. He also stressed that they would be helping developing countries in particular and that thye would keep open supply lines for goods related to the virus, particularly you think of the many medical supplies that are needed that are produced here in China that need to be sent out to the world. And there have been issues with that from quality and even them being held up here at times.


And he also says, when they come to the point of having developed a vaccine, that that too will be shared with the global community.

Interestingly enough, he addressed the origin idea and the investigation into the initial response. That has been something that not only the U.S. has been critical of but other nations as well. European nations, Australia wanting to know if the response was adequate or if that's what led to this becoming a pandemic.

Meantime, CNN did speak exclusively this weekend with the Dr. Fauci equivalent of China. His name is Dr. Zhong Nanshan. And two things stand out from my conversation with him. One, that he was highly critical of the initial response, particularly from Wuhan health officials, saying that essentially they did not tell at the truth at the time. Though now, the Dr. Zhong does support central government's containment efforts.

And the other thing that stands out is that he points out in particular that while things may be opening up here in China and you may be getting a resemblance of what was, that the threat is far from over here.


DR. ZHONG NANSHAN, CHINA'S LEADING MEDICAL EXPERT: We are facing a big challenge. It's not better than the foreign countries, I think.

CULVER: A warning against complacency coming from a man who has gained the respect and admiration that both China's leader and citizens. Pulmonologist and Chinese go-to expert Dr. Zhong Nanshan speaking exclusively with CNN.

NANSAHN: We should reopen all things gradually. On the other side, we still have a very strong control, so that containment of the situation.

CULVER: Zhong first gained international praise for his work on SARS 17 years ago. His recent focus, COVID-19. He's gained a celebrity status here. Many captivated by his physical drive as much as his scientific knowledge.

What is it that you have been doing during this period to stay stay mentally sane, physically fit?

NANSHAN: I still keep exercising and sport and so all the things, and keep an open mind and eat not too much every time. So that's why I seem to be still can do something in my age of 84.

CULVER: Some have likened him to the Dr. Fauci of China, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.'s top infectious disease expert. But within China, they call Fauci the Zhong Nanshan of U.S.

NANSHAN: I cannot compare to Fauci, who is the adviser of the president, always been standing beside the president.

CULVER: Perhaps he does not physically stand next to President Xi Jinping, but Zhong has the trust of China's central government. His advice sparks near immediate action.

Take, for example, Wuhan's unprecedented lockdown. On January 18th, five days before the city was shut down, Zhong traveled to the original epicenter of the outbreak. He questioned the local health officials on the number of cases.

NANSHAN: I suppose they are very reluctant to answer my question. The local authorities didn't like to tell the truth at that time.

CULVER: Publicly, Wuhan health officials as late as January 19th labeled the virus as preventable and controllable. And later, the city's mayor even acknowledged not acting in a timely fashion.

Zhong pressed harder for the actual numbers. And when he got them, he headed to Beijing on January 20th. He briefed the central government. And within hours, he was addressing the nation in this live interview on state-run CCTV.

Zhong revealed that human-to-human transmission was likely. And as proof of that, he said the virus had already infected multiple medical personnel.

NANSHAN: That's a very dangerous signal showing these kinds of disease very contagious.

CULVER: Within three days, Wuhan went into a harsh lockdown that lasted 76 days. Yet even with China's central government now taking the lead, there is still skepticism over the official numbers. Zhong says the Chinese government would not benefit from underreporting.

NANSHAN: They are now. So one (INAUDIBLE) that all the cities should report the true number of diseases. So if you do not do that, you will be punished.

CULVER: Zhong's focus is now on preparing China for a second wave of the outbreak. Over the past few weeks, new clusters of cases have surfaced in several cities, including Wuhan.

Do you think a vaccine is going to be a reality in the near future? Where are we with progress?

NANSHAN: I totally believe vaccine is the most important to establish this herd immunity.

CULVER: He cited three vaccine trials underway in China. They will do next phases of testing by late summer. But he warns --

NANSHAN: If you are going to make -- to work out a perfect vaccine, it will take years and years.

CULVER: We talk so often about the disagreements between the governments and the politics at this.


But can people find hope in knowing that at least the medical community is able to push past boundaries and that they're discussing this globally?

NANSHAN: It's really true in my group, as well as Guangzhou Institute of Public Health and Harvard Medical School.

I am very happy to have this opportunity to contact the top hospitals in the world to get some collaboration. And then we have made great progress. And also we have some experienced some disease. So three months earlier than the U.S. colleagues, so we can tell them some of our experience and our lessons.


CULVER: He is a fascinating character, John, and he's somebody that we, frankly, have been trying to get in touch with for months now. For us to have this opportunity was really rare and yet, at the same time, he's somebody who has risen to that celebrity level here.

You saw behind him, there were paintings done by children, those are grade schoolchildren who were at home sending them into his office to kind of pay tribute to the voice that he's had here.

At the same time, he's strategic though. I mean, he doesn't go out and knock the central government and criticize them harshly. He's very focused on his criticism, mostly directing that towards the Wuhan local health officials.

BERMAN: It is interesting though. He does seem to be at least pushing the envelope a little bit, speaking more freely to you than I might have suspected.

David, there is news overnight about a resurgence of cases in some parts of China. What can you tell us about that?

CULVER: Well, here is the alarming part, and Dr. Zhong hit on this a little bit when he says, look, people may start removing their mask here, they may start breathing a little bit easier, even reopening businesses, but he says, this is far from over. He said it's not over here even though they feel like they're in the upper hand of containment and even though state media portrays things at certainly in a more positive light. He says, look at the northeast, in particular. We're looking at that in certain provinces there where they have inactive Wuhan-like lockdowns recently, where people are now back into isolation and quarantine situations. And then go to Wuhan, the original epicenter of all this, we're starting to see cluster cases break out once again there.

And what they've enacted is essentially this citywide testing. And as of today, we know 400,000 of the roughly 11 million people that live there have undergone testing that will continue for the next few days. It's a massive effort that they're undertaking and it could likely change the numbers here assuming things are fully transparent when they're reported ultimately, John.

BERMAN: David Culver, we thank you once again for your reporting. I have to say, you give us a look inside China that no one else in the world does. So we appreciate your efforts.

CULVER: Thanks, John.

BERMAN: All right, we have new reporting this morning from one of the U.S. states seeing a drop in cases. What's the key to success there and why are protesters still in the streets?



CAMEROTA: Pennsylvania will reopen more businesses this week but not in all counties. Protesters have been calling on the governor to loosen more restrictions and a handful of counties are vowing to ignore the governor's stay-at-home orders.

Joining us now is Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor, John Fetterman. Lieutenant Governor, thanks for being here.

So let me pull up the map for everybody just so that they can see which are still under stay-at-home orders. So I think that there're these six counties, and you can see them in red there, that will not yet be opening if the governor has his druthers. But then there are, I think, I don't know, 12 counties or something that are on the verge of reopening. And so what happens if these six defy the governor's order?

LT. GOV. JOHN FETTERMAN (D-PA): Let me put this in context. Pennsylvania has 67 counties. And the overwhelming majority of them are in yellow transition towards opening or slated to enter that phase this coming Friday, so this idea that Pennsylvania isn't opening based on the numbers being driven by the virus. And what's going to happen to these counties, I mean, I think that's going to be determined by how the virus behaves.

The governor has always sought to strike a balance between lives and livelihoods. And it's a delicate balance without a doubt. And these counties are pushing ahead do so at the peril of their residents.

CAMEROTA: Well, I mean, I think there might even be some financial pillar (ph). I mean, aren't there -- isn't the governor threatening some financial repercussions if these -- some of these counties defy him?

FETTERMAN: I think he's pointing out that the fact that the governor's top priority is the health, safety and welfare of every resident in Pennsylvania, regardless of what county they live in. And if the local officials are going to act in defiance of that, then I think he's outlining that there could be additional fallout.

But I want to be clear, the virus has the biggest stick in this equation. And as we can see across the country, it's not afraid to use it. And it's really coming down to finding that right balance of lives and livelihoods.

The governor believes, as I do, that you can't have a healthy economy if you have a sick underlying population.

CAMEROTA: Look, I'm sure the governor doesn't want to cut funding to those counties, but he has threatened to cut funding to those counties. And just tell me what that looks like. What would those counties -- what kind of money would those counties not have access to if they decide to reopen?

FETTERMAN: I'm not -- I don't speak for the governor's ultimate final decision. I think he's reached a point now in Pennsylvania where there's certain individuals that are working actively against the public health and public interest. And it's the governor's prerogative to respond in a way that he deems appropriate.

But, you know, this isn't directed at individual Pennsylvanians. This has only ever been about finding that right balance and making sure that we can all effectively be as open as we can be but also as safe as we can be and striking a balance of being open and safe.

I think the governor has done an incredibly strong job. Our numbers are trending downwards. An overwhelming majority of our counties are either opening or slated to open this Friday. And the protesters represent a small, tiny minority of individuals that -- I don't know what their interests are.