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The Situation Room

East And West Coast Governors Team Up On Reopening States; Trump Retweets A Call To Fire Dr. Fauci; Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) Is Interviewed About The Coronavirus Update; E-mail Chain From Medical Experts Ignored By Trump; Major U.S. Pork Plant Shuts Down After Hundreds Of Workers Test Positive For Coronavirus; Governors On East And West Coasts Band Together By Region To Decide When To Reopen States. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired April 13, 2020 - 17:00   ET



PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Now, Jake, if the Swedish Hills (ph) authorities are right, then the country is experiencing its peak right now and they say it's going to be slow and manageable, but there are so many scientists who simply don't believe them, who say there's nothing in the international experience to suggest that can be true.

They fear that while people are socializing, the disease -- the virus is spreading and there's another peak coming, a real spike and they fear that is something that could really overwhelm the Swedish health system, Jake.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: All right, Phil Black, thanks so much. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM and we're following breaking news.

We're standing by to hear from the White House coronavirus task force as governors in the northeast and western U.S. they've banded together by region to plan a shared approach to reopen their states even though the president claims it's his decision to make, not theirs.

Tonight, the pandemic death toll here in the United States continues to climb and now tops 23,000 with more than 572,000 confirmed cases. Worldwide, there are more than 1.9 million known cases and more than 118,000 confirmed deaths.

Meanwhile, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, has admitted to CNN that earlier action on social distancing, and I'm quoting him now, could have saved more lives. And the "New York Times" is reporting that worried public health experts warned top administration officials in a series of e- mails of a looming public health catastrophe.

We'll talk about all of that and more with the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo in just a few minutes. He's standing by live. In the meantime, let's get the very latest on the pandemic's impact across the United States. CNN's nick watt begins our coverage. He is out in Los Angeles for us. Nick, governors on both coasts, they are banding together.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely right, Wolf. Here in Los Angeles County, we have just seen a first drop in new case counts in over two weeks. Now as you mentioned, governors are getting together, grabbing the initiative to figure out how they are finally going to reopen the economy when they can.

Here on the West Coast, California, Oregon, Washington, are all going to collaborate. And those governors tell us that health outcomes and science, not politics, will guide these decisions. Meanwhile, Wolf, something very similar happening on the East Coast.


ANDREW CUOMO, GOVERNOR OF NEW YORK CITY: I believe the worst is over if we continue to be smart. And I believe we can now start on the path to normalcy.

WATT (voice-over): New York and neighbors just began collaborating to create a plan.

PHIL MURPHY, GOVERNOR OF NEW JERSEY (via telephone): An economic recovery only occurs on the back of a complete health care recovery.

WATT (voice-over): Massachusetts is still 13 days from peak death rates, according to one model used by the White House.

CHARLIE BAKER, GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS: It's a wave that's going to play out across the country at different of points in time.

WATT (voice-over): Florida and Texas also nearly two weeks away from their peaks.

GREG ABBOTT, GOVERNOR OF TEXAS: Later this week, we'll outline both safe and healthy strategies where we can begin the process of going about reopening businesses.

SYLVESTER TURNER, MAYOR, HOUSTON, TEXAS: We're a long way from having the testing that we need across the city of Houston.

WATT (voice-over): Six hundred seventy-one people died due to COVID-19 in New York State on Easter Sunday alone.

CUOMO: But basically flat and basically flat at a horrific level.

WATT (voice-over): Hospitalizations also down a little over the weekend in this hardest-hit state.

ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CDC: We are stabilizing across the country right now in terms of the state of this outbreak.

WATT (voice-over): The surgeon general tweeted today, "NY, NJ and even Detroit and New Orleans appear to be leveling off." Beyond a test for the virus, an antibody test could also be key in finding out who's had it and can return to work. But --

TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CDC: There are many bad tests, inaccurate tests on the market.

WATT (voice-over): In Detroit and South Dakota, they're now testing hydroxychloroquine, that malaria drug President Trump has touted.

KRISTI NOEM, GOVERNOR OF SOUTH DAKOTA: We've received the initial first doses of the drug.

WATT (voice-over): A small chloroquine study in Brazil just stopped after some patients on high doses developed irregular heart beats. Many say this isn't really over until there's a vaccine.

CUOMO: OK, when do we get there? Twelve months to 18 months.

WATT (voice-over): The president had hoped to begin opening up the country this past weekend.


WATT (voice-over): Instead, amidst deadly tornadoes, they were social distancing in Mississippi shelters.


A sailor just died among the near 600 infected from the USS Theodore Roosevelt. One of the nation's biggest pork processing plants has closed indefinitely after an outbreak. And in a Detroit hospital, bodies are stored in a sleep study room and stacked in a freezer.


WATT (on camera): People are still dying and some places still doubling down on social distancing. Here in Beverly Hills now you have to wear a mask even if you're just walking out on the street. And why?

Well, there is a new study from here in Los Angeles County that says if we stop staying home right now and all just went about our business like we used to, then more than 95 percent of us here in L.A. County would become infected with this virus, Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick Watt with the very latest. Nick, thank you very much.

Joining us now, the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy. We're grateful to you. Our viewers are certainly grateful as well.

I know you've convened this group of governors from across the northeast to tackle the reopening of your states. But earlier today the president tweeted this. Let me read it to you and get your response. "Some of the fake news are saying that it is the governors' decision to open up the states, not that of the president of the United States and the federal government. Let it be fully understood that that is incorrect."

So, that's part of his tweet. Who will make the final decision when it comes to reopening New York State, for example?

CUOMO: Yes, good question. Thanks, Wolf, good to be with you. Look, you could have a legal debate on whether it's a federal responsibility or a state responsibility. But before you get to the legal issue, I don't think anyone would contest a smart plan.

The question is, for the federal government to now change its model of management, because remember, the federal government could have said I want to close down the economy. They didn't. They said we're going to leave it to the states.

Now all of a sudden when it comes time to open the economy, now it's back to the federal government's responsibility. But you could have a scenario where the president says I'm the president, I have a federal plan, and here it is, and I want to override states.

Before you get to the legal issue, I think people would want to hear the plan. And look, if it's a smart plan, everybody wants a smart plan. I overrode my local governments in the state of New York. Yes, we want a statewide plan, but then you have to have the plan, Wolf.

The federal government is going to take responsibility. Okay, tell me how you're going to do that. Are you going to open all the economies at once? Are you going to have a formula that says this rate of infection, you open, this rate of infection, you don't open? How do you handle testing because the states can't handle testing?

They would have to not just proclaim, they would have to say this is how we're going to do it, which we have not heard to date. And that's why the federal government handed the delegation to the states. They want to take it back? How are you going to do it, Mr. President? Answer the questions first.

BLITZER: Now, that's an important point indeed, governor. So, from your perspective, what is the president's role when it comes to reopening the states, New York State specifically?

CUOMO: Nobody's been here before, Wolf. So you can fashion it however you want. I'm not going to say I don't want help from the federal government. I do. The more the federal government can do, the less I have to do, god bless.

But then the federal government has to do it. I'll define the roles any way that works. But we have to define roles that you then not only assume and proclaim, but you perform your responsibility. The federal government said, we don't want to close down the government, that's up to the states.

We don't do purchasing at FEMA, which is a first for me. I was in the federal government for eight years. I worked with FEMA. They always did the purchasing. Now the federal government says we're not going to be a shipping clerk; it's up to the states. The states have to go buy ventilators from China and PPE from China.

The states have to do testing when we can't do the testing. We don't have the capacity. So, the first phase was the federal government pointing to the states. If the federal government now wants to do a 180 and say we'll take responsibility, just tell me how.

BLITZER: That's a good question. You know, governors on the West Coast, your colleagues out there, your fellow governors, they've also come together to have a joint approach to reopening their region of the country. Would you like to see governors across the country band together right now and do this together, in effect?

CUOMO: Well, look. You pick a model, Wolf, and you can do it a number of different ways, but you have to do it and we have to be clear. You could argue -- put the legal argument aside for a second -- you could argue that a president could step up and say I'm going to have a federal plan, and this is the way it's going to work.


We're going to have a percentage set, and any population that has over a percentage of infection, they stay closed, these are the industries we're going to open first, this is what we're going to do about schools, this is how we're going to do testing.

A federal government could put forth such a plan. And the governors, if it was smart, who -- look, nobody has been here before and nobody wants the sole responsibility. If the federal government had a full plan, I would be the first one to say I'll cooperate.

Or let the federal government say I'm not going to do it. I've delegated this to the states. That's how I started and the states have to do it. Okay, but then the states need support because this is a federal situation.

The president likened it to going to war. Well, when you go to war, you don't say to the states, every state has to buy its own tanks, every state has to buy its own guns. It doesn't work that way. This is a national situation.

How do we do testing? Where does the funding come from? Either it's A or B. You can have a model, a smart model either way, but either the federal government does it or the states do it in a clear delineation of responsibility and who performs what task. And the president is the president. Let him put forth a model, but he has to put forth a model, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. Let's see if he does. Governor, when will you feel confident that New York State is ready to begin to reopen? Will it be a certain level of testing or specific data, a data metric indicating that it's safe to start loosening up all the stay-at-home orders?

CUOMO: Look, we say we're flattening the curve, we're on a plateau. Remember how bad this plateau is, Wolf. We have 2,000 new cases walking in hospital doors every day. We have about 18,000 people in the hospitals today with the virus. We lose about 600 people a day, all right? We're at 10,000 deaths. In

9/11, we only had 2,700 deaths. So this is a horrific plateau that we're on. If the cases continue to decline, you will see people move to reopening aggressively.

They want to get out of their homes. They need a paycheck. We need the economy running. I'm afraid that they'll be too aggressive because if it's not done right, you will see that virus infection rate go right through the roof. And I want to get ahead of this for the first time.

We've been playing catch-up since day one. Let's start talk about reopening, how do you do a public health strategy and an economic reactivation strategy at the same time on a regional basis? Never done before. Never. How do you do it? And how do you do it smartly?

That's what the states are now working to come up with because I anticipate tomorrow. The president wants to stand up and say, I have a better model? God bless you. But let me hear the model first.

BLITZER: We'll be anxious to hear if he does have a model for that. And I just want to point out and I know you got to run, governor. A month ago, on March 12th, there were 38, 38, confirmed coronavirus deaths here in the United States.

If you look at the right part of the screen, right now there are more than 23,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States. Within a month, between March 12th and now, there have been, what, 23,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States.

Let's hope that number starts to go down. We're grateful to you for everything you're doing, Governor Cuomo. I know you have to run. Thank you so much for joining us.

CUOMO: Thank you, Wolf. Thank you very much.

BLITZER: The New York governor, Andrew Cuomo. He's obviously a very, very busy guy. Let's go to the White House right now. Our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta is joining us. Jim, some serious questions tonight about the future of Dr. Anthony Fauci. What are you learning?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Wolf. And one of the big flash points you were just talking about coming up in the briefing is likely to be over the president's claim that he alone will decide when to reopen the country.

We are now seeing several governors beginning to discuss their own plans for moving their respective states back to normalcy. In the meantime, the White House officials are trying to tamp down on the firestorm the president touched off when he retweeted a tweet that included the hashthag "fire Fauci."

Aides to the president say Dr. Anthony Fauci remains a trusted advisor, but a source close to the White House says the president has been fretting over the doctor's comments on the coronavirus.


ACOSTA (voice-over): It's a new coronavirus controversy President Trump created all by himself, on Easter, when he retweeted a tweet that included the hashtag "fire Fauci." That came hours after Dr. Anthony Fauci told CNN that lives could have been saved had the U.S. started social distancing sooner.

ANTHONY FAUCI, MEMBER, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: Obviously, you could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives.


Obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president's swipe at the doctor came two days after Mr. Trump defended his medical experts, but stopped short of telling Fauci's conservative critics to lay off the doctor.

Some of your allies have been bashing these doctors. Would you tell them to cut it out?

TRUMP: I can only say this. I have tremendous respect for these people. And we've done very well.

ACOSTA (voice-over): A White House spokesman issued a statement saying this media chatter is ridiculous. President Trump is not firing Dr. Fauci. Dr. Fauci has been and remains a trusted adviser to President Trump.

But a source close to the White House says the president has been fretting over Fauci for a while now. Trump surrogates have been pointing out Fauci initially said Americans shouldn't be afraid of the virus back in January.

FAUCI: The American people should not be worried or frightened by this. It's a very, very low risk to the United States, but it's something that we as public health officials need to take very seriously.

ACOSTA (voice-over): But in the weeks that followed, Fauci has been willing to publicly disagree with the president.

TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day, it's like a miracle. It will disappear.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Cautioning that the virus was becoming a growing threat.

FAUCI: We would hope that as we get to warmer weather, it would go down. But we can't proceed under that presumption. We've got to assume it's going to get worse and worse and worse.

ACOSTA (voice-over): And there were other warnings. The "New York Times" obtained e-mails between top administration officials and alarmed public health experts. One of the so-called "red dawn" e-mails was explicit. "We need actions, actions, actions and more actions. We're going to have pockets of epicenters around this country." Democrats say firing Fauci now would send the wrong message.

CUOMO: Look, I think Dr. Fauci is great. I think Americans trust him. I think he's been extraordinary. And I think it would be -- I can't imagine, I just can't even -- as crazy as things get in this world, and in crazy Washington, I can't imagine that that would ever happen.

ACOSTA (voice-over): The president appears to be ready to pick another fight, insisting that it's not up to the governors to reopen their states, tweeting, "Let it be fully understood that this is incorrect." But he sent mixed signals about leaving those decisions up to the governors.

TRUMP: I like to allow governors to make decisions without overruling them because from a constitutional standpoint, that's the way it should be done. If I disagreed, I would overrule a governor. And I have that right to do it.


ACOSTA (on camera): Now, one Trump adviser cautioned that people shouldn't read too much into the president's retweeting a social media post that says "fire Fauci." This adviser explains that the president sometimes retweets tweets without fully reading them.

But a separate source close to the White House said the president has become frustrated with reports criticizing his handling of the virus, adding Mr. Trump is losing patience with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, suspecting that officials in that department are behind some unflattering news stories about the president.

And as we are on kind of a Fauci watch this evening, Wolf, I'm told by a source close to the coronavirus task force, that doctor will be at the briefing in just a few moments, Wolf.

BLITZER: If he'll be at the briefing, I'm anxious to see what role he plays. Will the president allow him to answer reporters' questions? All of us remember the other day he was asked a specific question, basically the president told him don't answer that question. That was very, very awkward indeed.

ACOSTA: Absolutely.

BLITZER: Let's see what happens in the coming minutes. All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you very much. And to our viewers, stay with us. Once again, we're waiting for the start of today's White House coronavirus task force briefing. We'll have live coverage here in "The Situation Room."

We'll also speak with a doctor who was part of an e-mail chain of experts whose early warnings about the coming pandemic were largely ignored by the Trump White House. We'll be right back.



BLITZER: We're waiting for the start of today's White House coronavirus task force briefing. Our reporters will be going into the briefing room shortly. We'll have live coverage coming up.

Meanwhile, a weekend article of the "New York Times" detailed how President Trump repeatedly played down the seriousness of early warnings about the coronavirus. Some of those warnings came from a group of experts who called themselves "Red Dawn."

That was the name taken from a 1984 movie about people trying to save the United States from an invasion. I'm joined now by one of the experts who was part of the so-called "Red Dawn" e-mail chain, Dr. Dan Hanfling. Dr. Hanfling, thank you so much for joining us.

The e-mail chain included many of the country's top officials responding to the crisis. We're putting some of the names up on the screen; Dr. Fauci, Dr. Redfield, the Surgeon General, Jerome Adams, other experts as well. What was the goal of these e-mails that -- and you were a part of that chain.

DAN HANFLING, VICE PRESIDENT, TECHNICAL STAFF IN-Q-TEL: Well, first, thanks for the invitation, Wolf, to spend a little bit of time with you and your viewers. You know, the "Red Dawn" group was really an informal vehicle for folks inside and outside of government, some of the best experts in public health and emergency preparedness, to begin to try to get a handle on what was a rapidly evolving, very complex situation as we were learning about the novel coronavirus emanating from central China.

And the idea was really to try to make sense of lots of incomplete information and with that information try to provide some useful information to those experts inside government who we count amongst our colleagues and friends.

We've all worked together, many of us, for nearly two decades.


And this was an opportunity to provide an informal exchange based on what we were looking at.

BLITZER: These were the top, including you, the top experts in the country, in the government and outside the government. A top Veterans Affairs official wrote this on February 28th, and I'll put it up on the screen.

"My concern is that a possible scenario is that we become Italy part 2, (the sequel). We have also been flying blind. We have unrecognized smoldering community transmission."

And on March 4th, a few days later he e-mailed, "Political leaders and public health leaders need to be convinced of the utility of these interventions and the courage to act. If they miss the window to act, they don't get a do-over."

So why do you think it took as long, it took at least another a couple of weeks for the advice of these top public health experts to resonate with the president?

HANFLING: Yes, you know, so those comments, you know, clearly highlighted the fact that as we were looking at data and as we were watching what was happening in Italy, we were increasingly concerned that we needed to be more aggressive and think about leaning farther forward in the United States.

But that's easier said than done. You know, in medicine, we oftentimes say, you know, hindsight is 20/20. Everything always when you look backwards, it always looks perfect. Are there medical cases that I wish I had a do-over? Believe me, I do.

But the challenge in making the kind of draconian recommendations for what we call non-pharmaceutical interventions, physical distancing, closing schools, shutting down entertainment venues and so on, is a really difficult call. In retrospect it looks easy, and you can pin that to the calendar.

But to actually make those pronouncements and particularly since different communities were affected differently at different times as we're now clearing with regards to the conversation prospectively going forward, how we might see ourselves out the other end. It was difficult, I think, for decision-makers to make, you know, an all or none decision based on what we were seeing.

BLITZER: We all are much smarter with hindsight. But bottom line, do you agree with Dr. Fauci that earlier action would have saved lives?

HANFLING: You know, again, in the context of a perfect world, if I had done things differently, I think I would have saved a lot of lives that I was responsible for over the course of my career. So, I think it's more important for us to recognize the incredible complexity of those decisions.

For example, we talked a lot in our e-mail group about the fact that if we close schools, how are those children who are dependent on school lunches and some of them are dependent on breakfasts and dinners as well as lunches, how are they going to be cared for?

What is the process for assuring that those day workers who now all of a sudden will have their, you know, rug pulled out from under them, how are we going to assure that there are processes to make sure that they're putting food on their tables?

And, you know, making these draconian decisions are very difficult. And that is what -- that's why this pandemic is more complex than any other disaster that we've experienced in our lifetimes.

BLITZER: You make important points and we're grateful to you, Dr. Hanfling. Thank you so much for joining us. We'll certainly want to continue this conversation down the road. Dr. Dan Hanfling, joining us. HANFLING: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Thank you. And stay with us. Once again, we're waiting for the start of today's White House coronavirus task force briefing. Reporters are now in their seats. So we'll wait for the president, the vice president, and the other experts to show up.

Also ahead, there are some alarming new questions about the U.S. Food supply chain after a major pork plant closes down to the virus.



BLITZER: We're waiting for the start of today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the briefing room, we'll have coverage of course. We're also hearing about complaints over the rollout of new rapid coronavirus testing, something that's likely to be a key both to saving lives, as well as reopening the country's economy.

I want to bring in our Senior Investigative Correspondent Drew Griffin. Drew, what are you learning?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: This is that rapid ID test that was supposedly going to be a game changer, Wolf. And it marks the kind of disconnect between what happens in these White House briefings in the reality of manufacturing and distributing these tests in a pandemic, when everybody needs everything all at once.

Abbott makes the test, they've shipped out about 556,000 of these rapid ID tests since getting approval. They're doing another 50,000 tests every day. They are going primarily to the people, the hospitals, the doctors' offices, the entities that already had the machine that uses them.

The states didn't have the machine. So FEMA went out and bought machines for the state, sent the states a starter kit with just a sampling of tests to kind of get acclimated to these machines. These governors across the country that had been complaining either didn't get that message or didn't understand that they are going to get the tests, Wolf, they just have to catch up with the supply which is lagging behind demand across the nation for all things involving tests. Wolf?


BLITZER: Yes, lots of problems out there, as we all know are. Thank you very much, Drew Griffin reporting.

Coming up, a major pork plant closes down due to the virus raising some very serious questions about shortages, potential shortages in the U.S. food supply. And our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he's standing by. We have questions that you want him to answer about the pandemic. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: All right, once again we're waiting for today's White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing to begin. We'll have live coverage of that, standby. In the meantime, one of the largest pork processing plants in the United States is closing down right now because of the coronavirus. And it's raising very serious questions about the U.S. food supply chain.

CNN's Brian Todd has been looking for some answers. Brian, what are you finding out?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, there's heated debate over whether the closures of that pork processing plant in South Dakota and others like it are causing major disruptions, but there is no question that the overall food supply chain in the United States is facing extraordinary challenges tonight.


TODD (voice-over): Coronavirus takes a potentially devastating toll at a pork processing plant in South Dakota. Smithfield Foods has closed its plant in Sioux Falls after at least 200 people who work there tested positive for COVID-19. That plant alone represents four percent to five percent of America's pork production. About 18 million servings a day.

Smithfield CEO says and he adds the closures are, "Pushing our country perilously close to the edge in terms of our meat supply". At least two other pork plants closed this month in Iowa and Pennsylvania and that's not all.

TONY CORBO, FOOD AND WATER WATCH: There's been another plant, another big plant in Greeley Colorado that is a big beef slaughter plant that has had to shut down temporarily. And they've been poultry plants around the country that they've been forced to close temporarily because of COVID-19. So there it -- there are going to be shortages, temporary shortages in the meat supply.

TODD (voice-over): A representative of America's meat industry tells CNN if there are more closures ahead that impact the supply chain, the shortages could get worse. But she says for now, there's plenty of meat in reserve.

JULIE ANNA POTTS, AMERICAN MEAT INSTITUTE: There are plants across the country that are operating. Our -- we have lots of food, in storage, lots of meat in storage, pork, beef, all poultry, in storage, and on our way grocery stores.

TODD (voice-over): But other sectors of the food supply chain are also under stress, which could cause shortages from growers and producers, to migrant pickers and laborers, to truckers and distributors.

GREG BURRIS, BURRIS FARM MARKET: They count the farmer but there's a whole bunch of people behind us supporting us.

TODD (voice-over): This Alabama farmer says the supply chain is very unpredictable, but he has committed to growing.

BURRIS: I may over produce and then I don't know, it may get thrown away or it might get sold at the market. It's hard to tell this. I mean, everything's up in the air right now.

TODD (voice-over): Some producers are discarding produce (ph) like milk and eggs that are geared to sell in bulk to restaurants and cafeterias who aren't buying. This dairy in Idaho dumping down the drain 4,000 gallons of milk they can't sell to restaurants, even as Americans elsewhere are lining up by the hundreds at food banks. Grocery stores are another sector of the food chain at high risk tonight.

If workers interacting with customers every day gets sick, they are unable to man the register or worse. Although it's unclear how she got it, cashier Vitalina Williams died of coronavirus this month, as did 27-year old lady Leilani Jordan, a supermarket clerk near D.C. One food industry advocate believes not enough has been done overall to protect grocery store workers.

CORBO: They should have been given protective equipment to begin with, where possible to practice social distancing and to give them -- to pay them to come to work giving them hazardous duty pay in order to show up to work in this -- during this crisis.


TODD: Now that industry watchdog, Tony Corbo was also critical of the meatpacking industry saying that it's impossible to socially distance people inside those meatpacking plants and that they don't give people their enough personal protective equipment. A meat industry representative who spoke to us refuted that completely saying that they do have sufficient equipment and that they take extraordinary steps to enforce social distancing. Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Brian Todd reporting for us. Very important questions now being raised on that. Thank you very, very much.

Joining us now, Dr. Craig Spencer, he's the Director of Global Health and E.R. Medicine at New York Presbyterian Columbia University Medical Center. And Dr. Spencer, we may have to interrupt you if this Whitehouse Coronavirus Task Force briefing begins.

But let me get your thoughts on what's going on right now. You're on the front lines, your state's Governor Andrew Cuomo says the worst is over if, if we continue to be smart, that's a quote. Are you beginning to seen -- see some signs of serious encouragement out there on the front lines?

DR. CRAIG SPENCER, NECESSARY-PRESBYTERIAN/COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: We absolutely are. We're seeing some decline in the rate of hospitalization. We're seeing some decline in all those big scary statistics, the number of deaths per day, the number of people intubated per day. Important thing to remember, though, is that we're still seeing a lot of deaths every day. We're still seeing a lot of patients every day, we're still seeing a lot more people in our ICUs.

I think it's important to say that maybe the worst is over but we're still in a crunch (ph) and we need to continue with the same measures that have gotten us this far. That means social distancing, staying at home and remembering as we lead up right now, we could be repeating the cycle again in a couple weeks.


BLITZER: As you know Governor Cuomo has convened a task force of neighboring governors to work on reopening the economy, what needs to happen from your perspective to reopen the economy from a health perspective?

SPENCER: Yes, absolutely. I'm not a politician. I'm a public health professional. I do think that we're going to have to have an idea around what are the goals, not necessarily the goal date, what's the goal plan, what are the things that we're going to need in place to be able to open the economy, and those are the things that we need in place to decrease the spread. That means a massive increase the amount of testing, we have still tested far too few people here in New York City and across the --

BLITZER: I think we're losing the tech -- we're losing Dr. Spencer right now. Can you hear me OK, Dr. Spencer? I think we just lost Dr. Spencer. We're just waiting for the start of this Coronavirus Task Force briefing.

I'm actually anxious to see the role that Dr. Fauci will play during the course of this briefing. I assume he's going to walk out together with Dr. Birx and the others, they will be there. The President, the Vice President, the reporters, they're sitting there now. They're waiting for the start of the briefing. I assume there'll be some opening statements on the part of the President, maybe some others and the questions and answers will begin. We'll watch it very closely.

We'll also try to reconnect with Dr. Spencer. I know that we will also want to talk with our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who's also standing by. Let's take a quick break. We'll resume our special coverage right here in "The Situation Room" right after this.


BLITZER: All right, let's go to the Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Here's the President.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Before I begin, I'd like to offer my condolences and best wishes to the people all across our great South who have endured deadly tornadoes and other severe weather in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and South Carolina. My administration will do everything possible to help those communities get back on their feet. We're speaking with the governors and representatives. FEMA has already on its way and they got there. [17:50:02]

As soon as we heard the word, I said get out there. So FEMA is there and you know the great job that FEMA does. It's really something very special. So we just want to say warmest condolences and we're with you all the way. It's a tough deal, that was a bad, bad level five, that was a bad group that's as high as it gets. It's a bad grouping of tornadoes, something that's something incredible, the power, the horrible, disruptive power.

America is continuing to make critical progress in our war against the virus over the weekend, the number of daily new infections remained flat. Nationwide flat, hospitalizations are slowing and hotspots like New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Louisiana. This is clear evidence that our aggressive strategy to combat the virus is working and that Americans are following the guidelines. It's been incredible what they've done.

You looked at the charts, and the charts are -- and the models from early on predictions were 100,000 and 120,000. People look like if they did well, they will go into unfortunately perish. And we're going to be hopefully way, way below that number. So that will be a sign of people doing things right. But it's still just a horrible thing all over the world. One hundred and eighty-four countries.

This is all a tribute to our wonderful healthcare advisors and experts who have been with us right from the beginning. We appreciate it so much. In fact, Dr. Fauci is here. Maybe I could ask Tony to say a few words before we go any further. Thank you very much. Tony, please.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY & INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you, Mr. President. Just a couple of things and then I would just want to make a comment about something that happened yesterday. You're going to hear from Dr. Birx soon about the numbers that we've been talking about how things are starting to balance off, and I think the more as we go by each day, I think we're going to see and again, I never like to get ahead of myself or of Dr. Birx.

But it looks like even though we've had a really bad week last week, remember when I was speaking to you before, I was saying this was really a bad week. There's still going to be a lot of deaths, but we're starting to see in some areas now that kind of flattening, particularly in a place that was a hotspot like New York, that's the first thing.

The second thing is that I had a really very, very productive conversation with the Congressional Black Caucus this morning for about an hour and they really wanted to know what exactly are we going to be doing in the immediate as well as the long range about the health disparities and the discrepancies both in infection and in poor outcome in the minorities in general, but specifically African- American.

And, I mean, I made it very clear to them that what we have to do is focus on getting the resources where the vulnerable are to be able to get testing done, to be able to get the appropriate identification, where proper and were appropriate to isolate and contact trace if we can, but also to help mitigate in a community that is suffering and suffering much more disproportionately. So I just wanted to get that out of the way.

The other point I wanted to make is that I had an interview yesterday that I was asked a hypothetical question. And hypothetical questions sometimes can get you into some difficulty because it's what would have or could have. The nature of the hypothetical question was if, in fact, we had mitigated earlier, could lives have been saved? And the answer to my question was, as I always do, and I'm doing right now perfectly, honestly say, yes. I mean, obviously, if you -- mitigation helps.

I've been up here many times, telling you that mitigation works. So if mitigation works, and you instigate it, and you initiate it earlier, you will probably have saved more lives. If you initiated it later, you probably would have lost more lives. You initiated at a certain time. That was taken as a way that maybe somehow something was at fault here.

So let me tell you from my experience, and I can only speak from my own experience, is that we had been talking before any meetings that we had about the pros and the cons, the effectiveness or not have strong mitigations. So discussions are going on mostly among the medical people about what that would mean. The first and only time that Dr. Birx and I went in and formally made a recommendation to the President to actually have a quote, shut down in the sense of -- not really shut down -- but to really have strong mitigation. We discussed it.


Obviously, they would be concerned by some that, in fact, that might have some negative consequences. Nonetheless, the President listened to the recommendation and went to the mitigation. The next second time that I went with Dr. Birx into the President and said 15 days are not enough. We need to go 30 days.

Obviously, there were people who had a problem with that because of the potential secondary effects. Nonetheless, at that time, the President went with the health recommendations, and we extended it another 30 days. So I can only tell you what I know and what my recommendations were. But clearly, as happens all the time, they were interpretations of that response to a hypothetical question that I just thought it would be very nice for me to clarify because they didn't have the chance to clarify. Thank you.


FAUCI: You know what, to be honest with you, I don't even remember what the date was. But I can just tell you the first and only time that I went in and said we should do mitigation strongly. The response was, yes, we'll do it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And what did he do? Was that the travel restrictions?

FAUCI: No. The travel restriction is separate. That was whether or not we wanted to go into a mitigation stage of 15 days of mitigation. The travel was another recommendation when we went in and said, we probably should be doing that. And the answer was, yes. And then another time was we should do it with Europe. And the answer was yes. And the next time we should do it with the UK. And the answer was yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In this interview, you said there was pushback.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where did that pushback come from?

FAUCI: No, it wasn't. That was the wrong choice of words. You know what it was when people discuss, not necessarily in front of the President, when people discuss, they say, well, you know, this is going to have maybe a harmful effect on this or on that. So it was a poor choice of words. There wasn't anybody saying, no, you shouldn't do that.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you doing this voluntarily, or did the President --

FAUCI: No, I'm doing it -- everything I do is voluntarily. Please, don't even imply that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So Mr. President, the question is --

TRUMP: And by the way, the travel ban, that was earlier. Travel van was done earlier. And if you look at statistics, I happened to write a couple of them down, if you look at statistics -- so on January 6th, that's long before the dates you're talking about, there were -- CDC issued a travel notice for Wuhan, China, a notice before there was even a confirmed case of the virus in the United States. That's on January 6th. It's all documented because we have so much fake news, I like to document things.

January 6th long before the dates we're talking about. CDC issued travel notice to Wuhan -- for Wuhan. On January 11th, we have zero cases in the United States. Zero. We don't have any cases, so there are no cases reported that we know of. This is January 11th. The CDC issued a level one travel notice health, for health while there were still no confirmed cases. So we had zero cases. People want me to act.

I'm supposed to close down the economy, the greatest economy in the history of the world, and we don't have one case confirmed in the United States. That's January 11th.

On January 17th, the CDC began implementing public health entry screenings at three major U.S. airports that received the greatest volume of passengers from Wuhan, at my instructions. There was not a single case of the coronavirus in the United States. So on January 17th, there wasn't a case. And the fake news is saying, oh, he didn't act fast enough. Well, you remember what happened, because when I did act, I was criticized by Nancy Pelosi, by sleepy Joe Biden. I was criticized by everybody.

In fact, I was called xenophobic. I was asking Biden to please define that for me. I was called other things by Democrats. And some others, not too many others actually, by the media, definitely.

Now, on January 21st, this is long before the time we're talking, because when Tony's talking, I believe he's talking about the end of February. On January 21st, OK, it was still early, there was one case of the virus at that time. We called it the Wuhan virus, right? Wuhan. There was one case in the whole United States. We had one case. This is all documented. It all comes from you. A lot of it comes from your people.

On January 21st, the CDC activated an emergency operation center. There was just one case, one person. That's why that ad was such a phony. There was one person in the United States, you know they -- you see it, there's only one person -- that statement was made at that time. One case in the whole United States, one case.

I'm supposed to shut down the government, the biggest economy in the history of the world, shut it down. We have one case. Seven cases were on January 31st.