Return to Transcripts main page


Updates On Coronavirus And How It Is Challenging Law Enforcement; What Is Herd Immunity And Can It Stop The Coronavirus?; The Worldwide Race For A Vaccine Or Cure For Coronavirus Continues; The Impact Of The Coronavirus On Education; What's Left For Sports Fans To Watch? Aired 9-10a ET

Aired March 21, 2020 - 09:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The virus strains the thin blue line. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia. Here's the very latest data regarding coronavirus. The U.S. has at least 18,763 confirmed cases, 258 known deaths. Italy, on Friday, announced a jaw-dropping 627 deaths in 24 hours, the largest single-day toll anywhere in the world since the outbreak began. That brings their death toll to more than 4,000.

All sectors of society now under strain, but perhaps none more important than the members of law enforcement. Some lack protective equipment that would prevent them from acquiring the virus. Those sworn to protect and serve face the unique challenge of engaging in social distancing while simultaneously protecting the public and there's the issue of how to interact with those suspected of committing crimes.

As the crisis continues, some police departments are seeing their employees get sick. Two New York City police officials have been diagnosed, a Manhattan precinct was forced to bring in reinforcements after an officer tested positive and about 30 others called in sick according to the "Associated Press." It appears to be impacting arrests.

In Los Angeles County, the average number of arrests has lessened from about 300 to 60 per day and here in Philadelphia, the police have adopted an unprecedented strategy. The "Philadelphia Enquirer" obtained an internal police memo that outlined changes to arrest procedures. According to the memo, individuals who would normally be arrested for offences including narcotics, retail theft, burglary and vandalism will be released after temporarily being detained for the length of time necessary to confirm their identity.

Arresting officers will now issue an arrest warrant that will be served, quote, "at a later time." If an officer believes the offender is a threat to public safety, a different course of action might be followed. Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said no one will escape accountability for the crimes they commit. There are also challenges with regard to those already behind bars. Fear of contagion has caused the Bureau of Prisons to halt visitation and in an effort to decrease the prison population, California, Ohio and Illinois are releasing hundreds of inmates early. A chief physician for the correctional health services in New York tweeted out a warning, quote, "A storm is coming and I know what I'll be doing when it claims my first patient. What will you be doing? What will you have done? We have told you who is at risk. Please let as many out as you possibly can."

And then there's pressure on the court system. In New York and other cities, trials have been delayed, grand juries put on hold, sentencings postponed. Some judges are using video to preside remotely over arraignments. No wonder, then, that coronavirus has boosted the gun industry.

Images of long lines outside of gun stores in New York and Oklahoma have gone viral. The ammunition website said it has recorded an unprecedented 309 percent surge in revenue over the last three weeks. The latest figures from the FBI's background check system show a 73 percent rise in background checks in February when compared to the same month a year ago.

Our borders are also facing pressures. Yesterday, the Trump administration announced the U.S. will close the legal entry points along the border with Mexico and Canada to tourism. Any people crossing the southern border illegally will be turned away instead of bringing them to a detention center where they could seek asylum and while migrants who have a criminal history will be detained, others will be returned to their home country.

I want to know what you think. Go to my website this hour and answer this week's survey question. Should police stop arresting for low- level crimes amidst coronavirus?

Joining me now is Ken Cuccinelli. He's the Acting Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. He's also the former attorney general of Virginia. Mr. Secretary, what will be done differently by the Department of Homeland Security?

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DEPUTY SECRETARY OF DHS: So at our borders where we are front-loaded with law enforcement, of course we have other law enforcement as well, but part of the reason you saw the CDC issue the order they did yesterday is because of the uncertain environment that we face on our border and those are law enforcement officials. The Customs Border Protection is the largest law enforcement organization in America. They are operating with more PPE, a phrase people are becoming very familiar with, personal protective equipment and it varies from environment to environment.

If you're in the middle of the desert, you're going to be operating differently than if you're at a port of entry where you're processing people and now under the new rules that took place -- took effect at midnight last night, you'll be turning many people back who would otherwise have otherwise been legally admissible to the United States if they're not here on essential -- for essential purposes, economic and medical, educational, those sorts of things.

So that is a major change for us. We have been talking to sheriffs and chiefs of police across the country, literally thousands of them and many of the questions that you raised in your introduction are questions we've been having direct conversations with sheriffs and chiefs across the country.

[09:05:05] And you are seeing a numerical reduction in, I would say, arrests simply, if for no other reason, than logistics because everybody wants to protect their force. So the way you conduct business is more conservative from a behavioral standpoint both for the protection of your officers and because you don't want to see introduction into your detention facilities of the coronavirus.

SMERCONISH: So let me tap into your experience as the former attorney general of Virginia. What worries you most? You heard my opening assessment of the big picture. What among that or other information that you have is of most concern to Ken Cuccinelli?

CUCCINELLI: So it's the ability of local officials well-informed to make decisions appropriate to their areas. So let's just -- for sake of discussion, let's just talk about California -- no, let's take Washington State since it started out there. If you're doing law enforcement in King County in Seattle, you really have a little mini epidemic there, but if you go east about 100 miles, the situation is quite different.

And so the questions for law enforcement to address end up with very different answers and if you get this one-size-fits-all from above edict about how to do business, they lose the ability to use their manpower in the way that is best protective of that manpower while maintaining public safety. We really need that nuanced authority exercised at the most local level possible.

And what we're trying to do at the federal level, and my time as a state attorney general informs much of what I do in this regard, is we're trying to get exactly that information to these local decision- makers, sheriffs, chiefs of police, their political counterparts, mayors for instance. I had a long talk with border mayors Thursday before we finalized the arrangements with Mexico to get their input and the things they asked for were all included. So this is a two-way street in terms of information flow.

SMERCONISH: An important question that I want to make sure I ask. What is the message to someone who is here illegally and is sick?

CUCCINELLI: Well, ICE has what's called a sensitive locations policy. We don't do enforcement at hospitals, doctor's office and so forth. So any care you're seeking to receive because you're afraid you may have the coronavirus will be uninterrupted, you won't encounter enforcement there. The only exceptions to that are very rare and very individualized. There would be some unusual reason related to that particular individual and we haven't seen that in the months since the virus has arisen.

So we don't do enforcement at doctor's offices and hospitals, again, without some rare exceptions and as you might imagine, I'm having people push us to say, well, you shouldn't do it at fill-in-the-blank, all these other places. The fact of the matter is law enforcement goes on. We will enforce the law, but we will not be doing it in healthcare facilities, where they're doing drive-through testing, doctor's offices, any places like that.

SMERCONISH: Said simply, if you're here illegally and you're sick, we want you to be treated for coronavirus.

CUCCINELLI: Correct. Absolutely correct and we won't be conducting enforcement in any of the places you would be getting treatment.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Secretary, thank you for your time. I appreciate it.

CUCCINELLI: Good to be with you. You have a great day.

SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will some responses throughout the course of the program. This comes from Facebook. "I get it, but it might create more crime. Follow the policy, but don't make it public." You know, Kim, you raise a really interesting issue because here in Philadelphia, and I have the memo with me as a matter of fact, I know that the police department was disappointed that a copy of it was leaked, but it's the reality and it's not just here, it's nationwide.

I raise it because I think it's important for all of us to know and appreciate the strain under which law enforcement, at a local, state and national level, are now operating so that we can be supportive of them. I want to know what you think. During the course of the program, please go to my website. Answer this week's survey question. It is as follows, should police stop arresting for low-level crimes due to coronavirus?

Up ahead, until last night, London pubs and restaurants were functioning as normal. Now, initially, the U.K. chief science officer had said their objective was, quote, "herd immunity." What is it? How is that supposed to work?

And there's an international competition underway for the vaccine. How will the outcome determine who's first in line?



SMERCONISH: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordering all pubs, clubs, restaurants and gyms nationwide to shut their doors as they battle coronavirus. This wasn't always the case in the U.K.. As "The Washington Post's" William Booth reported earlier this week, "Britain's neighbors in Europe are shutting down the continent to confront the spread of the novel coronavirus, locking pubs in Dublin, cafes in Paris, closing schools, enacting curfews, enforcing quarantines not seen since the Middle Ages, but in London, the bars are still open, most schools, museums and restaurants are too."

England's chief science officer, Patrick Vallance, had earlier said this to the BBC, quote, "Our aim is to try to reduce the peak, broaden the peak, not suppress it completely; also, because the vast majority of people get a mild illness, to build up some kind of herd immunity so more people are immune to this disease and we reduce the transmission, at the same time we protect those who are most vulnerable to it. If you suppress something very, very hard, when you release it, those measures bounce back and it bounces back at the wrong time."

The implication was that Boris Johnson's government was accepting that a large number of citizens would be infected, but that a greater good would be served when a majority of them recovered and would have enough antibodies coursing in their bodies to produce what infectious disease specialists call herd immunity. More than 500 British physicians and scientists, they signed a letter questioning the approach and after the Imperial College in London released an ominous forecast as to the risks of coronavirus, the approach shifted and the U.K. followed the lead of the U.S. and other nations by shutting down.

Was that initial approach valid? Joining me now is Dr. H. Cody Meissner, the chief of pediatric infectious disease at Tufts University's School of Medicine. In 2015, he wrote this piece, "Why is herd immunity so important?" Doctor, there are only two ways to become immune and we don't have one of them, that's the vaccine. Correct?

DR. H. CODY MEISSNER, CHIEF OF PEDIATRIC INFECTIOUS DISEASE, TUFTS UNIVERSITY: Yes, Michael, that is correct and I think the important concept for people to remember is that epidemics have been occurring, as you mentioned, since the Middle Ages. Previously, it wasn't such a problem because people were more isolated, they lived in small groups and population density was much lower and obviously there wasn't international travel. So an epidemic begins when a large segment of the population lacks immunity to the particular germ that's circulating, in this case it's the virus or the COVID-19 virus.


As you say correctly, the only way to develop immunity against an infectious disease is either by experiencing the infection and making your own antibodies or by administration of a vaccine that stimulates the host to make antibodies without experiencing the disease. That's the only two routes by which immunity can be developed and we know for each virus, there is a risk of transmission that depends on several factors and if enough people in a community have immunity, have their own antibodies as you noted, then the virus is much less likely to circulate. For example --


MEISSNER: -- we know -- the most infectious virus that we know about is the measles virus and right now, about 90 percent of five-year-old children in the United States have been immunized against measles and therefore will not experience disease, but within that 10 percent or so of children who are not immunized against measles, there are local pockets around the United States where there are much higher number of people who lack immunity and therefore the herd immunity is very low and once the measles virus is introduced into that community, then it will spread quite rapidly and cause severe disease. Now --

SMERCONISH: I appreciate your explaining this to me in a language that I can follow, so thank you for that. I am not a physician and I sure don't want to play one on TV. I think what you've just explained does beg this question. Was there an alternative route to go, perhaps the way they were going initially in the U.K., a mindset of isolating those who are most vulnerable and allowing the herd immunity notion that you've described to take hold?

MEISSNER: I think that's one approach, Michael. I would have some reservation about that approach because, first of all, this virus is going to find its way around the world. We cannot prevent it. It's here. It's in just about every country where it has been searched for including Antarctica. So this virus is going to survive. It is going to spread quite quickly as we are seeing here in the United States.

So I think the proper approach or the approach that the -- that the federal government and the CDC are taking now, referred to as flattening the curve, really indicates that the same number of people are going to be infected whether there's a sudden surge and peak in activity or whether we stretch it out over several months by social distancing. The advantage of stretching out the number of cases is that we will not exceed the capacity of hospitals to care for those who are particularly sick.


MEISSNER: Probably 80 to 90 percent of -- I'm sorry?

SMERCONISH: I understand.

MEISSNER: Probably --

SMERCONISH: I'm just acknowledging that I'm following you.

MEISSNER: Thank you. Probably 80 to 90 percent of the cases will be mild and not require medical intervention, but then there will be 10 to 20 percent of cases, mostly in the elderly who have -- who are frail and have other underlying illnesses such as heart disease or lung disease or diabetes, but there will always be outliers. There will be people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s who have severe disease and need intensive care.

So if we can stretch out the severity of the disease rather than have it all concentrated, then the idea is that our hospital and healthcare system here in the United States, which is of course the best in the world, will be able to handle the influx in patients.

SMERCONISH: Understood.

MEISSNER: We don't want it to occur all at once.

SMERCONISH: I appreciate your explanation. I now understand the capacity argument that you're making. Dr. Meissner, thank you so much for your expertise.

MEISSNER: Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: With so many people being told to shelter in place, the economy in a tizzy, there's a worldwide race for a vaccine and/or cure, but how fast and when will that happen? [09:20:01]

Also what will the cost be? As the outbreak in China spread, one U.S. drug maker, Rising Pharmaceuticals, doubled the price of the potential treatment, Chloroquine, the anti-malarial drug that President Trump has been touting. According to the "Financial Times," Rising said the price rise was coincidental and it restored the old price once it realized that the drug might be in demand because of the outbreak. The reversal of the price lift has not yet shown through in the data.

Joining me now is Gerald Posner. He's the author of the new book "Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America." Gerald, might sunshine, might attention serve to prevent price gouging when there is a vaccine?

GERALD POSNER, AUTHOR, "PHARMA" GREED, LIES, AND THE POISONING OF AMERICA": Well, you know, I don't think so, Michael. Not necessarily and that's the big danger. What Rising Pharmaceuticals did here is a perfect example of what drug companies often do. They see an opportunity. I think in many ways, the pandemic, and this is a cold calculus, is one of the biggest profit opportunities in a generation for many drug companies and this is a case also where Trump gets ahead of the science.

So, you know, he was the one who originally tweeted that this was approved, Chloroquine, for COVID-19. Guess what? Twenty minutes later, the FDA had to come out and say no, it's not. He's the one who had a tweet that said it's low-risk. Guess what? It's for malaria and some types of arthritis, has all types -- a laundry list of side effects including some for heart patients that are toxic, yet the company doubles the price.

We're just getting a taste for what I talk about in five years of research in the book. This is the DNA of Big Pharma. They come up at a time when we're in need and they often get a high price because of the fact we're desperate and willing to pay it.

SMERCONISH: Gerald, there's an international race underway. Great coverage in "The Times" yesterday on this. Am I right in believing that whichever nation has its scientists first develop this vaccine is going to determine who among us globally is first in line?

POSNER: Yes. No, I think that nationalism is absolutely the worst possible thing to add into the entire mix of a vaccine and a pandemic. One thing we know, and it's one of the things -- one of the heroes in my book is Jonas Salk who invented the polio vaccine. They asked him what country should have it and what company should own it, he said could you patent the Sun? It's impossible and that's why we stopped polio, why we got rid of smallpox.

If the Chinese, who have over 100 of their top scientists working on this vaccine, or Trump in America says America first, it's absolutely a disaster. Microbes do not respect whether you're Chinese, whether you're American, Democratic or Republican. They're an equal opportunity devastator and if countries think they can own it, they can't. SMERCONISH: If it's developed in the United States, presumably tax dollars would have gone into a significant part of that research. Won't that hold the price in check?

POSNER: You would think so. Look, one of the things I talk about in the book repeatedly is that the NIH, the National Institute of Health which is taxpayer funded research, $900 billion we have spent since the 1930s, drug companies take that research and then patent it into drugs that they sell for billions of dollars. By the way, $700 million we've spent since SARS in 2003 just on researching coronaviruses which is going to go into this.

So the drug companies that talk about a lot of money for research and development, it's not really true. On public events like this, it comes in and we know, Michael, from the past what they do. You know, we have laws against price gouging and people were being arrested just for trying to sell hand sanitizer for $200 and they should be, but in this case, in 1976 when we had the swine flu in America, 100 million doses of the vaccine held back from the government by companies we know like Wyeth and Merck and Parke-Davis.

They wouldn't give it out for public inoculation until they got a guarantee of a reasonable profit. In the $8.3 billion funding bill, emergency funding bill, passed the other day, pharma lobbyists were able to strip out the government's ability to hold down prices and even on HIV and AIDS, and I have an entire chapter I talk about this, Burroughs which got the drug finally, the first drug out, it was all done at government research.

They developed it, they improved it, yet Burroughs made it the most expensive drug in the world at $10,000 a dose despite all the howling protests. They made billions of dollars on it and we, the taxpayers, funded it. That can't be allowed happen again and if we do --


POSNER: -- shame on us because --

SMERCONISH: Yes. I read the book. I --

POSNER: We want the vaccine, but we don't want to pay anything for it.

SMERCONISH: I read the book. I understand the history. I think that illuminating conversations like this, call me naive, will seek to hold the industry in check and our first objective is find the vaccine. Gerald, thank you so much.

POSNER: I agree. Thank you, Michael.

SMERCONISH: A lot of social media reaction to this program. What do you got? This comes from Facebook. "If other businesses can be charged with price gouging, big pharma should too. This is ridiculous." I don't want to be repetitive, NL. I just said to Gerald what I'm hoping for in that regard.

[09:25:00] Media attention on the process, I'd like to think, is going to keep it

all in check. What do we have from Twitter? "Herd immunity is the only sustainable approach to this kind of disease, like it or not. Ijon, I can't even say your name. Look, I'm not a scientist and I'm not a physician, but it's an intriguing concept, right? I mean, the -- and it's not something created out of whole cloth.

The chief science officer in the U.K. was the one who first spoke openly of this idea, of isolating those among us who are most vulnerable and recognizing that many of the rest of us are going to get it, but that herd immunity will ultimately take hold and protect society at large.

Here are my two cents. I leave the science to the physicians, but the two cents that I think I know something about are the politics. I don't know that you could sell that. I don't know that you could publicly sell that to the public to say the virus is going to spread and we recognize that and we'll lose some in the process, but on balance, we'll be better served. In any event, let me make this crystal clear, the U.K. has now gone in a different direction, I think, since the Imperial College data was released several days ago.

I want to remind you to answer the survey question at Here it is. Should police stop arresting for low-level crimes due to coronavirus? As I documented at the outset, that's taking place all across the country.

Up ahead, the Olympic flame landed in Japan on Friday, but with sports of all stripes around the world already canceled will this summer's games even be held? We've got him. I will talk to Stephen A. Smith about living through a very different sort of March Madness than we had hoped and anticipated.

Plus, with schools closed in 45 states, many are trying to make the switch to online teaching, but there's a class divide about access which has prompted some schools to forbid the practice. Meanwhile, will the online classes most colleges are resorting to end up showing students that they can obtain the same education off campus and debt free?



SMERCONISH: Coronavirus having an enormous impact on education. As of Friday evening 45 states have decided to close schools, at least 118,000 U.S. public and private schools are closed or scheduled to close affecting at least 53.7 million school students. As schools close many are looking to online alternatives. The trouble is there's not a quality of computer access and connectivity.

According to Pew Research 29 percent of adults with household incomes below $30,000 a year don't own a smartphone, 44 percent don't have home broad band services, 46 percent lack a traditional computer. And a majority of lower income Americans are not tablet owners. By comparison each of these technologies is nearly ubiquitous among adults in households earning $100,000 or more a year. For example, in Camden, New Jersey, only 30 percent of families in the almost 6,000 student district have internet access and electronic devices for each student. On Tuesday the school district here in Philadelphia directed teachers not to offer remote instruction suggesting that wouldn't -- quote -- "ensure equity for all students."

Meanwhile, online education has become the immediate norm with college students. Might that have long lasting implications given the soaring costs of college education and concern about student debt. Might this experience change perceptions of families who heretofore have valued sending their kids off to college.

As this headline in "USA Today" puts it, small colleges were already on the brink. Now coronavirus threatens their existence.

Joining me now is Carmen Twillie Ambar the president of Oberlin College in Ohio. President Ambar, what has been the Oberlin response thus far?

CARMEN TWILLIE AMBAR, PRESIDENT, OBERLIN COLLEGE: Well, thanks, Michael, for having me here to talk about COVID-19 and its impact on higher education in Oberlin.

So the first things I that we were in close contact with our local health department listening to the recommendations of our governor and it became really clear that we were not going to be able on a college campus to practice social distancing. So you know college campuses in a lot of ways like a stationary cruise ship, students have residence together, we dine together, there's communal bathrooms.

And so it became pretty clear pretty quickly that we needed to have our students in their in-person classes and to go and practice social distances at their homes. And so we did that really in 36 hours, told our students that this was the last day of classes and then had them go off to their families.

SMERCONISH: Do you worry, as I pointed out and "USA Today" has in that story today that not for an Oberlin perhaps but for schools that are on the bubble this whole experience just might reorient the way that parents and students look at higher education?

AMBAR: You know, it's interesting. I think that any challenge like this is going to reorient us all, right? I mean, we're going rethink how we live our lives, how we engage with each other. But I also think it's going to let us know what we missed, too. So all of us know what it means now not be in community together, not to be in this collective moment together.

And so it's been interesting on our campus as our faculty have been checking in with our students remotely and they have come back together on Zoom, and the energy that creates is really about the fact that they have been together already. That they have been this collective together. So I think that what we'll discover is that, yes, some things might be reshaped about how we think about delivering this academic experience.


But we all know what the values of being in community and we may just discover that sending our kids off to residential small, private, liberal arts colleges is exactly the thing we want to do because it gives them an experience that they need to have.

SMERCONISH: President Ambar, I think it's a wake-up call, the subject of equity when you talk about computer access and connectivity. I mean, as I pointed out in my introduction the fact that they had to stop online instruction here in Philadelphia because they realized they are a lot of kids who are going to get shut out in the process. You get the final word on that subject.

AMBAR: You know, I think it's a fair point. So, for example, we have a number of students who are first generation college students who this experience is particularly difficult financially so we had to send out hot spots to particular areas in order to ensure our students could have access. We have to provide laptops to a series of students. It's a legitimate question that we need to think about society wide about how to have access to the internet and to technology, for everyone in our community.

We're deeply committed to diversity here at Oberlin and to access and opportunity. That's why we provide $63 million in financial aid. And it's about ensuring that all of society can get access to the important information that we need. We do have to deal with it as a society and sometimes challenges like this can heighten our sense of focus on things that are really necessary and access is an important piece that we need to think about.

SMERCONISH: Thank you for your time. Good luck at Oberlin.

AMBAR: Thank you. I appreciate it.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, sports fans buckle up for a hell of an exciting weekend. In the absence of all of your usual favorites ESPN is broadcasting a bizarre mix of competitions you maybe never knew existed like axe throwing and dodgeball. I will talk to Stephen A. Smith to see how he's weathering new meaning to the term March madness.




SMERCONISH: The unthinkable has happened in the sports world a March with no madness. The NCAA tournament cancellation just part of an industry wide stoppage which means a delay to major league baseball, soccer, heck, you name it.

The future the Olympics in Japan this summer seems pretty uncertain. Several NBA players have tested positive for the virus raising a controversy as to how they obtained their tests to begin with.

So what's a sports fan to do? For that matter what's a sports network to do? Tomorrow ESPN airing the fourth ever edition of ESPN 8 "The Ocho" bringing fans what it calls the most bizarre, innovative and entertaining sports you rarely see.

You can settle into your couch for the world championship of axe throwing league, the 51st national stone skipping competition, the professional arm wrestling championship and to cap it all off America's dodgeball continental cap match. That's the USA squaring off against Canada.

Joining me now to discuss this and much more is Stephen a. Smith. Stephen, I would pay money to listen to your analysis of dodgeball or stone skipping or arm wrestling, which most intrigues you?

STEPHEN A. SMITH, ESPN HOST: Well, listen, I mean, as far as I'm concerned all of it at this particular moment in time obviously we're dealing with very trying times, there's no denying that. There's no way to get around that. But the flip side to it is that all week long on "First Take" on ESPN we've been talking a lot about NFL free agency.

Let's not forget that NFL is king. Right now as free agency we're wondering about where Tom Brady was going to go, what he was going to sign for, the Drew Brees of the world signing extensions, Todd Gurley getting let go by the Los Angeles Rams, ultimately signing with the Atlanta Falcons. The list goes on and on.

So you got NFL free agency in terms of your respective teams and what they're going to do to improve. You have got the NFL draft coming up as well. And obviously we are talking about going back and forth with commentary, pundancy and what have you.

There's a lot of opinions that are out there about a lot of different things whether it's the NBA, it's the NFL or what have you. There's usually something to talk about. Clearly we're compromised to some degree because the games are not going on right now because of the suspensions by the league and what have you. But nevertheless there's still been a lot of content to engage in and banter back and forth about that's what we're doing and to be quite honest with you that's what we plan on continuing to do.

SMERCONISH: You mention the NBA. Is it feasible? Is it possible that if we can get through this that they could restart, jump start that league as late as June?

SMITH: Well, it's possible. I mean, me personally you have to remember there were recently reports out there one of the owners for the Atlanta Hawks before any of this had transpired had made the proposal that the NBA should consider starting their season in December and going through the month of July, through half the summer. They thought that the league should start a little bit later and end a little bit later. It was something that Commissioner Adam Silver certainly was considering. I'm not trying to say that it was imminent in any way but it's definitely something that intrigued a lot of folks in the NBA community and now lo and behold it's on the verge of potentially happening assuming that a season is able to be resumed. Unfortunately, you have got to get through this crisis first. Obviously it has ravaged the sports world. There's no denying that.

But speaking to owners throughout the league on several occasions as well as executives they have not given up hope that indeed there will be an NBA season. They still obviously consider it a 50/50 proposition. But in the end if you are somehow, some way able to restart the season or rather continue the season on in late May or early June, who knows, you could go into summer, you could have playoffs in July, you could have a season where the champion is established or crowned by the beginning or middle of August.


All of those possibilities are still out there. It's not necessarily pie in the sky although it might seem that way at this particular moment in time. But there's a lot of people in the sports world that are holding out hope. But of course as Commissioner Silver told ESPN's very own Rachel Nichols, they're working with health officials and obviously they're following their lead along with the federal government and what have you and we'll see what transpires from there.

SMERCONISH: Stephen, I can understand the Japanese not wanting to fold the tent on the prospect of a summer games, but how likely is it that that really could go forward?

SMITH: Well, I really don't know because we don't -- I don't have to deal with the Olympics too much. I can tell you speaking to folks that are scheduled to compete they're very, very concerned.

You have some people who believe that it should be pushed back, that it should be postponed a year or two years simply to make sure to ensure there are indeed games, that you have athletes that have been training for three years. And now there's been the suspension of things in terms of just paying attention, the social distancing and what have you, you're wondering how the athletes are going to train, you're wondering whether or not they're listening to that advice from health officials who have discouraged social gatherings obviously.

But the Olympic athletes are saying how are we going to train, how are we going to be ready, what if indeed they decide to continue with the games in the summer and we have not been training and we have not been competing against one another in an effort to elevate our level of play and preparation so we're ready once the games take place. What if we don't do that and they say lo and behold the games are indeed still on then we'll go to Tokyo ill-prepared and that's not good for anybody.

So they're not going to listen to that. These athletes are going to continue to train come hell or high water by any means necessary, and who knows how that may endanger folks. They are aware of that. They feel that the IOC and beyond need to make a step to do something about it. But at this point in time they're still up in the air as to what may happen.

SMERCONISH: A quick final question, you talk about athletes dealing with this. You're so wired among professional athletes. Generally speaking, what are you hearing as to their coping mechanisms and how they're enduring having to sit out earning their livelihoods?

SMITH: Well, it's devastating because they love the game and they desperately, desperately want to play. On a business side they are also aware that even though they've gotten their checks from April 1st, as of April 15th and beyond their checks might be compromised to some degree because with the leagues and owners losing money certainly that means the players are going to lose money as well due to a doomsday provision and the CBA, collective bargaining agreement, that was signed. So all of those things are being considered.

They recognized that but they also understand the urgency of the moment. They're spending time with their families, and loved ones, they're close knit in that regard. And so because of it that's able to diminish their misery to some degree. But in the end they desperately want to get back and play.

They're praying that the league is in concert with the federal government, local and state governments, will come together and finally find whether it's a vaccine or some kind of a cure, what have you. You have got to remember, also, that there is the possibility that games could be resumed without fans in attendance. That's something that's been talked about ad nauseam.

I know we talked about it on "First Take" on ESPN yesterday. I'm of the belief that baseball, tennis, golf, that absolutely positively could be played without fans in attendance. OK? You (ph) can still play those sports.

SMERCONISH: Better than nothing. Better than nothing.

SMITH: It's better than nothing. Better than nothing.

SMERCONISH: Stephen A., stay safe and thank you for coming back.

SMITH: You do the same. All right. Take care.

SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments and the final results quickly go vote at

The survey question, "Should police stop arresting for low-level crimes due to coronavirus?"



SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to the survey question at "Should police stop arresting for low-level crimes due to


Survey says, 55 percent yes, 45 nearly 8,000 votes cast. It's the kind of an issue for me that when I first heard it I was in opposition to it then I thought through the logic of it and decided, hey, do I want some member of law enforcement getting involved in a less non violent crime who might then get sick when we need him or her for something more violent. I think on balance is the right call.

Here's something else of what came in during the course of the program. Some of what else.

Changing how we enforce the law due to this pandemic will only encourage more crime. Look at the lines at gun stores. Not sure everyone there has the best of intentions.

Will, call me naive. I think most of the folks in those lines were going through a background check or probably law abiding and seeking to protect themselves and their families.

What else came in? Smerconish, I can guarantee that a person here illegally will not go anywhere near a health facility based off of the word of a Trump official.

You know, that was the most important thing that I think I elicited from Secretary Ken Cuccinelli. There is a very important message. Folks who are here in this country illegally, we want them, if they have symptoms of coronavirus to be treated and to be treated without the risk, if they're not a violent criminal, right, that they will be deported for that alone.


And I think that's pretty much what you heard him say. So if you're in that circle, get treated or recommend treatment for someone else who is.

Finally, you've heard me promote my live appearances around the country in a show I call "American Life in Columns," well, the tour has been cancelled due to coronavirus. The good news, the entire 90 minute presentation available for free on my Web site. I hope you enjoy, and please stay safe.