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Forty-Two States Currently Have Stay-At-Home Orders To Prevent The Spread Of Coronavirus; CDC Recommends Americans Voluntarily Wear Masks In Public; Why Is There No National Lockdown For The Virus?; Does The U.S. Need A Coronavirus Immunity Registry?; Coronavirus Spread In Prison Won't Stay Behind Bars; Could Small Business Insurance Cover Coronavirus? Aired 9-10a ET
Aired April 04, 2020 - 09:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN ANCHOR: The sooner we're all on the same page, the sooner we can get back to business as usual. I'm Michael Smerconish in Philadelphia.
The CDC changed its recommendations, suggesting face coverings and announced the following. "CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain. Example, grocery stores and pharmacies, especially in areas of significant community based transmission.
The President was quick to note that this is voluntary and he will not be among those doing so. I just don't see it for myself he said when questioned. I had earlier predicted on radio that we would never see him with any kind of a face covering. My hunch was that he would view it more as a sign of weakness than prevention.
Regardless, common sense dictates that where the virus does not respect boundaries, be they countries, states, communities, we need uniformity. Piecemeal, patchwork, ad hoc approaches, they don't cut it. For face coverings or for lockdowns, today's safe space will be tomorrow's epicenter.
In a CNN town hall, Dr. Anthony Fauci this week told Anderson Cooper that everyone in America should be under a stay-at-home order. How to facilitate that involves issues of federalism which Dr. Fauci acknowledged before saying, "I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be." The night before also on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had voiced a similar sentiment saying, "I don't know why the scientific community isn't more outspoken."
The president probably lacks the legal authority to mandate a national state home policy. That's a subject we're about to discuss, but that doesn't mean that he's powerless. He can set an example and provide direction. As of this morning, 42 states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico had issued stay-at-home orders. The resulting patchwork has had consequences.
A graphic on the front page of yesterday's print edition of "The New York Times" tells the story. As the corresponding article noted, "Stay-at-home orders have nearly halted travel for most Americans, but people in Florida, the southeast and other places that waited to enact such orders have continued to travel widely, potentially exposing more people as the coronavirus outbreak accelerates, according to an analysis of cell phone location data by 'The Times.'
What you see in red on this map of the country is where people didn't stay home even as the virus was spreading. What makes the report -- what the report makes clear is that where Americans have been given clear instruction to stay home, they've largely done so.
Folks in the West, the Northeast, the Midwest have been compliant. That likely curbed the spread of the virus, but those efforts will be futile if not expanded. In areas where public officials resisted or delayed stay-at-home orders, people didn't change their routine and that ultimately poses a danger to all of us.
The status quo is also simply unfair. The good-faith efforts of roughly four-fifths of the country will be wasted unless everybody gets on board. The governors in states without stay-at-home orders are jeopardizing the rest of us. We need national standards even if not legally binding and we need clarity from the commander-in-chief. People in public need to wear masks and everyone needs to hold in place until this passes and the issue, it transcends politics.
In fact, where the possibility of a telephone call between the president and his presumed November opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, where that was reported this week, I think we'd all benefit from a joint unity message from both of them on this matter of national importance and later, then we can argue, point fingers and vote, but now we need to get on the same page and rid ourselves of a deadly virus.
My first guest has been advocating that everybody wear masks in public, store-bought or homemade. He explained his logic as follows," At the height of the HIV crisis, authorities did not tell people to put away condoms. As fatalities from car crashes mounted, nobody recommend avoiding seatbelts. Yet in a global respiratory pandemic, people who should know better are discouraging Americans from using respiratory protection."
Jeremy Howard is a distinguished research scientist at the University of San Francisco. He wrote those words for "The Washington Post." Mr. Howard, the WHO initially said you only need to wear a mask if you're taking care of a person with a suspected COVID-19 infection. How did they get it so wrong?
JEREMY HOWARD, RESEARCH SCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF SAN FRANCISCO: Well, we now know that about 50 percent of people that are infected have no symptoms. We also know that during the first week is when people are most infectious, when they're least likely to have symptoms. So what the WHO did here was that they did not err on the side of caution. They weren't quite sure of the science and so they said don't do it. What they should have said is do do it because what we now know or what we strongly guess is that if 80 percent of people in a community wear a face mask, any kind of cloth cover, it can actually stop the virus in its tracks.
SMERCONISH: So here is the cloth cover that I am using. I don't know if you can see it. When I wear it, am I doing so to protect myself or to protect you?
HOWARD: Primarily you're doing it to do your bit in the community to protect others. We know that this disease spreads when we talk. Little droplets fly out of our mouth so small you can't see them. It just makes obvious sense and the science shows any kind of cloth cover stops that.
[09:05:02] It's actually been estimated by Yale researchers this week that each person wearing a single mask has a value of at least $4,000 to $6,000 due to the huge impact it has on transmission.
SMERCONISH: There's some stunning data that you have provided me represented in graphs, I'll put it on the screen, showing South Korea side-by-side with Italy. Pretty self-explanatory, but please provide the background.
HOWARD: Well, the really interesting background is that until late February, a lot of folks in South Korea couldn't get masks and they were also continuing their kind of cultural approach of only wearing masks when they had symptoms. Everything changed in late February. The government stepped in and ensured that everybody had access to a mask and you can see what happened. Before that, they were on track with Italy to be as bad as Italy and then suddenly everything turned around and now the number of cases there is decreasing without even a lockdown.
SMERCONISH: I made reference to what the president had to say yesterday, the sort of juxtaposition of announcing this CDC recommendation and then saying that he himself wouldn't be engaging in that behavior. I want to roll a small piece of audio -- video, pardon me, from this and then ask a question.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This is voluntary. I don't think I'm going to be doing it, but you have a lot of ways you can look at it. As follows, the CDC is recommending that Americans wear a basic cloth or a fabric mask. They can be either purchased online or simply made at home, probably material that you'd have at home.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: What does your review of the data from around the globe show as to the issue of cultural difference or even vanity? I know that you looked at the Czech Republic.
HOWARD: Right. I was really surprised to find that actually there's lots of examples now of countries that have gone all-in on this and are in the West. Israel, it's the law. Czech Republic, it's the law. Austria, it's the law. Slovakia, it's the law. And like in the Czech Republic, not only is it the law, they are so proud now to wear their masks. If somebody is behind you in the -- in the shopping line to do your weekly essential shopping and they're not wearing a mask in the Czech Republic, people will look at that person now and say why aren't they doing their bit? We know that COVID-19 is like a silent assassin now. As you walk around the streets, you could be killing people without knowing it. Masks are the closest thing we have right now to this kind of imperfect vaccine. Science just this week in nature shows that in studies, 100 percent of people that were tested, a simple cloth covering stopped the transmission of those critical droplets.
SMERCONISH: Jeremy Howard, thank you so much for being here. I hope people follow your advice.
HOWARD: Thank you. I want to know what you think. Go to my website at Smerconish.com and answer this week's survey question. Cannot wait to see the outcome. So the CDC is recommending all Americans wear a mask in public. The president has said, hey, it's voluntary. I want to know will you wear one? Will you wear a face covering?
Now, to date, 42 states have acted to contain the spread of the virus by closing non-essential businesses and issuing stay-at-home orders, but without a national standard for the orders, they vary from state to state and still allow Americans to travel between states.
Many officials and experts have been calling for a national lockdown, including Bill Gates who wrote these words, "The country's leaders need to be clear: Shutdown anywhere means shutdown everywhere. Until the case numbers start to go down across America -- which could take 10 weeks or more -- no one can continue business as usual or relax the shutdown. Any confusion about this point will only extend the economic pain, raise the odds that the virus will return and cause more deaths."
So why is the White House not making such a recommendation? Turns out there are legal issues with the federal government dictating this kind of large-scale quarantine. Joining me now is Polly Price, a professor of law and public health at Emory University, author of the forthcoming book "Plagues in the Nation." Professor, thank you so much for being here. Distinguish for me, if you will, what can a state do and what can the federal government do?
POLLY PRICE, PROFESSOR OF LAW & GLOBAL HEALTH, EMORY LAW: In general, most of the social distancing measures that are being recommended by our federal health authorities are in states' control and so we've had -- all 50 states have declared states of emergency, so they have the authority to impose upon their own populations these social distancing measures including business closings, school closings, stay-at-home orders.
They are -- as you noted, they are not uniform. Governors know their populations better and they have to respond to those populations, but that worries the rest of the nation in the sense that it's very difficult to have a uniform policy and it's -- and it's hard to disagree with Bill Gates.
SMERCONISH: There's been a lot of attention on Florida this week and Governor Ron DeSantis, so let me ask you this hypothetical.
[09:10:04] Could President Trump order Governor DeSantis and Florida to close
their bars, to close their restaurants or can he only go so far as making a recommendation and ultimately does that rest with the status of the governor?
PRICE: I think ultimately the president could only make a recommendation and I mean we can debate the sort of legalities of it, but the reality is the response to the crisis is not going to be resolved by courts and lawsuits and I think we should not underestimate the power of that national leadership. So governors have stepped up and they recognize the need to protect their populations, but what I fear in the hard weeks ahead -- this is a work in progress for government.
We do not have a blueprint for this. Our federal emergency powers, all of them for response to disasters, envision helping the states. They envision something that is affecting only one region at a time, a hurricane for example with FEMA or the Stafford As compared to. So we don't have a blueprint for this and we are in the process, over the coming weeks, of working out how we can coordinate state orders, but here's my fear.
We can engage in the national debate, but the perspective that I worry about is that when a state turns -- state residents turn against the populations of other states and let me give you an example of that on a residency basis since you brought up Florida. So I was moved to tears when I saw the Navy hospital ship, images of that, being towed passed the Statue of Liberty into New York Harbor.
At the same time, there were mayors in the state of Florida who had the ability to turn down bringing in a cruise ship that had had deaths and coronaviruses on it. The mayor got to make that decision. The Florida governor at one point was musing, well, maybe we could let in Florida residents, but not anybody else because we have to protect our resources.
And I appreciate that and the mayor has to protect their own population, but you're from Ohio and you're on that ship. We are all Americans and if we start turning state against state because we have to preserve resources, that's not going to help anything.
SMERCONISH: Well, let me just say this. As an attorney, I certainly understand the notions of federalism that guide government on a local, state and national level. I was simply trying to advocate at the outset of the program that this virus -- it's common sense. I'm not a physician and I don't play one on TV. Common sense dictates it knows no boundaries and unless we're all, you know, rowing in the same direction, then we are preventing getting ahead of the curve on this. You get the final word.
PRICE: I couldn't agree with you more. We have to row in the same direction and I can tell you from my own experience in Atlanta before the governor stepped in with a statewide stay-at-home residency order, I had conflicting orders based upon county, municipality and city. So a lot of our local governments have stepped up to fill the gap for the need for this social distancing in those states where governors have not yet done.
SMERCONISH: Professor Polly Price, thank you for your expertise.
PRICE: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: What are your thoughts? Tweet me @Smerconish or go to my Facebook page. I will read some throughout the course of the program. From Facebook, "I guess I don't agree that places like Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, et cetera need to do the same thing as New York and California. Makes no sense. "Well, wait a minute. Monica, that would be akin to all of us saying a month ago I don't think that the United States needs to be mindful of what's going on in China or of what's going on in Italy. You know, to quote Tom Friedman in this case, the world is flat especially to a virus.
One more if I have time, Catherine. What do we have? Also from Facebook I think, "You're correct. Trump does see wearing a mask as weakness. If he did wear a mask, that would show he's a team player, which he is not." Nick, I don't expect the man to wear a mask while conducting business in the Oval Office, but should he do a public event, I think it would speak volumes. I don't think the president is golfing these days and that's a wise decision, but I mean to the extent that he was out of the White House and interacting with other folks, to put on a face covering I think would be a sign of strength. That's my argument.
Up ahead, provocative question. Should the government establish a registry about who has or has had the virus? Vaccines are recorded in immunization registries here in the U.S.. I'll talk to senator and doctor Bill Cassidy from the great state of Louisiana who says we should have a similar registration system for coronavirus immunity.
And yes, Joe Exotic, infamous star of the docu-series "Tiger King," has had to be transferred to a prison medical center because the prison he was in is one of many around the country with confirmed cases of COVID-19. Raises the question how are prison systems addressing the mounting threat from the virus?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: Some states are letting people out of prison. Some people are getting out that are very serious criminals in some states and I don't like that. We don't like it, the people don't like it and we're looking in to see if I have the right to stop it in some cases.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
SMERCONISH: Does government need to establish a coronavirus immunity registry? My next guest thinks so. He's a gastroenterologist from Louisiana who co-founded a clinic providing free dental and health care to the working uninsured. He also has experience documenting immunity.
He created a private public partnership to vaccinate 36,000 children against hepatitis B. He also happens to be a member of the United States Senate. This is senator and doctor Bill Cassidy. Senator, thanks so much for being here. Before we focus on the subject that brought you here, what can you tell us about New Orleans?
SEN. BILL CASSIDY (R-LA): Yes. Clearly we have an increasing rate of deaths, but I am told that emergency room admissions are beginning to decrease. Hopefully that is kind of the breaking of the wave and although we know that ICUs will continue to be full for a while, if we have decreased admissions, hopefully that means decreased transmission.
SMERCONISH: On the subject of a registry, you co-authored a piece for "The Wall Street Journal" this week that caught my eye. I'll put a portion of it up on the screen and read it to you. "A vaccine works by mimicking the immune response of a naturally occurring infection.
Herd immunity develops when 40 percent to 70 percent of a population becomes immune. The 'herd' of people who are immune blocks the virus from taking hold and infecting others. A person's immunity to the novel coronavirus could last 12 months. By then, a vaccine could be ready." What is it that you are proposing in the interim?
CASSIDY: Yes. So what I propose is that we set up something, an immunity registry if you will, similar to what we have now for immunizations. When a child is immunized -- since about 1994 or 1995 these have been set up. When a child is immunized as a one-week-old for hepatitis B, measles, et cetera, it's put into the registry. When they're again vaccinated at 11, that is put into the registry and when they're vaccinated at 17 going off to college, again put into the registry.
So then 10 years later when they're going to medical school or nursing school, joining the military, et cetera, you can pull that from that online registry, have it documented and you do not need to revaccinate. It all is compliant with privacy -- with HIPPA, with privacy concerns and it provides a legacy documentation.
If we think about the coronavirus, we know or we strongly suspect that once somebody has been infected, they are now immune. That immunity would allow them to return to work. If they're a nurse to go in without PPE to see a patient who -- a routine patient with coronavirus infection. Somebody working in a store would not have to fear being infected or infecting others if we knew she was immune.
And so you not only know this on an individual level, but as that excerpt you mentioned, you can also know on a community level when you have a certain level of immunity that allows a freer society. We need this information. It would allow people to return to work, to be comfortable that they won't get infected if they go to the grocery store, et cetera.
SMERCONISH: Does the presence of antibodies necessarily mean you won't get it again? CASSIDY: It doesn't, but the best evidence seems to be pointing in that direction and when Fauci and Birx in their public briefings speak of herd immunity, implicitly they are saying that they think the antibodies or previous exposure is helpful. There was just an article in "The Lancet," the British medical journal, quoting somebody who's worked with SARS. SARS is a virus, a coronavirus just a different coronavirus and he speaks about the immunity to SARS lasting for quite some time and so there is gathering evidence it's probably the case.
In the meantime, we need to stand up the registry so that if it is true, we've documented it and people can return to commerce and to education.
SMERCONISH: Might someone -- again, a question from a layperson. Might someone who has gotten over it nevertheless continue to spew viral particles?
CASSIDY: There is a little bit of evidence from China that 5 percent of patients are so who have cleared the infection or stopped having symptoms continue to shed virus. It is unclear whether that is true or whether that was just a faulty PCR test, but nonetheless, if we say that 95 percent of people are immune, even if another person is spewing virus, it would mean if the 95 percent of people are immune.
There's some -- I will concede there's uncertainty here, but if we wait for absolute certainty, our economy's going to be in the tank. So there's going to be a trade-off between absolute certainty on the medical aspect and opening up education and the economy for society to continue to flourish.
SMERCONISH: A final question, and I know you made reference to HIPAA so you've addressed this, but I want to make it crystal clear.
This would not be a system whereby one could look up their neighbor. True?
CASSIDY: Absolutely not. We already know from immunization registries that we can preserve privacy and it would be akin, if you will, to hospitals currently requiring all employees to have a flu vaccine. Well, they may decide if you work in certain areas, you must be immune to the coronavirus. We have a well set of laws established in this both to protect privacy as also to protect individuals.
SMERCONISH: Senator Cassidy, thank you so much for being here.
CASSIDY: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Let's see what you're saying on my Smerconish Twitter and Facebook pages. What do we have, Catherine? "Registry should also track if they get it again since immunity is still in question." I think, Charlene, and I did the best that I could as a layperson to ask exactly that question of the senator. He acknowledged that some of the science is still outstanding. He was offering the best of what we know. Conceptually, I certainly get it. I mean, the concept is that those among us who are safe, for lack of a better word, could then provide vital service on the front line of this maybe at a retail store, maybe at a health clinic, a whole panoply of examples and therefore protect the rest of us while herd immunity is being established.
Up ahead, coronavirus can spread like wildfire inside a prison and prison bars are not enough to contain the virus. I'm going to talk to an epidemiologist to explain how the threat affects more than just the people in orange jumpsuits.
Which brings us to America's favorite quarantine television show, "Tiger King." An update on Joe Exotic's status inside a prison with confirmed cases of COVID-19.
JOE EXOTIC, PRISONER, FORMER ZOO OPERATOR: When I walk out of here, am I going to be as crazy as I was before? That will never change. I'm done with the Carole Baskin saga. It's now time to turn the tables and Joe get out of jail a free man and exonerated from all these charges.
SMERCONISH: If you are like me, you've been spending hours watching "Tiger King" during coronavirus. A Netflix docuseries that has dominated headlines and ignited social media with memes and jokes. For many, it has helped ease coronavirus quarantine boredom. But the worlds of "Tiger King" and coronavirus appear to be colliding.
The "New York Post" reporting that the "Tiger King" himself, Joe Maldonado-Passage has been in isolation due to confirmed cases of COVID-19 at his prison. Now they say inmate record show he's been transferred to a prison medical center in Texas.
It's usually not easy to create sympathy for those behind bars but what happens to the prison population in the midst of a pandemic likely won't remain in jails and prisons. The Marshall Project, a nonprofit for journalism about criminal justice has been recently reporting on the impact of coronavirus to America's inmate population. They note that with roughly 200,000 people flowing in and out of jails every week, the risks are not only for those detained but also for jail workers and surrounding communities. Prisons are cruise ships on steroids.
Here with me now to discuss is Dr. Barun Mathema. He's an infectious disease epidemiologist at Columbia University who studied the spreads of tuberculosis in Brazilian prisons.
Dr. Mathema, thank you so much for being here. What did you learn in Brazil that may have applicability to what we're seeing now in the United States?
BARUN MATHEMA, ASSISTANT PROFESSOR, EPIDEMIOLOGY, COLUMBIA MAILMAN SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Good morning. Well, I think the main sort of lesson that we learn from Brazil and elsewhere, in fact, is that prisons and jails are great places to sort of -- to acquire infection. And prisons themselves can really incubate infections so that a large number of individuals can be infected. But prison populations themselves are not completely isolated from the general population or the community if you will.
There are many bridge populations with prisoners themselves coming in and out. As well as visitors as well as the folks who work. So, therefore, prison populations can, in fact, pose a risk to the general population via sort of a spillover effect of infections. That's what we learned in tuberculosis and certainly can be case with COVID-19.
SMERCONISH: I know that many use prison and jail interchangeably. You are not. But jail, by nature is a much more transient population. I referenced the Marshall Project figure of 200,000 folks in and out of jails on a regular basis.
MATHEMA: Right. Absolutely. And jails are certainly much more dynamic in terms of, you know, sort of bidirectional flow of individuals. And so, therefore, it's particularly troublesome if we should see outbreaks, sort of occurring within jails, where sort of the incarcerated populations may be moving in and out.
SMERCONISH: I saw that rapper Meek Mill just donated 100,000 masks to a prison population, including Rikers Island. What do we know of how well they are staffed, how much equipment they have and their efforts thus far to contain the virus?
MATHEMA: Well, as far as I know, I think they are -- you know, at this point, it is all hands on deck. However, there are, you know, the prison population in and of itself has a fairly sizable, vulnerable population, within that have a lot of chronic conditions, other types of infections.
And certainly, the type of conditions that we've been hearing about in the press and in the medical literature about what may dictate worst outcomes. So, it is in fact really important for prison populations like -- or jail populations to really take care of these vulnerable populations. And as far as I understand that there is some effort, but also that there is particular groups who are vulnerable within Rikers that have been sort of -- I think there was a lawsuit that was recently put out, really, asking for protection, really.
SMERCONISH: And, Dr. Mathema, finally, to those who would say, to hell with them, they're behind bars and they deserve to be there. Among the messages I'm trying to deliver is what happens in prison doesn't necessarily stay in prison, or jail, in this context?
MATHEMA: Absolutely. I think there's two points here.
One is that I think as a society we need to ensure that the incarcerated population are safe. That is something that we should ensure. And likewise, we should also ensure that the -- what happens in a prison or a jail for that matter does not pose an undue risk to the community. In this case, we know that we have ample examples from many infectious diseases.
And tuberculosis probably is one of the best ones of incarcerated populations really sort of bringing disease into the community. Or having, you know, staff members or family members bringing disease into the community and that's been seen, certainly, in the United States as well as in many countries.
SMERCONISH: Dr. Barun Mathema, thank you so much for your time.
MATHEMA: Thank you very much.
SMERCONISH: Checking in again on your social media reaction via Twitter and Facebook, what do we have? From Twitter.
Smerconish, if someone is in jail, isn't the ideal place for compliance with the 14-day isolation?
Well, it would be, Greg, unless you need people to guard them and feed them and maintain the facility. And that's why, you know, the notion, that they're there, screw them, we don't have to worry about it, no, no, no, no, no. What happens in jail, it's not like Vegas, OK, as they used to say when Oscar Goodman was in charge, what happens there is not going to stay there. It's going to be in all of our communities.
I want to remind you to answer the survey question at Smerconish.com.
CDC recommending all Americans wear a mask in public. President says, hey, this is voluntary.
I want to know, will you wear one?
Still to come, small businesses face unimaginable loses over coronavirus. There's no coronavirus clause in business insurance policies. But I'll talk to an attorney who says insurers have an obligation to pay.
SMERCONISH: Some small businesses are hoping that their insurance policies will help offset losses from coronavirus. Thomas Keller, the chef behind restaurants including French Laundry and Per Se leading the charge. He wants to establish legal precedent so that businesses facing mandated coronavirus closures are covered if they already have an optional insurance rider called business interruption insurance.
Coronavirus certainly an interruption, but legally do they have a claim? The American Property Casualty Insurance Association says it believes that most insurance policies including those with business interruption coverage do not cover pandemics or viruses such as COVID- 19. They say that retroactively rewriting existing insurance policies could topple the insurance industry -- quote -- "If policymakers force insurers to pay for losses that are not covered under existing insurance policies, the stability of the sector could be impacted and that could affect the ability of consumes to address everyday risks that are covered by the property casualty industry."
One estimate by that association found that small businesses' potential losses could total $220 to $383 billion per month. And that could quickly eat up the estimated $800 billion surplus U.S. insurers have for payouts. But John Houghtaling, the attorney representing Keller insists that small businesses are being wrongfully denied and -- quote -- unquote -- "crippled."
John Houghtaling is here with me now. Is it true that typically a pandemic would not be covered under business interruption insurance?
JOHN HOUGHTALING, ATTORNEY/MANAGING PARTNER, GAUTHIER, MURPHY AND HOUGHTALING LLP: No. And in fact, I've look at policies, I've looked at many, many policies and I rarely see the word pandemic. I've found it interesting in your intro that the industry is suggests that most policies don't cover it indicating that some do they are denying all the policies. They're denying everything associated with this pandemic and it's completely wrong. I mean, they're completely misrepresenting the policies that they have.
SMERCONISH: Is this a chicken and egg scenario where it matters whether someone thinks, I'll take the case of a restaurant, that the restaurant was closed because the government imposed a shutdown or because it was the virus? And then it's a function of well, which of the two of them was really the cause?
HOUGHTALING: Yes. Well, they inflate the issues here because what's happening is to most restaurants, for example, they're being shut down because the government is shutting them down. And there's coverage for that and there's civil authority coverage. When a government shuts you down, there's coverage for that.
Now, the insurance industry is denying it. They're misrepresenting the policies. They're suggesting that all policies have virus exclusions or pandemic exclusions and they don't.
In the case of Thomas Keller he actually has a virus inclusion in his policy and they're denying him. And what they're doing is they're denying them because they're saying, well, the coronavirus doesn't cause a dangerous condition to surfaces or property which is completely a misrepresentation of the policies themselves. I mean, it's completely misrepresentation of the facts of the coronavirus.
And they're doing this -- and they do this in every mass disaster. Usually, disasters are associated with one or two states. Maybe a hurricane or something. This, of course, we have a disaster in the entire economy with the United States. But they're sitting right now, the insurance industry is sitting on $822 billion in reserves. OK. Those reserves are lifeboats. They're lifeboats for the businesses that have paid for them, for the employees that they're protecting. And I mean, the ship is sinking here. I mean, the ship is sinking. And they're not giving the lifeboats. SMERCONISH: Let me give the other side courtesy of the "Wall Street Journal" editorial page. Put this up on the screen and I'll read it.
"Small businesses need relief since they've essentially been forced by the government to shut down. But interruption coverage is attended to indemnify businesses for losses due to property damage, not losses in customers. Leaning on insurers to pay businesses for the coronavirus would only make sense if the federal government or states backstopped insurers effectively administering bailouts through the insurance industry."
You get the final word. But respond to that.
HOUGHTALING: Yes. I mean, look, if the insurance industry thinks that it needs -- it doesn't have enough money -- I mean, they have a lot. They have a lot in reserves, but if they think they don't have enough, they should do maybe what the airlines do and say, look, we're an essential part of the economy, we need help. But that's not what they're doing. They're misrepresenting the policies. They're misrepresenting the dangers of the coronavirus. They're misrepresenting why the governments are shutting things down.
I mean, they're shutting things down because of a dangerous property condition in the area. So, the insurance companies, they need to be honest, if they need help, and they are an essential part. I mean, they're a breaker switch for this whole economy.
If the restaurant industry, for example, goes down. The restaurant industry employs 15.6 million people. I mean, it's a trillion dollars to the economy. I mean, right now, they're all shut down. And many of them have purchased business interruption coverage. So the insurance company, if they don't do the right thing here, I mean, this could be a cataclysmic problem that goes all the way through the economy.
SMERCONISH: I wanted to you have on today because I wanted this to be on everybody's radar screen because it is an industry-wide issue that requires resolution. And I think people need to be focused on what the ramifications. However they may see this, government, virus, chicken/egg. I just think it's important that this national conversation be held.
Thank you so much.
HOUGHTALING: Thank you.
SMERCONISH: Still to come, your best and worst tweets and Facebook comments. And we'll give you the final result of the survey question. I have no idea how this one is going to turn out. I like to sometimes make predictions. I have no idea what you're about to say.
The CDC is recommending all Americans wear a mask in public. The president says, hey, it's voluntary. He also said he's not going to wear one. I want to know, are you going to wear one.
Go to Smerconish.com right now and cast a ballot.
SMERCONISH: Time to see how you responded to this week's survey question at Smerconish.com.
CDC recommending all Americans wear a mask in public, the president says it's voluntary.
My question, will you wear one? Here are the results, 92 percent. Wow, I am floored by that. I had no idea. No expectation going in. If you said to me it would be 80 percent no, I wouldn't have had a different reaction. But nearly 21,000 people, that's a good thing. That's a really good result, isn't it?
Because as I advocated at the outset of the program what we really need is unanimity here a national standard, even if there's not legal authority to impose one. Just everybody do the right thing. You want people to stop dying and contracting the virus, then we all row in the same direction and we get beyond this.
What else, Catherine? What else came in? How about that, 92 to 8. Holy smokes.
No slight towards you, I'm curious if you regret your public address a few weeks ago, refusing to alter your travel schedule and daily habits?
Hey, at the time I came on and said, am I f'ing nuts? I don't think I was allowed to say f'ing on CNN. I did say it on SiriusXM because I shared with the audience the fact that I had a full schedule going into Friday the 13th of March, and then everything changed and I changed with it. And I changed with it. But, no, I was just openly expressing to you trying to deal with the fire hose of information that we were getting that I hadn't anticipated. Regrets, no.
Next, what do we have? Why are you joining the wackos to overlook U.S. constitution and law to make potus look bad?
No authority. It lies with the state government. Your CNN pals -- blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Hey, Time Traveller, I am not here to cheap shot the president. It's not the way I roll. And if you back and listen to my commentary at the outset of the program, I think you'll final it was fundamentally fair to the man. I want to get beyond this.
Later -- like I don't want to get caught up in the conversation now of who shot John like the last social media post. We can have that dialogue later. Let's get past it first then we can finger point, accuse and then go vote. But not yet and that's not where my head is. I want to get beyond this.
Stay safe. I'll see you back here next week. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)