Return to Transcripts main page


Twenty-Nine Deaths, 900-Plus Confirmed Coronavirus Cases In The U.S.; Passengers Disembark From Virus-Stricken Cruise Ship; Source: Health Officials Want Trump To Stop Shaking Hands; New York Deploys National Guard To Virus-Stricken Suburb; NY Gov. Orders Containment Area For Coronavirus Cluster; China's President Xi Visits Virus Epicenter Of Wuhan; 168 Die From Coronavirus In Italy In Just 24 Hours; Harvard Among The Schools Canceling Or Moving Classes Online; Pence: Major Insurance Companies Will Cover Coronavirus Tests. Aired 5-6p ET

Aired March 10, 2020 - 17:00   ET




WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington with more of our special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. An emergency situation is unfolding in New Rochelle that's just outside New York City. The National Guard is being deployed there to try to contain a growing cluster of coronavirus cases. We'll talk to the mayor of New Rochelle in just a few moments.

Let's go back to Jake right now. Jake, this outbreak is being felt here in the United States from coast-to-coast.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: That's right, Wolf. And I just spoke with Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York a short while ago about the outbreak in New Rochelle. It's being described as a life and death situation.

This hour the coronavirus death toll across the United States just jumped to 29 since the last time I talked to you from this post after two more deaths were confirmed in Washington State. The total number of confirmed cases nationwide also has gone up to more than 920. This changes hour by hour.

We expect to get even more information soon. We're standing by for a briefing at the White House by the coronavirus task force.

President Trump was at yesterday's briefing, of course, he promised to give reporters an update today. The White House has not confirmed whether the President will in fact be back today.

We also have correspondents in the field covering this global crisis. First, let's go to Nick Watt, he's in Oakland, California where an infected cruise ship is docked.

And Nick, are all the passengers off that cruise ship? NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Jake, they are not. We were told that this was going to be a slow process and it is. They got 400 or so people off yesterday. Twenty-six of them had to be taken to the hospital in ambulances. It is taking time to get them off, 3,500 people aboard that cruise ship.

Now, today hundreds more will get taken off. Some Americans will be put on buses and taken to Travis Air Force Base and other military basis to serve their quarantines. There are more than 200 British people on board, will get on a bus, straight to the airport and be flown straight out of the country. Containment and mitigation, that is the focus here.

Let's take a quick look at what else is happening around the country.


WATT (voice-over): A hotspot exploding in New York.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, (D) NEW YORK: New Rochelle at this point is probably the largest cluster in the United States.

WATT: There is now a containment zone, schools, facilities closed inside that ring. The National Guard deployed to help deliver food and clean.

CUOMO: This is literally a matter of life and death.

WATT: In New Jersey, four more presumptive positives and a death, a man who's only known travel was to New York. Coronavirus now in nearly 40 states with another hotspot up in Washington State. Now, 19 deaths connected to this nursing home.

The elderly are most at risk. But younger people can still get sick and certainly carry and spread this virus.

In Sacramento County, an elementary school student just tested positive, the youngest known case in the U.S. we've heard about. More colleges across the country are canceling face-to-face classes. Harvard ordering students out of houses and first year dorms by Sunday "in an effort to de-densify our community."

Testing, of course, also a key at a meeting with major health insurers this morning. The Vice President said they have --

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Agreed to waive all co-pays on coronavirus testing and extend coverage for coronavirus treatment in all of their benefit plans.

WATT: But the CDC director says underfunding has slowed the testing process in public labs.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: There's not enough equipment, there's not enough people, there's not enough internal capacity, there's no surge capacity. WATT: Meanwhile hundreds of passengers remain trapped on the Grand Princess here in Oakland waiting to be tested and dispatched for treatment or quarantine. Frustration building on board.

CAPTAIN JOHN HARRY SMITH, GRAND PRINCESS CRUISE SHIP: We have been unsuccessful in getting anyone with knowledge or authority to provide accurate information to share with you in a timely manner. And for that I apologize.


WATT: There are about 1,000 crew members on that boat. And they will not be getting off. Nineteen of them have tested positive. We're told that they are right now asymptomatic and being kept in isolation in their cabins. The cruise line tells us it is at this point unclear exactly where the crew will serve out their 14-day quarantine period, Jake.

TAPPER: All right Nick Watt in Oakland, California, thank you so much. Let's go now to Kirkland, Washington where we find Omar Jimenez. And Omar, the State of Washington just confirmed two more deaths. Do we know who they were?


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: At this point, Jake, those two deaths happening both in senior living facilities, one at each one. One happening at the Issaquah Rehabilitation Center and the other happening at the Ida Cooper House both in the Seattle area.

In highlights, part of the most vulnerable population in this, elderly patients and those with underlying health conditions. The story has been very similar here at the Life Care Center Nursing Facility in Kirkland where we just learned moments ago 55 residents in total have tested positive for the novel coronavirus. Thirty-four are hospitalized, 21 are still inside behind me.

And to give you an idea of how badly this place in particular has been affected, it was less than a month ago they had 120 residents inside. They are now down to just 49 between the hospitalizations and the deaths. And of the deaths, the 29 that we have seen nationwide, 19 of them stem from this country. And that's part of why Governor Jay Inslee put in new guidelines in regards to visiting nursing facilities across the state of Washington State, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Omar Jimenez in Kirkland, Washington. Thank you so much.

Let's go now to Jim Acosta at the White House. And Jim, just in the last hour we've seen the Biden campaign and the Sanders campaign cancel events in Ohio, cancel rallies. Is there any indication that President Trump is changing any of his behavior, campaign-related, or otherwise?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Not at the moment, Jake. As a matter of fact right now the President is preparing to give the Medal of Freedom to retired General Jack Keane. That is happening in the east room of the White House right now. And then about a half an hour from now, the Vice President Mike Pence along with the coronavirus task force, they're scheduled to come in here to brief reporters on the latest on the administration's efforts to combat the outbreak.

I will tell you, though, talking about some of the President's habits, day to day habits, federal health officials I'm told, according to a source close to the coronavirus task force, are starting to worry about the President's habit of shaking hands with people, politicians, constituents, and so on as he goes about his daily business. According to the source close to the coronavirus task force, some of these health officials wish the President would opt for the elbow bump. We've been seeing Vice President Mike Pence opt for it as he's been out on the road, talking to Governor Inslee out in Washington and so on.

And one of the things that we've been looking for as he was awarding this Medal of Freedom to General Jack Keane is whether not the President continues with that habit. He's famous for being a germaphobe in the past. But last week at a town hall on another network he said, you know, that essentially he's a politician. He can't stop shaking hands.

Now, in terms of what the administration is doing to combat the outbreak, they have been talking today with Republican senators on Capitol Hill about a possible economic rescue package that would target some of the industries that have been affected by this outbreak. And, you know, we're going to get an update I think in about a half hour from now from the Vice President, from this task force, about just what's happening with testing and so on that have been at the heart of the controversy surrounding this outbreak, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jim Acosta at the White House, thank you so much.

And Wolf Blitzer, you know the director general of the World Health Organization says you shouldn't even do the elbow bump, he says, because that brings you within a meter of another individual, just wave to people.

BLITZER: Better off to stay -- standing away from a lot of folks right now. This is a really serious situation that's unfolding.

Up next, we're going to speak live to the mayor of New Rochelle, New York, just outside New York City, where the National Guard is now being deployed to try to contain an outbreak of coronavirus.



BLITZER: We'll get live pictures from the White House briefing room. Later this hour the Vice President Mike Pence and the coronavirus task force, they're expected to walk in, make some statements, give us the latest information they've collected, then answer reporters' questions. We'll have live coverage of that. We're back with our special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll climbing here in the United States to 29, just minutes ago. Also tonight officials are taking very dramatic action to contain a coronavirus outbreak in the New York City suburb of New Rochelle.

Let's go to New Rochelle right now, the Mayor Noam Bramson is joining us right now.

Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you have a lot going on. The governor of New York is making your city what's being described as a containment zone and deploying the National Guard. So mayor, what will life look like when this goes into effect?

MAYOR NOAM BRAMSON (D), NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK: Well, to be very clear, because there's some misunderstanding, the containment zone is an area in which large gatherings will be limited. So it does have a significant impact on major institutions, on schools, on houses of worship. But it's not an exclusion zone or quarantine zone. So people will be permitted to come and go. It will not impact individuals, families, or businesses. So this is a sensible public health measure in order to mitigate the spread of the virus in the area which has the largest concentration in our city, in our region, one of the largest concentrations in the country.

BLITZER: What is the concentration right now?

BRAMSON: There are about 100 cases in New Rochelle. I say "about" because it's a number that changes by the hour. It is important to keep in mind that even though the number is increasing, that's not necessarily an indication of the virus spreading. It is an indication of greater detection of the virus. So we need to keep those numbers in perspective.

But there's no question, this is a major challenge for our community. It's the kind of challenge no community would ever welcome. Many people in New Rochelle are concerned about their own health, the health of their families, the health of their neighbors.


For those who are subject to quarantine, it's an additional burden, you can't go to school, you can't go to business, can't engage in a normal life and commerce of our community. But I have to I'm very proud of how people in New Rochelle have risen to the occasion.

The concern has been proportionate to the issues before us. But it has not strayed over into hysteria or into panic. People are taking direction from public health authorities. They are being supportive of each other. They are listening carefully to information. And they're remaining calm. So we are demonstrating that this is a strong and resilient city. And even though we know the days ahead are going to be difficult ones, so we have no doubt that we'll be able to overcome the challenge.

BLITZER: New Rochelle is in Westchester County just outside New York City. The County Executive George Latimer told CNN that Metro North and Amtrak trains will still come and go in New Rochelle but individuals who are compromised won't be on those trains. Can you really ensure, mayor, that anyone with this virus won't get on one of those trains into New York City or elsewhere?

BRAMSON: Well, look, I don't think anyone is in a position to make an assurance of that kind. But what can do is take common sense public health measures which, again, can mitigate the spread of the virus.

We also absolutely must take steps to limit exposure for the most vulnerable among us. Senior centers, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, additional safeguards for those centers I think are absolutely vital. Governor Cuomo has been outstanding in leading our efforts. And prohibition on visitors for those centers was implemented a few days ago and is still in place today. So, it's a layered approach which recognizes that for most of us, contracting the virus will not be a life-threatening circumstance. We'll be able to recover without much difficulty.

But for a fraction of people who are elderly or have compromised immune systems, respiratory systems, this poses a much more serious hazard. That's the population we need to be most concerned about.

BLITZER: The wife of the New Rochelle coronavirus patient says he went to the doctor many times and it took the hospital days to figure out what was going on. What lessons are you learning about identifying these cases and tracking this type of community transmission?

BRAMSON: Well, ramping up our capacity to test in a rapid fashion and in volume has been one of the key challenges which I think has been identified by just about every public health professional.

In New York State, I believe the latest numbers were that we can test a few hundred per day. That's increasing. In fact Northwell is going to be bringing in a testing center into New Rochelle which will be automated so we'll be able to accelerate things. But, you know the old statement, you can't manage what you can't measure. And therefore being able to test in a more widespread and efficient and swift fashion is very important to making sure that we, not just in New Rochelle, but nationwide can confront this public health emergency in the best possible fashion.

BLITZER: Are you confident you have the resources to respond to this crisis?

BRAMSON: Well, New Rochelle as a mid-sized municipality on its own would not have the resources. But we are grateful that the state is bringing in National Guard workers to assist us. And to be clear, they're not here to militarize our community or serve a policing function. They will be supporting with logistical and operational needs, principally cleaning locations, assisting with the delivery of lunches to students who are qualified for free or reduced lunch.

We have 11,000 kids in our public school system. Several of the schools are going to be closed for a two-week period of time. We want to make sure those people are carefully taken care of. And a city of our size would not be able to do it on its own. So we're grateful to the state for flooding our area with the resources necessary to confront our needs.

BLITZER: The mayor of New Rochelle, Noam Bramson. Mayor, thank you for joining us, I know you're very, very busy on this day. And good luck to you, and good luck to all the folks in New Rochelle and Westchester County, of course, as well. Thanks so much for joining us.

BRAMSON: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Coming up, we'll go live to two of the global especially epicenters of the coronavirus as new deaths are reported and new action is being taken.



BLITZER: Looking at live pictures coming in from the White House briefing room. Vice President Mike Pence and the coronavirus task force members, they're expected to walk in fairly soon, make an update, some statements on what's going on right now, the latest information they have and take reporters' questions. We of course will have live coverage of this briefing.

We're bringing you special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic as only CNN can, with our worldwide resources. Right now I want to go to China, the epicenter of this crisis. CNN's David Culver is joining us live from Shanghai. David, what's the latest there?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, I can tell you that they're showing some signs of progress here, and that's coming all the way from the top. Early on in this, we noticed that the President here, Xi Jinping, was keeping a very low profile, even as this thing got worse and worse and folks were getting more and more concerned.


However, it marked a milestone this week, in fact just 24 hours ago we saw that the President made a visit to the epicenter of all of this, Wuhan, that's within Hubei Province, that's where this outbreak started, that's where tens of thousands have been infected by the virus.

Now the most extreme lock downs are within that area. And it is fascinating, Wolf, for me to listen into how it's being handled in the U.S. in particular because you've got to wonder if they can do nearly the level of containment that has happened here. And containment, as your panel has been pointing out there, goes beyond just sealing off neighborhoods, which they have done here.

Quite frankly, what I was hearing from New Rochelle as far as minimizing some of the mass gatherings, that's something that's happening in the city where I am, Shanghai, 24 million plus people. That is light lockdown compared to the sealing of communities within, for example, Hubei Province. But then the other aspect of this, Wolf, is tracking people. And they're doing that here through big data. They're trying to figure out who you were in contact with, perhaps were you exposed, and are you taking that to another area.

How exactly is that happening? I wanted to show you this Wolf, this is a QR Code. Every one of us here has to check in when we travel into a city, when we go into a hotel, when we go into a shopping mall, and when we do that they're then able to know our location and figure out if perhaps down the line we are in an area that happened to have exposure, they'll be able to figure out where we are and they'll track us down and potentially put you in quarantine, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, be careful over there. David Culver on the scene for us in Shanghai.

I want to go to Italy right now. That's seen the biggest increase in deaths due to the coronavirus crisis. At least 168 people have died over the past 24 hours alone. Ben Wedeman is on the scene for us in Bologna right now. It's a beautiful city. I've been to bologna. And the streets over there, Ben, clearly empty.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they are empty indeed. The only traffic we've seen are some police cars and food delivery bicycles going around. Now, even though Italy is technically on a lockdown, it appears that the authorities are going about this rather gradually, keeping in mind that unlike China, Italy is a democracy, and the people need to be slowly eased into this new reality.

But we were speaking with some people today who said that in order to contain this virus, which the numbers have really increased dramatically in the last two weeks, that they believe that Chinese style measures will have to be taken. There are some politicians who generally do support the measures taken by the government, who are suggesting that perhaps everything should be closed, bars and restaurants, which are open now from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., everything should be closed except grocery stores where people can at least get the food to eat, because what we have seen, we arrived here just 15 days ago, the number went from 322 recorded cases to now over 10,000. The number of deaths, there were ten when we arrived, now well over 600.

So there is mounting pressure to try to get this situation under control, at a time when the medical services, the health services in this country, which are some of the best in the world, are under increasing strain, trying to treat those who are in the intensive care units. And as we've seen, most of those who have died are the -- have an average age of 81.

The worry is that young people who only make up about five percent of those who have the disease, may be passing it to their older relatives. So the government here is struggling to get the situation under control. So far, with limited success, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Ben Wedeman in Bologna, be careful over there as well. Thank you very much.

It's a serious problem, Italy, 60 million people, as we've been reporting, on lockdown right now. TAPPER: Couple -- a week -- or one week ago we went from like two to 20 deaths over a weekend. And now they're in the hundreds.

Let's talk about more of this with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Also joining us, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.

Dr. Murthay, let me start with you, what should people at home who are not over 60, do not have underlying health concerns, have not yet had it come to their community, in other words the vast majority of Americans, what should they be doing and how worried should they be?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, first of all we should recognize that what we're dealing with, with this novel coronavirus, COVID-19, is different from the flu. There are common questions that come up. Is this just a cold? Is this just the flu? And it's not.

It's very transmissible, similar to the flu, but it is more deadly in the sense that it has a higher mortality rate. We're still trying to figure out exactly what that rate is. But by all estimates, it looks like it will be significantly higher than the mortality rate of the flu.

But the good news is, there are steps people can take to protect themselves. Basic hand washing measures, making sure you're washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer, staying at home if you're sick, making sure you're not touching your face, especially when you're out and about and touching other surfaces, and decontaminating surfaces, including your keys and your cell phone. These are common steps we can all take.

I also think now is the time for us to think about how we greet each other and to modify that so that we are minimizing contact. Instead of a handshake, we can do the elbow bump. We can also just use a hand over our heart as a simple greeting, which people do in many cultures around the world. But these are simple steps we can take that can reduce our risk of contracting this virus.

TAPPER: And one of the things going on right now, Sanjay, as a lot of colleges are shutting down or changing to an online system.


TAPPER: What about parents of children who are in grade school, middle school, high school? Should those parents be concerned? Should those schools think about closing if there is no confirmed case directly in that community?

GUPTA: You know, it's interesting because I think the benefit of that has been largely modeled on the flu like Vivek was talking about. This coronavirus is different. With flu, I think it made a lot of sense. Kids get the flu, they can transmit it. And here we know that kids can get the infection and they can transmit it even if they're not developing symptoms. We know that, but it's a small driver of things. The bigger drivers, people who are sick. Coughing, sneezing, putting those respiratory droplets into the air.

I do think you have a harder time justifying school closures for this reason, you know, actually trying to prove that it works. And obviously, everything in life is a risk-reward relationship. So the reward maybe you do decrease somewhat the number of your social distance little bit more as a result, but the disruption is pretty significant I think here.

So, the other things, closing of mass gatherings, you know, possibly people working from home, these types of things, obviously identifying people through surveillance and testing and contact tracing, isolating people who have been positive, all those things, yes, I think and do it early, because that's when it seems to make the most difference.

School closings, I think is still a little bit of a question mark, in terms of the real impact of that.

TAPPER: So it makes more sense to you that they're canceling concerts than it does for Harvard or Princeton to cancel classes.

GUPTA: You know, I do. And look, this is -- I don't think there's a right answer here. And people were going to have differing opinions on this I know. But what is the justification for what exactly are you getting by pulling all the kids out of Harvard and sending them home? What is the point?

No question. Campuses can be a hotbed of various viruses, you know, the flu, meningitis, things like that. But again, we're talking about something that really doesn't affect young people that much. They seem to be fairly insulated from that. They are in the young and healthy sort of category so far less likely than the vulnerable populations to have any negative impact from this. And now you're putting them back into the community where maybe they're going to be back with parents or grandparents possibly taking a virus home.

So I don't know. And I'm sure they gave it a lot of thought. But I -- you know, changeable benefits.

TAPPER: I'm sure their lawyers played a role also.

GUPTA: Yes, maybe is this more just -- let's be full of abundance of caution, or is there a bigger justification? I don't know.

TAPPER: What do you think? I mean, is it overreacting for colleges to shut down given the fact that the average age of a coronavirus death in the United States, we were told yesterday, is 80? And certainly we don't mean to make light of that. Obviously, this is a horrible disease. And if you're 70, or 80, or 90, and you have it, it's horrible. But if you're a college student, you're at far less risk. Does it make sense to you that Harvard, Princeton, American and others are shutting down?

MURTHY: Well, this is what I think they might be considering. I think they're looking at not only the risk to their students, but they're probably also recognizing that once a student contracts this virus, they may have the ability to transmit it to other people who may be more vulnerable, maybe that's their parents at home, whether it's other people in the community.

But if you're a college making this decision, some of the data that you really need to know is how much local spread is there in the community around you. And the real challenge right now is because of the difficulty we've had getting adequate testing in communities across the country, colleges don't have adequate information.

Whatever numbers they're seeing, they're wondering, are there many more cases and we just don't know about them. As we ramp up testing capacity, which I'm hoping we can do as quickly as possible, hopefully we'll get a better handle on this. But many institutions are worried that there are more cases out there than we're saying.

TAPPER: And Sanjay, what about the doctor in China who died, who was one of the first physicians on the case, who was a whistleblower, this is back when the Chinese government was denying and very opaque about everything. I think he was something like 40 --


TAPPER: -- and he died. And we don't know of any underlying health conditions he had.

GUPTA: No. And, you know, and I talked to Dr. Redfield, specifically the head of the CDC about this. I think there's two things, you know, when you look at the -- even with flu deaths, you know, those are more likely to affect the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, but you do get people.


While the vast majority of people fall into those age ranges, there are some outliers every now and then. And also, as a physician who is taking care of these patients, is it possible that he had a much more significant exposure to this virus than other people? That's possible as well.

So it can happen. It's far more unusual. I mean, you can actually put numbers behind this. The -- we talked about the fatality rates being around 2 percent, people in their 70s and 80s., it's closer to 15 or 16 percent. Still, look, it's still not, you know, it's not 100 percent people think is universally fatal, and people who are older, it's by no means 15 percent, 16 percent, but that's eight times higher than people who are who are younger.

TAPPER: And then we just heard out of Children's Hospital Philadelphia, that a doctor there who just returned from a country where there are COVID-19 cases, not one of the ones on level three reconsider traveling their level from the State Department, but a place where there were sicknesses, came to the United States, saw about two dozen patients at Children's Hospital Philadelphia interacted with about 17 staff members, and then about four days into it realized his progressive symptoms meant that he should get himself checked out or herself checked out. This is going to spread in ways we cannot even anticipate. MURTHY: That's right. And this is why two things become really important here. One is that we have as much transparency into the situation as possible, which means that we not only testing but we all need to be aware of what the numbers are. But the second thing is that we have to get ahead of this which means not only practicing safe, you know, sanitation practices ourselves but also thinking about social distancing more now.

We talked a little bit earlier about changing how we greet people, but social distancing also includes staying away from mass gatherings and involves shifting to telework instead of everybody coming in to a workplace. And in most extreme measures, that can involve closing schools.

Now what we talked about colleges, the decision that affects far more young people is actually the closure of grade schools. So elementary school, middle school, high school. Some localities have made the decision that that's the right thing to do. But what this is highlighting is that we are woefully ill-equipped as a society to deal with situations where we may need to pull kids out of school. We don't have, for example, the safeguards to provide paid leave to parents who need to stay home. We don't have paid sick leave for those parents if they themselves become ill.

So one of the things we're learning because of the coronavirus is that there are fundamental building blocks of a healthy and resilient society that we need now to build and put in place not just for now but also for future outbreaks.

TAPPER: You sound like you're about to announce your presidential campaign. You have my vote.

Thank you so much, really appreciate it, both of you doctors. So we're standing by for a coronavirus briefing at the White House. First, we're going to squeeze in this quick break. Stay with us.



BLITZER: Once again, we're standing by for the White House briefing. You're looking at live pictures coming in from the White House. It looks like the Coronavirus Task Force members they are beginning to walk up there. The Vice President Mike Pence, he'll be joining them. We're told momentarily, he's going to be walking in.

Let's listen into this briefing. There's the Vice President.


Good afternoon. We just completed today's meeting of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And I couldn't be more proud of the efforts of the men and women standing behind me or all of those standing behind them.

President Trump said from early on that this would be a whole of government approach. And today gives evidence of the fact that it is also a whole of America approach. We're bringing the full resources of the federal government and the full resources of this great economy and our great business sector to bear in protecting the American people and protecting American families.

A few updates from today. As we continue to expand testing availability across the country, testing is now available at all state labs. By the end of this week, there will be more than 4 million more tests made available in jurisdictions around the country. One million are already in place. Thanks to the good work of our top commercial labs that the President Trump brought together yesterday. Lab core and quest are in the process now of distributing and marketing coronavirus tests all across America and we're working with state and local officials to ensure that that happens as rapidly as possible.

But as the testing is expanding, we wanted to make sure the American people knew that testing was available to them and that cost would not be a barrier. Today, President Trump assembled the top health insurance executives in America. And as we announced earlier today, all of our major health insurance companies have now joined with Medicare and Medicaid and agreed to waive all copays, cover the cost of all treatment for those who contract the coronavirus. They've committed to no surprise billing and they've committed to encourage telemedicine.


It was a year ago that Medicaid actually expanded to pay for telemedicine. Medicare pays for telemedicine. So now for seniors who may think that they are either at risk or have contracted the disease, they can get medical advice without having to go to the doctor or go to an emergency room.

I know I speak for President Trump when I say how grateful we are to see our health insurance industry step forward to meet this need so that no American should be concerned about being able to pay for or for the cost of a coronavirus test if they deem and their doctor deems it to be appropriate and necessary. President also went to Capitol Hill today to meet with members of the United States Senate Republican caucus. There he talked about an economic package, including a call -- he's calling for payroll tax relief.

And I think most important of the President's heart, we want to make sure that hourly workers, hard working blue collar Americans that may not have paid family leave today, that small and medium sized businesses in America would be afforded the resources to provide paid leave so that no one would feel that they have to go to work if they might be infected or if they might have been exposed to the coronavirus. We had a good reception on Capitol Hill. Our legislative teams have fanned out. We're going to be working with Republican and Democrat leadership to move an economic package. Larry Kudlow will be reflecting on that in just a few moments.

We also talked about what are known as N95 masks and we're working Senator Deb Fischer and others have important legislation that would extend temporary liability protection so that masks that are made for industrial use could be sold to hospitals to ensure that our health care workers are properly protected and outfitted. And we're grateful for growing bipartisan support for that measure, and we're going to be working earnestly with Republicans and Democrats to move a reform that would make more and N95 masks available.

I'm also pleased to report that we did receive this afternoon a comprehensive proposal from the cruise line industry, a proposal that includes advanced screening, improving medical services on ships, providing for airlift evacuation and land-based care at the expense of the cruise lines for anyone that might be not only infected with the coronavirus, but with any serious illness. We'll be reviewing that in the next 24 hours. The President's objective is for us to make a cruise lines safer, even as we work with the cruise lines to ensure that no one in our particularly vulnerable population is going on a cruise in the near future.

I'm going to recognize Dr. Fauci to talk about where we are. And Dr. Birx will give us some research that she's done on the scope. We'll have other updates. But let me say once again, this is a whole of government approach. And from early on, President Trump has insisted that our government at the federal level, all of our partners at the state level work in concert to protect the American people.

And as we stand here today, the risks to the average American of contracting the coronavirus remains low. But we're absolutely determined to give every American the tools and the information that they need to protect themselves, their families, their workplace, their schools. And we're going to work together. We're going to work together to see our way through this, and working with leaders in both parties in Congress, working with leaders at the state level all across this nation. I'm confident we will.

With that, Dr. Tony Fauci for an update on the status.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. Just to give you a very brief sketch of what we do every day, the cases continue to increase globally. We are paying particular attention to the cases in Europe, in Italy and France in which we're starting to see that up at the same time as the relative number of new cases come down from China.

What we're seeing in Europe is that Europe is in that up slope. So that's something that is expected. That's the way these kinds of outbreaks go. This is not a surprise to anybody if you look at the history of infectious diseases outbreaks.

In the United States, we continue to have new cases. As of this morning, there was 712, I believe, with 27 deaths guaranteed by the time of this evening that's going to be up, and there'll be several more. And tomorrow there'll be several more. So we realize that this is something obviously that we've been saying all along that we're taking very seriously.

[17:50:05] Now the question is, what are we going to do about that? And there are a number of things that one can do in order to blunt it. If you look at the curves of outbreaks, you know, they go big peaks and then they come down. What we need to do is flatten that down. That would have less people infected, that would ultimately have less deaths. You do that by trying to interfere with the natural flow of the outbreak.

So what we're saying today is that although we keep coming in and saying appropriately, that as a nation, the risk is relatively low. There are parts of the country right now that are having community spread in which the risk there is clearly a bit more than that. And you know the places, you know, Washington State, California, New York, and Florida.

But what I want to talk to you about today, just for a moment or two, is that we would like the country to realize that as a nation, we can't be doing the kinds of things we were doing a few months ago. That it doesn't matter if you're in a state that has no cases or one case, you have to start taking seriously what you can do now that if and when the infections will come, and they will come. Sorry to say, sad to say, they will. But when you're dealing with an infectious disease, you know, we always have that metaphor that people talk about that Wayne Gretzky, you know, he doesn't go where the pack is, he's going where the pack is going to be. Well, we want to be where the infection is going to be as well is where it is.

So what we have here, if you could see that here, what -- it's here, is that if you go to, remember when Dr. Birx yesterday mentioned some of the things that we put together. These are really simple. Keeping the workplace safe, keeping the home safe, keeping the school safe, and keeping commercial establishing safe. This should be universal for the country. Everyone should be doing that, whether you live in a zone that has community spread or not.

When you have community spread, you are obviously going to ratchet up the kinds of mitigations that you have. But at a minimum, this is the minimum that we should be doing. So everybody should say all hands on deck. This is what we need to do. So I'll stop there, and later I'll be happy to answer questions.

PENCE: Thank you, Dr. Fauci. Dr. Birx?

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Thank you, Mr. Vice President, and thank you, Dr. Fauci for that clarity.

We continue to monitor the situation across the country and across the globe, and we are very fortunate between Dr. Fauci and I, we have long-term contacts out there and many of these countries that are experiencing current outbreaks. We continue to review all the scientific literature to look for insights and to really determine who's at the greatest risk. And that's why we've talked to you about people with immunodeficiencies at any age, people with medical conditions and the elderly, and how important it is for all of us to take these precautions in the household to protect others. Because we have circulating flu and other respiratory diseases at this time, we all have to act like all of those diseases, any respiratory disease can be transmitted to others. And as we said yesterday, we're hoping that decreases all the respiratory disease we're experiencing.

Finally, we got more new reports out of China, who had nine pregnant women during an acute covert infection, and all nine were infected. Both -- And they delivered while they were infected, and all nine babies were healthy, and the mothers were healthy. So we continue to look for data like that to be reassuring to the American public, at the same time, ensuring that every single person is participating in this response to this virus and taking those precautions that we should be taking every day.

If we start doing this today, we will be ready next year for any of our respiratory diseases because I think we'll be able to show that these simple household, simple work, simple schools, simple business approaches across the country can change all of our respiratory diseases. So we thank you for getting the message out. We thank you for the participating and ensuring in your households and on households around America that we're protecting all of those who need our support right now.

PENCE: Excellent. Thank you, Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci.

And this information is available at And, as we said, we can't say often enough, the risks of contracting the coronavirus to the average American remains low. But for senior citizens with serious underlying chronic health conditions, the potential for serious consequences is very real. And make no mistake about it, by practicing these habits in your home, your school and your business, you're not only protecting your health, but you're also protecting those that are most vulnerable.

With that, for an update on our -- the progress that President Trump made today with our health insurance companies, I'd like to recognize Seema Verma.


SEEMA VERMA, ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: As the Vice President said, we had a terrific meeting with the insurance companies, a real example of a public-private partnership, where they agreed to waive copays for testing, not do any surprise billing, and also cover the costs of the COVID virus associated costs. The other things that they did is they asked the President for more flexibility in Medicare advantage plans, and the President agreed to do that. And so today, we issued guidance to our Medicare advantage plans that not only can they waive the costs for the test, but they can also go further to removing prior office authorization requirements, they can waive prescription refill limits, they can allow for mail delivery of prescription drugs and expand more access to telehealth services if they weren't offering that in their plan.

Also at CMS, we continue to work with healthcare providers around infection control practices. We met with home health agencies and also hospitals, and today we issued guidance to dialysis facilities as well as home health agencies around infection control. PENCE: There's been a great deal of attention about the Grand Princess and HHS working with the coast guard, with the Department of Defense, is currently working through disembarking American passengers returning foreign nationals to their country. And I wanted to ask Secretary Azar to speak and update us on the progress.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Thank you. So with regard to the Grand Princess, I wanted to first express our appreciation to Governor Newsom, to the mayor of Oakland, the people of Oakland, the longshoremen, the stevedores who've helped with bringing it in and clearing the dock area so that we can do all of our operations there. We've got Admiral Abel here with us today who's been leading the coast guard efforts and then Deputy Secretary Biegun from state has done incredible work with our foreign partners to help with the repatriation of their nationals who are on board the ship.

As of our data that I've got is as of noon Pacific Time today, so this will have increased quite substantially since my last update. But as of noon Pacific, we had 548 individuals who have been offloaded from the ship. Two hundred and twenty-eight Canadians are already back in Canada, flown there, I believe was overnight. One hundred and seventy- one Californians were taken by the government of California and are now at Travis Air Base. Twenty-six individuals were sick and they are being treated for various, it could be from the novel coronavirus. It could also just be -- we had some frail individuals who are sick that needed treatment.

Our goal is to get all of the citizens of California off today to be in the care of the California state government as well as to get the U.K. citizens off today so that they could be repatriated to the United Kingdom. We continue to work with other countries on all of those maneuvers. We will have non-California residents who will be in transport to the bases at Dobbins and at Lackland today we hope, or tonight.

So everything is progressing. It seems to be progressing well. We're using the highest isolation, quarantine procedures, medical screenings possible to ensure the safety of not just the passengers but also of the local communities and all of the healthcare workers and others, emergency responders are helping. So thanks to all of our partners for their help with this very complex operation.

PENCE: Yes. Well done. Good report. And let me echo the Secretary's appreciation to Governor Gavin Newsom, state of California, city of Oakland. It has literally been a seamless partnership. Everyone on that ship will be tested, isolated and quarantined as appropriate and provided with treatment.

The crew on the ship other than those who were ill will be quarantined on the ship offshore. But it really represented the kind of partnership and cooperation from every level of government that every American I know is grateful to see. With that, on economic front, Larry Kudlow.

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF ECONOMIC ADVISER: Thank you, sir. I, yesterday, had a meeting in the Oval with the President, acknowledging there are going to be challenges on the health and economic side. He mentioned that he intended to bring the full power of the federal government to deal with these challenges. And accordingly, as Vice President said, up at the Republican Senate luncheon today and he mentioned that in this room yesterday, President Trump has unveiled his proposals, strong proposals for a temporary payroll tax cut holiday, which I think he would prefer to last through the end of the year.

Also, administratively, as Treasury --