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More Than 554,000 Cases Of Coronavirus In U.S., 22,000 Deaths; "New York Times" Report Outlines Failures Within Trump Administration During Early Response To U.S Coronavirus Outbreak; Kansas Church Defies Order Limiting Size Of Religious Gatherings; Dr. Fauci: Reopening U.S. Will Not Be One Size Fits All. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired April 12, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DON LEMON, CNN HOST: This is CNN TONIGHT. I'm Don Lemon. Happy Easter Sunday to all who are celebrating the holiday.
As we mark Easter with full awareness that the coronavirus pandemic doesn't observe holidays or borders or politics or socioeconomic status, and the numbers are climbing by the day, tonight, there are more than 554,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States. 22,000 people in this country have died from the disease.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, admitting today right here on CNN that the nation was late, late out of the gate in battling coronavirus.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You could logically say that if you had a process that was ongoing and you started mitigation earlier, you could have saved lives. Obviously, no one is going to deny that. But what goes into those kinds of decisions is complicated.
But you're right, I mean, obviously, if we had right from the very beginning shut everything down, it may have been a little bit different. But there was a lot of pushback about shutting things down back then.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: And as we know, that pushback came from the very top. President Trump at first ignoring all the signals and growing evidence that the deadly virus was spreading across the nation. The Washington Post reporting that he asked Dr. Fauci last month, why can't we just let coronavirus wash over the country? Fauci told him that would result in a lot of Americans dying.
Does that sound like something we've heard before? The president saying this about a lot of people who were telling him to ride out the virus? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: But think of what would have happened if we didn't do anything. I mean, I've had many friends, business people, people with great, actually, common sense, they said, why don't we ride it out? A lot of people have said it. A lot of people have thought about it. Ride it out, don't do anything, just ride it out and think of it as the flu. But it's not the flu. It's vicious.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The president did not enact social distancing guidelines until March 16th, after side stepping for weeks and weeks advice from medical experts who were warning about the deadliness of coronavirus. Trump publicly making one false statement after another.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: By April, you know, in theory when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away.
The coronavirus, which is, you know, very well under control in our country.
We're going down, not up. We're going very substantially down, not up. When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done.
Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They're there. They have the tests. And the tests are beautiful.
We're doing a great job with it and it will go away. Just stay calm, it will go away.
Some of the doctors say it will wash through, it will flow through. Very accurate, I think you're going to find, in a number of weeks.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: The New York Times reporting this weekend that medical experts inside the federal government and others at academic institutions around the nation were becoming alarmed as early as January at the growing threat of a pandemic and at the Trump administration's slow response to it.
The experts expressing their concerns to each other in an email chain nicknamed Red Dawn, in reference to the 1984 movie. We're going to talk more about the emails just ahead with two of the reporters who broke them.
A couple of weeks ago, once President Trump finally started to acknowledge the severity of this pandemic, he said he wanted the nation to reopen by today, Easter Sunday. The experts persuaded him that that was not going to happen. Now, Trump and his aides are pushing for May 1st. But that's questionable as well. I want you to listen to what the president said on Fox News last night.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: I think it's going to be the toughest decision that I've ever made, you know, hopefully that I ever will have to make. But it's certainly the toughest decision that I've ever made. And I hope that I'm going to make the right decision. I'll be basing it on a lot of very smart people, a lot of professionals, doctors and business leaders.
There are a lot of things that go into a decision like that. And it's going to be based on a lot of facts and a lot of instinct also. Whether we like it or not, there is a certain instinct to it. But we have to get our country back. People want to get back, they want to get back to work, we have to bring our country back.
And so I'll be making a decision reasonably soon. We're setting up a council now of some of the most distinguished leaders in virtually every field, including politics and business and medical. And we'll be making that decision fairly soon.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: He is better off sticking with the facts, and with the advice of medical experts, and putting his instincts aside.
Presidential biographer and acclaimed historian Jon Meacham saying this about the president today.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JON MEACHANM, ROGERS DISTINGUISED PROFESSOR, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Americans, at some intuitive level, understanding that the president is selling them. He's not protecting them.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: Let's get back to Dr. Fauci. Here is what he said earlier today about the idea for getting the nation back up and running.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
FAUCI: It is not going to be a light switch that we say, okay, it is now June, July, or whatever, click, the light switch goes back on. It's going to be depending where you are in the country, the nature of the outbreak that you've already experienced and the threat of an outbreak that you may not have experienced. So it's having to look at the situation in different parts of the country.
I think it's going to have to be something that is not one-size-fits- all.
I think it could probably start at least in some ways, maybe next month.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
LEMON: So let us remember, on this Easter Sunday, that 22,000 Americans have lost their lives to coronavirus. They're our loved ones, our friends and our colleagues.
I want to bring in now CNN White House Correspondent Jeremy Diamond and Dr. Celine Gounder, an infectious disease specialist and epidemiologist and host of The Epidemic podcast. Good evening to both of you, thank you so much for joining us this evening in this Sunday, happy Easter to both of you.
So, Jeremy, talk to me about the conversations going on at the White House. Is the president still pushing to reopen the economy, the country, sooner than later?
JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, we've watched even as the president has acknowledged some of the grimmest realities about this coronavirus pandemic and the direction in which it's headed. We've also heard the president in the same breath talk about how much he wants to reopen the country, and soon. So I think sooner rather than later has always been the president's modus operandi.
We do know that there are discussions inside the White House under way this weekend about when they can begin to reopen the country. We do know that some aides close to the president have been pushing for May 1st as a date when they can begin to do that.
The question is whether the president will ultimately get on board with that. We know, of course, Don, it was just three weeks ago that the president was talking about reopening things on Easter weekend and now instead he spent Easter weekend mulling what the next date could be.
The president is getting a lot of different voices in his ear, of course, Don, we know that he's been hearing from people in the business world, in the finance world who want him to put a date on the calendar and at the same time we've heard very clearly from the public health experts that May 1st is not a date that they can endorse at this moment.
And what Dr. Fauci was saying today was that there can't be a specific date when suddenly everything opens up. This is going to be something that happens in phases and that's part of the discussion that's under way at the White House.
LEMON: Dr. Gounder, let's talk about Dr. Fauci. He told my colleague, Jake Tapper, that starting mitigation efforts sooner could have saved lives. I mean, it is a sobering admission given what we're learning in The New York Times about how much was known early on by the Trump administration.
DR. CELINE GOUNDER, INFECTIOUS DISEASE SPECIALIST: Don, I think February 2020 is really going to be seared in Americans' memory as a month where we really dropped the ball, where we could have saved thousands of American's lives and didn't, because we were dragging our feet, weighing political and economic priorities versus the medical and public health. And I'm very concerned that the exact same debate is happening right now over how soon to reopen the country.
I mean, you just heard the president basically mention medical experts as an afterthought, after what he clearly prioritizes in the equation, which is the political and the business desire to reopen the country. And the thing is, these things don't have to be at odds with one another. And had we really clamped down with mitigation strategies early and firmly and quickly, we would not find ourselves in this position now, and the economy would not have suffered the way it has now.
LEMON: Yes. It's interesting the way we're framing it, because he really doesn't have the power to open the country. That is for the governors and the mayors of the country. Perhaps they will listen to him if he urges them to do it. But it is really up to the governors and mayors around the country. He didn't close it, he doesn't have the power to reopen it.
But, Jeremy, I hate to do this to you because the president tweets so much, it's exhausting, but he is tweeting tonight a message to those governors about testing capacity. Do you know what he's saying?
DIAMOND: Well, Don, let me start by saying that officials that I've talked to throughout this pandemic have repeatedly stressed that testing has been the number one issue that has put the United States behind the curve, so to speak, in terms of getting, you know, on top of this pandemic and getting control of this pandemic.
And we've heard from the president himself and his officials that they've repeatedly talked in recent weeks about the progress that they've made on testing. And that's the context in which I think we need to see this tweet, which I'll for you now, Don, which is, I'll read it for you, governors, get your state's testing programs and apparatus perfected. Be ready. Big things are happening, no excuses. The federal government is there to help. We are testing more than any country in the world. Also gear up with face masks.
So, first of all, putting aside the inaccuracy of the United States testing more than any country in the world, the U.S. has lagged behind several other countries in terms of per-capita testing, so that is a falsehood from the president. But then there comes this notion of states suddenly being responsible now for the testing capacity across the country.
We have heard, again, the president repeatedly touting the progress that federal officials are making on the testing front. And now it seems that the president would also like to have it the other way, which is that the federal government is just helping here but ultimately states are responsible for the testing.
And it's particularly important to see it through that light as the president considers when and whether he can begin to reopen the economy because if things don't go well, if there is, once again, a resurgence in this virus because the economy was opened up too soon, it seems like the president is prepared to pass the buck on to the states.
LEMON: Dr. Gounder, I want to talk to you about -- we talked about The New York Times reporting. Let's talk about The Washington Post reporting that hospitals that are dealing with a surge in coronavirus patients are struggling to maintain a supply of antibiotics, antivirals and sedatives required for patients on ventilators. What happens if doctors don't have the medications that they need to intubate a patient?
GOUNDER: Right. So two of the medications we frequently use to intubate patients, fentanyl and midazolam, which is a little bit like valium, or one of those kinds of medications, they help us relax somebody, they help the process not be painful. These are also medications we use, for example, in surgery for general anesthesia.
And so you can imagine, you have somebody who is wide awake who feels everything that you're trying to put a tube down their throat to put on a ventilator, that's a very difficult proposition and a horrible one for the patient and, frankly, very risky for a provider if you have somebody who is really not necessarily wanting to resist you, but just that's their reflex to resist you. So that's a very scary situation.
But even medications, like albuterol, which is that inhaler that the average person with asthma uses, that is also in short supply right now. So these are very basic medications that we don't have at our disposal right now.
LEMON: Dr. Gounder, Jeremy, thank you both, I appreciate it.
Tragedy on top of this tragedy, we have to report to you this dangerous weather, including tornadoes across the path -- parts, I should say, of the south tonight, tornado watches from Louisiana through Mississippi, Alabama, and into Northwest Georgia. And there are reports of at least six storm-related deaths in Mississippi.
I want to take a look at one tornado shelter in Starkville, Mississippi. People gathered there seeking safety from the storms. But they were advised that they still had to practice social distancing due to the coronavirus. We're going to monitor the storms throughout the evening for you right here on CNN.
Medical experts inside the federal government and at academic institutions around the nation alarmed months ago at the growing threat of the pandemic and at the Trump administration's slow response to it, expressing their concerns in an email chain nicknamed Red Dawn. We'll discuss, next.
[20:15:00] LEMON: So I know you've been spending time with your family, whether it's Passover or Easter, what have you, this holiday weekend. But this is an important story, and I really need you to pay attention to it, okay? So please sit down, just give me a couple of minutes here.
Dr. Anthony Fauci admitting that calls for social distancing faced a lot of pushback early on in the coronavirus outbreak. His comments backing up damning New York Times reporting that lays out how experts inside and outside the administration were sounding the alarm but their voices went unheard.
The reporting reveals conversations between top infectious disease doctors in an email chain nicknamed Red Dawn, a reference to the 1984 war film. In one email on January 28th, a senior medical adviser at the Veterans Affairs Department who helped write a key Bush-era pandemic plan gave this warning, and I quote here.
I've seen comments from people asking why WHO and CDC seem to be downplaying this. I'm certainly no public health expert, just a dufus from the V.A., but no matter how I look at this, it looks to be bad. The projected size of the outbreak already seems hard to believe. You guys made fun of me screaming to close the schools. Now, I'm screaming to close the colleges and universities.
In another email on the same day, a former adviser to the Bush and Obama administrations compared the coronavirus to other global disasters, writing, great understatements of history, Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, just a scroll gone bad, Pompeii, a bit of of a dust storm, Hiroshima, a bad summer heat wave, and Wuhan, just a bad flu season. Well, there're some comparisons for you.
Michael Shear and Eric Lipton contributed to this incredible New York Times reporting and they join me now. That is incredible and those are really unbelievable comparisons. I really appreciate you guys joining us, I know it's a busy time for both of you, being with your families. But, again, as I said at the top of this, this is very important reporting. Eric, I'm going to start with you.
These emails, they go all the way back to January. How serious were the warnings that these experts were given?
ERIC LIPTON, INVESTIGATIVE REPORTER, THE NEW YORK TIMES: They were quite concerned from January that this was a contagious disease that was going to make its way to the United States and was going to disrupt the way of life in the United States.
And it really starts in January that they are comparing notes and just trying to decide, you know, how severe is this going to be. But by the time you get to February, they are quite worried that there's already what's called community spread going on in the United States and they're anxious that the United States needs to start to move, particularly in areas where there are hotspots, already, as of mid- February, needs to start to move to shut down schools and businesses, because without a vaccine, as we all know, there's no way to really stop the spread of this virus other than what they call mitigation moves.
LEMON: Michael, the president, as we know, was batting away warnings, downplaying the coronavirus very early on. Your reporting says that his decision-making was complicated by a number of internal political and economic debates. Tell us what they were.
MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, so you had a couple of things going on. First of all, you had the sort of war between the economic folks around President Trump who, for much of -- from late January all the way through February and into the first half of March, many of them were arguing, pushing back against this idea that the country needed to take some sort of drastic action, the kind of mitigation efforts that Eric was just talking about, to really shut down the economy, which, of course, everyone knew would have the kind of economic implications they have had.
And so you had people on one side of the president's making that argument, there were national security and public health people on the other side making the case first that you needed to shut down some travel from China and later Europe, and to move to mitigation, but you had this kind of internal dynamic that we've seen play out over and over again in the Trump White House, which doesn't resemble the kind of policy, sort of methodical policy process that previous presidents in both parties have undertaken.
And so you combine that with the president's disdain for science, the president's desire to look good and not to make people worried, and that produced weeks of delay that I think public health experts believed really cost lives, and Dr. Fauci even said that today.
LEMON: Well, what's interesting, when you read the reporting, it's warning, delay, warning, delay, warning, delay, and then finally the president on an overseas trip, someone jumps the gun, he's on the airplane, and then they come back and he is frightened because he sees how the stock market is falling, and he's upset, why did this person jump the gun, we didn't need to do that, and still even after that, a delay after that.
Eric, listen, the experts -- we'll talk a little bit more about that, but let's talk about the experts on this Red Dawn email chain, had concluded by the third week of February that the fight to contain the virus in the U.S. was lost, with one expert writing, this was on February 24th. He said, if Europe fails, there is very little chance we can contain. So we must roll out the non-pharmaceutical interventions now systematically.
Administration officials decided around that time to brief the president on starting mitigation efforts, but that meeting was canceled. So, explain.
LIPTON: Right. So, really, it's as if there's a fire alarm that's going off. And you have a certain amount of time before the fire just engulfs the building that you're in, for the fire department to arrive and put the flames down. If you wait until the fire is burning through the roof and the fire is burning out of control, you're going to lose that building, even if the fire department arrives. And that's what these pandemic experts knew, was that there was only a certain amount of time, from the first death and a certain number of contagious -- of confirmations of virus, for these mitigation things to go into effect. And they were watching this unfold with fear and real concern. And it was really the third week of February when they had said, now is the time, we've got to act.
And the president saw the stock market drop, an official from the CDC said, maybe we're going to have to move towards mitigation, and he got angry and really came after Secretary Azar from Health and Human Services, and for more than two weeks nothing happened from the administration in terms of moving towards social distancing and these mitigation efforts.
So that two weeks was really consequential. The medical -- these physicians who study pandemics cited seven states to me where they think basically there are going to be more deaths in those locations because the mitigations started too late.
LEMON: But even then, they waited two days until he came back from his trip but then this official jumped the gun and put out a memo saying that they needed to do the social distancing and he saw the stock market drop as he was on the plane and then just freaked out but still did nothing after that.
Michael, listen, your reporting though contradicts what the president has said about not knowing about the warnings, including a January 30th call that he had with HHS Secretary Alex Azar.
Talk to me about that.
SHEAR: Right. So I think, you know, one of the things that has been a consistent feature of the president's response to this virus since the day it began was just sort of initially shrug it off, say it wasn't a big deal, and then later, as he's been called on it, to say, well, there was either no way to know about the sort of ferocity of it, he said repeatedly, no one could have imagined something like this.
Well, the reporting that we document in the piece and that has been, frankly, documented over the last several weeks in news organizations, you guys have done it on CNN as well, makes it very clear that the warnings were there, if the president had wanted to listen to them, and the call that Secretary Azar had made on the 30th was an example of that in which he says to the president, look, this is a possible pandemic, that it could become a pandemic, and the president's response was what it had been for several weeks, which was to see Secretary Azar as an alarmist.
That's the way that he was described among some of President Trump's top aides, and to say don't panic. That was the message from the president to the secretary at the time, which, as Eric said, that's the kind of attitude that helped push the response much later and for which the doctors, the health community now believes was a big mistake. LEMON: It's interesting, I just want to get one point in here before you guys go. One source close to the president told The Times that he felt shell-shocked after finally agreeing in mid-March to social distancing measures, and he has used the coronavirus task force briefings to rebuild his confidence. That's what he -- go ahead, you want to talk about that, Michael?
LIPTON: Yes. Well, look, I think, I mean, we've seen it all play out over the last couple of weeks. He -- I think the way that it was described to us was that he sort of got his swagger back. There are very few examples --
LEMON: But he's using that to spread misinformation.
LIPTON: Well -- but to the extent that he views this as a way of sort of being at the center of it all and the attention is focused on him, you know, again, there aren't a lot of historical examples of the way this president is handling a crisis like this where he stands up for hours on end every single night. And I think that speaks to the peculiar way in which this president governs and the kind of egocentric view of the presidency that he's had since the day he started.
LEMON: Great reporting. Thank you, Michael Shear, Eric Lipton, thank you, I really appreciate it.
What should the Trump administration have done after receiving warnings from experts like these and what should they do now to make up for lost time? I'm going to ask the former Homeland Security Secretary, Michael Chertoff. That's next.
LEMON: While President Trump is facing new questions over his early response to the coronavirus after the nation's top infectious disease expert admitted that lives would have been saved if mitigation efforts had been put in place earlier.
Let's discuss now with Michael Chertoff, former Homeland Security Secretary under President George W. Bush. Secretary Chertoff, thank you so much for your time. I hope that you are enjoying your holiday weekend. Thank you so much for joining us.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: Thank you.
LEMON: So you heard The New York Times reporting, the warnings were there. President Trump failed to act quickly on them. What did that delay cost in terms in of combating this virus?
CHERTOFF: Well, let me step back and say that about a dozen years ago, we put together a very comprehensive plan about how to prepare for and react to a pandemic. And it depends on a number of factors, how much of the overseas pandemic is spreading, are we beginning to see community spread in the U.S., and what is the mortality rate. And based on that plan, it would have been probably the right thing to do to start to inaugurate measures like closing schools and social distancing late January or early February. And we obviously lost a few weeks. Although I should observe, Don, this is something which governors can do too. It's not just the president.
So there was a delay. And what that means is we got more spreading in the United States than we might have gotten if we had been able to mitigate several weeks earlier.
LEMON: When you hear that there are so many competing factions in the White House, does that hurt the ability to effectively respond to a crisis like this?
CHERTOFF: Well, let me say, look, this is not an easy decision. We need to acknowledge that aggressive social distancing, closing schools, closing businesses, has a real impact on people. And not just the stock market, but people who are depending on this for their livelihood, there are psychological dimensions to it, and there's a long-lasting economic effect. So whenever you're balancing these decisions, you are going to get competing viewpoints and you should pay attention to that.
At the end of the day, probably the right answer, based on the plan I've mentioned, was to go ahead earlier and put these measures in place on the hope that by doing that, you might be able to lift them earlier.
But I want to say it's not exactly a no-brainer. These are some very complicated judgments that have to be made.
LEMON: But are you going to get competing interests on how serious it is, because there seems to be -- I can understand what you should do about it, but I think for the most part, people should understand in the administration how serious it is. I can understand that how you want to handle it, if people disagree about that.
CHERTOFF: I think, you know, after acknowledging the seriousness, but to give you one example, there was a disagreement, an uncertainty about the mortality rate, which is one of the considerations under the plan that you take into account. And part of the reason is that the data that was coming from overseas was a little bit unclear. It wasn't clear whether they actually had the denominator right, did they know all the people infected, or were some people asymptomatic and some didn't report.
So there was a certain fuzziness in the information. And, again, that just makes it more complicated to hash this out in a policymaking setting.
LEMON: You were Homeland Security secretary during Hurricane Katrina and acknowledged that the department fell short in its response. How would you advise the current administration in improving how it responds going forward? CHERTOFF: I would say a couple of things. First of all, hindsight is great, but this is not the time for hindsight. Eventually, there will be a kind of review of everything that happened. The question is what do you do now. What I would urge is not to be overly hasty in lifting the restrictions in place.
We want to make sure, now that we've absorbed some of the pain of these restrictions, that we keep them in place until we see a noticeable change in the way the community spreading is occurring. If we lift it too quickly, we're going to run the risk of triggering a recurrence and that's actually going to be worse than what we have now.
LEMON: And if you want to read more about how to do this and how to reopen the economy and what steps should be taken next, you can read what the secretary wrote in USA Today. Thank you so much, Secretary, I appreciate your time.
CHERTOFF: My pleasure. Happy Easter.
LEMON: You as well, Happy Easter to you.
Some churches still holding in-person Easter services despite the safety issues involved. We're going to go live to one Kansas church which is holding services tonight in defiance of social distancing orders.
LEMON: It is Easter Sunday, and millions of Christians around the country have been forced to worship at home rather than at their churches. But some religious leaders have pushed back on these social distancing guidelines that have been imposed during the coronavirus crisis.
Our Gary Tuchman has been following us and he joins us now from Basehor, Kansas. Hello, Gary, Happy Easter to you, thank you so much for joining.
You are in Kansas where despite a stay-at-home order from the governor, people are still turning out for services. Give us the latest.
GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Don, Happy Easter to you also. It is now the law in the State of Kansas that a religious gathering cannot have more than ten people. The great majority of churches here in the State of Kansas were closed today. But some were open. Some were ignoring the law.
But this church in suburban Kansas City also is open today but not ignoring the law. The pastor says he interpreted the law differently. There were two services this morning, like I said, the law of no more than ten people, about 55 people, according to the pastor, attended the early morning service. Another 50 or 55 attended a 10:00 A.M. service. Men, women, children, even babies came inside.
We're told by this pastor, he was looking at the executive order that was put out by the Democratic governor of the state. And in the executive order it said that, quote, choir or musical performers don't count as part of those ten. But he says everybody who comes to the church counts as choir, though they're musical performers, he felt his interpretation that he could have those people inside his church.
However, there was a third service planned for right now at this hour, it is not taking place anymore, and here is why it's not taking place, according to the pastor. He says, because of the attention he has gotten about why he kept this church open to that many people, he has gotten hateful and scary emails and phone calls and he made the decision to contact every one of his congregants, tell them not to come today. He's made the decision after today to start having smaller service with no more than ten people because he thinks that is now the prudent thing to do.
What's really clear, Don, is hate is never the answer.
LEMON: All right. Gary Tuchman in Basehor, Kansas, thank you very much for that, Gary.
Nearly 17 million Americans filing for unemployment in the past few weeks. How coronavirus is highlighting the economic divide in this country, next.
LEMON: Dr. Anthony Fauci advising today that it's going to take time to reopen the country from the coronavirus shutdown and that it won't be a one-size-fits-all decision. A lot will have to do with where the virus still exists in different parts of the U.S.
I want to bring in Thomas Friedman. He is a Columnist for The New York times. Thank you so much for joining us, I hope you're enjoying your holiday weekend and we appreciate you being here on CNN with us.
So all together, Tom, about 16.8 million Americans have already filed claims. So give us just a roadmap for what the recovery will look like as the country begins to reopen, because that figure really shows the scope of this economic downturn.
THOMAS FRIEDMAN, COLUMNIST, THE NEW YORK TIMES: Well, Don, the numbers are staggering. We've actually never experienced anything like this hard stop to our entire economy. And McKinsey recently came out with a report that estimated somewhere between 44 and 57 million Americans workers could be affected by this.
Because about 70 percent of our GDP comes from consumption, going out to restaurants, shopping in the mall, travel, tourism. And when you basically shut all of those down in a workforce of about 150, 160 million people, you're talking about roughly a third of the workers could be affected. So phasing people safely back to work is an urgent necessity.
LEMON: So many Americans have lost their jobs, maybe they're being furloughed. We've seen crowds of people lining up for unemployment just to get forms. How long could people be out of a job, if the country doesn't get a handle on containing this virus?
How do you even know that, Tom?
FRIEDMAN: Yes. We really can't know. I mean, the good thing is, the optimistic thing to point to is the fact that we actually have a road map now, China, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong. They all tightly locked down, social distance, sheltered in place, for eight to 11 weeks roughly depending country to country. They really took the shutdown seriously on a national basis.
Then they use that shutdown to prepare testing, tracing and quarantining people who still had the virus, and at the same time have been able to restart their economies, still practicing social distancing, wearing masks, taking temperature outside stores and restaurants of people who want to come in. That's the best case scenario. But they are getting their economies up to speed now using that plan. We have to use that model. We know it works. It's working for them. We have to do the same approach.
LEMON: So, Tom, you had the professional or investor class there able to work remotely and then you have a lot of middle class and definitely working class who have lost their jobs. A lot of people aren't able to work remotely. There is a real sense out there that the economic divide that existed before the crisis is only being exacerbated now. It's a have, has and have not situation. How should the country confront this?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you're absolutely right, Don. The most vulnerable workers, people who already were living paycheck to paycheck or couldn't manage sudden crisis that required them raising $400, more than $400 without borrowing it from someone, those are precisely the people most affected by this, the people that have to take subways to work. There are people may be work in -- cleaning hotels or in services and restaurants. And that's what you need this government, this immediate injection of cash to those people.
But best way we help them, the best way we help the whole country is by taking this social distancing, the sheltering in place, bending the curve, getting the numbers down to a manageable level and using this time to get in place the kind of massive testing and tracing so we can open the economy safely, get all of those people back to work, without falling into a situation where we have to close the economy again because the virus comes back.
LEMON: Yes. Well, let's talk about, I mean, the people, the group making minimum wage. I'm talking about the heroes, people who are stocking the shelves and people who are cleaning the hospitals, folks who are driving public transportation. Do you think the minimum wage or conversations about health benefits changes because of this crisis? FRIEDMAN: I think it radically changes. Coming out of this, I mean, now thinking about the 2020 election, it's pretty clear where Biden is going to be, and that's going to be for some kind of pathway to universal healthcare beginning probably with extending and improving Obamacare and including a public option. I can't imagine that not being part of the Democratic agenda. And I think Republicans will be very vulnerable if they can't provide some kind of pathway to universal healthcare as well. I think that's just a basic necessity.
And also some kind of, obviously, healthcare leave for people, and also just protection for these healthcare workers, the fact that they don't have people to take care of their kids at home right now while we're asking them to work these incredible hours, all of those are going to be -- have to be part of a new package of what I would call resilience for the next pandemic and, frankly, for climate change.
LEMON: Yes. You were talking about, you know, childcare and working at home, and the schools are closed. And then parents are, like, well, if the school is closed and I have to go back to work, how am I going to -- I mean, it's a snowball effect. But I think you talked about this for a second, you touched on it, what would happen to the economy if the country reopened too quickly and then had to put these restrictive guidelines in place again, essentially closing the economy for a second time?
FRIEDMAN: Well, you know, the economy is actually going to only open as far as you and I have trust that we can actually go out in the economy while the virus is still out there, and it will be still out there until we have a vaccine. So just ask yourself, Don, when is the next time you're ready to go to a restaurant, restaurant without a mask, a movie theater, an airplane, ride the subway? All of these things, ultimately, actually, each of us are going to individually decide that by how we perceive the healthcare, you know, conditions in our communities.
And that's why taking this so seriously now. We're locked down.
let's not lift this until we have actually bent the curve to a level where we know it can then be controlled by effective testing, tracing and quarantining, while we actually continue to protect and sequester the most vulnerable, the elderly and the most immune vulnerable.
LEMON: I talked about this yesterday on my Easter Zoom with friends. Do you want to rush back to a gym? As you said, do you want to rush back to a restaurant, are you ready to go back on an airplane, are you ready to go back to a restaurant?
And the question is, after that, how do you do it in a restaurant? How do you do it in a gym, how do you social distance on an airplane? How many seats -- it's just -- this new normal, I'm interested to see after the coronavirus, right after we're allowed to open the economy, what that's going to look like.
FRIEDMAN: It's why I really don't believe the economy, I'm afraid, is going to snap back right away, because we're talking again about a consumer economy. And all of this consumption, whether shopping in the mall, going to a restaurant, traveling, visiting Disney resort, is going to involve some risk while the virus is out there.
Don, we never faced an enemy like this. You could defeat Hitler. You could outmaneuver Stalin. But mother nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That's all she is. You can't talk her up. You can't talk her down. You can't sweet talk her. You can't say mother nature, having a bad recession, could you lay off? And so the great failure of the administration was early on, looking at the market and whether it was going up and down as its indicator of whether we're effectively fighting the virus.
LEMON: Instead of looking at the science, yes.
FRIEDMAN: Instead of looking at -- well, the market -- yes.
LEMON: Yes. Thank you, sir. Thank you.
FRIEDMAN: Thank you, Don.
LEMON: I appreciate you joining us. We'll be right back.