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ANDERSON COOPER 360 DEGREES
As U.S. Death Toll Tops 70,000, WH Considers Disbanding Coronavirus Task Force; Ousted Vaccine Director Files Whistleblower Complaint Alleging His Early Coronavirus Warnings Were Ignored; Cuomo: There Is No Doubt We're Coming Down The Mountain; Around 108 Potential COVID-19 Vaccines In The Works Worldwide; Former Acting CDC Director On CDC's Response; NYPD Intelligence Chief On 38 Deaths On Force: It's Been Very Difficult. Aired 8-9p ET
Aired May 5, 2020 - 20:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: Erin, thanks very much, good evening everybody. Typically, we try to start the program with the latest medical and health information about the Coronavirus, its spread, the promise of therapies, the information you need to know in the middle of the pandemic and we still will do that tonight. We'll have all that information but tonight, we want to start with the information that you aren't getting now and won't soon get about the pandemic.
Multiple reports today once again show this administration's attempt to resist lawful oversight and its contempt for whistle-blowers and independent inspector-generals. First, regarding the Coronavirus taskforce, it appears the President wants to end it. They're talking about ending the taskforce in the middle of the pandemic and cases are still rising.
They rose by at least 1,938 today in fact but they want to dissolve the taskforce. The President confirmed it while on a trip to a mask making factory in Arizona today. The Vice-President says this should happen around Memorial Day which is 20 days from now. Asked why he would end the taskforce now, this is how the President responded.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: With the doctors saying that there might be a recurrence of the Coronavirus in the Fall, why -- can you just explain why is now the time to wind down that taskforce?
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, because we can't keep our country closed for the next few years. You know, you can say there might be a recurrence and there -- there might be and the -- you know, most doctors or some doctors say that it will happen and it will be a flame and we're going to put the flame out. We've learnt a lot.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: So -- just keeping him honest here, -no one has said close the country for five years. That's just a -- a complete exaggeration and the President is admitting the crisis not going away but he is certainly trying to downplay the potential risk, saying that it'll be a flame and that they've learnt a lot and they can just quickly put it out.
Why end the taskforce though? The hub of the Federal response? Yes, the President embarrassed himself and the country when he took -- when he last took questions with the taskforce, suggesting injecting disinfectant into people, yes, he lied about saying that. But that's no reason to stop having the taskforce and its scientists brief the public.
It seems like they don't want their fingerprints on this. It seems like the Federal Government, the administration, is trying to pass the buck, pass the responsibility onto the States, onto mayors, onto governors, to anyone other than themselves so that they won't take the blame come election time.
So that's one story tonight, where the White House is closing down the one place you can sort of rely on from the government for reliable information at least from the scientists, from Dr Fauci and Dr Birx. We mentioned there were multiple political angles that we're covering tonight. The other comes in the form of a whistle-blower lawsuit which alleges a former top health official at Health and Human Services was fired.
The lawsuit alleges that Richard Bryce early earning -- warnings about the virus were mostly ignored. Also, that he was removed because he fought against the use of an anti-malarial drug, one that a VA study has since shown increases the likelihood of death and has no benefits.
Incidentally, at Fox's Town Hall on Sunday, President Trump still insists the drug has saved lives, again, in the middle of a pandemic. Bryce's lawsuit also says he was pressured to give federal money to a pharmaceutical buddy of the President's son-in-law, Jared Kushner. There's no allegation that Kushner knew about this alleged pressure.
But "The Washington Post" is reporting is that his shadow taskforce, the one that will continue to operate, even as the official White House one closes shop, the one with the scientists on it, has dropped the ball on procuring medical supplies, largely because he's promoted his friends and associates, many of whom have no experience.
And these breaking stories are all taking place as new modeling projects deaths will almost double because we are beginning to reopen the country. Also, as he's preventing officials like Dr Anthony Fauci from testifying before Democratic-led committees in the House. Again, the recurring theme is that any information that's unfavorable to the President's re-election campaign is on lockdown tonight -- which is not surprising coming from a President who once said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
KRISTEN WELKER, NBC REPORTER: Dr Fauci said earlier this week that the lag in testing was in fact a failing. Do you take responsibility for that and when do can you guarantee that every single American who needs a test will be able to have a test? What's the test of that?
TRUMP: Yeah, no, I don't take responsibility at all --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Joining me now with more on all this is CNN's White House Correspondent, Kaitlin Collins. So Kaitlin, what more are you learning about this -- this decision to -- to essentially do away with the -- the Coronavirus taskforce?
KAITLIN COLLINS, CNN'S WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, this is something they've been weighing for several weeks now and if you look at the schedule, actually, of all of the meetings that they've been having, they've started cutting them back because it used to be daily that they would have these meetings, Anderson.
They would sometimes last an hour and a half, if not longer than that and now they've started having fewer of them. You're starting to see the Vice-President get on the road more. Of course, he's the one often leading those. The President himself is also trying to get on the road more, even though he's not often at these meetings.
And so, the question is going to be if the President is going to form some other kind of task force to take it's place. We know with the economics task force that the President constructed to help re-open the country, it was really large, it hasn't really met in any kind of capacity like you've seen this task force meet.
And so, the Vice President is now confirming that it could wind down by the end of this month by early June -- even though that seemed to be a surprise to even some members of their own coronavirus task force who didn't seem aware that it would be winding down just that quickly.
COOPER: And is it clear to you what exactly this means? I mean, assuming Dr. Fauci is he still going to be then controlled by the Vice President's office or the White House or the President's not wanting -- the White House isn't wanting him to testify in Capitol Hill in front of house committees, I guess because there's Democrats on them or they're controlled by Democrats. Does that mean then the CDC can hold press conferences everyday talking about the latest scientific information or the NHI can do that?
COLLINS: Well, that'll be the question if they do that and really what this looks like. Because the CDC has not held a briefing since March, of course, we know the CDC officials sometimes anger the President with their pretty blunt warnings to the public.
But also, the question is one of the reasons before the President admitted today that it was about politics of why Dr. Fauci couldn't go testify in front of the Democratic led house, but he could go in front of the republican led Senate, is they said Dr. Fauci was too busy to be going up to Capitol Hill and testifying.
And so, they said that there's this policy where none of the officials on the task force can go testify on Capitol Hill for the month of May, unless Mark Meadows -- the chief of staff, grants his approval. So, the question is does that change after May and they're no longer having these briefings or does the White House continue to make that argument about their schedules? But also, I wonder what this will look like, because Dr. Burks is someone -- she has an office inside the west wing, so, is her office space going to remain?
Those kinds of questions, because often you've seen if you rely on the White House spokespeople or the President himself for information it's often very different than what you get from the actual professionals who are looking at this data on a daily basis.
COOPER: Yes, and it's interesting that they're concerned about Dr. Burks time and Dr. Fauci's time when they had no problem having Dr. Burks or Dr. Fauci sit there sometimes for more than an hour as the President mused about whatever came into his mind and tried to grab the spotlight of the very coronavirus task force. They had no problem with the doctors, the scientists sitting, waiting for the President to finish so that they could actually present factual information to the American people.
The whistle blower complaint from Rick Bright, how -- the President said he didn't know the guy, how damning is it for the White House? And again, these are allegations, they haven't been proven.
COLLINS: No, they're only allegations, we should note that. HHS has been pretty buttoned up about this, because they know obviously it's leading to an investigation that he has filed a request for tonight. And we should note, we are going to hear from him in person next Thursday according to his attorney's because they say he's going to be testifying on Capitol Hill, so, he may go into these allegations more.
But also, looking at this, initially we know that in his statement he said he believed he was removed from his job because of retaliation because he wouldn't grant express approval to drugs that the President had pushed. But if you read through this really lengthy complaint that he filed, Anderson, he also talks about the fact that he says he raised concerns back in January with top officials like the HHS secretary, Alex Azar about coronavirus, saying that he thought he was concerned it could already be in the United States.
He said that was something that was greeted with skepticism and also those officials he said -- the top officials, Azar and another Bob Kadlec, were confidently saying they believe they could keep coronavirus out of the US. Of course, that has not happened, so a lot of questions are also going to be about what his interactions were with other officials and whether or not that slowed down the administrations response even more overall to the coronavirus.
COOPER: Caitlin Collins, appreciate it. Thanks Caitlin. Joining us now is Juliet Kayyem, CNN National Security Analyst and former US assistant secretary for homeland security, also Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash and Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.
So, Sanjay, the talk of disbanding the task force obviously on the face of it, it seems surprising giving that this is an ongoing pandemic that will continue through the summer and very likely for -- until there's a vaccine or until enough people have become infected that there's a change in the spread of this. What do you make of the idea of closing this down?
SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I mean, I think it's a -- it's a bad idea. You know, I hope that the work is still going on, you know, even if there's not a -- you know, these briefings and an actual task force.
You remember there was -- back in 2014, there was an Ebola czar, and there was this idea you need to create this whole of government approach for something like this and I think that's still necessary.
But I think, you know, subjectively, Anderson, I -- there's a sense that the Coronavirus task force is being disbanded, states are reopening. You know, I think a lot of people -- it sends the message that this is over, you know, we -- we've gotten through this and it's very much the wrong message.
You know, Anderson, I was just looking up on March 16 when they first announced the pause, there were some 4500 people who had been confirmed to have the infection and some 70 people who had died.
And now, you know, you can see this. At the time they were thinking about disbanding this task force, the deaths have gone up a thousandfold, which is -- which is just startling, and obviously the rate of infection. So how do you create it when you had those numbers and disband it when the numbers are what they are and continue to go up?
COOPER: Yes. Dana, I mean, I guess, you know, you could perhaps make an argument that, okay, you disband it and that allows the doctors, the -- you know, Fauci and Birx to focus more on their work, and then the -- you know, there will still be a place where every day there's briefings and scientists get out important information and there is still a federal response.
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.
COOPER: Or this is just an attempt by the administration to distance themselves from this, say, "Look, we gave the best practice. We did all we could. We gave the best practices to the states. We gave them all the equipment they needed," and basically get some distance between the President and the deaths of so many Americans.
BASH: Yes, I think you just nailed it, Anderson, and, you know, for the second time today when the President was taking questions from reporters in Arizona, he said the quiet part out loud. And the quiet part, it was -- you could see the wheels turning and if you read the transcript, it's pretty clear he wants this part of his history behind him. He wants to move on.
He is, again, trying to talk all of the current situation and the crises that the governors and the local officials are still facing away, saying, "We did a really good job. We got the ventilators out. Everybody's got testing," which obviously we know is not accurate, but he's trying to make it so with his words.
The challenge that he has and the real, real political risk -- never mind the health and wellness of Americans -- is if that doesn't happen, then it's closer to the election. Then he has distanced himself. Then people get even sicker as Sanjay, I know, takes no pleasure in predicting as a real possibility. And then it really backfires.
And that's the kind of the balance and he and more importantly his aides are trying to find here. But it's very clear that this push is coming from the President, and that's what I mean by him saying the quiet part out loud. It started to bubble up through reporting today and it was the President himself who was obviously driving that train.
COOPER: You know, Juliette, I mean, I hate to be -- sound cynical on this, but, you know, he loved the task force when he saw it as something he could ride and ride the wave of, you know. Once Birx and Fauci started to become --
JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes.
COOPER: -- respected and popular by the daily briefings, the President jumped in on them, took them over, used them to, you know, I guess in his mind, to great effect. He talked about his ratings and how high they were and how great things were going. And then he embarrasses himself by talking about injecting human beings with disinfectant, is widely ridiculed, then lies about it, and then suddenly the task force is no longer --
COOPER: -- as important. I mean, if it can be disbanded in the middle of the pandemic, what was exactly the point of creating it in the first place and then who handles the response --
KAYYEM: I think --
COOPER: -- to the virus now from the federal government?
KAYYEM: Well, I think there will be some federal response if nothing but for the fact there is going to be a vaccine hopefully at some stage and it's going to take the federal government to respond. But I think you're exactly right. The numbers just got too big for Trump to be able to manage. We sort of swept by the -- all of the sort of rosy assessments of how many would die and I think once it passed 60,000, which was his original number, it's very hard to manage that.
So what you're looking at is, I think, essentially a crisis response, a homeland security response in three failures. I mean, the first one is, of course, ignoring the intelligence as it was coming from China. That's the step that Richard Bright is talking about, that, you know, we knew it was coming.
The second is the failure to deliver things to the states and to get them ready. It's sort of a failure of execution. And now I think you're just going to see sort of a failure of counting. I think that this is about ignoring the dead. I do at this stage. I think that the numbers are going to be too big.
KAYYEM: And instead of honoring them and learning from them, "How did they die? Can we protect vulnerable populations?", he's going to ignore them, which is not only morally, you know, shocking, it is also scary because as Sanjay keeps saying, we've got this thing for a long time.
Right, so, we could actually save lives if we took a better accounting of what's going on. So, this is his homeland security apparatus, fortunately we do have states that -
KAYYEM: -- may be able to try to pick up the slack.
COOPER: Well, I mean, Sanjay, to Juliette's point and it was former HHS secretary Kathleen Sebelius who pointed this out to me -- when President Trump went to the CDC early on and he now said the infamous "anyone wants it can get a test", he also at that point said something to the effect of -- he was talking about the 15 patients that had already gotten coronavirus at that point, it was that low number and he was basically saying that he didn't want those numbers or more numbers on him.
The idea that he doesn't want even more testing -- again, this is now just more theory, because you can't say what's in his head, but all the evidence points to him claiming there's wide-spread testing when in fact a lot of people there are still issues with testing and he's never been a big proponent of getting out huge amounts of tests.
One way to look at it is he doesn't want those numbers on his record -- just as Juliette was saying, he doesn't want those deaths on his record. What do you make -- I mean, one of the purposes of the task force was to communicate to the American people what's happening ,what we should be doing by eliminating, that kind of communication.
COOPER: What message does it send?
GUPTA: Well, that's one of the great tragedies I think, in all this, I think about this whole issue and I've been so immersed in it for three or four months now that there were so many opportunities for the United States with an amazing medical system, public health system that had been under-funded but is still pretty remarkable public health system to really step up and do something remarkable here.
I mean, it's clear that we got -- we were late in terms of testing, we were late in terms of recognizing, but there was still so many opportunities along the way to dramatically reduce the numbers of people who got infected and obviously the numbers of people who have died as a result of this and there's still opportunities. So, the idea that it's become some sort of "I don't want to test, because I don't really want to know the numbers", there's just no excuse at this point, because the number of people who could die from this still.
The IHME models, Anderson, you and I talk to Chris Murray on a regular basis, those may even be low -- they've always been low, frankly. And even with this updated estimate, I think it's still low and we're still not doing something -- we're not doing the things that we should do about it. They gave clear guidelines, 14-day downward trend, have testing in place.
What happened to that conversation? It just sort of disappeared, the states now just say we're going to re-open without following very clear, easy to understand guidelines.
COOPER: Yes, what happened was the President suggested that the government look into injecting human beings with disinfectant and then got mortified and embarrassed about it -- I don't know if mortified, but certainly embarrassed and ridiculed and then lied about it --
BASH: And he sided with the protesters.
COOPER: -- and then did away with the task force where he said that. It started with the -- how do you mean?
BASH: Yes, and he sided with the protestors too. Meaning the people who were -
COOPER: Siding with the protesters, right.
BASH: -- out there in Michigan and elsewhere saying we need to re-open our lives and re-open government and saying this is oppressive. He sided with them and that was a signal to the Governor's, despite what happened early on with the Georgia Governor, he decided that he was going to side with them and that changed the whole narrative across the country.
COOPER: Yes, all these weekend warriors are siding with -- are protesting the President's own guidelines and the President sides with them against the guidelines he allegedly -
KAYYEM: Yes, I think -
COOPER: -- was supporting.
BASH: Here you go again -
BASH: -- using logic, Anderson.
KAYYEM: I think the problem is --
KAYYEM: -- that there's responsible opening up and irresponsible opening up and Donald Trump is sort of like we're going to do one or the other. We can have debates and we can try to manage this in a responsible fashion. We open up critical infrastructure or supply chains, we talk -
KAYYEM: -- we instead of him just saying it's open, and that's the scary part.
COOPER: Right, right. Instead of saying "Well, it's five-years closed down or nothing".
COOPER: Anyway, Juliette Kayyem --
KAYYEM: It's just a fast choice.
COOPER: -- Dana Bash, thank you. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, stay with us. Still to come an award winning journalist who saw a pandemic like this coming decades ago wrote an authoritative account still relevant today. Laurie Garrett is her name, she joins me, she's a really fascinating person to talk to, we look forward to that.
Also, the New York Police Department taking hit, thousands in it's ranks have fallen sick -- 38 employees there have died, we'll talk to Deputy Commissioner from the NYPD who himself has recovered from coronavirus.
COOPER: More in the breaking news, the White House considering disbanding the Coronavirus taskforce on the day that so far at least 2,100 people have died from the Coronavirus. 2,100. As President Trump pushes to reopen the economy. Quoting the President today, "Will some people be affected badly? Yes, but we have to get our country opened."
Joining me now is Laurie Garrett, a columnist for foreign policy and a Pulitzer, Peabody and Polk Award winning writer and journalist, whose book, "The Coming Plague" decades ago warned about the dangers of emerging diseases like the Coronavirus. Laurie, thank you so much for being with us. Does it make sense to you that the Coronavirus taskforce would wind down at the end of this month, in the middle of this pandemic?
LAURIE GARRETT, SCIENCE JOURNALIST, AUTHOR, "THE COMING PLAGUE": Of course not, Anderson. It's -- it's insane. It's absolutely dumbfounding. How, when our epidemic is all still on the ascent, could you possibly imagine that you would shut down all the leadership? It makes no sense at all.
COOPER: When you say it's on the ascent, the President says, "Well, look, there's a lot of States where this -- you know, this really has been a big deal. That -- that it is not -- that it's not really an issue." GARRETT: Look, from the very beginning -- well, let me back up a minute. My -- after I wrote "The Coming Plague" which was quite -- quite a number of years ago, one of the criticisms of it was that I hadn't authored solutions. What could people do to not get infected by a plague?
So my second book, "Betrayal or Trust", I looked at how is public heath organized? And around the world, how does it respond when outbreaks happen? And one of the things that's really noteworthy about the United States is we're really the only country in the world where public health is completely fragmented.
By the way it originated in this country, the authorities are down at the local level -- in some states there's a difference between one county and another county in terms of regulations and rules and how -
COOPER: So, it's a --
GARRETT: -- public health operates.
COOPER: -- hodgepodge approach you've called it.
GARRETT: Absolutely hodgepodge. And now when you put a big stress on like this pandemic and it's going to affect places differently because that's the nature of how things move around in an epidemic. Well, each place is going to react differently unless at the federal level -- at the CDC and the White House, there's strong leadership that sets guidelines that all the states adhere to.
We've had exactly the opposite, and now we have the White House saying "By the way pretty soon we're walking away entirely. We're going to leave this totally up to the local level and each one of you with your different jurisdictions and your different rules of the road, you can compete against each other for N95 masks.
You can compete against each other for solutions necessary to extract DNA and RNA from samples in order to do your testing. You can compete like heck, we're just going to sit back here and watch."
COOPER: It does seem as if the President made a -- or the people around the President made a political calculation, "You don't want to be the face of this any longer. You rode those task force briefings well, your ratings were high, then you talked about injecting people with disinfectant and suddenly they were no longer valuable and it wasted the scientists times.
Don't let these deaths be on your record, put it on the states, say you gave them all the information, all the PPE, you sent them the comfort, you did what everybody asked you do to, you did great. And then just don't really -- don't do a lot of testing, don't talk about it and sure, maybe it'll bubble up, but it's not going to be on the administration." I know that's a cynical way at looking at it, but it's hard to see it in other ways. GARRETT: Well, certainly that is the way, for example, Governor Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio -- I happen to be in New York, so I take a New York perspective on this. But as you go around the country, you can see certain Governors are feeling fine with going along with the Trump program -- or lack of program, and others are clearly very distressed and feel very much that they've been pressured to pick up a burden and a mantle that has far exceeded the capacity of any locality.
And I would say, Anderson, the really -- the big, big explosion of this that's coming down the road that American's are going to have to face up to, it might not be immediately, you might not notice it for many months, but it is that already we are now sending New York City out competing against Houston and New Orleans. But we're also sending New York City our competing against Rome and Hong Kong and Djibouti and Cape Town, South Africa for supplies.
And so, we are the bully of the planet out there saying "Hey, get out of the way, we want these N95 masks. You guys move aside here, we're taking all the syringes, we're going to get all the medicine."
GARRETT: "And if there's a vaccine, we're taking it first." And so, we're going to face huge blowback from the whole planet over our -
GARRETT: -- sharp elbow behaviour and it didn't need to be this way. If we'd had federal leadership all along, then we could've been negotiating as a nation for supplies, gotten them cheaper --
COOPER: Yes, I mean you've -
GARRETT: -- gotten better quality.
COOPER: You've pointed out that polio was eradicated only after a huge effort and only after the Soviet Union -- in the height of the cold war and the United States both agreed -- we're arguing over nuclear weapons, but we agree polio needs to be eradicated and it was a joint effort. In terms of the length of this crisis -
GARRETT: One mistake, it wasn't -
GARRETT: -- Anderson, it wasn't polio. We haven't yet eradicated polio, it was smallpox.
COOPER: Smallpox, I'm sorry, I misspoke. Yes, you're right. Bill Gates has come close on polio.
COOPER: You said I've been telling everybody that my event horizon is about 36-months and that's my best case scenario. So, OK, best case, worst case, your best case scenario is 36-months. What does that 36- months look like?
GARRETT: The way it would look is this, we have tremendous luck on the vaccine front, something turns out to really work and work well in the next 10 months.
It goes into large-scale clinical trials before the end of this year so that by early next year we know, yes, it's a home run, it really works.
We manage to come up with a vaccine that only requires one dose, no booster, that does not require refrigeration so it's easy to transport around the world, and that it does not have to be injected so we don't have to have a whole supply chain of syringes and syringe disposal. It can be taken orally or perhaps a nasal injection or even an intramuscular patch that goes on your skin.
One way or another, that miracle all transpires and then there's a next miraculous step. Nobody files for a patent or they waive patent rights so it can be globally produced, not just made by one company in one set of manufacturing sites at high profit. And then that they release everyone to go ahead and mass manufacture for the whole planet.
Let's save the world instead of making a huge amount of money. And then that we come up with an army of volunteers, literally 10, 20 million people deployed across the entire planet to get to the most remote places in the Himalayas and in the rainforests and so on to vaccinate 7.5 billion people.
COOPER: That's the best case scenario?
GARRETT: That's the best case scenario. And I don't see that happening. I mean, it -- I just described so many steps that to me in this political environment look impossible.
The reason, Anderson, I brought up small pox is this, that we -- the only reason we were able to get rid of small pox so that no one watching us tonight faces this once major killer on planet earth that in the 20th century killed more human beings than all the wars of the century combined, the only reason we got rid of it was not because we had a vaccine, because we had had the vaccine for decades, and not because we had a will, but because the Soviet Union and the United States at the height of the Cold War agreed to work together and got the whole WHO community behind them and off we went.
Well, today would be the equivalent if China and the United States could work together, the two super powers. Well, guess what? Instead, we're saying, "This is your fault." "No, no, it's your fault." "No, it came out of your lab." "No, it came out of your lab."
GARRETT: "Well, eh to you." And so, we -- instead of working together to help save the planet in this pandemic, we actually have exactly the opposite going on. And, you know, I don't see --
GARRETT: -- any optimistic scenario where we end up with a global solution unless we can force Xi Jinping and Donald Trump to start behaving decently with each other.
COOPER: Laurie Garrett, I really admire your writing and -- well, yeah, I just -- I admire your writing a lot. I really appreciate talking to you. Thank you.
GARRETT: Thank you.
COOPER: Laurie Garrett. As distressing as some of the news can be, there are some new positive developments on the scientific front. I'll talk with a former acting director of the Center for Disease Control, coming up.
COOPER: As I said at the top of the program, we want to turn to health and science, putting aside the potential ramping down of the White House Coronavirus taskforce and that whistle-blower complaint, there was some heartening news today -- New York's Governor, Andrew Cuomo, whose State is still the epicenter said that the overall total of hospitalizations in New York is down. Also down, intubations of patients.
The drug maker, Pfizer, says it is starting human trials of its experimental vaccine. Still even as more than 40 States have either started to open or plan to do so in the next few days, the nationwide death toll has topped 71,000. 71,000 people.
Joining me now is Dr Richard Besser, the former Acting Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr Besser, thanks for being with us. Just to get your reaction to the conversation I had with Laurie Garrett, as the former Acting Director of the CDC, I'm wondering what you make of the role the CDC has played so far in -- in the pandemic?
DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: You know, Anderson, with the -- the years I spent at CDC, for four of those years I was in charge of emergency preparedness and response and one of the most important tools that I had in that role was the ability to talk to the public about what we were doing. And we're not getting that now. So you know it's been almost two months since there was a press conference from CDC and it can leave it feeling that the CDC isn't doing anything.
As I talked to colleagues at CDC, I know they're working with State and Local Health Departments, I know that they're working to learn from what's happening in other countries and what different States are trying. But without them coming to the public and explaining what they're learning, explaining why guidance changes over time -- it -- it doesn't lead to the kind of trust that you need, especially now as we're seeing all kinds of things taking place in different States around the country.
COOPER: Yeah, I mean, it does seem that they've been knee-capped in a way or -- or hobbled somewhat and the CDC Director, you know, had to come out and sort of try to walk back something he's -- admits himself that he said about the potential for -- for this reoccurring. You know, Laurie Garrett paints a pretty -- her best-case scenario involved a lot of, you know, miraculous things all lining up in perfect order.
BESSER: Yeah, you know, I -- I think that there's still so much we don't know about this virus, I'm not a big one for scenario planning and best case, worst case scenarios. Right now, there's some critical science questions that scientists are working on that we need the answers to.
The big one is if you get this infection once, do you get some immunity? Are you protected from getting it again? That's important because -
COOPER: And we don't know the --
BESSER: -- if you don't get -
COOPER: -- answer to that still.
BESSER: We don't know the answer to that, no. We don't, and it's critical because if you don't get any immunity from natural infection, the likelihood that a vaccine will give you the kind of protection you need really goes away. So, it's something being worked on, but until that's answered, the use of anti-body tests around the country really doesn't give you the kind of assurance that Governor's and others want to have.
COOPER: You're the former acting director of the CDC, can you ever have imagined a scenario in which the leader of the country who has put out guidelines about to keep people safe and backed those guidelines is now encouraging people to violate those guidelines and backing protestors who are protesting against the very guidelines that person put out.
BESSER: You know, back in --
COOPER: Does that help?
BESSER: -- 2009 during the swine flu pandemic, when I went to brief the President and the cabinet, what President Obama said to me at the time was "We want everything that you do to be based on the best public health science." And I took that message back to the CDC and the emergency operation centre broke out in cheers, it was just what people wanted to hear and it's what the public needs to hear now that everything we're being told to do is based on the best science. Without that there's no way of knowing what things are being told for
political reasons and what things are being done for good science reasons. As we're seeing different populations around the country being affected in different ways -- black Americans, Latinos, native Americans, just getting devastated by this. We need to understand what the government is doing to address those issues and protecting all front-line workers.
COOPER: Dr. Fauci has asked the question "How much suffering are you willing to accept? How much suffering is acceptable?" And that is kind of the key question moving forward, is there an answer to that?
BESSER: Well, you see, I don't think you can ask that question until you are taking every step possible to protect and preserve and save every life that you can. Every life the -
COOPER: And that's not being done.
BESSER: -- every death that you can prevent -- yes, well what's not being done, we don't have the testing capacity now to know where this disease is.
We haven't scaled up the thousands and thousands of contact traces that we need, we don't provide safe places for people to isolate or quarantine if they're identified as either having an infection or being in contact. We are saying "If you have money and you're white, you can do well here. If you're not, good luck to you."
COOPER: That is what it boils down to. I mean -
BESSER: It really -
COOPER: -- all the inequities that existed before are exponentially higher in a pandemic like this.
BESSER: Yes, I don't think you can say "Well, how much suffering are you willing to bear in order to restart the economy?" until you've done everything possible to ensure that every single person in America can take measures to protect their own health, the health of their families and the health of their communities, and that's just not the case right now.
So, it's a false question until we're ensuring that every work place has protective equipment. The front line workers who we're considering essential, we didn't consider them essential before this began, most of them weren't even being paid a living wage. So, now they're being --
BESSER: -- forced to bare the brunt of this. We can't accept that as a society, it's not the America that we really believe we should have.
COOPER: Yes, a lot of the essential workers, a number of them are actually still vulnerable to deportation because they are undocumented and they're working the fields and they're working in these processing plants, which the administration now says they are essential ironically. Dr. Besser, appreciate it.
New York City Police Department has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus with thousands in it's ranks falling sick, that includes Deputy Commissioner John Miller, what he went through and how the department is fairing as a whole.
COOPER: Here in New York more than 5,000 members of the New York City Police Department have tested positive for coronavirus. One of them is John Miller, the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence and counterterrorism who was hit hard by the virus, went to the hospital, he's recovered, he joins me tonight. So, John, first of all, just how are you feeling?
JOHN MILLER, NYPD DEPUTY COMMISSIONER FOR INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERTERRORISM: I'm feeling great, a little stir-crazy after five weeks either in the hospital or at home, but I got to watch a lot of TV, so I can tell you two things. Congratulations on the baby, Wyatt looks great and that must be wonderful.
MILLER: And two, from watching all that TV, you've been doing a great job and I wanted to pass that on.
COOPER: Well, I appreciate that, I appreciate that. You don't strike me as the kind of guy who wants to rush to a hospital.
MILLER: So, I am the kind of guy who doesn't even want to rush to a doctor, a band-aid, anything. But it was one of those things where it was like a cold, but then it was kind of like a flu but then it was a little like pneumonia and my wife Everly said "You know, your temperature's climbing to 103, your oxygen levels are down and I'm calling the doctor" and the doctor was calling the ambulance.
So, I just ran out to the car and took myself to Lennox Hill where from that night on -- was 10 o'clock at night, that team took great care of me.
COOPER: And 38 employees at the NYPD have not survived.
MILLER: That's right. We lost 38 people and it was from all walks of the department -- school safety agents, tow truck drivers, traffic enforcement agents, police officers, detectives, PCTs or communications technicians, the people who answer the 911 calls. It was a terrible impact and made worse by the fact that we couldn't honor them the way we as an organization traditionally would.
Memorial services had to be put off, funerals had to be done minimally. It's been very difficult. COOPER: There are few jobs which are as tough as being a police
officer, but, I mean, especially in a time like this where social distancing is not something you have much control over necessarily as a police officer. I mean, people get in your face.
People -- you know, you have to interact with people, and obviously you try to do as much as you can, but that's just got to be incredibly stressful to have that added burden of this virus in the middle of any interactions with, you know, citizens and police.
MILLER: Well, it is. And, you know, this is something we've never done before. It's not like we can look back to the last pandemic and say, "Well, what lessons for policing did we pick up there?" The last thing we dealt with was Ebola, which was very serious, but it was very small here, very contained and didn't offer these lessons.
So, you know, the police officers have been told, "Use extreme discretion, you know, try and talk your way through these things with people," because they haven't been through it before either. Start with a warning and some advice. If that doesn't work, you can go to a summons if that is persistent. And if that doesn't work, arrest.
And in a city of 8.6 million people with that -- with that kind of activity, I think we have been very judicious. Now, I know there's video tape out there of an arrest that's been controversial. You know, you see these things and that's under investigation, obviously, and we're trying to be as transparent about that as possible.
But then there are things that are much vaguer. If you're in Central Park and there's four people on a blanket and they're too close together but they're all in the same family and they live in a same apartment and they're six feet or more away from the other blankets, do you tell them to move apart? Do you tell them to wear their mask?
All of this is just new territory and I think the cops are doing the very best they can. And I know that because we have had complaints from the religious sects in the Jewish community where we've had to reduce the number of people at funerals and houses of worship and in other ethnic neighborhoods in the city.
We have had complaints in the newspaper from people from the Upper West Side who didn't like being approached. So usually if you're making everybody unhappy, you're being unfair. But it's something we're learning as we go and people are learning with us.
COOPER: Yes. Well, I certainly appreciate all the efforts made by so many of the folks who keep this city running and police are certainly high on that list. John Miller, it's good to talk to you. Thanks very much, I'm really glad you're doing well.
MILLER: You too, Anderson.
COOPER: Up next, honoring the hospital heroes on the eve of National Nurse's Day.
[20:53:10] (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
COOPER: Most nights we take this time to remember the lives that have been lost during this pandemic and we continue to remember them, but we also want to talk about those who are helping to save lives during this crisis.
Tomorrow's National Nurses Day, so tonight we wanted to specially honor them, nurses working around the clock -- often with limited protective equipment in high risk environments, many nurses are volunteers who left their families behind in order to help here in New York and other hard-hit cities. They chose to come here, came here and chose to do this work.
Jim Mullin is a registered nurse who left the health world to become a lawyer, when the virus hit though, he told us he was watching the news and realized his background as an ER nurse could help. His wife Gina was already battling the virus, she's an ER doctor in Dallas, they've got a beautiful little daughter there.
Despite the risk to himself and his family, Jim made the decision to fly to New York where the number of cases was overwhelming the hospitals. When he arrived, he said it was unlike anything he imagined, he continued on working 12-hour overnight shifts with few days off. He's now safely at home in Texas, still in quarantine, still waiting to see his family.
Taylor Campbell also volunteered to work in New York City, she left her home in Rhode Island in April, she posted an account about one of her patients who was already on a ventilator when Taylor began treating her. For 15-days, Taylor cared for this patient until she was finally strong enough to get off the ventilator. Taylor held her hand as she was extubated and a few moments later, her patient mouthed her first words to Taylor. She said "I love you". It was, in Taylor's words, a beautiful moment.
Ben Kayher and Mindy Brock are both nurses who have been married for five years, this photo of them and their layers of protective gear looking into each others eyes went viral became a symbol of love and hope and so many things in the middle of this crisis. They're both volunteering at Tampa's general hospital, they say they found each other in-between surgeries one day and that's when this photo was taken.
There are so many stories of the sacrifices that nurses are making every single day. If you know a nurse, whether or not you've been treated for the virus, remember to say thank you. News continues, I'm going to hand over to Chris for "Cuomo Prime Time". Chris.
CHRIS CUOMO, CNN HOST: Anderson, thank you so much as always. Have a great night. I am Chris Cuomo. Welcome to "PRIME TIME".