Coronavirus TRANSCRIPT: 3/12/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Caroline Chen, Donald McNeil, Gregg Gonsalves


SEN. CORY BOOKER (D-NJ):  That means expanding food stamps, unemployment 

insurance. That means making sure that the stress-testing of our health 

care system that we are prepared, have the resources to do what`s 

necessary. There are clear steps we should be taking understanding what`s 

coming to our country. 


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST:  Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, thank you for 

your time tonight. 


BOOKER:  Chris, I know – I want to say, everybody, this is the time we 

should be pulling together, not tearing apart. This is the time we should 

be extending grace, support and help. Just because leaders are failing, 

doesn`t mean we as a people together should fail each other. I hope we all 

rise to the occasion to be there for each other with grace and support and 



HAYES:  Could not agree more with that final message. Thank you, Senator. 


That is ALL IN for this evening. 


“THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW” starts right now.


Good evening, Rachel.


RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST:  Good evening, Chris. Thank you, my friend. Much 



HAYES:  You bet.


MADDOW:  And thanks to you at home for joining us this hour. 


This is the health minister in Great Britain you see on left side of your 

screen there. She fell ill a few days ago. She got tested for coronavirus. 

Her test was positive. 


That`s bad news for the British health minister. It`s also bad news for the 

British government. 


Before she was tested, she reportedly sat in not only on cabinet meeting 

and carried out her regular government business, she also attended a 

reception at number 10 Downing Street with the British Prime Minister Boris 

Johnson. Again, she`s now not only positive for coronavirus but she`s 



Today, the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the British people 

basically to steel themselves for what`s ahead, saying in public remarks, 

quote, many more families are going to lose loved ones before their time. 


The chief scientific adviser to the British government today said although 

the number of officially confirmed cases of coronavirus in the U.K. is just 

under 600, he believes as the top science adviser to the government that a 

more realistic snapshot of how many cases there are in the U.K. would be 

more like 5,000 to 10,000. 


The British government announced yesterday that they will move to rapidly 

upscale the number of tests they are doing. They are currently carrying out 

about 1,500. They say they are going to move to 10,000 tests per day. So, 

they are trying to quintuple the rate of testing immediately. 


Again, it`s stark to see the chief scientific adviser to the British 

government saying he believes there`s 5,000 to 10,000 cases in the U.K. 

already never mind that there`s under 600 official tests. 


And for us here at home, you know, that`s a snapshot of what`s going on in 

another country, just another dear ally of ours dealing as best they can 

with a rapidly escalating crisis of this virus. But because it`s the U.K., 

just taking that little view, that short-term view of the circumstances 

there today, the news about coronavirus there today, also gives lie to the 

randomness of what our government is doing in terms of our own national 

response because honestly, our own government`s response is basically just 

a splatter painting thus far from the president and from this 



I mean, just look at one day`s worth of headlines of what`s going on in the 

U.K. in terms of coronavirus. The number of cases in the U.K. versus other 

countries, the circumstances that the U.K. government believes itself to be 

in, the fact that a senior member of the British government has herself 

tested positive. I mean, just look at one day`s news out of the U.K., and 

it`s clear, there`s no scientifically rational reason why our government 

just instituted a travel ban from Europe that doesn`t include the U.K. 


I mean, why do that? No matter how much you like the U.K., you know, or 

enjoy British detective stories – I`m right there with you. No matter how 

much the president might have a personal affinity for the prime minister or 

the queen or whatever, it makes no rational sense. This European travel ban 

excluding the U.K. is random. 


Why is our own government behaving in a random manner? Our federal 

government response to this epidemic is not rational. It`s not well-

designed, it`s not likely to accomplish its stated aims, and sometimes its 

stated aims make no sense, either. 


Honestly, there`s no reason why the main thrust of the U.S. government`s 

top level response to the virus at this point should be a travel ban from 

anywhere, especially – let alone on the day the World Health Organization 

declared this is a global pandemic, what that is supposed to do is tell 

every country, you can`t escape by virtue of your geography. This is 



That`s the day we institute a new, inexplicable travel ban? The president 

last night calling this a, quote, foreign virus, in a way that may have 

been a little blessing for us, because that is so wrong. It is such an 

irrational, unscientific, nonsensical way to talk about this that maybe 

something that dumb coming from the president in a prime time Oval Office 

address, maybe that is clarifying. Maybe that simplifies our national 

understanding of where we`re at, because that alone should clarify for 

everybody beyond any shred of a doubt that the U.S. response will have to 

be led from somewhere other than the top of the federal government, because 

at the top of the federal government right now, it is a fountain of 



And, you know, it is one of the odd through lines in this global pandemic 

as it evolves that people at the very top of governments around the world 

are themselves at risk. I mean, there`s the British health minister who we 

told you about. 


In Spain, they have had a cabinet minister test positive. That resulted in 

the entire Spanish cabinet announcing they would be tested as well as the 

Spanish king and the Spanish queen. They have been tested. They are 

awaiting test results now. The leader of the far right Vox Party in Spain 

has been tested as well and is positive. 


In Brazil, we reported last night on the delegation of top Brazilian 

officials who not only came to the United States, they specifically went to 

Mar-a-Lago this past weekend to meet with the president and members of his 

family. We reported last night that a press minister from the Brazilian 

government seen here in a photo with the president at Mar-a-Lago, that man 

on the right in the brown make Brazil great again hat, he is the press 

minister of the Brazilian government. We reported last night he was 

undergoing testing for the coronavirus. He has now tested positive. 


The president of Brazil, who was also at Mar-a-Lago this weekend, also 

meeting personally with President Trump and shaking his hand, he himself 

was today tested for the coronavirus and expects to receive his results 

tomorrow. Not only President Trump but also Vice President Pence who was 

supposedly leading the U.S. coronavirus response, they both had relatively 

extensive contact with this Brazilian delegation over the weekend at Mar-a-

Lago, and we know that because a photo and video documentation. Even as the 

White House insists, despite our lying eyes that President Trump and Vice 

President Pence definitely aren`t going to be tested for coronavirus 

despite those contacts because the White House says really there wasn`t 

really much contact at all. Really, we swear. 


At this point, the White House insistence that the president – the sitting 

president of the United States, won`t stop shaking hands. No need to. The 

number of – relatively large number of people who have been exposed to the 

virus with whom the president has had close face to face contact and with 

whom he has shook hands within the past few days, none of that warrants 

special precautions for the president at all, let alone testing the 



I mean, at this point, the handling of the president`s personal 

susceptibility to this virus is getting a little bit weird. It`s getting 

hard to believe our own government even about that. But as I say, that is 

just one element of a federal government response that is largely 

irrational, inexplicable and needless to say ineffective. 


Republican U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham and Rick Scott were both at Mar-a-

Lago this weekend. They both reportedly interacted with that same Brazilian 

delegation that also interacted with President Trump and Vice President 

Pence. Both of these Republican senators themselves are now under 

quarantine, while they at least take steps to try to protect themselves and 

anybody else who they might infect given they were exposed to the virus if 

they got it. 


It`s now actually quite a number of members of Congress and members of the 

Senate who have potentially been exposed and who have isolated themselves 

because of it. So far, there`s one Senate staffer, a staffer to Washington 

U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell who has tested positive and is reportedly 



A number of U.S. senators announced they would close their D.C. offices 

even as Mitch McConnell, the city majority leader announced that the 

planned Senate recess next week would be canceled and Senate would stay – 

the Senate would stay in session. At last count, it is 30 U.S. states that 

have declared a state of emergency to try to speed state government 

response to the virus. 


Schools across the great states of Ohio and Maryland and Kentucky will all 

be closed. We learned that tonight. A large public school district in 

Houston, Texas, fourth largest city in the country, and San Francisco, 

California, both of those large school districts announced tonight that 

their schools will be closed. The Smithsonian is closing in D.C. 


That`s just the national zoo as is Arlington National Cemetery, as is the 

Metropolitan Museum in New York, as is Broadway in New York. 


Tonight, Disneyworld announced that they`re closing on Sunday. Disneyland 

is doing so as well. Disneyland is only closed like three times in the last 

50 years. They are closing because of this. 


New York City has declared a state of emergency. New York state, New 

Jersey, California, Oregon have all instituted statewide bans on gatherings 

of large numbers of people. 


The U.S. Capitol is closed to visitors. The Supreme Court of the United 

States is closed to visitors. And as you have no doubt seen today in a 

veritable cascade of announcements, pro and collegiate sports of all kinds 

have basically been shut down. Seasons of all major pro sports have been at 

least suspended if not called off. 


As of this time last night, we thought the NCAA college basketball 

tournament would be a series of games played in front of empty seats. As of 

tonight, the tournament itself just will not happen. The season is over. 

It`s called off. 


I don`t think there`s been a single individual tipping point at which our 

country started to wake up to the magnitude of this crisis and what is 

coming in terms of the strain that is about to be put on our public health 

system, our economy, and all other governance systems that we`ve got. I 

don`t think there is a single tipping point. But this past 24-hour period, 

it does feel like enough shocking things happened in short order that, 

again, there wasn`t one point, but we have tipped. We are inarguably in a 

different headspace as a country about this. We are on a different footing 

as a nation than we were even 24 hours ago. 


I think part of it is the sports stuff being canceled honestly, just in 

terms of the psychological reset that we are undergoing right now. Even if 

you don`t care about the news at all, even if the only live media you ever 

consume is sports, well, your life just changed drastically. No matter how 

much you like to keep your head in the sand about anything that doesn`t 

involve a ball or points or both, it`s unavoidable now even if you have 

been not paying attention to any of this stuff deliberately or just as the 

matter of the way you live your life. 


I think part of it was also the president`s bad speech last night from the 

Oval Office, confusing, strange, a little bit alarming in terms of his 

strange affect. If that speech was meant to reassure the country about how 

the government has this under control, boy, did it do the opposite. 


I think part of it is also that the economic ditch just keeps getting 

deeper. They had to stop trading again today on Wall Street. They hit one 

of those circuit breakers that makes them stop trading for 15 minutes. But 

even still, once they turned it back on, the markets kept falling off the 

cliff even with the Fed announcing hundreds of billions of dollars in 

basically grease for the wheels, liquidity into the markets to try to keep 

things moving. 


The Dow today down more than 2,000 points. Sell-off by percentage that`s 

larger than anything that happened during the 2008 financial collapse. You 

have to go back as far as the Black Monday Wall Street crash in 1987 to 

find a plunge deeper than what we had today. After the president`s Oval 

Office address to reassure us all. 


As of tonight, JPMorgan is bluntly predicting a U.S. recession this year. 


But understanding, really getting how bad it is and how bad it is likely to 

get, even if we are in that different headspace, even if we are coming to a 

new understanding about this and people who run sports leagues and states 

and colleges and malls are figuring it out and acting accordingly, it still 

leaves all of us, all of us regular citizens with the day-to-day decisions 

about what we are supposed to do and what we can do to protect ourselves 

and to protect our families and to contribute to our country trying to 

handle this as well as possible. 


Clearly, we`re not leaving this to the government, and they`ll do it. 

Clearly, it`s going to be us doing the right thing as best we understand 

it. So, I mean, I could do sort of breaking news on all the different 

things that are closing and shutting down and being changed because of the 

virus for the entire course of this hour, but I`m going to stop there with 

what I`ve already said. 


And tonight, we`re going to talk to a couple different reporters. We`re 

also going to speak with somebody who I think has very valuable experience 

in successfully forcing improvement in what was a terrible government 

response to a health crisis. There are people who have gone before us who 

have succeeded in forcing a terrible federal government response to a 

health crisis to get better. We should learn from them now. 


I mean, we do ultimately only have one federal government, and we have to 

try to survive this crisis and improve our national response to this crisis 

with the government we have. 


But let`s just look at – let`s look at one very specific slice of this, 

something that “ProPublica” did today in a way that I think was very 

valuable. It`s a public service. We all now have figured out that one of 

the fiascos, if not the fundamental fiasco of the U.S. government response 

to this crisis, is that there isn`t any testing really, that we are 

probably the worst in the world, certainly the worst in the industrial 

world at testing and screening for this virus. 


We`ve got it. We`ve got it in probably every state in the country. We`ve 

got states of emergency in 30 states in the country. We`re still not 

broadly testing populations anywhere. 


Virginia Congressman Don Beyer, one of those members of Congress who is 

self-quarantining because he believes he was exposed to the virus, even he, 

a sitting member of congress, just outside the nation`s capital, even he is 

unable to get tested while he`s under quarantine because we don`t have 

tests that are – not only do we not have widely available testing in this 

country, if you`re a sitting member of Congress, you can`t finagle a test 

in this country, not unless you have the right connections. 


Whether you are in one of the nursing homes where there has been multiple 

deaths in Washington state or you just got off a cruise ship that had 

positive coronavirus cases on board, a cruise ship that was held offshore 

in California, or whether you went to a conference in New Orleans or 

Washington, D.C. where people were known to be positive or Boston or 

somebody at your synagogue or your church or a wedding you went to has 

fallen ill or tested positive, if you have been somewhere where you believe 

there is a good chance that you have been exposed to this highly contagious 

virus, chances are still, this deep into it, this long into this crisis, 

that if you as an American are seeking testing to see if you yourself have 

in fact been exposed, you are going to have a hard time getting it. 


Even Americans who have returned from countries that have raging, out of 

control outbreaks have found once they get here, even if they want to get 

tested, there`s not necessarily a way to do it. And while the government is 

trying to scale this up, Tony Fauci from NIH today saying it is a failure 

of the U.S. system that we`ve been unable to scale up our testing. It is a 

failure. Acknowledging it is a failure is a good first step to fixing it. 


The CDC director today saying under harsh and persistent questioning from 

Democratic members of Congress that, ultimately, yes, testing will be 

provided regardless of whether you`re able to pay, the government 

clarifying that for the first time today. The CDC director saying today 

that coronavirus treatment will be provided whether or not you are able to 

pay. That is a check that his mouth wrote today that I am looking forward 

to seeing them cash as a federal government, because I don`t know how 

they`re trying to guarantee that. But the CDC director today promised it 

under tough questioning in Congress.


I mean, they are trying to improve all of these things but right now, we`re 

watching the numbers go up everywhere. We know what the infection curves 

look like in other countries that have community transmission. And we still 

don`t have testing. More than 1,000 confirmed cases in this country, an 

epidemic of absolutely unknown proportions because we don`t have testing, 

but Americans who believe they`ve been exposed still have to do something. 


If you believe you`ve been exposed, the general advice is that you should 

isolate yourself, right? Self-quarantine-ish. 


“ProPublica” today investigated the specific advice Americans are being 

given if they believe they have been exposed to someone with the virus. 

What they found is that instructions people are getting about how exactly 

you do self-quarantine, how exactly you do isolate yourselves. These 

instructions are wildly divergent depending on who you`re asking and under 

what circumstances. 


It is basically impossible to get an authoritative answer as to what 

Americans who have been exposed are really supposed to do. And honestly, 

right now, with no vaccine and no treatment and very, very, very little 

testing in this country, that`s all we`ve got. We`ve got these mitigation 

factors that we can take as a society to close down vectors of likely 

transmission, large crowds, school settings, sporting events, et cetera. 


But for people who believe they`ve been exposed, we`ve got one thing you 

can do, and the guidance on what that one thing is, is all over the map. In 

the absence of testing, this is all any of us we can do if we`ve been 

exposed. What exactly is it? 


The lack of clear, consistent advice about how to handle this specific part 

of America`s response to coronavirus is something the federal government 

could fix over the course of a single day if they put their mind toward 

clarifying and directly specifying best practices for isolation and 

quarantine. And they issued that advice nationwide. If they had the 

authority and wherewithal to do it, they could do it. 


But as of right now, even this far into it, it appears to just be chaos. 


Joining us now is one of the reporters on this piece for “ProPublica” that 

investigated the extent of the range of advice people are being given. 

Caroline Chen covers health care for “ProPublica”. 


Caroline, thank you very much. 




MADDOW:  I`m obviously wound up about this, and I do not expect you to be. 

I`m not asking you for your opinion on any of these matters. 


CHEN:  Oh, I`m wound up too. 


MADDOW:  You are? OK. Well, tell me. 


I mean, your reporting to me was something that I suspected was true, but I 

find it the wide range of advice people are given to be shocking. 


CHEN:  And I was surprised too because I had gotten some inkling of this 

just from seeing stories on Twitter. But we decided on Monday of this week 

to actually seriously do a call-out and start searching out stories and 

comparing standards. And what we found was that a lot of people are given 

either misinformation, lacking information, or are desperately trying to 

get information and are unable to get information. 


And so, there is a patchwork of information out there about what you should 

do if you think you`ve been exposed or you have been exposed across the 



MADDOW:  And this is people calling their local doctor, their local 

hospital, the county health department, the state health authorities – I 

mean, people are calling all sorts of different entities. Part of what your 

reporting indicates is that nobody even knows who to call to check what it 

is they`re supposed to do if they believe they`ve been exposed. 


CHEN:  Yes, and I think, generally, the advice is call your medical 

provider, which is if –  


MADDOW:  If you have one. 


CHEN:  Yes, if you have one, which not everybody in the United States has. 

And what I`ve seen, and I have honestly been impressed and moved by, is how 

persistent people are because they`re concerned. So, we`ve seen a lot of 

stories and heard a lot of stories of people who either heard about 

somebody who was positive, for example, a woman who went to a wedding, and 

then saw a tweet that a server at the wedding she was at tested positive, 

and then launched herself on an odyssey of trying to get information 

because she wanted to do the right thick. 


MADDOW:  Uh-huh. And to protect herself but also to protect her family, 

protect anybody else from becoming exposed. 


CHEN:  And her community. 


MADDOW:  Yes. 


CHEN:  And also I spoke to a mother of a daughter who came home from a 

school trip to Italy, and when she developed symptoms, her first step was 

to go to her daughter`s pediatrician, and the pediatrician started by 

saying – well, I don`t think she has, you know, COVID-19. You know, she 

has an upper respiratory infection. She`s probably fine. 


And the mother pushed a little bit more and said, you know, we live in 

Manhattan in a neighborhood that has elderly folks. You know, is it safe? 

And just out of her sense of wanting to do the right thing, called the 

school and then called 311 herself, and 311 took a different view and said, 

you know, please take her to an E.R. and, you know, we`d suggest that given 

where she came from, that she might be a candidate for testing. 


So this mom then went out of her own way, you know, got a televisit with 

NYU`s E.R. where they said, you know, we don`t have enough testing 

capacity, so then suggested that she self-isolate the daughter. But then 

here is where we have an example of different standards. 


MADDOW: Mm-hmm. 


CHEN:  So at this point the pediatrician also said, if you want to play it 

safe, you can stay at home. The pediatrician said two weeks from the date 

of the doctor`s office. 




CHEN:  The NYU E.R. doctor said two weeks from the onset of symptoms. The 

mom also again doing her own research looked up the CDC`s website, which 

says two days from leaving Italy. 


MADDOW:  Two weeks from leaving Italy. 


CHEN:  Yes, two weeks from leaving Italy. 


So then the mom goes, OK, these all have different end dates. I`m going to 

play it as conservatively as possible as a concerned citizen and keep my 

daughter at home as long as possible. 


MADDOW:  Because we`re all in the position of directing our own public 

health response to these matters at this point. 


CHEN:  Yes. 


MADDOW:  It`s just – it`s remarkable and it`s very helpful granular 

reporting that is really infuriating. 


Caroline Chen covers health care for “ProPublica” – thank you for your 

time this evening. Thanks for your reporting.


CHEN:  Thank you for having me. 


MADDOW:  I would shake your hand, but I don`t do that anymore. Appreciate 



All right. Up next, we`re going to look at how some other countries are 

doing quarantines, what steps they`re taking that appear to be working and 

saving lives, stuff that we`re not doing here. 


That and much more ahead tonight. Stay with us. 




MADDOW:  When we first shifted to covering this health crisis almost full-

time on this show, I did an interview here on set in New York with Donald 

McNeil, who is a veteran science and health reporter at “The New York 

Times.”  And I replay that in my head nightly while I don`t sleep, because 

Mr. McNeil could not have been more stark and more dark about what was on 

its way and how large a response a pandemic of this scale and speed was 

going to require. 


And it didn`t seem crazy at the time, but it did seem a little bit like he 

was visiting from another planet and trying to sound alarms that nobody 

could really hear. 


Not anymore. That interview was just a couple of weeks ago, but that is 

thousands of deaths ago now. And now that the U.S. economy has cratered and 

the U.S. response to the virus has finally started to come into view with 

testing still almost impossible to get, with the messaging from the top of 

the government still inexplicable often, with state and local officials 

taking matters into their own hands, I think it`s time to check back in 

with Donald McNeil. 


What do we know works from other countries at this point, if anything? What 

could we still change now to try to emulate other countries` best 

practices? Are there things we are doing now or worrying about now that 

we`ve got wrong? 


I need a broader perspective. 


Donald McNeil has covered AIDS, Ebola, SARS, swine flu, bird flu for “The 

New York Times.” He`s now covering this coronavirus crisis as well. 


Mr. McNeil, thank you for coming back. 


DONALD MCNEIL, THE NEW YORK TIMES:  Thank you for inviting. 


MADDOW:  First of all, let me ask you – I know you`ve been here since the 

top of the show. Have I said anything wrong? 


MCNEIL:  No, no. I thought Caroline Chen`s reporting was terrific. I`m glad 

that somebody pointed out the incredible confusion that people face when 

they want to know whether or not they have a disease they know is deadly. 


We are in a headless chicken phase of our approach to the pandemic, and we 

have a president who appeared to me terrified on camera while he made his 

speech and who gave an approach that made no sense. I mean, you know, why 

are we blocking entry from Europe when we have epicenters all over this 

country? We have an epicenter in Westchester County right now. 


We may have one in this room we`re in. I don`t know yet. Won`t know for a 

couple of days because you can pass it for a couple of days 

asymptomatically. But the president under all world standards should be in 

quarantine right now. He shook hands with somebody who just turned 



You know, this is just basic medical behavior. If you`ve been exposed to a 

dangerous disease, our approach here is to go into quarantine. But there 

seem to be exceptions. 


MADDOW:  The quarantine fiasco, which I think stands alongside the testing 

fiasco, to me feels like a point that`s worthy of focus because it seems 

more fixable. The testing thing, we obviously screwed that up royally as a 

country. They are trying to scale it up. A lot of effort is going into 

that. It`s still going to take a long time and it will hamper our efforts 

until we`ve got it in place. 


Meanwhile without testing, all we can do is large scale mitigation efforts 

like getting rid of crowds, telling people not to fly, other things like 

that. But also, people who have been exposed should quarantine. 


Would clear federal standards on how to quarantine and under what 

circumstances help? 


MCNEIL:  It`s not the right approach anyway. 




MCNEIL: You don`t want infected people or suspected infected people with 

their families. They`ll just pass it on to them. 


China has had enormous success in beating down its epidemic. We don`t know 

what`s going to happen when China tries to reopen its economy and let 

people go back to the factories and back to the subways and back to offices 

and restaurants and everything else. We don`t know what`s going to happen, 

and they`re going to do it in a very slow, graduated way, but they have 

been in lockdown all this time. 


But we see the drone shots from the city and think, oh, lockdown, looks 

terrible. There`s no traffic on the street. That`s not the point of what 

they did. They had to do that in order to introduce the measures they were 

going to take that were actually going to fight the epidemic and that is 

testing, testing, testing, testing. Find the virus. 


So, one thing is no matter where you go, if you are able to get out of the 

house, if you go into any building, your temperature is taken. I came into 

this building, nobody took my temperature. They asked me some silly 

questions I could have lied about. 


But, you know, they – you get your fever taken. You get into a bus, your 

temperature is taken. You walk into a train station, your temperature is 

taken. You walk into a building, you walk back to your apartment building, 

your temperature is taken. 


MADDOW:  What happens if you show a fever? 


MCNEIL:  Then you`re sent to a fever clinic. People are not sent to your 

doctor`s office. Your doctor`s office is dangerous. One of those tests will 

make you cough or gag and then you`ve infected the doctor and then the 

doctor`s office is out and you`ve possibly infected everybody in the 

waiting room. 


So they`re sent to specific fever clinics which the Chinese have had since 

they battled SARS back in 2002. They designed, basically mapped all them. 

It`s usually entrance to a hospital, it`s separate from the main entrance. 

They`re met by people in complete protective gear. 


The temperature is taken. They`re asked quickly what their symptoms are, 

whether they`ve been exposed, how they`ve been exposed. They get a quick 

white blood cell count to see whether or not they have bacterial pneumonia. 

It doesn`t tell you what the bacteria, but it tells you whether or not you 

likely got it. They get a quick flu test to see if they have flu. 


If you`ve got one of those, maybe you can be excluded and go home. Your 

symptom is something else. But if you don`t have either one of those, then 

you`re given a CT scan. CT scans in this country take half an hour to an 

hour and they`re, you know, extremely expensive things. 


There, they have portable CT scanners. They have pushed people through 

those things at the rate of 200 a day. A couple of slices of the lungs, and 

that`s all, to see whether or not there are these ground glass opacities in 

both lungs that are pretty good indication of this. All right?


If you come up positive for that, then you are going to get a PCR test, 

which is the test we`re talking about here. It`s basically a nasal swab is 

the usual way to do it, which is push a Q-tip up your nose. It`s not very 

pleasant, but they do that on site. They`ve gotten it down to four hours. 

There`s no sending it off to the state health department. 


MADDOW:  So, you sit and wait for it to come back? 


MCNEIL:  And you sit and wait, you are told sit, you know, a couple yards 

apart from everybody else. People sitting there, it was described to me, 

they`re sitting there with their pink envelopes with their CT scan and they 

afraid of each other because they know they might be sitting next to 

somebody who has got the virus. 


And once the scan results come back, and if they can`t get the scan results 

back that day, they have to go to a hotel, a quarantine hotel and wait 

until the results come back. 


MADDOW:  Apart from their family? 


MCNEIL:  Apart from their family, and that is the key element. There is no 

home isolation. There is no home quarantine. 


Seventy-five percent to 80 percent of the transmission in China was in 

family clusters. What would make the news was things like, oh, my God, it`s 

in the prisons, oh, my God, it`s in parliament – it wasn`t in parliament 

there. But 75 percent to 80 percent of it was inside the family, and they 

knew they had to stop that if they were going to stop the disease. 


So people were quickly taken away from these families to these giant 

gymnasiums or stadiums where they were not concentration camps. There were 

beds there, and there were nurses in protective gear to watch out for 

people. They even had dance classes in these things because when you have 

lots of little old ladies sort of sitting there together waiting to see if 

they`re OK, if you get them all up dancing, one, it helps clear their lungs 

and the people who can`t get up maybe are the one who`s are crashing. 


It`s not a bad policy. We laugh at the pictures when you see people dancing 

in what looked like moon suits but, in fact, that was something medically 

smart that was going on. If people actually need to be hospitalized, you 

know, the people who don`t need to be hospitalized are the ones in these 

so-called 80 percent of mild cases. 


I`m sorry I used that expression because mild when you look carefully at 

the study is everything from almost no symptoms to pneumonia but doesn`t 

need oxygen, doesn`t need hospitalization. 




MCNEIL:  Now, I`ve had pneumonia. I`ve had walking pneumonia. That was not 

like having a mild cold. That was serious. I had it about two weeks 

different from when Hillary Clinton got it. You saw her collapse on the 

street. She had to be carried into her van when she collapsed.


I was standing on third base playing softball with some friends and thought 

I`m going to collapse here and went to the doctor the next day. So, those 

are the cases. They`re isolated away, and people actually sort of move 

through the system. Suspect cases, mild to moderate cases, and hospitalized 

severe and critical cases who are actually in hospitals. 


And the crucial thing about that system is break the chains of transmission 

and also do what you can to keep the hospitals from getting overwhelmed 

because when the hospitals get overwhelmed, you have to say, OK, she lives, 

she lives, but he dies and he dies. She`s young and has kids, we`ll save 

her, grandmother, good-bye. 


Those are the choices they are making in northern Italy right now, and 

they`re going to be making them all over Italy pretty soon, and we will 



MADDOW:  Donald McNeil, science and health reporter for “The New York 

Times.” people are going to clip this and send it to their local health 

department from having you describe this because of the distance because of 

what you`re describing and what we`re doing and preparing for. But thank 

you. Donald McNeil, a reporter with “The New York Times”, thank you for 

being here. 


MCNEIL:  Thank you. 


MADDOW:  Appreciate it. I`m not shaking your hand. 


MCNEIL:  Nor I. Sorry.


MADDOW:  We`ll be right back. 






REPORTER:  Mr. President, can`t an American still bring back coronavirus 

under these travel restrictions? 



tested. If an American is coming back or anybody is coming back, we`re 

testing. We have a tremendous testing set up where people coming in have to 

be tested. We`re not putting them on planes if they are – if it shows 





MADDOW:  Americans coming back, anybody coming into this country is being 

very heavily tested. We have a tremendous testing set up. 


That is not true at all. On the menu of things that President Trump has 

said in his three-plus years in office that are not true, this is one of 

the easier ones to fact-check. This is just flat not happening no matter 

how many times he says it. 




TRUMP:  We have them very heavily tested. If an American`s coming back or 

anybody is coming back, we`re testing. 




MADDOW:  Americans are not being very heavily tested for coronavirus. 

Before they get here from another country, once they get here from another 

country or if they`re just here and haven`t gone to another country. 


I mean, that`s not happening. That is an operational thing the president 

has imagined and is now declaring to the American people as the way it is. 

That was just today. 


But this is not a one-off. This is every day from him, and it turns out it 

has serious consequences when in the middle of a severe public health 

emergency, the president just lies about it over and over and over again. 




TRUMP:  We`re going to be pretty soon at only five people, and we could be 

at just one or two people over the next short period of time. 


YASMIN VOSSOUGHIAN, MSNBC ANCHOR:  Congress` top doctor has told Senate 

staffers that he expects 70 million to 150 million Americans to contract 

the coronavirus. 


TRUMP:  I mean, view this the same as the flu. 


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIH:  The mortality of this is multiple times what 

seasonal flu is. 


TRUMP:  Anybody that needs a test gets a test. 



tests today. 


TRUMP:  We`re very close to a vaccine. 


FAUCI:  When you`re talking about the availability of a vaccine, you`re 

talking about a year to a year and a half. 


TRUMP:  A lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat. 


FAUCI:  We do not know whether it`s going to diminish as the weather gets 



PENCE:  The risk of contracting the coronavirus to the American public 

remains low. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  We do expect more cases. 


ALEX AZAR, HHS SECRETARY:  We can expect to see more cases in the United 



FAUCI:  We will see more cases and things will get worse than they are 

right now. 


TRUMP:  It`s going to disappear. One day it`s like a miracle, it will 





MADDOW:  For us as a country, it is just unfortunate that we have that kind 

of a president who`s that – who has that easy a time lying during this 

kind of a problem when we really need to know the truth. 


But for us as Americans, we also have a history, a recent history that we 

can learn from at a moment like this. There are people among us from whom 

we can learn about how best to pressure our government into being better 

when they are being terrible and when they are bungling a health crisis 

with consequences of life and death for potentially thousands of Americans. 

There are people among us we can learn from because they`ve done it and 

they`ve fixed it in the past. 


That`s next. Stay with us. 






TOM BROKAW, NBC NEWS ANCHOR:  This was a major day of protests by AIDS 

activists in this country, 1,000 of them converging on the National 

Institutes of Health outside of Washington demanding more research on the 



REPORTER:  Today`s demonstration is the latest of many staged by the 

militant group Act-Up, which has gained increasing influence on AIDS 

policy. Act-Up`s strategy has been successful in getting the Food and Drug 

Administration to loosen the regulation of new drugs for AIDS. 




MADDOW:  Act-Up stands for the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. It was 

founded in 1987 as the AIDS epidemic rose to almost unimaginable heights. 

It was founded with the founding believe that AIDS was deadly not only 

because of the virus but because of the human failure, institutional 

failures, the failure of our government to recognize the magnitude of the 

crisis and act rationally and aggressively to fix it and save lives. 


One of the legendary activists with Act-Up starting in the early `90s was a 

man by the name of Gregg Gonsalves. Altogether, he has spent more than 30 

years working on HIV/AIDS and other global health issues, as an activist, 

also as a scientist. He earned his PhD in public health from Yale. His 

life`s work has been focused on giving politicians and policymakers a hard 

time and also giving them the data they need to make better public health 

decisions and then holding them to it if they show unwillingness to do it 

in the time or with the alacrity that they need to save lives. 


His life`s work in other words has been preparing him for this moment. 


Joining us now is Gregg Gonsalves. He`s an assistant professor of 

epidemiology at Yale School of public health. He`s also in 2018, MacArthur 

Genius Grant winner. 


Professor Gonsalves, it`s really nice to have you here. 



Nice to be here, Rachel. 


MADDOW:  So, I want to talk to you because I feel like Americans are 

cottoning to the fact that our government is a big part of the coronavirus 

problem, that our government response is terrible. I feel like there must 

be something to learn from the AIDS movement in terms of how to make a bad 

government response better. 


GONSALVES:  Well, for many of us, it`s deja vu all over again.




GONSALVES:  It was death by public policy in the 1980s where we had malign 

neglect by the Reagan administration that let tens of thousands of 

Americans die before the president even uttered the word AIDS. 


MADDOW:  Yes. 


GONSALVES:  And it`s been 30 years, and we`ve seen other health crises come 

and go and presidents, Democratic and Republican, rise to the challenge. 


Now, all these years later, we have another president, again, malevolence 

and incompetence put together to imperil many, many more people in the 

United States that were imperiled by HIV in the early days. 


MADDOW:  The gay community was so galvanized by AIDS, and the AIDS activist 

movement was so inflected by the gay – by the gay community, especially in 

the early days because that community was so disproportionately hit by the 



This epidemic is a pandemic. It`s everywhere. It seems to show no 

demographic contours at all in terms of susceptibility. I wonder if that 

makes you think – how that makes you think about the possibility of 

building – I don`t know if it has to be a movement but building some sort 

of effective citizen feedback loop so that our government feels like they 

can no longer stay this bad in their response. 


GONSALVES:  Well, we have to build a large coalition pretty quickly, and 

it`s interesting that this disease is going to impact people who also were 

impacted by the AIDS epidemic, the incarcerated, immigrants, people of 

color, people who are underinsured or uninsured totally. So we have a lot 

of work to do in building bridges with movements that already exist, 

immigrants rights movement, the Dreamers, people working on prison 

abolition, to try to build a movement very, very quickly to get our 

government to get off the dime and do what`s right. 


We don`t – we don`t have months and years for this. We have days and weeks 

to get it right. 


MADDOW:  I want to talk to you about treatment and vaccine politics and 

some of the other ways that you have learned the hard way how to try to 

influence the government even in places that don`t like to be susceptible 

to pressure, if could hold on to us for one segment. 


Gregg Gonsalves is an assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of 

Public Health, a legendary AIDS activist – we`ll be right back with him 

after this. 




MADDOW:  – Gregg Gonsalves, who is an Act-Up veteran from the AIDS 

movement. He`s now assistant professor of epidemiology at Yale School of 

Public Health.


Professor, thanks for being here. 


One of the successes of the AIDS movement is penetrating a seemingly 

impenetrable bureaucracy to get drugs developed and into bodies faster than 

the system otherwise would have got them there. Do you envision any sort of 

treatment activism like that around therapeutics for the coronavirus or 

indeed a vaccine? 


GONSALVES:  I think there are people already as we speak working on trying 

to figure out the problems that have to do with the diagnostics scale up in 

the United States that are thinking about vaccines and treatment activism. 

We have the connections with the scientists with the drug companies, the 

diagnostic companies now that the we didn`t have 30, 40 years ago. 


MADDOW:  Because you changed the system. 


GONSALVES:  We changed the system. What`s difficult now is that the top of 

the pyramid, the president, the vice president, secretary of state of 

health and human services are an impenetrable fortress, and it`s been very 

hard to think about how we can get into that sort of circle of influence to 

make a difference. 


MADDOW:  Do you think that public pressure and citizen activism and direct 

action and the sort of things that were so effective in the AIDS movement 

have a role to play here either now or in the future when we start to think 

about the hospital crunches that are coming, when we start to think about 

the real point of the spear public health calamities that are coming? Do 

you think that the government`s response can be made better by citizens 

making it so? 


GONSALVES:  I think we can make noise. It`s the only thing we can do at 

this point. It`s incumbent on journalists, on activists, on academics to 

raise the alarm. 


We don`t have weeks and months. We have days before our trajectory starts 

to mirror that of Italy`s from two weeks ago. So, we have to do what we can 

to point out the failings in the current response and push them to do 

better. I know it`s a daunting task but we really don`t have any choice. 


MADDOW:  Gregg Gonsalves, thank you for being here. I want to shake your 

hand. I`m not going to do. 




MADDOW:  I`m teaching myself not to do that anymore.


It`s great to have you here. Thank you. 


GONSALVES:  Thank you for having me.


MADDOW:  All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.




MADDOW:  A couple things to update you on that have come to pass since we 

have been on the air over the course of this hour. It`s a sort of an era of 

constant breaking news. 


I mentioned at the top of the show that the Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau 

was himself under quarantine. His wife returned from a speaking engagement 

in London, in the U.K. and felt ill. She was undergoing testing. He 

announced that he would undergo self-quarantine while she awaited results 

of her test. 


We`ve just learned in the past couple of minutes that Sophie Trudeau, the 

prime minister`s wife, has in fact tested positive for coronavirus. 


Here`s the statement from the Canadian government. Quote: The prime 

minister is in good health with no symptoms. As a precautionary measure and 

following the advice of doctors, he will be in isolation for a planned 

period of 14 days. Also on the advice of doctors, he will not be tested at 

this stage since he has no symptoms. 


For the same reason, doctors say there is no risk to those who have been in 

contact with him recently. But again, his wife has tested positive.


In terms of what`s happening in our government right now, while it has been 

a little bit of a nightmare to watch the president try to put together a 

sentence or two on this subject, including last night`s disastrous speech 

from the Oval Office, things proceed apace in congress. Just a short time 

ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the Ways and Means 

Committee announce they are close to a deal with the Trump administration 

on an aid package related to the coronavirus crisis. The speaker unveiled 

this bill late last night. It would provide financial resources to people 

and businesses affected by the pandemic, reportedly including free testing 

once we finally have some freaking testing. 


She and Chairman Neal reportedly negotiating all day today with the Trump 

administration`s designated negotiator, who is Treasury Secretary Steven 

Mnuchin. The speaker told a group of reporters camped outside her office 

this evening that they should go home for the night and expect an 

announcement of some kind tomorrow. 


But according to the speaker, most of the differences between the two sides 

have been resolved and this will be the first significant policy response 

of the U.S. government through Congress in terms of legislation that we`ve 

had. The House will meet again in the morning. It looks like they will have 

something to vote on and again the Senate has canceled its planned recess 

so they will be at work. 


Watch this space. 


That does it for us tonight. We will see you again tomorrow. 




Good evening, Lawrence.







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