Bay Area TRANSCRIPT: 4/23/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Sara Cody, Anthony Romero


ELIZABETH KOLBERT, JOURNALIST: – you know, let`s hope that in the next few

weeks, as people start to think about reopening some of the major American

cities, that we get some really innovative thinking.


CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST, “ALL IN”: Elizabeth Kolbert, always great to talk

to you. Thank you so much.


KOLBERT: Thanks, Chris.


HAYES: That is “ALL IN” for this evening.


THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.


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



Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well. Happy to have you



Sometimes when you go to a funeral, there`s a drive-in component, right?

The funeral home, the funeral service, wherever it is held, may be a ways

off from the cemetery. If there`s also going to be a graveside service,

there will need to be a drive in the middle of it.


If you haven`t been at a funeral like that yourself, you have definitely

seen them on the road, right? It`s a line of car, regular people`s cars but

everyone driving slowly, often times everybody puts their flashers on,

their hazard lights, to let you know that they are part of a funeral



If you haven`t been in one of those, you have definitely seen it. That was

a little bit of what it looked like today in the rain, in downtown

Washington, D.C., as a long line of cars processed pretty slowly, from the

White House, down through the streets of D.C., slowly, all in a line, with

their hazards flashing.


But this was different for a couple of reasons. Number one, they were

honking for the most part. And number two, they were not going to a

cemetery. They were going to President Trump`s downtown Washington, D.C.



You can see the signs on some of the cars, Trump lies, people die. And then

you can see the body bags. People got out of those vehicles, and laid body

bags at the threshold of President Trump`s hotel. Trump lies, people die.


This was a protest today in Washington. Those aren`t real body bags but

they are meant to symbolize the thousands of Americans who have died.


The U.S. death toll from coronavirus, as of today, is staggering. As of

today, 48,902 Americans have been killed. And that`s just over the course

of about a month.


For what it`s worth, and when you`re thinking about whether a protest like

this might wake the president up, whether it might get the president`s

attention a little bit, to have body bags laid out in front of his hotel,

for what it`s worth, the president does not really seem up on the fact that

48,902 Americans have already been killed by this epidemic.


We know that he is not really up on that number. We know that for sure.

Because this was the president at the beginning of this week, on Monday, of

this week, talking about what he thought the U.S. death toll would end up






I`m hearing, or 60,000 people. We could end up at 50 –




MADDOW: Fifty. We could end up at 50,000 people. That`s this week. The

president positing that the American death toll in total could be 50,000

people, he thinks that`s where we will end up, that`s what he`s hearing as

president. That`s as bad as it will get. Maybe 60,000, but it could be



That`s what he wants people to know that the death toll could be when this

is all over. He said that on Monday. Barring some kind of miracle, the U.S.

death toll will hit 50,000 by this weekend. Easy. But I don`t know if the

president knows that.


And so the people who are mad at the president about this response, people

are starting to pile up body bags in front of his hotel, because maybe that

at least might capture his attention, maybe that will let him know that the

real body count is apparently beyond his kin, beyond what he understands it

to be.


Today, in a number of stories, a number of news stories broken by a bunch

of different news outlets, we learned some more important and serious

information about how the president and his administration handled this

epidemic from the very beginning. And one of those important things that we

have just learned is key to the date of February 25th. On February 25th,

you might remember this if you watch the show regularly, we actually played

the sound from this on our show that night. On February 25th, the head of

the respiratory disease section at the CDC gave a public briefing.


It was a press briefing over the phone to reporters. It was on the record.

So you could record it. You could listen to it. That`s why we were able to

play it on the air that night.


And in that briefing on February 25th, she warned the public that the

coming tide of coronavirus was very serious, that this was a very

contagious disease and Americans should prepare for significant disruption

to our daily lives, because of this disease. And I remember playing that

tape on the show, that night, on February 25th, and being sort of shaken by

the CDC official saying that she had, you know, contacted the

superintendent of her kid`s schools, to ask if there were plans in the

works for distance learning for her kids because she assumes that schools

were going to have to close and keep kids home, and we hadn`t heard

anything like that from a public official before.


Now, of course, that`s the reality we`re all living but when Nancy

Messonnier said that on February 25th, it was a bracing shot. Well, now, we

have learned that the official that gave that briefing, Dr. Nancy

Messonnier from the CDC, she was not only removed from her post after that

briefing as the lead CDC official running the response to the coronavirus,

she was not only removed from her post, because the president didn`t like

she seemed so alarmist about the whole thing in that briefing.


In addition to taking her out of the position running that response, the

CDC as an agency also thereafter stopped doing its own briefings all

together about this crisis. Because the CDC briefings had the potential to

upset the president. Because we have since learned that he likes to do the

briefings himself.


And instead of CDC, bracing briefings from well-informed official, giving

you real information about the real scope of what`s about to happen, he,

you know, gets up there and tells you that there is only going to be 50,000

Americans dead by the end of this. Only 50,000. Whether that were true.


And he likes to tell you that there is a cure, that everybody should try,

what do you have to lose, just try this unproven drug and he likes to say

almost every single day, he says there is plenty of testing. He is now

saying there is so much testing, it is more testing than the governors

like, right?


He likes to do the briefings. Which are consistently full of happy talk,

disinformation, and lies. And those are the briefings we get for this

epidemic instead of CDC briefings from actual expert scientists, we now

know, because he didn`t like the expert scientist briefings at the

beginning so they moved that CDC official out of the job running the CDC`s

response and the CDC as an agency learned to shut itself up all together.


We also learned in the past day now that, not to worry, the president`s

health secretary, Alex Azar, who said the same day as Dr. Messonnier`s

briefing that the virus was contained, Dr. Alex Azar, who is insistent to

reporters for every day Americans, coronavirus should not be an impact on

their day to day life. Alex Azar, the Trump administration health

secretary, we have learned in the past day, he did make an early decision

to tap a specific person in his department to coordinate the federal

government`s overall response to the coronavirus crisis. He did pick

somebody to delegate that to.


He picked somebody to delegate the task to run the coronavirus response in

the government to a man named Brian Harrison, who, quote, had joined the

department after running a dog breeding business for six years. Brian

Harrison, age 37, was an unusual choice, with no formal education in public

health, management, or medicine. Before joining the Trump administration in

January 2018, Harrison`s official Health and Human Services biography says

he ran a small business in Texas.


The biography does not disclose the name or nature of that business. But

his financial disclosure form showed that it was a company called Dallas

Labradoodles. That`s who Alex Azar put in charge of the coronavirus

pandemic, the response for the U.S. government, for the person coordinating

that, was this guy who he brought in HHS from his dog breeding business.


I mean, if you can go back in time to November, 2016, and show the American

public one headline that was real and from the future, and it would make

clear the stakes of their vote for president, in November 2016, this was

the candidate. This “Reuters” headline today might be a contender. Special

report, former labradoodle breeder was tapped to lead U.S. pandemic task

force. That would give voters in November 2016 a lot of useful information.

Number one, we`re about to have a pandemic. Number two, this is the way the

Trump administration would try to head it off.


In the past day, we`ve also learned that the top vaccine development expert

in the government who was working on coronavirus was also taken off his job

and demoted. He says in an official whistle-blower complaint he plans to

file, he was demoted because he wasn`t on board with the president

promoting potentially dangerous drugs, promoted by those with political

connections. And maybe that sounds like sour grapes to you. Oh, here`s a

guy who was demoted, of course he wants to play the hero, but this guy is

also now asking for an inspector general investigation into the, quote,

manner in which this administration has pressured me and other

conscientious scientists to fund companies with political connections, as

well as efforts that lack scientific merit.


So the top U.S. official, life-long vaccine development expert, working on

vaccine development for the U.S. government, on coronavirus, he`s out now.

They`ve demoted him, moved him aside, because he was in the way of the

president`s friends and stuff.


Meanwhile, multiple states, including the hard-hit state of Georgia, which

has tested less than 0.01 percent of its population, they rank 40th out of

a of states getting testing done. Georgia and other Republican-led states

are steaming ahead with plans to reopen businesses and just trying to

forget about this whole coronavirus thing, man, it`s been such a drag, we

got to get everything reopened. The White House has zigged and zagged

between encouraging these open it up governors, and then telling them not

to do it, and then praising them for doing it, and then laying down

guidelines, that tell the states what to do, and then telling the states

they don`t have to follow the guidelines, they can do whatever they want.


And so now, naturally, we`ve got a number of Republican-led states jumping

off the cliff now, in terms of this epidemic. As case numbers even in those

states continue to rise.


And then frankly, in Democratic-run states, you`ve got situations like this

today. Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan today was greeted by a whole

bunch of men with pro-Trump signs in gear today pacing around at the end of

her driveway yelling at her to open up the state while brandishing their



So that`s how it`s going so far in terms of federal leadership and its



Today, as members of Congress came back to Washington, leading to these

surreal scenes, you can see them all in masks, and keeping social distance,

they came back to Washington to pass the latest relief bill, and it passed

with overwhelming bipartisan support. You see them all in their marches,

they`re all trying to stay six feet apart and there is a looming

overhanging issue as to whether and how they are going to keep convening in

person, given the public health threat of all members of Congress getting

together in the same place to conduct congressional business.


We saw these images today, I thought back to what I think was the first

show that we did here, after we started basically covering coronavirus

full-time. On that show, we had veteran science reporter Donald McNeil,

from “The New York Times,” on set, and I remember, in that first interview

with McNeil, he kind of knocked us all back on our heels, we heard from a

lot of viewer that they were pretty stunned by that interview.


McNeil having covered coronavirus in China, having done the first landmark

reporting on it here in the United States and there was Don McNeil, that

first night that we started covering this full-time, talking about how soon

enough, our legislature, our Congress, would need to effectively shut down,

that it wouldn`t be safe for them all to convene. He was talking about

things like, you know, we`re going to need to start counting the

ventilators that we have in this country. And this was February 28th. This

was just a couple of days after that stark warning from Dr. Messonnier at

the CDC that got her demoted and silenced because she said American lives

were going to be profoundly changed by this epidemic. I mean, almost no one

was talking in stark terms yet at that point, in late February.


I went back and looked at that show again recently, sort of to try to

remind myself how far we`ve come in such a short period of time. It is less

than two months ago. But I noticed that in that first show that we did,

with that stark interview from Don McNeil, where he said all of those

things that were so shocking then, which have all come to pass since, well,

I noticed we also had one short prescient report that same night from






reporting a new case of novel coronavirus in Santa Clara County. This is

the third case to be identified in our county. But it`s different from our

other two cases in an important way. Like the California case reported two

days ago, our third case did not recently travel overseas, or have any

known contact with a recent traveler or an infected person.


MADDOW: That was health officer in Santa Clara County, California, today,

announcing what is the second known case of a person being diagnosed with

coronavirus in this country, without there being a clear indication of

where that person got it. The first one was two days ago in Solano County,

California. The second one was Santa Clara County, today.




MADDOW: That was February 28th. Me responding to comments that had been

made moments earlier there from Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara

Cody. What she was announcing that night, February 28th was the second case

of coronavirus that night. And others had contact with those known to have

coronavirus or traveled, that night, it was the second person in the

country where a person had coronavirus and we didn`t know how they got it.


And we didn`t know it at the time, going back and seeing that footage,

actually kind of puts a chill down my spine. We didn`t know it that night,



But Sara Cody, in Santa Clara County, California, would go on to become the

public health official in America, who may have saved more lives than any

other person in our country, because over the next two weeks, as the case

number started to climb in the San Francisco Bay area, having early cases

is bad, it means that there has been virus circulating in your community,

for sometime, before people started to get sick, or people started to die.


With early cases, discovered, in the bay area, over those next couple of

weeks, following that announcement that you just saw there, in late

February, Sara Cody and her colleagues in the Bay Area started to compare

the graph of the progression of the epidemic in Italy at that time, with

the same progression that they were starting to see in the Bay Area at that



And as they saw cases mount in the Bay Area, they believed that the San

Francisco Bay Area in northern California was on the same disastrous path

that had overwhelmed the hospitals in Italy. And seeing that, and seeing

their case numbers rise, and realizing what this would mean in terms of the

contagiousness of this virus and its death rate, in what will go down in

history, as a landmark moment, in this time, in this crisis, Sara Cody got

together with her colleagues, from six other Bay Area counties, and they

made a decision, what seemed like an incredibly radical, even shocking

decision, at the time. But which is now obviously the model for what we

ought to have done sooner, and for, for what it is so incredible that some

states still haven`t done yet.




CODY: Today, we stand together to announce additional legal orders that

will apply to all seven jurisdictions covering Silicon Valley and the core

of the Bay Area region. These new orders direct all individuals to shelter

at their place of residence and maintain social distancing of at least six

feet from any other person when outside their residence.




MADDOW: That was the first one. That was the first one. When Dr. Sara Cody,

health officer of Santa Clara County, announced that on March 16th, it was

the first thing, like that, in the country, it was a stunning thing.


This was the front page of “The San Francisco Chronicle” the next day. Stay

at home. But that order went into effect at midnight the night that she

announced it because they knew time was of the essence.


And Bay Area residents heeded that order, in large part. All of California

actually followed with a similar order within just a few days following the

Bay Area`s lead and then the rest of the country would eventually catch up

to the bay area and the rest of California, ultimately. The rest of the

country would ultimately get there, after of course, they had given the

virus some more time to spread, to infect more people, to make the overall

level of infections larger.


But they didn`t wait in northern California. They didn`t wait in the Bay

Area. And that quick action by Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody,

and the other Bay Area health officers she acted with, that appears to have

saved the San Francisco Bay Area.


I mean, going early is a bad sign, right? It means that you have got, if

you`ve got people sick and dying in your community, it means that the virus

has been circulating there, and people have been getting infected there,

the first death in your community is a really bad sign, and it is a sign

that you have waited too long, and that public health intervention is

necessary. When they started reporting those very early deaths, in this

very, very early, first indications of community transmission, it was a

signal that the San Francisco Bay Area was just going to get absolutely

shellacked, if they hadn`t done what they did. If they hadn`t had that

prescient, smart, aggressive, brave, public health intervention, earlier

than anybody else was prepared to think it.


“San Francisco Chronicle” today posted this graph, comparing what happened

in other metro areas around the country, to what happened in the Bay Area,

with that aggressive intervention. These are weekly case rates per capita.


You can see the big black line there, that is New York. The orange line

with the huge peak, the spike, that`s New Orleans. And the turquoise

colored line, that`s Detroit.


And then, I think you can see there, it`s a little bit hard to see, but it

is a dotted line in gray, that`s the U.S. average in terms of cases per

100,000 residents, cases per week.


But to see what happened to the Bay Area, which again got hit before any of

those places, you actually have to go down to the very bottom, to what

actually looks like the X axis there if you squint, that super flat line at

the bottom, just barely off the X axis, that`s the bay area, because early

action absolutely squashed their curve.


And you know, California is not out of it by any means. California has a

worse outbreak in Southern California than they do in northern California

which you would expect given the aggression of the Northern California



California had its highest daily death toll today. And they certainly have

a live epidemic, including in Santa Clara County, and in the Bay Area. Sara

Cody told her board of supervisors in Santa Clara County two days ago that

they`re going to be contending this for months yet.


But those smart public health officers, finding their first cases,

recognizing what it means, acting fast, they changed the course of the

epidemic in the United States of America. And they`re doing it again now.

Because now, after taking samples from people, who died much earlier than

the first known cases, Santa Clara County has changed our understanding of

the course of the pandemic, by finding out that the first-known death in

the United States was in Santa Clara County, and it was actually about

three weeks earlier than any previous death we thought we knew of.


And that`s important, because it does tell you that the virus was

circulating in that county weeks earlier than we even knew. The person who

they now know of as the – is now known as the earliest U.S. coronavirus

death is somebody who died on February 6th, that is believed that she was

infected in early January, it`s not believed to be a case where she was

infected because of overseas travel, or contact with a known coronavirus-

positive person. It was community transmission, in the San Francisco Bay

Area, in early January.


Think about what that means. Think about the opportunity cost of that.

Think about how many thousands of Americans have died because we didn`t

know that.


The federal government was in charge of getting us tests. Alex Azar and

President Trump didn`t get around to it. The day after this first now-known

case, this 57-year-old woman died in Santa Clara County, was the day that

the Trump administration actually sent out testing kits to public health

labs around the country, those tests didn`t work. They didn`t even get them

out until the first week of February. And they didn`t work. And they had

to, everybody had to start from scratch there, because the Trump

administration blew it.


Think about how many lives would have been saved if there had been a

frickin`, fracking` reasonably confident federal government response. Think

about how many lives would have been saved in that part of the pandemic, if

there was early testing at that point in the epidemic when there was

community transmission happening in early January in San Francisco Bay



I mean, other countries had tests at that point. We didn`t. We didn`t.

Imagine how many more lives could have been saved, had somebody like Dr.

Sara Cody in Santa Clara County and her colleagues in the Bay Area who were

on so on top of this, had they known weeks earlier that people were already

dying, they would having acted weeks earlier.


And yes, probably the rest of the country would probably still have

followed behind them. Yes, they`d still probably would have been more

aggressive and smarter than anybody else, but if our entire time line had

moved up several weeks, had moved up three weeks, thousands if not tens of

thousands fewer Americans would have died, because everybody would have

squashed the curve earlier, everybody`s curve would look like San

Francisco`s does compared to the rest of the country right now.


Sara Cody told “The San Francisco Chronicle”, upon learning of this earlier

case, she said, quote: I know that in late January and for the month of

February, we were very anxious at our inability to test people who we

thought might have had COVID-19. There just wasn`t the capacity there. We

were anxious that there was a lot of transmission that was going

undetected. What these cases that have just been detected now tell us is

that we were right to be anxious.


They were looking for it. They were looking for signs to act. Once they got

one, they acted faster than anybody. Had they known, three weeks earlier,

had they been able to test, they would have acted three weeks earlier.


Early action in northern California saved tons of American lives. And now,

with the epidemiological work they keep doing, we know the earliest cases

we have in this country were even earlier than we previously knew. Had

there been tests, had that been the one thing the Trump administration did,

even with the labradoodle guy in charge and firing the vaccine guy and

being scared of the lady at the CDC who tells too much of the truth, had

they just gotten testing done, had Alex Azar and the Trump administration

not been lying when they said testing was fine, we could have acted weeks



At least in the best-run parts of the country, they would have acted weeks

earlier. And there wouldn`t be going on 50,000 Americans dead by the end of

this week.


Simple as that. That`s why there`s the body bags on the threshold of the

Trump Hotel today. That`s why they`re there.


Dr. Sara Cody joins us next.






CODY: We must come together to do this. And we have done this as a

collective of health officers. We know we need to do this. And we know we

need a regional approach.


We all must do our part to slow the spread of COVID-19 and ensure that our

essential services remain intact and open, most especially our hospitals

and health care facilities.




MADDOW: That was Dr. Sara Cody, on March 16th, as she announced that 7

million Californians would be told to stay home for weeks at least, it was

the first such order in the United States. Dr. Cody and the other health

officers in the San Francisco Bay Area acted faster and more decisively

than anyone else in the country and as a result, they did successfully, as

they say, flatten the curve. And hospitals in the Bay Area did remain

intact, an not get overrun.


Now, Dr. Cody and her colleagues are continuing to advance our national

understanding of how coronavirus has spread in the U.S. They just figured

out that the earliest known death from the virus in this country was in

Santa Clara County, three weeks earlier than we previously knew anyone had

died from it, in the United States.


Joining us now is Dr. Sara Cody, public health officer for Santa Clara

County and the great state of California.


Dr. Cody, I imagine that talking on television is the least – your least

favorite part of your job. I really appreciate you doing it and being here



CODY: Thank you. It`s a pleasure to be here.


MADDOW: I wanted to ask you about the clarity and decisiveness with which

you and your colleagues in the Bay Area acted back in mid-March. I didn`t

know about the idea of shelter in place except for an active shooter

situation. I didn`t know that stay-at-home orders were within the public

health tool kit.


How prepared were you? How did you all know to think about these things as

options, once you started to see the data that worried you in the Bay Area?


CODY: We had a number of factors working in our favor, and I would say the

first is that we have a very collaborative group of health officers from

around the Bay Area. We`ve all known each other for a very long time, but

we know each other well. And we`re accustomed to working together.


So that`s the first thing that was incredibly important. The second is, is

that we live in an area with a lot of academic partners, who were

continually advising us around, you know, infectious disease, modeling

infectious disease epidemiology.


And the I think the third is that many of us who are health officers in the

Bay Area had previously done a lot of work in communicable disease control

so we`re really control with communicable disease control and the various

strategies that we use to, you know, basic prevention and control of

communicable disease. So I think all of those factors, not that it was a

comfortable action to take, but they were sort of helpful and key to our



MADDOW: Was there an element of bravery involved, or a sort of hold your

breath and jump feeling about it, when you had to make that announcement? I

went back and watched some of your public statements, when you first

announced for example, restrictions on large gatherings, in the county, and

I felt like I could, I felt like I could see you wrestling with the gravity

of what you were asking people to confront.


CODY: I was wrestling with the gravity, and it was a difficult situation,

and I remember on Friday the 13th, when we announced that we were going to

ban mass gathering, greater than 100, and I remember that was, that felt

like an enormously difficult decision, because of how it would impact so

many people, and restrict so many activities.


And you know, on Friday the 13th, I really couldn`t each wrap my mind

around what we then did on Monday. There was a very long weekend with a lot

of discussions with fellow health officer, and I think we were looking at

our local data, and we were looking at trends around the world, and we were

listening to our colleagues, who were infectious disease modelers, and it

just became clear that we either acted now, and created a lot of social and

economic disruption, or we acted later, and still created a lot of social

and economic disruption, but didn`t get the benefit of early action.


And so it was enormously helpful to do it as a group of trusted colleagues.

And it did sort of feel like we were all holding hands and jumping. So I

didn`t feel alone. I felt like I was doing it with a really solid, a really

solid group, and that made a big difference.


MADDOW: Well, the effectiveness of what you did, the way that the Bay Area,

the actions that you all took in the bay area, appear to have grabbed this

thing and wrestled it down, in terms of how many people would get infected

and the pace at which new infections would unfold. It does feel

particularly for those of us in the rest of the country, looking I think

with envy, with that, with the way that you flat than curve, it does just

look like an incredibly effective intervention.


But I wonder, now that you have discovered that you actually had

coronavirus deaths and you had, apparently had community transmission of

coronavirus, even earlier than you previously expected, when you look back

on that decision now, do you wish you had acted even earlier than did you?


CODY: What I wish is we had more information. Much of this response has

felt like we, you know, well, it`s not unusual in public health to have

less information than you want to make decisions, so in some ways, we`re

somewhat accustomed to making decisions with some degree of uncertainty,

but I do remember in early February, we were looking at how many cases did

we have compared to the country, how many persons under investigation did

we have compared to the country, and compared to our population.


And even early on, the numbers were small. But the trend was, it looks

like, we were having a good probability that the virus would be introduced

in our community first, and so you needed to be ready. So we were looking,

looking, looking, for signs, but we didn`t have the capacity to test and to

document that the virus was present.


So, now, of course, in retrospect, identifying the coronavirus and the

woman who died on February 6th, you know, we were thinking we had two

travel-associated cases and we were at risk for community transmission, but

we couldn`t see it. And we couldn`t see it. And if we don`t have data to

show to the public, also I don`t think we would have brought the public on

board with the actions that they had taken since March 16th.


MADDOW: Yes, had there been testing, had there been visibility, had there

been data, not only to guide decision making, but to guide public

education, not only you, but everybody around the country, could have made

better decisions at that time. We`re still paying for that.


Dr. Sara Cody, public health officer for Santa Clara County in northern

California, I do think that you and your colleagues have a lot to be proud

of. I know that you are by no means out of the woods in terms of what

you`re still contending with, but thanks for your leadership and thanks for

helping us understand.


CODY: My pleasure. Thank you so much.


MADDOW: All right. A lot more to get to tonight. Stay with us.




MADDOW: Today, we got this sobering headline, courtesy of the World Health

Organization, nursing homes linked to up to half of all coronavirus deaths

in Europe.


There`s a “Washington Post” report on it today, the risk for the already

fragile population in Europe`s nursing homes has been exacerbated by an

acute lack of testing in nursing homes. When countries use the limited

testing they have, in hospitals instead.


It sounds familiar, right? Except even here, sometimes hospitals can`t get

their testing done. I mean, here in the U.S., one thing we have learned

thus far, over the course of our epidemic, is that the place you are most

likely to get coronavirus and die from it is in an American nursing home.


The “Associated Press” today reports that more than 11,000 Americans have

died in nursing homes so far, 11,000. Also, that the vast majority, two out

of three nursing homes in the United States, don`t have ready access to

testing, which, of course, is leading to ever-louder calls to prioritize

the testing on all staff and patients at these facilities nationwide. So,

the nursing home situation is dire, and continues to be. That really does

appear to be the place where you are most likely to get infected, and die

from coronavirus in the United States.


The other place where you are most likely to get infected, whether or not

you die from it, appears to be in our nation`s large meat processing

facilities. Meat packing plants.


Today, the CDC put out its report on how the Smithfield meat packing plant

in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, can basically substantially reorganize itself

to try to reopen, now that 801 workers and more than 200 community cases

have been traced to that one plant. There`s more than a thousand

coronavirus cases associated with that one plant in South Dakota, more than

800 of them workers in the plant.


The CDC`s report today includes an extremely, extremely lengthy list of

recommendations for the plant. Page after page after page of steps the

plant should take to try and stop the virus from spreading among the people

who work there. Everything from staggering shifts, and start times, to

adding plexiglass and stainless steel barriers between work stations and

sanitizing the hardhats and face shields at the end of every shift, adding

visual cues to help people stand six feet apart, more room for storage of

lunch box, more pictures of the signs and viruses, and convey in more

languages. I mean, try this, try that, try everything – it`s a huge list

of changes they need to make.


That 15-page report today from the CDC was released about that one plant as

we get word of more and more plants in more and more states closing down,

due to rising case loads. They`re trying to figure out how to slow the

line, or otherwise stay open, while they`ve got dozens or maybe even

hundreds of their workers testing positive.


So the place you`re most likely to get coronavirus and die is an American

nursing home. One of the places at least that you are most likely to get it

appears to be a large aggregate work environment like a meat packing plant

which is still open, where we still got people working, despite close



And there`s the third environment in which you are most likely to get

infected with coronavirus in this country, which appears to be our jails

and prisons and detention centers. And there`s some really interesting new

information and new work that is happening on that side of it right now,

we`ve got that coming up. Stay with us.




MADDOW: This next clip I`m about to show you first appeared on April 9th,

part of a national TV campaign by the ACLU.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My sister Elaine has been incarcerated for 10 years.

She has diabetes and is recovering from recent surgery. If this virus,

given her age, I worry she may not survive.


AD ANNOUNCER: Thousands of elderly and vulnerable people in America`s

prisons are in danger due to coronavirus.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m terrified. Please don`t let my sister die in



AD ANNOUNCER: Tell your elected leaders to save lives. Release elderly and

vulnerable populations from jail and prisons before it`s too late.




MADDOW: Tell your elected leaders to save lives.


Like I said, that ad was released on April 9th. The following week, that

prisoner featured in that ad, Elaine White, was released from the

correctional facility she was in in North Carolina, she is now living with

her sister at home.


That ad campaign is just one of the many efforts by the ACLU and other

advocates on what is now a big nationwide push to get vulnerable

populations released from prisons and jails specifically because prisons

and jails are proven to be rabid accelerators for the spread of



And, you know, you expect the ACLU to bring lawsuits on this issue and they

have, but they have done interesting stuff like this. They put out a model

executive order basically draft executive orders for governors that outline

measures governors can take to try to put a relief valve on prisons and

jails as coronavirus takes root in these places. And, you know, the stuff

they recommend isn`t rocket science. It`s stuff like telling state parole

boards to identify prisoners for early release.


But having a list of things that governors can do, having a draft executive

order is an efficient way to get these changes put in place quickly. To

date, the ACLU says they`ve secured executive actions in 15 states, not

just blue states, either.


Just the other week, the Oklahoma governor commuted the sentences of more

than 450 Oklahoma prisoners, more than 100 of them have been released.


But still, it seems like every day, there are huge, huge numbers of

coronavirus cases being reported out of some new prison or jail. Anywhere

they are testing, numbers are astonishing.


Just yesterday, a judge ordered the transfer or release of hundreds of

elderly and otherwise vulnerable prisoners out of a federal correctional

facility in Ohio – Elkton, Ohio. Six prisoners in Elkton have died in the

last few weeks. Another 52 are known to have the virus.


That facility also has the highest number of infected staff of any federal

prison in the country but those numbers – I mean, 52 inmates with

confirmed infections, they tested less than 100 of the prisoners at that –

at that facility. And they got more than 50 positive cases. There`s 2,400

prisoners at that facility.


And all these staff who are positive, all these people who are dying

already, I mean, literally God knows how high the actual infection rate is

and what we`ll learn if they ultimately test all 2,400 people there. It`s

not going to be good.


It`s kind of hard to see how this works out over the long haul of the

pandemic unless we`re going to just allow millions of incarcerated

Americans who live in prisons, the tons of Americans who work in prisons or

adjacent to prisons, we can`t just let them all become positive for the

virus. That is the trajectory that this will take unless the de-carceral

measures and other sort of radical steps are taken.


I mean, if we let everybody in jails and prisons in this country get

infected and the staff who work there too, even if you don`t care about

prison staff and you don`t care about prisoners, it will otherwise mean

that we`ll never get this epidemic under control in this country. It

doesn`t work that way.


Joining us now is Anthony Romero, who`s the executive director of the ACLU.


Mr. Romero, I know you are very busy right now. Thank you for taking time

to join us this evening.


ANTHONY ROMERO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ACLU: I`m busy. It`s great to see you,

Rachel. You`re a sight for sore eyes.


MADDOW: It`s great to see you too.


Well, let me ask you about how I summed that up about prisons and jails.




MADDOW: I mean, I feel like it`s easy for a lot of American people to say,

well, you know, they`re at risk. But what did you expect? You got in



Prison staff and jail staff know that they`ve got those risks. But there is

this situation which is both the dire number of cases we`re seeing in these





MADDOW: And the fact that these will be reservoirs of infection for the

entire population.


ROMERO: Volcanoes for the pandemic.


And we have to think about the fact that you can`t just wall them off and

pretend that let the folks die behind bars. It`s first inhumane. It`s

cruel. It would be unlawful.


But it`s also not practical. In fact, there are 420,000 people who work in

our prisons and jails. They`re our neighbors. They`re people in our

churches, in our synagogues, in our mosques. They come in and out of the



So the same concern we`ve had for nurses and doctors who are in the

hospitals without PPE are the same concerns we have now for the prison

guards and the workers in prisons and jails. And they will become the



My next door neighbor may very well come back and infect his entire family

because he works in Rikers. And so, the concern isn`t just about the

incarcerates, but the entire community.


We estimate, there`s new epidemiological study that we released just

yesterday, estimates we could be underestimating the fatalities by 100,000

deaths. That`s an astronomical number. That`s not just people dying behind

bars. Those are people in our communities dying because the jails are the

vectors for the pandemic.


Seven hundred and forty thousand people in jail any given day. One person

goes to jail every three seconds, 70 percent of them are not even guilty.

They`re pre-adjudication. They`re pretrial detainees. Average time in jail,

25 days.


They`re revolving doors. So when people go into jail, they`re incarcerated,

they`re held there. There`s no hand washing. There`s no sanitizing. There`s

no cleaning of the surfaces. There`s no social distancing.


They come back out and they infect their families and their communities and

their loved ones. We`re all going to pay the price unless we pay much

closer attention to it.


MADDOW: How receptive are public officials are to these arguments that the

ACLU is making? I think the public is very receptive to these arguments. I

think that public ad campaign was wise because that`s credibly resonant.


But are you pushing on an open door in terms of governors and sheriffs who

are looking for a way to try and help?


ROMERO: And some have done very well. None of them have done what they need

to do. So far, we`ve released maybe 1 percent of the entire incarcerated

population in the U.S.


Italy by comparison has released 10 percent of its prison population

because of the COVID crisis. So we have secured maybe 17,000 people who

have been released.


 And Governor Polis in Colorado has done very well. Forty percent of the

statewide jail population has been released.


In Kentucky, a red state, not a place I like very much because of the

senator, the ranking senator, but they reduced their jail population by 28



But then you have some states and some governors who really dug in.

Governor Abbott in Texas needs to be taken out behind the woodshed the way

he has dragged his feet on what is playing out in his out in his jails, in

his prisons, that will inure to the detriment of his residents.


What we`ve seen, even among liberals and Democrats, The prosecuting

attorney and the district attorney in Louisiana, in New Orleans, they`re

Democrat, also dragging his feet. So, we have to hold them accountable

because our health is on the line for what they don`t do with regard to

prisons and jails.


MADDOW: Anthony Romero, executive director of the ACLU – sir, it is very

good to see you. Thanks for being here.


ROMERO: It`s great to see you. See you next time in person.


MADDOW: All right. Indeed, for sure.


We`ll be right back.




MADDOW: Stay right there for a special that`s upright now hosted by Brian

Williams and Nicolle Wallace. It`s called “Testing and the Road to

Reopening”. Among their guests tonight, Bill Gates, Governor Andrew Cuomo

of New York.


That starts right now.










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