FDA authorizes remdesivir TRANSCRIPT: 5/1/20, The Last Word w/ Lawrence O. Donnell
RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: One quick las thing before we go tonight. If you
by any chance have some information that you could share about the
politicization or artificial weakening of scientific investigations of meat
plant coronavirus outbreaks, or if you have some information to share about
nursing home in your area or if your community is doing something to help
or support first responders or health care providers and it`s something
that you think maybe everyone should do or at least we should all know
about it, I want to know about that.
I want you to tell me. If there is ever anything you think that we should
know here on this show, please tell us about it. Go to
www.sendittorachel.com. No story is too small. No tip goes unnoticed.
www.sendittorachel.com. I mean it.
All right. Now it`s time for a special hour here on MSNBC. It`s `Life in
the Time of Coronavirus` hosted by Dr. Zeke Emanuel and the great Ali
Velshi. Good evening, Ali.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Thank you my friend. Good to see you and we`ll see
you again on Monday. How many people are sick with the coronavirus in the
United States and when did they get sick?
Answering these questions are crucial but they have never been answered
well and it seems that the federal government dramatically misunderstood
what was happening in America as the coronavirus outbreak began. On the
last day of February, the CDC reported that 15 Americans had tested
positive for COVID-19.
Today the reported number is more than a million and at least some of the
death and economic damage sweeping the United States could have been
avoided if we had only started testing for the virus earlier.
But even as more states prepare to open back up for business, we`re far
from the end of this scourge and the mid crisis lesson to learn is that our
past failures do not need to dictate our future actions.
As global health official and former head of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim,
wrote in `The New Yorker` last week, `It`s not too late to go on the
offense against the coronavirus and there are promising signs that our
nascent offensive efforts are working, but we`ll only succeed if we`re
guided but one thing, and that one thing is data.
There is no other way to defeat coronavirus. All of our decisions must be
based on the evidence available to us, not on the basis of political
advantage or on the basis or misdirected protests. We can only succeed if
we follow the science, and that much is going to be our focus in the hour
Tonight, in a week with so many medical and science headlines to keep track
of, I am once again grateful to be joined by Dr. Zeke Emanuel for the hour.
Dr. Emanuel is an NBC News and MSNBC senior medical contributor. Zeke`s
going to give us a much-needed reality check on the news of treatment,
breakthroughs and vaccine development.
Also ahead, major new concerns about testing. Labs that are sitting idle,
antibody tests that are wildly inaccurate and unregulated. We`re going to
talk about what is broken and more importantly how to fix it.
Also, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez, himself a COVID-19 survivor is going to
be here in a few minutes. Mayor Suarez is at the heart of the reopening
debate in the country while Florida is opening some aspects of its economy.
The population center of Miami-Dade County is staying shut.
It is a difficult state versus city dichotomy that is playing out across
this nation, and that is so difficult because 30 million Americans and
that`s most likely an under count are out of work, desperate for their next
Tonight, we`re going to examine the push to open up to get back to work
versus the concerns of triggering a second wave of coronavirus if we open
up before the science, before the data tells it is safe to do so. So let`s
begin with the numbers.
The United States now has 1.1 million reported cases of coronavirus. The
United States has 64,950 reported deaths from the coronavirus. The FDA has
issued an emergency youth (ph) authorization for Gilead Sciences antiviral
drug remdesivir for patients hospitalized with a severe case of COVID-19.
The FDA`s nod came after Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation`s top infectious
disease expert said the trial data showed that the drug had a, `clear-cut
significant positive effect in diminishing the time to recovery.`
Now, we should note this does not mean the drug should be used for all
hospitalized patients. Previous research suggested the drug may have
potentially dangerous side effects in some patients.
But the maker of remdesivir, Gilead Sciences, is hoping that they can
expand the drug`s use for patients earlier in the course of their illness.
Here is the CEO of Gilead Sciences on the `Today Show.`
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANIEL O`DAY, CEO GILEAD SCIENCES: We were prepared and ready for this
virus because of some of the work we`ve done with remdesivir for the past
And at that same time that we put remdesivir in the clinical trials, we
also made the decision before knowing it was going to be effective to
expand our capacity knowing the global crisis this was and knowing we would
have to be ready in the event that this turned out to be effective for
So, we have gone from around 5,000 treatment courses to today almost
100,000 treatment courses. And because of our investments early, we think
we will get to millions of treatment courses by the end of the year.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Meanwhile, America is starting to reopen. More than half the
nation`s governors are relaxing pandemic restrictions in their states while
hoping that the novel coronavirus doesn`t spike setting off another round
But there is good reason for that caution. A new report from the University
of Minnesota suggests that the coronavirus pandemic could stretch on for
two more years with recurring spikes until roughly two-thirds or more of
the population has developed immunity.
And we have two pieces of news tonight from the White House. NBC News is
reporting that the White House has whittled the field of possible vaccines
in its operation warp speed program from 93 to 14, which will undergo more
testing in the next couple of weeks.
And breaking tonight, the White House is blocking Dr. Fauci from testifying
before a House Subcommittee that`s investigating the coronavirus outbreak
in response. The White House said it would be counterproductive to take him
away from his work.
But while he`s been blocked from testifying before the House, NBC News has
also learned like tonight, that a spokesperson for the Senate Health
Committee says that Dr. Fauci will testify before that committee on May the
Okay. That`s the catch-up on where we are in the news. I want to bring in
Dr. Zeke Emanuel. He is a physician who served as a health policy advisor
in the Obama administration. He`s now the vice provost for global
initiatives at the University of Pennsylvania.
Zeke, great to see you as always. And as always, we`re loaded with
questions for you. And the first one starts with remdesivir. What`s the
situation with this drug?
DR. ZEKE EMANUEL, SENIOR FELLOW, CENTER FOR AMERICAN PROGRESS: So, let`s
first talk about how remdesivir works. The virus, remember, comes into the
cell, into a lung cell and then gets ingested and has to reproduce and make
a lot more viruses.
Remdesivir blocks that because it incorporates into the genetic code of the
virus and basically breaks it up. And that stops it from reproducing. So
what are these test results that Dr. Fauci was talking about?
Basically, they started in the first of February and they`ve gone on for
three months with over 1,000 patients involved in the United States, Europe
and Asia. The results were in relatively sick patients, those needing
oxygenation or being on a ventilator, and they left the hospital sooner
after 11 days.
Patients who got the placebo left after 15 days. When you looked at the
mortality, what proportion of patients died in each, eight percent of
patients died who received remdesivir and about 11.6 percent died who
But that wasn`t what we call statistically significant. It didn`t mean that
it was enough. It could have happened by chance so that was the result.
That led the FDA to say there`s enough information here. Probably the
benefits are better than the risk and we`re going to give this an emergency
Dr. Fauci among others said that this was an encouraging first step. It`s
clearly not a home run for anyone. Let me just say a couple of words in
caution. This is good but not great. We`re probably going to need multiple
drugs to treat this virus again.
We might have to move remdesivir up earlier. And the last thing I want to
say is now that we`ve approved the drug, it`s going to be hard to do a
So, we`re going to have to test all new drugs against remdesivir and that
makes it harder and will require more patients in any trial. For this
trial, we needed three months. That gives you a sense for how long the next
trials of new therapeutics are going to be.
VELSHI: Right. And a statistic we talked about a little bit last week that
it is much harder than you think when we`re trying these new drugs. If you
want to try and get a result out of it, that is statistically significant.
You actually need a whole lot of people in the drug, in the trial. So
there`s complexity in developing therapeutics and vaccines. Thanks, Zeke.
Let`s continue this discussion with Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
In March, Mayor Suarez was quarantined for 18 days after testing positive
for coronavirus himself. He`s joining us now. Mayor, it`s good to see you.
How is your health, first of all?
MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R-FL), MIAMI: I`m doing well, thank you, Ali. I had
to quarantine like you said for 18 days. I`ve been out of quarantine since
then. Thankfully, I have not had any sort of aftereffects of relapses of
any kind and so I`ve been very fortunate.
VELSHI: Major, we wanted to talk to you tonight because what you go through
is reflective a lot of the country. You are the mayor of a major center
that has a lot of interchange with different people. You started
restrictions in Miami earlier.
You are not ending them as early as other people are but its parse, right?
Boundaries between your city and neighboring cities are porous. Tell me
about your concerns about people who continued going to the beach, people
who want to go back outside enjoy the great weather, but the fact is you
got a city that is still under stay-at-home orders.
SUAREZ: Right. And it`s not only porous, but we also have a very large
international airport. And to give you a perspective, our international
airport receives 50 million passengers a year. That is twice the population
of the state of Florida.
Even now when it`s operating at a diminished capacity, maybe 10 percent of
it`s capacity, it`s still 5 million people which is twice the size of our
county, which is a large county of about 3 million people - population. So,
it`s almost twice the size.
So we`re grappling with not only internal threats of, of course,
maintaining social distancing, staying at home and making sure the
residents remain disciplined so that we can continue to reduce the number
of new cases, but we`re also dealing with external threats.
So, you know, it`s a very challenging dynamic and we`re doing the very best
that we can and we`re trying to be as proactive and as careful as possible
because of so many lives are at stake.
VELSHI: Mayor, let me ask you about the idea that in many states, there`s a
tension between those resident whose don`t live in major centers like Miami
or Atlanta where the mayors of these cities want to keep things a little
more tightly controlled for a while.
And there area people in other more spread out areas where they`re not
seeing the same incidents of coronavirus and they area putting pressure on
their governors to open things up. How is that working for you in Florida
because you`ve got a governor who is ready to open things up?
SUAREZ: Ye. Thankfully this week, although he did open up a large part of
the state of Florida, he gave the mayors in the southern part of Florida,
which is the densest part of Florida, the ability to remain closed and
that`s why we have done that.
The data that we`re looking at is kind of all over the place. We had
yesterday the ninth highest amount of new cases in the last, basically, two
months. Ad then the two days that preceded that, we had some of the lowest
number of new cases since the beginning, as well.
So, part of the issue is we`re trying to interpret the data, the criteria
that everybody talked about is of course, 14 consecutive days of
diminishing COVID-19 new cases and also diminishing complaints of
And we`re not quite there in terms of how we feel the data should be
interpreted. We`re looking at it every single day. We get two reports a
day, we get two reports from the hospitalizations every single day and
we`re looking at all that to make a prudent decision. It`s a very fine
balancing act we as a major city have to make.
EMANUEL: Are you worried about a second wave and how are you going to
handle it if you do get a second wave that everyone seems to worry about?
SUAREZ: Of course, we are, doctor. You have to understand that I was
patient number two, literally, in all of Miami-Dade County. I was the
second person at least that we knew of that tested positive.
I was an asymptomatic person and I was tested because I happened to be in
the same room with one of the early, you know, people who had said publicly
that they tested positive for COVID-19 from a delegation that came from
So, we are absolutely concerned that there could be a second wave, and we
realize how quickly you can go from patient number two, which was me, to
patient number 12,257 which is where we`re at right now. So, you know,
we`re trying to be careful and do everything that we can to avoid that
second wave from happening.
VELSHI: 12,257 and more than 350 deaths. Mayor, thanks very much for
joining us and for your leadership on this right from the beginning. Miami
Mayor Francis Suarez.
All right, still to come. You`ve no doubt heard the news out of Oxford
about progress on a coronavirus vaccine. It`s being hailed as a
breakthrough, but should we believe the hype?
Also, the squeeze on workers who just can`t work from home. President Trump
orders meat packing plants open and some republican governors say if you
don`t return to work, you won`t get unemployment, either.
But up next, important questions about accuracy of testing and a new theory
about how long you could spread the virus if you have it.
VELSHI: Since the coronavirus pandemic began, there has been one constant
among all experts, the need for more testing. On March 6th when the United
States had only 217 confirmed cases of coronavirus, this is what President
Trump said while visiting the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Anybody that wants a test can
get a test. That`s what the bottom line is.
GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): And I would just say that we started -
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Tonight, the United States has 1,102,937 confirmed cases of
coronavirus. Now, the actual number of cases is likely much higher, but we
don`t really know because we still do not have enough tests.
There have been shortages at times of everything necessary to conduct those
tests including personal protective equipment, specialized swabs, the
reagent chemicals needed by labs and machines to run the samples.
Across the country, there are thousands of academic labs that could test
for the virus that are being unused, that`s according to an op-ed in the
`Wall Street Journal` written by two neuroscientists from Michigan State
They write that, `Our research team used Food and Drug Administration
guidelines and a scientific report from Wuhan, China to develop a COVID-19
test in early March. It took one week. Our test doesn`t use the reagents
other labs are desperately seeking and it could identify levels of virus so
low that a typical test could miss them entirely. Yet, our lab sits idle.`
The sticking point is something called Clinical Laboratory Improvement
Amendment Certification, also known as CLIA. Most academic labs currently
do not have this certification but with it, these labs could help
drastically increase testing in the United States.
Jack Lipton is chair of Transnational Neuroscience at Michigan State -
sorry - Translational Neuroscience at Michigan State University College of
Human Medicine, and he co-authored that op-ed. He
talked to Zeke about his lab`s diagnostic test also known as a PCR test and
what a prompt accreditation from federal government could mean for
America`s fight against coronavirus.
EMANUEL: I wanted to talk to you first to explain to people what a PCR test
is and what the steps we have to go through are. So first, you get a nasal
swab or you get a saliva swab and then you and the lab isolate the RNA, the
genetic code in the virus, then what do you do to get the test and
determine if the person has been infected or not?
JACK LIPTON, CHAIR, TRANSLATIONAL NUEROSCIENCE, MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY:
So, we take that RNA and we turn it into something stable, which is DNA and
we take that bit and we amplify it and we take it - and we run it through
several cycles with some enzymes and those allow it to double for each
And the larger that we amplify it, the more we start to develop a lengthy
signal. And through that signal, we end up seeing whether we`ve amplified
the genetic code of the virus. And if we did, we`ll get a bright signal and
that produces a reading on our machine and that tells us if we are indeed
have the presence of the virus into any individual.
EMANUEL: Now you`ve been reported to be out there saying that, you know, if
we got harnessed a lot of the academic labs like your own that aren`t doing
research because of COVID-19, you could generate 500,000 to 1 million
copies I think you were quoted as saying, 1 million tests a day, 500,000 to
1 million tests a day. Is that really plausible?
LIPTON: I think it`s absolutely plausible. I think its basic math. There
are easily 10,000 labs out there in academia that can run this kind of
test. The realtime PCR system is very common in molecular biology
laboratories and anyone from a plant biologist to a neuroscientist, I
happen to be a neuroscientist, we all use these tools.
EMANUEL: And you`ve seen a barrier, you`ve reported a barrier in getting
your type of lab and your type of tests approved and a lot - have the
government sanction it, allow it to be used for clinical determinations.
What are those barriers in your experience?
LIPTON: So, the main problem is that in order to run any of these tests you
must be CLIA accredited. The CLIA accreditation process involves getting a
board certified laboratory director, that is something that as an example I
But in the middle of a pandemic, I think we need to think about
liberalizing our criteria while not sacrificing quality for the kind of
work that we`re trying to do here, which is get everyone to stand up and do
what they can for this crisis.
And I think if we can develop a pandemic national guard of biomedical
scientists and pre-certify them for this kind of work, we could stand this
up whenever we need to without developing huge amount of infrastructure
like, you know, right now the test costs for reimbursing for coronavirus
testing is now at $100 a sample.
So CMS, which is the center for Medicare and Medicaid services, is paying
$100 per sample and that`s because they need to hire more people and buy
more equipment at places like Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp.
And if we were able to use the existing infrastructure that we had, at the
universities, we would be much better equipped and we wouldn`t be spending
money on equipment and labor that is going to be (inaudible) at the end of
We can utilize the people that we have for us, some of the most highly
skilled researchers in the world to be able to do something they do all the
time in a relatively standardized and simple way.
EMANUEL: What`s the most interesting thing you found since doing COVID-19
LIPTON: Well –
EMANUEL: Or the most surprising thing to you.
LIPTON: I think the most surprising thing to me was the length of time that
individuals shed the virus. So when you hear people talk about if you`re
exposed to someone that has had COVID-19 or you think you have to isolate
for 14 days, people tend to think that means that this disease is a 14-day
course. It`s not.
People can be shedding this virus for four, five weeks and longer. So I
think that people really need to understand the length of this disease and
how sneaky it is. Because people can feel better and, you know, we talked
to our subjects and they feel better but they are still shedding virus. And
so that means that when you feel better and you`re like, hey, I`m going to
go outside now. You shouldn`t do. You can just stay at home.
VELSHI: All right, that`s Jack Lipton, the chair of Transitional
Neuroscience in Michigan State. The certification he is looking for is
CLIA, not CLEA (ph) like I said which is why I need to let Zeke handle
Zeke, that was fascinating, the last thing. You know, the whole thing was
fascinating but the last thing, he said that it`s possible that you could
be shedding this virus if you have it for four to five weeks.
EMANUEL: Well, again, we know that some people can shed for a long time.
What we don`t know are two important variables there, which is how many
people shed for a long time? What`s that curve look like? Are most people
stopping to shed after a few days, 14 days, or do we actually have a
sizable number that go out many days?
And if they`re shedding, are they really infective? How contagious are
they? And that again is something we don`t know. Those are two important
questions, but we have known that some people can shed for a very long time
and as Dr. Lipton said, even when they`re feeling good, and that`s one of
the problems of this illness, that`s why it can spread so easily and
opening up can be so dangerous because people feel good and they are still
VELSHI: Thanks, Zeke for clarifying that. While there is still some issues
about accessibility when it comes to getting a test to see whether you have
COVID-19, it`s getting much easier to find a different kind of test, the
kind that can tell you whether you`ve had the virus and recovered.
The second kind of test checks for antibodies in your blood but many of
those tests have not been federally approved and could be producing
NBC`s Josh Letterman reports, `As of this week, 150 antibody tests also
known as serology tests, are on the U.S. market without having faced
government review, according to data from the Food and Drug Administration.
Another 24 labs are conducting their own antibody testing without having
obtained FDA authorization.`
Several companies which produced these antibody tests are now the subject
of an ongoing congressional investigation. Joining me now is Congressman
Raja Krishnamoorthi who is a Democrat from Illinois. He is the chairman of
the House Oversight Subcommittee and Economic and Consumer Policy.
Congressman, good to see you. Thank you for being with us.
REP. RAKA KRISHNAMOORTHI (D-IL): Same here.
VELSHI: Tell me about this. I mean, we have this real excitement about
getting these tests out there and I think it may not even occur to people
that even the test needs FDA approval. Is it because of potential dangers
in the tests or is it because they just might not be that accurate?
KRISHNAMORTHI: Well, you`re right that these serological tests hold great
promise. However, what we`ve learned is that the FDA has allowed hundreds
of unregulated, potentially fraudulent tests to flood the market. And here
is the problem, Ali.
And that is a large proportion of them have high false positives, meaning
that if you were to take this antibody test and it yielded a false positive
result, you could be fooled into thinking that you have antibodies to
COVID-19 and potentially immunity when you actually do not.
And so you could relax your social distancing, go out and interact with a
bunch of people, catch COVID-19 and then get other people sick as well. So,
you could make some really dangerous life decisions based on these
unregulated potentially very fraudulent tests.
VELSHI: The other issue we have, I want to just show you a `New York Times`
report that one in four New Yorkers had contracted COVID-19. The
preliminary data suggests that many more New Yorkers may have been infected
than was previously believed and there are reports like this from all
around the country.
What does that tell us because there are a lot of people who are anxious to
know if they were exposed to it because it might allow them to either make
decisions or know who to support in what sometimes feels like a very
political fight about whether we should be going back to work or continuing
to stay at home.
KRISHNAMOORTHI: The short answer is that the science is still unsettled. We
don`t know exactly what the presence of these COVID antibodies means in
terms of how much immunity they confer if any on people for what length of
And what that really means in terms of what you can and can`t do in your
daily activities. This is where the FDA has to step into the void and give
us precise standards so that even if you get the results back from these
COVID-19 tests, you know what to do with them.
Besides that, we think that the FDA should clear the market of all those
junk tests and only allow authorized tests to be on the market. Today there
are only eight authorized tests according to the FDA`s website whereas
there is more than 150 unauthorized tests, which as I`ve said, could be
very faulty in terms of their results.
EMANUEL: Congressman, given all this uncertainty, do you think it`s safe to
open up based upon whether people have antibodies or not or is that just
way too premature given what we know about the faultiness of these serology
KRISHNAMORTHI: Doctor, I think it`s too premature. We just don`t know yet.
It`s true that it holds great potential, but if you`re rushing to reopen
your economy based on these serological tests that are on the market place,
I think you better think twice because right now in the absence of precise
standards and science telling us what it means to have these antibodies in
terms of what you can and can`t do in engaging with other people, I don`t
you can just reopen the economy and say, hey, you have Covid-19 antibodies,
you can go out and relax social distancing and do whatever you want. We`re
not there yet.
ALI VELSHI, MSNBC HOST: Congressman Krishnamoorthi, thanks for joining us.
Coming up the extended unemployment crisis and what it means for Americans.
VELSHI: In Georgia today, most kinds of businesses were open again after
the governor decided not to extend his order for staying at home. Already
Georgia and they got a line restaurants to serve a limited number of dine-
in customers which led to scenes of waiters in masks reading customers over
custom order waffles and cups of coffee.
In states that have begun reopening people who cannot work from home are
being given what feels like an impossible choice. Go back to work and risk
their health or stay at home and continue to miss wages. The most pressing
example are workers in meat processing plants.
The Centers for Disease Control said today that 115 meat and poultry plants
in 19 states have reported outbreaks involving thousands of workers. At
least 20 meatpacking workers have died of coronavirus.
This week the president signed an order designed to keep the plants open.
At a poultry plant in Pennsylvania today workers protested for more
protective equipment. They also want the plant closed for cleaning after
they say more than 20 workers tested positive. At a beef plant in Colorado,
which reopened a week ago, several workers have died of coronavirus.
A worker there told NBC news, he`s happy to work but he`s pleading for
every worker to get tested.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DUSTIN HIBBS, MEAT PROCESSING WORKER: We`re supposed to be practicing
social distance and some of the areas, you can`t have social distance of
the six feet and so like today I was working and next to a guy and we kept
bumping into each other and like my first worry why what if he has the
virus and he keeps bumping into me and like it`s going to - it`s going to
come to me and then I`m going to bring it home and then like all my
roommates, my son, my everybody is going to get it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: All right, stay at home and lose pay or go to work and risk
spreading the virus. As more states reopen, that`s becoming the inescapable
dilemma for millions of Americans. Joining me now is Sylvia Allegretto.
She`s a labor economist and Co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment
Dynamics at the University of California, Berkeley.
Sylvia, thank you for joining us. Look, this is a tough one and it is
tougher yet for those people who have no choice in the matter. Often wage
earning workers have less choice than most people do but in this case the
President has invoked the Defense Production Act to keep some of these
folks at work.
And even though many of them are unionized, the union can`t override that
so what do you make of this situation? This is - this is people who may
want to work but they don`t want to die.
SYLVIA ALLEGRETTO, LABOR ECONOMIST: Well, I think the first half of your
show really sums it up. Without adequate, testing, tracing, isolating, PPE,
we`re just sending a lot of these workers, their families and spreading
this into the community to their deaths.
We know there are correlations between all of this. And you know even
though you know Trump signed the executive order to send them to work, he
did so without any guidance. I mean there`s some guidance from OSHA but
there`s no real hard and fast regulation with any tooth to it.
It`s clear that it`s much too soon to be doing this and as you said, we
have hot spots all over the country where these meat packing plants exist.
EMANUEL: This seems like a complicated problem and it would seem like the
communities in which the meat packing plants are located would actually be
against opening them prematurely without testing because of we saw in South
Dakota, you can spread it not just within a plant but outside the plant
once someone gets infected or as that worker said you know, I could bring
Why are we seeing more of the communities railing to the side of the
workers and objecting to keeping or to not cleaning these plants or not
testing the workers?
ALLEGRETTO: I think one of the issues is again, coming from Washington DC
that we need relief, we needed relief for workers, families and the
communities. This has been far too slow. It hasn`t reached a lot of workers
yet and it has not been anywhere near enough.
And so people are getting desperate. They`re going into debt. Here we are
May 1. Another months of rent and mortgages due and so I think you know
people are becoming desperate but really in the richest country in the
world, we shouldn`t be here. We should be able to do better.
And if you look at these meat packing plants any reasonable response would
be we need to close them down because the way they`re running now is simply
really exacerbating the situation and spreading the virus through the
community as you mentioned.
And so we could do a lot more, we should do a lot more and this is way too
VELSHI: Sylvia, one of the things that we have tried to do is these rebate
checks that go to Americans, the federal top up on unemployment insurance
which is run by the states. The Paycheck Protection Program in which
companies get grants if they keep their people on payroll and the
remarkably interesting effort that went through the airlines in which the
airlines received grants to keep their people on payroll.
This is a much more European concept than it is an American concept but
it`s actually not a bad one. If the government pays companies to keep
people on payroll rather than have them you know get off their payroll,
apply for unemployment, that`s an unwieldy process, apply for healthcare,
that`s an unwieldy process. What can we do once we`re out of this emergency
This first period that we thought about, the first three months in terms of
keeping workers going?
ALLEGRETTO: Well, I mean what you`re saying is exactly right. A lot of the
European countries are doing and they`re doing a much more efficiently than
we were to directly take over payroll, nationalize payroll. That would have
been the best thing to do right off the bat.
Instead we have a lot of people unemployed, some are temporary - on
temporary layoff, that`s good because you`re - you`re keeping the link
between workers and their jobs. We had the PPP which is going to help small
and medium sized businesses, hopefully stay afloat and be viable when we
can start to reasonably open up.
And they`ll have workers to go because you know, on the ready - on the
ready because what we do not want to have everybody being delinked from
their employer and their employment and small businesses, mini businesses
closing down in droves because that means we`re going to take a situation
where I try to remind people, don`t forget we did this on purpose.
You know we have 30 million people filing UI claims, unemployment insurance
claims and to my mind, that`s a good thing because we were trying to do
this. We`re simply moving too quickly into the next phase to opening up but
you know, as much as we can keep workers tied to their jobs, the better off
we`ll be in the long run.
EMANUEL: Do you really think the government can keep people on the payroll
for the length of this until we get a vaccine? Isn`t that going to be a
huge stretch on the government and the economy and for the long term?
ALLEGRETTO: Well, it`s certainly huge stretch but don`t forget we`re in the
nascent stage here. There`s a lot of work being done which was just
discussed quite a bit here at the top of your program. We`re the richest
country in the world. We can do a lot more.
Countries with you know, not as much as we have are doing a lot more so I
think yes, we can do it. Can we do it until there`s a vaccine, I`m not so
sure but certainly we have to keep things in place as the medical community
is all saying until we have some reasonable amount of testing, tracing and
So we can do a better job at keeping people safe and healthy and certainly
to keep tampering down the rate of growth of the infection so we don`t have
such you know, explosions in infections that we overwhelm the health care
So I think we`re really early, in the early stages we`re at 22, annually a
$22 trillion economy. I think there`s a lot of room to move here and one of
the biggest things we have to do is make sure that DC delivered to state
and local governments so we don`t start adding teachers and firemen and
policemen to the unemployment racks.
VELSHI: Which is what happens when the states are unable to raise the money
because they can`t go into debt and they can`t print money. Sylvia, thanks
very much. Sylvia Allegretto from Berkeley. She`s a labor economist and the
co-chair of the Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics at the University of
Coming up next, how much optimism should we put in the news about vaccine
breakthrough from Oxford. I`m going to ask Zeke about that but first here`s
a look at the heroes on the front lines at the grocery store.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How much I feel a sense of pride being an essential
worker. How much I am grateful for the opportunity to serve our community,
to nourish them.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The job has a little bit more responsibility now and
that makes you feel like somewhat of a hero. I know that, I`m hoping
someone can eat healthier if I work in the fruits department.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m shopping for people who literally cannot leave
their homes because they`re in chemotherapy, because they have a newborn,
because they`re elderly.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our cafe has been working every single day to make
over 100 box lunches for all of our employees as a way of thank you for
coming in every day.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The customers had no clue. They came in to do their
regular shopping and then when to checkout, it was a very heartfelt moment
as they realized all their groceries were paid by (inaudible).
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I`m taking it off just so I could - it`s good to open.
There was one particular customer when he saw that we had our big wall for
- they were just over the moon, ecstatic. It was really lovely to see.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of our head clerks, he had T-Rex costume and it
was really nice that he went around the store. We even had the customers
and they were all taking pictures and they loved it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Our customers are like our family. We`ve been getting
utmost support from them.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They`ve been putting signs out in front of the store,
appreciating what we do. They thank us every day for being here.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It`s such a tough time but at least people are thanking
and they`re grateful for your hard work.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you for what you do and I really appreciate you.
Thank you so much. It`s just very touching to me because I feel like I`m
not really anybody special. I`m just doing my job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I don`t think I realized how important we all are to
people, not just for getting groceries but for socializing and connecting
with people, just simple things like giving them a smile and taking an
interest in them, asking them how they`re doing and letting it be more than
an experience of just getting groceries, I think is really important right
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BILL GATES, CEO, MICROSOFT: Because we`re in a rush to get the vaccines
done, we need to back up to 10 companies because we`re not sure which one
will work. It`s a novel virus. We`ve never done a vaccine like this before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VELSHI: Dr. Zeke Emanuel, I spoke with Bill Gates last week about the
unprecedented race to find and produce a coronavirus vaccine with dozens of
teams looking for a vaccine, it`s inevitable that we`re going to get
occasional news of possible breakthroughs.
The New York Times this week reported that scientists at Oxford University
Jenner Institute are preparing for human trials of a coronavirus vaccine
that was effective in earlier tests with monkeys. The vaccine is a
modification of a vaccine for the MERS coronavirus. Zeke, I see these
headline through the course of the week and my first thought is always I
need to ask Zeke. What do we make of this?
EMANUEL: So let`s begin with what this vaccine is. They`ve taken a chimp
adenovirus, that is a virus that causes the common cold in the chimp and
they`ve taken a piece of the genetic code that makes the spike protein for
the coronavirus and put it in that virus and then they infected the person
and that produces a lot of immune reaction.
And yes, the test, they tried it on six monkeys and they seem to be immune
to the coronavirus. The adenovirus is very common but the effectiveness of
this vaccine remains a big question in people. This platform is relatively
new and it`s no slam dunk.
Yes, they`ve tried it out on MERS but it was never approved it could work.
Larger scale clinical trials are obviously going to be important. That have
started in human beings but one of the big problems with the adenovirus
platform for a vaccine is production.
It`s hard to produce millions and millions of doses of this. India`s -
India`s already got a firm ramping up production before we know whether
this vaccine`s even going to work but that`s you know, it`s a big challenge
and it`s going to be a big challenge if this turns out to be positive to
produce enough for the whole world.
VELSHI: So week ago when you and I were reading Bill Gates` paper and we
were talking about it, one of the things is, it`s hard to short circuit the
process for a vaccine because it has to be tested on enough people to
determine that it`s safe, right?
We can`t get and then manufacture and then scale up a vaccine until we know
that it doesn`t have a detrimental affect or effect that might be more
detrimental than not having vaccinated people in the first place?
EMANUEL: Right. One of the things we need to know is that it`s not going to
cause serious problems and again these coronavirus vaccines could cause a
serious problem called antibody enhancement problem that if they could
actually make the virus worse.
The second problem is that we need to know that they actually produce
enough antibody and then the third challenge is do those antibodies and
other immune cells actually protect you from infection with coronavirus and
those are all biology and it takes time for the biological system to work
and for people to actually see if they can`t get infected. Can`t rush that.
VELSHI: Yes as much as one would like to in the most serious and - and
great results of vaccines, it is been difficult to rush. Well, the
president has made almost a habit of telling the American public that the
death toll from the virus wouldn`t be so bad.
At a briefing on April 20, he said the toll could be as low as 50,000. That
was NBC news reported this morning, the very next day after from said that
his administration placed an order for 100,000 body bags.
Now of course since then the death toll has passed 64,000 and it is still
climbing so Zeke, I have to ask you as a doctor, where do you see this
EMANUEL: Well, I have to say that you know these predictions are all hard.
It was just about six weeks ago that two teams from Stanford University
were saying well, we`ll get to 10,000 that`s maybe it`s only 20,000 to
40,000 and here we are, just six weeks later and we`re well beyond those
And a model the White House likes to use called by IHME, up at the
University of Washington. They have a model that shows plateauing in the
number of deaths. It`s 72,422 or something like that. That obviously isn`t
going to happen. We`re just 8,000 deaths shy of that and there`s three
months between now and August 4.
We`re getting to the top of the curve, it appears but remember, the number
of deaths on the way up is equal to the number of deaths on the way down
right that curve which means we`re on track to have clearly more than
100,000 deaths and unfortunately looks like 110,0000 - 120,000, it`s more
likely by August and that is really painful, it seems to me.
VELSHI: Let me ask you before we get your final thoughts. Does the number
of deaths on the downside have to be equal to the number of deaths on the
upside or is there a way to make that curve drop fast?
EMANUEL: Probably not a way to make a drop fast because you`re still
circulating virus and it`s going to go down so we know - we know that -
VELSHI: Got it.
EMANUEL: - it looks symmetric.
VELSHI: Yes, all right. A lot of these deaths probably most of them are
happening in as you and I discussed, the saddest way possible with the
dying person separated from their family alone in a hospital room on a
breathing machine. I know you`ve got some thoughts about that are very
EMANUEL: Yes, my 92-year-old father died from brain cancer this past
October after a short illness. I got to say that maybe the most meaningful
time I had with him was our last moments together. We were lying side by
side on my parent`s bed. He just put his fingers on my hand and began
caressing my hand. It brought back memories of my childhood when he used to
run his fingers through my hair, squeezing my hand at my college graduation
or when he gently put his hand on my back when we watched my newborn
As an oncologist, I often encourage family members of dying patients to
grasp the hands of their loved ones and talk to them. Invariably they stood
by the side of the bed and I took their hand and smooth the hair on the
relative`s head. Those final touches and the final words made the passing
feel much more meaningful.
They made everyone`s pain more tolerable and helped bring them to closure.
I`m very heartbroken for the Covid-19 families who can`t lie side by side
with their loved ones the way I did or are deprived of those final caresses
and moments of being together and who then cannot grieve together at
funerals and memorial services because of physical distancing.
I have to say, I almost feel blessed that my father died before Covid-19.
Not only could I be at his side but my family was able to come together to
agree with friends at his very impressive memorial service. More than
64,000 Americans that have died from Covid-19 and that`s a massive national
tragedy but it hurts so much to think of those tens of thousands of
families who grieve alone in this pandemic.
VELSHI: Zeke, it`s remarkable. I do have to ask you this. You know there
are milestones in in our years. We are coming into a very warm weekend and
the New York police department has announced it`s going to have put patrols
out there to make sure people are social distancing. People want normalcy.
And something you brought up last week when we talked to Bill Gates was the
idea that the resumption of school feels like normalcy. Here in New York
Governor Cuomo said, there will be no more school to the end of this school
year but the idea that come September, there are going to be parents who
have kids at home who cannot afford to be at home, they`ve got - they may
have to go back to work.
There are going to be students wanting to go to colleges. There are going
to be colleges that may be in a position not to graduate some of the
students that are necessary for the work force. What`s your sense of how
that that milestone, education, back to school for K through 12 and for
college students looks like?
EMANUEL: Well, I will - I will say to you that this week, I`ve talked to a
number of college presidents, all debating this question and trying to
figure out how it`s going to be possible to open. I know that we`re looking
actively at Denmark and Germany and other places that have opened schools
in the hope that we can open it.
I think it was governor Cuomo who said that opening schools, opening
business and transportation are all interlinked and we have to do them
conjointly so that`s really important.
VELSHI: All right Zeke, thanks as always for spending the hour with me.
We`ll do it again next week and a reminder, if you want more of Zeke`s
insights into the coronavirus and you do, check out his podcast, Making the
Call with new episodes every Wednesday. You can find it on Apple and
wherever you get your podcasts. I`m going to see you back here tomorrow
morning and Sunday morning for Velshi beginning at 8 AM.
The 11th hour with Brian Williams begins right now.
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Copyright 2020 ASC Services II Media, LLC. All materials herein are
protected by United States copyright law and may not be reproduced,
distributed, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast without the
prior written permission of ASC Services II Media, LLC. You may not alter
or remove any trademark, copyright or other notice from copies of the