IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

3,700+ deaths TRANSCRIPT: 3/31/20, All In w/ Chris Hayes

Guests: Ned Lamont, Marc Lipsitch, Peter Hotez, Hakeem Jeffries, Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, Christian Smalls

  ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We have a team of correspondents globally real-time information and we`ll be tackling your questions about the virus 10:00 p.m. Eastern tonight. Thank you for being with us. "ALL IN" with Chris Hayes is up next.

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: Good evening from New York. I`m Chris Hayes. We are making some progress in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic, but we remain this evening a country that has not yet brought the virus under control nationally. Today, the National death toll surged over 3,700 people in the U.S. hitting a tragic milestone. More people have died of this virus in this country than in the September 11th attacks.

Just today, we saw more than 700 deaths nationwide. This afternoon, the president who claimed in early February that the virus was under control stood before a graphic proclaiming that the U.S. policy goal right now, the goal the thing that we are shooting for, that his administration is attempting to pull off is for between 100,00 and 240,000 thousand Americans to die from the virus. That`s right 240,000.

Apparently, that is what his administration meant when they said the virus was contained, when the President said it would go away like a miracle, hundreds of thousands dead. In New York State, the epicenter of the virus, there are now more than 75,000 confirmed cases, with more than 1,500 deaths and more than 10,000 hospitalized. More than 1,000 have died in New York City alone.

New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo said today that the apex of the crisis in the state is still two to three weeks away. And he`s stressed that we are still chasing the virus.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): And we have been behind it from day one since it got here. And we`ve been playing catch up. You don`t win playing catch up. We have to get ahead of it.


HAYES: We`re behind because the president and his administration did not take the virus seriously from the start. They ignored internal warnings from their own administration. We knew what was coming. We saw it in China. But the President downplayed the virus. He dismissed the threat.

At a closed-door briefing nearly two months ago, according to Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, senators pressed administration officials to request emergency funding to hire staff to stockpile supplies for the coming crisis. They said they had a covered. Didn`t need any additional funding.

Today, the New York Times published a graphic showing the total number of cases in the first 30 days after each country passed 500 cases. It is a distillation based on the available data which again, might be a little erroneous here and there of how well countries have handled the crisis.

Now the red line is China. And again, some skepticism about their data, but as you can see, they flatten the curve in that 30-day period. Italy in green, Spain in yellow, they did not do nearly so well, but they still did far better than us. That is the U.S. in blue. As you can see our case numbers shot up far more quickly than the other three countries with the highest number of confirmed cases. It`s not even close.

There are three main ways that we in the U.S. are now trying to catch up to chase down the virus. One, our testing capacity. Two, the availability of ventilators to keep people alive who are in critical condition. And three, the supply of personal protective equipment, particularly masks.

And you`ve probably seen announcements about companies, all kinds of companies ramping up mass production or shifting their production lines to produce masks. Individuals are pitching in too with GoFundMe and hand sewing at their tables. All of this is great. All of it is going to make a huge difference. What we do not know though is whether it will be enough.

Keep in mind, a single hospital treating coronavirus patients can go through tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of masks in a single day. The sheer volume we need is very high and will almost certainly rise over time. More immediately, our hospital workers need masks right now, and they do not have enough of them. If we had started manufacturing additional mass say two months ago, we would not be so far behind now.

Our frontline health care workers have to do things like baking their masks to try to clear them of any virus before putting them back on for another day of work. The situation is much the same with ventilators which take over the body`s breathing process when the lungs give out due to the virus. Ventilators are crucial to keeping many, many coronavirus patients alive. We do not have nearly enough.

And while General Motors and other companies are scrambling to manufacture more, the situation is dire right now. Look at this headline from the Wall Street Journal today. NYU Langone Health Center is telling E.R. doctors to "think more critically about who gets ventilators." In other words, how to ration them and decide who lives and who dies.

And because the federal government refuses to take a leadership role here, either for the Defense Production Act or coordination, what we have now is the perverse, insane situation in which individual states are bidding against each other, and then against FEMA for any ventilators they can find.


CUOMO: So you have 50 states competing to buy the same item, we all wind up bidding up each other and competing against each other where you now literally will have a company call you up and say, well, California just outbid you. It`s like being on eBay, with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.

And then FEMA gets involved, and FEMA starts bidding. And now FEMA is bidding on top of the 50. So FEMA is driving up the price. What sense does this make?


HAYES: What sense does this make? Finally, there is a testing issue. Now, we have in the United States due to a whole bunch of different factors, we have ramped up tremendously testing. The government is saying we have tested more than a million Americans. But here`s the thing. That is a far cry from the millions of tests that the President and Vice-President promised.

I mean, March 4th, they said we`d have a million tests, if I`m not mistaken. The testing is also extremely uneven throughout the country, meaning there are certain parts of this nation that are doing very little testing, and there are still not enough tests for those who need them. And because we were behind and getting ahead of this, now we are chasing the virus and we need to scale up testing dramatically. Not a million tests over two months, but a million tests per week according to Indiana University School of Medicine professor Dr. Aaron Carroll.

We have lost time again, because the failures of this president and his administration. We are making improvements now but we are still behind the virus and we cannot defeat it from behind. We have to catch up. We have to get ahead of it.

Joining me now for more on what needs to be done to get ahead of the virus, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont. Governor, I want to talk about a few of these critical needs, and I saw you talk about the strategic stockpile vis- a-vis ventilators. That`s a strategic stockpile owned by the federal government that`s been giving out some equipment to states them. What is your interaction been like, how many ventilators did you get, and where is your state now in terms of what you need?

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): It`s like Andrew Cuomo said, it`s a scramble to get these ventilators. He said eBay, it`s more like surge pricing on Uber, only at the last moment, the car drives away because somebody has outbid you. We`ve got 50 ventilators on the come. I`m told they`re going to be here any day. I`ve heard that before. I`m from the show me state. We put in an order for 1,500 ventilators probably months ago.

HAYES: So you asked for 1,500 from the National strategic stockpile and you got five-zero, 50 or you`re going to get 50 you think?

LAMONT: I`m going to get 50, I think. Show me.

HAYES: There has been reporting indicating concerns that the apportionment of these federal backstop supplies whether from the strategic stockpile or not are hindering on political considerations, maybe personal considerations about whether the President likes a governor or not. There`s indications that states like Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Florida have gotten all their requests, while states like yours and Michigan and others have not.

Are you concerned that the people in your state who are sick and maybe on the threshold of possibly dying or surviving are being punished for the politics you or the state have?

LAMONT: I hope not. Look, I`ve got Cuomo, I`ve got Murphy in New Jersey, we`re all Democrats. We`re all part of the same epicenter. We all have a very high infection rate. You know, sadly, we`re now the fourth highest infection rate in the country. It`s New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, and Connecticut.

So I`d like to -- I think it`s more -- it took the feds a long time to get going, now they`re going, and it`s still a bit discombobulated between what the states are doing and what the feds are doing. And that`s going to be a very costly mistake. Look, a ventilator is a life. Every ventilator I get can save multiple lives.

HAYES: So, I want to talk more about the weirdness of this market right now. I have now heard in my own reporting from various people about how haywire not just for ventilators but for personal protective equipment, that these markets have gone haywire for the reasons you`re indicating, right? All of a sudden, there`s a fairly fixed supply, there`s a surge of demand, there`s people bidding against each other.

Has that been your experience in trying to acquire these needed things that essentially it`s a kind of free for all and there`s no kind of robust central coordinating purchasing entity that could then apportion this perhaps more rationally?

LAMONT: The history books will show that was a terrible mistake. Look, we`re all out there. We`re following every lead in China, Ukraine, across the country. It`s promised, it`s on the tarmac, gets rerouted at the last moment. And it`s terribly upsetting to a lot of our frontline workers or nurses. You tell them the PPE is coming. We`re going to be able to save your life and you go out and save other people`s lives, and then the truck is empty.

HAYES: So I just want to make sure I understand this. What you`re saying is you`ve got procurement officers, you`ve got people that work for the state that are trying to essentially execute contracts to purchase the equipment you need, whether that`s PPE, it`s masks, and gowns, and things like that. And what you`re saying is there`s these different suppliers, and because they`re so sought after, they kind of get to like pick, and you had contracts that looked like they were happening and then they just don`t happen?

LAMONT: We have contracts. They`re signed, sealed, and delivered. Here`s the P.O. It`s arriving at this time. And 1:00 in the morning, there`s nothing there at the warehouse. And I`ve heard this from governors across the country. It`s just a madhouse out there. And either people are over- promising or they get -- we get outbid at the last moment, often by the feds, by the way. They`re often coming in and sweeping in and purchasing.

HAYES: So final question for you is about other states. Obviously, you`re in the epicenter of this. There`s early confirmed cases and early outbreak in the -- in the Greater New York area. There are some states like Texas and Florida that have been slow to issue the kinds of orders that your state and others have. Do you have advice for those governors, those two very big and important states about what they should be doing right now?

LAMONT: I do. You`ll never be faulted for overreacting, you`ll be faulted forever for under-reacting. I like to think that Connecticut was very early banning the parades, ending the schools, you know, be it bars and restaurants. And I really urge those other states look at those states who are successful and bending the curve by taking the social distancing seriously. At the end of the day, you could not err by overreacting to this crisis.

HAYES: All right, Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut, good luck to you in Connecticut and thank you so much for making some time in a very busy day. Even as bad as the federal response has been, even in the part of the country is the worst case is, new cases -- this is good news, so listen. New cases are starting to flatten. The near total lockdown of New York appears to be working. It is doing what is supposed to do. The social distancing -- I`d like to call it physical distancing, because we can still, you know, socialize with each other, it`s having an effect.

Now, Seattle and Washington had been the sort of main success story on this front from the beginning, but New York is also beginning to trend in the right direction as far as new cases are concerned. Joining me now is someone I wanted to talk to throughout this, I`m following religiously throughout this infectious disease, epidemiologist professor at Harvard School of Public Health Marc Lipsitch.

Marc, let`s talk first about the effect that we`re seeing in New York which really has the worst outbreak in the country and in some kinds of cases, maybe the Worst in the world. Are you encouraged by the data -- the case data we`re getting that we`re seeing that effective the lockdown the state and city are under?

MARC LIPSITCH, PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, HARVARD SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes. I think in a number of places around the country, there are indications that to some extent social distancing or physical distancing is working. And that`s reflected in at least slower growth of the case numbers, and in some cases, it looks like even declines in the case numbers. So that`s good news. It`s doesn`t get us out of the woods, but it`s the right direction for now.

HAYES: You published something today about sort of the idea of social distancing as a kind of tool we keep using throughout the duration of this crisis. Explain that concept.

LIPSITCH: Right. This is not peer-reviewed work yet. This is work that`s under review with Yonatan Grad, and Stephen Kissler, and Christine Tedijanto in our center. And what we`ve tried to show is that if we do social distancing effectively, that will be good and that will slow down the epidemic and perhaps even bring the case numbers down as seems to be happening in some places.

But the problem is that that doesn`t get us to where we need to be. That`s a starting point. That gives us breathing room. And it`s very important to be building up our capacity with all the things that you were talking about in the last few minutes, with ventilators and PPE and all those things as we have that extra time.

But the problem is that if we let up on social distancing, there will be a resurgence of virus. That is what happened in 1918 with the flu. That`s what happens when we model it. And it`s just a matter of common sense that if you have -- if you have virus still around in people, then the virus doesn`t remember that we were social distancing last week, it starts to spread.

So we`ve -- what we`ve considered is whether we could let off up for a while but then would have to probably resume social distancing because until we get to a large level -- a high level of immunity in the population, we`re not at the endpoint. It`s a -- it`s a waystation and an important waystation but not the end.

HAYES: You just referred to modeling. I`ve been following your work and other`s work on modeling. It`s very interesting to see people inside the universe of expertise. There are debates about these models. Obviously, there`s a lot of uncertainty, there are a lot of parameters you`re putting in based on the best available evidence.

I`m curious, the model presented today by the White House Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx which suggests a death toll of 100 -- between 100,000 and 240,000 if we do things right, your reaction to that as a projection and the kind of the accuracy of that model to the degree it could be judged.

LIPSITCH: Yes. To be honest, I`ve been working today rather than watching press conferences, so I don`t know -- I don`t know exactly the details of how that worked. But it is clear that flattening the curve is a way to reduce the total number of deaths, and also to push the bad outcomes into the future at a point where we may hopefully have more treatments and other ways of dealing with this infection, so the -- it`s qualitatively correct.

Indeed, as you say, all of us in the epidemiology community that work on infectious disease find this incredibly challenging to get precise numbers. And so, I don`t buy my own numbers, and I don`t buy anyone else`s numbers as exact projections. I think we are trying to understand what`s better and what`s worse. And that`s the best way to understand all of these models.

HAYES: I`ve noticed that there`s a lot of consensus among epidemiologists on certain basic things right? The idea of the flattening of the curve, the necessary necessity of large-scale mitigation and physical distancing in the absence of treatment, vaccine, with a novel virus that, you know, there`s no human immunity for. What are things that are there -- are the subjects of debate right now? What are the things, the big sort of questions for folks in your field that you`re wrestling with that the answers aren`t clear?

LIPSITCH: Yes. Well, there are a number. I would say, in a discussion today with a number of colleagues around the country and the CDC, I identified two major questions that we`re really trying to wrestle with, and was surprised by to find that everybody else agreed these were major areas of uncertainty. One, is how many immune people are there out there that we didn`t even know got infected? Or what is the -- what is the number of people who get infected so mildly that they become immune?

We hope that`s a very large number. I think it`s clear But it`s not a very, very large number. But the question is, is it half the people, is it a quarter of the people, or is it more than half the people that get infected. And the more are immune, the more quickly this will all come to an end. So that`s one.

And then the other one, in thinking about it domestically and also in Western Europe, our colleagues there, is really how are these social distancing efforts working? Are they flattening the curve, as the graphic you showed a minute ago suggests, meaning it`s still going up, but it`s going up more slowly? Or are they actually bringing the curve down so that -- so that the number of cases is declining, even before we get to immunity.

And if it`s the first, that`s very good news for the short term, because it will mean the pressure on the healthcare system will be somewhat relieved. But it also means that we don`t yet -- we won`t yet have enough immunity in the population to just let off after a single round of social distancing. And that`s what our paper was about really.

HAYES: Marc, I`ve been so educated by everything that you`ve been doing during this, so I really appreciate you taking time tonight. Thank you very much.

LIPSITCH: Thank you for having me.

HAYES: Coming up, if you get the coronavirus -- Professor Lipsitch was talking about this -- and recover, do you become immune to contracting it again? Looks like you do. And then why testing those who survive, or those who get it very mildly is an absolutely crucial next step in fighting the spread. That`s after this.


HAYES: The pathogen currently turning the world upside down is called a novel coronavirus because it is literally new, novel. Humans have never encountered it before. We have no immunity to it. And that is why it`s so serious and why it`s been able to ravage the planet. But the human body is amazing, right? When we are exposed to a virus like COVID-19, we create something called antibodies to help fight it off, and that builds immunity against the virus.

And those antibodies, they stick around for a long time in the blood plasma of people who are able to recover. Once a person has the antibodies, they may actually be able to donate their plasma to help others as treatment for people who are still sick or as the basis perhaps for vaccine.

For more on how antibodies can help fight this, I want to bring in Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, co-director of the Texas Children`s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

So let`s just begin with the basics here, Doctor, about antibodies and immunity. It seems there were some early -- some reporting early on, one or two cases in Hong Kong, maybe people getting infected twice. But it seems from what I`ve read the bulk of evidence suggests, people get it once, they build up the antibodies and are then essentially immune. Is that -- is that correct?

PETER HOTEZ, CO-DIRECTOR, TEXAS CHILDREN`S HOSPITAL CENTER FOR VACCINE DEVELOPMENT: That`s right. And there`s precedent for that with other human respiratory virus infections. What happens is, after you`re infected with the SARS2 virus, which is the other name for the virus agent of COVID-19, you develop an antibody response around 10 to 14 days after infection.

That doesn`t necessarily mean you`re immune, but there`s now been studies in rhesus macaques done in China, non-human primates, showing that they develop similar antibody responses and the scientists are unable to reinfect them with the virus. So there`s indirect evidence that indeed does confer immunity. The question is going to be, how long does it last?

And there`s some evidence from the previous SARS -- so this one is SARS2, the previous SARS back in 2003, that neutralizing antibodies we call it, can last at least two years, possibly even much longer.

HAYES: So, if people have antibodies -- so from a sort of epidemiological perspective, Marc Lipsitch was talking about one of the great unknown questions, right, is what percent of the population is getting this and being totally subclinical and totally asymptomatic or very, very mild, which means how many people are out there with the antibodies?

I`ve seen reporting that several different enterprises are attempting an antibody test that would essentially test people how. Would that work?

HOTEZ: Well, it`s -- and we have a lot of precedent for that for measuring antibodies to lots of different infectious agent, and it`s an indication of past exposure. So what we say is if we know the percentage of the community that`s been exposed to this viruses and has antibodies, that we call that the (INAUDIBLE) prevalence, the percentage of people that have been infected and exposed to the virus, and therefore we know how much transmission there has been in the community, and it`s a -- it`s a very old standard method for that infectious disease experts and epidemiologists use.

HAYES: And in terms of old standards, I was fascinated to see the use of plasma donations and plasma in treating patients from people that have gone through the illness and have antibodies dates way back to, in fact, was used as a method in the 1918 flu pandemic itself. What is the thinking there? How much do we know about the efficacy of that? I know that there are New York City hospitals already taking blood donations from folks that have been through COVID.

HOTEZ: Well, there`s a lot of old evidence going back 100 years. But more recently, again after that first SARS virus infection in 2003, a number of studies -- a number of studies were done looking to see if you could transfer the plasma containing the antibodies from recovered patients. What you do is you take out their blood, give them back their red blood cells, extract out the plasma component that has high levels of antibodies, select only the patients that have high levels of antibodies, and then give that as a therapy.

And it`s been shown in a nice paper a few years after the SARS epidemic in 2003 that it seems to work. And now there`s a new study that just came out of China. It`s more of an anecdote around five patients that it seems to be working. So you know, I have a lot of enthusiasm, a number of my colleagues have a lot of enthusiasm that this could be the first treatment that we have for seriously ill patients with one catch.

And that is you generally have to give that antibody treatment pretty early. If you wait till patients are very sick in the ICU, it may be too late. So the earlier you can give it the better. So then it`s a matter of can we scale this up. And a number of us have been on the phone with the Food and Drug Administration.

There`s a branch called the Center for Biologics Evaluation research led by a wonderful guy named Dr. Peter Marks, who`s been really on top of this together with a lot of heads of academic health centers. They build this ecosystem where you can identify patients, take their antibody, and then process it in the transfusion lab, the blood bank lab, and then give it back to individuals.

And it`s a matter of whether we can do that at scale. It`s not easy to mass-produce. In time, there will be more commercial therapies available of hyperimmune globulin with -- containing this antibody. But for now, we think it has some real hope for patients.

HAYES: Well, that is a hopeful note, Dr. Peter Hotez, always a pleasure. Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

HAYES: Coming up, the country is in the middle of a national emergency. So why is Congress in recess for the next few weeks? Congressman Hakeem Jeffries is here to talk about what`s going on after this.


HAYES: Congress is now in recess for the next 20 days, almost three weeks. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is talking about passing a phase four of rescue bills, right. There`s been three so far, the third, of course, that big $2 trillion rescue bill. She`s talking about a phase four that would have more direct payments to Americans, among other things.

But it`s really unclear how that`s all going to work. Getting lawmakers together to vote is a considerable health hazard. And right now, Speaker Pelosi has no interest in having members vote remotely, saying yesterday, quote, let`s not waste too much time with something that is not going to happen.

I`m joined now by a member of the Democratic leadership, Congressman Hakeem Jeffries of New York, chairman of the House Democratic caucus.

Congressman, let`s talk about this recess and the sort of nix on remote voting. I`ve got to say, like having one branch of government not working in Washington during three weeks of this crisis seems crazy to me. What am I missing?

REP. HAKEEM JEFFRIES, (D) NEW YORK: Well, we`re in the midst of an extraordinary moment. We have both a pandemic and a recession. And so in terms of dealing with the pandemic aspect of this crisis, obviously we`ve been advised by public health professionals to maintain social distancing. Many of us who are from states like New York and New Jersey and Connecticut in fact have been advised to stay at home and shelter in place. Many of my colleagues throughout the country are increasingly under such directives from their governors.

At the same time, congress is continuing to communicate, certainly House Democrats have been in regular communication with each other. Earlier today, we had a two-hour conference call that was led by our small business committee and our committee on education and labor to discuss next steps as it relates to providing relief to the American people, as well as to discuss how we can make sure that some of the assistance that was contained within the CARES act, such as extraordinary and unprecedented relief for small businesses in America, actually make it to the men and women who run businesses in our communities.

And so we`re going to continue to work hard over the next 20 days. There was a previously scheduled district work period that was to begin next Monday in connection with Passover and Easter. So effectively, that has been extended for an additional week.

HAYES: I guess here`s my question. I completely obviously get that, right? You absolutely cannot have all of you congregating in the Capitol, that`s nuts. There are many septuagenarian, octogenarian legislators that would be at risk, not to mention the people that work there.

But this idea that like remote voting of any kind is off the table, I guess there`s constitutional concerns and things about that, but everybody is in a whole new world here. I mean, people aren`t usually doing like cable news shows from basements and garages or whatever. It does seem like it might come to it that you guys have to think outside the box a little bit about how to keep a congress running if this goes on for several months.

JEFFRIES: Well, in my view, I think we`ll have to cross that bridge when we get to it. But what the speaker has done is to charge the chairman of the rules committee, Jim McGovern, with processing member input. And she has also asked Chairman McGovern to lay out some of the issues involved in terms of any future consideration of remote voting.

As you pointed out, Chris, one of those issues may very well be the constitution as an obstacle. But the most important thing that we`re focused on right now is delivering for the people those who are in need. We want to make sure that those direct payments make it to everyday Americans as swiftly as possible. We want to make sure that everyday Americans who have been laid off can take advantage of the extraordinary relief that was provided with the bolstered unemployment insurance provisions in the CARES act. And we also want to make sure that small businesses can get the relief in the form of federally guaranteed loans that actually convert to grants if those small businesses maintain their payroll throughout the duration of this Coronavirus crisis.

So that`s really where our focus is right now. And we`ll deal with whatever logistical issues we have to address in terms of remote voting down the road.

HAYES: Are you worried right now, there`s a considerable time lag issue right here, which is that obviously tomorrow is the first of the month, rent is due, mortgage payments are due, many bills are due, people are probably not going to see the direct cash payments for another two weeks I think at the best. Small business owners are probably not going to see that assistance for another week or two. Are you worried for your constituents about what happens during this sort of interregnum between bills are due and money`s not there?

JEFFRIES: Well, simply that is the case. We had a telephone town hall meeting a little bit earlier this evening. About 10,000 people were on the line at various points in time, focused specifically on the question of housing, because tomorrow, April 1, of course, is a day where rent is normally due and mortgage payments.

We want to encourage everybody to take advantage of some of the steps that Governor Cuomo has taken in the context of allowing for forbearances of mortgages to occur. The governor and the mayor also together have worked hard to freeze evictions and foreclosures over the next 90 plus days. Hopefully we`ll see our way clear of the pandemic, or at least be in a better place.

But we`re all going to have to make changes to things that we are used to having to address in the context of our day-to-day lives because of the extraordinary nature of this pandemic. Housing is the most important expense that most Americans face, either rent or either through their mortgages. Nationally, I think things need to happen in terms of providing housing relief, and that`s one of the things that will be on the table in terms of House Democrats moving forward.

HAYES: All right. Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, thank you so much for joining us tonight. Really appreciate it.

JEFFRIES: Thank you, Chris.

HAYES: Next, how to protect employees who still have to go to work, we`re seeing more protests and more work labor actions as people say they are in dangerous working conditions. My next guest staged a walk-out at Amazon in New York. What happened, after this.


HAYES: We are seeing a wave of labor action across the country in the midst of this pandemic. Yesterday, workers for the grocery delivery app Instacart held a one day strike demanding hazard pay and access to protective equipment.

Today, employees from the grocer Whole Foods had a sick out. We have also seen labor action by sanitation workers who walked off the job demanding protective equipment and hazard pay as well, and at Amazon, which has seen its sales soar, not surprisingly, is now hiring 100,000 new warehouse and delivery people. As a result, workers across the country have said the conditions inside the warehouses are unsafe.

Yesterday, more than a dozen workers in Amazon`s Staten Island warehouse walked out in protest. The organizer of that walkout, Christian Smalls, joins me now. He was fired from Amazon after that walkout. I should tell you we talked to Amazon today, they refused to speak on the record. They did provide with us a statement. They claim that they did not fire Mr. Smalls because he organized the walkout, rather he was fired because he violated, they say, a medical quarantine and came on site yesterday.

And Mr. Smalls joins me now.

We can get to the firing, but first I just want to ask you about what conditions in the warehouse have been like and why you felt the need to do something about them?

CHRISTIAN SMALLS, AMAZON: Well, as you know, this pandemic shocked the world, shocked America. The conditions in the warehouse has been hugely different. It`s been scary. It`s been like a ghost town in there. Associates are scared to come to work ever since the pandemic hit us.

I`ve never seen something like this directly. I`ve seen associates get sick weekly, different type of symptoms, talking about vomiting, dizziness, fatigue -- you name it, I`ve seen it. And it`s been scary, it`s been very scary.

HAYES: When you talk about -- so, you say that workers that you are working with, you`ve seen them get sick. Are you able to maintain any kind of distance in that environment? Have you been provided with things like masks to kind of prevent transmission?

SMALLS: No, that`s the thing. Our PPE is very limited at the time. We don`t have masks. The gloves that we have are not latex, they`re used for lifting up boxes. As far as the environment, like you said, you just stated 100,000 employees being hired. Amazon`s hiring process is very scary, because you are bringing in large loads of crowds off the streets and these people are undiagnosed.

We don`t know where they`re coming from. We don`t know their status. When they come into the building, they come in large groups, 30, 40, 50 people at a time. There`s no way we can tell who is diagnosed and who is not. And the company is not being transparent about, you know, who has this virus and who doesn`t, so that`s the scariest thing.

HAYES: In terms of the demands for the walkout, and I know there was about a dozen people the company says look, there are thousands of folks who are working, this is a very small group of people that are unhappy. What do you want to see happen? If you could sit down with Jeff Bezos and tell him these are the top three things that we need to happen at your company, what would that be?

SMALLS: Well, number one, there definitely needs to be a transparency of how many cases are confirmed in this building. Why is it such a secret? You know, me being a part of management, a PA, a process assistant, we had a sync meeting and they`re telling me there`s one confirmed case in the building and do not tell the associates. That right there was just alarming right there. Why can`t the associates know that there`s confirmed cases in the building? So there needs to be a transparency between that.

There definitely is a disconnect between that. And Jeff Bezos needs to listen to the associates. It`s not just this building, it`s buildings all across the nation. As you can see, this case is popping up one by one, building by building. That should be a red flag, that there`s something very wrong with the process and the safety procedures that`s going on in these buildings.

So yesterday was a cry, a cry for help and a statement. I was giving the people voices that are unheard. And that`s what I wanted to do. I want to continue shedding light to the people that are unpaid right now, people that have underlying health conditions, that are sitting home for the entire month of March that haven`t been paid. There`s people that have lupus. There`s people that have bronchitis. There`s people that have asthma. We have senior citizens that they hired as well, 55, 65. These people can`t come to work. This virus has no remorse.

So I`m speaking up for them. Yesterday, my demonstration was a statement.

HAYES: Let me ask you about your termination. They fired you after the walkout. They say that you were violating company policy. You should have been staying out of there because you had been exposed to a sick worker. You were imperiling the health of others. What do you say to that?

SMALLS: Well, I`ll say that`s totally false. Number one, the associate I sent home on Tuesday, she was working the entire shift Sunday, Monday and Tuesday up until the point whee I sent her home. Her results came back Wednesday. So I had no idea that she was going to test positive. I was only around her for less than five minutes. We had a brief conversation early in the morning around 9:30. She looked ill. She had a mask on. She had gloves on. I stood from a distance. We had a brief conversation. I suggested she go home, because she informed me she went for testing the night before. And we all know that you don`t get the test unless you`re showing severe symptoms.

So the policies with Amazon is very flawed, you know, because if you are gone for testing, you shouldn`t be allowed back into the building. And the problem, the discrepancy is -- the discrepancy is you`re actually allowed to come to work, sick or undiagnosed, until they receive a confirmation letter from the doctor, which is crazy to me, because she went for testing on Monday. Her confirmation letter didn`t come in until Thursday.

As you know, we`re in New York, and the doctors are overwhelmed right now. They don`t have time to send out an email to the CDC and the CDC to contact the job, so it took a number of days for that to get through. And she actually had the window of opportunity to come to work, so thank god I sent her home on Tuesday and she didn`t return, but if I wasn`t -- if I didn`t send her home she would have been able to work another 10 hour shift and possibly put more people at risk.

HAYES: Right.

So, the point there being that this is not they`ve been real fastidious about quarantine policy here, if that`s what their claim to...

SMALLS: No, the policy is very flawed and they need to take a very good look at it.

Once again, I was only around her for five minutes. She was around every employee in my department for 10-plus hours. So, who is the medical expertise for Amazon that`s making these decisions that I need to be quarantined and not my employees, not the employees in that department Like how do they make that decision? And what do they consider as coming into close contact? Is it walking into somebody? Is it touching somebody? Is it talking, having a conversation?

So, these are the things that -- the questions that need to be answered.

HAYES: Christian Smalls, thank you so much for taking time tonight. Thank you for the work that you and your colleagues at Amazon in those warehouses have been doing for the rest of the country. Appreciate it.

SMALLS: Ahead, what it`s like for the millions of health care workers on the front line who are risking their lives every day. Their harrowing stories after this.


HAYES: There are millions of health care workers in this country who are exposed to the Coronavirus every day when they go to work. They`re generally putting their life on the line. And many who have died, including this world-famous neurosurgeon from Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx, a place I know well. I grew up a block away.

He performed life-saving surgery on conjoined twins a four years ago.

And there have been a bunch of others. In fact, in a very real sense, every health care worker right now, particularly in places like New York, or Louisiana, or Detroit, they`re putting their life on the line each time they just show up to work.

It`s not just nurses and doctors, too, it`s also the janitorial staff who are all risking infection every day when they go into rooms to clean them. And many still don`t have adequate protection to do their job.

The chief nursing officer of Mount Sinai Brooklyn, who worked through the AIDS epidemic, talked to New York Magazine about the nursing she manages, saying every day I look at them and I think to myself, I don`t know if I could do that. And if it was 20 years ago for me, could I do what they`re doing? I don`t know.

Joining me now by phone is Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, she`s a nurse practitioner and president of the New York State Nurses Association, which is the state`s largest nurses union.

First, Judy, I just want to know where you and your members sort of mental emotional heads are at right now in terms of gearing yourself up for the risks that you know you`re taking, particularly for ER and ICU nurses.

JUDY SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ, PRESIDENT, NEW YORK NURSES ASSOCIATION: yes, thanks for having us on the show. You know, everybody is living in fear for their own safety, for their own health, and for an ability to properly care for patients because of the lack of PPE. It`s not necessary for health care workers to risk their lives, if we had the appropriate PPE, the protective equipment, such as that they had in the second wave in Wuhan and Singapore and South Korea, we wouldn`t be risking our lives. We think it`s outrageous that we have to risk our lives, because equipment exists that protect us and allow us to carefully safely protect our patients, but we`re not in that situation right now. And we find that inexcusable in a country like ours with the wealth that we have to not be able to supply that kind of protective equipment for our nurses, to not have the staffing that we need to take care of our patients because the loads are now increasing geometrically as the deaths do.

HAYES: One thing I`ve heard a lot about is health care workers just having to rearrange their lives, their personal lives, particularly anyone with around them who is immune compromised, old, with kids, who essentially had to quarantine themselves just to do their job and are just doing nothing other than being at the hospital and being alone. Is that a common experience among your members.

SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: Yes. People have had to dramatically alter their lives, some of our nurses haven`t seen their kids for weeks, can`t take care of their parents, which is what they usually do, you know, afraid to wear clothing. You know, we don`t have a place to change. We are feeling contaminated. And we desperately need the equipment, the safe PPE in order to do so. We just don`t understand why the president hasn`t enforced the DPA, so that we can manufacture the materials that we do need so that we can take care of these patients, specially in the next two weeks as this pandemic becomes much worse in this country.

HAYES: I guess final question in terms of this, I`ve seen varying accounting of people not having PPE now or it being short supply or it being rationed and about to run out. Are you saying that it`s all of those, that there are nurses right now who are working who just don`t have the actual adequate equipment they need right now as of right now, not something that`s going to run out in the future.

SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: Initially, the CDC changed guidelines and it made it easy for hospitals to not to have the appropriate equipment because they reduced the guidelines. It`s been a chaotic situation. We know what we need. There is some equipment that we have but they need to produce more.

HAYES: All right. Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez, thank you so much both for coming on tonight and the work that you and all your colleagues doing. I really appreciate it.

That is ALL IN for this evening. "THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW" starts right now. Good evening, Rachel.