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COVID-19 TRANSCRIPT: 3/16/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Rick Berke, Ralph Baric, Gene Sperling, Jennifer Haller, Anne Rimoin, Katty Kay


Hi, Ari. 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST:  Hi, Katy. Thank you very much. 

I`m Ari Melber. You`re watching a special edition of THE BEAT. 

We want to thank you for joining us, as we cover the latest developments in  this coronavirus outbreak. 

If last week was the first time this health crisis shook the entire nation.  This week begins a clear and new phase of intensity across basically every  measure we have, the public health impact, the market reaction, the  government response.

And while this is certainly a harrowing time for so many, it need not be a  time for confusion, let alone panic. And here`s why. The facts and the  science provide a clear path for us right now. There are facts that you can  gather that will guide your decisions in the days and weeks ahead.

And focusing on the right facts, while avoiding misinformation, can help  prioritize what you do, and literally what you do to make you and your  community safer. 

So that is our spirit tonight as we begin. We have the latest facts and  medical guidance for you throughout this broadcast. Here we go. 

Right now, there are over 4,300 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the  United States, which have led to over 80 deaths. We can now report 33  states have closed all public schools, plus additional districts across the  country, and slightly more than 35 states declaring formal emergencies. 

These measures and the wider concerns have the markets tumbling again  today, the Dow down a whopping 13 percent. That makes this -- and you may  have heard this last week, but now this is true as of today -- this is the  worst for the markets since 1987.

This is a crash that also comes even after the Fed took new stimulus  actions, like severely cutting interest rates. Now, across the globe, more  and more countries are closing their borders to noncitizens. 

Here in the United States, we`re seeing all sorts of new measures, Ohio  literally postponing a presidential primary scheduled for tomorrow, the  latest state to do so, in cities from Paris to New York to Los Angeles,  officials shutting down restaurants and bars and movie theaters. 

Health experts at the White House press conference today releasing new  guidance, avoid groups of 10 or more, and if you can, just stay home. 


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR:  No matter  who you are, please stay home. If someone in your household is diagnosed  with this virus, the entire household should quarantine in the house to  prevent spread of the virus to others. 


MELBER:  President Trump also struck a somewhat different tone today. He  cited experts a bit more. He acknowledged a recession may be coming. And  then he credited the role of the press during a national crisis like this. 

These are notes from the president that are certainly different than usual.  We`re going to get into that more later in the hour. 

He also said something, big picture, that, whatever your thoughts, whatever  your politics, whatever views you bring to the way America normally runs,  he said something that I bet you can understand or relate to, that we are  in a new reality. And it`s a reality that could last quite some time. 


QUESTION:  Is this the new normal until the height of the summer? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES:  We`ll see what happens. But  they think August. Could be July. Could be longer than that. But I`ve asked  that question many, many times. 


MELBER:  The truth is, no one knows exactly how long this will go. You can  name a month, July, August or later. 

We do know, though, that experts have told us the nature of the spread of  this virus in other countries, which is a very recent type of precedent,  suggests that those of us here in the United States are currently still in  the early stages of how our nation adjusts and reacts. 

What comes next, though, depends on several factors, some we can`t control.  We know that. But others are behavioral and policy choices that the nation  can control. 

Some of them are at an individual level, limiting interactions, following  CDC guidance. Some of them are at the local level, the rules set by local  authorities. And some relate to national decisions that the president and  the Congress will continue to make. 

I want to kick off our broadcast tonight with Rick Berke, who runs the Web  site STAT covering all health news. He was a longtime reporter and senior  editor at "The New York Times." Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at UCLA, and  Katty Kay, Washington anchor for BBC News. 

Rick, when you look at the available facts, what is most important in  understanding where the United States is at right now? 

RICK BERKE, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE EDITOR, STAT:  Well, let me say Ari, I  thought it was very important what you said at the outset about the spirit  of facts and the truth.

And I was really struck by the president today when he said, a month ago,  nobody ever heard of it. 

I was -- I almost fell out of my chair, because our lead public health  reporter, Helen Branswell, wrote about this January 4. We had -- a month  ago, we had written over 100 stories, not just us, but other reputable news  organizations. 

So the facts were out there. And the sad truth is, people weren`t looking  at the facts. And it`s important for us to know -- for us to all keep  putting them out and being -- as you said, not being panicked, but sort of  taking the right steps, and knowing what we don`t know.

We don`t know if hospitals are going to be overloaded. We think that could  happen. But there`s a model -- we wrote about it -- where data scientists  today just said, well, if we do proper social distancing, the hospitals may  not be overloaded. 

So there are a lot of on unknowns here that we have to be aware of. 

MELBER:  You think about, as you said, the known unknowns, to use a phrase,  and then the known knowns.

Doctor, we have a lot of things that we can do. And that`s been an emphasis  on this. 

I want to play for you Dr. Fauci talking about the level of reactions we`re  seeing and what is not an overreaction. Take a listen. 


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR:  When you`re dealing with an emerging  infectious diseases outbreak, you are always behind where you think you are  if you think that today reflects where you really are. 

That`s not word speak. It means, if you think you`re here, you`re really  here, because you`re only getting the results. Therefore, it will always  seem that the best way to address it were to be doing something that looks  like it might be an overreaction. 

It isn`t an overreaction. 


MELBER:  I appreciate the nuance of what he`s asking us all to consider,  the doctor using his bedside manner to speak to us all like adults. 

What does it mean for us to understand that things that may seem -- quote,  unquote -- "drastic" because they ask a lot of us are not necessarily a --  quote -- "overreaction"?


When public health methods work, that is when we think afterwards, this was  -- this was all a big overreaction. We all have to do everything we can,  and -- to limit spread, to flatten the curve, social distancing, all of the  things that everybody is telling us to do.

This will limit spread here in the United States, as it has in other  countries. And the other thing we have to remember is that epidemics have  happened all over the world before. And countries, when they can pull  together, between business, between government, and between communities,  they are all able to flatten the curve of epidemics before.

We have seen this in other places. We have to do the same things that we  have done in other places now on a large scale. We`re just not used to it  here in the United States. 

MELBER:  Katty Kay, thinking about the United States vs. other places, and,  of course, what we can learn from other places, what`s been happening with  the stress in air travel, take a listen to some of the passengers our  reporters have talked to as this is all unfolding. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  It felt like a scary movie, because of all the people  wearing masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  No consistency in questioning, no temperature check,  no swabs, nothing. 

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  So, it just been a lot of confusion, to the point  where I just want to come home, because it`s not even worth the stress. 


MELBER:  What do you think we can learn about this from the global side,  Katty? 

KATTY KAY, BBC:  I think there`s quite a lot we can learn. 

I was actually due to fly in on Sunday night into the States. I changed my  travel plans to come back from Europe early. And when I flew in, there was  no temperature testing, and there was no swabbing going on at Dallas  Airport at all. 

The temperature testing does seem to be key. If we`re not going to give  people swab testings, what happened in China that seemed to work  effectively is, you got your temperature taken everywhere. You got onto the  bus, your temperature was taken. You went into your own building, your  temperature was taken. 

And if you had a high fever, you were separated from your family. One of  the important things I think we heard from the White House today, and  actually from the U.K. government today, was this stress on family  clusters, because many of the cases, a large proportion of the cases in  China were actually in family groups. 

So, trying to separate people from their families if they`re sick, but also  isolate whole family groups, so that they don`t then go and affect other  people. 

I think, to some extent, the United States has the advantage of being able  to learn from other countries. There`s a tragedy that the Trump  administration didn`t seem to want to learn for the first month or so of  this. 

And now, today, we saw a very different tone. And, hopefully, they are  looking at what happened in other countries and taking lessons from those. 

MELBER:  On that point, brings us to something else we wanted to get to,  Rick, which is, take a listen to the surgeon general discussing the  examples from other countries. 


DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES:  I think you have  got several different models.

And, yes, there is a potential for us to become Italy. We`re doing the  right things now so that, in two weeks, we don`t become Italy. But we`re  all in this together. 


MELBER:  Rick?

BERKE:  I think we do have the benefit of seeing other models and how it`s  playing out in other countries. 

But that last quote, we`re all in this together, it`s really interesting to  me. I think back to this crisis, and I think back to 9/11, when we were all  uncertain and panicked, and not knowing where to turn. 

And I remember, as a political reporter, I didn`t have much to write about,  because we were -- we were all in this together. We weren`t -- this  country, the political leaders, were not attacking each other. Everyone  thought, there`s a common goal here. 

And now we have a situation, because of what we`re hearing from members of  Congress, members of the White House about the performance and the reaction  of our leadership in this country, it`s become political and partisan in a  way that doesn`t serve anyone well. 

And it`s really striking to me, because this feels like it should be a  moment when people are together, are in this together and there should be  common goals. And I worry that that`s not happening. 

MELBER:  Katty, do you share that concern? Or do you see any evidence that  -- again, this has been happening so quickly for some, although, as Rick  says, many scientists, doctors and folks who write about this full-time,  what we might call the empirical community, has certainly been on it and  warning. 

But do you see Washington catching up to the seriousness of this, even,  say, today vs. a week ago? 

KAY:  Yes, I mean, I think you did see the White -- a new tone from the  White House today, certainly. 

It didn`t seem to reassure the markets. In fact, the markets now seem to  think that the alarm that is being expressed in the White House and in the  Federal Reserve made the markets even -- investors even more anxious. 

I think the real issue is that the whole country has become politicized.  And it`s really alarming to see the degree to which even the coronavirus  and how serious you think it is depends on whether you support the  administration or you don`t support the administration. 

That`s kind of fatal. I mean, we have to get people on board with realizing  this is a serious problem, because, otherwise, people won`t make the  sacrifices necessary. And they have to have that from leadership. They have  got to hear it from the White House and they have got to hear it from  Republicans on the Hill.


MELBER:  Go ahead, Rick.

BERKE:  There was an encouraging tone today at that press conference.

KAY:  Yes, there was.

BERKE:  I think you`re all right about that. 

And I thought, for the first time -- and I can`t remember the last time the  president complimented the press for its handling of anything. And he  complimented the press, after being very critical of the coverage for a  while. So I think that`s progress. 

MELBER:  You mentioned that. That caught our ears as well, not strictly  because we happen to be in the press, but because, both on that, as well as  the name of one of his well-known Twitter foes, Jeff Bezos, who has been  trying, reportedly, to be a part of the solutions, he skipped the usual  petty reactions we have seen in almost every other setting about the press  and beyond. 

We`re actually going to show some of that later in the broadcast because  it`s so relevant. 

Rick Berke and Katty Kay, I want to thank both of you.

Doctor, stay with me. We`re going to bring you back for something else  special this hour. 

Coming up, Donald Trump also telling governors maybe they need to get  respirators on their own. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo is here, an  interesting chance to get a different local perspective, later in the hour. 

I also have tonight a live interview coming up with a volunteer who just  received the very first test of a potential coronavirus vaccine. That is  definitely important news we want to get into.

We`re also going to speak about the race for treatments with a scientist  leading this effort who has been working with this virus every day for  weeks. 

And we will hear from one of the experts who helped saved the economy after  the financial crash about what should be done now and the sense of  perspective we all need. 

I`m Ari Melber. And you`re watching THE BEAT on MSNBC. 


MELBER:  Welcome back. 

Different countries around the world are obviously tackling coronavirus in  different ways. But in the United States, federal authorities say, as of  tonight, there are no plans for a nationwide quarantine. 

We heard that from federal officials Sunday, and the president reiterating  it today, a federal quarantine not on the table. 


QUESTION:  Are you considering instituting a nationwide lockdown, a  nationwide quarantine? The NSC knocked that down, but there`s still some  questions about how it all came to be. 

TRUMP:  At this point not nationwide, but -- well, there are some -- you  know, some places in our nation that are not very affected at all. But we  may -- we may look at certain areas, certain -- certain hot spots, as they  call them. 


MELBER:  That`s the public position of the federal government. 

But -- and this is important -- I want you to know, if you looked on  Twitter, and certain parts of the Internet over this weekend, you would  have seen the opposite of the fact we just reported, because there were all  kinds of vague rumors and tweets about a lockdown. 

This is a reminder to treat unsourced information very carefully right now.  And there are new reports that foreign governments may have been pushing  the online talk of a federal U.S. lockdown to both scare and divide  Americans. 

Now, having said that, you should also know, at today`s press conference,  we saw a president -- we were discussing this before the break -- a  president who struggled with his response to this crisis, at one point  disclaiming any responsibility, and last week still poking, stoking and  trying to poke at rivals with all sorts of petty fights. 

Well, we did see an attempt at a different tone today, the president saying  uncharacteristically measured things about the media, about the owner of  "The Washington Post," who has personally locked horns with the president  before, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. 


TRUMP:  I think a lot of the media actually has been very fair. I think  people are pulling together on this. I really think the media has been very  fair. 

QUESTION:  We heard that Jeff Bezos has been in contact with the White  House daily. Can you say what he`s been asking for or proposing to do? 

TRUMP:  Well, I`ve heard that`s true. I don`t know that for a fact. But I  know that some of my people have, as I understand it, been dealing with  them or with him. 


MELBER:  As we look at the government response, we`re joined by Rhode  Island Governor Gina Raimondo, who shut all bars and restaurants in Rhode  Island. That begins tomorrow. There are reportedly 21 cases or more in the  state. 

And the former chair of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. 

Good day to both of you. Appreciate you making time. 


MELBER:  Governor -- good to see you. 

And I`m on a slight tape delay, I will tell you and viewers -- slight sound  delay.

Governor, what you heard from the president, does it sound constructive to  you? And does it sound like a shift? And how does it relate to what you`re  doing locally? 


So thank you for having me. 

What we`re doing locally is really taking action. Here in Rhode Island, we  have tried to stay out in front of this. We were one of the first states to  deploy our National Guard to help us do some of the testing. 

I would say, at this point, the federal government is trying to catch up.  We had a call today with the president and the vice president, all of the  governors. I appreciated the call. I appreciated that they are listening to  us. 

But, right now, states are leading, and the federal government needs to  continue to speed up the urgency with which they are acting. We are  particularly concerned -- every governor I know who`s dealing with this is  particularly concerned with access to the personal protective equipment.

Our front-line workers, doctors and nurses, we need to get them the masks  and the gloves that they need to protect themselves. So it is a good shift  in tone by the president. I think it`s late and coming. And the White House  and our federal government needs to pick up the pace and catch up to where  many of the governors are.

MELBER:  Michael?

STEELE:  Yes, I agree with that. 

I think the governor`s hit it right on the head. Governor Hogan and the  state -- from the state of Maryland, who`s head of the National Governors  Association, has been coordinating with the governor and others around the  country on that very front line.

Because the federal response was so slow, the fact that the federal  government, the CDC, specifically turned down WHO, World Health  Organization, test kits back in January, we`re now a little bit behind the  eight ball. And you`re trying to do a mass production of testing kits to  get into the hands of the governor and the states around the country makes  this a very, very difficult challenge. 

But to their great credit, these governors have been on the front line.  They are closest to the people, as you know, Ari, and they have a better  sense of how these crises tend to form themselves and what they need to do. 

I remember, as a lieutenant governor of Maryland, dealing with certain  issues in our state at the time, working with the governor, massing not  just medical personnel, but your National Guard, if necessary, and  hospitals.

And even the school system, as we see here, they`re front-line elected  officials. They`re on that wall, so to speak, and have been handling this  and actually sort of giving the government, the federal government,  pointers on what they need and what they need them to do next in order to  stay ahead of this thing. 

MELBER:  Michael, what did you think of the tone that Donald Trump struck  today?

Was it different enough to matter? Or is this the soft bigotry of low  expectations? 

STEELE:  Well, I think it`s a little bit of both. 

I think that there were points where the president still doesn`t want to  take, accept -- accept responsibility for the slow response of his  administration, looking backwards again, blaming, wanting to blame others  for that. 

But the governor -- and as we here in Maryland know with Governor Hogan,  you have got to look beyond that. And so you take that glimmer of positive  tone, sort of, OK, I get it. I understand what`s going on now. And we`re  going to mass the resources that you need to get ahead of this thing as  quickly as possible, taking the necessary steps, looking to the governor.

Some states are a little bit more severe with their quarantines, others not  so much, depending on the nature of the virus there. And that gives them  the flexibility to make those choices. 

So, when the president says to sort of quell this Internet rumor of a  national lockdown, that would hamper governors at this point. And so good  that he recognizes and he wants to let the governors decide right now  what`s the best course of action to take in their states.

MELBER:  Governor, I saw you nodding.

I also want to read you briefly from a story that got a lot of attention  here from "The New York Times": Trump to governors, find your own  respirators -- quote -- "Respirators, ventilators, all the equipment, `Try  getting it yourselves.`"

Your response?

RAIMONDO:  We are doing that. We have been doing that for weeks. It`s time  for the federal government to step up. 

I agree with Michael that the tone matters, and I was pleased to hear a  different tone today. We need action. We don`t need a better tone. We need  action. We need ventilators to be made available to us. We need  manufacturers to increase manufacturing of the personal protective  equipment.

We need the federal government to massively step up the speed with which  they are coordinating and getting -- getting these supplies to governors.

Also, I would say, back to the difference between tone and action, the  economic impact of the virus and its spread is enormous. 

MELBER:  Yes. 

RAIMONDO:  I was very proud Rhode Island was one of the first states to  make unemployment insurance available. Today, I closed bars and  restaurants. Unemployment is going to go up. 

That`s -- we know that as a fact. So, what I would say to the president is,  don`t wait. You know that now. Let`s get working, put another package  together to start thinking about a stimulus which is big enough to make a  difference. Don`t wait. Act.

That`s what governors are doing. And that`s what the White House needs to  do.

MELBER:  Right. 

And that`s why, all of a sudden, everything is -- quote, unquote -- on the  table, Senate Democrats pushing new policies today to go to exactly what  you`re talking about, robust unemployment insurance, emergency child care  for families that are obviously going to be affected, and this hitting  working-class families and people without health care even harder than  everyone else, although it`s a shared challenge. 

Governor Raimondo and Michael Steele, thanks to both of you. 

STEELE:  Yes. 

RAIMONDO:  Thank you. 

STEELE:  You got it.

MELBER:  We are covering this story from a lot of different angles. 

And, next, we turn to something special, the first person to receive a test  of an experimental coronavirus vaccine. She actually got this shot today. 

She joins us on MSNBC when we`re back in 30 seconds. 


MELBER:  Today, the United States has tested its very first coronavirus  vaccine. 

It went to a volunteer that you see right here, 43-year-old Jennifer  Haller, who is from Seattle. That`s one of the hardest-hit areas for this  virus in the nation, Washington state, with over 840 cases. 

It`s a fast-moving story. And she joins us right now, the very first  coronavirus vaccine volunteer, Jennifer Haller. And back with us for a  medical perspective, Anne Rimoin, an epidemiologist at UCLA. 

Jennifer, thank you for what you`re doing. Obviously, this fits into a lot  of the different ways people are participating and trying to help around  the nation. 

And thank you for being willing to talk with us. 

JENNIFER HALLER, FIRST COVID-19 VACCINE VOLUNTEER:  Yes. I`m so happy to be  here. And I am so excited to be the first person. This is crazy. 


MELBER:  Yes, right? Crazy is one word for it. I think it`s got to have a  lot of different feelings for you.

Very straightforward, I`d love for you to just tell us, as they say, in  your own words, how did this come about? And walk us through what happened  today.


Just a couple of weeks ago, there was a call for volunteers. And I filled  out a form and got a call back, and went through the phone screen, past  that, went in person for a physical exam, blood draw. Everything looked  good there.

And here we are. I went in this morning at 8:00 a.m. and got the first  dose. There it is. I am -- we feel -- all of us, I know we feel so  helpless. Like, what can we do? And I am so excited that there was actually  something that I could do. And I did it and I`m doing it.

And I`m so proud of myself and so thankful for the privilege that I have  that allows me to do this. I`m healthy. I have a full-time job, salaried  job. My company is flexible. They allow me to take time off to do this. I  have supportive friends and family. 

My real concern is for the people that have hourly jobs that -- lives are  going to be severely impacted coming up soon.

MELBER:  Based on what you`re learning what you`re participating in, where  does this process go from here? 

HALLER:  I do a daily log, temperature and any side effects that I`m  feeling. I keep track of those. I, of course, call in if I have any issues,  do a phone call tomorrow, phone call the next day.

I will do weekly follow-ups, and then I will get a second dose of the  vaccine in, I think, about four weeks. And then I will be followed through  about 14 months through the study. 

MELBER:  And did the folks involved in this tell you about any potential  risks? Obviously, this is, to put it simply, hopefully a good thing. And  you`re participating in it, but you can imagine some people at home  wondering, oh, my gosh, everyone`s nervous about all sorts of things right  now. 

How were you walked through the risks? How do you see that? 

HALLER:  Sure.

Yes, a really important thing to understand that`s really helped a lot of  friends and family who were concerned is that this -- this vaccine uses  messenger RNA. So, it does not use any of the virus. So, at no point during  the study will I be exposed to the virus. 

So that`s awesome. You know, regular potential side effects from a vaccine,  totally up for those. And then, of course, there`s the absolute unknown,  right? This one has never been tested in a human. And I`m up for it. I`m  ready. 

MELBER:  And if they do have a breakthrough here, would you be really  excited to be a part of demonstrating that?

I mean, there`s so much of this story that`s been so hard on people. It  would seem this would be an opportunity, potentially -- I don`t want to get  ahead of, obviously, the test run -- but would you be excited if it works  out? 

HALLER:  Well, I mean, of course, yes. I mean, the chance that I could have  something to do with helping save lives is huge. 

And if this isn`t the right vaccine or whatever, I mean, at least I`m part  of this -- the process. We`re part of figuring this out and getting closer  to something to help everybody. 

MELBER:  Yes, fantastic. 

Stay with me. 

As mentioned, we`re getting this very newsworthy perspective from you, as  Americans and people around the country and the world are wondering about  the race for a cure or a vaccine. 

As mentioned, I have Dr. Rimoin here. 

What do you think it`s important that people understand about these types  of tests?

RIMOIN:  So, in terms of the vaccine that we`re discussing right now,  vaccines will take a while to be able to move forward and to be able to go  through all the safety testing. 

There are a lot of regulatory aspects here. And what this woman is doing  right now, which is really wonderful, is participating in a vaccine trial. 

In terms of tests, there are several tests that are coming online. And the  more that we can get screening going rapidly disseminated everywhere, the  better we are, and the more that we will understand what we have in this  country in terms of burden of infection that will help dictate where policy  goes. 

MELBER:  And, again, following up to you, everyone wants to know about  timelines.

How quickly do you think we could learn about whether a given vaccine or a  given experimental cure could be workable and then distributed? 

RIMOIN:  It really -- there are several steps, regulatory steps, that have  to happen. And this is to protect people, to make sure that there are no  side effects, that the safety data is really straight, is very good. 

And once we have those data, then it can move forward into the next step.  But there are always several regulatory steps that protect everyone, so  that when a vaccine is available to the public, it will -- we will know  that it works well.

And we still do believe that this will take place a year so to be able to  be available to the public. So, right now, all of the measures that we`re  talking about, we can`t be putting our hopes into a vaccine. We need to be  putting our energy into social distancing, to making sure that hospitals  are not overloaded, and that everybody does their part to be able to slow  the spread of this virus. 

MELBER:  Really great points about the difference between a panacea, hoping  for this to all just be worked out, vs. all the things we have been  covering that people still have to do. 

Jennifer, final question. What do your friends and family say? What are you  telling them? 

HALLER:  Some are wary about it. 

But, no, it is amazing the outpouring of support and love that I have  received from friends and family. And I have had messages from strangers on  Facebook thanking me. And it`s so -- I`m just so thankful that I get to be  part of this. 

MELBER:  Fantastic.

I think it`s great, what you`re doing. I appreciate you not only doing it,  but taking time to share something that is -- for some people, would  obviously be private or difficult. You`re clearly a person that`s willing  to jump in and also be a part of sharing what could be the search for some  scientific breakthroughs here. 

Jennifer Haller, thank you. 

HALLER:  Sure.

MELBER:  Anne Rimoin, stay with us, as you`re part of our coverage. 

Coming up, we will talk to a scientist that some are calling a coronavirus  hunter, a world-renowned expert whose team is racing for a cure. 

That`s next. 


MELBER:  Welcome back to our special coverage. 

We have been looking at several different aspects of the ongoing health  crisis in the United States. And now we turn to another part.

We just heard, in a newsworthy way, from the very first person to ever test  a vaccine for coronavirus, Jennifer Haller in Washington state.

Now we look at this search for an outright cure. One of the nation`s  preeminent research labs is at the University of North Carolina. And they  have a team of scientists who are protected head to toe by body suits with  battery-powered respirators. 

They work in a windowless, air-locked laboratory in a secret location. And  they are searching, quite simply, for the cure. That is according to some  Bloomberg reporting.

And joining us now via Skype is one of the people leading that lab and who  some have dubbed a -- quote -- "coronavirus hunter" of sorts, Professor  Ralph Baric. And back with us, epidemiologist Anne Rimoin. The two, of  course, know each other. 

Ralph, what are you guys up to? And, as everyone wants to know, are you any  closer to a cure? 

RALPH BARIC, UNC GILLINGS SCHOOL OF GLOBAL PUBLIC:  Well, it`s a pleasure  to be here on your show, Ari. And a special shout-out to Jennifer for her  courageous efforts and leadership in taking the vaccine. 


MELBER:  Shout-out to Jennifer. 

BARIC:  Yes. Yes. 

Our group has been studying coronaviruses for about 35 years. And we have  been focused on identifying small molecule inhibitors for the last five  years that block coronavirus replication and pathogenesis.

One of those drugs, remdesivir, is currently in clinical trials. We  developed it in collaboration with Gilead Scientific, as well as  researchers at Vanderbilt University.

And a second drug called NHC we have also been studying that works well  against all emerging coronaviruses, including SARS2. That was done in  collaboration with groups at Emory University, and is moving through the  FDA process right now. 


MELBER:  So, when you walk us through that -- and we`re on a little bit of  a delay from Skype, but, if it`s all right, I`m going to ask you a follow- up.

When you just walk us through your opening there, to put it in plain  English, this is a big area of research that`s been going on for years. And  people are waking up more to your work now because of this public health  crisis? Is that right? 

BARIC:  We have been working on developing these two particular drugs for  over five years.

Remdesivir, we began collaborations with Gilead, really designed to develop  drugs against new emerging pathogens. And we focused on coronaviruses,  particularly not only the emerging coronaviruses, like SARS coronavirus,  MERS coronavirus, and SARS2, but also contemporary human coronaviruses. 

And this drug works against all of them. And so it`s quite impressive, at  least in vitro, in animals, and now it`s in human testing. 

MELBER:  And when you look at what this takes, is there basically full  support for everything you`re doing? We mentioned some of the reporting  just about, obviously, the safety measures and the funding and all that?

Or is there more that the U.S. or other governments could do to help and  expedite your work? 

BARIC:  Well, we have been well-funded by the National Institute of Health  for about six years now, working on this particular problem. 

We have also been engaged in some of the early vaccine work with the NIH  and the NIH Vaccine Research Center, developing and testing, not only the  RNA-based vaccines, but also the recombinant protein-based vaccines. 

And part of that is because we developed the first animal models for many  of these emerging coronaviruses. And so we were well-positioned to  contribute to global efforts. 

MELBER:  I want to give Anne a chance to weigh in as well. 

RIMOIN:  Well, I think that what Ralph Baric is saying, who is one of the  leaders in coronavirus research here in the world, is key. 

His lab has been funded to be able to do this work. And it`s so important  to have NIH and other funding to be able to do this kind of science, so  that, when there is an emergency, that this can ramp up quickly and keep  moving forward. 

In general, funding has not been robust for science in general in the past  several years, and so we`re seeing the results of that. We`re just very  lucky that Dr. Baric has had so much ability to -- so much funding and so  much work on this for so long that he can move as quickly as he can. 

I have known him for a while. And I am very, very glad to see that he is  front and center getting this work done.

MELBER:  Well, and you mentioned the federal funding from NIH, both of you  educating us all about how this works. 

And it`s a really important reminder for the public, as we think about the  tradeoffs, when we think about public health funding, new bills heading to  Congress. If you have break glass in case of emergency, you need the fire  extinguisher to already be in there. You don`t want to break glass, and  then have an IOU note that, in six months, someone`s going to fund the  production of fire extinguishers.

And with science, what we`re learning from all of you speaks to that and  the runway you need. So we`re learning a lot as we go. We appreciate it,  Ralph and Anne.

My thanks to both of you. 

We have to fit in a break. 

But, up next, we turn to another part of this crisis that is affecting so  many Americans, the worst day in the markets since `87. 

We have a very special guest, one of the architects of Barack Obama`s plan  to rebound the economy, when we come back.


MELBER:  Today, the markets continued to crash, this continuing response to  the coronavirus that puts U.S. stocks not only in bear territory, but  soaking talk of a full-blown recession. 

That`s something President Trump even acknowledged today in his press  remarks. 

And here are a few financial facts for you. The Dow is down 13 percent.  That`s the worst day since the Black Monday market crash in `87, a record  that was previously held by crashes last week. We are now back to the worst  in decades.

Now, during this crisis, the market has now been halted for trading three  different times, including again today. The markets in general are reeling,  but certain industries and workers are suffering more, like employees and  companies in the hospitality and travel sector.

Top airlines have been cutting capacity by 50 to 75 percent. Today, the  airline industry is already talking about seeking a $50 billion bailout. 

Some analysts projecting the hit there could be worse than after 9/11, when  travel, of course, plummeted. The hospitality industry taking the blow, as  some of the largest cities in America are pushing to close bars and  restaurants outright until further notice. 

Tonight, Speaker Pelosi pushing a third relief package. That was right  after this weekend`s emergency response package. 

Now, as America both unites and rallies and looks for responses here, we  are treating this, clearly, as the economic emergency that it is. But  notice some are pressing for even bigger ideas and larger questions about  what the priorities are. 

For example, is this a time to spend more, so that every single American  has health coverage in the first place? That`s a point that Joe Biden and  Bernie Sanders were discussing at the debate last night. 

And while President Trump has already suspended interest on student loan  debt during this crisis, others are advocating this as a time to put some  of the billions that are apparently up for grabs towards student debt  relief outright. 

Or do you remember the once longshot idea from progressive presidential  candidate Andrew Yang, $1,000 cash payments for every American?

Well, in the midst of this public health crisis, right now, Republican  Senator Mitt Romney is pushing a similar plan that would try to help people  with cash payments during this outbreak. 

I`m joined now by Gene Sperling, director of the National Economic Council  in the Clinton and Obama administration. He also worked on crafting the  Obama stimulus. 

Great to have someone like you, who not only is an expert on the facts, but  has been in the rooms when the hard decisions have to be made. 

And so let`s begin with the hardest question. 

Is this really a time to go right to the symptomatic issues or bailing out  airlines, when, as some are advocating, maybe the real long-term solution,  now that there`s billions on the table in Congress, would be to do the  bigger things, do universal health care?

GENE SPERLING, FORMER DIRECTOR, WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL:  So,  I think this is going to be a process where you`re going to find over and  over again that the answer is going to be all of the above. 

We have never seen this kind of economic pullback. When there`s a recession  normally, several percent lose their job. Another percent lose some hours  in wages. Others fear they could be next. But large chunks of Americans go  on with daily life, continue to spend.

There has never been a moment in our lives or even our parents` lives,  perhaps, where everybody is pulling back, where you`re seeing this kind of  dramatic pullback.

MELBER:  Yes. 


SPERLING:  And I think that`s going to require a response that`s  unprecedented. 

MELBER:  Everything you said sounds right, but it sounds a little vaguely  broad. 

I`m pressing you on the very specific question, which is...


MELBER:  ... if you -- if you`re a young person, say you`re under 30, and  you don`t have health care, and you have punishing student debt, and you`re  being asked to now fund through tax dollars a bailout of the airline  industry that you don`t ride that often, why is that a superior economic  stimulus to pausing travel and dealing with some of those underlying  insecurities in the market? 

Or is that the wrong way to frame the question? 

SPERLING:  Well, I mean, your -- I agree with you completely.

Things that people like myself are pushing -- and I think you will see from  progressive and Democrats -- are the type of payment that goes not just to  workers, but to unpaid caregivers, seniors, to everyone. 

But I think you also have to know that that`s not going to be enough.  You`re going to have to go to where the harm is. And I think that`s going  to mean a moratorium on all evictions, not just for renters and homeowners,  but for small businesses. 

They`re going to need to know they don`t have to make that payment to get  through. I think we`re going to need a dramatic expansion of unemployment  insurance, not the more narrowly tailored, but anybody who`s losing a job  or hours now, gig workers, people in the gig economy, are going to need  money. 

And I think we`re going to have to -- going to your interview with the  governor, we have got to give major money and resources to the governors  and mayors, who are on the front lines, who are being told to get the  ventilators and the respirators themselves.

MELBER:  Yes. 

SPERLING:  We are going to have to deal with funding people through these  evictions. 


SPERLING:  So, I absolutely agree, the number one focus is on people.

MELBER:  Just because you`re a newsworthy guest, I also want to get Gene  Sperling on the Senate Democrats` proposal to waive all current federal  loan interest, mortgage, student debt, et cetera?

That`s in the new Schumer bill. Is that a good idea? 

SPERLING:  I haven`t seen the details. But, as I said, I`m for more, not  less.

And I think you`re going to have to have moratoriums on many types of  payments. And then you`re going to have to think about whether you can  actually give people the relief, not just the forbearance, but the relief. 

We got to -- we`re going to have to help a lot of people to get through. We  should target it as well as possible. But I also think this is -- maybe is  the time where you want to give some general relief, not just to workers,  but to everybody to help them get through and hopefully fund some money. 

MELBER:  Yes. 

SPERLING:  I wouldn`t do it for people who are well-off, but for the people  making $100,000 and under...

MELBER:  Copy.

SPERLING:  ... people struggling, yes, they need relief. 

We need to help them, small businesses, people lacking health care, people  needing free coverage, people with their housing, all of that, all of the  above. 

MELBER:  Yes. 

Gene Sperling, as they say in "Hamilton," you have been in the room where  it happened. 


MELBER:  We had your expertise last week. We have it tonight. 

And with this economic uncertainty, I hope you will come back on THE BEAT. 

I`m going to fit in a break, and we will be right back. 


MELBER:  Some more things we want to show you tonight.

The singer Gloria Gaynor showing handwashing techniques with a song for  these times that is now being shared online by young and old alike. 




MELBER:  That has gone viral, as they say.

It`s a lighthearted, but also effective way to share the news. We need  clear and memorable methods to follow all these precautions. 

Many different people are getting in on the act. Take the rap group Wu-Tang  Clan using the letters in their name online to spell out all the ways you  can protect your neck from the virus, starting, of course, with washing  hands.

Now, music and lyrics, they really always are about what matters most to  people. So it`s not really surprising that we`re seeing artists speaking to  what is clearly on so many people`s minds right now. 

Also, actress -- I should say actor Idris Elba offered these new words  after sharing that he tested positive for this virus. 


IDRIS ELBA, ACTOR:  This morning, I got some test results back for  coronavirus, and it came back positive, yes. And it sucks. 

Now`s the time for solidarity. Now`s the time for thinking about each  other. There are so many peoples whose lives have been affected, from those  who have lost people that they love, to people that don`t even have it, and  lost their livelihoods. 


MELBER:  We wanted to share some of those reactions around the world with  you. 

Meanwhile, if you didn`t catch all of the debate last night in the United  States, two major candidates who are left in this race for the nomination  just battling back and forth.

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders avoided the handshakes that are customary.  They got into many topics and -- this is important amidst everything else - - a key promise from Joe Biden. 


JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE:  If I`m elected president, my  Cabinet, my administration will look like the country.

And I commit that I will, in fact, appoint a -- I will pick a woman to be  vice president. 

There are a number of women who are qualified to be president tomorrow. I  would pick a woman to be my vice president. 


MELBER:  That is the farthest Joe Biden has ever gone pledging diversity in  gender on the ticket if he`s the nominee. It`s a big story at a time where  there are many big stories. 

As always, thanks for watching THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER. I will be back  here at 6:00 p.m. Eastern.

And keep it locked on MSNBC.