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Italy's death toll TRANSCRIPT: 3/19/20, The Beat w/ Ari Melber

Guests: Ron Klain, Edward Markey, Katie Porter

CHUCK TODD, MSNBC HOST: That's all we have for tonight. There is a lot  more. And we know you have a lot more questions. 

So, guess what? We're going to start with THE BEAT WITH ARI MELBER right  now. He hopefully will answer some of those questions. 

Ari, it's all yours. 

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: We will try. Thank you very much, Chuck.

I am Ari Melber.

As we begin our broadcast tonight, the coronavirus outbreak is crossing a  grim milestone across the United States. Now, tonight, we have context for  you on the new numbers. We have these reports on the government's new  warning to Americans. 

And, later tonight, we have something positive and constructive, our report  on what you can do now, tonight, to protect yourself and your family. So we  have a lot to get to on THE BEAT. 

We begin with the facts. United States has passed the 10,000 mark for cases  across the nation, and now, at this hour, it is officially at 11,000  confirmed coronavirus cases nationwide, with 170 deaths. 

That skyrocketed in the last 24 hours, a sign that both the problem is  growing -- you can see the spike right there -- but this is also, make no  mistake, a sign that the system is kicking in. These numbers are rising  faster partly because more tests are available, and more people are getting  tested. 

And we're also tracking the impact in several other ways tonight. Schools  in 38 states remain closed. That reshapes, of course, daily life, family  obligations in literally most of the country. 

And while after days of market crashes and slumping, today, the Dow is up.  It's trading slightly higher. And the numbers that we're tracking in the  United States also reflect the stage that our country is in dealing with  this. 

We cannot and we will not try to predict what come next. And one of the  reasons that it's so unpredictable is that it depends on what millions of  people do, how people act, how people follow or ignore the guidance and  rules that we're getting from the experts. 

But we do know how other countries are faring, and many of them are in what  look to be later stages of this than what the U.S. is going through right  now. 

Take Italy, where 3,400 deaths now mean that country's hit surpasses  China's death toll, where, of course, this outbreak first began. 

Also new tonight, what the U.S. government is advising you not to do. The  federal government now has, of course, already restricted incoming travel  from, say, China or Europe. You certainly heard about all of that, and  those are mandatory rules at our borders. 

But, tonight, we're reporting on something brand-new, a new step that is  voluntary, but stark, the United States State Department formally telling  Americans, do not leave the country. Do not go abroad, and advising  Americans who are abroad to either come home or shelter in place there. 

Now, this is formally referred to as a level four travel advisory from the  State Department that is the highest level. 

Now, this virus carries the greatest risk of death for the elderly. We have  been reporting on that. We have heard that from the medical experts. But  that is why there is also such an emphasis on shielding them from being  basically put at risk by younger people or carriers. 

So we know that. But, tonight, as we go through these facts for you, I have  another fact, which doesn't mean there is no risk or harm for young people,  because while that guidance stands, protect and stay away from the elderly,  if you can, particularly if you're younger, here is some news tonight. 

The Centers for Disease Control has released new data which shows 38  percent of the people hospitalized with this virus were under 55. 

Meanwhile, in a different update, the virus is reaching Congress. Two  members today confirming they have it. And while their colleagues, of  course, continue to work on this relief legislation, unemployment reports  are also spiking. 

Now, Trump officials are pressing forward on this plan that's been  discussed to try to pay Americans directly with basically $500 billion of  U.S. Treasury funds, but cutting checks may ultimately be the easier  challenge for the government amidst these new reports of increasing  failures by the feds. 

The CDC had been advising state officials that they had -- quote -- "more  than adequate testing capacity" in February, a claim that has obviously  been proven, sadly, tragically, false. 

Now, the shortages for basic supplies go on in what is the richest country  on Earth. And this has moved something we also want to show you tonight.

Some of the brave people on the U.S. front lines of public service, nurses  and doctors, are deploying social media to strike this new alarm, basically  explaining what it's like to fight the coronavirus without enough face  masks, and posting pictures about that. 

Keep this story in mind as you hear the president's new response. 


QUESTION: You're getting a lot of calls on Capitol Hill from the Democratic  leadership to pull the trigger on it. Why -- why -- what's the rationale  for not doing that? 

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, governors are  supposed to be doing a lot of this work, and they are doing a lot of this  work. 

The federal government is not supposed to be out there buying vast amounts  of items and then shipping. You know, we're not a shipping clerk. The  governors are supposed to be -- as with testing, the governors are supposed  -- are supposed to be doing it. 

We'll help out, and we'll help out wherever we can. 


MELBER: In a few moments in tonight's broadcast, we will be joined by a  member of Congress who has been pushing for answers on these issues. 

But we begin right now with Ron Klain. You may recognize him, because he  has been everywhere providing his insights, given the unique experience of  leading the Obama White House's Ebola response. He is also a former chief  of staff, we should mention, to Vice President Biden. 

We're also joined by an MSNBC medical contributor, Dr. Lipi Roy, a clinical  professor at NYU Langone. 

Thank you to both of you for joining us. 

Ron, walk us through your view of what the new numbers mean, what the  government is doing, and the defense we just heard there. 


So, look, the numbers mean, as you said, Ari, that partly this disease is  progressing, partly we're testing more, but we're still behind on almost  every single front. Three weeks ago, President Trump said there would be a  million tests by the end of that week, then 1.4 million by the end of two  weeks ago, then millions by the end of last week. 

We're probably still only in the hundreds of thousands of tests. What we  see on your board is a fraction of the reality. Hospitals are starting to  see that inflow of patients that we all predicted a few weeks ago would  start to come around now, as emergency rooms and ICUs struggle to meet that  demand. 

Our doctors and nurses are going to start to get sick from the disease. And  so capacity will go down as load goes up. And we have the spectacle, as you  mentioned, here in the richest nation on Earth of doctors and nurses having  to go to work without the basic protective gear, not even the lack of the  N95 masks, which would really keep them safe, but not even surgical masks. 

The CDC said today that doctors and nurses should put bandanas on to treat  patients, bandanas. We are in a mess here. The administration dropped the  ball here. And the president saying it's up to the governors to do it.  That's not right. That's not the kind of leadership we should have. 

MELBER: Dr. Roy? 

DR. LIPI ROY, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: So all that data that you just  showed, Ari, reinforces a key point. 

We are in a public health and medical crisis. We need multiple sectors all  acting simultaneously in parallel, from prevention, hard-core prevention,  diagnostic strategies, including vaccines, which, again, won't be short- term. That will be long term, as well as treatments. 

But -- and the last, but most important right now, we need resources, not  only supplies, ICUs, ventilators, but the most scarcest resource of all,  which is people. 

I have been talking to my colleagues all over the country, from pulmonary  critical care doctors, like my colleague Dr. Divya Bappanad, who is a  community -- who is a doctor in a Washington state community hospital, and  she's telling me that, in a typical week, they use about 8,000 pieces of  PPE, personal protective equipment, like gloves, masks, gowns. 

Just this week alone, they have used over 24,000. That's a three-fold  increase in this small community hospital, 200-bed hospital. That's just  one example. 

We need to really ramp up supplies and health care workers, doctors,  nurses, respiratory technicians. These are the interest highly specialized  people who operate ventilators. I mean, all across the board, we need to  ramp up on all of these levels. 

MELBER: Ron, why aren't more hospitals more prepared? 

KLAIN: Well, so it's the job of the federal government, agency of the  Health and Human Services Department, the assistant secretary for  preparedness and readiness, to make sure we have stockpiled the supplies  that we need, and that they're being routed to the most important place. 

The worst thing with what the president is saying, every state should do  this for itself, isn't that no state will get anything. It's that some  states will get things, even if they don't need them, and other states  won't get them even if they do. 

During the Ebola response, we had a whole team at the White House and HHS  working on supply chain management, getting the kind of PPE that's being  discussed to the places where it's needed most critically. 

And for the president just to throw up his hands and say, I guess someone  else should sort this out, we're not shipping clerks, no, Mr. President,  you're not a shipping clerk. You're the president of the United States. You  have the federal government at your disposal. 

Get these supplies where they need to treat these patients safely, because  what's going to happen here, Ari, is that more and more doctors and nurses  will get sick. And that's obviously very sad for these heroes, but also  means that people coming in to the hospitals to get treated for other  things won't get treated.

Labor and delivery nurses will get sick. Babies can't get delivered. Cardio  care doctors and nurses will get sick. People won't get treated with heart  attacks. 

So this is a crisis. As the doctor said, it's not just about the virus, but  about our whole health care system. 

MELBER: All really important points about that aspect. 

Dr. Lipi, while I have you, I want to read something from Bloomberg News  about Italy, where, as I mentioned, they're obviously in a later stage of  this. And it says, basically, 99 percent of those who actually died from  the virus had other illnesses, according to Italian officials. 

More than 75 percent had high blood pressure, 35 percent diabetes, a third  heart disease. 

What does it mean for us to understand that aspect of the death toll? 

ROY: Yes, so, that's a really key piece of information. 

We already know, even before this particular viral epidemic, that  individuals who are chronically ill, who carry other chronic illness, heart  disease, diabetes, lung disease, they're more vulnerable to other  illnesses, particularly infections, as well as older patients. 

This resonates with me not only as a doctor who has cared for patients in  the hospital with all of these illnesses, but also, if I remove my doctor  hat and tell you, as a daughter of a father who is over 80 years old and  who has chronic illnesses, and who has also suffered from three ICU-level  hospitalizations over the past year-and-a-half, this is personal for me, as  it is with so many other people. 

This is really serious. We need to really act, not just react. You know, as  to what Mr. Klain just said, we need a coordinated response, an  unprecedented, coordinated response from the federal level to guide,  because, right now, what is happening, local hospitals and public health  departments are making these decisions about visitor policies, PPEs. 

And these are decisions that should be guided, in fact instructed, top- down. That's what we need. 

MELBER: Right. 

Dr. Roy, I want to thank you very much. I know you're going to be quite  busy here as an analyst for MSNBC in these times. So, thanks for being part  of the broadcast. 

Ron Klain, stay with me. I'm going come back to you in a moment. 

But turning now, as promised, to California Congresswoman Katie Porter. 

She has been pushing the Trump administration on this very crisis and  pushing Congress to allow remote voting, an issue that obviously will come  up. I want to get into that.

But let's begin by highlighting an exchange that some people may not have  seen that was before some of the more drastic measures had been taken now  by the Trump administration. 

Here you are discussing some of the issues with the CDC director about  testing. 


REP. KATIE PORTER (D-CA): Will you commit to invoking your existing  authority under 42 CFR 71.30 to provide for coronavirus testing for every  American, regardless of insurance coverage?

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: What I was trying to say is that CDC is  working with HHS now to see how we operationalize that. 

PORTER: Dr. Redfield, I hope that answer weighs heavily on you. You need to  make a commitment to the American people, so they come in to get tested. 

You can operationalize the payment structure tomorrow.

REDFIELD: I think you're an excellent questioner. So, my answer is yes.

PORTER: Excellent. Everybody in America, hear that. You are eligible to go  get tested for coronavirus, and have that covered, regardless of insurance. 


MELBER: As mentioned, you were pressing this before it had gotten a fully  serious embrace by the Trump administration. 

What was important to you about that then, and what do you think needs to  be done now? 

PORTER: What we have seen is, this administration has been too slow to act. 

They haven't used the existing tools that they have in their tool kit. And  so that exchange, which was more than a week ago now, was really designed  to say, look, there is plenty of authority here. People have contemplated  pandemics. 

They have contemplated health emergencies. And you in the CDC and in the  Trump administration aren't using the tools that you have. 

And so we're continuing to see that. We heard the president say the other  day that he is going to use the Defense Production Act, which can be used  to order different companies to produce personal protective equipment or  ventilators. 

But is he doing it? So, there are these tools available to the federal  government.

MELBER: Right. 

PORTER: But we're having trouble with an administration not making use of  them. 

MELBER: You mentioned these tools. 

And what we just showed was your use of the oversight authority, which is  what your constituents elected you to use, to get questions under oath. 

Another thing that we're seeing evolve is an administration that has a  well-known disregard for the give and take with journalists. And I try not  to say that as a journalist asking for access, but at a more systemic  level, they discontinued the White House press briefing, as you know and I  as think many of our viewers know, for years. 

Well, now it's back. And I think we're seeing that, in some ways, some of  the journalists, including many who are competitors, they don't work for  us, are using that to show the public the answers that they're getting and  not getting. 

And so, with that in mind, I wanted to get your view of this important  moment, today, a journalist specifically asking about the mask shortage.  And take a look at how the president responded. 


QUESTION: The CDC has put out guidelines for hospitals that are dealing  with a shortage of masks to use them beyond their shelf life, reuse them  instead some getting new ones, and in a worst-case scenario, use a bandana  instead of a mask. How is that acceptable at all? 

TRUMP: Well, I haven't seen that, but I will let Mike answer that question.  Vice President? 


I just -- I can't emphasize enough the incredible progress that was made  with the passage of the legislation. We're seeing a dramatic increase in  production. 


MELBER: What is your view of the president literally stepping aside --  quote -- "let Mike answer"?

And what is your view of what the government should do about the underlying  mask shortage? 

PORTER: Well, first, the president is refusing to take responsibility. We  have seen that for a long time now. 

And then, when he does turn it over to the vice president, he doesn't have  any truthful answers for the American people either. 

There are widespread mask shortages. I was on the phone today with a local  hospital. It's extremely short. My sister and brother-in-law are emergency  medicine physicians in another state. They're down to single-digit numbers  of both the highly protective N95 masks, but also of the everyday surgical  masks that are used. 

So, we simply have to keep pressing the Trump administration for answers.  And one of the reasons I feel so strongly about Congress adopting remote  voting and remote hearing capacity is so that we can continue to press the  administration for answers. 

That hearing was the first exchange we got free testing. 


MELBER: Let's get into that, as promised, and I'm going bring back into the  conversation Ron Klain, who, as we mentioned, full disclosure, was a top  aide to Vice President Biden, who, of course, is right now in the delegate  lead. 

But I want to get both of your views on this, because we are in a time when  everyone at the local, state and federal level is trying to figure out what  the trade-offs are. And these aren't easy answers, right? 

But some states literally delayed, rescheduled entire presidential  primaries over this. And one can understand the public health concern. And  that's a short-term emergency response. 

First to you, Congresswoman, and then I'm curious Ron's view at the  intersection of all these issues. 

We mentioned your public health work in the past. 

What is the right solution? What are you working on, Congresswoman, here  for the potential general election? 

PORTER: Well, I think there's two separate issues that we're talking about  here. 

One is whether Congress as a body ought to be able to remote votely (sic).  I think that's incredibly important. If I fall ill, if I need to self- quarantine -- and my colleagues have already fallen ill and they are going  to keep getting sick.

We need to make sure that Congress can continue to function, can continue  to pass bills, can continue to deliver relief to the American people. 

So, Congress is asking businesses, nonprofits, schools, government  officials to do things they haven't done before, to adopt new technology,  to permit remote voting -- use technology, permit remote telework -- excuse  me -- and, most of all, to put public health first. 

Congress should be no exception.

MELBER: But you do that -- just to be clear, on the congressional side,  you're arguing for that for how long? 

PORTER: Until the CDC and the public health authorities determine that it's  safe for us to be able to gather together in the traditional manner. 

MELBER: So that's striking. 

And I think to a lot of people, you think how much the world has evolved.  Congress, of course, still has that in-person voting in the well, and what  you're describing as a temporary measure for public health reasons. 

More broadly then to Ron, what is your view of what should happen in the  general election? Because there is talk about we have a localized system,  but does that really cut it if we're getting closer to November and some  states allow vote by mail and many don't? 

KLAIN: So, first, I want to pick up something Congresswoman Porter said,  which is, it's also important for Congress to be able to hold remote  hearings. 

People just watched her win a right for the American people for free  testing by virtue of using her power, her unique power, conducting  questionings. 

And if what happens is, Congress shuts down and doesn't hold hearings,  we're going lose the ability of her and her colleagues to put that pressure  on the administration. 

I testified before Congress twice about this already. I was supposed to  testify two more times. Those hearings have been canceled. We need Congress  on the job. 

Now, Ari, to your question about voting, every American should be able to  vote by mail. It should just be that simple. People should be able to vote  by mail. They should be able to vote by mail postage-free. That's not a  partisan position. Why shouldn't everyone in this country want that right? 

We don't know what's going to happen with this disease in November. I think  the best guess is it will abate a bit late summer or early summer, but it  may come back in the fall. Why have that be at risk? 

And voting by mail works. We just saw, Ari, last week in Florida where they  held the election. In-person turnout was down. But more people voted in  Florida in 2020 than in 2016, even with an epidemic, because they were able  to vote by mail. And that should be a right of every single American. 

MELBER: Great point.

Well, you just nailed it on that data point. And both of you talking about  the way that we can persevere, both as a government and as a citizenry,  even with the understandable public health risks. 

Congresswoman Porter and Ron Klain, thanks to both of you. 

KLAIN: Thank you. 

MELBER: We're going fit in our first break of the hour. 

But when we come back, we have my special report on how handwashing can  save lives, including the science and history behind it, some important  details you may not know. 

And, later, officials cracking down on price-gouging, hoarding, from  basements all the way to We have the great Neal Katyal with us. 

And reports that doctors and nurses are forced to reuse their masks,  something we have been discussing, well, we have more on that later in the  hour, as Donald Trump suggests maybe cruise ships could house coronavirus  patients. 

Stay with us. I'm Ari Melber. You're watching THE BEAT on MSNBC. 


MELBER: We're back with an update. 

When we started this hour, we reported for you the number of coronavirus  cases in the U.S. was at roughly 11,500. Well, since we have come on the  air, we have a new update. It is now formally up to 13,000. This came in  just the last few minutes, a sign of, yes, the problem, but also, as we  have stressed, the fact that the testing lag is being addressed, more  Americans getting tested. 

We also want to turn to something else that shows the system trying to deal  with all of this, plans for a bailout, an economic passage that lawmakers  in both parties are working on as we speak, a trillion plan which could  include those direct payments to Americans that many have been discussing,  plus billions for businesses. It comes as jobless claims are skyrocketing,  literally straining unemployment offices in states around the country. 

The package follows a multimillion-dollar bill that the president just  signed last night. That provided something else I'm sure you have heard  about that we have been reporting on and what people need, the paid sick  leave and massive new programs to support free testing. 

Today, the president floating another idea, trying to use cruise ships to  treat sick patients. 


TRUMP: I spoke with Micky Arison of Carnival Cruise Lines, and he's going  to make ships available. 

So in addition to the big medical ships that you have coming, if we should  need ships with lots of rooms, they'll be docked at New York and Los  Angeles and San Francisco, different places. 


MELBER: I'm joined now by U.S. Senator Ed Markey, Democrat from  Massachusetts. 

There are roughly 300-plus confirmed cases there. 

And we should mention, as we were just discussing this with other guests  and the way government can keep working, you just held a virtual town hall  discussing this and other issues with your constituents. 

Thanks for being here tonight. 

SEN. EDWARD MARKEY (D-MA): Thank you. Thanks for your focus on this issue. 

MELBER: Of course. 

So what is important in this next phase? People could understandably lose  track of the different bills, The Congress moving faster than usual to get  stuff going, I think that's generally good. What's in the new bill you're  trying to hammer out tonight? 

MARKEY: Well, again, we just received the legislation from the Republicans.  And now the Democrats have to examine what the president and what Mitch  McConnell have agreed to and begin to negotiate. 

But I will tell you this. At the top of the list is, we're going to make  sure that workers and families are first, that we protect them, that as we  help the largest industries, we also make sure that workers and families  get everything they need. 

There is an enormous amount of stress across our country. We have to make  sure they get the help they need from the health care system, that they  have the unemployment insurance, that they get enough from the federal  government in terms of direct payments, so that it's adequate to deal with  the crisis that we're facing right now. That's going to be our principal  focus. 

We also have to make sure that we keep our health care system going. It's  under massive stress right now. 

MELBER: Clearly. 

MARKEY: They won't be able to have the traditional revenues which are  coming into the system. And many of them could go bankrupt within two or  three weeks, all across the country. 

The smaller community hospitals could be out of business, unless we help  them with the resources from the federal government. And they're going to  be the ones on the front lines. 

So I guess what I would say is, we need a massive economic mobilization in  our country right now, and we need a massive manufacturing mobilization in  our country as well, so that we are producing the kinds of equipment, which  is going to be needed across our country with health care worker, first  responders, home health care workers, so they're protected, so that they  don't go down as part of the response they're providing for ordinary  American families. 

MELBER: Part of the messaging we have heard from the White House recently  has hit the medical expertise and the guidance limiting social distance,  taking this seriously. 

But, by definition, it's had to undercut what the president was claiming as  recently as a few weeks ago. 

I spoke with Republican Governor Larry Hogan on this program. Take a listen  to that brief exchange now. 


MELBER: Did the president and other leaders make a mistake by saying as  recently as two to three weeks ago that everyone needs to -- quote --  "relax," that this would basically go away by itself seasonally? 

GOV. LARRY HOGAN (R-MD): Well, yes, there is no question that was a  mistake. 

We declared a state of emergency like 15, 16 days ago. We have had press  conferences every day. But nobody was really taking it seriously. 


MELBER: Are people taking it more seriously now? And what is your view of  the course correction by the president? Has he gone far enough? 

MARKEY: No, he hasn't gone far enough at all. 

He has invoked the Defense Production Act, which I called upon him to do  five days ago. But he is saying he is not going to use its powers. We need  him to mobilize our manufacturing capacity, so that we produce the masks,  we produce the ventilators, we produce the beds, we produce all of the  equipment we are going to need. 

You're reporting a doubling of the cases from yesterday, and it's going to  continue to exponentially increase. We know it's going to happen. The  president, the White House, they're not shipping clerks. They're the  leaders. They have to organize the entire country and provide the resources  to the country. 

No individual governor has that capacity. We might need to produce the  equipment in one state that's going to be needed in another state. Only the  president can do that. 

So, today, once again he is trying to shunt off the blame and the  responsibility to the governors. It's in the White House. He has to do it.  He has responded late, but he still has the capacity to mobilize the  country, but he refuses to invoke all the powers which he has.

We need 3.5 billion masks, 3.5 billion, not tens of millions. That's  according to our own federal government. That's according to a study his  own government did, his own agencies did last year, reflecting a 2015 study  as to the number of protective masks which were needed. 

We know what the needs are. The president just has to step up and to  command our country. We will respond. The corporations will respond. The  American people will respond. We just can't wait any longer for the  president to respond. 

MELBER: All strong words, and understandably at this crucial time. 

Senator Ed Markey, thank you for joining me. 

Right now on THE BEAT, we have the shortest break in our whole hour. It's  30 seconds. 

And when we come back, my special report with good news about what you can  do, when we're back in 30. 


MELBER: The coronavirus outbreak has sparked many responses for containment  and prevention, the U.S. already committing over $100 billion, with more  coming. 

But some of the most important measures you can take are simple and cheap,  like washing your hands to prevent getting or spreading the virus in the  first place. That's the top recommendation from the CDC. And, lately, we  have been hearing about it a lot. 


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Wash your hands. That is the best thing that you can  do. 

TRUMP: Stay away from people and wash your hands. 

PENCE: A really good recommendation is to wash your hands often. 

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: Wash your hands frequently. 

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION:  Soap and water, vigorously washing your hands for 20 seconds is what the  American public needs to do. 

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: If you have  touched anything, you go and wash your hands again, 20 seconds, with soap. 

ANDREA MITCHELL, MSNBC HOST: Stay calm and wash your hands. 


MELBER: It's a step that just about everyone agrees on across the world, as  we have also seen in some international public service ads that have gone  viral. 




MELBER: Wash your hands. 

Others are joining in with homemade announcements. In Australia, you see  someone did skywriting with that same message. 

So what do we know about this simple and crucial step? First, you need soap  and time. The best thing is to wash for 20 to 30 seconds, removing over 99  percent of bacteria. 

In the first 15 seconds, you knock out about 90 percent of it. But many  people simply do not wash long enough to remove the bacteria. And that  means, as well, especially men, who do statistically worse on hygiene than  woman, according to studies. 

Now, second, you need that time because most soap does not actually kill  germs. It works actually by mechanically removing them from your hands. As  a Harvard Medical School guide explains, the soap surrounds and removes the  germs and viruses that would otherwise stick to you, soap molecules acting  like crowbars to wedge the bacteria off of our skin, and then, thankfully,  render viruses useless. 

Now, a third thing about handwashing, we have actually had this technology  for a while. It dates back all the way to the 1840s, when a Hungarian  doctor discovered the basic act of doctors washing their hands lowered the  death rate of women during childbirth. That's an important thing that  reminds us where we're coming from. 

Now, fourth, washing works best to combat the specific times that you would  contact germs. So, to be clear, this is not like brushing your teeth  automatically twice a day. It's more like using a napkin when you eat. You  need to wash ever time you have likely contact with germs. 

Typically, that's after the bathroom or before preparing food and eating,  of course, and always whenever you might have contact with someone else. 

But that brings us to again why understanding what we're doing is so  important. This is not a typical time. Because of this virus, most contact  with any people or any public surfaces will be a reason for you to wash, as  this pandemic spreads, because, at times, it's spreading by people who, of  course, don't even know they have it, which means you wouldn't know they  have it. 

Now, if people who have heard of this since, well, being children, right,  and we have heard it for years straight, why are we even still talking  about it? Why are these public service ads and these press conference and  these reminders? 

Well, for the answer to that, consider something that we all see several  times a day, those signs in bathrooms that tell employees to wash their  hands. I'm sure you know the ones. They tell employees, simply, wash your  hands before returning to work. 

There are ones nudging people by suggesting washing hands can even, you see  here, make you cuter. In fact, see if we can bring these into full, make  these as big as possible, this one, if we have -- yes, "whatever" -- this  one has two categories, maybe like a centaur and a mermaid. 

But it says: "Whatever. Just wash your hands."

Another iconic bathroom sign pays tribute to local culture: "Texas  coronavirus prevention. Wash your hands like you just got done slicing  jalapenos for a batch of nachos, and you need to take your contacts out,"  which is very Texas and very memorable. 

Or take this one from an L.A. restaurant, which insists that both decency  and state law require you to wash your hands. 

And guess what? That is true. Federal rules really do require not only that  food establishments provide sinks for their staff. That's just the action  part, right? But also that they literally post those signs that tell  employees to wash their hands. It's an FDA rule. 

So, just like we have all been getting these seemingly obvious reminders to  wash our hands to combat the virus, food workers get that reminder daily,  along with any customers who use the same bathrooms. 

So why am I telling you this on the news tonight? Well, here's what's  really interesting. Whether this sounds obvious or not, these reminders,  these signs, they work. This is where medical science meets psychology. 

About 40 percent of Americans say signs do make them more likely to wash.  And when researchers monitor bathrooms with and without signs, boom, they  found just the posting of a sign led to an almost 10 percent increase in  washing. 

Now, nationwide that means these signs can increase handwashing by the  millions, which can save lives during a pandemic. 

And that's not all. Research also showing 70 percent of people wash more  thoroughly when they hear that it's flu season, and coronavirus is  something like the flu on super steroids. 

So, as simple as handwashing sounds, the research shows this isn't  something to just take for granted. We actually know that, when handwashing  is more on autopilot, statistically, a lot of people don't do it enough or  don't do it long enough to make it effective against viruses. 

But the good news is, when handwashing is promoted and touted and nudged in  bathrooms, when it is mentioned and explained and prompted in our everyday  life, when it even becomes, yes, part of our daily culture, the actual  handwashing increases. 

So, as you see people mixing in some hijinks in these, yes, serious times,  remember, even lighthearted reminders, they are effective. They are a  serious public service. 


CONAN O'BRIEN, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH CONAN O'BRIEN": That's why I wrote a  song that is informational that you can sing while you're washing your  hands. 

(singing): There are so many things that can kill you. 

Rock it, yes!

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: A good employee always scrubs his hands thoroughly. Be  sure to get under those fingernails, and don't forget about the knuckles. 



MELBER: To get everyone washing their hands right now thoroughly, we need  all the reminders we can get, really, the more memorable, the better. 

This is a time to get as germophobic as possible. As the rapper Big Sean  once put it, I can't dap you without hand sand. I don't know where your  dirty hands been. 

He has a point, because America, this is no time to be riding dirty. 


MELBER: We're back with Dr. Natalie Azar, an MSNBC medical contributor from  NYU Langone Medical Center. 

Thanks for joining us. 

For viewers who have been watching just this hour, for example, the numbers  we have on the screen, they see it jumping from 11,000-plus to over 13,000.  How should we medically understand what looks like this rapid surge? 

DR. NATALIE AZAR, MSNBC MEDICAL CONTRIBUTOR: Oh, well, I think it's  twofold. I think that we're seeing widespread transmission, and we're  seeing increased testing. I think that's the combination. And this slope is  going to continue in an upwards trajectory for the next few weeks. 

MELBER: And that means that we are getting a handle on it or that it may be  going up regardless of all the measures being taken? 

AZAR: Well, I think the expectation is that the numbers are going to go up  for the next few weeks.

And the whole point -- I know we're getting tired of the redundancy of  saying flatten the curve. We're just trying to make the numbers go up a  little more slowly. We're not trying to make the numbers -- or, I should  say, we're really not able to not make the numbers go up, but we want to  see a slow rise, rather than a sharp peak. 

MELBER: Doctor, I don't find it redundant. Anything that you're teaching us  that is constructive and reminds people what we're trying as a society to  do, I think, is great. 

Let me play for you a nurse we heard from who had contracted coronavirus,  but was initially denied a test, only learned that later. And this is one  of those many stories that seem to reveal the holes in the system. This was  on THE BEAT. Take a look. 


LISA MERCK, RECOVERING FROM COVID-19: On the 2nd of March, I called the  CDC, and I called our local public health department and just told them  about all of the travel that we had. I told them what my symptoms were,  that I had a fever, but -- and no cough or anything like that. 

But they said that I didn't meet the criteria for any type of testing. 

I think we can test more people. We can get the tests out rapid -- much  faster. 


MELBER: How long are we going to see these testing gaps sideline health  care workers, or is there any way to know? 

AZAR: Well, health care workers and the general population. Both groups are  going to have some difficulty, it seems. 

You know, I have patients who obviously are in the tri-state area, and I  also have patients who have been reaching out to me who have moved to other  parts of the country who are, you know, deemed to be at moderate risk for  this disease and haven't been able to get tested. 

You know, for health care workers, I think that we're setting up something  separate within my own institution, in addition to the capability that we  have now. I think we have three locations in Manhattan, Long Island and  Brooklyn annexed of the emergency room. The testing is still restricted.  You can't just walk off the street and get tested. 

You do need a physician's order. But, hopefully, the capacity will  increase. As I understand it, for health care workers who have been  exposed, I'm hoping that testing will be facilitated, but there is no  guarantee. 

MELBER: Dr. Natalie Azar, thank you.


MELBER: Sorry. Go ahead. Finish. 

AZAR: No, no, I said there is no guarantee. It's not like we're going jump  in front of the line. 

But I know that the workers at the front of the line of this battle, you  know, I -- it's going to be hard on them, the ones who are in the emergency  room. 

MELBER: Sure. Understood. 

Dr. Natalie Azar, as always, thank you very much. We will be coming back to  you. 

We're going fit in a quick break. When we come back, the reports of price- gouging you may have heard about around the country. This is a whole  different side of the story, and it may prey on desperate people. 

Well, we have someone very special, Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor  general under President Obama, to separate fact from fiction and tell you  the law, when we come back. 


MELBER: There are shelves in supermarkets that have been raided in parts of  America, some, of course, empty, others trying to take advantage of this  crisis. 

We are hearing concerns about price-gouging, people making money off a  pandemic that obviously is a risk for so many people. 

A Tennessee man actually bought up 18,000 bottles of sanitizer and started  selling them, hundreds, for between $8 and $70 each, a massive markup.  Amazon shut him down. 

And, after blowback, we want to be clear, he did come out and apologize.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If by my actions, any of -- anyone was directly impacted  and unable to get sanitizer from one of their local stores because I  purchased it all, I'm truly sorry for that. 


MELBER: I'm joined by former acting Solicitor General in the Obama  administration Neal Katyal, an MSNBC analyst, Skyping in, as it were.

Thank you for joining us. 

When we look at these situations, people wonder, why are some things  allowed and others not? Why do long-term pharmaceutical company research  projects seem to be able to increase prices a lot on things people say they  need, but, in other ways, it's limited? Walk us through it. 

NEAL KATYAL, MSNBC ANALYST: Yes, Ari, there's both state and federal laws  that say, at least for emergencies, you can't as a retailer kind of gouge  consumers. 

And they basically fall into two kind of categories. There are laws like  New York and Alabama that say you can't just an unconscionable price for  something during an emergency. 

And then there are laws in places like California and Arkansas and other  places that say, when the governor declares a national emergency, you can't  charge more than 10 percent. 

These are, Ari, emergency-specific laws, so they're not like the examples  you were talking about earlier about pharmaceuticals and drugs and so on,  which are done in the ordinary course of business. 

The law recognizes that, in unprecedented emergency situations, ordinary  business rules don't apply. You can't have that guy hoarding 18,000 bottles  of sanitizer or selling them, or the Lysol that sold for $220. 

All of that is flatly illegal under state law. And then there's federal  law. The Federal Trade Commission can regulate this as well. And, indeed,  the House Democrats have asked the Federal Trade Commission to do exactly  that. 

MELBER: Well, you explain it so clearly, Neal. 

We had a lot of conversations on our newscast about how much life is  changing fast, and everyone is figuring that out. This is a reminder of how  state and federal laws in our system also adjust to these emergencies.

The things that normally would be considered even good business acumen, up  to a line, are just not allowed, capitalism giving way to a crisis, if you  will. 

And you explain it in a way that makes it sound like a good thing that some  of these rules exist. 

I wanted to turn to something else you know a lot about, the president  saying he will use the Defense Production Act, then wavering. We heard  members of Congress on this very show criticize that today. 

And, briefly, I'm going to play someone who also served in the Obama  administration, Jeh Johnson, about this today, take a listen. 


JEH JOHNSON, FORMER U.S. SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: My guess is that,  when they announced that they were going to be invoking it, the president  probably heard from his friends in private industry to say, please hold off  on this.


MELBER: Walk us through what we know about this law, and what, if any, view  you have about the president making a big deal out of using it and then  potentially faltering?

KATYAL: Yes, so the Defense Production Act has been around since 1950. 

And it's an example, Ari, of exactly what you were talking about, that  there's an existing suite of laws that gives the government massive powers  in an emergency. And this is kind of the numero uno one. This allows the  president to say to factories, hey, we're going -- you're going to  prioritize our contracts and we're going to make contracts for you making  ventilators or masks or hospital gowns or whatever, and they have got to do  it. 

And I think former Secretary Johnson is exactly right that there's probably  some industry pushback on that, because, of course, industry doesn't want  the federal government telling them what to do. 

But this is exactly what the Defense Production Act was meant for, an  emergency like this in which ordinary business rules don't apply. The  president has said, well, you know, we can just wait to invoke it whenever  we need, as if it's like "Harry Potter," and you can just wave your wand  and create ventilators and masks and things like that. 

All that kind of production takes time. That's sophisticated equipment,  particularly for ventilators. And so it requires really the president to  act right now, invoke the act. This is a president who, you know, has not  been shy about using his executive power in all sorts of areas. 

He's got to use it now to protect every American. 

MELBER: Right. 

KATYAL: And, you know, he's got the tools to do it. Right?

We're reading about a ventilator shortage right now that's about to come.  And he's got to start now. The time to actually start was yesterday. He's  been dithering on it for a while, but now, now, now. 

MELBER: Now, now, now, that couldn't be clearer on this important issue and  where the law can support the emergency efforts. 

Neal Katyal, thank you, as always. 

I want to remind folks, particularly if you're not a regular viewer, that  you can actually catch this and other segments with Neal on, a lot of important stuff about coronavirus, the  law and the rest.

We will be right back. 


MELBER: That does it for us. 

Keep it right here on MSNBC.