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WH Coronavirus Task Force TRANSCRIPT: 4/9/20, MSNBC Live: Decision 2020

Guests: Lipi Roy, Karen Bass, Ben Rhodes, Ned Lamont, Piper Kerman

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: And, you know, we are testing across the country. We do have about 63 percent of states that have less than 10 percent positive, despite significant testing.

And within the indigenous peoples and tribal nations, they are seeing the same thing that we`re seeing across the nation, increase issues among those with comorbidities and those of elderly, but also issues in nursing homes.

And so, really, they are testing. Many of the states are still capable of doing full contact tracing. And so they have been doing contact tracing from nursing home outbreaks and other outbreaks. It really gives us a clear impression of no matter what we do in the future, we need to really ensure that nursing homes have sentinel surveillance.

And what do I mean by that? That we`re actively testing in nursing homes, both the residents and workers at all times. That is where and that`s how we saw this at the beginning. That`s what we saw in Washington state and that`s what we`re seeing in many of the states that have very low case attack rates.

The other thing that I want to leave you with, I mean, we certainly know how desperate and difficult the situation has been in New York over the last few weeks. And we`ve been telling and talking about how this would be the week that would be most difficult because of the large proportion of cases that are coming from the New York metro area.

What`s been encouraging to us, those early states outside of Washington and California, which still have extraordinarily low attack rates because of their level of mitigation, all of the new areas that are having new increase in cases, we talked about them yesterday, Washington and Baltimore and the Philadelphia metro area, that includes Camden, Wilmington and the counties around Philadelphia. We`re seeing that the case numbers, what we`ll get to as far as attack rates.

We talked about 7 in 1,000 in New York that are being measured. These are coming in, even with their progress of their curve in the 1 to 2 per thousand ranges, showing that when you start mitigation early, it has a very different impact.

All of this data is coming together the testing rates, the zero positivity, the age groups who really needs hospitalization, ICU, the innovative pieces coming from. We heard a great report from Louisiana this morning on the phone call where they talked about a minimum now of 40 percent of people coming off of ventilators alive and leaving the hospital. This is very encouraging to us. It really shows amazing progress clinically at each of these hospitals and the real lessons, what we`re learning and sharing across hospitals.

But really shows us that the original outbreaks were very large. But the newer ones that we talk about in Washington and Philadelphia and Baltimore, it looks like their attack rates and attack rates in Denver and some of these other states that we have been talking about are much lower than New York and New Jersey.

And this gives us hope about really understanding how to integrate this informational together, not dealing with a model, but the real live cases that are occurring and understanding how to move forward together to really have a different future. So thank you very much.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Thank you very much, Mr. Vice President. So just reflecting about what we have been doing over the last few days, remember last weekend when we made the forecast that this would really be a bad week. As I mentioned yesterday and the day before, it is in the sense of deaths, a bad week. In fact, every day there seems to be a record of number of deaths compared to the day before. In fact, New York today had, again, another record of I think the city itself was about 820 plus deaths.

But what we were predicting with the increase and the real adherence to the physical separation, the guidelines that the vice president talks about, the physical separation, at the same time as we`re seeing the increase in deaths, we`re seeing a rather dramatic decrease in the need for hospitalizations. Like I think yesterday, it was something like 200 new hospitalizations. And it`s been as high as 1,400 at any given time. So that is going in the right direction.

I say that, and I always remind myself when I say that, that means that what we are doing is working. And therefore, we need to continue to do it. I know I sound like a broken record. That`s good. I want to sound like a broken record. Let`s just keep doing it.

I get questions a lot, Dr. Birx and I, about these numbers, the projections, they went from 100,000, 200,000, now down to 60,000. That`s a sign that when, as I keep saying, when you take the data you have and you reinsert it into the model, the model modifies. The data is real, model is hypothesis, okay? So that`s what you have to do, and that`s what I think we`re seeing.

The other thing that some, just broad, general good news from the standpoint of a scientific standpoint, that there are a lot of candidate, potential therapeutics that are going into clinical trials now that we`re sponsoring at the NIH, the kinds of clinical trials that will give us the answer, are they safe, are they effective and just what is the capability of using them under what circumstances, as prophylaxis, as treatment, in early disease, in late disease.

So as the time goes by and we have the public health measures to try and contain this, we`re doing an awful lot from a scientific stand point so when we do get to next year, next fall, next winter, hopefully, we`ll have something that we can offer in addition to the very important public health measures. So I`ll be happy to answer questions later.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Vice President, thank you.

ARI MELBER, MSNBC HOST: Good evening. We have been listening to the White House coronavirus briefing. I`m Ari Melber anchoring our special coverage. We`ll give you several updates here. We played part of the briefing. We cut out of it to fact check a misleading claim by the president. We went back in, so you could hear from some of the healthcare experts, including Dr. Fauci, and now we are out of it.

The president made several claims. He argued that there is better testing now, that it`s not necessary to start reopening the country yet. But we could be getting there soon. Health officials, though, are expressing a type of cautious optimism. They say that the mitigation efforts are reducing the projected death toll, although we have seen some very, very tough numbers this week. That was, to some degree, expected.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said, quote, what we are doing is working. That is his medical view of flattening the curve. As for the facts, here they are. Over 450,000 Americans infected by the coronavirus, a death toll that now tops 16,456 cases.

I want to go right to our special guest tonight. Congresswoman Karen Bass of California. Dr. Lipi Roy, Internal Medicine Physician, and Ben Rhodes, the former Deputy National Security Adviser, under President Obama. Thank you all.

Doctor, something that we tangled with earlier was the issue of testing. The president making a claim that our experts said was misleading at best about the state of the United States` testing. Then in hearing from Dr. Birx, just reading off the new numbers, she was releasing, talking about 118,000 tests now a day, an improvement. Walk us through your factual analysis.

DR. LIPI ROY, INTERNAL MEDICINE PHYSICIAN: Yes. Just by straight up data and facts, we are in fact testing a lot more, which is what we have been asking for for a long, long time. We`re still not where we need to be though. But I`m trying to be optimistic here. We are testing a lot more in terms of numbers.

I want to point out a key phrase that Dr. Fauci said, which was the data is real, the model is hypothetical. So, yes, we`re projecting now about 60,000 deaths, which is still astronomically high, but initial projections were up to 100,000 to 200,000, right? But when you put in the data, and which is based in real time, based on what we`re doing, the physical distancing, it seems to be working.

And so, again, to emphasize what he said, the result -- that means that we need to keep on doing what we`re doing. We cannot let up right now.

MELBER: Congresswoman Bass, take a listen to the president here when asked about the nationwide testing system and whether that would actually be the best thing to get the country on track for reopening. Here is what he said.


REPORTER: How can the administration discuss the possibility of reopening the country when the administration does not have an adequate nationwide testing system for this virus? Don`t you need a nationwide testing system for the virus before you reopen?

TRUMP: No. We have great testing system. We have the best, right now, the best testing system in the world.

Go ahead.

ACOSTA: Don`t you need that, Mr. President, to make sure people are safe going back to work? You don`t want to send people back to the workplace.

TRUMP: We want to have it and we`re going to see if we have it. Did you need it, no. Is it a nice thing to do, yes. We are talking about 325 million people and that`s not going to happen, as you can imagine.


MELBER: Congresswoman?

REP. KAREN BASS (D-CA): Well, I mean, I think we all familiar with the president just making things up. So to say that we have a great testing system when everybody in the world knows that we don`t, the disparity in rates that we have seen out of the major cities of the African-American population is just an example of that. I think that Fauci`s comment that what we are doing is working, and we need to keep doing it, I think, was very clear.

We know that what the president wants to do, because he`s very worried about the economy, because he`s very worried about his re-election, which I think is a little sad. He wants us back at work. And I think that the message that is being sent to him is that would be a disaster if we were to do that. We need much more testing. And in my opinion, to address the disproportionate numbers of African-Americans, we need concentrated and focused testing where we see the death rates being so high.

MELBER: Yes, you bring that up, Congresswoman. We were covering that earlier today on MSNBC. Mayor De Blasio spotlighting these numbers, that African-American and Latino minorities in New York are twice as likely to die from this virus and pointing to the economic inequalities that make that the case. These are issues you`ve worked on for a long time. What do we do to try to address that in the middle of this larger crisis?

BASS: Well, I man, I think we have to address the crisis at hand. I think it is completely unacceptable to say that because, you know, African- Americans and Latinos have all of these underlying issues, that then there`s nothing that could be done now.

I worked in the medical field at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. I remember this. I`ve seen this before. Obviously, this is different because it`s much more widespread. But you need to pay attention to populations.

Right now, the only thing we know is anecdotal information about the death rate. We need the CDC to, number one, collect the information, but also to disseminate it. We need to make sure that African-Americans, when they go to the hospital, they get early treatment. I can just absolutely guess that what is happening is people are being sent home, they get really sick at home, and then by the time they go back, they`re ready for a ventilator, which means they have a very high likelihood of dying.

So I think there`s a lot of education that needs to be done. But I think it is very, very important that we not say that there`re just all these other issues, and we can`t solve it right now.

MELBER: Ben, you have done a lot of work in the policy process, national security, how the White House should function. But also in communication, in writing, and how you talk about and express the ideas here that the country need to move forward.

With that in mind, I want to touch on something that I think everyone knows is controversial. Holding these daily briefings where doctors and others experts can provide updates that are useful, but with a president who is documented to be the biggest liar in the history of the White House. I don`t say that to be mean, it`s just what he is.

And so Ben, listen to The Wall Street Journal editorial page, famously conservative, famously pro-Trump and MAGA, making waves today, Ben, by saying, the briefings began as a way to educate the public. But sometime in the last three weeks, quote, Mr. Trump seems to have concluded they could be a showcase for him, urging him to change course and saying the public will judge Mr. Trump by the results not by how well he said he did. The headline, Trump`s wasted briefing, Ben, a pretty strong indictment from a pro-trump wing of that paper.

BEN RHODES, FMR. DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: Well, absolutely. And there are a couple of things to measure here, which is how useful is the briefing itself. And is it just a vehicle for him to provide at times disinformation. And the danger here is that disinformation can harm people, because when he has downplayed this virus in the past, it is contributed to people not taking the social distancing seriously.

What I think needs to happen here, is if you look at the briefing even today, Dr. Fauci is giving useful information. And what he`s underscoring is that people need to stay home. They need to keep doing what`s working. Trump is always trying to put the best light on this. And we`re sitting here talking just days before Easter. It was only a couple of weeks ago that he was saying that people should be in churches by Easter and people should be resuming life by Easter.

So, clearly, what I think should happen is that he should get out of the way. And if there are going to be daily briefings, let those briefing be done by experts who can give the American people the information they need to be safe rather than have them be in this political theater that is mainly about President Trump trying to cast himself in the best possible light, and in doing so, sometimes providing not just lies but dangerous disinformation that can put people at risk.

MELBER: Yes. Dr. Roy, I mean, to that very point, given what you do, which is try to both treat people but also make sure they have the medical facts to make the right decisions with in there, whatever challenge they face, the president also just completely contradicts himself within his own briefings. Take a look.


TRUMP: We`re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We`re going to put a very powerful hold on it. I`m not saying we`re going to do it, but we`re going to look at it.

REPORTER: You did say it.

TRUMP: We give a tremendous -- No, I didn`t. I said we`re going to look at it. We`re going to investigate it. We`re going to look at it.

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 is been very fair.

I wish we had a fair media in this country, and we really don`t.

I don`t believe you need 40,000 or 30,000 ventilators.

YAMICHE ALCINDOR, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, "PBS NEWSHOUR": You said repeatedly that you think some of the equipment that governors are requesting, they don`t actually need. You said New York might need -- might not need 30,000.

TRUMP: I never said that.

ALCINDOR: You said it on, Sean Hannity`s Fox --


MELBER: And when you look at this, Doctor, do you think that there needs to be a kind of a public health warning for the president`s part of the briefings?

ROY: Ari, I`ve told you this before, that as a physician, as a medical professional, our agenda is just one, it`s the health and safety of the public. I`m not going to get into politics. But what I will say is that when a president speaks -- says things that are plain incorrect, lives are at stake.

And I`ll give you a very specific example. I told you this before, that I received calls and text in real time every day from my fellow medical professionals. One of my colleagues in Alabama right now, she`s a physician, said that she`s in her parent`s house. They had some contractors over, but and she just asked them, hey, can you wear masks? And can you like try to maintain distance? And they walked out. They refused to wear masks, they walked out and said this is just a hoax. We`re not going to work under these conditions.

Now, these same people may very well get infected and then my other medical colleagues in Alabama are going to have to take care of them. This is a real-time problem. Misinformation like this is directly harmful to people who are actually listening to him.

MELBER: Well, Congresswoman, yes, I wanted to bring you in. But I wanted to bring you in and ask you, I mean, this is the part of this is so striking, is we are here in the middle of the Trump era, heading into what is now a defined general action between him and Vice President Biden and your party.

And it would seem that after years of back and forth about how much it is true that there`re problems with the press and there are some, or it is true that there are problems with the elites and the establishment, and there are some. But the notion that you should dismiss news, facts, empirical science seems to be giving way in this Trump era to a really tragic and sad reminder to everyone why you need facts.

I mean, we`re looking at for medical experts and doctors and scientists, and, yes, journalists, take me out of it, I`ll just say other journalist, New York Times, Washington Post, New England Journal of Medicine, we need these facts to get through this.

BASS: I mean, I think that we have gone through three-and-a-half years of listening to lies, just made-up information every day. But now because we`re in the middle of this pandemic, it shows the consequences of that type of behavior that we have all grown accustomed to.

And you have another network that promotes cures that are non-existent, convincing people that this is really not that bad. As a matter of fact, we`re on the road to recovery, actually having people on the air saying they were cured by this medication that the president just a few minutes ago said that they`re ordering massive amounts, and it hasn`t even been proven. So this now hits everyone. The danger and the threat of his lies hits everyone.

And I understand the doctor can`t be political. But you know what? This is all about politics. And it just shows that this presidency, if we were to face another four years, the impact that it has had on our democracy and now on the health of Americans is just incomprehensible.


RHODES: Well, I mean, I think there`s so many things that are striking about the approach from President Trump. And as someone who`s been there before and thought about what a role the president is in a crisis like this, one of the striking things to me is the complete lack of empathy. I mean, (INAUDIBLE).

You look at the role of the president versus the experts. The president is there to empathize with the American people, to make sure they`re getting the right information, to make them feel like they can get through this together. And at the same time, the president is there to amplify the experts who provide life-saving information.

President Trump gets this backwards. He sees this as only a vehicle to get through the next political cycle. What does he need to do to have the best possible 24 hours? Who does he need to attack? Who does he need to blame? If it`s disinformation that can get him through that, he will do that. If it`s lies that will get him through that, he will do that. And it is incredibly dangerous.

And It`s also the question of, what is he not doing? There`s such a focus on his briefings, there`s such a focus on performance. Is he coordinating with foreign leaders? Is he working with the WHO instead of scapegoating it for his own failure to take this seriously? Is he working with other governments, including frankly, China, are that we have to work with, to get through not just a global pandemic, or the global financial crisis. Or is he calling this the China virus?

We are seeing in very real-time the consequence of having a president who is dishonest and sees everything through the prism of his own political interest, and not the job that he`s supposed to do, which is to serve the interests of all of the American people.

BASS: Ari, can I just say something?

Because Ben Rhodes was there when the Obama administration faced a potential pandemic with Ebola. And he saw the way the president stood up and mobilized the entire world.

The WHO had predicted a million people were going to die of Ebola. Now, one person is too many, but 11 folks died, and it never became a problem in the United States. They were able to contain it. They were able to respond. So, he knows the difference.

MELBER: All fair points. And really appreciate our experts hanging with us and walking us through it.

Congresswoman Bass, Dr. Roy, and Ben Rhodes, thanks to each of you.

Coming up: New York reporting its highest single-day death toll yet from this virus, even as the officials say that that means they may be, of course, getting past the peak -- leaders in the hardest-hit region of the nation wrestling with what normalcy might look like.

And we have a governor with us when we come back.


ANTHONY ALMOJERA, FDNY EMS LIEUTENANT: It`s been a crazy week. The call volume is 6,500 or better. Last night was 6,900 again.

There`s been -- there`s been a lot of people dying. I`m getting phone calls from crews that are doing four, five, six arrests in a tour, cardiac arrests, people dying.




FAUCI: There are some glimmers of hope, particularly when you look at the situation in New York, where the number of hospitalizations, requirements for intensive care and intubation, over the last few days, have actually stabilize and starting to come down.

But the mitigation, the physical separation that we have initiated, is starting to have a real effect now.

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE, HOST, "THE TODAY SHOW": Is that the flattening of the curve that everybody so famously talks about in New York? Are we seeing the flattening of the curve in this first initial hot spot?

FAUCI: You know, I don`t want to jump the gun on that, Savannah. But I think that is the case.


MELBER: Dr. Fauci today expressing his hope the curve may be flattening.

We`re seeing the states of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut facing a lot of problems, over 220,000 cases, over 9,000 deaths.

The number of virus-related deaths in New York today was the highest it`s ever been.

Meanwhile, academic researchers say that the deaths will start to decrease, they project, after today, New Jersey reporting 196 deaths today. That`s a drop from yesterday. Researchers say the state`s deaths will peak on April 12. That would just be three days away.

Connecticut, also in this region, reporting 45 new deaths today. That`s less than their high two days ago. And the same group of researchers project the state`s peak there won`t come until the 22nd. That would be two weeks away.

I`m joined now by Governor Ned Lamont of Connecticut.

Thanks for making the time.

How do all those projections relate to what you`re seeing?

GOV. NED LAMONT (D-CT): Ari, I think the key metric is hospitalizations.

That`s what we have been trying to mitigate. Wanted to make sure that our hospitals were not overwhelmed. And really, over the last week, the rate of hospitalization is going down.

In fact, in Fairfield county, which is Southern Connecticut, which is part of that New York metro area, we had one fewer person hospitalized today than a day ago.

So, that does not a trend make, but it does give some indication that we may be on the backside of this over a period of time.

What I really worry about now is, I have got restaurant and bar owners beginning to sing happy days are here again, now going to have to work hard to keep the appropriate social distancing in place, for the near term anyway.

MELBER: Right. And you`re seeing that.

I mean, one other stat we were mentioning was in New York, which is the same neighborhood as you. If New York were a country, it would have the most coronavirus cases and deaths anywhere, except the United States, which it`s a part of, which just gives us a sense of the massive scale of this.

Now, some of that`s because these are dense population areas. I think everyone knows Manhattan, the skyscrapers, millions of people on a tiny island.

But then there`s the pushback to how long the precautions are needed. Take a listen to the president`s own attorney general on FOX News.


WILLIAM BARR, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE: I think we have to be very careful to make sure this is -- that the draconian measures that are being adopted are fully justified, and there are not alternative ways of protecting people.

And I think, when this -- when this period of time, this -- at the end of April expires, I think we have to allow people to adapt more than we have, and not just tell people to go home and hide under the bed, but allow them to use other ways, social distancing, and other means to protect themselves.


MELBER: Your response?

LAMONT: My response is, I think I`m going to listen to Dr. Fauci and the health care experts, not the lawyers, when it comes to how fast we can get our economy moving again.

A state like Connecticut, like other states...


MELBER: Yes. You know, Governor -- Governor, you know, that hurts my feelings, when you say you don`t want to listen to lawyers.

LAMONT: With some exceptions.

MELBER: Go ahead.


LAMONT: I was just going to say that states like Connecticut and New York, you have two worlds.

You have the dense metropolitan areas, where the infection rate is very high, and the hospitals are close to getting overwhelmed.

And you have the more rural areas, where they really have not been infected or hit as much yet. So, even in our small state, I have a tale of two cities, so to speak. And trying to get that balance going forward is complicated.


And you mentioned, of course, listening more to the doctors. I think that makes a lot sense.

With regard to some of those challenges, let`s take another listen to a different point made by Dr. Fauci.


FAUCI: The antibody tests are developed. There are several out there.

They don`t tell you whether you are infected. They tell you whether you have been infected. And the answer to that is important.

It is likely, though we need to prove it, that once you have been infected, and you have an antibody profile, that you are very likely protected against subsequent challenge for the same virus, which means you may have a cohort of people who are actually protected, who have more of a chance of getting back into the normality of society.


MELBER: So, as a governor on the front lines, are you starting to work with your people on what that might look like?

I mean, there`s the first-order responses, emergency stuff we`re dealing with right now. But do you see a world where, in the future, in your state, you`re looking at opening up areas or devising policies around who has had it and beat it, herd immunity, or as the Dr. Fauci -- as Dr. Fauci just mentioned, people who may just have that profile?

LAMONT: Absolutely.

We`re thinking about the antibody test, rolling that out, strategizing for first responders, folks in our critical defense industries, see what we can do to see which of those folks have developed the antibodies, who has got - - and who is immune to the COVID virus.

That`s how we`re going to start getting people back to the work force safely. We are going to try to roll that out statewide. And I`m working with a Cuomo and Murphy on that as well to do it on a regional basis, because we`re a tristate work force.

MELBER: All very important points.

Governor Ned Lamont, thank you so much.

LAMONT: Ari, nice to be with you again.

MELBER: Great to have you.

Meanwhile, the other story we have been covering, over 6.5 million more Americans now jobless. Are we headed towards something that can`t be turned around?


JUANITA FLOREZ, LIVING PAYCHECK TO PAYCHECK: We`re already living paycheck to paycheck, already behind in bills.

LAUREN CIRULLI, CONCERNED WORKER: There`s a lot of uncertainty on what we`re going to be doing as far as how we`re going to make it through.



MELBER: Welcome back.

There are staggering new figures out today that are showing this ongoing economic devastation from the fallout to the treatment of this virus, over six million Americans now jobless.

That brings the total number to over 16 million in just the last three weeks. The surge has overwhelmed unemployment offices, many people having trouble even filing their claims.


ANDREW PARYS, TRYING TO FILE UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIM: Have called the line hundreds of times, only gotten busy signal or disconnected.

ALESSIO DE SENSI, TRYING TO FILE UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIM: My wife and I are constantly calling from two different lines pretty much all day, hoping to get someone on the phone.


MELBER: An administration official has told NBC News that the president wants to unveil another task force to focus on the economy, as well as what happens when the country tries to reopen.

Tonight, the president was asked what he`d say to all these people in America tonight who are unemployed and worried about the economy bouncing back.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think that what`s going to happen is, we`re going to have a big bounce, rather than a small bounce, but we will be back.

And I think -- honestly, I think our country is going to be back, from an economic standpoint -- again, you can never replace the people that were lost.

And to their family, certainly, you can never do a thing like that. But we will have succeeded in many ways, hopefully keeping the number way below our minimum numbers, and also from an economic standpoint.


MELBER: Trump`s oversight of the economy also complicates the ongoing argument that he should be reelected.

You have Joe Biden clinching at least the presumptive status of Democratic presidential nominee, with Joe Biden in the lead there and Bernie Sanders dropping out.

For more, we are joined by Eugene Robinson, columnist for "The Washington Post," who has been riding along with us, sometimes before and after these briefings.

I appreciate your time, sir.


MELBER: You heard the president there.


MELBER: Hey, glad to have you.

You heard the president make the argument, oh, well, it`s bad now, we could bounce back. Eagle-eyed viewers and listeners will think there`s an echo there of Big Sean, who always talks about bouncing back.

But this is a hard one to bounce back from anytime soon, Eugene, the pain, the wreckage. It`s something that you and I have discussed today. These numbers are so severe. They are so much worse than anything we have seen in the past few decades.

And just as we don`t know, when the curve will flatten, we don`t know that -- these this new six million is the worst yet either.


I mean, first and foremost, we talk about the human toll, the tragic human toll this virus is taken. But then, when you look at the economic toll, it`s so huge, it`s hard to get your arms around that.

I mean, nearly 17 million people filing for unemployment. That`s a portion of those who were actually unemployed. There have been estimates that unemployment has shot up in the real world to 13 percent or more.

Those are Great Depression kinds of figures. And while you have to figure, OK, at some point, we do come back. These job losses, many of them won`t be permanent.

If we do a good enough job, if the government does a good enough job of supporting small businesses and supporting individuals through this awful period, when they have no income, a lot of people should be able to try to resume where they`re left off.

But it won`t be all. It won`t be all small businesses that survive. It won`t be all Americans that get their jobs back. And when is the question that nobody can answer, because we don`t know when it will be safe to say, OK, everybody, go back to the way it was.

And the way it`s going to be probably will not be the way it was, at least until there is a foolproof vaccine for this virus.

And that won`t be for another 18 months or so.


And, as you`re speaking, Eugene, we`re just looking at some of the file footage, some of the photographs, some of the different sort of reported evidence we have of how this is playing out, people in lines, people in masks, people trying to find ways to get unemployment when the hot lines and the Web sites aren`t working.

And then, of course, there`s some overhead shots of folks there in the masks, that some are trying to social distance. It`s a challenge.

We have also seen reporting out today about the demand for food assistance, food health, food banks rivaling anything we have seen even in the last Great Recession, one outlet saying that it was not double or triple, but it was over five times the demand and that, while they were giving out the food, Eugene, they were obvious -- they were also contracting with extra security to try to lower tensions, because of the desperation.

Do you think that the Congress has met this moment enough yet, and the president has sort of led? I feel silly asking the question, because I think most people would say, obviously not.

But walk us through what it means to lead a nation dealing with this level of economic pain.

ROBINSON: Well, we have not met the moment, the federal government has not met the moment, I think that`s clear. The longer this goes on, the worse it will get.

And, you know, look, $2 trillion plus another $4 trillion, that you know, look, $2 trillion you know, look, $2 trillion plus another $4 trillion, that sounds like a lot of money. But that`s not nearly what`s going to be needed.

We do need another immediate tranche of money, big money going to workers, to individuals that may be passed through the companies to individual workers to ensure that they can keep their jobs, they won`t lose their jobs, they stay at least on the, at least technically, on the payrolls until these companies can start up again. Much like the arrangement that the airline employees managed to get in, and the airline assistance so they keep their jobs at least through September.

You know, there are other businesses, there needs to be something like that. And look, this is just the time when you don`t hold back. There should be -- the leadership, there should be a plan. We haven`t heard a plan yet for getting through the period and how we could conceivably come out of this period. Hopefully someone is working on one, but we haven`t heard it yet.

MELBER: Yes, all fair points. Gene Robinson, our special thanks to you joining us tonight on more than one topic.

We`re going to fit in a break. Then we turn to something we haven`t talked about today or in many days. It`s so important, how are prison facilities dealing with the surge in coronavirus cases and the risk that poses to obviously the people inside, as well as the people who work there and the affected communities?

We have a special guest, Piper Kerman, the author of "Orange is the New Black", when we return.


DR. STEFAN FLORES, NEW YORK CITY: Surprisingly, places like Brooklyn, Queens, places like Washington Heights where I was born and raised where I now work, are disproportionately affected. Probably the communities that are most affected by all these are the incarcerated and the homeless.



MELBER: The coronavirus is a problem everywhere. It is a problem not only in our free communities, but also behind bars in the prisons and jails that are all over the United States.

Cook County Jail in Chicago is the nation`s large known source of coronavirus infections with over 350 cases. Rikers Island in New York where many people have not been convicted of a crime but awaiting trial. It saw its first inmate die this week from the virus. At least 287 inmates and 440 staff have tested positive just at that facility alone.

Respond to the crisis, many governors are expediting the release of certain categories of inmates. Many advocates say, though, this is a much larger problem, and that includes our next guest. Piper Kerman is the best selling author of "Orange is the New Black." She spent 13 months in a federal correctional facility.

Kerman also penning an article in "The Washington Post" noting that prisoners are uncontrollable super spreaders. If you don`t take the right precautions, her work is known to so many as well people from the adaption of her book, "Orange is the New Black".

Thanks for joining me.

PIPER KERMAN, AUTHOR. "ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK": Of course, Ari. It`s great to be here with you.

MELBER: So what is it that people need to know about this as a public health issue first, regardless of how they may feel about inmate population? And then, second, as a humanitarian issue, because people who are behind bars still have full human rights?

KERMAN: So people need to know all American prisons and jails are vastly overcrowded and that social distancing in all of the practices that we have adopted nationwide to try to fight this pandemic are impossible behind bars.

So, as an example, you know, I taught as a men`s meeting in security prison in Marion, Ohio, which was the first prison to have an outbreak. That prison was built for 1,400 prisoners and it currently holds 2,600 men.

So that`s how overcrowded most prisons are. That makes it impossible to slow the spread.

So people may be indifferent to the conditions that the people who work and the people who are incarcerated there, you know, are enduring. But what they need to know is that there`s no way to keep those hot spots behind the walls of a prison or jail. And Cook County jail is a great example.

Prisons and jails are connected to more than 1,300 cases across the country. And those cases are not all behind bars. Those are also staff, as you mentioned a number of correctional officers have tragically died and their families.

And as we know, this pandemic spreads really quickly. It`s highly contagious. And the presence of an outbreak behind bars threatens the outside community. The only way to combat those outbreaks is to reduce the populations in those prisons and jails.

So, we`ve seen that happen in many municipalities. So some county or city jails have done a good job of reducing their populations swiftly. And that wasn`t hard to do, because there were a lot of people who were there for very low level misdemeanors or they were eligible for bail, and just sitting there because they were too poor to pay their bail.

So, some places have done a good job of getting those folks out of confinement and, you know, flattening the curve. Some prisons and jails -- some prisons have not done a good job at all. You know, we have seen much more trouble in the state prison systems in terms of getting governors to do what they need to do to protect public health.

MELBER: I want to play in that vein something from an Ohio prison, which I know you know about, we taught there, we`re going to hear a prisoner describing some of these conditions and challenges right now.

KERMAN: Right.


OHIO PRISONER: Somebody in here tested positive for COVID-19. It`s a few staff members who got it, but somebody in the inmate population got it now. So this is what they gave us. Like all the necessary precautions are out the window. There`s a few dudes in here right now who got fever who they`re not testing and not taking out of here. It`s just -- it`s pandemonium in a pandemic. But essential things like hygiene, toothpaste, soap, deodorant, all of that is about to be non-existent here in a second and they don`t got a way to get us no more.


MELBER: What should be done about this?

KERMAN: So that footage is from Marion Correctional Institution where I used to teach in Ohio. And so, this is a men`s medium security prison. It happens to be the prison that holds the largest number of elderly prisoners in the state of Ohio. It is way overcapacity, again, built for 1,400 men holding about 2,600.

I can tell you, you know, I had a lot of guys in my class there. I`m thinking about my students. I`m thinking specifically about, you know, some of my students I know are very close to release, so a couple of guys who have been incarcerated for, you know, let`s say, eight or nine years but they are within a year of their release. They are more than ready to go home.

And so, there are a lot of people in state prisons who are close to their release dates who should be released now, you know, I would say the safe release plan in order to reduce that population and the other group of people in state prisons who must be fast-tracked for release are those elderly prisoners and critically ill prisoners. And again, Marion Correctional Institution, the first outbreak in Ohio.

The other really bad outbreak in Ohio is at a federal prison holds more elderly prisoners than any other prison in the state of Ohio. And this is a problem across the country where the number of elderly prisoners across the country has grown by 300 percent over the last 15 years. So, there`s a significant percentage of prisoners in all American prisons who are among the people who are most at risk and there are also the lowest safety risk.

Elderly prisoners have extremely low recidivism rates. So, sending those people home as an act of mercy is not a threat to public safety, but not sending them home is a threat to public health.

MELBER: Right, and it goes to the balancing that we do and whether any of that needs to be rebalanced. Lord knows Americans are rebalancing a lot of their daily lives, policy, economy, losing jobs, what you have I think emphasize tonight and in your work is there are trade-offs in the prison system already that are very questionable when you talk about what is the value to these -- to society of keeping someone incarcerated so they die in there depending on the offense and does any of that need to be rebalanced right now? I think these are profound questions, I appreciate you raising them, Piper Kerman.

KERMAN: Sure, thank you.

MELBER: Go ahead, you have one more thought? Did you have one more thing?

KERMAN: Oh, I would only say that, you know, we`ve seen governors like Governor Cuomo, Governor Newsom, Governor DeWine in Ohio do lots of smart and important and swift things to protect the people in their state, but where all three of those governors are falling short is around this question of public health and public safety that comes to the state prisons. So, tragically, in Ohio, you know, yesterday they reported their first death of a correctional officer and that --

MELBER: Yes, we have that.

KERMAN: That is Officer Dawson and --

MELBER: Yes, John Dawson.

KERMAN: I saw him every day when I would leave the prison. He was close to retirement and he was a good guy. He was a nice man, and that was an avoidable death and --

MELBER: Absolutely.

KERMAN: -- many of these deaths are going to be avoidable.

MELBER: Piper again, I have to fit in --


MELBER: We`re only on a slight delay. I have to fit in a break but glad to get your additional point and Mr. Dawson who`s, as you say, deceased now because of a lot of these threats.

Piper Kerman, thank you so much.

We`re going to fit in a break and we will be right back.


MELBER: Many rural communities in America are remote but that doesn`t make them immune to the coronavirus.

NBC`s Ali Vitali reporting right now from West Virginia.


ALI VITALI, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: In West Virginia, fighting coronavirus is coming up against the business of keeping hospital doors open. Concerns here are less about preparation and more about the cash flow needed to keep hospitals open.

Empty hospitals means millions lost as elective hospitals are cancelled and postponed.

FAUCI: Keep people out of the hospitals except those who need to be in the hospitals.

VITALI: That ensures beds are available and non-infected patients aren`t exposed.

But there`s also a downside, that`s money these hospitals need to survive.

JOE LETNAUNCHYN, WEST VIRGINIA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: It`s drying up revenue significantly in our hospitals, some to the point of a 30 percent drop in layoffs have occurred. People are furloughed. Others have gone in reduction in force.

VITALI: On one hand, you want to hear hospitals are at 50 percent. They`re ready if there is an influx of coronavirus cases. On the other hand, it`s a matter of can you stay in business to handle the coronavirus?

LETNAUNCHYN: That`s a challenge.

VITALI: A challenge for a state that`s used sparse health care systems. They only have 68 hospitals and medical centers for nearly 1.8 million West Virginians. Two hospitals have closed in the last six months alone.


VITALI: Nearly half the state`s adult population is at serious risk of illness if infected with COVID-19 making it the most at risk in the U.S.

BECKETT: If they started having this large outbreak and then coming to our smaller community hospitals, that could be a very bad situation because those hospitals could be overwhelmed pretty quickly.

VITALI: It`s a prime target but the state`s rural nature means social distancing is in some ways built in.

LETNAUNCHYN: And that continues to be either our Achilles heel or something that`s really good for us.

VITALI: Another thing that could be good is the $100 billion coming to hospitals from the CARES Act.

LETNAUNCHYN: We have hospitals losing half a million to a million dollars a day just in lost revenue. And so, this money from the CARES Act would be very helpful.

VITALI: Helpful but by Senator Manchin`s estimation, not nearly enough for hospitals already feeling the financial squeeze.

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): We put all the money towards the financial crisis that`s coming afterwards and it needs to have the attention. But if you don`t put the attention to the front line, if you can`t keep hospitals especially in rural West Virginia, rural America, then we`ve got no way to take care of our citizens.


VELSHI: We wanted to show you that reporting there as a final word.

"ALL IN" starts now.