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Coronavirus Special TRANSCRIPT: 2/25/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Laurie Garrett

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Much appreciated.

Thanks to you at home for joining us this hour as well for our special coverage tonight. At the start of the day today, the coronavirus had been found in roughly three dozen countries around the world. The virus is killing about 2 percent of the people it infects so far. There are about 80,000 people who are known to be infected with the virus world. About 2,700 people have died thus far.

And whether or not you`ve been paying close attention to the coronavirus and to the fears about its global spread, you undoubtedly know already that the vast majority of cases of coronavirus continue to be in China. That said, it is pretty dramatic now the way it is spreading.

At the start of the day today, as I mentioned, about three dozen countries had reported at least one case of coronavirus. Well, just over the course of the past day, we got at least four more countries announcing their first cases -- Croatia, Austria, Switzerland, now Algeria in North Africa.

Today, in Tenerife, Canary Islands, which is a part of Spain, a luxury hotel was locked down, turned into a quarantine zone after one of the guests at the hotel was diagnosed with the virus. In Britain today, a high school was shutdown after the school freaked out about a bunch of students returning from a ski trip they had taken to the Alps.

In Venice, they shutdown the filming of "Mission Impossible 7." I can`t believe there are seven "Mission Impossible" movies already. But they shutdown the filming of "Mission Impossible 7" because they were shooting in Venice and now Venice has coronavirus cases, too, and a big Hollywood action shoot involves a lot of people, so I guess it seemed like the responsible thing to do.

In Iraq, the radical Shiite cleric Muqtada al Sadr called off massive street protests in Baghdad, telling his followers that they should not turnout in the streets to protest their government today. They should stay home instead for their health. And they will.

Today, a member of the International Olympic Committee said that the Olympics have a hard decision to make about whether or not to allow the next Olympic Games to go forward or to cancel them.

The Olympics are supposed to start in late July in Tokyo. Japan has reported only one coronavirus death so far, but if it gets worse there, if it takes off in Japan, or if it`s just taken off everywhere else, is it still wise to bring the world together that way anywhere for any purpose?

South Korea has now raised its national alert to the highest level as the number of cases there continues to rise alarmingly. Italy thus far is the country with the most cases outside of Asia. Iran is proving to be a locus of worry for the Middle East with 16 deaths reported in Iran already.

But as I mention, of course, the vast majority of cases and the vast majority of deaths are still in China. China now says that its daily rate of new infections is slowing, and dramatically, but there is also widespread suspicion as to whether the Chinese government can be trusted to give real numbers, to give true information, especially now that the scale of the economic slowdown in China is coming into view, all attributed to the virus and to the fear of it and to the efforts to contain it.

Well, today here in the United States, two things happened on this front that had both immediate consequence, but that also may turnout to be real benchmarks for how our federal government is handling this disaster, or not handling this disaster as the case may be. The first thing that happened today was a briefing for the press by a senior official at the Centers for Disease Control. A doctor named Nancy Messonnier, she`s the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases.

And what she announced was that in more and more places, this virus is spreading in ways that aren`t identifiable in terms of a specific source. And so, she said this is the point at which we need to start intervening. And in case you`re wondering, yes, the CDC is including the United States now as one of the countries that now needs to start doing its planning for what we will do in terms of public health measures to try to arrest the spread of the virus.


DR. NANCY MESSONNIER, DIRECTOR OF CDCS`S NATIONAL CENTER FOR IMMUNIZATION AND RESPIRATORY DISEASES: Community spread is often a trigger to begin implementing new strategies tailored to local circumstances that blunt the impact of the disease and control the spread of virus. The fact that this virus has caused illness, including illness resulting in death and sustained person to person spread is concerning. These factors meet two of the criteria of a pandemic. As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer to meeting third criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.


MADDOW: As community spread is detected in more and more countries, the world moves closer to meeting the new criteria, worldwide spread of the new virus.

So that`s like the prelude, right? The opening from the CDC today in more and more places, this is spreading in a way that is not identifiable in terms of a specific source. That`s the point at which we need to start intervening. That`s like act one from the CDC. We`ve got community spread in more countries around the world, that is bad.

Number two, the CDC says today we expect we will ultimately have community spread here, which again means no identifiable source of the infection, but people have started to give it to each other. Dr. Messonnier saying today that that is a question of if that will happen in the United States, but when. Now, what does that mean for us Americans?

Well, there`s no vaccine to prevent against this new virus. There are no medications approve to treat it. And so, that means what you do are a category of things called non-pharmaceutical interventions, which means it`s not a pharmaceutical, not a pill, not a shot, but it nevertheless is something we can do as a country to hopefully reduce anybody`s risk of getting this.

And this is where you start to get to the point in public health and disaster response where the quality of your government, just the sheer competence and trustworthiness and well-integrated functionality of your government starts to have daily consequence for how bad a health crisis is going to get in your country and how much your life may have to change because of it.


MESSONNIER: Now I`d like to talk through some examples of what community NPIs look like. These are practical measures that can help limit exposure by reducing face to face contact in community settings. For schools, options include dividing students into smaller groups. Or in a severe pandemic, closing schools and using Internet-based teleschooling to continue education. For adults, businesses can replace in-person meetings with video or telephone conferences and increase teleworking options. On a larger scale, communities and cities may need to modify, postpone or cancel mass gatherings.


MADDOW: For schools, options include dividing students into smaller groups or in a severe pandemic, closing schools, using teleschooling to continue education. For adults, businesses replacing in-person meetings with video meetings or telephone meetings, increase teleworking options. Communities and cities may need to postpone, modify or cancel mass gatherings.

These are the kind of things that are already starting to happen in other parts of the world. The CDC today in this press briefing is telling Americans we should start preparing ourselves for the fact that this kind of stuff is going to have to happen here for us, too.


MESSONNIER: I understand this whole situation may seem overwhelming, and that disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now. I had a conversation with my family over breakfast this morning and I told my children that while I didn`t think that they were at risk right now, we as a family need to be preparing for significant disruption of our lives.

You should ask your children`s school about their plans for school dismissals or school closures. Ask if there are plans for teleschool. I contacted my local school superintendent this morning with exactly those questions. You should think about what you would do for child care if schools or day cares close, if teleworking an option for you.


MADDOW: OK. Imagine you`re the superintendent of the schools that are attended by the children of the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the CDC. And literally this morning after Dr. Messonnier sat her kids down at the breakfast table and told them they should prepare for significant disruption to their lives because of the coming global pandemic, she then got on the phone and called you the superintendent, right, you`re the superintendent at your office pick up the phone.

Yes, Dr. Messonnier, nice to hear from you. Your kids are doing great in school. What exactly did you say your job title is again?

Right? You want to know about my plans foreclosing the schools and planning teleschool instead because you think we ought to have those plans now? Dr. Messonnier, are you planning on telling the rest of the country about this?

Oh, you are? You did later today in a press briefing. Thank you, doctor. I`m going to call all the assistant principals now and get back to you in a few minutes, let you know what my plans are.

Imagine being the superintendent who gets that call, because Americans aren`t having these conversations yet about what we might need to do, what we might need to change in order to deal with this crisis, in part, because our federal government at the very top levels keeps telling us everything is fine, nothing to worry about. At the same time that the CDC was giving America this very get-real moment about the seriousness of this crisis, and you need to talk to your kids now and you need to call the superintendent of your kids` schools and you need to figure out what you`re going to do if daycare and school and/or your job is canceled because people have to work and go to school from home now.

I mean, we get this incredibly stark briefing today from the CDC. And at the same time, the top economic advisor to the president goes on CNBC today to put his weight, his gravitas, his authority behind the whole of government approach the United States of America is taking to this crisis. He goes on TV to underscore the seriousness of what the CDC announced today. Shows just how on the ball this White House is and the president`s senior advisors are on the serious nature of this crisis as laid out by the CDC.


LARRY KUDLOW, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL DIRECTOR: We have contained this. We have contained this. I won`t say airtight, but pretty close to airtight.


MADDOW: Pretty close to airtight, pretty close. I mean, simultaneously, the CDC is letting Americans know this is the time to talk to your kids about the possibility schools are going to have to be closed for a while, right? Meanwhile, there`s the senior advisor to the president, top economic advisor to the president, we`ve got this, it`s fine, pretty close to airtight.

Now, to Larry Kudlow`s credit, he did make sure he aligned his message on the coronavirus crisis with one other person in the government. The president tweeting from his trip to India, quote, the coronavirus is very much under control. We are in contact with everyone.

He concluded that tweet at the very end by saying: stock market starting to look very good to me. Oh, great. We`ll have more on that stock market factor in just a moment.

But in a moment like this, I think there actually is something to be said for the fact that the president`s words may not themselves carry that much weight here. I don`t mean this in an ad hominem way. I don`t mean this to be rude.

But over the past few years and certainly over his presidency, we have become sort of conditioned to the fact the president often says things that are very obviously not true. He often says things that are self-serving and transparently designed to have some short-term self-aggrandizing effect even though nobody believes what he`s saying and it`s quite clear what he`s saying isn`t true. We expect this, right?

I mean, this is the president who previously told a whole roomful of U.S. governors at a White House meeting we didn`t need to worry about the coronavirus too much. We didn`t need to worry what our response to it would be because it will all be gone when the daffodils come.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Now, the virus that we`re talking about having -- a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat, as the heat comes in. Typically that will go away in April. We`re in great shape, though.


MADDOW: We`re in great shape, though, because April is coming and that`s the cure. That`s what we`re counting on, at least. I mean, that`s the kind of public statement that our current president has been making about this global infectious disease crisis.

And he does stuff like that and it doesn`t make that much of a ripple. What do you expect from him, right? The president says stuff of -- what`s the right word -- caliber all the time.

When it`s not just him, when the top economic advisor to the president today says, oh, yes, everything`s cool, everything`s fine, we got it all pretty much airtight. Whether or not you have high expectations for that particular presidential advisor, it does rattle your teeth a little bit because it does suggest profound either ignorance or a willingness to lie to the public about something very serious may not be just the province of a famously mendacious president. It maybe be spreading at the upper echelons of the government, at a time when actually we`re really going to need the government to be both competent and trustworthy.

For the kind of crisis where you really need to have a well functioning trustworthy government, the prospect of not having one is actually quite scary.

On January 30th, the World Health organization declared the coronavirus to be a public health emergency of international concern. Basically that`s the World Health Organization saying it`s not a global pandemic yet, but it is on the doorstep of that.

The day after that announcement from the WHO, Laurie Garrett, a science journalist who won the Pulitzer Prize for her chronicle of the Ebola epidemic and the fight to stop it, she published this wake up call at You see the headline there: Trump has sabotaged America`s coronavirus response.

You see the sub-head, quote: As it improved -- excuse me -- as it improvises its way through a public health crisis, the United States has never been less prepared for a pandemic. And this is a person who knows of what she speaks. As I mentioned, she`s won the Pulitzer Prize, in part for chronicle an early Ebola epidemic.

Here`s Laurie Garrett. Quote: When Ebola broke out in West Africa in 2014, President Obama recognized that responding to the outbreak overseas while also protecting Americans at home involved multiple department ands agencies, none of which were speaking to one another. Basically the U.S. pandemic infrastructure was an enormous orchestra full of talented, egotistical players, each jockeying for fame and refusing to rehearse all without a conductor, to bring order to the harmony and chaos and a coherent multi-agency response, overseas and on the home front.

Obama anointed a former staffer to Vice President Biden, Ron Klain, as a sort of epidemic czar inside the White House. President Obama clearly stipulated the roles and budgets of various agencies and placed incident commanders in charge of each Ebola-hit country and inside the United States. The orchestra may have had its off key instruments, but it played the same tune.

Building on the Ebola experience, the Obama administration set up a permanent epidemic monitoring and command group inside the National Security Council and another in the Department of Homeland Security. Both of which followed the scientific and public health leads of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control, as well as the diplomatic advice of the State Department.

Bureaucracy matters. Without it, there`s nothing to coherently manage an alphabet soup of agencies housed in departments ranging from Defense to Commerce to Homeland Security to Health and Human Services.

But that`s all gone now. In the spring of 2018, the Trump White House pushed the then Republican-controlled Congress to cut funding for Obama-era disease security programs. White House efforts included reducing $15 billion in national health spending and cutting the global disease-fighting operational budgets of the CDC, National Security Council, Homeland Security, and HHS. And the government`s $30 million complex crises fund was eliminated.

In May 2018, Trump ordered the National Security Council`s entire global health security unit shutdown, calling for the reassignment of Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer and the dissolution of his team inside the agency.

The month before, then White House national security adviser John Bolton had pressured Ziemer`s Homeland Security counterpart to resign as well along with his team, too. Neither the epidemic team at the National Security Council nor the one at Homeland Security have since been replaced.

The global health section of the CDC was so drastically cut in 2018 that much of its staff was laid off and the number of countries that was working in was reduced from 49 countries to ten countries. The U.S. government has intentionally rendered itself incapable.

If the United States still has a clear chain of command for pandemic response, the White House urgently needs to clarify what it is. Not just for the public, but for the government itself, which largely finds itself in the dark.

That`s Laurie Garrett. We`re going to be speaking with her in just a moment.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average today dropped almost 880 points. Yesterday, it dropped a thousand points. The Dow Jones doesn`t do back-to- back 800-point drops. For the first time since the global financial crisis in 2008, the S&P 500 dropped more than 3 percent on two back-to-back consecutive days, first time since November 2008.

I mean, the coronavirus crisis has been brewing globally since late last year. It is worsening and it is spreading. We are seeing the cancellation of mass gatherings. We are seeing the other sorts of dramatic interventions governments need to make in public health emergencies to try to stop and turn back rapidly spreading infectious diseases. They`re maybe going to cancel the Olympics.

But in the United States yesterday and today, some switch flipped in terms of the financial markets, in terms of concerns about how big this problem is, but it seems to also be concerns about how up to the task our particular government is for handling something like this. Or even for communicating the basic true facts about what it is. Should we see this as just a stock market thing? Or is this a real indicator hereof a substantive freak out that the rest of us should pay attention to?

Joining us next here tonight on-site is a colleague who understands market economics much better than I do and has a lot to say about this, our senior business correspondent for NBC news, Stephanie Ruhle, is here next.

Stay with us.



MESSONNIER: As more and more countries experience community spread, successful containment at our borders becomes harder and harder. Ultimately, we expect we will see community spread in this country. It`s not so much a question of if this will happen any more, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness.


MADDOW: In the middle of the worldwide outbreak of coronavirus, the U.S. government today set the stage for a new ailment, whiplash. That`s what you get when the top White House economic advisor tells everyone the United States has definitely totally contained the virus, in his words, almost airtight while simultaneously the actual public health experts at the CDC were telling the United States of America at that moment that they expect the virus to spread, and they`re warning that the disruption to everyday life might be severe when the U.S. takes public health measures to try to combat that spread.

However, those contradictory messages landed at your house on Wall Street. They went through a second straight day of huge losses. Is the stock market diving because of concerns about the way our government is handling this crisis? Is the stock market diving just because of the crisis itself regardless of how well our government is handling or not handling its role in trying to stop it? Or is this one of those stories where we should be wary of Wall Street noise crossing over into front-page news? Is this one of those Wall Street freak-outs that ought to rattle the rest of us and wake us up or should it be seen as a business story?

Joining us now is the great Stephanie Ruhle, senior business correspondent for NBC News, has her show weekdays at 9:00 a.m.

Stephanie, thank you for being here.


MADDOW: I go to you when I don`t know a business page story should be a front page story. Is this one that should be?

RUHLE: This one is absolutely one that should be. So, yes. You can look at the stock market and say my goodness, $1.7 trillion in losses, that`s not the big news, because guess what, the market could come back tomorrow. The big news is about information and risk management.

Whether you are a Fortune 500 CEO, whether you own a small lumberyard or whether you`re a mom, having trusted information is how you succeed. And right now the information is coming from the Chinese government, not a trusted source, and the United States government, which as you pointed out over the last few minutes is clearly not a trusted source.

So, if you run any sort of business or you`re an investor, how can you make an educated decision about what lies ahead when you`re getting information like this?

MADDOW: So, it`s not necessarily -- in terms of -- we all try to divine what the market is saying and why investors are doing what they`re doing. But you`re saying this is not necessarily a judgment by investors that the U.S. government is mishandling this. It`s just a judgment that the U.S. government can`t be trusted to provide adequate information around which people can plan.

RUHLE: Correct. You know what the market loves? Certainty.

The market doesn`t love a bull market or bear market. They love to understand information. Remember, why do investors get in the most amount of trouble? Insider information, too much information. What they want is trusted information.

So when Larry Kudlow walks out and says, this thing is nearly airtight, and investors, investors who love this president know they can`t trust that, when you`ve got representatives from the CDC saying, it`s not if, it`s when, we know that only four states even have the test for the coronavirus.

So how can you possibly say we`ve got this thing almost airtight? If you`re any sort of investor or business owner, you`re not saying my gosh, I`m going to run for the hills and move into a cabin. But at the very least, you`re going to say I`m going to take my chips off the table until I know what the game really is.

MADDOW: See, if that`s the dynamic that`s at work, I just talk a little bit -- I`m uncomfortable sort of talking about this because I don`t want to feel like I`m taking personal shots at the president, but I do think it`s fair to say when he says stuff either on Twitter or out loud, there is not a deep and broad expectation that what he`s saying is true.

I think that people -- it`s baked in. People expect him to say things that aren`t true. And I`m sorry because he`s the president of the United States. And they expect him to say things that are transparently self-serving, that are designed to accomplish something for him even if they don`t reflect real information for the American people.

So, given that that`s what we all get, we`re all smart. We know how he operates. When he says, stock market`s looking good to me, coronavirus totally under control, he keeps saying pro-stock market things as if he`s trying to turn around the market`s view on that.

How does that play when everyone knows he`s not telling the truth?

RUHLE: Because we know the president is reliant and enthusiastic about having a strong market. You remember it was two days before the midterms. He came out and said, getting really close on a middle class tax cut, when Congress wasn`t even in session. Within hours, Larry Kudlow was out there saying, oh, maybe that`s not the case.

People are accustomed to the president doing this. But what`s scary right now is the human toll, that this is a real risk. This isn`t just a little bit of cute financial engineering, you can tax cut your way out of it or you can pressure the Fed into cutting rates. This is a real issue that could be a pandemic, that could be an epidemic and they`re playing a dangerous political game.

MADDOW: And if, if the key thing that a government needs when it comes to interventionist public health responses, which the CDC is warning about today, right? If the key thing is you need to be able to trust your government, for the market today, for investors who as you say tend to be very positive on this president, for them to be saying, we don`t trust you, we don`t take your word when you say something that`s plainly lying, it freaks us out, that`s a bad sign for the credibility of the government for what lays ahead.

RUHLE: Well, that was definitely the case today. Yesterday, what really spooked the mark was Italy, right? We`ve been hearing about the virus for weeks and the numbers are going down in China, but people felt like that`s over here on the other side of the world. And we saw industries, like the travel industry, the hotel industry, no surprise that they were hit. But, suddenly, nobody was thinking about Italy three days ago.

MADDOW: And that`s the largest number outside of Asia now.

RUHLE: And when you saw those images, stores empty, schools closed, events canceled. Suddenly, people are saying, this thing is coming here. What does it mean?

It doesn`t mean it`s a disaster. But it`s something and we can`t quantify that something yet.

MADDOW: Stephanie Ruhle, NBC News senior business correspondent -- Steph, it`s great to see you. Thanks.

RUHLE: Thanks for having me.

MADDOW: All right. We`ll be right back. Stay with us.


MADDOW: By the time they arrived at the port in Yokohama, it was like living in a Petri dish. That is what an American on board the Diamond Princess cruise ship told "The New York Times" after spending more than a week on a cruise ship where one of the passengers had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. There were close to 4,000 people on that ship, more than 300 Americans.

When the ship reached the port at Yokohama, no one was allowed off. The ship was put in quarantine.

It then took five full days before anybody from the U.S. government made contact with any of the Americans on board that ship. And when that contact did come, it didn`t come with any sort of action plan, at least not one to get them off the ship. Americans received a letter from the U.S. government advising them that, quote: Remaining in your room is the safest option to minimize your risk of infection. We acknowledge that the situation is difficult.

That was it. That was the initial American response five days in to more than 300 Americans being stranded on a floating quarantine at great risk of contracting the virus. That situation only changed when one of the Americans on board the ship called a Republican congressman he knew personally to tell his friend the congressman how dire things were getting on board that ship.

One senior administration told "The Washington Post," that is what tipped the balance. That`s apparently our nation`s activation plan for our emergency response system now. Wait for somebody who knows a congressman to call the congressman and complain, and then see if that does it. That`s the system. What if nobody had known a congressman?

Early in the morning of Monday last week, 328 Americans were evacuated off that ship after spending weeks on the ship, after spending days stuck at that port. But even once the U.S. government`s evacuation protocol was put into action to get those Americans off the ship and heading home, it went very poorly.

This is how "The Washington Post" reported it. Quote: The Americans boarded buses and then were forced to wait in the port for more than two hours, according to two of the passengers. They couldn`t see out of the buses. The windows were all covered. Some of the Americans began crying because they needed to use the bathroom.

Quote: We just couldn`t understand why we were sitting there loaded and not going anywhere, one of the Americans said. And we couldn`t get any answers.

The reason they were stuck, the reason they weren`t being allowed off to even go to the bathroom, let alone get on the plane home, is because U.S. officials had just gotten word that 14 of the Americans they had just evacuated had themselves tested positive for the coronavirus. They apparently had gotten it on board the ship.

The State Department had promised these stranded Americans before they got off the ship that no one with the coronavirus would be allowed onto the planes home, but they had already put all of these Americans, including the 14 infected passengers, onto the buses together. So, what next?

Well, the passengers waited there on those buses for hours while, quote, a fierce debate broke out in Washington. The State Department and a top Trump administration health official wanted to forge ahead. The infected passengers had no symptoms. They could be segregated on the plane in plastic-lined enclosure.

Officials at the CDC disagreed, contending these infected passengers could still spread the virus. The CDC believed the 14 should not be flown back with the uninfected passengers.

Eventually the CDC lost and the CDC won. Those 328 Americans got on the plane, including the 14 who had tested positive for the virus. The State Department overruled this explicit direction from the scientists at the CDC.

It led to a stunning rebuke from those scientists. Quote: As the State Department drafted its news release, the CDC`s top officials insisted that any mention of the agency, any mention of the CDC be removed.

Quote: CDC did weigh in on this and explicitly recommended against it, wrote the CDC`s principal deputy director on behalf of the officials at her agency. Quote: We should not be mentioned as having been consulted as it begs the question of what was our advice. And it`s hard not to see the logic in that, right? You would not want the CDC associated with the response that U.S. officials were just improvising as they went along, and that the CDC explicitly believed posed a high risk to the Americans on board that plane.

Well, it has been about a week since that debacle. We still do not have clarity about where the infected Americans who were sent home on that plane will ultimately go now that they`re back on U.S. soil. It appeared to be the Trump administration`s plan to keep them quarantined on military bases to receive treatment there.

The idea was to send them to military facilities in Alabama and California. In both of those places -- excuse me, in federal facilities in Alabama and California. In both of those places, there appears to have been zero coordination on the part of the government to prepare those facilities to house people infected with the virus.

So, officials in California and Alabama said no, please don`t send the infected patients here, we are not ready for this. One city in California has actually sued to stop that from happening.

But when it comes to baseline trusting the government`s competence here, take that one decision about what to do with those Americans who tested positive for the virus. The CDC said, don`t put them on the plane with the rest of the Americans who had not been infected. The Trump administration overruled the CDC and put them on the plane anyway.

The president himself, allow it to be known that he was furious that that happened, that those 14 Americans who tested positive were brought back to the U.S. on that plane. That`s not only how it got reported. He apparently told that to an Alabama congressman, one of the Alabama officials who was mad about the administration`s plan to send these infected Americans to an Alabama site despite not having coordinated with any local officials about how to treat them there.

This is how the congressman explained what President Trump told him about those 14 infected Americans.


REP. MIKE ROGERS (R-AL): I won`t use the colorful language that he conveyed to me, but he was furious that they had been brought back to the country while they were still infected.


MADDOW: He was furious, furious, that those infected Americans were brought back to the country while they were still infected. That`s what the president told that congressman. That`s what the president is saying. Boy, those Americans should not have been put on that plane.

He definitely -- those Americans should not have been brought back that way. That`s what the president says, except when the president says the exact opposite. This was the president today.


TRUMP: We brought in some Americans from a ship because it was really the right thing to do.


MADDOW: It was really the right thing to do. He`s absolutely furious that that happened. Who did that? I didn`t know about that. Yes, it was the right thing to do.

It`s one thing if you`re lying about your budget proposal, like what you think about windmills and owls. But this is the leader of the federal government in the midst of a response to what is looking like it`s going to become a global pandemic.

This is not how it`s supposed to work. This is not what an American response to a global health crisis is supposed to look like. The president is not supposed to say, I think it will go away in April because I think the heat will kill it. We don`t need to do anything.

The president`s economic advisor is not supposed to say, yes, I think we have it contained airtight while the CDC is saying, we need to you prepare for invasive public health measures to stop the spread in this country. It`s not a matter of if, but when.

This is not the way these things are supposed to go. The president is not supposed to publicly say he is for and against transporting Americans who`ve been affected abroad back home with other Americans here to face quarantine. He`s not supposed to say he`s both in favor of that and against it.

This isn`t how it`s supposed to go, and it`s important the government get this right.

Joining us next is somebody who knows how these things are supposed to be done and somebody who has been sounding the alarm more than a month now about how under President Trump the United States government has never been, quote, less prepared for a pandemic.

Laurie Garrett joins us next. Stay with us.


MADDOW: Science journalist Laurie Garrett has been covering infectious disease outbreaks for over 30 years. In 1994, she wrote a "New York Times" best-selling book called "The Coming Plague", about the emergence of newly discovered diseases around the globe. Two years later, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her reporting on Ebola outbreak in what`s now the Democratic Republic of Congo. A year after that, she won the Polk Award for her reporting on public health crises in former Soviet Union.

Laurie Garrett is now covering the ongoing coronavirus outbreak for "Foreign Policy Magazine". She recently wrote a piece there titled: Trump has sabotaged America`s coronavirus response.

Laurie Garrett, it`s great to have you here. I would shake hands, but we`ll do that.


MADDOW: All right. My sense is that you are trying to sound the alarm both about what you expect to be the scale of this health crisis, but also about the American government not being prepared.

GARRETT: Exactly. We`re not prepared at all. I mean, I think there is a kind of inability to really grasp the seemingly unimaginable, how bad this will be, what it will feel like in America if we get a China-scale experience with this virus.

MADDOW: In terms of the lethality of this virus, I`ve covered -- I`ve read and benefited from a lot of your work about lethal viruses like HIV. This is a virus that seems to kill about 2 percent of the people that get it. What is that -- how should we understand that as compared to, say, a fatal flu epidemic or other kinds of diseases, H1N1, or SARS, or other things that we worried about in terms of their kill rate?

GARRETT: Well, we`ve had two truly horrible pandemics in modern time. One is HIV and the other was the 1918 flu pandemic.

Now, HIV killed 100 percent. I mean, if you didn`t have treatment and you were unfortunate to get infected in the 1980s, 1990s, it was a totally lethal experience. Flu in contrast, 1919, exact same lethality rate is what we`re looking at now, in fact, lower, probably about 1.9 percent lethal.

MADDOW: And this is super cell lethal?

GARRETT: At least. Some of the cities in China reporting lethality rate as high as 6 percent.

MADDOW: In terms of our government, the kinds of public notice that was made today by the CDC, a senior CDC officer doing a public press briefing today warning Americans literally this could get bad and we should start to talk within our families and our communities about the kinds of measures that we might need to take, including closing schools, keeping people home from businesses and those sorts of things.

Do you feel like the U.S. government is timing those kinds of public alerts correctly? Are we past due for that sort of thing? Is it possible we could cause an overreaction at this point?

GARRETT: It`s long overdue. We should have been ready already and we`re not. Every single company that has more than a handful of employees should have an epidemic plan in place. Do you have a way so that your workers can work remotely and not come in, not congregate, not infect others in the workplace?

Every school, every university should be looking at how to have more and more of the course work be handled remotely. We should have plans in place regarding what is essential personnel that must be in place, must go to work to keep the sewer systems pumping sewage, the water systems pumping water, the electrical systems working and supply chain for essential goods and foods.

You should look at what`s been happening, Rachel, in China. You look at things like convoys of trucks as far as the eye can see bringing food into Wuhan. Could we do that?

MADDOW: Laurie Garrett, I want to hold you a second. There`s a few other elements I want to ask you about what in terms of what the government could and should be doing.

We`ll be right back with Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist Laurie Garrett right after this.


MADDOW: Just got news just a couple minutes ago about the coronavirus outbreak we`ve been talking about tonight. This is from U.S. military forces in South Korea.

Quote: A U.S. forces Korea soldier stationed at Camp Carroll tested positive for the coronavirus, or COVID-19, marking the first time a U.S. service member has tested positive for the virus. We are implementing all appropriate control measures to protect the force.

Press release describes the patient as a 23-year-old male who they say is currently in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. Military officials, quote, are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed. So with this news, we have the first U.S. service member, serving overseas in Korea, now testing positive for the coronavirus.

Back with us once again is health policy analyst and Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist Laurie Garrett.

Laurie, thanks again.

Is there somebody who is in charge of coronavirus response for the whole U.S. government, the way that President Obama put somebody in charge of the Ebola response?

GARRETT: No. Although he has said Secretary Azar, secretary of health and human services is the go-to guy.

MADDOW: But does it seem like he`s actually playing a coordinating czar- type role the way the Ron Klein playing it pretty well?

GARRETT: You can`t -- you can`t instantly walk in and do that. I mean, it took years for the Obama administration to create this super structure which has now been eliminated. Keep in mind, it`s not just that we don`t have a czar in the White House overseeing the response, but we don`t have a -- that contingent inside the National Security Council. We don`t have the seasoned veteran contingent inside of Department of Homeland Security. And we don`t have this whole global health mastermind group inside of the Defense Department and HHS. These were all eliminated in 2018 by Trump.

MADDOW: When the president eliminated those global health security teams and all of those agencies in 2018, was, was there a reason? Was there an argument against them? Was there ever a plan to replace them?

GARRETT: They were Obama programs.

MADDOW: Was there -- has there ever been an effort to replace that capacity in the U.S. government?

GARRETT: Well, there was an effort from the bottom up. I mean, everybody engaged in public health was saying -- and the other thing that`s been eliminated and a huge loss is the training at grassroots level for hospital workers.

So, one of the things we can see, we track the -- trace the path of this horrible epidemic, is that COVID-19 really exploits the interaction between the health provider and the patient when the infection of the patient is not clearly known and the health provider does not have protective gear on.

So, I mean, the big hero in China, Li Wenliang, 34 years old, died of this virus. He was the one that blew the whistle and told the world that it was being covered up in Wuhan.

He was an ophthalmologist. Now, how many ophthalmologists watching this would give a second thought to wearing protective gear when looking at somebody`s eyes?

MADDOW: Especially if they don`t seem to be symptomatic.

GARRETT: Right. And similarly, you can go down the list of so many aspects of the health care system where, on a normal day and a normal, you know, patient flow, you would never wear a mask, you would never wear protective gear. You might put on gloves for some procedures, but for the most part, it would be very lackadaisical.

The next time you go to the hospital or a clinic, look at how the secretaries are protected or not protected. Look at the staff and the nursing. Are they wearing protective gear? No.

And we don`t have enough protective gear stockpiled or available in inventory to supply all those personnel in the United States right now.

Today, Rachel, in Geneva, they held a press breaching that went on briefing that went on and on and on, almost an hour and a half long. And it featured leaders of this team in China to investigate what`s the status of the situation right now. And they said, in no uncertain terms, everybody should do what China did.

Well, now, can you imagine? We`re going to shutdown 100 million Americans. We`re going to shut every business in America.

We`re going to have guys on the highways pulling over truckers with their guns on their gun racks and saying, get over to the side now. We`re going to do a temperature check on you. If you have a fever, you have to abandon your truck right here and its cargo and we`re taking you off to a quarantine center. No ifs, ands or buts. By the way, no human rights, no civil rights because this is an epidemic. Ain`t going to happen in the USA.

MADDOW: Laurie Garrett, health policy analyst, Pulitzer Prize winning science journalist -- Laurie, thank you for being here. This is very disturbing circumstances. Good to have you here.

GARRETT: Thank you.

MADDOW: Cheers.

We`ll be right back.


MADDOW: Thanks for being with us on our special coverage tonight. That`s going to do it for us for now. But I`ll see you again tomorrow.

Now it`s time for "THE LAST WORD" where at least for a hot second, I believe, Ali Velshi is in for Lawrence tonight.

Good evening, Ali.

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