Tracking coronavirus TRANSCRIPT: 5/4/20, The Rachel Maddow Show

Guests: Chuck Schumer, Ali Boehm

CHRIS HAYES, MSNBC HOST: That is "ALL IN" for this evening.

THE RACHEL MADDOW SHOW starts right now.

Good evening, Rachel.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC HOST: Good evening, Chris. I want to thank you, my friend, for the segment that you did tonight, about the escape from the lab hypothesis, and how it makes no sense either factually or politically. The point you are making about how politically, it`s insane to be making up that particular story, is something that has been driving me nuts and you are the first person who actually articulated it, thank you.

HAYES: Well, thank you very much. It is a, such a tantalizing phrase, they can`t help themselves because escape from a lab, it has dystopian feel to it because there is no sense from escape from a lab.

MADDOW: No, there`s no -- I mean, A, it is not proven, so nobody should be saying it, let alone, you know, the secretary of state or the president, all these things, but even to their own political point, it is defeating.

Anyway, as always, you have both mastered the facts and made things make sense for me. Thank you, my friend. Much appreciated.

HAYES: Thank you. I appreciate that.

MADDOW: All right. Thanks to you at home as well for joining us this hour. Happy to have you with us.

So, the American coronavirus epidemic is now approaching 1.2 million confirmed cases and well over 68,000, nearly 69,000 deaths. Which means the epidemic in our country is more than five times larger than the epidemic in any other country on earth.

That said, in the one state in our country where more Americans have died than any other, at least thus far, there have been some sort of positive touch stones that have been hit over the past few day, some good moments.

The Javits Center, the gigantic convention center in Manhattan that was converted into a field hospital to take overflow from New York City hospitals, they have closed that down as a field hospital site. They treated over 1,000 patients there at the Javits Center, but they`ve shut it down now, New York Fire Department, FDNY, and their bagpipers were on site to mark and cheer for that closing, which does feel like a real blessing.

The U.S. Navy hospital ship Comfort has also now closed up its New York operations and has set sail. It has started the return trip to its home port in Norfolk, Virginia, after that ship treated hundreds of overflow hospital patients while floating in New York harbor.

Also, the pop-up hospital in Central Park that was built to take overflow patients from the Mt. Sinai hospital system. As of today, that Central Park pop-up hospital is not going to be taking in any further patients. We understand they`ve apparently still got some small number of patients there, but they are not admitting any new ones anymore with an eye toward closing down that facility as well.

That was all -- all three of those entities were emergency surge capacity for New York, right? Well, New York is past that point in a way that feels fairly stable, specifically in New York. Cases and hospitalizations and deaths all now declining in what appears to be a stable way, and that is great. And it gives you hope to see those facilities close down because they are not needed, because New York has the hospital capacity it needs to handle the remaining challenges of the epidemic.

I also want to show you something that New York`s Governor Andrew Cuomo said today when he fielded questions on nursing homes, where in New York like everywhere, the case numbers and the death numbers are still staggering. Watch what he said here.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: We`re doing everything we can. The nursing homes are working very hard.

We also announced an investigation with the attorney general and the Department of Health to make sure the nursing homes are doing what they need to do. Many of them are privately run, but the state can regulate them. They have to notify families, et cetera. So we`re doing an investigation on that.

But remember the basic premise of the nursing home. The nursing home can only accept or keep a patient if, if they can provide adequate care for that patient. If they have a COVID patient or non-COVID patient but they can`t provide adequate care for that person, it is their obligation to transfer the person. If they can`t find a place to transfer the person, it`s their obligation to call the state department of health, and the state department of health will transfer the person.

We have facilities for COVID nursing home residents. We have some facilities that are just for COVID-positive nursing home residents. So we have those facilities available.

If a nursing home can`t care for a COVID resident, call the Department of Health. The Department of Health will transfer the patient, period.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: We have those facilities available. If a nursing home in New York state cannot care for a COVID-positive resident, call the State Department of Health. The State Department of Health will transfer the patient, period.

No state has figured out yet how to focus enough resources and enough attention and enough help and enough focus on nursing homes and long-term care facilities to keep those facilities from being the riskiest place in America when it comes to American lives at risk from this virus. But what Governor Cuomo of New York is saying here today is qualitatively different than some stuff you`ve heard in other states. It`s qualitatively different than a state just declaring nursing homes to be a priority or a state announcing, you know, state strike forces that will tackle nursing home problems.

It`s even different than the commitments that we`ve seen in some places now to get testing into every nursing home, and that is important. This is different, though. What Governor Cuomo is saying here is that the State Department of Health is taking responsibility to get this done themselves when the nursing homes can`t. They are setting up -- they have set up nursing home units specifically for people with coronavirus if the facility in the wild, if the city out in New York state, can`t care for a specific coronavirus patient, quote, the state department of health will take them.

If a nursing home cannot care for a COVID patient, call the department of health, and the state will transfer the patient. We have those facilities available.

I mean, I don`t know if this will be the best idea either, but this shows taking it to another level. This is another way and another level of commitment to try to tackle this problem, which is good. And it shows New York as a state continuing to innovate in terms of the thorniest parts of this crisis, even as they have dealt with the largest burden of death and hospitalization and disease in the country. You know, innovation and inspiration are the cure to despair, and we need innovation when it comes to the issue of nursing homes and the number of Americans that are at risk and dying them -- and dying in them.

So, I mean, seeing that at work, seeing innovation, seeing a new level of commitment, we will take responsibility, we have set up those facilities -- seeing that at work in the scariest, most dangerous, riskiest part of this epidemic, that is good. I find that heartening. That is good.

And here`s the bad. You might remember these projections. You`ve seen a lot of them just in TV news and maybe in the newspaper as well. You`ve certainly seen them online. This is the very user-friendly, very easy to understand projection model created by the University of Washington at their Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

This institute at the University of Washington has been doing modeling that`s actually been really central for weeks now to our own national expectations of what we`re going through and how long it will last and how bad it will ultimately get. These projections from this one entity at the University of Washington have been really popular, really widely used and widely cited. They do nationwide projections. They also do them state by state, and because their interface online is so easy to use, it`s sort of addictive to look at individual states, to click through for all the states where you have family and where you have friends to see, you know, where they are in their curve and when it`s going to be the worst and how they`re doing overall.

But this has also been a useful tool for policymakers because this University of Washington model predicts not just how many deaths and hospitalizations and infections you`re likely to have in any particular state. It predicts when that`s going to happen, when the peak will happen. Peak hospitalization, right? Peak death.

That`s helpful in terms of planning for hospital utilization, right? When and whether your state might need, say, a pop-up field hospital or a convention center conversion by the Army Corps of Engineers or a visit from one of our navy hospital ships. It`s helpful to know that stuff if you can put a date on when it`s going to be the worst. New York is past its worst so it sent some of that surge capacity back to where it came from. It`s helpful for planning to have this kind of data with not just numbers in it but projected dates.

This University of Washington model in particular has also had a lot of national attention because it has been repeatedly showcased by the Trump administration, by the White House, by the coronavirus task force with its rotating cast of people who happen momentarily to be in favor with the president.

In early April, this University of Washington model was the projection that said that by the first week in August, the total U.S. death toll would be 60,000 deaths. Well, it didn`t take us until the first week of august to get to that. We hit that before the end of April.

At the end of April, April 29th, the University of Washington was revised to project that it would now be more like 74,000 American deaths by the first week in August. Well, it`s only the first week in May, and we`re already over 68,000, nearly 69,000, so clearly that seems wrong too. I mean not with all of this month and all of June and all of July stretching out before us, we`re going to not have to wait until the first week in August to get to 74,000 dead.

But here`s the thing. This model from the University of Washington, it`s not nuts. I mean, it has repeatedly projected death numbers for the United States that are too optimistic in terms of the American epidemic for sure. It`s hard not to conclude that`s part of why the White House kept talking about this model so much. The president likes happy talk about how everything is going great and the virus will soon magically disappear, right?

So models that predict a lower death toll than what we`re actually experiencing, you know, he can`t resist that, and apparently neither can the people he invites up to the podium to say things that make him happy. But that model, as I said, it`s not nuts. It`s a serious thing.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which have been making these projections, they`ve been totally open and transparent about their methodology and about the underlying assumptions for their model. And it turns out, one of their really important underlying assumptions for that model was that people in the United States would stay home to stop the spread of the virus, that all states would put those stay at home rules into effect, that those stay at home rules would be kept in place as long as they needed to be in place, and that people would abide by those rules. That was the assumption that led to them projecting 60,000 or 70,000 deaths. That was a basic assumption baked into their projections.

Well, not anymore. Today, this University of Washington group has unveiled what they are calling the IHME, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The IHME COVID-19 model 2.0, in which, among other things, they stop assuming that the United States will actually do what is needed to stop the spread of the virus. They are no longer rose-colored glasses assuming that there will be consistent, coherent leadership in this country that establishes consistent, coherent stay-at-home orders, that people are consistently and coherently urged or potentially required to follow. They are no longer assuming, therefore, that Americans will abide by the stay at home rules.

Since we`re not doing that, they need to stop assuming that`s what we`ll do or they`ll never have numbers that are anywhere close to accurate. The director of the institute that does this modeling explained to reporters today that, quote, the primary reason for the increase in their new projection in terms of the American death toll is that many states have prematurely relaxed social distancing. Quote, for the first time, Dr. Murray explained, the model is factoring in data from four different cell phone providers showing a major uptick in Americans going out in public. This rise of mobility in the last week or ten days is likely leading to an increase in transmission.

And so bottom line, because we are screwing this up so badly as a matter of public policy, because we as a country are screwing this up so badly in terms of our political leadership and the, you know, hear no evil, see no evil, speak plenty of evil encouragement of how everything needs to open back up right now no matter what, right, because of -- because of that, because of what we are doing, because of the political mishandling of the public health imperatives of this crisis, because of what we are doing wrong, even this optimistic forecast that the White House has liked so much over the past couple of months, now they are nearly doubling their projection of the number of Americans who will be dead from this thing by the first week in August.

Their projection is no longer that it will be 74,000 of us dead by the first week in August. They`re now projecting it will be 134,000 of us dead. And, again, that`s by the first week in August. And forgive me, but that projection, that updated projection, that horrible, almost doubled updated projection may still be optimistic given what the institute explains about their revised assumptions now. They are no longer assuming that we`re going to have stay-at-home orders and do social distancing and abide by those things because we`re not, so they shouldn`t assume those things anymore.

But they are now assuming that we will have, quote, rising testing and contact tracing that will, in the words of the institute`s director, put the brakes on transmission. So, they`re no longer assuming we`re going to have stay-at-home orders because we don`t. But they are assuming that testing will ramp up and contact tracing will ramp up, and that will be the way we stop transmission.

Raise your hand if you think nationally we`re going to really soon have access to easy testing for everyone and really well-organized contact tracing all over the country. Raise your hand if you think this White House is going to lead us to that bright future in time to put the brakes on transmission through sheer public health investment and competence in governing. And that will result in us only have having -- you know, I don`t even want to say it -- having this many dead Americans.

Here`s something you should know. I mention that this University of Washington projection has been a favorite of the Trump administration. I think it`s impossible not to suppose that that`s potentially at least related to the fact that this model has had a projected American death toll that`s been much lower than some other projections, and the president likes, as I said, happy talk about this virus.

Well, let me show you something. Here is a screenshot from the CDC`s website as of yesterday. This is courtesy of the good folks at the Internet archive, the Wayback Machine.

This as of yesterday is the CDC`s coronavirus resources page where they list a whole bunch of different projections and models that they respect and you might want to look at. You can see that the University of Washington model, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model that I`ve just been talking about, it`s right there on the CDC website, pride of place, right up top. That`s as of yesterday.

Today is the day they upped their projected death toll for the United States from 74,000 to 134,000 dead Americans. Today is also, presto, the day the CDC dropped this model from their list of models that you should look at.

For weeks now, they have been promoting this model, showcasing it, talking about it in the White House briefing room, got it pride of place on the CDC website. Now that model says, we`re not going to have 74,000 deaths. Now we`re going to have more than 130,000 deaths, and so they`ve just taken it off the website. Don`t look at that anymore.

It`s so -- it`s pitiful, right? And it`s one thing to see the White House pulling stuff like this. But this is the CDC, who we should be able to count on, right? You`re supposed to be data-driven. You`re supposed to be science-driven. If there`s bad news in the science, you`re supposed to be still willing to tell us the bad news so we can prepare and try to change course.

"The New York Times" was also first to report today on an internal document inside the Trump administration with the CDC`s logo on it, a document the CDC is now apparently disavowing, which actually has a worse projection now than the new terrible University of Washington projection. In that University of Washington model, they`re saying by June 1st, less than a month from right now, our daily death toll in this country will be 890 deaths a day. While the other internal projection reported today by "The New York Times" says that by June 1st, we won`t be at 800-something deaths per day. We`ll be at 3,000 deaths per day, which is nearly double what we`re at right now. And we`ll be there in less than a month.

This internal document that has the CDC`s logo on it also says that from the 25,000 new cases we`re getting each day, we`re going to go up to 175,000 new cases a day, which honestly is just sort of terrifying thinking about the next month.

Remember when Mike Pence said like last week this whole thing will be over by Memorial Day? He said the whole thing will be in our rearview mirror by Memorial Day, which is later this month. I mean, inside the Trump administration, they`re projecting privately that we`ll be at 3,000 deaths a day a week after Memorial Day with no decline in sight.

For context, we`re at about 1,750 deaths on average per day right now. That internal document from the Trump administration says we`re going from 1,750 deaths on average today to 3,000 a day inside a month.

Laurie Garrett, the Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist who helped sound the national alarm on this crisis almost before anybody else, she said this today online about these new projections just in terms of helping us lay folk understand what this all means. She says, quote, new infection rates will soar in May and June.

The new case projections put great increases across the prairie states from the Dakotas down to the Deep South. Much of the U.S. COVID-19 crisis will shift from New York, New Jersey, California, Washington, urban centers to rural counties. Quote: it`s quite striking how closely the CDC`s projections for increased COVID cases mirror the locations of America`s meatpacking industry, which is currently slammed by COVID spread. Quote: The new CDC forecast also shows surges ahead in areas that have reported COVID outbreaks in nursing homes.

Quote: It seems that prior reckonings grossly underestimated the scale of focused outbreaks in meatpacking, assisted living centers, prisons, and the likelihood of community COVID spread from these facilities. Yes, that is what it seems like to me too. We had a huge epidemic in New York, and that has led to a very big and sustained epidemic in the tri-state area, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut. That`s for real. That`s been the start of American epidemic.

But now, we see large outbreaks all over the country. I mean close your eyes, drink three beers, and throw a dart anywhere in the country that has nursing homes, meatpacking facilities, other large processing plants where people have been at work, prisons and jails. They`re everywhere, and that means we`re seeing outbreaks in those kinds of facilities everywhere. And those outbreaks in those kinds of facilities don`t stay inside those facilities because people go in and out of them every day, and they eventually become community outbreaks in all of the places where those things are.

And those things are off the beaten path in all sorts of states. I mean, the data bears it out. Here`s the new update on "The New York Times" today of which metro area in the country has the most new cases per capita.

Most new cases in the country per capita: Number one, Sioux City, Iowa. Number two, Gallup, New Mexico. Number three, Grand Island, Nebraska.

Number four, Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Number five, Marion, Ohio. Number six, Waterloo, Cedar Falls, Iowa.

I mean, that`s where the American coronavirus epidemic is the worst right now and growing the fastest, taking off like a rocket ship. And, no, that`s not -- those aren`t American metropolises. That`s just regular hometown, heartland America where this thing is now growing the fastest, and you can see these kinds of patterns in the local press before you can even necessarily see them in the confirmed data.

I mean, in the Texas panhandle today, local officials invited in the federal government to please come help with a surge of coronavirus cases tied to meatpacking plants in the Texas Panhandle. In Moore County, Texas, there`s a huge JBS meat processing plant that as of a week ago had over 150 known infections.

But like I said, these outbreaks don`t stay inside the plants. They don`t even stay inside the county where the plant is depending on how people are traveling to and from that workplace. Turns out a lot of people who work at that big JBS meat processing plant in Moore County, Texas, live over the Oklahoma state line.

And so, even that work site crisis in Moore County, Texas, is becoming a problem for the state of Oklahoma because that`s where the workers go home too. That said at the same time, Oklahoma has got their own outbreak at their own meatpacking plant in their own Oklahoma Panhandle. More than 100 cases confirmed among workers at a single pork processing plant in Guymon, Oklahoma, which is just due north of Amarillo, Texas.

Seaboard Foods, 116 cases. Plant still up and running. They`ve got 2,700 employees there.

In Missouri, in St. Joseph, Missouri, where local officials have been agitating to open everything up as soon as possible, they just tested everybody at the local pork plant in St. Joseph. It`s run by Triumph Foods, 373 workers at that plant tested positive, 373 positive, all of them asymptomatic, which tells you why you can`t just test people who have symptoms, not at meatpacking plants, not at nursing homes.

You can`t rely on symptom-driven testing, not if you`re actually trying to find people who are infected and stop them from going into those facilities to keep them from being in contact with people who aren`t infected, who will soon get infected either in their nursing home where they live or where they work or in the plant where they work. You can`t rely on symptom testing. You have to test people who aren`t symptomatic. Everybody who tested positive at that plant in Missouri is asymptomatic.

But what are the odds that meatpacking plants are going to be testing everybody, asymptomatic or not? What are the odds that every state is going to be able to test everybody in every nursing home living and working there? What are the odds?

I mean, testing is actual a catastrophe in this country. You can tell because they`re not testing. In New Mexico, I just mentioned Gallup, New Mexico, they`ve got one of the worst emerging outbreaks on the planet in that part of New Mexico.

Well, the state correction system in New Mexico says publicly at least new Mexicans don`t have to worry about an outbreak in their prisons there. New Mexico has more than 6,000 people in state prison. They`ve got a terrible outbreak in the community in New Mexico, but the state corrections authority says they`ve got zero cases among state prisoners.

Well, of their 6,000-plus state prisoners, New Mexico has tested a grand total of eight of them. Eight. That is not a typo. It`s not 80. It`s not 800. Eight.

So, yes, it appears there`s no problem in New Mexico. They`ve got no positive tests because they`re not testing, because in most places in the country, they`re not testing. And even the places where they`re testing they`re not testing enough because they`re not enough tests because the federal government never got it together and they still have it. But open everything up, sure.

I mean, as the outbreak moves into a very scary and what looks to be a sustained phase, where the American case numbers and the American death numbers stay three feet high and rising, and it is not driven by one state, it`s not driven by New York, it`s not driven by the tri-state area around New York. It`s now driven by those -- I mean, those numbers are fairly stable at this point. The numbers are going up -- the numbers are -- the numbers are what they are. The American epidemic is what it is right now because the case numbers and the death numbers and the hospitalization numbers are being driven not by one place but by the whole rest of the country all over the place, where we`ve got sizeable outbreaks in specific kinds of facilities that are creating community outbreaks all over America -- nursing homes, meat processing plants, prisons and jails.

And all over the place where we`ve got those things, the continued lack of access to testing, particularly for those populations, means we are nationally living in la-la land when it comes to taking measures to slow this thing down. And so, we`re not taking measures to slow this thing down. And so, we are looking at doubling death rate projections even among the models that the White House likes the best because they`ve been shiny, happy talk so far.

Our access to testing is bad enough that the United States Senate came back in session today and the senators didn`t even get tested before they all got together in the capitol. Why is that? Because we still have to triage testing in this country even to that degree.

We`ll talk with Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REPORTER: Do you think it`s safe to be here right now?

SEN. CHRIS COONS (D-DE): No.

SEN. TAMMY DUCKWORTH (D-IL): I worry more about the janitors and all of the people that have come in to work. I worry more about them and I think this is pretty careless what`s happening right now.

SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT): Well, I wish we were back to deal with COVID-related relief.

SEN. BEN CARDIN (D-MD): I think we need to be working on the next stimulus package. But I think we can do that by working together, by working in our own offices. There`s no need to be collectively together.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MADDOW: For reasons that nobody has been able to explain very well, the whole United States Senate returned to the capitol today, the majority of senators that you saw wearing masks when they returned. Others not so much. Returning senators were encouraged but not required to wear masks at the capitol.

It was only Delaware Senator Tom Carper who opted to keep his mask on while delivering his floor speech today.

Over the weekend, in a rare display of bipartisan bicameral unity, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell, rejected a White House offer to give on-the-spot, rapid response coronavirus testing to all of the representatives and senators as they came back to the capitol. McConnell and Pelosi rejected that offer from the White House, saying that those limited, very in demand tests should be reserved for frontline medical workers and not given to members of Congress instead -- because we still have such terrible access to testing in this country that we have to make those kinds of decisions, we have to triage access to testing like that, even for our legislature.

So, no testing for the returning senators before they were summoned back to Capitol Hill today. Senators will only receive a test if they show symptoms, which is terrible policy because people can be infectious without showing symptoms. But yet, they`re back today.

Senator McConnell insists that the Senate needed to reconvene today, because of the Republicans` agenda of confirming White House nominees and judges.

As for the pandemic, you heard Senator Blumenthal say there, I wish we were back to deal with COVID-related relief. That`s not what they`re back to work on. And in fact, the White House told lawmakers today that members of the Coronavirus Task Force will not be permitted to testify to Congress this whole month unless directly cleared by the White House chief of staff -- which is a very weird thing.

After a quick response from the Democratic leader in the Senate Chuck Schumer who said, quote: President Trump should learn that by muzzling science and the truth, it will only prolong this health and economic crisis.

Joining us now for the interview tonight is the top Democrat in the United States Senate, New York Senior Senator Chuck Schumer.

Senator Schumer, it`s great to see you. Thank you for taking the time to be here tonight.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY), SENATE MINORITY LEADER: Good evening. Good evening, Rachel.

MADDOW: Let me ask you first about what I just mentioned there. This White House notification today that members of the administration`s coronavirus task force won`t be allowed to testify at any time this entire month unless the White House chief of staff gives a permission slip.

It`s a -- to me, it just strikes me as a strange sort of proclamation, I wonder if this is something you expected, or if this is a surprise to you.

SCHUMER: Well, it`s not surprising, because Donald Trump and his administration, by and large, have just shied away from the truth. They don`t want to admit the reality. President Trump said a month ago, every American who wants a test can get a test. Well, obviously, that is not even close to true.

And you know, Rachel, the longer they don`t admit the truth, they don`t, and the longer they don`t admit -- to listen to the scientists, the longer this crisis is going to last. And even worse, it`s more likely to come back a second and third time.

So, frankly, this president, who only looks out for himself, is even hurting himself, by shying away, by putting his head in the sand, by not admitting the truth.

You know, we Democrats, you`re right, we came back today, so Mitch McConnell could confirm a right-wing, very divisive judge, a judge who even said that the chief justice was wrong when he didn`t get rid of the ACA, even at a time when people are desperate for health care, and that`s why we`re coming back. It`s unbelievable.

There is nothing on the floor this week about COVID. We asked McConnell, at least to have hearings, and bring up, so they could get real questions, not -- you know, when a reporter asks them a question, or ask the president or one of his people at the White House, the president cuts them off.

In a hearing like this, a real focused hearing, you could ask question after question, and we ask that Fauci and Birx and Mnuchin and Powell and others all come forward. We don`t have that here, those hearings this week.

Now they say they may have Fauci next week, but who can believe that given what Mark Meadows said and given that they pulled him away from the House?

So, by not telling the truth, by not hearing the truth, by not listening to the scientists, they are prolonging this crisis, they are prolonging how bad the economy will be, they are prolonging the agony of this country. It`s appalling.

So, does it surprise me? No. Does it upset me? A lot.

MADDOW: Senator, especially given what you have been called back to do, as you say, you`re not dealing with what the country is facing now, you`re dealing with, you know, confirming controversial judge picks and other things like that -- given that that`s the thing for which you are all potentially sacrificing your health, coming back to work in aggregate at the U.S. Capitol, without actually having you and all of your staff tested before coming into that environment -- which is something that does happen at the White House for anybody who comes into contact with the president.

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: I mean, I`m worried about you and your colleagues. You are --

SCHUMER: Well --

MADDOW: -- with all due respect, an older group. You have --you have to have interaction with a lot --

(CROSSTALK)

SCHUMER: Young at heart. Young at heart.

MADDOW: It does feel scary to me though that you`re all there.

Is there -- is there real (ph) -- is there concern among your colleagues?

SCHUMER: Yes, since some of my -- each colleague has made his or her own choice, whether they can best serve their constituents by staying home, or coming. And that choice, I respect, in every colleague.

But we`re here right now to force McConnell and the Republicans to do the job that we`re supposed to do. Pass new COVID legislation. We haven`t heard a peep out of McConnell other than these lines in the sand for his ideological issues. We`re not going to give aid to state and local governments. He first said, let them go bankrupt.

Now, he`s saying, oh, we have to exempt the corporate leadership from liability. That means if a corporate -- a head of a company, said you have to sit next to someone who has all the signs of COVID, without PPE, you can`t sue that boss. That encourages bad bosses to do just that. That`s all he is doing.

So I`m here to force them, as best I can, to do real oversight, that`s part of Congress` responsibility, and to come up with things, like money for state and local governments, like heroes pay for the people who -- who are on the frontlines, like getting money for housing relief, for people who, after three months, will be kicked out of their homes.

And that is something that he is not doing. Why he called us back here, given the agenda, is befuddling, even to many of my Republican colleagues.

MADDOW: Senator, in terms of the what the Senate can do right now -- and I hear and can see your frustration with the Republican leader in terms of how he is organizing the time of -- and the priorities of Senate right now. But I know that Senate Democrats for example, put together a detailed plan about trying to fix the testing disaster in this country.

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: I know that the Senate Democrats have talked in detail about what needs to happen different in terms of the financial relief and how it`s been directed and now in some cases it has been misdirected to the kinds of companies that were not supposed to get small business aid, but nevertheless took the lion share of it.

Do you have the opportunity --

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: -- to work on those things, at all? Even as a caucus? Even if Senator McConnell isn`t allowing those things --

SCHUMER: Yes.

MADDOW: -- to be driving the floor agenda?

SCHUMER: Well, the last two bills show that, Rachel -- COVID 3 and COVID 3.5. McConnell came on the floor with a corporate first bill in the first one, we forced them to do some state and local aid, we forced him to do aid to hospitals, we forced him to do aid to small business.

On testing, they resisted, but in this COVID 3.5, we forced them to put in $25 billion for testing, $11 billion to go to the states so they could do testing and do contact tracing, and then the rest to go to the federal government so they could actually provide the supply lines that are needed, and the manufacturing that are needed to make the most tests.

So when we confront McConnell, we usually win. And that`s because, often though we`re a minority, the public is on our side, and lot of those Republican senators -- some up for re-election, some not -- eventually come over to our side.

And so, we`ve had success in bill three, we`ve had success 3.5. Not everything, believe you me, but making it a lot better than when we started, and I believe we`ll have the same success as we get to work and roll up our sleeves on COVID 4, the next bill.

MADDOW: Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer -- Senator Schumer, thank you for making time tonight. I know there`s a lot of demands on you right now.

SCHUMER: Thank you, Rachel. Good to be with you.

MADDOW: I appreciate you making time.

SCHUMER: Thank you, thank you.

MADDOW: All right. We got much more ahead tonight. Stay with us.

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MADDOW: There`s only one clear cut way to monitor and track the spread of coronavirus. That`s widespread testing. The problem, of course, is that here in the United States, we are not conducting widespread testing, nor does it appear we will be conducting widespread testing anytime soon because our federal government botched that so badly, we are still nowhere near digging ourselves out of the hole they put us in when this whole thing started, and that`s part of the reason we have the largest epidemic on earth by a mile.

But because we do have terrible access to testing, public health officials are scouting around to try to come up with other ways we might try to track the virus, and they are ending up in places you might not expect. This is from "The New York Times."

Quote: Water authorities and governments are in discussions with scientists and companies about tracking the pandemic through the detection of viruses in the sewer. Wastewater monitoring could provide early warnings of outbreaks.

Quote: Measuring viruses in wastewater in effect tests an entire city or region at once. While only some people may get tested for the coronavirus on a given day, everyone uses the toilet.

So far, the results are promising. Quote: After the Netherlands saw its first confirmed case February 27th, researchers found the virus in the sewers of cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht. Researchers then went to remote towns without any known cases of COVID-19. They discovered the coronavirus up to six days before the first confirmed cases were found there.

The sewer told them six days in advance of the proper testing data.

Quote: As the confirmed cases of COVID-19 have gone up in Amsterdam and Utrecht, they have found more virus genes in the wastewater. Similar results have been reported out of Australia and France and Spain and starting to be in the United States.

And that`s encouraging because with cities and states opening back up now inexplicably, it would be very good to have some sort of a public health- driven, science-based, early warning system as to when that results in another outbreak coming down on us. As "The Times" reports, quote, when cities or states come out of lockdown, they could check the sewers to follow the virus trend. An increase would tell them that people were infecting each other. Quote, then you`d need to go back into quarantine.

Testing in the sewer to take a community viral load snapshot, it`s like a cross between science fiction and a hilarious kids` book plot, right? But it`s also working.

And given our particular handicap as a country, this might be one of the only ways, certainly one of the only painless ways we could try to make up some distance toward what our testing disaster has cost us.

One of the scientists who is working on just that is going to join us here live, next.

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MADDOW: The headline is sort of irresistible. Is it safe to come out of lockdown? Check the sewer.

Wastewater could provide early, painless, and localized data about the rise or fall of coronavirus levels. That`s exactly the type of data we are looking for right now. With ongoing problems about access to testing in this country, is this an alternative that could give us the data we need to make good public health decisions without having to wait for our government to get it together when it comes to testing?

Well, joining us now is Ali Boehm. She`s a professor at civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University. She leads a research team that is studying the detectable prevalence of COVID-19 in wastewater.

Professor Boehm, it`s a real pleasure to have you here. Thanks for taking time to be here.

ALI BOEHM, STANFORD UNIVERSITY DEPARTMENT OF CIVIL & ENVIRONMENTAL ENGINEERING: Thank you for having me.

MADDOW: Let me ask you if I have mischaracterized what you`re working on in any way or if I`m looking at this the wrong way in terms of how I`m explaining this.

BOEHM: No, I think you`re explaining it perfectly, and our aspiration is actually to create a tool where you can use the concentrations of the coronavirus that we`re measuring in sewage to infer prevalence in the sewer shed in the community that uses the sewers in that watershed.

MADDOW: I know this is going to sound like I`m sort of jumping right to the end, but I`m trying to figure out if this is something that we should be not thinking about in an academy context but thinking about in a public health context right now. I feel like I have to ask you if, A, this is expensive to do, and, B, is it technically difficult too do?

BOEHM: It`s hard to answer that question because expensive to an environmental engineer, it may not be expensive to the state of California.

I don`t think it`s particularly expensive. It`s relatively easy to sample the wastewater treatment plants, and the type of analyses we do are routinely done in environmental microbiology labs around the country and in environmental engineering labs. So, it`s -- theoretically it`s not technically difficult, and we make these kinds of measurements all the time. We measure viruses in the environment.

We usually are focused on enteric viruses that give you diarrhea and cause you to vomit. But the time of analyses we have to do for the SARS virus are we similar to ones that we already do for other viruses.

MADDOW: Could we or should we imagine near-term public health future in which this data -- this approach to prevalence testing, you know, testing at the water treatment plant locally, could be focused enough that an individual state or even an individual county could use this kind of information to find out if public policy changes that they`ve made have increased or decreased the prevalence in, as you call it, the sewer shed, in their area? Can it be pinpointed that well?

BOEHM: We hope that it can, and our goal at least with our project here at Stanford is to get a tool ready to use in the next six months. So, that`s our goal, and we`re working very hard towards it. And I think our entire community of environmental engineers around the world actually -- and you mentioned some of the places earlier, in the Netherlands, in Spain and Switzerland, Australia, Japan, China, we`re all working together to try to get this tool so that it can be used in the very near term.

And I think we all recognize the urgency of getting this tool working within the next few months if that`s possible.

MADDOW: Ali Boehm, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University, Godspeed to you and your team and all of your colleagues around the world who have worked on this. If this -- if this can come to fruition, particularly as you said in a matter of months, it could be just huge in terms of what we can understand and how we can better plan for what to do here. Thanks for helping us understand it this evening. Good luck.

BOEHM: Thank you.

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

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MADDOW: A "Best New Thing in the World Today" just what you needed. This one took root last year before all of this, before this crisis.

In December, the outgoing governor of Kentucky, Republican Matt Bevin, he lost his bid for second term. On his way out of the governor`s mansion, he gave out a huge number of pardons on what appeared to be somewhat dubious terms. Governor Bevin pardoned, for example, a convicted killer whose brother hosted a campaign fund-raiser for him. Bevin also pardoned a convicted child rapist and also someone who killed his parents.

The list was long, and like I said, it was sort of an unusual eyebrow- raising group of cases. Well, "The Courier-Journal" newspaper in Louisville started digging into that story. At one point in the middle of their investigations, a funny thing happened. By then, ex-Governor Matt Bevin called up a reporter from the "Courier Journal" who was working on the team investigating those pardons, a reporter named Joe Sonka.

Sonka says the governor kept him on the phone for almost an hour, defending the pardons and apparently dropping a juicy quote that the Joe Sonka says is one of the best quotes he ever gotten in his whole career. Ultimately it was cut out of the "Courier Journal" story, but he just kind of couldn`t stop thinking about it.

What the governor actually said to him, that quote was not publicly known until today when we learned finally, thanks to Joe Sonka, that what Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin said to Joe Sonka said that day, was he told him, quote, dig into his pardons. He told him, quote, if it`s done right, you could win a Pulitzer Prize.

Why, yes, you could. Today, Joe Sonka and his colleagues at the "Courier Journal" of Louisville, Kentucky, did indeed win the Pulitzer Prize for their work investigating Governor Matt Bevin`s pardons, which turned out to be an ethical catastrophe. The governor`s prediction came true in the best possible way, a Pulitzer Prize, best new thing in the world today.

But because this is our world, I need to add here that between accepting congratulations on Twitter, Pulitzer winning reporter Joe Sonka revealed he begins his second week of unpaid furlough on Monday. Times are hard. Newspapers are struggling. Subscribe to your local paper if you possibly can. And congratulations to Joe and all you guys.

That does it for us tonight. See you again tomorrow.

Now, it`s time for "THE LAST WORD WITH LAWRENCE O`DONNELL".

Good evening, Lawrence.

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