Pandemic doctors speak out

By Fernando Alfonso III, CNN

Updated 2:10 AM ET, Mon March 29, 2021
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10:13 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Seeing Trump tweet "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" during the shutdown was "a punch to the chest," Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci didn't mince words when he described how he felt seeing his previous boss, President Trump, calling on states to "liberate" themselves in April 2020 while large swaths of the country remained shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

"The thing that hit me like a punch to the chest was then all of a sudden he got up and says 'liberate Virginia, liberate Michigan,' and I said to myself, 'oh my goodness, what is going on here,'" Fauci told CNN. "It shocked me because it was such a jolt to what we were trying to do."

More context: Trump lashed out on April 17, 2020, at Democrats, trying to pass the buck for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and hoping to pass the blame for an economy ravaged on his watch.

The strategy of division was on full display with Trump aiming ire at Democratic governors in key battleground states through a series of three rapid-fire Tweets: "LIBERATE MICHIGAN!" "LIBERATE MINNESOTA!"

9:55 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Redfield says he was "not a happy camper" over decision for CDC to manufacture Covid-19 test kits

Dr. Robert Redfield, a trained virologist who led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Trump, reflected on the failed coronavirus test kits the organization had produced early on in the pandemic.

"I was not a happy camper that the CDC decided to manufacture tests," Redfield told CNN during its special report "COVID WAR – The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out." "We're not a manufacturing corporation."

What happened exactly: On February 5, 2020, the CDC said it would begin shipping test kits to health labs throughout the country, but in subsequent days public labs found a defect. 

When public labs first receive any test kit, they first verify that it works.

"It gave them an inconclusive result, so the test was not valid," said Scott Becker, the CEO of the Association of Public Health Laboratories. 

A CDC official said on February 12 a part of the test needed to be remanufactured.

10:09 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

White House didn't know status of supply chain at start of pandemic, former health officials say

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

The United States did not know how much emergency supply the nation had access to at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Robert Kadlec, former US assistant secretary of Health and Human Services, said in a CNN special report Sunday night.

"When we started the pandemic in January, we really didn't know what the status of the supply chain was. We didn't know what hospitals had on hand. We didn't know what the state supplies were. We didn't even know what the commercial distributors had on their shelves," Kadlec told Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the documentary "COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."

Kadlec has come under fire in a whistleblower complaint that alleges he was slow to respond to the pandemic threat in the early days. Kadlec told Gupta that he would "challenge some of the accuracies" of that complaint.

"We had no systems in place. The way to find out how many ventilators were being used is to call up and see. Well, who are the manufacturers? We don't know," Adm. Brett Giroir, who served as US Health and Human Services assistant secretary under President Trump, said in the documentary.

"What's the supply chain? We don't know," Giroir said. "How many tests do we have in the stockpile? Well, there was no test in the stockpile. How many swabs do we have? We didn't have a single swab. So all of this was starting from scratch."


9:59 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Former CDC director makes controversial claim that Covid-19 began in a China lab

From CNN's Jamie Gumbrecht

Dr. Robert Redfield, the former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta he believes the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic is a lab in China — a controversial theory without evidence.

“If I was to guess, this virus started transmitting somewhere in September, October in Wuhan,” Redfield told Gupta. “That's my own feelings. And only opinion. I’m allowed to have opinions now.”

Redfield, a virologist who led the CDC under former President Donald Trump, said he thinks the virus originated inside a lab in China and “escaped,” not necessarily intentionally.

There is no clear evidence to support the “lab leak” theory, although it has played an ongoing role in conspiracies and speculation, including statements from Trump. The World Health Organization has called it "extremely unlikely."

"Now, I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely etiology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory, escaped. Other people don't believe that. That's fine. Science will eventually figure it out. It's not unusual for respiratory pathogens that are being worked on in a laboratory to infect the laboratory worker," Redfield told Gupta.

Watch Dr. Redfield speak with Dr. Sanjay Gupta:

9:54 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

China had "about a 30-day head start" in preparing for the pandemic, former HHS assistant secretary says

Dr. Robert Kadlec, the former top disaster response official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said he believes China had roughly a month head start in preparing for the coronavirus pandemic

Kadlec was the HHS assistant secretary for preparedness and response, known as the ASPR.

"They were already buying things on the market well in advance of what we were," he told CNN during its "COVID WAR – The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out" special report."Even things that were made here in the United States, we found that the domestic supplies were drying up because of foreign purchases."

More context: According to Dr. Robert Redfield, a trained virologist tapped by President Trump back in 2018 to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after a long career in public health, his counterpart at the China CDC, Dr. George Gao, was initially left in the dark about the magnitude of the public health problem until early January.

He described a private phone call he had with Gao in early January 2020, when Gao became distraught and started crying after finding "a lot of cases'' among individuals who had not been to the wet market.

Gao, Redfield said, "came to the conclusion that the cat was out of the bag."

The Chinese government has rejected accusations made by the United States and other Western governments that it deliberately concealed information relating to the virus, maintaining that it has been upfront since the beginning of the outbreak. 


9:46 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

China has a history of not providing "all the information," Fauci says

Dr. Anthony Fauci said one of the biggest hurdles to navigate at the start of the pandemic was working with Chinese scientists and officials to determine what Covid-19 information out of the country to trust. 

Fauci said his skepticism was influenced by the SARS outbreak.

"I always had skepticism about it because of what we went through with SARS. You know, people forget," Fauci told CNN. "The Chinese are saying, 'oh, it's flu, it's flu' and then the next thing you know, that SARS was all over the world in Canada and Australia, all over the place. So they are not very transparent in the past. It wasn't outright lying, they just didn't give you all the information."

Fauci added: "I think if we had sent our people into Wuhan and [were] able to talk to the Chinese scientists in a conversation that might have lasted an hour, you could have gotten so much information."

China's take: Chinese President Xi Jinping has said the country acted in an "open, transparent, and responsible manner" in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Xi made the comments while awarding medals to four people for their outstanding contributions during the pandemic at a ceremony in September in Beijing.

Among the four were the country's top respiratory disease expert, Zhong Nanshan, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV. 


9:46 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Birx says all Covid-19 deaths after the first surge "could have been mitigated or decreased"

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Dr. Deborah Birx, who served as the White House coronavirus response coordinator under former President Donald Trump, said in a CNN documentary clip released Saturday that she thinks the United States could have saved the hundreds of thousands of lives lost to Covid-19 following the pandemic's first surge.

So far during the pandemic, the United States has seen more than 548,000 deaths due to Covid-19.

"When you look at your data now and you think, 'OK, had we mitigated earlier, had we actually paused earlier and actually done it' – how much of an impact do you think that would have made?" CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked Birx during an interview for the documentary "COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."

"I look at it this way – the first time we have an excuse. There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge," Birx said. "All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially."

In other words, the Trump administration and the country could have done more.


9:46 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Fauci says developing Covid-19 vaccines last year was "the best decision” he ever made as NIAID director

From CNN's Jacqueline Howard

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that the rise in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths across New York City early on in the pandemic was when he realized just how important a vaccine would be.

"Was there a moment, Dr. Fauci, when you said, 'OK this is the big one?' " CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asked Fauci about the pandemic during "COVID WAR: The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."

"When I saw what happened in New York City, almost overrunning of our health care system, it was like, 'Oh my goodness,' " Fauci said. "And that's when it became very clear that the decision we made on January the 10th – to go all out and develop a vaccine – may have been the best decision that I've ever made with regard to an intervention as director of the institute."

Watch Dr. Fauci explain:

9:45 p.m. ET, March 28, 2021

Fauci on Covid-19: "It is an extraordinary virus"

Having spent his entire professional life working around infectious diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci said metaphors are very common and when it comes to viruses like Covid-19, "they have a mind."

"They're smart, they're evil or they're benign. A virus that has adapted itself, almost insidiously, adapted itself perfectly to a human. Not only am I going to infect you, but I'm going to make sure that many of you don't have symptoms, the people who are young and don’t have symptoms, I’m going to use them to spread as much as I possibly can," Fauci told CNN during its special report "COVID WAR – The Pandemic Doctors Speak Out."

More on Fauci's history: Since 1984, he has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

He has served under seven US presidents, starting with Ronald Reagan, and in 2008 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

As the nation's top infectious disease expert, Fauci has worked on the federal response to AIDS, Ebola, the Zika virus and anthrax scares, just to name a few.