Meet the Press - April 5, 2020

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CHUCK TODD:

This Sunday, why weren't we ready?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

This is going to get worse before it gets better, for sure.

CHUCK TODD:

The government's sobering coronavirus projection: hundreds of thousands of Americans dead, under a best-case scenario.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

This will probably be the toughest week, between this week and next week.

CHUCK TODD:

Cases and deaths soaring fastest in the U.S. as guidelines are ignored.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX:

I can tell by the curve and as it is today that not every American is following it.

CHUCK TODD:

Should there be a national stay-at-home order?

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I don't understand why that's not happening.

CHUCK TODD:

Health care workers overwhelmed --

NURSE:

This is too much. How much longer can I do this?

CHUCK TODD:

-- and states competing with each other for scarce equipment:

GOV NED LEMONT:

It's just a madhouse out there.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO:

It's like being on eBay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator.

CHUCK TODD:

My guests this morning: Surgeon General Jerome Adams, Governors Jay Inslee of Washington and Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy and author Michael Lewis. Plus: the next crisis. What happens when Covid-19 hits rural hospitals that lack doctors, beds and ventilators? And finally, scenes like this. The moments of love, selflessness and heroism that are keeping our spirits up in the face of a once-in-a-century challenge. Joining me for insight and analysis are: NBC News Capitol Hill Correspondent Kasie Hunt, former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory, and Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. Welcome to Sunday and a special edition of Meet the Press.

ANNOUNCER:

From NBC News in Washington, the longest-running show in television history. This is a special edition of Meet the Press with Chuck Todd.

CHUCK TODD:

Good Sunday morning. The week began with two national reckonings on the coronavirus. The first is where we're headed. As of this morning, there are more than 300-thousand confirmed cases in the United States and well over eight-thousand deaths. The federal government is now acknowledging that in a best-case scenario somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans are likely to die from this virus. One point of comparison. That's more Americans than died fighting in Korea and Vietnam combined. As you can see, the U-S, and that’s the soaring red line in this graphic here, trails the world in flattening the pandemic's curve, perhaps the single most critical goal of all. Which brings us to the second reckoning, the government's performance. Like President Trump insisting for weeks that the coronavirus was no worse than the flu. Like the lack of testing, the big one, starting with the botched CDC test kits. Like the government's inadequate stockpile of ventilators, gowns and other personal protective equipment. Like the mixed messaging on face masks: the CDC recommending them, the president refusing to wear one. Like disbanding the National Security Council's pandemic team in 2018. There are so many more, including one we're all responsible for, the failure to follow safety guidelines. Remember, those sobering death toll numbers hold only if everyone practices social distancing, and as we learned last week, that isn’t happening everywhere. Still, the bottom line is the government has been telling us it's been in control of the virus, when in fact it is the virus which has been in control of us.

TRE KWON:

We are afraid for our patients. We are afraid for our families. We are afraid for our lives.

CHUCK TODD:

In New York and around the country --

DR. MAUREEN MUECKE:

We are a small rural hospital, we have no ventilators

CHUCK TODD:

-- medical providers, first responders and state officials are pleading with the federal government for more help:

GOV ANDREW CUOMO:

Every state is saying the same thing, “I need help, I need assistance.”

CHUCK TODD:

But this week, the Trump administration repeatedly sent governors the message, don't look to us first.

JARED KUSHNER:

The notion of the federal stockpile was it's supposed to be our stockpile; it's not supposed to be state stockpiles that they then use.

CHUCK TODD:

By Friday, the HHS website describing the national stockpile had been altered, from saying it had "enough supplies to respond to multiple large-scale emergencies simultaneously" to reading its "role is to supplement state and local supplies as a short-term buffer."

GOV. J.B. PRITZKER:

I don’t know if Jared Kushner knows this, but it’s called the United States of America. And the federal government, which has a stockpile, is supposed to be backstopping the states.

CHUCK TODD:

Nine governors are still declining to enact stay-at-home orders and Mr. Trump is refusing to direct them to do so, despite recommendations from his own public health officials.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI:

I just don't understand why we're not doing that. We really should be.

CHUCK TODD:

The government's advice has changed over time. Americans were told not to wear masks. Now the CDC is recommending they wear non-surgical masks or face coverings in public. On Friday, the president immediately made it clear he is not going to follow that guidance.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

You can do it. You don't have to do it. I am choosing not to do it.

CHUCK TODD:

Americans were told only older people or those with compromised immune systems were at risk. In fact, 21% of deaths - and nearly half of patients admitted to the ICU - have been Americans under 65, according to early CDC data. Americans were told testing was widely available.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

Anybody that needs a test gets a test. They're there.

CHUCK TODD:

Even now - there have been just 1.6 million tests conducted nationwide - a fraction of what experts say is needed. In fact for months, the president played down the virus, misrepresenting the facts:

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. Looks like by April, you know in theory when it gets a little warmer it miraculously goes away

CHUCK TODD:

This week - he reversed course on his rosy projections, acknowledging the U.S. death toll could be staggering - while attempting to claim --

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

100,000 is, according to the modeling, a very low number. The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die. You know what I want to do? I want to come way under the models. The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model, but -- at least, this kind of a model.

CHUCK TODD:

And joining me now is the U.S. Surgeon General. It's Vice Admiral Jerome Adams. Admiral Adams, welcome to Meet the Press. And let me start with -- you're the surgeon general. Give us your recommendation on face masks.

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Well, it's important for America to understand that originally the CDC, the World Health Organization, and my office all recommended against the public wearing face masks because the best available evidence at the time suggested that they were not impactful in preventing you from catching a disease if you were the individual wearer and you were healthy. We always recommended that if people had symptoms that they wear a face mask to prevent spreading disease to other folks. Here's what's changed. We now know that about 25%, in some studies even more, of COVID-19 is transmitted when you are asymptomatic or presymptomatic. And so the CDC has now recommended that people wear cloth face coverings when they're going to be out in public and they can't be more than six feet away from each other. But here are the important points really quickly. Number one: you need to make sure you're not substituting social distancing with face masks because the most important thing is still to stay away from people. Make sure if you put on a face mask you don't touch your face and you don’t -- and you wash your hands before you utilize it. And number three: save the medical masks for the health care workers. Excuse me. They need them. They absolutely need them to be able to respond. I have a video out where I made a cloth face mask out of a T-shirt --

CHUCK TODD:

I saw it. Yeah.

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

-- and rubber bands. Anyone can do this. We all need to do our part to get through this.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm curious. I know you made the warning -- you’re saying specifically you don't want people to make a run on clinical or surgical masks. Two questions I have on that front. Number one: If you are caring for somebody in the vulnerable age group, should that person be wearing a surgical mask? And second, if there were enough around the country, would that be the recommendation? And is it the only reason we're saying, "Do homemade ones," is we just don't have enough masks?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Well, the reason why we're saying, "Make a homemade one," is because that's effective in protecting you from me. Remember, I'm wearing a mask to protect you, Chuck, and you're a wearing a mask to protect me. That is what you need. We want to make sure we're saving the medical masks for the health care workers, and we still wouldn't recommend that people wear an N95 even if we had enough. When I'm in the hospital, I have to get specially fit tested to wear an N95. They're uncomfortable, and you can frequently touch your face. If you're taking care of a loved one who is either older or has medical conditions, very important you wash your hands frequently, you do everything possible to prevent spreading disease to them. And I would encourage folks to consider wearing a cloth face covering when you're within six feet of that person so that your droplets aren't going to them and you're not potentially spreading disease.

CHUCK TODD:

The president made it pretty clear he's not going to wear one. Would you recommend people wearing one at work?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

That’s -- that again -- so here's what you have to know. If you go to the CDC website, it says, number one, this is voluntary. We're asking people to think about doing it to protect their neighbors and their family. But number two, it's not a substitute for social distancing. If you're at work and you're six feet away from someone, there is a minimal chance that you're going to spread disease.If you're in a work environment where you're within six feet, where you're really close to someone, that's definitely something to consider. And, again, that's what the CDC guidelines actually say. They're based on the science. We always try to evolve our recommendations based on the best available science.

CHUCK TODD:

Admiral, I know you’re not -- you're hesitant to backseat drive other officials and the calls that they have to make, and I'm very aware of that. But I am curious. If you were advising the nine governors who have not issued stay-at-home orders, what would you advise them to do?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Well, I would advise them to follow our 30 days to slow the spread guidelines. I ran a state department of health. I've talked to many of these governors, and here's what I say to them -- here’s what I would say to them right now. The next week is going to be our Pearl Harbor moment. It's going to be our 9/11 moment. It's going to be the hardest moment for many Americans in their entire lives. And we really need to understand that if we want to flatten that curve and get through to the other side, everyone needs to do their part. 90% of Americans are doing their part, even in the states where, where they haven't had a shelter-in-place. But if you can't give us 30 days, governors, give us, give us a week. Give us what you can so that we don't overwhelm our health care systems over this next week. And then let's reassess at that point. We want everyone to understand --

CHUCK TODD:

At a minimum --

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

-- you've got to be Rosie the Riveter.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

You've got to do your part.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounds like at a minimum you wish every governor would issue at least one week?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

I wish every governor would encourage the people in their states to follow these guidelines for 30 days. That's what I want. But I want them to do what they can within their states. We know that -- and from a public health perspective, and I ran a public health department, whether it's smoking or opioids, there are all sorts of different rules and regulations in different states. You remember just last week, which was forever ago in corona time, Governor Cuomo actually said it would be declaring war on the states to issue a federal quarantine. Governors are rightly protective of their ability to determine what's best for their citizens. We want them to have the science to make the best recommendations.

CHUCK TODD:

I want to put up a quote from Amy Acton. She is the director of public health in Ohio. She said this on March 13th. And Admiral, it has been haunting me ever since. And this is what she said. "On the front end of a pandemic, you look a little bit like an alarmist. You look a little bit like a Chicken Little. 'The sky is falling.' And on the back end of a pandemic, you didn't do enough." Are those words that we should all be living by, which is you may be hesitant right now if you're a leader about debating health versus the economy, hindsight you're going to wish you had done more?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Twenty years in public health, and I know Director Acton, those words can't be truer. We are always telling people we would rather prevent disease than treat disease. I tell people we aren't going to treat or supply our way out of this problem. There is no magic bullet or magic cure. It's good old fashioned public health and prevention, everyone coming together, practicing good hygiene, staying at home, doing the things that we've always told people to do to prevent spread of infectious disease.

CHUCK TODD:

When are we going to have a website like was advertised a couple weeks ago where we can get a test, where we can find out about these antibodies? Because it seems clear, we're never reopening this economy fully until we're able to GPS this virus. Where are we on testing, sir?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

1.6 million tests, and you mentioned that. That's about one in 200 Americans. That's where South Korea was with their initial testing surge. We're seeing testing ramp up particularly with the Abbott rapid test. And we know that it's never enough tests fast enough, but I feel confident that within the next two to four weeks, we're going to be where we want to be to be able to do adequate surveillance and understand where the disease is, where it's high and low, and to have appropriate public health recommendations. But what does reopening look like? We want to make sure we're seeing cases go down for a good one to two weeks in places. We want to make sure we've got testing. But we want to make sure we've got good public health infrastructure so that when we identify a positive test people can then follow up, isolate, follow up on their case contacts, and make sure a single case doesn't turn into ten, a hundred, a thousand cases.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think by the end of April we'll be in a testing situation where we're actually doing surveillance rather than just trying to, you know, play catch-up?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

We are doing surveillance in many places. Montana, for instance, actually has a higher testing rate than the average for the rest of the country. So we're doing surveillance in many places. We're going to get the antibody testing out there, which is going to give us more information. And I talked to Admiral Giroir, who's the head of the testing task force. He said he feels within a month we'll have antibody testing more widely available. Again, 100,000 tests being done per day, 50,000 Abbott tests coming online. America, testing is becoming more and more available, but it still doesn't replace the fact that we want everyone to act as if they have COVID-19 right now and protect your neighbor, protect your loved ones.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Admiral, the president mused about a one-day reprieve for Easter Sunday. I understand it from a, from a, you know, hopeful scenario. Would that be a public health mistake?

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

The president is always hopeful. He's aspirational. And we're trying to give people the science. The science says that right now this Palm Sunday -- and I'm a Catholic. And I would ordinarily be getting ready for church right now. We need you to stay at home. This is going to be a hard week. It's going to test our resolve. It's going to be the hardest week of our lives. But I'm confident based on the numbers in Washington and in California and Italy and in Spain, we can get through this, we will get through this. I know the American people will do the right thing and stay at home.

CHUCK TODD:

Surgeon General Jerome Adams, thanks very much. Stay healthy, stay clean, and I hope people do watch your video on how to make a mask. Thanks for coming on and --

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Watch it.

CHUCK TODD:

-- sharing your perspective.

SURGEON GENERAL JEROME ADAMS:

Stay home. If you go out, use one of these. Thank you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Thank you, sir. And joining me now are two governors who've taken very different steps in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. It's Governor Jay Inslee of Washington State, the first state to be hit hard, and it's Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, one of few governors who has not issued a stay at home order. Gentlemen, welcome back to Meet the Press for both of you. Governor Hutchinson, I want to start with you. You heard the surgeon general there. He's pleading. Give him a week. He'd prefer it for all 30 days of this month. Your response to the surgeon general?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Great comments by the surgeon general. In Arkansas, we're doing everything that the surgeon general has outlined, plus more. For example, I applaud the recommendations on the mask. Yesterday, we issued guidelines that if you go out, social distance, first of all, but bring a mask with you in case you get in environments that you cannot have that six feet spread. In Arkansas, we have a targeted approach that is very strict. We've closed bars, restaurants, schools, some of our park lodges. We're emphasizing the social distancing. And we will do more as we need to. But let me give you an example of why the masks are so important. And by the way, we have had success in Arkansas comparable to other states. In fact, beating and slowing the spread more than in some states that have actually had a stay at home order. But you have a stay at home order, tomorrow 600,000 Arkansans will still go to work. So it's more important, the message that -- do your social distancing, don't gather in groups of more than ten people. And bring a mask with you. I'm going to be following that introduction. If I can't social distance, I want to have a mask on. We just had last night a breakout in one of our federal prisons here in Arkansas that has ten inmates that tested positive and four guards. It's a federal facility. But stay at home doesn't help there. You've got to have the masks. And our state prison is producing masks that we could utilize in our state prison environment. Those are some of the things we're doing. We'll do more as we need to, listening to our public health officials.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Governor Inslee, all week long, Dr. Birx has basically used Washington and California as examples of trying to show the country, "Look, this can work. This social distancing can work. It's hard, but look at what's happened in Washington and California." I know you've said you're not out of the woods. But do you believe you have started to flatten this curve?

GOV. JAY INSLEE:

Yes. The evidence that Dr. Birx has pointed to repeatedly does demonstrate we have had some success flattening the curve. That has taken place because we acted relatively early. We had a staged way of moving forward. We're one of the most aggressive stay at home, stay healthy initiatives in the United States. And I think this has a reason to believe it's been demonstrably successful. And I'm glad we got on it relatively early. While the president was saying that this was not a problem, I mean, it was a hoax, we were acting to save the lives of our citizens in a number of states, include California and Washington State. It's pleasing to know that if you act aggressively and if you realize that even though you're looking okay today, it could bite you big time tomorrow, I think that's one of the wisdoms. I think it would be good to have a national stay at home order. And the reason is that even if Washington gets on top of this fully, if another state doesn't, it can come back and come across our borders two months from now. So this is important to have national success. But I want to reiterate. We are a long ways away from being out of the woods. We have not gotten down to anywhere close to where we need to be to declare victory over this horrendous virus.

CHUCK TODD:

What does -- Governor Inslee, I want to start with you on this first. Have you started the conversation about what metrics you'll be looking for to start lifting some of these stay in place orders?

GOV. JAY INSLEE:

Yes. But those are just only to begin to think about this because we have been so intent on making sure this is a successful stay-at-home order. And so far, it has been. We have had huge compliance in our state. Washingtonians are responding to the call. And we're really happy about that. But yes, we are looking at the metrics. Fortunately, we're very fortunate here in Washington. We have the University of Washington labs, some of the best in the world. And they give us the metrics that we need. We watch these, like, daily or hourly. And we will look at them on a mix. There isn't one number, there're many numbers we'll be looking at to see when we can come out of it. So I've extended it a month just two days ago to May 4th. So we are in a very vigorous, one of the strongest, probably the strongest in the nation, to May 4th at the moment. But we have more work to do.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Hutchinson, there was -- the CEO of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, in the medical center there, said the state lost an order of 500 ventilators. Essentially, you got outbid by another state. Should you be in that situation? Should you be forced to be bidding against -- is this something the federal government needs to step in and handle?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Well, it's difficult. And we have had circumstances that -- we're trying to collect our PPE, our protective masks and we've been outbid by another state after we had the order confirmed. So yes, that has been challenging for us. But we recognize that the federal government has said, "We're your backstop. You've got to get out there and compete." And it literally is a global jungle that we're competing in now --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that's the way it should be?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

Well, I urged --

CHUCK TODD:

Do you think that's the way it should be? I mean, look, I know ideologically and philosophically where a lot of people believe in federalism. But in a moment like this, should this be the case, states competing?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

No. There needs to be -- I'd like to see a better way. But that's the reality in which we are. We put $75 million to do our procurement. And we'll work through this. The federal government has made it clear they are the backstop. And if we need more ventilators, right now they're going to be going to the hotspots, New York and California. But I've been assured that when we get to the point, if we need ventilators in Arkansas, they're going to be there. We're not waiting on that. We're going out in the marketplace. We're trying to buy ventilators. You know, whether it should or shouldn't, that is where we are right now. Let me come back, if I can though, and I want to compliment Governor Inslee. I think we're watching his success, some of the things that he's done there. But I would point out that, even in the stay-at-home order that's one of the most stringent, as he points out in Washington state, you can still go buy your marijuana. And that's why it's important that we add to that social distancing and the masks that we're advocating if you can't social distance. And that's why every state, whether we're procuring or whether we are determining what's best in our state to reduce the spread, we have to be able to have some flexibility making those decisions. And that's what we're seeing. We're learning from each other.

CHUCK TODD:

Well, very quickly, Governor Hutchinson, I want to give Governor Inslee a chance to respond to that. But Governor Hutchinson, Anthony Fauci has begged basically for a national stay-at-home order. Does his, basically, begging for this at all have an impact on you to change your mind about this?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON:

He's just looking at the nation as a whole. And as the surgeon general said, this week is critical. And we are doing everything that their guidelines say. They mention the masks. We're leaning forward even more in that regard. And so we're all pulling together on this. But whenever you look at our state, I think Dr. Fauci would be very pleased with the fact that we are beating some of our other states in reducing the spread and the commitment that we have to working every day to accomplish that.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. And Governor Inslee, very quickly, is the relationship with the federal government getting better week by week?

GOV. JAY INSLEE:

Well, look, we've had good communications with the vice president, with the CDC. Those have been good. But this is ludicrous that we do not have a national effort in this. To say we're a backup, I mean, the surgeon general alluded to Pearl Harbor. Can you imagine if Franklin Delano Roosevelt said, "I'll be right behind you, Connecticut. Good luck building those battleships"? Look, we need a national mobilization of the manufacturing base of the United States, as we started on December 8th, 1941. We need to nationally mobilize, using the Defense Production Act so that we can get these companies, instead of making cup holders, to start making visors. Start making test kits. We don't have enough test kits by far in my state or anywhere in the United States. So we, governors, Republicans and Democrats, have been urging the president to do what he should, which is if he wants to be a wartime president, be a wartime president. Show some leadership. Mobilize the industrial base of the United States. That's what we need.

CHUCK TODD:

Governor Jay Inslee, Democrat from Washington State, Governor Asa Hutchinson, Republican from Arkansas, thank you both for coming on, sharing your views. It's going to be a long fight here. Good luck to both of you on the frontlines there. When we come back, Italy was the first European country hit hard by the coronavirus. I'm going to talk to Italy's prime minister about what the United States can expect to see in the coming weeks. And as we go to our break, all morning we're going to try to show you some uplifting scenes, beginning with firefighters cheering workers at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Vice President Mike Pence said it last week, we've become the next Italy, the first European country devastated by the coronavirus. On March 4th, Italy closed its schools and universities. On March 8th, most of northern Italy was placed on lockdown. And one day later, the lockdown was extended to the entire country, something we have not done yet here. Did it work? Since its number of new cases peaked on March 21st, Italy has seen an unsteady but a decline nonetheless of new cases. So what can we in the United States learn from Italy's experience? Joining me now is Italy's prime minister, Giuseppe Conte. Mr. Prime Minister, welcome to Meet the Press. And let me simply start by asking how you, and your citizens, and your own loved ones are handling all this. This has been a very trying time. I know you just lost a bodyguard to this deadly virus.

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE:

Unfortunately. Unfortunately, it was terrible news. But let me say one thing first. We're suffering very much. More than 15,000 Italian lives lost to their dear ones, to our society, to our nation. It's a devastating pain. And in these difficult times, I can openly say that American President Trump once more have proven to be Italy's true and loyal friends. I want to thank President Trump, who immediately made us feel his support, his presence. And I am very grateful to American people for this. About what is known today as the Italian model, I can say first of all since the very beginning of the pandemic, Italy has put public health first. And for this reason, we have adopted very strict measures that, you mentioned, and adjusted them to the evolution of the infection. Second, the political choices must be based on scientific evidence. Third, third it is crucial to implement decisions with full transparency. Our liberal democracies are built on the contract we have with our own people, and we owe to them truth and transparency in the same way we have to provide them with safety and security. This is the Italian model.

CHUCK TODD:

Do you believe, given what we've seen, and it looks like you have flattened your curve, do you believe that you have flattened the curve because of these tough measures you've taken? Or do your scientific experts believe the virus is -- might be just running its course?

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE:

In this moment, I cannot say when the lockdown will stop because we are following the suggestions of our scientists in the -- that are in the scientific technical committee. But you have to consider that Italy has been the first country in Europe that, of course, faced this pandemic. Our response has not been perfect maybe, but we have been acting the best of our knowledge. Today, I see that our model is implemented by other countries and its validity has been acknowledged by the WHO. And the results so far indicate that we are on the right path. Therefore, the most important message to give to our citizens is stay home as much as possible. Do not go, do not go out. And if you must leave your home, for example, to go to work or to buy food, always respect our safety rules. We are asking our people a great sacrifice. I'm aware of it. But it is the only way to defeat the pandemic altogether. The more we respect the rules, the sooner we will get out.

CHUCK TODD:

It sounds like -- there was a story in the New York Times today that if -- with testing that you're hoping in your country that in order to reopen parts of the economy and reopening parts of the country, that you might be able to have, "Okay, if you have the antibody to the virus, you can work. And if you don't, you have to stay home." Do you think that is in Italy's future?

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE:

We will work for that. But in this moment, we are all in the same battle. We are fighting the same powerful and invisible enemy. All countries in the world are hit, and we are all in front line. If an outburst withdraws, the virus will spread again and our efforts and sacrifice would be in vain. For this reason, it's crucial the cohesion and cooperation of our democracies and strategic international collaboration. And it's strategic also that all countries around the world should stop -- Italy strongly supports the appeal made by the secretary general of United Nations for a global ceasefire. It is time for all the parties in conflict, stop fighting each other and unite against an enemy which won't make a difference and will kill them all.

CHUCK TODD:

Mr. Prime Minister, I know these next couple of Sundays in particular are going to be really difficult to think of these empty churches on Palm Sunday and on Easter. It's going to be very difficult. My condolences again to you. And stay the fight, keep going, and keep flattening that curve. Thanks for coming on.

PRIME MINISTER GIUSEPPE CONTE:

Thank you very much. If I can say, I'm really proud to serve my amazing unique country. Thank you very much.

CHUCK TODD:

Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. When we come back, why wasn't the government ready for this pandemic? The panel is next. And as we go to break, the reunion between my NBC News correspondent colleague Janis Mackey Frayer and her six-year-old son in China after being separated for seven weeks.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. The panel is joining us from their remote locations. We are practicing our social distancing. NBC News Capitol Hill correspondent Kasie Hunt, the former Republican governor of North Carolina, Pat McCrory and Helene Cooper, Pentagon correspondent for The New York Times. All right, I think we can best sum up the argument or the debate this morning in particular, which is, “Who's in charge?” And, Kasie Hunt, I want to play the president on the, on those CDC mask guidelines because in many ways the mixed messaging he sent here sort of sums up this sort of back-and-forth between the feds and the state. Take a listen.

PRES. DONALD TRUMP:

The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure. So it's voluntary. You don't have to do it. I don't think I'm going to be doing it, I think, wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens. I don't know. Somehow, I don't see it for myself.

CHUCK TODD:

It's worth noting, by the way, that the Italian prime minister before he started the interview before he sat down, he actually was wearing a mask. There were -- all of his aides were wearing masks. We thought that was interesting there. But, Kasie Hunt, this seems to be this push-and-pull here. The governors want the feds to take more control, and the president definitely doesn't want to do that.

KASIE HUNT:

And even Asa Hutchinson, in your conversation there, he has resisted that statewide stay-at-home order, as you pointed out, but he also said in that interview he was going to be wearing a mask and modeling the guidelines. The surgeon general just a minute earlier putting a face mask on on camera. Clearly, our public health officials believe that this is a message that they want to send to people in the strongest possible terms. And this is, of course, an evolution. We were initially all told this wasn't necessary unless you were sick. But at this point, you know, what the president is saying, Chuck, we're seeing it in any polling that's being done. We're seeing it, we’re seeing it in how people are responding. More people are listening to what this president has to say than have at all yet in his presidency because we are all tuned in, trying to figure out how to make our way through this together. And so if he wants Americans to wear masks, he needs to say that very directly. And we all know, especially those of us who are trying to raise children, that you have to model the behavior yourself to convince others to follow.

CHUCK TODD:

Yes. That's for sure. Pat McCrory, as a former governor, as a former mayor, I know you're, you’re sympathetic to somebody above your pay grade trying to tell you how to run your state or run your city. I get that. But when is the point as a governor that you actually want the feds in charge?

PAT McCRORY:

Well, one thing, I've been in the fog of war during hurricanes and tornadoes and winter storms where you're making life-and-death decisions while balancing the economy and also balancing the turf between not just the federal government and state government, but if I think you examine every state, there's turf among the county health directors and, and the governor. And as you get closer to the people and the elected officials are close to the people, there can be varying opinions. And in the fog of war, you have mixed data, you have mixed communication, and, and you have evolving opinions based upon that new data. And that's exactly what's happening today. The one thing I don't like that's happening is the blame game. You know, the Washington governor mentioned Pearl Harbor. Well, I think after Pearl Harbor occurred, the worst thing a governor could do is blame Franklin Roosevelt for Pearl Harbor. What you need to do is go, "Oh, what do we need to do now?" and be specific. And we all live in our lanes of responsibility. And some of those lanes overlap and there are gray areas. This is not unusual in a fog of war.

CHUCK TODD:

I'm just curious though, Governor. I want to follow up. I'm obsessed. I put that quote up for the surgeon general, the public health official from Ohio, Amy Acton. Are you surprised that more politicians aren't erring on the side of caution here? Because there seems to be if you're wrong about this, boy, is that a bad way to be wrong. If, if you're wrong and you've, and you’ve been overly alarmist, well, nobody’s, nobody extra has died. But if you're wrong and you've underplayed, boy, you've got a lot to answer for.

PAT McCRORY:

I had a theme during our crisis in hurricanes, was be overprepared and hopefully be underwhelmed. And that I think should be the goal of every leader. But there is this tremendous balance that we all have. And, and one thing about even the stay-at-home policy, I could say it almost discriminates against the blue collar worker who's watching us do our job from a long distance. The blue collar worker can't stay at home to keep the manufacturing lines open of textile and rubber and cloth that we need in our hospitals right now, the delivery trucks, the grocery stores. The blue collar worker is going, "Wait a minute. I don't get to stay at home."

CHUCK TODD:

Helene Cooper, there's been a lot of chatter about the president ought to appoint, you know, ought to deputize -- maybe it's a member of the joint chiefs, some -- a general of, of, maybe, you know, somebody of the status of a Jim Mattis, somebody like that -- to basically become the procurement czar here.

HELENE COOPER:

There has been a lot of that. And as you know at the Pentagon, the reason people are saying to do this, to appoint a general is at the Pentagon, they specialize in planning. That's what they do all the time and in a wartime situation. It's just been so fascinating though, Chuck, seeing the American government response to this and just how much we have appeared to lag by a good ten days to two weeks this virus with everything that we're doing. The fact that you have the, the administration, the White House finally coming on and saying that we should be wearing face masks is something that many, many health officials say should have happened a month, month ago. And the fact that you still don't have the president on board, board with that I think is hugely significant. I'm not sure which kings and queens he thinks are going to be coming to the White House that he needs to be worried about greeting with a face mask on, but the very idea that President Trump is talking about appearance, that it won't look good for him to be seen wearing a face mask at a time when you have thousands upon thousands of Americans dying and so the numbers looking like they're about to go shockingly higher I think says a lot about leadership in a time of crisis.

CHUCK TODD:

Very quickly, Kasie Hunt, I noticed we have 6.6 unemployment claims this week. And it seems like that number made Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell suddenly say, "Oh, we should agree on the next round of spending." This is coming soon, isn't it?

KASIE HUNT:

Nancy Pelosi earlier this week, Chuck, was ready to start talking about infrastructure projects, jobs bills essentially, the next phase of this. It only took 24-36 hours for her to suddenly turn around and say, "You know what? Actually, we are still in the emergency relief phase of this." And I think you are going to see Congress try to act as quickly as possible in that vein.

CHUCK TODD:

Yeah. And it almost will be like a “refill the coffers” of what was promised with the first round, which we're still trying to get out -- those small business loans, unemployment. All week long, you're going to see a lot of technical problems on that front. I hope folks are patient on there. I've got to leave it there. Thank you guys for our shortened panel. Coming up, author Michael Lewis on finding some creative ways to fight the pandemic. But first, the scene at Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia, where health care workers had a message for all of us, and they tried to do it with a smile. Stick around.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Data download time. So far, coronavirus hotspots have primarily been urban areas like New York City, where there is already an ICU bed shortage. But access to those beds is likely to get even more limited as the pandemic spreads inland to more rural areas with older populations. Let's take New York City as our baseline. It's home to numerous top rated hospitals. But there are still over 1,000 60 plus year old people for every one ICU bed. The rest of the country would seem to be doing somewhat better, with one ICU bed for over 900 people. Good news perhaps, but that's where the good news ends. Check this out. Only 47% of all U.S. counties have any ICU beds at all. And only 29% of U.S. counties have ten or more. There are 536 counties in the United States where 30% of the population in those counties is over the age of 60. And of those, only 23% have any ICU beds at all. You see where this is going. In counties we call aging farmlands, the most remote counties in the country, the numbers are even more dire. There're 161 of those remote counties. In all 161 counties, there are only six ICU beds total. Up until now, we don't know how COVID-19 spreads in very rural environments where vast spaces make social distancing easier, or a way of life, in some cases. But even as most eyes have been on New York City recently, the virus has been spreading outside of that metro area. Two weeks ago, there were fewer than 800 counties with a confirmed case of the virus. This week, there were 2,300 counties with at least one case. When we come back, are there ways to fight the coronavirus that we're not yet thinking of? Author Michael Lewis joins us next.

CHUCK TODD:

Welcome back. Michael Lewis has spent a career chronicling people who find creative ways to identify and solve problems. In his latest book, The Fifth Risk, Lewis essentially describes what happened when, in his view, the Trump administration dumbed down government too much to function properly. So is the Trump administration prepared to take all of this on during this current crisis? Michael Lewis joins me now, social distancing from Berkeley, California. Mr. Lewis, welcome to Meet the Press. Long time, first time as far as I'm concerned, so I'm glad to have you on.

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Good to see you, Chuck.

CHUCK TODD:

Let me just start with the premise of your book, which you were looking at the transition. And I say -- and I want to connect some dots here. I'm going put up a screengrab here of all the people that have been in charge of the Department of Homeland Security in the Trump administration. Five different people. Two have been Senate confirmed, three actings, including the situation here. It feels as if -- I know DHS wasn't a part of your book, but that amount, is that the definition of the fifth risk here sometimes, personnel?

MICHAEL LEWIS:

You know, the book -- the starting point for the book is if you’ve, you really have to think about the federal government as this, as, as a manager of a portfolio of risks, right? And many of them are catastrophic. And you don't know what you're going to have to deal with. But you know there are people in there who are dealing with it. And what interested, what caught my eye and the reason I wrote the book was that we had this process to hand over the government. And it was actually by law, the Obama administration was required to spend a great deal of time preparing to hand the government over to whoever, whoever succeeded it. And, and Obama took it really seriously because he -- because Bush had handed the government over so well to him, he thought. And Trump, on his side, had built this enterprise of 500 people to roll into the Department of Homeland Security, or the Department of Agriculture or wherever, and he fired it the day after the election. So the transition never happened, so there was like this -- that's the beginning of this whole story. It's the beginning of our response to the pandemic. It's that the knowledge of how you dealt with, I don't know, say, an Ebola outbreak, was never actually transferred to the Trump administration. And it’s, I think that if you’re going to tell -- when people look back and tell the story of this crisis, they'll, they’ll start there.

CHUCK TODD:

There's no doubt they will. Look, I want to pivot a little bit. You just did a podcast and you noted we're going to learn a lot about our society during this pandemic that is probably going to surface problems we didn't know we needed to solve. What are a few that you're seeing now that you think we need to be keeping an eye on?

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Are you talking about, like, risks we should be terrified of? You know, it’s --

CHUCK TODD:

Yes.

MICHAEL LEWIS:

Well look, this in some ways was not — the fifth risk in my mind was the risk in, that you weren’t really, that you weren’t really, you didn't have top of mind. And I, I came to the idea because I walked into the Department of Energy and, and got the briefing from the Chief Risk Officer that the Trump administration had not bothered to get. And I asked, like, "What are the top five things you're worried about just in the Department of Energy?" And he said, "Look, there're a lot of really smart people dealing with things like, one, preventing a nuclear weapon from going off when it shouldn't go off. Two, preventing the electric grid from going down or coming under attack. Three, North Korea getting a weapon that they actually deliver to the west coast." I mean, it was, like, one thing after another. And there were, there were steps being taken to prevent these bad things from happening. Now, now, the question is, across an administration that's being run by a person who is largely indifferent to it, to what extent is this portfolio of risks, you know, like, more likely to happen? And the thing that worried me and the thing that got me interested in writing the book in the first place was, was, like, if something actually happens, I don't know what it is, what's going to happen, but when it happens, they're not going to be prepared to deal with it. And now we know, now we know what happened. So, it’s -- we're now in the land of second best solutions because we had someone who neglected the instrument, the tool for dealing with the crisis.

CHUCK TODD:

Look, we’re going to, we’re going to end up having -- something will change in our society based on this. One of the things that I've wondered about is we're learning who's essential. We're finding out the truck drivers, a lot more essential than, than some of us. The person who stocks the shelves, a lot more essential. Do you see a reckoning on the economic front that, that sort of rights those wrongs in time?

MICHAEL LEWIS:

You know, the first thing that might come out of this is an appreciation of the federal government, of what it does. Its basic job is to keep us safe. And if it, if we don't pay attention to how it's run, we will find ourselves in this situation all over again. So, I think that's the big thing. I think that's the big thing that comes out of it.

CHUCK TODD:

All right. Michael Lewis, I've got to leave it there. Always wish I had more time with you and I will find a way to get more time with you down the road. Thank you. And thank you to all of you who've been watching today. Please continue to practice that social distancing, doing everything you can to keep your family and neighbors safe. The sooner we do it, the sooner we'll get through this. We'll be back next week because if it's Sunday, it's Meet the Press.