The killer virus strikes

In March, the perfect storm of the coronavirus roared into the U.S., overwhelming parts of the country, causing shutdowns, supply shortages and a death toll nearly impossible to comprehend.
8:59 | 07/29/20

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Transcript for The killer virus strikes
Tonight, coronavirus spreading in the U.S. The death toll now rising. This disease is running rampage through this facility. A state of emergency issued in Washington state. March is the month that we will never forget. That's when the pandemic really hit our shores and things started to explode. My mom was living at life care center of Kirkland in February of 2020. Officials in Washington losing patience with the nursing home where most of the fatalities from the coronavirus occurred. And CDC hadn't shown up on the scene yet to be support. Staff clearly wasn't able to deal with it. And I got a phone call from the nurse saying that mom had passed. Doctors said, "How do you know so much about this?" Maybe I have a natural ability. Maybe I should have done that instead of running for president. There wasn't a lot of urgency and that's where leadership becomes really critical. So we're part of dealing with this crisis, not leading it at that time, but obviously in support. It was my belief that this would have to be a bigger response. If the virus is in China, didn't someone expect that the virus was gonna get on a plane and travel? And it did. And it wasn't in China anymore. It went to Europe and it went to Italy and it went to France. Tonight, the world health organization declaring it a global pandemic. The NBA overnight suspending its season until further notice. Breaking at this hour, the financial markets in freefall. The worst day since black Monday crash of 1987. My fellow Americans to keep new cases from entering our shores, we will be suspending all travel from Europe to the United States for the next 30 days. He misstated the nature of the travel restriction. He said he was banning everyone and that led to a panic. It led to thousands and thousands of people coming back from Europe who didn't need to come back. People ended up in -- in those crowded hallways for a long period of time and many were exposed. And reportedly have passed because of their exposure waiting to clear customs. And by the time we -- we realized Europe threat and shut down travel to Europe, there was already probably two or three weeks of 60,000 people coming back every day from Europe. I'm a registered nurse. I work in an emergency department in New York City. There was not enough tests to test everybody that wanted a test. The U.S. Badly trailed the world in March on the testing situation. The situation with the CDC and the testing had become so extreme that, by March 13th, on the red dawn email chain, Dr. James Lawler sounded the alarm. How are you supposed to know when you have community transmission when they haven't been able to provide a diagnostic assay that can be used. We were talking to everybody that we could find to communicate why we were concerned and what we thought we needed to be doing as a nation. We always knew that there were a lot more cases out there than we were diagnosing. 23% of people in New York City so a quarter of New York City was infected with this virus. It was inevitable that this novel coronavirus would show up in New York City. What they didn't expect was that it would be transmitted silently in the population and then they had no tests. Anybody that needs a test gets a test. We -- they're there. They have the tests and the tests are beautiful. It's not true 'cause tests are physical objects, we can count them. We didn't have enough. When the pandemic first began, I chose not to stay home because my bills still had to be paid. And I'm a grocery worker and that's just -- that's what I do. What was needed was a way to make essential work safer. Estimates are that something like 40% of the workforce continued working. Essential workers were at the end of that long line. Everybody wanted to know, "Hey, how can I get tested? And where can I get tested?" March 12th, I get put in charge of testing. It had been decided at some point in time, not in this administration, that test supplies were not gonna be part of the stockpile. So when I looked to see what was there, there was nothing there. This was no game plan. There was nothing. Thank you very much, everyone. Thank you. To unleash the full power of the federal government, this effort today, I am officially declaring a national emergency. Across America almost 22,000 schools shuttered, forcing 15 million kids to stay home. Major areas of American life shutting down to stop the spreading coronavirus. There's images of health care workers in other countries that are fighting this virus wearing full on hazmat bunny suits. Meanwhile here, we are wearing garbage bags and week old n95s. I did not feel protected. I did not feel safe. We need those masks, those gowns, gloves and we need them now. One of the things that people don't realize is that the manufacture of personal protective equipment, or ppe, the majority of that production is offshore, not in the united States. So we're going to put out an executive order today, New York state on pause. The defense production act or dpa allows the federal government to order manufacturers to produce supplies needed. And the calls were growing louder by the day for president trump to invoke this act but he was really hesitant to do it. He's used it 600 times as president. So when there's something he wants to do, he's willing to use that power. And whatever the states can get, they should be getting. I say we're sort of a backup for the states. And some of the states are doing really well and some don't do as well. The president's position was the states were in charge. States, the governors, the governors, the governors. You know, I'm calling China to buy ppe. Every governor is calling China to buy masks. Right? It made no sense. What do we want, ppe. When do we need it? Now! Nurses were getting put on ventilators. We were dying. And what angers me the most I think is that these deaths were 100% preventable. FEMA says we're sending 400 ventilators. Really? What am I -- what am I going to do with 400 ventilators when I need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators! Where's the ppes? Where are they? The president said it's a war. It is a war. Well, then act like it's a war! Typically, the world production of ventilators is about 30,000 ventilators a year which sounds like a lot. But when you're in a pandemic and every -- again, every country in the world was looking for ppe and ventilators, it doesn't last too long. So you have 50 states competing to buy the same item, it's like being on Ebay with 50 other states bidding on a ventilator. It should not have been left to each state to figure out what to do. We're all connected. I mean, honestly, this is one nation. We need one response. The U.S. Now has more cases of coronavirus than anywhere in the world. In New York, cases soaring, hospitalizations doubling every four days. This packed emergency room at a hospital in New York City and doctors describing New York hospitals as a war zone. I had maybe 12, 13 patients, and they were all super critical. They were all dying. And our numbers started to dwindle, because nurses started to get sick because again, lack of ppe. This is something that has been talked about and warned about and studied and anticipated by experts in Republican and democratic administrations for years. Okay, thank you very much. Moments ago, I directed secretary Azar and acting secretary wolf to use any and all available authority under the defense production act. Ultimately, he did end up invoking it and forcing some companies to help in this process of making ventilator parts. But at that point, the damage was done. A lot of critics said these ventilators had been needed and a lot of companies were already making them. They didn't need the act to tell them to do it. And president trump didn't invoke the dpa for ppe, that was needed the most. And he still hasn't evoked the dpa for that. And it's left essential workers to deal with it themselves. We're not even at the peak yet.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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