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Kudlow: "We're looking to reopen economy" once health experts give "green light"

White house advisor Larry Kudlow says he is waiting for a 'green light' from health experts to reopen the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. Former adviser to the FDA and CDC and the Former Cleveland Clinic Medical Director of Molecular Oncology Dr. Roger Klein joins Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith to discuss.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's get to the latest on the coronavirus outbreak. So worldwide, infections are now more than 1.3 million. And here in the US, that number has risen to more than 378,000. But we did hear some relatively encouraging news here from Governor Andrew Cuomo out of New York earlier this afternoon.

Now he did point to the fact that we are seeing a falling rate in the number of hospitalizations. He's saying that the state is still projecting that the spread of the virus is plateauing. Here for more on this, I want to bring in Dr. Roger Klein, former advisor to the FDA and to the CDC. And Dr. Klein, thanks for joining us. Let's start with the latest numbers out of New York, just in terms of what do you think or what do those numbers tell us about the virus at this point?

ROGER KLEIN: Yeah, thank you, Seana. You know, I think we're getting a hold of it, and it's continuing to spread. I mean, we have-- we really don't fully understand the extent of the infection versus the cases. But I think what we're seeing is we're seeing a leveling off of cases in the seriously infected, which is key. It's critical.

SEANA SMITH: Right, that is critical. I mean, it's interesting, though, because there's still so much uncertainty just in terms of when we will start returning to work. And I actually want to play a [INAUDIBLE] that we heard, our sound bite from Larry Kudlow. Now he was out commenting earlier about the timing of reopening the economy. And here's what he had to say to reporters earlier today.

LARRY KUDLOW: There is some very early evidence of some flattening out. Now I can't proclaim that. It's not my area. We'll wait for Ambassador Birx and Tony Fauci and others. But we've done what we needed to do, and I think it's bearing results. And we are looking to reopen the economy as soon as we can. But we've got to get a green light from the health folks. There's no question about that.

SEANA SMITH: --Klein, how would we-- how are we going to know when it's time to reopen the country? How do we gauge that at this point?

ROGER KLEIN: Yeah, so I look at this somewhat differently. I think it's more of a nuanced approach. What we need to do is start at a targeted way, improving and opening people's workplaces. Based upon the situation that's happening, what we're seeing now is an epidemic that's still largely confined to the New York metropolitan area, which has over 40% of the cases and 40% of the deaths.

So what was projected and what people were fearing isn't happening around the country, although we've had some outbreaks in cities like Detroit and New Orleans. Largely, what we fear isn't happening. We're not seeing this huge exponential explosion in cases across the country.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Klein, there was a great piece in "The New York Times" today, and it was talking about reopening the economy and how testing is one of those key things that were discussed and when we could potentially reopen the economy, where do we stand on testing at this point? Is enough being done?

ROGER KLEIN: So we're doing well. Of course, we can always do more. But what's really great is that we've got some new tests online that we can do at the point of care. And what we're learning to do and what I think is going to happen, this isn't an on and off thing.

What's going to happen is we're going to treat this like other diseases. The patient comes in, they get a test, we understand right away whether or not they have the virus or not. And then they've got to be isolated and managed accordingly. And we can handle their contacts, et cetera.

But I think-- so we've had an explosion. We're doing a great job in testing. And one thing that was really nice was CDC today announced that they're doing what's called serology testing. So they're doing some epidemiologic studies that are going to help us better understand what this virus really is.

We still don't know how many people are infected. We don't understand its course. We don't really understand its transmissibility. And once we have better data, we'll much better be able to manage the disease, just as we do influenza and other respiratory viruses.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Klein, is antibody testing, is that a key here, just in terms of trying to determine who has already had it and who could be safe to return to work at this point?

ROGER KLEIN: Yes, so it has two purposes. The one-- the latter purpose in terms of who can return to work, that's very important. People who have antibodies are probably immune, certainly in the short-term. But it also gives us knowledge and understanding of what this disease is. We don't know what the death rate is because we don't know what the infection rate is.

Most of our testing has been confined to the sickest patients. We're looking at half life patients and those who have the greatest symptomatology. They're the most affected. We're not-- we don't know how many people are walking around with mild infections. We actually don't know how many of the people with mild infections go on to become severe. So we need those data to really understand it.

But I am very optimistic. I think the fact that we're not seeing that-- the fact that the New York area is still maintaining its constant percentage, or relatively constant percentage relative to the nation-- it's only 6% of the population-- to me, suggests we're not going to see a replica of what went on in New York other places in the country. That's very, very encouraging and suggests we can use targeted means to help stem the virus, but also preserve the economy and people's welfare.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: But isn't it too soon to be talking about flattening of the curve? Because like everybody else, you know, I'm anxious, want us to reopen the economy. But Dr. Fauci said that the data, it takes two, three weeks for the actual result. There's a lag there. So is Governor Cuomo being too optimistic?

ROGER KLEIN: I don't know. You know, I think New York-- every place has to be handled differently. I think New York-- it's right for him to be optimistic. I also think there's not one curve, and we're not actually seeing the kind of curve they're talking about in other areas of the country.

What we need to do is-- this is a big, big country with lots of people. We've got 330 million people here. We need to manage this in a more nuanced fashion, not in one way. It needs to be handled in accordance with what's going on in different regions. New York is extremely population dense. And there was always the risk of something like this happening in New York City.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Klein, quickly, I want to ask you just about treatments. Are we any clearer on what works on this virus? We had Dr. Zeke Emanuel on this show yesterday. And I asked him about the hydroxychloroquine, and he was basically saying that it is not the silver bullet that it might be painted out to be at this point by some people.

ROGER KLEIN: Yes, so we don't-- what we have is a safety profile that suggests it's definitely worth trying because we have a lot of reports that it may be working. Is it a silver bullet? Maybe not. I don't know whether it works or not. It seems to me that the balance favors it. What we really need are unbiased studies to-- that compare it to people who get the treatment who don't and who don't and see how it works.

But I would say, there also aren't data for these extreme social distancing measures. So and the risk to the economy and the risk to the economic lives of ordinary Americans is very, very severe right now. We're talking about unemployment rates projected at 20% or more.

So again, we need to sort of step back and realize we don't have a lot of data for anything we're doing right now. But we've got a lot of drugs in the pipeline. Remdesivir looks very promising. I think we're doing a great job. It's just going to take a little time.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Dr. Klein. Thanks for joining us.

ROGER KLEIN: Thank you.