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Some States Already Reopening?; Senate Reaches Small Business Deal; Interview With Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, Mayor Kelly Girtz. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired April 21, 2020 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:03]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Hi there. I'm Brianna Keilar in Washington on this Tuesday, April 21.

And we begin today with the push in some states to reopen, even as the death toll from coronavirus in the United States exceeds 43,000 people, and we are still very much at the top of the curve of infections.

Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee are among those beginning to scale back stay-at-home measures and allow some businesses to reopen, completely disregarding the proposed criteria by the White House to do so.

Plus, in order to safely reopen the country, health experts say the U.S. needs to be able to perform millions of coronavirus tests each week. So far, though, the U.S. has only performed about four million coronavirus tests total, and that is in three months.

And governors across the country have reported shortages of the materials that are needed to run those tests.

We're also watching Congress, where there's a deal on more funding for small business loans, after small businesses and some not-so-small businesses soaked up about $350 billion in just two weeks. So, we expect to see a vote here on that in the Senate in the next hour.

And then we have also just learned that the results of one study on hydroxychloroquine, that drug touted by the president as a miracle for coronavirus, but this study actually found no benefits and, in fact, an even higher death rate in patients who were taking it with coronavirus.

First, though, let's go to CNN Martin Savidge. He is just outside of Atlanta.

Martin, you're in Johns Creek, Georgia, and certainly what they're looking at doing in this area does not fit the recommendations of scientists or medical experts or really even the White House. I know you have been talking to people there. What do they say to you

about the governor's decision?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The interesting thing is, Brianna, everybody says that they were surprised by the breadth or the scope of the announcement, in which the governor says people can start going back to work and businesses can start to reopen.

That doesn't mean that everybody agrees. In fact, just a unscientific survey in a parking lot, it's about 50/50 here. Some of the people say, hey, look, it's time. Small business can't survive anymore. You have got to get people back to work. You got to open up sometime.

Then you get another group that says, look, Georgia has made all of these sacrifices, we have all stayed home, we were starting to flatten the curve, there were good things that appeared in the numbers, and now it's all going to be ruined.

Here's a sample of some of those conversations.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm all for it, 100 percent. The people that are going to get it are going to get it. All we're doing is ruining the economy by keeping it shut.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's a bad idea. I think it's too soon. I feel like if we have been quarantined this time, that we need to do it slowly and not rush into something.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAVIDGE: Not a lot of middle ground there, you may know, Brianna.

And one thing else I should point out, if there is one point where people sort of say, hey, I don't get this. They don't understand why gyms and they don't understand why bowling alleys.

Those are two of the businesses they really don't get. But that's about the only point of agreement -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, that is -- that's a very good question, isn't it, Martin?

I wonder, the mayor there, what's the mayor talking about doing?

SAVIDGE: Well, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is, of course, no strong supporter of the governor. She has been working with the governor as far as an advisory capacity on the issue of homelessness and COVID-19.

But she admits that she was totally blown away by the announcement by the governor yesterday. And she is upset, as well as a number of other mayors in the state of Georgia, that the governor specifically went out of his way to say that his order supersedes all local authority.

In other words, if the local mayors wanted to say, no, we believe, for our specific community, it would be wiser that people stay home, they cannot do that. And that has angered a lot of mayors, including the mayor of Atlanta, who says she may go to court over it.

KEILAR: She may go to court. All right, we will be watching for that, along with you, Martin. Thank you.

And in South Carolina, coastal mayors are pushing back on the governor's orders allowing state beaches to reopen today at noon. Some retail businesses were allowed to reopen last night. That included department stores, bookshops, florists, with limits, though, on the number of people who can be inside.

Let's go to CNN's Natasha Chen. She is in Columbia, South Carolina.

And, Natasha, I know you talked to one business owner who says that he can't afford to stay close much longer. Of course, he's not alone, right?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Brianna.

We're talking to several businesses. And there is a theme here. They don't know where their money is going to come from. There's not a lot of information or access to the federal assistance that they're looking for.

And so they are very eager to earn a living, but also worried about protecting their own health and the health of their customers. And so it's a balancing act here. Different businesses are making different choices.

[15:05:01]

The one behind us, Loose Lucy's, that owner says he is open today. Here's what he told me.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES MCCALLISTER, SMALL BUSINESS OWNER: If I see that the cases are spiking all week long in South Carolina, I will close again voluntarily, rather than be a part of what may or may not have been a poor decision.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And we are hearing from those coastal towns.

As you mentioned, a lot of them are still restricting beach access. Myrtle Beach is keeping its beach closed. Four Charleston area beaches say residents only -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, it sounds like he doesn't realize, if things are spiking all week long, that means actually you're four weeks behind the spike there.

All right, Natasha Chen, thank you so much.

Joining us now from Georgia is Athens-Clarke County Mayor Kelly Girtz.

Mayor Girtz, thank you for being with us.

KELLY GIRTZ, MAYOR OF ATHENS-CLARKE COUNTY, GEORGIA: Good afternoon. Glad to be with you here.

KEILAR: OK, so I have a question. Would you go out to these businesses? Would you recommend that anyone go to gyms, go to bowling alleys or tattoo parlors on Friday?

GIRTZ: Not in the least.

These are all high-contact environments. They're places where there are many hands and many individuals who come in contact with the same surfaces. And we know it's important to restrain the number of individuals who come into contact with places like this.

There's nothing that makes me happier than a good morning at the gym. But I'm having to subsist here at the house. And I recommend that everybody in this community, across the state and across the nation take the same posture right now.

KEILAR: You heard that business owner who was saying, look, if I saw cases spiking across South Carolina, then I would close my business down.

But experts say, if you start reopening things, you're actually not going to see the effects of what would be an expected rise in cases for two to three weeks.

GIRTZ: That's right.

KEILAR: There are business owners who -- I mean, they're not steeped in this science of this. So what are your concerns there?

GIRTZ: My concern is that we haven't seen the other direction for the arc. We haven't seen the downward curve. We need to see a dramatic downward curve before we relax the provisions that have been in place here in Georgia and across the nation.

And so I'm encouraging other mayors to speak up in the same way. I'm encouraging this at the governor's office here in Georgia and across the region. We want to keep people safe. It's possible to support small businesses and local businesses, but recognize that at least a foundational reality of that is that we keep our customer base and our employees safe.

KEILAR: Yes, certainly, the safety is the big issue.

That's something that's been key to you. You called for a stay-at-home order in your city even before the statewide order. I wonder. As you mentioned, you have been trying to give feedback to the governor.

Has Governor Kemp's office given you any return feedback on what you're telling them? GIRTZ: I haven't had any advance notice of this order that was announced yesterday or any of the coming orders from -- that have been described for next week, potentially.

But early on in this, we communicated several times, the governor and I, as I encouraged him to shut some of these high-contact businesses that are now being discussed as potentially opening.

KEILAR: So what do you do if you have the governor saying their -- his guidance overrides local jurisdictions? What do you do to keep your residents safe?

GIRTZ: Right now, I'm going directly to the public. And so I'm speaking to residents of Athens-Clarke County. I'm speaking to business centers.

And many of them are saying, just as I feel, we're not going to frequent businesses right now because we don't feel safe. We're not going to return to work. I have had a number of hair salon owners approach me over just the last day and say, we're not opening our doors back up because we care about our employees and we care about our clients.

KEILAR: The White House says right now that states need to be seeing a 14-day decline in cases before they reopen. That's certainly not the situation in Georgia. It's not the situation in South Carolina.

If it were the situation, if you had seen a decline for that long, would you be then open to easing social distancing restrictions?

GIRTZ: That's very much what we had anticipated prior to yesterday's announcement, is that we would see some dramatic ramp-up in testing, that there would be resources devoted to that testing, that we would see some decline in new cases and deaths, and that, upon that, we would then take the next step.

But in many ways, this is putting the cart before the horse.

KEILAR: And Dr. Birx, who's on that Coronavirus Task Force at the White House, said that governors have been asked to follow the federal guidelines, but each governor is able to -- quote -- "decide for themselves."

Is that a mistake to you?

GIRTZ: Well, you can see that these consortia of governors are developing across the country, the governors of the Northeast, the governors of the West Coast.

And then we were notified this weekend that Governor Kemp was part of a call with several other Southeastern governors. And of course, these are many states that have had dramatic health outcome disparities that fall well below national norms around childhood health, around maternal health, around rates of cancer, around diabetes and hypertension.

[15:10:18]

And so we're very concerned that we not put this region in a disadvantaged state.

KEILAR: All right.

Hey, Mayor, thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it, Mayor Kelly Girtz.

GIRTZ: Thank you.

KEILAR: As President Trump pushes for some states to get back to work, he's also saying the pandemic is so bad that he's pausing immigration.

So we will take a look at what the executive order actually means next.

Plus, it's been devastating -- why rural hospitals are being crushed right now. And it's not just because of coronavirus.

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[15:15:22]

KEILAR: In the next hour, the Senate is expected to pass a new deal to provide more emergency relief.

And this is something that started out as negotiations over loans for small businesses. And it now includes funding for hospitals, as well as coronavirus testing.

Let's bring in CNN senior congressional correspondent Manu Raju. He's been following all of this.

And, Manu, just break this down for us. What's in this proposed package?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, we have been going through all the details as part of this effort try to push this through the Senate in just less than an hour.

And part of this major proposal that could cost close to $500 billion, included in this is $310 billion for that now cash-starved program to provide small business loans. Now, in addition to that, this also includes an additional $60 billion that would go to -- $50 billion that will go to disaster recovery loans that would be eligible for small businesses.

But in additional small businesses, it includes $75 billion that would go for hospitals, as well as an additional $25 billion for testing that would happen. About $11 billion of that would go to the states.

Now, a big fight that had happened over the last several days is about whether or not to push forward for the federal government to take a larger role in the testing for people who have the coronavirus who want to get tested for the coronavirus.

Democrats have pushed for a larger federal role. The president's team, as well as Republicans, said this should be done by the states. And they agreed to language in here that will require the House -- the Health and Human Services Department to provide a report within 30 days detailing exactly how testing would occur.

And in addition to that, it would also have states who are eligible for that funding to provide information to the federal department detailing how its -- their testing are going. States and localities would get that information. So we will learn a lot more after this law is enacted about how testing is occurring in the United States, as well as the cases that are occurring all over, but significant legislation, bipartisan deal that will pushed through here.

This is the latest intervention by Washington to prop up the struggling economy here, Brianna.

KEILAR: And then once this goes through the Senate, how quickly are we looking at it move through the House and to the president's desk?

RAJU: Quickly.

We expect a vote on Thursday in the House. We expect House members to actually return to Washington and travel back, because we don't expect there -- to get a unanimous agreement, where this could sail through the House with no members essentially present.

But we do expect essentially the full House membership or most of the House members to travel back in the midst of this pandemic, something that we have not really seen much over the last several weeks. But that will pass the House on Thursday. We expect the president to sign it soon thereafter.

Then, afterwards, already, Brianna, they're talking about yet another emergency intervention here. So, this is not -- certainly not the last effort by Congress to deal with this economic crisis throughout this country.

KEILAR: All right, Manu, thank you for that report.

In the next hour, President Trump is going to be meeting with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo about how the White House can help states expand testing and move toward reopening.

But, today, the president has also been focused on shoring up his base, as polls show the public trusts governors more than the president to handle coronavirus.

Let's go to the White House and CNN's Kaitlan Collins live for us there.

Kaitlan, start with this Oval Office meeting. This is really just the latest chapter in a battle between President Trump and governors, who say that he isn't doing enough to help.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

And, obviously, Governor Cuomo has been one of those saying that the federal government has to step up when it comes to ramping up their testing enable -- to be able to reopen their states respectively.

And it's noticeable because, of course, the president says it was Governor Cuomo who picked this meeting. They have gone back and forth from time where they have praised each other in their efforts to this, where they have feuded, as to just last week, when the president was watching his daily press briefings live and commenting on them, saying he hadn't been grateful enough for the federal government's efforts.

And now they're going to be sitting down in the Oval Office. And Cuomo says that the number one topic they're going to be discussing is testing. And he is still saying that the federal government has got to play a role in that.

So it'll be notable to see what exactly it is -- kind of agreement do they come to. Does the president decide to step up efforts after having this in-person appeal? Because, so far, the president has been dismissing governors who say, not only are there not enough tests to have an adequate reopening, but they don't have the supplies that they need to conduct these tests either.

KEILAR: And so, Kaitlan, tell us about this move on immigration. What is the point of this, other than achieving a political objective?

COLLINS: Well, that's the question, because immigration was already basically at a standstill due to the closures over the coronavirus outbreak. We saw that visa processing had slowed in the State Department. You saw the president restrict those asylum seekers on the southern border.

[15:20:03]

And now he's announcing this in a late-night tweet before the draft of this executive order that the president says he's going to sign has even been finalized. It's still going on.

It's still not clear really what the scope of this is going to be. And even though we still don't have full details, you're already seeing the president's campaign start to tout this. And this comes as the president privately has been frustrated by what his campaign strategy is going to be going into 2020, because, of course, before this, they thought they were going to be relying on those really good economic numbers.

And now they have obviously had to change tactics. So you're seeing critics, people like Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, say they believe a lot of this is just diversion from the president.

KEILAR: Yes, come up with something else, whatever you want to call that.

Kaitlan, thank you so much at the White House for us.

I want to talk more about this debate over when and how to reopen the country with former CDC disease detective Dr. Seema Yasmin.

Doctor, always great to have you on and get your expert opinion on this.

You're watching some of these states that are starting to reopen businesses as early as Friday. On one hand, they're saying, look, we have to do this. Our economies are dying and people are hurting financially.

On the other hand, they're violating even White House recommendations for reopening. What are your concerns here?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS, DALLAS: I don't know if these lawmakers realize that we have ways in public health of calculating the death tolls that are directly attributable to their actions.

We have seen these same mistakes being made with the HIV pandemic, where we saw leadership that cared less about the lives of residents and cared much more about political posturing and about science denialism.

I'm so concerned that, in states like Georgia, where we have the 14th highest rates of infection in the U.S., the seventh lowest rates of testing, and, last week, we saw more than 5,700 new cases, which was an uptick from the week ending April 5, that they're even flouting the White House guidance about seeing a two-week declining trend in new cases.

So, these governors really are showing and I think signaling so clearly that they care much more about their reputations, their friendship with the president than they do about the lives of their constituents.

KEILAR: Long-term, though, you're saying -- and, look, you're not a political expert, but I think we can probably agree that a clear line between mishandling something and increasing deaths is not politically good.

So, what you seem to be saying is that if you're looking at these states that are reopening, you're going to know in time if they did this to the big detriment of the lives of their constituents.

YASMIN: That's exactly what I'm saying. I'm not speaking as a political expert, but very much as an epidemiologist and a public health expert, who can say that we have seen these lessons before with the HIV/AIDS pandemic and the mismanagement of other infectious disease epidemics, where poor governance leads to many, many preventable deaths.

And even just now, Brianna, we can look to Hong Kong, to Singapore, to cities like Harbin in China, where even as containment measures were lifted rather responsibly, we saw almost immediately an uptick in cases.

And that's what we need to be mitigating against here in the states. There are some states that are almost approaching, maybe even starting to be past that peak, including Massachusetts, Michigan and New York. And they're still trying to be prudent in most cases.

But with states like South Carolina and Georgia, it's just absolutely terrifying. And it's reckless governance, when we're still seeing an uptick in cases, to be talking about nail salons opening in Georgia on Friday and movie theaters next Monday.

Those are high-contact places. And we really need to see the kind of governance that shows us that those leaders care about public health more than they do about politics.

KEILAR: OK, so you mention that.

I mean, that's one of the things we have been looking at, nail salons, really, bowling alleys, barbershops, masseuses, massage therapists. Is there any way -- I mean, is there is there any way to social distance with that?

YASMIN: Those ones are so tricky, because I think even, like, when we're talking to Governor Newsom here in California, and he's talking about reopening restaurants and bars when the time is right, we're then talking about having disposable menus, taking out half the tables and chairs, maybe having 50 percent fewer patrons inside the restaurant than we would have had before the pandemic.

How do you do that in a nail salon, where you're in close proximity? How are you going to manage that in a bowling alley? Why is a bowling alley even considered an essential business? It's just baffling to me that there's this denial of the science and just this political posturing and caring much more about reelection campaigns than about protecting us against a second wave, maybe even a third wave.

And history has taught us with the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, for example, the second and third waves can be worse than the first. So my question to those governors is, what are you doing?

[15:25:00]

KEILAR: Yes, they should think about it. Increasing the deaths of one's constituents just seems, on its face, like very bad politics.

We really thank you, Dr. Seema Yasmin, for explaining all of this to us.

YASMIN: Thank you. Thanks.

KEILAR: Coming up: coronavirus outbreaks causing some major food facilities to shut down.

So let's talk about what that means for your abilities to get food, to get groceries.

We will talk about that next.

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