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Southern States Move To Reopen Businesses Despite Warnings; New York City Mayor Cancels All Public Events Through June. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired April 21, 2020 - 07:00   ET


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Has seen a 14-day decline in cases, which was one of the guidelines from the Trump administration.


Georgia's Republican governor admits his decision will cause cases to spike. And overnight, a top official at the World Health Organization is warning that rushing to ease restrictions will likely cause illnesses to spike elsewhere as well.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: So if you're keeping score at home, President Trump has said that the coronavirus situation is so good that states can begin to reopen, but so bad that he'll sign an executive order temporarily suspending all immigration into the United States. Try to square that.

So we have no details about this immigration ban. He announced it overnight. How will it be implemented? How long will it last? We'll try to figure that out.

We're also following breaking details out of North Korea. U.S. officials monitoring intelligence that suggest that dictator Kim Jong- un is in grave danger, serious health concerns after undergoing surgery. We're getting a live report from the region in just a moment.

CAMEROTA: Okay. Joining us now with the latest on coronavirus, we have CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Rochelle Walensky, she is the Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Massachusetts General Hospital. It's great to have both of you, particularly with all of this breaking news.

Sanjay, South Carolina is open, I mean, in terms of retail shops from clothing, sporting goods, furniture. I mean, some of these don't sound like essential items, but South Carolina is deciding that they are open for business in terms of retail shops this morning.

Georgia is reopening, as you've heard, in terms of being able to get a massage, being able to get a tattoo, that starts on Friday. So what's going to happen in these states?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, I'm worried that we're going to see a resurgence in the number of people becoming infected. I mean, that is the concern. The one constant, Alisyn, in all of this has been that the virus is still out there. I think sometimes because of the effectiveness of these physical distancing measures, when something is effective, sometimes you don't realize that it's being effective and you sort of start to let your guard down.

The reason that the case counts have stayed lower than be they otherwise would have is because of these measures. But if you look at what's happening in Georgia, that's where I live, and you see the graph of how the numbers have changed, you would have to ask yourself. I think anybody who's paying attention, I would ask to ask themselves, does this look like a state that's ready to sort of reopen?

According to the federal guidelines, you're supposed to see a 14-day downward trend in the number of people who have been confirmed to have the infection. You'll see a 14-day downward trend in terms of people who have symptoms that are similar to coronavirus, similar to flu. And we haven't seen those things.

And, look, the types of things that are opening, I mean, I think is just going to be very hard to maintain any kind of social distance, physical distance there. So I get the urge to reopen, but this seems too soon.

BERMAN: Talk to me about that, Sanjay. What if I go to a restaurant in Georgia? They say -- the governor is saying they should keep social distance guidelines even in these open restaurants, but how much at risk am I?

GUPTA: The restaurant thing, I worry about. We've been following along, you know, sort of how this might work in various places like that where people are not only in a public establishment but they're seated there. They are there for a prolonged period of time.

There was a study that came out of China looking at these three families that went to a restaurant. And I could show you this graphic really quickly. But, basically, if you could see that at home, one person, I believe, labeled A-1 there was subsequently found to have the coronavirus. These are three tables, three clusters of families. None of them had been diagnosed beforehand.

They were -- you could see that three people at the table behind where this one person sat, different family were subsequently diagnosed, four people at the same time, and then two people at another table were all diagnosed with the coronavirus, prolonged sitting. They look at the timing. It was about 53 minutes of prolonged contact between these tables. And that gives you an idea of just how contagious this is. There was a fan, air-conditioning fan blowing from one side of the room to the other and that may have contributed to the spread of this.

But regardless, I mean, this is a really contagious virus. That has not changed. What has changed is that the physical distancing measures have been effective to a significant extent. So I just worry that we're going to erase a lot of those gains and start to see people who get infected, people get hospitalized, and, sadly, maybe even people who die again. CAMEROTA: Dr. Walensky, I want to pull up that graph again that Sanjay just referenced about the cases in Georgia because think they're instructive. So, yesterday, they saw a spike in cases. So, I mean, it has been bouncing around, you know, fluctuating.

So the numbers have gone from -- on April 8th, there were more than 1,079 cases. At their lowest, I think they dipped on April 12th to 293. That seemed like it was going in the right direction, but then it bounced back up a few days later to 1,263.

Yesterday, they had 1,098 -- by the way, these from Johns Hopkins. So these are confirmed and suspected cases, okay? So more than a thousand cases yesterday, but Georgia's governor has decided that, you know, the risk is worth it to reopen.

And so for you and other researchers, what are you going to be watching there over the next couple of weeks?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE CHIEF, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: Well, you know, good morning, Alisyn. I want to say a couple of things about sort of these bums of the cases moving around. First of all, one thing you might be interested in is that April 12th was a weekend. So we know how many cases happened because people come in to be tested.

And you can see from the graphs from the Georgia Department of Public Health website that there are fewer cases detected on Saturday and Sunday, and that's simply because there's probably less testing going on. So many of the healthcare centers are closed, many of the urgent care centers are closed and there's probably just less testing happening so we're finding less cases. So I think we have to look at the overall trend.

And I share Sanjay's worry here. I really think that, you know, I actually also last evening went on the Emory Health System website. So, Emory, a major academic and institution in Atlanta, which probably has more resources than other hospitals. You go to that website, you say -- and you see that there are -- there's still no visitors allowed in the Emory Hospital System. You see that you need an appointment in order to get a test. It says that people with mild symptoms will not get a test. If they're well enough to stay home and they have symptoms, they will not get a test. And then it says at the very end that testing capacity really depends on how much PPE they have and that they're really trying to conserve their PPE.

So in my mind, that doesn't sound like there's enough testing going on to be able to move this back from mitigation where we are with social distancing to containment, which means we can find ever last person who has disease and contact trace them so that we can isolate the person and quarantine the people they've been in contact with who are at risk of further transmission.

BERMAN: Sanjay, let me just put this to you bluntly. This is not a distraction for you. You live in Atlanta. You are in Atlanta right now. Would you go out this week and get a haircut or a tattoo? GUPTA: I obviously would not do that. I mean, this is still a concern. I think clearly the virus is still out there and I think the Dr. Walensky's point is a very good one. I mean, I work at Emory. Emory is an institution that was very well set up for this sort of thing in part because of Ebola back in 2014. We built a lot of capacity back then to deal with this sort of thing. And there's been times still where it's been, you know, redlining. I don't think Emory was never danger of, you know, surging past capacity, but there were other hospitals in Georgia that are.

You know, John, for me, I think my family, we had conversations about this with my friends last night, people calling me from the city, from around the state. As we've always said, it's not just about the individual. I go out, get a haircut or something like that, I come home, bring the virus home, spread it to my family, spread it to somebody who's vulnerable, that's the thing. I mean, you know, we are all in this together.

And that's what this means right now, is what that means, is that if you do this, if you start to go out, and this may be more up to the individuals of the state even more so than the governor because the individuals of the state have to sort of make these decisions themselves. Are they going to want to go to a restaurant knowing that there's risk? Is that door handle potentially contaminated? Did the massage therapist I'm about to get a massage from get tested?

I mean, how are people supposed to navigate these decisions? There is the pragmatic, is there enough testing, is there enough hospital capacity questions. But then there's the psychological part of this. I don't know people feel safe right now to do this sort of thing. So what kind of position are we putting people people in, potentially? I think that's a good question. But to your question, John, I obviously would not do that.

CAMEROTA: Polls suggest, Dr. Walensky, that a majority of Americans do not feel safe, sort of reengaging in society, as we knew it a couple of months ago. But, of course, there will always be some people who have cabin fever, who are desperate to get out, who are desperate to resume their old lives.

I want to pull up one other graphic here, and that is the states that are currently seeing upticks in cases. And they're all over the map, Massachusetts. From Massachusetts to California, okay? So both coasts. Then there's Florida. Georgia is on this list of places that are currently seeing an uptick. Illinois, Maryland and Kentucky.

So you see just how spread out it is. And, again, just knowing that Georgia is on that list makes this decision, you know, all the more interesting.


WALENSKY: Yes. You know, I think we always knew that this virus was going to differentially impact different parts of the country. We probably assumed that it was going to start at the coastal regions where it might have come in through air travel or cruises. But we knew that it was going to be -- give peaks at different times in different places. I think Massachusetts is now third on the list in terms cases. Georgia is now 12th on the list. I think we can anticipate that it's probably going to move inward into the Midwest. But, yes, I think it is differentially impacting different parts of the country.

The other thing I just want to note about some of the interesting places that have been selected to open is, many of them, by definition, have close contact with people. So hair dressers, tattoo parlors, you're less than six feet apart in all of those interactions, right? Gyms, those are place where's people touch their face, right? They're wiping sweat from their face.

So many of these things actually are completely counter to some of the measures of mitigation that we've really been trying to deploy.

BERMAN: All right. Dr. Walensky, Dr. Gupta, thank for with us. We're going to talk much more about this throughout the show.

We do have break news from overnight. Serious new questions this morning about the health of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One U.S. official tells CNN that Kim is in grave danger after undergoing surgery.

CNN's Will Ripley, who has traveled to North Korea countless times, joins us with the very latest. Will, what have we learned?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim Sciutto's reporting is that Kim Jong-un had some sort of surgery, there have been reports in South Korea it was heart surgery, and that things went badly. And now, his life and his health is in grave danger.

Now, South Korea and China, we should point out, are kind of saying, yes, they're not hearing it's that bad. And, frankly, we're not going to hear anything from North Korea on this because Kim Jong-un's health is a nationally guarded state secret. And until they're absolutely ready for the world to know something, we're just going to have to keep guessing.

BERMAN: So what do we know about his underlying health conditions? Obviously, we can see he's overweight. We know he smokes a lot. What else do we know?

RIPLEY: He's 5'7, about 300 pounds, a heavy smoker, photographed all the time with a cigarette in his hand. He vanished from public view back in 2014 for 40 days and later it was learned he had surgery on his foot and he was walking around with a cane.

So this is someone even though he's only in his mid to late 30s who has obviously some serious health problems given that he is so young but he's also working very long hours, he does have a stressful job. And his lifestyle choices are not conducive to a healthy heart, for sure.

BERMAN: And there was this celebration of the birth of his grandfather that was April 15th, he was not there. And to be clear, that is the type of thing is he always at. His absence from this celebration in and of itself would raise alarm.

RIPLEY: The Day of the Sun April 15th is North Korea's most important holiday. I have been to several of the events. There's usually a parade, there's a mass dance and Kim Jong-un is always there to greet the throngs of hundreds of thousands of people who are there to wave at him and try to get his attention.

So, yes, his absence was unusual. But he had just appeared, John, at a Politburo meeting a few days earlier where his sister got a powerful title. So he further consolidated power within his family. So what I was told at that time is that, look, Kim might be trying to separate his image and his legacy from that of his grandfather.

Clearly, now, based on Jim's reporting and what we're hearing from other U.S. officials, there might have been something else entirely going on.

BERMAN: What is the situation with succession planning in North Korea? If something does happen to Kim, who takes power?

RIPLEY: Well, this is a family dynasty whether the North Koreans would like to publicly acknowledge that or not. And it's no secret that Kim's younger sister, Kim Yo-jong, has been by his side strategically and deliberately in recent years. She was there for the summit in Singapore and Hanoi.

As I mentioned, she now has been reinstated as an alternate member of the Central Committee Politburo So this is someone who could take the helm if Kim Jong-un were to be incapacitated because he has three children but they're very young, they're not ready yet to take over.

There could also be other family members kind of behind scenes that were not entirely aware of who could play a role in this. And, clearly, there is a group of high power inner circle members, members of Kim's inner circle who would be assisting in any sort of transitional period.

But to keep the legitimacy of the Kim regime, the Paektu bloodline, as they call it, some of member of the Kim family is going to have to play a role. And the immediate name that pops into a lot of our, you know, a lot of our lists here is Kim Yo-jong, his younger sister.

North Korea is not a country that is unafraid to put women in positions of leadership. So if it turns out that Kim Jong-un's health is truly in grave danger, it will be very interesting to see what happens in terms of succession.

BERMAN: All right. Will, please keep us posted as to what you're hearing throughout the morning.


President Trump wants the United States to reopen but says the pandemic is so bad that he wants to suspend immigration into this country. Which is it? We'll go to the White House, next.


BERMAN: Developing overnight, President Trump claims he will sign an executive order temporarily suspending immigration into the United States, and yet the president continues to insist that he wants states to reopen their economies.

Joining us now, CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood. John, leave the questions about intellectual consistency aside for just one second, an interesting view of John Harwood there, focus on the what and the why is going on here with this president's statement.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, you have to divorce it from public health considerations because that's not what's driving this. You can tell, and the president has made clear, he's spending a lot of his time watching television, seeing the harsh judgments of his performance and trying to figure out a way to escape blame for that.

Now, it is long pastime when a cutoff of people coming into the United States would make any difference in this pandemic.


The virus is already here and it's spread rapidly throughout the United States. But what the president is doing is appealing to members of his base. Remember who his base is. It's disproportionately white voters of lesser education, especially conservative Christians, especially in small towns in rural areas that are less densely populated. Those are areas that have been less hard hit because of the less density and they're people who supported President Trump because they were concerned that their country, the country that they thought they grew up in is changing. The number of white Christians in the United States has declined from 80 percent 50 years ago to less than half now.

So, the president, by announcing this move, suggests that foreigners have some contribution to this problem. This is consistent with efforts to blame the WHO, efforts to blame Europe, efforts to blame China. It is not about public health considerations and we don't even know if it has any practical ramifications either, John, because many of the immigration-related activities in the United States have been closed down because of coronavirus. But the president late last night was feeling the brunt of criticism from governors, from voters, and so last night he announced this on Twitter with no backup information whatsoever.

CAMEROTA: I mean, the irony, of course, is that the United States is the hot spot. I'm not sure how many people are rushing to get to the United States right now, but, obviously, the president likes making kind of grand proclamations. And so, in practicality, John, and I hear you saying you don't have a lot of details, but what does this change?

HARWOOD: I don't think it changes very much. Again, visa processing, citizenship services, other events associated with the immigration process have been put on hold. And think we need to point out that immigrants form a significant part of the healthcare workforce, of the service workers and the food supply workers who are keeping America fed and safe during this crisis.

So, again, this is the president trying to, in effect, scapegoat people from -- whose origins are from other countries and suggest that they are responsible for this catastrophe that's been unfolding on his watch.

BERMAN: And, of course, in the limited tweet, he did say this would also be about jobs, which begs the question, how long of a duration are we talking about? I know we don't have the answer to that. But the reason that matters is will this extend for years, perhaps? What's the duration? What are the exceptions? That too would matter, wouldn't it, John?

HARWOOD: Yes, it would. And the jobs reference is particularly striking. 22 million Americans in the last several weeks have filed 14 unemployment benefits. That has nothing to do with immigrants. It has everything to do with this virus that, again, has spread on the president's watch and you've got two-thirds of the American people telling the Pugh Research Center poll that the president was late.

You've got only 36 percent of the American people saying they trust what the president says on coronavirus. 66 percent of them in the Wall Street Journal/NBC poll trust their governors. He was picking a fight with the governor of Maryland last night, who acquired new coronavirus tests, saying that he didn't need them. This is a president who is flailing around trying to find a way, again, to escape blame in his re-election year and he's in a very, very grave situation.

CAMEROTA: I mean, if this were a real policy shift or, I don't know what the right adjective is, my point is, why announce it at 10:00 P.M. last night via tweet? Why not have a meeting in the press briefing room or the White House?

HARWOOD: Well, look, this president and this administration have not been serious about the policy process for most of the president's three-and-a-half years in office. However, the president spends a lot of time watching television, reacting to what people say about him.

He was up this morning tweeting criticism of a show on another network saying that, you know, no wonder their ratings are down and I've stopped going on their show. It is not the portrait of a serious political leader trying to get his arms around this crisis facing this country. It's the portrait of a leader who is feeling trapped by the reality he's living in and lashing out and looking for ways to escape blame.

CAMEROTA: John Harwood, thank you very much for all of your reporting and analysis of what happened last night.

Meanwhile, some southern states are starting to reopen, but New York City is canceling all of its big events through June. So why that disconnect? We have the mayor of America's largest city to join us next with his take.



CAMEROTA: New York State reported the lowest single day death toll in more than two weeks. Intubations and hospitalizations are on the decline for the sixth straight day in this city. Despite that, New York City is taking steps to cancel public events through June.

Joining us now is New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Good morning, Mr. Mayor.


CAMEROTA: So it sounds like all the data is pointing in the right direction, I mean, in terms of hospitalizations going down, the death toll going down, the intubations going down. And so why cancel big events that people were looking forward to through June, why not just through May?

DE BLASIO: Well, Alisyn, we have to be clear, we're dealing with a ferocious enemy in this disease and we've lost well over 10,000 New Yorkers and we've got almost a thousand people right now in ICUs fighting COVID in our own hospital system.

There're so many challenges we still face. And I think the bottom line, Alisyn, is we're going to overcome this, there's no question, but we have to do it the smart way.


We have to be careful to not allow this disease to reassert itself.