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CNN NEWSROOM

Coronavirus Cases Linked to Primary in Wisconsin; Georgia Businesses Face Difficult Choice; Correction Unions Sue NYC. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired April 24, 2020 - 09:30   ET

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


[09:30:00]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Right to vote.

As you know, there was an attempt by the governor, your colleague, to delay this, allow more mail-in voting, absentee ballots after the date of the election. Do you place responsibility for these infections on your Republican colleagues?

LT. GOV. MANDELA BARNES (D-WI): Well, absolutely, because we tried everything we could to make sure that we kept people safe while giving them the opportunity to exercise their constitutional right to vote.

Unfortunately, there is a lot of -- a lot -- a lot of irresponsible behavior on behalf of the leaders in the legislature that wanted to make sure that this election took place because they thought that they would have an advantage in the Supreme Court election with a lower turnout. But that didn't turn out to be the case. And regardless of the Supreme Court election turning out in my favor, I still feel that that was very irresponsible and unnecessary to send people out into harm's way like they did.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Do you know how those 23 individuals are faring right now? I mean are any hospitalized at this point?

BARNES: Yes, I actually don't know the specifics of those 23, but we do see a steady increase in numbers. It was -- it was just 19 yesterday morning. And there -- now we have four more and we'll probably continue -- see that number continue to rise.

And these are people. And think about the asymptomatic transmission as well. How many folks were these voters around after they went to vote? You know, how many people were sick before they got in line to vote? And how many other lives were compromised because of the irresponsible behavior of the leaders and the legislature? I mean it just shouldn't have happened. I still -- I still maintain that that was the most -- that was the least responsible course of action.

SCIUTTO: As you know, Wisconsin is not the only state fighting this battle. There were implications for the November election. The prevalence of mail-in voting, deadlines, et cetera, because there were concerns about another wave of the virus in the fall. Vice president -- former Vice President Joe Biden raised a disturbing prospect. He said he's concerned the president will try to delay the general election. I wonder if you share those concerns.

BARNES: Well, I think that's been on the mind of a lot of people. We see some -- what we see out of the White House, you know, I'm -- I am deathly afraid every day of the things that he suggests, be it the suggestion of injecting disinfectant into your body to fight the virus.

But, you know, who knows what -- you know, when it comes to democracy what his plans are. And he doesn't care. He's a person who's run afoul of the law and continues to do so. And, you know, people, the American public, should be really concerned about what his -- what his plans are, what he may try to do.

He's shown very little regard for the Constitution and the way that we do things in this country. He's violated so many -- so many constitutional and presidential norms. And Joe Biden raises a very important concern. And I think that was another reason why a lot of folks were slow to move their election dates because they didn't want to see implications in November.

But I do want to take a second to applaud the city of Milwaukee that moved to send -- to send ballots to every registered voter in the mail so that they can maintain (INAUDIBLE) safely vote.

HARLOW: Lieutenant Governor, there is a protest planned for 1:00 today. The title of the group is Reopen Wisconsin. They have been denied a permit for this protest by the governor's office. They're going to hold it anyways. The organizer writes, the permit was filed as a courtesy, not to ruffle furthers. The rally is still happening, encouraging people to, quote, peacefully assemble.

If there is not social distancing among everyone there, what will the response from the police be?

BARNES: Yes, I mean, the whole -- the whole thing, the whole idea of it does more than ruffle feathers. So to suggest that they didn't want to ruffle feathers so they applied for a permit as a courtesy is a baloney assumption. And I'll say too that, you know, this is a public health crisis that we're in the middle of. These people are literally flirting with death because we are losing lives across this country, we are losing lives in this state.

And, specifically, you look at the racial disparities that exist. And this trends along a very dangerous line where people feel like, well, this doesn't affect me, it only affects those people. You know, you look at the rate of transmissions, you look at Milwaukee where we are just under 50 percent of the positive test cases, we are 60 percent of the deaths which have disproportionately been African-Americans. We have 19 percent of the infections being in the Hispanic and Latino community.

And so this just shows an unrestricted amount of privilege that people think that they have where they can just show up because it is not affecting or impacting -- or may not be impacting them, totally disregarding the lives of not just marginalized communities in our state, but impacting and also compromising the lives of themselves and the people that they come around. It is a very -- it is the most selfish behavior that we're seeing on display.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, thanks so much.

[09:35:01]

We wish you and your state the best of luck.

BARNES: All right, thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, right now, some businesses in Georgia are back open and some are choosing, however, to stay closed. After the break, we're going to be speaking with two business owners who have made two very different decisions. Find out why, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SCIUTTO: Well, right now, businesses across the country struggling to get by, some on the brink of failure. In Georgia today, and other states soon, some businesses are now allowed to open their doors for the first time in weeks if they choose to.

HARLOW: Yes, that's the key, right? Reaction to the governor's decision has been very mixed. Some welcoming it, others very concerned.

So we reached out to Georgia business owners to find out what they're doing.

[09:40:03]

With us now we're happy to have Shannon Stafford, owner of New Era Hair Salon in Savannah, Georgia, and Ian Winslade, a chef and partner at Mission and Market restaurant in Atlanta.

Shannon has decided to reopen. Ian is remaining closed.

Thank you both for being here.

Ian, let me begin with you and just your decision to stay closed because, obviously, you wrestle with that as someone who is in charge of the livelihood and a paycheck for so many folks, but also their health and safety.

IAN WINSLADE, CHIEF AND PARTNER, MISSION AND MARKET: Yes. I mean it was -- it's been a really rough ride for the last six weeks. Well, maybe even eight weeks. But our decision is really based upon the fact that we don't know exactly what the guidelines are. The guidelines came out last night from the governor. I haven't really had time to digest them properly.

But they're fairly complex in how we execute or change the way we run our business. And it's also -- there's a lot of things there that we can't get a hold of right now. Face masks are a big problem. Finding sanitizer is a big problem. And so we have to address all of those things before we can even consider reopening.

And it also speaks to the fact that in our building, there's very, very few people there at the moment. I think in the daytime population in our little office complex is around 12,000 people when the buildings are full. At the moment, there's probably about 50 people there. So I don't really know what we're opening back up to.

HARLOW: Yes.

SCIUTTO: Shannon, you made the decision, and I know not an easy one, to reopen. I wonder, are there liability concerns or protections if, for instance, a customer is infected or claims to have been infected by coming into the business?

SHANNON STAFFORD, OWNER, NEW ERA HAIR STUDIO: Well, one of the things that I put in order -- in place, rather, is when they first walk in, they're going to have a sign-in sheet where I'm going to actually take their temperature, has their information, name, date of birth, they need date of birth, the temperature. It has a few questionnaires for them to fill out and then sign. That's something that I put in place. Hopefully that's enough to be able to protect my business.

HARLOW: I know -- I know, Shannon, you wrestled with this, though. You said, just because we can reopen does not mean that we're not still in the danger zone. And, I mean, you're a salon, right? So just an image of being -- can you talk to us about how you're going to do your job and your employees will do their job six feet away?

STAFFORD: Yes, it's been kind of difficult trying to put something in place to ensure the safety of the stylists and also the clients. We looked at the state board guidelines and tried to implement as many of those things that was possible. So we're going to definitely make sure, no mask, no entry is enforced upon coming into the salon, followed by hand washing. We're going to make sure that we sanitize each station after the services has been rendered.

Now, one of the things that's going to be different is that we're not in the habit of changing our aprons after every client. So that is something now that we have to implement or in doing to make sure that we're not cross contaminating.

HARLOW: Yes. I -- OK, I was just asking because looking at the actual guidelines from the state here, one of them is, quote, maintain social distance of six feet apart at all times. Can you do that and do people's hair?

STAFFORD: No. That's not going to be possible. Not with a client and a stylist. You can kind of distance between the next two people throughout the salon, but it's going to be difficult because we're so hands on. So that's why it's going to be kind of vital to making sure that we're both wearing masks, hands are being cleaned, we've got -- have fresh garments. We -- having to put things like that in place because eventually we're

going to all be able to reopen. This is happening. So now I'm going to try to put something in place to the best of my ability to make sure that everyone is safe.

SCIUTTO: Ian, some states, even a state like California that's been very conservative, you know, they were early in putting in restrictions, but as they talk about reopening, they are talking about reopening restaurants under conditions, for instance, social distancing between tables, six feet, paper menus so they're disposable, et cetera. Can you see at the right time reopening safely under circumstances like that?

WINSLADE: I think, yes. We're lucky in Atlanta that, you know, this period of time, this time of the year, the weather's normally very, very pretty and it's not too hot to sit outside.

So I would see, from our business standpoint, the ability to open up our patio tables, if they're distanced out really well from each other. There's a possibility in the next few weeks, but I still go back to the fact that I don't really understand whether or not the public will have enough confidence to come out and eat with us.

[09:45:06]

I mean, if you go to the store right now, all the people that work in the stores now are all wearing face masks, they're all covered up. There's lots of plastic shields to protect them from the customers that come through the store. And I don't know how that transfers into my business.

HARLOW: Yes, that's the big question for sure.

SCIUTTO: Yes.

HARLOW: Thank you -- thank you, both. And, you know, we can't put ourselves in your shoes. It's incredibly challenging for both of you economically and all the people that work for you and rely on you. So we wish you both luck. Thanks for your time.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we do, for sure.

STAFFORD: Thanks a lot.

WINSLADE: Thank you so much.

HARLOW: Of course.

Prisons across the country facing a surge in cases of coronavirus. But it's not just the prisoners. The corrections officers running those facilities at risk, some of them dying, especially right here in New York City. We're going to talk to the head of the union of corrections officers here in New York City who is suing the city right now, saying they're not doing enough to protect the officers.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [09:50:27]

HARLOW: So across the country right now prisons and jails are battling coronavirus. Right now incarcerated citizens and those who guard them are living and working in tight quarters. At three state prison facilities in Ohio, more than 2,300 inmates have tested positive for coronavirus. In Illinois, at least four detainees at the Cook County Jail have died.

But those behind bars are not the only ones at risk of this here. In New York, the state with the largest outbreak and the second largest jail system in the country, 877 Department of Corrections officers have contracted coronavirus, thousands more are out sick, and at least nine of those correctional officers have died. This is according to the Department of Corrections.

Now the union, which represents those officers, are suing New York City again. This new lawsuit filed just yesterday alleges that the city is asking jail employees to work three shifts in a row. That amounts to 24 hours straight and forcing some of them to come back to work too soon if they're sick, not properly screening those who tested positive before they returned to work.

Of course, we invited the Department of Corrections to join us and we have not heard back from them about that invitation.

But joining me now to talk about this is Elias Husamudeen. He is the president of the NYC Corrections Officers Benevolent Association and a correctional officer for more than 30 years yourself.

Sir, thank you for being here.

And let's just begin with why you filed this lawsuit yesterday.

ELIAS HUSAMUDEEN, PRESIDENT, NYC CORRECTION OFFICER BENEVOLENT ASSOCIATION: Thank you for having me.

But first off, I need to say that no group or correctional officer or any group of municipal employees should have to sue their employee for their safety during a public health crisis. And our union has had to sue the city twice in one month.

We have a couple thousand officers out sick. We have 800 officers who have been confirmed with the virus and we've lost six correctional officers and a total of nine correctional employees since this virus has attacked us.

HARLOW: Your first lawsuit was partly about masks and protective gear. I understand that they have received those now. But, initially, the union was having to provide those.

This lawsuit says that the jails, including Rikers Island, which is eight different jail facilities, is a, quote, breeding ground for Covid-19.

HUSAMUDEEN: Yes. HARLOW: Specifically, your lawsuit is asking the city to change what?

HUSAMUDEEN: Yes. This particular lawsuit, unfortunately, the city's found it necessary for correctional officers to come back to work before being tested negative, which means that there's a great possibility that if I come back to work and I haven't been tested and I haven't been found to be negative, that I stand the chance of spreading this Covid-19 amongst not just my coworkers, my peers, but the inmates and the civilians and everybody else within the jail. So we filed a lawsuit to force the city of New York to do what we should not have forced -- had to force them to do. We should be tested negative before we come back into these jails.

The other part of the lawsuit is to stop them from forcing correction officers to work triple tours because of their lack of planning or their bad (INAUDIBLE) or their lack --

HARLOW: And, to be clear, triple tour would be eight -- you know, these three shifts in a row --

HUSAMUDEEN: Correct.

HARLOW: Which would amount to 24 hours.

HUSAMUDEEN: Yes.

HARLOW: Look, let me read everyone what Mayor de Blasio tweeted about this. This is the statement his team pointed us to when we asked for comment. Quote, the idea of a 24-hour shift being imposed on our corrections officers was a mistake and never should have happened to New York's boldest. You are vital to keeping our city safe. I promise we have your back and this will never happen again.

Have you heard from the mayor's office? Have you been talking to them about this? Is it -- has it stopped, at least for now?

HUSAMUDEEN: We've been going back and forth. But what I want from the mayor, and especially the commission of this agency, is action. We accept the apology, but we want action. We don't want to have to work three tours. We don't want you to put us in danger by forcing us to come back to work before we're tested negative.

HARLOW: We --

HUSAMUDEEN: It's unfortunate to have to do lawsuits in order to get this done.

HARLOW: We -- we shot a story that aired on this show last year at Rikers Island, so I've been in the facility and I've seen how close, obviously, because it's a jail, inmates are, but also the corrections officers are to them there. I think we have some of that footage.

Let me just read for people, we just got a statement from the Department of Corrections. The department mourns the loss of all the dedicated men and women who have passed away. My sympathy and condolences go to their family, friends and coworkers throughout the department. We're doing everything we can to support our uniform and non-uniform personnel who are doing an heroic job during an unprecedented time.

[09:55:03]

Finally, I guess, your message to them -- to them now when you hear that?

HUSAMUDEEN: I hear that. It doesn't address the issue. It doesn't address the lawsuit. All of the apologies and everything that they're doing says nothing, means nothing to us. What we want from the commissioner of this agency and from the mayor of New York City is action.

Stop forcing us to come back to work before we test negative, stop forcing us to work triple tours, and be proactive and do your damn job. That's all we're asking for, protect us as we come out and protect the city of New York. We are public safety officers and it's our job.

And unlike everybody else, we can't work from home. We have to be here. We got more than 4,000 inmates in our custody and every day correction officers are coming to work despite the dangers that it presents to ourselves and our family and we don't want apologies, we want action. We want you to take action and do what you're supposed to do to protect the men and women who protect this city.

HARLOW: Officer Elias Husamudeen, thank you. Thanks for your time very much. We'll keep an eye on where this -- where the suit goes and what action is taken. We appreciate it.

HUSAMUDEEN: Thank you very much. We appreciate it.

HARLOW: Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, today, top medical experts are being forced to push back hard against President Trump's latest suggestions for how to treat the coronavirus.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)