Return to Transcripts main page


Governors Giving Orders to Reopen Businesses; States Move to Reopen Economies as U.S. Nears One Million Cases; Interview with Mayor Chaz Molder, Columbia, Tennessee on Reopening the City Too Soon. Interview with Mayor Breea Clark, Norman, Oklahoma on Reopening Her City in Piecemeal Way; Colorado Barber Shop Opens Despite Governor's Orders. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired April 27, 2020 - 15:30   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: A patch work. That is the best way to describe what is the reopening plans across the country really look like at the moment. Governors deciding based on some of their own data and timetables on how they're states' economy should start back up.

With more than a dozen states now beginning to reopen in some fashion, it is absolutely OK to be confused by the mixed messages and the conflicting guidelines that they're all following. Let's focus in on two states right now. Tennessee and Oklahoma.

Tennessee is starting to reopen today. The governor announcing the first wave is restaurants and then will come retailers. But look at how the state is trending in terms of COVID cases -- a roller costar really of new cases.

Definitely not a 14-day downward trend that the CDC has recommended before reopening. And then here is a story in Oklahoma. New cases are on the decline but, again, not for 14 days as is recommended before opening.

The governor there is allowing businesses like salons and barbershops to reopen, that was as of Friday, last Friday, with more businesses going to join the reopening this Friday. Here is how Oklahoma's governor is defending his decision.


GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): People are still going to get it. But Oklahomans are safe and we're ready for a measured reopening. You could always play Monday morning quarterback and say, hey, let's wait until we have 100 folks in the hospital in Oklahoma or 50 or zero. But I just don't think that's practical.


KEILAR: Some governors might be ready to go but what about the mayors on the front lines of these very tough choices. Some are happy and some still have very real concerns. Let me bring in two of those concerned mayors. Chaz Molder, the mayor

of Columbia, Tennessee and Breea Clark, she's the mayor of Norman, Oklahoma. Thank you both so much for taking the time. I know you guys have -- insanely busy schedules right now.

Mayor Molder you've been outspoken with your concerns about the governor starting to reopen the state. What is your biggest concern and how has coordination been with the governor on this?

MAYOR CHAZ MOLDER, COLUMBIA, TENNESSEE: Well I think the biggest concern first of all, Kate, is that we really had no advanced guidance with respect to what reopening the state would look like. We know that we had a stay-at-home order that was supposed to be in effect until April 30th.

And then on Friday morning this last week I watched the governor at the live press conference learning more about what was to happen in the coming days and weeks. So really, you know, this Tennessee plan as it's called provides some guidelines but unfortunately those guidelines are not mandatory. Meaning that you can choose whether or not to follow the guidelines or not.

And, you know, when the governor said that self-enforcement will sort of rule the day, that is a politically convenience slogan to say if you're sitting in the governor's office but when you are sitting in city hall and the mayor's office and you're hearing from these local business owners wanting to know more and wanting clarity, that creates a pretty big problem.

BOLDUAN: Right. So, Mayor Molder, do you have a clear idea of what it should look like in your city?

MOLDER: Well, the clear idea was that stay-at-home order was to be in effect until April 30th but then we hear a couple days ago, well actually, it's going to be April 27th with respect to restaurants and then April 30th with respect to retail, and then talk about nail salons and barbershops and tattoo parlors and gyms and so on and so forth later on down the road.

What people really are looking for, Kate, is clarity. They're looking for leadership and when the governor speaks people listen and so, so long as he is clear with his direction, I think people will follow. But right now, I feel like that clarity is lacking.

BOLDUAN: Mayor Clark, despite your governor trying to reopen the state on Friday, you extended the stay-at-home order for your city until the end of the month. Why is that and how is that going to work with the rest of the state?

MAYOR BREEA CLARK, NORMAN, OKLAHOMA: Well, I've been open with my concerns about access to testing. As well as the contact tracing plan which we just don't have a lot of details on right now. And everyone has shown that you need to be proactive not just reactive and so right now we're still in the reactive approach.

There is progress that has been made. We do have somewhat of a downward trend. But I agree the piecemeal approach is incredibly confusing. So, we allowed personal contact businesses which is mind blowing to me that we decided to go with first on Friday, but I didn't budge on my order.

So now we have businesses that I don't think out of any malice but just out of confusion, are like, do we open or not open and now our first responders have to use their time educating businesses that, you know, I'm sorry we can't be open right now.

So, I totally understand the mixed messaging that is going on. So, ours will remain in place through April 30th that we are looking at a phased approach to reopen something businesses safely, and I don't know if the personal touch businesses are going to be included.


Just because of the nature of how this virus is transmitted and how asymptomatic people can be. Up to 20, 40 percent when they have it and don't realize it.

BOLDUAN: And Mayor Clark, one of the things that I know you've talked about it as well, comes down to contact tracing. And contact tracing -- strong contact tracing is obviously something that is key to stopping another outbreak if it happens, when society starts reopening again.

What guidance have you received on that from the state? I mean, do you think that a system is in place in Oklahoma that is any different from the system that existed before the first outbreak when it comes to contact tracing?

CLARK: I've heard they're working on it but we're just not getting that communication. Same with opening businesses on April 24th. We found out on Wednesday the 22nd. I wasn't consulted so we weren't even to fully prepare for it and the onslaught of questions that came from it.

So, in terms of contact tracing I've been working with our first responders and county health department to come up with our own contact tracing plan that can hopefully be to incorporated into the state plan once we see what it is. We just haven't gotten details yet.

BOLDUAN: And Mayor Molder, one thing you mentioned when kind of the -- almost like suggest -- it's almost like guidance coming from the governor, are you expected to enforce these new orders and things that would come with it, who should be open, who shouldn't, the sanitation recommendations for the businesses or not? Or is the state?

MOLDER: Well, that's the precise problem, Kate. Is that we have this plan in place and the governor speaks at the press conference and said these are guidelines. These are not mandatory.

Just like the state -- that was entered on March the 30th was a suggested stay-at-home order and then a couple of days later the governor backtracked and decided to make it a mandatory stay-at-home order. And so my feeling is, is likely, at least I hope the governor is going

to make a similar change and realize that, you know, it is nice to say people will take self-responsibility and certainly we've seen a lot of that, unfortunately that is not going to rule the day. People want to know what they can do and what they cannot do.

I just heard from a restaurant owner right before I came on the call. He's concerned. He doesn't have the ability to purchase the equipment that the Tennessee plan said that he should have. On the other hand, he doesn't have to purchase the equipment. So, does he do the right thing and maybe take a couple of extra days and spend a little extra money? Or does he just move forward and open up and just roll the dice.

And he wants to do the right thing but also understands that it is unfair for him to do the right thing as a small business owner when other larger more national chains might not have to or might have the ability to adapt more quickly.

BOLDUAN: When you coming off a crisis like this, it sounds straight up ridiculous that this is a choice being left up to a business owner and there isn't a clear rule on this coming from the state or honestly even the federal government at this point. Mayors, thank you both so much for what you're doing and thank you for coming on.

MOLDER: Thank you, Kate.

CLARK: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Still ahead, a warning from one of the largest food companies in the country. America's food supply chain is breaking. As more plants close, how does it get fixed?



BOLDUAN: The supply chain is breaking -- that is the warning coming from the Chairman of the Board for Tyson Foods about the country's food supply.

As workers get sick, food processing plants are being forced to shut down. Right now, 14 plants across the country are closed. And that's causing a chain reaction of issues and problems.

So much so that the Chairman of Tyson Foods, John Tyson, took out a full page ad in several newspapers this weekend saying this -- as pork, beef and chicken plants are being forced to close even for short periods of time, millions of pounds of meat will disappear from the supply chain, the food supply chain is breaking.

Joining me right now is Tom Vilsack. He is the President and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council, he was Agricultural Secretary under President Obama and, of course, the former governor of Iowa. Governor, Secretary, it's good to see you. Thank you for being here.


BOLDUAN: Do you agree with the Tyson's Chairman on this? Is the food supply chain breaking?

VILSACK: I think the food supply chain is threatened in some parts of the country. I'm not sure I would go so far as to say the entire food supply chain is broken. Clearly in the Midwest we've seen a number of plants close which obviously will disrupt supply and the key here is to take this thing very seriously.

Maintain the safety of the existing facilities, making sure that the work force is protected, make sure that there is adequate distance between workers, minimize the risk of those existing facilities, and get the closed facilities back online as quickly as possible.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and you kind of are pointing to this balance that's needed, right. Prioritizing the safety of workers and need to contain the virus but also the very real need to keep up the food supply chain. What is the balance? What is the solution here, though?

VILSACK: Well, I think the solution is that the companies have to be creative. They need to be committed to worker safety. They need to agree that these workers are essential in the economy. Which means they ought to have access to protective equipment. That they ought to have access to testing, that here ought to be process in place to ensure that sick people are not incented to come to work but in turn encouraged to stay home if their sick.

And to make sure that the production process is changed and modified in such a way that production can continue, perhaps at a slower pace but could continue but social distancing, physical distancing can be in place to minimize the risk of existing plants.


For the plants that are closed, let's get them cleaned up as quickly as possible, let's get the testing in place so that when people come back you know whether or not a person is healthy or not. If they're not, then they don't come to work. Don't incent them to come to work. Make sure they understand the importance of staying home when they're sick.

BOLDUAN: So, Politico had an interesting piece -- has an interesting piece up about how state officials and some growers and farmers are frustrated with the Agriculture Department dragging its feet in responding to the crisis.

It was more than a month before the department made a significant move to assist farmers as this crisis was unfolding. Meanwhile, you have this split screen that I'm putting up for people right here, which is farmers having to dump milk down drains, produce rotting in fields yet hundreds and hundreds of people lining up at food banks across the country. Whose fault is this? VILSACK: Well, that's a difficult question. Because on the one hand,

one of the reasons why the department couldn't have been more aggressive is because the authority that they need to be able to purchase product had been used up in the form of supply -- assistance for farmers because of the trade situation. So, it's complicated. But at the end of the day, there are three steps that need to take place to address this.

One, we've got to increase the capacity of people who are currently unemployed and who have been unemployed for some time to be able to purchase more, which means the SNAP benefits need to be increased.

We need to remove the disincentive benefit that exists today. The reality is that the reason they're dumping milk is because it's less harmful financially to them to dump than it is to donate.

Let's figure out a way to encourage donations as opposed to dis-incent them and then finally, let's shore up the capacity of food banks to be able to refrigerate and store product. The reality is many food banks don't have the capacity to take milk for example because they have no place to store it. If they could store it, then that milk that was dumped might have been delivered to that food bank.

So, there are a number of steps that need to be taken. I know the department is working hard. They face some challenges, no question about that.

BOLDUAN: Yes. I mean but as you just put it, it should absolutely not be -- not be more financially sound to dump all of that milk than to donate it. That is broken. That is a broken system and that has got to be fixed. Secretary, Governor, it is good to see you. Thank you so much for coming on.

VILSACK: You bet. Thank you.

BOLDUAN: Coming up, Colorado, another state reopening in stages starting today. Why are some local officials going rogue and reopening as they see fit?



BOLDUAN: We'll go to Colorado now. The state is reopening in phases starting today. But some businesses, honestly, aren't even waiting, and are opening their doors despite state orders to remain closed.

And Colorado's Governor, Jared Polis, he's facing criticism for his decision to reopen at all. As you see on this graphic, the state isn't seeing a long-term downward trend that so many are looking for.

CNN's Gary Tuchman, he's in Greeley, Colorado with more. Gary, what are you seeing there?

GARY TUCHMAN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, what I can tell is barbershops are not supposed to be open today, according to the state. So why is this barber ship open? I'll tell you that in a second.

The state law today is that retailers can open if they're following safety protocols and if customers can get their items outside the store. On Friday May 1st they'll be able to go inside the store.

But counties are given autonomy here in Colorado, this is Weld County, and the Weld County Commissioners have told people that they can open up barbershops, that's why this is open. They're supposed to apply for a variance from the state that says either they have a low number of COVID cases. Or the COVID cases have gone down for the last 14 days, that's not the case here at all.

So according to the state, they haven't applied for a variance, but these barbershops have opened up anyway. And they haven't got any criticism for opening and no one has tried to close it down. This is Brenda, you can see she has a mask, a suit, gloves. Do you feel safe?


TUCHMAN: You do feel safe. And this Bret, one of the customers, and I'm going to channel my viewers' questions, I know they're all asking this, how come you're not wearing a mask?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. I'm not an at-risk population and I am a healthy individual. So, I feel good being out today.

TUCHMAN: All right. This man is confident. But I can tell you that according to the state on Friday May 1st, barber shops and beauty shops will be allowed to open, but as of today, the state doesn't want these places open. Kate, back to you.

BOLDUAN: Gary, thank you so much. Just quickly, he is in an at-risk population, we're all an at-risk population at this point. Gary, thank you man, I appreciate it.

Still ahead, President Trump set to speak soon as we learn the White House may be preparing new guidelines for businesses. That's next.



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

And we begin this hour with the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States now nearing 1 million with the number of reported cases worldwide surpassing 3 million.

The death toll in the U.S. right now is more than 55,000. That marks a huge acceleration in the number of lives lost since this time one month ago when the death toll was 1,495.

Today we are learning the White House is weighing whether to issue new guidance on when to safely operate businesses, sources tell CNN. And the President is set to speak in the next hour as businesses in several states are already opening.

You can now sit down at a restaurant in Georgia or in Alaska. Residents in Tennessee and Arkansas will be able to do the same later this week. Salons and barbershops are also open in Oklahoma and Colorado.

One barbershop owner in Georgia telling CNN he had about 30 clients visit on Friday exclaiming, quote, if I don't cut, I don't eat. The economic pain out there is indeed very real. And yet if many Americans rush to reclaim their old lives too soon, there remains a very real fear of a spike in deaths and illnesses and even longer that the U.S. has to stay at home, as the head of the White House coronavirus task force, Dr. Birx, told me yesterday.