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States Ease Restrictions as Death Toll Climbs; California Governor Closes Beaches in Orange County; Armed Protesters Storm Michigan Capitol Over Stay-at-Home Orders; COVID-19 Cases Surge in Meat Plants Across the U.S.; A New Report Predicts Coronavirus will Spread for Up to Two More Years; President Trump Claims COVID-19 Started in Wuhan Lab. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 1, 2020 - 09:00   ET

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


[09:00:18]

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Friday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

You could say a national experiment is now under way in this country. At least 32 states red and blue are now easing restrictions, making for what's become a patchwork of plans from state to state across the country. But, Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning that states may face a, quote, "significant risk" by reopening too soon.

Some states still are not budging. In Michigan, Governor Gretchen Whitmer extended the state of emergency there through the end of May. This despite really just an ugly, dangerous scene at the state capital in Michigan. Protesters of the restrictions flooded the building, some of them carrying long rifles, semiautomatic weapons, threatening lawmakers. Lawmakers fearing for their safety, some of them wore bulletproof vests.

Pressure has been building for weeks around the country to get the economy moving again. But a new report is enough to give really anyone pause. A team of pandemic experts says this virus is likely to keep spreading for up to two years, infecting in the end up to 70 percent of the population.

We have one of those experts behind that study on the air live in a moment. But, first, we go across the nation on the move to reopen. CNN's Martin Savidge, he begins in Georgia.

Martin, Georgia, one of the first to move here, a little more aggressively than other states, and even more aggressively than some of the city leaders wanted there. What's the status?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Jim. Well, it's quite clear that we are not all in this together. At least not the same way we were not that long ago. Things have begun changing and changing in a hurry as you point out. More than 30 states by the end of this week will have some kind of reopening that is taking place. That is not necessarily good news to everyone because, as you point

out, there is a real hodgepodge here. There is no consistency across the nation. And it's triggering all kinds of protests. We have protests here in Georgia, not like those which they had in Michigan. These protests were against a governor who they believe is moving too quickly and as a result is putting lives at risk.

Now we can show you what the CDC guidelines continue to be as far as public safety here. But at the same time, what all of this demonstrates is that states are having a real difficult time pulling off a balancing act between public health safety and also their concern, a very rightful concern, for the economic hardship that a lot of people are suffering.

Just a month ago, nine out of 10 of us were under some kind of stay- at-home order. Millions of people have now been released from that. Georgia's order expired last night, a number of other states have allowed those orders to expire as well. But even in hard hit states like New Jersey, they're opening state parks tomorrow and golf courses. It's changing quickly -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: It is. And ultimately we're not going to know what works, what the consequences are until we see them play out.

Martin Savidge in Atlanta, thanks very much.

Let's go now to CNN's Ed Lavandera. He is in Texas where some businesses are reopening in a limited capacity today.

And Ed, you know, an interesting dynamic here, right, is the state leaders may say do X, but at the end of the day, businesses may do the opposite, they may do some of X. What are you seeing there on the ground?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we are in an area called the north -- the shops of North Park Lane and this is kind of encapsulates exactly what we're dealing with here, right? You see this is an area of mixed use, you have restaurants, storefronts, residential condos, all kind of built into this small area. And what we're being told here the next couple of hours when stores begin opening this area, not everyone is going to open up.

So that is what we're seeing, is that struggle as businesses, small businesses, big businesses try to figure out what is the best approach here. But let me give you a lay of the land, exactly how things are going to work here in state of Texas. Essentially malls, movie theaters, restaurants can reopen, but at a 25 percent capacity. That's a little bit of the rub for a lot of business owners.

Sometimes it's just not even worth the expense of opening up for just 25 percent of your business. Libraries and museums can also open up as well. What is not included, barbershops, nail salons, gyms and bars. The governor here in Texas says that that could be in the next phase of reopening, which would be sometime in mid-May. So that's the time frame for that.

And then, again, Jim, that is the struggle, as people try to kind of balance this idea, not just customer safety, but employee safety.

[09:05:03]

And, Jim, the other thing that we're looking at closely is just the number of cases. There have been many people who have been urging caution and issuing the warnings that Texas is opening up too quickly. And if you look here in Dallas County, yesterday, nearly 180 new coronavirus cases, that's the largest single day spike that this city has seen since this pandemic started. There have been other outbreaks across the state that -- in a plateauing, not really a dipping of the curve, but a plateauing of the curve. And that is why there are many people concerned that this is just going to cause all of this to spike all over again.

SCIUTTO: Ed Lavandera, thanks so much. Always good to have you there.

To California now, where two beach communities are taking action against the governor's decision to close some beaches. CNN's Stephanie Elam, she's in Newport Beach.

Stephanie, we've seen so much back and forth there. The beaches are closed, all of a sudden they open up. There are so many people out there, the governor said, uh-uh, can't do that and now you have I suppose Newport Beach pushing back.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you have a couple of cities in Orange County, Jim, that are pushing back having emergency city council meetings last night and agreeing that they're going to file an injunction against the governor's order here.

This is Newport Beach, I want to get out of the way so you can see, they put up a new sign just now saying beach area temporarily closed. And note at the bottom where it says by state order because they are not agreeing with that here. The lifeguard is out there as well. He is on a bullhorn telling the surfers that are out in the ocean that they have to get out because the beach is closed here.

But the Huntington Beach mayor also saying that Orange County has one of the lowest per capita COVID-19 death rates in the state so therefore this is a mass overreach by the governor, but the governor also pointing out that if there is an open beach like this, and we have a heat wave like we did last weekend that brought people to the beach, people will continue to come from other parts of the state and that could cause more spread if people are coming here and that is part of the concern.

The other issue is we won't know right away if there would be an outbreak because of that, because it takes some time for people to get sick from this. So he's just trying to nip it in the bud, but at the same time people here saying that it is an overreach and they're going to fight to keep their beaches open. And as you can see, a lot of people out here before the sun came up, Jim, taking advantage of surfing, but now they're being told they're supposed to get out of the water.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Yes. Try to say that to a surfer. Stephanie Elam, in Newport Beach, thanks very much.

To Michigan now, and a far more serious scene. Watch these images, armed protesters. They say they're angry over the stay-at-home order there. They entered the state's capitol on Thursday bearing weapons. Some of the members there wore bulletproof vests. They were concerned about their safety.

The governor, Gretchen Whitmer, has now extended the stay-at-home order in that state until May 28th.

Let's go to CNN's Ryan Young.

Ryan, tell us what is going on here because there were really mixed agendas, were there not, with some of the protesters here? What were the facts of that altercation?

RYAN YOUNG, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Absolutely. I think some these images will stand out for quite some time, Jim. But I want to say something really quick. The president is actually tweeting about what happened in Michigan yesterday. I'll read part of this tweet. It says, "These are very good people. They are angry," the president wrote. "They want their lives back again safely, see them, talk to them, make a deal."

Look, since the governor has been talking about these stay-at-home orders, a lot of people have been going back and forth about how strong the orders were. But you can understand what the state that had more than 40,000 people test positive for the coronavirus and nearly 3400 people die from the coronavirus, why she wants to be so strong.

But yesterday protesters showed up and they're making their voices heard. In fact they did not want the governor to extend the stay-at- home order. Republican-led legislature there decided to block her from doing that, but Governor Whitmer was still strong and decided to use an executive toward extend it to May 28th.

All this back and forth, you could feel the pain inside the room in terms of people yelling on both sides in terms of what they wanted. But listen to the governor talk about why she didn't want to make a move to stop this stay-at-home order.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: Everyone is entitled to their opinion. But I am not going to make decisions about our public health based on political games. I'm going to make them based on the best science, the best data, what our epidemiologists and public health experts are telling us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

YOUNG: Jim, as we've seen across the states, there are some cities that have been hit harder by the coronavirus than others and that's happening in Michigan, and when you look at certain cities like Detroit that got hit very hard, including public safety officers, you can understand why the governor was trying to be so strong. But there are people across that state who say they want to go back to work.

This is a conversation that played out yesterday, it played out with long guns, people yelling and lawmakers wearing bulletproof vests.

[09:10:00]

SCIUTTO: Ryan, you know, we've all been to state houses before. You go to the capitol, you're going to go through metal detectors. You're going to take your phone out of your pocket, your car keys. Are you allowed to enter the state house with long rifles, semiautomatic weapons?

YOUNG: Well, you know, that's probably a great question and we've seen this happen across the country. It appears that if they're not loaded they can go in with those weapons. It would be great to see exactly what they may do since then, but since it's a public building, I think the capitol officers were able to block them off, even though with those long weapons, obviously made people very nervous on the inside.

SCIUTTO: Ryan Young, thanks so much.

Well, overnight, a sixth employee at a meatpacking plant in Greeley, Colorado, has now died from COVID-19. Dozens of meat processing plants across the country have seen a real spike in coronavirus cases.

CNN's Omar Jimenez, he joins us now from Green Bay, Wisconsin, where three facilities in that area account for half of all of the confirmed cases in that county.

Omar, what is special to these meatpacking facilities that has led to such outbreaks there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, talking to some of the workers here, one of the things that makes it so tough is when you're inside these places, you're most often working side by side with a lot of people. It's a very collaborative process. The conditions sometimes again can be a little crowded depending on the facilities.

So when the executive order like the President Trump's comes through, some of the workers I've spoken to were skeptical that these plants will be able to open and stay open safely. And as you mentioned, and as we have seen here in at least the Green Bay area, these three meatpacking facilities not only account for more than half in the county, but have contributed to this county having the highest infection rate in the entire state of Wisconsin.

And this type of impact isn't just unique to this state. It is something we are now seeing play out country wide. In North Carolina, for example, we are now seeing 15 outbreaks, 15 new outbreaks at facilities across that state there. As you alluded to coming -- when you were coming to me was we are now seeing a sixth death tied to a single JBS facility in Greeley, Colorado.

A new outbreak at a Tyson plan in Illinois. And Tyson temporarily pausing operations at a plant in Nebraska to do some deep cleaning and when you look at the numbers that we have seen here, more than 340 tied to a single JBS facility here, and, again, questions now on how to reopen and stay open safely -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And how to do it safely, of course. Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, an alarming new study says that the COVID-19 pandemic could last up to two years. I know that's not news any of us wants to hear but we're going to speak to the director of the group that conducted that study. We'll ask the questions. That's coming up.

Plus President Trump contradicts the intelligence community once again. He claims without citing any basis that he's seen evidence that coronavirus began in a Chinese bioweapons lab.

And scientists searching for the origins of the virus in bats. Could they help stop another pandemic?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:15:00]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back and maybe brace yourself for this. A stunning new report from a group of infectious disease experts this morning is now predicting that coronavirus is likely to keep spreading in this country for at least another 18 months to two years until 60 percent to 70 percent of the population has been infected. With me now is the director of that group, Dr. Michael Osterholm; director for the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Osterholm, good to have you back on this broadcast.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Good morning, thanks, Jim, good to be with you.

SCIUTTO: OK, so, let's start with the headline there. You say the idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology. So, explain why folks have to prepare in your view for this to be around for a couple of years.

OSTERHOLM: Well, this is a very highly infectious virus. In fact, you just noted that in your previous segment. Once it gets into a meat- packing plant or a long-term care facility or a prison, look how fast it spreads. And the point being is that this is going to continue to do that until 60 percent or 70 percent of the population has been infected, which then basically brings Hillary calls, herd immunity.

Is a concept where enough people have been infected that are immune, that if I am myself transmitting the virus, I only basically expose people who have already have been infected. So that means --

SCIUTTO: OK --

OSTERHOLM: This is going to continue until that happens.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask about the death rate of this. Because as the infection rate goes up, estimations of the death rate -- this is natural, this is in the math, go down. I just wonder, you have been on top of this from the very beginning. Is this virus as deadly as the initial projections, and if not, is there an argument as a result that relaxing social distancing to some degree makes sense?

OSTERHOLM: Well, you know, first of all, you don't have to be an epidemiologist, for that matter, you don't have to be a scientist of any kind to understand that this is the only disease in the last 100 years that has gone from not being in the top five -- 75 causes of death to becoming the number one cause of death in this country every day.

That by itself is a pretty stunning situation --

SCIUTTO: Yes --

OSTERHOLM: Then if you add in the fact, look what it's done to the hospitals, you have emergency room, look at the bodies, they're still trying to literally bury in New York City. And the point being is that this is going to continue to be a rolling situation throughout the world. Not just our country. For these months ahead, so expect many more New Yorks to occur, it's very likely they will.

SCIUTTO: Is there something particular about a New York, given the density of population here -- and there have been some studies that say, listen, you know, beyond the obvious fact, you're more densely populated, so it spreads more easily. Does that give you the view that it's OK for less densely populated areas, even rural areas or just smaller cities and communities to be less vigilant than in New York --

OSTERHOLM: Yes --

SCIUTTO: For instance?

[09:20:00]

OSTERHOLM: That's a perfect question. You know, and I've said this before, you know, we've often talked about red and blue states, and by the time this is over with, there's going to be one color in this country with COVID states. Let's remember the 1918, and this is where this report that we just issued takes some of its information from. 1918, New York and Chicago got hit heavy in the Spring waves of this disease -- the flu.

And then communities like Minneapolis, Detroit, Chicago or outside of Chicago area, they didn't get hit. Baltimore, Boston didn't get hit, and then when the Fall came, they all got hit. And so, I think one of the challenges we have is that we could see those virus not do much right now in some communities that could be really very devastating come the Fall. That's what we're trying to tell the country they have to get better prepared for, which we frankly are not.

SCIUTTO: Given your expectation that 60 percent, 70 percent of us will eventually be infected by this. As a country, do we have to accept that, that many of us will be infected eventually, and given that, does that change the way you respond to it, right? Because you know, it means in effect that you can't hide in your basement until it disappears, right? That the people are going to be infected over time. Does that change

the way the country should respond to it?

OSTERHOLM: And that's exactly the discussion we desperately need to have right now that we're not. Because there is not just one way to get to 60 percent or 70 percent. There's two ways, through natural disease or a vaccine. And so the question is, can we postpone enough infections and hopefully have a vaccine that we can have 30 percent or 40 percent of the population get infected, and then rescue the rest of us with this new vaccine that may be --

SCIUTTO: I see --

OSTERHOLM: Sixteen, eighteen months down the road. So, that's the tension we have right now. How do you get to 60 percent or 70 percent? And we don't have a plan for that right now. We just don't. This is exactly why we issued the report we did yesterday so that we could actually start hopefully focusing on that very point, a very good question you asked.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Fauci says a vaccine by January of 2021. So seven some odd months away is possible. Is that a realistic expectation in your view?

OSTERHOLM: You know, I think it's aspirational. I applaud that idea, but I think from a realistic standpoint, no. It's not going to happen unless everything just is perfect. And what I mean by perfect, I mean that we find an early vaccine out of the 100 that we're testing that gives us durable immunity that save, that we then can manufacture in quantities.

Remember 8 billion people are going to want this vaccine when it comes out. How are we going to distribute it? Who is going to be in charge of that? What if the vaccine is first found to be effective in China? Are we going to get any of it? We have so many questions yet to answer that are important questions that will determine when will that vaccine finally reach us if we have a vaccine.

And so, you know, I like to count on having a vaccine, but we have to plan as if we might not have one because that surely is an option on the table for now.

SCIUTTO: You've been watching this very closely. There's new evidence for instance that a drug such as remdesivir is helping to at least shorten recovery times for those who have been infected. What's the best news you've seen in the last couple of months, people are looking for perhaps a sign of hope, and I don't want you to make it up. But what's --

OSTERHOLM: No, you know --

SCIUTTO: The most promising development you've seen or piece of news in the last several weeks?

OSTERHOLM: You know, I think the best news we have is that we do have people who survive this illness with little to no symptoms. We have people who are severely ill who survived. And we're going to get through this. So, I think the good news is we're going to get through this. How we get through it is going to be a combination of whether we do get effective drugs or we do have a vaccine and what our leadership is all about.

Frankly, Jim, if I could pray for one thing right now, I would pray for the kind of leadership that gives us the FDR moments, the fire side chats, the Winston Churchill, this is going to get tough, and we have to bring our country together. I see -- and look at the media, the last week, we're dividing, we're not coming together. We need to come together.

This is about us versus the virus. This is not about us versus us. That's what I hope for, and that would be the good news I think that we all want and need.

SCIUTTO: From your lips to God's ears, Dr. Michael Osterholm, thanks so much.

OSTERHOLM: Thank you so much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, President Trump is contradicting U.S. Intelligence agencies once again, this time about the origins of the coronavirus. He claims there is evidence it started in a Wuhan government lab. What it could mean for U.S.-China relations, that's coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[09:25:00]

SCIUTTO: Welcome back. President Trump openly contradicting the U.S. Intelligence community, claiming that he has seen evidence that gives him a quote, "high degree" of confidence the virus originated in a Wuhan government lab". But that's in direct conflict with what was released by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence just hours earlier.

And as you know, the president made unfounded claims about intelligence repeatedly in the past, on Russian interference in the 2016 election, on North Korea, on Iran. CNN's Kylie Atwood joins us now. Kylie, what do we know about intelligence linking this to a Wuhan lab. The president makes a claim here, he doesn't cite the evidence --

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes --

SCIUTTO: But there's been no such official statement to that effect. Tell us what you're learning.

ATWOOD: Yes, so Jim, let's look at what the official statement yesterday out from the Office of Director of National Intelligence on behalf of the entire U.S. Intelligence community actually does say. First, it says that this virus originated in China. That has been largely undisputed because the initial outbreak was in Wuhan, China. Secondly, it says that it agrees with the scientific consensus that this was not a man-made or genetically.