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New York Continues to Deal with Coronavirus Fallout; Harris County, Texas Hires 300 Contact Tracers; Airline Industry Brainstorming Changes to Reopen. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 1, 2020 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Another major part of New York City is shutting down, at least for a few hours: Subways will stop operating overnight for cleaning. The governor called the homelessness and the garbage that's been accumulating there as well on trains, in his words, "disgusting." Starting Wednesday, trains will stop from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. to be disinfected. CNN's Shimon Prokupecz is in New York with the latest.

Shimon, the MTA says about 11,000 people are still riding the subway during those hours to get to and from work. How will it impact those people?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, really, that -- this is -- what you said there, Jim, is what sparked this entire action by the governor and the MTA, is the homeless problem. The subways, the transit workers have been complaining. They have felt unsafe, in that the subway cars have just been overrun with homeless.

So the governor there, yesterday, here, announcing that they're going to do this. They're going to shut the subway system down between 1:00 a.m. and 5:00 a.m., starting on May 6th. And what they're going to do is for those people that are impacted between -- during those hours, specifically the frontline workers -- it's the health care workers, grocery store clerks, the delivery personnel that we have all come to rely on -- they're going to provide them buses, they're going to provide them Ubers and Lyfts and vans to get them to work.

They're working on all that this week. They want about a week to get that all in place. And then by next Wednesday, they should have all that ready to go, and that's when they're going to start cleaning all the subway cars -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: All right, so that takes care of cleaning the subway cars. What happens to the homeless people? Are accommodations being made to give them shelter?

PROKUPECZ: There are accommodations. They're trying to have the homeless outreach units talk to them, right? The mayor's office has homeless outreach folks that deal with it, the NYPD does, the city and private agencies and all these other agencies that are working within the city, they're trying to deal with the homeless problem.

It's a problem, and exactly how it's going to play out, we'll see. They're going to have to -- when these trains stop running, they're going to have to get the homeless out from under the subway. Where they go and what exactly happens, I think that's a great question -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes. They've got to go somewhere, right? They're human beings.

All right, a story you've been following, there's a funeral home in New York where officials made just that gruesome discovery, four trucks containing as many as 60 bodies. What's happened there?

PROKUPECZ: So yesterday, the NYPD and state health officials went back out there yesterday. And what they found, there were actually more bodies inside the funeral home. Completely overrun.

The funeral director, I spoke to a source who was there yesterday and said, it's very clear that this funeral director was just overwhelmed. He kept accepting bodies, he couldn't handle them, there were bodies throughout the funeral home. They were not being properly stored, of course: You have to store them in refrigerated trucks and trailers, in places where you can keep the bodies fresh, and he wasn't doing that.


And so what they've done is, they've called in trucks to try and get them all out of there, get all of the bodies out of there. And the medical examiner's office is trying to work with this funeral director, but it's a really horrific situation. The funeral director, it's just not clear why he took on all of these bodies, but it -- completely overrun, he did too much. And now, of course, the local officials and state officials are trying to help him out, but it's a really, really bad situation.

And really, a lot of the funeral homes across the city, New York City, are facing this issue. They are dealing with a lot of bodies. This particular situation is very unique. I don't know of another situation like this so far in New York City -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Heartbreaking for the families involved, on multiple levels. Shimon Prokupecz, thanks very much.

Texas is starting to open up. But as the death toll there keeps going up, now, the state's largest county is doing what it can to mitigate the spread.



SCIUTTO: The state of Texas begins its gradual reopening today, one day after the state reported its largest single-day increase, actually, in deaths to date. You can see it on the graph there.

Harris County, which has a greater population than 25 states in the union -- home to Houston, of course -- is taking steps to ramp up contact tracing as businesses reopen this week. The county approved the hiring of 300 contact tracers, they will trace people who have been infected, who they've had contact with.

I'm joined now by Dr. Umair Shah. He's the executive director at Harris County Public Health. Doctor, great to have you here. You've got a lot of people under your tutelage here, in effect -- Harris County is huge -- is it too soon to reopen?

UMAIR SHAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS PUBLIC HEALTH: Jim, first of all, thank you for having me. You know, I think that's been the question that we've been all asking. And I think we have all said that, look, it's about being reason-driven, data-driven. And the governor has made some really smart moves in terms of trying to reopen, you know, in a methodical way.

The concern that we have is that we have obviously made an incredible amount of progress in our community -- I have to give credit to the entirety of our community -- but the challenge is that we don't want to go backward, right? We don't want to have something happen where we reopen and, two or three weeks from now, we have an increase in cases and hospitalizations, and now we're starting back to -- you know, from where we started.

SCIUTTO: So the three steps you talk about there: test, trace and treat. And this is a consistent view I hear from health officials like yourself across the country. The trouble is, that aspiration is not matched by reality, because it doesn't seem like really any community or state has the testing capacity, the tracing capacity necessary. Are you getting there in Harris County?

SHAH: Yeah, so our county judge, Judge Lina Hidalgo, our county executive unveiled the three T's earlier this week. And you're right, it's test, it's trace, it's treat. And then county elected officials, our county government said, hey, we want to make sure that we get you the capabilities for tracing. And so we have, now, 300 contact tracers that are in the queue for being hired.

And then in addition to that, we're also looking at not just that, but also beefing up our epidemiology program, which already has quadrupled in size from 2,025 to 9,000 people.

But I think your point is a good one. The foundation, that first T, is absolutely correct. Because if you don't have testing, then if you can't find a case, you can't trace. And I think that's the key message here, is that we need to make sure we have capabilities and the capacity on the testing side so then we can go about figuring out who those contacts are of that case. And then obviously, you know, work through our public health measures.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, the sad fact is the U.S. is months behind countries like South Korea for instance, that were doing this from the very beginning here. I mean, so 300 is a good start but is that enough for a county with a population of the size in Harris County?

SHAH: Well, you know, we're working with our city partners. City partners also have plans to increase their contact tracing. We're looking at our regional partners, our state partners.

I think the answer is that no one really knows if it's enough, but we would really like to ramp up and make sure we have enough now. And then if we don't use them or don't need them, we can turn them off. Absolutely, that's the case.

But I'll tell you, Jim, the biggest issue right now is that we're getting information that's very chaotic. And so you're not getting lab data that gives you exactly who that case is, and so we're having to go back and find who the case is, and figure that information out before you can even get to the contacts.

And I think this speaks to the bigger issue, which is the underinvestment in public health that we've seen across the -- you know, the real decades. And so one of the challenges we have is that everybody's talking about contact tracing as if it's a buzzword. This is something that public health has used across the globe for decades --

SCIUTTO: Yes, yes.

SHAH: -- but now, the attention is to public health.


SCIUTTO: Yes, it's like we're learning as we're going. Dr. Umair Shah, we know you've got a lot on your plate there. We wish you the best of luck.

SHAH: Thank you so much, I appreciate it.

SCIUTTO: Well, new safety guidelines for air travel could mean higher ticket prices. We're going to talk about all the changes, coming right up.


SCIUTTO: Well, big changes are ahead for air travel as we know it -- or as we knew it -- as airlines enforce new pandemic guidelines. For starters, more flights will now require all passengers to wear masks. Here's our Richard Quest.



RICHARD QUEST, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Social distancing and air travel are contradictions in terms. With long queues, evaporating legroom and invasive reclining, air travel is particularly ill suited for our new coronavirus reality.

The pandemic has left global travel at a virtual standstill, and it's clear the way we fly will need to change before passengers will feel comfortable returning to the friendly skies en masse.

Before the crisis, there was this massive drive to maximize capacity on board, pushing the flying public ever closer together. Now, airlines must embrace the exact opposite. At the very least, it seems, the middle seat will probably stay empty for the foreseeable future, even though that will make it almost impossible for airlines to make money.

The International Air Transport Association's CEO Alexandre de Juniac says ticket prices will have to go up.

ALEXANDRE DE JUNIAC, DIRECTOR GENERAL, INTERNATIONAL AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: In these conditions, there is no airline which is able to fly and make money on these flights. So it means two things. Either we cannot fly, or we have to increase the price of the tickets by at least 50 to 100 percent. So it is the end of the cheap travel for everyone.

QUEST (voice-over): Airlines are ramping up other precautions. On JetBlue, Air Canada, Korean and Lufthansa, masks will be mandatory for the duration of flights. Emirates is limiting carry-on baggage to only the essentials. Meals are doled out in bento-style boxes to reduce contact. Even in the in-flight magazines have been removed from seat back pockets in case they carry the virus.

Expected to see cabin crews donning visors and gowns, full personal protection equipment could be the order of the day. And Qatar Airways says it's going thermal screenings of its crew.

In spite of all these measures, Barry Diller, the head of Expedia, believes flying and social distancing are simply incompatible.

BARRY DILLER, CHAIRMAN, EXPEDIA: The idea that you can take the middle seat out of an airplane and have any kind of, quote, "social distancing," is absurd. You can't, it does not work. Social distancing works when it's complete. You can maybe clean planes better, yes, that would be good anyway. But social distancing in these kinds of arenas is a myth.

QUEST (voice-over): The Italian cabin design from Avio Interiors gave us a glimpse of what the future could look like. This shield could be fitted on existing seats, putting a barrier between passengers to increase isolation. A more extreme interior overhaul turns the middle seat around entirely to keep contact between passengers at a minimum.

To be sure, the travel industry will reopen and we will take to the air again. However, for passengers like you and me, the experience we go through may never be quite the same again. Richard Quest, CNN, New York.


SCIUTTO: Big changes to come, thanks so much to Richard Quest.

Finally this morning, some very good news. This week, the CNN family grew by exactly one. We all want to welcome Wyatt Morgan Cooper, son to our very own Anderson Cooper. Anderson announced the birth of his son -- a surprise -- last night.


ANDERSON COOPER, CNN HOST: This is Wyatt Cooper. He is three days old. He's named after my dad, who died when I was 10 years old. I hope I can be as good a dad as he was.

My son's middle name is Morgan, which is a family name on my mom's side. And I know my mom and dad liked the name Morgan because, while I was going through her things recently, I found a list they'd made 52 years ago, when they were trying to think of names for me. Morgan was on the list. So that's Wyatt Morgan Cooper, my son.

I do wish my mom and my dad and my brother Carter were alive to meet Wyatt, but I like to believe that they can see him. I imagine them all together, arms around each other, smiling and laughing and watching, looking down on us.


SCIUTTO: Goodness, we can imagine that too. Congratulations, Anderson. And to that cute, cute little boy.


Still ahead, a patchwork of plans. Today, at least 32 states, red and blue, are now loosening some social distancing restrictions. We're going to tell you exactly what you need to know.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in Washington, this is CNN's continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.