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Thirty-Two States Go Into First Weekend With Loosened Restrictions; Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson Donate Plasma For Vaccine Research; Major Airlines To Require Passengers To Wear Face Masks; Sara Nelson, Association Of Flight Attendants International President, Discusses Mandating That Passengers Wear Face Masks On All Flights; CNN Returns To Wuhan After Months Of Lockdown. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired May 2, 2020 - 15:00   ET




ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thank you so much for being here.

It is a critical new chapter in the fight against a virus that has cost us time, money and way too many lives. By the end of the weekend, at least 32 states will take steps to partially reopen even as health experts warn it is too soon.

Texas is now allowing restaurants and movie theaters to reopen. You can go to church again in Idaho, visit a state park in New Mexico, and go golfing in Pennsylvania. But Mississippi called off plans for further re-openings after that state reported its largest increase yet in new cases, quoting the governor here, this thing is not over. We are not out of the woods yet.

Meantime, in California, there is growing anger at the governor's decision to temporarily close all beaches in Orange County. Yesterday there, thousands of protesters packing in, not social distancing, and many of them not wearing masks.

We are also learning more about how we got here. A new CDC report looking back at how this virus spread so quickly cited a lack of testing and continued travel, warning this summer will be a critical time if the U.S. is to with stand a possible second wave in the fall.

And this just in. A large crowd on the National Mall today gathering to watch this Blue Angels fly over, a thank you to healthcare workers. But the talk now about the lack of masks and a number of people who didn't seem to be adhering to social distancing.

Let's begin in Texas, where stores, restaurants, movie theaters, malls, libraries, even museums, they're all reopening today. Governor Greg Abbott says his plan to reopen Texas will come in phases. The first phase, limiting occupancy at these businesses to just 25 percent. The governor says he also hopes to see places like barber shops, salons, gyms and bars open by mid-May. CNN's Ed Lavandera joins us in Dallas. And, Ed, Despite the order from the governor I know some local officials are still urging people to just stay home. What else are you learning, what else are you hearing and seeing there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good afternoon, Ana. Well, here in Texas, you really have opposing forces in everybody's ear, right? You have Texas governor and here in the state urging businesses or giving businesses the chance to reopen, even if it is at a limited capacity, like restaurants, movie theaters and malls that can open at a 25 percent capacity.

Yet, you have most of the big city leaders in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin, are urging people to continue to stay home. And this is largely in part because, as once again, the latest numbers coming out, large spike in the number of coronavirus cases being reported here in Texas, another jump of a little more than 1,200. That's one of the highest days we have seen since this pandemic started here in the state. But it also is because there's been a great deal more testing that has been done and reported in the last 24 hours.

But, nonetheless, there are businesses starting to reopen. We are in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas. This is a funky neighborhood of cool boutique stores and restaurants on a beautiful spring day like today it would normally be swarming with people walking around, biking around, going in and out of these stores and restaurants. And you're just not seeing that. There is a handful of people walking around even though there are a number of stores that are open.

One woman that we talked to owns a boutique store here in Bishop Arts, says, kind of balancing all of the different things to keep herself safe and her neighborhood safe and she is worried about a spike in new cases and having to shut down again.


DENISE MANOY, OWNER, INDIGO 1745: For me, I feel like I have to almost plan for that. I have to plan for what ifs now. If everything goes well, there's this. And if we come back out too fast or something happens where we have a second spike, then I have to plan for that. I have to have A, B and C plans now. I can't just -- I'm not comfortable assuming it's going to be one way or the other.


LAVANDERA: And, Ana, what really stands out if you look at this neighborhood is just the way different stores are handling it so differently. Some stores just having it reopened, some are allowing customers in, as you heard that woman, this woman, in particular, was allowing customers to make appointments and come in. That's the only way you can get into the store.


Other store owners have moved some of their goods out on to the curb that you could walk past. So it really kind of speaks to the trepidation, the nervousness and how much thought is going into exactly how to handle this situation, which many of them, all of them, will tell you they never imagined when they started their own business. Ana?

CABRERA: Ed Lavandera, thank you.

Let's head to New York City. Today is one of the nicest days we've had here in a while. People are getting outside. And there are over 1,000 police officers who are patrolling on foot, bike and car to make sure the social distancing measures are being followed this weekend. So far, there have been 60 arrests and more than 300 summonses related to social distancing in New York City.

Polo Sandoval joins us now. Polo, we know the NYPD had around 20 percent of its workforce out sick last month. That number is now down to 7 percent. What's the situation today out on the street?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And they are certainly still out in full force today, Ana. And as you correctly put it, it's probably the nicest weather we've seen in a long time. So authorities are hoping that New Yorkers will at least try to resist the urge to actually go out and enjoy what is really quite some beautiful weather. As we heard from the NYPD yesterday saying right now it is certainly not the time to relax as we hear time and time again certainly not out of the woods, especially when you see the numbers here.

So what authorities are certainly stressing to people is that people wear facial covering is, they practice social distancing and to try to avoid any unnecessary outings from outside their home. If you stand on the street corner, you will certainly see that there are certainly some people who are not necessarily adhering to any of those guidelines as well.

Statewide, we heard from Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this morning say that there are still some very troubling numbers, the first of them the death rate here. The governor this morning is saying that at this point, those deaths remain obnoxiously and terribly high the way he put it. Also, the rate of infection, about 900 a day, is also something that is deeply concerning for the state's top executive, so as you are about to hear he is turning to hospitals to try to explain why.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We're still getting about 900 new infections every day walking into the hospital. That is still an unacceptably high rate. We're trying to understand exactly why that is, who are those 900, where is it coming from, what can we do to now refine our strategies to find out where those new cases are being generated?

I spoke to all of the hospitals and asked them to take additional information from people who are walking into the hospitals, to try to find out where these infections are coming from. Are they front line workers or are they people who are staying home?

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANDOVAL: So the concern is that it could be some of those frontline workers, those who have to use some of those mass transit systems every day, particularly during the daylight hours. And that's why as we heard yesterday from authorities, mainly from the governor, Ana, is that the masks, the transit authority here in New York will be disinfecting these trains every 24 hours, essentially shutting down the city's subway system between the hours of 1:00 and 5:00, those low traffic hours.

It's really a monumental task here Ana, and as we heard the governor describe, a heroic one too for those workers who are responsible for doing that. Ana?

CABRERA: Yes. And it's such a crucial way of life, those subways, in terms of people getting around the city, in and out of the city as well. Polo Sandoval, thank you.

In Washington, D.C. today, there is still a stay-at-home order in effect but that did not stop the large crowds from flocking to the National Mall to watch the fly over of the Blue Angels and the Thunder Birds honoring essential workers.

CNN's Sarah Westwood is in the nation's capital. Sarah, I know you were there at the moment when those Blue Angels flew overhead. Security officials asked people not to congregate at the mall to view flyover and yet the crowds were still substantial judging by those images.

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ana. Some of those images appear to show fairly substantial crowds on the National Mall in between the Capitol building and the Washington Monument. And as you mentioned, they were there to watch that fly over from the Blue Angels and the Thunder Birds that was in honor of essential workers.

And just like in New York, here in Washington, it is a very beautiful day, so a lot of people wanting to get outside. I was there near the Capitol building. And from where I was sitting, people appeared to be practicing social distancing, standing six feet apart at least for the portion that people weren't walking on the sidewalks. About half of the people appeared to be wearing masks.

But it's not clear here in D.C. that we are even past the peak of this virus. D.C. officials have been warning that we may not be anywhere close to that. The District of Columbia has had 4,797 cases of coronavirus, 240 deaths. We've reached out to the mayor's office, to the Air Force officials from the military and from the city had warned people not to congregate when viewing the fly over earlier today.


There were also fly overs in Baltimore and Atlanta in honor of these essential workers, but that stay-at-home order still remains in place here in Washington even as other states across the country are starting to reopen. But that did not stop people from flocking out today, Ana, it was more people in one place than I've seen in a pretty long time. CABRERA: All right. Sarah Westwood, keep us posted. Thank you.

One expert describes the coronavirus as the worst public health threat in 100 years. This as the World Health Organization makes a conclusion about the virus' origin.

Plus, actor Tom Hanks and his actress wife, Rita Wilson, donate plasma to researchers after beating coronavirus themselves. How it could help other patients in their fight to recover.

You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: Welcome back. Actor and coronavirus survivor Tom Hanks is donating his plasma for research in hopes of helping others to fight the virus.


He and his wife, actress Rita Wilson, both tested positive back in March. And they showed off these pictures of a bag of plasma, them getting tested. Their plasma is now being used as an experimental therapy, taking blood from survivors that contains antibodies to the disease and giving it to patients with severe COVID-19 to help boost their ability to fight this virus.

Hanks and Wilson personally thanked Epidemiologist Anne Rimoin on Twitter for her contributions to this effort. She joins us now. Anne, thanks for being here. Tell us how this all came about.

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, PROFESSOR, DEPARTMENT OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UCLA: I've spent a lot of time on T.V. recently, and Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson saw me on T.V., reached out, and they asked what they could do to be able to help, knowing that they had survived COVID.

So what I did was I helped them get involved. First, we asked them to donate some blood so that we could look to see if they had antibodies, which they did. And because -- and with these antibodies being present, we were able to then allow them to be able to donate plasma that will be part of this larger effort to be able to use plasma.

But they have also been extremely supportive of the research that we are doing, which is looking at asymptomatic infection and at immunity in our health workforce and our first responders. So they have been extremely generous allowing us to utilize their blood, validating assays for this plasma study and really just lending their voice to be able to have people understand that research is critical right now.

And without research, we are not going to be able to progress to these next steps and understand what we need to do to be able to reopen society. It all hinges on whether or not -- how much we know about asymptomatic infection, how widespread it is, whether immunity actually lasts, how long it lasts, whether people can be re-infected. And so they've been very supportive and we have been very, very grateful for them to be lending a nice hand and publicizing this for us.

CABRERA: I just have to ask you what your reaction was when you heard directly from Tom Hanks. I mean, that doesn't happen every day, right?

RIMOIN: Well, I do live in Los Angeles so, you know, it's not totally uncommon. And he had -- he has been such -- he and Rita Wilson have been such great supporters of science and research and had participated in some other fundraising events in the past that I had been aware of so.

You know, I think I -- you know, it is not surprising if you have people like them be so willing to really be out there in front and leading the charge. It's a wonderful thing though, because, I'll tell you, as there was a story in the L.A. Times today about this, about our work on the asymptomatic infection, you can't wait until there is federal funding or big donor donations, foundation funding. We had to start.

My collaborators and I, we threw every resource that we had behind it to get started now. And we're raising money to be able to do this work. And so it's been really important to be able to have this kind of support and high profile.

CABRERA: Some of your research and work as a virus hunter has also involved studying bats and their potential role in epidemics or pandemics like this one. And we have learned the Trump administration abruptly cut off funding for a project studying how coronavirus is spread from bats to people. What do you see as the impact of that?

RIMOIN: This was very surprising to me, as it was to most of the scientific world. We have to understand this -- where viruses are coming from in bats. We are in the midst of a pandemic that is directly related to circulation of viruses like this in bats. If we don't have this kind of research ongoing, how are we going to know about COVID 20 or COVID 21 or COVID 22?

This is not the only time we're going to be seeing this happen. And I think it is really a dangerous thing to be cutting this kind of research. In fact, this is the kind of research, and, well, there is a lot that needs to be done, but this kind of research should be revved up. And this was from a very well respected group that has been doing this research for decades.

So I think that it is very, very upsetting. But, you know, the fact of the matter is there is not enough funding to do the research that is needed right now to be able to understand the origins of COVID-19, to be able to understand the epidemiology of it and to be able to understand vaccines and therapeutics. This is the moment we should be throwing everything we can into it, not reducing it.


CABRERA: And I just want you to take a listen to this warning from the former CDC director, Thomas Frieden, describing the enormity of the coronavirus that we are dealing with.


THOMAS FRIEDEN, FORMER DIRECTOR, CDC: The pandemic is bad. And what we have to come to terms with is that it's just beginning. This is on the order of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic. That's how bad it is. It is the worst health threat in a hundred years.


CABRERA: And as a professional virus hunter, do you agree this is, you know, on par with the Spanish flu of 1918-1919?

RIMOIN: Ana, I do agree with Tom Frieden. We have to be looking at the data. You can see that we have had daily death tolls topping 2,000 people, ten times, and over and over again, we're seeing thousands and thousands of people dying. This is just -- we do not have vaccines and therapeutics in place. We do not have the testing and tracing capacity in place that we need right now.

Tom Frieden is absolutely right. We are in a crisis. This is a pandemic of epic proportion. And we need to be taking it very seriously. And I think his message is very important right now as we see states starting to reopen and really tempting, you know, populations to be going out and exposing themselves.

We don't have the tools in place yet and it's a very important moment to be working together to keep the rates flattened and to be able to give us time to be able to have these kinds of vaccines and therapeutics available or at least the testing and tracing available to be able to identify where cases are.

CABRERA: It does seem we're in a fragile existence right now. Dr. Anne Rimoin, thank you, as always, for your expertise and for the work you're doing.

RIMOIN: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

CABRERA: Coming up, how far an unprotected cough can travel and what the impacts might be.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



CABRERA: If you are one of millions of Americans now wearing a mask or even thinking about wearing a mask, our next story will be especially significant.

Ever wonder just how far an unprotected cough might travel? We did. So we sent Randi Kaye to a lab in Florida where they can actually measure it.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Heavy cough, three, two, one. RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Inside this lab at Florida Atlantic University, two engineering professors are measuring the power of a cough.


KAYE: Using a dummy, they fill its mouth with a mix of glycerin and water, then with a pump force the dummy to cough. Then wait to see how far the droplets travel. They fill the air, visible with the green laser light simulating what happens when we cough.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It generates particles on the order of 10 to 20 microns, which is roughly close to what the smallest droplet sizes are when we cough.

KAYE: Take note how quickly the simulated respiratory droplets spread. The droplets expelled traveled a distance of three feet almost immediately. Within five seconds, the droplets were at six feet then nine feet in just about ten seconds. Remember, nine feet is three feet beyond the recommended social distancing guidelines.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Already reaching roughly nine feet now. It's still moving further, slowly.

KAYE: The fog of droplets lingered in the air but kept moving forward, taking just another 30 to 40 seconds to float another three feet.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's getting closer to 12 feet now.

KAYE: Yes, he said 12 feet.

Over and over again, the simulated droplets blew past the six-foot mark, often doubling that distance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Okay. It has passed three feet already, approaching six feet. And it looks like it has crossed six feet. And now it has slowed down.

KAYE: How long might they linger at nine feet and 12 feet?

MANHAR DHANAK, CHAIRMAN, FAU ENGINEERING DEPARTMENT: So at nine feet, they could linger for two to three minutes, okay? But the concentration is less than what it would be at, say, six feet by a factor of eight.

KAYE: The professors say the droplets become less dense the further they travel but they still hang in the air, still with the ability to carry disease. And watch this. Even when we put a simple mask on the dummy, particles still disperse from the sides of the mask though they didn't travel far.

Certainly if you are not wearing a mask, you are supposed to cough into your elbow. But if you cough into your hand, this is what happens. Let's turn out the lights. I'll put my hand up against the mouth of this dummy and simulate a cough. You can see the droplets spray in all directions. They may not travel as far, maybe about three feet or so but they spray everywhere. And they can linger in the air possibly for as long as three minutes.

Intensity of the cough matters. So we tested a gentle cough too. The lighter cough didn't go very far at all, about three feet. But the question remains, how close is too close?

Do you think based on what you've seen in your own lab that six feet is enough for social distancing?

DHANAK: Six feet is the minimum distance that you should keep.


It seems that --

KAYE: But further is better?

DHANAK: Further is better.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Dania Beach, Florida.


CABRERA: Just can't be careful enough.

New flying etiquette in the age of coronavirus: mandatory masks, no more middle seats. We'll show you how the future of air travel will look radically different from the past, next.


CABRERA: The days of casual air travel are still far ahead, at least the way we all remember it. Major airlines, including United, Delta, JetBlue, American, and Southwest, have all announced they are making face masks mandatory for all passengers boarding those flights. That is not the only change in the works.

CNN Aviation Correspondent, Pete Muntean, took a flight to see for himself the future of air travel.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A scene too similar to travel before this pandemic, new videos of packed planes, passengers bottled up in rows and aisles, raising new fears about social distancing when flying and new calls to restrict air travel even further.


This week, JetBlue became the first airline to require passengers to wear masks. Its COO calling it the new flying etiquette. Now all major U.S. airlines, Alaska, American, Delta, Frontier, Southwest, and United, have volunteered to do the same.

But the leader of the Association of Flight Attendants goes further, telling CNN there must be a federal ban of leisure travel by air. SARA NELSON, INTERNATIONAL PRESIDENT, ASSOCIATION OF FLIGHT

ATTENDANTS: Because the flights have been pulled down, we're seeing more and more full flights without policies that really address proper social distancing.

MUNTEAN: But the nation's air travel is at a virtual halt. Nearly half of all commercial jet liners are now parked. The TSA says only five percent of passengers are passing through airports compared to a year ago.

I set out to see what it's like to fly right now, traveling from Washington D.C. to Atlanta and back.

(on camera): It's hard to find someone not already wearing a mask.

(voice-over): Airlines are stepping up their use of electrostatic sprayers to disinfect passenger cabins.

(on camera): We were handed this Purell wipe when we got on board.

(voice-over): Airlines are also not booking middle seats --

UNIDENTIFIED FLIGHT ATTENDANT In according to the social distancing.

MUNTEAN: -- hoping to keep up social distancing on board.

Industry groups say the average domestic flight is now carrying 17 passengers, up from just 10 passengers just over a week ago.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think the people that are traveling are probably healthy. They're not ill or critical or in a bad situation.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everybody should be wearing a mask.

MUNTEAN: The Department of Transportation gave airlines permission to start scaling back service to small city airports.

Plane-maker Boeing's CEO is forecasting a years-long recovery for airlines. Even still, the industry is holding out hope that new measures will mean a new normal of flying again.

DENNIS MUILENBURG, CEO, BOEING AIRLINES: We're hopeful that that will happen.

MUNTEAN (on camera): From what I saw, passengers do seem keen on social distancing not only on planes but also here in the terminal. Delta and United have both done away with boarding by zone. Instead, now boarding by row, starting with the back of the plane first.

At Reagan National Airport, Pete Muntean, CNN.


CABRERA: Joining us now is the president of the Association of Flight Attendants, Sara Nelson.

Sara, good to have you here.

We have so much to cover about the very frightening times in your industry.


CABRERA: You wrote a strong letter a few days ago to the Department of Transportation and the Department of Health and Human Services.

I want to read part of it. "We are calling on the Department of Transportation, in coordination with the Department of Health and Human Services and other relevant agencies to use its authority to mandate masks in aviation for crew, employees, and passengers, require personal protective equipment, and end all leisure travel until the virus is contained."

Sara, end all leisure travel is a strong demand. What feedback have you gotten from that? And how do you make that demand knowing that the aviation airlines that you work for are dying to sell every single ticket they can?

NELSON: We have made a lot of progress since we sent that letter nine days ago. In fact, now we do have masks required at all airlines. And we're starting to get the social distancing policies in place.

So that letter is very full of all of the steps we need to take to regain trust from the traveling public in being able to fly safely. Safety and security are the bread and butter of aviation. So that letter is about having the Department of Transportation and HHS take coordinated steps to put these policies in place.

I want to applaud our airlines because even without that instruction from the government they have taken those steps over the last nine days. And we are getting more to a place where we're going to have policies in place where people can feel confident to fly again.

And that is what this is about. We have to be able to make sure that aviation is helping to stop the spread of the virus and not contribute to it and, in fact, be a part of containing it in the air travel so that people will buy tickets again.

CABRERA: We know travel was one of the reasons this virus spread so quickly, according to the latest CDC report, which was sort of looking back to how we got here.

I want to show our viewers a picture you posted a few days ago, last weekend. It is a pretty full flight. A few people only wearing masks, certainly not all. As we have just discussed, a number of airlines are now mandating masks be worn by all passengers.

You, specifically, asked for this. You just said you believe it is a step in the right direction. Safe to say flight attendants are breathing easier now or do you still think travel should be halted until this pandemic is behind us?

NELSON: No. Listen, this was always contemplated that there was going to be a period of time where people were not traveling because of the virus, because of the concerns around the virus. And the few people who were buying tickets were not enough to sustain an industry.

This was about using these times to put clear policies in place so that everyone can feel confident.

The reality is that every single flight attendant on the front line should be able to have an N-95 mask to protect themselves because we're aviation's first responders. Those masks are not even fully available to our health care professionals.


So making sure there's a mandate that every single person traveling from the airport door and on to our airplanes is wearing a mask, if everyone is doing that, we're much safer. These are the policies and guidelines that CDC is recommending to everyone. They need to be applied to aviation.

I'm pleased to say we've made incredible strides in the last nine days and especially over the last four. And our airlines are stepping up here in the void of direction from the government.

So I think we're getting to a place where we will have a new norm in air travel but it will be a place where people can feel a lot more comfortable about buying tickets. And certainly the people I represent are feeling a lot better about the policies that are being put in place.

CABRERA: How do you handle enforcement of the mask rule? What if a passenger refuses to put on a mask or refuses to keep social distancing and you're at 30,000 feet in the air? What does a flight attendant do in that situation?

NELSON: So the masks are overlaid with other policies like social distancing policies, which should give us the ability to separate those people from other people so they're not a threat to someone else.

Flight attendants are very adept at dealing with this at 30,000 feet. We have people who don't want to put their seat belt on, don't want to put their tray table up. And we deal with this all the time. We do it expertly. We also do it with a little peer pressure from passengers, saying, come on, man, let's all get along together so we can get there safely.

And so we will handle this like we do every other regulation. And, in fact, passengers are supposed to comply with crew member instructions.

So at the end of the day, if someone can't do that for medical reasons, we'll treat it that way. But if they won't do it, then they have to pay some consequences, like they would with any other instruction from a crew member.

CABRERA: I want you to take a look as we discuss the future of air travel. This is in Hong Kong where they are testing out a sanitizing system, a booth that people walk through. They are sprayed with a microbial agent that can kill viruses on their skin and clothes.

Is this too extreme? Can you see something like this put in place here in the U.S.?

NELSON: Look, at this point in time, we really can't recommend this because we don't know enough about it. We are very familiar with getting sprayed with pesticides in our aircraft cabin. We have fought against that and stopped the spraying of pesticides and put other measures in place to keep insects off the planes.

We want to make sure when the airplane door is closed and we are pressurizing that cabin we are not stuck in a cabin with poisons that could be recirculated throughout the air and poison people.

So we'll be very diligent about checking this and making sure that this is a safe practice before this would be put in place and our crews would be really guinea pigs in a project that we don't know everything about yet.

CABRERA: Sara Nelson, thank you very much for joining us. And thanks to your crews as well for the work they're doing.

NELSON: Thank you very much.

CABRERA: Join CNN's Jake Tapper as he investigates what really happened during the U.S. fight against COVID-19. CNN's special report, "THE PANDEMIC AND THE PRESIDENT," airs tomorrow night at 10:00 here on CNN.

We'll be right back.



CABRERA: The president says he has a high degree of confidence that the coronavirus originated in a lab in Wuhan, China, although he declined to offer any proof. And his Intelligence Community, meantime, says they still haven't determined whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of a lab mishap.

As this investigation continues, the city of Wuhan is trying to return to normalcy after months of lockdown.

CNN Correspondent, David Culver, went back for a first-hand look at how life has changed.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's Tuesday, April 21st, and after, I guess, about two-and-a-half months.


CULVER: We are leaving Shanghai. The team is ready to go.

Where is (INAUDIBLE)? She is somewhere back there.

Oh, there you are.

Yes, headed to our next stop. So we'll see what that's going to be like.

(voice-over): Our journey back to the original epicenter of the novel coronavirus outbreak required weeks of planning. While, within China, some cities are easing travel restrictions, new hotspots can suddenly surface and so too new lockdowns, which could trap us mid-travel for an unknown amount of time.

But all layered up, and we felt this was the moment to return.

(on camera): And this is our ticket here, might be reversed, but, there, you can see it. Take a picture as you can see it. Our destination set for Wuhan. It'll be about a four-hour train ride.

We've noticed it's relatively full so far. I'd say at least maybe half full, which is pretty significant given there was next to no one traveling for several weeks.

Let's get on board here.

(voice-over): On board, the train attendants collect our passports. They try to place CNN Photojournalist Justin Robertson's accent.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where are you from?

JUSTIN ROBINSON, CNN PHOTOJOURNALIST: Where I'm from? I'm from London. Yes.


ROBINSON: England, yes.


CULVER: It is not just friendly conversation, because they want to be sure that we've been in the country for at least two weeks so that we're not potentially importing the virus from other areas. The threat to China now thought to be external.

Arriving in Wuhan, I'm quickly reminded of the last time we were here, almost three months to the day. We had spent just 29 hours on the ground when we abruptly learned that Wuhan was going on lockdown. CNN shared that scramble out of Wuhan with you.


CULVER (voice-over): A rush check-in, sparked by a 3:00 A.M. phone call.


(on camera): Our rush right now is to check out, get out. (voice-over): We headed to the train station as soon as we got word.

As we arrived, crowds already lined up for tickets stretching out the door.

(on camera): It's 4:15 in the morning here, and the only way to buy tickets at this hour is in person.


CULVER (voice-over): From there, was off to a Beijing hotel, quarantining before the rest of the world realized you'd soon be doing the same. And 14 days in a hotel room to make sure we had not contracted the virus. We continued our live reporting from quarantine, then we relocated to Shanghai.

And here we were three months later headed back to Wuhan.

(on camera): The lockdown was over but the hesitation remains.


CULVER: As we interviewed an American, who has lived in Wuhan since 2009, we also experienced the increased skepticism towards foreigners like us and the growing distress of Western media. A crowd of police questioning us.

(on camera): What did he say?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where are you from?

CULVER: Oh, you speak English. I'm from the U.S., but I live in Beijing.

(voice-over): It was not our only interaction with authorities. When we returned to what some Chinese scientists believed to be the source of the outbreak, the Huanan Seafood Market and started recording, police stepped out of a nearby tent to ask us why we were there.


(on camera): OK. What did he say?


CULVER (voice-over): Perhaps the most sensitive spot on our visit, this funeral home and crematorium. Normally, you do not find police posted outside. But last month, Chinese media published a report claiming more urns were distributed than reported coronavirus deaths, calling into question the official figures.

We wanted to investigate. But even as we were across the street, police quickly approached us.

UNIDENTIFIED CHINSE POLICE OFFICER: (SPEAKING FOREIGN LANGUAGE) CULVER (on camera): We just attempted to go to one of the funeral homes in hopes of seeing some of the grieving families and hearing from them their perspective of what transpired over the course of the lockdown and losing their loved ones.

As we were there, the police didn't like that we were there. They happened to be positioned right outside. Held us there for a little bit, didn't let us leave. And, finally, after a few minutes, we were able to continue on our way.

(voice-over): Given that many medical experts believe the virus transmitted from wildlife to humans, we wanted to go to another Wuhan wet market to see what they were selling.

(on camera): It's pretty much markets, scenes like this, all across China. This is actually a normal one. You've got a bag full of toads, some fish on the chopping block over there.

(voice-over): No wildlife here, but some snakes, lots of frozen poultry, along with an array of fresh vegetables and spices, all under the same roof.

Scenes like this appear to show the city of 11-plus million residents coming back to life. Folks enjoying a game of badminton or just soaking in the stillness, knowing that, after weeks sealed inside your home, this is a luxury.

And while many of the businesses remain closed, the ones that have reopened are changing up the way they operate, keeping customers outside, bringing the products to them.

Hotels, like ours, spraying down everyone who walks inside with disinfectant. The elevators are marked with a safe social distance. They provide a tissue to keep your bare fingers from touching the buttons.

All of this as the testing has become streamlined here.

Before we left, we had to get ours done, too. An easy appointment to make, a quick throat swab, $35 fee to expedite the results. And 24 hours later, we were handed the paperwork showing we were negative. And with that, we could then safely depart.

(on camera): A far less rushed checkout this time leaving Wuhan compared to three months ago. We're getting in the car and headed to the train, and we're headed to Shanghai.

(voice-over): On the train back, police carefully examining our passports and test results, allowing us to return to Shanghai without having to do another quarantine. Once again, leaving behind Wuhan as it slowly awakens in this post-lockdown era. The people left a bit shell-shocked, navigating this uncertain moment with a cautious optimism.

David Culver, CNN.


CABRERA: Our thanks to David Culver and his team.

Coming up, pictures of large crowds on the National Mall gathering to watch a Blue Angels fly over. All this, despite a stay-at-home order.


You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.


CABRERA: Thursday was National Adopt a Shelter Pet Day, but many animal shelters across the country are empty right now as people are looking to shelter-in-place with a bit of four-legged love.

"CNN Hero" Sherri Franklin, who finds homes for senior dogs, is working hard to safely place them.



SHERRI FRANKLIN, CNN HERO: When we got the shelter-in-place order for the COVID-19, we moved 86 dogs into foster homes.

Good morning, everyone.

We are having meet and greets, virtually, so that new adopters can meet their dogs before they actually touch them.

How's that feel?

It's really been so heartwarming to actually see the first time the new adopter actually gets to meet their dog in person.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Look. That's your mom.


FRANKLIN: It's a great time if you've been thinking about adopting a dog. It's nice to be able to wake up and not focus on the bad news.