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White House Ends Daily Medical Briefings, Rejects CDC Guidelines, Scales Back Fauci Appearances; States Reopening Despite Rising Number Of Cases; JetBlue And Spirit's Losses Are Even Worse Than Expected. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 7, 2020 - 10:00   ET

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


[10:00:00]

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Jim Sciutto.

The White House has mixed daily medical briefings pushing to reopen and has scaled back appearances from Dr. Fauci, the number one U.S. health expert on outbreaks like this, it is also now rejecting guidelines from the CDC on reopening. CNN first told you about that guidance to open places such as schools, businesses, churches safely, but we just learned the administration is now ignoring that guidance that it asked for.

HARLOW: It is an unprecedented move, holding back objectives, scientific guidance. As most states move to reopen, at least in part, by the end of the week, and none are meeting federal guidelines to do so. Let's begin this hour with our Elizabeth Cohen who has more. Good morning, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy, Jim.

Jim, as you said, this is unprecedented. I've been following the CDC for 30 years now, and presidents don't ignore the CDC. They may not do precisely exactly, but they don't ignore this agency, which is the most respected of its kind in the world.

Let's look again at what the CDC said last week, or what CNN found out last week, we first told you about it last week. Their guidelines were for childcare programs, schools and day camps, communities of faith, employers with vulnerable workers, restaurants and bars, mass transit administrators.

And also here, we have quote from a CDC official about what happened. This official said, we are used to dealing with the White House that ask for things and the chaos ensues. A team of people at the CDC spent enumerable hours in response to an ask from Debbie Birx. Dr. Deborah Birx is the doctor who is at the head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

Specifically, what these guidelines said were things like, if you're going to reopen a school, the children should be sitting at desks that are six feet apart. If you're going to be reopening a church, you should not have a choir or you should think about not having a choir because singing can make the virus spread more quickly because you're sort of spewing the virus out there if anyone is sick. You shouldn't have a collection plate that circulates. You should have it stationary.

It was those kinds of guidelines, and now, apparently, the White House is choosing to ignore it. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Wow. That's stunning, Elizabeth. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Let's discuss now with CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And, Sanjay, you're a doctor. You've been involved in these discussions. You speak every day or often to the senior most officials in this country handling the outbreak. Tell me your reaction to the White House asking for guidelines, and keep in mind, this is about how to open safely, right? It's not saying whether or not to open, it's how to do it safely. What's your reaction to asking for those guidelines and then deciding to ignore them?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's disappointing, Jim, but maybe not surprising as well. I mean, it's been sort of stunning since the beginning of this outbreak to see how much the CDC has been progressively sidelined here. And there were almost daily briefings from the CDC, which we all were listening into.

I can tell you, February 26, there was a specific briefing where Dr. Nancy Messonnier basically said, at this point, it's no longer a question of if this pandemic is going to affect the United States, it's when. And it's It was almost after that point I felt like the CDC got sort of sidelined in all of this.

As Elizabeth was mentioning in the past, whether it was going back to SARS, Julie Gerberding, H1N1, Richard Besser, Ebola, Tom Frieden, they were always at the forefront of this.

But I think the point is, I get questions all the time from people who say, what about summer camp this summer for my kids? What about the NCAA in the fall? And a lot of times we're going to the CDC and asking them because they apply what we know about this virus into real-life scenarios.

And it gets really specific. You talk about restaurants but you also talk about schools, you talk about camps. Like how can you do these things as safely as possible? We know the microbiology of the virus, but they're the investigators that make it really detailed for us.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Let's set aside the president for a moment here, because the fact is he actually has less influence on this than perhaps he imagined. I mean, it's really state and local leaders who are making these decisions.

So we have now more than 30 states around the country led by both Republican Democratic governors who are opening to some degree, here and there, slowly, et cetera. When you look at that, who is getting it right, in your view? Who is taking the steps properly on questions like the one you raised? Do you let churches open? Do you let schools open? Do you let summer camps open?

GUPTA: Well, you know, I mean, one of the things, if you look specifically at these gating criteria in terms of how these states should open and when they should open, none of the states are there yet.

[10:05:04]

It's not to say that none of them could get there, but they're not there yet. And some of it is just following the trends of making sure there is a 14-day downward trend, but then also making sure you have testing in place.

And what that means is maybe we should get away from the absolute tests that are necessary. People to get very fixated on that. But this idea that people can get tested when they need to get tested, if they have both the physical and psychological confidence to then be out in the public doing these sorts of things that they're talking about.

Jim, when you go back to work, are you going to be comfortable that you're not harboring the virus and the people around you are also not harboring the virus? How do we get to that point of confidence? There is no a state, really, in the country that has that level of testing yet. And then if you have the testing, as we've talked about, you need to then trace contacts and all that. It's almost an entire new industry, Jim.

People are hearing the term contact tracing for the first time. We talk about hundreds of thousands of people that will be necessary for this. It reminds me of like these great transformations in our society when we suddenly had to create new industries to be able to handle something. This is one of those points. And this is a -- until we have a vaccine or really effective therapeutic, this can work.

There are examples around the world where this has worked, Jim. It's not all doom and gloom. This can work.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Look at South Korea, but the U.S. just -- and the facts are the U.S. remarkably behind on the testing and contact tracing.

Final question for you, because folks listening at home, they want a sense of the timeline and hopefully a sense of some relief. Every day, you hear a different guess as to when a vaccine will be ready, a reliable one. But the fact is most folks say not until early next year. Do you need a reliable vaccine for folks to be going back to be doing most of what they did before this outbreak?

GUPTA: I think so. I mean, you can have significant improvements without the vaccine in terms of our lives overall. I think the testing -- and I know I sound like a broken record here, but I think that will go a long way, because I think it's not only containing the virus which testing will help. I think we're in a psychological funk right now. We don't know. Nobody knows what's going to happen. But we need data and we need individualized data, stuff that we can count on. So widespread testing that we can get the results early, that's accurate. I mean, without a vaccine, that can really go a long way.

And, by the way, the vaccine stuff, the trial that's coming out of Moderna, this is encouraging stuff. We should emphasize that. Going to a Phase 2 trial, the United States government has put half a million dollars behind this. If this works, this could be significant and maybe much more rapidly than vaccines of the past.

SCIUTTO: We should note countries like Germany, for instance, there is vaccine, but Germany, because of contact tracing and testing, has begun to make moves to open up, so it can happen before. Dr. Gupta, always good to have you on.

GUPTA: You too, Jim. Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Coronavirus, questions I'm sure you're asking every day, what to do, what to avoid, when to see a doctor. CNN's new podcast has the answers to those question. Join Dr. Gupta for Coronavirus, Facts Versus Fiction. Listen wherever you get your favorite podcast.

Starting tomorrow, some businesses in Texas will be able to reopen for the first time in weeks. Ed Lavandera is in Dallas. Ed, tell us what those are. How is Texas doing this? How are they kind of dipping their toes into the water here with reopening?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're moving rather quickly here, to be honest. The governor of Texas, when he first started announcing this phased reopening of the Texas economy a while back, he had originally said that barber shops, hair salons, nail salons would be included in the second phase of the reopening here, which wouldn't happen until May -- until mid-May, excuse me.

But the governor just a few days ago announced that those businesses can reopen tomorrow, which is interesting because there is one particular salon owner here in Texas who has garnered a great deal of attention for defying those orders and not closing down her salon here in the North Dallas area. In fact, that salon owner was put in jail for criminal and civil contempt of court for defying those orders. And after that kind of news broke out, the governor sped up the reopening of those types of businesses. So that will unfold tomorrow.

Gyms and bars will be the next phase. We're told so, as we understand right now, that will happen in about ten days or so. And this is kind of what we're seeing in many parts of the country, this push to reopen the economy as quickly as possible. Poppy?

HARLOW: Ed, thanks so much for that reporting there.

Let's talk about Denver, Colorado, where just this week, the city saw an uptick in cases, some businesses still set to reopen this weekend. Denver's mayor, Mayor Michael Hancock, is with me. Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time. [10:10:01]

We were just looking at daily cases, and we can put them on the screen here. If you look, these are new cases. And if you look just between May 4th and May 5th, for example -- I think we have another one we can show you -- May 4th, you had 58 new cases, May 5th, you had 137 new cases. Help us understand why now is the time to open.

MAYOR MICHAEL HANCOCK (D-DENVER, CO): First of all, Poppy, good to be with you this morning. Thanks for having me.

What you're seeing also is a correlation of Denver stepping up its testing. We have been working hard, working very closely with the state to try to increase testing and accessibility to testing. We have more institutions that are able to test in our state. And we expect that our numbers, the number of positives, would increase as we increase our testing.

And so we're looking at the full spectrum of the impact of COVID in our communities before we make decisions to open them up. And that's why, as we look at all the other metrics, we're feeling a little more better about opening up some of the operations within our city.

HARLOW: Understood. Here is what Grayson Landauer, who is barista or was a barista at Denver International Airport, until they were laid off in late March, said, quote, I'm really scared about going back in. I feel like I'm being held hostage. Pay your bills, maybe get sick or stay home and safe, but you're left in a financial situation that's terrifying. This will kill people. It's going to kill people and it feels like no one cares.

Do you think that this reopening could result in more deaths?

HANCOCK: We certainly hope not. And, obviously, one death is too many. And we've had close to 200 deaths -- just over 200 deaths here in Denver. And we're doing what we can to blunt the curve. We've said that from day one. And I think as a state and as a city, we got it in front of this at the right time.

With regard to our employees and our workers, our businesses in the City of Denver, our whole focus has been about protecting everyone and doing what we can to make sure that we keep people healthy. And now, we're working with those businesses to make sure that proper protocols are in place to allow folks to go back to work at the appropriate time.

And at the airport, the airport was one of the first places in Denver, quite frankly, that started to put in measures to sanitize and make sure people had access to those measures to help keep them safe. And we will strengthen those as we begin to open the airport or at least expect to see more people come to the airport because the airport never shut down.

HARLOW: There's also, obviously, the concern about livelihood, right? And I completely understand that. I mean, you look at Denver's population, and the latest census numbers tell us that it's almost 30 percent Hispanic. And there is an incredibly troubling poll out of The Washington Post this morning that shows that Hispanics are nearly twice as likely as White Americans to have lost their job in this crisis. Are you seeing that play out in Denver?

HANCOCK: We are seeing that people of color all over this country have been disproportionately impacted by this virus in our society, whether it's been contracting the virus, dying from the virus, being implicated as a result of jobs being lost and institutions being closed down. Absolutely, we're concerned about people of color, Latino, African-Americans, everyone who has been disproportionately impacted by this.

And that's one reason why, I would say, help to protect everyone, then two, make sure people have access to the testing and that we're able to get the testing to them and make sure that they're also able to access healthcare, which is another big hurdle.

HARLOW: Of course.

HANCOCK: And how do we make sure that we get this economy moving again? And that's really the balance that we've tried to walk, but nothing trumps keeping people safe, and then let's try to get this economy moving again on the right pace so that we can ease back into the economy while at the same time maintaining the priorities of health and safety.

HARLOW: I understand that. There is no easy answer.

Let me just end on this because, right, one hour outside of Central Denver is the JBS Greeley meat-packing plant. And they have had the highest concentration of COVID cases in your area, 287 deaths. And I want to show this picture.

This is a picture that CNN obtained. The woman's name is Tin Ei (ph). She's worked at that plant for 11 years. And her daughter sent this to us. She's fighting for her life, she's on a ventilator. And her daughter told CNN, fearing loss of pay and inability to pay bills, she kept going to work despite not feeling well and having a cough.

We reached out to JBS about her, we haven't heard back. But I wanted to show this to people ask you about it because it brings to life what so many people are doing that are deemed essential and that are going to work because they're scared of not having a paycheck and now this woman is fighting for her life. It's an impossible choice and I just wonder what your reaction is to that given that it's right outside Denver.

[10:15:03]

HANCOCK: No, you're absolutely right, Poppy, and I thank you for sharing that story. All of us here in Colorado and across this country, we know the vast majority of the people who make up our economy are folks who simply can't stay a day off or to stay home. They are blue collar workers, the people who are the engine of our economy, and unfortunately the fear of, as this woman fear, you know, I cannot afford to miss a day, I cannot afford to stay home for a week, and I certainly cannot afford to shut down the plant because I'm going from paycheck to paycheck.

And my heart just absolutely sticks (ph) for them, because I have members of my family who are like that. And I know they've lost their jobs. But when I hear the stories that I could not miss a day so I kept working and now we have situations like this. My prayers and thoughts remain with those individuals and families, and that's why every day I get up, and the focus, the mission, the purpose to kind of open this economy up in way that keep them safe and allows them to take care of their families.

HARLOW: We wish you luck in that, Mayor, and we'll keep track on her condition and wishing for turnaround for her. Mayor Michael Hancock, thank you so much.

HANCOCK: Thanks, Poppy.

HARLOW: Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, airline executives grilled on Capitol Hill, one senator accusing them of misleading consumers about vouchers and refunds during the pandemic. We're going to hear what airline, a major one, is saying about that accusation, next.

HARLOW: Also, several of the nation's biggest pork processing plants set to reopen after the outbreaks swept through their facilities. What does this mean also for the safety workers, we were just talking about that, and when go try to buy meat at the grocery store?

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[10:20:00]

SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN and more bad news for airlines in the midst of this outbreak this morning. JetBlue and Spirit Airlines reporting first quarter losses even worse than analysts have predicted. This as United Airlines has now changed its plans to cut employee hours after facing internal criticism, including the threat of a lawsuit. The airline is making its work reduction policy voluntary.

Under the program, full-time employees will retain their full-time status if they choose to reduce their work week to 30 air hours. The airline did not make it clear that the policy could become mandatory if there aren't enough volunteers.

Joining me now, Josh Earnest. He is Chief Communications Officer at United Airlines. He's also former White House Press Secretary under President Obama. Josh, good to have you on this morning. Thanks for taking the time.

JOSH EARNEST, CHIEF COMMUNICATIONS OFFICER, UNITED AIRLINES: Good to see you, Jim. Thank you.

SCIUTTO: So, a change in policy here, one after employees threatened a lawsuit, but also there were concerns that this violated the conditions of the CARES Act, which provided financial support to companies, including airlines. Was it a mistake to initially make this work production plan mandatory?

EARNEST: It wasn't, Jim. And here is what we're trying to do, Jim. We are looking all across our company to try to reduce costs because we are going through the worst crisis that commercial aviation has ever faced. The drop in airline travel demand has been deeper, has been sharper and has lasted longer than anything we've ever seen before.

So we're doing everything that we can to reduce cost. That's why our president and our CEO have both eliminated salary moving forward. Executives at the company reduced our salaries by 50 percent. We're reducing our schedules because that's beneficial for reducing costs. And we're asking our employees to look for ways that they can save money, including by reducing their own hours.

And, Jim, we've been blown away by the responses of our employees. Tens of thousands of United workers have come forward voluntarily agreeing to reduce hours because they know that it will benefit the company in these challenging times. It's an indication just how loyal our workforce is to this industry and --

SCIUTTO: Listen. I get that airlines are -- I mean, I could see takeoffs from national airport just dropped precipitously, so I know that it's rough. But as the company is getting forms of aid, for instance, there are other questions too about refunds for folks who booked tickets but either they don't feel safe taking those flights anymore, getting credits as opposed to their money back. Is that a mistake as taxpayers help fund relief for airlines?

EARNEST: Yes. And, Jim, we should be really clear about what our policy is. If you have a refundable ticket, you can get a refund anytime you want. For non-refundable tickets, we are giving our customers this extraordinary flexibility. We're allowing all of our customers who have travel plans later this year to change those travel plans without paying a fee. And if they would prefer, they can cancel those plans and they can get a travel credit that's good for the next 24 months. So we do know that people want flexibility and that's exactly what we're bringing to them.

SCIUTTO: So let's talk about the business climate for airlines here. I mean, the drops are just precipitous, 95 percent drops in air traffic. With fewer people on board both due to they're out of work, they don't have the money to travel anymore or the need to travel, but also concerns about social distancing, I just wonder how do airlines recover from this? Can they survive?

EARNEST: Yes. Jim, I think the limiting factor right now, you identified some of them, but a lot of them are the shelter-in-place orders that are in place. They've been put in place by local governments to contain the spread of the virus.

And so what we are doing, Jim, is preparing our airline to be in a place where we can build confidence in people's ability to travel once much of those shelter-in-place orders start to be lifted.

[10:25:00] So we're requiring all our customers on board our planes to wear masks, our flight attendants too. That will limit the spread of the virus. We're overhauling our cleaning procedures, using a device called an electrostatic sprayer. This is a device that hospitals use to clean hospital rooms. We're using it to clean the interior of our aircraft. And starting next month, we'll do that before every single flight.

So we want people to have the confidence that they can travel safely and take care of their health even when they're traveling onboard a commercial aircraft at United.

SCIUTTO: And I get that. Just that a whole host of businesses are finding that folks just don't have the confidence, and it's going to take time to build that confidence, and there's nothing more confining than an airplane, right, being up in the air. I just wonder if the sad fact is that, one, many of these job losses will end up being permanent, but also, two, that folks are going to have to pay more for tickets, right, because you're not going to be able to fill these planes.

EARNEST: No. I don't think that people will necessarily have to pay more for tickets. And you can go to united.com and see that good deals are available right now.

But, Jim, here is one other point I think it's really important for people to understand. If there's one thing that we've learned from the last two months or of sheltering in place, it's that, as powerful as this technology is, and it's allowing you to kind of have this conversation halfway across the country have it to be broadcast all around the world, it's no substitute for an in-person interaction, in- person conversation, showing up to a graduation or a wedding.

My mom actually uses this time to read to my kids every afternoon. She loves that interaction, but it's no substitute for being to hold those kids in her lap and read them a book. So we know that that's true (ph), and that's something that airlines provide and United does it better than anybody else.

SCIUTTO: Listen, and I know families at home are struggling with this every day. One question just quickly before I go.

As you know, White House press briefings are back after a hiatus of 417 days. You, of course, served as the press secretary under President Obama. Are you happy to see those White House press briefings return, and do you believe Kayleigh McEnany, the person now filling that role, when she said she won't lie from the podium?

EARNEST: Well, Jim, here is what I'll say. I obviously had the honor of serving in that role. I love that job, and I took very seriously the responsibility that comes with that job to communicate effectively with the American people, give them accurate, timely, relevant information so they can understand how people in positions of power are exercising their authority, but also so that the American people can understand what steps they need to take. And in a crisis like the one that we're facing now, that's more important than ever. SCIUTTO: Josh Earnest, we appreciate your time, and we wish the employees of United Airlines the best of luck.

EARNEST: Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: Just hours after saying the U.S. can't be certain the coronavirus originated in a Chinese lab, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo doubles down on that theory. The question now is where is the evidence. We'll talk about it, ahead.

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