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Georgia, Colorado Cases Decline Even After Business Openings. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, when asked, Governor Ron DeSantis said that he would approve of that, Kate.

So, that's a big development here in the state of Florida.



BOLDUAN: Thank you so much, Rosa. I really appreciate it.

And thank you all so much for joining me today. I'm Kate Bolduan.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

With more than 85,000 American deaths from coronavirus and the death projection for the next 2.5 months being revised to almost 150,000, the U.S. House of Representatives was told today, time is running out, there is no national plan, and the Trump administration missed the early warning signs of the deadly pandemic.

That was the message today from Rick Bright, until recently the head of the office at the Department of Health and Human Services developing measures to fight infectious diseases, such as coronavirus, delivering damning testimony before Congress today, giving a dire warning about the pandemic and the Trump administration's continued lack of preparedness, in his view.

Bright saying officials were dismissive of his warnings back in January that the U.S. did not have enough personal protective equipment.


DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: I was met with indifference, saying they were either too busy, they didn't have a plan, they didn't know who was responsible for procuring those. In some cases, they had a sick child and would get back to it later in

the week, a number of excuses, but never any action.


TAPPER: Bright going on to describe an e-mail from an N95 mask supplier in January, calling in a moment he will never forget.


BRIGHT: And he said: We're in deep (EXPLETIVE DELETED). The world is. And we need to act.


TAPPER: Bright says he got no response after pushing that to the highest levels of the Department of Health and Human Services, and it was at that moment, he said, that he knew there would be a crisis, saying, the Trump administration had no coordinated plan to combat coronavirus and continues to not have a master plan.

Bright, of course, was removed from his post, alleging retaliation from the Trump administration for refusing to promote a drug that President Trump continued to push to help fight coronavirus, a drug since declared dangerous by the Food and Drug Administration.

The White House and President Trump say that Bright is simply a disgruntled employee. I'm going to speak with Bright's attorney Debra Katz in just moments.

But, first, CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports on Bright's stunning assessment of how the Trump administration dropped the ball in battling this deadly virus.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Today, the vaccine official ousted from his job during the coronavirus pandemic said the administration's failure to warn the public about coronavirus cost lives.

BRIGHT: I believe Americans need to be told the truth. People were not as prepared as they could have been and should have been.

COLLINS: Testifying for the first time since he was removed from his role as the head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, Rick Bright with a dire warning that the U.S. doesn't have a master plan and there still aren't enough tests.

BRIGHT: There still are not enough tests.

REP. DEBBIE DINGELL (D-MI): So, even this week, as we're being told, anybody who wants to test can have a test, is that true in the United States of America?

BRIGHT: No. COLLINS: Bright alleges he was demoted for objecting to the

widespread distribution of a drug promoted by the president.


COLLINS: And he says he was pressured to make it more widely available.

REP. BEN RAY LUJAN (D-NM): Did the pressure from the White House and HHS general counsel put you in a difficult position?


COLLINS: Bright says his superiors disregarded his early warnings about masks shortages, even though he passed along this urgent message from Mike Bowen, one of the only mask manufacturers in the U.S.

BRIGHT: We're in deep shit. The world is. And we need to act.

And I have pushed that forward to the highest levels I could in HHS. I got no response.

COLLINS: The former vaccine chief said he's troubled by the government's seeming inability to ramp up production of simple resources like swabs.

BRIGHT: It says to me, sir, that there is no master, coordinated plan on how to respond to this outbreak.

COLLINS: Bright cautioned that there could be more shortages to come if the U.S. doesn't make a plan now about how to distribute a vaccine once it's ready.

He also cast doubt on the president's optimistic timeline about when that will be.

TRUMP: I think we're going to have a vaccine by the end of the year.

DINGELL: Will we be able to vaccinate people in the next few months?

BRIGHT: It's very unlikely.

COLLINS: As he left the White House for Pennsylvania, President Trump said he watched Bright, but dismissed his allegations.

TRUMP: To me, he's nothing more than a really disgruntled, unhappy person.


COLLINS: The health and human services secretary also pushed back on Bright's claims as he testified, arguing that they're unfounded.

ALEX AZAR, U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Everything he's complaining about was achieved.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, Mike Bowen is that executive that Rick Bright is talking about there warning about the potential mask shortages that he saw coming months ago, he says.

He also testified today he told lawmakers that he has been a lifelong Republican, but he says he's been embarrassed by the way that this pandemic has been handled. And he says the scientists are the ones that the United States and the federal government need to be listening to. And he doesn't think that's happening.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much for.

Joining me now is Rick Bright's attorney, Debra Katz.

Thanks for joining me, Ms. Katz.

In a statement, the Department of Health and Human Services said Mr. Bright had limited visibility into the whole-of-government response to COVID-19.

And I want you to respond to the clip that we just heard from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar. Let's run that again.


AZAR: Everything he's complaining about was achieved. Everything he talked about was done.

Oh, and, by the way, whose job was it to actually lead the development of vaccines? Dr. Bright.

So, while we're launching Operation Warp Speed, he's not showing up for work to be part of that.


TAPPER: So, there are two accusations in there. Let's take them one at a time, if we could, Ms. Katz.

So, Azar says, everything he's complaining about was achieved, everything he talked about was done. Is that not true?

DEBRA KATZ, ATTORNEY FOR RICK BRIGHT: Of course, it's not true. And that is just such a tragic response.

There's no responsibility being taken for the fact that lives are being lost needlessly every single day. We still do not have very, very basic things that Dr. Bright testified were needed.

And the fact that this administration continues to lie to the American public about our preparedness, when we are going to be entering into a period where we're going to be socked again with both the influenza season and COVID, it's just tragic, that we continue to be lied to by this administration. Dr. Bright testified for four hours about things that still haven't been done that need to be done for us to confront and combat this virus. And this response is really shocking.

TAPPER: All right, let's take the second half of what Azar said there.

He said: "By the way, whose job was it to lead the development of a vaccine? Dr. Bright. So while we were launching Operation Warp Speed" -- that's to produce a vaccine -- "he's not showing up for work to be part of that."

What's your response to that?

KATZ: That's just another smear campaign by this administration.

Dr. Bright has 800 hours of accrued medical leave. He's never taken a sick day. And as a result of what happened and the forced removal from the position, he suffered a great deal of stress and his blood pressure shot up.

And at the direction of his physician, his hypertension was out of control. And he's been out on medical leave. He's earned the medical leave, this accrued medical leave. And the administration knows exactly where he is.

The other thing that we have alleged in the complaint is, when he was removed from his position, there was no position that they were actually sending him to. So he has spent the last week trying to discuss what this position would be if he were to go to NIH.

But what this administration still has not answered is the request from the Office of Special Counsel to stay his removal and leave him in his position as director of BARDA, which is, of course, what is best for this nation. And it is what Dr. Bright most hopes will happen here, that he will be allowed to continue in his role and lead the nation's efforts to combat this very, very deadly virus.

TAPPER: So, let's talk about that, because your client said today that the U.S. can count on him to do his part to fight the pandemic.

If he is not reinstated at BARDA, the name of the office where he was at HHS...

KATZ: Yes.

TAPPER: ... will be eventually report for work at the NIH, this new gig, to try to help defeat this deadly virus in a new capacity?

KATZ: Yes. He is a committed public servant. He has spent his entire life working to prepare for something like this. He is singularly qualified to lead this nation's efforts.

And, unfortunately, he's been sidelined and he's being put in a very diminished role. But whatever role he's put in, he will work to -- on behalf of the American people, because his entire mission is to save lives. And he will do that.

The issue is, will they ever give him a real role? And thus far, they have never identified a position that would be appropriate for him.

TAPPER: So, when will -- so, he hasn't even -- he hasn't showed up to work because there's no place for him to go?

KATZ: I don't want to subscribe to he hasn't showed up for work.


He -- it was shocking that he was removed from his position. As we have alleged in the complaint, he was lied to about what the new position would be.

When he called NIH, they had no knowledge that he was going there. He spoke to Kadlec, who said, I don't know why Collins is saying this to you. And he got ping-ponged. There was no role. It was an absolute pretext that they were putting him someplace else.

And as soon as he came forward and said he was bringing a whistle- blower complaint, it went from, we're putting you in this new role because this is a very important role to casting aspersions about him and making untruthful statements about him.

There has been no role. He has reached out to NIH to say, what would this role be? What would my duties be? What are my responsibilities?

But as recently as last week during a press conference, in a real act of retaliation, they were asked whether he was going to lead the shark tank effort. And they said absolutely not.

So, I don't think this administration wants him. And, in fact, today, the president tweeted something that suggested that somebody as eminent as Dr. Bright should not have a role working for the federal government.

So, this administration can criticize him for not showing up at work at a time that he's doctor's orders not to go to work, but the fact is, they haven't given him a position.

TAPPER: All right, Debra Katz, thank you so much. We appreciate your time today.

KATZ: Oh, absolutely. Thank you.

TAPPER: Coming up next, I'm going to talk to a pandemic expert who has said it's possible up to 800,000 people in the U.S. could ultimately die from COVID-19.

Plus, the future is here -- a look at how new technology is being used to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our national lead today, Georgia and Colorado, states that started reopening a few weeks ago, are seeing a decline in new coronavirus cases which some health experts say could be because of the continued social distancing guidelines that remain in place. In total, 24 states have seen a drop in the past week while only nine have seen an increase.

And as CNN's Erica Hill reports for us now, now, President Trump is pushing for schools to reopen by the fall.


ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Los Angeles County beaches are back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think I have been going down to Orange County a lot to get my fix. So it's nice to be at home.

HILL: Open today for exercise only, no sun bathing or large groups. The jersey shore, along with other beaches in New Jersey will be opened by Memorial Day. The Grand Canyon allowing limited access tomorrow, Yellowstone National Park ready to welcome visitors on Monday. And the Mall of America, the country's largest, will reopen June 1st.

In the country's epicenter, COVID-19 hospitalizations, ICU admissions and the percentage of people testing positive for the virus are all down.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK CITY, NY: Three for three, a perfect day, New York City.

HILL: Nearly half the country, 24 states showing a decline in new cases over the past week. Since reopening three weeks ago, new cases in Georgia are down 12 percent. Colorado's dropping 36 percent. Pennsylvania's numbers are down 14 percent as the voices pushing to reopen that state grow louder.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're not sheep, we're people.

HILL: With encouragement from President Trump, visiting a medical equipment factory in the state today.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Most of this equipment is made in the USA.

HILL: Packed bars in Wisconsin after the state Supreme Court ruled that a stay-at-home order there was unlawful and unenforceable.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Welcome to America!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am more than happy to be back.

HILL: The governor warning the move will set his state back. GOV. TONY EVERS (D-WI): You cannot let the court's ruling undo all

the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsinites have made over these past few months.

HILL: Parents wondering what September will bring as the president pushes for children to return to the classroom.

TRUMP: I think that we have to open our schools. Young people are very little affected by this.

HILL: The virus, while often less severe in children, can affect young people who can also be carriers. Seventeen states are now investigating possible cases of a rare but concerning inflammatory illness in school age children, which may be linked to COVID-19.

Most of the children impacted more than 100 are in New York.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): The facts from this virus have changed. And I believe they will continue to change.

HILL: As states begin to reopen, new findings from the National Institutes of Health show respiratory droplets could remain in the air for 8 minutes, raising concerns about how long the virus may linger.

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: This is a highly contagious disease. That's why question are seeing outbreaks in call centers and choirs and other places where people are in a confined space with a lot of others. And I do really worry when social distancing guidelines are lifted.


HILL: As we see restrictions lifted, I want to show you some live pictures out of Orlando, Florida, where Universal CityWalk is reopening at the top of the hour, at 4:00. It will be opened for -- from 4:00 to 10:00 every day, just a handful of businesses, though, restaurants opening. There will be limited menu, tables spaced appropriately, we are told, no valet parking and it will continue to monitor to see about possible changes in the future, Jake.

TAPPER: All right. Erica Hill, thank you so much.

And joining us now, Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Michael, good to see you again. So let me ask you --


TAPPER: So, let me ask you, it's been nearly three weeks since Georgia reopened. And that state has not seen a huge spike, neither has Colorado or Pennsylvania or Florida.

What do you make of it?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I think there are actually two things we have to consider here.


One is give it another week or two, to see, if, in fact, those transmissions that occurred three weeks ago resulted now in cases finally just being detected. But I think also we have to consider the possibility that just as we have been talking about from a pandemic standpoint, that if you look at influenza, you have initial peaks of cases that occur or first wave. It disappears, literally. Very few cases and then two-to-three months later, it comes back with a vengeance.

So I don't take any comfort that the viruses basically are -- there were few or more of them right now as much as I look at what's going to happen long term.

TAPPER: I've also heard from a health expert that maybe one of the things that's going on in Georgia and Florida and elsewhere, is that while they are easing back into reopening some stores and the like, some retail outlets, people are continuing to wear masks. They're continuing to practice social distancing.

So, it's possible that that is even more effective than we thought it would be?

OSTERHOLM: Right. We have to just be honest and tell the public we don't know. It could be partly that they're still doing that. It could be the fact that the cases will increase as we see the second or third level of transmissions from two weeks ago, or it could be that we could all be witnessing this virus just slowly in a sense going away for now. But I think the important message there is that so we can forecast it now that, in fact, if that happens, that is not necessarily a good sign. That that means it very well could be acting like an influenza virus which just discuss disappear and then it comes back with a vengeance.

And so, we're left with all these unanswered questions, what's going on?

TAPPER: That's right. In 1918, the first wave actually was nothing compared to the second and third waves of the influenza.


TAPPER: Today, Richard Bright, the ousted director of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority or BARDA, said that, quote, lives were lost because of the Trump administration's delayed response in getting PPE, personal protective equipment, like masks to doctors. He also said that doctors and nurses are wearing substandard masks.

Is this true? Is this continuing to be a problem? What more needs to be done?

OSTERHOLM: Number one, we have been talking about PPE since day one. I believe that a healthcare worker is not protected until they have an N95 respirator on when they are working in wards with COVID cases. We've seen many healthcare workers who have become cases of COVID infection and that, more importantly, not only infected severely ill even suggesting maybe a dose phenomena. I think a lot of this can go back to inadequate PPE.

Ultimately, one day, we're going to look back and learn that we didn't protect our healthcare workers nearly enough. What I'm concerned about going forward, how do we, if we have a big surge of cases like in 1918, what do we do then for protective equipment? So, we need now to be really thinking about that.

And now is not the time to ease up and say, well, cases are going down, maybe we're over the hump. If anything, it's more preparation now than we have ever done.

TAPPER: A businessman that testified, Mike Bowen from Texas. He talked about how he warned the administration about the pandemic back in January. He offered to manufacture these N95 masks you were talking about. Rick Bright sounded the alarm in the administration, Bowen and Bright said the administration ignored his offer.

Here was his response when asked about that today and the fact that Bright was ultimately reassigned.


MIKE BOWEN, CO-OWNER, PRESTIGE AMERITECH: I am a Republican. I have been a life long Republican. And I'm embarrassed by how that's been handled.


TAPPER: What's your reaction?

OSTERHOLM: Well, we didn't do nearly enough to get prepared into those weeks and months up to the actual recognition of major transmission in the United States. I have an article coming out in "Foreign Affairs" this week that actually goes into detail about that very issue.

I can say there are some good news issues. On January 20th, our center announced we believed there would be a pandemic. I met with leadership at the 3M Company that day and said there's going to be a pandemic, I'm certain of it. And the next day, they went into full production, 24/7, all the machines in their organization.

And so, some people did respond early, but not because of our government, but because of other information that was available to them that could have been available to our government.

TAPPER: All right. Michael Osterholm, as always, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

OSTERHOLM: Thanks so much, Jake. Sure. Thank you.

TAPPER: President Trump is now openly griping about Dr. Anthony Fauci. Next, our behind the scenes reporting on the relationships between the president and the top doctor.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, President Trump is for the second day in a row publicly complaining about Dr. Anthony Fauci, criticizing a key member of his coronavirus task force for the second time in as many days.


TRUMP: In January, I put -- and I was criticized by everybody, including Dr. Fauci. I put in a wall. We put in a very strong wall. Only a small number of people were allowed in and they were all U.S. citizens.

I totally disagreed with him on schools and we will have -- I call them embers, I call them spikes. He called -- notice he used the word spike. Well, you might have that and we'll put it out.