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When Will Schools Reopen?; Wisconsin Supreme Court Strikes Down Stay-At-Home Order; Former Top U.S. Vaccine Expert Issues Stark Warning. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2020 - 15:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us this hour.

The former top government vaccine expert, Rick Bright, ousted from his posts last month, delivered a sobering assessment to Congress today of the U.S. response to the coronavirus pandemic, and warning of prolonged pain to come if the Trump administration doesn't step up now.

During three hours of testimony on Capitol Hill, Bright said the administration needs a national testing strategy now and a centralized strategy for getting the much-needed supplies to front-line workers now, moves the Trump administration has resisted since the beginning.

Bright listing out numerous examples of missed opportunities, slow responses and wrong calls by the White House, leading to what Bright described as a crisis that did not have to be this deadly.

And , overall, his message was clear: Time is running out.


DR. RICK BRIGHT, FORMER DIRECTOR, BIOMEDICAL ADVANCED RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY: Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to improve our response now based on science, I fear the pandemic will get worse and be prolonged.

There will be likely a resurgence of COVID-19 this fall. It will be greatly compounded by the challenges of seasonal influenza. Without better planning, 2020 could be the darkest winter in modern history.


BOLDUAN: The president is already responding to this, and he is not happy. More on that in just a moment.

But here's where the numbers stand right now. The world just passed a pretty staggering milestone. More than 300,000 people have now died from the virus, almost 85,000 deaths here in the United States alone, but the data today also shows this good news. The daily number of new cases on average across the country is

dropping. The rate of new deaths on average per day is dropping as well. Compared to a week ago, you can see that nearly half the states in the country are seeing the average number of cases go down, average number of new cases go down.

How does this whole kind of complicated picture now fit together?

Well, let's get to it.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins, she's at the White House. She's joining us right now.

Kaitlan, Rick Bright had a lot to say today, and it is clear the White House was watching this testimony closely.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the president even said as much, Kate.

And he came out to the South Lawn before he departed for Pennsylvania. He described Rick Bright, as he believes, a disgruntled employee. You saw the health and human services secretary, Alex Azar, also push back on a lot of the claims that Rick Bright has made, not only in his complaints that he was making while he was still testifying today.

And Alex Azar said he believes those claims are unfounded. He pointed to things like ventilator production, things that Rick Bright was warning about that they did not have enough of.

But it's an interesting case, because what Rick Bright saying -- and he had a pretty stark warning close to the end of his testimony -- was that he believed more American lives could have been saved if the warnings about mask shortages, drug shortages and best practices had been heeded earlier on by the federal government and they had given better information to the American public to warn about the severity of what was coming with this coronavirus outbreak.

And he said a lot of those warnings came from himself.


BRIGHT: We knew going into this pandemic that critical medical equipment would be in short supply. I pushed those warnings to our critical infrastructure protection team.

I pushed those warnings to our Strategic National Stockpile team, who has the responsibility of procuring those medical supplies for our stockpile. In each of those, 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.


COLLINS: So, he says his past warnings were unheeded.

But, Kate, today, he also talked about what's to come if the U.S. doesn't take more aggressive countermeasures for the second wave of coronavirus that he said is likely to happen this fall.

And he also gave what seemed to be a much more realistic timeline about a vaccine. He said he does not think one is going to be ready by the end of the year, like the president said he believes today. He said 12 to 18 months, if everything goes right, and he said rarely does everything go right when you're producing a vaccine.

And, of course, he was the guy who headed the vaccine agency and was there for several years before he was in charge. And he also warned about the U.S. needs to basically come up with a plan right now for how to widely distribute that vaccine, or, Kate, he said that there could be a vaccine and everyone might not be able to get it.

BOLDUAN: Right. Seems another worst-case scenario that we could be looking at.

Kaitlan, thank you.

Joining me right now is former U.S. Surgeon General and the author of the new book "Together" Dr. Vivek Murthy, and Beth Cameron, the senior director for global health, security and biodefense on the National Security Council under President Obama, a position that the Trump administration eliminated in 2017.


Thank you both for being here.

Dr. Murthy, what do you think of Rick Bright's testimony and, more broadly, I think, the warnings that he is offering up here?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, I think what he's pointing to is something that many public health experts have recognized over the last several months, which is that, when you are responding to a pandemic, you need to communicate effectively, and you need a strategy for action.

And both of those have to be guided by science. I think the concern that many of us have had is that, while there have been stumbles in the early days of this pandemic response, we understand that many pandemics, especially when the pathogen is new, that there will be stumbles.

But what matters is how quickly you recover and how you learn from that. And we have, unfortunately, seen continued stumbles when it comes to making sure we are rolling out testing at adequate capacity, which we are still not, making sure that we are developing the contact tracing capacity that we need, which we still don't have, and making sure that we're communicating consistently to the public, which we're not.

And a clear example of that is just look at masks. The CDC has clearly said, we need to be wearing masks in public. We're seeing mixed messages come from political leadership.

All of this is something you can't afford at a time like this, because what happens is, we have asked people to make extraordinary sacrifices, to stay home, to often make big changes in their family life. Some people have lost jobs.

And we have asked them to make these sacrifices because we have said, we need to buy us time. And the question is, are we using that time well? I don't think we're using it well enough. And if we don't change our approach, then, unfortunately, we are not going to be prepared for the fall, when we will likely see a second surge.

BOLDUAN: Beth, I'm curious as to what you're looking for right now, because you were deeply involved in authoring the pandemic playbook that the Obama administration left for the Trump administration.

And Rick Bright saying today that the White House is not following that playbook. The HHS secretary, though, pushing back, saying that Bright is complaining about things that have -- all the things he's complaining about are things that have been achieved.

How do you assess this?

DR. BETH CAMERON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE GLOBAL HEALTH SECURITY EXPERT: I think it's really clear that we don't have a centrally coordinated, organized response.

And I think, building on what Vivek just said, the key question here is, what were we doing with the time that we lost in February, in March, in April, and now into May?

And the playbook was intended to provide a list of questions. It's really an operational plan for people at the White House to be anticipating what kinds of challenges and failures, frankly, might happen, so they can get ahead, rather than just reacting.

I think what we're seeing right now is that we're really still reacting, and we see now that states are starting to reopen, even though cases are not declining, even in accordance with the White House's own guidelines that cases need to be declining for at least 14 days.

Where that leaves us is a situation where there are thousands of cases still out there. We're reopening in a differential rate across the country. And it's just math that will tell us that we're going to see that spike that Vivek and Dr. Bright warned about in the fall.

This is something that the federal government, the White House could really be helpful in providing unified metrics for a coordinated phased reopening, so that what we see is not chaos. This virus really thrives in a chaotic environment. And, unfortunately, until we see a much more organized approach to all of these things, contact tracing, testing, getting the infection rate down, masks, all of these things, we're going to see more and more -- more and more deaths, unfortunately.

BOLDUAN: And what you're getting to is something I'm quite interested in today, which is this complicated, maybe more of a complex picture being painted by the data that we are -- that we're taking in, right?

Dr. Murthy, you look -- looking forward, we're looking at the potential of a second wave, a pretty dark outlook that is being painted by Rick Bright, for sure, in the fall and winter, as states are opening up.

But then you look at the relatively good news in the picture that we see today in some of the data, which is that average new daily cases are dropping pretty much everywhere, what does this complex picture tell you?

MURTHY: Well, Kate, what it tells us is that there's still a lot we don't know about this virus.

If you look at all the pieces, they don't entirely make sense now, and that tells us that there's missing bits of information. This is actually not an unusual situation for us to be in. In the past, when we have encountered new pathogens, we have had to take the approach of learning while we're also trying to take action at the same time.

But particularly in those cases, you have to act with caution. So you have to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. You can't just say, well, we hope there won't be a spike in the fall and we will proceed as if there won't be, because we don't want to be caught flat-footed again.


The truth is right now, because the situation is so complicated, because there's often a time lag between when someone gets infected and when that shows up in terms of a positive test, we both need to be cautious, but we also need clear guidance.

And right -- I have talked to a number of universities and workplaces over the last few weeks. And I will tell you that there is chaos and confusion in the community about how to reopen safely.

And this is a place where the federal government needs to step in and fill that gap with clear guidance from the CDC that tells us how to go about doing this safely. And without that, we're going to have just a varied approach across the country and we're going to put communities at risk of further spread, and we can't afford that.

BOLDUAN: Beth, your job, your expertise is in the area of looking at the bigger picture, the broader long-term strategy in something like this, as we were talking about at the very top.

Is it -- from your perspective, what part of the playbook would you say that the country is in right now? Can you say?


Actually, I think where we are in the playbook, there's a green section, a yellow section and a red section of the playbook. And it tracks according to not only the epidemiology that you might see with a particular disease, but also how the environment wherever the country that the disease is spreading, in this case all over the world, that environment and what's happening in that environment.

And so where we are in the playbook is in a very, very red zone, where all of the questions that were being asked in the red section of the playbook, including, is the Defense Production Act being implemented, are there an adequate supply of masks, things that would really put the federal government in the position of asking for an inventory from all states.

Rather than asking the states to tell the federal government in a piecemeal way what they need, what the federal government should be doing, if they're following the playbook is getting that inventory, figuring out where the barriers are, and then putting in place with a real timeline, and being honest in communicating that timeline to the public, of what the needs are and when they're needed.

It would be great to have a dashboard for the United States of America with a few key metrics that every state was responsible for tracking through the phases. We had a dashboard like this for President Obama during the Ebola epidemic, where, as a key decision-maker, there were specific metrics that he was tracking at the top to understand if we were making progress.

I think that would be a huge step forward if we were able to see something like that. I know Governor Cuomo has a nice dashboard. The state of Washington's working towards one. It'd be great to have one for the country.

BOLDUAN: Well, and I guess add to that now CNN has new reporting that the president and some of his aides are -- have been privately questioning whether the death toll, how the deaths related to COVID are counted, if they are being overcounted, is what they are discussing privately.

What that adds to exactly the lack of clarity that we're talking about here is quite something.

Dr. Murthy, Beth Cameron, thanks.


BOLDUAN: Coming up for us: Wisconsin's Supreme Court strikes down the state's stay-at-home order.

Are scenes like what you're looking at right here, bars packed once again, a sign of what's to come?

And, later, President Trump says he wants schools to reopen directly -- reopen, directly contradicting the medical experts.

So, how are schools and colleges making these tough decisions right now? We're going to talk to a college president making this tough choice.


[15:17:45] BOLDUAN: Chaos in Wisconsin.

The state Supreme Court overturn the governor's stay-at-home order in the state, of course, last night, leaving really nothing but questions about what orders apply and to whom at this point.

The immediate result is scenes like this at some local bars, some packed with people, no social distancing, no masks, and if the last three months hadn't -- as if the last three months hadn't even happened, really, it seems.

And the state's governor is now calling it the Wild, Wild West.

CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Wisconsin tracking all of this.

Omar, so this happened all last night. And what are you hearing there today?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, right now, at the policy level, for all -- at least on the political side, to begin with, the governor, Democratic Governor Tony Evers, is going to have to work with the Republican legislature that brought forward this lawsuit to begin with to try and put forward any sort of long-term uniform state strategy for combating this pandemic.

And Governor Evers just finished up a press conference, speaking a few moments ago, and he said, we cannot let the court's ruling undo all the work we have done and all the sacrifices Wisconsin's people have made over these past few months.

And he also goes on to say, just because Republican said it can be a free-for-all doesn't mean we have to throw our good judgment out the window.

And, again, it was Republicans are brought forward this lawsuit to begin with, arguing that the extension of the stay-at-home order would be too detrimental to the citizens and to many of the businesses across the state.

And while Evers is not happy with the ruling, Republicans say, while we very well could potentially see hot spots, like we have seen in places across the country, they have put the onus on the individuals to make smart decisions when going to some of these places.

Now, that's at the state level. Then what happened was all of these counties and individual jurisdictions began to step in and put their own policies in place. So, we saw places like the city of Milwaukee reminding their citizens there is still a citywide safe-at-home order in place, so businesses will not be opening.

We saw the same in Green Bay and in the state capital of Madison. Here in Waukesha County, the county government said, well, we're going to go along with opening these businesses, but, again, putting that onus and responsibility on the business owners to do it safely, businesses like this cafe here behind me that is welcoming patrons inside for the first time in what feels like forever, he says, the owner, we spoke to just a few moments ago.


Here's a little of how he describes what this day one of sorts has been like.


AYHAN MUNZUR, CAFE OWNER: It's so much better. It's -- from looking at the empty chairs, to see the people, we are so happy with that.

It's not going to be same. It's going to be different. We have to watch the -- clean up every table before the customer comes. After they leave, we have to wipe it down with the sanitizer. We keep cleaning the doors every -- after everybody touching it, the surface.

Yes, it's going to be different, but we are going to make it.


JIMENEZ: And, again, for any sort of long-term solution, the governor, Evers, is going to have to work with this legislature.

And based on the relationship, at least over the course of this pandemic, coming to a solution may prove to be difficult, Kate.


Omar, thank you so much.

All right, joining me right now is Dan Devine. He's the mayor of West Allis, Wisconsin. This is a town where you saw some of the video that we were showing you from last night of people heading back into the bars.

Mayor, thank you so much for coming in.

What did you think when you saw those scenes from bars in your town last night? Are you OK with this?

DAN DEVINE, MAYOR OF WEST ALLIS, WISCONSIN: My first thought was, I was actually amazed how fast people actually got to the bars, because we started getting e-mails late in the afternoon.

And the Tavern League apparently had sent out Facebook posts to a lot of tavern owners and several -- I think there were about a dozen bars in our community that opened up. And I was surprised.

I was -- I didn't get a lot of -- I didn't see a lot of coverage of the footage, but there was quite a bit where I did see people really packed in. And that was concerning.

BOLDUAN: Are we going to be seeing scenes like that again tonight in West Allis?

DEVINE: No, the -- West Allis is one of 19 cities in Milwaukee County. And the city of Milwaukee did their own thing.

But the other 18 communities had their health officers working on an alternate plan for a few weeks, in case the Supreme Court ruling did go this way it did. So we implemented that immediately. And we -- I should say we, but the health officers took parts of the president's open up America again plan.

They took parts of the governor's Badger Bounce Back plan. And they tried to merge those together to put a plan together for the 18 suburbs of the city of Milwaukee that is in place until next week.

BOLDUAN: So you have got a week of something like more stay-at-home orders. People aren't going to be allowed to go back into bars.

But what happens? What happens? Do you think people are going to listen to those orders? Because the Supreme Court ruled that the governor's order was unlawful and unenforceable. How are you going to enforce this?

DEVINE: Well, we're hoping we will get compliance.

I know, based on the 1:30 press conference that Governor Evers had, there was -- I didn't see it, but there was reports -- there were reports coming out of that saying that counties and cities are now -- it's up to them to make their own orders.

So we're working very closely with our city attorney to interpret what the Supreme Court decision was. We're working very closely with local law enforcement.

But one thing I did notice last night was that, for every bar that was talking on social media about opening up, there were also bars saying that, we're not ready for this. We don't feel it's safe. We're going to continue to do our curbside pickup and our delivery with our food. And they're going to wait a little bit and try to let the dust settle.

BOLDUAN: Sounds like you got a bit -- you have got nothing short of a mess on your hands, Mayor.


DEVINE: It's a classic Hobson's choice.



Thanks for coming in. Good luck, Mayor.

DEVINE: Thank you very much.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us: Universities across the country are trying to decide whether to bring students back to campus in the fall. They're getting mixed messages from the federal government.

I'm going to talk to the president of Wayne State in Detroit about who he's listening to as he is faced with very big decisions ahead.

That's next.



BOLDUAN: Every parent, student and educator wants to know when schools will reopen, of course, and what it will look like when they do.

While the White House has resisted taking any lead role in recommending what the guidelines should be, today, President Trump had no trouble weighing in, saying that he disagrees with Dr. Anthony Fauci's caution that reopening schools must be done carefully.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I totally disagree with him on schools. And we will have -- I call them embers. I call them spikes.

And he called -- I notice he used the word spike. Well, you might have that, and we will put it out. We have learned a lot. We didn't know anything about this. This is a horrible disease. This is a horrible plague. I call it a plague.

It's a terrible thing. We have learned a lot. And we also know how to put it out. But we have to open our country. We have no choice.


BOLDUAN: There is a choice, many choices, and very tough ones for the heads of schools across the country right now.

Joining me right now is Dr. M. Roy Wilson, president of Wayne State University in Detroit.

President Wilson, thank you so much for being here. I really appreciate it.


BOLDUAN: This is not -- I think it's important for people to understand, this is not theoretical for you.

You have had two students pass away from COVID-19. So, are you comfortable