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Interview with Mayors John Giles, Steve Benjamin, and Nan Whaley; Interview with China's Medical Expert Zhong Nanshan; New York Partnering with Churches to Increase Testing in Underserved Communities. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 10:30   ET



MAYOR JOHN GILES (R), MESA, AZ: -- engaging in a lot of rhetoric about, you know, who's right and who's wrong. Most of the -- most of the government services that people received every day, you know, come through the city, whether it's water or transit or public safety.

So I think we -- in some respects, we have the luxury of being able to put some of the political nonsense that's going on to the side, and just focus on how can we do this in a safe and smart way to get back to whatever the new normal is.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Mayor Benjamin, we heard the Fed chair reiterate last night, the stunning statistic that 40 percent of the job losses in the month of March were those households making $40,000 or less in February. And he said, by far, those most adversely affected by this economic crisis are the lowest paid and especially women. And that means that many of them can't pay their rent.

You are trying to change that. I know Columbia's been calling on Congress to implement some sort of emergency rental assistance program. Where does that stand?

MAYOR STEVE BENJAMIN (D), COLUMBIA, SOUTH CAROLINA: Oh. Well, we passed that unanimously as a council just this past week. I will say I'm happy to join my friends John and Nan in this bipartisan effort, the push by U.S. mayors nationwide to recognize the fact that the coronavirus doesn't recognize red or blue, as John said. We need to focus on a red, white and blue strategy that focuses on just keeping America whole and healing America.

We've led from the front, cities all across this country, in pushing for, as Nan said, testing, contact tracing and supported isolation, buttressed by social distancing. And we're seeing some benefits of that.

We've got to hold the line. And what we've been doing here in Columbia is, yes, taking a very compassionate approach, recognizing, as Jay Powell referenced, we're seeing some seismic shifts in the American economy, about a five percent drop in GDP, record $3 trillion in borrowing. We're watching revenues drop, not just on the federal but state and local level. It requires some thoughtful leadership that America's mayors continue

to provide as we move forward. We're excited about being in the front of this. We've got a long way to go, but we've got to do it together. Only together can we (inaudible) (inaudible).

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Big question, Mayor Whaley, coming up -- interested in all your thoughts on this -- is schools in the fall, right?

HARLOW: Oh, yes.

SCIUTTO: I mean, it's going to be tough. And I know you haven't made that decision yet, but what do you need to see to send kids back to school comfortably?

MAYOR NAN WHALEY (D), DAYTON, OHIO: Well, I think a could things. Again, having our testing and contact tracing in place, because we know this virus is still among us and we're not far enough along yet for that.

Also, our -- I was just talking to our school board president this morning about ways that we can really spread our kids out. We do have a lot more buildings actually, in Dayton, to have some opportunity there. And I think they're being very creative. But we also have to recognize that some of this is still going to be done at home through the internet. And we have got to get broadband to all of our kids in cities like Dayton.

And that's why infrastructure's so important, that's why you hear the U.S. Conference of Mayors talking about infrastructure investment because it is becoming a situation of whether you can move even through school without that, and we saw big, big inequity in that over the past couple months.

So there's opportunity for us to do better, but we can't allow this to become a cultural, tribal fight. And that's what I'm really worried about, is just the partisan nature that is becoming something that is so critical in life and death.

This is already the third biggest killer in our country, in two months. So this is very serious and we need to make sure that we're doing the best for our entire community, and make -- make decisions based on data, not politics.

HARLOW: It's an interesting point, Mayor Whaley, that I've been wondering if our kids' schools is thinking of. Which is, if you have that extra space, those buildings, taking maybe half the class with half the amount of teachers, moving them to a separate building for the instruction, you know, if that -- if you can make it work. I mean, there's a lot of innovation needed.

On the point of children and school and child care, Mayor Giles, I wonder if you agree with those economists who say this economy really can't come back until child care is taken care of for everyone, right? How can two-parent homes, where both parents are working, possibly both go back to work in full capacity if there's not a child care solution for them?

GILES: Well, yes, I think that's obviously true. And so cities are adapting in the way we provide services. We have our Parks and Rec staff now, for example, are doing food distribution. You know, we're creating new programs, adopt-a-grandparent programs, so that we can figure out ways to be the social safety net for all the disconnected seniors.

I mean, I was at a food distribution event a few weeks ago that -- where we had obviously medically challenged seniors standing in line to get food, and it just was absolutely ridiculous.


So we do need to adapt. And city governments have got to be on the frontlines of doing that, figuring out how to provide smart, safe ways of providing the services so that we can get back to this new normal that we're all trying to figure out.

SCIUTTO: Before we go, Mayor Benjamin, your best hope for close to normalcy -- right? -- for your community?

BENJAMIN: Sure. We -- you know, we've always believed, here in Columbia, that we should follow data and not dates. While we've always hung our hat on maybe a 14-day deceleration in the number of cases, I don't think that we're ever going to get there. I mean, most communities pray for a plateau, maybe a slow deceleration.

So our plan is not necessarily focusing on the when -- the governor controls that -- but the how, and encouraging our citizens to continue to engage in social distancing and all the things that we've learned over the last couple of months that allow us to continue to do what our ultimate goal is, which is to see a loss in reduction of human life.

This is one of the few things, again, we can only do if we do it together. I'm a mayor, so that means by definition I'm an optimist, but we're going to have to keep working together to make (INAUDIBLE) human life.

HARLOW: Thank you guys for not only being here but for all you're doing every day, and for working together in that bipartisan fashion. We appreciate it. Mayor John Giles, Mayor Nan Whaley and Mayor Steve Benjamin, good luck to all of you.

Up next, a CNN exclusive with China's leading medical advisor -- their version, essentially, of Dr. Fauci -- here, we'll get his take on just how vulnerable the original epicenter of this is to a second wave.



SCIUTTO: More than 100 countries around the world are now asking the World Health Organization to act. They want the agency to launch an independent evaluation of the COVID pandemic. This morning, President Xi Jinping defended China's virus response

before the World Health Organization.

HARLOW: He says that China acted with openness and transparency, and provided the international community with information, he says, in a timely fashion. Now, the Dr. Fauci of China -- essentially the medical head there -- is weighing in on China's response. In a CNN exclusive, the country's leading medical expert criticized the early response in Wuhan, and warns the fight is not over.

Watch this from our David Culver.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim and Poppy, in our exclusive interview with China's Dr. Fauci equivalent, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the leading health expert here, two things stand out in particular. One is that he is highly critical of the initial response to this outbreak. However, now he firmly supports the Central Government's containment efforts.

The other is, he warns that while things may start to reopen -- and we've already started to see that here in China -- that the threat is far from over here.

ZHONG NANSHAN, CHINA'S LEADING MEDICAL EXPERT: We are facing a challenge. It's not better than the foreign countries, I think.

CULVER (voice-over): A warning against complacency, coming from a man who's gained the respect and admiration of both China's leaders and its citizens: pulmonologist and China's go-to health expert, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, speaking exclusively with CNN.

ZHONG: We should reopen all the things gradually. On the other side, we still have very strong control so the containment of the situation.

CULVER (voice-over): Zhong first gained international praise for his work on SARS, 17 years ago. His recent focus? COVID-19. He's gained a celebrity status here, many captivated by his physical drive as much as his scientific knowledge.

CULVER: What is it that you have been doing during this period to stay mentally sane, physically fit?

ZHONG: I still keep exercising and sport and all the things that can open up mind. And eat not too much every time. So that's why I (ph) seems to be still can do something in my age of 84.

CULVER (voice-over): Some have likened him to the Dr. Fauci of China, referring to Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S.' top infectious disease expert. But within China, they call Fauci the Zhong Nanshan of the U.S.

ZHONG: I cannot compare with Fauci, who is the advisor of the president, always been standing beside the president. CULVER (voice-over): Perhaps he does not physically stand next to

President Xi Jinping, but Zhong has the trust of China's Central Government. HIs advice sparks near-immediate action.

Take, for example, Wuhan's unprecedented lockdown. On January 18th, five days before the city was shut down, Zhong traveled to the original epicenter of the outbreak. He questioned the local health officials on the number of cases.

ZHONG: I suppose they are very reluctant to answer my questions. The local authorities didn't like to tell the truth at that time.

CULVER (voice-over): Publicly, Wuhan health officials, as late as January 19th, labeled the virus as preventable and controllable. And later, the city's mayor even acknowledged not acting in a timely fashion.

Zhong pressed harder for the actual numbers. And when he got them, he headed to Beijing on January 20th. He briefed the Central Government. And within hours, he was addressing the nation in this live interview on state-run CCTV.

Zhong revealed that human-to-human transmission was likely. And as proof of that, he said the virus had already infected multiple medical personnel.


ZHONG: That's a very dangerous signal, showing this kind of disease, very contagious.

CULVER (voice-over): Within three days, Wuhan went into a harsh lockdown that lasted 76 days. Yet even with China's central government now taking the lead, there is still skepticism over the official numbers. Zhong says the Chinese government would not benefit from underreporting.

ZHONG: They have announced one (ph) stat (ph) that all the cities should report the true number of diseases. So if you do not do that, you will be punished.

ZHONG: Contribute for the mankind.

CULVER (voice-over): Zhong's focus is now on preparing China for a second wave of the outbreak. Over the past few weeks, new clusters of cases have surfaced in several cities, including Wuhan.

CULVER: Do you think a vaccine is going to be a reality in the near future? Where are we with progress here?

ZHONG: I totally believe vaccine is most important to establish this herd immunity.

CULVER (voice-over): He cited three different vaccine trials under way in China. They move (ph) into their next phases of testing by late summer. But he warns, ZHONG: If you are going to make -- to work out a perfect vaccine, it

would take years and years.

CULVER: We talk so often about the disagreements between the government and the politics at this. But can people find hope in knowing that at least the medical community is able to push past boundaries, and that they're discussing this globally?

ZHONG: It's really true, in my group as well as Guangzhou Institute of Public Health and Harvard Medical School. I'm very happy to have this opportunity to contact the top hospitals in the world to have some collaboration. And then we can make great progress.

And also, we have experienced (ph) the (ph) disease (ph), so three months earlier than the U.S. colleagues. So we can tell them some of our experience, our lessons.


CULVER: Dr. Zhong's advice to his own country's leaders here in China is that while it is important to continue the reopening process, they also need to be prepared to quickly isolate any hotspots -- like they're currently doing in the northeast of China, with another Wuhan- like lockdown -- he also suggests that contact tracing is integral in allowing life to continue on, and even wearing face masks out in public. It's something he says that will part of the foreseeable future here -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: What a fascinating, fascinating interview, David Culver. Thanks a lot.


Well, New York's fight against the coronavirus is now leaning on churches, a new tactic to get more minority community members tested for coronavirus.



HARLOW: New York is turning to churches to help in the fight against COVID-19, especially in low income communities and minority communities. You look at the numbers -- and we've been talking about this -- you see the stark disparity here. African-Americans make up 23 percent of New York City's population, but account for 30 percent of all COVID deaths.

SCIUTTO: Well, the state has partnered with two dozen churches to provide coronavirus and antibody testing. Our next guest leads one of those churches, Reverend Adolphus Lacey, senior pastor of Bethany Baptist Church in Brooklyn,

Reverend, great to have you on this morning. Tell us about demand for testing within your church community, and what are you going to do with that information now? ADOLPHUS LACEY, SENIOR PASTOR, BETHANY BAPTIST CHURCH OF BROOKLYN:

Well, good morning and thank you for having us on.

There is a certain demand -- there's a great demand for testing. And because we recognize that we partnered with the governor and Northwell Health Care to be -- and these churches of our vast network of Metro (ph) IF (ph) and other organizations to be able to identify churches that were stakeholders in the communities, to get people to come in and test.

We are a trusted community holder, so people feel safe coming in. And once the word got out, our numbers continue to increase. So thus far, all 11 churches, we have done about 10,500 tests and we're going to start again on Wednesday, and hoping to do more. And the number -- the need is really here.

HARLOW: I -- first of all, thank you for doing this service for so many people. I know that you've been administering COVID tests, but also antibody tests. You've also just talked about some stigma, though, within the community, some who have been coming into the church, in terms of admitting a positive diagnosis.

LACEY: That's correct. That stigma is very, very real. Some people just don't want to know because they're afraid of being stigmatized for having it, maybe feeling irresponsible, maybe not wearing a mask, maybe something that they have done. And so it's kind of scary. So we created a space, a safe zone, where we're trying to teach people how to be able to partner together.

One of the things that we recognize is that we have essential leaders, our essential workers, so are faith leaders. In a pandemic, you need faith. But my tradition tells me faith without works is dead, so we have intentionally go out to get these people to either take the COVID or the antibody. But most people want to take the antibody over the COVID, because they're afraid of the nostril test.

SCIUTTO: The HHS secretary, Alex Azar, told our colleague Jake Tapper this weekend, that underlying health conditions, including among minorities were one reason for high -- a high death toll here in the U.S. I wonder what your response to that is.


LACEY: I mean, can you say that again?

SCIUTTO: Azar, Secretary Azar, told Jake Tapper, our colleague, this weekend, that underlying health conditions, including among minorities, has contributed to the death toll from COVID. And I wonder what your response is to that.

LACEY: Oh, absolutely, it's true but so have the density. Basically, these are metropolitan areas. And our area, particularly in Bedford- Stuyvesant, Hakeem Jeffries is our congressman, who certainly worked hard for us to be able to do this. I happen to be -- to live in Westchester. There are no long lines where I am, but when I'm down by the church, there are lines that surround the building. I mean, so some underlying health conditions, but also it's density,

you know? Sometimes social distancing isn't possible when you got, you know, nine people in a two-bedroom apartment or something like that, or on the elevators, those type of things also contribute.

SCIUTTO: Well, Reverend, we appreciate the work you're doing. We wish you, we wish the members of your community the best of luck, going forward.

LACEY: Thank you for telling our story. And again, it's OK to get tested. I got tested as well.

HARLOW: Great message. Thanks, Reverend --

SCIUTTO: Good advice.

HARLOW: -- we'll talk to you soon.

And thanks to all of you for joining us. We will see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King starts right after a quick break.