Return to Transcripts main page


Vaccine Trial Participants Develop Antibodies Against Virus; Reopening Review, 17 States See Rise In Cases, 18 See Drop; Trump Administration Fight Itself, HHS Chief Goes After White House Adviser. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 13:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I am Brianna Keilar and this is CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

It's the key to ending this crisis, a breakthrough through in a vaccine. And the vaccine is really long-term solution here, right? Today, early results from a big drug company's trial showing some promise. Eight candidates, eight immune responses, we'll have more on that in a moment.

Also today, Massachusetts lays out its back-to-work plan. Soon, all 50 states will be part of the reopening experiment.

The national picture is complicated. In some places, cases are down or flat even after reopening. In Texas, there are troubling signs that cases are on the rise again.

The president says he wants sports to come back with big crowds and no masks. But last hour, New York's governor says that is not going to happen, at least not now.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): I also have been encouraging major sports teams to plan re-openings without fans but the games could be televised, New York State will help those major sports franchises to do just that. Hockey, basketball, baseball or football or whoever can reopen. We are a ready, willing and able partner.


KEILAR: Now, the nation will soon eclipse another pair of tragic milestones. The U.S. will soon have 1.5 million confirmed cases and 90,000 American deaths. This is a number, it is on track across 100,000 by the end of May.

We'll have more on what scientists hope as a big development. early results from a Phase 1 clinical trial conducted by a biotech company, Moderna, and the National Institutes of Health. This shows signs of promise after participants developed COVID-19 antibodies. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joining me now on this. Walk us through these findings, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, this is really quite interesting. What they did in these Phase 1 trials is that they gave people vaccinations at various levels. And they found that even at the lower levels that these volunteers in the study, they developed what are called neutralizing antibodies. So these are antibodies that not only bind with the virus but actually keep it, sort of disable it from attacking human cells.

I spoke earlier today with the chief medical officer of Moderna, Dr. Tal Zaks. Let's take a listen.


KEILAR: All right. We don't actually have that sound bite, unfortunately, Elizabeth. Can you tell us what he said?

COHEN: Sure. What he said was that they found the levels of neutralizing antibodies at the same level or even higher as people who actually had COVID-19.

Now, it's unclear whether antibodies at any levels protect you, and what to extent they protect. And that's why they have to move on to Phase 3 trials, which is in real life. Right now, we've been in the lab. Now, we're going to go out into real life.

So let's take a look at what the timeline is for this. So as of now, they have vaccinated -- they, meaning Moderna and the NIH -- have vaccinated somewhere between 60 and 100 people. And this July, they hope to start clinical trials. They haven't the number.

Typically, that's tens of thousands of people. They vaccinate people. They then live their lives and they see if those who were vaccinated or were protected than those who were vaccinated with just the placebo.

When I spoke with Dr. Zaks, I said, when do you think you can have this available on the market, ready to go. And he said, sometime between January and June of next year. That is basically the timeline that Dr. Fauci has been putting out there.

And I will tell you, Brianna, he did not make promises, he did not make guarantees. This was an aspirational timeline but he said that he thinks it could be realistic.

KEILAR: So when they're answering, when he's answering that question of yours, Elizabeth, about the timeline, is that just the best case scenario, January to June of 2021?

COHEN: Yes, that is the best case scenario. That's if everything goes well. The hurdle that vaccine trials face, whether it's COVID or anything else, is that you need to find a place where the virus is transmitting at high enough levels that you are giving people a chance, if you could think of it this way, to get infected. If there's not much COVID out there, you will vaccinate someone but they'll never be exposed, they'll never be challenged.

So, ironically, the hopes of the vaccine developers, in some ways, is that the virus stays at high levels. If social distancing works and if all the other things we're doing work, ironically, that hurts their trial.


Of course, we should to them. We don't want people to die. But it is very difficult to predict how long a vaccine trial will take. It's not like a drug where you are treating people who are already sick. You are vaccinating people and then hoping the virus is around there so you can see if it works.

KEILAR: If you're trying to solve a problem, I guess you need a problem to solve. Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for that.

COHEN: That's right.

KEILAR: Dr. Jorge Rodriguez is a specialist in internal medicine and gastroenterology. Dr. Rodriguez, I mean, so, admittedly, as we look at this, the early stages of this trial, it's a small group of participants. I wonder what your initial thoughts are here.

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, SPECIALIST IN INTERNAL MEDICINE: Well, the initial thought is that this is interesting and promising. Because this could end it right here if Moderna's vaccine, which is actually a manufactured replica of the virus, didn't create antibodies.

So they actually use three different dosages of the vaccine, 25, a hundred, and 25 -- and 250 micrograms, and they found that even at the lowest dose of the vaccine, they already created antibodies similar to people that were infected. This is great.

But, again, we still have a long way to go. Phase 1 just shows you the safety and whether there is, well, approve of concept and it did. So now we need to move onto Phase 3 in the study.

It was interesting -- yes, go ahead.

KEILAR: If you are thinking about this just as a layperson, which I know you are not, but can you hang any hope on this or is it just a matter of, well, the hopes haven't been dashed yet?

RODRIGUEZ: Both, I became hopeful about it. And the next step is to see whether this really works.

The issue, as what's already mentioned, is the fact that you actually need people to be exposed to the virus. So there are considerations to do something which in the past may not have been considered ethical, which is actually to vaccinate people and then willing participants that are knowledgeable get exposed to a little of the virus. That may expedite things. But, again, we may be cutting corners.

So the first step, it looks promising, onto the next steps. But we can't hang our hat on this just yet. KEILAR: All right. Doctor, standby for me. I want to turn now to the state of reopening in the nation. At least 48 states are in some phase of easing social distancing restrictions.

CNN's Tom Foreman has been tracking progress and setbacks here. How is it going, Tom?

TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It depends on where you are, Brianna, is how it is going. Take a look at the map. The most current one we have in terms of places where new cases are going up and where they are not going up. Red is bad. Green is good. The tan is sort of in the middle, not much is happening.

Look at all red on there. The Southeast of the United States and awfully a lot is happening. Texas is being hit, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas. Move over toward the west, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, you can move all the way up to Montana, which is dark red there, and then we've got Michigan over there as well. And the Carolinas, Virginia all in the red zones now.

This is important because we have 17 states in the red zone. Now, look at late last week what it looked like. Back then, we had seven states in the red zone and a whole lot more green out there.

Now, I do want to caution about this. This is a measure of new cases. It's not an absolute total. So have a state that gets more testing in place, they may have more new cases. It doesn't mean that they are necessarily worse off than some other states, they may look better in this measure.

But this is not what people want to see when you talk about reopening. You don't want to see a lot more new cases showing up. And Texas, boy, that's something to look at here, Brianna. Texas had on Saturday its single worst day for new cases, more than 1,800 of them in one day.

The governor there basically is saying this is a result of more aggressive testing that they are getting out there and finding place. But many of these were connected to meat plant workers. We know there have been problems with the close corners there and cross-infections.

But a couple more things I want to show you very quickly, look at some of the recently reopened states and what's happening with their average of new cases. The top line there, the green over there, that is Texas. Retail-to-go is one of the things they're offering there. Look, steadily and push up in cases there. Maybe more testing, maybe that's it, maybe it's a real problem too. Maybe it's a combination of the two.

Some businesses reopened there, that's Georgia, they're kind of meandering along around that level. Colorado, some restrictions relaxed, they're trending down. And then

some retailers reopened, that's South Carolina.


They're sort of meandering along the bottom there. So that gives you an idea of what's happening there.

Overall, last chart I want to show, important to look at, the percentage of new tests that are positive, that is moving down. Again, watch the numbers carefully, Brianna. So little good news but a lot of trends are not looking good at the moment.

KEILAR: All right. Tom, we always appreciate you giving us the trends as we are seeing it day-to-day.

Officials are going to be closely monitoring the effect on two of those states that are easing those stay-at-home restrictions today in Florida. Some of the populous counties there, they're opening restaurants, they're opening stores at about 50 percent capacity.

And then in Texas, some gyms and office spaces are beginning to reopen. Despite 1,800 positive cases reported on Saturday, as you heard Tom report there, this was the largest single-day increase we have seen there yet.

CNN's Rosa Flores is in Doral near Miami, and Ed Lavandera is in Dallas, Texas for us.

Rosa, I want to begin with you. Are people flocking to these businesses so far?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Doral, Florida, we're seeing slow and steady flow. If you look behind me, you'll probably see some car traffic and some foot traffic. That's what we have been seeing all morning here today.

But as you mentioned, Miami-Dade and Broward Counties are the most populated counties in the state and they also account for the most cases together of about 50 percent of the cases in the State of Florida have occurred in these two counties.

And for the first time, they are reopening, joining the other 65 counties in the state, allowing restaurants and retail stores to reopen at 50 percent capacity. Barbershops to reopen as well, of course, with some restrictions, including face masks and social distancing. Bars, pubs and hotels will continue to be closed.

One of the things that stands out of Miami-Dade County is that the iconic locations that most Americans think about when they think about Miami are still closed. I'm talking about the city of Miami, the city of Miami Beach, the iconic strip on Ocean Drive, South Beach, all of those are closed.

The mayors in these cities saying that they are very concerned, they want to take this very slow because they know that their cities are magnets for people in and around South Florida. They're going to want to go there.

And so they want to take it slow according to these mayors, and, of course, this could all change. They plan to start reopening retail on Wednesday. And then a week from Wednesday, they plan to start reopening restaurants. But, Brianna, again the key there is these mayors are concerned. They want to take it slow because they know that a lot of people are going to flock to those iconic locations that are very Miami. Brianna?

Of We have seen that indeed, Rosa.

And, Ed, do officials know why there has been a big spike in Texas over the weekend?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we have to keep in mind that we are a little more than two weeks into the phased reopening of the economy here in Texas, 1,800 cases reported on Saturday. State health officials, to your point, Brianna, say that about 734 of those cases, they attribute to focused testing in the Texas Panhandle area around Amarillo and meatpacking plants and the workers associated with those plants. And they say that that was one of the reasons for the large spike in the numbers.

But when you talk to leaders in the big cities in Texas, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, there is concern that we're beginning to see the repercussions of the phased reopening, which started back on May 1st. So as one health official from Houston said this morning, it could be a combination of both things, focused in increased testing. That is happening across the state. But at the same time, some of the effects of this phased reopening, which started a little more than two weeks.

And today, we're seeing even more reopening, as gyms, exercise facilities can open up at 25 percent capacity, non-essential manufacturing and offices in buildings can also get the green light to begin reopening.

But, again, as we've seen before, just because they can reopen doesn't mean everybody is reopening. Every business you talk to is kind of taking it into account their own adjustments for what they feel they need to do.

But the governor of Texas, Brianna, is planning even more announcement on what is going to reopen here in Texas later today. So that's what gives many officials here in Texas a feeling that the state is in a precarious situation as to how things begin to unfold here. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, we'll be watching that with you, Ed. It's very much a test case, both of these places. Rosa, Ed, thank you.

And as gyms are reopening in the U.S., researchers in South Korea are seeing the effects of reopening fitness classes there. They actually found evidence that a single intense dance workshop caused the virus to spread to 112 people.


We have Dr. Jorge Rodriguez back with us to talk about this.

So let's talk about what we know about this workout class, Doctor. This was four-hour long, right? So this isn't like a half hour class. It was four hours long, it was indoors, none of the instructors had symptoms but eight of them eventually tested positive for the virus. What does this tell you about the spread of COVID in enclosed spaces where people could be for a protracted period of time?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, it tells us what we already suspected. Remember, COVID is spread usually respiratorily, right? So when you are exercising and you're dying high impact exercising, you're huffing, you're puffing, whether you like it or not, spreading droplets in the air.

If you're in an enclosed area, it's even more likely that the person that is next to you is going to be exposed. If you wipe your hand you're your saliva and you get saliva in your hand, that can touch somebody else. So it makes sense.

And this is why people need to remember, even though we are maybe jogging in large areas, you are still huffing and puffing and your droplets, some studies say, can hang on 17 minutes in the air. So it makes sense to me that this is a kind of a dangerous thing to do and higher risk.

KEILAR: Yes. Consider that spray zone as we've heard people so graphically describe it.

So I also want to ask you about the 13 sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt. They've tested positive again for COVID-19, for coronavirus, after they tested negative twice and were allowed back on the ship. What concerns does that raise for you, in general, about people returning to workplaces?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, it concerns the fact that you might be infected the second time. It concerns us about the possibility that the tests were not accurate and done sufficiently.

Listen, at the end of the day, until we have vaccinations that can give 60 percent to 70 percent of the population of the world antibodies, we are still pre-exposed (ph). And we cannot let go what I call the holy trinity, right, in order to combat COVID, which is distancing, masks and hygiene. We need to do that even when we think we are safe until we know that we are all safe.

KEILAR: All right. Dr. Rodriguez, thank you so much for all of your insight.

As tensions between the White House and CDC spill out into the opening, the Trump administration is now fighting over itself over the testing chaos that we've seen.

Plus, a possible new cluster after a pastor holds a church service on Mother's Day. We've just learned there are some new cases there.

And one major university is getting ahead of a possible second wave this winter by making huge changes to its schedule. But will other follows follow suit?

This is CNN's special coverage.



KEILAR: The CDC is firing back after top White House official Peter Navarro said, the agency let down the country on coronavirus testing. Listen.


PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISER: Early on in this crisis, the CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down with the testing. Because not only did they keep the testing within the bureaucracy, they had a bad test. And that did set us back.


KEILAR: Now, this criticism led to outrage from CDC officials. One senior official is saying, quote, we should remind Mr. Navarro that the CDC is a federal agency, part of the administration.

And it's not just the CDC firing back. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar hit Peter Navarro as well.


ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, the comment regarding CDC are inaccurate and inappropriate. The CDC had one error, which was in scaling up the manufacturing of the test that they had developed. There was a contamination that didn't affect the accuracy of the test, just led to inconclusive results. They fixed it within weeks and got it out.


KEILAR: And now, more than a dozen top professors and staff at Emory University have written a letter calling for the CDC to lead the efforts to fight coronavirus, writing this. If we were to win the battle against COVID-19, we need the CDC's scientific independence and unstifled voice.

Dr. James Curran is one of the people who penned that letter. He's also the Dean of Public Health at Emory University and he used to work at the CDC, where he led the nation's efforts in the battle against HIV/AIDS. Dr. Curran, thanks for being with us.


So, you want the CDC's authority on this pandemic to be restored. Explain this to us. Explain to us what you are asking for and what difference you think it will make.

CURRAN: We're in the public health epidemic of the century and it's a team's game. We can't afford the people on the team arguing with each other in the press. We have to think about and leave our mistakes to historians. We need the CDC expertise and its history and the thousands of people who work there desperately as we fight this epidemic.

KEILAR: You worked at the CDC for 25 years. You helped lead the country through the battle of HIV/AIDS. How important is it to have a relationship that is, you know, positive and cooperative between the CDC and the White House during a crisis?

CURRAN: This epidemic has come out so fast and has so many societal and economic implications that makes it even more difficult. And, of course, it makes it very, very political. It's a shame if the politics is partisan because it really is not a partisan issue. This is an American issue and a global issue.


It's extremely important for all parts of government to work together but it's difficult to do, because tempers are high, it's a very difficult problem. 100,000 of people nearly have died in the United States and there is a lot to do.

KEILAR: At the beginning of this outbreak, we saw regular briefings by the CDC, but then those stopped back in March. What's the effect of the CDC being cut out as a very public phase addressing public health here?

CURRAN: Well, we need the CDC more than ever now. We need people who are experts in collecting and analyzing surveillance data, collecting and analyzing outbreaks in our various institutions, homeless shelters, nursing homes, schools themselves, cruise ships, battle ships. Because the information in these ships is what creates good policy for the future and can prevent deaths.

Another major issue that was a problem was that, from the very beginning, we needed to have widespread testing and isolation, identification and isolation of infected people. But the tests were scarce. So the public got the idea that maybe testing wasn't that important.

And now that we finally have widespread availability of free testing, we need a clear and consistent message of the importance of it. Because, look, a counterbalance to releasing social distancing is increasing isolation of infected people. If you can have the number of people who are infected, you can double the effect of social distancing.

So we made a clear and concise message, it is truly patriotic to get tested now. And everyone should know that. They should know that if you have the slightest symptoms or you think you have been in contact, you should get tested right away.

It's free and it's available everywhere. And your contacts should be tested, your close contacts. That's going to protect you and to save the lives of other Americans.

KEILAR: Okay. Sir, thank you so much, Dr. Curran, we really appreciate you joining us today.

We're going to be talking ahead about a pastor who set up a Mother's Day church service, and after one person tested positive, nearly 200 people have now been exposed. We'll hear what the pastor is saying.

Plus, Apple reveals what will change the next time you visit one of its stores.

And as health officials warn of a second major wave in the winter, one university is not risking it. They're changing up their fall schedule already to avoid it.