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States Across the Country Reopening Despite Infection Rates; Vaccine Study Produces Antibodies; Man on Cruise Ship for Eight Weeks as Tests Come Back Negative and Positive. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 18, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: -- promise eight candidates, eight immune responses. We're going to have more on that in a moment. Breakthrough, or is it really too soon? We will discuss that.

Also, the nation will soon eclipse another pair of tragic milestones. We are approaching 1.5 million confirmed cases, and 90,000 American deaths. This as the president says he wants sports to come back with big crowds and no masks.

Last hour, New York's governor said 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 reopenings without fans. But the games could be televised. New York State will help those major sports franchises to do just that. Hockey, basketball, baseball, football, whoever can reopen, we're a ready, willing and able partner.


KEILAR: As more and more businesses reopen, the national picture is getting complicated. In some places, cases are down, they're flat even after reopening. Other states, though, are seeing a surge. CNN's Nick Watt is digging into this picture state by state for us.

Nick, tell us what you're seeing.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big news is we have just heard from those counties up in Northern California that were the first to tell us to stay home, 63 days ago, they are now saying retail, curbside pickup can open again.

I think that by the middle of this week, every single state in the country will have at least taken the first steps back to normality.


GOV. CHARLIE BAKER (D-MA): Positive case rates are moving in the right direction, and hospitalizations are down. WATT (voice-over): So today, Massachusetts became the 50th and final

state to lay out its plan to reopen. Construction and manufacturing are back.

BAKER: On May 25th, retail establishments may also offer curbside service, and some personal services such as barber shops and hair salons may reopen.

WATT (voice-over): In roughly a third of states, the new case count is now going down, holding steady in another third, and in the final third, it's actually going up.

Texas, two weeks after reopening began, saw some busy bars and the biggest number of new cases in a single day on Saturday. Yes, there is more testing now, but --

MAYOR ERIC JOHNSON (D), DALLAS, TX: The opening of restaurants and movie theaters and retail and our malls, up to 25 percent occupancy, a couple weeks ago. So I think that's probably the main reason.

WATT (voice-over): Still, gyms opened up at reduced capacity in Texas today, and the governor announced phase two.

Restaurants, also reopening today in Miami, as Florida's most populous and hardest hit counties start their process.

Beaches were open with restrictions on both coasts this past weekend.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was amazing, yes. We've been pretty cooped up, like everybody --

WATT (voice-over): Are those folks really far enough apart?

In South Carolina, some stores opened exactly a month ago. And in- person classes will resume at the University of South Carolina in the fall. But they'll revert to remote learning after Thanksgiving because "Our best current modeling predicts a spike in cases of COVID-19 at the beginning of December."

The WHO says it will start ASAP a review of the global reaction to this coronavirus, saying we must learn to prevent a repeat.


WATT (voice-over): And our economic recovery will not be quick. Today, the lines started rolling again at Michigan's three major automakers, but --

JEROME POWELL, CHAIRMAN OF THE FEDERAL RESERVE: It may take a period of time, it could stretch through the end of next year, we really don't know.


WATT: And if you're looking for some reassurance that all of this distancing, all of these closures were worthwhile, there is one new study that suggests that by the end of April, if we had not don't all of this, rather than having about one million cases in this country, we would have had 35 million cases. It is just one study, it is just a study. We are still learning, but crumbs if you need them -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Crumbs if you need them. We need them, Nick. Thank you so much. Nick Watt in Los Angeles.

So we want to take a closer look at this potential breakthrough. We're definitely using the word "potential. Moderna, announcing that a vaccine has produced antibodies in participants of a phase one trial. Dr. Peter Hotez is a professor, he's also the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

So, Dr. Hotez, you've said that you aren't really sure that these results are something that we can hang our hopes on. Tell us what your concerns are here.

PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, it's not so much concerns, it's just that there was no real data presented. This was a press release that talked about eight participants that -- two groups, each receiving two doses of the vaccine, either 25 micrograms or 100 micrograms, and it's an interim report.

The most useful part of the press release and their -- I guess their press announcement, was that it seems to not cause any immediate reaction in human volunteers except for one individual, I think at the 100 microgram dose, that had a lot of redness and soreness, what they call a Grade 3 event of erythema, meaning redness. And there were some systemic symptoms in the 250-microgram dose.

Overall, the vaccine seemed to be well tolerated, and that's pretty much all I can really gather from what they've written. What they've said is that if they looked at four in each of the groups -- the 25 micrograms and the 100 micrograms, so eight in total -- and they did seem to produce what are called neutralizing antibodies. And this is a type of antibody that seems to block the virus.

And this, so far, in terms of development of coronavirus vaccines, that seems to be one of the most important indicators. Because in laboratory animal models, we've down and other groups have shown that if you don't get high neutralizing antibody titers, you won't get protection, you won't neutralize the virus and you won't be protected against coronavirus infections.

This is saying they are seeing neutralizing antibodies in the volunteers, which is good. But it's a little confusing about how much --


HOTEZ: -- what -- go ahead.

KEILAR: Tell us what that means exactly. What's a neutralizing antibody? HOTEZ: A neutralizing antibody is an antibody that blocks the ability

of the virus to replicate in the test tube. So we have assays that can interfere -- that show interference with the virus. And classically, with many virus infections, the way you recover is you develop an antibody that has that ability to block the virus. And we have assays and measurements for that in the laboratory.

What happened was, they reported that the two groups did seem to make some of those antibodies, but it's a little unclear how much. They said equivalent to what's present in patients who get the actual infection. But it follows on the heels of a study published out of Rockefeller University last week that shows that those patients who recover from the infection actually have very low amounts of neutralizing antibodies.

So when I first read the press release, I thought, oh, this is a negative result, this doesn't look good. But then I heard very positive statements coming out of the press and coming out of their own announcement that followed.

So this --

KEILAR: Because what you're -- it sounds like what you're saying is that you can't necessarily make that cognitive leap to, OK, there's these neutralizing antibodies, but this is enough to make someone immune from coronavirus?

HOTEZ: That's right, because they didn't present the data. They didn't show how -- they didn't measure -- they didn't report the results of how many antibodies there are, what's the amount. And we know, experimental animal studies, that we need a certain amount in order to achieve protection. Did they reach that or didn't they? That was a little bit confusing.

They said it's the equivalent amount found in convalescent patients, patients who get infected and then develop antibodies. But the study out of Rockefeller the week before showed that those levels of antibody are actually quite low. So does that mean they didn't get a lot of neutralizing antibody?


HOTEZ: This is why it's frustrating to try to figure things -- read the tea leaves in a press release. This is why, you know, we always encourage scientists to put out the data, either in a public forum, in a journal or a preprint server such as bioRxiv, which is what everybody does, and for some reason they don't feel compelled to do that.

So you know, maybe it's good news. You know, I'd really like to see the data before I comment any further.

KEILAR: So short of giving someone in a trial setting the vaccine and then in some way -- whether it's that they're in a place that has a lot of coronavirus occurrence, or they're actually exposed to coronavirus as part of the study, can you really be sure that it's a eureka moment?

HOTEZ: Well, I mean, the real test of course is, as you point out, you know, moving into now phase two and phase three trials to show that in real-life settings, where transmission (ph) is under way, that those individuals who have received the vaccine are protected against the virus, compared to control individuals who have not received the vaccine. And that's going to be ultimately the gold standard.

But in the meantime, if you can link high levels of neutralizing antibody showing that there's protection -- like we can sometimes in laboratory animals -- that would be an important finding. We're not quite there in people yet, and we don't know what levels of neutralizing antibody were actually achieved in these individuals. So hopefully that data will get published in the coming weeks.


So you asked the first question, is this a breakthrough? It's a breakthrough in the sense that at least the vaccine doesn't seem to cause serious adverse reaction in most patients, so that's good. But in terms of the level of antibody and whether that's sufficient to protect individuals against getting COVID-19, we're not there yet.

KEILAR: So something that you, know, aside from the science, which is really the important part here, as you and others search for a vaccine. The battle that we're seeing play out between the CDC and the White House, certainly not helpful here. It's been spilling out into the open.

I want to listen to comments from White House Trade Advisor and Supply Chain Czar Peter Navarro, talking about the agency.

And also, then, let's listen to the response from Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.


PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE ADVISOR: The CDC, which really had the most trusted brand around the world in this space, really let the country down.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: Well, the comments 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 that within weeks and got it out.


KEILAR: Do you have any concerns as you watch just the chaos spill out into public here?

HOTEZ: Yes, absolutely. I mean, fighting between the agencies or fighting between the agencies and the White House, I don't see how that can be productive in any way. In fact, it should probably scare a lot of Americans, to see that kind of finger-pointing going back and forth between the CDC and White House, or the White House and any agency.

You know, this is a time when everyone has to work together to solve what's, you know, one of the biggest crises facing our nation in a long time, certainly the worst one of the 21st century. So to point fingers now at the CDC -- and you know, you could easily point fingers at the White House, I'm sure, over a number of things -- this is not the time to do this.

You know, once, you know, we get through this -- and we will get through COVID-19 -- there will be opportunities to do an analysis on what we could have done better at the level of all of the agencies, at the level of the White House. And that's actually true after every epidemic, after every epidemic, there are missteps. That was true of Zika, that was true of Ebola, that was true of H1N1, that was true of the first SARS, MERS, and it's going to be certainly true of this one.

But now is not the time to do this. And to deflect by blaming agencies, I don't see how anybody could think that's going to go well.

KEILAR: All right. Dr. Hotez, thank you so much. We really appreciate you breaking down all of the technical science for us and also weighing in on what's not really helping with the science. Thank you.

Gyms in Texas, reopening despite the single biggest day jump in cases. I'm going to speak live with two gym owners there.

Plus, a man has been stuck on a cruise ship for eight weeks during this pandemic as his tests keep going from positive to negative. He's going to join me.

And how did the virus start? Dozens of countries demand an investigation and China is now responding.


This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: Gyms are one of the businesses allowed to reopen in Texas today, but operations will look drastically different. Gyms and fitness centers will have to reduce capacity to 25 percent. Those working out will have to wear gloves, and numerous sanitizing stations will be in place.

Businesses may also request that masks or face coverings be worn, but the reopening comes after Texas on Saturday actually reported its highest one-day spike since the pandemic began, with more than 1,800 new cases in a day.

With me now are gym owners Gavin Rubin and James Watson. They own Mvement Gym in Dallas. I want to thank you both for joining us.

And James, today was really -- it was like the soft opening, so tell us how it's going so far and you know, were people waiting to get in? What was it like?

JAMES WATSON, CO-OWNER AND FOUNDER, MVEMENT: Yes, thank you for having us, number one. At 5:00 a.m. this morning, we opened our doors. And so we actually had people show up, excited and thrilled to have the opportunity to work out again, obviously under very different circumstances than ever before. So we're just happy to provide a service but be extremely health conscious and safe along the way.

KEILAR: So how do you, Gavin, keep people safe during this time? What practices -- I see you gloves, I see you have masks. I'm presuming you're using when you're not on television. What other practices are you doing?

GAVIN RUBIN, CO-OWNER AND FOUNDER, MVEMENT: Yes, so at Mvement Dallas, we are a house of health from our employees to our members to our members' families. We want to make sure everyone feels as safe as possible from -- working from the top down -- with the CDC, monitoring closely what their guidelines are, to the state of Texas, to the city of Dallas. And we've actually talked to our own on-staff medical doctors and professionals of what protocol should be.

And we're maintaining very, very strict guidelines here at the gym. From the moment you walk into the facility, we are doing temperature tests. Everyone is instructed to sanitize their hands (ph), both before and after (INAUDIBLE) the facility.


Even though this is a soft launch for us and the fire marshal says that we've got 12,000 square feet here, we can safely have 400 people here, 25 percent of that is 100. In no way, shape or form are we going to have 100 people here. We just don't feel that is safe. So we're taking extra precautions --

KEILAR: Do you -- are you space -- like do you space out treadmills? Are you having additional resources for people to wipe down? Are you limiting the number of people who are in there? Are there exercise classes that maybe aren't normally going on?

RUBIN: Yes, that's a great question. Actually, most of our classes here are designed as group classes, so we have people register before coming into the facility. We're capping every class at 25 people so we can maintain very safe social distancing, we can lay out equipment that has been sanitized before any class. And when we're done using the equipment, our members, our guests are instructed to leave those -- piece of equipment on the floor so our staff can sanitize properly, that equipment that's been used.

KEILAR: And so I wonder, as you look at -- I know -- I hear you taking precautions. I wonder, James, do you -- what happens if people start getting sick? There's a study in South Korea that found more than 100 infections linked to a rather prolonged indoor fitness class. So how do you confront the reality if you start seeing people getting sick?

WATSON: I mean, Brianna, I think for us, I'm not aware of the study that you just mentioned, I can't speak on something that I'm not aware of. But for us, taking the proper precautions and protocol from the CDC, the state and local governments.

But most importantly, like Gavin mentioned, in some of our studio areas, we have 5,000 square feet of which, when we cap the class size to 25 people, that gives about 200 square foot in diameter around any particular individual. No close contact.

Obviously, there could be asymptomatic people that we're unaware of, so we're just trying to take every precaution and safety measure to make everybody feel safe when they walk int his facility. And then take the guidance of our doctors on staff, of what we do if we see something rise up from any contact.

KEILAR: Well, look, James and Gavin, thanks so much for coming on. I know -- look, you know, you talk to people, this is one of the things they miss. They miss working out, they feel, you know, that they can't be at their strongest, even confront something like COVID, if they haven't been at their best physically. And a lot of people are just going stir-crazy as well.

We know this is a tricky situation that we're in, and we really appreciate you coming on and talking to us about it.

So at the beginning of this crisis, we heard the horror stories of people who are being stuck on cruise ships for weeks, right? But some of the employees on those ships are still stranded at sea. I'm going o speak to one of them, who has not been on dry land for more than two months.


Plus, how long will the economy take to recover? The Federal Reserve chief gives a sobering new warning.


KEILAR: As many across the globe face the harsh new reality of coronavirus, some are still stuck in limbo. Taylor Grimes was working on an MSC cruise ship at a jewelry store in mid-March as the coronavirus continued to spread. And now, 62 days later, Taylor is still forced to live on board a cruise ship, docked at a port in Italy. CNN has reached out to the MSC cruise line, we have not yet heard back from them.

Now, Taylor initially tested positive for the virus, and has since been tested eight times. And here's the issue, really, it's been a mixture of different positive and negative results. Taylor needs to test negative twice in a row before he can home. And so far, he has not.

Taylor Grimes and his mom, Ann Grimes, are joining me now to talk about this. It is -- it's nice to see both of you. Taylor, I'm so sorry you have to go through this. Tell us how you're holding up. This is a long time for you to be there by yourself. TAYLOR GRIMES, STUCK ON CRUISE SHIP: It is. Probably if I had to say

what is the hardest part, it's not really the isolation -- even though I'm a very social person, I can live with being isolated -- it's the emotional rollercoaster of it.

When, you know, I first get that negative result, you know, I'm really up. And then that positive result afterwards brings me crashing back down. Some days are -- I'm fine. Like today, I'm fine. I'm not great, but I'm good. And then some days are just devastating.

KEILAR: So you're really talking about just kind of like emotionally how you're doing, right? The ups and downs? Physically you feel fine. One of your --


GRIMES: Oh, yes.

KEILAR: -- friends had tested positive, right? That's what happened, one of your friends had tested positive --

GRIMES: Yes, actually -- funny, my health has never been an issue. When you asked me that, I immediately think mentally because I have been asymptomatic throughout the entire process, I've been one of the lucky ones.

Some of my friends had mild to severe symptoms, but I've luckily managed to stay very healthy throughout the entire process. The only strain I've had is mentally.

KEILAR: And so, Ann, what are your concerns here? Obviously, that must be your primary worry.

ANN GRIMES, MOTHER: Our primary worry is definitely the mental aspect of it. Being able to see him and know that physically he's fine, we're good. But it's the mental, it's the ups and downs. We get a call because he's six --