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All 50 States Now Partially Reopened As Deaths Rise; CDC Official To CNN, We've Been Muzzled; Steelers Quarterback Under Fire For Haircut, Defying Lockdown Order. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 13:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN RIGHT NOW: Hi there. I am Brianna Keilar. You are watching CNN's special coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

Right now, more than 1.5 million cases have been confirmed in the U.S. with over 92,000 deaths. And there's another critical number this Wednesday, and that is 50. With Connecticut beginning to lift COVID-19 restrictions, all 50 states are not partially reopened. And as you can see, the majority are still seeing cases hold steady or decline.

In Miami, one of the last cities in Florida to reopen, retail shops can get back to business with 50 percent capacity. The city's barbershops, nail salons and parks are now also open. Masks are required for workers, as well as anyone who is heading out to the parks.

And now, the Centers for Disease Control, which has found itself in an increasingly public back-and-forth with the White House over the response to the pandemic has released a 60-page document outlining its guidelines for reopening states. This move comes after the White House blocked a slightly longer version from going public last week, saying that it was too specific.

At the time, a senior CDC official told CNN that no one who is reopening meets the criteria for reopening. And now, a stunning allegation from several mid and high-ranking agency officials who tells CNN that the Trump administration is putting politics ahead of science. One of them saying bluntly, we've been muzzled. What's tough is that if we would have acted earlier on what we knew and recommended, we would have saved lives and money.

And speaking of the CDC, and that tension, we have some breaking news on the fate of its director. So let's go now to CNN National Correspondent Kristen Holmes.

Kristen, this sounds like some pretty big news. What are you learning?

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Brianna, and it is no surprise. As you said, we've really been watching this tension unfold over the last several weeks, and now we've learned that there are informal conversations going on about what to do about the CDC director, Robert Redfield. Now, just to give a little bit of background here. We know that there had been growing increasing tension between these two organizations, again, for weeks leading up to this. They actually resulted at one point in a heated conversation between Dr. Birx and Redfield.

Now, Redfield told colleagues as recently as last week that he didn't believe that this confrontation between the two of them meant that his job was at risk in any way. The two have a decades-long relationship.

But over the weekend, the tide seemed to have turned. At least that's what these sources in the administration are telling us. They say that those comments made by Peter Navarro that blame the CDC for the testing, saying they let the country down, really were the opening of the flood gates here and that he was expressing how many within the administration actually felt towards the organization.

Now, we are hearing again that there is some sort of conversation going around and that Redfield himself has concerns that he may have a target on his back. And I should say, several administration officials did not push us away from that idea. This is the way that these things tend to go.

But as we move forward, I want to note a couple of things. One, President Trump was on the Hill yesterday. He absolutely excoriated the CDC, but he did not mention Redfield by name. The other point I want to make is that CDC officials are pushing back on this notion that Redfield is in any way in trouble with the White House. But one thing we never saw, and I want to point this out directly, Navarro made those comments, President Trump never hit back on them. He never defended the CDC. We never heard anything that protected the CDC in any way.

So, clearly, a developing story here, but it really is the culmination of weeks of a distrustful relationship coming to a head.

KEILAR: Yes, it's a very important story that you're following there, Kristen. We'll keep following it with you. We'll have more on that ahead.

And as more Americans are leaving their homes and they're moving about the country, the race to find a vaccine becomes that much more urgent. And now, a study conducted by Johnson and Johnson and a team of Harvard researchers is showing positive results in one set of early trials.

Let's get right to CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Tell us about this, Elizabeth.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: These are actually two studies that are so interesting coming out of this lab at Harvard. I will say though as caution, as the doctor who did these has cautioned, these are animals, these are not people. Lots of things work in animals that don't work in people.

But to talk about what they did, they took 25 monkeys, rhesus macaque monkeys, and they vaccinated them and exposed them to the virus. And what they found was that the monkeys had developed antibodies, antibodies capable of neutralizing the virus. So that's great news. That's what we want the monkeys to do, because eventually, that's what we want us to do.

Then they went and waited a little bit of time and re-exposed the monkeys to the virus to see what happened, and they did not get re- infected.


In other words, when they put the virus in front of them, so to speak, they did not get the virus after they had been vaccinated. So, that's a wonderful thing. That is great. It is great if you're a monkey.

Today is a wonderful day if you're a monkey. None of us watching this are monkeys, I hope. So, it doesn't necessarily mean anything. But really hoping that this translates into humans.

KEILAR: And the speed with which -- look, we know that when it comes to vaccine trials, there's a long road ahead, even from a point like this. And it might not work out. Is this pretty quick though in terms of a timeline for getting to this point, Elizabeth?

COHEN: It really isn't. This is a marathon, not a sprint. This is Johnson and Johnson who has sponsored this week. They haven't even gotten into humans yet. They are still working in animals. There are plenty of others that -- there are eight others, to be specific, who are working in humans. And even those teams that are in humans have a long way to go.

So, let's take a look at sort of how this sort of progresses. Vaccines start in the lab. And that's where you come up with your vaccine. You then give it to a group of animals to see if it's safe and also if you get that antibody response that we were just talking about. And then you move on, if all that goes well, to small-scale studies with humans, dozens of humans or hundreds of them and for the same reason. With that small scale, you try to make sure that it's safe and that you're getting the antibody response.

And then and only then do you move on to the large-scale human trials. That's with thousands or even tens of thousands of people. You vaccinate some. You don't vaccinate others. And you put them out in the world and see who gets COVID and who doesn't. That's the part that takes such a long time. It could take months and months.

And there's all sorts of forecasts about how we're going to do it quicker and all of that, but this is the part that is hard to speed up. It just has to happen at its natural pace.

Let's take a look at where various companies are. In the entire world, there are only eight teams who are in clinical trials. There're four in China, three in the U.S. and one in the U.K. and 110 are in preclinical work. And what that means is that they're either in the lab or in animals.

And as you can see, we're not going to have 118 vaccines when we're done with these. The vast majority will fail. There is a chance that all of them will fail. There is a chance we will not get a vaccine for this virus. We hope that's not the case, but we have to be very, very cautious about all of this. Brianna?

KEILAR: That's what the officials are saying when they say there's multiple shots on goal. Thank you so much for walking us through that, Elizabeth Cohen.

The State of Connecticut is starting to reopen today. This is welcome news for the restaurant industry. But after months of being shut down, the dining experience will be a lot different than the last time that people went out to eat.

CNN National Correspondent Brynn Gingras is in Milford, Connecticut. Tell us about what it's like. What is it like in the restaurants there, Brynn?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, one of the big questions was, were people actually going to come out to eat on this first day? And I've got to tell you, we're at this restaurant here in Milford and a lot of people are coming in, and they're following the rules.

I want to kind of show you exactly what we're seeing. When you enter, there are some people waiting for a table now. But when you enter, you could see all those Xs on the ground, keeping social distancing in mind, of course. And now, there's all these new precautions that the restaurant has to take, like they have to have paper menus, they have to have plastic silverware that's all separated with napkins and then separate condiments, and you also have disinfectant that is all part of the CDC guidelines that this restaurant is following.

As we come into their patio, keep in mind, only restaurants can open if they have outdoor space. So, this place is lucky because they have a pretty big outdoor space, even though it's still about 50 percent of what they typically can accommodate for patrons. But there are certainly restaurants all around the state that don't have this space and are having to outfit it now in order to actually do business. And there are some places that just don't want to open because of that or can't open.

But you can see, I mean, everyone is six feet apart from each other, the tables, and people are really, you know, adhering to the rules, making sure that they keep on their masks until they have to eat, of course. And I've got to tell you, it's a nice day. People are enjoying the experience.

Take a listen to one of the people we talked to.


ROBERT NICOLAS, DINING AT NEWLY REOPENED RESTAURANT: It feels real good, you know, because I enjoy going out and being in nice weather like this, and that stuff. The food is good and the company is good. Only thing is we've got to keep our distance, which is fine. We can learn to deal with that for a year or two, how long it has to be. (END VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRAS: Yes. Now, in Connecticut, these restaurants had to shut down almost a day -- I think exactly -- before St. Patrick's Day. So like a bar-restaurant like this ordered all this inventory and then couldn't use any of these. So this is welcoming to them to be able to get started again, Brianna.

I just also want to point out, there is only one way for an exit too. This is another step that the restaurants have to take in order to reopen.

But, again, we're going to be looking -- rather, the state is going to be looking at the metrics. The governor says they're all in the right direction at this point. We know that the numbers were the lowest they've been as far as deaths from COVID-19 since April.


And, hopefully, those numbers continue to go down and that at least owners are saying they hope the numbers go down so more restrictions can be eased back. Brianna?

KEILAR: I think a lot of people will look at that guy drinking his beer on the patio and be very jealous there. Brynn Gingras, thank you for walking us through that in Milford, Connecticut.

With the knowledge that coronavirus spreads easily among large gatherings, states are facing a big dilemma, deciding how and when to reopen churches. A new study from the CDC analyzing a cluster in Arkansas may make this choice harder.

During the time in early March, two symptomatic people who later tested positive attended events at a local church. And among the 92 other attendees, 35 developed coronavirus and three people died. An additional 26 cases linked to the church occurred in the community, and that also included one death.

Then in Houston, the Holy Ghost Church has closed its doors indefinitely. It follows the death of one of its priests. While it is uncertain what caused the 79-year-old's death, but within a week, five others had tested positive.

CNN Religion Commentator Father Edward Beck is here. And, you know, this is tough, right? Because in times of trouble, this is what gets so many people through, their faith. And churches are openly defying orders about large gatherings as they, I guess, sort of weigh this calculation. Do you think the risk is worth it?

EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Well, not if they're going to open like that, Brianna, no. I think they have to follow the CDC guidelines, just like any other organization or business that's opening. So, physical distancing and all of the precautions is going to be necessary.

Now, it's a little bit more difficult with churches. And as a priest, I'm just thinking about -- so, say, I get to say mass on Sunday. Now, they're saying maybe only ten people can come into the church. Well, is that really opening?

And then you come to communion. And so, for Catholics who receive communion every time they come to mass, you put your hands out. So, as a priest, I'm going to be placing the host in everybody's hand who comes up. So, they're saying, well, you can't touch anybody's hand. Well, what if I do? Then I have to sanitize in between each person I give communion to.

I mean, the logistics of it are very complicated and I think they need to be thought through before we do open religious events.

KEILAR: So, I mean, you point out a very good thing, which is a very important thing, which is that churches are unique, right, especially when you're talking about communion. The CDC actually left the reopening of churches off its list of guidelines. What do you think about that?

BECK: Well, I think it should have included it, because the churches need to be told, if not by guidelines, then certainly legally, that you have to follow the same parameters, the same guidelines as everybody else. And we've seen that churches have not, even during the lockdown did not.

So, hopefully, the leadership of the church, and certainly, bishops in the catholic church have said they're going to follow the guidelines, but I think you really need to say it very specifically, because I've heard stuff like, well, Jesus will protect me, or God wouldn't let that happen. Well, guess what, as you just said, a priest died. Five other priests were infected with the virus. Other congregants have been infected with the virus.

So, I think we really have to be smart about this. And I think it should have included the guidelines for all groups that gather, and including religious ones.

KEILAR: Yes, it's very important. Father Beck, thank you, as always.

As more Americans die by the minute, the president is busy threatening states, attacking jurists and accusing a T.V. host of murder.

Plus, Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under fire for getting a haircut despite the state's orders that barbershops and salons remain closed. I'll be speaking with his barber.

And as more passengers begin flying again, big news from the airlines, including one that's not allowing you to book middle seats.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



KEILAR: Breaking news. CNN is reporting that the fate of the CDC director is in question as tensions escalate between America's crown jewel of health agencies and the White House. And in the meantime, we're watching a pattern with this president, attacking any perceived enemy or anyone who looks to hold him accountable, and this is at a time when the nation needs accountability from its government. Instead, he deflects, he distracts, he lies his way through this crisis.

Just this morning alone, for instance, the president is threatening to withhold funding to two states because they are allowing citizens to vote by mail. He again attacks a member of a jury. He again accuses a T.V. personality, a private citizen, this time of murder. And all of this as more than 92,000 Americans have lost their lives. Thousands more are fighting just to survive and get through day to day. Millions of others have lost their jobs.

I want to bring in CNN's Senior Political Analyst John Avlon. You know, John, sometimes it feels like a broken record, right? We've seen this again and again and again. But the circumstances here are so much different that it elevates the, I guess, alarming nature of this behavior. Because we are in a crisis, and this stuff is going on and making it worse.

JOHN AVLON, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes. I mean, the president seems distracted in the face of dealing with an absolute crisis on his watch, a global pandemic, and he can't rise above the pettiness, the anger, the vindictiveness, the misinformation, the disinformation, of a kind that if some of your friends or co-workers or boss did, you would think there was something deeply unwell about them.


This is the president of the united states, and we shouldn't normalize it.

KEILAR: No, we should not normalize it. Okay.

So, what's he doing here? Is he just distracting? What doesn't he want people paying attention to?

AVLON: So, that's a great question, because the president does have a playbook. He runs it instinctively, distract, deflect, deny. And in this case, the fact that he's doing it against the backdrop of a pandemic highlights how infantile that impulse ultimately is. There are serious things the president is doing and his administration are doing, the ousting of inspectors general, part of a process of trying to undercut anything resembling accountability in his system, with largely Republican acquiescence. That may be one of these things.

But one of his volleys this morning, I think, was actually quite serious, because it gets to the heart of our integrity of our elections, this going after Michigan and Nevada, largely baselessly, but really, we're just trying to ensure that there's an expanded access to vote in an election occurring during a pandemic, which is almost unprecedented. That kind of intimidation to withdraw federal funds really goes beyond just the president dealing with anger and distracting and deflecting towards something potentially a lot more sinister. We all have got to keep our eye on the ball.

KEILAR: And he really seems to see political opportunity in this, right, when he is attacking states, like Michigan, that have strict stay-at-home orders, encouraging protesters to march on capitols, even refusing to wear a mask himself.

I wonder, how do you think history is going to look back on these moments and remember how this president has handled this?

AVLON: Very, very badly. And, look, perspective is a thing we have least of in our politics, but when you're the president, you are judged in the eyes of history. There are apples-to-apples comparisons with other presidents that we can make. And we know there's never been a president who has shown this consistent a disregard for facts, this much of an impulse to divide people when he should be uniting in the face of a common crisis. The president apparently can't help himself.

But judged by the light of history, by any other president, we shouldn't forget how absolutely unprecedented this is and what ultimately a dereliction of duty it is. Because character, we know from history, is the thing that matters most in presidents, and that would seem to be most obviously lacking in this one.

KEILAR: John, thank you so much, John Avlon.

And just in, as more clusters break out on the frontlines, we're getting word that nearly 70 grocery store workers have died from the virus.

Plus, are officials being honest about their coronavirus counts? There's new scrutiny for two states in particular.

And the governor of Pennsylvania is livid after one of the state's biggest sports stars defies a lockdown order to get a haircut. I'll be speaking with Ben Roethlisberger's barber, next.



KEILAR: Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf is scolding one of the state's sports stars after Steelers Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger posted a video of him getting his hair and his beard cut. Governor Wolf said that everybody should avoid putting themselves in harm's way right now.


GOV. TOM WOLF (D-PA): When you go to something like a barbershop and you're not protected, I don't care who you are. The chances of that virus actually wreaking havoc on your life increases. I don't personally think that any Pennsylvanian ought to take that chance. I certainly don't want to take that chance myself.


KEILAR: Pennsylvania has begun a phased reopening of the state with salons and barbershops not yet allowed to reopen.

Joining me now are Carlos Norman and Mark Conan. Carlos is the barber who gave Ben Roethlisberger his haircut. He's the owner of Norman's Cuttin' Edge Barber Shop. Carlos, you're taking some heat here, right, for giving him a haircut. He's taking heat for getting one, for getting a beard trim. But you walk us through your perspective on sort of what happened here, and tell us first, are you open? Are you open for business?

CARLOS NORMAN, OWNER, NORMAN'S CUTTIN' EDGE BARBER SHOP. No, absolutely not. Ben needed a haircut. Ben told the (INAUDIBLE) pretty he was going to -- after he was recovered from surgery, he wanted to get a haircut. And he has recovered from surgery. He asked me if I would do it, and I did it. I did it as a favor for a friend. No money was exchanged. You know, I cut his hair. We ate slippery mermaid sushi, and that was it. The next day, all this blew up.

KEILAR: Were you surprised?

NORMN: Yes, absolutely. My phone has been ringing off the hook constantly, you know, with interviews, some positive -- mostly positive, but some negative, you know? And it's been a rough journey, but, you know, we're getting through it here at Norman's Cuttin' Edge Barber Shop.


KEILAR: I think some people might look at the video. They see through the mirror, they can see two.