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Michigan Faces Historic Flooding Amid Pandemic; Texas Judge Rules in Favor of Voting By Mail; CDC Finally Releases Guidance for Reopening. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 05:00   ET



LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight. Historic flooding expected after two dams failed in Michigan. Thousands forced to crowd into shelters, despite coronavirus.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: A major ruling on mail-in voting in a red state could mean big changes for the presidential election.

JARRETT: And the CDC finally releases guidelines for reopening after all the states have reopened. What's in there? What's not? And when the nation's most populous county may finally get moving.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: Good morning. I'm Christine Romans. It's Wednesday, May 20th. It is 5:00 a.m. exactly in New York.

And breaking overnight, a state of emergency and thousands of people evacuating in Michigan after two dams fail. This is the biggest test of natural disaster response since coronavirus swept the U.S. Both the Edenville and Sanford dams breached following heavy rains and flash flooding across the state.

JARRETT: The Tittabawassee River is expected to set a new record this morning, cresting at 38 feet before receding slowly there. Governor Gretchen Whitmer is urging residents to evacuate the affected areas in Midland County immediately. She says the situation is bad and will get worse today.


GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D), MICHIGAN: In the next 12 to 15 hours, downtown Midland could be under approximately nine feet of water. We are anticipating an historic high water level. If you are in one of these impacted areas, please, right now, evacuate.


JARRETT: The timing and especially serious problem as officials try to prevent the spread of COVID, with evacuees forced to gather in shelters. County officials say teams at shelters will be screening everyone and handing out masks. They say emergency personnel have plenty of PPE.

ROMANS: Now, no deaths or injuries have been reported so far. Flooding causing damage in areas well beyond Midland County.


TOM PORTER, ARENAC COUNTY RESIDENT: Me and the kids and the wife, we're all tacking about what we're going to do, what we're going to do.

NICOLE RICHEY, GLADWIN COUNTY RESIDENT: I knew it'd be bad, but not this bad. Yeah, not this bad. This is real bad. I don't know how long it's going to take for the water to go down now.

RAYMOND CULVIS, ARENAC COUNTY RESIDENT: This is the worst flooding I have ever seen in this area. The worst.


ROMANS: The National Weather Service in Detroit says a flash flood emergency continues in Midland County through 7:30 this morning. President Trump will be in Michigan tomorrow but much further South.

JARRETT: New this morning, a major ruling in Texas that could have massive implications for the presidential election. A federal judge has ruled Texans afraid of catching coronavirus can vote by mail. The decision says a disability provision in the state's absent absentee voting law includes people who lack immunity from COVID-19 and fear infection at polling places. Republicans in the red state and President Trump have resisted calls to expand mail-in voting. They claim, without any evidence, it invites voter fraud.

ROMANS: Mail-in voting is expected to be used widely in November because of the pandemic. In-person voting proved very chaotic in Wisconsin last month, remember? And sewing doubts about the process now could give the GOP ammunition to fight a result they don't like in the fall. Texas' attorney general said he intends to immediately appeal this ruling.

JARRETT: Well, on the very same day, the 50th and final state reopens from coronavirus, detailed guidelines on how to reopen have finally emerged from the CDC. The guidance was shelved by the White House over concern about faith-based groups, where they were being unfairly targeted. Now our senior CDC official says references to faith-based groups, like whether to share communion cups or prayer books were stripped away, even though the CDC has shown the virus can spread in places of worship, just like anywhere else.

ROMANS: There are now 18 states where infection rates have climbed in the last week. On Friday, there were only seven. Ahead of Memorial Day, states are loosening restrictions even further, most notably, New York will allow Memorial Day ceremonies with up to ten people. And Miami will join the rest of Florida allowing some businesses like shops and salons to open with restrictions.

JARRETT: As for the 60 pages of CDC guidelines, well, it's a lot of what local leaders have already been doing. For schools and day camps, it recommends desks at least six feet apart, lunch in classrooms, not the cafeteria, and temperature checks for everyone.

ROMANS: For restaurants, no sharing of menus or condiments, outdoor seating first, and signs to keep diners six feet apart.


Again, local business owners already doing a lot of this. So, as of today, all states are reopening in some form. And we now have a better idea of when America's most populous county could join in.

CNN's Nick Watt is in Los Angeles.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Christine and Laura, today, Connecticut becomes the 50th and final state to start opening the door. They are taking baby steps, according to the governor, but he says the timing is right, the numbers are going down. You know, mid-April, they were seeing maybe 1,000 new cases a day, 100 deaths. That's now down to 300-some cases in the new day and yesterday just 23 deaths. That is a lot of death. But in the new normal we all live in, that is, sadly, considered progress.

Here in California, we have just heard from the county supervisor here in L.A. County, up to 10 million Americans that July 4th is the goal. Independence Day is the day by which they want to get most business open again, but they are still going to go by the data.

So, we're talking by July 4th, dining inside restaurants, shopping malls, also a lot of pressure to get the movie industry back up and running, also to get sporting events back. Of the 58 counties in California, 53 of them have met the benchmarks to reopen already, but some of them, like L.A., are cautious, are taking it a little slower.

Briefly back to that July 4th goal. As somebody who lives in Los Angeles County, it is reassuring, I suppose, to get a date, see a light at the end of the tunnel, but it does feel still a long way off.

Christine and Laura, back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Nick Watt. July 4th, then.

Two states among the first to reopen for business now under scrutiny for their reporting of coronavirus case numbers. In Florida, the official behind the state's widely praised web page showing COVID cases and deaths says she was removed from that project. "Florida Today" reports that official questioned the state's commitment to accessibility and transparency, but Governor Ron DeSantis claims that official says she was misrepresented.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: Our dashboard has been recognized nationally. Dr. Birx has praised it multiple times. It's a heck of a tool. It's a nonissue.


JARRETT: Meanwhile, in Georgia, the State Department of public health posted a misleading chart on its web page. "The Atlanta Journal Constitution" says the chart made it look like the number of confirmed cases was dropping steadily, but it did not list the dates in order or keep counties in the same position each day. It's since been removed, and the Department told "The Journal Constitution" the chart was wrong because of an error in data-sorting.

ROMANS: All right, president Trump's refusal to wear a mask faces a test tomorrow. He'll be visiting a ford plant in Michigan, where everyone is required to wear a mask at that facility.

Now, the president has resisted covering his face, even as he insists aides wear a mask in the West Wing. And the government, of course, officially recommends you wear a mask. Ford says it has informed the White House of its safety policies, but on earlier trips to Arizona and to Pennsylvania, the president refused a mask, unlike nearly everyone else there. The Ford plant has been repurposed to produce ventilators and PPE.

JARRETT: The Department of Homeland Security is under investigation over concerns two of its agencies botched their response to the pandemic. The DHS inspector general is looking into treatment of detainees being held by ICE and Customs and Border Protection, and into FEMA's distribution of vital medical supplies.

The watchdog on this case will be closely watched. President Trump has already purged four inspector generals in the last several weeks.

ROMANS: Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have different views on the economic outlook after coronavirus. Powell has repeatedly suggested more necessary is needed to boost the economy, while the treasury secretary and the White House want to wait. Now, Mnuchin warned, there could be long-term damage to the economy, the longer states are shut down, but he said he expects a strong second half of the year.

The debate over how and when to reopen led to this exchange between Mnuchin and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown.


SEN. SHERROD BROWN (D-OH): How many workers will die if we send people back to work without the protections they need, Mr. Secretary?

STEVEN MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF STATE: Mr. Senator, we don't intend to send anybody back to work without the protections.

BROWN: How many workers should give their lives to increase the GDP or the Dow Jones by 1,000 points? MNUCHIN: No worker should give their lives to do that, Mr. Senator,

and I think your characterization is unfair.


MADDOW: That's really illustrates the balancing act between opening up the economy and keeping the curve flat -- the infection curve flat. Powell pointed out that one in seven workers in this country -- the Fed chief said one in seven workers works for state and local government. These are firefighters, police officers, teachers, the people who make this a civilized society.


Now, Republicans don't think taxpayers should pick up the bill for state aid here, for extra state aid, but the recovery won't happen if you don't support state and local employment. And how do you feel confident if you start laying off these workers?


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We've got a situation where people are unemployed for long periods of time. That can permanently weigh on both their careers and their ability to go back to work and also weigh on the economy for years, equally so with small and medium- sized businesses, which are the jobs machine of our great economy.


ROMANS: So, the House plans to vote next week on changes to the Small Business Administration's Paycheck Protection Program, including how and when the money needs to be spent.

JARRETT: All right. Well, still ahead, they thought they were entering a robust jobs market, but now facing a new reality. How is the class of 2020 looking for work?



JARRETT: Doctors say children who show signs of a COVID-19 complication need immediate attention and probably need to be hospitalized. The symptoms of multisystem inflammatory syndrome do not look like the classic signs of coronavirus. They mostly feature stomach pain, vomiting, fever, and a rash. And many of these kids test negative for COVID at first. At least 20 states and Washington, D.C., now say they are investigating possible cases.

ROMANS: The USDA's farmers-to-families food box program receiving early positive reviews. The program gives billions in aid to help struggling farmers nationwide. Five companies tell CNN the program helped save their business by allowing them to keep their workers. Farmers affected by COVID-19 can start applying for federal funds next week. Meatpacking plants remain the focal point for containing the spread,

and a virus-stricken naval ship is ready to return to sea. CNN has reporters from coast to coast.



On Tuesday, President Trump praised meatpacking plants, saying they are, quote, very clean now, and that there are fewer and fewer problems. But the workers inside those plants, well, they're still getting sick at alarming rates, and outbreaks across the country continue. In Nebraska this week, health officials said that 25 percent, a quarter of all the cases in the state are meatpacking plant workers. It said that just over 2,600 have tested positive for COVID- 19. The last time we got an update from Nebraska back on May 7th, that number was just over 1,000.


That virus-stricken aircraft carrier, the Theodore Roosevelt at pier side for so many weeks in Guam, now finally ready to go back out to sea and probably will do so this week, according to defense officials. The Navy believes there are now enough healthy crew members aboard to go out to sea for a few weeks, at least.

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: I'm Shimon Prokupecz in New York City, where the NYPD has shut down a Jewish orthodox school that they say was operating illegally inside a Brooklyn building. The NYPD responded to the building after receiving community complaints that there were students inside this building, that people inside this building were operating an illegal school. Of course, all schools across the state and city have been shut since the pandemic. The NYPD says they removed everyone and that they shut the building down.

PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Newton in Ottawa, where Canada announced that the U.S./Canada border will remain closed for another month until June 21st.

Now, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was getting pressure from local leaders who feel that the level of infection in the United States is still too high to reopen the border to nonessential traffic. That border remains open for commercial goods and essential workers, health care workers that cross from Canada into the United States.

Now, even if the border is reopened in a month, Canada is looking at extending its quarantine measures, and that includes for Americans who cross by land, that they'll have to quarantine for two weeks when they enter Canada.


JARRETT: Thanks so much to all of our correspondents for those reports. Well, next week, New York City's metropolitan transportation authority

is set to launch a UV light program proven to kill COVID-19. The move could be critical to getting the transit system back on track in the nation's busiest city. Starting in subways, the MTA is testing 230 portable UV lamps provided by a Colorado start-up. Altogether, they cost $1 million. And if they work, the MTA will move on to buses, the long island rail road, and the metro-north commuter rail.

ROMANS: All right, new college graduates were set to enter the country's best job market in half a century, but all that changed in their final semester. So, what's next for the class of 2020?

CNN's Bianna Golodryga has more.


BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): For newly minted Boston University graduate Sade Leslie (ph), senior year didn't end quite as expected.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I walked down the street and finished my finals and was hoping to see somebody I know and be like, we did it! Like we're done! And there's not much of that experience there.

GOLODRYGA: Aside from pomp and circumstance, there's another thing missing from Sade's life now, a job. When college seniors enter their final year just last fall, the national unemployment rate was at a near-record low of 3.7 percent. Today, it's at a jaw-dropping 14.7 percent. The jobless rate for those aged 20 to 24 is even higher at 25.7 percent.

As a result, an exciting job Sade had planned to take after graduation in real estate has been rescinded.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Unfortunately, when I wake up, it's straight to the email. I have my alerts on for LinkedIn, various different websites.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many of the responses I've gotten have been, hey, we don't know if this position's ever even going to reopen again. We appreciate your interest. Best of luck.

GOLODRYGA: Cory Sanning (ph) finds himself in a similar position.


The University of Tennessee grad has long held aspirations in sports media. Prior to the pandemic, he had many promising job leads. Now he has none.

What have the past few months been like for you as you've been rewriting what your future looks like trying to get job interviews and offers now?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's -- it's definitely been life-altering, I would describe it as. GOLODRYGA: If history is any guide, Cory and Sade are part of a

demographic that economists worry could bear the brunt of the coronavirus recession. Graduates entering the labor market during a recession are shown to earn less than those who enter during a healthy economy for at least 10 to 15 years. Those job market challenges are leading some colleges to take matters into their own hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we're trying to do is identify job opportunities for all 500 of our graduating seniors. And to be able to do that in one of the toughest job markets we've ever seen.

GOLODRYGA: Colby College in Maine is already making good on its promise to get job offers for 100 percent of its graduating seniors.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To find a way to say hey, can we get together and call on our entire network of alum and friends and others to help these students?

GOLODRYGA: No one should bet against the class of 2020. If anything, the current crisis has graduates like Cory and Sade even more determined.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I applied to jobs in Cincinnati, Charlotte, Memphis, Kentucky, Florida. I'm willing to drive as far as Seattle, Washington, to anybody that will hire me because I'm willing to start from the ground up and do whatever they need.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Maybe a potential positive of this, if there can be any positives, is that years from now, decades from now, whenever we all reflect back, we all had this common and shared experience, and you'll always be able to say, oh, you're class of 2020? I know what happened.

GOLODRYGA: Bianna Golodryga, CNN, New York.


JARRETT: Thanks to Bianna for that story.

And coming up, could public bathrooms be the biggest obstacle to reopening America?



ROMANS: Some of America's favorite public places -- stadiums, movies, restaurants, parks -- have one thing in common, public bathrooms, and they're a big hurdle to getting America back up and running.

Here's CNN's Brian Todd.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tonight, as more Americans clamor to get back to their favorite restaurants, movie theaters and malls, there's one element of the reopening process health experts are keeping a close eye on, the public restroom -- a place they say can be a Petri dish for diseases like coronavirus.

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, FORMER CDC DISEASE DETECTIVE: You may have many people who are not able to stay six feet apart and also, because in the bathroom, you have so many high contact surfaces. Things like taps, soap dispensers, door handles, flush handles.

TODD: And experts say some of those features in public restrooms that we previously thought were sanitary are now potential transmitters of coronavirus.

ERIC FEIGL-DING, SENIOR FELLOW, FEDERATION OF AMERICAN SCIENTISTS: The hand drying blower is a wonderful machine to spread germs and aerosols and droplets throughout the room. And another key thing is that when you flush a toilet, the act of flushing a toilet is actually an aerosol generating device of fecal matter. And we know that there is viruses in fecal matters.

TODD: Bathroom safety is on the minds of proprietors and customers alike, as businesses start to reopen. The owner of the Aut-o-rama drive in theatre in Ohio told "The Washington Post" bathroom safety was the number one concern people had on our Facebook page. So I had to take action to make them comfortable.

A restaurant owner to Houston is enforcing bathroom distancing.

MATT BRICE, OWNER-OPERATOR, FEDERAL AMERICAN GRILL: I have an attendant where he or she stands outside the restrooms and only one person goes in at a time.

TODD: Other potential solutions, some of them being tried in Europe, touch free public bathrooms, where not only are the flush, the hand drier and the sink touch free, but when you exit, at least part of the bathroom automatically disinfects after each person, marking off sinks and toilets so that every other one is used to maintain distance.

Removing doors from bathroom entrances like many airports have done so people won't have to touch them. McDonald's has a new rule that bathrooms are going to be cleaned every half hour. Changes that many restaurant and store managers say will cost them a lot of money to make, but which could make the difference in whether their businesses survive.

One change experts say should be installing a simple feature which many public restrooms in America don't have.

YASMIN: Many public bathrooms have toilets that don't have lids which means you're pulling the flush and generating this mist of droplets without being able to contain that safely.

TODD: Should some establishments shut down bathrooms completely or should we all simply stop using the bathrooms in restaurants?

FEIGL-DING: The main reason people go to the bathroom in restaurants is actually to wash their hands. And so, I think we do not want to discourage people from washing their hands.

TODD (on camera): But public health experts say many establishments could take months or years to overhaul their bathrooms to meet some of the new sanitation standards, so they're recommending that people do things like bring their own toiletry kits to restaurants with hand sanitizer or sanitizing wipes, and they say people should wear masks when they go into public restrooms.

Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


ROMANS: All right. EARLY START continues right now.

All right. Breaking overnight, historic flooding expected after two dams failed in Michigan. Thousands crowding into shelters this hour, despite coronavirus.

JARRETT: A major ruling on mail-in voting in a red state could mean big.