Return to Transcripts main page


CDC Releases Guidance as All 50 States Reopen; CDC Removes Guidance for Religious Institutions; Florida and Georgia COVID-19 Data Under Scrutiny; Thousands Evacuated After Two Dams Fail in Michigan; Trump Likens Study on Drug He's Taking to an 'Enemy Statement'. Aired 6-6:30a ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 06:00   ET



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The CDC releasing detailed guidelines on how to safely reopen the country.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You get the sense from this document that it's really leaving it more up to the discretion of governors now.

STEVE MNUCHIN, SECRETARY OF THE TREASURY: There is the risk of permanent damage. We want to do this in a balanced and safe way.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 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.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The dams in the county are all wide open. We're just waiting for the water to crest. We're assessing what damages we have.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're looking at flood heights that are the highest we have ever had in the city of Midland.


ANNOUNCER: This is NEW DAY with Alisyn Camerota and John Berman.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We want to welcome our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is NEW DAY. It is Wednesday, May 20, 6 a.m. here in New York.

This morning, all 50 states are at least partially reopening. And we finally have detailed guidance from the CDC about how to do it safely, though they have omitted guidance for churches and other faith-based institutions.

Also this morning, tension between the White House and the CDC escalating. Sources inside the CDC tell CNN they are convinced that politics, not science, is driving the administration's response, and they say that has made this pandemic worse.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: There are also new questions this morning about the data on coronavirus cases and deaths reported by the states of Florida and Georgia.

In an email to CNN's local affiliate, a former Florida official says she was fired for refusing to, quote, "manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen."

We're also following breaking news out of Michigan where two dams have failed, causing catastrophic flooding, forcing thousands to evacuate. We're going to have a live report from the scene in just moments.

We're going to begin our coverage, though, with CNN's Rosa Flores live in Miami, where businesses will reopen this morning -- Rosa.


The CDC finally issuing guidelines on how to reopen cities and states around the country. This roadmap, of course, coming a little late, since all states, as of today, have lifted some restrictions, including right here in Florida where I am.

The city of Miami and Miami Beach reopening for the first time today. But of course, the headlines are these guidelines issued by the CDC. Their timing amid tensions with the White House.


FLORES (voice-over): The CDC releasing detailed guidelines on how to safely reopen the country amid reports of tension between the agency and the White House. And all 50 states at least partially easing social distancing measures.

The new 60-page roadmap provides detailed checkpoints that schools and childcare facilities, restaurants and public transportation can consider before reopening.

The CDC suggesting some places, like schools, should remain closed in step one of reopening. The openings should be guided by whether states have low infection and transmission rates.

Last week, the Trump administration rejected an earlier draft of the guidelines. One reported point of contention was concern that the CDC's recommendations were unfairly targeting religious institutions.

A senior CDC official tells CNN that references to faith-based guidance were ultimately stripped from the final document, too.

But most states, like Connecticut, the last to begin reopening, are moving ahead using their own rules.

GOV. ED LAMONT (D-CT): This is the time to take a baby step and start cautiously reopening. We also really emphasize you're so much safer outdoors than indoors. So start with the outdoor eating, for example. FLORES: And with increased movement in testing capabilities, officials

are monitoring possible spikes. In the past week, while 17 states have seen a decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases, 18 states have experienced increases, including Florida.

Where here in Miami, the city is joining the rest of the state this morning, allowing some businesses, like retail stores and salons, to open with restrictions.

But in California, Los Angeles County officials setting a July 4 target date to restart in-house dining and open shopping malls.

HILDA SOLIS, LOS ANGELES COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS: That's a goal. But we have to get there, and we have to do it by measurement. We have to do it with scientific evidence and data, making sure that everybody is adhering to the public health order. And I can tell you, as one supervisor, I have a great deal of concerns that some people are not listening to that message.

FLORES: And with residents already allowed back at beaches and to retail stores for curbside delivery, the mayor sending this reminder after reporting the city experienced its second deadliest 24 hours in the pandemic.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES: So anybody who thinks that we're out of the woods, we are not. This remains as dangerous today as it was on day one. What has changed is we are getting smarter about how to combat it.


FLORES: Florida and Georgia coming under scrutiny for their reporting of COVID-19 cases.

Here in Florida, Rebecca Jones, the scientist behind the COVID-19 data portal, was removed from her post on May 5. And according to news site Florida Today, she questioned the state's accessibility and transparency, while Governor Ron DeSantis and the health department contesting her claims, saying that she exhibited insubordination. And the governor going as far as, during a press conference, reading one of her own emails, saying that her words, quote, "were misrepresented."

Well, now the Department of Health said that she has until Thursday to resign or she will be terminated -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Rosa, you've given us a lot to talk about. Thank you very much for that report.

Joining us now is CNN national security analyst Juliette Kayyem. She's a former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. And CNN political commentator, also, we have epidemiologist Dr. Abdul el-Sayed. Great to have both of you. We have a lot to talk about.

So let's talk about these CDC guidelines. They are out not a moment too soon, since all 50 states are in some form of reopening right now.

Dr. El-Sayed, I want to start with you, because what is notably absent from these new 60 pages of guidelines. So you'll remember last week we had this sort of checklist of six pages that lots of people felt was a little too anemic for states. So now we have 60 pages. But what's missing is any guidance for houses of worship.


And here's what was in the original draft that CNN got, you know, a week or so ago. Here's what it had said: "Avoid choirs. Limit large crowds. Limit sharing of books and hymnals. Limit -- make the collection plates stationery rather than passed. Restrict close contact during rituals and avoid shared food offerings."

So, Dr. El-Sayed, now that we know that those aren't in there, but we know that, at churches, there have been outbreaks. You know, there's -- I mean, these famous cases of one person in a choir infecting 58 people. Why wouldn't the CDC put that in this current version?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Well, you're right. It's a little bit frustrating. And as a member of a faith community myself, I think it's really important that faith communities are highlighted and told what we can do to stay safe. Because after all, this reflects a broader paradigm about why we're doing this social distancing in the first place.

We know that this is an extremely infectious and deadly disease that's taken over 90,000 lives. The question is whether or not the government ought to be empowering us to engage safely in the context of this disease or focusing specifically on rolling back social distancing.

And the frustration is that we've seen the latter, rather than the former. And I think it's critical that members of faith communities stand up and say, Listen, we want to be protected, too, and we want to do know how to do this safely.

The bigger frustration here, too, is that we've seen these CDC guidelines rejected when they were most important, and then brought back so that they're a bit thicker but with less substance inside them. And that really has to force us to ask are we leading with politics or are we leading with science and substance. And unfortunately, I think the answer is clear.

CAMEROTA: Juliette, I think that the administration felt that they didn't want to be too invasive of people's faith practices.

But these were hardly draconian guidelines. And given, again, that we know that churches are scenes of outbreaks, some of them deadly. What do you think about the fact that the CDC decided to not put these in their guidelines?

JULIETTE KAYYEM, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: I mean, the omission -- the omission is telling, because I think it does show that they have put politics, or at least their base, ahead of scientific and public health information. You know, the reason why you focus on religious institutions isn't

because they're religious. It is because, in the scheme of things, those are places where people congregate. And they share books, and they share food. And they're passing hands, and they're touching each other through faith. And you're doing all the things you don't want to do in a pandemic.

So instead of looking at it as the equivalent of sort of a sporting event, right, just a place where people are congregating or even a school where you want certain guidance, the administration put faith and, of course, their base, the faith-based base, ahead of everything else. And that's the scary thing.

In fact, that base is the very -- very group of people who Donald Trump could convince, right, to behave better, to have better social distancing, to perform their faith in a good way.

CAMEROTA: Juliette, one more question for you --


CAMEROTA: -- because you were in the Obama administration. You understand the relationship between the CDC and the White House.

KAYYEM: Right.

CAMEROTA: So our investigative correspondent Drew Griffin was been talking to some folks at the CDC. And I mean, they say that they believe that politics, not science, has driven this administration's decisions. They believe that that has made the pandemic worse.

The quotes that they say, that they are telling Drew, are things like we've been "working under a black cloud of an administration that doesn't have our backs."

KAYYEM: Right.

CAMEROTA: And "We've been muzzled." So what -- what do you make of this?

KAYYEM: I mean, it is -- it's a very scary place for the United States. And this isn't just today.

Of course, as we now know from reporting from CNN and other news agencies, the CDC was well aware of what the WHO, the World Health Organization, was concerned about coming out of China.

No one was listening in the White House in terms of preparing us with testing kits, with education. Donald Trump, the president communicating to us about what was about to happen.

And then on the other side, once we all have to go inside and socially distance, on the other side, the CDC has -- has been just basically late on everything. And that is because of the holds that the White House has been putting on basic public health information for governors, states and individuals. And so the reason why we're always, like, two months too late for

everything, right, in this -- and therefore, close to 100,000 dead, is because the White House has put a political overlay over it. And you're just seeing people in the CDC who have been there a long time, saying we've never seen anything like this. Not through Ebola, not through H1N1, not through SARS. Not through any other sort of related public health incidents.


CAMEROTA: Dr. El-Sayed, I want to talk about some of the states that had appeared to be doing really well. For instance, Florida and Georgia. And we had marveled some mornings about, wow, you know, they opened early, and yet the -- their numbers are really low. Wow. What are they doing right?

Well, it turns out there's more to the story.

According to one of the scientists who was tasked with crunching the numbers in Florida -- she said she spent 16 hours a day doing so. She was fired this week. And she says that she was fired this week, because she refused to manipulate the numbers in a positive way.

She refused to sort of suppress the case or death counts. And so, you know, I mean, obviously, we need to do much more investigating into what happened there, but we already know that Georgia has apologized for manipulating its data. They had bar graphs that they rearranged to make it look as though it was going in a descending order, when, in fact, it was bouncing around. And so what are we to make of that?

EL-SAYED: I'll say two points about this.

No. 1, the frustrating thing about this is that for the entire existence of COVID-19, we're constantly been about two weeks behind on the numbers. And that's just a function of the virus's biology in the first place. It takes an average time of about five days to actually show symptoms in people who are symptomatic.

And then, between then and when we hear the numbers, it's a whole process of testing, getting those tests back and then reporting to whatever the reporting structure is. And so we're constantly two weeks behind.

And the frustrating thing is it's hard to make decisions when you're two weeks behind in terms of understanding the effects of the things that you're doing.

And so you're right, right? We were looking at these numbers, but really, those were two weeks behind before -- reflecting before when those states reopened up.

The bigger picture here, though, is that, in a lot of communities, including our federal response and federal government in general, we are seeing a politics that is telling us that the narrative that says that we can safely open up is more important than the science upon which we're supposed to be basing these decisions in the first place. And here you have a governor who's pretty clearly silencing the

scientists inside of his own department of health so that he can massage the narrative that says that the choices that they made were, in fact, good when what it's -- what it's looking like is that those choices have directly led to increases in cases and potentially deaths.

And so we've got to demand that our leaders lead with the science, rather than with the political narrative and to empower real number and real evidence in -- in those decisions.



CAMEROTA: Understood. Dr. El-Sayed, Juliette Kayyem, thank you both very much for all of the expertise.

EL-SAYED: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: Now to this story. Catastrophic flooding is forcing thousands in Michigan to evacuate after two dams fail. We have breaking details in a live report for you next.


BERMAN: We do have breaking news for you. At this moment, central Michigan is facing historic flooding after two dams failed. Thousands of residents have been evacuated. One county could soon be under nine feet of water.

Want to get right to CNN's Miguel Marquez. He is on the scene live in Midland County, Michigan, with the breaking news.

Miguel, tell us what you're seeing.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, they've had tons of rain here in the lakes. So Huron and Michigan are at record levels, as well. And that's adding to all of this.

I want to show you where we are. This is the Tittabawassee River here. Those trees along the side there, that is the bank. That's where the water should be off to the left of there. But it's not. It's rising very, very rapidly.

We just spoke to one official here who said that it's rising about five or six inches on hour right now. That, you can see that little out-building. Just in the time we've been here, that little out building, the water has gone higher along that.

The roadways here, this is the big problem. This river is cutting off roadways for miles and miles around this area. You can see the roadway right down here. In just a short time we've been here, it has probably doubled the amount of water crossing over that road.

So we're in Freeland, Michigan, right now. And up this way, that is where Midland is, where all those thousands of people are being evacuated.

I do want to give you one sense of just how high it is at this bridge. Because you can see the water rushing under it. You can also hear what it sounds like as that water does.

This is really a double emergency right now. Four shelters are open. Thousands of people being evacuated.

As we were driving down here, there were houses where the water was creeping up to it. So there probably will be more evacuations. And they're trying to deal with the pandemic, as well. So people being checked before they go into those shelters and just trying to deal with now two emergencies at one time -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Miguel, looking at that house getting engulfed is really scary. Thank you very much. We'll check back to you.


CAMEROTA: So the flooding threat there is far from over, as Miguel said. But other parts of U.S. are facing the same problem. And CNN meteorologist Chad Myers has our forecast.

What does it look like, Chad?

CHAD MYERS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Alisyn, it's a cutoff low. It means it's just sitting there and spinning over the eastern United States and is raining for days.

Look at Au Gres here. Almost eight inches, 8.1 inches of rain just in the past 48 hours. These rivers were already high before these dams failed late last night.

And the water is still going up. That building you see there in the picture, we're going to add on another almost five feet of water on top of where it is right now.

This level was supposed to stop at 31, until the levees and the dams broke. And when that happened, now the new top is forecast to be 38. We're already at a new record high right now.

There's the emergency right now. Water running down the river very, very quickly and the water going up rather quickly.

Farther, a little bit of a wider shot, we're going to see this rain all the way down to the south. Flash flood watches and warnings all the way down even to parts of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and more rain to come.


The accumulation is still coming down. It will be raining now for another few days, and all of these rivers are out of their banks and more water to come.

We'll keep you advised, Alisyn. CAMEROTA: OK. We know you will. Thank you very much, Chad.

So, from unproven coronavirus treatments to refusing to wear a mask, President Trump has repeatedly disregarded science and undermined his own health experts. We get some insight into why, next.



DONALD TRUMP (R), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look at the one survey, the only bad survey, they were giving it to people that were in very bad shape. They were very old, almost dead. It was a Trump enemy statement.


BERMAN: President Trump bashing a study based on veterans that warned against the use of hydroxychloroquine after, of course, he announced that he is taking the drug.


Now, the study he's talking about was not peer-reviewed, but there's no evidence it was politically motivated. And it's just one of a number of studies that have found, at a minimum, that hydroxychloroquine provides no benefit against coronavirus and, at worst, could be dangerous.

Joining me now, CNN political analyst Maggie Haberman. She's a White House correspondent for "The New York Times."

Good morning, Maggie.

You know, it's one thing to say, the president, I'm taking hydroxychloroquine. I talked to my doctor. He says it's OK.

That's one thing. It has its own baggage. It's another thing to go to war against scientists and researchers who are conducting studies on hydroxychloroquine.

So why? What does he get out of it, and what do the people in the White House say about this?

MAGGIE HABERMAN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: So, look, John, there's been this uproar on Twitter in particular, although elsewhere about whether the president was really taking the drug, or was he saying this because it was a distraction and he's trying to hijack the news cycle.

I think that's overthinking it. I believe he is taking it. I believe that he likes being center of attention, and I think that's why he revealed it.

I -- my understanding from people I've spoken to is he started taking it around the time that his personal valet, one of the people who serves him his food, tested positive for the coronavirus. He was not happy about that. I think it's understandable, because the person wasn't wearing a mask, and so the president was spooked. And I think that's when he started taking it.

Now, he's taking it prophylactically, if what they say is correct, that he has not tested positive for the coronavirus. He says he's doing it with his doctor. That's all fine.

The problem is, No. 1, he's the president, and so people are going to hear him say, I take this. I thinks it's terrific. And they will take that as an endorsement, whether it -- you know, that's supposed to do or not, No. 1.

And No. 2, it's not just, as you say, that one study. There are many studies that have suggested that there is no benefit. If you're taking it when you have the virus.

But taking it prophylactically is a big unknown right now. And the president has left no room for anyone to disagree with him on, you know, facts. It all has to be an up-down referendum on himself. And that's what he's doing.

BERMAN: No, he's saying the scientists who are conducting these studies are somehow Trump enemies, and there's just no --

HABERMAN: Correct.

BERMAN: -- evidence of that.

HABERMAN: Up-down referendum on him. That's what that is.

BERMAN: And -- and there are other studies, too. I mean, so every study on hydroxychloroquine --


BERMAN: -- that doesn't agree with what he says has to be done by Trump enemies, and it has to do with him setting up science as the enemy to what he's saying.

And I think it's curious, or notable, then, that yesterday we learned, CNN and the A.P. reporting, and the Trump campaign came out and said that they're now trying to get doctors. The campaign is trying to get doctors to come out and speak in support of what the president says and does on various subjects. Why do they think that's now necessary?

HABERMAN: It's pretty remarkable, John, because that's the kind of thing, frankly, that you would think, if they were going to do it, the White House would do it.

But I think part of that is because the doctors in the White House generally don't agree with the president on things like hydroxychloroquine.

Could there be other things the doctors are going to go out there and say? Maybe. But it's remarkable to have the campaign finding medical professionals, not political surrogates, who can go out and offer a different opinion, because the existing facts that is just not on the president's side on this matter.

It is also, again, another instance where, look, all re-election campaigns for the presidency and for other offices, as you know, there tends to be some symbiosis between the re-election campaign and the government office. This one, they're basically just seamlessly interwoven. And that's the other thing this points to.

BERMAN: No. It's true. You know, it's really interesting, because there are a lot of doctors who do work for the government.


BERMAN: And if he could get doctors who work for the government to come out and support some of these statements, you would think he would.


BERMAN: This does imply that, perhaps, they're not jumping up and down to do it. Reminds me of some of those ads that have paid actors, and they have the disclaimer at the bottom.


BERMAN: You know, they say, This actor is a paid spokesman. I'm not saying these doctors are.


BERMAN: But there's a distinction between someone doing it for the data in itself.

Maggie, a big uproar over the last 24 hours over the fact that former President Obama, it doesn't appear, will have his official White House portrait unveiled in this Trump White House. That's something that has been a tradition for about 40 or 50 years. Not forever. But it's happened for some time. Not going to happen. The Trump administration sending signals it doesn't want it. The Obama people saying, Yes, we don't want it either.

What does this tell you?

HABERMAN: Look, there have been different reasons pointed to for it. One was, you know, in the middle of coronavirus. This has been difficult to schedule a date. One is that there never really was a date put down.

But, look, it's not a surprise, John, you know, that President Trump has not only trashed his predecessor on very personal terms for the last four years, off and on, but he has tried to dismantle President Obama's legacy.

President Obama has become more forceful in criticizing President Trump. And President Obama is obviously a pretty important supporter and high-profile surrogate for Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee. END