Return to Transcripts main page


CDC Releases Guidelines on Reopening U.S. Economy Amid Continuing Coronavirus Pandemic; Guidance for Religious Gatherings Not Included in CDC Guidelines; Dams Break in Michigan; Miami Beach Begins Reopening Some Businesses Today; Companies Rethink Office Space As Employees Work Remotely. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 20, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Dr. Richard Besser. He is the former acting director of the CDC and now president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Gentlemen, great to see both of you.

So let's start with these guidelines, Sanjay. These are long awaited. We got those, that kind of checklist last week that I know you felt was sort of anemic and didn't go far enough, and now we have the 60- page guidelines. But as we've pointed out, there are some interesting omissions.

So one of them is about religious institutions. And for instance, in the previous draft that we had of these guidelines from a week ago, this is what they said for faith communities. "Avoid choirs, limit large crowds, limit the sharing of books and hymnals, make the collection plates stationary rather than passed, restrict close contact during rituals, avoid shared food offerings." That makes sense. The communal chalice seems like it could be a possible spreader. But do you have any sense of why they didn't include them in the final product?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: There are things that are superseding science here, Alisyn. I think it is no secret anymore. I think we have gotten glimpses and hints of this all along, but now there is some just really clear evidence of this. This is an example. In the original 68-page draft that was released, it did have guidance for religious institutions. It's important. We know that there have been these clusters that have emanated from places where people congregate, and houses of worship are one of those places. We know that there has been many places around the country where they've advised trying to do online religious gatherings as opposed to in person because of these concerns. The fact that it has just gone from here is -- and the fact that it was in the original draft, I think it speaks for itself. There are things that are at play right now with regard to the guidance that we're getting, with regard to the data that we're hearing, with regard to the advice that sometimes is being disseminated that are not scientifically based.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Besser, as the former acting director of the CDC, why do you think they would leave that stuff out?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CDC: Well, I think at a higher level I am so thankful that this guidance is out there. One of the things that I think was really missing was communication. This came up on the CDC website with no press release, no announcement. And if you really want people to follow this, if it's the blueprint for the country, the communicator in chief has to be out there pushing this, explaining it. CDC has to be going through it, they have to explain why certain things are in there and certain things are not.

As I start to dive into this, I see some key elements that should be in there that aren't. And I'd like to understand is that based on science or is it not there for other reasons?

CAMEROTA: Are there other things beyond what we've talked about in terms of the guidance for religious institutions that you see that are missing?

BESSER: Yes. So we've talked about this before. There are certain communities that are getting hit harder than others. Black Americans, Latinos, Native-Americans, people in group settings are getting hit really, really hard. I would like to see in their callout that every state, every city has to break down their data by race, ethnicity, by gender, by neighborhood. If you don't do that, you could look really good overall in terms of how your whole city or state is doing, but you can have pockets that are getting hit really hard. So that's one key piece.

The other key piece is there is so much focus on testing and tracking, but if you don't also focus on people's ability to isolate and quarantine, what you'll find is that people of means will be protected because if they're positive, they can isolate or quarantine at home away from others, but people who live in more crowded settings, coronavirus will continue to run rampant.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Besser, one more CDC question for you, because our investigative reporter Drew Griffin has spoken to people at the CDC. And they speak off the record, but they have shared their feelings about what is going on there. And some of the quotes that they have shared with him are, "We are working under a black cloud of an administration that does not have our backs." Another person says, "We have been muzzled." What should the director of the CDC do about these feelings?

BESSER: Yes, I worked at CDC for 13 years, and there were periods of time where we thought that politics was trumping public health science. And it is absolutely devastating for morale. It's devastating in terms of being able to do the work and know that what you're finding out will not go into the best guidance. This is something that those of us who used to work at CDC are calling out in a big way.


I don't know the answer to that, because without public health science, without CDC being out there, the likelihood of this really detailed guidance being implemented fully and appropriately goes way, way down.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, I want to ask you about some new information we got overnight about the numbers in Florida. There is a woman who has worked crunching the numbers, she's a data processor, she says that she works 16 hours a day for the past many, many weeks, trying to give Florida and the leaders there the numbers in real time of what the cases really look like, what the death toll really looked like. And she basically says that she was fired this week because she was not manipulating the numbers to their liking. This is just her story. Obviously, we have to do much more investigating, but the sense was that she was supposed to be suppressing numbers rather than telling the real numbers. And Sanjay, we've had lots of conversations in the mornings about, gosh, why do the numbers look so good in places like Florida and Georgia when they reopened so early? Do you have a sense of if this could be one reason?

GUPTA: Yes, that was obviously concerning. And like you, Alisyn, I want to get a better sense about the whole story of what happened there in Florida, because she is making some pretty strong allegations upon which public health policy is being based. Everyone is paying attention to these numbers, and there was a similar sort of situation in Georgia, again, for which the governor apologized, saying that they essentially made the days out of order, so that it locked like there was a downward trend when there wasn't. Again, they said that that was an accident, it was not intentional. In both cases it made things seem better than they actually were in terms of the numbers actually having this downward trajectory.

This is obviously really important. This is not a game. And people are making big decisions based on looking at these numbers on a regular basis. The one thing I'll say, and we've also said every morning, Alisyn, is the virus is still out there. That is true. That hasn't changed. Despite the fact that we have gone through this cycle of staying at home, and, frankly, we did a pretty good job in this country of staying at home. I think it has made a big difference. And even if people are going out, it does seem that a majority are wearing masks and trying to keep physical distance. And that's important. That will make a difference.

But the virus is still out there. So when we put these stay-at-home orders as a country first into place, there were some 80 people roughly who had died, sadly, and 4,500 people who were infected. That was back in the middle of March. Now, you look at the numbers on the right side of your screen, and we're opening, despite the fact that 91,000 people have died and a million and a half people have confirmed to have been infected. So it doesn't make a lot of sense, right? We were so much lower, we decided to stay at home. Now the numbers are much higher and we're saying we should reopen with impunity in many places. Obviously, that doesn't make sense. We have to be careful.

CAMEROTA: I think that's such a good remind, Sanjay, because I think there is a feeling of victory as we open. People heave a sigh of relief, oh, good, we're reopened, we have come through the worst of it. To your point, nothing has changed about the virus. If you run into the virus, it is just as deadly, just as contagious as it was all those weeks ago, only our behavior changed. And so Dr. Besser, in terms of what we saw that Sanjay talked about in

Georgia and what we might be seeing in Florida, how can we ever be sure in any state that we're getting the real numbers? Who is supposed to be overseeing that for us?

BESSER: Yes, data is absolutely critical. If you don't have the data, you won't know what is going on locally. And so those big national numbers, which are going down, the rate of cases is going down nationally, that doesn't have much relevance to an individual community. You have to know what is going on locally. You have to know that the data are good.

I think that one way you do that is that you hear from the public health scientists who are doing that data rather than politicians who are interpreting that data and using it to make other decisions. Without that direct connection, to me, there will always be some skepticism as to why certain data are being selected for presentation and other data are not.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Richard Besser, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, we really appreciate both of you. Thank you very much for your time. John?

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking overnight, two dam failures have forced thousands of Michigan residents from their homes. One town could face waters rising nine feet high. CNN's Miguel Marquez rushed overnight to Midland County, Michigan, on this breaking story. Miguel, tell us what you found there.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is downtown Midland right now. This is the Tittabawassee River that goes through here. There is reports of a third dike south of here in Posidole (ph) also breaking. That green metal roof you see out in the middle there, that is the farmer's market for Midland. And we've only have been here, what, an hour-and-a-half, maybe two hours, and this parking garage was filling up a bit, but this bit. The water wasn't coming over this. It is now.


Officials saying that they expect the crest to be at 38 feet. If that does hit 38 feet, that will be a 500-year event for this river in this area. It was meant to crest around 8:00 this morning, about now. Now the National Weather Service saying it may be 8:00 p.m. tonight here in Midland and then it would follow downriver throughout the rest of the time.

They are dealing with a crisis within a crisis, both slow moving, the pandemic also. They have four shelters opened up. There are hundreds of people who have taken advantage of those shelters. Thousands of people have evacuated. And they are handing out masks, checking temperature. There are big areas so that people can actually socially distance while in those areas. But the state of Michigan doing everything it can right now to deal with two slow moving disasters at the same time. John?

BERMAN: All right, Miguel, thanks so much for getting there, showing us what is happening. I know you'll stay on it. We'll come back to you as the news develops.

In the meantime, Miami Beach is closing off its iconic Ocean Drive in a plan to reopen businesses. The mayor of Miami beach explains next.


BERMAN: It is happening today in Miami Beach.


Some businesses will begin reopening. The first phase includes retail stores, personal grooming shops, offices and museums. But beaches, bars and restaurants remain closed for now.

Joining me now is the mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber.

Mr. Mayor, thanks so much for being with us.

How is this going to work and what are you looking for?

MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, you know, we're trying to ease into this. We're a little slower than the state, which has opened up much of everything. And we're a little slower even than our own counties.

So, along with a few other bigger cities, we're going slower. We're going to open up our retail today. At limited capacity with one-way aisles and sanitizing and all the other elements you realize you need.

But this is to see how we do. We're a crowd-based city. So, we want to make sure we don't draw too large a crowd.

BERMAN: That's really interesting, right, because normally your job is to attract crowds. So, now, you've got to figure out a way to attract the right size crowd, which is to say not too many people.

And one of the things you're thinking about doing or will do is starting next week when you reopen restaurants is you're going to close down Ocean Boulevard, right? Which is the famous drag along the beach there. Why are you closing that down?

GELBER: Well, we have, you know, we're 7-1/2 mile island with 800 restaurants. So, we're trying to get our restaurants ready, and one of the things we realize is we give them more space outside, it is safer, they can spread out a little bit, so we're opening up Ocean Drive, Washington Avenue, and some other streets and boulevards so that a lot of our restaurants can expand outside to create a safer environment.

Listen, first of all, we want people to come, we just don't want crowds and, of course, they won't come if it doesn't feel safe and it isn't safe. So those are the goals.

There is some tension, but I think if there is any city that can do it, it's ours. We do a lot of amazing things every single day here. So I have a lot of faith in our business community.

BERMAN: You say you want people to come. Do you want them to stay? Which is to say, what about hotels?

GELBER: Well, our beaches and hotels have a relationship. A lot of people come to hotels for the beaches. There is not a plan right now in the county or in our city to open up our beaches or hotels in the next week or two. I think early June is what I have to guess will happen.

And we're going to ease into these. One thing we don't want to do is rush so fast that we create a spike in the virus. And that would be terrible. People would not feel safe and worse, we'd have the repercussions of virus and more virus, which we already have.

Our county has had almost 600 deaths and that's about a third of all of the deaths in Florida. So we are the hot spot.

BERMAN: How comfortable are you with the medical guidance that you're getting overall now and specifically, look, what happens if you start seeing a spike in new cases?

GELBER: Well, you know, interestingly, there has been very little guidance from Washington, and sometimes, it's even been contrary to the guidance we're getting -- you know, we're a little city, but we managed to put together a pretty great medical team of people locally and nationally. And the CDC gave us guidelines on when to open, two weeks of the downward trajectory.

They have been radio silent on what should happen now. They haven't told us what to look for with spikes. They haven't told us what -- when we should reconsider or tighten what we're doing.

They've -- you know, to a certain extent, I keep feeling like the old Mikey cereal commercial, they keep pushing decisions down from the governors to the mayors and we don't have health departments or that capacity. But we're doing our best to figure out what to do in light of the fact that we're not getting any direction from Washington. And, in fact, it's often that the exact opposite.

We tell people to wear masks because that's what the CDC said, the president says you don't need to. We tell them to follow doctor's orders and be data-driven and we hear, you know, the president saying do exactly the opposite.

So, it really is challenging to tell people what they need to hear when somebody else is telling them what they probably want to hear.

BERMAN: On the subject of data, and specifically to Florida, there's been this interesting development where Rebekah Jones who is a person who put together this website that provided a data screen that was praised by Deborah Birx and universally praised around the country, she has been pushed out of her job. She says, she told our affiliate there, that it's because she refused to manually change data to drum up support for the plan to reopen.

What do you think is going on here?

GELBER: I don't know. Listen, I'm not -- I'm not going to get into the finger pointing right now because I'm trying very hard to do the job with my fellow commissioners of opening up our city safely.

I will say this, though, you know, the data -- transparency in the data is of the utmost importance. Part of the reason we had so many deaths for instance, nationally and in our community is we didn't have testing data for first few weeks in March. We had no -- we didn't know the virus was spreading in our community. It is a silent spreader, as everybody knows.

So, we didn't have data. We didn't have a look into what was going on. I think that was deadly. So, I don't -- I don't think there should be any holding back of data, there should be total transparency.

I think if we're going to have a data-driven response, then we got to have accurate data and I'm always concerned that it's not -- it's not transparent and it's not accurate because we're relying on it to make decisions.

BERMAN: Mayor Dan Gelber, you've got a beautiful city. We wish you best of luck in opening it up. And we hope to someday to see you in person down there. Appreciate it.

GELBER: Thank you.

BERMAN: So what happens to America's cities if a lot of workers never return to the office? I mean, at all? Real concerns for the real estate market, next.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: With millions of employees working from home because of the pandemic, companies are starting to think about what to do with their office space. What is the impact if companies decide to ditch the traditional office?


Joining us now is Spencer Levy. He's chairman of Americas research for CBRE. And Craig Deitelzweig, he's the president and CEO of Marx Realty.

Great to see both of you.

Spencer, let me start with you. You're on the ground. You're looking at all of the research. So what has the impact been thus far of coronavirus on all of us going into the office, and what does the future of office work look like?

SPENCER LEVY, CHAIRMAN OF AMERICAS RESEARCH, CBRE: Well, I think you need to break it into the two time periods of once the virus is before it is solved and after the fact. In the short-term, over the next 12 to 18 months or so, there is going to be less physical occupancy of the office space, as people are social distancing and employer are keeping people in shifts, less people going in at any one time. But in the long-term, once the crisis is resolved, 18 months from now, 12 to 18 months from now, we expect people to go back in offices at a more normal level, albeit with more wellness techniques that are going to be proven during this period of time.

CAMEROTA: So, just to be clear, Spencer, you really think that we're going to return to the business as usual model that we used to use of everybody being in one room, being in cubicles, you think that that is not a thing of the past?

LEVY: Well, let me be clear. New York City and other large markets have gone through terrible shocks in the past. The biggest shock of all perhaps is 9/11. And what happened post-9/11 was there was a fear factor of people, A, going back into the cities, and, B, going back into tall buildings. In fact, there was a period of time when rents in lower floors were higher than rents than on higher floors.

That passed when people increased the security in those buildings. We would see a similar switch here today when people increase the wellness in those buildings, not just in ways of social distancing, but other systems in the building like HVAC to make people more comfortable.

Will it be like what it was three months ago pre-COVID? No. But it will be similar with this enhanced wellness and there maybe enhanced spacing and there maybe less density of people. So, not exactly the same, but very similar.

CAMEROTA: OK. So, Craig, this is your business. What do you think? What do you think the impact on commercial real estate will be?

CRAIG DEITELZWEIG, PRESIDENT AND CEO, MARX REALTY: I largely agree with what Spencer said. I do think when people come back to the office, you know, we will -- we as landlords need to make sure they feel comfortable and safe in spaces.

So what we're doing in our buildings and largely we have done this even before COVID started, we did have a focus on health and wellness and now this trend will just continue is to have touchless entry, so we have door men outside, antimicrobial materials like copper and brushed brass, we have sanitization stations. We will have UV lights in our duct work. Things like that that make people feel comfortable when they come back to the office.

I think long-term, what's going to happen is people will need more space really because they will want to have more social distance and between them and that's not just for COVID, that's for the flu, it is for the cold, so you will see spaces being less dense.

CAMEROTA: OK. That's really interesting to hear from both of you, because you're on the ground, but there are all sorts of CEOs who think that the office place may be fundamentally changed for good. There was this -- I thought really interesting quote in "The New York Times" yesterday about how three of the biggest banks, Barclays, JPMorgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley, they lease more than 10 million square feet in New York. OK. So they're a huge part of the New York, you know, sky -- skyline. Just for perspective, that's the entire downtown of Nashville.

So, the CEO of Barclays says there will be a long-term adjustment in how we think about our location strategy, the notion of putting 7,000 people in a building may be a thing of the past.

And so, Craig, are you hearing other people say things like that?

DEITELZWEIG: You know, I have heard comments like that. I also heard the opposite, you know. I heard one tenant say, instead of (AUDIO GAP) square foot per employee, they're now going to have 130 square feet per employee, which will mean they'll need more space.

And moreover, you know, tenants, lots of tenants, especially in the technology field, had the ability to work from home for a long time and these smart tenants realize if they want to create greatness this their space, you know, for their companies and really create a culture where -- of innovation, you really need to be in an office environment.

And, you know, Eric Schmidt from Google for instance was saying he thinks there will be a need for more space in the future. So I think you're going to see people coming back to the office, you know, very cautiously at first, but I think long-term, like Spencer was saying before, like 9/11, you know, people will get comfortable with the office environment and ultimately will realize again how important the office environment is to innovation and creativity.

CAMEROTA: Spencer, I think that's really interesting because the flip side is that people are getting very comfortable in their home.