Return to Transcripts main page


California Records Second-Highest Death Toll; New York Restaurants Prepare to Reopen; Trump Threatens to Withhold Funding; Schools Reopen in Denmark. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired May 21, 2020 - 09:30   ET





California has reported one of its worst single day death tolls since the coronavirus pandemic began. This is more -- as more than half of the state's counties move forward with those plans to reopen.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: We have reporters across the country covering the pandemic. Shimon Prokupecz, he's in New York. But let's begin with Dan Simon in San Francisco.

Dan, of course, it's early. You don't want to jump on to one single number too quickly. But what's the concern among health officials in California now about what this indicates about reopening? How concerned are they?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, hi, Jim and Poppy.

Just when all of the numbers seem to be going in the right direction, you did see a spike in the number of daily deaths in California on Tuesday. The second highest death toll that the state has had since the pandemic began was 124 deaths. We hadn't seen a day like that since late April.

And that said, when you look at rest of the metrics, the state is seeing a decline in the number of hospitalizations, as well as cases, even with more robust testing. So that is giving the governor the confidence he needs to allow the state to open more robustly in a more complete fashion. So what we're beginning to see is more and more counties, about half of the state's counties are allowing for their communities to reopen.

So what does that mean? You're going to begin seeing more in room dining for restaurants. You're also going to be seeing more retail stores open. Not just curbside delivery, which we've seen in a lot of cases.

The next phase after that would be allow -- would be to allow hair salons to open and perhaps even spectator free events.


You might see that perhaps in early June.

But as we're seeing a lot of communities taking a more cautious approach, like Los Angeles, which says it doesn't expect to be more open until the fourth of July.

Poppy and Jim.

HARLOW: Shimon, to you, in New York, where something big is happening, and that is restaurants are preparing for a new normal, right, when they open for dine-in service in the coming weeks. Is that right, dine-in?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. And, you know, they're getting creative. The restaurants here in New York City have certainly, as you know, have taken a tremendous hit with everything shut down affecting payroll, salaries, and business. There's been virtually no restaurant business except for take-out.

So we're at Brooklyn Chophouse here in lower Manhattan and they're getting creative here. They allowed us inside to show just what they're going to do. They expect about two months before they can reopen. So what they did -- what they've done here is they've went out, they've purchased these Plexiglas dividers. And what they're going to do is they're going to put these between tables as you see here.

A couple of other steps here that they're going to take is plates. They're going to use saran wrap to cover plates so that when diners come in, they know that it's fresh and they can feel safe, right? This is all about safety. Of course there's a lot of anxiety as we go through the days and months of this. But whether or not it's safe to go out and eat out and start to try to live somewhat of a normal life. So restaurants like this, this is what they're planning to do, some of these methods. Of course, cups, also saran wrap.

The other thing that's really interesting here is they're no longer going to have paper menus. You know, of course we sit down, we get a menu. They're now going to be using bar codes. And what you do is with a bar code you use your phone and then you get the menu on your phone. They are still going to have waiters. And just quickly, I just want to show you, the waiters are going to wear this.

So they're trying to get back to normal. It's still going to be a few months. But these are some of the steps that restaurants here in New York City are beginning to undertake, Poppy and Jim.


Yes, and you're seeing some states already start that. Texas, Florida, with outdoor restaurants. Listen, you know, they're experimenting.

Dan Simon, Shimon Prokupecz, thanks to both of you.

President Trump is heading to Michigan after threatening to withhold money from the state in a battle over mail-in voting. We're going to have the state's lieutenant governor joining us, next.



SCIUTTO: President Trump heading to Michigan to visit a Ford plant that was converted to make ventilators. The president threatened to withhold federal funding by falsely claiming that Michigan sent absentee ballots to all of its registered voters and that the state secretary of state somehow broke the law. But Michigan actually sent absentee ballot applications. The secretary of state did nothing illegal and, in fact, many GOP and Democratic-led states allow mail-in voting.

I'm joined now by Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist.

Lieutenant Governor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

LT. GOV. GARLIN GILCHRIST (D-MI): Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: The president is threatening to withhold aid to Michigan in the midst of a pandemic to pursue what appears to be a political goal here. Is that acceptable?

GILCHRIST: It's absolutely unacceptable to politicize anything happening right now in our country, certainly in our state, what we're dealing with, you know, one of the hardest hit states from Covid-19. We're also dealing with a once in 500 year flood that happened in mid- Michigan a day and a half ago.

And so we need the president and the federal government to be focused on supporting the people of Michigan. We have already applied for an emergency declaration from FEMA and we hope that when the president is in Michigan today that he will step up and sign that to deliver the support that Michiganders need today.

SCIUTTO: As you know, absentee ballots, mail-in ballots, they've been used, for instance, for U.S. service members for more than a century with no evidence of significant fraud. And they're also gaining wide use, as I mentioned, in GOP-led states as well. Is there any evidence that mail-in voting leads to greater fraud?

GILCHRIST: None whatsoever. And, in fact, the president himself was a mail-in voter. And so I certainly know that he appreciates that practice and the ability to do it. And so here in Michigan, the voters stepped up in a huge way in 2018 and granted more assets for people to have absentee ballot applications mailed to them. This is absolutely legal.

And in the context of this Covid-19 pandemic, we need as many ways as possible to make it more safe to vote. People are scared to leave their homes. People may not be able to leave their homes. But vote by mail is something that can make sure that they can participate in the democratic process. In the state of Michigan, that's what we intend to do. There's nothing illegal about it. SCIUTTO: Americans across the country, and, of course, residents in

Michigan, are being asked to wear masks now to reduce the threat of infection. The president has refused to do that on visits to places. When asked if he would wear one today, he said, we'll see. This morning, the attorney general of Michigan said that if he will not wear a mask, he'll be asked not to return to facilities in the states. Do you agree with that stance?

GILCHRIST: Well, I certainly think the president has an opportunity to model the types of behavior we need to keep people safe in Michigan. He's going to visit this Ford plant, which is -- it's a breakthrough the arsenal of public health, stepping up to make these ventilators.

Ford has a policy, asking people who are coming into their facilities to wear masks, everyone from the UAW workers who are working so hard have respected that, Ford employees have respected that, and we hope that the president will be a good model and respect that as well.

SCIUTTO: If he's not, should he be allowed in the plant?

GILCHRIST: Well, this is an opportunity for us to showcase the good work of the people of Michigan are doing. So, you know, the president will make his own choice.


But we believe that on certainly our policy here in the state of Michigan that folks should have their face covered and, unfortunately, you know, the president has made that choice in different states not to do so. But I think that really sets a bad example. But I think he has an opportunity to do the right thing and we'll see if he takes advantage of that. We don't -- but I think he should wear a mask.

SCIUTTO: Big picture here. I know that you in Michigan, every state governor, every town mayor has a real challenge now, which is balancing the very real and devastating economic costs of the shutdown against the risks of increased cases and increased deaths from infections here.

I wonder, and this is really the basic question for leaders like yourself, is risking further outbreaks worth -- worth it given the enormous economic damage, a quarter, perhaps a fifth -- a fifth, perhaps a quarter of the country out of work?

GILCHRIST: Well, we have to start from the place of recognizing that our people are our economy. There is no economy without our people or without our people's confidence in their public health and public safety. So, in Michigan, we're trying to put in place the infrastructure and watching the indicators about our public health system capacity.

We are increasing our testing capacity every single day. We're making it easier to do contact tracing and for people to isolate if they've tested positive so they don't spread it to their family members, members of their household, which is especially important for vulnerable communities and communities of color where we've seen significantly disspared (ph) impacts in the black community.

And if we put in place that infrastructure across our state, which we have been working to do, and we watch the indicators closely, then we're able to have a conversation about responsibly re-engaging certain parts of our economy. And we've done that in the upper peninsula in Michigan and in certain parts of the northern lower peninsula.

But this is about how can we reconstruct, frankly, a system, reconstruct an economic system that will work for people going forward? It's not about getting back to normal, it's about establishing what a work going forward, because that normal didn't work for everybody before, but we can build something that will work going forward.

SCIUTTO: Final question if I can, and you mentioned this, Michigan suffering through two crises right now, both the pandemic, but also enormous flooding. Documents show that federal regulators had warned about inadequate spillways at the dams involved here, particularly one of them that was breached Tuesday dating back to 1999.

If this was a known issue, why wasn't it taken care of before all this?

GILCHRIST: Well, you know, we have to -- we're looking into this issue right now with our state regulators and the private entity that manages all of these dams. And we're taking a look at -- because accountability needs to happen, frankly, for the people whose livelihoods have been damaged by this once in 500 year flood.

But I have to say that I'm very proud of the first responders in the Midland County area and the surrounding areas. The National Guard has stepped up. We evacuated tens of thousands of people on like two hours' notice and there have been no casualties. People have stepped up.

We've been able to deliver masks and personal protective equipment to the shelters and the hotels where people are staying. This has really been a moment where we came together on a bipartisan basis in Michigan and we hope that the president will show the leadership on a bipartisan basis and support the people of Michigan rather than threatening to take away our resources, especially when we're dealing with two emergencies at once.

SCIUTTO: Well, we hope people can go back to their homes soon. It's -- flooding is just so devastating to recover from.

Michigan Lieutenant Governor Garlin Gilchrist, thanks so much. And we wish you and the people of Michigan the best of luck.

GILCHRIST: Thank you for having me. Please stay safe.

HARLOW: All right, ahead, what the rest of the world could learn from Denmark. We'll take you there.


SCIUTTO: More than 70,000 students have now returned to school in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.

That's amazing. In Denmark, students returning to class ahead of schedule as well.

Our senior international correspondent Fred Pleitgen has that reporting.


FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Math lessons from the pulpit. When the Veksoe School outside Copenhagen didn't have enough space for all kids because of physical distancing rules, the local church became a classroom. Students don't mind.

MARIE ERIKSEN BOEGNER, STUDENT: It's different, but I like it. And we learn a lot.

PLEITGEN: To help with their statistic lessons, they needed a place with lots of numbers, so they just moved to the church's graveyard. Denmark's government is encouraging as many lessons as possible outside the teacher says.

ANETTE DA CRU, TEACHER VEKSOE SCHOOL: We have to study statistics and math. So instead of doing it inside the school, now we can use the cemetery. They can collect data and we can work with it and they get much more curious.

PLEITGEN: Denmark is rapidly reopening its schools under very strict hygiene measures. Arrival times are staggered so there aren't too many kids at school at once. You won't see students or teachers wearing masks, though. Instead, here at the Hendriksholm School in Copenhagen, they use police tape to make sure children don't cross paths on the stairs. In the schoolyard, children should keep at least three feet apart. And they wash their hands and sanitize at least every two hours, a new experience for many.

ANDY CHANG JOHANSEN, STUDENT: It is a little hard to get used to, but when you get used to it, it definitely feels more normal.

PLEITGEN: With that concept, Denmark first brought the youngest students back to school, and now the older ones as well.

The head of secondary education at the Hendriksholm School, Jimmy Adetunji, says the key to making it work is trusting the kids to be responsible.


JIMMY SKOV GLASDAM ADETUNJI, HEAD OF SECONDARY EDUCATION, HENDRIKSHOLM SCHOOL: If you follow the guidelines given, if you keep distance, if you make sure to wash your hands, keep sanitizing, cough in your sleeve and not in your hand, and so on and so forth, I think we'll be safe.

PLEITGEN: With many parents fearing for their kids' safety, the Danish government worked with parents' and teachers' groups to build support for the plan, the country's education minister tells me.

PERNILLE ROSENKRANTZ-THIEL, DANISH HEALTH MINISTER: Without that dialogue, I think many people would have felt that it wasn't safe to send the children to school. I think the guidelines that we would have made wouldn't have hit the target and then we would have outbreaks in different schools, and that would have made other parents uncertain about the situation.

PLEITGEN: Opening schools does not appear to have led to a spike in coronavirus infections in Denmark. And while some might find math lessons on a graveyard a bit awkward, well, so far, Danes say their way of bringing school back is working.


PLEITGEN: And, guys, this process here has been so successful that the Danes overnight have announced that they're further accelerating that process. They're allowing even the oldest kids to return to school next week.

Now, we do have to point out, it's an emergency curriculum. It's about four to five hours a day. But as you can imagine, a lot of parents here in this country who had their kids at home for many, many weeks are happy about that as well, guys.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and I'm certain schools here are looking at the experiences of countries like Denmark as essential models of how schools in the U.S. might reopen.

Fred Pleitgen, thanks very much.

More on a new, sadly dire warning from the CDC this morning. We'll give you details, next.