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CDC Director Warns Of Second Wave Of COVID-19 This Year; Trump Heads To Michigan After Threatening To Withhold State Funding; California Records Second-Highest Daily COVID-19 Death Toll. Aired 10- 10:30a ET

Aired May 21, 2020 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


Track the virus or face a second wave of this. That warning coming directly from CDC Director Robert Redfield who raised the possibility of another lockdown just months from now. At the same time, new modeling shows that we could see a surge in cases for those states that loosened their restrictions early, particularly some southern states.

SCIUTTO: As states open up, keep in mind, all 50 of them, we are learning that if the U.S. had locked down sooner, tens of thousands of American lives could have been saved. We're talking just a couple of weeks sooner and this pandemic might have looked a lot different here in the U.S.

Let's get to CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Let's take a look at this modeling. And, again, it's modeling, so it's using the best data available and making an educated guess, in effect. But what difference does it say a lockdown would have made earlier?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It says that it makes a lot of difference, a big difference, Jim. So, several other countries locked down, so to speak, before the United States did. There was a lot of discussion, should we, shouldn't we, and that step was taken in the U.S. around March 15th. So let's take a look. If instead of March 15th, that lockdown had been two weeks earlier, according to this modeling from Columbia University, we could have avoided 84 percent of the deaths that happened between then and May 3rd and 82 percent of the cases. So that's a lot of deaths, that is a lot of cases.

You know, these kinds of things are exponential, not linear. In other words, shutting down earlier wouldn't have just prevented those number of cases for any given period of time, but, of course, cases beget cases, and so it's exponential. And so it would have really avoided a lot of these cases and deaths.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much. It's something we're certainly going to stay on top of going forward.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Now, to the CDC director, Robert Redfield, and his warning that the U.S. economy may have to shut down again in just a matter of months as he faces some questions about his job security.

Let's go to our Nick Valencia who has been following this for us throughout. What are you learning?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This is one of the few interviews that CDC director, Robert Redfield, has done in the course of the last several weeks. Many within the CDC that we've spoken to, I should say, the senior leaders that we've been spoken to, have been critical about his lack of visibility. Senior leaders closer to Robert Redfield would push back on that, saying that he's working within the constraints and confines set by the White House, but here he is in his own words warning of a potential second wave this winter when asked about that possibility.

This is what he said. I can't guarantee. That's kind of getting into the opinion mode. We have to be data-driven. What I can say is that we are committed to using the time that we have now to get this nation as overprepared as possible.

And Jim and Poppy, it was last night that I met with several leaders at the CDC who acknowledged that they hadn't done a good enough job at controlling the public health message in this country. They say they've been really at work -- hard at work behind the scenes and haven't been promoting their work as well as they could have.

They've sent out contact tracing teams. We have reported previously in recent weeks about community initiative teams that have gone out to try to help and supplement the work of state and local agencies. Sources at the CDC saying that this work is very much crucial and proximate to the national response even if it doesn't seem like that right now to the American public.

Really, what we've been reporting over the course of the last several days is that the CDC, a 73-year-old agency, which has been at center of every public health emergency since its foundation, has been muzzled by this White House. We know the facts are that the American president, Donald Trump, did not take this virus seriously enough when he was informed and given the data-driven science by CDC officials. And there's only so much they can do given that they have been given these boundaries by the White House.

Sources close to Robert Redfield pushed back on any claims that he's in trouble.


They say he is continuing to have the ear of the president, that he's in these White House task force meetings and that he continues to be in the center of this response. Really, though, there is clearly optics gain at play here. The White House doesn't want to look bad, neither does the CDC.

Meanwhile, the American public is sort of wondering when they're going to get clear guidance from their federal leaders as what they need to do next. Poppy, Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, we've been asking for it for weeks, months. Nick Valencia, thanks very much.

Let's discuss now with Dr. Rochelle Walensky. She is Chief of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. Doctor, good to have you on this morning.

As we look at the data, and granted it's early, we're just really days from any states, a couple weeks into reopening around the country. There is some anecdotal evidence that reopening has led to small outbreaks, clusters, et cetera. Is there any reliable, broader data at this point that shows the consequences of states reopening, many of them reopening before meeting CDC guidelines rather?


I think it may still even be too early. First of all, you look at the map and you say everything is open now, but everything is open in a very heterogeneous pattern. So I can say in some states, you see footage of people not wearing masks, going to bars and restaurants, really behave and completely normally.

In other states, and I'll say, like Massachusetts, we have very strict guidelines about what we have opened, just construction and manufacturing with masks, with social distancing. So when you say everything is open, everything is open in a very different way.

I do think that in places that have not been practicing social distancing, we could expect maybe two, three, four weeks after that to start seeing some of these bursts of new cases of infection, and then weeks, even after that, might we see an increase number of deaths.

So it may still be too early to tell. We might start being able to see that sort of for the states that opened very early, and I think people are watching that very carefully.

HARLOW: What do you make of this warning from the CDC director of the second wave, specifically talking about what we're seeing in Brazil, just sort of talking about how this virus bounces from hemisphere to hemisphere, and granted, Brazil's president has not exactly been a leading authority on social distancing here, to say the least? But what does that portend for us a few months from now?

WALENSKY: Right. The epidemic modelers have suggested, first of all, we do not have anything near herd immunity at this point. I think that's pretty clear, and we won't likely until we see a vaccine hopefully in the next year or so. Epidemic modelers suggest that either we're going to see a small number of disease or we're going to see these minor peaks and valleys of disease, or we might see a very large second wave. We don't really know how it's going to behave.

But here is what we're concerned about. We know other coronaviruses tend to thrive in the winter months. People are indoors. People are more likely to contact one another closely. The humidity is less, and therefore the droplets hang out in the air more. And it's very clear that respiratory viruses, and specifically even coronaviruses, tend to thrive in winter months.

We also know influenza tends to thrive in the winter months. And if we have a collision of those two peaks coming at the same time, that is a huge tax on our medical system and our healthcare system, and it really would be challenging to be able to care for both of those kinds of patients at the same time.

I think this speaks to a couple of things. One is most of society is not aware of how busy the hospital is during influenza season. Many of our ventilators, most of our ventilators are used during those seasons. And what I really want to emphasize is even if we don't have a vaccine for coronavirus in the fall, we will have a flu vaccine.

Every year, only about 45 to 50 percent of people get their flu vaccine, and this year, more than any other, it might be really important to emphasize flu vaccination.

SCIUTTO: Vaccine news this week, some of it positive but early. NIH study on Monday with Moderna showing progress, positive results in human subjects, a Harvard study in animal subjects, AstraZeneca, a very small number of people at this point. Does this change in your view the timeline for a workable vaccine being broadly available in this country?

WALENSKY: I am so excited to hear such good news from very different sources, because I think we're going to need an all-hands on deck. Generally, less than 10 percent of vaccines and drugs that are in these phases move forward and actually become vaccines and drugs. So we're going to need a lot of people doing great work. So all of these are really positive, but we are still really early.

So I'll take the Moderna, for example.


Phase one study, 45 subjects, we heard about eight of them. So I don't necessarily think we can plan a wide scale vaccination strategy on an eight-subject study.

I will also say the mRNA vaccine very promising. We've never had an mRNA vaccine. We've been looking at this for 45 days. We don't know the long-term side effects of them. We looked at them in young subjects but we know that the old patients are more vulnerable to this disease.

So we still have quite a bit to learn and I would say we're still at a yearlong timeline, especially if we talk about vaccinating hundreds of millions of people. SCIUTTO: Yes, good to take it with a grain of salt, identify the hope, which is important, but also know that it's going to take time. Dr. Rochelle Walensky, we appreciate you being on this morning.

WALENSKY: Thanks so much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Don't Miss CNN's latest town hall tonight, Coronavirus, Facts and Fears. Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta will tackle what it will take for students to return to schools. And listen to this. We'll have a message from First Lady Melania Trump in that town hall. That is live tonight 8:00 Eastern Time.

HARLOW: Still to come, President Trump targets two battleground states over mail-in ballots threatening to pull funding. We'll talk to one of those state's attorneys general, next.

Plus, 2.4 million Americans filed for unemployment last week. That is more than 38 million Americans that have lost their jobs just since March.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's one week, four times as many, as the worst week during the 2008-2009 recession.

And a family's warning about the health and safety nursing home workers. Relatives of one deceased employee suing the facility where he worked for not providing proper protection.



HARLOW: So in just a little bit today, the president heads to Michigan. He's going to tour a Ford plant that has been making ventilators and PPE to help out during this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Yes. But the visit comes after the president threatened to withhold federal funding from the state over its effort to expand mail-in voting.

CNN White House Correspondent John Harwood joins us. John, what's going on here? The president has taken aim at mail-in voting. Does he perceive that that will damage his election chances in the fall?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, when you're losing an election, when you're behind, as he is both nationally and in the State of Michigan, Democratic elections are not your friend. And so the idea of hoping that some people who are not going to vote against you don't vote is something that, in Donald Trump's mind, flows naturally from that.

But, look, this is an attempt by the president to get out of Washington to try to emphasize some of the good news, improving trends on the coronavirus, reopening of the economy, but he's struggling badly with the political fallout from this pandemic. And so he launched this attack not only on Michigan but on the State of Nevada, falsely suggesting that their secretaries of state are illegally trying to make it easier to vote. They're not. It's a very common practice.

And even more bizarre, given the fact that the president needs to win both of these states, he threatened to withhold federal funds. Michigan's governor, Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat, potential vice presidential nominee for Democratic opponent Joe Biden, fired back on CBS this morning.


GOV. GRETCHEN WHITMER (D-MI): To have this kind of distraction is just ridiculous, to be honest. It's -- but threatening to take money from a state that is hurting as bad as we are right now is just scary, and I think something that is unacceptable.


HARWOOD: And, guys, this isn't the only controversy heading into this visit. The issue of wearing a mask is something that the president has refused to do. It's an important signal to the country. Ford has indicated they expect the president to wear a mask, but he is not committed to doing so. We will see what happens with that today.

HARLOW: Okay. Thank you, John, very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, not just Michigan. The president is also targeting the State of Nevada over mail-in ballots, saying he may withhold funds to Nevada as well, accusing the state of possible voter fraud.

Overnight, the Republican National Committee chair is going to state's attorney general, Aaron Ford, to investigate. He joins me now from Las Vegas. Lots of questions for you. Thanks so much, Mr. Ford, for joining us this morning.

First of all, the president threatening to withhold funding from your state over this. In your view -- and you're threatening to take him to court if he does that. Do you see the president abusing his power here by making that threat seemingly to a political end?

AARON FORD, NEVADA ATTORNEY GENERAL: Good morning. And, absolutely, it's a piece of political abuse here. The first thing I did when I woke up yesterday morning and saw the tweet was I reflected I back on in my first year of law school, particularly constitutional law, and reminded myself by the fact that the power to spend tax dollars is placed in the hands of elected representatives in Congress. And the president can't override Congress' intent whenever he feels he wants to do so. So I was immediately driven to disregard his tweet as irrelevant and nonsensical.

SCIUTTO: What is driving, in your view, the president's attempt to disparage mail-in voting here? It's not just Nevada. It's Michigan, other states. He claims, though there is no evidence to this, U.S. service members have been using mail-in voting for more than a century, that there's voter fraud.


What is your read then of what the president's intent is?

FORD: I think we've heard from other jurisdictions that the intent is to suppress votes here, as indicated recently by some of your other guests. In Democratic elections, the president is concerned about losing votes. And here in our state, interestingly, the secretary of state is the one oversees over our elections. She's a Republican.

And at the behest of our 17 counties, most of whom leaning Republican, most of whom is leaning Republican, she established this all-mail primary system, and it's because of the COVID-19 scare. We don't want a rehash of Wisconsin here in our state, and so utilizing this particular resource, we've opted to pursue mail-in ballots for our primary.

SCIUTTO: Is there any evidence in the experience in the State of Nevada that mail-in ballots lead to increased voter fraud?

FORD: To the contrary. In fact, a federal court just recently held last week that claims and contentions of voter fraud are unfounded. The only incidence of voter fraud that have ever, the handful -- the six or so frankly have involved folks who were testing the system and they were caught. And so at the end of the day, what we're looking at here is an opportunity to protect Nevadans and their health and safety and at the same time protect their right to vote.

It's sacrosanct to me. Anyone who knows me here in Nevada knows that I'm going to defend the right to vote. And I defend our Republican secretary of state in this particular matter as well.

SCIUTTO: Casinos in the State of Nevada, particularly Las Vegas, losing a great deal of money through this, and they've been looking for ways to reopen. But, of course, casinos, like sports stadiums, you crowd a lot of people into a confined space for a length of time here. Is it safe to open casinos?

FORD: Our governor, to his credit, is making decisions based on the science. We here in Nevada do believe in science. And he has a panel of experts, medical experts, who are looking at what is appropriate given the threat here of coronavirus, and we are opening up in phases. We are currently in phase one. Casinos are not yet open. And under his guidance we are going to make informed decisions that are going to protect not only Nevadans but the millions of visitors that we receive here on a yearly basis.

SCIUTTO: I don't have to tell you about the enormous economic hardship of Americans through this, rising unemployment rates, inability to pay rent, to make mortgage payments. A new survey shows that 47 percent, half of households, have lost employment income during the pandemic. You and 34 other state attorney generals are now pushing the federal government to help owners struggling to pay mortgage payments. And, of course, those are Republican and Democratic attorneys general doing this.

Tell us what you're trying to do here and how important it would be, in your view. FORD: Well, this issue is a bipartisan issue. It's a non-partisan issue. And you've indicated the 33 other attorneys general and I have gotten together to try to help residents in our particular states. We recognize it is hard to stay home in our state when you've been evicted or when you've been foreclosed upon. And so what we're going to do is to help everyday residents through this particular crisis.

Fortunately, we have a state treasurer also in Zach Conine, who is intimately engaged and involved in these discussions. And it's an all- hands on deck approach here in our state. Democrats, Republicans alike are coming together to look toward opportunities to protect Nevadans and to help them in home ownership as well as in the rental arena.

SCIUTTO: Well, Aaron Ford, we know you've got a lot on your plate. We wish you and the people of Nevada the best of luck going forward.

FORD: Thank you so much.

SCIUTTO: Well, California has just reported one of its highest one- day death toll since the pandemic began. Now, the governor is preparing to lay out more guidelines for reopening. We'll have more, next.



SCIUTTO: Police say they are now investigating online videos linked to a shooting at a mall near Phoenix, Arizona. Three people were injured in that shooting, Wednesday night. One victim is in critical condition while two others sustain non-life threatening injuries.

HARLOW: And police have taken one person into custody. The suspect's identity has not yet been released.

Meantime, a scientific model predicts there will be a rapid spike in coronavirus cases in states that reopened the earliest. Research has also suggested those states that lifted restrictions slowly might escape an immediate second wave.

SCIUTTO: This comes as California, which remains on a partial lockdown, has reported its second highest one-day death toll. CNN's Dan Simon has been following this and he joins us now from San Francisco.

How big a spike and what do officials there attribute the spike to?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a spike, and we saw this on Tuesday as you said, the second highest death toll. They don't really know what to make of it. What they do say though is that they are seeing fewer cases and fewer hospitalizations.

So the data seems to be going in the right direction, and it's full steam ahead in terms of the reopening. The governor says he has the confidence to allow more and more communities to reopen. So now, you have about half of the counties throughout the State of California. END