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Coronavirus Cases Spiking in Alabama?; Trump Visits Ford Plant in Michigan; Interview With Miami Beach, Florida, Mayor Dan Gelber. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 21, 2020 - 15:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: He's about to tour a Ford assembly plant about 30 minutes from Detroit.

The president has made Michigan the center of a big fight the past few days. In the midst of a pandemic, where that state is one of the hardest-hit, President Trump is threatening to pull funding for the state over politics, his dislike of mail-in voting, something he has railed against without any credible reason.

And it can't be ignored that this is a state that is crucial for his reelection chances in the fall, a state he won by the narrowest of margins in 2016.

But back to the pandemic at hand, ahead of the visit, a major question has become, will he or won't he wear a mask when visiting this plant? He's in the first event in Michigan right now. No one has seen him yet since he entered the plant.

But as he was leaving the White House this morning, he was asked about this very thing.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I don't know. We're going to look at it. A lot of people have asked me that question. I want to get our country back to normal.

I want to normalize. One of the other things I want to do is get the churches open. The churches are not being treated with respect by a lot of the Democrat governors. I want to get our churches open. And we're going to take a very strong position on that very soon.


BOLDUAN: That is his position right now on masks. So what's his message then to the Ford plant workers in Michigan today?

We're about to find out soon.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live at the White House.

But let's start with CNN's Omar Jimenez. He's at the Ford plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Omar, what is the very latest there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kate, the president is inside the Ypsilanti Ford facility behind me, where right now he's in a roundtable discussion with African-American leaders.

He will then be taken on a tour throughout the facility and then we're expecting to hear some remarks from the president. Now, the question in all of this is whether the president will be wearing a mask, which we haven't seen him do up until this point, and it's also significant because it's Ford's policy that anybody who's inside has to wear a mask, which is something they say they have communicated to the White House.

And this also comes as a state attorney general says there could be possible future penalties for any company here in Michigan that allows the president to come inside of their premises without a mask on.

And let's remember, this visit isn't happening within a vacuum. This comes -- we're seeing different sets of dialogues play out. One is, we're seeing flooding in a different part of the state where the president says he's been in touch with Governor Gretchen Whitmer on that front, but then at the same time is threatening to withhold funds to the state over a move the state has done to send absentee ballot applications to all of their voters, a move that he says would contribute to voter fraud.

Now, on that exact topic, we have not seen evidence that that would be the case. In fact, all the states that use mail balloting as their primary form of voting have not seen any issues in that regard.

And it's also worth noting Michigan isn't the only state doing this, Texas as well also making a move along the same vein to make the option of absentee ballots available to all of their voters, Kate.

BOLDUAN: That's very good point, Omar.

Kaitlan, on his way to Michigan, the president had some pretty choice words also about a new study from Columbia University that said that almost 40,000 lives could have been saved throughout the country if the country had moved to a lockdown, more stricter social distancing guidelines just one week sooner than the country did.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and even double that if it had moved to those lockdowns about two weeks earlier and put those social distancing measures that we all know so well by now in place just a little bit earlier.

Now, the president was asked about this study. And listen to what his response was. And then we will talk about what was going on behind the scenes at the White House at this time when they were making those decisions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) TRUMP: I was so early. I was earlier than anybody thought. I put a ban on people coming in from China. Everybody fought me on that. They didn't want it. Nancy Pelosi a month later was dancing in the streets of San Francisco, in Chinatown, so that people wouldn't believe what's happening.

And I don't even blame that. But I was way early. Columbia is an institution that's very liberal. It's a -- I think it's just a political hit job, you want to know the truth.


COLLINS: So he says he believes that study is the work of a political hit job, even though we should note that it's disease researchers at Columbia that put out these figures and looked at what would have happened in the United States.

And it's critical, Kate, because it's showing what would have happened. And we actually know those discussions were going on inside the White House about when to put those measures in place. That was about the time that the president took his trip to India.

His top HHS officials were meeting back here in Washington and looking at what was coming in from China and Italy and other countries. And they wanted to have a meeting with the president about putting social distancing measures in place.

But, Kate, that meeting got canceled, because, remember, it was on the way home from India where the president was watching television. He saw that doctor from the CDC issue that warning about just how much life is going to change.


That really affected the stock markets. That meeting about putting those social distancing measures in place got canceled, and was replaced with a press conference where he announced that the vice president was going to be in charge of that task force.

And they did not put those measures in plays for about three more weeks. So you can imagine just what a difference would have been made if they had done that in about three weeks, according to this study that the Columbia -- that Columbia is now putting out.

BOLDUAN: Yes, we're going to talk about what looking back actually can be learned as we look forward.

But, first, Omar, thank you so much. He's on the ground in Michigan.

Kaitlan is going to stick around with us as we continue this discussion.

Also joining us is Dr. Amesh Adalja. He is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. And Juliette Kayyem, CNN national security analyst and former assistant secretary at the Department of Homeland Security. Juliette, I'm told by my friends in the control room who have many

more television screens than I do that right now the president is in -- there is some video right there. He's in the roundtable that is going to proceed his tour of the plant in Michigan.

But this, I'm told, is in the plant he's sitting on for a listening session in the roundtable with African-American leaders, obviously very clearly not wearing a mask. Unclear how many people are all -- are wearing masks that are sitting around him.

But this gets to this whole thing. What is the deal with face masks? What is it about a face mask that he thinks, people around him think gives off such a negative message? I keep saying this to people around me, that we don't smoke on planes anymore because of the danger it poses to those around us or in many -- in office buildings.


BOLDUAN: We stop at stop signs not only to protect ourselves, but also those around us.

KAYYEM: Right.

So, I mean, part of it is just a personality that takes no responsibility for his actions. He doesn't view himself as modeling or needing to model good behavior, even though the entire scientific and public health community is saying, wear a mask.

And the reason why you wear a mask is, we know the health reasons. The other is, in the absence of a very strong effort to combat the virus, in other words, the federal government has failed on testing and tracing and we have no treatment and there's no vaccine, we're just going to have to use a whole bunch of different tools to minimize the risk for the American public.

And one of them, not perfect, is certainly masking. And it has -- it does show some success. I think the other thing is just President Trump likes to put things in camps, right, so, even in crisis management, which is so shocking, right?

So there's the sort of quarantine camp vs. the get outside camp. There's the pro-health camp vs. the pro-economics camp. It doesn't work that way. I mean, in other words, everyone's trying to balance all of these competing needs.

And I think that, for him, if he wore a mask, he would view that as signaling in some ways some accepting that we're going to have to balance a lot of difficult decisions in the months ahead. The president said this morning, I want to get things back to normal.

I can't be the first one to try to tell him, that's not happening anytime soon. I mean, the virus is here. So we have to adapt. And one of them is masks.

BOLDUAN: And, Kaitlan, Trump wore protective eyewear when he visited a factory in Phoenix earlier this month. We have video of it. If he's OK wearing protective -- wearing gear that protects his own eyes, why wouldn't he be Kate wearing gear to protect those around him?

COLLINS: I mean, he pretty flatly said he doesn't think he should be wearing a mask. He thinks it would be silly for the commander in chief to wearing a mask.

He said that once in a briefing talking about potentially meeting with world leaders while wearing a mask. He said he just couldn't see that, though, of course, he's not meeting with any world leaders right now because of the pandemic and given the travel restrictions and whatnot.

But aides have tried to convince the president to just wear a mask because they know it's just easier to avoid that. They saw the fallout from when the vice president went to the Mayo Clinic and he didn't wear a mask, despite it being, of course, a hospital, and that being their policy.

And they just haven't had a lot of success in getting the president to wear one. There was a big discussion of it during a trip he took to Honeywell the night before they left here at the White House, where they weren't really sure if he was or if he wasn't. And, of course, in the end, he didn't.

And it's not that the president is not concerned about coronavirus. He certainly is, after he was exposed to an aide who tested positive for coronavirus. He -- we now know he started taking hydroxychloroquine, even though it's an unproven drug to prevent coronavirus, according to the FDA.

He's still taking that right now. He says he finishes that tomorrow. So he will take some measures to try to ward off coronavirus in his mind with the hydroxychloroquine, but he won't do things like wear a mask.

And I don't think a lot of aides thought that there was a hope for him to wear one here today. It's not clear if there were discussions that happened with the executives there beforehand.

But, yesterday, we did not get the sense that people were hopeful he was going to wear one.

BOLDUAN: Yes. And to be clear, there is Ford company policy, very clearly laid out, has been shared with the White House, is that everyone from workers to visitors, if they're in the plant, they're wearing a mask. That is their policy.


It's also required by the state now.

Dr. Adalja, from a public health standpoint, what message does this send? Is there an argument to be made, if I'm looking at the counter, that it doesn't matter if the president wears a mask, when every governor is telling everyone in their state that they should?

DR. AMESH ADALJA, INFECTIOUS DISEASES SOCIETY OF AMERICA: Well, it looks hypocritical. If there are rules that his government, the government, the CDC recommends, and he's not following those rules, it doesn't make any sense to me, because you can't have one set of rules for the president, another set of rules for everybody else, especially when he's going onto private property.

That's Ford's property. And he needs to follow the rules there. And there shouldn't be exceptions made for him based on that, especially if he's someone that thought he was exposed enough, that he wanted to take hydroxychloroquine prophylactically, and his doctors thought he was -- that the risk-benefit ratio favored that, then he's actually somebody that could be harboring the coronavirus.

So that's the type of person that you want to wear a mask. So, to me, it doesn't make any sense, the arguments, and it really just speaks of kind of hypocrisy.

BOLDUAN: Kaitlan, there's also this.

The head of the CDC has come out reiterating his concern that a second wave is coming in the winter, a second wave of the virus.

And let me read how he put it in an interview with "Financial Times." He says: "We have seen evidence that concerns -- that the concerns it would go south in the Southern Hemisphere, like flu, are coming true. And you're seeing what's happening in Brazil now."

He goes on to say, "And then when the Southern Hemisphere is over, I suspect it will reground itself in the North."

Here's the thing about that. He said this before, and that really angered the White House. What is going to be the impact of it this time?

COLLINS: Yes, the president has been at odds with his health experts on several occasions, but really over whether or not coronavirus is going to come back.

He has said that he thinks there's a chance it won't. And people like Dr. Redfield, Dr. Fauci, others have said pretty flatly that, yes, they would bet pretty much anything that it is going to come back, and that's how people should be preparing for that.

And so you remember that briefing that was really notable, where the president had Redfield come out to correct a quote that he later affirmed was accurate, that he was properly quoted in "The Washington Post," when he was talking about it coming back and potentially being worse, just because he was looking at the fact that it could come during flu season.

And so I think they are looking at the data. They are trying to give a pretty sober preparation for people that this is something that we're going to be dealing with for quite some time.

And the president has once again, again and again, expressed confidence that he thinks it could go away and not come back, despite the health advisers contradicting him on that front.

BOLDUAN: Well, and, Dr. Adalja, you have heard the president, as Juliette points out, say that just this morning, when he says he wants to get back to normal.

Is there anything questionable, Dr. Adalja, or controversial in this prediction by Dr. Redfield?

ADALJA: No, it's simply a fact.

This is a virus that's established itself in the human population. It's what we call endemic in the human population. It transmits efficiently from person to person.

It's not going anywhere until there's a vaccine. So it's inevitable that we're going to be facing this virus for the foreseeable future. And it could intensify a lot during the winter season, because we know coronaviruses have this seasonality.

And we're going to be dealing with influenza at the same time. So this is something we need to prepare for it. And the president shouldn't be evading simple facts about this, because he conveyed these facts, but we're going to face this no matter what. The facts don't care if he believes it's going to happen or not.


Guys, stick around. We're going to follow the president's movements and see what happens in this plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan, as these workers get back to work, as they're repurposing. And they are now actually producing ventilators and PPE. Much more to come on that front, but also this.

Coronavirus cases are spiking in Alabama, the mayor of Montgomery warning that, if you need an ICU bed, you're in trouble. That's what he's saying. Did the state reopen too soon?

And, also, some businesses in Miami Beach are just beginning to reopen, but the beaches, they remain closed. I'm going to talk with the mayor for an update on what he needs to see to open up more of his city.



BOLDUAN: There's renewed focus today on the South, as several states across the South are seeing a spike in coronavirus -- new coronavirus cases.

Take a look at this map of the country and how new cases are trending across the country. What's grabbing attention of experts now is down there in the bottom, is that increase in cases, cluster there, in the South you see in the red.

An updated projection model, at the very same time, is coming out of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, indicating that, while it is safe for most states to loosen restrictions, they see in their modeling states that reopened early and fast, like many in the South, are at high risk of a resurgence.

Here's one of the researchers behind the model.


DR. DAVID RUBIN, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: Other areas that have moved too quickly, like in the South, they're distancing practice has been -- has eroded more quickly.

But we also suspect, for the same amount of relaxation of social distancing, we're seeing much more worrisome forecasts. And we suspect that what we're detecting there is potentially the lack of vigilance that's occurring in some of those communities.


BOLDUAN: One place he could be talking about, Montgomery, Alabama, where the mayor there is so concerned about a spike, he's already considering locking things back down soon.

CNN's Victor Blackwell is in Montgomery, and he's joining us now.

Victor, what are you hearing on the ground there?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Kate, a sense of urgency, and notably from the mayor of Montgomery, Steven Reed.

He's trying to keep this city from becoming the next hot spot across the South. He says there is this surge of COVID cases. According to the Montgomery County Health Department and to the mayor, there's been a 45 percent increase of new cases in the first week of May, 46 percent in the second week.


Of course, we will have to wait for the numbers from today for the third week to a fuller picture, but double-digit increases. And the mayor says that now the ICU beds, those critical care, intensive care unit beds, are filling at the four hospitals across this part of Central Alabama.

And the mayor makes another connection. He says that this is directly connected to the easing of restrictions in the state. Alabama Mayor (sic) Kay Ivey allowed the shelter-at-home order to expire at the end of April. There were some less strict rules placed in early May.

But now retail and restaurants and bars and salons and gyms are open with some rules. And the mayor says it's simple. When you subtract some of those restrictions, add people, and you see the new cases, that's why you're seeing these ICU beds fill up.

Here's what he said just last hour.


STEVEN REED (D), MAYOR OF MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: The state of our hospitals right now is, our ICU beds are almost at a capacity level.

And we're in a place that is manageable, but it's not sustainable. We started getting calls probably about a week-and-a-half ago from hospital administrators explaining to us the number of COVID patients that they were seeing was not only increasing, but that people were coming in, in worse shape.

And so we thought we needed to remind our community that this pandemic is not over. We're still in a tough battle. And now is not the time for us to relax.


BLACKWELL: Again, about those four hospitals across this part of Alabama, three are operated by Baptist Health Systems. We got an update from them just moments ago.

Their 80 ICU beds at three different facilities, they say that they have reached capacity at several points during the pandemic, but they tell us that they have seen a surge in COVID hospitalizations at each of those three facilities over the last three weeks.

And when the mayor here made that first urgent call yesterday about the ICU beds, there was only one bed available in this area at Jackson Hospital, the fourth hospital behind me. And we got an update from them just a moment ago that the last of their 30 critical care beds is now occupied -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Victor, thanks so much for the update. There's got to be much more to come there, because they're clearly in a bad place now.

Another place that this new model that we were talking about earlier from PolicyLab predicts we will see a surge in cases in the next four weeks is the Miami area, which has actually taken a much more cautious approach to reopening than the rest of the state of Florida.

Miami Beach began phase one of reopening just yesterday, and some -- with some businesses allowed to operate at reduced capacity, but the beaches and a lot of things still remain closed.

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

Mayor, thank you so much for coming back.

First and foremost, how did day one go?

DAN GELBER (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, people were pretty cautious. And we didn't have crowds. Of course, we only opened up sort of our retail and some general business.

Restaurants will be next week. So that really will determine something. But we're trying to do it carefully. We're way behind the state and we're even behind parts of Dade County, because this area has been the hot spot. We have had over 600 deaths in Miami-Dade County, which is a third of all the deaths in the state of Florida.

BOLDUAN: Yes, and that is a number that people need to remember when thinking about the cautious path that you have been taking, is just how much of the trouble was -- landed in your lap.

This new model that I have been mentioning is projecting trouble for the South, and particularly -- you might not be able to see this mayor, but this is for Miami-Dade, the projection model of what it could look like in the next four weeks, with a risk of a big spike in your area.

When you see that, what do you think?

GELBER: I'm worried. Obviously, it'd be foolish not to be worried with so many people dying and so many people catching the virus.

And, of course, our community, not just Miami Beach, but Miami-Dade County, is a destination city. So, while we open things up, we just don't open them up for our neighbors. We bring in tens of thousands of people.

My city is only 92,000 residents. We get 10 to 15 million visitors a year from all over the world. So, that model is not particularly consistent with physical distancing.

BOLDUAN: That's for sure.

A lot of the beaches on the East Coast are opening up this weekend, not the beaches of Miami Beach.


BOLDUAN: What are you--

GELBER: Right.

BOLDUAN: Where are you on opening the beaches, with all of this in context?

GELBER: Well, our commission will discuss it tomorrow with our city manager.

But, in my mind, I have sort of thought that we really shouldn't do it until early June. But, frankly, even if we opened in early June, we have seven-and-a-half miles of beaches in just my city, many more miles throughout the county.

Our beaches are totally public. We can't limit capacity. We don't have a turnstile that lets you in. And we frequently see tens and tens of thousands of people on them, like they were in spring break at the beginning of March, when I think terrible things were happening with regard to the virus there.


So, even when we open them, we're going to be worried. And the one thing that has also concerned me is that we have had no direction from the federal government as to what we should be looking for if we want to reconsider our reopening or tighten it up.

They gave us some metrics to open, two weeks of a downward trajectory, but nobody has said a word about what happens if this thing doesn't work and we get spikes. And I think we need some guidance on that, because we're walking into that time where people will be thinking this is a green light to do whatever they want, no matter how much warning and admonition you give them.

BOLDUAN: You don't have to look any further than Montgomery, Alabama, as we were just talking with our reporter on the ground there, and what they're saying.

That actually was the question I was going to ask you, not only, how do you enforce your guidelines, but when are you going to know? What's the marker when you know you need to reverse course?

GELBER: Well, it's the same problem in getting into this.

Look, I tell everybody, in early March, we didn't have an episode in Dade County until the 11th, until March 11, not a single case. But we know for those 11 days during spring break and other events, it was spreading like crazy and going throughout our community and around the nation.

So you can't wait until you see it, because once you see increased hospitalizations or you see deaths or people on ventilators, it's probably too late. So we need our tracking and tracing. We need to be able to have surveillance testing. We need to be ahead of it with capacity of technology that allows us to know.

We didn't have that at the front end. I am praying we have it now, because I don't want to repeat those mistakes. They were deadly.

BOLDUAN: You have been -- you have said that there has been good communication with the governor and the state on this. Are they giving you guidance on this?

Because you need it now. You don't need it in four weeks.

GELBER: We -- it's not as if they call us and tell us what to do. These decisions -- I don't know. You may be too young to remember Mikey in the cereal commercial. But

to a certain extent, most of these decisions have had been pushed down the table to Mikey -- we're Mikey, the mayors and commissions -- to make these decisions. There's not -- nobody has called us and said, you better do this.

In fact, we were the first city in Florida to shelter in place, and one of the first in early April to require masks in the country. Nobody said do it. We just had to decide to do it. And while I'm happy we did, and I don't mind the bad e-mails I'm getting, I wish there were a little bit more instruction coming from state and federal emergency managers, who presumably have great expertise in this. BOLDUAN: Yes.

Mayor, I'm not going to call you Mikey. I'm just going to say thank you. Thanks for what you're doing. Keep doing it.

GELBER: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: We will check back in. I really appreciate it.

GELBER: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us, we are waiting to hear from President Trump make remarks at the Ford plant in Michigan.

Right now, he's at a roundtable. And then he is supposed to be walking through the plant. What is the message that workers there want to hear?

I'm going to talk to the president of a local UAW chapter next.