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Hydroxychloroquine Linked to Significant Increased Risk of Death in Patients; Montgomery Alabama Mayor Says ICU Beds Scarce as Cases Soar; Beaches in Hard-Hit States Reopening Amid Fears of New Cases; AAA Expecting Record-Low Travel Numbers in the U.S. This Holiday Weekend. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 22, 2020 - 09:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. I'm Jim Sciutto. Big news this morning.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, major development in just the last few minutes. Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow. A Memorial Day weekend like we have never seen before and a Memorial Day that nearly 95,000 Americans will not see.

SCIUTTO: So what is the breaking news this morning? A new study shows, and this is an expansive study, that the anti-malaria drug that the president touted repeatedly for coronavirus patients and notably that he himself took, is now linked to a significant increased risk of death in patients who take it.

Let's go to CNN's Elizabeth Cohen with more on these new details.

We already had some studies that showed no benefit from taking this for COVID patients. What's different about this is that it's large, but shows real danger here.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, actually, one of the ones we already heard about, Jim, also showed danger. The largest study before this one was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. It was done by the University at Albany in the New York State Department of Health and that one showed not only didn't it work, but it increased more than twofold the chances of someone having a heart issue.

This new one is much larger. This new one looks at 671 hospitals over six continents. The one before was looking at 25 hospitals. So we've gone from 25 hospitals to 671 hospitals on six continents. This is a very, very large study. And what they found was increased risk of death and increased risk of heart issues.

Now these were hospitalized patients, some quite ill. What President Trump has had to say about that issue is, hey, I took it when I -- you know, when I -- I wasn't sick. And so these studies look at people who are sick. That is a fair point to make. However, the doctors I've been talking to say, look, if you look at patients who are sick and it doesn't help, it certainly casts doubt on whether this drug does anything -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: It is a huge development and just the breadth and the size of this study, tens of thousands of people looking retrospectively at their medical records.

Elizabeth, thank you very much for that.

SCIUTTO: Let's go to the White House now. CNN's John Harwood is there.

Now, as only a few days ago that the president revealed he took this drug, apparently with the approval of the White House doctor. Given this expansive study, as Elizabeth said, more than 600 hospitals, much larger than previous studies of this, has there been any response from the White House? Do you expect one?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I would expect to get one later today. This has just broken so we haven't gotten it, but, you know, 600 hospitals, 96,000 patients in this study. The president attacked a VA study which also showed lack of results and some risks to coronavirus patients on the basis of the fact that it was taking very sick patients as Elizabeth just referred to, He also claimed political bias.

But these findings in the Lancet, which is a very influential medical journal, simply deepened the impression that the president has been reckless in his promotion of this drug, which is not only unproven but may be harmful. Take a listen to some of the things the president has had to say over the last several weeks.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Take it. If things don't go as planned, it's not going to kill anybody.

It will be wonderful. It will be so beautiful. It will be a gift from heaven. And it works.

And if some other person put it forward and say, oh, let's go with it. You know. What do you have to lose?

Try it. If you like.

I've seen things that I sort of like, so what do I know? I'm not a doctor. I'm not a doctor. But I have common sense.


HARWOOD: "What do I know, I'm not doctor." He is definitely not a doctor. He wasn't a doctor when he said that -- suggested the idea of people injecting themselves with disinfectant. That was obviously a ridiculous thing to say. But this is a case where there was a lot of pressure certainly from

right-wing media and within the president himself to try to give some hope to people. But increasingly this study gives the impression that the president was extending false hope to people, and he has gotten negative judgment from the American people and his handling of coronavirus. This is not going to make that any better.

HARLOW: It's certainly not. And how many people listened to him, right, over the months when you -- when he was such a supporter of it and then how many people took it when he started taking it.

John, thanks very much.

Let's talk about this new development with Dr. Colleen Kraft, an infectious disease expert and associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.


What is your reaction, Doctor, to this huge new study on hydroxychloroquine?

DR. COLLEEN KRAFT, ASSOCIATE CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, EMORY UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL: Well, I think we just really need to go back to what we know, which is using scientific evidence and objectivity anytime we're recommending a therapeutic. I don't know why the pandemic and why we feel like during this pandemic that we need to go outside of those bounds just to give optimism, like you were just talking about.

But it's really important that we follow all of these things we've always been doing. Our first desire as clinicians and physicians and healthcare workers is to do no harm. And so I think that we want to focus on that in our results and in our practices.

SCIUTTO: So the data here focuses on a particular effect of this, and that is causing an irregular heartbeat known as an arrhythmia that can lead to sudden cardiac death. I wonder, the White House doctor gave this medicine to the president who we know, Dr. Sanjay Gupta said this on our air, has signs of heart disease, plaque, in his blood vessels here. A risk to prescribe this to the sitting president?

KRAFT: Absolutely. It is a risk whenever you give a medication that has a side effect and that has maybe no benefit. So that's what we do all day long in our clinical care patients is we balance the risk of the drug of the therapy with the benefit. In this case, there seemed to be very little benefit from all of the studies we've already seen and really you're left with risk.

HARLOW: Dr. Kraft, I wonder if you could speak a little bit about the acceleration of another drug and vaccine that we have seen. This is the Oxford drug that AstraZeneca is going to produce so much of.

What do we need to take away from that? Because I do worry as the "Washington Post" laid out in that opinion piece this week that a lot of this stuff is just being put out by companies press releases with no, no second eyes, like no peer review, no fact checking, something the SEC would never let a public company do with their finances, for example.

KRAFT: Poppy, that's a great point. It's really important, again, as I've said earlier, just with the clinical trials that we have to follow our rigorous procedures about how we deem something as valuable and useful in individuals. If we start getting ahead of ourselves, with just, you know, basically unfounded press releases, we are going to have what we just saw happen with the hydroxychloroquine happen again and again.

SCIUTTO: Now, to be fair, Dr. Fauci who of course is leading this vaccine response, has noted encouraging results, not just AstraZeneca, but the NIH-Moderna study earlier this week.


SCIUTTO: He says, and I asked him this very question, I said, does this -- when would this mean -- I mean, these early results, and granted they're early, when would this mean that a workable vaccine could be widely available in this country? And he said it's possible given this by the end of this year. That's possible. Do you find that timeline credible?

KRAFT: Yes, it is incredible. It would be the fastest vaccine against the novel virus we've ever seen. And remember, we are at that phase one place holder, right, so we decided it looks immunologically good in the subjects that were enrolled. Now the real focus has to be on this phase two where we're looking at the efficacy and seeing if it actually truly is preventing disease. And this will be the crux of whether or not this actually works and if we are going to have something by December of 2020, for instance.


HARLOW: Dr. Colleen Kraft, we're so grateful for you this morning, especially, and the facts on this. Thank you.

KRAFT: Happy to help.

SCIUTTO: That's a story we're going to keep on top of, of course.

Still to come this hour, major concerns of a flare-up of cases in the south especially in Alabama, where one city's mayor says there is a scarcity now of beds in the ICU. We're going to take you there live.

HARLOW: Also President Trump suggests another stimulus package is coming. His senior economic adviser Kevin Hassett will be with us to talk about that.

And right now, authorities in Georgia are briefing reporters on a third arrest in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery. Now the man who recorded the fatal shooting on his cell phone, that video you saw, will face felony charges of murder.


[09:13:35] HARLOW: Well, the mayor of Montgomery, Alabama, sounding the alarm this morning as coronavirus cases there surge. Four hospitals in the area running out of ICU beds to take these patients -- those patients forced to travel at least an hour away to get treatment.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Victor Blackwell joins us now from Montgomery.

Victor, so still a small number of cases but a worrisome sign here. How concerning is this to local officials and what are they doing in response?

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR, WEEKEND NEW DAY: Well, listen, there is certainly a sense of urgency here. You're hearing it from the mayor, also from the four hospitals across this part of central Alabama. I'm standing outside of Jackson Hospital.

They had 30 critical care beds, each one of them is occupied. The other three hospitals are managed by Baptist. We're told that they have seen a surge of cases, hospitalizations from COVID-19 over the last three weeks at each of those facilities.

The mayor tells us that in the first week of May there was a 45 percent increase of COVID positive cases and then in the second week 46 percent still growing during the third week of the month.

Now the mayor also says that many of the cases that are coming to hospitals are not from Montgomery. They are from rural areas across the central Alabama where there are not these major hospitals. They have smaller medical centers. He says that he believes it's connected to the state loosening restrictions far too soon.


The shelter-in-place order from April was allowed to expire at the end of last month, and he says that allowing people to return to gyms and to restaurants and bars has allowed for this surge. Here's the warning from Mayor Steven Reed.


MAYOR STEVEN REED, MONTGOMERY, ALABAMA: If you're from Montgomery, and you need an ICU bed, you're in trouble. If you're from central Alabama and you need an ICU bed, you may not be able to get one because our healthcare system has been maxed out.


BLACKWELL: And we just learned from the governor's office that now, the Governor Kay Ivey here, has amended her order to allow schools, public, private, K through 12, technical schools, colleges, universities, to resume classes on June 1st, that's next Monday, with three caveats there, three expectations that there should be reasonable and when practicable steps to exercise social distancing.

Also for deep cleaning or frequently-used items and employees, not so much the students, but employees are urged to wear face coverings when they're within 6 feet of a person from a different household. So that also is going to add to the influx of people getting out of the houses during the pandemic. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Victor Blackwell, good to have you there, certainly something we'll stay on top of. As we mark the coming Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start of Summer, officials around the country figuring out how to handle large crowds at a number of public places including beaches in the middle of a pandemic. It's a tough question.

HARLOW: For sure. Let's go to Rosa Flores, she's standing by in Delray Beach, South Florida, in a moment. But let's begin with Evan McMorris-Santoro from Point Pleasant Beach in New Jersey. People are going to be allowed, Evan, on the beach?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Welcome to the Summer beach season in New Jersey. This is a very important part of the New Jersey economy, the Jersey shore. And I'm at Point Pleasant Beach, which is about an hour south of New York City. And this is going to be a place where they're going to be testing sort of how this is all going to work for the rest of the Summer.

And here in Point Pleasant, it's a mixture of personal responsibility, and sort of light enforcement. The boardwalk is still closed here for a while, you can still figure out how to make that work with social distancing, and the beach access has been capped where they've taken a number of people that they think can be safely on the beach. They'll only let you on if it's -- if they're under that number. But when it comes to things like masks, masks are not required.

They're strongly suggested while you're in line or if you're close to other people. But if you're on the beach and you don't want to wear one, you don't have to. And these are the kind of things that we're seeing. There is actually different rules all over New Jersey, but here in Point Pleasant, the rule is keep the beach as limited as possible, and then also urge people to wear masks.

Now, this may not be the best day to see how this all works. The forecast is calling for rain and we're just not seeing big crowds quite yet. But it is a test of what will eventually be, according to the local officials here I've talked to, what they expect to be a very busy beach season here in New Jersey.

SCIUTTO: We'll be watching. Now to Rosa Flores in Delray Beach, Florida, just north of Fort Lauderdale. So, Florida has been ahead of the game on reopening public places including beaches. What are the rules people have to follow there, and will they be watched? Will there be folks enforcing these things?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Jim. Yes, actually, right now in Delray Beach, the red flags have gone up because of the weather. We were out there earlier, but there was a thunderstorm coming through, and so now we've seen lifeguards out on the beaches, but actually telling people to get off the beach, but technically, the beaches here in Delray Beach are open.

There are very simple rules. You can jog, you can walk, and you can swim. Now, we've been here since very early this morning, and we've seen groups of people, people sun-bathing, not exactly following the rules. Now, masks here are not required, but they are encouraged, if you can't social distance. Now, when it comes to the state of Florida, most beaches are open except for Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.

Now, that's no surprise. Those two counties account for about 47 percent of all of the cases in the state. Here in Palm Beach, about 10 percent of all of the cases in the state have happened in this particular county. Now, Jim and Poppy, of course, officials can invite people to come back to the beaches, mother nature here has had a different approach.


She cleared everybody from the beach about an hour ago with a huge thunderstorm. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Rosa, thanks, Evan, appreciate it. We hope everyone stays safe. AAA expecting record-low travel numbers this weekend, not a huge surprise. If you are going to travel, there is a safer way to do it.

SCIUTTO: CNN correspondent Pete Muntean has been following this, and he's got some good advice.


PETE MUNTEAN, CNN AVIATION CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): I set out on I-95 toward Virginia Beach, it along with some beaches in New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland are open for the holiday weekend.

(on camera): This is like always the big linchpin in 95. We're breezing through right now. This is easy.

(voice-over): But University of Maryland researchers say road trips are nearing pre-pandemic levels. Last weekend, climbing 18 percent in Maryland and Virginia alone. Travel firm Inrix thinks typical traffic will return in some spots this weekend, a driving holiday that's become difficult to forecast.

JEANETTE CASSELANO, PUBLIC AFFAIRS DIRECTOR, AAA: For the first time in nearly two decades, AAA is not releasing a travel forecast because the economic data is just not readily available for us to do so.

MUNTEAN: Researchers do say that the car is about the safest way to get around right now, but it's when you stop where things get more difficult.

(on camera): We're going to see what this is like.

(voice-over): Rest stops are open in Virginia, but that can vary state-to-state. The CDC underscores wearing a mask and washing your hands when traveling. Here, crews are cleaning bathrooms every hour.

KELLY HANNON, VIRGINIA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION: We want people to be reassured that they can come in here and they can have a place that is going to be clean for them. MUNTEAN: Of course, an essential part of a road trip is a snack. And

AAA says be mindful of the buttons that you press on the vending machine, maybe use a card instead of cash, they say especially after you use something like that, make sure you hand sanitize afterward. Weekend gas prices are the lowest in more than 15 years according to AAA.

(on camera): One more thing to think about on your road trip, all of the things that you touch at a gas pump, the nozzle, the keypad, one researcher telling me, maybe use a knuckle to hit these buttons or use it on a touch-screen that's better than your finger tips. They emphasize make sure that you wash up afterwards or maybe touch all of this with a paper towel or even gloves.

QINGYAN CHEN, PURDUE UNIVERSITY: Well, I don't think people understand the risk really well.

MUNTEAN (voice-over): The big concern from health experts that quarantine fatigue will lead to more travel and spread coronavirus even further.

PAUL ROUX, TRAVELER: I think, yes, people are just getting fed up of being closed in with those Winter months, and now they're getting out.

MUNTEAN (on camera): Doing any traveling for Memorial Day?


MUNTEAN: No, staying home?



MUNTEAN: Even still, it's a very personal decision about whether or not to travel this weekend. The Chesapeake Bay bridge here, a gateway to beaches in Maryland and Delaware typically would be traveled, backed up for miles. Things still pretty light right now, but it's a spot that researchers will be watching very closely. They'll be using smartphone data to see how many people travel and where they're going. Jim, Poppy?

HARLOW: Pete, thanks. Really important reporting, we appreciate it. So, the president now says he thinks Americans will see another round of stimulus. The Senate Majority leader says the Democrats bill off the table. So what will Americans get? White House senior economic adviser Kevin Hassett is with us next.



SCIUTTO: There's more breaking news this hour. Emergency workers are searching the wreckage of a commercial plane that crashed in Karachi, Pakistan. HARLOW: More than a 100 people were on board that Pakistan

International Airlines flight 8303. We've learned at least five survivors were taken to a hospital. The plane is said to have crashed in a neighborhood just 2 miles from the airport. The pilot did report technical problems in that May day call just before landing. Flights in Pakistan had just resumed a week ago after being grounded for two months because of coronavirus.

SCIUTTO: Amidst the backdrop of the coronavirus outbreak, China is pushing ahead with an extremely draconian national security law for Hong Kong, that could be a huge blow to civil liberties there. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just condemned the proposed legislation, the proposal likely to spark more protests in a city that was rocked by violent anti-government unrest for six months last year.

CNN's senior international correspondent Ivan Watson joins us from Hong Kong. So, last time, the government tried this, they tried to do it through the local legislature, sparked all of those popular protests. Now Beijing, the government is saying, forget you guys, we're going to do it ourselves.

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And I think it's important for viewers to know that Hong Kong is the freest corner of modern day China because of a quirk of colonial history, some international treaties, the handover from control by Britain to China in 1997. The internet is not censored here, you can worship freely.

The courts are independent from the government, you can write in a newspaper that you don't like the government, and you don't get arrested. Well, the Chinese central government says that its draft law will, quote, "include seven clauses aimed at preventing, stopping and punishing violations of national security, will criminalize treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government, establish a legal system and enforcement mechanisms to enforce the law, that government here in Hong Kong will be obliged to carry out national security education.

They'll set up national security agency presences here in Hong Kong". Read between the lines, that's basically secret police and will criminalize secession, sedition and subversion against the Chinese government. The local authorities here in Hong Kong and the central government are arguing that the protests of six months-plus were a threat to China's national security.