Return to Transcripts main page
THE SITUATION ROOM
More Than Two-Thirds of California Clear to Reopen Further; Interview with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner About Memorial Holiday Weekend; CDC Releases New Guidelines for Religious Worship; Interview with Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel About President Trump's Attacks. Aired 9-10p ET
Aired May 23, 2020 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.
Across the United States this weekend, both a sigh of relief and deepening concerns about the spread of the deadly coronavirus. And both on this Memorial Day holiday weekend. The part making people happy is the relaxing of some stay-at-home restrictions in every state today. People flocked to beaches and to parks. This is Tybee Island, by the way, near Savannah, Georgia.
And take a look at this, Santa Monica, California, some people we've seen following social distancing guidelines. Others unfortunately not.
Elsewhere around the country today, tourists and locals hitting the boardwalk in Ocean City, Maryland. And in Texas, bars and restaurants on Austin's historic Sixth Street were allowed to open Friday night. A lot of people, very few, if anyone, wearing masks -- not wearing masks, I should say.
The part making health officials very concerned is whether all of this reopening is too much too soon. Two states today have very discouraging developments in the case of coronavirus. The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, announcing what he calls a second peak of infections. He says more new cases were confirmed today in Arkansas than in the previous high and that was one month ago.
And in North Carolina, health officials reporting the single highest one-day total of new cases yet. More than 1100 people confirmed with coronavirus in North Carolina just today. And then there's tomorrow, Sunday, and serious worries that an unsafe number of people will crowd into churches and other houses of worship. That's after President Trump declared churches essential and warned state governors very sharply to make sure churches are open Sunday.
While all this is happening, the awful number of confirmed cases and deaths from coronavirus does not stop rising. Right now around the world more than 5.2 million people have been infected and more than 340,000 people have died. The nation's beaches, whether open or closed, look like nothing we've seen on this holiday weekend in years past. More than two-thirds of California is moving ahead with the next phase of reopening, including the beaches.
This was the scene, by the way, one week ago today as crowds already started to gather in parts of the sand. Law enforcement worked to make sure they were spread out.
Paul Vercammen has been over in Santa Monica for us throughout the day.
It's getting a little late in the afternoon over there, in the early evening. It's been about two hours since we checked in with you, Paul. So have people been generally following the rules?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: They have been. And Wolf, if you look behind me, you'll see some without masks but in the distance there's another family and they have on their masks, so that part of the rules are being followed.
They opened up this bikeway for the first time here in Santa Monica and it seemed to have alleviated some of the pressure on the sand. Because when we come back over this way, Wolf, look at all the white sand in the background. That is social distancing at its best. That's exactly what they were hoping for here.
But this is also an unwelcome sight for business owners because this beach should absolutely be stacked with people right now. A Memorial weekend, they should be out here with their blankets and their coolers and whatnot. This is commerce, this is a city of 90,000 people. And right now Santa Monica is suffering, the city, a $40 million budget deficit since the outbreak of COVID-19.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR KEVIN MCKEOWN (D), SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA: Yes, it's been about 10 weeks since I really had a good night's sleep or had a day off. And I'm not saying that for pity, it's just it's the reality of trying to run a local government in these unprecedented circumstances. We've had recessions before, but never anything that happened this suddenly or this deeply that took that much money out of the city coffers so quickly.
So trying to figure how to run a city on roughly 40 percent less money is a real challenge. You know, we have tourism and restaurants provide a great deal of our city budget. And with the restaurants closed and the hotels, the very few that are open have 5 percent or 10 percent occupancy, that revenue is not going to come in for some time. We know it's not coming back overnight.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERCAMMEN: And back here live, if you look just off into the fading sun, the Santa Monica pier, when that Ferris wheel is not turning, that means the engines of commerce are not turning here. They're hoping in due time to get that pier and the rest of Santa Monica going, but as we pointed out, it's a city of 90,000 and these beach cities in California are really getting hit hard. You may have heard, Wolf, unemployment in California now 15 percent.
Back to you.
BLITZER: Yes. Unemployment all around the country is awful as we all know. At least some people are not wearing masks, as you point out, Paul. Have you seen any skirmishes out there or are things generally peaceful?
VERCAMMEN: What I've seen at this point here in Santa Monica, and that's not to say that something couldn't be going on elsewhere because we have such a crazy quilt of jurisdictions and neighborhoods, this has been very well run today. We know the police, the sheriff, the Santa Monica Police have gotten out in front and warned people and said, you could be cited. We just want to actually caution you to move along.
And as I said, this little move here of alleviating pressure by opening up this bike path seems to be working because we've seen people on everything from a skateboard to a razor scooter. And here comes someone towing their child. Well, they seem to be enjoying themselves and that's better than camping on the sand as far as these city officials here are concerned -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Paul Vercammen on the scene for us. Paul, thank you very much.
Water, water, everywhere but leading up to this holiday weekend there was barely a mask in sight at a crowded beach along South Padre Island about six hours south of Houston. Look at this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It don't matter, coronavirus don't exist. Look, hey, we good. Guchy (PH), we guchy (PH), look at that. Look around. No mask. Why you got a mask on?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because I don't want to get sick.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But that's not how you get sick. You get sick by touching your face with your hands.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: The Houston mayor, Sylvester Turner, is joining us now.
Now, Mayor, I don't know if you could see that video but that young man says the virus comes from touching your face and then he puts his hands all over his unmasked face.
Are you worried that Texans will see a spike in cases after this Memorial Day holiday weekend? MAYOR SYLVESTER TURNER, HOUSTON: I'm worried, Wolf. I mean, the virus
is still here and still people think it's a joke and it's not a joke. Things have opened up. We're in phase two in the state of Texas, so bars, restaurants, barbershops, you name it, are now open. So nervous, but, you know, we're going to do everything we can to manage the virus and at the same time we're going to do everything we can to manage how people respond to it. Our job is to keep people safe.
BLITZER: There's a national study, Mayor, from the policy lab at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. They use cell phone data to track how well people are social distancing and that data predicts your city, I'm talking about Houston, could jump from --
BLITZER: -- about 200 new cases per day to more than 2,000 new cases over the course of the next month, 2,000 per day. Is your city, Houston, equipped to handle that kind of surge, which we hope of course doesn't occur?
TURNER: Well, we're not equipped to handle that type of surge, Wolf. We can take about 200 cases a day, for example, with contact tracing and we are building up that program. I'm aware of that study. What I was saying is that two months ago there was some modeling done that said if we didn't take some preemptive steps there would have been thousands of people who would test positive and thousands of people who would die.
And we did take steps collectively in the city. We started closing down things, people started engaging in social distancing. That's when we suspended dining room services at restaurants. Closed down, for example, our Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. And as a result, as of today in the city of Houston, there are about 6500 cases that have tested positive and 125 people in the city of Houston, the fourth largest city, that have died.
We reported one death today, but 183 cases of people testing positive. So relatively speaking, our numbers are good in comparison to other cities our size. But I am concerned as things open up, just like that gentleman on San Padre Island who believes it's a -- you know, this is a joke. It's not a joke, it is for real. Just this week on Thursday, one of my special advisers, long-time friend, died of the virus. So it is very real and we're all taking it very seriously.
BLITZER: What about the churches tomorrow in Houston? You heard what the president announced earlier in the week.
TURNER: Well, let me just say this. For me, I'm a person of faith. I've always considered churches and faith-based institutions to be essential. Just because they're essential simply doesn't mean that you come and that you pack in these churches and you're sitting shoulder to shoulder, you're not engaging in social distancing, and you're not putting on your mask.
And so, yes, they are essential. My faith is essential. Quite frankly, it would be very difficult for me to do my job without holding on to my faith.
So my faith and my church, I view them as synonymous. But I also believe that God is omnipresent, he's everywhere. I don't have to be sitting on the pew in order for God to hear my prayers. My church, and I've been a member of my church for a long time, 29 of the 34 years that we've been in existence. There are about 18,000 of us, but we are still worshipping virtually. That's what my pastor has said. He wants to keep us all safe.
I will tune in tomorrow online and listen to him. I continue to pay my tithes. We're not in church, but the church is within me. And just like today in the city of Houston, that was at another church, we went inside the building, we were outside the building with the pastor, with their members, and they were meeting the needs in a food distribution, giving out food to people who stood in need.
And so the church was on the outside but they were performing their duties and meeting the needs of people. So for those who want to view the church in a narrow perspective, as if it's just the building, that's elementary analysis for me. The church is everywhere, whether inside, outside, God still hears you, he will still respond. And I think he also wants us to do everything we can to keep people safe until that time when we can all come together and then we'll have a happy, holy time when that happens.
BLITZER: All right, well, let's hope for the best. Mayor Sylvester Turner of Houston, good luck to you and good luck to everyone in Houston. We'll stay in close touch with you. Appreciate you joining us very much. Thank you.
TURNER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And stay safe out there as well.
And as we just discussed, President Trump is calling on all U.S. governors to allow churches and other houses of worship to reopen, calling them essential.
Up next, we're going to talk about the new federal guidelines for churches, and we'll ask doctors about whether it's possible to stay safe in a crowded church.
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Here in the United States the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is out with new guidelines for places of worship to safely reopen. It released the recommendations after President Trump declared churches and other religious institutions essential. He's threatening to override governors if their states do not follow the new federal recommendations and allow services to begin right away, including, of course, tomorrow.
CNN's Nick Valencia has more.
NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (on camera): After weeks of anticipation, the CDC finally released what it calls interim guidelines for faith-based institutions. And the guidance goes into great detail as to what churches can do to safely reopen. Things like modifying methods used to receive financial contributions, considering a stationary collection box or electronic methods of collecting contributions.
Other things include considering whether physical contact, for example, shaking hands, hugging or kissing can be limited among members of the faith community.
One of the more interesting things that we noticed in reviewing these recommendations was how they began. The CDC saying that this is information considered nonbinding public health guidance. And we hadn't seen in the draft or really any of those final documents that the CDC has published language that is in any way similar to that.
We know that part of the holdup for the CDC releasing their 68-page draft document which eventually came out in a 60-page published report had to do with a holdup over language specifically that the HHS Office of Civil Rights thought to be restrictive of religion. References to hymnal books, references to also communal cups or communion cups, sharing those.
It's interesting because those details still exist in these interim guidelines. This comes a day after President Trump spoke to a crowd in Michigan saying that he had put pressure on the CDC to release these recommendations and now they're finally out for the public to know.
Nick Valencia, CNN, Atlanta.
BLITZER: Nick, thank you.
Joining us now, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, Dr. Ashish Jha, and the former CDC disease detective, CNN medical analyst, Dr. Seema Yasmin.
Dr. Jha, let's get your reaction to these new guidelines regarding religious institutions across the country. What's your reaction?
DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, Wolf, thanks for having me on. You know, obviously houses of worship have a very special role in our society and have to be treated I think a bit differently from the -- in terms of offering protections. You know, these guidelines as I looked at them, and when I compared them to the guidelines of the CDC that they had initially put together, the ones that were shelved by the White House a couple of weeks ago, and these are really I think much more watered down and I think don't offer the level of guidance that houses of worship really need.
In my mind the issue here isn't governors or the president, who gets to win, is how do we open up these services and these houses safely for congregants. And I just don't know that I see enough details from these CDC guidelines to really give me confidence.
BLITZER: Dr. Yasmin, should we feel comfortable going to a church, a synagogue, a mosque or other house of worship right now?
DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, look, Wolf, I'm Muslim. Tomorrow is Eid, the most celebratory day of the year for Muslims. And the normal way to celebrate is with lots of food and lots of people. And there's nothing that I would like to do more than that, but I think even as states and some state officials want to reopen, it's on us to make smart and safe decisions. And that means looking at the data.
And if you do look at the numbers, you'll see that on Thursday more than 20,000 Americans were infected. And then the day after that, so just yesterday, that number went up and there were more than 24,000 Americans newly diagnosed with COVID-19.
The numbers are not yet going in the right direction nationally, plus there are states like North Carolina and Arkansas that are seeing real spikes, too. So for me, I'd love to go out to eat food and be with my community.
But the most sensible, safe thing is for me to stay at home with my dog and celebrate Eid virtually because I don't want to become infected and more than that because I feel fine and we know that with this coronavirus you can feel fine and still be infectious. And I don't want to do anything to endanger my community. So for me it does not feel safe for us to be rushing back to houses of worship, whether that's a synagogue, a mosque, or a church or wherever that might be. We have to think about public health.
BLITZER: Do you agree, Dr. Jha?
JHA: I do. I do. And you know, we really do have to let data drive this. And obviously there are some places in the country, very low number of cases, Montana, Wyoming, Vermont, where it may be safer to have much of the congregation back. And there are safe ways to open up churches and mosques and synagogues, but it's not to pack folks in because we don't want houses of worship to become places where people get sick. And so I think really you have to let science and evidence drive our decision-making on this.
BLITZER: Dr. Yasmin, we've seen significant crowds gathering at beaches today and I assume bigger crowds tomorrow and Monday, during this Memorial Day holiday weekend. So many of these people are not wearing masks. They're not even social distancing.
You're an expert. What's your message to these people? YASMIN: So before you go to the beach, think ahead about all of the
things that you'd need to do to keep yourself safe. You're going to need a mask, you're going to think about physical distancing and not just on the beach. You may need to go to a restaurant. You may need to use a public bathroom. And in those confined spaces, it's even hard to do physical distancing.
So I understand the need to get out of the house, but you have to stay away from those crowds. Keep in mind things like sweating, sunscreen and getting seawater on your mask means it won't work. So it's just a lot harder than being in your back garden where you can control the environment. It's more difficult to stay safe in these crowded, public spaces.
And I will say one more thing about testing and the number of positive cases, Wolf. Just a few days ago we found out that the CDC in some states like Texas are muddling together antibody test results with the PCR virus test results. So this means we don't actually have an accurate picture of how many positive and negative test results there have truly been and that sets us back a bit, and it makes it trickier to figure out exactly where we are and what our testing capacity is.
BLITZER: You know, Dr. Jha, in Montgomery, Alabama, they just reported that they have one ICU bed available earlier this week and they're having to send sick patients to Birmingham, Alabama, about 90 miles away.
What do you think is going on here?
JHA: Yes, so, Wolf, you know, when the outbreak really got going in the United States, it was largely on the coast, New York, Miami, in Washington state, and one of the things that we've all been saying is that it doesn't stay on the coast, that it will eventually make its way to the rest of the country. And there are places where the outbreak is still just -- is going up. And Alabama really and Arkansas and North Carolina look like some of those places.
So this is -- this is worrisome obviously, and I think we have to pay close attention and really have to continue to maintain social distancing and ramp up testing and do all the things to bring the disease under control.
BLITZER: We are so grateful to both of you for your expertise. We always are a little bit smarter after these conversations than we were going into the conversations.
Dr. Ashish Jha, Dr. Seema Yasmin, appreciate it very much. Stay safe out there. Thank you for joining us.
JHA: Thank you.
YASMIN: Thank you.
BLITZER: So President Trump is taking aim at Michigan's attorney general over face masks. Is that just the latest spat between the president of the United States and Michigan state officials? Michigan's attorney general, Dana Nessel, she's standing by live. You
see her right there. We have lots to discuss. We will, when we come back.
BLITZER: All 50 states have begun to reopen in some capacity, but one state in particular has drawn the president's ire. We're talking about Michigan. President Trump has butted heads with the governor, Gretchen Whitmer, over her handling of the coronavirus, even threatening to cut funding for the state over mail-in ballots. And he got into a serious war of words with the attorney general of Michigan, Dana Nessel, earlier this week.
The Michigan attorney general spoke out against the president after he failed to wear a mask during the public part of his visit to a Ford plant in Michigan that had been making -- that has been making ventilators and other PPE.
The attorney general, Dana Nessel, is joining us right now.
Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us. You strongly criticized the president when you and I spoke Thursday night. He's since attacked you on Twitter with two tweets immediately after the interview. He's retweeting those two tweets earlier today.
What's your reaction?
DANA NESSEL, MICHIGAN ATTORNEY GENERAL: Well, you know, when I was on your show, his failure, his absolute refusal to wear a mask where anyone could see him wearing a mask, I called him a petulant child for that. And then he responded by calling me names, which just proved my point because that's exactly how a petulant child would react. And had the president maybe spent more time around his own children when they were young, maybe he would have known that.
But, you know, it was disappointing. And I feel like if the president spent as much time trying to save lives as he does trying to create clever, demeaning nicknames for people, maybe we wouldn't have over 5200 dead people in our state from COVID-19.
You actually did threaten, Attorney General, legal action against companies that ignore the mask guidelines in Michigan. Ford said they did encourage the president to follow Michigan's rules. So who's to blame here? Because we saw him with all the top Ford executives. They were all wearing masks, at least in public, and we're showing our viewers the video right now, but he decided he didn't need to wear a mask.
NESSEL: Right. Well, you know, my office had a really good conversation with Ford afterwards. And I truly -- honestly, I felt bad for the company. I think they did everything they could to encourage the president to follow and abide by the guidelines and the laws in our state. And it's hard, you know, when you have the president of the United States who just, you know, flagrantly violates these rules, refuses to listen, it's kind of hard when it's the president, right?
And I think they felt bad about it. I know that they want to do whatever they can to protect workers. We decided that we were going to move forward, you know, jointly in terms of ensuring that people understood that whether it's Ford, whether it's any manufacturing plant, whether it's any business in the state of Michigan that's open to the public, that safety of workers needs to be the paramount consideration.
And so I think they're going to do everything they can in the future to ensure that people wear masks in these enclosed areas where, you know, legally they -- that is a requirement. So I feel good about our conversation.
BLITZER: As you know, in recent days the president also threatened to cut federal aid to Michigan over the issue of mail-in ballots. You're a key swing state. The president carried Michigan narrowly back in 2016. We're in the middle of this historic economic crisis right now.
Do you actually think he would follow through on that threat to cut federal aid to Michigan if you go ahead and allow mail-in ballots?
NESSEL: Well, first of all, I think that the more people that vote in our state, the less likely it is that President Trump will be re- elected. And I think he understands that. He knows that. And that's why he's so afraid of it. But, you know, in terms of whether or not he will talk to treasury and do whatever he can to hold up money that has been properly appropriated to our state, I don't know.
And this guy could do anything. I literally have no idea whether that's something he would follow through on or not. I think it would be absolutely awful and egregious in a thousand different ways and very harmful to our state residents. But I can't predict what he's going had to do. All I can say is that's highly illegal, it's obviously very unethical and incredibly harmful to everyone who lives in our state. And I hope he won't do it but who knows. I mean, there's a lot of things that I wish he wouldn't do and he continues to do irrespective so --
BLITZER: You're the attorney general --
NESSEL: -- I can't tell.
BLITZER: You're the attorney general of Michigan. Are you gearing up potentially for a long court battle over this issue of mail-in balloting?
NESSEL: Yes, if we have to, absolutely I will defend the secretary of state. This is the law of our state. You know, the voters in fact passed this law in 2018. It was very popular not just with Democrats, it was popular across the board in overwhelming numbers, independents and Republicans also wanted to be able to vote no reason absentee. So it is the law of our state. If for any reason the federal government tries to intercede, of course
I will be defending the state of Michigan. I think it's incredibly important for always that people be able to vote absentee, but particularly during the course of a global pandemic when we know how many people became ill because they had to vote in person in Wisconsin. You shouldn't have to give your life in order to be able to participate in the Democratic process. So I will defend the secretary of state on that all day every day.
BLITZER: The president yesterday deemed houses of worship essential and he said he would override any governor on this specific issue. What's -- you're a legal expert. What authority do you have if the president declares that houses of worship, whether churches, synagogues, mosques, they have to be open and people have to be allowed to attend services?
NESSEL: Well, I will say in the state of Michigan, they have been open and we -- you know, Governor Whitmer was very clear to carve out an exception for places of religious worship or any individuals who engaged in the practice of religious worship. So, you know, there are no penalties associated with that. Obviously it's always recommended wherever you are, whatever actions you're engaged in, that you practice, you know, social distancing, that you wear a mask, and that you do everything you possibly can to protect yourself and to protect the people around you. So, you know, that doesn't apply to Michigan, we don't have that issue here.
Will there come a time where there become disagreements between the federal government and the states as to what the states need to do to properly protect their residents? That may be. There may come a time, and in that event, I don't see what the federal authority is to force states to reopen in a manner that is incredibly unsafe. But this last edict issued by the president today, you know, there's no strategy behind it. It's not well thought out.
And it's obviously not based on the best medical evidence. And it's like many of President Trump's other ideas that he seems to think of at 2:00 in the morning because he got a text message from Sean Hannity or something. I mean, you know, if he had a cohesive strategy and was really working with the governors, I think we'd be in a much better position than we are right now.
BLITZER: Dana Nessel, the attorney general of the state of Michigan. Attorney General, thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it very much.
NESSEL: Thanks for having me.
BLITZER: Good luck and be safe over there.
As 2020 high school graduates celebrate, next year's seniors are wondering what it will be like when they return to school. We get a preview from the president of the American Federation of Teachers. That's next, right here in THE SITUATION ROOM. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
BLITZER: As if he wasn't busy enough, Dr. Anthony Fauci surprised graduates of the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore today with an online commencement address.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We need your talent, your energy, your resolve and your character to get through this difficult time. In the next phase of your lives, whatever professional path you choose, all of you directly or indirectly, will be doing your part together with the rest of us to come out from under the shadow of this pandemic.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: But while the future may be uncertain at best for the class of 2020, the future of education in America is an even bigger question for the class of 2021 and beyond.
Randi Weingarten is the president of one of America's biggest teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers, probably the biggest.
Randi, thanks so much for joining us. As you know, some states like Alabama and Texas, they plan to allow the reopening of schools on June 1st. That's a week from Monday.
Do you think that's safe?
RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: Look, you know, I don't know the public health metrics in every one of these states. But when they don't follow them and we see that in Alabama, by Montgomery having less than -- this week having one ICU bed available, we're hearing all over Texas that people are not taking seriously the public health tools and guidelines, then it's not safe.
I mean, we put out -- as you know, Wolf, we put out guidance several weeks before the CDC. I'm glad I just read theirs this week. It reinforces everything that we said. But if you don't follow the guidance, then you don't actually know whether or not there's virus in a community and whether it can be transmitted. And what we saw in February and March was that people who were asymptomatic transmitted the virus.
And so what we're saying is pay attention to the public health rules, including wearing masks, having the social distancing and physical distancing, washing hands, cleaning a school, all of which will cost more money but let's reopen gradually, responsibly, safely. But as I said, when you have people that are doing this macho-macho man stuff as opposed to really thinking about the safety of people, then I get very, very, very worried.
BLITZER: What are you advising teachers? And you represent a lot of teachers in elementary and high school.
BLITZER: What are you advising them who are nervous? You heard the president say earlier in the week that older teachers, they should stay home.
WEINGARTEN: Well, look, you know, there is obviously a law called the Americans with Disabilities Act, and so if people are immunocompromised or if they're. you know, over 65 and they have some pre-existing conditions, then we will want them to do the other kinds of jobs that will be necessary, like hybrid teaching, remote teaching, these kinds of things.
But the first things first. We have to actually start planning for the gradual reopening, including how you marry the public health tools of like physical distancing, staggering classes, lowering class size, with the real needs for kids because we need next year to be a bridge year. And we have social, emotional needs of kids, we have all the kids that did not have connectivity this year. We have our kids who have special needs for whom if you look at a computer screen all day, it's not going to be helpful.
So next year is going to have to be a bridge year, and there's going to be remote learning and there's going to be in-school learning, and, God forbid, there's a second wave or second surge, things will be, you know, frozen in place again. And so in the absence of a vaccine, there's going to be lots of different things. And so we want teachers and students who don't feel comfortable with other people because of any number of reasons to be able to (INAUDIBLE) education.
BLITZER: Randi Weingarten, thanks so much for joining us. Thanks for everything you're doing. The president of the American Federation of Teachers.
WEINGARTEN: Thank you.
BLITZER: Be safe out there.
We've seen tragedy in this pandemic, but also some examples of extraordinary generosity. The owner of the New England Patriots, Robert Kraft, has actually auctioned off his championship ring from Super Bowl LI for charity. And get this, it sold for just over $1 million. The proceeds will be split between four organizations, Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, World Central Kitchen and No Kid Hungry.
Kraft made the announcement that he was selling the ring when we spoke here in THE SITUATION ROOM two weeks ago. The donation is part of the All In Challenge that -- it's a fundraiser created by Michael Rubin, a co-owner of the NBA's Philadelphia 76ers. Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ROBERT KRAFT, NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS OWNER: We have the greatest country in the world. We have innovators, we have people with compassion, we have philanthropists. And we all have to put partisanship aside, pull together and fight this virus. So I thought this ring from Super Bowl LI when we were down 28-3 was a good thing to auction off and allow someone who's an NFL or a Patriot fan to come.
I will send my plane anywhere in the continental U.S. to the person who bids the most and we'll meet in our conference room with the trophies and have a meal and have a good time.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: Amazing gesture. I want to thank Robert Kraft and Michael Rubin for all the important and very, very good work they're doing. They're helping a lot of people in need right now.
Meanwhile, there's new developments emerging in a dispute over U.S. arms sales in the Middle East. We're going to explain what the State Department is claiming, despite the video evidence that CNN has gathered.
Stay with us, you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: As part of its re-opening process, the state of California is ramping up a massive contact tracing program to identify people who may have been exposed to the coronavirus without knowing it.
CNN's Stephanie Elam reports.
Unfortunately we don't have that package. We're going to try to get Stephanie Elam's report, but it's a significant report indeed.
The friendly skies have been largely empty for about two months but that seems to be changing right now. We're going to discuss that, much more on the coronavirus pandemic coming up.
But the Trump administration has now, also in other news, cleared the way for a new arms sale to the United Arab Emirates. That despite evidence the Gulf country violated the last deal by transferring American equipment to militias in Yemen. U.S. officials are still clearing the UAE of wrongdoing. They're opening the way for another big deal.
Our senior international correspondent Nima Elbagir has been covering this since last year. She's joining us from London right.
So what's the latest information, Nima, that you're getting?
NIMA ELBAGIR, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This is the latest development in this controversy surrounding the way the State and the Trump administration are pushing through these deals to Gulf states, Wolf. We have been able to confirm that the UAE in spite of evidence of past violations broadcast by CNN on your program, that they have now cleared the United Arab Emirates of wrongdoing, of violating the terms of their arms sales agreement with the United States.
And it's not only our reporting, Wolf. We also were able to see a letter that the State Department sent to lawmakers at the end of last year, where they clearly laid out the fact that their investigation into our findings, namely that the United Arab Emirates has passed on U.S. made armaments to proxy militia in Yemen that were hard lined and linked to al Qaeda, that that investigation, Wolf, was delayed because of lack of cooperation by the United Arab Emirates.
But in spite of that, we understand not only were they cleared but they have now been approved for a sale of a further $500 million worth of U.S. MRAPs armored vehicles. These armored vehicles, the reason this is such an extraordinary sticking point is that they are proprietary technology and any host nation has to commit to not passing them on, Wolf.
BLITZER: Nima Elbagir, doing amazing reporting for us as she always does. Thank you very much, very much.
I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. To our viewers, thanks very much for watching tonight. I'll be back of course Monday in THE SITUATION ROOM, 5:00 p.m. Eastern.
But before I go, a reminder of this pandemic's terrible toll. This is the front page, look at this, of tomorrow's "The New York Times." The headline is stark. "U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, An Incalculable Loss."
As horrific as that number is it's not the end. One model actually used by the White House Coronavirus Task Force suggest we could see over 143,000 American deaths by August 4th. But this page makes it all too clear, this crisis is by no means over and it will never be forgotten. Each name on this page is a mother or a father, a family member, or maybe a member of the community, a police officer, an emergency room physician, a nurse, perhaps someone who died alone.
As a nation, hopefully we will never forget them.
This Memorial Day weekend, of course, we remember all the sacrifices of all U.S. Military veterans. Among them, Jeremy Emerick. He was a member of the Pennsylvania National Guard, serving for 13 years including tours in Iraq and Germany. He was also a front line worker serving as a critical care EMT. He died after a monthlong battle with the coronavirus.
As the "Times" front page reminds us all, there have been so many victims and we can only pray this will soon be over. May they all rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.
Good night, and stay safe.