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Interview With Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry About Massive Crowd Gathered in Daytona Beach; CDC, 11 States Say They Mixed Results of Viral and Antibody Tests; Crowds Gather on Holiday Weekend as Health Experts Urge Caution. Aired 7-7:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2020 - 19:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: And now we remember that's the weekend that saw a number of Americans choose to throw caution to the wind and gather in big groups despite the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. edging painfully close to 100,000 people. Zero to nearly 100,000 in just three months.

The pandemic lockdown put in place nationwide so many weeks ago being eased this week in some places for the first time. Beaches and public parks cautiously allowing visitors to venture out most of those places with visible reminders of health and safety guidelines, instructions to wear face masks and to avoid close human contact.

Clearly the advice not being followed at this large swimming pool party in Missouri. This video was made yesterday by a TV reporter in Lake of the Ozarks. No signs of any precautions at all. People partying, clustered close together. Nobody visible wearing a protective mask. And as a reminder that swimming parties are not safe events.

The governor of Arkansas this week had announced a second peak of coronavirus cases in his state blamed in part on a swim party that resulted in a cluster of new infections.

And there is this stunning scene from last night. A crowd of more than 5,000 in Daytona Beach, Florida, in a Daytona Beach, Florida, neighborhood with no social distancing, no masks, after nearly three months of dire warnings, almost 100,000 Americans dead, and endless warnings on how to head outdoor safely.

This scene is yet another example of the disconnect we are seeing play out in a number of places this holiday weekend.

Daytona Beach Mayor Derrick Henry is joining us now.

Mayor, your reaction to these scenes. Can you provide some context to what we are seeing?

MAYOR DERRICK HENRY, DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA: Well, you're seeing a scene of visitors largely to our community who have been cooped up for several months now and who are looking for something to do. For the most part we opened up the beach and in public, there's basically no other outlet for folks. You don't have movie theaters, no theme parks are available, folks are looking for an outlet and to have a good time. They're typically young people between the ages of 18 and about 30 years old.

CABRERA: We saw estimates up to 5,000 people were part of this congregation of sorts. What was your reaction when you heard or saw this?

HENRY: Well, we expected large crowds, so my reaction was concern. Great concern in large part because if they're infected. They were not obviously practicing social distancing nor were they wearing masks. So that is my first concern.

Our beach, we're used to or accustomed to having large, large crowds on the barrier islands very often. So the biggest issue was affected. They were not practicing social distancing and they weren't from here so they did not necessarily respond in a lot of ways that we wanted them to as it relates to the normal expectations of visitors.

CABRERA: Could police have done something to stop this before it developed into a dangerous situation?

HENRY: No. Our police work very hard and local promoters to help them to essentially cancel the event because it wasn't sanctioned. I felt that our police did an excellent job responding. But when you're talking about you got 500 -- maybe 300 to 500 people per law enforcement officer, it's a tall order. But things by and large were well-maintained. The police did a good job as you can expect with law enforcement.

CABRERA: So how do you prevent things like this, though, in the future?

HENRY: Education. You continue to educate folks in your community as to how to respond. And then we have to do a better job I think of promoting it to surrounding communities and let them know what our expectations are and what the rules and protocols are here in the city of Daytona Beach. But it's a tall order because the real reality is folks do not have theaters to attend. As I said Disney World is not open.

Even the rides and other amenities that are associated with our parks and our city are not opened. So the one thing that is opened is the beach. And so when you get this volume of people, it's going to be tough to control until we get other things opened or close things off. And that's certainly (INAUDIBLE) about our community this time. Our residents are excited about having access to their beach. So we're going to have to figure out how we can control these crowds and largely how we can inform the visitors.


HENRY: What we expect when they visit our city.

CABRERA: But why do you think people thought that this was OK?

HENRY: Well, it's not -- I'm not sure what you mean by they thought that this was OK? That it was OK for them --

CABRERA: Well, clearly they -- they came. They didn't stay away. They didn't wear masks. They didn't social distance. They showed up and thought that this was something they wanted and could be a part of.


HENRY: Well, I think that as I said before people are feeling a sense of relief. They're looking to release their emotions. And I believe that even as a society we have sent mixed messages about what's most important and what's most important continues to be, from my perspective as mayor of the city, is the health and well-being of my residents and the health and well-being of Americans across the board.

And I think to some degree the mixed messages of trying to open the economy up has send the message that most things are fair game. When we have to send a message that yes, we do want you to interact in society, we do want you to have a good time, but we want you to do so responsibly and that the most important thing that any citizen can do is to protect themselves when they're out and about. And that has not been a message that I think that has been properly illustrated by many in authority.

CABRERA: Why not require face masks if people are going to go to the beach?

HENRY: Well, even if you are required to face masks there is no way -- and they are an expectation and essentially a stated requirement, but when you've got 10,000 people on the beach, and an X number of law enforcement officers, it is impossible to enforce that. And so it's a matter of public choice. And the second thing is, even if you were to enforce social distancing, you enforce face masks, the courts are not going to likely uphold if you begin arresting people.

And we don't have enough arrest powers or facilities to harbor that many people who are not following the guidelines as it relates to face mask. But I've said over and over again that I believe that the most important thing that you can do when you're out and about is distance yourself. When we put out protocols and procedures, we ask people to stay 10 feet apart, stay within a group of six, even on our beaches as it relates to their parking.

You know, we allow driving on our beach. So we're asking people to be 25 feet from the next vehicle. And so there are a lot of protocols we put in place but they're just difficult to maintain when you have this volume of people. And they're coming from all over central Florida. That's the other thing. It's not Daytona Beach.

CABRERA: Right. Right. All right, well, thank you very much, Mayor Derrick Henry. We appreciate your time. Best of luck as you work through this challenging situation. And be well.

HENRY: Thank you. Take care.

CABRERA: Thank you. I want to bring in Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency room physician and

associate professor of emergency medicine and public health at Oregon Health and Science University, and cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner who is also a professor of medicine at George Washington University.

Doctor Reiner, doctors have been clear, the FDA commissioner tweeted this morning, reminding Americans the coronavirus is not yet contained. Dr. Anthony Fauci warned earlier this week now is not the time to tempt faith and pull back completely. Where do you think the breakdown in communication is as we see images of people clearly not listening?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: Hi, good evening, Ana. This is what happens when the natural tendency of people to want to exert some personal freedom after months, you know, at home mixes with really at best a mixed message from the administration in term of social distancing.

The president has really fueled this very combustible mix by refusing to wear a mask and by stating that he wants to open churches and get back to normal. The message to the public should have been that we can't get back to normal but we need to get back to a new safe new normal. But the public hasn't heard that and this is what you see.

CABRERA: Dr. Choo, now we know scenes like what we saw in Daytona Beach, in Tybee Island, Georgia, Ocean City, Maryland, massive crowds, no masks. So now what happens medically?

DR. ESTHER CHOO, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Now we watch and wait. I mean, it really is a shame that things opened like this on Memorial Day weekend. It could have been an opportunity to showcase creative public health measures to encourage masks wearing, ways that we could demarcated areas so that people are encouraged to walk separately and to sit on the beach separately.

But now we wait and see. I mean, part of the difficult thing of this virus is it takes a little time to spread. There's a long asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic phase, and then people get sick, and some of those people get very sick and require hospitalization and ICU level care, and some will die. And it just takes a number of weeks to see.

So we've said at every stage of this. You know, April, we learned -- we learned about April in May, we'll learn about May in June. And in the meantime I think we just do the best we can to improve public health messaging so we don't have -- we don't, you know, test the virus and give it so many opportunities to flourish.


CABRERA: And as we just heard from the mayor there, a lot of these people aren't from here, aren't from Daytona Beach, coming in from out of town, which means they're going back to their own communities after being in these large groups with no masks.

How concerning is that, Dr. Reiner? REINER: It's super concerning. You know, it's important to remember

that, although just about every state has opened in some degree, the virus is far from in retreat. If you remove New York from the national statistics, at best the number of daily cases has plateaued. With New York in the mix, it looks like the number of daily cases is dropping nationally. But without New York, nationally we're at best plateau.

So to, you know, let our guard down now is a fatal mistake. And what will happen from Florida if there is a super spreader, where that becomes a super spreader event, all those folks are getting on airplanes and going back to their communities, and then we have to rely on whether we have enough or vigorous enough contact tracing back in those communities to put those fires out. I'm not confident about that.

CABRERA: Dr. Reiner and Dr. Choo, please stay with me. We'll discuss why the simple act of wearing a mask to protect your fellow Americans has become such a divisive issue.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Don't go anywhere.



CABRERA: Welcome back. Health experts agree widespread and effective testing is essential to navigating life with coronavirus. But the reporting of testing results is not consistent across the nation which could be muddying the waters on tracking the movement of the virus.

Back with us now is Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency room physician, associate professor emergency medicine and public health at Oregon Health and Science University, as well as cardiologist Dr. Jonathan Reiner who is also a professor of medicine at George Washington University.

Dr. Choo, the CDC acknowledges that it was mixing together results from viral and antibody coronavirus tests on its Web site. And 11 states also confirmed that same viral and antibody test results, although a few now say they're separating out the numbers.

Does it make sense to be lumping together diagnostic and antibody tests in reporting these numbers?

CHOO: No, not at all. I really did a double take when I saw that news come out because there's no reason to mix those. And in fact it's very confusing to do so. The viral PCR tests tell us what's happening -- it's kind of a snapshot of what's happening that week. What are the cases of people who actively have the disease? Whereas the antibody test tells us more what's been going on over the past, say, several months, how many people in total have already have the disease and it's behind them.

Both of those pieces of information are important. But we've really -- when we talk about viral testing, we're really talking about on a week-to-week basis knowing how many new cases are emerging. I mean, that is the kind of information that's been driving our decisions to reopen. And we'll continue to inform the reopening decisions. It also is what we've been counting on as the denominator.

In other words, when we talk about this is how much testing capacity we have, we've been kind of assuming that means this viral PCR were testing people for new disease. And so to hear that it's mixed makes us -- it just puts in a different place and it makes it seemed like I'm actually not sure how that happened but it really seems to inflate our testing capacity so now we need to sort of reset, take pause, make sure that we're separating out these tests before we can really state confidently how much testing capacity we have.

CABRERA: Dr. Reiner, would a nationwide testing system be helpful here to make sure testing across all states is consistent and what would that look like?

REINER: Some -- it would be incredibly helpful. Some groups have projected that in order to truly open the country and restore consumer confidence, we would have to do millions of tests per day. And you know, perhaps something like 30 million tests per week or more. A continued test and retest people across the country.

We can do that. It just takes the will to do that. But what's happening is the federal government has shifted the responsibility of this to the states, so be fragmented the testing capacity and capabilities.

The other net effect, by the way, of combining antibody testing with viral PCR testing is that it also has the effect of decreasing the percent positivity rate and the potential of falsely -- giving a false sense of reassurance that our positivity rate is dropping. So that was a very ill-conceived move.

CABRERA: And right now we obviously don't have enough testing for a lot of asymptomatic people to be getting tested and the CDC this week came out with statistics saying they believe 35 percent of infection is being spread by people who are asymptomatic. And they also said 40 percent of people who are infected are out there spreading it before they come down with symptoms even when they do end up getting sick.

So, Dr. Choo, you know, when we come back to talking about masks and how they have somehow become such a politically divided issue, and we're seeing people ignore the social distancing and the mask guidelines, do you think people are just simply also becoming complacent about other precautions that they need to continue to slow the spread of this virus like hand washing, covering their cough or staying home if they're sick?

CHOO: Yes. I have been noticing there's so much less discussion about hand washing and trying not to touch your face or touch other things. I think some of these things are just so common sense and they seem so minor that we forget that there is no one approach to this virus and preventing it from being spread.

[19:20:07] That we need to layer in all these little things that together will have a good effect in aggregate. So all these cases, the social distancing, the good hand hygiene, disinfecting surfaces, wearing face masks whenever you can but particularly when you're close in to people.

None of these things cost us very much. They're so easy to do. And it's not about -- I just want to be clear having listened to the mayor of Daytona Beach. It's not about actually keeping yourself safe. It's actually what you do to keep others safe because of what you just mentioned.

If we can spread it easily without even having symptoms, then it's -- you know, you cannot say when you need to wear a masks or when you don't. We all just need to be wearing them all the time. I wish it weren't so divisive because it really is a simple and easy thing to do.


CHOO: There's really fun and attractive masks being made. I think any barriers to mask wearing have really gone down. Let's just all do it knowing that that's something we do for our community, for our family, for our loved ones, for everybody out there. It's not just about us.

CABRERA: Absolutely. Dr. Esther Choo and Dr. Jonathan Reiner, thank you very much.

We'll be right back.



CABRERA: We end tonight with some words about loss and sacrifice. Tomorrow is Memorial Day. And all across this country remembrances will look a lot different than usual. Flags will fly and TAPS will play. But without the normal crowds. And it is heartbreaking to think that we cannot hug the families who need it the most this time of year.

This pandemic has taken so much. But one thing it has afforded is time. Time to think. Time to appreciate what we have. Time to remember the past. And those that died in service to their country. It is their memory that should inspire us to get through this new war with an unseen enemy. Nearly 100,000 people in the United States have lost their lives.

Let us respect and honor those lives and perhaps save many more by each doing our part through shared sacrifice that is simple yet challenging. This new reality of wearing masks and social distancing is not easy. But it is what we've been asked to do. And the data shows it's effective. Just as soldiers protect their own on the battlefield, we have been asked to protect our fellow Americans. Loved ones and strangers are alike. And the choice now for all of us is whether to answer the call or

succumb to fears, frustration and exhaustion. United, we have been able to overcome so much as a country and we can do it again. Learn from the past, honor the memory of those who sacrificed for you. We will get through this.

I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Please have a safe rest of your holiday weekend. Good night.