Return to Transcripts main page

CNN NEWSROOM

Some Churches Reopening Despite Risks; Beaches Brace For Huge Memorial Day Crowds As States Reopen; Plasma Study Results Encouraging; Uproar in U.K. after PM's Adviser Takes Trip While under Isolation; Brazil Epicenter of Coronavirus in Latin America; Protests over China's Hong Kong Security Plan; Corruption Trial of Israeli Prime Minister Begins; Dallas ISD Principal Drives 1,300 Miles to Deliver Diploma Covers. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired May 24, 2020 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[02:00:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also got a Jesus that's a lot larger than any virus that hits this Earth. So if it is my turn to go, I'm going.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BIANCA NOBILO, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Packed beaches, open churches and warnings from health experts as the U.S. marks Memorial Day weekend.

Calls for resignation as a top U.K. official breaks his government's own lock down rules.

We're keeping a close eye on Hong Kong, too. Protesters are speaking out against a controversial new law.

Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: We begin with a test underway in the United States, Americans trying to experience some normalcy during a holiday that comes during a pandemic where the death toll is approaching 100,000.

Public health officials are concerned about what the virus could do if large crowds attend religious services in person for the first time in months. Nearly every state is allowing houses of worship to open. Many states have allowed it for weeks, actually.

But Friday President Trump declared them essential and warned governors not to close them. Meantime, Americans are taking advantage of relaxed restrictions at parks and beaches.

In Myrtle Beach, South California, the umbrellas are practically touching. Public health officials continue to ask people to cover their faces and avoid gathering in groups.

At least two states are reporting an increase in cases. The governor of Arkansas says his state is seeing a second peak.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's clear and evident to me that we have one peak and then we've had a deep dip and then we're having a second peak right now and they're really about 30 days apart.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOBILO: And this is how "The New York Times" front page looks today, listing names and touching details of 1,000 Americans who have died in the pandemic. And it represents only a small fraction of the victims so far.

Our correspondents across the globe are working their sources to bring you the very latest. Let's start with Natasha Chen in Tybee Island, Georgia.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NATASHA CHEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: As Memorial Day weekend is in full swing, we have seen thousands of people come to Tybee Island and Tybee Beach here. You can tell the groups are doing what they are told as far as social distancing from the group next to them.

But they are also supposed to keep their groups under 10 people. And we are sometimes not seeing that. We are seeing groups larger than that.

I spoke to the mayor of Tybee Island about the fact that she saw some Georgia Department of Natural Resources officers trying to break up the larger groups on the north end of the beach.

You can also tell that no one around us on the beach is wearing a mask. There are some people wearing them out in the town. But when I talked to the mayor and we both wore masks because we were close to each other, here's what she said to me about that. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was on the north end earlier, I did see the rangers down there breaking up groups. I think they are oversaturated with people and I do not know that -- you know, it's just a difficult task.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No one is really wearing masks out besides yourself, of course, and your crew. People are going to take precautions to however they want and, you know, it is their decision.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I also got a Jesus that's a lot larger than any virus that hits this Earth. So if it is my turn to go, I'm going. If not, I'm enjoying life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: I also spoke to some local residents who say they are highly dependent on these tourists for the town to make money. These cash strapped businesses here are eager to see this income this weekend but are also very frustrated when they see people not abiding by CDC guidelines.

A couple of residents here told me they saw a group of 100 or 150 kids last weekend that required Tybee police to go out there and break them up. So the local residents are concerned, especially because the local population tends to be around 60 years old and some of them are in that vulnerable group.

So as they are appreciative of the income, they are also understanding that comes at a risk -- Natasha Chen, CNN, Tybee Island, Georgia.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

[02:05:00]

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Santa Monica we are seeing social distancing and paying attention to the rules. You can see this bicyclist with his mask on. That is something they decided to do this weekend which is open up the bikeway. It seems to have alleviated a lot of pressure on the sand here in Santa Monica.

They did not want people to gather here in large groups, put down tents or start cookouts. They wanted social distancing. And so far, for this little corner of Santa Monica, it seems to have worked.

For this small city of 90,000, a lot of pressure. This is tourism, this is tourism at its best, where people come here from all over the world together and they have lost a lot of their tax revenue, both hotel tax and sales tax.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It has been about 10 weeks since I've really had a good night's sleep or had a day off. And I'm not saying that for pity. It's just the reality of trying to run a local government in these unprecedented circumstances.

We have 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 out how to run a city on roughly 40 percent less money is a real challenge. We have tourism and restaurants providing a great deal of our city budget. And with the hotels and restaurants closed, the very few that are open, they're at 5-10 percent occupancy. That revenue is not going to come in for some time. We know it's not going to come back overnight.

VERCAMMEN: The mayor also telling us that the city of Santa Monica has lost over $40 million in the last few months in tax revenue.

When you look over here at the famed pier, the Ferris wheel is not spinning and that means the economic engines of Santa Monica are not spinning. They're hoping in due time that we will get to a point where social distancing will allow much of this small city to reopen. For now, the beach is a little bit more open and things are calm -- reporting from Santa Monica, I'm Paul Vercammen, back to you.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Earlier I spoke with Dr. Esther Choo, an emergency physician and associate professor at Oregon Health and Science University. And I asked her what could happen next as more people venture outside.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DR. ESTHER CHOO, OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: As we go out, it will have a field day in terms of transmission.

But I do think that the majority of people are feeling cautious. They know. We are coming up on 100,000 deaths in the United States. So people are not being -- I am seeing people still wanting to be very careful, especially people who have elderly parents or young children.

I think people want to be careful and be really measured about coming outside. We will see what happens this holiday weekend. There's always going to be a delay before we see what the actual impact was in terms of number of cases and deaths. So we are learning as we go.

NOBILO: Dr. Choo, you mentioned the 100,000 number. You have probably seen the front page of "The New York Times" on Sunday, where they have printed the names of 1,000 people who have died and a little bit about their lives. It is so horrifying to see it in black and white and be reminded of that.

What are the key things that you would be encouraging Americans to do to make sure that the country does not lose any progress that it has made with this deadly disease and certainly not deepen this tragedy, which we see so starkly on the front of that paper?

CHOO: I hope that Americans spend time doing what I did today. I just sat with it. I sat and read every single line. I think because as the number goes up, it almost becomes meaningless. It is so hard for your brain to absorb the impact of this disease.

It's not just that it was 100,000 dead; it's that it has happened in a little over 2 months, which is almost too much to think about. It is a tragedy that is beyond our ability to absorb it.

But hopefully, when you sit down and go line by line and you know that it is just a tiny fraction of those we've lost and how special each one of them was, it really makes you think. We must do all the things we are being asked to do, the little things.

The big things like staying away from work and listening to public health officials who may say from week to week, we are reopening and now we have to pull back and go back in because there has been a surge of cases, that will happen everywhere where we open, step back a little after reopening, see if we are successful and pull back.

That will be incredibly hard to be that nimble but it is what we need to do so the number does not keep shooting up.

[02:10:00]

NOBILO: Dr. Choo, as we learn more about the virus and more studies are carried out, there are pockets of encouraging data that we are seeing, specifically on this convalescent plasma study.

Can you tell us a little bit about what that is and whether or not you are encouraged by what you are seeing from the data?

CHOO: Yes. I think we keep on getting little bits of hope that signal that scientists are working on every front to try and provide both short term and long term solutions to this. There are a few promising drugs, nothing is a magic bullet.

But we see some promise in remdesivir to shorten the course of the disease. We see some early success with convalescent plasma, which is where we take the blood of people who have already had coronavirus and hope to confer passive immunity on people who are sick with it with those antibodies.

Then we also have some promising news about a phase one trial of a new vaccine. That is still very early, we are still very early on all of these things. How much will we be able to turn those few studies into benefit for the whole population around the world, we still do not know.

What it shows is that scientists are working with all cylinders firing in a global race to find both short term solutions like convalescent plasma and medications to treat this, to the longer term solutions, like a worldwide vaccine.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: The opposition here in the United Kingdom is now slamming prime minister Boris Johnson's senior advisor, Dominic Cummings. That's because there are new reports saying that Cummings violated national lockdown rules, not just once but twice.

The Labour Party has responded by tweeting there cannot be one rule for Boris Johnson's advisor and another for the British people. Cummings told reporters he will, quote, "obviously not" resign over these allegations. To delve into this deeper, CNN's Hadas Gold joining me live from London.

It does seem with mounting pressure on the government with cabinet ministers coming out supporting Cummings and new details being revealed in these new scoops of British media it's becoming a question of integrity for the prime minister. And he's spent a lot of political capital over these past months.

So is he going to have an option here?

Can he keep Dominic Cummings?

HADAS GOLD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bianca, the pressure is mounting. And for people to understand how important Dominic Cummings is to this Downing Street government, I would equate him to, for example, the White House; Stephen Miller, back in the day Steve Bannon, someone seen as key to driving the strategy and messaging in really the governance coming out of Downing Street.

And what people are really striking as hypocritical here is Dominic appears according to these critics to have broken the lockdown rules he himself created as part of the government.

We first got reports that he took his family and drove more than 250 miles away from their London home in order to self-isolate closer to family because both Cummings' wife and he himself would eventually fall ill with the coronavirus and they wanted their family to help take care of their young child.

But the advice at the time said, if you are exhibiting symptoms of coronavirus, do not leave your house at all for seven days after symptoms have subsided and everyone was told not to travel. Don't travel 20 miles out to a beauty spot even if you're feeling healthy.

So many criticize, calling it so hypocritical that when he and his family were actually sick were traveling against what seems to have been the government advice. But as you have noted, despite all these calls for resignations from politicians, every single front page I've seen this morning has had Dominic Cummings on the cover.

The government, Dominic Cummings, they're standing firm, saying that he did nothing wrong. We've seen these tweets from all these cabinet ministers saying they're standing by him.

As we've seen more reports calling out saying he traveled again even after that initial trip to get family to help with his child, I don't see how much longer this pressure can mount before something can happen.

Again, we're seeing very defiant statements out of Downing Street, after those second reports Dominic Cummings traveled again, Downing Street came out and said they will not waste their time answering a stream of false statements from campaign newspapers.

But the pressure is mounting and for people in the U.K. to do what they can to help stem the spread, staying home, many people tweeted, I was sick and I would have loved to help but I didn't go anywhere.

[02:15:00]

GOLD: It's really slamming them in the face as rather hypocritical -- Bianca.

NOBILO: Quite. And we think of stories so prominent in the British press, such as the 13-year-old boy who died without family present, I mean, what people have had to endure without their loved ones close to them and then seeing this story.

It also strikes me that the criticism of the British government pretty much throughout this outbreak in the country has been that the messaging has been unclear, it's been mixed, there's been some flip- flops.

And then to see the prime minister's chief aide himself behaving in a muddled fashion isn't consistent with the spirit and really the letter of the lockdown rules. It does make you wonder.

So how much trouble do you think the government's in more broadly when it comes to their strategy, optics and communicating with the British public at large?

GOLD: Well, Bianca, to add to that, we have the chief scientific advisor, someone really well-known, advising the government. That person resigned over a similar incident where he left his house just to visit his girlfriend within the same city when everyone was under lockdown and that person resigned.

We've seen other government officials get into trouble. And those people were allegedly not actually ill. We had a very awkward moment yesterday during the briefing, where you had a cabinet minister and scientific advisor essentially saying two different things.

The advisor was trying to say, listen, we're advising if you are ill to stay in one place, to self-isolate. Whereas the cabinet advisor defending what Dominic did, traveling 250 miles and that's quite a distance for someone to travel.

And that's the issue with the messaging here. Everyone understands it is difficult. But I think it's hard for people to square to understand what are they supposed to do at what time, because they've seen reports of police issuing fines, of police speaking to people who are traveling, who are doing something might be deemed inappropriate.

And they're seeing this from Dominic Cummings. We did have comment from the local police saying they did speak to the family about this and advised them the advice was to stay at home.

Now we're seeing possible contradictions from Downing Street, saying the police didn't speak to Dominic Cummings. It's not a very good look for a government right now when they're trying to handle a pandemic and they need a succinct message.

NOBILO: Hadas Gold, thanks for joining us from London.

Mexico starts a new week with a continued surge in coronavirus cases. On Saturday the country set a new record for a day to day increase. More than 3,300 infections were reported, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to more than 65,000.

Saturday's spike in cases was the second time in three days the country reported a record increase.

Brazil continues to struggle as well. Over the past 24 hours it recorded more than 900 new coronavirus deaths. This as a video that portrays president Bolsonaro in a very unflattering light is being made public. CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: The latest numbers for Brazil again making it the second most infected country on the planet and bearing the brunt of Latin America, which the WHO says is the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak; 347,000 about cases reported in Brazil, according to the last count.

Just eclipsing Russia's latest numbers. Adding to that sense of concern here in Brazil and outside of Brazil, for Brazil is a recording that has been released by Brazil's supreme court as part of an ongoing investigation into the president's alleged interference in police investigations.

This very explicit two-hour long video is a leaked recording from a cabinet meeting last month. It contains a number of things which the president himself has played down as not significant and not incriminating toward him. He has always denied interference in police investigations.

The key bit, though, in reference to the coronavirus outbreak relates to comments he makes about the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, both of whom have put in lockdowns and asked for face masks to be worn.

He calls them feces, manure, to use a more polite term of what he in fact says. And he is also very explicitly rude about the mayor of a town called Manaus, which is heavily infected by coronavirus, and digging large numbers of graves to cope with the outbreak there.

He's similarly offensive towards that man as well.

[02:20:00]

WALSH (voice-over): His environment minister goes on to talk about possibly how this outbreak might enable further environmental regulations to be peeled back. He has defended his comments, saying he's always been in favor of deregulation.

But while this video leaked from the supreme court, it does seem to be more about Brazil's internal political strife and it also carries a clear message to those doubting the president about what he and his inner circle appear to be telling each other about those trying to do what they can to prevent coronavirus from spreading.

The peak here in Sao Paulo, the worst affected bigger city, might be a week to two weeks away. Deep concerns here and the preparations that are being done simply have not been enough so far -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, Sao Paulo, Brazil.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Still ahead, the U.S. president and his former attorney general reignite their feud on Twitter.

And protests in Hong Kong, the very situation Beijing's hugely controversial security proposal is trying to stop. That's ahead.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: Police have fired tear gas as the demonstrations kicked off in the streets of Hong Kong. Protesters were seen throwing objects at police in a livestream posted online.

[02:25:00]

NOBILO: Beijing's hugely controversial security proposal is the main reason for the renewed demonstrations. Anna Coren is standing by for us in Hong Kong.

We spoke about an hour and a half ago and you're already seeing scenes erupt where protesters were being suppressed by police.

What are you seeing?

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bianca, the reason we put our tear gas masks on is because multiple rounds of tear gas have been fired. The police behind me have just raised their signs, saying you could be arrested if you're still congregating. A sign went up earlier, saying they will use force.

We are seeing these sporadic protests if you like. I want to take our camera down the end of this road here, all the way to Victoria Park. And there are thousands of people. Now this isn't the numbers perhaps the protesters had hoped for.

But the march is only supposed to start over an hour ago. No march has really taken place. Protesters walk, you know, 20 meters, 50 meters; police stop them and then the tear gas is fired.

So this is something that is no doubt going to play out for the rest of the afternoon. Now as you mentioned, people have turned out to the streets because of this national security legislation. This is something that Beijing announced at the National People's Congress it is going to enact itself.

It's overriding the Hong Kong legislature, which is unprecedented. This law they tried to push through back in 2003, half a million people took to the streets. This bans treason, subversion, sedition, secession and it also bans any international interference which is obviously something China accuses the United States of doing on a regular basis in interfering in Hong Kong's affairs.

But assemblies like we're seeing, people pounding the streets, chanting slogans like we heard a little bit earlier, Bianca. "Hong Kong independence, it's the only way out." That will now be a criminal offense. Here in Hong Kong they have enjoyed the freedom of expression. That is one of the things that has existed under the "one country, two systems" policy which came into force when Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

Fast forward 23 years and this national security legislation firmly puts Hong Kong under Beijing's control and democracy activists, the pro-democracy activists here in Hong Kong, the protesters we are seeing and hearing from, they are greatly concerned this is the end of Hong Kong as we know it. This is now one country, one system, Bianca.

NOBILO: And Anna, how do you those protesters feel?

What are they communicating to you?

Because as you said to me earlier, they think this might be the last time they're going to be able to protest in this way. And obviously they're being constrained from even being able to do that. From now on, it looks as if their ability to express themselves politically is only going to get more and more limited.

So how frustrated are they and also what are they thinking that they'll do next?

Because they've encountered obstacle after obstacle over this last year to try and express their democratic right. And now it looks like they're going to be stopped at that at every opportunity.

So how are they feeling and what do they think they're going to do next?

COREN: Well, it's a frightening prospect for these people, Bianca. As you can see police are trying to clear us from the streets. They're obviously going to move in. We had heard that the water cannons were also arriving. I covered these protests in June of last year.

They started off peacefully. People were protesting against the proposed extradition bill. Now that was shelved and obviously the protesters' demands became much more, talking about greater freedoms, talking about electing their own government, talking about a police inquiry, inquiring into police brutality and the use of excessive force.

There was a police watchdog that came out with their findings last week and it said that the use of force used by the police was justified. Well, a British expert meant to be on that particular panel quit last year.

He came out and said it was a disproportionate force used at almost every single protest.

So what are we going to see moving forward, Bianca?

[02:30:00]

COREN: This is going to now be a criminal offense. Protesting on the streets is now going to be a criminal offense. We were here earlier when a pro-democracy politician stood up with a loudspeaker, talking about freedoms for Hong Kong. Police in their dozens moved in and arrested him, dragged him off.

We followed him and he said, this is the end of Hong Kong; one country, one system is what now exists here, which means that Hong Kong is just a part of China. This is now just a Chinese city, which, for many, is frightening because Hong Kong prides itself on being semiautonomous. That is why it is the international financial hub.

And if all those corporations, those multinational corporations with headquarters here in Hong Kong, now decide that this is China, they could very well move their headquarters out of Hong Kong.

It exists because of the level of autonomy that it has enjoyed thus far. Now the city's chief executive said this is not going to change the way people live, that this is not going to affect people's expression of freedoms -- expression and freedoms they have currently enjoyed, freedom of speech.

But people here in Hong Kong don't believe it. What we have witnessed just in the last couple of hours, police move in straightaway and they clamp down on these protests. A sign goes up, tear gas is dispersed and then they move in and arrest people. This is not the restraint that we saw from the Hong Kong police last year.

NOBILO: Anna Coren, thank you so much for bringing us the very latest from the streets of Hong Kong, surrounded by protesters and police on this day, as you describe this historic turning point, certainly in the trajectory of Hong Kong as a semiautonomous region. Thank you so much, Anna. We'll keep checking in with you throughout the day.

Just ahead on the program, many churches are beginning to reopen. Why health officials warn that such gatherings could cause the coronavirus to surge.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:35:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: Welcome back to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Bianca Nobilo outside London in my house.

The director of that Chinese virology lab we heard so much about is pouring cold water on the political speculation it's where the coronavirus originated. She told state media the Wuhan Virology Institute never encountered the virus before they received the first sample on December the 30th.

U.S. President Trump and secretary of state Mike Pompeo pushed the theory for weeks. Then Pompeo walked back the comments about a week ago, saying the virus came from Wuhan but he said we don't know from where or from whom. U.S. president Donald Trump is also calling houses of worship

"essential" and he's threatening to overrule any state governors that defy him on reopening them.

But health officials and many religious leaders warn that such gatherings are risky. As CNN's Brian Todd reports, new cases are forcing some churches that had already reopened to close their doors once again.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New indications of the dangers of reopening churches during this pandemic. The Catoosa Baptist Tabernacle Church in Ringgold, Georgia, and the Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Houston have closed their doors for the second time.

Several parishioners and leaders of those churches reportedly testing positive for coronavirus after they reopened in recent weeks. Officials investigating tonight whether a priest at a Houston church who died recently died of COVID-19.

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: You bring a lot of people together, put them in small close quarters, you have a lot of, you know, proximity, people touching, people saying, you know, saying peace.

Bringing people together in religious events where frequently there could be crying, there could be shouting, there could be singing, I think all of those may bring significant risk of infection.

TODD: A church in rural Arkansas was what some call a super spreader. Two people who went to events there in early March initiating a chain reaction which infected at least 30 parishioners and killed at least three of them.

But tonight, experts are warning it's not just the formal services associated with churches which are dangerous but also their ancillary events.

DR. LEANA WEN, PUBLIC HEALTH PROFESSOR, GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY: There was a case where one infected individual spread to more than 50 just because of choir practice. Birthdays and funerals and other events where people are hugging and touching would also be such types of events, too.

TODD: Tonight, the state of New York is testing religious communities in New York City for antibodies of coronavirus and is starting to allow religious gathering again but only with a maximum of ten people at a time.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: The last thing we want to do have a religious ceremony that winds up having more people infected.

TODD: As thousands of churches reopen around the world, our ideas of a typical service are going out the window. This week, Pope Francis celebrated the first public mass in two months in St. Peter's Basilica, but only with a limited number of worshippers. Father Timothy Pelc in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan, got creative on

Easter Sunday, using a squirt gun to dispense holy water to parishioners driving by.

Health experts are recommending drive-in services in parking lots, virtual services, temporary suspicions of church daycare. But one expert says it shouldn't be doctors or public officials who mandate those changes.

DEL RIO: I think it is not me as a physician to needs to tell them. I work with leaders of the community who then tell the congregation and the people that go to those churches and those synagogues and those mosques what they need to do.

TODD: So is this the end of large religious gatherings like on Christmas Eve, Easter, the Jewish and Muslim holidays?

The health experts we spoke to say it should be more of a pause. But it could be a long one. One expert says there could be recommendations coming that the next large religious gatherings that we see should not be held until around Christmas of 2021 -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Father Edward Beck is a CNN religion commentator and joins me now from New York.

Father Beck, always good to speak with you, thank you for joining us.

FATHER EDWARD BECK, CNN RELIGION COMMENTATOR: Thank you, Bianca.

NOBILO: This is a time, this pandemic, where people feel lonelier, more anxious and afraid than ever.

[02:40:00]

NOBILO: Obviously faith is a great comfort to many people when they are facing these types of emotions or they're grieving or worried.

But do you think it is necessary for people to go back to churches, to mosques, to synagogues, at this stage of pandemic?

Or do you think maybe people should be more create active and stick to virtual services and other things that you can provide?

BECK: Churches, mosques and synagogues have been doing very creative things via Zoom and virtual worship and community hangouts and all of that. It has been wonderful. But of course, people do feel a need for a physical community. And there are certain rituals with all denominations really that can only be done in person.

So people are missing communion, just receiving communion, something as simple as that. I think eventually we all want to get back to that. But I think we have to do it in a safe and incremental way so that, when we do so, we feel confident and able to celebrate and not just being in a service in fear.

What kind of way is that to celebrate or come back?

Let's come back in a way that there's relative comfort that we are not infecting people and we're not being infected and we can really be about what we are there for.

NOBILO: How comfortable do you feel, having read the CDC guidelines, that if you were to go back and resume some of the rituals that you talk about, taking communion, singing, which we know is an activity that could put more droplets into the air, people tend to be densely packed together in churches.

Do you feel confident with the guidelines you have received that you could hold a safe service?

BECK: I think the guidelines are recommendations and they do not really spell out all of the specifics that churches and mosques and synagogues will need to take into account. That is what I think it is important for all the local churches and local diocese and congregations to really be about, what is right for their specific worship space?

All rituals are different. Jews celebrate differently from Catholics and Christians and Muslims. I think it's important what we do is tailored to that community. Holy water for example, we are told to empty all the holy water fonts. There will be no holy water.

How does someone come up safely for communion?

What kind of physical distancing?

How do you not touch someone's hand when you give them the host?

If you do, how do you sanitize them before you give someone else communion?

These are very detailed things that the guidelines do not address but individual worship spaces must address them.

NOBILO: Without getting into a big theological debate about the extent to which God is involved in our daily lives, how do you feel when religious leaders make statements about how they feel that their faith protects them from the virus?

Obviously it is not many but these voices really cut through.

Does it make you feel uncomfortable that people may be heeding that advice and not taking other precautions?

BECK: Sure, I think it is bad theology and it's bad spirituality and I think it is harmful. I would even go so far as to say that it is simple because it is inviting people to put themselves and others in danger.

We know from experience that God has not, in fact, protected people from this virus. Pastors have died, congregants have died.

So did they not believe enough?

Did God choose not to protect them?

That kind of theology and spirituality just does not hold up.

NOBILO: To end on a more positive note, do you think there are any virtual services that you have begun to offer or creative solutions you have found, which they may be able to keep using in the future?

BECK: We are in a unique position. My community, I'm a Passionist, that's a religious order that I belong to. And we have actually been televising a television mass for over 50 years. It has been addressed mostly to shut-ins and homebound. But now many others have found us during this time of lockdown.

So I think we will certainly continue to broadcast that mass because some people for various reasons like illness and age cannot get to mass. But I think we have gone beyond the mass now. All kinds of things have happened on Zoom and ways that people have connected through community, Bible sharing.

That has been good. It does not replace being together in person. But I think it has certainly augmented it and supplemented it.

[02:45:00]

BECK: And I see no reason why those things will not continue and should not continue.

NOBILO: Father Edward Beck, thank you very much for joining us from New York.

BECK: Thank you, Bianca.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, Benjamin Netanyahu will soon appear in court on criminal charges but first the Israeli prime minister, what he's facing ahead.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: Just hours from now Israel's prime minister will attend the opening hearing of his corruption trial in Jerusalem. Benjamin Netanyahu is facing criminal charges in three separate cases. Oren Liebermann breaks it down for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

OREN LIEBERMANN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): One week after Benjamin Netanyahu's swearing in for a fifth term as prime minister, he's facing a very different panel: three judges presiding over his criminal trial.

The 70-year-old leader has been fighting this day for more than three years, ever since the investigations were made public. He's maintained his innocence, calling the probes an attempted coup.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU, PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL: This evening we are witnessing a governmental coup attempt against a prime minister by false libel and with a tenacious and contaminated investigation process.

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Israel's longest serving prime minister faces prosecution in three cases.

In case 4,000, prosecutors say Netanyahu advanced regulatory benefits for his friend, a multi-millionaire business man. Those benefits were worth hundreds of millions of dollars. In exchange, prosecutors say Netanyahu received favorable news coverage from a news website owned by that business man. In this case, Netanyahu faces the most serious charge of bribery as well as the charge of fraud and breach of trust.

In case 2,000, prosecutors say Netanyahu was working on an arrangement with the owner of one of Israel's largest papers. Netanyahu sought better news coverage in exchange for limiting the circulation of the paper's rival.

[02:50:00]

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Netanyahu faces a charge of fraud and breach of trust in this case.

Finally in case 1,000, prosecutors say Netanyahu received valuable gifts, such as cigars and champagne from overseas business men, gifts, they say, a public servant shouldn't have received. Here Netanyahu also faces a charge of fraud and breach of trust. I intend to lead the country as prime minister for many years to come.

None of that has fazed Netanyahu.

NETANYAHU (through translator): I intend to continue to lead you and the country as a prime minister for many years to come. Don't believe all the spins (ph).

LIEBERMANN (voice-over): Netanyahu's best defense is his former political rival, Benny Gantz, who broke his campaign promise not to serve under an indicted prime minister. The coalition agreement between the two protects Netanyahu's position for the next 18 months, during which Netanyahu can pursue annexation of parts of the West Bank.

All the while Netanyahu's corruption cases will proceed in the background, slowly. It took more than three years to get to this point, a trial with 333 witnesses isn't expected to move much faster -- Oren Liebermann, CNN, Jerusalem.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

NOBILO: Still ahead on the program, the pandemic is making for very different graduation celebrations. What one high school principal is doing to make the milestone special.

(MUSIC PLAYING)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[02:55:00]

(MUSIC PLAYING)

NOBILO: The pandemic may have robbed some 2020 graduates of the traditional pomp and ceremony. But a high school principal in Dallas, Texas, is helping his seniors create one of a kind graduation memories. Erin Jones reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ERIN JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the past week he spent 50 hours in the car.

DR. SCOTT RUDES, BOOKER T. WASHINGTON HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: I hear we got a graduate here.

JONES (voice-over): 1,300 miles for these moments.

RUDES: This is stop number 184.

JONES (voice-over): Booker T. Washington High School Principal Dr. Scott Rudes has made it his mission to personally deliver diploma covers to all of his graduates.

RUDES: When we found out that we weren't going to have in-person graduations, I really felt disconnected and I wanted to make sure I had a chance to celebrate with each of my seniors.

?MAGGIE DZINA, SENIOR: I think it's so fun. I've seen pictures of Dr. Rudes jumping on a trampoline with some of my friends, one of my friends had a Slip 'n' Slide to get her diploma. Everyone's just trying to make the most of it.

?ZOE NGUYEN, SENIOR: It really feels like we're special. He's basically coming to everyone's houses.

JONES: In just about a week the principal of this high school has delivered around 200 diploma covers.

RUDES: It's so good to see you.

I do about 25-28 a day. We have 249 seniors and I'm still loving every stop. I get just as much out of it as the graduates do. And it's just a unique, special moment.

(END VIDEOTAPE) NOBILO: Thank you for watching today, I'm Bianca Nobilo from my dining room and Michael Holmes has much more news for you in just a moment.