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War and Disease; Coronavirus Crisis Escalates in Brazil; Amarillo, Texas, Deals With Coronavirus Spike. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 16:30   ET



LAURA CURRAN (D), EXECUTIVE OF NASSAU COUNTY, NEW YORK: And now we're seeing it really suffering. Hotels, restaurants, all those wonderful beachside places are really struggling. Our downtowns are struggling.

I'm very happy that we're going to be getting into phase one of our reopening. We're on track to get started on that on Wednesday, if we continue to meet our metrics and meet our numbers. But I am very concerned about our economy.

I'm very focused on helping people get back to work as quickly as they possibly can. And I think we have proven in Nassau County, our residents and our businesses have been fantastic, that we can do this while mitigating risk.

Our people get about face coverings. They understand about social distancing, and they're definitely ready to get back to work.

DANA BASH, CNN HOST: Yesterday, your governor, Andrew Cuomo, announced that Long Island is on track to reopen this Wednesday.

Now, we have seen the number of new cases in your state reach a plateau over the last two weeks. If there is a resurgence, are you prepared to close the county again?

CURRAN: So, we're going to get into phase one. There's going to be four phases.

And these are deemed those with the least amount of risk, for instance, construction. Construction is happening on essential projects, essential projects right now, very safely. Curbside retail is another and manufacturing is another.

If we, however, do see the numbers start to rise again, then we can expand that phase two for longer, until we really get a handle on it.

BASH: OK, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, thank you so much, and I hope you have a nice and as restful of a more Memorial Day weekend as you can under these circumstances.

CURRAN: Thank you very much.

BASH: Thank you.

And up next, a mayor fighting a major coronavirus outbreak among her residents, as she fights with her own personal battle.

Stay with us.



BASH: In our national lead, Texas is moving swiftly to reopen all parts of life and the economy, but in the state's Panhandle, things are getting worse, not better.

It's a region that plays a significant role in the nation's food supply, with a quarter of America's beef coming from that region.

I talked to the mayor of Amarillo, Texas, Ginger Nelson, about how she's keeping her city safe and fighting the virus while she is personally fighting a different disease, cancer.


GINGER NELSON, MAYOR OF AMARILLO, TEXAS: We're a hot spot. We have been hit hard.

BASH (voice-over): In Amarillo, Texas, COVID-19 numbers spiked in recent weeks, level red, the highest alert level. Mayor Ginger Nelson says the city's hottest spot is a Tyson meat plant.

(on camera): What about the meatpacking plant caused the surge?

NELSON: We had to do shelter in place, so that we could educate ourselves. And in the time that it took us to learn that, it was already here in our communities, and it was already working its way in through the employees of these meatpacking plants.

We just have a unique situation here with our meatpacking plants. They're critical to the nation's food supply, and they can't close.

BASH: How hard is it to balance what you're saying, which is, you don't think that they can close because of the food supply of the country, and yet you're talking about the health and welfare of your constituents and residents?

NELSON: If you talk to people that work in the plant, they're conflicted by the same thing.

They know how important their jobs are, and they know how important their industry is to both the nation's food supply and our local economy. But, then again, they weigh that with their own personal anxieties about getting sick.

BASH (voice-over): Mayor Nelson isn't just fighting COVID-19 for her city. She's also fighting cancer, diagnosed right before the pandemic hit. She just finished her first round of radiation. (on camera): You're in the middle of radiation while fighting a

pandemic for your citizens.

NELSON: Yes, and I don't do treatment here in my city, because they -- this type of cancer is rare. And so I go to Houston to get treatment.

So, I'm immunocompromised, which is unexpected. No one expects to be on a cancer journey. And I'm in my 40s, so I'm not in the normal COVID high-risk age range. But it has given me a very empathetic perspective to someone who is.

And they picked this book, "365 Penguins."

BASH (voice-over): A big priority is connecting her constituents with resources to help their mental health.

NELSON: I think a lot of it's just been conversation. And it has been trying to tell people, check your mental health. It's OK to talk about your mental health and connecting them to resources that we already have here in our city that they might not have previously needed or been aware of or have been interested in using.

BASH: Despite being a hot spot, businesses are reopening in Amarillo, Texas.

(on camera): What's it like to have to make a decision to reopen, which you know will help the economy and society as a whole, but also people could get sick?

NELSON: Well, it's not a light burden. And I think, as a leader, it's never been that simple for me. It's a multifaceted issue.

As I have asked people to stay home, I have known I was asking businesses to close their doors, and that meant they weren't going to be able to make mortgage payments.

BASH (voice-over): Nelson is aggressively using social media to push safety.

NELSON: We've used the tag line, I will wear one for you if you were one for me, because, truly, it is a new form of citizenship, that you would consider others and the needs of others above your own comfort.


I lay awake at night and I worry. I worry about the kids. I worry about the moms. I worry about the dads. I worry about the small business owners. I worry about our city finances. And I worry about our families getting sick or even not having enough to eat.

So -- sorry. Sorry to get all teary, but it's real.


BASH: We wish Mayor Nelson and her residents well. And we want to give you this statement provided to us by Tyson, saying: "Our top priority is the health and safety of our team members, their families and our communities. We take this responsibility very seriously and are committed to working with our communities to help minimize the spread of the virus."

And coming up: There have been more than 1,000 burials in this cemetery since the pandemic began.

We're going to go live to Brazil next.



BASH: Welcome back to this special edition of THE LEAD.

And in our world lead: Japan is lifting its national state of emergency today, a week earlier than originally planned. But Japan's prime minister says a coronavirus vaccine is significant in order to host the delayed Tokyo Olympics.

And in India, after a two-month shutdown, airports are reopening for domestic flights, but coronavirus cases are still surging in that country.

And British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says he regrets the pain his top aide, Dominic Cummings, caused when he bucked the country's lockdown restriction and traveled to be with his family, despite having the virus. But he is supporting his aide's decision not to resign.

And in the original epicenter of the virus, Wuhan, China, the director of the Wuhan Virology Institute says, not only did the virus not escape some experiment from his facility, but China didn't even know about the virus before December, despite reports saying otherwise.

The U.S. is now blocking anyone from coming in who has been in Brazil in the past 14 days, after that country became the second most infected country in the world, with more than 360,000 cases.

I want to bring in CNN's Nick Paton Walsh to talk about this.

And Nick is in Manaus, Brazil, which has been devastated by the virus.

Nick, give us an idea of just how serious the conditions are there.

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, it's been an extraordinary past month for the city of Manaus. It is pretty much isolated in the middle of the Amazon forest, city of two million.

But we were one of their cemeteries today, where 1,500 graves have been dug since the beginning of this pandemic. Just to let you know why we're standing in front of a fence here, behind us is the airport, into which coronavirus cases from all over the region are flown, often on single private jets, sort of missions of mercy, if you like, to bring the patients of this disease that is spread across this vast territory of the Amazon into the main city here, where they can get medical treatment, if it's not too late.

But for those who it has unfortunately been too late, we saw the graveyard there. And I should point out, one of the startling things it revealed to us was, it was sort of split in two.

One part of it was about a fifth of the size of the rest of it, and it was the cases there that were positive-tested for coronavirus. The rest, the four-fifths, was about people who had a suspected case of coronavirus.

And so, startlingly, it's quite clear from that that the testing here has been full -- far short, and it's exceptionally hard to know quite how many people in Brazil have actually died of the disease and possibly how many indeed have tested positive for it.

So, here in Manaus, we're sort of seeing exactly what happens in a city that's isolated like this into which the infection is introduced, where people, unfortunately, have been listening lot to the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and his message that this disease isn't that serious, it's -- quote -- "a little flu."

He's been widely panned by the local mayor here, who accepts that many people in this area have been, in fact, listening to their president, rather than the mayor of the city, who's advising them to try and stay indoors.

He had some very stark words to respond to Mr. Bolsonaro, essentially saying he was stupid and he should shut up, stay at home and resign, because, he said, he was responsible for so many deaths here because of the message he had been giving out -- Dana.

BASH: And, Nick, that president, Bolsonaro, as you mentioned, he has been out in the crowds. He has been touching. He has been doing everything that you're not supposed to do, not to mention downplaying the virus, as you mentioned.

What are you hearing from the people of Brazil? And what kind of problem is he sort of helping to cause and create and extend, given the way that he is acting or maybe, I should say, not reacting?

WALSH: Well, I mean, he's acting.

You saw the video of him with a rally on Sunday of his supporters, very commonly done in the governmental capital of Brasilia, that he greets his supporters. But he flew over them in a helicopter, it seemed, got off the helicopter in a mask, then took it off to go near the crowds.

That, in itself, is a dangerous message. It's saying to people in places like Manaus, where masks are mandatory, the main cities of Sao Paulo and Rio, that you don't really need to wear a mask.

But you obviously do. And that is contributing to this extraordinary rise in numbers, which I say is not the entire picture here in Brazil -- Dana.

BASH: Nick Paton Walsh in Manaus, Brazil, thank you so much for that report. Appreciate it.

And coronavirus has infected thousands of U.S. service members. It's not the first time, though, that the military has had to battle disease.

We will explain next.



BASH: Coronavirus in the backdrop of tributes like this on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, social distancing for those who looked on at the president's salute at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

And in Delaware, former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife wore masks at Veterans Memorial Park in New Castle, Delaware. It's the first time Biden has left his home since mid-March.


I want to bring in CNN presidential historian Douglas Brinkley to talk about this and more.

And I'm really looking forward to talking to you, because you have so much insight into the history of the military and dealing with disease.

We know that the military reports another 5,900 cases among its ranks, but it's not the first time disease has plagued the U.S. military in American history. Hardly, right?


And I feel -- our hearts go out for anybody suffering from COVID-19 in the armed forces. And they're doing heroic work around the globe for us right now.

But in U.S. history, I mean, let's just start the American Revolution. I mean, George Washington was so worried about Yellow Fever that his one thing that saved it -- we wouldn't be a country today if Washington didn't decide to inoculate troops for smallpox.

It was seen as a radical procedure. It had been perfected in Great Britain. And Washington went with it. And it saved thousands of lives.

Nevertheless, we have to keep in mind, in the first 145 years of U.S. history, in any battle, we talk about Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, all the way up to World War I, we had many more deaths in the military from disease than we did battle.

And, in fact, that was always the enemy. In World War I, when the Spanish Flu epidemic hit, I mean, 30,000 soldiers in one swoop never made it to France. They were dying of influenza on the way there.

The Spanish-American War, seven dead by disease from every one with a battle wound. So, part of the history of America on Memorial Day is connecting the idea of disease and our past wars and our veterans and recognize that the enemy has always been infectious diseases, like smallpox or tuberculosis, on and on.

BASH: That is such a fascinating stat, that, in many of these wars, you're saying most of the wars that America has fought, the death has not been from the enemy on the other side of the battlefield. It's been from pandemics.

I know one of the stats that you mentioned was World War II was the first time that that flipped, that death on the battlefield actually exceeded death from disease.

BRINKLEY: And there's a hopeful note there, because, after World War I and the Spanish Flu epidemic that devastated our armed forces, our doughboys, we started working really hard on antibiotics.

And it is a game-changer. So right at the cusp of beginning of World War II, the United States was leading the charge globally on antibiotics. And we inoculated our soldiers that went into the European theater and the Japanese island-hopping campaign in the Pacific.

They were -- they got inoculated for smallpox, tetanus, typhoid fever, Yellow Fever, and that's how we were able to win. It's not just industrial mobilization or battlefield victories. We won the battle against infectious diseases.

BASH: Yes.

And you mentioned what George Washington did, which seemed radical back during the Revolutionary War. But, more broadly, I know you know, looking at history, that there would be no country, no United States, if not for the role of medicine, specifically in the military.

BRINKLEY: And, look, we have -- the memorial for that is Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Reed was worried about the deaths in the Spanish-American War, and now we try to take care of our veterans. But on this Memorial Day, it's very sad veterans from the Korean War and Vietnam, World War II, and more recent words, some are dying of COVID-19.

And here they fought the enemy abroad, only to die here at home from this invisible enemy that we're all combating right now.

BASH: And real quick, the notion of Memorial Day was always intended not just to remember people who died on the battlefield from bullets or other artillery, but from actual disease.


But you don't give a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, or a Purple Heart to somebody who died of infectious diseases. So maybe this Memorial Day and every Memorial Day, we should think more about soldiers, sailors who have died in war of disease, not just of battlefield injuries.

BASH: So well said. I could talk to you for hours. Maybe I will call you after the show.



BASH: Professor Brinkley, thank you so much for joining us to give your important insight on the history of the military on this Memorial Day.

And before we go, we would like to salute lives of two military veterans who died of coronavirus.

Philip Kahn died at 100 years old. He lost a twin brother shortly after birth during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1919. Philip Kahn was a sergeant in the U.S. Army, Air Force. His family says Kahn kept warplanes fueled during World War II. He received the Bronze Battle Star for his service.

We also want to salute 86-year-old Gerard Bartuch (ph). He served in World War II.