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Americans Mark Memorial Day as U.S. Nears 100,000 COVID-19 Deaths; Coronavirus Cluster in Arkansas Linked to High School Swim Party; Interview with Mayors Justin Elicker and Clarence Lear About Memorial Day Holiday; President Trump Threatens to Pull GOP Convention from North Carolina if Governor Can't Guarantee Arena will Be Filled; Americans Mark Memorial Day as U.S. Nears 100k COVID-19 Deaths. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired May 25, 2020 - 09:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: I really appreciate you being here. Have a safe Memorial Day.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Nice to be here always.

CAMEROTA: Great to have you. So CNN's coronavirus coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning. I'm Erica Hill in for Poppy and Jim on this Memorial Day.

As we remember and honor the brave men and women who've given their lives for this country, we're also this year remembering the nearly 100,000 lives lost over the past three months as a result of this pandemic.

Over the weekend, scenes like the ones you see on your screen across the country, crowded beaches and restaurants, busy boardwalks and local shops, stir crazy Americans seemingly letting their guard down in many cases as officials warn new cases could rise.

Stunning sights like this one out of Missouri, adding to that anxiety. Hundreds of people packed closely together at a Lake of the Ozarks pool party.

In our next hour, we'll also take you live to Arlington National Cemetery where the president is expected to participate in a wreath laying at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. We'll also have more on the new safety precautions being taken at the nation's most hallowed ground.

But first, we want to get to CNN's Rosa Flores who's in Pensacola, Florida, this morning.

So, Rosa, what is the scene looking like on Florida beaches this weekend? ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, good morning. In the beach you

see behind me we observed social distancing happening yesterday, and if you look very closely, they're actually setting out the umbrellas this morning, and you can tell that they're leaving more than six feet between the umbrellas. That allows families to enjoy the beach while social distancing, but you do need space in order for you to do that.

The beach behind me is about 250 feet in depth and Escambia County has about 27 miles of white sandy beaches. Now not everyone was social distancing in Florida. Take a look at this video from Daytona Beach. You can see that people are shoulder to shoulder. They are not social distancing. People are not wearing masks. The mayor there saying that governments need to do a better job at informing the public, educating the public about these measures. This as Dr. Deborah Birx urges Americans to social distance and to wear masks. Take a listen.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: What we have said to people is there's clear scientific evidence now by all the droplet experiments that happen and that others have done to show that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others. We need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.


FLORES: Now Pensacola Beach is a beach that people drive to residents from Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Tennessee, even as far as Illinois drive here for Memorial Day weekend.

So, Erica, I asked the commissioner that represents this area the obvious question, is he concerned about the potential spread of the coronavirus? And he said of course is he, but the county here he says followed the rules set forth by the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis -- Erica.

HILL: Rosa Flores for the latest for us from Pensacola. Rosa, thank you.

Cooler weather in Maryland this weekend didn't stop people there. Beaches and boardwalks also pretty crowded for the first holiday weekend after weeks of isolation.

CNN correspondent Pete Muntean is in Ocean City for us this morning.

Pete, good morning.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. This is a situation that we really have to watch as it develops. I want to show you a couple of different factors at play here at Ocean City, Maryland, because it is really not much of a beach day. It is cold, 55 degrees out, windy, a little bit of rain, easy to social distance out there on the beach, but I want to compare that to the boardwalk.

The city actually says the conditions here are actually working a bit against them, maybe pushing people onto the boardwalk where it's pretty easy to social distance right now so long as you're paying attention.

I just want to compare this scene to what it looked like on Saturday. Other different factors at play, a warmer day, 85 degrees out and sunny. The mayor of Ocean City, Rick Meehan, tells me the situation here is challenging. It was a bit more crowded on Saturday.

The city is urging folks to social distance, maintain six feet of separation, urging that folks to wear masks, although not enforcing that. Police simply reminding people to follow those policies. The city says it has done its part to do this and now it's on people to do their part.


MAYOR RICK MEEHAN, OCEAN CITY, MARYLAND: It's challenging. You know, we have a large number of people that have come to Ocean City and want to be out here on the boardwalk, want to be outside. It's a narrow thoroughfare, but if you really look around at ground level and you watch the people walking by, they're in groups of two, they're in groups of four.

Sometimes you'll see a larger group, typically it's a whole family, but I think everybody is attempting, doing their best to separate from each other, to be courteous to each other, and trying to social distance. I have not seen a real problem.


MUNTEAN: Ocean City's mayor says there's one more factor at play here.


He kind of hopes that businesses would actually reopen to some degree. Most businesses closed the indoor seating right now. The city says it can only be less restrictive than state rules and not more restrictive. He says if those rules were relaxed it actually would give people another place to go, avoiding another repeat like Saturday, although, Erica, we'll just have to wait and see as the summer drags on and if the weather gets better here.

HILL: You're right, a lot of what we are all seeing right now is this is the wait-and-see period.

Pete Muntean, good to see you this morning, thank you.

With hotels and restaurants now back open, South Carolina's coast is seeing an influx of crowds for the holiday weekend. Natasha Chen is in Myrtle Beach this morning where officials, Natasha, I know were still advising beachgoers to maintain social distancing.

From what you've seen, have they been listening?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a pretty mixed bag here on the beach where we are. People have done a pretty good job of putting parties separate from each other, and you can tell that the chairs are spaced out kind of like what Rosa was describing in Florida. Here also spaced out so that parties can remain separate.

That being said, there were some serious social distancing problems in previous weekends and potentially this weekend as well which prompted the city to actually create an executive order this week banning golf carts and mopeds in certain areas and giving police a bit more authority to do things such as shutting down businesses if necessary from 11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

They so far as we know have not had to do that, but city regulators have noticed a couple of restaurants over the 50 percent capacity that they're supposed to maintain, and they had to show some patrons out the door when those city regulators came to see that and of course we know this morning from the city manager that we've now had two shootings on Ocean Boulevard and Myrtle Beach, a third last weekend, and so that just is part of the behavior problems that they saw, which prompted that executive order -- Erica.

HILL: Natasha Chen, with the latest for us from South Carolina. Natasha, thank you.

In Arkansas, the governor says his state is seeing a second peak of coronavirus cases. This after an outbreak has been linked to a high school swim party.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Little Rock. And it's important to note of course unlike many states, Arkansas was not under a stay-at-home order, Ed.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Erica. Well, that is indeed the case. There were a number of restrictions put on businesses and restaurants. Schools were closed and that sort of thing but an official stay-at-home order as you mentioned was never issued here in the state.

Governor Asa Hutchinson says it wasn't needed here in Arkansas because it is a state with a low population density but the governor here is saying that over the course of the last few days, they're beginning to see this second peak of coronavirus cases being reported. The first peak came about a month or so ago, around April 28th, so we're now seeing this, and this really started coming to light around last Thursday.

If you look at the way the cases have unfolded, about 450 cases were reported on Thursday, 150 on Friday, then 160 on Saturday. They were much lower on Sunday but that could have something to do with Memorial Day testing, reporting. We'll have to see how this continues to play out here over the next couple of days.

But the governor did mention that there was this pool party. We don't know many details about what happened but the governor did say they believe it's responsible for a cluster outbreak of new coronavirus cases and used it as an example that people need to be mindful of how they're behaving when they're out and about.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: High school swim party that I'm sure everybody thought was harmless, they're young, they're swimming, they're just having activity, and positive cases resulted from that, and so it's just an encouragement for us to be disciplined in our activities.


LAVANDERA: And Erica, I can tell you, driving around the town of Little Rock here, very, very few people wearing masks, and that is really striking when you compare it to other states and what you're seeing other communities react to all of this.

I must say also that Arkansas is on the lower end of the number of cases and the number of deaths but it was rather striking what we've seen here over the last couple of days -- Erica.

HILL: Yes, absolutely. Ed Lavandera, always good to see you. Thank you.

Joining me now two mayors, both of whom, their cities have beaches that have seen people return over the holiday weekend, Mayor Clarence Lear III of Cape May, New Jersey, and Mayor Justin Elicker of New Haven, Connecticut.

Gentlemen, good to have both of you with us. Just curious, and I'll start with you, Mayor Lear, what was the scene at your beach because as I understand it the beaches in Cape May open but not for swimming?

MAYOR CLARENCE LEAR, CAPE MAY, NEW JERSEY: That's correct, Erica. This weekend, Cape May's been very cautious and we are in a transition period now, where the weekly rentals are available but our hotels and motels were not open this weekend, so we had a lot of day trippers and we have people that were here for the week but -- so we didn't have the crowds that you would typically expect over Memorial Day weekend and along with the weather, it was not quite the weekend we would have hoped for.


HILL: Are people following guidelines?

LEAR: I -- what I was seeing, people were out, I would say probably about 25 percent in areas where you would hope they would wear a mask were wearing masks. And I think we can do a better job with that and -- as we transition in the next weekend, we'll be working on that.

HILL: So about 25 percent is what you saw in Cape May, and in New Haven, how were things going there, how are they going so far for the holiday weekend? Do people seem to be following the guidelines you've put out?

MAYOR JUSTIN ELICKER (D), NEW HAVEN, CONNECTICUT: So we opened our beach at Lighthouse Point on Friday for the first time. We're limiting our capacity to about a third of the number of cars and yesterday went quite well. It was a beautiful day. People were abiding by the social distancing guidelines. We've taken away picnic benches. We're not allowing barbecuing and don't have lifeguards on duty, so we've taken away a little bit of fun as well but so far it's been pretty good.

HILL: You mentioned Lighthouse, for people from the area and for disclosure I grew up about 20 minutes away from New Haven. This is such a well-known area. And if you mentioned your limiting capacity to about a third, did you have to shut down the entrance at any point because you reached that lower capacity?

ELICKER: Yesterday we didn't. I suspect that today we will, given that it's Memorial Day, but yesterday there wasn't as much interest as we thought in going to the beach and we didn't have to limit anyone from going.

HILL: Mayor Lear, as you look forward when you get to the point where you will allow swimming again, do you have enough people in place, do you have the resources that you need to enforce the social distancing measures, and other measures you're putting into place?

LEAR: I believe we do, both we have beach tag inspectors, we have lifeguards. We have seasonal officers, and the goal really is not the enforcement -- well, it's the communication, it's to let people know be mindful. The county health department has also created an ambassador program from the Health Department for putting information out, and that's how we hope to get the message out very clearly, stay apart, and our beaches are large and we have room and we're going to monitor it, and our beach tag inspectors will -- we've talked about limiting the number of daily tags so we can both visually and numerically know when we're getting -- what we're consider a capacity.

HILL: People are understandably antsy. I mean, I certainly see it where I live, I can see it at the city when I'm at work during the day. And as you point out, beautiful weather in Connecticut this weekend, Mayor Elicker. Are you concerned about what we saw out of Arkansas? Governor Hutchinson, we just heard from Ed Lavandera saying look, this high school swim party, this pool party people thought they didn't have a lot to worry about. They're young, maybe they're keeping their distance. Are you worried about a false sense of security?

ELICKER: Absolutely. By and large throughout this crisis, new haven residents have been really good at following the social distancing guidelines but people also feel really cooped up and I think a lot of people are feeling frustrated, and at the same time, I worry that people have a false sense of security that they feel like we're beyond this.

We are not out of the woods. New Haven just lost our 100th resident to COVID-19. There's a lot more work that we need to be doing and my hope is that people continue to abide by the guidelines.

HILL: And when we look at these guidelines so it's not just about the individual, as we know, Mayor Lear, it's about the businesses as well. Businesses have been hit so hard across the country. How are they in terms of following the guidelines and following what you've laid out?

LEAR: They've been very good. Of course, you know, retail is shut down. Restaurants are open for takeout only at this point. We don't have it inside. So between the retail being able to do window shopping, their window shopping weekend, curbside pickup, restaurants are saying wait, the city is looking how we can help the local business, both our beachfront, we have a mall area outdoor walking mall, mall pedestrian mall, that we want to make sure that we can create the best environment for them at this point.

How can the city help? What can we do maybe to get some seating outdoors, get some retail outdoors, where people feel much more comfortable making purchases.

HILL: Mayors Justin Elicker and Clarence Lear, great to have you both with us and best of luck as we keep moving forward here.

ELICKER: Thank you.

HILL: Still to come this morning, the U.S. is mourning the loss of servicemember this weekend of course. And also, those who have died in this pandemic. The president, however, not tweeting about that this morning.

Plus the hard-hit Navajo Nation wrapping up a 57-hour lockdown in an effort to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Ahead, we'll have an update from the community's president.

And this pandemic is changing the way we say good-bye to those we've lost. We'll show you how families and the military are honoring our fallen heroes while also staying safe this Memorial Day.



HILL: On this Memorial Day, the first we hear from the president is not a tweet honoring the nation's fallen heroes. It is a threat. The president is now threatening to pull the Republican Convention out of Charlotte because the governor is unable to guarantee a full arena due to potential coronavirus restrictions. This follows a weekend of unleashing attacks on Twitter as he golfs. Senior Washington correspondent Joe Johns is live outside the White House this morning. Joe, good morning.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning again Erica. The president has done at least two things this holiday weekend, that is golfing and tweeting.


And if there's any significance to the latest tweet by the president, it shows how he's always seen himself as a disruptor, and this is certainly a very disruptive tweet.

It suggests that if the Democratic governor of North Carolina cannot essentially assure that he will allow a full and open participation, a full arena, if you will, and the arena in Charlotte in August, when the Republican National Convention is scheduled, the president says Republicans will be forced to find another venue that certainly would cause huge problems for Charlotte, North Carolina.

Also very difficult for a governor to predict whether the coronavirus situation in that state will be such that he would be able to assure and allow full attendance. This is just one other example of the president downplaying the coronavirus here in the United States, as he continues to try to reopen the country from coast-to-coast. He went golfing twice this weekend at his club right across the river over in Virginia. The president has downplayed the issue of the virus, almost from the very start, going back to January. Listen.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's one person coming in from China, and we have it under control.

When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero.

No, I'm not concerned at all.


JONES: And a little while, the president is going to head out from the White House over to Arlington cemetery in Virginia, where he is expected to lay a wreath at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Later today, the president is expected to go up to Baltimore to Fort McHenry for an event there. The local officials have urged the president not to come, simply because they say it sends the wrong message at a time when they're trying to convince people to stay home. Erica?

HILL: Interesting messages on this Memorial Day. Joe Johns with the latest for us, thank you. Across the country, people are finding ways to honor fallen service members while also minding new rules about social distancing during a pandemic. Even at Arlington National Cemetery, things will be different at the annual wreath laying, the president will participate in next hour. Joining us now with details, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr. Barbara, good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Erica. Well, on this Memorial Day, as people stop, pause, remember and reflect for the U.S. troops, there is still really only one mission this day, to pay respects to those who as Abraham Lincoln said gave the last full measure of devotion.


STARR (voice-over): The flag that covers the casket is no longer handed to the next of kin. Instead, it's gently laid on a table next to the grave at Arlington National Cemetery. Solemn funeral honors adjusted in the age of coronavirus to pay tribute to decorated World War II veteran Robert Belch. Here, everyone wears masks, even the rifle platoon.

Captain Doug Rohde has been back from Iraq for just eight months. He now performs ceremonial duties for the army's old girth unit here. DOUG ROHDE, U.S. ARMY: It means a lot to me that we can still be

there for the families, even though, you know, we're dealing with a lot as a country right now.

STARR: The new reality, only 10 family or friends are allowed graveside, as few troops as possible perform funeral honors. Distance is kept, masks are worn. But still, the same dignity and respect at every funeral, even with the changes, even as on this Memorial Day, Arlington's open only to families of those buried here.

Specialist Joseph Gorgas is part of the army's elite Caisson Platoon; the unit that carries those killed on the battlefield, elderly veterans and presidents of the United States.

JOSEPH GORGAS, U.S. ARMY: But as COVID-19 has started, we have gone from conducting 40 missions as a platoon a week to zero.

STARR: The horses that pull the Caisson still are on duty, but with extra troops required to do it right, the Caissons are not being used to limit the number of people interacting. Up the hill, at the tomb of the unknown soldier, troops wear masks as they get ready for their razor sharp walk. Visitors are no longer allowed, but there is no easing of tradition.

JACOB HAMMOND, U.S. ARMY: Since 1937, on July 2nd at midnight, there's always been somebody guarding the tomb 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

CHELSEA PORTERFIELD, U.S. ARMY: The tomb of the unknown soldiers, they had lives, right. So, the very least we could do is continue our mission to the best of our abilities.

STARR: Across Arlington on this Memorial Day, troops determined to carry on.

ROHDE: There have been a few funerals that we've done in the last couple of months where no family has been able to attend due to the virus.


In all, our heart goes out to them and we're very happy that at least we could be there for them as they're laid to rest.


STARR: So, for the family members who are able to gather at Arlington today, after President Trump lays the wreath at the tomb of the unknown, we will have to wait and see if he stops by to visit with them. In the past, he has, President Obama has, other presidents have, but this year, there are some things that are very different. Arlington is asking everyone who enters to have a face covering. Erica?

HILL: Barbara Starr with the latest for us. Barbara, thank you. And as we head to break, we want to leave you with some pictures, live pictures here from the tomb of the unknown soldier.