Return to Transcripts main page


States Reopening; U.S. Approaches 100,000 Coronavirus Deaths; Trump Mocks Biden for Wearing a Mask as U.S. Approaches 100,000 Deaths. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 16:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get up and get in the car right.


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Again, they are now former employees.

Tough to watch.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you for being here.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We are now mourning close to 100,000 people in the United States lost to coronavirus. Right now, the death toll stands at 98,636, almost 100,000 in a span of just a few months, a loss comparable numerically to more than 41 Pearl Harbor attacks or 33 September 11 terrorist attacks.

It's a number that, frankly, is difficult to comprehend, one hard to grasp for those who have been fortunate enough to remain untouched by this virus, because the devastation is happening all over the country and behind closed doors. We don't see images of the devastation because of health privacy issues.

Funerals are kept very small. And we should note these are confirmed coronavirus deaths. The actual death toll, according to health officials, is assuredly even higher than 100,000.

President Trump framed the 100,000th death, which is apparently pending, milestone around the projection of 1.5 to two million deaths if the U.S. had done nothing. And that is a way to look at it.

There is another way to look at it, and that is if the president and governors had acted even just one week sooner, tens of thousands of lives in the U.S. could have been saved, according to a study from Columbia University.

Now, we still do not have the kind of widespread surveillance testing and contact tracing programs that health experts say we need nationally, the kind that the White House has to keep its officials safe.

But there is some positive news to report today, with trends of new cases holding steady or even going down in most states and hospitalizations also decreasing.

Another sign of progress today? New Rochelle, New York, once the coronavirus epicenter in the United States, New Rochelle is beginning to reopen.

But, as CNN's Nick Watt reports, the mayor of New Rochelle warns, it's no time for citizens there to let their guard down.



NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some traders back on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It's been more than two months.

JONATHAN CORPINA, MERIDIAN EQUITY PARTNERS: It's a great sign, it's a great symbol of our economy getting back into motion.

WATT: Mandatory masks, and everyone must sign a waiver stating they know the risks.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): They wanted to get back to business, but they wanted to be smart. And they're doing it in a way that keeps people safe.

WATT: Long Island starts to open tomorrow. New Rochelle, that early New York hot spot, starts today.

NOAM BRAMSON (D), MAYOR OF NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK: I think the people of New Rochelle take special satisfaction in reaching this milestone. And we are cautiously optimistic.

WATT: Will there be a fallout from that now infamous Memorial Day party in the Ozarks? Well, we will find out in a week or two.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The responsible thing to do now is to self- quarantine. Don't put others at risk. Don't put your loved ones at risk. And make better decisions moving forward.

WATT: Neighboring Arkansas, a month after reopening began, now suffering a sharp spike in cases.

KAREN LEE, ARKANSAS: I could get killed by COVID today or I could get hit by a bus or a car tomorrow.

WATT: The governor says some of us might need to learn a lesson the hard way. GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): It's disappointing when we have a lack of

discipline by a few outliers.

How do you remedy that? Part of it is reeducation. And part of it is experience.

WATT: An Atlanta prep school which held a drive-through graduation nine days ago is now seeing a rash of COVID cases. There was an unsanctioned gathering afterwards.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to see more and more events like this, unfortunately.

WATT: From early July, New Jersey will allow outdoor-only social distanced graduation ceremonies.

Meanwhile, in Vernon, California, more than 150 workers at this meat processing plant have tested positive, outbreaks reported at eight other facilities in the city. The union wants the plant closed for cleaning.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The spikes keep coming. And it's sort of like Amity Island. There's an invisible, insidious, deadly shark out there, and it's time to get people out of the water to figure out what's going on.

WATT: CDC numbers show nearly 80 percent of COVID deaths are among the 65 and older, but, interestingly, nearly 80 percent of cases are in the under 65s.

A potential vaccine is now moving into human trials. And, today, Merck announced it's also entering the race. But an effective vaccine is still far from guaranteed.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: The virus itself is going to do what it's going to do. We're not driving this tiger. We're riding it.

For all the suffering, pain, death, and so forth we have had so far, only about 5 percent of the U.S. citizens have been infected. And this virus is not going to rest at all until it gets to 60 or 70 percent.



WATT: Now, this morning, Governor Cuomo in New York called it smart reopening.

This afternoon, Governor Newsom here in California called it meaningful reopening. And that is pretty much what everyone is aiming for, trying to keep this process as safe as possible, but also making some meaningful improvements to people's lives and livelihoods.

And Governor Newsom also said this. He said, we are walking into the unknown, and stressed that we have always got to keep an eye on that data and use it as our guide -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in California, thank you so much.

Joining me now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, I have some breaking news. The CDC just stated that antibody tests, which can determine if people were unknowingly infected and developed antibodies to fight the virus, antibody tests could be wrong 50 percent of the time.

What's your response?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, no better than a coin flip, then, right, I mean, if you can only have that degree of accuracy with these tests.

This is a huge problem. And we have gotten hints of this for some time about these antibody tests. And, again, antibodies are to test to see if you have been exposed to the virus in the past. If you have, your body will make antibodies. And that's what these tests are trying to find.

It's problematic. These tests should not be used at this time to dictate any kind of public policy or health policy, because they're just not very accurate tests.

Also, even if you have antibodies, and it's true, the test is correct, you have antibodies, we're still not sure what to make of that, Jake, in terms of how long or how strong your protection is as a result of that.

There's two problems that have sort of happened simultaneously with these tests. First of all, I think, in the rush to test, understandably, there were a lot of bad tests that were put out there. Just some of the tests just are not good tests.

The other issue, Jake -- and this is a bit of a more sophisticated concept -- but in a population where you don't have that many people who have antibodies, you kind of have to power up the test to try and find the antibodies among the population.

And, as a result, you might get a lot of false positives. False positives is a bad thing to get if you're looking for antibodies. People think, hey, I got antibodies. I'm protected. I can do whatever I want to do.

That's not the case. The tests are not very good right now. We don't know what to do with the results of the test. So, we got to get better about the antibody test. They're going to be important, ultimately, but they're not good enough now, Jake.


I mean, we're seeing this whole medical process sped up. And whether it comes to the release of non-peer-reviewed studies or antibody tests that don't work, I mean, usually this takes years and years and years, and the public isn't aware of it.

GUPTA: Right.

TAPPER: I want to ask you, Sanjay, as we approach this horrible milestone of 100,000 reported deaths in just about three months.

I want to take a look at some of the trends and get your views. Seventeen states, which are highlighted in red and orange, are trending up. It could be just a little bit. It's not necessarily huge amounts, but they are trending up. Thirteen of those states are holding steady or flat. Twenty states are trending down.

What does this data tell you?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, there's a couple of states that I have been paying particularly close attention to.

I mean, Washington state, if you look on the map, has been holding steady. That was, of course, the first state to have confirmed COVID in this country. So, I think it's a little bit of a bellwether.

I think that, unfortunately, right now, it's hard to read too far into this, Jake. It's kind of like we're in the first couple innings of the game and we're trying to, like, determine what the score is going to be with great accuracy. It's just -- it's hard to do.

I think it's good news, obviously, these places where the numbers are trending down. But when I do the calculations and spent time with some epidemiologists this weekend really looking at those calculations, it's hard to say that any of the states still have met the criteria that was set aside to allow states to open, 14 days of sustained downward trend and robust testing in place.

It still doesn't exist really in any place in the country. So it's tough. I also -- as you know, Jake, I mean, you reopen, and then it takes some time. There's a lag period before you start to see the impact of that reopening between the time of exposure, the time that people may become infected -- sorry -- start to have symptoms and get tested, so two to three weeks.

I want to see what happens two to three weeks from now after Memorial Day weekend.

One thing that I will say that it's encouraging, Jake, it's not binary, either open or closed. You are seeing in a lot of places, despite the images we have seen on television, that a lot of people are still being careful, even in states that are reopened, maintaining physical distance, wearing masks.

And we're getting increasing evidence that that stuff helps. It goes a long way.


One other data point I want to ask you about, according to the CDC, about 80 percent of the almost 100,000 deaths are people over the age of 65, compared to about 20 percent under age 65.


It's a different story when you look at those infected. Those over 65 make up just 22 percent of confirmed coronavirus cases, compared to 78 percent under age 65.

Now, I know, by some estimates, one in three deaths were at nursing homes. And, obviously, people under age 65 can really struggle with this virus, even die. But what do you take away from this data?

GUPTA: I think the message has been received in some ways by the country that there are people who are particularly vulnerable to this.

And you start looking at segments of the population around the country, people who are elderly have been more diligent about abiding by these stay-at-home orders, trying to really decrease their risk.

But, as we know, people who are younger, even if they're not getting sick -- as you mentioned, they can get sick, but even if they're not getting sick, can still be spreading this virus. So, you're starting to now see a narrative of what's happening.

People go out. They're younger. They're not as likely to get sick. They're still able to carry the virus, and then possibly spread it to parents or grandparents.

It's the same narrative that we saw in other countries around the world. So, I mean, it's becoming increasingly clear. I think what's going to really be a big question mark ultimately is, how much can you lower the risk of death in this elderly population by encouraging people to stay at home?

Because, as you know, Jake, there's a big push to say, hey, look, let's just let the young people out there, because they're less likely to die, they're less likely to get critically ill from this, and keep older, more vulnerable people home.

But that picture, those graphs you just showed, paint a little bit of a different story, one that we need to really dive into.


Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much.

And be sure to listen to Sanjay's daily podcast "Coronavirus: Facts vs. Fiction," on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

As the U.S. approaches 100,000 official coronavirus deaths, President Trump is mocking Joe Biden for doing precisely what Trump's own health experts are recommending to the nation to slow the spread of this deadly virus.

Plus, if you're spending hours on the phone with customer service, you're far from alone -- how airlines are trying to fight giving out refunds for canceled flights. Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, President Trump is mocking his presidential opponent Joe Biden for doing the very thing the Trump administration is urging all Americans to do, wear a mask in public. This as the U.S. death toll approaches 100,000.

The president spent his holiday weekend playing golf, lashing out on Twitter against critics and the media, spinning evidence-free yarns about massive voting fraud that does not exist, and pushing a decades- old false conspiracy theory about MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and a dead young woman, one that her widower desperately asked for Twitter to remove, prompting, of course, the president to cruelly regurgitate it yet again, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As stay- at-home orders expire and businesses reopen, the death toll in the U.S. is approaching 100,000. A number President Trump once estimated would never be reached.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Minimum number was 100,000 lives. And I think we'll be substantially under that number.

COLLINS: Today, he defended his handling of the coronavirus crisis, claiming if he hadn't done his job well, the death toll would be closer to half a million to 2 million people, a figure based on zero mitigation efforts.

Though he has been sharply criticized for a slow response, Trump maintained today that he acted very quickly and made the right decisions. Aides say he's focusing on the economic recovery. But the president is also promoting a baseless conspiracy theory about MSNBC anchor Joe Scarborough, implying he played a sinister role in the death of an aide when he was in Congress 19 years ago.

That woman's widower has now written a letter to the CEO of Twitter, asking for Trump's tweets to be removed. But Twitter has said no.

Timothy Klausutis wrote: Her passing is the single most painful thing that I ever had to deal with in my 52 years and continues to haunt her parents and sister. The president's tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered without evidence and contrary to the official autopsy is a violation of Twitter's rules and terms of service. I'm asking you to intervene because the president has taken something that does not belong to him, the memory of my dead wife, and perverted it for perceived political gain.

Twitter apologized for the pain the statements caused but said they do not violate the terms of service and Trump continued to push the theory today. The White House press secretary wouldn't directly answer questions

about the president's tweets but made clear it was about the anchor's coverage of Trump.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Joe Scarborough, if we want to start talking false accusations, we have a quite few we can go through about. They've dragged his family through the mud. They made false accusations that I won't go through that --

COLLINS: Today, Kayleigh McEnany also defended the president's retweet mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask, despite him following CDC guidance.

MCENANY: It is a bit peculiar that in his basement next to his wife, he's not wearing his mask. But he's wearing one outdoors when he's socially distanced. So, I think that there is a discrepancy there.

COLLINS: Unlike Biden, Trump has refused to wear one in public. And the divide is becoming a political issue. Republican governors are urging people to stop the culture war.

GOV. DOUG BURGUM (R), NORTH DAKOTA: If someone is wearing a mask, they're not doing it to represent what political party they're in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they've got a 5-year-old child who has been going through cancer treatments. They might have -- vulnerable adults in their life who are critically have COVID and they're fighting.



COLLINS: Now, Jake, you'll remember the vice president's press secretary spent the last two weeks at home after testing positive for coronavirus. She announced today she had three negative coronavirus tests and is now back at work as is her husband, the president's senior adviser Stephen Miller. Though, today, the White House didn't answer whether the president's personal valet has returned to work yet and they also didn't say whether anyone else in the complex has since tested positive.

TAPPER: All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining us now to discuss, Dr. Richard Besser, former acting director of the CDC.

Dr. Besser, thanks for joining us.

CNN's Gary Tuchman spoke to some young people on the beach in Gulf Shores, Alabama. I want you to take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Everybody's got to go somehow.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: My family has the same mindset as me. We kind of just agreed if we get it, we get it. We're going to handle it as a family and just get over it because that's what family does.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, if he's not wearing a mask, I'm not going to wear a mask. If he's not worried, I'm not worried.

TUCHMAN: The president?



TAPPER: So that last gentlemen said, if the president's not going to wear a mask, I'm not going to wear a mask. What's your reaction to that as a former CDC head?

DR. RICHARD BESSER, PRESIDENT & CEO, ROBERT WOOD JOHNSON FOUNDATION: You know, in a perfect world, which you would like to see, our leaders, our political leaders, our cultural leaders, modeling the behavior that we want to see.

And, you know, public health is a roadmap to successfully being able to get out and do the things we want to do, getting people back to work. But we wear a mask not so much to protect ourselves but to protect those around us. And what it says is, I care about you and you wear a mask because you care about me. It's a really important thing to do.

TAPPER: And you saw President Trump mocking Joe Biden for wearing a mask, and Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, suggesting that Biden -- it was odd that Biden was doing it. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the CDC guidelines are that if you go out in public and you're going to be within close enough to people, you should be wearing a mask. I mean, wasn't Biden just doing what the CDC has called for?

BESSER: Yes, so what CDC says is, in your home, with the people that you are living with, day in and day out, you don't need to wear a mask, you're all within, in a sense, the same bubble. But when you leave that bubble and you're going to be indoors, you're going to be within six feet of other people, that's when you should be wearing a mask.

And it's a really important thing to do. I was at the Jersey Shore this weekend, and I saw a lot of people doing the right thing, wearing masks, when they passed each other on the beach they were giving each other six feet to get around. That's the thing you can do to ensure that people are safe and can get back out to activities.

TAPPER: According to a Quinnipiac poll out last week, a majority of Americans, two-thirds, 67 percent, want President Trump to wear a mask. But when you break it down by party, it's 90 percent of Democrats want him to, 66 percent of independents do, and a minority of Republicans, 38 percent. This is becoming a partisan issue when it seems to me it should just be one about basic public health.

BESSER: You know, when I ran emergency response at CDC, one of the things we tried to avoid at all costs was having a national response become partisan, because when that happens, half the country will do what the political leader says and half won't. And that makes it really, really hard to take public health measures that could actually be protecting people's lives.

With this pandemic, the good news is that most people who get this will do well. But we take these measures to protect the elderly, those with underlying medical problems. And the idea -- you can say, yeah, I don't care, I can go ahead and get this, but yeah, you could get this and pass it on to your grandparents. You could pass it on to somebody with heart disease or lung disease. And for them, it's not going to be a mild illness. It could be a very severe thing.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Richard Besser, thank you so much. Appreciate your time as always.

Coming up in the next hour, former Vice President Joe Biden will sit down with our own Dana Bash to talk about coronavirus and the politicization of masks. Plus, what is he looking for in a running mate? That's on "THE SITUATION ROOM" today at 5:00 p.m. Eastern, right after "THE LEAD."

Coming up next, lights cancelled, but you're still getting a runaround trip. The push to get airlines to give you a refund instead of an IOU.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our money lead today, business trips, family vacations or some time away to recharge. If you are flying almost anywhere, your trip is most likely on hold. But now, CNN has learned thousands of complaints have been filed by customers, claiming these airlines are doing everything they can to keep their money.