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U.S. Nears 100,000 Deaths As Concerns Over Spread Grow; Concern Grows Over Rising Cases In Rural Communities; California Church Asks Supreme Court To Block In-Person Restrictions. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 10:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.


It is just a stunning juxtaposition as thousands of Americans completely ignored health guidelines over the weekend. This warning came from one of the nation's top infectious disease experts.


DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AND POLICY AT UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: Right now, we're in the very earliest days of this pandemic, so don't think of this as yet big. This is not.

For all the suffering, pain, death and so forth, we've 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.

So, again, we have to understand we're just in the beginning.


SCIUTTO: Good to see that warning on this broadcast just a short time ago. It comes hours after the World Health Organization cautioned that we could see a second peak of infections in this current wave. Right now, 18 states are seeing a rise in cases even as the country pushes ahead to get back to normal, reopening economies.

Let's get to CNN's Brynn Gingras. She is in New Rochelle, New York. Brynn, New Rochelle, folks may not remember, but in the earliest stages of this, that was the epicenter in the New York area. Now, after all these weeks, it's set to reopen. Tell us how that's going.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, Jim. I mean, you guys had the mayor on your show many times during that time about three months ago, and this morning, he's telling us that the residents of New Rochelle can take special satisfaction in the fact that they are now entering this phase on. It's not just them. There are actually seven counties in this area of the state that are going into that phase one, the lowest phase of several to reopen, but still significant for an area that has worked so hard to get here. As you talk about places across the country opening too fast, this one put in their time. They are one of the first to shut down.

Remember, the National Guard came into this area where we're standing right now, everything was closed. More than a thousand people were asked to quarantine, all because of an outbreak linked to, really, one area of this part of the city.

So this is a big milestone for the people here. We're seeing a lot of people out. Again, the phase one really just means manufacturing, construction can start up again, retail can be pickup only. So it's a small step but certainly significant and people are excited about it. We're seeing people come out, they have their masks on, they're being careful, and that's something also the mayor has expect to us that this is a time to really not be careful, it's only a time to be careful so that we can move forward and not look back.

HARLOW: Amen, be careful, move forward, not look back. Brynn, very well said. Thanks so much.

Let's talk about Missouri. Because an official in Missouri is telling anyone who attended this huge pool party -- wait until you see it -- at the Lake of the Ozarks this weekend that they need to quarantine for two weeks. Jim, I can't get over this video. I can't believe it.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen, I mean, it shows that people are sick of stay- at-home orders, understandable, but there is an element here of just defying what the health experts are saying.

Joining us now is the health official in Missouri who called for that self-quarantine, Dr. Sam Page, the St. Louis County executive. Dr. Page, good to have you on.

So you're asking people who were at this party to self-quarantine for 14 days. Is that enforceable?

DR. SAM PAGE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY, MISSOURI EXECUTIVE: Well, first of all, most people who traveled over the weekend were able to follow the rules. What we see here is an example of those who didn't. And it's important for them to understand that they put themselves at risk and they put their loved ones at risk.

Certainly, we need to be telling them what to do, and when they come to work today, their employee should be asking them another question in addition to the other screening questions. Did you travel this weekend? Were you in a large crowd? Did you follow social distancing?

HARLOW: Yes. I mean, think about where all those people have dispersed to now that the holiday weekend is over and how many people that could infect and kill if there is COVID there.

I know that that's about 165 miles away from your county, but the Camden County sheriff there said, quote, social distancing is not a crime, and, therefore, the sheriff's office has no authority to enforce actions in that regard. So who should enforce? I mean, if they can't do anything, who can?

PAGE: Enforcement from social distancing is tough. It's a challenge for all of us. We have to recognize that we're in a new normal. If we want to move forward out of this pandemic, we're going to do it in a controlled way where we protect the lives ourselves and our loved ones. And we put out economy on the right trajectory toward the health and recovery. We need to follow the rules.

Enforcement is tough but it needs to be enforced by businesses who are offering these services, and it needs to be enforced by other people in our community who want a different outcome.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Page, where are folks like this hearing that this is okay, that it's not a risk, that it's acceptable?

PAGE: Well, I think we hear it across our country. There is certainly pressure within our political system to push back, to push back against health orders, and I don't think that's productive at all.


Here in St. Louis County, we've been hit harder than the rest of the state and we issued stay-at-home orders early in the process. We made a lot of progress. We started easing our restrictions and we're doing it in a slow and thoughtful and cautious manner, and we're on the right track.

But activities like this, this is an international example of exactly what not to do, and this has the potential of setting us back. We're paying close attention to it.

HARLOW: I mean, you would think that there would be a lesson learned, for example, like compare what happened in Wuhan in terms of a lockdown, the magnitude which we can't see here in the United States. But then also compare it to what we're seeing play out, Doctor, right now in Brazil and how bad it's gotten there and how quickly it has ramped up there.

PAGE: Well, we don't want to have to go back within St. Louis County. We'll be watching our testing results, our hospital admissions closely, but we want to get the message out to everyone who made a bad choice this weekend, who found themselves shoulder to shoulder in a crowded bar or in a crowded pool that 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. This is an example to all of us of exactly what not to do if we want to move forward out of this pandemic.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, let's hope folks listen to you, right? I mean, as you say, it's for their own safety, it's for their family's safety. Dr. Sam Page, thanks so much for joining us this morning.

PAGE: Thank you. SCIUTTO: Well, this morning an Atlanta prep school says that several of its graduating seniors have now tested positive for COVID-19.

HARLOW: Of course, Georgia was among one of the first states to allow businesses and public places to reopen. Nick Valencia joins us again. He's in Atlanta again.

What are things looking like, I mean, one month later there?

NICK VALENCIA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, very unsettling news with school of those private school graduates getting the COVID-19 virus and having that spread. Now, we have a cluster here because people decided to have a graduation party.

We did take a closer look at the numbers. When Georgia's governor, Brian Kemp, said that he was going to broadly reopen, a lot of senior CDC officials I spoke to said that they were worried, that this could potentially lead to a second, if not, third, wave.

But we decided to take a closer look at the numbers, the governor maintaining that Georgia, despite the spread of the virus, could manage it. Here is what we found.


VALENCIA: Looking at scenes like this, you may think Georgia never closed. CNN took a closer look at the data. What we found is that at least so far, the numbers haven't changed much. In the months since Georgia's governor eased restrictions in a big way, the rate of new cases hasn't declined, but it hasn't skyrocketed either, despite some dire predictions.

Looking at data from Johns Hopkins University between April 24 and May 24, the number of new confirmed cases by day in Georgia does show slightly higher numbers over the past five days or so. But zooming out, it goes up and down. Overall data shows the rate of new daily cases in Georgia has been mostly flat from April 24th, the day of the first reopening, to May 24th, averaging in the 6 to 700 range, the rate of new deaths per day also steady.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): I'm proud of what we accomplished over the last several weeks, but we cannot rest on our laurels. We need to further expand access to testing and we need to encourage Georgians to make it a priority.

VALENCIA: In fact, testing is the one thing going way up in Georgia. Georgia's rate of new tests added per day has basically quadrupled in that one month period, from about 5,000 tests a day to about 20,000, so more testing to find new cases plus a flat rate of new cases seems like good news. And the rate of positive test results remains about 5 percent. It was in the range of 15 to 20 percent a month of ago, also good news.

In Atlanta, the city's most densely populated city, it seemed that some were willing to take the risk, data or not. Night clubs were packed, restaurants were too. In an apparent reference to Atlanta's mayor, the host of this massive event of pool party seemingly admitting to the risk, writing on Instagram, I'm sorry, Ms. Bottoms.

What's your assessment so far of how the state is doing?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EMORY UNIVERSITY: From my perspective, the state is doing okay.

VALENCIA: Emory University Global Health and Epidemiology Professor Dr. Carlos del Rio says the impact of the governor's shelter-in-place order clearly decreased the number of infections and deaths.

DEL RIO: Having a health economy is about providing people jobs, it's about providing people opportunity, it's about health. So, unemployment, it causes disease. Unemployment causes poverty. So we have to find the balance, but we need to do it carefully. We need to be careful not to be irresponsible.


VALENCIA: And the real test to this approach of social easing that we're seeing here across the state will come in about two weeks, according to epidemiologists that we've spoken to.


They say that's when we'll realize whether or not what happened and what we saw this weekend will lead to the virus spreading at a faster rate. Jim, Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Nick Valencia, choices people make across country, they may have consequences, thanks so much.

Another vaccine is set to begin human trials, an early step there. Maryland-based biotechnology company Novavax plans to begin enrolling approximately 130 people in this trial.

HARLOW: Wow. It is the tenth company around the world to start human trials of potential vaccines against COVID. Let's go to our Senior Medical Correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, who is with us.

I mean, we're learning the names of these companies. I've never heard of that company, and now what they are doing could be a breakthrough. What do we know about this one and what makes this trial different than some of the other vaccine trials out there?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Poppy, with all of these, I'm going to exercise caution. I'm also going to use the word preliminary a lot. Many of these, in fact, most of these will turn out not to work. So it's great there is another company out there, because we need lots of shots on goal, because most of them will miss that goal.

But it's good to have more on there. This is what experts keep telling me. Like bring it on, put more in clinical trials and let's see which ones are the safest and the most effective. So Novavax, as you said, plans to including 130 people in this first round of clinical trials. That sets them behind other companies that have already sort of finished that particular phase. They say that they vaccinated their first person last night in Australia. It's interesting how companies are going to various places around the world to do their trials.

Again, this might work, this might not work, we will have to see.

But let's take sort of a bigger picture of what's happening around the world. According to the World Health Organization, there are now ten teams in human clinical trials, four of them are in the U.S., Novavax is the fourth, five in China, one in the U.K. and 114 in pre-clinical trials. So what that means is they're still in animals or they're in the lab.

And if you add those numbers up, we're not going to have 124 vaccines on the market for sure. Most of these will fail as far as timing goes. In January, Tony Fauci said, 12 to 18 months, that puts us in January to June of next year, if it all works.

SCIUTTO: All right. The World Health Organization is now pausing its study of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID due to safety concerns. Of course, the president has repeatedly touted it as a treatment taking it himself. Why a pause in the WHO testing?

COHE: The pause has to do with a study that we all talked about on Friday. This was a major study of tens of thousands of people that found that not only didn't it work to COVID patients, it actually hurt them. They had a higher death rate and a much higher incidence of having cardiac arrhythmias.

So the WHO did the prudent thing and said, wait a minute, if this big study shows that it hurts, why are we even tracking this, why are giving this to patients? There are ethical issues there. So they have suspended it and they're going to look into it more. This is what happens when research moves at a fast pace.


HARLOW: Yes, it is. Elizabeth, thanks on both of those fronts. We appreciate your reporting.

Still to come, coronavirus spreading in the heartland of this country, rural communities with large plants and factories now seeing more cases. But are they ready? Do they have the intensive care units to even handle an outbreak?

Also, how do you safely reopen churches across the country during a pandemic? California out with a plan, but will everyone go along with it?

SCIUTTO: And a couple medical tests in an app on your phone might help businesses decide whether or not to let you in to work. But some health experts say that's a bad idea. We're going to test it out. It's coming up. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


SCIUTTO: This morning, 18 states across the nation are seeing a surge in new coronavirus cases. It's particularly a growing concern for rural communities who have been spared largely so far.

HARLOW: Yes, it is. The Washington Post highlighting this reporting that rural counties now have some of the highest rates of COVID cases and deaths around the country.

Let's talk about this. Dr. Leana Wen is with us, an emergency room physician and former Baltimore City Health Commissioner, and Tara Smith, professor of epidemiology at Kent State. It's so nice to have you.

And, Tara, if I could begin with you, because you're quoted in this Washington Post piece, and let me read part of it for people who might not have seen it. Quote, rural counties now, some of the highest rates of COVID-19 and deaths in the country, topping even some of the hardest-hit areas in New York City and signaling a new phase of this pandemic, one of halting scattered outbreaks that could devastate still more of America's most vulnerable towns as states lift stay-at- home orders.

The concern here, is it not, is that they don't have the ICU beds, they don't have the capacity to deal with a huge cluster of cases.

TARA SMITH, PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, KENT STATE UNIVERSITY: Right, absolutely. Hospitals may be unprepared or may just be -- have less equipment than those in urban areas and have populations that tend to be more vulnerable. You have an elderly population that is higher in rural areas than in urban areas. You have people who lack health insurance or underinsured.


You have individuals who are less physically active and are more likely to be obese and have Type 2 diabetes.

All of these are risk factors for a very serious coronavirus infection, and when you bring that into areas that may be lacking ICU beds, that may not have enough ventilators, you really have a perfect storm that is brewing.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, the sad fact is that the politics are well ahead at this point have infused the debate and all 50 states are opening up, it's just a matter of degree at this point. I mean, it's an open question as to if even hard data about rising cases or outbreaks in some of these states will change the political decision-making here. What does that mean for this country going forward, as you may see smaller outbreaks crop up and then perhaps a second wave in the fall?

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: I think that there is a level of complacency right now that's really dangerous. I think people misunderstand reopening to mean that everything is fine, we can go back to life as normal. And I fear that people are not going to see and understand the impact until they see it in their own communities.

And by then it's going to be too late because we don't have a good surveillance system yet without widespread testing, by the time we find one case in a community, very likely there are dozens, if not hundreds of cases. And as Tara mentioned, we are at real risk for overwhelming the healthcare system in these rural areas really quickly.

We also are at risk for overwhelming the public health structure. I mean, to do contact tracing in places in well-staffed county health departments is already very challenging and resource-intensive. But in these rural areas, we really, well, lack the ability to do contact tracing, quarantining, and therefore, this could spiral out of control very quickly.

HARLOW: Professor Smith, I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about this pediatric inflammatory syndrome that CNN has now surveyed across the country and found that more than 350 confirmed and potential cases of this exist in more than half of U.S. states.

We have some images here. I'd love to put them on the Screen so parents watching can look out for some of the signs of this. It looks a little like Kawasaki disease. But, I guess, I'm wondering as schools decide what they're going to do in the fall, if you could speak to the fact that this is now across more than half of U.S. states and upwards of 350 cases.

SMITH: It's definitely a concern. I mean, schools are thinking about reopening in part because children do seem to be relatively unaffected by this. But as we see these more rare manifestations that are very serious, and again, we don't know the long-term consequences of these in children that survive, it is definitely concerning to me.

And, again, we're looking at schools that are thinking about not only reopening but are already having conversations about whether children and teachers should be mandated to wear masks or face shields or something in order to protect them from viral spread, and some places are already arguing against those.

So I think we have a lot of ground to cover between now and the fall to determine if it is safe to open schools, even partially, even if we do that on restricted days or restricted times, if it is safe to open some levels of school with younger children versus older children. I think we have a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of things that administrators and teachers are thinking about right now without answers yet.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, these are difficult decisions for legislators, state leaders, community leaders across the country to make, how much, how quickly, where, how, et cetera. As you've been watching, who has been getting it right, a state, a community, have you seen anyone who has kind of got the balance right at this point granting that it's early? WEN: I mean, I think there are a lot of very thoughtful decision makers who at least are trying to balance the science with whatever unknown risks as much as possible. I think here in Maryland, our legislators and our governor has done a good job in trying to balance these different interests. California, New York, Washington State, Ohio, I think there are a number of people who have been doing -- who have been trying their best in these times.

We have to remember that there is going to be risk no matter what we do. And the question is, how do we understand that risk? How do we communicate that risk? Can we let people know that this is not an on and off switch that, that this is a dial that as we remove some restrictions, we are going to see an increase in cases, but we have to be ready to dial it back.

And in the meantime do everything we can to increase that infrastructure to do testing, tracing, isolation in the meantime too, so that if and when a second wave does come, we're better prepared than we were the first time around.

HARLOW: Absolutely. Dr. Leana Wen, thank you, and Professor Smith, we appreciate you both being here with us.

SCIUTTO: Yes, no question.


Well, even before the president declared religious services to be essential, faith leaders were managing how to worship in a pandemic and do so safely. Coming up, we're going to speak to a bishop who leads churches across the country about what she is advising followers.


HARLOW: A church in California is asking the Supreme Court to block the state's restrictions on in-person worship services, saying, it violates their First Amendment rights.