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CNN NEWSROOM

WHO Warns of Second Coronavirus Peak; Merck Enters Vaccine Race with 2 Potential Vaccines; Noravax Starts Human Trials for Coronavirus Vaccine; Dr. Mark Poznansky Discusses the Vaccine Race; L.A. County Probing Outbreaks at 9 Facilities, Including Food Plants; John Grant, UFCW Local 770 President, Discusses Virus Outbreak at Farmer John Meat Plant, Calls for Closure; Doug Linde, Boston Properties President, Discusses Reimagining the Workplace Amid Coronavirus Concerns. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 11:00   ET

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


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[11:00:18]

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm John King, in Washington. This is CNN continuing coverage of the coronavirus pandemic. Thank you for sharing your day with us.

It is so far a day of mixed signals and reminders of the complexity of the road ahead. A new Trump administration travel ban takes effect tonight. It is aimed at Brazil where the coronavirus is exploding. Brazil proof this virus is moving from continent to continent.

The World Health Organization now warning of a new peak in this first wave, never mind the start of a second wave a few months down the road.

Here at home, the case point is nearing 1.7 million and we'll soon reach the horrific, horrific milestone of 100,000 U.S. coronavirus deaths. Those numbers should give us all pause and they will keep climbing.

But the president this morning focused on a different count. The markets are up today, and the president tweets, "States should open up ASAP. The transition to greatness," the president tweeted, "has started." And he says as you see there, in his view, it's ahead of schedule.

The New York governor rang the opening bell as the New York Stock Exchange reopened today, but without three-quarters of its traders.

The New York suburb ends its three-month lockdown today. In Missouri, you can check out a book at the library. Major sports leagues also appear to be approaching deals to come back.

These new steps come as the national number of daily cases -- you see it right there -- holding steady. To the president, that plateau is a green light for more activity. To the experts, including the World Health Organization, caution equals wisdom.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. MICHAEL RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAMME, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: We're right in the middle of the first wave globally. We're still very much in a phase where the disease is actually on the way up.

We need to be cognizant of the fact the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it's going to keep going down and then we're going to get a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: A second peak in this wave, worst case scenario for all 50 governors now trying to get through their state-by-state reopening experiments.

Let's look at the map and see what the latest tells us. First, a reminder of this. You see the steady growth. We are approaching, we are approaching within hours or a day of 100,000 deaths here in the United States.

If you look at how it all maps out, this is county by county. The deeper the red, the higher the death count in these particular counties.

You see, obviously, New York up into New England, hard hit. Louisiana, hard hit. Michigan, hard hit. You see in the west, the Navajo nation, hard hit. Everywhere there's pain and death. The deeper the red, the deeper the pain.

Where are we right now? If you look at the national trend state-by- state, 17 states heading the wrong direction, meaning their case count is up. The question is: Is it manageable? In five of those states, the new cases in the past week 50 percent higher than the rate of new cases the week before.

Those your troubled spots, the deeper red spots, like Arkansas, like West Virginia, like Alabama, like Vermont, like Alaska.

Thirteen in beige are holding steady, a plateau, maybe down just a little bit, up and down over the days but essentially steady in those states.

In 20 states, the green states, including the big state of Texas, Illinois, heading down. Michigan as well there, heading down is the direction you want to be heading in.

Let's look a few as you go. Remember, just about 10 days ago, people were talking about Texas starting to spike again. The red line is the seven-day moving average. It's starting to come down again. You had a spike there, something to deal with a few days, but overall the average is down in Texas. That's encouraging.

In Ohio, you see a five-day average here, a couple of big days going up. Ohio is inching up a little bit. The question is: Is this a plateau? Will stay flat? Will it go up? You're coming out of a holiday weekend. Watch the cases in the next couple of days. Does it go up? Can Ohio straighten or flatten that?

And the state of Arkansas always had a relatively low number of cases numerically. The question is you have a spike here. You see that slowly starting to trend up a little bit. Again, the overall numbers pretty low.

The governor says, keep it that way, I hope I don't have a wave coming.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED ANCHOR: Do you think that this new spike in cases is in any way connected to the easing of restrictions in your state?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R-AR): I cannot attribute it based upon the data at this point. Again, that's what we want to continue to measure. We're looking at it every day.

Right now, part of it is because we've almost doubled the number of tests that we're doing. We increased our testing, we increased our radar systems so we know what's coming in advance, and I attribute it to that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: U.S. drug maker, Merck, today unveiling plans to develop not one, but two potential vaccines.

Our senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins us with more on that.

[11:05:03]

Elizabeth, take us inside this announcement.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Merck now joins a large group. There are about 114 teams across the world, John, that are in pre-clinical stages, meaning they're in the lab or working with animals trying to develop vaccines.

What sets Merck apart is that it's been a leader for many, many years now in vaccine development. To see one of these big players enter this race is certainly of importance.

But we need to keep in mind most of these efforts are not going to work. I don't mean Merck, in particular, but most of the efforts we are seeing worldwide are not going to work. We've heard public health leaders use the term "shots on goal" over

and over again. And I'm not a sports enthusiast, but I get it. Most shots will not get into the goal. Thankfully, we don't need most of them. So we just need a few good ones to get a vaccine going -- John?

KING: And you mentioned the diversity, if you will, of the research around the world, and here in the United States. A Maryland-based biological company called Novavax also starting a clinical trial in about 130 humans.

I also understand they're going to produce a vaccine ahead of time in case it gets the shot on goal, in case it gets the one that goes in. Take us through that one.

COHEN: Let's deal with the second part of that first, because this is pretty unusual. Usually, you test a vaccine, you find out if it works, and then you start mass-producing it.

But because we're in this pandemic situation, companies are saying, you know what, we're going to start making it as we're testing it. So if it doesn't work, we'll have a lot of vaccines sitting around in a warehouse somewhere. If it is the shot that gets into the goal, we'll be able to start giving it to people much more quickly.

Now, who is funding that? It's called at-risk manufacturing. Well, you and I are funding it. Taxpayers are funding it as well. Companies say they are spending money on it as well.

Let's talk a little bit about Novavax. This is a Maryland-based company, which is now the tenth vaccine company worldwide going into clinical trials.

Let's take a look at what is happening worldwide. Ten teams worldwide in human clinical trials. They're testing it on human beings. Four are in the U.S. -- Novavax is the fourth -- five are in China, one is in the U.K. As I mentioned before, 114 are in pre-clinical work.

This is a marathon, not a sprint, John. Only time will tell which of these will work and which won't.

KING: Elizabeth Cohen, as always, appreciate the important context and insights. Elizabeth, thank you.

With me to discuss this further, this vaccine race, the director of the Immunotherapy Center at Massachusetts General Hospital, Dr. Mark Poznansky.

Doctor, thank you for being with us.

Just help the layperson out there who hears, every day, there's an announcement from a company saying we're making some progress. Merck says it's getting into the race. Novavax is proceeding to human trials.

For someone who doesn't understand the science, where are we on the track of producing a vaccine and then knowing whether it will work? DR. MARK POZNANSKY, DIRECTOR, VACCINE & IMMUNOTHERAPY CENTER,

MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: We're still in sort of the early phase where the vaccines that are out there are beginning to be tested in humans, principally for safety, for their ability to produce some immune response to the virus itself, to the COVID-19 virus itself. So vaccine development is still in the early part of the race.

KING: And so when people here, 10 companies now, are doing human trials -- which is progress. It gets you to the next step, at least. There's a long way to go. I get that.

And 130 people around the world. This is the Novavax vaccine, it's the tenth company, 130 participants. What is that -- take us through, not just for this company.

You get to that first stage of human trials, you got 130 participants. They say they expect to know in July. Know what? Know whether it's effective, know whether to take it to the next level, which would be what, thousands?

POZNANSKY: Yes. Thousands. And the readout, the most significant from the first sort of fence they go over, is obviously that it's safe in that limited number of people. And that there's some readouts in terms of immunity so that it's worthwhile moving on to a more -- a larger trial with larger numbers of people where, in fact, you may see further safety signals because now you're testing it on more people at the same time.

So all of these things are a step toward progression. And, of course, accumulating that number of people takes longer. If you go from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands, you're talking about more time, more places, more coordination needed to achieve that.

But I would say it's still unprecedented speed that's being shown here and acceleration with regard to even, at this point, this number of months out from the beginning of the pandemic that there are that many platform vaccines being tested, even at this first stage, is remarkable.

[11:10:03]

KING: So does that, because there are so many players taking shot on goal, as Elizabeth explains, are you convinced on this day that it's a matter of "when," or do you still have the question of it's a matter of "if" because nothing has been proven yet.

I think we just lost Dr. Poznansky's shot there. We'll see if it comes back.

All right, Elizabeth Cohen is still with us.

Elizabeth, let's come back to that question. The question is it is unprecedented that so many companies, so much research, so many great brains around the world in on this. The question is, is it a question of "if" or "when." COHEN: I think we have to be clear, John, that it is possible that

none of these vaccines will work. We hope that's not the case, but it is possible. And likely what will happen is that only a few of them will work. We won't know, likely, until next year whether that's the case.

I do want to point out what many experts have pointed out to me, John, is that never has the world's eyes been on a vaccine effort the way that it is now. Maybe you can go back to polio and it would be similar, but it's so important that this get done right.

"Operation Warp Speed," I get it. We're trying to do this quickly. We don't want to do it so quickly that we compromise on safety or efficacy. If a vaccine gets approved that hurts people or that doesn't work well, it will do damage for many, many years to come.

KING: Elizabeth Cohen, appreciate your insights again. And I appreciate you saying you're not a sports enthusiast but you jumped quickly from the sidelines when we had a technical issue.

Elizabeth, thank you very much.

COHEN: Thank you.

KING: Up next for us, more outbreaks in meat plants. The union representing works says new safety measures are simply not enough.

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[11:16:11]

KING: California officials are worried that an industrial area, south of downtown Los Angeles, is now a new breeding ground for new coronavirus cases.

Nine facilities in Vernon are now reporting cases among their workers, including five meat plants. These cases raise new worries about the food supply chain and news concerns that these infected workers are then at risk of spreading the virus to their nearby communities where they live.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher has been following this.

Dianne, another part of the country, same questions.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, John. And what's interesting about this is this cluster of nine different plants. Not all of them are meat plants, five of them are. But we're even talking about coffee plants dealing with this here, which goes to show these industrial plant processing facilities just continue to be the source of these outbreaks.

Now, the biggest outbreak of those nine in Vernon, California, which is about five miles south of Los Angeles there, is this Farmer John facility. Farmer John is owned by Smithfield. They make Dodger Dogs. If you go to a baseball game, you know exactly what hotdogs I'm talking about.

And 157 cases at that plant. Roughly 1800 employees work there. The L.A. County Health Department says, as of right now, only 14 of those 157 employees have returned to work.

Here's the thing, though. We talk about those other eight plants. While they have smaller cases, all of them under 50 cases in those plants, the concern is that because Vernon is an industrial city, John, most of the people who work in these plants don't actually live there.

So when they start talking about either doing contact tracing or potentially infecting the communities where you live, it's heightened at this point.

Now, L.A. county says it's doing its best job to make sure those employees are quarantining for 14 days. The Vernon County health director said that they are making sure that those who come in contact with those who have tested positive are also doing the same.

But, John, I will tell you, that the union in Vernon are calling for the plant, Farmer John, to be closed, at least until they can get a handle on the situation there.

KING: Dianne Gallagher, as always, appreciate your reporting and insights there.

Let's continue the conversation. As Dianne just noted, the union does want the company shut down.

John Grant is the president of the UFCW Local 770, representing 1,300 employees at that Farmer John plant.

Sir, thank you for joining us today.

The company says, Smithfield, the parent company, says its doing everything it can. It says its added PPE. It says there are physical barriers on the production floor, temperature checks, free COVID-19 testing, more social distancing, hand sanitizer, disinfectants, paying employees on quarantine, a lax attendance policy. Smithfield says it's doing everything they can.

I understand you're going to speak to them later today about your demand to shut this plant down until we sort this out. Are you expecting compromise and progress in that call or not?

JOHN GRANT, PRESIDENT, UFCW LOCAL 770: I'm hopeful. We know over the past several weeks they've instituted a number of protocols that we and the workers themselves have asked for, but 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.

KING: You know what it's like inside these plants, how crowded it can be, the tight spaces.

GRANT: Yes.

KING: Do you, your team, your workers, as the company does try to help, as the company does try to help, as workers are cognizant this has been happening at plants like theirs around the country, is there one or two things you say, we need this additionally, or is it a mystery, as you say, as these new steps have been taken that these cases keep happening?

[11:19:57]

GRANT: I would say three things. One is we've asked the company to bring in Cal/OSHA for consultation, compliance guidance, which is no charges, just to point out that this looks kind of weird, that's fine over there. They have refused that.

They are, as you said, engaging in voluntary testing. We think everybody in the plant should be tested. Then you can figure out where these vectors are of infection.

Thirdly, there's been a lack of transparency, reported by you and elsewhere, who got infected when, and where do they work, so we can sort of figure out where these vectors are. We're most concerned not only about the plants but as well about what happens to the surrounding communities where they live.

KING: I want to come back to this point because I've been talking about this issue. Our reporter, Dianne Gallagher, has done a fantastic job in talking with it with your brothers and sisters from other locals around the country, with mayors in those areas and the like.

In a statement put out by the company, they say that the UFCW locals have been supporting the company, including those that are the two largest facilities in Sioux City, South Dakota, Tar Heel, North Carolina. And it says it's been persistent in the protocols and protective measures in all of their more than 40 facilities around the country.

I assume you're comparing notes with your fellow locals through the national union. Are there disagreements between the locals or do you think you just have a particular acute case, acute problem at your factory there?

GRANT: No, I think we've been in consultation -- it's the same all the way around the line. So what happens? What do you do when you have these spikes that are unaccounted for?

And it's time to slow down, step back, close the plant with pay and benefits for the workers so they won't be the ones that suffer as a result of this. Do the deep cleaning and then look and find out where this is coming from.

It's just -- this would not be allowed by the EPA at a toxic waste dump. This would not be allowed anywhere else. But for some reason, among these frontline food chain workers, it is. And that's just wrong. KING: Help me understand what is happening out there in Vernon? For

people who don't understand, it's a largely industrial area. It's not a residential area. It's essentially a bunch of factories. Then those people get in their cars and they go home to all the communities surrounding you there in the Los Angeles area.

In terms of contact tracing, in terms of trying to put an alert out, what is happening on the ground?

GRANT: So you're exactly right. More than 50,000 folks come in, workers come in every day into Vernon to work. Many of them take mass transit. So you've got buses full of workers coming in from the surrounding southeast Los Angeles County communities.

And we had a conversation with Supervisor Solis, the L.A. County supervisor, just yesterday, and she's concerned seeing an increasing spike in those surrounding communities.

It's not just a matter of an isolated plant. We're talking about, as you all know and said and reported on, these are almost flaming vectors in the community.

KING: John Grant, good luck on the phone call with the company today.

GRANT: Thank you.

KING: I know there's contention sometimes in these cases, but I certainly hope they can work it out for the good of the company and the good of the workers. Keep in touch as this plays out, please.

GRANT: So do we. Thank you so much.

KING: Thank you. Appreciate your time, sire.

[11:23:14]

Still ahead for us, companies are starting to reopen their offices, but do employees think it is safe enough to go back?

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[11:28:20]

KING: Reimagining the workplace is a challenge for every business and every landlord. More cleaning, more distance between workers, fewer people on elevators and in shared spaces like lobbies and breakrooms. A challenge everywhere, and especially so in the places hardest hit during this pandemic.

Boston Properties owns, manages and develops office space across the United States and is a major presence in Boston, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and here where I am, Washington, D.C.

Doug Linde is the president of Boston Properties and joins us now.

Mr. Linde, thank you for you times. So you have to reimagine your business. You have to reimagine with your tenants, with your clients. And you have to reimagine in some of the places in America that are still staggered by the coronavirus.

Walk us through some of this challenge as you try to, A, make your buildings safer, and then, B, convince people that they are safe enough to go back.

DOUG LINDE, PRESIDENT, BOSTON PROPERTIES: Sure, John. Thanks for having us.

So on May 2nd, we published our health security plan in response to a tremendous number of inbound calls from all of our customers. And every customer we have is preparing to bring their work force back, but safety is first and foremost on their minds.

We've all learned that businesses can function in a remote, desegregated environment but it's not nirvana.

So we've taken upon ourselves a very thoughtful, deliberate approach to workplace safety and the workplace reengagement and repopulation.

There are five components of our process. Physical distancing in public places. We've actually ordered and installed almost 30,000 signs in our portfolio to let people know where they should be and where they shouldn't be.

[11:29:58]

More frequent and enhanced cleaning with EPA-approved materials. Higher ventilation and air filtration in our buildings. Lots of communication and signage. And PPE for us, which is hand sanitizers and masks.