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Coronavirus Updates Around the Country; Interview with New Rochelle Mayor Noam Bramson; Interview with Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill (R). Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 14:00   ET


ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And on the trading floor, there will be no eating, no hand-shaking, no physical contact at all. And there is some plexiglass erected throughout the trading floor, to help the traders maintain that social distancing.

You know, even as the New York Stock Exchange contemplated opening up the trading floor, not only do they have to deal with health and safety issues, but legal issues as well. Traders are now required to sign liability waivers, acknowledging the risks of going into the exchange, that they still could get the virus. And if they do, they waive their rights to sue the NYSE -- Brianna.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: Very interesting, Alison Kosik. Thank you for that report from outside of the New York Stock Exchange.

Top of the hour now, I'm Brianna Keilar and you are watching CNN's special live coverage of the coronavirus pandemic.

The U.S. is now just hours away from reaching 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus. It's an unfathomable loss of life, solidifying the fact that the U.S. is undergoing the deadliest outbreak in the world. No other nation has lost more people, with more than one in four deaths around the globe happening here.

Let's leave this map up so we can see where the cases are rising, where they're falling, we can see where they're remaining steady as well there. Seventeen states are currently seeing an increase in cases, and this is happening as reopening plans for all 50 states are under way.

Crowds have been packing beaches, boardwalks and pools -- you've seen that, few masks in sight there. Downward trends are prompting one World Health official to urge caution. He fears not just a second wave, but a second peak in this first wave.


MIKE RYAN, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION'S HEALTH EMERGENCIES PROGRAM: We need to be also cognizant of the fact that 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 on -- 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)

KEILAR: Joining me now is CNN's Nick Watt. He is in Santa Monica, California. And, Nick, the country is seeing these clusters of cases develop from pool parties to graduation parties. Give us the details.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, listen, Brianna, it was no surprise that people were going to see the start of summer, Memorial Day, as some kind of turning point. In fact, the governor of New York, this morning, said as much. He said, We had about 200 new cases today, that's the lowest we have seen since this began. We should now focus on reopening -- but smart reopening.

Some people, some other places have taken Memorial Day as a pivot, believing that this pandemic is over. It is not, not even close.


WATT (voice-over): Will there be a fallout from that now-infamous Memorial Day party in the Ozarks? Well, we'll find out in a week or two.

SAM PAGE, ST. LOUIS COUNTY EXECUTIVE: 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 (voice-over): Neighboring Arkansas, a month after reopening began, now suffering a sharp spike in cases.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I could get killed by COVID today, or I could get hit by a bus or a car tomorrow.

WATT (voice-over): The governor says some of us might need to learn a lesson the hard way.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: It's disappointing when we have a lack of discipline by a few outliers. How do you remedy that? A part of it is re-education, and part of it is experience.

WATT (voice-over): 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 (voice-over): And in Vernon, California, more than 150 workers at this meat processing plant have tested positive; outbreaks reported at eight other facilities in the city.

And while the president's former chief of staff says this --

MICK MULVANEY, FORMER ACTING WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: If we are careful about social distancing and putting on masks and so forth, we should be able to go back to work sooner rather than later.

WATT (voice-over): -- the president himself retweets mockery of his presidential rival Joe Biden, for wearing one.

Now, New Jersey will, in July, allow outdoor social-distanced graduations, but this church is back open for worship in defiance of the governor.

CHARLES CLARK III, CO-PASTOR, SOLID ROCK BAPTIST CHURCH: We feel that we have our First Amendment right to open up our church at this time. Other than wearing maybe a Hazmat suit, I don't know what else we could have done to make it safer on Sunday. We had no choir --

WATT (voice-over): The CDC's guidance against choirs, by the way, was just quietly removed from their site.

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 10th 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.

MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH AT UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: All the suffering, pain, death and so forth we've had so far, only about five 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: All right. Some good news for sports fans. At 4:30 Eastern, the NHL is going to make an announcement about a return. The Brooklyn Nets had some players training today at their facility, and the Dolphins owner says there will be an NFL season. And they are planning on having fans in the Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

Not such great news for Los Angeles, a testing facility just opened today at Dodgers Stadium, so doesn't look great for the return of baseball to L.S. any time soon. Back to you.

KEILAR: That's right. And I saw the parking lot is where they're keeping a lot of those rental cars that are not in use too, so also a bad sign there.

Nick Watt, thank you so much --

WATT: Yes.

KEILAR: -- in Santa Monica for us.

A notable milestone in the fight against coronavirus. New Rochelle, which was once the epicenter of the crisis in New York, reopens today. In March, the outbreak there centered around an Orthodox synagogue, where dozens of members had contracted the virus. In response, Governor Cuomo mandated a one-mile containment zone

around New Rochelle, and National Guard troops delivered food and disinfected common areas inside the zone.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: New Rochelle at this point is probably the largest cluster in the United States of these cases. And it is a significant issue for us. So New Rochelle's at 108, New York City is at 36. I mean, that is really breathtaking.


KEILAR: Since then, the city has seen more than 2,800 cases. But with a steady decline in the number of deaths, the city is beginning a phased reopening after more than two months of stay at home orders. And Mayor Noam Bramson is joining me now.

Mayor, thank you so much for being here. It is wonderful to see you. Phase one includes construction and manufacturing. Restaurants and recreation are further down the line but with what you've seen over the last couple of months, how significant is it to you that you're reopening your city, and that it can reopen?

MAYOR NOAM BRAMSON, NEW ROCHELLE, NEW YORK: Well, it's very significant. And I'd add retail for curbside or in-store pickup, that's also very important to our business community.

And, look, having been in the national spotlight as one of the first communities in America to face this serious COVID outbreak, I think the people of New Rochelle take special satisfaction in reaching this milestone, and we are cautiously optimistic that we can continue making progress through all of the phases until we achieve a full reopening. We want to do our part to lead our region into a strong and robust recovery.

At the same time, we know we're not out of the woods. There still are active cases of COVID here in New Rochelle, as there are throughout New York State. And if we let down our guard prematurely, if we stop social distancing, if we neglect to wear face masks, if we don't stay smart, then all the numbers will start moving in the wrong direction.

So this is a significant milestone, we're happy to have gotten here but we know we still have a lot of work ahead.

KEILAR: Tell us what life was like at the height of the pandemic, and how it's changed.

BRAMSON: Well, it was a surreal experience, I think, for everyone in New Rochelle, beyond the obvious concern for one's own health and the health of one's neighbors and the disruption in daily life. A city like ours is not accustomed to being in the glare of the national spotlight.

Now, since then, of course, we've gone from being an unusual outlier to being more typical. In retrospect, New Rochelle was not in worse condition than any other community, it's just we had the experience first, so we were a leading edge.

But I have to say, I am so proud of the way that the people in this city have risen to the occasion, neighbors supporting neighbors, not- for profit organizations, community groups doing amazing work. The business community, preparing for the opportunities that are associated with reopening. We're especially excited, given all the economic development that's occurring in New Rochelle, that construction can now resume.

So as hard as this has been, we do feel as though we're poised to make significant progress from this day, moving forward. And it's really up to all of us, as the governor often reminds us, to continue acting responsibly so that the trendlines can continue moving in a positive direction.

KEILAR: Like you said, there's a lot of places that have now been in the situation that you were in, it's just that you were first. But as your city is beginning to reopen just in time for summer, I want to listen to some reasons that Americans have for not following social distancing and mask guidelines.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I mean, everybody's got to go somehow, you know what I mean?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: How come you're not worried at all that someone could be sick and walk by you and get you sick?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Because it's -- there's enough wind and air that's going to clear it all out of here.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am not going to take and wear a mask, OK? I don't feel that this COVID's going to affect me or touch me, and I don't feel that I'm going to pass it on to someone else.

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.




KEILAR: What do you think when you, having been through what you've been through -- when you hear people talk like that?

BRAMSON: It's remarkably selfish and ignorant. You know, almost every day, I'm speaking to health care providers who are in the frontlines of the fight against COVID, and hearing about the sacrifices that they are making, talking to our first responders.

Not long ago, I stood with members of our fire department as we honored the loss of a beloved fire captain who had given decades of his professional life to New Rochelle, and succumbed to COVID-19. Tell their families that you were too inconvenienced to wear a mask.

Talk about small sacrifices, just putting something around your face in order to protect yourself, your family and others. It's the least we can do in order to honor those who are giving much more than we are.

So, fortunately, I think those attitudes are really the minority. I think the great majority of Americans -- and certainly the great majority of people here in New Rochelle are acting responsibly, are doing the right thing, are recognizing that we're all in this together. And only be acting in concert can we fully put this behind us.

KEILAR: You're right, the majority are. I think 70-something percent want to wear masks. But that remaining 30 percent is still pretty big, so maybe some of them will hear what you have to say, Mayor Bramson. We appreciate you being with us.

BRAMSON: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: The crisis in Brazil, getting worse as the country's president dismisses the virus as the little flu. CNN is around the world.

Plus, should more states allow mail-in voting because of the pandemic? I'll be speaking with Alabama secretary of state, who's backing President Trump on this.

And as the president continues to push a baseless murder conspiracy, the widower is now breaking his silence, saying that President Trump is perverting his wife's death. Hear his letter, and why Twitter will not intervene.

This is CNN's special live coverage.



KEILAR: As states grapple with how to handle upcoming elections without spreading coronavirus at polling locations, President Trump is taking a stand against mail-in ballots, tweeting the baseless claim this weekend that it would create, quote, "The greatest rigged election in history."

And he's also threatened to cut funding to the state of Michigan, after that state's governor said she would allow mail-in ballots. And the Republican National Committee is suing California to stop the state from mailing absentee ballots to all voters.

Studies have found no evidence of widespread voter fraud as a result of in-person or mail-in voting. My next guest is assuring the president, though, that his state, Alabama, is going to abide by President Trump's wishes, tweeting, quote, "Don't worry, Donald Trump, we will not have direct mail-in voting in Alabama. We have provided an excuse provision for anyone that wants to vote absentee, and our polling sites will be open for anyone that wants to vote in person."

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, joining me now. Sir, thanks for coming on.

JOHN MERRILL (R), SECRETARY OF STATE OF ALABAMA: Brianna, great to be with you. Thanks for having me as your guest.

KEILAR: OK, we love having you as a guest. I want to ask you as a guest. I want to ask you about this excuse provision that you mentioned in your response to the president. Would this include someone who is concerned about public health? Who says, you know, I'm not comfortable going in person to -- because of coronavirus -- would they be able to use that as an excuse for getting an absentee ballot?

MERRILL: They would, Brianna. You know, actually, in Alabama, we are an absentee-excuse state, which means that there are a number of provisions that are available for the voter to choose, to indicate whether or not he or she meets one of those standards when it comes to excusing themselves from the polls on Election Day.

However, when we're in a time of declared state of emergency, like we are now, the Code of Alabama actually gives me as the secretary of state the ability assign a reason for people to choose if they want to vote absentee and they do not meet one of those criteria.

And the one that we've elected for people to choose is the one that says, I'm ill or infirm and will be unable to appear at my regular polling site on Election Day.

KEILAR: OK. So we have the absentee ballot here that you mentioned. There's a whole line of, as you mentioned, examples here. So you're saying that they can choose this one that says they have an illness or infirmity. But the difference then would be that the onus is on them to request an absentee ballot ahead of time?

MERRILL: Yes. They simply need to mark that. And of course, they can download the absentee ballot application at our website, at, or they can call our office at 334-242-7200, and we will direct them to their local circuit clerk. They can call their local circuit clerk if they have that number.

If they don't have a way of downloading it from a computer, then we will be happy to mail them an application and then send them a self- addressed, stamped envelope so they'll know where to return it when they get ready to complete it.

KEILAR: Do you worry that with the -- what we've been seeing as rapidly changing sort of health situations, including in your state, do you worry that putting the onus on people to request an absentee ballot using sort of foresight that maybe this virus does not allow, could actually negatively impact public health in your state? [14:20:18]

MERRILL: No, I don't think so, Brianna.

Another thing I think should be noted is that, as the trend continues to improve in our state, the data and the science, one of the things that we want everyone to know is that all 1,980 polling sites in the State of Alabama will be open for our 3,593,385 registered voters.

So we want our people to do what they feel comfortable doing. If they'd rather vote absentee, we've had a period of time of more than 100 days for them to make applications. As a matter of fact, it's 44 days until the qualifying date ends to receive an absentee ballot application, which in on July the 9th.

KEILAR: Are you aware that the second wave in 1918 was actually the most deadly, that actually half of the people who died in 1918 from the pandemic then, died between September and December, which would put the election right in the middle there?

MERRILL: Well, and of course, we're talking about a different period of time, when there was a lot less information than there currently is today.

But, Brianna, I'm no scientist, I'm no health official. And I do follow the guidelines that have been prescribed by the Center for Disease Control, as well as our very able state health officer, Dr. Scott Harris, who's doing a tremendous job, along with Governor Kay Ivey. So we want to continue to do what they're advising us to do, and that's what we've done so far, and that's what we will be doing.

KEILAR: The president says that mail-in voting would create a rigged election. Do you agree with him that it would result in voter fraud?

MERRILL: Well, look, Brianna, this is what I know. I know that since I've been the secretary of state in Alabama -- five years, four months and eight days -- we've had six convictions on voter fraud, we've had two elections that have been overturned. Five of the six that have been convicted were convicted for fraudulent activity related to absentee balloting. I know that for a fact.

I also know that we're doing everything --

KEILAR: Are you aware that the research shows that in-person voting is more likely to result in voter fraud, which overall is basically nonexistent? So it's kind of odd we're having this conversation. But mostly it's --


MERRILL: Well --


KEILAR: -- in-person voting, not absentee ballot voting. MERRILL: Yes. They're entitled to their own opinion, but they're not

entitled to their own facts. And the facts in our state show that we have had voter fraud, we have had people convicted and those people are currently incarcerated, period. We're making it easy to vote and hard to cheat in Alabama. We're going to continue to do that.

KEILAR: I recall you actually using that same line when we spoke in 2017, when you came on and talked about how allegations of voter fraud --



KEILAR: -- in a midterm election actually had not come to fruition.

MERRILL: Yes, ma'am.

KEILAR: It's not -- even as you describe the numbers, it's not something that is at all widespread, or you would expect at all would impact an election --


KEILAR: -- but is that the reason -- that's the reason why you would want a situation where more people are coming to the polls? Do you want more people coming to the polls?

MERRILL: Brianna, we want to break records for voting, just like we have over the last five major elections that we've had. We're very, very proud of that.

We have turned, the tide, so to speak, in the state of Alabama by registering 1,519,888 new voters since I've been the secretary of state. We've broken every record --

KEILAR: Can I ask you, though, are you OK with the result of your decision being that there are more people coming to vote in person, which could put them -- and even -- I mean, Republican voters, older voters trend Republican, so these are even voters in your own party --

MERRILL: But, Brianna, that's the reason --


KEILAR: -- people who works at polls tend to be older. Are you worried you could put them at risk?

MERRILL: That's the reason why we're giving folks an option. If they're concerned about going to one of the 1,980 polling sites in Alabama, we want them to vote absentee. We're going to make it easy for them to do that because we want them to do what they feel comfortable doing.

I'm not for removing the liberty and the freedoms of our people. I am for giving them all the information we can possibly give them so they can make a well-informed decision about what they should do that's in their best interest and the best interests of their family.

But we're going to continue to do everything we can to help the people of this state make those well-informed decisions.

KEILAR: So how is what you're doing then, with the excuse -- they're able to use one of these excuses for the absentee ballot form -- how is that any different than mail-in ballots?

MERRILL: Well, with direct mail-in ballots that we have been hearing so much about in the media, and what the president was talking about, requires the secretary of state or the chief election official to send either absentee ballot applications or ballots to all voters in that state.


Well, we're opposed to that for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the lack of security. I mean, there was just an article from four years ago, where one person in California received 83 ballots mailed to that particular individual, all directly mailed to that person. That's a problem, and it's not a problem that we're going to have in Alabama.

Another thing that you need to know, in each one of our election cycles --


KEILAR: But you know that's not widespread, sir. You know that's not widespread.


MERRILL: Well, look, let's be serious. If it happens one time, it's one time too many. And we're going to do everything we can to keep that from happening. It's just like people that say --


KEILAR: Couldn't you say the same thing about someone being infected with coronavirus, if it happens once, it's one time too many? Because they stood --

MERRILL: Well, look --


KEILAR: -- in line at polls --


KEILAR: -- and then they were inside of a room?

MERRILL: Yes, I'm not a physician. And I don't make health decisions, I was not trained in that way. I have been trained in elections, and as you know -- because you're having me as your guest -- I'm recognized as one of the top election experts in the nation, I'm proud of that.

We earned that role, and we're going to continue to work hard to --

KEILAR: But your decision will impact the health of people, very likely, certainly --


KEILAR: -- potentially.

MERRILL: -- if they're concerned, they need to vote absentee. And so we've given them that opportunity, we want to make it easy for them to be able to do that.

KEILAR: Even if the onus now being on them creates a situation where if they -- I guess my question is, so either -- if the onus is on them, then they might have to decide on Election Day, OK, you know what, I didn't do this or even the health situation --


KEILAR: -- here in my state changed in the last week, I guess I need to go in person?

MERRILL: We got millions of people that are watching our broadcast right now, as you're talking to me. And some of those folks are in our state. And those people that are concerned about this issue, can pick up the phone today, call their local circuit clerk or call our office at 334-242-7200 and we'll make sure they get an absentee ballot application so they can get their absentee ballot.

They don't have to wait until Election Day. We want them to vote early if they want to. We've defined a process for them to be able to do so, and we've made it as easy as possible.

KEILAR: And when's the deadline for them being able to vote absentee in relation to the election, considering this is a fast-changing health situation?

MERRILL: Yes. July 9th is the last day to make application. July 13th is the last day to turn your ballot in --


KEILAR: You're asking them to make a health decision based on November, for July? I mean, isn't --

MERRILL: Oh, no, no, no, no.

KEILAR: I mean, isn't that --

MERRILL: We're not talking about November now, Brianna. Because November's a long ways away --


KEILAR: I'm sorry, yes, that's right, that is -- that -- how many days, can you tell me how many days?

MERRILL: Yes, it's 44 days until the last day to make the application for the absentee ballot.

KEILAR: That's a month and a half, right?

MERRILL: That's right. And -- but look, we've already had well more than 100 days. When we started this process, we were at 117 days. And every week --


KEILAR: Yes, but that's not the point. I guess my point is, you're -- they have a decision to make, based on the health situation being a month -- I understand what you're saying, but the deadline date. A month and a half out, right?


KEILAR: So think of how quickly --


MERRILL: Well, there's --


KEILAR: -- things have changed in your state in the last month and a half.

MERRILL: That's right. And so if they're concerned, or if they're not concerned. Brianna, look, I voted absentee in March. So my vote has already been in the ballot box for two months. And we want to encourage people that are concerned to go ahead and vote absentee, today. You can vote absentee today for the July 14th runoff.

We want people to be able to have their voice heard and their vote counted, for the candidate of their choice.


KEILAR: And what if they're not concerned today, but after the deadline and before the election they are concerned? What do you say to them? Then what are their options?

MERRILL: Well, that's why it's important to plan ahead and to make good choices.

KEILAR: Can they use the emergency absentee ballot based on the medical issue --

MERRILL: No, no.

KEILAR: -- in order to do this? No, they can't? OK.

MERRILL: Not this particular -- (CROSSTALK)

KEILAR: Just to be clear, so they've got to -- all right, just to be clear, I think we're pretty clear on how you're conducting this. So John Merrill, we appreciate it. Thank you.

MERRILL: In a fair (inaudible) way.

KEILAR: Sorry, what'd you say?

MERRILL: In -- we're conducting it in a fair and transparent way. That's exactly how we're conducting it.

KEILAR: Well, it is transparent, I will give you that, sir. Thank you very much.

MERRILL: Thank you, Brianna.

KEILAR: Just in, significant new developments about pregnant women and the coronavirus.


Plus, a widower is pushing back against President Trump's efforts to push a baseless conspiracy theory about his wife's death. The man says the president is perverting his wife's memory for political gain. You're going to hear that letter in full, and why Twitter says it will not take the tweets down.