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CDC Changes Guidelines regarding Coronavirus; President Trump Threatens to Move Republican National Conversation from North Carolina If Governor Does Not Allow Live Event; NJ Church Reopens to Parishioners in Defiance of State Order. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired May 26, 2020 - 08:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: To self-quarantine.

And developing this morning, a new coronavirus cluster, several members of a prep school in Atlanta have tested positive after a drive through graduation.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: We are also following developments on CDC guidelines. They have changed again. CNN has learned that the agency changed its language on how coronavirus spreads and altered their guidance for religious organizations.

BERMAN: Joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and Dr. Vivek Murthy. He's the former U.S. Surgeon General and a public health adviser for the Biden campaign. Sanjay, these health guidelines at the CDC, we only know they changed because we've had people checking them every day to see what's different. And our medical unit, our health unit, has uncovered some discrepancies between what we're being told today and even Friday.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Just over the last few days you've had a few changes on the CDC's website, which admittedly is confusing, I think, for people, because at first there was some new language on the CDC's website, this was several days ago now, that led people to believe that this was spread through respiratory droplets, this coronavirus, which we know it is, but seemed to really downplay the idea that surfaces could also be a source of infection. They now have gone back and said, look, we understand now that that led to headlines basically suggesting that you don't need to worry about surfaces anymore. That was not our intent is what the CDC now says.

It's interesting because as soon as those new guidelines came out a few days ago, I immediately was talking to some of my folks, the CDC, saying what is driving this? Is there something that is now giving the suggestion you cannot potentially infect yourself by touching a contaminated surface, then touching your eyes, nose, or your mouth? If there some new science there? And there wasn't. I think they said it was just that they were clarifying some of the language on the site.

Anyways, long story short is now it is sort of back to what we have thought all along -- this is a disease that is primarily spread through respiratory droplets. Those droplets can be expelled into the air, someone can be infected directly, or those droplets can go to a surface, someone can touch that surface in the short time afterward and potentially infect themselves. Still got to wash your hands, still got to disinfect.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Murthy, did the CDC also change their guidance in terms of big religious services or how religious organizations, houses of worship should go forward?

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Alisyn, one thing that has been clear, unfortunately, over the last several months is that the guidance has not been clear. And what we have seen both from religious organizations, but also from workplaces and schools is that they're struggling to figure out how best to reopen, whether it is safe to do so. And it's in moments like this that you need a clear set of directions from an authoritative body.

Traditionally that has been the CDC. But what has worried many public health experts and physicians in the field is that at this moment of great confusion, that guidance is either coming late, it's not clear, or it is being contradicted, in fact, by political leaders. A simple example is that of wearing masks outside. We see the CDC has said people should wear masks when they go out in public, yet we see our political leaders downplaying that, in some cases flagrantly disregarding that. That just leads to confusion, and that's what we're experiencing now.

BERMAN: I think what Alisyn is talking about, Sanjay, is our producers have seen, again, on the CDC website that whereas up until this weekend some of the guidance on religious gatherings was you should try to avoid choirs and singing groups if you can, because the act of singing can perhaps put more virus into the air. When we looked at it this morning, it doesn't appear that guidance is there anymore. So the question to you, and you've been talking to your sources there, is there a sense that politics is dictating what is going into these CDC guidelines, or how much is politics dictating it?

GUPTA: It is very hard to get people over there right now to sort of address that point specifically, John, to be quite frank, because that is the big question. Keep in mind that the original guidelines that came out, 68 pages, had quite a bit in there about religious services, specifically. The revamped guidelines, the ones that came out immediately after, had nothing about religious services. And now you have some, but it is stripped down.

And what I hear from a lot of people over there is that the states are sort of going to decide how they're going to want to handle this themselves. They're providing more general framework of guidance. There is plenty of evidence now that choirs, things like that, can be a source of pretty significant viral spread. Whether it's in a religious institution, whether it's in a school.

The problem I think, and this is getting to be a huge problem, is that because it is so unclear, as Vivek is saying, people interpret it exactly how they want to interpret it then. There should not be choir practice in schools in the fall if schools are open at all. That is just -- there is plenty of evidence around these things.


The fact that we can't get the simple things right makes me nervous about how we're going to get the big things right going forward. There is certain things that we now know. We know you can get it from a surface, we know you can get it from a choir. We shouldn't be equivocating on this still.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Murthy, I don't know if you saw over Memorial Day, there were, obviously, people reveling on beaches, and there was one particular pool party, this was in the Ozarks, Missouri, and you see tons of kids getting back to their lives or attempting to and not socially distancing. Obviously, they're not going to wear a mask at the pool. And now the health officials in Kansas City and St. Louis say that everybody at this particular party at the lake of the Ozarks has to self-quarantine. Now, I'm not sure that those people that we saw in the pool listened to the advice of health experts, but there is -- what else can be done other than to suggest that they now self- quarantine for a couple of weeks?

MURTHY: This is where it becomes really tricky, Alisyn, because we're going to see more and more events like this, unfortunately, where as states open up they may put forward some general guidance, but we'll find that there are events, whether those are in beaches or pool parties, where people still congregate, and they do so without masks. And they create the risk of super spreader events.

And this is one of the reasons why as we start opening up, we, number one, have to make sure that we are actually observing the criteria for opening up, which many states are not. They're opening up before they have a 14-day decline in cases, and they're often doing so without having the proper testing and tracing capacity to be able to clamp down on an infection once it arises.

The last point I'll make here, Alisyn, is that so much of this comes back to testing. That is the road to which we have to drive for our opening school strategy, for opening work, for getting the country up and running again. And despite the fact that we have seen an improvement, a modest improvement over time with the number of tests we're running per month, or per day, rather, with us now doing over 400,000 tests per day, we're still so far away from the million test plus we have to be doing per day, and it's creates a serious problem.

I talk to universities and workplaces nearly every day that are struggling to figure out how to get the tests, how to afford them, because they're still coming in at $100 to $150 a test. Some schools are making the decision not to reopen in the fall because they can't afford testing. Unless we can get our federal government to step up, to take over and solve the problem of testing, we are going to put ourselves, unfortunately, at increasing risk as we open up.

GUPTA: Sanjay, I know there is reporting this morning and we're getting word of new outbreak in Georgia connected to a graduation.

GUPTA: Yes. So this is one of the very worrisome things. And I can tell you, physically, it's worrisome physically because of the nature of the virus, but it's also worrisome psychologically, John. This is a community in which I live. So it was -- there was a drive-by graduation, sounds like protocols were followed, people stayed in their cars, faculty members were out there with masks. The problem is it sounds like there was a party or parties afterwards where people got together and then went to other destinations. People subsequently got sick, got tested, and you found a cluster, not just in the kids, but also in the parents.

Also, over the weekend a 17-year-old student, we don't know if the student had anything to do with this same graduation cluster or not, but a 17-year-old child has died, so -- the youngest child now in Georgia. This is happening. And I can tell you, all the conversations that are going on among parents, as you might imagine, trying to figure out what they should best be doing for their kids, trying to evaluate risk in a way that most people have not ever evaluated before, recognizing that they're not just taking risks for themselves, but for other people. These kids brought the virus home to their parents, that's a huge concern, obviously.

So I got colleagues in the hospital who this is the main topic of conversation. Somebody I was walking out of the hospital with over the weekend has a 12-year-old daughter who is getting chemotherapy. This colleague of mine does everything she can to mask up, to do everything she can to not harbor the virus in her body, take it home inadvertently to her child, but if you come into contact with one of these people who you are just showing in these videos and gets the virus, you can just imagine, these are real conversations that are happening, and it is heartbreaking, I can tell you that.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Vivek Murthy, thank you for all the information.

BERMAN: President Trump is threatening to move the Republican National Convention out of North Carolina if the state's Democratic governor does not agree to allow a fully occupied arena, that's despite the obvious coronavirus concerns.


Joining us now is CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip. Abby, I'm not sure whether this is as much about medicine and science as it is about trying to put a Democratic governor in a swing state on the spot.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it might be a little bit of both. I think one of the factors here, obviously, as you pointed out, this is a state that is now run by a Democrat, and the president has been eager to kind of really make this a bit of a wedge issue where it's a question of people who are pro reopening the government -- the economy quickly, and people who are against it.

But in this case, the president may be pushing for something that goes against even what his own public health officials are saying. In August, it is not clear whether it will be safe or healthy to have 20,000 people in an arena all packed shoulder to shoulder screaming and cheering. I think these are all things that I think right now we believe to be relatively high-risk activities, and the president wants to ensure that that is able to happen so that he can have a big crowd. And so this is, to me, where the healthcare and the politics really collide, because it is not really clear how he can make that argument while also telling people to be safe as they try to reopen.

BERMAN: There is nowhere right now that is allowing crowds like 20,000 people packed into an arena screaming. It's exactly what people are saying you should avoid, even as other things begin to reopen, albeit slowly. So the president is threatening, Abby, to move the convention somewhere else. How feasible is that really?

PHILLIP: Really, John, it's not feasible. It is not going to happen. I haven't talked to any party official really from either party who believe that at this stage it's possible to actually move a convention from one city to another. There have been contracts that have been signed, hotels that have been booked up. And these were already things that were going to be difficult to pare down because of the coronavirus, but to actually move it would be virtually impossible. And Republicans know that right new. That's why behind the scenes, despite all of the tweets from the president, there is work being done to try to come to an accommodation on this, because you can't simply just say we're going to move to a city in Florida, and we're going to book a big arena at the last second. You have to get vendors. And then there are people, regular people who are party activists from all over the country, many of whom have already booked their flights and booked their travel, many of these people are paying out of their own pockets. So I think it is very unlikely that a last minute change will be possible.

BERMAN: Very quickly, is there anyone really from either party who is saying what these conventions really will end up looking like?

PHILLIP: The people that I talked to have said they know that they're going to have to be some changes. On the Democratic side, they have been talking about allowing people to cast -- to vote on the nominee, remotely, having virtual conventions in different cities. There are a lot of things being considered. One of the problems is that I think most people know putting everybody in that giant arena like we're used to seeing where everybody is kind of each state delegation is in their corner and they're packed together cheering and hugging, that is so unlikely to happen, so they're going to have to be some alternatives to that to spread people out a lot more, and, frankly, to have potentially a lot fewer people coming in to these cities so they're not basically bringing the virus from all over the country into one place.

BERMAN: It's literally People from all over the country. That's what a convention is. Abby Phillip, great to have on. Thank you so much for your reporting.

CNN will speak with former Vice President Joe Biden today. You can watch his interview with Dana Bash at 5:00 p.m. eastern in "The Situation Room."

A church in New Jersey opening its doors in defiance of the governor's order. Is this putting parishioners at risk? The pastor from that church joins us next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: A New Jersey church held services this past Sunday in defiance of the governor's closure orders. Parishioners were required to wear masks and to socially distance. Was that enough?

Joining us now is Pastor Charles Clarke III. He's the co-pastor of the Solid Rock Baptist Church in Berlin, New Jersey.

Pastor, thanks so much for being here.

So, tell us why you decided to hold service --


CAMEROTA: -- on Sunday against the governor's order.

CLARK: Yes, we decided that it was time for our church to reopen. And we feel that we have our First Amendment right to open up our church at this time.

CAMEROTA: Well, let's take a video. I mean, let's take a look at the video of what it looked like in your church. It looks to me, from my vantage point, I wasn't there, from this video that your parishioners are really trying to be responsible.

I mean, they're all wearing masks. It looks like they're socially distancing, at least between families. So family members are altogether, but I see a lot of distance between different families.

Did you wear a mask?

CLARK: When I was on the platform, I did not wear a mask. But anytime I came off the platform, I did wear a mask.

Let me give you the quick run through. Our people came in and parked where we were socially distanced park, a spot in between each spot. You had a reservation for your seat. You came in, your family had already had the reservation made.

We had numbers on the end of our pews. We went every other pew. Everyone in the auditorium had a mask on.

There was a touchless entry. We took temperatures, touchless temperatures at the door, 100.4, no one would have come in.

Our bathrooms had been completely sanitized. One person or one family unit at a time. And then after someone left the bathroom, we had cleaners who went in right away.

Our auditorium has HEPA filters. Our air is turned over every three hours in here. And we have spacers in each pew that marked six feet of social distancing between each family unit or each individual. So 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. I know that's a concern. No choir going on.

And other than being on the platform, we had masks on the whole entire time.

CAMEROTA: It sounds like you are bending over backwards to do all the right things and to -- I mean, even things that are beyond what is necessarily officially recommended, and I'm sure that's helpful.

But it is actually your behavior in front of the congregation that could possibly be the riskiest.


You know, I'm sure you've heard --

CLARK: We made very --

CAMEROTA: Well, hold on, let me just state the case as is stated by the National Academy of Sciences. It's the -- you projecting in front of the congregation, it's your sermon. It's the idea that you would take off the mask for that.

And the reason that I say that is because there is research that shows that one minute of loud speech, the kind you would do while you're projecting, produces thousands of droplets that then remain airborne for 12 minutes.

And so, everybody else, it seems, is doing pretty risk free or as low risk behavior as you can.

CLARK: Sure.

CAMEROTA: But yours might be the most dangerous.

CLARK: Sure.

We're up on a platform and we have a distance between us and the first pew that's more than six feet. And so, I understand what is being said.

The whole idea of the mask or not the mask, including back to things Dr. Fauci has said at times, the mask is very controversial, we are wearing them. I being on the platform, people that are back away from the first pew, I don't think that's uncommon, including in press conferences and where the president and others have spoken, that there is a distance between us and the parishioners, and so, every time we come off the platform, we do put our mask on.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I mean, it is the problem with the projecting. I mean, I'm -- I'm heartened to hear about the choir, because it's also the singing that gets people sick.

CLARK: Sure, sure. CAMEROTA: But it is the projecting of the pastor and there are a couple of instances. I mean, we can look to see that parishioners get sick. I just call some up for you.

In Arkansas, a pastor and his wife infected 35 people doing just that kind of preaching, three people then died.

In Washington, you know, that was a choir, but there was one person sick in a choir who because of singing infected 71 people, two of them died.

CLARK: Alisyn, the reality is -- the reality is in spreading of the virus, there are no guarantees. Everyone that I know is trying to be as safe as possible.

But this idea that because I'm up on a platform somehow I'm going to infect a whole entire congregation, that doesn't make sense.

CAMEROTA: No, it's because you're speaking loudly.

CLARK: What's that?

CAMEROTA: It is because you're speaking loudly. Not because you're on a platform. Because you're speaking loudly.

CLARK: I understand that. But if I was on the New Jersey boardwalk today or if I were to be in the Home Depot today, if I were to be in the grocery store today, and I know some -- I know we're wearing masks in those places, but as soon as you come outside, not everybody has masks on.

Here when I am anywhere close to our people --

CAMEROTA: But that's risky.

CLARK: -- we're putting on the mask. Obviously, yes, there is a certain amount of -- we are saying when we're on the platform, not we're not going to be wearing a mask, when I'm preaching or when we're singing, yes.

But other than that, and we don't believe that the distance between us and the front pew that that -- you know, again, there is no guarantee of with me wearing that mask or not that it is going to make it perfect, being there on the platform.

CAMEROTA: No, I know. It's all about cutting down on risk, and that's it. What you can do is cut down on risk.

We talked to Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey yesterday and he said that summonses would follow because you had broken -- or any church that had broken the order, summonses would follow.

So, what do you expect to happen today?

CLARK: We're going to receive citations and that's very sad. My dad is a senior pastor, he's 74 years old, he's been preaching the Bible and ministering to this community for over 40 years, and I think it is a travesty that when the church has religious liberty, the church has religious rights and our First Amendment, we're first in line.

Right now, Governor Murphy has taken us out of line. We've been sitting here, with little to no direction for the longest time, and doing live-stream services only. So, us getting a citation is wrong, and it goes against the First Amendment.

CAMEROTA: I mean, look, I hear you. Churches, obviously, you do have your First Amendment rights. He also has his Tenth Amendment rights whereby the state can -- does have powers over regulating the health of the residents of that state. So, look, it sounds like you're ready for a court battle.


CLARK: Yes. The governor has discriminated against churches, and mosques and against synagogues, because we as a church have a First Amendment right and he's chosen to say, Walmart, grocery stores, liquor stores, they can be open the whole entire time. And very directly, they're not doing it nearly as safe as our church is doing it, and so, he's decided according to whatever his guidelines are that no one really knows for what is essential or not.

Church is essential. Our people are New Jersey citizens. You're a Jersey girl, you know about people loving their state, and here it is, as Jersey citizens, they're being told their church is not essential.


CLARK: I understand a lot of people don't understand why it is so important to us.


But as believers, we assemble together and these people have discouragement and depression and problems.


CLARK: Including economic problems, they want to be with their pastors. And we're doing as best we possibly can.

CAMEROTA: Yes, I hear you. I mean, I understand certainly the motivation for people to get back together and to pray and to be together in that sort of communal setting.

And so, we'll see what happens. I mean, I think the jury is out, no pun intended, in terms of which way these court case go.

But, Pastor Charles Clark, thank you very much for your time. And --


CLARK: Alisyn, the governor needs to -- the governor could fix this problem today. He could put us in the category of essential now. CAMEROTA: Well, he could, but I think you're instead going to get a

summons. But we'll see -- we'll see what happens.

CLARK: We will be in court. We will be in court and we will win in court. The First Amendment will hold.

CAMEROTA: I hear you. We will see what happens, and we really appreciate you coming on and explaining your --


CLARK: Jesus said, I will build my church and he'll protect his church. Yes, he will.

CAMEROTA: Thank you. Thank you, Pastor.

CLARK: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: All right. A renowned acting coach and director lost his battle with coronavirus. He's just one of the nearly 100,000 Americans killed in this pandemic. A look back at his remarkable career and legacy, next.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus is expected to reach 100,000 Americans this week. "The New York Times" marked this moment over the weekend.