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U.S. Nears 100,000 Coronavirus Deaths; Historic SpaceX Launch; Historic NASA/SpaceX Launch Scrubbed Due to Weather. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 16:00   ET



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

And, this hour, we are counting down to a historic liftoff. SpaceX will launch two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, the first time a commercial aerospace company will carry humans into Earth's orbit ever.

It has been almost a decade since the U.S. launched its own astronauts into space. We're still waiting for the final weather call to be made. Liftoff is currently scheduled for 4:33 p.m. East Coast time from Florida's Kennedy Space Center.

It's all, of course, happening during this global COVID-19 pandemic, and so precautions have been taken. The two veteran astronauts, Colonel Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, have been in quarantine together since mid-March. It is anticipated that they will be together in space for another 210 days.

The administrator of NASA, Jim Bridenstine, saying this launch is an opportunity to bring the nation together.


JIM BRIDENSTINE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: Our country has been through a lot. But this is a unique moment, where all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again.


TAPPER: We're going to bring the launch to you live.

But, first, the coronavirus pandemic remains our top story, the number of deaths in the United States just shy of that horrific 100,000 milestone.

At this moment, the number of lives lost stands at 99,783, a tragedy that did not have to happen, according to health experts, had the U.S. taken action sooner.

And while the rate of deaths each day seems to thankfully be slowing, the number of new cases of infection reported each day has remained fairly flat in the last two weeks. And as the nation reopens, Dr. Anthony Fauci is cautioning folks today

to continue to wear masks and to practice social distancing, noting the effects of states reopening will not be seen for weeks. Fauci asserted today that the nation is confronting a choice, telling CNN, the U.S. does not have to see a second wave.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It could happen. But it is not inevitable.

If we do the kinds of things that we're putting in place now, to have the work force, the system and the will to do the kinds of things that are the clear and effective, identification, isolation and contact tracing, we can prevent this second wave that we're talking about, if we do it correctly.


TAPPER: If we do it correctly, Dr. Fauci said.

And note that health experts say that we are not yet doing it correctly, that testing is getting better, but health experts say the U.S. still does not have the kind of national surveillance, testing and contact tracing that we need.

Today. Dr. Fauci reiterated that the U.S. is far from defeating the deadly virus and every American has an important role to play, as CNN's Jason Carroll reports.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The death toll in the United States is edging even closer to 100,000 lives lost, the sobering impact of that figure made clear on the cover of "USA Today," which put a face to the pandemic, a new study today showing the number of people dying each day in the U.S. since April is 10 percent higher than in previous years, as the nation's top infectious disease doctor tells CNN things could get better.

FAUCI: The CDC is putting more of a work force out there to help us do the kinds of identification, isolation and contact tracing. I feel better and better that we're capable of doing that.

CARROLL: But Dr. Anthony Fauci says continuing social distancing and wearing masks are also part of the solution.

FAUCI: I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing, a sort of respect for another person and have that other person respect you.

CARROLL: Fourteen states are seeing daily increases of new cases, several of those in the South.

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): And it certainly should serve as a warning to all of us that this disease is not disappearing. CARROLL: Today, the nation's capital becoming the latest major city

to announce its reopening, starting Friday, barbershops, hair salons and outdoor restaurant dining all allowed, but with a warning.

MURIEL BOWSER (D), MAYOR OF WASHINGTON, D.C.: Moving into phase one means that more people can get infected. Every single one of us has a role to play in protecting ourselves and each other.

CARROLL: In Florida, Disney World and some of the surrounding theme parks announced they hope to reopen to the public in July, but, still, Mickey Mouse has some rules.


JIM MCPHEE, SENIOR VICE PRESIDENT, WALT DISNEY WORLD: All of our cast members on our social distancing squad understand the policy and are encouraging and persuading guests to ensure that they keep their masks on at all time.

CARROLL: While in hard-hit Miami-Dade County, the beaches and hotels will welcome people again starting Monday, with some restrictions.

Restaurants on South Beach's famed Ocean Drive already opened their doors today. On the other side of the coast, some retail businesses, churches and pools can reopen in California, again, with limitations and a word of caution.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): We still haven't gotten through the first wave.

CARROLL: Back in New York, the epicenter of the pandemic, the numbers continue trending in the right direction. Long Island, just outside New York City, has begun phase one of reopening, with some construction, manufacturing and curbside retail.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): We're pleased with the progress that we're making in New York, and we're ready to go to the next phase, open a new chapter.

CARROLL: And a new look tonight at New York's famous Times Square, which will go dark for just one minute, as a symbol that local restaurants and businesses need more help to survive the crisis.


CARROLL: And, Jake, late this afternoon, another major announcement coming from MGM Resorts about some of their key properties in Las Vegas. The Bellagio, the Hotel New York-New York, as well as the MGM Grand will all be reopening June 4. That's next Thursday.

There will be some restrictions going forward. Employees will have to have temperature checks. Employees will also have to wear masks, but as for customers, they will be encouraging them to wear masks, but not requiring them to do so -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Jason Carroll in New York for us, thank you so much.

Joining me now is Dr. Peter Hotez. He's co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children's Hospital.

Dr. Hotez, thanks so much for joining us.

So, first, let me just start.

You heard Dr. Fauci there saying that masks should be worn in public whenever possible. It's a sign of respect for other people. What's your reaction, as a physician, when you see politicians, including President Trump, setting the exact opposite example, not wearing masks and even mocking those who do wear masks? Does that concern you?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes. Yes. I mean, you want to get out of this situation where whether or not you wear a mask depends on your political affiliation. That's a bad precedent to set, right, because the virus couldn't care less if you're Republican or Democrat or something else.

So, I worry that it sets a precedent that somehow whether or not you wear a mask is related to political allegiance. And it can't work that way. We have to have masks, especially in the absence of a vaccine. We don't have a lot of tools at our disposal.

One of them is wearing a mask to prevent you, in case you have asymptomatic COVID, from transmitting it from one person to another. So, yes, it is a sign of respect for your fellow human being. I like to use the word love. It's a sign of love of your -- of humankind and your fellow colleagues or people that you interact with that you're -- as a courtesy, you're giving them that chance.

And in case you do have asymptomatic COVID, you're not transmitting it. And that needs to be drummed in over and over again, because, again, we don't have a lot of tools at our disposal.

TAPPER: New research today showed that the cumulative number of people being hospitalized from coronavirus dropped in Colorado, in Minnesota, Ohio and Virginia, after statewide stay-at-home orders went into effect.

We keep hearing concerns about a second wave or peak or surge as we head into the fall and the winter and as states start to reopen. How can we best prevent a second wave, a second peak from happening?

HOTEZ: So, here's the problem with -- as we're starting to open up the country. And I understand why we're doing it.

But it's not as if you open things up, and then you see a little more the next day, a little more of the day after that. You do not see what we call a linear increase, the straight slope in the number of cases going up.

What happens is, it stays flat, it stays flat, it stays flat, you get the sense of complacency. You say, hey, this is looking pretty good, looks like COVID is not going to come back. And then you get a very steep rise. It's what we call an exponential curve. It goes flat, and then it goes up very steeply.

This is what we saw in New York. If you remember, in New York City, the virus got introduced probably in the first week of February. Everything looked good for a long time, until it wasn't, until you started seeing a big pile-up of patients in New York intensive care units and hospitals.

And that's the problem, is the fact that, if there is going to be a problem, you won't see it for weeks, and then it's going to be too late. So what we have to do, other than the things we have been talking about, stepping up contact tracing, which we're not doing at the level we need to do yet, same with the testing, we also need to implement a system of syndromic surveillance in all of our major cities, an app-based system where -- tied to an alert system, where we could see blips or increases in the number of people getting sick.


Because if you just -- we have already learned just relying on testing alone, where -- we're more likely not to miss it. So that's a big piece that's missing. It's an engineering solution. We need to bring in some of our best engineers in the country and design a system, either by different states or nationally.

TAPPER: Why aren't we? I mean, I know you're not the president of the United States. It's not your charge.

But just as a top physician in this country, I just find it so curious for the last two months, health officials ranging from Fauci to Birx to others have been talking about the need for widespread national surveillance testing and contact tracing, the kind that, frankly, they enjoy at the White House to keep them safe, to keep President Trump safe.

And yet camps are opening up. People are talking about having concerts again, schools. Obviously, in several months, schools are going to start to reopen. And we're not there as a nation. And I don't know that we're ever actually even trying to get there as a nation.

Why not? What's your sense as to what the reluctance is of the federal government to have the governors initiate and oversee the kind of testing and contact tracing that we need in order to stay safe?

HOTEZ: Yes, and that system of syndromic surveillance.

We're not getting the guidance. It's all being done individual cities, individual states in some cases. A lot of towns and cities are starting to implement it. But it's sort of all these one-off things, rather than a national plan and an alert level.

And I don't understand it, because you can open up the economy, but how are you going to -- how can you sustain economic development if we have a relapse, if we start seeing multiple cities across the country later this summer or fall start looking like what we saw in New York City in the spring? It will -- the second wave -- and others have said this, including Dr. Fauci -- the second wave could be much worse than the first wave. And the impact will be absolutely devastating. And we don't have to do that.

We have the greatest engineers, scientists in the world and the greatest research institutes and universities. And CDC has been the envy of the world for so long. I don't understand why we don't have this coordinated campaign in place to prevent the worst from happening.

TAPPER: And we all saw the massive crowds, many of them without masks, over the weekend at pool parties and beaches, on boardwalks.

Here's what Dr. Fauci had to say about some of those images. Take a listen.


FAUCI: When you see some of the scenes that was shown just now, that's very troubling, because that's inviting there to be an issue. I mean, we are going to see upticks of cases even under the best of circumstances, but don't start leapfrogging over some of the recommendations and the guidelines, because that's really tempting fate and asking for trouble.


TAPPER: Is that what you think is going on in some areas of the country, tempting fate, asking for trouble?

HOTEZ: Yes, no question.

We know what happens when we see large gatherings. This is where the virus flourishes. And, again, it's -- I don't know what happened in that particular part of the country, whether there was an absence of leadership or failure to communicate.

But we're -- unfortunately, by opening up the economy and started lifting some of the social distancing, somehow, too many people have gotten the word, saying, OK, we're done, it was a really bad spring, but now things are looking up, and we don't have to worry as much.

And we know that's not true. We have two problems. One problem is, a lot of the models indicate a big return wave around the around winter, January, February. We could see a big spike in the number of cases.

But in between now and then, especially in the weeks before the election, we could see a big rise because of premature social distancing. So, for a lot of states, the models coming out of IHME, the Institute for Health Metrics, University of Washington and elsewhere, have said, we need to maintain aggressive social distancing to the end of May, or even into the middle of June.

And not many governors were willing to do that. And, again, I understand it. But what we didn't do is put in the belts and suspenders, the health system in place, that we need to do it safely.

And I worry that we're going to pay for it. We may get lucky. The only way we can get lucky is if the effects of humidity and intense heat and sunlight are much greater than we currently understand.

But we don't have evidence for that. And I think it would be very reckless to count on that.

TAPPER: Dr. Fauci reiterated his belief today that a vaccine could be ready to go by the end of the year, without sacrificing scientific integrity or safety. Do you think that a vaccine could be ready to be deployed December or January?


HOTEZ: Yes, you know, I've worked with Dr. Fauci my entire life, 40 years. So, I began my MD PhD. He's my mentor and my role model. So, you never want to disagree -- one of the things you learn during that time is you never want to disagree with Tony because you'll be wrong.

But I don't see a path by which we can have that vaccine ready by the end of the year. Look, the phase three clinical -- the first set of phase three clinical trials are going to start probably in July or August. It's going to take a year to collect all of the safety information that you need and efficacy data, the data that shows it actually works, before you can actually license a vaccine. That's what the science ordinarily would tell us.

So I don't see a path. And even that would be a record. That would be a world record right then and there, if we had something by the third quarter of 2021. So, I don't see a path by which we can have it by the end of the year.

You could certainly have something manufactured, or what Dr. Fauci says, manufactured at risk, meaning that you may have to throw it away if it doesn't work. I think the other thing to remember too is the first round of candidates, what we're seeing from the neutralizing antibody titers, may only be partially protective anyway. So, we'll probably the vaccines that follow might have a higher level of protection that can actually create that level of herd immunity that we might be.

TAPPER: Let's hope that happens as soon as possible. Dr. Peter Hotez, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.

This programming note for parents, the Sesame Street crew returns with a family town hall about COVID-19 and staying safe this summer, "The ABCs of COVID-19". That's Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern, only on CNN.

We're waiting for the final weather call for the historic Space-X launch. The latest discussions not sounding positive for a launch today.

Let's go straight to CNN's Rachel Crane, live for us at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Rachel, give us the update, what's happening right now?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, I'm sad to deliver the news that today's launch has officially been scrubbed due to weather. Just 16 minutes and 23 seconds before scheduled liftoff at 4:33 Eastern Time here at Kennedy Space Center.

Now, a backup window is planned for May 30th, that's Saturday. And a backup to the backup, because these weather situations and launches, they're very precarious, that is scheduled for May 31st.

But, of course, today was an instantaneous launch window. Unfortunately, Mother Nature was not on our side. But now, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the two astronauts strapped into the crew capsule right now, they'll be taken off the rocket, and they will, you know, wait a few more days along with the rest of us for this historic launch -- Jake.

TAPPER: And, Rachel, this is the first time that SpaceX and NASA have teamed up, not only of course does that mean brand-new spacecraft but new spacesuits, a new way of transporting the astronauts to the launch pad. I know it's not going to happen today, but just tell us a little bit more about that, because perhaps it will happen on May 30th.

CRANE: Fingers crossed it happens on May 30th, Jake. And yes, this is the first time that NASA and SpaceX have teamed up for a crewed launch like this. If it's to be successful, SpaceX will join the ranks of governments in becoming the first commercial company to put astronauts into orbit.

Now, the capsule itself, you know, it's got a pretty futuristic look and feel to it, almost like a Tesla, instead of the over 2,000 switches and knobs of the shuttle, you know, they have touchscreens, and the spacesuits, they're custom fit for the astronauts. Bob and Doug actually weighed on the design of those spacesuits. They're very sleek-looking. They have touchscreen compatibility gloves because they need to be able to use those touchscreens themselves.

And it's a capsule design, unlike the shuttle which, of course, was designed to glide and land on a runway. The Crew Dragon is designed to splash down into the ocean via parachutes. So, you know, harkening back to the Apollo era of those gumdrop shaped capsules. Gone are the days of the plane-shaped shuttles, Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Rachel, thank you so much, appreciate it.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater joins us to discuss the reasons for SpaceX/NASA launch being scrubbed today.

Tom, it looked windy and cloudy when I watched some of Rachel's live shots earlier today. What's going on in Florida?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's interesting, because it did look like there was going to be a pretty good window. At 2:00 p.m., we had a line of thunderstorms, Jake, that stretched the entire state, from Jacksonville all the way down to Miami. [16:20:08]

That was at 2:00 p.m. and if the timing was right and that line moved off the eastern shore, we would have a window. The radar shows that happening. So if we take a look, you'll see the line moving offshore, back behind it the storms are widely scattered. You'll see one develop near Orlando and just to the West. That's on a trajectory to move north of Titusville.

Down at the bottom of the screen, there's another thunderstorm east of Ft. Meade which is still gathering some strength. It looks far enough for the timing not to bother it.

Now, the 45th Space Wing, the forecasters charged of really looking at this, in a go or no situation, just before the 4:00 p.m. hour, put out a status of red. That's a code saying weather is just too harsh, it's too severe to permit a liftoff.

The thinking could be this, it's not the winds at Cape Canaveral, they will not permit a liftoff if winds are greater than 30 miles an hour and that has to be up to a height of about 162 feet. Now, yes, there are cloud clutters, there's cloud covering the area, and the storms are widely scattered back behind it, even with some clearing.

It could be, because the storms, the line that moved through, have grown to great heights, that there are anvil tops that are creating lightning. There have been reports of lightning in the area, 10, even 20 miles. But if you have a liftoff of this Falcon 9 into the sky and it could probably attract a lightning strike from one of the top of these anvils, that could be a concern. I mean, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

But what a day. They've been watching an area of low pressure, the meteorologist at NASA and SpaceX for days. It's been soaking Florida, record rainfall. It's been taking its time moving up the East Coast. At 8:00 a.m. this morning, it made landfall as tropical storm named Bertha. One hour before landfall, 8:00 a.m. it was named, 9:00 a.m. landfall.

But because it was taking so many days to move up the coast of Florida, it's the dominant feature in the environment. The circulation pattern is so broad, it's been carrying moisture from the southwestern part of Florida across Cape Canaveral to the east. We'll have to wait to see exactly what they're saying is the problem or the belief of why they're going to give this a no-go today and delay it.

Could be the thunderstorms off the shoreline, the high cloud tops, the lightning associated with it, and again, maybe the cloud cover. Other than that, if they could have waited just another hour or two, they would have had even a better chance, as the storms become more widely scattered areas to the west, Jake.

TAPPER: OK, so they're delayed but hopefully it will happen in the coming days.

Tom Sater, thank you so much. Appreciate it. SATER: Yes.

TAPPER: So, bad news, the NASA/SpaceX mission has been scrubbed for today but they're hoping for May 30th.

Coming up, President Trump lashing out, apparently trying to distract from the horrific coronavirus death toll in the United States. His latest targets, next.



TAPPER: Breaking, and disappointing, news. The historic launch of the SpaceX and NASA spacecraft was scrubbed just minutes ago because of weather concerns. The mission was scheduled for just about ten minutes from now.

CNN's Rachel Crane is live for us at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Rachel, this is going to be pushed to the weekend now, right?

CRANE: Yes, that's correct, Jake. Today was an instantaneous window. It was supposed to be taking off just a couple of minutes from now, at 4:33 Eastern Standard Time. That launch window has been pushed to Saturday at 3:22 p.m. Eastern Standard Time here at the Kennedy Space Center.

And right now, they're basically going through all the measures they had to take to get to this point but in reverse. So, they're bringing back the crew arm. They are -- the propellant obviously stopped, they're now removing the pressure from the fuel. That's a 40-minute process. People will come back to the pad to help the astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley unfortunately come out of their seats.

There will be another launch opportunity on May 30th. A backup to the backup on May 31st, because as we've seen today, these rocket launches are very precarious. They're at the mercy of Mother Nature.

But, you know, Jake, I just want to point out, had there been some kind of issue at the pad, there's an end to end abort system here. It's called the launch escape system. So had there been, you know, some catastrophe, had the rocket been exploding, there would have been rockets at capsule, eight SuperDraco engines, they call them, that would have been able to propel the rocket away -- the capsule away from the rocket, rather.

So, a lot of -- a lot of safety protocols built into the rocket. And, of course, built into just monitoring the weather and making sure Mother Nature is on our side, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Rachel, I know there are a lot of people out there, it might have occurred to them that Florida has rather unpredictable weather and they don't know why Kennedy Space Center would have been built in Florida. My understanding, please fact check me here, is that first of all the

vessel needs to fly east, so as to benefit from the spin of the earth, the rotation of the earth, and they don't -- they want it flying over the ocean, not over land where people could be, and they also wanted the Kennedy Space Center to be built as close to the equator as possible in the U.S. So, that's why Florida was picked.

Do I have my facts right there?

CRANE: You do indeed, Jake, I think you have a little bit of space nerd in you, if you know all that. But, you know, all those things that you just pointed out, the reason why, you know, this -- the space coast and the Kennedy Space Center is placed here, it doesn't necessarily align with Mother Nature.