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U.S. Nears 100,000 Coronavirus Deaths; Historic Space Launch. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: We are tracking two major stories this hour.

And you can see on your screen the number of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. has almost hit the 100,000 mark. And we will have so much more on that in just a moment.

But we have to talk about what's happening in Florida right now, breaking news from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where bad weather is threatening the first launch of astronauts on U.S. soil in almost a decade.

We have CNN space and innovation correspondent Rachel Crane, who is there.

But, first, Tom Sater is our meteorologist.

And, Tom, I mean, listen, Florida weather is Florida weather. At the same time, I know that there has been this tornado warning. Is that no longer? Tell us about the conditions.


Well, like you said, Brooke, it is Florida, but there's a lot of -- there's a variety of things going on here. Let's say that first.

We had a tornado warning that was issued before 3:00 p.m. just 20 miles north of Cape Canaveral. That was allowed to expire at 2:15. So everything in the clear, right? Not exactly. We're still looking at a 50/50 chance, but let's break it down.

If you look at the radar here, and we will just show the entire state of Florida, you have got a line of thunderstorms all the way from Tallahassee, Jacksonville, that extend all the way down in the Everglades.

But if you get in closer, and what we're going to see here, in a closer inspection, you will see a red dot. We put that on the place where we have the Falcon X launch site. And you will see we're Titusville is there.

When you get in here, and you're going to notice there's that line of thunderstorms with the lightning strikes that's moving from the southwest toward the northeast. There's a clearing line back behind that next batch that's moving in.

So, we say, even though it's breaking down, the number of thunderstorms toward Cape Canaveral may be starting to dwindle somewhat. There's still some thunderstorms that could produce some wind gust, and, of course, the threshold right now, and always has been, you need these winds under 30 miles per hour.

Now, these thunderstorms moving, even though some are breaking down, there will be others that could flare up. But that might give us a window, once this line that's been making its way toward Cape Canaveral passes through.

So we give it about another 25, 30 minutes. And that's our window. Now, all of this has been really pretty much compounded by the fact that for days and days, the meteorologists at NASA and SpaceX have been watching an area of low pressure just drench Miami.

They had two-day rain totals that were breaking records. Go back to the early 1950s. This area of low pressure then moved towards South Carolina, and at 8:00 a.m. this morning, became a named tropical storm. It's name is Bertha, one hour later made landfall into South Carolina.

But it's affecting the environment for hundreds of miles, including all the way down to our launch site. So, you can see that line, as it moves through. There will be more tonight. Obviously, there's going to be more thunderstorms forecast even up to 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. for this launch site here.

But we need our window obviously when we need a window. Bertha's wide view here, of course, when you talk about it making landfall, it does give us a chance to see the southern flank slowly dwindle with its energy.

And that's why this line of thunderstorms moving through this region could give us that break we need. But, again, they had moderate drought in Miami the beginning of the month and they're ending, Miami, with the wettest May on record. So, of course, this is all part of scheduling.

We do have thunderstorms in the forecast for Saturday and Sunday after 2:00 p.m., Saturday's thunderstorms just 60 percent chance. Sunday, they have another chance, and that's a 50 percent chance.

But there's still this 50/50 window that these meteorologists have been talking about. And it may be after this line of thunderstorms clear that area in the next 20 to 35 minutes or so.


BALDWIN: Fingers crossed. Fingers crossed.

Let's go straight to Kennedy Space Center. Rachel Crane, our favorite space geek, so excited to be there. I'm so excited for you and for this mission. What's the good word?

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, I can verify what Tom said, that the weather here at Kennedy Space Center is very touch and go.

One second, we're having tornado warnings. The next second, it's pouring rain, sunshine. But, Brooke, I know you know how jazzed I am for this launch, as are many people, not only in the U.S., but across the world.

I mean, I have been following the commercial crew program since its infancy. So to potentially be here on this historic launch day is truly a real dream. And we know that Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, who are the two astronauts on board Crew Dragon, feel the exact same way.

Interesting fact here is, Doug Hurley, he actually piloted the last shuttle in 2011. So, there's something quite poetic about him being in the cockpit at the end -- for the end of one era of spaceflight and also for the dawn of a new one.

So, a lot to look forward to if this spacecraft does take off today. We're still -- we're an hour and -- a little over under an hour and 30 minutes away from liftoff here; 45 minutes prior to, before 4:33 Eastern standard time, that's when that critical go/no go poll will be taken, when all the flight controllers will weigh in and see if they should begin fueling up the rocket with the liquid oxygen and liquid kerosene.


And we are all praying that the weather clears up and that we will be a go for launch, Brooke, for this historic launch, because we have been relying on the Russians since 2011 to ferry our astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station.

Over the years, we have paid them over $4 billion to do. So this program was designed so we have a homegrown way of getting U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil on U.S. rockets to the $150 billion investment that we have in the International Space Station -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: And just to underscore, this rocket has never flown before with humans.

Rachel Crane, thank you. Stand by.

And I didn't want to interrupt her flow, but you saw the pictures of the president and the first lady. They're there in Florida, of course, to -- as they are, I'm sure, hoping to take part in having a front-row seat to this historic launch.

Joining me now is someone who knows what it's like to travel into space, former NASA astronaut Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger.

And, Dottie, I got a lot of questions for you. And we will get into the weather and all the circumstantial bits in a minute, but, first, just hammer this home for me.

I mean, the U.S. has not launched its own astronauts into space since the shuttle program shuttered back in 2011. I was there. How big of a deal is this today?


It's important that we get to see our U.S. astronauts taking off from Florida. This is a test flight. And we were all sad to see the shuttle retire, but also understanding, because we're looking forward to a future too of a different way of doing spaceflight.

BALDWIN: And if you are Doug and both Bob, and you know that there have been tornado warnings, you know the weather has not been ideal, where are you right now? And are you sitting there looking at the Doppler like the rest of us?

And what are you feeling? What are you thinking?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Well, I can think back to my launch on STS-131, when fog -- it was April time frame, and it was -- the weather was touch and go.

And you're thinking about just the mission itself and also listening to folks. But you want to go, but you also know what the safety rules are. And so you also understand and have watched many other flights scrubbed and that drill as well. So you're hopeful, but you're listening and keeping in touch with what's going on.

BALDWIN: I know these guys are professionals, but, Dottie, you got to tell me, is their heart pounding right now? Or are they cool as can be?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Well, I can't speak to Doug and Bob exactly. I mean, both of them are very experienced as test pilots and multiple missions between them.

But, myself, I remember the heart is going faster than a normal rate, but not quite as fast as my running rate. So, yes, you're just really focused, is what I remember.

BALDWIN: And here's the what-if scenario, Dottie. If they end up needing to scrub the mission today, just obviously out of safety because of the weather, is this one of those scenarios where they can just try it again tomorrow? Or does it have to be precise when they would be able to intersect with the International Space Station at a later date?

How does that work?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: It has to be precise for the rendezvous with the space station. And so I haven't had a chance to look at the timelines for this particular mission and when they get to try again.

BALDWIN: I think it's Saturday. METCALF-LINDENBURGER: But -- OK. So it definitely has to be precise.

It's small windows. It's very unlike just a solo mission, where you're -- that's all you're doing.

When you're rendezvous, it is a very precise time frame.

BALDWIN: And tell us more about these astronauts, Rob and Doug. It's my understanding -- I love all this color -- that Doug had steak and eggs for breakfast.

As you have alluded to, and Rachel just outlined, just how experienced both of them are. Tell us a little bit more about these two guys, and also just about the preparation they have gone through to get to launch day.


Well, both Doug and Bob were in the class ahead of mine, and so they had been in the office since 2000. So, this is really special, right? They have been working as NASA astronauts for 20 years. Both of them have flown twice. Both of them have been to the International Space Station, helped build it.

Bob has multiple space walks under his belt, just really talented, focused crew members. And, as you stated earlier, Doug Hurley was the pilot of the final flight of the space shuttle back in 2011.


And Bob flew right before our mission on STS-130. And so many years have gone by. They knew that they were a part of this assigned group to become SpaceX astronauts, but they were waiting and then training for the vehicle and have been following it diligently.

So, it's a big day.

BALDWIN: Dottie, let me interrupt you.

I actually just word. I just got word in my ear from my producer. NASA just tweeted, the launch is on.

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Wow. So exciting. This is really exciting.

Well, I know I have been watching off and on today as we have been following this coverage. So, that's exciting news.

BALDWIN: It is exciting. I think I just got -- I got goose bumps.

All right, so the fact that Doug and Bob, who you were just speaking of, and all their experience, and the poetry of just that final launch in 2011, and now he's headed up there today, there are also reports that these two gentlemen have been in really severe isolation, right, because of this lockdown, because of COVID, really dating back to March.

Obviously, they don't want to bring it to the ISS, presumably. How could that have affected their training?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Well, I can't speak to all those details, because I haven't been at NASA for a long time and been able to follow that.

But it is -- all of us go into a brief quarantine before we fly in space and before we were going to the International Space Station, because we know that viruses are more virulent in space. Our bodies are not at their most optimum. Space is stressful on our bodies.

And so we don't want to carry any disease. So I can imagine that COVID has put them into a place where they have had to be in quarantine much longer and really avoiding themselves getting sick and, of course, any exposure to the International Space Station.

BALDWIN: What do you make of this marriage between the U.S. government, NASA, and private spaceflight all happening today?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Yes, we have been looking forward to it for a long time, because it is the wave of the future.

As we look at the Artemis program, it is also going to be with commercial entities. And so it is the way forward. And I think it's exciting, because in watching the preparation this morning for both Doug and Bob to fly, there are traditions that you see from the past of NASA, but there's a new way of doing things that SpaceX has.

And then we will hopefully also see this from Boeing as well. And so it's just really exciting. There's more opportunities. It looks -- it really does pave this way forward towards Artemis.

BALDWIN: Why is it important -- to Rachel Crane's point a second ago, because the U.S. since 2011 has had to rely on the Soyuz, has had to rely on Russia to it up into space, why is it so important that we use, the U.S., can be self-reliant in spaceflight?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Well, one, it saves us money, right? And it also keeps our crew members from having to do so much travel around the world. So they can do more of their training back here in the United States.

But, also, it brings engineering and science to our soil as well. So, the talent pools that we see behind these companies of young engineers and aerospace enthusiasts, it's really important to keep that talent here in America as well.

And for our students that are in university, or themselves have dreams of flying in space or working for aerospace, it's very exciting.

BALDWIN: And last quick question, just since we know this launch is a go, Dottie, what would you say to Doug and Bob?

METCALF-LINDENBURGER: Well, I just wish him the very best. They are both so talented, like I said. And so we're all just cheering you on and wishing you the best.

BALDWIN: We are. We are.

Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger, thank so much. And thank you, of course, just for everything you have done and given to this country. We appreciate it.

We are going to continue watching this in the big preparation leading up to next hour.

Also here on CNN on this Wednesday afternoon, we are now covering this. We're dangerously close to hitting another grim milestone, approaching 100,000 deaths in the United States all related to COVID. And this did not have to happen, so we will talk about that.

And President Trump is now threatening to shut down social media platforms after Twitter put a fact-check on just two of his misleading tweets. And the company is still looking the other way on one of his more disturbing conspiracy theories.

And outrage growing after a police stop turns deadly, protests calling for justice. And the family of this victim, George Floyd, said the fired officers should face murder charges.


You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.


BALDWIN: We're back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

We are keeping a close eye on Cape Canaveral, Florida, and that SpaceX launch that was nearly threatened by bad weather, but, again, NASA tweeting it is a go. So stand by for that.

Want to turn, though, now to the fallout from COVID-19 right here in the United States.

Even as the majority of states hold steady or are showing declines in new cases, the number of deaths is on the brink of crossing this grim milestone, 100,000.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, made a break from President Trump, while making it clear to the rest of us wearing a mask is an important weapon in the fight against the spread of the virus.


Here is what Dr. Fauci told CNN earlier today.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I do it when I'm in the public for the for the reasons that, A, I want to protect myself and protect others, and also because I want to make it be a symbol for people to see that that's the kind of thing you should be doing.


BALDWIN: Let's go straight to CNN's Natasha Chen.

And, Natasha, you have news. More big names in sports, entertainment are announcing plans to reopen. What's the word with Disney World and SeaWorld?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brooke, we have learned from the Orange County, Florida, mayor that he's approved both SeaWorld and Disney World's plans that they presented this morning.

So, now it's in the hands of the state of Florida to ultimately approve the reopenings. Now, as a reminder, Universal already got theirs approved. They're reopening next week. SeaWorld would like to reopen on June 11 to the public. And Walt Disney World is trying to open their theme parks in mid-July.

But let's talk about what you might expect as a guest when you reenter these places. Walt Disney World announced that they're going to have a new advanced reservation system. And that's an effort to try to reduce guest capacity at all of these theme parks. Temperature screenings will be required for both guests and employees.

And everyone, including guests, will have to wear face coverings. Now, Disney is temporarily pausing new ticket sales. They are trying to focus on people who have existing reservations and people who are annual pass holders.

Things are really starting to roll out for them. Disney stores are starting to reopen in the U.S., Europe and Japan. On June 15, the Disney Vacation Club resorts will open in Vero Beach, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina.

And then, on June 22, those Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World will start to reopen, as well as the Fort Wilderness resort and campground.

Then let's talk about July, because the thing everybody's looking at, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, they want to have those open on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios.

A lot is going to be different, no parades, no fireworks, nothing that would draw a big crowd. They're going to have social distance squads to help guests stay apart from each other. No strangers will be in your ride vehicle. And there won't be any character meet-and-greets.

There will still be Minnie and Mickey from afar, but you won't get a picture up close hugging them. So, a lot will be different for the guests returning to the parks -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Not quite the full experience, is it, but understandably for public health.

Natasha Chen, thank you for the updates there. And whether it's a massive theme park like Disney World, or a local

restaurant, crowd size and how to contain it will be a key factor as the nation continues to open up.

And with so many videos of people cramming into beaches or pool parties, Dr. Fauci offered this warning:


FAUCI: When you have situations in which you see that type of crowding with no masks and people interacting, that's not prudent and that's inviting a situation that could get out of control.

So, I keep, when I get on opportunity to plead with people, understanding you do want to gradually do this. But don't start leapfrogging over some of the recommendations and the guidelines, because that's really tempting fate and asking for trouble.


BALDWIN: And when it comes to the Democratic and Republican s set for later this summer, Dr. Fauci says we should reserve judgment, saying that he would have -- quote -- "significant reservations" with going forward if there is no decrease or -- new cases or hospitalizations.

Anne Rimoin is a professor of epidemiology at UCLA School of Public Health.

And, Anne, nice to see you.

When you listen to Dr. Fauci, he's basically saying not to leapfrog the recommendations, but that's exactly what the president is doing by asking for this immediate guarantee on the convention in Charlotte.

What do you make of the mixed messages?

DR. ANNE RIMOIN, UCLA EPIDEMIOLOGIST: I think it's really unfortunate that, when we have mixed messages, politics fills the void.

And what we need here is to base decisions on scientific evidence. We know that the virus is out there, that it is spreading, that we still have a death toll that is climbing and the number of cases that are climbing everywhere in the United States.

We know that we don't have the testing capacity to even really have a good handle on how many cases there are out there. We also know that we haven't met all of these gating criteria to be able to reopen, yet we are reopening right now.

So the thing that we can do right now is use these blunt social -- these blunt public health measures that will make a difference. That is social distancing, masks, hand hygiene, and doing the best we can to reduce the number of people in given areas, so that the virus doesn't have a place to go.

If people are in close contact with each other, there will be new cases of virus. And that is exactly what we're trying to avoid.

BALDWIN: Let me ask you about another point that Dr. Fauci made. He was also asked about hydroxychloroquine after France banned it as a COVID treatment.


And you know hydroxychloroquine as the drug that the president of the United States touted and even says he took himself. Fauci says he's not sure the drug should be banned, but said that the data clearly shows the drug is not effective for coronavirus patients.

You agree with Fauci?

RIMOIN: I think that Dr. Fauci is saying we don't make decisions -- I'm going to go back to what I said at the -- just now. This is my mantra.

We make decisions based on science, on evidence. We can't base it on intuition or hunches here. That is not how we are able to protect the health of the public and to be able to make decisions that makes sense.

If we have data that suggests that hydroxychloroquine is useful, that is when we would consider changing policy to have it be used in the public.

But we always -- there's no good deed that goes unpunished here. And there's no -- there's a drawback to every solution. And so that is the case with drugs. We will find these drugs may have side effects, which we found with hydroxychloroquine, that could far outweigh strip any benefit or potential benefit that we see here.

So, the deal is, we need science to inform decision. And without trials that show us that they work, we should not be -- we should not be using them.

BALDWIN: Speaking of science, I really wanted to talk to you, just last question, about antibody tests, because I know a lot of people are getting them, right? They want to know if they're healthy to maybe fly or healthy to be able to have the immunity to go on a summer vacation.

And so we have just learned that these tests can be wrong up to half the time. Should people even bother with them? And, if so, is there a particular test that's most reliable?

RIMOIN: The only thing that's worse than no test is a bad test, and because this is giving people false information that they will inevitably act upon.


RIMOIN: And that is exactly why the CDC is saying, right now, these antibody tests are not accurate enough to be able to base any kind of personal decision on them. These antibody tests are in general out there to be to give us a

general idea of how the virus is spreading over time. They're really great for epidemiologic data. And there are always confidence intervals around these data, saying, well, we assume between X percentage and Y percent potentially are infected.

But the problem is, is when people are trying to use them for individual decision-making, and the test is wrong 50 percent of the time, then people will go out there assuming that they have had the virus and are not at risk, when that is not necessarily the case. Not only that, we don't even know how -- if you have antibodies, if this means that you are protected, for how long you're protected, if you have full immunity, if you have partial immunity.

So there's so much that we don't know, and that the tag line for the CDC here was that we don't have enough information these tests to be able to inform policy. And that is the truth.

BALDWIN: I went to go -- because I had COVID, I went to go give my plasma last week, which I couldn't -- that's a whole other story.

But they were saying to me, well, hopefully, we can get you in, in the next two months, because you may not have immunity. I mean, it's like, there is so much we don't know. But I think knowing what we don't know is as important as what we do.

Anne Rimoin, thank you very much.

Thank you, thank you.


BALDWIN: Still ahead here: President Trump now threatening to shut down social media in a post on social media, after social media sites flags some of his tweets for misleading information.

Plus, as cases fall in some countries, a new coronavirus hot spot has emerged, and it's a place where basic medical facilities are seriously lacking.

And Florida, all eyes on Kennedy Space Center, as we wait for this historic launch.

We will be right back.