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States Move Ahead on Reopenings As U.S. Nears 100,000 Deaths; Merck Planning to Manufacture Two COVID-19 Vaccine Candidates; Virginia to Require Masks in Indoor Public Spaces; Los Angeles Appointing Inspector General for Nursing Homes; University of Colorado Boulder Announces Plan for Fall Reopening; Airports See Busiest Days Since March Over Holiday Weekend; Trump Mocks Biden for Wearing Mask in Public; Minneapolis Cops Fired Over Death of Unarmed Black Man in Custody; Arkansas Governor Warns of Second Peak As State Reopens. Aired 5-5:30a ET

Aired May 27, 2020 - 05:00   ET



CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Reopening is about to begin in states like New York and California, even as the number of deaths from coronavirus in the U.S. approaches a grim milestone.

Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world.

This is EARLY START. I'm Christine Romans.

LAURA JARRETT, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Laura Jarrett. It's Wednesday, May 26th. It's 5:00 a.m. in New York.

And this morning, with America about to reach 100,000 deaths from coronavirus, plans are well under way to reopen at varying speeds all across the country. Fourteen states now are still seeing a 10 percent or more increase in new confirmed COVID-19 cases over last week, while 17 states are holding steady and 19 are now seeing declining numbers.

New York's Long Island is set to start to reopen tomorrow. Statewide, New York reported 73 deaths yesterday, still too many, but it's the third day in a row the death toll stayed under 100. Meanwhile, in most of California, barbers and hairstylists will be able to reopen their shops under strict, new safety guidelines.

CNN's Dan Simon has more now from San Francisco.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Laura and Christine, California clearly moving into the next phase of its recovery.

Governor Newsom saying that hair salons and barbershops can now reopen in most of the state's 58 counties, but there is one notable exception, Los Angeles County. But L.A. getting the green light to reopen its retail stores where people can actually go inside the stores and do some shopping, as well as churches and other places of worship. They can also reopen.

It comes as other states continue to push to reopen their economies. If you look at Hawaii, the mayor of Honolulu saying he also wants hair salons and barbershops to reopen beginning on Friday. He also wants to open up movie theaters and museums later in the month, June 19th, but he would need the governor's permission to do both. And in Delaware, outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people will be allowed beginning on June 1st. That means you'll be having summer weddings and graduation ceremonies taking place outdoors, but people will still be required to wear masks.

Laura and Christine, let's send it back to you.


ROMANS: All right, Dan. Thank you for that.

More than 62,000 health care professionals have been infected with coronavirus. The CDC says at least 291 have died. But the agency admits, that number is likely lower than the actual count, since oftentimes, case reports do not include the patient's occupation. Health care workers around the country still say, still say there's a shortage of protective equipment.

JARRETT: Yeah, Christine. The CDC also confirms antibody tests are wrong up to 50 percent of the time. Remember, those are the tests that look for evidence of an immune response to an infection. The agency now warns the tests are too inaccurate to use for making important policy decisions and is telling health care providers to find the most accurate antibody tests available and to consider testing each patient twice.

ROMANS: All right, Merck has entered the coronavirus vaccine race. The pharmaceutical giant is working on two COVID-19 vaccines and an experimental antiviral compound that is in early clinical trials.

Here's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.


ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Pharmaceutical giant Merck announced that they are developing two vaccines against COVID-19. Now, they're joining a large group. There are more than 100 vaccine teams that are in preclinical stages, meaning they're developing the vaccine or looking at it in animals, and Merck joins this group. However, Merck is a leader in vaccines, and many experts are interested to see what they come up with.

Now, there are ten teams that have developed their vaccines, and they're in human clinical trials. They're actually trying them out in people to make sure they're safe and to make sure that they elicit an immune response. Several of those teams expect this summer to start large-scale clinical trials, which involved typically thousands, even tens of thousands of people.

Merck is not at that stage yet and they likely won't be this summer, so that means they're behind those ten other teams. That doesn't mean that their vaccine won't be approved and won't be marketed.

Likely, we'll have several vaccines on the market, all coming on the market perhaps at different times. We need several because no one company has the capacity to manufacture for the entire world. Also, some vaccines may work out better for different groups, like, let's say the elderly or children.

So, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Several of those ten teams have said that they're prepared to start large-scale clinical trials this summer, meaning in thousands of people or even in tens of thousands of people. That means that Merck is behind these teams. They're not at that stage yet.

But that doesn't mean that their vaccine won't turn out to be approved and to work and to be safe and effective. We just don't know whose vaccine is going to turn out to work in this race.


One thing that we do know, it is a marathon, it is not a sprint, and we need several vaccines. No one manufacturer can create vaccine for the entire world.

Also, it may turn out that several vaccines are different for different groups. One might be better for children and one better for older people. And that's why we have so many teams in the race to provide a COVID-19 vaccine -- Laura, Christine.


JARRETT: All right, Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much for that.

The governor of Virginia is rolling out a statewide mandate for wearing masks during the pandemic. We have reporters covering all the new developments across the country.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Brian Todd in Washington.

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam says his state's Washington suburbs in the north are going to start phase one of their reopening later this week, but he also says the entire state is going to be under some strict new rules regarding face mask wearing. Governor Northam says anyone over 10 years old is going to be required to wear a face mask when they're inside an indoor public space.

People who are eating and drinking are going to be exempt from that rule. Governor Northam also says that people riding public transportation are going to have to wear face masks. Virginia's northern suburbs are starting their reopening about two weeks after the rest of the state did.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Nick Watt in Los Angeles, where the county has just announced that they are going to appoint an independent inspector general to oversee the more than 300 nursing homes in this county during this COVID crisis. The remit -- prevent any unnecessary deaths, like elsewhere in the country. Nursing homes here have been very hard hit. More than half the deaths in L.A. County, more than 1,000 connected to those nursing homes. The supervisor calls it a pandemic within a pandemic.


The University of Colorado at Boulder announced plans Tuesday for its fall semester, and they include welcoming students back for in-person classes and on-campus housing August 24th. And what's being described as a science-based, yet flexible model, the intent is to create as normal of a college-like environment for students.

Everyone on campus will be required to wear masks and go through mandatory safety training. Classes will be smaller and students who live on campus will be grouped into teams that will socialize, live, and go to class together. The plan is expected to be in place through Thanksgiving, after which students will move to online learning and not return to campus for the remainder of the semester.

PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Pete Muntean in Washington.

And more people are flying on commercial airlines, thanks in part to the long holiday weekend. The Transportation Security Administration says it screened 1.5 million people between Thursday and Monday. They say the highest traffic was on Friday. The TSA screening almost 350,000 passengers at America's airports. Even still, that is only about 12 percent of the norm but is a welcome sign for the airline industry struggling in this pandemic.


JARRETT: All right, thanks to our correspondents for those reports.

The "Sesame Street" crew will return to CNN for a second town hall on coronavirus and staying safe this summer. "The ABCs of COVID-19" airs Saturday morning at 10:00 a.m. Eastern here on CNN.

ROMANS: That first one was so fun! I can't wait to watch the second one. My kids loved it.

JARRETT: So great.

ROMANS: All right, as businesses slowly start to reopen, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says the Trump administration is open to a get back to work bonus in the next stimulus package.


LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC ADVISER: It may well be, it's something we're looking at very carefully. Senator Portman has a good idea. He understands incentives and disincentives. The trouble with the $600 plus-up -- and maybe we needed it in that emergency period -- but frankly, it's a major disincentive to go back to work, and we don't want that. We want people to go back to work. (END VIDEO CLIP)

ROMANS: A lot of talk about incentives to get people back to work. Senator Rob Portman's plan would give unemployed workers an extra $450 a week in addition to wages, if they go back to work. The temporary aid would be in place of that, an extension of those enhanced jobless benefits. Anybody out of work right now is getting an extra $600 a week. Republicans say that's a disincentive.

But Democrats are still pushing for the extra 600 bucks a week on top of their state unemployment benefits. Kudlow thinks that extra $600 a week will go away in the next bill. He later reiterated that the president is very keen on a payroll tax cut for workers.

JARRETT: Well, President Trump looks determined to turn masks into a political weapon, despite the advice from virtually every doctor. You're going to hear from him and his opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, next.



ROMANS: President Trump seems determined to make masks a political and cultural flashpoint. He won't wear one in public, and now he is mocking his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, for doing just that.

The former vice president was asked about it when he sat down with our Dana Bash.


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: You mentioned the mask, that you wore a mask yesterday. President Trump went to a Memorial Day service. He did not wear a mask.

It's not just some people making fun of you. He did.


BASH: He did on Twitter. He retweeted a photo of you wearing it. He's trying to belittle you for wearing a mask. Making it seem like it's a sign of weakness. Is it?

BIDEN: He's a fool, an absolute fool to talk that way. I mean, every leading doc in the world is saying we should wear a mask when you're in a crowd, and especially when you know you're going to be in a position where you're going to inadvertently get closer than 12 feet to somebody. I know we're 12 feet apart. I get that.

But it just, absolutely -- this macho stuff, for a guy -- I shouldn't get going, but it just is -- it's cost people's lives.


It's costing people's lives. And like I said, we're almost 100,000 dead today, 100,000 people.

Columbia study's showing that we could have -- if you had just started a week earlier, it would have saved thousands of lives. I mean, this is a tragedy.

BASH: But wearing a mask has become a cultural and political flashpoint, and the president is involved in that, even stoking that.

BIDEN: Sure, he is. And he's stoking deaths. That's not going to increase the likelihood that people are going to be better off.

BASH: So, do you think wearing a mask projects strength or weakness?

BIDEN: Leadership. What it presents and projects is leadership. Presidents are supposed to lead, not engage in folly and be falsely masculine.

It reminds me of the guys that I grew up with playing ball. They'd walk around with a ball in their hand, but they didn't like to hit very much.


JARRETT: So, when called out for making fun of the former vice president on Memorial Day, President Trump deflected.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Biden can wear a mask, but he was standing outside with his wife, perfect conditions, perfect weather. They're inside, they don't wear masks. And so, I thought it was very unusual that he had one on.

But I thought that was fine. I wasn't criticizing him at all. Why would I ever do a thing like that?


JARRETT: For more on the politics of mask-wearing, here's CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins now.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Laura and Christine, you saw the president say that he did not believe that he was mocking Joe Biden by retweeting that tweet of Biden wearing a mask the day before Memorial Day, though he did say that he thought it was hypocritical for Biden to be wearing a mask in public when he doesn't wear one inside his home that he shares with his wife, Jill Biden, even though we should note that CDC guidance that the federal government put out says you should be wearing a mask when you're in public.

Of course, it's just guidance. It's not a requirement. And the president himself has not followed that guidance, saying he didn't want to give the press the justification of seeing him wearing a mask in public. And that day he also defended his tweets about Joe Scarborough, something that a widow of an aide that the president has now been raising her death and implying inaccurately and without any evidence that Joe Scarborough was involved. Her widower asked Twitter to remove the president's tweets, saying they violated the terms of service.

You later saw Twitter refuse, but something they did do later in the day was mark one of the president's tweets for the first time as inaccurate. This is a tweet the president sent about mail-in voting. As you've seen the conversations happening with state officials about really what elections are going to look like in the age of coronavirus, and it said, Twitter said that, basically, the president did not get all the facts right in his tweets, by saying that these votes can be subject to massive fraud.

And so, they marked them with a thing, basically asking users to get more information about what the president was tweeting about. He later pushed back on that in saying that he believed it was unfair criticism of what he had been tweeting -- Laura and Christine.


JARRETT: All right. Thanks to Kaitlan for that.

In all the back-and-forth and noise over masks, one Republican governor and a doctor who used to head the CDC perhaps summed it up best.


GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: The instruction is as old as the Bible, you know? You're supposed to love your fellow man and woman, and that's what we're really doing. And I think that's the message, that you're not wearing it so much for yourself as you are wearing it for that person that you're going to come in contact with.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: You should wear a mask to protect others, that that's a good thing to do, that that's an American thing to do, that that's what we do to protect the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions. And it should make you feel good that you're doing this for the others in your community.


ROMANS: You know, it's so interesting. You hear so many people talk about liberty and don't tell me what to do, but with liberty and democracy comes responsibility, right?

JARRETT: And shared responsibility.

ROMANS: Right. And that's what that is. We only have one tool right now. We don't have a vaccine. We don't have accurate testing and tracing, right? The only tool we have is our own behavior, and that is wearing a mask.

JARRETT: Absolutely.

ROMANS: All right, 19 minutes past the hour.

Calls for justice overnight in Minneapolis. Protests over the death of an unarmed black man at the hands of police, next.



JARRETT: This morning, new surveillance video shows what happens in the moments before George Floyd encountered police on the street in Minneapolis and later died after an officer kneeled on his neck. Security video from a restaurant shows the officers approaching Floyd's vehicle and then detaining him. What the video apparently does not show is Floyd resisting arrest. That's something police have claimed he did.

Last night, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the restaurant, clashing with police. Some windows were smashed there. Police at one point used tear gas on the crowd.

Four police officers have been fired for their involvement in George Floyd's death, which originally came to light when cell phone video showed him being held down, as we mentioned, by one of the officers' knee while Floyd said he could not breathe.

CNN's Omar Jimenez has more from Minneapolis.


OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, Laura, the video is difficult to watch. To begin with, let's start with what led to all of this. Police had gotten a call about a potential counterfeit or forgery situation at a nearby business here. And when they got here, they say they found a man that seemed to match the description of a suspect that was given.

Now, when they got to this man, they say he was inside his car already and it was a physical resistance to the arrest that led to the entanglement that we at least saw the latter portion of play out on video.


We know that man's name is George Floyd. You see him, again, in this harrowing video, pinned down to the ground with an officer's knee on the back of his neck, and you can hear him repeatedly saying "I can't breathe," until eventually, his voice begins to trail off.

Bystanders are asking officers to at least check for a pulse. And by the time paramedics actually got there, Floyd's body seems to be completely limp. Now, as for what happened in the immediate aftermath of that, you can see that protesters came out in support of Floyd's life, but also against what happened. The four officers involved were fired by the police department, and

now the FBI confirms they are investigating along with state and local officials -- Christine, Laura.


ROMANS: The family of George Floyd talked to CNN's Don Lemon just a few hours ago about the fired police officers.


TERA BROWN, GEORGE FLOYD'S COUSIN: Firing them is a good start, but we want to see justice for our family. We want to see them charged with murder.


BROWN: And we want them to be convicted. We want them arrested. They need to pay for what they did. He didn't deserve what happened to him.

While he was begging for his life, not one of them tried to do anything to help him. That I didn't see. What I did see was murder.


ROMANS: Floyd's two brothers held up his picture and spoke of a man who didn't hurt anybody.

JARRETT: Meanwhile, in New York, a white woman who called the police on a black man bird watching in Central Park has been fired from her job. The man named Christian Cooper, recorded part of the conflict which all started when he asked her to follow park rules and leash her dog.


AMY COOPER: There is an African-American man. I am in Central Park. He is recording me and threatening myself and my dog.


JARRETT: After his video went viral Monday, the woman, Amy Cooper, publicly apologized saying, I am not a racist. I did not mean to harm that man or the African-American community.

On Tuesday, her employer announced it had fired her because, quote, it does not tolerate racism of any kind.

Last night, Christian Cooper told CNN he accepted her apology as sincere but still questioned her actions.


CHRISTIAN COOPER, BIRDWATCHER RECORDED WOMAN CALLING THE COPS ON HIM: I'm not sure if in that apology she recognizes that while she may not be or consider herself a racist, that particular act was definitely racist. She was looking for some way to get an edge in the situation, and that's where she went, and that ultimately did not help her. So, you know, is she a racist? I can't answer that. Only she can answer that.


JARRETT: Christian Cooper says that as long as she keeps her dog on a leash in that part of the park, they will have no issues with each other.

EARLY START continues right now.


JARRETT: As some states move forward with reopening, others are still seeing spikes in coronavirus cases.

Good morning. This is EARLY START. I'm Laura Jarrett.

ROMANS: And I'm Christine Romans. It's 28 minutes past the hour.

The U.S. is about to reach a painful, grim milestone, 100,000 deaths from coronavirus. But all across the country, states are starting to reopen, some faster, some more deliberately. In 14 states, the number of new cases is growing over last week by 10 percent or more, 14 states. Seventeen states are holding steady. And 19 states now have declining numbers.

One of three states where the caseload growth is above 50 percent is Arkansas.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is there.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Christine and Laura, the state of Arkansas has reported nearly 6,200 cases of coronavirus since this pandemic started. Nearly 1,100 of those cases have been reported in just the last six days. And that is why Governor Asa Hutchinson is saying that not only is this a second peak, but it could be the signs of a higher peak that is looming.

Stand-alone bars across the state were allowed to reopen in a limited capacity on Tuesday, and the governor here says that state officials don't want to take a heavy-handed approach in enforcing strict social guidelines in the wearing of masks. They say it is incumbent upon residents across the state to take this threat seriously and to alter their behavior.

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: The direction that we go from here totally depends upon the discipline and the commitment of the people of Arkansas to avoid circumstances in which they will contribute to the spread.

LAVANDERA: This is proving to be a very difficult sell for the governor here in this state. We have seen very few people wearing masks out and about here in Little Rock and in other parts of the state, but the governor does say that one of the silver linings they're seeing is that, so far, the positive infection rate and the hospitalization rates after all these coronavirus tests remain relatively low.