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Phoenix, Arizona Mayor Admits Reopened Too Soon as COVID-19 Cases Rise; Schools Prepare for Social Distancing in Fall Despite Inadequate Funding; Starbucks Reverses Position, Allows Black Lives Matter Employee Apparel. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired June 12, 2020 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: As we said, 19 states now have increasing numbers of coronavirus infections, one of them, Arizona. Since Memorial Day, the number of coronavirus hospitalizations there has gone up in Arizona. That's a key number.

Right now, the state has 31,000 cases, 1,100 people have already died. With the rise in cases, the mayor of Phoenix, Kate Gallego, says they might have opened too soon.


MAYOR KATE GALLEGO (D), PHOENIX, ARIZONA: We have hit so many of the records you don't want to be hitting for COVID-19. From my perspective, we opened too much, too early and so our hospitals are really struggling.


SCIUTTO: Joining me now is Dr. Joe Gerald, he's an associate professor and program director of public health policy at the University of Arizona. Dr. Gerald, good to have you.

You look at figures --


SCIUTTO: -- that are important here because they get to the seriousness of infections, not just infections but 77 percent of ICU beds, taken in Arizona. You heard the mayor there say the state reopened too soon. Do you agree?

GERALD: I think that's certainly a reasonable conclusion. When we look at when the transition occurred, where we're seeing faster spread of the virus, it backtracks to early May, when the governor's stay-at- home orders were first eased and then lifted in May 15th.

And so I think drawing the connection between the two is reasonable, and we are seeing faster spread that is concerning. SCIUTTO: So from a health perspective, what should be done now?

Should reopening be dialed back? Are there particular things that have been reopened that you would recommend dialing back, you know, restrictions -- dialing up restrictions again, right? To put a lid on the outbreak?

GERALD: Right. There are only three tools in our toolbox that are known to work in this particular situation. So one is government- mandated social distancing. And so I think it is reasonable for the governor to reconsider decisions around that, and reintroduce measures to keep people away from each other.

We can do more to do universal masking when people are out in public. There's very low adherence with that recommendation, even within the executive branch. And then, lastly, what we rely on in public health is case identification and contact tracing.


Unfortunately, the pace of infections are so quick and brisk, here in Arizona, that we don't have the resources and capacity to do that effectively. And so we're really left with doing more on masking and social distancing.

SCIUTTO: What's driving these decisions in Arizona? Is it the science or the politics? The sad fact is that the politics has infused this, you've heard this from the president's statements. I mean, even his own refusal to wear a mask, even when -- with others. But in Arizona, what's driving the decision-making right now?

GERALD: Well, certainly, the governor's decision is going to be political, and it's going to be based on multiple factors. My read of the situation is concern of economic recovery. And that's been a key centerpiece of the governor's message from the outbreak in this tradeoff between social distancing and protecting the public's health and trying to maintain a healthy economy.

And so he's drawing a decision at a point that probably differs from what we would do in public health. We would err on the side of protecting the public's health in this circumstance.

SCIUTTO: Is that a real choice, though, right? I mean, is it a false choice to some degree, right? Because can you have healthy economic opening if you have a spike in cases? Don't those two run up against each other from your perspective?

GERALD: They do. It is important. But at the same time, there are other decisions that we could make to mitigate the economic consequences of a shutdown.

And so one example of that is the extension of unemployment benefits that are set to expire in July, that have really allowed many workers to stay at home without suffering the worst consequences. That doesn't mean these decisions can be made without no pain, but we certainly can do things to help protect individuals from the consequences of these decisions. SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, that's the thing. I mean, they're nuanced

decisions. And as you note -- right? -- there are other factors, right? The economic damage is real and painful and lasting in many cases.

I just wonder if you're confident that's the way the debate is playing out, there in Arizona, as state officials, local officials make these decisions. Or is it sort of becoming an us against them, right? You know, as it has at the national level?

GERALD: I haven't personally seen that here in Arizona, and you certainly -- partisan politics has infused this debate, particularly around mask-wearing for example, and what it represents and that symbol that it holds.

But you know, at least the way the discussion is being framed here in Arizona, is one of an economic choice. And that is a tradeoff, we have to do one or the other. And I haven't seen this other -- you know, than breaking along the normal partisan lines, being a particularly political issue outside of that scope.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Joe Gerald, thanks very much for joining us this morning.

GERALD: Thank you for having me.


SCIUTTO: Well, back-to-school season, just a couple months away. And the Houston School District is ready to welcome children back into their buildings, but with a lot of changes. How will it look? We're going to take a look.


SCIUTTO: Welcome back. With a new school year less than two months away in some states, school districts across the nation are implementing new safety measures to allow students back into the classroom. CNN's Bianna Golodryga joins me now with more.

Bianna, how confident are educators that they can get this right? In other words, find a way to reopen, do it safely? Because a lot of parents, they're eager for these answers now.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Well, it's uncharted territory, that's for sure, Jim. What they are saying is it will most likely continue to look like a hybrid system: some online learning, which -- as we know, I'm a parent, you're a parent -- hasn't been very successful, and some students will be allowed in the classroom.

And as we're talking about reviving an economy, it's not going to happen until you get 56 million students into that classroom. We got a tour of one U.S. city's class, and things look quite different.


GOLODRYGA (voice-over): This is how students at Harvard Elementary School in Houston -- and likely other schools across the country -- will be greeted when doors eventually reopen.

LATHAN: Ninety-seven, seven.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Mandatory temperature checks. Next, they follow a carefully marked path to the PPE station, where each student is given their own face mask that must be worn throughout the day.

Interim Houston Superintendent Grenita Lathan, who oversees the largest school district in Texas with about 210,000 students, has quite literally weathered many past storms.

LATHAN: I want to remind people, we're still recovering from 2017, when Hurricane Harvey hit. And now, we're being hit by COVID-19.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): But safely reopening schools in the middle of a pandemic is no doubt her biggest challenge yet.

LATHAN: This virus has stumped me, I will tell you the truth.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): She gave CNN a firsthand look at just how daunting that challenge is by walking us through the city's oldest school, to show us how educators, together with health officials, are preparing guidelines for what students and teachers can expect to see when they return.

LATHAN: So this is one of our classrooms --

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Classrooms will be significantly smaller, with two or even one student per table.

LATHAN: -- as we think about having just about 11 students in a classroom at a time --

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Cafeterias will be less crowded, with some meals served in classrooms instead. Those familiar tables, meant to seat a large group, will now be used by just a few students at a time.


LATHAN: Initially, I believe it's going to be a prepackaged lunch --

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Hallway traffic will be regulated. And instead of students filing out together when that bell rings, it will be teachers transitioning from class to class.

And then there's the question about recess.

LATHAN: Recess will look differently. And the way it will look is, we will have a reduced number of students out on the playground. We'll need to make sure that we're cleaning all of our playground equipment throughout the day.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): It's a blueprint being modeled in other large school districts, including for the 2 million students in Los Angeles. The L.A. County Office of Education released its guidelines that include staggered days, one-way hallways, and solo play.

It's not just schools that are being refitted. Approximately 480,000 school buses transport more than 25 million students to and from school each day across the country. This is how social distancing will look for many of those passengers.

LATHAN: As you can see, we've labeled our seats to where we would space students out.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): All of this change comes with a hefty price tag.

GOLODRYGA: Reconfiguring schools, reconfiguring school buses, all of this costs a lot of money. How does this play out in the end?

MICHAEL CASSERLY, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, COUNCIL OF THE GREAT CITY SCHOOLS: A little bit of federal money is starting to come down to take care of at least some of those initial costs. But on the horizon is costs that are much, much larger.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Most experts envision the school year beginning with a hybrid of both online and in-person classes. The priority, they say, is opening their doors for the most vulnerable.

CASSERLY: We're most worried about students who are economically disadvantaged, students who are English language-learners, students with disabilities, students who don't have internet at home.

GOLODRYGA: We're seeing this backdrop of that playground, and I'm sure children will be seeing that and say, I want to go back to school, I want to see my friends. What is your message to those kids and their families?

LATHAN: To be patient, allow us an opportunity to finalize our plan to ensure that students can be on the playground, they can be in the classroom, in our cafeteria, on our buses. But just to be patient with us.


GOLODRYGA: And, Jim, as with all things, it does come down to money. Going back to that $2 trillion economic stimulus that was passed in March, about $13 billion was allocated to grades K through 12. As you heard from our experts, that's not nearly enough to do all of the reformation now that needs to be happening throughout schools and school buses across the country.

SCIUTTO: Bianna Golodryga, good to have you on and thanks very much.


Well, Starbucks, with a quick about-face, now allowing its workers to support the Black Lives Matter movement while on the job.


SCIUTTO: President Trump will now accept the GOP nomination for re- election in Jacksonville, Florida. The RNC chairwoman, Ronna McDaniel, yesterday announced the president has moved much of the convention out of North Carolina.

This, you'll remember, after the governor there refused to let thousands of people pack an indoor Charlotte arena due to concerns echoed by health officials across the country about doing that. The committee says they will send 336 delegates to North Carolina due to a contract requiring them to host part of the convention there. The president will go elsewhere.

This morning, Starbucks has reversed course, now allowing employees to wear T-shirts or pins that support Black Lives Matter, this, while they are on the job.

CNN's Cristina Alesci joins me now with more. Cristina, what's behind the reversal?

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN BUSINESS AND POLITICS CORRESPONDENT: That's right. Starbucks, earlier in the week, told employees not to wear items like T-shirts and buttons that express support for the Black Lives Matter movement because at the time, the company was thinking that it could be a safety concern.

There was an internal communication that said there are agitators who misconstrue the fundamental principles of Black Lives Matter, and in certain circumstances, intentionally repurpose them to amplify divisiveness.

But I'm told by a number of sources that that provoked a backlash internally, and in turn, there have been a number of media stories and now, this morning, Starbucks, reversing its position, unveiling a design on Twitter of its T-shirt that employees can wear that express support for Black Lives Matter.

Telling employees in a tweet, "Until these arrive, we've heard you want to show your support and just be you. Wear your BLM pin or T- shirt. We trust you to do what's right while never forgetting Starbucks is a welcoming third place where all are treated with dignity and respect."

But here's the thing, you've got to kind of wonder why it took so long for Starbucks to come to this decision. This is a company that has faced questions about racial policies in the past. Two years ago, it shut down its stores nationwide after a white employee called the police on two black customers, who were just sitting in the store. And because of that, they unveiled a whole racial training program.

So this company should have been aware of how important it is for its employees to express, you know, support for the Black Lives Matter movement. So, again, this is going to be a story that plays out with companies and making sure that they are not only talking the talk, but they're walking the walk.


SCIUTTO: Yes, you see a lot of companies making changes, independent of Congress, government, et cetera. Cristina Alesci, thanks very much.

Right now, the Minneapolis City Council is meeting to discuss police oversight in the wake of George Floyd's death at the hands of police there. We're following it all, please stay with us.