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Coronavirus Cases Rising in Florida; President Trump Set to Hold Indoor Rally. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired June 17, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: I don't know if it sounds like a good idea.

This Saturday, more than 19,000 people will enter an otherwise closed- for-business arena, where they will not practice social distancing, and not be required to wear a mask.

Who would put together such a dangerous event?

Well, the president of the United States, as CNN's Jeremy Diamond now reports.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pandemic be damned, President Trump pushing ahead with plans to draw tens of thousands of people to a campaign rally this weekend in Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though the city today announced its highest daily number of coronavirus cases.

In fact, infections are increasing in 21 states, including Oklahoma, but Vice President Mike Pence says the state will be the perfect host.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The number of cases in Oklahoma has declined precipitously. And we feel very confident going forward with the rally this coming weekend.

DIAMOND: But that's not true. Cases are actually rising in Oklahoma, with one-fifth of all cases diagnosed in just the last week.

And while Trump and Pence have blamed testing for rising case counts, testing in this state is actually down. But the vice president now says reporting on those spikes is fear-mongering, writing in an op-ed: "The media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a second wave of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown."

The U.S. isn't yet in a second wave of coronavirus, but that's because surges in several states are prolonging the first wave.


Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany today pass the buck to rally-goers when asked if the president would take responsibility for a rally- induced coronavirus outbreak.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: When you come to the rally, as with any event, you assume a personal risk. That is just what you do.

DIAMOND: But that risk is one the president and his campaign are creating, potentially packing 20,000 people into an indoor arena, where masks won't be mandatory in a deep red state the president is all but certain to win in November.

PENCE: One of the reasons that we chose Oklahoma is because Oklahoma has done such a remarkable job in reopening their state. We have really seen a tremendous amount of progress.

DIAMOND: A day after posting on social media that he's anxious about the rally, Tulsa's mayor today praised the president for choosing his city.

G.T. BYNUM (R), MAYOR OF TULSA, OKLAHOMA: And I'm very grateful that the president would select Tulsa to highlight in that way.

DIAMOND: But the city's health director, after announcing a new record of cases, said he's worried.

BRUCE DART, DIRECTOR, TULSA HEALTH DEPARTMENT: I mean, people coming together without taking precautions is what causes the virus to transmit. It gives the virus the ability to transmit from person to person. So, of course we're concerned. I recommended that it be postponed until it's safer.

DIAMOND: Meanwhile, the White House press secretary stumped when asked if doctors were consulted about pushing forward with campaign rallies, with sources telling CNN the president has largely tuned out the pandemic, focused instead on reviving the economy and his reelection prospects.

"They just don't want to deal with the reality of it. They're in denial," an administration official close to the task force told CNN.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, at this hour, Vice President Mike Pence is actually meeting with members of the Coronavirus Task Force.

And we're told that those health officials are expected to raise this issue of rising case counts in nearly two dozen states. But, Jake, there's no indication that that's going to affect or change the posture at the White House as it relates to this pandemic.

This task force, we have been told, Jake, has largely been sidelined, and, instead, the president seems eager to move forward with renewing this or creating, frankly, this sense of normalcy.

We know, at key inflection points, he has listened to those health officials. But now, Jake, the president just wants to get back to campaigning -- Jake. TAPPER: All right, Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much.

And, as Jeremy just said this hour, the vice president is leading this Coronavirus Task Force meeting, while he simultaneously falsely suggests coronavirus is going away.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta will join us and bring the facts.

That's next.



TAPPER: And we're back with our health lead today, where the White House task force is meeting at this hour behind closed doors with Vice President Pence.

Joining us now, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay.

And, Sanjay, you reported this morning that the top doctors on the task force, including Fauci and Birx, have been meeting regularly by phone or by Zoom without Pence involved for weeks.

Do you know what they're briefing him on today?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it's all about the rising numbers, and the rising number of newly infected people, Jake.

Yes, they call themselves the doctors group. And it's sort of an offshoot of the Coronavirus Task Force, which had their last official sort of briefing on April 27. So, these doctors, Dr. Hahn from the FDA, Dr. Redfield from the CDC, Dr. Fauci, Ambassador Birx, all got together to basically say, we're going to meet a couple, three times a week, have our meetings focused on science and medicine. The Coronavirus Task Force itself seemed more focused on the economy and reopening the country, so we wanted to make sure that particular issue of the science and medicine was not neglected.

And I guess around once a week or so, they brief the vice president. Today, it's about these rising numbers. And I was just looking at the calculations, Jake. April 27, there were some 50,000 people who had died in this country. And now, seven weeks later, you can see the numbers, 117,000.

Just under a million people had been infected seven weeks ago, and now it's over two million, as you see there, Jake. So that's what's happened since the task force stopped having their formal meetings.

TAPPER: And speaking of Birx and Fauci trying to brief the vice president about the science and the facts, in yesterday's "Wall Street Journal" op-ed by the vice president, he said a lot of things about the virus that simply do not stand up to scrutiny. He said cases in Oklahoma, where the president's having his first

campaign rally since coronavirus began on Saturday, he said cases there are flattened and the number of cases there have declined.

Here's the truth. Cases have been rising in recent days. In Tulsa, there was a 3 percent jump in the past 24 hours. The director of the Tulsa Health Department said he wished the rally would be rescheduled. How dangerous do you think this rally could be?

GUPTA: I found that part of the op-ed, Jake, perhaps the most stunning, because it's so easily checked.

Say the numbers are going down, they're not. In fact, a fifth of all the cases in Oklahoma throughout this pandemic have just been diagnosed this past week. And it's not because of increased testing. Testing has actually gone down. The cases have gone up.

Just to be clear, I mean, because I think a lot of people get confused by this point, in Oklahoma, that's -- it's not because of increased testing. Nevertheless, the situation is the worst-case scenario when it comes to potential spread or super-spreading events of this virus, indoors, lots of people, no physical distancing, no required masks, a carnival-like atmosphere where people are shouting and potentially putting lots of virus into the environment.


There could be a lot of people who have -- who are considered vulnerable, either because of their age or preexisting conditions. They then go back to their communities. You can get many, many clusters then as a result.

So if you had to describe a scenario that you would absolutely want to avoid in a city where the virus is actually starting to increase in its circulation, this would be it. This would be sort of the worst scenario you could describe.

TAPPER: And we know from studies that wearing a mask dramatically decreases the chances of transmission.

And yet the president and top officials around him are still seen publicly often not wearing them. What do you make of the example he is setting?

GUPTA: It's a terrible example.

I think we're going to look back on this time -- I'm not sure exactly when in the future we will look back on this -- and say, I can't believe that we allowed that to happen, that we allowed people without masks to be around the president, because you wear a mask, so you do don't infect others, but that the president himself is not wearing a mask, so he doesn't infect others.

I think we're just going to look back and say, it defied all logic. I think also the fact that the vice president is head of the Coronavirus Task Force, and he doesn't wear a mask, and people around him aren't wearing a mask, I mean, it's a threat.

I mean, it's not maybe as clear a threat as someone actually carrying a weapon or something. But this is a type of weapon as well, and it's a threat. So, I'm just sort of shocked by it. We do know that these masks make a difference.

Just quickly, Jake, a study came out of "Health Affairs" just yesterday saying in places where masks were mandated here in the United States probably prevented some 450,000 infections, Jake.

TAPPER: And in "The Journal" op-ed, Pence also wrote -- quote -- "In recent days, the media has taken to sounding the alarm bells over a second wave of coronavirus infections. Such panic is overblown."

What's the truth here? My impression is that we're not out of the first wave yet.

GUPTA: Right. No, that's true.

The idea of waves is sort of, we go back to look at the 1918 flu pandemic. We may not have sort of classic waves here. We can look at the trending graph here in the United States. You can see that there was a peak sort of mid-April, but then it's come down and it's sort of plateaued.

With these reopenings -- that's the graph on the left -- the concern is that we may have additional spikes within this -- quote, unquote -- "first wave."

Just put up the graphic on -- of Italy on the right to give you an idea of what it actually looks like when you have a true ebb after a significant flow of cases. So we're nowhere near that, Jake, right now.

TAPPER: All right, Sanjay, thank you so much.

And be sure to tune in tomorrow night for a CNN town hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears," hosted by Sanjay, as well as our own Anderson Cooper. That's tomorrow night at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

Coming up: 16 friends all infected with coronavirus after a night out on the town, just one example of the spread, as Florida and several other states see a big spike in new cases.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Some breaking news now.

North Carolina and Texas are seeing their highest rates of hospitalizations from the coronavirus today, Arizona and Florida also seeing huge spikes in cases. Florida is among 21 states seeing an upward trend of new COVID-19

cases from week to week, as CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Record high case counts in the Sunshine State about a month after Florida triggered phase one reopening.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We're not shutting down. We're going to go forward. We're going to continue to protect.

WATT: Reopened bars now a growing concern. Sixteen friends who went out unmasked have all now tested positive.

DARA SWEATT, TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS: Receiving the text message that my friends were just, boom, positive, boom, positive, boom, positive back to back to back was almost a little overwhelming.

WATT: They have a message for Florida's leaders And everyone else.

ERIKA CRISP, TESTED POSITIVE FOR CORONAVIRUS: Governor, mayor, everybody says it's fine. We go out to a friend's birthday. It was a mistake.

WATT: For six days in a row now, Texas has set new records for the number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital.

MAURICE FUENTEZ, DALLAS RESIDENT: I think that we have opened up too soon.

WATT: Arizona also just smashed a record, nearly 2,500 new COVID-19 cases in a single day. Nurses now coming in from out of state to help.

JULIA STRANGE, VICE PRESIDENT OF COMMUNITY BENEFIT, TUCSON MEDICAL CENTER: This week, we did hit our capacity in our COVID-designated ICU unit.

WATT: Ten states in the South and West now seeing their highest average daily new case counts since this pandemic began.

DR. EZEKIEL EMANUEL, FORMER WHITE HOUSE SPECIAL ADVISER: And then a few days or a week later, you will see a spike in the hospitalizations, and then, a few days later, you will see a spike in the deaths.

WATT: Another study just found that masks do help, preventing up to 450,000 cases between early April and mid-May in the 15 states and D.C. where masks were mandatory.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Until you actually mandate, because people won't -- don't believe the hype, we won't be able to stop it.

WATT: The mayor of Montgomery, Alabama just tried and failed to make masks mandatory, even though the state's new case count is nearly doubled in just over a week. William Boyd, who has lost five family members to COVID-19, spoke at

that council meeting.

WILLIAM BOYD, LOST FIVE FAMILY MEMBERS TO COVID-19: I think it's going to take someone in their family to die. I think it's got -- death's got to knock on their door.


WATT: Now, the mayors of nine cities in Texas have written to the governor asking for the authority to make masks mandatory in their cities.

He won't give them that authority. Better news, perhaps, from the governor of New York, who says that Friday will be his last daily COVID briefing. Numbers are going down.


His first briefing, Jake, was 111 days ago come Friday.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in California, thank you so much.

Coming up next: the new high-tech tunnel being used to protect a president from coronavirus.

Stay with us.


TAPPER: In our world lead today: special tunnels installed in Moscow to try to protect Russian President Vladimir Putin from coronavirus.

Anyone who enters Putin's home or the Kremlin gets sprayed with a disinfecting mist, but worth noting that mist doesn't actually kill coronavirus, which is an internal infection.

The family of Rayshard Brooks is expected to speak any minute, after the officers involved were charged.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.