Return to Transcripts main page


Experts Warn Florida Could Be Next U.S. Epicenter; COVID-19 Cases Up in 23 U.S. States as Death Toll Tops 120,000; Eight Trump Staffers Test Positive After Tulsa Rally; White House Defends Trump's Use of Racist Term for Virus; Trump, White House Waffle on Testing Slowdown; Mexicans Say Reopening Economy is Risky but Necessary; South Korea Says Second Wave of Outbreak Underway; England to See Further Easing of Lockdown. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired June 23, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, as the U.S. battles against rising coronavirus cases, the President says testing is to blame. A former top U.S. health official says the country is still not testing enough.

Mexico is starting to reopen its economy while the pandemic is far from over. And a show of solidarity for NASCAR's only black driver after a noose was found in his garage.

Well, never mind talk of a second wave of coronavirus cases. A number of countries, including the U.S., are still trying to control the first wave. Infections worldwide now top 9 million with more than 472,000 deaths. The U.S. remains hardest hit with 120,000 deaths and 2.3 million infections. Experts warn Florida is fast becoming the new epicenter. The former U.S. health secretary says the country is still trying to play catchup.


KATHLEEN SEBELIUS, FORMER U.S. HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: We are still reacting. We're not ahead of it. The only way to get ahead of the virus is to way tamp down the cases in any area. And then test like crazy before that case appears, contact trace and make sure you quarantine. We can't do that yet because we're still finding all kinds of people who have the virus.


CHURCH: With more now on what's behind the surge in U.S. cases is CNN's Athena Jones reporting from New York.



ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): With coronavirus cases on the rise in 23 states compared to a week ago and more states moving to the next phase of reopening, experts are sounding the alarm.

MARTY: They're not wearing their masks. They're not paying attention. And they're not believing that there's a problem.

JONES: New confirmed cases nationwide topped 30,000 for two consecutive days, Friday and Saturday, with 10 states reporting their highest seven-day average of new infections, including Florida, Texas, and California, where hospitalizations recently reached their highest level since the pandemic began. Florida today passing 100,000 cases. Many of those testing positive are in their 20s and 30s.

DAN GELBER, MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA MAYOR: We know exactly what's happening. Young people are going out because they do think they're invincible. They're getting the virus and they're spreading it into the community and it's just hard to protect people when that happens.

Jones: And while the White House suggests the jump in cases is due to more testing, experts say the high percentage of positive tests in Florida where the rate has passed 10 percent and in Arizona where it is around 20 percent, show the increase is real. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a Trump ally, agrees.

RON DESANTIS, FLORIDA GOVERNOR: Even with testing increasing or being flat, the number of people testing positive is accelerating faster than that. And so you know, that's evidence that there's transmission within those communities.

JONES: The startling new figures from around the country leaving some to lament the swift reopening , like Austin's mayor.

STEVE ADLER, AUSTIN, TEXAS MAYOR: We're seeing the numbers really from the first phase and their shocking. The numbers are going up so rapidly. So, yes, I wish we had done this more slowly so we could have seen the data along the way.

JONES: NFL players are now being advised to stop training together, and Major League Baseball is shutting down some training facilities in Florida and Arizona where cases had nearly doubled in two weeks.

Moving ahead with further reopening today, Georgia, where the Six Flags amusement park opens to all guests, Washington D.C. and New Jersey.

PHIL MURPHY, NEW JERSEY GOVERNOR: We're now going inside. Folks are going to have to be careful, obey the rules and this is a big step for us today.

JONES: While New York, once the epicenter of the crisis in America, is taking the next step in what has been a slow, cautious approach.

ANDREW CUOMO, NEW YORK GOVERNOR: We had less than 1 percent transmission rate yesterday. We went from the highest transmission rate in the United States to the lowest transmission rate. If we see any tick in those numbers, we will respond.

JONES: Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: Well, President Trump is going back on the campaign trail despite warnings not to hold mass gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.


After his Tulsa rally fell short on crowd size, Mr. Trump is off to Phoenix, Arizona, in the coming hours for a rally organized by Students for Trump. He didn't wear a mask in Tulsa and he doesn't plan to wear one in Phoenix. Eight of his campaign staffers who attended the rally have tested positive for the coronavirus. But as President Trump heads to Arizona, coronavirus cases are spiking in that state as you can see from this graph. But Mr. Trump told Tulsa rally goers he asked for testing to be slowed down to keep the case numbers down. His staff said he was joking then he was asked about it later.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you ask to slow it down?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If it did slow down, frankly I think we're way ahead of ourselves if you want to know the truth. We've done too good a job.


CHURCH: Also at the Tulsa rally President Trump used a racist term for the virus. Take a listen.


TRUMP: By the way, it's a disease without question, has more names than any disease in history. I can name "kung flu." I can name 19 different versions of names.


CHURCH: And the White House has since been in damage control mode trying to play down the President's language.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: "Kung flu" is extremely offensive to many people in the Asian-American community. To be clear, are you saying the White House does not believe it is racist?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: To be clear, I think the media is trying to play games with the terminology of this virus where the focus should be fact that China let this out of their country. The same phrase that the media roundly now condemns has been used by the media.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You don't even have to answer this. The media has never called it a "kung flu." Calling Chinese coronavirus and calling it a "kung flu" are very

MCENANY: The media and your network specifically --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So you called the kung flu?

MCENANY: The media and your network specifically have repeatedly used the term China virus and Wuhan virus and then gone to derive the President as somehow using a term that they themselves have never used. So we can go through CNN's history.


MCENANY: I'd be more than happy to go through CNN's history. On February 9th you guys talked with Wuhan coronavirus, on January 23rd you guys talked about the Wuhan coronavirus, on January 22nd the Wuhan virus. I can write it all out for you and detail it for you in an email.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is not the same thing as calling it the "kung flu."

MCENANY: Yes, just the flu.


CHURCH: Well, there are growing reports President Trump's racist language to describe the coronavirus is hurting Asian-Americans. Dr. Leana Wen told CNN's Anderson Cooper that every time she gives advice publicly on COVID-19 she gets racist messages.


DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE HEALTH COMMISSIONER: I get messages calling me a bat eater. Telling me to go back to my own country. Saying that I should admit that it's, quote, unquote, my people who are causing this virus. And I have friends and colleagues who are Asian-American doctors and nurses who patients are spitting on them and refusing to be treated by them because they are the ones who are apparently are carrying this virus.

Now all of us as health professionals we do our jobs. We move on, we do our best, we internalize this and we don't let this bother us as much as we can. But I think the fact is that this doesn't have to be this way. We see leaders in other countries, our own state and local leaders, many of them step up and speak out against racism and xenophobia and really the President of the United States should be doing the same.


CHURCH: And she added that for many Americans the President is the most credible messenger and in this case words matter. Well, Dr. Raj Kalsi is a board-certified emergency medicine physician.

And he's joining me now from Naperville in Illinois. Thank you so much for being with us.


CHURCH: So we are witnessing a global spike in COVID-19 infections and in the U.S. an increase in cases in about 23 states and record high hospitalizations in some states. All of this as the U.S. death toll surpasses 120,000. How concerned are you about this? And of course how ready is this country for another surge in hospitalizations?

KALSI: That's an excellent question, and I'm concerned. I'm mostly concerned about the upcoming flu virus that's annual and the other seasonal viruses in the late fall and early winter. And I juxtapose those concerns against the fact that health care is hemorrhaging money right now because of COVID. Much like so many industries have lost money, Rosemary, I'm worried about the health care industry not having enough dollars to go back on another lockdown.


Stopping surgeries, stopping things that generate cash for the industry to pay everybody that works in the industry, therefore, to take care of patients and this spike and surge is certainly concerning. In my area fortunately we're seeing less and less COVID, but we're awfully concerned about the next fever and flu-like illness coming up pretty soon.

CHURCH: Yes, understandable. Of course, the hope that there will be enough personal protective equipment. That was the big problem last time, wasn't it? And President Trump now says he never ordered a slowdown in coronavirus testing despite saying he would do exactly that when he spoke at his Tulsa rally on Saturday. What would be the consequences of him slowing down testing when at a time when cases are surging? And is there sufficient testing in this country right now?

KALSI: It would be catastrophic. I'm not sure where he generates his commentary. That's my position here. But I can tell you scientifically and its common sense tells you that more testing is fundamentally the most important thing. And that is because we need to know exactly how many people have it, this coronavirus, and, therefore, we need to know the numbers and base that against the people that are hospitalized and the people that unfortunately die from this. So we can generate a true tally on how infectious and how deadly this disease is. If we slowed down testing, unfortunately, I think we'd be in a much worse spot than we were when we began this.

CHURCH: And, doctor, also at his Tulsa rally, President Trump mocked the wearing of masks and now we learn eight of his campaign staffers and two secret service agents have tested positive for COVID-19. What decision needs to be made about masks as we await the CDC's imminent update on its recommendation on the wearing of masks? KALSI: It comes down to what America's tolerance is of restricting

what they think are their rights. A certain percentage of this country -- I say a big percentage of this country overtly cares about how they affect their neighbor and their families and they're willing to do, it seems like, what scientists think is the appropriate thing to do. Which is wearing masks as the most minimum thing that you can do when you go out in public.

If we don't do that and the other half of the country that does not feel like that's necessary, we then need to consider and, again, I'm not a government spokesman, but I guess the government would consider do we mandate it? Then if we mandate it, will there be social discord and chaos because certain people are going to fight it and resist that scientific evidence and then the downfall of social chaos in the streets which were unfortunately all too familiar with lately.

CHURCH: Yes, and indeed we are seeing it mandated in California, in Miami, in Phoenix and the science behind it, as you say, is that it clearly does protect people. Is it really the only weapon we have right now as we wait for a vaccine or some sort of antiviral treatment, is the mask the only way we can live as normal a life as possible?

KALSI: It is one component. The other component is paying special attention to our just personal hygiene. Part of how we have advised families that are insistent that they want to relax social distancing amongst their own families, is we simply recommend you need to shower vigorously and clean yourselves vigorously before you expose yourself to more vulnerable family members. And subsequently, if you're around family members and you have to leave the home, you make a decision that you don't go back to the household for a couple of days to control the spread and contamination of that household. We need to be very cautious about our own hygiene. And this will only help, Rosemary, the spread of flu and other viruses. We have to remember there are hundreds of viruses that we're not talking about and these simple measures will actually help mitigate the infectious component of those viruses and how many people those unfortunately kill, like influenza.

CHURCH: Yes, it's a very important point. Dr. Raj Kalsi, thank you very much for joining us. We do appreciate it.

KALSI: Thanks for having me, Rosemary.

CHURCH: Well there's nowhere on this planet seeing more new coronavirus cases right now than Brazil. The health ministry reports more than 20,000 new infections in the past 24 hours. Brazil is second only to the U.S. in total cases. It's averaging 1,000 deaths a day over the past week and yet major cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are moving forward with plans to reopen.


And for the second straight day Mexico's death toll has exceeded Brazil's with more than 750 dead on Monday and close to 5,000 infections. But Mexico has continued to restart its economy despite the surge. Workers admit it's risky but add the alternative would see their families going without food and basic necessities. CNN's Matt Rivers has the story.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Once he gears up, Juan Carlos Cruz Gonzalez doesn't take off his equipment at the crematorium where he works housed in a public cemetery. There's no down time between bodies.

JUAN CARLOS CRUZ GONZALEZ, CREMATORIUM WORKER (through translator): Honestly, this epidemic hasn't ended, he says, it's still going on every day.

RIVERS: The ovens didn't stop firing in the hours that we were there but they couldn't keep up. Some families who brought loved ones had to wait hours for them to be cremated. It's a morbid illustration that Mexico's epidemic is far from over. And the numbers back it up. This chart shows the daily trend of new cases of the coronavirus in Mexico. It's not hard to see that things are only getting worse.

So is reopening the economy dangerous, we ask? Yes, Juan Carlos says, it is still too early to go back to normal.

But Mexico's President disagrees. He says, we have to go back out little by little carefully to exercise our freedom. Mexico's economy is in dire straits and Lopez Obrador knows it. So he has backed a phased reopening plan that for most of the country started June 1st, sending hundreds of thousands back to work across different industries. And he has plenty of support.

At Mexico City's massive Central de Abasto wholesale market, vendor Rodolfo Machorro sales have dropped 70 percent since the outbreak began.

RODOLFO MACHORRO, VEGETABLE VENDOR (through translator): We want everyone to go back to normal, he says. Months of quarantine, it's too much.

RIVERS: It's a very common sentiment here and amongst the millions of Mexicans who've lost their job recently.

MACHORRO (through translator): If I don't go out to work, who will feed my family? That's why we have to come here.

RIVERS: But the market itself reinforces the high cost of reopening. Officials say more than 600 people that work here have tested positive for the coronavirus since April.

BEATRIZ ORTIZ, VEGETABLE VENDOR (through translator): 30 percent of me wants to reopen and 70 percent doesn't, says this vendor. It's necessary but people aren't being safe enough.

RIVERS: Mexico's death toll has more than doubled in just the past three weeks. A model by M.I.T. predicts it could pass 50,000 by early August. And back inside the crematorium that death toll becomes real. Of the five bodies we saw brought in, four were likely COVID-19 related deaths.

GONZALEZ (through translator): Those that work here see it, he says. We know this is not over.

RIVERS (on camera): In the end the government's decision is both straightforward and painful. Reopen the economy and allow people to go out and earn a living with the knowledge that by doing so there is every chance that cemeteries like this one will become more full.

Matt Rivers, CNN, outside Mexico City.


CHURCH: And you are watching CNN NEWSROOM. Much more to come, including South Korea's alarming coronavirus trend. The second wave of the pandemic is here.

And coronavirus has hit the U.K. hard, but the government is still turning its attention to reopening. Find out what will open when and how. That's next.



CHURCH: Welcome back, everyone. Well, South Korea's centers for disease control says a second wave of the coronavirus outbreak is already underway. The KCDC's director said in a briefing Monday, regional outbreaks are occurring and more are expected.

CNN's Paula Hancocks is in Seoul, South Korea. She joins us now live. Good to see you, Paula. So once hailed a success in containing the coronavirus, South Korea is now dealing with the second wave. A wake- up call of course to all of us. So what is the latest on this?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, we've had some clarification from Korea's CDC this Tuesday in a briefing saying that South Korea follows a different standard when it comes to declaring a second wave to the World Health Organization. So the reason they believe this is the second wave is because it is a different region and they're looking at the flow of spread as well. The fact that these regional outbreaks now are in the capitol in Seoul.

So what they said is they believe that the first outbreak and the first wave was from February to April, much of that was in the southeast of the country. Then the numbers decreased significantly due in large part to mass testing, to contact tracing. That South Korea was internationally praised for. But they say that then after the May holiday when some of these restrictions in social distancing was relaxed, that is when they were the regional outbreaks. They say it's not a large-scale infection but regional clusters and they say that is why they believe that this is the second wave.

Now we know from Seoul's mayor, he has been giving briefings as well and says they are trying to figure out if they should be increasing the social distancing that they have quite recently relaxed. Saying that if the number of local infections within Seoul itself rises above 30 for three consecutive days, then he believes it is necessary to put social distancing back in place.

CHURCH: All right. We'll watch to see what happens there in South Korea. Paula Hancocks joining us from Seoul. Many thanks.

Well in England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson is set to further ease lockdown restrictions. A government source tells CNN cinemas and museums will be able to gradually open up from July 4 with strict social distancing guidelines in place.

And Anna Stewart is in London. She joins us now live. Good to see you, Anna. And of course, it is a particularly difficult balancing act here, isn't it? Opening up the country when we're seeing other parts of the world witnessing these surges in cases for doing exactly that. So how will this work?

ANNA STEWART, CNN REPORTER: Good morning, Rosemary. I think the U.K. will be looking very closely at other countries and how they're dealing with outbreaks that happen as you start to ease lockdown rules.


And I think all of the announcements we expect today will be caveated with a warning that lockdown could be reimposed either in small locations for outbreaks or more generally across the nation should that R-rate, the transmission of the virus increase.

In terms of the announcement today, we expect the Prime Minister to outline in two- or three-hours' time what businesses can reopen on July 4th. Now on the list of the current moment we think that will be pubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, even art galleries and not just which businesses can reopen but how can they reopen. So we do expect some sort of government guidelines in terms of what measures need to be in place within those businesses.

And perhaps the biggest announcement that we'll get today is a reduction on social distancing rules. And this will be really key for many businesses, particularly in the hospitality sector. Currently the social distancing rule is at two meters in the U.K. We think it may get reduced to one meter for the big reopening on July 4th, announcement still yet to come though. So literally watch this space -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Anna Stewart joining us live from London. Many thanks.

U.S. President Donald Trump has suspended visas allowing tens of thousands of foreigners to work in the U.S. throughout the end of the year. The administration argues that limiting visas will help Americans searching for work during the coronavirus pandemic. The move impacts a wide range of workers and takes effect on Thursday.

Many companies oppose the decision including the tech industry which heavily relies on skilled foreign workers. Google's CEO is among those speaking out. He tweeted that immigration has contributed immensely to America's economic success making it a global leader in tech. He goes on to say he's disappointed by the proclamation and will continue to stand with immigrants and work to expand opportunity for all.

Well the International Monetary Fund, meantime, is issuing a warning about the global economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. The head of the IMF says the 2020 recession will be deeper than initially forecast and warns of a slow recovery.


KRISTALINA GEORGIEVA, IMF MANAGING DIRECTOR: We are now edging up to almost $11 trillion of fiscal measures alone. And what we know is that as long as this high degree of uncertainty is with us, as long as we need to protect firms and people, that necessity of additional support for the economy is there. But we do need to think of the world on the other side, higher debt, higher deficit, likely higher unemployment and very important, a risk of higher inequality, more poverty.


Kristalina Georgieva says both advanced and developing economies are faring worse than initially expected.

One day after a racist incident the NASCAR community came together for a united show of force for Bubba Wallace, the sport's only black driver. The emotional scenes from the racetrack. That's next.