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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

COVID-19 Surging in United States. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired June 26, 2020 - 16:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[16:00:23]

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin this Friday with breaking news in our health lead. The coronavirus crisis is surging in nearly two-thirds of the United States.

But you might not know that if you listen to the Trump White House, which today minimized the fact that there is a looming disaster in several states. The president and vice president continue to feed the American people lies about the state of this pandemic and their administration's failures to rise to the moment.

This map tells the story; 32 states are battling an increase in cases; 11 states are flat. Only seven states are showing a decline, with Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious diseases expert, warning today that the United States is at a crossroads and that Americans can choose to be part of the problem or part of the solution.

Unfortunately, President Trump and Vice President Pence seem to be opting to be part of the problem. Trump is refusing, of course, to set an example and wear a mask in public. He continues to hold rallies with no social distancing, rallies that are veritable petri dishes.

And, today, at the first Coronavirus Task Force briefing in two months, the vice president of the United States made statements to the American people that simply do not square with the facts.

Pence insisted that states are opening -- quote -- "safely and responsibly," when the fact is very few states adhered to the White House's own guidelines for reopening. And medical data clearly proves that was a mistake.

And then Mr. Pence said this:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The reality is, we're in a much better place, with the -- with the efforts President Trump mobilized at the federal level.

We slowed the spread. We flattened the curve. We have saved lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Now, it's true that things might be better today than weeks ago, when 2,000 Americans were dying from COVID-19 every single day, but the curve has not flattened.

The opposite is true. Just look at the chart of new cases. Yesterday, the United States reported more than 37,000 new confirmed infections of the novel coronavirus. That's the highest one-day increase ever.

And the curve, as you can see on the graph there, is rising again. It had been brought down a little, and then it unflattened and it's going north.

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world's population, has a quarter of the world's deaths due to coronavirus, per official numbers.

It did not have to be this way. Look at these charts from the European Union and South Korea that as of now have dealt with the virus effectively, especially compared to the United States. That's what bringing down the curve looks like, that green there or the pink.

There remains no aggressive or effective nationwide surveillance, testing and contact tracing program in the United States. And now we're learning there are divisions within the White House task force about how to proceed with the testing program that is in place.

To reiterate, the response has not been a success. It has been one of the least successful responses in the entire world.

President Trump's desire for this pandemic to be over does not make it over. In fact, the lies, including the projections we heard today of this false sense of security, these lies could likely make the pandemic even worse.

CNN's Nick Watt starts us off today from hard-hit California.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PENCE: As we have seen new cases rising -- and we're tracking them very carefully -- there may be a tendency among the American people to think that we are back to that place that we were two months ago.

The reality is, we're in a much better place.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): But, yesterday, we saw more new cases in this country than ever before.

PENCE: As all 50 states are opening up our country again, people are going back to work.

WATT: No mention of the at least 11 states that are now pausing or rolling back reopening.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: We have an exponential rise in many places, and we're not locked down. So it makes me very worried about where we're going to be a month from now.

At noon in Texas, the bars were ordered to close once more. Houston is now recommending people stay home again.

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): Clearly, we opened up too fast too soon. In my district in the Rio Grande Valley, we had a 700 percent increase in just the last 30 days.

[16:05:00]

WATT: In Texas, there are now more new cases and more COVID-19 patients in the hospital than ever before.

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: My only concern is, are these restrictions too late? Are they enough?

WATT: In Florida, the day reopening began mid-May, fewer than 1,000 new cases were reported, today, nearly 9,000, again, an all-time record high. They just outlawed alcohol consumption in bars again, still no statewide mask order, but Miami will now fine anyone who won't wear one, hoping that helps.

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA: We really don't want to have to go backwards and undo some of the openings and potentially reimpose a stay-at-home order. But you can't discount that option as a possibility.

WATT: Meanwhile, some of those Northeast states hit hard early now hoping to have kids back into modified classrooms come the fall.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: I can tell you, plan A is the maximum number of kids in schools.

WATT: Testing must increase, say the experts, the White House task force now considering what's called pool testing. You pool the blood of a bunch of people and test it. If negative, they're all clear. If positive, then you take the time to test everyone individually.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Pooling would give us the capacity to go from a half-a-million tasks a day to potentially five million individuals tested today -- per day.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WATT: And, Jake, more bad news from California. We have just heard again new records for the number of people in the hospital, the number of people in the ICU.

The mayor of San Francisco just tweeted this. She says: "Our numbers are still low, but rising rapidly." As a result, they are temporarily delaying the reopenings they had planned for Monday. And the governor of California is now telling Imperial County -- that's rural, agricultural -- he's telling them their numbers are now so bad, they need to go back to their safer-at-home order -- Jake.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt, thank you so much. Let's discuss this with CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay

Gupta.

Sanjay, you heard the Coronavirus Task Force today. You heard Vice President Pence say, the U.S. is in a better place, people should not be upset. The reality is, we had the highest number of confirmed cases in one day just yesterday. And we know that mortality, death is a lagging indicator. After rates spike, people die.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes.

I mean, that was kind of a mind-numbing coronavirus briefing there, Jake, I got to tell you. I thought that there was going to be some acknowledgment that things are really as bad as they are. There was just a couple of hat tips to that.

I think there was going to be some plan, some new plan that they were talking about, at least in terms of testing or in terms of public health measures in these hot spots, so to speak, but there really wasn't. It was more talking about the fact that, despite the graph that you're seeing on the screen, where we're now at the highest number of cases since this pandemic began, there was more talk about how things are better than they look.

And they are not. I mean, the numbers don't lie here. All 50 states are reopening safely and responsibly, that was one of the first things that was said. That is not true.

TAPPER: No.

GUPTA: I don't know, if you look at the criteria specifically, that any state met the criteria for opening. And all of them are talking about reopening before they should.

They talked about the fact that we have greatly expanded testing. We're still probably at 10 percent of where we need to be. They said it's been 45 days since we started to slow the spread. The spread has not slowed. It's not slowed down, obviously, if you look at these numbers.

The only person that sort of, I think, was talking about this in a way that sort of reflected more of the reality was Dr. Fauci, who acknowledged the fact that...

TAPPER: Of course, yes.

GUPTA: ... that even places on the map that you look at are still vulnerable. People are still moving around, and we still have to be very, very vigilant.

So, he's as -- that's as panicked maybe as I have seen him talk about this over the last few months now, Jake.

TAPPER: It's just mind-boggling, as you say, the idea that they think that they can just lie, when the data is right there, literally after the worst day for the highest number of new infections. Let's talk about the one truth-teller on the stage there, Dr. Fauci.

What he -- he said something about what is not working. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: It's a paradigm shift, because we're dealing with young people, people who are going to be asymptomatic, and people who are getting infected in a community setting, not an outbreak setting, where you know who to identify, isolate and contact trace.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Explain that to our viewers. What is he talking about? Why is this important?

GUPTA: This is a really fundamental point.

And I have -- I have talked a lot to Dr. Fauci. I talked to him regularly.

Here's the point, is the reason you had these gating criteria of seeing a 14-day downward trend is basically so that you could get to a low enough number of daily cases, where you could actually start to contact trace in a meaningful way.

[16:10:06]

You find people who are newly diagnosed. You trace their contacts, people who need to be quarantined. That's how you start to extinguish the flame of this pandemic.

If you're talking about nearly 40,000 new people getting infected every day, there is no paradigm by which that works. You don't have enough contact tracers probably in the world to be able to handle the contact tracing that is needed.

Jake, this is calling people on the phone. This is going to their house and knocking on the door. This is convincing people that they need to quarantine themselves. You can't do that with this many new cases a day.

The paradigm shift is that we have to bring the cases down before all these other critical measures are going to work, specifically contact tracing. So, I think he's really frustrated by this.

If the gating criteria had been met, all these other basic public health measures would actually have an impact. Now it's going from being unmitigated -- an unmitigated disaster, to potentially, Jake -- and I want to be careful here, but it's going from an unmitigated to potentially an uncontainable disaster.

And I think that that's what Dr. Fauci was referring to.

TAPPER: And, Sanjay, Dr. Fauci really expressed frustration at the difficulty in conducting the contact tracing, which is so central to getting a sense of the virus, with individuals refusing to answer questions when they're called to find out more about who else they have been in contact with , so as to prevent the spread of the virus.

GUPTA: You get a call from an unknown number. And if you know that it's a government number, then are you likely to answer the phone?

And if you do answer the phone, are you likely to believe the other person on the other end of the line? And then are you going to actually follow the recommendations that that person's making? They're going to call you and say, hey, Jake, you didn't know this, but you came in contact with somebody for a significant enough time where we think you are now a close contact of someone with COVID. Here's what you need to do.

You have got to believe many steps in that whole equation and then abide by the recommendations in order for this to work. Again, there will be a lot of people who simply don't listen to those recommendations.

But if you're talking about 40,000 new people a day, and you're talking about, let's say, each of them has five to six contacts, that's 200,000 to 250,000 people a day that would need to be contact- traced. It's a really, really laborious and, I think, almost impossible task.

TAPPER: You're learning that there's a schism on the Coronavirus Task Force on the issue of testing. Tell us more about that.

GUPTA: This has been a problem from the start, Jake.

As we know, the CDC has taken a lot of criticism over their handling of the initial coronavirus test. It wasn't a good test. It had a flawed reagent, which didn't allow it to give a reliable result. We know that now. That's past history.

I think what is fueling some of this division now is the fact that, four months into this, we still don't have widespread testing that could give these accurate, quick results. I mean, we know about the PCR-type testing. We know that there's a significant false negative rate with those.

There was a lot of talk a couple of months ago by Ambassador Birx, where she basically said, now's the time to get a breakthrough in what's called antigen testing. It's a different type of test. That's kind of like the strep test. You swab the back of your kid's throat, you get a quick result.

That was the sort of thing that we wanted to have available in every household really in the country as needed. We're nowhere near that, despite the fact that we're this many months into the pandemic. And I think that's causing a lot of frustration on the task force.

Why hasn't the CDC and all the various capabilities have been able to step up to that task?

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you so much for that reality check, which the country needs after all the lies that we heard from the White House today.

Coming up: swing and a miss at a softball -- the basic, yet crucial question President Trump could not answer about the 2020 election. That's next.

Plus: It could change the balance of power. The United States is closer than it's been in a while to adding another state.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:18:16]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have 15 people and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done. We have it so well under control, I mean, we really have done a very good job.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: President Trump four months ago today promising the American people that number of coronavirus case will be close to zero. Right now, there have been 2.5 million coronavirus cases in the United States and so far nearly 125,000 American lives have been lost. So, kind of the opposite of a very good job, as in a horrible job.

While the president's coronavirus task force updated the American people for the first time in two months today, President Trump was not there. He was off tweeting about people vandalizing a statue of President Andrew Jackson.

And as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports for us now, Vice President Mike Pence reminded Americans what to do to stay safe. But he forgot to mention one very important thing, wearing a mask.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): At the first coronavirus task force briefing in two months, Vice President Mike Pence claimed this moment is different than what he last addressed the nation.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: This moment in the coronavirus pandemic is different than what we saw two months ago.

COLLINS: But in the eight weeks since the task force last briefed reporters , over 70,000 more Americans have died from coronavirus infections have surged and the U.S. set a record for daily new cases all factors the vice president glossed over today.

PENCE: The reality is we're in a much better place.

COLLINS: As the health experts offered sobering warnings -- DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND

INFECTIOUS DISEASES: This is part of a process that we can be either part of the solution or part of the problem.

[16:20:06]

COLLINS: Pence defended his and President Trump's decision to hold campaign rallies indoors with thousands of supporters and little social distancing.

PENCE: The freedom of speech, the right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the Constitution of the United States. And we have an election coming up this fall.

COLLINS: The vice president also ticked off a list of precautions that Americans should take to slow the spread of coronavirus but he made no mention of wearing a mask.

PENCE: Continue to practice good hygiene, wash your hands, avoid touching your face, disinfect frequently.

COLLINS: Asked by a reporter why mask have become a political issue in part because of the president, Pence deflected and ignored how CDC guidance recommends wearing a mask in public.

PENCE: We just believe that what's important here is that people listen to the leadership in their state, the leadership in their local community and adhere to that guidance.

COLLINS: President Trump didn't attend the briefing or the task force meeting but he pointed to Texas as an example, Dr. Deborah Birx, the coronavirus response coordinator, refuted a claim that he's made for weeks and said rising positive rest rates are cause for concern.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: You can see throughout May after opening the test positivity continued to decline as testing increased. It was in the last two and a half weeks we saw this inflection of rising test positivity, along with rising testing.

COLLINS: That graph counters the president's misleading claim the only reason there are more coronavirus cases is because there's more coronavirus testing.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

COLLINS: Now, Jake, even though we have not had a task force briefing in two month, the vice president only took a handful of questions before leaving the room. We had many more for him. As you noted, the president himself was not there. Of course, he was tweeting while this was going on.

And, Jake, we should note that the president is now going to have to make his re-election pitch to voters with these surging new cases and these concerns about what's going to happen in the fall going on in the background. But last night during a Fox News town hall when asked what would his priorities be, he did not answer that question, offered no examples of what his priorities would be and turned the question around to talking about John Bolton who he called a moron.

TAPPER: OK. Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much. Appreciate it.

In just the last hour, Wyoming Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the third highest ranking Republican in the House of Representatives appeared in a way to possibly be trolling President Trump on Twitter, posting this picture of her father, former Vice President Dick Cheney with the caption saying Dick Cheney says wear a mask and she added the hashtag, #realmenwearmasks.

Be sure to tune in Sunday night for a CNN special report, "TRUMP & THE LAW: AFTER IMPEACHMENT". We will examine the president's relationship with the rule of law and the impact on our democracy. That's Sunday night at 10:00 p.m. Eastern, only here on CNN.

Less than 24 hours ago, bars and restaurants in Texas looked like this. Now, Republican Governor Greg Abbott is reversing course. That's next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[16:28:16]

TAPPER: In our national lead today, calling Texas a hot spot is like calling the sun a hot spot. Those words from a medical expert describing the dire situation in Texas right now. This afternoon, Houston moved to its highest alert level which means the outbreak is severe and uncontrolled.

Yesterday, Republican Governor Greg Abbott paused Texas's reopening plans. Today, Abbott went so far as to reverse some of the reopening orders, including closing bars and adding more restrictions for restaurants.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live for us in Houston.

And, Lucy, the Houston mayor is speaking right now and he's announcing some really harrowing data about the infection rates there. Tell us more.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jake. Infection rates in Houston today three times higher than they were three months ago. This is raising a lot of alarm amongst local officials. The governor pulling back on that reopening plan, mandating that bars, for example, as of a few hours ago had to shut their doors to patrons, restaurants slashing capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent. Outdoor gatherings of 100 people or more now restricted.

But local officials who see the devastating impact on the ground, they say it doesn't go far enough. Take a listen to the Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo. She had some strong words today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JUDGE LINA HIDALGO (D), HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS: Today, we find ourselves careening toward a catastrophic and unsustainable situation. Since when did we decide as a society that instead of saving a life and preventing the spread of the virus, we would treat human lives, the lives of our neighbors, as collateral damage.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KAFANOV: She's worried that Harris County hospitals could room out of a room in less than a week and that Texas Medical Center behind me, their ICU filled up yesterday, Jake.

TAPPER: And, Lucy, the Trump administration has said it is now going to keep funding five coronavirus testing sites in Texas, a program that was supposed to expire in just a few days.

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