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White House Coronavirus Task Force Issues First Briefing in Two Months; Eleven U.S. States Have Halted or Reversed Reopening; Interview with Houston Health Department Doctor David Persse. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired June 26, 2020 - 14:00   ET


PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: I'm looking at some of my notes here. There was no predictive models, there was no coherent overview on what the nature of this crisis is and what the basis of it is, beyond the reopening.

And the terrible part for me was there were no ideas presented, they have no idea what to do, there is no concrete federal plan for helping the metro areas. There was not a single suggestion made on what they do.

They said they're now sending some officers from the CDC to analyze the data. Really? I mean, we've had this resurgence now for two weeks, and now they're sending in CDC officers to look at the data? This is a tragedy. And what's more, it's not presented as a tragedy, it's presented as we're doing a pretty good job and now there are a couple of hotspots.

These are not hotspots, these are the largest metropolitan areas in the United States. We're talking Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles. This is a huge increase and acceleration in the epidemic, and it's clear that this next part is headed to be far worse in terms of number of cases, in terms of number of hospitalizations, and likely number of deaths than the first wave was in New York City.

So I'm trying not to sound apoplectic here, but this is really unfortunate. We need, now more than ever, good federal leadership, we need guidance, we need a road map, we need a plan. We didn't see any of that. And, you know.

So I completely agree with what Sanjay said, and I would just pile on a bit more to say that there is no plan for how we're going to move forward, going down the line. They say the reopening's going well? The reopening has been an unmitigated disaster.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: Yes. And the difference between Pence describing the reopening and Anthony Fauci describing the reopening, right? Anthony Fauci talks about how they're a combination of places that have opened before they should, or places that have opened when they should but they've done it in a disorderly fashion, he said. Or maybe they have opened when they should and it's been orderly, but then citizens are not cooperating. So it's really this combination of events -- Peter.

HOTEZ: Brianna, there's been -- there was no organization to how it was presented, you know, what you've got to do. And, you know, my first-year graduate students know how to do this. You put the map up and you say, Look, this is -- we have a problem, and the problem is this: We have a steep acceleration in the number of cases in our major metropolitan areas in the southwestern U.S.

We haven't completed our analysis of all the causes, but it's pretty clear that we had to -- that for economic reasons, we reopened ahead of the time when the modelers told us we could go back to containment mode, meaning one new case per million residents per day.

The -- we don't know the demographics of this rise. We think it's linked to young people, but that's not the only thing that's going on. We're seeing lots of acceleration in many of the low-income neighborhoods, we're worried about people who live in poverty that have difficulty in social distancing.

We now have to take steps to bring this back. And this means that simply slowing or halting the reopening, maintaining the status quo is not adequate, and we now need to bring this back and shut down various parts of these metropolitan areas. We know this is a hardship, but we have to focus on saving lives.

KEILAR: All right, Dr. Hotez.

And I just want to sort of recap what our viewers are -- really, what has just happened here. The first White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in a very long time just happened, and it painted a picture of an alternate reality to what is actually happening in America.

The vice president, stressing -- I think it was at least three or four, maybe more times -- that we are not in the same place that we were two months ago. He was trying to tell Americans that things have gotten better. Things have not gotten better. You hear our medical experts, who are there on the ground, who are looking at the data. And as Dr. Peter Hotez just explained, there was not one prescriptive proposal for how to get things going better, right?

So if you listened to this task force briefing, you kind of had the sense that things have made -- a lot of progress has been made, when really, you know, this country is staring down the barrel of a gun when it comes to coronavirus.


I want to go to Kaitlan Collins. She is at the White House.

This, Kaitlan, is where politics at the White house, clearly winning out over -- or you're, pardon me, you're at the Department of Health and Human Services, where this White House Task Force has just briefed the media.

There really is this political message that the vice president is pushing that comes right up against the reality, that comes up against the science of what is happening on the ground, but he's really trying to paint a positive picture about where the country is.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's not just a political message, Brianna, it's the message overall. The vice president, saying he didn't want the American people to slip into this place where they tend to think that we are where we were two months ago, that it's that bad, saying that we're in a much better situation now.

But, Brianna, you look at the numbers yesterday, we have surpassed the single day of highest recorded cases in the U.S. yesterday. You know when that last day was? In April. That was also around the last time that the White House held a Coronavirus Task Force briefing. Of course, they did it today, eight weeks later, and now that more than 70,000 more Americans have died since that last briefing.

And the vice president only took a handful of questions even though the room was filled with reporters. I think he took five, maybe six questions. He left the room without answering many more questions that we had about that, not only about the fact that he wouldn't even endorse the CDC's recommendation that you should wear a mask when you're out in public and around other people.

He ticked off so many other guidelines that the CDC has given of ways that you can stay safe, to slow the spread. Yet he very, very obviously stayed away from masks. And even when a reporter asked him about that, he said he thought that people should focus on what the local guidance is, the state guidance is, ignoring that federal guidance from the CDC is that people should wear a mask --

KEILAR: All right, I want to bring in -- we're going to re-establish Kaitlan's signal there, I want to bring in Dana Bash there. But to Kaitlan's point, Dana, the vice president, not embracing the CDC guidance. And instead, when asked repeatedly by reporters about masks, he said that Americans should look to their state and local officials for guidance, and they should follow that guidance.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, overall, this briefing was bumping up against 5:00 folly territory, and I'm talking about Vietnam-era press briefings, which have become notorious and now kind of a term that people use for the government trying to tell reporters and the American public something that they don't believe because they see, in front of their face, something completely different. And -- now to be fair, I don't think that was the case for the medical professionals at this briefing, Dr. Fauci in particular.

But for Mike Pence to first of all start the briefing and talk extensively about how great things are, but more importantly to -- I thought pretty much abruptly end the briefing after he got a very good and very appropriate question about why on earth they're sitting there, talking about the recommendations for people across the board -- particularly focusing on young people -- and yet the president and vice president's own campaign didn't follow those recommendations in so many different ways over the past few days.

And his answer was, Well, freedom of speech and freedom of responsibility and we have an election coming up this fall. Well, a couple of things on that. Number one, freedom of speech and

freedom and the First Amendment is not pure. There are so many -- I mean, we could sit here for the next two hours, Brianna, and talk about all of the parts of the law that chip away at that because it is in the public good. And that's just a fact, a legal fact and it is just a fact.

The other thing is --


BASH: -- we have an election coming up this fall. That is true, people do have a right to express themselves.

We live in the digital age, there are so many ways to get their message out. The president got elected using social media for example, and so that's also a little much.

And it's -- it really is just so stunning to me that even -- you know, somebody like Mike Pence, who's sitting there with these people, these professionals who he sat in a room with for months and months, and he is just -- he can't say anything to support the federal government's own guidelines that he seems to not be able to execute because the president of the United States doesn't want it to happen.

KEILAR: Yes, and he talked about the rallies, he said that they're taking the proper steps, he said that they're screening. Bu that's not -- I mean, that's just not true, Dana --


BASH: They're doing some things, but -- right, exactly.

KEILAR: Temperatures were taken, but there's so -- I mean, there are so many people who don't have a temperature, they were not testing. They were -- even as we understood, some people might have --


BASH: Well, just wear a mask, just require people to wear a mask.

KEILAR: -- elevated temperatures, and they were -- exactly. OK, so they --

BASH: Yes.

KEILAR: -- they say they provide -- they made them available.

I want to go back real quick to Kaitlan Collins, she's there outside of the Health and Human Services Department. Kaitlan, sorry we lost you there for a second, I'm going to have you pick up where you left off.

COLLINS: Yes, just talking about what the vice president was saying in this first Task Force briefing -- once again, I want to reiterate -- in eight weeks, where they only took a handful of questions from reporters, even though we had many more to ask.

And the vice president wrongly said that all 50 states are moving forward with reopening, when we actually know that several states have now paused their reopening. And even in Texas, you're seeing them scale back their reopening and reverse some of those decisions that they've made.

And then as Dr. Birx was speaking -- as they had several of the health experts that we have not heard from in this kind of a setting in several weeks -- she was showing us several graphs. And one of those graphs, Brianna, refuted something that the president has been saying repeatedly, which is that he believes the only reason there are more cases in the United States is because there is more testing.

At one point, Dr. Birx showed a graph of Texas, where you are seeing an outbreak happening right now, and it showed that even though testing was increased in May, their positivity rate of cases was declining. That's changed in the last two and half weeks. Even as their testing has increased, now their positivity rate is also increasing.

And so it is obviously attributable to other factors, even though the vice president said at one point he believed it was inarguable to say that the reason there are more cases is not -- is only because there is more testing. That is obviously not the case.

And, Brianna, we had so many more questions for the vice president, I just want to stress that. And they did not take more than about five or six questions of reporters. And of course, one of the biggest takeaways and questions, going forward, is whether or not they're going to continue to hold those events like you saw.

Because he talked about Oklahoma and the rally the president held there, and said that the number of cases in Oklahoma looks good by what they've seen. We should point out, eight members of the president's own campaign staff tested positive after they were at that event, and dozens of Secret Service officers are now quarantining after two of their colleagues tested positive at that event.

KEILAR: Yes, thank you. That's such an important reality check, Kaitlan.

And, Sanjay, I want to get your input on something that Kaitlan highlighted that is so important, which is this percent positivity. And not to take us back to elementary school math, but the White House will argue and you hear Vice President Pence again, wrongly arguing this here, that there's more testing, so there's more cases. Or as he put it, testing generates cases, which is not the case.

If you're tested and you have coronavirus or you're untested and you have coronavirus, you still have coronavirus. But this idea of percent positivity, meaning even if overall you're testing more people, if you have more positivity, then the number, one divided by the other, increasing over time, tells you it doesn't matter that you have more testing, you have more positive people relative to testing. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. You have

more infection out there, that's the bottom line, You are finding more that infection, that part of it is true. But the more salient, more relevant thing is that for so long, because we weren't testing enough in this country -- we started testing late -- that the virus started to spread. And now we're getting better eyes on just how significant this problem is.

Also, you know, the hospitalization rates, Brianna, in these places, are obviously a different measure. That's not something that's going to be directly influenced by the number of tests. Hospitalization rates are going up, you know, significantly in several of these areas. That's because there's a lot of people out there who are now getting sick. That wouldn't be because they just now got tested, it's because they have the infection, they're getting sick, and they're going into the hospital.

You have situations like where Peter is in Houston, where you know, children's hospitals are now, you know, being used to take care of adult patients; there's situations in Florida where a significant percentage of the ICU beds are full, that's where my parents live, this is what they're worried about down there. In Arizona, they've gone into these emergency planning sort of modes, you know, because of the concern about hospital beds.

None of that's influenced by more testing. We're not doing enough testing, not by a long shot. We should be doing 10 times more testing, according to some of these road maps.

And by the way, the reason you ultimately do more testing -- if you were doing the right amount of testing, the case numbers should go down, not up. That's because you find people, you isolate them, you trace their contacts, all the things that we've been talking about. That's why you do it, you know? So it's absolutely false to say the reason that the numbers have gone up is because of more testing. And I think, Brianna, most people understand that by now, I hope they do.

KEILAR: God, I hope they do, I hope they do, Sanjay. Sanjay, thank you so much for helping us break all of this down. And thank you to Dana Bash and Dr. Hotez and Kaitlan as well.


Up next, the U.S. has reached a new peak in the coronavirus pandemic: At least 32 states are reporting increases in new cases including Florida, where the state is reporting nearly 9,000 new cases, their highest single-day reporting since the start of this pandemic.

Plus, Texas takes action: The governor just ordered bars to close in order to contain the spread, even as the vice president says all 50 states are reopening, Texas, heading backwards. We'll have a live report, next.


KEILAR: As the coronavirus numbers go up, reopening in many states is slowing down. CNN correspondent Nick Watt is joining us, live now from Los Angeles. Tell us, Nick, which states across the country are hitting the pause button, or sometimes even heading backwards on the reopening.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, that number is growing, we now count it at 11.

But what was extraordinary, watching the vice president there, was he was saying with pride, all 50 states are reopening. No mention of those 11states that are pausing or rolling things back. You know, he also said that 34 states right now are stable. Our count is 18.

He was talking about the incredible progress that has been made. All the while, I'm watching these alerts coming in from states that are closing down, and from here in California where, once again, a record number of people in the hospital, a record number of people in the ICU.

So what's happening, Brianna, is some local leaders, more local leaders are now taking action.


WATT (voice-over): At noon in Texas, the bars were ordered to close one 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.

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

LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: My only concern is, are these restrictions too late? Are they enough?

WATT (voice-over): Today, the White House Coronavirus Task Force appeared again in public after nearly two months. The vice president, trying very hard to paint a rosy picture.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: As we see 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.

WATT (voice-over): Really? 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.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), 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 (voice-over): Reopening is now paused or rolling back in at least 11 states.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CHIEF, DIVISION OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, MASSACHUSETTS GENERAL HOSPITAL: 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.

WATT (voice-over): Meanwhile, New York City, once the scene of so much death, started slower on reopening, still plans to move forward.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D), NEW YORK, NEW YORK: We're doing pretty well on our own. We're going to be really careful about anyone who comes to visit.

WATT (voice-over): 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 every one individually.

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

WATT (voice-over): The president is tested every day, but still seems to think the rest of us are tested too much.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So we have more cases because we do the greatest testing. If we didn't do testing, we'd have no cases.

WATT (voice-over): And he still won't wear a mask, doesn't want to admit he is wrong, says one source.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: I do believe the president should be wearing a mask. So many of us, on Sundays, you know, go and are taught and learn about how important loving your neighbor is? We've got to show it now. Such a small step that can go such a long way.


WATT: And this was a little frightening from Dr. Fauci during that briefing, he said that right now what is not working is the testing and tracing program within communities. And, listen, if we're going to be seeing 40,000 or so new cases every day, that testing and tracing is only going to get harder.

There is now, apparently, also a schism within that Coronavirus Task Force. Some of the people on that task force believe that the CDC has been pretty bad at testing right from the beginning, and they say it is unbelievable that by now there is not a widespread program in place -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, this is why federal coordination matters, and we're not seeing it. Nick Watt, thank you so much.

We have Dr. David Persse with us now, with the Houston Health Department. And, Doctor, thank you so much for joining us. You say that you would not re-employ the statewide lockdown. Tell us why.

DAVID PERSSE, PUBLIC HEALTH AUTHORITY, HOUSTON HEALTH DEPARTMENT: Well, I don't -- there's consequences to that, so I'm glad that the governor took the step that he did (ph) today, but we have to balance it, right? Because when you go to lockdown again, and people wind up without jobs, then they don't get their medications and there are other health care consequences.


So it's got to be a very delicate balance. I don't know what the right number is, but I am glad to see what the governor did today.

KEILAR: OK, so at the beginning of all this pandemic, we were seeing hospitals in New York running out of ICU beds, ventilators. Are you seeing signs that that could happen any time soon in Texas?

PERSSE: So we are in really close contact with our medical center, which has most but not all of the hospitals in Harris County and in Houston. And we've been working very closely with them, and they have plans in place and for the foreseeable -- short foreseeable future, measured in a couple weeks, they tell us, they assure us that they are going to be able to handle it.

But there's another problem that comes with hospitals that really hasn't been a part of the national conversation, and that has to do with how hospitals are paid, that is pitting the elective surgery against the patient who's got COVID disease. And that is a solvable problem, in my opinion.

KEILAR: And how would you solve it?

PERSSE: Well, today, if you're the CEO of a hospital, then you make money -- not a lot, but -- you make money on the elective surgeries. The profit that you make in that, you use to offset the losses that you incur taking care of a patient with viral pneumonia and-or the complications of that.

So what America needs today, is America needs hospitals to be financially incentivized. And let's face it, they're businesses, like anything else. So they need to be financially incentivized to take care of COVID patients -- and in the winter, with influenza patients. But today, they're incentivized to take care of elective surgeries.

So when hospitals are overcrowded and when a pneumonia patient comes into the emergency department and there's no bed upstairs for them to go to, that's because those beds are filled with patients that are elective surgeries, scheduled admissions, because that's what the hospital has to have.

So why don't we pay hospitals to take care of the kind of patients that we need American hospitals to care for today, which is your pneumonia patients along with all those complications? I think that's a fixable problem.

KEILAR: So the last hour, we heard Dr. Anthony Fauci -- this was just a very short time ago -- pleading with young people to take more precautions. He said that he was seeing people who maybe saw their personal risk on kind of a continuum, and that they were behaving appropriately.

But he said that this is -- everyone here is part of a dynamic and global system, basically. So a young person, if they're infected, he said, You're going to pass it on to somebody else, that's how this infection rate works. And you could be passing it on to someone's aunt who has had radiation, you could be passing it on to a child who has leukemia. You could be passing it on to vulnerable people.

And he basically said, And you will be doing that. He tried to say -- without placing any blame -- I am kind of holding you responsible for doing that. Are you seeing young people hospitalized or what trends are you seeing with young people?

PERSSE: So here in Houston, we're seeing the same trends that the other urban areas across the nation are. That, yes, we are seeing the average age of the patient who's admitted to the hospital is getting younger and younger, and that's a twofold thing.

One is, the virus is absolutely clearly got out into the general public and is spreading amongst people who go out and interact with each other a lot. And as young people, we're much more social than we are as we get into our 40s and 50s. Conversely, the other thing we've done is we've done a pretty good job of protecting those in nursing homes.

So we're seeing two things occurring. One is the average age is coming down because of the better job of protecting nursing homes and the elderly. And the elderly themselves who are not in nursing homes, are doing a good job of protecting themselves. Those are the ones that are religiously wearing masks, social distancing, not going to gatherings.

Whereas younger folks tend to be the ones, in my observation, they tend to be doing those things that we would rather they didn't. It's not they're evil about a younger person, they just need to understand they have the same level of responsibility as anybody else does.

KEILAR: Yes. Dr. Davis Persse, thank you so much. We really appreciate you joining us from Houston, where you are experiencing an uptick there in coronavirus cases.


Some 20 million Americans right now are insured through the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. But late last night, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to invalidate it, in the middle of a pandemic. We'll have that, next.