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Houston Area Raises Response Level to Most Severe; Texas Governor Issues New Restrictions as Cases Spike; Utah Health Official Says State May Need Complete Shutdown; Trump Administration Fights to End Obamacare as Pandemic Rages; New Jersey Woman Suffers COVID Symptoms More Than Three Months. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired June 26, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The Texas governor is taking more action today to slow the spread of coronavirus as cases are surging across the state. Governor Abbott is pausing reopening, shutting down all bars and issuing a new set of restrictions after Texas reported nearly 6,000 cases yesterday. They're highest single day jump since the pandemic began.

And Harris County, that's the most populous in Texas, it's the Houston area, third biggest in the country, raised their coronavirus warning to severe. That's the highest level on the scale. So, with me now, Lucy Kafanov, she is in Houston. And Lucy, what do these actions mean for Texans?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it remains to be seen whether this will actually slow the spread of the virus. Remember, Texas was one of the first states to push for an aggressive economic reopening. We're now seeing the fallout from that. Three consecutive days of record-breaking new case numbers. We're still waiting for today's numbers to come out.

The governor forced to issue this executive order to try to scale back the reopening essentially shutting down all bars to patrons again, they can still to takeout and delivery. Restaurants scaling back their capacity from 75 percent to 50 percent. Rafting and tubing trips completely shut down. And public gatherings of over 100 people or more are banned unless local authorities allow it.

But when you talk to people on the ground, the local officials like here in Harris County who see the impact, who see the soaring in cases, they say that doesn't go far enough. Lena Hidalgo, the local judge here issued that severe warning, the highest in the county, the highest level they could possibly put in to place, she's urging folks to stay home, to work from home, to not do any kind of travel unless it's absolutely essential but she doesn't have the authority to enforce that. That's something that only the governor could do. And he's not showing any indication that he's willing to go there just yet -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: Lucy Kafanov, thank you so much for the update there. And I know there in Harris County specifically really running out of ICU beds which is a huge problem. At least 11 states are now hitting pause on their plans to reopen. So, besides Texas, you have Florida, we just talked Florida, Nevada and North Carolina and Arizona and others here highlighted are all choosing not to move into the next phase of reopening.

But one state not on the list -- Utah. Even as infections there are on the rise. So much so that earlier this week one of the state's top health officials Dr. Angela Dunn sent an internal memo warning that another complete shut own may be necessary to stop the spread, and joining me now state epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health Dr. Angela Dunn.

So, Dr. Dunn, thank you for being with me. You're the one who wrote the memo then you saw the response from Governor Gary Herbert, right, tweeting later that there are no plans to do another shutdown. I mean you basically sounded the alarm and it seems like it's gone from bad to worse. If no one listens to you, what are we looking at here?

DR. ANGELA DUNN, STATE EPIDEMIOLOGIST, DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH UTAH: I mean absolutely. We're trying to make sure that we're preserving our health care capacity so that every Utahn could get the health care they need whether it's COVID related or not. And at this rate our cases are increasing every day at a really fast rate so we need to do something different in our response to start turning the curve.

BALDWIN: But if they don't listen to you, how bad could it be?

DUNN: So, yes, absolutely, so we're working with healthcare systems and other medical experts across the state to really impose upon our policymakers and decision-makers that the time is now to start really looking hard at making decisions around face masks and starting to think about how businesses and schools could reopen safely, so that we can limit the spread of COVID-19, protect the health of individuals while also ensuring our economic health so that we don't have to do a shutdown to protect lives.

BALDWIN: You mentioned face masks. Let me ask you about this quickly, that Governor Herbert is allowing some counties to enforce wearing a mask in public places and at a press conference earlier this week he emphasized the need to, you know, take personal responsibility, wear a mask at the appropriate times. Why not make wearing a mask mandatory statewide?

DUNN: Yes, so right now as you said, we have two of our counties that have mandated face masks out in public. The governor has also mandated face masks within state buildings. There's, you know, a lot of political tension and public tension around wearing face masks not only in Utah but nationally. And so we're trying to strike that balance between, you know, having people understand that they should want to wear a mask to protect their community and their loved ones versus forcing them to do that. Because ultimately enforcement of any of those laws is going to be tough. We really want to get the public on the same page with us.

BALDWIN: Dr. Angela Dunn in Utah, thank you so much. [15:35:00]

And as millions of Americans are struggling not just health wise here but financially, and look for cheaper health care during the pandemic, the Trump administration just asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take away the only source of coverage for millions of people. Let's talk about that next.


BALDWIN: With coronavirus cases hitting a record high across the country, and more and more people in need of healthcare coverage, the Trump administration made an extraordinary move late last night asking the Supreme Court to strike down the Affordable Care Act.


If the court did in fact overturn that law as the Trump administration would like to do, more than 20 million people would lose their healthcare coverage. Just this year nearly half a million Americans turned to Obamacare when unemployment spiked amid the coronavirus epidemic.

And with me now, Valerie Jarrett, former senior adviser to President Obama and also the author of the book, "Finding My Voice, When the Perfect Plan Crumbles the Adventure Begins." So, Valerie Jarrett, nice to have you on.


BALDWIN: You played such an integral role in the crafting of the Affordable Care Act. I know you've called Obamacare one ever your proudest moments. What is your reaction by this move by this Trump White House?

JARRETT: Well it's just stunning. I can't imagine why they would think that trying to repeal an act that as you said, Brooke, that has brought health care to over 23 million Americans, covered 133 million Americans who have pre-existing conditions who can no longer be discriminated against by their insurance companies. Young people can stay on their parent's plan until their 26. Women don't have to worry about being discriminated against and have coverage without any co-pay for preventative care.

And so, you have to ask why on earth would they do this? And I heard earlier they were saying, well, of course we're going to cover with pre-existing illnesses. Well, no they're not. I actually read the documents they filed in the court and they said repeal the Affordable Care Act with no plan to replace it with anything.

And then in the midst of a pandemic is this really the right choice I have to ask? And it wasn't the right choice for all the other times that they tried to vote in the Senate and the House to repeal it or the two other times they went up to the Supreme Court and it was ruled Constitutional. So, I think it is a horrible thing for America and actually politically not very smart either.

BALDWIN: When you look at -- let's step back for a second. Because we've learned that the Trump administration for example is preparing, you know, this major effort to protect our national monuments including assigning U.S. Marshals to oversee them and signing this executive order meant to protect them just in the wake of everything that's been happening in the country.

So, you know, you have that on the one hand. And on the other hand, you have President Trump doing little to nothing to protect the American people from this global pandemic and I just wonder what you make of that juxtaposition?

JARRETT: Well, it too is stunning, right. We were trying to protect monuments that celebrate and honor those who fought against our country, support the Confederacy and supported slavery. They belong in the history books. They belong in old museums. They do not belong in our town squares and they certainly don't belong in the names of our military bases.

And is that really the best use of time when we should focus on this pandemic? We see the uptick in states across our country, we see the -- I'm looking at your chart, 124,749 Americans who've lost their lived, 2.4 million who've contracted the illness and this is what we should be doing?

And I think what speaks volumes is the fact that all across our country, in all 50 states, people of all ages and races and backgrounds are taking to the streets, putting their lives in harm's way to say enough is enough. And meanwhile President Trump is yet again appealing to an ever-shrinking base and using tactics that are designed to polarize us and to separate us. As opposed to what he should be doing which is bringing us together.

Just as frankly his former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley did five years ago today, we were at the ceremony where we were commemorating the life of Reverend Pinckney, and his eight parishioners who were murdered. And she said let's take down the Confederate flag in our state. It's divisive. It's pulling us apart. It's contributing to the racial tensions and that's what I expect from the President of the United States and the Republican leaders as well as Democrats all across our country. Enough is enough. Let's have a new day and make this a turning of the page and let's heal America once and for all.

BALDWIN: And the conversation, just speaking of the President, and the conversation with Sean Hannity last night Trump was asked about his priorities, right, for a second term if he's elected. It's a question that any sitting President, right, running for re-election should be well prepared to answer and it seems that the President was not prepared for this question. Watch.


SEAN HANNITY, FOX HOST: What are you your top priority items for a second term? DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well one of the things that will be really great, you know the word experience is still good. I always say talent is more important than experience. I've always said that.

I didn't know very many people in Washington. It wasn't my thing. I was from Manhattan, from New York. Now I know everybody. And I have great people in the administration. You make some mistakes like, you know, an idiot like Bolton.


BALDWIN: Do you hear a clear agenda?

JARRETT: I mean if you cannot articulate what you want to do in a second term, why on earth would the American people put their trust in you? I mean he should have thought about that very clearly a lot earlier than that interview.


So that makes me scratch my head compared to Vice President Biden who has a very clear idea of how he wants to bring our country back from the brink of this economic collapse, close the health disparities, prepare us for the inevitable pandemic that may come down in the future or a second wave of this one. Rebuild America and as he says restore the soul of our country and heal us and move us forward. Now that's a clear agenda. I didn't hear anything at all intelligible in what President Trump said.

BALDWIN: Americans get to choose November 3rd. Valerie Jarrett. Thank you.

And a programming note for all of you, join Jake Tapper for a new CNN Special Report we're calling this "TRUMP AND THE LAW, AFTER IMPEACHMENT", it airs Sunday night at 10:00 Eastern.

As the Trump administration is downplaying the pandemic, some coronavirus patients are still reporting that they are still suffering from symptoms months after they first got sick and one of those patients is with me next.



BALDWIN: For those of us unlucky enough to have had coronavirus, we know how agonizing the coronavirus symptoms can be. Typically, those symptoms last a couple of weeks, so imagine what it's like to suffer with symptoms for months on end. It is rare. It does happen. Just ask my next guest. Melanie Montano was diagnosed with COVID-19 more than three months ago and she is still suffering from its effects. And she joins me from her home there in New Jersey. So, Melanie thank you for being with me and my heart so goes out to you. How are you feeling today, first of all? MELANIE MONTANO, SICK WITH COVID MORE THAN 90 DAYS: Hi, Brooke, thank

you so much. Today has been -- it's been better. I mean, touch and go. But not as bad as in the previous times but still (INAUDIBLE) pretty rough.

BALDWIN: How long have you been feeling symptoms and what are the symptoms that you've been feeling all along?

MONTANO: March 15th is when I became ill initially and the symptoms were like a searing hot pain throughout my chest or my lungs and like kind of a heavy feeling upon my chest. Fevers still have no sense of taste or smell at all by the way. Like none whatsoever. And pretty much everything that was conducive or what was aligned back in March what was originally considered to be like the standard protocol for those with COVID.

BALDWIN: Now I was reading, Melanie, that you are also asthmatic which I know puts you at a higher risk but just -- I don't know, emotionally dealing with this since mid-March, what kind of toll has it taken on you and also what are your doctors telling you? When is the end?

MONTANO: Well, I am asthmatic so that does render me higher risk in terms of being a little bit more susceptible to this virus. But in the same vein again, you know, I am 32 years old, so one would think I would have been able to kick the virus at this point by now three months later.


MONTANO: That's not been the case. I'm 32. Yes, so It's been very difficult. And I've had quite a battle with my primary care physician. Because a lot of the time I've had to be my own advocate for this. And especially I'm considered one of the long haulers in the sense that, OK, I've had this since March. So, I'm kind of -- we're the guinea pigs essentially of this virus. In the early stages my physician did not really take my seriously.

And so, it's been difficult because I'm just as new to this virus as this virus is to everyone else. So, I don't really know what's considered symptomatic or not symptomatic. I'm kind of just going through the motions and my physician has not been on board with a lot of it. So that --

BALDWIN: I'm sorry so hear that. I'm sorry so hear that. But I think anyone who's been sick, knows at the end of the day, you have to look out for yourself and you have to be your own best advocate.

MONTANO: Absolutely.

BALDWIN: So good on you for doing that. My last quick question is just, you know, for all the folks who are hanging out and not wearing masks and thinking its summer and we're over this. What's your message?

MONTANO: It's ludicrous. My message is it's irresponsible. It's selfish. Just because it doesn't directly impact you, does not mean it won't impact your loved ones or someone that you know.

I just don't understand not reintegrating and reopening with proper protocol and policies in place. It's very irresponsible. And so, I understand we -- I mean this has been no picnic for myself either. Three months of self-isolation and no hugs, no interaction, no dynamic. It's awful. And I can respect where people are coming from but in the same vain, ignorance, you know, pandemics are immune to ignorance. And when you're, you know, not really following certain social distancing protocols, emerging cases like in Arizona and whatnot that is pretty standard. So, it's just -- it's eye rolling at best.

BALDWIN: I cannot imagine. Hug through the television and, you know, let's stay in touch and let's have you back on when you're finally well, all right. Melanie, thank you very much.

And before we go to break, Vice President Mike Pence paints a rosy outlook for the pandemic that continues to rage across the country forcing states to roll back opening plans. We have those details ahead.

But first, I want to introduce you to two CNN heroes today who are giving people hope during these difficult times.



MARY ROBINSON, FOUNDER, IMAGINE: Grieving is what we do when we lose someone or something we value. It's not just when someone dies. There's a pandemic of grief right now. We're grieving the loss of our daily life, of all of our connections, of jobs and we have no control over it.

ANNETTE MARCH-GRIER, FOUNDER, ROBERTA'S HOUSE: And now we're facing what has happened to George Floyd, but we can use this traumatic experience as a growth opportunity. The more we're able to act in a constructed way makes more meaning for us so that we can move forward.


BALDWIN: You can learn more about these heroes and their amazing work, got to