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Florida Sets New Daily Record With 9,585 New COVID Cases; Business Forced To Close As Crowds Flock To Florida's Panhandle; Texas More Than Half Of U.S. States See Increase In COVID-19 Cases; Parents Express Mixed Feelings About Kids Returning To School; Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) Is Interviewed About U.S. Fighter Jets Intercepting Russian Military Aircraft Near Alaska; Cases In Latin America Triple In Past Month, Two-Million-Plus Infections. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired June 27, 2020 - 12:00   ET

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


[12:00:00]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: We have just learned that Florida has set a new daily record for cases more than 9,500 were recorded today that's 600 more than was tallied at a previous day breaking yet another.

This as the U.S. saw the largest total of new cases to date on Friday, with over 45,000 reported in a single day. At least five states hit new peaks. And if you are in any one of these 32 states, you are seeing surging infections, as the country surpasses 125,000 deaths.

At least 11 states are now pausing plans to further reopen their economies Arizona, Texas, Florida and others delaying their next phases of reopening for example suspending drinking in bars and limiting capacity at restaurants and other businesses to 50 percent to 75 percent.

But as states grapple with the virus spiking a rather rosy tone coming from the White House. Vice President Mike Pence saying at the first Coronavirus Task Force briefing in two months that the U.S. is opening safely and responsibly.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT: We've all seen the encouraging news as we open up America again more than 3 million jobs created in the last jobs report, retail sales are rolling. Of course, the extraordinary progress in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans, areas that just a matter of a month ago was struggling under the weight of this pandemic.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have a team of reporters covering the hot spots across the country. Let's start with those alarming case numbers out of Florida. Randi Kaye is at Riviera Beach North of Miami. Randi, how are people responding to this kind of news?

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Not well, Fred. This is certainly not the direction that this state wants to be going in, more than another 643 cases to help us hit that daily record of Coronavirus cases, now more than 9,500 as you said in this state.

The Governor held a press conference yesterday and all along he has been explaining this away, saying it is just because of more testing, that the tests are up about 20,000 more a day, about 45,000 tests a day now. That's how he explains it.

He says that nothing much has changed here, but a lot has changed here. We've been out here all morning. We are seeing people out and about in the restaurants behind me they're going to the beach on the other side of our camera. There is a regular, steady flow of people here in the State of Florida, which could explain why we're seeing a higher positivity rate.

Certainly younger people are out and about. That's who we are seeing most of the positive cases are hitting, ages 33 to 35. That's a big reason why they closed the bars in the State of Florida here. Now you cannot go to a bar because that's where younger people are congregating.

But also Governor DeSantis is saying despite all of the requests from state officials here he is not going to mandate masks in the State of Florida. He is going to leave it up to the counties and the local governments and municipalities.

He says that, "He's going to trust people to make good decisions", but people are out and about, plenty of them today not wearing masks even though the mandate has gone into effect. Face masks are now required here in Palm Beach County where I am, certainly in Orange County where Disney World is in Orlando, in Miami, in Hollywood.

People are wearing or supposed to be wearing masks. They can get a civil fine up to $500 or they can get a warning at first, and then another fine. But if you are out exercising, you can keep a safe social distance, no mask required, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, okay. Because I was going to say I saw a lot of people in the last shot with you not wearing masks. So because they're out and about and because it doesn't seem like they are right up against, you know, other people, they don't have to wear. That's the condition in which you don't have to wear it in a mandated county?

KAYE: It is if you are exercising and you can keep a safe social distance, but any time you are in a public place where of whether you are in a store, whether you are walking around here, you are supposed to be wearing it.

People are really disagreeing about whether or not there should be a mandate. Some people are saying, I agree with you, that's the only way to do it, not wearing a mask is actually selfish and others say you know what? I can give someone a cold or I can give someone the flu, so if I give them Coronavirus, who cares. They don't understand how deadly the Coronavirus can be compared to the other things? That is the attitude here. WHITFIED: Right, there is a difference. Randi Kaye and the numbers prove that, 125,000 deaths in the U.S. thank you so much, Randi. I appreciate it. Right now to Florida's Panhandle where some businesses are having to shut down again just weeks after reopening the reason large crowds and a lack of social distancing.

CNN's Natasha Chen is at Pensacola Beach. And Natasha what are you hearing from folks there? What are businesses doing?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well Fred, bar owners is very frustrated including the folks behind us here. They are setting up for to-go order today and that is how they were operating things near the beginning of this pandemic?

And that is because yesterday Florida stopped alcohol sales and consumption at bars statewide. So they feel like they are back to square one, but restaurants and other places serving alcohol can still stay open.

[12:05:00]

CHEN: So they feel a bit singled out. We talked to one bar owner just around the corner here about how he felt going back to square one?

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID KELLY, OWNER OF BEACH BREAK BAR: The fact that our Governor was bent so progressive with reopening was very - I don't know, we stood behind him and we were very happy about that. And at this point it feels like he's turned around and now he's singling out stand-alone bars whereas restaurants, retail stores, these other venues are open for business.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And, of course, the Governor said that this was happening because of noncompliance. We have heard, for example, a group of 16 young people who got sick from one Florida bar. Now, places, as I mentioned, that are not bar licenses but that are restaurant licenses can still operate.

Here is a Facebook post from O'Reilly's pub downtown in Pensacola. They are technically a restaurant and they have chosen voluntarily to stop their college nights to prevent large crowds from gathering.

One of the managers there on the phone with me this morning said they really just did not want a situation where they could potentially have up to 200 people in there, even though that is still at 50 percent capacity, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, lots of frustration coming from lots of different directions there. Natasha Chen, thank you so much. All right, CNN's Polo Sandoval is standing for with us in New York. So Polo, 32 states seeing these cases climb but only a handful are slowing down plans to reopen. What's the case in New York? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it is important to really just pause for a moment and when you consider what is and is not working. And as we have heard from health officials say that certainly some of those states that are seeing the spike may want to look at what is happening in and around the New York state area when you look at the numbers there?

In fact, consider the stats that were just released by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo here in the last couple of hours saying that yesterday there were about 73,000 tests performed across the state. Out of those, .96 percent came back positive. That's less than 1 percent of tests that are being conducted right now in the State of New York coming back positive.

When you hear from officials and ask them exactly what is behind that, of course, there's the social distancing that we've seen. We are just beginning to see some of those reopenings. We are only about a week into phase two of reopenings here in New York.

We are certainly starting to see those people starting to take advantage of those sidewalk dining opportunities, and we are expecting for the next phase to take place in early July. The question is why this is working?

Of course, there's the social distancing, the masks are certainly being worn. Mine comes off just so you and I can have this conversation and then comes right back on. And so authorities are certainly recommending that other parts of the country certainly do that, because when you compare New York's roughly 1 percent rate when it comes to their tests versus those in their 20s in parts of Florida, it is certainly a telling number.

Is that the only solution? It certainly is not, but when you hear from Dr. Fauci as we did yesterday during that latest briefing. He says that everyone does have that responsibility to society to at least practice those kinds of measures that should be in place.

Of course, many people asking what kind of example we're seeing from the White House with the President, of course, Vice President Pence, and the question is really we're hearing from them doesn't necessarily reflect the reality in other parts of the state, or other parts of the country unless, of course, they're referring to New York, back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Polo Sandoval in New York thanks so much. Texas's Governor Greg Abbott is now admitting that he allowed bars in the state to reopen too soon this as cases spike across the state, causing a top official in the Houston area to raise the County's Coronavirus threat warning to the highest level. CNN's Alexandra Field joining me now from Houston so Alexandra what is the consensus there?

ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The question right now, Fredricka, is whether the Governor will move to roll back the reopening of Texas even further because people here across the board have to be able to recognize that there is a problem because we see it in the numbers.

These cases going up, the hospitalizations going up, the hospitals hitting capacity in their ICU beds and a warning from local officials that we're just a couple of weeks away from the hospitals possibly being entirely overwhelmed.

Major turnaround in Texas as COVID cases soar. Governor Greg Abbott one of the first Governors to reopen his state now taking steps to walk it back. Bars must close but can still serve take-out or delivery. There are new restrictions on restaurant capacity and additional limits on outdoor crowds. Houston is now a hot spot. Some local officials want the Governor to do more.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)9

JUDGE LINA HIDALGO, HARRIS COUNTY CHIEF EXECUTIVE: There is no evidence out there to show that anything short of a stay-at-home order will do. We have barely weeks, between 10 and 30 days before we hit capacity if we keep going at these rates.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[12:10:00]

FIELD: Here in Harris County, the country's third largest county, the local COVID warning system is being raised with the highest level, severe indicating an uncontrolled outbreak, a strain on testing and tracing and a recommendation for people to stay home.

It comes as Texas continues to smash its daily record of new confirmed COVID-19 cases. Hospitalizations have been climbing since the middle of June.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. UMAR SHAH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, HARRIS COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH: We are seeing a trend towards a younger population, both in our community testing as well as who is being admitted to our hospitals.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FIELD: Some health officials blame the state's early reopening.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SHAH: As a layering affect that it layered on top of each other. First had restaurants at some percentage and then you had gyms and hair salons and on top of that you had bars and then restaurants went to a higher percentage, mother's day. On top of that you had Memorial Day, then you had the marches, and you turn around and you have had other graduations.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FIELD: A pop-up hospital that opened in a Houston parking lot early in the pandemic could soon reopen inside the NRG Center, home to the Houston Texans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MARVIN ODUM, HOUSTON COVID-19 CZAR: This virus is out of control in Houston. If we don't act to get it under control, very bad, extremely bad things will - sickness, death, our economy progressively getting shut in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FIELD: A city that thought the worst was behind them now facing an even greater challenge. You can't put it more plainly than that. Fred, what we are seeing in Texas is reflective of what we're seeing in other states where there is a surge, this virus now affecting people in their 20s and their 30s?

Those make up most of the new cases. We are also still seeing this virus disproportionately affecting members of the black and Hispanic community the Mayor of Houston imploring people to help to get this under control.

The infection rate is three times higher today than it was just three months ago another local official comparing this to an invisible hurricane and asking people in the Houston area to remember what they did to help their neighbors in the floodwaters of Harvey and to act like that again, to take some responsibility, to care for one another. Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Alexandra Field in Houston thanks so much. All right, still to come, the White House may be ready to move on from the pandemic threat impacting the nation, but, guess what? Officials say when it comes to protecting the President against COVID-19, those efforts are being intensified. We'll talk about that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:15:00]

WHITFIELD: President Trump is in Washington this weekend, scrapping a trip to his New Jersey Golf Club as the nation struggles to contain a surge in the Coronavirus. The President is digging in on downplaying the threat, something he has done since the first U.S. case was confirmed over five months ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: We have cases because we test. Deaths are down. We, I have done a phenomenal job with it. We saved millions of lives and now it is time to open up, get back to work. It's fading away. It is going to fade away. If you look, the numbers are very small compared to what it was. It is dying out.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So while he is publicly confident, CNN has learned behind the scenes President Trump is ramping up efforts to protect himself from contracting a virus that is impacting some of his closest staff. At least eight campaign workers tested positive after being on site at his Tulsa rally one week ago. CNN's Sarah Westwood is at the White House. So Sarah, what steps are we learning are being taken to make sure the President doesn't contract the virus?

SARAH WESTWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Yes, Fred, the protective bubble around President Trump is getting thicker, and sources tell CNN that privately President Trump is increasingly expressing concerns about personally contracting the virus, that he is well aware of the public perception it would create both about his ability to lead and also about the urgency of the crisis, one that as you mentioned he is trying to down play.

And there's just a really sharp disconnect between those strict measures that are being taken to protect the President and this attitude that Trump has about the country being ready for reopening. Those measures include, for example, scouring the venues that the President will travel to for potential areas of contagion, setting aside bathrooms for his use and scrubbing them, sanitizing them carefully before hills arrival.

Also staffs are keeping very close tabs on who is going to interact with the President to make sure all of those people are tested before they come in close proximity to the President? Nonetheless, President Trump he is expressing this desire to get back out there, turning his focus to his reelection effort.

And yesterday at the first task force briefing in nearly two months, Vice President Mike Pence was defending the decision to get back out there on the campaign trail, start holding political rallies and events again, which put him at stark odds with the public health experts at the briefing sending mixed signals about the crisis. I want you to take a listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PENCE: Well, I want to remind you again that Freedom Speech and the right to peacefully assemble is enshrined in the constitution of the United States, and even in a health crisis the American people don't forfeit our individual rights.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: You have an individual responsibility to yourself but you have a societal responsibility, because if we want to end this outbreak, really end it and hopefully when a vaccine comes and puts the nail in the coffin, we've got to realize that we are part of the process.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WESTWOOD: Now, the data presented by Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx at that Task Force briefing yesterday shows the curve is far from being flattened, but as part of the effort to send an all-clear message the White House started to phase out temperature checks for people entering the grounds and phase out those mask requirements for people here on the White House complex.

[12:20:00]

WESTWOOD: But even as cases are surging, Fred, sources tell CNN that President Trump has not personally attended a task force meeting since April.

WHITFIELD: And, Sarah, what are staffers saying or thinking or feeling about these intensified efforts to protect the President, but then the mixed messaging that has occurred as it pertains to people wearing masks even in the White House?

I mean we have been reporting that some would wear their masks to the White House and then remove it before they entered the White House because there wasn't a good reception about that?

WESTWOOD: Right. That's obviously creating a lot of confusion in the staff, but also in the general public. Some people are experiencing whiplash from states that are hitting the pause button on reopenings.

That's happening in places like, for example, Texas where in-person bar service is being suspended, and yesterday you saw that with Vice President Mike Pence advocating some of the measures that people should follow.

He cited, you know, washing hands, but he didn't mention masks. Then you have Dr. Fauci standing up there next to him saying that people have a responsibility to wear those. So a lot of mixed messages coming out of this administration when it comes to how urgent this public health crisis still is, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sarah Westwood thanks so much. All right, still ahead, time is running out on decisions for school reopenings for the fall. What some districts are doing and what that means for parents next?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[12:25:00]

WHITFIELD: Officials in Denver are now planning to have students return to full in-person classes when the next school year begins in August this as educators all across the country face an uncertain fall with 32 states reporting an uptick in new Coronavirus cases. CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro joining me now from New York, so teachers are feeling the pressure there. What are you learning?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORESPONDENT: Well, good afternoon, Fred. By now the vast majority of students in America are on summer vacation, but school administrators are not getting much of a break. They are trying to figure to plan for a complicated school year next fall. I went to one School District near New York City to take a look at what the process is like.

The last week of school is usually a time for fun and celebration, but this year at the Greenburgh Central School District just outside New York City, the end of the school year just brings big questions about the next one? (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MEKEEL, ENGLISH TEACHER: We left in March thinking we would be back in two weeks, and here it is June and we're packing up. Do I set up for fall? Clean up and set up? I don't know.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Teachers like Mary Mekeel were allowed back inside their classrooms for the first time since the pandemic started.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MERKEEL: When I first came in this morning, I had winter stuff out still because it was cold. So I put snow men away.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Cleaning out a time capsule of the day students left back in March.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: To sort of leave things the way they were was a bit out of a science fiction movie.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: These days going into a school building means temperature checks and frequent disinfecting. Where people go and what rooms they enter are closely monitored, and it is still not enough. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an Executive Order in early June allowing schools to open for in-person instruction of special education students on July 6th. After scrambling to make it work, Greenburgh had to take a pass.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TAHIRA DUPREE CHASE, GREENBURGH SCHOOL DISTRICT SUPERINTENDENT: One reason is I don't have enough staff, the next reason? I don't have the therapists to provide the services that these children need.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: The Superintendent Tahira DuPree Chase is now focused on planning for the fall, but it is also a challenge when nothing is certain.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CHASE: We are in the phase of making sure we have multiple plans in preparation for whatever is going to happen in September, but planning is key, what I believe it is going to look like in September if it does reopen is we will have to have a hybrid model.

(END VIDEO CLIP) MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Under consideration are plans for students to be in class half the day and online at home half the day. But that's not finalized yet. In fact, nothing is. New York schools are still waiting for guidance from the state. The next school year is getting closer by the day.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: How long do you have to make a decision? When do you have to make the call?

CHASE: Like now - but really, like now. Actually, we don't have much time because there has to be a point of planning, there has to be a point of then communicating that plan because we do have parents who are apprehensive.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: With that apprehension in mind, Greenburgh is developing a plan to let students who don't want their kids at school before there's a vaccine to send them to class completely online.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOLAOLUWA HUSSEY, PARENTS OF GREENBURGH STUDENT: I feel that we would have to wait until possibly February.

MONIFA TIPPITT, PARENT OF GREENBURGH SCHOOL: I think we should stay home until February when all of this - virus is away so that everyone can be safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Now, Fred, over the past week we've seen more and more states start talking about the fall, and, frankly, in a word it is chaos. State by state it changes, the conversation changes.

But there is one through-line starting to develop which is this idea of a voluntary process to stay at home if you want, that maybe even if schools reopen before a vaccine parents might be too nervous to send their kids back, and so schools are developing processes and procedures for students to stay home if they want. Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow, hence the multiple options. That was great piece, Evan, because that really does remind you while many people think, okay, school is out for the summer, everyone is on vacation.

[12:30:02]

No, these teachers have to plan their work lessons for the fall right now. And you can't do that if you don't know where everyone is going to be and when. It's fascinating, thank you for that look. Really appreciate it. Go ahead. No, no, please.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Oh, no, I'm saying, we actually had one teacher that we talked to who mentioned at a practical level, right? She's like, should I order books for my fall classroom or should I try to learn about more online education systems for my fall semester? And it's just that basic stuff like that. And, you know, this stuff has -- it takes time.

WHITFIELD: Right.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: -- thousands of students. So yes, it's quite a -- it's going to be quite a summer.

WHITFIELD: Oh, wow. Yes, we as parents thought we were the only ones we had to come up with a plan but they need to plan too. All right, Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much. Appreciate that.

Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Ashish Jha, a Harvard Medical professor and the director of Harvard's Global Health Institute. Dr. Jha, good to see you. So now we're talking about 32 states that reporting increases in cases. Do you think it is really possible, viable that any kids anywhere are going to be in a classroom this fall?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: So, Fred, thanks for having me on.

You know, the single biggest determinant of whether a kid is going to be able to go to school or not, is not the plan of the school, not how much deep cleaning they're doing, temperature checks. It's about how much virus there is in the community.

And in communities where there's a lot of spread happening, schools are not going to open, they're not going to be able to stay open. You could have the best plan in the world right now. And you couldn't make a school last in Phoenix, Arizona right now, given how much virus spread there is.

So I am deeply worried that the schools across the U.S. are going to be shut down for much of the fall and winter and spring. And if we don't get our act together and get the virus under control, we're going to have a whole year of online education for all of our children. It's going to be -- it's going to have a lot of effects on kids and parents.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, that is going to be extraordinary. I mean, it really will be taxing on so many. So when you heard from some of the parents in Evan's piece where they were like, OK, you know, we might as well just, you know, scrap the fall let's plan for February. It sounds like they are all counting on a vaccine, you know, by January by, you know, February. Is that what you're hearing from parents when they say, OK, we're ready to get our kids back in school in February?

JHA: Yes, I think people have pretty unrealistic expectations of how the fall and winter are going to go. I'm hearing a lot of parents say, well, let's scrap the fall and we'll maybe start in the spring. And I'm like, January, February aren't going to be better. They're going to be the deep winter months. And March is going to be pretty tough.

So and I don't expect that of a widespread vaccine. A vaccine will be available and widespread and ready by January, February, more like May, June of next year.

WHITFIELD: Wow. OK, so Florida. Let's talk about Florida right now just setting a new daily record recording more than 9,500 new coronavirus cases on Friday. You know, this is Florida and 10 other states are now pausing or rolling back their phased reopening plans. Is it too little too late for those states that are now second guessing they're reopening plans and backpedaling?

JHA: Yes. So it was really striking to me that how we still aren't taking this virus seriously enough. None of this is necessary. We can get the virus under control. But a pause is not enough. You really got to reverse course on a variety of things. It doesn't mean we have to shut the whole state down, not yet.

But if we don't act aggressively, and if we don't get rid of bars and restaurants, I know they put a suspension on bars yesterday, but we probably have to do a lot more if we're going to get the viral outbreak under control in Florida, Texas, Arizona. If we don't, of course we're going to end up looking at a shelter in place order which nobody wants.

WHITFIELD: And of course a lot of people are talking about the whole mask issue, mandating, not mandating. Is too much stock being put on masks?

JHA: You know, masks are like one of the parts of the solution, right? So the way I look at this is, this is a really tough virus to be. We need to sort of be working on all fronts. We need to do social distancing. We have to ramp up testing and tracing. And yes, we have to wear masks.

If we just decided that we're not going to make masks mandatory, it's going to make everything else much, much harder. So it's not clear to me why we're giving up one of the three main tools we have for fighting this virus, especially if we're not going to do the other two really well.

WHITFIELD: And the three tools wearing the mask, washing your hands, being mindful of social distancing.

JHA: Yes. And I'm going to throw, and testing and tracing are having a really robust testing and tracing program. So I think of social distancing and hand washing is one, wearing a mask is another, and testing and tracing as a third. That's all we have for beating this virus until we have a vaccine. We've got to use all three of them. And we've got to be aggressive on all three of them.

WHITFIELD: And do you agree with Dr. Fauci who says, you know, that this testing, something is wrong with the testing, the way testing is or isn't being conducted across the country.

[12:35:11]

JHA: Yes. So I do agree with Dr. Fauci. There are two sets of problems. One is we don't have enough tests and we need to be doing a lot more. And second, we've got to deploy them much more intelligently, including doing surveillance, when most kids will go back to school. We're going to have to do surveillance of kids and teachers and staff. We need a lot more tests so we can do those things and deploy the test smartly.

WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Ashish Jha, good to see you. Thank you so much.

JHA: Thanks.

WHITFIELD: And now this unrelated to coronavirus breaking news now, U.S. fighter jets just intercepted four Russian military aircraft. We'll tell you where, details next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

WHITFIELD: All right this breaking news in front the Pentagon. U.S. fighter jets have intercepted a group of Russian military planes near Alaska. Let's get straight to CNN Pentagon reporter Ryan Browne. He's joining me on the phone right now. Ryan, tell us what you know.

[12:40:07]

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Fred, the U.S. F-22 fighter jets intercepted four Russian reconnaissance aircraft that we're flying about 75 miles off the coast of Alaska's Aleutian Islands. Now this is international airspace but it fits within what the U.S. military refers to as the Alaskan Defense Identification, the Air Defense Identification Zone. They monitor this. They intercept and identify aircraft that fly into this zone as it approaches U.S. airspace.

But this is just the latest in a series of these Russian military flights earlier this week. Russian patrol aircraft also flew into this area. And earlier this month, several Russian bombers accompanied by fighter jet flew even closer to the Alaskan coast coming some 20 to 30 miles from the coast. And they too were intercepted by U.S. aircraft.

So there's definitely been an uptick in activity, something officials that NORAD which oversees North America's airspace safeguards airspace has said that they're on the lookout for, that they're keeping a close eye on. You know, sometimes Russia goes through training cycles where they do this. But other times, it's very much intended to send a message that they have this ability to fly very close to Alaska, at the U.S. airspace, sometimes with bombers capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

WHITFIELD: So Ryan, we're talking about three times then in a must involving Russian military aircraft, is the Pentagon or official saying anything about whether they're leaning more toward this is just intimidation by Russia or something more sinister?

BROWNE: Well, I think in this case, it's a bit of message signaling, some officials that Russia is present, they can do this that their military has this ability to conduct these flights on a regular routine basis. And again, sometimes it's training cycles, they just want to get their Russian pilots the ability to test them, get them ready to do these kind of flights. But again, Russia definitely wants to show that it's capable and then it's in the neighborhood.

WHITFIELD: All right, CNN Pentagon Reporter, Ryan Browne, thanks so much. Keep us posted.

All right, the Russian jet incident comes after an explosive new report as well that Russia offered Afghan militants bounties to kill U.S. troops. Citing intelligence sources, the "New York Times" reports that a Russian spy unit offered money for attacks on U.S. and Western troops in Afghanistan. The "Times" report says the White House has been debating over how to respond to the bounties since at least March while the White House has yet to respond to the story.

The Russian government is blasting the report calling it baseless and quote, new fake stories. With me now Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu, he's a member of the House Foreign Affairs and Judiciary Committee and represents California's 33rd District. Good to see you, Congressman Lieu.

All right before I get to --

REP. TED LIEU (D-CA): Hi, good to see you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. Before I get to the "New York Times" reporting, how about your response to now a third report of a Russian military aircraft coming very close to Alaska.

LIEU: Having served an active duty, I know our Air Force is the best in the world. And they're going to continue to intercept Russian planes they try to enter our airspace. This latest incident does show that Russia is not our friend, and Vladimir Putin is not Donald Trump's buddy.

In fact, Russia has engaged in a series of hostile actions against the United States, including a systematic and sweeping category elections in 2016, followed by what this "New York Times" are reporting, which is the pain of bounties and militants to kill us troops.

WHITFIELD: So let's talk more about that "New York Times" reporting and Russia of course blasting that reporting. You know that Russia offered bounties to Taliban linked militants to kill U.S. troops. The "Times" reports that President Trump was briefed on it in March but still has not authorized a response.

So as a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, what do you want to hear or see from the White House in the form of a response to this?

LIEU: If this story is true, it is outrageous behavior by the Russians. They're essentially, hey, no attention to kill U.S. troops, and the outrageousness adak (ph) behavior is only match by the outrageousness of the behavior Donald Trump. Not only did he do nothing, he actually invited Putin to the G7 Summit last month, that sends all sorts of signals to Russia, that our President is not protecting our troops.

What I want to see is increased sanctions on Russia. In fact, this story is true. And we should also definitely do diplomatic signals to Russia. Appears none of that has actually happened and I do not understand why.

WHITFIELD: And then a lot closer to home for you now, your state of California was the first to shut down with coronavirus and now it's experiencing an uptick and, you know, there are lots of discussions and debates now about the mandating of masks. You know, the reopening or the delayed phased in reopening of businesses and then Florida now a seeing 9,500 new cases within the past 24 hours. What are your concerns about California and how it should move forward?

[12:45:21]

LIEU: Governor Gavin Newsom has done a terrific job suppressing this virus. However, we know it's also highly contagious. And when you start to reopen, you're just going to get more cases. And that's what we're seeing in California. We know in the last two weeks, we had an increase of about 32 percent in hospitalizations.

And that just goes to show that when Donald Trump says that there is no testing, there'd be no cases, that's just absolutely false. People aren't showing up at hospitals because they have a positive COVID-19 test. They're showing up at hospitals because they're gasping for air. And so what we need to do is more testing, more contact tracing, and make sure everyone does social distancing and wears masks and washes their hands.

WHITFIELD: So Governor Newsom was the first to, you know, shut down, you know, a state, California. Do you think it is time to make preparations to have a second shutdown?

LIEU: It would depend on the county. Some counties are doing well, some are not. So Imperial County in California, for example, is getting a high surge of cases. And the governor has said that they should go into shutdown mode. So it really depends on the county.

WHITFIELD: OK. And then in just the last few weeks, President Trump has said that coronavirus, you know, is dying out that the reason we are seeing a rise in cases is because of an increase in testing. And then you got the Vice President who said this yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We stand here today we believe we've made progress. But as we are reminded, as we see cases rising across the south, that we still have work to do. To one extent or another, the volume of new cases coming in, is a reflection of a great success and expanding testing across the country.

And one of the things that we're seeing among the cases and we hear this in Florida, we hear this in Texas and elsewhere is that roughly half of the new cases are Americans under the age of 35 which is at a certain level, very encouraging news. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So how concerned are you and how potentially damaging are these mixed messages from the White House and the Coronavirus Task Force?

LIEU: It's incredibly damaging because we're not just seeing an increase in positive tests. We're seeing an increase in hospitalizations across many states in America. And the fact that younger people are becoming affected is not good news. It's not that younger people only interact with other younger people. In fact, they interact with people of all ages and they can affect others some who have pre existing conditions.

And at the same time, Vice President Pence can't even bring himself to say wear masks, even though his own surgeon general in the Trump administration says to wear mask, as well as the CDC director. So this conflicting message from the President and Vice President Pence is really confusing to American people. All the science and all the data says if you were a mask, you reduce the spread of COVID-19.

WHITFIELD: Congressman Ted Lieu, thanks so much for being with us. Be well.

LIEU: Thank you.

[12:48:32]

WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, stunning numbers out of Latin America where there are now more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 and the infections are showing no signs of slowing down. We're live from Mexico City next.

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WHITFIELD: Welcome back. In Latin America, cases of the virus have tripled, surpassing the 2 million mark in just the past month. The surge is driven by massive outbreaks in the region's largest country such as Brazil, which is now second only to the U.S. in the number of COVID-19 cases. For more on this, let's bring in Matt Rivers in Mexico City. So Matt, what is driving the spike?

MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, it's just been a steady march towards more cases and more cases, there's a litany of reasons for that ranging from everything, from economic and equality, to poor health care systems region wide. But the fact is that things are very bad right now.

I mean, look at Brazil, more than half of the 2.3 million cases currently registered in Latin America in the Caribbean come from Brazil. They are regularly now recording more than 40,000 cases per day. Yesterday with some 46,000 cases, there's more than 100,000 deaths region wide. More than 25,000 of those come here in Mexico, which has seen its outbreak just get worse and worse and worse.

So the collective theme across this region in places like Chile, Peru, Brazil, Mexico, they've got large populations, and they are right now, in the worst days of this outbreak so far. And equally concerning, Fred, we heard from the World Health Organization earlier this week, they're expecting cases or outbreaks to continue to crop up for the next two years. Fred.

WHITFIELD: Wow, very grim numbers and outlook. Matt Rivers in Mexico City, thank you so much.

[12:54:57]

All right still ahead, a judge has ruled the U.S. government must release migrant children held in government family detention centers in a matter of weeks due to the pandemic. We'll talk about that coming up.

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WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

[12:59:56]

We begin this hour with coronavirus cases, reaching new heights in states across the country. This morning, Florida reported that it set a new daily record for cases more than 9,500 were recorded today.