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Soon: VP Pence Addresses COVID-19 Surge In Texas; Florida Reports 8,530 New COVID-19 Cases Today; Interview With Mayor Francis Suarez (R), Miami, FL; U.S. Official: Russians Offered Taliban Money To Kill U.S. Troops; Florida Health Officials Report 8,530 New Coronavirus Cases; Trump Re-Tweets Video Of White Power Chant, Then Deletes It; Gov Ron DeSantis (R-FL) Gives Update On Surging COVID Cases. Aired 2-3p ET
Aired June 28, 2020 - 14:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello everyone. Thank you so much for joining me.
I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
We begin this hour with a grim number. There are now more than 10 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide. And here in the U.S. leaders are speaking out as the virus continues to surge across the country.
At any moment now Vice President Mike Pence will talk to the press in Texas where cases are soaring. He arrived wearing a facemask and was greeted by Texas Governor Greg Abbott who was also wearing a mask.
In Florida, which is potentially the next epicenter of the virus, Governor DeSantis will be speaking this hour updating cases there.
So far in the U.S. only two states are seeing infections actually drop -- Connecticut and Rhode Island -- as many other states are breaking new single day records.
Today a former director of the Centers for Disease Control said the coronavirus is not going anywhere.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. TOM FRIEDEN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: There's also no doubt that the virus has the upper hand. This virus is not going to go away on its own. We have to stop it. And only we can do that by working together.
We're all sick and tired of staying home but you know what? The virus is not tired of making us sick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We have a team of reporters on the ground in states seeing some of the largest spikes in the country. Let's begin in Texas where Vice President Mike Pence will speak in just a few moments.
CNN's Alexandra Field is in Houston. So Alexandra -- the Vice President's visit comes as the state sees a huge surge in new cases. And even hospitals say they're worried.
ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right -- Fred.
Just yesterday, the state of Texas added another 5,700 new cases. Today the Vice President touched down in Texas. He was seen getting off his plane wearing a mask, greeted by the governor of Texas Greg Abbott who was also wearing a mask at the time.
The Vice President went directly to a mega church to address a crowd of about 2,200 people. He was seated wearing a mask. There was a choir that sang without masks on. The Vice President rather also spoke of course, without his mask.
And it was during his remarks in the church that he praised the governor for his courageous and compassionate leadership during this crisis in Texas.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MIKE PENCE, U.S. VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Working with your governor, we will put the health of the people of the Lone Star State first. And every single day we'll continue to reclaim our freedom and our way of life as each day we are one day closer to the day we put this pandemic in the past.
And when we do, with this governor and this president, we'll bring Texas and America back bigger and better than ever before.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
FIELD: And while Pence sounds that optimistic note and praises the governor of Texas, it is the local officials here on the ground in the Houston area, one of the hardest hit areas, another hot spot in this country who are calling on the governor to do more to help get this virus under control.
While Abbott was, of course, seen wearing a mask today with the Vice President we know that he has not mandated masks across the state -- Fred. As we pointed out many times now, he instead left it to local authorities to instruct businesses to require masks of their customers. Certainly it stops short of an all out requirement -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Alexandra Field -- thank you so much for that.
And in just a few moments we'll also hear from Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as his state's case numbers continue to surge at an alarming rate. Just today alone the state is reporting more than 8,500 new cases after seeing record breaking spikes two days in a row.
CNN's Randi Kaye is in Riviera Beach. So Randi -- what can we expect to hear from the governor today?
RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred -- we'll see how explains these spiking numbers, as you said about 8,500 cases today. That's down from about 9,500 cases yesterday but still far too high for many in this state.
The governor has been explaining it away. He's saying that testing has increased. It's nearly doubled from 24,000 test a day to 45,000 test as day. That's how he's going to explain the spike in cases. But he says that nothing has changed here but if you take a look at the scene here behind me, a lot has changed since the state shut down.
That restaurant there is crowded and it has been crowded every day that we've been down here. Of course, the staff is wearing masks but the patrons are not and they're sitting elbow to elbow there at the tables.
We are seeing a higher positivity rate in this state possibly because so many more people are out and about, although it is mostly young people, 33 to 35 years old. And they are asymptomatic.
KAYE: But I can tell you that the governor is certainly on defense. And he may have to answer some questions today at 2:30 at that presser because even Governor Cuomo out of New York is saying that Governor DeSantis here in Florida and others have played politics with this virus and they've lost.
And then you have the agricultural commissioner here in Florida, a Democrat who has been very critical of the governor saying that he has been closing down bars which he did on Friday gut it's too little, too late. She calls his efforts erratic and his regulations piecemeal
She would like to see a state mandate for masks. She wants everyone in the state to wear a mask. We asked some folks around here if they thought that was a good idea. And this is what one man told me.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STEVE MISIANO, FLORIDA RESIDENT: People are just too lax. They've -- you know, they've been cooped up a longtime and it's too lax. But I think everybody should be wearing a mask. I don't think it's fair that somebody should give it to somebody else.
I know everybody has their freedom, but this is serious. A lot of people are going to die because this isn't over by a longtime, you know. It's scary.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KAYE: So about a half hour from now we'll see if the governor addresses the mask issue. He has said all along that he does not want to mandate masks. He wants it left up to the local counties and the local governments. But I can tell you that IHME has said that it's modelling that if 95 percent of Floridians -- Fred, wore masks they would be able to cut the fatalities rate in half in the state by October 1st.
WHITFIELD: Wow, that potentially is a pretty significant number. Randi -- I also understand that more than 200 Jacksonville firefighters are now in quarantine after 14 of them tested positive for coronavirus. What more are you learning on that?
KAYE: Right. We know that 214 firefighters in the city of Jacksonville are self-quarantining. As you said that 14 did test positive. One thing to note there is that Jacksonville was -- their Mayor Lenny Curry was one of the first to try and re-open the state back in early May, the first week of May. We were there and the beaches were opened.
So it may come as no surprise that so many of these firefighters are now self-quarantining and testing positive -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Randi Kaye in Riviera Beach, Florida. Thank you so much.
Joining me right now is Miami Mayor, Francis Suarez. Mayor -- good to see you. So what are you --
MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FLORIDA: Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: -- what are you hoping to hear from the Florida Governor Ron DeSantis today?
SUAREZ: Well, he's been, you know, supportive of our local efforts. We mandated masks last week. I recommend that they do it statewide and I think all indications are that doing it statewide could cut down on the number of new cases significantly.
To me it's no different than saying everyone has to wear a seat belt. You know, I understand that people want to have their freedom and certainly it's a decision whether you wear your seat belt or not. But we should be able to make sure that people wear their seat belt for their own safety just like we should be making sure that people wear masks for their safety and the safety of others.
I see no difference and it's a prophylactic measure that is easy to do. It can be inconvenient but it's easy to do and it can have a significantly, you know, significant improvement on the rates which today, it might have been counted (ph) we just hit a new record -- over 2,000 new cases which is four times greater than what it was in late march.
WHITFIELD: Well, that has been the argument from those who oppose the idea of mandating a mask that it impinges on their freedom. You are doing it. Are you optimistic that the governor might, indeed, make that kind of announcement and impose a statewide mandate?
SUAREZ: I'm hopeful. I think the numbers are very shocking. Obviously, we're getting close to 10,000 at the state level which is, you know -- or 9,500 which is more than seven times what it was at the peak in late March.
In Dade County we're at four times the peak that it was in late March. So dramatic measures need to be taken. We're going be cracking down more and more on businesses that are not following the rules. We're about to implement new set rules which would penalize businesses, not just close them for a day, but actually penalize them if they are not following the rules for a longer period of time not to act as a deterrent for them not following the rules.
So, you know, for us in Miami, we need our residents to cooperate with us. We're asking them to please help us, it's impossible for us to police every single instance of a person wearing a mask just like it's impossible for us to police every single instance of someone staying at home.
But the vast majority of people did it then and we saw the different in the numbers back then. And so we need our residents to cooperate now as well.
WHITFIELD: When you say penalize the businesses, you mean more than the $500 penalization if one were not to wear a mask? What's the penalty --
SUAREZ: Yes. What I mean is that right now if you are not conforming with the guidelines, technically we can close you down. But then next day if you put together a plan that's in conformity to the guidelines you can reopen.
SUAREZ: That's not enough. We need to be able to penalize businesses. And I think the first offense should be 10 days closed. Second offense should be 15 days closed. And the third offense should be 30 days closed. So that businesses understand that if they don't follow the rules, it's going to hurt them economically.
WHITFIELD: Yesterday, I talked to Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who is closing beaches July 4th weekend. And he said this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ (R), MIAMI-DADE, FLORIDA: I talked to all the mayors but in actuality what we set as the rules here in Miami-Dade County are the rules for everybody. Cities can do more than what we do. But ours is the base. They can't do less than what we do.
And so I speak to what's called the Dade County legacities (ph) all the time, three times a week and tell them when we discuss the things we need to do, what the orders are I'm going to issue. They can -- each city has a right to be more stringent but they can't be less stringent.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So what more do you think could to be done in this cooperation under Dade County?
SUAREZ: Well, Like I said, one of the things that we can do is penalize the businesses that don't comply. Right now there isn't like a stiff penalty structure. And so one of the things that we're looking at with our (INAUDIBLE) on Monday to potentially issue new rules that would close non-conforming businesses a lot longer than what's currently happening.
We just need to send a message, unfortunately that if businesses don't comply and if people don't comply then we may have to look at some dramatic measures that we don't want to look at like rolling back some of the openings and also potentially rolling back some of the capacity limitations within businesses and even.
And even God forbid, you know, re-implementing a stay-at-home order at some point in the future. Something we want to need (ph) as a last resort, not want to do unless it's absolutely necessary.
WHITFIELD: Well, do you feel like you're at that juncture? Is there a level of frustration seeing the spike in numbers that perhaps all the earlier stay-at-home orders are almost for naught now that there is this resurgence of cases?
SUAREZ: There's definitely a level of frustration. We're working closely with the hospitals. We want to make sure that our hospitals have sufficient capacity to deal with the new surge in patients that they are seeing. So farther they're able to handle the capacity.
But that capacity is at risk. Our ventilators are at risk. Our ICU beds are at risk. And if the death toll starts increasing then we definitely have that as an option.
WHITFIELD: Is there any level of frustration that you're feeling. You're a Republican but you seem to be taking very aggressive measures whereas the Republican Governor DeSantis has taken a rather more cautious approach and then many would argue the White House is not taking a very aggressive measure when it comes to any kind of national plan, instead deferring it to states and localities to take the lead on, you know, putting restrictions in place.
SUAREZ: Well, I'll tell you. I mean I felt very supported as a local mayor in terms of being able to be tough and implement the kind of tough measures and I haven't had the state or the county step in the way of that. And that's something that I'm, you know, very grateful for.
But I think the Governor who just shut down bars statewide is not understanding, you know, the magnitude of the increase and it is exponential. This is a very, very rapidly, you know, contagious disease that's spreading incredibly fast, you know, exponentially fast.
And so dramatic measures need to be taken.
WHITFIELD: Mayor Francis Suarez -- good to see you. Thank you so much. Be well. SUAREZ: Good to see you. Good to see you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still ahead Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is set to speak at the bottom of the hour on coronavirus cases, the spike in that state of Florida. We'll bring that to you live as it happens. You see people are already taking position.
Plus a U.S. official confirms to CNN, Russia tried to use the Taliban to take out American forces. Will the President respond?
And President Trump under fire for retweeting a video of a supporter screaming "white power". How the administration is now trying to clean up the controversy.
WHITFIELD: U.S. intelligence just confirmed to CNN that a Russian intel tried to pay Taliban-linked militias to target American forces. But President Trump said he has never been briefed on that issue. And Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton says the President's reaction highlights his weaknesses on national security.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JOHN BOLTON, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR: If it is true, underline the word "if", that they are paying surrogates to kill Americans, this is one of the most serious matters, I think, that has arisen in the Trump administration.
It looks bad if Russians are paying to kill Americans and we're not doing anything about it. So what is the presidential reaction? It's to say it's not my responsibility. Nobody told me about it. And therefore to duck any complaints that he hasn't acted effectively.
This is part of the problem with Trump, President Trump's decision- making in the national security space.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: CNN international security editor Nick Paton Walsh joins me now. So Nick -- do you know anything about whether there has indeed been any transfer of money?
NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: At this point, the European intelligence official I spoke to yesterday says that they believe this plot did result in harm to coalition soldiers in Afghanistan and that money indeed had been transferred.
A U.S. official speaking to my colleague Barbara Starr seemed to believe that transfer of money had also occurred but the U.S. official while agreeing in most it seems with what I heard from a European intelligence official, did stress that some of this intelligence was in that fact still being verified.
WALSH: So a lot of questions here about the precise details.
What seems to not be in doubt is the belief from intelligence circles both in the U.S. and Europe that there was a Russian military intelligence plot to pay Taliban to kill American and coalition soldiers that did eventually result in harm to coalition soldiers.
Not clear it seems the nature of the nationality or the timing of that. The U.S. Official familiar with the intelligence speaking to Barbara Starr did make the point that this occurred in about February and March of last year. There was discussion around what to do with this war intelligence, further verification occurring, and then as we know since about March or so most U.S. forces in Afghanistan have in fact been in base because of the coronavirus epidemic.
The European intelligence official I spoke to called this GRU Russian military intelligence plot callous, shocking, and reprehensible. And also asked why -- what is the Russian motivation here? Are they trying to expedite the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan by perhaps increasing casualty numbers?
Well, President Donald Trump has been clear he wants out. He's been in negotiations with the Taliban to strike a peace deal. They picked up again some kind of momentum again today over stalling over a prisoner exchange.
So it's no really surprise that Washington's Trump administration wants out, frankly more than anybody at this point. Whether this Russian plot, if indeed it is proven to be as concrete as seems to be suggested adds to that need to get out of Afghanistan or in fact just creates another problem for the Trump administration in trying to do so, we simply won't know.
One other thing I should point out we're hearing here of course, apart from the Taliban saying they weren't involved and the Russian embassy in Washington using the hash tag "blame Russia", yesterday a denial as well, I'm hearing from this European intelligence official that the same intelligence unit that was behind the poisoning of former KGG spy in Salisbury, the U.K. in early 2018, Sergei Skripal that in fact they were behind this plot to target U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
A fascinating, chilling, singular allegation here. Many confusing details swirling around it but certainly a strange moment indeed for the U.S.'s longest war.
WHITFIELD: Very complex.
All right. Nick Paton Walsh -- thank you so much.
Still ahead, we're waiting on an update on coronavirus cases in Florida where Governor Ron DeSantis is about to speak. We'll take you there live as it happens.
WHITFIELD: In just moments, Governor Ron DeSantis is set to begin a coronavirus news conference in Pensacola, Florida. We'll take you there live as it happens.
This while (ph) the update coming as Florida reports more than 8,500 new infections today after reporting nearly 4,000 more cases than any other state yesterday.
Also just in, Broward County now announcing it too will close beaches for July 4th weekend starting July 3rd through the 5th. Already Dade County had closed -- announced it was closing its beaches for July 4th weekend.
CNN's Natasha Chen joining me now from Pensacola. So Natasha -- the governor is about to give an update. What is expected?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well Fred -- we don't have a lot of details on what he may discuss or announce here besides a general COVID-19 update but we can see the name tags of the people on the panel behind us who will be speaking alongside the governor and they include the president of Ascension Sacred Heart which is the hospital where we're at along with the chief medical officer. We're also expecting to hear from the pediatrician in chief from the children's hospital that is part of Ascension Sacred Heart.
So those are the people you might hear from during this press conference. Again, there hasn't been much information about the details of the discussion they will have here today.
Obviously we've been reporting a lot about the recent increase in cases across the state of Florida. And as you just mentioned, some of the beach cities in the Broward County area have followed the lead of the Miami-Dade County area in closing their beaches for the July 4th holiday.
Here in the Pensacola area, we haven't heard of anything similar as far as beaches closing for the holiday. And just to note, we -- everybody in this room is wearing masks and trying to stay socially distant. Of course, we are in a jurisdiction right here where a mask mandate is in place. There is no statewide mask mandate. But this doesn't apply once you get to the beach area. So it is different, you know, just within a short distance.
So we're all observing that and awaiting to see what the governor and these medical experts here have to say in Pensacola -- Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Natasha Chen -- we'll rejoin you there in Pensacola as soon as the governor arrives as well.
All right. Let's bring in now Dr. Seema Yasmin, a CNN medical analyst and a former CDC disease detective. Dr. Yasmin -- good to see you. So what do you think is needed to hear from the Florida governor today?
DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: So Governor DeSantis has some explaining to do -- Fred, because he's on camera talking to reporters just a month ago with a lot of naive hubris about Florida being spared the kind of peaks and spikes that we saw in New York.
And what we're seeing pan out now is a manifestation of that ignorance, of that naivete of not listening to the experts saying, hey just because New York -- just because New York is passing its peak doesn't mean the rest of the country is off the hook.
So what's tragic now is that us Floridians are becoming infected. Us Floridians are dying. So much of this tragedy could have been prevented with strong science-based leadership.
DR. YASMIN: What we need to hear Governor DeSantis say is that there is a statewide mandate. We need to hear him answer for why he re- opened the state. We need to hear him talk about the testing capacity going up and plans in place to make sure there's hospital capacity. Because talking to healthcare workers on the ground there, it's flaming. These conversations I'm having, they are talking about ICUs being maxed out in some parts of Miami-Dade County. The healthcare workers there are frightened about their inability to be able to care for the influx of patients.
So governor really needs to have some accountability and also talk about next steps to avert this crisis.
WHITFIELD: It's more than very serious right now.
So you heard the Miami Mayor Suarez say, you know, just moments ago that last resort is to impose another stay-at-home order. But given the numbers, 8,500 new cases, nearly three days in a row now, do you see that Florida just might be at that last resort moment of considering stay-at-home order again?
YASMIN: Well, I hear those numbers. I hear those numbers, Fred. I hear the 8,500 in a day, 9,000 in a day in Florida. And, really, I think we're looking at numbers ten times that because the CDC director, Robert Redfield, told us a few days ago that for every one American who tests positive for COVID-19, there's another ten Americans who are infected and not being tested and so they are not being included in our daily case counts, Fred.
So we're talking about a much bigger problem than the numbers we're seeing. Those numbers already are terrible. Yes, we need shelter-in- place orders again in these hardest hit regions. We need plans in place for how healthcare systems should be dealing with influx in patients. And we need to remember that 600 healthcare workers have died in America over the last few months caring for COVID-19 patients. What are plans in place to care for vulnerable people?
WHITFIELD: Listen to former CDC Director Dr. Tom Friedman had to say this morning about the hold that coronavirus has taken on the United States as a whole.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. TOM FRIEDMAN, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: Well, there's no doubt we're doing more testing. Our hospitals are better prepared. But there's also no doubt that the virus has the upper hand. This virus is not going to go away on its own. We have to stop it. And only we can do that by working together.
We're all sick and tired of staying home. But you know what? The virus is not tired of making us sick.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: So if there is no national plan, what do states -- 32 states now who are looking at an uptick, those 32 states need to be considering what at this juncture?
YASMIN: Definitely mask mandates, because there's evidence that those states in the U.S. that have had mask recommendations but not actual requirements actually saw an increase in COVID-19 cases of 84 percent over the last two weeks. So compare that to 11 states that have actual mask mandates and saw a 25 percent fall in cases.
It is a simple public health intervention, recommend, require actually that people wear a mask, don't politicize mask-wearing and think really carefully about capacity for healthcare systems, bearing in mind that even anyone watching this thinking, oh, well, I don't care about COVID-19.
It's not a problem, it's a problem for you because if healthcare systems become overwhelmed has a knock-on effect for the person with chest pain, has knock-on effect for that person who's in a car traffic accident. This is overwhelming the healthcare system, in general, in these hotspots. We need mask mandates. We need a boost in testing capacity. We need these governors to listen to the experts, make these policies based on science.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Seema Yasmin, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much. Be well.
YASMIN: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Next, the White House in damage control after the president re-tweets this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White power. White power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go, white power.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: We are live, next.
WHITFIELD: The White House is in damage control again after President Trump re-tweet ad video of one of his supporters yelling white power. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: White power. White power.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There you go, white power. Did you hear that?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The video was finally yanked from the president's Twitter feed not until after being there for more than three hours. The White House's defense, the president didn't see it. The White House sending out this statement saying in part what he did see was tremendous enthusiasm from his many supporters.
CNN's Jeremy Diamond is at the White House. What else is being said from the White House to explain all this?
JEREMY DIAMOND: Well, Fredricka, it wasn't just that the president re- tweeted that video but that he also attached a message to it saying, thank to you the great people of the villages where that video was purportedly shot.
Now, we did get some response from the White House, not only in the form of that statement that you just read but also our colleague, Jake Tapper, got to ask the secretary of Health and Human Service about it on his show this morning. And he also asked Republican Senator Tim Scott to respond to it. And the difference in responses from those two individuals is pretty remarkable. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ALEX AZAR, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: I've not seen that video or that tweet but, obviously, neither the president, his administration nor I would do anything to be supportive of white supremacy or anything that would support discrimination of any kind.
SEN. TIM SCOTT (R-SC): The entire thing was offensive. Certainly the comment about the white power was offensive. There's no question. We can play politics with it or we can't. I'm not going to. I think it's indefensible. We should take it down. That's what I think.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
DIAMOND: And it was shortly after that comment by Republican Senator Tim Scott, who is the only black Republican in the Senate that the president actually did take down that video.
But as you've said, Fredricka, it had been up for more than three hours.
And, of course, we know this is not an isolated incident with the president. This is just the latest incident of the president amplifying racist or hateful messages and, frankly, the president has made some comments of his own that have struck a racist chord. It was only recently, of course, Fredricka, that the president said, when the looting starts, the shooting starts, a phrase that is tied to racist policing practices historically.
And we also know the president has previously offered praise or at least some kind of equivalency particularly in the case of those protests in Charlottesville when the president that there were very fine people on both sides after this video surfaced of people chanting, Jews will not replace us, and other anti-Semitic and racist slogans.
We know also that the president has re-tweeted anti-Muslim videos in the past. And, again, there's a long, long history here. The only difference in this case, Fredricka, appears to be the fact that the president actually decided to take down this video. But what he has not done is apologize for it or condemn the comments by one of his supporters here. Fred?
WHITFIELD: Yes. And why is it that the White House would think that perhaps it's a relief to say that the president re-tweeted something and was unfamiliar with the content? And, again, it was up for three hours.
DIAMOND: That's right.
WHITFIELD: All right. Jeremy Diamond, thank you so much from the White House.
All right, Josh Dawsey is a White House reporter for The Washington Post and a CNN Political Analyst. Francesca Chambers is a White House Correspondent for McClatchy D.C.
Great to see both of you.
Josh, to you first. Re-tweeting a white power message, refusing to address the racial climate in an impactful way, refusing to wear a mask in public with the sweeping pandemic, is this president running a re-election campaign with a winning strategy or an intentional strategy at all?
JOSH DAWSEY, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, the polls would show right now that it's not a winning strategy. The president has seen his numbers erode months over his core constituencies. He's had a lot of his allies and supporters come out and say, you need to change course this morning on ABC. Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey said that if the president keeps this up, he was going to lose. The president is obviously close with Governor Christie and talked to him somewhat regularly.
There's a bit of an intervention effort going on around the president now to try and get him back into place where he's talking about the economy and talking about other issues other than confederate statues and the -- no mask and the COVID death toll and, you know, just kind of a string of incidences, the Lafayette Square Park incident, obviously, where the protesters were gassed and moved, the string of incidents that his allies do not think it had been helpful for him in recent weeks.
So I think you're going to see an effort whether the president goes along with that or not. I don't know. But you see in the swing states, his numbers have dropped in almost in every key swing state that he wants to win for re-election.
WHITFIELD: And at the same time, Josh, yes, sometimes people argue that the president tries to change the subject and this might have been a method in which to change the subject, whether it'd be from The New York Times reporting on Russia, trying to pay off Taliban, or even the pandemic. And that perhaps he would throw this out intentionally.
Any credence to something like that, Josh?
DAWSEY: Well, it's hard to say that changing the subject of this would be a positive political story for him. I mean, if the president tried to change the subject from something else, I had no indication that that's a strategy there. I don't know that supporting a video where some of his supporters are saying these things and they have to then take it down, I don't know that that helps him in any sort of way. I don't see that as some sort of three-dimensional chess play that is boosting his political standing. If anything, it's seems like a mistake that he admitted by taking the video down.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Francesca, what's worse here, the White House saying the president didn't know, you know, what was being said on that re- tweet or that some fellow Republicans haven't condemned the video either, saying either I didn't see it when the video was played right before Secretary Azar was asked about it or that, you know, this is playing politics.
FRANCESCA CHAMBERS, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, MCCLATCHY D.C.: Well, in the first few seconds of that video, it's unmistakable that the supporter of the president, self-identified supporter, says white power twice and then a protester responds by asking did you just hear that? He said white power, and so if anyone who saw the video, the first couple of seconds of it would have heard that.
So, the White House today, I asked them whether or not the president and the White House think what was said was racist, whether or not he saw it or not is not at issue. It's whether or not they're going to denounce it, as you referred to earlier. And in response to that, I got the same statement that they sent to everybody else asking questions about the video, so not directly denouncing it.
You mentioned Alex Azar when he asked about it. He also said, obviously, the president and this administration do not support white supremacy but, again, they have not denounced it, as you previously said.
And this providing fodder this morning to Joe Biden's campaign, his senior adviser, Symone Sanders, asking whether or not people even believe at this point whether or not these dog whistles, her words, are things that the president isn't doing intentionally. And you have to put that in a broader context of the fact that this week, the president mentioned kung flu at rallies, he talked about our heritage, there's scene after scene in that rally that you have to compare this to.
WHITFIELD: Yes. And one would think that this might sink any other candidacy if anyone else were to re-tweet something like this and speaking of which Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, tweeting this in response saying that, today, the president shared a video of people shouting white power and said they were great, just like he did after Charlottesville. We're in a battle for the soul of the nation and the president has picked a side. But make no mistake it's a battle we will win.
So, the vice president, the former vice president, Josh, quick to at least put his stamp on the issue, even though, you know, he hasn't had to get out there and campaign. I mean, blame it on coronavirus, but the former vice president really seems to be just making a statement against the current sit being president.
DAWSEY: The president's team has tried to coax or to shame or to cajole Vice President Biden of coming out and campaigning more. They want to see him out on the trail. They want the president to be able to go after the vice president more aggressively and have some direct contrast. They've asked for more debates.
But, again, as Governor Chris Christie said this morning on ABC, I don't blame the vice president. He's not leaving his basement and he's winning. Why would he come outside? And I thought that was a kind of a way that Biden's folks see is, right now, they're doing some (INAUDIBLE) scripted events are coming out once or twice a week doing smaller things, not these big rallies. And people seem to be responding to it well. The president's numbers have gone down and Biden's numbers have gone up.
So I'm not sure that there's any impetus right now to change the strategy if you're Biden's folks, if you talk to them. But they believe that the more the president takes the stage and the more that he makes comments, like he did today, and the more he behaves like he has in recent weeks, it's better for them. They are happy to see this continue.
WHITFIELD: Francesca, the president continues to be his own worst enemy but at the same time he continues to be popular, at least among his base.
CHAMBERS: But even Republicans who are senators, this week, were speaking out against the president. You had Chuck Grassley who was critical of him in tweets about the way he answered a question this week about why he wants a second term and what he would do with that and whether or not Joe Biden could win just by not doing big rallies and campaigning.
You had Senator John Thune, who's in leadership as well, commenting on the question about what the president wants in a second term and then you mentioned earlier Tim Scott saying that he should take down that video. So that's a pretty significant trio of Republican senators pushing the president to take a different course.
WHITFIELD: Right. And perhaps there is indeed a chipping away, as you say, Francesca, because even Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has implored, the president ought to be wearing a mask, as it pertains to coronavirus, the kind of message, national message, that should be coming from the White House. Thank you so much to both of you.
We're going to go Pensacola now because we see that Florida Governor DeSantis is about to begin his briefing. Thank you, Josh and Francesca. Let's listen in.
GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): I want to thank you for having us here at Sacred Heart. Obviously, we've worked with Tom also with their facility in Jacksonville. We also have Dr. Jason Foland, pediatric intensive care, pediatrician in chief, Dr. Pete Jennings, chief medical officer here at Ascension Sacred Heart, and then Dawn Rudolph, president of the Ascension Hospital. So we really appreciate you guys coming.
I'm going to give an update on what we're doing, what's going on in Florida and then we will have a little discussion about some of the things that we're seeing here in Northwest Florida, and I think that they will offer some pretty significant insights. So we look forward to doing that.
We -- here is what we've been seeing in terms of the cases that are coming in. And then there's a lot of discussion about the number of cases and all this. And while the number of cases is something that you look at, you know, what we've always looked at is the positivity rate of those cases. And the reason for that is for every case that's detected through a positive PCR test, there are probably ten other infections out there.
The CDC recently came out and said they believe ten times as many Americans have been infected, that have tested positive, so that would mean instead of 25 million -- or 2.5 million, closer to 25 million.
There's other folks who have looked at the seroprevalent studies and think that that number may be closer to 40 million. Whatever it is, I think everyone would agree that a positive test, the number of cases you detect is not the sum total of the infections that you have throughout the community.
And so if you test 25,000 people and your positivity rate remains stable, then you can double testing capacity, you'll probably double test, not really anything that you know would be unexpected. And so that is just something that's very, very important.
What we've been doing, if you look at the slide, you know, we were pretty much in that 10 percent range for positivity when we really started to ramp things up in March and into April. Now, we weren't testing nearly as much as we are now.
Back then, you were pretty much testing people who were symptomatic and usually people and usually who were 65 and plus, sometimes a little younger than that but that was really focusing on testing the folks who were going to be most vulnerable to the illness. As we got into April, we started testing more but we also saw the positivity rate drop.
And then really from the beginning of May through that first week of June, we were pretty stable between 3 percent and 5 percent positivity. And so as we would increase testing, you would have some more cases, but the cases were very stable, very manageable.
And then when we started to see as we got into the second week of June and then now certainly over the last ten days, yes, we're increasing testing, as you see in this past week, we've done more testing than we ever have by far. That May 17th week where you see the 243,000 tests, that was about five weeks worth of backlog negatives that got dumped that week. So we were not testing that much in that actual week.
So it was pretty much a consistent increase but really jumped here in the last week to ten days, which is a good thing. When do you that, you are going to find more cases because the detected cases are just a small fraction of the total amount of infections.
But when we have seen the positivity rate increase from, you know, the May standby of 4 percent or 5 percent to now 6-14 was almost 10 percent and now 12 percent with that. So when you see an increasing positivity, yes, you're testing more but you're finding more cases at a faster clip than at that positivity was stable.
So that is something that we're really looking at and as we're looking at all the different communities, seeing how that's going on, that positivity increase is really being driven by a big increase over the last three weeks in individuals testing positive throughout the State of Florida in younger age groups, particularly 18 to 44.
And if you look at the 25 to 34 age group, that is now by far the leading age group for positive tests in the State of Florida. And that's something that's pretty new.
Now, part of it was we weren't really looking for case in those age groups when we were doing this in March and April, because as you see there, they are much less likely to see significant clinical outcomes, much less likely to be hospitalized and way, way less likely to suffer a fatality.
And, yes, those fatalities are not all caused by COVID. They are fatalities with COVID. And so it does include more than just ones of that. But still, even with that, you still see the numbers in those younger age groups compared to the number of positive tests very, very, very low fatality rates.
And so you're seeing it in those groups who are less at risk. But you're seeing them test positive at much higher rates. I think 25 to 34 has been pretty close to 20 percent and we're seeing it all across in the different areas of the state. This is the one kind of consistent thing. For most of this, you kind of had a South Florida story, then you had some other parts Florida. Northwest Florida has always been relatively low and stable. You are seeing South Florida, again, in Miami obviously has the most cases, but this is something that we're seeing, you know, over and over.
And, basically, I think, from talking to folks, this is basically socializing. You have graduation parties. You're going out, you're doing different things. And in certain environments, that's going to be conducive to transmitting the virus.
So here is the breakdown where our cases are coming from, by and large, are in the less risk demographics.
But as you can see, as you get into the particularly 75 and up, the infections, fatalities per infection much, much higher, of course, than in those younger age groups.
And so part of what we want to do is continue to do things that I'll mention protect long-term care facilities, obviously, advising the senior citizens to limit contact outside the home as much as they can. But for these younger groups, I mean, they need to be thinking about who they are coming into contact who may be in the more vulnerable groups, because you've seen this thing spread amongst them and their cohort. And if it spreads to the folks who are more elderly, that's going to result in negative outcomes in terms of health.
What we talked about in March, the whole mantra was flatten the curve. We were able to do that here. There was dire predictions of running out of hospital space by April and running out of ICU and all this stuff. That didn't happen. We had abundant capacity. So we were able to do that and clearly be the expectations of what people had said.
Part of the reason you did flatten the curve is because you wanted to make sure that the healthcare system would have the capacity to deal with infections as they came down. And you knew that they were going to just be infections. If you spread them out over a longer period of time, then you're in a situation where you can handle that better than in a place where the infection just run wild and it overwhelms the system.
So -- and I think you can see in June where we're at much better than where we were in March. In March, we had seven states supported testing sites. They did about 20,000 tests amongst them over those weeks in March. Now, we have 41 various testing sites, drive-through sites, pop-up retail sites, walk up sites, mobile R.V. and they've done close to half a million people now in the State of Florida.
And so we -- when we did phase one, we put more testing sites around because we wanted people to be able to get tested, including one here in Northwest Florida, and so that is night and day. When I was -- when we were doing this in March, if you were somebody who was 30 years old and who had been exposed but didn't have symptoms, there is no way you would have gotten a test. They just were too scarce. Now, people, even if they don't have symptoms, are able to go to a drive-through site and get a test. So we're in a much different spot in terms of that.
Also PPE, one of the reasons why people were concerned about stress on hospitals was, yes, the patients coming in and did you have enough capacity and beds but also this PPE was in really high demand. There was a worldwide crunch on the supply lines. You know, that has since loosened up.
All the hospitals are in a much better shape. The Department of Emergency Management here in Florida has sent huge amounts of PPE out to various healthcare workers and first responders, including more than 40 million masks and over 12 million gloves as well as 1.7 million face shields.
So in term of the PPE, we have the PPE, hospitals are in a much better spot with that and then they are going to be able to handle patients as they come in, in a much better way.
Also some of the treatments, we now see in COVID-19 recently, things like convalescent plasma, the remdesivir that we helped to get down from the federal government sent to all hospitals and then other types of therapies, whereas, before, it was try to put as many people on ventilators as you could.
Now, you have other ways. I think the physicians have really learned a lot. And then you're also in a situation where we just have way fewer people that need the mechanical ventilation now as opposed to March and early April, which is a really good thing.
So learning about the virus, learning about the disease, and I think the folks throughout the State of Florida and then the medical profession have done a really good job. And then we're also in much better shape with our long-term care facilities.
Now, we did recognized this very early as something that was potentially a weak spot in terms of having a lot of vulnerable residents there to this virus. You know, so we acted very early working the long-term care facilities, making sure that they were screening their staff, banning visitors and then banning hospitals from sending COVID positive patients back into long-term care facilities early on in the pandemic, requiring masks and PPE of the staff who were going to interact with the residents in the State of Florida, because, look, a lot of these facilities were just not necessarily prepared for this. State of Florida has sent more than 10 million masks just to long-term care facilities, I think over half a million face shields just to long-term care facilities.
And so this was something that was a vulnerability.