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Some U.S. states Pause or Roll Back Reopening; Hospitals in Texas Overwhelmed with New Cases; U.S. Falls behind Rest of World as COVID-19 Skyrockets; Honduran President Works from Hospital; Deaths in Spain Creeping Up as Nation Works to Reopen; Coronavirus Is Hitting States Trump Needs to Win Reelection; Coronavirus Toll on Remote Areas of Brazil's Amazon; Taking Masks to the Next Level. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired June 28, 2020 - 03:00   ET





UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On our current trajectory, our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed by mid July.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Race against time: local governments across the U.S. scrambling to stop a sharp increase in coronavirus cases.

States hit the hardest are the same ones that Donald Trump desperately needs to remain president.

What does this mean for the election?



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Come on, hustle up. Man, get ready (ph).

HOLMES (voice-over): An update on claims that Russian intelligence offered cash to the Taliban as a reward for killing U.S. and U.K. troops in Afghanistan. Hear what the White House and the U.S. intelligence chief have to say.


HOLMES (voice-over): Hello and welcome to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes. Welcome to CNN NEWSROOM.


HOLMES: Well, as coronavirus cases surge across much of America, it is increasingly clear that many states have moved in the wrong direction and are now rolling back their reopenings. Let's have a look at our map; you'll see cases on the rise in more

than half of the country with some states hitting new highs. It's hard to find a patch of green on that map there, where numbers are actually going down.

Now some of these states started opening back up early but now they're starting to walk back those measures or at least put them on hold. In California, America's most populous state, the hospitals and especially intensive care units under tremendous strain. The governor warning he also could pull back the state's reopening.

The U.S. accounts for one quarter of the almost 10 million cases worldwide and the almost 500,000 deaths. And the situation could be even worse than we know, in terms of infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says, based on antibodies found in some blood samples, the actual number of infected people could be at least six or up to 24 times higher than what's being counted at the moment. Hospitals also overwhelmed in Houston, Texas. Our Alexandra Field is here with the latest.

But let's get to Randi Kaye at another hot spot, Florida.


RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Here in Florida, yet another record day, spiking cases, 9,585, that is the highest number of cases in a single day. The governor still saying that that is because of increased testing. Increased testing from about 24,000 tests a day to 45,000 tests a day.

We are seeing higher positivity rates here in the state of Florida, mostly among young people, ages 33 to 35 years old, mostly asymptomatic. But they do hang out a lot in bars and the governor has decided that that was a reason to close all of the state bars which he has done.

But the governor has decided not to issue a mandatory order that everybody in the state of Florida wear masks. So he's leaving that up to the local government and local municipalities, saying he will trust people to make good decisions.

But we see people out and about here in West Palm Beach, not wearing their masks. So it is unclear if everybody really is making good decisions. In Miami, they've decided to close the beaches in Miami- Dade County, despite the spiking cases coming over the very popular, busy July 4th weekend.

The mayor there says he does not want to see a spike on top of a spike -- Randi Kaye, CNN, West Palm Beach, Florida.



ALEXANDRA FIELD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Officials here in the Houston area, another of the country's hotspots, now sending out more warnings, letting people know the city's hospitals could be overwhelmed in a week to 3 weeks if we continue to see new COVID cases rise at this rate.

Texas Medical Center, the world's largest medical complex, reported that 100 percent of their ICU beds were full this week. They also reported that 28 percent of those beds were filled by COVID patients.

Hospitals are now moving to implement their surge plans across the city. Governor Greg Abbott has taken some steps to try to put the genie back in the bottle. He's placed new restrictions on bars and restaurants as we see more of these cases affecting people in their 20s and 30s.

But officials say more needs to be done. Nothing will stop the spread that we are currently seeing, short of an all-out stay-at-home order, something the governor has not ordered -- in Houston, Texas, Alexandra Field, CNN.



HOLMES: Neighboring Austin also bracing for an onslaught of new cases. The city's mayor explaining what he is most worried about.


MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D-TX), AUSTIN: Right now, the scientists, the doctors tell us that, on our current trajectory, our hospitals are going to be overwhelmed by mid July. That gives us probably about a week to maybe 10 days to see if we're able to change behaviors enough.

We're on a scary trajectory and I need my community really, now, to rally and show some discipline and it's time.


HOLMES: Joining me now is Dr. Jonathan Reiner. He is a co-director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at George Washington University Hospital. Also the cardiologist who cares for former U.S. vice president, Dick Cheney.

Doctor, great to have you back on again. Numbers soaring in many states; even the European Union does not want Americans traveling there, despite the vice president speaking of, quote, "remarkable progress."

What needs to be done, like yesterday?

What would it take, in a perfect world with actual leadership, to bring this back under control?

DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Reaching out to the public and getting everyone in this country to wear a face mask when they go out into public, number one. Testing many more patients then we are testing now.

Number three, probably in select areas, probably shutting some places down, because the health care systems are really at the breaking point, in places like Texas. So I think we have to have the political will to do all that.

We did it before, in the earlier part of this first wave, in places like New York and Massachusetts, New Jersey. And we can do it now. We have to have the political will. We have seen some rumblings of that in Texas and I hope that kind of strong leadership continues.

HOLMES: With those case numbers soaring, the hospitalizations, of course, lagged behind diagnosis and deaths lagged behind hospitalizations, are you expecting an uptick in deaths at the moment?

A lot of the new cases are young people but they are the carriers for the more vulnerable, right?

REINER: That is right. And it sort of depends on the case mix going forward. So we've sort of plateaued with the death rate sort of fluctuating between 600 and 800 deaths per day.

Our daily case -- new infection rate is really skyrocketing to over 40,000. So if there is a large proportion of new infections in younger people, the mortality rate may stay where it is now.

But as those young people infect older people, the worry is that the death rate will go up. So it's a little hard to tell now. We'll have a better sense in about a week. It takes about a week after someone becomes infected until they get sick enough to be hospitalized.

Then often about another week after that until you start seeing deaths. So it is a lagging indicator and obviously is concerned about the death rates starting to take off again.

HOLMES: What are your concerns?

What is the risk of hospitals being overwhelmed again?

And what is the state of readiness in terms of PPE, ICU beds and so on?

Is that a big concern for you at the moment?

REINER: It certainly is. Let's look at Texas. So Houston, which is now the new epicenter of this pandemic in the United States.

They have the largest medical center in the world. Texas Medical Center, which has about 60 hospitals. When I checked yesterday, it looked like about 98 percent of their ICU beds were filled.

Now we have the ability in the United States and we learned this over the last few months, to create innovative spaces to treat patients in an ICU setting that is not really an ICU setting, like turning ORs into ICUs and all kinds -- and recovery rooms into ICUs. But it is an enormous strain on a hospital. It strains the staff,

places the staff at great risk. And hospitals can get to a breaking point.

This was the whole point of flattening the curve, spreading out the cases so that our medical system did not get overwhelmed. We barely missed that in places like in New York and New Jersey six weeks ago.

And I'm worried about Texas. The difference is that when New York was at its breaking point, New York shut down. New York was shut down. Texas has not shut down.


REINER: We did hear from the Harris County executive, a request for nonessential people to stay home but it is not an order yet. But we have to see the political will to do that in places.

HOLMES: I was just going to ask you about that, leadership, national coordination. You would think it's pretty important in times like these. We have seen that coordination in countries that brought their cases down.

In the U.S., testing was lacking from the start. It still is. The shutdown was slow. The restart was fast in many places. There's been pretty much zero federal coordination of anything. It's literally just scrolling through the president's Twitter feed. It's on everything but this.

Are you worried about the lack of a coordinated federal response?

REINER: Absolutely. When we started talking about opening two months ago, the federal government had a reasonable plan. And it called for states to have 14 consecutive days of downward trend in new cases and declining positivity rates and increasing testing rates and hospital capacity.

But look at Texas. When Texas opened, they only had two consecutive days. They barely had two consecutive days of a downward trend. So many of the places that opened were not ready to open and certainly not ready to move towards phase 3.

We are paying the price for that now. The problem is that there is an essential conflict of interest between treating this pandemic the way it needs to be treated and running for reelection. And the president is facing this now.

In order for him to succeed in reelection, he has to make this go away. He has to pretend that it does not exist. That is why the vice president started his briefing yesterday by saying, oh, everyone has heard now the encouraging news.

I have no idea what he was talking about. He is not living in the same world that I am living in.

But in order for them to succeed in reelection, they really have to try and get the people of this country to believe that the pandemic is gone, that we are moving on, that it's business as usual.

So until we have leadership that is willing to do the difficult things, it's going to be very difficult to put this down.

HOLMES: Yes, that is the funny thing about pandemics. It is hard to pretend they have gone away when hospitals are filled with people who are dying. Doctor, Dr. Jonathan Reiner, co-director of the cardiac catheterization laboratory at George Washington University Hospital. As always, a pleasure. Thank you for your expertise, sir.

REINER: My pleasure. Have a great night.


HOLMES: The fatal consequences of Washington's retreat from science- based reality is best understood against the rest of the world. In each case, fact-based data drove a strong coordinated and centralized response and public compliance. CNN's Brian Todd reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The coronavirus crisis in America has reached such disturbing levels that the European Union could soon block Americans from traveling to Europe, according to officials.

One diplomat telling CNN, Europe will be looking to keep out visitors from countries where the virus is circulating most actively. And by that measure, experts say, the U.S. doesn't stack up well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The United States has not responded in a coherent, organized fashion, which is capable of doing anything serious to really stand in the way of this virus.

TODD (voice-over): The United States is returning to the high infection rates of the outbreak's early days, while the European Union has pushed its rate down and seems to be keeping it down.

In Europe, even in places like Italy, which was devastated by the virus early on, longer lockdowns, aggressive testing and contact tracing have proven effective, while states like Florida, Texas, Arizona and California are seeing enormous new spikes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The U.S. response is just lagging. We're not doing what we need to do to keep physically distanced. We're not across the country, scaling up contact tracing as effectively as needed so we can prevent cases from exploding into clusters and outbreaks.

TODD (voice-over): South Korea, like the U.S., has big cities with dense populations vulnerable to coronavirus but has had dramatically fewer cases and deaths than the U.S.

What tactics made the South Koreans more successful?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In South Korea, they have an extraordinarily, very smart testing program, which enables them to rapidly identify cases, rapidly inform the contacts of those cases and then rapidly isolate them.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you had moved to South Korea on January 20th, when each of our countries had its first case, you would have been 70 times less likely to be killed by this virus.


TODD (voice-over): Experts say another big reason the U.S. has fallen behind other countries in the handling of the pandemic is because the federal government allowed individual states to take the lead and make their own decisions of when and how to reopen.

As a result, many states reopened much too quickly, while states hit hard early on, like New York, didn't.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They held it over a period of weeks to months. They wrestled the pandemic to the ground to the point where now they're more worried about there being new introductions from states where it's taken off (ph).

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Open your business now.

TODD (voice-over): Experts say one other problem the U.S. has had which most other nations have not, the politicization of the response. Leaders like President Trump, vice president Pence, openly shunning guidelines on wearing masks. Trump on FOX Radio even making fun of Joe Biden, who's worn them.


TRUMP: He started speaking through the mask again. He feels comfortable with a mask on, I think. And even though there was nobody anywhere near him.


TODD: But President Trump and other Republicans are not the only ones being criticized for politicizing the response to coronavirus. Experts point out not only did some Democratic governors not call out or prevent people from staging mass protests against police brutality recently, clearly a risky venture during the pandemic, but a couple of them joined the protests, breaking their own lockdown orders -- Brian Todd, CNN, Washington.


HOLMES: One person is dead and another is injured after a shooting in Louisville, Kentucky. This happened during a protest in Jefferson Square Park on Saturday evening. Law enforcement officials say they performed life-saving measures on one of the victims. Unfortunately, he died.

A short time later, police received word of a second shooting victim at the nearby Hall of Justice. He was transported to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Going to take a quick break here. When we come back, summer is here in

the Northern Hemisphere and that means time for the beach. But in Spain, beaches are being monitored closely for potential COVID surges. We'll have a report.

Also a startling story out of Afghanistan. We'll look into the disturbing allegations involving Russia and the Taliban, allegations that some say may have cost troops their lives. You're watching CNN NEWSROOM, we'll be right back.





HOLMES: Welcome back.

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases around the world is fast approaching the 10 million mark. And in the last several months, almost half a million people have lost their lives to the outbreak.

The president of the European Union -- of the European Council says the E.U. will pledge $6 billion to help vulnerable countries devastated by the virus.

Many fear that India will be one of those countries. It is now reporting its biggest jump in cases in a single day, bringing the total number to almost 529,000.

And the president of Honduras here tweeting two photos of himself, working from the hospital. He's tested positive for COVID-19, along with his wife and two aides.

In Spain, a step back in the fight against coronavirus as the country reports eight deaths on Friday. This is a jump from last week, when it had a maximum of three in a day. The Spanish health ministry also reporting 200 new cases in the last 24 hours.

Yet Spain continues to take steps to reopen and, with the summer weather, officials are using drones and patrols to keep an eye on beachgoers. Atika Shubert joins us live from Valencia, Spain.

Good to see you, my friend.

How is this going to work?

ATIKA SHUBERT, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the rise in cases is definitely a concern but Spain says so far it's manageable. They're monitoring about a dozen different outbreaks across the country.

What they're very keenly aware of is that it's summer now, it's holiday season and the beaches will get busier. Now it's still morning, so, as you can see, there's not too many people outside. But there are distancing measures in effect.

And what that means is that you have to have groups of ideally under 10 people and they must stay two meters apart. Now what they're doing to patrol that is they're using drones. They have police with dune buggies going through here, warning people to stay apart if they're getting too close.

And in some beaches, where it's much more crowded, you have to use an app to book space. So these are some of the measures going forward. Now whether or not that's going to work, we just have to wait and see. So far the numbers coming to the beaches have not been too many. They are keeping down.

That's probably because most of the tourists who would usually come here, the foreign tourists, aren't here. What's here are a lot of local residents and domestic tourists. But it really is sort of a test at this moment to see whether or not these loosening of measures, whether they will see a spike in infections or if it'll be just enough for the country to manage -- Michael.

HOLMES: And how would it work?

When you're trying to keep an eye on beaches and hundreds of people, obviously tourism, the tourism money is important but how would it be enforced?

SHUBERT: Well, mostly it's enforced through -- what you see is signs everywhere, there's lots of warning signs. As you can see, not many people wearing masks. Outside in public areas like this, you don't have to wear a mask but you do see a lot of police, especially on the boardwalks in that area, saying, listen, if you're going to be in close quarters you need to wear a mask.

So you're seeing a lot of these civilian volunteers going around, reminding people that, yes, can you go out and have fun but there is still a pandemic. And so we still have to take those precautions.

One of the interesting uses of technology here are the apps and the drones. The apps that they have here will alert people if there's too many people at the beach. They get a red warning on their phone, saying, it's not a good time to go to the beach.

The drones will be flying once you get big crowds and if the crowds are too big, the drones will give audio warnings, saying people need to disperse.


SHUBERT: We need to thin out this beach because there's too many people here. So far they haven't had to do that. But those are the measures that will be put in place if necessary.

HOLMES: Atika Shubert there in Valencia, Spain.

New York remains America's worst-hit state but it has seen a major dropoff in new infections and deaths. It was markedly different, of course, back in April. And that's when a nursing union president spoke to CNN's Don Lemon. She discussed the horror of the virus, especially for some of her fellow nurses, who gave their lives fighting to stop it.


JUDY SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ, NEW YORK STATE NURSES ASSOCIATION: We have lost some nurses. They've succumbed to the virus and we have quite a few already in the ICU. We're terribly at risk because of the intensity of the virus, the virulence of the virus. It's attacking our own systems and that's the big reason that we need the PPE, particularly the hazmat suits that protect us because --


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: I hate to cut you off but, I'm going to let you finish. You said you've lost some nurses meaning, they are sick or they have passed away?

SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: They have passed away.


HOLMES: Well, my colleague, Natalie Allen, caught up with Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez to speak about where things stand now.


SHERIDAN-GONZALEZ: I don't know if they didn't believe what we were going through, if they couldn't understand it or they thought New Jersey and New York and Connecticut and the Northeastern states had some kind of a problem they weren't going to have.

We're the same human beings all over the place and they should have been prepared, based on what we went through. It was like we suffered so much in vain.


HOLMES: And you can see more of Natalie's interview with the president of the New York State Nurses Association in about two hours from now on CNN.

Well, we have talked about how people didn't socially distance at the Trump rally last Saturday. But a report says the venue actually wanted them to.

So what happened?

We'll tell you when we come back.



[03:30:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

HOLMES: Welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, you're watching CNN NEWSROOM.

The Trump campaign is making some changes in the vice president's schedule because of the coronavirus. It's postponing next week's events in Florida and Arizona, where there are, of course, big surges.

Mike Pence will still visit a Dallas megachurch on Sunday morning.

And check this out. Let's have a look at this.

You see the "do not sit here" stickers?

They were on many of the streets in the arena before Donald Trump's June 20 rally in Oklahoma, an effort by the venue to encourage social distancing.

Now watch this. "The Washington Post" reporting the campaign peeled thousands of the stickers off before the rally. The White House official told the paper neither the president nor the White House asked for the stickers to be removed.

But you see it happening there, don't you?

CNN's Jeremy Diamond with more now on coronavirus policy and politics at the White House.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, as coronavirus cases are surging nationwide, President Trump in recent days has continued to downplay the severity of the crisis and insists falsely that testing and increased testing is the reason why we are seeing these spikes in several places around the country.

Of course, the truth of the matter is that while testing is increasing, the percentage of positive cases is also rising. It shows that this is not just about testing. But while the president has downplayed the severity of this crisis publicly, we know that the president has actually been concerned privately about his potential exposure.

And with that we have also seen the protective measures around the president, measures to protect him from getting the virus have actually stepped up, in particular every venue that the president enters is now being inspected for potential areas of contagion by security and medical teams.

The bathroom that he may use during one of those events when he is traveling, scrubbed and sanitized thoroughly. And every individual around the president, who comes into contact with him, is also being tested.

That's despite the fact that the White House has actually scaled back some of its other preventative measures that don't necessarily deal directly with the president.

For example, when I walk into the White House, I've normally gotten a temperature check. That is no longer happening. Now while all of that is happening, we also know the vice president, who has himself made that same claim about testing and really tried to paint a much rosier picture of the situation in the United States than actually exists, he's also scaling back some of his plans to travel and specifically some of his plans to campaign in person.

The vice president was scheduled to travel to Florida and to Arizona for campaign events. The vice president will still be going to those states, we are told, to get an in-person briefing on the situation there.

But he is canceling campaign events that were scheduled to take place in both of those battleground states. Certainly, some changes are happening but, again, protective measures around the president tightening but the president himself, his rhetoric, certainly hasn't changed -- Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.



HOLMES: Ron Brownstein is CNN senior political analyst and senior editor at "The Atlantic." He joins me now from Los Angeles.

Good to see you, sir. You've tweeted in recent days regarding the coronavirus and the political impact it could have.

What is President Trump going to say when the virus keeps surging throughout the Sun Belt states, as you point out, ,states that he must win to get reelected?

He's in trouble in Arizona and Florida already.

Where is this heading?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Today, just today, four key Sun Belt states with Republican governors following Trump's cues, who opened early, who have refused to change course as case loads have mounted and who conspicuously have blocked Democratic local officials from in any way regulating or slowing the pace of the reopening.

Those four states, Florida, Georgia, Texas and Arizona, today alone reported more than 20,000 cases. And in all of those states, the caseload is concentrated most intently in the big metropolitan centers.

That's important, Michael. The urban and suburban areas of the Sun Belt have not moved toward the Democrats nearly as much as the equivalent places in other parts of the country until Trump's election.

[03:35:00] I look, you know, at Maricopa County, Arizona. It's the classic example; it was the largest county in America that Trump won in 2016. No Democrat has won it at a presidential level since 1948.

But in all of the polling done this spring, Trump is now trailing there by as much as double digits. And today, Maricopa passed 42,000 cases. The hospital beds are being filled and, you know, I don't think a lot of predictions but if he loses Maricopa County, there's almost no chance that he can win president.

And all of both political and public health trajectories in that county are moving in the wrong direction for him.

HOLMES: You know, there are a lot of those most affected by this virus. Blue collar people, elderly people and they're the ones that call his constituencies as, again, you've been tweeting about today.

I did want to ask you about the administration going to the Supreme Court to have ObamaCare essentially abolished.

What s the potential for that to be a major political blunder in the middle of a pandemic?

You've got 23 million people lose insurance, everyone could lose coverage of preexisting conditions and it's truly staggering, Republicans have no firm replacement, no firm alternative on the table. They never have, really.

HOLMES: I think there are 2 issues about this that are extraordinary. One, he is forcing back by this choice, in the middle of a pandemic, when people are enormously concerned about their health situation, he's forcing this debate back into the center of a political conversation.

It's an issue on which the Democrats consistently have had a 15-, 20- sometimes 25-point advantage over him in polling on who do you trust to handle health care. He has now guaranteed with this filing that this is going to be front and center for the rest of the year.

Now the other problem he's got is what you kind of alluded to when you talked about the coronavirus. To the extent Republicans have an alternative vision to ObamaCare, it's that ObamaCare requires too much sharing of risk between the young and the healthy and the old and the sick.

Their answer to bringing down health care costs is to basically unravel that and to lower costs and premium costs on people who are younger and healthier at the price of making it more expensive and more difficult for people who are older and sicker to get coverage.

Their problem, the conundrum they face, is that it is their own voters, older, working age white before they qualify for Medicare. People from 45 to 64, who are the big losers in every alternative Republicans have put forward for almost four years.

I do believe that in 2018, this was a big part of the erosion we saw for the president and his party among those blue collar white women who were so critical for him winning in 2016 and, again, if this is front and center, it is probably the most powerful wedge Democrats have to try to win back some of those culturally conservative voters, who like Trump's messaging on many other issues.

HOLMES: I mean, he spent 3.5 years saying he's going to have the best health care and protect pre-existing conditions and here we are, getting rid of all of that. It really is incredible.

A lot of Republicans, meanwhile, they sort of made noises that they want more conciliatory positions from the president, particularly on race. But then on Friday, he signs an executive order, trying to protect Confederate statues, even though laws already exist that do that. Let's not bother with that.

How worried is the GOP about the path the president is taking with an election a few months out?

BROWNSTEIN: I think they're nervous now but, boy, they have no cause to be questioning him after they essentially have been feeding him rope month after month. The president has faced no real constraint on any front from Republicans but particularly on issues of race.

I think it is unlikely the president would have been using the kind of inflammatory, racially divisive language we heard in Tulsa, when he talked about kung flu and bad hombres and attacking Democratic women of color in the House.

If in fact he had faced consistent pushback from the party, over these past 3.5 years. But with very few exceptions, they have been unwilling to call him out.

And you know, they are speaking to the portion of the American electorate that is most uneasy about the way the country is changing demographically.

But as we have seen in the protests this spring, there is now a pretty clear majority of Americans, including a majority of white Americans, who are more -- of a greater consensus than in the past that there is structural racism in this society and there are things that need to change.

The president, today, released a new ad that he is trying to run as if it is 1968. It's a very different country.


BROWNSTEIN: And I think there are Republicans who are justifiably nervous about him trying to channel Richard Nixon 52 years later.

HOLMES: Always fascinating, Ron. Good to see, my friend. Thank you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thank you.

HOLMES: Ron Brownstein.


HOLMES: Sources tell us that the Trump administration continues to finalize a plan to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan by the autumn. Only 4,500 would remain. The fewest since the war began in 2001.

Violence has been on the rise in the country, despite an agreement with the Taliban militants signed in February. Now that calls for U.S. troops to leave by next April if the Taliban upholds certain commitments, which leads us to a startling story developing that shows the situation in Afghanistan remains extremely complex.

Now it involves allegations that Russian intelligence offering cash to Taliban militants as a reward for killing U.S. and U.K. troops. Now the U.S. Director of National Intelligence says he's confirmed that neither President Trump nor vice president Pence were briefed on the matter, which seems extraordinary.

That statement from John Ratcliffe contradicting what "The New York Times" originally reported. Now Nick Paton Walsh is working on the story.


NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: A European intelligence official is telling me that Russian military intelligence officers made offers of cash rewards to Taliban fighters in Afghanistan if they would kill or attack U.S. or other coalition soldiers.

Now it's not clear to this European intelligence official quite what the motivation behind this Russian offer was. But they do believe that these cash incentives resulted in coalition casualties. They're not clear on the date of these casualties, the nature of the casualties or the nationality indeed or their location.

But these are startling direct allegations, initially first reported by "The New York Times," citing U.S. officials.

I should point out the Taliban have denied any involvement in this (INAUDIBLE) foreigners tell them how to conduct their insurgency and the Russian embassy in Washington has put up #BlameRussia, saying they had nothing to do this at all.

The White House has responded to "The New York Times" report on this, which claims that president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence were, in fact, briefed on these intelligence reports about Russian intelligence offering rewards Taliban to attack U.S. troops. The White House denies that that briefing in fact occurred.

So there is some dispute there but certainly the allegations by "The New York Times" and by the European intelligence official that I spoke to are not directly denying this stage at the White House.

The European intelligence official I spoke to said he regarded the Russian military intelligence move as, quote, "callous," and was bewildered by their motivation.

A little more detail, too, from this official, who in fact said that the precise part of Russian military intelligence, known as the GRU that was behind this, is a unit called 291 55.

They were accused by European intelligence officials of being behind the attacks on the Skripal father and daughter in Salisbury, a British town, in early 2018. They've also been accused of other prominent attacks around Europe.

Quite why would Russia want to be behind something like this is unclear.

Are they trying to expedite the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan?

Well, President Trump, who initially wanted to win that war, has made it very clear he wants a peace deal if he can with the Taliban and to get out. In fact, there's been advanced planning to withdraw even more troops from Afghanistan by the United States.

So a lot of questions as to why Russia would do this, if, indeed, these repeated allegations by intelligence officials are true, and also precisely where this leaves U.S. policy in Afghanistan, also too why the president and vice president would not have been briefed as the White House says they weren't, if they received intelligence reports of this nature.

Startling revelations about the U.S.' continued presence in Afghanistan and Russia's meddling therein -- Nick Paton Walsh, CNN, London.


HOLMES: At least one person is dead and four injured after shots rang out at a Walmart distribution center. This is in Red Bluff, California, north of Sacramento.

Now according to the authorities, the alleged shooter has died. Police say the suspect exchanged gunfire with officers. A city official also confirming to CNN that a car rammed into the distribution center, causing a fire. Police say the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI are assisting in the investigation.

We'll be right back.





HOLMES: Brazil suffering one of the world's worst coronavirus outbreaks right now. It's reporting more than 1,100 new deaths in just 24 hours. Some of the hardest-hit areas are the most remote, deep in the Amazon. CNN's Shasta Darlington shows us why.


SHASTA DARLINGTON, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A house call to one of the most remote inlets of the Amazon River in Brazil. So far away that medical workers must travel hours by boat to get there. But not isolated enough to be spared from the coronavirus.

During this visit, one man is found to be very ill and is taken to the hospital. His daughter says she is afraid for him and says, "We are sad because, even though he is going there, we don't know when he'll get there and we can't be sure he'll come back."

Hundreds of cases of coronaviruses have been reported near Brazil's Madajo (ph) Island, where many victims have been buried before they can be diagnosed, let alone treated. The people are poor, fishermen and farmers who earn a few dollars a day, who live in small wooden shacks with no space to social distance and no phones to call for help.

One resident says, "There are a lot of negative thoughts among us.

"How long is this going to last for?

"How many people are going to die?"

The water ambulances have become a lifeline for the sick, who can't travel the long distances, sometimes as much as 36 hours, to get tested in the town centers.

One health official says, "We use the boats to get by river to places with difficult access."

This makes a difference when combating COVID-19. This woman was stuck at home with a headache and flulike symptoms. The mobile clinic was able to test her and confirm she has the virus.

She says she is grateful for the help, saying, "Thank God they've been coming. We are very happy to people be able to get the service at home," a service that is more and more in demand, as water ambulances navigate the river to try to find more cases, as virus rates reached unchartered (sic) levels -- Shasta Darlington, CNN, Sao Paulo.



HOLMES: We'll take a quick break. When we come back, getting creative and fighting coronavirus at the same time. Masks are getting more sophisticated. We'll show you some of the best ones.



(MUSIC PLAYING) HOLMES: Well, we know by now that health experts say wearing masks is

critical for stopping the spread of the coronavirus. And we've seen people get pretty creative with some fashionable masks. But now innovators are taking them to the next level. They figure, if you've got to wear one, why not make one with benefits?


HOLMES (voice-over): Thought your mask was just there to protect you from the coronavirus?

Well, not anymore. Some creative minds have been working to make the mask do far more than just that.

Like the smart mask in Japan that can translate from Japanese into eight different languages.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Speaking Japanese).

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It is hot today, too.

HOLMES (voice-over): This innovative idea is the brain child of Japanese startup Donut Robotics.


TAISUKE ONO, DONUT ROBOTICS (through translator): It is hard to hear what customers at the cash register of supermarkets and convenience stores are saying, because there are partitions to prevent droplets.

By wearing this mask it can improve these communications by transcribing the conversations on smartphones or delivering the sound of the voices.

HOLMES (voice-over): So how does it work?

The C mask, as it is called, fits over a regular mask and links via Bluetooth to a smartphone or tablet application that transcribes speech into text messages. It also makes calls and will boost the mask where it's voiced.

Donut Robotics says the mask should be available by September in Japan.

In the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, some creative designers have come up with a way to identify the face behind the mask. At this print shop, Nicholas Septiemsugandhi (ph) and his employees are printing customers' faces on reusable masks, giving people an opportunity to look like themselves.

Some go as far as printing smiling faces on their masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): Thanks to the face mask, we no longer look like we are sick.

HOLMES (voice-over): Here in the Jordanian capital, Amman, Chef Omar Sartawi is using eggplants to make biodegradable masks. Sartawi he uses the peels from the vegetable; it is a somewhat tedious process. A single peel could take up to two weeks to be turned into a mask.

Sartawi says the whole idea was to put a positive spin on mask wearing. He is working with Jordanian designers Princess Nejla Asem and Salam Dajani, who are using their skills to add what they call character to the masks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: So it's basically going to be something like this.

HOLMES (voice-over): So mask wearing might be here to stay, at least for a while longer. But some innovators seem determined to make it worth our while.


HOLMES: Thanks for watching CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company. Don't go anywhere, your day's about to improve. Natalie Allen picks it up from here.