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Health Experts Warn This Weekend Could Bring COVID-19 Spikes; Florida Reports New All-Time U.S. High Of Daily COVID-19 Cases; California Cases Spike Again Causing Beaches To Close This Holiday Weekend; Trump Continues To Downplay U.S. Coronavirus Outbreak; Trump Offers Second Night Of Dark, Divisive Messaging On July 4th; Texas Reports 8,258 New Cases, Second Highest Day On Record. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 5, 2020 - 20:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: Hello, again. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. Thanks for being with me. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

Fourth of July weekend not the first one during a national emergency, but the first one in 100 years during a deadly pandemic. One that is still very much not under control. Beaches and parks open and busy this weekend. But not everywhere. Officials are being much more cautious in states where new coronavirus infections are popping up like wildfires. Literally thousands of new cases every day.

And these are the states reporting cases going up, not down. All of those states in orange and maroon, 34 in all. The so-called infection curve in most of the country right now is going up.




CABRERA: But you wouldn't know there is an urgent health emergency in the U.S. today by listening to the president. This is how President Trump shrugs off the alarming number of new infections being reported around the country.


TRUMP: Now we have tested almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless.


CABRERA: He says 99 percent of the cases totally harmless. Well, here are the facts. Nearly three million Americans are now either sick or have tested positive for the coronavirus, and more than 129,000 people just in this country have died. That's a lot of families who would disagree with the words totally harmless. Also this evening, we have news of a large and very localized spike in

positive COVID-19 test results. More than 120 students all of whom attended the University of Washington in Seattle are now infected with the coronavirus according to the university and the city's public health officials. Almost all of these newly infected people live in the university's fraternity houses.

And health experts are warning the July 4th holiday weekend could trigger even more spikes in coronavirus cases. This as we are seeing alarming videos of large gatherings with many people not following social distancing guidelines and not wearing masks.

I want to bring in CNN's Polo Sandoval. And Polo, you've been reporting on these parties, happening in the Midwest. Tell us more.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. Well, especially with that expected spike, Ana, you can imagine -- you can see why health officials are certainly concerned when they see these kinds of pictures. The first one I want to show you some of those videos that have been certainly online. One of them coming from Diamond Lake in southwest Michigan. And in that video, you see party goers basically clustered together, packed together.

We challenged to find a mask in that shot, even though masks are required in Michigan. And local health officials that CNN spoke to saying they were actually aware of this party. In fact it's an annual tradition. One organizer told us it's happened already for the last 30 years or so. However, their hands are certainly tied when it comes to what health officials could actually do because it's outside of their jurisdiction.

All they could do was speak to organizers of this party and simply ask them really to take those precautions. But they cannot take those actions, that enforcement action. They could perhaps do for more formal establishment like bars when they could basically close them down or at least implement various fines. So that's certainly an area of concern here.

Now as far as other parts of the country, there is also a waterpark in Wisconsin, Dell, Wisconsin, the Noah's Ark park. The manager telling CNN they've actually been preparing for what they saw this weekend, which was a sharp increase in families. They wanted to limit it to only about a third of the people that could actually access it. They have temperature checks, masks would be required and only in certain parts of the park.

And also some of the attractions that wouldn't allow for that kind of social distancing but they were actually closing. So you certainly saw that increase in families and we certainly saw that here in New York as well in the famed Coney Island Boardwalk were families were out and about but authorities were recommending that people obviously continue to exercise social distancing measures, continue to wear those masks when possible.

[20:05:15] And now, of course looking ahead here in New York we'll be entering phase three of reopening. So very different scenes obviously that are going to be playing out in New York compared to what we might be seeing in other states where those numbers are going up. In New York for example the numbers are going down. In fact, on Saturday about 46,000 people were tested. Less than 1 percent tested positive. Very different in other parts of the country, though -- Ana.

CABRERA: I still can't get over those videos. Polo Sandoval, thank you.

In Florida nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases reported today, pushing the state past a bleak new benchmark. More than 200,000 virus cases in the state of Florida. And yesterday that state set a new single-day record with more than 11,400 new infections. A new U.S. record for cases in one state in just one day.

CNN's Boris Sanchez is joining us from Miami Beach.

And Boris, what's being done to address this huge spike in cases?

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well, Ana, officials here in Miami Beach were eager to keep people away from this area this holiday weekend. They shut down the beaches. They put a mask mandate in place. They have enhanced their curfew bringing it up to 10:00 p.m. It was originally midnight.

I spoke with the mayor of Miami Beach, Dan Gelber. He told me that there's still more options on the table if these numbers do not go down in the coming days, including beefing up that curfew and even returning to that stay-at-home order.

I want to paint a quick picture for you of what we saw earlier today. This is a testing site at the Miami Beach Convention Center. They are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day. It turns out, speaking to one of the people who's managing this site, that by 6:30 a.m., there was already a line here. There was massive demand for testing.

Mayor Gelber says that as long as people need testing and there aren't tests for them, that is a serious problem. And we saw this site actually have to shuttle down more than an hour early today because they administered 1200 tests and simply had to turn folks away. It was a very frustrating moment for people that waited in line for quite some time.

Mayor Gelber says that it's also frustrating when they put out the word about social distancing and people do not listen. Here's more of what he shared with me today.


MAYOR DAN GELBER (D), MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA: We're telling people to make sacrifices, to put on masks, to socially distance themselves from people they love. To make sacrifices for others. And then I saw, you know, Friday night the president hosting this huge event where none of those kinds of measures were being followed. So how do tell people to swallow very difficult medicine when the president by his act and words is telling them they don't have to.


SANCHEZ: And Ana, to put those record-breaking numbers that you were talking about for the Sunshine State into perspective, in the first four days of the month of July, Florida has already eclipsed 40,000 new coronavirus cases. They saw roughly 100,000 for the entire month of June -- Ana.

CABRERA: Incredible. Boris Sanchez, there in Miami Beach, thank you.

In the early days of the pandemic, California seemed to do everything right. It was the first state to be under a stay-at-home order and for weeks that approach seemed to be working. Governor Gavin Newsom even relaxed some of the rules allowing select businesses to start reopening. But a few days ago, Newsom reversed course. Bars and indoor dining are now off limits again in many areas.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Santa Monica and Paul, hospitalizations in California have increased 51 percent from two weeks ago. What happened?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, according to many people here including state health officials, they just relaxed, as you alluded to, Ana, the rules too much. And look at one of the results. This beach in Santa Monica on a Fourth of July weekend, a key economic weekend, closed as are beaches in four other counties.

You're talking about bars. Well, state health officials were saying that one thing that was happening in bars is young people were going in droves and they weren't wearing masks and they weren't six feet apart, and they were projecting and all these little particles were going into the air. That contributed to the spread of COVID.

We talked to some residents here in Santa Monica and they also highlighted that they thought people just let their guard down.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People weren't taking it -- taking the precautions and doing it wisely. But -- and then again, you know, we got more people testing. We got more things going on. You know, that does drive up the number. Here it is. It's the reality of the surge. You know, so we're doing what we can to protect ourselves.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would advise taking it pretty serious and, you know, being careful. And wearing your mask when you need to. And -- but still live life and enjoy life.


VERCAMMEN: And so they enjoyed life here in Santa Monica, on the boardwalk, masks on.

[20:10:02] Also an important thing here. The county of Los Angeles did not release new numbers this weekend and that's because they are overhauling their data collection system for COVID-19 and those new numbers, those fresh numbers will come out tomorrow. Back to you now -- Ana.

CABRERA: OK. Paul Vercammen, thank you as always.

Let's get more now on these disturbing trends playing out across the country. Joining us now is Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Also with us is Dr. Megan Ranney, emergency physician at Lifespan/Brown University.

And I first want to get both of your reactions to the parties we've seen on this holiday weekend. The videos Polo Sandoval showed us.

Dr. Choo, did Americans just get complacent?

DR. ESTHER CHOO, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: I think they really did. I mean, we stayed inside for a long time. Everybody has been really itching to go out. So as soon as they were able to, they did. And unfortunately, it went from zero to 100 fast.

So instead of coming out in cautious waves, opening up your social circle a little at a time, people just seemed to have dived right into these large group gatherings. And unfortunately with not enough protection, masks, social distancing, some of the things that we can do to mitigate our risk and our risk of spreading disease to others, if we do go out there.

CABRERA: Dr. Ranney, your thoughts. Is this just deja vu of Memorial Day weekend?

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, LIFESPAN/BROWN UNIVERSITY: This does. This feels like Memorial Day weekend. This honestly feels like early March. It is difficult for those of us in the medical profession to watch people out there pretending that the virus has disappeared.

We know that it's out there. We know how it spreads. It's through close contact for more than 15 minutes at a time. Particularly in indoor locations. We hope that people watch what's going on around the country. And remember, it's important to stay physically distanced to wear a mask. For the sake of the people that are there as well as for everyone else around them.

CABRERA: Tom Bossert is a former Homeland Security adviser to President Trump and he wrote on Twitter, "We are in trouble. Once a state is over 1 percent prevalence, it becomes much harder to extinguish the flare-up. It would take a huge effort to put out these outbreak fires. More than masks alone, we could top 500,000 U.S. deaths this is year if this trend continues."

Dr. Choo, what is your reaction to that? Is the U.S. too far gone to fix this? CHOO: Well, I never want to be that discouraging or fatalistic. One

thing we know about predictions is they are dependent on our behaviors. So the predictions change as maybe not the minute we changed our behaviors. But we have the ability, we have the power to change these curves at any time. So when states and cities and individuals make decisions around social distancing, around wearing masks, around refraining from non-essential activities as much as possible, those curves change.

We do not have to exceed expectations when it comes to cases and deaths. We can change it. And all of us have a hand in that.

CABRERA: 239 scientists from 32 countries have now written an open letter to the World Health Organization calling on the agency to revive its recommendations. They argue this virus doesn't just transmit in droplets that fall to the ground in a six-foot area. But that it lingers in the air, can infect people nearby.

Dr. Ranney, does that change any of the safety guidelines, in your mind?

RANNEY: No. So right now that is an almost academic distinction for most of the American public. What matters for most people again is to not be close together for long periods of time, particularly in an indoor space without a mask on.

Where that difference between aerosolizing and droplets really makes a difference is for those of us in health care where we're deciding which type of mask we want to wear when taking care of COVID-19 positive patients.

But for the average American who is trying to figure out how to go about their daily life, how to go grocery shopping and get their haircut, maybe see a friend or two, it doesn't change anything about our recommendations. And as Dr. Choo said, we still need those basic other public health measures like adequate protective equipment for health care workers, adequate testing, contact tracing, all those other things that will help us to bend the curve again.

CABRERA: Dr. Ranney, Dr. Choo, thank you, ladies. Please don't go anywhere. We've got much more to discuss in just a few minutes.

Now as of today, nearly 130,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus. And experts say the real number could be much higher. But last night in front of frontline workers and their families gathered at the White House, President Trump claimed 99 percent of COVID-19 cases are, quote, "totally harmless."

Hear how one member of the Coronavirus Task Force responded.



CABRERA: Dangerous messaging coming out of the White House on the severity of the coronavirus. As cases surge across the U.S., President Trump used his Fourth of July celebration at the White House to downplay the pandemic.


TRUMP: Now we have tested almost 40 million people. By so doing, we show cases, 99 percent of which are totally harmless.


CABRERA: That is just not true. According to Johns Hopkins University nearly 130,000 Americans have died from coronavirus. Infections in this country are at more than 2.8 million.

CNN White House Correspondent, Jeremy Diamond is back with us now.

Jeremy, that is a stunning claim by the president. Not only the -- and it's not the only falsehood he pushed this weekend but while he's downplaying the severity of the pandemic, his health officials are having to answer to it.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: That's right, Ana. And the president's claim isn't just baseless there. It also goes against what every public health expert is trying to do right now which is encourage Americans to take this pandemic much more seriously as we are seeing record numbers of new cases in several states around the country.

The World Health Organization says that the mortality rate for this virus globally is less than 1 percent, but they also point out, and this is important, that 20 percent of people who test positive for coronavirus are going to need oxygen and/or hospitalization. And so that shows you the extent to which the president's claim that 1 percent of cases are totally harmless really just isn't true.

But here's how the FDA commissioner who is a key member of the president's Coronavirus Task Force, how he responded to the president's claim. Watch.


DR. STEPHEN HAHN, FDA COMMISSIONER: So I'm not going to get into who's right and who's wrong. What I'm going to say, Dana, is what I've had said before which is that it's a serious problem that we have. We've seen the surge in cases. We must do something to stem the tide. And we have this in our power to do it by following the guidance from the White House Task Force and the CDC.


DIAMOND: And as you can see there, Ana, Dr. Hahn trying to avoid directly contradicting the president, while also underscoring that this is a very serious situation. And that is the delicate dance that we have seen unfold over these last several weeks as these cases have been rising between the public health experts giving their message to the country and the president trying to downplay the threat of this virus as well as his officials.

A very similar scene played out last night at the White House, Ana, as there was very little social distancing during this Fourth of July party. Very few people of the hundreds who were attending were actually wearing masks. And so President Trump is continuing to try and downplay the threat of this virus. And he also falsely claimed during that event that testing is responsible for the rise in cases.

And we do know that that is just not true, Ana. The percentage of people who are testing positive for this virus is going up. And that shows that it's not just testing causing these increases -- Ana.

CABRERA: And again, the president continues to hold these big events, pretending essentially that it's a non-issue with the coronavirus. We know he has another rally planned for next weekend, Jeremy. What do we know about this rally and what precautions if any are they taking to keep people safe?

DIAMOND: Well, Ana, it's been two weeks since the president had that campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. And there was a big question about whether the president was going to continue to move forward with these big in-person campaign rallies particularly because you had several campaign staffers and Secret Service personnel testing positive in the wake of that Tulsa rally. And now the president making clear that he will be moving forward with those rallies.

This rally is slated to be in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, next Saturday. It will be in an airplane hangar with some of the crowd inside that hangar and some of the crowd outside on the tarmac. The campaign seems to think that that is an improvement at least over what they were doing in Tulsa, Oklahoma. But once again, masks will not be required, though they will be handed out and strongly encouraged according to the campaign.

But it is, Ana, a big contrast with how former vice president Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, how he's handling campaigning in 2020 amidst this pandemic. He's already sworn off in- person campaign rallies for this cycle -- Ana.

CABRERA: And I understand the president is also asking rally goers to sign another waiver that they will not sue if they get the coronavirus at the rally.

DIAMOND: That's right.

CABRERA: Thank you, Jeremy Diamond, reporting from the White House.

Coming up after the break, our doctors are back to react to the president's false claim and how that could be hindering the U.S. response to this pandemic.



CABRERA: As this holiday weekend comes to a close, videos are being posted online of big parties with no signs of masks, no social distancing. Meantime, the sirens among health experts are blaring with 34 states reporting new cases.

Despite this surge, President Trumps as we just reported continues to downplay the crisis, making the baseless claim that 99 percent of cases are, quote, "totally harmless."

And back with us Dr. Megan Ranney and Dr. Esther Choo.

Dr. Ranney, when you hear the commissioner of the FDA now repeatedly refusing to say the truth that, no, 99 percent of cases aren't totally harmless, does that concern you?

RANNEY: Yes. So, Ana, the data is very clear here, that 99 out of 100 people will not escape COVID unscathed. We know from the data across the United States that approximately five out of 100 people who get COVID-19 end up hospitalized. More than 50 percent of people who catch COVID-19 end up with serious symptoms and may end up with months of after-effects of their infection.

And to put that in context, if you have a million people infected, if you're in a city like L.A. or Houston, that's going to be talking about 50,000 hospitalizations. So I want to put the facts in order here. And I also want to remind people that as they get older, the danger gets even higher. So although the hospitalization rate is about five per 100 for young people, as you get into your 60s it's more like 14 or 15 per 100. This is a dangerous virus.

CABRERA: That is such good information for all of us to hear.

And Dr. Choo, the problem, though, is if our government's health experts are too afraid to correct a Trump lie that puts Americans at risk today, how can we trust them to protect us tomorrow? If, say, a COVID vaccine turns out not to be safe or effective, God willing that isn't the case, but, you know, Trump then says it is?


CHOO: Yes. I think we really, throughout this pandemic, have to lean on public health officials and health experts about this virus and about pandemics for accurate information, look to our local health experts for information about how we should behave based on local data. Unfortunately, some of the messaging coming from our -- you know, our top government officials has not always been consistent, but the messaging from scientists has been particularly as new data come out.

And so I think we just need to identify the experts that we're leaning on. Dr. Ranney and I, you know, and many others are coming on the news day after day to review the data and just remind people about the measures that we need to be taking in order to be safe.

CABRERA: And we are so grateful. We do. We lean on you, we rely on you, your expertise, your perspective. You've been there, you know it better than any of us.

Thank you so much, Dr. Ester Choo and Dr. Megan Ranney, for sharing with us and taking some of your holiday weekend to do that.

CHOO: Our pleasure.

RANNEY: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: Coming up, amid a pandemic that has killed now nearly 130,000 Americans and sinking poll numbers, the president unveiled his reelection message to the American people this weekend. His divisive pitch, next.



CABRERA: Twice now President Trump has been unable to say what he would do with the second term. But this weekend, he seems like he may have settled on a reelection message. And it's a lot like his election argument back in 2016 with one change. Instead of pitting Americans against immigrants, he's pitting Americans against each other.


TRUMP: We will not allow anyone to divide our citizens by race or background. We will not allow them to foment hate, discord and distrust. We will hold fast and true to the sacred loyalties that link us all as neighbors, as Americans and as patriots.


CABRERA: Joining me now, former adviser to Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Clinton, David Gergen, and White House correspondent for American Urban Radio Networks, April Ryan.

April, who is the we and who is the them in the president's message there?

APRIL RYAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, AMERICAN URBAN RADIO NETWORKS: The we is those who think like the president and the them are those who want democracy to work fully for them. It is very hard right now for this president to distance himself from being racist-in-chief at a time of racial reckoning. You know, this president is someone who has pulled close to white nationalists and it's hazard for him to distance himself from that.

So the we happens to be those who think like him. Those who are on this racist binge. Those who don't want the browning of America and the them those who want equality. Those who are saying that Black Lives Matter. Those who want to be a part of what the founding fathers didn't put in the Declaration of Independence or in the Constitution.

People want a piece of everything else, everyone else has.

CABRERA: David, finding a common enemy and stoking racial divides worked for the president in 2016. Not so much in the 2018 midterms. Do you believe it will work this November? DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, in the past, I

think, Ana, I would have said it would probably work for him for a while. We are in a different age and a different place now where the country is exhausted with him. And with a lot of the rhetoric the country is angry about where we are. Many Americans are angry. They are angry at him for not talking about the real issues, but quite often a complete diversion.

A terrible idea of having a national part for heroes, for example. And so I think that the reservoir of goodwill toward him is lower than it was. And I think his chance of getting away with this diversion are much smaller than they have been in the past.

CABRERA: Let's talk about Democrats. "The Economist" is predicting Democrats could actually win a majority in the Senate, and writes, "To make lasting change through the federal government, you need to win the Senate.

And that cannot be done with a candidate at the top of the ticket who frightens the voters because he, Biden, comes across as the grandfather he is. He is viewed with suspicion on the left and that is precisely what makes him reassuring to voters in states like Montana and Georgia, where Democrats must win to gain a majority in the Senate. It is Mr. Biden's caution that opens up the possibility of more change than a real radical would."

April, what do you make of that argument?

RYAN: You know, there was a time when age meant wisdom. And for some who look at this president, they think he's wise. Maybe we're still in that era of a (INAUDIBLE) president who played basketball, who golfed and who also knew how to be presidential. Maybe people are thinking that. But at the same time, I think it's time for Joe Biden to really step up with that number two to quell those concerns about what the picture looks like for him.

Joe Biden is an elder statesman who has been around the block on Capitol Hill and at the White House on numerous occasions and at the end of the day, Joe Biden is getting a lot of momentum. You have more people talking about voting. You have a voter enthusiasm that we have not seen in a long time.

Let's talk about Georgia, let's talk about Kentucky. So what this "Economist" is saying, yes, scores (INAUDIBLE), but there is an enthusiasm we hadn't seen before. He's winning in primaries in some states larger than Barack Obama did. So there is an enthusiasm for Biden versus what is being said.


CABRERA: So, David, do you think the Senate is in play for Democrats?

GERGEN: Yes, it is. At the moment, if the election were held today, I think the Democrats would win the Senate and pick up some seats. I think it'd be a blowout. But, you know, we do have at least two months. And I must say I sense a couple of things. One is that Biden so far has gained very much from the fact that this has not been about Biden, it's been about Trump. It's been a referendum on Trump and more people see that Trump like that the less they like him.

And that's helped Biden. But I think he does need to fill in some of the empty space about what he would do in the second term. He would be vulnerable to attacks from the Republicans and from Trump unless he has his own agenda. And tuning that agenda, it has to be very careful. He doesn't want to get too far to the center or his left. But if he goes too far to the left, he won't bring the center.

So, you know, there is a balancing act that needed here. But I'm of a view that the more he is taken to the center left as opposed to the AOC left, I think that it strengthens him in the fall.

CABRERA: The president --

GERGEN: And I think frankly he'd get more done. I thought the "Economist" was right. I think he would get more done as president.

CABRERA: Right. That was the point was of the "Economist" that if he becomes a unifying candidate and is able to get the Senate, the House and the White House, he may end up being the change agent that the Democrats didn't expect.

Now the president is facing an unprecedented pandemic right now, historic unemployment, a nation that's reckoning with its racist history and its racist present. I want to play for you what presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told me last night about a conversation he once had with President Trump. Listen to this.


DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: I once got to talk to Donald Trump in Mar-a-Lago. He told me he never read any books on American history. He told me he never read a book on Lincoln or Washington, not even a kid's book, he told me. He said he's a visual guy. And he gets it from the gut. And he kind of knew about Nixon and Kennedy just from watching TV clips on it.


CABRERA: David, as someone who has worked in four White Houses, how important is knowledge and understanding of history for a commander- in-chief?

GERGEN: I think it's essential. Our best presidents have been those who have tried to understand our past. You know, Churchill believed that people who could see further back, leaders who could see farther back, could also see farther ahead. And I believe that the kind of judgment that JFK brought, for example, to the Cuban missile crisis, (INAUDIBLE) the fact that he was reading books about how closely we'd come into atomic attacks against each other and that through incompetence you can set off a war.

That was really meaningful to the way you handled his readings about the -- the way he handled the given missile crisis. His judgment was so much better because he was well schooled and have read history.

CABRERA: April, quick final thought?

RYAN: You know, just listening to David say this, if you equated this to what you see in children going to school, it sounds like there's a learning difference here. He's visual. He doesn't read. I mean, who says that? At the end of the day, you need a president to be able to read not just bullet points but read the whole playbook from beginning to end each day. Because if the president had been doing that now, we would not be having this situation where the EU is banning the United States citizens from going to their countries because of COVID.

We would not have Mexico banning us from going to their borders or trying to come into their country. At the end of the day, this president does not understand the power that he holds and what he needs to do to be the leader, to protect and serve. This is an alarming difference. Somebody, please explain to me because something doesn't sound right.

CABRERA: April Ryan and David Gergen, thank you both very much for joining us.

GERGEN: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: As new coronavirus cases spike across more than 30 states, Texas is reporting its second highest day of new cases on record. And right now, hospitals there are being stretched thin. In fact two counties in Texas today say their hospitals are already at capacity.

We'll speak to a doctor on the front lines of the fight in Texas, next.



CABRERA: An explosion of coronavirus cases is spreading across the nation. And in Texas, the surge is taking a brutal toll. One of the first states to reopen, Texas yesterday reported its second highest number of daily cases with more than 8200. The spike now so severe that it's pushing Texas hospitals to their limits.

And I am joined now by Dr. Joseph Varon, the chief of staff at Houston's United Memorial Medical Center.

Doctor, thank you for the work you are doing. You said a couple of days ago, you're seeing an exponential increase in severity of illness and the number of cases you're admitting to your hospital. How dire is the situation there right now?

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: I mean, it's a serious situation. And it's a serious situation because, you know, patients keep on coming in, but they are very slow in getting out of the hospitals. So we're getting so busy that we're having to open more and more hospital beds. Of course, you know, you can have all the beds in the world that you want but if you don't have enough nursing staff, (INAUDIBLE), and everybody else, I mean, it's just not enough. So it's getting out there.


CABRERA: So what is your capacity looking like at this point? We mentioned a couple of places where they've already hit the max.

VARON: We're seeing them hit the max because every time we're about to hit the max, we open another ward. So that's what we've been doing and that's why we've able to cope with this. But right now we're probably at 90 percent, 95 percent.

CABRERA: Wow. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said as recently as Thursday that 25 percent of tests for COVID-19 were coming back positive. For perspective for our viewers, the positive rate reported in New York City today was less than 1 percent.

Doctor, what does this mean for you and your colleagues?

VARON: Well, I mean, obviously it means a lot. Our centers, so we have different centers, we have tested close to 90,000 people. Our positivity rate is in excess of 17 percent. But they are selective populations where they're very high. Last weekend we tested people at the Mexican consulate and today we know that 24 percent of those tested were positive.

CABRERA: Wow. When you hear the president falsely claiming this weekend that 99 percent of coronavirus cases are, quote, "totally harmless," what's your reaction?

VARON: Well, I mean, a lot of what goes on with corona is not going to give you trouble. But the problem is that, you know, many of the ones that get in trouble they end up in our hospitals. And one of major issues is that all of them are coming in at the same time. So they are overwhelming our health care system. And that is my primary concern.

Corona is here to stay. It's not going anywhere. So we have to be smart as to how we manage it.

CABRERA: So let's talk about managing this because the Texas governor has seen the writing on the wall. He's started to pull back some of the reopening. He's closed bars. He issued a mask order on Thursday. I know you've said it may be too little too late. What do you think is the best course of action right now?

VARON: Well, as I told -- as I've said this over and over again, you know, the cow is out of the barn. I mean, there are way too many people out there with corona. This is not going to go away. When you think about it, there are only two kinds of people at least in the Houston metropolitan area. Those who have COVID and those who are going to get COVID.

What we want to make sure is that not everybody gets sick at the same time. So we are going to have to follow very strict things. You know, social distance needs to be followed. You know, masks need to be followed. Hygiene, people need to wash their hands. We can't believe the number of people who don't wash their hands. It's unreal. CABRERA: Is Texas in effect then destined for another stay-at-home

order? When you say either you have it or you're going to get it, do you think a stay-at-home order is what's next?

VARON: You see the problem is that, you know, when you do that, you have a lot of people upset, are going to come out and they're going to say, these are our rights and you cannot do this to us, and things are going to get worse. I just think that, you know, if you have to go to work, be careful. Keep your social distance. Keep your mask.

I mean, you can't believe the number of people -- I was just watching Facebook Live a couple of seconds ago where people are out there without masks just walking around like nothing is going on. I mean, you may have to do some you're mentioning but it has to be something serious, something where we have to face the consequences if you don't do it.

CABRERA: Well, Dr. Joseph Varon, thank you for taking the time with us. And again, I so appreciate, I know your community so appreciates all the work that you're doing in trying to fight this virus, this pandemic. Best of luck.

VARON: Thank you very much, ma'am.

CABRERA: Coming up, hear Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms' impassioned plea to her city after a deadly Fourth of July weekend.



CABRERA: We have to end tonight on a tragic note. An epidemic but different from the one we are faced from the coronavirus, of gun violence.

Four cities mourning victims today but no ordinary victims -- children, ranging in age from just 7 to 11 years old. Simply unconscionable.

Today they should be remembering the fun of the holiday weekend, the fireworks. Instead their families are preparing for funerals. In one case, in Atlanta, the victim was an 8-year-old, murdered incredibly just across the street from where Rayshard Brooks was killed by police, a killing that sparked protests.

Tonight, Atlanta's mayor had a simple message for her city. Enough is enough.


MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA, GA: We talked a lot about what we are demanding from our officers and our communities. We protested. We demonstrated. We've been angry. We've cried. We've demanded action.

Now we are demanding action for Secoriea Turner. And for all of the other people who were shot in Atlanta last night and over the past few weeks because the reality is this. These aren't police officers shooting people on the streets of Atlanta. These are members of the community shooting each other.

And in this case, it is the worst possible outcome. There were two other people who were actually shot, killed last night, and several others. Enough is enough.

CABRERA: And that does it for me tonight. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.