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Coronavirus Cases Up as Large Gatherings Also Surge; Interview with Georgia Tech Professor Seth Marder; Kayleigh McEnany Unable to Defend Latest Racist Trump Tweets. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 6, 2020 - 14:00   ET



YUSEF SALAAM, MEMBER OF EXONERATED CENTRAL PARK FIVE: We need change. And right now, we're on the brink of that. And everybody is collectively pushing their shoulders down to push forward, not for one thing to change but for the whole system to be changed.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST, NEWSROOM: Yusef Salaam, thank you so much. I always appreciate the discussion when you come on. Thank you.

SALAAM: My pleasure, and thank you for having me.

KEILAR: It's the top of the hour now. I'm Brianna Keilar.

A nation in, quote, "freefall": That is how one top infectious disease expert is describing the state of the pandemic here in the United States.

Coronavirus infections are skyrocketing in several states, and specifically the three most populous: Florida, Texas, California. And, overall here, note all of that orange and red? Well, more than half the states are experiencing more cases in the last week than they experienced in the week before. We are seeing, right now, about 50,000 new cases a day.

Now, health officials and municipalities are bracing for the numbers to rise after many people skipped the masks and the social distancing to celebrate the Fourth of July. And the president is feeding their public defiance by lying over the weekend, saying that 99 percent of cases are, quote, "totally harmless."

New York's governor, Andrew Cuomo, says by denying the problem of coronavirus, the president is helping it spread.


GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D), NEW YORK: It's going to continue until we admit it and each of us stands up to do our part. If he does not acknowledge that, then he is facilitating the virus, he is enabling the virus. How did this become a political statement? This is common sense.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: CNN's Jason Carroll has been following where the virus is surging. And, Jason, Florida's breaking records on the number of cases that it's seeing in a single day.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, right. And as a result of that, Miami-Dade's mayor has had to roll back on reopening efforts there, closing restaurants for indoor dining, closing gyms again as well.

And, Brianna, this is what a number of state and local officials are really worried about, going forward, that what they're going to be seeing is this sort of yo-yo effect of opening, then being forced to re-close again because so many people out there are simply not following the guidelines that they should be.


CARROLL (voice-over): What pandemic? Holiday-goers packed a party in Diamond Lake, Michigan over the weekend; similar scenes at this waterpark in Wisconsin and this beach in Fire Island, New York, where social distancing and face coverings were nowhere in sight.

CUOMO: -- see it in Manhattan, you see it on Fire Island. There are reports upstate of gatherings, where people aren't socially distanced and people aren't wearing masks. You know, I don't know how else to say it. Actions have consequences.

CARROLL (voice-over): Coronavirus cases, surging in 32 states. California, reaching new dangerous levels Sunday, with nearly 12,000 new cases reported. Texas saw its second-highest day of new cases over the weekend. The mayor of Austin says his city is two weeks away from running out of hospital beds.

MAYOR STEVE ADLER (D), AUSTIN, TEXAS: There's a lesson to be learned, I think, in what's happened in Texas in May and June. We opened up in ways that were not sustainable. And now, we're having to turn that curve.

CARROLL (voice-over): In Florida, where they shut many beaches to discourage holiday crowds, a record for the most coronavirus cases in the United States in a single day on Saturday. That state, now, has had more than 200,000 people infected with the virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think the virus has just become very efficient at spreading. And what has happened is when one person gets it in a household, they come home. By the time they experience symptoms and get tested, everybody in the household's infected. So you go from one person to a four- or five-person infection rate almost overnight.

CARROLL (voice-over): Health experts warned for months that more attention needs to be paid to how the virus transmits in the air. Now, 239 scientists have signed a letter, addressed to the World Health Organization, asking them to be more up-front in explaining that. Currently, the organization does not call COVID-19 an airborne virus.

ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: The bottom line is very, very clear. Yes, there is aerosolized transmission and people absolutely need to be wearing masks, and they need to be wearing masks particularly when they're indoors.

CARROLL (voice-over): And now, some potentially encouraging news on the treatment front. The biotechnology company Regeneron announced today, it is in phase three of clinical trials on a drug to prevent and treat coronavirus. Regeneron's so-called antibody cocktail drug is a combination of an antibody made by the company, and a second antibody isolated from recovered COVID-19 patients.



CARROLL: And, Brianna, also comes word, late today, that the CDC is about to release new guidance on how students K through 12 can head back physically into the classroom this fall. That guidance has been reviewed internally, and still trying to get word on exactly when that new guidance will be released to the public -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, can't go to work and leave your kids at home, can you, Jason? Jason Carroll in New York, thank you.

I want to unpack all of this now with an infectious disease expert, Dr. Peter Hotez, who is the dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. He's also the codirector of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

So, Doctor, you're very much in the middle of all of this. And I want to get to this out-of-spread (ph) control (ph) here in just a moment, but let's start with what Governor Cuomo said. If the president is peddling nonsense and these lies about the virus, who can the American public trust in this pandemic? Because they do seem sometimes to be confused about finding consensus.

PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, that's right. I mean, you had the president saying 99 percent of the cases are harmless and you had Peter Navarro, just before the weekend, postulating this outrageous Chinese Communist Party plot, where China sent minions infected with the virus to deliberately infiltrate the U.S.

I mean, this is craziness. So we've got a serious problem under way, and we've got to get our arms around it. We now -- you know, so many other countries have been able to tackle this virus, almost everyone except the United States. We've now got this very steep acceleration. It was 40,000 cases last week, then 50,000, now 60,000.

We're rapidly approaching Dr. Fauci's apocalyptic number of 100,000 cases a day. And we're setting record numbers in 14 states. Two-thirds of the states in the United States have significant upturns. This is not going well. We are losing and this virus is taking over the United States. And the deaths will start to increase in a few weeks, and we're also looking in the -- significant level of permanent injury, what we've learned so much about the virus. So we have to get -- reach the point where we say, Look, Plan A has

failed. Plan A was saying, Let the states decide what to do, we'll provide some backup, FEMA and supply chain management support. It's not working. And we need, now, a national roadmap and plan and we have to do it now.

KEILAR: How much do you think a federal mandate or recommendation that the president would speak about to wear masks, how much of change do you think that would have made in all this?

HOTEZ: Well, it would certainly have helped. And -- but you know, we have to recognize, we're at the point now where we're just not going to get that leadership and guidance out of Washington, D.C.

And I've suggested, Look, you know, let's -- rather than continually chip away at this, let's move it to Atlanta, have -- put the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in charge and have them give specific information to the governors on what needs to be done. And that will help the governors too, it'll give them some cover. Because, right now, they're being left to make the decisions on their own and they're too buffeted by political force to the right and left, and making poor decisions.

If you had strong CDC saying, This is what needs to be done, what we now need to do is do a reset because in places like Florida now and in many parts of Texas, many parts of Arizona, you can't even do contact tracing, there's so much virus transmission going on. It's not even --


HOTEZ: -- there are not enough contact tracers on the planet to --


HOTEZ; -- do this. So (inaudible) got to bring this back --

KEILAR: We've --

HOTEZ: -- to containment mode across the country.

KEILAR: Yes, we've looked into that. And, I mean, the thing about tracing is, you have to trace everyone and it's just a fraction so it seems almost pointless, with the way it's being done in many areas.

We heard, Dr. Hotez, Governor Cuomo respond to a lie that the president told over the weekend about the coronavirus. Let's hear what the president said.


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


KEILAR: What do you say to that, "99 percent of which are totally harmless"?

HOTEZ: Well, we know it's not true. We know that up to 20 percent of people with COVID-19 go to the hospital, between 15 and 20 percent. And many of those are in intensive care units, they're extremely sick. And a significant percentage of those, even after they recover, will have permanent disabilities.


We're learning about how this virus attacks not only the lungs, causing lung scarring, but the heart, the vascular system. So significant cardiovascular disease, strokes, emboli. This is a bad actor. And -- and we need to take this virus more seriously. And what we're doing right now is just letting this thing rip throughout the country, and we will pay severely for it.

And we can't wait until the election if there's a change, we have to do this now because if we get to that 100,000 cases a day mark, it's going to not only be catastrophic for the health of the population, but also our economy as well. By that time, every single person in the United States will know someone who's severely ill with COVID-19. And the destabilizing effects of that will be extraordinary.

So we do need to start bringing this virus back down. And I think what we need is guidance, direct guidance from the CDC to the governors to look at each state in the country and say, This is what you need to do now to get to containment mode.

And basically, what we need to do, Brianna, is being every state down to about the same low level, whether it's officially containment mode, meaning one new case per million residents a day, or some level like that. Because if you just focus on one part of the country, it doesn't work, it starts spreading across the nation.

So we need a national roadmap, a national plan. Bring all of this down, look at each state, what needs to be done in each state. And then reset. And then we can start getting some semblance of life back.

So even though it might be some short-term pain, at this point, we can look forward to things, we can look forward to opening up universities, we can look forward to opening up elementary schools and high schools, we can look forward to maybe the National Football League, the NBA, the NHL. We've got to do this as a country because it's just sapping our energy and demoralizing the entire nation at this current pace.

KEILAR: Yes. Dr. Hotez, thank you so much. You always explain it so clearly. You scare me a little bit, but your predictions are always correct and you sort of sound that warning bell when we need it, so thank you, Dr. Hotez.

Just in, the White House, weighing in moments ago on the president's tweet supporting the Confederate flag, and the questionable moves involving the president's exposure to the coronavirus. And neither explanation makes sense. Plus, he's known as the Grim Reaper, a lawyer in Florida who walks

beaches to warn people -- well, not everyone appreciated the lecture this weekend. He's going to join us, live.



KEILAR: As colleges and universities across the United States figure out their education plans for this fall, over 750 faculty at Georgia Tech in Atlanta are livid because their university, in its reopening plan, has something that is very questionable to them. They have signed a letter to the state's University System and its Board of Regents, demanding remote learning options and a campus mask mandate, which there is not.

One of those professors, Seth Marder, is joining me now. He teaches Chemistry.

So, Seth, tell us about how you decided -- you know, I need to take a stand on this, I'm going to sign this along with my colleagues.

SETH MARDER, REGENTS PROFESSOR OF CHEMISTRY, GEORGIA TECH UNIVERSITY: Well, this is a letter that was written by a group of faculty, it's a complete faculty grassroots effort with actually no involvement of the administration, they were informed after the fact.

And it was predicated on the understanding that the intention was to open Georgia Tech with no requirement that students wear masks, and that the default mode was going to be residence delivery of courses.

The faculty in general felt that this would be a dangerous situation for the students, and that there may be some courses given online. The uncertainty about which would be given online and which would be done on-campus would create confusion, uncertainty. And there was concern that faculty and students could be put at risk if things proceeded in this direction.

So the faculty felt that necessary to basically communicate directly with the Board of Regents its concerns -- they're not demands, OK? They are what we believe is the best course of action. And we did that by writing a letter that was circulated to the faculty. And within -- between I think Thursday night and now, over 800 faculty, which represents the very large majority of the faculty, decided to sign onto this letter and express their concerns along with the people who wrote the letter.

KEILAR: OK, so there's no mask mandate. What protections are in place? What are the current guidelines for classes in fall?

MARDER: The current guidelines are that people should try to practice social distancing, it is recommended highly that students wear a mask but it is not required. Many classes may be taught in-person unless the faculty meet certain health requirements that enable them to teach online.


And what we believe is, this is going to bring a large number of students to campus, potentially without the protections that they need to keep themselves safe from the spread of the virus, and the faculty safe.

And so our position is to recommend to the Board of Regents that they consider an alternative plan, where, A, if we have, as the default, online teaching with some limited number of exceptions to that, and, B, that it is a requirement that, for those limited number of exceptions, students wear masks. Not as a request, but as a mandate.

KEILAR: All right. Hey, Seth, thank you so much for coming on. There are so many universities who are grappling with how to handle this. We know that you're also asking for large-scale testing, so we're going to be following this to see where Georgia Tech ends up landing after these voicing of concerns -- as you put it -- from faculty. Thank you so much for being with us.

MARDER: Thank you. Bye-bye.

KEILAR: And just in, tense moments inside the White House press briefing after Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany defended President Trump, inflaming racial tensions again. This time, demanding a black NASCAR star apologize. And he also tweeted support for the Confederate flag.


KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The intent of the tweet was to stand up for the men and women of NASCAR and the fans and those who have gone, in this rush to judgment of the media, to call something a hate crime when in fact the FBI report concluded this was not an intentional racist act.

And it very much mirrors other times when there had been a rush to judgment, let's say with the Covington boys or with Jussie Smollett.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But let's drill down on the Confederate flag. Does he think it was a mistake for NASCAR to ban it?

MCENANY: The president said he wasn't making a judgment one way or the other, you're focusing on one word at the very bottom of a tweet that's completely taking it out of context and neglecting the complete rush to judgment on this.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wasn't (ph) he saying that NASCAR's ratings are down because they banned the flag? That's what he said.

MCENANY: The president was noting the fact that, in aggregate, this notion that NASCAR men and women who have gone and who are being demeaned and called racist and being accused, in some venues, of committing a hate crime against an individual, those allegations were just dead wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Does he think -- MCENANY: Paula (ph)?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- does he think his supporters should not take the flag to Trump rallies? Has he considered banning the Confederate flag from Trump rallies?

MCENANY: Well, at Trump rallies, all flags that are not official campaign gear are banned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Kayleigh, why is it Bubba Wallace's responsibility to apologize for an investigation into a noose that he didn't report and he never even saw? I was NASCAR that found this, that reported this. And even the FBI referred to it as a noose. Even if they said it wasn't a specific crime against Mr. Wallace, why is the president even suggesting that Mr. Wallace should apologize?

MCENANY: Well, look, the FBI, as I noted concluded that this was not a hate crime. And he believes it would go a long way if Bubba came out and acknowledged that as well. This was --


KEILAR: Yes, Kayleigh McEnany, not answering that question there, maybe because she didn't have an answer to it. I want to bring in CNN's Kaitlan Collins at the White House for us.

Though she's trying, really, to explain this away or spin it away. And she's saying that reporters are focusing on certain parts of the tweet, when they're really just focusing on the president's words here. It brings up this question of if, really, the tweet is just indefensible because that's not the part that Kayleigh's defending here?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, and you can't take the president out of context when there are not many ways to read what the president is saying pretty clearly in this tweet.

And there are two things that were coming out of this briefing that were questions about this one tweet that the president sent this morning, Brianna.

Which is, one, what does Bubba Wallace have to apologize for? Because the president is saying that he should apologize to the other drivers and the other crew members, though I don't think any of them have even called on him to apologize.

And we should note that Bubba Wallace is not accused of perpetrating this hoax, he's not accused of putting a noose in this garage, he's not accused of any of that. And that's why those comparisons to Jussie Smollett and what's going on there just do not ring true.

And, of course, we should note it is a NASCAR crew member that found this rope, and a NASCAR crew member that reported it. And they're the ones who initiated the investigation, with the FBI, obviously, coming to that conclusion that -- talking about what it was and when it was placed there.

So what they could not answer, Brianna, was why the president feels that Bubba Wallace should be apologizing for this when in fact the drivers and the officials that the president is talking about actually came to his defense, and supported him throughout this.

The other thing that she repeatedly would not answer is whether or not the president thought it was a good or bad idea for NASCAR to ban the Confederate flag from its events. The president is making very clear in the tweet that we were just showing, that he does not agree with it because he's saying that and the flag decision has caused the lowest ratings ever. He is saying banning the Confederate flag from NASCAR events is going to hurt their ratings.

Yet continuously, during that briefing just now, Kayleigh McEnany was saying that the president was not making a judgment one way or another. And so when she was asked, Well, what is his judgment on this? Does he think it's a good idea that they did this? She did not answer those questions.


And so, you know, it's just really striking to see the press secretary try to say that the president didn't say something, when you can read in his own tweet what he was referencing and what he was suggesting when it came to NASCAR's decision.

Now, the other thing she was asked about in that briefing was, obviously, coronavirus and the skyrocketing numbers that we are seeing happen throughout the United States. And she was asked about just how close this has gotten to the president's own circle, because Kimberly Guilfoyle, who's a top Trump fundraising official -- and of course the girlfriend of Donald Trump Jr. -- tested positive as they were going into that even, Brianna, on Friday night.

But then the governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, who was seen hugging Kimberly Guilfoyle at one point, was allowed to fly back on Air Force One with the president. Kayleigh McEnany was asked about what was the reasoning behind that decision.


MCENANY: The president is tested constantly, has tested negative. And those around him are tested as well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But why -- what -- the original question is, why was she allowed to fly back on Air Force One with the president when it was known that she had had contact with somebody who had tested positive for the virus?

MCENANY: Yes, I'd have to refer you to Secret Service on that. But I'll tell you this, they take the president's health very seriously. They would never put him in a situation that would put him in harm's way.

(END VIDEO CLIP) COLLINS: Now, Brianna, as you know, Secret Service does not make a decision about who flies on the plane. That is a political decision, that's the White House's director of operations that makes the decision about who's on the manifest and who gets to fly back. And of course, it's ultimately up to the president himself.

KEILAR: Yes. That was a very interesting answer.

And I will just say, to fact-check his tweet about NASCAR ratings, they're actually up. Clearly, the audience is responding or there's a new audience and they are liking how NASCAR has handled this situation. Polls show that Americans do not like how the president is handling this current moment in time with all these questions of systemic racism in the country.

Kaitlan, thank you so much for bringing all of that to us from the White House.

I'm joined now by CNN political commentator Bakari Sellers as well as Art Caplan, who's the director, Division of Medical Ethics at NYU Langone Medical Center.

And, Bakari, I want to start with you. All right, let's -- I mean, where do we start? There are so many things to begin with. But this -- the Confederate flag part. The president's tweet is very clear, and there's also a lot of falsehoods in it. But he's demanding an apology from Bubba Wallace, he's placing blame on Bubba Wallace for how all of this shook out.

Which -- I mean, I would just make the point that -- the fact that it wasn't targeting him does not exonerate the fact that there was a noose as a garage pull. That aside, Confederate flag. The president, in his tweet, seems to be supporting it and speaking out against NASCAR banning it.

BAKARI SELLERS, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Yes. I mean, we know where the president resides on the issue of the Confederate flag, so I kind of want to start with Bubba Wallace here. This is a pattern of the president of the United States, calling out popular black figures and calling out black athletes.

There's nothing for Bubba Wallace to apologize for. I mean, just to lay out the facts again, NASCAR was who called for the investigation. It was a noose. How do I know it was a noose? The FBI called it a noose.

And so they checked every single stall, every single garage door stall they had on every single track, and they only had one in the shape of a noose. And so NASCAR did what it should have done to protect this driver. I'm actually glad they followed through.

And so this whole pattern of the president calling on Bubba Wallace, the lone black driver in NASCAR to apologize -- apologize for what? We know, as you go through that tweet, we know where the president stands on the issue of the Confederate flag. We know where he stands on the issues of things like Confederate statues. So for Kayleigh to bend herself in a pretzel in attempting not to

answer that question, is disappointing. Because at the end of the day, it's not honest. But it's what we've come to expect from this White House.

the last thing is, the tweet was just not accurate. NASCAR ratings are up eight percent. And how do I know that? Because I'm a NASCAR fan. And so I am someone who would tell you that NASCAR's actually bringing in new fans because of what they did. I think they're going to ignore Donald Trump and move forward, like most of the country's doing.

KEILAR: Yes. And also what's interesting here, Bakari -- I was sort of a former NASCAR fan, Gordon was my driver -- but they have sort of -- I think they see which way the country is going here, right? When it comes to the Confederate flag and the way NASCAR has responded to this, that is more in line with what polls show Americans want.

The polls are showing that Americans do not agree with how the president is handling race relations in the U.S. right now.


SELLERS: I mean, how could you agree with the way that he's handling race relations? This is someone who does not have a history of being knowledgeable.