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Arizona, Florida, Texas And California Health Infrastructure Approaching Limits; Studies Grim For Coronavirus Transmission, Immunity; Interview With Acting Deputy Secretary Of Homeland Security Ken Cuccinelli. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 7, 2020 - 14:00   ET


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: They're not -- they're kind of incidental COVID-positives in the hospital, they would not need to be hospitalized for COVID, absent the other conditions.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: CNN's Nick Watt has been tracking which states are experiencing a major jump in these infections. And, Nick, the southern part of the country's certainly seeing a surge right now.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely. The State Fair of Texas was just cancelled for the first time since the Second World War. Arizona today, posting a triple-digit death toll for the first time. And here's how granular some places are getting, trying to fight this virus. In Miami, outdoor dining is allowed to continue but music must not be played at a level high enough that would require people to should.

This is still getting worse, and it's unclear when it might start getting better.


WATT (voice-over): The military is sending medical personnel to San Antonio, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are days away from overrunning our hospital system.

WATT (voice-over): In Florida, ICUs in 43 hospitals are now full.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Especially, we need to look at our younger population that we know had a tremendous spike in their positivity rate, which in turn has infected other people.

WATT (voice-over): Florida still won't reveal how many COVID-19 patients they have in hospitals, but Miami-Dade does, and it's up 90 percent in just two weeks.

Still, the state just issued an order for schools to reopen next month.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We can't go on this path of putting our teachers in this petri dish of danger.

WATT (voice-over): In California, the capitol, now closed indefinitely after at least five lawmakers tested positive. And three Major League Baseball teams, today, delayed the start of practice due to delays in their test results.

Test lines are getting longer. Two testing companies say huge demand is slowing turnaround time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All of this just makes it so much harder to manage this disease.

WATT (voice-over): Quest Diagnostics says last month, results were taking two to three days. Now, it's four to six. And quick results are key in effectively isolating the infected.

PETER HOTEZ, DEAN, NATIONAL SCHOOL OF TROPICAL MEDICINE AT BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The cases are rising so rapidly that we cannot even do contact tracing any more.

WATT (voice-over): Undiagnosed silent spreaders might be responsible for around half of all cases, according to one new study. And as cases climb, nearly half of states now slowing or rolling back reopening.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to continue to monitor the numbers. If they keep moving up, we're going to dial back if we have to. And it's the last thing any of us want.

WATT (voice-over): One hundred sixty-eight days since the first confirmed U.S. case, we are still struggling to control and treat this virus.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If the public will give our scientists a little bit of time by wearing masks, by social distancing, you know, there will be a light at the end of the tunnel.

WATT (voice-over): The government just struck a $1.6 billion contract with Novavax to manufacture a vaccine that's still in clinical trials. And $450 million to Regeneron to manufacture an antibody treatment that might eventually be made available to all for free.


WATT: Now, masks really shouldn't be a political issue but they are, thanks largely to the president. So, viewed through that lens, a victory today for the pro-mask brigade, a bunch of faculty at Georgia Tech wrote to the University System of Georgia, pleading with them to reverse their no-mask policy. They just did, masks will now be required on campus across that system in the state of Georgia -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Nick, thank you for that update. We'd been following that yesterday, as we interviewed a Georgia Tech faculty member, so thank you.

I want to bring in, now, Dr. Alex Busko. He is an emergency room physician in Boca Raton, Florida. And if you could just tell us, Doctor, what you're seeing in your E.R. here in recent weeks?


The volume of patients coming into the emergency room has really picked up, especially in the past two weeks. Initially, back in March and April, we saw our volumes drop, people were scared of coming to the E.R. And so we really saw a much sicker patient population. People were mainly coming in when they were already very sick with the virus.

And what we're seeing now is our volumes have rebounded, we still have our usual volume of traumas, heart attacks, strokes, other emergencies in addition to much younger demographic now of COVID-19 patients.


KEILAR: So are the patients -- they're changing int hat you say some of them -- or many of them -- are, I guess, in better health condition than they were before, you had sicker patients? Are they younger, the ones you're seeing?

BUSKO: Many of them are, yes. So since the reopening, which was mid- May down here in South Florida, we're increasingly seeing a younger demographic of patients. Just to give you some idea, the state of Florida took about three months to hit 100,000 cases, and only two weeks to double that number.

So in the past two weeks or so, we've seen a new 100,000 cases in the state of Florida. And unfortunately, about half of those new cases are patients under the age of 35.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something we heard from the governor in his press briefing, which you just had. He said that in the Jackson health system, they had folks coming in for unrelated -- right? -- not COVID-related causes. Maybe it's car accidents or it's heart conditions, and that they were testing -- and these are folks he said are asymptomatic -- they were testing 30 to 40 percent of them positive for coronavirus.

Have you been able to determine anything like that at your hospital? Are you seeing a high number of asymptomatic people coming in for other conditions?

BUSKO: We are. And I don't have specific data for my hospitals on that, although I have friends and colleagues that work at Jackson, and so I'm familiar with that.

The hard thing is for emergency doctors is, we just have to treat every single patient like they have it, because you really don't know. People will come in with abdominal pain and they have COVID. Tons of trauma patients are coming in, and they end up having the disease.

So we really have to treat every patient as if they're infected, and that means wearing, you know, a respirator, goggles, a gown and really doing strict PPE and personal safety for every single patient. KEILAR: Dr. Busko, thank you. You call yourself "Dr. Buzzkill" on

social media because you tweet a lot about increased cases and just giving the lowdown. But we appreciate you telling us about the picture there on the ground in Florida. Thank you.

BUSKO: Thank you for having me.

KEILAR: A possible sign that the coronavirus pandemic is getting worse, two major U.S. lab companies now say it's taking a lot longer to get back test results. In fact, double the time that it took just last month. And the reason is this surge in demand. These are images of testing lines in the Miami area. Florida, of course, is now seeing one of the biggest spikes in cases.

CNN's senior investigative correspondent Drew Griffin is following what labs are facing. And, Drew, you are hearing from LabCorp, you're hearing from Quest -- the big two. How severe is this for them?

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN SENIOR INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's not as bad as it was at the beginning of this crisis, where some were waiting 10 days for turnaround times, but it is creeping up and that is bad, Brianna.

Just take a look, Quest, basically doubling its turnaround times. They're now four to six days. And LabCorp is two to four days, just to get those test results back. That is double, for both of them, what it was last month.

The Clinical Laboratories Association says you can expect this demand for testing, exceeding the commercial labs' ability to test them only increasing in the coming months. This is all bad news in terms of trying to contain what is a very big surge.

And keep in mind, when you're seeing those lines in Florida, Brianna, many people in Florida are telling us they are having to wait upwards of a week just to get a test. So these test results are added onto the week that you're already waiting to get a test, you're talking about 10 days before determining if you have COVID. And I think any health professional will tell you that is just not acceptable if you're trying to contain this virus -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes. Drew, thank you for that. Drew Griffin.

Still ahead, the Trump administration suddenly announces a policy that could lead to the deportation of international college students if their classes are all online. I'll be asking Homeland Security official Ken Cuccinelli about that.

Plus, Brazil's president, who has continued to hold massive rallies amid the pandemic, has just tested positive for coronavirus.

And a new study shows COVID antibodies may only last a few weeks.


You're watching CNN's special live coverage. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KEILAR: There is a disturbing development on how coronavirus is transmitted, a new study showing that silent spreaders could be responsible for half of coronavirus cases. Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is here.

This is something we've always focused on, how many people are out there, spreading this without knowing. Tell us what it means, this half number.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, Brianna. When you look at this study from Yale, it really does sort of speak very closely to this issue. Let's take a look at these numbers what they found is that between 47 to 48 percent of spread is done by people who are presymptomatic. In other words, they will feel sick, but they have not yet felt sick.

This is something that is sort of unusual to COVID. Usually, people aren't all that contagious before they're actively ill. With COVID, they are, which is one of the things that makes this virus so hard to bring under control.

And as far as asymptomatic patients, about 3.4 to 6.6 percent of the spread that we're seeing with COVID is from people who don't have any symptoms at all.


I will tell you, this 47 to 48 percent number, Brianna, when the history is written of this pandemic, that is the line that sort of defines why this has been so tough.

It also took, at least in the United States, quite a while to sort of accept that that much transmission could be done before people are actively ill. Doctors were sort of in disbelief because it's so unlike other viruses.

KEILAR: It's awful, to hear it outlined like that.

And there's this new study out of Spain, and it indicates that COVID antibodies can disappear after a few weeks. This is not good news. Tells us what factors they looked at.

COHEN: Right, that's not good news at all. It's a large study, 61,000 people, published in a medical journal. And what they found is that even just in weeks, some people would lose their immunity. It wasn't necessarily everyone, but it was a substantial enough group that it's worrisome, and more -- the more weeks that went by, the more people lost their immunity.

This tells us that you might have had COVID and think, Oh, I'll be OK, I have antibodies, I won't get it again? Well, not true. If enough time passes, you may lose your immunity.

This is also something that I'm sure vaccine researchers will take into account. They're basically giving you immunity with the vaccine. How long will that immunity last? These trials that are coming up, Brianna, they're going to last two years. And so they will continue to watch people to see what happens to their immunity.

KEILAR: All right. Elizabeth, thank you for breaking that down for us.

President Trump is falsely claiming the U.S. has the lowest coronavirus mortality rate in the world. And his administration is now threatening to deport international students if university classes go online.

The acting deputy secretary of Homeland Security, Ken Cuccinelli, will join me live, next.



KEILAR: More than a million international students could be at risk of being deported after a new move by the Trump administration. Immigration and Customs Enforcement says international students pursuing degrees in the U.S. must take in-person classes. This, as many universities are finalizing plans on when and how to safely return to classrooms during the pandemic.

The president of Harvard University says he's concerned, warning that this, quote, "undermines the thoughtful approach taken on behalf of students by so many institutions, including Harvard, to plan for continuing academic programs while balancing the health and safety challenges of the global pandemic."

Joining me now is Ken Cuccinelli, he is the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and he served on the White House Coronavirus Task Force in the early stages of the pandemic, he still sits in on meetings on a substitute basis at times.

Ken, thank you so much for joining us. Help us understand what the goal is here.

KEN CUCCINELLI, ACTING DEPUTY SECRETARY, DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY: Sure. Well, the current rules -- the regulations that govern foreign students allow at most one online class, and so we're expanding the flexibility massively, to a level never done before, so that schools can use hybrid models and can design reopenings.

Anything short of 100 percent online is a direction that we're headed. We've got to finish the temporary regulation, but this is more flexibility that we're looking at than has ever been provided before.

KEILAR: Well, as I'm sure you're aware, the current regulations have not -- as regulations for all kinds of things -- did not envision a global pandemic. And I hear you talking about flexibility, but you're aware of the huge --

CUCCINELLI: Yes. KEILAR: -- upheaval this is going to create. So why are you OK with

that huge upheaval, both economically -- that we're going to be seeing to all of these institutions?

CUCCINELLI: Actually, the direction that has been charted here -- and remains to be completely finalized, but -- again, provides massive flexibility, gives the opportunity to do anything short of 100 percent online classes. So in 100 percent online classes, one can do from home -- as happened last semester.

And when the COVID really hit in the middle of the last semester, the spring semester, ICE provided massive flexibility, at that stage, on a level of prosecutorial discretion, to allow for that sudden change in the middle of a semester.

This is now setting the rules for one semester -- which we'll finalize later this month -- that will, again, encourage schools to reopen, recognizing some of them are moving their start dates up, some of them are going to hybrid models, some online, some in-person, and we're trying to accommodate as many of those as we can with -- while maintaining the protections for fraud and so forth that are necessary in any sort of international visa program.

KEILAR: So you're basically forcing universities to reopen even if they have personally determined that they shouldn't be doing that for public health reasons?

CUCCINELLI: We're not forcing universities to reopen. However, if a university -- let's just take your version of it -- if they don't reopen this semester, there isn't a reason for a person holding a student visa to be present in the country. They should go home, and then they can return when the school opens. That's what students visas are for, and we want to accommodate that for schools and we're working hard to do that.


KEILAR: So there isn't a reason, you say, for them to be in the country. So $41 billion in revenue created by them, that's not a reason?

CUCCINELLI: Well, the revenue in your example doesn't happen because the school doesn't hold classes. So you can't have it both ways, Brianna. If the school is going to function -- again, short of entirely online, which people can do from anywhere int he world -- and they do do from anywhere in the world --


KEILAR: Well, I don't understand -- wait, just explain that to me --


CUCCINELLI: -- we're looking for ways to provide that flexibility.

KEILAR: -- what do you mean it doesn't happen? Because they're still -- they'd still be holding classes and getting tuition, right? They'd still be in the country, so there's --

CUCCINELLI: Well, no, that's not what you just said.

KEILAR: No, I'm saying while international --


CUCCINELLI: That's not the example you described.

KEILAR: -- well, let me make clear, maybe we misunderstood each other here.


KEILAR: One million international students per year create -- being in the U.S., not being back in South Africa or China or Saudi Arabia or Japan -- are responsible for creating $41 billion as part of the GDP, they support 458,000 jobs.

CUCCINELLI: And they come in as students, that's how they do that. If they're not going to be a student or if they're going to be 100 percent online, then they don't have a basis to be here.

So we appreciate the money they bring. Of course, the universities certainly do -- if I remember my statistics, over a quarter of some schools' budgets comes this way, which is why we're providing and looking at providing so much flexibility to allow those openings to happen in a variety of ways.

That doesn't mean there aren't still basic protections that are required. I don't, frankly, follow why a student visa holder would --

KEILAR: What protections?

CUCCINELLI: -- be here if their school wasn't functioning. Well, fraud --

KEILAR: There's --

CUCCINELLI: -- we have immigration officers effectively at these schools and universities who we are partnering with to execute on this massive flexibility for this --

KEILAR: But they're still going to --

CUCCINELLI: -- semester.

KEILAR: -- school, sir. They're going to school, just not in-person.


KEILAR: So they're still students, and that's -- you can verify that. So I don't understand --


CUCCINELLI: And they can --


KEILAR: I guess I don't understand how --


CUCCINELLI: -- and they can do that from their home country --


KEILAR: What -- OK, one million international students --


CUCCINELLI: -- if it's 100 percent online.

KEILAR: -- but you know that's not true, sir, because --


CUCCINELLI: No, look, Brianna, I don't know where you're going --


KEILAR: -- 400 -- no, listen, 400 -- no, no, no --


CUCCINELLI: -- well, you know it's not true that a million of them are going to go online.

KEILAR: -- 400,000 --


CUCCINELLI: Yes, yes, yes.

KEILAR: Four hundred thousand.

CUCCINELLI: Most schools are going to a hybrid model. I've paid attention to this, I don't -- I know you haven't, but we've been communicating with the schools and most of them are going to a hybrid model. Some online, some in-person.

And in the current regulations --


KEILAR: Many of them are not.


CUCCINELLI: -- maximum number of classes online would --

(CROSSTALK) KEILAR: You are aware that many of them are not.

CUCCINELLI: -- be one.

KEILAR: I just want to address what you said --


CUCCINELLI: And I am aware there are some that are not.

KEILAR: -- 400,000 of the one million students are from nations like China or Saudi Arabia, they're not going home where they can't even get Google and be unable to perform as students at a university. I mean, they just won't have access to the resources and you know that.

So it sounds like you're OK with the economic hit that that's going to take to the country. I guess my question then is, if we're looking at a potentially big economic hit -- as you're pressuring universities to reopen in some form or fashion -- is this an effort, then, just to boot out some foreigners who are here legally?

CUCCINELLI: That's just silly. You know, if a school isn't going to open or if they're going to be 100 percent online, then we wouldn't expect people to be here for that. You know I don't see why the most flexibility that we've ever envisioned in history would be a negative in that circumstance. That's a school's decision.

We're trying to create circumstances that allow schools more options than they've ever had in the past. That's what's going on right now.

KEILAR: As long as they reopen in some form or fashion in a hybrid way?

CUCCINELLI: That's correct.


So I want to talk about coronavirus because, as I mentioned, you were on the task force early on. You sit in on a substitute basis when the secretary is unable to. So you're certainly aware, of course, of what's going on there, you're very involved in what the Department of Homeland Security is doing when it comes to coronavirus.

The president is saying that --


KEILAR: -- all schools must reopen. Do you agree?

CUCCINELLI: Well, the federal government can't order schools to do A, B or C. Certainly, the president is seeking the maximum reopening we can get, not just of schools but of the economy, consistent with maintaining pressure on the virus to try to balance the needs of all the aspects of our lives, whether it be economic and public health and so forth.