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U.S. Hits 3 Million Confirmed Coronavirus Cases; Trump Pushes to Reopen All Schools; This Fall: NYC Schools to Mix In-Person Classes with Virtual Classes. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 8, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: And she has spent every single day since that accident in the continued service of the country and the Illinois Army National Guard and the VA and in the Senate, for a country a certain television critic has never risked life and limb to defend.

That's it for me. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

"THE LEAD" starts now.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: Welcome to the lead. I'm Pamela Brown, in for Jake Tapper.

And, today, the United States passing a new alarming milestone. Take this in, more than three million confirmed cases of coronavirus, with a new record high, 60,000 cases recorded in just one day, 60,000.

This afternoon, Dr. Deborah Birx said, states seeing a surge should avoid any kind of indoor gathering, though the White House task force also pushed for schools to reopen in the fall in just a few weeks.

Vice President Pence claiming that the White House will be -- quote -- "very respectful" of local communities who decide not to reopen. But then President Trump earlier today threatened to cut off funding for schools that don't open.

This all comes as at least 11 states see record high hospitalizations.

I want to get right to CNN's Erica Hill with some breaking news.

What are you learning, Erica?

ERICA HILL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: So, we're just getting some new numbers, Pamela, on the hospitalizations in the state of California, which are up 44 percent, according to the governor, over the past two weeks.

And those in intensive care, that number has climbed by 34 percent over the last two weeks. The number of cases he announced today, 11,694. He did say about 2,000 of those are a backlog out of L.A. County, but still more than 9,600 cases even with that backlog.

And we're seeing more and more of this across the country.


HILL (voice-over): As cases surge across the Sunbelt, the White House task force advising hot spots to buckle down.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: It's really asking the American people in those counties and in those states to not only use the face coverings, not going to bars, not going to indoor dining, but really not gathering in homes either, and decreasing those gatherings back down to our phase one recommendation, which was 10 or less.

HILL: In less than a month, the United States has added a million new cases, now averaging more than 51,000 a day. In the past week, 14 states posted their highest seven-day averages.

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: We are in a much worse place, actually, than we were back in March, because, at that time, there was one epicenter. Now we have multiple epicenters all around the country,

HILL: The administration today focusing on schools.

BETSY DEVOS, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: They must fully open, and they must be fully operational.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We really believe that every state has the ability to do that. But for those individual communities that may be seeing outbreaks, we will work with them.

HILL: The American Academy of Pediatrics says in-person learning is best, as long as it's done safely. Texas says parents can choose where their kids learn. In Georgia, which topped 100,000 confirmed cases, the state's largest school district pushed its start date back by a week.

WENDY DOROMAL, PRESIDENT, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA, TEACHER UNION: Decisions on opening our schools should be based on CDC recommendations, safety, common sense and compassion, not on an economic or a political agenda.

HILL: Two South Florida counties warning, in-person learning won't happen if they're still in phase one.

Meantime, the virus continues to spread.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: The cases don't really tell the true tragedy of this, that the patients are piling now into hospitals, into ICUs.

HILL: Forty-two hospital ICUs in Florida are now full. More than 50 have just 10 percent of their beds available. In Miami-Dade County alone, the number of patients on ventilators is up more than 100 percent in the last two weeks, hospitalizations and ICU beds not far behind. CARLOS GIMENEZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: If everybody would just follow the rules, we would be OK. But, unfortunately, a lot of people didn't follow the rules, especially early in June.

DR. ANDREW PASTEWSKI, JACKSON SOUTH MEDICAL CENTER: These aren't 80- year-olds that should die. These aren't 80-year-olds that were going to die next week. These are 80-year-olds that contracted a virus because a group of people just didn't want to wear a mask and they had to go out and have fun.

I had a mom and grandmother drive themselves into my hospital, and only one drove home.


HILL: The sobering reality there.

Louisiana's governor just said they have erased all the gains they made. Mississippi's governor just a short time ago saying they have seen their highest numbers since the start of the pandemic.

Meantime, that planning for schools continues. Here in New York City, we're told that it will be a split schedule for students. They will be back in September, but they won't be in school every single day, the chancellor saying there's simply no way with physical distancing that they can have kids in school, 100 percent of the kids in school five days a week -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Erica Hill, thank you so much for that report.


And joining me now is Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute.

Dr. Jha, thank you so much for coming on.

Let's just break down what we heard today from administration officials. The White House says schools must reopen. But then Dr. Birx said some areas should roll back to phase one because of a coronavirus resurgence. What are parents, especially those in COVID hot spots right now, supposed to think?


What we're hearing from Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci is the truth, the scientific basic facts. And those are that we -- in those hot spots, you can't afford to have indoor gatherings of 10 or more. That was what Dr. Birx said.

Hard to imagine running a school where you can't have more than 10 people inside of a building. So, the reality is that, as long as those hot spots remain, it's going to be very, very hard to open schools and keep them open. Now, as a parent of three kids, I find the idea that the kids don't go

back to school to be awful, but here we are, and we're just not taking the virus seriously.

BROWN: And it's certainly, you point out, a really -- a difficult situation that schools are facing right now.

CDC did put out guidelines. The president has trashed those guidelines when it comes to how those schools should reopen, wearing masks, staying home when appropriate, staggering schedules, a backup staffing plan, modified seating to allow social distancing, and the closing of communal spaces.

The president said, this is too strict. Do you agree with that?

JHA: I do not agree with that. I think the CDC's recommendations are really basic. And, in fact, I think they should go further.

Look, you can open up schools anywhere you want. That's really not the debate. The question is, can you keep schools open? Can you prevent massive outbreaks among teachers and staff and kids? And if we don't do the things the CDC is asking for and more, the schools will all be shut by Columbus Day, and they will be shut for long periods of time. That's what we have to avoid.

And we're not -- we can't bluff our way through this. We have got to let science drive it.

BROWN: But then there's also just the reality here. Of course, CDC recommends social distancing six feet apart.

A lot of schools are saying, hey, we don't have the space to do that. We can't do that. You heard Erica's report there about New York. How safe is it for kids to go back to school if they can't safely social distance, and, by the way, teachers as well? It's not just the kids. It's the teachers. It's the school administrators.

JHA: Yes.

So this is part of the problem. Right? So we do think that the evidence says that kids spread lots. And so maybe we can get away with a little social distancing among kids, but you can't run schools without teachers, without staff. And if the teachers and staff gets sick, A, that's a huge problem unto itself that you're not going to be able to keep the schools open.

So I just think we -- this is a huge problem. This is not a surprise. We have known this is coming. And if we're going to open up schools this fall, we got to get going on dealing with all these issues now.

BROWN: So I just want to hit on what you said, the transmission cycle. So we heard that also from the CDC director today, that children are not driving the coronavirus transmission cycle.

But do we really know enough about the virus to say that definitively? And are there other dangers? JHA: Yes, so I think there are people who are really cavalier about

this, who say, oh, kids never get sick, they don't do any transmitting.

I am not so confident. My best read of the evidence is that kids do transmit less. They obviously are less likely to get sick, but some kids do get sick. And most importantly in this context, they can spread it to adults, and adults can spread it to each other.

And teachers and staff getting sick don't make me feel any better about opening schools, when they're not safe to open. So we really have to think about a safety plan.

BROWN: And also the families at home, the kids going back home and so forth.

I know you're a parent. I'm a parent as well. These are things you have to take into consideration.

You heard Vice President Pence today and Dr. Birx insisting that they're seeing encouraging trends in these hot spots, such as Arizona, such as Florida, Texas, including the rate of positivity stabilizing or declining.

In your view, are they cherry-picking data? Or are things actually getting better in these places?

JHA: Yes, so, I think I'm looking at the same data that they are. And I'm not seeing it.

I wish they -- I hope that they're right. But positivity rates, in my mind, are continuing to go up in Arizona and Texas and Florida. Cases are going up. Hospitalizations are going up. And then now I think we have very clear evidence that death rates are starting to go up in these places as well, the number of people dying.

And so I don't know what data they're looking at, but the ones that I'm looking at don't give me the same level of comfort.

BROWN: That's very important to hear from you, looking -- and just to be clear for our viewers, when you say -- what data are you looking at? What are you basing your view on?

JHA: Yes, so there are some data that I think most of us, including what I believe the White House task force -- I have talked to members of the task force -- what they look at from COVID Tracking and other sources, sometimes from the CDC, on testing.


These are coming from state departments of health, largely. I'm looking at testing. I'm looking at cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

And they're all heading in the wrong direction in those specific states. BROWN: And let's hone in more on the death rates. That's something we

have heard about from the White House, from the president, trying to put a positive spin on this, including yesterday, saying that in two to four weeks, the U.S. will be in very good shape on coronavirus, in part focusing on what he said was the lower death rate.

What is the reality here?

JHA: Yes, so the reality is that we have multiple pandemics playing out at the same time, right?

What it looks like in New York and New Jersey and Massachusetts is very different than what it looks like in Arizona, Texas and Florida. And so New York was hit very, very hard. Their death rates are falling.

Arizona, Texas and Florida, the numbers are rising. If you put both of them together in the same picture, it looks flat. But the truth is that Arizona, Texas and Florida are going up, and they're going to continue going up. So is South Carolina and Mississippi and Nevada and many other states.

So I am deeply worried that we're going to continue seeing more and more Americans getting very sick and dying from this virus. And just looking at the national number does not give us the nuanced view that we need.

BROWN: And, as we know, that the death number usually lags behind, right, by a couple of weeks? So, we're seeing a resurgence in some of these places. And then the death numbers will follow.

All right, Dr. Ashish Jha, thank you very much.

JHA: Thank you.

BROWN: And with Dr. Fauci missing at the task force briefing today, we have got new reporting about the relationship between the White House and the CDC up next.

Plus, the latest science on whether you can get coronavirus a second time.

Stay with us.



BROWN: Looking at our politics lead now.

This morning, President Trump threatened to pull federal funding for schools that don't fully reopen in the fall. Then he went on to criticize the CDC's guidelines for a safe re-opening.

Hours later, during the coronavirus task force meeting, Vice President Pence said the White House will be, quote, very respectful of states who can resume in-person learning five days a week.

And as CNN's Jeremy Diamond reports, the CDC director is making clear his guidelines are only guidance, not requirements and they do not mean schools should stay closed.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Pushing for schools to reopen, President Trump is already turning to heavy- handed tactics, threatening to cut funding to reluctant schools and dismissing some of his administration's own public health experts, falsely accusing Democrats of opposing school re-openings across the board, the president tweeting, may cut off funding if not open.

MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: What you heard from the president is just a determination to provide the kind of leadership from the federal level that says that we're going to get our kids back to school, because that's where they belong.

DIAMOND: Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill telling CNN that the president doesn't have that unilateral authority. And Vice President Pence downplayed Trump's threat.

PENCE: We're going to respect those unique communities that may have challenges that have rising cases or rising positivity.

DIAMOND: Suggesting the administration will instead push financial incentives for schools that open their doors. The president also slamming the CDC's re-opening guidelines, calling them very tough and expensive, tweeting, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. CDC Director Robert Redfield defending but also downplaying those guidelines.

ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: We want to make it very clear that it is not the intent of CDC's guidelines is to be used as a rationale to keep schools closed. Remember, it's guidance. It's not requirements.

DIAMOND: And with the CDC preparing to release new guidelines next week, Redfield declining to say if pressure from the president is overriding the science.

REDFIELD: We will continue to develop and evolve our guidance to meet the needs of the schools and the states.

DIAMOND: Also in the president's crosshairs --

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF THE NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: The current state is really not good. We are still knee deep in the first wave of this.

DIAMOND: Dr. Anthony Fauci.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think we are in a good place. I disagree with him.

DIAMOND: It was the latest sign of tensions between the president and the doctor Americans trust most amid this pandemic. The fallout at the Coronavirus Task Force briefing today, Dr. Fauci notably absent.


DIAMOND: And, Pam, in recent weeks, we've seen the president increasingly downplay and undermine the science and the public health experts. And sources are telling CNN now that that is leading to plummeting morale at some of the health agencies including the CDC. CDC officials are also pretty miffed at how the president has been handling this school re-opening issue. One senior CDC official telling CNN that while they support the re-opening of the schools, they don't like the way that the president is politicizing this issue, making it a partisan cause.

As for the president, Pam, he greeted the Mexican president at the White House today to talk about the U.S./Canada/Mexico trade agreement. But the president did not take any questions today on coronavirus -- Pam.

BROWN: As we know, he wasn't at the meeting today, at the task force meeting.

All right. Thanks so much, Jeremy Diamond. We appreciate it.

Well, the largest school district in the country, New York City, has already determined that when school resumes in the fall, most students will only be physically in the classroom two or three days a week. The rest would be online.

But as CNN's Tom Foreman reports, President Trump's education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is still pressuring states to fully reopen schools.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Copying off the president's notes on Twitter and pulling no punches, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos insists schools everywhere better have full classrooms this fall.

BETSY DEVOS, EDUCATION SECRETARY: It's very clear that kids have got to go back to school.


PENCE: Madam Secretary?

FOREMAN: Up until now, she's been mostly quiet, rarely seen at task force briefings.

DEVOS: We must rise to the challenge of educating all children.

FOREMAN: Even amid headlines about her pushing a conservative agenda while school districts struggle with the virus.

DEVOS: Ultimately, it's not a matter of if schools should reopen. It's simply a matter of how. FOREMAN: The how for team Trump is simple. Embrace social distancing,

hand washing and face masks so school bells can ring.

ALEX AZAR, HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES SECRETARY: There are risks to keeping kids at home too. At home, kids aren't benefitting from social stimulation. They may be falling behind in learning.

FOREMAN: But a former secretary of education under another president sees it differently with millions of students, teachers and families at risk of being forced into close quarters for long hours day after day.

ARNE DUNCAN, FORMER EDUCATION SECRETARY: Every educator, every parent, myself as a parent, we all want our kids to go back to school. But we can only do that if it's safe to do so.

FOREMAN: That thought has administrators, teachers, students, and families coast to coast looking for alternatives.

GRENITA LATHAN, HOUSTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We are prepared for 100 percent to be virtual. Then we are also prepared for blended. A model where some students are here and some students are learning at home virtually.

FOREMAN: The schools providing meals, safe spaces and adult guidance to many kids, there's broad agreement on the goal.

FAUCI: I feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can to get the children back to school.


FOREMAN: Of course all the political fighting this summer may not make much difference this fall if local districts simply will not go along. And just today, the superintendent of the largest school district in Tennessee said he is not going to be pressured to re- opening by the president. He is going to do what is safe -- Pam.

BROWN: All right. Thanks so much, Tom Foreman.

And as cases surge, dozens of ICUs in Florida are now full. We'll talk to a doctor at one hospital desperately trying to add more beds.



BROWN: Turning to our health lead now, the state of Florida reported nearly 10,000 new coronavirus cases today, and more than 40 hospital ICUs in the state are at capacity. But Governor Ron DeSantis, he's insisting they're prepared to deal with this current surge.

Joining me now is Dr. Nicholas Namias, the chief of trauma and surgical critical care at Jackson Memorial Hospital in Florida.

Dr. Namias, thank you for coming on. We were speaking during the break. You said you've been very busy.

Tell us what you're seeing in your hospital right now.

DR. NICHOLAS NAMIAS, CHIEF OF TRAUMA & SURGICAL CARE, JACKSON MEMORIAL HOSPITAL: Well, the issue we're having right now are the increased numbers of people that are coming to the emergency room with the signs and symptoms of the COVID-19. And at the same time, we're trying to operate in the normal health care system for people that need it.

So it's a balancing act to create new capacity for isolation beds while maintaining as much of the routine services as possible.

BROWN: And just to be clear, because some ICUs and hospitals in Florida are at capacity. What's the situation where you are right now? And are you concerned that the hospital will simply be overwhelmed by patients eventually?

NAMIAS: So, hopefully, the public health measures will prevent that. But I think we have to really enact those public health measures to do so. The spread is still growing. There are more patients every day around 10,000 new cases today.

So it could potentially happy right now we're not looking at anything apocalyptic going on in the hospital, but we are flirting every day with the edge of capacity. And it takes a lot of work on the part of the administrators and the doctoring working together to find spaces and create new beds and create new isolation areas for those patients.

BROWN: And we also heard Florida's governor saying that the median age of people testing positive for coronavirus has dropped from the 50s to the 30s. Are you seeing a surge in younger patients? And what are you seeing in terms of how the virus presents in those younger patients?

NAMIAS: Well, it is true that they're younger patients. It's also true that we are discharging patients too. Patients come in and get better and leave.

So, today was a good day with plenty of discharges for the day to make room for new admissions. And the younger people do fare better. But remember, as these numbers grow and grow, even a tiny percentage of a very large number is a significant impact on the health care system.

BROWN: Right.

NAMIAS: So, even if only a small percent have a big problem, it's still a big problem.

BROWN: And so, what is your concern? Because you had mentioned that, look, everyday patients are coming in. You have the coronavirus patients, right, and then you have patients who are coming in with broken bones or, you know, upset stomach or whatever the case may be.

How are you handling that? What are the changes that that presents?

NAMIAS: Well, that's -- that's the real problem is that the patients present and you don't know if they're COVID positive or not when they come in. So you have to go to great pains to screen them for signs and symptoms and then try to separate those who may have signs and symptoms from those who don't and really treat everyone as though they're COVID positive until you know otherwise.

And, remember, not everyone who has COVID is coming in for that. They're coming in because they had a stroke or a heart attack or a car crash or they were shot.