Return to Transcripts main page


U.S Sets Single-Day Record For New Coronavirus Cases; Florida Still Not Releasing State Hospitalization Numbers; Trump Pushes To Reopen Schools Despite Worsening Pandemic. Aired 7-7:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2020 - 07:00   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN NEW DAY: 56 intensive care units are now at full capacity, zero beds available.


And in Arizona, fewer than 200 ICU beds in the entire state.

So despite these numbers, which are alarming, President Trump thinks we're doing just fine.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: I think we are in a good place.

We've done a good job.


BERMAN: A good place.

The president is now pressuring schools to reopen as soon as August, but he's offered no real plan or strategy for how to do it safely.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN NEW DAY: Hospitals worry they are reaching a breaking point. At least seven states report record hospitalizations this morning. That does not include Florida, which hides its numbers from public view.

Across the country, we are seeing long lines at testing sites. Look at your screen. Major delays also in getting your test results back. Sacramento is closing five testing sites because of supply shortages. Healthcare workers say we are far from, quote, a good place. They say they're overwhelmed and exhausted. One Texas hospital is setting up a tent to handle the overflow of patients.

BERMAN: All right. Joining us now is CNN Medical Analyst, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, she's the Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Andrew Pastewski, he is in an ICU Medical Director at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami, Florida.

And, Dr. Pastewski, I want to start with you. We were excited to speak with you because we thought you were on the frontlines fighting this pandemic in the hospitals in Miami. I think we didn't realize just how much on the frontlines you are. You personally have been battling COVID-19, as is your entire family. Talk about that.

DR. ANDREW PASTEWSKI, ICU MEDICAL DIRECTOR, JACKSON SOUTH MEDICAL CENTER: Yes. About two weeks ago with the surge -- actually, prior to the surge, we did what a lot of Floridians did with my family. We opened up. We allowed family to come over and visit. We didn't leave the house. We just allowed a cousin to revisit, and subsequently, he turned positive a few days later. My brother, who I brought from New York, turned positive, and my wife, my kids, and finally, I was getting tested routinely, just because I'm in the hospital and I didn't want to infect anybody. And then on the 25th, I turned positive.

CAMEROTA: And what's happened, Dr. Pastewski? How are you? How's your family?

PASTEWSKI: We're all good. I had a very mild case. I never had a fever. I never had any muscle aches, just a cough for about three or four days. My quarantine is up, and I get to go back to work today. I have been seeing almost every COVID patient from home via telemedicine with my team, interacting with the patients. So I have been able to stay productive and keep my finger on the pulse of my hospital, so I do know what's going on.

But it has been a struggle to stay home, stay proactive, be helpful and not be able to fight with my team.

BERMAN: In terms of your hospital, we learned that more than 50 intensive care units in Florida are at capacity, zero beds available. How would you describe what you're hearing in terms of what it's like in these hospitals this morning?

PASTEWSKI: Well, at Jackson South, we have been very proactive to create more ICU beds. We have gone from 38 ICU level of care beds in my hospital just a few months ago. We now are up to 52. We are expanding further, if need be. Our goal is -- the ICU bed is about the nurse. You need the ICU nursing, and Jackson is actually higher, the system has hired an extra hundred nurses to help us with that.

Our big challenge is, we're looking for negative pressure rooms. We have changed our focus in this fight from intubating patients early and just keeping them on vents for a long time trying to get off to really preventing them from getting intubating by using other modalities, like non-invasive ventilation and high-flow oxygen, which are aerosol-generating procedures and really should be done in a negative pressure room to keep the staff safe.

So our hospital has been proactive in trying to create more of these negative pressure rooms.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Walensky, that's just one hospital system that Dr. Pastewski is talking about. The herculean efforts that they are going through, as they themselves test positive, as exhibit A from Dr. Pastewski, that's just one hospital we're talking about in one hotspot. So from the 30,000-foot view that you tyke, the fact that we now are hitting this record of 60,000 cases a day, hospitals are at capacity, what do you see happening across the country?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Good morning, Alisyn. You know, my heart goes out to all of those who are caring for these patients. We were in these peaks, you know, several months ago.

I think we all need to recognize several things. One, I suspect that 60,000 is the tip of the iceberg here. That's obviously incredibly concerning, because you see the snakes of lines of people waiting for tests.


You see testing sites that have been closed. We recognize people are waiting ten days for their test results. All of that accumulates to more cases we're not even counting.

I also want to sort of just recognize the complacency that is happening, as these numbers continue to tick up on the right side of our screens every single morning. 130,000 deaths in this country, that's the number of deaths equivalent to the population size of cities, like Gainesville, Florida, Waco, Texas, Charleston, South Carolina. And I think it demands catastrophic urgency that I just don't see that we are taking, such as, and in fact, we're quite lucky that we can prevent these by simply wearing a mask.

BERMAN: I mean, urgency, Dr. Walensky, we're seeing the opposite of it. We're literally seeing the opposite of it in terms of what the president is saying. Overnight, he put out a statement that says, death rate from coronavirus is down tenfold.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, who chooses his words so carefully, I think, because he feels as if his job is teetering on the brink, this is how he describes how we should be looking at the death rate in this country.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: It's a false narrative to take comfort in a lower rate of death. There's so many other things that are very dangerous and bad about this virus. Don't get yourself into false complacency.


BERMAN: Don't get yourself into false complacency, so many other things. What's he talking about, Dr. Walensky?

WALENSKY: So, I, like so many others, have the deepest respect from Dr. Fauci. I think what we need to realize is the deaths lag far behind the number of cases. You know, first, you are -- might be diagnosed. You get increasing shortness of breath. You might get sick requiring oxygen. You might have increasing respiratory failure and then you might be in the ICU for some period of time before these patients unfortunately pass. So deaths lag two, three, four, five weeks behind the cases. And so I think that by looking at those two graphs side by side, it certainly does not tell the whole story. and I fear we're in for a lot of tragedy in the weeks ahead.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Pastewski, you're going to be able to go back to work. Is that today? Today you're finally cleared to go back to work. And so what are you walking into? I mean, what are your colleagues -- we've heard from other people already this morning that they're seeing among doctors exhaustion, demoralization and just a feeling of being overwhelmed.

PATESWKI: Jackson is a very different system. The team approach there is huge. I've been in contact with my nurses and my physician extenders every day. And they have taken this on with the head of steam that I'm very impressed by and I'm actually really looking forward to go back. And I honestly think it's going to will be a very celebratory day in my hospital.

I would like to point out, one of the issues with the complacency in this country is that people really think it's just the old people in the nursing homes who are dying. And that's just crazy. I mean, it's not old people in nursing homes that are just sitting there dying. It's the 82-year-old grandma who lives in the house, who takes care of the grandkids so people can go to school, so that the mother can work, who makes that special sauce. I have these people dying.

These aren't 80-year-olds that should die. These aren't 80-year-olds that were going to day 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.

And it really upsets me when everybody says, it's just old people and it's not a big deal. I had a mom and grandmother drive themselves into my hospital and only one drove home. It's really upsetting.


BERMAN: It's awful. And what are they supposed to think? What are these 75-year-olds supposed to think when they look outside and see 35-year-olds mobbing the bars or going to the gyms, which they're still allowed to do in Miami-Dade County? We're going to talk to the mayor about that in just a little bit.

PATEWSKI: You know what 75-year-olds were doing when they were kids, they were dealing with World War II and putting their country and their people ahead of themselves. And now, look at what they're watching.

BERMAN: Dr. Walensky, this is a perfect segue to the discussion about schools. We all want our kids to school. I desperately want my kids back in school. But we need it to be done safely. And I just wonder how we can have this discussion and what we should be thinking about in terms of putting them back in the classroom.

WALENSKY: I think this is a really key point as we head into to start thinking about the end of summer and schools reopening. The most important thing I think we need to realize is all of these regions of the country should not be operating under the same policies of reopening. You can't necessarily have a school in a city like -- in a state like Arizona that has a 25 percent positive rate, test positive rate, operating in a similar way as schools in Massachusetts that have a 2 percent positive rate.


I think if we're not talking about universal masking in these schools, we should not have a conversation about it, because I think that that's going to be an essential step for getting our kids back to school. But I think we need to realize that the policies around school reopening have to be very local and really look at the trends in the area and the region before we make these decisions.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Pastewski, I want to put up the Florida positivity rate right now, as we continue to talk about schools. The entire state is close to 20 percent positive, which is incredibly high. But in Miami- Dade, it's 27 percent, the positivity rate. And so, look, you have two little kids. Number one, how are your kids doing, having tested positive? And what is your thinking about schools starting next month or early September?

PASTEWSKI: My kids did great. They each had a fever for about half a day. And my son, one-year-old, had a cough for about two days. My belief about the virus is that, yes, they may get it again. We don't know exactly what the antibodies mean, we don't know how long the immunity lasts. But at the end of the day, they handled the virus extremely well.

So I feel comfortable with my children's immune system, as well as my family's, that they can go back out into the world, try to be safe, obviously, respect others. A mask is a must. But I do feel safer with my own children knowing that they got the virus, knowing that they handled it well with their immune system, and at the very least, even if they got it again, they can handle it.

BERMAN: Dr. Walensky, thanks for being with us. Dr. Pastewski, thank you for being with us. Thanks for the work you're doing. We wish you the best of luck as you head back to work today.

PASTEWSKI: Thank you.

WALENSKY: Thanks so much, John.

BERMAN: Coming up in the next hour, we're going to have a chance to speak to the Miami-Dade mayor, Carlos Gimenez, about this worsening situation that we just heard about in South Florida.

CAMEROTA: And why are Florida officials refusing to report statewide hospitalization numbers? A data scientist who was fired brings us her insight into that, next.


[07:15:00] BERMAN: This morning, at least eight states are reporting record numbers of hospitalizations from coronavirus. Now, this list does not include Florida. 56 hospital ICUs have reached capacity there. But because the state does still not report daily hospitalization data, we don't know where things stand statewide. This is the explanation insofar as it exists at all from the governor.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): They have so much raw data on there. I mean, people can pull out all of this information. I mean, it's really incredible the amount of -- people do the charts and the graphs and everything. And so that's all available for folks. And they're able to, you know, to do it.

Now, obviously, not everything is presented in this report, but just an unbelievable amount of data, you know, that's available for folks.


BERMAN: A word salad right there.

Joining us now, Rebekah Jones, she was fired in May from her job as a data scientist with the State of Florida. She has since launched a dashboard of her own that tracks the coronavirus, which uses different numbers in the Florida Department of Health. Rebekah, thanks so much for being with us.

Why? Why do you think Florida doesn't report COVID hospitalizations?

REBEKAH JONES, DATA SCIENTIST WHO RAN FLORIDA DATABASE: There's a really actually simple reason for that, and that's because it doesn't exist. DOH, Florida Department of Health, has never tracked active hospitalizations. There are a lot of limitations on that. And the primary reason is that Florida, unlike most other states, doesn't track probable cases.

So a large share of the people who are tested are tested when they arrive to the E.R. And if they're not a case, then that doesn't count as an active hospitalization, until their positive test result is received by DOH.

So DOH actually released a statement when it was first said that we would, or they would -- sorry, old habit -- be releasing hospitalization data, saying that we've never tracked that. We're not going to track that. We can't speak for what other agencies are doing, but that data does not exist here.

BERMAN: What would it show, do you think, if it were to be released, what would the data show now in terms of coronavirus hospitalizations in Florida?

JONES: Well, like I said, that's actually very difficult thing to track because a lot of people aren't tested until they are already in the ICU. So if you don't have a test result back, it's very hard to say whether or not you're a COVID ICU case. And we would be underreporting dramatically how many people if we went strictly on the number of confirmed cases who tell the doctors that when they're checking into the hospital and very, very ill. So that's a major complication and the numbers would be very low.

Now, if they started reporting probable cases, then we might see a huge spike in not only cases, but also deaths.

BERMAN: Do you believe it's at record levels right now in Florida?

JONES: I have been watching the hospital data that is available very closely. I've actually featured that on my dashboard. The governor is right, the data out there is available. They just don't make it public themselves. And ICU bed capacity has gone down quite a bit over the last few weeks.

And once I think the hospitalization rate holds steady for the types of people who are being diagnosed by demographics, then we're going to see a high demand on the hospitals that I hope to God, you know, the staff there is ready and able to handle.


BERMAN: You hope to God? That doesn't sound like a strategy -- I mean, it's one thing for you to hope to God, but that may not be a strategy for a state in terms of handling increasing number.

JONES: No. And I actually have contacts still at DOH who occasional give me documentations and there are very concerning numbers coming out of especially Miami-Dade area, saying exactly how many ventilators they have available, which is data that's not public. They do not publish that. And they're already at 70, 80 percent capacity for a lot of counties. And that's very concerning.

BERMAN: To what extent -- you keep on saying, they don't publish this, or this is hard come by, or it's there but they don't make it public, to what extent do you think that's because they don't want it out there, they don't want people to know?

JONES: There's a lot of caveats when you're dealing with health data, or any kind of large database in general. And I feel like when I was there, when I was running it, one of the major concerns was that we didn't want to share information that was incomplete. So if we had to explain in, you know, an academic journal, why this data is limited or why there's such a large uncertainty around it, then that wasn't suitable for public, you know, dissemination.

And I felt some of that was because of that and other parts are just because they didn't want to show it. I was flat-out told repeatedly that we were not adding hospitalization data, even though all of our epidemiologists said it was one of the most important indicators of how our healthcare system is handling the influx of cases.

BERMAN: We know the positivity rate in Miami-Dade County is alarmingly high in terms of coronavirus, is now pushing 27 percent yesterday. I don't know where it is exactly at this moment, but it's higher than 20 percent. You see a lot of the numbers. What story are the numbers telling you?

JONES: Positivity rate, I've discussed, I think, actually on this show at some point, is kind of a fixed statistic. And if we were, let's say, going door-to-door and testing everyone, or even had randomized sampling of the population, then we could put some more stock in that number.

But that -- people's ability to get tested is limited by health insurance, geography, mobility. I mean, there's a lot of different factors that go into whether or not somebody gets tested. So that's not something that I put a whole lot of faith into. What I do see are trends across demographics.

So the highest percent increase in cases for their age group has been under 18. And this is very concerning, obviously, because the governor several weeks ago said that schools would be reopening full capacity, and then this week signed an executive order to that effect and the highest percent of increases is in that demographic.

Also, I would like to note that the lowest percent increase in the last week compared to previous weeks was 18 to 35.


JONES: So there's a lot of, you know, blame being put on people in my age group, I have to admit, but they had the lowest percent increase of all of the age groups that we were monitoring.

BERMAN: Very quickly, based on the data you're seeing, do you see an end in sight or a plateau?

JONES: Absolutely not, especially if schools are opening next month, then we're on a third wave of this first wave of catastrophe. And I just -- I really hope people take this seriously. I think the consequences of not doing so have been made quite public this week.

BERMAN: Wow. Rebekah Jones, we appreciate the discussion. Thanks for being with us this morning.

JONES: Thank you for having me again.

BERMAN: She just brought up schools. The president is pushing to have schools reopen this fall, all of them. How do we get students and teachers back in the classroom safely?




TRUMP: We're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools, to get them open, and it's very important. It's very important for our country. It's very important for the well-being of the students and the parents. So we're going to be putting a lot of pressure on open your schools in the fall. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: President Trump wants public elementary and high schools to reopen with in-person classes as soon as next month, but he has not presented a plan for how to do that or who would pay for it. And so teachers say, not so fast.

Joining us now is Lily Eskelson Garcia. She's the President of the National Education Association. We should note, the NEA has endorsed Joe Biden for president. Ms. Garcia, good to see you again.

Are public schools ready to open in September?

LILY ESKELSON GARCIA, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: You can see why we are supporting Joe Biden over Donald Trump. Did you hear the word he didn't use? Safely. Safely. There's no one that wants their kids back with us more than teachers, maybe their parent, maybe their parents beat us out there, but we want to open it safely.

We see what happens when they let bars open prematurely and you saw those young adults in there in that nice little bar and they went home and they infected everybody around them. This isn't a bar. We're talking about second graders.

I had 39 sixth graders one year in my class. I double dog dare Donald Trump to sit in a class of 39 sixth graders and breathe that air without any preparation for how we're going to bring our kids back safely.

BERMAN: You know, what I hear the president saying, as well as the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is that they are outsourcing this to the states, to the local municipalities, to the schools, to the principals for how to do it. And what you are saying is that the NEA is insisting on these benchmarks before you can open schools.

S let me up the all-hands on deck guidelines, as you call them. You would have to equip schools with PPE, meaning, the protective gear for teachers, et cetera.


Deep clean schools using CDC-approved disinfectants. Classrooms should accommodate six feet of physical separation between students.