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Several Sailors Injured In Explosion On Ship In San Diego; Record Spike In Coronavirus Cases Worldwide; U.S. Reports 60,000-Plus New COVID-19 Cases, 33 States Facing Rising Infections. Aired 3-4p ET
Aired July 12, 2020 - 15:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.
ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: Good Sunday afternoon to you. Thanks for being with us. I'm Erica Hill in today for Fredricka Whitfield and we do begin this hour with Breaking News.
Firefighters at this hour responding to an explosion on board an aircraft carrier at a Navy shipyard in San Diego. You are looking at live images from that scene. We are hearing reports of several sailors injured. We're going to bring you more of those details in just a moment. But that is not the only breaking story we are following.
There has also been a record spike in coronavirus cases worldwide. The World Health Organization reporting more than 230,000 new cases globally in the last 24 hours and there are staggering new numbers from one of the nation's worst coronavirus hotspots, Florida today, reporting more than 15,000 new cases -- that is a new way single day high and not just in the State of Florida, it's actually the highest daily report from any state in the nation thus far in the pandemic, and that includes New York at the height of its outbreak.
Thirty-three states are now seeing an increase in new cases over the past week. Those are the states in orange and red on your map. The country is reporting more than 60,000 new infections on average every day over the last three days.
All of this is there's a fierce debate underway over when and how schools should resume in person classes. The White House making an aggressive case for all schools to reopen this fall. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was on CNN's "State of the Union" this morning.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: What our experts telling you about the appropriate level of transmission for a school before it has to shut down?
BETSY DEVOS, U.S. EDUCATION SECRETARY: Well, I know that that's an area that the C.D.C. is helping to provide further insight into. I can't as a non-physician or non-medical expert tell you precisely what to do in the case of one child in a classroom or five children in a classroom. But the key is, every school should have plans for that situation to
be able to pivot and ensure that kids can continue learning at a distance if they have to for a short period of time.
BASH: But you're the Secretary of Education --
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: We have a team of reporters across the country covering all the latest developments. Let's begin in the southeast part of the country, Florida's rapid surge of new cases. CNN's Natasha Chen joining us now live from Atlanta.
So those numbers were unthinkable in Florida, just a few months ago. What a rapid rise there and the positivity rate is also very high.
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right, so leaders everywhere from Atlanta here to Florida, they are looking at surging numbers and figuring out how to allocate space making sure they have the capacity in their hospitals right now.
In fact, the Miami Dade County Mayor told our Dana Bash this morning that the ICU capacity is of major concern to him. Of course, Miami- Dade County is the most populous in Florida. Let's take a look at a map showing the case numbers by county over there.
So in Miami-Dade County, you're looking at more than 64,000 cases, Broward County, 30,000; Hillsborough County, 19,000; Palm Beach County, 21,000; Orange County, 18,000 cases.
So major concern for the leaders there. In Miami-Dade County, he did talk about the fact that they can be flexible and adjust. They have plans to make more bed space if needed. But he did reference the sharp increase in hospitalizations, the increase in people using ventilators.
So this is very serious across the board with leaders everywhere trying to figure out what to do. Governor DeSantis has said that they are staying status quo at Phase 2 and not moving forward at this point with any quick timeline for reopening.
At the end of June, they did shut down the indoor service of alcohol in bars. So that is the one thing that they had changed, but otherwise, staying put at Phase 2 -- Erica.
HILL: There's also been a lot of focus on Orange County, which of course is home to Orlando in Florida. The reopening of Disneyworld yesterday, you've been following this really closely. What are you hearing?
CHEN: Yes, so the people who are in the parks, they're telling me that the annual pass holder previews that happened on Thursday and Friday, there were fewer people in the parks, and everybody followed the rules really well.
Some issues started to pop up once the public was invited back yesterday. And so yesterday and today, we're hearing about isolated issues.
In one instance, a theme park journalist named Carlye Wisel, she shared with us some photos she took of one moment in time, given this is a walkway to the Magic Kingdom and she felt so uncomfortable with this yesterday, she turned around and left.
And this is because there were some people who had not linked their tickets to their magic bands, their wristbands and so all of a sudden, an unexpected line formed in front of Guest Services, while that same walkway had people going in both directions next to that line.
CHEN: Now, this problem did get solved later. Here is Wisel, talking about her general impressions of what's going on there.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CARLYE WISEL, THEME PARK JOURNALIST: Everything we've put into place fits C.D.C. guidelines and it is what you would want. They have casts wearing masks and face shields, they are spraying down the attractions every two hours. They are being extremely cognizant of what is happening.
So in a way you kind of have to wonder, is it safer at Disneyworld than it is outside in Florida? Or is it not worth going at all? And I think that that's a question that is ever evolving as the data changes as we see things go well, things go not so well. It's just a bit of a mixed bag.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: And Disney is reopening the other two theme parks they have there on Wednesday. And so everybody is just tracking to see how this goes down the line -- Erica.
HILL: All right, we'll be watching as well. Natasha Chen live for us in Atlanta today. Natasha, thank you.
As the pandemic continues to worsen, schools and parents across the country are grappling with how and when, and in some cases if kids can and should return to the classroom.
In an interview with CNN this morning, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos downplayed the dangers of in-person learning, and she keeps stressing the need for students to go back to school in the fall, something most people frankly want.
The Secretary, however, when asked multiple times did not offer guidance on what schools should do if the case count is dangerously high in their areas.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BASH: And you're the Secretary of Education, you're asking students to go back. So why do you not have guidance on what a school should do just weeks before you want those schools to reopen? And what happens if it faces an outbreak?
DEVOS: You know, there's really good examples that have been utilized in the private sector and elsewhere, also with frontline workers and hospitals, and all of that data and all of that information and all of those examples can be not be referenced by school leaders who have the opportunity to --
BASH: Okay, but I am not hearing a plan from the Department of the Education. Do you have a plan for what students and schools should do?
DEVOS: The plan -- so schools should do what's right on the ground at that time for their students and for their situation. There is no one uniform approach that we can take or should take nationwide because the needs of a school in the City of Detroit are very -- in my home state, in the City of Detroit would be very different than that of a school in the upper peninsula of Michigan.
BASH: That's -- exactly, and that's the point. That's completely understandable. But you are arguing over and over that they should handle this on a local level.
But at the same time as the Secretary of Education, you are trying to push them to do a one size fits all approach, which is go back and reopen schools.
You can't have it both ways.
DEVOS: I am urging all schools to open and to be providing their students a fulltime education. We all acknowledge that that could and may well look different in a certain area that has a flare up of the virus.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Kristen Holmes is that the White House for us. So Kristen, all of this comes as the President is also threatening to take away federal funding for schools if they don't reopen.
Secretary DeVos was asked about the administration's position on that funding today. Did we get any further clarification?
KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, Erica, if anything, the message is now more muddled. The Secretary of Education first saying that there was no desire to take money away from schools, but then when pressed directly on President Trump's threat to defund the schools if they wouldn't reopen, she really wouldn't answer the question when asked by Dana Bash. Take a listen here.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEVOS: There's no desire to take money away. In fact, we want to see schools open and have been committed to ensuring the resources are there to do that.
Remember the CARES Act fund, over $13 billion has been distributed to the States, all of it in the States. Now only two percent of it has actually been spent yet or drawn down --
BASH: So no more threat to withhold funding?
DEVOS: To do just the things that schools can be doing. The reality is, we are committed to ensuring all students and all schools have the resources necessary for kids to be able to continue learning and where schools don't follow through on that, you know, parents should have the opportunity and the option to find a school that is going to open and is going to serve their children.
BASH: So yes or no. Is the threat to withhold funding still alive or not, yes or no?
DEVOS: We are committed to ensuring students are in school and learning and parents need to have the flexibility and the resources to be able to take their kids to a school that if there's a school that refuses to open or doesn't serve their students.
BASH: Okay, that's not a yes or no answer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HOLMES: So Erica, two things to note about that back and forth and about the withholding of funding. It is not for President Trump to unilaterally withhold funding from public schools. That is not possible.
And also, we should note that there is a very small percentage of funding for public schools that comes from the Federal government. Most of it comes from local and state taxes, think about property taxes, that kind of stuff.
So I have something to think about there, but I do want to note that this is coming at a time in which we're seeing a disconnect here, and we're seeing a disconnect between the White House and several of these top health agencies, including the C.D.C. and including with Dr. Anthony Fauci.
We've been reporting on this tension between Fauci and the President spilling out and playing through the media here and I want to say, I got a statement from a White House official here that it appears that the White House is now actively working to discredit Dr. Fauci.
It said, several White House officials are concerned about the number of times Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things, and then goes on to list those times, early comments that Dr. Fauci made about the pandemic.
This is really striking. It reads like a list of opposition research on the nation's top health experts, or at least one of them.
Something to keep in mind here, this is all happening, this inability to have harmony between these health agencies, these doctors and the White House at a time where the cases are surging, and as you said, people want to get their kids back to school. They just don't know what to do.
HILL: Cases are surging. There is no clear plan on a Federal level, and what's fascinating listening to Secretary DeVos is it sounds a lot like what we hear from the President when he said, the country has to reopen. It's up to the governors, but the states need to do this. We don't have a plan. You figure it out, which seems to be a lot of what we're hearing.
Meantime, there has been, as we know, a lot of pressure for the President to wear a mask. Really quickly, he did wear a mask yesterday and that's important.
HOLMES: Yes, it is important and we also saw that the First Lady put out a video of her wearing a mask. It was obviously a public video. The big question is whether or not this is going to continue.
President Trump made it very clear. The reason he was wearing a mask yesterday was because he was in a hospital talking to soldiers, some of them having just got off the operating table. That is a very limited setting.
As we know, Erica, the C.D.C. is not saying just to wear masks in hospitals, they are saying you should wear a mask pretty much everywhere you go, particularly if social distancing isn't possible.
So that's what we're going to keep an eye on now. Is this a change here? Are we going to see the President out there in a mask? Or was this just a one-time photo opportunity?
HILL: We will be watching. Kristen Holmes, good to see you. Thank you for the reporting this afternoon.
As we continue to talk about schools, if they are to open safely amid the pandemic, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer today said it will take hundreds of billions of dollars from the Federal government to make that happen.
Let's bring in now CNN's Polo Sandoval. So Polo, Senator Schumer releasing details of his funding proposal today. What does he say schools will need?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it certainly stands in stark contrast with what you're hearing from the White House who is in essence threatening to withdraw some of the funding.
What you hear, though from the New York senator, is that in order to actually potentially open this fall, then you need to implement various health public safety protocols and that would cost money across the country.
Of course, his hope is that New York schools would receive a large chunk of the proposed $345 billion that would potentially get approved for this. Again, this is a proposal at this point.
What is this for? Things like increasing PPE supplies for students and staff, restructuring some of the buildings like gyms or cafeterias should they have to become teaching spaces in order to ensure that social distancing can happen, and of course, to erect physical barriers. Things like that cost money.
So what you're hearing from Senator Schumer, who essentially co- crafted this with Washington Senator Patty Murray, is that in order to get to that point, if it's safe to do so this fall, then money would be necessary.
So we're hearing here, Erica, not is the reopening of schools getting political, it can get quite expensive as well.
HILL: Polo Sandoval with the latest for us. Polo, thank you.
I want to turn now to our other breaking story, firefighters are on the scene of this explosion. You can see it here, at a San Diego Naval Shipyard.
This is the USS Bonhomme Richard, it suffered some sort of a blast a short time ago. We have been told several sailors were injured.
Joining me now, CNN military and diplomatic analyst, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby. Always good to speak with you. So, as you look at these pictures, any idea in your mind what may have caused that explosion?
REAR ADMIRAL JOHN KIRBY (RET.), CNN MILITARY AND DIPLOMATIC ANALYST (via phone): The short answer is no. It's hard to tell just from these very dramatic images exactly what the cause of the fire is.
It obviously is a large, very big fire that takes up as big -- it looks like it's engulfing much of the ship, midship right underneath where the island is.
So it's clearly a very big fire, but very difficult to tell just based on what we're seeing from the outside what could have caused this.
Now, the San Diego Public Information Officer said the ship had just completed a maintenance cycle. So, one possibility that I'm sure investigators will look at when they get the fire under control is whether or not it could have been started as a result of some maintenance problem, maybe some repair that was not made properly enough, but it's just too soon to tell right now.
HILL: Hard to tell and I really put you on the spot there, but I appreciate it as always. As we look at the ship, just give us a sense to not only a little bit of the history of this ship, but how many sailors could be on board?
As you mentioned, they had just completed some maintenance, the fact that it's in the Naval Shipyard right now, we do know several sailors were injured. But any sort of background you have for us on the USS Bonhomme Richard.
KIRBY: Well, the Bonhomme Richard is the third one to bear that name. You might remember that that name is famous in Naval History because it was the name of the ship that John Paul Jones sailed in during the American Revolution.
This particular iteration of Bonhomme Richard is an amphibious assault ship. She's about 845 feet long, so roughly the length of an aircraft carrier in World War II, and it's a helicopter assault ship.
So while they don't fly jet planes off of this, they do fly helicopters to support Marines ashore. The crews -- the crew is a compliment of about 1,200. And since she was in port on a Sunday, I'm guessing probably only about 200, maybe 250 sailors were probably on board when this fire broke out.
She is at Naval Base San Diego, which is our largest naval base on the West Coast. You know, more than almost 50 ships, more than 45 ships are based there of all different stripes.
And when you look at the video, you can see that she is on a pier just across from a U.S. Navy Destroyer. So, there's all kinds of ships there, based in San Diego. A very important type of ship in the Navy.
We use them as part of expeditionary strike groups to again sort of project power forward and onto the shore in supporting Marines as they go ashore for combat operations.
So, you know, very big, big ship. It looks like a very big fire. It's going to be very interesting to see what they finally nail down as the cause of it. It could be fuel related, it could be in the engineering spaces that something could have gone wrong.
We've heard about an explosion. We don't know whether the explosion was first and then the fire or the other way around. And of course, there's always ammunition on these kinds of ships depending on where they are in their pre-deployment workup cycle.
So again, it is going to be very interesting to see what they learn about this. And obviously, we hope that the numbers of sailors affected by this remain very, very low.
So far, we've only heard of several injuries and no deaths, and of course, that's encouraging, but we have to wait to see how they get this fire under control.
HILL: Yes, an excellent point. Encouraging. Let's hope it stays that way. Admiral John Kirby, always appreciate your expertise. Thanks for joining us this afternoon.
We'll continue to stay on top of this breaking news. Again, if you're just joining us, you're looking at pictures out of the Naval Shipyard in San Diego where we're told several sailors are injured after an explosion on the USS Bonhomme Richard. That is where the smoke is coming from on your screen, from on board that ship.
No word at this hour on the cause of the fire. We will continue to follow it. You're on CNN.
HILL: We continue to follow this breaking news out of Southern California, an explosion and fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard at the U.S. Naval Shipyard in San Diego. Several sailors reportedly injured, a variety of injuries.
We are continuing to follow this for the latest and we will bring you more information as it comes into us.
Meantime, we are also talking about school. The first day of school is really just weeks away from millions of students in this country. And despite new cases being on the rise in a majority of states, many of which are set to go back to school in August.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos dodging questions about President Trump's threat to cut funding for schools that don't fully reopen this fall.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DEVOS: There is nothing in the data that would suggest that kids being back in school is dangerous to them. And in fact, it's more of a matter of their health and wellbeing that they be back in school.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HILL: Joining me now to discuss Joris M. Ray, who is the Superintendent for Tennessee, Memphis Shelby County School District, good to have you with us.
Look, I am putting myself in the camp of I think just about everyone in this country who would like to see children specifically my own back in school this fall.
How confident are you that your schools can safely return to full in- person learning August 10, which is supposed to be your first day of school?
JORIS M. RAY, SUPERINTENDENT, TENNESSEE, MEMPHIS SHELBY COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT: Thank you, Erica. Well, first of all, you know with the spiking cases here, we are going to change our actual start date, and we're going to propose to start August 31st.
Right now, currently, we have over 14,000 cases right here in Memphis, and over 93 percent of our ICU beds currently being used.
So we're going to follow science and follow the data. And we're going to do what's best for students and teachers to keep them safe.
HILL: You say you're following science and the data. What about the guidelines from the C.D.C.? How are those figuring into your decisions?
RAY: Well, you know, we're going to follow science. We're going to follow all guidelines. However, we have to look at local data here. And when you see the numbers continue to climb, my job is to keep the students and teachers safe, and I'm going to do that.
HILL: In terms of keeping them safe, right, creating that safe environment takes money and many school districts are seeing less money come in these days, as we know.
In fact, they there is an estimate of nearly $1.8 million per district. That's an average for around the country of what it would take to get things like proper spacing in place.
HILL: To deal with maybe staffing needs that you may have. Where do you stand from a financial standpoint? What do you need? How do you meet that goal?
RAY: Well, you know, we received CARES dollars, however, we always need more and when I hear that someone threatened to take funding from an educational institution, it just breaks my heart.
But again, we're going to continue to plan. We're going to continue to keep students safe. That's why we devised our safe plan, and the F in safe means flexibility, because at the end of the day, this virus is fluid, it doesn't have a timetable, and we're going to keep the community here safe.
We were the first close, to be sheltered in place, right here, this school district before the state, the city or county government. So at the end of the day, as the superintendent, I'm so honored to have a great school board who is very supportive and they know and understand it's about safety and wellbeing of our students.
HILL: When it comes to the wellbeing, there are legitimate concerns being raised about keeping kids at home and not just about perhaps a regression in their learning, but also how kids learn -- not all kids learn well online, one of mine certainly does not.
But there's the interaction, right? There's the social interaction. There's hanging out with friends. There's just the interaction with your teachers. The emotional wellbeing, Secretary DeVos keeps bringing that up. How is that figuring into your decision?
RAY: Well, that's a big part of our decision as well, and we're very concerned about what we call the COVID slide, very concerned about that. That's why we're offering summer learning this summer. We have over 5,000 students enrolled. That's why we prepared to offer spring, weekend and fall sessions for students to ensure that learning continues.
Plus I plan, whether it's in person or virtual, I believe in our teachers here, and we're going to provide a high quality education, whether it's in-person or virtual. But if the numbers continue to climb the way that they are now, here in Shelby County, it's our job to keep students safe, and we'll go all virtual.
HILL: And of course, it's not just students, but it's the staff. It's the teachers.
HILL: It's everybody who works in that, meaning administrators.
RAY: That's right.
HILL: What are you hearing from them? What are you hearing about from the adults who are involved in this equation?
RAY: Well, our parents, of course, we surveyed parents and teachers, 77 percent of our parents speaking loud and clear that they prefer virtual instruction. We just surveyed teachers last week, so we are compiling the data, but I've received so many phone calls from teachers. I've received e-mail, and we take their concerns very seriously because teachers are the backbone of the education system.
They're already underpaid, and they deserve to be heard and as Superintendent of this school district, and just being a student from this school district, and growing up here, safety is paramount and we are going to continue to listen to the public.
We're going to continue to listen to our teachers, but we're going to listen to students and parents, but also, we've got to follow the guidelines of our health department. And not only that, we're going to follow science and we're going to do what's best for our students.
No one is going to force me to open schools if they're unsettled.
HILL: All right, Superintendent Ray, appreciate you being with us today.
RAY: Thank you, Erica.
HILL: We will continue to follow your process and your decisions and keep us posted if you will? Thank you.
RAY: We appreciate you. Thank you.
HILL: We do have some new information on that breaking news we are falling out of Southern California, an explosion and fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard. We have learned now, 11 sailors were injured, taken to the hospital. Much more ahead.
HILL: We are continuing to keep a very close watch on this breaking news out of Southern California. You can see now, we're seeing a different angle of the USS Bonhomme Richard. It looks like -- it gives you a slightly different view here. We have heard that 11 sailors now -- we can update -- we initially
heard several sailors were injured with a variety of injuries. We can now tell you, we've been told 11 sailors were injured in this explosion.
It's not clear at this hour what caused the explosion and the fire. Also not clear what came first, a massive amount of smoke though as you can see, and this is of course in San Diego at the U.S. Naval Shipyard there, local basin and shipyard firefighting teams are responding. CNN's Paul Vercammen is following it for us out of Los Angeles.
Paul, what more are we hearing from the Navy? What more are we learning about this ship and that fire there?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there's one report now that 11 firefighters, excuse me, sailors were injured at that fire and the firefighters are taking it on from varying different positions including with fire boats that are in that harbor.
The Bonhomme Richard is an amphibious assault vehicle. That means it can attack by launching LCACs, so these amphibious assault carriers that can carry tanks or they can also carry personnel carriers, and then from the deck, it can launch an airborne assault and from what the looks of things, just having covered these structure fires before, there is obviously a lot of fuel burning, dark matter, dark smoke coming up in the air.
Possible sources could be oil or gas. There's a lot of conjecture about where this started. We know that the fire began a little bit before nine and then from what the fire department says, there was some sort of explosion that was around 11.
There's also various tweets out there right now that they were putting foam on this to try to suppress the fire.
VERCAMMEN: And that meant the firefighters had to get out of the way, the sailors get out of the way at that time. This vessel, the Bonhomme Richard is also sort of hollow if you look at it. It has a massive hangar and it has a well deck where you might see those tanks and some other assault vehicles.
Right now, though, it looks like, you know, it's a challenging fire and it can be seen throughout the San Diego area -- Erica.
HILL: Yes, it certainly is challenging and a number of different departments responding, right? So it's not just the firefighters on base there, but also local San Diego departments, is that correct?
VERCAMMEN: That's exactly right. You know, this is a multi-agency effort, including the City of San Diego Fire and it's what they call a three-alarm fire right now. It's that big.
So, again, they're trying to put this out and keep everybody safe, making sure that nobody, you know in the area is subject to these -- I imagine, anybody who inhales the smoke, this plume looks, you know, rather toxic in a way and the darkness of it again suggest perhaps a lot of oil or gas going up -- Erica.
HILL: Yes, and as we just heard from Admiral John Kirby, retired Rear Admiral John Kirby who was just on with us, he was saying that the ship had just had maintenance, and typically, there'd be about 1,200 sailors on board.
But because it had had maintenance, because it was a Sunday, likely far fewer, maybe as few as 200 sailors on board. That's important as well -- Paul.
VERCAMMEN: Very important, and in fact, when it's in full deployment from what we understand, this vessel can carry up to about 3,500 sailors and I've been on the Bonhomme Richard during full maneuvers when it's just crowded and stacked, and it seems like everywhere you turn, you're seeing another sailor.
I think I told you also it has a hospital component to it, a way to treat patients. So clearly, not being on maneuver, it is not being out as it was, you know, off South Korea for that ferryboat rescue, there was not a full deployment and that could be a very good reason we're not hearing about more injuries right now.
HILL: That is -- yes, absolutely. Paul Vercammen with the latest for us. Paul, thank you.
We are also just learning Navy Special Forces telling us and this is good news to report, the entire crew is off the ship. Again, we'll continue to follow this. Paul is following it for us very closely out of Southern California, so stay with us for this breaking news as we continue to follow developments out of San Diego.
If you're just joining us, this is the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault carrier as you see there. Fire on board, an explosion, 11 sailors injured. We're told they are minor injuries. They were taken to the hospital. CNN is following this very closely. Stay with us.
HILL: We continue to follow this breaking news out of California, an explosion and fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, 11 sailors we've learned were injured. We're told the injuries are minor.
The good news here, we are told that everyone is now off the ship. Again, everyone off the USS Bonhomme Richard. That is the ship that you're looking at with this fire. There was a fire and an explosion onboard. We will continue to bring you more details as they come into us here at CNN.
Meantime, we are also watching very closely the spread of the coronavirus in this country. Troubling numbers out of Arizona, the state now reporting nearly 120,000 cases. More than 2,200 total deaths and the positivity rate in Arizona -- that is such a key number -- as we look at it, it's around 27 percent.
This is the Navajo Nation which occupies parts of Northeast Arizona continue to take aggressive steps to stop the spread of the virus including regular weekend lockdowns and nightly curfew.
CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro joins me now. So, Evan, you spoke directly with the President of the Navajo Nation. How are these restrictions working? Are they doing what they're supposed to do?
EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, as you say, the situation in Arizona is increasingly desperate when it comes to this pandemic, and there's no better way to tell that story than right here in the Navajo Nation.
Let me just show you what it looks like on a Sunday afternoon, okay. The grocery store is closed. The McDonald's is closed. The McDonald's drive-thru is closed.
For 57 hours, every weekend, everything in the Navajo Nation is closed. Masks are required everywhere all the time. And as you mentioned, there are curfews every weekday night as well.
Those are the measures that the President of the Navajo Nation, Jonathan Nez says needs to be taken, because the story here in the Navajo Nation just a couple of months ago was of a raging, out of control pandemic.
He says he has got it under control. Their numbers have flattened and started to come down, but the rest of Arizona, other parts of Arizona that aren't here, if it's a Sunday afternoon, you can shop. You can go through the drive-thru and you can eat in restaurants and masks may not be required.
So for the challenge of the Navajo Nation is trying to keep that story out there from changing the story in here.
I interviewed Jonathan Nez this morning and asked him about that challenge.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JONATHAN NEZ, PRESIDENT, NAVAJO NATION: Early on, of course, everybody heard that per capita, Navajo Nation was hit hard with COVID positive. But we started early on with mandating our people to wear mask mid- April.
We also did some really stringent public health orders and you know, we have curfews every day from 8:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m., total lockdown.
We also incorporated a 57-hour lockdown, which we're in right now. There's nobody driving around, and people that do drive around that are known Navajo citizens will get cited, be told to go home.
[15:45:10] NEZ: So we have done what we are able to do with the laws and the
policies and regulations that we have.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Is there a lesson that Phoenix can learn from the experience here?
NEZ: Absolutely. That's the case study. Wearing masks slowed down the spread of COVID positive. You know, people wearing masks and studies have indicated that and if you want to use Navajo as a case study, it shows that wearing a mask, washing your hands with soap and water, social distancing, and our shelter in place order have all contributed to flattening out the curve and now lessening the spread of COVID-19 here on the Navajo Nation.
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: When you look at the rules in Arizona, and what that had to say -- what the Governor there has decided, what do you think he doesn't get about this disease that maybe you get?
NEZ: Well, I mean, you have to be a bold leader. You have to be able to utilize your experts around you. I'm listening to the doctors, the healthcare professionals, as well as the public safety out there -- personnel. And they're advising us because we have had many of our police officers come down with COVID-19 because they're out there on the frontlines on a daily basis.
But what we're telling our citizens is, hey, you all need to help in the process. And in order for us to push this monster off our Navajo Nation, we need to adhere to our public health experts, and our public health experts have said, wear masks -- all the way up to Washington, D.C.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Erica, as you very well know, this pandemic story is a local story, a state story, and a national story. And right here, those things are all tied together. Because while Arizona is going through this spike in the pandemic, states like the one you're sitting in, where I live, New York is trying to keep that spike from affecting things in New York.
Well, imagine if you're here in the Navajo Nation where you've done different rules in the rest of the State of Arizona, and you're hoping that the problems in Arizona don't come here and bring back a spike you may just have gotten under control.
It's a story that we're seeing all across the country, most acutely right here -- Erica.
HILL: Yes, it's such a great point. Evan McMorris-Santoro, appreciate it. Great interview. Thank you.
We will continue to follow the spread of the virus. We're also following his breaking news out of Southern California. An explosion and fire aboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, 11 sailors injured.
We can tell you, everyone is now safely off the ship. Good news there. We're going to update you on the very latest after the short break. Stay with us.
HILL: We are following breaking news out of San Diego, California. You are looking at the remnants of a fire, a fire on board the USS Bonhomme Richard, 11 sailors we're told were injured were told their injuries were minor. We have also learned that everyone is now off the ship.
Joining me now with more is CNN Producer, Konstantin Toropin. So Konstantin, you actually were stationed at this base is San Diego back in your previous life before you joined us here at CNN. Talk to us about what you're seeing here and just based on your experience, you know, what we should be looking for despite the fact that everybody's off the ship is good news.
I just heard a dial tone, not sure if that means we've lost Konstantin, we may have. Konstantin, are you still with me?
KONSTANTIN TOROPIN, CNN PRODUCER (via phone): Thank you, Erica.
HILL: Okay, you're still here. Great. I'm sorry, I heard a dial tone in my ear. So, what are you taking away from this based on your experience?
TOROPIN: Right. And good afternoon, Erica. So I would say you know, one of the key -- one of the certain details that hit me immediately is the fact that, you know, the Navy is now saying the sailors have been evacuated off the ship and San Diego Fire is assisting. That indicates that this is a very serious incident at this point.
Because traditionally, a ship like the Bonhomme Richard or any other ship in the Navy will have a small portion of the crew stationed on board every day called a duty section, specifically for these types of situations.
If a fire happens to break out, you've got a portion of the crew ready to leap into action and to deal with it. The fact that this situation overwhelmed that duty section, they were pulled off the ship and extra firefighters had to be brought in indicates that this is a pretty significant event. That's what struck me immediately.
And now as you look at sort of the live images, we're seeing, you know, tugs being brought in and spraying fire on the side of the ship to help cool the whole -- all of this sort of indicates that this is a very significant fire.
HILL: You point out, too, the San Diego Fire Department responding just following their Twitter feed here as we're looking at this. They had just posted that San Diego's fire personnel were told to exit the pier.
That too sounds like a pretty serious decision. You would not want them leaving unless I would imagine that there was going to be some danger to them were they to stay and continue trying to put this out.
TOROPIN: Yes, correct because I mean obviously, the pier is your primary point of access to the ship from the shore. So, if you're pulling your firefighting personnel off of the pier, out of, you know, whatever concerns they may have seems to suggest that yes, the situation is a dire and be perhaps not in as much control as first responders would like it to be.
HILL: You know, right. We have this great aerial shot right now. I'm not sure if you're able to see it, but just give you a sense of how large the space is. Correct me if I'm wrong, but this is the largest naval base on the West Coast, I believe, correct?
TOROPIN: Correct. Yes, you've got the Naval Station in San Diego that plays host to not only ships like the Bonhomme Richard, which is an amphibious assault ship. Basically, it's a large troop carrier to help land Marines and assets, you know, ashore, but you've got various combinations of smaller ships as well, cruisers and destroyers and you know, including one of the hospital ships that recently responded to the COVID crisis stationed at the Naval Station there.
HILL: Konstantin, stay with me. Also joining us now on the phone is San Diego Fire Chief Collin Stowell. Chief, really appreciate you taking the time to join us. I know you were busy there. We were just talking about the fact I saw on your Twitter feed for the department that all fire personnel were told to exit the pier.
Can you tell us more about that order and what's happening on the pier?
CHIEF COLIN STOWELL, SAN DIEGO FIRE DEPARTMENT (via phone): Sure thing, thanks for having me. So, we called all of our personnel first off the ship when we realized there was really -- we were not going to be able to confine a fire to a small area.
Then as soon as the personnel started getting off the ship, there was an explosion, which -- and we received confirmation from the Navy that there live ordinance on the ship. We're told now that it's only the smallest 50-caliber, so it wasn't as concerning, but that's when we backed everybody even off the pier.
We really had to relocate some of our staging units due to where the smoke was heading. So that's obviously going to be a health concern for our folks. And so we've evacuated both the ship and the pier.
We are working with the Navy and Federal firefighters on that incident, and it looks like we will be turning that over to the Navy right now.
HILL: Okay, so turning that over to the Navy, as you mentioned, when you realized that your firefighters couldn't safely contain this to a small area, that's when you pulled them off.
Are you aware -- are there still Federal firefighters or other folks in -- like on the ship at this point or even on the pier? Because you said you notice it was too dangerous to be on the pier or is this mainly now being tackled from the water and I don't know if you can safely do anything from the air?
STOWELL: No, we really can't, and so there is no more personnel from any agency on the ship anymore. The Navy is the only one that will work from the pier side, as well as the Harbor PD on the fire boat will work on the water side to kind of contain the heat of it.
This was really just turned into a defensive fire now, and this could very well go on for days.
STOWELL: There is no way to make an offensive attack on this ship right now, so the Navy will work with the county as far as the health concerns from the smoke that will more than likely be here for days, but really right now, they wanted to get the ships next to it away, and so they're working on moving those and more -- like I said, more than likely, this will probably just burn down to the waterline.
HILL: So this is -- that really struck me that you said this could go on for days. You're talking about the environmental concerns, obviously in the area as this smoke makes its way across San Diego.
You talked about moving other ships, but when we look at that smoke, what more Intel do you have about what is actually burning at this point, and how concerned are you about what is going into the air -- that massive plume that we can see?
STOWELL: Well, we're certainly concerned about the health risks from the smoke. We do know some of the things that are on board is the diesel fuel, aircraft fuel as well, and some of the oils that they use to clean the equipment. And that was actually what was the explosion that we experienced earlier, it was a 55-gallon drum of the oil that they cleaned the tools with.
And so, the good news was, it was not an ordinance and that was our concern, and that we may see subsequent explosions after that.
But right now there is still a lot of fuel on that ship, and so, if that starts becoming a part of the combustibles there, then this will go on.
But again, nobody can safely make access to that ship right now and make any kind of offensive attack on that fire.
HILL: I only have about 10 seconds, so really quickly, is it clear yet how this fire started?
STOWELL: It is not. And there were Navy crews on board during that time that are always there 24 hours a day, but we do not have any kind of cause yet.
HILL: San Diego Fire Chief Collin Stowell, my friend and colleague, CNN producer, Konstantin Toropin, appreciate you both joining us with your expertise this hour.
CNN is going to continue to follow this developing story out of San Diego, so please stay with us for that.
Thanks for joining me this afternoon on NEWSROOM. We continue right now with Ana Cabrera.