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Growing Rift Between White House and Dr. Anthony Fauci; Trump Pushes to Reopen Schools This Fall Amid Surge in Coronavirus Cases; Interview with Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-AR) on Coronavirus Cases; Surging Coronavirus Cases Cause States to Roll Back Reopening; Pro Sports Teams Playing in Florida Amid COVID-19 Surge. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired July 12, 2020 - 20:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

Right now here in Washington, a once close relationship apparently very much on the rocks. And this isn't harmless political drama we're talking about. American lives are clearly at stake.

CNN has learned this weekend of active efforts inside the White House to undermine and to discredit Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force. Senior Trump administration officials telling CNN that certain people there do not trust Dr. Fauci and don't like it when he openly disagrees with President Trump on matters of urgent public safety.

Here's why American lives are clearly at stake. Many people who follow Dr. Fauci's advice are wearing masks. They're heeding social distancing advice from him and his colleagues. President Trump on the contrary only allowed himself to be photographed by the White House Press Corps while wearing a mask only yesterday and that was the first time in public.

The White House is spending this energy to smear the name of Dr. Fauci while the often deadly coronavirus is running rampant across many parts of the country right now. Indeed, 33 states today reporting a rise in new cases. But no state is seeing anywhere near the number of new infections as they're seeing right now in Florida.

The most current data from Florida, more than 15,000 people confirmed positive for the virus and that is just one single day. Numbers never seen before including in New York state back in April.

Let's go to CNN's Kristen Holmes right now. She's over at the White House.

Kristen, tell us about this growing rift and it's ugly between the White House and Dr. Fauci.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right, Wolf. This would be extraordinary during any administration at any time, to have the White House sort of broadside one of the nation's leading health experts, but the fact that it's being done during a pandemic is incredibly striking.

Now, we have been reporting over the last several weeks a growing tension between both President Trump and Dr. Fauci. We saw this playing out in the media. The two men are not talking. Dr. Fauci had not briefed President Trump in person in months. We know that. So then we started seeing this kind of back and forth. Fauci saying he wasn't sure where President Trump got certain information. Clearly disagreeing with President Trump in one interview saying that the U.S. government's response to coronavirus wasn't great.

And of course, Wolf, as we know, we've reported on President Trump's narrative over and over again saying the government's response has been impeccable, perfect, beautiful. So clearly disagreements in there. And then we had President Trump on an interview with FOX saying that Fauci was a nice man but he made a lot of mistakes. Well, we asked the White House about this growing tension. They appear to be actively trying to discredit him as you said.

A White House official saying that several White House officials are concerned about the number of times that Dr. Fauci has been wrong on things. And then they provided CNN with a list that looked like opposition research. Something that we would get if we were asking a question about Joe Biden or a Democrat. It breaks down all of the early comments that Fauci made that ended up being not right about coronavirus.

Talking about asymptomatic carriers or how you don't need to wear a mask, and to point out, these are things that Dr. Fauci said. They are also things that many medical experts said as we were trying to get a handle on this pandemic, but the striking thing is not just the fact that these are here, it's the fact that the White House is sending them out as a way to, again, undermine or discredit one of the nation's top health officials and, again, at a time, as you said, when cases are surging.

BLITZER: It's so disturbing. So disturbing, indeed. All right. Kristen Holmes, excellent reporting as usual. Thank you.

Joining us now, the former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy. Also Dr. Ashish Jha is joining us, the director of the Harvard Global Institute.

I want to get both of your thoughts on what we just heard. CNN's reporting on the growing rift between Dr. Fauci and the president.

Dr. Murthy, when you were the surgeon general of the United States during the Obama administration, I know you worked closely with Dr. Fauci. What's your reaction when you hear these reports of an effort to try to smear him, to undermine his credibility? [20:05:04]

DR. VIVEK MURTHY, FORMER U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: Well, thank you, Wolf. It's good to be with you today. You know, I've heard these reports and listened to them with great sadness because the White House attempts to discredit Dr. Fauci are -- they're both unfair but also counterproductive. If you look at Dr. Fauci's track record he's actually been right far more often than the political figures who are actually criticizing him, and what this whole situation underscores is the point that we've made repeatedly which is that pandemic responses need to be guided by science and scientists.

You can't choose to follow scientific guidance when it's politically convenient and then disregard it when it's not because the truth is whether you judge this moment that we're in right now by the horrifying numbers of lives lost, or whether you judge it by how it compares to prior pandemic responses during both the Republican and Democratic administrations, the truth is that the current COVID-19 response has failed.

The way the federal government is responding to COVID-19, sadly, more resembles a failed state than the world leader that our country's used to being and has been during past outbreaks. That's why so many people are dying. It's why the economy is struggling. It's why it's so hard to open up our schools and why children and parents are in this impossible position.

But the good news is that it's not too late to change course. We've got to start with getting the number of COVID-19 cases under control. That's the pathway to opening back up with lower risk. And we know how to do it. This is a matter of political will, focus, and execution.

BLITZER: Let me get Dr. Jha's reaction. I assume, Dr. Jha, you know Dr. Fauci as well. I know him, I know Dr. Murthy knows him well. What do you think about this rift that has developed?

DR. ASHISH JHA, DIRECTOR, HARVARD GLOBAL HEALTH INSTITUTE: Yes, so, Wolf, thanks for having me on. I've known Dr. Fauci for about 20 years and he is the nation's leading scientist. That he's the nation's doctor as many people have described him. Not to take anything away from the surgeon general or any previous surgeon generals, he has been the most trusted source of science and data especially around infectious diseases for much longer than I've even known him.

And, you know, as Dr. Murthy said, there is a sadness here because we need our government to be effective. If our government is not effective, the American people suffer and it is much harder for the government to be effective without Dr. Fauci's engagement than it is with his engagement. I don't really think at the end of the day they're going to be able to smear him or reduce his standing in the eyes of the American people, but they will make their own response less effective and we're all going to suffer for it.

BLITZER: We certainly will. You know, Dr. Murthy, I want you to look at the 14-day trend for coronavirus cases here in the United States. There it is up on the screen. The situation in the U.S. clearly growing dire in so many parts of the country. A fight like this between White House officials trying to smear or undermine Dr. Fauci seems to be the last thing we need right now.

MURTHY: That's absolutely right, Wolf. When we look at where we are in the course of this pandemic, we are in a dire place. We, unlike most of our other industrialized countries that we have worked with and partnered with in previous years, which saw a rise in infections and then a fall in infections, we have failed, actually, to follow that track. In fact, we saw an initial fall followed by another surge and now we have more cases than we had even then during the March peak.

And what's really important here is to understand what the cost is that we're paying because we keep measuring the price of COVID-19 in terms of lives lost and that is certainly the highest price that we pay. But what we also know is that the first 2.8 million cases in the United States, hundreds of thousands of people were also hospitalized. Many of those who were not hospitalized have sustained injuries to their heart, kidneys, lungs, and nervous system that have lasted for weeks and may last even longer.

The more we learn, the more we find this is a sobering virus. And for example, as much as we focus on people above the age of 65 is being the most at risk, according to some recent data from the CDC collected from 16 public health departments, it turns out that 25 percent of deaths were in people under 65 and 17 percent of those deaths had no underlying condition. So just because you are under 65 and healthy does not mean that you can't be seriously affected.

Issues like this, data like that, makes us realize that unless we pull together and work in unison with focus, with urgency, we're not going to be able to get a handle on this pandemic. We have the tools to do this. We have the knowledge and the talent. We just got to organize, focus, and get the political will to execute.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Jha, I'm looking at the latest CDC report and it's very specific. It says the CDC now estimates that 40 percent of the people in America who have been infected with COVID-19 don't have any symptoms at all and about half of the COVID-19 transmissions, and I'm reading from the report, happened before people even get sick.


So we know that this is a horrible situation right now, hundreds of Americans keep dying every single day. What are the two or three or four most important things the country needs to do right now to deal with this?

JHA: Yes, Wolf, so that statistic of half the people getting infected from somebody who didn't have symptoms at the time is really the Achilles' heel of controlling of this virus. Right? Because if you -- if people without symptoms are spreading it, it's incredibly hard to control it. So we know what are the things that we need to do. We know what we should have done in Arizona, in Texas, and Florida weeks ago which is universal masking.

Indoors, this is an area where I think we have really now gotten a lot more clarity. That indoor gatherings of any kind are very risky. So certainly bars, nightclubs, maybe even indoor restaurants, certainly in the hotspots. And then the thing that, you know, is boring but we've all been saying it for a long time, remains a cornerstone is we've really got to have a lot more testing and tracing capacity than we have in our country.

If we do all those things, Wolf, we've got a pretty good shot of getting our arms around this. If we continue to flail, we're going to have a lot of sick people and we're going to have a pretty ruined economy. So that's what we have to avoid.

BLITZER: What about schools, Dr. Murthy? You were the surgeon general of the United States. If you were now the surgeon general, what would you tell the president, what would you tell the American public, about re-opening schools, let's say, where you are in Miami?

MURTHY: Well, Wolf, the key to opening up schools is to make sure that the burden of virus in the community is low and we had a chance to achieve that over this summer but we blew it. And with such high rates of infection that you're seeing in Florida, in Arizona, in Texas, and parts of California, it is hard to think of how you can put enough precautions in place to actually reassure parents as well as children and teachers and staff that it is acceptable from a safety standpoint to re-open.

So if we really want to get schools open, and I desperately think we need to because the costs of keeping them closed are extraordinarily high for our kids, for our parents, for our economy. But the pathway to do that is to get aggressive about reducing the incidence of the virus. And that means that we've got to wear masks, we've got to keep distance, we've got to close down indoor operations like bars and restaurants. We've got to stay home as much as possible.

And we've got to support people as they're making sacrifices and support them economically to make this possible. But short of that, if we continue to see a growth in the amount of virus in the community, it's hard to see how to safely re-open our schools.

BLITZER: Yes, they're supposed to open the schools in Miami-Dade County where you are by the end of August. We'll see if that happens.

Dr. Vivek Murthy, as usual, thank you so much. We're grateful to you. Dr. Ashish Jha, we're also grateful to you. Thanks to both of you for joining us.

We're going to get back to our coverage of the coronavirus in a moment. But there's some breaking news out of Southern California right now. Look at these live pictures coming in from San Diego, at least 21 people, most of them U.S. sailors, were injured in a fire onboard the USS Bonhomme Richard, an amphibious assault ship docked at the U.S. Naval base in San Diego.

Firefighters are working to try to put out the flames and remaining hotspots. CNN has learned the injured including 17 sailors and four civilians are being treated for what's described as minor injuries. We're also told everyone else on board has been accounted for. There's no immediate word on what caused the fire. A U.S. Defense Department official says initial reports indicate it started in the weld deck but that's not confirmed.

A quick personal note, I spent some time reporting onboard the Bonhomme Richard back in 2005. There's the picture. It was right after the Gulf War. I was in Iraq and Kuwait. I was aboard that ship. It's a great ship. The crew is terrific. My thoughts, of course, are with all those who were aboard. We're grateful to those sailors and those Marines.

When we come back the president is pushing for schools to re-open amid the coronavirus pandemic, some as early as a few weeks from now. But how safe would it be? And should, should the schools follow his order?

The former Education secretary under President Obama is standing by live. We'll discuss when we come back.



BLITZER: Many public schools across the country are just weeks away from starting the academic year or at least trying to do so. But how can they really do that while cases of coronavirus are surging across so many parts of the United States right now?

Joining us to discuss, Arne Duncan, the secretary of Education under President Obama.

Mr. Secretary, thanks so much for joining us. And I want to talk about schools and education in just a moment, but let me get your quick reaction to these reports out of the White House that the Trump administration is actively working right now to discredit Dr. Fauci.

ARNE DUNCAN, EDUCATION SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think they're going be wildly unsuccessful. It makes obviously no sense that they're trying to do that. It's unconscionable. Dr. Fauci is the expert. Has been for decades. Any chance they -- you know, anything they want to try to do to smear him only just makes them look weak, petty, not smart.

BLITZER: Yes, you make a very important point. Let's turn to schools right now, a subject you know well. What do you make of your successor, Secretary Betsy DeVos, insisting that schools must re-open while refusing to say whether districts should follow CDC guidelines with some medical experts have called bare minimum? She spoke to our own Dana Bash on "STATE OF THE UNION" earlier today. What's your reaction to that?


DUNCAN: Well, first of all, of course, people have to follow the CDC guidelines. Secondly, she's just parroting the words of her boss, President Trump. He obviously has no regard, no concern, for the health and wellbeing of children, of parents, of staff, of teachers, of principals, of custodians, and so it doesn't make any sense. BLITZER: The president has actually been very critical of the CDC

guidelines for re-opening schools. He suggested they're simply too tough, too expensive. The agency says it will issue updated guidelines in the coming week or so. Then they say that the guidelines are sticking. There's been a lot of confusion exactly on what's going on. In the meantime, as you probably read, "The New York Times" had obtained an internal 60-plus-page CDC document that said fully re- opening K-12 schools and then universities would be the highest risk for the spread of coronavirus right now.

So what's your reaction to that? How do you justify re-opening classrooms, especially in a place like Miami-Dade County in Florida?

DUNCAN: Yes, well, we all, obviously, desperately want our students to be able to go back to school, but we have to do that in a way that is safe. And where you see, you know, cases of the virus surging, spiking, that makes it very, very difficult, if not impossible. Schools, universities, are not bubbles. They're not islands. And the best thing we can do, Wolf, now, in July is drive down cases of the virus in all of our communities so that our children, young people, will have a chance to go back to school, as you said, three or four weeks from now.

Let me be really, really clear. The goal here, Wolf, is not to re-open schools. The goal is to have schools stay open. And if we re-open and then they have to shut down after a week or two or three just as we're seeing happen in Texas and Florida, where people have opened too rapidly, we do our children a grave great disservice. We retraumatize them.

This has been a really, really tough time. So what the federal government should be doing right now is investing $150 billion, $200 billion, getting it out the door tomorrow to schools so they can prepare to open and open as safely as possible and we have to do this very gradually. This is not going be an on-off switch. This is more like a dimmer. We can move slowly and carefully. That gives us a chance of keeping schools open. Absent that, we're going to have a disaster to begin into September and October.

BLITZER: In Atlanta the superintendent of public schools says they will start the year -- they're supposed to start the fall semester in August, early September, with what's called virtual learning as the cases are spiking in the Atlanta area. You think other cities should do the same thing? At least start off virtually and then eventually if things improve, go to in-classroom schooling?

DUNCAN: Well, every context is different. Atlanta or Orlando or wherever it might be, it's very different maybe than Wyoming or Montana. Where I think we will end up most places is in a hybrid situation, which I think we should try and bring back as many young children as we can because learning by technology is the hardest for them.

But for middle school, high school, we may be in a situation where young people are going to school Monday, Wednesday, Friday, or Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, or maybe half days. And again, if we can do this thoughtfully, carefully, that gives us a chance to keep getting better and have more kids come to school. But if we just throw caution to the wind, we're going to have a lot of people sick, we're going to do a lot of damage to kids educationally, socially and emotionally.

And we have to take care of their parents. We have to take care of our teachers and our custodians, our principals, all the staff working so hard on behalf of all of our children.

BLITZER: Yes, these are life-and-death decisions that have to be made. The stakes are clearly enormous.

Secretary Arne Duncan, thanks as usual for joining us.

DUNCAN: Thanks for having me.

BLITZER: Amid surges of new coronavirus cases across more than 30 states right now, Arkansas has just broken its record for most infections in a single day. The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, he's standing by live. We'll discuss what's going on in his state when we come back.



BLITZER: As we close out another weekend in this summer of the pandemic during which the United States posted its highest single-day number of new cases, 33 states are now reporting significant increases in coronavirus cases. Arkansas is one of those hotspots. On Saturday Arkansas had its largest surge since the pandemic started with more than 1,000 confirmed new cases. That spike came just days after the state's largest single-day jump in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

The governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, is joining us right now.

Governor, thank you so much for joining us. I know you got a lot going on. We're always grateful when you can join us in THE SITUATION ROOM. What's your plan to get these troubling new numbers in Arkansas right now under control?

GOV. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, Wolf, it's good to be with you. And this obviously is a concern. Any time you have your highest peak in new cases of over 1,000 yesterday, today it's like the roller coaster. We had a 50 percent reduction. We had 500 new cases today. And so it's up and down, but even 500 is way, way too high for our population base here in Arkansas. So, we are certainly looking at how we can encourage people to wear a mask.

We adopted a model ordinance that cities can use to mandate wearing of mask if they see a hotspot and if they want to address. We're also looking in terms of our openings and we have right now that on pause because we want to get a handle on this.

[20:30:09] We doubled the number of our contact tracers here in Arkansas trying to accelerate that. The last time we talked northwest Arkansas was moving up in cases. And since then, we've seen them start on the decline the number of new cases. But what we've seen is that we've got it going more broadly across Arkansas. Just like we see in many other parts of the country right now. Particularly in the south.

So we're taking it very seriously every day, looking at whatever new tools we can grab to get people's attention but also to reduce that spread.

BLITZER: Because I know you've been wearing a mask now for weeks in Arkansas. You've been trying to set a very strong example to all the folks in Arkansas that it's critically important right now because so much of the transmission happens from individuals who have no symptoms at all.

Yesterday we did see the president at Walter Reed Medical Center, a military medical center. There's a picture. He finally in public allowed the White House Press Corps to get a picture of him with a mask. Do you wish he would have done it sooner? Would Arkansans have been more willing to wear a mask if they would have gotten that kind of example from the commander in chief, from the president?

HUTCHINSON: Well, that's unknown, but what is important is a consistent national and state message and we're all on the same page. From Dr. Fauci to the president, the vice president, the surgeon general today, all wearing masks, demonstrating the importance of that. And so there's not really any excuse now for anybody to say there's a political divide or we don't know what the national message is. Everyone is on the same page.

Medical community and political leaders combined recognizing exactly how important that is. Whenever you're wanting to open up an economy, whenever you're wanting to do business, you don't have any choice. If you want to be able to do that and stay healthy and not spread the virus, the mask is the alternative that can allow you to live, to have education coming up next year, but also to control that spread which we've got to get a handle on to a greater extent than we have right now.

BLITZER: Yes, there have been these reports, these studies as you know, Governor, that if 95 percent of the American public wore a mask when they should when they're outside or in a close environment, thousands, tens of thousands of lives in the coming weeks and months would be saved here in the United States.

You mentioned Dr. Fauci. Let me get your quick reaction to these reports that officials at the White House are actually working to undermine his credibility right now. I don't know if you know Dr. Fauci. I know him fairly well. Does that worry you?

HUTCHINSON: Well, I do know Dr. Fauci and whenever we were getting some criticism in Arkansas for not shutting things down, he came, looked at our plan, and approved of what we were doing so it's been a good partnership with him. And he's certainly a national voice that is highly, highly respected. And so, again, I just want everybody to be on the same page.

If you look back to whenever we had the White House briefings, the Coronavirus Task Force, with vice president, with President Trump, and Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, that's whenever there was singular attention to this with, even though everybody expresses it in different ways, the voice was helpful in terms of everybody being on the same platform together.

And so I want to see that united voice that I've always said is necessary at the national and the state level and that's my goal. Dr. Fauci is an important part of that.

BLITZER: Yes. Well said, indeed. I know that education is so important. Everybody wants the kids to be back in school. I know this week you delayed Arkansas' back-to-school date moving it from, what, August 13th to the week of August 24th. Tell us, A, why you did that and could it be pushed back even further?

HUTCHINSON: Well, we moved the school start date forward two weeks to give all the school districts more time in order to be able to train the teachers on online instruction as an alternative to in-classroom instruction. To make sure that they all had their PPE. Their mask. Everything ready for students and for their staff. Some of them had not ordered that early enough so it gives them a little bit more time to do that.

But also we submitted a plan for the school districts to review and parents to review which is if there is a positive case in a school and then you have to look at the level of spread in the community to determine the right response level.


And it can either be simply cleaning the school for one day, it could be going to online instruction, or it could simply be continuing on because there's not a threat of community spread. And so we're working through that very detailed process of opening schools in a safe way for the students and for the staff. We know how important it is. We're committed to having in-classroom instruction next year.

But we know we also have to have that blended environment of options because it's going to be a challenge if you have even a limited amount of community spread at that time.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. And as I've been saying these are life- and-death decisions you and your fellow governors have to make right now. The stakes, as I say, are clearly enormous.

Governor Hutchinson, as usual, thanks so much for joining us here in THE SITUATION ROOM.

HUTCHINSON: Thank you, Wolf. Good to be with you.

BLITZER: Thank you.

Speaking of schools, despite a growing pandemic right now, the president is pushing for the schools to re-open quickly but there's more to this issue than just education. It's also crucial for the economy. We'll discuss that and more.

Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.



BLITZER: First day after school is fast approaching. Some places it opens in early August, mid-August. For millions of parents, teachers and students that means each day brings increasing uncertainty and a lot of worry about what exactly will happen during the upcoming school year especially during, of course, this growing pandemic. But this conversation is more than just about education. It's also about the economy.

For so many parents, school provides the necessary childcare so they're able to go to work. Without in-class instruction, that could be no childcare, which could mean the inability to work and for an economy that is clearly struggling right now to rebound, that could mean even greater financial disaster.

Let's discuss what's going on with the former acting secretary of Labor under President Obama, Seth Harris.

Seth, thanks so much for joining us. How critical would it be to re- open the schools as far as the economy is concerned?

SETH HARRIS, FORMER ACTING SECRETARY OF LABOR UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: The schools are essential to the economy, Wolf. More than 33 million families have children under the age of 18. Overwhelming majority of them are school-aged kids. So parents rely on the education system to give their kids a constructive, safe place to go and where the kids can be engaged and can advance and develop.

But it's also important for us to remember that schools are workplaces as well. And so when we talk about opening schools, of course, it's critically important that they be safe for the students, but they also have to be safe for teachers, other education professionals, school bus drivers, the people who work in the lunchrooms, administrators, janitorial crews, all of those workers also need to be protected.

And we know that adults are at risk of transmission of this disease and potentially from children. So I think we have to be very, very, very careful about a rush to re-open these public schools.

BLITZER: I think you're absolutely right. At least 26 states as you know, Seth, they're pausing, they're rolling back their re-opening plans right now as we see this crisis explode. Are we looking at round two right now of a jobs apocalypse with new rounds of cuts, major bankruptcies? Just last week, alone, another million Americans for the first time filed for unemployment benefits.

I think over the past 16 weeks or so, what, more than 50 million, 60 million Americans have applied for unemployment benefits according to the Department of Labor. Now, many of them have gone back to work, but how worried should we be about a further explosion of unemployment assuming the schools can't re-open?

HARRIS: Well, I don't think it's the schools that are causing the unemployment problem right now. We are seeing a turn down in employment in the country with some of the latest figures out of the Census Bureau and also from the unemployment claims numbers that you mentioned, Wolf, we've now had six consecutive weeks, between a million and two million claims. That is an unprecedentedly high level of unemployment claims, meaning people being laid off and seeking money from the government.

And it's not turning down in a significant way. In fact, I think there's reason for concern that we're going to begin to see it turn up again. So, the employment situation is serious. It is going to get more serious, but, again, it's not because of schools. It's because we have a wildfire epidemic in our society and the chief fire marshal is doing absolutely nothing to try and stop it.

President Trump has demonstrated the worst failure in leadership in American history. And so we have dangerous situations and fear spreading across the country rather than a serious plan for opening schools, opening workplaces, and keeping all of us safe.

BLITZER: Seth, do you see the economy right now bouncing back or potentially given what's going on with the coronavirus explosion we're seeing in so many parts of the country the economy further deteriorating with a lot more unemployment?

HARRIS: Well, the dreams that we've heard come out of the White House about a V-shaped recovery and we're going to bounce back in the third quarter and the fourth quarter to get where we were in January and February, I think that was always a fantasy. What we're seeing is a protracted long-term very slow recovery that now appears to have stalled and may be turning down.

We can't solve the problems in the economy until we solve the problem with the pandemic. That is the barrier to our success. The underlying economy, at least as of February and March, was quite strong, but now what we're seeing is not merely people losing their jobs in the short term but businesses closing down, increasing numbers, rates of bankruptcy, therefore, a lot of workers losing their jobs permanently.


That is going to make it extremely difficult for us to get back quickly, both the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Reserve Bank say we are going to have painfully high levels of unemployment at the end of this year and I think that's going to last into 2021.

BLITZER: Yes. It's a serious, serious issue, and these are such important issues.

Seth Harris, the former acting secretary of Labor, appreciate it very much.

HARRIS: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Later this month the NBA will resume league play in Orlando, Florida, but Florida's now the epicenter of the outbreak here in the United States, and with players, coaches, staff, all arriving this week, how can the league ensure it will be safe?

We'll discuss that when we come back.



BLITZER: While Florida grapples right now with record-breaking coronavirus cases, professional sports teams are actually in Orlando. They're trying to save their seasons. NBA players are over at Disney, they're living and playing in what's been nicknamed the "Bubble." They are hoping to restart at the end of July after suspending the season in March.

Major League Soccer teams are also in the bubble. Today's match between D.C. United and Toronto Football Club was actually postponed after a possible positive test result. Few teams played with their fans beamed into the jumbotron. MLB fans mostly stayed home for spring training. Players and staff are tested every other day, although a delay in results has forced some teams to actually cancel workouts.

CNN contributor and broadcasting hall of famer Bob Costas is joining us right now.

Bob, thanks so much as usual.


BLITZER: We're grateful to you for your expertise. Florida, as you know, is now the new epicenter here in the United States. Do you think these various pro-teams down in Florida are actually moving too quickly?

COSTAS: Well, I think their answer to that is we are in a bubble, so it's only incidental that that bubble happens to be in the state of Florida which is at present, as you say, the epicenter. But even were it not the epicenter, the idea of a bubble is only their best attempt. It's not fool proof. They've got to make sure that everyone who could possibly come into contact with any of the players and the other personnel that surrounds the league, and they got that down to a bare minimum, but still a sizeable number of people. Anyone who could come into contact with those people has to be within the bubble as well and even then they still have to cross their fingers.

Adam Silver, the commissioner of the NBA, has candidly acknowledged that. They are going to attempt it and they're going to have all the best medical expertise and all the best security they possibly can have. And even then, it's a roll of the dice.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And tell us, you know, we talked about the bubble. But what are the safety precautions they're really engaged in?

COSTAS: Well, I'm not there so I am basing it on what people who are there have told me and what I have been able to gather. But there's frequent testing. There's security so that people who have no absolutely necessary reason for being in contact with any of these people is anywhere around. There is mask wearing. There's all of the protocols that you would want. And supposedly it includes and has to include the hotel personnel. If the people that work in the front desk or the people who work in the kitchen or other services go home and then come back, God bless them, but that bursts the bubble.

BLITZER: Yes, it's really a worrisome development. And you know what also worries me, and I'm a sports fan. I worry, because the experts are learning so much about this virus. They also are suggesting there is a possibility, even for younger peoples in their 20s and 30s of possible long-term lung damage from coronavirus.

From what you are hearing from baseball players or basketball players or football players, how concerned are they about that specific long- term effect?

COSTAS: You know, I mentioned that a couple of weeks ago to Jake Tapper. And I guess at that point that really hadn't come to the fore as a consideration. Even if the vast, vast majority especially of young and otherwise healthy people who contracted the coronavirus recover and appear to be OK, you are talking here about world class athletes. In the 99.9 percentile of physical fitness and capability, and they have that for only a relatively short number of years when they're at their athletic peak.

So if their effectiveness is reduced by even 5 percent, something which you or I might not really notice or if we did it wouldn't amount to all that much, as we went back to our jobs, if it's reduced even a little bit the difference between success and failure in sports between excellence and mediocrity is as you know, Wolf, very, very small, razor's edge difference. And a lot of these athletes, especially those who are already financially set are going to be very cautious about running that risk. It's not a risk for their mortality or even health as you or I might define it, but maybe it's a risk for their athletic effectiveness.

BLITZER: And one last sports related question before I let you go, Bob. The Washington Redskins, as you know, they are exploring right now for the first time a serious name change. They've been criticized for years for the name. We're told that a decision from Dan Snyder, the owner of the Redskins, could come within the next few days. What do you think is going to happen?


COSTAS: They are going to change the name. They are going to have to. As I said to Don Lemon the other night, not because they've seen the light but because they are feeling the heat. And that's a shame. I am not a fan of political correctness run amuck. But I've said this for years, I said it way back when and got some heat on my own court on NBC. You have to be able, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum, you have to be able to make valid distinctions.

And there is an obvious distinction between Redskins and any other name that is associated with Native Americans. Chiefs. Braves. Warriors. Tribal names. Those could be objectionable if the symbols and the rituals are objectionable but in and of themselves they are not by definition insulting, derogatory, pejorative. But every dictionary defines redskins just that way. Every single dictionary.

And as I've said before, if you think of what the equivalent of redskins would be if applied to any other ethnic group you say to yourself, how is this sustainable? How is it justifiable? Just because it's been around for a long time and just because obviously those who route for the team and those who own the team don't intend any insult, they don't have animosity for Native Americans, but still, if you were starting a franchise today, could you even think for a moment about naming that franchise the Redskins? The answer is obvious.

BLITZER: Yes. It certainly is. All right. Bob Costas, we love having you here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Thanks as usual for joining us and we're grateful you're now a formal and official CNN contributor. We'll inviting you here in THE SITUATION --

COSTAS: Right. As you can see I'm in a very formal setting, Wolf.

BLITZER: Yes. Looks very formal out there in L.A.

COSTAS: Right.

BLITZER: Thanks as usual for joining us.

COSTAS: All right, Wolf.

BLITZER: All right. There's more news we're following. In so many ways this pandemic seems to be pushing the nation to the breaking point. So why would the White House right now be trying to actually undermine the country's top infectious disease expert, a man trusted by so many of us, Dr. Anthony Fauci?

That's ahead here in THE SITUATION ROOM.