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Over Half L.A. Hospitals Now at ICU Capacity; Interview with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR); New Study Predicts Childcare Shortages. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired July 13, 2020 - 10:30   ET



EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And the people who are trying to push back on it are having the same problems that they've had all over the country as we've tried to get this virus under control -- Jim and Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Evan, thank you. It's so important you're there. And you're right, that is a story right behind you. We appreciate it.


So, to California. The state, seeing a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Remember that they acted very early, kept cases down. Now, things coming back up again. There are growing concerns from public health officials about the capacity now of hospitals to deal with this rise in cases. On Sunday, Los Angeles County alone reported more than 3,300 new cases and 18 deaths, just in that one county.

HARLOW: Our Stephanie Elam joins us from there this morning. How are officials handling the influx at this point?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy and Jim. Yes, we're talking about, in California overall, over 320,000 cases and more than 7,000 deaths. And here in Los Angeles County, which has remained the hotspot for the entire state, we're seeing those numbers continue to trend in the wrong direction.

This is the second-largest number of new cases reported in a day, behind that one time that they said they had extra cases from a backlog that were put together in one day. So that's obviously bad news there.

The hospital capacity is something that we're watching here, but also in other counties such as Riverside County, which is about southeast of here, it's the fourth-largest county in the state. Well, they're saying if you take a look at their ICU beds that are licensed, they're saying they're nearly out capacity.

In 10 out of 17 hospitals, they're saying that they're 100 percent capacity. So they're busy changing over beds -- regular beds -- into ICU beds to account for this. They're saying that this was the largest number of new cases they got on Friday. Now of course, it's Monday, we're going to have new numbers coming in here for the state. But obviously, this information going in the wrong direction here.

One thing to note about L.A. County as well -- before I send it back to you -- is just they're saying that, quote, "This number that we have right now of 2,000 hospitalized patients," they're saying 26 percent of those people are actually there for COVID and 19 percent are on ventilators with confirmed COVID.

But what they said here is, quote, "Substantially higher than the 13,050 to 14,050 hospitalizations seen four weeks ago." So this fact that we have 2,000 people who are in the hospital here is obviously going in the wrong way, and that is the big concern here in Los Angeles County -- Poppy.

HARLOW: Of course it is. Stephanie, thank you for that reporting.

Meantime, we want to take you to this news that's continuing about this fire onboard of a warship at a naval base in San Diego. It's been burning now for 24 hours straight, and could burn for several more days.

The fire started with an explosion on the USS Bonhomme Richard yesterday morning. Several people were injured, five sailors -- Jim -- remain hospitalized.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Barbara Starr has been covering this. But, Barbara, what do we know now, if anything, about the cause but also how long it'll take to get this fire under control?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, the fire clearly is spreading through several spaces in the ship. They believe it started deep in the ship, down below, so it is being -- it is a struggle to get to all of these hotspot areas on board and get this thing under control once and for all.

Five sailors, still in the hospital being treated for injuries, in stable condition, we're told. But the Navy a short time ago said 57 personnel -- sailors and civilians that were on board -- were treated for some kind of injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. There were 160 on board when the fire broke out, and thankfully they were able to get everybody off.

Early reports are the ship is now listing a little bit, so that is a concern. The fire's spreading well above decks, the flames have been seen at various points. A lot of personnel on-scene also trying to drop water from helicopters. So it is going to be a real effort to get this under control.

Already, a couple of warships that were at nearby piers, they've been moved out of the way. Authorities are telling people in San Diego they don't think there's an immediate health effect to all the smoke blowing around. But, you know, make no mistake, they want to get this out.

Navy top officials said last night, they actually hope to get the ship repaired and back out to sea at some point. But given the extensive damage that's already been seen, that may be a very long road ahead -- Jim, Poppy.

HARLOW: OK, Barbara, thank you for that reporting. We appreciate it.


To help prevent the spread of coronavirus on flights, this senator, who took a pretty full flight and tweeted a picture about it, is coming up with legislation to try to ban the sale of all middle seats during the pandemic. Senator Jeff Merkley joins me to talk about it, next.


HARLOW: Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley is taking legislative action. This, after a recent flight back home to Oregon. He is now planning to introduce a bill that would ban the sale of middle seats on planes after posting about a recent American Airlines experience -- take a look at this picture, that's him in a pretty full plane.

And he tweeted this to the airline, "How many Americans will die because you fill your middle seats with your customers, shoulder to shoulder, hour after hour? This is incredibly irresponsible."

Senator Merkley joins me now. It's good to have you here. American -- to our knowledge, we looked -- did not directly reply to your accusation. They have said, though, that they've implemented many layers of protection and enhanced cleaning and they require face coverings.


So let's talk about you wanting to take legislative action here. You know, you've got American saying that, you've got United saying, when it comes to blocking middle seats, that's just a P.R. strategy, not a safety strategy. And the former head of Spirit Airlines said, "I've not seen any study that positively links empty middle seats with reduced virus spread. This bill should die quietly as it's bad policy and is out of step with the realities of science or economics." What say you?

SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): Well, I doubt any of those executives have actually sat on a plane with someone who's -- basically, their exhaled breath is about 12 inches from your -- what you're inhaling. And they're eating and drinking on the plane, so they're taking off their masks.

And everything we've seen in the scientific realm is that this disease is transmitted more by the aerosol and droplets from people breathing out than it is by touch. It has to make a difference when somebody is that close to you. And if you've seen the modeling of different scientific studies online, every single set of inches that you're further away, there's fewer droplets, there's fewer aerosol.

HARLOW: So -- I have. And to note, I haven't flown yet during this pandemic -- I may in August, we'll see where things stand. But I do know, when I'm sitting, you know, in a plane, a regular economy seat, someone behind me and in front of me, they're closer than six feet for sure.

And given that, I just want your reaction to the Delta CEO -- who I should note, they are banning the sale of middle seats at least through the end of September, if not much past that into the fall and maybe into the winter. But here's what the CEO of Delta told me when I asked him if he's supportive of your legislation.


ED BASTIAN, CEO, DELTA AIR LINES: I think we're an industry that's got a lot of regulations, so I'm not an advocate for adding regulation at this point.


BASTIAN: But I think carriers will have to be responsible to their employees and to their customers in the messages. And I can tell you what the customers at Delta are saying, is that they really appreciate that the middle seats are being blocked on Delta.


HARLOW: Senator, I think his point is they think they've got a lot of regulation and they don't need another law. Why does this need to be mandated?

MERKLEY: Well, I'll tell you, it needs to be mandated because not everyone is following Delta's example. United particularly, and American Airlines -- very large airlines.

By the way, these top-flying (ph) airlines spent $45 billion on stock buybacks, money they would have had to get through this tough time. But instead, they did stock buybacks, they turned to Congress and said, Bail us out. So they're happy to take the American taxpayer's money, but keeping their airlines open as essential service shouldn't also be something that is done in the maximum mode to spread the contagion, endangering Americans' health.

Now, I understand that you aren't going to be able to spread people six feet apart and have the airlines operate in any kind of way that they financially survive. But that's that person who is just inches away from you that really feels dramatically offensive. It doesn't leave time for the air circulation system -- that the airlines brag about -- to filter the air because the person's exhaling inches from you.

And so it's a minimum request, really. And I'm hoping that at least the publicity of the issue will encourage the other airlines to follow the example that Delta is setting.

HARLOW: I will note, though, share buybacks -- that you note -- have at least been suspended for airlines that have taken -- all the big carriers right now -- taken taxpayer money through loans through the CARES Act, but I hear your point.

A few more questions, one on schools and then I want to get to the protestor shot in Portland over the weekend.

At least in Portland, Oregon, the schools right now are set to be open on September 2nd. There's a lot of concern about the safety of everyone: the kids, the teachers, the janitorial staff, et cetera.

Kelly (ph) Ryan (ph), who will be a first grade teacher at Oak Grove Elementary, says she's really worried about her 80-year-old father. And she said. "Whatever I'm exposing myself to, I have to be careful in taking that to him. So that's a part of it that's a little bit scary."

What do you think should be done in your state at this point, given the numbers you've seen? Should the schools be opened in a matter of weeks?

MERKLEY: Well, I totally understand that concern. My 93-year-old mother is living with me here in the house, and is very vulnerable. And it's an added stress whenever you have somebody in your close circle who you might transmit a disease to.

The schools are trying many different approaches in Oregon. Many of them are doing a day-on, day-off to cut the size in half so all the desks can be socially distanced, six feet apart. They're really struggling to figure this out.


I talk to teachers who are absolutely stressed about the ability to provide an education to the children, and stressed about the potential spread of contagion. So I'm just encouraging them to follow the best possible scientific advice from CDC. Our individual school boards are making individual decisions.

So I don't know the right answer to this but I know that they are struggling with that question of how to educate our kids and how to protect their health and the health of the entire community.

HARLOW: Senator, something tragic happened over the weekend in Portland. Many people have seen the video on social media of a protestor outside of the federal courthouse there, 26-year-old mean, being shot with something. It's been reported as impact munition, shot in the head. His mother, saying that he had a skull fracture and facial fractures as well.

You tweeted about this, I know you have a number of questions about what happened. Do you know who fired the round and what led to this?

MERKLEY: Well, the video shows a peaceful protestor holding up a sign, a tear gas canister or some kind of canister landed at his feet, he kicked it or moved it back away from him several feet. And then seconds later, he's shot in the head. And it's just a horrific example of what should not happen. We do not know the rules of engagement for these federal forces, we do

not know how many there are or what groups they've come from. We don't know if they're properly identified, we don't know if they're coordinating closely with the mayor.

It is just a real concern that this feels like an occupying force with no transparency. And this type of assault, shooting a protestor in the head who's holding up a sign, absolutely makes the situation so much more tense and worse. So rather than helping, it's inflaming the situation.

So we do not trust that these federal forces are trained, have protocols, are working in cooperation, are helping in any way.


MERKLEY: We don't have answers.

HARLOW: Senator, I know that the U.S. Marshals Service put out a statement that they are investigating, and so I hope there are some answers for everyone and for his family and him, soon. Thank you, Senator Jeff Merkley. Appreciate it.

MERKLEY: You're welcome, good to be with you, Poppy.

HARLOW: We'll be right back.



HARLOW: We are closing in on what may be the start of the school year, potentially in-person for a lot of students. And there a lot of questions. How do we send kids back to school and keep everyone safe?

SCIUTTO: I wouldn't be surprised if your family has the same decision to make. CNN's Bianna Golodryga has the story.


EVE JOHNSTON, MOTHER AND NURSE: What's up, (INAUDIBLE). Going to come over here?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST (voice-over): Eve Johnston in theory is one of the lucky ones. Unlike some 40 million out-of-work Americans, the Massachusetts mother of two h as a full- time job as a nurse. But with her local daycare closed since March due to COVID-19, she's had to cut back her hours and shifts.

JOHNSTON: So my husband's worked nights, I've tried to work weekends so that one of is available. I've worked nights, more nights than I had previously.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): With the rate of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts trending down, the state has started to lift some restrictions for daycare facilities, welcome news for Johnston but also a reminder that she's not alone, telling us the influx of parents desperate for childcare has made it hard to find an available program.

GOLODRYGA: How are you holding up and how sustainable is this?

JOHNSTON: That's the thing, it's not sustainable. We are hoping that there'll be a world with school and daycare at some point. But in the meantime, I accepted a position where I work that I'll work every Saturday and Sunday night, from 7:00 p.m. to 7:00 a.m.

CHERYL LEKOUSI, TINY HEARTS PLAYGROUP AND CHILDCARE: This is a brand- new floor. I had the carpet ripped out, I put in a vinyl floor.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Nearby, Cheryl Lekousi recently reopened her home daycare after receiving state approval. Among the guidelines, she says, is limiting the number of children under her care, providing proper personal protective equipment, and implementing strict hygiene.

LEKOUSI: All I did was I turned it so that the doorway is out here. There's windows that they can talk to each other, but they're -- just by the shape of the play space, I'm separating them.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): At 61, she worries about her own family's health and whether she can sustain a mandated smaller client base.

LEKOUSI: My husband and I did have a serious discussion of do I need to retire, which would mean downsizing the house, what would that look like. And I really didn't want this to put me into retirement.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): As parents of school-age children anxiously await decisions on whether in-person classes will resume in the fall, those with younger children face an equally daunting dilemma. According to one study, the pandemic could ultimately lead to the loss of nearly 4.5 million childcare slots.

The combined result would leave 17.5 million Americans -- or 11 percent of the workforce -- caring for their children themselves, and thus unlikely to return to full-time work until schools and daycares fully reopen.

SEN. PATTY MURRAY (D-WA): We all want our economy to open. I assure everyone, if people can't get childcare, they cannot go back to work.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Congress has so far allocated $3.5 billion in child care aid as part of the CARES Act. Democrats have recently introduced a new measure that would increase funding to $50 billion.



GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Meredith Smith is a frontline health care worker in Jacksonville, Florida. She and her husband currently plan on sending their six- and seven-year-old sons back to school next month.

[10:55:08] SMITH: Our children go to a small enough school with classroom sizes that would be within less than 10 in most classes, or -- and they have facilities that are outdoors and open enough that they can accommodate and make accommodations.

GOLODRYGA (voice-over): But she acknowledges that the recent surge in cases in the state could impact their thinking.

SMITH: I feel mixed about everything. I think that's the nature of this crisis, right? We're minute-to-minute, hearing different things about the virus itself and whether or not schools will be open, and how they will be reopening.


HARLOW: Clearly, Jim, a lot more questions than answers on all of this, so thanks to Bianna for the reporting. We'll see you back here tomorrow. I'm Poppy Harlow.

SCIUTTO: And I'm Jim Sciutto. NEWSROOM with John King starts right after a quick break.