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Coronavirus in Utah; Coin Shortage?; Should Schools Reopen?. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 14, 2020 - 16:30   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Joining me now to discuss is Dr. Dimitri Christakis. He's a professor of pediatrics and the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children's Hospital.

Doctor, thanks so much for joining us.

You support reopening some schools. You say there's no one-size-fits- all approach here. But what do you think should be our focus in terms of getting kids back into the classroom?

DR. DIMITRI CHRISTAKIS, SEATTLE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL RESEARCH INSTITUTE: Well, Jake, let me start by saying that we have epically failed children in at least three ways.

The first and foremost among them is the terrible job we have done controlling this pandemic, such that we're in the situation we're in where, in some districts, the virus is out of control.

The second is the kind of abrupt way that we shut schools down and transitioned to distance learning, without the requisite infrastructure or training for most students to get a meaningful experience.

And the third is that, from the moment we closed schools, we didn't start planning how to reopen them. So all three of those put us in a position where now, a month from schools opening, children are in a very, very difficult and perilous situation.

Schools are essential for children, particularly for young children. And one of the most troubling things for me in many of these conversations is that we speak about schools monolithically, right, open or close them, which is to say that a kindergartner or a first grade student is exactly the same in terms of his or her needs as a senior in high school.

And that doesn't pass the whiff test for anybody.

TAPPER: So, President Trump just spoke about reopening schools in an interview with CBS News. Take a listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a terrible decision, because children and parents are dying from that trauma too. They're dying because they can't do what they doing. Mothers can't go to work because, all of a sudden, they have to stay home and watch their child, and fathers.

What's happening, there's a tremendous strain on that whole side of the equation.


TAPPER: So President Trump is a very strong advocate for schools reopening in the fall, even though it's become clear that there really isn't any plan on the federal level for how schools should reopen, although, as you would argue, every school is different and every community is different.

What do you think -- you favor an effort to send kids to school. What should school superintendents do when they make their decision? How do you make up your mind whether or not to open a school to in-person, physical attendance, instead of online?

CHRISTAKIS: So, the first thing we have to recognize, as a superintendent or as a teacher or as a parent, is that we can't treat all children the same.

We have to recognize that the needs of primary school children and children with special needs have to be given priority. Primary school kids cannot learn well about through distance learning. Any credible teacher, parent, pediatrician, child development expert knows that.

So they're not, effectively, getting much of an education at all, unless they're being homeschooled effectively by their parents. Now, why is that important, Jake? Well, the single best predictor of high school graduation is third grade reading level.

A child who is not reading at grade level in third grade is four times less likely to graduate that child who is. A low income child not reading at grade level in third grade is six times less likely to graduate high school than a child who is.

So if we start with the premise that distance learning doesn't will work well, if at all, for primary school kids, and we're in a situation now where virtually all of them have been at home for four months, and may likely be at home for another six months to a year, we have to realize that we are going to pay a price for this.

Our kids are going to pay a price for this, not today, but 15 years from now, we're going to see the effect of what we're doing. So schools were the first thing to close and the last to open in most communities.


CHRISTAKIS: From my perspective, it should be the exact opposite. TAPPER: So, obviously, you're a pediatrician and you care about the

health of these kids. The concern is that, even though the coronavirus hurts children the least in terms of all the age groups, based on the data we have, that they can spread the disease, and that there are kids who die of coronavirus or affiliated illnesses.

And even if they don't die, there are kids who get really sick. So how do you balance that? Because, obviously, we all want the schools to open, but we also all want this the kids to be safe.



So, you're exactly right that the risk posed to children from this virus, unlike, by the way, most viruses that affect society, the risks posed to children in this case are low, much lower than adults.

So, most children are very, very low risk of suffering serious consequences. If a child gets coronavirus, there's about a one in 500 chance that they will be hospitalized from it. And there's about a one in 50,000 to 100,000 chance that they will die from it.

So, they're at very, very low risk, not no risk, but very, very low risk. You're right that they pose a potential risk of passing that virus on either to a staff or a teacher at school or to a family member at home who could be at higher risk.

How much of a risk they pose to pass it on, we don't -- we still don't know definitively. And this is another failure on the part of our and other public health systems, that we haven't figured out that part of the equation, although it does seem that they are less likely to pass it on than adults are.

That said, we should do everything we can to minimize their risk and staff and teachers' risks. So what do I mean by that? Staff and teachers should be provided medical grade PPE. We should treat them as essential workers and we should give them all of the safety equipment they need in order to be safe.

Students be able to take meaningful precautions to reduce the risk of spreading the virus to themselves and to others. If possible, they should...

TAPPER: Right.

CHRISTAKIS: ... mask, have hand hygiene, many of the things the CDC has recommended.

Now, some of those things are aspirational and, frankly, will be very difficult to do, either because of the children's age or developmental stage, or, frankly, because of the burden, the cost burden that some of them have.

But those burdens shouldn't be borne by school districts. They need to be borne by the state and by the federal government. TAPPER: By the federal government, yes.

CHRISTAKIS: And as loud as the federal government is arguing to send kids back to school, they're not, at least from what I can tell, giving the resources needed to make that happen in a safe way.

TAPPER: That's right. We discussed this yesterday. There needs to be a stimulus bill to provide the money for these school districts to do this, especially for the neediest school districts.

Dr. Dimitri Christakis, thank you so much. We will have you back for your perspective, always valuable. Appreciate it.

Coming up next: anti-mask flash mobs -- one group's despicable efforts in a coronavirus hot spot that's not getting much national attention.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today: A 71-year-old Utah man died while waiting in line for a coronavirus test.

The man was brought to a testing site near Salt Lake City from a nursing home, according to emergency officials. By the time the driver reached the front of the line, the man was unresponsive.

Utah, like many other states, is seeing longer lines at coronavirus testing sites and longer wait times to get results.

I want to bring in Dr. Thomas Miller. He's the chief medical officer for University of Utah Hospital System.

Dr. Miller, thanks for joining us.

New coronavirus cases have surged in your state, now topping more than 600 a day in just the last week. Hospitalizations are also, regrettably, rising in Utah. People in your state and across the country say they're waiting hours to get a test, days, if not weeks, to get results.

What is the problem, do you think?

DR. THOMAS MILLER, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH HOSPITAL: So, number one, there's -- thank you for having me.

Number one, there's -- there's testing capacity. And so, across the nation, as well as here in Utah, we would like to see the ability to do more testing. But that's not possible, given the current conditions.

And I would say, in Utah, though, we do have relatively rapid turnaround of our tests. And so we're not having to wait weeks, that's for sure, and no more than 48 hours, 72 hours. What is a problem are the long lines. So, people are waiting in line for quite a while to get their tests. And as more and more people come to the test sites, they are outdoors. It's hot outside now. And we are trying to find a way to develop new tests that can be done in a different environment that makes it a little bit easier.

And we're also trying to increase the capacity of our laboratories to do more testing, which will help test more people. So, with rising numbers of cases, more people want to be tested. And it's tough. It's really difficult. It's tough. It's tough out there. It's hot.

TAPPER: So, Quest Diagnostics says it's averaging seven days to turn around coronavirus test results, due to the surging number of cases in the country and the soaring demand.

Quest is one of the three major labs that has similar issues. There are a lot of people who thought that President Trump was going to invoke or should have invoked the Defense Production Act to force labs to be able to do many more tests, in terms of both administering the tests and also getting the results.

Is something like that needed, do you think? Obviously, the private market is just not working the way it needs to.

MILLER: Well, whether you invoke or not, the question is, do you have the equipment? Do you have the ability? Do you have the platforms? Do you have all of the reagents and testing materials in order to increase testing capacity?

So, that is the major issue right now. Can we produce enough materials to do the testing? We have been fortunate in Utah that we have local testing. We have our own university lab site. There's also other sites in the state that are doing testing, and so our turnaround time is shorter than that for most areas.

So we have been fortunate that way. But in terms of a mandate, it's...


TAPPER: What happened...

MILLER: Go ahead.

TAPPER: Go ahead.

MILLER: No, in terms of a mandate, that's fine, but you actually have you have to be able to up your manufacturing in order to meet the requirements necessary to test many, many more people.


TAPPER: Yes. No, that's what the Defense Authorization Act would do. The Defense Production Act would make sure there's more equipment, more labs available, et cetera.

What happens in Utah if you continue going at this level, in terms of new cases, in terms of new hospitalizations, but -- and your testing remains at the level it is now?

MILLER: So, we can look around. We can look across our borders. We can see what's happening in Arizona, Texas, Florida, California.

We know there are surges in those areas. They have seen rising numbers of cases. We are ready. We have prepared our hospitals to take an increase in the number of patients. We expect that we will see more patients hospitalized. We expect that the case rates will climb, as they are now.

We're OK right now, but we're expecting to have rising numbers of hospitalizations, to the point that we fill our ICUs within the next couple of weeks. We don't see that we would be any bit different...


TAPPER: What are conditions on the ground right now at your hospital? What are conditions on the ground right now at your hospital? How are they?


MILLER: The conditions right now are fine. We're staffing at the levels that we need to, to take care of the patients that we have.

They're managed with the professionals and nurses and doctors that we have. But, like I said, we have created separate areas and ready -- we're getting ready for that surge that we expect will come, just as it has come in Arizona, Texas and Florida, and other states, where the numbers are rising.

And people are getting back to work out of necessity. And the virus transmits between people who are close together. And so that's something that we can expect as people go back to work, and they need to go back to work.

TAPPER: All right, well, stay in touch with us, Dr. Thomas Miller. We appreciate the work you do. Thank you so much.

MILLER: Thank you.


TAPPER: Coming up: shortchanged -- why the coronavirus pandemic is causing a low supply of coins.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In the money lead today: Walmart, the nation's largest brick-and-mortar retailer, may soon require customers to wear masks in their stores across the country, even in states and counties where mask wearing is not mandatory. CNN's Cristina Alesci was first to report Walmart's mask discussions.

She joins me now.

Cristina, Walmart would not be the first retailer to implement its own mandatory mask policy, right?


And a number of other major retailers have really stepped up, in the absence of a federal government mask mandate. You're talking about retailers like Costco and Apple and, even as recently as today, Best Buy saying that it will require customers to walk -- that walk into the store to wear a mask.

Walmart only does it, as you said, where it is mandated from state and local officials. That is probably going to change. But at the heart of this issue is the lack of a federal government mandate. That's forced companies into a position where they have to decide between doing what's best to protect customers and employees and wading into a very politicized issue.

Jake, that's not the only issue for these companies. It's also the enforcement piece of this. We have seen reports that people have turned violent when employees of these companies try to enforce the policy. That is an added layer of complication here -- Jake.

TAPPER: Yes, it shouldn't be politicized. But it has become that.

The pandemic has presented another problem for Walmart, as well as other retailers. There's a shortage of coins.

The CNN business team did some digging, and this isn't just a few stores running out of pennies, right?

ALESCI: Now, this is a problem across a number of large retailers and small ones, Jake.

And it's a real one. We have heard of retailers like CVS, for example, tell customers to come in with exact change or encourage them to pay by debit and credit card, because there is a shortage and they can't give the change in cash.

We have heard some retailers, in fact, encourage people to donate the amount that they would have gotten as change. Unfortunately, that is not possible for many Americans, especially in the kind of financial situation that we find ourselves in at this very moment in time.

This is a serious issue. And let me remind viewers that it did come up in Congress nearly a month ago already, when the Federal Reserve chairman was asked about this. Lawmakers pressed him on this issue. He said that he'd work with the Mint to create more coins. But, clearly, Jake, this is still a problem.

TAPPER: All right, Cristina Alesci, thank you so much.

President Trump is expected to speak in the Rose Garden in just minutes.

Plus: a major reversal from the Trump administration involving students.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: You're looking at live pictures of the White House Rose Garden, where we expect President Trump to speak in a few minutes, though it's unclear if he will take any questions from reporters.

This comes amid some breaking news. The Trump administration is now reversing its policy that would have forced international students to leave the United States if their universities made classes online only.

This is a big win for Harvard and Mit, after those two schools sued the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement last week.

In our national lead, today, we want to take time to remember one of the many coronavirus victims, in this case, 29-year-old Joshua Obra, who died after nearly a month-long battle with COVID-19. Joshua worked as a nurse in a California nursing home alongside his sister Jasmine, where they both contracted the virus.

Jasmine, who has thankfully recovered, says that they decided to run into the fire, and not away from it, with their jobs. Joshua had a lifetime love of Disney. He ran a popular social media account about the Disney amusement parks.

When he was not helping others, Joshua could be found with a smile on his face, often at Disneyland. His sister likes to think that, right now, Joshua is in heaven, looking for Walt Disney and talking about all the Disney magic.

Such a loss. May Joshua's memory be a blessing.

Our coverage on CNN continues right now. Thanks for watching.