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Trump Administration Orders Change in COVID Data Reporting; White House vs. Fauci?; Alabama Becomes the 36th State to Require Masks in Public; Seven Months into Pandemic, Questions Remain on Immunity, Symptoms, and How It Spreads. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 15, 2020 - 16:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Thank you all so much for joining us today. I'm Kate Bolduan.

"THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER" begins right now.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin today with the politics lead. The White House war on science and medicine has only gotten worse. But, today, the nation's top infectious disease expert is punching back, amid new attacks from the White House, or, more specifically, from Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro, who wrote in a "USA Today" op-ed that Dr. Fauci has been wrong about every coronavirus issue they have discussed, a claim that seems quite difficult to believe for any sentient being who has been following this story.

This afternoon, Dr. Fauci responded.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there.


TAPPER: The White House communications team claims that they did not approve Navarro's op-ed, though, of course, the criticism of Dr. Fauci, the attacks, are of a piece.

It comes after weeks of President Trump criticizing Fauci, months of the White House refusing to let Fauci do interviews with, say, me.

More pointedly and recently, White House Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino posted this bizarre and nasty anti-Fauci cartoon on Facebook. And, of course, the White House communications shop put together what amounts to an opposition research document on Dr. Fauci.

Now, President Trump this afternoon claimed he believed that the op-ed should not have been published. He also claimed he has -- quote -- "a very good relationship" with the top doctor.

Fauci was asked this afternoon how he can do his job during this pandemic, advising a White House that is actively seeking to undermine him.


FAUCI: Well, that is a bit bizarre. And I have to tell you, I think if I sit here and just shrug my shoulders and say, well, that's life in the fast lane -- it is a bit bizarre. I don't really fully understand it.


TAPPER: That's Dr. Fauci being characteristically diplomatic.

Let me not be diplomatic.

The White House campaign to undermine Dr. Fauci is dishonest, it's disgusting, it's deranged. And at a time of a deadly pandemic, it is the ultimate in irresponsibility. Literally, more than 136,000 Americans are dead because of this virus, and, instead of an aggressive national testing and contact tracing program, the White House is instead launching an aggressive smear campaign against the guy trying to save our lives.

And, as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, Dr. Fauci says his input to the president now goes through the vice president.



KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is now trying to distance himself from an extraordinary attack by his top trade adviser on Dr. Anthony Fauci.

TRUMP: Well, that's Peter Navarro. I have a very good relationship with Dr. Fauci.

COLLINS: Even though the president and the nation's top infectious disease expert haven't spoken in weeks, Trump insisted they have a good relationship and said Peter Navarro shouldn't have published this "USA Today" op-ed attacking Fauci.

TRUMP: I get along very well with Dr. Fauci. I get along very well with Dr. Fauci. I have a very good relationship.

COLLINS: Dr. Fauci said he found the recent attacks by the White House, including an anonymous memo criticizing him, bizarre.

FAUCI: If you talk to reasonable people in the White House, they realize that was a major mistake on their part, because it doesn't do anything but reflect poorly on them.

COLLINS: As for the president's trade adviser, Fauci said there are no words.

FAUCI: I can't explain Peter Navarro. He's in a world by himself. So I don't even want to go there.

COLLINS: Under the headline, "Anthony Fauci has been wrong about everything I have interacted with him on," Navarro cited multiple instances where he and Fauci have disagreed and said he only listens to him with skepticism and caution.

The attack by an official with no medical experience on a task force member while the administration is dealing with an ongoing pandemic was stunning. Hours after it was published, a White House spokeswoman said the op-ed was "the opinion of Peter alone and did not go through the clearance process."

But the same press shop distancing itself from the attack on Fauci was the same one that anonymously distributed a memo last weekend questioning his judgment.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There's no opposition research being dumped to reporters.

COLLINS: Tension has been brewing between Navarro and Fauci for months over the use of hydroxychloroquine, the anti-malaria drug touted by Trump.

While the administration has tried to limit Fauci's appearances, he's continued to speak candidly about his relationship with the president.

FAUCI: My input to the president is now a bit indirect. It goes through the vice president. But, clearly, the vice president literally every day is listening to what we have to say.


COLLINS: Starting today, the Trump administration has ordered hospitals to bypass the CDC by sending all COVID-19 data to a central database in Washington.

The White House says the change will streamline things, but the move has concerned some health experts, like the former acting CDC Director Richard Besser, who told Dr. Sanjay Gupta this:

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: What I worry, with the data going directly to HHS, is that it could be further politicized. And that's the last thing you want. CDC is the nation's public health agency. They need to be getting these data.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, as the president was leaving for Atlanta, Dr. Fauci was showing up at the White House today for a task force meeting.

And it didn't seem to be by mistake that the vice president then tweeted out this photo showing Dr. Fauci with a prominent seat and speaking at that meeting with Dr. -- with -- excuse me -- Vice President Pence seated next to him.

As that was going on, the president was arriving in Atlanta, where he is now giving a speech on infrastructure. But I do want to note, when he got there, he was greeted by everyone and officials wearing masks on the tarmac waiting for him, though, Jake, the president himself was not wearing a mask.

TAPPER: All right, infrastructure week, of course.

Kaitlan Collins, thanks so much.

Let's bring in CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, I don't want to dwell on this too much. But these attacks on Dr. Fauci from the White House, Dr. Fauci calls them bizarre. That's a nice term for it. He said his input in the White House is not direct to the president. It goes through the vice president. What do you make of all this?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, and this op-ed that Kaitlan was just reporting on from Peter Navarro, Dr. Fauci describes that as a big mistake.

I mean, as you know, Jake, because you have you have reported on Dr. Fauci for years, as have I, that's significant for him to say that kind of stuff, because he's so measured in the way that he speaks.

So, it's reaching a boiling point, Jake. And it's concerning. I mean, we're spending all of our time talking about these -- this war of words that's going on between the scientific community and the White House. And we should be talking about the plans forward.

So I think it's really bothersome, I think, just as a citizen, because we're in the middle of this terrible pandemic, and here's -- here's what ends up capturing all of their time.

But, again, for Dr. Fauci to have said, look, that was just a mistake. We know that many of the things that Peter Navarro wrote about in that op-ed were not true. They simply aren't factual. So, he just wants to move on, I think.

TAPPER: Sanjay, let's talk about the fact now that coronavirus hospital data is now going to be first sent from hospitals to the Department of Health and Human Services, rather than the CDC.

Now, HHS says it's because the systems at CDC are antiquated. Obviously, there's a lot of concern about this, because the CDC is full of scientists. And HHS has scientists, has doctors, but it's essentially become a very political operation, with Secretary Azar and now Michael Caputo, who helps run the coms shop there.

What do you think about this decision?

GUPTA: Well, you have to put it in the context of everything that's going on here, Jake.

I mean, if this were just a single sort of thing, you say, well, look, they have better infrastructure to absorb all the data that's coming in. Perhaps you could make that argument. Unfortunately, you can't say that, I think, given all that this is -- that's been going on.

I mean, I think that this is not a medical or even a public health decision. I think it's a political decision. It saddens me to say that. I have a lot of friends that work at HHS. I did ask Dr. Richard Besser about this. He used to run the CDC, as you know.

Right after this decision came out, I happen to be chatting with him. Let's listen to how he framed it.


BESSER: Given how political the response has been to date, it's a step backwards to have these data going directly to HHS in Washington. It's another example of CDC being sidelined.

And not only should the data be coming to CDC, but CDC should be talking to the public through the media every day.


GUPTA: I will tell you, Jake, at the beginning of this outbreak, as you remember, may remember, we used to go to each Department of Health in each state and basically collect that data. At some point, they said, OK, it's now going to go through the centralized sort of reporting through the CDC.

And that's how we have been getting these numbers and the data that we present on your on your program every day. If need be, we will go back to that old method and go to the states as well, because it's not entirely clear to me that we're going to have as good access to this data going forward.

TAPPER: And let's also just remember the context of this is that President Trump has misused science and scientific agencies in order to push forward lies, for whatever reason.


The one -- the example that comes immediately to mind is when he messed up about Alabama being in the path of the hurricane, and the National Weather Service corrected him or put out the correct information.

And then the Commerce Department, which runs the National Weather Service and NOAA, leaned on them to share false information with the public. And that's the concern, that they will do something to corrupt this process, sharing either incorrect data or who knows what that corrupts even further the faith that we can have in our scientific agencies that work for the government.

GUPTA: Yes, I mean, we -- it's an objective sort of story here that we're telling, right, Jake, because it's based on data and figures.

And we often say that the numbers don't lie. I mean, people can look at the story from all their different vantage points, but the numbers on the right side of the screen, they don't lie.

I really worry that, if we lose some of this objective part of the story here, or, as you're saying, Jake, if it's misrepresented in some way, not only -- maybe not -- maybe not get access to it, that what we do get is not correct, that would be a tragedy, because it's not going to change that people are still getting infected, people are still going to the hospital and still dying.

It's just that we may not get those numbers the way that we used to.

TAPPER: Yes, you can't use a sharpie to get us out of this pandemic.

One other thing, Sanjay. Preliminary research published today suggests that skin rashes and rashes inside the mouth could be a symptom of coronavirus, but more study needs to be done.

What would be the connection, if anything?

GUPTA: I mean, this virus is behaving in such unusual ways, I mean, everything from the nose, isolated loss of smell, Jake. Who would have thought that would be the sometimes sole symptom of this virus?

COVID toes, we have heard about that, just getting these lesions on the toes. My guess is, skin is the largest organ in the body. This is causing significant inflammation. So, these rashes that occur on the skin are quite obvious.

About 12 days, on average, after people start to develop symptoms, they are getting these mouth lesions as well. I think it probably has to do with the inflammation that's overall happening in the body.

TAPPER: Sanjay, stay with us.

Coming up, Dr. Gupta is going to give us an inside look at how one school is preparing for the fall and the school year, and the very risk -- the very real risks officials are trying to juggle.

Plus, one state just announced it's canceling one of the most famous outdoor events in 2021, yes, one of the most famous outdoor events in 2021, next year.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And we're back with the health lead with coronavirus cases, hospitalizations, and deaths from COVID-19, all increasing in different parts of the United States, more than half of all states are now pausing or rolling back plans to reopen businesses. Because of continued testing lags, California is among the states

limiting who can now get a test. More than 50 hospitals in Florida have run out of space in intensive care units.

Hard-hit Alabama is now the 36th state to require residents to wear masks in public in hopes of slowing the spread, as CNN's Nick Watt reports.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More theme parks opening up today in Florida, just as the state passes 300,000 cases. And the positivity rate on tests in Miami-Dade passes a staggering 30 percent, which means the virus is spreading fast.

ICUs are already full in 54 Florida hospitals.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The biggest issue is that we have a lot of aggressive noncompliant people. A lot of the young people are saying, so what if I get it? If I get it, it doesn't mean anything.

WATT: More Americans are being infected with this virus now six months in than ever before.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now, the southern U.S. accounts for about a quarter of the world's cases of COVID-19. Think about that. Just the southern half of the U.S.

WATT: Nineteen states are now seeing their highest average daily case counts ever, including deep red Alabama, which tomorrow is making masks mandatory.

GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): I always prefer personal responsibility over a government mandate. And, yet, I also know with all my heart that the numbers are definitely trending in the wrong direction.

WATT: And heading to Walmart? Better bring a mask starting next week.

Oklahoma's governor also just made a surprising announcement.

GOV. KEVIN STITT (R-OK): I got tested yesterday for COVID-19, and the results came back positive. So, I feel fine.

WATT: Just a few months back, he downplayed the virus, tweeting, then deleting, a pic at a packed restaurant.

In Tulsa, where the president held that mask-optional rally where cases have way more than doubled ever since, they're still figuring out what to do with schools, but --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I can tell you that there will be masks in our schools.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Schools are going to be hot spots. Kids are vectors for viruses. If you remember a pandemic H1N1 in 2009, as soon as school reopened, there was a huge spike. WATT: D.C. and Philly both announcing today high-bred school year,

some in person, some online. In Arizona, NFL-style misters are now deployed in one district to disinfect. Kids will be back in these classrooms in a little over two weeks.


WATT: And here in California, Pasadena has just canceled its world- famous Rose Parade slated for New Year's Day 2021.


San Francisco says there is a surge there right now. Schools will be online only.

And across the state, if you're in what they call tier 4, which means that you're asymptomatic but really think you're at risk of being actively infected, right now you can not get a test because the state is trying -- trying to get the turnaround time and results under 48 hours.

L.A. County, Jake, just told us that we are right now in an alarming and dangerous phase of this pandemic.

TAPPER: All right, Nick Watt in California, thank you so much, with that grim news.

In our 2020 lead, new Quinnipiac poll just released just moments ago shows Joe Biden with a 15-point lead over President Trump. Fifty-two percent of registered voters say they would vote for the former vice president if the election were today. President Trump's approval rating stands at just 36 percent. That's a six-point drop from last month.

And on the president's handling of coronavirus, he's getting his lowest marks since March, 35 percent approve of his handling of the pandemic, 62 percent disapprove.

Coming up next, the scary reality of the nation's top doctor is still baffled by coronavirus, including things such as why some people don't show symptoms, the lasting effects. We're going to talk to a former CDC disease detective about the mysteries of this virus.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our health lead today, it has been seven deadly months since the novel coronavirus first appeared in China and began spreading throughout the world. Scientists and health officials around the globe are still struggling to fully understand its impact and its lasting effects.

Joining us now to discuss, Dr. Seema Yasmin, CNN medical analyst and former CDC disease detective.

Dr. Yasmin, thanks for joining us.

So, the CDC director mistakenly thought there would be a break of some kind from the intensity of this virus in July and August. Dr. Fauci a few days ago said he remains perplexed by how it spreads.

Before we get into specifics, do you have a theory as to why it has been so difficult for the nation's top public health officials to get a true handle on this virus?

DR. SEEMA YASMIN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I will say that we are only seven months into analyzing, dissecting, and sequencing this virus, Jake. So although there are still many mysteries and still many unanswered questions, we have actually made quite significant strides in terms of understanding more about transmission, more about how we could potentially develop vaccines.

It's not surprising to me given what I know about science and the process of science that we still have so many unanswered questions. I think to other viruses that we know about that take decades of hard work and research to really get a grasp on that understanding. So seven months in I think we might be doing quite a good job in understanding this virus, even though, of course, it's perplexing, we still don't understand, for example, why some get sicker than others, why some of these symptoms seem so strange for a respiratory virus.

But I'm not overly confused or perplexed about the process because science isn't a bunch of facts. Science is a process, a very dynamic one through which we are doing experiments and adding day by day to your understanding of a particular disease.

TAPPER: I've heard of people that had this virus not just for two to six weeks as the CDC says, but, frankly for months with symptoms that range from severe acid reflux to inexplicable rashes, delirium, hallucinations.

Do we have any idea why some people get so much sicker than others?

YASMIN: We're not entirely sure because already we know that about 80 percent of people who get infected will either have mild symptoms or absolutely no symptoms at all. Right now, geneticists are trying to understand is it something about our immune system that makes some people or resilient and others more vulnerable? There are of course systemic issues like race and racism and poverty that play into this too.

But a really broad variety of symptoms does make us think much more about the immune system's response versus the virus causing direct harm itself. But still, a lot of questions, and I remain very worried in terms of what you're saying, Jake, about these people that we're referring to now as long-haulers, people who get COVID-19 but they're not just sick for a few days, they're sick wards of up to 60, 70, or 80 days.

And right now, we just don't have that data to say to them your symptoms will resolve by the time or I can tell you, you'll fully recover and then you'll be done, no lingering sequelae. We don't have the evidence yet to give them that kind of reassurance.

TAPPER: And there's also data that suggests that antibodies, which you -- the body develops after contracting this virus, to fend it off, the antibodies might wane after 60 to 90 days after infection. So, can we or can we not definitively say that after somebody gets it, gets better, that they can get reinfected or not? Can we say that they will or will not?

YASMIN: Right now, we cannot. And I really don't want people to have a false sense of security and think to themselves, oh, well, I had COVID-19 back in March or April, I'm good now. We cannot say that for sure.