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Officials Rush To Issue New Restrictions As U.S. Nears 3.5 Million Cases; Trump Demotes Campaign Manager Amid Sinking Polls; WNBA Star Say She Was Denied Medical Opt-Out, Team Says She'll Be Paid Whether Or Not She Plays. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 16, 2020 - 10:00   ET


POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Completely this morning out of ICU beds.


Refrigerator trucks are heading into Arizona and Texas as morgues are filling up.

And despite the fact that masks are proven to help prevent the spread of the virus, Georgia's governor is banning cities and county officials from just themselves issuing a mask mandate in their area. Right next door, Alabama, they just issued a statewide order for masks.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: Yes. The fact is never got out of the first wave, right?

HARLOW: Yes, right.

SCIUTTO: Our team is following all the latest developments nationwide. Let's begin though in Texas, one of the hard hit states. CNN National Correspondent Ed Lavandera in Dallas.

So, Ed, refrigerated trucks, it's just remarkable. We've only seen that in the places in the country in the world that have truly been overwhelmed. Tell us why they are being bringing in and what the numbers show about the situation there?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Well, you know, as the death toll continues to mount here in Texas and hospitals are overwhelmed, in San Antonio, local health officials have brought in or are bringing in massive trucks to help alleviate the pressure on hospital morgues as they have run to capacity, and it's a morbid scene.

There are two trucks in the city helping out the hospitals. The city officials there also say that three more of these trucks, which can store up to 36 bodies, will be up and running by the end of the week. And this is due in large part to the hospital morgues being filled.

Also, there's a backup on funerals that have been delayed because of the COVID pandemic as well, so all of that adding into the need city officials there say for these refrigeration trucks. And, you know, the numbers continue. Another record-breaking day here in Texas, number of cases continue to spike. You'll remember the governor has said that this week was going to be worst than last week and hospitalizations continue to rise as well.

The governor was asked in a local news station in Houston last night if all of this points to another economic shutdown here in the state, and this is what he said.


GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): People are panicking, thinking I'm about to shut down Texas again. The answer is no. That is not the goal. I've been abundantly clear. I've been saying exactly what the head of the CDC said today. What the head of CDC said today, and that is if everyone can adapt the practice of wearing a face mask for the next four weeks, we will be able to get COVID-19 under control.


LAVANDERA: So there's some wiggle room, Jim and Poppy. He's basically saying that it's really dependant on people wearing masks getting it under control. The governor says it's not an immediate idea of shutting down the economy but there is some wiggle room down the road if things don't change.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, why is it a revelation now? Folks have known for weeks and months that masks make a difference. Ed Lavandera, thanks very much.

Let's get to CNN Correspondent Evan McMorris-Santoro. He is in Arizona, another hard-hit state. Evan, the state now reaching out for help to handle the outbreak. What are they doing?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO: That's right, Jim. This state is one of the hardest hit states across the country. And just like Ed mentioned, Maricopa County, the largest county in the state, is bringing in some of those refrigerated trucks to help alleviate pressure on the morgue system. We're seeing 600 nurses being brought in from around the country to alleviate the conditions in the hospital system.

But still, while all that's going on, there are still not hard for the people in Arizona who think that a lot of the basic mitigation techniques aren't necessary.

I'm in Tombstone, Arizona, which is a tourist town but also a real town. And people here who they come to visit, the town is open for business, they're not required to wear masks. And that's not against the rules because the governor of Arizona has not set a statewide mask requirement.

I asked the mayor of Tombstone yesterday a tough question because this is a tough town. I asked him if his decision not to require masks is going to get people killed.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) MAYOR DUSTIN ESCAPULE, TOMBSTONE, ARIZONA: I don't think my responsibility or my actions are going to get anybody killed. You know, if people are not responsible enough to take care of themselves and the people around them, I can't change that.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: So, look, numbers are continuing to go up here. We're seeing that those morgue trucks that we're talking about, we're seeing the new nurses coming in, and yet there's still places in Arizona, like right here in Tombstone, that haven't yet fully embraced many so of the basic mitigation that we've seen across the rest of the country, Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Except, isn't that exactly why, for example, you have seat belts by law because people aren't always responsible enough for their own safety? I mean, there's just so many examples of that. I don't really understand why this isn't one.

SCIUTTO: Drunk driving laws, right?

HARLOW: All of it, car seats, I mean, we could go on and on. Evan, thank you very much.

As more and more local officials across the country are mandating the use of masks in public, Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, just issued an executive order not only that doesn't do that but it bans cities and counties in his state from doing it themselves in mandating masks.


SCIUTTO: Cities there are trying to save lives because the science shows that it does, the science.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher joins us now from Atlanta. What's behind this move by the governor? Politics involved?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I mean, it would seem so, Jim. So this was an extension of the governor's executive order of public health emergency here in Georgia. But tucked into that extension, which goes through the end of this month, was some new language that bans cities and counties from enacting any sort of mask or face covering mandate within their own local area. That wasn't there beforehand.

Now, the governor has had a pretty public sparring with the mayor of Atlanta when she enacted a mask then, a mask mandate just a few weeks ago, but Atlanta is not the only city to do so. There's about a dozen across the State of Georgia that have done that. The mayor of Savannah on Twitter last night said that Governor Kemp does not give a damn about us and it's now every man and woman for him or herself.

But here is the thing. Governor Kemp himself is not an anti-mask governor. He literally went on a six-city tour where he flew around the state encouraging people to, quote, mask up. He wears them in public. This simply seems to be about not allowing local governments to set their own rules and regulations here.

SCIUTTO: Dianne Gallagher, good to have you on the story, as always. Thanks very much.

In Florida, the nation's new epicenter in this pandemic, the state just topping 300,000 total coronavirus cases, more than 8,200 people are hospitalized statewide due to the virus. We should note, Florida, a single state, has more cases now than several countries.

Joining me now to discuss all this, the mayor of Palm Beach County, Dave Kerner. Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time this morning. We know you've got a lot on your place.

I want to show this statistic but it should alarm Americans, particularly residents of Florida. Florida, more cases today than Germany, the U.K. and China, which has 1.5 billion people combined, Florida does, with a fraction of the population of those countries. What went wrong in Florida, in your view?

MAYOR DAVE KERNER (D-PALM BEACH COUNTY, FL): Well, thank you for having me on the show. I'm not real clear on what that statistic it is and what relevance it has to Palm Beach County as we analyze the factors and dangers face my constituents.

SCIUTTO: It's Florida, the number of cases in the State of Florida off the charts while other countries have gotten this under control, seems relevant, does it not, to residents of Palm Beach County?

KERNER: It certainly is relevant. I think the aggregate number of cases that exist in any particular jurisdiction is one of many factors that need to be analyzed. And, certainly, we have our own challenges and we have our own difficulties here statewide. Each county is separate. Each county is different and unique.

I can tell you, as we sit here today, I feel very comfortable about where Palm Beach County is. We're a county of 1.5 million people and very distinct and separate from other parts of the state and we try to apply our own rules and our own cultural impacts here to make this process work for us. And I think that --

SCIUTTO: Are cases coming down? Are infections coming down in Palm Beach County?

KERNER: I can't say that infections in the aggregate are coming down. What I can tell you that in terms of the infrastructure that we have in terms of surge capacity, in terms of personnel, in terms of death rate are all either staying the same or going down.

But more importantly than that, I think, there's been a culture shift here in Palm Beach County since the mandating of the masks that really has galvanized the population that I represent to participate and participate forcefully. And that's the way you beat the coronavirus, is you have to have the buy-in and the belief that we all have to do our little part here.

SCIUTTO: No question, given that masks have been shown by the science to not only protect yourself but to protect others in the event that you get infected. But we know there are no walls between Palm Beach County and the rest of the state. Would it help your residents but also other residents in the state if this was a statewide mandate as opposed to a local one?

KERNER: Well, I'm certain that if every person in the state wore a mask, we would see probably a precipitous drop over time because the participation of wearing masks. Having said that, I can tell you in this county in South Florida, which tends to be the epicenter, the mandates are in effect. Local leaders do need to step up where either the state or the federal government isn't mandating it. And it needs to be done. And it certainly has borne success for our community.

And it wasn't easy at first. There was a lot of pushback and there was a lot anger about the mandate.

SCIUTTO: Testing has been the issue. The governor is saying that some private laboratories, it's taken them too long to process results and that he may cancel their contracts if they don't speed that up. Would that help speed up testing results and are you running into similar problems in Palm Beach County?


KERNER: Well, you know, it's a dynamic issue. On one hand, yes, taking forever to get a test back, seven days, 11 days, it totally destroys the ability to contact trace. On the other hand, if we follow the phase one rules, if we're diligent as a community, we wear the face masks, we follow the rules in the restaurant, then the community spread is going to drop very quickly anyways.

But, yes, not having access testing results within a couple of days, it's critical strategy that's being frustrating.

SCIUTTO: Is contact tracing happening where you are? Because, as you know, a lot of people are resisting it. Are you able to do that when folks test positive for the virus?

KERNER: Being as candid as I possibly can from what I've seen and some of its anecdotal, the strategy could be effective. I don't think it is being effective mainly because, yes, it's taking forever to get the test results back, but on the other hand, there are a lot of reasons why people don't want to be bothered by the government. It's kind of disappointing to not participate actively or see that dynamic occur and being a very effective tool if people take it more seriously, for sure.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely a small price to pay in a pandemic. Mayor Dave Kerner, we wish you and the people of Palm Beach County the best of luck.

KERNER: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, CNN has just learned that Russia, Russian cyber attackers are targeting organizations involved in developing coronavirus vaccine, stealing, it seems, that information. We're going to have a live update.

HARLOW: Plus, a major shake up at the top of the president's campaign after a slew of bad polling numbers. What does this mean for the 2020 race?

And the commissioner of the WNBA joins us exclusively as the league dedicates this season that's about to start to social justice and Black Lives Matter. We'll also ask about MVP Elena Delle Donne, who said she's not being heard by the league as she requests a medical exemption from playing.



SCIUTTO: Well, this is a sad measure of where some communities in the country stand. Counties in two states are now bringing in refrigerator trucks, this, to hold bodies as morgues are just overwhelmed from coronavirus deaths.

Some morgues in Arizona and Texas are already at capacity as coronavirus cases climb in nearly 40 states around the country. Look at that, the red, the brown, the yellow.

HARLOW: Yes. Every day, it's a little bit more.

With us now is Dr. Leana Wen, Emergency Room Physician, former Baltimore City Health Commissioner. Good morning to you. We're so glad you're here.

When you look at all of this and you look at what's happening, you heard the CDC commissioner say this week, you know, we think a lot of this is because northerners went south over the holidays. Harvard has responded to that and their analysis is that it's -- that it's not, and they point to states like Virginia and what's happening there. Look what's happening in Washington State, right? Why is this happening?

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: Yes, Poppy. What's happening is deeply concerning, and it's likely due to a multitude of factors. The most important is that we reopened against a backdrop of surging infections. We never -- unlike other countries, we never got COVID-19 under control here. Basically, we gave up.

We were halfway. We were able to suppress the level of infections low enough in certain places but not in others. We did not have the capabilities, the contact tracing, the testing up and running in time. And as a result, when we reopened, we knew that we would get a resurgence.

And, unfortunately, this new surge is so concerning. I mean, we're now seeing hospitalizations rise, and we know what's going to be next, which is a rise in the number of ICU visits and then the rise in the number of deaths.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Wen, you know, I've been watching the numbers closely here, and there was concern after Memorial Day weekend because you had people out and about again and that has been directly tied to an increase in cases.

And I know there's a lag time between infections and hospitalizations and sadly deaths here. The number of deaths has not ticked up as quickly as the number of cases, and I wonder if you see any hope in that in terms of how this is being treated.

WEN: I mean, I do think that there are improvements since we first found out about COVID-19 that we have improved. There are some better treatments, including with remdesivir, with dexamethasone and also just the learnings from how to treat patients at the hospital.

But I'm really worried, Jim, because I don't think we've seen the death rate climb just yet and the reason is the people who are infected in this initial wave are younger people. For example, the median age in Florida was 65 back in march. It has been about 35. And now it's ticking up, because what starts in the young is not necessarily going to stay in the young.

Young people are going to come home, infect older family members, even if they don't have older family members themselves, they are infecting their friends who may be working in a nursing home or carrying it there.

And I do fear that the death rates are going to climb in part because of the time measure you mentioned, Jim, but also because now it's older people who are going to be infected next.

HARLOW: As on the same day, Doctor, the State of Alabama mandates mask-wearing, the governor of Georgia will not allow local leaders to do the same. What is the science, just the science? Tell us about how much more protected one is from COVID or protecting others from COVID by wearing a mask.


WEN: Yes. The science at this point is very clear. We didn't know months ago about the importance of wearing masks because we didn't know as much as we do now about asymptomatic transmission, that 50 percent or even more cases could be transmitted by those who don't even have symptoms. We now know also about aerosol transmission and about these small droplets that can linger in the air for hours that we expel just by breathing and talking.

This is the reason why mask-wearing is so critical. Wearing a mask can reduce your chance of transmitting COVID-19 and acquiring it by five times if everyone in the community wears it. And so it's a health imperative. It's also an economic imperative because wearing a mask can allow for the economy to come back a lot faster. And so it's truly inexplicably why this is not happening all over the country as a mandate.

SCIUTTO: Yes, it's always been a false choice between reopening the economy and getting the outbreak under control.

Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much.

WEN: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, the president is shaking up his campaign leadership. Bill Stepien will be his new campaign manager. This replaces longtime ally and digital guru Brad Parscale, who was demoted. Parscale just held a -- what we're told is an emotional all-staff meeting at campaign headquarters.

SCIUTTO: This comes just after two national polls show President Trump trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden by double digits.

CNN Washington Correspondent Ryan Nobles joins us now with more. Also key swing state polls showing the president behind. What more do we know about what's behind this move?

RYAN NOBLES, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim and Poppy, the big thing we know is that this doesn't come as that big of a surprise. Brad Parscale's job has really been on notice since the president's rally in Tulsa at the end of June, which really fell well short of expectations. And Parscale was really given a lot of the blame for that in part because Parscale was claiming as many as 100,000 people would show up for that event and only a little more than 6,000 were inside that arena at the end of June.

And there's also some other problems for the president. You mentioned the polls. Let's take a look at the numbers in just one of them. This is the Quinnipiac poll. It shows Vice President Biden with a commanding lead over President Trump, 52 percent to 37 percent. And then when you drill down further into the president's approval ratings, you see that only 36 percent of Americans approve of the president's job performance. So, that, part of the reason why you see the necessity for a campaign shake-up.

Now, the question a lot of Republicans are asking this morning is, is removing the campaign manager enough, that the issues with this campaign go far beyond just one person or one individual and they are hoping that the new guy in charge, Bill Stepien can help solve some of those problems.

Now, Stepien, different from Parscale, is someone with a lengthy political record of experience. He was somebody who worked for former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. He was also the deputy campaign manager on the campaign before being promoted to this job, also the former White House political director in his experience, goes all the way back to John McCain's 2008 presidential bid.

Another important aspect of Stepien's background, he is very close with Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, long thought to be the true architect of the president's campaign. Many Republicans saying today that this campaign is now all on Kushner's back and, of course, Jim and Poppy, we can't forgot that the candidate, the president himself, has not changed.

SCIUTTO: No. Ryan Nobles, thanks very much. Join CNN's Jake Tapper as he investigates what really happened in the beginning of the U.S. fight against COVID-19 and what could happen next. CNN special report, The Pandemic and the President, airs Saturday night at 10:00.

HARLOW: Well, the WNBA's reigning MVP is raising new questions about player health and her safety amid the pandemic, this as tipoff to league's season rapidly approaches, and they're dedicating the season to social justice. The commissioner of the WNBA is with us exclusively, next.



HARLOW: well, with the WNBA season set to begin in over a week, one of the league's stars is weighing whether or not it's safe for her, whether it's worth the risk to play. Washington Mystics forward and reigning league MVP Elena Delle Donne suffers from Lyme Disease. Still, she says she was denied a medical exemption from playing in the 2020 WNBA season by a league-appointed panel of doctors.


ELENA DELLE DONNE, FORWARD, WASHINGTON MYSTICS: I'm in a situation health-wise where I don't know how my body will handle COVID. I don't know if I'll need to be hospitalized in the State of Florida.

I want to play basketball. I want to make a living. I have to take care of my family. So that's kind of what's going through my head at the moment.


HARLOW: Yesterday, the coach and the general manager for the Mystics said Delle Donne will be paid whether she plays are or not. This as the league has dedicated this season to social justice and affirmed the Black Lives Matter movement.

WNBA Commissioner Cathy Engelbert joins us exclusively this morning. It's really good to have you, Cathy. Thanks for taking the time.

CATHY ENGELBERT, WNBA COMMISIONER: Great to be here, Poppy. Thanks for having me on.

HARLOW: I want to play something else that Delle Donne told my colleague, Coy Wire. Listen to this.


DONNE: To have a disease and then to feel like you're not heard or you're not believed, that's the part that gets really frustrating and tiring.



HARLOW: Can you set the record straight?