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U.S. Hits New Daily Record, 9th Time In Last Month; Standoff Escalates As Georgia Governor Sues Atlanta Mayor For Mask Mandate; Florida Closes Pandemic Response Center After 12 Test Positive. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Thanks for joining us today. Brianna Keilar picks up our coverage right now.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome viewers here in the U.S. and around the world.

The government is not being forthright about the challenges that the nation is facing. They are downplaying the pandemic and now we are learning hiding data as they argue that state economies to push forward with reopening and kids should return to school in person. And as the administration insists it has a handle on the situation, consider that this was just one month ago today.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out.


KEILAR: Well, it wasn't and it's still not. The U.S. shattering its daily, reporting more than 77,000 new cases. Now, a month ago, the single-day total was 23,000. Multiply that by three today, just four weeks later.

And since late June, there have been nine days of record new cases. 38 states are showing a spike in new infections while the number of Americans hospitalized is near the highest levels of the pandemic.

In Florida, which has more cases per capita than any other state, a spokesperson for the Miami-Dade mayor tells CNN that ICU capacity is now over 100 percent. Additionally, the mayor of Miami said the city could see a stay-at-home order within a week if things don't turn around.

And now, we've learned that the White House is hiding key data of Americans. The Center for Public Integrity obtained a copy of an unpublished 359-page report that was prepared for the White House coronavirus task force. It says 18 states that are in the so-called red zone for new cases and positivity rates should roll back their reopenings. The White House task force led by the vice president has kept it secret, hidden from states that so desperately need the information as the president's top aides lie about what he has said and how Americans think he is handling the crisis.


MERCEDES SCHLAPP, SENIOR CAMPAIGN ADVISER, TRUMP 2020: That is so -- that is such -- so false, what you are saying, Poppy.


SCHLAPP: He never downplayed -- that you're saying that he downplayed the severity of this? This president has taken decisive and bold actions from the beginning.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: We believe this president has great approval in this country. His historic COVID response speaks for itself.


KEILAR: So, 90 seconds ago, we played the tape of the president downplaying the virus. That was just one of the times. That is not in dispute no matter how much Trump campaign senior adviser Mercedes Schlapp says that it is.

And the White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany is also flat-out lying there. President Trump's approval rating is 36 percent. It is down six points in a month. Only one third of Americans believe that President Trump is the best person to handle the coronavirus response.

A reminder that more than 3.5 million Americans have been infected and more than 138,000 have died since the first confirmed U.S. case six months ago. There is still no plan, no plan for national testing.

There is no federal mandate for masks. But amid the ballooning numbers across more than 38 states, the nation's top expert, Dr. Fauci, is striking an optimistic tone in the race to find a vaccine.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: We've got some pretty favorable results in early studies of vaccines. One of the candidates will be going into an advanced phase three trial by the end of this month, by the end of July. And other candidates will be entering advanced clinical trials as we get into the mid-summer, late summer and early fall.

So we feel cautiously optimistic that we are on the road, as bleak as it may sound right now, that we are on the road of getting this under control. So you can tell your intern, yes, we will get back to normal with schools and we will ultimately get back to normal with every other aspect of our lives.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Dr. Peter Hotez is a Professor and Dean of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine.

And, Dr. Hotez, you heard Dr. Fauci. You have been skeptical of this timeline. Are you encouraged by these early results?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, I share Dr. Fauci's cautious optimism that we will have a vaccine for COVID-19. I think we will have multiple vaccines for COVID-19. I hope ours is one of them.

The tactical hurdle to develop a COVID-19 vaccine is not very high, as we have discussed. It's just a matter of inducing high (INAUDIBLE) of neutralizing antibodies against the spike protein. It's an old-school problem in virology. We know how to do this. And by later next year, I think we will have multiple COVID-19 vaccines. So on that point, sure, I'm cautiously optimistic as well.


And Tony and I share a cautious optimism because we both work on hard targets. He's worked on AIDS vaccines forever. I work on parasitic disease vaccines, and that's what you have to be cautiously optimistic.

So put that aside for a second. Right now, in terms of where we are with COVID-19 in the nation, we are in an absolute dire public health crisis. We had 75,000 new cases per day. The numbers continue to accelerate. We'll be in the 80,000s by next week and the deaths are starting to dramatically surge up.

And it's not only deaths, it's hospital admissions, it's ICU admissions, it's the fact that hospital staff are getting exhausted and many major hospitals now, the hospital staff are getting sick, so they're having to send replacement down.

We are in this awful, awful situation. The southern half of the United States now accounts for one quarter of all of the COVID-19 cases globally. We are at the epicenter of the COVID pandemic. And there doesn't seem to be any cause for optimism on that front.

And last we intervened, and right now, there's no national appetite or any appetite in the White House to do anything about this.

KEILAR: I want to ask you about something that we have learned that is happening at the White House, and that the task force had a report. This is a good idea, getting a report together with very clear scientific information about what's going on in different states. And it warns that there are 18 states that are in a coronavirus red zone and need to roll back, reopening plans. But what we learned is that this information was kept hidden. What's your reaction to that?

HOTEZ: Well, it's a bit ludicrous that they would even try to keep it hidden. You don't have to keep it hidden. You can look on the Johns Hopkins website, go to The New York Times website, go to the Kaiser Foundation website, you can get this information just about anywhere and see that we are in absolute freefall. The numbers are there, these very steep rise in cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths.

And yet from the White House, we're not hearing any of that. All we hear is this kind of what I call a disinformation campaign, this attempt to try to minimize the extent of the epidemic even though it's so obvious that we are in this crisis and also the deflections. First, the Chinese communist party, the World Health Organization, then the scientists, including Dr. Fauci and others.

So this is -- this is now an issue because we are going to continue to accelerate. The new projections are 224,000 deaths by the end of October. By the end of the year, we will have 300,000 deaths. And so we are approaching numbers that sound more and more like the 1918 pandemic influenza disaster, which is even Dr. Fauci has said that.

So we have got to figure out a way to get some national leadership in place now because the states cannot figure this out on their own and we know that.

KEILAR: Dr. Hotez, thank you so much. Have a great weekend as much as you can. I know you're working very hard.

In Georgia, there's a clash between of the state's most prominent politicians that is playing out in public after Governor Brian Kemp filed a lawsuit against Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. The issue is a mask mandate from the mayor that Kemp claims violates his emergency orders.


GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): And while we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I'm confident that Georgians don't need a mandate to do the right thing.


KEILAR: So moments ago --


MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (R-GA), ATLANTA: This lawsuit was filed a day after Donald Trump visited Atlanta. And I pointed out that he did not have on a mask at Atlanta's Hartsfield/Jackson International Airport and that is in violation of state law.

And so what I see happening is that the governor is putting politics over people.

KEMP: Mayor Bottoms' mask mandate cannot be enforced but her decision to shutter businesses and undermine economic growth is devastating. I refuse to sit back and watch as disastrous policies threaten the lives and livelihoods of our citizens.

BOTTOMS: For him to say that we are closing businesses in the City of Atlanta and costing people money is a blatant lie. These are voluntary recommendations. We have not closed any businesses. And it's unfortunate that in the midst of this pandemic that the governor of our state who didn't know that this virus could be spread by asymptomatic means is continuing to spread misinformation.



KEILAR: Moments ago, Dr. Anthony Fauci talked about the critical role that states and cities can play on this issue.


FAUCI: I can say as a public health official that I would urge the leaders, local political and other leaders in states and cities and towns to be as forceful as possible in getting your citizenry to wear masks.


KEILAR: And in a new op-ed for titled, Georgia Governor Kemp shows that he doesn't care about black people, my next guest writes, in part, Kemp ought to listen to black women and men, and in this particular instance, the black woman COVID-19 victim who happens to be the mayor of Atlanta. While we all face risks from COVID-19, the risks black Americans face is even higher.

Dorothy Brown is a Law Professor at Emory. Thank you so much for coming on to talk to us about this. Tell us why you wrote this op-ed and what actions do you want the governor to take now?

DOROTHY BROWN, LAW PROFESSOR, EMORY UNIVERSITY: I had a producer, an editor reach out to me. I've done op-eds for CNN before and I definitely wanted to speak up. I'm an Atlantan, Mayor Bottoms is my mayor, and she is doing everything she can to keep Atlantans safe and it seems like the governor is doing everything he can to put us at risk.

KEILAR: So, in a tweet, Georgia's attorney general says that this lawsuit is about the rule of law but the mayor of Athens and Savannah, both of whom said that their mask mandates will continue despite Kemp's order, were not named. What did you think about that?

BROWN: He once again is targeting a black woman. We saw how he handled Stacey Abrams when she ran against her for governor, and now, we have another black woman, Mayor Keisha Bottoms, who's doing everything right and he's doing everything wrong.

And you make an excellent point. There are other mayors that are not black women who are doing exactly what she's doing but she is being -- in the city council of Atlanta are being singled out.

KEILAR: Mayor Bottoms said she is not concerned. She says that she will prevail in court. Legally, who do you think has the upper hand here?

BROWN: That's an excellent question. I'm not sure that it's clear. But if I were mayor bottoms, I would be doing exactly the right thing. I want my citizens safe. I want my 52 percent black citizens safe, which means I want them wearing a mask. And until a court orders me that I can't do that, I'm going to do it because I think it's going to save lives.

KEILAR: Professor, thank you so much for being with us.

BROWN: Thank you.

KEILAR: Is Florida fudging its coronavirus numbers? Hear from one expert who says that they are minimizing the actual spread and you really are going to want to hear how they're doing it. It makes it so clear what's happening there.

Plus, the governor of Oklahoma announces he's tested positive, but recent pictures show he went to Walmart and to a restaurant without a mask on.

And a public hearing ends abruptly as protesters speak out against kids wearing masks in school.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The meeting is adjourned.




KEILAR: What do you do when the people in charge of responding to the pandemic start falling ill from coronavirus? In Florida, the state's Emergency Operations Center is having to close down as a dozen workers test positive. Rosa Flores joins me with more.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, the Florida EOC or the Emergency Operations Center has been testing employees for COVID twice a week. Well, in the past two weeks, 12 employees have tested positive, including four just yesterday.

All this is according to the communications director, the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who also says that this, of course, prompted the closure of the main floor of the EOC in Tallahassee for cleaning and now that office is scheduled to reopen on Monday.

Now, the communications director said that because employees continue to work from home, this has not stopped the response to the COVID-19 crisis.

KEILAR: Florida leads the nation and some entire European countries in the number of new coronavirus cases. More than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths, that is in a single day, but those aren't the only significant numbers.

For five days in a row, Florida led the nation in highest per capita rate of infection. Right now, Florida is averaging just over 55 cases per 100,000 people, which is according to an analysis by Johns Hopkins data. The states right behind Florida, Louisiana and Arizona.

And against this backdrop, there are reports that Florida is fudging its numbers and minimizing the crisis by underreporting positive numbers.

Dr. Jason Salemi is joining us. He is now a Professor of Epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

Dr. Salemi, you did the research here. Tell us how Florida is skewing the results.

DR. JASON SALEMI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF EPIDEMIOLOGY, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA: Yes. So, actually, first, it's important to understand that I'm not an insider, I'm a scientist who is trying to make sense of the data, just like everybody else. And so that's why I created a dashboard that I made publicly available for people to access reliable data.

But, obviously, COVID-19 has been increasing dramatically in Florida and the positivity rate is something that a lot of people pay attention to. You see the governor tweet out about it.

So in the article by Mario Ariza and Angie DiMichele from the Sun Sentinel, there are two major issues that emerge with what's happening with the positivity rate.


The first to me is more of a problem with the communication of the data, so people should have access to data they understand. And it's pretty simple what we want to know. We want to know the case positivity of all the people who get tested, what proportion test positive?

But here is what Florida does. Florida reports what's called the test positivity. So in the numerator of that simple number, it's all of the people who test positive for the first time. In the denominator, it's all of the tests performed.

But here is the catch. If a person tests positive multiple times, so you get the virus and you get tested repeatedly and you test positive multiple times, only the first positive test result is included in the numerator. But just as was alluded to about people at the Florida Department of the Health, they'll get tested multiple times, negative, negative, negative. All of those negative results are included in the denominator.

And so this is a valid measure. When you talk to the director of communications, he says, well, it's because those people who continue to test negative are still at risk of the virus. It's valid but it's hugely misleading and here's why. I'll give you a simple example for the viewers.

Let's say you have ten people and those ten people are tested weekly for five weeks. And let's say five of those ten people end up testing positive on the last week. What Florida would report is 5 out of 50 tests positive that came back positive, or 10 percent positivity, when I just told you that five out of ten people tested positive in five weeks or 50 percent.

So it's a valid measure but, again, it's misleading. I think people deserve information that they can digest. And so, at a minimum, the Department of Health should be reporting both at the test level and at the person level.

But the more egregious problem with what's happening has to do with combining the results of two tests that are really very different. So, again, for your viewers, the two types of tests that detect the viruses, one is a molecular test. It's called real-time PCR. It looks for the genetic material of the virus, and because when they swab you, they only get it in minimal amounts, they amplify that so they can detect it.

And as a result, it's very accurate. If you get a positive or a negative test, you can pretty much trust that but it takes a while to get the results back

So they have another test called the antigen test that looks for proteins on the surface of the virus. It comes back in 15 to 30 minutes. But this one doesn't amplify that small amount, so you might miss it. A person might have the virus but they come back negative.

And so, again, the problem with mixing these because, you know, 20 out of every 100 people who actually have the virus will return a negative result on this. So, you know, as you try to calculate the case positivity, this is putting people who should be driving that number up in the denominator driving the number down.

And so, again, at a minimum, they should, tomorrow, start report the results of these two very different tests separately.

KEILAR: Thank you so much for -- I will say I understood everything you said and I hope the viewers did too. It makes -- it does -- it just makes it so clear why it's so important what Florida is doing here. But explain to us what does it mean? What's the impact of skewed data? What's the impact on our understanding of what's going on in Florida with that?

SALEMI: Absolutely. Look, and I've collaborated with people at the Florida Department of Health since 2005. They have excellent capabilities. Compiling all of this information is challenging. But during a pandemic, we've got to get certain decisions right because the decision should be made on the data.

It shouldn't be the right always saying, we're overestimating and the left saying that we're underestimating the virus. It can't be erroneous data. It shouldn't be misleading.

And so I'll give you one more example. The current hospitalization data that was missing from Florida for so long, there were only one of three states that didn't report current hospitalizations for COVID-19. They started to release that information last Friday. The numbers have increased 30 percent in one week. But there're problems with that data in my opinion. We teach our students at the USF College of Public Health that you need to give the data dictionary, help people to understand the data you're putting out there.

There's not really much guidance with the new information, but I'll give you one example why it's problematic.

So they're only reporting people with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. And so, again, one example of where that's problematic. If, tomorrow, a pregnant woman goes to the hospital because of COVID-19, due to the coding guidelines from CDC, she had not received a primary diagnosis of COVID-19. She would get a pregnancy-related diagnosis. And so, I can tell you right now, those women are not included in today's numbers.

Moreover, by reporting only the primary diagnosis, if you talk to clinicians, it really doesn't matter. If somebody is hospitalized and they have COVID-19, it complicates the hospitalization that much more. It uses PPE, hospital resources.

So, again, I think we need to just better define what I would recommend to the Department of Health, is, even they want to report it separately, give me a list of all the patients currently hospitalized with a principle diagnosis, but then also give me all patients hospitalized with COVID-19.

That's how we can improve our data and, again, start to make data- driven decisions and at least we would be working from an accurate playing field and then people will put the spin they want to on the information.


KEILAR: Yes, definitely. I mean, that is just crazy when you give us the example of a pregnant woman who happens to go in and have COVID. Dr. Salemi, thank you. We really, really appreciate you being on.

SALEMI: Thank you.

KEILAR: A beach in California reveals the legal consequence for not wearing a mask.

Plus, a governor who downplayed masks tests positive, and recent pictures show in public places without one.

And why some people are fainting as they await the COVID tests.