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Stark White House Report on Coronavirus Goes Unpublished; Interview With Stacey Abrams; Coronavirus Cases Exploding. Aired 3- 3:30p ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:03]

KATE BOLDUAN, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Let's let science and the experts lead the way today. Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, speaking out today in a new interview, warning that we shouldn't be concerned about any fear of a second wave in the fall, only because the crisis in the country right now is so urgent, we really can't.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We had a baseline of about 20,000 cases a day, has now gone up to 30,000, 40,000, 50,000, 60,000, and even 70,000 on the last count, so we have got to do something about that.

That's something we need to address. It is a significant issue. People keep talking about the possibility of a second wave in the fall. That's a historic terminology related to another time and another outbreak. I think we need to concentrate on where we are right now, because, if you're talking about waves, we are really essentially still in the first wave.

When you're having up to 70,000 new infections in certain areas of the country, that's something you need to focus on right now, as opposed to looking ahead what's going to happen in September or in October.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Dr. Fauci also weighed in on the ongoing and, frankly, ridiculous debate over face masks. I'm sorry. You just have to put it that way at this point.

Remember, there are still state leaders, such as the Georgia governor, who continue to resist requiring masks, even though science says it's necessary to get through this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

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

Masks are important.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Here's another way of thinking about it. As Dr. Fauci puts it, not wearing masks is slowing down reopening the country. Think about it.

And also try to wrap your mind around this. The country just shattered another record that seemed unthinkable just weeks ago, more than 77,000 new infections reported yesterday. That's more than triple the number of COVID cases from one month ago.

Look at this. We're going to show you the map. And you can see the problem just by looking at the colors; 38 states are going in the wrong direction. Only four have reported fewer cases in the last week.

The nation's epicenter, Florida, reporting new record numbers of deaths, with the virus killing 156 people. It's one of 10 states to hit a new high in deaths in a single day this week.

Nationally, the number of people in the hospital because of the virus continues to rise as well, more than a dozen states seeing their highest seven-day averages this week.

Any way you slice it, as you look at those graphics, it really looks like the country right now is losing the battle against this virus this many months in.

Joining me right now is Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CNN medical analyst and the chief of Infectious Diseases Division at Mass General.

Thank you for being here. It's been a -- it's been a bit. It's nice to see you again.

We have just hit that 77,000 mark, new cases in one day. Do you think that it is possible at this point to stop the country from hitting that terrifying marker that Dr. Fauci had warned about of 100,000 cases a day? Do you think the country can still stop it?

Or, at this point, with the rate at which we're breaking these records and jumping up in new cases, is the horse out of the barn?

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Good afternoon, Kate. Good to be with you.

I think that the nation needs to do everything it can to stop the number of cases. I can't tell you where it's going to peak. I worry a lot that it's going to peak at well over 100,000.

I can tell you, when we had stay-at-home orders as at the end of March, our case count was at about 15,000 per day. So we are now five times the case count that we had when we had stay-at-home orders. (CROSSTALK)

BOLDUAN: Doctor, I don't won't to interrupt you, but I want just to make sure people are listening to what you just said.

When we put stay-at-home orders in place, there were 15,000 cases a day people -- 77,000 new cases just yesterday. You have to almost un- numb yourself to get perspective on what that actually means, Doc.

WALENSKY: That's exactly right.

And what's even more worrisome is, after those stay-at-home orders at the end of March, we saw a really precipitous incline in number of new cases, up until mid to end of April, April 24.

So whatever it is that we do now, we're going to continue to see a precipitous incline for about a month. Now, I don't mean to say that we can't stop things, because I promise you, there are a lot of people left to infect, like about 300 million.

[15:05:00]

But I think that what we really need to do now is to do our absolute best to shut this virus down, because I worry about what comes ahead.

BOLDUAN: And the way you put it, I think, is so crystal clear and so important for people to hear.

Dr. Fauci is laying out a pretty brutal wakeup call when he says, essentially, forget about worrying about the fall, people. Forget all this talk that we have been having about a second wave. The problem is, the problem right now is so urgent, the here and now is the only thing we should be focused on.

I mean, what does that say about, I mean, the trajectory of where things are headed?

WALENSKY: I think it's absolutely right.

I mean, I think if you just simply look at the numbers, you're right, we're numb to the numbers. But if you look at the numbers, what we had in April, that was a wave. What we have right now is a tsunami. It's five times bigger. And, in fact, when we look at the deaths that we have tragically seen over the last many months, we have many more of those ahead, because we know that those deaths are a lagging indicator, four to five weeks after what has happened in tests, in new diagnoses.

Last week, we saw about 450,000 new diagnoses. In four or five weeks, that's going to mean at least 4,500 to up to 60,000 deaths.

BOLDUAN: I want to get your thoughts on what you think of this unpublished, now public document that was prepared for the White House Task Force that showed that at least 18 states are in such a bad spot that they should be rolling back reopening -- reopening and locking back down. This is showing -- our map here is showing you the states that were on that list. It seems like this would be pretty key information to help convince the public to get on board with any type of measure.

Does it make any sense to not make something like this public?

WALENSKY: No.

I have been sort of screaming it from the rooftops as well. I mean, if you're in a state that has 10,000 new cases a day, I think it's irresponsible to not think about how you can save the health and lives of your public -- of your people by doing everything in your power to sort of stop everything, shut things down, and stop this virus.

And then we can start talking about how we can safely think about this again.

BOLDUAN: That's right. A real reset is in front of us, whether -- it's almost like whether we want it or not, or accept it or not at this point.

Dr. Walensky, thank you very, very much.

WALENSKY: Thanks for having me.

BOLDUAN: In Florida, things are also getting worse.

The state is reporting more than 11,000 new coronavirus infections in a single day. And that is also more than 100 deaths of Florida residents for the fourth straight day. And now Florida is leading the country with the most COVID infections per capita, with 55 cases for every 100,000 people.

Rosa Flores remains in Miami for us. She's joining us right now.

Rosa, they keep talking about potentially needing to shut back down, talking about in Miami especially. How close are they now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, it depends on who you ask, because City of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said yesterday on CNN air that he was just a few days away from that threshold.

I just asked Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez just a few hours ago during a virtual press conference that same question, and he said that he's not there yet.

Now, you got to think about it like this, because they're looking at the same data. Here are the facts. The positivity rate in Miami-Dade today is 27 percent. The ICU capacity is at 119 percent.

Yesterday, it was 107 percent. The goal for the county is not to exceed 70 percent. Now, here are the numbers. Miami-Dade reports 386 ICU beds available, but 459 patients. Now, the good thing is that they do have other beds that they can transfer over to ICU beds.

But that's definitely not the place where any county around this country wants to be, this as we learn that 12 employees in the EOC in Tallahassee tested positive for the coronavirus, four of them just yesterday. This is according to the communications director for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, who also says that the floor where they were working was closed and that it's going to be cleaned.

And, Kate, they're scheduled to reopen on Monday. And they do say that individuals are working from home, so the COVID response here in Florida continues -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Yes. Rosa, thank you so much.

Coming up for us: Masks are now a major legal fight in Georgia, the governor pushing ahead with suing Atlanta's mayor. I'm going to talk to Stacey Abrams about what this means for her state's fight against the virus next.

Plus: that unpublished White House report saying at least 18 states should roll back reopening.

[15:10:00]

What should states do that are on that list right now?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BOLDUAN: A debate over face coverings has now become a political and legal battle in Georgia.

Republican Governor Brian Kemp is suing the Democratic mayor of Atlanta, Keisha Lance Bottoms, over the mask mandate that she put in place for her city. And he is not backing down today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. BRIAN KEMP (R-GA): I'm confident that Georgians don't need a mandate to do the right thing. Instead of issuing mandates that are confusing and unenforceable, I'm asking all local leaders to enforce the current executive order.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: But, also today, that current executive order, Keisha Lance Bottoms says, is putting lives in danger.

[15:15:01]

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), MAYOR OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA: What I see happening is that the governor is putting politics over people.

We all know the CDC is in our own backyard. The CDC has said that wearing a mask will stop the spread, help stop the spread of this virus. Overwhelmingly, people in Atlanta support a mask mandate. And so it's just -- it's a waste of taxpayer money. And we are spending time of fighting each other, when this virus

doesn't understand politics, it doesn't respect that it's the state or it's the city.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BOLDUAN: Joining me right now is Stacey Abrams, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and founder of Fair Fight Action.

Thank you for being here.

You have heard more of what Governor Kemp said this morning. Georgians don't need a mandate to do the right thing, he says. What do you say to that?

STACEY ABRAMS (D), FORMER GEORGIA GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATE: I would say that the evidence of our eyes belies the notions that he may hold.

We know that Georgia is one of the 18 states that has the fastest growing cases of coronavirus. We know that a disproportionate number of black and brown communities are being affected by it. And these are the people who are compelled by both state law and federal law. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to keep going to work, exposing themselves.

We know that the best evidence, including evidence from an unpublished task force report from the White House, says that mandating masks is a good thing. And this notion that a mandate, if it can't be absolutely enforced, should never be issued would undermine the necessity of most of the laws we have in this country.

One of the reasons we require things is to signal that it is important. And suggesting that people take care of themselves and those around them is an insufficient way to address a scourge and a pandemic.

BOLDUAN: You hit on one of the reasons that the governor gives for why he doesn't want to -- you can't mandate masks, because he says it can't be enforced.

But another reason that he has laid out more than once is that he thinks that mask mandates hurt business. Do you see that?

ABRAMS: Well, given that the largest retailer in the country, and I think one of the largest in the world, Walmart, has declared that they are going to require masks undermines even that argument.

It is not sufficient to say that we want to reopen the economy by killing our consumers. And that's the choice he's telling us to make. And while he's using Atlanta as a proxy for this war, this is a war not only against Atlanta. It's a war against Savannah, Augusta. It's a war against the people of Georgia, who elected him to lead, not to suggest.

BOLDUAN: One thing that Mayor Bottoms brings up is that the governor names her personally in the lawsuit, along with the City Council. And that has more than -- more than a small group of people suggesting that one goal here, then, it looks like, from the governor is to try and tarnish a potential Democratic vice presidential candidate as she is being talked about, and you are as well.

Do you think that is at least in part what the governor is doing here?

ABRAMS: I do my best not to investigate the political motives of Brian Kemp, because what he's been willing to do to the people of Georgia, both as secretary of state and as governor, suggest that he does not care about the people of Georgia.

But what I will say is that his targeting of Mayor Bottoms, his targeting of Mayor Johnson, his targeting of Mayor Davis, and his willingness to throw aside the needs of the people they serve, the constituents he swore to serve, his willingness to throw them aside, is a signal of his avarice and his lack of moral leadership.

BOLDUAN: It's a bit head-scratching, I must say, because, if you just take it on its face, his position is inherently confusing.

He is encouraging people to wear masks. He even went on a statewide tour to promote mask wearing. But, still, he does not see and he will not mandate it. I'm trying to figure out -- look, you ran against him in a contentious governor's race. So you have been around him and his politics more than most.

Can you explain that kind of inherent contradiction or confusion with how he's laying this out?

ABRAMS: This isn't confusion. Brian Kemp is a coward.

He is afraid that he will alienate the president of the United States, who has also signaled his ambivalence about masks. He is afraid that he will alienate a Republican Party that he believes may not stand with him in reelection if he goes against the minority declaring that masks are somehow an infringement on their liberty.

But, most of all, he is a coward because he refuses to use the pulpit of leadership to tell people what they need to do to save not only their lives, but the lives of the more vulnerable around them.

This is not a moment -- a moment of contradiction. It is not a moment of confusion. It is an act of cowardice.

BOLDUAN: I'd even argue, I'm sure there are a lot of Georgians, even if they don't want to wear masks, if the governor made the mandate, they'd still probably vote for him, if they voted for him before.

[15:20:02]

I'm just saying, as an outside watcher of it all.

On the topic, though, of Joe Biden's running mate, the vice president is in the final stages of vetting and is expected to be making his announcement at the beginning of next month, I think, is the latest guidance.

Have you had a direct conversation with Joe Biden about the V.P. slot since the vetting process began?

ABRAMS: I refer all questions about vetting to the Biden administration -- the Biden campaign.

BOLDUAN: And I appreciate that very succinct answer, as one should probably give if they're under consideration.

What have you -- how have you found -- can you describe, how have you found this process to be? It's an unusual thing.

ABRAMS: Are you talking about the campaign, writ large?

BOLDUAN: I'm talking -- no, no, the vetting process.

You have been very vocal about what you know you're capable of and what you would like to do. And the vetting process for a vice presidential candidate is, I think, one of the more unique processes that there is in American politics.

How have you found this vetting process?

ABRAMS: I will say that I have spent 16 months answering the question, would I be willing to serve as vice president?

And I recently got the question, am I capable? I have responded to both of those questions in the affirmative, because it is critical to me that we speak, that we answer questions directly when we can, and that we always, especially as a woman of color, that I never diminish what I believe I'm capable of or the capacity of others who look like me.

But I again say that the process itself is being run by the Biden campaign. And I direct all questions about the process to them.

BOLDUAN: As someone who I know you like to answer questions directly, this is particularly a strange position, I know, that you find yourself in with having to redirect to the Biden campaign.

But, regardless, it's great to see you.

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS: Well, Kate, it's the direct answer. The direct answer is, if you want an answer, go to the Biden campaign.

(LAUGHTER)

BOLDUAN: I will take it.

Thanks for coming on. I appreciate your time.

ABRAMS: Thank you. Take care.

BOLDUAN: Still ahead for us: new reporting on why President Trump is pushing so hard to fully open schools in a matter of weeks.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:27:07]

BOLDUAN: New today, an unpublished report put together for the White House Coronavirus Task Force spotlights at least 18 states they believe should roll back reopening plans.

These 18 states are all what they consider in the red zone, reporting a concerning level of new cases and test positivity rates. The report, which was obtained first by the Center for Public Integrity, is important information, in and of itself, but especially when you contrast that message with the exact opposite message that you hear from President Trump.

Why wasn't this report released? What should states do with this now?

Joining me now is Andy Slavitt. He was the former acting administrator at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid.

Andy, what's your reaction to -- I'm sure you have looked through some of this report, at least. What's your reaction to this?

ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER ACTING ADMINISTRATOR, CENTERS FOR MEDICARE AND MEDICAID SERVICES: Well, there's a lot of information in there. And it's information that needs to be shared with the American public.

Why is that not there? If I lived in one of those 18 states, and I knew that the White House believed that stronger action was taken -- needs to be taken to keep me -- safely, I'd be enraged.

And if I didn't live in one of those states, I'd worry that, when it comes to me, the White House isn't going to look out for my best interests. So the question is, what is he looking out for? What is the interest he's trying to protect?

Is that a -- is it a political document to try to figure out how to manage things? He needs to explain this.

BOLDUAN: Just so folks know, I mean, this is 359 pages of, when you go through, it includes clear bullet points, going state by state, including public messaging, what should be open and should be closed, depending on the date and what needs to -- and what needs to happen -- depending on the state, rather -- and what needs to happen with testing efforts in a given state.

It is, as you said, a lot of information. And I look through this, and I'm trying to come up with a good reason to keep this from the public.

SLAVITT: Well, you pointed out some really interesting things here, which is that the public needs to understand that what we need to do now is not a big mystery.

We have been at this virus six months or so. And every country, I can name -- we can both name 15 to 20 countries around the world that have proven what you need to do in order to stay safe, because they have gotten their death counts down close to zero, and their economies are opening.

So, we could just essentially copy those things here. Clearly, someone is putting all that into a report for the president. And all he can say is, there's too much testing and that there's not a -- this is not a big problem, and it's going to go away. And yet he has access to that information.

I can tell you that, if this would have happened under George W. Bush or Barack Obama or Bill Clinton or George H.W. Bush, this would be an Iran-Contra level scandal, that you would have this information and not release it to protect the public.