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Trump: Masks Cause Problems Too; Coronavirus Cases Exploding; Interview with National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins; Texas Reports A Record High Of 174 Deaths in A Day; Florida Leading U.S. in Per Capita Cases for Five Straight Days; House Education Committee Accuses White House Of Blocking CDC Chief From Testifying Next Week. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired July 17, 2020 - 18:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: We want to welcome our viewers here, in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in THE SITUATION ROOM.

We're following breaking news on the very dangerous backslide in the battle against coronavirus here in the United States. The World Health Organization just reported a record of nearly 238,000 new cases globally in just 24 hours, that number pushed up by the surge of infections here in the U.S.

At this hour, the U.S. death toll is nearing 139,000. With 38 states moving in the wrong direction, the daily case count in this country breaking a record now for the ninth time in the past month.

Some hot spots are reporting deaths tolls as well, with Texas just revealing 174 deaths in state, 45 more than the day before.

As so many Americans are looking for a way out of this crisis, the Trump White House is being accused of blocking the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from testifying before Congress next week.

Let's go to CNN's Nick Watt. He is joining us from Los Angeles right now.

Nick, as states like California are clearly struggling, the World Health Organization just released staggering new numbers. Update us on that.


In a 24-hour period, nearly a quarter-million new cases globally, and there are three hot spots on this Earth right now, India, Brazil, and right here in the United States.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) WATT (voice-over): It's now worse than April. Nine days this past month, we have broken the record for new cases in a day, now stands at a stunning 77,255 from Thursday.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: People keep talking about the possibility of a second wave in the fall. 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 and what's going to happen in September or in October.

WATT: Florida now leads the nation in cases per capita, the main floor of their emergency operations center now closed, after 12 workers tested positive. But Miami-Dade schools are supposed to reopen in just weeks.

ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: It certainly is becoming very difficult to argue for a regular reopening of schools, considering the data right here in Miami-Dade, which, by the way, is comparable to the data and the circumstances that Wuhan, China, faced about six months ago.

WATT: The daily death toll is now rising in half our states, a record daily death toll in South Carolina, but the governor wants schools to offer five-days-a-week in-person teaching, the same page as the president.


WATT: No, it's inconclusive. And look at what happened in Israel after schools reopened May 17.

Make no mistake, we have the means to control this.

DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, VALLEYWISE HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER: I have got a really great drug. It's a blockbuster drug. It's called masks. Masks work.

WATT: And they are now really issuing fines in West Hollywood.

GARY WALTERS, CALIFORNIA: It's nice to see the regulations being enforced, even if it's being enforced on me.

WATT: Washington state, that very early hot spot, on the rise once more, so they are outlawing live entertainment again.

In Florida, a current hot spot, the governor says he won't close gyms. Here's why.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): If you're in good shape, you know, you have a very, very low likelihood of ending up in significant condition as a result of the coronavirus.

WATT: In Texas, a current hot spot, record death tolls reported four days in a row., But apparently, the governor has no plans for more pausing or rolling back on reopening.

GOV. GREG ABBOTT (R-TX): The last thing that any of us want is to lock Texas back down again.


WATT: And here in California, Wolf, the governor basically just said that most schools in the state are, right now, not allowed to open in person.

Any school in the county that's on his watch list cannot open. And that watch list right now includes Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco.

And where and when schools do reopen, he wants temperature checks first thing in the morning. He wants every staff member and every kid, third grade and above, wearing a mask -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Nick watt out in California for us, thank you.

From California, let's head over to the White House, where the Trump administration is being accused of standing in the way of its own health experts once again.

Let's go to our chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta.

Jim, what are you learning?


Just as the coronavirus is slamming the U.S. with a shocking surge in cases, the White House is blocking officials from the CDC from testifying at a hearing set for next week on the safety of sending children back to school during this pandemic.



ACOSTA (voice-over): Even with coronavirus cases soaring across the U.S. and parents becoming nervous about sending their children back to classes in the fall, the White House is now blocking officials from the Centers for Disease Control from appearing at a hearing next week on reopening schools.

The chairman of the committee said in a tweet: "It is alarming that the Trump administration is preventing the CDC from appearing before the committee, at a time when its expertise and guidance is so critical to the health and safety of students, parents, and educators."

The move comes as the CDC has postponed its plan to release proposals for reopening classrooms. Earlier this week, the CDC director was touting mask use as critical to opening schools.

DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: To me, face coverings are the key. You know, if you really look at it, the data's really clear. They work.

ACOSTA: The administration's push to reopen schools is flying in the face of stunning spikes in cases across the U.S. Dr. Anthony Fauci said part of the problem is that some states simply opened up too quickly.

FAUCI: We put out guidelines from the Coronavirus Task Force that had what's called a gateway. If you pass that gateway, you would then go to phase one. And if you were there a certain amount of time, and the cases were steady and going down, you could go to phase two and phase three.

So, when you look at that, clearly, there are some states that actually skipped over one or more of those what you call benchmarks or checkpoints.

ACOSTA: An undisclosed document drafted by the Coronavirus Task Force and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity recommended that 18 states roll back their reopening plans.

But that would mean going against the president, who said he's determined to keep those kinds of rollbacks from happening.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And now we're open. And we want to stay open, and we will stay open. We're not closing. We will put out the fires as they come out.

ACOSTA: A new ABC/"Washington Post" poll found only 38 percent of Americans approve of Mr. Trump's handling of the virus, down from where that number stood in May. And nearly two-thirds now say they don't really trust what he says about the pandemic.

And that has White House officials wondering out loud whether the president should appear more engaged.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: His approval rating on the pandemic was higher when he was at the podium. It was 51 percent in March. And I think people want to hear from the president of the United States. He still addresses it. He still talks about vaccine and therapeutics development.

ACOSTA: But the president appears to have moved on, holding events that aren't related to the virus, and sticking to topics that score points with his base.

TRUMP: Dishwashers. You didn't have any water, so the people that do the dishes, you press it, and it goes again, and you do it again and again. So you might as well give them the water because you will end up using less water.


ACOSTA: And the public may be seeing more of Dr. Anthony Fauci over the coming days. After blocking Fauci from appearing in television interviews over the last few weeks, administration officials say they are allowing the doctor to appear more regularly on the networks. And, Wolf, there is also an idea that is floating around inside the

White House of having the president resume those Coronavirus Task Force press conferences. That's what got him in hot water earlier this year, but that idea is back.

Advisers say they want to see the president more engaged on the topic of this pandemic, showing the public that he gets it, and perhaps holding virtual rallies and being out on the campaign trail wearing masks. All of that, of course, rides on whether the president would actually agree to do those things -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Jim Acosta, reporting from the White House, thank you. Lots going on over there.

Joining us now, one of the nation's top health experts, the director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins.

Dr. Collins, thank you so much for joining us. I know you got a lot going on right now.

As you know, and as you just heard, the U.S. shattered yet another record yesterday, reporting 77,000 new coronavirus cases. These past few days, we're up to nearly 1,000 people dying, 1,000 Americans dying every single day.

Is this country, the greatest country in the world, losing the battle against coronavirus?

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: Well, we're certainly not winning very well right now, but we could.

You know, what happened was, we had the terrible outbreaks in March and April, particularly in New York. And a lot of hard work got done. And a lot of people were sent home to shelter in place. And people learned about social distancing and wearing masks.

And then that kind of seemed like it was getting better. And, as Tony Fauci said a few minutes ago on your program, there were these phases that were supposed to be followed, with various benchmarks along the way.

And, unfortunately, some of those just got skipped. And now here we are, where we never really got down to a baseline. And so people say, is this a second wave? No, we're still in the first one. It never quite went away.

And now it's coming back in a very steep incline, which is, of course, a source of great concern for anybody, especially in those hard-hit areas.

But we shouldn't feel hopeless here. We know what works. We know that, if we could, as Americans, agree to take those recommendations to heart, that we would keep our masks on when we're outside, we'd stay more than six feet apart from each other, and we would avoid indoor gatherings, where there is a big chance of spread, and we wash our hands and all of that, then we could implement what we know. [18:10:23]

It worked. It's not like this is a hypothetical, this might help. We know it helps. We know it works. We just have to motivate ourselves to get back there, especially young people, who I'm afraid, have kind of gotten tired of this, and maybe thinking they're not so vulnerable, have forgotten that it's up to them to save their neighbors, their grandparents, and everybody else who they may actually infect.

BLITZER: These are not difficult steps that have to be taken. And thousands of Americans will live if people just do what you just said, what Dr. Fauci just said.

As you know, just a few weeks ago, Dr. Fauci warned that if things didn't turn around, we could see here in the United States 100,000 cases a day. We're getting closer and closer to that. Do you think we are on track to see 100,000 coronavirus cases every day?

COLLINS: I hope not.

I look at those numbers every day. And, certainly, the number today, 77,000, was breathtaking. And we are nowhere near the top of that curve, if you just look at the graph. But if we could, collectively, all agree that we're going to implement those particular public health measures that we just spoke about, we have some chance of avoiding hitting that mark.

But it's going to take a lot more effort than has happened so far.

BLITZER: As you know, the president and the White House over these past few weeks, they have tried to actually sideline Dr. Fauci.

You're actually Dr. Fauci's boss at NIH.


BLITZER: You have known and worked him for many, many years. You say you talk every night, the two of you talk on the phone almost every evening to coordinate his work and your work.

Do you have faith, first of all, in Dr. Fauci and what he's recommending and what he's doing?

COLLINS: There is nobody I know on this planet who is more knowledgeable about infectious disease and has had more experience, over 50 years of his career, and for the last 35 of which leading infectious disease for NIH. There's nobody who comes close.

And he not only, of course, is in this role on the task force and being a spokesperson about what's happening with COVID-19. He also is the scientist who leads our part of NIH, with all that's happening now with investigating and developing therapeutics and vaccines and new diagnostic tests, something that I am also deeply engaged in at the moment.

So he's a national treasure. BLITZER: He is a national treasure. We can both agree on that.

He's called the effort to discredit him bizarre. He used that word, which is clearly an understatement. Why do you think this is going on? Why are some in the White House trying to discredit the nation's top infectious disease expert?

COLLINS: I am not sure I can answer that question, given how important the information is that he is sharing.

I am gratified to see the president saying this week that he and Dr. Fauci have a good relationship. And I'm hoping we can continue now to get things back on a more even keel. That would be good, wouldn't it?

BLITZER: It would be great if it happened. I remember, a few weeks ago, the president actually retweeted a tweet that had a hashtag #FireFauci.

It was hard to believe. When I saw that, I couldn't believe it. But it's really a disturbing development.

I know you were asked the other day about this. And let me let me press you on this, Dr. Collins. You and I have known each other for quite a while. You said that you would refuse an order to dismiss Dr. Fauci. He works for you. And you laughed, saying -- and I think I'm quoting you now -- "I think you heard my answer."

To be clear, are you saying you would not carry out an order to fire Dr. Fauci?

COLLINS: I could not imagine doing something of that sort, no.

BLITZER: If you were ordered to fire him, what would you do? Would you rather resign than carry out an order? Let's say it came from the president of the United States.

COLLINS: You know, Wolf, I really hope that this kind of circumstance never comes to pass, and I'm not sure it's a helpful conversation to have.

But I certainly, would defend the contributions and the remarkable character of Tony Fauci. And I would find it very difficult to be in a circumstance where I was asked to do something like what you're describing.

BLITZER: Yes, because you saw those talking points that officials at the White House had. You saw that op-ed that Peter Navarro, the president's trade adviser, economic adviser, had, an op-ed in "USA Today" going after Dr. Fauci, saying he doesn't trust him, doesn't believe in what he's saying, would take everything he says with a grain of salt.

I want to move on, but has anyone inside the White House ever reached out to you about Dr. Fauci, getting your thoughts on whether or not he should stay on the task force or be fired?

COLLINS: Nobody ever has.

And I hope you notice that the White House basically distanced themselves from Peter Navarro's op-ed. That clearly was not supported by others in the White House, senior staff.


BLITZER: We certainly noticed that.

Peter Navarro was supposed to be on the show the other day. But, at the last minute, the White House canceled after that op-ed appeared in "USA Today."

All of this, of course, Dr. Collins, is not just about Dr. Fauci. The CDC, as you heard, is now being sidelined. Earlier this week, the president put out a retweet, saying the CDC is -- quote -- "lying."

Have you ever dealt with a situation like this, where the top agency leading the public health response is also, being attacked and undermined?

COLLINS: CDC is our nation's storehouse of information about public health, has been that way for decades. We depend on them.

I personally depend on them for advice about how to deal with a circumstance like this. And it certainly would be very unfortunate for their leadership to be undercut.

BLITZER: It certainly would be. The CDC is critically important.

And, as you heard, now head of the CDC, Dr. Robert Redfield, is being prevented from testifying on schools, reopening schools, next week before the House Education Committee. Isn't it important for the American public to hear what the CDC says on such a critically important issue?

COLLINS: Well, certainly, CDC is in a critical role for making those recommendations.

And they have issued guidelines and are continually looking at this issue. I can't really comment on why a particular request for him to appear in front of a congressional committee was allowed or not allowed. That's not something I have heard the details about it.

BLITZER: Yes, it's a pretty disturbing development, I must say.

Six months into this crisis, we are seeing more infections than at any point in the pandemic. Why do you believe the greatest country in the world, with the best medicine, the best doctors, the best scientists has failed so badly in responding to this challenge?

Because if you see what has happened in Asia or in Europe, they have gotten it under control. We have failed.

COLLINS: Well, we have a big, sprawling country with a whole lot of people who are very independent-minded. That's part of what's made us great. But it's also, at a time like this, a difficult circumstance to be able to try to manage.

And, in many ways, we are geographically very dispersed as well. It's not like you are trying to manage COVID in Taiwan or South Korea. This is a place where you have had great, enormous outbreaks in New York and other places that have barely been touched. So it's a really hard problem.

And I do think we are getting our act together here, by perceiving just how big the risk is.

And before we go, Wolf, I do also want to say a little bit of positive news here. In terms of the science that's going forward to develop new therapeutics that are going to help people who get very sick with this and those vaccines, those things are happening at a remarkably rapid pace.

And so far, the science looks really good. And that's what I spend most of my time on. And I'm happy to say everybody's gotten together on that, and we are going to do our best to get through this and out the other side.

BLITZER: Well, let me press you on that. Is there going to be an effective therapeutic over the next two, three, months that will prevent people, you know, hopefully, from dying or getting very, very ill?

And beyond that, is there going to be an effective vaccine that will prevent us from even getting coronavirus?

COLLINS: There is a lot of progress in therapeutics, as you know.

We have two proven drugs, remdesivir and dexamethasone, both proven in rigorous randomized control trials, which is the only way you really know if something really works. And we are in the process of starting, just in the very near future, clinical trials on other compounds, for instance, anticoagulants.

We know that people who get very sick, there's something that happens. The blood clots start forming. And we could probably help them a lot if we tried to block that.

But maybe most exciting for therapeutics, in my view, the use of monoclonal antibodies derived from people who have survived COVID-19, who have made these antibodies to help them recover. And those can now be turned into products.

And those trials will get started very soon as well. I am optimistic, without being able to be confident completely, that we will have something, maybe as soon as two or three months from now, in terms of an effective treatment.

And the vaccines, you know, here is my little model of this virus, the vaccines all directing against spike proteins on the surface of the virus. The first vaccine trial, as you probably heard, building on very successful preliminary data, will get started around about July 27 all across the Southern part of the country, where the virus is spreading.

We're going to find out whether it works by asking 30,000 people to join. And if anybody listening to this wants to know how to sign up for that registry, so that they might be called on to be in that trial, it's just CoronavirusPreventionNetwork -- all one word -- .org.

We have 100,000 people signed up. It would be great to double that tonight.


That's the Moderna vaccine, potentially that's showing some significant potential progress.


BLITZER: All of us are hoping that works, what they are doing at Oxford University, what -- that works, Johnson & Johnson.


There's a whole bunch of vaccines possible.


BLITZER: But if they work, Dr. Collins, when do you think they would actually be ready in huge numbers to save a lot of people's lives?

COLLINS: Well, this is another thing that's being done that's never been done before, is to do what you call at-risk manufacturing.

We don't know which of these virus -- vaccines is going to work. But we want to not run the risk of getting to the end of a trial and finding, oh, wow, this one's successful, and then having to spend the next three or four or six months scaling up the manufacturing.

So we will have, if one of these trials shows success, tens of millions of doses of that vaccine ready to go by the end of 2020, the end of this calendar year. That's never been done at this speed before. We're not compromising on safety. We will be sure the thing works.

But if it does, we will be ready to go for the highest-risk people as soon as possible.

BLITZER: I know you and Dr. Fauci and all of your experts over there at NIH, Bob Seder, among others, they are working very, very hard to make sure these therapeutics and these vaccines work.

We have heard the warnings, Dr. Collins, about how bad this fall and winter potentially could be.

But a lot of people are looking to spring for when things might return to normal. You think that's the right timeline right now? When do you think we will get back to the good old days, and have a relatively normal lifestyle? COLLINS: And I know that's what everybody's waiting for, and I am,


I think, again, cautious optimism, we will have a vaccine, I believe, at least one, maybe more than one, that looks like it's working by the end of this calendar year. We will then have some doses to give to the highest-risk people.

But for everybody to have access to the vaccine, it will be the spring. And it will mean, therefore, we will want everybody to participate. One of the things I'm worried about is, there's a lot of skepticism in America about the vaccine. And something like 25 percent of people say, I'm not sure I would take that vaccine.

It'll be really critical to do that if we're going to develop the level of herd immunity across the country so that this doesn't come roaring back the next time, the next fall, the next summer. We won't know.

We have a chance to keep that from happening. And we all, once again, are going to be asked to look at the data and decide what to do. And I promise you, even though we call this Operation Warp Speed, which is a name that makes people worry that maybe we're cutting corners, we are not cutting corners. We're just going really fast with the parts that don't need to take so long.

And that is, I hope, what everybody's waiting for, to get those answers as soon as possible. And I'm personally committed to that. So is Dr. Fauci. So are thousands of people working in the public and the private sector.

We have a partnership with industry that is closer than it's ever been before. And nobody's worrying about who is going to make a profit or who is going to get the credit.

BLITZER: As someone who's seen what NIH and all your team of experts, what you guys have been doing over these many, many years, let me thank you on behalf of all our viewers here in the U.S. and, indeed, around the world for everything NIH does.

Dr. Francis Collins, thank you so much for joining us. Good luck.

COLLINS: You're welcome, Wolf. It's a privilege to be in this job, and it's great to talk to you tonight.

BLITZER: Thank you very much. We appreciate your joining us.

Let's bring in our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger.

Sanjay, I understand you have known Dr. Collins yourself for, what, about 30 years. I have known him for many years as well. What stood out to you from what we just heard from him?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he was my genetics professor in medical school. We have known each other a long time.

There's a few things that stood out to me. One is that he's totally behind Dr. Fauci. You asked him a bunch of questions about that. I think he was pretty clear on that and couldn't envision a situation where he would have -- where Dr. Fauci wouldn't be in the job.

Two is that they are scientists, not politicians. I mean, I could tell he was uncomfortable with some of these things that sort of make him put on his more political hat. He obviously runs a large organization, a large scientific organization. But he is much more comfortable in the scientific role, frustrated by the fact that, when you look at the right side of the screen, the United States has a quarter of the cases of coronavirus in the world, roughly.

I think he is really frustrated by that, but legitimately, I think, excited about the possibility of a vaccine, Wolf. And keep in mind, the idea that a vaccine would be available in a year from when we first identified this coronavirus, I think there's very few scientists in the world, at that time, that believed that was possible.

Typically, vaccines take years and years to develop. So the idea that it could be done in a year, the fact that the head of the NIH is now saying that as well, I think that was significant.

BLITZER: I think it was very significant. And let's hope this happens, because a lot of lives are at stake right now.

Gloria, I know you were listening very carefully to Dr. Collins as well, especially his defense of his longtime colleague Dr. Anthony Fauci. What did you take away from our discussion?


GLORIA BORGER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, much of the same things that Sanjay took away.

He's not going to fire Tony Fauci. He doesn't want to be in the position to be asked to fire Tony Fauci, reading between the lines. I don't think that's something he would do. He called him a national treasure. I think he believes it.

What was striking to me, in terms of what the country is looking for and what we are all looking for, is the fix of the vaccine. He wanted to make it very clear that, while they're moving at warp speed, it's called Operation Warp Speed, he said, we are not cutting corners. We are just going fast.

He wants to make it clear to the American people that, when they do produce a vaccine and they start distributing it, first of all, to the highest-risk community, that it will be safe. And he understands and mentioned that there is, generally, some skepticism in some corners -- and we know this -- before COVID about vaccines in general in this country.

And he said, you have to find a way to kind of get around that, because if you want to develop some kind of herd immunity in this country against COVID, you're going to have to have an awful lot of people vaccinated.

And I think that's a message he clearly wants to get across to the American public.

BLITZER: Yes, that is an important point as well.

Sanjay, we're learning that the White House Coronavirus Task Force media briefings potentially could start up once again fairly soon. I don't know if it's going to happen. Let's see if that happens.

But would resuming regular press briefings help this country's overall response to help all of us get back on track?

GUPTA: I think, overall, I think it's -- it would be a good thing, Wolf, because I think it does put this back on the agenda for a lot of people.

I think, when the task briefings stopped, the coronavirus task briefings stopped, I think a lot of people thought that was a signal that this was over, which was clearly not the case.

So I think, if nothing else, it would translate to the, hey, we're still very much in the middle of this, which is the truth. I think the important thing, and I think it would be obviously no secret that it should translate into action.

There are clearly things that need to be done right now. Testing dramatically needs to be improved. There needs to be a tsunami of testing all over the country. People are looking for real guidance about schools. And you're hearing that Dr. Redfield possibly won't be able to testify next week.

We need that kind of knowledge. That's the number one topic, I think, for a lot of parents right now. And then, obviously, just about masks. Hopefully, those sorts of actionable items would come out of those briefings.

BLITZER: Yes. Let's hope, indeed.

All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Gloria Borger, guys, thank you very much.

Just ahead, we are going to live to Texas, as the state is now reporting another unprecedented one-day jump in confirmed coronavirus deaths.



BLITZER: We're back with the breaking news out on Texas right now, one of the states being gut-punched by the coronavirus. Texas just reported a record high of 174 virus-related deaths in just one day.

Our National Correspondent, Ed Lavandera, is in Dallas for us.

Ed, despite the troubling numbers, the governor in Texas is still having to defend the mask mandate he ordered two weeks ago. So what's the latest there on the backlash he is facing?

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Wolf. Well, right now, Texas Republicans are meeting in their state convention and the right wing of the Republican Party here in Texas has been highly critical of the governor for this mask mandate, some people calling it unconstitutional.

The governor has gone on and spoken to that group, and said just the opposite, that the mask mandate is constitutional, he has the authority to issue it. And not only that, that, essentially, he is saying it is the only thing keeping him from shutting down the Texas economy because of the startling numbers that have emerged, once again, this week, here, in this state. The governor is hoping that the mask mandate will help get the coronavirus crisis under control here.

As you mentioned, Wolf, 174 new deaths reported. That is three days in a row that the state has set a single-day record high in the death count here. And more than 10,000 new cases reported, once again, that's four days in a row of more than 10,000. And the positive infection rate, here, in this state now, Wolf, is over 17 percent. It's more than quadrupled in just a month-and-a-half.

And the real-life ramifications of all this is being felt in hospitals across the state, where there are reports of ICU bed space running out in various hospitals from South Texas, to Houston, into the Dallas area. So, a great deal of concern, how this crisis is continuing to unfold here in the State of Texas. Wolf?

BLITZER: Ed Lavandera in Texas for us. Thanks very much.

From Texas, let's head over to the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. We are talking about Florida. We're joined by the Miami-Dade County mayor, Carlos Gimenez. Mayor Gimenez, thank you so much for joining us.

Yesterday, I spoke with the mayor or Miami, the City of Miami, Francis Suarez, who told us that he was perhaps only a few days away to having to make a decision about whether or not to shutdown the city once again. He is clearly working you with you, the county leadership, to decide if that's necessary. What's the latest? Will your residents of Miami-Dade County be told to stay home again?

MAYOR CARLOS GIMENEZ (R-FL), MIAMI-DADE: We hope not. Today, I spoke to my medical advisers. And the counts on the people going into the hospital the last five days, we've only had a rise of about 2 percent, over the last five days of hospitalizations.

So we're seeing something of -- you know, it's trending in the right direction.


We still haven't stopped the uptick, but it's a lot slower than it was in the past. We still have plenty of capacity here, medical capacity. And so, no, I don't think that we're going to do that any time soon. It's not coming in the next couple days. We'll see what happens over the weekend. I'll talk to my medical advisers again and then make some determinations after that. But that's the last thing we want to do is shutdown Miami-Dade County.

BLITZER: An unpublished report, Mayor, from the White House coronavirus task force says 18 states, including your State of Florida, should roll back reopening. Your county, right now, given the numbers that's going on, seems to be the epicenter of Florida's outbreak, Miami-Dade, the largest county in Florida. What actions are you considering, if not, to a return to stay-at-home order?

GIMENEZ: No, look. We already rolled back some things. We instituted a curfew a couple weeks ago. We closed all movie theater, bowling alleys, casinos, places of assembly. We closed down the interior spaces of our restaurants. And so, we think that those measures -- and now, we just passed an ordinance that allows us to ticket on a civil basis, people that are violating the mask order. So now, we have a mask order indoor, outdoors we've had a mask order here since April.

So we have rolled back some of the things that we did open. We just haven't rolled back everything that we opened, you know, back in early June. And so we have taken some steps. We think that these steps, these measures, are going to grab hold. And we expect that this contagion rate is going to start to drop or at least level off, and then start to drop. And so our medical advisers have told me that, look, let's see and wait and see what happens with the measures we did take about a week ago.

BLITZER: You know, what's very disturbing, Mayor, is that, in Miami- Dade County, the average positivity rate for coronavirus tests over the last 14 days is now 27 percent. In other words, for every 100 people taking the test, 27 test positive. That's well above your goal of 10 percent test going back -- coming back positive. The last two weeks are proof that something is not working well.

You did have a stay-at-home order a couple of months ago when the numbers were not nearly as bad as they are now. The numbers are so much worse now. Why not, out of an abundance of caution, Mayor, go back to what you did a couple months ago and tell folks, you know what, it's a good time to stay home?

GIMENEZ: Well, because at the time that we closed down, our unemployment rate was about 1.8 percent and we had the federal government backing us up. Now, it's a little more difficult to go back. If we start to shut down again, we could cost people their livelihood. They may not have a job to come back to. You know, that's what the first wave of shutdowns did to our economy here.

And I understand that there's the health issue but there's also the economic issue. But, again, if people had just followed the rules, if people had just worn their masks, not gone to social gatherings and partied, and, you know, and gotten together and kind of forgot that we were in the midst of this pandemic in early June, I think everything would have been fine.

So now, we're drilling that back again. We're telling them, hey, we're serious about the masks. We have always been serious about the masks. You can't really socialize. We've got a curfew to curtail the social activity. You now need to also look at what's going on inside your household because there may be a member of your house, now that has the virus. And refocus and get everybody else, all of our residents focused on the fact that this is real.

We think that these measures will take effect. We think that, at this point, we don't believe we need to go back to square one. We need to take those measures which we think will start to drive this thing down.

BLITZER: You know, what worries me so much is 27 percent of those who take the test in Miami-Dade County come back positive right now. That is a really scary number. I know you got tough decisions you got to make. Mayor Carlos Gimenez, good luck to you. Good luck to everyone in Miami-Dade County down in Florida. Thanks so much for joining us.

GIMENEZ: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, why the Trump administration wants schools to reopen for in-person classes despite record new infections right now across the country.



BLITZER: Tonight, as the president pushes to reopen classrooms despite stunning spikes in infections across the United States, a House Committee says the White House is blocking the head of the CDC from testifying on the critically important issue of school reopenings.

So let's bring in Dr. Leana Wen, the former Health Commissioner of Baltimore. Dr. Wen, thanks, so much, for joining us.

The House Education Committee is accusing the White House of blocking CDC officials, including Dr. Robert Redfield, the head of the CDC, from testifying at a hearing on schools next week. Does it make it more difficult for parents and educators to have confidence in school- reopening plans if the top health officials in the country are barred from testifying on this critically important matter?

DR. LEANA WEN, FORMER BALTIMORE CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Yes, it's inexplicable, Wolf. I just, really, cannot imagine what science reason, what actual reason there would be for blocking this. This should be the single-most important thing on our minds right now, how to ensure the health and wellbeing of our students, how to get our economy back up and running. Also, depends on schools being in operation.


But it's not just about schools being back. We, also, have to reopen schools safely, or else they are just requesting to going to shut down again, and we're going to see outbreaks across the communities.

And so, we really need to be hearing from our top public health experts here. And make no mistake, that there is a lot that needs to be done. We need to be suppressing the level of COVID-19 infections in communities across the country. We, also, have to critically have the resources in order to make our school safe, to follow the CDC guidelines.

And I can completely imagine why Congress would want to hear from our top public health experts, in order to implement these guidelines, and figure out how many resources, what are the resources, we actually need to ensure the health and wellbeing of our students?

BLITZER: And not just students, the teachers, educators, everyone involved in getting these schools back in action. The president now says he will not, repeat not, issue a national mask mandate.

Listen to what he just told Fox News. Listen to this.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Do you regret not wearing a mask, in public, from the start? And would you consider -- will you consider -- a national mandate that people need to wear masks?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: No, I want people to have a certain freedom, and I don't believe in that, no. And I don't agree with the statement that, if everybody wore a mask, everything disappears.

Hey. Dr. Fauci said don't wear a mask. Our surgeon general, terrific guy, said, don't wear a mask. Everybody's saying, don't wear a mask. All of a sudden, everybody's got to wear a mask. And as you know, masks cause problems, too.

With that being said, I am a believer in masks. I think masks are good.


BLITZER: The president says masks cause problems, too, Dr. Wen. Is that the message the White House should be promoting right now, as all of us are trying to fight this deadly virus?

WEN: No, it's not, Wolf. There needs to be a -- an agreement about the message. And that message needs to be one, based on science and public health. And, at this point, it's crystal clear that, if everyone wears a mask, that we will be able to reduce the risk of acquiring and transmitting COVID-19 by fivefold. So that's, absolutely, something that we should all do, right now.

BLITZER: It's absolutely essential. It's so easy to do it and thousands of Americans will live, in the coming months, if people just go ahead and simply wear a mask and do the other things that are required. Not difficult, as opposed to ignoring those recommendations.

Dr. Leana Wen, thank you so much for joining us. We'll stay in close touch with you, as well.

Just ahead, we're taking a closer look at the disproportionate impact of the coronavirus on black and brown Americans.

We'll be right back.



BLITZER: This Sunday night, the fifth season of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. Kamau Bell premiers, exploring white supremacy and institutional racism.

I want to show our viewers a clip. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I was very conscious about that, and I remember when you were a little guy, you know, six, seven years old, and there was a drugstore near us that we would shop in. And as soon as we walked in the door, the store detective would follow us. I said, be really careful, and I pointed out the store detective, because we're always being watched.

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA": I remember that lesson, and it sticks with me today, so much so that I'm aware when I'm in stores now as a fully grown adult where my hands are. And, you know, as I kid I was aware of it because I don't want to be arrested. As an adult I'm aware because I don't want to be killed.



BLITZER: Joining us now, W. Kamau Bell, the host of CNN's original series, "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA".

Tell us about what our viewers should expect in this new season, Kamau.

BELL: First of all, I can't start without saying that was my mom, everybody. That's my mom. She's in the episode.

It's really a very thorough, I think, and clear description of what white supremacy is with a lot of examples because I think a lot of times in America we get caught up in the white supremacy is just the Klan or the neo-Nazis. But white supremacy is the system on which this country was built, and we say in the episode, white supremacy is the Klan and neo-Nazis. White supremacy is 44 out of 45 presidents being white men in a land that was originally 100 percent Native Americans. So, we're really trying to talk about it from multiple levels.

BLITZER: Yes. And you got very personal there with the advice you were getting when you were a young kid as opposed to when you got a little bit older.

BELL: Yeah, I mean, my -- you know, my mom was aware. She's born in 1937. She's 83 years old despite how she looks on camera. And she was -- she came through a lot of America's most notorious racism, civil rights movement and Jim Crow laws and things like that.

She wanted me to know how I needed to conduct myself in the world because I was a black boy.

BLITZER: Yes. We're really looking so forward to this fifth season. Kamau, thank you so much for doing it. Thanks for all -- everything you do.

Be sure to watch the premier of "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA", Sunday night, 10:00 p.m. Eastern, right here on CNN.

Much more news right after this.


BLITZER: Finally, our nightly tribute to some of the victims of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gladys Helen Gross of New Jersey was 88 years old. Her nephew says she had a gift for knowing how to find the humor in life. We're told Gladys loved to sing and dance, especially to the music of Frank Sinatra.

Reverend Vickey Gibbs of Texas was 57. She's survived by her wife, two daughters, a grand son and a heartbroken members, a lot of them of her progressive church. We're told that people were drawn to her because she had a knack for helping other people.

May they rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing. I'll be back tomorrow night, 7:00 p.m. Eastern for another special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

"ERIN BURNETT OUTFRONT" starts right now.