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COVID-19 Sun Belt Surge Continues; Oxford Vaccine to Enter Phase III Trials; CNN Television Special Explores Trump Conspiracy Theory Ties. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 20, 2020 - 14:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: I want to turn now to CNN's Jason Carroll, who has been tracking activity in the states that are seeing a surge right now. Take us through this, Jason.

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, a lot of mixed messages out there, Brianna. You know, a top official on the White House Task Force said today that there is no question that the United States is seeing a surge in the Sun Belt. He says all hands are on deck, all this as there is some encouraging news on the front to find a vaccine.


CARROLL (voice-over): Another week, another record in Florida, now the epicenter of the pandemic. Sunday marked the fourth time the state reported more than 12,000 cases in a single day. In Miami-Dade County, intensive care units are at 130 percent capacity. A curfew, now in effect in the city of Miami Beach to help curb crowds at popular nightspots.

MAYOR CARLOS HERNANDEZ (R), HIALEAH, FLORIDA: This is scary. I mean, now, every day is over 10,000, it's almost like the norm. As long as we don't work together -- and I'm talking counties and the state -- we're going to find ourselves in this problem right now.

CARROLL (voice-over): Nationwide, the CDC's ensemble forecast now predicting the total U.S. death count from the virus will be more than 150,000 Americans within the next three weeks. All, while the president continuously fails to acknowledge the surge in cases or the lags in testing. Some, still waiting seven days or longer for test results.

BRETT GIROIR, ASSISTANT HEALTH SECRETARY AND WHITE HOUSE TESTING COORDINATOR: So we're all working to decrease the turnaround times. But let me put this into context. One state was at five days average. Seven states were between four and five days. Eighteen states were between two and three days, and the rest were between three and four days. That is not optimum, we want to reduce that. It will be reduced.

CARROLL (voice-over): California, still seeing a resurgence in the number of coronavirus cases. Los Angeles' mayor says he is on the brink of reissuing a stay-at-home order.

MAYOR ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA: Mayors often have no control over what opens up or doesn't, that's either at a state or county level. And I do agree that those things happened too quickly.

CARROLL (voice-over): Meanwhile, today, two groups developing vaccines announced early trial results show they are safe and create an immune response. But more research is needed before researchers will know if they effectively protect people from the virus.

Back in the United States, Arizona over the weekend reported 147 deaths on Saturday, the highest daily death count in the state since the pandemic began. Eighty-seven doctors signed a letter to the state's governor, urging him not to reopen schools until at least October. Arizona's governor has resisted calls for a statewide mask mandate.

The same in Georgia, where Governor Brian Kemp sued to block Atlanta's face covering ordinance. He's seeking an emergency injunction to restrain Atlanta's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms, from making statements to the press.

Meanwhile, several retailers, taking the lead on mask mandates. Starting today, Walmart, Kohl's and CVS requiring customers to wear face coverings.

Delta Airlines strengthened its policy, telling passengers who cannot wear a mask on flights to consider staying home.

Few signs of masks or social distancing in Queens, New York over the weekend, where police had to break up a crowded street party. The city, now moving forward with phase four of its reopening but still no indoor dining.


CARROLL: And Governor Cuomo is in Georgia, meeting with Savannah's mayor to talk about ways of trying to stop the spread in that state. Savannah's mayor, as you know, Brianna, has been very critical of the state's governor, saying that Georgia's governor is basically playing politics instead of listening to the science -- Brianna.

KEILAR: Jason, thank you for that.

As Jason just mentioned, there is news on the race to find a vaccine. The medical journal "The Lancet" is reporting Oxford University is working on a vaccine that may give people protection against the coronavirus. In human trials, the vaccine stimulated the body to produce a, quote, "double defense" response, both antibodies and those so-called killer T cells that attack the virus.

I want to bring in Dr. Jorge Rodriguez, who is an internal medicine and viral specialist. And I really want to get your take on this because last hour, we heard from Dr. Peter Hotez, who said that yes, this study was potentially good news but there's still so many unknowns. So you give us your assessment here of this Oxford study, and what it will mean -- really, I think, for the lives of Americans, if anything, at this point.

JORGE RODRIGUEZ, INTERNAL MEDICINE AND VIRAL SPECIALIST: Yes, absolutely. I think he's right. So let's try to understand how studies have to go and trials have to go before we can say, Hey, this really works.

If we had not gone -- if Oxford had not passed this test, this vaccine was really not going to work. So what happened was, they wanted to see if this vaccine would create antibodies. And more specifically, neutralizing antibodies against the COVID virus. They also wanted to see if it was safe.

And on both cases, the answer is yes. It created neutralizing antibodies after one month and a second dose, to 100 percent of the 30-something people that they tested. This is really good news because if this had not happened, Brianna, this vaccine would have been dead in the water. But now we have a vaccine that creates antibodies.


The big question is, so what, all right? Does it really keep people from getting COVID? That is the next step, the phase III trial, that's going to involve thousands of people. But again, had we not crossed this hurdle, we probably wouldn't have even gotten to phase III. So this is good news. But again, let's temper it because we need more information.

KEILAR: And so there's -- it required two doses, right? We should be clear about that, it required --


KEILAR: -- basically, I guess, like a booster. And --

RODRIGUEZ: Correct --


KEILAR: -- is there something about the mechanism of what happened that is definitely promising or is it only possibly promising?

RODRIGUEZ: No, they're -- it's definitely promising. This is an antibody against what is called the spike protein -- you know, like spiking a ball -- of the virus. Why is this important? Because the spike protein is the one part of the virus that we think does not mutate. Therefore, if you make antibodies to this permanently unmutable site? That's good news because it means that those antibodies may continue working.

So, again, this is very promising and it will probably -- all right? -- work. But again, never say never until it is done --

KEILAR: OK, so then --

RODRIGUEZ: -- or ever. KEILAR: -- then let's talk what that could mean for timeline,

assuming it were to clear other hurdles. And, look, we should also mention, there's like two dozen vaccines, right? That are in the process right now --

RODRIGUEZ: Right (ph).

KEILAR: -- I mean, there's a lot of different ones. But what would like the -- what would the earliest be if this continues to clear hurdles?

RODRIGUEZ: All right, so let's say they now start phase III trials. Probably the earliest information that they could get -- now remember, we don't want to keep leaking information because this has to be verified. We're talking about people's lives, and we don't want a vaccine to do harm.

So probably, you're not going to get data as to whether this vaccine keeps people from getting the virus, for another six to nine months. Because you need to have a group that has the vaccine, and a group that doesn't have the vaccine, and there needs to be a difference as to how many are getting the actual COVID in one group as compared to another.

So what do you do? Do you give people COVID or try to give it to them? Probably not. You just let nature take its course, and you keep analyzing the data. So this now is taking us into the beginning of 2021. And at that case, supposedly from what I hear, they are ready to start mass manufacturing this vaccine, which means that if everything goes well, maybe toward the middle of 2021 or early 2021, there may be a vaccine. That's my opinion.

Then you have to make the distribution, you have to get it out to people. So hopefully, if everything goes well, early to middle of next year, there will be a vaccine that prevents. And then we have to start jockeying as to who gets it, where do they get it. And that's the politics of the vaccination. Yet another hurdle.

KEILAR: All right, and that is -- yes, hurdles. All hurdles that have to be cleared. No guarantee that they all will be, but that is sort of a best-case scenario -- which we do always appreciate, because we need to know the range here.


KEILAR: Doctor, thank you so much.

RODRIGUEZ: My pleasure, my pleasure.

KEILAR: We'll see you soon.

America's federal response is faltering as other nations are seeing success. Fareed Zakaria will explain why.

Plus, once again, President Trump, downplaying the virus? He compares it to the sniffles -- for young people, anyway. [14:08:41]

And the president uses a cognitive test that he took that asks to identify an elephant, to show why he wants to make mental competence an issue in this campaign.


KEILAR: President Trump is trying to make mental acuity an election issue this year. He's been bragging about a cognitive test that he took. And in his "Fox News" interview over the weekend, he challenged Joe Biden to take the same test.


CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS ANCHOR: Incidentally, I took the test, too, when I heard that you passed it.


WALLACE: It's not -- well, it's not the hardest test.

TRUMP: No but the last --


WALLACE: There's a picture, and it says, "What's that?" And it's an elephant.

TRUMP: -- the last -- no, no, no. You see, that's all misrepresentation.

WALLACE: Well, that's what it was on the web.

TRUMP: It's all misrepresentation. Because, yes, the first few questions are easy, but I'll bet you couldn't even answer the last five questions. I'll bet you couldn't, they get very hard, the last five questions.

WALLACE: Well, one of them was, Count back from 100 by seven.


TRUMP: And let me tell you, if you couldn't answer, you couldn't answer --

WALLACE: All right, what's a question (ph)?

TRUMP: -- many of the questions --


KEILAR: OK, so we also looked at the questions that President Trump insists Chris Wallace couldn't answer because they, quote, "get very hard." And as Chris points out, the test includes pictures of animals to identify. Another question asks you to draw a clock, 10 past seven. And then to copy a cube. In another section, five numbers are read out loud. You have to repeat them in order. And then three numbers are read and you have to repeat them in backward order.

And when you get down to the last give questions -- which are those ones that the president said are the hard ones -- you're asked to, quote, "Name maximum number of words in one minute that begin with the letter F. Also, to recall five words that were given to you, minutes earlier. And then the very last questions ask that you name the date, the month, year, day, the place, and the city that you are in. And that is what the president of the United States is bragging about being able to do.

This is a cognitive test, it is not meant to be hard, right? This is an exam that's meant to identify people who have Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia. And for many, this is prompting the question, Why did the president's doctors decide that he needed to take the exam? It's also prompting the question of why is he bragging about this.


We are also right now seeing President Trump continuing to double down on his false statements about the coronavirus pandemic as Americans are dying. He is still denying reality, and ignoring the magnitude of the outbreak. The president even claims that the U.S. is the, quote, "envy of the world" when it comes to testing.

I want to bring in CNN's Fareed Zakaria, who is the host of "FAREED ZAKARIA GPS." Fareed, you talk to leaders and experts around the world; I've just talked to normal people who I come into contact from around the world. And I mean, I'll tell you how they think the U.S. is doing. I wonder if it isn't the same as what experts are saying about how the U.S. is handling this pandemic.

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN HOST: The truth is, Brianna, you don't need to talk to experts, you don't need to talk to leaders. All you have to do is look at the numbers. If the president thinks that the United States is doing well in the coronavirus pandemic compared to the rest of the rich countries in the world, the advanced world, he needs to take another cognitive test. Because the United States is basically at the bottom of the heap.

The United States is, roughly speaking, has 10 times the number of daily deaths that Europe has. Many European countries have a few hundred cases every day. Florida alone is up to 10,000 cases a day. So we're not just doing worse, we're doing worse by an order of magnitude. And the data makes this absolutely clear.

KEILAR: And worse with more resources, I think that is what's so incredibly frustrating as we -- you know, it's answering the question, what does leadership mean in all of this?

You are doing a primetime special -- so important tonight -- on President Trump's conspiracy theories. I want to watch a clip of what this looks like. This looks at his ties to the fringe conspiracy group QAnon


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where we go one, we go all.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where we go one, we go all.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where we go one, we go all.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): General Michael Flynn, the former national security advisor whom Trump has lavishly praised as a fine man wronged by the justice system, took the QAnon oath on the Fourth of July with family and friends.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless America.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: God bless America.


ZAKARIA (voice-over): Flynn's lawyers tell CNN that the oath he took was not connected to QAnon.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Where we go one --

ZAKARIA (voice-over): But in fact, that oath is universally recognized inside the Q movement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where we go one --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Where we go one, we go all.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): President Donald Trump frequently retweets QAnon accounts. On the Fourth of July, the same day Michael Flynn took his oath, while the coronavirus was surging to record levels all over the country, the president retweeted QAnon accounts 14 times.

No one is sure how many people are in the group. But according to the "Washington Post," about 600,000 people have voted for QAnon-connected political candidates.

Media Matters has documented at least 46 of them are in the current election cycle.

MARJORIE GREENE, (R), CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE: I'm Marjorie Greene, and I approve this ad.

ZAKARIA (voice-over): Marjorie Greene faces an August runoff in her effort to win a congressional seat from northwest Georgia.

GREENE: Q has put out there that many high-level officials will soon be arrested. Is it going to be true that the child pedophilia in the elites in the Washington , D.C., is that what we're really going to see come out? Is it going to be satanic worship?

Save America. ZAKARIA (voice-over): Marjorie Greene is favored to win that seat in

the House of Representatives.


KEILAR: I mean, it is stunning. That -- it's just -- it's very scary when you put it out there like that, Fareed. And it's just so clear in how you explain it. Tell us the other conspiracies that you're examining.

ZAKARIA: Well, the most important one -- and the QAnon group is very much behind this, we're really leading up to this -- is a conspiracy that says that there is a -- there are vast groups of people who are making sure that there's going to be enough voter fraud that President Trump is not going to win the election.

In other words, President Trump is laying the groundwork for the ability to say, if and when he loses the election, It was a fraud, I never lost, I don't -- I should not be leaving office. And the QAnon people are part of that. He has been making this point about mail-in ballots. There are sources close to him that say that the mail-in ballots may be coming in from China.

It's all, of course, nonsense. There is no factual basis for it. But in a sense, this is the most dangerous conspiracy theory we have ever heard because it is a conspiracy theory that will make it impossible for the United States to have a peaceful transfer of power, which has been the hallmark of American government, really, since the Constitution.


KEILAR: Yes, and then the president, just this weekend, asked if he would, you know, respect the outcome of the election, and raising doubts about whether he will, which just makes it so clear why it's dangerous.

This is going to be a fantastic special, Fareed. Thank you so much for putting this together.

And don't miss the CNN special report. It's called, "DONALD TRUMP'S CONSPIRACY THEORIES." That is tonight at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific, right here on CNN.

Despite Florida being the epicenter of this pandemic, the governor refuses to close gyms because he says people who work out are at low risk. I'll speak with someone who thinks he was infected at the gym.

Plus, fact-checking the president's claim that most cases in young people are, quote, "the sniffles."



KEILAR: As cases soar in Florida, some city and county leaders are pressing for another lockdown. But Florida's governor, Ron DeSantis, is resisting those pleas, describing the recent surge as a, quote, "blip" and dismissing a push to close down gyms.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): That's not something that I'm going to close, partially because if you look, you talk to any physician -- particularly the people that are under 50 -- 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. And so I think taking that option away, for people to be healthy, just doesn't make sense.


KEILAR: I want to bring in David Lat, who is a COVID survivor. He tested positive for coronavirus back in March, and spent six days on a ventilator in a New York ICU in critical condition. David, thank you so much for being with us. You have a gym connection here. But before we talk about that, I just want to see how you're doing. Give us an update on your recovery.

DAVID LAT, COVID-19 SURVIVOR: I'm doing very well, Brianna, thank you. I feel fairly well recovered compared to a lot of other people who have had COVID. My lungs look reasonably good. I have to see the pulmonologist in September. But overall I'm doing well. A lot of other survivors have heart problems, kidney problems, gastrointestinal problems. And I'm very fortunate not to have those.

KEILAR: Do you feel like you're 100 percent or do you feel like you're a little less?

LAT: Definitely not 100 percent in terms of back to where I was before COVID. I had this cough that lasted forever, even after I got out of the hospital. That finally went away, so that was a big improvement.

But for example, you know, years ago, I ran the New York Marathon twice. Even more recently, I was able to run at a good clip. I can't run any more. There are a lot of things I can't do. I can't really work out any more. So I'm not back to exactly where I was before, but doing a whole lot better.

KEILAR: OK. And so tell us about this, because you actually suspect -- you know, this was before everyone was maybe as aware and being as careful, for the folks who are being careful. But you actually suspect that you contracted the virus at the gym?

LAT: That's my best guess. I can't be certain. It's not like you get a text alert when you get it, saying, You've just contracted coronavirus. But the gym was the place I was at the most, other than my apartment and office, in the two weeks leading up to my showing symptoms.

And I was the first one to get it in my office and in my apartment building, as far as I know. So that's why I think I might have gotten it at the gym.

KEILAR: So what do you say when you hear Governor DeSantis, there, saying, Look, if you're under 50 and you are in good shape, then you're actually in good shape when it comes to coronavirus. And that's one of the reasons that he's resisting calls to shut down gyms.

LAT: I think that's a big oversimplification, and I think that is not correct. When I got sick, I was 44, I was in excellent shape, I was going to the gym multiple times a week to do high-intensity interval training classes. And I wound up on a ventilator. I was in the hospital for almost three weeks, and I was young and healthy.

You know, I do have an asthma history but it was very well controlled with an inhaler. I haven't had an asthma attack in years. But I still wound up in very serious condition, despite being young and healthy.

And I wish my governor or mayor had told me, back in late February and early March, Sorry, David, you can't go to the gym.

KEILAR: You wish that you had been told that?

LAT: Yes.

KEILAR: So the president has also been dismissing the dangers of the virus when it comes to young people. This is actually how he described the dangers.


TRUMP: Many of those cases are young people that would heal in a day, they have the sniffles, and we put it down as a test. Many of them. Don't forget, I guess it's like 99.7 percent.


KEILAR: What is your reaction -- I mean, I think I see your reaction on your face. But tell us your reaction to that.

LAT: I think that's ridiculous. Now, look, is it true that some people who contract the coronavirus are asymptomatic or don't have symptoms? Absolutely. Is it true that there's a range of symptoms? Absolutely. But it's not just the sniffles. I know many, many people who, even though they didn't have to go to the hospital, had very, very bad cases of COVID, said it was the sickest they've ever been in their lives.

My husband never had to go to the hospital, but he had serious severe symptoms for more than a week. So I think it's really ridiculous and really troubling to just call it the sniffles.


KEILAR: Yes. Look, it's great to see you, David.