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Trump Resumes White House Coronavirus Briefing; California Surpasses New York with the Most Coronavirus Cases in the U.S.; Florida Governor Says State on the "Right Course" in Virus Fight; New Cases, Hospitalizations Surging in South Texas Hot Spots; Interview with Savannah Mayor Van Johnson about Coronavirus Cases; Georgia Governor Launches Campaign Encouraging People to Wear Masks While Still Fighting Mask Mandate in Atlanta; U.S. Abruptly Orders the Closure of Chinese Houston Consulate; Arizona Teachers Gear Up for Protest Over COVID Fears. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2020 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Very good Wednesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Poppy Harlow. The nation's top -- the nation rather tops 1,000 deaths in a single day. That happened yesterday for the first time in weeks. And top officials even the president now say this crisis is only going to get worse from here. Right now, cases have climbed in 26 states, positivity rates in the nation's hardest hit states are also soaring.

SCIUTTO: That's right. That means the infection is spreading and now the CDC is warning that the case count is actually much higher than what the data shows so far. In some areas infections could in fact be 10 times higher. Ten times. Overnight, California surpassed New York for the most cases in the nation. Officials there warning young people are the ones driving the spread now.

We're live as we always are across the country. First, let's get to CNN's Jeremy Diamond at the White House.

So, Jeremy, the president said the administration is starting to work on a strategy. Of course this is something he has resisted. He's resisted recognizing the severity of the problem. Do we know anything about that strategy? What's different?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, what's remarkable is that over the last month and a half, as cases have been surging across the country, the president has not been focused on developing a strategy. Instead he has been focused on denying the reality of that surge in cases. We've seen the president downplay the threat of the virus and also claimed falsely repeatedly despite this being debunked that the surge in cases was merely tied to an increase in testing.

But the president yesterday, it seems after one poll after the next has shown him trailing Joe Biden, has shown that Americans overwhelmingly disapprove of his handling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president yesterday finally acknowledging that reality including this reality that things will get worse.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Some areas of our country are doing very well, others are doing less well. It will probably unfortunately get worse before it gets better, something I don't like saying that about things but that's the way it is. It's the way -- it's what we have.


DIAMOND: And the president also directly urged Americans to wear a mask saying that they are effective whether you like them or not. The president asking his supporters to go ahead and wear a mask to slow the spread of the virus. Nonetheless, we still -- even as we saw that slight change in tone from the president, something that, you know, we know he can go back and forth on, we also heard him still trying to spin the reality of this situation.

The president at one point talking about the rest of the world also dealing with the situation equally as bad as in the United States. Even though in Europe and in Asia, for example, they are not dealing with this second surge of cases of the virus. That is something that is unique to the United States.

Now, the president did say that he's going to be doing more of these briefings going forward. Today, though, there will not be an additional briefing, instead the president seems to be focused on an issue involving domestic politics. The president talking about violent crime in American cities, something that has been central to his re- election campaign ads as of late -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Jeremy Diamond, thank you very much for that reporting.

Let's get to Stephanie Elam, she joins us this morning in Los Angeles.

So, Steph, California just passed New York as the state with the most coronavirus cases in the nation and as I understand it, a big chunk of them, you know, 57 percent I think, are young people under 41 years old.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So there's two ways to look at this data here, Poppy, and yes, we did just overtake New York. But let's keep in mind that California has twice the number of residents that New York does.

HARLOW: Right.

ELAM: And also when you look at the deaths here, we're about 8,000, whereas New York state was about 32,000. No one wants to see these numbers go up but just put them into perspective here. The state saying that they've had time to prepare, so they've got their surge hospitals are there if necessary. They took the time to bulk up on PPE and all those things. Still the positivity rate in the state is at 7.5 percent over the last 14 days, and it is trending higher.

The state wants to keep that number below 8 percent. Then you look at hospitalizations. A record number there, about 8600 is the number is there. It's trending higher, same thing with ICU admissions. Also trending higher, all of this a problem. The California health secretary also saying that contact tracing has become difficult to do because the rate of infection and the way it's spreading is just almost too fast for them to keep up with.

Now when you look at that number overall, you look at Los Angeles County which is 40 percent of the overall cases that we are seeing here in California, and you can see that there's definitely an issue with people under the age of 41. Right now, based on the numbers that we got out from L.A. County which was about 2700 new cases just above that, 57 percent of those cases are for people under the age of 41.


But think about this. The positivity rate is close to 10 percent here in L.A. County. And when you look at older people, people 65 and older, they represent 11 percent of the cases but 75 percent of the deaths here in L.A. County. So that tells you that people who are younger are going, spreading, getting around, and then taking it back to their elders and that is a fatal move. This is why we are on the brink of a shutdown order coming back here to L.A. County if the numbers do not go the right direction -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Listen, everyone has a role in controlling the spread of this outbreak.

Stephanie Elam, there in Southern California, thanks very much.

Let's go to CNN's correspondent Rosa Flores in Miami.

So of course the governor of Florida, he claimed victory early on in this. The numbers told a different story as you saw an outbreak there. Now he's saying the state is on the right course. Is the governor taking steps, aggressive steps to control the outbreak now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, that's the problem, Jim. You have to accept that you have a problem in order for you to fix it. Here's the reality on the ground in Miami-Dade County right now. ICUs are operating at 132 percent capacity. Now, process that number with me for just a moment. That means that there are more patients than there are ICU beds.

Now, granted, the county will say that they have plenty of beds that they can convert into ICU beds but here's the deal. You need human beings to provide that care. We know that dozens of hospitals across the state have already asked the state of Florida for help with nurses because they need nurses.

As for ventilator use, it's up 74 percent in the past two weeks here in Miami-Dade County. Now this is the reality in the epicenter of this crisis in the state of Florida. Now despite all these facts and figures, Governor Ron DeSantis maintains that his state is on the right track.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We are on the right course. I think we will continue to see improvements. We just got to continue to keep doing particularly the Floridians who are just doing the basic things.


FLORES: Now, here's some facts and figures that are released by Governor DeSantis' own administration. 53 ICUs around the state are at zero capacity, meaning they have zero ICU available. There are another 45 across the state that have 10 percent or less ICU capability. Now I looked at that list. Some of those ICUs have only one ICU bed available.

Now, as for the hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients across this state, it's up 37 percent since July 10th, Jim and Poppy, and the only reason we can't go back further is because that's when the state finally released those hospitalization numbers after much pressure from reporters and others -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Including you, Rosa. Thank you very much for getting us those answers, for your updates this morning.

To Dallas, our Ed Lavandera is there with the latest on the crisis in south Texas.

And ed, I think your reporting really brings to light what is going on there.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Poppy, well, we spoke with some doctors in south Texas who are on the front lines living that pandemic nightmare in Hidalgo County and they just -- one doctor described it as a tsunami of patients that they are dealing with right now. And also went on to say that he was overwhelmed by the number of death certificates that he's had to sign in recent weeks. That he's never had a time like this in his medical career.

This comes as the number of overall hospitalizations in Texas has reached a record high and there in Hidalgo County, that county reporting a record number of deaths. In just one county, 49 people reported died yesterday, there in Hidalgo County. The county judge there has issued a shelter-at-home order, urging people to stay at home to help get this virus under control, but the governor of Texas has pushed back on that, saying that the county doesn't have the legal authority to issue such a wide sweeping order like that.

The county judge spoke with CNN this morning, reacting to the governor's reaction to his order.


JUDGE RICHARD CORTEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS: So I issued the shelter- in-place order knowing that it was against the governor's order to enforce that law. But you know what I've told him and others, if I can even simply get 10 percent of the people to follow it, I'm 10 percent better than today, because yesterday we had 49 people pass away and that is certainly not acceptable.


LAVANDERA: One of the aspects of that order that the county judge had signed was a curfew in place. The governor here in Texas saying he supports that aspect of the order, but the shelter-at-home order in the governor's view should simply be seen as a recommendation that there's no legal authority for the local governments there to issue that kind of order.


This really captures, Poppy and Jim, that struggle that we've seen going on here in Texas for several months between local authorities where these areas of hotspots have flared up and the governor here in Texas.

SCIUTTO: Ed Lavandera on the ground, thanks very much.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has launched a new campaign to encourage residents to wear masks. He's doing this while pushing forward the lawsuit, suing the mayor of Atlanta over her requiring masks. What's the point?

Joining me now is the mayor of Savannah, Georgia, Van Johnson.

And Mayor Johnson, we appreciate you taking the time this morning.


SCIUTTO: Can you explain to me how it's helpful to the residents of Georgia to have a governor sue a mayor, trying to do the right thing on masks, while at the same time, coming around to the idea that masks are a good idea? I mean, does that -- does that help control the outbreak? Can you explain what's going on here?

JOHNSON: Not at all. You know, we're trying to figure this out. We're living this in real time. It's kind of the psychosis of our state. On one end of it, national experts over 30 states all saying that masks should be mandatory. It's very, very clear. On the other end, our governor has always said that, you know, he thought masks were necessary, at the same time, he's suing the mayor of our capital city.

More than two-thirds of all of our cases in this pandemic have occurred in the last three weeks so we're clearly getting worse. And again, people are confused. I mean, rightfully so.

SCIUTTO: Let me ask you this, because on June 30th you signed an emergency order requiring people to wear masks or face coverings. And again, to be clear when we talk about this, it's not like people are being rounded up and sent to jail if they're not wearing a mask. But as someone who runs a city there, does it make a difference in getting the percentage of people to wear masks up when you require it as opposed to suggested? Does it work? JOHNSON: Absolutely. When you require a mask, there are people who --

if it's a law they will follow it. And we have found that more people were wearing masks because they were abiding by the mandate. Also, we have visitors that come here from all over the world and they're still coming. And so as people come here and they see this is what Savannah does they conform to our culture.

SCIUTTO: There have been some questions in Georgia about, you know, the politics, right, infecting -- excuse the use of that word, but infecting the response to this crisis. I mean, even when you look at the lawsuit from the governor against the mayor of Atlanta there. Are you concerned that even as the numbers have jumped there the politics rather than science are still driving the response?

JOHNSON: Absolutely. We have always said here in Savannah that we will keep the faith or follow the science. We were going to keep politics, personalities, prejudices out of it. We were going to do what the science does. And so that's what we've been able to do here in Savannah. We don't want to make this about people, about politics. We just want to make sure the Savannans and those that visit us remain safe, and we know that mask does that. So I mean, I don't know what else to say.

SCIUTTO: All right. Well, listen, you know, we try to focus on the science every day on this program, too, but sometimes you've got to fight to do it. Right?

So let's talk about the science and reopening, right, because another thing that the experts agree on, you know, reopening is great, that's where we want to get to. But to reopen sustainably you have to get the outbreak under control. Particularly to meet these 14 days in a row, right, of declining cases. And then that's something with your safer services reopening plan that you're trying to find.

I wonder, as you speak to businesses, you know, of course they want to get back to work, right? They want to be able to pay their workers, keep their business running. Do they understand that now, too? In other words, I mean, do you feel like you have partners in the businesses in Savannah saying yes, we get it, man, we want to get back to work, but to do that we've got to get the outbreak under control?

JOHNSON: We do. And I mean, I think the unfortunate part was here in Georgia we reopened on April 24th which was -- when we were still increasing in cases. So we opened far too early. Our businesses get it. They understand it. They have the dichotomy of keeping their customers and employees safe while still trying to earn an income and I think they want to be able to do it safely. And they had worked with us, with our Savannah safer plan. They worked with us, with our Savannah safe plan and our Savannah safe pledge. And again, they're complying largely with our mask ordinance.

SCIUTTO: OK. Then of course the next question that comes is reopening schools. Right? Reopening businesses is one thing. Looking at the situation on the ground there, what do you need to do to see to feel that you can do so safely, open schools safely? JOHNSON: We clearly have to get this virus under control. We have to

stop the spread. Again, we're increasing. In the last 22 days our confirmed cases have totaled more than 2,300.


And so, until we can slow this spread down -- I have not been in favor of opening schools. I notice it's very difficult for people, but we have decided here locally on a virtual learning format until we're able to get this virus under control.

SCIUTTO: Well, listen, we know you're facing a lot there. We wish you and the people of Savannah the best of luck.

JOHNSON: Thank you for thinking of Savannah, come see us soon.

SCIUTTO: I'd love to, man, first opportunity --

JOHNSON: Right --

SCIUTTO: I'll be there.

JOHNSON: All right. With a mask on.

SCIUTTO: Yes, absolutely.

JOHNSON: That's right.

HARLOW: All right. Great interview. Well, the case count, it is bad and the CDC says it is really a lot worse than we even knew. The former acting head of that agency is with us. And as tensions escalate this morning after the U.S. orders China to immediately close its consulate in Houston, China vows to retaliate. Why did this all happen? There are many questions and not so many answers this morning. We'll give you what we know.

SCIUTTO: Plus, teachers in Arizona are ready to protest today over their fears about going back to school in the midst of the outbreak. We're going to be there live.



SCIUTTO: Welcome back. New data from the CDC suggests that the actual number of infections in this country is far higher than that number you see on the right side of your screen.

HARLOW: That's right. In fact, the agency believes on average now, that in the United States, we've had about 10 times the number of COVID cases than the numbers show. With us now is former acting CDC Director Richard Besser. Doctor, it's good to have you, explain to people why this matters now, right? How does that help us as we chart a path forward?

RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL & PREVENTION: Well, you know, it tells us a couple of things. One is that, there's a lot of disease transmission that's going on that we don't see. And we've had signals of that because we're learning that a significant number of people will get this infection and have no symptoms or mild symptoms, so they wouldn't have gone for treatment.

The estimate in terms of the higher number comes from surveys they've done around the country, looking at blood, looking for these antibodies, these protective factors. The other part of this though is that it points to how incredibly critical it is that we have widespread testing available so that anyone with even mild symptoms can get tested and get the results back quickly. You know, right now, we're seeing results in many places taking a week to come back, and that removes any value of that test for public health control. You need the results back within two days.

SCIUTTO: OK, so if that is the correct number, 10 times and we're at about 4 million now, so call that 40 million Americans, that's still well below herd immunity, right? Which would be well --

BESSER: Yes --

SCIUTTO: Above 50 percent. So, we're talking about well above, you know, 150 some odd million Americans. Is there a silver lining to a higher infection rate in terms of getting to a point where more of the population can -- that their bodies can respond to this, or are we so far from there that it's really not a hopeful sign?

BESSER: Well, I think your first point is a really good one, is that even though the number is 10 times what we've been able to count so far, it is still extremely small. You know, in many parts of the country, 2 percent, 3 percent in New York, it's just under 8 percent.

That's a long way from herd immunity, from protection. And to get to a level where people are protected, we don't know what that level is. If it were 40 percent or 50 percent, you're talking about millions and millions of people getting infected and hundreds --


BESSER: Of thousands of people dying, and we don't want to go that route for protection.


HARLOW: You have made a really important point about schools as this debate rages on. And it's a critical debate right now. But it's not only about -- we know whether schools in certain regions can open, given the number of cases, et cetera, there. It's about what schools and the wealth of -- you know, the school district that's going to allow some schools to open safely and others just won't be able to.

BESSER: Yes, I mean, exactly. If you look at how the pandemic has played out before with black -- so far, with Black Americans, Latino- Americans, native Americans being hospitalized and dying at incredibly high rates, we are on a course for that to play out just the same way in schools. We fund schools in America in large part off of property taxes, so wealthy school districts will be able to retrofit classrooms, so that the air-flow is good and, you know, there aren't as many students there.

They can hire the staff for cleaning and for screening. But schools in lower-income neighborhoods aren't going to be able to do that. So those children are going to be left behind. Those teachers --


BESSER: Those staff, those kids are going to remain at higher risk. And that shouldn't be. We need the federal dollars to be there to make sure that we don't see these same disparities.

SCIUTTO: OK, so vaccine, right? A lot of focus on this. Pfizer saying large scale production and nationwide delivery of 100 million doses of a vaccine -- that we're heading in that direction. And that Dr. Anthony Fauci has been very hopeful about this, talking about, you know, life availability end of this year or early next year. You inject a little bit of caution there. Tell us what your view is.

BESSER: Well, I think we do need to be cautious. You know, it's exciting the amount of energy that's going in, the number of vaccines that are being tested. But none of these vaccines have been tested in large numbers of people. And when we think about vaccines and protection, a vaccine like measles, it provides like 95 percent protection which is amazing. A vaccine like the flu vaccine, the level --


BESSER: Is much lower. Some years, it's 30 percent, 20 percent. So we don't know what kind of protection we would get from a vaccine. And to date, there's not a safe and effective vaccine for this. So, we have to rely on these public health measures.



BESSER: The other aspect of the report on Pfizer that worries me is whether wealthy nations are going to try and corner the vaccine market, and not --


BESSER: Have vaccine available for other countries around the world. There's a global effort by W.H.O. and Gavi, which is the vaccine alliance, to ensure that all countries have a fair access to vaccines, and I worry --


BESSER: That wealthy nations are going to snatch these up and we're going to see incredible disparities globally.

SCIUTTO: Yes, you saw that with PPE, right, I mean, it's -- it'd be remarkable if that would happen with life-saving vaccine. Dr. Richard Besser --

BESSER: And Remdesivir, the treatment drug --

HARLOW: Go ahead --

BESSER: Same thing --

SCIUTTO: Exactly. Dr. Besser, always good to have you on, thanks so much.

BESSER: Thanks very much.

SCIUTTO: Well, China is now vowing retaliation, this after the U.S. ordered Beijing to close its consulate in Houston. What is behind these escalating tensions? They are real, they are concerning, we'll have the latest.