Return to Transcripts main page


1,000+ U.S. Deaths in a Day, Officials Warn Crisis Will Get Worse; New Cases, Hospitalizations Surge in South Texas Hotspots; U.S. Accuses China of Spying, Orders Closure of Houston Consulate. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 22, 2020 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Top of the hour, good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: And the I'm Jim Sciutto.

From denying reality to now working on a possible strategy as the U.S. tops more than 1,000 deaths in a single day, the first time it's done that in weeks, President Trump is now admitting what health officials have been warning, saying for some time that this national crisis will get worse before it gets better.

As he says, his administration is in the process of developing a strategy. 26 states, however, remain in a situation where cases are rising.

HARLOW: A new warning from the CDC that this crisis is even worse than the data show, the agency says portions of the U.S. could really have had ten times as many cases as previously believed.

Also new this warning, a warning for the fall, a top commercial testing lab is sounding the alarm that the U.S. labs, their lab, will not be able to cope with the testing surge during flu season.

There's a lot to get to this hour. Let's get to our John Harwood. He joins us from the White House. Good morning, John.

Talk about the new strategy from the White House. It's great to hear the president saying the truth about the fact that it's going to get worse before it gets better, but it's a total 180.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It's a total 180, Poppy. That was driven by the deterioration of the president's political standing. He's tried very hard since the middle of May to pretend that the pandemic has passed us by, to move on to reopening the economy. But, finally, with more than 140,000 people having lost their lives with cases surging around the Sun Belt, it became too difficult for him to deny. His governors are struggling to keep up in Florida, Arizona, Texas, California.

So you heard something from the president that you very rarely hear yesterday. Take a listen.


DONALD TRUMP, U.S. PRESIDENT: 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 about things, but that's the way it is. It's what we have.


HARWOOD: Something that I don't like saying, that is the key. The president has a very difficult time acknowledging bad news that might reflect badly on him. Nevertheless, whatever the motivation, you have to say that a tone of seriousness from the president, urging people to wear masks, urging people to social distance, pay attention to guidelines, all of that is a step forward from where we were the day before on public health.

We'll see how long this tone lasts. We note that he had this briefing yesterday, no public health officials are with him. And there is no briefing scheduled for today, guys.

HARLOW: Okay. John Harwood at the White House, I appreciate the reporting this morning.

Let's talk about California, which has just surpassed New York as the state with the most confirmed cases in the country. Of course, they have twice the population of New York, as our Stephanie Elam pointed out very importantly to put this in perspective.

Still though, I think it shows, right, how close to the brink the mayor there used for Los Angeles, they are having to reverse course here.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's true, Poppy. I mean, no one wants to see these numbers go where they go where they go if you look at the fatality rate too between California, we're approaching 8,000, New York State getting to 32,000, about.

So you can see the numbers there are different, but we also know that New York got hit harder in the spring. That also bought time. If California went into a stay-at-home order for the state to prepare, bulking up on PPE, making sure they had surge capacity for hospital beds available and at the ready for hospitals if they needed it. All of that has happened. They're saying that's making a big difference here.

But the state still looking at some 11,000 cases. You also see a positivity rate at about 7.5 percent over the last 14 days. It is trending higher. The state wanting to keep that number below 8 percent, so we are getting close.

And then we also have a record number of hospitalizations at around 8,600, that new number there that we're seeing here in the state, and 28 of the last 30 days for that number, we have seen an increase. So that's also worth noting, as they're saying that transmission rates are moving so fast that they're having a hard time keeping up with contact tracing in parts of the state.

Now, it's also worth remembering that Los Angeles County is the heart of the outbreak for the state.


It's now accounting for about 40 percent of the cases in the state here. What's worth noting with this latest number that we got from L.A. County, about 2,700 new cases, 57 percent are in people under the age of 41. This means that younger people are the ones who are contracting it and then spreading it.

The way that you can take that data and see that is take a look at the number of people 65 and older. If you look at that number, you can see that there are 11 percent of all cases, but 75 percent of the deaths. So this is why they're saying they're really needing people to follow this rule of wearing a mask, staying home if you can, wash your hands. Otherwise, as Mayor Garcetti has said, we may be going back into another stay-at-home order. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Well, simple rules, they work. Stephanie Elam, thanks very much.

Let's go to Miami now, CNN Correspondent Rosa Flores there. So, Florida now approaching 370,000 cases, just remarkable. The governor says the state is on the right course. Where are the bulk of these cases? Where are they spreading the most?

ROSA FLROES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The bulk of the cases are here in Miami-Dade County. This has been the epicenter from the get-go right now, accounting for about 24 percent of those now near 370,000 cases. Jim and Poppy, as we were talking moments ago, the governor saying yesterday that the state is on track this morning, he just tweeted that he is sending incident management teams across the state and all long-term care facilities so that they can check on infection control, screening and also available PPE.

Now, we just did the math. Here is the reality of these facilities. 47 percent of all of the now more than 5,000 deaths in this state are linked to long-term care facilities. A lot of these facilities are right here in Miami-Dade County. The reality in Miami-Dade County right now, ICUs are operating at 132 percent capacity. That means there are more patients than there are ICU beds available. What hospitals are doing is they're converting regular beds into ICU beds. They're also asking the state for more nurses. They need more nurses, more medical staff to provide this care.

As we look across the state, 53 ICU hospitals are at 0 percent capacity. They don't have ICU beds. An additional 35 hospitals have 10 percent or less. If you look at that list, some of these hospitals only have one ICU bed available. And when it comes to COVID-19 patients across the state, the state finally released those numbers on July 10th. If you do the math, since then, it's up 37 percent. Jim and Poppy?

HARLOW: Rosa, thank you very much. Just really sobering numbers, once again.

Well, in Georgia, the governor, Brian Kemp, released a plan that encourages people very clearly to wear a mask, but for some reason, he's still suing the mayor of Atlanta to end an order to just that, to mandate masks.

SCIUTTO: You might ask, what's the point in the midst of an outbreak.

CNN's Dianne Gallagher, she is in Atlanta. Dianne, what's the state of the outbreak there and the state, more importantly, of restrictions like wearing masks?

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. So, Jim and Poppy, it continues to get worse here in the State of Georgia. The state will likely reach 350,000 COVID-19 confirmed cases sometime today, just over 3,400 new cases confirmed yesterday and 78 deaths.

Now, some of that was from a lag in reporting, according to the Department of Health, but officials there say that just like new infections, just like hospitalizations are rising, they are seeing an increase in the number of deaths of Georgians because of COVID-19.

Now, look, we've had an increase week over week every single week for the past six weeks in the state and that comes as the Georgia governor and the mayor of Atlanta are engaged in this legal showdown.

Now, this time yesterday, we were getting ready for the first legal proceeding, an emergency hearing in that lawsuit over local COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the mayor of Atlanta. But we still haven't had that hearing. It was canceled.

We are now on the third judge for this case after the first two recused themselves, the initial judge, because the state requested she did after a conversation she'd had with another judge about an opinion that would have had bearing on that hearing.

And the second judge recused herself because of her relationship with Governor Kemp. She used to work underneath him when she was secretary of state and also was under consideration for judicial condition, potentially.

So we still haven't gotten anywhere on that case here. That emergency hearing, if it were granted, if a judge granted that emergency injunction, it would prevent the mayor of Atlanta from talking about COVID-19 restrictions if they exceeded what the governor had in his executive order.


But, Jim and Poppy, the mayor maintains that these are recommendations and she is simply trying to get her citizens to follow the science so they can stay safe and reverse this trend we're seeing here.

SCIUTTO: It's remarkable trying to silence a mayor from speaking about a pandemic and the reaction of a pandemic, in the midst of a pandemic, just remarkable. Dianne Gallagher on the ground, thanks very much.

While as cases surge in the State of Texas, CNN takes you to the hard- hit Rio Grande Valley, where doctors are dealing with an onslaught of new patients as well as heartbreaking loss.


DR. FREDERICO VALLEJO, CRITICAL CARE PULMONOLOGIST: I have never had to sign this many death certificates that I have been signing in the last couple of weeks.


HARLOW: Plus a husband and his wife, both physicians, both testing positive for COVID-19 after an outdoor family gathering. Ahead, why they say do not make the mistake that they made.

And initially results of the Oxford vaccine proved to be promising. Researchers though say what happens during the trials in South Africa will really be the key test. So we'll take you there.



HARLOW: Well, just yesterday alone, 49 people in Hidalgo County, Texas, died from COVID-19. One day, one county, 49 families devastated. It was a record high for COVID deaths in the county for a single day and officials there are now pushing for a stay-at-home order.

Our Ed Lavandera recently spoke with doctors working on this on the frontlines in that county. And, Ed, what doctors are sharing with you is just so sobering.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Poppy. We talk a lot about the medical data and the number of new cases, hospitalizations, all of that kind of technical numbers that we have to go through to report this story, but sometimes you need to hear from the people on the frontlines living this pandemic nightmare.


LAVANDERA: This is the daily routine for Dr. Federico Vallejo, a critical care pulmonologist. When he gets dressed, it looks like he's getting ready to be launched into another world. That's what it's like to work in the COVID-19 unit of a South Texas hospital.

VALLEJO: It's overwhelming. It's a tsunami what we're seeing right now.

LAVANDERA: Coronavirus patients have filled the hospital where Dr. Vallejo works. On most days, Dr. Vallejo says he's treating about 70 different patients, four to five times more than he usually sees in a single day. VALLEJO: I have never had to sign this many death certificates that I have been signing in the last couple of weeks. Talking to these families has been very, very difficult.

LAVANDERA: Can you describe the suffering that you've seen among these patients?

VALLEJO: This is a disease that will affect the lungs and they will have trouble with the breathing. And when it happens, it's heartbreaking. It is so difficult to watch them, many saying goodbyes to their relatives by picking up the phone and saying, I'm having a problem, I'm having a problem, I don't know what's going to happen next. I see nurses crying all the time. I see doctors breaking down all the time. But then, again, that is what we do.

LAVANDERA: South Texas is the COVID-19 hotspot inside the Texas hotspot. Health officials are warning that hospital bed and ICU space are running out, nursing and doctor teams are stretched to the limit.

Do you feel when you walk into these COVID units that it's like a parallel universe?

DR. IVAN MELENDEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS HEALTH AUTHORITY: It's definitely a parallel universe? If they only knew what lurked behind those walls, if they could have X-ray vision and see the pain and suffering.

LAVANDERA: Dr. Ivan Melendez is the Hidalgo County Health Authority based in McAllen, Texas. He say the COVID units are filled with the sound of patients gasping for air, many needing ventilators and gut- wrenching conversations.

MELENDEZ: So, you have people telling you, Doc, please don't put me on that, don't put me on that, and you struggle because that's what they need and then finally they just give up and say go ahead, but, you know, you may be the person that I ever talk to. So, please, tell my family, tell my parents, tell my kids that I love them and that I fought hard.

JESSICA ORTIZ, SISTER OF JUBAL ORTIZ: It's a necklace with his ashes.

LAVANDERA: Jessica Ortiz says her twin brother, Jubal Ortiz, fought the virus for almost two weeks. The 27-year-old worked as a security guard at a jewelry store.

ORITZ: It hurts. And I feel like that someone that was there for you. So --

LAVANDERA: Jubal died on July 3rd.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He fought long and hard. We honor you.

LAVANDERA: At the funeral, friends and family paid their respects through a plastic shield over the casket. There was a fear his body still might be contagious.

ORTIZ: He meant the world. I just wish it wasn't him and I wish I had him with me because he didn't live his life yet.

LAVANDERA: Jessica is left with this last image of her other brother, a screen recording of one of their last conversations, Jubal Ortiz waving goodbye.


LAVANDERA: We should point out that shield over the casket, medical experts tell CNN there's no evidence to suggest that people who have passed away are still contagious.

But, Poppy, the one thing and theme that stuck out with us as we spoke with everyone for their stories, a sense of anger and frustration, the doctors who are frustrated by people just living their lives as if nothing was wrong, not taking anything seriously enough.


They need more hospital bed space, they need reinforcements of personnel, medical teams, and that sort of thing.

And Jessica Ortiz is left wondering whether or not her brother would still be alive if the economy here in Texas hadn't been reopened so soon and her brother hadn't had to go back to work. So that's the anger and frustration that so many of these people we talk to are dealing with and coping with right now. Poppy?

HARLOW: Of course, it is. If all of them, people who decide to just go on with their lives as if it were normal could see her grief, maybe they would make a different decision. Thank you for the reporting, Ed.

SCIUTTO: Well, not too far from Hidalgo County, Texas is the City of Corpus Christi. With me now is Annette Rodriguez. She is Director of Public Health for that area. Thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

I want to ask you about some of the data you're seeing on the ground there, particularly alarming is 85 babies infected with the virus. Why, how and what's the seriousness of their condition?

ANNETTE RODRIGUEZ, DIRECTOR, CORPUS CHRISTI-NUECES COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH DISTRICT: You know, that's a great question, and thank you for having me. But these babies, we just started seeing them very recently. And so, you know, we were doing really well here in Corpus Christi. This is a tourist place. They love our beaches.

And so we were doing really well. We only had 300 people with COVID-19 until phase three of reopen Texas, June the 3rd, and then it was like, you know, they let the genie out of the box, and everybody started going out and it started getting really, really busy.

And we in public health were saying, hold on, everybody. You just need to hold on because these are coming in fast and furious, all of these cases and that's when we started seeing all these babies starting to pick up COVID-19 and it is very concerning to us. SCIUTTO: Has that changed the state leadership there, including Governor Greg Abbot, who resisted some of these steps early on? Has the outbreak, the increasing numbers, even young people there, does that have state leaders doing what you believe is necessary to do to get this under control?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, absolutely. And so, thank goodness, they've been looking at the data and so they put a pause. And so we needed a pause here not just in Corpus, but in the whole State of Texas. And so there was a pause and we basically went back a little bit and said bars are now closed, because opening up the bars was just a huge mistake. 50 percent of our contacts, you know, were all coming from those establishments.

SCIUTTO: Yes. A lot of folks have been saying schools before bars, but you have decisions to make just last month. The Trump administration in the midst of the latest round of possible stimulus still wants to deny federal funds to states who don't open their schools right away.

As a health official, seeing the situation you see there now, what's your reaction to that?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, it makes us all very nervous because we believe that we need to slow down on opening the schools as well. You can still teach children and we understand the importance of schools being open. These children need that social interaction. They need that constant learning, so we all understand that. We're public health officials, but we also understand the impact that COVID-19 has had on our community.

And so we feel fortunate that they're listening to our data and to our leaders and that they're actually going to allow us to make those decisions. So here in Corpus Christi, we are holding off until after September 7th before school will even consider going back in person.

SCIUTTO: One sad fact of this is that -- and this is true not just in Texas where you are -- you've got your town, Christian Academy, for instance, in Corpus Christi, it's going to open its doors for students, but is that private schools are reopening, or at least part- time reopening. Public schools are not. Private schools have a bit more money often, a bit more ability to do the distancing, the higher the extra staff, et cetera.

What kind of dynamic does that create there locally when you have that division and that contrast?

RODRIGUEZ: Well, there is that division, I agree. But the majority are public schools. And so we really are looking towards the majority to be able to help us to keep the spread from we're continuing at this rate. This rate is phenomenal. It should not be -- you know, this should not be rising this fast. And that's where we're at right now with the surge at the hospitals. It's just a whole combination of things that are happening all at once and we need to slow it down.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we do. Well, listen, we know you've got a lot of work to do there to do exactly that.


So, Annette Rodriguez, we wish you and your team the best of luck.

Well, the U.S. State Department has ordered the closing of China's Consulate in Houston, Texas, accusing the country of a massive illegal spying operation. China is now threatening to retaliate. We're going to have a live update from Beijing, next.



SCIUTTO: Tensions between the U.S. and China reaching a fever pitch. The U.S. now accusing China of an illegal spying operation and has ordered the immediate closure of the Chinese --