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U.S. Surpasses Four Million Coronavirus Cases; Soon: Trump to Hold Briefing fro Third Day in a Row; Trump to Send Hundreds of Federal Agents to "Democratic-Run Cities". Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 23, 2020 - 16:00   ET



JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

We begin with breaking news in our health lead.

Just minutes ago, the United States of America marked four million confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus. To put in perspective how quickly the pandemic is escalating in this country, it took the U.S. 99 days to reach the first million cases in April. It was another 43 days after that to reach two million cases in June.

It was about half that time to reach three million cases earlier this month, and about half that time, 15 days, for the United States to add yet another million infections, totaling more than four million nationwide.

President Trump would argue that this is only because of increased testing. And it is true the testing has increased in the U.S., but the president's own health experts say that these numbers are going up the way they are not because of increased testing. They're going up because the virus is spreading.

White House Task Force coordinator Dr. Birx is privately sounding the alarm to state and local health officials about rising infections in a dozen cities here. And for the second day in a row, more than 1,000 Americans, 1,000, have died from coronavirus.

It is clear, just by going by the data, the president's strategy, whatever it has been, is not working. The president's strategy is failing.

As Republican Senator Mitt Romney and many others have pointed out, you only have to look at how other wealthy and Western nations have been able to dramatically crush the number of new coronavirus cases, stopping the spread, while, here in the United States, cases are skyrocketing and the spread is only quickening.

Now the question for President Trump is, what will you do, sir, to protect the citizens of this country? This is your main job, and the current plan is failing. So, Mr. President, what is the strategy? Things are so bad that President Trump's former FDA Commissioner Scott

Gottlieb said today that the U.S. could see upwards of 300,000 coronavirus deaths if things do not turn around, as CNN's Athena Jones reports for us now.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four million infections nationwide, a grim milestone, and perhaps the strongest signal yet the coronavirus is still raging out of control across much of the country.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: We are certainly not at the end of the game. I'm not even sure we're halfway through.

JONES: Total hospitalizations back up to April levels, with 15 states setting new records.

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: Until we actually have a commitment to getting this virus to a very, very low level, we're not going to really do much except continue to put out this raging forest fire the best we can.

JONES: In Florida, which just set a new record for deaths in a single day, Miami's mayor stressing the challenges of halting community spread.

FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MAYOR OF MIAMI, FLORIDA: If you have a multigenerational household, wearing masks indoors, at times, with their multigenerational residents and also respecting social distance when they're at home, because, again, we're seeing the largest center of spread being our house.

JONES: Alaska one of 12 states that saw its highest seven-day average for new daily cases on Wednesday, the governor announcing that, starting today, people in state buildings will be required to wear face masks when they cannot stay six feet away from others.

GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R-AK): We want to do everything we can, especially over the next two weeks, to see if we can kind of arrest this surge.

JONES: School districts from Seattle to Maryland, and universities like South Carolina's Clemson, announcing plans to hold classes online in the fall.

In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey still mulling whether to open schools, while facing pressure from parents and teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to go back to work. We want to support our kids. We want to keep doing what we love doing, but we also want to feel safe. And we also have family to worry about.

JONES: Meanwhile, more evidence of the virus' steep toll on people with certain underlying medical conditions, from a new CDC study showing that people with heart conditions, diabetes and other ailments are most at risk from COVID complications, as the agency releases this new video, using robots to perform COVID antibody tests a lot faster than humans can.

And one potentially bright spot? Sports. Major League Baseball today starting an abbreviated season, with Dr. Anthony Fauci throwing out the first pitch in Washington, D.C.

FAUCI: I hope I don't bounce it too much.


JONES: And there are more signs that the situation in California is still heading in the wrong direction, the state reporting 157 COVID-19 related deaths on Wednesday. That's a single-day high.

They also reported more than 12,000 new confirmed cases. That is the second highest daily uptick after the day before -- Jake.

TAPPER: OK, Athena Jones, thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss, CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

And, Sanjay, obviously, there is more testing right now, but the fact is, it took only 15 days to get from three million to four million cases. What does that tell you?


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that you want to look at the increase in numbers, but one of the things public health officials really pay attention to is the pace at which these numbers are increasing.

And this graphic really makes the case. It took 100 days to have a million people infected, and, as you point out just 15 days. That obviously has to slow down, because we're going to have a significant amount of momentum.

The way a professor -- one of the professors described it to me, you think of a big cruise liner, Jake. At the beginning, when it's just starting, it doesn't have a lot of inertia. As it starts to gain speed, it becomes harder and harder to stop.

Even if you hit the brakes right now, it would take a long time for it to stop or steer or anything. So that's why these more aggressive measures are now necessary, maybe even more aggressive than earlier on, given the speed of the ship.

TAPPER: We have had back-to-back days of more than 1,000 deaths. The former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, FDA commissioner under President Trump, warned today that upwards of 300,000 deaths are possible in the U.S. if these trends continue.

That's more than the current death toll. Do you think that's likely, 300,000?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, we hope not.

You had 144,000 people die in the first five months. And, obviously, the death rate was thankfully very low in the beginning. You got 150 days left roughly in the year, so you're talking 1,000 people a day. It would basically be this death rate per day.

I think, Jake, what's likely to happen is that you're going to have these hot spots. Eventually, either because of policy changes, or because they simply have to, some of these other areas will start to come down, thankfully, in death rate, but are other hot spots going to develop? Are other people going to become lax?

The country became lax after Memorial Day. And I think that that's what drove it. Is that going to happen again? If so, I think Dr. Gottlieb may be right on target.

TAPPER: I also want to just take a note here, which is that people focus on the death toll, understandably. That is obviously the most horrific result of the coronavirus infection.

But there are a lot of Americans out there and obviously people around the world who get the virus who survive it, and their health is going to be messed up for the rest of their lives. It's a brutal -- it can be a brutal experience.

GUPTA: It really can be. And we have done some stories about recovery and what recovery is really like.

And we knew early on, Jake -- I remember talking to you about this back in March -- there were patients out of China, perfectly healthy patients, who, after they recovered, they were in the recovered category when it comes to their studies -- still had significant decrease in lung function.

So it is something that we certainly have to pay attention to. We saw some of that after SARS as well. People developed a pulmonary fibrosis-type picture. So you're right. We really haven't had the luxury, if you will, of really focusing on recovery as much because we have been so in it, but we -- that can't be ignored.

TAPPER: Take a listen to what President Trump's explanation is for the rise in infections vs. one of his top health experts on the task force, Dr. Deborah Birx.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Cases started to rise among young Americans shortly after demonstrations, which you know very well about, which presumably triggered a broader relaxation of mitigation efforts nationwide. And a substantial increase in travel also was a cause.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: This was an event that we think can be traced to Memorial Day and opening up, as people traveling again.


TAPPER: So it's quite a contrast, President Trump kind of leaning into the idea that it was the protesters responsible for the spreading of the virus, whereas Dr. Birx has said it really had to do with Memorial Day and the reopening in so many states.

What do you make of the contrast, especially given the fact that health experts like Dr. Birx, Dr. Fauci are not present at these briefings?

GUPTA: Yes, it makes it challenging, because they can't at the time sort of correct this or fact-check this as need -- it needs to be done.

One thing about this story, Jake, which I think is different than a lot of other stories, is, there is data. We have numbers. We can actually chart this and see what happened.

I don't know if we can show when we really started to see cases increasing, but it was -- June 10, I believe, is when you started to see an uptick. And Dr. Birx, Ambassador Birx, was sort of saying, a couple of weeks after exposures around Memorial Day travel weekend, you would -- if that occurred, you would start to see those exposures 10 to 14 days later, which is exactly what happened.

So, I mean, it's -- maybe it doesn't matter that much. We know what is true. Being indoors, close together, for long durations of time, unmasked is the worst-case scenario. Being outside, separated, wearing a mask is the best-case scenario.

That has not changed at all, Jake.

TAPPER: And speaking of being indoors, it seems as though a lot of children will not be going back to in-person learning, despite pushes from President Trump and the education secretary, Betsy DeVos.

And both of them claiming the kids don't get this virus or they don't spread it very much. What do we know definitively about how children are able to contract and how they're able to spread COVID-19?


GUPTA: Yes, what I think we can say more definitively -- obviously, we continue to learn every day, Jake.

But I think it -- what is held up is that kids are less likely to get sick from this, younger kids less likely to get sick, which is different, right? You think about flu, typically, the very young and the very old that gets sick. So I think it was a bit of a surprise that kids seemed protected from this. And they wanted to make sure that was true. And it seems to remain true.

But the idea of spread, I think, is still an open question. Some of the best studies have basically done contact tracing. Kid has the COVID. Let's see all the context they have. And let's trace them and see, did people get sick?

And what they seem to find in this large contact tracing study, if you're 10 years older, you're basically spreading like an adult does. So it's really no different for a kid or an adult once you get past 10 years old.

For kids younger than that, I think it's an open question, because when I looked at these studies carefully, there weren't a lot of kids in those studies, because mostly kids have been at home. They haven't had a lot of contacts. Little kids, I'm talking about. So they're harder to study.

So I think that part is an open question. Once we start to open schools, we're going to suddenly going to have a lot of data. And, hopefully, it holds up that the younger kids don't spread as much. We don't know yet.

TAPPER: Dr. Fauci said that the U.S. is not even halfway through the battle against the novel coronavirus, and that, in his view, it will likely never be eradicated. What does that mean? We're going to have to live with this virus forever?

Paint us a picture of what this means with the coronavirus always here.

GUPTA: Well, I think that the virus itself is such a contagious virus that it's likely to become what's called endemic. It just sort of becomes firmly rooted in the community.

But as we develop immunity for all sorts of different reasons, either because of previously been infected, the vaccine, antibody therapies, fewer and fewer people will actually get sick from it.

But keep in mind, even the flu, the seasonal flu, in some ways, is a descendant of the flu pandemic of 1918, more than 100 years ago. So it changes over years, but it's still around. We just learned to deal with it because we have a vaccine that works reasonably well.

TAPPER: And it does kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, the seasonal flu.

GUPTA: It does.

TAPPER: Sanjay, the CDC today -- well, actually, we're out of time.

Thank you so much, Sanjay. Really appreciate it.

Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta, along with special guest Bill Gates, will be here to answer your questions about the pandemic. A CNN global town hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears," begins tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern right here on CNN.

President Trump finally is focusing on testing. Unfortunately, it's not because he's focusing on an aggressive national campaign for testing for the virus. He's obsessing over a different test, one that includes identifying elephants on a page. We will explain next. Plus, the return of baseball. Former All Star Alex Rodriguez, A-Rod himself, joins me head on this very unusual opening day.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead, President Trump is expected to take the podium in minutes for a coronavirus briefing. It will be the third day in a row, but even a glance at the president's most recent interview shows that his true focus is somewhere else -- on repeatedly defending his mental acuity, his fitness for the job and the results from a cognitive test, one that is intended to allow somebody see if a patient is suffering from early memory loss or has clear thinking skills -- as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump is expected to brief reporters on coronavirus again today with no health experts by his side.

(on camera): Can you explain why?

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think it's probably a very concise way of doing it.

COLLINS: The president may preview new CDC guidelines on reopening schools that was supposed to be issued last week after he criticized the current guidance as too tough.

But Trump will also likely face questions after he claimed last night that coronavirus testing is overrated.

TRUMP: I personally think it's overrated, but I am totally willing to keep doing it.

COLLINS: The president's focus lately has been on a different kind of test.

TRUMP: Because I want to shut these people up.

COLLINS: In three recent interviews, President Trump boasted about a cognitive assessment that he took in 2018.

TRUMP: I aced it. I aced the test.

I guarantee that Joe Biden could not answer those questions, OK?


TRUMP: I answered all 35 questions correctly.

The doctors were, they said very few people can do that. COLLINS: The test the president is bragging about is not meant to

determine IQ but to detect cognitive impairment or decline.

TRUMP: The last questions are much more difficult, like a memory question. It's like you'll go: person, woman, man, camera, TV. So they would say, can you repeat that. So I said, yeah, and so it's person, woman, man, camera, TV. OK, that's very good.

Ten minutes, 15 minutes later, they would say, remember the first question, not the first but the tenth question, give us that again. Can you do that again? You go, person, woman, man, camera, TV.

COLLINS: The White House has refused to offer details on when Trump last took the test, the summary of his recent physical made no mention of it, and the doctor he says he asked for the test hasn't been his physician since 2018.

TRUMP: I said to the doctor, it was Dr. Ronny Jackson, I said, if there's some kind of a test, an acuity test and he said there actually is.

COLLINS: The White House has also still not explained the president's mysterious visit to Walter Reed military hospital last November, as the campaign has focused on questioning Joe Biden's fitness for office.

TRUMP: I do it because I have a good memory because I'm cognitively there. Now, Joe should take that test, because something is going on.



COLLINS: Now, Jake, the president is also trying to say that if Joe Biden gets elected, he is going to destroy the suburbs, which is what led him to send this tweet not long ago saying the suburban housewives of America must read the articles saying Biden will destroy your neighborhood and American dream. I will preserve it and make it better.

It's a link to this "New York Post" article where the author is essentially trying to appeal to suburban women, voters that the president has been losing ground with lately, about changing their vote from Joe Biden. But never in the article does it mean the word "housewives". That was the president's choice to use that word. And this all comes on a day where the president has spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the first time since there was the back and forth of the reported intelligence that Russia was offering bounties for the lives of U.S. soldiers, something that the White House, of course, pushed back on at the time, saying the president had not been briefed on it.

Jake, if you look at this readout today, it says they did discuss coronavirus, reopening global economies. They also talked about avoiding an arms race between China, Russia, and the U.S., but it does not make any mention of those purported Russian bounties for American soldiers.

TAPPER: I think service members and their families are entitled to some sort of explanation as to what's going on there.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you so much. Appreciate it.

Problematic and unsettling, that's what a former Homeland Security Secretary under George W. Bush says about President Trump sending federal agents into American cities against the will of the mayors and the governors.

That former secretary will join me next.



TAPPER: You're watching footage of Portland, Oregon's Mayor Ted Wheeler in the national lead, he was tear-gassed last night by federal officers. This happened hours after President Trump announced he is sending hundreds more federal agents into, in his words, Democrat-run cities, unquote, facing rising crime.

The Portland mayor later told reporters that he saw nothing that provoked or justified response of tear gas. Now, the Justice Department's independent watchdog is investigating the use of force used by federal officials in Portland and in Washington, D.C. last month.

Senior members of previous Republican administrations are speaking up, and protesting what the president is doing, including our next guest, Michael Chertoff, the former homeland security secretary under President George W. Bush.

Secretary Chertoff, thanks so much for joining us.

You called this move of the president to send agents into cities very problematic, unsettling. Why? Why do you think it is damaging for Department of Homeland Security?

MICHAEL CHERTOFF, HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY UNDER GEORGE W. BUSH: Well, I was particularly focused on the issue of using agents for crowd control. It is appropriate to protect federal buildings but it looks based on reporting in the video as if the homeland security agents who were sent in range somewhat outside the perimeter of the federal building, that they were dressed in more appropriate to quasi combat operations on the southern border than the urban environment, and that there was no coordination or cooperation with local authorities.

And that really oversteps I think what the federal authorities are and certainly is unwise in terms of the way they executed and may have poured gasoline onto the fire surge (ph).

TAPPER: And this initially started with them, these agents, being unidentified, driving around Portland in vans, and snatching up people, and nobody knew what was going on. It was all very mysterious.

Another former homeland security secretary, your predecessor, Tom Ridge, said something on CNN last night that I want to get your reaction to.


TOM RIDGE, FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY: I am disappointed in my president because it seems like it's a reality TV approach toward dealing with a very, very serious problem.


TAPPER: Secretary Ridge also went on to say in a radio interview that the Department of Homeland Security was not established to be the president's personal militia. Personal militia is pretty harsh.

Do you have that view that that's how Trump is using it?

CHERTOFF: Well, I think certainly the way the White House announced this, by focusing on the fact that it's Democratic mayors, and tying this into some campaign advertisements certainly lends a strong impression that the White House used this as a political stunt, and we worked very hard, Tom Ridge and I and our successors also both in the Bush and Obama administration to make DHS nonpartisan, treat everybody as if part of the same team as the Defense Department does.

So, I'm kind of in the same boat as General Milley and Secretary Esper when they reacted to Lafayette Square and saying this is not appropriate. Our obligation is to the Constitution. And that ought to apply to DHS as well.

TAPPER: You -- it's interesting you bring that up because it was very clear like a month or so ago that President Trump wanted the U.S. military to go into cities and then Milley and Secretary -- General Milley and Secretary Esper balked at that. They didn't want that.

And now, he's doing this, and it seems like it's the same basic plan, OK, I can't get the military, I'll just use the Department of Homeland Security.