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Should Schools Reopen?; COVID-19 Surging; Amid Sinking Polls, Trump Tries to Rewrite Virus Response; Ohio Governor's Statewide Mask Mandate is Now in Effect. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 16:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: The boy and the two sisters now orphans, I just want to say thank you for all the tweets we're getting. I just posted the GoFundMe, if you are feeling generous.

I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thanks for being here.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

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

And we begin this Friday with breaking news in our health lead, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, making clear this afternoon that some states in the U.S. should pause and even reverse course in their reopening plans, Fauci saying that all options must be on the table to fight this pandemic.

The comments from Fauci come as COVID-19 is spreading at alarming rates across significant parts of the United States, including the South and the West.

The death toll topping 1,000 for each of the last three days. It's a dangerous trend that we have not seen since May. Hospitalizations are also climbing, reaching near record levels over the last 24 hours, after declining dramatically last month, as you see in the graph on the screen.

Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House Coronavirus Task Force saying today that the surge is -- quote -- "very serious and very real" -- unquote -- comparing major outbreaks in at least three states, Texas, Florida and California, to what happened in New York, though Birx pointed to some encouraging signs.

Infections, she said, may be plateauing in those hot spots, as well as in Arizona.

This all comes as the CDC is trying to defend newly released guidance pushing for kids to go back to school in person. Critics contend that the country's top public health agency may be being politicized to please President Trump, instead of following the science. Even health officials inside the Trump administration acknowledge that

it is still an open question how much young people spread the disease, as CNN's Nick Watt explains for us now.


NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The president, backed by new CDC guidelines, pushing hard for schools to reopen, brick and mortar.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Being at the school, being on the campus is very, very important.

WATT: But is it safe? The CDC says: "Scientific studies suggest that COVID-19 transmission among children in schools may be low," emphasis on "suggest" and "may."

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I think we still need to learn a lot about children, elementary school children, getting infected and whether they either spread or not efficiently to adults.

In hot spots, schools should figure out a plan with local health officials, says the CDC.

DR. MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Right now, the virus is controlling us in many parts of the world. Much of the Americans right now are really in the thick of it. But we do see signs of hope.

WATT: Across the country, in more than half of states, average new case games are right now steady or falling. That's good. Case counts generally falling in Arizona, after a very difficult month, and hard- hit Florida?

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): Although I do think South Florida has definitely stabilized, and I think Miami is showing some signs of improvement as well.

WATT: He's right. New case rates in Florida are leveling off, but leveling off very high. And average daily deaths in the state are at an all-time high. And in Miami-Dade County, ICUs are now operating at 132 percent capacity.

DR. AILEEN MARTY, HERBERT WERTHEIM COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We're drowning. We're absolutely drowning here. It's just an overwhelming number of cases, 527 individuals in the ICUs.

WATT: Starr County, Texas, just ordered everyone to shelter at home. According to the county, "Our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment and who is sent home to die by their loved ones."

One major model projects around another 75,000 Americans might die before November. So, now we should hit the reset button, say 150 prominent medical experts and others who signed an open letter to our leaders: "Shut it down now and start over." DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I don't personally think that's necessary. I think that, if we just do the commonsense things, we can get this under control, as other countries have gotten under control.

WATT: So, the absolute opposite of this tight-packed, unmasked religious service in Northern California.


WATT: And California has just reported another record daily death toll, Jake, two more people dying than yesterday.

And also today, more big retailers and food stores making people wear masks. Chipotle, as of today, you have got to wear a mask when you walk in. McDonald's is going to do the same as of next weekend.

And, clearly, they are anticipating a little bit of friction. They say, if somebody arrives without a mask, an employee will, in a very friendly fashion, offer them one. If they refuse the mask, there will be asked to stand away from other people to keep staff and other customers safe -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right, Nick, thank you so much.

Joining us now, Michael Osterholm. He's the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.

Thank you so much, Michael, for coming back.

What guidance would you offer when it comes to whether or not kids should go back to school, based on today's data?

DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH: Well, we have done a lot of work on this over the past several weeks. In fact, I have just recorded two different podcasts that are on our center's Web site.

And after interviewing many superintendents, teachers, parents, looking at all the different guidance, over 17 guidance documents, looking at the data, I think it comes down to one simple fact. Every school district should have to be able to choose for their own, what do they do?

It's so different from city to city, whether you have more cases in some than others, what the composition of the student population happens to be in terms of their access to Internet, online learning, et cetera.

We all want to get kids back to school. But this should be a local choice issue. I'm convinced of that.

TAPPER: The new CDC guidelines heavily push for kids to return to school, in-person learning, citing the potential detriment to their development.

Not long ago, the CDC warned that schools could fuel the spread of coronavirus. And we have seen that chart out of Israel, where, when they -- once they opened the schools, the infection rates started really going up significantly.

Are you worried at all about whether or not the information coming from the CDC can be trusted, given how much President Trump's administration has politicized so many agencies?

OSTERHOLM: Well, I think the CDC recommendations today have to be viewed in the light of the fact that they had previous recommendations that were in draft form that looked very, very different than the ones that do today.

I just have to come back to the fact that, first of all, we don't have good data in this country about kids in schools, particularly whether it be K through fifth or sixth grade, which may be one risk level, or those all the way to senior in high school.

And the reason is because we closed schools down when the pandemic really first started hitting here. The data we have are actually from countries outside the United States. And if you look at those, most of the data that we have generated says that the risk is very low actually occurred in countries that got the pandemic under control relatively quickly, and then reopened in a very different setting than we have seen in the United States.

On the other hand, where we have had large community case numbers, schools had a much more difficult time reopening. So, we have to understand that we just can't say that kids won't get infected and transmit.

We all want kids to go to school, all of us, for all the other health reasons, but also we have to understand, how do you do that if, in fact, you have teachers, a quarter of them right now have high risk factors for serious disease if they get infected?

We have to figure out what plans are available to local school districts, so they can help control that. We're all waiting for federal resources to get to the schools. It's still languishing in the U.S. Senate right now.

I have talked to a number of superintendents in the last two weeks who said, we have plans that we can help put in place that will reduce the risk of transmission, but we can't do them now. We don't have the resources.

So I think what we have to understand is, this is probably going to be our COVID year for school, except the fact that it's not going to be a normal year. It may be a redo for us next year. And do whatever you can to help protect kids, protect the teachers, protect your communities, and if you can go to school, great, but if you can't, that's not a wrong answer. TAPPER: You say that a lot of this depends on -- whether or not a

school should open or a school district should open on the infection rate in the area.

What kind of scenario would you like to see before a school says, OK, we're going to have in-person classes?

OSTERHOLM: I think you have got to first of all see well less than 5 percent of your positive tests -- of your testing is positive. You would like to see, in fact, fewer than five cases per 100,000 population. You want to have a decreasing number of cases for at least the last 14 days, and you want to have a quarter or more of your hospital beds available, so, if you have a surge, you can deal with it.

If you have all those conditions in place, then your schools have a better chance of not having the virus come in from the community itself and causing problems from day one.

And so, again, we have to leave this up to the various communities. Each one is different. I have yet to meet a superintendent or a schoolteacher that don't want to get back in class. They all do. They want the kids back. But they have real challenges right now in terms of just what they can do, based on the under-resourced efforts to try to get more space, for example, so you can space students out, to get more paraprofessionals to come in and help out, so that, if you have to split classrooms up into two, you actually have that.


They don't have personal protective equipment right now. Many of the schools have virtually nothing to help protect their teachers. This is not a time to force this. This is a time -- maybe they can open in October, maybe in November.

But, again, it's a do-over. Let this be your COVID year, doing everything we can to protect kids, doing everything we can to keep parents working and providing child care.

But, at the same time, I just have to say, Jake, if anybody has the right answer here, it's the wrong answer. The only answers we have is, you have got to give it to local choice, and you have got to get resources to these local school districts, or we're asking them to do the impossible.

TAPPER: Dr. Birx said that Florida, Texas and California are essentially three New Yorks, where the death toll still remains the highest in the country, more than 32,000.

New York did ultimately dramatically bend the state's curves and cases and hospitalizations and deaths in New York are dramatically down. But do you expect a second wave could hit New York?

OSTERHOLM: New York is at risk.

I have to disclose that, months ago, Governor Cuomo asked me and someone else to serve as the kind of the reviewer of the data every day, in terms of whether or not they could reopen further, or they had to basically close things down.

What New York has done has been remarkable. They have not just only driven the numbers down, but they have monitored it so closely that they, more than any other place in the United States, has a good feel of what's happening and when to tighten things up, when to loosen them up.

They too realize that they're sitting potentially on what could be increasing cases. But I'd much rather deal with a couple hundred or 400 cases in New York City right now than having to deal with 75,000 cases across the country every day.

And so they have shown us that you can reduce the occurrence of this virus in your communities if you lock it down, get it down to a low level, and then control it from there.

What we did is, we kind of got there. We kind of got halfway way there. And people said, ah, we're just close enough, let's open up again. And we saw what happened with that.

So I happen to be one of those that believe we have to, at least regionally, if not in large parts of the country, lock back down, get it down, and then we can control it after that in a much better way.

And all we need to do is look at countries around the world that have done it. They should give us hope that we could do what they have done. And we can, I believe, but we're not going to do it if we keep saying, well, we will kind of, kind of shut down.

TAPPER: All right, Michael Osterholm, thank you so much, as always. Appreciate it.

President Trump now appears to be accepting the realities of the coronavirus pandemic, but it does seem he's forgotten some things in the process. We will tell you what.

Then: new revelations about why President Trump barred New Yorkers from signing up for a popular State Department program.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our politics lead today, this week, President Trump is attempting to convince the nation that he is on top of this pandemic, he's doing this not by initiating a new strategy for tackling the virus, given that the current one is clearly failing. He's doing it by finally embracing masks at least for now and holding briefings. And sources say much of that is driven by his sinking poll numbers and his fears that he will not win re-election in just over 100 days. The president's latest move on this front canceling parts of the

Republican National Convention set for Florida and blaming it on the virus and the need to keep people safe, though as CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports, it appears at least some of the concern is over how many people will actually show up.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump made a series of head-snapping reversals on coronavirus this week as the virus is surging and his poll numbers are sinking.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So I told my team it's time to cancel the Jacksonville, Florida, component of the GOP convention.

COLLINS: Canceling his convention in Jacksonville, Florida, was the latest U-turn that came eight weeks after the president moved it from North Carolina because he thought the health precautions required there were too strict.

TRUMP: The timing for this event is not right. It's just not right with what's happened recently, the flare-up in Florida.

COLLINS: Without mentioning the thousands of supporters he recently addressed in Oklahoma and Arizona without masks, Trump now says he feels obligated not to host big crowds.

TRUMP: I thought I had an obligation not to have large numbers, massive numbers of people crowded into a room.

COLLINS: Sources say there are staggering numbers behind the president's decision, but it's not the case count in the U.S.

A Quinnipiac poll released this week found 62 percent of Florida voters felt it was unsafe to hold a convention in the state next month. The same poll had Joe Biden leading Trump in Florida by 13 points.

The president cancelled the convention but forged ahead with his push for schools to re-open this fall. Though he claimed Wednesday that kids don't transmit COVID-19, quote, very easily, task force official, Dr. Deborah Birx, said it's still being evaluated.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: What I can't tell you for sure is whether children under 10 in the United States don't spread the virus as same as the children over 10.

COLLINS: The president did not brief reporters on Friday, but he did tweet that a top Republican told him Congress would not force the Pentagon to change Confederate names of some U.S. military bases.

But Senator Jim Inhofe voted for a bill that passed the Senate this week and includes a provision to rename those bases and it's similar to one that passed in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support. Despite including a pay raise for U.S. troops, Trump has threatened to veto the final bill if it ultimately renames those bases.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The bases are not known for the generals they're named after.


The bases are known for the heroes within it.

COLLINS: CNN reported today that President Trump erupted last week after his Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a military wide directive effectively banning the Confederate flag from military installations.

TRUMP: It's freedom of speech.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, I should note that a White House official did dispute our story on Esper, saying the president was not angry when it was brought up, though other sources said that he certainly was.

We should say today, the president didn't brief, but the Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany did, and, Jake, she was asked about the president's call with the Russian president yesterday, a call -- one of several he's had over the last few months with Vladimir Putin. And she was asked if the president brought up the intelligence, remember, recently, that was reported on about the purported Russian bounties to the Taliban for U.S. soldiers. She said she would not comment on whether or not that was brought up during that call, and, Jake, she also wouldn't say if the president raised election interference with Putin, which is notable given the fact that today, the nation's top counterintelligence official listed Russia among countries that are trying to interfere with American democracy.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you for that excellent reporting. Appreciate it.

What to do if you're in one of the places where coronavirus is surging. I'm going talk to a Republican governor who just instituted a mask mandate for his state. That's next.



TAPPER: In the national lead now, Ohio has just recorded its highest level of hospitalizations since this pandemic began, and Dr. Deborah Birx, the ahead of the coronavirus task force at the White House, says that she's concerned about the explosion of new cases in the state's two largest cities, Columbus and Cleveland.

Joining us now to discuss is the Republican Governor Mike DeWine of Ohio.

Governor DeWine, thanks for joining us.

GOV. MIKE DEWINE (R), OHIO: Thank you.

TAPPER: So, you have a new statewide mask mandate now in place. It requires masks at indoor locations and outside if there's no social distancing, as well as on public transportation. As you well know, cases have been rising in Ohio for the last month.

Why implement this now and not earlier?

DEWINE: Well, we started about four weeks ago a process where we labeled counties by different levels, and if you were a red level, which was three, people had to wear a mask. So we've been kind of easing people into this, but the good news is that we've seen the mask wearing go up. When we look at some of these counties where they've been wearing masks more, we think we're seeing a slowdown, at least a slowdown in the increase.

So, you know, our numbers have gone up today or yesterday's was the second highest we have had for some time. So, we don't like that at all, but we've been hovering somewhere between 1,200 or 1,500 every day now for two weeks probably.

TAPPER: Twelve to fifteen hundred new cases, is that what you're talking about?

DEWINE: New cases. Yes, new cases, right. That's what we're looking at.

TAPPER: Yes. So --

DEWINE: The positivity rate is about 6.2 and it's been fairly steady for the last week or so.

TAPPER: So I recall you trying to implement a mask order for the state at the end of April, but you rescinded it the next day. You said this, if you recall.


DEWINE: It became clear to me that was a bridge too far. People were not going accept the government telling them what to do.


TAPPER: So, in retrospect, was it a mistake to listen to the people who were telling you they would never abide by it, and who are these people? Was it protesters?

I mean, they were wrong whoever was telling you they opposed this mask mandate. They were -- they were obviously wrong.

DEWINE: Well, well, look, part of governing is to be able to bring people along. And, you know, when we did our re-opening, we had and still have today some of the most stringent protocols for companies. So, everybody -- every employee in every company for a long time now has been under our mask order and it's worked exceedingly well. When I made the decision not to require people who are going into the

retail to wear a mask, it was made because it was clear at that point in time people would simply not accept it. Did not think people would really be doing it.

So it's not the protesters. We're not concerned about that. But there's an obligation that a governor has to try to bring people along. So, we've been doing that.

As I said, three weeks ago, three and a half weeks ago, we went to a system of color. If you're red, you have to wear a mask. So, for some time, 60 percent of the people had to wear a mask. We've seen good compliance, increasing compliance.

Now, what we're asking is our counties that don't have as high, our yellow counties and orange counties, we're telling the folks there, look, if you wear a mask, you won't -- you know, this is a good way not to get to red and not to get to purple. So, it's certainly -- I think we're moving now at in right direction.