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55 Florida Hospitals Hit ICU Capacity as Cases Spike; Trump Cancels RNC Events in Florida as Virus Cases Surge; California Sets Record for COVID-Related Deaths in Single Day; Judge Orders Mediation in Georgia's Legal Battle Over COVID Restrictions; New CDC Guidelines Come Down Hard in Favor of Opening Schools; U.S. Records Over 1,000 Deaths for Third Day in a Row; A Judge Orders Michael Cohen Released from Prison. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 09:00   ET



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


A virus surging, the president's poll numbers falling and now he is budging as the nation tops four million cases of coronavirus and reports 1,000 deaths for the third day in a row. The president says he is canceling Republican convention events in Florida.

It is a striking and notable turnaround from the very person who moved those events from North Carolina because he wanted a bigger crowd with no restrictions because of coronavirus.


HARLOW: But a few weeks has changed so much.

SCIUTTO: No question. One set of rules for the convention, different set of rules for schools. Just because he's scrapping the convention plans does not mean he's backing off his push for schools to reopen in person. Those much-anticipated CDC guidelines came down hard in favor of schools opening as well.

And how is this for a juxtaposition? At the same time a group of more than 150 top medical experts are urging political leaders to shut down the country now and start over to get the outbreak under control.

So many things to get to this morning. Let's begin with Rosa Flores. She is in Miami.

Rosa, hospitals there now completely out of ICU beds. This is exactly what the data was showing as we saw cases jump. How are they handling it?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Jim, and this is what experts are zeroing in on as they look at these numbers. The ICUs here in Miami-Dade County operating at 132 percent capacity. Look at these numbers, there are 527 ICU COVID-19 patients and 400 beds available.

Now, what the county is doing is they're converting regular beds into ICU beds to make do. But that is not the situation that any county wants to be in during a pandemic. Look at hospitalizations. Hospitalizations in the past two weeks have gone up by 27 percent, ICU units by 37 percent and ventilator use by 71 percent. The 14-day average here in Miami-Dade County is 19.5 percent.

Now as we look statewide, there are 55 ICU hospitals that are at capacity. They have zero ICU beds. Now think of all that data in this context because there is still a battle brewing here in the state of Florida on the reopening of schools. Now earlier this week the U.S. surgeon general said that transmission rates had to go down before schools could reopen.

But the U.S. surgeon general was here in Miami yesterday and I caught up with him in the sidelines of a press event and shared with him some of these positivity rates here in the state of Florida sharing that the state is reporting that in the past two weeks, the state of Florida has had between a 13 percent and 18 percent positivity rate. That the positivity rate in Miami-Dade County has been about 20 percent.

I asked him, can this state turn it around in and his professional opinion, could schools reopen safely. The U.S. surgeon general said, yes, they can. They could turn it around in a month because the cycle of this virus is about two weeks. But he did say that it would require everyone doing their part and he meant by that everyone wearing masks, everyone socially distancing and washing their hands.

Jim and Poppy, you guys and I have been reporting on how Governor Ron DeSantis has said that the risk is very low for children?


FLORES: The U.S. surgeon general made it a point to say that even though the risk is low, low risk does not mean no risk -- Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Rosa, I'm so glad you reported that because reading those comments that he said to you, you know, and he said that South Korea study on kids is also credible. So hopefully, hopefully, the governor is listening to all of that. Appreciate the reporting as always, Rosa.

Let's go to the White House. Our Jeremy Diamond joins us there.

So what's your reporting on what turned the president's mind to canceling the in-person events in Jacksonville?

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it was certainly a surprising about-face from the president here. Remember for weeks he has insisted on an in-person convention with roaring crowds to match. And he even demanded that RNC aides and campaign aides find another city to host this convention after the governor of North Carolina insisted on social distancing and other precautions if the president -- in order for the president to have an in-person convention there.

Now the president canceling this in-person events altogether, and it is just the latest reversal in terms of how the president has been publicly handling the coronavirus. Earlier this week, he acknowledged that things are going to get worse before they get better.

He finally began to embrace masks saying they were effective and urging Americans to wear them. But in terms of what is prompting all of this, it's certainly not happening in a vacuum. It is happening with the backdrop of the president's dire political standing as it relates to the November election and his chances for re-election.


Aides have come to the president over the last several weeks, urging him to get in front of this pandemic, to take it more seriously because of how closely his political fate appears to be linked to this pandemic and his handling of it.

Let me take you through some of the recent battleground state polls that are showing how bad things are for the president as it relates to his fight for re-election against Joe Biden. FOX News poll coming out just yesterday in three key battleground states, Minnesota, Michigan and Pennsylvania. The president there down double digits in all but Michigan where he is still down nine points.

And then another poll came out yesterday from Quinnipiac University looking at the state of Florida, another must-win state for the president where you can see there the president is losing to Joe Biden, 38 percent to 51 percent. And again, sources have also told me that the president has been presented with internal numbers that are also showing things not going well for the president.

So certainly it seems like the president is not only bowing to the reality of coronavirus, but also to the extent to which his political fate is so closely linked to his handling of this pandemic -- Jim, Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Well, notably the poll numbers moved him, not the death toll there, 144,000 people. That's been rising for months.

Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much.

To California, where the state just saw its deadliest single day since the pandemic began. CNN's Stephanie Elam is in Los Angeles with more.

And Stephanie, you know, here's a state, had it largely under control. Was early with stay-at-home measures. Reopened, now finds itself back to square one really. So what's the plan now?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and I would say that it looks like we're plateauing at a higher level than we would like to see, obviously, Jim. But still the numbers showing that there are some things that are good. And I'll explain that to you. But let's start off with our cases which are at 12,040. That was the number of new cases California announced yesterday. It's the second highest one-day case announcement behind yesterday.

Then we have this record number of deaths here in California. 157 deaths were announced yesterday by the state. That is a new record here. The positivity rate over the last 14 days it's at 7.6 percent. So it's stabilizing there below 8 percent which is what the state wants to see. Having that number below 8 percent there. Hospitalizations down almost 5 percent yesterday and ICU patients down almost 4 percent yesterday.

So obviously these numbers fluctuate, but obviously this is a good way we would like to see those numbers going. But there are some concerning trends. As far as the Latino population in California, let's just put this into perspective here. The death rate here. That represents 45.2 percent of that, those are Latino people. Of the number of cases, that is coming from 55.6 percent of them are represented by Latino people.

So obviously that shows you who is bearing the brunt of this here in California. Then when you look at the death rate overall, more than half of the deaths have happened here in Los Angeles County. And for yesterday, we saw 2,014 new cases announced. This is the fifth day in a row where we've seen hospitalizations above 2200 here as well. And I can tell you that the positivity is at 10 percent.

Again, stabilizing at a higher level than we would like to see here but it has been steady there. The other thing I can tell you is that Los Angeles County has decided to implement a tiered enforcement and compliance plan to make sure that companies are following the guidelines to make sure that they're keeping their patrons safe and they could start off with being for the first offense $100 and then for repeat offenders $500 and a 30-day suspension of their license in that case. And these fines will begin at the end of August -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. Stephanie, thank you very, very much.

Now to the major legal battle in Georgia over masks. A judge now ordering mediation between the governor, Brian Kemp, and Atlanta's mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.

Dianne Gallagher has more.

I was just thinking how remarkable it is that, you know, these two are fighting and have to go to mediation in the middle of a pandemic over something that science just tells us is what protects people and that is masks.

DIANNE GALLAGHER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and look, Poppy and Jim, a judge has basically told the governor of Georgia and the mayor of Atlanta to try and work this out between them before it gets too far down the legal road. But the judge ordered that mediation to happen before Tuesday.

Now, that is when that rescheduled emergency hearing is still on the docket. So it's still there just in case mediation doesn't work. If you remember, the governor of Georgia sued the mayor of Atlanta personally over her recommendation to roll back to phase one of reopening and that mask mandate, saying that it exceeded his executive order and the governor claims this is about the rule of law and preventing confusion the mayor says that, look, I'm just trying to protect my citizens and these are just recommendations anyway. So they don't go above and beyond your executive order.

Now, the good news is that the mayor and the governor's office say that they've already had a conversation and things are, in the words of the governor's office, productive.


The mayor has said that they've been working to iron things out, and look, I can tell you that people of Atlanta and the people of Georgia would like to see this thing end because the cases here continue to rise. We have seen seven weeks straight of the numbers continuing to go up just yesterday nearly 4300 new cases in the state of Georgia.

We had near record number of deaths this week and health officials say that they expect those death numbers to continue going up for the state of Georgia because the cases and hospitalizations have continued to stay on the rise throughout the summer -- Jim and Poppy.

SCIUTTO: Yes, remarkable there's a battle as you said over masks when we know masks work as the numbers go up.

Dianne Gallagher, thanks very much.

The CDC says that children do not suffer much from this virus and don't spread it at least as much as adults do. Part of the reason, the agency is coming down hard in favor of opening schools in just weeks. What does the data tell us? We're going to dig in.

HARLOW: That's right. Also, $600 a week in expanded unemployment benefits, it expires. What happens to the millions who are relying on that money just to get by?

Also, China vowing retaliation after the U.S. ordered its consulate in Houston shut down. Today we know what at least part of that retaliation is.



HARLOW: Welcome back. Well, the new CDC guidelines for opening schools are out, and there's a huge push for kids to get back into the classrooms this Fall.

SCIUTTO: Yes, what does this mean based on what standard? We're sure many of you watching now want to know what's safe. CNN's Bianna Golodryga joins us with a breakdown of those recommendations. Good morning, Bianna. What's key here is not, that the CDC says, yes, you can do it, but not if your community is in the midst of a big spike in cases, is that right?

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: Yes, with an asterisk by that point. But the really big point that they're making is that, for the most part, they would like to see kids back in school. The CDC is making a strong case that children should be back in their school environment. Here's some of the reasons that they give as to why?

They say the extended school closures can harm children including mentally as well as putting them at great risk of abuse at home, and of course, we know, many face food insecurities as well. They also find that COVID-19 has a relatively low risk for school-age kids. This is something that we've been debating about a lot, I know you've been talking to doctors about this as well as a segment coming up.

They point to studies that suggest that transmission among kids at school may be low. And they also state, quote, "that children appear to be at a lower risk for contracting COVID-19 compared to adults. While some children have been sick with COVID-19, adults may get 95 percent of reported cases. That is the case right now, so they also offer ways to mitigate the risk within schools. One of the reasons they say to keep kids in pods, so they can be amongst their peers, in the same group, and that would help to trace and track if in fact one of the kids did get infected.

They also recommend having the same teacher teach the same group for that same reason. And they also talk about mitigating strategies such as face masks and cleaning regularly and social distancing. So, the big takeaway here is, yes, all of the research does seem to suggest that kids have a lower risk. That doesn't take into consideration what happens when you've got adults at the schools as well, including teachers, faculty, and all of that.

HARLOW: I mean, just Bianna, on that point, I didn't see a lot in this CDC new guidelines out that really focused on addressing all of the adults and the janitors and the support staff that work in schools.

GOLODRYGA: Yes, it is -- it is very vague, and that struck me as well, Poppy, especially since this is their sort of 2.0 guidelines that they have released now after the initial guidelines. They do say that schools should prepare --

HARLOW: Oh, it looks like we lost Bianna's signal there. Thank you to her. Let's bring in our medical analyst and epidemiologist, Dr. Larry Brilliant. Good to have you, doctor. The CDC --


HARLOW: Director, right? So he obviously led the charge on these updated guidelines, he said just on June 30th, quote, "we don't know the impact that children yet have on the transmission cycle". And not a lot has changed in terms of what the CDC actually knows. So those are his words. What do you make of that combined with what the CDC has now laid out, really pushing to get kids in school?

BRILLIANT: I find the CDC guidance disappointing, vague and likely to lead to confusion, and possibly to increase the epidemic in areas that are already hard hit. Look, the school calendar is not the pandemic calendar. Summer should be the low transmission season, yet, we're over 70,000 cases a day. We're soon going to top 150,000 deaths. We're coming into Labor Day, into Fall. A big part of Fall is the flu season. If you add on to that, school openings, and if we forget that older kids and other people in the school system, parents and teachers are certainly going to carry the disease back -- I'm concerned.

SCIUTTO: We have the advantages as we have at every stage of this crisis as the other countries have been through this before, so we could see their experience. I want to bring up the case of Israel, because here's a country that did open its schools very widely, and I think we have a graphic that shows this. They had the virus under control, you see the point there when schools reopened, and man, look at the cases jump after that. What did we learn from Israel's experience opening schools? What did they do wrong? How is this instructive?


BRILLIANT: And Jim, you're right. The CDC guidance does reference the case in Israel, they do talk about it. But they put it in the context of other schools systems like Norway and Sweden, where the -- where the experience with the disease was quite a bit different. Where they had already beaten down the virus for a longer period of time, and they have different kinds of systems. I think what happened in Israel should be a warning for us.

Look, we all know kids have got to go back to school. This is the hardest on the parents and the communities, it is terrible for kids to be out of school, but the calendars don't sync. And the kids need to go to school, it's got to be understood in the context of the worst pandemic of our lifetime ever of our experience with it.

HARLOW: I think, too, Dr. Brilliant, to Jim's point about a warning from Israel that we should learn from, there is one point after they opened their schools, they did away with all social distancing. They just say go back to it completely, it's normal, up to 40 kids in a classroom, et cetera. So hopefully that doesn't happen here. For people who don't know your background, you helped eradicate smallpox, and now you're working on this.

Big picture, what is the biggest challenge that you and other experts face when it comes to really fighting back COVID with therapeutics, but also with an effective vaccine?

BRILLIANT: Oh, you know, I'm optimistic that we're going to have a vaccine next year. I'm disappointed that the FDA has set the bar for an effective vaccine and the timing effect at (INAUDIBLE) percent. In smallpox, we had the benefit of a vaccine that was close to a 100 percent.

I think I take away from that, that the first round of vaccines that we'll get will be not as potent as we would like to have them, require multiple doses, require code chain and it may be the later batch of vaccines that we get that will help more in the control program.

But look, any vaccine that protects you in any way is good for us as individuals. And then the therapeutic world right now, I don't think we give enough attention to how well the science is going. And I'm particularly encouraged by seeing what's happened with convalescent plasma, with the derivatives of convalescent plasma which are to find those antibodies that are particularly protective and make monoclonal antibodies out of them.

We may be surprised and find that therapeutics come to market faster --


BRILLIANT: And are more powerful earlier.

SCIUTTO: OK, this morning on "NBC", Dr. Deborah Birx, she noted something of -- some perhaps hopeful news that four states that had seen spikes in recent weeks, Texas, California, Arizona and Florida, that the cases there are plateauing, not coming down, but at least, that, that kind of ski-slope-like rise has come off. What do you attribute that to?

BRILLIANT: I think the effect of Memorial Day has begun to wear off on us. I don't think we've seen the full effect on deaths, that the 4th of July holiday has had. And as I said earlier, we're going to go into the Labor Day season and the spike will happen right there. This epidemic in the United States is event-driven.


BRILLIANT: And as we get into the Fall, I worry that the event which is the flu season will also drive it further. So we have to --


BRILLIANT: Be heard.

SCIUTTO: All right, Dr. Brilliant, the aptly named Dr. Brilliant, thanks so much for joining us this morning --

HARLOW: Thanks --

BRILLIANT: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Well, soon, the president's former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen will walk out of a federal prison again. A judge has accused the Department of Justice, the DOJ, of retaliating against Cohen.



HARLOW: So in just a few hours, Michael Cohen will be released from federal custody again. And a federal judge ordered the president's former personal lawyer to be returned to home confinement after he found -- and this is what's key, he found that the government sent Cohen back to prison in retaliation for the "Tell All" book he's writing about the president. In May, Cohen was granted early release on a three-year prison sentence due to COVID fears.

SCIUTTO: At the same time, the Department of Homeland Security says it will once again allow New Yorkers to take part in the trusted Traveler Global Entry Program, makes it easier for pre-approved travelers to get through Customs when returning to the U.S.

New York residents were barred from applying in response to a state law allowing undocumented immigrants to apply for driver's licenses. The DOJ now admits it made inaccurate statements while defending the policy which is now abandoned. Joining us now to discuss, Elie Honig; CNN legal analyst, former federal prosecutor.

I mean, you get a real window into the exercise of power by the Trump administration here. Let's begin with Michael Cohen.


SCIUTTO: How unusual is it for a sitting federal judge to declare that the Justice Department retaliated against someone, and punished him in effect by sending him back to prison because of a book. I mean, explain -- you worked for the Justice Department, you worked as a prosecutor. How unusual and how notable that is.

HONIG: Yes, Jim, it's not just unusual, it's something I've never seen before. I'm not going to defend the Justice Department here. I'm going to attack the Justice Department here. I dealt with -- in my career, hundreds of people on supervision, whether --


HONIG: Because they were on parole or probation or on bail. It's normal for the Justice Department and the Bureau of Prisons to put conditions on a person, but I've never once seen a condition saying, you may not speak publicly. You may not exercise your First Amendment rights. And not only is it unusual, it's a big deal.