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CDC: Kids Should Go Back to School Unless Virus Transmission is "Uncontrolled"; Florida Adds 12,000+ New Coronavirus Cases; White House: Summer Surge Hitting Plateau in Some States; Trump: "Most of the Country" in "Very Good Shape"; New CDC Guidelines Make the Case for Reopening Schools; Dr. Annette Anderson Discusses CDC Releasing New Guidelines for School Reopenings. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 11:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Wow. Nick Paton Walsh, it is not getting any better. They are getting worse. Thank you for that important reporting live from Brazil.

And thanks to all of you for being with us today and all week. Have a good weekend. We'll see you Monday. I'm Poppy Harlow.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, wish you the best this weekend. I'm Jim Sciutto.

"NEWSROOM" with John King starts right now.

JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm John King in, with Washington. Thank you so much for sharing this day with us.

A bit of optimism today from a top Trump administration scientist. Dr. Deborah Birx says she sees evidence now of a plateau after weeks of a punishing summer coronavirus surge.

That assessment comes as the administration pushes schools to get children back in the classroom.

New Centers for Disease Control guidelines say kids don't spread the disease as easily and only, quote, "substantial uncontrolled transmission" should push learning online. Many school districts, though, taking a much more cautious approach.

And even Dr. Birx says that the science on coronavirus and children is unsettled.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE: What I can't tell you for sure, despite the South Korea study, is whether children under 10 in the United States don't spread the virus the same as children over 10. I think that's still an open question that needs to be studies. We certainly know from other studies that children under 10 do get

infected. It's just unclear how rapidly they spread the virus.


KING: This much is clear. The school's conversation gets easier, much easier, if the case curve is flattening. So is Dr. Birx right when she sees evidence that might be happening?

Well, the national numbers are still daunting, if not depressing. The United States well over the four million case mark. Another nearly 68,000 cases added on Thursday. And 920,000-plus in the past 14 days.

In that two-week time frame, the United States has registered its four highest days of new infections. And when you shift from cases to deaths, the signals and the data alarming. A third consecutive day of 1,000 American lives lost. This stretch is the first time that has happened since the end of May.

Still, we know deaths lag cases. And we know the national numbers will go down or stop going up so fast only when the big states get their act together.

Let's take a look and see if that's the case, as Dr. Birx suggests. Number one, when you look at this map, it is way more encouraging than days and weeks ago. Still, 18 states heading in the wrong direction. That's the orange and the red. But 26 states holding steady and six states, the case count is going down.

Importantly, Florida on the way down, a big driver in the summer surge. Let's hope that holds. Texas holding steady, another pig driver in the summer surge. Arizona going down, a big driver of the summer surge. And California, the nation's most populous state. Now the state with the most cases, holding steady at the moment.

So you do see in this map, especially when you compare this to one month ago, look at all that red and orange, --Florida, Texas, Arizona and California among them -- we are in a better place today, at least today, than we were a month ago.

Let's look more closely at the new case trend. The summer surge still daunting. Just shy of 19,000 new cases on Memorial Day. By July 4th, July 3rd, 53,000-plus. Yesterday, nearly 70,000. That's not the direction you want to go in. The question is, does that flattening hold.

Let's take a closer look. This is California in just the past few days, the seven-day moving average. You do not want to be near or above 10,000 cases. However, at least, if you look at the seven-day moving average, that line, what Dr. Birx calls a plateau. Can you keep it flat and start to drive it down?

Especially when your life this summer has been this. That's California throughout the summer surge. The question is, you see this here, can you hold the plateau, just California. Now let's take a look at Texas. And let's start here. You look at

this, this the summer surge in Texas. Horrible. The question is, is this seven-day moving average, can you flatten it down?

Let's take a look at Texas from this perspective, just the last week, you still see high numbers. Again, 10,000 cases and above some days. But when you average it out, is Texas finally plateauing, maybe even starting to come down? That's a great question.

And Florida -- especially if you are Texas and you're dealing with this. Remember that.

Now let's look at Florida. This has been a key driver in the summer surge. Almost straight up at one point. Now we do see some evidence -- 10,000 cases yesterday. Don't want to be above 10,000. But Florida not long ago recorded a day above 15,000.

The question is, will this plateau hold. Because if you look at the seven-day moving average, Florida is flattening, maybe even dipping a little bit, even though it had 10,000 new cases yesterday. This has been part of our summer surge conversation.

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

Rosa, the new numbers out right now. The governor suggests things are improving. Are they?

ROSA FLORES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, he did. He said that cases were stabilizing. And just as you mentioned, for the past few days, we've been monitoring these numbers and they have been at or about 10,000. Well, today that streak broken. The new number of cases today, 12,444. This means that the state of Florida has surpassed 400,000 cases.


Miami-Dade County, here where I am, used to account for 24 percent of the total cases. Now it's jumped 25 percent.

With all that said, yesterday, Governor Ron DeSantis claiming that the cases have stabilized. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We clearly stabilized with the cases. The percent positive is better the last week than it was the previous week. If you take out south Florida, the rest of the state is trending even better in that.

Although, I do think south Florida, you know, has definitely stabilized. And I think Miami is showing some signs of improvement as well.

So I actually think that the trend -- look, you've got to look at all of them. There's a bunch of different data points. But we're trending much better today, you know, than we were two weeks ago. (END VIDEO CLIP)

FLORES: You know, I asked an infectious disease expert, Dr. Aileen Marty, here in Miami-Dade, her take, and she says that it's too early to make the call to say that these numbers have stabilized.

She says look at the ICUs in Miami-Dade County. Right now, they are operating at 32 percent capacity. That mean there's more patients than ICU beds. What the county is doing is they're converting regular beds into ICU beds.

Then she says look at the hospitalizations. According to the county, those have increased by 27 percent in the past two weeks and ICUs by 37 percent and ventilators by 71 percent. The positivity rate, here in Miami-Dade County, the 14-day average is at 19.5 percent.

And as we look statewide, these numbers are not looking very good either. The 55 ICU hospitals are at capacity, meaning they do not have ICU beds.

Now, all of this is happening in the background as there's this continued battle over the reopening of schools in the state of Florida with Governor Ron DeSantis pushing for the reopening of in-person instruction, saying that parents have a choice. And now teachers are suing him to try to stop the reopening.

Well, the U.S. surgeon general said earlier this week that schools could reopen but so long as transmission rates went down, that these transmission rates had to go down.

The U.S. surgeon general was in Miami yesterday for a press event. And I caught up with him on the sidelines, asked him about this, shared with him that, in Florida, the past two weeks, the positivity rate across the state has been between 13 percent and 18 percent.

And I asked, can Florida open schools safely. And he says that it is possible, that it can be done in a month, so long as everyone does their part.

And, John, what that means is that everyone has to wear a mask. Everyone has to wash their hands. Everybody has to social distance in order to be able to curb the spread of COVID-19. He says it's possible, but everybody has to do their part -- John?

KING: Sounds like common-sense advice. But I think the first thing you need to do is get that case count down. And if we thought we might have a plateau, the 12,000-plus today tells us we're still in for the long haul in Florida.

Rosa Flores, appreciate the live reporting from Miami.

With us to share her expertise and insight, CNN medical analyst, Dr. Leana Wen.

Doctor, I hate asking the question this way, and we've lived through months of this where we know Trump administration officials have been overly optimistic. Is Dr. Birx right? Do you see early evidence of a plateau in these states driving the summer surge, or is it too soon to say such a thing?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It is far too soon to say that we're out of the woods because we're really not. I actually am looking at the same data. I think that we're on wrong part of the incline right now.

We're seeing at least 12 states, as I see it, have escalating spread where we don't even know where the peak is going to be. And then I see other states that are just at the brink, that have barely stabilized.

But we're still applying these policy half-measures that, in some cases, are a little bit too little too late. I mean, we're closing in some of these states that are facing crisis. We're still closing only bars but not restaurants. We're not even having universal mask-wearing mandates.

So maybe we're able to stabilize to some extent but we're still facing overwhelming hospitals and ICUs and escalating infections.

KING: One of the worries -- and I hope I'm flat-out wrong here -- is you have the CDC coming into schools reopenings. And Dr. Birx leaning into a plateau. And I certainly hope we get there. In a moment, we'll talk about that.

But my worry is, we're 102 days from the elections, and are the president's political needs competing, if you will, with an honest scientific assessment.


Because this is the president in the briefing room yesterday and this is overly optimistic.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: You'll also see a lot of the country has -- has no problem whatsoever. Most of the country actually.

The country is in very good shape, other than if you look south and west, some problems. That will all work out. And it goes away and goes away quickly.


KING: We know it doesn't go away quickly. We're having this conversation going on six months now. It doesn't go away quickly.

What should the administration be saying right now? Even if they do see some early evidence that perhaps -- Arizona would be one example -- you might be seeing a plateau in some of these states that have had a horrible summer, what should the message be?

WEN: They should be saying that we're having a four-alarm fire in this country right now.

That if your goal is actually going to be reopening our schools come the fall, which I agree is the goal we should all be striving for, but if that's our goal, we need to be doing everything we can, which would include implementing some stay-at-home orders in these states that are the hardest hit.

We need to be doing the hard things right now. We know that we can do it because the New York region did, because other countries have.

We know that by implementing these measures, we are able to keep the infections at bay. And that it's not inevitable that we're going to see so many more tens of thousands of deaths coming our way. But we need to take those steps and can't be painting this overly rosy optimistic picture.

Just look at testing John. It's crazy and really absurd that we're asking people to wait two weeks before test results come back. Imagine if you're the parent of young children, you can't see your kids for two weeks and you have to self-isolate for that period of time.

What happens if schools are open and we're asking teachers and students to self-quarantine for 14 days because one person has tested positive. Is that even possible?

And so we're nowhere near having our control over the -- over the situation. And I wish the president would be honest with the American people about it.

KING: Well, let me close then with this, in the sense that you mentioned the New York experience. And I want to put up the New York experience, the graphic of the New York experience on the screen.

But, even if, as you say -- and I'm with you -- it's premature to say these states have plateaued. Let's hope that's the case. Let's hope next week, our conversation is Florida, California, Arizona, Texas all going down.

But even if -- look at the New York peak and then look how long it took. Look through the month of April and the month of May to get back down.

Even if, Doctor, when they have plateaued, if they get to that point soon, it's a long way down the hill. And we learned, in New York, that's still a lot of cases. Death is a lagging indicator. That's still a lot of death.

And that's going to happen, even if they start to come down that little as they have to decide, do we reopen schools.

WEN: That is right. We, as a country, have to decide are we OK with a plateau, where our plateau -- even at our best in the U.S., we were still at 17,000 new cases. We were still at hundreds of deaths per day.

If that's the best that we can do as a country, is that really acceptable to us? Are we OK with sending our children back to school in that environment and endangering potentially their families and staff and teachers?

I mean, can we do better? And I think the answer is yes. But we have to put in the hard work to get that. That's universal mask-wearing, physical distancing, washing our hands, us all doing our parts right now.

KING: Dr. Wen, grateful for your time and insights. As always, we'll continue to cover conversation. Thank you.

Coming up, despite pushback from some states, the CDC releases new guidelines, making the case to get kids back to school.



KING: The CDC is urging schools to open this fall and says this new guideline could keep students and teachers safe. Quote, "Critically important for our public health." That's what the CDC Director Robert Redfield says about getting children back to school.

The guidelines are out weeks after they were first promised. And many big school districts didn't wait for federal guidance. Los Angeles and Clark County, Nevada, for example, among districts already planning to open the new school year online only.

Chicago, the third-largest district, will do both, some online and some in person. And other districts, like New York, the country's largest, have yet to decide.

Let's bring in our CNN's Bianna Golodryga.

Brianna, this is complicated and, for many parents, it's confusing.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN GLOBAL AFFAIRS ANALYST: And it's crunch time because some schools are set to open just a few weeks from now.

You talk about cities that have changed their plans. Houston is one of them. They planned to open next month. Now they have delayed that to at least October and they will be online as well.

The CDC issuing the second round of guidelines as the record now surpasses four million cases of coronavirus in the United States.

One of the reasons, we all agree, kids need to be back in school. And in a perfect world, that's where they should be if they can be healthy.

And here's the reason why the CDC says they recommend kids return to school. They say, 'School closures have disrupted normal ways of life for children and parents. And they have had negative health consequences on our youth. The CDC is prepared to work with K-12 schools to safely reopen while protecting the most vulnerable." Among some of the guidelines they are offering for schools and

mitigation, cleaning and disinfect frequently, repurposing unused or underutilized space to encourage social distancing.

Mind you, we don't even see hear much about the six feet of separation that we've heard so much about before.

And talk about integrating mitigation strategies into extracurricular activities. They're going to be curtailing sports and other events we typically see during school time. And they will advise the school districts to work with state and local leaders at contact tracing.

All of this, of course, seems to be very vague, especially if this is a 2.0 guideline that they are reissuing weeks away from school reopening.


Lots to consider, the health of teachers and custodial staff. Many of them are over the age of 50. And that's putting them at a higher risk as well.

And one thing, John, that stood out to me -- and we're talking about the age of children. It varies K-12. The research shows most children are healthy, they can survive coronavirus if they don't have many side effects, if any at all.

But you do see some discrepancy from what we've seen overseas in ages, from younger children to older ages. Look at adolescents. This is what the CDC says, "Adolescents aged 10 to 17 may be more likely to become infected with SARS-Cov-2 than children younger than the age of 10, 7 and 8. But adolescents don't be at a higher risk of developing severe illness."

We don't know what this means in terms vectors, whether they can transmit the disease and infect other people.

And the final thing would I like to point out is the CDC notes what happened in countries like Denmark and Singapore and China and Taiwan, that there have been lower infection rates.

But mind you, John, none of those countries opened their schools where the infection rate was so high in the community.

KING: Most of them also are nowhere near as diverse or as complicated as our 50 states.


KING: Brianna, thank you so much for very important insights there. It is crunch time, as you noted. It's a great way to put it.

Let's continue the conversation. The CDC guidelines note that just 6.6 percent of reported cases are in children under the age of 18. But it does add this: "The more individuals a person interacts with and the longer the interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread." Let's discuss with Annette Anderson, the deputy director for John

Hopkins Center for Safe and Healthy Schools.

Thank you so much for being with us today.

Every parent in America, including the anchor of this program, is having this conversation and looking for advice and trying to sort through the conflicting advice.

You have CDC recommendations now that are late. As Bianna very well put it, this is crunch time for parents.

Do you see this document as helpful? Is it too little too late or does it matter? Because Atlanta has to make a very different decision from Omaha that has to make a very different decision from El Paso and so on.

DR. ANNETTE ANDERSON, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR SAFE AND HEALTHY SCHOOLS, JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY: I don't think that it makes a difference, John. I think, quite honestly, parents are still very concerned that any level of transmission above zero is unacceptable.

So parents are voting with their feet about this. Parents are trying very diligently to get the information about whether their community spread has decreased to a safe level.

But quite honestly, right now, until we can figure out how to get those COVID case numbers in communities lower than 420, low enough or to zero, I think many parents are going to continue to vote with their feet on this. Parents are concerned.

KING: To your point about parents voting with their feet, this is a poll from the Associated Press. Open as usual, 8 percent of Americans say that. Open with minor adjustments, 14 percent of parents say that. Open with major adjustments, 46 percent. And not open at all, 31 percent.

So I look at the concern right there. You are looking at 77 percent. In the end, if you're going to open, make sure you have major adjustments or don't open at all.

Parents, the other flip side of that is some parents have to go back to work. Some parents were not thrilled with the remote learning experience.


KING: Are you convinced that school districts learned lessons from that? And if you have remote learning this time, it will be better?

ANDERSON: I think that school districts are pivoting very quickly to try to have plans in place for fall. I think that districts are starting to issue plans that have a phase one, phase two, much like many of the municipal governments have.

But I think that as -- as parents continue to voice concerns and say that they are not ready to put their children back at risk in physical school buildings, districts are trying to respond to that.

I think this is a national movement. You're hearing from patients all over the country right now that parents want their children to be safe.

And so what you're also hearing is that parents are just concerned. Because we all have had a first grader who has had to go to school with a runny nose, and yet, you know, we're hearing from the CDC guidance that maybe a runny nose or nausea is something that could be a COVID symptom.

But if your child is sitting next to that child or socially distant from that child, does that mean your child should still go to school? Is that safe enough?

Parents have a lot of concerns. Every child wants to be back in school. Parents wants children back in school. But every child deserves to be safe in school.

And right now, I think a lot of parents are still concerned that the guidance is not specific enough to make them feel that their child will be safe.

In addition, you have a lot of children who live with, are in kinship care relationships. They live with grandparents in their homes. About 10 percent of our children live with grandparents. So if there are super spreaders in the school and a child comes home with that.

Parents are also concerned that we don't know enough about the transmission of this virus to make sure families don not get impacted unduly.

KING: Question after question after question.

Annette Anderson, grateful for time and insights today. Keep raising your hand when we see things as we go over the next couple of weeks.

ANDERSON: I will. I will.


KING: Come back and help us through it.

Thank you very much.

ANDERSON: Thank you.

KING: Up next, the president finally facing reality. Plans for a big convention speech in Florida, of all places, called off.



KING: President Trump is, well, in retreat. He's now for wearing masks.