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President Trump Renews Call to Open Schools, Backed by New CDC Guidelines; Interview with Fifth Grade Teacher Katie O'Connor; McDonald's, Chipotle and Starbucks Announce Mask Requirement. Aired 2- 2:30p ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 14:00   ET




BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: It's the top of the hour, I'm Brianna Keilar and I want to welcome viewers here in the United States and around the world. Lock down the country and start over again? That is the written plea from more than 150 doctors, scientists, nurses, urging political leaders to institute new stay-at-home orders as the pandemic continues to dominate the U.S., six months after the country's first known case.

The U.S. is reporting more than 1,000 COVID deaths in the last 24 hours. And that isn't a one-off, this is the fourth day in a row that we've seen this. At this hour, U.S. cases exceed 4 million. Deaths are beyond 144,000, and our new daily cases are soaring at rates of 56,000 and higher.

But there are some signs of hope. White House response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx says she's seeing cases beginning to plateau in some hotspot states like Texas, California, Arizona and Florida.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci, who works with Birx on the task force, says that states can get their outbreaks under control. He is also confident about finding a vaccine, but he adds that distribution nationwide will take more time.


ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think as we get into 2021, several months in, that you would have vaccine that would be widely available to people in the United States.


KEILAR: CNN's Nick Watt is in Los Angeles, following everything here.

So, Nick, once again, the nation is seeing these daunting case increases, but there are some positive trends.

NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right, signs of hope. But listen, Brianna, this is obviously a huge country and it's a mixed bag. We'll get to those details in just a second. But meantime, in the mask debate, Chipotle and McDonald's have now joined the pro-mask faction. They will require customers to wear them when they enter.

And the schools debate rolls on. You know, Houston and county just said everything has got to be distance learning until September 8th earliest. But the deputy secretary of education is saying that the default needs to be fully open in the fall.


WATT (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 (voice-over): 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."

DEBORAH BIRX, COORDINATOR, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We certainly know from other studies that children under 10 do get infected. It's just unclear how rapidly they spread the virus.

LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: 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.

WATT (voice-over): In hotspots, schools should figure out a plan with local health officials, says the CDC.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI, FLORIDA: I don't think it looks good for day one opening right now.

WATT (voice-over): Florida will likely overtake New York in the next few days on total case count, over 400,000.

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

WATT (voice-over): 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, ICUs are now operating at 132 percent capacity.

AILEEN MARTY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: We're drowning, we're absolutely drowning here. It's just overwhelming number of cases, 527 individuals in the ICUs.

WATT (voice-over): Across the country in more than half of states, average new case counts are right now steady or falling. That's good, but Californians are dying and being infected at all-time record rates. Star County, Texas just ordered everyone to shelter at home. And three days in a row now, more than 1,000 deaths have been reported nationwide, first time that's happened since late May. 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."

PAUL OFFIT, PEDIATRICS PROFESSOR, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I don't personally think that's necessary. I think that if we just do the common-sense things of maintaining social distance and wearing a mask at all times when you're outside, I think we can get this under control, as other countries have gotten it under control.



WATT: Now, it is going to take us a while to figure out exactly the long-term effects on the body of COVID-19, but this is interesting from the CDC. They say that the impact on even young people can be prolonged. They did a study, and about 26 percent of 18 to 34-year- olds who tested positive said that two or three weeks after that test, they were still not back to normal, still maybe suffering some fatigue, some cough, some shortness of breath. So young people, take note -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, hopefully they do. Nick Watt, thank you so much, from L.A. for us.

While the president may still be pushing for schools to reopen in the fall, I want you to hear from someone who is on the ground. Katie O'Connor is a fifth grade teacher in Colorado Springs. She returned to the classroom recently to try and prepare for socially distanced learning.


KATIE O'CONNOR, FIFTH GRADE TEACHER: I'm on the mission of social distancing my classroom. My district is going back full-time, we'll be back in about two and a half weeks. And so I have to remove all personal items from my classroom and I have to set up my desks so that they're all three feet apart.

So she has these type of desks, this is just what she had. They used to be in little pods, they all circle up nicely. But right now, she has these -- and they're not three feet apart yet, so we still have to figure out how to get these to be three feet apart.

If you can see that -- it's really close. Like, this is, like, that's -- they're really close. She has a little front table, this could be her document table. And then she has still some stuff to take out, but she has -- this is her teacher desk, and then she's allowed those two things.

We're all just struggling because in what world is this an elementary school classroom? (INAUDIBLE) mask (INAUDIBLE). We have to be walking around, wearing our masks, for eight hours. These are a bunch of 10- year-olds. They have to work individually, there's no group work. Honestly, we're probably not even going to be doing anything on paper because we can't pass it around, you can't collect it. Kids can't be out of their seats.

I don't feel like people know the true reality of what it's going to look like. You expect a bunch of 10-year-olds to sit in their chair all day, eat lunch in their chair? These kids aren't leaving the classroom at all, the whole day. They're sitting at a desk.

I, as an educator, don't -- I know that's not how kids learn. Kids need to move. We've -- most of them learn by moving. And asking these 10-year-olds to sit at their desk all day, on a computer, wearing a mask, three feet apart from their peers -- no group work, no one-on- ones, just -- they can't stick their arms out, you can't touch.

I just don't see how this is -- I don't see how this is better. e- learning was not great either. But at least at home, they could be comfortable.

This is not how I want to go back. And I want to go back so bad. Because I love teaching, I miss my classroom and I miss my kids. But I can't show them love that way.

I really, truly feel like this is something that people need to see. Especially parents, you can make an informed decision if you want to keep your kids home.


KEILAR: Katie O'Connor is joining us now to talk more. Katie, that was an incredible look at what you are going through right now, as you prepare to open school in full. What's the response been like to that video?

O'CONNOR: It has been so overwhelming, the amount of messages I'm getting and comments I'm getting from parents and educators alike, who are just thanking me for sharing it. So many teachers are in the same boat as me, and it's so hard to process what's happening. And that's all I was doing, I was processing this strange new reality I'm in.

KEILAR: Yes. And you said, you've said that you are grieving the loss of normal. Tell us about that.

O'CONNOR: Yes. I mean, when you think of an elementary classroom, there are kids working together, there's a lot of interactions with each other. And I'm not saying we're not going to still have that, you know? Kids are still going to talk, we're still going to find ways for them to collaborate. It's just going to look different, it's just so different than what we're used to. And it's a change. And sometimes change is hard.

KEILAR: I think change is almost always hard. I do want to ask you -- that's interesting, you said you're going to find new ways to collaborate. But for -- I want to talk just about the desks. You were saying that

she had them, and that's because you've taken over -- right? -- another classroom, I think, right? You just moved from Michigan, am I correct on that? So you're -- this is -- are you new to this school, or you're new to this classroom?


O'CONNOR: No, this will be my second year in my classroom. I was showing one of my teammates who had actually finished her classroom. Mine wasn't done yet.

KEILAR: Oh, OK, so you were showing -- so let me ask you that. You were -- three feet apart? I mean, how do you fit all of your kids, how do you fit all of your kids in the class?

O'CONNOR: It's just a giant game of Tetris, getting it all to fit where you can. Yes, we're really just doing the best we can. Three feet is -- as much of three feet as we can get.

KEILAR: OK. So when you're -- you're trying to brainstorm, and I'm sure that you and your colleagues are talking about this -- how do they collaborate, how do they not go stir-crazy? Like you said, you're talking about 10-year-olds. Have you been able to think --


KEILAR: -- of any answers to those questions? And are you getting any guidance on how to answer those questions?

O'CONNOR: Yes, there's a team at my school who has been working tirelessly to get creative and come up with these new routines and procedures that will help everyone stay safe, but still make school fun and still make it enjoyable for kids.

And they've dedicated a lot of outdoor space for us so we can take kids outside, which I'm very excited about. I'm an outside girl, so that's really fun for me, to have class outside.

And we're going to have movement breaks and there'll be mask breaks. So we are going to make sure they're not just sedentary at their seats. Because it's really hard to learn that way and that's not what's best.

KEILAR: Do you and your colleagues feel safe going back to school? What concerns do you have?

O'CONNOR: Yes. Like I said, there's a ton of new procedures, especially for cleaning, that they are putting in place for us. And so we'll find ways to incorporate cleaning, multiple times a day. Like I said, everyone's wearing masks so that kind of helps stop the spread that way. But we're really working hard to make sure that this is safe for everyone.

KEILAR: All right. Katie, thank you so much. Look, every school district, every county seems to be approaching this differently based on what parents think and what the situation is, so we're going to be tracking you and the other teachers that we've been talking to, to see how you go through this. Because everyone's watching their neighbor as they try to muddle their way through this.

So, thanks, Katie O'Connor, for coming on.

O'CONNOR: Yes, thanks for having me.

KEILAR: Of course.

And just in, McDonald's and Chipotle, following other companies and requiring customers to wear masks. Let's go now to Cristina Alesci. Cristina, tell us about this.

CRISTINA ALESCI, CNN POLITICS AND BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: This is another retailer, joining a list of national retailers across the country that are essentially making their own national mask policies, and making a situation where Americans now, when they step out, either to go to a Starbucks or a McDonald's or a Chipotle -- who also announced a national mandate today - they're going to have to wear a mask.

So it's getting to the point where corporate America is taking the lead here because they have to. They have to protect their employees, they have to protect themselves against liability, being sued. And they're going ahead and they're essentially constructing a national mask mandate for everybody in the U.S.

So when you walk into a McDonald's now, you're going to have to wear a mask. And if you don't comply, the company says it is developing a training mechanism for employees who are going to ask you to stand aside and wait in a designated area for your order.

But the hardest part of this, Brianna, as you and I have been reporting these last couple of weeks, is really enforcement. I was just on -- just before going live with you, I was speaking with a CEO of a national retailer who was telling me his biggest worry is a customer, you know, getting violent and one of his employees having to address that. That is a big and real issue.

Of course, a majority of people are in fact -- what I'm hearing -- complying with these mandates, but it's the one percent or so of very vocal opponents that are creating a problem and this has been a politicized issue unnecessarily, as we know that the president has been holding out on really getting behind masks up until very recently, a couple of days ago. So that's been a complicating issue here -- Brianna.

KEILAR: All right, Cristina, thank you so much for that, for sharing that with us.

Health experts are now urging Congress to accept that mail-in voting is the safest option as Joe Biden warns the president's trying to steal the election.

Plus, a chilling situation developing in Texas, coronavirus patients are being sent home to die if they're too sick.


And Dr. Sanjay Gupta takes us to ground zero, inside the place that cameras are not allowed to go: the hospital. This is CNN's special live coverage.


KEILAR: We're getting an inside look at growing tension inside the White House. President Trump, reportedly erupting at his defense secretary Mark Esper over the military's decision to ban the Confederate flag. That is according to two people familiar with his reaction.

I'm joined now by CNN political correspondent Abby Phillip, as well as our White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Kaitlan, what are you learning about this dispute?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Brianna, this was last Friday, when that directive came out, basically trying to sidestep the president, ban Confederate flags from all military installations. But of course, it did not mention the Confederate flag by name, but it went to great lengths to say, these are the flags that you can fly; all others you cannot. The Confederate flag, of course, was not named.

And that came after there had been discussion about that and the president had been pushing back on this idea of banning Confederate flags. But the defense secretary, Mark Esper, issued this order anyway. And we are now told by several sources that the president erupted over that order, and he was fuming at his defense secretary after this happened on Friday, after this order, this memo from the Pentagon, went out to the military bases.


And so what it really is a bigger development of, a bigger picture of is not only this push by the president to stand by the Confederate flag, to say that people have a right to fly it proudly as he has done, as you've seen it be banned or cancelled from so many other places. But also, the tension between the president and his defense secretary.

Mark Esper has been walking kind of this political tightrope for several weeks now. And he's a year into the job, but, Brianna, this is probably one of the most difficult times in his tenure as far as it comes to his relationship with the president. Because you already saw him break with the president after that walk through Lafayette Park for the photo op in front of the church, later apologizing for doing so.

And now, he is making a stand on this, saying that these flags cannot be flown at military installations. And we are told the president was not happy -- to say the least -- with that decision, though we should note it does appear, for now, his job should be safe. But hard to say, really.

KEILAR: All right. Abby, what is your -- what do you make of all this?

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Brianna, this is a shift for President Trump in the sort of medium term, because just a couple years ago, he was in favor of removing the Confederate flag, for example, from the South Carolina State House, in the midst of that debate, saying that perhaps it should go into a museum.

But what has changed is that as a political figure himself and as president, he recognizes that the Confederate flag actually has a lot of support among people who are his base. His supporters fly the Confederate flag at his campaign rallies; he understands that this is part of the cultural identity of people who are most allied behind him.

So it's part of that broader pattern, it's also part of this conversation around the naming of military bases after Confederate generals, which the president has also resisted that renaming.

Now, I do think that there is some evidence to support the president's view, in that I think what his campaign is looking at and what he's looking at is the polling that suggests that a majority of Americans -- a slim majority, but a majority nonetheless -- support keeping the names as they are.

And so, you know, I think they think that this is a politically smart move for them. This is largely driven by Republicans who overwhelmingly support keeping Confederate symbols and Confederate names where they are. And the president is thinking about holding onto his base.

Brianna, as you know, that has always been the most important thing to him. So it should not come as a surprise that he is staying where they are. And not trying to move where I think the sort of cultural winds seem to be shifting in the broader country at large.

KEILAR: And, Abby, we're also hearing about a new warning from health experts. This time, it's about the safety of the election. Tell us more about this.

PHILLIP: Yes. I mean, I think this is really important because we've been talking a lot about mail-in voting, President Trump has been talking a lot about mail-in voting. But now, you have health experts and doctors weighing in, saying it is not an acceptable risk, especially for the most high-risk individuals in this country, for them to go out and vote in person where they cannot properly socially distance and protect themselves.

They say that mail-in voting ought to be an option for anyone who wants it because there is a good likelihood that, come the fall, we could be in this country seeing a resurgence of the coronavirus.

This is something that you've been hearing from voting advocates for a long time. But I think to hear it from doctors and from medical experts really puts a finer point on it ,that it's a question of what kind of risk should people be taking.

And they say pretty clearly, people who are at high risk -- the elderly, people who have pre-existing conditions -- they need to be given another option. Because voting in person is just simply not safe enough, and we can't count on the coronavirus going away in the fall, or that the country might have this virus under control.

We don't have it under control right at this moment; I think they are also point out that, come the fall, with the resurgence of the seasonal flu and also with the colder weather, with people spending more time indoors, you can count on the situation being such that it's not safe to go out in person and cast a ballot that way.

KEILAR: Abby, thank you. Kaitlan, thank you so much to you as well.

Patients in one Texas county, being sent home to die if they are deemed too sick, a tragic signal of how overwhelmed hospitals are there.

Plus, it seems that parents in one town are having a change of heart about a potential cluster that broke out after teens had a house party.


And what the president neglected to bring up in his chat with Vladimir Putin.


KEILAR: President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the phone, and we are told that they discussed coronavirus, arms control and trade. But noticeably absent from their conversation? Any mention of Russia's flagrant efforts to undermine the United States.

A reminder of what we have learned of Russia's actions just over the last few weeks: reports that they offered bounties to the Taliban to kill American soldiers, Russian interference in the 2020 election, allegations that Moscow attempted to hack COVID vaccine research. And there wasn't a peep about the launch of a new Russian space weapon.