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Three Kids Orphaned after Virus Kills Both Parents; Parents Struggle to Balance Work and Childcare during Pandemic; Starr County, Texas Issues Stay-at-Home Order as Cases Surge. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 15:30   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Three siblings are now facing this pandemic without their parents after the coronavirus has taken both their mother and their father. Eight years ago, Nameer and Nada Ismael made the Detroit Suburb of Sterling Heights, Michigan, their home after fleeing violence in Baghdad. In the year since, they worked to provide with their children say was a better future. But in mid-March of this year, those dreams of a better future were ripped apart after the couple was diagnosed with and later succumbed to COVID-19. The family's ordeal from the parents' initial illnesses, to their children's ages 20, 18 and 13, efforts to navigate life without them described in this extraordinary "Washington Post" piece written by John Woodrow Cox and photographed by Salwan Georges.

The article includes this moment from last month when the Ismael children visited their parents' grave sites and the quote is, "At last, the stone arch over the entrance to White Chapel Memorial Park Cemetery came into view. They walked onto the grass of a long, narrow section of memorial plaques searching for number 222 among the oval- shaped metal markers pressed into the ground. 'Here it is,' Nanssy said, pointing. And there before them was not one grave, but two."

20-year-old Nash Ismael joins me now along with Zeana Attisha, mentor and friend of the Ismael family. So, thank you both so much for being with me. Nash, for you, I'm profoundly sorry for your losses. To lose both of your parents at the same time, so suddenly, for you and your two sisters, can you even put that into words for me.

NASH ISMAEL, LOST BOTH PARENTS TO COVID-19: Just can't get worse, that is what I would say. It will never be worse.

BALDWIN: Your father, Nash, first tested positive for COVID in March. And then as "The Washington Post" described, you know, either you were all living in your 1300 sq. ft. home, quarantine proved them possible. I know your mother did her best to scrub everything down. You're all sharing this one bathroom. And then a couple of days later, your mom came to you in your bedroom, saying she couldn't breathe. Told you to call 911 and the ambulance comes, picks her up. And then, Nash, the very next day, what happened with your father?

ISMAEL: OK, so I was kind of like still sick. So, I was still in bed. I couldn't -- I called Nadeen. I called Nadeen, call the ambulance because she couldn't breathe anymore. So, Nadeen called the ambulance and I was actually in bed that day and I couldn't move and then they called the ambulance and took them away.

BALDWIN: So, it was one day, Nash, that your mother was taken away. And then the second day, and it is my understanding that the paramedic recognized your home from the day before?

ISMAEL: Yes. And they asked - they actually said that we've been to this house before and then I don't know who answered, Nadeen or Nanssy, they said yes, you came for my mom.

BALDWIN: Zeana, to you, you are -- from what I understand, Nash's boss at the restaurant where he's been working. You tell me, at what point did he start reaching out to you through all of this, texting you and how were you able to help while his parents were both in the hospital?

ZEANA ATTISHA, MENTOR AND FRIEND OF NASH ISMAEL: So, on March 16th the restaurant closed the dining room, governor order, and Nash wasn't working at the restaurant at the time. And he had called me just to tell me that his father felt sick and he tested positive for the coronavirus.

And I was so shocked, I said oh, my God please stay away. Do what you can and stay away. And I hadn't been to their house, so I didn't really know their circumstances at home. But he said we will. My mom is going to sleep on the couch and my sister will sleep in the basement and my other sister will sleep in her room alone. I know they were trying.

And then four days later, I called him just to check on his dad and he told -- and he was at a church. He was crying. And I said what is wrong and he said both of my parents are in ICU on breathing machines.


BALDWIN: Nash, I've been covering this virus from day one. And I've talked to a number of people who have lost loved ones. I have never spoken to anyone who has lost both parents suddenly, essentially within the same time frame. So, I can't begin to imagine how difficult this is for you. How are your two sisters?

ISMAEL: They're -- they are kind of like better now. More mentally -- more stable. They were bad. I don't know what to say.

BALDWIN: It's OK. Take your time. Take your time.

ISMAEL: It was terrible. They couldn't believe it at first and then, you know, until now they still can't take it. So, I'm trying my best.

ATTISHA: Yes. They're just trying to adapt and Nadeen is trying to learn how to cook. And Nanssy is still very fragile and she's only 13 and she just kind of let go of her schoolwork. And Nadeen did as well. And the last couple of months of school were just -- they didn't do anything with that. And it was very difficult for them because they were -- Nadeen was sick as well and then she got over it. I mean, they kind of nursed her through the phone through Nash and Nanssy was asymptomatic. So, it is just trying to you know live day by day. BALDWIN: No, that was my next question. Is -- exactly, how do you, obviously the prominent feeling is that you've lost your parents but then at the same time like you have to -- life has to continue. You have to pay the mortgage, open a bank account, you know put food on the table, figure out how to go to the grocery store. I mean obviously thank goodness for you, Zeana, but how, Nash, are you and your sisters with the help of you know people in your community, able to get all of this done and grieve on a daily basis?

ISMAEL: It is hard. I mean, like I said, it is day by day. It can't get worse. I try to do everything. It is kind of like -- Nadeen is older and she's 18 and she's kind of being -- been there for me. She's helping. But, I mean, it's --

ATTISHA: It is still a process --


It is just - I don't know. It's just like you know those five months, they were like five years.

BALDWIN: The four or five months since you lost your parents have been like five years. Do you basically feel like the man of the house now and that must feel difficult?

ATTISHA: Yes. He has to you know keep up with any appointments, groceries, food. Nadeen is trying to learn how to cook, clean the house. Basic things all had to be learned quickly. Laundry, everything. Cutting the grass. And they didn't have bank accounts, nothing. They didn't know anything. Everything had to be taught.

BALDWIN: Wow! And Zeana, if someone wants to help Nash and his sisters, somebody who's watching with a big heart, what can they do? Nash, what do you need the most?

ISMAEL: Family. Family overseas.

ATTISHA: The family is overseas.

ISMAEL: That would be a big help. This thing was like you know I'll at least like have somebody that can make you know be taken care of the kids while I'm like, let's say I'm working, going to school, something. I need a parent. So, I'm looking forward to getting my cousins. They live in Iraq. And I have some cousins in France, so I don't know.

ATTISHA: They would love to -- they have started immigration process, some of them have started it. Maybe just write letters to the senators. We need a guardian angel to come over. His mom's sister, his first cousin, they are willing to come here but everything is just -- right now, I don't think you can fly. You have to get a visa. And even the girls don't have passports for them to leave and go visit yet. Nash and Nadeen are going to take guardianship of Nanssy because she's a minor. But I mean we did set up a GoFundMe to help with expenses to make sure that the bills are paid. BALDWIN: Where can people find your GoFundMe and I'm talking to my control room? Do we have the GoFundMe information, guys, that we could put on the screen? Can you just give us the link - give us the link. And I'm just telling everyone, I know this is all on the fly, but I'll tweet it out. I'm @BrookeBCNN. So I want to help facilitate because you do need a guardian angel. That really strikes me.


And hopefully, someone watching can help. And I know no one is really flying anywhere right now, but in time, I hope you'd be able to find that.

Nash, I want to end with you. Just, can you -- let's honor your parents. Because I had read that they fled Iraq likely because of your parents' Catholic beliefs and your father's charity work. I read the story. They came to America. They couldn't speak English. They had no friends. But they built this home. They built this life. Could you just end with me and tell me about your love for your mother and father?

ISMAEL: This is like the hardest question.

BALDWIN: It is OK. Think on it.

ISMAEL: It's -- I love them so much and it's crazy. It is like when they passed away and those hard times is when I really needed them, you know. And, you know, I just -- we all love them, me, Nanssy, Nadeen. They're in a better place. I mean this is my cross. I got to carry it. It is what it is. I don't know what to say.

BALDWIN: Do they have a special name or something they said to you in Arabic, something you want to say to honor them?

ATTISHA: What was your nickname?

ISMAEL: I don't know. She always called me by my real name, Nashwan (ph). It is not Nash. Nash is like -- Nash is easier. They call me Nashwan. So, yes.

BALDWIN: OK. Listen, I really appreciate both of you. And hopefully you will be able to get the guardian angel you need. Thank you, both.

ISMAEL: Thank you.

ATTISHA: Thank you, Brooke.

BALDWIN: We'll be right back.



BALDWIN: "This is not working." That is what one mother of two says about the struggle to balance work and childcare since the start of the pandemic. And she is far from alone. Parents all across the country are crushed under the weight of balancing or not, being a parent, at sudden at home teacher and employee with the start of the new year just weeks away. Some areas - in some areas, it could all just get so much worse.

So far, Congress has approved $3.5 billion that has then been dispersed under the CARES Act for the childcare industry. But the National Women's Law Center says, the industry needs to receive $9.6 billion a month.

Joining me now, Keisha Hudson, an attorney working from home while caring for her two little children. So, Keisha, welcome.

KEISHA HUDSON, SENIOR LEGAL COUNSEL, THE JUSTICE COLLABORATIVE: Thank you. Thank you, Brooke. I'm very happy to be here.

BALDWIN: So, let's dive in. I know it is summer. That means it is a bit of a reprieve from you know Zoom classes with your 8-year-old daughter. I know you also have a toddler. That is all enough to keep your hands full on a good day, on a normal day. And then obviously add to the fact that you're a full-time attorney. We're living in the midst of a pandemic. How do you balance it all or do you?

HUDSON: I don't know that I'm balancing it very well. I think I speak for a lot of parents, particularly working mothers who are really kind of bearing the brunt of childcare, all of the research now and all of the surveys that have done have shown that women are doing more housework, on top of all of our other responsibilities as well as parenting, teaching and trying to work. So, I don't know that there is a balance there. And I certainly haven't been able to find one.

BALDWIN: Listen, I appreciate your honesty and I think a lot of people at home, especially women, right, are nodding along with you. Can you just do me a favor, Keisha, and quickly run through the most challenging part of your day, trying to do it all.

HUDSON: You know, with a 2-year-old, you know my day starts early. It started at 4:30 this morning when she woke up, wide awake and ready to start the day. There was no getting her back to sleep. And in the beginning of the shutdown when you know when she was home, she was not in a childcare setting, we had to pull her out. And my daughter was home because her school was closed.

Those first three hours of the morning were incredibly hectic because it's monitoring her but also realizing that you know at 5:00 a.m. I have a two-hour window before my 8-year-old gets up and virtual learning has to start. And so, from about 5:00 a.m. to 7:00 a.m. there is this frantic rush to get started working, trying to get some of my tasks accomplished before my daughter gets up and before I have to turn my attention to supervising her learning.

So, those first two hours I had to do all of the things. It is monitoring the 2-year-old, and starting to do my work, and getting breakfast on the table, and opening up all of the links her teacher had sent that day to see what she had to get done and then once she was up making sure they're both eating breakfast, and then jumping into what ends up being a chaotic day. BALDWIN: And then by the way, you're also an attorney. Remind us what your work is.

HUDSON: So, I'm an attorney with the Justice Collaborative. We do criminal justice reform work on a local state and national level.

BALDWIN: So, it is heavy stuff. It is heavy stuff is my point. I'm already exhausted listening to your - to the first couple of hours of your day.


Let me ask you this, because I know that just in the last, let's say, 10 days there's been conflicting guidance from the federal government on looking towards this fall. Right? We've heard the president say it should be safe for schools to reopen, the CDC strongly recommends it. But then listening to Dr. Deborah Birx this morning from the Coronavirus Task Force, she's saying actually we don't totally know much about COVID and kids under the age of 10 in terms of spreading the virus. So just given all these question marks, Keisha, but also given the weight on you as a mom/makeshift homeschool teacher/attorney, do you want to send your daughter back to school this fall?

HUDSON: I don't. And I don't because I don't think we know enough. I don't think that the federal government has prioritized the funding that needs to be directed to - to our childcare facilities and to public schools. My daughter's in a public school. We love our public school. We're big supporters of public education. But there has not by any means been the investment into making sure those places of learning, that public schools have the funding that they need and the support and the resources and the PPE for all the teachers, the testing. There is no routine testing, none of that has been made clear.

And, again, on top of that all the unanswered questions about having kids sit in a classroom for eight hours a day, breathe in the same air. They're children. They're not going to social distance. They're not going to be great about keeping their masks on. They're not going to be great about making sure they're washing their hands and sanitizing regularly. It's a lot of unknown questions. It's a lot of stress on not just the students and the parents but also our teachers who are not getting nearly enough support to kind of get ready for the school year.

BALDWIN: You can say that again. Keisha Hudson, I just thank you. And good luck and I know so many parents are sitting there listening to you thinking, yep, yep, me too. We're all in this together. Thank you.

HUDSON: Yes, we are.

BALDWIN: Thank you.

HUDSON: Thank you.

BALDWIN: A hospital in Southern Texas overrun with coronavirus patients. And now the county is taking a drastic action to stop the spread. How a new stay-at-home order is affecting thousands of people, coming up.



BALDWIN: Washington state saw its very first confirmed case of coronavirus back in January. But now it seems after a promising decline in cases in response to a swift and sweeping shutdown, the state is now seeing alarming spike in infections. Washington is one of so many states forced to grapple with the fallout from re-opening too soon with confirmed cases rising there since June. The spike has prompted the governor to issue a new wave of guidelines, tightening restrictions on bars, restaurants, and gatherings, and also issuing a statewide mask mandate for when people are outside of their homes.

In Texas, new hope that the state is beginning to get coronavirus under control. Dr. Deborah Birx saying this morning that COVID cases are starting to plateau in Texas. That is wonderful. But the numbers remain very high with more than 9,500 new cases being reported just on Thursday alone. And this morning, there's a county in South Texas that instituted a new stay-at-home order just to try to contain the virus.

CNN's Ed Lavandera is live in Dallas. So, Ed, tell me about this new stay-at-home order in Starr County.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Once again here, you have in Texas local authorities trying to issue a stay-at-home shelter in these areas where the coronavirus pandemic has been spreading out of control. The latest is here in Starr County, which is down in South Texas. This has been the hot spot within this Texas hot spot.

And the county judge there issuing a stay-at-home order. But, remember, the governor has pushed back against local authorities doing -- issuing these kinds of orders, saying they don't have the enforcement authority to carry this out. But the shelter-at-home order also has provisions in there for curfews for adults and children. This is something that the governor here in Texas has been supportive of over the last few weeks.

So, once again, a great deal of concern specifically there in South Texas, Brooke. Because this is an area where hospitals are making some intense and painful decisions. The county judge there in Starr County also saying that they are in the process of creating an ethics and triage committee at the county hospital to determine which patients can be treated there or which patients have to be sent home to die, essentially. This is because the hospitals have become dramatically filled with COVID patients.

County officials there saying a month ago they didn't have any COVID patients. Now, they've had nearly 1,700 cases. 40 of them added to the roles just yesterday. But, as you mentioned, this is the process that we're hoping beginning to see a plateauing of the number of new cases being reported here. We haven't seen the numbers today, but we're hoping that's the direction we're moving in. Brooke? BALDWIN: Ed Lavandera, thank you for the update there in Texas. And before I let you all go, let me tell you this.

President Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, is officially no longer in prison. Cohen was released from federal custody earlier today to go back into home confinement in New York City where he will serve out the remainder of his three-year sentence. This move comes after a federal judge found that the government sent Michael Cohen back to prison earlier this month in retaliation for a tell-all book that he is writing about the president. Cohen was convicted of tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations. So there you have it.

And again, just a quick update on that family I spoke with a moment ago, 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.