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U.S. Surpasses Four Million Cases of COVID-19; Trump Cancels Republican Convention Events in Jacksonville; U.S. Unemployment Claims Rise for the First Time Since March; Millions of Americans Lose Health Benefits as Unemployment Rises; China Orders Closure of U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, China. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 24, 2020 - 04:00   ET



KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: The United States surpasses four million coronavirus cases with one million added in just the last 15 days. President Trump cancels Republican convention activities in Jacksonville, Florida, as coronavirus cases surge in the state. And Major League Baseball players make a statement as the season finally gets underway.

Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber.

As the United States racked up its four millionth case of COVID-19 on Thursday, the U.S. president insisted most of the country is in fine shape and school children should return to the classroom. President Trump said he's asked Congress for $105 billion to help schools minimize the risk. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now recommends that most schools reopen except in communities where the virus is spreading.

And well, that seems to be almost everywhere. The head of the White House Coronavirus Task Force privately told a group of health officials that rates of infection are rising in a dozen major U.S. cities. As for the president's showcase acceptance of the Republican nomination next month in Jacksonville, Florida, events there have been scrapped because of the coronavirus.

Athena Jones has more on the dramatic surge of cases across the country.


ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Four million infections nationwide. A grim milestone and perhaps the strongest signal yet the coronavirus is still raging out of control across much of the country. Deaths nationwide topping 1,000 for the second straight day with total hospitalizations back up to April levels. Fifteen states setting new records, half of them in the south.

The Center for Public Integrity reporting White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warning state and local leaders in a private phone call that a dozen major cities where positivity rates for COVID tests are rising must take aggressive steps to halt the virus's steps.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: When we first see that increased test positivity, that is when to start the mitigation efforts. I know it may look small, and you may say that only went from five to five and a half and we're going to wait to see what happens. If you wait another three or four, even five days, you'll start to see a dramatic increase in cases.

JONES: California and Florida both setting new records for deaths in a single day. The mayor of Miami stressing the challenges of halting community spread when much of it is happening at home, and offering this advice to residents.

MAYOR FRANCIS SUAREZ (R), MIAMI: They have a multi-generational household. Wearing masks indoors at times with your multi-generational residents and also respecting social distancing, when they're home, because again we're seeing the largest center of spread being our house.

JONES: In Alaska, one of 12 states that saw its highest seven-day average for new daily cases on Wednesday, the mayor of Anchorage rolling back reopening, placing new limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings. And the governor announcing that starting today people in state buildings will be required to wear facemasks when they cannot stay six feet away from others.

GOV. MIKE DUNLEAVY (R), ALASKA: We want to do everything we can especially over the next two weeks to see if we can kind of arrest this surge.

JONES: Meanwhile, school districts from Seattle to Maryland and universities like South Carolina's Clemson announcing plans to hold classes online in the fall. In Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey still mulling whether to open schools while facing pressure from parents and teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We want to go back to work. We want to support our kids. We want to keep doing what we love doing but we also want to feel safe. And we also have family to worry about.

JONES (on camera): And one more sign of the toll the coronavirus is taking on this country, statisticians at the CDC now expect COVID-19 to be among the top 10 causes of death in the nation this year.

Athena Jones, CNN, New York.


BRUNHUBER: All right. I'd like to analyze some of those issues with Dr. Ron Daniels, an intensive care physician with the U.K.'s National Health Service.

So the president of the United States pivoting sort of, encouraging mask use, cancelling the Republican National Convention events in Jacksonville. Do you think this will help or is the resistance to stringent measures too sort of entrenched, basically, you know, too little too late?

DR. RON DANIELS, NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE INTENSIVE CARE DOCTOR: It's fascinating, isn't it? And we've talked over here in the U.K. about the inconsistency of messaging from our government.


But as an external observer in the U.S. we seemed to have gone from it's not coming over here through to America's great, get back to work, reopen businesses, through to, hey, we've got a problem here, let's wear a mask. And the reality is in countries that have seen these curbs flattened, mask wearing is important.

I think President Trump's decision to cancel the -- of course it's the right decision. You know, Florida is in the middle of a surge. And obviously Jacksonville is part of that surge. And had the conference gone ahead, it would have been very likely to cause significant spread.

Our own prime minister has seen the effects of coronavirus personally. We would hate to see that happen to President Trump as well.

BRUNHUBER: Well, listen, we often get overwhelmed with numbers, especially case numbers. It kind of, you know, washes over us. But one number that really made people sort of sit up and take notice, I even heard somebody, you know, talking about this in the coffee shop, the fact that we went from three million cases to four million cases basically in two weeks. The rate of increase accelerating at a frightening pace. What does that tell you?

DANIELS: Well, this tells me that, you know, and I've said this before with CNN that America seems to be behaving like 50 small countries and two principalities without borders. So we've seen surges beginning at different rates and at different place in time in different states. And that's contributed to it, particularly with free travel, that's contributed to this huge number that we're now seeing so that 1 in 15, 1 in 20 Americans now having tested positive for this virus.

It's absolutely imperative of course now that the American public behave responsibly. And again, I've said this before. This is about balancing rights with moral obligations and respect for others.

BRUNHUBER: I mean, there hasn't been a lot of show of people doing the right thing. I mean, take, you know, where I am here in Georgia, sort of a microcosm of the U.S., it really illustrates what's going on across the country. And over confidence, under testing. Now shattering records for cases, exacerbated by this ongoing conflict between various levels of government as to what to do about. So some experts have advocated, you know, basically shutting down again and starting over. What do you think about this radical approach?

DANIELS: Well, I think the U.S. has got to look really carefully at where there are surges being seen. And there are some great data out there on this. And we know that places like New York City have started to see the curve flatten and the number of daily new cases begin to reduce. Now they're probably at the end of their first surge. And other states are at the beginning of theirs.

We've got to look really carefully at this. And where surges are beginning, then these lockdown measures are absolutely vital. And you know, look, this is not about you, not about your business, this is about your parents, your grandparents, their kids with chronic health conditions. This is about respect for others. It's not hard to wear a mask and there are no ill effects from wearing a mask apart from a bit of discomfort.

BRUNHUBER: Now you mentioned data, you know, testing is part of that and the speed with which we can do it. The backlog. Lots of issues about this here. There's a lot of hope being placed on Rapid Point of Care tests which can give results in minutes instead of days. So where are we with this? And also, what are the tradeoffs there in terms of the quality of those tests?

DANIELS: Yes. I think the quality is a significant issue. We are using points of care testing in hospitals in the U.K. We recognize that they're not the gold standard. There are still a lot of what we call false negatives. People who later test positive for the antigen. That's at the time that the Point of Care test tests negative. So we've got to interpret those tests with caution. A negative Point of Care test doesn't mean go and have a party. It means, OK, this test was negative, that's reassuring slightly but that doesn't definitely mean you don't have the virus.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Well, let's turn to the contentious issue of school reopenings. The schism seems to be growing with the CDC on one hand as we heard earlier saying that the best evidence is that it's low risk for school age children. Other experts pointing out that this may be true, but it doesn't make it safe to reopen because of the -- you know, the adults who can be affected. So we've seen some countries open schools safely, but there isn't a lot of data out there. What have we learned so far?

DANIELS: Well, I think we've learned that, indeed, schools reopening is low risk but it's not zero risk. So I've seen data that suggests that if we close schools and keep them closed it can reduce the number of total cases and deaths by somewhere between about 2 percent to 4 percent. So that's not zero risk. Kids seem less prone to developing coronavirus symptoms. They seem less prone to contracting coronavirus.

And there's lots of studies from places of diverse, South Korea, Iceland, Japan, that showed that children have about 1/10 of the risk of contracting coronavirus even asymptomatically compared with adults.


And similarly, they seem less able to pass it on. And that's perhaps because they don't tend cough as much. They tend to have a sore throat and runny nose. It's less transmissible in that environment. It's less aerosol, less particle generation, so it is not completely safe to reopen schools but it's less risky than allowing house parties.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Absolutely. All right, well, listen, thank you so much for that. I appreciate it. Dr. Ron Daniels with the U.K.'s National Health Service. We appreciate your time.

U.S. President Donald Trump has abandoned plans to hold the 2020 Republican National Convention in Jacksonville, Florida. Activities for the nominating event were previously moved from Charlotte, North Carolina. Officials raised health concerns about big gatherings. A GOP source says party leaders presented the idea of canceling the event as a way for the president to demonstrate leadership. But here's what the president said Thursday.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I looked at my team and I said, the timing for this event is not right, just not right with what's happened recently. The flare-up in Florida, to have a big convention is not the right time. It's really something that for me I have to protect the American people. That's what I've always done. That's what I always will do. That's what I'm about.


BRUNHUBER: And on Monday the sheriff in Jacksonville said he wasn't sure he could adequately secure RNC activities in the city.

"Atlantic" senior editor Ron Brownstein discussed this with CNN earlier.


RON BROWNSTEIN, SENIOR EDITOR, THE ATLANTIC: The president gave in to reality here after, among others, the sheriff of Duvall County, which is where it would be held, said they did not think they could do this, you know, in a safe manner. And he kind of conceded to reality by not having an indoor event at the time when Florida is absolutely out of control with the virus. 70 percent of Floridians in a Quinnipiac poll today say the state is out of control.

But yet simultaneously, as you point out, John, in the same breath, he kind of returns to his initial instinct which is -- has been to open everything as quickly as possible regardless of the public health implications because he believes that the return to normalcy or projecting a sense of normalcy is key to his re-election.


BRUNHUBER: New polls from FOX News suggest Joe Biden has a wide lead in some key battleground states. His advantage is biggest in Minnesota, where 51 percent of voters who are polled say they would choose Biden if voting today, as opposed to 38 percent for Donald Trump whose handling of the coronavirus outbreak is proving a major issue for many voters. The polls also suggest solid leads for Biden in Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Well, as we mentioned earlier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now strongly recommending that schools in the U.S. reopen for the term. This comes after President Donald Trump demanded that the agency alter previous recommendations which he called tough and expensive.


TRUMP: Being at the school, being on the campus is very, very important. Fortunately, the data shows that children are lower risk from the China virus very substantially, but every district should be actively making preparations to open. Again, the children obviously have a very strong immune system.


BRUNHUBER: The CDC's guidelines contain similar reasoning, but they add that COVID screening will not be required. But parents and guardians should monitor symptoms and keep sick students home. Children will be advised to wear masks, use social distancing and other preventative measures. And officials should consider closing schools or keeping them closed if there is substantial uncontrolled transmission of the virus.

Philanthropist Bill Gates is devoting many resources to develop COVID- 19 vaccines through the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. He spoke earlier on CNN's town hall about why he believes the U.S. deaths are destined to rise in coming months.


BILL GATES, CO-CHAIR, BILL AND MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION: Well, the infection rate in the U.S. is equally troubling because the summer, when it's warmer, when people are indoors more, actually it's easier to reduce the infection than it's going to be out in the fall. And right now those infections are largely in young people, which means the death rate, although it's come up, is nowhere near its peak.

As those infections cross over the generational boundary, which with this level of infection there will certainly be some of that, the death rate will go back up.


BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, a troubling new sign about the state of the U.S. economy. We look at how the coronavirus is affecting unemployment claims.


And heightened tensions between Beijing and Washington, this time over the forced closure of each other's consulates. We'll look at what it means next.


BRUNHUBER: Hundreds of worshippers are being asked to self-quarantine after attending this outdoor religious event in Shasta County, California. You can see from the pictures there no social distancing, no masks to be seen there, but plenty of raised voices and well, probably, the spreading of droplets. The organizer says every American has a constitutional right to the

freedom to worship. Officials say outdoor faith gatherings are allowed but they say this one put community at risk. Shasta County is on California's watch list for increased transmission of the virus.

The U.S. economy is showing troubling signs once again even as Republican senators argue over the details over a new stimulus plan. New unemployment claims are up for the first time in almost four months. 1.4 million Americans applied for first-time unemployment benefits last week.

For more CNN's Eleni Giokos joins me now.


Eleni, this latest snapshot, how does this help fill in the larger economic picture?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I mean, this is a reality check. Very sobering number. We had a decline in initial claims for 15 weeks. This is the first time we've seen an increase. Now importantly the market didn't expect this rise. And in fact, there's a dire correlation in terms of what we've seen on coronavirus cases increasing in the sunbelt and what of course we're seeing in the increase of initial claims.

We saw the likes of California, 400,000 claims, nearly 400,000 claims coming through for the last week. We saw Florida and Georgia also hitting very high numbers as well. We're seeing continuing claims sitting at 60 million. That number dropped slightly but, again, it shows that a true U.S. recovery really does hinge on intervention, on a recovery plan by the U.S. government.

Now you've got to remember the enhanced benefit that put an extra $600 in the pockets of vulnerable unemployed Americans. That program is coming to the end at the end of July.

Now I want you to take a listen to what Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had to say. Remember, the Republicans in the Senate and the White House apparently looking are at the details and then they've got to take it to the Democrats. Take a listen.


STEVEN MNUCHIN, TREASURY SECRETARY: The president's priority for the moment is to get money into Americans quickly and one of the problems with the payroll tax cut is it takes time so we are much more focused right now on the direct payments.

We're going to come back again. You know, there may be a CARES 5.0. The president, again, is focused on money in American workers and American pockets right now.


GIOKOS: Yes, I mean, and the big news there is what to do with that enhanced benefit. I mean, we heard that Steve Mnuchin was talking about dropping it to $200 to $100 a week and then we saw a proposal of perhaps replacing 70 percent of lost income. The point is the Democrats still want this enhanced benefit in place. They're talking about a recovery plan totaling $3 trillion. The Republicans say $1 trillion.

Now once the Republicans finally get some common ground, it's got to go back to the Democrats and then that's where the negotiation really needs to happen. Time is running out. Markets participants are watching this and of course unemployed Americans are watching this negotiation very closely.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Absolutely. All of this doesn't bode so well for those millions of Americans looking for help.

Thank you so much, Eleni Giokos. We appreciate your analysis.

And as if losing a job isn't bad enough, for millions of Americans it also means losing health insurance. CNN's Phil Mattingly talked to one woman who's trying to stay hopeful through these unprecedented times.


ASHLEY PAMPLIN, RESTAURANT MANAGER: I'm always trying to stay optimistic. Smiling. And like, you know, it will all be OK.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Despite a furlough Ashley Pamplin managed to stay positive in the first few months of the pandemic.

PAMPLIN: Unemployment and everything, that's what made it a little bit easier to be like, OK, I can stay at home and be OK.

MATTINGLY: But the Pittsburgh restaurant group where she worked just days ago decided it had to make cuts.

PAMPLIN: There's just so much uncertainty. And I think nobody really knows what's going on. And it's kind of like almost like a downwards spiral.

MATTINGLY: Now Ashley Pamplin has joined nearly 18 million Americans as unemployed, and those job losses have laid bare a significant hole for those individuals.

RACHEL GARFIELD, VICE PRESIDENT, KAISER FAMILY FOUNDATION; Particularly a time like this when people are losing their jobs at unprecedented levels, they're losing their health insurance coverage at a time when we're facing a health crisis in the country and many people have a need more than ever for health insurance coverage.

MATTINGLY: Nearly 160 million Americans or about half the U.S. population received health insurance through their employer in 2018. Now as many as 26.8 million people could become uninsured due to those job losses according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. And while the group estimates that more than 20 million would likely qualify for Obamacare subsidies or Medicaid, that leaves more than five million people faced with paying their own way, all as a crucial $600 federal unemployment benefit is about to expire on July 31st.

PAMPLIN: That was actually like my saving grace. It really was.

MATTINGLY: As Pamplin confronts the need to purchase insurance on her own, she's faced with a stark reality.

PAMPLIN: Between food, and utilities, and the mortgage and car insurance, like, yeah, it would just -- I felt like sadly your health insurance would probably be the last priority.

MATTINGLY: And as lawmakers urgently debate an extension to that federal unemployment program, it's a decision millions may be forced to make with jarring repercussions.

PAMPLIN: I just don't know if I could afford that now. And that's really saying something, too, because I felt like I was finally blessed to be in a position where I felt a little bit comfortable.

MATTINGLY: Pamplin had a job, health insurance.


She closed on a new home just days after her restaurant shut down and she's still never stopped smiling but the uncertainty has taken its toll.

PAMPLIN: You know, I don't want to lose everything I've really worked really hard to get and then realize how hard it would be to get it back again.


BRUNHUBER: So let's turn to the growing diplomatic dispute between the U.S. and China. As Beijing orders the closure of the American consulate in Chengdu. China says it's a reciprocal measure after the Trump administration ordered China's consulate in Houston, Texas, to shut down. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says it's time for the world to change how it engages with Beijing.


MIKE POMPEO, SECRETARY OF STATE: We have to admit a hard truth, which should guide us in the years and decades to come. That if we want to have a free 21st century and not the Chinese country of which Xi Jinping dreams, the old paradigm of blind engagement with China simply won't get it done. We must not continue it. And we must not return to it.


BRUNHUBER: All right. To analyze all this, let's bring in David Culver in Beijing.

So you heard, you know, strong words from the secretary of State there now attacking China as an oft used political tactic especially in an election season. But some experts have claimed that this is the lowest U.S.-China relations have been in decades. What's your assessment?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Quite bluntly, it's bad and it's getting worse. And you heard Pompeo there. The secretary went on for nearly an hour when he was speaking. And I was listening through the entirety of that speech and it was essentially the China threat as it was themed. He says China is a threat to global freedom.

Now China's fighting back. They say this is all slander, Kim. And they'd go on to say that they will continue to meet the U.S. with reciprocal actions as they feel needed. Case in point is what we saw just play out today here. The closing of the U.S. consulate in Chengdu. Now this is a place, Central China, I mean, it's Sichuan Province. It's known for food, spicy food and pandas.

And you'd say pandas and it's obviously something that folks in the U.S. relate to. But panda diplomacy is something that was a real thing and played out -- continues to play out but we're seeing the irony there that diplomacy is breaking down.

Why that conflict? Well, I want you to listen to a little bit to what the Foreign Ministry had to say. And I'll read you some of what they put out in a statement earlier today. It said, quote, "That the measure taken by China is a legitimate and necessary response to the unjustified act by the U.S. It conforms with international law, the basic norms of international relations and customary and diplomatic practices."

Kim, they go on to say, and the spokesperson just in the past few minutes addressed this, that that consulate is a place where they believe inappropriate actions were taking place essentially that harmed the national security interests of China. Clearly they're likening it to what the U.S. has said about the Houston consulate that the Chinese operated and the U.S. claiming that it was essentially a front for spying.

BRUNHUBER: All right, well, David, I've been to Chengdu to see those pandas and I never imagined it my wildest dreams that it would be the center of a diplomatic dispute. I appreciate your analysis there.

CULVER: And yet here we are.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Exactly.

Well, corruption charges and the coronavirus are galvanizing protesters in Israel. So just ahead we'll go live in Jerusalem where thousands are calling for the prime minister to resign.

Masks are now mandatory inside English shops and supermarkets. So after the break we'll take you to London to explain why it's happening now. Stay with us.