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WHO Reports Record Increase in Global Cases; Some U.S. States Seeing Steady or Falling Case Counts; Medical Experts Urge Shutting Down and Starting Over; Protests in Portland amid Rise in Tensions; White House Glosses Over Trump's Reversals on Virus; Birx: Florida, Texas, California Like "Three New Yorks"; U.S. Agents Secure Chinese Consulate in Houston; Autistic Driver Out to Prove Everyone Wrong. Aired 3-4a ET

Aired July 25, 2020 - 03:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Coronavirus cases spike around the globe, as the U.S. debates whether or not to open schools next month.

Another night of protests in Portland, as the Black Lives Matter movement keeps its momentum in the U.S.

And a warning for parts of Texas as tropical storm Hanna strengthens in the Gulf of Mexico. And it's not the only storm out there.

Hello and welcome to our viewers in the United States and all around the world. This is CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Michael Holmes.

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HOLMES: Thanks for your company.

We begin with a record spike in coronavirus cases around the world. The World Health Organization says the global tally rose by more than 284,000 in just 24 hours. The U.S., of course, especially hard hit, again. It had more than 73,000 new cases, on its own, on Friday.

And then, there is the question about what to do about reopening schools. Top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, urging caution.

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DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: When you talk about forcing teachers to come back to school, you'd better be careful about that and make sure you pay attention to, A, keeping them safe and, B, keeping them healthy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: As the debate rages, U.S. immigration officials say new international students won't be allowed into the country if their classes are entirely online. They can come if there is some kind of hybrid coursework.

Keep in mind, public school policy in the U.S. isn't dictated by the federal government though the federal government can and, obviously does, make recommendations and exert pressure, as we've seen.

But states and counties are the ones that, ultimately, make the decision. So they have to consider their own local case counts and trends. Nick Watt has more on the school dilemma and the state of the nation during this pandemic.

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NICK WATT, CNN CORRESPONDENT (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: 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."

FAUCI: I think we still need to learn a lot about children, elementary school children, getting infected and whether they either spread or not efficiently to adults.

In hot spots, schools should figure out a plan with local health officials, says the CDC.

DR. MARIA VAN KERKHOVE, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: Right now, the virus is controlling us in many parts of the world. Much of the Americans right now are really in the thick of it. But we do see signs of hope.

WATT: Across the country, in more than half of states, average new case games are right now steady or falling. That's good. Case counts generally falling in Arizona, after a very difficult month and hard- hit Florida?

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

WATT: 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 County, ICUs are now operating at 132 percent capacity.

DR. AILEEN MARTY, HERBERT WERTHEIM COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: We're drowning. We're absolutely drowning here. It's just an overwhelming number of cases, 527 individuals in the ICUs. WATT: Starr County, Texas, just ordered everyone to shelter at home. According to the county, "Our doctors are going to have to decide who receives treatment and who is sent home to die by their loved ones."

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WATT (voice-over): 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."

DR. PAUL OFFIT, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL OF PHILADELPHIA: I don't personally think that's necessary. I think that, if we just do the commonsense things, we can get this under control, as other countries have gotten under control.

WATT: So, the absolute opposite of this tight-packed, unmasked religious service in Northern California.

And here, in California, 159 deaths reported by the state in just 24 hours. That's a new record because it's two more than yesterday -- Nick Watt, CNN, Los Angeles.

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HOLMES: Well, not everyone is happy about the decisions local officials are making when it comes to reopening schools in the U.S. Take the hard-hit county of Gwinnett, here, in Georgia, for example.

Despite a rise in virus cases, hundreds of parents, teachers and students are demanding their school district reopen its doors for the academic year.

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PROTESTERS: That's our future.

HOLMES (voice-over): Parents were initially given the option to vote on their preferred education plan, with many choosing in-person learning. Protests began after the district reversed course and announced it will only be offering online classes.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I feel like I can learn better, especially in math, in school.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If that is what you ask for and we spoke, then I think that the decision should have been honored, at least in full or in some sort of partial honoring of that.

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HOLMES: As local leaders debate whether to reopen schools in person or online, Arizona's governor now changing his approach, now basing it on health benchmarks. The state reported more than 3,000 new cases on Friday. But as CNN's Miguel Marquez reports, there are also some promising numbers. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So there are some encouraging signs in Arizona. The rates, overall rates of cases, every day, it's coming down, has been coming down, in the last 24 hours.

The most recent reporting by the state, up over 3,000 again, fairly high but it had been down below 2,000 cases a day over the last week or so.

That rate of transmission, if I get, it how many do I pass it on to, has been trending in the right direction for the state as well.

But the problem and the big sticking point for the state, that rate of positivity. The number of people getting tested and the rate that come back positive, that is stuck at about 25 percent.

That indicates to epidemiologists and to health officials that there is a lot of virus out there, a lot of community spread. And that is complicated things for, say, opening up schools for in-person instruction.

They wanted to start on their traditional date of August 1st; the governor pushed that back to an aspirational date for the 17th of August. Now they're waiting and the governor has we're going to scrap all that, come up with metrics to figure out what the virus rate in the community needs to be before schools can open up for in-person instruction.

Many schools already pushing back in person to October, possibly into 2021 for some of them.

Arizona is unique, because it is this time of the year, when school starts again, it's a snowbird area, for people who live in very cold climates to come here for the winter. It is also the time of year when the flu strikes.

And the hospitals typically in October, November and December, get very full with people suffering the flu. If you have lots of COVID out there at the same time and you have those patients, on top of flu patients, it is going to be extraordinarily difficult for the state to cope with that many sick people.

That is what the state is looking at right now. They are trying to get this back into the box right now but it is very hard. When the governor opened up the state in May, there were about 500 cases a day being reported. Now you are in the 2,000 to 3000 number a day. Back to you.

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HOLMES: Joining me now, Dr. Murtaza Akhter, an emergency medicine physician in Phoenix, Arizona. Good to have you on, Doctor. I wanted to start, rather than talking

about the facts and figures, what you are seeing in the emergency rooms. How bad has it been?

DR. MURTAZA AKHTER, VALLEYWISE HEALTH MEDICAL CENTER: Thank you for having me on. The emergency departments have this issue, where anytime we have patients who need to be admitted, namely the sickest patients, they are waiting for long periods in the emergency department.

I'm sure you've heard about the bed capacity issues we've had and the staffing issues we've had.

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AKHTER: When there is a patient who we can turn around quickly we've actually done a pretty good job. I think as emergency physicians being able to handle that.

But the patients that need to be admitted, which sick patients need to be, they end up staying there for long periods of time. This last week, a couple weeks back to back, I went home, came back the next day, and a patient admitted the previous day was still in the emergency department.

That is not typical for an ER. We had a similar scenario, where a patient waited so long, she decided to go home. We talked to her and said, no one said you've been admitted, and she said, listen, I'm think I'm going to die. I want to die at home, not at the hospital.

So that gives you an idea of what it is like in the emergency department.

HOLMES: Wow, that is just heartbreaking stuff. One thing that has struck me, the social media is still full of those who resist taking this seriously and abiding by the sensible precautions and so on.

What should the public know about what is happening in hospitals around the country, in your hospital, the stark reality of that?

AKHTER: I don't know why they've turned this into a social media game. If they want to post selfie pics, that's one thing. But if they want to do something that's harming people by spreading false information, it literally is dangerous.

Masks are clearly very effective. They're a great -- (INAUDIBLE) for it. All the other countries in the world that don't wear masks just for fun, they're obviously onto something. They've dealt with pandemics before. And even with COVID-19, a new pandemic, even within this pandemic, we've got very good data for how effective masks are.

Obviously, distancing is helpful; hand hygiene is very important and so the people who are turning this into a social media game, think of it this way. Our hospitals are very backed up. Obviously, heart disease still exists.

So, whatever you think about COVID or masks, heart disease still exists, trauma still exists, stroke still exists.

If you end up in a car accident or your loved one has a heart attack, how good do you think his or her care will be if there are no beds in the hospital?

HOLMES: To that point, give us a sense of what it's like for individual doctors, nurses and therapists, having to deal not with just the volume but with those sick people the dying people one-on- one. Take us into the emotion of that. It is unthinkable to most of us.

AKHTER: Obviously there are things I can say on air and things we say as colleagues. When we are open about it there are a lot of emotions. Sometimes there is anger but a lot of times there's almost desperation.

We can handle sick people, especially as emergency physicians. That's what we're trained for. My intensivist colleagues are there every day, working long, long hours, calling people and telling them their loved ones are dying.

They've been doing this for their lifetimes. That part we are used to. What's really demoralizing is how the patients keep coming in. Despite how full we are, despite how much the news is telling people how bad it is in hospitals, despite what the health experts are saying, people are still treating it like it is a game.

They are still partying, they are still not distancing, they are still not wearing masks. There are a lot of people doing the right things, but it really takes everybody to do the right thing because it's very easy to spread germs.

So, it's very frustrating for us, when we are doing our utmost to save lives, that's what we do, right?

But then to go home and on our way home, we see people who are clearly not following guidelines. It's like I said, it is infuriating for some and very -- it's almost a desperation, demoralizing, for others. And it makes it hard to come to work every day, knowing that other people are just being apathetic about it.

HOLMES: Infuriating is the word that leaps to mind, as you put it.

Finally, and briefly, according to "The New York Times," I think 10 U.S. states are reporting U.S. states per capita than anywhere in the world.

Why do you, as a medical professional, think that is?

Why, when compared to other major nations in Europe in Asia, has the U.S. done so badly?

AKHTER: It is really appalling and really ironic because we had this information. Some countries didn't know what was going to happen, but we knew, because of other countries and even now, we saw what happened in New York. We knew the ways to prevent it. We knew how important distancing was, lockdown and staying at home, we knew how effective masks could be.

Despite all of that, we decided, you know what, it will be OK. I don't know why we thought that. Now there is something to be said about the fact that there may be some countries who are maybe not as testing as often, but Europe clearly is, a lot of Eastern nations we talked about clearly are.

And despite how densely populated they are and despite the fact that a lot of them have fewer resources than we do, they were able to control it. I think a lot of it is a cultural difference. People listen to their health experts and their governments in other countries. People are OK wearing masks.

I don't know how this became such an issue here, especially in a pandemic, especially when you have seen your own country men and women die in large numbers. Why this has become political, why people are not wearing masks, is really appalling. I think we need a big cultural shift here to bring this control onto the pandemic.

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HOLMES: I think that's well put, as you say, the U.S. had a huge heads-up, given what was happening in other countries and then kind of blew it.

Dr. Murtaza Akhter, thank you so much, I really appreciate it.

AKHTER: Thanks for having me, Michael, stay safe.

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HOLMES: We are going to take a quick break. Here on the program, when we come back, tensions remain high in Portland as federal agents get the go-ahead to arrest without having to identify themselves. We are live in that city, when we come back.

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HOLMES: Welcome back.

On Friday, a U.S. federal judge ruled the state of Oregon can't force federal Homeland Security officers to identify themselves when arresting protesters in Portland. A week ago, the state took the Trump administration to court over its handling of the protests there.

The American Civil Liberties Union calls the ruling "disappointing." And there are more protests going on right now. Let's go to Portland. CNN's Lucy Kafanov is live for us there.

Tell us about this ruling. What's been the reaction to it?

[03:20:00] HOLMES: And what's happening there?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Michael. Well, the attorney general, here, in Oregon, filed this lawsuit on July 17th, against Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, the U.S. Marshals Service and other federal agencies to stop them from grabbing and seizing Oregonians off the streets in unmarked vans.

Basically, to identify themselves whenever they detain a person and not to detain people without probable cause.

The judge, today, denied that request. He explained the reasoning in a 14-page decision, saying while this case does involve allegations of harm by law enforcement, the claimant in this case is not a protester.

He also said that the state was not seeking redress for past harm done but rather trying to prevent future action of these federal agencies, which he called, basically, something that the state does not have any grounds to require. So he denied that request.

Reaction to that, I will say that, the focus here, on the ground, at the moment is not on this legal move. There's been a very large crowd. This is probably one of the largest crowds that we've seen, to date, if not, double the size of what we saw yesterday.

People have been gathered here, very peacefully. There were speakers. People were doing call-and-response chants. Different people were coming up and trying to highlight the Black Lives Matter message.

And then, in the midst of this peaceful gathering, a very small group of protesters over by the federal building behind me began shaking the fence that federal agents had erected to protect the building, back and forth.

That sort of got more and more dramatic. Some federal agents came out to protect the fence. We then saw some protesters lob firecrackers -- fireworks, pardon me -- over to the fence. And in response, we saw tear gas lobbed back at the protesters.

They have now pushed their way back over there. You can't quite see it in the camera behind me. But more federal agents have come out of the building, sort of getting ready to make a move.

The way that this has worked in the past is, as these things escalate, they do eventually step out from behind the barricade. The tear gas gets more intense. The crowd gets more worked up. And sort of this cat-and-mouse game ensues.

And this is exactly the kind of behavior that some of the local officials here, including the attorney general, is trying to limit because, in a situation like this, where you have a lot of people frustrated with the police response, frustrated with the federal response, these kinds of tactics, they say, simply escalate things more.

They don't calm the crowd down. Instead of reducing the siege of this protest, it sort of rallies more and more people to the cause, gets people to come out here.

And what protesters will tell you, the ones who have been here for nearly 60 days, trying to highlight the original message of Black Lives Matter, is that this then dilutes the movement. It becomes about these federal actions.

You hear one of the fireworks going off behind me.

The focus becomes on that, rather than the original message of justice, limiting police brutality and focusing on the lives of Black American citizens -- Michael.

HOLMES: Lucy, thank you, Lucy Kafanov there in Portland, Oregon.

I want to stay in Portland, Oregon, actually. And go back to -- we spoke last hour to freelance journalist Sergio Olmos.

Sergio, we've got a new audience now. So, I want to ask you, again, what it has been like there, not just tonight, we just had a sense of that from Lucy.

But you know, the president had said he handled this situation.

But it is government actions that have really escalated it, correct?

SERGIO OLMOS, JOURNALIST: Yes. This is now 11 days after the president said he quelled -- very much quelled protests here in Portland. What we're seeing now is a crowd, about 1,000-1,500 people -- excuse me, I'm getting feedback in my ear.

We saw about 3,000 to 4,000 people earlier tonight. And protests had died down here in Portland. But what we saw, after the president sent federal officers here, is that numbers rose back up to early protest phase levels.

HOLMES: One of the things that seems to have angered people and has made this protest grow is the appearance of these federal agents, men in military camouflage. They look like military uniforms, little or no markings.

[03:25:00]

HOLMES: Not identifying themselves, taking people away in unmarked vehicles.

What do protesters tell you about that?

Is this what's energized things now?

OLMOS: Yes, you know, on July 15th they took Mark Pettibone into an unmarked van and he said federal officers jumped on him in camo. He said, no, no, it's OK, it's OK. They grabbed him and threw him into the van.

And so what you had for the first week or so was real fear on the street and anger. And now, what you see is a kind of -- I'd say resiliency. They are throwing tear gas at protesters right now. Protesters are grabbing them, throwing them right back.

And they've been ordered to, you know, not mess with the fence. They're still messing with the fence.

So there was real fear. And now, what you see is a kind of they're not leaving just because the federal officers tell them to.

HOLMES: And to that point, I mean, Lucy was talking about this earlier. It has grown the protest, the anger is there about the actions of the federal government in terms of these sort of faceless, military uniformed officers.

But has it diluted the core of the original protests, the Black Lives Matter protests?

Or has it just hardened the resolve?

What's your read?

OLMOS: My sense is it's added numbers. There is now a bigger coalition of protesters, protesters who weren't here at the beginning of Black Lives Matter, maybe, are now here.

At the same time, we had numbers of protesters up to 10,000, at one point. So what we are seeing is protest numbers rise back to early protesting levels. I will say that, you know, the federal government here has added something that they're protesting. They're not just protesting local police brutality now. Now they're saying, you know, this is government brutality. They are adding that to the thesis.

HOLMES: I wanted to, also, by way of context because, if you listen to the president and the administration and some right-wing media, you would think the entire city is under attack, in total chaos and anarchy and so on.

You're there. You live there.

What is the reality when it comes to the city, overall, compared to the breadth of the protest?

OLMOS: Yes. So if you go to your Maps on the phone and type in Portland, it's about half the size of your pinkie, this area. This downtown area here, right here, there's not residential.

And most of the city, there's about 700,000 people here, are not seeing this. About 98 percent of the city doesn't look like this. There's like food carts a couple blocks away, where there is people getting food and they're not involved in this. So this is a very tiny area of downtown Portland.

HOLMES: That's important context to make, given what the country's been hearing from certain areas. Sergio Olmos, appreciate you, been following your Twitter feed. Thanks for your coverage.

OLMOS: Thank you. HOLMES: And we will take a short break. When we many back, the

standoff between the U.S. and China continues. U.S. officials have taken back this building, here, the Chinese consulate in Houston. We'll get the latest on the diplomatic rift.

Also, ahead. White House officials in denial about the president's reversals as his coronavirus missteps weigh on his re-election bid. We'll have that and more when we come back.

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HOLMES: Welcome back to CNN NEWSROOM, everyone. I'm Michael Holmes.

Let's get you caught up on the latest coronavirus numbers now. The U.S. recording more than a thousand deaths from COVID-19, for the fourth straight day on Friday. And Johns Hopkins University tallying more than 73,000 new cases. That brought the total well past 4 million.

Experts say new cases are starting to plateau in some hard hit states, including Arizona and Florida but others are reporting record high numbers. New Mexico, Hawaii and Missouri all reporting records for new daily cases this week.

President Donald Trump didn't deliver a briefing on the virus on Friday after having done so three days in a row. But there was a big dose of spin coming from the White House. CNN's Jim Acosta with that.

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JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Just as the president is changing course in his response to the coronavirus, White House officials are trying to pull a fast one, falsely claiming Mr. Trump has been consistent all along.

QUESTION: What changed this week? Why did his tone change?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: There has been no change. He hasn't changed, in fact and just speaking on COVID generally, the way I have heard him talk privately in the Oval Office is the way he's talking out here.

ACOSTA: But that's not true. The president just pulled the plug on his big convention speech in Jacksonville, citing concerns about the virus.

TRUMP: But I looked at my team and I said, the timing for this event is not right. It's just not right, with what's happened recently, the flare-up in Florida. To have a big convention, it's not the right time. ACOSTA: Contrast with his rally in June, when the president praised his supporters as warriors for risking their lives to cheer on Mr. Trump.

TRUMP: You are warriors. I have been watching. I have been watching the fake news for weeks now and everything is negative. Don't go, don't come, don't do anything. Today, it was like, I have never seen anything like it. I have never seen anything like it. You are warriors. Thank you.

ACOSTA: A GOP Convention official described the party's decision to move some of its events to Jacksonville before scrapping them as "a multimillion-dollar debacle. And think of where that money could have gone."

Still, Dr. Anthony Fauci said it's a good thing the president is now listening to warnings about large crowds.

FAUCI: I believe he and others in the White House have heard us speak about that, so I would hope that that maybe had some influence in the decision, but I think it was a good decision.

ACOSTA: New polls also explain the president's recent reversals, as he's down double digits in Florida and in Pennsylvania, while also trailing badly in Michigan and Minnesota.

While the president is moving to protect his party's delegates, he's determined to send most U.S. schoolchildren back to the classroom.

TRUMP: Given these considerations, we believe many school districts can now reopen safely, provided they implement mitigation measures.

ACOSTA: The administration is pointing to new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, advising schools to reopen with strong safety measures.

MCENANY: It is our firm belief that our schools are essential places of business.

ACOSTA: That's despite the warning from Coronavirus Task Force director Dr. Deborah Birx, who is comparing Texas, Florida and California to the situation in New York at the beginning of the pandemic.

[03:35:00]

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: I just want to make it clear to the American public, what we have right now are essentially three New Yorks with these three major states.

ACOSTA: Fauci said the president's recent about-face on masks may help.

FAUCI: As you can see, the president has come around now about wearing a mask and has actually been recommending it. So, I think we're moving in a really positive direction in that regard. ACOSTA: And yet there were missed opportunities this week, from a Medal of Freedom ceremony.

TRUMP: Coaches, here they are.

ACOSTA: To this photo opportunity celebrating the return of Major League Baseball, where there were few masks in sight.

The president does sound regretful about one thing, his Twitter account.

QUESTION: Do you ever tweet out and be like -- wake up and, oh, man, I wish I didn't send that one out?

TRUMP: Often. Too often. We put it out instantaneously. We feel great. And then you start getting phone calls. Did you really say this? I say, what's wrong with that?

And you find a lot of things.

ACOSTA: A Trump campaign adviser said it is far too soon to give up on the November election. But the adviser said, candidly, that the president is running out of time to turn things around. If the polls look like this at the end of August, they said, quote, "then, we worry" -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HOLMES: Turning now to Australia, where more than 300 hospital workers in the state of Victoria have been infected with COVID-19. That coming, as the state surpasses 7,700 confirmed cases. For more, Angus Watson joins me now live from Sydney.

OK. Bring us up to date, first of all, on these healthcare workers. And the toll this virus has taken on them.

ANGUS WATSON, JOURNALIST: It's a terrible toll, Michael. As you know, these healthcare workers are among the most at-risk people, when it comes to fighting this virus. Over 300 of them have now caught it, in their place of work.

And the government's really worried about that because, of course, when you take nurses and doctors, particularly off the front line, well, that just makes it more difficult to keep people safe and healthy and to cure them of this virus.

And what's almost more worrying for the government, at the moment, as well, is the spread of the virus into aged-care settings. Over 500 people have now caught it in these aged-care settings, both carers and the people in there very frail, many of them, some of the most at risk in our society.

The government's worried that's what's pushing up the death toll in Victoria, Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Now they pretty much shut down several places around Melbourne when they were worried about this last week.

How successful have they been at keeping the outbreak in Victoria and not allowing it to spread to the rest of the country?

There were some concerns about Sydney, I know.

WATSON: Well, Michael, you'd be forgiven for thinking that people in Victoria might be feeling like they are fighting a bit of a lonely battle against this virus. It's terrible down there in Victoria, over 300 cases today. 300 cases yesterday. And it's been higher than that as well in the past week.

Here in Sydney, 15 cases. So that Sydney previously New South Wales the state that Sydney's in most previously the worst-hit area. Melbourne and Victoria have superseded that by a long way. An epidemiologist here in Australia is saying that has to remain the case.

To keep it that way, the borders have to remain shut and Australia has to become a divided country with states closed off to each other until a vaccine is found, Michael.

HOLMES: All right, Angus, thanks for that. Angus Watson in Sydney.

Well, it has been less than a week since the Trump administration ordered Chinese diplomats to clear out of their consulate in Houston, Texas. On Friday, U.S. federal agents secured that compound, officially changing the locks, literally.

The U.S. Justice Department says the consulate was part of a spying ring. And, as you might imagine, China responding in kind by ordering the U.S. consulate in Chengdu to shut down. Beijing says it is a, quote, "legitimate and necessary response."

Let's talk about all of this with Kristie Lu Stout, joining us from Hong Kong.

Yes, it just seems to be on a bit of a spiral.

Where is this headed?

Is there an off ramp in sight?

KRISTIE LU STOUT, CNN ANCHOR: It is a bit of a spiral as you put it. As each day passes, the tension between the U.S. and China just gets higher and higher as we follow these dramatic and fluid developments taking place in Houston and in the southwestern city of Chengdu.

First, let's go to Houston. Regarding the situation there, the U.S. State Department has confirmed to CNN that the Chinese consulate in Houston has been shut down. On Friday, U.S. agents, local law enforcement, blacksmiths were seen and filmed entering the compound there.

[03:40:00] STOUT: Of course, it was on Wednesday when the U.S. State Department ordered the consulate there to be closed in order to, quote, "protect American intellectual property and Americans' private information," Beijing has denied any violation, calling it all, quote, "talking nonsense."

Now in an open letter just published, the Chinese consul general to Houston has spoken out, he says this, quote, "The friendship between the Chinese and American people will not be interrupted. No one can undermine the bright prospect of Sino-U.S. friendly cooperation."

We're also following events in San Francisco, of course, where the Chinese researcher was holed up in the Chinese consulate there. She is now in U.S. custody. Officials accuse her of visa fraud, saying she lied about connections with the Chinese military.

The circumstances of her arrest are still unclear, but she has not been charged with espionage.

Meanwhile, in Chengdu, the insignia on the U.S. consulate has already been taken down.

Why Chengdu?

Why did Chinese authorities, in retaliation, decide to choose that mission in particular?

I want you to listen.

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WANG WENBIN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESPERSON (through translator): Some people of the U.S. consulate general in Chengdu have engaged in activities that are incompatible with their status, interfering in China's internal affairs and damaging China's national security interests.

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STOUT: "Damaging China's national security interests," a bit of a cryptic explanation there.

Now when will the American consulate in Chengdu close?

According to the editor in chief of the nationalist newspaper "Global Times," he believes it's going to take place Monday morning. All eyes on that anticipated closure and on where all this is going to head next -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. Incompatible with the status. There's an old diplomatic one, isn't it?

There's another -- I mean, they're sort of lining up here -- a Singaporean man admitted to spying for China in the U.S.

STOUT: Yes, this is another case that we are following closely. A Singaporean national has pleaded guilty for being an agent of China. U.S. officials say that he acted as a spy for China in the United States for four to five years, that he used a political consultancy in Washington, D.C., as a cover, as he attempted to cur information about artificial intelligence and the trade war.

This development happens, as we know, the U.S. is cracking down hard on Chinese corporate espionage and cyber espionage. It is also notable that this case involves a non-Chinese national -- Michael.

HOLMES: Yes. A lot to cover there. Kristie Lu Stout in Hong Kong, appreciate it. Good to see you.

And when we come back, on the program, trouble on the horizon. Tropical storm Hanna strengthening, has its eyes set on Texas. We'll have the very latest for you.

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HOLMES: Welcome back.

Hurricane warnings are posted for parts of Texas. What is now tropical storm Hanna, churning in the Gulf of Mexico. And as it does, it strengthens as it makes its way towards landfall. Residents there, filling sandbags, getting ready for some expected flood and storm surge. Texas, not alone, either.

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HOLMES: Quick break now. When we come back, a young driver hopes to become a star in NASCAR. But many think his autism will put the brakes on that dream. How he's out to prove the doubters wrong. That's when we come back.

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HOLMES: Laurent Duvernay-Tardif won the Super Bowl in February with the Kansas City Chiefs but the offensive guard is also a practicing medical doctor who's been working on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

Now he is going to be sitting out the upcoming NFL season, partly because of his own concerns about COVID and also to treat COVID patients. Laurent was due to make nearly $3 million with his NFL salary this

season but, instead, is opting for $150,000 from the league to continue as a doctor, working on the pandemic. Good for him.

So 20-year-old Armani Williams is hoping to live out his dream of being a star NASCAR driver. But autism has kept him from reaching that dream so far. "CNN's SPORT's" Andy Scholes shows us how he is determined to prove the doubters wrong.

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ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORT CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): On the track, 20- year-old Armani Williams is just like any other young driver trying to reach NASCAR's highest level.

But off of it, he is one of a kind. When Armani was 2 years old, he was diagnosed with autism. As a kid, he fell in love with racing.

Autism is a disorder that is characteristically marked by difficulty focusing on and processing different stimuli and tasks simultaneously, skills that are crucial for any race car driver. But Armani has never let his condition stop him from achieving his dreams.

ARMANI WILLIAMS, NASCAR DRIVER: Tell me I can't so I can show you that I can. People with autism are unique and, for me, I have dedicated my entire life to the sport that I love.

And I am proof that, if you work hard enough, if you have the right support system and you believe in yourself or what you do, that many, many things are possible.

SCHOLES (voice-over): Armani has participated in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity program. He continues to climb the ladder in NASCAR, reaching the ARCA Menards series.

[03:55:00]

SCHOLES (voice-over): Now Armani says he has never been the victim of racism while at the track but was very disappointed when hearing the news of a noose being found in the garage used by Bubba Wallace at Talladega Super Speedway.

WILLIAMS: This is something that, you know, we should be well past our time. Like, we're in the year 2020 and right now, I believe that we need to start focusing on inclusion, learning to love one another, no matter what you are.

SCHOLES: Bubba Wallace is the only Black driver at NASCAR's top level. Armani says he continues to be an inspiration.

WILLIAMS: He has taken the same route that I would like to take in my career racing. And lately, you know, as you see he has had to carry a lot of weight on his shoulders with racial issues, with NASCAR. And for me, from what he's been -- how he's been able to approach that

and handle that, I think he's done a very good job, considering we're in a very difficult situation.

SCHOLES: With recent decisions like banning the Confederate flag, Armani thinks NASCAR's headed in the right direction. And Armani hopes, one day, he will be competing against the likes of Bubba Wallace in NASCAR's cup series.

WILLIAMS: My dream was to become a professional race car driver. I believed in myself. And I have continued to work hard, every single day, to go further in the sport that I enjoy. And I am believing that it will happen for me, soon.

SCHOLES: Armani, such an impressive individual. You, of course, need lots of talent to make it to NASCAR's highest level. But you need sponsors, too, and here is wishing Armani lots of luck as he continues to chase his dreams -- Andy Scholes, CNN.

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HOLMES: We do wish him luck.

I am Michael Holmes. Appreciate you starting your day with me. The always impressive Natalie Allen will be here with more CNN NEWSROOM, right after the break. I will see you tomorrow.