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Vaccine Search; U.S. National Security Adviser Tests Positive For COVID-19; Hurricane Slams Texas Coast as State Battles Virus Surge. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


We begin with breaking news, President Trump touting what he calls the -- quote -- "tremendous progress" on the coronavirus vaccine front at a facility in Morrisville, North Carolina, one that's involved in development, as new polling shows that more Americans disapprove of the president's handling of the pandemic.

And just this morning, we learned Mr. Trump's national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, has tested positive for COVID-19. The White House insists there is no risk to the commander in chief, but O'Brien, who recently returned from Europe and was seen in photographs not wearing a mask or practicing any sort of distancing, O'Brien is now the highest-ranking administration official to contract the virus that we know of.

Hospitalizations in the U.S. have returned to the peak levels that the United States saw in April, with nearly 4.3 million confirmed infections in this country and more than 147,000 deaths.

You will recall, five months ago, President Trump made this false claim about how good a job his administration was doing containing the virus:


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we have done.


TAPPER: That was five months ago yesterday, and, clearly, that is not what happened, Mr. President.

And while the first large-scale vaccine trial started today, the U.S. is nowhere close to being out of the woods, with testing lagging far behind where it needs to be, according to health experts, the virus continuing to spread, and the president's seemingly living in a state of denial about this all.

CNN's Jeremy Diamond is covering the White House for us.

And, Jeremy, the president was clearly on message there, except for a tangent, when he was asked about his polling numbers.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Jake, over the last week, we have seen President Trump largely try and stick to the script that his aides have prepared for. And that is a script that's intended to show Americans that he is indeed taking this virus seriously, after months of downplaying this pandemic and distributing false information, frankly, about this surge of cases that has been happening across the country.

And what we saw from the president today was him largely doing that, focusing on the progress of vaccines.

But when he was asked what message he has for Americans about the fact that he -- whether or not he is the right man to handle this pandemic amid sagging poll numbers, the president focusing not on making that case, but instead focusing on decrying polls out there, all of the polls, frankly, that are showing him losing to Joe Biden, losing in several critical battleground states, as fake polls.

Jake, all of this happening as the national security adviser, Robert O'Brien, testing positive for coronavirus.


ROBERT O'BRIEN, U.S. NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER: We're working on a number of important national security priorities.

DIAMOND (voice-over): Today, coronavirus piercing President Trump's inner circle, the White House confirming that National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien has tested positive, making him the highest- ranking Trump administration official to catch the virus.

The White House issuing an anonymous statement, saying O'Brien has mild symptoms and has been self-isolating, and insisted there is no risk of exposure to the president or the vice president.

But with a top presidential adviser testing positive...

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: You have Ambassador O'Brien, who sees him in-person twice a day, who sometimes takes the upwards of half-a--dozen calls with this president.

DIAMOND: No word from the White House on when O'Brien was last with Trump or whether any other White House officials were exposed.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I haven't seen him lately. I heard he tested -- yes. I have not seen him. I'm calling him later.

DIAMOND: Several National Security Council officials telling CNN they first learned about O'Brien's diagnosis through the news. A source spotted O'Brien at the White House last Thursday, after he

had recently returned from a trip to Europe, where he was photographed meeting with officials from the United Kingdom. France, Germany, and Italy without a mask.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow suggesting O'Brien caught the virus from his daughter.

LARRY KUDLOW, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL ECONOMIC COUNCIL: I did speak to him Friday. I believe his daughter was ill first.

DIAMOND: O'Brien isn't the first person in Trump's orbit to test positive for the virus. An Oval Office valet, the vice president's press secretary, who is also the wife of Trump adviser Stephen Miller, and a top campaign aide who is also dating the president's son have all contracted the virus in recent months.

Those cases are just a few of the four million-plus confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S., a startling number that has pushed down Trump's poll numbers and pushed him to take the virus more seriously in public.

That mission, to revive his poll numbers and contain the virus, was on full display today, as Trump touched down in the battleground state of North Carolina, where he toured a biotechnology facility working to create a coronavirus vaccine.


In a state he won by three points in 2016, Trump has work to do, with the latest polls showing Trump down seven points, with 51 percent of North Carolinians backing former Vice President Joe Biden.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, it has been more than a month now since reports emerged that Russia paid Taliban militants -- put bounties on American soldiers' heads in Afghanistan.

Today, the president was asked whether or not he raised that issue in a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that took place last Thursday. Listen to how the president responded:


TRUMP: We don't know talk about what we discussed, but we had plenty of discussion. And I think it was very productive. Please.


DIAMOND: And, Jake, the notion that the president doesn't discuss what he discusses with foreign leaders just is false. The White House regularly puts out readouts of these conversations that happen between the presidents and foreign leaders.

And the president himself has also been known to discuss those conversations. Very notably, the issue of Russian bounces was not included in the White House's readout of that conversation on Thursday.

And, clearly, Jake, a month later, this is still not an issue that the president wants to engage in, after he repeatedly downplayed the notion that this intelligence was valid that Russia may have indeed paid bounties to kill American soldiers in Afghanistan -- Jake.

TAPPER: Right.

And whether or not they paid bounties, it's just considered consensus among intelligence agencies that the Russians are helping to arm and give funding to Taliban terrorists killing our service members. They're certainly entitled, those men and women and their families, to a straight answer on this.

Jeremy, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about coronavirus.

Joining me now is renowned infectious disease expert Dr. William Schaffner.

Dr. Schaffner, the White House insists that the president is not at any risk. But, as you know, you have had the vice president's press secretary, Secret Service agents, now the national security adviser all testing positive. We all obviously wish for the best for them.

But how concerned should the White House be when it comes to President Trump getting infected possibly?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, DEPARTMENT OF PREVENTIVE MEDICINE CHAIRMAN, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Well, Jake, it's obvious that the White House team ought to be very alert to this, and doing everything they can to protect the president and the vice president. We would want that.

But there is some risk, obviously. The virus can reach right up into the White House. It infected the British prime minister, the president of Brazil. So, elevated status is no barrier to this virus. This is an equal opportunity virus.

TAPPER: So, President Trump insists that the U.S. tests too much.

He often complains that more testing makes him look bad. I interviewed the man in charge of testing, Admiral Giroir. Take a listen to what he said to me yesterday.


ADM. BRETT GIROIR, U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY FOR HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: We are never going to be happy with testing until we get turnaround times within 24 hours.

And I would be happy with point-of-care testing everywhere. We are not there yet. We are doing everything we can to do that.

We need to continually...


GIROIR: ... improve our ecosystem.


TAPPER: We're six months into this pandemic in the United States. What does the White House need to do to get the testing and the turnaround times for these tests where they need to be?

SCHAFFNER: Well, we need, as I have said many times over, a national plan, right?

And that would include doing everything we can to stimulate more testing and get it focused actually on the most high-risk populations. Most of us in public health think we ought to be focusing on low- income groups, people of color. We ought to be looking at nursing homes, prisons, meatpacking plants, and those areas where we see that the virus is spreading the most, so we can direct our public health resources to actually those places.

That would be the best use of our current resources. And we would hope that we could get both the commercial and the public health laboratories to expand their capacity, so we could test more broadly.

TAPPER: And the lag times are really long, especially if you're not in a hospital and a point-of-care facility.

Is a test that takes four days or more to get results, is that even worthwhile?

SCHAFFNER: Jake, you have to wonder whether it's worthwhile if you have that much of a delay, either from a clinical or from a public health perspective.

Yes, indeed, the individuals might really want to know the answer, and be pleased to get it. But in terms of case finding and contact tracing, for example, that really is much, much too slow.

So we really need to shorten that return time, so that we can marshal our public health resources and make quicker clinical decisions, Jake.

TAPPER: I have been asking people like you and Michael Osterholm and other experts on infectious disease about what's needed.


And people like you have been telling me for months that there needs to be a Manhattan Project-like effort to get testing up to speed, where it needs to be.

Take a listen to what Admiral Giroir said to me yesterday when I asked him why there isn't one.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) GIROIR: The Manhattan Project-like effort is being led by the vice president of the United States, with the top officials from multiple sectors meeting multiple times a week and literally 24/7 since this has started.

We have invoked the Defense Production Act numerous times. We have invested in multiple different technologies.


TAPPER: We should note that I don't believe that they have invoked the Defense Production Act to get labs up to where they need to be, in terms of equipment and staffing.

Do you agree that they have been doing this Manhattan Project-like effort? And, if not, what more do you think the administration needs to do to get testing where it needs to be?

SCHAFFNER: Well, Jake, I heard that response yesterday, and I was skeptical, and I remain skeptical today.

I haven't seen any evidence of that down here in the field. And so I would wonder if that's really -- as distinctive a statement as that was, I wonder if it's grounded in reality, or more hopes and aspirations still.

TAPPER: New cases are actually down 2 percent compared to last week, which is good news. It's the first time that that number has dropped since mid-June.

But when you do take a look at the map, deaths are rising and at least 29 states. The U.S. is averaging between 900 and 1,000 deaths a day over the last week. Deaths are a lagging indicator.

Where, in your view, is the U.S. in fighting this pandemic?

SCHAFFNER: Jake, I wish I could be my optimistic self, but I think we're still chasing the virus. The virus is out there still spreading, largely uncontained, over most of this country.

We don't have a national plan. You can see many people in many parts of the country going about their daily lives unmasked, no longer concerned about six-foot distancing, relapsing into their old normal behaviors.

When we don't have that kind of community, indeed, national solidarity, then it's no wonder that we can't catch up with the virus. These behavioral things, mask wearing, six-foot distancing, avoiding group activities, that's the control measures.

Those are the control measures we have available to us at the present time. It's all very well to sit back and wait for the vaccine. But we may not get a vaccine, or, if we do, it's still months and months away.

We need to prevent spread, so we prevent hospitalizations, so we prevent deaths. That's what we need to focus on. We can come together much better than we have in this country and be determined to really focus on that sort of public health community-wide effort.

TAPPER: All right. Dr. William Schaffner, thank you, as always, for your expertise and your time today.

Thousands of Americans just got injected with what could be, we hope, a breakthrough coronavirus vaccine. We're going to take a look at when we will find out if it is working.

That's next.

And could the baseball season already be over, after just three games, as one team suffers a major outbreak?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: Continuing in our health lead, the very first phase three clinical trial in the U.S. for coronavirus vaccine started today. The Moderna National Institutes of Health trial is expected to include 30,000 uninfected adult volunteers from across the nation.

CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now live from Savannah, Georgia, where the very first patient was vaccinated this morning.

Elizabeth, explain to us how this trial will work and how soon we could know if this vaccine is effective.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, the way that it works is that 30,000 people will be vaccinated in the United States. The first one was here in Savannah, Georgia, as you mentioned. And what they're going to do is 15,000 people will get the actual vaccine that's been made by Moderna. And 15,000 people will get a placebo. And then they will be followed to see who fares better than hopefully the vaccine group will fare better than the placebo group.

I got to speak with Dawn Baker. She was the first person in the U.S. to receive an injection in this trial, in the phase three trial. Let's take a listen to her thoughts.


COHEN: Now, you don't know if you got the vaccine or the placebo. But either way, you're helping to find a cure.

DAWN BAKER, PHASE 3 VACCINE VOLUNTEER: Either way, it's a really important role to have and to be a part of that research. And I never thought that I'd do something like this.

COHEN: You are the first person in the United States to get a shot in a phase three COVID trial. What does that feel like? BAKER: It is very exciting. I'm very anxious about it. I just hope

that there are really, really, really good results. I know a lot of people are doing a lot of different vaccine trials and things are going on. But I feel -- one, I feel so proud.


COHEN: So while this is the first phase three vaccine trial in the U.S., there are four others that are already underway in other parts of the world. One in the U.K. and three in China -- Jake.

TAPPER: Elizabeth, what do we know about these thousands of volunteers?

COHEN: What we know is they're adults and they can actually have illnesses. They don't need to be completely healthy. There aren't very many health things that would keep you out of this trial.


But what they're looking for, Jake, is people who are out and about in the community. If you're someone who's working from home, staying home, getting your groceries delivered, they don't want you in this study, and I'll explain why. They want to either want to vaccinate you or give you the placebo and then have you go out into the community and have you run into COVID-19. That's the only way they can test whether or not the vaccine works.

So they're really looking for people from high-risk communities.

TAPPER: If the trial were to show that this vaccine is not effective, and obviously we all hope that it's effective, but if it were to show that it's not effective, what then?

COHEN: You know, they just wouldn't use it. If it's not effective, it wouldn't get an approval or authorization from the FDA. And they -- you know, we would all move on. There are three other vaccines that will be in phase three trials in this country, hopefully one of them will work or maybe one of other ones from another country will work, and they'll sell it to us.

But if one of these don't turn out to work, that really is okay because there are so many other shots on goal, as it were.

TAPPER: And, as you know, there are other ones happening around the world. What can you tell us about those? Are they in the same stage, earlier stages, all of the above?

COHEN: So, four of them are actually even farther along than this one. That's the three in China and one in the U.K. And then there are dozens more that are not quite so far along. In other words, they're in clinical trials, but they haven't reached phase three. Phase three is the large thousands of people or in this case tens of thousands of people.

It's the last stage before you get authorization from the FDA. So there are many others behind this and a few others ahead of this.

TAPPER: All right. Elizabeth Cohen in Savannah, Georgia, thank you so much.

Coronavirus delivering a huge blow to Major League Baseball. Two of tonight's games have been postponed after multiple players and staffers with the Florida Marlins reportedly tested positive for the virus. The league is now forced to do more testing and contact tracing and evaluate if the season can safely continue at all.

As CNN's Nick Watt reports, this is symbolic of how difficult it is to contain the virus even with extraordinary measures taken, and how optimism and hope are not effective inoculations.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): More than 5,000 souls now lost to COVID-19 in Texas alone, a state now dealing with a virus and a hurricane.

DR. JOSEPH VARON, CHIEF OF STAFF, UNITED MEMORIAL MEDICAL CENTER: All of these people are going to have to go to shelters. And just think about it for a second. Shelters are going to be like giant Petri dishes as far as coronavirus goes.

WATT: Google just told 200,000 employees nationwide they can work from home nearly another year at least. And tonight, the Miami Marlins will not be playing their home opener, postponed after 11 more players and two coaches tested positive, according to ESPN.

The Yankees/Phillies game also off while MLB conducts more testing.

Across Florida, nearly 8,000 children tested positive for COVID-19 in just eight days. But the governor still pushing schools to reopen in August and won't mandate masks.

REP. DONNA SHALALA (D), FLORIDA: He and the president have failed every child and teacher and educator in Florida and put them at risk because of their reckless, reckless efforts to reopen schools.

WATT: Florida just surpassed New York now with the second most confirmed cases in the country behind only California, where the average daily death toll is now higher than it has ever been. Here, much of the re-opening or rolling back is county by county.

MAYOR KEVIN FAULCONER (R), SAN DIEGO: We're a big state. And one of the things that we've been advocating and always advocated is follow what's happening on the local level. I think that's the key to success.

WATT: Some medical experts strongly disagree, now calling for a nationwide lockdown.


ping-pong, back and forth between the states. That will continue for years if we don't have a singular national strategy all in marching to the tune of the same drummer. And that drummer should be wearing a mask.

WATT: Here's the issue, South Carolina just reported a record-high death toll over the weekend. And now, vacationers returning from the likes of Myrtle Beach are being blamed in part for a spike in Kentucky.

GOV. ANDY BESHEAR (D), KENTUCKY: Kentucky is in that spot right now where if we don't act, we will look a lot like states in the South that are facing devastating consequences.


WATT: And just within the past ten minutes, Jake, Governor Beshear of Kentucky has announced that tomorrow, he is going to close every bar in the state for two weeks. It was interesting. He made it very clear that the Trump administration is on board with that. And then he went on to say that his own recommendation on schools is that they should wait until at least the third week of August -- Jake.


TAPPER: All right. Nick Watt, thank you so much.

A mayor at the epicenter of the current COVID explosion says that his Trump-supporting governor has forgotten his city. And this mayor is a Republican. He'll join me, next.