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Robert O'Brien Tests Positive for Coronavirus; Portland Violence Continues; Google to Work at Home Through July 2021; NFL Plans for Safety; Stephan James Remembers John Lewis. Aired 9:30-10a

Aired July 27, 2020 - 09:30   ET



RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Interesting enough, O'Brien had just visited Europe a few days ago, meeting with several of his European counterparts during a working visit in France. So he has been traveling. Some images from those trips, you know, show him in close contact with several high-level official counterparts.

So he had been actively working on several issues, calling foreign counterparts in Afghanistan, dealing with some major security issues for several days prior to this news that he has contracted the coronavirus. Again, not a lot of information at this time about what his current status is other than we are being told that he is doing his job from home.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: OK. Thank you very much from the update. We hope he's OK.

Tension escalating this weekend as outrage over the use of federal agents against protesters has been growing there in Oregon. Some saying that Portland felt like a war zone as federal officers subdued a police misconduct protest. Watch this.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get back! Get back!


JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Look at those tactics there. Military uniforms, camouflage on city streets for some reason. The weapons that they're using, the tactics, real concerns there. And in response to that, you've seen a number of people come out, including the so-called wall of moms there. There have been groups of veterans that come out to join these protesters.

Meanwhile, there are also genuine concerns about the level of violence. Portland police say they found this, a bag of loaded magazines, gun magazines, as well as Molotov cocktails found in a park. Not clear yet whose those were.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov is in Portland this morning. Lucy, it's been 50 days since George Floyd's death and, of course, in

the wake of that -- the immediate aftermath of that saw massive protests which sometimes went violent. They've calmed down. Now we're seeing, you know, this returning to a fever pitch, not just in Portland, but cities such as Seattle.

Tell us what you're seeing there.

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's interesting, Jim, because President Trump sent federal troops to Portland, to other cities across America in an effort, he says, to secure the tensions there. But what we've seen on the ground is that the federal presence has very much inflamed tensions, it has had the opposite effect.

The protest -- to protest to demand racial equality, to demand racial justice had been taking place all across the country. We saw them dyeing down in a lot of cities with the exception of Portland, although even here the numbers are getting smaller and smaller. When those federally officers were deployed to the streets, that reignited the movement.

And what we've been seeing night after night is sort of two protest movements in a way. In the early hours of the evening, a lot of people come out specifically to focus on Black Lives Matter. This is when you see families in the street.

You see the so-called wall of moms that you've mentioned. We've seen now a new element, another human wall, this time U.S. military veterans coming out to the street to try to get in between themselves, the protesters, and the federal officers to try to protect the demonstrators on the ground. All of this very much focused on racial justice.

In the later hours of the evening, the focus becomes, frankly, on this federal courthouse here and the federal agents, many of them unidentified, who are often lined up behind there. What we see in the later hours of the evening is a much smaller group, demonstrators rattling the cages, lobbying off fireworks over the fence. The federal officers then come out and, in response, they use flash bangs, tear gas, rubber bullets to try to disperse the crowd. And so this cat-and- mouse game ensues.

That's something that played out in the early hours of this morning. We actually got teargassed trying to cover all of this. And that's something that we've been see play out day after day. And so without the removal of these federal agents, it's hard to see how this is going to de-escalate.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Looks like military on the streets. The president demanded it from the Pentagon. The Pentagon didn't deliver. The bottom line, maybe that that's what we're seeing.

Lucy Kafanov, thanks very much.

Right now football is on for the fall, but the NFL is taking extra precautions. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he has an exclusive look coming up next.



SCIUTTO: More breaking news this hour.

Google is now telling its employees they will not return to the office until next summer.

HARLOW: Yes, it's a major move and it could have big implications across the tech sector. Our tech reporter Brian Fung joins us now with more.

Brian, just reading through this memo through June of next year is what the CEO, Sundar Pichai, is saying. And I think it's notable, not just for all the people that work at Google, but this could be a catalyst for change across big companies across the country, right?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: Absolutely. I mean just looking at the length of time that Google is considering here is really an indication of how long it's expecting this pandemic to last and it could serve as a catalyst for other businesses, not just in the tech industry, but for other major companies as well.

Obviously, Google is one of the largest tech companies in Silicon Valley, but it also sets a tone -- the tone for many companies that are working from home. And, as you know, you know, FaceBook, when it announced its decision to work from home, on a permanent basis moving forward, that also set off a whole lot of (INAUDIBLE) by tech companies figuring out what they're going to do.


So I expect this announcement by Google is going to lead to much of the same and -- across the rest of the economy.


SCIUTTO: Now, we should note, of course, the technology companies have the advantage that many people can do that work from home. Nature of the beast. Nature of the technology and so on. Not possible for many other -- many other industries.

Brian Fung, thank you so much.

This week some NFL players, they're heading off to training camp with hopes of having a season in the fall, but with a new set now of coronavirus protocols.

HARLOW: That's right. Our Sanjay Gupta spoke exclusively with the NFL's chief medical officer about the league's plan.


DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): You're getting an exclusive look at an NFL training facility. It's been essentially a ghost town here since March. But training camp is now about to begin for the Atlantic Falcons.

GUPTA (on camera): There's a real schism now and there are some people who says here -- here's what you do, here's the plan, and there's other people who say, it's absolute ludicrous to even try this. The country is in the middle of a pandemic. Football's great, but you've got to sit this season out.

DR. ALLEN SILLS, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, NFL: Yes, I think people are trying to be really thoughtful about this and I think people do look at risk and risk mitigation in different ways. But I feel like it's the right thing to do to try to learn to live with this virus.

GUPTA (voice over): Dr. Allen Sills is chief medical officer for the NFL. We're both neurosurgeons and we've known each other for several years.

SILLS: Can we find ways to do that safely? You know, that's our challenge.

GUPTA (on camera): The last NFL game was February 2nd of this year, Super Bowl LIV. The Chiefs beat the 49ers 31-20.

GUPTA (voice over): Two days earlier, the U.S. declared a public health emergency because of coronavirus.

GUPTA (on camera): Since then, millions of people have become infected. More than 140,000 have died. And now the NFL wants to do the seemingly impossible, bring back some sense of normalcy to one of the largest sports leagues in the country.

GUPTA (voice over): Some of the changes indoors are going to look very familiar. Lots of masks, near constant sanitizing and physical distancing everywhere, treatment rooms, weight rooms, even meal time and on the field.

SILLS: There are actually three regulation size football fields here side by side. So first thing that jumps to your mind is how we can do physical distancing here, right? So as players start strength and conditioning activities, for example, you know, you're talking about each individual or each very small group having a lot of space to work with.

GUPTA: There will even be this new space-age looking technology, a bubble of sorts for those who want it.

SILLS: A number of our players have worn eye shields over the past years for protection or for performance reasons. So it's basically an extension of that device, but it's a multi-layered device so that you've got ventilation holes and you've got some filters in it.

GUPTA: There are these proximity tracking devices that will beep or flash when players or staff get too close to one another and then that data is collected, making contact tracing easier if someone does become infected. Now, unlike the NBA bubble that's isolated the entire league in

Orlando, the NFL has more of what they call an ecosystem. People will still live in their own homes, they'll be with their own families, and they will travel with their teams for games.

SILLS: Players, coaches, staff, if they're around each other each day, they're going to share a risk. They also share responsibility to each other, which means that they're each making good choices when they're away from the facility.

GUPTA: But that also means the entire ecosystem is only as strong as its weakest link.

GUPTA (on camera): How are the players doing? Are they -- are they -- are they worried? Is there a way to describe the mood?

RICH MCKAY: Yes. Yes. I would say, yes, sure, their -- they have the same anxiousness that you would have.

GUPTA (voice over): Rich McKay is CEO of the Atlanta Falcons.

MCKAY: They're relying on us and they're relying on the union to make sure that all the protocols we do, everything that we can is done at the highest level that we can.

DEMAURICE SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NFLPA: Everything that we do is going to have an impact on families at home and it's going to have an impact on first responders, community service, and other people in the community. And to believe otherwise is -- is sheer fantasy.

GUPTA: DeMaurice Smith is executive director of the NFLPA, that's the union representing players on the field this year. There have been some pretty tense negotiations between the union and the league about how to play in the age of Covid-19. And Smith pointed out something that I hadn't heard before, about 70 percent of NFL players would be considered vulnerable themselves or at increased risk.

SMITH: What we've done is tracked the CDC risk guidelines, made decisions on which ones put our players in high risk and players can rely on those risk factors to make decisions about whether they're going to play or not.


GUPTA (on camera): I was actually surprised by that, because you think of athletes just being these super human, you know, sort of perfectly healthy people, but there are these various conditions. How does that play into your thinking?

SILLS: We still do not know a lot of the basics about this disease and where it's going to be headed. And I think it hearkens back again to those conversations that each individual has to have and they have to, in their mind, make what's the best decision for themselves.

And this is where they would come in for testing. GUPTA (voice over): The league and the union have agreed to test every

player daily for at least the first two weeks of training camp, eventually moving to an every other day schedule once a team reaches a 5 percent positivity rate and then maintains that.

GUPTA (on camera): Does that make sense to you, because there is an incredible shortage of testing right now. And we did some rough math and, you know, if you look at the testing plan here, it's about just for the players, about 18,000 tests per week. I mean how could that not have an impact on the availability of more widespread general testing?

SILLS: Clearly, there are procedural issues with that around the country. So we went with a company that was outside of market that would have a national platform. They actually opened up some laboratory capabilities that weren't being used just for this project.

And also set up again supply and distribution and testing reporting that's completely separate from any health care work that they do. And that company has given us their assurance that any work that they do for health care applications, meaning for hospitals, for emergency rooms, think of that nature, that's a whole separate business for them that will remain their number one priority.

GUPTA: Did you ever think, look, maybe this season's going to be a wash. We'll get back to it next year. But this isn't essential. As much as I love football, this isn't essential compared to the essential things that are needed in the country?

MCKAY: Yes, I would say that probably those thoughts went through your mind three months ago. I think as we moved forward and we saw that, hey, basketball is going to do this, baseball's going to do this, soccer is going to do this, we get to go last.

We can learn from them. We can do this in a really safe way, we think. And so I think for us we got the message that people want football. That's not the reason to play, that people want it. But if we can do it in a way that is as safe as it possibly can be, then we should and we will. And that's what we're going to do.

GUPTA (voice over): Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN, Flowery Branch, Georgia.


HARLOW: That was a fascinating piece. Sanjay and his team, our thanks to them for that.

A quick break. We'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: The body of longtime Congressman John Lewis, civil rights campaigner for decades, is now on its way to here in Washington where it will lie in state at the Capitol, a tremendous honor. It is part of six days of memorial services for the civil rights icon.

HARLOW: It was an emotional moment just yesterday as Lewis' casket was taken across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where, of course, in March of 1965 he was severely beaten, his skull fractured, as he crossed the bridge to stand up for voting rights and true civil rights. The film "Selma" tells the story of that pivotal moment in American history and our next guest played Congressman Lewis.

Joining us now is actor Stephan James.

Thank you for being with us this morning so much.

STEPHAN JAMES, ACTOR/PLAYED JOHN LEWIS IN "SELMA": Of Course. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: You know, you talk about this and you say that you think part of his lasting legacy is how often Congressman Lewis sacrificed of himself for others, time and time again, right? And we remember him crying most recently at the death of George Floyd.

You got to meet him, right? He came to set while you were filming.


HARLOW: And I wonder what that was like, especially as we think about this moment where you've said there's no turning back.

JAMES: I mean I remember it like it was yesterday. You know, we were filming a scene, and our director Ava Duvernay (ph) calls cut and in comes walking John Lewis. And I kid you not, the whole set just froze. It was complete silence. It was like the pope had come to visit.

You know, just being in his presence I think was something that was remarkable for everyone. He was sort of this larger than life figure. You know, understanding that, you know, this is a man who at 24, 25 years old was on the frontlines of justice and sacrificing himself day in and day out for the betterment of his people and for the betterment of the world.

And so, you know, I think that a lot comes with that. A lot comes with portraying a man like that. A daunting task to say the least, but I'm so fortunate that I was able to do that and to be able to get his blessing as far as, you know, him appreciating the work in my portrayal.

SCIUTTO: Stephan, you know, so much, it's a history movie, of course, but I wonder, when you see protests today, images today sometimes of violence, even violent clashes with police at these protests, today, in the year 2020, when you see that, do you find that the history you help portray there still resonates today, still is relevant, maybe even being repeated today?

JAMES: Oh, of course, no question. No question at all. I think that, you know, at times like this, tumultuous times, times of social unrest, you lean into the words of John Lewis.


You lean into "good trouble." And, you know, I think, you know, John Lewis loved to live by, you know, injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And I think that, you know, the fact that he was willing to stare that injustice in the face, you know, to be that brave and to be that bold and to have that much conviction, you know, I think that he's somebody who we can look to at times.

HARLOW: Well, you have said after he said how much he appreciated how you portrayed him, you have said, if I quit acting tomorrow, hearing that would be enough.

Your final thought on the congressman as he is laid to rest in just a few days?

JAMES: A superhero. You know, not just an American hero, but really a world hero. After I finished Selma, you know, I felt like I was in a Marvel film. To me, if I quit acting tomorrow, you know, all I needed to say is that I got the opportunity to play the great -- the great John Lewis.

SCIUTTO: A true honor. Stephan James, thanks so much to you.

And we'll be right back.