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National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien Positive for Coronavirus; 150+ Medical Experts Call on Lawmakers to Shut Down and Start Over; Body of Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) to Lie in State at U.S. Capitol. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 27, 2020 - 10:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN NEWSROOM: A very good Monday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: And I'm Poppy Harlow. We're glad you're with us. We are following a lot of breaking news this morning.

First off, a senior Trump administration official tells CNN that National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien has tested positive for COVID-19.

SCIUTTO: Of course, as you there, he is a senior official administration who meets regularly with the president face-to-face.

Let's go to CNN's Joe Johns. He is at the White House.

Joe, we know he recently returned from Europe. Do we know about his most recent contact with the president?

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: We do not know that, but we do have a statement now from the White House, which I'll just read to you. It says, National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien tested positive for COVID-19. He has mild symptoms, it says, has been self- isolating and working from a security location off site. He says there's no risk of exposure to the president or the vice president.

The work of the National Security Council continues uninterrupted, but we do know from the reporting of CNN's Kaitlan Collins over here at the White House that the National Security Council staff was not formally notified about the fact that the national security adviser had tested positive. We're told there was no email that went out to the staff.

Also, I just want to point you to the National Security Council's Twitter feed, which has multiple pictures of Robert O'Brien and others, including some of his European counterparts from a trip not long ago. He was not wearing a mask. No one else in the picture except perhaps for security was wearing a mask, but that's interesting as well. Because the key questions right now are the contact tracing questions. Who did the national security adviser meet with, when did he say the president last? We know also that, publicly, the last time the president appeared with Robert O'Brien was a trip down to Miami when they went to visit U.S. Southern Command.

So, lots of questions surrounding this and we'll keep going on it, Jim.

SCIUTTO: We should note, as we often do, there's lots of testing, regular contact tracing in the White House for White House staff, something the president opposes for the broader population. Joe Johns, thanks very much.

HARLOW: We are also falling breaking news that is a potential of really, really shaking up the sports world. ESPN is reporting the Marlins home opener tonight against the Orioles has been canceled. This is after a number of Marlins players and coaches tested positive for COVID-19.

SCIUTTO: Yes, showing the real difficulty in professional sports, even with all the resources, all the testing they have of keeping a lid on this. CNN's Rosa Flores, she is in Miami Beach with more.

It's a big step to have to cancel games, and that's because several players tested positive.

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're absolutely right. And baseball has been the first league to try to go city to city to try to play the game and here we are now, this is according to multiple reports, the Miami Marlins reportedly canceling their season opener here at home with the Baltimore Orioles due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Now, the team decided to stay in Philadelphia, not travel home here to Miami so they can do extra testing. And now, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan, eight more players and two coaches tested positive, bringing the total number of individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 to 14.

Again, the Marlins remain in Philadelphia, remained there for more testing. And the late-breaking news here is that now the home opener with the Baltimore Orioles is reportedly cancelled, Jim and Poppy, we should mention that CNN has reached out to the team and to the MLB, and we have not heard pack yet. Jim and Poppy.

HARLOW: Okay. All right, Rosa, thank you for that important update. It could majorly change things.

We're also following this from Google. Google planning to have the majority of its employees work from at home until at least next July. Again, more broad implications if a lot of big companies, Jim, follow suit.

SCIUTTO: Absolutely. Although tech companies certainly have a lot of advantages other industries do not in terms of work-from-home. CNN Tech Reporter Brian Fung joins us now with more. So this extends this into next year. Google is a big company. I don't have to remind you of that. Is this likely to become a model for other tech firms?

BRIAN FUNG, CNN TECH REPORTER: I think it really could be. This is a very big decision by one of the world's largest companies projecting what they think the pandemic is going to do and how the world is going to be affected by this into next year.


You know, I think that the tech industry has been really a leader in terms of its response to the work from home, you know, requirements of the pandemic, and a lot of other companies, other industries have really taken their cues from the tech industry on this. So I do think that there could be many other businesses that decide to follow suit from the decision.

As you might remember, you know, Twitter was one of the first companies to say that some of its employees could work from home forever if they choose. A decision that prompted Facebook later to say that many of its employees could also do the same, that they are expecting to adopt a permanent work from home stance as many as half of its employees in the next five to ten years.

And so what we're seeing here is potentially a sea change in the way of not only how businesses around the world work during this pandemic but also how they could work, you know, for the foreseeable future, even after the pandemic ends.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And then you have all the businesses around those businesses, the people who sell food and lunch and so on and people who build the office building. Brian Fung, thanks very much.

Well, people in South Texas are facing really devastating one-two punch right now, a raging virus, of course, plus heavy flooding. Look at it there and the aftermath, one of the first hurricanes of the season, Hurricane Hanna.

HARLOW: We are happy to have back with us a doctor who is leading the charge dealing with all of this, Dr. Ivan Melendez. He is in Hidalgo County Texas leading the Health Authority there. Doctor, it's really good to have you back. And we're so sorry that you're facing this double-whammy on top of the health crisis there.

If you could just tell us what it's like, what you're going through given the images we just saw on top of the crisis you are already facing.

DR. IVAN MELENDEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY, TEXAS HEALTH AUTHORITY: Thank you for having me back on. Yes, this creates a special challenge when we're already saturated with our hospital capacity where we continue to see a high rate of people dying, and we continue to see a group of patients that we have that expired and then we get another group of patients that come in and expire. It's quite frustrating. The storm itself created some scenarios that, really, I never ever fathom would occur. Our nurses, for example, instead of leaving after a 12-hour shift at times had to leave after an 18 or 20-hour shift because of the transportation of the replacement crews.

We've received nursing help from other parts of the country for staffing agencies, thanks to the state and federal government, and so they live in hotels and so are going back and forth on the transports. They have been quite dangerous and, therefore, we have overworked nurses that I didn't expect.

Today, we already received notice that the evening crew should bring personal hygiene equipment, et cetera, in case they have to stay extra.

What's interesting though is that just like our homes, our businesses, our hospitals also, the structures were attacked by the rains. And so when the storm was coming in at 1:30 in the morning, I was placing a tube in someone's chest when water started coming in through the retrofitted negative pressure roofs.

And so these rooms that have been retrofitted in order to create a negative pressure, of course, were altered. So as water comes in, it invades some of the rooms, and it's unfathomable that you would think that water would be coming in the walls.

SCIUTTO: Listen, it's early in the season too. I don't have to tell you that. So imagine as the virus progresses to have to face many more of these storms.

I want to ask you about what you think as a doctor is necessary to get the outbreak under control. We had a doctor on earlier in the last hour who is one of dozens who signed a letter calling for a re- imposition of stay-at-home orders nationally to just get this under control again. And I wonder from your vantage point if you think or some iteration of that is necessary.

MELENDEZ: Well, as a clinician, certainly, my knowledge is limited to what I see taking care of folks locally for the last 30-plus years. We've had some global specialists that are certainly much more experienced than I am in global systems that have all been consistent in their advice.

For myself, it's very simple what to do. Implementing it is very difficult. If you look at all the pandemics from the 1300s or the great black plague to now, it's always been same answer for human beings. And that is when you do not have a cure for a disease, whether it's antibiotics for the black death, our case, where you do not have effective anti-virals for a virus, the only thing you can do to beat this organism is to keep it from spreading to other folks.


After 14 days, if that virus doesn't beat you, you'll beat the virus, and if it doesn't hop on to another person it dies. So, absolutely, from a pure clinical perspective, the answer is, of course, to avoid folks, to stay at home, so that's the straightforward answer.

HARLOW: Doctor, could we also ask you about children, because the alarming news out of Florida this morning that they have seen a 34 percent increase in children there who have COVID?

And I'm not just talking about a handful. The Florida Department of Health says on July 24th, 31,150 children in the state had COVID and there's a 23 percent increase in those hospitalized in just the last eight days.

Is the same happening in Hidalgo County, Texas?

MELENDEZ: Absolutely. We've had approximately 1,300 kids that have tested positive, which we've had a small percentage that have required hospitalization. But, certainly, children are not immune to this virus. Certainly, they are more resistant to it but, absolutely, they have been infected. We've had extremely ill patients. We've had that I'm aware of only one person under the 18 years of age without any co- morbidities pass away. So, indeed, children are very susceptible and we're seeing that here, and it's being seen around the country.

SCIUTTO: Listen, no one is immune to this, and that's one of the lessons of this. Dr. Ivan Melendez, we appreciate the work you're doing and we wish you the best of luck.

MELENDEZ: Thanks for having me on.

HARLOW: Thank you, Doctor.

Today, the race for a vaccine moves to a new critical phase. Our next guest says we want wait for that to be ready. We need to shut down again. We'll hear them make the case, ahead.

SCIUTTO: Protests getting dangerous in Portland as anger grows over police deployments there, federal agents in military uniforms with weapons. We're going to have the latest from the frontlines.



SCIUTTO: Well, as the outbreak expands in this country, more than 150 health experts signed a letter to lawmakers pleading with them to shut down the country. They say, we're quoting here, people should stay home, going out only to get food and medicine or to exercise and get fresh air, masks should be mandatory in all situations, indoors and outdoors, where we interact with others. We need that protocol in place until case numbers recede to a level at which we have the capacity to effectively test and trace. Only then and can we try a little more opening one small step at a time.

HARLOW: Northwestern University Assistance Professor of Emergency Medicine Dr. Seth Trueger was among those who signed the letter. He joins us now. Doctor, thanks for your time this morning.


HARLOW: It's good to have you. The letter is intriguing and important, and that's why we wanted to have your voice in all of this.

You say, dear decision-makers, hit the reset button, and there are a whole host of medical reasons why it would be advantageous to shut many more places down. But then there's economic case, right, and the economic reality and the health implications of shutting down economies, whether it's child abuse, kids not in school, whether it's anxiety, whether it's increased alcoholism, you know. So how -- how do you wrestle with that?

TRUEGER: You know, I think I'm not going to pretend that I'm an economist, but the current economic situation we're in now is very different from anything else we've seen in our lifetimes. This isn't an economic bubble that burst or a housing crisis or something like that. The way to fix the economy is they get the pandemic under control.

What we've seen in a lot of states that opened too quickly is they went too fast, the virus spread and people can't go out, even if stores are open. People can't buy things because people don't feel safe. And that's unfortunately only going to get worse if we don't get the pandemic under control.

SCIUTTO: When states -- of course, they didn't have a national stay- at-home order, but when a lot of states that did this before, many did not use that time as health experts recommended, for instance, building testing capacity or even waiting to meet their own standards for reopening, like 14 days of declining cases.

If leaders were to listen and take this recommendation, what would they need to do during a shutdown or a stay-at-home order to take advantage of it to keep this from happening again?

TRUEGER: Well, I think -- first of all, you hit the nail right on the head. It just feels like we've squandered the last few months. I was in Chicago working here in the E.R. working during the first wave hit and things were pretty bad and we made it through.

But now, we're hearing the same exact challenges in places like Houston, California and Florida and it just seems like we just wasted all the time. We didn't buff up testing capacity, we didn't build up testing and tracing capacity, we barely learned anything about how to take care of the virus and we're just not taking the public health steps and we really need to build up that infrastructure.

HARLOW: Doctor, your call again is for pretty much to do this across the country, right, a reset for the whole nation, a sort of take two, if we can. Help people understand who might be watching from a state like Vermont, et cetera, because I don't necessarily thing you're wrong at all. I just wonder if I'm sitting in Vermont and I've had 1,400 total cases and Johns Hopkins show for the whole month of July there have only been 190 cases, for me, and I own a small business there, I'm thinking, oh, my goodness, like this will devastate us. No reason it should be state by state?

TRUEGER: You know, we have fluid movement across state lines. We know people from Wisconsin go to Chattanooga and visit back and forth and we see the virus spread across state lines.


At first, one of the first rallying cries that people were saying we're overreacting was that this is just a New York problem. But all of the states (INAUDIBLE) borders, everybody -- the economy, the relationships we have across states are exactly -- you know, there are things that we share with each other. We're one big country and we're seeing the virus spread state from state to state to state. It's not isolating in individual areas.

And, again -- sorry, go ahead.


SCIUTTO: Do you, Dr. Trueger -- and, again, to your -- and I know you acknowledge this because you're aware, as all of us are aware, the economic damage and implications from this. Do you have any sense how long it would take, how long of a stay-at-home would be necessary to get rates down?

You look at the graph of U.S. cases, and it's like this, to get it so, it looks like Europe or South Korea, where it comes down sharply.

TRUEGER: Right. You know, I can't tell you exactly, you know, that's speculation. I think some experts, like Andy Slavitt, have recommended somewhat like four weeks, which sounds like it has some feasibility, but I'm not sure.

But I think the alternate is really ending up in a situation like we have been for the past few months, where these rolling shutdowns and things open up and then close back down but are never fully open. And that's probably going to have a much more devastating effect over a number of years.


HARLOW: That's a really -- that's a really good point, Doctor. Thank you very much for being with us to make the case. We appreciate it.

TRUEGER: Absolutely. Thank you for having me.

HARLOW: Well, a rare and very, very due honor for the late congressman and civil rights icon, John Lewis. Soon his body will lie in state in the Capitol building in Washington.

Coming up, how his colleagues will honor his legacy.



HARLOW: All right. Happening very soon on Capitol Hill, lawmakers have the opportunity to honor their late colleague and civil rights hero, John Lewis, as his body will lay in state. It is a remarkable and important honor for a man whose lifelong fight for justice, Jim, goes without saying, changed our countries forever.

SCIUTTO: Decades of standing up for civil rights in this country.

CNN Chief Political Correspondent Dana Bash just spoke with Congressman and House Majority Whip James Clyburn ahead of this moment.

And, Dana, today, Congressman Clyburn, he's going to introduce a bill to honor Lewis' life and legacy.

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And Jim Clyburn is the most senior ranking African-American in the House of Representatives. But on this day he is John Lewis' friend and colleague who is mourning him. And so he is trying to weave those two parts of their relationship together as he tries to talk about the life and legacy of John Lewis, which I had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Clyburn about.


BASH: This is a tough day for you.

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Yes. It has been a tough week. And each day gets a little easier.

BASH: Now, you obviously have served together for a quarter of a century.

CLYBURN: 27 years.

BASH: But you met in 1960?

CLYBURN: 1960. We met almost 60 years ago. And it's kind of interesting because we met at an organizing meeting of SNCC down in Atlanta, Georgia in October of 1960.

Now SNCC, as you know, was a very viable student organization, and we had adopted. Some of us adopted John internalize and my (INAUDIBLE) advocacy of non-violence. But John became chair of SNCC, I think, around 1963. In 1966, he was summarily ousted by an insurgency group, basically, by Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown.

BASH: They wanted to be more militant?

CLYBURN: They wanted to be more militant. And, in fact, with their slogan, it became Burn, Baby, Burn. That was not John's way.

As a result, yes --

BASH: You got to show me what you have there. I don't know if you can turn it around. But that's an old piece of paper.

CLYBURN: Yes. In 1960, when I got to Atlanta, we all signed up for various workshops. And my workshop, I don't remember what they were, with MV-3-PAA (ph). And several years ago, John came to Charleston, South Carolina to speak at an NAACP function and I was to introduce him. And my wife had these things squared away. And she showed it to me and I took it, one of these copies and gave it to John as a part of his introduction.


And, of course, it was a very emotional scene.

So I've kept it ever since.