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Trump Campaigns in Texas as Virus Surges in the State; South Texas Hit Especially Hard by COVID-19; Georgia School District Prepares to Open Friday; Russia: Growing Demand for Not-Yet-Approved Vaccine; Trump Slashing U.S. Troop Levels in Germany; Egypt Jails More Female Influencers Over TikTok Posts; NASA's Rover to Look for Signs of Past Life on Mars. Aired 4:30-5a ET

Aired July 30, 2020 - 04:30   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: U.S. President Donald Trump visiting Texas on the same day it surpassed New York in total coronavirus cases and on the same day one of his Texas allies in Congress who was supposed to travel with him on Air Force One tested positive for the virus.

But Mr. Trump wasn't there for the pandemic. He was there for politics. He attended an event at an oil rig and talked up U.S. energy. He also went to a fundraiser where some tickets went for $100,000 each. And take a look at the crowd waiting for him to appear at one event. Not very many people wearing masks there and zero social distancing.

Well, South Texas has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus in the Rio Grande Valley area. Nearly 600 people have died from the virus, the vast majority dying this month alone. CNN's Ed Lavandera spoke with two women mourning the sudden loss of their loved ones.


ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Rolando and Yolanda Garcia met as kids in South Texas, became high school sweethearts and the rest is history. They reveled in life's sweet moments.

FAMILY SINGING: Happy birthday to you

LAVANDERA: Rolando's birthday. Yolanda cutting her granddaughter's hair. But in late June the coronavirus caught the couple by surprise. Their daughter Priscilla believes they got infected at the grocery store.

As they got sicker, the 70-year-old grandparents were taken to different hospitals on the same day. It would be the last time they saw each other.

PRISCILLA MARIA GARCIA, DAUGHTER OF ROLANDO AND YOLANDA GARCIA: It's heartbreaking because you never want to die alone, you want to die with your family around you. There is no one there to support you in your last moments.

LAVANDERA: Rolando died on the July 4th.

GARCIA: My dad passed away and we didn't tell her, she ended up having a heart attack on her own. And the last time that I spoke with her I just told her that dad was waiting for her.

LAVENDERA: The Garcia's died four days apart. Priscilla also has COVID-19, she's quarantined in her parents' home. A small shrine fills the living

room. It's a place to reflect on her family's ordeal.

GARCIA: They didn't have to die. They still had another good 10 or 15 years. They were very vibrant.

LAVENDERA (on camera): What's it like in south Texas right now?

GARCIA: It's hell on earth. Everyone's scared. Everyone's anxious.

LAVENDERA (voice-over): About 600 people have died of COVID-19 in the Rio Grande Valley. The vast majority of those have died this month.

DR. MARTIN SCHWARCZ, PULMONARY INTENSIVIST, RIO GRANDE VALLEY: It's like living in a constant hurricane of patients coming into the hospital.

LAVENDERA (on camera): Endless?

SCHWARCZ: It's overwhelming. It's endless and overwhelming.

LAVENDERA (voice-over): Dr. Martin Schwarcz lives on the pandemic front lines working intensive care units filled with COVID patients. He says medical teams are struggling to stay ahead of the fast spreading virus.

SCHWARCZ: We're always on the edge. Am I going to have enough ventilators today? Am I going to have enough central lines? Enough chest tubes.

LAVENDERA (on camera): It seems like this is really taking its toll on a lot of you guys that are on the front lines.

SCHWARCZ: We're seeing entire families in our community being ravaged by the virus.

LAVENDERA (voice-over): Salvador and Imelda Munoz celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in June. The family says their in-home nurse unknowingly infected the elderly couple. But Marie Silva felt her mother was going to pull through.

MARIE SILVA, DAUGHTER OF IMELDA MUNOZ: She suffered a heart attack while waiting and there was not enough staff to attend to her and so she didn't make it.

LAVENDERA: After that Marie says her father felt his job was done. There was time though for one last video call. (on camera): What will you remember most about that final conversation

with your dad?

SILVA: All of my brothers and sisters telling him how good of a father he was and how he could go rest if he needed to, letting him know that he did a good job and we love him and we'll never forget him.

LAVENDERA: And what did he say?

SILVA: He just nodded. He didn't cry. He never cried. He's just a stubborn man. But I could see the pain in his eyes. I could.

LAVENDERA (voice-over): On July 10th Marie Silva says her father's eyes finally closed during his wife's funeral service. Three days later Salvador and Imelda Munoz were buried together.

(on camera): President Trump visited Midland, Texas on Wednesday for a fundraiser and a speech to supporters where he touted that the coronavirus numbers were beginning to stabilize, however, the number of deaths being reported every day and hospitalizations still remains very high in many parts of this state.


And it also comes on the same day that Johns Hopkins University is reporting that Texas has now surpassed New York in the number of overall coronavirus cases.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Midland, Texas.


CHURCH: The U.S. Education Secretary says there's no need for a national plan on how to reopen schools during the pandemic.


BETSY DEVOS, U.S. SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: You know, there's not a national superintendent nor should there be, therefore, there's not a national plan for reopening.


CHURCH: Instead, every school system will have to decide for itself when and how to reopen. And one of the first school districts set to reopen is doing that this Friday in Jefferson, a small city in Georgia, and that's happening even though COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state are rising and ICU beds are at 88 percent capacity.


CHURCH: Joining me now are Pete and Raye Lynn Fuller, parents of two children who have chosen to do online learning. Thank you so much for talking with us.


CHURCH: So your school district, Jefferson is about an hour northeast of Atlanta, Georgia. And kids there will return to school Friday for in-person classes but you both made the decision to keep your kids home for virtual learning instead. Why did you decide to do that?

PETE FULLER: We really -- I felt -- we talked about this a lot. We love our kids to get back to normal, but right now is not a normal time. And when presented the options, and looking around at the data the area, with the infection rates where they are right now, here's no way that we can see that they can keep not only kids safe but all the staff, the adults in those buildings without a massive infection rate out there.

CHURCH: Right, and infectious diseases expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says all those kids going back to the classroom will be part of the experiment as we learn what works and what doesn't. Clearly, you've decided you don't want your kids to be a part of any experiment. Why do you think other parents are willing to take that risk and send their kids back to in-person learning? And in the end do you think there are any alternatives anyway?

PETE FULLER: I think there's a lot of conflicting and misinformation that's out there right now coming from all different sources. And it really muddies the water and makes a lot of people really unsure about what to think. So it really makes all options equal, which they're not equal like. And I really, yes --

CHURCH: And Raye Lynn, you mentioned earlier to me just before we started this interview that you only stumbled upon the option of virtual learning. You didn't realize initially that you had any other option?

RAYE LYNN FULLER, MOTHER OF TWO STUDENTS ENROLLED IN ONLINE CLASSES: Correct. When they started to talk about having school again there was a small section that if your child had any extenuating circumstances, that they could contact the special ed department. And when I contacted them, I'm a nurse and I work with the elderly, so I contacted them and said my child is not the one with special circumstances, but that I am and I would choose to have an alternate method than in-person learning.


CHURCH: Well, the surge in coronavirus cases in the U.S. is weighing on the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell says the pace of the recovery has hit a snag and announced Wednesday the Fed is leaving interest rates unchanged at near zero.


JEROME POWELL, FEDERAL RESERVE CHAIRMAN: We have seen some signs in recent weeks that the increase in virus cases and the renewed measures to control it are starting to weigh on economic activity. For example, some measures of consumer spending based on debit card and credit card use have moved down since late June while recent labor market indicators point to a slowing in job growth especially among smaller businesses. A full recovery is unlikely until people are confident that it's safe to reengage in a broad range of activities.


CHURCH: And the U.S. markets liked what Powell had to say. All three major indices bounced higher after his remarks Wednesday.

Well, Russia claims that demand is already growing for their coronavirus vaccine, which should be approved early next month. If all goes according to plan, it will be a world's first. The Russia -- Russia, I should say, plans mass production in September despite major concerns over its safety and effectiveness.


Matthew Chance picks up the story.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there may be widespread criticism around this Russian vaccine, but Russian officials now say at least 20 countries are expressing their interest in getting their hands-on it.

A sign they say of how much demand there is in the world for a solution to this global pandemic. Officials of the Russian Direct Investment Fund tell CNN that nations including India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia are among those talking to Russia about getting the vaccine once it's approved. Russian officials, of course, earlier telling CNN they intend to approve their vaccine by August the 10th. And will mass produce it according to the Health Ministry by September.

Critics say conventions on human trials in Russia have been ignored. Amid pressure from the Kremlin to get the vaccine approved, Russian officials telling CNN that crucial Phase III trials will take place while the vaccine is being

administered to high risk groups like frontline medical staff. It's risky, of course, fueling concerns about the effectiveness and the safety of this vaccine.

But given the acute coronavirus problem in Russia, has the fourth highest number of infections in the world. It's a risk the authorities here and apparently some other nations around the globe too, are willing to take.

Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.


CHURCH: And this is CNN NEWSROOM. Coming up, the TikTok stars facing a crackdown by the Egyptian government. We have the latest.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CHURCH: German officials and U.S. lawmakers are now blasting the Trump administration's plan to pull almost 12,000 U.S. troops out of Germany, a long-time NATO ally. One Republican Senator called it, quote, a gift to Russia. The move is expected to cost billions of dollars and take years to relocate the troops.


President Trump defended the decision and blamed Berlin for not spending the NATO target of 2 percent of its GDP in defense.

So let's head straight out to Berlin where we find our Frederik Pleitgen. So Fred, talk to us about the timing of this. It's almost as if there's a sense of pay back for Germany. What's being said?

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you're certainly -- you're absolutely right, Rosemary. That certainly is one of the things that German politicians believe, is that the Trump administration simply dislikes some of the folks who are in power here in Berlin and, therefore, that this is almost seen as punishment for the Germans to pull these American troops out.

Certainly, if you look at some of the voices that have been calling out hear in German politics, most of them have been criticizing this move. Most of them say it's going to weaken NATO, it's going to weaken European security, but also weaken American security as well.

I want to read you the quote from the head of the Foreign Relations Committee of German Parliament. His name is Norbert Rottgen, he's also actually a big ally of Angela Merkel.

And he said, quote, in withdrawing 12,000 soldiers Germany, the USA achieved the exact opposite from what Esper, of course, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, outlined. Instead of strengthening NATO it is going to weaken the alliance. The U.S. military clout will not increase but decrease in relation to Russia and the Near and Middle East.

Certainly, a lot of people here in Berlin do believe that this is something that could embolden Russia at a point where, of course, Europe is trying to come together and be more of a deterrent to a resurgent Russia.

Also the Governor of Bavaria, which is one of those states that actually does have a lot military bases, U.S. bases in it, including a very key one, the Grafenwoehr Practice Facility. He said that this is going to be very detrimental to U.S./German relations. And he also says that they simply don't see any sort of military necessity to actually make this move which of course is also going to be very expensive.

And then, of course, there are the communities here in Germany who are going to lose some of these American forces that are in those communities. And the German government has already said that it's going to work with those communities to make sure that the financial blow from these troops leaving is going to be as little as possible. But one of the things that we have to keep in mind it that over the

decades, Rosemary, of course, these communities have grown together. They've essentially become German American communities. And while there is some criticism of U.S. policy here in Germany, the soldiers themselves have always been and continue to be extremely popular in those communities and are seen really as part of the fabric here in this country.

And, therefore, the German economics minister came out and said, look, as part of this decision he simply wanted to thank the U.S. troops who have been on the ground here, the hundreds of thousands of GIs who served here in this Germany, and said you have done a great job, thank you very much -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right. Frederik Pleitgen bringing us the latest there from Berlin. Thank you.

Well, Egyptian authorities are going after female social media influencers, some of whom have amassed millions of followers on the app TikTok. And this week several women were sentenced to jail for violating Egyptian values.

CNN's Arwa Damon has the details.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Egypt's judiciary has continued its crackdown on female social media influencers. On Wednesday, Manar Samy was sentenced to three years in jail and a fine of $18,700 approximately. She had gained quite a following on the popular app TikTok due to her dancing and her sketches, but according to the state-run "al-Ahram" newspaper, she was accused of spreading immorality and immoral acts.

During a previous court hearing she actually fainted and her family, her father and two siblings were running towards the cage. They got into a scuffle with security officials. They too right now have been detained.

Now her bail has been paid, but because there wasn't enough time to get the receipt to court it is highly unlikely that she will be released before the end of the upcoming Muslim rite holiday.

On Monday Egyptian courts sentenced two other young women who had amassed a following of millions also on TikTok, accusing one of them, who is a Cairo University student, of encouraging young women to meet men online through a live-based app. Both of them were accused of debauchery and violating family principles and the values of Egyptian society.

Now the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms has called for the release of what is now known as the TikTok girl, saying that their detention is a form of discrimination against women ,and a violation of their freedom of expression using the fact that they are being accused of violating the moral of the family as a pretext. But Egypt is quite notorious for its variety of pretexts, whether it

comes to the policing of women's behavior or going after, detaining and attempting to silence voices of opposition, activists for human rights.


Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


CHURCH: NASA launches its new Mars rover in just a few hours. The world is watching to see whether the red planet once harbored life. Back with that.


CHURCH: And don't forget to tune in for a CNN GLOBAL TOWN HALL, "Coronavirus Facts and Fears." That's hosted by Anderson Cooper and Dr. Sanjay Gupta. That's Thursday at 8 p.m. in New York, 8 a.m. Friday in Hong Kong.

Well, Mars is pretty popular these days. Earlier this month the United Arab Emirates launched its probe to the red planet, China followed after that and right now we are less than three hours away and counting to NASA's new launch of a new rover to Mars. It's the U.S. space agency's first mission specifically to look for signs of life beyond earth.

As CNN's Lynda Kinkade reports it also has some pretty impressive hardware.



LYNDA KINKADE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After nearly a decade of planning with thousands of engineers, scientists and specialists, NASA's latest mission to Mars charts new realms of exploration.

JIM BRIDENSTINE, NASA ADMINISTRATOR: This is the first time in history where we're going to go to Mars with an explicit mission to find life on another world.

KINKADE: The launch of NASA's Perseverance Rover starts a 7-month journey through space before its expected landing on the red planet's Jezero Crater.

The site of a lake formed more than 3.5 billion years ago. There Perseverance will look for evidence that Mars was once inhabited, collecting samples that eventually return to earth to be studied for signs of ancient microbial life. Meanwhile the mission will also pave the way for new life to arrive.

BRIDENSTINE: We're going to take the carbon dioxide atmosphere of Mars and we're going to turn it into oxygen so that when humans get there, we know that we know that we know, that we're going to be able to create the oxygen necessary for life support.

KINKADE: Expected to land in mid-February of 2021, the two-year mission also promises new perspectives on Mars. The Perseverance is equipped with microphones to share sounds of the red planet for the first time.

It also has 23 cameras with new features like zoom, color and video capturing capabilities. Also, along for the ride, the first helicopter to attempt flight on another planet. If it's successful, the new technology could be used as scouts on future missions as the push to explore Mars forges on.

Lynda Kinkade, CNN.


CHURCH: And thanks so much for your company. I'm Rosemary Church. EARLY START is up next. You're watching CNN. Have yourselves a great day.