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CDC: 260 Kids and Staff Infected at Georgia Camp; Trump Renews Unfounded Claim Mail-In Ballots Will "Rig" Election. Aired 4:30-5p ET

Aired July 31, 2020 - 16:30   ET


JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: And while the camp did adapt some of the CDC's guidelines for camps, some key guidelines such as campers wearing masks were never implemented.


The data is chilling and it suggests that children can indeed get infected and very quickly.

Joining me now to discuss is a professor of medicine and infectious diseases at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Dr. Michael Saag.

Dr. Saag, thanks so much.

I -- as a parent I have to say I found this terrifying.

Staffers wore masks but there was very quick widespread infection, including among young kids under 6. Of the campers and staff who they got test results for who tested positive, 51 percent were between 6 and 10 years old, 44 percent were between 11 and 17. And 33 percent, this is of staffers and aides, they were between 18 and 21 years old.

How serious of a threat is it of kids getting this virus and infecting their parents and families?

DR. MICHAEL SAAG, PROFESSOR OF MEDICINE & INFECTIOUS DISEASES, UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA AT BIRMINGHAM: Well, Jake, I think it proves exactly what we've been thinking about and leaning towards for a while now. And that is I don't think the virus cares who you are or even necessarily how old you are. If you give it a chance to infect, it's going to do just that. And when you put people together, especially in closed spaces like in the case of a camp a cabin or in the case of a classroom in a school we're going to see transmission.

Another way to think about it, there are some data that show that if you're in one of the hot zones, the red zone states like Arizona, Georgia, Florida, et cetera, that if you have ten people in a room, there's a 40 percent chance that one of those ten will be infected. And if you have 25, it's a 72 percent chance that one of the 25 will be infected.

So as we start thinking about going back to school, we might be surprised about the story with the campers. But we're going to see this happening over and over again as we re-enter into schools. It's just going to be something we should expect.

TAPPER: Let's take a look at the CDC guidelines for summer camp so as to take some instruction about what schools could or should look like. It says stay at home when appropriate, use proper hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, face masks, ensure ventilation systems operate properly.

Now, we should point out at these Georgia camp, campers did not wear masks. Staffers did but campers did not. Windows and doors were not left open for additional ventilation, and, of course, campers were group by cabins, and slept in the cabins, and they also participated in activities such as cheering and singing that may have helped the virus spread.

Are -- is there something for us to learn in this that maybe suggests that schools could be reopened more safely than this camp was?

SAAG: Yeah. I think the one thing it tells us is that business as usual isn't going to work. But like you're implying, if the students are wearing masks 24/7 while they're in school at least and the parents and teachers when they're at school are wearing masks, that'll help. The ventilation will help, and then, of course, the physical distancing which we know.

So we're going to have to have mitigation strategies as each school opens, especially in what we would call the red zone states, those that have high rates of infection right now.

TAPPER: In addition to opening windows and doors, are there air purifiers that can be used? Is there technology along those lines that schools should be considering if they can afford it?

SAAG: Yeah. That may help. But I think what's more important is the immediate environment around each student. Because if like I was saying earlier, one in 25 is infected, the air purification is almost too far away. So students who are in their immediate vicinity to the right, left, front or in back who are the vulnerable ones.

So if we keep distance between them and everyone's wearing a mask, that's our best chance to mitigate. Filters in the air might help a little bit but I don't know if it's really worth the expense to go to that. I think it's more important to focus on these other aspects.

TAPPER: And, of course, if testing were up to speed and we could test students and teachers and parents, that would really help. But our testing is not up to speed.

Of the 101 largest school districts in the U.S., 60 are starting their school year with all online classes.

Do you think that's the right move?

SAAG: It depends on where they are. But in some ways that might be the best way forward to start. There's going to be, whatever, 40 percent of the schools are going to be re-opening and they can watch and learn. But I think the key thing is if a school decides to reopen, the

mitigation strategies that we just talked about, mask wearing, distance, ensuring ventilation, and making sure that everyone is not clumped together indoors in a crowded space is the best we can do. But to be honest, this is a giant experiment. We don't know exactly what to expect and I think that's what's unnerving about it for a lot of people.


TAPPER: The nation's largest school district will be re-opening if the infection rate stays below 3 percent. That's according to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

And once those schools reopen, masks and social distancing will be required of course. Students and teachers will have access to free testing, and all classrooms must have the necessary protective gear. What do you think of that approach, and is that the one you think schools across the country should take if the infection rate goes down to where hopefully it will be in New York City?

SAAG: Yeah. The New York story is a success story in the United States. And a 3 percent positive rate is remarkable compared to, for example, Alabama right now that's about 18 percent. So I think for a non-red zone state like New York, that seems like a reasonable way to start.

TAPPER: All right, Dr. Michael Saag, thank you so much for your expertise. Hope to have you back again soon.

New concerns after the mail after a Trump fundraiser takes over the United States Postal Service and the president starts griping about mail-in voting.

Stay with us.



TAPPER: In our 2020 lead: today, as President Trump keeps up his unfounded claim backed up with absolutely zero evidence that mail-in voting will rig the election that the president, by the way, himself votes by mail, absentee ballot quite often. The Trump loyalists who since June has served as post master general has put in place cost cutting measures that postal workers say is causing tremendous backlogs of delivery and could hurt their ability to deliver any ballots by mail, whether absentee or vote by mail in time for the November election. Their warnings were first reported by "The Washington Post."

Moreover, most states do not count ballots mailed before Election Day if they arrive after Election Day. In other words, the biggest potential problem of vote by mail, which the president attacks for nonexistent widespread fraud, may actually be what president Trump and his team are themselves doing to the Postal Service. CNN's Jessica Dean joins me now to discuss.

And, Jessica, today, the U.S. postal service is addressing these claims and concerns they insist money's a problem but ballot delivery is not. What are they saying?

JESSICA DEAN, CNN WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Right. So the U.S. Postal Service is saying this is all about cost savings and cutting back. But let me show you what the USPS put out in a statement in regards to that. They said we are not slowing down election mail or any other mail. Instead, we continue to employ a robust and proven process to ensure proper handling of all election mail consistent with our standards.

But, Jake, that's not what I'm hearing from the postal workers union president who I spoke to earlier today who told me they are seeing widespread delays in mail across the country and that he is concerned that if mail is slowing because they're not allowed to have overtime or to do extra trips, which is how they get the mail out, he says, on time, that if they can't do that, that it will affect mail-in voting in the fall. I also spoke with a local president of the postal workers union from Buffalo, New York, about this.

Here's what she had to say.


LORI CASH, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN POSTAL WORKERS UNION 183 IN NY: With the new rules coming in, I am afraid that the election mail will somewhere get lost in the shuffle. I'm terrified of that. Now, I know as postal workers being on the front lines, we'll do everything we can to pull the mail out, to make sure it goes forward.


DEAN: Jake, I also spoke to the Republican secretary of state for Washington state, which is in the middle of a primary right now. They are all vote by mail there. And she said they are also seeing slowing of mail delivery in their region as well. Jake?

TAPPER: And, Jessica, how is the postal service responding to these postal workers who worry that these new rules to cut costs could in fact be politically motivated since the U.S. Postal Service is now headed by a Trump fundraiser and loyalist?

DEAN: That's right.

So the U.S. postal service also commenting on that exact point. For their part, the U.S. Postal Service saying the notion that the post master general makes decisions concerning the direction of the president is wholly misplaced and off base. That's what the U.S. Postal Service is saying.

But, Jake, remember, as you said the post master general, a Trump loyalist and the postal board of governments all appointed by President Trump as well.

TAPPER: All right. Jessica Dean, thanks for that report.

A hurricane threatening a COVID red zone. Could shelters become super spreader events? Is Florida ready?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: The national lead now.

President Trump has just arrived in Florida, where the state hit yet another record of 257 coronavirus-related deaths. And on top of that, a powerful hurricane is just hours from making landfall.

CNN's Ryan Nobles is in Tampa, where President Trump's plane just landed.

And, Ryan, this tarmac event has turned into something of a mini-Trump rally.

RYAN NOBLES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's exactly right, Jake.

In fact, President Trump accepting the endorsement right now of a sheriff's organization as he continues to push this law and order message ahead of the 2020 campaign. And you can see here, he hasn't been able to hold rallies. And there was an attempt here to try and social distance the crowd.

That's why they set up all these bike racks. They limited the number of people that were allowed to attend the rally. But that social distancing went out the window, despite the repeated asks by the organizers here.

And the other thing I would point out is that there are very few people wearing masks in this crowd right now, despite the fact that they were asked to do so.

So, again, President Trump has been robbed of those big massive rallies that he held during 2016 and before the coronavirus pandemic. This is an attempt by the campaign to try and replace this. They will get quite a fair amount of local media coverage out of it, but, still, Jake, nothing like those big rallies we saw four years ago.

TAPPER: Yes, his health officials went to Capitol Hill and said that everybody should practice social distancing and wear masks and avoid crowds, and there's President Trump setting the exact opposite example for the nation.

Let's talk about the hurricane right now, Ryan. It's a Category 1. It could strengthen to a Category 2. It's anticipated it might.

How is Florida handling shelters, in light of the dangers of coronavirus?

NOBLES: It's a great question, Jake.

And the president is actually going to go from here to a briefing on the coronavirus and the hurricane. We should point that out.


And they are very worried about shelters. And FEMA has offered guidance to the local communities as to how they should handle it. They're saying less than 50 people at a time, that even some of these shelters should allow for 60 square feet for each person that enters a shelter.

Jake, that could be very difficult, if this hurricane becomes a big problem here in Florida.

TAPPER: All right, Ryan Nobles in Tampa, thank you so much for that.

Stay safe.

We would like to take a moment to remember two of the more than 153,000 lives lost in the U.S. because of the coronavirus pandemic.

A husband and wife in Houston died 15 days apart; 39-year-old Naomi Esquivel and 44-year-old Carlos Garcia leave behind two boys, Nathan and Isaiah.


ISAIAH GARCIA, LOST BOTH PARENTS TO COVID-19: I didn't get to say goodbye to my mom or my dad, no. And that's what hurts me the most right now.


TAPPER: The couple was married for 24 years. Their sons are 14 and 11.

Their uncle is now going to be their legal guardian. The uncle plans to raise the boys alongside his four other children.

Check out my Twitter page @JakeTapper during the commercial break for a link to the verified GoFundMe account, if you want to help out these boys.

May their parents' memories be a blessing.

We're going to take a look at how a key U.S. ally is fending for itself months after President Trump suddenly abandoned them.

Stay with us.


[16:56:00] TAPPER: In our world lead today: It's been about nine months since President Trump abruptly abandoned the Kurdish allies of the United States on the Turkish-Syrian border, withdrawing U.S. troops and giving way for Turkish forces to move into that country, displacing tens of thousands of innocent people.

And now, without U.S. support, the Kurds are largely left to fend for themselves.

We asked CNN's Arwa Damon to give us an update on the Kurdish people and their struggles ever since President Trump abandoned them.


ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): "You see that smoke? That's from our fields," Amir Nissan says, resigned and sorrowful.

It's hardly the first time that Turkey has launched strikes in the Kurdish semiautonomous region of Northern Iraq, targeting the Kurdish separatists group the PKK's strongholds in the harsh mountain terrain.

Amir lived in a small village nearby, fleeing with his family in the middle of the night. His elderly mother shows us how she used to shake with fear.

For decades, the Turkish state has been at war with the PKK, designated a terrorist organization, not just by Turkey, but also the E.U. and the United States.

This is the largest air and ground offensive since the 1990s. Turkey says it's just trying to protect its borders and stop the Kurdish PKK fighters from moving into Syria. In October of last year, Turkey invaded neighboring Northern Syria, going after a related Kurdish group called the YPG, a sister organization to the PKK.

What makes this situation so thorny is that the Kurdish force Turkey attacked in Syria makes up the bulk of the fighting forces partnering with the U.S. in the battles against ISIS. The Americans abandoned their Kurdish allies, withdrawing from key positions. The Turks swept in. Tens of thousands of civilians fled.

Today, Turkey still occupies the border region, carrying out joint patrols with the Russians and the Americans.

KENO GABRIEL, SYRIAN DEMOCRATIC FORCES SPOKESMAN: With the presence of different forces comes the complication of the need to deal with each one of them separately, which each of them also has its own interests, its own goals.

DAMON: When it comes to the U.S., it's all about ISIS. They frequently tout their partnership fighting ISIS with the Kurdish YPG as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I want to describe how we are partnering with the SDF, the current threat from ISIS, and let you know of some other areas, some other topics where we are collaborating to help the people of this region.

DAMON: And yet, when the Kurds need big brother America, or, for that matter, anyone to step in and help them, all remain on the sidelines.

In Northern Iraq, Amir's beloved farmlands are charred, destroyed. His children miss running around outside and the cool breeze.

"Blame is shared," he says. "Our government can't do anything in the face of Turkey or the PKK. Countries need to get involved. It can't go on like this."

But it will, as it always has. The Kurds have a proverb that arose from their history of betrayal and abandonment. No friend but the mountains, they say.

Arwa Damon, CNN, Istanbul.


TAPPER: No friend but the mountains.

Our thanks to Arwa Damon for that report.

Tune in Sunday to "STATE OF THE UNION," where our guests will include White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, the majority whip of the House, James Clyburn, Congressman James Clyburn, Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas, and, of course, Stacey Abrams.

That's 9:00 a.m. and noon, only on CNN.

You can follow me on Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram. You can tweet the show @THELEADCNN.

Thanks for watching. Our coverage on CNN continues right now.