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Hurricane Threatens Possible Landfall in Florida; Florida Shuts Down State-Run Coronavirus Testing Sites Due to Hurricane; Nation's Top Health Experts to Testify before Congress; Rep. James Clyburn (D- SC) is Interviewed About Top Health Officials to Testify on Capitol Hill and Remembering Rep. John Lewis. Aired 8-8:30a ET

Aired July 31, 2020 - 08:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: Across the country coronavirus deaths are rising in 27 states with more than 1,200 American losing their lives yesterday.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Goodness, the toll just devastating. Coming up in the next hour, hard questions, hard answers. Dr. Fauci and others top health officials will be back on Capitol Hill to face questions from lawmakers, among other things, about the need for a federal strategy as well as questions about the administration's optimistic prediction that a vaccine can be 90 percent effective. Is that realistic? Dr. Fauci is urging caution around any hard predictions at this point.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: That's obviously a very optimistic estimate. We all hope it's going to be that way. But I'm not sure it will be 90 percent, but I think it's going to be reasonably good.


SCIUTTO: President Trump heads to Florida today where he says he will address the pandemic and the hurricane approaching there. It comes as the president is drawing a rare rebuke from Republicans, even one of his predecessors, for raising the alarming possibility of delaying the November election. This as more states opt for mail-in ballots due to the danger of voting in the pandemic. We should note only Congress could delay an election. The president does not have the power to do it. That said, it's part of a larger effort to delegitimize the election in advance.

CNN's Randi Kaye, she is live in Palm Beach County, Florida, with our top story this morning, that is the approaching hurricane in the midst of a pandemic storm.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Jim. Good morning to you. Third day in a row we are seeing record deaths here in the state of Florida as we wait for this hurricane approaching, 253 deaths yesterday. Florida still also leads the nation in new cases, new daily cases, nearly 10,000 yesterday, 9,956. And nearly 50 hospitals here in the state are without ICU beds at all. They have run out of them. So all of this as we're waiting for this hurricane that is brewing out there to come to Florida. It's supposed to get here on Saturday and then work its way up the east coast. We are under a tropical storm watch right now.

The question is, how do you deal with the hurricane in the midst of the pandemic? How do you safely social distance in shelters? Does FEMA have enough PPE? Are those shelters even still open? Those are a lot of questions that folks are asking this morning.

Also, the state has shut down most of its coronavirus testing sites, the state-run sites, just as the safety precaution because they're made of tents and poles and they could fly away. They wouldn't be able to withstand these hurricane force winds. So here in Palm Beach County they have closed eight overall in the hardest hit counties here in southern Florida. Miami-Dada, Broward, and Palm Beach County have closed 33 state-run testing sites. That's about the last thing you want to be happening right now in the state of Florida.

Meanwhile, all of this will probably be a big topic of conversation at the hearings which start in just about an hour from now on Capitol Hill. The nation's top leading health experts, the three top experts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the CDC's Dr. Robert Redfield, and also Admiral Brett Giroir will all be testifying. They'll be talking about trying to find the urgent need for a national comprehensive plan to contain the coronavirus. Hard to believe we're talking about that all these months later, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Yes. We'd like to hear a national plan. That would be great. Randi, thank you very much for all of your reporting.

We just got an update from the National Hurricane Center on the forecast track. So let's get right to CNN meteorologist Allison Chinchar. She is tracking it for us. So what does the latest update say, Allison?

ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, good morning, Alisyn. The latest update still has the sustained wind speeds at 80 miles an hour, gusting up to 100 miles per hour, and moving to the northwest at about 17 miles an hour. For some perspective, that's pretty fast for a tropical system, especially as it's kind of sliding through this particular region as it makes its way towards the Bahamas as well as Florida. And that's the track is expected to go with Isaias over the next 24 to 48 hours.

Florida is still technically in the cone, meaning we cannot rule out a potential landfall in Florida. But the models are starting to trend a little bit farther to the east, which means that a landfall over the Carolinas is also likely. It just would be about a day or two later as it continues to slide up the east coast, up towards other places like New York and Massachusetts.

We talk about the models, the two biggest ones we often compare them to are the American model and the European model. One of the biggest differences we are noticing with these two right now is the timing. Both of these images are from Monday at 1:00 a.m. eastern time. Notice how much considerably slower the European model is, has it much farther south just off of the east coast of Melbourne at that point where the American model has it significant farther to the north.

But remember, these are just two of several models, some of which, by the way, still want to have a landfall over Florida. So again, this is why we cannot rule it out, even though there are others that would prefer to have that landfall be over areas of the Carolinas.


We do have hurricane warnings in effect for the Bahamas, and also, Alisyn, we do have tropical storm watches out for portions of Florida. This does include Miami and it does include Ft. Lauderdale, so certainly something we'll have to keep a close eye on over the next 24 to 48 hours.

CAMEROTA: OK, thank you for watching it for us. We will check back with you.

So the east coast this morning is dealing with these dueling emergencies, the hurricane and the pandemic. Joining us now is CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and Dr. Leana Wen. She's the former Baltimore City Health Commissioner and emergency room physician. So Dr. Wen, I want to start with you, no stranger to emergencies and how health officials begin to prepare for them. So what's happening in Florida right as they're trying to deal with this horrible death toll from the coronavirus? Again, it keeps spiking, and now a hurricane is knocking on their door.

DR. LEANA WEN, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: It's the double whammy, and we have to remember that it's the same individuals who have already been responding to COVID-19 who are now also going to be tasked with responding to this emergency as well. And at the same time, it's the same individuals who are the most affected, who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 who are also going to be hit again. And so I do really worry about what's coming our way. I worry about the fact that these testing sites are going to be closed. And yet the test positivity rates in Florida are already so high, and of course, what happens when individuals have to be in packed indoor shelters, and in close proximity without the ability to social distance, and what they may do, what that might do to the infection rates.

SCIUTTO: Sanjay, I want to look at the infection rate in Florida. We have a graphic of this, at a very high level flattening somewhat at the top. And this reflects a pattern nationally as well. We have a graphic of that. Again, flattening a bit, not rising quite as sharply, though it's still at a high level. What does this tell us? Does this tell us that at least the beginning steps toward mask wearing and reinstitution of stay-at-home orders, et cetera, closing bars, is working?

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I think that it's a little early to say that that's what these numbers are reflecting exactly. We do know that those things work, Jim. It's just that when we follow these numbers day to day or even week to week, it's sometimes hard to really overanalyze these numbers. I want to see those trends continue for a period of time.

I think there's no question that those things that you mentioned, and we can put up a few of the things that Dr. Fauci talked about last night in terms of what really works in terms of actually bringing the numbers down -- wearing masks consistently, maintaining physical distance, closing these indoor gatherings, bars, restaurants, avoiding those, avoiding large crowds, washing hands, all things that we have talked about for months.

But the reason I point them out again is because, to your question, that is what ultimately has brought the numbers down to very, very low levels in places all over the world, down to one in a million or one in 100,000 people being infected. So that is possibly driving the numbers down in Florida, but we have got to watch this. And we've also got to keep in mind that a couple from weeks now there may be an increase in hospitalizations still because of that lag time over the recent increase number of people infected.

Dr. Wen, are you familiar with this new study about kids, about children under the age of five, that they show that they -- unlike not having viral load, which is maybe what we thought for a while, or at least lay people thought, they have a huge viral load. Much more is found of the virus in their nasal passages than we previously knew. Is that because kids are mucusy, as we all know, or what are to make of that's where they're harboring the virus? And what happens if they have that much of a viral load that they're carrying around?

WEN: Yes, so we don't know. I think it's an open question about kids and transmissibility of this virus. So previously there was this big study from South Korea that found that kids 10 and older are just as likely to transmit the virus as adults, but kids younger than 10 are less likely to transmit. And now we have the study looking at the nasal passages in children that found that some of these children -- it's 10 to 100 times the amount of genetic material of the virus than older people, which is a huge amount. But we don't know whether the amount of virus that's found in their nasal passage translates to how much they're able to transmit the virus. But it does seem to at least make the picture more complex.

And as we think about school openings, we remember that children are not in a bubble. Even if kids themselves don't get as sick as adults, they're going to be around adults, they're around parents and grandparents, their teachers and staff at these schools.


And we have to think about what that level of virus might mean for transmitting it to others, and then changing the dynamics of the virus in the community as well.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Gupta, we're going to have a hearing in a little less than an hour. Dr. Fauci, other top health officials, they'll be answering questions on the Hill. It's interesting, as you know, the administration tried to muzzle Dr. Fauci, attack his credibility. That has stopped, but the president continues to share at best specious claims about, for instance, hydroxychloroquine, even yesterday saying at the White House podium that kids are protected in ways that they're actually not based on the science. But I wonder bigger picture, do you sense that the dial turning away from some of that disinformation towards hard facts, are we seeing that in people's behaviors, for instance, in mask wearing, et cetera?

GUPTA: I think with regard to what people are doing, I do think what happens in a lot of these places, and we saw it in the northeast, was that you run into the situation where it becomes quite dire. You see a lot of people who are becoming infected, hospitals starting to become overcrowded, and then all of a sudden, there is this realization that we should wear masks and we should keep physical distance, we should close down bars, things like that. And then it does bring the numbers down.

Unfortunately, we have to redline, it seems in some of these areas, before we come to that point. Same thing happened here in the south. We're likely to see that same sort of thing happen in the Midwest now, so these moving waves around the country.

As far as the disinformation, I don't know, Jim. I think it's a very good question. I think that it comes in what spurts, it seems. I was quite surprised that there was retweeting of things that were demonstrably false, that the FDA had weighed in on and rendered a verdict on with regard to hydroxychloroquine, and it keeps coming up. It's a waste of time. It's a waste of resources. It's a waste of energy and it taking our eye off the ball.

There is a way out of this, and it's not just a vaccine or a convalescent serum. Those would be great things. But there's a way out of this, or at least a way to a much more normal way of life without those things, and because we have focused on things that have been proven not to work for so long we've missed it. That's why, as Dr. Fauci said last night, we're probably in the first or the second inning of this game where we could have been in the seventh or eighth inning in this game at this point.

So here we are. So I hope -- Jim, I hope we stop focusing on disinformation that we keep having to fact check that. But I'm not entirely clear that that will happen.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, on a brighter note, is there this new study that shows there may be more immunity, just sort of natural, I guess, immunity out there than we had known?

GUPTA: Yes. This is a really fascinating study. I have been keeping an eye on this. The basic premise was, look, 80 percent of people really get minimum or no symptoms from this, which is great, right? Eighty percent, that has sort of held up since the initial data from Wuhan. And we have an idea of who is vulnerable. People who are older, people who have preexisting conditions, that makes them more susceptible. But is there something that's protective?

So take a look here at this graphic. What they found was that they were looking at the convalescent serum, they were looking at the blood of people who had recovered from this, and they found that in people who had gone through this had a significant amount of what's called T cell reactivity, that the T cells were quite reactive, able to generate an immune response quickly.

But what was surprising was they went back and looked at blood as a control, and going back earlier than 2018 in people who could have never been exposed to this virus, and what they found is that there was a significant percentage of people, 35 percent of people, who also had T cell reactivity to this coronavirus. Again, there is no way they could have been exposed to the virus and yet they have the T cell reactivity, which sort of basically is suggesting that other coronavirus, even including coronaviruses that are responsible for the common cold that a lot of us in the world have been exposed to at some point or another, may be providing some immunity. We don't know for sure, but if that's the case, that could be significant towards helping immunize the world.

SCIUTTO: We are learning so much about this every day, every week. Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Dr. Leana Wen, great to have you on, as always.

Well, the nation's top health officials, they're going to testify again on Capitol Hill in just minutes, the top of the hour. Up next, we're going to speak to the chairman of House panel holding this important hearing.



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN ANCHOR: In less than an hour, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top health officials will testify before a House committee on the national strategy to fight this pandemic, if there is a national strategy.

Joining us now is the chair of that subcommittee hearing today, and that is Congressman James Clyburn. He is also the House majority whip.

Congressman Clyburn, I know you have a busy morning. Thank you for joining us.

So you're trying to figure out what is the national strategy six months into this and if there is a national strategy. And is it true that when you asked the White House for witnesses, for experts to come and testify at this hearing, they at first declined to send any and you had to contact Vice President Pence, head of the Coronavirus Task Force, personally to get them to change their minds?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me.

I'm not too sure what got them to change their minds. We've been going through what we consider to be a pretty natural administrative process, trying to realize or get the realization of what the administration is doing.

It's very clear that we are losing this battle to this pandemic and it didn't have to be that way. All we need is a national strategy that all 50 states and the territories, I might add, can buy into. It looks to us like in many -- in fact in most of the other countries, they have either flattened the curve or they are moving downward in these infections. But here, in the United States, it seems to be out of control.

CAMEROTA: Yeah and --

CLYBURN: And we would like to have the national leaders --


CLYBURN: I'm sorry?

CAMEROTA: Yes and ten days ago -- ten days ago, President Trump promised that they were, quote, developing a powerful strategy.


And then, yesterday, President Trump in his briefing I think tried to explain what that strategy is.

Here is that moment.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We are in the process of developing a strategy that's going to be very, very powerful. We develop them as we go along.


CAMEROTA: That was the original one. I'm hoping that we have what he said yesterday.

Producers, do we have -- here it is.


TRUMP: I think you're seeing it and I think you will see it. And one of the things that we have done that we're getting -- it hasn't been utilized fully yet, but we're all set to march when it comes to the vaccine. We have great therapeutics. And the delivery system is all set logistically. We have a general -- that that's all he does, is deliver things, whether it's soldiers or other items, and I think you're going to see something that's going to be spectacular.


CAMEROTA: Congressman, is that the national strategy we've been waiting for?

CLYBURN: Not me, and I don't think the American people. That's illusionary.

What we want to see is a plan laid out in writing, given directions to all of the states on how this is going -- how we're going about this, stopping this competition between the states. Letting the experts do the work.

What we have found in our investigation thus far is one thing that's being said by the president when he's before the cameras and then they are sending written stuff out to the states that they are not following.

I sent a letter to four states several days ago, in fact, before I sent the letter to Vice President Pence, asking them why are they not following this written directives that they seem to be getting, but instead are responding to the politics of the matter.

The president is still being political. We are looking for leadership, practical leadership that makes sense when it comes to fighting this virus. We don't need platitudes. We want some principles and policies, lay it out in such a way that the American people can buy into it.

We're demonstrating with all we're doing. We're wearing the masks. People are challenging the school opening because they want to go with science and this president is still being political, laying out futuristic stuff that may or may not ever happen.

CAMEROTA: And when you pointed out that discrepancy to Vice President Pence, what was his response?

CLYBURN: Well, later today, Dr. Fauci and three others -- two others will come before the committee. They will lay out for the American people exactly what they think we ought to be doing and I would like for people to be tuning into that and listen to them.

Don't be paying attention to these press conferences that are floating around. Listen to the experts, and they will be with us at 9:00 this morning and I believe they will give the kind of honest, productive discussions that will lead the American people to a better place when it comes to this virus.

CAMEROTA: OK. We will be watching them for information later today. Let's talk about what happened yesterday and that was Congressman John Lewis' funeral. Three former presidents were there. They spoke powerfully and poignantly about John Lewis.

So let's just play a little bit of that.


GEORGE W. BUSH, FORMER PRESIDENT: We live in a better and nobler country today because of John Lewis and his abiding faith in the power of God, in the power of democracy, and in the power of love to lift us all to a higher ground.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT: John Lewis was a walking rebuke to people who thought, well, we ain't there yet, we've been working a long time. Isn't it time to bag it? He kept moving.

BARACK OBAMA, FORMER PRESIDENT: And some day when we do finish that long journey towards freedom, when we do form a more perfect union, whether it's years from now or decades or even if it takes another two centuries, John Lewis will be a founding father of that fuller, fairer, better America.


CAMEROTA: Congressman, what did you hear in those messages and the subtext of those messages?

CLYBURN: Well, I hear what this country is all about, in search of a more perfect union. That's what those three presidents were talking about yesterday, moving forward. The backdrop to yesterday's services was John's last written words published by "The New York Times" on the day of his funeral, where he admonished that we should keep marching forward.


None of us believe that this is the perfect country. We know how great this country is. John was trying to get this country's greatness accessible to everybody, affordable by everybody, and that's what those three presidents were talking about on yesterday.

Several days ago, I referred to George W. Bush as a good friend of mine and someone asked me, did you really mean that? I think they saw yesterday that yes, I really mean that, because I've had bipartisan experiences with him that the whole world got to see yesterday.

So here we are with two Democratic former presidents, one Republican, the speaker, the Democratic speaker of the House and just local people. Reverend Lawson, Reverend Lawson who taught John Lewis, and also I (ph) attended community centers several years ago taught me some of what I know and feel about this movement, all talking about a great man who we've lost for the greatness that will continue to live on in all of us, and hopefully, our children and grandchildren as well.

CAMEROTA: Congressman James Clyburn, thank you. Great to talk to you this morning.

CLYBURN: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: So what happens if President Trump refuses to accept the results of the November election? Well, we're going to talk to two political pros who have been preparing for that very scenario in case it happens. That's next.