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THE SITUATION ROOM

FL Nears 500,000 Cases As Tropical Storm Disrupts State; New Infections Surge Across U.S.; CA Reports 500,000-Plus Total Cases; Controversial Pentagon Nominee Placed Into Senior Role Days After Nomination Failed; Is It Safe To Reopen The Nation's Schools?; NASA Astronauts Return To Earth After Historic SpaceX Flight. Aired 9-10p ET

Aired August 2, 2020 - 21:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[21:00:07]

WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Welcome to our viewers here in the United States and around the world. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington. This is a special edition of THE SITUATION ROOM.

And we begin tonight with a dire new warning from one of the top members of the White House coronavirus task force.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: -- we're seeing today is different from March in April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas. And to everybody who lives in a rural area you are not immune or protected from this virus. And that's why we keep saying no matter where you live in America, you need to wear a mask and socially distance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: That warning comes as the nation is seeing a sixth straight day of more than a thousand American lives being lost to the virus each and every day. Just yesterday alone, 1,133 Americans were lost. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now warning that another 20,000 Americans could die in the next three weeks alone amid this pandemic.

And the one thing we keep hearing from the nation's top health experts is that mask wearing is key in stopping the spread of this virus. But the president is contradicting his own top medical experts' suggestions to the American people to start -- to immediately start wearing masks.

He held a maskless rally in Florida, one of the hardest hit states right now, even as his top advisors are privately pleading with him to start wearing masks in public. Also today, as one of the top doctors of the coronavirus task force went on T.V. to warn Americans of yet a new phase in the pandemic, the president spent his second weekend in a row golfing. Once again, even as more than a thousand American lives have been lost each day for the past six days. While we continue to track those devastating coronavirus numbers, we're also tracking Tropical Storm Isaias. The storm is currently off Florida's East Coast bringing with it strong winds and heavy rain. And this is putting even more strain on Florida, the state is closing in on nearly half a million confirmed coronavirus cases.

CNN Meteorologist Tom Sater is joining us from the CNN Weather Center. Tom, first of all, tell us more about where the storm is heading right now. Where it's moving next?

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Wolf, its current position is about 55 miles from Cape Canaveral. It really looks like this is giving Florida a big, big break today. We've been following this for days, it moved from the Leeward Islands, flash flooding across Puerto Rico, moving into Dominican Republic, wouldn't make it over the high terrain it did.

But it's been fighting a lot of dry air. Tropical systems just do not do well in dry air and that's kept all the adverse conditions offshore. It will not make landfall in Florida. And again, good news as the storm surge is light, that forecast was reduced.

The strong winds are all embedded in the north and northeastern quadrant. So again, it does come pretty close to Cape Canaveral but with all of this severe weather, well offshore, things are looking good for them. But we're not out of the woods yet, because we've got a good 24 hours for this system to really kick up.

When you look at the amount of rainfall near the center here, if we see this cluster of storms wrapped around that center, then that core gets stronger and there could be some intensification. Could it get back to hurricane strength? It could. Could that dry air continue to battle it keeping a tropical storm status? Sure.

But we've got that 24 hours and it moves toward Charleston tomorrow night at high tide. Because we got a full moon, it's going to be massive flooding. And I think that's the big concern.

This has been moving for days as I mentioned. So with those days of intensity, it's bringing with it a lot of energy and a lot of moisture. Flash flooding is a big concern for both the Carolinas, not just coastal areas but inland, in the mountain terrain. We could have water rescues, massive flash flooding as waters already saturated the ground. It's been a terrible rainy season. Then it moves in toward Delmarva all the way up the I-95 corridor.

So the waters are warm in the Gulf Stream, that could aid in development but it really doesn't matter. You're not going to notice a big difference between being a hurricane or a tropical storm. History has shown us what tropical storms can do alone and that's a concern.

Jet stream, high pressure. There it is. By Wednesday morning, it'll be up in Maine. But the concern really is, Wolf, not just the storm surge in South Carolina, North Carolina, but the heavy amounts of rain that the system is going to get squeezed out to that region. So first responders are going to have their hands full. They're already stretched right now dealing with COVID. But water rescues and further evacuations are possible. We'll be watching it, but the next 24 hours are critical.

BLITZER: Yes, the last thing the East Coast of the United States region needs right now, this tropical storm.

Tom Sater, thanks very much. We'll continue to check back with you.

Now to the global coronavirus pandemic, new cases are surging in the U.S. And over the past week, several states have been reporting record-high number numbers of people dying from this virus.

[21:05:02]

This is especially alarming, California right now with the most confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country. More than half a million. And take a look at that sharp and steady rise in new infections. Several other states are reporting close to that high number as well.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Let's get to CNN's Jeremy Diamond over at the White House. Jeremy, the doctor who leads the president's coronavirus task force spoke to CNN earlier today to our own Dana Bash, so, where does Dr. Deborah Birx's say we stand in this awful and deadly fight against this pandemic?

Yes, Wolf. Dr. Deborah Birx telling Dana Bash this morning that we are in a new phase of the coronavirus pandemic. Making clear that the virus right now is extraordinarily widespread here in the United States. And that it's impacting both urban areas as we saw earlier on in this pandemic, as well as rural communities.

And Dr. Birx gave a specific message to those living in rural communities to make clear that you are not invincible from this virus. And as Americans are beginning to travel much more over the summer, Dr. Birx had this advice for Americans.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIRX: I could tell you across America right now, people are on the move. And so all of our discussions about social distancing and decreasing gatherings to under 10, as I traveled around the country, I saw all of America moving. And I think it's our job as public health officials to be able to get a message to each American that says if you've chosen to go on vacation, into a hotspot, you really need to come back and protect those with comorbidities and assume you're infected.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

DIAMOND: And so you can hear there, Wolf, a continued emphasis from Dr. Birx on a personal responsibility that every American can take in terms of practicing social distancing and practicing those other mitigation efforts. But Wolf, what we did not hear from Dr. Deborah Birx was anything in light of a national strategy to confront this virus or anything new that this administration is going to be doing -- to do that. She did talk about the fact that she and other members of the administration are offering more granular guidance to some of these state and local authorities.

But Wolf, this pandemic, the United States really is an outlier, particularly when you look at Europe, when you look at Asia, they have not experienced these second surge that the United States has been undergoing for the last couple of months. And so that is one of the questions that the administration still has yet to respond.

And Wolf also, as far as President Trump is concerned, we have continued to hear him over the last couple of days continue to downplay this surge in cases repeatedly and falsely claiming that testing is responsible for the rise in cases that we have seen. Of course, Wolf, we know that that is not the case. That has not been the case for the last couple of months.

BLITZER: Jeremy Diamond reporting from the White House. Thank you, Jeremy.

So what this warning means for life in the coming months. Let's bring in our medical experts. Joining us now, Dr. Esther Choo, professor of emergency medicine at the Oregon Health and Science University and Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Lifespan/Brown University in Rhode Island.

Dr. Ranney, most people want life, all of us want life to return to a sense of normality. But help us understand what we all need to do right now to try to make that possible.

DR. MEGAN RANNEY, EMERGENCY PHYSICIAN, LIFESPAN/BROWN UNIVERSITY: So here's the wonderful thing about this pandemic, Wolf, it is that we all as individual Americans have the capacity to do things that will stop the spread of this virus. Yes, we need a federal strategy. Yes, we need more testing. Yes, we need more personal protective equipment. But each of us no matter who we are has the ability ourselves to do three things.

The first is to wear a mask whenever we are out in public or with people who are not part of our immediate social circle. That's really talking about your immediate family, the people that you live with. The second thing that we all have the capability to do is to maintain that physical distancing between ourselves and other people.

And then the third thing that we have the capability to do is what Dr. Birx was talking about which is if we travel, if we are out and working or in high risk situations, we have the capability ourselves to maintain isolation until those 10 to 14 days have passed to make sure that we don't have get other people sick. We can do that today without anything else in our country changing.

BLITZER: Sadly, so many people unfortunately don't want to do that. Let's get to some specifics, Dr. Choo. How would you advise, for example, a parent right now is struggling to decide whether to send their child back to school? DR. ESTHER CHOO, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, OREGON HEALTH AND SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: Yes, that is the big question. And unfortunately, as we are starting to see from schools that considered early opening, we haven't done well enough this summer as a whole to be confident that schools can open. And many schools are making the hard decision to start with online learning only. But this has everything to do with what's happening in our community.

[21:10:04]

So again to echo Dr. Ranney, while there are certainly frustrating things in this pandemic, the lack of a national coordinated response, very frustrating limitations in testing in almost every state, there are a lot of things that we can do ourselves and so -- to affect our own community rate. So I think once again, the number one thing that affects school opening is how we're doing in our own communities.

We can all encourage each other on the local level to do those things. Avoid indoor gatherings, wear face masks religiously, really keep up with social distancing, those things will have dividends. And we can then look forward to opening schools in a number of months even if we can't do it right away in August and in early September as we hoped.

BLITZER: You know, Dr. Ranney, we all want the kids back in school, kindergarten through high school. What specifically though, must the schools do as far as social distancing and mask to keep those kids and the teachers and everybody else in the schools safe and make sure the kids don't get asymptomatic coronavirus, and they could spread it to their parents and family members and others as well.

RANNEY: Yes, Wolf. You make a really important point which is that the science is changing. And it's increasingly showing that kids do get infected, they do get sick, and they can spread it to other people in their family.

So if you are in a community where your kids have the opportunity to go back to in-person school, in addition to what Dr. Choo said about making sure that the overall rate of COVID-19 in your community is low enough for it to be safe, you still need to maintain precautions because it's really not a question of if someone in school is going to be sick, it's going to be a question of when.

So how do you protect your kid and the staff and the teachers, it's by making sure that all the kids and the teachers are wearing masks, making sure that those kids are in stable cohorts. So smaller than usual class sizes, not switching between classes, that's particularly important for middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, possibly limiting extracurricular activities.

And then, of course, if your kids have any symptoms or if there's anyone in your family who has sore throat, fever, headaches, body aches, fatigue, keep your kid home. This is not the year to push your kid to just go to school, keep them home to protect your children as well as everyone else at school.

BLITZER: We heard from some experts, Dr. Choo, this week that maybe teachers in addition to wearing a face mask should also maybe wear a whole ice shield goggles along those lines, stuff that you guys do in emergency rooms as a matter of course. So you think that's really necessary?

CHOO: I think the teachers are really our next frontline workers that will be -- that we'll be needing to take care of as they come into these highest surface area contacts with, you know, many students over many, many hours day after day. So I think those are not too much protections.

Certainly, the recommendations for wearing face masks in addition to eye covering and face shields, whenever people have prolonged contact, and we know there's so much asymptomatic transmission, I don't think that's too much.

I think wherever we can provide teachers and all the other staff that come into contact with students, remembering office staff, custodial workers, bus drivers, anybody who needs to be in indoor settings at close quarters, with many people for prolonged periods of time, we should protect them as well as we're able to.

BLITZER: Because we heard Dr. Ranney, both Dr. Fauci, Dr. Birx suggest this week there may be times when everyone, certain occasions where everyone might want to wear in addition to a face mask and eye shield some sort of protection for their eyes because you can get coronavirus through your eyes right?

RANNEY: That's absolutely right. I'm lucky I wear glasses but when I'm working in the emergency department, I too wear goggles or a face shield. Because there is evidence that this virus is spread through respiratory droplets or aerosolized droplets coming in contact with your eyes. So wearing those face shields, glasses, goggles, it certainly can't hurt, especially if you're in a close space like teachers and other staff who are in schools.

That said, if you can do nothing else, a mask alone has been shown to decrease transmission and is perhaps the most important thing we can do, especially for those of us who have to work indoors. For people like teachers, hairdressers, as Dr. Choo said bus drivers. Those masks are essential if you can add on a face shield or goggles as well. It will only help, it can't hurt.

BLITZER: Yes. That's what I've been hearing now increasingly. Dr. Choo, a study found that some people who have not had coronavirus, get this, might already have some immunity based on their T-cell reaction to the virus. Explain what that means and how this immunity might actually be possible.

[21:15:06]

CHOO: Yes. I actually haven't -- I haven't read this study, however, you know, we don't always know when we've been exposed to the virus. And many people will not be ill from the virus. And so it's positive that you can still be exposed to a viral inoculum.

And have not only antibodies which we talked a lot about, but also have a humoral response or a cellular response. And the T-cells are the memory cells of your body and they remember exposure to viruses and hang on to that memory so they can mobilize an immune response if you're exposed again.

And so that's the kind of promising response we hope to see from our immune system that will provide us protections and allow people to be able to go out into the community and have some protection against the virus. So that's a very promising finding and hopefully we'll hear more about those studies in the future.

BLITZER: Yes, we really need a therapeutic, we really need a vaccine. Until we get that, we're all going to have to continue to take all these preventive measures.

Dr. Choo, Dr. Ranney, guys, thank you very much for joining us and thanks for all the important work both of you are doing. We really are appreciative.

RANNEY: Thank you.

CHOO: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: A controversial Trump administration pick has been placed into a senior role days after his nomination hearing that was actually cancelled amid bipartisan opposition to his nomination. Our Pentagon Correspondent Ryan Browne will be here in The Situation Room. He's got new information for you when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:20:46]

BLITZER: We have much more in the coronavirus pandemic here in the United States in just a moment, but we're getting some breaking news into The Situation Room tonight. From the United States military, it's about a retired one star U.S. Army general who was, repeat, was under consideration for a top Pentagon post.

I want to go straight to our Pentagon Reporter Ryan Browne. Update our viewers Ryan, what are you learning?

RYAN BROWNE, CNN PENTAGON REPORTER: Well, Wolf, if it's been an interesting series of developments in this case involving Retired Brigadier General Anthony Tata. Now he had been tapped by the Trump administration for the top policy post at the Pentagon, it's the third highest ranking official in the Pentagon some say.

And he had been tapped for that role, however, his nomination ran into heavy headwinds when he tried to get through the Senate. The Senate had unanswered questions, they actually cancel the nomination hearing for him last week.

Once it emerged that he had made a series of controversial comments and tweets, one accusing a former CIA director of plotting to kill President Trump, another accusing President Obama of being a terrorist leader. Other comments about the Islamic faith that were deemed to be Islamophobic by many now. Now, despite that, he still continued to try and get this nomination but that collapsed last week.

We're told now that he is formally withdrawn the nomination and he has been placed in a temporary role in a senior policy position just under the job he had initially been tapped for. Now we're told President Trump directed this once the nomination collapsed.

And already this move is already being met by opposition on Capitol Hill, several top Democrats complaining saying that they've basically circumvented the Senate's role in confirming top Pentagon nominees. The top Democrat on the Senate Armed Service Committee calling it an insult to U.S. troops, calling it destabilizing.

So a lot of opposition to this, but there's nothing they can really do at this point because it is technically an acting, performing the temporary duties. But this very controversial figure put into a top Pentagon post despite these controversial comments that were unearthed by CNN's own Kfile team.

BLITZER: Yes, the Kfile, CNN's Kfile, they discovered all these ugly things he had been saying, he had been a pretty frequent contributor for Fox News. And what are we learning from our own Kaitlan Collins? So she's learned what?

BROWNE: Well, she learned that basically this all came about the direction of President Trump himself who wants it appeared that Tata would not get nominated, that they're both Democrat and Republican, let's remember it's a Republican-led Senate.

So there was opposition on both sides to his nomination based off those comments. Once they realized the opposition was too strong, President Trump directed them to do this work around, this kind of backdoor appointment, putting him into a senior policy post without the scrutiny of the Senate.

BLITZER: All right, Ryan Browne, good reporting as usual. Thank you very much.

Let's get back to the coronavirus pandemic. Another day, another coronavirus warning here in the United States. This time from a top adviser to President Trump. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIRX: But I want to be very clear, what we're seeing today is different from March in April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas. And to everybody who lives in a rural area you are not immune or protected from this virus. And that's why we keep saying no matter where you live in America, you need to wear a mask and socially distance.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Yes, you do. So is the Trump administration listening? Is the president listening? For weeks, the president and his supporters have been pushing reopening of the schools here in the United States. Joining us now, Arne Duncan. He was the secretary of education during the Obama administration. Secretary Duncan, thanks so much for joining us.

You just heard the warning from Dr. Birx. It comes hot on the heels of a CDC report on a Georgia summer camp that showed that young children even those younger than 10 appear to be efficient spreaders of coronavirus. So does it make sense right now for all schools in the United States to reopen with in-class learning?

ARNE DUNCAN, FORMER EDUCATION SECRETARY UNDER PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, as we all know, Wolf, August is back to school month and so we need to go back to school. But to answer your question directly, can we all go back to School in-person, physically in school buildings. Unfortunately the answer is we cannot.

[21:25:05]

But we need to get students learning. We need to get teachers back teaching, many places are going to have to start virtually because we haven't done what we needed to do in our country in March, in April, in May, in June, in July. Some places may be able to open on a hybrid basis. A few places might be able to open physically. But we have to have a discipline in the month of August, not just for schools but in our communities to give our children a chance to go back to school and to stay in school.

BLITZER: I want to show you and our viewers, Mr. Secretary, some of the latest data that we found. CNN researchers looked for example, at the top 100 schools, the largest 100 school districts across the United States and found the large majority of them aren't, aren't risking in-person classes right now. There -- many educators are just not comfortable with that demand that the schools reopened.

You strongly agree with that, how do we make sure the kids, the teachers, everyone who works in the schools are safe if they are going to reopen for in-class learning?

DUNCAN: Well, I think we have to start very slowly and carefully and cautiously. And whether it's opening now slowly, physically or waiting a couple months or waiting a month until things get better, where do we prioritize, Wolf. I would prioritize with our youngest students, pre-K, K, first and second. I would prioritize our students with special needs, I would prioritize those students where things may not be safe at home, the most vulnerable, most marginalized students.

And this is one, Wolf, that we just can't think about our own children, we used to think about our neighbor's children and what the right thing to do is. Now I also want your viewers to understand the degree of difficulty, the level of complexity that superintendents are grappling with every single day and working together to help each other despite the lack of federal leadership.

They're thinking about the physical infrastructure, how to keep that safe. They're thinking about mental health services, they're thinking about transportation, they're thinking about food services. And yes, trying to think about how to educate children, again, whether physically, virtually or in a hybrid situation. It's a huge degree of complexity that no other part of our society has figured out well, and somehow we're asking schools to do that.

So I just beg and plead with your audience to please do everything we can in our communities to beat this virus down. That's the best thing we can do for our kids, for our teachers, for our school systems.

BLITZER: You may have heard Dana Bash interviewed Dr. Deborah Birx earlier today on State of the Union, and they discussed what to do about schools in some of the coronavirus hotspots like Florida or Texas, California, Arizona, where the positivity rate is what, five percent or greater. Some places in Florida with 15 percent if not more. Does that mean there should only be distance learning?

DUNCAN: It does, unfortunately, and no one wants that. Parents don't want that, teachers don't want that, kids don't want that. But that is our reality. So until we see that the count going down for two weeks or so, until we see those positivity rates below five percent as you mentioned, Wolf, the only thing we can do is to go back virtually, keep kids learning, keep feeding them using schools' food distribution centers. Think about Telehealth for the kids that need, you know, mental health support.

But let's continue while we do that virtual learning, I just have to keep repeating myself, we have to continue to beat down this virus. We have to beat this pandemic so that we don't stay in that virtual world forever, that at some point in the not too distant future. Hopefully, September 1st or October 1st, when we're ready, kids can start to physically return to the schools they know and love.

BLITZER: Yes, we got to keep the kids safe, the teachers safe, everybody who works in the schools. And remember, kids, they may be asymptomatic but they can transmit this virus to their family, their parents and others as well.

Arne Duncan, thanks so much for joining us.

DUNCAN: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: So it's been more than a hundred years since the last pandemic swept across the globe. But there are so many lessons we still could learn as we face the coronavirus. John Barry, he wrote the book on pandemics, he's joining us when we come back

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:33:36]

BLITZER: Coronavirus is certainly not the first viral pandemic the world has faced which is why so many experts are turning to the deadly 1918 influenza pandemic for lessons, a century later. The historian John Barry points out that trust was a key factor then. And now, back in March he told CNN's Jake Tapper this, I'll put it up on the screen. "If you want people to comply with your recommendations and compliance is crucial to success, they have to believe you and trust you. If you doubt -- if they doubt you, they will ignore you."

John Barry is joining us right now. He's the author of the very important book, an important read entitled, "The Great Influenza", the story of the deadliest pandemic in history. There you see the book cover.

John, thanks so much for joining us. Let's talk a little bit about the lessons you've learned from them that are applicable now. We have a majority of Americans right now who don't trust the president when it comes to coronavirus. And we have a president actually that often tries to discredit some of the nation's top infectious disease doctors. So how do we fix this?

JOHN BARRY, AUTHOR, "THE GREAT INFLUENZA": It's a good question. I think CNN is doing what it can and pretty much the public health community is unanimous even, you know, Dr. Birx, obviously Tony Fauci, they're the surgeon general, everyone's singing the same tune except for the political operatives of the White House.

[21:35:04]

And fortunately there is progress, there are a lot more people wearing masks today than they were three or four weeks ago. So something is happening and the message is getting across. And, of course, even Trump has at least articulated the necessity of the masks, although based on some recent behavior is not exactly living up to it.

BLITZER: Because as you write in your book, and it's really an amazing book, the 1918 pandemic, it killed maybe 50 million, maybe a hundred million people worldwide. Were there the same kind of political divisions then here in the United States that we're seeing now?

BARRY: Well, they weren't partisan. Remember, we were at war. The result was similar and that, you know, the Woodrow Wilson administration because they were concerned that telling the truth about the virus would hurt morale and therefore hurt the war effort so they lied.

The thing is that disease was more lethal than this one and people very quickly recognized that they were being lied to which does lead to really chaos. And, I mean, we're having more chaos and we should have because of a lack of leadership from Washington.

But the situation is different. The, you know, politics are different, the partisanship is different. I think an important thing to note is that the cities in 1918 according to a fairly recent Federal Reserve study, the ones that close down the longest actually had the best economic recovery.

And regarding what's going on right now, there was a study by the University of Chicago, pretty conservative economists, and they looked at places that did and did not close down or close to each other in different states. We're talking about today and they found that only seven percent of the economic downturn could be accounted for by regulations of the state. The rest was consumer confidence.

So the conclusion is, you want to get the economy moving again, you give people confidence that they're going to be safe. And the way to do that is what every public health professional has been saying for months.

BLITZER: You're absolutely right. John Barry, thank you so much for joining us. Let me once again put the book cover up on the screen, "The Great Influenza", the story of the deadliest pandemic in history. Appreciate you joining us. We'll certainly continue our conversations down the road. I appreciate it very much.

BARRY: Thank you, thank you.

BLITZER: So there's more news we're following including more on the coronavirus, but other important news. After two months in space, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken are back on Earth following a truly historic mission. We'll update you on that when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[21:42:04]

BLITZER: Two Americans back home and safe today on planet earth after a historic trip to space. This was the splashdown moment, the splashdown moment this afternoon in the Gulf of Mexico. The private company SpaceX bringing NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley back from the International Space Station.

CNN's Innovation and Space Correspondent Rachel Crane is with us right now. Rachel, this trip made space travel history for a lot of reasons. Definitely mission accomplished for NASA and for SpaceX. Tell us about it.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: That's correct, Wolf, a truly historic day. You know, this is something that SpaceX has been working towards since its founding back in 2002. So really, 18 years in the making for them. They've been hoping to launch humans to orbit. Before now, before this mission, it's just been satellites and cargo.

So now they have become the first commercial company to successfully launch and land humans to orbit, putting them in the domains of governments. And once again, U.S. spaceflight capability has been restored to American soil. That's something we haven't had since 2011 back when the shuttle program was cancelled. We've been reliant on the Russians since then to ferry our astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station.

So, once again, historic that we have a homegrown method of getting our astronauts back and forth to the International Space Station. And today was a water landing, a splashdown as you just saw, that hasn't happened since 1975. So, you know, a lot of history made here today, Bob and Doug went on this incredible 19-hour journey leaving the International Space Station and this entire journey was autonomous. When they were re entering the Earth's atmosphere, they were traveling

at 17,500 miles per hour, they're exposed to the outside of the capsule, exposed to 3,500 degrees Fahrenheit, creates a blackout of communication. So there was you know, a lot of harrowing moments here and as you saw there, Wolf, everybody (INAUDIBLE) around the world celebrating this historic and successful splashdown.

Wolf?

BLITZER: A success indeed. Rachel Crane, thanks very much for that.

There's a breaking news coming into The Situation Room right now. Confirmation from the NFL Philadelphia Eagles that Super Bowl winning Head Coach Doug Pederson has tested positive for the coronavirus. Pederson is 52-years-old, the Eagles are slated to return to play when the NFL kicks off in early September.

This statement released just a little while ago by the Philadelphia Eagles and I'm quoting now, we have received confirmation this evening that Head Coach Doug Pederson, tested positive for COVID-19. Pederson is asymptomatic and doing well. He is currently in self-quarantine and in communication with the team's medical staff.

The organization is following the protocols established by the NFL and the NFLPA. Any individuals in close contact with Pederson at our facility have been notified and will continue with daily testing procedures and compliance with all protocols before returning to the facility.

[21:45:06]

Take a listen to this. It's Coach Pederson less than a week ago talking about how safe he feels with the coronavirus protocols in place at the Eagles' training camp. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DOUG PEDERSON, PHILADELPHIA EAGLES HEAD COACH: I feel extremely safe. You know, obviously coming into it there might have been some skepticism, you know, about the testing and the, you know, the screening that goes on. But this is very thorough and, you know, when you're here, you know, when you get tested in the morning, you got a screening process that you have to go through to get into the building, wearing masks in the building. Everywhere we go. I feel extremely safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: Once again, our breaking news, the Philadelphia Eagles Head Coach Doug Pederson, who you just saw, testing positive for the coronavirus. The team says he is not symptomatic. He's in self- quarantine. We wish him a speedy, speedy recovery.

We'll be right back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) [21:50:27]

BLITZER: Tonight, right at the top of the hour, W. Kamau Bell is back with an all new episode of United Shades of America. This week, he's looking at the public school system and he takes us to two neighboring but very different suburbs in Ohio to find out why there's such a wide achievement gap between white and black students. Here's a preview.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

W. KAMAU BELL, CNN HOST, UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA: SGORP members Natalie Green (ph) and Zach Lennard (ph) designed a flowchart to get students to question what's stopping them from taking more rigorous classes when they're open to everyone.

Are you at any honors enriched class school? Well, it was a school you've sort of had to be sort of an enriched kid to get in there. You know, I'm saying. Was I encouraged to take those classes? Not really. What is preventing me from taking those classes now? Probably of the fact I got three kids. Just really busy.

So what is your experience of school here?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My experience with the achievement gap has basically it's made classes very -- I feel very isolated. I felt like a really intense pressure to defy expectations.

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BLITZER: And W. Kamau Bell is joining us now come. Kamau, what are the some of the biggest factors contributing to the achievement gap between white and black students in this country.

BELL: Well, there's sort of two buckets I think that contribute to the achievement gap, or what I'm learning is also now called the opportunity gap. One is that we don't -- we fund schools in large part based on the tax basis of their community. So if you live in a community that has less, your school will have less pretty much automatically.

And the other thing is just the pull of systemic racism. So what kids dealing with at home, they're taking back to the school. So if you have a black kid and their parents are dealing with systemic racism in this country, that kid is affected by that on the way to school.

BLITZER: The elementary school Kamau you visited in East Cleveland, what, they're taking a more holistic approach to education to try and close the gap. Tell us about that.

BELL: Yes, they recognize that -- what I just said like when kids get to school, you can't just expect every kid to start learning right away. A lot of kids are dealing with a lot in their lives. A lot of kids also get up really early because their school is very far from away from them.

So they come to school exhausted, maybe they haven't had breakfast yet. And maybe they're also dealing with their own problems in their life.

So they start with the kids having a moment of meditation, and then the kids get to go around in a circle and talk about what they're feeling in that moment. So you can get through that and then get to learn.

BLITZER: You also visited Shaw High School in East Cleveland and they offer their students classes where they can learn practical job skills, medicine, criminal justice, culinary arts, cosmetology, does that leave them better prepared to enter the job market?

BELL: Well, I mean, I'm split on that one, it certainly means that many of them can earn adult wages in high school which is good for them. And hopefully, they can save some of that money so they can then pay for college and get into the schools they want to go to. But for a lot of them, it seems like we're doing that in the schools because they don't have access to the better schools to a college education or some of the higher institutions of higher learning in this country.

BLITZER: W. Kamau Bell, as usual, thanks so much for doing what you're doing. I just want our viewers to know, an all new episode of United States of America is coming up right at the top of the hour in a few minutes only here on CNN.

Before we go, I just want to -- actually, let's take a quick break. We'll be right back.

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[21:58:22]

BLITZER: Before we leave you tonight, one more look at the track of the dangerous storm Isaias. Florida looks to have been spared of the worst of it but a hurricane watch has just been issued for parts of The Carolinas with hurricane conditions possible Monday night into Tuesday morning. We'll watch this very closely.

And finally, I want to take a moment to honor some of the people we've lost to coronavirus. Jeff Hewson (ph) was the beloved founder and pastor of a community church in Crestwood, Kentucky. In a Facebook post last month announcing his COVID diagnosis, he urged people to wear a mask, social distance, and stay home as much as possible. Hewson passed away yesterday. He was 56-years-old.

Last Sunday, police officers in Florida mourned one of their own who lost his battle with coronavirus. Officer Corey Pendergrass had served with the Lauderhill Police Department since 1997. His chief described him as a gentle giant and mentor to fellow officers.

Also in Florida, a family lost their nana, Pat Bendel (ph) was an avid doll maker and huge Elvis fan who taught an art class at a nursing home in St. Petersburg. According to a Spectrum Bay News 9, she's one of 20 residents at a nursing home who died of the virus. Bendel (ph) was 85-years-old.

Our deepest, deepest condolences to all of these people, to their families. May these wonderful people rest in peace, and may their memories be a blessing.

Thanks very much for watching. I'll be back tomorrow in The Situation Room, 5 p.m. Eastern. "UNITED SHADES OF AMERICA" with W. Kamau Bell starts right now.