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Dr. Birx: U.S. in New Phase with More Widespread Cases; Warnings Extended as Storm Isaias Moves Along U.S. East Coast; California Wildfire Forces Thousands from Their Homes; Australia's Sate of Victoria Imposing New Restrictions; "Major Incident" Declared in Greater Manchester. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2020 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a warning for Americans from a top member of the White House coronavirus task force. Dr. Deborah Birx says an ominous new phase is on the horizon.


DR. DEBORAH BIRX, WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS RESPONSE COORDINATOR: But I want to be very clear, what we're seeing today is different from March and April. It is extraordinarily widespread. It's into the rural as equal urban areas. And to everyone 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.


CHURCH: The U.S. now has more than 4.6 million known coronavirus cases. Roughly a quarter of the world's total. More than 154,000 Americans have died. A new projection from the CDC suggests another 18,000 or more people could die in the next three weeks.

Meanwhile, the test positivity rate which shows how fast the virus is spreading is going up. It's rising across 2/3 of the U.S. compared to last week. New infection numbers are holding steady in about half the country but they're still high. Florida and California seen in red here are the most dangerous hot spots.

And U.S. President Donald Trump spent Sunday playing golf without a mask. It's his 284th visit to one of his own clubs since taking office. And in the midst of mixed messages, Mr. Trump has used much rosier terms to describe the outbreak than his top experts. Jeremy Diamond has more on that.


JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, in recent days we have watched as President Trump has continued to downplay the severity of the coronavirus falsely claiming time and again that the rising cases that we are seeing in the U.S. is due to an increase in testing. And the President also continuing to hawk hydroxychloroquine, that drug that has proved in multiple studies to be an ineffective treatment for coronavirus.

But the message that we are hearing from the public health experts within this very same administration is very, very different. Including the message that we heard on Sunday from Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator. She made clear that this epidemic in the United States currently is extremely widespread. Making clear that it's happening not just in the urban areas where we saw the early days of this pandemic but also in rural communities. And she gave a message specifically to those rural communities encouraging them to practice those mitigation efforts. Listen to her warning about the seriousness of the situation in the United States.

BIRX: We are in a new phase and that's why I really wanted to make it clear to the American people. It's why we started putting out governor reports directly to the health officials and governors in every single state. Because we could see that each state had to be tailored.

This epidemic right now is different and it's more widespread and it's both rural and urban.

DIAMOND: Now Dr. Birx did say that she is seeing something that is, quote, a bit reassuring, and that is the notion that it appears that cases in the West and the South may be beginning to plateau or even decline. Saying that it seems that those mitigation efforts that have been put in place in some of those states are working. But she is also making clear that the states that are beginning to see even slight increases in their test positivity rate, for example, need to immediately begin to slow down their reopening plans and implement those mitigation efforts.

Jeremy Diamond, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: And Dr. Birx is also defending her handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. Speaking with CNN Sunday, Dr. Birx took issue with a "New York Times" story from last month detailing her role. But she had nothing but kind words for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi despite reports that Pelosi had strongly criticized Dr. Birx last week. When questioned about it, Pelosi didn't back down.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA) U.S. HOUSE SPEAKER: I think the President is spreading disinformation about the virus and she is his -- she is his appointee. So I don't have confidence there, no.



BIRX: I have tremendous respect for the Speaker. I mean, I have tremendous respect for her long dedication to the American people and I think it was unfortunate that "New York Times" wrote this article without speaking to me. I have never been called Pollyannaish or nonscientific or non-data driven. And I will stake my 40-year career on those fundamental principles of utilizing data to really implement better programs to save more lives.


CHURCH: Joining me is Dr. Ali Khan. Dr. Khan is the Dean of the University of Nebraska Medical Center's College of Public Health. Thank you so much for being with us, doctor.



CHURCH: So White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx warned Americans over the weekend that the coronavirus is now more widespread than ever in both rural and urban areas. Not only did she insist that everyone wear a mask in public, but she also said that anyone living in a multi-generational home should consider wearing a mask inside the house if they're in a high-risk group.

So Dr. Birx blamed the increase in cases on people refusing to wear masks and social distance. But is it enough to blame people without following that up with a national mask mandate? Wouldn't that make sense?

KHAN: Oh, absolutely. And so, there's actually probably three questions in that statement of yours. So because of the greatest public health failure in the United States ever. We have gone from approximately 100 cases per million per day to 200 cases per million per day. So there's no doubt the disease is more widespread because of our failed response than it had been previously. And there's also no doubt that if everybody wore masks, we would get those cases down.

However, that's only part of the picture. And we should be very careful about shifting blame for the failed public health response to individuals. So yes, individuals need to wear mask but the government needs to do its job in leadership in use of data and in dropping community transmission with test and trace and isolation.

CHURCH: And Dr. Birx also defended herself against accusations from Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the Trump administration is spreading disinformation on COVID-19. Now there is no evidence that Dr. Birx is doing that but she did say there are reassuring signs being seen regarding COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in the West and South of this country. Do you see any reassuring signs?

KHAN: Nationally I see no reassuring signs. And with all due respect to Dr. Deborah Birx and her scientific expertise, we don't have a national strategy. And our current national strategy to me seems to be 1,000 deaths per day national strategy. So this is a herd immunity national strategy while we wait for a vaccine and protect vulnerable individuals. We'll see a thousand deaths per day. CHURCH: And White House testing are -- Admiral Giroir says that wearing masks and avoiding indoor gatherings would have the same effect as a total shutdown. Do you agree with the admiral on that and again, why does the following through with a national mask mandate with that?

KHAN: So getting this outbreak under control is going to require a lot of different things. Mask wearing is appropriate, avoiding gatherings is appropriate, but where is the test and trace? Where is the leadership so we don't have the disinformation that were saying right now. Where's the isolation of people who have disease? Where's timely testing? Where's robust testing? It's very easy to go point at individuals and say it's your fault. But this outbreak is the biggest public health failure ever in the United States. And the government needs to step up with leadership.

CHURCH: Many thanks to Dr. Khan there.

Well, Storm warnings have been extended further along the U.S. East Coast as tropical storm Isaias is expected to grow to hurricane strength when it reaches the Carolinas later today. Alerts have been issued up and down the eastern seaboard in advance of these storms projected moved northward. The tropical storm is bringing heavy wind, rain and rough tides to Florida now after slamming into the Bahamas on Sunday. So let's turn to our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri. He joins us now live. Good to see you, Pedram. So what are you seeing in the next few hours and days?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: You know, the storm has the potential, as you mentioned, to strengthen. We know the Gulf stream just north of this region where this system is going to be parked over within the next couple of hours, and it really doesn't take much to get this to a hurricane. Just 4 miles per hour shy of what is be designated as a category one hurricane. Sits about 65 miles off the east coast of Florida. But the tropical storm force winds extend about 115 miles away from the centers. So we are feeling those tropical force winds on the right on the immediate coast.

And again, you kind of look at this track and see where it's headed. The steering environment is such here, we do have high pressure to its east. We have a jet stream trying to push it back towards the east as well. And if you put this in place, essentially, it's going to skirt the eastern coastline whether it makes landfall across the Carolinas, reemerges back over portions of the northeastern U.S. We're going to watch that carefully. But if the next landfall is to occur, we think it would happen in about a 24-hour period from right now.

So essentially, Tuesday morning local time across this region somewhere between the borders of states of the North and South Carolina, say around Myrtle Beach, that's where the most likely scenario is of a tropical storm, potentially a strong one or a week hurricane, category one, making landfall across this region.


And then eventually, by Tuesday night into Wednesday morning potentially still a tropical storm would be approaching areas of northeastern United States. More on that in a minute though.

But look at this, 2 to 4 feet, that's the storm surge from areas around Edisto Beach up towards Charleston, around Myrtle Beach as well. Keep in mind this is the day here. It is a full moon today which means the astronomical high tide for the entire month of August is taking place on this Monday. You look at the timing, the high tide is expected to be around 9 p.m. in Charleston at about 6 1/4 feet and 2 to 4 feet on top of that could take the water levels up to 10 feet above what is considered normal. And of course, that would bring water right into the heart of historic Charleston. As often is the case of with these sort of tropical systems.

And notice with that as well tremendous rainfall following suit. And we know the flood watches have been prompted across this region of the Carolinas on its way to the northeast. So you put all of this together, Rosemary, 50, 60 and 70 mile per hour winds on top of a saturated soil that also leads to power outages. Of course, the concerns could be rather widespread there for the northeast. So we'll watch this because of course, power outages, the pandemic and typically slower and timed responses to these sort of events could really make it a difficult go in the next few days in that region.

CHURCH: Yes, as you point out this along with the pandemic, it's too much for many families to have to handle. Pedram, many thanks for bringing us up to speed on that situation.

And then on the other side of the U.S. where the pandemic is also raging, of course, they are dealing with a wildfire. Thousands of people have been driven from their homes in Southern California due to this. The U.S. Forest Service says the Apple fire has scorched more than 20,000 acres, that's 8,000 hectares. So far, no injuries reported. Local fire officials say the mountainous landscape is making it difficult to put out the flames.


LISA COX, FIRE INFORMATION OFFICER, SAN BERNARDINO NATIONAL FOREST: We've got extremely steep, rugged terrain. We have many different drainages that are all kind of intersecting together and that creates these funneling effects of different wind patterns and creates more erratic fire behavior. And with that we have very thick brush. Including this really flammable ecosystem called chaparral that likes to burn. And it hasn't burned here in a long time. We don't have a lot of fire history in the area.


CHURCH: At least one home and two other buildings have been destroyed by the fire. California has the nation's highest number of COVID-19 cases and evacuation centers are of course requiring masks and social distancing.

After the break, one of Australia's most popular states declares a state of disaster after hundreds of new COVID-19 infections are reported. The latest on the situation in Victoria. That's next.


CHURCH: New stricter lockdown measures are now taking effect in parts of Australia's state of Victoria in an attempt to fight surging coronavirus cases. The Premier of Victoria declared a state of disaster after almost 700 new infections and 7 deaths were recorded Saturday. Tight restrictions, which include a nightly curfew for Melbourne will be in effect for six weeks.

So let's go now to CNN's Anna Coren. She joins us live from Hong Kong. Good to see you, Anna. So Australia was so successful in containing this virus the first time it hit, and now it's responding quickly again with severe and strict measures. So talk to us about that and the very latest on this.

ANNA COREN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Rosemary, we have to remember that for the last month the city of Melbourne, Australia's second largest city with 5 million residents, have been under the stage three lockdown. So they've certainly been limited as to their activities. They cannot leave Melbourne. They cannot leave Victoria's borders. But despite those restrictions, the number of daily infections have been growing every single day. It's 4, 500 cases. Last week it got up to 700 cases.

So officials realized that their strategy was not working, that they had to impose a much harsher restrictions. Hence, stage 4 restrictions were announced yesterday. That, as you eluded to, means a curfew, 8 p.m. through to 5 a.m. no one is allowed out on the streets. All non- essential businesses will be closed for the next six weeks along with schools and childcare centers. And only one member of each household will be allowed to leave the house and shop for groceries each day.

People are allowed outside to exercise but only for one hour each day.

The Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said that this will cause substantial pain, there is no doubt about it, but this is the only way to control this crisis. He said there is no stage 5. This is all they've got in their bag of tricks.

And even the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, he spoke a short time ago and he said what Victoria is doing is necessary. It's obviously heartbreaking. Extremely frustrating for those people who have been under lockdown for the last month. They now have another six weeks of even harsher restrictions ahead of them. But he said that this needs to happen to really bring this pandemic under control. He is offering payments, disaster payments of up to $1,000 to every Victorian who tests positive saying there should be no economic reason for people who are infected to not self-isolate for 14 days.

Because as we know, Rosemary, there were Victorians who were still going out to work when they were sick, when they had gone and had tests and were waiting results. Even those who had tested positive for coronavirus. They were still going into the workplace. Hence, this has spread like wildfire in Melbourne. People have not been taking it seriously enough, have been lax in their approach.

[04:20:00] Hence, the government is coming saying that this needs to happen to bring these numbers down -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Anna Coren joining us live from Hong Kong bringing us up to date on the situation in Australia. Appreciate it.

Well earlier I talked to Catherine Bennett, a professor and chair in epidemiology at Deakin University in Melbourne. And I asked her if she thought these new measures would be taken seriously and be successful?


CATHERINE BENNETT, EPIDEMIOLOGY CHAIR, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY: Well we did so well with the first wave. We had lots of cases imported to Australia with return travelers and we did go very quickly to quite a strict lockdown at the time, which we called stage 3. And that had a great impact in that we eliminated local transmission pretty much across the country and we were managing return travelers really as our main concern for most of you know, May and June.

When we saw the cases rise, which was due to essentially a reintroduction of the virus through return travelers and a breakdown in quarantine in their hotel quarantine system, we ended up with quite a rapid rise in cases quite quickly. But because we had such an early investment from the first phase and we only had just over a 100 deaths Australia wide to that point, the decision was made to really go hard again to see whether we could contain this early.

Unfortunately like with other countries, there's a different dynamic with the second wave. There is a lot of fatigue. People perhaps in Australia didn't take it as seriously because we had done the right things and gotten off lightly in the first phase. But it proved really challenging even with stage three and produced in the city of Melbourne to fully contain this.

We did flatten the curve. So while we saw the numbers rise quite quickly, for the last week it's been relatively stable and I think we're beyond the peak. But there just wasn't enough push, you know, in terms of people's compliance to actually start to really bring the numbers down. And that's what led to this next level of restrictions to really try and shorten this now, get the numbers down and get us back to a point where we're hopeful we can really suppress the virus and perhaps eliminate local transmission again if we get it right.

CHURCH: Yes, indeed, and of course, Australians like Americans and British citizens, are not comfortable wearing masks. And there has been considerable push back. But on the whole, people are starting to get used to the idea. As an epidemiologist, do you think life can return to some level of normal as long as people wear masks in all public places and could this be a way to avoid severe shutdowns once Australia and Victoria have gotten through this stage of course? But you know, avoid those severe shutdowns that inevitably lead to economic stress which creates a whole new set of problems of its own?

BENNETT: Absolutely. Look, it's interesting how people have adopted masks. There was initially a lot more talk and push back but in fact in Melbourne, before we even went to mandatory masks, you know, I went to my local supermarket and at least half the people there were wearing masks. So it's going to become much more of the norm. And I think when that happens it's easier to understand, you know, how effective it can be, so what compliance looks like. And if enough people are wearing it, then it does allow you to perhaps ease some other restrictions as we go ahead that make life more bearable and more sustainable from an economic point of view.

But also, you know, factors in even what is the new norm, which is keeping up with social distancing is very important. The hand hygiene remains, you know, critical. But if that all becomes more habitual along with mask wearing, then we probably are in a position where we can look to ease restrictions again, but we have to stay on alert. The Victorian story tells us what, you know, it was probably one traveler, some security guards became infected at work, took it back to different parts of the community where they were really well-connected just as we were relaxing restrictions. And like other countries in the world, you just see how quickly can fly.

So even with masks and other precautions, we always have to stay on the lookout for signals that a new level of community transmission might be taking off and then do what is happening in New South Wales, going in very aggressively with contact tracing and testing very early. That's the only way you can pull these outbreaks back and stop these waves.


CHURCH: Catherine Bennett talking to me last hour.

Well, authorities in the British city of Manchester have declared a major incident after a recent rise in coronavirus infections. Officials say this will allow agencies to better coordinate their response. The U.K. government has already tightened restrictions in northern England, including banning people from mingling with those from other households.


The U.K. has over 306,000 cases of coronavirus, that's according to Johns Hopkins University, and the fourth highest number of coronavirus related deaths worldwide with more than 46,000.

So let's get more details now on this with CNN's Nic Robertson. He joins us from Downing Street. Good to see you, Nic. So what more are you learning about this rapid rise in cases in the city of Manchester?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Yes, this affects a large number of people, actually, Rosemary. About 2.7 million people live in the greater Manchester area. So they all fall under there. So what the local authorities are trying to do is essentially allow them to better manages the government's latest instructions for the people of greater Manchester and some other areas in Yorkshire and Lancaster that are close by.

And those instructions, as you say, households should not mingle, either within the house or in pubs or restaurants, that's a very clear piece of guidance. And that's been given because quite simply the government's been able to look at the statistics of who's getting infected and how and see how the majority of infections are sort of leading to reasons for infections are either somebody coming into your house and spending time in your house or you going into somebody else's house and spending time there.

So this is what's caused the government to late last week put this new plan in place for these particular areas. But greater Manchester has ten different council areas, and what they are seeing in the worst affected of those, and they've all nine of the ten have all risen remarkably quickly to worrying levels. All of them, population about 1/4 million, is the worst affected. And there they've seen the rates of infection per 100,000, the sort of number 100,000 the numbers we're sort of used to hearing it, compared to rise over the past couple of weeks from 41 to 62 to 148. So they've really moved very quickly. And that seems to be the new sort of methodology for the government.

But what's been done in Manchester now sort of takes it to a new level. You essentially put all the local services under a central command. They get access to better and quicker resources. And I think the expectation in the country at the moment is this could become the model that would be applied to other areas.

The government recognizes and the Prime Minister has said he's had to put the brakes on some of the easing measures that were due to come into effect over the weekend. For example, weddings were supposed to be added go ahead to involve groups of up to 30 people at the reception. That's all been put on hold because the Prime Minister thinks there's a second wave coming.

CHURCH: And that is the big concern for sure. Nic Robertson live from 10 Downing Street in London. Many thanks.

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