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Virtual Democratic National Convention Kicks Off Today; Mayor Robert Garcia (D-Long Beach) Discusses Coronavirus & Being 1 of 17 Giving Key Addresses at Democratic National Convention; Jimbo Jackson, Fort Braden School Principal, Discusses Concerns over Sending Kids Back to Class; Slow Recruiting of Blacks, Latinos for Trials Could Delay Vaccine. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 17, 2020 - 11:30   ET




KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Nothing about 2020 has been normal or gone according to plan. And the Democratic National Convention kicking off today will be no exception.

The four-day convention will feature some of the party's biggest names, but not all in one place. All speaking remotely, on tape and live, from locations really across the country.

And it's all culminating with the presumptive Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, accepting the party's nomination for president on Thursday.

Another change coming tomorrow, on Tuesday, is the keynote address. It will not be given by just one person. Instead, this year, the keynote will be shared by 17 of the Democratic Party's rising stars.

My next guest is one of them, about to give the keynote. But just weeks after tragedy, losing his father and step-mother to coronavirus.

Here with me now is Robert Garcia, the mayor of Long Beach, California.

Mayor, thank you for being here.

I want to talk about the convention in just a second.

But first, you've found yourself in this unbelievable circumstance, facing this deep personal loss of your mother and step-father who died weeks apart just weeks ago. And you have no time to mourn as you are leading your city, your community in the midst of this health crisis.

How are you doing?

MAYOR ROBERT GARCIA (D-LONG BEACH): It's obviously tough any time you lose your parents. It's hard for anyone. My mom was an amazing person. My step-dad was an amazing person. I miss them greatly.

At the same time, I'm still mayor of my city. And when had you sign up to be mayor of any community, it includes leading during tough times.

And in my mom's final days, we talked about how important it was to maintain strength and keep people safe. And we have to do a better job across this country, here at home, to make sure people stay healthy and safe.

So we have to keep going and keep moving. But I'm certainly mourning both of their loss.

BOLDUAN: The numbers in L.A. County are not good. Long Beach reported close to 800 new cases last week.

And one message that you have been hitting on, which is honestly striking to me, because the message is: Please remember that COVID-19 is real.

This many months into this, why is that a message that people still need to hear? It makes me sad.

GARCIA: It's sad and infuriating. This can happen to anybody.

My mom was a health care worker for almost 30 years. She was the most careful person that I knew. She understood COVID as real. She wore PPE to work.

I'm part of a family that understands. I grew up in clinics. So if this could happen to my mom, the most careful person I know, it can happen to anyone.

People need to understand this is real. This is not a hoax. People need to take this seriously. People need to wear a mask, wash their hands.

And it's affected me in a real way. It could happen to anyone's parents. It could be anyone's kids. More young people are now getting COVID-19.

I'm especially upset seeing younger people out there being so care less. This is a time for self-sacrifice and for being strong and brave. And being brave is being careful and taking care of the most vulnerable in our community.

BOLDUAN: It makes me so sad that you would even need -- need to be the message now, that people are not taking this seriously and thinking it as a hoax. It is -- infuriating is a good word for it.

Now you're speaking during the Democratic convention and part of the keynote address tomorrow night. What do you want to say? What do you want to convey to people?

GARCIA: We want to try to convey that this is a moment to change the country. COVID-19 is just one example of how much failure there's been in this administration as it relates to people's health. We have to turn the page and elect Joe Biden and our own state Senator

Kamala Harris as vice president.

So I think the keynote address will be about the future, not just those giving the address but a way of looking and turning the page.

What does a future with Joe Biden look like? How can Vice President Kamala Harris really set the tone for racial justice and equality in health care?

We'll talk about all those issues tomorrow night. And we hope people tune in all week. And, most importantly, elect Joe Biden this November.

BOLDUAN: This moment for you, for any public official, is a major career moment, getting a slot at the Democratic, Republican -- no matter the party -- convention. And one that I'm sure you would want to share with your mom and step-dad.

What is this moment like without them here for it?


GARCIA: I thought about that a lot actually.

You know, my mom -- I'm an immigrant. We immigrated to the United States when I was 5 years old. She was young.

And the one thing she always believed in, as an immigrant, it's so important to become citizens. I was 21 when I became a citizen. She became a citizen before me.

A lot of hard work. And one thing she said about this country was to always give back. We can never give back what this country has given to us.

And so as an immigrant, I think about my mom and how hard she worked to get us here. So tomorrow night will be a special moment. I know she will be watching in her own way.

And I'm proud of her and of Greg, of the work they have done to help this country. And I'm going to do everything I can to ensure, come this November, that we have a country that supports all people, including immigrants like my mom.

BOLDUAN: The way you talk about your mom is a beautiful thing.

Mayor Garcia, thank you for being here.

GARCIA: Thank you.

BOLDUAN: You can watch the mayor, you can watch all of the special coverage that begins tonight, the first night of the Democratic National Convention. That begins at 8:00 p.m. Eastern, live on CNN.

Coming up for us, more than 160 students and staff are now quarantined in one school district in Florida. Three people connected to another Florida school have died of COVID. And yet, they still plan to open for in-person learning. The principal of have school joins me live.



BOLDUAN: In Florida, things are not going smoothly. Take Martin County schools. It didn't even get through the first week of classes before more than 150 students and 11 staff were potentially exposed to COVID in four different schools. The students are now quarantined and learning remotely.

On the other side of the state, in Tallahassee's Leon County, a single K-8 school has seen three people connected with the school die from COVID. And the principal himself has battled the virus.

Joining me right now is that principal of the Fort Braden School, Jimbo Jackson.

Principal, thanks so much for being here.

You are required by the state to reopen, offering students in-person learning. But you have made very clear, Principal, that you hope all families still choose to stay home and start the cool year learning online.

Why is that?

JIMBO JACKSON, PRINCIPAL, FORT BRADEN SCHOOL: Thank you, Kate, for reaching out to us today.

I think our greatest concern is the safety of our staff and our students and our connected school families with our recent state mandate to have face-to-face and brick-and-mortar learning.

We have extreme concerns. But more importantly, because we're no longer a number and just a statistic, losing two active staff members and then a relative of one of our staff members and former employee. It's hit really close to home.

BOLDUAN: No kidding. I mean, essentially though, Principal, are you saying to families you should not trust the system? We are not prepared right now. Is that correct?

JACKSON: No, I can't say that. What I can say is that the recent trend or the numbers have gone down.

But we also know that during the time period from August 1st to August 14th, the positive rates for children that were 18 and under is now at 14 percent over that two-week period. That then would probably indicate that there's still a significant risk.

And the CDC has recommended that schools can return once the rate -- positivity rate in a county or in a district or municipality is under 5 percent for 14 consecutive days. Those are our biggest concerns. That and ensuring the safety of staff,

paraprofessionals, support staff and our students, who travel back and forth to homes each day that may have folks that are compromised health-wise.

BOLDUAN: And you have just mentioned this, but you have a very unique perspective in all of this. Three people connected to the school have died of COVID.

As I'm reading, one before them is a 19-year-old custodian. His mother and also the person who manages after-school programming at the school. That's a tragedy. And that was all in July.

On top of that, in July, you and your wife got COVID.

How has all of this changed your view on the school year?

JACKSON: I think that it has heightened and made me more aware in my other role as a local county commissioner. We have established a local mask mandate.

But more importantly, as a school principal, and someone responsible for all of these folks, you know, in anticipation of merely 450 kids returning to our school campus -- excuse me, 450 kids and staff members returning to our campus on August 31st, we have a great concern about their safety.


The last thing that I want is to have another employee or, even worse, a child to become either seriously ill or possibly experience a fatal case of COVID-19.

BOLDUAN: Look, just to put a fine point on it, with the direction that things are in the state right now, as you kind of point out, the direction things are going, can you guarantee that that is not going to happen when students come back into your school in two weeks?

JACKSON: I think our district has done a really great job. Our local school district here has done a great job of being faced with the statewide mandate or lose funding. I think it comes to about $182 million for our particular district that would be -- we would be basically bankrupt if those fees were pulled.

Our district has done a phenomenal job of preparing as much as possible. But as I've mentioned before, you can't prepare for an unseen assailant or unseen intruder.

We do all types of drills for emergencies and tornadoes and fires and even an active-school shooter, but there's no foolproof way to have a drill to avoid a COVID-19 infection.

Going through that personally and being fairly incapacitated for about 13 days has given me each more understanding, as well as walking through the funerals and the memorial services with families of these three people that were very dear to us. BOLDUAN: Oh, that breaks my heart.

You are in an impossible position. I mean, as I'm kind of listening to you, what do you say to the governor and, honestly, the state education commissioner about the position that you and the entire school is in and the pressure that you're feeling from the state? You could be bankrupt without the funding.

But you also know it's not safe -- it's not safe enough for people to be in in-person learning.

JACKSON: I would say, again, our school superintendent, Rocky Hanna, has showed incredible leadership during this time being faced with an enforced mandate to offer brick-and-mortar experiences.

Schools are in and of themselves a social experience. Our children, we will have to re-train them, and even the youngest in kindergarten, 4 and 5 years old, to not socialize with each other, to not have tag games, to not borrow supplies from each other.

Those are things that become very difficult to mitigate in school social setting.

I don't know exactly the right answers. I wish I did, because if I did, I could share with all of the principals and superintendents all over our nation.

It will be a very difficult challenge. But I'm lucky to have some of the very best teachers and staff anywhere that will help me to walk this difficult challenge together.

BOLDUAN: Well, Principal, first and foremost, I'm so sorry for your loss and the school community's loss of three people who are clearly very dear to you.

Thank you for what you're doing and for being in it together with the teachers and students and all the families trying to get this right in really difficult circumstances.

Thank you.

JACKSON: Thank you, Kate. We look forward to a great school year. And hopefully, we won't have to rely on luck and happenstance to keep everyone safe.

BOLDUAN: No kidding. Your lips to God's ears.

Thank you, sir.

Coming up next, we know the pandemic is hitting communities of color hardest in the United States. Now we're learning about a new problem that could make it even worse and even delay finding a vaccine.


[11:53:23] BOLDUAN: Researchers are working at record speed to develop a coronavirus vaccine but they're running into trouble. Not enough black and Latino volunteers are signing up for the next phase of clinical trials.

While people of color are disproportionately impacted by coronavirus, they're underrepresented among the 350,000 people signing up for the trials so far.

Let's bring with CNN's Elizabeth Cohen on this one.

You have exclusive data, Elizabeth, on the real problem here. Lay it out for us.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. If we don't get enough black and Latino participants in these trials, it is very clear, by federal law and NIH policies, the results will not be valid.

So let's take a look at what those numbers are, Kate. CNN obtained this data.

And what it shows is that 350,000 people have registered online to join a trial It doesn't mean they've joined it but they've registered online to be contracted.

And 10 percent of those people are black and Latino. And more than half of the cases in the United States are black and Latino. So you can see that those proportions do not match.

And when I asked Dr. Francis Collins, the head of the NIH, what grade would you give this effort to reach minorities in this first trial which is currently going on, and he said, I would give it a "C" -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Is there a reason we know why they have such a tough time recruiting minorities?

COHEN: Kate, in talking to African-American leaders, they have said to me, look, there's just a historical mistrust based on some really, really terrible things that the medical community has done to black people.


There's the Tuskegee experiment that was done from around the 1930s to the 1970s, in which black men were abused in clinical trials. They didn't even know they were part of a clinical trial. They were being experimented on. They weren't given penicillin, which would have helped their syphilis. And there are many other examples.

And currently, there are still injustices against blacks and Latinos in the medical system. And so it's hard to convince them, hey, roll up your sleeve, let us give you an experimental vaccine.

BOLDUAN: Much more public outreach is needed on that. Elizabeth, thank you so much for bringing that important report to us.

COHEN: Thanks.

BOLDUAN: Ahead, what to expect tonight as the Democrats kick off their convention in the midst of the most unprecedented election season.