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President Trump Denied Truth to Americans about the Pandemic; Three Dead as Oregon Fires Force Thousands from Homes; Europe's Largest Migrant Camp Devastated by Fire; Arson Suspected in Fire at Europe's Largest Migrant Camp; Woodward Book Exposes Kim Jong-un's Fawning Letters to Trump; Phase 3 Trial of Chinese Vaccine Begins in Peru; Seniors in Retirement Community Become Online Tutors. Aired 12- 1a ET

Aired September 10, 2020 - 00:00   ET




KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN HOST (voice-over): And welcome to you, our viewers joining us from all over the world, I'm Kim Brunhuber.

Coming up on CNN NEWSROOM, what Donald Trump knew: in newly released audio recordings, the president admits he downplayed the coronavirus threat.

An unprecedented number of wildfires raging up and down the U.S. West Coast, now turning deadly.

And smoldering ruins: all that remains of Europe's largest refugee camp after it burned to the ground. Now more than 13,000 migrants are without shelter.


BRUNHUBER: We begin with the bombshell revelations in a new book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward, audio recordings show Donald Trump knew in early February just how contagious and deadly the coronavirus was. But for months at the U.S. president intentionally downplayed the danger.

Now these revelations come as global deaths from coronavirus pass the 900,000 mark. And here in the U.S., more than 190,000 people have died. CNN's Jim Acosta reports.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): President Trump's lengthy record of false statements on the coronavirus may well be catching up with him.

In writing his new book about the Trump presidency, "Rage," journalist Bob Woodward recorded the president admitting on tape that he intentionally downplayed the severity of the virus. DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down --



TRUMP: -- because I don't want to create a panic.

ACOSTA: Responding to the book, the president insisted he only wanted to keep people from panicking.

TRUMP: I'm a cheerleader for this country. I love our country. And I don't want people to be frightened. I don't want to create panic. We want to show confidence. We want to show strength.

ACOSTA: Mr. Trump then argued he is not responsible for the approximately 190,000 Americans who died from the virus.

TRUMP: I think, if we didn't do what we did, we would have had millions of people die.

ACOSTA: In a sign the White House was initially caught by surprise by the recordings, Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany tried to deny what is clearly caught on tape and lied to reporters.

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president never downplayed the virus. Once again, the president expressed calm.

ACOSTA: In perhaps the most stunning revelation from Woodward's conversations with the president, Mr. Trump acknowledges in early February that COVID-19 is more deadly than the seasonal flu.

TRUMP: It goes -- it goes through air, Bob. That's always tougher than the touch.

The touch, you don't have to touch things, right? But the air, you just breathe the air and that's how it's passed. And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one.

It's also more deadly than your -- -- even your strenuous flus.

ACOSTA: And yet, on March 9, the president tweeted: "COVID-19 is not as dangerous as the flu."

As he held packed rallies during the early months of the pandemic, the president told the public that the coronavirus would disappear.

TRUMP: It's going to disappear one day. It's like a miracle. It will disappear. It will go away. You know it is going away.

ACOSTA: But listen to what the president told Woodward on March 19, that the virus poses a danger to Americans young and old.

TRUMP: Now it's turning out it's not just old people, Bob, but just today and yesterday, some startling facts came out. It's not just old -- older.

WOODWARD: Yes, exactly.

TRUMP: Young people too, plenty of young people.

ACOSTA: In the months that followed the president argued it was safe for children to go back to school.

TRUMP: If you look at children, children are almost and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few.

They have got stronger -- hard to believe. I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. And they do it. They don't have a problem.

ACOSTA: Woodward reports, top officials around Mr. President Trump raised questions about his leadership. Dr. Anthony Fauci is said to have described the president's "attention span is like a minus number. His sole purpose is to get reelected."

Fauci responded to that on FOX.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I don't really want to get involved in the kind of stuff that is very distracting to the kind of things I'm trying to do and that we're all trying to do with this outbreak.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So, you would question that account, then?

FAUCI: Yes. Yes.

ACOSTA (voice-over): Woodward writes, former Defense Secretary James Mattis believed that Mr. Trump was dangerous and unfit.

An aide to Mattis, Woodward says, overheard Mr. Trump say, "My F-ing generals are a bunch of p*ssies."

On the Black Lives Matter movement, the president blows off Woodward's question about whether Mr. Trump is blinded by white privilege.

WOODWARD: Do you have any sense that that privilege has isolated and put you in a cave, to a certain extent, as it put me and I think lots of white privileged people in a cave and that we have to work our way out of it to understand the anger and the pain particularly black people feel in this country?

Do you --

TRUMP: No. You -- you really drank the Kool-Aid, didn't you?

Listen to you. Wow.

No, I don't feel that at all. ACOSTA: White House officials are now pointing fingers over who is to blame for allowing the president to talk to Bob Woodward. Multiple sources tell us the president and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, signed off on the interviews.

But the president appears to have only himself to blame, as we are told he went around his own press office to speak with the legendary journalist -- Jim Acosta, CNN, the White House.


BRUNHUBER: Well, Democratic hopeful Joe Biden wasted no time in response to the revelations. In a exclusive interview with CNN 's Jake Tapper, he called the president's actions "disgusting."



And what he doing the whole time?

He acknowledges you breathe it, it's in the air and he won't put on a mask. He's talking about, it's ridiculous to put on mask.

What do you need social distancing for?

Why have any of these rules?

It was all about making sure the stock market didn't come down, that his wealthy friends didn't lose any money. And that he could say that, in fact, anything that happened had nothing to do with him. He waved the white flag. He walked away. He didn't do a damn thing.

Think about it. Think about what he did not do and it's almost criminal.


BRUNHUBER: Senior political reporter for "The Guardian," Daniel Strauss, joins me now from Washington.

And also joining me is Scott Jennings, CNN political commentator and former special assistant to George W. Bush and he joins me from Louisville, Kentucky.

So, gentlemen, the key question, will this matter?

Scott, first, to you.

Will Trump supporters care that he's been lying to them all this time about COVID-19?

SCOTT JENNINGS, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I think Trump's most committed supporters aren't likely to break off of him. If you are looking at it from a pure political science or campaign strategy matter, what percentage of the electorate is still undecided, it's a small portion.

And then you have people on the margins that supported Trump in '16, maybe drifted towards Democrats in '18 and Trump is trying to reel them in. So I think the core Trump supporter doesn't care about what Bob Woodward said.

But again, this is a close election so it's the folks on the margins really matter and I guess we'll have to see how they take the news for the next few days.

BRUNHUBER: Daniel, is that right, sort of looking beyond his support base, will this resonate in swing states among the two undecided people in the country?

DANIEL STRAUSS, "THE GUARDIAN": I mean, at this point, it's hard to tell. I think in addition to what Scott said, you just have to keep in mind that polls have been pretty static so far. And really, at this point, the Trump campaign is counting on some kind of unforeseen factor that polling and the other metrics we usually follow aren't picking up.

At the same time, though, I just can't help thinking of that comment he made years ago when he said he could go out onto Fifth Avenue and shoot someone and not lose any support.


STRAUSS: His hardcore base is not going to move.

BRUNHUBER: That's exactly it. I want to ask Scott that.

Why would he tell a reporter that he's been essentially lying to his own supporters?

Is it, that you know, Fifth Avenue line?

Is it that he knows his supporters won't leave him, they won't hear about it or they will explain it away or they just will care about other identity issues that are more central?

Why would he do this?

JENNINGS: Well, I'd like to -- I mean, I obviously haven't seen the book, so I haven't seen the larger context for the comments that he made, so I couldn't really tell you the answer to that.

I would add, though, something to Daniel's comment, which is how are people going to react?

I think the cohort of voters that I'm looking to see how they react are senior citizens. There is some evidence in the polling right now, the president is a little softer with seniors than he was in '16 and some pollsters attribute that to his job approval on coronavirus today.

And that's before the Woodward revelations. So the thing I'll be tracking most closely is senior citizens in states like Florida, Arizona, with high senior populations. And if he gets softer with seniors, then you might be able to draw a line between this and that but we are a few days away from knowing that.

BRUNHUBER: Daniel, I mean, what does this say about the White House leadership, those around the president?


BRUNHUBER: That he was allowed to give this interview?

STRAUSS: I mean, it says that Trump is very much the boss and as his aides are pointing out right now, when the president of the United States, this president, decides to do something, it is very, very hard to change his mind.

In this case, he thought, unlike Woodward's last book, if he gave Woodward a lot of time and access, he could charm his way out of a negative sort of product. And at least right now, that doesn't seem to be what happened.

BRUNHUBER: All right, well, staying with you, yet another potential scandal, a whistleblower says appointees in the Department of Homeland Security told officials to modify intelligence assessments to downplay Russia's efforts to interfere in the U.S., as well as downplay the threat posed by white supremacists. Now DHS has denied the claim.

But what do you make of this?

STRAUSS: I mean, listen, this adds to the list of questions that I think critics of the Trump administration have to ask about how the cabinet secretaries are running their agencies. But there's a lot we don't know right now and I think we need to see more.

BRUNHUBER: Scott, maybe another example of the administration politicizing intelligence?

You know, Republicans are trying to smear the whistleblower's character.

But is that the defense, here that he's not reliable?

JENNINGS: Well, I agree with Daniel. I think we don't know very much about this. We have some anonymous sourcing here, not a lot of meat on these bones. And as it relates to Russia, generally, I think the battle lines on this are drawn. Republicans think the whole Russia, you know, storyline is a hoax, perpetrated by the Democrats.

The Democrats think, you know, Russia is running the country. I'm not certain this sort of subtext is going to change those dynamics, you know, this close to the election.

BRUNHUBER: Sticking with you, Joe Biden, Republicans have been accusing him of basically staying in his basement.

What does he need to do now? Does he have to get out there more, in front of the public, or is his best strategy just like, Trump, like, do what you're doing?

JENNINGS: Well, I mean, their strategy so far is to try to let Trump, sort, of drill himself into the ground. And they're ahead. If you look, objectively speaking, look at the national polls, they've got a lead. If you look at the swing state polls, he has a lead, it's a smaller lead than the national spread but it still looks like Biden is ahead.

I don't think he can totally sit out the next 50 days. Obvious he has to go to a few debates and do some things. But right now, their goal, I would, think, at the Biden campaign, is to make this thing a total referendum on Trump and to try to present Biden as just a nicer person with some empathy, you know, abilities.

And that's what they are doing and Trump's objective is to draw Biden out. I do think Biden, going out and campaigning in some of the swing states, is a nod to the fact that the campaign may have tightened a bit in the swing states, especially in the upper Midwest.

But right now, I think the president is playing from behind and it's largely because Biden is succeeding and making the campaign a referendum on Trump. And Trump needs to make it a choice between policies that the Republicans prefer and policies that the liberal Democrats would implement.

BRUNHUBER: All right, we will have to leave it there. Thank you so much for joining, us Daniel Strauss and Scott Jennings. We appreciate you both coming on.

JENNINGS: Thank you.

STRAUSS: Thanks.

BRUNHUBER: Meanwhile, a top member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force is providing a different take on the president's response to the pandemic.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says he doesn't think the president distorted facts about the virus, at least the facts that were discussed during task force meetings. Here's what he told FOX News.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: He really didn't say anything different than we discussed when we were with him. So I may not be tuned into the right thing that they are talking about.

But I didn't really see any discrepancies between what he told us and what we told him and what he ultimately came out publicly and said.


BRUNHUBER: Dr. Peter Hotez is a professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine and he joins me now from Houston, Texas.

Thanks for joining me, Doctor. As a physician, as someone who spent countless hours on our very airwaves, trying to convince Americans how serious this pandemic, I just want to get your reaction to the president's deliberately downplaying the virus.

DR. PETER HOTEZ, PROFESSOR AND DEAN OF TROPICAL MEDICINE, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, this has been a ongoing situation since the beginning. We kept on hearing that it was the flu or a cold. And then we heard that 99 percent of the cases are harmless or that the rise in hospitalizations is due to catching up with elective surgeries.

It's more than just omission. I think this has a lot of elements of a deliberate disinformation campaign and it's been very deadly.


HOTEZ: We have the simple reality that we're now heading towards 200,000 deaths, American deaths by the end of September. And that represents 20 percent of the world's deaths in this pandemic, so we have been the epicenter since the beginning.

And so much of it has been because of disinformation but also the fact that the White House has never made a good faith effort to lead a national strategy for control. It was always up to the states to figure it out with the U.S. government providing backup support.

And it was a failed strategy from the beginning. And it is just so profoundly devastating, especially when you look at the death toll in the low income neighborhoods, African American, Hispanic American, Native American communities, it's just absolutely heartbreaking.

BRUNHUBER: To be clear, do you think people will have died because of those words?

Because the president deliberately downplayed the severity of this?

HOTEZ: I see this as a failed strategy from the White House due to the lack of organizing a national strategy, a national plan but also the fact that there was deliberate disinformation.

So people never wore masks when they should have. They ignored social distancing mandates. No question that this is probably responsible for a significant number of American deaths.

BRUNHUBER: Do you think we may be on the other side now, this could be a turning point, proof to the disbeliever that the only COVID hoax is that the hoax itself wasn't real?

HOTEZ: It's hard to know. We still have a lot of Americans who are still uninformed about the COVID-19 epidemic. And you know, without a national plan and a national strategy and a national road map, it is really hard to see how this turns around.

We've had some decline now in the number of new cases but many of us expect a recurrence this fall, as schools are forced to reopen in areas where there is still a lot of transmission, colleges reopening.

So we, many of us, think that, while the cases are starting to go down, it's just a matter of time before it starts to increase. And the models are devastating. The models tell us 300,000 cases by December, 300,000 deaths by December 1. And potentially even 400,000 deaths by the end of the year.

So this, without question, represents the greatest public health failure in the United States over the last hundred years.

BRUNHUBER: The hope, of course, is for a vaccine, the president trying to sell the country on the idea that a vaccine will be soon at hand, perhaps before the election.

But today we heard from the director of the NIH that it will probably be toward the end of the year. There's no way of knowing when it will come.

Are you worried that we're seeing something as important as the effort to find a vaccine drawn into the political arena?

And are you confident that science will prevail?

HOTEZ: Yes, this is a big worry, that there will be pressure to release a vaccine before the election. But the reality is that, given the fact that we require 2 doses for each of Operation Warp Speed vaccines have gone through phase 1 trials so far, by the time you provide 2 doses of the vaccine and collect enough information on 30,000 volunteers, giving those two doses and giving it time to see if there's a difference between those vaccinated and those who receive placebo, there is no way we will have that information by the election.

And even doing it by the end of the year is going to be a stretch. So I think our regulatory systems are robust enough and the scientific community is strong enough to hold the line.

But I am quite worried about this politicization of vaccines. And I think we are in for a very interesting ride this fall. I tell my colleagues, put your tray table seat in the upright and locked position because we're going to be in for a interesting ride.

BRUNHUBER: Interesting right to say the least. Thank you so much for speaking with us, Dr. Peter Hotez, always appreciate it.

HOTEZ: Thanks so much.

BRUNHUBER: America's beloved city by the bay looks a lot more like Mars these days. A look here. Coming up, wildfires are painting western skies red and are growing more dangerous by the day.

Plus Europe's largest migrant camp ravaged by flames. Potentially a deliberate act, leaving some of the world's most vulnerable without shelter.

[00:20:00] BRUNHUBER: Stay with us.




BRUNHUBER: The latest wildfires tormenting the western U.S. aren't just dangerous and destructive; they've now turned deadly. At least 6 people have been found dead in just the past few hours. In Marion County, Oregon, two bodies were found during a search and rescue mission. The area is in a state of emergency.

Three people have been killed by the fast-moving North Complex fire in Northern California. It's less than 40 percent contained.

And in Washington State, a wildfire claimed the life of a child. Two relatives of that child, a man and a woman, are in critical condition.

This video from the south of Portland, Oregon, was shot in the afternoon with fires and smoke tinting the sky a deep red. One family camping in the area had to escape the flames as the fire quickly closed in.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are we going to be OK?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're going to be great.


BRUNHUBER: You can see flames on both sides of the road there as the couple fled the area with their young daughter.

And here spooky orange and red skies are also startling millions of people in California's Bay Area even though there is no direct threat.

Well, hot, dry windy conditions are fueling these fires, some 28 million people are now under red flag warnings across five states and more than 145,000 households and businesses are without electricity. Lucy Kafanov shows us the scary conditions in Clackamas County, Oregon.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The situation here in Oregon is incredibly dangerous. All across the state, including Clackamas County where I'm located right now, this is Oregon's third most populous county. It is under a level three mandatory evacuation order.

I'm going to step out of the shot so you could see the scene behind me. The fires out there in the distance moving forward because of these high wind conditions and incredibly dry air. Those weather conditions preventing rescue and fire teams from being able to even begin to try and contain these fires. The focus, right, now is on preventing the loss of life, on evacuating people.

Oregon governor Kate Brown describing these fires as, quote, "unprecedented." She says this could be the greatest loss of human lives on property due to wildfire in our state's history. No parts of Oregon are affected at the moment.

The problem with these weather conditions is that some of the fires are merging, so things could get a lot more worse before they get better. We are expecting a potential change in the weather conditions in about a day, or two, with cooler western winds coming in that have more moisture in the air.

But, again, the question, really, is how much of these properties, how much of these areas will burn before those conditions change?

Again, 0 percent containment right now


KAFANOV: Oregon also struggling because neighboring California and Washington State struggling with their own fires. We know that some firefighters will be deploying from Utah to help the state. The National Guard has been activated as well.

But this is, again, a historic, unprecedented fire event across the state of Oregon. Folks are on high alert. Authorities telling people not to gamble with their lives, to get out before it is too late -- Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Clackamas County, Oregon.


BRUNHUBER: The largest refugee camp in Europe has been completely destroyed by fire and Greece's minister for migration says it was apparently done on purpose. The Moria refugee camp is on the Greek island of Lesbos. It's been a temporary home for about 13,000 migrants, more than six times its maximum capacity. CNN's Phil Black shows us the nightmare people there are going through.


PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): There's almost nothing left of Moria. Mostly ash, some charred ruins. Fences buckled by the flames.

The destruction is so complete. It's almost hard to picture what was here, a vast settlement of makeshift tents and shacks, more like a slum than a camp, spreading out through the surrounding hills and olive grass. We saw it back in March.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is simply the scale of it, it is extraordinary in size.

The conditions were appalling, little food, freshwater or sanitation. A facility built to care for a touch of over 2,000 people overwhelmed by a population then of around 18,000, people from many countries, many families with children, and some just weeks old.

There is an awareness at the highest levels of the Greek government that this place is abhorrent and shameful, and it can't be allowed to go on. Its plan is to build a new purpose-built facility.

But the government's efforts were blocked by angry Greeks who say they just want their island back because on Lesbos, Europe's migrant crisis never ended.

For five years, boats continued crossing from Turkey with numbers spiking again in late 2019. The migrants desperately dreaming of Europe were blocked from traveling further and forced to live in Moria's filth.

Temperatures were rising on Lesbos, long before flames tore through the camp. Its population had recently dropped to 13,000 because of efforts to speed up asylum applications. But with so many still living with filth and hopelessness, aid workers have predicted that pressure was going to blow.


The final trigger? The COVID-19 lockdown. A small number in the camp tested positive, and no one was allowed to leave. Witnesses say anger spread, and fires were lit, ultimately destroying a site long considered a symbol of Europe's collective failure to help some of the world's most desperate people.

Phil Black, CNN, London.


KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR: Ahead this hour, more from Bob Woodward's explosive book on President Donald Trump, including transcripts of those love letters from Kim Jong-un. Stay with us.


BRUNHUBER: All right, so remember back in 2018 when Donald Trump said he and Kim Jong-un fell in love? Well, excerpts of letters from the North Korean dictator in Bob Woodward's new book paints quite a relationship.

One reads, 'Even now I cannot forget the moment of history when I firmly held your Excellency's hand at the beautiful and sacred location as the whole world watched with great interest and helped relieve the honor of that day." Interesting.

Well, CNN's Paula Hancocks is live in Seoul, South Korea, with more. Fascinating stuff here. You know, Let's go to the movie, one of the more notable lines of this nascent bromance.

So we already knew that the road to President Trump's heart is paved with flattery. What are we to make of all of this? PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Kim, certainly,

these -- these letters do make interesting reading. There's 25 of them, apparently, that Bob Woodward says that he was able to see, 27 in all, but two of them Donald Trump had already tweeted about.

Now the U.S. president had always called these letters love letters. And what Bob Woodward calls them is a diplomatic courtship. And through the chronology of these letters, you really see the relationship between the two of them very strong at the beginning but then deteriorating as relations between the U.S. and North Korea deteriorate, as well.

Now, it should be pointed out that, to some, the language that Kim Jong-un uses does appear to be over the top or flowery, but this is the way that we -- we read North Korean news every day. This is the way that it is written. It is more descriptive than you might expect.


So we really did, as you just quoted that one particular letter, see Kim Jong-un with the right amount of flattery for the U.S. president, knowing that that was a good way to go. And also saying that a second meeting could be reminiscent of a scene from a fantasy film.

Now in one of the -- the quotes that Bob Woodward uses from the U.S. president, it's after the Singapore summit in 2018, and it is around the Hanoi summit in 2019, which was not going as well as expected.

And according to Bob Woodward, the U.S. president said to the North Korean leader, "Do you ever do anything other than send rockets up to the air? Let's go to a movie together. Let's go play a round of golf."

Now, we know that that particular summit did not end well, both sides walking away without an agreement.

And then after that snap meeting at the DMZ in June of 2019, just a month later, you could really the front see the frustration from the North Korean leader in one of those letters, saying, "I am clearly offended, and I do not want to hide this feeling from you. I am really very offended," pointing out that he was proud and honored to be able to be so candid with the U.S. president. But you really do see the level of frustration from the North Korean leader there, as well.

And one interesting point to mention, as well, that Bob Woodward said, that after it was clear to the U.S. president that he had seen these letters, he claims that -- that President Trump actually called him and said, Do not mock Kim Jong-un. Do not mock the North Korean leader. Showing that he has an understanding of -- of North Korea -- Kim.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. Very interesting stuff. All right. Thank you so much. Paula Hancocks in Seoul. Appreciate it.

Well, Latin America and the Caribbean are anxiously awaiting a coronavirus vaccine as the region surpasses 300,000 deaths. And thousands in Peru are volunteering in the clinical trial of a Chinese vaccine.

CNN's Matt Rivers has the details.


MATT RIVERS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, we know that several countries across Latin America have been playing a crucial role in the development of what will hopefully be an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19. Part of the reason is because this pandemic has hit this region extremely hard and also because there is some existing health infrastructure in some of these countries that allow these clinical trials to be carried out the way they need to be.

The latest information that we got comes from the country of Peru. It was announced on Wednesday that Phase 3 clinical trials of a vaccine currently being developed by Chinese state-owned pharmaceutical company Sinopharm. Those Phase 3 trials began on Wednesday, that trial expected to include roughly 6,000 participants.

Meanwhile, here in Mexico, an announcement about a -- a Russian developed vaccine. In fact, Russia's sovereign wealth found announced that Mexico will receive 32 million doses of a Russian-developed vaccine, which the fund says is good enough to help roughly 25 percent of Mexico's total population.

Those deliveries are expected to begin in November of this year. This deal, of course, though, pending approval by Mexican regulators.

Matt Rivers, CNN, Mexico City.


BRUNHUBER: Still ahead, engaging with the outside world after months in isolation. We'll tell you about a virtual program that connects seniors with students. You want to see that. Stay with us.



BRUNHUBER: After months of being cooped up during the pandemic, some seniors in the U.S. now have a way to stay engaged with the outside world. A retirement community in Virginia has started a problem program that lets qualified seniors tutor students online.


NEOLA WALLER, TUTOR: Hi, Lily. I'm Neola Waller.

BRUNHUBER (voice-over): A former high school math teacher for more than 30 years, Neola Waller now has a new pupil for the first time in a long time.

WALLER: I love to teach. So having a student will be a nice change for me, and if I can help her, then I'll feel I was a success. BRUNHUBER: During months of lockdown in the coronavirus pandemic, Mrs.

Waller is one of the seniors at her retirement community in Virginia Beach who's become a virtual tutor. She'll be helping eighth grader Lily Yale with geometry as Lily begins the semester, like many students across the U.S., going to school online.

ALEXANDRA YALE, MOTHER OF STUDENT: I was concerned, because at the end of last year, Lily did have some trouble, like, getting used to the virtual learning program. It just eases my mind and know that she has the support and guidance from Ms. Waller.

LILY YALE, STUDENT: Instead of me having to raise my hand while being in a room with, like, over 30 other classmates, I can, like, actually ask my questions.

BRUNHUBER: Lily and Mrs. Waller were paired as part of an initiative developed by the Westminster Canterbury Retirement Community. It's the first to offer residents a specialized tablet named the Birdsong with content aimed at improving cognitive health and keeping seniors connected.

WALLER: This looked like a wonderful opportunity to engage with a student to have fun and to get me something to do.

BRUNHUBER: Still in its trial stages, the program focuses on retired former educators leveraging decades of experience in topics ranging from math to history, like Robert Felty. He'll be tutoring his grandson, who's a freshman in high school a few states away.

ROBERT FELTY, VIRTUAL TUTOR: I will help him via the tablet, Birdsong tablet, to -- to do history and tell a little bit about where I've been and my father being in World War II, in the Army, the Air Force. I look forward to it. And I get to see him. It's nice to be involved.

What classes are you going to be taking?

BRUNHUBER: After years working in military intelligence, Mr. Felty says he trained more than 10,000 Navy police, teaching up to three classes a day before he retired.

Like Mrs. Waller, he's been on lockdown since March.

FELTY: Westminster gave me a chance to reach out and do something for the community. And I like young people. God bless them. We need them.

BRUNHUBER: Mr. Felty plans to tutor his grandson at least once a week to start, and Mrs. Waller intends to meet with Lily two or three times weekly, for now.

FELTY: I might even get better at it as it goes along. What an opportunity, a big chance to maybe feel relevant and needed.

WALLER: It would be nice if they would do this across the nation. It would be good for the tutors and the tutorees or whatever you call them.


BRUNHUBER: A great program.

You're watching CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back with more news next hour. First, though, WORLD SPORT after the break.