Return to Transcripts main page


North Carolina Mails Out Absentee Ballots; U.S. Wildfires; Coronavirus Pandemic; Afghan Government And Taliban Begin Peace Talks; Former Officers Charged In George Floyd's Death Appear In Court; Osaka And Azarenka Go Head To Head In New York. Aired 5-6a ET

Aired September 12, 2020 - 05:00   ET




NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Raging out of control: wildfires are burning up and down the U.S. West Coast, as authorities in Oregon warn of a mass fatality incident.

An influential model in the United States says coronavirus deaths could double by January. We'll talk about that.

And Afghan leaders open historic talks with the Taliban. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo is there, too, urging all sides to seize the opportunity.

Live from CNN headquarters in Atlanta, welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. I'm Natalie Allen and this is CNN NEWSROOM.


ALLEN: Thank you for joining us this hour.

This year's fire season in the western U.S. is already one of the worst ever recorded. More than 100 massive wildfires, 100, are now racing unchecked through 1 dozen states, pushed by hot winds across bone-dry landscapes. At least 26 people have been killed since the fires broke out in mid-August.

And in an ominous sign, the death toll almost certainly will go much higher. Oregon officials are preparing for mass fatalities, as they search through burned-out homes and communities. The governor says dozens of people currently are unaccounted for and she issued this dire warning.


GOV. KATE BROWN (D-OR): I can't say this enough, if you are notified by emergency officials to evacuate, please do so immediately. You may not get a second chance.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: California, where at least 19 people have died, is battling about 2 dozen major fires across the state. One San Francisco Bay Area resident said the orange sky, ash and smoke feels a little like doomsday.

The smoke is so bad in parts of California that officials cannot even assess the damage or report on how many homes have been lost. We get latest from CNN's Sara Sidner.


SARA SIDNER, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Massive wildfires from southern California to Washington State. Nearly the entire West Coast of the United States is now covered in smoke.

In California, infamous for its infernos, 5 of the largest fires ever recorded in the state are burning now. Firefighters are battling California's biggest blaze in history in the northern part of the state. None of these big fires are close to containment. Just a week after record temperatures reached 121 degrees in Los Angeles.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): This is a climate damn emergency. This is real.

SIDNER (voice-over): Governor Gavin Newsom is saying he's done debating deniers of climate science.

NEWSOM: When you have temperatures, record-breaking temperatures, record droughts, then you have something else in play. What we are experiencing right here is coming to communities all across the United States unless we disabuse ourselves of all the BS that's being spewed by a very small group of people.

SIDNER (voice-over): Newsom says firefighters from as far away as Canada and Israel are on the way to help.

JEFF BRITTON, SAN BERNARDINO COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT: This canyon has not burned in recorded history. So it is a powder keg.

SIDNER (voice-over): One Northern California fire has already claimed 10 lives this week. More than a dozen are unaccounted for.

DENICE HENDRICKSON, FIRE EVACUEE: We watched those trees right there beside us go up and then embers flying across the lake.

SIDNER (voice-over): At this Butte County shelter, Denise Hendrickson says she jumped into a lake to survive.

HENDRICKSON: Eight of us had to go down to the end of our road, go into the sand to get down in the water to avoid the fire.

SIDNER (voice-over): Statewide, the fires are burning 1,000 acres every 30 seconds, turning day into night this week in San Francisco.

In Oregon, destroyed neighborhoods are stained pink with fire retardant while some 10 percent of the population is evacuating. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We came here a year ago after leaving the Paradise

fire. We lost everything then. So it is not much to lose now, I guess, for us. But, God this is terrible.

SIDNER (voice-over): Contrasting satellite images show entire communities in the city of Phoenix, Oregon, now reduced to little more than ash.


SIDNER (voice-over): In Washington State, more acres have been burned in the last three days than in all of last year.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I never seen anything like this in my life.

SIDNER (voice-over): The entire town of Malden (ph) is now gone.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is very devastating to our town. We have no chance.

SIDNER: In California, in many places, it's been raining ash for more than a week. To give you some idea just how much acreage is actually burning, it's double the size of the state of Delaware. That is what is on fire here in the state of California -- Sara Sidner, CNN, Monrovia, California.


ALLEN: Stefan Myers is the Beachy Creek Fire public information officer for Oregon State Fire Information Team, joining me from Salem.

Stefan, thanks for coming on, I know you're probably very tired. You have a lot on your plate.

STEFAN MYERS, PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICER, OREGON STATE FIRE INFORMATION TEAM: That's OK. Happy to be with you. There are a lot of firefighters and community members that are much more tired than I am.

ALLEN: First up, you have two large fires threatening to merge.

What is the latest on that situation?

MYERS: Yes, so weather's been favorable both today and yesterday. At this point, those two fires have not merged so we're really grateful that fire conditions were more favorable today and allowed us to get ahead and make some real good progress today.

ALLEN: At first, people outside of Portland didn't want to evacuate. I know there might have been some evacuations near Salem as well.

For the most part, are most people out of harm's way?

MYERS: Yes. At this time, there's still areas in level three evacuations and people that can't get back to their homes. But due to fire conditions, we're hoping those may change in the near future. But we're glad we're not dealing with as much evacuations and rescues as we were in the first critical days.

ALLEN: Unlike the California fires, we mentioned you're there in Salem. The Oregon fires have come very close to large cities, Portland included.

Does that still cause some danger or potentials for trouble within the cities?

MYERS: The reality here in Oregon is, we don't usually have fires that are touching up against our cities in this way. We're burning this side of the Cascade Mountain range. So this is a really unique event.

We're working with communities right now that have never expected this was going to be happening right in their back door. So they've been great in cooperating with us. We're seeing lots of people working together.

And we have fires all across our state. Firefighters back home in my fire department have been fighting fire since Monday night, on three- day shifts. So the whole fire community is working really hard so that those communities will stay safe.

ALLEN: Right. So as you mentioned, some people have never been through anything like this, have not had a threat like this in Oregon. People in California, unfortunately, a little more used to it. I know at first people didn't want to leave their homes and this came up very quickly.

But that's turned around, you say?

MYERS: Yes. I mean, as the fire conditions have improved, we've been able to make some inroads. And I think people are understanding that, right now, as the weather stands and the fire operation stands, we're in a much better place, based on those factors.

So I think people are breathing a little sigh of relief, I hope they are, if they don't have this information already. We continue to be vigilant, as you never know how fire conditions can pick up and be erratic.

MYERS: I have to ask, you talk about the resolve and hard work of the firefighters.

Have you ever experienced anything like you're seeing in Oregon right now?

MYERS: Yes, as our firefighters are coming back and I also want to applaud some of the local firefighters, right here in the Santiam Canyon, they were the first up there saving lives and taking care of people. They're still responding to 9-1-1 calls after three days of hard work.

So I'm really proud to stand with the brothers and sisters in the fire districts across the state of Oregon as they have really shown their resolve and hard work they're willing to do when their community needs their help. ALLEN: That's great. As you say, things are starting to look like

conditions are getting better. We're thankful for all of you for that. Stefan Myers, thanks for your time. Wish you best.

MYERS: Thanks.



ALLEN: The United States is closing in on 200,000 lives lost because of the coronavirus pandemic. And now, an influential model predicts that death toll could be more than double by January 1st to 415,000. The doctor who runs that model says this year's holiday season will likely be grim.


DR. CHRISTOPHER MURRAY, INSTITUTE FOR HEALTH METRICS AND EVALUATION: When we look ahead into the winter, with seasonality kicking in, people becoming clearly less vigilant, mask use is down, mobility is up in the nation, you put all those together and we look like we're going to have a very deadly December.


ALLEN: Meantime, the nation's top infectious disease expert is breaking ranks with President Trump over the claim that the U.S. is, according to Mr. Trump's words, rounding the corner. In an interview Friday, Dr. Anthony Fauci said that's not true at all.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I'm sorry but I have to disagree with that because if you look at the thing that you just mentioned, the statistics, Andrea, they are disturbing. We're plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day and the deaths are around 1,000.


ALLEN: In an earlier interview with CNN, Dr. Fauci expressed cautious optimism about a vaccine but that it would still take time for life to return to normal.


FAUCI: I think it will take several months before we get to the point where we can really feel something that approximates how it was, normally, before COVID-19. And for that reason, I made the projection of getting back to that state of normality, well into 2021. And very unlikely before then.


ALLEN: It may be a while. Well, Brazil's death toll has now passed 130,000. Authorities reported

nearly 44,000 new cases Friday, bringing the nation's total to nearly 4.3 million. Only the United States has had more deaths from the virus.

India has seen its third day in a row of record-setting new infection numbers. Authorities reported nearly 98,000 new cases Saturday, bringing India's total to more than 4.6 million.

And new infections are increasing in the United Kingdom. The officials saying the virus reproduction rate or R number is above 1 for the first time since March. The R number tells us how many secondary cases are caused by a single infected person.

If it's above 1, every sick individual is infecting at least one other person and the virus is spreading.

With that higher R number, new restrictions on gatherings go into effect on Monday and for more on that, Scott McLean joins us now from London.

This has to be a disappointment to many people there, that their lives are going to take another hit on lack of freedom.

SCOTT MCLEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. You're absolutely right, Natalie. People are really aching for things to get back to normal.


MCLEAN: And it seems that's likely not going to happen anytime soon. In fact, we're going in the opposite direction at this point.

You mentioned that R number, the government's number is between 1 and 1.2. An Imperial College study out this week puts it at 1.17. That means for every 10 people infected, they will infect another 17 people.

This second wave of the virus has actually eclipsed the first wave of the virus. Now obviously there's been more testing since the spring, which inevitably captured more cases. But the overall trend has not been good.

For instance, Spain have really borne the brunt of this. They've struggled to get the virus under control the second time around. As a result, they're seeing a ramped up number of hospitalizations and deaths, something that the U.K. has not seen quite yet.

Last count, more than 3,500 cases reported of the virus in a single day. Those numbers they have not seen since March. But as I said, because the virus is primarily impacting younger people, they've sort of avoided the deaths and hospitalizations that we saw the first time around.

This week, health officials in this country are warning that the virus is starting to creep back into the older segments of the population. And perhaps the U.K. may also start to see more deaths, more hospitalizations to come.

So in response, as you said, the U.K. is instituting new rules. British prime minister Boris Johnson announced them this week, that the maximum size of a social gathering will go from a maximum of 30 right now down to just six people. The only exceptions, work and school.

The rule changes come after the British police complained that the current hodgepodge of rules are simply too complicated to enforce. This time around, the prime minister is promising that the new round of rules will come with much stricter enforcement.

ALLEN: All right. They'll have to prepare for that. Thank you for that, Scott McLean in London.

Nineteen years after the United States went to war over the 9/11 terror attacks, historic peace talks are now underway between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Also, Bahrain joins the United Arab Emirates to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel. How the deals are part of Donald Trump's hopes for peace in the Middle East. We'll have a live report from Israel.





ALLEN: For the second time in a month, an Arab Gulf nation has agreed to normalize ties with Israel. Bahrain and Israel are set to establish full diplomatic relations. U.S. president Trump helped to broker the deal and he promises more to come. Let's go to Oren Liebermann, who is following these developments from Jerusalem.

Talk about the breakthrough and what it means to the region.


I can't hear anything.

ALLEN: Can you hear me?



ALLEN: Oren, are you there?

LIEBERMANN: -- minister Benjamin Netanyahu, certainly, the timing can't be overlooked in this case because Trump, of course, is just two months before an election in which he is behind in the polls.

That means the White House ceremony on Tuesday will have four countries, United States and Israel and United Arab Emirates and Bahrain.

What is behind this for Bahrain, if you asked two months ago which country is most likely to normalize relations with Israel, Bahrain would have been at the top of most people's lists.

But the expectation is that the Bahrainians would never have moved without Saudi Arabia. Right now, Saudi Arabia and Israel have no diplomatic relations. But it certainly raises the possibility that the Saudis gave tacit consent.

It's a win-win situation for Bahrain diplomatically. Either Trump wins reelection and they're off to a great start or it's a Biden administration and they're off to a good start with that administration as well.

It opens up Bahrain to Israeli military technology, there is a large U.S. military presence in Bahrain as there is in the UAE, ,as well as tourism, economy, finance and health. So Bahrain stands to gain from this.

And it raises an interesting question what the Saudi position is.

Do they follow suit or do they wait for some movement on the Palestinian issue, a resolution?

That's what King Salman implied when he spoke with President Trump recently. For King Salman, the Palestinian issue is institutionally and historically important.

ALLEN: All right, Oren Liebermann there in Jerusalem. Thank you so much, Oren.

We'll take a break. We'll be right back.





ALLEN: And welcome back to our viewers here in the United States and all around the world, I'm Natalie Allen. You are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

It is hard to believe that when we started 2020, coronavirus was barely a murmur. And the idea of social distancing, wearing masks, going into lockdowns were alien to most of us. Now these things are the new normal, especially after the virus spread rapidly from early March.

CNN's Tom Foreman looks back at what has happened in the six months since.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This game has been officially postponed.

FOREMAN: After Tom Hanks and his wife say they have the virus, a worldwide pandemic is declared and President Trump announces sharp limits on travel from Europe.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Smart action today will prevent the spread of the virus tomorrow.

FOREMAN: March 11th was a trifecta of very bad news.

CATHERINE RAMPELL, CNN POLITICAL REPORTER: Up until that point the threat of coronavirus affecting people's lives and/or livelihoods seemed maybe relatively remote. It was something that was happening in distant lands to foreign people, not here in the United States. At least not that we were aware of.

FOREMAN: As casualties mounted some hospitals were overwhelmed. Too many patients, not enough supplies.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are being told to reuse our masks. That is an official policy now that we're being told to use one mask for five days.

FOREMAN: Food lines formed as panic buying emptied some shelves. More than 20 million jobs disappeared. Only about half have come back, even as the president has pushed the country to reopen.

TRUMP: Will some people be affected? Yes. Will some people be affected badly? Yes. But we have to get our country open and we have to get it open soon.

DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, CNN PRESIDENTIAL HISTORIAN: He had a crown jewel of achievement in his mind which was the all-time high of the stock market and he was afraid that it would plummet, that it would crash, that the unemployment would become high. He was trying to be a savior of the economy and not a savior of lives.

FOREMAN: The president's response has been punctuated by falsehoods --

TRUMP: I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.

FOREMAN: Speculation.

TRUMP: I see the disinfectant where it knocks it out in a minute.

FOREMAN: And claims that the pandemic is nearly done.

TRUMP: It's fading away. It's going to fade away.

FOREMAN: Now newly released recordings from journalist and author Bob Woodward shows Trump knew all along how dangerous it was.

TRUMP: I still like playing it down. BOB WOODWARD, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Yes, sir.

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

FOREMAN: And all the while the number of infections and fatalities have climbed so sharply in the U.S. The dead nearly equal to the population of Tallahassee, Florida. Among those lost jazz legend Ellis Marsalis, baseball hall of famer Tom Seaver, journalist Maria Mercader, Chef Floyd Cardoz, Trump celebrity supporter Herman Cain and tens of thousands of regular Americans.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want you to know that my faith has never wavered.

FOREMAN: All missed, all mourned.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 10 minutes later, we get the full call for FaceTime, you know, she put it right up to my mother's face and you know, I could tell my mom I loved her and how much I was going to miss her.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And he couldn't really talk, you know, but we could hear him breathe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And then the doctor took the phone and he said I'm sorry but there's no more pulse. And then I played our wedding song for him. And then -- and then that was it.

FOREMAN: Tom Foreman, CNN, Washington.


ALLEN: The Russian coronavirus vaccine could soon be making its way to hard-hit India. The country shattered the global record for the most infections reported in a single day three times this week. CNN's Matthew Chance has more from Moscow.


MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Learning about a major deal for Russia to supply India with millions of doses of its Sputnik vaccine. A source telling CNN they expect the deal to be announced early next week and that it will involved tens of millions of doses of the vaccine.

India is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections, reporting a new global record on Friday, up more than 95,000 cases in a single day.

Russia's vaccine is controversial, not least because it was developed at breakneck speed, last month becoming the first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved by any government, even before critical phase 3 human trials have been completed.

Russian officials say their vaccine technology, which uses human adenoviruses, which cause the common cold, is much safer than vaccines that are being produced using more experimental methods being developed elsewhere.

In the past few days, there has been a slew of deals. One state in Brazil ordering 50 million doses of the Russian vaccine; earlier Mexico, agreeing to take 32 million doses. Russian officials say dozens of countries around the world are now looking at ordering their vaccine as part of a portfolio of measure to contain the COVID-19 pandemic -- Matthew Chance, CNN, Moscow.



ALLEN: If and when coronavirus vaccines become available, many people may not trust them enough to take them. That is what a study published Thursday in the medical journal "The Lancet" suggests.

Researchers surveyed 300,000 people between 2015 and 2019 and asked if they felt comfortable taking any vaccines. Take a look at this map that shows where things stood in 2018. Dark blue that you see, means most of the country felt that vaccines are safe.

But deep orange indicates that fewer than one-third of the country's residents felt so.

Again, that was before the COVID-19 set in. Let's talk about where we are now. Heidi Larson is the director of the Vaccine Confidence Project and a professor of anthropology, risk and decision science. She is author of "Stuck: How Vaccine Rumors Start and Why They Don't Go Away."

Professor Larson comes to us from London.

Welcome, Professor, thanks for coming on.


ALLEN: At a time when the world is racing towards a vaccine for COVID, this study found there are hesitancy hot spots around the world that could undermine the effort.

Where are these hot spots and what are the underlying causes?

LARSON: The hot spots are one of the things we found in the paper that we've been monitoring that has seen confidence continue to is it's very up-and-down. So it needs constant nurturing and attention. Europe remains one of the more skeptical regions in the world. It's better than it was about five years ago because they had seen how low it was getting and what bad measles outbreaks were happening across the region in Europe.

There has been an effort made so it is coming up a bit but it's still quite low. Pockets in the U.S. We have a few countries in conflict with high security issues.

But one of the things we find is it's not just about trust in the vaccine but about trust in who is providing it. With the acute polarization and if a vaccine comes another political party or a Western government you don't trust or your own government that you don't trust, those are some of the drivers that are at risk here.

From the public perspective, the hype of a fast vaccine may be great for politicians.


LARSON: And it may even feel good for some of the scientists in the race, as it were. But for the public, that's a very uncomfortable concept that they're getting raced, they're quicker. Maybe they are missing their safety regulations. So that's inhibited people from the uptake of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Just -- it was all too quick for the public.

ALLEN: Without large-scale acceptance of the COVID-19 vaccine when one is approved, how hard will it be to end this pandemic, if some countries don't support it?

Doesn't the world need to come together on this?

LARSON: Absolutely. The world needs to come together on it. And also, we can already see that people are wearing thin with a collaboration cooperation around masks and distancing.

People are warned and you think they would want to leap into something like a vaccine that would, in a sense, liberate you from some of these other restrictions. But for some members of the public, even the vaccine is something imposed by government. So we'll have some resistance there.

But I do think we have a huge opportunity with -- when and hopefully if we get a COVID vaccine if we can make sure that it is -- we already work with employers and schools and others around this vaccine, well beyond health departments.

This needs an all-of-society approach to prepare for and encourage acceptance of a new vaccine, once we have one that is safe and effective.

ALLEN: We talk about encouraging change. So many people are skeptical for myriad reasons, depending on their culture and their society and the politics there.

How do you go about combating that and trying to alter that?

LARSON: It's tough for an immunization program or health department because so many factors that influence confidence are outside of health departments. But I think given the state of things, we need to start local. The more local engagement can happen, the more specific interactions are made. I don't think we can wait for the top to embrace this ways and infect the publics are very not necessarily confident with the direction coming from central government in a number of countries.

So I think local efforts will be crucial, mayors, other community leaders, even religion leaders, frankly. They've been quite interestingly one of the more cooperative in shutting down religious gatherings, coming up with alternative online options.

Obviously vaccines is not something you can do online. So I think we need to start public discussions and engagement with community on what advice they give.

Where would it be convenient for them to get a vaccine?

What time of day?

We want to understand and make people feel they have been consulted in this process.

ALLEN: Very good advice. Hope it comes around at some point. Professor Heidi Larson in London, thank you so much. We appreciate your time and your expertise on this.


ALLEN: Peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government are underway right now in Doha, Qatar, in hopes of ending almost 20 years of conflict in Afghanistan. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo was also there to support the process.

The U.S. is drawing down troops in Afghanistan with the goal of being out of that country by next April. CNN's Sam Kiley joins me now from Abu Dhabi.

There have been talks before. Things have gotten close before.

Where do you see things, this time around, Sam?

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, what is significant here, Natalie, there have been talks before between the Taliban and the United States. And there have been talks obviously between the United States and the Afghan government.

But this is the first time we've seen the Afghan government and the Taliban agree to talk. They've both insisted from both sides that these talks would be unmediated, that they would have themselves only, Afghans in the room, when the talks get seriously underway.

There is pressure from the Americans to get this sorted out before the election so that they can make good on the Trump administration's promise to reduce troops from 8,600 to 4,500 by the fall. But the Afghans are aware that the stakes are higher than a foreign policy win for the Trump administration.


KILEY: This is all about trying to de-escalate a war which is, certainly since 9/11, 19 years and a day, since that fateful terrorist attack in New York and elsewhere precipitated the ultimate demise of the Taliban. But the Taliban are saying, interestingly, not at the moment, using

language that would commit a future dispensation there to a so-called emirate of Afghanistan, remember they declared the emirate of Afghanistan when they took over there, just saying they would favor an Islamic system.

From the Afghan government's perspective, the leader of their delegation calling for immediate cease-fire as a sign of goodwill for these talks to move forward.

So there is a sense on both sides that they clearly, in terms of their public rhetoric, want to come to a deal at which they would be able to end what in Afghanistan has been actually 40 years of civil war. But from the American perspective, there is a much quicker time clock ticking -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right. We'll see what happens there. We know you'll be following it for us. Thank you, Sam Kiley in Abu Dhabi.

We have just learned of a devastating mining accident in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Officials there say at least 52 miners' bodies have been recovered so far from a flooded gold mine. The area had been hit by heavy rains, causing a nearby river to overflow.

That sent tons of water and sand into the mine and caused it to collapse. As many as 100 miners were underground at the time.

Absentee ballots are now being mailed out in one key battleground state in the U.S.

Just what's the mood of voters in North Carolina?

Well, we went there to find out. We'll have that for you in a moment.

Also, tensions are high after the four officers charged in George Floyd's death appeared together in court. We'll tell you what happened. And why Floyd's family says it is more determined than ever to get justice.





ALLEN: Voting is underway in the critical battleground state of North Carolina with the credibility of mail-in votes being questioned by President Trump. CNN's Jeff Zeleny is taking the pulse of some voters. He's in Charlotte.


JAMIE OSWALD, HAIRDRESSER: I want to vote for somebody other than Donald Trump but I don't want to vote for Biden. It's hard. JEFF ZELENY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Meet Jamie Oswald, a hairdresser and undecided voter. She grew up in a Republican family and likes President Trump's economic record but not much else.

OSWALD: If he could just not talk. You know, the stuff that he says, it's just like embarrassing.

ZELENY: If he could just not talk, that's saying something for the president of the United States.

OSWALD: It is. It's saying a lot.

ZELENY (voice-over): Yet so far, she's not sold on Joe Biden.

OSWALD: I think he's been in office for so long and he really hasn't done a whole lot.

ZELENY (voice-over): Oswald said she's never voted but will this year. Inspired by the pandemic that left her unemployed for more than two months. She's one of 1.3 million new voters in North Carolina since 2016, when Trump narrowly won the state by 173,000 votes.

Now it's a battleground. He's visited three times in the last three weeks. Voting here is already underway, a sign that coronavirus is influencing the election, including how people cast their ballots.

BAKARR KANU (PH), DEMOCRATIC VOTER: It is very important for everybody to go out this time, because there's a lot of fake (ph).

Bakarr Kanu (ph), a professor, received his absentee ballot in the mail this week. He dismisses any talk of fraud, saying Trump is trying to influence voters. Yet the president's supporters here are already echoing his questions about the election's legitimacy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And mail-in ballots, I wouldn't trust it. I would definitely go in person.

ZELENY (voice-over): At the end of a challenging week for the president where his own words to Bob Woodward became a new flashpoint, Trump supporters are unwavering. Sarah Reedy Jones (ph), who leads a women's Republican group, believes in Trump now more than four years ago, in part because of judicial appointments.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Four years ago, president Trump wasn't my first, second, third, fourth choice. We're saying get beyond that rhetoric and go with what that record of accomplishment.

ZELENY (voice-over): That record does not sit well with bar owner Blake Stewart (ph), who believes the president's leadership on coronavirus has been appalling.

BLAKE STEWART (PH), BAR OWNER: He had the opportunity to grab this bull by the horns. Instead, he let it run us all over.

ZELENY (voice-over): His business is still closed. For that, he blames trump not the state's Democratic governor. He planted this voter registration sign outside, hoping to find new voters to help block the president's path to re-election.

There's little question Trump supporters here are fired up but there are also signs he's awakening the other side. His presidency motivated Angela Levine (ph) to become politically active for the first time ad work against him.

ANGELA LEVINE, DEMOCRATIC VOTER: I became a much more informed voter. That's why I got this Blue Wave tattoo. This is to remind me never to assume someone else is going to do all the hard work.

ZELENY: So absentee balloting is underway. Then early voting starts next month. There are 17 days of in-person early voting across North Carolina. So not only is coronavirus affecting how you vote, it's also affecting, in some cases, who you're voting for. There is no reason, North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes are squarely in the sights of the Trump campaign.

Not only did President Trump visit three times, Donald Trump Jr., Erin Trump, Ivanka Trump also all made separate visits to the state this week. Joe Biden is coming soon -- Jeff Zeleny, CNN, Charlotte, North Carolina.


ALLEN: "We've got your back."

That's what supporters outside of a courthouse in Minneapolis were chanting as George Floyd's family stepped out. It followed a court hearing Friday for the four former police officers charged in Floyd's death, the first time all four were in court together.

The prosecution pushed to hold a joint trial for them. And their defense attorneys asked to move the trial out of Minneapolis. The judge did not rule on either of those requests.

After the hearing, the attorney representing George Floyd's family addressed a crowd of supporters, saying the family will get justice.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, ATTORNEY: We just sat through a very emotional hearing where people tried to kill George Floyd a second time. They made all kind of foolish allegations, talking about he died from a drug overdose.



CRUMP: They're trying to claim the knee on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds had nothing to do with his death.

(END VIDEO CLIP) ALLEN: Well, coming up here, the women's U.S. Open tennis championship finals begin. Political statements are on display and statements for Black Lives Matter. We'll have more about it, next.




ALLEN: The U.S. Open women's tennis final is just hours away. Can't wait. Former champ Naomi Osaka goes up against fellow Australian Open champ Victoria Azarenka, who beat Serena Williams. As CNN's Carolyn Manno tells us, the players are thinking about much more than just tennis.


CAROLYN MANNO, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: I'm in Queens, New York, where the street behind me would normally be flooded with tens of thousands of spectators, making their way through the gates for the final weekend of the U.S. Open. Coronavirus has left its mark on the first major tennis tournament back since the pandemic began.

Off-court news making headlines like it never has before. In the women's singles final, the meeting between Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka felt something like destiny on both sides.


MANNO: Before the tournament began, Osaka made seven face masks, each bearing the name of a victim whose death has sparked outcries for racial justice. Seven also the number of years it's taken Victoria Azarenka to get back to a grand slam final. She, too, has not been able to fully escape politics here in New York.

Normally a sports-crazed country, Belarus is currently embroiled in protests, concerning the autocratic president, Alexander Lukashenko, who has suppressed such demonstrations since winning his election back in August. Azarenka's tone has been notably more subdued this year when referring to the situation in her country.

VICTORIA AZARENKA, TWO-TIME GRAND SLAM WINNER: Obviously what's happening in Belarus is very dear to my heart. And at this point, what is it going to do? I think what it is, you know, I feel like sports has always been a celebration in our country. It's always been really appreciated and people really love sport.

MANNO: The two women will put off-court issues to the side, when they battle on Saturday. Two years removed from her U.S. Open win here, Naomi Osaka defeated 25-year-old American Jennifer Brady in a hard- hitting battle that lasted three sets.

Azarenka took down the woman who'd beaten her in 10 previous majors, Serena Williams, whose quest for a record-tying 24th grand slam title comes up short once again. I spoke with one coach inside the bubble, who told us this has all of the makings for an all-time great meeting between two champions, a big server and hitter in Naomi Osaka and one of the best returners of the game in Victoria Azarenka.

And we know, both women feel like they can win.


ALLEN: Happy watching. Thank you for watching. I'm Natalie Allen. I invite you to follow me on Twitter and Instagram and I'll see you this time tomorrow.