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Tropical Storm Sally Bears Down on United States; U.S. Adds 34,000 New COVID-19 Infections on Sunday; Infectious Disease Expert: "We Never Really Got the Cases Down"; Trump Holds Indoor Nevada Rally Amid Pandemic; Doctor: Indoor Trump Rally, Without Masks, is "Negligent Homicide"; 35 Dead in CA, OR, WA From Historic Wildfires; Joe Hessel, Oregon Department of Forestry Administrator, Discusses Wildfires & Climate Change; NYT: Trump Doubles Down on Anti-Climate Change Agenda; Biden: Climate Change Poses an Imminent Existential Threat. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 14, 2020 - 11:00   ET




"NEWSROOM" with our colleague, John King, starts right now.

JOHN KING CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing your day with us.

The president this afternoon heads to California to address raging wildfires. Then, on to Arizona for a Latinos for Trump campaign event. The vice president, Mike Pence, campaigning in Wisconsin next hour.

The battleground itinerary underscores the calendar crunch. We sit 50 days now from the November election.

We're also six months from the president's coronavirus state of emergency. And 6.5 million cases later, the president is still disregarding the science and brazenly defying his own scientists.

These are pictures from the president's Nevada rally last night. An alternate universe where the coronavirus is not a threat, where government rules about social distancing and masks do not apply, because they don't fit the president's mood or his political interests.

Yet again, the president, whose oath calls on him to uphold the law, ignores it.

The Nevada governor called this indoor rally reckless and selfish. The president's supporters, though, insist they have every right to be there and they are not fools.


UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP SUPPORTER: If I thought I was a risk are, I wouldn't be here. I'm not an idiot. And neither are these people. They have enough wherewithal to realize whether or not they are putting anybody at risk, including themselves. Americans are not stupid people.


KING: More on virus just ahead.

We begin this hour, though, with the sound and fury in the Atlantic and in the gulf. Now five different active some systems.

Tropical Storm Sally expected to become Hurricane Sally soon and then to hit the United States sometimes tomorrow. The outlook, massive disruption across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, with four months-worth of rain anticipated to snarl coastal cities there.

Just moments ago, the new forecast from the National Hurricane Center.

Let's get straight to CNN's Chad Myers who is tracking this storm for us.

Chad, what's the latest?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: The storm is slightly farther to the east than it was. Hurricane hunters out there flying through it found the storm off position by about 30 miles farther to the east.

That puts Flori-bama farther in it and Grand Isle, Louisiana, farther out of it, if you want to talk about the cone.

And 65 miles per hour. The pressure is dropping. The intensity of the lightning is getting greater at this hour. So we know the storm is getting stronger.

We do know it will become a hurricane. Will it get to category 2? Right now, that's not the forecast.

It's going to be an 85-mile-per-hour storm. Very close to the mouth of the Mississippi, John, and almost come to a halt and then turn slowly to the north and then on up into the Mississippi/Alabama coastline.

It could be still Louisiana but, for now, all the models are trending it slightly farther to the east. And so the Hurricane Center did the same thing.

And then across even into parts of Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, with rainfall up there. Not the wind damage, not the surge like we're going to see down here.

Seven to 11 feet of surge. That's not Katrina-like surge, which was 25 to 30 feet. But an 11-foot storm surge, you haven't seen that in a very long time, all the way from Bay St. Louis, through Waveland, and back down into Plaquemine's Parrish.

Plaquemine's Parrish, you have built a levee to keep the Mississippi in. You didn't build a levee to keep the Atlantic Ocean out, the Gulf of Mexico out. So that's the area I'm most concerned about where people really do have to live.

If you're outside of the river levee, Plaquemine's Parrish, easter of there, St. Bernard, that's the area that will flood if you're not protected by the levee.

And 110-miles-per-hour winds, especially the gusts, not out of the question. Hurricane warnings have been posted all the way into Alabama, still back into Louisiana.

And, John, we're already seeing the first could of the bands here, coming up into parts of Tallahassee, Apalachicola. They are now onshore, the center of the storm right now.

You see a lot of lightning with it. That means the storm is getting stronger. When you don't see lightning in a tropical system, it means it's just kind of sitting there. But this we know is getting stronger.

We already know there's surge in Apalachicola of about two and a half feet. Probably the same story moving out towards Waveland. But at least another five or seven more feet for the people up there.

Not a big category 3 or category 4 major hurricane, but it will do damage and it will have its own problems with heavy, heavy rainfall. Some spots could pick up 20 inches of rain -- John?

KING: Chad Myers, appreciate the latest.

To our viewers, stay with us. Chad and his team will keep in touch over the next couple of days. Listen to your local officials as well as we watch this one play out.

Back to the coronavirus now. The Sunday case count number, 34,000 new infections, hints at this week's giant importance. Will that number hold, will we push the baseline down or will we see another holiday surge? The results of Labor Day drive infections back up.

Let's take a look at the 50-state trends of where we are in the case count. This map looks OK. Not as good as some days last week. Much better than back until July, August and the summer surge.

Ten states trending up. That's the orange and the red. That means reporting more infections now than a week ago. Ten states trending up. And 16 states, the beige, holding steady.


And 24 states, 24 states, almost half of the states, down. Fewer new infections now compared to the data a week ago. That's the way we want this map to be filled in, all in green. That would get us in the right direction.

The death trend map trails the case trend map. So the other map, the first map, has to get a lot better before this one gets better.

And 15 states reporting more new coronavirus deaths now compared to a week ago, 15 states. That's the orange and red, mostly across the northern half of the country. The deepest red, out here. This has been the problem area.

Ten states holding steady. In terms of deaths, about equal now compared to a week ago. And 25 states, half the states, reporting fewer deaths right now compared to the trends one week ago.

The testing trend, this has some experts worried that are we seeing everything that's out there. And 26 states, fewer tests now compared to a week ago.

Most of the public health experts will tell you, especially at this moment where you might be making progress, you want to have as widespread testing as possible. Keep eyes on the community.

And 26 states trending down. Only 10 states trending up when it comes to testing. And 14 states holding steady there.

Texas has now moved into third when it comes to state-by-state number of coronavirus deaths. California fourth and Florida fifth. New York and New Jersey still lead this sad board here if you look at deaths.

This is what folks are watching now, the positivity rate. A lot of this is in smaller states. Florida is a big giant. But a lot of problems are in smaller states. You don't get higher case counts, you don't get as many cases, but you still have a problem.

A week ago, 12 states had 10 percent or higher, 10 percent or greater positivity rates in the new coronavirus testing. You want it below 5 percent.

That number is down to 10 percent today -- I'm sorry -- 10 states today. Ten states saying with 10 percent or more positivity rates. That's still too high. You want to get it down to five and shove it down from there.

And this is where we are as we move into the fall. You see, back in March, we went through this. We got down to here. The peak of the Sunday surge. Sunday's case count, 34,450 new infections.

So are we going to slowly come down or are we in a plateau here somewhere in the 35,000 to 40,000 range? That's a big question as we also wait to see --we're a week after Labor Day. Another few days, we'll start to see if there's an upward trend because of the holiday.

This is where we are at the moment. Most experts say, given that we had Labor Day just behind us, we're heading into the fall, and then in the winter where the coronavirus tends to spread -- listen to Dr. Michael Osterholm here -- he says you wanted this line way down here before it gets cool.


DR. MICHAEL OSTERHOLM, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR INFECTIOUS DISEASE RESEARCH & POLICY, UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA: We never got the cases here. Remember, we're talking about 35,000 cases a day. Today, we're likely to hit over 40,000 cases a day. And that -- when you compare that to when the house was on fire in New York back in April, when we had 22,000 cases a day, and we thought, my god, it can't get any worse.

And what's happening is we're going to see this kind of up and down, up and down. But each time it goes up, it goes a little higher. Each time it comes down, it doesn't come down as far.

So this is a real challenge for us going forward.


KING: Let's get straight to CNN's John Harwood at the White House.

John, you listen to a public health expert like Dr. Osterholm. He says we're at 35,000 new infections a day. We need to be way down from that as we head into the fall and winter.

And then you see the president of the United States indoors having a rally that runs against his own White House guidelines, runs against the state of Nevada guidelines. It's literally parallel universes.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It absolutely is, and against the backdrop of that elevated baseline of cases as we head into the fall.

Just all the more remarkable that the president chose to hold this rally, his first indoor rally since June in Tulsa, when, of course, we know members of his staff, residents of Tulsa were infected and contributed to a surge in Tulsa.

One of his prominent supporters, Herman Cain, later was hospitalized and died of COVID. We don't know exactly where he caught it.

But the president defied the instructions or the requests of Steve Sisolak, the Democratic governor of Nevada, against gatherings of more than 50 people. You saw people there. No social distancing. Very few masks. Although the campaign said they handed out some masks.

The president told an interviewer, after the rally, he had not realized that the restrictions applied to him. But he blasted the governor for having turned down requests to do rallies in other venues.

But it's telling the way the rally was covered. It didn't get a lot of television coverage. You got more coverage to the fact that he held the rally.

And that illustrates the president's problem. He's been fending off accusations that came -- his own words that came out from Bob Woodward's reporting that he downplayed the virus from the beginning.

He said in one clip to Woodward nothing more could have been done. He certainly behaving that way.

But the American people do not agree, John. His ratings for handling the coronavirus are in the 30s. And, of course, that is contributing to the fact that he's trailing nationally and in the key battleground states, including Nevada and Arizona, where he goes later today.

KING: John Harwood for us at the White House. We'll continue to watch this. The president wants to do things his way despite what the scientists and the medical data tell you.


John, appreciate the live reporting there.

Let's continue the conversation with our CNN medical analyst, Dr. Celine Gounder.

Dr. Gounder, it's good to see you.

I want to show our viewers the pictures again. Look, there are some people out there -- and can you see our team out there interviewed a lot of the president's supporters outside of this rally.

They say, this is our choice. If we want to show up at this event, this is our choice. The governor should not tell us what to do. Some have even said the president shouldn't tell us what to do. If those said, the president, sometimes says wear a mask.

When you look at these pictures here, I want to listen to another one of our medical analysts. This is Dr. Jonathan Reiner, whose viewer on this rally and the president's decision to hold it, pretty harsh. Listen.


DR. JONATHAN REINER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Negligent homicide. I mean, what else can you call an act that, because of its negligence, results in the deaths of others? People will die as a consequence of this.


KING: Will people die as a consequence of this?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, John, I 100 percent agree with Dr. Reiner. And I said exactly that, that this was negligent homicide, to Brooke Baldwin last Thursday.

I think when you cover up information, when you don't provide full information, when you provide false information to the American public, and then expect them to make sound public health decisions, that just doesn't make any sense.

So, of course, they are going to continue to follow along with what you've been telling them all along. And, unfortunately, that is advice that is deadly in the middle of a pandemic.

KING: And we know this from the Sturgis Bike Rally. There have been disputes over the size -- of how big the number of cases. But we know there were quite a number of cases out of that. We know, after the Tulsa rally, members of the president's own staff, his Secret Service.

We don't know directly if that's where Herman Cain contacted the coronavirus. We do not know that. But we know he was at the rally. And he, later, at some point, contracted the virus and died.

And my question is: If the state of Nevada says you're not supposed to do this, and the president of the United States says I don't care, what can be done?

GOUNDER: I think, big picture, we're dealing with COVID-gate. This is a massive cover-up of public health data and a real attempt to mislead the American public about what is safe and what is not.

You know, we talk about Dr. Li, the ophthalmologist back in China who tried to blow the whistle on what was happening there, and we've shaken our heads at how the Chinese have covered this up.

We're doing exactly the same thing in this country. And we're misleading the American public very dangerously.

KING: Another one of the debates -- and the president mentioned it again last night, we'll play a little snippet of it here -- is when will we have a vaccine.

And the president keeps leaning into the idea we'll have one, at least for some people, before Election Day.

Listen here. Here's the president's view compared with Dr. Scott Gottlieb, who used to do this for a living at the FDA, saying everybody calm down.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's going to be announced very soon. We'll be ready before the end of the year. And we'll very easily defeat China virus.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: What we're going to be doing is targeting the vaccine to select groups of people who are at very high risk for a bad outcome from COVID to try to reduce their risks.

But it's not going to be used to achieve broad-based immunity, at least in 2020. Perhaps in 2021.


KING: You mentioned -- and we've gone through this with the Woodward book and we've gone through it just laying out what the president says versus what data tells us for seven months now.

But when the president is saying something like that, a lot of people are early voting. They may vote before they know the answer to this question.

So when the president says, very soon, very soon, maybe before Election Day, very soon, you see that as part of the deceit?

GOUNDER: I do, John. I think we will have some candidate vaccines through phase three clinical trials before too long but not before the election, not before we have data on safety and efficacy.

And I -- and I agree with Dr. Gottlieb. The primary populations that will be targeted for this in the beginning will be health care workers on the front lines and very high-risk individuals, for example, people living and working in nursing homes.

This is not going to be available -- a vaccine is not going to be available to the general American public likely until spring of next calendar year.

So in the meantime, we really do need to be taking measures like masking and social distancing and testing and contact tracing until we have a vaccine widely available.

KING: Well, to that point, if we're at 35,000 cases, 34,000-plus and change on Sunday -- and on the weekends, often we see a little dip -- we'll see what happens in the week ahead.

You heard Dr. Osterholm at the top of this. Dr. Fauci has said this repeatedly, that because of where we're going, meaning cooler temperatures, more children in school, more kids back on campus, more people going back to their offices, more people going indoors just because of the change of the season, where does the baseline have to be?

Or is it inevitable now, if we're at 35,000 new infections today, middle-of-September, is it inevitable that, in October, we will be higher than that?

GOUNDER: I think sadly, yes, John. We've been talking about first wave, second wave for months. The fact is we never made it down from the first wave. So you're talking about two peaks, one on top of the other. And so the fall is not really going to look very good.


And on top of that, you'll have influenza. So you'll have all the patients coming into hospitals and doctors' offices with symptoms that could be coronavirus, it could be the flu.

And we're going to have to treat all of them as if they have coronavirus. So that's a very dangerous and scary situation to be in.

KING: Dr. Gounder, appreciate your expertise and insights, as always, and the data-driven approach to this. We'll try to stay there. Sometimes we're discouraged from that but we'll stick to it.

Dr. Gounder, thank you very much.

Up next for us, the president is heading west to see the fires. But he refuses to see what the experts say is more that obvious -- climate change is making a bad situation even worse. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


KING: The west coast is ablaze as historic wildfires continue to scorch millions of acres. And 35 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington.

So far this year, almost six million acres have burned in the United States. More than three million acres in California alone.

Currently more, than 30,000 firefighters and support personnel are helping to battle 94 large wildfires.

There are at least 13 active wildfires in Oregon, only one of which is considered contained.

And this is what is left behind after a fire ravages a community. It's devastating: ash, scorched, destroyed buildings, lingering smoke.

With me now is Joe Hessel with the Oregon Department of Forestry.

Mr. Hessel, first, thank you. Thank you and thank everybody working with you on this challenge. I know it's exhausting. So we appreciate your time.

It's daybreak there now, a little after 8:00 in the morning. I assume every day, the daylight breaks and you reset and see where you are.

Is it still the situation that you have 13 and only one contained?

JOE HESSEL, AGENCY ADMINISTRATOR, OREGON DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY: Yes, that's correct. It's actually probably a little closer to 14 large fires and just in the state of Oregon this morning and one contained. That's correct.

KING: So I want you to listen to one of your United States Senators here. You're used to this out there obviously. It happens.

But Senator Merkley saying he's never seen anything like this. Listen.


SEN. JEFF MERKLEY (D-OR): It is apocalyptic. I drove 600 miles up and down the state. I never escaped the smoke. We have thousands of people who have lost their homes. I could never have envisioned this.

The east winds came over the top of the mountain, proceeded to turn the fires into blow torches that went down and just incinerated a series of small towns, like Blue River and Phoenix and Talent.

Just you have community after community with fairgrounds full of people, refugees from the fires.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KING: Apocalyptic. Sir, do you agree with that?

HESSEL: Unprecedented, for sure.

I've been in Oregon in the fire service for over 35 years. And in my career, I've not seen the scope of complexity in terms of its size, urban interface, and a combination of weather events combined to get us to where we are today. Unprecedented.

KING: Unprecedented.

Is it bad luck, bad timing? Do you have any question of whether climate change is also a part of it, that exacerbates it at least?

HESSEL: You know, this was a combination of a very strong wind event towards the tail end of the summer for us where our fuels are cured and in the most prime condition in terms of extreme burning.

And it is unusual that we get an east wind event that lasts for 24 to 48 hours. We do get them on occasion during the fall, and that's not unusual.

The fact that this came and was sustained for as long as it was I think is unusual.

And generally speaking, the last few years, probably the last 10 years or so, our fire seasons have extended a little bit on the front and tail end of what was a normal season a couple of decades ago. So they have gotten a bit longer.

KING: And as you watch these pictures, I asked you the question off the top, you know, how are the containment efforts going.

We come at this, first and foremost, with: Are the fires contained? What do you need to put them out? And what resources do you need to bring to bear?

And when you see the devastation like this and you see the lingering smoke -- I want you to listen. This is the mayor of Estacada, saying, yes, putting the fires out is one issue but then there's some giant health effects.


MAYOR SEAN DRINKWINE (R-ESTACADA, OR) (voice-over): With the smoke so intense a lot of people have been getting sick and nausea and headaches. And it's something that we -- it's really unbelievable that all of this is happening at the same time.

I mean, we're trying to get around this the best as we can and keeping masks in stock. But when you're out here and the smoke is so thick, it makes it really, really hard to breathe.


KING: How much does that add to the challenge, Mr. Hessel, in the sense that obviously priority one is putting out these fires. But you want to protect the people and you need to get the medical equipment and maybe evacuate them to get them places.

This is going to sound wrong, but is that a diversion of resources in the sense that this is so big that your challenges multiply by the fact that you're not just fighting fires, that you have a health care crisis, too?

HESSEL: Yes. The smoke is complicating in many respects. It complicates our firefighting efforts and the fact we can't get aircraft over these fires to provide air support.

It certainly impacts our firefighters and first responders and their ability to stay healthy and fresh to be able to attack these fires. And it obviously impacts the public.

And so there are resources trying to go multiple different directions here to -- to address the smoke impacts.

And, you know, with respect to our fire suppression efforts, we're doing everything that we can to minimize those impacts. Looking for a little help from Mother Nature here in a very broad or big-picture perspective to assist with that.


KING: I hope that help for Mother Nature comes.

And, Mr. Hessel, I'll end where I began. Thank you and everyone who works in the efforts to fight these and to keep people safe and to suppress the fires. I can't thank you enough. I know the people of your state are grateful for this.

Thank you, sir.

HESSEL: Thank you.

KING: Thank you.

President Trump getting a firsthand look later today, not in Oregon but in California. He'll get at wildfires briefing and spend some time with the governor, Gavin Newsom.

At a rally yesterday in Nevada, the president praised those helping fight the fires but stuck to his script about why they are happening.


TRUMP: Tonight, we're also praying for everyone throughout the west affected by the devastating wildfires.

We want really forest management. We want forest management.


TRUMP: My administration is closely coordinating with the state and local leaders, with the governor.

And we thank the more than 28,000 firefighters and first responders courageously braving the danger and their lives.




KING: Previewing the trip, the "New York Times" today offers this context: "As he battles for a second term in the White House, Mr. Trump has doubled down on his anti-climate agenda as a way of appealing to his core supporters."

Michael Shear, of the "New York Times" is with us. He helped write that article. As is Brittany Shepherd, of "Yahoo News."

Michael, let me start with you in that regard.

The president has been a climate change denier. He calls it a hoax for some time.

At this moment, when the governor of California, when most of the experts you talk to out there say, A, yes, priority one is to put out these fires. But priority two should be to acknowledge that the fire season is longer, the fires tend to be hotter and more extreme.

The president simply won't budge.

MICHAEL SHEAR, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: That's absolutely right. And there's two pieces that a president would be responsible for. One is this immediate response to the crisis and the sense that he's -- he and the government are there for the people that are going through this.

Now he's doing the very minimum you can possibly do. He's not actually going and touring the damage. He's coming for a very brief kind of briefing from officials. So he's -- he's sort of begrudgingly doing that.

But then the other piece that you would expect the federal government to do would be involved in the broader effort, preventive effort at what -- what does the country and the world need to be doing to kind of make this kind of disaster less likely in the future.

It's not unlike what you would expect the president to have done during the pandemic, which -- you know, which he also and his government fell short on.

And I think the -- you know, it's not only scientists outside of the government that have concluded that climate change is intensifying these forest fires.

The government -- Donald Trump's own government, two years ago, issued a -- a massive report that suggested that, you know, if climate change isn't brought under control that the number of fires in the west could triple over the next number of years.

And so I think, you know, the -- the -- the fact that he's not embracing what most of the globe, everybody, all the scientific experts say is a real problem. You know, that -- that says something about kind of, you know, where he is on this issue.

KING: And add to that, the Pentagon and all of its assessments called climate change a global security risk as well.

So, Brittany, the Biden campaign hopes to take advantage of this. Mr. Biden will take the case later today this is yet another obvious fact that the president keeps denying, yet another obvious piece of science that the president won't acknowledge.

This is a statement from the former vice president, now the Democratic nominee, yesterday:

"The science is clear and deadly signs like there are unmistakable. Climate change poses an imminent existential threat to our way of life. President Trump can try to deny that reality but the facts are undeniable. We absolutely must act now to avoid a future defined by an unending barrage of tragedies like the one that American families are enduring across the west today."

This is a giant test in the sense that the president wants to call this liberal utopia. They want to spend your money and tell you what to do.

The former vice president is trying to make the case, no, it is well beyond time when the government did more and we cannot afford eight years of climate change denial.

BRITTANY SHEPHERD, NATIONAL POLITICS REPORTER, "YAHOO NEWS": Exactly, John. You're going to hear a lot more of that forceful language from Biden later. We're hearing from aides that there's going to be a lot more pressure to differentiate himself from Trump on climate change.

During the entire primary, climate change did not come up that much at all, even though it's a clear and present danger to most Americans. And actually to all voters under 45, it's usually their number-one priority. And they are clamoring to hear more.

Biden, time and time again, whether the speech is about the economy or jobs, he does take some time each speech to say why he's not like Trump as far as science is concerned.

You hear it from his surrogates, you hear from Michelle Obama and Barack Obama that Joe Biden will listen to the Coronavirus Task Force and also listen to the scientists task force on climate change.


So I think pressure from those surrogates, from those young voters, and by just creating a clear foil to what Trump is going to be saying later on in California is definitely expected later.