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Hurricane Sally Closes in on Gulf States; Gov. Tate Reeves (R- MS) Discusses Hurricane Sally Preparations Amid Pandemic; Trump Insists U.S. "Rounding the Turn" & Claims Vaccine "Weeks" Away; Experts Say It's Reckless for Trump to Hold Rallies Amid Pandemic; 36 People Dead in CA, OR, WA in Historic Wildfires. Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired September 15, 2020 - 11:00   ET




JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everybody. I'm John King in Washington. Thank you so much for sharing this day with us. And a very busy news day it is.

The president today welcomes Israel, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates to the White House, part of an historic peace deal. It is a marquee administration achievement.

His morning, however, spent on anything but diplomacy. In a 45-minute call in to "FOX & Friends" the president setting the truth aside to attack the Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, and the security of your November vote.

He also colored way outside the lines of our pandemic reality. All is well, the president says, along with teasing vaccines might arrive before the November election.

The vaccine experts tell us they likely won't be widely available until the spring of 2021, maybe later.

The president attacked the new Bob Woodward book. Remember, the president spoke with Woodward 19 times for that books. And those interviews show plainly in his own words how the president knew early on about the threat of this virus but chose to tell you there was nothing to worry about.


DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES (voice-over): I don't want to create panic, you know. People say, oh, you should have gone out there and say, you know, jumped up and down and you're going to die. You're going to die.

No, I don't want to do that. I don't want to build it up. And I'll say it right now. We're rounding the turn on the pandemic.


KING: Also today, millions of acres on fire. Entire towns reduced to ash and rubble. At least 36 people are dead. Nearly two dozen missing.

This hour, there are 87 blazes across three states. A cloud of smoke smothering California, Oregon and Washington.

More on the fires, the president and the virus ahead in this busy hour.

But we begin with Hurricane Sally and its slow and scary march towards the gulf states.

Sally now expected to come ashore overnight or early tomorrow, but already there's heavy rain and some flooding. Refrigerator-sized storm surge threatens coastal cities.

And the Mississippi governor calls Sally, quote, "the real deal" and is ordering evacuations.

Alabama and Louisiana officials also telling residents to leave now before this storm traps you in your home.


MAYOR ANDREW "FOFO" GLICH (R-BILOXI, MS): The storm surge is what really kills people. A meandering storm really presents some real issues.

You just don't let your guard down. It just takes one or two mistakes it, and you lose lives, and we don't want to lose any life.

And so we'll, hopefully, in a couple of days, return to normal, as normal as 2020 can be.


KING: Let's get straight to Chad Myers, CNN's Weather Center.

Chad, help us understand why slow is bad.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Slow is bad because the rainfall that comes down is going to be raining in the same places for hours hand hours and hours.

It's also bad, John, when this thing actually gets an eye wall onshore. And if it's on top of you, your 85 miles per hour wind will be for hours and hours because it's only moving two miles per hour. You can walk faster than that. You can walk three, even on the treadmill.

The storm isn't getting any stronger. The Hurricane Center says that this storm has used up a lot of the warm water in the northern Gulf of Mexico.

Storms, hurricanes, tropical storms use the warm water to get stronger. If you used it had all up, you've run out of energy. You're not running on premium gas anymore.

And the eye tried to form a couple of times overnight and this morning, and it just really couldn't make it, which means it's probably not going to get any stronger than 85 miles per hour.

The threat still is surge. There will be three to six feet of surge. But there will be also be significant freshwater flooding. This is a rain-maker, not a lot like Harvey because Harvey put down around 60 inches of rain in Houston but this will put 20 or 30.

This is still a significant flood-maker no matter what town you're in, whether Mobile or Fairhope, all the way up into parts of Mississippi, Alabama and even Georgia. There will be enough rain to make flooding.

And then on the other side, it will push salt water up your river. And rain trying to come down and salt going up and you're going to get the flash flooding quickly.

Winds between 74 are and 115, especially gusts in the red zone, slightly less as you get farther to the north.

All the way from Pensacola back into Louisiana under a hurricane warning because you'll see hurricane conditions within the next 24 hours.

I know we're saying, John, that this is going to make landfall to tomorrow between like 7:00 a.m. and maybe noon. But landfall isn't that important.

That's the center of the eye.

You will begin to see the denigration of your weather by midnight tonight if you're anywhere near the eye wall here, from Biloxi to Gulfport to Dauphin Island, all the way over to Gulf Shores and even farther to the east, if this turns slightly further to the east than what this little mark says.


KING: Chad Myers, greatly appreciate it. We will stay in touch obviously through the next 24, 48 hours as this storm makes its way towards land. Appreciate it very much, Chad.

Hurricane preparations, that's part of the job if you're a governor along the gulf coast. That job complicated this year because the hurricane season overlaps with the coronavirus pandemic.

The Mississippi governor, Tate Reeves, is with us now live from Jackson.

Governor, I'm grateful for your time today. I know you're very busy.

You just heard Chad lay out the forecast. What is your emergency management team telling you? Where in your state do you think is most vulnerable? And what are they telling you to expect?

GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): Well, thank you for having me on, John.

You're exactly right, dealing with hurricanes is part of the job as a southeastern governor. But we are certainly seeing complications in terms of sheltering and other things because of the coronavirus.

But really I think what was just said is exactly what we're hearing. This storm has been very difficult to predict. It's been very difficult to predict for a lot of reasons.

One of the things that we're seeing is typically when storms slow down like this one has -- you know, 36 hours ago, it was moving at 12 miles per hour and now it's down as was said to two to three miles per hour. Typically, those storms that do that then gain significant amounts of strength.

Whereas, with this particular storm, it's still saying in that cat 1 hurricane level. In the 80 to 90-mile-an-hour wind.

But there's also a lot of difficulty in predicting exactly where it's going to hit landfall. And 36 hours ago. we were projecting south Louisiana.

That's been tipping to the east every three hours. And now it's projected to hit landfall somewhere around the Mississippi-Alabama line. But that's depending on a pretty hard right turn right before it hits landfall.

So I really think that the entire Mississippi gulf coast and the entire Alabama gulf coast has to be on alert because of the lack of predictability of Hurricane Sally.

KING: You mentioned that on alert. I'm just going to go hold up some of the headlines in your state. Here's one here, "Sun Herald," and the day before you see a fisherman out there.

That's what happens a day or two before, people go out there to see the waves and the like. "The Clarion Ledger" noting, first, Laura and now Sally.

And you've been through this. Your people have experience. And you quickly get experience if you're new governor. There's a difference between resilient and stubborn.

In terms when people are watching this, what are you telling them about people about when to make the call to get out?

REEVES: Well, if you live in a low-lying area -- and you're exactly right, and Mississippi, our people know what their elevation is, and they know if they live in low-lying area.

Quite frankly, we're already seeing flooding. We're already seeing water in those backwater areas. And so if you're in a low-lying area in Mississippi, whether Hancock County or Harrison County or Jackson County, the time to get out is now.

This thing has slowed down. We were afraid it was going to hit landfall sometime right after nightfall. Later today. It now appears it could -- the eye of the storm could actually hit landfall early tomorrow morning.

But as was mentioned earlier, and it's exactly right, we're going to start seeing hurricane-level winds and rising water as early as middle of this afternoon. So if you live in a low-lying area, the time to get out is now.

KING: Walk me through the COVID complications.

This is your state Department of Health, "The Mississippi state medical shelter is a shelter of last resort for these people whose medical needs cannot be accommodated in a general population shelter. Because of COVID-19, the shelter will only operate at half capacity with socially distanced medical-grade cots."

That's grade one, your backup shelter. Right now, you have a 10 percent positivity rate, as least seven-day moving average in the state of Mississippi.

How much does it complicate your job, if you need -- let's hope you don't -- but if you need multiple shelters, do you have to find more locations so you can keep people spread out, or do you just have to tough it out?

REEVES: Well, first of all, our number-one priority is protecting life, and so we will have shelters open.

But, yes, we're going to have the ability to ensure that everyone that is in a shelter actually has PPE available to them. We're going to make that available so we will ensure that they are wearing masks.

We're also going to open more shelters if that becomes necessary.

But what we've tried to reiterate over and over to the people of our state and the people of the other state -- by the way, we have people who crossed state lines looking for sheltering.

The thing that we have said is, if you can go and stay with a neighbor or if you can go and stay with a friend or if you can go and stay with family, please do so. That is the safest way in which to deal with sheltering in this.

We're also working with our federal partners. I've spoken with Administrator Gaynor and others and we're looking at non-congregate sheltering, hotels, for example.


That's something that was certainly used during Hurricane Laura. We've talked to Governor Edwards in Louisiana and the experience that they have had over the last several weeks with respect to that.

Planning for the worst and praying for the best and expecting somewhere in between. We'll have shelters open. We've got the medical- needs shelter opened midday yesterday. My emergency management people were there. Our state health officer

was there for that grand opening.

And so we will make sure that sheltering is available for our people should it become necessary.

KING: Tate Reeves is the governor of Mississippi.

Governor, I wish you the best in the days ahead. I hope this storm turns away from you. But we wish you certainly the best in the days ahead. We'll keep in touch.

REEVES: Thanks, John. I appreciate it.

KING: Thank you, Governor. Appreciate it very much.

Up next, the president defying his medical experts, saying this pandemic is, quote, "rounding a turn." He also says a vaccine is coming in weeks.



KING: Is it wishful thinking or more deception and denial? President Trump insisting several times in an interview this morning that the United States is, quote, "rounding the turn."

He also says that the coronavirus vaccine is, quote, "weeks away."

And he's holding indoor rallies, celebrating on Twitter a ruling that some Pennsylvania COVID-19 restrictions are unconstitutional.

One thing he cannot influence with his tweet and his words are the numbers that tell us the facts, the truth about this stubborn pandemic.

Let's look at the latest.

If you look at the 50-state trend map, somewhat encouraging. Nine states trending up. You see out here in the west trending up badly. The darker red means 50 percent more cases this week than last week for much of the country.

And 20 states holding steady, beige, including Texas. And 21 states trending down, fewer cases compared to a week ago, including California, Arizona and Florida, the three states that drove us up in the summer surge of July and early August. So the map looks reason police good today.

This is the map of the death trend. And, again, it's lagging to the case trends. And 16 states and see across the north here, again, the same area of the west. The plains out that way.

And 16 states reporting more deaths now than a week ago. These three, plus Michigan, Tennessee. You can see some up in New England, 50 percent more deaths this week. Some start with a low baseline, but that's still not good.

And 50 percent more deaths this woke than last week. And 16 states holding steady in terms of the death count and 18 states in green trending down.

The case trend, this is the big question. Where are we? Are we pushing the baseline down, or are we in the stubborn plateau? Stubborn plateau around 35,000 cases? That's where we were Monday and where we've been to start the week.

Here's the peak of the summer surge, high 60s, new infections FDA, 80,000-plus every day and down below 40,000. And see a tweak up at the end. And the question is, will we plateau, and can we keep coming down?

You look at the positivity rate nationally. This is an encouraging number, an encouraging number. You want the coronavirus positivity, people take tests, what's the positivity rate. You want it below 5 percent.

On Monday, it was 4 percent. It's been at a plateau right along 5 percent for quite some time now. The question is, can you get it down even more?

That's the trend line you want. You get that down, then the cases will come down as well.

If you look at it the from a state perspective, you want to be light blue. Light-blue New Mexico, 2 percent, light-blue California 3 percent. You, start to shade the blues, Arizona, 7 percent.

The darker the blue you're in the trouble zone. And 14 percent Iowa and 11 percent Missouri and 14 percent Kansas and 17 percent in South Dakota. Wisconsin is there as well.

And we just spoke to the governor of Mississippi. Across this part of the southeast where Hurricane Sally is coming in, significant positivity rate, which makes sheltering more complicated.

If you look out here, Nevada and Arizona, what do they have in common? The president held big allies, giant indoor rallies there, including indoor rallies in both of those states. Positivity rate 8 percent and 7 percent. You want it below 5 percent.

Experts like Dr. Carlos Del Rio, say it's simply reckless for the president to put so many people packed into a tight space at a time the pandemic is still very much a threat.


DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, PROFESSOR & CHAIR, DEPARTMENT OF GLOBAL HEALTH, ROLLINS SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: If you have a person get infected there because of the exponential growth and the way that this is transmitted, that one person, at the end of the month, has infected 400 people.

And that's why this event, if very few people get infected, lead to hundreds if not thousands of cases afterwards.


KING: CNN's senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, joins me now.

You hear Dr. Del Rio and all the public health experts, and you go through the data and look at all the studies every day. It's simply not smart -- I'm being gentle -- not smart to put that many people packed in a tight space for a long period of time. And yet, the president says whatever.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. Why in the world would you want to do that? That's my question. Why would you take steps and want to do that?

You know, one of the -- the only thing I can think of is you're trying to make a point. You're trying to say or the president is trying to say, look, nothing to see here. No big deal. Life is normal. We're going to pack people into spaces normally just like we usually do.

That is not the right thing to be doing right now -- John?

KING: So let's listen to the president. He's been saying for quite some time -- this is not new, per se. But the reason I ask this question again is listen to him on "FOX & Friends" this morning talking about a vaccine timetable.

People are starting to vote. The president keeps saying this is going to happen soon. People won't know whether he's right or wrong until we get to November 3rd.

Do we know if we have a vaccine by then? But a lot of people will have voted by then? Listen.


TRUMP: We're going to have a vaccine in a matter -- a matter of weeks. It could be four weeks. It could be eight weeks, but we're going to have it. It's going to be soon.


Now will it be before the election? It could be in terms of we have something. And we'll start delivering it immediately upon getting it.

But we're very close to getting the vaccine. And that's something I look forward to.


KING: I get the political aspiration here, but people are nervous and worried about back to school and back to campus and people are worried about back to work.

We need specifics from our leaders. Could be four weeks or eight weeks or 16 or 32, right?

COHEN: You know, I think that the most honest thing that we can say here is we don't know when we're going to get a vaccine.

Dr. Fauci has said from the beginning, the end of this year, the beginning of next year. Back in January, he said 12 to 18 months, which puts you at the very end of December or the first half of next year.

The answer is we just don't know. Who would have expected that the AstraZeneca trials, one of the most promising vaccines, has now been on hold, on pause for about a week because a participant developed an unexplained illness?

You just can't predict these things and you just don't know.

John, I have yet to speak with any scientist who thinks that it is realistic to think that we are going to have an authorized vaccine on the market, being shot into people's arms by Election Day.

A federal official, someone who works in Donald Trump's government, told me I've never heard a scientist say we're going to get shots into arms by Election Day.

KING: Well, we will continue to watch that. But as I said, specificity, yes, yes, trusting the science and not your wishes would be helpful.

Elizabeth Cohen, grateful as always for the reporting and insights.

COHEN: Thanks.

KING: Coming up, President Trump's refusal to accept climate change draws some harsh words from his rival, Joe Biden.


KING: To the west now where devastating wildfires are taking lives, destroying property, and stirring new frustrations with those, including the president of the United States, who somehow deny climate change.

And 36 people have died in California, Oregon and Washington. More than 80 active large wildfires, more than 80 burning. More than 4.5 million acres across 10 states.

In California, thousands of firefighters continue to battle at least two dozen large fires.

CNN's Stephanie Elam joins us now from Monrovia, California.

Stephanie, what's the latest there?

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, here, I can tell you that this fire has been one that they have really been batting. And what makes this very different, John, this Bobcat Fire here, which

is in the suburb, burning up in the foothill. Believe it or not there's a mountain there but you can't tell because of all of the smoke.

We've been watching it flare up in that issue and the issue is it's such rugged terrain that the fire fighters are fighting in. They go in in the morning for 24 hours, all night long, all day long they are working.

Here come some hot shots heading in their way now.

They stay there, working on the fire line trying to stop the fire from getting further because they don't want the fire to crest over that ridge and come into this neighborhood where I'm standing now.

Talking to fire officials, it's clear that all of these fires that we're seeing here is a picture that is not like anything that they have seen before.

Also clear talking to some fire officials, that this is definitely because of climate change.

The fire season, as we used to call it, is starting earlier and it's going longer and the fires are bigger. And that is obviously a concern here.

Also worth noting, as we've heard the president speak about the immediate need to clean out the forests, as Governor Gavin Newsom, from California, pointed out yesterday, 57 percent of the forests, the forested lands in California are actually federal and they are under their jurisdictions.

While only 3 percent are under California's jurisdictions. The others falling to private property.

So if you look at that, if you're saying this is something you really want to do, Mr. President, this would be under your jurisdiction to fix it.

However, it's also worth noting, especially with the Angeles National Forest behind me, it's not the big trees that you think of when you think of a forest. A lot of small bush and growth like that. So it's not the same sort of idea of cleaning out your forests in the same way.

But that is something that people are very concerned about because, if that comes over here into this neighborhood, you could have more devastation like we've seen in other parts of the west.

It has just been a brutal fire season and we haven't even really gotten into the thick of it yet. That's the scary part -- John?

KING: That is the scary part. A nervous time in a neighborhood like that, many others around the state.

Stephanie Elam, grateful for the live reporting on the scene there. We'll stay in touch.

The experts say there's no doubt that climate change makes the wildfire threat more dangerous. But President Trump, just as he does with the coronavirus, insists scientists are to be ignored.


TRUMP: It will start getting cooler. You just watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I wish science agreed with you.

TRUMP: Well, I don't think science knows actually.


KING: Joining us now the White House reporter with "The Washington Post," Seung Min Kim.


Seung Min, it is just remarkable because we do see this in the coronavirus as well, people who spend years and years and years studying their craft, studying their science, make a point, and the president just shakes his head and cocks his head and rolls his eyes and says, go away, essentially.

Every expert you talk to about this issue in California says, yes, we have a wildfire problem.