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Trump Once Again Downplays Using Masks to Battle COVID-19; Sally Batters Gulf Coast. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired September 16, 2020 - 15:00   ET



BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN HOST: Good afternoon. I'm Brooke Baldwin. Thank you so much for being with me.

We will show you live pictures and tell you we are waiting -- here we go -- waiting to see Joe Biden, the former vice president speaking about the rollout of a COVID vaccine. So, all eyes on that podium. We will take it as soon as we see him.

But let's talk Tropical Storm Sally now, which is still battering the Gulf Coast hours after making landfall in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Sally was downgraded to a tropical storm just last hour, as winds started to decrease. But that's just one part of the story. As we have been talking about, the bigger threat here is the torrential rain and life-threatening storm surge, which led thousands of people to evacuate.

And look at. These heavy rains caused widespread flooding, turning streets into rivers and forcing crews to rescue people who just became stranded. More than 500,000 customers in Alabama, Mississippi and Florida are without power as we speak. And officials are warning that coastal areas could see Sally's effects for several days, as the storm slowly moves north.

So, how long will the Gulf region be feeling the effects of Sally? And then where is she headed next?

Let's go straight to CNN meteorologist Jennifer Gray, who has been tracking the storm all over the last couple of days.

And, I mean, you were just -- we were just talking about this yesterday, about how excruciatingly slow this would be. And the issue wouldn't be as much wind, but all the rain.


And we showed this radar picture yesterday, and it didn't look a whole lot different than this. It hasn't moved much. It's only moving about five miles per hour. And you can see, it made landfall more than nine hours ago and still just about 40 miles or so north of the coast. And so it is moving painfully slow. Still getting torrential rains all across the Panhandle. We have had reports of more than two feet of rain, all of this rain spilling to the north, so you can see, through Alabama, Georgia, even Atlanta getting in on it. And we're going to see the rain come down all throughout the night tonight into tomorrow as well.

Here's the radar estimated observed rainfall. All of this area shaded in white is more than 20 inches of rain. And you can see all covering I-10 and then moving to the north. So even the areas shaded and hot pink are 10 to 20 inches of rain. So it is a lot of water in one place that has come down in the last few days.

So here's where all the flash flood warnings are, including the Florida Panhandle, portions of Alabama and Georgia. Those are going to stay in place throughout the night tonight. And then you can see the current winds still gusting, say, 40 miles per hour, 46 miles per hour in Milton, 45 in Pensacola.

And this made landfall as a high-end Category 2 storm. And with it moving so, so slowly, we had winds that were whipping 70, 80, 90 miles per hour for hours and hours on end. And so that's why you're seeing all of those docks destroyed, a lot of structural damage right along the coast, because of the length of time we had those winds sitting in one spot.

So, 70 miles per hour right now. It's a tropical storm, Brooke. It will continue to weaken throughout the day and overnight, but still that rain is going to come down and then impact the Carolinas in the days ahead.

BALDWIN: Yes, you were saying months of rain all in a matter of days.

GRAY: Right.

BALDWIN: Jen Gray, thank you so much.

We have reporters all along the Gulf Coast.

Let's go to Ed Lavandera. He is live in Lillian, Alabama, not far from where Sally made landfall.

And, Ed, tell us -- as we try to make you out here, tell us exactly where you are and what you're seeing.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, as you mentioned, we're in a little town called Lilian, Alabama, which sits right on Perdido Bay, which is the bay that separates Alabama from Florida.

All across the bay, there are several miles, probably five, six miles across all the way. That's Florida there on the other side. This is where the eye of the storm.

Perdido in Spanish (AUDIO GAP) storm on the Florida side of this (AUDIO GAP) is inside. He told us just a short while ago that he actually lost -- the anchors came loose when the -- before the storm came in. And over the course of the overnight storm, this boat with two people

inside of it got blown across the bay and ended up here. And we found the boat because we were talking to some neighbors here, Brooke, a little while ago who looked down the street that we're on, and were trying to figure out who owned the boat, and had no idea where the boat had come from.


So, that really gives you a sense of the destruction and the force and the power that Hurricane Sally came through this particular area. We are now what is on the Eastern side of the eye of this storm, and people, many people emerging from their homes that we have talked to in this neighborhood really kind of stunned by just how quickly and the ferociousness of this storm, and how quickly it escalated and provided such an intense pounding on this Alabama-Florida coastline, that I think it's left people here stunned this morning -- Brooke.

BALDWIN: It's the morning after the storm. You talk to people. They're figuring out what's left just walking around dazed. We have seen it. And I can see it just even with the boat there behind you.

Ed, thank you so much. Perdido Bay, as he pointed out, in Spanish, meaning lost.

Meantime, a face mask will provide better protection against the coronavirus and a vaccine, CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield making that claim this morning during a Senate committee hearing.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, CDC DIRECTOR: These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. If we did it for six, eight, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control.

I might even go so far as to say that this face mask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take the COVID vaccine, because the immunogenicity may be 70 percent. And if I don't get an immune response, the vaccine is not going to protect me.

This face mask will.


BALDWIN: And as for when a vaccine would be available to most Americans, Redfield offered this timeline:


REDFIELD: I think there will be vaccine that initially will be available some time between November and December, but very limited supply, and will have to be prioritized.

If you're asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public, so we can begin to take advantage of vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we're probably looking at third -- late second quarter, third quarter 2021.


BALDWIN: The CDC chief making those comments as the U.S. posts its biggest one day increase in deaths, so 1,400 Americans in a month.

And, as a whole country, nearly half the country now showing an upward trend in new cases compared to last week.

Elizabeth Cohen is CNN senior medical correspondent.

And I want to begin first with you just on his point about face masks, Dr. Redfield making it clear just how critical they are, repeating his belief that, if we all just wore one for a couple of months, we could get a handle on COVID.


When you take masks and pair that especially with social distancing, Brooke, that can go such a long way. Now, I hate to get disgusting here. But we have all seen that when we talk or maybe the people near us, sometimes, a little bit of spit comes out when you're talking, or if you sneeze or if you cough.

And that's the major way that it's believed that COVID is spread. So, it's pretty simple. You don't need a Ph.D. in immunology to know that, if you can cover that mouth up and keep that spit as much as possible from leaving, plus leave some distance between you and the next guy, or the next girl, that's going to go a very long way to keeping you and others safe from COVID.

BALDWIN: And on the vaccine point, he says, yes, maybe, maybe there can be something between November and December of this year, but it could be nearly the end of 2021 before the rest of us really get it, right?

COHEN: Right.

We need to think of the vaccine, Brooke, as a process, not as an on/off switch, not like, we don't have a vaccine, oh, we do have a vaccine, go to your doctor's tomorrow or go to your drugstore tomorrow and you can get one. It's not going to be like that.

We are trying to back and hundreds of millions of people in the United States as quickly as we can. It is not going to happen overnight. It is going to be front-line workers. It is going to be people at high risk of dying from this virus. It is going to take months to roll this out to everybody. And you have to do it twice, right?

Probably, this vaccine is going to be two doses. So, that means getting one dose, waiting a number of weeks, getting another dose. That is not going to happen quickly for the entire country.

BALDWIN: Right. And if we need two doses, we were hearing just the other day that the whole world may not get both those doses until the end of 2024.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much for all of that, of course, all the context.

I want to move on to this. Amid the fallout from his interviews with Bob Woodward, where the president admitted that COVID was airborne and deadlier than the flu, Trump came before voters last night in a town hall.

And, once again, he defended his handling of a pandemic that has killed nearly 200,000 of his fellow Americans.





STEPHANOPOULOS: You were saying it was going to disappear.

TRUMP: Well, it is going to disappear. It's going to disappear.

Could you have done more to stop it?

TRUMP: I don't think so.


BALDWIN: President Trump also blamed former Vice President Joe Biden for not implementing a mask mandate, even though Biden couldn't do that, because he's not the president.

Trump also said this:


TRUMP: There are a lot of people think that masks are not good. And there are a lot of people that, as an example, you have--

STEPHANOPOULOS: Who are those people?

TRUMP: I will tell you who those people are, waiters.


BALDWIN: The surgeon general would probably like to have a word with you, sir, because this was the advice he gave the nation this morning:


DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Are you headed out in public? Well, don't forget your mask. When you wear a mask, you're protecting those around you and preventing the possible spread of COVID-19.

So, any time you leave the house or around people from outside of your household, do your part and wear a mask.


BALDWIN: CNN White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with me now.

And, Kaitlan, I was watching you, your back-and-forth with Kayleigh McEnany, the White House press secretary, trying to fact-check her on the fly. There she was trying to defend the president's mask comments.

What did she say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's a hard thing to defend, because it's the president making a statement that contradicts what the surgeon general said, what the CDC director testified hours later today during testimony on Capitol Hill, what many health experts in the administration have said, which is very simply that you should wear a mask, it helps stop the spread of COVID.

The president has even said this at times. So, of course, that goes back to where he's contradicting himself last night. And so we simply asked, who was it that has told the president that masks are not good? Is there anyone besides waiters or any non-medical experts who have made this decision, this judgment call and told the president as much?

And we did not get an answer on that today in today's briefing.


COLLINS: You said that the president is talking about wearing a mask and properly last night, touching it, referring to what Dr. Fauci said.

But he said -- quote -- "There are people that don't think masks are good."

That's clearly not what the CDC director thinks, since he said today that masks are important, powerful public health tool we have. They could be even more protective against COVID than a vaccine.

So, have any medical experts told the president that masks aren't good? Or is he only citing non-medical experts, like he did last?

KAYLEIGH MCENANY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: He's referring to the fact that, when used appropriately, they can have unintended consequences, much like what Dr. Fauci said. It's not providing the perfect protection that people think that it is, and oftentimes there are unintended consequences.

So the president agrees with Dr. Fauci that mask wearing is good. It's recommended. The president has continually recommended it from this podium, but he was just pointing out some of the unintended consequences if not used appropriately. COLLINS: He didn't say that. He just said there are people--


MCENANY: Do you have his whole exchange? Would you like to read it out?

COLLINS: I watched it last night.


COLLINS: He said there are people who don't think masks are good. He didn't say improperly or anything like that.

MCENANY: Kaitlan, he went on in a new very -- unfortunately, a bunch of you are very keen on doing selective editing of the president's quotes and not referring to the second half.

Directly under that statement, he talked about a waiter touching the mask, then touching a plate, and that being an unintended effect of wearing a mask.


COLLINS: Brooke, if the president had only been talking about people who improperly wear a mask, it would not be causing the kind of backlash that it is.

If he had said that that is a concern that some health experts have said, people would say that's right. But that was how the president had responded to a question about why he did not institute a national mask mandate and why he so often chooses to not wear a mask, which some people say could set an example.

So we are not selectively editing the president's words. You can see him make the argument where he is basically disparaging the value of wearing a mask. And we are simply asking, who told the president that masks aren't good?

BALDWIN: Right. Again, as you point out, despite what we heard from Dr. Redfield this morning.

And also to his point just on vaccines, we know that the president, Kaitlan, is also being defended on his claim that the U.S. is just weeks away from a vaccine by White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Again, we heard Dr. Redfield this morning saying maybe end of the year, but then it would be prioritized before we really get our hands on by the end of next year.

Where is he getting this that it could be ready, then?

COLLINS: Yes, no one has given as ambitious of a timeline as the president has, who went from saying a few days ago it could be as soon as four weeks.

Now he is saying potentially even three weeks. I believe that's what he said in an interview yesterday. And the chief of staff, Mark Meadows, defended the president and this ambitious timeline.

He said that he has been on the phone with some of the company executives, though he did not say which one, is it Pfizer, is it AstraZeneca, any of these are working on these trials, because he said he didn't want to mess with the markets.

But that is a much more ambitious timeline than any expert has offered. And the question is not just once it's ready and ready to go and they say it's safe. The FDA also has to approve it. Then, of course, what we have heard is, they are going to give it to elderly people and health care experts first.

So the idea that the general public is going down a vaccine by the end of October is not feasible, if you listen to the people who even work in this administration and are the medical experts.


And so the question is, is it giving people false hope? Are they actually thinking that you're going to have a vaccine before Christmas, when, in reality, at the best, you may not get one until next year, well into 2021?

And so that's just simply the question about whether or not the president is trying to offer out this ambitious timeline, because, of course, he knows voters are going to the polls already, starting to vote early and going on November 3, of course.

BALDWIN: Exactly. Exactly. False hope and politics and public health all swirling together.

Kaitlan Collins, thank you at the White House for all of that.

And just a heads-up for all of you all. Make sure you watch tomorrow night. Join Joe Biden in a special CNN presidential town hall live from Pennsylvania, with Anderson Cooper moderating. The whole thing starts at 8:00 Eastern tomorrow night, only here on CNN.

And speaking of, we will show you these live pictures. We are watching and waiting for him. He's going to stand behind that podium and deliver a speech specifically about his plan for a COVID-19 vaccine. So we will bring that to you live as soon as it begins.

Cleaning off the podium for the man himself.

And the president's health spokesman, Michael Caputo, just took a leave of absence after going on this disturbing conspiracy-filled rant on Facebook. What the administration has to say about that.

You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We will be right back.



BALDWIN: Welcome back. You're watching CNN. I'm Brooke Baldwin. We are following the devastating impact of Sally, which has now been

downgraded to a tropical storm. Coastal communities in Alabama are just beginning to assess the damage, and the destruction is extensive.

We're seeing images of trees down, buildings destroyed, and really the story is all the rain. These heavily flooded streets look like rivers.

With me now, Zach Hood, director of Emergency Management Agency for Baldwin County, Alabama.

And so, Zach, thank you so much, sir, for coming on. I know you have your hands full.

Baldwin County is the home of Gulf Shores, where Sally made landfall this morning. Can you just first bring me up to speed as far as what's happening in Baldwin County? And what's your number one concern?


Right now, what we have is a storm that approached the southern end of Baldwin County and increased in intensity right before it made landfall. This was a very devastating Category 2 hurricane for our community.

Right now, our main concern is the life, safety and health of the citizens, the visitors and the people of Baldwin County. And we're trying to get rescue crews into areas that were heavily impacted from the devastating wind and, most importantly, the rain that we are still experiencing now, as the day moves into this evening.

BALDWIN: To your point about the emergency crews, when I was reading about what's going on in Baldwin County, I was reading that it's been tough for even those folks to get out to help people just because of the conditions there on the ground.

Can you just talk about, are they able to get out and help rescue folks who need rescuing, or is that still challenging for them?

HOOD: Yes, this evening, there has been a sense of hope in our community. Fire trucks, road crews, utilities are all out, and they are working to help people as fast as they can.

We had state and federal resources on standby. So they are now making their way in. And so there is a sign of hope. And you are starting to hear everyone be very confident in what they are doing now that Sally has progressed out of Baldwin County.

I do want to say, the biggest thing that was catastrophic for us was how slow Hurricane Sally moved across our community. It was at an extremely slow pace, and it had very devastating consequences.

BALDWIN: That's the -- I'm so glad you brought that up. That's what our meteorologists have been talking about.

But so the fact that a hurricane, instead of just smacking a town and rolling right through, it can be worse when it just churns and churns and churns and just dumps all that rain, I mean, because we're seeing the flooding.

And, also, I mean, we were just looking at pictures of Sea-Doos and jet skis and boats in people's backyards. Is -- how is the flooding in your neck of the woods?

HOOD: Yes, it's very severe.

And to give you an extent of the flooding in this county, most of our major river and waterway systems will reach a historic total in terms of record flooding. This had been predicted for the last about 48 hours.

And, in fact, the Weather Service use terms as historic rain event, historic flood event. And, indeed, that is what we have here today.

BALDWIN: My goodness.

And then, obviously, this is happening while everyone's been hunkering down and trying to be safe in the midst of this fatal pandemic. I know Alabama's been hit hard. Your county alone has reported over 4,800 cases so far.

Zach, last question. How has that affected your county's response to this Category 2 storm?

HOOD: In terms of dealing with COVID-19, we have been trying to do the best we can in this community.

If you look at our numbers per capita as a state, we have done relatively well. However, the effects of COVID and now the effects of Hurricane Sally in our community is something that everyone here will remember forever.


BALDWIN: Zach Hood, be well, be safe. Thank you for taking a minute.

Just good luck with everything and everyone in Baldwin County. Thank you there in Alabama.

HOOD: Thank you.

BALDWIN: You got it.

Coming up: President Trump's top health spokesman is now taking a leave of absence after going on this Facebook rant where he accused CDC scientists of wanting Americans to suffer from the coronavirus.

We have those new details ahead.