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The Lead with Jake Tapper

Interview With National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci; Trump Set to Hold Coronavirus Task Force Briefing. Aired 4-4:30p ET

Aired July 21, 2020 - 16:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In just about an hour from now, President Trump is scheduled to hold what the White House is calling a coronavirus briefing. It will be the president's first since April. That month, the president, of course, infamously mused about Americans injecting themselves with disinfectant.

About 86,000 Americans have died since the president last addressed the nation in a briefing specifically focused on coronavirus on April 27. And almost three million more Americans have tested positive for this virus, with the rate of daily new cases now almost double what it was that month in April, which we thought was the peak, but it is no longer.

Other countries have managed to significantly reduce the spread of the virus. You can see in this graph how the European Union and Canada and the U.K. have all been able to dramatically slow the spread, while the U.S. -- that's the one in green -- is adding tens of thousands of new cases each day.

In just minutes, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, will join us in an exclusive interview to talk about the escalating coronavirus crisis in this country, though it's unclear whether he or any health experts on the Coronavirus Task Force will attend today's briefing.

It doesn't seem so, meaning it's possible, if not likely, that this event after our show may be less focused on the pandemic and possibly more focused on the president and his reelection campaign, though I guess we shall see.

As CNN's Kaitlan Collins reports right now, President Trump is tweeting that masks and talking about how wearing a mask is patriotic. Combined with today's event, this comes as White House advisers have sounded the alarm to the president that his poll numbers have been plummeting.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): After largely ignoring the surge in new cases, President Trump will revise his daily coronavirus briefings today amid questions about whether his health experts will join him.

QUESTION: Will Dr. Fauci, will Dr. Birx be there?


COLLINS: Sources told CNN that, as of this morning, no health officials were expected to attend. And even they seemed unaware about the plan.

DR. JEROME ADAMS, SURGEON GENERAL OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, they're still figuring that out.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: And if they want me there, I'd be more than happy to be there. And if not, that's OK too, as long as we get the message across.

COLLINS: Instead, the White House press secretary said that the president is the one who should be providing information to the nation.

MCENANY: He's the right person to give the information to the American people, and, boy, does he get the information to a lot of the American people during his briefings, as noted by the ratings, as he himself pointed out.

COLLINS: Claiming they were no longer worth the time and effort, Trump scrapped the briefings in April after he was widely panned for suggesting that Americans use disinfectants to treat COVID-19.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out.

COLLINS: The president appears to have changed his mind, but not necessarily because infections are surging across the U.S. or because Americans are waiting days and sometimes weeks to get test results.

TRUMP: We had a good slot, and a lot of people were watching, and that's a good thing.

COLLINS: Sources say Trump's sinking poll numbers and inability to hold big rallies are driving his return to the podium.

TRUMP: Do you know we're not allowed to have a rally in Michigan? Do you know we're not allowed to have a rally in Minnesota? Do you know we're not allowed to have a rally in Nevada? We're not allowed to have rallies.

COLLINS: Today, former Vice President Joe Biden accused Trump of ignoring the pandemic.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: You know, he's quit on you, and he's quit on this country.

TRUMP: I think I look better in the mask.

COLLINS: The president's low poll numbers also played a role in his decision to finally encourage Americans to wear a mask, saying, "It's patriotic and there is nobody more patriotic than me."

Just hours later, he ignored his own advice during a fund-raiser at his nearby hotel, where he was seen in a video interacting with supporters without a mask on. The White House press secretary justified Trump going maskless by revealing he is sometimes tested multiple times a day.

MCENANY: The president is the most tested man in America. He's tested more than anyone, multiple times a day. And we believe that he's acting appropriately.


COLLINS: Now, Jake, the White House has been facing questions all day about whether or not the health experts are going to show up. So we will see if they change their mind from the plan as of this morning.

But I do want to note about what the topics could be at this briefing, because we were told by sources that, when the president was discussing bringing them back, he told his aides that he did not want to solely focus on coronavirus at this briefing.

And so that's why on the schedule it doesn't say Coronavirus Task Force briefing. It just says the president is going to hold a news conference.


All right, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thanks so much.

Joining us right now, Dr. Anthony Fauci. He's director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Dr. Fauci, thanks so much for joining us.

So, obviously, the U.S. is in the midst of this public health emergency, nearly four million confirmed infections, more than 141,000 deaths.


I guess my first question is, have you been invited to participate in the White House briefing today?

FAUCI: I'm assuming that I'm not going...


TAPPER: I think we're -- I'm having some audio problems.

Dr. Fauci -- OK. Dr. Fauci, can you say that again? Were you invited to the briefing today?

FAUCI: I was not invited up to this point. I'm assuming that I'm not going to be there, because it's going to be in just a short while, and I'm still here at the NIH. So I'm assuming it's not going to be there.

TAPPER: When's the last time you spoke directly with the president?

FAUCI: Oh, I had a good, long conversation with him towards the end of last week. I think it was -- might've been Thursday.

TAPPER: OK. So, you haven't briefed him for today.

Since the last presidential coronavirus briefing three months ago, we're seeing now infections at an all-time high. Hospitalizations are increasing to peak levels. Deaths are rising in some states.

If you were at the briefing today, what would you tell the American people? What should we know?

FAUCI: You know what I would say, Jake, is what we mentioned the other day when we had the meeting, the telemeeting with the governors, is that there are really some fundamental things or principles that, if we implemented, then I believe we could turn this around in those Southern states which are getting hit really hard right now with the numbers that you just showed a few moments ago.

There are really some key issues, I mean, things like universal wearing of masks, close the bars, stay physically distant, outdoors better than indoors, particularly if you're going to have restaurants. Sparsely seat people separated from each other. Wash your hands.

They're really fundamental things. It's not rocket science. If we all did it uniformly, Jake, I believe that we could turn things around, because we have shown that, when you do those things, particularly the physical distancing and the universal use of masks, that you can turn around the kind of surges that we've seen.

We are trying to emphasize that. And I hope that gets listened to.

TAPPER: I have also heard health experts say, in addition to everything you just laid out, that the U.S. needs to identify and isolate the virus, so as to keep people from spreading it.

And that would require, it seems, a national campaign of much more aggressive testing, a quicker turnaround time for results, and detailed contact tracing. Somebody tests positive, you find out everybody they came in contact with the previous week or so.

Do you have any idea why the federal government is not attempting a Manhattan Project-like approach to this, going after the virus that way, through testing and quick results and contact tracing?

FAUCI: Well, there certainly are attempts to do that. But we still have to make it better, Jake. One of the things that I hear when I call up colleagues that I know

that are in the trenches out there is one of the things that is an issue that we need to do better on.

And some places are getting it right. But others, the time frame from when you get a test to the time you get the result back is sometimes measured in a few days. If that's the case, it kind of negates the purpose of the contact tracing, because, if you don't know if that person gets the results back very, very -- at a period of time that's reasonable, 24 hours, 48 hours at the most, when you get to six or seven days, that kind of really mitigates against getting a good tracing and a good isolation.

So, we have got to do better on that.

TAPPER: So, I guess the question is, how then do we do better on that?

Some of these labs are federal labs. And so, theoretically, the government, the federal government, could put more money into them, buy more supplies, hire more staffers. Some of them are private labs, which means that President Trump is the only one who has the power to invoke the Defense Production Act and require more equipment to go to those labs and require that those labs hire more people as an official act.

Is it going to take the federal government doing something about it, I mean, because we're six months into this?

FAUCI: Right.

TAPPER: And testing results still take far too long, as even the testing czar, Admiral Giroir, acknowledged.

Is it going to take an act like that from the federal government, from the president to increase the speed?

FAUCI: Well, I'm not sure what it would take, Jake.

But it's -- certainly, we need to do better when it comes to that. There are certain things that are being done quite well in certain areas, and, in others, not.

I would say, it really is patchy. It isn't as uniform as you would like, that every single state, city, every county, every place where we need it is doing it at exactly the same level.


As a whole, we need to improve it. I mean, you have said that. We know we need to do that.

TAPPER: But you -- you're the head -- you're the head national infectious diseases expert.

You have an idea of how federal labs are working. You talk to people who are in the trenches. What are they telling you? I mean, do they need more money, so they can buy more equipment and hire more people to do the lab testing?

I mean, what's the story as to the lag time? Because, as you note, that's a real problem. If I get tested on a Monday, and I don't find out until Saturday that I'm negative or positive, that's a whole week lost.


Well, it differs from whom you speak to, Jake. As I said, I talk to people in different places, be it New Orleans or Florida or any of the other different places, and it really differs.

One of the common denominators is that, when you get surges like you're seeing now, it kind of overwhelms the system a bit. And even places that were getting tests that were back in an expedited manner now are having trouble, because there are a lot.

So, just the number of tests that you do doesn't always give you a right reflection of how well things are working or not. You have really got to make a smooth transition, as it were, from having a certain level of testing to ratcheting it up, and still getting the results back on time.

So, it's been a difficult situation. People are trying as best as they can. But, as I said, we need to do better, particularly when you're dealing with the surges that we're seeing now in some of the Southern states.

TAPPER: The president today insisted that the U.S. is doing great when it comes to handling this virus, compared to the rest of the world.

I mean, empirically, that's not true. The U.S. is currently, according to official numbers, the global leader in cases, the global leader in deaths. For context, the U.S. has about 4 to 5 percent of the world's population, 4 to 5 percent of the world's population, but we have about 25 percent of the world's COVID-19 deaths.

This weekend, President Trump called you an alarmist. I know you don't like to get involved in tit-for-tats with President Trump, but is the charge fair, do you think? Are you an alarmist?

FAUCI: Well, I mean, people have their opinion about my reaction to things.

I consider myself more a realist than an alarmist. But people do have their opinions other than that. I have always thought of myself as a realist when it comes to this.

TAPPER: Four vaccine candidates have shown promise, turning to some more positive news. And those four vaccines are now headed into large human trials.

You have long expressed hope that a viable vaccine could be ready for the first stages of distribution by the end of this year or the beginning of next.

Do you still believe that? And is there one of these vaccines that you are more hopeful about than the others?

FAUCI: Well, I certainly still believe that, Jake.

I think the timetable that we have discussed now over the past several months, luckily and fortunately, has really worked out OK. The results of several of the phase one trials of different candidates, not only one -- I'm reluctant to point out one that's going to be better than the other, because the proof of the pudding is whether it actually works in the field and is a safe and effective vaccine.

But the good news is that there's more than one candidate out there. And they're going to be entering into a broader phase three trial to truly determine efficacy and also continued work on safety.

One of them is going to go into phase three trial at the end of this month, at the end of July. And that's something that we hope, over a period of several months, since it's going to be a large trial of 30,000 individuals, 30,000 volunteers, that, with the degree of infection that is still ongoing in the community, we feel we will be able to get an answer in the timetable that you just mentioned, towards the end of this calendar year and in the very beginning of 2021.

When we get that, I believe, and I'm cautiously optimistic about it, that we will have a vaccine that we will be able to start distributing to people in this country.

TAPPER: Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor and dean at Baylor College of Medicine, one of your proteges, he is warning people that the first vaccines might not be the best vaccines.

Do you think, theoretically, people should wait to get the best vaccine, that there might be some wisdom in that?

FAUCI: No, a good point. And the answer to that is a resounding no.

And I will explain why, Jake, because a vaccine will not be approved by the FDA unless it clearly shows that it's safe and it's effective.


So, if the first candidate that reaches so-called finish line, that doesn't mean it's the only candidate.

But I would not wait to see if one was better than another, because the very fact that it gets approved by the FDA means that it's good enough to protect you. The relative percentage of how good it's going to be, you may get one vaccine that's a bit better than the other.

But I would say that some protection by a vaccine is certainly better than no protection. So, I like the idea about there being multiple candidates in the queue. And I hope that we do get approval of more than one candidate, because we need a lot of vaccine, not only for people in the United States, but for the rest of the world.

So, we're hoping for more than one winner. And when the first one comes out, if it's available, I would encourage people to get vaccinated.

TAPPER: Today, we learned that President Trump is tested multiple times a day. That's what the White House press secretary said.

How often should a president be tested?

FAUCI: Well, it depends on the circumstances and to whom the person was exposed.

When I go to the White House, you don't really go in, particularly if you're going to see the vice president or the president, without getting tested. So, I went down there yesterday for a certain period of time, and I got tested.

So, I mean, you get tested in order to make sure that you protect the president, obvious -- for the obvious reasons. He is the president of the United States. It's extremely important that he stays protected.

TAPPER: Let's turn to the return to school, which is obviously on the mind of lots of parents and teachers and children across the country.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the president have insisted that schools across the country need to reopen.

Have you spoken to them about your recommendations and your concerns about every school taking all children in for in-person learning, even if the virus is still spreading out of control?

FAUCI: Jake, I have not specifically spoken to the president or to Secretary DeVos about that, but we have discussed this in the presence of the vice president at the Coronavirus Task Force meetings, because this is obviously a very important problem.

You know, in general, when I think about that, I want to take a 40,000-foot look and say, as a fundamental principle, I do agree that we should try, as best as we possibly can, to get the children back to school because of the well-documented secondary downstream ripple effects that are negative, particularly on parents and on the children, when you keep them out of school.

So, if you at least agree that the general principle is to try, as best as you can, to get the children back to school, I think you have to put that in the context that an important issue in that is to make sure you do whatever you can to safeguard the safety and the health of the children, as well as the teachers. And that should guide your policy.

TAPPER: See, as a father, if I could just say, I would be delighted to send my kids back to school. I mean, remote learning is horrible, especially for younger kids. It's just -- it's just not the way that kids are supposed to learn.

But, obviously, I also don't want to risk their lives or risk them picking up an infectious disease that spreads to me and my wife or their grandparents, et cetera.

And this is where I come down. I don't understand why, if it's so important to our federal leadership that kids go back to school -- and I agree with the principle, as you just said you do -- why we don't have testing up to speed, so that, the day before school, kids can all get tested, teachers can all get tested, anybody else, administrators and custodians, can all get tested, and then there can be tests at the school every two weeks or so, with obviously everybody washing their hands, wearing masks, et cetera.

I would feel much more comfortable.

And yet what I'm hearing from the federal leadership is, go back to school, go back to school, and nothing along the lines of, and here's how we're going to protect your children.

FAUCI: Well, you know, there are so many different models of that.

And I think what's being discussed now, Jake, is different types of approaches to do what I just said to adhere to the principle of getting the children back to school, but, in order to safeguard them, their health and their welfare, as well as the teachers, to do some sort of modeling that are different versions.

And I have heard different versions from different principals and different superintendents about the school scheduling, about morning, afternoon, about alternate days, about more outdoor than indoor, if you possibly can, protecting the vulnerable, but also what you're talking about, about testing.

Although I haven't heard it discussed in detail about elementary or middle school, clearly, many of the universities are talking about the same model that you're talking about, that a more universal testing before you get in, and intermittent, at different intervals, surveillance testing.


That clearly is being discussed at the level of universities and colleges. Whether or not that is even going to be discussed with regard to elementary and middle and other schools, I'm not sure.

TAPPER: The U.S. surgeon general today, Dr. Jerome Adams, said that the U.S. needs to lower the transmission rate to get schools reopened.

I want to play for you something I heard from Missouri's Republican Governor Mike Parson. This is what he had to say this week about students returning to school in the fall.


GOV. MIKE PARSON (R-MO): These kids have got to get back to school. They're at the lowest risk possible.

And if they do get COVID-19, which they will, and they will when they go to school, they're not going to the hospitals. They're not going to have to sit in doctor's offices. They're going to go home. And they're going to get over it.


TAPPER: I mean, just to repeat it, the governor said, kids who get it, he said, "They will get it. They're not going to have to sit in doctor's office. They're not going to hospitals. They're going to go home, and they're going to get over it."

What's your reaction to that?

FAUCI: Well, I mean, in general, children who get infected, as we know from the statistics, clearly, for the most part, do very well, and don't get seriously ill.

If you look at the rate of hospitalizations, it's much, much, much lower with children. But there are exceptions to that. And I think we have to be realistic to realize that children who get infected, for the most part, don't get serious illness. But some children do get seriously ill, and some do pass it on to the adults.

So, I think we have to be careful when we talk about that.

TAPPER: Finally, sir, I know you're a huge Nationals fan. I have seen you wear a Nationals mask at hearings.

You're going to throw out the first pitch when the Nationals face off against the Yankees on opening day Thursday. Obviously, that's quite an honor.

How are you going to do it in a way that conveys that we're not going back to normal, that this is baseball during a time of a pandemic?

FAUCI: Well, Jake, I think the atmosphere in which it's going to be occurring is going to bespeak that very, very clearly. There's not going to be people in the stands. It's just going to be televised.

So, I think that, in and of itself, tells you something about the stark difference between what we're doing right now and what we were able to do last year at this time.

TAPPER: All right.

I hope you have practiced. That plate is a lot farther than you think it is.


FAUCI: Yes. I used to play baseball as a young boy and as a kid in school. And I hope I don't bounce it too much.


TAPPER: Well, if you do, you will be forgiven. I know you have been busy.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, thanks so much for being so generous with your time and expertise today. We appreciate it.

FAUCI: Thank you for having me, Jake.

TAPPER: The CDC today says that the number of people infected in this country could be up to 24 times, 24 times what's been reported.

Our Dr. Sanjay Gupta's going to join me to discuss that and more, next.

Plus, Senate Republicans trying to put together a new $1 trillion stimulus deal. But there's just one big problem and it's not Democrats. What is it?

Stay with us.



TAPPER: And staying with our health lead right now, new data from the CDC shows that the number of Americans who have had COVID-19 is much higher than the official case count in some areas, six to 24 times higher. Right now, there are almost 4 million confirmed cases in the United States. This means that actual number could be tens of millions more.

And as CNN's Nick Watt reports for us now from California, that scary possibility comes as some areas are starting to return to stay-at-home orders.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Down on the border of one Texas county, this county just ordered everyone to stay home again after 34 deaths in just 24 hours.

DR. IVAN MELENDEZ, HIDALGO COUNTY HEALTH AUTHORITY PHYSICIAN: We are a hot spot in a hot spot of a hot spot. The United States is a hot spot. Texas is a hot spot and we're the hot spot of Texas.

WATT: In Florida, 54 hospitals in 27 counties are now completely out of ICU beds. Miami is closing all city summer camps after several kids tested positive.

So, schools?

DR. JEROME ADAMS, U.S. SURGEON GENERAL: The biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school actually has little to nothing to do with the actual schools. It's your background transmission rate.

WATT: Florida is ordering all schools open brick and mortar in just a few weeks. A teacher's group is suing. FREDRICK INGRAM, PRESIDENT, FLORIDA EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: The

startling statistic that you all need to know is that we have 23,000 children that have been tested positive for COVID-19 in the state of Florida with a 13.4 percent positivity rate. We must keep kids alive, we must keep them healthy and we must keep them safe.

WATT: Meanwhile, still long lines for tests in too many places, one leading lab says some results are taking up to two weeks.

JUDGE CLAY JENKINS, DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: We've never had enough testing. The federal testing is way too slow. That's why we had to get rid of it.

WATT: But there are some early signs that what the American people are doing masks, et cetera is helping. First time in a week, the U.S. just dropped below 60,000 new cases in a day. But it's all relative. Hundreds are still dying every day and it's regional. Idaho largely spared in the spring, climbing alarmingly midsummer. Today or tomorrow, California will probably surpass New York as the state with the most confirmed cases.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): We have to minimize our mixing. We have to minimize the transmission of this disease. Be as vigilant as possible to work through the next few critical weeks.

WATT: And nationwide, probably for many months to come.