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The Situation Room

Investigating Coronavirus; Trump Valet Tests Positive for Coronavirus; Interview With Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA); Some California Counties Reject Statewide Stay-At-Home Order; Alabama Begins Reopening Amid Rise In New Cases; Montana Reopening Some Schools Today Sparks Intense Debate Over Return To Normalcy; Study: Coronavirus Kills More African Americans Than Any Other Group In The United States; In Memory: The People Behind The Pandemic. Aired 6-7p ET

Aired May 07, 2020 - 18:00   ET



WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: President Trump is touting the reopening, but the virus is hitting close to home.

A personal valet to the president at the White House has tested positive for the coronavirus, raising serious concerns about protocols inside the West Wing.

The White House says, Mr. Trump has since tested negative.

Let's begin our coverage with our chief White House correspondent, Jim Acosta.

Jim, the president now says he will be tested daily after one of his personal valets became sick with the coronavirus.


And that's after President Trump was downplaying the revelation that one of his military valets at the White House tested positive for the coronavirus. White House officials are telling us, though, there are very few aides around the president who wear masks as they work in the West wing. That's something we see here on a daily basis.

In the meantime, the White House is shelving guidelines for reopening businesses and schools and putting less of a focus on its Coronavirus Task Force these days. It all adds up to a White House that desperately wants to reopen the country, but doesn't seem to know how.


ACOSTA (voice-over): For President Trump, the pandemic just hit home, as in the White House, as one of his military valets has tested positive for the coronavirus. But the president is insisting it's no big deal, that a personal aide was infected.

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Know who he is, good person, but I have had very little contact. Mike has had very little contact with him. But Mike was tested and I was tested. We were both tested. Yes, it's a little bit strange, but it's one of those things.

ACOSTA: But the potential for the virus to spread around the White House does exist. White House officials tell CNN few aides to the president actually wear masks around the West Wing, just as the president decided to forego putting on one earlier this week during a factory tour in Arizona.

TRUMP: Well, I just don't want to wear one myself. I think wearing a face mask as I greet presidents, prime ministers, dictators, kings, queens, I don't know, somehow, I don't see it for myself. I just don't.

ACOSTA: One White House official said of the president: "He's a unique individual. He can't be seen walking around wearing a mask."

Another close adviser pointed fingers at the press.

KELLYANNE CONWAY, COUNSELOR TO THE PRESIDENT: I think if anybody should start wearing masks and showing more respect, it should be the media.

ACOSTA: White House officials have said it's not necessary for the president to wear a mask, as he and aides around him are routinely tested for the virus.

But the director of the National Institutes of Health said, one of the tests often used by the White House has a notable false negative rate.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I think the other concern has been that it does have about a 15 percent false negative rate. And if you're in a circumstance where you really, really don't want to miss a diagnosis of somebody who's already carrying the virus, you would like to have something that has a higher sensitivity than that, and I know they're working on how to make that happen.

ACOSTA: As we're restarting the economy, the White House is rejecting proposed guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, offering recommendations on just how to reopen restaurants, schools, and other public spaces.

A Coronavirus Task Force official told CNN: "Issuing overly specific instructions that CDC leadership never cleared for how various types of businesses open up would be overly prescriptive and broad. Guidance in rural Tennessee shouldn't be the same guidance for urban New York City."

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I find it very concerning. You don't want to get into a situation where public health and public health science is set up as the enemy of restarting the economy.

ACOSTA: The economy could use a shot in the arm, after 3.2 million people filed unemployment claims last week, making for a stunning 33.5 million since mid-March.

TRUMP: He was an innocent man.

ACOSTA: But the president is welcoming a development away from the pandemic, after the Justice Department dropped charges against former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who had pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators.

After once firing Flynn for lying to Vice President Mike Pence about the Russia investigation, the president now views Flynn as an innocent man.

Mr. Trump appeared to signal what was coming last week.

TRUMP: Well, I'll tell you, sure, when I looked at what they did to him, they tormented him. Dirty cups tormented General Flynn, because he's in the process of being exonerated.


ACOSTA: Now, after what happened with the valet here at the White House in terms of taking precautions here at the White House, the president said he will now be receiving daily coronavirus tests to make sure he doesn't get the coronavirus.

The vice president said he and others around the president, the vice president, they will be receiving coronavirus tests as a precaution. And we're just hearing in the last several minutes that they have been testing almost in an emergency way other aides inside the White House, even Secret Service agents who work here on the White House complex, as a result of this valley being tested positive for the coronavirus.

That is a major change in protocols here at the White House and provides a stark contrast with what most Americans have experienced across the country, that it is sometimes difficult to get tested.

There's also something of a contradiction with what the press secretary said recently about testing, that it's nonsensical to test every American, because you would have to test people over and over again.

The White House now seems to be erring on the side of caution, thinking that more is better. But, Wolf, this is kind of a microcosm of what other businesses around the world entry may be going through when they reopen their offices.


If somebody gets tested and they test positive for the coronavirus, it's going to require other people in those workplaces to be tested as well. And we saw that unfold here at the White House -- Wolf.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta, thank you very much.

Now let's go to CNN's Athena Jones. She's in New York City for us with more on today's coronavirus developments.

Athena, the push to reopen has now reached 44 states, but new cases are still climbing, climbing in many of those states. Give us the latest developments.


Cases are rising in at least 19 states. But that's not stopping many of them from moving ahead with plans to reopen their economies in the face of staggeringly high unemployment numbers.


JONES (voice-over): New developments today on the vaccine front, biotech company Moderna announcing the FDA has approved phase two trials of their vaccine, bringing the company one step closer to the final phase, large-scale clinical trials.

The company has never gotten a product to market but hopes for approval next year. But there is bad news on the testing front, the director of the National Institutes of Health saying today the Abbott ID NOW machine, used for rapid coronavirus tests, has about a 15 percent false negative rate.

The president touted the test last month.

TRUMP: Abbott, it's a brand-new technology, brand-new test. It's great. Five minutes. Boom. You put it in.

JONES: New infections continue to climb and at least 19 states, including Minnesota, where some businesses have been allowed to reopen.

And while the rate of new cases, new hospitalizations and deaths continue to decline in New York stat, New York City is now operating a long-term disaster morgue in Brooklyn, where bodies will be stored inside refrigerated trucks.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): You can see how long it takes to slow it down and reduce the number of deaths. And they're coming down at a painful slow level of decline.

JONES: States and localities across the country taking different approaches. While Florida has begun to reopen, restrictions remain in place IN its three hardest-hit counties.

GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We will hopefully be able to go forward soon in Southern Florida.

JONES: Miami Beach extending it's safer-at-home order for another week.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There's no pandemic!

JONES: Meanwhile, outrage at a South Florida supermarket from a customer who wasn't allowed inside because he wasn't wearing a mask.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I am filing a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) lawsuit! I have a right to buy groceries! JONES: And in a letter to the community, elected officials in Utah County, Utah, said, after two companies refused to follow quarantine guidelines, 68 of their employees tested positive.

DR. ANGELA DUNN, UTAH STATE EPIDEMIOLOGIST: We need to take these recommendations seriously.

JONES: Claiming they have made changes, the three largest port plants shut down due to the pandemic all resuming operations today.

And professional sports taking tentative steps toward a return. The NBA announcing players can return to practice facilities tomorrow. Major League soccer players already training again.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm happy to be back.

JONES: While the NFL is set to release its season schedule tonight.


JONES: And as more and more states allow salons and other personal care businesses to reopen, California Governor Gavin Newsom said today, the state's first confirmed coronavirus case originated in a nail salon.

The governor citing this first known case of community spread to explain why salons are not part of the reopening, the first phase beginning tomorrow -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Athena Jones in New York City for us.

Athena, thank you very much.

Let's bring in the governor of Washington state right now, Jay Inslee.

Governor Inslee, thank you so much for joining us. I know you're incredibly busy right now.

As you know, the Trump administration is now rejecting the CDC's guidelines for reopening.

Would specific guidelines from CDC experts be helpful as you navigate reopening your state?

GOV. JAY INSLEE (D-WA): Yes, and we have them.

We don't let the president interfere with science. He can't repeal the laws of gravity or the Constitution. And so we get good science that does come out from the some of the agencies in the federal government.

We listen to Dr. Fauci. We listen to Dr. Birx. We listen to the CDC. And they all are telling us the same thing, that we are -- would be in a very dangerous position to give up this effort right now and allow this virus to come storming back.

And the science is quite unequivocal in that effect. We have some of the best geneticists and epidemiologists in the world in Washington, and their models differ, but they all say this, that if people threw Americans back onto the risk of this virus, it will come back and bite us big time.

That's just a biological fact. So, we follow that science, and it's holding us in good state in Washington state.

BLITZER: Besides -- between rejecting the CDC guidelines, Governor, sidelining also some of the leading doctors, including Dr. Fauci, for example, limiting Coronavirus Task Force briefings now in recent days, what message is the White House sending Americans about the seriousness of this pandemic?


INSLEE: Well, I'm very sad to see this, because the way the president started this effort, to try to deceive Americans into thinking that this was a hoax and no big deal, and it would be gone by the following Monday or so.

He then, for some period of time, allowed at least some serious consideration, but now has reverted to that original, very irresponsible position, I'm afraid.

And it has made our jobs as governors, both Republicans and Democrats, more difficult, because we are trying to make science-based decisions. Many Republican governors are following the effort to make science- based decisions, which means you can't throw off this virus with a press release.

You have to have a phased approach to reopening our economy -- that's what we're doing in Washington state -- at a rate that is following the science, rather than ideology or polling or an interest in your reelection in November.

So, I can certainly say that the president's recent approach has not been helpful. We are receiving help from the federal government, though. We appreciate we're having some swabs delivered here and some viral transport media. That's a good thing.

But it needs to increase very dramatically across the United States.

BLITZER: Where does reopening Washington state stand right now?

I take it you have extended Washington's stay-at-home order until the end of this month. Is that right?

INSLEE: Yes, we have extended our Stay Home, Stay Healthy initiative through the end of the month.

We have now brought back some industries, the construction industry. Tomorrow, some auto sales, for instance, will come back. At the end of the month, if we have the progress we hope to have, we will be able to bring back some restaurants with significantly reduced capacity.

We hope we will be in a position to do that, and then move farther out as the weeks go by. But they're all going to be dictated by common sense and data and science. And that's what's going to get us out of this pickle.

And the one thing I know for sure is, for those whose principal interest is in economic performance, even if you really didn't care about the 800 people in Washington, who've been lost -- and I do and the vast majority of Washingtonians do -- but if all you thought about was the economy, we know this, we do not want to have to shut down again.

We do not want to have to go through this again. We need to do this right one time than wrong and painfully twice. So, I'm glad we're making the right decision in Washington state. And I'm very appreciative of Washingtonians.

The vast majority of Washingtonians are with us on this, because they get science, and they want to take care of their loved ones.

BLITZER: So, let's look ahead. The stay-at-home order is in effect through this month.

But once you determine it is safe to begin to reopen to your economy, get things going back in Washington state, describe what the process is going to look like.

INSLEE: Well, we hope, at the end of this month, to be in a position to go to phase two. hand phase two allows some additional industries to reopen, as I indicated, restaurants with 50 percent capacity, be able to have gatherings of up to five people in a variety of contexts, and in a group of other less risky businesses.

Then, three weeks later, we will reevaluate to see if we could move to the next tranche of businesses, businesses where it's harder to obtain or preserve social distancing, harder to have proper hygiene, and then go to the fourth stage, which hopefully could return to the bright days of cheering crowds.

But that's not in the immediate future for us. And we will have to look at the science before we get to that stage.

BLITZER: And schools are closed for the time being, right?

INSLEE: Correct.

And we are appreciative. Our educators have done such a great job in remote learning, being very creative, helping our youth stay engaged through the normal school year. And we're really hopeful to get back to school on a regular basis in the fall.

But we need testing. You're going to hear this from every governor. We have to have increased testing to allow our economy to fully reopen, to allow our schools to fully reopen. We can't have a situation where we have to shut down businesses or schools repeatedly because we are unable to test.

And that's why we have been so direct and assertive that we need the federal government to really step up to the plate and mobilize the American industry to make the swabs, make the reagents that we need with broad-scale testing, because the needs of testing will increase, not decrease.

I think some people think this -- the need for testing will decrease as the virus goes down. Actually, it will increase, because we will have more new employees coming back, more students, more people who need PPE and testing.


So, the need for the federal government to assist the states is going to actually increase. We're doing everything humanly possible. Republican governors are doing some great work.

Governor DeWine in Ohio is doing great work. He's found a company to start making swabs in his state. So, R's and D's on the governors' side are working together. But we sure could use some more help from the federal government.

BLITZER: Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state, as usual, thanks so much for joining us. Good luck to you guys over in Washington.

INSLEE: Thank you. Wash your hands.

BLITZER: Yes, keep washing your hands too. Thanks very much for joining us.

INSLEE: Thank you.

BLITZER: And just ahead, our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta, he will be back. He's joining us with more analysis on the troubling news about the coronavirus inside the White House.

I will also speak with a medical examiner from the Chicago area who wants to know if residents in her county were dying of coronavirus last year.



BLITZER: A White House valet were close personal contact with President Trump has now tested positive for coronavirus.

Our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, is back with us for some analysis.

Sanjay, the valet would have been in close contact with the president, providing him, for example, with meals.

Is this a clear indication that the president and those around him should be wearing masks?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: yes, I think that this is one of those things where it's very hard to maintain that physical distance.

We have seen that. And when you have somebody who's going to have that sort of proximity to the president, that person should be wearing a mask. I mean, it's good that they got extra testing.

I mean, they're testing a lot now, apparently, in the White House every day, but the real point is not to get infected in the first place, right? So, you want to do everything you can to not get infected. The testing is sort of an after-the-fact thing.

Also, Wolf, it is worth pointing out that the tests -- the tests are good. But this one rapid test, the Abbott ID NOW test, some of the studies have shown it has a false negative rate of around 15 percent. So, 15 times out of 100, people will think that they don't have the virus, when they do.

So, the point is, you want to do everything you can to protect yourself and improve on the testing, yes, later.

BLITZER: And even if they -- they think they don't have it, and do have it, even if they don't have any symptoms, they could pass it on to loved ones, to friends, to colleagues, which is very, very dangerous.

GUPTA: That's right.

BLITZER: The White House, at the same time, Sanjay, has decided not to implement a second set of reopening guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control.

Does that concern you?

GUPTA: Yes, I think that's disappointing, Wolf.

Our Centers for Disease Control is a world-renowned organization. There's others organizations that are similar, organizations in other parts of the world, that come to our CDC to get guidance. And we're not using them. Plus, they're the real investigators.

We're learning a lot about this virus, the coronavirus, but how does it behave in real-world situations? I go -- I'm on the Web site all the time, and my kids want to know, can they go to summer camp this summer?

Those are like -- those are real questions that are -- that need to be answered that are based on the intelligence that the CDC gathers and their scientific method that they apply to it.

So, I'm disappointed. I'm disappointed we haven't heard more from the CDC. I mean, you know Richard Besser. He was acting director during H1N1. We heard from him every day, did a great job. Tom Frieden, same thing during Ebola. That's who we heard from.

We haven't really heard from the CDC as much this time.

BLITZER: And why is that? Dr. Robert Redfield, the director or the head of the CDC, we don't see him visibly. I assume he's working very aggressively behind the scenes.

GUPTA: Yes, I don't know.

I mean, I think the concern is that they are being sidelined, that they -- you do have members of task force. He is a member of the task force. But the CDC has been sidelined.

February 26, I still remember, there had been daily briefings. Dr. Nancy Messonnier, you will remember, Wolf, said -- she made a comment at one of the briefings, it's no longer a question of if this pandemic is coming to the United States. It's a question of when.

And that was something that she got criticized for by the White House, unfairly, because she was right. And I think, after that, we haven't really heard as much from the CDC. There was a question about the flawed tests in the beginning. But, regardless, we need to hear more from them.

BLITZER: And we're going to be hearing more from you and a bunch of others later tonight.

Sanjay, thank you very much.

Stay with us later tonight for a new CNN global town hall, "Coronavirus: Facts and Fears." The former Vice President Al Gore, Spike Lee and the author of the book "The Coming Plague," Laurie Garrett, they will join Anderson Cooper and Sanjay Gupta live later tonight, 8:00 p.m. Eastern.

This is their 10th special global town hall.

Meanwhile, we're also learning more about an effort in the Chicago area to probe deaths going as far back as November for potential links to the coronavirus.

The chief medical examiner for Cook County, Illinois, is joining us, Dr. Ponni Arunkumar.

Dr. Arunkumar, thank you very much for joining us.

So you will be reviewing deaths that were attributed to, let's say, heart attacks, pneumonia, that may in fact have been caused by coronavirus. What do you hope to learn from this?

DR. PONNI ARUNKUMAR, COOK COUNTY, ILLINOIS, CHIEF MEDICAL EXAMINER: We want to know when the deaths of the coronavirus started spreading in Cook County. That covers Chicago and the neighboring suburbs.

We are still seeing an increase in the number of deaths of COVID-19 currently, but just to know, from an epidemiological standpoint, from a public health standpoint, how this virus came to Cook County, how was it spreading, that would help the residents know how it came and how it spread across the county.

[18:25:00] We recently found from a report from the Santa Clara County medical examiner that she found two to three deaths when she reinvestigated cases that occurred much before the first reported case in Seattle, Washington.

And these were patients that had no history of travel, no contact with patients who had traveled. So, there was community spread occurring much earlier. So, we want to do our due diligence in cases that came under our jurisdiction from November to see when exactly these deaths were occurring.

We're going to look at cases under the microscope and see if these may be due to a viral infection, and then send tissues to the CDC for further testing.

BLITZER: Very interesting.

So, why November, Doctor? Any chance there might be cases even potentially further back than that?

ARUNKUMAR: There could be cases earlier. There are some reports that say we may have cases from September.

If we see cases in November, then we can always go backward and look at the similar cases that we have in our office.

BLITZER: Could this lead to a better understanding of how this virus actually operates?

ARUNKUMAR: Yes. We don't know much about this virus. We don't know how long it stays in the body.

We know it's transmitted by respiratory droplets, but there is the possibility that, by touching surfaces and then touching your eyes or nose, that you can get infected. So just knowing how this virus spreads will help with trying to get a treatment or avoid getting the disease, as such.

BLITZER: Dr. Arunkumar, good luck to you. I know you're doing really important work up in the Chicago area. We're grateful for everything that you're doing. Thanks very much.

ARUNKUMAR: Thank you for having me.

BLITZER: And just ahead: Some counties in California are defying the governor's orders to stay at home, as desperate business owners begin to reopen before they're given the all-clear.

Also, I will speak live with a mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, about plans to reopen in his state, despite a surge in new cases.

We will be right back.


[18:30:00] BLITZER: California Governor Gavin Newsom says he's not ready yet to lift the statewide stay-at-home order just yet, but some California counties are actually defying his authority and allowing some businesses to reopen. CNN's Dan Simon is tracking the story for us. Dan, what are you seeing?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Wolf. As stores across the state prepare to reopen tomorrow, again, just for curbside pickup, this community has gone well beyond that. They are openly flouting the rules put in place by Governor Newsom. Well, now comes the backlash.


SIMON: Marsha Miller has owned this hair salon for 35 years. On Monday, she and her daughter reopened it. Anxious clients filed in.

MARSHA MILLER, OWNER, HEADLINES SALON AND SPA: And I cried through the whole thing because I couldn't -- I was so happy. It turned around on me.

SIMON: It has been an emotional whiplash because the very next day California regulators said she needed to close back up and not doing so could jeopardize her license. Still, Miller is staying open.

MILLER: We haven't gotten a paycheck in six weeks. We haven't got unemployment. What are we supposed to do? ] KRISTI GOLDBY, BUSINESS PARTNER, HEADLINES SALON AND SPA: Emotionally, it's been hard this last week. I mean, watching my mom is -- this is her life. You know, and I took it on as my life a handful of years ago. And so for us, it's emotional. It's emotional for our staff because now they feel conflicted to support us but they are scared.

SIMON: What you're witnessing is a tug-of-war going on right now between rural California and Governor Newsom. Yuba and Sutter Counties in Northern California have reported only 50 positive cases of the virus. Its leaders decided it was safe for some businesses to reopen in defiance of Newsom's stay-at-home orders.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM(D-CA): They put those businesses at risk, not only the health of their communities at risk.

SIMON: Nonetheless, restaurants here now have dine-in customers. It's an image you won't see in other parts of the state.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: These little mom-and-pop businesses, they got to open up in order to be able survive.

SIMON: Linda's Soda Bar and Grill in downtown Yuba City is a local institution.

LINDA MCKENNA, OWNER, LINDA'S SODA BAR AND GRILL: The customers were ecstatic. Somebody who walked in and said it's like Christmas morning. So, yes, they're thrilled that they can come back in and see their friends they haven't seen for a while. SIMON: But restaurants too are also putting themselves at risk in defiance of the governor, at least those who serve alcohol. the state ABC, alcoholic beverage control, is informing restaurant they could face disciplinary proceedings, which could include losing their liquor license by remaining open.

HENRY STUEVE, OWNER, KRANKIN HANKS SPORTS BAR AND GRILL: I consider the red coats showed up yesterday and shut me down.

SIMON: For Henry Stueve, staying open was a risk he couldn't take.

STUEVE: It's crippling to our business if we lose our license. We wouldn't have a sports bar. It's kinds of -- you know, you wouldn't have one.

SIMON: So you said, you need to shut down?

STUEVE: So we shut down.


SIMON: While state regulators say they are sympathetic to the plight of these businesses but clearly this is a warning, Wolf. And now they have to decide if they're going to remain open. Wolf?

BLITZER: Dan Simon reporting for us, thank you.

Let's continue the conversation right now with the Mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, Randall Woodfin. Mayor, thank you so much for joining us.

Alabama's stay-at-home order expired last week and a phased reopening of businesses is clearly under way right now.


Yet coronavirus cases, we just checked in your state, continue to rise. You've cautioned that reopening decisions should be made based on data. Are you concerned your state is perhaps reopening too quickly?

MAYOR RANDALL WOODFIN (D-BIRMINGHAM, AL): Wolf, thank you for having me on. And the answer is, yes, I'm very concerned. Every decision I've made as mayor has been for three reasons. One is to save lives, two is to prevent community spread, and three is to keep from having a run-in on our hospitals. And when we need to satisfy the gate, meaning we have data around symptoms, data around tracking and tracing, as well as the number of cases, which we know continue to go up, we're not ready. And I think putting Alabamans in harm's way as it relates to choosing the economic crisis over the health crisis is dangerous.

BLITZER: In response to the state's decision to begin to reopen, your City of Birmingham instituted a curfew also requiring face coverings. Why do you feel these additional precautions are necessary?

WOODFIN: Wolf, when this started, we had three ways to prevent community spread. One was social distancing by having the shelter-in- place ordinance. Two was testing and three was tracking. Well, if you are easing the restrictions and allowing retail to open up, that means that first option is going to be taken away. There will be less social distancing and people won't be six feet apart. And so I thought it was important to balance that if retail is open, then we should ease our 24-hour curfew. But when retail is closed, you should not be out so that's why we instituted the curfew.

The face cover is the same reason. If people are less than six feet apart and there's no social distancing, then the face covers is to make sure that there is less community spread.

BLITZER: We've also seen, and you've seen it, and everybody by now has seen it, the data showing that the coronavirus is killing more African-Americans in the United States than any other group. Does that match what you're seeing in Birmingham? And how does that influence your policy-making decisions?

WOODFIN: Well, I can tell you, Wolf, just some background here in Birmingham. One out of five people are over the age of 60. Three out of four people, 74 percent of the city of Birmingham are African- Americans. And we have a lot of people with these underlying, pre- existing conditions. When you add all of that together in addition to knowing that we don't have the adequate testing, we don't have the adequate tracking and cases continue to go up, it concerns me a lot because there are a lot of people in this city who are going to be affected, not only test positive for it, but make it harder for them to recover.

And so I think it's really, really important as elected officials, we do less talking and more listening to the health experts. But also important is not to face our decisions on dates but more so on data.

BLITZER: That's important, you're absolutely right.

The University of Alabama has a campus in Birmingham and it plans to have teachers and students return for the fall semester. Can your city safely welcome students back to the campus by the fall semester, which starts in August or September?

WOODFIN: Well, I'm going to hope so. I'm going to hope many measures will be in place around sanitation and other ways and measures. Residents and those we welcome to our city can take care of themselves.

Here in the City of Birmingham I think it's been so important that we over-communicate to our citizens not only how they can take care of themselves, but what is the local government's role as well as what is the hospital's role in sharing with our community around public health. This is a public health crisis we're in, and I am hoping as each month goes, things will get better. But until then, we need to make sure we do everything we can to protect our citizens.

BLITZER: Mayor Randall Woodfin, good luck to you. Good luck to everybody in Birmingham. We're hoping -- certainly hoping for the best. Let's see what happens. We'll stay in touch. Thank you very much.

WOODFIN: Thank you, Wolf.

BLITZER: Just ahead, some students in Montana right now, they're heading back to the classroom. But is it too soon? We'll have a special report.



BLITZER: After nearly two months of learning from home, some children in Montana are heading back to the classroom. CNN's Brian Todd has details on the school reopening plans there. Brian, how do people in Montana feel about this decision?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, in the town where one school reopened, most residents we spoke to were happy with the reopening. They wanted it. But some were not happy. And tonight, cities and towns across the globe are struggling with the complexities of reopening schools.


In Willow Creek, Montana, a school bus pulls to a stop, idles and signifies a bold step in the intense debate over returning to normalcy. Only one child is let out of the bus at a time. Their distance measured by a teacher carrying a pool toy. Temperatures are taken at the front door.

Today, Willow Creek Public School, grades pre-K through 12, became one of the first schools in America to reopen and not everyone in the town of about 250 is happy about it.

STEPHANIE LABANOWSKI, RESIDENT OF WILLOW CREEK MONTANA: I think it's a travesty that they're opening the school. For two and a half weeks you're affecting the children, you're affecting the parents that they're going home to. What about the grandparents? You don't know what they might pick up.

TODD: But most of the people CNN spoke to in Willow Creek were in favor of the reopening, including Erica Wahl, whose two children go to the public school.


ERICA WAHL, MOTHER OF TWO STUDENTS AT WILLOW CREEK SCHOOL: I know there's probably parents across America who think I'm dumb and stupid that I'm endangering my children's life. But I feel like taking them to Walmart is more dangerous and they have a higher chance of getting sick from going to Walmart or Target.

TODD (voice-over): School officials tell CNN they're taking every precaution they can think of, six foot distancing in classrooms and even on the playground for recess, allowing only one student in a bathroom at a time. Montana's thin population and relatively low exposure to coronavirus could make that state an outlier. Officials in states with much more dense populations are wrestling tonight with the complex calculations of reopening schools.

MICHAEL HINOJOSA, SUPERINTENDENT, DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We're considering minimizing the number of students that come on certain days and also staggering the arrivals and then actually having lunch in the classroom so that you don't have the situation, have one way hallways.

TODD (voice-over): Calculations that are playing out across the globe. As we get our first glimpse of what school in the age of coronavirus looks like.

In Bonn, Germany, just a few kids in the classroom. In Beijing, students see it in every other row. In Tel Aviv, one teacher has a plastic visor and mask, the other no covering. What needs to happen in any community for schools to reopen?

CAITLIN RIVERS, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EPIDEMIOLOGIST, JOHN HOPKINS: The first is we want to see that a community has really turned the corner and that the number of new cases is steadily going down. The second is we want each community to have enough capacity is to do diagnostic testing.

TODD (voice-over): But the superintendent of the Willow Creek School says there has to be a balance, pointing out her school reopened partially out of concern over children falling behind academically with inconsistent learning at home. And concerns over the strain on parents.

BONNIE LOWER, SUPERINTENDENT, WILLOW CREEK PUBLIC SCHOOL: A lot of our parents are both working, their kids are at home. Some of them have multiple children in school, and they're trying to do the work. And it was just very, very difficult.


TODD: The complexities of trying to reopen school see almost endless. One public health expert says that a calculation that schools are going to have to make is that younger kids are not going to be as reliable with social distancing as older students, it's going to be much more difficult she says, to ensure that younger children are always wearing masks, are keeping apart from others and are not always running toward each other during the lunch recess, or gym. Wolf.

Every school is going to have to make that calculation. It's going to be very, very difficult.

BLITZER: Certainly will be. All right Brian Todd reporting, good report. Thank you.

Just ahead, we'll have more on the very heavy toll, the coronavirus is taking our minority communities here in the United States. CNN's Donald Lemon, he's standing by live, he'll join me, we'll discuss. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BLITZER: There's growing evidence that the coronavirus pandemic is hitting the African-American community here in the United States a lot harder than other groups. CNN's Don Lemon has been all over this, he's joining us right now.

So Don, you've done a lot of reporting, you've done a lot of investigating what can be done to stop this disparity?

DON LEMON, CNN HOST: There's going to have to -- a lot is going to have to be done. We're going to have to deal with structural problems in the society as it comes to African-Americans, especially with access to health care, and that's a, that's a long term problem Wolf and other in disparities, other disparities, I should say when it comes to dealing with African-Americans in society.

But in the short term, we're going to have to deal with personal issues that come with how African-Americans deal with personal health care. It is no surprise that black and brown people and especially poor people, that that they would be hit hard by especially the coronavirus because they are also hit hard when it comes to other issues like diabetes and hypertension and cancer and healthcare. So we're going to have to deal with those issues. But African-Americans especially are on the front lines in the society, driving buses, in the toll booths, working in hospitals, changing the bed pants, also driving the buses and so on and so forth and working in the cafeterias. So there are touching things more, they're in close proximity. They also live or we, I should say also live in tend to live in cities, right, which are much more dense. So and taking the subways, taking, you know, transportation, mass transportation, coming in contact with more people all the time.

So it is no surprise that African-Americans are more vulnerable to COVID-19. But the surprise is that almost 60% of the people who are dying from COVID-19 are African-Americans. That is shocking, Wolf.

BLITZER: It certainly is. And I'm really happy to hear you're working on a second special on this very sensitive and important issue as well, that's going to air when?

LEMON: It's going to air May 15, 10:00 p.m. It's going to be Van Jones and me and we're going to continue our color of COVID special that really got great -- a great response when we did it just a couple of weeks ago, we're going to have some big names who are going to help us out with this. But also we're going to talk about changes that we can make in our society and what people can do to save their lives Wolf.

BLITZER: The first one was terrific, and I'm looking forward to this next one, as well. I'll see you later tonight, 10:00pm Eastern, is that right?

LEMON: No, tonight I -- this is my only day off this week Wolf, so --


LEMON: -- I'm going to take advantage today --

BLITZER: Take your day off.

LEMON: -- and I'll do the special with -- yes, with Anderson and Sanjay and then Chris will be in for me tonight, now I'll see you tomorrow night.

BLITZER: I'll see you then. Thanks so much Don Lemon, reporting for us.

We have more news, just ahead.



BLITZER: Before we leave tonight, I want to take a minute to remember some of those we've lost. Beverly Anne Holloway Reap of Warren Arkansas was 63 years old. Her son tells us she was a longtime history teacher loved by her students and known for taking them on trips to historical sites including an annual field trip here to Washington D.C. Ruth Loris of the Queens New York was 80 years old when she died on Easter. Her son calls her feisty and sweet and tells us that despite her small size, her strength is unmatched to all those morning tonight. May your loved ones rest in peace and may their memories be a blessing.