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Transcript: Sylvester Turner on "Face the Nation"

The following is a transcript of an interview with Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner that aired Sunday, July 5, 2020, on "Face the Nation."

MARGARET BRENNAN: We want to go now to one of the nation's hotspots. That's Houston, Texas. Mayor Sylvester Turner joins us from his home this morning. Good morning to you, Mr. Mayor. 

MAYOR OF HOUSTON SYLVESTER TURNER: Good morning. Thanks for having me. 

MARGARET BRENNAN: The president said ninety nine percent of COVID-19 cases are totally harmless. Is that the case in Houston?

MAYOR TURNER: No, that's not the case. I will tell you, a month ago one in 10 people were testing positive. Today, it's one in four. The number of people who are getting sick and going to the hospitals has exponentially increased. The number of people in our ICU beds has exponentially increased. In fact, if we don't get our hands around this virus quickly, in about two weeks our hospital system could be in serious, serious trouble.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Overwhelmed. Is that what you mean by serious trouble?

MAYOR TURNER: That's what I mean, overwhelmed. Right now we have- we have bed capacity. But let me just tell you, I want to highlight the- the major problem, the staffing. We can always provide additional beds, but we need the people, the nurses and everybody else, the medical professionals to staff those beds. That's the critical point right now.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Who is getting sick? Is this concentrated in any one community? Is there any lesson to be learned here?

MAYOR TURNER: Look, this virus is an equal opportunity abuser. It will inflict anyone who comes in close proximity with it. Now it's having a disproportional impact on people of color. And right now, it's especially within the Hispanic community. But we are having young people being impacted as well. Just the other day, I now saw a young woman in her 20s with no underlying medical conditions that died as a result of COVID. So it's anyone from their 20s into their 90s being impacted. If you come together in close proximity, you will fuel this virus. And now one in four people are testing positive for this virus. It's a serious issue, and we need to control it.

MARGARET BRENNAN: What do you trace this spike back to? Because I know your Police Chief Acevedo said he believes there is a high probability that many of the officers who were policing those protests in the past few weeks trace it back to that. Others have traced it back to reopening of restaurants. I mean, can you concentrate this? What does the contact tracing tell you?

MAYOR TURNER: Well, at the end of April, the beginning of May, our numbers were relatively low. In terms of people getting infected and people dying we were- our numbers were quite good. What we did see as we started to reopen, and I said then we were opening too quickly, too fast, in the month of May, if you look at the second week in May going forward, the numbers started to increase. I was never reporting more than to say 200, 250 cases a day in terms of people testing positive. And then towards the end of May into June, those numbers started increasing exponentially. Around mid June, I started reporting six, seven, eight, nine hundred a day. And so from the beginning, when we started opening too quickly and when you layer that on top of everything else, all the other activities that were taking place and people starting to re socialize then you started to refuel the virus. And that's when the numbers started to increase.

MARGARET BRENNAN: With testing, we've seen pictures of long lines in Houston. Do you need the state- do you need the federal government to surge capacity to you? Why isn't that happening already?

MAYOR TURNER: Well, let me just tell you, this is all hands. We need everybody from the federal level, state level and local level. The demand for testing in this state, in this city has increased quite a bit. But we- and we are trying to ramp up. But the- the demand exceeds the capacity. At the two major testing sites that we have that's out- where we are partnered with FEMA, we can test up to about 650 per day at each one of those sites. We are reaching capacity at about noon. We are- we have opened up some additional testing sites in many of what I call our at-risk, vulnerable communities. But there is a tremendous demand and then there is a wait time for that testing and to get the results back. So we are increasing the testing, but we are also finding and what's most disturbing is that the positivity rate has increased. So a month ago, one in 10 tested positive. Today, we're looking at almost like one in four.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Mayor, I- I want to also ask you about something the president said yesterday in his Fourth of July speech. I know you in your city have been supportive of removing Confederate monuments because of the moment we are in. He gave extensive remarks, the president, yesterday talking about a fight that he says he's taking on with the, quote, "radical left, Marxists, anarchists, agitators and the looters and the angry mob trying to tear down our statues and address our history." I wonder how those words landed with you and your decisions.

MAYOR TURNER: Well, let me just say, I don't fit into any one of those categories. These statues, Confederate statues- and in Houston, we have taken them down on them and they've been taken down very peacefully with the support, I would say, probably of most Houstonians in this city. These statues should never have been put there to glorify that history. It is- there's a place for them primarily in a museum or someplace else, but not in our city parks and public spaces. The history, and I'm an African-American mayor. I'm a nonpartisan mayor. But I can't- but I was an African-American before I became mayor. I'll be an African-American after I'm mayor. And the history of slavery and people fighting against the Union, that history cannot be a race. And the fact is that those monuments were placed, for example, in Houston 80 to 100 years ago to glorify the bad things that were done to other people like those- those of my ancestors. It has been past due time for those statues to come down. We did it in a respectful way. We're not trying to erase history, but we are trying to take the power of placing these statues in public spaces away and to place them where they can be told, where the history can be told and placed in its context. The toxicity--

MARGARET BRENNAN: Yeah.

MAYOR TURNER: --that is being bread now in our city and in our country has to come to an end.

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mr. Mayor, thank you for your time. Good luck with your fight.

MAYOR TURNER: Thank you.

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