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CDC Says, Full Vaccinated People Can Gather Without Masks, Should Avoid Travel; House Gears Up for Vote on Biden's $1.9 Trillion Relief Bill; Texas to End Mask Mandate, Fully Reopen Businesses Tomorrow. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired March 9, 2021 - 10:00   ET



POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, everyone. Top of the hour. I'm Poppy Harlow.


Any moment now, jury selection officially moves forward in the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with killing George Floyd. Chauvin is facing second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

But now, the judge in the case is also reconsidering a third-degree murder charge, as another option, a new twist to the case, is it significant, we'll discuss in just a moment.

HARLOW: Also this morning, there are new highly anticipated guidelines from the CDC prompting for many a collective sigh of relief, at least for those fully vaccinated Americans. Now, some health experts are calling the new guidelines too cautious. Our very own Dr. Sanjay Gupta will join us in minutes to talk more about what exactly they say and mean for you.

And this Thursday, President Biden will address the nation in the first primetime speech since taking office commemorating the one year milestone since the COVID-19 shutdown. We have got a lot to get clearly this morning.

So, let's begin in Minneapolis with our colleague, Omar Jimenez, as the trial will begin today, the jury selection in the case, the murder and manslaughter charges that have been brought against Derek Chauvin.

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is right. So, jury selection process should be getting going officially any moment now. We just listened to, or at least earlier this morning, we were watching the attorneys file back into court and work out some pretrial motions with the judge, Peter Cahill, at which point the judge absolutely asked if the attorneys had heard from the court of appeals yet, as to whether this third-degree murder charge would be settled.

But as of just a few moments ago, we learned actually that the attorneys for the defense, Officer Derek Chauvin, actually filed a petition to the Minnesota Supreme Court on whether to rule on whether the appellate court decision from this past Friday over whether they could reconsider to reinstate the third-degree murder charge could go forward. It is a lot to keep up with, but that is the legal situation right there.

Separately, the judge in this case has ruled that jury selection can move forward while that process has -- is playing out. And so right now that is what we are waiting on, on the jury selection as that moves forward.

Yesterday, however, we had a member of the George Floyd family that was present in court, as one family member is allotted for the Chauvin and Floyd family to be present in person as this is happening. And here is how his sister, Bridgett, reacted to actually being in there and being able to see Derek Chauvin's face.


BRIDGETT FLOYD, GEORGE FLOYD'S SISTER: The officer took a great man, a great father, a great brother.

We are praying for justice. Our hope is that justice prevails and we can all use this as an opportunity to be better and do better for those around us.


JIMENEZ: Obviously emotional time for the family, an aunt is expected to be in court today. And as for what we're going to see, they're going to look at potentially 14 jurors, is what we understand, seven in the morning and seven in the afternoon.

And, yesterday, despite the delay, they were able to make some progress, dismissing 16 jurors of the first 50 pool just based on the questionnaire alone that was sent out previously to potential jurors. Jim and Poppy?

SCIUTTO: Listen, ultimately, second-degree murder and manslaughter, third-degree gives the jury options, right, in terms of what they could ultimately decide on if they choose to. Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.

This morning, millions of fully vaccinated Americans are waking up to looser restrictions and a big step for the country towards normalcy.

HARLOW: That is right. Let's bring in our Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta to talk about all of these news, these guidelines. With, Sanjay, almost 10 percent of the country vaccinated, you have got recommendations from the CDC for the people who are fully vaccinated, how big of a step, as Jim just said, toward normalcy are they?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I think it is a really big step. I mean, I think, first of, all the vaccines themselves, have been this amazing tool in terms of preventing people from getting sick, but what we've been hearing over and over again that what does this mean for my life, how is my life going to be different now. And I think that that is what these recommendations really are sort of getting us toward.

First of all, fully vaccinated, most people know this, but two weeks after your second shot, if you're receiving two shots, or after your first shot if it is the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, that is the first thing. But what does it mean if you are vaccinated, you could hang out with other vaccinated people, and maybe this is common sense but this is what the recommendations show, you could hang out with other vaccinated people indoors without masks, give a hug and a handshake and you don't need to physically distance.


If you are fully vaccinated, you could hang out with a single household that is considered low risk, because they don't -- they're not elderly, they don't have pre-existing conditions and they've been pretty good about their exposure. So, grandparents visiting kids and grandkids, that can happen, they say, with these new recommendations if the grandparents have been vaccinated. So that is really good.

One thing I will point out is that these recommendations will continue to change. We're seeing a different tone here. I talked to Andy Slavitt, instead of, absolutely, do this, don't do that, it is going to be more low risk, medium risk and high risk, so look for that language.

But also the recommendations will be tied directly to the percentage of the country that is vaccinated. So 10 percent have received vaccines. Within two weeks, it could be 20 percent, right, 2 to 2.5 million per day. By the end of the month, we could be at 30 percent and each time that happens, I think these recommendations will become looser and more sort of allow people to do more things.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, 18 percent of the country, almost one in five has already gotten at least one shot, so building some immunity to this.

I mean, those numbers that you just described there, Sanjay, including by the end of this month perhaps being up to 20 percent, 30 percent, that is remarkable. I mean, is that really a headline here for folks at home? Because I know that these things could be and sound incremental, right, to people in terms of how, for instance, the guidelines are changing.

But, big picture, the country is moving very quickly towards vaccinations, is it not?

GUPTA: it really is, Jim. And, frankly, I think the numbers even now are probably still undertargeting a bit. Because 60 million people by the end of the month, that means 2 million per day, but we're already sort of exceeding that. And we're going to bring Johnson & Johnson more online in the next several days and weeks. So I think it will even go up further.

But I think there is an important distinction, I think, you're making as well, which is that we're also largely -- not perfectly, but largely vaccinating the right people, right? I mean, this is a vaccine that prevents severe illness and death. Nursing homes represented more than a third of the deaths in this country and residents in long-term care facilities have now largely been vaccinated.

So you see what I'm saying. It is not just the number of vaccines, it is who is receiving them. Everyone kept saying, well, nothing really is going to will change until herd immunity, that is not right. Things will chang in incremental along the way and what we're seeing today is the first glimpse of that.

HARLOW: Everyone is talking about the travel guidance from the CDC, Sanjay, though that did not change. They're still saying do not travel and stay at home. Can you help explain that to folks and if it makes sense? Because they're thinking, well, if I am fully vaccinated, I can be with other people indoors without a mask, but I can't travel?

GUPTA: Right. And, look, I'll say two things, and I spoke to a lot of people about this yesterday over the last day or so, including Andy Slavitt, I think there are two things. One is that they're clearly being cautious. This is a different tone that this task force is taking. But the second thing is, the issue is this, if you're vaccinated, could you still potentially transmit the virus to somebody else who is not yet vaccinated but is vulnerable, and an elderly person or a person with pre-existing illness that you may come across. That is the concern. Is it high risk? Probably not. Is it low risk, probably not as well.

But I will say, airline travel, despite reasonable concerns in the beginning, have not been sources of large outbreaks. Over the last four days, 4.5 million people traveled in this country. We know people have been traveling throughout this pandemic. There has been the surges of travel around holidays. We did see increases in numbers but that typically wasn't due to the travel itself but more because of the gatherings that that travel sort of enabled.

So I'm not that worried about airline travel, and that is based on data. And I think, my guess is, reading the tea leaves, is that the next time we hear new recommendations, we're going to hear more favorable, looser recommendations regarding travel.

SCIUTTO: All right. So, as you know, Texas no longer has a statewide mask mandate and, crucially, businesses can also open 100 percent capacity. I was alarmed when I heard from our reporter on the ground there this morning that the positivity rate in Texas is now up above 10 percent, at 12 percent. That is high, right? Are you worried that those moves, and it is not just in Texas, counteracts the progress we're seeing elsewhere?

GUPTA: Yes, I am. I mean, I think there is no question that there -- we're still in the midst of all of this. As much as there is good news, we could still have significant resurgence in terms of overall numbers and we know that masks work.

What I think is interesting, and I talked to Dr. Christopher Murray about this, who sort of heads up these IHME models, and he said something very interesting. I said are you worried about Texas and other states that are lifting their mask mandates, and he sort of said not really and here is why.


Despite the fact that some of these states do that, it is really how the people behave in these states. So just because a mandate is lifted, doesn't necessarily mean that people will stop wearing their masks or that local cities or local businesses may still require masks.

You've seen that in other states around the country, including Florida. People always say, well, Florida has done such an amazing job despite the fact there weren't mask mandates for a period of time, they opened up. Well, what about the mayors in Miami and Broward and these counties, these large counties? It really is how the people behave more than the policies that are implemented.

And he believes that despite these mask mandates being lifted, it may not make that big of a difference because people, hopefully, will still do the right thing. About three-quarters of the country right now wear a mask regularly when they go out, according to his models.

SCIUTTO: That is higher than I knew.

HARLOW: Me too.

SCIUTTO: That's good news too.

GUPTA: Yes, me too.

HARLOW: Sanjay, thank you for everything. You were among the first before even the government to call this a pandemic, you saw what was coming, you've been with us every step of the way. We're very grateful and glad to have more good news to talk with you about these days. Thanks, Sanjay.

SANJAY: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right. Well, $1.9 trillion, that is the size of the stimulus package. It looks like it is going to be on the president's desk by the end of the week as the House gears up for a final vote on this legislation.

SCIUTTO: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says that will happen tomorrow morning at the latest. Manu Raju live on Capitol Hill.

So, Manu, looks like it is on schedule and, therefore, this gets through before the unemployment benefits expire on the 15th. Is that what you're hearing there? And then I'm curious, I've got to ask you, what is next on the legislative agenda?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, look, this is still a question mark about exactly the exact timing of the final vote passage. It could happen as soon as tonight. That is what House Democratic leaders hope for, but it is expected to slip into tomorrow morn if they don't get papers from the Senate over to the House.

Given that it is such a massive bill, it takes time for some of the papers to formally be put together and the precise details and the like being transferred over to the House. And it will also take some time for it to go over to the White House.

So it is still a bit unclear too when it will be signed into law. It will be expected to be signed before those jobless benefits expire. But a lot of these states need it actually to be enacted before they can move forward and ensure that people don't see an interruption in jobless benefits.

That is one key aspect of this massive sweeping proposal, $1.9 trillion, including that $300 in weekly jobless benefits. People who make a certain -- under a certain income threshold could deduct $10,200 of those jobless benefits, in addition, stimulus checks up to $1,400 for individuals, money for vaccines and schools and expansion and the child tax credit, so much in this bill affecting so many parts of society, people waiting for this relief.

We do expect the bill to be passed largely along party lines. Maybe two Democrats potentially could vote against it. They can't afford to lose more than four. But we don't expect any Republicans to vote for it as we saw over the weekend in the Senate that also passed along party lines. Guys?

SCIUTTO: Yes, interesting political judgments there. Manu Raju, thanks very much.

Still to come this hour, Texas has ended its statewide mask mandate as of tomorrow. Businesses also crucially can reopen 100 percent capacity. Hear what one mayor is saying to residents ahead of that rollback.

HARLOW: also, Republican lawmakers in Georgia gearing up to fully pass a sweeping voting bill that would really, tightly restrict the ability for many people to vote. People who are against it say it is the most restrictive law since Jim Crow. Details on that ahead.

And Prince Charles making his first appearance since Prince Harry and Meghan's interview with Oprah. Ahead, the moment he was asked about the claims that they made.



HARLOW: The state of Texas is on the verge of reopening fully. Tomorrow, the state will lift major pandemic restrictions that includes all over the state its mask mandate.

SCIUTTO: CNN's Dan Simon, he is in Houston this morning. So, Dan, there are concerns about so-called celebration events that could fuel the virus. But I wonder, what is the broader reaction? Sanjay told us a few moments ago that something like 75 percent of the population around the country continues to wear a mask. I wonder, do you see the same there in Houston?

DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: For now, yes. I think it is possible that you will see some of these mask-free parties. There was supposed to be one tomorrow night at a Houston nightclub but night club got so many complaints that it decided wisely to cancel it.

I think the effect that the governor had with lifting these restrictions was really tone-setting, signaling to the state and to the rest of the country that Texas is open for business. But the practical implications, I think, really remains to be seen. All of the big box retailers, any national chain, any really reputable business is saying that these mask mandates need to stay in place.

And the Texas Restaurant Association did a survey among restaurants in the state, 75 percent of them say they're still going to adhere to these restrictions.

Now, we have seen some pushback. A couple of the local restaurants notified local media that they received threats from people saying they were going to alert immigration and customs enforcement about their staffs and have them investigated if they didn't lift these restrictions.


But, so far, those kind of things seem to be relatively few and far between.

So we'll just have to wait and see how this unfolds. But in the meantime, it seems like here in Houston that people are going to adhere to these guidelines.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Irony, maybe, that you wear the mask, you get more people in the restaurants and bars. Dan Simon, thanks very much.

Well, as there are some that look to celebrate the governor's decision in Texas, other local leaders, they are criticizing the move. The mayor of San Antonio, Ron Nirenberg, called the decision to lift the mask mandate a huge mistake, saying we're not out of the woods yet. He's an independent, he joins us now. Mayor, thank you so much for taking the time this morning.

MAYOR RON NIRENBERG (I-SAN ANTONIO, TX): It is good to be with you, Jim.

SCIUTTO: So I'm curious, who are folks listening to in San Antonio? Are they listening to the doctors or are they listening to the governor on whether or not to wear masks?

NIRENBERG: Well, thankfully, here in San Antonio, the vast majority of people throughout this pandemic have been paying attention to the medical experts, the doctors. And we've been putting out the message every day about the importance of protecting yourself and people around you by simple acts like wearing a mask and social distancing.

So we've seen a great number of people say they are going to continue to wear their masks. Businesses have been showing great leadership having been through so much turmoil because of the mixed messaging throughout the year. They are also standing up and saying that they are going to promote safe environments by requiring mask wearing in their establishments for the safety of their employees, the public and, of course, their customers.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that is the irony here, that 75 percent, as our reporter was saying, of businesses in a place like Houston, they support actually keeping the masks going, right, because, in a way, it helps them open, not hurts them. I mean, is that what you're hearing from businesses there, that there is kind of a self-defeating purpose here with lifting the mask mandate or encouraging people just not to wear them?

NIRENBERG: Absolutely. And the unfortunate part about this decision is that it puts those businesses that want to do the right thing on the frontlines of confrontations between people who don't want to abide by the rules that they establish in their own facilities.

And the challenge is, we've had this false assumption that the economy is going to improve when we open things back up. That is not the case. The economy will improve when consumers have confidence. Consumers have confidence tied to how safe they will be in the community.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, my own personal experience when I've gone to restaurants, you look around, and you see how well people are wearing masks and so on. It makes you feel safer.

Let me ask about vaccines, because there is evidence of the vaccination effort in this country accelerating above 2 million a day, approaching 3 million a day nationally. You say that you're not receiving nearly enough vaccines compared to what you should be in proportion to the eligible population in San Antonio. What do you hear from the federal government when you say that?

NIRENBERG: Well, we are hearing about the increase in production and certainly we're glad for new vaccines, particularly the J&J one coming out, they're going to make their way through the states. But to this point, we've only seen a slow crawl in terms of the improvement and the numbers of vaccines we're getting to our community.

Meanwhile, Bexar County, San Antonio, this area, the seventh most populous city in the country, has a disproportionate share of the eligible population for vaccines, the highest mortality -- case mortality rate, our social vulnerability index is very high. We need more vaccines. If this is a race against time, we need to make sure we get vaccines out to those most vulnerable residents as quickly as possible.

SCIUTTO: Are you finding the Biden administration, the federal agencies under the Biden administration, more responsive? Are they more effective in getting these vaccines out and getting questions answered?

NIRENBERG: They are. And they've been communicating with us on a daily and weekly basis. And the most important thing that is happening now is that there is a unified message about the importance of protecting each and the steps we need to take as a nation, as local communities to put this pandemic behind us.

But every city in the country, every local county and city is calling for these vaccines. And I know it is incredibly challenging as we're trying to ramp up the distribution, but our data show that the vulnerability index that is driving where these vaccines should go, we just simply need more vaccines in our metro areas.

SCIUTTO: We do hope you get them. I know there are a lot of communities that are hoping, desperate for that.

Final question, maybe just a positive one, do you sense that this summer, you're going to turn the corner there in San Antonio, that the direction of vaccination, the direction of hospitalizations and deaths from COVID are all moving in the right direction, right?


I mean, do you sense that you see the other side of this coming?

NIRENBERG: I am full of optimism, Jim. Because when I look around, throughout this year, the sharpest tool that we've had to fight this pandemic, given all of the challenges in politics has been public trust and information from our public health officials. Thankfully, here in San Antonio, we've shown a great deal of compassion and team work with one another. Listening to that guidance, wearing masks, despite what politicians may say.

And I was happy to report yesterday that our positivity rate has really declined precipitously. We're down below 5 percent, we're at 2.5 percent. So it is great. We just have to keep our foot on the gas in terms of getting to the end of this pandemic because that can very quickly be undone if we let our guard up too soon. I think our folks here in San Antonio get that message and they're going to continue to protect one another.

SCIUTTO: Yes, we can't give up now. We're so close. Mayor Ron Nirenberg, we wish you to the best of luck, people in San Antonio the best of luck as we get through this.

NIRENBERG: Thank you, Jim.

HARLOW: What a great interview. Compassion and teamwork get you a long way. That is very clear.

Okay, ahead, another sweeping bill that would restrict voting in Georgia a lot, it just got one step closer to becoming law. Martin Luther King III, the son of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he joins us on this, next.