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U.S. Administers Three Million Vaccinations In A Single Day; First COVID Relief Payments Begin Hitting Bank Accounts; Top Democrats Question Whether New York Governor Cuomo Can Lead; Interview With Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-TX). Aired 3-4p ET

Aired March 14, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:14]

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: All right, it's music's biggest night. Trevor Noah will host the 63rd Grammy Awards tonight from Los Angeles. The show will feature several musical performances and acceptance speeches, but without a live audience.

The recording academy says, artists will be quote, "coming together while still safely apart."

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me, I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

All right, signs of hope today as vaccinations are ramping up across the country. A record three million vaccines administered yesterday alone, nearly 70 million Americans have gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, which means one out of five Americans has received a shot.

This, as those $1,400.00 stimulus checks are starting to hit bank accounts, but despite the progress being made, there are concerns about the thousands of people who are traveling and attending spring break events across the country. Masks and social distancing don't seem to be a priority and health officials are warning of the potential consequences, saying the next few weeks will be critical in determining if we'll see another surge.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Even though the numbers have gone down over the last couple of weeks, they've plateaued, and when you see a plateau at a level as high as 60,000 cases a day, that is a very vulnerable time to have a surge to go back up.

We can avoid that if we continue to vaccinate people, get more and more protection without all of a sudden pulling back on public health measures.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: And many people are spending their spring breaks in Florida. The state is seeing a rush of people despite health warnings. CNN's Natasha Chen is in Miami Beach.

Natasha, what are you seeing?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Fred, the city officials tell me that policing spring break crowds is usually difficult enough. Now, you have this happen during a pandemic that makes it doubly hard.

On Friday night, just a few blocks from where we're standing, there was a situation with police trying to break up a large crowd, they had to use pepper balls, and a couple of officers were actually injured in that situation and were sent to the hospital.

And over the whole weekend, so far, the city says there probably had been about a hundred arrests. Now, these are not related to COVID restrictions, because you're in Florida, local jurisdictions can't actually cite anyone for things like not wearing a mask. These are situations of people breaking the law and not listening to officers' orders.

Now in talking to some of the spring break visitors here on Ocean Drive, it sounds like they've been trying to avoid colder weather, but also they're telling me they're avoiding certain COVID restrictions. For example, this person we talked to said that in Massachusetts, the rules are really strict, and most people are wearing masks. But here, it's the opposite.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLIN MCGUINESS, ON SPRING BREAK: You aren't wearing a mask, like that's kind of normal compared to people who do wear a mask. But it's kind of nice to just kind of be out and just not have to worry about it.

I mean, when we do get back, we are going to have to quarantine, but it is nice for just these two weeks to just kind of, you know, let that weight off your shoulders and just kind of have a good time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: And just as a reminder, the State of Florida in late September allowed businesses to reopen at full capacity. Some local jurisdictions can restrict that a bit further, but there's not a lot of teeth in the way that they can enforce some of these rules.

So the people we've talked to who have visited this area seem to be aware of that and say that that's why they're here to relax and it seems like no one here is as worried as they might be back from where they came -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Natasha Chen, thanks so much, in Miami Beach.

All right, well, tomorrow marks one year to the day since Hoboken, New Jersey became the first city in the nation to proactively shut down bars and restaurants.

City leaders shut down dine-in service and implemented a city wide curfew in a series of moves that were viewed as drastic at the time.

Joining me right now to discuss this Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla. Mayor, good to see you.

MAYOR RAVI BHALLA (D), HOBOKEN, NEW YORK: Thanks for having me.

WHITFIELD: So you were very adamant that your decision was about saving lives. Here's a piece of what you had to say a year ago.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BHALLA: I would encourage other mayors to prioritize the safety of their residents over politics, over businesses, over anything else. And if this can offer some encouragement to other mayors to take bold leadership to protect human life, then it is well worth it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, Mayor, I know, sometimes it can be a little weird looking back at yourself a year ago, and hearing yourself, but what does go through your mind now as you do reflect on it's been a year?

[15:05:04]

BHALLA: Yes, it's been -- it's been a year and, you know, a few gray hairs. But, you know, we've been working very hard with that baseline policy priority of public safety, protecting our residents, keeping Hoboken safe and saving lives. And that decision really was not an easy decision, being the first city in the country to temporarily close bars and restaurants.

But we thought, in our best judgment, relying upon the signs, the data, and really, you know, instinct that we should do this now, we should err on the side of caution, of safety, and hopefully set an example for other parts of the country. And we're happy that, you know, one year later, we've seen that other cities and states followed Hoboken's lead that we are on.

WHITFIELD: How do you gauge what kind of a difference it really did make on Hoboken?

BHALLA: Well, you know, Hoboken after the self-isolation order, which came a few days later, we saw a distinct decrease in the number of positive cases. We feel we've done everything we can to meet that objective of public safety and keeping our residents safe.

And I'm just so proud of the residents of the City of Hoboken for really stepping up to the plate, for volunteering, for opening up a robust food pantry, for you know, coming together as a community to support our small businesses, and if it wasn't for the residents of Hoboken, we really wouldn't be where we are today.

WHITFIELD: So Dr. Anthony Fauci, you know, has said that, given what we know, collectively, what we know now, the country should have shut down even earlier, do you have any regrets? BHALLA: Well, we acted in using besides the data and our best

judgments. So at the time, we felt it was the right thing to do. And we certainly don't regret it, because I think history has shown that, you know, once the entire nation shut down, that it was the right thing to do.

You know, this has been a process where there's no playbook for a pandemic, every day is different, every decision is different. We don't have many regrets other than really the pandemic itself, that has put a huge strain on our local economy, on our local businesses, on recreational activities for children.

And now we're in that recovery phase where we're looking to brighter days ahead.

WHITFIELD: You also went on to implement a mask order in Hoboken days before the governor actually issued a statewide mask mandate. What do you make of the decisions now that there are states that are lifting mask orders right now?

BHALLA: That concerns me a lot, because, you know, without the vaccines and the vaccines are coming out, but without the vaccines, the best protections that we have against this virus are those fundamental basics that we've learned as a community both in Hoboken and nationwide, to wear a face mask, to wash your hands, to socially distance, and we need to keep up those practices through the spring and summer, until we can get back to normalcy.

So it really does concern me that, you know, we are not staying our ground in certain parts of the country. And I would really urge other jurisdictions to think about the fact that we are very close to the finish line, we are that close to the finish line and with just a little bit more diligence, we'll see brighter days ahead.

And tell me about your concerns here. You know, with this new report on nj.com, it finds that New Jersey could soon face a historic housing crisis, as some 60,000 evictions are currently pending, you know, across the state. What steps are you hoping might take place to really prevent a housing disaster that is threatening to hit a lot of cities?

BHALLA: That's a huge concern here in Hoboken and statewide. You know, we have the benefit through the American Recovery Act to really take action -- the American Recovery Plan -- to set up a rent relief fund, to assist tenants who can't make their monthly rent payments.

So we are actively identifying means to address this housing crisis here in Hoboken and I'm sure that Governor Murphy and his administration are doing the same at the state level.

[15:10:07]

WHITFIELD: All right, Hoboken, New Jersey Mayor Ravi Bhalla, thank you so much. Continue to be well.

BHALLA: Thanks for having me. WHITFIELD: All right, a year into this pandemic and we know remote

learning has had a very real impact on the mental health of so many students and one frustrated group of parents is suing to immediately get their kids back into the classroom.

CNN's Bianna Golodryga has more on why they believe this was a necessary step.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRANDON MICHON, PARENT: The garbage workers who pick up freaking trash risk their lives every day warning anyone in this school system. Figure it out.

BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN SENIOR GLOBAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Across the country, exasperated parents, like this Virginia dad, are demanding more of their school boards.

KERI AVELLINI DONOHUE, ATTORNEY: It's maddening because why is my kid suffering when the other kids get to be in school. It's a game and the kids are being used as pawns.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Attorney Keri Avellini Donohue was representing 17 equally frustrated families pro bono in lawsuits against two New Jersey school districts, Montclair and South Orange- Maplewood. It's been almost a year since students filled the classrooms in these districts.

DARYN SIROTA, MOTHER: This has been such a tremendous battle for all of us.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): The suit asserts that students have been denied their right to an in-person education.

SIROTA: I myself is a teacher. Children need to be in school with their peers, with their teachers, working collaboratively.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): For Donohue, these cases hit close to home.

DONOHUE: The department not responding to my own child's specific needs and realizing, oh, you know, not that they're not going to open the schools and it was kind of like, I could do this. You know, I'm going to speak up for her because no one is speaking for the kids.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Her 11-year-old daughter, Mary, has not set foot in a classroom since last March.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): What grade are you in?

MARY, KERI'S DAUGHTER: I am in sixth grade.

GOLODRYGA: Do you worry about when you can possibly return back to school?

MARY: Yes. I always ask, when am I going back to school? She says she doesn't know. GOLODRYGA (voice over): Diagnosed with ADHD, Mary had been on an

individualized education plan or IEP prior to the pandemic, and had been thriving.

DONOHUE: She did so well that they said, when she goes into middle school, she no longer needs like the intense special services.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Today, Donohue says her daughter is a completely different person and refuses to participate in online class.

DONOHUE: She has progressively declined to the point where she is diagnosed with high levels of anxiety and depression. And it was recommended that we put her like on antidepressants to help her get back to somewhat normal state.

It's heartbreakingly sad.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): The families she represents and the lawsuit describes similar setbacks.

ANNA FERGUSON, MOM OF SECOND GRADER: He was a star pupil a year ago, thriving, happy. All of his in-school supports were helping him. My son is in emotional mess now. He is depressed. He is not interested in anything. He doesn't talk.

PAMELA KIM, MOTHER: He wasn't even participating. He wasn't turning his camera on.

And this is a kid, who had tested as "Gifted" in the 99th percentile, now getting essentially D level grades.

GOLODRYGA (voice over): Similar lawsuits have been filed against school districts and teachers' unions in over a dozen states, from Maryland to Kentucky, Wisconsin and California.

JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Getting our schools back open safely. Right now --

GOLODRYGA (voice over): But while the push to reopen schools has garnered national sympathy from the White House, there's little the Federal government can actually do. The majority of the country hinges on decisions made by local school districts.

For these moms, the battle is halfway over. On Thursday, the Montclair School District, one of the two named in Donohue's lawsuit, reached a deal to return to the classroom April 12th.

SIROTA: And I'm so, so grateful to her.

GOLODRYGA (on camera): You know your mom is out there fighting for you.

MARY: Thank you.

AVELLINI: Thank you GOLODRYGA (voice-over): Bianna Golodryga, CNN, New Jersey.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WHITFIELD: Still so many tough days ahead. All right, still ahead, New York Governor Cuomo's fall from grace. Can he effectively lead with a growing number of sexual harassment allegations against him? The political and legal strategy next.

And this breaking news: blizzard warnings impacting millions of people near the Rockies. Airport runways in Denver are shut down now and the region is under a high avalanche warning. We'll take you there live straight ahead.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:45]

WHITFIELD: A defiant Andrew Cuomo is fighting for his political survival after a series of women accused him of misconduct and inappropriate behavior.

Angry constituents and former allies alike are demanding he step down. This morning the top two Democrats in Congress weighed in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): People have to look inside themselves and say -- and Governor Cuomo also -- are they -- how affected is their leadership in leading the state under the circumstances that are there.

But I do think that the women deserve to hear the results of these investigations as does the Governor.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners and of so many New Yorkers, so for the good of the state, he should resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: All right, "The New York Times" Editorial Board asking questions about Cuomo's ability to lead, it writes: "The Governor has jeopardized the public's trust at the worst possible moment. At this point, it is hard to see how Mr. Cuomo can continue to do the public's important business without political allies or public confidence."

Athena Jones is at the state capitol in Albany. Athena, the Governor denies these allegations. He says he is not going anywhere until an investigation is complete. So how does Cuomo navigate this?

[15:20:04]

ATHENA JONES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, that is the big question. You're right about that. He has said over and over again that he believes he did nothing wrong, and he is urging the public to wait until these investigations play out, to wait for the facts before coming to a conclusion.

But the issue is that he is losing allies by the minute, by the day, and the people who remain his allies are a lot less vocal than those who are criticizing them.

Among them the top two Democrats on Capitol Hill that you just heard from, but also a New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who joined with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer on Friday in calling on the Governor to resign and who reiterated that today at a press conference. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND (D-NY): It's clear that Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners, as well as the people of New York. That's why I believe that the Governor has to resign.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

JONES: So yet another call for the Governor to resign. Now, the governor has been questioned about this repeatedly saying, you know, these investigations, aren't they going to be too much of a distraction? Shouldn't -- do you truly believe that you can still continue to lead the state? He maintains that he can.

He has said that politics didn't elect him. That it is the people of New York that elected him to office, and so, he is going to stay in office and continue to do the work of the people of New York.

Of course, we haven't seen a ton of polling recently. But that will be something that will watch out to see what does the general public think about how he has been handling these allegations, how he's been responding to them -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Athena Jones, thank you so much, in Albany.

Let's talk more about all this, not all New York lawmakers are pushing for Cuomo's resignation. I spoke to the Democratic Majority Leader of New York State Assembly yesterday and she says people need to let the investigation into the Governor's conduct take its course.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CRYSTAL PEOPLES STOKES (D), MAJORITY LEADER OF NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY: In this country, we have a process of law and order, the order should be followed, the process should happen.

And if in fact, the facts show up that this is true, this did happen to these women, then Mr. Cuomo should pay the full price of that offense.

I am of the perspective that we should follow the process. A lot of judicial process to happen and I know we'll come up with the right results.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WHITFIELD: CNN legal analyst, Jennifer Rodgers is with me now from New

York. Good to see you, Jennifer. So you heard the Majority Leader there talking about following the process -- due process is what she says he is owed.

The State Attorney General is leading an investigation. Is the Attorney General possibly looking at only criminal wrongdoing or would it also mean, you know, potential abuse of power to some degree?

JENNIFER RODGERS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, right now, Fred, she is looking not at criminal wrongdoing. There's an investigation that isn't really key to civil versus criminal. It's just an investigation into what happened under her general authority to investigate matters affecting the public health and welfare.

So what I expect to come out of the A.G.'s investigation is a report setting forth what happened here, and then, if there are indications that, for example, there's criminal conduct that was uncovered, they would likely make a referral to further look at that issue as well.

WHITFIELD: So aside from investigating the criminal wrongdoing, you said, it really is looking to all the allegations, if it is found that the Governor may have acted inappropriately, but not in a criminal standpoint, then what happens potentially?

RODGERS: Well, that's a very good question, because no one has the ability to remove the Governor except for the legislature through the impeachment process.

We know from a couple days ago, that the Assembly Judiciary Committee has started an investigation. So it really would kick to them if they want to remove the Governor, then they have to go through the impeachment process in New York State as set out in the State Constitution.

And the fact that they've already announced that they're starting that investigation suggests that they want to be ready to pull the trigger whenever this report comes out to move swiftly.

WHITFIELD: Is there also a potential conflict if you've got the Attorney General Letitia James, who is running this investigation, and then in many circles, it's being said that she could consider a potential run for the gubernatorial seat? How complicated might that make this?

RODGERS: I think that's why the Attorney General made the decision to enlist outside lawyers to do this. She certainly could have done it in-house. There are plenty of talented lawyers on the Attorney General's staff who could have done this investigation, but instead, she turned to two well-known and well-respected lawyers outside of her office.

It seems that she did that for the exact reason that you raise, Fred, she doesn't want to be accused of playing politics. She wants to put it in someone else's hands so that that isn't even an issue. WHITFIELD: If there is an impeachment process because you have so many

lawmakers who are lobbying for him to step down, and if not an ultimatum is impeachment. Would that in any way also conflict with the ongoing investigation from the Attorney General's office?

[15:25:09]

RODGERS: It depends when they do it. I mean, they have started this process with an investigation. If they proceed on a parallel track trying to interview the same witnesses, seek the same documents, then, you know, they might step on each other's toes a little bit.

They also could wait for the results of the report and then move swiftly once the report comes out. So it's unclear exactly what they're going to end up doing with this. We also haven't seen an impeachment in New York in decades. So, you know, it'll be sort of inventing the wheel again, we'll just have to see how this particular group of legislators decides.

WHITFIELD: Right. And then the Governor, you know, reminded audiences during that teleconference on Friday, you know, I used to be A.G. He knows the rules, he knows the players, and the people. How might that potentially complicate an investigation by that office of him?

RODGERS: You know, it's so interesting. I mean, some people are saying, he knows everyone so well, and they know him and that's why he's in such political trouble, right, because of all the history there and the way that he has historically treated people.

He's a lawyer, he knows the law. He knows the process, even though we haven't seen it in a while. So he's a savvy political player, expect him to use that ability and that knowledge to fight as hard as he can.

But, you know, in the end, the facts are the facts, and we'll see where they go. But if the legislature is intent on removing him and they have the numbers, presumably that's what will happen.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jennifer Rodgers, thank you so much for that. Appreciate it.

All right, we're also following this breaking news out of Colorado where Denver is now under a blizzard warning. You're looking at live pictures right now from Boulder, which could see up to a foot of snow overnight. It is a beautiful scene, but it's also potentially dangerous, too.

Denver International Airport announcing runways in fact, are closed with winds topping 45 miles per hour and snow totals expected to hit two feet. We'll have more on that in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:31:27]

WHITFIELD: All right, breaking news out of Colorado where blizzard warnings are being extended in parts of the state. You're looking at live pictures right now from Denver, which is included in that blizzard warning.

Runways at Denver International Airport are closed as winds are gusting up to 45 miles per hour.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam is live for us in Boulder and Jennifer Gray is tracking the storm from the Weather Center. So Derek, you first, how bad is it? It's also beautiful but how bad is it.

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, Fred. Yes, beautiful but dangerous. You know Fredricka, the storm took its time arriving here, but it has finally come and it's made its mark in a big way closing interstates the I-25 urban corridor that runs north and south along the front range here in Colorado right through Denver. Parts of that is shut down.

Interstate 70, popular highway that goes into Summit County, all the ski resorts, part of that is shut down as well. Denver International Airport just tweeting out within the past 15 minutes that they have canceled the majority of their flights tonight and for the day tomorrow.

So if you're in Denver, you're staying here for a while. They have reported 19.1 inches so far. That makes this the second largest March snowstorm in Denver's history. I mean, that puts it in the record books, amazing stuff.

Where I am standing in Boulder, this is the Pearl Street Mall. You can see how beautiful it is behind me. We've had just over 13 inches here, but it's not just snarling the highways and the airport, it is also impacting COVID vaccination clinics as well.

They are canceling all COVID vaccine clinics up and down the Front Range, basically from Fort Collins to the Colorado Springs area.

So anyone who had vaccinations planned this weekend, they have now been bumped into early next week in the Boulder Valley School District where I'm standing now, they worked ahead of time to try and get their second dose of vaccinations to their employees.

If they weren't able to fit them in this week, they're going to make that reservation into the early parts of next week as well.

There have also been a slew of avalanches that have occurred across parts of the Colorado Rockies and into Utah. In fact, we just had a report of four people injured in an avalanche just east of Park City, no fatalities, but there were some injuries there.

So very dangerous situation, to say the least with this amount of snow piling up in such a short period of time. Very dangerous on the ski slopes, but also in the back country as people try to stay away from crowds, move away from the ski resorts and out into some of the mountainous regions as well.

So this has been quite a historic storm. Winds are picking up for this area and blizzard conditions, as you mentioned, have been extended right through Denver and into the Front Range. So it's going to be a while and people are going to be digging out for

days -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All right, folks have to be real careful. I saw a couple of people behind you. A few folks are venturing out nonetheless.

All right, Jennifer, where is this storm heading next?

JENNIFER GRAY, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Well, Fredricka, the reason we've seen so much snowfall in just a short amount of time is this low, it is basically just sitting stationary over the area. So that's why the Front Range, all of these big cities getting all of this snow at once, so it's really not moving much, but by tomorrow it will start to pick up some speed and get out of here.

Look at all of these watches and warnings. The blizzard warnings, as Derek mentioned, have extended down to include Denver and you can also see that avalanche warning as well.

Here is a look at the radar picture and you can see the snow is really not moving. It's staying in one spot. As we mentioned that low isn't moving, but once it starts to move to the east by tomorrow, you'll see this snow start to wind down just a little bit.

Here are the snowfall totals as of now. There will be more snow to come. But look at this, two and a half close to three feet of snow across portions of Wyoming, Denver International picking up more than 19 inches and it's still falling. And as Derek mentioned, this is one of the snowiest snowstorms in March for Denver's history. So it is significant, this March storm.

[15:35:28]

GRAY: So here's the high res forecast radar. As we push this to the east, we'll leave these snowfall totals at over two feet across portions of Colorado as well as Wyoming, not to mention the severe threat on the south side of this, Fred. We have had numerous tornado warnings along with that so the cold air to the north and then the mild air to the south bringing that severe storm.

WHITFIELD: Alright, Jennifer Gray and Derek Van Dam, thank you so much both of you.

All right, still ahead. Crisis at the border. The Biden administration making a new plan to shelter thousands of children separated from their families. But a congressman who represents part of the border questions if Biden is doing enough. He joins me live, next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:40:19]

WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. With a massive surge of migrants overwhelming the southern border, the Biden administration is now deploying F.E.M.A. to help care for and shelter the record number of unaccompanied minors crossing into the U.S. seeking asylum. They are being taken to U.S. government custody where 3,700 children

are already being held in overcrowded conditions.

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez is a Democratic Representative from Texas and the district he represents extends to the U.S.-Mexico border. Congressman Gonzales, good to see you.

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): Good to see you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: So you're in McAllen, Texas right now, which borders Mexico? Have you been to the border facilities to see the situation, the conditions firsthand where many of the unaccompanied minors are being held?

GONZALEZ: I haven't in the past few weeks, but I have many, many times, obviously before. And I clearly understand what's happening.

I talked to my Border Patrol agents, many of them are friends and neighbors, my cousin agents about what's happening on our border and what's really the surge that we've seen in the past 30 to 60 days, if you will, and it's clearly concerning.

You know, we have to acknowledge that President Biden did inherit a system that's been tarnished and deteriorated on our border, and he has to rebuild really fast. But I'm also concerned about sending the right message to migrants that are making this very dangerous trek from Mexico and many people --

WHITFIELD: Yes. How do you send a different message? Because the message that many are receiving based on the reporting that we've done is that people feel like, well, it's the Biden administration, and so they're more amenable to allowing people in. So how do you change that message?

GONZALEZ: Yes, very, very concerning. Well, I believe that like these tent cities or these tent camps that we have, could be placed in southern Mexico or in some other place where migrants show up and register for asylum there and have hearings and have expedited hearings, and know that if you don't go through this process, when you get to our border, you're not going to come in, and we have to have an orderly and safe process in place.

We are in the middle of a pandemic. In my district, we lost over 3,000 lives to COVID, and we're still losing people every single day. So I'm clearly concerned about my community. My municipalities and counties along the border don't have the resources they need to handle this surge, and we need the Federal government to really up their game in a pretty fast fashion right now, and send a very clear message that just making your trek up here and getting across the border being processed is not going to happen. It's not acceptable. It's not a safe process.

We have cartels across the border fighting with each other over who gets to charge migrants for coming across. I mean, it's clearly a very complex situation, and we need to have a holistic approach to what we're doing. We have at the root of it is, we have a broken immigration problem and

we have three countries that are in crisis in Central America and we need to have a holistic approach whether if you're asking for asylum, I think we should have a system in place where you can ask for asylum in your home country, or a neighboring country in a safe place, a compound at an embassy or a consulate.

And if you qualify for asylum, you can just take an airplane and fly to your destination for $300.00 or $400.00 and we have to come to terms that more than 80 percent of these migrants never qualify for asylum.

Obviously, they get absorbed into our economy because we have a labor shortage and hopefully, we can come up with a good guest worker program fast and have people apply it that way.

We have DREAMers here, 800,000 plus that had been here, since they were children who grew up here, who are productive citizens who need an immediate pathway to citizenship. We have millions of people who have been in this country, undocumented who have been honest, hardworking people for many, many years and we need to vet these.

If they are good people that have done good work for us, we need to have a system in place for them to be here.

WHITFIELD: I wonder, too, in that messaging challenge that you're talking about, you're trying to send a message, you know, in one respect south of the border, but then you also are trying to communicate with the White House.

You sent a letter to President Biden warning him about the growing crisis at the border, and in your writing, you say the number of unaccompanied minors that are arriving is staggering.

The message in Central America seems to be that now is the time to come and cartels, as you just explained, are profiting in the process.

So do you feel that this White House is receptive to your concerns? Or has a plan in place to address those very issues that you spell out?

GONZALEZ: Yes, I hope so, and I've been in communication with the administration. Well, they have since have now created a plan where at least children can start the unification process with their families from their home country. That's a good beginning.

[15:45:10]

GONZALEZ: You know, children are special to me, so to see children unaccompanied, making this long, very dangerous trek should be concerning and we need to do things in a in a humane manner.

Obviously, the Biden administration is not going to cage children or separate families or strip children for mother's arms. But we do need to have a safe and orderly process in the middle of a pandemic, which is quite concerning to districts such as mine, a Latino community on the border that was ravaged by COVID-19. It is a huge challenge and I am quite concerned.

WHITFIELD: Well, Congressman. Absolutely -- Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, I hope you'll come back because I know there's still so much more to discuss.

GONZALEZ: Sure. Be happy.

WHITFIELD: Thank you. All right, so much more straight ahead in the NEWSROOM, but first millions of Americans are dealing with long haul symptoms from COVID.

One survivor has started a group to help them cope and heal. Here's Dr. Sanjay Gupta with this week's Human Factor.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DIANA BERRENT, PHOTOGRAPHER: I'm on Day 11 of having COVID-19.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Diana Berrent is a photographer who traveled the world before the pandemic. Then early last year, the mother of two got the virus. She's been struggling for months now with symptoms.

BERRENT: The incredible pressure on my chest, a splitting headache. The GI issues started maybe four days in and didn't sleep for months.

GUPTA (voice over): Diana kept a video diary of her symptoms and just two weeks after her COVID diagnosis, she did something incredible. She started a COVID support group and citizen science online portal called Survivor Corps.

BERRENT: I started Survivor Corps with the mission of mobilizing an army of survivors to donate plasma and to support science in every way possible.

GUPTA (voice over): The group's Facebook page has more than 150,000 members who share symptoms, console each other, donate precious antibodies and take part in medical research studies.

BERRENT: I think it can be so lonely for people whose friends are saying, I don't know what you're talking about. I had a mild case of COVID, I got over it in a week.

We are partners with the Mayo Clinic. We are partners with Mt. Sinai and Columbia.

GUPTA (voice over): Now, today, Diana is dealing with another potential diagnosis, glaucoma. She hopes Survivor Corps will be her life's work to serve others struggling with long haul symptoms.

BERRENT: I consider myself extraordinarily lucky.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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WHITFIELD: All right, as high school female basketball players we're listening to the National Anthem, an open mic catches an announcer using foul racist language.

That high school basketball announcer in Oklahoma has apologized for his behavior during that live stream of the state tournament, but it's far from sidelined the issue.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MATT ROWAN, SPORTS ANNOUNCER: They're kneeling? [Bleep]. I hope Norman gets [bleep] kicked.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: So in a statement obtained by CNN affiliate KOKI, announcer Matt Rowan said this, quote: "While the comments I made would certainly seemed to indicate that I am a racist, I am not." He also said he is a diabetic and his sugar was spiking.

Rowan says he doesn't believe he would have made the comments if that didn't happen. Well, the school that was hosting the tournament says it has terminated his contract and the contract with the broadcasting company. And CNN has reached out to Rowan's attorney for additional comment, but we have yet to hear back.

All right, so March Madness, well, it's upon us. The NCAA men's college basketball tournament is set to tip off this week after being canceled last year because of coronavirus.

The 68-team tournament field will be announced later on tonight and the games will begin on Thursday. All players, coaches and team staff must have seven consecutive days of negative tests before they arrive, and then we'll be tested daily.

A limited number of fans will be allowed to attend the games and will be required to wear masks and maintain physical distancing. All the men's games will be played in Indiana this year, and the women's games will be held in Texas. The women's tournament will begin next Sunday.

Good luck to all.

All right, one university is taking a drastic step as it sees a sudden spike in COVID cases. Duke University issuing a stay in place order last night for all undergraduate students, and it comes as officials say more than 180 students have tested positive for COVID-19 and are in isolation. Another 200 are in quarantine based on contact tracing.

Officials say this is the largest one week total of positive cases in quarantine since the pandemic began. Duke says if infections don't improve, it could threaten the rest of the semester's in-person learning and potentially graduation ceremonies as well.

And then finally today, people waiting at a vaccine clinic in Massachusetts got a rather happy surprising surprise this weekend. The musical talent of Yo-Yo Ma.

[VIDEO CLIP PLAYS]

[15:55:00]

WHITFIELD: While folks may not have recognized him because of the mask, they did recognize the sound. This world-renowned cellist delivered a pop-up performance after himself getting a dose, this time it was his second dose of the vaccine.

Unsuspecting spectators at the Berkshire Community College site are just the latest group to be graced with one of Ma's very special impromptu concerts.

He has played a series of surprise concerts throughout this whole COVID experience for frontline workers.

All right, thank you so much for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues in a moment.

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