Return to Transcripts main page


The Netherlands Becomes The Latest Nation To Pause Use Of AstraZeneca Vaccine; Biden Responds To Questions Of Cuomo Resignation, Says Cuomo Investigation Is Underway; Georgia Officials Investigating Trump's Attempts To Overturn 2020 Result; Schools Weigh Pandemic Fears With Crushing Toll On Students. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired March 14, 2021 - 19:00   ET




DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NIAID: By the time we get into the early summer, the Fourth of July weekend, we really will have a considerable degree of normality. But we don't want to let that escape from our grasp.

JOE JOHNS, CNN SENIOR WASHINGTON CORRESPONDENT: Vaccinations are rising, but spring break could bring a spike in cases, too.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you get the coronavirus that's your own fault because you know the risks of coming out here.

COLLIN MCGUINNESS, SPRING BREAKER: A few aren't wearing a mask, like that's kind of the normal compared to people who do wear a mask.

SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): Governor Cuomo has lost the confidence of his governing partners. For the good of the state he should resign.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA): The governor should look inside his heart, he loves New York to see if he can govern effectively.

REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ (D-TX): We have a broken immigration system. Our cities and our counties on the border don't have the resources to deal with this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The flow of humanity arriving at our front door never stopped. The Donald Trump administration didn't stop them.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world on this Sunday. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

A year ago, the pandemic was just getting started in the U.S. I'm sure we all remember how we felt at that time. And spring breakers were largely oblivious to its threats. You can't say people don't know better now, though. But spring break still looks a lot like it always has, starting at the nation's airports. Even though the CDC says we should still avoid travel, the TSA

screened more than 1.2 million people on Saturday. In Miami Beach, the streets are packed with largely mask-free tourists despite the fact that Florida currently leads the nation in cases of the highly contagious U.K. variant.


MCGUINNESS: A few aren't wearing a mask, like that's kind of the normal compared to people who do wear a mask. It's kind of nice to just kind of be out and not just have to worry about it. I mean, when we do get back, we are going to have to quarantine. But it's just nice for just these two weeks just kind of, you know, let that weight off your shoulders and just kind of have a good time.


BROWN: Well, the pandemic is far from over. Yesterday alone 1,846 deaths. The "New York Times" puts the seven-day average at roughly 1400 COVID deaths a day.

And this just into CNN tonight, the Netherlands has paused the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine because of, quote, "new information." The Dutch government says it is a precautionary measure pending further investigation. And it joins Ireland as the latest two nations suspending the use of this vaccine.

Earlier today AstraZeneca issued a statement insisting there is no evidence of blood clot risks from its vaccine, and the company is still awaiting approval from the FDA for Emergency Use Authorization in the U.S.

CNN's Cyril Vanier has more on the controversy.


CYRIL VANIER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, more than a third of European countries have now partially or fully suspended AstraZeneca vaccinations. Ireland becoming the latest E.U. member state to do so on Sunday after a report from the Norwegian Health Authority of patients developing blood clots after inoculation. Concerns have been emerging throughout the week. E.U. countries reported three deaths and multiple incidents.

A 49-year-old woman in Austria died as a result of blood coagulation and several countries banned that particular batch of AstraZeneca doses. Then Denmark went a step further, suspending its entire AstraZeneca rollout for two weeks after a vaccine recipient died of a blood clot. Norway and Iceland immediately followed suit.

It is important to note those countries acknowledge there is no proof these incidents are connected to the vaccine, but they want more information. Meanwhile a majority of European countries including Germany, Spain, and France are proceeding with the rollout.

AstraZeneca has responded. It says that the data from more than 10 million vaccine recipients shows no evidence of increased risk of pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis for any age group, gender or country. And the European Medicines Agency seems to agree. It says the number of such events in vaccinated people is no higher than that seen in the general population.

The EMA is investigating the incidents but advises that in the meantime the vaccines can continue to be used -- Pam.



BROWN: All right. Thanks so much to Cyril.

And joining me now with more is Dr. (INAUDIBLE), primary care physician.

AstraZeneca insists, Doctor, that its vaccine is safe, as we just heard there, even as Ireland and just today the Netherlands joined the list of countries suspending it. Do you think the U.S. should approve it for Emergency Use Authorization?

DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Good evening, Pamela. Nice to be on your show. Listen. When you start vaccinating hundreds and thousands of people, you are going to find some of these events. Now it doesn't necessarily mean that there is a direct cause and effect. We had a couple of these events happen in some of the vaccines that were approved here in the U.S.

And to answer your question, Pamela, more specifically, one thing that gives me a lot of consolation as an American physician is our FDA is a very strict organization. When the data is presented to them, they will go through it and make sure that it is safe and effective like they have already for the three vaccines we have currently in the U.S.

BROWN: So you don't think that this latest -- what's coming out about people's reactions after taking the vaccine is enough to prevent the U.S. from Emergency Use Authorization as you see it now, right?

MATHEW: Right. That's correct, Pamela. And, again, it's because, you know, these blood clots happen quite a bit anyway in a normal population. And when you're vaccinating people, you're going to find out that some of these people that got vaccinated also have blood clots. But it doesn't mean that the vaccination actually caused the blood clot.

BROWN: So former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb spoke today about concerns related to a New York mutation that seems similar to the South African variant. Let's listen to what he said.


DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: New York is really the only place in the country right now that we know of where 1526 is that much the infection. And about half of those cases, so half of the cases of 1526 have the same mutation that's in the South African variant, this 484 K mutation that could make the virus more impervious to our vaccine. So it is a concern.

We also are seeing with the 1351, the South African variant, with this same mutation, we're seeing people get reinfected. And so whether or not that's starting to happen in New York, and that explains these trends, we don't know yet.


BROWN: So what does that mean practically for all of us as we're getting the vaccine or waiting to get it if a variant spreads more easily, may cause reinfection, and is resistant to current vaccines, how dangerous could that be?

MATHEW: Yes. So, Pamela, I hope that the keyword that you just said will not happen, which is resistance to the vaccine. We already know that the approved vaccines here in the U.S., Moderna, Pfizer, and the Johnson & Johnson, they will work on these variants, but they may not work at the efficacy that we would like for it to. They are still going to be effective. They will work also on the vial strains which are the strains that are circulating right now in the U.S.

So I don't think we need to be concerned about the current vaccines. Now this is also the reason, Pamela, that we are going to develop these vaccines that will work specifically against the variants. So I think in the near future, everybody that gets one or two shots will probably end up getting a booster. But we still have to mask up and get vaccinated. And that's the way that we can take care of these variants.

BROWN: But you have vaccine hesitancy. You're a doctor in Georgia. Just this week, Governor Brian Kemp said he has seen vaccine hesitancy among white Republicans in the southern part of the state. What is your reaction to that?

MATHEW: Yes. It definitely makes me a bit upset because I also feel that, you know, President Trump, whether you like him or not, had a golden opportunity to talk about getting the vaccine when he and the former first lady got it before they left the White House. He has a huge following, and I definitely think that a lot of white Republicans will listen to him.

Listen, at the end of the day, Pamela, we've still got a lot of work to do. We've got to work on minority populations. 67 percent of our white people have gotten the vaccine, but only six percent to seven percent, Pamela, of the black population have gotten the shot. So we've got a lot of work to do. And I think that talking about it, answering a lot of questions, I do that all the time as a doctor, we will definitely be able to overcome that to a degree.

BROWN: But are you concerned given the vaccine hesitancy in the numbers you just laid out that there is a scenario where the U.S. doesn't reach herd immunity in the amount of time that is necessary to prevent a resurgence of the pandemic?

MATHEW: There is always that possibility. Right? As scientists we're always very careful to say that, hey, if 85 percent of Americans get the vaccine, we are going to get to herd immunity. One thing that's reassuring is the fact that we have about 100 million people that have already gotten COVID. So we do have some natural immunity that will go towards that herd immunity. One thing's reassuring is the fact that we have about 100 million people that have already gotten COVID.


So we do have some natural immunity that will go towards that herd immunity and now we have about 15 percent of the U.S. population fully vaccinated. That's another 100 million people. So I still think we should be positive. We're getting there. But I don't want people to think because the numbers are coming down, that there's no need to get the vaccine.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Mathew, thank you for coming on the show and sharing your expertise with us.

MATHEW: Thank you.

BROWN: And this just in to CNN. President Biden has just returned to the White House and took some questions about whether New York Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign. I want to bring in CNN's White House correspondent John Harwood -- John.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, President Biden got off Marine One after returning from Delaware, and he was asked about whether he would echo the calls for Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York to resign. And just like how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier today, he declined to say that. What President Biden said was that an investigation is underway.

He did not echo the calls that have come from both senators in the New York delegation and numerous Democratic House members from New York, numerous state legislatures as well, increasing pressure on Governor Cuomo to resign. Joe Biden decided not to go there, Pamela.

BROWN: All right, John Harwood. Thank you for bringing us the latest there from the White House.

Meantime, a Navy investigation finds that one of its contractors who sported a Hitler mustache and was charged in the Capitol siege was a well-known Neo-Nazi.

Stacey Abrams is branding Georgia's new voting bill racist, calling it nothing more than Jim Crow in a suit and tie.

And an outspoken parent tells teachers who are worried about returning to class that it's time to follow the science. She joins me live later in the hour.

But first, the curious case of a missing audio file of Trump trying to overturn his election loss in Georgia that has miraculously been found in an investigator's trash folder.

More on that with our legal analyst Laura Coates. Stay with us. We'll be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BROWN: Well, this week CNN obtained damning audio of a December phone call between then president Trump and a top investigator in Georgia. And during that call, Trump told the investigator she would be, quote, "praised" if she overturned Biden's win in the state. And now we've learned that recording was almost lost forever. Georgia officials recently located the recording of the December 23rd call in a trash folder on the investigator's device.

CNN's senior legal analyst Laura Coates joins me now.

So, Laura, help us understand this, put this in perspective. This audio was discovered after Fulton County's district attorney asked officials there to preserve records relevant to election interference. That directive came in February months after Trump's effort to overturn the election. How significant is that gap considering it almost led to this recording being deleted?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, it's the very reason, Pam, you have things that were called preservation letters that go out to say, listen, I want you to put a pin in all of this. Freeze everything you have, I want to be able to access it because the red tape, perhaps sometimes the protracted litigation, the investigation can have this very result happen with things fall through the cracks.

Of course, the very idea that going into a trash folder is a bit odd. We don't exactly how why it's there or how it ended up there, whether it was a benign incident or nefarious somehow or some way. But this is why you actually have these letters go out because you do not want to have evidence that can become fleeting that otherwise would be useful, that can contextualize, that can give the full color of every statement.

Knowing that the audio call or the telephone call existed is one thing. Being able to hear it and perceive it and understand the tone is essential at any investigation.

BROWN: And Georgia is investigating Trump's call to their secretary of state pressuring him to, quote, "find enough votes" to give Trump a fraudulent win. Just how exposed is Trump legally on this?

COATES: Well, he is quite exposed. Remember, the idea of federal pardons went away when he was no longer the president of the United States. This is also a state investigation so it wouldn't have touched it any way. And we actually have it from the proverbial horse's mouth, him saying these statements as a part of a greater holistic investigation. In isolation in a vacuum, every particular statement could be dismissed by people. But it's about the idea of all of these things coming into fruition.

The directive to find a certain amount of votes, going into Fulton County, at one point talking about Stacey Abrams, having the thread that is followed about not that there was an overall evidentiary basis for any allegation of fraud but that targeting it to particular areas according to perhaps demographics or the way they voted as an act of suppression is part of what is being investigated right now.

So there's a whole lot of exposure. But this is yet another instance, another thing. And, remember, he has alienated for the most part all of the people even though there are Republicans. Those who would have been supportive or could have come to his defense, they were the ones targeted in pat for these statements.

BROWN: And we're seeing in the wake of this, Laura, this battle brewing over voting in Georgia after Trump lost the state for weeks now CNN has reported on how the GOP bills there would disproportionately affect black voters. Here's how Stacey Abrams views the situation.


STACEY ABRAMS (D), FOUNDER, FAIR FIGHT: I do absolutely agree that it's racist. It is a redux of Jim Crow in a suit and tie. We know that the only thing that precipitated these changes, it's not that there was a question of security. In fact, the secretary of state and the governor went to great pains to assure America that Georgia's elections were secure.

And so the only connection that we can find is that more people of color voted, and it changed the outcome of elections and the direction that Republicans do not like. And so instead of celebrating better access and more participation, their response to try to eliminate access to voting for primarily communities of color.

And there is a direct correlation between the usage of drop boxes, the uses of in-person early voting especially on Sundays, and the use of vote by mail and the direct increase in the number of people of color voting.


BROWN: So, Laura, what do you think can be done about this? It seems like there is no down side for Republicans doing this at the state level where Republicans have the majority in the legislature.

COATES: Well, the only downside of course is that you're violating Voting Rights Act of 1965 and you are engaging in voter suppression with the pretextual reason of having widespread fraud be the reason when in fact it seems to be like what happened a few years ago in North Carolina the act of trying to disenfranchise with surgical precision, knowing the voting behavior and pattern of a particular demographic and voting bloc, and then saying that we'd like to figure out a way to disenfranchise, and not having any rhyme or reason other than it does not align with who you'd like to be in office.

That's not what we do in a democracy or what we should do in a democracy here. And of course, the reason it's pretextual, the reasons that Stacey Abrams has already articulated here, Pam. But most importantly here it's nonsensical. Because on the one hand Republicans in Georgia have been quite clear they have butted heads with former president Trump on this very issue that there is no widespread voter fraud. They had a fair and free election, not just one but two with a special election.

They had re-counts of actual votes. They did this on a number of times and now to say that, although they had a free and fair election that was devoid of any fraud or let alone widespread voter fraud, to say we need to correct fraud as the reason, this smacks of the very things that she speaks of and a very unpersuasive use of this phrase of widespread voter fraud. This is the pretextual reason.

Another thing that needs to happen of course, Pam, is you've got to -- you have to make sure that the Voting Rights Act once again has teeth. These ideas of having a state being able to engage themselves in these election-related voting changes without having the preclearance of the voting rights section of the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, which I was an alum of, is going to lead to further incidents of like this.

Being able to be empowered and emboldened to engage in behavior that disenfranchises simply because you don't like the fact that the state went blue? That's not what the red, white, and blue flag of democracy should actually stand for.

BROWN: All right, Laura Coates, we will leave it there. Thank you so much.

Well, President Biden has just weighed in on the controversy surrounding Governor Andrew Cuomo. We're going to play that tape for you in just a moment.

And then also tonight a damning assessment from New York state senator. She says she's never met a person in New York politics who has a good relationship with Governor Cuomo, not even those close to him. We will talk with her when we come back. Stay with us.



BROWN: Well, newly released court documents reveal an Army reservist charged in the January 6th insurrection as a well-known Neo-Nazi and white supremacist. Shocking photos show that Timothy Hale-Cusanelli once sported this Hitler mustache. On your screen right here. Well, he was rebuked for it on the naval base where he worked as a contractor.

His defense attorneys maintained that he is not a white supremacist. But according to an internal naval review, his colleagues say he was known to spout the following comments, and it is difficult to read this, but here's what he allegedly said. "You're not Jewish, are you? Jews, women and blacks were on the bottom of the totem pole. Jewish people are ruining everything and did not belong here. And Hitler should have finished the job."

Hale-Cusanelli faces seven federal charges and hasn't entered a plea. He has now been discharged from the Army Reserves according to court documents. One year ago New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was riding a wave of

popularity from his daily COVID briefings. But times have changed dramatically. Right now the governor is clinging to power amid calls for his resignation. And President Biden has just weighed in.

Athena Jones joins me live from Albany, New York. So, Athena, what's the president saying?

ATHENA JONES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Pamela. Well, he weighed in. He's not joining, adding his voice to those calling for Governor Cuomo to step down now. Listen to what the president had to say just now.


UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you think Governor Andrew Cuomo should resign?

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think the investigation is underway and we should see what it brings us.


JONES: Now those remarks from President Biden echoing very similar to what we heard from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi saying, you know, that there are investigations going on, we should let those investigations play out. But Speaker Pelosi went on to say that the governor should essentially search his heart and ask himself whether he could lead effectively.

And, Pamela, look, you know, the majority of the New York's congressional delegation is now calling on him to resign. That includes Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who, on Friday afternoon, put out a joint statement joining with the other members of Congress who believe that the governor should, for the sake of New York, step down, arguing that he's lost the confidence of the people of New York -- Pamela.

BROWN: All right, Athena Jones live for us in Albany, New York. Thanks so much, Athena.

And joining me now is Democratic New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi. In 2017 she worked for the Counsel's Office in the Cuomo administration.


Senator, thank you so much for joining us. As we just heard there, President Biden did not join the calls of Schumer and other New York Democrats for Cuomo to resign. What is your reaction to that?

ALESSANDRA BIAGGI (D), NEW YORK STATE SENATOR: I mean, listen, I'm not surprised. But I do think that the details of the growing sexual harassment allegations and the nursing home death cover up.

And now today, the reports of the Governor's vaccine czar calling county officials to gauge their loyalty to the Governor reveals something that is an underlying issue, which is that the New York State Executive Branch has been working to protect Andrew Cuomo and not the people of New York, and collectively there is a pattern of abusive behavior.

BROWN: And we just want to point out, CNN has not confirmed that reporting about the vaccine czar, but I want to ask you about the role that you were in that put you directly in Cuomo's orbit and you have been a fierce critic of him.

You told "The New York Times," if you are a woman who wants to focus on work, it is the worst place to be. Why is that?

BIAGGI: So I worked in the Governor's Counsel's Office, from April of 2017 to December of 2017. I went into that office, bright eyed and bushy tailed, very excited to work on women's policy to codify Roe v. Wade with the Reproductive Health Act.

And what I realized there was not only that I wasn't going to be able to do the actual work, because there was a lot of showmanship rather than actual policy being made.

But what I realized was that I was part of a culture where people were sidelined, there were people who were frankly afraid to make a mistake, because they were afraid that they were going to get fired as a result of it.

It was probably one of the worst work environments I have ever been in, in my life. And I say that in a way that gives me a heavy heart to say, because I actually love public service. I love the work that I do today.

And frankly, had it not been from what I was able to witness when I was there, I wouldn't be in public service today. The experience there did have a positive, Fred, which is that it really motivated me to run for this State Senate seat.

But frankly, most people are not that lucky, and we cannot afford to lose good talent in a moment like this when we have to recover from COVID in our state at its greatest moment of need.

BROWN: And you also told "The New York Times" that: "I had not met a person yet in New York politics who has a good relationship with Andrew Cuomo, and I'm not saying close relationship, I'm saying good relationship, even people who are close to him, I cannot say in good faith have a good relationship with him."'

If he is constantly burning bridges, how has he been able to survive for this long politically?

BIAGGI: I mean, listen, he has gotten a lot done with brute force, and I think that when we think about who we want to be leading us, we want true leaders. I want a leader who will also fight for what all of us believe in.

But what he has done is gone over a boundary where he uses his position of power strictly to control others and to dominate others. And it's this very behavior, the Governor's abusive behavior that, again, has forced intelligent and motivated people who are really eager to serve New Yorkers to leave the executive office.

And so that, in my opinion, is not only not effective, it really does harm New Yorkers, because again, we are here to actually serve and get the job done.

BROWN: But let me just ask you about the allegations and the nursing home data, because he has said, look, these are allegations. He has denied many of them and said this is going to be -- you know, this is under investigation. We should let that play out, and others have said the same. I mean, you heard President Biden today.

But why didn't the nursing home scandal force the widespread calls for his resignation, like these allegations that are under investigation have?

BIAGGI: So I think what's happening here is that we are seeing finally, or at least the public is seeing finally, because many of us inside of government have known that these are the behaviors that follow Andrew Cuomo. The collection of misdeeds is evolving and unfolding in real time.

And so even though many of us, myself, Assemblymember Ron Kim, Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, Senator Jessica Ramos and others have been seeing that the Governor has not only been acting in bad faith, but has attempted to cover up a nursing home scandal where he has lowered the numbers in order to make the numbers look lower, so he could get a book deal or for other reasons.

But what we have been seeing now is that because of this cracking open of the behaviors of the governor, more people are speaking out.

And so in real time, it's not just that the sexual harassment allegations have happened and that everyone is calling for the Governor to resign. It's that in real time, we're learning more now about the nursing home scandals.

BROWN: But why wasn't the nursing home situation enough? I'm trying to trying to get to that. Why wasn't that enough to prompt these calls for his resignation from people like you and others in the State Senate?

BIAGGI: That's a good question. So the reason for that is because I think we didn't have all of the facts in real time. Myself and others have really been clear that there has been something wrong in the process here because there has been an inability of the executive branch to share the number of nursing home deaths with us.


BIAGGI: But just only about a week ago, we learned that his top aides have not only falsified reports, but prevented the actual number of deaths from being reported into the July report. And so this is something, again, these are facts that are happening in

real time, I think for us, the nursing home deaths, and making sure that the Attorney General is actually investigating this is something that we believe should be panned out in an investigation.

But now that we've learned that there was an intentional attempt to falsify a report from the Department of Health to lower those nursing home deaths, I think that on its own is sufficient to call for his resignation.

But that fact in and of itself did not come out until later.

BROWN: All right, New York State Senator Alessandra Biaggi, thank you for coming on the show.

BIAGGI: Thank you for having me.

BROWN: Well, in one state, some parents are going as far as suing to get their kids back in the classroom. Up next, I'll speak to a mother telling hesitant teachers it is time to follow the science and get back to the classroom. We'll be back.



BROWN: Well, this just in to CNN, legendary NFL quarterback Drew Brees has announced that he is retiring after a 20-year career.

Brees spent 15 of those years with the New Orleans Saints leading them to a Super Bowl win in 2010 where he was named the MVP. He retires as the NFL's all-time leader in passing yards and completions and he is second all-time with 571 passing touchdowns.

And a social media post, the 43-year-old Brees says, quote: "I am only retiring from playing football. I am not retiring from New Orleans."

Well states and parents around the country are grappling with how to restart in-person classes. Across the country, school districts in many states are not yet open for full in-person learning.

You have California, Governor Gavin Newsom is giving billions of dollars and incentives to get schools to reopen, but some areas aren't in the clear.

Last week, I spoke to the President of the San Diego Education Association, a school district currently in the strictest tier of restrictions due to the coronavirus, and I asked her about why the school district has not reopened despite guidelines from the C.D.C. and other experts.


KISHA BORDEN, PRESIDENT, SAN DIEGO EDUCATION ASSOCIATION: I've spoken with hundreds of teachers, our members and they want those protections to be in place and available to protect themselves, and to protect their students.

The last thing I would want to do as a teacher is to pass this virus on to one of my students, or that they carry it home to a parent or a grandparent.

No one wants to be in the classroom more than teachers. Our educators want what's best for students, but they also want them to be safe.

There are other districts in San Diego who have opened up only to have to shut down within a few days or a few weeks and we want to make sure our students continue to have a stable and consistent educational program and not go through the yo-yo of opening and closing.


BROWN: So I'm joined now by Leslie Hofmeister. She is the cofounder of Reopen San Diego Unified School District. And Leslie, you contacted us after that interview, I want to get your reaction first to what Kisha Borden said about when the school district should reopen.

LESLIE HOFMEISTER, COFOUNDER, REOPEN SAN DIEGO UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT: Yes, so we currently have a target date for reopening our school district on April 12th. However, as soon as the date was announced, the SDEA whom Kisha Borden is the President of announced that they were not going to be following any particular dates, but that they were going to follow their own rules, which included every teacher and staff member and anybody on campus that would need to have the opportunity to be vaccinated and fully immune before returning.

BROWN: So what is your take on that then? Is that not enough for you that they're saying, hey, we could likely go back in April, as long as the teachers are fully vaccinated?

HOFMEISTER: Yes, I mean, you know, she also mentioned that they've been following the science. They've been following their own UCSD scientists here in San Diego, and yet, the UCSD scientists are saying that the vaccinations are not necessary for returning to campus and all experts and top public health officials are urging that we get our children in school and not continue to wait and delay for everyone to be vaccinated.

BROWN: So you were the President of the San Diego Education Association say that teachers don't want to open the school to then return to virtual learning if there is an outbreak.

San Diego County is currently in the most restricted tier of restrictions. Do you worry about the risks of returning students to school while community transmission is so high?

HOFMEISTER: Yes, we actually have over 150,000 students that are in person learning currently, and have been, many of them since September, and you know, we have not seen a lot of shutdowns.

In fact, I know from personal experience with some of my children that have been able to get some in-person education. We've not been, you know, yo-yoing back and forth. In fact, it's been very safe. I have felt very confident.

And currently, we're at 8.8 cases out of 100,000 right now, which is like teetering on the edge of that red tier, which we also were in back in September and could have opened our schools then.

And so, no, I'm not concerned at this point about the community transmission, and I think, you know, with schools reopened, we actually will see less transmissions.

BROWN: And I want to know your kids, you actually put them in a private school because you were getting so frustrated. I'm going to get to that in just a second, but I want to listen to the sound from the National Teacher of the Year and asked her about the push to get kids back to school. How that may be overlooking the wellbeing of educators. Let's listen.



TABATHA ROSPROY, 2020 NATIONAL TEACHER OF THE YEAR: You know, I think our emotional wellbeing is something that's often overlooked in times of crisis, but it is one that that's something that we end up paying for or dealing with for years to come after any kind of trauma or any kind of change in our lives.

And so often, I think, during disappointment or loss, like we're all going through right now, we're all looking for someone to blame. And families are looking to blame the school and the school is upset with the families.

But I think we ultimately all want the same thing. We want our kids back in school.


BROWN: So you've said that there is never going to be a zero risk situation anywhere in life, but can you empathize with what some teachers may be going through and tell us also what you as a parent, with young children have been going through?

LOFMEISTER: You know, I think, you know, for teachers, I completely understand that they are afraid and I would, you know, understand any essential worker, anyone on the frontlines, anyone who, you know, has to get up close and personal with the risks of this virus, I get it, it is scary.

And we have been in fear for this past year, and yet, at the same time, more and more evidence is suggesting that we can reopen our schools safely. And you can ask teachers across the country, you can ask teachers even across our own San Diego county that have been doing it, you know, what is the best way to do this? And how do you feel about this now?

I think there probably are plenty of teachers who could share their confidence that this can be done safely. BROWN: All right, Leslie Hofmeister, thank you for coming on.

Important to hear your perspective as a parent with children in that district. Thanks so much.

HOFMEISTER: Thank you.

BROWN: Well, the birthplace of the Renaissance, but Tuscany is so much more than that with dishes featuring steak to stale bread. Stanley Tucci gives me a sneak peek into his former hometown.



BROWN: Tuscany, a region like no other, home to world class art, architecture and culture, and it's also the former home of Stanley Tucci.

And in this week's episode of "Searching for Italy," Stanley takes a trip down memory lane with his parents. I recently sat down with Stanley Tucci to talk about his trip to Tuscany, and bringing his parents along for the ride.


BROWN: Stanley, you actually lived in Tuscany and Florence for a year while you were growing up. Tuscany is the birthplace of the Renaissance, home to rich history, architecture, art and culture. What is your favorite thing about this region?

STANLEY TUCCI, CNN HOST, "SEARCHING FOR ITALY": Well, I think exactly that, that it is the birthplace of the Renaissance, and that you can walk in Florence. And there are parts of it that are unchanged for 500 years.

What I like about Florence, too, is that it seems to have this incredible scope because of the architectural and artistic riches that are contained within it, and yet at the same time, it is very intimate.

You can walk everywhere. You don't need a car. You don't need a scooter, you really don't need just about anything. If you want to hop on a bus, great, but otherwise, you just use your own two legs and explore it and it is absolutely maybe in some ways the perfect city.

BROWN: Wow, the perfect city. I love, too, that you visited, you traveled to Florence with your parents for one of the episodes -- for this episode. What was it like revisiting the city together?

TUCCI: Well, it was -- it was great. I mean, you know, it was -- it was very strange, because I've never made anything like this before. I've never done it before.

And, you know, it's a bit nerve wracking, and then to be there with your parents and you want them to be comfortable and happy and all of that. So you're doubly anxious. But they weren't great.

BROWN: About the honesty.

TUCCI: Yes, I mean, but my -- but you know, the thing is also my dad is -- you know, my dad's about to turn 91, excuse me. He was 89 when we went and he was -- you know, he is incredible health as is my mom.

And they just had the time of their lives, and I was really happy and my dad had said he wasn't so sure he would ever see Florence again, and I was very happy that we were able to be there together.


BROWN: That is so special. This brand new episode of "Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy" airs tonight at nine Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

Well, this week, the CNN family should be celebrating the first birthday of a little girl fondly known as "Beans." But Francesca Kaczynski, the daughter of our colleague, Andrew Kaczynski and his wife, Rachel, passed away on Christmas Eve from a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer. She was just nine months old.


BROWN: So to remember Beans and help other children fighting this disease, CNN is launching the Team Beans Beanie, you see, I've been wearing it a lot and these pictures and so have my wonderful colleagues like Wolf Blitzer and Dana Bash.

To order yours, just visit I'm going to say that again,

So far over 6,000 have been sold since we launched this on Thursday. And since Beans passed away, more than $700,000.00 have been raised for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, where she was treated. Her spirit will live on forever.

Thank you for joining me. I'm Pamela Brown, and I'll see you again next weekend.