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CDC Updates Guidance on Physical Distancing in Schools; Any Moment: Biden & Harris Head to Georgia, Will Meet With Asian American Leaders; Biden: News on Any Russia Sanction "Will Come In Time". Aired 11-11:30a ET

Aired March 19, 2021 - 11:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us.

We have this just in to CNN: the CDC announcing new social distancing guidance for schools across the country. This has been expected, but it is a very big deal, and it is now just released.

The new guidelines reducing the recommended distance between students and the classroom from six feet now down to three feet.

Joining me right now is CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta for much more on this.

Sanjay, what do the guidance -- what do the new guidelines tell us?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's basically now changing some of the physical distancing recommendations, particularly for students and even more so for younger students.

Let me explain. I mean, we've been talking about this idea for some time. It's now official from the CDC. But they're specifically saying for all students, elementary school students, they can maintain just three feet apart when mask use is universal regardless of what is happening with community transmission. That's for elementary school students. So that's going to be a big deal.

But they also say, Kate, that for middle school and high school students, they should still maintain at least six feet apart if the community transmission in their community is high. So making a distinction, it's an important one, between older students and younger students. Again, for all elementary schools, regardless where you live in the country, guidance is now going to be three feet.

But if you happen to live in a community where community transmission is high still, at about 41 percent roughly of counties in the United States do have high transmission, if you live in one of those communities, this doesn't change for middle school and high school students. They still have to maintain six feet of distance. That's the guidance from the CDC.

So they're drawing a distinction here, Kate, a little bit between older kids and younger kids.

BOLDUAN: But that is interesting, Sanjay. Talk to me about the science behind this.

GUPTA: Well, I think that the science is emerging. I think, you know, we have to have, you know, humility as we're looking at all this emerging science. But what we've been seeing for some time is that the idea that older kids are going to behave more like adults, be more likely to actually transmit the virus to one another, makes them be a little more cautious.

But with the younger kids, you know, I think the evidence is becoming increasingly clear that their transmission is going to be lower. So they're a little more willing to say, hey, three feet across the board for elementary school students. But let's maintain some of that caution for middle school and high school students.

It may change again. It may loosen again, you know, Kate, over time. But I think that's how they're sort of easing in to these new guidelines.

I should point out, Kate, just short of more broadly speaking, you may know this. But, you know, the World Health Organization, if you look out of their recommendations, they recommended since the beginning one meter of physical distancing, which is around three feet. So that's been true for many countries around the world for some time. We're now slowly adopting it here in this country.

BOLDUAN: And the American Academy of Pediatrics is also kind of been more along that vain as well, I believe. How much -- you've been as we all have been, but you've been looking at this very challenging issue of schools and getting back into classrooms now for a year since the pandemic has shut them all down. How much of a game changer do you think this guidance is going to be?

GUPTA: You know, I think it's going to be pretty significant. I mean, I think there's caveats, which I'll tell you. But I think it will be significant because when I talked to school administrators in my own, you know, kids' school district but also in schools around the country, just finding the square footage has been challenging. You know?

If you're going to say six feet apart, how do you do that? You probably can't bring all the students in at the same time anymore. You just don't have the space. How are you finding extra space with gymnasiums and cafeterias and auditoriums and things like that? How much can you do outdoors? It's a logistical challenge.

The caveats though, obviously this means that more kids could be in a classroom. But you have to remember that ventilation can suffer as a result. You have to have adequate ventilation which basically means you still have to have low levels of carbon dioxide, our exhaled breath can't rise too much because that's how the virus actually spreads. More than 40 percent of the schools in the country needed updates to the ventilation. So this is forcing a lot of issues. And, you know, if you start

putting kids in without adequate ventilation, that's a problem. So, three feet, still got to maintain the masks, still going to have ventilation and still have to abide by all the other public health practices.

BOLDUAN: Giving a little more leeway, though, for school districts across the country to make the decisions based on the other mitigation factors that they can put in place?


GUPTA: Exactly. That's right. I mean, the basics apply. The only change really here is the six feet to three feet and primarily, again, as we discussed, primarily for elementary school students.

BOLDUAN: Very important and very interesting. Sanjay, thank you so much for bringing that to us just as soon as it came out.

GUPTA: You got it.

BOLDUAN: Also, any minute now, President Biden and Vice President Harris leaving the White House, leaving D.C. heading to Georgia. And President Biden is facing -- with this, President Biden's facing what every president eventually does have to face which is the responsibility of helping the country grieve and the reality that their agenda must take a backseat when tragedy strikes. This trip was originally planned as a trip, a visit to promote the coronavirus relief package. Biden and Harris focused on meeting with members of the Asian-American community in Atlanta.

This is during the wake of the deadly shootings there that left eight people dead and six of them Asian women. The president and vice -- and VP will be speaking as well to the growing climate of fear among the Asian-American community nationwide, as they've seen an increase in anti-Asian hate and violence, especially since the pandemic began.

The White House stopped short of calling Tuesday's shooting spree a hate crime despite calls do so. Law enforcement are still saying it's too early to declare a motive. But this he have not ruled out that racism and sexism was a factor.

Joining me now, CNN's Jeff Zeleny in Atlanta, and Natasha Chen in Cherokee County, Georgia.

Jeff, when Biden and Harris do arrive in Georgia, what are the plans for them during this visit?

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORESPONDENT: Well, Kate, President Biden and Vice President Harris will be stopping briefly by the CDC to meet with health experts there and mark the 58th day of their administration where they reached the goal of having 100 million coronavirus vaccines, of course that, was the goal he set out to have in the 100 days of their administration. They reached that early.

But then from there, they will be going for that meeting with Asian- American community leaders in Emory University here in Atlanta. This is an opportunity, a moment for the president to listen and to hear the concerns of Asian-American community leaders here. We're told that several state legislators will be meeting with the president and the vice president.

And the White House is going to listen to this and then the president is going to be giving a remark, a speech I'm told is a forceful speech condemning the rising violent incidents across the country directed towards Asian-Americans.

And the White House, as you said, stopped short of calling this a hate crime. But it is very likely that the president could call on this to be investigated as a hate crime. It is a difference there. Of course, he's the president. He does not want to interfere in this investigation.

But they also are not going to dwell on that. The president I'm told is going to make it very clear that there is no doubt, there is a rising episode of hate incidents all across America, particularly here in Atlanta, Kate. So a completely different schedule than he was planning. He was planning to sell the COVID-19 relief bill. But this, of course, comes first. A very important speech later this afternoon here in Atlanta, Kate.

BOLDUAN: And, Natasha, police just released information about the victims and shootings from this week. What more are you learning about this?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, Kate. We had the names of the people who were killed here at a spa location in Cherokee County. But Atlanta police have now released the names of the four people killed at the two spas within the city.

And I want to read their names now. They are 74-year-old Soon C. Park, 51-year-old Hyun J. Grant, 63-year-old young Suncha Kim, and 63-year- old Yong A. Yue. So, it is very concerning to the Asian-American community because the four people killed in Atlanta were all Asian women. Two of the four people killed here in Cherokee County were also Asian women.

And the discussion, of course, is about whether this is a hate crime in addition to the murder charges that have already been brought forward.

Here is Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms discussing that issue.


MAYOR KEISHA LANCE BOTTOMS (D), ATLANTA: Well, it looked like a hate crime to me. This is targeted at Asian spas of six of the women who were killed were Asian. What we know about the definition of a hate crime is it can also be based on someone targeting women.


CHEN: And the suspect has told investigators in an interview that his motivation was more related to a sex addiction and not racially motivated. But, of course, investigators are looking into all angles.

Atlanta police have said that nothing is being left off the table. They're going look at all angles of his motivation.


And, of course, it's hard to ignore the fact that a majority of the victims were women, specifically women of Asian descent and that these businesses were Asian-owned -- Kate.

BOLDUAN: Natasha, thank you. Jeff, thank you so much.

Joining me for more on this is Cam Ashling, chair of the Georgia chapter of the Asian-American Action Fund, Democratic Political Action Committee.

Thank you for coming in.

I'm just curious what you want to hear from President Biden and Vice President Harris today when they do come to Georgia.

CAM ASHLING, CHAIR OF ASIAN AMERICAN ACTION FUND, GEORGIA CHAPTER: I want them to be more committed to taking action on this and, of course, we appreciate them so much from coming down and to speaking with our AAPI legislative leaders.

We would love for him to -- to further the COVID-19 Hate Crime Act that's been proposed by Representative Grace Meng and Senator Hirono. That will be a big step forward.

We would love to hear him talk about more common sense gun safety legislation that we can put in place. You know, have the perpetrator been, you know, forced to wait three days to get his hands on guns, maybe this would not have happened at all. So, you know, besides just hearing the pain the community is experiencing and acknowledging the rise in a hate crime against Asian-Americans because of the China virus, you know this is like the second part of his coronavirus package.

He's got to deal with some of the racism that came from this pandemic too.

BOLDUAN: You know, as Natasha Chen is laying out, right now law enforcement, they're still investigating the motive, they say. The FBI director was asked about it yesterday. And he said that at least it does not appear from his perspective the motive is racially -- racially motivated though he deferred to state and local who are investigating it, of course.

You'll see this as a hate crime against Asian women. What do you --


BOLDUAN: What do you say to this when you hear the caution from the FBI director? Or you hear the caution from investigators? ASHLING: It's infuriating, you know, everybody who is looking at this

is looking at it and they smell and they see that it's a hate crime. This incident would not have garnered national and international attention if it didn't have this aspect to it. If it was just a guy having a sex addiction, it would probably not make the news as much as it has. You know, we're -- you have to look at the environment we're in.

The environment we're in is one where Asian-Americans are being targeted and pushed down on to the ground with the heads smashed against the cement and they are elderly. You know, 300 -- 3,800 plus incidents of hate and abuse against Asian-Americans since the pandemic. And then we have, you know, the black lives movement as well.

I mean, there's a racial issue in the country. This has got to be something that we're not conservatively trying to manage but we need to actively get ahead of it. This is a problem.

It's a hate crime against a minority community. It is targeting Asian- American businesses. It's targeting Asian women.

BOLDUAN: We heard from a fellow activist who is on CNN earlier today, an activist from Atlanta this morning. And she said that she has received an outpouring of support from around the community since the shootings happened. But also she's getting a lot of hate mail still, since the shootings, in just the last couple of days. It's still happening.

Are you seeing the same?

ASHLING: I've not got any hate mail or death threats or anything like that. But I could.

And, but, you know, that just points to the fact that the issue is continuous. You know, sticking out against the issue is causing a backlash of, like, I don't know if it's white supremacy or racism against Asian-Americans for speaking out.

There is a problem in this country. It's a social justice issue. It's affecting all communities of color, black, brown, yellow community. And this is one piece of it.

There is a stereotype of Asian women as an exotic play toy thing. If you're addicted it to, you can objectify it all and get a gun and shoot down a bunch of spas where you can get rid of your temptation. I mean, that's a racial issue. It's a gender issue.


BOLDUAN: Cam, thank you.


BOLDUAN: Sorry. The technical issue of the audio. Thank you so much for coming on. Thank you for your words. ASHLING: Thank you so much.

BOLDUAN: Thank you.

Coming up for us, more on the breaking news that was just coming up at the top of the show. The game changing new guidance from the CDC on social distancing in schools. Up next, we have the president of the American Federation of Teachers on her take. What she thinks of what we just learned.

Plus, a dramatic diplomatic showdown between United States and China. What happened during last night's talks in Alaska?


BOLDUAN: Back to our breaking news from the top of the show, the CDC is just updating guidance for schools and social distancing.


It includes reducing physical distancing between some students in classrooms from 6 feet which we've known for a very long time now down to 3 feet. This is potentially a huge announcement likely to having major impact on getting most schools ready to reopen for in person learning.

Joining me right now for more on this is Dr. Leana Wen, CNN medical analyst and former Baltimore health commissioner, and Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second largest teachers union in the country.

Randi, I'll start with you. You've been critical of the talk of this move coming. What do you think now is the announcement's come out?

RANDI WEINGARTEN, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS: So we're reserving judgment, Kate, because we have to see the studies. The study out -- so the study that was out in the last few days from Massachusetts, Dr. Osterholm basically said was not ready for prime time. And, you know, I've been listening all day to the experts you had on and, you know, and Dr. Wen obviously will talk about this too.

That the issue is this is being driven by space concerns not by safety concerns. And when that happens, we have to see what it means. And frankly, in so many of the place that's I represent, meaning urban places that have just now recently reopened, because they don't have great ventilation, the density of classrooms is really important if you had a lot of, you know, bodies in a room. And so, you know, the CDC is saying that all these other mitigation factors have to stay there, including good ventilation which 40 percent of the schools don't have, including mask wearing which Texas and Florida and others are not doing.

And so, you know, the teachers are being vaccinated. That's really good. But I worry with the new variants what's going to happen in terms of transmissibility with kids and with their families. So we got to read the studies. We have to see what it really means.

And I just hope this is not a rush to put in twice as many desks in a place where we're really starting to get things reopened.

BOLDUAN: I'm surprised to hear you think that this is a rush, Randi.

Let me bring -- let me get to that in a second. Let me bring in Dr. Wen on this.

Where is the science on this, Dr. Wen? Because they --


BOLDUAN: -- the CDC very clearly says they don't move until there is the science to suggest it.

WEN: Well, here's the thing, I'm actually surprised by the CDC guidelines. Here's what I'm not surprised by. I'm not surprised by the move from six feet to three feet in general because I do think it's important to do that if we have any chance of having our schools being fully reopened for in person instruction. So I think the goal of doing this is really important.

I was expecting though for the CDC to say if you want to move from six feet to three feet, you also need to have additional mitigation measures in place. As in if we see physical distancing as one layer, if we're peeling away that one layer, you also need to put in other layers. For example, twice weekly testing, or making sure that there are -- that there is improved vent ventilation, as Randi was saying.

I would also hope they put vaccinations in this as an additional layer. Making sure that students that are in schools with three feet distancing have a opportunity to be vaccinated, for example. So, just saying they want to move from six feet to three feet, I'm not sure that the data are sufficient to say that this is safe, especially considering the variants we have that are more contagious. So, I would hope the CDC addresses the additional measures that need to be in place, too.

BOLDUAN: Dr. Wen, I'm looking down because I'm looking at the information that has come down from the CDC guidelines. Sanjay was laying out earlier, does talk about other mitigation layers being in place. It does -- the guidance is talking about the masking needed and ventilation being needed. And we've already heard about a prioritization of vaccines that's been, like, where the whole conversation of reopening schools was before this.

But you do think on the most basic level that the science is there to move from six feet to three feet, right, Dr. Wen?

WEN: I think the science is there if these additional requirements are also put into place. And so if we say that we're going to eliminate this physical distancing guideline, we also must have regular surveillance testing and we need to have these -- this particular checklist for what improved ventilation is going to look like. So I think that's the part that is missing. I mean, I do have a

concern. There are a lot of teachers, a lot of parents who still have not -- who still don't feel safe in school. And if we're going to make the move to increase the density even further in schools.


We need to give them some more reassurance.

BOLDUAN: And the reassurance, though, is in hearing a clear message from the CDC, hearing a clear message from public health officials. Hearing -- seeing and hearing the science behind it.


BOLDUAN: Randi, you touched on this just a second. You touched on this in just a second ago. But you also told "The New York Times" that you think the CDC is under a lot of outside pressure in order to change this guidance.

I was really struck by that wording, Randi. Do you think the CDC is not following the science here? Do you think they're actually bending to outside pressure to do this?

WEINGARTEN: Look, I think there is a lot of outside pressure for good reason to get our kids in school. I'm not saying that pressure is wrong. We all, you know, as you know, Kate, we've been trying to figure out how to get kids back in school since last April, almost a year ago.

I think what's happened is you have the school people who think about all the logistics of what this means and how this is going to work and you have the health people who are basically saying that, you know, that this will allow, you know, twice as many deaths in a classroom. And the context here is what's missing.

That's why we said when we saw the CDC, we were briefed last night, and we said today, we will reserve judgment. I do believe that this new CDC really wants to speak about the science. They have a lot of integrity. I'm not suggesting that they don't.

But there is a lot of pressure about the space issues and my frustration is that there is so many extra space in so many places and communities that we should be using that space now and just really assuring everyone that as we -- that as we reopen in person, that the joy of that reopening is not mitigated by concern about safety.

BOLDUAN: You said all along, you need to meet fear with facts. And that's what I'm trying to understand is what are the facts?

WEINGARTEN: We don't --

BOLDUAN: That you think you know the facts that you want to see that, would get you to a place of telling your members you can be comfortable with this? WEINGARTEN: So, Kate, I'll give you an example. The study that was

out yesterday from Massachusetts, Dr. Osterholm says at the not worth the paper written on. My words, not his. But he's been on TV all day saying that study doesn't say anything. So we --

BOLDUAN: Randi. I'm so sorry, Randi, to jump in.

President Biden is coming to speak to reporters right now as he's leaving the White House. Let's listen.

REPORTER: Are you going to take Putin up on his offer to talk live with you?

JOSEPH R. BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm sure we'll talk at some point.


REPORTER: Are you going to impose sanctions on Russia?

BIDEN: That will come in time.


BIDEN: We hope we can keep the pace about 2 1/2 million a day. That would mean we may be able to get to double it. But we met the goal. And we're continuing to move forward.

Thank you.

BOLDUAN: All right. Joe Biden speaking briefly with reporters as he's leaving the White House getting on Marine One heading to Joint Base Andrews and then as we talked earlier, going to Atlanta where he's going to be meeting with members of the Asian-American community there.

Let me bring in CNN's John Harwood for a little bit more on this.

John, I missed a little bit of the top. We do know that the president, I think I did hear him say at the very top, he's very proud of his be secretary of state which you got to know is with regard to what Tony Blinken faced off with Chinese officials yesterday.

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Right. And, Kate, let's take the two foreign policy issues in tandem.

You had the president in terms of Vladimir Putin saying we're going to talk at some point. He laid down a marker. He did that interview with George Stephanopoulos the other day when he was willing to call Vladimir Putin a killer, but he was saying this is going to be a different story from the Trump administration. Donald Trump excused things that Vladimir Putin did. I'm going to call him out and make him pay a price, though he declined to specify any particular sanctions that we expect in the coming days.

On China, somewhat different message. He's going to sustain the posture of President Trump in confronting China. But he's doing it in a more he could coherent way by rallying U.S. allies.

And Tony Blinken's message to his counterparts in Anchorage, along with Jake Sullivan was part of that. They were having blunt talk and they wanted to show the American people that he was willing to take on China.

Remember, a lot of the attacks that came from Republicans last year were that Joe Biden is going to be soft.