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CDC Chief Warns of Surge as Fourth Vaccine Candidate Shows High Efficacy; Homeland Security Secretary Says, U.S.-Mexico Border is Closed. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired March 22, 2021 - 13:00   ET



KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: I am Kate Bolduan. Our coverage right now with Brianna Keilar.

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: Hello. I'm Brianna Keilar, and I want to welcome our viewers here in the United States and around the world.

Moments ago, the CDC director warned there could be another avoidable surge of COVID cases just as the nation takes a giant step closer to adding a fourth vaccine to its arsenal against the pandemic. AstraZeneca released its phase 3 trial data for the U.S. today saying that its vaccine candidate had 100 percent efficacy against severe COVID and hospitalization, and that it was 79 percent effective against symptomatic COVID.

And the latest figures show the three vaccines already approved for emergency use in the U.S. are getting into the arms of more Americans. Each day this past weekend, more than 3 million vaccinations were administered. Nearly one in four Americans have received at least one dose, with 13 percent of the country fully inoculated.

Today, though, a grave tone from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who is pleading with Americans to keep their masks on and continue social distancing, a response to seeing people on the move and to seeing states easing their restrictions. More travelers than ever during the pandemic were at airports on Sunday, that's 1.5 million according to the TSA, nearly 10 million in total in the last week. And spring break in the Miami area is seeing unprecedented nighttime crowds with few masks to be seen.

In the meantime, U.S. COVID numbers are stabilizing at high levels, the country is averaging about 54,000 new cases a day, and a thousand deaths daily.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: We must act now, and I am worried that if we don't take the right actions now, we will have another avoidable surge just as we are seeing in Europe right now, and just as we are so aggressively scaling up vaccinations.


KEILAR: I want to turn now to CNN's Kristen Holmes for more on AstraZeneca's vaccine trial results. And, of course, Kristen, the big concern here about this vaccine has been over the potential for blood clots. But the White House chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has tried to dispel this concern, pointing out trial results. You tell us what's happening here.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Brianna, he did. And this is something we were waiting for, watching for with the release of this data particularly after we know that a number of European countries have actually paused their distribution rollout because of the reports of blood clots.

Now, according to this recently released data just earlier today, the vaccine was not only well-received but also there was no safety concerns identified. So this is really important here to note, Dr. Fauci reiterating this during that COVID briefing. Take a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Importantly, and this is a quote from the DSMV, no evidence of disproportionate risk of thrombosis or events characterized by thrombosis among the 21,583 participants who received at least one dose. An in depth search of the database for venous thrombosis yield no events in this study.


HOLMES: And, of course, he's referring thrombosis there to those blood clots, and this is something that the administration as well as health officials had been concerned about, had been watching for because of the potential for vaccine hesitancy as well, just given the reports that we've heard out of Europe.

Now, there's something else that this data marks, it's really the beginning of the FDA emergency use authorization process. We heard from the president of AstraZeneca earlier today who said they're planning to file for that EUA at the beginning of April, and that they have 30 million doses on hand that they'll be ready to distribute as soon as they get authorization should they get authorization.

This would be a huge deal. This would mean that there are four effective vaccines on the market, and it's coming at a time when we're expecting a massive ramp-up of production anyway, so potentially some really good news here out of this trial, Brianna.

KEILAR: All right. Kristen Holmes, thank you so much.

Some New York City high schoolers are returning for in-person learning today, the mayor welcoming them this morning, roughly one year since COVID shut down schools there. The reopening of New York's high schools coming just a few days after the CDC released updated guidance for students. This includes relaxing those physical distancing guidelines by reducing the distance from six feet to three feet apart.

CNN's Evan McMorris Santoro is joining us from outside a school in the Bronx. Tell us about what's happening there, Evan.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, behind me you can see an entrance to one of the 488 high schools in the New York city public school system. Right now, it looks empty because school is in session but it has looked like that since March when students have -- students left classes and did not come back.


Today, this morning, was the first time that some of those high schoolers finally got back into class.

Now, it's a very, very early first step, about 20 percent of high school students in New York are going back to class today and in the coming weeks but it's a big, big deal and one that shows for the first time, and I've been standing outside schools and talking to people in New York City public schools, and people who work in New York City public schools, since that March date last year when schools closed, this is the first time I've really heard people talk about optimism about the future and things returning to normal.

Mayor Bill de Blasio was greeting students where I am right now at a press conference right after he did that. He talked about how exciting it was.


MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NEW YORK CITY, NY): To see teenagers are so ready to be back in school, happy to be back with their friends, happy to be back with their teachers, in a really supportive warm school community where you know that every single day that a child is in that building with those teachers, with that staff, they're getting love, support, getting the kind of incredible gifts that educators can give to kids.

So high school back all over New York City today, and that is a very, very good thing.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Now, as I said, this is the first step of a long process, only a few students coming back now in these high schools, but maybe even more to come. And you mentioned at the beginning of the piece here that new CDC guidance about three feet of space in between students, that's coming into play.

New York City officials saying they're going to use that new guidance to have more spaces for elementary school students and younger, still waiting on how that guidance will affect middle school and high school students.

And you also mentioned that fear of a new surge here to something that's come into play in New York where we've seen some restrictions loosen and there being controversy about that. Mayor Bill de Blasio actually pushing back on some efforts from the governor to reopen things like indoor fitness classes and indoor dining.

Well, I asked the mayor if he thought that would affect schools, if he thought told schools would remain open here in New York. And he said indeed I do.

So, hopefully, good news for students coming out of this pandemic, and finally a chance to see students really getting back into class and getting the education that they really, really need. Brianna?

KEILAR: Yes, it is good to see. Evan, thank you.

South Florida is extending emergency curfews and closing popular roadways after huge crowds of raucous, and as you can see here, mostly maskless spring breakers descended on the area's celebrated beaches. In Miami Beach, police took extraordinary measures, firing pepper balls into packed, shoulder-to-shoulder crowds of partiers on Saturday night.

CNN's Randi Kaye is live for us from Miami Beach. Randi, tell us what the area looks like today and what people -- what police are preparing for.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Brianna, it's much quieter today, the overnight curfew was lifted at 6:00 A.M. This morning, people are enjoying the sunshine, enjoying the beaches, it's after dark when things get a little out of control, which is why they put that curfew into place and police are preparing for that to continue, which is why they have kept it in place.

But it was a pretty wild weekend. There were more than a thousand people in the street at one point, as you mentioned, those pepper balls were used to try and disperse the crowd, there was a bit of a stampede, according to the mayor, somebody fired a weapon into the air, and then you have this wild video of these people dancing on a car overnight, even after the 8:00 P.M. curfew went into effect.

So spring breakers are here to let off steam, enjoy the sunshine, they've been cooped up more than a year, and it really shows. So they've put this state of emergency and curfew into place. So here in the entertainment district is where that will take hold, and it's on Thursdays through Sundays. So there's no curfew tonight, so it will be interesting to see how that goes.

Thursday to Sunday, starting at 8:00 P.M., you can't go on the local streets here as a spring breaker. You have to be a resident, you have to be a guest of one of these hotels here behind me In Miami Beach, or you have to be working at a business in the area. And the causeways that come to this area from the mainland, those will close at 10:00 P.M. and everything reopens at 6:00 A.M. But the mayor certainly isn't taking any chances, either is the city. He has said, if you're coming here to get crazy, this is not the city to do it in, go somewhere else, so, certainly, a lot of concern about that.

And there's also a number of arrests that have been made, Brianna. They have arrested more than 12 people overnight on Saturday night, and they've arrested more than a thousand people since February 3rd when sort of spring break got under way, at least the season for it, and more than 50 percent of those were from out of state. So there's a lot of concern about what they're bringing into the state and what they're going to leave with.

Of course, the U.K. variant is very prevalent here in Florida, we have the most cases than anywhere in the country, so there's a lot of concern that spring breakers could pick it up here, take it on the airplanes, take it on to their home to families or businesses, wherever else they are headed, Brianna.

KEILAR: Yes, a very founded (ph) concerned. Randi Kaye, thank you so much, live for us from Miami Beach.


Joining me now is CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Celine Gounder, who specializes in infectious diseases. Dr. Gounder, when you look at these pictures, I mean, coming out of Miami, lots of people, very close together, huge crowds, what is your biggest concern with so many people there not wearing masks?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I think it's really important for people to understand, Brianna, that what we are trying to do is prevent new cases of this disease, and that's for really two reasons. When you have infections, obviously, some people will get much sicker, could end up in the hospital and can die.

In addition, where in the world we've allowed the virus to spread like wildfire? The U.K., Brazil, South Africa, here in New York, for example. That has resulted in the virus mutating. Every time the virus moves from one person to another, it has the opportunity to mutate. And that can lead to strains of the virus that are more infectious or more deadly, which is the case with the U.K. variant, or it could be a strain that evades our natural immune responses to infection, which is what's happened in Brazil and South Africa.

So we really want to be saving lives but also preserving our vaccines so they remain effective.

KEILAR: The U.S. is closer to a fourth vaccine now, the AstraZeneca vaccine, but some European nations paused their use of it because they were afraid of potential blood clots, particularly in women under 55 years of age. What should we know about this? What should we be concerned about here?

GOUNDER: Well, I thought it was really great to see the phase 3 clinical trial data that was just released today, this was in over 30,000 study participants, and they saw no increased risk of blood clots or for that matter any other severe side effects. So this is really good news. I think it's really crucial that the FDA does vet this data. The FDA is the gold standard around the world for reviewing drugs and vaccines for approval.

I don't think this is going to be a major game-changer here in the United States though, because by the time this would be available, say late May or so, in the United States, we're already going to have the supply we need of the Pfizer and Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to vaccinate everybody who wants to be vaccinated in this country.

So I think this is really more about letting the rest of the world know this has received the gold standard vetting and is safe for everyone around the world to be using it.

KEILAR: The thing about the AstraZeneca vaccine is that it can be stored in the fridge, at that temperature, for about six months. That is something that really makes it stand out, that would allow it to be distributed worldwide, in a much more accessible way.

GOUNDER: Yes. And I think the AstraZeneca vaccine is really going to be a key vaccine for worldwide distribution in part because it is more stable at a wider range of temperatures, it will make it a lot easier to distribute. You have the serum institute in India, which is one of the world's biggest manufacturers of vaccine that is producing this, a number of other countries are also producing the AstraZeneca vaccine locally. So I think this is going to be an important player.

And for those who would argue, you know, gosh, we should keep all the vaccine for ourselves in the U.S., America -- you know, Americans first, if you allow the virus to spread in other parts of the world, again, it will have the opportunity to mutate, and those variants will inevitably come back to the U.S. to create problems for us. So if we want to protect ourselves, we really do have to pitch in.

And I would argue that whatever AstraZeneca vaccine we have purchased for ourselves we don't need and we really should be donating to the worldwide effort.

KEILAR: No, it's certainly something that I think we'll be seeing ahead when one day there's too much of the vaccine in America, if you can imagine that. Dr. Gounder, thank you so much, I really appreciate you being with us.

And ahead, CNN takes you inside a crowded Border Patrol tent in Texas where migrant children are being held, the conditions brought one lawmakers to tears.

Plus, the emotional stories from the families of the women killed in the Atlanta spa shootings, and growing questions about, if this is going to -- if this case is going to be handled as a hate crime.

And Buckingham Palace floats adding a diversity chief in response to claims of racism within the royal family.

This is CNN special live coverage.



KEILAR: It's a humanitarian dilemma and a political problem, there are thousands of unaccompanied teenagers and children in U.S. custody at the border. These are photos that were released by Democratic Congressman Henry Cuellar's office showing what it's like inside a Border Patrol facility in Donna, Texas. These were taken over the weekend. And the secretary of Homeland Security defended the administration's response, saying that they are working around the clock to move children into more humane conditions.


ALEJANDRO MAYORKAS, SECRETARY OF HOMELAND SECURITY: We are dealing with the needs of the children now. We are rebuilding orderly ways in which the children can make their claims without having to take the perilous journey to the border and we are elevating our messaging so that the individuals do know that they cannot come to the border, the border is closed.


KEILAR: I want to bring in CNN Immigration Reporter Priscilla Alvarez, who is at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas, and CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins is with us as well on this important story.

Priscilla, tell us what it is like there on the border, what are the biggest issues right now?


PRISCILLA ALVAREZ, CNN IMMIGRATION REPORTER: Brianna, the photos that you showed underscore what the administration is facing, which is that the number of children coming to the U.S.-Mexico border alone is not letting up and the administration is still looking for space to accommodate them.

So here at the Dallas Convention Center, one of the largest in the country, part of it is being used as an emergency intake site. So the administration is transferring some children here so that they can work their way through the process and eventually be relocated with family in the United States. This is a better solution, the administration says, than them being in the Border Patrol facilities, which are more like jail-like conditions.

So we now know there are around 1,500 children here at this site, a site that actually has a capacity of around 2,300, but all of this really underscoring the problem, which is more children are coming to the U.S.-Mexico border and there is just not enough space to accommodate them, Brianna.

KEILAR: We certainly see that from the pictures and we see that people -- look, this isn't safe in a pandemic to see people gathered like this in these confined spaces.

Kaitlan, the White House press secretary just addressed the crisis. What did she say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: She did. Well, that's notably you called it a crisis. That is something the administration has repeatedly declined to call it. And now, not only are they not calling it that, they're specifically saying this is not a crisis.

That's what Jen Psaki was telling reporters when she was pressed multiple times on what's happening on the border. And just to get a taste of what she said, here is the briefing earlier today.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Children, presenting at our border, who are fleeing violence, who are fleeing prosecution, who are fleeing terrible situations, is not a crisis. We feel that it is our responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure they are treated with -- treated and put into conditions that are safe.

I will say that, you know, these photos show what we've long been saying, which is that the -- these Border Patrol facilities are not places made for children. They are not places that we want children to be staying for an extended period of time. Our alternative is to send children back on this treacherous journey. That is not, in our view, the right choice to make.


COLLINS: So there you see, she is acknowledging that, yes, they are seeing a record number of people at the border but she is talking about what they're doing to fix it, their attempts to fix it. Of course, the question is how long is it going to take.

And the other thing, Brianna, is transparency here, because you heard Jen Psaki reference photos, those are photos that you showed earlier from a lawmaker that we got because the lawmakers were allowed access to these facilities but reporters and cameras have not yet.

And, of course, if you remember right, in 2019, at the height of that crisis, reporters and cameras were allowed in to these facilities so we could see firsthand and confirm independently the conditions that these unaccompanied migrant children are being held in. And as you can see from the photos, they are crowded, there are a lot of kids on floors, there are reports of them not being able to shower for several days.

And despite the fact we've been asking for weeks to actually get access to these facilities, it has not happened yet. Though, I should note, Jen Psaki told reporters they expect to have an update on that in the coming days. So, hopefully, it will be accessed to these facilities so we can see firsthand what it's like and what's happening inside and what the Biden administration says they are trying to rectify.

KEILAR: And, Priscilla, look, we saw surges during the Trump administration,certainly, and of unaccompanied minors as well at the border. But how does this compare, what we're seeing now, to what we've seen before this administration began?

ALVAREZ: So a key point of comparison is looking at the number of children in Border Patrol custody. So we know that at the height of the 2019 crisis, there were around 2,600 children in Border Patrol custody. So that showed there was a bottleneck happening, children coming in, not enough space in shelters to take them to. Right now, we know that there are around 4,900 children in Border Patrol custody.

So this is a key indicator that the administration has not yet been able to keep up with the number of children at the border. So just that comparison tells us how difficult this challenge is for the administration. But as you said, we have seen these surges both in 2019, we also saw them in 2014, there is the coronavirus pandemic overlay here that is creating more issues for the administration. But until they can start to accommodate those children in Border Patrol facilities, this is going to continue to be an urgent issue, Brianna.

KEILAR: And, Kaitlan, what's the hang-up on calling this a crisis? I mean, we look at these pictures and they're telling us what is going on there. And, I mean, certainly we understand that the Biden administration is trying to draw a contrast with the Trump administration, which did have some inhumane policies that they said they used to deter people, to deter migrants from coming to the U.S.


But what is this hang-up from the Biden administration not wanting to say, look, this is a very serious situation, this is a crisis?

COLLINS: Well, I think it all got started when the DHS Secretary Mayorkas was at a press briefing one day and he was asked whether or not he considers it to be a crisis and he said it's not a crisis. They view it as a challenge though. And what we know from the numbers is it's only gotten much more challenging ever since then.

So the numbers are going up, they are not going down. So what the metrics are for determining whether or not it's a crisis, basically everyone is calling it a crisis, except the administration. It's not just Republicans who are trying to use this as an attack line on a Democratic president, there are Democrats -- those are photos that we got from Democratic lawmakers who were saying that what they're seeing does constitute a crisis.

So, the administration is refusing to call it one. Now, they're going out of their way to say it is not a crisis. But the reality is they are sending FEMA to the border. They are coming up with these new facilities, the one where Priscilla is at right now. Biden is sending his southern border coordinator there to Mexico today to talk to government officials, he may even make a trip there. He said one is not planned but he does plan to go there sometime soon yesterday. So you can see all the actions they are taking but I think that they are just trying to stick by that messaging that the DHS secretary had on day one. And now, they did call it a crisis, of course, because they refuse to do so for long, it would generate headlines.

KEILAR: It continues to generate headlines. We'll see. Kaitlan, thank you so much, Kaitlan Collins at the White House, Priscilla Alvarez in Texas for us, thank you.

Coming up, CNN speaking with a family of one of the victims in the Atlanta spa shootings.

New details on when we can expect the second round of COVID stimulus checks.

Also, unbelievable footage out of France where police broke an illegal street party of more than 6,000 people who were not wearing masks.