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Massive Crowds Pack Miami Beach Defying COVID Warnings; Experts Urge Continued Caution Even as Vaccinations Increase; Biden Says He'll Go to Southern Border at Some Point; Rallies, Vigils Across U.S. Denounce Anti-Asian Crimes. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired March 22, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM and I'm Rosemary Church.

Just ahead, spring break crack down. Police in Miami Beach struggle to control crowds of revelers as experts warn scenes like this could prolong the pandemic.

Plus, President Biden says he'll travel to the southern border at some point. The critics say the situation is quickly worsening. Why they're calling for the White House to act now.

Standing up against hate. We'll hear from Asian-American women taking to the streets to demand change after last week's shootings in Atlanta.

Good to have you with us.

Well spring break revelers in the U.S. are throwing caution to the wind and disregarding COVID advice from health experts. An emergency curfew order is now being extended in Miami Beach, Florida due to massive crowds. This was the scene Sunday night moments after the curfew went into effect for a second night. And as CNN's Paul Vercammen reports, it's not the only thing worrying officials.


PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): At American airports, the motto seems to be pandemic, what pandemic? One million passengers passed through the TSA in the USA for the tenth straight day. This pair traveled to warm gulf coast beaches from the chilly land of 10,000 likes.

MARTHA ROBERTS, MINNESOTA RESIDENT: We were pretty cautious when we were flying, and we are staying in a cute little Airbnb by ourselves and we've been really careful like on the beaches and stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we ended up double masking on the plane and stuff and try not to like touch too much. We brought our hand sanitizer and everything. VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Health officials worry about Americans getting complacent in the fight against COVID-19. The city of Miami Beach has declared a state of emergency as police try to control large spring break crowds.

CHIEF RICHARD CLEMENTS, MIAMI BEACH POLICE DEPARTMENT: Quite frankly, I am concerned that the behaviors are getting little bit more for us to be able to handle.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): The city imposed a curfew, but it seems no rest for the sleepless and clueless.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Skip that curfew, we're all here. We're all here, no sleep, period.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Crowds have played a part in the spread of COVID-19, every subsequent deaths, and so did politics. That's from the former head of Operation Warp Speed.

MONCEF SLAOUI, FORMER CHIEF SCIENTIFIC ADVISER, OPERATION WARP SPEED: Many people probably have died or suffered because the whole situation became so political that, you know, emotions overtook rationality. I do believe that it's a mistake to politicize a health issue. It's a big mistake.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Throughout the country, campaigns continue to get shots in the arms of people in underserved communities of color.

DR. FAISAL KHAN, DIRECTOR, ST. LOUIS COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH: That poses a special risk for the vulnerable groups, which is why it is absolutely vital that we'd get more vaccines so that we can take care of those groups.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Los Angeles ramped up awareness and the number of doses given in poor black and Latino neighborhoods and the COVID-19 transmission numbers are looking better.

ERIC GARCETTI (D), LOS ANGELES MAYOR: COVID makes you never confident, but hope really never hangs on the horizon. I haven't felt this optimism in 12 months, Margaret. Here in Los Angeles, we have a positive rate of 1.9 percent and we estimate that anywhere between half and two-thirds of our population has antibodies in it now either because of exposure to COVID-19 and vaccinations.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): The former commissioner of the FDA echoes that sentiment, saying it is unlikely the U.S. will suffer through a fourth wave of a pandemic.

DR. SCOTT GOTTLIEB, FORMER FDA COMMISSIONER: So there's enough of a backstop that I don't think you're going to see a fourth surge.

VERCAMMEN (voice-over): Paul Vercammen, CNN, Los Angeles.


CHURCH: Breaking news just into CNN on the vaccine front. AstraZeneca has just released results from its U.S. phase three vaccine trial. The company said its 79 percent effective in preventing symptomatic COVID- 19 and 100 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. The results paved the way for AstraZeneca to apply for an Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA. The company says it will do so in the coming weeks.


Well despite an increase in the number of people getting vaccinated, health experts are warning Americans not to let their guard down just yet. Speaking to CNN's Pamela Brown on Sunday, the senior White House advisor for COVID response said people need to remain vigilant.


ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR WHITE HOUSE ADVISER FOR COVID RESPONSE: I know that people see the light at the end of the tunnel but shouldn't confuse that with being done. The president's talked about getting back to a more normal state by the fourth of July, and so to take that early and to be out there now in large before we vaccinated everybody, before we have given people a chance to be vaccinated, we're risking continuing to spread the cases. So I would urge everybody to continue to be careful and cautious. I know people feel like they have been patient for a long time. But we need a few more months.


CHURCH: Slavitt is also touting recent declines in vaccine hesitancy and that's something that lawmakers on Capitol Hill also want to address. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is calling on the CDC to deploy a $1 billion blitz across the U.S. to help raise confidence in COVID vaccines, especially in his home state of New York.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) U.S. SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Too many people are still afraid of getting the vaccine -- of taking the vaccine. If people are afraid of taking the vaccine, it will delay our ability to beat COVID back.

And I'm asking the CDC to pay a particular attention to New York. To launch a campaign that educates, reaches out, and shows people why they should be taking the vaccine.


CHURCH: And earlier, I spoke with Dr. Anish Mahajan, chief medical officer for Harbor-UCLA Medical Center and I asked him about his reaction to the massive crowds of spring breakers in Florida.


DR. ANISH MAHAJAN, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER FOR HARBOR-UCLA MEDICAL CENTER: Well it's very concerning. It looks like that kind of behavior could ensure that we snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory. We are in a position now, as a nation, where we have increasing vaccines supply and provision at rates that will help us get everybody vaccinated by July. And what we need to do, we have to do is continue to wear our masks, do the right thing, and socially distance appropriately and not reopen so quickly and so without care that we end up in a situation like the European Union.

CHURCH: It also seems such common sense. Doesn't it? But the other major challenge, vaccine hesitancy. Could that prove to be a real problem in reaching herd immunity? And how do you convince those more reluctant in the community that the vaccine will save lives?

MAHAJAN: A very important question. We've heard Dr. Fauci tell us that for us to really reach herd immunity, it looks like from the latest scientific evidence, that we're going to need to be in the range of 70 to 90 percent of all Americans or any population being vaccinated. This is a huge problem because those groups, if they do not vaccinate, will be those who are susceptible to continuing outbreaks of COVID as we go through the rest of the year.


CHURCH (on camera): Well the U.S. homeland security chief says the agency is working to shelter the surging number of unaccompanied migrant children in U.S. custody. The DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas didn't give a timeline on new facilities. Meanwhile, President Joe Biden was pressed Sunday on whether he wants to see firsthand what's happening at the border. CNN's Arlette Saenz reports from the White House.


ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: President Biden says he'll travel to the U.S./Mexico border at some point as his administration continues to grapple with the surge of migrants coming to the U.S./Mexico border. Now the administration insists that the border is closed and is urging those migrants not to make the journey. But President Biden says that more does need to be done to reinforce that message. Take a listen.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you thinking of going to the border?


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you want to see firsthand what is going on in the facilities?

BIDEN: I know what is going on in the facilities.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hi, sir. Why do you think the message to the migrants telling them to stay home, just don't come now, why do you think that hasn't resonated yet? What more can be done, sir?

BIDEN: A lot more. And we're in the process of doing it now, including making sure that we re-establish what existed before, which is they can stay in place and make their case from their home countries. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And when will you allow the media into those facilities?


SAENZ: And what he's talking about is reestablishing the asylum process so people can apply for asylum back in their home countries. Now one other issue that the administration is grappling with, is this surge of unaccompanied minors who have been traveling to the border and are now housed in these border processing facilities that are not intended to keep children for longer than three days.

The administration says they are working around the clock to try to open up more facilities to shelter these young children. And when I asked the president if he wants to see firsthand what is happening in those facilities, he says he knows and is aware of what is going on.

Arlette Saenz, CNN, the White House.


CHURCH: Despite efforts by the Biden administration to dissuade migrants from coming to the border, it's still facing criticism for its response. Republican Senator Rob Portman made a recent trip to the border and visited a processing center for unaccompanied children. He said the situation, is, quote, "spiraling out of control."


SEN. ROB PORTMEN (R-OH): People are going to listen to actions and watch actions and not listen to words. And I spoke to a number of migrants. I spoke to single individuals who are coming over at night, men who told me that they heard what President Biden said, and they were coming anyway because they can make a lot more, ten times more in the United States. I talked to children and talked to them about the messaging and what they're hearing is that you can now come into the United States, which you can, as a kid. And so they're going to keep coming.


CHURCH: Joining me from Los Angeles is Jessica Levinson. She is a professor of law at Loyola Law School, and the host of the "Passing Judgement" podcast. Great to have you with us as always.


CHURCH: So Republicans are jumping on the immigration issue, seeing it as the Biden administrations weakest point, by pushing for hearing on the surge of children at the southern border. President Biden says he will go to the border at some point. But how vulnerable has this issue made Biden politically?

LEVINSON: I think it's actually made him quite vulnerable. I mean, he's done a magnificent job, I think, of responding to the pandemic. And that, obviously, is a pressing crisis and priority number one, two, and three, but we also have a crisis at the border. And I think that the Biden administration should acknowledge that and calling it a crisis and calling it a humanitarian crisis doesn't mean you're saying it's all our fault. It's acknowledging the reality of what is happening.

So does it make him politically vulnerable? Yes, for reasons that are fair and not fair. For reasons that have to do with his handling and for many reasoning of his nothing to do with the handling of the crisis.

CHURCH: Yes, they're really avoiding the use of calling it a crisis, at this juncture at least. Now of course, the sergeant is growing at the border even though President Biden has told people not to come, but instead to stay home and apply from there. But now we see more than 5,000 unaccompanied children in custody at the border. 600 of them have been there for more than 10 days. The GOP wants them housed on the Mexican side of the border to discourage them from coming or discourage any others from coming. How should the Biden administration be dealing with this? And how delicate is this?

LEVINSON: Well, extremely delicate. And you mentioned the 5,000 I believe, in customs and border patrol custody but I think there are another 10,000 that the Department of Homeland Security are housing. I mean, this really is a surge of minors. And in part because these things are cyclical. In part because conditions are deteriorating in Central American. And in part because the messaging, frankly, has been a little mixed. As you said, he said don't come.

But before that he said we're not going to turn minors away. And I think that President Biden has been trying to thread this needle of rolling back what he saw as inhumane policies by the Trump administration, but then also trying to, you know, build a plane while they're flying.

So what do we need to do? I mean, long-term we have to address the causes of immigration. Long-term we need not executive orders but legislation. Short term what do we need? We need to find housing and we need to find vetted houses for these unaccompanied minors that cannot be staying in these conditions.

So it is absolutely something that while you are, you know, juggling and dancing on the head of the needle, the Biden administration also has to handle this. Because there are kids who are in terrible conditions.

CHURCH: And, of course, all of this is happening in the midst of a pandemic. We do know that President Biden has promised vaccines to go to Mexico. Perhaps that will be some form of leverage and make things better here. But from a political standpoint, what sort of points will Republicans be able to make as a result of this?

LEVINSON: Well, I think that Republicans will say, see, we were telling you there was going to be a problem on the border if you rolled back protections.

[04:15:00] And look, you rolled back protections or made it easier, I should say, for people to come in. And now look what happened. There's been a surge. When it comes to the COVID response, frankly, I don't think Republicans have a lot of places to go. President Biden has done something very smart, which is he set realistic bars, and bars I frankly think that he knew he was going to be able to surpass. You know, a million -- 100 million vaccines in 100 days and he has been surpassing all of those benchmarks. So for Republicans, they're not going to take this political fight on COVID. I think they will take it on immigration.

All right Jessica Levinson, many thanks for joining us. Appreciate it.

LEVINSON: Thank you.

CHURCH: And ahead on CNN, an outpouring of solidarity across the U.S. as Americans march to protest against anti-Asian hate crimes.


CHURCH: Welcome back everyone.


Well Americans are taking part in solidarity marches, rallies, and vigils across the country showing their support for the Asian community after the deadly spa shootings in Georgia. Demonstrators chanting "stop Asian hate" marched in New York and hundreds gathered in Atlanta to honor the victims and condemn violence against Asian- Americans. A gunman targeted three Atlanta area spas last week, killing eight people, six of whom were Asian women.

Well hate crimes against people of Asian descent in the U.S. have surged since the pandemic started. And sadly, many of those crimes are not reported to the police. CNN's Jason Carroll shows us how New York is shining a spotlight on this problem.


JASON CARROLL, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well today, people crowded into a park in downtown Manhattan to draw attention to the issue of violence against Asian-Americans here in New York City. The NYPD has reported a steep increase in the number of hate crimes against Asian-Americans and oftentimes they say the true scope of the problem is not quantified simply because they say oftentimes it goes underreported. But today people are speaking out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm Asian and I'm a woman. If I don't stand up for myself, then no one else will. So that's why I'm here. And I want people to finally hear us, for us. Not only when we're trending.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, I'm feeling the momentum. I feel the energy. I want to come out today to support the cause. I want to raise awareness. I want everyone to know we're not your token Asian. We're not your Asian friend, we're everywhere. And it's our turn to be heard. CARROLL: The consensus from the people we spoke to, is that there

needs to be more of a police presence in the neighborhoods where Asian-Americans live. They say more education, and, also, the hope that more lawmakers will sign on to legislation that addresses hate crimes.

Jason Carroll, CNN, New York.


CHURCH: Meanwhile, we are learning more about one of the victims of the shooting spree. CNN's Natasha Chen has that part of the story.


NATASHA CHEN, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Xiaojie Tan's family says she was living the American dream.

After moving to the U.S., Xiaojie, whom friends and clients called Emily started as a nail technician before working her way up to buy two spas outside of Atlanta.

Beloved by her family, customers and neighboring business owners, Tan was killed just two days before her 50th birthday.

JAMI WEBB, XIAOJIE TAN'S DAUGHTER: I was just planning to get a cake and have a big dinner after work.

CHEN (voice-over): Her only child, Jami Webb, had plans to meet up with her mom last Sunday but she overslept. She would never have the opportunity to see her mother again.

JAMI WEBB: When I thought that I had all of this time with her -- I mean, just because I missed that Sunday meeting with my mom, I thought we can always meet like any Sunday, any other day, just like before.

CHEN (voice-over): Instead, two days later, Webb spent six hours in a hospital waiting room as news of a shooting at Youngs Asian Massage, her mother's business, dominated the headlines.

JAMI WEBB: I was just hoping that it was not my mom, it was not my mom.

CHEN (voice-over): But by the end of the night, her mother was one of eight people killed at three different spas in the Metro Atlanta area. Webb says the extended family is still in China and no one has had the heart to tell Webb's grandmother.

WEBB: They were celebrating the birthday and my grandmother was the only one who doesn't know my mom, that she passed away.

MICHAEL WEBB, XIAOJIE TAN'S EX-HUSBAND: Our lives are changed forever.

J. WEBB: Yes.

M, WEBB: And it's not fair. CHEN (voice-over): Tan's ex-husband, Michael Webb, said Tan was perpetually determined, saving money so carefully, with the exception of splurging occasionally on an expensive handbag. A woman who rode on the back of a bicycle after her water broke to get to a hospital in the middle of the night to have her baby girl. Webb said Tan often worked seven days a week and talked about retiring and traveling the world.

M. WEBB: And she'll never get to enjoy that. She just worked to die.

CHEN (voice-over): He said Tan was always vigilant about protecting her business and employees from certain kinds of customers.

M. WEBB: She used to tell me a lot of times she would throw customers out because they would come in and think that they could have sex. And she would -- she said get out of my business, you know, and she would throw them out. She was a strong mother hen over that business and the people that worked there. She protected it.

CHEN (voice-over): And now the community, especially Asian-Americans, are holding vigil at its front door. The fact that six of the eight victims were Asian women, the fact that these businesses were owned by Asian people is hard to ignore.

Jami Webb says she understands the Asian-American community's overall anxiety over the rise of anti-Asian assault, but this family is not ready to connect that with Tuesday's killing right now.


M. WEBB: I don't think we're trying to say that there's not racial bias in this country, there certainly is. And it doesn't seem to be getting a lot better. That's not our issue right now. We don't know what motivated this at this point. Time will tell. We just know how we feel. And we know what we lost.

CHEN (voice over): Natasha Chen, CNN, Atlanta.


CHURCH: Republican Congressman Tom Reed of New York is apologizing following an allegation of sexual misconduct. Reed is accused of drunkenly touching a former lobbyist back in 2017. The Congressman initially denied the allegation but reversed course in a new statement writing in part --

In reflection, my personal depiction of this event is irrelevant. Simply put, my behavior caused her pain, showed her disrespect, and was unprofessional. I was wrong. I am sorry and I take full responsibility.

Reed says this happened while he was struggling with alcoholism and that he will not run for reelection once his current term is up.

Well a surprise trip on Sunday as U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made stop in Afghanistan. What he had to say about an upcoming deadline to remove U.S. troops from the country.

Plus, Israel is getting ready for an election again. And voters are clearly divided over the future of Benjamin Netanyahu. We will have a live report. That's ahead.