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Health and Human Services Report Finds Hospital Stress; Uneven Distribution and Technology Challenges Cause Vaccine Inequities; Live Coverage of COVID-19 Response Team. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired March 24, 2021 - 10:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: So we're waiting for an update, any moment, from the White House COVID-19 Response Team. This comes as a growing number of states are expanding vaccine eligibility to anyone over 16 years old. So far five states, including Mississippi, are offering the shot to the general population. This as a CNN analysis finds at least 20 more plan to do so by the end of April.

President Biden has called for all Americans that are eligible for the vaccine to get it by May 1st Kristen Holmes has the very latest from Washington.

Good morning. I mean, that is a big deal, to just broadly open it up like that in these states.

KRISTEN HOLMES, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Poppy. Well, look, this is good news for those seeking the vaccine. I talked to state officials yesterday who are feeling really good about the prospects of vaccinating the general public. They say they are seeing an increase in doses, and they are cautiously optimistic that they're going to be able to get this done.

Now, let's take a look at when some of these states are opening. It actually starts tomorrow, we're going to see Georgia opening up its vaccine eligibility to the general population, and then it goes from there. In April especially, you'll see a huge amount of states starting this process including Montana, several East Coast states, Connecticut, Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts, as well as some Midwestern states, Missouri and Illinois.

Some states have not given us actual dates yet, I want to note that. So we are expecting New Mexico, Virginia and Iowa to open up that general availability in April, but we still don't have dates. And then May, meeting that deadline is going to be Wisconsin, Oregon, some of those West Coast states.

And then there are some we still just don't know about. That is going to be California, Nebraska, Kansas, Hawaii, several states that just haven't given us those dates.

But again, increasingly optimistic and good news for those who are seeking this vaccine.

HARLOW: It is. There's also the new report that we talked about a little bit last hour, from Health and Human Services, the inspector general really actually looking, Kristen, at how on the brink not only many U.S. hospitals are because of COVID, but a number of the hospital employees.

HOLMES: Yes, that's right, Poppy. I mean, there were some really alarming findings in this Health and Human Services report. They surveyed over 300 hospitals, and found a number of things that have caused an enormous amount of pressure and stress on these hospitals. I want to go through just a few of them here.

TEXT: Inspector General Report on Pandemic Impact: Medical staff burned out, suffering PTSD; Higher than normal turnover rate; Erosion of public trust in hospitals; Frustration over vaccine supply; Patients delaying routine care

HOLMES: One, what you mentioned, medical staff being burned out, suffering from PTSD. And the thing that really caught my attention here was administrators just talking about these frontline workers experiencing so much death and the impact on that, even including some of these staffers seeing their own coworkers dying from coronavirus and how that has played out. This is leading to a higher than normal turnover rate, which could impact patient care.

And also, talking about this erosion of public trust or perception of erosion of public trust in hospitals, and how that impacts frontline workers here, and community members and patients talking about how they're unsure that hospitals can actually keep them safe.

Now of course, we have talked a lot about frustration over vaccine supply, but I do want to point out this last one here, which is patients delaying routine care, which is screening for serious diseases. That includes diabetes, cancer, cardiac issues.

The problem there being that because people were afraid to go into the hospital or because they were pushed out because hospitals didn't have enough capacity to see them, they might be finding these diagnoses later, which could lead to an impending health crisis.

So one thing is clear here, that these hospitals, the health care industry needs help. And federal government as well as several -- all levels of government, really, need to step forward and see how we can prepare better for the next global crisis.


HARLOW: OK, Kristen, thank you very much for that on both fronts.

We are again waiting for this update from the COVID Task Force, we'll bring it to you when it starts. Even as a growing number of states are expanding their eligibility for the vaccine, for communities of color hit so hard by COVID, the reality of the rollout is a lack of access to the shots that they desperately need and want. Our Amara Walker reports. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hey, how are you.

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's no secret that African-Americans were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus.

BRENDA HONG, BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA RESIDENT: I've also had about 10 of my friends who passed away.

WALKER (voice-over): And now, the vaccine is proving to be difficult to access for some in the black community.

HONG: I know what racism is, and I know what inequality is.

WALKER (voice-over): Brenda Hong says she spent hours online trying to register for a COVID-19 vaccine.

HONG: It's ineffective, inefficient and very frustrating.

WALKER (voice-over): The 75-year-old who's a two-time breast cancer survivor with diabetes says she should have been first in line to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, Hong resorted to calling her commissioner's office for help.

SHEILA TYSON, JEFFERSON COUNTY COMMISSIONER, DISTRICT TWO: This is a matter of life and death for a lot of us because we have seen our parents, our brothers, our church members, our neighbors, our coworkers die from COVID-19.

WALKER (voice-over): Jefferson County Commissioner Sheila Tyson helped Hong register. She says her office has been fielding more than 200 similar calls a day, and believes there are just too many barriers for some to get a coronavirus vaccine.

TYSON: But we still are willing to take the vaccine if they would give it to us, because we are trying to live.

WALKER (voice-over): A CNN analysis of data from more than a dozen states found white people on average are getting vaccinated at twice the rate of black and Latino people. The most recent data from Alabama's Department of Public Health shows a noticeable difference in the number of African-American and white residents receiving vaccines.

Commissioner Tyson says the Jefferson County Health Department received roughly 500 initial doses of the vaccine while a neighborhood business, Ritch's Pharmacy in an affluent white neighborhood in Jefferson County, received 1,200 first doses.

TYSON: In my heart, I would think it was an oversight. But I don't think it is, because we were never in the plan to receive them.

WALKER (voice-over): The owner of the pharmacy tells CNN it had nothing to do with its zip code and everything to do with its readiness to store the vaccines and administer them.

HONG: The issue is availability, accessibility. Even to the point of our commissioners providing transportation to go and get it.

WALKER (voice-over): The University of Alabama at Birmingham says it has started identifying areas that do not have access to vaccine sites, and it's addressing issues with its online vaccine registration.

SARAH NAFZIGER, VICE PRESIDENT, CLINICAL SUPPORT SERVICES AT UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA BIRMINGHAM: We know that we have more ground to cover, and so that's why we're focusing resources on making sure that we address equity, on making sure that we reach those communities that maybe don't have access.

WALKER (voice-over): Hong finally received her first dose. She refutes the perception that vaccine hesitancy amongst African- Americans is leading to lower demand.

HONG: It is absolutely not the fact that black people don't -- or people of color don't want to take it.

WALKER (voice-over): Commissioner Tyson says there's a waitlist of over 100,000 people in Jefferson County.

TYSON: You will see that the majority of the people that's on the waiting list are black and brown people.

WALKER (voice-over): Hong hopes others don't give up, and get vaccinated.

HONG: I think that once more people are vaccinated, of course it will move the clouds over and let the sun come through.

WALKER (voice-over): Amara Walker, CNN.


HARLOW: All right, let's listen in to this White House briefing on COVID. Here is -- this is Andy Slavitt, who helps lead the Task Force. It looks like we're --

ANDY SLAVITT, SENIOR ADVISER TO WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE TEAM: -- thousands of vaccinators, and thousands more places for people to get vaccinated.

I also want to briefly touch on upcoming vaccine supply, which we are closely tracking, as are all of you.

Yesterday, in our weekly call with governors, we announced that we will have 27 million doses allocated across all distribution channels this week. Two thirds of the 27 million doses will be going to states and jurisdictions for them to distribute to distribution sites, and the rest will go to either channels, primarily the pharmacy program.

This means that in the 62 days since taking office, we've more than tripled vaccine output from 8.6 million doses to 27 million doses per week.


We have more work to do. Grinding out these increases week after week takes tremendous effort in partnership with the vaccine manufacturers, the HHS team, and of course all the people across the country vaccinating Americans. We intend to keep up this progress until all Americans are vaccinated.

Before I turn it to Dr. Walensky, I want to call attention to important announcements related to schools. Today, at the Department of Education's National Safe School Reopening Summit, President Biden will announce that $81 billion in the American Rescue Plan funds will be made available to all 50 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico to support their efforts to safely return to in-person instruction as expeditiously as possible this spring, and meet the needs of all students.

This announcement builds on our ongoing efforts to support schools and staff by investing in testing and prioritizing teachers for vaccination. Together, these steps will help return more kids back to the classroom sooner, ensure equity, and keep us on track to meet the president's goal for school reopenings in his first 100 days.

Now, with that, I'll turn it over to Dr. Walensky.

ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you, Andy, I'm glad to be back with all of you today.

Let's start with an overview of the pandemic. As I shared with you on Monday, cases continue to increase slightly. The most recent seven-day average is nearly 55,000 per day, up about three percent from the prior seven-day average.

The most recent seven-day average of new hospitalizations is about 4,600 per day and is similar to the data on Monday. And the latest seven-day average of deaths, approximately 968 per day, has also remained flat this week.

I continue to be worried about the latest data and the apparent stall we are seeing in the trajectory of the pandemic. CDC is watching these numbers very closely.

As I said on Monday, the decisions we make now will determine what the pandemic looks like in the days and week ahead. We've made such extraordinary progress in the last several weeks, and if we choose to invest in prevention right now, we will ultimately come out of this pandemic faster and with fewer lives lost.

I've been so impressed by the pace of vaccination, by the way so many Americans have embraced vaccination and have chipped in with their families and communities to help others get vaccinated. We are now vaccinating between 16 and 20 million people a week. And this means that we are closer to resuming activities we love to do with those we care about the most.

This past year has been challenging with many of us experiencing so much loss in so many forms. Our daily lives have changed, and we have had to learn new tasks like juggling jobs, child care and virtual learning.

Numerous studies have found that the pandemic has had a profound effect on our mental wellbeing. Stress, uncertainty, fear, isolation all can take and have taken a substantial toll.

While we focus on actions to stop the spread of COVID-19, I want to remind you all that it is equally important that we raise up actions to help each other maintain wellness, wellbeing and resilience.

This applies to everyone, whether you are already vaccinated or waiting to be vaccinated. Please take care of yourself. If you have gotten out of your old welcome (ph) routines this past year -- like so many of us have -- try to get back to those things that make you feel better, give you meaning and help you feel connected, even if virtually.

Connect with people, take a walk, safely connect with a friend, connect or check in on a neighbor. While you -- make sure you are getting enough sleep, eating balanced and healthy meals and get regular exercise. Doing these simple actions can make such a difference in how we feel and how we respond to stress.

Take breaks from the news and social media. While it's good to be informed, hearing about the pandemic all day, every day can be upsetting. Consider limiting the news to just a couple of times a day, and disconnecting from (INAUDIBLE) for a while.

We have other tips for improving wellbeing while staying COVID-19-safe on our CDC website, which I invite you all to look at.

Of course, do get vaccinated when the vaccine is available to you. Doing so opens up even more opportunities to connect safely in-person with others in small gatherings. I continue to hear of so many uplifting stories about friends and families being able to reconnect after months or even a year apart, once they are fully vaccinated.


This is what we're all fighting for: meeting your new grandchild for the first time, hugging a friend, having dinner with another family. We will get there, we are getting there. We are getting there at roughly 2.5 million vaccinations a day.

And we're getting new evidence about the positive effects of these vaccines every single day. As I mentioned on Monday, we now see significant declines in emergency department visits among people over 65, as that age group has gotten vaccinated. Just yesterday, several studies were released from the New England Journal of Medicine, describing substantial real-world protection against COVID-19 among vaccinated health care workers who we know are at increased risk of exposure to the virus.

These findings should be a jolt of hope for all of us, and to serve as a catalyst for everyone to roll up their sleeves when the vaccine is available. As I said many times before, getting schools open for in-person

instruction safely and as quickly as possible is a top priority for CDC and here again, we are starting to see results. I'm excited to report that we've heard from a number of school districts since our updated guidance was released last Friday, that they are now able to move forward with broader reopening as a result of our updated recommendations on physical distancing.

At the same time, we've been working hard with our Federal Retail Pharmacy Program to vaccinate K through 12 teachers, staff and child care workers throughout the month of March. Our pharmacy partners now report they have vaccinated more than 1.3 million educators, staff and child care workers, about 566,000 of those were just in the last week.

This is substantial progress towards our goal of getting our teachers and school staff vaccinated by the end of March. If you haven't already been vaccinated, visit to learn how to make an appointment for our Federal Pharmacy Program.

Finally, I want to share how excited I am to be joining the president, vice president, first lady and Secretary Cardona, along with many K through 12 students, teachers and staff at the Department of Education's National Safe School Reopening Summit this afternoon.

During the summit, we will continue the important dialogue of school reopening and hear firsthand experience from school administrators, teachers, staff and students about how they have been able to successfully get back to in-person learning. I look forward to learning from the participants and engaging with our educational partners in their critical work.

Thank you. I'll now turn things over to Dr. Fauci.


I'd like to spend just a couple of minutes now talking about something that I introduced at a prior briefing, and that is the ultimate effectiveness of the vaccines that are being administered.

As I had mentioned previously, we now have three EUA vaccines that have shown a high degree of efficacy in randomized placebo-controlled trials. Right now, as the weeks go by, we see more and more that not only are these vaccines efficacious, but in the community they are extremely effective in preventing infection with SARS-CoV-2.

And what I'm going to do over the next couple of minutes is to just present to you, very briefly, new data on the effectiveness of vaccination in (ph) health care workers in reports that came out yesterday, online in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Next slide.

In this particular study of health care workers at employees at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, if you look at this graph, it is really quite impressive. What it looks at, at people who are not vaccinated, in which infection was seen in 234 of over 8,000 employees.

And then, going from left to right, the next bar are individuals who are partially vaccinated, 112 of 6,000. But look at the far-right of the graph. For those who are fully vaccinated, the infection rate was extremely low, 0.05 percent infection rate among fully vaccinated employees. A real proof positive of the importance of vaccination.

The next study was a study from California, also in health care workers, that showed, among almost 15,000 workers who received their second dose of vaccine, who were showing that infection was extremely rare, similar to the Dallas study, with a 0.17 percent positivity.


Next slide.

And finally, again, on data we're getting from Israel, in which health care workers were vaccinated, it was shown that even among a situation where the B117 variant -- which we are concerned with -- was noted in up to 80 percent of cases. There was a major reduction in new cases among individuals who have received two doses.

So as Andy Slavitt said, now 70 percent of Americans 65 years of age or older have received at least one dose. And as Dr. Walensky said, every day, 2.5 to 3 million people get vaccinated. So every day, we get closer and closer to that extraordinary degree of effectiveness, which we're seeing at the community level. At the end of the day, that is what it is that is going to end this pandemic in this country.

Back to you, Andy.

HARLOW: We just heard from Andy Slavitt, and also from Dr. Fauci with some important updates there. We're going to take a quick break and we'll be right back.



HARLOW: Welcome back. This morning, for the first time, prosecutors are publicly linking the right-wing extremist group the Oath Keepers to the Proud Boys, alleging they coordinated in some capacity before the insurrection at the Capitol on January the 6th. Whitney Wild has the latest.

Whitney, good morning. I mean, to what extent was this cooperation?

WHITNEY WILD, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what prosecutors are trying to figure out. At this point, what they think is that it was just a communication, just a coordination. But they're not prepared to say this was an overarching conspiracy between the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys, they're just not there yet.

But what we know is that there were communications between these two groups. We know this because in a recent court filing, there was a member of the Oath Keepers, a leader of the Oath Keepers, saying in Facebook message, in December, weeks before the riot happened, that he had spoken with another leader at the Proud Boys.

So here is the direct quote from the filing. He was telling another person, "You can hang with us. We will probably be guarding" someone whose name's redacted "or someone during the day, but then at night we have orchestrated a plan with the Proud Boys... I've been communicating with" name redacted "the leader. We are going to march with them for a while, then fall back to the back of the crowd and turn off. Then we will have the Proud Boys get in front of them... we will come in behind Antifa and beat the hell out of them."

That's just one quote. Poppy, there was another Facebook message in which the same person had said that the Oath Keepers plan was to bring between 50 and 100 people -- again, coordinating with the Proud Boys, calling them a force multiplier.

But again, this does not represent a brand-new set of charges in which DOJ is prepared to say we think everybody coordinated long before to effect this conspiracy, to effect violence on that day. Instead, they're just pointing out this communication in this most recent filing -- Poppy.

HARLOW: OK. And then the question becomes, do they get to that next point that you mentioned --

WILD: That is the open question at this point, but certainly one that they will seek to answer.

HARLOW: For sure, Whitney, thank you for that reporting, very much.

And thanks to all of you for being with me today, I'll see you back here tomorrow morning. I'm Poppy Harlow. NEWSROOM with Kate Bolduan is right after a quick break.


KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR, NEWSROOM: Hello everyone, I'm Kate Bolduan. Thank you so much for joining us over the next two hours.

Less than 48 hours ago, less than 48 hours after a gunman opened fire inside a Colorado supermarket, we are learning more about the 10 people who were killed.

A memorial for the victims is growing outside the King Soopers grocery store in Boulder: bouquets of flowers, handwritten cards and messages, people stopping and paying their respects to those whose lives were taken too soon. We know their names now, here are some of their faces. And we're going to bring you their stories throughout the next two hours.

TEXT: Boulder Massacre Victims: Rikki Olds, 25; Officer Eric Talley, 51; Tralona Bartkowiak, 49; Suzanne Fountain, 59; Denny Stong, 20; Neven Stanisic, 23; Kevin Mahoney, 61; Lynn Murray, 62; Jody Waters, 65; Teri Leiker, 51


BOLDUAN: And while that city is mourning, the investigation into the shooting is just beginning to take shape.