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Many States Open Vaccine Eligibility to People 16 Years & Older; Biden: Infrastructure And Jobs Initiative is Next Priority on Agenda; Tornado Outbreak Hits Georgia & Alabama. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired March 26, 2021 - 13:30   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: States are ending their tiered vaccine rollouts, several giving the thumbs up to those 16 years of age or older and that puts President Biden's new goal of 200 doses in 100 days well within reach.

But as quickly as the vaccine is spreading across the U.S., so are new variants of the coronavirus. What former CDC directors are scared of, next.



KEILAR: With increased eligibility and more doses, the U.S. is closer to becoming a fully vaccinated country. All but six states are throwing out the tiered vaccine rollout, now allowing anyone over 16 to get a shot.

Plus, the Biden administration just announced a $10 billion plan to expand access to high-risk communities.

Dr. Saju Mathew is a primary care physician and a public health specialist, and with us now.

Doctor, great to see you.

Why do you think most stays are doing this, abandoning this tiered vaccine process?

DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN & PUBLIC HEALTH SPECIALIST: You know, it's a good question, Brianna. I hope for a good reason. And I hope that it really doesn't reflect in a way the fact that we've failed.

The reason I say that is, if you look at a state like mine in Georgia, we're at the bottom. We've only vaccinated 11 percent. Fully vaccinated 11 percent.

But if you look at the entire nation they're about 17 million people above the age of 65, who are the most vulnerable, that have not been vaccinated. I hope it's not because we have been unable to reach the 65 years and older that we're all of a sudden opening it up.

I've always suggested there should be two tracks, track one should be for our most vulnerable 65 older and the second track for 16 years and anybody who wants to get the vaccination. I hope that at this point, because a lot of states have opened it up, that 65 years and older must still be a focus. They're the most vulnerable.

KEILAR: Right now, when you're looking at the rates of vaccination and you're thinking about what herd immunity needs to be, with the fact that so many people have hesitant to get the vaccine despite, you know, what the science shows, is that going to -- how do you see that playing out, and impeding, perhaps, herd immunity in the country?

MATHEW: It's something I worry about a lot. You know, we are the only superpower, rich country in the world to have three safe and effective vaccines. And the fact that by may any American can walk up and get vaccinated, that's huge.

There are people in Brazil that are dying in hallways. So what I worry about is that we're going to get to maybe 40 percent to 50 percent and then just plateau, where people just decide, hey, I don't want to get the vaccine.

I call them people who believe in the whole vaccine fade. I'm young, everybody in my family has been vaccinated. Why should I get the vaccine?

Or populations, whether it's white Republicans or minority populations, for a lot of reasons that don't want to get the vaccine.

And, Brianna, one last thing, I'm still discouraged there are no PSAs on TV that really target minority populations, white Republicans, and also our young. We need 21 through 49-year-olds to get vaccinated to get to herd immunity.

KEILAR: That's a very good point. We're, of course, watching the variants, right, we're a little bit concerned, we're seeing some states actually right now in the Midwest that have seen a bit of a spike with those emerging.

How concerned are you?

MATHEW: It's always concerning when you see a spike. Overall, if we look at our numbers, we're generally doing pretty well in terms of deaths, definitely gone down, still 1,000 people dying a day, we're plateauing at 50,000 cases.

But when you look at a state like Michigan the question is: Why is there a steady rise in cases, and also in hospitalizations and deaths?

You still have to go back to the main problem, Brianna, which is I think we're opening up too quickly. Pandemic fatigue. The weather's getting better. And I think the overall country is in a better mood.

I still think that we should be realistic and as we get vaccinated we really cannot pull back. We should be all about risk reduction.

KEILAR: Yes. Don't burn the boats before you get to the harbor, right?

MATHEW: That's right.

KEILAR: Dr. Mathew, great to see you. Thank you.

MATHEW: Thank you, Brianna.


KEILAR: Join us for a new CNN special report as Ed Lavandera investigates one state's unemployment system and the devastating toll that COVID-19 has taken. CNN's special report, "THE PRICE WE PAID, THE ECONOMIC COST OF COVID," airs tomorrow night at 9:00 p.m. Eastern.


KEILAR: President Biden's next big priority will not be guns but, instead infrastructure, focusing on the nation's roads, bridges, ports and jobs.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The next major initiative is -- and I'll be announcing it Friday in Pittsburgh in detail. Is to rebuild the infrastructure, both physical and technological infrastructure of this country so that we can compete and create significant numbers of really good paying jobs, really good paying jobs.



KEILAR: Now this announcement expected Wednesday when the president is in Pittsburgh. He is expected to outline a $3 trillion infrastructure tax and spending plan and Republicans are already lining up in opposition.

CNN's Jeff Zeleny is with us now to talk about this.

Jeff, tell us more about what the president wants to do here.

JEFF ZELENY, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: Brianna, we heard President Biden yesterday say that this is his biggest priority now, at least his legislative priority.

And it is really following up on a campaign pledge to rebuild and restore the nation's decrepit infrastructure, everything from, you know, fixing airports to roads.

And bridges, in particular. We've seen incidents over the past several years of bridging collapsing. Roads in disrepair. So that's a big part of it, about a trillion dollars of it. But there's so much more than that. This is not just an infrastructure bill. There's also, you know, a big part of this, about improving education, access to childcare, national childcare, potentially free community college.

So it's a -- it's much more of an economic bill, if you will. And we don't have all the details of it yet because the White house is still putting the finishing touches on it, presenting it to the president.

But next week they're going to roll that out. Beginning on Monday, in drips and drabs. But on Wednesday, the president will be delivering a big speech in Pittsburgh, putting a fine point on this.

We heard transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, yesterday in Capitol Hill, called it generational investment.

Republicans are pushing back on the idea. This is much more than a roads and airport bill. It's much more than an infrastructure bill and that is where the challenge is going to be to make this a bipartisan bill.

The White house open right now to getting Republicans on board but the more that's included in this, of course, is going to raise the resistance from their side.

At the end of the day of all of this, at the end of the summer, perhaps, this could be similar to the COVID bill being passed by reconciliation.

That's that process where you only need 51 votes as opposed to the 60 votes needed with Republican support.

KEILAR: Yes, it's sort of becoming the M.O., it seems.

Jeff Zeleny, thank you so much.

A deadly tornado outbreak is slamming the south, destroying homes and schools in its path. What victims and disaster relief teams are finding on the ground, next.



KEILAR: A lot of damage after the south got hit again and again by a string of deadly tornadoes. The twisters killed one person in Georgia, at least five people in Alabama. And more than 60 homes in one Alabama town were damaged or destroyed.



Oh, no.

(END VIDEO CLIP) KEILAR: Several people were caught in cars as you can see here on the road when the storms hit. Hundreds of thousands are without power across the south. And entire neighborhoods are in shreds.

Officials calling the damage in one Georgia county, quote, "catastrophic and unbelievable."

For some Americans, this nightmare is deja vu.


JIM REEDER, NEWNAN, GEORGIA, RESIDENT: The very first things was a torrential rain about three seconds and then nothing. It went completely dead. And then three seconds of hard rain and dead again.

That's when I knew it was coming. Because then you heard the train coming. And if sounded just like it. So I've lived through it. And, woo, don't want to do it again.

EVAN HORTON, SUPERINTENDENT, COWETA COUNTY, GEORGIA, SCHOOL SYSTEM: This building actually got hit by a smaller tornado back in October. And just this past week -- the section of the building that was hit back then -- the roof was just finished repairing this past week. So second hit in six months.


KEILAR: CNN's Derek Van Dam in Eagle Point, Alabama, south of Birmingham what are you seeing.

Derek, tell us about the scene there. What are you seeing?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: We're seeing severe damage in the Eagle Point community southeast of Birmingham like you mentioned. The damage here is equivalent to a E.F. 2 tornado, winds of at least 111- mile-per-hour. You can see the roof taken off the house behind me.

We spoke to residents here who rode out the terrifying, violent tornado last evening, and literally spoke and trembled with fear as they recounted the terrifying moments when the twister touched down.

Talking about how the man and wife living in the house behind me sheltered in place within a closet within the center of the house. They had helmets on for protection.

Then all of a sudden, the roof opened up overhead and they saw the sky above and it started to rain within the house and the winds howled like crazy.

We drove around last even and witnessed homes completely wiped off foundations. It's been a lot of heart ache for individuals, especially those who lost loved ones.

You have to listen to the interview from one of our affiliates, WBRC, take a listen.


LATASHA HARRIS RAMOS, PARENTS & SISTER KILLED IN STORMS: I got a call from a friend talking to my uncle. She said that she heard a loud noise. And my uncle was yelling for help. I kept calling my parent's house, my mom's cell phone. I couldn't get anybody.

And then my brother called me and told me that everything was gone and they couldn't find my parents. Told me that my sister had died. And I just got in my car and drove here from Virginia.

VAN DAM: That was before you knew your parents had passed, too, correct.

HARRIS RAMOS: Well I thought they said they couldn't find them. I was just hoping that -- that they had found shelter or something. And then I found out that they had passed.



VAN DAM: Brianna, one of the more profound things I've seen since covering the storm has been the sense of resilience and the sense of community that's been drawing together people coming out in the hundreds to help clear up streets, help repair damage, take care of some of the basic necessities like food and water.

And one really touching story for me has been the -- a woman living behind me, Dana Cook, her and her husband lost their house but they didn't lose their faith.

Look at this. The cross here that you see behind me with the purple scarf representing the 40 days of lent remained untouched amongst the destruction of this tornado.

An incredible story. Back to you.

KEILAR: That is pretty amazing.

Derek, thank you so much.

Georgia was a key swing state that helped push President Biden over the edge, giving him the win against former President Trump. And now it's Republican lawmakers are pushing through a voting law making it harder for people to vote. The Democrats call it anti-Democratic. Lawyers are already circling. More on that ahead.