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Michigan Reports Third Surge as Cases Accelerate Statewide; Pandemic Doctors Speak Out in Wide-Ranging Interview; Four Gun Violence Victims Still Hospitalized in Virginia Beach; More Than 18,000 Migrant Children in Federal Custody; Signs of Collapse in Brazil as COVID Spirals Out of Control; Sweeping Georgia Law Restricting Voting Access; Robodog Helps Doctors Treat COVID Patients from a Distance. Aired 8-9p ET

Aired March 28, 2021 - 20:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That a new surge could be coming.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, BIDEN'S CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER ON CORONAVIRUS: When you're coming down from a big peak, and you reach a point then start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you're really endangered of a surge coming up.

DR. DEBORAH BIRX, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CORONAVIRUS TASK FORCE COORDINATOR: I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep. I got called by the president.


BIRX: I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation.

SEN. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (D-GA): This is really about preserving the voices of the people and their democracy. Rather than having the people select their politicians, the politicians are trying to cherry pick their voters.

JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The president is absolutely open to the ideas from Republicans, from Democrats, but what he's not going to allow for is efforts to make it more difficult and harder to vote.


PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: I'm Pamela Brown in Washington. Welcome to our viewers in the United States and around the world. You are live in the CNN NEWSROOM.

Michigan's top health official announces a third wave of coronavirus is underway there. And it seems to be affecting younger people at a greater rate, mostly between those between the ages of 10 and 19. Officials say people are gathering more and going out more. So is Michigan the bellwether of a new surge that will sweep across the country.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro is following the latest.

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pam, experts are warning that the entire country could see another surge of coronavirus if Americans don't remain focused on the things they need to do to keep the virus from spreading. Experts say they know it's hard but they need Americans to stay on this.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Please take this moment very seriously.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO (voice-over): Top officials warning Americans to keep focused on the pandemic, despite the polls of warmer weather and encouraging vaccine news. Reservations on home rental sites Vrbo and Airbnb are skyrocketing, according to those companies, signaling a desire among Americans to get out of the house. But travel and gathering for holidays like Easter and Passover are not a good idea, experts say.

FAUCI: Whenever we see surges in travel be that around the holidays, around certain situations like we did over the Christmas and New Year's holiday and other types of holidays, you get congregation of people. Those are the kind of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected.

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Cases are starting to rise again in some states including Michigan. The Department of Health tells CNN they're now experiencing a third coronavirus surge. While more than a quarter of Americans have received their first dose of a vaccine, only around 15 percent are fully vaccinated. But most states continue to expand eligibility guidelines. Louisiana among the states expanding vaccine eligibility to all adults over age 16 on Monday. Still, this moment has all the ingredients for a new national surge, experts say. But Americans can prevent it.

WALENSKY: I know people are tired and we're just asking people to hang on a little while longer in terms of relaxing and the mitigation and strategies so that we can get the majority of people vaccinated.


MCMORRIS-SANTORO: Pam, the good news in Michigan is that officials are making the vaccine available to everyone in the state over the age of 16 starting on April 5th. And they're telling people to go ahead and get those appointments for that vaccination now. Getting a vaccine as quickly as possible Michigan officials say is the best way to get this new surge under control. And officials everywhere say that's the best way to start this prevent a new surge from happening across the entire country. So the lesson is get the shot as soon as you can get it -- Pam.

BROWN: All right, Evan McMorris-Santoro, thanks so much. And tonight on CNN, the men and women who led the country through the

coronavirus pandemic like you have never heard them before. They open up to our chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, and what they have to say is truly stunning. Here's a preview.

GUPTA: Well, Pamela, I think the conversations and what you're going to hear tonight is going to be tough but also fair. And it's very much going to be the spirit if lessons learned, like what are we going to learn about the future here, how can we be better prepared for the future. But there's also a lot that was happening behind the scenes. And these doctors, I think in some ways wanted to talk about that.

We saw what was happening publicly and what was happening behind the scenes. For example, Pamela, there was an interview that Dr. Birx did on "STATE OF THE UNION," and she talked about that interview but also what happened in the aftermath.


BIRX: I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep so that they could, I guess, remove me from the task force. It is extraordinarily widespread. The CNN report in August that got horrible pushback. Everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus.


That was a very difficult time because everybody in the White House was upset with that interview and the clarity that I brought about the epidemic.

GUPTA: I can tell just by reading your face that was a really tough time. What -- what happened?

BIRX: Well, I got called by the president.

GUPTA: What does he say?

BIRX: Well, I think you've heard other conversations that people have posted with the president. I would say it was even more direct than what people have heard. It was very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear.

GUPTA: Were you threatened?

BIRX: I would say it was a very uncomfortable conversation.


GUPTA: Pamela, I have to tell you I think Dr. Birx was probably the most introspective out of all the doctors that we interviewed, very reflective, I think aware, self-aware about the damage to her reputation, her own mistakes, things like that. And her hopes for the future. So, you know, again, the spirit of this entire documentary was OK, we saw what happened, now we're getting an unvarnished look at it, what does that mean for the future? Hopefully you'll get a chance to watch it. It's tonight at 9:00 p.m.

BROWN: And as Sanjay said there, the CNN Special Report, "COVID WAR, THE PANDEMIC DOCTORS SPEAK OUT" airs right after this show, tonight 9:00 p.m.

Well, CNN medical analyst Dr. Celine Gounder joins me now. She's a former Biden transition COVID Advisory Board member and former assistant commissioner of health for New York City.

Dr. Gounder, great to have you on as always. I want to get your reaction to this. Hearing Dr. Birx's account of that uncomfortable phone call with then President Trump after she was on CNN telling the truth about how bad the pandemic was, and also what she said about hundreds of thousands of lies that could have been saver after that first surge. What do you think about all this?

DR. CELINE GOUNDER, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, Pamela, remember that in August we were in our second surge. A lot of southern and Midwestern states including rural areas were really hard hit at that time. So the advice that Dr. Birx was giving that we should be following the mitigation measures even if you're in a rural area were really quite reasonable. They were in response to what was happening in those areas on the ground.

I think what this really speaks to is the importance of not politicizing the response to a public health crisis. And you really do need to be putting doctors, nurses, public health workers, scientists, in charge of leading the response and being the face of the response. But I think unfortunately politicians of all stripes from both sides of the aisle really wanted to be the face of this.

And that's been to the harm of all of us. What we're seeing now is you have people, Republicans who are saying the pandemic was weaponized against them. They're uncertain about whether they want to get vaccinated. And that really hurts all of us because it'll take that much longer for us to get back to normal life. So I think the role of politicians in a crisis like this is to step out of the way, let the experts to do their jobs and empower them to do their jobs.

BROWN: And the bottom line is we're not out of the woods yet. Right? I mean, I know there is a lot of optimism because of the vaccines and so forth, but we're not out of the woods. In Michigan, there is news of a third surge there. Do you expect the rest of the country to see a similar spike especially with spring break and holiday travel with Easter?

GOUNDER: Yes, unfortunately we do. You know, part of what we -- there are a couple of patterns that we've seen. One that Dr. Fauci described which is that travel does tend to fuel another surge. We also see a pattern that it's very often younger people who are infected first. And then that ripples out to older people. You know, we haven't vaccinated enough of the most vulnerable yet. We vaccinated many people over 65 but not nearly all.

There are still many people with chronic medical conditions who've yet to be vaccinated. So this really is a race between the virus and the vaccines, and we really do need a little bit more time, another several weeks, to get the people who need to be vaccinated those vaccine doses.

BROWN: So let's talk about the vaccine because we do continue to pick up speed, right, on the vaccine rate but only about 15 percent of the U.S. population is now fully vaccinated. What percentage do we need to get to when we can just kind of breathe a sigh of relief and say we are in a good place?

GOUNDER: I don't think honestly that we're going to be getting to this holy grail of herd immunity any time soon. And that's for a few reasons. One is that it will be a while before children can be vaccinated and they account for about a quarter of the population.


And then you do have people who are sitting on the fence, who are a bit nervous, who are going to wait. But in the meantime, I think what we really need to aim for before we relax mitigation measure is to make sure that all of our elderly, all of the people with chronic medical conditions, those hardest hit, most vulnerable communities, including communities of color that they get covered with vaccine. And once we do that, then I do think we can relax a bit on some of our mitigation measures.

BROWN: So, interesting, because you say you don't think we're going to reach the holy grail of herd immunity any time soon. We have heard President Biden say he is looking at July 4th as a marker when people can get together and celebrate together and so forth. Do you still think that's realistic or given the dynamic that's going on now with the variants and vaccines that that bar should be pushed later?

GOUNDER: I do think that target of July 4th is realistic. You know, this target of herd immunity is really how much population immunity, how many people need to be immune to block transmission. That's different from saying how many people need to be immune to reduce the risk of severe disease, hospitalization and death. I think that's a lower bar and that's more likely to be the bar that we really need to hit. And I think we will by July 4th.

BROWN: All right, Dr. Celine Gounder, we'll on that positive note, something to look forward to. Thanks so much.

Well, the surge at the southern border is not new as we know. It has been building for years. Just ahead, I'll talk to a top former immigration official in the Trump administration.

Plus, we are live in Virginia Beach, where police look into a deadly officer-involved shooting despite the body camera the incident was not recorded.



BROWN: Well, police officials in Virginia Beach, Virginia, tonight are still unable to explain how a fatal shooting was not captured on the officer's body camera. It's one of several missing pieces of the investigation. Two days after a night of gun violence in Virginia Beach. At least four people are still in the hospital.

Let's go straight to CNN's Brian Todd.

Brian, you have been there on the ground. Are victims' families getting any closer to answers tonight?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Pamela, almost 48 hours later and I can tell you it does not appear they're getting any closer to any answers. Police still not saying whether Donovan Lynch, the 25-year-old black man who was killed by a police officer two nights ago, whether Donovan Lynch was armed, whether he was not armed. What police have said is that there was a firearm in the vicinity of that confrontation. They have not gone beyond that.

We've been pressing them for answers for 48 hours. They have not been able to give us any answers on that. They've now also not been able to give us answers on why that officer's body camera was not activated at the time of the confrontation. They have also not released the name of the officer. What they have told us is that they executed search warrants earlier today trying to get some evidence. We don't know which homes they went to, to try to get this evidence. We know they've been executing search warrants.

We also know, Pamela, that they have three suspects in custody from the initial shooting that unfolded just behind me here on Friday night. This is where about eight people got shot in that parking lot behind me, and injured, no deaths in that incident but they do have three people in custody. 22-year-old Ahmon Adams, 20-year-old Devon Dorsey, Jr., 18-year-old Nyquez Baker. They are charged with multiple counts of felonious assault. Two of the three of them being held without bond.

Virginia Beach police are trying to determine whether that shooting and Donovan Lynch's shooting and the shooting and killing of Deshayla Harris who was a bystander in a third shooting, whether any of these are connected. It was a very chaotic scene on Friday night. I can also tell you a short time ago I did speak to the attorney for the Lynch family. The attorney did not want to go on camera and the father, Wayne Lynch, did not want to go on camera with us.

But the attorney did say that the Virginia Beach Police have reached out to the family. He did not want to go any further than that and discuss what they talked about. But he did say that he described Donovan Lynch as, quote, "a stand-up guy, liked by everyone." And he affirmed to us that a statement that Wayne Lynch, the father, gave was accurate and the statement read like this. "A father's dream son, intelligent, handsome, a scholar, an athlete, an entrepreneur and loved by all he came in contact with. Rest in peace, Don."

The family of Donovan Lynch is indicating they may speak in the coming days but we still need a lot of answers in this case, Pamela. Especially, you know, why that body camera was not turned on, what have they recovered at the scene as far as a weapon, what can they say about that weapon, and who carried that weapon. These are key questions and again 48 hours later, Pamela, we don't have those answers.

BROWN: And I know, Brian Todd, you will continue to push for those answers. Thank you so much. Reporting live for us in Virginia Beach.

And earlier this evening, I asked CNN law enforcement analyst Charles Ramsey about the officer of Virginia Beach not turning on his body camera. Here's part of our discussion.


CHARLES RAMSEY, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: There is no excuse for it. The officer didn't turn it on for whatever reason. If it was a malfunction in the camera itself, that's a different story. But I am sure the chief will deal with that because clearly if you're wearing a body camera, if you don't turn it on, what good is it? And this would have been vital in terms of trying to determine exactly what took place at the time of the shooting.

BROWN: But how can the community have trust that wrongs weren't committed by officers if routinely body cams aren't activated?

RAMSEY: Well, I mean, it does make it difficult. There's no question about that. I don't know if it's routine if they don't do it. I know for a fact that they are working on technology, not police departments but these companies that make these devices, Exxon being one, that would automatically turn it on the minute you get out of the car, for example. Some of those things just aren't in place yet.

So there is work that needs to be done in terms of the technology so it's not a question of an officer hitting a button that in the middle of a high stressed situation you can simply forget to do. But I'm not going to make my excuses for him. He should have had it on.

BROWN: All right, this past week, you told "The Washington Post" that there should be a higher standard for police. How would those higher standards apply to what happened Friday night in Virginia Beach?

RAMSEY: Well, I don't know specifically how it would apply. When I made that comment, I was talking about educational standards, I was talking about policies, training, and the like in terms of standards for police officers.


And I do think there needs to be national standards put in place for police.


BROWN: Well, the Biden administration may need tens of thousands of beds just to keep up with the surge of unaccompanied children crossing at the border. When we come back, I'll speak to Ron Vitiello, the former Border Patrol chief under President Trump, and find out what he thinks the Biden administration should be doing right now. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BROWN: Well, so many migrants have left their homes for the U.S.- Mexican border, and it's brought at least 18,000 unaccompanied children into U.S. custody. Their first stop is Customs and Border Protection facilities. But many are incredibly overwhelmed right now like you see in this video, right here. Republican Senator James Lankford said that this was taken from inside a Donna, Texas, facility. One Border Patrol official told CNN the facility was never equipped to hold this many people.

Nearly 6,000 children are still in CBP custody with some held there for longer than 72 hours, which is what the law allows.

For inside into this process, I'm joined by Ron Vitiello, the former acting director of ICE and former Border Patrol chief under President Trump. He's also served as deputy Border Patrol chief under President Obama.


So you have served over -- under Democratic administrations, Republican administrations, so you can provide this perspective. In your decade's long career, you've seen other moments of crisis at the border. Hindsight is 20-20, but give us your assessment on what if anything the Biden administration should be doing right now to handle this influx of migrants.

RON VITIELLO, FORMER BORDER PATROL CHIEF UNDER PRESIDENT TRUMP: Well, they're going to try to protect these children the best way they can. I think that happens through them augmenting Border Patrol sites like they have done in Donna and Carrizo Springs. And they've got to support the workforce. They've got to give them the right tools and information so that they can get out from under this backlog. And then Congress and the administration have to fund HHS rapidly so they can add more shelter space to their inventory.

That's the problem that we're having. There's too many people in the Border Patrol stations, but they have to have somewhere to go, by law, you said. They can only be in CBP custody for 72 hours. That's for their safety. But if there is no shelter bed to put them in then the Border Patrol has to pick up the pieces, right? So they're stuck because by law these kids can't just get released or get sent somewhere.

They have to be protected in a very specific way. And so I feel real bad for the workforce and their families. They must be stressed out. Imagine coming to work every day and there's thousands of people waiting for your attention. And then you go home and you come back the next day, and there's a couple thousand more. It's a very difficult situation that we've had before and it depends on the shelter's space.

And before this administration, these children were being sent back home and reunited with their parents under the Title 42 authority that CBP was exercising because of the pandemic. We stripped that tool away without enough augmentation at the sites where we knew children were going to come to and without shelter space at the ready.

BROWN: And you know, President Biden was asked about that at his first press conference that he said look, if there is a child who are alone at the border, we're not going to turn them away. But you are right that that is something different under the Biden administration, taking these unaccompanied children in and some families as well, and not turning them away right away.

But that still doesn't solve even if they were turning them away right away, it still doesn't solve the root of the problem. Right? I mean, this is just over and over again. We see this. Both sides are playing politics with this. And Republicans are trying to blame all of this on Biden. Yet you saw surges firsthand under the Trump administration. So how can you pin all of this on one administration? Give us the historical context of what we're seeing play out. What is really going on right now?

VITIELLO: Well, there's no consequence if you bring your child to the border or you send your child to the border. They come into CBP custody, hopefully that's a brief amount of time. That's not what happens today. But their brief time with the Border Patrol to get them into the system, and then on to a shelter bed in HHS. And then they're placed with a family member in the United States whether that person is here illegally or not. If they don't have family then they go into like a foster situation.

And so you're right to point out that this is a congressional problem as well. There's loopholes in the immigration framework, as it relates to families and it relates to children because they're coming from terrible conditions. And that pipeline is treacherous for anybody that's in it. That journey up to the border. And they're at a great risk the entire time they're on the road and then now we're seeing the difficulty in CBP custody.

But most of them won't prevail on an asylum claim. And in fact the surge in 2014, 94 percent of those kids are still in the United States. And so that's what's going to happen to this group, too, if we don't change the way the laws operationalize. So those frameworks have to be looked at. Congress needs to engage on this problem. First, to provide resources to remove the backlog and then secondly, I think there is a reform required so that people don't -- aren't encouraged to send or bring their children to the border.

BROWN: Right, because, I mean, there is a lot of talk right now about humane treatment obviously. There was the cruel family separation policy in the past. There is talk about the Biden administration being more humane. But these children by themselves are taking this very dangerous journey to come here thinking they're going to find a better life. That journey is dangerous and then when they get here those conditions are unacceptable.

We know the administration is trying to expand the capacity. But you are one of nearly a dozen former Border Patrol chief to sign a letter to congressional leaders urging them to provide more resources and take steps to reform the U.S. immigration system. What is the most important thing you would want them to do and others? What is the most important thing you want them to do and take away from this letter, something that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle could come together on?

VITIELLO: Well, every surge, and this one is the biggest one I have ever seen. The department is only 18 years old and they've had three times where they've fixed the surge. The surge has always been evaded by putting consequences to illegal entry.


So in 2006 they added detention space. They changed a few of the visa laws as it relates to Mexico and people from Brazil, et cetera. And we stopped the surge in 2006. In 2014, the surge was first stopped in 2015 because we added family residential centers so that people could get their hearing and they could get their due process but remained in custody while that was ongoing. And if they prevailed we welcome them to the United States. If not they were sent back.

In 2018 and '19, the surge was evaded by the Remain in Mexico policy. And so that allowed Border Patrol to take people, put them in the system but then they waited for their hearings in Mexico. And when people don't make it to the United States successfully, many more will not come. It just dissuades others from taking back dangerous journey.

BROWN: OK. Just really quick for clarification. And one thing on Mexico, (INAUDIBLE) saying Mexico changed the law so they are claiming now under their new law they don't have enough capacity for all these families which is one of the reasons the U.S. has to keep some of these families coming in the United States. But also, just looking at the CBP numbers I have in front of me, in 2019, during the Zero Tolerance policy, there was a spike in unaccompanied children that were coming across the border. So is it really true that some of these policies, these return policies, are actually effective when you see in some cases they're spikes?

VITIELLO: It's the consequence that makes the difference. It's made the difference in all three of those scenarios. Right now you don't have that and so people are encouraged to send their children or bring their children.

BROWN: But I'm just trying to understand because like in 2019 under Trump there was still a surge even when the Zero Tolerance was going on among migrant children. So what I'm just trying to understand is we see these surges even when there are deterrents measures put into place. So what is the bottom -- what can you actually do? Is it just creating a better life for them in their home countries? Getting rid of the push factors?

VITIELLO: Well, we should do all we can to help the northern triangle but that's not going to stop what's going on here. And then the 2019 surge stopped when Mexico engaged on their southern border. They put some resources on the northern border and they were allowing people to wait in Mexico for their hearing. And yes, the children, they still fall in that loophole but once you slow down the pipeline through border enforcement at the Guatemala border with Mexico, at our own border and there is a consequence for entering the country illegally in the case of migrant protection protocols, they just have to wait for their hearing in Mexico versus being released in the U.S.

BROWN: All right, Ron Vitiello, thank you for providing your perspective on this really complicated issue. We appreciate it.

VITIELLO: Good to be with you.

BROWN: And when we come back, Mexico's coronavirus death toll may be far higher than previously reported. And just in to CNN, British prime minister Boris Johnson just announced the U.K.'s stay-at-home order will be lifted tomorrow. Stay with us.



BROWN: In Mexico, the government has released a report revealing the country's COVID-19 death toll could be far higher than official numbers show. By comparing the number of deaths in the past year to previous years, the report estimates more than 321,000 people may have died from the virus in Mexico. That's almost 60 percent higher than what's been reported. If true that new data brings Mexico's death toll to the second highest in the world just behind the U.S.

And turning now to another country being ravaged by the pandemic as we speak. A surge in coronavirus cases and deaths has brought Brazil's healthcare system to the brink of collapse.

CNN's Matt Rivers reports.

MATT RIVERS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And Pamela, we've been on the ground reporting here in Brazil for more than two weeks now. And what we have seen during our time here are just consistent signs of collapse at just about every single level of the healthcare system.


RIVERS (voice-over): When the system collapses, it starts here, paramedics rushing to respond to seemingly unending cries for help. This time, it's a grandmother short of breath, another COVID case, limping toward a hospital system that cannot handle more patients.

(On-camera): So it's easy to spot ambulances like this one racing all over the city going on call after call after call, and in some cases going to multiple hospitals before they actually find one that can admit the patients that they have in the back.

(Voice-over): Here, a dozen ambulances with patients wait outside a Sao Paulo hospital, hoping a spot opens up inside. These days, though, getting inside might not help.

The person who gave CNN this footage from another Sao Paulo hospital told us it feels like a war zone. The rampant viral spread its own mass casualty event, and across the country, a lack of medical supplies is crippling the ability to care for patients.

In this footage given to us from Brazil's Federal District, a nurse says this oxygen tube is leaking. Taped to a wall, they're strung up all over the hospital this way. In some places draped between windows. It's the only way to get the limited oxygen they have from its source to the patient.

Overflowing rooms are the norm in Brazil now. This Sao Paulo hospital was designated this week as a COVID-only facility but it's plain to see as we walk through that it's filled beyond capacity, unable to accept any new patients.

(On-camera): This facility is designed for 16 patients. There's roughly double that number inside there right now.

(Voice-over): Crowded ICUs across the country have created impossible choices. This nurse who fears he could lose his job for speaking with us says one older patient this week was the victim of a zero-sum game, his life for another.

(On-camera): Did you even think that that was possible?

(Voice-over): The nurse says the patient wasn't getting better, so we extubated him and gave his ventilator to a younger patient with a better chance to live.

And for those watching this all up close, like paramedic Luis Eduardo Pimentel (PH), the health care collapse is unbelievably painful.


I'm sorry, I'm sorry, he says, crying. There is this cycle taking a patient to the hospital, then the hearse arriving to get another body. It just hurts too much.

This video given to CNN from inside the city morgue shows coffins, bodies inside waiting to be cremated. There are so many, demand is roughly triple what they can handle in a single day, so the coffins are stacked waiting their turn.

So many people have died in Sao Paulo recently, this week, there's been burials every few minutes, enough that they can't get them all done during the day. Cemeteries now busy even at night.


RIVERS: And consider this, Pamela, in just the last two weeks or so, of all the coronavirus deaths reported around the world, Brazil has accounted for roughly a quarter of those deaths. And I've spoken to a lot of epidemiologists who fear that we are not yet at the peak in this country especially when you consider that hundreds of thousands of new cases have been reported here in Brazil in just the last seven days -- Pamela.

BROWN: Thanks to Matt. And we have some breaking news coming into CNN. A developing situation in Florida. That is where law enforcement is responding to an active shooter situation inside Everglades National Park. We'll be back right after this break with the latest on that. Stay with us. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)


BROWN: We have some breaking news coming into CNN this hour. Law enforcement agencies are responding to Everglades National Park in Florida due to an active shooter incident. The main road to that park has blocked off. Visitors and residents near the Flamingo are being asked to shelter in place. The Everglades National Park is 1.5- million-acre wild life preserve in Florida. And the park says that there are no injuries right now. Of course we will bring you more details as we get them as this unfolding situation there in Florida.

And over in Georgia, the center of the political spotlight tonight after becoming the first presidential battleground to impose new voting restrictions after Joe Biden's victory in the state. It empowers state officials to take over local elections board, limits the use of ballot drop boxes and makes it a crime to approach voters in line to give them food and water.

CNN's Sara Murray joins me now. So, Sara, critics are saying this is voter suppression and action, making it harder for many citizens to vote. But what are you hearing from those who say the nuance in this bill is being overlooked?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, look, there are a lot of Republicans who say Democrats are being hyperbolic about this. And when you look at some of these changes, they're relatively marginal or, you know, requiring more identification when you mail in your ballots it's not the same thing as voter suppression. Here is what Senator Pat Toomey had to say about that this weekend.


SEN. PAT TOOMEY (R-PA): You look at the Georgia's law, there's no voter suppression. Sunday voting is still allowed, there's an expansion of in-person voting, there's no requirement that you have a reason for a mail-in ballot. All you need is some verifications of ID and so does every Department of Transportation in America in order to drive, so does every airline if you're going to get on a plane. So this has been a false narrative entirely, Chuck, and I'm afraid it's all about trying to get rid of the filibuster. We're not going to be cowed by being called racist over a policy that has nothing to do with race.


MURRAY: And I think we're going to continue to hear this from a lot of Republicans. But I think the concern from Democrats and from voting rights advocates is that this is trying to fix a problem that didn't really present itself in the last election. It wasn't like there was widespread voter fraud. It wasn't like there was an issue of all of these people casting ballots, you know, under different names or casting ballots in the names of other people.

And when you dig in that Georgia law, there are other provisions that people look at and they say, this doesn't make any sense. You know, like when you're talking about not being able to provide food and water to voters in line. They say what is the reason for this other than to disenfranchise voters when they're going to polling places with long lines?

BROWN: And are any other states getting ready to follow in Georgia's footsteps, Sara?

MURRAY: You know, there are a number of states we've seen Republican lawmakers across the country in the wake of the big lie of the last election put forward new restrictions particularly on mail-in and absentee voting. Now if you look at Arizona, they're looking at shortening their early voting. They're looking at an ID requirement for mail-in ballots. If you go over to Florida, the governor there has been supportive of eliminating these ballot drop boxes all together.

And if you look at Texas, they have looked at, the state has looked at limiting counties' authority to expand their voting hours. So in some of these states, it's a little bit different. There's a little bit different flavor but a lot of these states especially in Republican- run legislatures are looking at some of these voter restrictions, Pam.

BROWN: All right, Sara Murray, bringing us the latest, thanks so much, Sara.

MURRAY: Thanks.

BROWN: And as a voting rights battle plays out nationwide, and immigration surge overwhelms federal resources and gun violence racks the nation, all of this as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and its devastating economic fallout continue. On Thursday President Biden explained his mindset about tackling these issues.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It's a matter of timing as you've all observed. Successful presidents better than me have been successful in large part because they know how to time what they are doing, order it. Decide in priorities what needs to be done.


BROWN: Let's bring in CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein.

Great to see you. Ron, his new book is "Rock Me on the Water: 1974, The Year Los Angeles Transformed Movies, Music, Television, and Politics."

All right, so, Ron, enlighten us, if you would. Break it down for us in terms of timing and priority. What is Biden's to-do list look like right now?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Yes, I think it's very clear, Pam. I mean, he has put out very strong statements on voting rights. He has put out very strong statements on gun control and he has promised to deal aggressively with the border. But if you look at where he is investing his time, where he is identifying as his priorities, it is shots in the arms, checks in the pocket, shovels in the ground.


It is bread and butter, tabletop economic issues. Obviously, the pandemic response, the economic recovery plan from the plan, and now it's coming this week a giant infrastructure plan that will include major initiatives on climate change. I mean, I think he is -- where he is focusing his time are on those kinds of very straight ahead, lunch bucket issues, and I think in many ways trying to move the cultural wars a little bit to the side.

BROWN: So why do you think he is focused so much on passing the infrastructure bill? Why is that so important to do right now given all these other important pressing issues?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, first, I mean, I think, you know, as he talks about timing, this is the time for a president to get big things done. I mean, it really is their first year when the biggest things often seemed to happen. I mean, LBJ got Medicare in 1966. But usually it's 2009 for the Obamas' stimulus, 2001 for the Bush tax cut, even the Trump's tax cut in 2017. That's when you do it.

But I also think, you know, at the core of their strategy I think is that they believe that if they make life materially better for some of those non-college and non-urban white voters who've become the absolute cornerstone of the Republican coalition, and they dial down the temperature on some of these cultural war issues that they can win some of them back.

You know, it is striking as we have seen over the last few weeks, there've been very little effort by Republicans to try to discredit or undermine the stimulus and the COVID response. They have been more focused on trying to shift the subject to immigration, to the border, to, you know, whether it was Dr. Seuss or Mr. Potato Head. And so they want to fight on that cultural terrain. I think he's making very clear he wants to fight in the bread-and-butter economic concerns of everyday Americans.

BROWN: You're right, the Republicans really want to focus on the border. It's notable that Biden still hasn't visited the border. What do you think about that? Is he reacting too slowly on this issue?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, look, I mean, they are putting in place a lot of policy in terms of trying to augment their ability to handles these unaccompanied minors. But I think it fits in what I've been saying to you. I mean, he does not want to light the fuse of going there personally, I think, you know, before he has -- before he puts forward these economic proposals that he ran on and that was, you know, at the cornerstone of his promise to the public.

I mean, he said, a big part of what he said he was going to try to do was to lower the temperature in Washington but also to rebuild the middle class. And, you know, it's going to be striking because all indications are that this big plan, he's putting out this week on building roads and bridges, 500,000 charging stations, all of the green initiatives, is only half of what's coming.

There is a whole other half that's coming that's kind of more human capital as opposed to kind of, you know, infrastructure capital, having to do with universal pre-K, universal free community college, expanded child care. So this has the potential in scale to be an utterly transformative presidency way beyond what Barack Obama was able to get through, far beyond what Bill Clinton was able to get through, if they can hold those 50 Democratic votes which they are probably going to need because they unlikely are going to get any Republicans on line for this.

BROWN: Just very quickly, 30 seconds. How would you describe what's going on across the country with these voting rights bills?

BROWNSTEIN: It is a crisis. I mean. look, this is the most sustained challenge to Americans' right to vote since the Voting Rights Act in 1965. It is rooted in the big lie. It is also rooted in a bigger phenomenon which is that the fear of demographic eclipse is eroding the commitment to small D, democracy, in the Republican Party, in the Republican coalition. And what we are seeing I think are Republicans laying down sandbags against a rising tide of demographic change that is threatening their hegemony in states like Georgia, Arizona and Texas where the youth population is predominantly non-white, and they are trying to make it harder for those new entrance of the electorate to vote before while they still have the power to do so.

BROWN: Based on the false premise about the last election, and I should call election reform bills.

Ron Brownstein, thank you so much. We'll be right back.



BROWN: Well, over in Boston a new doc -- I mean, dog is in town helping doctors communicate with COVID-19 patients stuck in isolation. His name is Dr. Spot.

CNN's Jeanne Moos explains.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Spot, please report to the ER, stat. That's what they get at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.


MOOS: With the computer tablet for a head, beaming the faces of E.R. doctor, able to interact with patients from a COVID safe distance. Not to mention --

TRAVERSO: Cameras that could then also sends vital signs like heart rate, respiratory rate, oxygen levels. MOOS: But they weren't so much testing the robotics, they were more

interested on whether patients would accept Dr. Spot. The Boston Dynamics robo-dog has been humanized through dance videos and even pulling Santa's sleigh in an earlier version. The last time we recall a doctor having a rob-dog, Dr. Who did things like play chess with him.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know it's my move, don't flash your eyes with me.

MOOS: Dr. Spot didn't flash his eyes at anyone. But would you want to see this? Charging at you when you're sick?

TRAVERSO: Well, I think that's exactly what we wanted to de-risk.

MOOS: MIT assistant professor Giovanni Traverso says the robo-dog was spot on with the 40 patients they stick them on.

TRAVERSO: The robot looks like a dog and, you know, I think dogs, too, are endearing to many and so actually the reception was very positive.

MOOS: Unlike at a previous press demo, Professor Traverso says there were no accidents in the E.R.

Some online posters imagine more diabolical messages that Dr. Spot might one day convey. Our records indicate that you've used all of your available lifetime health care dollars, goodbye. But at least Dr. Spot doesn't have a God complex. Finally a doctor without an ego.