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Biden Pushes Mask Mandates as COVID Cases Rise; Michigan Ramps Up Vaccination as Infections, Hospitalizations Surge; Chauvin's Trial Resumes with MMA Trainer Who Saw Floyd's Death; Prosecutor Says Chauvin Knelt on George Floyd's Neck for 9 Minutes and 29 Seconds; Georgia's New Voting Law Prompts Calls for Boycotts. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired March 30, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off this week.

This morning, the nation is on the brink of normalcy or another surge. It's up to Americans, like us, to decide. COVID infections, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. are now on the rise and the White House is pleading with people, don't let your guard down yet.

President Biden urging states now to halt their reopening plans as well.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Governor, mayor and local leader to maintain and reinstate the mask mandate. Please this is not politics. Reinstate the mandate if you let it down.


SCIUTTO: And more people are about to be eligible to get a vaccine. This may include you. The president has announced that 90 percent of adults can get a shot within the next three weeks. That's remarkable timeline.

We are following all the news on coronavirus and of course this as well. Day two in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. The man charged in the death of George Floyd. Today more testimony after a dramatic first day of video and witness accounts. Some of it very moving.

We begin with Jeremy Diamond. He is at the White House on this new pledge by the president. I mean, we've seen, Jeremy, a rapid expansion, really, of the administration's goals here, right? The number of people to get vaccinated but also when it will happen. Tell us what this latest goal is.

JEREMY DIAMOND, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: No doubt. During President Biden's time in office we have watched as this vaccine timeline has been accelerated, in part due to the increases in supply from some of these vaccine makers and also because of the Biden's administration's efforts to increase the supply of vaccines going to pharmacies.

President Biden vowing that in the next three weeks, 90 percent of Americans will be eligible for that coronavirus vaccine. And also that 90 percent of Americans will be within five miles of those pharmacies. That's because the Biden administration is increasingly vaccination program from 17,000 pharmacies right now, planning to bring that up to 40,000 pharmacies.

Still, keeping his goal as well to have every American adult eligible for that coronavirus vaccine by May 1. And that is certainly proceeding apace right now. But at the same time what we are watching and what this White House is watching very, very closely is the rise of these variants and increases in cases in several key states. Nationally, the daily average of cases has been rising over the last week.

And there is a White House that -- this is a White House that is very concerned. Even as they are increasing the pace of vaccinations, concerned that the rise of these variants and the rise of cases in this country might be going more quickly than the pace at which they are vaccinating these Americans.

And that is why today you will hear the White House on the call, on the phone call with governors from across the country reiterating what we heard from President Biden yesterday, which is, if you've taken off your mask mandate, please reinstate that. And also begin to think about reimposing other restrictions that you may have taken off like those restrictions on indoor dining, for example, which we've seen fall by the wayside in several states, including New York, where you're seeing some of the rise in cases here.

So I'm told that the White House will reiterate that message from the president yesterday and that Dr. Walensky will be on that call. And she will reiterate what we heard from her yesterday which was her real urgent warning about the situation across the country -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, a sense of impending doom almost coming from her. Jeremy Diamond at the White House, thanks very much.

Well, the state of Michigan is racing to get its residents vaccinated as that state battles really a big surge in new coronavirus infections and crucially hospitalizations. Nearly four million vaccine doses have now been administered in the state, but cases are spiking, particularly among 10 to 19-year-olds. The age group least likely to be vaccinated.

CNN's Miguel Marquez joins us now.

Miguel, what are they pointing to for this surge in cases? Is it the kind of thing we've been talking about, right, the lifting of these restrictions but also people just feeling, hey, you know, we're on the other side of this? MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a mix of

things, Jim. You know, as vaccinations go up, infections are going up and people's guards are going down and that's sort of the big picture reason why. The economy is opening here. There's more social gatherings. There's lots of team sports going on. They're trying to test more, but testing has come down as well. So it's harder to get a fix on where those outbreaks are and how to deal with them.

You know, more than anything, hospitalizations really tell the story of where this is. And while it's growing, the number of infections is growing between 10 and 19-year-olds and 20 and 29-year-olds, if you look at a chart that a health organization here in Michigan put together, 30 to 39-year-olds, just in the month of March, their hospitalizations have gone up 633 percent. 40 to 49 age group, 800 percent up in hospitalizations.

You should see on that chart there's a little break point about 50 years old where people start to get vaccinated. You see the vaccinations go up and those hospitalizations fall way down. Just anecdotally, getting here from New York to Michigan, you know, I've been traveling consistently throughout the year, seeing the number of people in the airports, on airplanes, in restaurants, on the streets, in public areas, social distancing has gone away in large part, at least from what I'm seeing on the streets here.


And mask wearing. Some people do it, some people don't. It's become much more common to see people without masks on the street or in public places as well -- Jim.

SCIUTTO: Yes, I'm seeing the same thing. I'm sure many folks watching now as well.

Miguel Marquez, thanks very much.

Well, Alabama's governor is moving ahead with her plan to end that state's mask mandate next week despite the president's (INAUDIBLE). President Biden has asked governors to keep the mandates in place or reinstitute those that have already been lifted. But Governor Kay Ivey says it was time to make wearing a mask a matter of personal responsibility rather than a government mandate.

At least a dozen governors have now weakened COVID-19 restrictions, citing lowered numbers of infections and the progress in vaccination.

Joining me now, Dr. William Schaffner, he's professor in the Division of Infectious Disease at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Doctor, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: So in covering this pandemic over the last year, I have heard a lot of doctors, epidemiologists and government officials speak sometimes in dire terms, but I haven't heard the sense of alarm in some time that we heard from Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the CDC director, describing where we are now. I want to play that and get your sense of things. Have a listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I'm going to reflect on the recurring feeling I have of impending doom. We have so much to look forward to, so much promise and potential of where we are, and so much reason for hope, but right now I'm scared.


SCIUTTO: Are you scared as well when you look at the numbers that you're seeing?

SCHAFFNER: Jim, I'm really worried because we're in a race. We're trying to vaccinate more and more people, but the folks are out there taking off their masks, avoiding social distancing, getting together in groups, going to bars, and those are exactly the environments in which this virus is spreading. So we have these new variants that are more contagious than ever, and we're in a race trying to vaccinate. And it looks, in Michigan and in other places, cases are going up and behind them come hospitalizations.

And the interesting thing is, hospitalizations of young adults are going up. There's a notion out there that these young adults are somehow immune, were not going to get affected. But hospitalizations of those folks in those age groups are going up.

SCIUTTO: That's noticeable. Notable. I wonder if you could explain the science here because the other issue is that the more people spread this around, the more opportunity the virus has to mutate to create other more transmissible forms, right, or ones that may have less efficacy from the current vaccines. Can you explain that to folks so they know this is not just about avoiding a hospital, which is a big deal, but it's also about not helping the virus in effect?

SCHAFFNER: Sure. Let's just walk through it very quickly. Viruses mutate when they multiply. And they multiply when they get transmitted to other people and, obviously, reproduce themselves. And so the more the virus spreads, the more it multiplies, and the more opportunities there for these variants to occur through random mutation. So what we want to do is diminish the amount of reproduction of the virus. You want to diminish the spread. The less spread there is, the fewer chances that further variants will occur now.

SCIUTTO: It's such an important point. In effect you're helping, right, by taking the small step, you know, masks, et cetera, you're helping keep this thing, you know, under control from getting stronger. I do want to talk about the good news here because there is some good news. When you hear those figures, I mean, we're talking about an exponential growth really in vaccination opportunities.

For instance, private pharmacies who are going to be able to vaccinate now from 17,000 to 40,000. And now the president is setting this goal of three weeks from 90 percent of adults in the country. I mean, that's amazing in a country of 330 million people.

Does that give you hope, right? That the progress we're seeing in vaccinations?

SCHAFFNER: Jim, there isn't any doubt that the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter all the time. Yes, we're pushing the vaccine out closer to the people, making it easier for them to get vaccinated. These are locations that are familiar to them. They're close to their homes. They're comfortable going to their pharmacist and they can get vaccinated. That's very good.

I don't want to be a Cassandra here but I'm a little worried about something else. The early acceptors, the people who are eager, they're out there wanting the vaccine. But in parts of my state, some health departments already have vaccine that's not going used. It's not going into arms. And so there are still a lot of hesitant people out there who we have to embrace, listen to them, answer their questions and give them comfort that this is a good thing to do to come forward, protect themselves, their family members and their entire communities.


SCIUTTO: To get to this herd immunity, right, which is so important, that will be a combination of people who are vaccinated but also people who were already exposed and now have some measure of immunity. There are a lot of estimates out there as to how close we are to that. And I wonder where you stand. You know, over 50 percent? I mean, and again, I know these aren't exact numbers, but how close are we today to reaching that crucial point?

SCHAFFNER: Well, Jim, what we're trying to do is get to over 80 percent of the adults in this country protected. Whether through natural infection or vaccination. My back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests we're around 50-plus percent in some populations we're higher than that. But there's still a lot of pockets of people out there who are substantially under vaccinated. We need to get them in and have them roll up their sleeves.

SCIUTTO: Yes, that's an important point, too. Regional disparity right there that you might have herd immunity in some places, not elsewhere. At least be closer to it.

Dr. William Schaffner, always good to have you on.

SCHAFFNER: My pleasure.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, the trial of the former officer charged in the death of George Floyd enters its second day just about an hour from now. What to expect. And really compelling testimony and key takeaways from the first day in court. You'll want to hear about it. That's next.

Plus news, challenges to Georgia's new voting restrictions as calls to boycott some of the state's largest businesses grow. And the World Health Organization releases its report on the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic. This hour, it's controversial. Lots of questions about it. We're going to have a live report on the findings just ahead.



SCIUTTO: Just in the next hour, the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin resumes. Soon, a witness to George Floyd's death, who is also trained in martial arts, familiar as a result with choke-holds retakes the stand.

His testimony was remarkable yesterday. But it was the numbers, 9:29, that left a truly resounding impact on the future of this trial. Nine minutes, 29 seconds, the actual length of time a knee was on Mr. Floyd's neck, not 8 minutes, 46, already alarming, 9 minutes, 29 seconds. CNN's Omar Jimenez is in Minneapolis following the trial. And you know, Omar, that figure has stood out for so long. Already an eternity, right? Eight minutes, 46 seconds. But now we learn it's even longer. Well, what's the impact there?

OMAR JIMENEZ, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the impact, you have to ask the jury who, when this video was played, the prosecutors and I think, they did it on purpose, played the video out in its entirety --


JIMENEZ: To drive home that point. That 8:46 was long, but 9:29 is that much longer. And the more critical portions of opening statements was that we finally got a clear picture as to what each side was going to argue, either in favor of or against Derek Chauvin.

I mean, for the prosecutors in general, he said the most important numbers were 9:29, he did not let up, he did not get up. That was a phrase that was repeated multiple times. But the defense highlighted what will be a central fight in this. And that comes down to what was the actual cause of death for George Floyd which the defense says is because of the methamphetamine and fentanyl in his system. All the while, George Floyd's brother, Philonise, sat in the courtroom and watched all of these proceedings unfold.


PHILONISE FLOYD, BROTHER OF GEORGE FLOYD: I've seen them. I watched them. I watched the reaction when the witnesses were responding to questions that they were asked. Pretty much he's in there, he's fighting for his life. Just like I'm fighting for my brother's life. We've seen the video. We have facts. They're in there trying to assassinate his character. When you don't have facts, that's what you have to do.


JIMENEZ: Now, we also heard testimony from three witnesses. The first witness called was a Minneapolis 911 operator, is one. The second is an eyewitness who took video at the scene and the third, a man who is standing feet away from Floyd in May of 2020.

Now, the 911 operator Jena Scurry who was involved in dispatching officers to that Cup Foods in May of 2020, watched what was happening play out in real-time from a surveillance video and testified that something felt wrong. So much to the point that she alerted a higher up, a sergeant, saying she didn't want to be a snitch, but she felt like she needed to tell someone about what was going on.

She even felt that the video froze at one point just because of how prolonged this interaction actually was. Now, court ended Monday in the middle of testimony from the third witness called Donald Williams; a mixed martial arts expert who testified to what he saw as a blood- choke that Chauvin was employing on the neck of Floyd, and testified why he believes that was happening.

That's where we're going to pick up testimony today, later this morning, once that gets going again. But I should also mention the defense has argued all along that Chauvin was following procedure, that he had been trained to do.


So, obviously, that will be a central point as we move forward. Court gets back going in about 30 minutes, once they get through some procedural motions in the beginning, we'll get back into that testimony. And we'll move forward in what is really the culmination of what has been ten months of build-up since George Floyd's death. Jim?

SCIUTTO: We'll be asking former police later whether that is the kind of thing police are trained to do. Omar Jimenez, thanks very much.


SCIUTTO: I'm joined now by legal experts, Laura Coates and Elliot Williams, good to have you both on this morning. Laura, I wonder if I could begin with you, of course, second day of the trial coming up here. You know, watching the prosecution play out that video, it reminded me somewhat of the impeachment case, right, where they -- where they relied so much on showing what happened.

Just play the tape, and now we learned it's 9 minutes, 29 seconds, not 8:46. So long that the 911 dispatcher, she thought as Omar said that the image had frozen. You've worked with juries before. Tell us how impactful that kind of evidence is, in your experience, Laura?

LAURA COATES, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: It's so impactful to set the scene appropriately. This is essentially the case. This is the one time that many prosecutors will ever have in their entire careers to have so many eyes on the actual crime scene.

Normally, you have eyewitnesses who were relaying it, but now you have a video, you have even a longer video than the general public has seen, the entire globe. And, remember, the voir dire process here. Some of these jurors, Jim, never actually saw the entire video or even saw it once before. They had maybe -- willing to watch it, of course, at the trial. And so, for some of those jurors, this was as jarring and as visceral as it was for many people across the globe who saw it for the first time --


COATES: Last May. And so, setting the stage appropriately, laying out the road map -- this is -- this witness, this video is the star witness, and everyone needs to rely on it, every juror will compare what they believe is coming into the testimony to it. Their own eyes are now part of the trial.

SCIUTTO: Elliot Williams, the defense strategy is in part or even principally, to try to attack the character to some degree of George Floyd. Talk about drug use, previous arrests, et cetera. That's not unusual. We've seen that before in other cases like this. Tell us what you think of that approach.

ELLIOT WILLIAMS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Right, look, as Laura had said, this cause of death question is going to be a central one. It's a central one in any homicide case because you have to prove that one person ended the life of another person. The problem is that because one of the things in his system was fentanyl, when the defense brings that up implicitly --


WILLIAMS: They are making questions and calling into question his drug abuse. And the judge will have to instruct the jury, you are not putting this defendant on trial. You are merely seeking to assess this question of how he died. What the defense ultimately -- and any trial seeks to do isn't to disprove every single fact that the prosecution puts forward, but merely to cast doubt on the prosecution's case. And part of that is through attacking the character of witnesses or friends with a 911 dispatcher --


WILLIAMS: What they said -- what -- some of the questions they asked her were, well, you're not an expert in law enforcement, are you? Making the point that she wasn't a credible person to assess law enforcement's behavior. Another thing was -- that they pointed out was, well, look, there's 50,000 pieces of evidence that have been submitted for consideration here. All you're seeing is just one of them in the video. Well, that's a pretty compelling piece of evidence. Like --


WILLIAMS: So, yes, the fact that there are 50,000, you know, maybe it puts doubt in one juror's mind. But at the end of the day, that's a pretty darn compelling piece of evidence, and just like Laura had said a moment ago, just like you'd said, Jim --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WILLIAMS: People watch that. It's gripping. It's powerful. It's human. And it's just hard to overlook. SCIUTTO: Laura, there are two points about the drug use. One, there's

a character attack element of that. But on the legal question here, you don't -- my understanding, correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding is, it doesn't have to be just one cause of death. Is that correct? I mean, the knee on the neck -- it doesn't --

COATES: Yes --

SCIUTTO: In other words, it doesn't have to be just one thing that in effect ended his life, right? You just -- is the burden --

COATES: Correct --

SCIUTTO: On the prosecution just to prove that the knee on the neck contributed or was one of the factors as opposed to the only factor?

COATES: Correct. So --


COATES: In Minnesota, to prove the elements of this crime, you have to show that the cause of death was the kneeling. That translates in jury insurrections to a substantial causal factor. Meaning, it does not need to be the sole cause. Think of it this way. If somebody, God forbid, if somebody is shot through the heart and it's later turned out that they had terminal cancer, is someone going to realistically say, oh, I guess it probably is a way to relieve the defendant --


COATES: Of liability because there was another cause of death that could have led to the person's ultimate demise. In this instance, it's about what happened in this moment in time. When you open up a body in an autopsy, and forgive me for being quite blunt about it as a prosecutor, you're going to find all sorts of things that could be wrong with the human conditions, organs and the like.



COATES: The question for these prosecutors and the jurors will be, what caused his death at that particular moment in time? Everything else that could be found out after the fact, toxicology reports, drugs in his system, the idea of any other issues with his heart or anything else, COVID, whatever it might be, unless they can show that, that was a substantial causal factor and the kneeling was not, they do not have a leg to stand on.

SCIUTTO: OK. Elliot Williams, before we go, one of the witnesses today, we saw yesterday, Donald Williams, who is really a remarkable witness, in that, he was an eyewitness. He saw it. But he has particular experience here. He's a mixed martial arts fighter, an MMA fighter, with experience with choke-holds. And tell us how impactful that will be because he's described what he saw there as a deliberate choke-hold, you know, designed to, well, you know, at least knock someone out. Tell us the impact of his testimony.

WILLIAMS: So, it's two things that's kind of against each other. Number one, credibility is critical in trials. It's a key thing that the judge want to instruct them on that. You know, you have to believe a witness. And do you believe this witness? And this is a real human being. A person who connected with jurors, connected with prosecutors and defense attorneys and just seemed credible. So, number one, his having that background gives people a reason to believe him.

It's something to be careful of, though, because he can't come off as if he is testifying like as an expert --

SCIUTTO: Right --

WILLIAMS: That he's being -- that he's called in to testify on account of his -- just his opinions, not what he saw. That's impermissible. And in fact, he made one statement about, well, you know, Chauvin was shimmying in for the kill, that actually got struck. That the defense objected to and prosecutors struck. So, you know, it's powerful testimony. He's a powerful --


WILLIAMS: Witness and you know, we'll look forward to seeing more from him today.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's an important point. He remains an eyewitness, not an expert witness which is a different category --


SCIUTTO: Laura Coates, Elliot Williams, thanks so much to both of you. I know we're going to have a lot more questions for you in the coming days and weeks. Well, there are fresh challenges this morning to Georgia's newly passed voting law. Critics are calling for a boycott of some of the state's biggest businesses as a result.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street, futures are mixed this morning, with Dow futures in positive territory after yesterday's close at yet one more record high -- actually, Dow futures down just a slice there. This comes despite market concerns over the collapse of a little known hedge fund.

Major global banks are warning of significant losses linked to that fund's implosion. There's a lot going on today in the market, we're going to keep on top of it.