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Fauci: Daily COVID Cases Have Plateaued at "Disturbingly High Level"; Some "Long-Hauler" COVID Patients See Symptoms Improve after Vaccination; AstraZeneca Vaccines Faces Further Setbacks in U.K. & E.U.; Gaetz Associate Likely to Strike Plea Deal with Government; Biden Signs Executive Orders on Gun Control; Manchin's Growing Power in Senate Could Impact Biden Agenda. Aired 1:30-2p ET

Aired April 8, 2021 - 13:30   ET




ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: The good news, the pace of vaccinations continues to increase. At this point, nearly 20 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.

But that's not the only important increase we are following at this point. Spread among younger people in the U.S. is helping to drive this plateau that we're at, roughly 60,000 new cases every day.

A majority of them coming in the Midwest and the northeast. So states that you see in orange and deep red, states like Minnesota, Michigan, New York, and New Jersey.

And that's all part of the national total, the number that Dr. Fauci is calling disturbingly high.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: Now it's plateaued at a disturbingly high level. The last count yesterday was 63,000 cases in a single day. When you're at that level, there's a risk of getting a surge back up.

So the way we're looking at it now, it's almost a race between getting people vaccinating and this surge that seems to want to increase.



HILL: And part of the concern with that surge, we're also seeing an increase in hospitalizations.

While new cases are being added every day, there are still people in this country who are living with long-term COVID symptoms, weeks, even months after having the virus.

Now, though, some of those long-haulers are seeing big improvements after they get vaccinated.

Senior medical correspondent, Elizabeth Cohen, is with us now.

This is fascinating to me, Elizabeth.

DR. ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Erica, it is so interesting, and even experts I've talked to were so surprised by this, that people who were getting vaccinated, who are long-haul COVID survivors, getting vaccinated.

Many of them, not all of them, but many of them, the study shows like 30 percent to 40 percent of them started to feel better.

Long-haulers, like Jessamyn Smyth. She had COVID a year ago, she hospitalized, she felt terrible for months, weak and achy, and all sorts of symptoMs.

Let's take a listen to what happened after she got her second shot.


JESSAMYN SMYTH, COVID "LONG-HAULER": When I got the second vaccine, within a matter of days, I really did feel at least within shouting distance of who I used to be. And it was so clear. And my body was really shouting with joy and relief.


COHEN: Now, there are two possible reasons why the vaccine might be helping people like Jessamyn. One is she might have reservoirs of the virus still in her all of those months later and the vaccine may help with that.

The other is that her immune system may be having a sort of, kind of wacky, for want of a better term, the wacky response to COVID, and the vaccine helped with that -- Erica?

HILL: It's amazing how much we're still learning, how much we've learned in a year, but how much we still have to learn.

Elizabeth, thank you as always.

Speaking of vaccines, AstraZeneca's vaccine is facing further setbacks in Europe. The U.K. says it's now going to offer other shots to people under 30 years old.

Remember, yesterday, the U.K.'s advisors recommending that if those under 30 could get a different shot, they should.

Regulators in the E.U. say there could be a link between the vaccine and rare blood clots.

So what does that mean for the vaccine distribution in Europe? Salma Abdelaziz is following this for us in London.

Salma, the E.U. says the benefits, in their view, outweigh the risks but they're still pointing these out. I would imagine that's a major concern in terms of vaccine hesitancy?

SALMA ABDELAZIZ, CNN LONDON REPORTER: Absolutely, Erica. Today, British health officials are trying to reassure the public. They're saying this is a good thing they were able to identify these very rare cases.

Four out of a million, that's how likely it is these very rare blood clots can occur.

The health secretary saying this shows the checks and balances. The regulatory bodies are functioning. They're doing their jobs.

But this is, of course, causing confusion, concern and, most of all, global repercussions. You have multiple countries now taking steps to limit the use of vaccines in certain age groups.

I'll run through a few major steps here that have happened.

Let's start with Australia, who now say they will have to recalibrate their vaccination program to only give vaccine to those over 50 years old.

Spain as well pivoting the strategy to give the vaccine to those over 60 years old.

Italy now providing a preferential route to the Oxford University and AstraZeneca vaccines to those over 60.

In Belgium, it is now paused for people 55 and under.

This just a few of the countries, Erica, taking steps.

This supply, this vaccine is crucial. Millions of doses have already been given out here in the U.K., across the E.U.

There's already issues with the vaccine rollout, and how quickly people are being immunized.

So as vaccine hesitancy goes up, as concerns go up, and you see all of this mixed messaging, what that could mean potentially is the pandemic gets prolonged here -- Erica?

HILL: Which is the last thing anyone wants to see.

Just real quickly, what are we hearing from AstraZeneca about this?

ABDELAZIZ: That's a very good question. What they will say to you is this is extremely, extremely, extremely rare, Erica. Again, out of 20 million, more than 20 million who got this vaccine, only 79 exhibited these symptoMs.

They feel like it's a drop in the bucket. This under 30 guidance, that is out of an abundance of caution.

They are still saying the vaccine is safe but what they are doing here is they're doing math. They're calculating.

They're calculating the risk-versus-benefit ratio, how likely is it as a young person to get COVID-19, to end up in hospital, versus how likely it is to get that blood clot.

When you do that math, for someone age 30, as an adult, the math says the clotting is a bigger risk. That's why they are doing this preferential treatment. Saying, if you're under 30, take a different vaccine.

But every country doing their own math right now. Taking a calculator, figuring it out, building these charts. And what it looks like is mixed messaging, Erica, and it does cause concern.


HILL: Yes, concern and confusion, as you point out so well.

Salma, thank you.

Just a programming note for you. As we look at what's happening here in the U.S., Senator Joe Manchin certainly getting a lot of attention these days. He's become one of the most powerful men in Washington, especially after a new op-ed.

From the filibuster to infrastructure, just how could he impact the Biden agenda? Well, why don't you tune into "THE SITUATION ROOM," at 5:00 p.m., and hear what he says when Wolf asks him directly. That's ahead at 5:00 p.m. Eastern.

Still to come this hour, more on the breaking news. Joel Greenberg's attorney says he is likely to strike a plea deal with prosecutors in the investigation of Congressman Matt Gaetz. What does it mean for the embattled Florida Congressman? That's next.



HILL: We have more on the breaking news out of Florida. The attorney for Joel Greenberg, a key figure if the investigation surrounding Congressman Matt Gaetz, says his client is likely to strike a plea deal with prosecutors.

CNN senior justice correspondent, Evan Perez, is joining me right now.

Evan, what more do we know about this possible plea deal?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erica, the attorney says that they're hoping to strike this plea deal in the next month by May 15th. If not, Joel Greenberg is going to go on trial.

And he's facing several charges that -- which include harassing a political opponent, sex trafficking, fake -- making fake I.D.s. There's a lot of allegations that he faces.

But really, one of the most interesting things about the development today is what potentially he can tell investigations about Matt Gaetz and about other political figures in Florida.

We know, according to our own reporting, that investigators are pursuing this -- the theory that Matt Gaetz, the congressman, was essentially the beneficiary of women, sex with women, and travel and other benefits, in exchange for doing legislative or political favors for a number of people.

And Greenberg is one of the people that he is associated with. And this is a sprawling investigation, we're told.

And so now the question is: What does Greenberg know? What can he point to and provide to the prosecutors that will help them in their case against Matt Gaetz, and against others?

Again, this is a huge development, the idea that this man, who was very, very close to Gaetz -- we have pictures of him standing in front of the White House, the two men together, their political associates and friends.

And he was, allegedly, involved in a lot of these parties, events where allegedly women were being paid for sex with the congressman and as well as other men.

I should note that Gaetz' spokesman has said, not only did he not pay for sex, he also did not have sex with a 17-year-old, which is one of the allegations that prosecutors are looking into -- Erica?

HILL: It is -- I mean, every time there's a -- it's quite an onion. I'll leave it at that. Every time, we learn more. We'll look for more developments.

Evan, thank you.

Still to come, a short time ago, President Biden signing a series of orders aimed at reducing gun violence in America. Critics say the efforts fall short of Candidate Biden's promises. We'll take a closer look.



HILL: Horrific scene in South Carolina yesterday. A gunman opening fire at a home in York County, leaving five dead, including two children. Officials say the suspect, former NFL player, Phillip Adams, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after a standoff with police.

This is just the latest in a string of dozens of mass shootings across the country in recent weeks.

With new gun control legislation once again stuck in the Senate, President Biden today announcing a series of executive actions. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Today, we're taking steps to confront not just the gun crisis but what is actually a public health crisis.

Nothing -- nothing that I'm about to recommend in any way impinges on the Second Amendment. They're phony arguments, suggesting that these are Second Amendment rights at stake for what we're talking about.

This is an epidemic, for god's sake. And it has to stop.


HILL: CNN's Phil Mattingly joining us live from the White House.

Phil, walk us through what we heard from President Biden today and what's really in these executive orders.

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, these are the first unilateral action the president has taken, something he promised on the campaign trial to do on day one.

It's an extensive list that the White House wanted to pursue. It's obviously taken several weeks.

And it's been spurred on by shootings that we saw in Atlanta and Boulder. And the president referencing what happened last night in South Carolina.

There are a series of executive actions, most of which will be coming out of the Justice Department.

One, the Justice Department will be working through a rule to stop the proliferation of so-called ghost guns. These are guns that come in parts, in kits, that can be put together and don't have a serial number. The Justice Department working on a rule regarding those ghost guns.

Also stabilizing braces, braces that can be utilized to kind of add stabilization and better aim pistols, something that we saw or allegedly saw in the Boulder, Colorado, shooting as well. The Justice Department working on a rule there.


Also directing more funds to areas prone to violence. This is something the president has the unilateral authority to do. He's asking agencies to do that.

Asking the Justice Department to draft kind of a model red flag law. We've seen these in several states around the country.

These won't actually implement this law. But the Justice Department wants to put something on the table that states can use as a reference point if they want to pursue laws like this. One other key element is that he announced he's going to nominate an

ATF director. David Chipman, long-time ATF agent, also a long-time gun control advocate.

The ATF hasn't had a permanent director, Erica, for several years, six years, in fact. It's always a tough sell to get an ATF director through Congress.

The president making very clear personnel is policy. This is somebody he wants atop the agency. And with Democrats in the majority, he believes he has a good shot.

HILL: I want to ask you about this op-ed from Democratic Senator Joe Manchin. As know, so much in the Senate, gun control, infrastructure, could hinge on his support.

He's said, once again, this time in writing, though, he is not for making changes to the filibuster. Really getting a lot of traction in terms of his comments today.

What are we hearing from the White House?

MATTINGLY: So, the White House isn't necessarily super concerned. I guess that would be the best way -- not smoothest way to frame how they're feeling about this.

But they also recognize, obviously, Joe Manchin is kind of the most powerful man in Washington right now. His position on the filibuster was not a shift.

The thing that raised red flags for some Democrats I've been speaking to is his position on budget reconciliation.

And while not to wander us down the procedural rabbit hole, that's essentially the mechanism that Democrats can use on the president's infrastructure proposal to pass it with a simple majority. It's what they used for the COVID relief law.

If Joe Manchin is not on board with that, then they need 10 Republicans to join the president on his push on infrastructure. Right now, no Republicans support where they are.

I think the reality is this. The White House knows this is going to be a lengthy process. They have been in regular contact with Senator Manchin. They plan to be in regular contact with both parties over the course of the next several weeks.

But this going to be a months-long process. And obviously, Joe Manchin will be at the center of everything the White House does -- Erica?

HILL: Yes, absolutely. And as he said in that op-ed, this is hard work and he wants to see the hard work done. He wants both parties coming to the table. We'll see if he can bring some Republicans with him to the table. Interesting to see where those conversations go.

Phil, appreciate it as always. We are just about 30 minutes away at this point from court resuming in

the Derek Chauvin trial.

It has been quite a morning. Critical testimony today from an expert, a doctor, a pulmonary expert, about George Floyd's last breaths, literally the last moments of his life. He even walked us through the last flicker of life that he saw in George Floyd's face.

Our special live coverage continues with Brooke Baldwin next.