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Interview With Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan (R-GA); CDC Eases Mask Restrictions For Fully Vaccinated Americans. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 15:00   ET



DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That will be the last thing to sort of loosen, because it's so effective and a rather easy thing to do.

So, this represents a significant change. And I think part of that change is to get to what you're describing, these types of events within the near future.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Kaitlan Collins, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you both.

Sanjay, thank you for all of your guidance and wisdom over the past year. It is a remarkable day to be able to share with you this moment.

GUPTA: You too. Thank you. You too.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, it's the top of the hour.

We are following major changes for millions of Americans vaccinated against the coronavirus. Starting today, right now, the CDC says that if you are fully vaccinated, you no longer have to wear your mask indoor or outdoors.

CAMEROTA: I don't know what to do with this, Victor. I don't know what to do anymore with this mask.

I mean, this is going to become a collector's item.

BLACKWELL: Well, here's the thing. That's the guidance from the CDC. I have not heard anything from Warner Media or CNN what I'm supposed to do with this mask now.


CAMEROTA: That's a huge buzzkill.

BLACKWELL: But that's the difference. That's what businesses and churches and schools now have to figure out.

We have heard the CDC. What are companies going to do? CAMEROTA: Am I getting a little ahead of myself? I think I may be.

BLACKWELL: I don't know, but I wouldn't throw it away yet.


CAMEROTA: OK. Thank you, because there's been this stunning policy shift. It was just announced in our last hour.

The new guidance says that fully vaccinated people also no longer need to stay six feet away from other people in most situations. And that's also a game-changer, Victor. I mean, think of all the people that we haven't hugged over the past year, all the people that you have had to keep an arm's distance.

I mean, it really changed our interactions even with our family members. And so, today, that changes.

And so here is CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky explaining the decision.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: So, several things have happened in the last two weeks.

In the last two weeks, the cases in this country have dropped by a third. In the last two weeks, we have had increasing available vaccine, and we now have available and eligible people between the ages of 12 and 15.

And we have had a coalescence of more science that has emerged just in the last week. The science has been in three areas. One is the effectiveness of vaccines in general in real-world populations. One is the effectiveness against -- excuse me -- against variants, which was just published last week, and then the effectiveness in preventing transmissibility.


CAMEROTA: OK, let's bring in CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, I know you have been listening to this with rapt attention, as we have. What a big day.


I mean, May 13, mark it down, the day we were all told that we could basically get rid of our masks, maybe not throw them away, maybe not burn them in a bonfire, because, who knows, things change. But right now, we can put them away maybe on the top shelf of our closet, if you are vaccinated.

Now, if you're going to get on a plane train, or auto -- or a plane or train or bus, you are supposed to wear them. But what a huge day, and kind of unexpected, I mean, we knew that this was coming, that something was coming soon. We didn't know it would be this soon. And we didn't know that it would be this big.

BLACKWELL: Yes, that is what surprised me, is that it was indoors as well. I expected that the announcement would be, outdoors, you don't have to wear the mask anymore.


BLACKWELL: But they said that there's specific science that supports this. Is this science that predates the last guidance two weeks ago, or it's science that it's happened, that we have learned of since or the CDC has learned since?

COHEN: So, we looked up those studies. Dr. Walensky mentioned three studies. And it appears that, of the three, two of them did come after the April 27 announcement, the last one, and one of them was from before.

I was talking to someone ,to a source of mine, a federal official, and said, look, is this change really because the science changed, or because there's been so much pressure? And this person laughed and said, we may never know.

And what I'm taking from that conversation is that it might have been a combo deal. It might be that really, just in the past couple of weeks, there were new studies coming out showing that, if you get the vaccine, and let's say you do have a breakthrough infection, which is quite rare, that you have -- don't have as much of a chance of spreading it, you don't have all that much virus in your nose, compared to people who aren't vaccinated.

So, those studies, some of those studies are indeed new. But there was also a lot of pressure, as I reported today, from within the CDC as well to make these changes.

So, I think what we're seeing is a combination of things. And I think we do have to give Dr. Walensky and others at the CDC credit. They kind of turned on a dime here, to some extent. I mean, they heard some of these complaints, and they did something about it.

CAMEROTA: That's a great point, Elizabeth, because they did prove that they can be more nimble than their critics have said they are.

COHEN: Right.

CAMEROTA: So, they heard that people were saying, this is too confusing, I still don't get it, and they pivoted, they adjusted.


COHEN: They did.

And, actually, it's interesting to use the word nimble, because one of these sources said to me, the CDC is not known for being nimble. They are scientists. They are serious.

Picture the smartest kid in your high school bio class. They're that kid. They're the kid who is always very precise, wants every I dotted and T crossed. And that doesn't mean -- that means not very nimble.

But, here, they did show they can be nimble when they need to be.

BLACKWELL: Is there any timeline on deciding if the requirement for planes, for trains, for airports can be lifted?

COHEN: No, there's no timeline.

And, as we have seen, the timelines kind of -- they're longer than we think, they're quicker than we think. So, who knows about that one?

I think it may take a little bit, because especially -- there's a huge difference between a five-minute bus ride in a city from point A to point B and a four-hour plane ride across the country.

And I think one of the things the CDC has probably learned is, you don't want to start making those specific differences. Well, if you're on a bus ride that's five to seven minutes, do this. If you're on a plane from Atlanta to New York, it's OK, but not New York to San Francisco.

They're not, hopefully, going to do that. So, I think it may take a while to make those changes.

CAMEROTA: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you very much for all of the reporting. Great to have you here.

BLACKWELL: All right, let's bring in more of our medical analysts.

We have got Dr. Jorge Rodriguez and Dr. Leana Wen.

So, you have heard some of the concerns we have had here, Dr. Rodriguez, about implementing this in schools, because we have been having conversations about what this -- moving forward, we talked about the camps and day camps for children. What schools do with this information, with this new guidance?

DR. JORGE RODRIGUEZ, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, again, let's reiterate that this guidance is for fully vaccinated people, fully vaccinated people.


RODRIGUEZ: So, at this point, starting just yesterday or a few days ago, children 12 and over can get vaccinated. So I would think that the same precautions that were in place or recommended before what was announced today is still going to be in place.

This is yet another reason for people to realize the importance of getting vaccinated. So, vaccinated adults or 12 and above, these are the recommendations. Anybody before that, so I think as it was before. So, I think schools and summer camps are going to have to continue following the same recommendations as before.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Wen, what were your thoughts when you heard Dr. Walensky say, if you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of this pandemic?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Well, I liked that part of what she had to say, because I do think that we need to send the very clear message that vaccination is your ticket back to pre-pandemic life.

But, frankly, I was shocked by this announcement. I think they went from one extreme to another. And the major step that's missing here is, how do we know that people are telling the truth?

We talked in the last hour about the honor code. I mean, if you're going to the grocery store, maybe you're fully vaccinated, you take off your mask at the grocery store. But who's going to be checking to see if others are also vaccinated?

So, what does that mean? If I'm bringing my son, my 4-year-old who is not fully vaccinated, now he's going to be in a grocery store potentially exposed to people who are not vaccinated who could be of danger to him.

And so I guess I am kind of befuddled as to where this guidance came from. I think there are a lot of steps that we're missing. I was expecting to hear something about outdoor mask guidance today. And, also, I was expected to hear if fully vaccinated people are around others who are known to be fully vaccinated, they can fully let down their guard.

I wasn't expected to hear, essentially, that indoor mask mandates can all go, because that's what the CDC is saying. They're saying, we don't need indoor masks mandates anymore. And I just don't think that we're there in this country.


CAMEROTA: If you're fully vaccinated. I mean, isn't that their caveat? I mean, isn't that their caveat, Dr. Wen? If you're fully vaccinated, indoor mask mandates can go.


WEN: But who's checking to see if you are? And I think that's the problem.


BLACKWELL: Go ahead, Dr. Rodriguez.

RODRIGUEZ: Yes. Yes. Yes.

If I may, I think you hit it right on, Dr. Wen, is like, in who do we know and how do we trust? So, therefore, I am a big proponent -- and this is not an invasion of privacy -- this is public health, as far as I'm concerned -- of people being able to prove that they're vaccinated.

And, again, there are limits to what they said, hospitals, medical settings, planes, trains, et cetera. Listen, I am going to quote that great medical guru buddy of mine, Joy Behar, who the other day said, even if you're vaccinated, all right, if you're in a crowd and you yourself do not feel comfortable because you don't know whether the people around you are vaccinated, until we get to a higher level, you have a level of comfort.

And if you want to wear a mask in a grocery store, even though you're vaccinated, go right ahead. There are limitations and there are personal issues that we all have got to confront right now.


But this is good news. This tells us that vaccinations are working, and that more -- the more vaccinations we get, probably, the more liberties that we can take without fear.



Dr. Wen, it is so funny to hear you say that. And I don't doubt -- I understand why you're saying it. But you are the person who was saying, the CDC needs to loosen some of the reins, this guidance is way too complicated, we have to reward fully vaccinated people. And now you're saying, whoa, pump the brakes, CDC.

WEN: Well, I'm saying we need to have the right incentive in place, because, otherwise, we're actually potentially making it worse.

If now we're saying you can do whatever you want, we're not going to check whether you're vaccinated, then what's in it for people to get vaccinated, as opposed to, going back to the point that Dr. Rodriguez was making, if we're saying we're now going to be checking for vaccination?

Then, as soon as you are vaccinated, you can take off the mask and no longer social distance. But if we're not checking for that, then people can do whatever they want. And then we really have a free-for- all, where individuals who were on the fence about getting vaccinated now say, well, I really don't understand what's in it for me.

And so I'm actually quite worried about this guidance. And I'm already getting so many messages from public health colleagues who are local officials across the country, saying -- one of them was -- said to me that it's like throwing darts at a board. That's how it feels. This guidance went from one extreme to the other.

And it's unclear how they, as local officials, are now going to be implementing it.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Rodriguez?

RODRIGUEZ: Yes, I think it's really important to realize that they're saying that, if you're vaccinated, if you're vaccinated, you now have such a low risk that you can take the mask off. They did not say that you can go anywhere and say you're vaccinated.

Listen, private companies, like you said, Time Warner, they can make their own rules. They're private companies. Health departments -- and they always said -- they also said that states, local governments supersede this. These are just guidelines.

There could be an uptick in Oregon or some other place tomorrow that will change this. Private businesses have a right to ask of the people that are going there whether they're wearing shoes, whether they're wearing shirts, or whether they're vaccinated, as far as I can see.


RODRIGUEZ: So, this is not a free-for-all that everybody -- and -- but I agree with Dr. Wen. It is going to be very tenuous.

I am getting lots of texts already, hey, can I go in without a mask, et cetera, et cetera? So, it's good, but it's -- we're still -- again, I hate I hate using this. We're still seeing how the sausage is being made. And we're going to be learning bit by bit.

BLACKWELL: I just remembered the videos at the start of this of people shouting at workers at grocery stores or getting in fights at the Walmart, saying, I'm not going to wear a mask, you can't force me to wear a mask.

And now we have heard from the CDC that people who are fully vaccinated do not have to indoors or outdoors. But if I am -- and I'm fully vaccinated. But it's just a scenario here. If I'm not getting vaccinated, never considered the vaccination, didn't like wearing a mask ever, I can now walk into a place and say, I'm vaccinated. CDC says that I don't have to wear one.

And I'm sitting in Georgia. In Florida, in states up and down the East Coast, in the South especially, there are executive orders that say that businesses, schools cannot require proof of vaccination.

So, if I'm a business owner, that's who I'm thinking of. I'm thinking of the superintendent. I'm thinking of the business owner. What do I do with this? How do I make the people who are vaccinated happy because they don't have to wear a mask anymore and they can sit in a crowded restaurant?

Some people miss it. And the people who never wanted a vaccine, how do I get them to wear a mask?

RODRIGUEZ: That is a great question. And that is -- a political answer for that one is required.


RODRIGUEZ: Health-wise, it's very simple. The people that are vaccinated are safe. The people that are not vaccinated, they're taking their lives into their own hands. And Dr. Walensky showed data that we have known, that you're at very low risk of contracting it from people that are -- that are not vaccinated. Great question. I think a political answer.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Wen, I mean, obviously, this is going to be about personal freedom, personal responsibility. People are going to have to take care of their own health and what their own comfort level is.

And that's all great, except where you guys come in. I mean, I'm all for personal freedom, except that the people who never wanted to follow the guidelines weren't thinking about you guys, and about you in emergency rooms, and how often you had to work and how hard this was for doctors and nurses.

So, I mean, I hear both of your concerns. I guess the point is, Dr. Wen, that we're just going to wait to see if cases spike now or if they hold steady.


WEN: Well, I worry about overall, but I also worry about individuals.

I mean, I have patients, for example, who are really nervous about going back into the workplace. The only thing that was making them feel better was if their workplace either had masks and distancing as a requirement or if everybody in their office also was vaccinated.

Think about sitting in a conference room with no ventilation with 20 people crowded around a conference table, and not knowing if other people around you are vaccinated or not. I was hoping that the CDC would say, in that kind of environment, you can go in, but everybody has to be vaccinated.

That kind of intermediate step is the ultimate incentive. That's the incentive to get people to get vaccinated, yes, to protect yourself, but also to ensure that others around you know that you have this proof of health and well-being too.

And so I just, again, am so worried about what's going to come next. Maybe as a country, maybe we don't have a spike. That would be great. But there are going to be individuals who were already pretty stressed out about going back to work or going into crowded settings, now I think they're going to be even more worried.

And if they have family members who are immunocompromised or young children who are unvaccinated, I worry and I feel for them too.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Rodriguez, Dr. Wen, thank you.

As you said, Dr. Rodriguez, some political answers that have to come for a lot of these businesses and municipalities, localities. Thanks so much.

CAMEROTA: Thanks so much, guys.

All right, and we will get to that right now, Victor, because lawmakers on the Hill are already reacting to the new CDC mask guidance, how they are responding to this historic day, this historic news.

We will be right back.



BLACKWELL: We are already seeing reaction to the updated CDC guidance in Congress.

GOP senators were seen celebrating maskless there on the Senate floor.

CAMEROTA: That's Iowa Senator Joni Ernst looking -- pointing to her face and showing everybody her face from the nose down. They have not seen it for a long time.

Then there were people -- there's Susan Collins. She's waving her mask in the air. She's thrilled, she appears, to be taking it off.

OK, let's bring in Lauren Fox now on Capitol Hill.

Lauren, we can see what the mood is there in the Senate. What else is happening with this big announcement?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a couple of moments ago, Senator Mitch McConnell, someone who has been wearing a mask from really the very early days of this pandemic, someone who has really been an advocate for wearing a mask up here in the Capitol, he was seen walking out of his office, walking out of the U.S. Capitol maskless.

And he said -- quote -- "Free at last" as he walked out of the Capitol. He was asked by my colleague Ted Barrett whether or not he was happy about this new mask guidance. He said yes.

We also saw Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, walking out. He was still wearing his mask.

We should note that, up here on Capitol Hill, because it's a crowded area, because there's a lot of people around, because there has been very specific guidance on what lawmakers should be doing when it comes to the pandemic and mask-wearing on the Senate and House floors, the view right now is that there may have to be some additional guidance up here from the Capitol physician as to whether or not the official guidance is going to be to ditch masks, especially in sort of these crowded scrums that we all get in as we're trying to ask members questions, as we're trying to get news of the day.

So I think there are some questions about whether or not there was going to be broad acceptance to get rid of the masks, how long it might take some people to get comfortable with that. But, obviously, we're going to be waiting for some official guidance.

I asked a spokesman for the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, whether or not there was any upcoming guidance, and they said, none is imminent at the moment. But, of course, we're going to keep you posted because this is relatively new information, obviously. Things are going to be adjusted up here on Capitol Hill, just like in communities across the country -- Alisyn and Victor.

CAMEROTA: Speaker Pelosi has been coordinating her masks and her outfits for -- all year. So that will be a big change, I would say, for her as well.

Lauren Fox, thank you very much.

OK, joining us now is the Republican lieutenant governor of Georgia, Geoff Duncan.

Lieutenant Governor, great to see you.

What's your reaction to the new CDC guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks, even indoors?

LT. GOV. GEOFF DUNCAN (R-GA): Well, it's certainly a great step in the right direction. And excited to see the data continuing to get better and better and improve, not only in Georgia, but all across the country.

And, certainly, there's going to continue to be micro-situations that have to be addressed and whatnot, but certainly a great step in the right direction. And I can't wait for this whole period of time to be in the rearview mirror, like millions of other Americans.

CAMEROTA: Yes, all of us feel that way.

But what does this mean for businesses, say, in Georgia? I mean, how are they going to know who is vaccinated, who isn't, how to conduct their business?

DUNCAN: Well, it's going to be up to each and every business to make those decisions.

I think, as I quickly saw the CDC guidance coming in, it leaves it in their hands to make good decisions, just like the previous interview was in Capitol Hill, making sure they understand any of the nuances.

But, at the end of the day, I'm a big fan of personal responsibility. We have got to see millions of Georgians and Americans, for that matter, that have put on great personal responsibility, with social distancing and their mask-wearing and sanitization.


Look, this is -- we will never get this number to zero. But, statistically, we want to drive it down as low as we possibly can.

CAMEROTA: What does this mean for schools, since, beyond personal responsibility, kids, can't get vaccinated yet under 12?

And I know that, just recently in Clayton County, I believe, they just, I think, this week -- this is according to the NBC affiliate there -- had to go virtual after a spike in cases.

DUNCAN: Well, I think it's, first and foremost, important to continue to keep your eyes on the data. I have got several kids in our public school system.

And our school system has done an amazing job of really watching and monitoring the data and communicating with parents and making sure that they have the scientists and the doctors involved in every decision.

Certainly, we will keep our eyes on it. My hope is that we can get to a spot where we won't need those masks, not because of anything out of convenience, but just because the data shows that the virus spread is nominal, and we can continue to move forward with getting those kids educated and in those classrooms.

CAMEROTA: Would you be willing to see vaccine passports to prove who's been vaccinated?

DUNCAN: Yes, to me, it goes back to the mask theory early on. I just felt like a mask mandate became a distraction. I personally wore a mask almost everywhere I went as often as I possibly could, because I thought it was safe for me and those around me.

And, certainly, I think that, with personal responsibility here in America, I just don't see the need for a passport to be put on display. And then you create all kinds of other narratives that really get us away from just making good decisions.

CAMEROTA: OK, let's move on.

I want to ask you about what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill. Some of -- there were Republican lawmakers who seemed to be completely rewriting reality in terms of what happened on January 6. Let me play for you a bit of a montage.


REP. ANDREW CLYDE (R-GA): There was no insurrection. And to call it an insurrection, in my opinion, is a bold-faced lie.

Watching the TV footage of those who entered the Capitol and walked through Statuary Hall showed people in an orderly fashion staying between the stanchions and ropes, taking videos and pictures. If you didn't know the TV footage was a video from January the 6th, you would actually think it was a normal tourist visit.

REP. JODY HICE (R-GA): It was Trump supporters who lost their lives that day, not Trump supporters who were taking the lives of others.


CAMEROTA: Lieutenant Governor, those two lawmakers are from your state of Georgia. What do you have to say to them about their take on January 6? DUNCAN: Well, the first time I actually saw that video was sitting on

my couch late last evening with the kids unwinding, saw it on social media.

And it just completely caught me off-guard that anybody would be that ignorant to reality. And I don't know what the reasons are behind somebody saying something like that. I don't know if they genuinely believe it, which is unfathomable, or if they're just trying to get a rise from the former president sitting down in Florida.

I have no idea, but there's no place for it. It's embarrassing that it's a Republican. It's embarrassing that they're from Georgia. But I'm one of those that think that situations like this actually accelerate us as a party into a better direction.

We should be talking about real situations, like a cyber-hack from Russian interests on one of our main arteries for fuel, and inflation rates that are much higher than predicted, and one of our best global partners being attacked almost minute by minute. Those are things Republicans need to be talking about, putting our leadership on display, not certainly rehashing the past.

CAMEROTA: I mean, you tweeted: "It's this type of blind ignorance that got our party into this mess to start with."

I mean, what other option is there? If they're -- if those two guys aren't just blindly ignorant, they don't care that 140 Capitol Police officers were injured?


To me, those events, those awful events, were a pivot point for this country, and equally a pivot point for this party. It is time to turn the page and move in a different direction that addresses real problems. And we have got an uphill battle. I certainly get that.

But I'm joining millions of other Americans looking forward to what we have talked about before, a GOP 2.0 mind-set, that absolutely paves a better pathway forward, that puts leadership on display for the rest of the country.

CAMEROTA: Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, thanks so much for being with us. Great to talk to you.

DUNCAN: Thanks, Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: All right, coming up--

BLACKWELL: Yes, the new--

CAMEROTA: Victor, tell us.


BLACKWELL: The new CDC guidelines for millions of vaccinated Americans. Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us to answer questions. I tweeted out, if you have a question, reply. And we will get some answers from Dr. Gupta.

Stay with us.