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CDC Says Vaccinated People Can End Mask Use, Social Distancing; Biden to Address COVID Response, New CDC Mask Guidance; "Race for The Vaccine" Premieres Saturday. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired May 13, 2021 - 15:30   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: OK, in just the last hour the CDC announced major new guidance for the millions of fully vaccinated Americans. Starting today if you are fully vaccinated you can ditch your mask and your social distance both indoors and outdoors in most situations. But of course, Victor, there are still a lot of questions about these changes.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Yes, there are a lot of questions. CNN chief medical correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now. And Sanjay, I asked viewers, I put on Twitter, please reply with your questions about this change, and I want to go to the one think is the most important first.

Can fully vaccinated people still be carriers for the virus, i.e., catch it from an infected person and then infect somebody else without getting sick themselves?


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, so this is the critical question and maybe the newest emerging science. In fact one of the papers that Dr. Walensky was talking about came out just at the end of March and then there's been a couple of papers since then emphasizing this point. And here's the answer.

Even if you have been vaccinated it's possible that you could have what is known as a breakthrough infection. It seems pretty rare although it's hard to know because a lot of who've been vaccinated don't subsequently get tested. But you could a breakthrough infection. But what these new papers show is that infection that you would develop having been vaccinated would be very unlikely to grow enough within your body to achieve a high enough load that you would then spread to somebody else.

I just want to make sure I am explaining that well. You can still become infected but then the idea that you would -- the virus would grow enough in your body that you could then spread it to somebody else is very, very low. That was one of the points that Dr. Walensky made, it reflects a couple of papers that have come out over the last month or so.

And I think it's the crucial point. Because that was it. We're saying, hey look, you are still vaccinated, you still need to wear a mask because you could still unwittingly spread it to somebody else, that seems very, very unlikely now given this emerging science.

CAMEROTA: That was a huge question and I've never known how to answer it until just now. So thank you for that answer.

OK, here's the next viewer question. For those -- what does this mean for those who are refusing to get vaccinated and wear masks, could they raise infection rates?

GUPTA: Yes, I mean so this the blurry part of all this, frankly for me, is that unless you are showing -- asking for some sort of proof of vaccination, it is quite possible that people who are unvaccinated would not wear masks and basically slow down how quickly we can, you know, curb the pandemic. I mean the pandemic is going down.

The real question is if you have a lot of people who are unvaccinated and now are not going to abide by these mitigation measures -- because remember all these things we are talking about are for vaccinated people. If you are not vaccinated and not wearing a mask, this pandemic could continue to sort of stagnate at a high level of viral spread. Instead of continuing to come down. That's the concern. So are organizations going to require some proof of vaccination?

You know there's all sorts of technology companies that are looking at apps that you could quickly show, kind of like a TSA line, you could get through more quickly, prove that you don't need to wear a mask. I don't know. I mean I think this is sort of the sticky part that we're going to have to figure out, or that institutions are going to have to figure out during this transition time.

BLACKWELL: Here's another question. I work in an office of about ten people and only three are vaccinated with little to no mask wearing, I am vaccinated, should I continue to wear a mask?

GUPTA: Another great question, and you know again, I think offices are going to have to address this concern for your employees, as you both have sort of stated. I mean, you know, are you going to have to have some proof of a vaccination and if you don't will you have to continue to wear a mask?

For the person who's asking the question, just to answer their situation directly. They should know that they are very well protected against becoming ill, against becoming infected and potentially infecting somebody else. So the vaccinated person is in a really good position.

What the real issue is, is for unvaccinated people potentially spreading it to another unvaccinated person within the office. So the person that's asking the question is probably the least likely to need to wear a mask. But the question here she is asking is about the other people around them, and again that's really going to be up to these individual institutions. CAMEROTA: OK, here's a burning question for parents, Sanjay. What about summer camps? Staff and older kids could be vaccinated or will be, but younger ones won't.

GUPTA: Yes, I think that it's the same sort of thing here, same sort of way of thinking about this. The guidance that came out today was really for vaccinated people. That's what it says, outdoors I will add one caveat, outdoors, I think whether you are vaccinated or unvaccinated, what has now become clear is that the virus does not spread well outdoors.

So I don't know that anybody really needs to wear a mask outdoors unless they're in a very closely cluster situation talking right in someone else's face. There really hasn't been documented cases of significant outdoor transmission. But a summer camp you're both outdoors and indoors. So if you are an unvaccinated person while indoors at that summer camp, you probably still need to wear a mask.

BLACKWELL: All right, we're expecting to hear from President Biden in just a few minutes. This was announced really at the start of the show, Alisyn, that we are going to hear from the president.

And what, Sanjay, if I could put this to you, what are you hoping to hear from the president with all the questions over the last two hours, what do you want to hear from him?

GUPTA: I think, you know, some of the same questions that your viewers are asking are the real questions.


I mean this is a recommendation that is made by a national health organization, the CDC. It has to be translated now to peoples' real lives. There are people out there who think this is way too -- still cautious, other people who think this is frankly a little reckless, you know, in terms of what is happening here.

The science, I think, is pretty clear. I think the president and others frankly not need to be talking about is the implementation, what does this mean for businesses, for restaurants, for grocery stores, for movie theaters, for schools, ultimately for travel, plane travel, bus travel, all that sort of stuff. What's it really going to mean? And also, you know, there are such things as vaccine passports. I mean people who've travelled internationally know that they may have to show a yellow card for example -- yellow fever card in certain countries.

Are we going to become a place that requires vaccine passports or proof of vaccination in some way at least for the foreseeable future until we get through this? I think those are the implementation questions, I think is what he's probably going to get asked about.

BLACKWELL: Sanjay, just yesterday the president was out talking about the vaccine campaign and he reiterated the goal of having 70 percent of adults getting their first shot by July Fourth. Today that's at 58.7 percent, and do you think this announcement this shift from the CDC makes that any more or less likely that the country will hit 70 percent over the next few weeks?

GUPTA: I think it could make it more likely. I think that there's, you know, probably 20, 25 percent of the country maybe that it won't make a difference for, but to get to that 70 percent number possibly, because it does opens up doors for vaccinated people to do things that maybe they could not have done otherwise.

But I think it does get down to this implementation, because if the message ends up being, hey look, just basically everything is open for business again, doesn't matter, you don't have to show proof of vaccination. I wasn't going to get vaccinated. I don't like to wear a mask. I'm just going to live my life normal again, that's not achieving the goal. So how are you implementing both things actually, incentivize people to get vaccinated. And also, make sure that you can hit goals like that and give people a reason to do it.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, I don't know if you heard Dr. Leana Wen a few minutes ago on our air, but she was basically experiencing whiplash. You know, she had thought that the CDC was being too cautious in their guideline and she thought that they should loosen up.

And then she thought that they swung too far and were being too lenient and part of it is because she has little kids. She has little kids, and so she wants her kids protected. And this next viewer is asking the same thing, does my 6-year-old son still need to wear a mask at the playground? What about kids under 12? What should they be doing?

GUPTA: Well, yes, it's tough. And Leana and I have certainly talked about this quite a bit over the year. I think there's two things. I mean if that playground is outside, I know this is jarring to hear, but you know I just -- and it's jarring for me to even you know look at the science and sort of reflect on the fact that we have been through this really traumatic year.

But one thing that has become clear and we didn't know for certain up until recently was that this virus does not transmit well outdoors. In fact, I am not sure that there are really clear convincing cases of outdoor transmission at all. Maybe a few. You know so it doesn't -- so if it's an outdoor playground I don't think so.

But for unvaccinated people indoors, you know, they still need to wear a mask. I mean six years old, so under the age of two, no, but two years old and older until they are vaccinated, in indoor locations, they probably still need to wear a mask.

BLACKWELL: All right Sanjay, thank you very much for answering those questions. We are standing by for the president. He is expected to make remarks on the administration's response to the pandemic and the ongoing vaccination campaign in just a few minutes. Stay with us. We'll bring it to you live.


[15:45:00] CAMEROTA: OK, we are awaiting President Biden to come out to the Rose Garden and speak about the country's COVID-19 response. Because in just the past hour we heard these new CDC revised guidelines for vaccinated Americans.

So let's talk about what we expect to hear from President Biden who we're told was as surprised by these updated guidelines as we were. Let's bring in CNN chief White House correspondent, Kaitlan Collins. She is at the White House. OK, so tell us what you expect the president to say?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think he's going to come out and tout this. Because this is a huge milestone for the pandemic response. It may not have been one that the White House necessarily saw coming several days in advance as we talked about. They are kind of feeling like the CDC was the one making this determination and saying, yes, we are going to come out now and issue this new guidance.

But it's a massive milestone for where we are in the pandemic. And so I think we can expect President Biden to come out and reflect that and really try use this as an incentive to get people vaccinated. Because I do still think that is obviously very much the priority of the White House. They are looking at the numbers of Americans who still have not gotten that shot yet.

And they have really taken this approach where they don't even want to refer to those person as vaccine hesitant. They are so optimistic that they are just hoping their people who haven't actually gotten the vaccine yet. So I think that he is going to use this as a tool to pitch for why people should get vaccinated, obviously as you also saw the federal health officials do earlier.

And we should also note, you know, this even comes down to the details that people will be watching to see the president observing this guidance.


Because we've already seen a few other officials doing that, the first lady was doing so when she was seen in West Virginia I believe earlier. She took her mask off when she was getting off the plane. And you've seen that the White House staffers are now no longer wearing the mask when they are walking around the hallways, walking around the grounds. That was not the case as of just this morning.

But an email has now gone out saying, if you're fully vaccinated you don't have to wear a mask while you are here at work. And that's the same for the reporters who are there at the White House. Typically we have been wearing our masks while we were walking around and whatnot.

So you're already seeing these changes under way here in Washington. And I think President Biden is going to talk about how he wants that to look, not just in Washington of course, but for the nation and what this really means for their pandemic response. BLACKWELL: You know, the president, Kaitlan, just yesterday was

talking about the campaign to get people vaccinated and he's continued since setting this goal of getting 70 percent of adults vaccinated by July Fourth. He's continued to paint this vignette of being with your family and backyards for the 4th of July if you get vaccinated. And this new rule could we expect could be part of the pitch to now -- or the guidance I should say -- to get people to continue on that line, to try to get people vaccinated.

COLLINS: Yes, because I think that we're kind of where the president said we would be for that July Fourth. He wanted people to be able have small, outdoor gatherings, but if you're fully vaccinated, they're saying you can go ahead and do that, based on this new guidance coming from the CDC. Obviously, it's saying not just outdoors. You can go to any size of event indoors with no mask as well.

And so the question really has been how the White House has modeled this. And how President Biden has modelled this. Because remember just yesterday when he was meeting with those Congressional leaders in the Oval Office, you saw them all wearing a mask including Senator Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy, but also Senator Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well.

All wearing a mask in the Oval Office. And the White House was kind of asked why are they still doing that, given we know they're all vaccinated, don't you want them to set an example for people who haven't gotten it yet to see that?

And so I think you'll start to see that in actual actions here today because he was just meeting with some Republican Senators in the Oval Office. They later told us they did take their masks off now that this new guidance from the CDC is out there.

CAMEROTA: That is funny to think about that moment, when they, even in the Oval Office, you know, heard about the guidance and, you know, took off their masks immediately. But tell us about that meeting, the substance of it on infrastructure. Did they make any progress?

COLLINS: Well, Shelly Moore Capito, she is the Republican Senator who has put forward that alternative to President Biden's infrastructure proposal. That's the $2.3 trillion nearly proposal that he's put forward.

She is counteroffering with about $568 billion, and she said that she feels like it was good progress. She said she thought it was more than just a courteous give or take kind of situation. She said they actually were talking through the substance of what both sides wanted, and what they ultimately want this to look like. So she said where they left it was President Biden wants them to rework their offer and come back to him so he can respond to that. So I believe that that is what is going to be the next step here.

But the White House we should remind people it's looking to move quickly here. They want progress on this they said by Memorial Day. That's next weekend or two weeks after that. And they said that, you know, Democrats still do have this goal of getting a bill actually passed this summer. You know whether that actually happens it still remains to be seen.

But it's notable that you're having Republicans come out of here and feel optimistic about where they went in that conversation with the president, and I think obviously, ultimately what we saw yesterday is they're still really divided on the scope and how to pay for it. So where they get on that, it remains to be seen.

BLACKWELL: All right. Kaitlan Collins, there at the White House, stay with us. We want to include you in this conversation because from the earliest stages of the COVID-19 outbreak there was this race to develop the vaccine. How to do it. To protect every person on earth and bring an end to the global pandemic.

CAMEROTA: So now, the new CNN film "RACE FOR THE VACCINE" gives you an extraordinary behind the scenes look at the five teams of scientists on four continents facing the enormous challenge of developing a vaccine that would stop COVID in its tracks. Here's a preview.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Gao's team gave the world the first glimpse of its new enemy.

Each coronavirus particle filled with genetic instructions called RNA and covered in a corona or crown of protein spikes. Inhale one of these viruses and the spikes latch on to cells in our airways. The spikes then change shape, fusing the virus and the cell together. At this point, the virus can replicate and fast.


BLACKWELL: Joining us is Caleb Hellerman. He's the co-director of "RACE FOR THE VACCINE" as well as a director and producer at the Global Health Reporting Center.


Caleb, listen, right day to be with us. This huge news from the perspective of the race to get to a vaccine, how do you receive what we're seeing and hearing today?

CALEB HELLERMAN, CO-DIRECTOR, "RACE FOR THE VACCINE": Well, it's very exciting. I mean obviously this comes in the context of basically we are seeing a wave of good news in the pandemic which is something that we have not seen in a long time. And I think a lot of people have to sort of pinch themselves to feel like, is this real, is this really happening?

At least in the United States, you know, case numbers have been dropping significantly, positive test results are down. Really, it's getting better, and I think a lot of credit has to go to the fact that a lot of people are vaccinated right now.

I mean I think this initially started, people were saying it's going to be 18 months, two years at a minimum. Could be five, ten years before we have a vaccine. And it's just really the success of the vaccine effort has surpassed everyone's expectations. And as bad as it's been, it's kind of scary to think where we'd be if that hadn't succeeded.

CAMEROTA: Oh, absolutely, Caleb. I mean we have -- look no further than India where obviously they are struggling to get enough vaccine for the people there. And I think about that all time. This is a medical miracle. It's a medical miracle that we were able to have vaccines as quickly as we were. So how did they do it?

HELLERMAN: Yes, I mean it's remarkable. You really have to -- I had to step back and realize how amazing of a success this was. I think it's important -- it's very important to emphasize this did not come out of the blue and that the people working on the vaccine, the scientists that we followed, they didn't start thinking about this in January or February when this vaccine was first recognized.

They had been working on this for a number of years and I think the technology was kind of at a point it hadn't been tested yet, but they were ready with some techniques and some ideas about quick response to vaccine. They call them vaccine platforms.

There were a few different technical methods. We heard about the RNA vaccines. We've heard about perhaps vector-based vaccines. But a few vaccine approaches where you kind of just can plug in the actual pathogen or the genes to the pathogen for in this case the coronavirus. You can basically plug that into a vaccine that's kind of 90 percent prebuilt.

And I think that was no one knew if that was going to work and what this has shown is that at least in this case they were able to make it work. But it's very important to know especially for people who are a little hesitant or nervous about the vaccines and say, oh, I can't trust it because it was done so fast. It's very important to recognize that a lot of work had been done right up to that point. They weren't starting from scratch in January.

BLACKWELL: Well, Caleb Hellerman, listen, you said it right, Alisyn said it right, a medical miracle that this has happened, it's doing so well for so many people.

Thank you so much for being with us. The new CNN film "RACE FOR THE VACCINE" premieres this Saturday at 9:00 Eastern only on CNN.

Let's go to the White House.

CAMEROTA: Let's do it.

BLACKWELL: We're expecting here, this is President Biden in the Rose Garden and without a mask as he comes on the day these new guidelines from the CDC.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You've got a great smile. BIDEN: Well, today is a great day for America, and our long battle

with the coronavirus. Just a few hours ago, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the CDC announced that they're no longer recommending that fully vaccinated people need wear masks. This recommendation holds true whether you are inside or outside. I think it's a great milestone, a great day. It's been made possible by the extraordinary success we have had in vaccinating so many Americans, so quickly.

To date, we've given out 250 million shots in 114 days. And we're seeing the results. Cases are down in 49 of 50 states. "New York Times" has reported that hospitalizations are the lowest they have been since April of 2020. Over a year ago. Right after the start of the pandemic. Deaths are down 80 percent and also at their lowest level since April of 2020.

And as the virus tragically rages in other countries, as other nations even wealthy nations are mired in the challenges of slow vaccine rollout and poor economic conditions, as a result, things are very different here.

In less than four months, we have gone from 5.5 percent to nearly 60 percent.