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CDC Says, Vaccinated Americans No Longer Need Masks in Most Cases; Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) Says, Republicans are Unified around Trump. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired May 14, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN NEWSROOM: Well, we made it to Friday. Thank you for being with us. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

America at a turning point, and states, cities and businesses are all facing a major decision, drop mask mandates for vaccinated people or not. Well, start Googling because your town's rules may be very different than the one next door.

The CDC's new recommendation coming as a bit of a surprise as only about a third of the country is fully vaccinated right now. And while many are relieved that we are finally at this point, others worry about the impact this will have on vaccinations and whether people who refuse them can now simply blend in with the crowd.

CNN's Miguel Marquez and CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen are following all the headlines for us.

Elizabeth, I want to start with you, because I think it's really important for us understand what went into this decision. What can you tell us?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, the CDC really laid it out, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, yesterday saying here is the data, here is the science that made us make this decision.

So I'm going to give you sort of the Reader's Digest version of that. And so the first factor was that she pointed to three recent studies that show vaccines are effective against symptomatic and asymptomatic cases of COVID-19. That asymptomatic is important, Ana, because it means there aren't going to be all these vaccinated people who are -- feel fine but they're going around spreading COVID. Just -- you get the vaccine, the chances of getting any form of COVID infection, teeny tiny. However, it's not zero.

So some vaccinated people, a tiny number, do get these breakthrough cases, but when you look in their noses and you swab them for the virus, there's not that much there. The viral load is low, so it's thought that they are less infectious, they're less contagious to other people.

And, finally, the case numbers around the country are relatively low. There's just not as much COVID to spread. It's declined by one-third in the past two weeks.

Now I'll add a fourth sort of intangible one here, Ana, and that is that the CDC was under some pressure to do this. They kept saying we want more data, we want more data, and Dr. Fauci and others, I think, were pressuring them to say, come on, guys, you've got the data, let's do it, let's -- you know, let's do this here and let's tell people that if you're vaccinated, you don't need to be wearing masks in most situations indoors or outdoors. Ana?

CABRERA: So, the question remains, will more people now want to get vaccinated knowing that there is this newfound freedom, and they are definitively protected.

Let me ask, Miguel, what people are doing as a result of this new guidance. What are you seeing there in Times Square?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you couldn't have picked a better day to lift mask requirements than 72 and sunny in New York City. You know, look, we've been out here all morning long, and earlier in the morning, there was maybe 80 percent of the people had their masks on despite the guidance. Now, far fewer, maybe 50 percent or so, but it's very warm out. So, as the temperature goes up and the masks become more uncomfortable, it seems that they're starting to come down, as well.

People are sort of all over the place. Even if they are vaccinated, many of them are still wearing masks. Here is a sense of what we got from a couple of folks we spoke to.


STUART MOSS, NEW YORK RESIDENT: -- lose a parent to COVID. So, I had a personal loss there. Early on, I was very concerned. I don't think I understood the risk and all of the measures that should be taken. So I just kind of took every precaution, whether it was logical or not. I think I have a higher confidence now.

ANITA MANNING, NEW YORK RESIDENT: I still have mine because I still want to be respectful of others. But like we're out in the open and not in close quarters, so I'm mask-less. But the moment I walk in somewhere, I'm going to put on a face covering because I don't want to be rude and I want to be respectful to others.


MARQUEZ: So getting rid of the masks for everybody we spoke to, very important. But when will life start to feel like normal? People are basically saying September. Ana?

CABRERA: Everybody's comfort level is obviously different too, even for those who are fully vaccinated, clearly. Thank you so much, Miguel Marquez and Elizabeth Cohen. Happy Friday to both of you.

And joining us now is Dr. Saju Matthew, he is a primary care physician and a public health specialist. Doctor, it's great to see you. It's been a while since you and I have spoken. First, I just wonder what you make of these new CDC guidelines and what do you think the road forward might look like now that it's cities and businesses across America that are having to really make the tough decisions on what to do with this new guidance?

SAJU MATTHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Hi, Ana. Happy belated birthday. Great to be your new show.

CABRERA: Thank you.

MATTHEW: Well, listen, either way, the CDC would have been criticized whether they said what they said yesterday. People have criticized the CDC for being too shy and timid. But I think what we should really celebrate, Ana, here is the science.


We have the science to prove that, number one, these vaccines really work well to protect us, but now with the latest studies it is also showing that, like Elizabeth mentioned, even if you have a breakthrough infection, the chance that you can spread the virus to other people is significantly lower, and that is key. So we need to celebrate the science.

Now, the big question is going to be how do you know who is vaccinated around you. If you go into a grocery store, are we supposed to assume that those people who are not wearing a mask are fully vaccinated? I think that's too much to ask. And, for me, personally, I want to make that transition slowly. If you're in a tight space, on a plane, on a transport bus, where it's really congested, I still think even if you're fully vaccinated, you should wear a mask.

And to answer your question about businesses, I think that is going to be tricky, Ana. How are you going to enforce people walking into your establishment? Are you going to ask them for a vaccine passport? I think we need to find out how all of this is going to pan out. But, overall, very good news if you're vaccinated.

CABRERA: What about children though who aren't eligible yet? There's pressure for schools to be fully reopened, for kids to be back in class five days a week. But we know elementary school children and those younger may not even be eligible for the vaccine until late this year. This is according to Dr. Fauci just today. So how would you advise parents to navigate this?

MATTHEW: Right. I just had actually a couple this morning in my clinic before I got on your show, Ana. They're both in their 30s, they have young kids that are five and four. They're both vaccinated. Their question to me was, hey, Dr. Matthew, what about our kids?

So now, the good news is 12 to 15, we can add them to the list of people that can get vaccinated, which is huge. Kids don't get sick from COVID but can transfer the infection. But for kids that cannot be vaccinated, that is a tricky question to answer because a lot of the kids don't want to get masked. How are you going to put a mask on a three-year-old in a grocery store? But I think the bottom line is you still want to protect them, like we have so far. Parents need to get vaccinated and we just need to wait until vaccines are available for the lower ages. And that will come fairly soon.

CABRERA: Quickly if you will, there was a recent poll we do at CNN showing 46 percent of people say they support requiring vaccines for the workplace. And we just heard Delta Airlines announcing that it is going to require new employees to be vaccinated. Do you think vaccines should be a requirement in the workplace?

MATTHEW: You know, Ana, I would say, yes. I know it's a complicated question to answer. But I think a lot of private corporations, I know Waffle House, Home Depot, they're going to require that their employees working at the headquarters, including vendors, have to be vaccinated.

We also need to create incentives for the young people to get vaccinated. Some people call it bribes. I call it an incentive. But I think all of this is going to be important because herd immunity is not a destination, Ana, it's a journey. The more arms that get vaccinated, the safer the country gets. And, remember, the unvaccinated people need to realize they are more of a risk to other mask-less unvaccinated people.

So bottom line is get vaccinated and let's make this country a safer place for all of us.

CABRERA: Amen. I'm with you. Dr. Saju Matthew, thank you for being with us.

My next guest is the president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the largest union for frontline retail and grocery employees. Mark Perrone, thank you for being with us.

I know you're not happy about this new CDC guidance. What are you hearing from your members, the checkers and the baggers and other grocery workers on the front lines?

MARK PERRONE, PRESIDENT, UNITED FOODS AND COMMERCIAL WORKERS: Well, Dr. Matthew sort of spelled out really clearly just a second ago is that how do they determine who's been vaccinated and who hasn't been.

In the beginning of this pandemic, my members were required to be the mask police, and they were actually, you know, verbally abused, and in some cases, physically abused by some of the customers that resented the discussion or the implementation of the masking policy.

So now, we have a situation where you really don't know whether or not somebody has been vaccinated or not. And you're going to change them from the mask police to the vaccination police. And I think it's very difficult.

Look, I think that the CDC needs to do the following. They need to ultimately clarify their discussions that need to take place inside businesses. I don't think it was nearly clear enough. I think it still concerns about whether or not there's going to be transmission of the virus inside closed indoor spaces where you have large numbers of people.


That is, in fact, what a grocery store looks like on any Saturday or Sunday or, you know, Friday afternoon. There are a lot of people going in and out of stores all day long. And if, in fact, we're going to protect society, we need to wear those masks at least until we get to a herd immunity status that Dr. Matthew had talked about. And that is a journey, as he indicated.

You know, quite frankly, there's been recently studies of epidemiologists in this country that believe that it's as high as 88 percent of 723 epidemiologists across the country believed, quite honestly, that unless we got to an 80 percent level, we shouldn't go mask-less indoors unless we're absolutely sure that the people that we were around were vaccinated.

CABRERA: I can understand your concern. I am curious though, because we have seen some grocery chains, like Kroger, announce that they will still require masks for customers and employees. Do you expect that to be industry-wide?

PERRONE: I hope that it is, quite frankly. I am happy that Kroger did do that. However, they still have an issue that they do tell their workers not to confront people if they're not wearing masks. So in one respect, it's a good policy that they're going to continue it, and I'm thankful that they're trying to lead the industry, but it still leaves us without a gap or a donut hole, so to speak, when you have people that walk in that don't have mask on.

And now, the CDC is giving additional reason to say, well, but I've also been vaccinated, when we really can't check that. So I think it is a challenge for us.

CABRERA: Absolutely.

PERRONE: And over the last two weeks, I'll give an example, since March the 1st, we've had a 35 percent increase in worker deaths in grocery stores and a 30 percent increase in the number of people who have been infected from the counts that we've been taking.

CABRERA: So the worker deaths that you just spoke of, were those directly COVID-related?

PERRONE: Well, yes, they were COVID-related.

You know, now we can't tell, and I want to be clear, I can't tell where they came from, I don't know whether or not they were infected outside the stores or not. We do know that essential workers based on studies that have been taken and going on before, we do know, quite honestly, that essential workers have a 55 percent increase and likelihood that they'll catch COVID at work because of their jobs.

CABRERA: What percentage of workers in your union are vaccinated? PERRONE: We are approaching about 40 percent level right now. And we continue to do education programs with our membership to encourage them.

Now, in packing and food processing, we're almost at a 90 percent level in those groups. But in the retail food industry, it still had been a little bit difficult to get everybody vaccinated because of the sheer numbers.

CABRERA: It absolutely is, I guess, the ticket to protection that we all know is proven now by the science. And I have to say thank you to all of those workers that you represent in your union and beyond. My brother is one of them who works at a grocery store full-time and is fully vaccinated now, thank God. But I've been worried about him the past year. And I'm just so grateful for all those people who are doing the hard work on all of our behalf and putting themselves on the line. Mark Perrone, thank you for being with us and having this discussion.

PERRONE: Thank you, Ana.

CABRERA: It is official, House Republicans today replacing Congresswoman Liz Cheney with a less conservative lawmaker as their third-ranking member.

Plus, disgraceful, B.S. Officers injured in the Capitol insurrection react to Republicans now trying to whitewash what happened.



CABRERA: After purging Liz Cheney from Republican leadership, her newly elected replacement, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, appeared to have one goal at her first press conference this morning, convincing the country the GOP is unified.


REP. ELISE STEFANIK (R-NY): So I'm very excited for this opportunity. We are unified, working as one team.

This is about being unified.

We are unified, and I look to the voters across America, Republican voters are unified in their support and their desire to work with President Trump. And we're unified as Republicans.

We are working as one team.

We are going to win the majority in 2022 as one team.

We are unified in working with President Trump. My job representing our Republican members, the vast majority, we will look forward to working with President Trump.

(END VIDEO CLIP) CABRERA: Well, let's get straight to CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju at the Capitol. Manu, are Republicans as unified today as GOP leadership would have us believe?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's what they're going to have to work on. It can't be done with a snap of a finger. There are some voices within the Republican Party, like Liz Cheney, who believe the party is moving far too close to Donald Trump, need to reject his lies that he won the election.

But, admittedly, she is decidedly in the minority of her conference, which is the big reason why she was booted out of that leadership position, something that is so rarely done here, and then quickly replaced by Elise Stefanik, who has aligned herself with Donald Trump for the last two years, was a lead defender of his during the first impeachment proceeding and also backed his efforts to overturn the election and continued to cast doubt on the election even as soon as this past week, as Cheney was calling out Republicans to push back on the big lie that Donald Trump won the election.


Nevertheless, when Stefanik was asked today about Donald Trump, she contended that he's still the leader of the party and said the party is still -- tent is big enough to include Liz Cheney.


STEFANIK: I believe that voters determine the leader of the Republican Party, and President Trump is the leader that they look to. I support President Trump. Voters support President Trump. He is an important voice in our Republican Party, and we look forward to working with him.

REPORTER: Is there a place in the party for vocal Trump critics, like Liz Cheney, like Adam Kinzinger?

STEFANIK: Liz Cheney is a part of this conference.

REPORTER: Can you face the camera, please?

STEFANIK: They were elected and sent here by the people in their district. They are part of this Republican conference. We are unified in working with President Trump.


RAJU: Well, she won overwhelmingly in the House Republican conference, but not all Republicans were behind her. 46 voted for Chip Roy, who is a conservative alternative, has a much more conservative voting record than the more moderate Elise Stefanik. Stefanik has contended that she's still a conservative and aligned with Donald Trump.

She did have 134 votes largely because she did have that support from the former president and top Republican leaders. But, Ana, one person who was not at today's leadership election was Liz Cheney. Ana?

CABRERA: I guess they're not unified and working with President Trump then. Manu Raju, thank you.

I want to get reaction to all of this from a Republican who has expressed frustration with his party at times and the path it's on, former Ohio Governor John Kasich. Governor, good to see you.


CABRERA: The party has spoken. The new number three in the House says the GOP is unified with a caveat. It's unified around former President Trump. Your reaction?

KASICH: Well, first of all, the party hasn't spoken. There's just people in the House of Representatives that have spoken. And, you know, that's -- there's different view over in the Senate growing all the time. So, you know, one group over there, just one faction of the party.

Now, I think, Ana, we have to --

CABRERA: Nobody is pushing back against that faction though. The people who are, like Liz Cheney, are being silenced.

KASICH: They're not going to silence Liz Cheney or Kinzinger or any of these other people who voted to impeach. And, you know, I think it's very likely the Republicans could win the House basically with no agenda, which is unfortunate because you're in politics to try to improve the lives of other people. It doesn't appear as though that's where they are. They just seek power for the sake of seeking power. I hope they start talking more about issues.

But let's just say they do win the House and win it narrowly, well, what happens to those insurgents who they basically tried to throw out? What happens with Liz Cheney when they need a crucial vote?

I've been in the House when we've had very narrow majorities. And all of a sudden, if you're not treating people with respect and handling things the right way, trying to cancel them somehow, then you got to deal with them when you have a close vote. So, you know, we have to see where it all goes.

I will also tell you, Ana, that they're still in the recruitment phase of finding out who wants to run for Congress. Now, let me ask you a question. Would you like to run for Congress? Would you like to be in the Republican caucus in the United States House?

CABRERA: Would you?

KASICH: You know, there's a lot of water that has to go under the bridge. Would I? Absolutely not. I was there 18 years when it was actually -- I went there actually -- Ana, I went there actually to do work, balancing the budget, reforming the Pentagon. I didn't go there to join a circus. And, you know, if I want to join the circus, I would have gone into acting. I didn't. I went there to do a job for our country.

CABRERA: So, as you say, there is no agenda at this point. It does appear that way when they continue to just talk about the big lie. And it seems like in their effort to move forward, how do you do that when you're basing loyalty on support for a lie?

KASICH: Well, I don't think you do. I mean, I don't think you can build -- look, you talk about Republican primaries and then general elections. So maybe this -- all this fealty to Donald Trump works in a primary, but when it gets to a general -- and people see all the chaos, these suburban folks who have been working against -- walking away from the party, I mean, how did they view all this? They don't really care who's in the leadership of the House, but what they see is a lot infighting and chaos.

Now, just juxtapose that with what I see and I've been told is happening in the United States Senate, where they're trying -- where Republicans are trying to put together an infrastructure plan that is funded in unique ways without having to raise taxes. Now, you know, they have been meeting with President Biden. Biden says, give us more specifics.


There's ways to get there, but at least they have a plan. And, hopefully, when they spell it out, people will say that's reasonable.

I don't know what Biden is going to do. They say they want bipartisanship. I don't really know if they do or if they don't. It can't be my way or the highway. But at least in the Senate, you're beginning to see Republicans at least provide and present an alternative to the high tax and spend of the Biden administration.

CABRERA: I hear you, though the leader in the Senate for Republicans did say that he was 100 percent focused on stopping the Biden agenda, as you'll recall. That was a week or so ago.

I do want to pivot and ask you about this --

KASICH: And I don't like that, Ana.

CABRERA: I appreciate that.

KASICH: Go ahead, I'm sorry.

CABRERA: I think American people appreciate that you are advocating bipartisanship.

I want to ask about the new video that was uncovered by CNN's Kfile. It's from 2019. And it shows now-Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene harassing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's office during a visit to Capitol Hill. Take a look.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): All right. We're going to go see -- we're going to visit Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, crazy eyes, crazy eyes, Nutty Cortez. Okay, hang with us, guys.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I'm an American citizen. I pay your salary through the taxes that you collect for me through the IRS because I'm a tax-paying citizen of the United States. So you need to stop being a baby and stop locking your door and come out and face the American citizens that you serve. If you want to be a big girl, you need to get rid of your diaper and come out and be able to talk to the American citizens instead of us having to use a flap, a little flap.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Kind of like --



CABRERA: She later leaves and says, oh, that was fun. We learned something similar happened this week. Greene had a hostile confrontation with Ocasio-Cortez outside the House chamber. And about an hour ago, in fact, one of Greene's staffers reportedly yelled at Democratic Congressman Eric Swalwell for wearing a mask.

Bottom line, Governor, behavior like this wouldn't be tolerated in any other workplace. Quick answer, if you will, why is it acceptable in the people's house?

KASICH: Well, it's not. It's not. And, you know, it's inexcusable, frankly.

And let me just tell you one quick story. Pat Schroeder used to be a Democratic congresswoman. She actually ran for president, was viewed as liberal. One time as I was -- I was friends with her. One time I was walking across the House floor, these Republicans started demeaning her. And I said, you're a member of the House, you never do that to another member. And they were shocked back and they didn't do it again.

This is a failure of the leadership to monitor their own members. Whether it's on the Democrat side or the Republican side, you must monitor your members. And for this to continue to go on with this member who, by the way, seems the more she disrupts, the more money she raises, is a terrible situation. And that is what's going to keep a lot of good people from ever wanting to go in that place and try to help their country. It's got to stop.

CABRERA: Governor John Kasich, good to have you here. Thank you.

KASICH: Thanks, Ana.

CABRERA: Lawmakers finally reaching a deal on a 9/11-style commission for the Capitol insurrection, and it comes as officers injured that day slam Republicans trying to gloss over what happened.