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New Info on Researchers' Illness Fuels Debate on Pandemic Origins; 13 Dead in Various U.S. Mass Shootings Since Friday. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired May 24, 2021 - 13:00   ET



KATIE HOBBS (D), ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE: And when the people in charge of our elections running the elections become more focused on the outcome than the process, we are in huge trouble.


JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks for joining us to start the work. We hope to see you back here this time tomorrow.

Don't go anywhere, a busy news day. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now. Have a good day.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello on this Monday, thanks for being with me, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And the unanswered questions since the pandemic began, where did COVID-19 come from? Some new information could put more pressure on China to reveal everything it knows. We are learning a U.S. intelligence report found that in November of 2019, several researchers at China's Wuhan Institute of Virology got sick and went to a hospital for care.

The Intelligence Community still isn't exactly what their illness was but the timing is important because, again, this was in November, and China reported to the World Health Organization that the first patient with COVID-like symptoms was recorded in December of 2019. One source who has seen the intelligence says, quote, at the end of the day, there is still nothing definitive.

CNN's Natasha Betrand and David Culver are both following this for us. So, Natasha, I want to start with your new reporting. What are you learning about how this piece of intel fits into what the U.S. knows about the origins of COVID-19?

NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN REPORTER: It's essentially another piece of the puzzle, Ana. So, the U.S. Intelligence Community has low confidence in its assessment of the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, meaning that they don't really know exactly where, how or even when the pandemic spread. What this does though is it kind of up the timeline a bit with regard to the potential theories about where this pandemic actually began.

Importantly, though, the intelligence community still doesn't know whether these researchers were actually sick with coronavirus. All they know is that they had symptoms that were consistent with COVID- 19, that also could have been consistent with other seasonal illnesses, like the flu, for example.

So while this does provide another kind of data point for the Intelligence Community to look at with regard to potentially the idea that this could have leaked from a lab, one of the many labs that was researching coronavirus in bats, for example, around that period of time, it also is not conclusive. And this is something our sources emphasize to us that the overall assessment of the Intel Community remains that, really, it's difficult to say anything about the origins of this pandemic beyond the fact that it did emerge from China.

CABRERA: And, David, all along there has been criticism that China has been less than transparent, less than helpful in letting investigators come in and really figure this out. How is China responding to this new revelation?

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You're right about that criticism, Ana. And it's not just from the U.S., it's comes from the U.K., it's from European nations. As far as China's response, they're not happy with this. They have pushed back against this repeatedly over the past year-plus and they are continuing to do so as recently as Monday. When the foreign ministry spoke about this, they answered a question as to if this is possible origin theory. It's one that they, again, consider to have ruled out a long time ago.

I want you to listen a little bit to how the foreign ministry is now reshaping this narrative. Take a listen.


ZHAO LIJIAN, CHINESE FOREIGN MINISTRY SPOKESMAN: The Wuhan Institute of Virology Chinese Academy of Sciences issued a relevant statement on March 23rd this year. It stated that before December 20th, 2019, coronavirus was not contracted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology. Until now, there has been zero infection of staff and post-graduate students at the institute.

The United States continues to hype the lab leak theory? Does it care about origin tracing or is it just trying to divert attention?


CULVER: Reshaping this to suggest that the United States is hyping things, and state media there calling this a complete lie, those words attributed to the director of the Wuhan National Biosafety Lab.

I want to show you some video, Ana, of when we were there in January of this year. We've made three trips in the past year. The most recent coincided with the WHO field team, which, likewise, was on the ground there. They were doing firsthand investigations. Now, that team, in and of itself, has also faced a lot of scrutiny, folks suggesting that it's been heavily influenced by China, even one of the members having done previous research in the Wuhan Institute of Virology lab and having a partnership with them.

So, it's become highly politicized and it raises even more questions along with this now U.S. intelligence report to suggest the timeline goes back even further. Ana?

CABRERA: Okay, thank you very much for that reporting, David Culver and Natasha Bertrand.

As this investigation into how it all began continues, here in the U.S., we have some really promising indications that this country is finally getting a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.


Six states reported less than one COVID death per day last week, and nearly half, half of the entire U.S. population has now received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine, and almost 40 percent are fully vaccinated.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now. Elizabeth, after more than a year of tragedy and struggle, I don't want to bury this good news today. What are the trends showing?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, it feels a bit like we can take a deep breath right now. So let's take a look at what these numbers have looked like over the month.

When you see this graph, wow, that peak in sort of January, February, and now down to levels not seen since June of last year, that is really wonderful news. We don't want to take away from the fact that people are still dying every day from COVID in this country, and that things could get worse in the fall or if a variant arrives. But, still, those are some pretty nice looking numbers.

Let's take a look at why those numbers are coming down, here is why. A benchmark reached in the united states, those states in red, most of them in the northeast, they have 70 percent or plus of adults vaccinated with at least one dose. That's pretty amazing. So, at least 70 percent of adults in those states have had at least one dose. That is the goal that President Biden has for the country by July 4th.

Now, let's take a look at the states on their way to reaching this milestone. About half of states, 50 percent of people have had at least one dose. So you can see that we are on our way. There still does seem to be a small but sizable percentage of Americans who seem fairly entrenched, fairly dug in, that they are not going to get vaccinated. Let's hope that as time goes by, they will see that vaccination works and that it doesn't get people sick and that they will also get vaccinated that so we can see these case numbers continue do go down. Ana?

CABRERA: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for laying all that out here about where we stand in the U.S. right now.

Back to the origin though, and listen to what former CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield told our own Dr. Sanjay Gupta back in March.


DR. ROBERT REDFIELD, FORMER CDC DIRECTOR: If I was to guess this virus started transmitting somewhere in September and October in Wuhan.


REDFIELD: That's my own view. It's only an opinion. I'm allowed to have opinions. I am of the point of view that I still think the most likely ideology of this pathogen in Wuhan was from a laboratory.


CABRERA: With us now, Epidemiologist and CNN Contributor Dr. Abdul El-Sayed. Doctor, thank you for being with us here. Your head is gigantic right now and taking up the entire screen but I know we were having connections issues with you. So, I'm so glad you're with me.

Talk to me about what we just heard from Dr. Redfield and what we are learning today about the origins and more questions surrounding whether this came from a lab or from nature. We previously knew that these researchers in Wuhan got sick but the new detail here in this intel is that they were sick enough to go to the hospital for care. What does all this tell you?

DR. ABDUL EL-SAYED, CNN CONTRIBUTOR: That's right. We have to be interpreting this in the context of a WHO report that was, of course, heavily chaperoned in the production by the Chinese government.

And one of the important details that have been included when the research team investigating the etiology of this pandemic, when they were putting together the report, one of the pieces of evidence that they relied on was that nobody at the Wuhan Institute of Virology had gotten sick. Now, we understand that that's actually not true and that researchers there had gotten sick.

What's important though to understand is that this is not confirmatory, that this virus had come from that lab. It just fundamentally changes the calculus and the understanding of where it came from. The highest probability is still that emerging animals that then made the jump, the virus, then made the jump to humans.

CABRERA: Why is that still the highest probability?

EL-SAYED: Well, it just -- when we understand these types zoonotic illnesses, as we call them, the kinds of viruses that emerge out of nowhere, they almost always come from animals. And animals are constantly harboring viruses that infect those animal species but rarely can jump to humans. But when those viruses may, through evolution, the capacity to jump,

they can jump. And, of course, because our immune systems are completely naive to the viruses, if they can move between human and human, they can cause the kind of pandemics that we've been experiencing now for the past 15 months.

That is the highest probability outcome simply because that's how almost every other virus that has hit humanity and caused a pandemic has come through.

CABRERA: It has been about 18 months, and this is a virus that has killed now nearly 3.5 million people globally. Are you surprised, Doctor, we still don't know the origin? And why is it so important to figure that out?

EL-SAYED: You know, Ana, what you're getting at in this question is a really important point.


This is critical for us to understand where this virus is coming from, how it made the jump and how it infected so many people. And the fact that the Chinese government has not been honest with the public, the world's public, is really concerning. And this new evidence definitely does shake the ground on which we had thought we were walking with this information.

And so, yes, it is concerning that 18 months after the emergence of the virus, we still don't know where it came from. It is concerning that the government in the country, from which it emerged, has not been honest and has not forthcoming about the information. And it is concerning that there is a viral laboratory in the same city from which this virus emerged. And so we need more information.

And what we need to be doing is leaning on the Chinese government to be open, transparent and honest, and not withhold the facts and not try and cover up what is known. We need to understand what happened, this has shaken the globe, and we deserve some transparency here.

CABRERA: Quickly, if you will, if it came from a lab versus in nature, what are the implications in terms of how strong the virus is or how we fight it, would it be different?

EL-SAYED: Well, it really wouldn't change how we fight it, per se, but it's plausible that a virus that emerged from a lab, if they were doing experiments, where they increase the virulence, the capacity to cause disease, that the virus that would emerge would be stronger and would make more people more sick. And so it does have implications for understanding how this happens.

The other point here is that there are labs that do research about viruses all over the world and making sure that we're keeping those labs safe and secure is clearly a responsibility of ours. But, of course, if a pandemic were to have occurred because a virus were to have escaped one of these labs, it certainly should change the calculus with respect to bioethics of doing this kind of research, what kind of research we can do and making those kinds of laboratories far more secure than they might be right now.

CABRERA: Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, it's great to have your voice and your perspective and expertise on this. Again, thank you for rushing to your car, getting on Skype for us when the studio didn't work out. I really appreciate you being there for us today.

America has a problem, more than a dozen mass shootings since Friday, and deaths from gun violence are up, 23 percent already this year.

Plus, when is enough, enough for top Republicans? Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene now comparing the House's mask mandate to the holocaust. Apparently, that's not too far for her party.

Plus, a scathing watchdog report says some migrant parents were not given a chance to be deported with their children, despite the Trump administration claiming they chose to leave their kids in the U.S.



CABRERA: Too many families across the country are grieving after another weekend of devastating gun violence. There have been at least 13 mass shootings in various states since Friday, 13 people are dead, more than 70 wounded. And according to the gun violence archive, more than 230 people have been killed in mass shootings where four more people are shot so far this year.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is looking at another weekend of violence for us.


POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): A deadly spike in gun violence putting communities across the United States on edge this morning. Two people were shot during an attempted robbery at a New York City subway station.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We're getting over COVID, and it looks like the madness is coming back.

SANDOVAL: And in New Jersey, police are investigating an incident at a house party that left two dead 12 others wounded late Saturday night. Police also discovered three people shot to death at an Atlanta area condominium. And in Youngstown, Ohio, three people are dead and at least eight others injured after a shooting outside a bar.

MAYOR JAMAEL TITO BROWN (D-YOUNGSTOWN, OH): It breaks my heart to hear when we have young men and women who die at a young age, so much potential ahead of them.

SANDOVAL: A 14-year-old girl was killed and 14 others shot in what police are calling an unauthorized concert in North Charleston, North Carolina.

CHIEF REGGIE BURGRESS, NORTH CHARLESTON POLICE: It's a sad day we have to be here today to talk about another death of another young person.

SANDOVAL: Two men were shot and kill and eight others injured in downtown Minneapolis early Saturday morning. One of the victims died the same day he was scheduled to graduate from college. According to the gun violence archive, over 7,500 people have died from gun violence in the United States this year. That's including at least 471 teenagers and 120 children.

ALEXIS CLOONAN, AIDEN LEO'S SISTER: He said, mommy, my tummy hurts. So she went and she picked him up, and he was bleeding on her.

SANDOVAL: Aiden Leo was fatally shot in an apparent road rage incident in Orange County, California, and his mother was driving him to kindergarten Friday morning. The six-year-old's family is seeking justice and asking the public for any information.

CLOONAN: Please help us find the people that did this to my little brother. He was only six, and he was so sweet.

SANDOVAL: In Minneapolis, city leaders are offering a $30,000 reward to find who is responsible for three recent shootings that left one child and two others critically injured.

MAYOR JACOB FREY (D-MINNEAPOLIS, MN): The community has been exceedingly clear, we need to bring the perpetrators to justice.

SANDOVAL: One of the victims, six-year-old Aniya Allen, who was shot in the head while riding in the car with her mother last week. She later died at the hospital.

K.G. WILSON, ANIYA ALLEN'S GRANDFATHER: Not only do we want justice for our babies, we don't want these people out here to shoot somebody else's babies and there will be another press conference because another family will be standing up here with us.



SANDOVAL (on camera): And earlier today, New Jersey State officials with an update on the investigation regarding the shooting at the house party saying that that was actually a large birthday party that was specifically targeted. Investigators don't believe that it was a random act of violence. They shared a bit more on the two people that were killed, a man and a woman from the community, as is a 36-year-old man who was also arrested facing weapon-related charges.

Authorities now hoping that somebody will come forward with additional information as they do expect more arrests. Authorities also here in New Jersey, Ana, addressing this growing issue of gun violence, not just what happened here but throughout the rest of the country as well. Ana?

CABRERA: All so heartbreaking. Polo Sandoval, thank you.

And joining us now is retired LAPD Sergeant Cheryl Dorsey. She is also the author of the book, Black and Blue, the Creation of a Social Advocate.

Sergeant Dorsey, gun violence is up 23 percent so far this year, according to the gun violence archive, with more than 7,500 people dead from gun violence just this year here in the U.S. What's your reaction?

CHERYL DORSEY, RETIRED LAPD SERGEANT; Well, listen, I've said all along, you know, if folks weren't outraged to the point where something could be done when 20-plus children were shot and killed, what else would it take to get their attention? And so I think we've become desensitized, quite frankly, regarding the use of weapons, military-styled weapons in an urban environment, it makes no sense.

CABRERA: Police, of course, have to respond to all of these incidents while they are under increased scrutiny right now over how they do their jobs at the same time police departments around the country are saying they are struggling to retain and recruit officers. Do you think this has to do with police facing increased scrutiny?

DORSEY: Well, certainly, we know that, you know, there's a term, blue flu, and when officers' feelings are hurt because they're required to do their job with empathy, compassion and respect, some who are there for other reasons, leave, don't want to do the job, slow down, work day-to-day. And so, yes, it's problematic and recruiting is an issue.

And I think departments should look to folks who have an interest in law enforcement, criminal justice students and the like if you're looking for someone to replace those who don't want to be there. We don't want them there.

CABRERA: I have a cousin who is a police officer, and he's talked about morale really being down and feeling very villainized by the people he wants to serve. What are you hearing from officers you know who are still on active duty? What is the impact, you know, staffing might be having on everyday police work that they do?

DORSEY: Well, officers have always been known to bellyache and cry when they don't get their way but, again, this is a tough job and it's not for everyone. And I say, everyone who wants to be the police shouldn't be. And once they identify themselves we need to believe what they're telling us to be true.

CABRERA: Let's talk about the issue of police reform, because, you know, that's where we're leading in this conversation. It is front and center right now this week as we approach one year since the murder George Floyd by a former Minneapolis Police officer.

Republicans and Democrats, they are still not on the same page here and there are two big sticking points, so-called, qualified immunity, which shields police officers from civil lawsuits. The other issue is the standard for criminally prosecuting police officers. Democrats want to lower the standard. Republicans say they don't want to touch it. Where do you stand on these two issues?

DORSEY: Well, I think that lowering the standard certainly would be helpful and I'm all in favor of totally dismantling qualified immunity, if you're not going to get rid of it. GOP said it's a non- starter discussing it. I think the Democrats should stand firm. And if qualified immunity is off the table, then it's not worth pursuing.

If officers, if police chiefs, if others who look over these uses of force are not intent on murdering people, why are you so worried about civil liability? If you're going to do your job the way you're trained and taught, there's not an issue for you.

CABRERA: So, you don't think police officers or police unions have an issue with this at all?

DORSEY: Oh, no, absolutely they do. They don't want qualified immunity to go away, some, not all, some. Certainly, the police unions are in support of qualified immunity remaining intact. That's been a sticky point in California with legislation that tries to rein in errant officers.

I'm saying if officers, and, listen, by and large, most do their job professionally, so I'm not talking about all police, but we have to admit that there are some out there like Derek Chauvin. He's not unique to that department. Every department has a few. We've seen them.

And so if you don't want to get rid of qualified immunity, then that's a problem for me. If officers are not intent on killing folks, like Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter and Rusten Sheskey, what are you worried about?


CABRERA: There are obviously a lot of really good police officers out there as well. And I think we all appreciate you saying the ones who have ill intentions, they need to go, and people who make mistakes on the job do need to have accountability, of course. But I also feel like -- are you trying to throw out the good in exchange for the perfect? I don't know the exact saying, but do you know what I mean?

This police reform that's been discussed, there are a number of things that it seems like both Democrats and Republicans and people in law enforcement all agree upon, the House passed version of this legislation includes things like, you know, certain policing practices are restricted, related to no-knock warrants and chokeholds, it would create a national registry to really compile data on complaints and records of police misconduct.

It establishes new reporting requirements pertaining to the use of force, officer misconduct, other routine traffic practices like stops and searches. If they agree on these items, is there reason to move forward and pass what they agree on? Isn't something better than nothing?

ROSEY: Well, not to my mind, because qualified immunity is a problem. And so let me tell you what they don't talk about. They talk about no- knock warrants and there being a restriction, or a prohibition of no- knock warrants, only on federal drug warrants, says nothing about state and local drug warrants, which are the majority of the ones that we see that are problematic.

Breonna Taylor was not served a search warrant by a federal government. They talk about a federal registry. You think Derek Chauvin wasn't already on a list. He had 18 personnel complaints. Do you think the officer that shot and paralyzed Jacob Blake was not already on a list, the officer who shot Rayshard Brooks in the back was not on a list?

They know who the errant officers are and they choose to look the other way. We know this to be true because of the Ronald Greene incident right now. The fish rots from the head and their superintendent, Lamar Davis, has hid this video for two years.

So qualified immunity must be on the table, or to me, it's pointless.

CABRERA: Cheryl Dorsey, got to leave it there, the former sergeant from LAPD, I really appreciate you being with us, thank you for your perspective.

DORSEY: Thank you.

CABRERA: Facts are facts. Lies are lies. And eventually the truth catches up. Fight the truth now, pay for it later at the polls. Ahead, a Republican congressman's warning for his party.