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Vaccination Interest After Mask Guidance; Ed Bastian is Interviewed about Travel; Biden Wants Report on COVID Origin. Aired 9:30-10a ET

Aired May 27, 2021 - 09:30   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Well, a chance to go mask-free drove many more people to get vaccinated. Data obtained exclusively by CNN show interest in vaccinations increased right after the CDC announced that fully vaccinated people could take off their masks in most settings.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: That's interesting because that was the exact argument folks made for that change.

HARLOW: Yes. It works.

SCIUTTO: I was -- I was skeptical. I admit it.

CNN's Elizabeth Cohen joins us now.

Elizabeth, as one doctor put it, people need a carrot. So does the data show that this carrot worked?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: The data does show that this carrot made people more interested in getting vaccinated. And the way that we know this is from data from That's the website where you go, you put in your zip code and it will tell you where your vaccination sites are near you.

Let's take a look at the traffic on May 13th. So this is -- we're going to get a little nerdy here, but it's an interesting set of numbers. So that day started out on the far left like any other, high -- you know, good traffic in the morning, and then it started to dip at around noon, which is how it always goes. It dips at noon and keeps going down. But it didn't keep going down. You can see the Walensky announcement, Dr. Rochelle Walensky made her announcement about no masks necessary if you're vaccinated in most situations at 2:00 p.m. And you can see it started to climb. It doesn't usually start to climb. It hardly ever starts to climb in the afternoon, but it did and then it kept going up and it also kept going up when President Biden made his announcement on the same topic. And, in fact, their traffic went up and stayed up for the following week.

Now let's take a look at actual vaccinations, right, because that's what we want is needles into arms, not just interest in vaccines. So if you take a look at this, what you see there is April 11th we hit a high of vaccinations, then it just went down. I mean it looks like a ski hill there. It just nosedived.

But then, look, Walensky's announcement on the 13th, that's that second arrow. Then it started to go up.

Now, it could be because, coincidentally, at around the same time that Dr. Walensky made her announcement, that's -- or almost exactly the same time, that is when 12 to 15-year-olds were allowed to start getting vaccinated. So you're bringing in millions more people.

But, when you look at it and you factor out the young people, which we did, you still see a slight increase in vaccinations. So this carrot seems to have worked for some people. Obviously, not everyone. One in five Americans is either hesitant to get a vaccine or adamantly against getting a vaccine. It's going to take more than this. But as one expert I talked to said, look, this seemed to work, they ought to be doing this more often. They ought to be talking about this and giving other incentives more often.


HARLOW: There you go.

Elizabeth, thank you so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

HARLOW: Well, more vaccinations means more safety to travel. Millions of you expected to travel this Memorial Day weekend. How big is the travel surge, ahead? Delta's CEO Ed Bastian is here next.



HARLOW: The Memorial Day weekend coming up, 2.5 million Americans expected to hit the skies. The simple reason, more vaccinations, more travel. Nearly six times more flyers this weekend compared to last year.

How are airlines preparing for this post-pandemic travel boom? Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Air Lines joins us exclusively this morning.

Ed, it's good to have you. And, congrats. You guys just won this big J.D. Power award for best airline with satisfaction. So, congrats, and thanks for being with us.

ED BASTIAN, CEO DELTA AIR LINES: Well, thanks, Poppy. It's good to be with you. It's exciting to be here in the airport and we're getting ready for a very busy Memorial Day travel weekend. It will be (INAUDIBLE) a lot of people are out traveling in well over a year. And we're thrilled to be able to take them on the award-winning airline throughout North America.

HARLOW: Ed, you know, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky told me just a few days ago on this show that he thinks we're about to see the biggest travel boom since World War II. Do you think so as well?

BASTIAN: I think so. I think so. When you think about how much people have put off over the last year and a half, you know, seeing family, events, weddings, opportunities, and everyone took for granted travel maybe a little bit too much over the last number of years. And now I think people are going to be really appreciating it and seeking to take advantage of it more than ever. Not just in the U.S., hopefully when we get the international borders, it will be great, too.

So we're seeing it now. There's a real buzz in the airport. I'm here in Hartsfield-Jackson in Atlanta, and people are just thrilled to be going and they're talking about who they're going to be seeing and what they're going to be exploring or reuniting and connecting.


It's a joyful experience.

HARLOW: Can I ask you about what's going on with ticket prices? So I tried to book a -- just a weekend in August to go back home to Minnesota, and it was $880. And this is across the airlines. And I'm hearing a lot of folks say, it's so expensive.

Can you explain to us why, and are those prices going to go down when you get more planes in the sky?

BASTIAN: Well, we have a considerable amount of capacity already fully restored. We'll be operating in the U.S. close to 90 percent of our capacity and our seats this summer. And, yes, as we add more seats that will -- that will improve as well, the supply opportunity.

Pricing in average is down I'd say in the 15 percent to 20 percent range at the moment for people booking, relative to 2019 levels. And as the summer plans continue to get booked, I encourage everyone to go out and get your -- hold your seats and get your plans booked because pricing will eventually start to respond to the big surge in demand.

HARLOW: OK. All right. Well, I'm going to wait then and try to rebook that flight in a few weeks.

Hey, you know, you've got this debate within companies, colleges, schools right now, do we mandate vaccinations. And you made that call, right? It's become this political sort of hot potato, but you made the decision, Delta is going to mandate vaccinations for all new hires, all new employees.

How did you make that call?

BASTIAN: Well, first of all, we're going -- encouraging all of our employees strongly to get vaccinated. And we are currently at 64 percent of all of our employees worldwide who are vaccinated already. So I'm thrilled that a considerable number have stepped up and we see every day those numbers continue to climb.

There will be some though -- some amount, maybe it's 10 percent to 20 percent of our population that for whatever philosophical reason, religious reason, political reason, decide they don't want to be vaccinated. And we'll -- we understand that. But for anyone joining us, people that we evaluate as they come into the airline, we have an opportunity to ask them, have they been vaccinated? And if they haven't been vaccinated, we're not going to take them into the employment.

HARLOW: Yes. It's an interesting --

BASTIAN: It's (INAUDIBLE) jobs in the airlines, and particularly at Delta, Poppy, are really sought after.


BASTIAN: We have -- we have, you know, 20, 30, 40 applicants per job. So we have the opportunity to be selective.

HARLOW: Look, and I think a lot of companies are trying to figure out where they -- where they're going to go on this.

I want to ask about masks and vaccinations. Ed, do you envision a scenario where, when the federal mask mandate on planes ends, then Delta might consider requiring proof of vaccination, or extending your mask mandate on planes beyond what the federal government says?

BASTIAN: I think we'll watch it and see what happens. The mandate right now runs through September. And we're complying with that. Our customers are doing a great job of complying with it. Appreciate for some it's a bit uncomfortable. I think the majority of our customers appreciate the fact that we (INAUDIBLE) we particularly, as the planes are full, we're flying at 80 percent to 90 percent load factors for this weekend. So I think people actually are happy to be wearing masks, collectively.


BASTIAN: When the -- when the future comes, no, I don't -- I don't see us ever mandating in the U.S. travel system vaccinations as a requirement.

HARLOW: Right.

BASTIAN: Maybe internationally, though.

HARLOW: All right.

Let's talk about infrastructure. You are, as a CEO who's traveled all around the world, you know what good infrastructure looks like and you know what bad infrastructure looks like. So we all know good infrastructure is good for Delta. So I'm not asking you about specific percents here, but I am interested in if Delta is of the position and willing at this point to pay a higher corporate tax rate to improve our country's infrastructure.

BASTIAN: We are already paying a significant amount of our own capital to provide -- improve the infrastructure. I'm sitting here in our international airport in Atlanta. It's beautiful. And we're -- and we're using -- we're using our capital --

HARLOW: I know. But I mean the rest of the country. I mean the rest of the country.

BASTIAN: We're using our capital to provide that together with public partnership.

You know, we'll watch the tax debate. I'm not -- I'm not going to wade into that at present time. We'll see how that bill comes together. We need infrastructure in this country. There's no question about it. We need better air traffic control systems in the sky. We need improvements to help incent sustainable aviation fuels and blender credits and we also, you know, candidly need better roadways. So the transportation bill that's out there now is critically important to us.

How it gets paid for, I think that's a good debate, but we certainly need it.

HARLOW: OK. All right. So, Ed, I want to take a little bit of time here to talk about the role of a CEO.


Delta's the largest private employer in the entire state of Georgia. And you've talked about how Delta worked behind the scenes with the Georgia legislature to try to push for changes to what has become a very restrictive voting bill in Georgia.

When that bill first passed, your first statement drew a lot of criticism for not outright condemning the law. A few days later, you made it crystal clear, you called the law unacceptable based on a lie, something that especially hurt your black employees. I mean, bottom line, it landed Delta in the middle of a huge political fight in Georgia. I wonder how that has all made you think about the role of a CEO, right? Is it now the job of CEOs to weigh in on all the big social issues?

BASTIAN: There's no question the role of the CEO continues to evolve. And it's not just on the political spectrum. ESG is a real thing. It's -- our customers care about it. Our owners care about it. Our communities care about it. It's around sustainability. It's on societal pressures, social justice. It's on how we set up governance to make certain that we're more inclusive in how we think. And, yes, it's an uncomfortable spot to be. We're a brand that stands for unity, about bringing the world together. And, unfortunately, we live in a divided time.

HARLOW: So you've really made clear your position now, despite the uncomfortability of doing that, sometimes leading a public company with people who work for you who have all different views. But now that you've made your position very clear on voting rights in this country and moves to restrict them, you also wrote this in this memo to your employees. You said, look, Delta is going to do everything in its power to protect your voice and your rights.

Does that now mean that Delta is actively working to get Senate Bill 202 repealed in Georgia?

BASTIAN: What we're doing, Poppy, is we're working on a bipartisan basis to evaluate how this very important issue gets addressed at the federal level, not just at the local level. It needs to be bipartisan. It needs to be nonpartisan. And that's what we stand for. You know, things that will be viewed -- this -- we're not -- we're not experts in election law. We're far from it. We want to -- we want to encourage bipartisanship in evaluating what's best for all of our people.

HARLOW: Let's end on the issue of race and diversity because you also know that Delta has the biggest black employee base of a private company in the state of Georgia. And last July, when you were on this show with me, it was right after the murder of George Floyd. And you said Delta absolutely needs to diversify your top ranks.

You do have two black board members, but still none of your top 11 leaders at Delta are black. I know there are a lot of plans in the works and goals by 2025 to hit that. Can you explain when you think that is going to change, Ed?

BASTIAN: It changes by the day. And I'm pleased to say all through the ranks, from the general management ranks up through the board, we've got action plans to develop the improvement in those numbers to be more inclusive.

I see big changes happening at our manager levels, at our officer levels. Haven't yet made it to the top of the organization, but there's plans in place to get there soon. The commitments we made are a five-year commitment because we know this is a journey. And, by the way, it's a journey that never stops. We always have to continue to work hard to ensure that our leadership reflects the face of our customer base.

HARLOW: Ed Bastian, thank you for talking about these important issues. I think we're all pretty excited to get on planes very soon.

BASTIAN: Thank you, Poppy.

HARLOW: Thanks, Ed.

BASTIAN: I can't -- I can't wait to see you back in the skies.

BASTIAN: Thanks, Ed.


SCIUTTO: This just in to CNN, an encouraging sign for a recovering economy. First time jobless claims hit a new low since the pandemic began last March, 406,000 Americans filed for first-time unemployment benefits. You can see the downward trend there. And this figure even lower than analysts had expected. It marks the fourth consecutive month that that number of first-time claims has dropped. The count for continued jobless claims, that is the number of people filing for at least two weeks in a row, that also fell in the week ending May 15th. Continued claims stood at about 3.6 million. We'll stay on top of the numbers. And we'll be right back.



SCIUTTO: Pinpointing exactly how and where the pandemic started is now a matter for U.S. intelligence. President Biden has ordered intelligence officials Wednesday to, quote, redouble their efforts to track down where COVID-19 came from. Was China telling the truth about it coming out of a market as opposed to a lab? He wants a report back to him within 90 days.

HARLOW: So hours later the Senate passed legislation requiring the Biden administration to declassify intelligence relating to any potential leaks between the Wuhan lab and the origins of the virus.

Kylie Atwood joins us from the State Department this morning.

And, Kylie, it's your reporting that was so significant this week about what the Biden administration chose to end in terms of the State Department looking into this and now a huge, you know, redoubling if not more of this effort.

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's right. I mean a very significant statement from President Biden yesterday ordering the intelligence community to redouble its efforts to look into the origins of COVID-19.


Of course, he also said, he pointed out, as the intelligence community has, that the U.S. still doesn't know precisely where this virus, where this pandemic originated. But being very clear in this statement saying that he wants this to bring the U.S. closer to a definitive understanding, making it clear that he thinks that there is more that the U.S. could learn. So that's why he's doing this.

But a little bit of context. I think it's important to note that this comes as there has been renewed interest in the lab leak theory. And so there are folks who were initially dismissive of that possibility even though the (INAUDIBLE) said it was one of the possibilities on the table, in addition to the possibility that this could have come from animals and leaked then spread to humans.

But there's been renewed interest in that lab leak theory in recent weeks. And it also, as you said, Poppy, I have reported that the Biden administration, State Department officials closed down an inquiry that was perceived as potentially having issues with regard to how effective it was and how definitive it was and maybe politicized. But they did shut down an effort at the State Department looking into this lab leak theory.


HARLOW: Kylie, thank you very much, from the State Department. We'll be right back.