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CDC Now Calls Delta Variant A "Variant Of Concern; Former White House COVID Advisor: Vaccine Effective Against Delta Variant; Delta Air Lines Passengers & Crew Subdue Off-Duty Flight Attendant; Several High-Profile Americans Issue Public Apologies. Aired 2:30-3p ET

Aired June 15, 2021 - 14:30   ET




VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: The U.S. has hit another grim milestone. More than 600,000 people in this country have died from the coronavirus pandemic.

And the Delta variant is spreading this this country. Today, the CDC is listing that variant as one of concern. That designation is given to strains which are more transmissible and can cause severe disease.

But experts say that vaccines are effective against it.

Here's the former White House senior advisor on COVID response.


ANDY SLAVITT, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COVID ADVISOR: Here in the U.S., it's a better picture if you're vaccinated.

So for those vaccinated, the vaccines are proving to be quite effective, even against the Delta variant. So you have very little to worry about.

If you're not vaccinated, the Delta variant will spread in your community more quickly. It will take less exposure to get COVID-19.

And so this is another reason to encourage people who haven't been vaccinated to strongly consider doing it.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Let's talk about what this means for all of us.

Daniel Engber is a senior editor for "The Atlantic." He recently wrote a piece titled, "America Is Now in the Hands of the Vaccine Hesitants."

Daniel, great to have you here.

Let me just pull up for everybody a map right now of the states that have the lowest percentage of adults who are vaccinated. Those are the lightest states. Those 10 that you see on your screen.

And so why do you think that the rest of the country -- I mean, we're in states where a majority of people are vaccinated. Why do you think we're at the mercy now of the unvaccinated?


DANIEL ENGBER, SENIOR EDITOR, "THE ATLANTIC": Well, we're at the mercy of the unvaccinated in the sense that if enough Americans are vaccinated, that's really going to slow the spread of SARS COV-2.

If we don't hit that very high rate, we're going to see outbreaks continuing on for the foreseeable future. So it comes down to that.

CAMEROTA: But will we see the outbreaks in those states that we just showed? In other words, will the outbreaks of, let's say, the Delta variant be contained in the places where there's very low vaccination rates, or is there a greater danger of it sort of sweeping across the country somehow?

ENGBERG: Well, the two things are related. Of course, if you get pockets of -- where there are high rates of people who have not been vaccinated, that creates a very significant and particular danger.

But as long as the virus, what it wants to do is replicate and spread, so if there are reservoirs in different parts of the country, that makes it only that much easier for the virus to spread all over the place.

CAMEROTA: You know, Dan, obviously, there's free will. At this point, it's a choice.

I mean, at this point, the information is out there. It's not as though people don't have at their fingertips the research about the safety of the vaccines.

Everybody has a different reason. Everyone who's unvaccinated has a different reason for not wanting to get the vaccination. And of course, they have freedom of choice and it really is up to them.

And of course, hospitals and doctors still have to treat them. And doctors tell us that everyone they're seeing now in their emergency rooms with COVID is unvaccinated.

And I'm just wondering, from your research, if you think at some point, there will be some sort of consequence?

For instance, people can still make a choice to smoke. That's a personal choice. But insurance companies charge them more. They have much higher premiums because they're making that health choice.

So, for the unvaccinated, what's the consequence?

ENGBER: Well, I mean, the consequence is a much higher risk of getting seriously ill from COVID.

But it's not like this is, you know, a totally new phenomenon. We see that with all other kinds of vaccines, with flu shots every year.

The population that is most likely to get the flu shot is going to have some protection from the flu. And that can spare them inconvenience or even very serious, dangerous illness.

So, you know, it's going to be like we've seen in the past, people who choose not to get vaccinated are going to be at higher risk.

CAMEROTA: Yes. And I think they know that at this point.

Dan Engber, thank you very much for sharing your article and thoughts with us.

ENGBER: Sure. Thanks for having me.

CAMEROTA: So, the FAA says they are keeping up their zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers as long as the problem continues.

Next, we'll talk to the man who sat next to that off-duty flight attendant accused of assaulting two crew members. Just the latest in the case of violence in the skies. That's next.



BLACKWELL: So we've got new details about that frightening incident aboard an Atlanta-bound Delta flight involving an off-duty flight attendant.

Authorities say the man choked a crew member, assaulted another, and said he was seated next to a terrorist just before he had to be restrained.





STEPHAN JAMAR DUNCAN, OFF-DUTY FLIGHT ATTENDANT: All three of you. All three of you.



BLACKWELL: Investigators say that man was Stephon Jamar Duncan, 34 years old.

The flight originated in Los Angeles, was diverted to Oklahoma City.

And one of the passengers who jumped into help is Rashaun Williams. He's with me live. Rashaun, thanks for being with us.

You were sitting next to this man. I watched your video on Instagram, on Twitter as well. A lot of people have seen it.

You said he started asking you personal questions. You don't like to talk to people on flights. When did you realize that something here was suspicious?

RASHAUN WILLIAMS, DELTA AIR LINES PASSENGER: Well, Victor, you don't realize it until later. It took me so long to put everything together.

When I sat on the flight, the seat next to me was completely empty. He joined right before the door closed.

A lot of people are saying he had on a helmet and knee pads and elbow pads. He only had on a helmet but he had on a baseball cap under the helmet. So you think maybe he rode a scooter or something. You're not thinking anything too weird.

He sat down. He was very familiar with the flight attendants. He ordered a specialty drink. Whispered in her ear. Gets very comfortable. Takes his face mask off.

Says, hey, I'm vaccinated, but my name is Stephon. What's your name? What do you do? Where do you live? All these questions.

So eventually, he starts asking for my business card or my phone number and I didn't give him those.

But he basically started writing something on a note. And then I later learned that that note was passed to the flight attendants. And he basically said, the guy sitting next to me, Rashaun, is making terroristic threats or something like that. Just a crazy situation.

BLACKWELL: Apparently, he was, according to the police report, that he stashed tennis balls with writings on them, trash, food throughout the plane.

And on that note, it said, "I am ATL based. Alert Delta manager, terrorist on board. Contact pilots."

Did you see any of this stashing that was happening around the flight?

WILLIAMS: Yes. So, he sat next to me. I'm in 1-A. He's in 1-B. So no leg room to put bags so all his bags were above in overhead containers.

As soon as we're in the air, he grabs the bags, puts them on the floor. He takes a dirty tennis ball out, puts it in-between us, a bottle of cologne, puts it in between us, two phones. He just has a lot of stuff everywhere.

So you know, when you're sitting next to a stranger and they're kind of taking out a lot of random stuff and trying to talk to you on a night flight, you are just trying to ignore them. [14:45:07]


WILLIAMS: I had my hood on, my headphones on, and I was trying to ignore him. I didn't see what he was doing in the bins because they were behind us. And we were sitting in 1-A and 1-B.

BLACKWELL: So he gets up, he makes this announcement on the P.A. system, quote, "The plane is going through turbulence, put on a seat belt. The plane is being taken over and the plane will be going under 10,000 feet."

When did this become violent?

WILLIAMS: So, he didn't say all of that. And nobody knew it was him making the announcement.

What he said was -- he sounded exactly like a flight attendant. I didn't know it was him on the P.A. until later.

So he said, everyone, have your seat, we're going to be experiencing some turbulence. Make sure you have access to an oxygen mask, things you have probably heard before.

But it sounded a little weird because he mentioned oxygen masks and he said it with such a sense of urgency and that's when all hell basically broke loose.

You had an off-duty pilot who rushed to the front -- that's the guy in the black Polo shirt, black pants -- and you had two off-duty flight attendants who rushed to the front to help confront this guy with the one flight attendant who was already up there, to get him off the mic.

And I know a lot of people are saying he was trying to open a door. That's not true. He knows enough not -- he knows enough that you can't open a door at that type of height, right, with the cabin pressure.

They were trying to get him to get off the mic and stop causing a panic with the passengers, with his announcement.

And that's when it turned into an argument and the argument turned into a fight and he just overpowered all of them.

BLACKWELL: And when you found out the -- I don't know if you knew then, but that he was an off-duty flight attendant, in hindsight, what did you think? Did it all make sense, the announcement, the familiarity after that?

WILLIAMS: No one knew until the -- the only people who knew he was an off-duty flight attendant are people who can pull up his seat number and see he was on a nonrevenue ticket, right?


WILLIAMS: He was on a standby ticket. Nobody else knew. So we knew kind of at the end when you put all the pieces together.

But it didn't matter because what really mattered is that this was a person going through a mental health crisis. It doesn't matter if you're off-duty flight attendant, doctor, lawyer, police officer.

He was clearly having a mental health crisis.

BLACKWELL: Well, you and other passengers on that plane got up and held him down until you got to Oklahoma City there.

You heard anything from Delta? You getting any sky miles out of this? Lounge access? Anything, Rashaun?


WILLIAMS: I've heard from everybody but Delta. I've heard people say they should give me seat 1-A, like, retire seat 1-A, like a jersey, like I'm Kobe or something. I've heard they should put me on the board at Delta.

They sent everybody an email offering 12,500 bonus files for the inconvenience, like bonus miles.


WILLIAMS: But I haven't heard anything personal from Delta at all.

BLACKWELL: You should get sky lounge. Maybe a brass plaque on the 1-A. Something.


BLACKWELL: Rashaun Williams --


BLACKWELL: -- thank you so much for sharing the story.

WILLIAMS: Thank you for having me, Victor.

CAMEROTA: Those are all great suggestions.

BLACKWELL: Something for the 12,000 -- come on, Delta. Come on.

CAMEROTA: Always get the seat 1-A.


CAMEROTA: Or be on Delta's board. I like both those suggestions.

BLACKWELL: I don't know if they're equal footing but he'll take one or the other.

CAMEROTA: All right, now, listen to this. Marjorie Taylor Greene, congresswoman, is apologizing. Chrissy Teigen, model, is apologizing. Lin-Manuel Miranda is apologizing. What's going on here? Two to four things. Apology edition, next.



BLACKWELL: Alison and I are on from 2:00 to 4:00 in the east. So we picked two to four things that we're talking about, we know that you're talking about as well.

And today, two to four apologies. A flurry of them today.

Let's start with Georgia Republican Congressman Marjorie Taylor Greene.

CAMEROTA: On Monday, she apologized for comparing Speaker Pelosi's mask rules to Nazis sending Jews to chambers during the Holocaust.

Here is how she feels now after visiting the Holocaust museum.


REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I have made a mistake and it's really bothered me for a couple of weeks now. I definitely want to own it.

The horrors of the Holocaust are something that some people don't even believe happened and some people deny.

But there's no comparison to the Holocaust. And there are words that I've said and remarks I made that I know are offensive, and for that, I want to apologize.


BLACKWELL: During questions from reporters, 47-year-old Greene also said, quote, "I'd actually visited Auschwitz when I was 19 years old so it isn't like I learned about it today."

CAMEROTA: Here are my thoughts. Good for her.

But she did say something else that I think we also need to zero in on. She said I'll take off my political hat now to say this.

And she's saying, "I want us all to live in a wonderful country, no matter what our politics are."

That's a beautiful sentiment.


CAMEROTA: I hope when she puts her political hat back on, which she does a lot, she will still feel this way.

I don't know why she had to take off her political hat to say that. But I hope she'll maintain that in the throes of politics. BLACKWELL: If she has a context at 19 years old, 20 years later, she

did not apply it when making these comments. And didn't apologize for comparing Democrats to Nazis. We'll see how far this goes.

I guess that's her political hat.


BLACKWELL: So we don't know if the comments will be changed.

Listen to this. Model Chrissy Teigen apologizing for horrible tweets she posted years ago.


BLACKWELL: So last month, Courtney Stodden said Teigen bullied them when they were 16 years old. And several others said Teigen cyber bullied them.

In her apology, Tiegen said -- this is part of it -- "There's simply no excuse for my past horrible tweets. My targets didn't deserve them. No one does. Many needed empathy, kindness, understanding and support, not my meanness masquerading as a casual edgy humor. I was a troll, full stop, and I am so sorry."

CAMEROTA: Good for her.


CAMEROTA: That's great. She's asking for the opportunity to seek self- improvement and change.

I am on a forgiveness roll this week.

BLACKWELL: You're just forgiving folks?


BLACKWELL: Just handing it out?

CAMEROTA: That sounds good to me. Keep going, Chrissy.

BLACKWELL: Lin-Manuel Miranda of "Hamilton" fame, is issuing an apology.

Miranda is addressing criticism that his new film, "Hidden Heights," about vibrant and diverse community in Washington Heights, New York, features only light-skinned actors as the musical's main characters while Afro-Latinos are in the movie but primarily in the background and in dance scenes.

CAMEROTA: Miranda vowed to, quote, "do better." Says, "I can hear the hurt and frustration over colorism, of feeling unseen in the feedback, I'm trying to paint a mosaic of this community. We fell short. I'm sorry."

You're thoughts?

BLACKWELL: How long does it take to film a movie?

CAMEROTA: Of what?

BLACKWELL: Is this the first time anyone has said to Lin-Manuel Miranda, look at your cast?

CAMEROTA: Why is it coming up now?

BLACKWELL: Why is it coming up now as people are buying tickets for it. But --

CAMEROTA: He was interviewed in "The Root" and a reporter asked: Why didn't you have more dark-skinned people in the movie?

BLACKWELL: I get that. But during production, none much your production crew, no one there, no one who is filming this?

CAMEROTA: Does that mean it wasn't a big issue?

BLACKWELL: I think any organization that has to deal with diversity has to look at who they're putting into a cast, onto a team, and then answer those questions. I don't know that you need to wait until there's a criticism to then respond.

CAMEROTA: But what do you -- oh, time's up.


BLACKWELL: Time's up.

CAMEROTA: I have a lot more questions for you. We may have to move it to two to four things online.

BLACKWELL: All right. Let's do it.

CAMEROTA: All right.

BLACKWELL: Sixteen hours to go before President Biden's high-stakes showdown with Vladimir Putin. How he plans to address the recent attacks on America, next.