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TSA: Pandemic-Record 2.19 Million People Screened at Airports Friday; Airports, Highways Packed as Travel Surges for Holiday Weekend as Gas Prices Surge; Vaccination Disparities Raise Concerns as Delta Variant Spreads; McCarthy Faces GOP Resistance To Serving On January 6 Panel; Focus On Justice Breyer As Supreme Court Term Ends; National Parks Overcrowded By Pandemic-Weary Travelers; National Parks Forced To Limit Crowds As Visitors Flood Public Lands. Aired 9-10a ET

Aired July 3, 2021 - 09:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN. More people get their news from CNN than any other news source.

CHRISTI PAUL, CNN ANCHOR: Well, how good it is to see you on this Saturday, July 3rd. I'm Christi Paul.

BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Boris Sanchez. Michael Smerconish has the weekend off, so you're in the CNN NEWSROOM and we start this hour with the travel surge for the 4th of July weekend. New travel numbers just in show another pandemic era record broken. The TSA saying moments ago they screened more than 2.19 million people at airports across the country on Friday.

PAUL: While the travel surge reflects the progress the U.S. has made obviously in curbing the coronavirus, health officials are worried the Delta variant specifically could fuel a surge in new infections and put people at risk who are not fully vaccinated. CNN's Polo Sandoval's tracking the holiday rush from New York. I know that those travel numbers, Polo, we just shared, they rival pre-pandemic figures as well. I think it just shows how much people want to get out and about.

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That is so telling, Christi, and I'm glad that you mentioned that because, yes, not only is this latest figure that was just released by the TSA regarding the number of people that used TSA checkpoints yesterday, not only is that a new pandemic era number, but it's also significantly higher than what we saw even before the pandemic and travel experts say it's only going to get busier, busier than this.


SANDOVAL (voice-over): By now, most Americans who plan to travel this holiday weekend may have already braved the 4th of July frenzy on the roads.

VALENTINE CHAVARRIA, TRAVELER: I think it's going to be pretty busy and congested. Yes. That's why I didn't want to wait and leave any later than today.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Or at some of the nation's airports, many of which seem to be bursting at the seams on Friday. AAA expecting nearly 48 million people will have traveled either by road or by air by the time this 4th of July weekend comes to a close, most of them, some 43 million, opted to drive to and from their destinations according to Andrew Gross from AAA.

ANDREW GROSS, AAA: The biggest difference would probably be the number of people traveling by car and there are a number of factors figuring into that. International travel is still down, cruising has not picked back up yet and people may generally feel a little more comfortable traveling by car. You can decide when you're going to leave, where you're going to stop and maybe not everybody in the family's vaccinated yet.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Gross expects rising fuel prices likely aren't keeping families from a long overdue post-pandemic getaway. It won't come cheap, though, with the cost of a gallon of gas averaging $3.12 nationally, the highest in seven years.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: $11. I'm at 2.5 gallons.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Experts say not only is summer demand to blame, but a shortage of fuel truck drivers that has left some service stations empty.

Flying this weekend? You'll want to adhere to your aircrews' instructions or face paying some hefty fines. The Federal Aviation Administration has received over 3,000 reports of unruly passengers this year alone, majority of incidents related to non-compliance of the federal mandate requiring mask wearing on flights.

Hoping to address people who don't listen to crew instructions, the agency rolled out a video message for those who should know better from those who do.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They'll go to jail if they keep doing that stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That is so unsafe.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: They should know better if they're, like, adults.


SANDOVAL: Now, you take all these statistics, it's certainly not surprising why AAA expecting a 40 percent increase in 4th of July travel this year over last, obviously because more people are vaccinated now and they're able to actually finally take that long overdue trip. Airlines are obviously going to do everything that they can try to keep up with demand and that includes asking some air crews to actually work through the holiday so long as it's safe to do so, Boris and Christi.

SANCHEZ: Yes. There could be some potential bumps in the road this weekend. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much. A shortage of truck drivers is causing delivery disruptions at some gas stations, yet another concern for more than 43 million drivers expected to be on the road over the 4th of July weekend.

PAUL: Yes. Last hour, we spoke with industry expert Tom Kloza about what's behind that and asked how long might these high gas prices stick around.



TOM KLOZA, PUBLISHER, OIL PRICE INFORMATION SERVICE: COVID cut demand for gasoline and demand for the trucks that move the gasoline by about 40 or 50 percent for a long period of time. You know, that's a tough job and they moved to other places. They might be driving for Amazon or somebody else, but they have not come back and even if they wanted to come back earlier this year, they have to be trained. You or I don't want to get behind the wheel of a tanker truck.

So it's an issue. The one thing I would tell people is try not to be apoplectic, try not to be angry like a lot of our fellow citizens are on the airlines. If you see a backed pump, it's going to be an annoyance. You'll be able to go to the next station or the station after that and the worst thing would be to have panic and hoarding. Then we'd see Colonial Pipeline all over again with what I called Guzzle Gate.

I think prices are going to stay high in July and August. Your reporter mentioned 3 percent higher demand, I believe, than 2019 and that's what we're all wondering about. We're still, through this first six months of this year, running about 10 percent behind normal gasoline demand numbers. So there is an expectation that leisure driving, vacation driving is going to pump it up, but there's also the possibility that during the week driving, commuting is not going to be what it was, So I think we're OK.


PAUL: So Tom also says he's keeping an eye on the impacts of hurricane season and an ongoing standoff between OPEC and its allies on pumping more oil to meet demand. So we'll keep you posted on that. Quick programming note, though, for you. This July 4th, America is open. I know you're ready to celebrate. Join Don Lemon, Dana Bash, Victor Blackwell and Ana Cabrera for a star-studded evening of music and fireworks. The fun begins on July 4th at 7:00 right here on CNN.

SANCHEZ: Of course we have to consider that there are parts of the country that are still dealing with high rates of coronavirus, relatively high rates. The highly transmissible Delta variant now spreading in all 50 states and it's preying on communities with the lowest vaccination rates. Dr. Rachel Levine says that if you are unvaccinated, you are extremely vulnerable.


DR. RACHEL LEVINE, U.S. SECRETARY ASSISTANT FOR HEALTH: We are concerned about the spread of the Delta variant. The Delta variant has been shown to be more transmissible, more contagious than previous variants. People who are vaccinated are protected against this Delta variant and they are extremely unlikely to get sick and there -- it's virtually impossible for them to require hospitalizations.

For people who are unvaccinated, the Delta variant poses a threat. So in areas that have low vaccination rates, those communities and counties and states are vulnerable.


SANCHEZ: Experts warn that the spread of the Delta variant may make it even harder to reach herd immunity. Delta now accounting for over 25 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the country. The CDC says it is still on track to become the most dominant strain of the virus circulating.

PAUL: And we should point out that since last week, the country has seen a 10 percent increase in COVID cases. CDC director Dr. Rochelle Walensky has warned that the infections and deaths we're now seeing are, quote, "nearly entirely avoidable."

SANCHEZ: But there are still many Americans, especially young adults, that remain skeptical of the vaccine and its side effects. CNN's Amara Walker has more.




WALKER: Do you plan to get vaccinated?

BRITT: No time soon.

WALKER (voice-over): Twenty-one-year-old Destiny Britt says she's given the COVID-19 vaccine a lot of thought.

BRITT: Don't take it as when people don't want to take the vaccine as being rebellious. Listen to understand and be compassionate and sympathize of the history of black people, black and brown people, and the medical industry.

WALKER (voice-over): The Atlanta native is skeptical of the vaccines thanks in large part due to the legacy of the unethical Tuskegee study in which black men with syphilis were deliberately not treated and despite the information she's seen, she worries about potential links to rare conditions like inflammation of the heart, recently reported in 300 of the 20 million young people vaccinated.

BRITT: Well, how do I know that small percentage won't be me?

WALKER (voice-over): Britt, who works at an Atlanta record label, says she doesn't trust the vaccine and instead trusts her own immune system. BRITT: I would just rather go take vitamin C or make sure that I'm eating healthier just to make sure that on my end, it'll be better for my body to fight off rather than just taking the vaccination.

WALKER (voice-over): Britt tells CNN she believes COVID-19 is real and wears a mask at work and when she's around friends and family, but hers is the kind of mindset among some younger people that worries health experts like CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen.

LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: chances are you're not going to get that sick.


However, even individuals with mild illness could have long-lasting symptoms. There are people who have lost their hair, people who continue to have loss of the sense of taste or smell, individuals who have difficulty concentrating, memory lapses, nerve and muscle pain.

WALKER (voice-over): A new CDC report published on Monday shows the weekly rate of newly vaccinated adults, 18 to 29 years old, has slowed from 3.6 percent to 2 percent between April 19 and May 22 and Britt lives in Georgia, a state with some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country and where COVID-19 deaths were among the highest just last week.

As the White House partners with organizations and private companies to incentivize adults under 30 to get vaccinated ...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Being vaccinated is hot.

WALKER (voice-over): ... some corporations like Axe, a men's grooming products company, are holding events like this one at an Atlanta brewery to lure younger people.

BRITT: And the more that it's a push for me to go get vaccinated, it makes me not want it even more.

WALKER (voice-over): When Britt's not at work, she's volunteering her time as an organizer with The People's Uprising, a nonprofit fighting for equality for the black community.

BRITT: And it's just a pain that almost every black person felt equally.

WALKER (voice-over): Ironically, the organization she works for is planning on holding vaccine drives beginning in July to target people like Britt.

JULIUS THOMAS, CEO/FOUNDER, THE PEOPLE'S UPRISING: Go to skating rinks, go to Topgolf, go to amazing places like the BeltLine here that we know young people congregate.

WALKER (voice-over): Julius Thomas, who started The People's Uprising after the deaths of George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, is good friends with Britt and hopes she'll come around. THOMAS: We really are pushing so hard because we care about you that hard.

WALKER (voice-over): And while Britt knows the black community continues to die of COVID-19 at a higher rate than any other group, she says there's no telling if and when she may ever get vaccinated.

BRITT: I just need to make sure that it's been around for some time where I know specifically what the side effects are.


PAUL: And we thank Amara Walker for the report there.

Listen, still to come, residents of a condo building near last week's deadly collapse, well, they're waking up somewhere other than home today because they were scrambling last night after they had to find a place to stay. They were ordered to leave their homes immediately? Why they were given just a couple hours to pack? We'll tell you.

SANCHEZ: Plus, some U.S. national parks are having to turn people away because too many are trying to get in. Now with the 4th of July weekend underway, it may get worse. We're going to take you to one of America's most popular parks to find out why so many are eager to get outdoors.




SANCHEZ: The tragic condo collapse in Surfside, Florida has prompted inspections of other high rise condos in the area and it didn't take long to find a dangerous situation at a building in nearby North Miami Beach.

PAUL: Yes. This is one of the questions a lot of people had. Residents were given, in this particular building, only two hours to evacuate after one of the buildings they were in was deemed unsafe. Here's CNN's Rosa Flores.


ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The city of North Miami Beach asking all of the residents of the building that you see behind me to evacuate. Officials say that the building is structurally and electrically not safe. Now, here's the backstory. This building was built in 1972, it has more than 150 units and according to the city, this building had not filed its 40 year recertification.

Well, after what happened in Surfside and the collapse there, they say that they've asked all the buildings to resubmit their paperwork. Well, today, according to the city, the building submitted this report which is dated January 11th. On the front page, on the first page, it says that the building is considered structurally and electrically not safe. That's why city officials say that they acted very swiftly.

From talking to some of the residents here, I can tell you that they say that they showed up to their homes, some of them were out and about, and they found police officers in the building asking people, urging people to grab what they could from the -- from their homes and to exit the building immediately. They were given two to three hours to pack up and leave.

And of course, right now, it's hurricane season. There is a hurricane in the Atlantic and so all of these people are homeless right now. The city says that they're asking the Red Cross to help out. They also have a few community centers that are stepping up to help some of these people get housed.

From talking to some of these residents, they tell me that they will be staying with family, others will be going to hotels. Some of them are angry because they say that the building should have told them sooner when this report was first issued back in January. Others say that given what happened in Surfside, they're counting their blessings. Rosa Flores, CNN, North Miami Beach, Florida.


SANCHEZ: Rosa, thank you so much. We have yet another hurdle to tell you about in the ongoing search and rescue efforts. The mayor of Miami Dade County signing an emergency order authorizing the demolition of the remaining structure of Champlain Towers South over fears that it may collapse. The mayor of Surfside explained that when the -- the mayor of Surfside explained what might happen once the demolition begins.



MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: The issue with the tower or the remaining tower is that it creates a dangerous situation for the workers in that there's debris falling from it. So I imagine if it were to be demolished, the demolition preparation could take place while the crews were working and during the time the building was actually collapsing, the workers would obviously have to step away, but immediately following the collapse, the workers could reengage.


PAUL: Now, officials are also keeping a close eye on what you see there, Hurricane Elsa. There are concerns obviously that the threat of heavy rainfall and strong winds could interrupt the operations. CNN's Natasha Chen is live this morning in Surfside, Florida. So, Natasha, talk to us about what's happening there this morning.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Christi and Boris. We are monitoring search and rescue efforts that are ongoing, but could potentially pause because of that hurricane you mentioned. It could downgrade to a tropical storm by the time it reaches Florida, but it's not clear yet how that's going to play out. If you can imagine, even 40 mile per hour winds could cause a lot of problems for loose concrete and debris and talking about the demolition, that definitely won't happen until after the storm passes.

But the county attorney, who wrote in a filing on Friday in court, mentioned that the rest of the structure that's standing is behaving like it could collapse and that's posing an immediate threat to the personnel on site right now. Of course in the -- at the same time, you've got the families of 126 unaccounted people bracing themselves still for more news. Meanwhile, the survivors are still trying to figure out what's next for them, dealing with overwhelming emotions since they escaped the building.

Our colleague, Randi Kaye, met with two of them, a man who rescued an 88-year-old woman. They met up again for the first time since the escape with Randi. Here's what they said.



ALFREDO LOPEZ, HELPED RESCUE NEIGHBOR: I'm so happy too. I'm so happy to see you and, you know, we made it out, you know? So that's what's important, right?

GORFINKEL: Yes. Yes. That's the important thing.

LOPEZ: OK. Good. Good.

GORFINKEL: I'm so happy, you know?


GORFINKEL: Up there, somebody's watching.

LOPEZ: Absolutely. It wasn't -- simply, Esther, it just wasn't our time, you know?


CHEN: Incredible stories coming from that experience. Of course so many people did not make it out, including a seven-year-old girl that was found, the daughter of a firefighter. Her dad wasn't there when she was found, but the rescue crews did call him over and you can imagine what a heart wrenching moment that must have been. We are expecting another update from officials in the next hour and we'll bring you more as that comes, Christi and Boris.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Please keep us updated. Natasha Chen from Surfside, Florida, thank you.

PAUL: Thank you, Natasha. So House Leader Kevin McCarthy can appoint some Republicans to the select commission investigating the Capitol riots. The question is will he and what is the political risk? We'll talk about it. Stay close.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): Celebrate "THE FOURTH IN AMERICA," live July 4th at 7:00 on CNN.

PAUL: So Washington's waiting to see who House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy will name to the January 6th commission. This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi named eight members of the House to the select committee. That member -- or that number, rather, includes Republican Liz Cheney who was one of two Republicans to vote for its creation in the first place.

Now, McCarthy has five slots to fill. Speaker Pelosi has the power to veto his selections and it appears few Republicans, even those who voted to impeach former President Trump, even want to serve on the committee. So David Swerdlick is with us, a CNN political commentator and assistant editor of "The Washington Post." David, it is so good to see you this morning. Thank you for being here.


PAUL: Thank you. Yes.

SWERDLICK: Early happy Fourth.

PAUL: I was just going to say the same thing. Happy Fourth to you as well. So let me ask you this question. If Republicans are so hesitant, as we have heard, most express no interest in being involved in this, but if -- I want to talk about different political risks.


PAUL: First, this one. If you're not going to be involved in the process, then of what value will your voice be once the findings come out?

SWERDLICK: Right. Republicans will risk not having a say on the committee in terms of whose questions and what the findings are, but I think the political calculus for Leader McCarthy right now are two things. In the short term, I've heard some reporting that he may consider not appointing anyone at all and give himself the opportunity to sort of wave away Speaker Pelosi and say, look, we don't even take this committee seriously.

On the other hand, if he doesn't appoint anyone, he's giving Democrats basically a double talking point. They can say first there was an agreement for a bipartisan committee, Republicans wanted nothing to do with it, then the speaker appointed a committee and Republicans still wanted nothing to do with it. So how can they possibly argue with whatever the committee ultimately finds down the road?

And I think McCarthy just has to sort that out. You're right, Christi. A lot of Republicans probably don't want to be on it at all. It's a hot potato.

PAUL: And one moderate Republican actually told CNN that they didn't want to serve on the committee because, quote, "It could devolve into a political sideshow." If that happens, who do you think bears the blame for it?

SWERDLICK: I think Republicans bear most of the blame for it. I mean, in theory, the January 6th riot should not be a partisan issue. It obviously is, but when there's a violent insurrection really at the Capitol while Congress is in session certifying the Electoral College vote, that's serious business and the idea that one party is pressing ahead to get to the bottom of it and the other party is sort of saying like, eh, nothing to see here or not much to see here does place a lot of the blame on Republicans, at least for the fallout in the short term.


We'll see what happens when there are committee results and what they find.

PAUL: So, what is the political risk right now for Liz Cheney?

SWERDLICK: Well, there's risk and there's also opportunity. Congresswoman Cheney has been already been stripped of her leadership role. Speaker -- not speaker rather Leader McCarthy has hinted that she might lose her committee assignments and she has drawn a bunch of primary challengers in Wyoming. She's on the outs with Republicans.

But the flip side of that coin for Congresswoman Cheney is that if Republicans shun her, they've also given her permission or freed her to speak her mind, and go full blast as long as she's holding office. And I'm not predicting that she's going to run for president, but why wouldn't she, if she loses her House seat and then has an opportunity to be on a Republican primary debate stage and look at all of the other challengers and say why didn't you take January 6th seriously? Why were you essentially a wholly owned subsidiary of President Trump?

PAUL: That's quite an argument and with that we know two people that have expressed some interest, Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz. What is the calculus there? What's the strategy?

SWERDLICK: I'm sorry. They've expressed interest in the committee?

PAUL: They expressed interest in being on the committee.

SWERDLICK: Right. They are both more of the grandstander-type Congress people. They are not known for their policy chops. And in fact, Congresswoman Greene is not on any committees because her committee assignments were stripped. For the record I think that was a mistake and an overreach by Democrats. But be that as it may, I think they want to have it as a platform to raise their profile and show how much they support President Trump and support President Trump's supporters.

I know one issue that will be a clear point on that committee because Congressman Raskin, a Democrat, is on that committee. One of his big issues, Christi, is defending the power of the legislative branch against -- or not against, but in contrast to the power of the executive branch. And I think that's why the speaker put Congressman Raskin on that committee. That's something that he's been very passionate about.

PAUL: OK. Before I let you go, there are growing calls on the left for Justice Stephen Breyer to retire now and allow President Biden to name a replacement. We know that he just hired law clerks for the fall term. But you said the risks that he's making could be the same miscalculation as Justice Ginsburg. Expound on that for us.

SWERDLICK: Yes. This is pretty straightforward. And let's be clear, Justice Breyer is a great jurist. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is an icon, a feminist icon, a Jewish American icon, and a storied judge and Supreme Court justice. But she made a major miscalculation thinking that her successor would ultimately be appointed by a Democrat. And Justice Breyer risks making that same mistake, if he hangs on, and then let's say, he's still on the court or leaves court after Republicans take control back of the Senate.

There's no reason to think that now minority leader possibly future majority leader Mitch McConnell would allow a President Biden nominee to go through on his watch if he's the majority leader when Justice Breyer steps down from the court or leaves the court.

PAUL: David Swerdlick, we appreciate all of your insight and perspective. Thank you for getting up on a Saturday -- holiday morning for us.

SWERDLICK: Absolutely.

PAUL: We appreciate it.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Christi.

PAUL: You too.

SANCHEZ: A record-breaking heat wave. Hundreds of sudden deaths and raging wildfires, climate change in the northwest making extreme weather the norm. So, what are the potential long-term impacts? You'll hear from an expert after a quick break. Stay with us.



PAUL: So, a year after the world shut down which also meant travel was impossible, people are back out there. They are national parks from coast to coast, and boy, are those parks feeling a classic family vacation spots such as Yellowstone is seeing lines you'd normally see in Disney World. Some parks have enforced to shut their gates before 9:00 a.m. in fact because they've reached capacity. Here's CNN's Lucy Kafanov.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In this majestic corner of southeastern Utah lies a 76,000 acre wonderland boasting some of the world's most extraordinary rock formations carved by water and wind over millions of years. Arches National Park is a tourist magnet. These days only a lucky few make it in. The influx of visitors forcing the park to temporarily shut its gates almost daily.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: 7:30 we rolled in and we just missed it by a couple minutes, the park was closed.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We showed up early this morning. It's pretty disappointing we can't get in.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: This is my only vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How does it make you feel?


ANGIE RICHMAN, RANGER, ARCHES NATIONAL PARK: 2021 will be our busiest year on record.

KAFANOV: The crowds mean added challenges.

RICHMAN: We are seeing a lot of first-time visitors, you know, people who have never camped before. We see a lot of dogs on trail, drones in the park. We see a lot more trash in the park and we do see graffiti.

KAFANOV: That hasn't fazed families taking their first post pandemic vacation.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just feels good to be out doing stuff again.

KAFANOV: Many are seeking out new thrills on nearby public lands.

KAFANOV (on camera): That is a really vertical wall.


KAFANOV: This is obviously a very popular activity.

GREEN: It is very popular.

KAFANOV (voice-over): Moab Cowboy Off-Road Adventures owner Kent Green says business is booming.

KAFANOV (on camera): So people who can't get in to Arches can do something like this instead.


GREEN: They can either take a tour or go rent a Jeep or rent a side by side to come out on their own.

KAFANOV (voice-over): That's if they have the stomach for it. But Green is concerned about visitors who aren't informed or worse, ignore the rules.

GREEN: We need to be able to enjoy our public lands, as long as we use it with respect because you want to leave it like you found it. You know, you want to be like you're the first person to be there.

KAFANOV: Moab is bursting at the seams and it's not just because of tourists. The draw of the great outdoor has lured remote workers and second home buyers sending housing and rental prices soaring.

RACHEL MOODY, MOAB REAL ESTATE AGENT: We have had a lot of people leave the community based on not being able to afford to live here.

KAFANOV: Businesses are desperate for staff. The local McDonald's offering $18.00 an hour. More than double the state's minimum wage. The crisis means agencies responsible for managing public lands can't hire enough workers to deal with the crowds.

KAFANOV (on camera): Is this is a problem that's limited to Arches National Park?

RICHMAN: Absolutely not. This is something that parks especially the big national parks are struggling with across the country.

KAFANOV (voice-over): The future of America's wild spaces hanging in the balance.

RICHMAN: There will be a point where, you know, the experience here is just not enjoyable and people won't want to come.

KAFANOV (on camera): No longer America's wild space, potentially.

RICHMAN: Potentially, yes.

KAFANOV (voice-over): These iconic landscapes are America's national treasures. In the words of conservationist John Muir "the fountains of life."

KAFANOV (on camera): This is a bucket list destination for people from all across the globe. You can see the crowds gathering here at Arches but it's not just this national park. The National Park Service says it is expecting the busiest summer yet.

Lucy Kafanov, CNN, Arches National Park in Utah.


SANCHEZ: Thanks for that report, Lucy. The northwestern U.S. experiencing an unprecedented heat wave and it is not expected to let up through the holiday weekend. More than 4 million people are under heat warnings. Drought conditions also worsening. Ninety-three percent of the west experiencing some form of drought and leading to fears of a catastrophic wildfire season. Experts say this is the result of climate change.

And the data speaks for itself. Federal weather data shows the average number of heat waves the country sees each year has increased, tripling from two every year in the 1960s to six each year in the last decade. The intensity of the heat also getting worse.

The average temperature, during a heat wave, now half a degree warmer than it was in the 1960s. And that may not seem like much, but the results are disastrous. And the implications for millions of Americans are grave.

In Oregon, when scientists calculated projections for the most recent heat wave, the numbers were so extreme, they thought there had been a mistake, a glitch. It turns out there was no mistake.

Joining us now to discuss the current conditions and if they're a sign of things to come is Erica Fleishman, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute. She's also a professor at the Oregon State University College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Erica, thank you so much for joining us this morning. I'm curious, when we talk about this intense heat wave over the last few weeks is this an aberration or potentially a future baseline, where we should start setting up expectations moving forward?

ERICA FLEISHMAN, DIRECTOR OF THE OREGON CLIMATE CHANGE RESEARCH INSTITUTE: It's a little bit of both. The magnitude of the heat wave, just how hot it was, probably was anomalous, but the fact that there are more heat waves is not surprising.

As climate continues to change, we're both observing and continuing to project more frequent heat waves, longer heat waves and more intense heat waves. Also more extremes of all types. So it's not inconsistent with climate change, that cold spells also are becoming more common and more intense during the winter season.

SANCHEZ: Now, you've gone on the record to say that Oregon's infrastructure is not ready for these increased temperatures. Help us understand what needs to change.

FLEISHMAN: Infrastructure around the country and around the world wasn't designed for the types of average and extreme climate conditions that are becoming more common as climate continues to change. So, if you think about the averages and the extremes for a particular region, every region is built to a set of expectations.

South Florida is not designed for the type of winter temperatures that are common in Minnesota, for example. And so, as conditions change, infrastructure needs to be -- needs to be updated to be able to accommodate those change conditions.

SANCHEZ: And I imagine one of those things that must change is probably air conditioning, right? Federal data shows that many of the households affected by the heat wave in the northwest don't have air conditioning. Fifty-six percent of Seattle homes don't have it, 21 percent in Portland don't have it.


I assume that building owners and homeowners need to start to consider -- need to consider equipping air conditioning in their homes. FLEISHMAN: That's true. People are thinking a lot more about air conditioning. They're also thinking more about passive cooling, so ensuring that buildings have ventilation that allows us to take advantage of what are still relatively cool evenings in the northwest. Thinking a lot about building materials. So part of it is air conditioning, but part of it is changes in construction overall, in terms of materials and designs that will allow people to take advantage of natural cooling wherever possible.

SANCHEZ: I'm glad you mentioned that because I imagine that if millions of people start getting air conditioners, that's going to be a drain on energy and could potentially worsen the pace of -- or contribute to the worsening pace of climate change. What can people at home do to try to offset some of these issues?

FLEISHMAN: Well, over the moderate to long term, first of all, you're correct about that, especially if there's a spike right now. But many people individually, as their utilities have options for renewable energy sources are choosing where their resources permit to select renewables as part of their electricity mix. Obviously, across the country, there are -- there's increasing interest and increasing economic incentive to turn to renewables.

For example, wave energy, solar energy, and move away from sources of electricity, such as coal that tend to increase greenhouse gas emissions. So as national electric infrastructure changes, there's potential to reduce emissions.

SANCHEZ: And, Erica, what about water restrictions? I know parts of California have either already established them or considering them, wildfires are going to be a huge concern as we get later on into summer. What is it like in Oregon and Washington when it comes to restrictions? Would they have a meaningful impact?

FLEISHMAN: It probably depends on what sectors are affected. It also depends on the extent of the drought and what type of effects you're talking about.

So, I mean, wildfire seasons are becoming longer. Vegetation is quite dry across the northwest. People are being encouraged throughout the holiday weekend to not use fireworks if they're --certainly not if they're unauthorized. But also be extremely careful about anything that can spark a fire.

And in that sense, you know, water restrictions may help in some areas, but it's extraordinarily dry. And so there's still a high wildfire risk.

SANCHEZ: Professor Erica Fleishman, we have to leave the conversation there. But we appreciate your expertise. Thanks.

FLEISHMAN: My pleasure.

PAUL: So, the billionaire space race, Branson versus Bezos. And you know what? They want to take you with them. We'll talk about it.



PAUL: So, two of the world's wealthiest men are racing to the end of the Earth and we mean that literally. British billionaire Richard Branson has announced plans to beat fellow billionaire and rival Jeff Bezos to space.

SANCHEZ: Branson, of course, is the founder of Virgin Galactic. And he's going to fly his company's rocket-powered plane on July 11th, nine days before Bezos' planned July 20th launch. CNN's Rachel Crane has more on this story.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Boris and Christi, while it certainly seems like a billionaire race to space from the outside, Richard Branson telling me he does not see this as a race. And that his addition to the flight manifest of this upcoming space flight in just 10 days is not dictated by hubris or a desire to be first.

Branson saying this flight of his is 17 years in the making, and that a successful test flight just six weeks ago, coupled with an updated FAA license allowing Virgin Galactic to now fly space participants, not just crew, in addition to his engineers going through their paces and giving them the all clear, have enabled his updated timeline.

Branson will be joining three mission specialists in addition to two pilots on this fourth crewed space flight for the company. And they will travel more than three times the speed of sound to an apogee of over 80 kilometers above Earth, experiencing a few precious minutes of weightlessness before gliding back to Earth and earning their astronaut wings according to the company.

The announcement that Branson will be on this flight is a departure from the company's earlier plans to fly four mission specialists on this upcoming test flight. Branson was to be on the next flight. And many have speculated that Galactic's timeline was accelerated following Jeff Bezos' announcement that he would be flying on July 20th on his space company Blue Origin's maiden crewed flight of their suborbital system New Shepard.

When I asked him if Bezos' plans influenced his own, Branson maintained that, no. A seat on this flight to test the astronaut experience was open, and he wasn't going to let anyone else fill it. He even invited Bezos to his flight. Take a listen.


RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I would love Jeff to come and see our flight off, whenever it takes place. I would love to go and watch him go in his flight. And I think both of us will wish each other well. And it really doesn't matter whether one of us goes a few days before the other.



CRANE: Whether Bezos will take him up on the offer remains to be seen. Virgin Galactic intends to conduct two more test flights before opening up their commercial operations in early 2022 to the more than 600 people that have paid upwards of $200,000 a ticket to ride on their space system. And that company is saying they also have a wait list of people waiting to sign up. Boris, Christi.

SANCHEZ: Our eyes will be on the sky. Rachel Crane, thank you so much for that.

Back here on Earth, Americans are hitting the road and taking to the skies over the July 4th holiday weekend. Why health experts fear this could cause the delta variant to surge, especially among those who are unvaccinated.

Don't go anywhere. We'll be right back.