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Fourth Of July Celebrations Underway Amid Delta Variant Concerns; Remaining Part Of Building In Florida Condo Collapse To Be Demolished As Soon As Possible; Massive Cyberattack Hits Hundreds Of Businesses. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired July 4, 2021 - 15:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Happy Fourth of July.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: Happy Fourth of July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Fourth of July.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Happy Independence Day from our family to yours. God bless America.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me on this Independence Day. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

So, on this Fourth of July, millions of Americans are celebrating in a way that seemed unimaginable just a year ago. COVID lockdowns restrictions have since been lifted largely across the country.

President Biden had set a goal for today to have 70 percent of American adults at least partially vaccinated. The U.S. will fall just short, though only reaching 67 percent.

Meanwhile, there are rising concerns over the highly contagious delta variant becoming more widespread. It's now responsible for a quarter of all new cases in the U.S. and that rise and the low vaccination rates seen in some states have health experts warning it may not be time to ditch your masks altogether just yet.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Vaccines are not even as good as they are and highly effective. Nothing is 100 percent, and if you put yourself in an environment in which you have a high level of viral dynamics and a very low level of vaccine, you might want to go the extra step and say when I'm in that area, where there's a considerable degree of viral circulation, I might want to go the extra mile to be cautious enough to make sure that I get the extra added level of protection even though the vaccines themselves are highly effective. (END VIDEO CLIP)

WHITFIELD: We have team coverage of the holiday celebrations across the country. Let's go first to CNN's Arlette Saenz at the White House. Arlette, what's the plan for tonight? Some thousand people there at the White House as invited guests. Any concerns, however, from the White House that that gathering could potentially look like the Trump White House super spreader Rose Garden event.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, the White House is using this Fourth of July holiday as a point of celebration to mark the progress that's been made in the fight against COVID-19, hosting the largest gathering to date here at the White House since President Biden took office.

And while there were some concerns about the optics of holding such an event, ultimately the White House decided to go forward with it as that marker of the progress of COVID-19. But even as we are set to see the celebrations here at the White House and across the country, there is serious concern within the White House about the rising threat of that delta variant particularly in those pockets of the country where vaccination rates remain low.

The White House is falling just short of their 70 percent goal to have at least one dose within adult Americans' arms by this Fourth of July holiday and that they have acknowledged that they have more work to do.

Here is the COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients talking to our colleague Dana Bash earlier today.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: We've made a lot of progress. I think we're much further along than anyone would have anticipated at this point with two out of three adult Americans with at least one shot.

And if you have been fully vaccinated, you are protected. If you're not vaccinated, you are not protected. So, we're going to double down on our efforts to vaccinate millions of more Americans across July and August so people get that protection and can enjoy life returning to normal.


SAENZ: So, even as the White House is preparing for that hard work ahead, today, it's a day of celebration as they will host a Fourth of July barbecue.

They have invited around a thousand people including members of the military and also other essential workers and their families to really highlight the sacrifices in service of so many during this pandemic.

Now each of the attendees was asked to receive a COVID test one to three days before attending and while vaccinations are not required to the attend the event, those who are not vaccinated are asked to wear masks. The White House still trying to take so many precautions as COVID-19 remains evident in this country.

But today, it's really a point of celebration, but the White House also issuing caution around the pandemic.

WHITFIELD: All right, Arlette Saenz, thank you so much. Let's talk more about all this as many Americans across the nation dropped their masks, let down their guard, so to speak up for this Fourth of July weekend.

A word of caution from Dr. Anthony Fauci. Today, he said even vaccinated people may want to wear masks in areas with high coronavirus transmission potential and low vaccination rates.

Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Jayne Morgan, the Executive Director of the Piedmont Healthcare COVID Task Force in Atlanta.

Dr. Morgan, so good to see you.


WHITFIELD: I mean, we can't help but say that -- I mean, people are getting a lot of conflicting messaging right now. Yes, you know, big celebrations for how many people have been vaccinated whether it's one shot or two, some jurisdictions, LA County for one encouraging people to wear masks in public indoor places, even if you have been vaccinated.

And now, you've got the White House on this Fourth of July, hosting an event, a thousand people as Arlette just described, they're not required to have a vaccine -- had been vaccinated, and those who haven't been should wear a mask. Do you have concerns that this could potentially look like or even result in a kind of super spreader event that -- who can forget, you know, the Trump White House had in the Rose Garden?

Of course, people were not -- vaccines weren't available at that time, but there are still concerns that might come from mixing people who are vaccinated, not vaccinated, this go round.


MORGAN: Right. Happy Fourth of July, Fredricka, and to everyone. We have such a cause to celebrate in everything that we've accomplished in this country, in this nation with regard to vaccinations, so many people to thank, not only the first responders, the entire scientific community, and all of those people who stepped up to participate in clinical trials.

It is very, very important such that we could get where we are today, 66 percent of this country has at least one vaccination in their arm. Our cup is certainly half full, and not half empty.

And on this Fourth of July, we want to celebrate all that we have done, this mountain that we are climbing and where we are.

And so we look at --

WHITFIELD: I was going to say -- celebrate yes, but the risks are not gone because we are hearing from Fauci and others who are saying, wait a minute, still -- great, so many people are vaccinated, but still, we must not let our guard down. We still have to take precautions.

S, that's a little confusing for a few people. How do you help allay fears? How do you help people understand that precautions still have to be made?

MORGAN: Absolutely. And in response to your question with the White House, one of the things I like about the White House gathering is that is going to be outdoors, that they are asking people to be vaccinated, and if not, to be tested and to make certain that they are COVID negative, and if they have not been vaccinated to wear a mask, and this is in line with the C.D.C. guidance and following science.

And it really is based on people being truthful and following behavior. If you have not been vaccinated, wear a mask. If you are vaccinated, then you're welcome to attend this outdoor event and feel comfortable.

And so, we want to continue to follow science. Our concern as we go forward is that this next wave as we are approaching it will be unevenly distributed. We have over 1,000 counties in this country that have vaccination rates of 25 percent or less. We are very concerned about these communities becoming the spread of a nidus of not only this delta variant, which is very contagious, but also further mutations to come.

And so, we want to make certain that people step up and receive vaccinations and understand how we all can be a part of this solution as we are moving forward.

WHITFIELD: So, while the U.S. has fallen short of you know, President Biden's goal of 70 percent of adult Americans vaccinated by at least, you know, one dose, how do you and the medical community reach the what -- eight million people in order to get to you know, that goal or even close to -- closer to herd immunity

How do you convince, those who are hesitant versus how do you convince those who are simply refusing to even entertain the idea of a vaccine?

MORGAN: Here is the most important thing, Fredricka, of the people that we have currently hospitalized in our system here in the United States with COVID-19, ninety nine point two percent of those hospitalizations are in the unvaccinated population. That is a huge shift and it is clear that these vaccines are working and that they are conferring protection.

It is also clear that the reason our hospitalizations have not been able to get down to zero is because of the ongoing admissions of these unvaccinated people. And so, we want to be certain that people get the message that vaccines protect and not only protects you, it also protects those who are unvaccinated around you like children who have no other options currently in our society.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Jayne Morgan, thank you so much for being with us. Happy Fourth.

MORGAN: Happy Fourth.

WHITFIELD: All right, so right now millions of Americans are enjoying this Fourth of July holiday with their friends and family. CNN's Polo Sandoval and Evan McMorris-Santoro are checking in on some of the celebrations.

Let's go first to Evan in New York where people are poised and ready to watch your fireworks display unlike they were able to do last year.


EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, that's right. We are only a few hours now from those fireworks. It should be just across the river from me right over there next to Manhattan.

Here in Greenpoint, Brooklyn where I am, it should be a great place to see them, and where I am, the Greenpoint Terminal Market is a place that's going to be hopefully according to organizers, soon very packed with people coming here to see those fireworks.

Thousands of tickets have been sold for all different kinds of events here. There's a dance party way behind me. This is a movie theater that I'm standing right in. And over here is a little play area, like a carnival for kids to jump around on those expandable blow up things. It looks pretty fun, but I don't think they'll let me do it.

This is a sign of how New York is feeling right now. Anybody you talk to here says that this event is not about COVID. They're not talking about COVID. They're talking about the pandemic. They're saying we're here, we are ready to party. We are ready to see some fireworks, and that's where New York is at right now -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: I think Evan, you can sweet talk your way into jumping around on that, you know, inflatable thing as you put it. We can make it happen.

And of course it wouldn't be Fourth of July --

MCMORRIS-SANTORO: It looks really fun.

WHITFIELD: Yes, they are fun. It wouldn't be Fourth of July without Nathan's famous Hotdog Eating Contest and it happened today and Polo Sandoval was there, hopefully you've upped your game on you know beyond 0.75 of a hotdog. Tell me what's happening and can you possibly compete with the reigning champion?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, I think most of us may not go through life without eating 76 hotdogs and yet, Joey Chestnut was able to do that in 10 minutes earlier today. If that isn't a sign that things are slowly getting back to normal or haven't gotten back to normal, then, I don't know what is. Like here's what we do know. Today, Joey Chestnut maintaining that

title, with Nathan's Famous Hotdog Eating Contest, breaking his own record now devouring 76 hotdogs and that crowning achievement as he is able to maintain that mustard belt.

The ladies competition, Michelle Lesco at 112 pounds devouring just under 31 hotdogs also coming out the big winner there. But look, the other big story was up stage and that was a massive crowd that was gathered.

Most of them, maskless, sitting shoulder to shoulder, that's also a sign obviously, 66 percent of adults in New York State now fully vaccinated. These kinds of sporting events -- yes, sporting events can come back again as we've been seeing for the last several months here on the iconic Coney Island boardwalk.

We were last year, the crowd was definitely not as big. But also, we were seeing many more masks last year. Park workers were handing out free masks as well. COVID test as well. Very different, obviously. People are feeling more comfortable coming out.

The big amusement park that you see over my shoulder -- that was shut down last year -- now, a lot of screams coming from that park this year. So again, New York bouncing right back on this Fourth of July -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, let's say it, it is nice seeing people behind you and everyone is having fun, a bounce in their step and it looks like you, Polo and Evan, you're having a good time, too.


WHITFIELD: Especially Evan, when you get on one of those jumpy- inflatable things. I can't wait to see that. Somebody take a picture.

All right, good to see you both. Thank you so much.

Okay, so of course there's room for fun and food and everything else this Independence Day. Americans are, however still facing rising costs when it comes to gas prices, airline tickets, even fireworks.

CNN chief business correspondent Christine Romans explains why.


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CHIEF BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We are in the midst of a sustained economic recovery. We've got manufacturing prices going up because of all these supply bottlenecks. Right. We've got inflation here and there

We've got gas prices up because the economy is recovering -- recovering strongly.


WHITFIELD: All right, but the cost to have that Fourth of July family barbecue, it's actually cheaper than last year. On average, it's going to cost just shy of $6.00 per person slightly down from last July 4th.

Stew Leonard, Jr. is the CEO of Stew Leonard's Grocery Stores. He's become a regular with us, too. This is sort of a well check.


WHITFIELD: You know, we've talked to you a few times over the year and a half during this pandemic. We're doing great. How are you and your customers doing? And what are you passing on to your customers when it comes to the cost of some holiday staples you sell?

LEONARD: Well, I'm here in Yonkers right now. I'm in Yonkers. I'm not far from where your reporter just reported. We're just above Manhattan, and we're seeing people are coming out this Fourth of July.

We just are wrapping up on 300,000 customers over this holiday, and I can tell you, they don't care if it's raining or shining. They are going out because they want to get together and party this Fourth of July.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's fantastic. That is good news. I definitely see the crowd behind you. They are busy. It's bustling in there.



WHITFIELD: So, what does the price of a cookout, you know, for a family of four these days, you know compared to pre-Independence Day?

LEONARD: Well, you know what? It's spotty, I would say. We don't see price increases on a lot of products. Milk is the same, butter is the same. Our chicken, even the ground beef. But you do see an increase in the center cut steak, your New York strip, your ribeye, your porterhouse, and the reason for that is all restaurants are ordering them would put pressure on the supply, and also the cruise ships now. They serve a lot of meat in those restaurant quality.

So, that's where we're seeing a little bit of an increase. And also, looking at this guy, Fredricka, how about this?

WHITFIELD: I knew you were going have another home dinger.

LEONARD: The little star here.


LEONARD: This has been our little star of the weekend, that's a four- pound lobster.

WHITFIELD: That's a huge lobster.

LEONARD: And they are buying them right now. They are buying them. They're buying these right here. We've got like big ribeye steaks.

WHITFIELD: Oh my god.

LEONARD: I mean, people are out buying --

WHITFIELD: I knew you were going to have like a brontosaurus steak. Oh my gosh. Well, that's wonderful.

LEONARD: You know, we are seeing -- well, we are seeing some spotty price increases. Our ranchers across the country that we're dealing with are telling us that we're seeing relief in some prices now.

So, I think, for people right now, if you want to avoid any of these little price increases, I would look around in the newspaper and see what's on sale this week, and then go buy those sale items, and bring them home and do what you did during the pandemic. Freeze them. You won't feel any price increase, you'll probably see a price decrease over this Fourth of July versus last.

WHITFIELD: Oh my god. Good products at Stew Leonard's, and then good advice. Thank you, Stew for that.

All right, so how about this? Tell me about your, you know, employee -- worker situation, because so many businesses across the country are struggling with, you know, trying to find people, you know, to employ. Has that been a struggle for you all? What's it been like?

I mean, are you navigating kind of new terrain as it comes down to having enough people to help move that product that you've got?

LEONARD: Well, you know, Fredricka, here at Stew Leonard's like all of the other companies, we are offering more incentives. We used to give $100.00 incentive to bring another team member on board, which has been our most successful way of hiring. We've upped that to $500.00 now.

We're also giving everybody $1.00 an hour raise this year. We've seen our applications which we were getting 25,000 a year, that's been cut in half to 12,500, and look, if you asked me, would I like foreign people? Yes, I would.

But, you know, I think a lot of people are living off the incentive checks that you're getting right now and just figure hey, I'll take the summer off, maybe I don't have to work.

WHITFIELD: You feel like that really is the case. Okay, well, hey, folks, if you're looking for work, and you happen to be in the area of Yonkers, Stew Leonard is hiring. And those are some pretty great incentives you've got there.

Stew Leonard, Jr., always good to see you. Thank you so much. I'm so glad you brought some samples of your product.

LEONARD: Hey, thanks for having me on and you have a great Fourth of July. Happy Fourth of July to everybody listening. Thank you.

WHITFIELD: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. Happy Independence Day to you, too. Fantastic, Stew. All right, later tonight. More fun coming your way. Join Don Lemon,

Dana Bash, Victor Blackwell, and Ana Cabrera for a star-studded evening of music and fireworks. The fun begins tonight at seven only on CNN.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: All right in Surfside, Florida, it's a race against time to demolish the remaining portion of that collapsed condo. Rescue and recovery efforts have been suspended as crews rush to tear down the remaining part of the building.

Experts warn the structure is unsafe and even more dangerous with Tropical Storm Elsa churning and potentially threatening the area.

For the very latest, let's bring in Brian Todd in Surfside. Brian, what is the status of this planned demolition?

BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fredricka, we know the hour is approaching for this demolition. We don't know exactly what hour that's going to be. We're trying to get more intelligence on that. But I'll give you some of the indications that we've got in a moment.

I'm going to show you first though some video that we shot, our crew, our photojournalist, Jose Armijo, and we were up on a balcony overlooking the rubble. Earlier this afternoon, we got some kind of zoomed in shots that you may be able to see here of some techs working underneath the building that's going to be demolished. That's the Champlain Towers South, building which collapsed. They were right there underneath some of the, you know, the debris and everything that's hanging from that building.

They were unraveling some mesh they were preparing. We've been told that they've been drilling holes at certain points in the building to put in dynamite and other explosives, and that they are preparing the entire area there for this demolition.

Here is Mayor Daniella Levine Cava of Miami-Dade County earlier today talking about the demolition.


MAYOR DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Our top priority is that the building come down as soon as possible, no matter what time that occurs and as safely as possible. Bringing down this building in a controlled manner is critical to expanding our scope of the search and rescue effort, and allowing us to explore the area closest to the building, which has currently not been accessible to our first responders given the great risk from this building, which is insecure.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TODD: And interesting there that the Mayor said that there's a whole

area where they're trying to get to bodies of possible survivors that has been inaccessible and that the demolition of this building may make that area accessible. So, they're going to have to be, of course, extremely careful about how this building is brought down.


Officials have said they're going to try to bring it down, kind of straight down, and then maybe push some of it to the west away from the area of rubble, which originally collapsed. So, that'll be interesting.

We've also obtained a memo from the Board, the Condo Board Association of the Champlain East Towers building, which is almost right next to it, telling residents they advise residents of that East building to evacuate. They say they're going to try to give them enough notice to do that, and they say that their best estimate right now, according to the Board of that building, is that their building will be demolished early this evening, but they didn't give a specific time and they did hedge it by saying they're still not quite sure what exact hour that will be.

But they are advising residents of the Champlain Towers East building to evacuate ahead of time and to bring their valuable belongings with them -- Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: Yes. But they are certain that they want to get it done today ahead of the storm's potential tomorrow, right?

TODD: Yes, that's correct. Fredricka. They are measuring it against the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa, which could come maybe by midday tomorrow. Not clear if that storm is even going to track over on the East Coast of Florida here. It'll be out west probably, but they could get remnants of it, which would be, you know, pretty worrisome here.

WHITFIELD: All right, Brian Todd, thank you so much.

So, days after the condo collapse, the Miami-Dade Mayor ordered an audit for all buildings 40 years or older. Well, one of the cities that has already started a review is Sunny Isles Beach, just north of Surfside.

Larisa Svechin is the Acting Mayor of Sunny Isles Beach, Florida. Mayor, so good to see you. Tell me about any results you all have seen from audits of any of your buildings 40 years or older.

LARISA SVECHIN, ACTING MAYOR OF SUNNY ISLES BEACH, FLORIDA: Thank you, Fredricka. First, I want to wish everyone a Happy Fourth of July. We've got amazing results. We started this immediately. So, right now we have completed 40 percent of our buildings, which represents roughly 4,178 units, 12 percent are in progress. So, that is a huge amount of work done in just one week after starting this.

WHITFIELD: What have you heard from your residents there, and particularly the buildings that are 40 years or older or close to 40 years about their concerns, about the structural integrity. Any worries?

SVECHIN: Of course, everyone is worried, especially those that are elderly, or don't have some place to go if they do need to leave the building

The second worry is the amount of money it's going to cost to fix these buildings, the repairs alone are tremendous. For some people, it's just not possible to pay for these repairs. So, a lot of these buildings need to take out loans.

So, there is the fear of life safety, and then there's the fear of losing everything that you worked all your life to build, which is your home.

WHITFIELD: Yes, and where does the money come from? Because many of these people are paying their home, you know, owners association fees, but then when you're talking about the price tag of construction, you know, or a repair work, it is in the hundreds of thousands or maybe even millions. So, where does that kind of resourcing come from?

SVECHIN: Yes, we are certainly talking about millions, definitely not hundreds of thousands. These are old buildings. These are large buildings. So, some of the buildings have reserves that were specifically put together for this recertification that happens every 40 years. And then consequently 10 years after that, and then 10 years after that.

So, those buildings that were able to build up the reserves have that money to be able to pay for this. Others need to have special assessments. So, those could range from $10,000.00 per unit to $25,000.00 per unit, it all depends on how much work the building needs and how many units are in the building.

And lastly, the buildings would need to take out a loan if that's not possible if the assessments aren't possible. So, there's a lot of things that are potentially problematic here that people are concerned about, and rightfully so.

WHITFIELD: All right, Acting Mayor Larisa Svechin, thank you so much for your time. Really appreciate it.

SVECHIN: Thank you. Thank you, Fredricka.

WHITFIELD: All the best to you and everyone there in Sunny Isles.

OK, still ahead, a massive cyberattack cripples hundreds of companies including a grocery store chain.

Plus, Tropical Storm Elsa is on the move. Right now, warnings are posted for parts of Florida. We'll have the latest track and timeline straight ahead.


[15:34:06] WHITFIELD: All right, this just in. Charges have been announced

against the 11 men who were behind the armed standoff that we reported on yesterday in Wakefield, Massachusetts. The charges include unlawful possession of a firearm, possession of a high-capacity magazine, and conspiracy to commit a crime, among others.

All the defendants refer to themselves as members of a militia who adhere to quote, "Moorish sovereign ideology." Despite being dressed in military fatigues and armed with long guns and pistols, police say none of them actually had a license to carry firearms.

And a major ransomware attack against a U.S. tech provider is now forcing a Swedish grocery chain to close 800 stores because their cash registers don't work. The massive worldwide cyberattack has said hundreds of businesses, cybersecurity experts, say it's one the worst attacks that they have seen and that hackers deliberately struck on the July 4th weekend to create maximum chaos and force companies to make even bigger ransom payments.


WHITFIELD: President Biden says his administration has multiple U.S. agencies hunting for the criminals behind that attack.


JOE BIDEN (D), PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: First of all, we're not sure who it is. The Director of the Intelligence Community will be giving me a deep dive on what's happened, and I'll know better tomorrow and if it is, either with a knowledge of and/or a consequence of Russia then, I told Putin we will respond.

We're not certain. The initial thinking was it was not the Russian government.


WHITFIELD: Officials believe the same group behind this attack hit U.S. meat supplier JBS Foods this spring. The cyber-criminal gang is believed to operate out of Eastern Europe or Russia.

As the U.S. takes significant steps toward pulling troops from Afghanistan and ending America's longest war, there are serious concerns about the likelihood of a Taliban takeover and the resurgence of terrorism in the country. General Austin Scott Miller, the top U.S. military General overseeing the troop withdrawal says there are legitimate reasons to be worried.


GEN. AUSTIN SCOTT MILLER, COMMANDER, U.S. FORCES AFGHANISTAN: We should be concerned. The loss of terrain and the rapidity of that loss of terrain has to be concerning, one, because it's a -- war is physical, but it has also got a psychological or moral component to it. And hope actually matters and morale actually matters. And so as you watch the Taliban moving across the country, what you

don't want to have happen is that the people lose hope and they believe they now have a foregone conclusion presented to them.


WHITFIELD: CNN's Anna Coren has the latest from Kabul.


ANNA COREN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: As the security situation continues to deteriorate across Afghanistan, the U.S. Embassy here in Kabul has updated its emergency evacuation plans unnerving local Afghans

The State Department says that this is just a routine procedure. However, it comes just days after U.S. and NATO forces left Bagram Air Base, once the nerve center of a 20-year American War. They've now handed it over to the Afghans essentially winding down America's involvement in this war.

Six hundred and fifty Marines will continue to protect the U.S. Embassy while other troops and contractors will secure the International Airport until a permanent solution is in place.

But the Taliban is emboldened. It has claimed more than 50 percent of territory launching its offensives across the country, particularly in the north, with districts falling on an almost daily basis.

Peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, virtually are nonexistent. There has been little if no progress made in recent months, and people here say there is no political roadmap for the future of Afghanistan.

They say the withdrawal could not have come at a worse time, leaving Afghanistan in a state of helplessness, violence, and insecurity.

Anna Coren, CNN, Kabul.


WHITFIELD: And now, a message from space.


MEGAN MCARTHUR, NASA ASTRONAUT: I'm NASA astronaut, Megan McArthur speaking to you more than 250 miles above Earth aboard the International Space Station. Together with my crewmates Shane Kimbrough and Mark Vande Hei, we wanted to take a moment to wish everyone a Happy Independence Day.

MARK VANDA HEI, NASA ASTRONAUT: As NASA astronauts, we are proud to represent the United States of America in our endeavor to conduct world-class research, return to the moon, and go beyond to the planets. SHANE KIMBROUGH, NASA ASTRONAUT: This holiday provides us an

opportunity to recognize the great things you can achieve when we work together and recognize the value of all people.

We hope you have a happy and safe Fourth of July. We'll be watching for the fireworks.




WHITFIELD: Yay. Summer is finally here. And I bet you are already plotting the calendar trying to figure out where should we go? Well, guess what, many people are traveling to some of the most beautiful majestic areas of the country -- national parks.

But this new surge of visitors is putting a strain on some parks. With me right now, Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles. She is the chief spokesperson for the National Park Service. Ranger Jenny, so good to see you, wherever you are, I want to join you.


WHITFIELD: Oh, there you go. All right, Grand Teton. It's on my list. I've got to get there. So national parks, I mean, this is the most popular destination this summer. And you say when you're trying to plot your course, you need to plan like a Park Ranger. So, what does that entail?

ANZELMO-SARLES: That's right. We are inviting you to plan like us, plan like a Park Ranger. That means planning ahead. Make sure you have a reservation before you hop in the car. So, when you get there, your only surprises are the happy ones.

Almost all hotels and campgrounds in and around the most popular national parks are fully booked or nearly fully booked through Labor Day. So, that's not just hotels, but campgrounds, too. So, plan ahead, know where you're going, talk to your Ranger, we want you to have a great experience.

WHITFIELD: Oh my goodness, everybody wants to have a great experience. Of course, you know, even though you know visitors are outside, you know, for the most part, we are still in a pandemic. So, there are some mask requirements still in place, right?

ANZELMO-SARLES: That's right. So, we are still requiring for people who are not yet fully vaccinated to wear a mask in crowded outdoor spaces as well as indoors in national parks, and everyone, regardless of vaccination status are asked to wear masks on public transportation, but really just follow the advice and the guidance given to you by Rangers on the ground and our uniformed volunteers.

[15:45:10] WHITFIELD: All right. I mean, it's all about, you know, fun and

respect for nature. I mean, there are more than 400 National Park sites, I didn't realize that there were so many, you know, from coast to coast, some are more popular and crowded than others. So, what do I need to ask myself when trying to figure out which park is the one for me or for my family?

ANZELMO-SARLES: Take a look at the parks website, You could download our new app. Every National Park is in this one app, one snapshot, you can download it, use it offline, know what's open, where to go, what hiking might be appropriate for you.

So, as you're planning ahead, you want to think about knowing your physical limits and those of your group, so you don't run into trouble. Make sure that you've used the gear that you're taking with you or know how to use it.

Bring extra snacks, extra water, extra clothing. Weather can change rapidly in beautiful places like this. You start out, it's beautiful, like right now; two hours from now, we might be having a thunderstorm.

WHITFIELD: Oh, so you just answered the question for the novice park goer, you know how they need to plan accordingly.

Okay, and then when we go to these national parks, yes, we are there to -- because of the wonders of nature and wildlife, but you say people need to be mindful that they don't need to leave behind, you know, bad footprints so to speak. They don't need to leave behind damage or even trash.

ANZELMO-SARLES: That's right. We want to leave these places like we found them and I'm sure you do, too, so that your friends and family that come behind you can have the same experience you did. These places are special for a reason, and we want to protect them so that they stay special.

WHITFIELD: Ranger Jenny -- Jenny Anzelmo-Sarles, thank you so much, and thanks for allowing us to take a little, little trip to the Grand Teton National Park with you there in Wyoming.


WHITFIELD: Fantastic. Now, it's time to start making the bigger plans. We've got to get to those national parks.

All right, still to come, Florida on alert with Tropical Storm Elsa on the move, the latest on the threat, next.



WHITFIELD: Tropical Storm Elsa is slowly making its way to the U.S., but it's already leaving a deadly path of destruction in the Caribbean. The storm killed at least two people in the Dominican Republic. It is also lashing parts of Haiti, Jamaica, and Cuba and it is taking aim at Florida.

Governor Ron DeSantis is warning residents to be ready.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL): We're preparing for the risk of isolated tornadoes, storm surge, heavy rainfall, and flash flooding. The state has begun executing contingency plans for the Tropical Storm Elsa and Surfside co-response.


WHITFIELD: CNN meteorologist, Karen Maginnis is tracking Tropical Storm Elsa. Karen, what's the latest?

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Yes, millions should be paying attention to what is Tropical Storm Elsa now situated between Jamaica and Cuba, wringing itself out across this region, already in some portions of Jamaica, five inches of rainfall, and this is from a system that is very poorly organized, but still powerful enough that it will move across Cuba with 60 mile per hour winds, and then move out into the Florida Straits. That's what we have to worry about the potential for a lot of damage in the U.S. for the Dry Tortugas and into Key West.

Lots of people packed across this region because it's the July 4th holiday, but it is expected to make a turn more towards the Northwest than eventually towards the north and its impact looks like it's going to be primarily for the West Coast of Florida. So, it would seem.

But let's see what the impacts will be across Surfside. Well, for today, partly cloudy skies. That's the good news. From here, it looks like it begins to deteriorate more so as we go into Monday, also into Tuesday. Even though that western portion of the Florida Peninsula will be the greatest impact, we're still looking at this region where many first responders are still searching for the collapse of that condo building and the residents that live there.

All right, looking into the high-res forecast radar going into the next several days. Here is Surfside, it doesn't look like a lot, but some of these scattered showers and storms with the gusty winds for those first responders, they are going to be very troubled by that because the rainfall can really produce in excess of four inches of rainfall in a very short period of time.

But all the way from Cape Coral and into Sarasota, also Bonita Beach, all the way up towards Tampa, as we go into the next several days going by Tuesday, we could see a system that is strengthening just a little bit more. The computer models are suggesting maybe still at Tropical Storm strength, but as we all know, very warm water temperatures here can lend itself to some real strengthening, we could see some isolated tornadoes, some localized flooding, and we can't expect some storm surge which will vary in some areas, maybe one to three feet possible.

Back to you, Fred. WHITFIELD: All right, thank you so much for all that information.

Karen Maginnis, appreciate it.

All right, up next former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are about to mark a milestone.



WHITFIELD: All right, finally today, talk about a legacy of love and longevity, former President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn Carter are celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary on Wednesday. They will continue to reign as the longest married U.S. presidential couple.

President Carter took Rosalynn on their first date in 1945, and then they got married a year later. He was 21, she was 18. They still live in their hometown of Plains, Georgia, and have dedicated themselves to community service after leaving the White House.

President Carter calls their relationship, a full partnership, his words, and says the best thing he ever did in his life was marry Rosalynn. Congratulations. Happy Anniversary to them this week.

Thank you so much for joining me on this Fourth of July. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Jim Acosta.