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COVID Cases Rising in Low Vaccination States; Florida Collapse Site Braces For Storm. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 5, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Brand-new hour. I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you for this special holiday edition of CNN NEWSROOM.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

Severe weather is moving towards Surfside, Florida, the death toll now 27 people, 118 still missing in that building collapse. And now local authorities fear the outer bands of Tropical Storm Elsa could soon lash the search area with strong winds and heavy rains. As searchers brace for this bad weather, officials say that, as of last night, teams are working under safer conditions with better access to parts of the disaster site.

BLACKWELL: And that's in large part because of the demolition last night of the 81 units that still stood after the collapse. Experts recommended that demolition because the storm is coming, Tropical Storm Elsa.

It could have knocked over the damage building into other structures, into the road, caused a mess. And, last hour, Miami Dade County's mayor explained why people who lived in those 81 units, the remaining section of the Champlain Towers South condos, were not able to retrieve their belongings before the demolition.


DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: That building had shifted, actually moved. And it was only being held up by the rubble pile.

So, we're talking about a building that was severely compromised. We were not allowing search-and-rescue teams in the building. They did the three passes early. And, honestly, at great risk to themselves, they did a final pass for the pets that might have been there, identified in a few of the units.

This is a very, very dangerous situation.


BLACKWELL: Let's go now to Surfside.

Leyla Santiago is there.

Leyla, this storm is coming. It just made landfall in Cuba, headed up to the west coast of Florida. How is that impacting the search-and- rescue today, if it is?


Well, they are already warning that they expect showers, heavy rain tonight. And so that will be an added challenge, Victor, but I also want to make sure to point out, just in the last few hours, they have actually identified two more victims pulled from the rubble today.

And that is 66-year-old Ingrid Ainsworth, as well as 68-year-old Tzvi Ainsworth. So, yes, the death toll now at 27, as you mentioned off the top there. The search continues. We are in day 12 of this now. And because of that demolition last night right around 10:30, crews are now able to gain access to a different part of the building that they didn't have access to before.

What was left standing last week was demolished last night. They have been searching since 1:00 this morning. The mayor saying that it all went as planned, that only dust landed on the existing pile.

But, yes, to your point, there is that looming storm. Tropical Storm Elsa is on the way. And that was part of the reason they decided to demolish that building, concerns of it blowing over, the investigation still also under way, saying -- the mayor calling it a complicated investigation, one that will take place over the next few months.

But I also got to mention quickly, I was at the memorial this morning. And there was still a lot of raw pain there. We saw people sobbing and praying, trying to make sense of what has happened here, as you mentioned, as a storm approaches.

BLACKWELL: All right, Leyla Santiago.

You can only imagine in the work that must be done before this storm gets close. Thanks so much for being with us.


And let's get the latest on Tropical Storm Elsa now, making landfall, as I said, on the south coast of Cuba.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater is with us.

Tom, what does this storm mean for Surfside?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it's not going to be a direct hit, which is good news, because, a few days ago, when you looked at the track, that cone of uncertainty did include Surfside, but the trend has been further to the west.

They're not in the clear. And I will explain why. When you look at an infrared satellite imagery, look at the bright colors. You see the orange and the red. Those are the higher, colder cloud tops, where the rain is coming down. Most of it's east of center and to the south, but there's a good batch headed toward them now.

I'm going to come back to that and show you the radar. But when you look at the track, and it's trending westward, it's good news. But, as this circulates counterclockwise, you have these feeder bands. Think of like a starfish. You have got these little bands coming through. And they can produce a good line of showers and storms that move through that could spin up a tornado.

Now, the area of yellow here are the tropical-storm-force winds, but their sustained winds. They're closer to the center. This is going to be probably gaining a little strength after it breaks down a bit over the higher terrain of Cuba.

But notice it's mainly the West Coast. But these are sustained. They're not gusts. That could occur across the entire Florida Peninsula. This is a great graphic. This shows you the probability of getting those tropical-storm-force winds. Near the center, obviously, offshore, that's good. We like that.

But you pick up, 45 percent, Fort Myers, 38 Tampa, 43 in Gainesville, closer to landfall, but you still have an 8 percent chance in Surfside.

Let's go back to where that rain is. Remember the infrared imagery. Lightning is heading toward there now. This is just the beginning. The worst of it for them in Surfside, Miami, is going to be tonight, overnight, and through a good portion of tomorrow, even though the center will be well off to the areas of the west.

If these bands move through, you can even get a spin up of a funnel cloud moving on shore. That will give you a gust, no doubt about it. Heavier rainfall, though, here it is, and the computer models show it, they're not going to escape. That's why it's not zero percent chance.

Any one of these storms, Victor and Alisyn, could produce a gust of a tropical storm, although most of it will be heading off in areas of the west. So they're not out of it yet. But, again, this is not going to be a monster storm. Most likely, the crews there dealing at the site are going to continue to deal with what they have been going through in the last week, prolonged rainfall, lightning. That's the biggest issue coming in the next couple of hours.

CAMEROTA: Yes, they just don't need any of those things as they try to make more progress.

Tom Sater, thanks for explaining all of that.

So, 11 days after the collapse, many survivors are struggling to process the tragedy that they just lived through. And our next guest has been trying to help them.

His group, the Global Empowerment Mission, is providing donations and aid to survivors, many of whom got out with just their P.J.s and slippers.

BLACKWELL: So far, they have worked with another charity called Be Strong to give out $200,000 in gift cards, cash cards in some cases.

Michael Capponi is the founder of the Global Empowerment Mission and joins us now from Surfside.

Michael, it's an important point that Alisyn just made that they ran out in the middle of the night not knowing that they would not be able to go back into their homes, and now they have lost every tangible thing. You're having some conversations with people that are calling in.

What are those conversations like?

MICHAEL CAPPONI, FOUNDER, GLOBAL EMPOWERMENT MISSION: They're hard. And I have been involved in a lot of different disasters all throughout the United States. This one really hits home. I'm a local.

I have been here. I grew up here. And most of the people we meet came out by ladder with, at best, their wallet and their phones. And that's all they have. So we put this fund together called the Champlain Tower Residents Fund.

And what we have been doing is distributing funds in increments to them so far, so they have a little bit of incidental money during this current stage. So we have been giving them each $3,000. We were fortunate enough to set up a chat.

So we have met with now all 50 survivors. There may be a few more, but that's where we're at. And they're just telling us their real needs. And you have to understand, the public needs to understand these people are just like us. And they need to be able to have like a credit card and go buy the shoes that fit them, the shirt that they like to wear, the underwear that they need, the jackets that they need, the contact lenses that they have.

Every single one of them has lost their laptops and computers. So we're definitely going to need donations on computers. They have lost their hard drives with all their company information. They have lost all their personal belongings.

So we put together another portfolio, real estate portfolio with our partners from the Alexander Team from Douglas Elliman. We kind of leveraged our relationships with local residences, local landlords, which has been really great. And the community has incredibly come together.

And so now we have an apartment portfolio of over 100 apartments. We have already moved in 22 families into those apartments. And that's the short-term housing solution. They can stay there for a month to three months, at best.


And then we're going to have to work on moving them into a much more long-term situation.

CAMEROTA: Michael, I feel for the Herculean effort that you all have to go through with this, because, last night, I got a phone call, a frantic phone call, from one of the survivors. And she's grateful to have survived, of course.

But I just don't think I realized until I talked to her last night and hurt her desperation. Every single life memento that she owns is in that apartment, every single thing she cherished. I mean, I understand these are just material things. They're just belongings, but they are what make up a life.

And so, I mean, how do you begin to deal with that trauma that they just watched it all go up in smoke?

CAPPONI: A lot of them, it's a different generation than us. We keep a lot of things in our iClouds and things like that. A lot of these people had just photo albums that they inherited from a parent that's deceased and with memorabilia and pictures and diplomas of their colleges and things.

It's all gone. So it's really a multiple trauma level situation, where in a typical disaster, after a hurricane, or after a fire in California, someone loses their entire home. But I never really meet people where every single person I meet has lost like five or 10 friends that they were neighbors.

Everyone's story is, all my neighbors are dead, all my neighbors are missing, all my neighbors have perished. And there's children and there's parents and families. And it's -- so, it's you have the loss of the material things and you have the loss of the friends. It's just layered and layered and layered.

So the least we could do is give them -- remember, like you said, they have walked out with nothing. Even in a new apartment that they're going to get, it's going to be first and last security and a couple months' free rent, and then furniture, and then moving back in, and all the things that they're going to need to get again.

So just think about, when you move into your apartment, what that cost you. And that's why we put this fund together. It's really to help every family get back on their feet.

BLACKWELL: Michael Capponi, first, thank you for the work you are doing. As you detailed every element, I'm sitting here thinking what it would be like to walk out and everything behind me, all tangible parts of my life, I'd never be able to return to again. And then how would I make that new start?

And you are helping people do that. Thank you so much for your time and the work you're doing.

And for you watching, if you want to help the Michael Capponis of the world who are there in Surfside, you can learn about how you can do that on our Web site at CNN's Impact Your World to help the victims of the collapse, a list of other organizations working on the ground as well a

CAMEROTA: OK, next, new data shows just how effective the COVID vaccines are, as states with low vaccinations see spikes in infections.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the Taliban on the move in Afghanistan, as U.S. troops withdraw. And now the Biden administration is reconsidering its policy on drone strikes there.

Also, what is next for Jeff Bezos, as he steps aside at Amazon nearly three decades after its launch?



BLACKWELL: The U.S. came close, but fell short of reaching President Biden's goal of having 70 percent of adults with at least one dose of the COVID vaccine. Right now, that number is a little more than 67 percent.

CAMEROTA: And that's look at this map; 20 states, plus Washington, D.C., did reach the president's goal.

But data shows infection rates, including the Delta variant, are increasing in those states with low vaccine rates, as you would imagine.

So, let's bring in CNN chief medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

So, Elizabeth, where is the biggest risk in the country right now?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know what, Alisyn, I can show this to you in vivid color.

Let's take a look at a map of the United States. You will see five states in dark red. They are Arkansas, Alaska, South Carolina, Kansas and Mississippi. Those have the biggest increases, more than 50 percent increases in COVID cases last week over the week before.

And all of those states have low vaccination rates. And look at the ones in orange. Those are also seeing increases, although not quite as dramatic. And most of those states also have low vaccination rates. So it just shows you right there.

The states that have the most COVID or the highest increases in COVID, they also tend to have low vaccination rates. Now let's take a look at two states in particular, and you can really see the correlation here.

So, the U.S. average of new cases, new COVID cases last week was 24 cases per 100,000 people. That was the average across the U.S. for new cases, Missouri, 108 cases for 100,000, Arkansas 110 cases per 100,000, so four times, more than four times the national rate. And Missouri and Arkansas both have very low, relatively speaking, vaccination rates.


So, just this data, it's a CNN analysis of Johns Hopkins data, really illustrates quite nicely what is happening in sort of these two different nations of COVID.

BLACKWELL: Yes, these clusters across the country.

Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Now let's talk about this Delta variant now in all 50 states.

CAMEROTA: And let's bring in CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. She is the former health commissioner for the city of Baltimore.

So, Doctor, other countries that dropped their COVID restrictions are now putting them back in place because of the Delta variant. I'm guessing that most of the states that Elizabeth showed us that are in the red that are seeing those spikes would not agree to new restrictions. So where does that leave the country?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: In a very concerning place, because we're already seeing an uptick in the number of new COVID-19 infections, which is something that at this point should not be occurring.

I mean, we went through weeks and weeks of declining infections. We have the ability to stop COVID in its tracks. Other countries would be so eager to be where we are, to be sitting on the surplus of vaccines. We're having to beg people to get vaccinated to be protected.

And so I think, at this point, we really need to be emphasizing the importance of vaccination. And at the same time, also advising individuals who are living in these high transmission areas that, indoors, wearing a mask is still a good idea, and even if you're vaccinated, because of how much transmission is occurring in some of these places.

BLACKWELL: So, wait, we should be putting masks back on even though we're vaccinated in some places?

WEN: Well, here's the way that I would think about it. If you are unvaccinated, you are at high risk. And that includes children.

And so all these places that are saying schools should not even have indoor mask mandates anymore, that's a mistake. So unvaccinated should still definitely be wearing masks. If you are vaccinated, you are very well-protected from getting COVID, from getting severely ill and from transmitting it to others.

But if you're living in an area with a lot of disease all around you, you can think about it like you have -- you have a great raincoat. But if there's a thunderstorm, you might still get wet. And so if you're in such an area, you might still want to consider wearing a mask indoors, especially if you're around crowds.

And there are probably a lot of unvaccinated and unmasked people around you. CAMEROTA: When you look at that map -- and maybe we can pull it up

again -- you just see that we still are living in kind of two different worlds in terms of how the country is dealing with it.

So you see the West Coast, high levels of vaccination. You see the East Coast is holding steady, with the exception there of South Carolina and Florida primarily. And so I just wonder, going forward, Dr. Wen, what this means. Could you see, in terms of policy, some time where governors in those states that look green don't want to let people in from the red states, they think it's too dangerous, and that there becomes some sort of shutdowns in that way?

WEN: That's a really interesting question.

I mean, it's certainly possible, although I think it will be very hard to enforce those types of travel restrictions. I mean, we're not talking about international travel. There will be so many borders that people can cross over from other states. So I'm not sure how practical that's going to be.

But I think you do raise an interesting point that those places that are in green that are doing very well from a COVID-19 standpoint, it wasn't by accident.They did the really hard work to increase vaccination rates. These are also places that likely still have some type of mask mandates in place, including indoors for unvaccinated people.

And so I think we have this two Americas, but it's also the same places with high rates of infection that also have high rates of people not getting vaccinated that are also unlikely to put any type of restrictions that are necessary to contain COVID-19 spread.

And I think that's the tragedy of it all.

BLACKWELL: I wonder what these numbers that map the low vaccination rates means for kids and schools, because, if, as the summer goes on, this isn't under control, Delta variant continues to spread, can you bring kids back to schools 100 percent full time in some of these communities?

Because those under 12 cannot be vaccinated.

WEN: That's exactly right.

I mean, I do think that it's possible and actually really necessary at this point for us to get all of our kids back to school in person full time come the fall, because the cost of not doing so has been so high on educational outcomes, on worsening disparities, on mental health for children.

So, for all these reasons, we have to get kids back. But, that said, we have to do so in a safe way. And now many studies have shown that we can do this, if we have indoor masking, if we really increase surveillance testing for children as well, and if we have as many of the adults in the area, certainly teachers and staff, but also, ideally, as many parents vaccinated too. [15:25:01]

That also gives a level of herd immunity for the school. And so I hope that that's what we focus on at this point, making sure that schools do come back in person, but also putting into place these other mitigation measures.

And so these governors that have said that schools no longer need masks indoors, that's a big mistake.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Leana Wen, we always appreciate getting your wisdom on this. Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, Doctor.

WEN: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: And this is where I leave the rest of the show in the hands of Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: I'm sorry, what?

BLACKWELL: Yes, I'm leaving it to you. I'm out.


BLACKWELL: So, I'm still in L.A. for the Fourth of July fireworks, the show last night, which was great. Enjoyed it. Thanks, L.A.

CAMEROTA: Awesome job.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much.

But we just heard from Pete Muntean that I got to get to the airport, so I can get on a plane, head back, time change, and then be able to be on set with you tomorrow.

CAMEROTA: All right, I will keep your seat warm here.

BLACKWELL: Thank you very much.

CAMEROTA: No rest for the weary, Victor.

So, OK, get going. Yes, get going.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: You got to go to the airport. I will see you tomorrow.

BLACKWELL: All right, bye, guys. See you.


CAMEROTA: OK. See you there.

Meanwhile, Jeff Bezos steps down after nearly three decades at the helm of Amazon. So what does that mean for him? What does it mean for the company? And what does it mean for my deliveries?