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Worry over COVID Cases Spiking; Drop in Pfizer Vaccine Protection in Israel; Hurricane Watches in Florida; Crews Find More Victims in Florida. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 09:00   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Tuesday morning to you. Welcome back from the holiday weekend. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy has this weekend off.

Dr. Anthony Fauci's warning of two Americas emerging may be a reality now in real-time as the divide between vaccinated and unvaccinated areas grows. Experts warn the latter, combined with the highly contagious delta variant, could threaten the progress made across the entire country. Right now parts of the South, Southwest and Midwest are starting to see spikes in new infections. According to the CDC, some of those states, such as Arkansas and Mississippi are among those with the lowest rates of vaccination.

Then there's this. One health system in Missouri is transferring COVID-19 patients to hospitals in different health systems as they struggle to meet staffing needs amid those surging infections.

And in Texas, more than 125 campers and counselors who attended a church-run summer camp have tested positive now for COVID-19.

Let's begin with CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

And, Elizabeth, you know, as so often with this pandemic, it's in the data. I mean you have states with high infection rates -- high vaccination rates, rather, low vaccination rates. And what we're seeing now is where those vaccination rates are lower, you're seeing a much bigger spike in new infections.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Jim, this data is so clear, in states with low vaccination rates, they have higher death rates from COVID. It could not be more clear.

If you are unvaccinated, basically it's 2020 all over again. This delta variant spreads quickly. It -- there is evidence that it makes people sicker, and you are not protected against it. So to speak to what Dr. Fauci said about two Americas, you have part of the United States that have high vaccination rates and where the virus is under pretty good control, and then areas where people have chosen not to be vaccinated where the virus is not in such good control. I -- when I say have chosen not to get vaccinated, I say that for a

reason. At this point the vaccine is readily available to pretty much -- really to everyone. It is free. If you've chosen not to get vaccinated, you've chosen to put your life at risk and you've chosen to put other people's lives at risk.


SCIUTTO: I mean it's so different from those early weeks when we were all fighting for those appointments.

COHEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Now you can walk into a, you know, a CVS, right, and get it right away.

I want to be very careful as we and you explain these numbers coming out of Israel regarding the existing vaccines and the delta variant because they do show, right, that it's easier to get infected with the delta variant, but that they still protect well against hospitalization and severe disease. Walk us through the numbers carefully if you can because it's a very important distinction.

COHEN: It is an important distinction. So before I even talk about these Israeli numbers, I want to say that the Israeli Ministry of Health put out these numbers but did not explain the science behind it.

These numbers are not quite as optimistic as, say, the British numbers about the effectiveness of the Pfizer vaccine against this delta variant, and the Israelis have not explained how they got these numbers. They just put it out as a press release.

So with that caveat, let's take a look at this.

What they found is that when you look at how good the Pfizer vaccine is at preventing infection, it is now only 64 percent effective at preventing infection. And, of course, that is blamed on this delta variant, which is now in huge numbers in Israel and otherwise.

However, this second number, to your point, Jim, is the more important number. It is 93 percent effective at preventing severe disease and hospitalization. That's the number you want to pay attention to.

If you get infected with COVID and you don't get severely sick, it's not a big deal. Vaccine researcher Dr. Paul Offit has said the purpose of a vaccine is to keep you out of the hospital and out of the morgue. If a vaccine keeps you from getting very sick or from dying, the vaccine has won.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Helps you and your family.

COHEN: Right.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: All right, let's go to Dr. Carlos del Rio. He's the executive associate dean of the Emery School of Medicine at the Grady Health System.

Dr. del Rio, always good to have you.

So I want to picture you, if I can, in your doctor's office. A patient comes in and says, hey, I'm reading this report. It says these vaccines, they're only 64 percent effective against keeping me from getting infected with the delta variant. What do you say to them?

DR. CARLOS DEL RIO, EXECUTIVE ASSOCIATE DEAN, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE AT GRADY: Well, Jim, what I would say is that, you know, initially, when we worked on these vaccines and they were developed, the idea was to test them and to be sure that they kept you from dying and from not getting hospitalized.


And, in fact, the FDA initially had said, look, a vaccine with 60 percent efficacy is a good enough vaccine.

Then when we reached 95 percent efficacy, we were all surprised. I mean it was really a home run, right?

So then we discovered that these vaccines actually not only prevented you from getting sick and dying, they also prevented you from getting infected. So, to me, to see a 60 percent possibility of preventing infection yet still a 90-plus percent possibility of preventing you from death and dying to me is a no-brainer. I mean getting vaccinated is the right thing to do.

SCIUTTO: Yes, and, by the way, it's 64 percent according to these -- to the Israeli data.

Again, just to be clear, if someone's walking by the TV, and they're like, wait, what did he say about that, this vaccine, still based on the data, keeps you safe from severe illness and hospitalization.

DEL RIO: And that's what you want, right? You want a vaccine that prevents you from getting sick, prevents you from dying. We saw, you know, over 600,000 Americans have died as a consequence of COVID. Nowadays, less than, you know, less than 300 people are dying a day. And I can tell you, 99 percent of those people that are dying today from COVID are unvaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen used that statistic yesterday of the deaths in June, 99.2 percent of the deaths from COVID in this country from June were among unvaccinated people.

All right, I want to move to this two Americas, right, this tale of two countries that we're seeing develop here based on vaccination rates. You look in the northeast. States up here. Two-thirds, 70 percent of adults fully vaccinated. Down south, half that in some of these states. And you can see the areas there, those states in red and orange.

What is the danger in areas with high vaccination rates if, for instance, you live there or travel there? Rather low vaccination rates.

DEL RIO: Yes, I was going to say, the danger is really in the areas of low vaccination rate.


DEL RIO: Where there's still going to be community transmission. There's still going to be, you know, not only transmission, but there's going to be an increase in hospitalizations and there's going to be an increase in deaths. So we really have to figure out how to get those areas with low vaccination vaccinated. And we need a very hyper targeted approach to do that.

It is -- it is no time to waste right now. We really need to get the resources and the expertise to get to any -- each one of these communities and try to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

And I would agree with you, if I was traveling, like, if I'm going from Atlanta to Nevada right now, I would certainly be sure to be using a mask more frequently, to be using a mask indoors, something that I don't normally do in, for example, here in Atlanta where transmission rate is actually pretty low.

SCIUTTO: What is penetrating that vaccine-hesitant bubble? You and I have talked about this. A big part of the Biden administration's strategy was to focus on GPs, people's personal doctors. They tend to trust them more than distant national health officials.

Is that strategy working? Are doctors convincing people?

DEL RIO: Well, I think they are, but they also -- you also need to get to other people and you need to get to trusted community leaders. I mean, you know, somebody said to me, look, I don't care what you say or what somebody in Washington says. But if the fireman that sits close to me in church takes a vaccine and tells me to take it, I'll take it. So that fireman that goes to church with you is actually the right person to get the message out.

So we need to get every single person who's been vaccinated in those communities to act as ambassadors and talk about the benefits of the vaccine.

SCIUTTO: Yes. And on the good side, listen, 67.1 percent of adults in this country having at least one shot, far better than where we were just a few weeks -- certainly a few months ago.

Dr. Carlos del Rio, thanks very much.

DEL RIO: Happy to be with you. SCIUTTO: Well, tropical storm warnings and hurricane watches up now for parts of Florida's Gulf Coast as Tropical Storm Elsa tracks towards the state. In preparation, at least four counties in the Tampa area are now opening storm shelters. People are being told to take precautions.

CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam, he's in Fort Myers.

Derek, is it strengthening as it comes close to the Florida coast?

DEREK VAN DAM, AMS METEOROLOGIST: It is because it has the warm ocean waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Jim.

And a good point, too, talking about Tampa. They just tweeted out that Tampa Bay International Airport will suspend all commercial operations from 5:00 p.m. this evening. So something to take note if you're flying in or out of that particular area.

Where I'm located now, Lee County, Sandovill (ph) Island over my right shoulder, Fort Myers over my left shoulder, this is one of the 27 counties within the state of Florida under a state of emergency. Kind of the calm before the storm. But this is the first outer rain bands from Tropical Storm Elsa making its way in here.

But it is a completely different story to our south in the Key West region. Let's take you there and you'll be able to see just what's happening there.

Rain and wind has been lashing The Keys overnight. And 48 mile per hour winds at Key West International Airport this morning. Significant and validating the tropical storm warnings that are in force across that area.

But what's new this morning from the National Hurricane Center is the hurricane watches that have been hoisted from basically coastal regions of St. Petersburg right through the big bend.


This tells the meteorologist at National Hurricane Center and within the CNN Weather Center that the potential here for this storm to strengthen at least into a low end hurricane is possible. So that's what they're bracing for. The watches are up. Otherwise, storm surge warnings all along the west coast of the Florida peninsula. That encompasses about 6 million Americans. Two to 4 feet, where I'm located here, that's above normally high ground. And then 3 to 5 feet basically in the catcher's mitt if you look at the geography of Florida, right along the big bend, all the way into Tampa Bay. That's he area we're concerned about storm surge, especially if the height of the storm tonight, just before it makes landfall, coincides with high tide, which, y the way, is occurring here in the next couple of hours, and then another cycle overnight tonight about 3:00 in the morning.

We also have the potential for spin up tornadoes, as well as water spouts. This is the nature of tropical systems especially this early in the season. They can spin up these storms and it can change weather conditions at a moment's notice. So from Surfside all the way to the west coast of the Florida peninsula, they need to be on high alert.


SCIUTTO: Yes, we know you'll keep us up to date. Derek Van Dam, thanks very much.

So, how will the storm affect the efforts of teams continuing to search the debris in Surfside? We're going to be liver there for an update next. They're making some progress.

Plus, today is exactly six months to the day since the violent January 6th insurrection. CNN is learning there are new fears that not enough has been done to protect the Capitol from potential future attacks.

Also, it's becoming all too familiar, hackers demanding tens of millions of dollars in bitcoin ransom. It happened again. And we're just beginning to learn the scope of it. We'll have new details just ahead.



SCIUTTO: Search and rescue efforts at the site of the Surfside condo building collapse are growing even more urgent this morning as Tropical Storm Elsa barrels toward the state. The storm system could challenge crews with downpours, possible tornadoes from the outer bands of the storm. So far at least 28 people have now been confirmed dead, their remains found, but 117 remain unaccounted for, missing in that debris.

CNN's Rosa Flores is live in Surfside this morning.

So, Rosa, crews were citing some progress after the demolition of the remaining structure because it allowed them access to the whole debris field. And I wonder, are you seeing the results of that there now?

ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, we are, Jim. And, unfortunately, they're expecting for the death toll to increase because, as you mentioned, according to officials, because the building, the partial building has now been demolished, they have access to one-third of the debris field that they didn't have access to before.

Now, that has opened areas, voids that now they're following, areas that now they're still looking for survivors because this is still a search and rescue mission, but this has opened different areas. And officials here are excited to know that they can go in full force into the scene searching for survivors.

I can tell you that the fire chief says that this continues to be a search and rescue mission that is done in a grid pattern. They are still de-layering. They are still sifting through the rubble using heavy machinery to try to get to as much of this rubble as they can before we feel any signs of the weather.

I know that yesterday the first bands of Elsa were felt. We started getting some rain and also some winds. But these brave men and women never left that pile unless there were dangerous lightning strikes, Jim. And so today, even though there is some wind, some wind gusts, these men -- these brave men and women continue to sift through the rubble looking for survivors.


SCIUTTO: Goodness, those pictures there, you know, with that weather, it's just not an easy scene.

Rosa Flores, thanks so much.

I'm joined now by retired Miami search and rescue chief, Dave Downey, and also licensed structural engineer Matthew Roblez.

Lots to discuss. I wonder if I could begin with you, Chief Downey.

Just describe, based on your experience with these sorts of things, what's the status of the search right now and what is the remaining hope for finding survivors?

DAVE DOWNEY, FORMER CHIEF, MIAMI-DADE FIRE RESCUE: Well, good morning again. Thanks for having me.

Obviously, as was reported, with the demolition of the remaining building, it opened up the area so that now the entire collapsed site can be searched without the hazard of falling debris or secondary collapse. It's still an incredibly hazardous site, but it opens up the whole area to the rescuers.

With respect to the, you know, continuing search operations, all the rescuers are maintaining hope. That's what they want to do. Most importantly is bring closure to these families. If they can bring a survivor out, great, but the goal is to bring closure to each and every one of these families. And that's why they're working through the winds and the rain and everything else.


SCIUTTO: Yes. Goodness. I feel for them so much. I spoke to one last night.

Matthew Roblez, I've spoken to some structural engineers that are concerned that the collapse of the remaining structure, though certainly necessary in terms of safety, that it might make it more difficult to assess some of the remaining clues about what led to this collapse, burying, or in other ways, damaging some of the columns, et cetera, that you could look for. And I wonder if you share that concern.

MATTHEW ROBLEZ, STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Yes, I have to say that demolishing the remaining of it really does take away the evidence, if you will, to the clues. But, however, it was something that absolutely had to happen. It had to happen for the rescue effort. It had to happen for safety. It was just something that had to happen. And I think it was a logical trade-off because there's a long history of this building that we all know on the problems, the issues. So it's not like this just happened without any kind of written history.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

We are, as we've been speaking here, looking at live pictures of the crews. And, still, I just always want to remind people, you know, it's not like they're backhoeing through this. I mean this is painstaking work by hand, picking up individual pieces of rubble, carrying it away often in buckets. It's just -- it's just that hard.

And, Dave, as we're looking at those pictures, can you describe the pressure? But also if stress is the right word, or just the emotion that these searchers go through as they're doing this.

DOWNEY: Well, you know, each and every one of these rescuers, and the heavy equipment operators that are out there, are dedicated to this operation and they're working as hard as they can. But it does, you know, weigh heavily on them. You know, we all are hoping for the survivors, but as the days go on, we know that the likelihood is diminishing. But they're going to keep pressing on. And, you know, they work their 12-hour cycles. They're still working around the clock. They get -- we're kind of making the rest cycles 45 -- 30 minutes to 45 minutes because of the heat and humidity out there.

But, yes, they're having to still move everything by hand. We want -- we don't want to disturb anything. If we find a victim, we want to be able to remove them and bring closure to these families.

SCIUTTO: No question. OK, question for you, Matthew Roblez, about some of the clues that we've been able to see from pictures and others and structural engineers like yourself have called out.

According to "The Times," I'm going to give you an example here, a forensic engineering expert hired by the town of Surfside to investigate, looks at pictures, and we're showing some here now, here they are, those pieces of metal coming out of that concrete column there, rebar as it's known. The engineer said, based on his count, there's less rebar there, less steel reinforcement than the drawings would have called for.

One, as you look at that, would you make a similar assessment? And, two, could that be a crucial clue?

ROBLEZ: Definitely, I would make a similar assessment. And it's a very crucial clue. We've got to remember that in Florida at the time, you know, they had a building code that was established, but it wasn't till Hurricane Andrew that they really started enforcing it and coming up with a statewide inspection program, things of that nature, because Hurricane Andrew showed that that was like the biggest insurance claims in the history of the United States at the time and it was revealed that the building departments were -- were not enforcing things as they should and so in '96 they came up with all their regulations. So this was built in that time period. And so it very well could be

that some of the inspections weren't done as properly as they could have. So that is a clue to that.

SCIUTTO: Just quickly before we go, Matthew, one thing that's confused me is this. Whose decision is it to make these repairs? Because it seems that this condo board had a number of warnings and even spoke to residents about that, warned them about the importance of these repairs, but didn't ultimately make the decision to make the repairs. Costs seem to be a factor. I mean is there -- is there no legal requirement, right? I mean whose decision is it ultimately? Can you get a bad report and just say, ah, I'm not going to do it.

ROBLEZ: You can. I mean they're -- as structural engineers, we're not police officers.


ROBLEZ: You know, -- you know we tell -- we can tell you how bad things are, but ultimately the responsibility is up to you as the owner or the ownership board to turn that over to the state and do the things that you need to do.


ROBLEZ: I don't have the authority to call up and say, hey, you know, this -- they're not in compliance. I'm not a code police. And that's the biggest problem nationwide. It happens all the time.


Matthew Roblez, thanks so much. And Dave Downey, thanks to you as well. We know that you're still part of the team doing some of this difficult work there, so appreciate you taking time out to speak to us this morning.

DOWNEY: Thanks for having me.


SCIUTTO: Well, the insurrection at the Capitol was exactly six months ago today. And, this morning, we are learning there are new fears that frankly Congress has not done enough to protect the Capitol from another similar attack. Why is that?

And we're just moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures are mixed. Wall Street getting ready for a holiday-shortened week. Stocks are coming off a great first half of 2021 as investors are excited about the reopening of the economy thanks in large part to COVID vaccinations. Corporate profits, they're booming as a result. We're going to stay on top of all of it.