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Elsa Targets Florida; Florida Search Efforts Continue; President Biden Renews Vaccination Push. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 6, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: I'm Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

So, this hour, President Biden will speak from the White House. He will announce his plans to get more people vaccinated. That's after he just missed his July 4 goal.

The administration, we understand from our White House team, plans to ramp up outreach and increase access to vaccines, specifically for young people. And in the struggle to get more shots into arms, this image of two Americas are emerging, one protected by the vaccines, the other still at risk for severe symptoms.

We are seeing spikes in COVID cases, with the Delta variant surging in states with lower vaccination rates.

CAMEROTA: So, health experts say the unvaccinated regions could threaten progress in the rest of the country.

Now, you will see national daily averages for new cases and deaths are down, but 10 states are seeing a spike in new cases. Those are in the red.

OK, let's bring in CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

So, Kaitlan, what does President Biden plan to say about all of this?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he is kind of walking this fine line here, where they're touting what you are showing there, that the case rates are down, deaths are down, but they're dealing with these areas where they're worried about a potentially deadly combination, low vaccination rates and a high circulation of the highly contagious Delta variant that everyone is now talking about. And so what you have seen President Biden try to do over the last few

days is really mark the progress that's been made, celebrate the fact that life has returned to normal in a lot of the U.S., but also warn about what's to come for those who are not yet vaccinated.

And that is this concern of those areas where the Delta variant is high, that people who aren't vaccinated are going to get potentially very, very sick, and even potentially die. That was that warning that you heard from the CDC director last week, saying that all COVID-19 deaths are preventable almost, almost all of those.

So any pain and any suffering coming from COVID-19 is basically optional at this point. And so I think that's what you are going to hear from President Biden today as he renews that push to try to get Americans vaccinated, but the steps that he's going to be talking about, it's really just reinforcing measures that they're already taking.

These are things that they are already doing, and they're just saying they're going to continue doing those things and try to ramp them up in order to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

But it does seem to be that they're acknowledging there are limits to what they believe they can do, because if you look at that Kaiser Foundation study that came out last week, it seemed to predict that most Americans who are going to get vaccinated likely already have.

and so that is information that the administration is still grappling with as they're dealing with this. And, of course, you have seen vaccination rates slow to where they are now. You know, we used to see a million a day. Now it is getting closer to that per week. And so President Biden had set that goal for July 4 to get 70 percent of adults with at least one shot by July 4.

That's a goal that he and the nation fell short of, of course. And we are told and Jen Psaki just essentially confirmed in briefing that is under way right now that he is not expected to set any more numerical goals on vaccinations.

Instead, they're just going to push for an overall broad response, trying to get as many people vaccinated, while, of course, trying to also deal with that Delta variant.

BLACKWELL: All right, Kaitlan Collins for us there at the White House.

Kaitlan, thank you very much.

Of course, we will bring you -- when the president speaks, we will bring that to you.

Let's talk now about Israel. It has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, but it just released some new findings that are fuelling concerns about how the Delta variant, which is highly infectious, may impact how well a vaccine works.

CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is with us now.

Elizabeth, you are learning what from the Israeli health ministry about Pfizer specifically?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So, Pfizer, of course, is the vaccine, Victor, that Israel has been using the entire time.

And in the beginning, it was 90-something percent effective at preventing infection, but now they're finding it is not working as well. And the reason, as we just heard Kaitlan talk about, it is the Delta variant. That variant is proving to be a bit of a challenge to the vaccine.

However, there is some good news in here. So let's take a look at these numbers. So what the Israelis say is that now Pfizer's vaccine is about 64 percent effective at preventing infection. It is 64 percent effective at keeping you from getting infected with COVID.

But it is 93 percent effective at keeping you from getting severely ill or hospitalized. That second number is actually the more important number. It is 93 percent effective at keeping you from getting very sick from COVID-19.

So we are beginning to hear -- I personally know a few people who were vaccinated, but did get infected. They were exposed to someone with COVID, they got a test, they found that they actually had it. They had the Delta variant. And the reason why they got infected is that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective, but they didn't get very sick. They hardly got sick at all. That's what the Israelis are seeing with the data.


CAMEROTA: And that's what is important.

COHEN: Right.

CAMEROTA: Because, I mean, getting sick is obviously uncomfortable, but you want to avoid going to the hospital and you want to avoid dying. And that's what the vaccine is doing.

But let's talk about these states. We just showed that map about the states with lower vaccination rates. So explain why health experts fear that they may become a breeding ground for new variants.

COHEN: Right, because here -- this is the way that it works.

Viruses are smart and they learn how to mutate, so that they can spread even further and do even more damage. And what makes them smart, the way that they get smart is that they play the game. They go from person to person to person. It very much is like playing a sport. You and I get better at a sport by playing it over and over again.

Viruses get better by spreading from person to person to person. They learn what to do. And so there's a lot of anxiety that, in these areas, in these clusters in the United States where there are low vaccination rates, the virus is being given an opportunity, really handed to the virus on a silver platter, by people choosing not to get vaccinated. They're going from person to person to person.

So far, these variants have not been a huge challenge to the vaccine, as we just saw with that Israeli data. The concern is that the virus is going to continue to get smart and may mutate to a point where the vaccine maybe won't work as well. And, really, that will be because of unvaccinated people.

I know I'm being very blunt here. I know I sound like I'm blaming people, but really they are the reason why this virus is having such fun spreading around still, because they have chosen not to get vaccinated.

CAMEROTA: Elizabeth, do you think that on some level we are missing the big picture here? Because some of our on-air doctors have said that the real story here is the medical marvel that is this vaccine, these mRNA vaccines, and that what has happened in the space of a year -- a year ago at this time, we didn't know what our fate was.

We woke up every day wondering if we were going to get deathly ill. And now millions of Americans have been vaccinated. It has happened with lightning speed, and that we have prevented death for so many millions of Americans.

Do you think that we're underplaying that somehow?

COHEN: Yes, because I think what happens is that, you know when you get like a big gift or a big present on Christmas our your birthday, it is so exciting. And then six months later, maybe you have sort of forgotten how exciting it is.

This is incredibly exciting. The fact that scientists came up with an extraordinarily effective vaccine, more than 95 percent effective, in less than a year's time is amazing. It was a huge gift that was handed to us. And if you are vaccinated, you do not need to have the anxiety that you once had.

What is unfortunate is that about a third of Americans have decided to ignore this gift and not get vaccinated. And they could prove a problem for the rest of us. But, yes, it is an incredible miracle. And you know what? You only need to speak to someone who lived through polio to know what life is like when you don't have a vaccine and you have to sit and watch people get very sick and very -- die.

We are so incredibly blessed and lucky that we don't have to watch that.

CAMEROTA: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you for all of that.

BLACKWELL: So, the U.S. is still seeing just under 12,000 new COVID cases a day, just shy of 200 deaths a day at this point in the pandemic, proof of how far much of the country has come, as we just discussed. But, in Missouri, some hospital staffers say they feel like they are going backward. One hospital in Springfield has been forced to open a second COVID ward, and more than 100 COVID patients there.

The state reported the second highest number of new COVID cases yesterday, behind only Arkansas. And, not surprisingly, it has would be of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

So, let's bring in now Erik Frederick. He's the chief administration officer of Mercy Hospital Springfield.

Erik, thank you for being with us. I have been following your Twitter updates, the updates you have been giving on the hospital and the patients there.

What does your COVID unit look like now?

ERIK FREDERICK, MERCY HOSPITAL SPRINGFIELD: Well, thank you for having me. I do appreciate it.

Today, as of right now, we have 122 COVID-positive patients in the hospital. About 20 of those are currently in the emergency room waiting for placement in beds upstairs. And we have -- our plan allowed us to open multiple units, based on the acuity.

So, we have two units right now serving ICU level patients. One of those is full, with 28 of those patients on COVID; 24 of those are ventilated. And then we have several step-down units. And then we have some capacity on the medical unit as well that we can move patients on and off.

But it takes a lot of work to move those patients around and make adjustments to make sure we have capacity to care for those patients.

BLACKWELL: One hundred and twenty-two. If I am following this correctly, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, that's a new record for your hospital?

FREDERICK: Yes. Unfortunately, yes, it is.

At the peak of the surge over the last winter, we hit our peak on December 28 at 113 patients here in our Springfield Hospital. We surpassed that over the weekend at 116, 115, and then, today, we are at 122.



We know from the peak of the pandemic that not just the bed space and the resources -- first, let's talk about these -- the ventilators. I know that you were looking for ventilators. Do you have enough for those patients you need?

FREDERICK: We do have enough ventilators. You know, we are blessed to be part of a large health care ministry.

And we have a tier group response plan that, when we know we hit certain levels of utilization of our ventilators, then we can pull parts of that plan back together and bring more resources in.

We saw a pretty quick escalation from Thursday. We were sitting around 30 ventilators. And that's COVID and non-COVID patients. And it quickly ramped up to almost 50 by Saturday evening, prompting us to make that call and pull those resources in when we got to the end of our bedside ventilators.

Always have some transport ventilators on hand, should we need them, but, again, the resources are there and readily available. And we have a surplus of ventilators should we need them.

BLACKWELL: How many of these patients who are at your hospital with COVID have been vaccinated?

FREDERICK: We kind of look at the surge beginning back around the 1st of June, and so it is a rolling census. You have got to look at it as a whole.

So, what we have seen so far is still less than 4 percent of the patients hospitalized have been fully vaccinated. And, as of right now, I'm not aware of any of them being admitted to the ICU.

BLACKWELL: So, less than 4 percent. That means you have north of 96 percent of those who are at your hospital there who have been -- who have not been vaccinated.

I wonder. We're expecting to hear from the president and his new strategy to get more people vaccinated in states like yours, where the vaccination rate is so low. He's going to highlight access. Is access to the vaccine the challenge there now? If not, what is it?

FREDERICK: It is not access.

I think all of the local health care systems here in Springfield have done a great job in standing up a variety of access points, whether they're full-time clinics that are dedicated to both appointments and walk-in care, local pharmacies.

The Health Department has done a fantastic job. The fire department has jumped in and stood up vaccination clinic. The local minor league baseball team ran clinics during games. So I think it's really been an issue of the vaccine is readily available. It's just the reticence to come and get the vaccine.

We know that the hospital association did a survey back in the spring. And we know there's a number of folks in the community that just really aren't interested in seeking the vaccine.

So, what we will try to do is continue to talk to them and have conversations, educate them, explain to them what is going on in the hospitals and the impact that's being had, and if you are arriving to the hospital for something other than COVID, the potential challenge that's going to create for patients seeking regular non-COVID care.

So, we just to keep having that conversation, explaining the impact on the local health care system and hopefully we can continue to persuade people to come and get the vaccine.

BLACKWELL: Yes, there in Missouri, 39.4 percent fully vaccinated, 56 percent of adults with at least one shot there.

We are coming off the big Fourth of July holiday weekend, big events across the state. Are you concerned about this getting worse for Missouri related to what we saw over the weekend?


We have always remained concerned after any particular holiday during the pandemic, when you knew people were going to be gathering, whether it was during the holidays in November, December, and then leading into this year, Memorial Day, Father's Day, and then -- and now Fourth of July weekend, knowing that there was going to be large gatherings and a much more contagious variant than what we had back in December.

So we're definitely concerned. We will watch now in the next five to seven, 10 days to see what starts to emerge based on the gatherings over the weekend. But I think all of us continue daily, almost hourly discussions, planning meetings.

We are looking at all of our resources, talking to our leadership across the ministry and saying, OK, here is where we think we are, here is where we think we are going, and let's get ready to care for the community, which is what we're committed to doing.

BLACKWELL: Erik, last question here.

What does this feel like to be back here after what we all watched for the last 15, lived through for the last 15, 16 months? The rest of the country in large part are coming out of this and your hospital just hit a record for your COVID unit. What does that feel like?

FREDERICK: It is tiring.

I will say, for our staff on the floors, the physicians, nurses, our respiratory therapists, everyone, the housekeepers, it is almost, I think, a sense of shock a little bit, like, how did we end up back here, a sense of fatigue and frustration, knowing that there's a readily available solution to this problem, and we still have so much reticence in the community to step in and join collectively in this fight to kind of get things back to normal.

So I think those are the three, the fatigue, the shock and the frustration. You hear it every day from our co-workers. And they're very tired.

BLACKWELL: Erik Frederick, thank you and your whole team for the work you are doing at Mercy Hospital Springfield. Thanks for being with us.

[14:15:01] FREDERICK: Thank you. I appreciate it.

CAMEROTA: I'm fatigued and frustrated for him. It doesn't have to be this way.

BLACKWELL: No, no. There is an option there. He says access is not the problem. It is now a choice that people are not getting this, in large part, not for everyone, but it is a choice to not get the vaccine.

CAMEROTA: It is just so frustrating at this point, that they still have to be in this situation, the doctors and the nurses.


CAMEROTA: All right, still ahead, we are tracking Tropical Storm Elsa for you. It is heading towards Florida, what that means for the continuing search in Surfside.


CAMEROTA: Florida is on high alert at this hour. The state is bracing for the arrival of Tropical Storm Elsa. More than four million people are under a hurricane watch right now; 12 million are under tornado watch.


Tampa International Airport and other major airports in Southwest Florida are suspending flights beginning this afternoon.

BLACKWELL: So, heavy rains and winds are already hitting the Florida Keys, parts of South Florida.

Elsa is expected to make landfall tomorrow morning along Florida's West Coast.

CNN meteorologist Tom Sater is at the severe Weather Center tracking Elsa for us.

So, Tom, what is the latest?

TOM SATER, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Well, it was 24 hours ago that we had landfall on the southern coast of Cuba. Just before that, the winds were at 65 miles per hour. It dropped down to 50.

We knew that once it would get in the warmer waters of the Florida Straits, it would generate. It got up to 60. Take a look where it is now. Sustained winds are now at 70. A hurricane is at 74 miles per hour. The environment, as we mentioned yesterday, is not conducive for further development, but it's not going to take much.

So we're expecting this to be a middle Category 1 soon. Hurricane aircraft were in this just moments ago, and they're still in there now. And they're giving us these updates and the information. We thank them for this. It's critical, because, even though it may become a Category 1 hurricane, you will see here, in pink, this was issued earlier, hurricane watch,.

At any moment now, this is going to change. They have issued a hurricane warning. I can tell you, everyone living here, you're not going to be able to tell the difference between a strong tropical storm and a minimal Category 1. The risks are all the same.

So the preparations, if they're not done, if you're already into the rainfall, if you haven't put your furniture out by your pool inside or tied down loose objects, just throw them in the pool. Keep them from flying around. We have got a lot of lightning around the core.

That means convective activity is still trying to develop and further strengthen. Notice the feeder bands. This was our concern. We have got a couple of them here. And we will continue to have them throughout the day. Winds right now, gusts of 51. In Key West, they were up to 70 miles per hour.

They have got some flooding and uprooted trees. They have had problems. Take a look at Surfside. This is what we talked about yesterday, feeder bands bringing these severe thunderstorms in toward that operation site. We do have a tornado watch that's in effect. We don't have any warnings just yet. But they're going to get into this. It's going to be pretty heavy for a couple of hours.

Now, we did have one tornado just to the east of Fort Myers. The track takes a Category 1 into Big Bend. The good news is, as around sunrises, as we have landfall, it's a mostly unpopulated area. If you're going to have a landfall and hurricane in Florida, that's where you want it.

But the hurricane warning that's in effect, to give you an idea how rare it is, on the west coast of Florida during the month of July, it's been 134 years. The last time we had one of these systems move in, again, you have got to go back really three years ago, and that was Hurricane Michael, to have these warnings in effect.

So, again, Category 1 at landfall tomorrow morning. Conditions are going to deteriorate, big concerns for Tampa, St. Pete, Clearwater, and areas northward. Once that system gets just horizontal to you off in areas to the west, you're going to notice that surge really starts to increase. It's going to be a long day.

CAMEROTA: Tom Sater, thank you for all of those warnings for the folks living along that coast.

All right, so what impact will Elsa have on search efforts in Surfside, Florida? Crews have been working around the clock, as you know, at this disaster site.

They have now retrieved four more bodies from the rubble, bringing the number of confirmed deaths to 32; 113 people are still unaccounted for. Miami-Dade County's mayor says crews are persevering through very difficult conditions.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANIELLA LEVINE CAVA (D), MAYOR OF MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA: Search-and-rescue continued throughout the night, and these teams continue through extremely adverse and challenging conditions. Through the rain and through the wind they have continued searching.


BLACKWELL: Now, for the families and the survivors, all of this is agonizing.

One man who lived on the fourth floor lost everything he owns there. He tells CNN that one item he wishes he could retrieve from the rubble there is a photo of his mother that he used to look at every day.

CNN's Leyla Santiago is in Surfside with the latest.

The description of the loss -- of course, we know life is the greatest loss, but the tangible loss and the people who are working to continue the search, it is just a lot that has to be done.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor and Alisyn, I was with a survivor when he saw some of the dump truck -- dump trucks, rather, pass him with a bunch of the debris, and he said to me: "I wonder if my mother's portrait is inside that truck."

Everyone describing this still on day 13 as if it were some kind of dream. Now, you heard Tom talking about the tornado watch. We are expecting for some rain to hit the area any minute now, and with that could come some lightning, lightning a big problem, because it is what caused the search-and-rescue teams to pause last night.

So that's a big challenge that they're dealing with. Now, these rescue crews have been able to gain access to certain parts of the building that wasn't safe to reach before what was left of the building was demolished.

The Miami-Dade fire chief saying that the crews are searching, and the word he used was aggressively. That said, he also described search- and-rescue efforts like this:



ALAN COMINSKY, MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, FLORIDA, FIRE CHIEF: Well, we're definitely searching.

I mean, unfortunately, we're not seeing anything positive that continues in that sense. The key things we are looking for all throughout and in regards to void space, livable spaces, we're not coming across that.

So, we're actively searching as aggressive as we can to see if we can assist with the families and locate individuals.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SANTIAGO: The crews have removed five million pounds of debris, giving you an idea of what it has been like, with trucks going back and forth here. That's total.

But also something we're seeing today, more federal help has arrived on site, the USGS, as well as the National Science Foundation, joining its partners at the National Institute of Standard and Safety and -- excuse me -- Standards and Technology.

So, it really speaks to the investigation that is under way to get to the bottom of what exactly caused this building to fall.

BLACKWELL: Leyla Santiago for us in Surfside.

Leyla, thank you.

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