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Breaking News: 24 States Have Now Seen At Least a 10 Percent Uptick In New COVID Cases; Japanese P.M. Issued A Fourth Coronavirus State Of Emergency in Tokyo; Dems on Jan. 6 Committee Acknowledge That It May Be An Uphill Battle as Republicans Obstruct Other Legislative Efforts. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 8, 2021 - 10:00   ET





JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Breaking news on the coronavirus pandemic, this morning 24 states have now seen at least a 10 percent uptick in new COVID infections just in the last week as the more contagious, and sadly more dangerous, delta variant spreads in this country.

Experts warn that five recently identified clusters of areas, which not coincidentally have a low number of vaccinated people, could become a breeding ground for more deadly variants and, in the end, put the entire U.S. at risk. As concerns about the delta variant grow, here we've learned a rise in infections in Japan means there will not be no spectators at Tokyo venues for the Olympics coming up.

The Japanese Prime Minister issued a fourth coronavirus state of emergency in Tokyo. That will cover the entire 16 days of the games. Experts say they have "no choice but to hold the games in a limited way." CNN's Selina Wang joins me now live from Tokyo. Selena, there's a lot of debate going into this, there's a lot of back and forth, frankly. What finally put Tokyo officials over the edge?

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, honestly this comes as a huge relief to the public here, to experts, who for months have been advising the government to host these games without any spectators.

Now earlier, they said that up to 10,000 people would be allowed at each Olympic venue, but now the massive surge of cases in Japan has given organizers no choice, they say, Tokyo dealing with a spike, cases reaching the highest level in months as more cases are being driven by the delta variant. This is going to be a major blow for Japan and Olympic organizers.

Jim, they have spent more than $15 billion and years preparing for these games, more than a billion dollars alone just to rebuild the national stadium. It is going to be extraordinary to see those stands in Tokyo completely empty when these games move forward. But even without any spectators at these games, much of the public here in Japan is still anxious.

I was just at an anti-Olympics protest here in Shinjuku, Tokyo, just hours ago. People are angry that the games are going ahead in the middle of a state of emergency when just 15 percent of the Japanese population has been fully vaccinated. Many people feel that while their lives are being restricted, while many people's businesses are hurting, the world's largest sporting event is being held in their streets and in their stands.

And now at the same time, it is not just the protesters, many people in general are frustrated, people are also frustrated with IOC President Thomas Bach, who just arrived here today. Some protesters were specifically pointing him out, targeting their anger towards him who they say represents the IOC plowing ahead with these games at the expense of people's lives and health. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Selina Wang, thanks so much. Back here in the U.S., experts say that five recently identified clusters in the U.S. in areas with low vaccination rates could threaten progress not just there but throughout the country. CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now.

I mean, Elizabeth, it's not an accident that you're having these clusters of new infections in areas with low - lower vaccination rates. Tell us about the danger posed in those areas, but also beyond them?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So Jim, about half of the U.S. is not fully vaccinated, and if those folks were spread out evenly across the United States, those of us who are vaccinated, you know, might be able to protect them and help them to a certain extent. But, unfortunately, they're not evenly spread out, they are clustered. So let's take a look at these clusters of folks who are not vaccinated.

So if you take a look at these map - these five circles, those five circles have very low vaccination rates and relatively high populations. So this is like, kind of like, dry wood for an outbreak. If you think of an outbreak as a fire, this is the kindling. This is where it is going to happen, as you can see, mostly in the southeast and also into southern Missouri.


Let's take a look at some of the demographics involved with these clusters. That's about 15 million people in those five clusters, and the vaccination rate in those clusters is 28 percent. That is low. The national vaccination rate is 48 percent.

And it's interesting, there are a few cities like Montgomery, Alabama, Amarillo, Texas, in these clusters, but 92 percent of these counties have fewer than 100,000 people. So these are relatively small counties that make up these clusters. And they cross state lines, it encompasses about eight states. It's a problem for them, but it's also a problem for the rest of us.

When the virus has a chance to spread from person to person to person, it can get smart, it can learn how to evade the vaccine, evade our immune systems, and that's how you get variants. So far, the variants that we've seen, the vaccines worked quite well. The fear is, is that the next variant or the next one or the next one that it - the vaccine won't work well against it, it will be resistant to the vaccine, and then we're all in trouble. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes. Listen folks, if you haven't been vaccinated and if you're not doing it for yourself, if you're not doing it for the country, do it for your family.


SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: Here to discuss now is Dr. Sam - Samuel Ratermann. He's the President of Oklahoma Academy of Family Physicians. Dr., thanks so much for joining this morning.


SCIUTTO: So we are sadly seeing these clusters. It is exactly as doctors feared with low vaccination rates and the emergence of the delta variant. One of those clusters is in Oklahoma, where you are, and I wonder how concerning is this for your state and what efforts are being made there to break through?

RATTERMAN: Well, we're watching it very close, you know. As you just mentioned, southwest Missouri is having a big increase in cases. Those are, of course, coming across the border to where we have. In the county that I work in, we have about a 28 percent vaccination rate. Less than 50 percent of our demographic that is 65 and older are vaccinated.

And unlike the comment that was said, it's kind of dry kindling, it's allowing it to come in quickly. Now we haven't seen as much progress going further west in the state, into Tulsa and Oklahoma City, but that's what we're gearing up for, have been on calls with state officials in a lot of the hospitals saying we need to be ready for this, things are moving that way.

We're already seeing some issues with bed shortages, not just from COVID but from residents all over our region needing care from a lot of the medical problems that they've experienced or maybe neglected over the last year.


RATERMANN: So it's definitely putting some pressure.

SCIUTTO: How do you break through, right? I mean, there been a number of strategies tried, still being tried, one is go through doctors like yourself, doctor's that people know, their personal GP's. President Biden talking now about getting help from businesses, setting up clinics in-house, giving people time off to get vaccinated.

But the fact is, disinformation, politics is trumping the science in many cases here. How do you break through it with patients or just average people who still refuse the shot?

RATERMANN: You know, that's the million dollar question and I wish I had an answer. I think there's a group of people who are very fearful of the vaccine, and what we have seen is they're overwhelmingly safe. Yes, there are some side effects that get a lot of media attention -


RATERMANN: - but the truth is that if you get this virus, you are much more likely to have those side effects anyway, so I think you're safer. And I think it's trying to hit the right people who are just a little bit concerned, do I want to do this or do I not, and encouraging them to. The CDC just came out and they said close to 100 percent of the vaccines are effective at present - preventing -


RATERMANN: - severe disease and death. So even though we're seeing some break-through disease, it is still helpful in the long run.

SCIUTTO: So, tell me. I want to know about what you're seeing in terms of the breakthrough because we have had other concerning variants, the U.K. variant, the South Africa variant, Brazil variant, who - which did not break through. And thankfully now, a large portion of the country is vaccinated. Are you - are - is what you're seeing now, does it give you concern that the Delta variant, particularly in those low vaccination areas, will break through in a significant way?

RATERMANN: Yeah, that is my concern. Our state epidemiologists recently confirmed that we do have Delta in the northeast Oklahoma region.

What I'm seeing, personally, in a lot of colleagues is that it's kind of getting a younger population, that group that's not vaccinated, they're having different symptoms from what we saw from the original COVID outbreak, so they're getting more headache and sore throat and muscle aches, but they're not having that loss of sense of smell and taste.

So I think a lot of people are not initially thinking oh, I might have COVID, so we're really encouraging people if you have any of the symptoms, there's not a whole lot of summer colds going around, there's RSV, there are some other things, but get tested. We need to know where these pockets are, and we have treatments that work a lot better if used early.

If we can get people to ask their provider about these antibody cocktails, the same thing that President Trump had got when he was sick - SCIUTTO: Yes.

RATERMANN: - the Regeneron product, those work really, really well if we can give those to people before they get severely ill.


Then just try and get them back into the hospital if those things don't work. But again, we know that our treatments worked a whole lot better earlier in the disease. We don't want to wait until it's too late.

SCIUTTO: You've noticed - we've noticed that you do have Republican officials trying to encourage folks because there is a political disparity here, right, in terms of where you see vaccine hesitancy, Mitch McConnell, West Virginia's Republican Governor Jim Justice encouraging people to get vaccinated. Is that kind of message from those kinds of people making a difference where you are?

RATERMANN: You know, I don't know that I can answer that. I think that anybody who is encouraging vaccines and encouraging all of the normal preventative measures that we can take to prevent the spread of the disease is going to help.

We know that almost regardless of what variant we're seeing, these preventative measures work, you know, wearing masks if you're in indoor, public spaces, or wearing masks if you're not vaccinated at all, getting vaccinated. These things are going to work very, very well regardless of which strain we're seeing.

SCIUTTO: Well, Dr. Sam Ratermann, we appreciate the work you're doing there. We know it's hard at times -

RATERMANN: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: - but it makes a real difference.

RATERMANN: Appreciate you.

SCIUTTO: Still to come this hour, police say they arrested two suspects, killed four others suspects in the assassination of the President of Haiti. Now a state of siege has been declared in that country. We're going to be live next.

Plus the Republican push to restrict voting access. In Texas, GOP members in the State House filed another election overhaul bill that would add a slew of new restrictions. Now Democrats are threatening to sue. Can it work?

And in Pennsylvania, Republican lawmakers pushing for a so-called audit of the 2020 election, even though it's already been audited in counties there. The state's attorney general will join us ahead.


[10:15:00] SCIUTTO: Authorities in Haiti say police have now killed four suspects, arrested two others connected to the assassination of President Jovenel Moise. Haiti's ambassador to the U.S. told CNN that the suspects are believed to be foreign mercenaries, police now trying to determine their identities.

We want to show you a video here, and this is remarkable. It is purportedly taking as the attack happened around 1:00 a.m. early wednesday morning at the president's home, and you can hear someone clearly yelling presenting themselves as agents of the drug enforcement administration of the U.S., the DEA. The U.S. State Department has flatly denied the assailants are DEA agents.

Important to note, CNN could not independently confirm the authenticity of the audio or video. Please watch.


UNKNOWN MALE: DEA operation. Everybody stand down. DEA operation. Everybody back up, stand down. (inaudible)


SCIUTTO: It's key because Haitian authorities had said that the attackers somehow presented themselves as DEA agents. First lady Martine Moise was flown to a Miami hospital after she was shot in the attack as well. She is said to be in stable but critical condition. Joining me now to discuss, the former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe. Mr. Lamothe, thanks so much for taking the time this morning.

LAURENT LAMOTHE, FORMER HAITIAN PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much for having me.

SCIUTTO: I should note, you're author of the book "The Hands of the Prime Minister." I do want to ask you, big picture for a moment, this was a brazen armed assault inside the residence of the President of Haiti. How is this possible?

LAMOTHE: Well, this was basically executed by a group of very well trained mercenaries, foreign mercenaries, and that certainly had a lot of financing for this to happen.

And a lot of complicity for - from certainly some in Haiti because, you know, it's very surprising that a group of men could come from abroad, land in Haiti, get to the president's house, you know, go through his gate, into the house, into the house, upstairs where the bedroom is, and then shoot him close to 16 times and then - and without a shot being fired at them. So it's - it's very incomprehensible

SCIUTTO: Goodness, shot 16 times. Haitian officials, like you, have pointed to mercenaries. Is there any evidence as to who hired these mercenaries? Who is behind this plot?

LAMOTHE: Well, you know, the president of Haiti, in an interview that he did with a Spanish newspaper, had said that - that was over five months ago, that there were, you know, people trying to, you know, assassinate him. So he had - he had advanced warning in that he was basically not going out too much, staying in his house. And then they went into the house and assassinated him, so it's -

SCIUTTO: But who? Who was he pointing to at that time?

LAMOTHE: - well - I mean, you know, this is why, you know, I - I'm calling for an international investigation to get to the bottom of this because, you know, at this point, I don't think we have the identity of who did it, but the president had a lot of enemies, you know, strong enemies locally, that he was doing a lot of reforms and he a lot of pushback on those reforms.


So, you certainly - only, you know, a very strong international investigation with an international prosecutor, just like you - what happened with - when Rafic Hariri, the former prime minister of Lebanon, was assassinated. You know, the U.N. had put together the panel of international investigators.

That would be necessary for the case of Haiti because this is - I mean, this is unheard of. A sitting president, a democratically elected president, you know, assassinated in his home and his - and the first lady is in intensive care right now. She's wounded. You know, she's doing better, thank god, but, you know this cannot go unpunished.

SCIUTTO: I want to play, if I can again for our viewers, this moment caught on audio and on video purportedly as the siege was underway where you have these mercenaries, as the government describes them, claiming to be DEA agents. Let me just play it one more time and to get your reaction.


UNKNOWN MALE: DEA operations. Everybody stand down. DEA operations. Everybody back up, stand down. (Inaudible)


SCIUTTO: Now, the U.S. State department has denied this was at all connected, you know, in effect that this was a cover story. Tell us the significance of that, claiming to be a DEA operation as they're carrying out this assassination.

LAMOTHE: Well, this was a way for them to - to hold the police back and hold anyone back, and posing as DEA agents and acting as if it was a drug enforcement operation. So they were just trying to create confusion within the security forces, and they were able to fool everyone and get into the house without, certainly, resistance from the presidential guard.

SCIUTTO: Yes, just so sad to see, alarming to see. Laurent Lamothe, thanks so much for helping walk us through it.

LAMOTHE: Thank you very much for having me.

SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, there is new reporting, just into CNN, on the strategy by Democrats to keep the January 6 Select Committee from becoming, really, a political operation with obstruction by Republicans. We're going to be live on Capitol Hill next.



SCIUTTO: New CNN reporting offers a glimpse into how Democrats plan to approach the House Select Committee's investigation into the January 6 Capitol insurrection, as well as their efforts to keep politics out of the search for answers to a lot of hard questions. One of the Democrats on committee, Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy, acknowledged to me just a short time ago that it may be an uphill battle as Republicans obstruct other legislative efforts.


REP. STEPHANIE MURPHY (D-FL): We can't play by their rules, and that - that's what the Republicans have done in the past, is that they've changed the system because they don't have good values or good ideas to run on. Democrats are different, and I think that if we take our case to the American people, we'll be able to make progress on the issues that matter so much.


SCIUTTO: CNN'S Lauren Fox joins me now on Capitol Hill. Lauren, I wonder how much patience there remains in the Democratic caucus with that strategy. In other words, we'll go high, they - while they go low, particularly on the Select Committee now?

LAUREN FOX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's something that they're going to try to deploy for sure, Jim, because, look, this is a tight rope. It's difficult to walk as Democrats are approaching the mid-term elections, and that's going to be happening just as this committee is really getting off the ground.

Look, their first hearing, they have already said, is going to be hearing from rank and file Capitol police officers. They feel like that is something that everyone, Republicans, Democrats, people back home, can really rally behind, but they're going to be very careful.

You can't ignore the former president's role, what he said about the big lie, as part of this investigation. They have to get at the heart of what caused the January 6 insurrection, but they also don't want this to turn into a political food fight with hearings and those kind of explosive moments that become just the whole rhetoric on the campaign trail.

So they have to walk this fine line. You know, one Democrat I talked to for this story, Peter Aguilar, he told me, look, we are not making decisions because something is hard politically or easy politically, but we are trying to get to the truth. And that doesn't mean we're going to shy away from things, but we want to be serious.

And I think that that's really the line here that you're hearing from Democrats. They know this may get political at times. It's going to have to get political because some of the players they may need to hear from, whether that's McCarthy, other Republicans, the former president.

Those are political figures, but that doesn't mean that the tone or rhetoric surrounding these investigations have to overtly be political at every moment. And I think that is what they're very cautious of. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Understood. Well, wouldn't be the first time we saw politics get in the way of an investigation. On the Hill, Lauren Fox, but you've been through that before. We'll be watching.

Coming up next, a Republican lawmaker in Pennsylvania is pushing for a so-called audit of the 2020 election, though it's already been legally audited. There, the results confirmed he's following the example, it seems, of the so-called recount in Arizona.