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Rate of New Infections Surge; Pfizer Briefs Officials on Booster; More than 18 Million Under Heat Alerts; Biden's Plans to Reduce Gun Violence; Clyburn Pleads with Biden. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 12, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Daniel Dale, thank you for the facts here. We appreciate your time.


BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: CNN's coverage will continue right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Poppy Harlow.


This morning, experts are warning that the U.S. could soon see a, quote, surprising amount of COVID-19 deaths. This as cases spike in several parts of the country due to the highly transmissible delta variant. But, and this is important to note, it's clear in the data, virtually all of though deaths could be prevented by taking the simple step of getting vaccinated. Right now cases are up across 36 states, much of that fueled by the delta variant. The U.S. averaging nearly 20,000 new infections over the last seven days.

HARLOW: About 99 percent of all cases, we should point out, are among people who have not yet been vaccinated. As the delta variant spreads, Pfizer will brief U.S. officials on a possible COVID-19 booster shot. We'll have more on that ahead. They say there is waning immunity among people who got their vaccine.

Dr. Fauci, though, says, not so fast. He says, according to the data, a third shot is not needed.

So let's begin our coverage this hour with our Polo Sandoval. He joins us in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Polo, good morning.

You've got, sadly, cases surging across the state. The government there, leaders, trying to combat vaccine skepticism. What else are they doing to get a handle on this?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Poppy, here's another very telling number that was shared with us by one of the health officials here in Little Rock. Basically 95 percent of the patients that are currently experiencing severe COVID symptoms, at least at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, are people who are not vaccinated. That's 95 percent of the patients in that ward were not vaccinated. That's a very telling number. It certainly suggests that many of those hospitalizations are almost preventable here when you look at the numbers.

Now, let's talk specifically about Arkansas. When you look at it right now, we have seen only about 35 percent of the population here in the state be vaccinated. Now, when you look at Arkansas as a whole, and hospitalizations, you can see how they begin to increase here. One other doctor also telling me that their ward, it's already full. That they are certainly looking into the possibility that they might find other options here in terms of treating some of these patients.

Now, when it comes to new coronavirus cases in Arkansas alone, when you look at the graph here, you begin to see that uptick in June. Health authorities here saying that the delta variant is likely to blame, but also the number of people who have not been vaccinated.

I want you to hear directly from the secretary of health here in Arkansas, Dr. Jose Romero, as he explains what's keeping him up at night, especially the last few weeks.


DR. JOSE ROMERO, ARKANSAS SECRETARY OF HEALTH: There's clearly -- the increase is alarming. Again, if I can -- if I can just tell the public, the way to bring this under control is vaccination. You know, this is -- this is something the public has to accept and has to do their part in order to bring it under control. Public health can't do this alone. The first word in public health is "public."


SANDOVAL: Look, the reason for not being vaccinated, there's a wide range here, Jim and Poppy. There are, obviously, those more outlandish conspiracy theories. But then there are also some of those legitimate concerns. You have pregnant mothers, for example. You do have many gynecologists in this state that are reaching out to them and trying to put their concerns to rest. And then also Arkansas, it's a very rural state, especially for communities of color. So I heard from non- profits over the weekend that are actually reaching out, hoping to take the vaccine to them if they can't come to it.

SCIUTTO: Yes, let's hope it works, right? I mean the people who are dying right now, more than 99 percent of folks have not been vaccinated.

Polo Sandoval, thanks very much.

Also today, Pfizer is set to brief government officials on the potential need, or at least the question, about COVID-19 booster shots. Federal guidance remains, however, that it won't change immediately after that meeting.

HARLOW: Let's bring in our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, there's been a lot of back and forth on this between the companies and then the leading health officials. What do we actually know this morning, whether or not people are going to need a booster?


What we know is that administration officials will be briefed this evening by Pfizer on the data that led Pfizer to say, oh, my goodness, immunity is waning. We want to get Emergency Use Authorization for a third shot. Immunity is waning as we speak, basically. But they didn't really give any data to support that claim. They pointed to some Israeli numbers. But, ironically, the Israeli numbers show that, in fact, two shots, you don't need a third, just two shots are doing an excellent job at protecting people from getting very sick from COVID- 19.

Now, Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health saying this weekend that he actually got an apology from the CEO of Pfizer for sort of surprising everybody with this. And Dr. Fauci, just hours ago, said, look, it's not Pfizer who decides what shots Americans get and when they get them.


Let's take a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: What Pfizer did, understandably, they looked at what their data and they say, hey, you know, based on what we see, we think people should get vaccinated with a boost. Well, that's fine, except they're not the official recommending organization.


COHEN: So the bottom line remains this, right now the vast majority of Americans do not need a third shot. The CDC and the FDA have said this clearly. There's a bit of an exception if you're immune compromised. You might want to talk to your doctor about getting a third shot, but that's a relatively small number of people.

Poppy. Jim.

SCIUTTO: Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

Let's speak now to Dr. Carlos del Rio, executive associate dean of Emory University's School of Medicine at Grady Health System, and Erik Frederick, he's chief administrative officer at Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri.

Thanks so much to both of you.

I just -- I just, Dr. del Rio, you know, there are things we know and things we're learning as we go along. But before we get to the question of boosters, we know vaccinations are keeping people from dying. I mean 99.2 percent of the deaths in June were among unvaccinated people.

Can you just help amplify that message to people who are watching now and may still have questions about the vaccine?


I couldn't agree with Dr. Fauci more. I couldn't agree with you more. We have to get people vaccinated. The cases we're seeing, the hospitalizations we're seeing, the deaths we're seeing from COVID-19 are preventable. If people got vaccinated, we would not be seeing that.

I finished recently doing a stent in the hospital in the consul (ph) service, infectious disease counsul (ph) service as a clinician and every single person we saw with COVID was somebody that was not vaccinated. Those were preventable hospitalizations, preventable disease and preventable deaths. So my advice to people is, please go ahead and get vaccinated now.

HARLOW: I mean, Dr. Frederick, you're dealing with this firsthand in terms of having to stand up, once again, your fourth ICU unit that you hadn't needed in months. And I read that a few days ago the percent of COVID patients in ICUs that you had on ventilators was 88 percent, up from about 40 to 50 percent months ago. So, I mean, those numbers just paint the picture of how much worse the delta variant is making it.

What does it tell you about the risks to the unvaccinated that you're seeing these numbers?

DR. ERIK FREDERICK, CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICER, MERCY HOSPITAL: It's pretty alarming, Poppy. Yes, as of this morning, we're up actually over 90 percent of our ICU patients with COVID are on ventilators. And to see those kind of numbers, it's just shocking. The team is working really hard to support those patients. And as we've shared, the acceleration of the in-patient (INAUDIBLE) just caught everyone by surprise how quickly this spread.

So, as far as the folks in the community that have still chosen not to seek the vaccine, we're very concerned for them and very concerned for what lies ahead of us throughout the course of the summer.

SCIUTTO: Dr. Frederick, we're, in effect, in this country, living in information bubbles, right? And one of those information bubbles, fed by some Republican lawmakers and right-wing media, peppers people, right, with disinformation about the vaccine itself. I'm curious, as a doctor, when you encounter that -- not as a doctor, but as a health official, as you encounter that, how do you break through those bubbles?

FREDERICK: Yes, just a clarification, just not a physician, so I --

SCIUTTO: I elevated you for the moment. But given your experience in the health system, when you encounter that, you know, how do you break through?

FREDERICK: So we're -- we're doing our best to communicate directly to the public who we think the best source of information is, which is their primary care physician or the physician that they trust the most in their life. You know, and doctors work so hard. They're medically trained. They've been doing this for years and years. They are the exerts in the field.

And so every chance we get we encourage people to speak with their physicians. We're partnering with other local health systems, Cox Health, Jordan Valley, the health department, to go out into the community with vaccine clinics and have people on site who can answer questions, dispel some of the myths and really gain some of the confidence the community needs to accept the vaccine. And that will be happening over this week and the coming weeks, that we really are strongly partnering with the faith community as well as the health community to get out and talk to -- talk to the people in our -- in our neighborhoods.

HARLOW: Dr. del Rio, as of now, the White House has really hesitated to -- and pushed back against the need to mandate, right, even at their own Fourth of July celebration they had, they were asked by our Dana Bash, you know, why not mandate, and they have not done that yet.

I wonder what you think, given this, that Dr. Fauci told our Jake Tapper just yesterday.



DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I have been of this opinion and I remain of that opinion, that I do believe at the local level, Jake, there should be more mandates. There really should be. We're talking about life and death situation.


HARLOW: He's talking about state-by-state, city-by-city.


What happen, Dr. del Rio, if that doesn't change, if there are not more local mandates for vaccination?

DEL RIO: Well, Poppy, I think, unfortunately, because of the politicization of, you know, everything of this pandemic, including vaccines, I think mandates are going to be incredibly hard at a local level, even a state level, forget about a federal level.

But we will see mandates happen in schools, in health care systems, in businesses and different kinds of businesses. And I think we'll see those happen.

And I think, you know, it's going to take some time because really the key to mandates that they place is going to be that the FDA turns the vaccines, give the vaccines full approval and not just Emergency Use Authorization. When that happens, you're going to see -- you're going to see a lot of mandates pop up in places.

HARLOW: Thank you both. Dr. del Rio, Erik Frederick. And, Erik, to your whole team there, especially going through those high ICU numbers, we're wishing you a lot of -- a lot of luck.

FREDERICK: Thank you.

HARLOW: OK, right now, you've got several states out west bracing for another day of dangerously high temperatures. More than 18 million Americans under these heat alerts this morning again.

SCIUTTO: I mean just setting records all the time.


SCIUTTO: The heat expected to extend from the Pacific northwest to California, parts of Nevada and Utah.

Meteorologist Jennifer Gray has more on this.

Jennifer, I mean place this in the context, right, because these -- these are no longer isolated or 100-year events. I mean they're happening all the time.

JENNIFER GRAY, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Yes, we have seen relentless heat over the last couple of weeks. We've seen records fall left and right. And we're not talking about just daily records. We're talking about records that for any day of the calendar year that have fallen. So these are all-time records we're talking about.

Here's where the heat advisories are. The excessive heat warnings. The places we've seen over the last couple of weeks, still there. All-time record highs broken in places like Las Vegas, 117, 111 degrees in Bishop. We're seeing temperatures as high as 120, even reaching 130 degrees on Saturday in Death Valley. High temperatures moving forward. They are going to come down a little bit. It looks like the heat peaked over the weekend. We're still going to be seeing temperatures running about 10 to 15 degrees above normal.

Even low temperatures in the mid to upper 90s. In fact, Death Valley has been over 100 degrees, even for their low temperature for the last five days or so. That could be another record that falls.

Vegas, 89 degrees for your overnight low. And that is detrimental when you're talking about not being able to let your -- the body overcome the heat during the overnight. So it can be very, very dangerous. So temperatures are going to come down a little bit, Jim and Poppy. But, still, very, very hot across the west.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. It is so sad to see.

Jennifer Gray, thanks so much.

HARLOW: Thanks, Jennifer.

Still to come, President Biden meets today with officials to discuss reducing gun violence. He is going to meet with Eric Adams, of course the man who just won the New York City Democratic mayoral primary, who has criticized Democrats for their messaging on guns and policing.

And sweeping protests in Cuba this weekend. Thousands taking to the streets in extremely rare demonstrations against the country's communist regime. The government there is pointing its finger back at the United States.

SCIUTTO: And first Branson, next Bezos. The billionaire space race blasting off. How soon could these flights usher in a new era of space tourism?



HARLOW: Just a few hours from now, President Biden is set to meet with the attorney general, Merrick Garland, also local law enforcement and elected leaders. They're all getting together to talk about his plan to reduce gun violence

SCIUTTO: Expected at the meeting, the winner of New York City's Democratic mayoral primary, retired NYPD capital, Eric Adams, who yesterday, on CNN's "STATE OF THE UNION," criticized Democrats' priorities when it comes to tackling gun violence.

Have a listen.


ERIC ADAMS (D), NEW YORK MAYORAL CANDIDATE: I believe those priorities, they really were misplaced. And it's almost insulting what we have witnessed over the last few years. Many of our presidents, they saw these numbers. They knew that the inner cities, particularly where black, brown and poor people lived, they knew -- they knew they were dealing with this real crisis. And it took this president to state that it is time for us to stop ignoring what is happening in the south sides of Chicagos, in the Brownsvilles, in the Atlantas of our country.


SCIUTTO: Well, CNN's Arlette Saenz joins us now from the White House.

And, Arlette, you know -- you know, gun legislation is not going to make it through Capitol Hill at this point. So what is the substance of President Biden's plan to address this issue?

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, President Biden is really using this meeting as the latest signal that he is ready to tackle gun violence head on, especially as we've seen an uptick in violent crime across the country as pandemic restrictions have started to loosen this summer. So the president will be hosting Attorney General Merrick Garland, as

well as elected leaders like Eric Adams and also D.C.'s mayor, Muriel Bowser, and also police chiefs, including the superintendent from Chicago.

And one message that the president will have for these local leaders is encouraging them to tap into funding from the coronavirus relief package passed earlier this year. The White House believes that that funding can be used for a range of initiatives in states and cities. And that includes a community intervention programs and also summer employment opportunities. The White House also believes that funding could be used to hire more police officers and invest in community policing.


Now, the president is also expected to discuss some of those federal efforts that he's taking to try to stem the flow of guns that are used in crime. You'll remember last month he announced this crackdown on gun dealers who are selling guns illegally.

Of course, Republicans have already signaled they want to use crime as a messaging tool during the 2022 midterms coming up. So this White House trying to show that they are taking this issue of crime seriously as it's such a problem in this country in this moment.

HARLOW: Arlette, thank you very much. We'll wait for that meeting to happen.

Let's talk about it with Rachael Bade, co-author of "Politico Playbook."

Rachael, great to have you. Good morning.


HARLOW: You guys have some really interesting reporting on Clyburn that I want to get to in a moment. But let me just build off of Arlette's reporting here and what we heard from Eric Adams just there in the interviews yesterday morning. I mean Axios broke it down this way talking about the rise of the anti-woke Democrat. Not just Eric Adams. But is this a sign of something bigger.

And they write that after winning in New York City, he showed his party the power of a message that supports police but also supports justice and reform.

Do you think that this is a road map and a call, a warning for Democrats nationally ahead of the midterms, or is what he is saying just apply to a New York City, a Chicago, et cetera?

BADE: I think Democratic leaders are definitely hoping this is the direction they go. It's no surprise that after the last election, you know, Democrats barely held on to their majority in the House and a lot of them privately believed that it was because of this sort of defund the police movement that we're seeing on the left and we have seen over the left -- on the left for a while now. There's a concern that that sort of has a blowback in these sort of swing districts that Democrats need to keep power.

And so this message that Adams brings is more sort of centralist, that you can be pro-police but also for police reform. And I think it's pretty telling, obviously, that, you know, the message at the White House today is not going to be defund the police. They're going to have people there talking about how to bolster police, what kind of funding they could give them, you know, how to specifically target black and brown communities that are dealing with this increase in violence right now and have seen this over the pandemic. And so I do think that Democratic leaders believe that this is a message that can resonate. It's a message that can win in swing districts and sort of see -- talk about smart policing as opposed to defunding the police in the future.

HARLOW: I think Peggy Noonan, who, I should note, a conservative columnist, had an interesting take in "The Wall Street Journal" a few days ago. She wrote, Democrats have been more extreme on social issues. They aren't prepared for the backlash. And then she goes on to write, what happened last summer when the streets erupted and the statues toppled, is being answered now with a pushback, a quieter one, but no less consequential.

What do you make of that, as it relates to Democrats trying to hang on to their seats in the midterms?

BADE: Yes, I mean, they're in a difficult position right now. I mean they have a liberal base, a progressive base right now that is really angry at some of the policing we've seen in recent years. Obviously, right, you know, black men being targeted, victims -- unarmed black men who have lost their lives. And so there's a real need, a real desire in the Democratic Party to address that.

At the same time, Democrats have to find a way to say that they are pro=-police in some ways. And so the party right now is in a difficult position. They can't alienate the left wing of their base, but they also can't alienate these swing districts if these voters in these swing districts, these independent voters who don't like the defund the police message. So they're trying to find this balance. And that's what, I think, you're going to see at the White House today to try to strike that balance and say this is the way to move forward.

HARLOW: All right, talk to us about your -- the reporting from "Politico" about what Clyburn said to your publication, which is basically a plea to President Biden saying that Biden, quote, should endorse the idea of a carve-out in the Senate for legislation.

But it was interesting. It was pretty broad the way he put it to you guys. It was -- that applies to the Constitution. So not just voting rights. That would be the example here. But that's a pretty broad call to Biden. And coming from one of his top allies in Congress, does it move the needle at all for Biden, who has stuck with, OK, well, maybe we go to a talking filibuster but not eliminating the legislative filibuster? BADE: Yes, I mean, you hit the nail on the head there, Poppy. Jim

Clyburn is a top ally of President Biden. He would not be in the White House right now without Clyburn. You know, Clyburn endorsed him in South Carolina and that gave him a bunch of momentum to clinch the nomination last year. And so this is a voice that he often listens to.

If you go back to last winter when he was nominating -- or picking people to serve in his cabinet, Clyburn was one of the people that said, look, you need more black leaders, black cabinet leaders. And he ended up picking Lloyd Austin to be the first black defense secretary.

So this is a person that Joe Biden, President Biden, actually listens to. To have Clyburn out there telling my colleague, Laura Barron Lopez, that, you know, Biden needs to be more vocal about getting rid of the filibuster, or reforming it specifically for constitutional issues, that's going to put a lot of pressure on him.


And tomorrow he's going to be going to Philly to talk about voting rights. You know, Jen Psaki said last week that he's only going to talk about voting right as a moral issue, not about, you know, as a legislative matter. But I think it will be interesting to watch to see what he says about the filibuster because there's definitely a lot of growing momentum on the left to do something about the filibuster. They want to get rid of it. They want to change it. They want to basically reform it. And Clyburn is a voice, as you just mentioned, that President Biden often listens to. And we'll see if he does.

HARLOW: We'll see. But then what does it do for Manchin and Sinema? I don't know about much.

Rachael, we've got to leave it there. Thank you very much.

BADE: Thank you.


SCIUTTO: Still ahead this hour, Cubans taking to the streets in the largest protest in decades against the communist regime there. Now the authoritarian government is blaming the U.S. What happens next? We'll be live.

HARLOW: We're also moments away from the opening bell this Monday morning. Take a look here, stock futures wavering. A bit mixed this morning. Investors looking toward second quarter earnings season this week. It is the delta variant, though, fueling the spread of COVID-19 that is causing alarm and jitters in this market. Even though stocks closed at record highs on Friday, there's still worries the variant could really hamper the pace of economic recovery.

We'll stay on it.