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CDC Forecast Shows COVID Hospitalizations to Jump over Next Four Weeks; Biden joins Senate Democrats at Lunch to Sell Both Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal and Democrats' Sweeping Budget Package; Senate Democrats Roll Out Proposal to Legalize Marijuana. Aired 1- 1:30p ET

Aired July 14, 2021 - 13:00   ET



ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, I'm Ana Cabrera in New York. Thanks for being with us on this Wednesday.

America's attempt to come back, hitting a major setback. A new CDC ensemble forecast is projecting hospitalizations from COVID will likely jump over the next four weeks. Up until now, we have seen weeks of declines.

Vaccination rates also declining. So is the age of COVID patients, unvaccinated Americans now driving up cases in 46 states. And in a state with the lowest vaccination rate, Mississippi, seven kids are now fighting COVID in intensive care units, two of them on ventilators.

We know vaccinating, as many Americans as possible is key to this pandemic. But divisions seem to be overshadowing that. One state now ending vaccine outreach to adolescents at a critical time with school approaching, of course, and that's where begin with CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, the vaccinations among adolescents are lagging. What do the numbers show and how concerning is this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: It's very concerning, Ana. This is a significant chunk of the U.S. population. And also, think about it, children under 12 can't get vaccinated. And so a lot of them have older siblings who are 12 to 15. So we rely on those 12 to 15-year-olds to protect the younger ones to a great extent, but the numbers are not looking great.

Let's take a look at what they tell us. Only 25 percent, only one in four U.S. children ages 12 to 15 is fully vaccinated. You can see that's really lagging behind other age groups. The kids that age started out great and the numbers really took a nose dive.

Now, let's see what parents say about why they're not vaccinating their 12 to 15-year-olds. So, first of all, about a third have received at least one dose. So, that's -- I mean, it should be more than that. But a third is a start, I guess.

And 18 percent of parents who are saying, I'm going to wait and see. I want to wait and see how other kids 12 to 15 do. Spoiler alert. They do great. They don't die of COVID. It's amazing. They should try it.

In the definitely not group, definitely not vaccinating my child against COVID ages 12 to 15, is -- actually, 12 to 17, sorry, is 25 percent. So that's a lot. One in four parents of a child 12 to 17 says they will definitely not vaccinate their child.

I've got to say, as a parent of two children in that age group, I cannot imagine not wanting to protect my child. Children are in the ICU, as you just described. Children die of COVID. Children have neurological complications, long haul symptoms for months, if not, years. Why in the world wouldn't you want to protect them?

CABRERA: I think we've got to encourage those parents to talk to their pediatricians to ask about their concerns regarding the vaccine, if that's what's holding them back.

Elizabeth, there is this new Kaiser Family Foundation poll that shows a little bit of good news, I think, here. 54 percent of people who previously were unsure about getting the vaccine changed their mind. They got vaccinated. What was the key?

COHEN: They did change their mind. And actually it relates a bit, Ana, to something that you just said. So if we look at people who back in January said, I'm going to wait and see -- this wasn't for children, this was for themselves, 54 percent did end up getting at least one dose. 25 percent are still in that wait and see department. It's unclear what they're waiting for. 9 percent said they would only get it if required and 8 percent said definitely not.

Now, let's take a look. There are some reasons why these parents or these people said this. So, 25 percent said I changed my mind because I saw that others were getting vaccinated with minimal side effect. 11 percent, to your point, Ana, they took advice from their doctor. 8 percent said pressure from family or friends convinced them. Only 3 percent said they changed their mind, they wanted to get vaccinated because they wanted to be able to be safe among family and friends.

So, it's interesting, it's not because they thought the vaccine would protect them, for the most people, a part of people that are getting vaccinated, because others around them, in some way, shape or form are encouraging them to do so.

CABRERA: People they trust, I suppose.


CABRERA: Elizabeth Cohen, it's good to have you with us. Thank you.

Well, nearly every state is seeing an increase in cases. Well, we wrapped just in the nick of time. She can answer her call. Take a look at the top five states topping the chart right now. And one thing they all have in common are low vaccination rates.

We have reporters in two of those states. Our Leyla Santiago is in Miami, Florida, and Miguel Marquez is in Lafayette, Louisiana. Both of these states have less than half of residents fully vaccinated, Louisiana just 36 percent, Florida 47 percent.

So, Leyla, let's start with you. Explain the situation there.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, where we are right now, Ana, Jackson Health System, they said that over the weekend, they saw double the amount of COVID-19 patients coming in over what they saw earlier in the month.


And many of those who were coming in were, A, unvaccinated and also they're noticing a surge in a younger patient. We're talking about the age bracket of 30 and 40.

And so you look at the dynamic at play here. We talked to one epidemiologist who said you have the cases doubling, you have the number of positive results going up as well and then you see that the number of vaccinations is steadily declining.

So, I spoke to an infectious disease expert who said that not only is she concerned about the unvaccinated population and the younger population, she's taking a look at where we are and she believes that not only the U.S. but also Florida jumped the gun.


DR. AILEEN MARTY, INFECTIOUS DISEASE EXPERT, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL UNIVERSITY: We jumped the gun because people who were unvaccinated were following what the CDC recommended for vaccinated people and mingling and co-mingling. And that is part of the problem. We got to our mass gatherings too soon.


SANTIAGO: And she warns that if something doesn't change, if more precautions aren't taken, we're going to see more cases and more deaths.

I did check in with the governor's office this morning. They say at the time right now, there are no plans for any closures or he has ruled out any possible lockdowns.

And this comes as Norwegian Cruise Lines is now suing Florida's general surgeon because of the ban on vaccine passports, essentially a law in place that does not allow the business to ask for their employees or their passengers to provide proof of documentation. They say it's a big dilemma because, however they operate here, they're on the wrong side of health and safety or they're on the wrong side of Florida law.

CABRERA: Leyla, stand by, I want to turn to Miguel in Louisiana, because I know you've been to doctors there, Miguel. What are they seeing?

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. We're at our Lady of Lords Regional Medical Center in Lafayette. We just spoke to a doctor who's been dealing with COVID patients over the last year. The state is now in its fourth surge of COVID infections across the state of Louisiana.

This is a guy -- look, doctors are tough people. This is a guy who told us that what is different now is that the people are so young. These are parents of young kids. What is different about what he is seeing now is that he is having to explain to four and five and six- year-olds that their parents will not be coming home because they're going to have to stay in the hospital because they are very sick. He got very choked up talking about that.

We're seeing the same thing in other parts of the state, those low vaccination rates and the high rate of the spread of the delta variant of the virus right now up in Monroe, in Ouachita Parish. We spoke to a doctor up there at St. Frances Hospital. He says he laid out what is different about what they are seeing coming through their doors right now.


DR. JOHN BRUCHHAUS, CO-ICU DIRECTOR, ST. FRANCIS MEDICAL CENTER- MONROE: Mostly young people and people at risk. That's the difference in this potential surge over the next few weeks, is that we're seeing patients in their 30s and 40s. 99 percent of the patients that are presenting are unvaccinated, people that are having symptoms to the emergency room.

The main issue is that the delta virus is more transmissible. The original wild-type virus, there were estimations from the CDC that every one person that got the virus infected one to two other people. With delta, we're concerned that six to eight people may become infected from one person.


MARQUEZ: So here is the problem. If you have that virus spreading in that way with six to eight people getting it off of one person in areas where there is a high number of people who are unvaccinated like in Louisiana, up in Ouachita Parish, only about 30 percent of the people are vaccinated down here. It's a little bit about 35 percent. The state is at about 35 percent full vaccination.

But if there are massive numbers, 70 percent of the population is still unvaccinated, that virus is going to find them and it's going to make them sick, all preventable. Ana?

CABRERA: That is the keyword, prevention, here. You don't have to end up in the hospital. You don't have to die. You can stop it. Vaccines are highly effective. Miguel Marquez and Leyla Santiago, thank you both.

CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen is with us now. She's an emergency physician and former Balitmore health commissioner.

Dr. Wen, as you listen to Leyla and Miguel, what goes through your mind about what's happening?

DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: I'm extremely upset and frustrated, because we have been there before. I mean, listening to these reports is as if we are back in November or December of last year. The difference though is that we actually have life-saving vaccines. We have the ability to prevent these surges, but we're seeing this happening all over again.

I mean, there are areas of the country with very low rates of vaccination. This is an extremely contagious variant, the most contagious variant yet, this delta variant.


It is ripping through communities. If there's a household with a lot of unvaccinated people, they're all infected now. And many people are dying. Many people are suffering long-term consequences.

So I really don't know how to emphasize this anymore than we have already that, at this point, people have one of two choices, get the vaccine or get COVID-19.

CABRERA: Given that states like Florida are banning vaccine requirements, which I know you have been advocating for for a while, especially for businesses and other entities, Tennessee is pulling the plug on adolescent vaccine outreach, all while the country is seeing children who aren't even eligible to get the vaccine hospitalized, some are on ventilators, what's your message to leaders in those states that are making those kinds of deicisions?

WEN: Well, I want these leaders to think about what their values are, our values of freedom for some, so much so that it outweighs our values of protecting the most vulnerable? I mean, there are people in our community who are immunosuppressed. There are children. There are other people who are not yet vaccinated, whom are going to be at risk if they are surrounded unvaccinated people carrying COVID-19. What is our obligation to those individuals?

And I also want for the governors who have banned vaccine mandates to think what they're doing, because, frankly, it's hypocritical. These are often the same people who say that they are pro-business, they're pro-innovation. Well, there are businesses that want to protect their customers and employees. So why are they not letting them do the work of protecting the health and wellbeing of their people, which is, frankly, something that the governors should be doing.

If the governors, if our political leaders are abdicating that responsibility, then at least let local leaders, let business leaders step up and do that work.

CABRERA: Again, unvaccinated Americans are what is causing the cases to rise across the country. The city of Chicago just added Missouri and Arkansas to its travel advisory list, meaning, the people who go there from those states have to have a negative COVID test or mandated quarantine. Should more of this be happening?

WEN: I mean, in theory, yes, but this will be very difficult to enforce. We've already seen that travel restrictions within the U.S. don't really work very well. There are many ways to get into different states. It's not just through flying, it's also driving and other means.

And so I think it's a prudent idea, in general, to be saying that if you're not vaccinated, you should be tested on a regular basis, or, alternatively, wear masks and social distance.

I think the problem right now is that people have said, well, I don't want to get vaccinated and I don't want masking and social distancing. You really need to be choosing one of these two. If you're still willing to mask or social distance, fine, don't get vaccinated. But if you want to go back to pre-and normal, get vaccinated.

I think the CDC really made a critical mistake when they came out with their guidelines for fully vaccinated people. I think that was widely misunderstood, as anyone can now do whatever they want. And we're seeing the surges across the country in part because of the confused messaging from the CDC.

CABRERA: Dr. Leana Wen, I really appreciate, as always, thank you for being with us.

It's a long shot. Senate Democrats just announced a new plan to decriminalize pot nationwide, but can the rest of Washington get on board?

And what a so-called red phone reduce any potential conflicts with China, why the administration is considering an emergency hotline with Beijing.

Plus, hours from now, a major hearing could take Britney Spears' fight for independence in a new direction.



CABRERA: President Biden just arrived on the Hill moments ago, where he will have lunch with Senate Democrats as they sharpen their knives for the battle over infrastructure funding. Selling it as the American recovery package, Democrats on the Senate Budget Committee say they reached a deal last night on the framework for a $3.5 trillion spending plan. Notably, this is separate from the bipartisan infrastructure bill that's mostly focused on roads and bridges.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju is on Capitol Hill. And I understand the president just walked by and say, we'll get this done. But, Manu, are all Democrats even on board at this point to get it through?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's a big question. I mean, there are so many details that need to be worked out here. The bills have not even been drafted yet. And they are moving on two separate tracks.

There's that's bipartisan proposal spending roughly $600 billion in new money for roads, bridges, traditional infrastructure. Those negotiations still ongoing, still haggling over how to actually pay for it and still uncertain whether they'll get 60 votes, including ten Republican senators at least to move this forward.

Also on a separate track, that partisan Democratic-only approach, $3.5 trillion that they're going to move to the budget process that could actually circumvent a filibuster in the United States Senate. What is key to success for Democrats, they need to keep their entire caucus united behind that. I mean, it's not just the price tag but all the details in it, including things such as expanding Medicare, which is part of the proposal, as well as climate change provisions that liberals have pushed in particular.

But Democratic moderates I spoke to today are making it clear that they are open to the idea of spending this much money, but they're telling me also they want to hear the details.


RAJU: You've said pretty clearly that $2 trillion was probably the max you can go. Are you even open to the idea of going to $3.5 trillion?

SEN. JOE MANCHIN (D-WV): Well, I'm open to looking at everything they've provided, okay? They're going to have to provide all the information that's going to be needed.

RAJU: $3.5 trillion, can you swallow that?

SEN. JON TESTER (D-MT): That's a big amount. Yes, I think we've just got to figure out how it's being spent and figure out how it's being applied and figure out how it's going to be paid for and then make assessment then.



RAJU: So, what Joe Biden is going to say in this room right behind me right now is essentially say the message of unity. That is what Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has also been saying to his colleagues, telling them not to draw any lines on the sand, but essentially to get behind both approaches, saying that, together, they're going to spend about roughly $4.1 trillion, a staggering sum of money that could fulfill much of Joe Biden's domestic agenda, not just on infrastructure but also expanding the social safety net.

But, again, the details so significant, the votes have to be taken, the bills have to be drafted, but today begins the sales job. Can he keep his caucus in line, the big question going forward.

CABRERA: Manu Raju on Capitol Hill, keep us posted, sir, thank you.

A quick programming note, Join us next Wednesday, set the clock, make sure you put it on your calendar, when President Biden will be joining us for a CNN town hall. That is one week from tonight at 8:00 P.M. Eastern.

And just minutes, the top Senate Democrat rolled out a proposal to end the federal government's decades' long war on pot. So this would end a federal ban on marijuana. It would decriminalize it at the federal level.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY): It's long overdue. We have all seen the agony of a young person arrested with a small amount of marijuana in his or her pocket. And because of the historical overcriminalization of marijuana, they have a very severe criminal record they have to live with their whole life.


CABRERA: Now, the proposal calls for regulating marijuana just like tobacco or alcohol and taxing it like those products as well.

Erik Altieri is the executive director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. And this group has been waging this fight for more than 50 years now.

Erik, great to have you with us. Marijuana is already legal in 37 states and D.C. for medicinal use. 18 states and D.C. allow recreational use. Already, it's a multibillion dollar industry in this country. What kind of game changer would this be if the federal government were to decriminalize pot?

ERIK ALTIERI, NATIONAL ORGANIZATION FOR THE REFORM OF MARIJUANA LAWS: Well, it would be a huge game changer nationwide. It's so long overdue. As you just noted, we have all these states across the country that are technically out of compliance with federal law.

What this bill would do would simply acknowledge that reality that we have on the ground. It would let these states move forward with their legalization models free from fear of federal incursion and we can slowly bring to an end this disastrous war on marijuana that has ruined so many lives across this country, particularly with the overincarceration arrest of black and brown Americans.

And it's something that people are demanding. There is around 70 percent of all Americans support that at this point to remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act, as this would do. And this would just fulfill the will of the people and acknowledge the political and legal reality on the ground.

CABRERA: I used to be a correspondent based in Colorado, which was ground zero, I felt like, with the whole cannabis experiment. And they have raked in billions of dollars in sales revenue. So, how much money are we talking in terms of tax revenue if this were to be a new federal revenue source?

ALTIERI: Well, you would have a several-layered tax structure. You'd have the states that would apply their own taxes. And as we've seen across this country, states that legalize marijuana for adults, they bring in significant tax revenue, often well in excess of $100 million a year. And that's on top of the savings they have from simply not arresting people and paying police officers and the judicial courts for dealing with simple marijuana possession. And this would apply a 10 percent excise tax at the beginning at the federal level.

I mean, largely, we shouldn't really look at this as a moneymaker that will fund the program and make sure it's regulated, this is really an issue of civil liberties and social justice. We need to end the arrest of otherwise law-abiding citizens for a plant that is objectively less harmful than currently legal alcohol and tobacco and we should do it for those reasons. The tax revenue, ultimately, is just icing on the cake.

CABRERA: Bust as far as concerns related to health and safety, to those who may say there is not enough research to know all the risks to marijuana, you say what?

ALTIERI: Well, I say go over to PubMed, the online repository the government maintains of peer-reviewed studies. There is well over 33,000 results for marijuana on that website of peer-reviewed research. That is more than they have for acetaminophen and aspirin.

We have studied marijuana for quite some time. We should always continue to study it. And we should free up research to look more into it. But we know enough to know that we shouldn't be putting people in handcuffs and treating them like criminals for its possession and consumption.

CABRERA: Do you expect Republicans to get on board with this legislation?

ALTIERI: Well, they should. As you were just talking about the infrastructure bill, the bipartisan package that everyone in Congress says they want, they say they want to come together. One of the true bipartisan issues in this country is ending the prohibition on marijuana.


Majorities of Democrats, independents and Republicans support this across the country.

If Congress wants to show people they have a real impact on their lives and do something that the broad majority of this country supports, they should immediately pass this bill as quick as possible.

CABRERA: And we should mention that in the House, there was legislation that did pass with some Republicans voting yes on it. Erik Altieri, thank you so much for joining us. ALTIERI: Thanks for having me.

CABRERA: The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan not getting support from former President George W. Bush. He is warning the consequences will be, quote, unbelievably bad, especially for women and children.