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COVID-19 and Variants Spreading Rapidly Among Unvaccinated Americans; White House Criticizes Social Media Companies and Particularly Facebook for Allowing Misinformation about COVID-19 Vaccines to Proliferate; Areas of California Reinstituting Mask Mandate even for Those Who are Vaccinated; New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to be Questioned by Investigators into Sexual Misconduct Allegations. Aired 10-11a ET

Aired July 17, 2021 - 10:00   ET




BORIS SANCHEZ, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. It's Saturday, July 17th, I'm Boris Sanchez.

AMARA WALKER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. I'm Amara Walker, in for Christi Paul. You're in the CNN Newsroom.

SANCHEZ: Good morning, Amara, always great to be side by side, sort of, right.

WALKER: Sort of. Always good to be with you. Thanks so much, Boris.

SANCHEZ: Of course.

We begin this hour with frustration, the biggest hurdle that we've had in the fight to eradicate coronavirus. Lifesaving vaccines are widely available, yet the United States is struggling to stop a new COVID surge largely driven by people who have not gotten their shots.

WALKER: For the first time since January, cases are rising in all 50 states. The White House says the COVID crisis risks becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated, with that group making up virtually all of those being hospitalized and dying because of the virus. And the figures are worse in communities struggling to get people the lifesaving shots, especially in the south.

And in just hours, an indoor mask mandate will take effect in Los Angeles County, California, again, and more places are recommending masking up regardless of vaccination status. The White House is honing in on social media companies, pushing them to do more to block misinformation, arguing inaction is deadly.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Let's get a closer, on-the-ground view of what's going on with CNN's Natasha Chen. She's at a vaccination site in Birmingham, Alabama, one of the states that's been lagging in vaccinations, and not coincidentally, seeing cases spike. Natasha, what are you hearing from officials there about this challenge that they're up against and the incentives that they're offering people to get vaccinated?

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Boris, we just talked to a health official here who told me it's an uphill battle sometimes convincing people to get vaccinated. Now, we're inside a high school gym where the vaccine clinic is happening today. You're seeing -- you're hearing a deejay playing music, you're seeing a festive sphere that's really trying to target young people who are among the least vaccinated in the state. We met a girl, Kennedy (ph) Brown (ph), you'll see video of her here getting her shot. She's about to become a sophomore, and she was actually very nervous to get her vaccine, but her mother is the one who took her here, said, it is happening, and she had the support of her entire cheer squad with her.


CROWD: Go, go. Fight, you fight. Fight, fight. Bring it in. Put it together and win. Go, fight, win. Go, fight, win.


CHEN: And even though the entire cheer squad is here to support people, I have to mention in talking to those girls, only about half of them have gotten a shot. The other half are still hesitant. One of them told me she is scared to get the vaccine even with family members who have had COVID in the past year, and that is just an example of some of the hesitancy that health officials here in Alabama and around the country are battling.


DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, OUR LADY OF LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: It's coming for us. It's a beast. That's what we're seeing in the hospital. That's why we're nervous.

CHEN: The warning comes from a Louisiana doctor who is a voice among many raising the alarm about what is now again a growing number of COVID cases in the U.S. The number of cases are on the rise in all 50 states.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER: The bottom line is we are dealing with a formidable variant in the Delta variant as reflected by the data and the extreme vulnerability of people who are not vaccinated, which will account for infections, hospitalizations, and ultimately deaths. And so the message loud and clear that we need to reiterate is that these vaccines continue the strong protection against SARS-CoV-2, including the Delta variant.

CHEN: Not only are cases up, but hospitalizations are also on the rise. One state surging, Florida. The White House's COVID response coordinator Jeffrey Zients on Friday --

JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: Just four states accounted for more than 40 percent of all cases in the past week, with one in five of all cases occurring in Florida alone.

CHEN: This also comes as Florida is telling companies and cruise lines they can't mandate passengers show proof of vaccination status. Norwegian is suing Florida over it. And the nation's rise in crisis comes as the war over masks is again heating up.


In California the indoor mask mandate returns to Los Angeles County. Health officials in the San Francisco Bay Area today follow suit, recommending the seven million people who live there mask up whether they're vaccinated or not. And in Nevada, the state's most populous county, Clark County, home to Las Vegas, is also recommending both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear a mask when they're indoors. This as experts warn it's the unvaccinated that are accounting for most new cases.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

ZIENTS: Unvaccinated Americans are not protected against serious illness, hospitalization, and death. And we're seeing it in the data. Unvaccinated Americans account for virtually all recent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.


CHEN: And those trends are here in Alabama, as well. The assistant state health officer told me yesterday that she's having to dispel myths right and left. The state has actually launched a TikTok contest in hopes that that would get attention from the young people here. And I told that cheer squad about the TikTok contest. They're excited about it, but the ones who are still on the fence about the vaccine still not entirely convinced. Amara and Boris?

WALKER: Yes. It's not going to be easy to get them to the other side, clearly. Natasha Chen, appreciate your reporting and helping us understand a little bit of that mindset.

Well, as cases rise, so does the White House's apparent frustration with social media companies and their role.

SANCHEZ: Let's get out to the White House now and CNN's Jasmine Wright who's covering that angle. Jasmine, the Biden administration grappling with another epidemic -- misinformation -- right? The president now lashing out, going after social media companies, calling at least one killers.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: That's right, Boris. President Biden said social media companies are killing people because they are allowing vaccine misinformation to stay for long periods of time on their sites. President Biden said that as he was heading out of town yesterday at the White House. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're killing people. I mean, they're really -- look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And that -- and they're killing people.


WRIGHT: So the administration is calling on social media companies with a laser focus on Facebook for saying that they are taking insufficient action. Officials including U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in a really scathing advisory he released earlier this week are saying that this prevalence of misinformation is directly contributing to lower vaccination rates, because the bottom line, Boris and Amara, is that this White House and officials inside of it see vaccinations as a way to get over this pandemic. They want to get more shots into people's arms.

So the White House and the Facebook, as CNN reported, have been having tense meetings, and White House officials feel as though Facebook is not taking this issue seriously. So yesterday the White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called out Facebook directly and say they clearly weren't doing enough to keep their sites clean of this misinformation.


JEN PSAKI, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: Our biggest concern here, and I, frankly, think it should be your biggest concern, is the number of people who are dying around the country because they're getting misinformation that is leading them to not take a vaccine. Young people, old people, kids, children, this is all being -- a lot of them are being impacted by misinformation.


WRIGHT: Now, Facebook responded after these comments to CNN, refuting the accusations. But as the White House deals with trying to battle misinformation, they're also dealing with the real time response of trying to fight the rise in cases across the country in part due to the Delta variant. We heard CDC's Rochelle Walensky yesterday say that it has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So trying to really stop these outbreaks before they become really massive, the White House is partnering with states and local cities, and they're sending a team to Nevada, about 100 people, to try to raise the vaccine rates in the area. And they're sending a team to Missouri to respond to the outbreak. Boris, Amara?

SANCHEZ: Jasmine Wright reporting from the White House. Thank you so much.

Joining us now to discuss how to tackle this new surge is CNN medical analyst Dr. Leana Wen. She's a former city of Baltimore health commissioner, a "Washington Post" contributing columnist, and author of "Lifelines, A Doctor's Journey in the Fight for Public Health." Doctor, you do it all. Thank you so much for joining us this morning. You've been critical of the CDC for changing mask guidance for vaccinated people without requiring any proof of vaccination. Do you think that reinstating mask mandates at this point is the right step?

[10:10:00] DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: It's going to be really hard, Boris, and I think a lot of us in public health were very concerned when the CDC initially issued their guidance. To be fair, their guidance was accurate scientifically, because it said that fully vaccinated people can take off their masks if they so choose. The only problem, though, was that without any kind of proof of vaccination, we were depending on the honor system. And while many people have behaved very honorably during the pandemic, many people have not. And those -- there were many people who were unvaccinated who understood that guidance to mean they can now do whatever they want and not have to wear masks.

We are seeing surges as a direct consequence of not having vaccination rates be high enough. So I do commend the health officials putting in the indoor mask mandates. I think it would be even more effective if they said, if you're vaccinated and you are around other vaccinated people, you're fine. So proof of vaccination is really essential. But if you're unvaccinated, of course, you're at risk. Also, if you are vaccinated but if you're surrounded by unvaccinated people, that also potentially puts you at risk, as well. And again, this is the reason why in spaces where vaccinated and unvaccinated are mixing indoors, mask mandates should remain in place.

SANCHEZ: Now I want to ask you about the reasons that people are not getting vaccinated. We have a graphic showing some of the reasons for it. A recent survey showed that distrust of the vaccines is really about mistrust in institutions, whether it's the actual vaccine itself with concerns about side effects, or distrust of the government, 34 percent saying they do not trust the government, and that's why they're not getting vaccinated.

This far into this pandemic when millions of people have been vaccinated, the vast majority without any side effects, myself included, what's your message when you see that half of people are worried and not getting vaccinated because they think there will be side effects?

WEN: Right. There are certainly people out there who are actually the anti-vaxxers who are spewing disinformation knowingly. But most of the people who have not gotten vaccinated, they have real concerns. And the biggest concern falls into this bucket of people are more concerned about the vaccine than they are of the virus, which, of course, is scientifically backwards, that this is actually a very safe and effective vaccine that prevents severe disease and hospitalization and death.

On the other hand, the virus is very deadly. It's caused millions of deaths around the world. And even if you are mildly ill, you could still have long-term consequences. This is the point that we have to keep on making, that the virus is what we have to be concerned about. We need to address people's concerns, whatever they might be, about the vaccine, because they may have heard misinformation.

But ultimately, that's the picture. The Delta variant is very contagious. This is a deadly disease that we're deed dealing with, and the vaccine can prevent that from happening. SANCHEZ: And Doctor, I do want to look overseas for a moment, because

the first case of COVID in Tokyo's Olympic athlete village has been detected. The individual is not believed to be an athlete, but it is the first positive case in the village since athletes started arriving there. The games are six days away. How would you rate the potential for this to become a super-spreader?

WEN: It's certainly possible when you have people coming from all over the world who are mixing, many of whom are not yet vaccinated, and also we know that the rates of COVID-19 in many of the places that people are coming from is pretty high, it's possible. But I also think that at this point there have been a lot of precautions taken. For example, not allowing spectators was exactly the right thing. More needs to be done, including continuing with regular testing, continuing with quarantining protocols.

Look, I'm glad that the Olympics are proceeding for the sake of the athletes. But I also very much understand the concern, especially for people who are in Japan. They understandably do not want to have any issues from the games spill over into their community and worsen their COVID situation there.

SANCHEZ: Yes, it's hard to imagine that there is not going to be some interruption. Even in Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees, where apparently 85 percent of the team has been vaccinated, they had to postpone a game this week because of an outbreak. So Dr. Leana Wen, we have to leave it there. Thank you, as always, for your expertise.

WEN: Thank you.

WALKER: And new this morning, a Michigan woman has been identified as a person who died during a flash flood this week in Grand Canyon National Park. According to the national parks service, 29-year-old Rebecca Copeland's body was found along with another uninjured person after they went missing Wednesday while rafting on the Colorado River. Flash floods are common in the desert southwest where even small storms can turn normally dry ground into raging water in a matter of minutes.


Still to come, months after several women accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment, Governor Cuomo will face -- come face to face with investigators. We'll have the details next.


WALKER: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is expected to face questions today about sexual harassment allegations against him.

SANCHEZ: Yes, the allegations came to light earlier this year when a former staff member said the governor asked her questions about her sex life. Another said he kissed her in his office in 2018. CNN's Polo Sandoval joins us now. And Polo, Governor Cuomo's going to be questioned under oath today. When will we know when that happens and what exactly the questioning was like? POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Possibly in the coming hours, Boris

and Amara. What we do know here is the New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is going to be sitting down with those lawyers who are leading this investigation, and this is going to be happening in Albany.


And also, this is really, in terms of what this means, it does signal that this investigation that's been spanning now more than five months could possibly be nearing its final stages. Remember, it was New York's Attorney General Letitia James who initially opened this inquiry after two former Cuomo staffers came together accusing the governor of inappropriate behavior. And since then, we have heard from more women who have made similar claims against him.

Cuomo has denied these allegations. He did apologize to anyone who he says may have misinterpreted his remarks as possibly unwanted flirtation. CNN has reported several of these women did speak to investigators already, so it's safe to assume right now that the governor seems to be likely one of the last people that investigators need to sit down with before compiling a report.

Now, in terms of when this attorney general's report might potentially be published, the A.G. has said that they have no timeline exactly on when this can expect this to be released. But in terms of what this has meant for the governor for the last several months, these allegations, they really have been kind of hanging over this two-term governor for the past few months as he's trying to take this business- as-usual approach towards governing the state. Overcoming the pandemic is one of the examples. Tomorrow's meeting, at least ahead of today's meeting, rather, we did hear from one of the governor's senior advisers, and he released a statement, part of it which I can read to you. He writes, "We have said repeatedly that the governor does not want to comment on this review until he has cooperated, but the continued leaks are more evidence of that transparent political motivation of the attorney general's review."

Now, when it comes to those motivations, a little more of that, he's actually suggesting that the attorney general may also be putting her name in for the governor's race next year. And that's something, of course, that we have not yet confirmed. But we are certainly monitoring the situation there in Albany to see when this questioning wraps and to see what comes out of it.

SANCHEZ: We know you'll keep us posted. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much.

SANDOVAL: Thanks, guys.

SANCHEZ: Coming up, pro and anti-government protests currently under way in Cuba. The Biden administration figuring out their approach to the regime. One of the voices in the room for that conversation at the White House, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez. He's with us on CNN after a quick break.


SANCHEZ: The Cuban regime staging pro-government demonstrations today in Havana featuring the recently retired Raul Castro, an attempt to show the regime remains in control of the island after thousands of protesters all over Cuba took to the streets in recent days amid food and medicine shortages, calling for freedom and change, the regime cracking down on any criticism violently, though one protester in Cuba told me that will not stop him.


JOSE CARLOS MELO, CUBAN PROTESTOR: They want to take me in prison. I'm already in a prison. I can't walk around the streets. My mind cannot think -- my mind cannot be free. So I'm already in a prison. It doesn't matter. Again, a lot of people are going to die, what do you want me to do? This is the price of freedom.


SANCHEZ: President Biden called Cuba a failed state this week as the White House reviews its policy toward the island. One voice advising the president, Senate Foreign Relations Chairman Bob Menendez, who's also Cuban American. I spoke with him earlier this week. Here's part of that conversation.


SANCHEZ: Senator, the Cuban regime, as you well know, blames the U.S. embargo for scarcity and poverty on the island. You and I have spoken previously about the lifting of restrictions in 2014, mainly benefiting the regime and not really creating significant improvements to human rights for the Cuban people. Take us into the conversations when you speak with President Biden. As he weighs potentially lifting restrictions, what is your advice?

SEN. BOB MENENDEZ, (D-NJ) CHAIRMAN, SENATE FOREIGN RELATIONS COMMITTEE: The only embargo that exists on the Cuban people is the one the regime has against the Cuban people. The regime, ultimately when I want to send $100 to my aunt in Cuba, it takes off 20 percent off the top, and then it converts the balance, the other $80 in Cuban pesos, which are a fraction of the value of a U.S. dollar. Why does the regime do that if it wants to help the Cuban people? Why does the regime shut off the Internet? The only time a country shuts off the Internet is when they're afraid of the people and their voices. Why does the regime have flush of food and supplies in dollar stores but don't allow the average Cuban to do it?

So my view is we want to help the Cuban people, but we should not empower the regime, we should not make it flush with money to continue to fund the same security apparatus that is presently repressing the Cuban people. And that's what I said to President Biden.

SANCHEZ: And say the White House were to normalize some form of relations with Cuba, undo some of the sanctions put in place by the Trump administration, how can the U.S. then ensure that the regime is going to account for the 100-plus people that have been reported missing following the protests?

MENENDEZ: Well, I don't think the Biden administration is the Obama administration. I think the Biden administration has a cleared eye view, and they have the benefit of some experience of what happened under the Obama administration, which there was absolutely unilateral concessions to the regime, recognition, free flow of dollars, free flow of tourism because it wasn't even just family-to-family travel, and a whole host of other things.


And the regime did absolutely nothing, not only in terms of human rights and democracy, not only because it continued to imprison political activists, independent journalists, and those seeking freedom in the country, but because it didn't change the well-being of the Cuban people in terms of food and medical supplies.

Cubans going to Cuban hospitals had to bring their own sheets. They had to bring their own medicines if they could acquire it. This is supposedly one of the great successes of the revolution. Cubans even at the height of getting all this money, the regime is getting all this money, still ration the Cuban people and made them wait hours on line to get some rice or chicken and beans. So at the end of the day, I think the Biden administration has that experience and is calibrating what can we do that does help the Cuban people but doesn't empower the regime, and how else can we challenge the regime for change to democracy and a respect for human rights.

SANCHEZ: Speaking of regime change, Senator, some officials including the mayor of Miami, Francis Suarez, have said that the Biden administration should consider military action in Cuba. You have said that is not an option. Help us understand why.

MENENDEZ: Well, I was asked a question, are we considering a military option right now, and the answer was no. Now, if the regime were to do things that would affect the national security of the United States, if the regime were to become excessively violent more and more, as it has been, but even more and more, and the international community wanted to consider that, that's one thing.

But I just say to my friends, who I know in part are speaking from passion, a passion that I share, but also from a political point of view. Look, we had Richard Nixon, we had Ronald Reagan, we had George W. Bush, we had George Bush the first, we had Donald Trump, none of them at different times in Cuban history where there were movements ever suggested a military intervention. So I think we have to be realistic.

What we do have to do is create an international pressure on the regime and take this moment to give echo to the Cuban people's cries for libertad, for freedom. What we do have to do is help the Cubans be able to have internet connectivity so they can continue to speak to each other and organize and be able to have the world know what's happening in Cuba. What we do have to do is send a message to the Cuban military, don't turn your arms against your brothers and sisters who are peacefully protesting for change because there's a place for you in a democratic Cuba as an army, but not if you have blood on your hands.

So those are some of the things that I think we need to do right now that could help the Cuban people and their desire for freedom.

SANCHEZ: Yes. So there is an aspect to this that factors in, immigration. There's a threat of a mass wave of Cubans arriving on the shore of south Florida. We've seen it previous times. In 1980, in 1994. The DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, who fled Cuba when he was a year old, has warned Cubans fleeing the island by sea will not make it into the United States. What should the United States do if tomorrow 50,000 Cubans show up on the shores of Miami?

MENENDEZ: Well, look, I agree with Senator Rubio on this. And that is that we need to -- we, the United States, needs to send a strong message to the regime, both internally and publicly, that do not use forced migration as a weapon against the United States. It will not be tolerated. The reality is, is we have seen the regime use force migration not only as a weapon against the United States but as a way to ease pressure on the island. And so sending a very clear message will stop that eventuality in the first place, and I expect the administration to do so beyond what Secretary Mayorkas said.


SANCHEZ: Thank you, again, to Senator Menendez for sharing his thoughts with us.

WALKER: Fascinating interview. Thanks, Boris.

Coming up, Americans are getting back to traveling, but a passport application backlog is triggering delays as long as four months. We have the latest next.

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WALKER: Many of us haven't traveled for about a year thanks to the pandemic, and some Americans who want to go abroad now as countries are slowly beginning to reopen to tourists, they're realizing their passports have expired. But getting a new or renewed passport has become quite a lengthy and laborious process, to say the least. The State Department says the pandemic created a backlog of more than a million applications, and the current wait time for a new passport is 18 weeks. That's tripled from a regular wait time of six weeks. Yes, that was the wait time pre-pandemic.

Joining me now is California Representative Mark DeSaulnier. A pleasure to have you on, Congressman. So first off, tell me what you are hearing from your constituents regarding how bad this backlog is for U.S. passports.

REP. MARK DESAULNIER, (D-CA): Thanks for having me on. It's bad. They're very frustrated. And as you said, it normally takes 10 to 12 weeks. Now it's taking 18 or more. So they're very frustrated.

WALKER: So what -- I know that a lot of people are turning to their local congressperson for help. What are they asking you to do, and are you able to help them? DESAULNIER: We have been. San Francisco office, we're in the East Bay

of the Bay Area, our district, and they've been really great under the circumstances. So we feel like they're making progress at the State Department, the passport offices. But it's frustrating, and it's because of COVID and the pandemic. So people need to --

WALKER: But is that what you advise, Congressman, for people to call their local congressperson to get some help? And when they do call, what are you doing? Are you calling the State Department directly and saying specifically this constituent needs a renewed passports or new passport?

DESAULNIER: Yes. So for my case, I would say if they're frustrated and can't get through, call our office. We can help.

WALKER: OK. And do you know what lengths people are going to to get passports? I've had friends who actually went to the State Department's website to get an appointment at a passport agency, and there were none available in the entire country, even though they were willing to fly out of state just to get an appointment. Are you hearing similar stories? What else are you hearing?

DESAULNIER: I haven't heard that story. I have heard that they're willing to go to other passport -- other areas to get them. So yes, they're frustrated. We're almost double the time. Before the last month, we would get one call maybe a week. Now we're getting three to five a day.

WALKER: And how quickly are you able to get passports? Have you been able to get passports for your constituents who have called? And how long has the wait time been by going through you?

DESAULNIER: We're helping. But there's still a limitation. Because of COVID it's taking a while. So I would recommend that if your listeners are planning on traveling, they take a little longer, as much as a couple more months.

WALKER: So we spoke with Georgia Senator Jon Ossoff's office who says that his office has gotten thousands of calls about these passport delays and request for help. And he told our Fredricka Whitfield moments ago that the State Department isn't moving fastener enough. Here he is.


SEN. JON OSSOFF, (D-GA): Looks to me like a failure to adapt to the circumstances. There were certain changes made to procedures at the passport offices in response to COVID-19, and that's fine because it was necessary from a public health response to protect folks who go to the passport office, to protect those who work at the passport office. But we're now a year and a half into this pandemic, and providing passport services is a vital function of the government. It's a vital consular service we provide to citizens, and the State Department needs to take action to reduce these delays.

(END VIDEO CLIP) WALKER: Do you agree with those comments? Do you think the State Department really needs to step it up? Especially if they're having shortage in staff?

DESAULNIER: Yes. I absolutely agree. We know this moment was going to come. It is difficult. We need to understand this is a once every 100- year pandemic. But we've got to get some answers, too. We've got to learn from this experience, and I think we -- the administration is being responsive. They're trying the best they can. But we need to find out what happened.

WALKER: Well, anecdotally I know the local congressman and women have been helpful to many of the constituents who have been needing a passport and getting them for them. So appreciate your time and your efforts, Congressman Mark DeSaulnier. Thank you very much. And you can --

DESAULNIER: Thanks so much.


WALKER: Sure thing. And you can see much more of my colleague Fredricka Whitfield's interview with Senator Jon Ossoff next hour right here on CNN. We'll be right back.



RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I'm an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults looking down to our beautiful, beautiful earth. For the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.


SANCHEZ: That looks like fun.


Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flying high on his trip to the edge of space. And now the countdown is under way for the next launch in the billionaire space race.

WALKER: That is right. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is set to take off on Tuesday, and his crew includes an 18-year-old who would be the youngest person to make the trip to space, along with the woman who will be the oldest person in space at 82. And our next guest knows a thing or two about space travel.

SANCHEZ: Yes. Dr. Mae Jemison is a former astronaut and the first African American woman to travel in space. She joins us now live from Houston. Thank you so much for being with us. I'm curious to get your reaction to this emerging industry, space tourism, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin in just a few days. What do you think? DR. MAE JEMISON, FORMER NASA ASTRONAUT: Wow, so space tourism, I think

it's very exciting because people will have an opportunity in some ways to go into space, depending on your budget and how much money you have. I think it also in some ways pushes some of the engineering so that more people with different kinds of physiology and health issues can go. So in that way, it's very exciting.

One of my concerns as we look toward this particular age is who gets to go and who gets to participate. I heard in the opening Richard Branson talking about he had a dream, he looked up at the stars. I did, too, on the southside of Chicago as a little girl looking up at the stars. So we all do that. So many of us want to participate in one way or another, and what we have to do is to make sure that the whole issue of space tourism doesn't close it off to other people.

WALKER: Yes. So that leads me to my next question. Do you believe that this billionaire space race will benefit us all as the billionaires have been saying, or do you have concerns like the critics have said, and you kind of touched on, that this race will privatize the exploration of space?

JEMISON: Well, I think that's one of the things that we as a society and as people and as the world have to be very conscious of, who gets to do what, and who gets to be the gatekeepers. So much of what's happening today, some of the really wonderful innovations that have happened from both Blue Origin, from SpaceX, from Virgin Galactic, so many of those are really exciting. But they're built on the work that space agencies, government-funded, taxpayer-funded space agencies have done in the past. So much of what we see as a benefit from space, whether it's remote sensing, weather, looking at weather, understanding minerals, some of the ability to monitor our body, they are built from the technologies that people saw were there and then applied them, not necessarily because there was an immediate commercial purpose.

So I think it's really about a balance and understanding that we need to have more people involved. Those perspectives make a difference. And a $250,000-plus ticket doesn't necessarily make space available to everyone. I went up into space with NASA. So many other women and people of color have gone up into space with the government space agencies, so that opening in terms of your capacity and your capability to contribute really makes a difference.

And I want to add one other thing. It's not about just physically being there. There's so many people who contribute to space exploration, who contribute to its benefit here on earth, who never travel in space, who aren't even interested in going up. And so I think we have to have a more rounded picture.

SANCHEZ: Mae, your story is so inspiring, not only because of your adventures in space, but also because a big part of your career post space has been making it more accessible to people of color and younger people. And I'm wondering what your message is to kids in school right now that would inspire them to follow in your footsteps and pursue, whether it's going off into space or engineering, the technology that is going to get us there, what's your message to kids? JEMISON: So, you know what, my message isn't so much to children

because children have this incredible enthusiasm and interest in the world. My message is more for adults. We have to make sure that we allow every child the opportunity to develop their skills and talents and to contribute. We as adults are the ones who make education available, who make sure that they're healthy, who make sure that they're fed, that make sure that they have opportunities.


And that's the difference. The message is to adults -- let's keep the world open. Let's keep the opportunities available to all children. And remember, space isn't just about the U.S. It's international, it's worldwide. We're earthlings.

WALKER: Opportunities for space exploration should belong to all of us. Dr. Mae Jemison, what a pleasure to have you on. Thank you so much for the conversation.

SANCHEZ: Thank you so much.

JEMISON: You're welcome.

WALKER: And thank you all for watching.

SANCHEZ: Thanks for being with us, Amara. There's still more ahead in the next hour of CNN Newsroom. Fredricka Whitfield is up next.


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.