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Fifteen-Year-Old Meets With Surfside Responders Who Rescued Him; Los Angeles County Reinstating Indoor Mask Mandate Amid Surge; All 50 States See Rise In Cases As Vaccinations Lag; New York Governor Cuomo Facing Array Of State & Federal Probes; Millions Of Passport Applications Create Backlog At State Department; First Case Of COVID- 19 Detected In Tokyo's Olympic Games; Consumers Shelling Out More As Inflation Hits 13-Year High; At Least 157 Dead, Hundred Missing In Europe Flooding. Aired 12-1p ET

Aired July 17, 2021 - 12:00   ET



FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: First time we saw these nameless heroes was on the news - as they were pulling my boy out of the rubble. Now with God's grace we stand next to each other hearing thanks, and hope.

Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. Alright, we begin with what Dr. Anthony Fauci calls two America, the vaccinated, and the unvaccinated cases now rising in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and what is driving this is a combination of things, including a failure by some people to get the vaccine, effectively a medical miracle, and the inability of others like children or adults with compromised health, who may be unable to get the vaccine.

And so right now, not only is the pandemic not over, it is getting worse in many places. One of those places is Los Angeles County, which is hours away from starting, or we should say restarting and mask mandate. Paul Vercammen is there now. So Paul, what are people there saying about all this?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they're all trying to figure it out for it. That's because County Health came out and said there were 1900 new cases. That's just yesterday. And now the mandate goes into effect at 11:59 pm tonight, so tomorrow, you'll have to wear masks, again, indoors, at gyms, movie theaters, shops, and restaurants.

So we're here at Patty's Restaurant, and I'm going to bring in George the Owner, you now have to reckon with a new rule that says inside your patients must wear masks outside, I guess, no. They're putting it upon you to enforce this. How do you do it?

GEORGE METSOS, OWNER OF PATY'S RESTAURANT: It's really been a confusing situation with the mask, once they removed them back in June 15th. You can't ask a customer whether or not they're vaccinated or not, or approve it. So we're supposed to assume it was an assumption rule put in place for us that when a customer came to the restaurant, and did not have a mask on that, let us know right away that that person was not vaccinated.

We didn't know that. So it was very confusing in the very beginning. So I mandated a rule in my restaurant that everybody that works for me must wear a mask just because I needed to protect my employees. But now that we're going back to it, again, it's the same problem I see is where they say following the science.

Well, they said don't wear masks if you're vaccinated. Now, put the mask on if you're vaccinated. I have documents that I printed this morning that that off the website from L.A. County Health Department that don't match the ruling that they're putting into place at 11:59 tomorrow night, and I need to protect my customers, I need to protect my employees and I have to follow the rules.

But I'm more - I'm very in touch with the American public. They're very frustrated, I deal with the plumber, all the way to you know, Adam Levine and Justin Bieber is my customer. So I have a full range of the American world. Everybody that comes to me is very compete views about the mask rules that go in and out and not knowing what to do.

There's really not no instructions, you understand what we only get stuff that's outdated. And then we have to go back and figure this out ourselves and sit down with management and then put it into play. Thank God. You know, we have California Restaurant Association and Independent Restaurant Coalition that helped us but it's really difficult right now. It's very difficult.

VERCAMMEN: And there have been hard times for your employees. Can you describe how some of them have been absolutely tongue lashing or telling someone to put a mask on?

METSOS: Yes, it what happens is customers or show up on mass prior to June 15th. And if they did not have a mask on, we would ask them like my General Manager - Maria, and they would lash out with vulgarity at her they made her cry two times, where they refused to put a mask on they get belligerent rude.

So I have to step in and say look for the protection of my employees and the guests you need to put your mask on. If you're going to dine here and, again, the vulgarity and they walk away, they'll never come back again.

But it's the public, you know, the public is some public I would say, maybe 10 percent are against it.

VERCAMMEN: We thank you so much for giving us a perspective from the front lines of the new L.A. County math world. Again, Fred, you've heard this, they're going to mandate that indoors vaccinated or not everyone needs to wear a mask. Now back to you.

WHITFIELD: All right, lots of adjustments being made along the way. Paul Vercammen thank you so much. So as cases raise, so does the White House's frustration with the social media companies, the Biden Administration is pitting much of the blame for misinformation on Facebook. [12:05:00]

WHITFIELD: For more on that let's bring in Jasmine Wright at the White House so Jasmine misinformation is a big problem so many agree on that including a lot of the medical community but tell us more about what the White House is trying to do.

JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well, President Biden said yesterday that social media companies are killing people because they're not removing vaccine misinformation fast enough off of their sites. Take a listen to him here at the White House.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There are foreign people - I mean, it really, look, the only pandemic we have is among the unvaccinated. And that's - are killing people.


WRIGHT: So the administration has focused on social media companies with a laser focus on Facebook with saying that they're taking insufficient action on the issue officials, including us Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, this week with a scathing advisory or directly linking misinformation, the prevalence of misinformation with the slowdown vaccination rates.

Because bottom line, Fred is that this White House and officials inside of it view getting more shots into people's arm getting more people vaccinated as the key to getting over this pandemic and to anything standing in their way is a problem.

So White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called out Facebook directly. Now CNN had reported that meetings between White House officials and Facebook had become tense because White House officials did not view that Facebook was taking the issue seriously enough.

So White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki she said clearly that this is the case yesterday in the briefing. Take a listen.


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 to these accusations to CNN yesterday refuting their claims. But this battle against misinformation is really just one thing that the White House right now is battling. They're also battling the rise of COVID cases across the country because of the Delta variant as we heard Polo talked about earlier when they're talking about the unvaccinated.

The pandemic really focused on the unvaccinated. So the White House is trying to tamper down on any, you know, incoming outbreaks, sending a team to Nevada, about 100 people deploying - to try to raise up those vaccination rates in that area and sending a team to Missouri to try to respond to the outbreaks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Alright, Jasmine Wright at the White House. Thank you so much for that. Let's talk more about all of this joining me right now Dr. Esther Choo, Professor of Emergency Medicine at Oregon Health and Science University Dr. Choo, always good to see you.

So you know Jasmine reporting there from the White House that Biden Administration is calling up social media platforms like Facebook, for allowing misinformation about the Coronavirus and vaccines to spread. So when you talk to patients, how often do you hear them reiterate lies or rumors? How often do you have to either straighten them out or persuade them otherwise?

DR. ESTHER CHOO, PROFESSOR OF EMERGENCY MEDICINE, OREGON HEALTH & SCIENCE UNIVERSITY: Thank you, Fred. It really is part of the everyday work of physicians right now to counteract misinformation and malicious disinformation.

In addition to patients that I work with, I do a lot of vaccine outreach to our hospital and to our community. And I also have many family members who are deeply conservative one lives under my roof right now and strongly believes what he sees online and thinks that my children should not get vaccinated when they're eligible.

So I would say I spend an hour or two every day talking to people about these disinformation streams, it is so prevalent people are deeply entrenched in this information they got from who knows where?

WHITFIELD: So if your words don't have enough credibility against you're - one of your own family members, who is more apt to believe misinformation? I mean, do you kind of feel like at this point, you kind of throw your hands up if people are not on board by now, with as much good information as there is bad information? I mean, do you feel like it's a hopeless situation?

DR. CHOO: I never want to say anything's hopeless. And I will say it's very, very hard. It takes really - it takes me to the limit of my patience and persuasive ability. But I do think there are things that work, I would say, starting from a position of respect, always finding common ground.

I mean, the thing I know about my family member is for sure, they love my children, and they want what's best for them. And they also believe in contributing to a greater good, and when we start from those things, we can actually have a lot of conversation where there are points conceded, and I also try to really uncouple their political beliefs and my political beliefs from scientific and public health conversation.

We make a lot of headway there when we talk about the fact that sometimes our individual choices are different than what we need to do for the health of our community.


DR. CHOO: Our loved ones, we have family members who are immune- compromised, and we have to think about what we as individuals need to do to protect them. Those kinds of conversations framed in respect and love actually go a lot further. It's a harder work than putting up, you know, a sign or a meme.

But I actually think that's where the work needs to happen. And we need to be willing to come to the table and not just throw disparaging remarks about other people, you know, political orientation.

WHITFIELD: So this misinformation comes from a lot of different, you know, sources, sometimes it's just people being ignorant or her, you know, people reading anything that they see. And then sometimes there's the political polarization that is rooted in the misinformation.

A recent "Washington Post", ABC News Poll found that among those who say they are not likely to get vaccinated 6 percent are Democrats and 47 percent are Republicans. Did you ever see this coming that politics would be ever so persuasive in who gets vaccine and who doesn't?

DR. CHOO: It is different than other vaccines. I mean, when you look at who doesn't get childhood vaccines for their children, or you know, very strong anti vaxxers that's a more heterogeneous group. You know, some of those are extreme liberals.

And there's just, you know, it's kind of it's just - its own entity in terms of being anti-vax. COVID vaccine is different and it's so polarized and really falls on these political lines, like you said, and the pockets of unvaccinated really are areas where we largely see Republican red populations.

And it is, I would say surprising pre pandemic, we couldn't have seen this. However, it is very consistent with the way information has flowed from the very beginning of this pandemic belief in COVID to begin with, suspicion of public health messages, and pouring right into - understanding misinformation about vaccines and willingness to take vaccines, those have all been a very continuous, you know, and consistent stream so it fits with the trajectory of overall information flow for this pandemic.

WHITFIELD: All right. Well, the fight continues right for everyone's survival. All right, Dr. Esther Choo, thank you so much.

DR. CHOO: Thank you Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, straight ahead, New York's Governor in hot seat facing questions from his own state's top prosecutor over allegations that he harassed his own aides. We'll break down the case against him. And are the Olympic Games really about to begin? A new case of COVID at the Olympics is leading to new criticism and questions of whether Tokyo is ready.



WHITFIELD: Alright, today New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will be facing questions about allegations against him of sexual harassment. Lawyers hired by the New York Attorney General will sit down with Cuomo today, after four months of investigation into the accusations and broader workplace culture complaints.

Joining me right now is CNN Legal Analyst Areva Martin always good to see what Areva. So what's the objective here with the questions to the Governor? Is it to corroborate answers and information they've already retrieved from those who are accusing him or is this a portion of discovery?

AREVA MARTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Yet this is a multifaceted I would call it Fred investigation that's been taking place with respect to the attorney general's office. There are a couple of things that work here.

One, there have been some pretty serious allegations made against the governor as it relates to sexual harassment, including allegations of groping and unwanted - unwarranted touching, as well as creating a hostile work environment for some of his employees.

We know that as many as 10 women have made allegations. So this investigation is about trying to determine whether these allegations are indeed true, as well as to look at how the governor's office handled the complaints made by these women because there were some issues about whether these complaints were properly handled by his office.

WHITFIELD: And then Governor Cuomo has said himself, he's eager to tell his side of the story. So is this his opportunity to do that? I may well, what he says today eventually be made public, will it be part of public record?

MARTIN: Absolutely. You're right, Fred. The governor has said he has been anxious to tell his side of the story. We've heard a couple of things, though, from the governor. Initially, he apologized for making any women feel uncomfortable, he apologized for, he said, getting into conversations that were perhaps too personal.

But then we saw a very defiant governor who has denied allegations of touching and groping and some of the more serious allegations. So it'll be interesting to see under questioning from these two attorneys of what the governor story actually is.

And yes, we should expect to see a public report that will be issued from the attorney general's office that will outline not just what the governor says but what these women who've also been interviewed, what their testimony is.

Apparently, there's lots of physical evidence as well text messages and emails. So this report is going to give us a lot of information about what was going on in the governor's office. WHITFIELD: And then in so many investigations, it's the alleged crime and then there's the alleged cover up or attempts of cover up. Where do you see this potentially playing?

MARTIN: Yes, this is a very common thing that happens in sexual harassment investigations oftentimes is the he said she said there typically not witnesses to the allegations that are made by the victim of the harassment. So you have to judge the credibility, the veracity the statements made by the victim as well as the alleged perpetrator.


MARTIN: In this case, we're learning that there are perhaps some documents and emails and text messages that may shed light on what was happening? We know the governor's office, as I said, has been pretty defiant in denying these allegations.

So it's going to be interesting to see if not only the governor, but if some of his aides and other employees in that office have been involved in trying to prevent these women's stories from coming out. And, you know, really preventing the truth from coming out.

Very - we were in this moment of #Metoo where powerful men have been accused of sexual harassment. So, you know, what happens in this case, the eyes of the nation will be on the governor.

And again, I want to just give credit to these women for having the courage of coming forward, because Governor Cuomo, as we know, is a larger-than-life figure, particularly in the Democratic Party. So these women had to have a great deal of courage to come forward and make these allegations.

WHITFIELD: So the questions today, we know are largely about the sexual harassment allegations against the governor. But then this also seems to coincide with the separate investigation of whether the governor's office in any way obscured some of the numbers of the nursing home deaths at the height of COVID.

Do you see that there will be a potential in today's question and answer period with the governor that the attorney general's office or the attorneys conducting the interview here will go off into that direction as well?

MARTIN: That's a good question, Fred, because there are not only the allegations about hiding numbers as it relates to nursing home deaths during the height of COVID. But there are also allegations that he used his office, his staff members that work for the State of New York to help him with the book that he wrote and allegedly, he's receiving $5 million for.

So there are a lot of inquiries going on with respect to the governor not known at this point whether the attorneys investigating the sexual harassment allegations will try to get into some of those other areas, or if the governor himself and his attorneys will allow him to answer questions about the nursing home and more about the allegations surrounding his book? But clearly all of this we should make note is happening as there is an impeachment inquiry going on in the New York State Legislature. They are also keenly focus on what happened in that office with respect to sexual harassment, as well as these claims involving the nursing home and the book deal that the governor had.

WHITFIELD: That's a lot an understatement. All right, Areva Martin, thank you so much. Good to see you.

MARTIN: Thanks Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right. This summer has seen a record number of travelers. We'll tell you about one big problem a lot of tourists are already starting to run into and then does baseball have a COVID problem the major league is starting to see more cases and more problems with its teams.



WHITFIELD: All right, have you by chance tried to apply for a passport lately? Well, the State Department has got a major backlog of applications and you won't believe how long it is taking some people to get their passports right now?

Up to 18 weeks and 12 weeks for expedited ones that's triple the usual amount of time so good luck if you're flying abroad anytime soon and you don't have your passport. Earlier I spoke with Senator Jon Ossoff, about this issue. And he told me he's urging the State Department to try to fix the problem.


WHITFIELD: Have you been hearing from a lot of people as it pertains to renewals of their U.S. passports? Apparently, there have been a lot of complaints that it's taking an exceptionally long time for renewals and application - new applications should take place in some cases as long as 12 weeks. And that many people are calling their Senators, their members of Congress. Are you fielding a lot of questions about it?

SEN. JON OSSOFF (D-GA): Absolutely. My office has received literally thousands of complaints about the answer.

WHITFIELD: --what's the answer.

OSSOFF: Well, what I say to the State Department is this; this is clearly a breakdown, right? Because American citizens should be able to deserve consular services and passport services that are timely and effective even in the midst of a crisis.

And at the State Department now, a year and a half into this pandemic hasn't developed the procedures to adapt to COVID-19 to make sure that American citizens who are about to embark on international travel, or who may be abroad and needing assistance can't get that help swiftly, then there need to be reforms at the State Department.

WHITFIELD: What is at the root of the problem? I mean, why - what explains the delay?

OSSOFF: But it looks to me like a failure to adapt to the circumstances. There were certain changes made the 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 and make sure Americans can access these services.


WHITFIELD: And in that interview with Senator Ossoff we also talked about the COVID pandemic and the problems that misinformation is causing with vaccination efforts.


We'll have that part of the interview in the next hour.

All right, opening ceremonies are a week away at the Olympic Games. And already, a positive test of coronavirus inside the Olympic Village. Here CNN's Andy Scholes.

ANDY SCHOLES, CNN SPORTS CORRESPONDENT: Well Fredricka, the games are set to begin in just a matter of days. And there has now been a confirmed positive COVID test inside the Olympic Village. And speaking at a news conference Tokyo 2020 CEO confirmed a nonresident of Japan who was involved in organizing the games had tested positive adding that that individual has been taken into quarantine outside of the village.

A total of 45 people now involved with the games have tested positive since arriving to Tokyo, more than 11,000 athletes from 205 National Olympic Committees are scheduled to compete in the games. Around 85 percent of those will be vaccinated against COVID-19 according to the IOC.

All right, the New York Yankees meanwhile, were back in action last night after Thursday's game with the Red Sox was postponed due to COVID concerns. All Star Aaron Judge one of six Yankees players that have tested positive and been placed on the COVID-19 list. Manager Aaron Boone says a few of the players are showing mild symptoms but some are totally asymptomatic.

The Yankees one of 23 major league teams to have reached the 85 percent vaccinated threshold which allowed them to relax COVID protocols. This the second COVID outbreak the Yankees have had to deal with, back in May 3, coaches and several members of the support staff tested positive. Those were also considered breakthrough cases. Yankees they lost four to nothing to the Red Sox last night. And Fredricka, ace pitcher Garrett Cole says the team feels like they've been hit by an invisible microscopic truck right now.

WHITFIELD: It's about like that isn't? Andy Scholes, thank you so much.

All right, well, does it feel to you like your paycheck just simply isn't going far enough as it used to? Well, you're not alone. Lots of people are feeling the pinch from inflation. Straight ahead, we'll talk about what's behind all of this and if it's going to get any better, or will it worsen?

And this programming note about the brand new CNN original series History of the Sitcom from Seinfeld to Golden Girls to New Girl. This episode is all about the friendships, watch History of the Sitcom tomorrow night at 9:00 Eastern and Pacific only on CNN.



WHITFIELD: All right, it's a Saturday. Have you been to the grocery store lately? If it feels like stuff is more expensive, well, it's not your imagination. Everything from food to appliances up sharply. The cost of the milk on your breakfast table is almost 6 percent higher. Bacon is up almost 9 percent. And if you want to travel for your summer vacation, be prepared to shell out 25 percent more for a plane ticket. And a car rental, if you can find one that is will cost you nearly double.

In total, consumer prices in June saw the biggest monthly jump in 13 years. All of this is causing concerns that inflation could in fact devastated the economic recovery that is. Diane Swonk is the chief economist at Grant Thornton. She is also an adviser to the Federal Reserve Board, always good to see you. OK, so in a nutshell, what is driving up all of these prices?

DIANE SWONK, CHIEF ECONOMIST, GRANT THORNTON: There's just no precedents for opening up a $20 trillion economy all at once. We're all trying to get through the same door at the same time. And that's pushing up prices. What's good is that we're seeing some of the earlier price surges that we saw in response to pandemic related demand, start to abate, everything from lumber costs falling back to pre-pandemic levels, that's great after they soared and skyrocketed.

But we've also seen people's attitudes about buying cars, used vehicles where prices have just skyrocketed. And homes have soured in recent months, because the prices are going up too fast. And it's actually pushing people out of the market.

And so that side of it is somewhat self-correcting. It doesn't make us feel any better about having to pay higher prices at the pump and higher prices at the grocery store. But I do think there is some hope that some of the inflation we're in during right now will abate. The question is, what will it abate to? And that's the great unknown for the Federal Reserve as they move into 2022.

WHITFIELD: And of course, when? It can't come soon enough. So when you talk about, you know, all of these staples that are experiencing, you know, an increase in cost. Is there a segment of the population that seems to be feeling at the most?

SWONK: Oh, absolutely. I mean, even though we're seeing low wage jobs where the wages are accelerating, what we saw in the second quarter was, all of that acceleration in wages for low wage workers was wiped out by the surge we saw in inflation. So, you know, even now, we're seeing wages pick up because there's a lot of friction in labor markets. There's friction upon reentry. And we get to see the parachutes sort of come out and splashed down into cooler waters of 2022.

Those frictions on getting people back to work, getting people matched at the right jobs after the places they once worked for we're closed. All of those frictions have not been enough to offset the surge in prices. And so, you know, we certainly can decide some people can afford more to pay for surge pricing on airline fares, hotel runs, rental cars, those are things that we expect and they should obey.


But, you know, when it comes to the absolute essentials, like food, rent, putting money into your gas tank, that can also affect your ability to accept a job because of the increased cost of commuting now, as we're going back into offices and trying to go back into jobs.

WHITFIELD: Oh, that's interesting. And then of course, if you have a job and you are being met with all these, you know, inflation prices, like everybody is, then you want to march into your boss's office and say, you know, I'd like a raise. And we'll talk to us about what the chances are for being able to get that I mean, what are these companies up against?

SWONK: Well, we are seeing wages go up. That's the good news. And workers have a moment in the sun, I have my doubts that they'll be able to stay in the warmth of higher wages for very long. One of the things I'm very concerned about is that we're seeing very large companies that benefited from the pandemic able to increase wages.

They've also adopted very rapidly and invested aggressively in the technologies that boosted productivity growth and kept their margins wide to be well absorbed that wage shock where many smaller mom and pop businesses, especially those restaurants that are trying to reopen up, just can't compete at the same level for workers.

And so you don't want to lose the dynamism in the U.S. economy. You want to be able to see low wage workers get paid a little more. That's good news. But you also want to see smaller businesses be able to survive and play a role in the economy going forward. We don't want to all is all -- is great as many big chains may be we don't want to all just have big chains. We want to keep some of what we see in terms of smaller mom and pop shops open. And that's the challenge going forward. WHITFIELD: Yes, even though there's some great economic peaks right now. It's still very much hard times for a lot of America. Diane Swonk, thank you so much, always good to see you.

All right, still ahead. In the past few weeks, national parks around the country have seen record numbers in visitors. Well, now, one of the country's most popular parks is dealing with tragedy.

And then rescuers are racing to prevent more deaths as floods ravaged parts of Europe, we're live in Belgium next.



WHITFIELD: A 29-year-old woman was killed in a flash flood at Grand Canyon National Park this week. Several others were injured. Monsoon weather along the Colorado River made it difficult for rescue teams to reach the victims, but they eventually retrieved six other people.

Meantime, the number of people killed in devastating floods across Western Europe is now at, at least 157. Officials in Germany are vowing to rebuild after entire towns were devastated by the worst flooding in a century. Reporter Al Goodman is in Belgium. Al, so good to see you. There are also many people who were left homeless right now. What more can you tell us?

AL GOODMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi Fredricka. The latest death toll in Belgium is up to 27, so many more in Germany next door. But 27 here more than 100 missing, although Belgian authorities say many of those may just be without their cell phones or checked into a hospital with no identification.

I won't tell you where I am because the house behind me is more than 200 years old. And it was the scene of dramatic floodwaters just two days ago on Thursday with a man who we talked to who lived there and his best friend basically, up on the roof.

I think you have a video that the family has just provided to us. And they were up there for hours and hours overnight Wednesday into Thursday, when they were finally rescued. Now this man says even though his great uncle that's way back in his family lived in this house as well.

They didn't own it, but they lived on this land. They work this land for a wealthy landowner. They have such a history here. But he says this flood was too much for him. He's moving out. He's going to move in with his girlfriend now.

And you're seeing scenes like this across this area in Belgium, with people trying to figure out a way. We were at a recovery center with more than 1,500 people who've come through there since these floods push them out of their houses, a temporary place to get some food, some dry clothes, and then to move out to other temporary lodging with friends or family. Now, a woman that we talked to there are a mother of four who says she's never been in one of those places. She says this was just an act of nature. She says she can't blame climate change. But the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who visited this area earlier this day, clearly has a culprit in mind saying that scientists are pointing that this is an indicator of climate change, that these are getting more intense.

And that so much has to be done to stop this even while they're going to rebuild here as much as they can, an uncertain future for so many people here. Fredricka?

WHITFIELD: Uncertain indeed and still so dangerous. Al Goodman, thank you so much.

All right, the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida led many of us to wonder about the safety of the buildings where we live. And that's especially true for people in high rise condominiums. Many now want those buildings checked to make sure that they are safe.


And new reporting on the theory that the COVID pandemic was the result of a lab leak, that's straight ahead. Stay with us.


WHITFIELD: It's been more than three weeks and search teams are still sifting through the debris in Surfside, Florida after a 13-storey condo collapsed. Nearly 100 people are confirmed dead. The disaster has condo owners all across the country, in fact, asking the very same question. Am I safe in my building? CNN's Rosa Flores reports.



ROSA FLORES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Condo living with breathtaking ocean views is a way of life in South Florida.

But since the condo collapse at Champlain Tower South killed nearly 100 people, high rise living here has been overshadowed by concern.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: People are worried some people are especially worried.

FLORES (voice-over): So far, at least four South Florida residential buildings are raising alarm, including Crestview Towers in North Miami Beach.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- the first red flag we found.

FLORES (voice-over): Were about 300 people were forced out of their homes this month.

HAROLD DAUPHIN, CRESTVIEW RESIDENT: Well, what upsets me the most is the fact that we've learned that management knew about it since January.

FLORES (voice-over): City officials say Crestview submitted an engineering report on July 2nd saying the building was structurally and electrically unsafe. But the report was dated January 11th, of 2021.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As a resident, we didn't realize anything.

FLORES (voice-over): The attorney did not respond to CNN's multiple requests for comment. About 30 million people live in condos around the country. And since the Surfside collapse, officials in New York state have called for stricter inspections.

SEN. TODD KAMINSKY (D-NY): and we share some similarities with the Florida high rise shoreline.

FLORES (voice-over): And the Community Associations Institute, a trade group that educates condo boards across America, has been flooded with questions. The common theme, could this happen in my building?

TOM SKIBA, CEO, COMMUNITY ASSOCIATIONS INSTITUTE: Every resident of every association, every condo was taking this personally.

FLORES (voice-over): CEO Thomas Skiba says rules on condo reserves are how much money the board should have on hand to repair a building vary by state. But Skiba says the Surfside tragedy exposes that there was no reserve standard addressing structural integrity.

SKIBA: Reserve standards don't address structural issues. They address replacement items that are normally replaced due to age or wear and tear.

FLORES (voice-over): Which begs the cause have reason to worry. What stood out to you from the collapse? Joel Figueroa Vallines with the American Society of Civil Engineers is concerned about hundreds of aging properties in South Florida.

JOEL FIGUEROA VALLINES, FELLOW, AMERICAN SOCIETY OF CIVIL ENGINEERS: We know that there may have not been proper maintenance or quality control. So let's get out there. Let's talk to the associations. Let's try to inspect them and then go from there.

FLORES (on camera): What are you going to look for in those holes that are on the ceiling?

ALLYN KILSHEIMER, FORENSIC ENGINEER: We scan the side of the concrete.

FLORES (voice-over): Allyn Kilsheimer is a forensic engineer hired by Surfside to investigate the collapse.

KILSHEIMER: There's nothing that I know so far here that tells me this is symptomatic of condominiums in United States of America.

FLORES (voice-over): When did you get called about investigating? While Kilsheimer awaits getting access to the scene of the collapse, he's investigating Champlain Towers North, the collapsed buildings sister tower.

MAYOR CHARLES BURKETT, SURFSIDE, FLORIDA: The same construction, the same developer, the same name, probably the same materials.

FLORES (voice-over): Some fearful residents have evacuated but not at 89-year-old, Solomon Gold.

SOLOMON GOLD, CHAMPLAIN TOWERS NORTH RESIDENT: We know how much they charge in the hotel next door for a night, $1,000. I haven't here for free.

FLORES (voice-over): He's lived in the building for 40 years, was president of its condo association for a decade. And says he trusts his little piece of paradise.

GOLD: I'm confident that this building is safe. You know you have twin brothers and the same genetic but they're not the same. One could be a criminal and then it could be physician.

FLORES (on camera): Do you understand why some of your neighbors have left and evacuated the building?

GOLD: I don't blame them for who without, everybody has to make their own decision. It's like flying, some people are afraid to fly.

KILSHEIMER: If you feel a tight spot or spark, stop.


FLORES (voice-over): Kilsheimer is using ground penetrating radar to check the thickness of the concrete and taking core samples to test it strength. Has anything surprised you?


FLORES (voice-over): No.

KILSHEIMER: No I'm not seeing anything.

FLORES (voice-over): But seeing nothing is something when comparing the sister building that standing to the one that partially collapsed and was later demolished. You feel confident that you'll figure it out.

KILSHEIMER: We'll figure it out. There might be people that don't like what we figured out but we'll figure it out. Up here.

Rosa Flores, CNN, Surfside, Florida.


WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

[12:59:46] The U.S. is now confronting a scary new reality. Coronavirus cases are surging across the country again. All 50 states and Washington D.C. are now seeing rising cases. It's the first time we've seen that since January.