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Interview With Rep Kim Schrier (D-WA); Alabama Among States Seeing Cases Rise Over 100 Percent From Last Week; Sen. Jon Ossoff (D- GA) Urges GOP Colleagues To Encourage Americans To Get Vaccinated; Weeks Of Extreme Heat Worsens Already Dire Western Drought; Seventy Large Wildfires Burning Across The U.S. Right Now; Utah's Great Salt Lake Is Disappearing; Tennessee Halts Youth Outreach For All Vaccines. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired July 17, 2021 - 13:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST (on camera): Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.
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.
WHITFIELD (voice-over): It's the first time we've seen that since January.
Six states: Vermont, Alabama, Michigan, Massachusetts, Kentucky, and Iowa are reporting more than 100 percent increase in cases in just one week. Vaccination rates are slowing down, now, 13 percent from last week. The CDC director making it clear that's what's fueling this new wave.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL: There is a clear message that is coming through. This is becoming a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: In Los Angeles County, the indoor mask mandate is being reinstated. Residents, there have seen a 500 percent rise in COVID cases in just the last month.
We have team coverage across the country with the latest developments. Let's go first to California. CNN's Paul Vercammen is live for us in L.A. County.
WHITFIELD (on camera): So, Paul, this was a dramatic step to reinstitute this mask mandate, but how do people feel about it?
PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER (on camera): Well, no pun intended, but they're digesting all the news right now. This is Patys Restaurant here in Toluca Lake, California near the studios. If you look, you'll see that all of the employees are wearing their masks. The owner here, George, has said that he wanted that to continue when that rule went away last month.
And now, he says he's just trying to figure out how he's going to enforce this new mask mandate.
If you think about this, indoors, people will be required to wear their masks inside this restaurant. But outdoors, they won't have to wear a mask. And we were speaking with people about this, there is some pushback, and some people have very, very mixed emotions about this new mask mandate.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SOSSIE MARTIN RESIDENT, LOS ANGELES: Well, I'm certainly not happy about it. But I think we need to do what we need to do, because, you know, the numbers are going up again, and we definitely want to be safe. So, we're going to have to do what we have to do, because it's not pleasant to see more people in the hospitals, and numbers spiking up. So I'll wear it, while being happy about it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
VERCAMMEN: And as for those numbers, 1900 new cases in L.A. County at last count, and more than 400 hospitalizations. Those numbers are indeed just rising rapidly, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.
So, there is this urgent effort underway in several states where vaccination rates remain low. CNN's Natasha Chen is in Alabama, the state with the lowest percentage of a vaccinations in the country.
So, Natasha, how are folks hoping to turn things around?
NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (on camera): Well, Fred, it's all about messaging, right? And reaching out to certain pockets of the community. Right now, the state, about one-third of the people in Alabama haven't gotten at least one dose.
The problem is mostly youngest -- the younger demographic. The folks who are 12 to 29, as far as the 18 to 29-year-olds, just under a quarter of them are actually getting vaccinated, getting that first dose.
That's why we're at this high school gym, where they've had a pop-up vaccine clinic today. They have actually had more than 80 people come through today, which is more than they expected.
And but it is a real challenge to combat a lot of the myths and the misinformation floating around there. We talked to the CEO of the Alabama Regional Medical Services, who is running this clinic today. And he said, this is even touched his own family.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ANTHONY GARDNER, CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, ALABAMA REGIONAL MEDICAL SERVICES: Just yesterday, I got a call from my father about my uncle, who did not get the vaccine. And guess what, he's in the hospital now.
I personally asked him and all of my family members to take the vaccine. And, you know, he hemmed and hawed about it and decided not to take it. And I guess he'll take it now. Hopefully, he'll come out of this thing. OK, on the good end.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
CHEN: And we've also talked to a lot of the students who came through here today, including, you know, the band that came through, as well as cheerleaders. There's a whole cheer squad who actually came to support one of their members who is getting the shot today with her mom.
CHEN (voice-over): It turns out that her mother had told me she waited a while to see how the vaccine was working on other people in the last few months, decided this was a good time to come do it because of the Delta variant. Her daughter was rather hesitant about it but came with mom to do it.
Of the rest of those cheerleaders, some of them said they already got the shot. But a few of them told me they still would not, because they were scared. They were scared of what's in the vaccine.
CHEN (on camera): So, a lot of messaging still needs to go out there to inform and educate people. A lot of fear and hesitancy.
There is also a contest to try and reach those young people in Alabama. The state health department has now launched a TikTok contest for people under 30 to put content online, tell people why you got vaccinated for a chance to win some money. Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right. Well, for variety of reasons, still, a lot of confusion out there. Natasha Chen, thank you so much.
So, with the Delta variant and a lack of vaccinations driving a new surge in COVID cases across the country, the Biden administration is stepping up efforts to counter all that misinformation out there about the vaccine on social media that is contributing to a lot of vaccine hesitancy.
Earlier today, I spoke with U.S. Senator Jon Ossoff of Georgia about this issue.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Let me now ask you about what the president said yesterday on COVID. And that Facebook, and the misinformation on Facebook, and other social media outlets are killing people.
This is what the president had to say. JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: They're killing people. I mean it, really. Look, the only pandemic you have is among the unvaccinated, and that -- and they're killing people.
WHITFIELD: He is referring specifically to Facebook. Do you agree?
SEN. JON OSSOFF (D-GA): Look, misinformation is dangerous. And there's a lot of misinformation out there. I think that politicians should be cautious about demanding that certain forms of speech and expression be removed from public platforms.
My principal concerns about these social media platforms are rooted in their invasion of our privacy. And one of the things I'm working on right now is trying to build support across the aisle in the Senate for new privacy legislation to ensure that the data of American citizens is not exploited against our will.
Right now, using these platforms, they learn so much about us, who we are, what we like, where we go, who we spend our time with. That data is exploited and monetized. And we lose control of it. I think we need strong privacy legislation at the federal level to protect our privacy.
WHITFIELD: You've heard some critics of the president's comments, saying the White House should not be interfering with private enterprise. What's your response to that?
OSSOFF: Well, look, as I said, I think that politicians should be generally cautious about demanding that speech be curtailed in the public square. I also do recognize, of course, that misinformation, for example, about vaccines can have a serious negative impact on the public health effort. So, there's a balance to be struck here.
But when it comes to my obligations as a legislator, when I consider what I believe to be the most destructive aspects of how some of these social media platforms engage, I'm really focused on protecting the privacy of the American people.
WHITFIELD: As it pertains to vaccinations. Georgia currently has a vaccination rate of less than 40 percent. Do you believe it's misinformation that is preventing people from getting vaccinated? Or is it something else?
OSSOFF: Well, look, what I would do is call upon many of my Republican colleagues in Congress to be more vocal and direct, urging and encouraging every American to access the vaccine.
We passed landmark legislation earlier this year in response to this COVID-19 pandemic that supercharge the production and distribution of vaccines. That ensured the vaccine was free for every American, while also providing economic relief to the people, and boosting the overall public health response.
We have an obligation now as citizens, not just to protect ourselves and our families, but to slow the transmission of this virus in our communities, to slow the emergence of dangerous new variants. And so, I want to urge every American who hasn't yet been vaccinated to go and get that vaccine, they can visit my web site, ossoff.senate.gov to get information about where and how they can access the vaccine.
WHITFIELD: It's free, and it's easily accessible at this juncture.
OSSOFF: And it's safe.
WHITFIELD: What more can be said or conveyed to get people to get vaccinated if they haven't already? And is it the case in your view that if you haven't been vaccinated by now, it's likely that you probably won't?
OSSOFF: No, look, I think that there's still persuasion and encouragement and confidence that we can build in the safety and efficacy of this vaccine. And I think that the argument that we need to keep making is that this isn't just about protecting ourselves.
If we don't slow the transmission of this virus, then for example, right now we're dealing with the emergence of the Delta variant, more variants will emerge that could become more dangerous.
So, we have an obligation to each other, to our fellow Americans, to our fellow human beings around the world to get immunized. It's a safe and effective vaccine. And it's the best thing that we can do as individuals to slow the spread of COVID-19.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right, my conversation with Senator Jon Ossoff earlier.
WHITFIELD (voice-over): All right, coming up, 70 wildfires are burning across the country right now. One is destroying the equivalent of a football field every five seconds. The latest on the fire threat and the problem it's causing in the sky.
WHITFIELD: Plus, deeply disappointing. Those words from President Biden after a court ruled against a program that shields undocumented immigrants from deportation.
WHITFIELD (on camera): Deeply disappointing. That's how President Biden is describing a federal ruling declaring the DACA immigration program unlawful. The White House says the Department of Justice will appeal the Texas court's decision which blocks new applications to the program.
DACA was established by executive order in 2012 and shields undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children from deportation. CNN's Jasmine Wright joining me now from the White House. So, Jasmine, what more are you learning?
JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER (on camera): That's right, Fred. President Biden criticized the ruling. In a statement released today, he said, "Yesterday's federal court ruling is deeply disappointing. While the court's order does not affect current DACA recipients, the decision nonetheless relegates hundreds of thousands of young immigrants to an uncertain future. The Department of Justice intends to appeal this decision in order to preserve and fortify DACA."
WRIGHT: So, Fred, this is just the latest back and forth when as a program has really been debated over a decade now -- about a decade now. President Biden has repeatedly again today said vowed that he would fortify the program.
WRIGHT (voice-over): And now, he and Vice President Harris, in their statements are calling on Congress once again, to make a permanent pathway for these young immigrants.
Now, one word that was really interesting that both of them using their statements, Fred, was that word, reconciliation. Is what Democrats on Congress are eying to pass President Biden's his top priorities, budget items in the $3.5 trillion spending package.
WRIGHT (on camera): They're looking at reconciliation. And a White House official tells me that President Biden is in support of their efforts to take money and put it aside in that package to create a pathway to citizenship.
President Biden told Democrats as much when he was on the hill over the week meeting with them.
Now. The White House official says that, of course, it's going to be up to the Senate parliamentarian to make the decision of whether or not that can actually be put in this reconciliation bill, which remember is a -- is a way that the Senate can kind of bypass that 60 vote threshold, getting things passed along party lines.
So, they said it will be up to the parliamentarian, but it is of course a top priority for the White House to see something on this happen. Fred.
WHITFIELD: All right, Jasmine Wright at the White House. Thanks so much for that.
All right, still to come. Children are heading back to school in just a matter of weeks. But there's still a big debate over mask-wearing. Why are at least seven states banning them from the classrooms?
WHITFIELD: Dozens of wildfires are burning across several Western States right now. The Bootleg Fire in Southern Oregon is scorching about 1,000 acres every hour. It follows weeks of extreme drought and heat across much of the West.
Allison Chinchar is in the CNN Weather Center for us. So, Allison, how quickly are these wildfires spreading?
ALLISON CHINCHAR, CNN METEOROLOGIST (on camera): Yes, at a very fast rate. It may actually surprise you. Take the Bootleg Fire, for example, burned over 200,000 acres so far. To put that in perspective, that is equivalent to a football field every five seconds for 10 straight days.
So, again, this is impressive, especially when you talk about how rapidly these fires are spreading. But that Bootleg Fire is just one of 70 large active fires across the country. Truly the vast majority of them in just the Western States.
This is a concern because the drought has been really what's fueling them because 95 percent of the Western States are in some level of drought. Whether it be moderate drought all the way up to exceptional drought.
And you can see the fires from space. Again, taking a look here you'll see some flashes right there. That's the lightning that these clouds are able to generate on their own from the fires.
Basically, the heat lifts from the fires creating these huge pyrocumulonimbus clouds. They can spread outward, the concern then becomes they can trigger their own weather. Not only can they produce additional lightning, which could create more fires, but they can also produce their own wind.
So, dry thunderstorms become a big concern. And that is a concern for today for several states out in the West as well as an elevated fire risk for portions of Oregon where the Bootleg Fire is, as well as other states like Nevada and California.
Tomorrow the threat exists again, but notice it does begin to spread back out. So, the area of concern becomes a little bit bigger as we finish out the latter half of the weekend.
Also, smoke. Take a look at how far a lot of that smoke spreads. It's not just limited to the Western States, Fred. This spreads well into areas of the Midwest causing air quality concerns for people living in other states.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. That is extraordinary. All right. Allison Chinchar, thanks for keeping us posted. Appreciate that.
I want to bring in now Congresswoman Kim Schrier. She is a Democrat from Washington State. Washington State is currently at the highest levels of wildfire preparedness, and fires have already burned thousands of acres. Congresswoman, so good to see you. So, what is your biggest concern right now?
REP KIM SCHRIER (D-WA): Well, my biggest concern, first of all, is that we are just headed into this new normal. We're just in the early parts of July. And we usually don't see this kind -- these kinds of levels until August.
And this we're going to see every year the whole West is on fire, and I am very concerned about what the -- for air quality, for health, and for our forests.
WHITFIELD: So, what if anything can be done for people to brace themselves to best prepare themselves for what is to be another, you know, potential wave of onslaught?
SCHRIER: So, there's a lot of things that you can do on multiple levels. So, for people themselves, they can protect their homes by creating a defensible space. On a policy level, I have a bill that will markedly accelerate what we call prescribed burns. A way to remove some of the debris in our forest that makes these fires so incredibly hot, and turns them into conflagrations.
And then, you know, on a -- on a, you know, on a policy level as well, we need to think about climate change. And we've known for 30 years that this was coming, it's here, nobody should be surprised, and I'm just relieved that now we have an administration who is working with us on real climate action.
WHITFIELD: So, Washington State is also under a state of emergency right now for drought. That coupled with extreme heat emergency. How devastating are the effects of this drought in particular?
SCHRIER: This is devastating up and down the West Coast. And no, when you think of Washington State, we think of the eastern part of our state as being the dry part that is prone to fires. And yet, here I am in Western Washington where we have heightened fire risks.
So, you know, this is really a sea change, and it is incredibly dangerous. And people need to also again take responsibility for their own homes, but for also, not setting fires, not taking risky behaviors, not driving their cars off of the road and setting brush on fire. Like we all have a role to play here.
WHITFIELD: I want to also now turn to COVID. Because before entering Congress, you were a pediatrician. I guess once a pediatrician, always a pediatrician.
WHITFIELD: You know, when I asked you about, you know, getting a kids vaccinated, we're seeing vaccine hesitancy, and in some cases such as Tennessee, they are stopping outreach to children and families.
Is this an example of putting politics ahead of public health? I mean, what is at the root of this?
SCHRIER: Well, you know, I would say that, you know, on the -- on the part of the say Tennessee and other policies being made, I would say that it's stupid, except for people do know that the risk. And so, I would just call this reckless. That we are seeing this Delta variant that is so incredibly contagious, it will find you if you're not vaccinated.
And any attempt to roll back efforts of vaccination or to feed into this hesitancy is endangering lives and endangering communities. And, you know, at this point, what we really need are trusted conversations, conversations with your doctor, conversations with family members.
You know, I was delighted to get my 12-year-old vaccinated. He was delighted to and it's made for an amazing summer with sleepovers and sleep away camp. And I know he can go to school safely in the fall, and I wish other parents would make that same decision so we can get back to normal.
WHITFIELD: And what about some states that are actually prohibiting mask-wearing in schools? I mean, how does anyone explain that?
SCHRIER: Well, again, incredibly reckless. there is no justification for that. And by doing that, you know, first of all, they're going against science against all medical advice, but they're putting those kids at risk.
And, you know, whether that is children who are not vaccinated, children who are in some way, have a medical condition that prevents them from being vaccinated. I mean, imagine what they're going through right now. It is not just the Wild West, it is really dangerous to do that right now.
WHITFIELD: You talked about your 12-year-old that has been vaccinated, able to do you know, sleep overs, well, you've got some kids who are going away to summer camps, overnight summer camps across several states. And there are also in some cases, some outbreaks of COVID.
Is it your concern that some places may have to close camps? You know, change, make some big modifications because of the risks involved with young people who perhaps in many cases aren't even eligible to get vaccinated?
SCHRIER: Right. Look, let me just clarify that there are ways to do even sleep-away camp relatively safely, you can have layers of protection, you can cohort kids, you can keep them outside, you can have them masked. And You can encourage vaccinations. You could also bring in rapid testing programs two or three times a week to just check and make sure we don't have asymptomatic carriers in camp, and you know, take them away from the rest of the campers.
You can do it safely. We have CDC guidance on this. You just have to implement it.
WHITFIELD: Dr. Anthony Fauci said, you know, there are two Americas, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated. Is it your feeling that at this juncture, if people are eligible, and they are choosing not to or for whatever reason, something is standing in the way of them getting vaccinated that it's going to be very difficult to make them budge, get them vaccinated?
SCHRIER: Well, I think that there is a spectrum there. There are some people who will never budge. But in my experience as a pediatrician, those numbers are not -- they're higher with COVID, but they're not all that high.
I think there's a big group that once these vaccines have been a full FDA approval, they'll do it. Once the schools require it, they'll do it.
There are just things that will push people on to the side of from gentle hesitancy, and I'll just kind of wait, to yes, it is time to do it. Those are the people we need to get vaccinated.
I feel terrible, by the way, for the medical professionals, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, who are working in places with low levels of vaccination.
And almost every case that comes in, almost 97 percent of cases that are coming in are preventable cases of COVID.
And they put the community at risk, put medical professionals at risk, and they're unnecessary preventable deaths.
WHITFIELD: Congresswoman Kim Schrier, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much for being with us.
SCHRIER: Thank you, Fredricka.
WHITFIELD: On to Utah. The lack of rain and high temperatures is also having a devastating impact on the Great Salt Lake, which is at its lowest level in more than 100 years.
Here is CNN's Lucy Kafanov.
LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is one of Utah's most unique natural treasures, the Great Salt Lake, also known as America's Dead Sea.
Spanning an area nearly the size of Delaware, it's the biggest salt lake in the Western Hemisphere.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, so beautiful.
KAFANOV: But there is a big problem with this picture-perfect destination. The Great Salt Lake could soon be no more.
Years of water diversions, climate change and an unprecedented drought has pushed the lake's levels towards historic lows. Sailboats pulled from the dry marina, the receding water leaving behind stretches of parched soil.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Twenty years ago this was under about 10 feet of water.
KAFANOV: Today, about half of the lake's surface, nearly 750 square miles, roughly the size of Maui, is dry.
And that's a major worry for Kevin Perry, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah.
Perry says the dried lakebed soil could send naturally-occurring arsenic-laced dust into the air that millions breathe.
KEVIN PERRY, ATMOSPHERIC SCIENTIST, UNIVERSITY OF UTAH: One of the concerns we have is the particles that are coming off the lake getting into people's lungs. And the secondary concern is that it might contain potentially harmful arsenic.
KAFANOV (on camera): If nothing was done to change the current trajectory, what's the worst-case fear?
PERRY: This lake could become one of the larger dust emission sources in North America. The ecosystem itself is on the verge of collapse.
KAFANOV (voice-over): The Great Salt Lake is also a critically important habitat for millions of birds and happens to be one of the largest breeding grounds for pelicans in the United States.
(on camera): If we don't take action, what's going to happen to the Great Salt Lake?
JAIMI BUTLER, WILDLIFE BIOLOGIST: The Great Salt Lake will be an environmental, economic and really cultural catastrophe all in one.
There's all of this brine fly larva --
KAFANOV: Jaimi Butler is a wildlife biologist, who's dedicated her entire career to studying the Great Salt Lake's ecosystem. For her, the crisis is personal.
BUTLER: I grew up here. Like, you know a place becomes you.
It, like, becomes you. We are Great Salt Lake, all of us are, and we shouldn't let it go away.
KAFANOV: Andy Wallace has spent years working on the Great Salt Lake as a commercial pilot.
ANDY WALLACE, FORMER COMMERCIAL PILOT: Let's go take a ride.
KAFANOV (on camera): Have you ever seen it look like this?
WALLACE: I've never seen it this bad, not in my lifetime. We're seeing the start of a major, major environmental catastrophe.
KAFANOV (voice-over): From up above the scale of the problem is obvious.
(on camera): From 6,000 feet up, there's no question that this is a crisis. The Great Salt Lake is vanishing before our eyes.
WALLACE: You can see on this side, the water is purple.
KAFANOV: The beautiful purple color actually means it's an unhealthy, dying lake.
WALLACE: It is. It's going to become an environmental catastrophe and we're going to see so much dust laden with heavy metals and mercury. It's going to blow into the Salt Lake Valley on a regular basis and exacerbate the health conditions.
KAFANOV (voice-over): For years, people have been diverting water to water crops and supply homes.
Jaimi Butler argues that needs to change.
KAFANOV (on camera): Is this a man-made problem?
BUTLER: Yes. This is like a human-made problem. We need to change our behaviors to keep incredible ecosystems that include humans like here at Great Salt Lake.
KAFANOV: You can see the impact. This may look like a beach but, last year, all of this was under water.
The loss of Great Salt Lake will have devastating consequences in the region. One thing everyone says, it's not too late to save it. The question is whether there's a will to act.
Lucy Kafanov. CNN, Great Salt Lake, Utah.
WHITFIELD: That's extraordinary contrast we saw. All right.
All right, coming up, the politics surrounding getting a COVID vaccine is now impacting all vaccines in one state. We'll show you why next.
WHITFIELD: Tennessee has one of the lowest COVID vaccination rates in the U.S. with just 38 percent fully vaccinated. Cases there jumped 84 percent in the last week.
Instead of mounting a vaccination push, the state is now pausing regular public service campaign to get children immunized.
Martin Savidge in Nashville with details.
MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Dr. Jason Martin doesn't need to see any COVID-19 data to know his state is headed for trouble. He can read it on scared faces of the growing number of patients in the ICU.
DR. JASON MARTIN, CRITICAL CARE PHYSICIAN: Five minutes before I came out here, I was talking to a 20-something who told me they wished they got the vaccine.
This person in tears, their life is on the line. It is so hard to watch. It is so hard to think of how preventable it is.
SAVIDGE: According to the latest CDC numbers, 79 percent of Americans, 65 and older, are fully vaccinated, compared to just 42 percent of 18 to 24 being fully vaccinated.
For health officials in the Volunteer State, it was clear with increasing threat of much more contagious Delta variant, you need to try to get as many vaccinated as possible, but especially young people.
BRIAN TODD, DIRECTOR OF COMMUNICATIONS, METRO HEALTH NASHVILLE: The best tool we have, most effective, safest tool, is to get vaccinated.
SAVIDGE: Saving lives, young lives? Who could be against that?
STATE REP. IRIS RUDDER (R-TN): It is not your business to target children.
SAVIDGE: Welcome to Tennessee. That's Republican state representative, Iris Rudder, at a hearing last month.
RUDDER: It is your business to inform the parent that their child is eligible for the vaccination.
SAVIDGE: She's tearing into the head of Tennessee Department of Health over a social media ad, like this one of a smiling teen with a Band- Aid on her arm.
RUDDER: So I would encourage you before the next meeting to get things like this off your Web site.
SAVIDGE: If you thought you detected implied "or else" in her words, you're right. Republican legislators were so angry at the youth outreach, they threatened to defund the entire Tennessee Department of Health in the middle of a pandemic.
State Senator Kerry Roberts suggested the Health Department was using teachers to pressure young people at school.
STATE SEN. KERRY ROBERTS (R-TN): A football coach or a band director or a drama teacher, whoever it is, ought not to be telling kids, hey, just come and get done so you don't have to sit out.
SAVIDGE: The Health Department denies using teachers to pressure anyone.
That didn't stop Senator Roberts suggesting the department was doing something illegal.
Tennessee is one of a handful of states that, by law, allows teens between the ages of 14 and 17 to get medical care, including vaccinations, without parental consent.
Given the Republican outrage, you might expect that hundreds of Tennessee's youth had rebelled against their parents' wishes.
But as of last month, the department filed only eight instances of young people receiving vaccines without parental permission. Five were at a health facility for something else, opted for the COVID vaccine while there.
DR. LISA PIERCEY, COMMISSIONER, TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: The other three were my own children who I sent unaccompanied to get a second dose because they're 16, and their mom works.
SAVIDGE: The CDC recommends everyone 12 and older be vaccinated because it saves lives.
PIERCEY: I think there's a sense that we are hiding in dark alleys, and whispering to kids, come get vaccinated. We're not doing that. We're not encouraging that.
SAVIDGE (on camera): Since that contentious hearing, things have only gotten worse. The daily coronavirus rate has tripled in the last three weeks.
Meanwhile, the Tennessee Department of Health stopped all direct outreach to teenagers to get vaccinated.
Dr. Martin says the timing couldn't be worse. He is certain, due to politics, that more people in the state will die from COVID-19 than need to.
Martin Savidge, CNN, Nashville.
WHITFIELD: And still to come, inside the fight to uncover the origins of COVID. Why the Biden administration is changing its tune when it comes to the lab leak theory.
WHITFIELD: As investigators look into possible origins of the coronavirus, senior White House officials believe the lab leak theory is just as credible as the theory that it jumped from animals to humans.
CNN's Natasha Bertrand has details.
NATASHA BERTRAND, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: We're learning that senior Biden administration officials now believe the possibility that COVID escaped from the lab is as possible as the theory it originated in the wild naturally from animals.
A dramatic shift from last year when the theory that it might have escaped a laboratory in Wuhan was treated as a conspiracy theory and unscientific.
But the president ordered an intelligence review into the COVID origins back in March.
His Intelligence Community then came back to him in May saying they were still split on the issue, on the question whether COVID-19 originated in a lab or in the wild.
So he then ordered a redoubled effort into this question.
And what we're learning now is that the Intelligence Community, being really on the fence about where this originated, has also led senior Biden administration officials to take that theory that it escaped from a lab accidentally very seriously.
It is important to note that this is not necessarily a theory that this was engineered as a bioweapon. This is not gaining credence within the Biden administration.
What they believe is that this could have escaped from a lab as they were conducting research on bats and, therefore, it's somewhat of a natural-origin theory.
But right now, the two theories being treated as very credible, both of them.
And the administration emphasizing to us that they're reserving judgment until they completes its review in about 40 days.
Natasha Bertrand, CNN.
WHITFIELD: Coming up, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is in the hot seat today, facing questions from the New York attorney general's office about allegations of sexual harassment against the governor.
WHITFIELD: Today, the U.S. Navy is honoring the life of the late Congressman John Lewis. Marking the one-year anniversary of his death with a christening ceremony for the "USNS John Lewis."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The United States of America, I Christen thee John Lewis. May God bless this ship and all who sail in her.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: The "USNS John Lewis" is the first ship in its class and will keep others replenished with fuel and other supplies. Future John Lewis-class oilers will be named for other prominent civil rights leaders and activists.
Three thousand years, three major faiths, one city. In order to understand the conflict in the Middle East today, you have to know the complex story of Jerusalem's past.
As we prepare to debut the new CNN original series "JERUSALEM: CITY OF FAITH AND FURY," Wolf Blitzer takes us on a tour of one of the most- coveted cities in the world.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An ancient city at the crossroads of history, Jerusalem hosts some of the most holy sites venerated by three faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, as well as the seat of the Israeli government.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Besides religious, national aspiration of two communities, the Israel community and the Palestinian community.
BLITZER: This center of power and prestige in the volatile Middle East is home to a diverse and resilient population, as I've seen over my many visits over the years, including after terrorist attacks, such as the bombing of a cafe in 2002.
(on camera): The people who live here refuse to let the terrorists win.
BLITZER (V): The hallowed ground of the city has been the backdrop for violence and conflict endemic to the region. And the tensions between the Israelis and Palestinians sadly show little signs of abating.
BLITZER: These stories and so many others have brought me to Jerusalem as a CNN reporter.
(on camera): I've been coming to this region for many years.
(voice-over): I've learned so much about the people who live there and even made deeply personal discoveries. (on camera): It's part of my effort to find out more about my own
BLITZER (voice-over): Jerusalem today extends far beyond its original boundaries. Walls rebuilt by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century that now formed what we call the Old City, a U.N.-designated world heritage site.
The Old City is divided into four quarters, Muslim, Christian, Jewish and Armenian.
The Temple Mount is where the Bible King Solomon built the first temple around 1,000 B.C. It was subsequently destroyed 400 years later by Babylonian invaders.
Also located on the Temple Mount, the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.
Nearby is the Western Wall where Jews pray. It is also commonly visited by world leaders and dignitaries.
In the Christian quarters, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. It holds the site where Christians believe Jesus was crucified and rose from the dead.
The Armenian quarter is one of the locations where, more than a century ago, thousands of Armenians from what is today modern-day Turkey fled to escape what President Biden this year recognized as a genocide.
Beyond the ancient walls is a city divided between east and west.
BLITZER: East Jerusalem came under Israeli control after the Six Day War in 1967, though Israel's authority there is not internationally recognized.
And Palestinians make up a majority of the East Jerusalem residents. The Palestinian Authority would like it to be its capital in a future state.
West Jerusalem has been under Israeli control since Israel gained independence in 1948. It hosts the Israeli parliament.
And it's where President Trump moved the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv in 2018, officially recognizing Jerusalem of the capital of Israel amid sharp Palestinian protests. President Biden has kept the U.S. embassy there.
West Jerusalem is also the location of the world-renowned Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem's.
ALEXANDER AVRAM, DIRECTOR, YAD VASHEM'S HALL OF NAMES: This is a place where we are trying to give back the victims their names instead of numbers. BLITZER: I always knew my grandparents were killed during the
Holocaust, but it was in Yad Vashem's in 2014 where I learned my paternal grandparents died at Auschwitz.
AVRAM: It's important that the names are registered here for generations to come.
BLITZER: A museum of remembrance, and a lasting memorial in a city that has witnessed thousands of years of history.