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CDC: Delta Variant Accounts for 83 Percent of COVID Cases in U.S.; Olympic Competition Now Underway After Year-Long Delay; Trump Ally Charge with Illegal Foreign Lobbying; Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin Crew Complete Successful Flight; At Least 83 Large Wildfires Burning in 13 U.S. States. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired July 21, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ISA SOARES, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and a very warm welcome to our viewers joining us in the United States and right around the world. I'm Isa Soares in London.

Just ahead right here in CNN NEWSROOM, the surging delta variant has health experts ringing the alarm. Is it time to hit the reset button on pandemic measures?

Dozens of wildfires are scorching the American West, one so large it is changing the weather.

Plus this -- celebrations in Wisconsin for the first time in 50 years. The Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA championship.

Hello, everyone, happy Wednesday. Now the United States is seeing a sharp increase in COVID cases as vaccinations lag and the highly contagious delta variant surges. The CDC says that variant now accounts for more than 83 percent of U.S. COVID cases and about 22 percent of the U.S. population live in counties with high COVID transmission. You can see there on that map. The CDC director continues to plea with Americans to get vaccinated. Take a listen.


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY DIRECTOR U.S. CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: This is a dramatic increase up 50 percent for the week of July 3. In some parts of the country the percentage is even higher particularly in areas of low vaccination rates. The message from CDC remains clear. The best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19 variants is to prevent the spread of disease and vaccination is the most powerful tool we have.


SOARES: Well some states are taking measures to control COVID case counts. New York City will require workers at city hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or take weekly COVID tests. Lawmakers and their staff are being urged to mask up after the delta variant was detected on Capitol Hill, even among some who are fully vaccinated. And Nevada's largest county re-implementing a mask mandate for workers in public places.

Well the delta variant is posing a particular threat to children. The American Academy of Pediatrics reports 23,000 kids in the U.S. were diagnosed with COVID-19 last week. The CDC director says the number of children diagnosed with COVID is alarming.


WALENSKY: One thing I just want to note with the children, is I think we're fallen to this flawed thinking of saying that only 400 of the 600,000 deaths from COVID-19 have been in children. Children are not supposed to die. And so 400 is a huge amount for a respiratory season.


SOARES: So one of the harder hit states is Arkansas where one doctor is urging the public to get vaccinated after seeing a trend in cases among 20 to 30-year-olds who never got their shots.


DR. MICHAEL BOLDING, WASHINGTON REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: I'm Dr. Michael Bolding, I've been working our COVID unit for the last 16 months. I get asked on a daily basis now what our COVID unit looks like. I've seen a dramatic rise in 20-year-olds and 30-year-olds, unvaccinated patients who are not coming in through the ER requiring oxygen in small amounts and being hospitalized for a day or two. But younger, healthier patients with no co-morbid conditions ending up on ventilator, by path, high flow oxygen and extremely sick, sicker than at any time during this pandemic.


SOARES: Dr. Bolding they're telling us what he's been seeing in this hospital. While the CDC says almost 49 percent of Americans are fully vaccinated and about 56 percent have gotten at least one shot. Vaccine hesitancy though remains high in some states prompting Republican lawmakers to speak out. Here is what the Senate minority leader had to say to those holding out.


SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): If there's anybody out there willing to listen, get vaccinated. These shots need to get in everybody's arms as rapidly as possible, or we'll be back in a situation in the fall that we don't yearn for, that we went through last year.


SOARES: Meanwhile a new study says there's evidence that suggests people who got the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine might benefit from a booster shot. Researchers claim it would better protect them from new variants of the virus.


The study was done in a lab and does not reflect real world effects of the vaccine and not yet peer reviewed.

The competition at the Tokyo Olympics is now under way after being delayed a year of course by the COVID-19 pandemic. And more and more athletes including United States men and women's basketball teams are arriving -- as you can see there -- in Japan. The highly anticipated opening ceremony slated for Friday in Tokyo while rising COVID cases in Japan have overshadowed the Olympics, the head of World Health Organization is sharing his support.

He says, quote, the world needs now more than ever a celebration of hope.

Still there is a lot of a concern, if you can imagine, about COVID at these Olympics as the increasing numbers of athletes and staff are testing positive.

Let's bring in CNN's Blake Essig who is in Tokyo and has been following the story for us. And Blake, as we're seeing that the Olympic related COVID cases continue to pile up, I've read that the U.S. basketball team and the U.S. gymnastics team are staying in a hotel rather than actually going to the Olympic Village. How is that any safer?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Isa, as far as the USA gymnastics team and possibly the basketball team staying in a hotel, the idea that you're not going to be potentially surrounded by tens of thousands of other athletes in an environment that you might not be able to control will absolutely be attractive to make sure that you don't have any athletes that do test positive.

Cases in Tokyo are surging and Olympic-related cases continue to pile up. As of today, 79 people involved with the games have tested positive for COVID-19 here in Japan, five have been confirmed from inside the Olympic Village. And even though the opening ceremony is only two days away, while it seems unlikely, the Tokyo 2020 chief says organizers are not ruling out canceling the games at the last minute although organizers maintain that the Olympic Village is a safe place to stay. And as you mentioned, team USA gymnastics has decided to stay at a hotel in Tokyo rather than the Olympic Village. The team's coach Cecile Landi took to Twitter to say that while it isn't ideal, they can better control the athletes and their safety in a hotel setting -- Isa.

SOARES: Yes, and so given that, I mean do they expect -- do the Olympic organizers expect others to follow suit in staying in hotels. Is this something that they were predicting? What are they telling you, in regard to this?

ESSIG: Well look, I think as more and more athletes continue to test positive, and it's not just once they are arriving here in Tokyo, I mean, we've had a Chilean Tae Kwon Do athlete touch positive at Narita airport. And then we have Candy Jacobs the Dutch skate boarder, who we're not sure if she was inside the Olympic Village, but she also tested positive and mentioned on social media that she's absolutely heartbroken. That she did everything that she possibly could to prevent coming into contact with the virus. But it happened. And so when you hear these stories, and I imagine that we are going to

continue to hear this same story for the next several days and weeks to come as these Olympic and Paralympic games play out, that people will start to look at potentially staying at hotels where you can better control the environment to protect athletes.

SOARES: Two days to go. Blake Essig in Tokyo, keep us posted. Thanks very much Blake.

While some members of team USA are now also NBA champions. The Milwaukee Bucks won their first league title in 50 years Tuesday night over the Phoenix Suns. The score was tied after three quarters but by the final whistle, the Bucks had triumphed 105-98. Fans poured into the streets to celebrate. World Sports Patrick Snell will have much more for us on the new NBA champions and their MVP coming up later this hour for you.

Now I want to take you to Washington where the U.S. House Speaker says she's considering the Republican leader's picks for the committee investigating the Capitol riots. Nancy Pelosi says is not a requirement that they voted to certified Joe Biden's election as president. Three of the five objected to the 2020 results. Republican Jim Jordan says he wants to know why there wasn't proper security at the Capitol on January 6. And only Nancy Pelosi can answer that question. Take a listen.


REP. JIM JORDON (R-OH): We know what this is about, this is about going after President Trump, you know. The Democrats, they don't want to talk about anything else, so they got to talk about this.


SOARES: The U.S. Justice Department has released four new videos of the violent attacks. We'll bring you those videos later this hour.

Well the former chairman of Donald Trump's inaugural committee is under arrest charged with illegal foreign lobbying. A judge has ordered billionaire Tom Barrack detained until a court hearing on Monday. CNN's Paula Reid has the details for you.


THOMAS BARRACK, CHAIRMAN, DONALD TRUMP INAUGURAL COMMITTEE: I'm here because Donald Trump is one of my closest friends for 40 years.


PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT (voice over): One of former President Trump's closest allies and biggest fundraisers, billionaire Tom Barrack, is facing federal charges relating to alleged attempts to influence the 2016 Trump campaign and administration on behalf of a foreign country, the United Arab Emirates, and lying to cover it up. Barrack was arrested by the FBI in California. One of his employees, Matthew Grimes, was also arrested and charged. Prosecutors alleged that during a 2016 campaign, when Barrack was a campaign adviser, he and Grimes acted as agents of the UAE, tasked with influencing public opinion, the foreign policy positions of the campaign and the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government, as well as developing a backchannel line of communication. Prosecutors say that influence could be seen in this line of a speech that Trump gave in May 2016.

DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We'll work with our Gulf allies to develop a positive energy relationship.

REID (voice-over): And prosecutors say that Barrack failed to register as an agent of a foreign government, as the law requires. Barrack was allegedly acting on behalf of the UAE during media appearances. After Trump's victory, Barrack became the chairman of Trump's Presidential Inaugural Committee. It was during this time, prosecutors say, he repeatedly took steps to assist the UAE in connection with the transition to the incoming administration, communicating with unnamed Emirati officials.

The assistants allegedly continued into the Trump administration, between January 2017 and October 2017, when prosecutors say Barrack acted to aid the UAE in its dealing with the executive branch. That allegedly included agreeing to advocate for the appointment of individuals favored by the UAE in the new U.S. government administration.

When the FBI interviewed him in 2019 about his activities with the UAE, prosecutors alleged Barrack knowingly made numerous materially false statements.

REID: In a statement, a spokesman for Barrack said that his client has made himself available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.

Paula Reid, CNN, Washington.


SOARES: Well prosecutors describe Barrack has an extreme flight risk with access to private jet and contacts in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia. as well as the UAE. CNN's senior legal analyst Elie Honig explains why Barrack is not the only one in serious trouble.


ELIE HONIG, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: We've decided it's dangerous to have people lobbying our government on behalf of foreign countries when we don't know about it. On top of that he's charged with obstruction of justice. That just ups the ante here. So Barrack is looking at really two different layers of legal problems. Tom Barrack is 74 years old. These are federal charges. These are not state charges. The feds almost always get convictions.

If you look at this indictment, it's based on Tom Barrack's own words, often times emails and texts that he sent. The only way, the Best Way, Tom Barrack is going to be able to protect himself is by cooperating with the feds. And the way that works in the fed system is you have to give up everybody you know, everything they've done wrong, and you have to be willing to testify about it. So other people around Barrack have reason to be worried here.


SOARES: Now, more than 80 major wildfires are burning in the United States, including one so massive it's creating his own weather. We'll get the latest report from the front lines.

And a picture perfect launch and landing for Jeff Bezos. Coming up, how the billionaire turned astronaut described his historic flight.


JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER BLUE ORIGIN: Now, on how it felt, oh, my god! My expectations were high, and they were dramatically exceeded.




SOARES: Jeff Bezos is now the second billionaire to reach space using his own rocket. The Amazon founder and three crew members took a 10 minute supersonic joyride on Tuesday to the edges space. Back on earth the newly minted astronaut is already talking about his next adventure. He says he wants to make space travel affordable and use it in a way to help save the planet. CNN's Kristin Fisher has a look at his sky high flight as well as his ambitions.


JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER, BLUE ORIGIN: Ever since I was 5 years old, I've been passionate about space.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Jeff Bezos grew up spending summers at his grandparents' ranch in Texas, dreaming of a day he too could go into space. He also spent his time as a kid obsessed with "Star Trek", even later in life secretly buying land in Texas using a character's name for the purchase.


FISHER (voice-over): It took him about half a century but today, on the 52nd anniversary of the first lunar landing, Bezos made his dreams come true in the same skies over the Lone Star State.

Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old Wally Funk, and 18-year-old student Oliver Daemen enjoyed about three minutes of weightlessness, tossing balls and Skittles, and doing somersault.

But rockets aren't cheap. In order to afford being able to pour millions into Blue Origin, he first needed to found the company that made him the wealthiest man in the world. At Amazon, Jeff Bezos turned an online bookstore he created out of his garage 27 years ago into a delivery juggernaut, using their own jets and even drones to deliver to customers. But he never lost sight of those childhood dreams.

BEZOS: If I could do anything, I'd like to go help explore space.

FISHER: Now, Bezos, along with fellow billionaire Elon Musk are trying to disrupt space travel the same way they transform their respective industries here on Earth.

BEZOS: What we're doing is the first step of something big and I know what that feels like. I did it three decades ago, almost three decades ago with Amazon. But you can tell, you can tell when you're on to something.


FISHER (voice-over): That something is creating a road to space. Bezos says Blue Origin is working towards a world where heavy industries on earth are moved into space to preserve the planet and protect humanity. He believes it is a natural evolution for humankind.

BEZOS: Zero G piece may have been one of the biggest surprises because it felt so normal. It felt so -- like almost like we were as humans evolved to be in that environment.

FISHER (voice-over): But back on planet Earth, many people believe it's not normal for there to be billionaires. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal tweeting once the crew landed: Welcome back to Earth where the richest 0.1 percent of Americans hold nearly as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent of American families combined.

On the day before liftoff, Bezos said he gets it when people accuse him and Richard Branson of using these flights to space as joyrides for the wealthy instead of spending their fortune solving problems here on Earth.

BEZOS: Well, I see -- they're largely right. We have to do both. You know, we have -- we have lots of problems in here and now on Earth, and we need to work on those, and we always need to look to the future.

FISHER: The future for Blue Origin is two more crewed flights in its New Shepherd rocket later this year. Though it is still unclear exactly how much those seats are going to go for. New Shepard named after Alan Shepard the first American in space. And then late next year the company is hoping to launch a much bigger rocket, New Glenn named after John Glenn. And like its namesake, this rocket is supposed to go all the bay into orbit.

Kristin Fisher, CNN, Launch Site One in Texas.


SOARES: Well shortly after landing Jeff Bezos sat down with Anderson Cooper to talk more about the future of space travel and how it could impact our planet. Take a listen.


JEFF BEZOS, FOUNDER, AMAZON AND BLUE ORIGIN: We need to build a road to space. I mean, build infrastructure, reusable space vehicles, and so on, so that the next generations can build the future.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: So, if some smart kid in a dorm room right now has a dream for space. They can't do it.

BEZOS: They can't do it. That's exactly right. But if we can lay that infrastructure, then do that hard work, then there will be able to be a bunch of entrepreneurs, maybe the young guy Oliver who flew with us today will be one of them.

COOPER: What does that look like though? I mean, what is this road look like? I mean, you've talked about a human presence on the moon, obviously, you know Musk is talking about Mars.

BEZOS: We really have to move heavy industry and polluting industry off Earth. The Earth is too small and too fragile.

COOPER: So, move nuclear power plants.

BEZOS: Everything.

COOPER: Coal plants.

BEZOS: We need to beam the energy down to Earth. We will make it in space with probably solar, we will beam it down. When we make chips and microchips and everything else, that -- all that dirty polluting stuff, we will make it in space, and do those activities in space. It will be much better.


SOARES: Jeff Bezos talking to Anderson Cooper there about his vision for a road to space.

Well there are now at least 83 large wildfires burning across 13 states in the United States. They include the Oregon's Bootleg Fire, so massive and intense that it is creating its own weather. It is among the latest signs deadlier and more destructive wildfires are the new normal. CNN's Dan Simons reports.


DAN SIMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The monstrous Blue Lake Fire in Oregon has scorch more than 600 square miles in an area larger than Los Angeles

GOV. KATE BROWN (D-OR): Right now, this is the fourth largest fire to burn in Oregon since 1900.

SIMON (voice-over): It is so massive and so dangerous that fire crews have had to escape the fire nine days in a row. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You saw multiple pyrocumulus clouds.

SIMON (voice-over): The fire also so intense it's creating its own weather. The formation of pyrocumulus clouds is a phenomenon that enables the fire to create its own thunderstorms, which in turn can produce lightning, strong winds and even fire tornadoes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We just continue to see day after day after day of conditions that are not in our favor.

SIMON (voice-over): In a typical wildfire, the weather will dictate the path and intensity. But with the Bootleg, experts say, the fire is predicting what the weather will do. Nearly 1,100 acres burning per hour and containment hovering just around 30 percent. Nearly 70 homes have been destroyed.

BROWN: After last year, what is very clear is that no corner of our state is immune to fire. On the West Coast and here in Oregon, the urgent and dangerous climate crisis has exacerbated conditions on the ground.

SIMON (voice-over): The Bootleg Fire far from alone, more than 80 large wildfires are raging in 13 states across the country, burning more than 1 million acres. In California, the Tamarack Fire has forced the evacuation of at least a half dozen communities. Most were only given a few minutes to evacuate when the fire exploded Saturday going from 500 acres to now nearly 40,000.

JOHN LYNCH, WILDFIRE EVACUEE: We had 10 minutes to grab, you know, what we could and the dog and got out of there.

SIMON (voice-over): Anxious residents allowed to return to their homes today with an escort to look around and grab some essentials.


JUANITA HATFIELD, WILDFIRE EVACUEE: Just hoping to see our house still standing. I know, you know, they say it's OK but I really want to see it for myself. It's scary.

DAVID DAVIS, WILDFIRE EVACUEE: The deputy just told us that our house is still standing, but we just want to check it all out.


SOARES: I can imagine what they're going through. Dan Simon there reporting from California.

While wildfires and droughts scorch the American West, countries in east Asia are bracing for a powerful typhoon. Meteorologist Karen Maginnis joins me now. Karen, on the fires in the United States, is there any respite in sight for these families and communities? Those firefighters facing really brutal flames.

KAREN MAGINNIS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Extremely brutal, Isa. They are really seeing some huge challenges with this huge fire in not just south central Oregon but all those 83 major fires -- we don't even talk about the smaller fires that get under control fairly easily. But this particular fire, the firefighters are saying they are making slow but steady progress. In excess of 388,000 acres have already burned, 158,000 hectors. They are saying that it is probably caused by lightning. It's 32 percent contained and even though it is the fourth largest wildfire in Oregon, it is quickly climbing up in the ranks.

Now this smoke that is blowing up towards the northeast is also polluting the air across central Canada, all the way towards the northeastern corridor of the United States. And New York City, take a look at this view from an airplane where the air is dirty. They say they are seeing some of the worst air pollution there since the past seven years and you can see just how brown and unhealthy that air looks.

All right, for Tokyo, temperatures are going to be hot, mostly in the low 30s with the humidity up there as well. Myubiu (ph) front stretch crosses region and even across the Henan Province in Zhengzhou City. This is where we've seen a staggering amount of rainfall and 12 fatalities associated with this when streets turned into rivers. And people were trapped in the subways.

All right, to tropical systems in Cempaka. This one looks like it's moving out into the South China Sea and is going to be weakening rather rapidly by 96 hours. Making wins associated with it very weak. And then the monstrous typhoon In-Fa 110-mile-per-hour winds right now -- Isa.

SOARES: Thanks very much, Karen Maginnis there.

Now rescue operations are under way after heavy rain and flooding in central China. Emergency teams evacuating people from the subway lines in the capital of Henan Province. Terrifying images posted on social media show passengers -- you can see they're trapped on rains packed tightly together as murky waters flood in. Officials say the least 12 people were killed and their bodies were found in subway stations.

And Europe is assessing the damage after its own deadly floods. Almost 200 people have died after record breaking flooding in Germany as well as Belgium. Clean up and rebuilding will take months if not years and likely cost billions of dollars. The disaster is also raising concerns about Germany's flood warning system with some experts and critics saying more could have been done to save lives.

Now U.S. President Joe Biden is trying to get his legislative agenda through Congress. He'll talk directly with the American people tonight in a CNN town hall from a state he lost in last year's election. What do voters want to hear from him? We'll bring you that story.

Plus, newly released videos of the January 6 insurrection show how police officers were attacked by the rioters. We'll bring you both those stories after a very short break. Please stay right here with CNN.