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Biden's Exclusive CNN Town Hall; Wildfires Rage in Siberia; Director Of Tokyo Olympics Opening Ceremony Sacked; Cases, Hospitalizations, Deaths All on the Rise in U.S.; More Than 2.6 Million Hectares Burned in Siberia; COVID Cases Rising Among Children as Schools Set to Reopen. Aired 2-3a ET

Aired July 22, 2021 - 02:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


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[02:00:22]

KIM BRUNHUBER, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): President Joe Biden talks COVID-19. The U.S. economy and counting the filibuster and CNN is exclusive Town Hall. We'll break it all down for you.

Unprecedented wildfires are raging and one of the coldest places on earth.

And one day to go before the official start of the Olympic Games. We'll explain why the director of the opening ceremony has been fired so close to the Big Show. Live from CNN world headquarters in Atlanta welcomes all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber. This is CNN NEWSROOM.

U.S. President Joe Biden is pushing ahead with his ambitious agenda as he marks his first six months in office. He was questioned about the economy, infrastructure, and the coronavirus with the CNN Town Hall on Wednesday with COVID cases on the rise nationwide. And inflation rising, inoculation stalling, he's calling on Americans to roll up their sleeves for the good of the country, saying the U.S. now faces a pandemic of the unvaccinated and making clear the benefits of getting the shot.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: If you're vaccinated, you're not going to be hospitalized, you're not going to be an ICU unit, and you're not going to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: The President also said while fears about inflation are legitimate, he believes the chances of long term inflation are slim.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: First of all, the good news is the economy's picking up significantly. It's rational when you think about it, the cost of an automobile is kind of back to what it was before the pandemic. We compare what the prices were for the last year in the pandemic. And they are up. They're up because in fact, there was not much call for.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more on the key issues the President addressed.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This town hall in Ohio came at a critical juncture of Biden's presidency. Of course, that six-month mark since taking office and he talked about what he's done so far, but also was asked a lot about what he plans to do in the next six months. And the six months after that. And what that's going to look like and of course the pandemic is top of mind for many voters, many who were in the audience at that town hall asking him what is going to happen for children under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated.

He believes that they are going to be able to get vaccinated soon, though the president said he cannot speak from a scientific timeline. That's up to the federal health experts who will make that decision. Ultimately, he also said he does believe that CDC is going to recommend that children under 12 who cannot yet get vaccinated are wearing a mask when they are back in school.

And talked about what this pandemic is going to look like now that we are trying to get the unvaccinated vaccinated in the way the President Biden phrased it tonight. He also was talking about how bipartisanship is still, essentially his North Star. When it comes to infrastructure he says he is optimistic about what's going to happen on Monday, when lawmakers get back together on that bipartisan infrastructure plan.

He's confident it's going to move forward and was talking about, of course, Ohio's home Senator Rob Portman saying -- talking about how -- they shook on the bipartisan deal that they came to in the Oval Office that day. And so, we'll see how that shakes out, given the deal has been in limbo so far as they're trying to write the text of it. And then of course, while President Biden is here, one thing that he was pressed on by Don Lemon was the filibuster.

And what the plan is because it seems very unlikely that the voting rights legislation that is sitting in Congress right now is going to go anywhere unless there are changes made to the filibuster. He supported his talk once again about the talking filibuster saying that's an effective tool. But when it comes to getting rid of the filibuster entirely, he said he believed that it would essentially throw Congress into chaos if that happened.

And nothing would get done. He said he does not want arguments that we're voting rights to get wrapped up into talks about the filibuster. So clearly making his position known there as there has been little appetite on the Senate side to change that filibuster. So, a big town hall for the President. And of course, the big question is going to be how the next few weeks shape or the next six months of his presidency is going to look like.

Kaitlan Collins, CNN, traveled with the president in Ohio.

BRUNHUBER: So, bipartisanship, maybe the U.S. president's North Star in his words, but there's almost none of that when it comes to investigating the January 6th capital riot and insurrection. During the town hall, Biden blasted Republicans for putting up roadblocks and trying to whitewash the assault on democracy.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BIDEN: I don't care if you think I'm Satan reincarnated. The fact is, you can't look at that television and say nothing happened on the 6th. You can't listen to people who say this was a peaceful march.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Now those remarks came just hours after a flurry of drama over a special U.S. House panel that will investigate the attack. CNN's Manu Raju has the details.

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Now Democrats preparing to go it alone in the aftermath of the blow up between House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi over the January 6th Select Committee. The panel of the panel that would have investigated and that still plans to investigate what happened on that day, on January 6th.

The attack in the Capitol this has been a squabble that has been going on for months but now it's clear, Democrats are going to go it alone. This in the aftermath of her rejecting two of McCarthy's picks. Pelosi saying that those two picks, Jim Jordan, Jim Banks. Two (INAUDIBLE) Trump defenders did not deserve to sit on a panel based on their past statements. Those past statements I'm told included Banks suggesting that the investigation was an effort to advance the less authoritarian agenda.

Jordan saying this is all an effort to go after Donald Trump. She believed Pelosi that they were not serious members, they should not sit on the committee. Kevin McCarthy responded saying that he would pull all five of his selections out of this because of his concerns that this was a partisan investigation. And Pelosi should not be taken this step. He believes closely or something acknowledging this was an unprecedent move to deny a minority party's picks.

Now, there is still a Republican member. Liz Cheney. She is still -- she's one of Nancy Pelosi's eight picks. Pelosi says that she has a bipartisan quorum and can move forward because of Cheney. And Cheney, in the aftermath of this came out swinging. Criticizing McCarthy, agreeing with Pelosi and telling me that she does not believe that McCarthy should be the Speaker of the House after the 2022 midterms.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): I think that any person who would be third in line to the presidency must demonstrate a commitment to the constitution and a commitment to the rule of law. And Minority Leader McCarthy has not done that. (END VIDEO CLIP)

RAJU: Now the first hearing is still slated to take place next week. You will hear testimony from Capitol Police officers as well as D.C. Metro Police about their experiences that day. And then Democrats with Liz Cheney planned to press ahead, potentially even calling in witnesses who interacted with Donald Trump, like Republican members of Congress, potentially even Jim Jordan.

Jordan himself told me earlier this week, he is willing to testify about his conversation with Trump and McCarthy too has said to me earlier, he'd be willing to talk to anybody, including the select committee, potentially that could come to a head in the months ahead. Manu Raju, CNN Capitol Hill.

BRUNHUBER: Ron Brownstein is a senior CNN political analyst and senior editor at The Atlantic. And he joins me now from Los Angeles. Nice to see you again, Ron. So let's start with what we just saw there, Nancy Pelosi's decision to kick off the two Republicans and the House Minority Leader's decision to pull all five of his picks. A lot of the political focus is on who won the chess match here. But what are the larger consequences?

RON BROWNSTEIN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Yeah, I think that's kind of a not a good day for Washington journalism in the way that this has been discussed as though it was just kind of another, you know, sparring match or a boxing match or something. The fact is that we faced on January 6th, the most serious attack on our democracy probably since the Civil War. And that after an initial flurry of activity, Republicans -- most Republicans have moved into a position of doing everything they can to prevent a full excavation of what happened.

And former President Trump's role in what happened. That's what Kevin McCarthy was doing by putting Jim Banks and Jim Jordan on the committee. That's what he was doing after I think the Speaker correctly uh, you know, questioned whether those members were there to help unearth the truth or merely to undermine the proceedings. And then he kind of -- McCarthy kind of double down with the stunt of pulling everybody off the committee.

I mean, that's the reality that we face. You saw it in a poll this week by CBS, one of our networks hear that 55 percent of Republicans now describe the attack on the Capitol as defending freedom. Whereas only 20 percent describe it as an insurrection. That is the real story about what's happening. The kind of the tolerance that is spreading in the Republican coalition for this kind of violence, if that's what it takes to maintain power in a diversifying society.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Let's turn to the Biden town hall. Just briefly, what are your main takeaways. What struck you?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think you saw Biden at his best and you saw the biggest question looming over his presidency. He was empathetic. He was decent. He really emphasized his desire to unite the country.

[02:10:09] BROWNSTEIN: But along the lines of what we were just discussing on today while all of this was happening, he said the venom is being drained out of the political system. He said at another point that he expects to, "bring along" Republicans on the need to protect voting rights, which in practice means that Republicans in Congress would be voting to overturn what Republicans in the states are doing.

And I think, you know, a lot of Democrats, the biggest doubt they have about Biden, as someone who came up in a very different era, who dealt with Republicans like Bob Dole, and Howard Baker and Robert Stafford, earlier in his career, does he recognize the reality of the moment that he is living in? And the same thing, by the way, on the vaccine, where he basically argue that, you know, the key to increasing vaccination rates was simply exhortation.

More exhortation, more effort to kind of reach out to those who are skeptical, and there are a lot of people who are skeptical that that by itself is going to make much of a dent, given the ideological underpinnings of much of the problem that he's having expanding vaccination rates, and whether it needs to look at more kind of forceful measures, like supporting mandates. So, you know, it was the best of Biden, but it was also the biggest question about Biden if I crystallized over 80 minutes.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, but let me push back then, I guess, channeling him even though the test vote on infrastructure failed. Biden said it was irrelevant given there -- there's, you know, so many positive noises coming from both sides about a bipartisan deal. Biden's using that as an example that bipartisanship can work and, you know, is that just a sort of a unicorn or -- and is he doomed I guess for the rest of his, you know, to get the rest of his mandate, voting rights and so on through if he doesn't, you know, cottoned on to the fact that he might have to get rid of the filibuster?

BROWNSTEIN: I think the reality is that that is largely a unicorn. There may be one or two other areas police reform potentially, but by and large, spending money to build bridges and roads and expand broadband is not a terribly ideological proposition. And even on that they are struggling to find 10 Republicans. There are likely no Republicans who will vote for any kind of legislation establishing a new federal floor of voting rights.

It's highly unlikely there are 10 Republicans who will vote to legalize the dreamers whose status is now uncertain after a Republican judge a decision last week. A gun control, which he was asked about tonight, there is no chance of there being 10 Republicans in the Senate to vote for that. Really beyond and obviously on their broader economic agenda they are planning to go it alone, because they realize they're not 10, and probably not even one Republican for the broader economic plan they want to do that includes things like the universal pre-K and expanding community college that he talked about tonight.

So yes, I think there is a real chance of a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. I mean, building bridges in southern Indiana or West Virginia is not that, you know, controversial. But beyond that, he does face the reality that without changes in the filibuster, there is nothing out -- there's likely very little if not nothing else, he's going to be able to do that he can't squeeze into this reconciliation package which is itself a way around the filibuster.

I mean, he -- his deal -- I mean, this is kind of goes to that core question I was raising before. Is the reality we are in a much more parliamentary system than we used to be bipartisanship of the standard of what it takes to get things done may just be, you know, kind of antiquated or anachronistic in this kind of highly partisan era now.

BRUNHUBER: Ron Brownstein, always a pleasure. Thanks so much. Appreciate it.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks for having me.

BRUNHUBER: The start of the Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo is just one day away. A year after it was postponed due to the pandemic. About 950 dignitaries are expected for Friday's opening ceremony, but the director of the event has been fired over anti-Semitic jokes he made years ago in a comedy routine. The Olympic music director resigned earlier in the week in a different scandal.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen athletes have dropped out of the competition after testing positive for COVID-19. Seven of them tested positive after they already had arrived in Japan. And the head of the IOC says the games are only taking place because people didn't give up.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

THOMAS BACH, IOC PRESIDENT: The games will also highlight that, you know, perseverance of the Japanese people and the perseverance of the international community.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: CNN's Blake Essig is in Tokyo. Blake, this controversy just the latest in the growing list of problems for these games.

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Kim. Absolutely. It is just the latest controversy to impact these games. The opening and closing ceremonies director, Kentaro Kobayashi has been dismissed for mocking the Holocaust and making anti-Semitic jokes during a comedy routine in the 90s. As a result, he released this statement saying, as it was pointed out, there were some inappropriate expressions in the scripts from my past skit.

I understand that my foolish choice of words at the time was a mistake, and I regret it. The director's dismissal takes place just a few days after the man in charge of composing music for the opening and closing ceremonies was forced to resign after social media backlash after he admitted to be -- to bullying children with disabilities years ago. Although Olympic organizers said that they wouldn't use the composer's music.

They haven't said how the director's removal would impact the opening ceremony. And when the opening ceremony does take place tomorrow night, one thing that we do know is that this will not be a celebration like anything we've ever seen before. Of course, Japan will put on a show but only 950 VIPs will be there to see it inside the 68,000-seat stadium. And we still don't know how many athletes will take part in the ceremony.

But if the representation from India's delegation is in the indication, participation will be limited. India media are reporting that out of 127 athletes making up the team only six will take part in the opening ceremony. Kim?

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much, Blake Essig in Tokyo. Appreciate it. Still to come, South Korea is grappling with another record spike in COVID cases fueled by the high -- highly contagious Delta variant.

Plus, fewer than two percent of Africans are fully vaccinated according to the WHO but help could be on the way. We'll have Pfizer and BioNTech's big announcement ahead. Stay with us.

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[02:21:04]

BRUNHUBER: The world is fast approaching 200 million total COVID cases in this pandemic. And the World Health Organization believes we could reach that number in the next three weeks if current trends continue. That would be another eight million cases. The head WHO warns we're now in the early stages of another wave of the virus.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TEDROS ADHANOM, DIRECTOR GENERAL, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: In the time it takes me to make this remarks. More than 100 people will lose their lives to COVID-19. And by the time the Olympic flame is extinguished on the eighth of August, more than 100,000 more people will perish.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: For the second straight day, South Korea's reporting daily record of COVID cases as it struggles to contain a wave of outbreaks fueled by the Delta variant. Officials say they recorded more than 1800 new COVID cases on Wednesday. Singapore is also reporting a spike in cases with more than 150 cases being reported for the third consecutive day. Manisha Tank is live in Singapore. Manisha, give us an overview of the situation in the region.

MANISHA TANK, CNN HOST: Well, it's a real patchwork of experience here in the Asia Pacific region, Kim. I want to take you first to Australia actually because down there, the Prime Minister Scott Morrison has actually apologized for the slow rollout of vaccination. And that really is one of the big stories that we're focusing on here in Asia. How fast or slow is the vaccination program going.

In Australia, it's too slow for the population. Still, at least half of them are under lockdown. And we all know because it's made global headlines, the number of problems that Australia had with getting its hands on supply. But even now, the rollout is just too slow for what people would like. Let's jump to Indonesia, where there was a lot of public resistance about getting vaccinated until we started seeing cases of the Delta variants in particular, causing spikes in cases, we're running at tens of thousands of cases in Indonesia every day.

The Straits Times newspaper here in Singapore was featuring pictures of people lining up to get vaccinated in Indonesia, describing it as a scramble to get vaccinated. And meanwhile, in Malaysia, you've actually got the government this week coming out and saying that it's pushed to get more people vaccinated. They'd like to see that rise from 400,000 jobs a day to 500,000 jobs a day.

Malaysia actually now running one of the fastest vaccination programs in the world. But still, we had a rather distressing headline that came from Malaysia today. And that was around the number of deaths in a single day. The single biggest rise in deaths, 199 since the pandemic began for Malaysia. You mentioned Singapore, yes, we have had cases spiking here too. More than 150 cases a day.

And this is despite the fact that Singapore has vaccinated with a double dose, at least almost half of the population. 48 percent have had the double dose. 71 percent have had at least one dose. And Singapore is targeting August 9th to get at least two-thirds of the population vaccinated but it accepts that at this time there are too many members of the elderly population who are not yet covered or protected from COVID-19. They want to see that change which is why we have new restrictions just beginning today.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Thanks so much. Manisha Tank in Singapore. Pfizer and BioNTech are taking a major step toward ending vaccine inequality. For the first time their highly effective COVID-19 vaccine is to be made in Africa. The goal is to ramp up vaccine availability on the continent. The companies say the raw materials will come from Europe, but they'll transfer technology, install equipment and develop manufacturing capability with a company in Cape Town. David McKenzie explains.

DAVID MCKENZIE, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: The announcement by Pfizer and BioNTech is certainly significant. They are collaborating with a South African company to produce the mRNA vaccine for COVID-19 here in South Africa and to be distributed solely to African Union countries.

[02:05:01]

MCKENZIE: Now, once that comes online and is fully functioning in the coming months, they say it could produce at least 100 million doses of the vaccine annually. And that could make a big dent in future needs of vaccination. The African continent needs vaccines right now, many countries are dealing with a surge of COVID-19 and less than two percent of the population according to the WHO is fully vaccinated.

And now the move by the company certainly comes as it's been criticized for pushing to preserve intellectual property rights of this technology in address to the World Trade Organization. Today, the CEO of Pfizer called for those rights again to be preserved, while countries like South Africa and India have called for a waiver to allow other manufacturers to get the technology and the know how to produce vaccines on a large scale. David McKenzie, CNN, Johannesburg.

BRUNHUBER: All right. Still ahead. COVID cases are surging in the United States. Health officials issue an alarming forecasts on what could be in store over the next few weeks. That's coming up after the break. Stay with us.

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BRUNHUBER: And welcome back to all of you watching us here in the United States, Canada and around the world. I'm Kim Brunhuber and you're watching CNN NEWSROOM. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control is projecting an increase in COVID deaths and hospitalizations over the next four weeks. In its latest forecast, the CDC predicts there will be up to 625,000 deaths and as many as 14,000 new hospitalizations by mid-August.

[02:30:05]

RIght now, cases are surging up 54 percent from last week.

Meanwhile, the daily pace of vaccinations has reached its lowest point since January. Less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated, far from the number needed to reach herd immunity. The slowdown has led many communities to rethink mask and vaccine mandates.

CNN's Athena Jones reports.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ATHENA JONES, CNN U.S. NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With new coronavirus cases surging in 47 states, driven in large part by the more contagious delta variant, nearly 30 percent of the country lives in a country with high COVID transmission, according to the CDC. That's 91 million people, 18 million more people than the CDC reported this week. The U.S. seeing a startling 55 percent increase in cases over the last week. Arkansas, Missouri, Louisiana, Florida and Nevada leading the nation in new infections per capita.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We are at the beginning of a wildfire. If we don't get young people vaccinated, we are all going to be at risk for a really awful fall ahead.

JONES: And with less than half the population fully vaccinated, some are rethinking mask mandates and vaccination requirements. Starting in August, New York City will require workers at health clinics and hospitals and health clinics to either get vaccinated or be tested weekly.

MAYOR BILL DE BLASIO (D-NEW YORK CITY, NY): We have 22 million health care workers in the United States. And by the only information e have, only about 50 percent are vaccinated. This is unacceptable.

JONES: Officials in Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, passing a temporary mask mandate for employees at work. And the U.S. Capitol now recommending mask mandates once again after several new cases.

And in Kansas City, Kansas, a new mask mandate for all public school students with few exceptions, including on school buses and for parents visiting school buildings.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Getting their masks, although they're not always the most comfortable thing, they are just going to keep us safe.

JONES: Still, there is no sign the CDC is plans to change its guidance on masking, which focuses on the unvaccinated. Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams urging the agency to revise its policy in places where cases are rising yet vaccination rates remain low. Writing in the Washington Post, instead of vax it or mask it, people might need to vax it and mask it.

Starting today, Jackson Health System in Florida will, again, no longer allow visitors in most in-patient units or any adult emergency departments.

DR. LILIAN ABBO, CHIEF, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, JACKSON HEALTH SYSTEM: This virus is highly contagious, highly transmissible, this is not a joke.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (on camera): And there is stunning new data from the CDC showing just how much COVID ravaged the nation last year. Life expectancy falling by a year-and-a-half, the largest declined since World War II with minorities hit hardest. Latinos and blacks seeing a three-year decline while life expectancy for whites fell 1.2 years.

Athena Jones, CNN, New York.

BRUNHUBER: France's controversial COVID health pass is being met with growing protests nationwide. Many see this as a massive government overreach. Proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test is now required for large public gatherings and public attractions, like the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, next month, the pass must be shown at bars, restaurants and shopping malls.

Protesters carried signs reading, hands off my natural immunity, but experts say that won't protect you from the delta variant, with most new infections amongst the unvaccinated.

France just reported its highest cases since May, about 21,000 on Wednesday.

Britain's labor party leader is calling the prime minister a super- spreader of confusion when it comes to coronavirus isolation measures. Boris Johnson fired back, accusing Keir Starmer of trying to score chief political points and then defended his government's isolation policy.

On Monday, Mr. Johnson suggested critical workers should be exempt, but the very next day, Downing Street reiterated that everyone should isolate if they are potentially exposed to the virus. The prime minister is currently self-isolating after having close contact with the British health secretary who recently tested positive for COVID.

Still ahead, rising temperatures and years of drought bring wildfires to what is usually one of the coldest places on Earth. Stay with us.

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[02:35:00]

BRUNHUBER: Russia has called out the military to help wildfires in one of the coldest places on Earth. More than 2.5 million hectares or 6 million acres have burned in Siberia so far this year.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER (voice over): From high above, Russian military aircraft dump hundreds of tons of water on the angry flames below. They're in a battle against wildfires that now ravaging Northeastern Siberia.

In an area more accustomed to arctic temperatures, residents are facing enormous blazes and thawing land that has been frozen for centuries. Rising temperatures and suffocating smoke are driving residents and firefighters to dig trenches to keep the fire away from their homes and fields, but the smog is already covered over 50 settlements disrupting daily life.

The situation is particularly dire for the elderly and COVID-19 patients. Many are feeling hopeless and scared.

ELENA VOLGINA, NGORNIIY DISTRICT RESIDENT: It's frightening, smoke every day, just every day. Only today we have a little sun.

BRUNHUBER: Abnormally, high temperatures, drought and strong winds have worsened the spread of the fire, according to media reports.

People in Northeastern Siberia rely on these forests. When it burns, converted (ph) woods turn into swamps into flammable, dry undergrowth releases long storied carbon into the air.

SERGEI SHOIGU, RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: The fire hazard situation has sharply worsened almost all over the country due to the abnormal heat. The situation in Yakutia is the most difficult.

BRUNHUBER: So far, flames have ripped through thousands of hectares of Russian forest. Firefighters on the ground and in the air or trying to extinguish the blazes and stop them from spreading, but the thick smoke cuts off visibility.

RUSLAN TUMERBULATOV, PARACHUTIST-FIREFIGHTER: Fire is massive. we extinguish it in one place, it ignites in another. It is very hot weather. The wind is still strong fanning the fire quickly but we are coping.

BRUNHUBER: What is one of the coldest places on Earth has now become one of the fastest warming regions. Scientists say that while occasional fire forest fires are natural, forests in North America and Russia are burning at unprecedented rates.

MARK PARRINGTON, SENIOR SCIENTIST, COPERNICUS ATMOSPHERE MONITORING SERVICE: What's common to these fires in Russia and also in North America is that, right now, they are really occurring in places where there are heat wave conditions, there are longstanding drought conditions and these things all feed into what we call the flammability of the fuel.

[02:40:06]

BRUNHUBER: As the changing climate wreaks havoc, another population has been forced to reckon with the warming world.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BRUNHUBER (on camera): Now, to Central China, where the death toll has jumped to at least 33 with eight people missing after extreme flooding. Heavy rain forced the Yellow River over its banks in Henan Province, where more than 120,000 have fled their homes. A dozen people were killed when floodwaters rushed into subway cars in the provincial capital. The state media report the train was stuck between two stations and some passengers waited more than three hours to be rescued.

In Western Europe, floodwaters that claimed more than 200 lives have receded but another crisis is looming, growing piles of trash. Residents say rotting food and dead household goods are attracting rodents and could lead to diseases. The German government has $471 million in emergency aid and a thousand soldiers are helping with the cleanup. Rescue crews are searching for 171 people still missing.

All right, thanks for joining us here on CNN Newsroom. If you're an international viewer, World Sport is next. If you are watching from here in the U.S. or Canada, CNN Newsroom continues in a moment. Please do stay with us.

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[02:45:00]

BRUNHUBER: Right now in the U.S., nearly 16 percent of all COVID cases reported each week are children. That's 23,000 kids just last week. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, part of the reason why is children under the age of 12 aren't yet eligible to get vaccinated here.

President Joe Biden says the FDA could give them the green light soon, maybe in the beginning of the school year. And even though children are less likely to have serious forms of COVID-19 than adults, the head of the CDC has this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, U.S. CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: I think we've fall into this flawed thinking of saying that only 400 of these 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: Let's discuss this with Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of infectious diseases. Thanks so much for being with us, Doctor.

We're being told right now that it's a pandemic of the unvaccinated and kids seem to form a part of that group of unvaccinated, either because they are too young to get it or they're eligible and just haven't gotten it. And not surprisingly, as I mentioned earlier, we are seeing the COVID cases in kids rising. What are you seeing right now?

DR. WILLIAM SCHAFFNER, A PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Yes. Well, we are seeing similar things in my neck of the woods in Nashville, of course. This is happening across the country. It's clear that, in my medical center, literally, 98 percent of the people who require admission to the hospital because of serious COVID, they're unvaccinated.

It's really, quite unusual to have a vaccinated person require hospitalization. And this, of course, means that the vaccines are working. They are keeping those vaccinated people out of the hospital. And it's also really, quite sad because if you look at the unvaccinated people who are in the hospital and you say, my goodness, all of this illness could have been prevented, had those folks taken advantage of the vaccines.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, absolutely. In a few weeks, school will be starting. There are fears this delta variant will cause runaway spread in kids. I just want to play a clip here from the chair of the CDC's advisory committee on immunization practices speaking on CNN. Listen to this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. JOSE ROMERO, CHAIR, CDC ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON IMMUNIZATOIN PRACTICES: We're seeing outbreaks in sites that we didn't see last year. So, we are seeing closures in daycares. We are seeing closures in summer camps. And all that leads me to believe that in a setting where you don't have strict mitigation, that it will spread very, very quickly, like our schools.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BRUNHUBER: So, how concerned are you about that and how worried should parents be about their kids, this fall?

SCHAFFNER: Well, I think, we all want children to go back to school. The trick is to do it in as low risk a way as possible. And there are several things we can do to provide that assurance. One is, in our communities, there should be as little spread as possible. That means all of us who are unvaccinated should get vaccinated. Number two, certainly, every adult associated with school, teachers, school bus drivers, the folks who work in the cafeteria, the custodians and on and on, they should, by now, all, have taken advantage of the vaccine.

And then, you know, children 12 and older, they should be vaccinated also. We haven't made enough progress then. And for the youngsters, they'll wear masks, social distancing, good-hand hygiene, improve the ventilation, perhaps staggered start-and-stop times. Every school won't be able to do everything but every school should do several things.

And if we do all that together, I think schools can be rather safe. But we have to do those things.

BRUNHUBER: And, finally, before we go in his town hall, the president said kids should be getting the vaccine soon, but then the latest I heard from the experts was that vaccines for younger children likely won't be available until this winter, basically, a full year after adults started getting the shots. Is there any update we should know about? And maybe, explain why it's taking so long, relative to the rest of us.

SCHAFFNER: Well, the reason it's taking a bit of time, of course, is that we, first, did the clinical trials to see how well the vaccines would work and how safe they are in adults. Then, we walked down the age ladder to the adolescents. And now, we're doing trials in children. And those child -- those trials in children will mature this fall, probably, as you said, late in the fall. So we'll see.

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We expect the vaccines to work and if we have opportunities then, we'll start vaccinating the younger children, probably, sometime this winter. But in the meantime, unvaccinated children, wear the mask.

BRUNHUBER: Great, as always. Dr. William Schaffner, thanks so much. I appreciate it.

SCHAFFNER: My pleasure.

BRUNHUBER: More than 20,000 firefighters are battling wildfires spreading across 13 U.S. states. The Bootleg fire in Southern Oregon is the biggest, and it's only about 38 percent contained. Campfires have been banned in most Oregon state parks. Extreme heat and dry conditions are fueling the fire's spread, destroying more than a million acres, or half a million hectares, throughout the west. A lightning strike started this blaze near the California-Nevada border.

The fires are so intense smoke has drifted all the way across North America to the east coast of Canada and the U.S. Air quality in New York dipped this week to its worst level since 2006.

Well, let's talk about this with Craig Clements, a professor of meteorology and director of the Wildfire Research Center at San Jose State University. Thanks so much for being on with us. When we're talking about wildfires in the U.S. these days, it seems like we keep running out of superlatives. They almost become meaningless when every year it seems they break new records. What strikes you about what we're seeing right now across the west?

CRAIG CLEMENTS, PROFESSOR OF METEOROLOGY, SAN JOSE STATE UNIVERSITY: Well, what's really striking right now is the fact we are in severe drought, exceptional drought across most of the western U.S. And that's leading to very dry fuels, which is driving a lot of these big fires.

BRUNHUBER: Yes. And just the extent to which we're seeing them, the extent of the damage and how large they are, especially sort of this early in the season, I suppose, is that also what's kind of notable here?

CLEMENTS: Well, we're right on track for large fires in terms of like the time of year, but the fuels were much lower in terms of their fuel moisture content earlier in spring. And so that gave fire management agencies a heads-up on what may be expected for this summer.

BRUNHUBER: The fascinating and sort of scary thing about these mega fires is that, as one expert put it here, normally, the weather predicts what the fire will do. In this case the fire is predicting what the weather will do. Talk us through this. This is one of the key aspects of your research. So take us through this two-way interaction between fire and weather. I understand you have an example that you can show us.

CLEMENTS: Yes. So, not only does the weather drive fire behavior but the fire itself can create its own weather. And we're seeing that on a lot of these large fires that are occurring right now, like the Bootleg fire in Oregon and the Dixie fire in California.

And what you're seeing is a simulation, a computer model simulation of a coupled fire atmospheric model. And what that's showing is how the fire creates its own winds. What happens is the heat from the fire can generate enough updrafts, strong updrafts from the fire that air around a region comes into the fire. And so you're creating your own wind system.

So, we call these fire-induced circulations or fire-induced winds. And that's what really drives these extreme fires. And this model simulation that we produced here at San Jose State, it is actually calculating what that fire is actually doing and what the atmosphere -- how the atmosphere is actually responding to the fire.

BRUNHUBER: So the winds create the fires, then the fires get bigger, they create winds and that makes the fires even bigger. It's amazing. What we're seeing extends far beyond just the U.S. We saw in areas of British Columbia, in Canada, towns burnt off the map, apocalyptic fires in Siberia. Obviously, it adds to the weight of the evidence showing that more needs to be done about climate change.

But more immediately, how can we adapt right now to deal with this growing threat? CLEMENTS: Well, one thing is forest management. We need to really look at how we manage the fuels, like the trees, the shrubs, and we need to get more prescribed fire. This is purposely set fires back into the ecosystems, because that reduces the amount of stuff that can burn and it reduces it in terms of its more natural and so prescribed fire really does help these ecosystems, and it reduces the fuels and the threat. So, it's something that we can actually do right now and implement in the next few years.

BRUNHUBER: And before we go, in terms of the research into the wildfires, it's obviously never been more important. I was lucky a while ago to visit the Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula, Montana, to see the research there into phenomena like fire tornadoes. So what's one of the most important problems that researchers like yourself are hoping to solve that might help us down the road limit the spread of these massive fires and prevent the loss of property and life?

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CLEMENTS: Well, there's a number of different things that researchers and colleagues of mine are doing around the world. One aspect is really looking at extreme fire behavior and getting better models of fire spread and understanding how these fires are spreading so rapidly from spotting, understanding how fires create embers and how those embers are transported in the plume and the winds and how these fire- induced winds are really pushing the fire.

So, there's a lot of different things, but that is one thing that's really exciting and a number of teams are doing around the world. So I think that's where we need to focus is, looking at extreme fire behavior and how these fires spread.

BRUNHUBER: Yes, all right. Well, listen, thank you so much for sharing your expertise with us, Professor Craig Clements. Thanks again.

CLEMENTS: Thanks for having me.

BRUNHUBER: And before we go, the Tokyo Olympic Games are under way and five women's soccer teams took a knee ahead of their matches in Tokyo. Athletes from Great Britain, Chile, the U.S., Sweden and New Zealand knelt to protest racial inequality around the world. Olympic officials confirmed it wasn't against the rules. And a player from Sweden noted, it feels right to stand up for human rights.

Now, while the Australian women's team didn't kneel, they linked arms in solidarity with their country's indigenous people.

And you can stay with CNN for the latest on the Olympic Games. I'm Kim Brunhuber. I'll be back with more CNN Newsroom in just a moment. Please do stay with us.

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