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Indicted Trump Associate Reaches Bail Agreement; CIA Investigating Havana Syndrome; Olympic Games Begin; Delta Surging. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 23, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ERICA HILL, CNN HOST: We will have much more ahead at the top of the hour, Victor and Alisyn picking up here.

The news continues next in the CNN NEWSROOM. Stay with us.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Alisyn Camerota. Victor is off today.

"The unvaccinated are letting us down." That's a quote from the Republican governor of Alabama, the least vaccinated state in the country. Governor Kay Ivey also said that it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated for the COVID comeback around the U.S. The country is now averaging 43,000 new COVID cases a day. That's a 65 percent increase from just last week.

Just one month ago, for a point of comparison, the daily average of new cases was under 12,000. About a third of the U.S. population lives in a community considered to have high COVID transmission.

One of our medical experts says the Delta variant is like nothing he's ever seen before. We will speak to him in a minute.

It is so contagious that it's impacting some people who are fully vaccinated, and it's pushing front-line health care workers to the brink.

CNN's Athena Jones has been tracking the latest for us across the country.

Athena, what's happening on the ground?


Well, it wasn't supposed to be this way. The vaccines approved months ago were supposed to help prevent another summer COVID surge like we're seeing all across the country, but the pace of daily vaccinations is at its lowest point since January.

And, once again, we're hearing heartbreaking stories from health care workers who are struggling to save the lives of people who refuse the protection the vaccines offer. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JONES (voice-over): The biggest public health crisis in a century is threatening to get a lot worse, as the more contagious Delta variant supercharges COVID-19's spread, especially in places with low vaccination rates.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It just seems like we're just fighting a losing battle here.

JONES: While coronavirus infections are surging in almost every corner of the country, the White House says 40 percent of new COVID cases this week are coming from just three states, Missouri, Texas, and Florida, COVID hospitalizations rising nearly 30 percent nationwide in just the past seven days.

In hard-hit Missouri, additional personnel and equipment are being sent to overwhelmed hospitals in Greene County. And with the daily pace of vaccinations at the lowest point since January, doctors and government officials are begging vaccine holdouts to protect themselves.

DR. RICHARD BESSER, FORMER ACTING DIRECTOR, CENTERS FOR DISEASE CONTROL AND PREVENTION: We have to really double and triple down on the efforts to get people vaccinated.

JONES: In Alabama, the state with the lowest vaccination rate in the country:

GOV. KAY IVEY (R-AL): The new cases in COVID are because of unvaccinated folks.

JONES: Republican Governor Kay Ivey is fed up.

IVEY: But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.

JONES: The Biden administration now sending nearly $100 million to rural health clinics nationwide for vaccination outreach, as experts warn the more the virus circulates among the unvaccinated, the greater the chance of so-called breakthrough infections among those who are fully vaccinated.

A large study in Houston finding 6.5 percent of new cases were in fully vaccinated people. In Los Angeles County, it's 20 percent of new cases, according to the county health director.

DR. TANYA ALTMANN, AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS: There are some breakthrough infections I have seen them in my practice. But it's mild illness then. And so that's a huge difference. And that's what vaccines do. They are made to protect against serious illness and death.

JONES: And with millions of children set to head back to school, a CNN analysis finds less than a third of eligible kids are on track to be fully vaccinated against COVID in the next two weeks. And while public schools in Atlanta and Chicago are mandating masks

for everyone...

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We parents should have the right to choose whether or not our kids are suffocated by these masks all day.

JONES: ... debates over masking in schools becoming heated from Virginia to Illinois.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You are simply making decisions based on your own fears.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The experts have spoken. I would like the school board to continue universal masking.


JONES: And you will remember we reported a couple of weeks ago that the state of Tennessee was halting all outreach on vaccines for adolescents.

Well, a state senator who is head of the Government Operations Committee is now saying that the state's efforts on vaccines for children remain unchanged, this senator saying the only exception is the COVID-19 vaccine. It's not the policy of the Tennessee's Department of Education or the state's Department of Health or the state's county health departments to provide COVID-19 vaccines to adolescents without parental consent -- Alisyn.

CAMEROTA: Athena Jones, thank you for all the reporting.

Let's bring in Dr. Peter Hotez. He's the dean of tropical medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. He's also the author of the book "Preventing the Next Pandemic: Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti- Science."

Dr. Hotez, always great to see you.

I know that you have said that the Delta variant is -- quote -- "like nothing we have ever seen before." But you have seen a lot of deadly viruses. Why is this so different?


DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Well, what really concerns me, Alisyn, is, in terms of adult infection, how transmissible this is, the reproductive number is really up there.

It's twice as transmissible as anything we have seen before with COVID-19. And, practically speaking, it means if you have been lucky enough to escape COVID so far, and you have not been vaccinated, there's a high probability you're going get COVID over the next few weeks. That's how transmissible this is, especially in areas where vaccination rates are low, because that facilitates transmission.

So, being down here in the South, you're just watching this freight train coming, that Delta is going to sweep across the South and so many people are going to get infected, with this fake narrative out there that if you're young and healthy and take care of yourself, you're not going to get sick. It's simply not true.

And so seeing all of these young people become hospitalized, knowing it's preventable, it's just absolutely heartbreaking.

CAMEROTA: I mean, obviously, they're learning it the hard way. We're hearing anecdotally from so many doctors how many people have so much regret once they're hospitalized and wish they had gotten the vaccine.

But then there's the flip side...


CAMEROTA: Well, go ahead, Doctor.

HOTEZ: Well, just you're absolutely right.

And there's this lack of understanding. You know, we're hearing anecdotes and stories of young people hospitalized or about to be intubated and saying, OK, now I will take the vaccine. This lack of understanding, that's just not how it works. It takes five to six weeks to build up full immunity after two immunizations.

And that's also very profoundly sad.

CAMEROTA: And then there's the flip side.

At CBS, one of the reporters interviewed a father who was very sick. He was hospitalized. And he hadn't gotten vaccinated, and on the day that he was being released, finally, from the hospital, here is the exchange that he had with the reporter.


SCOTT ROE, COVID-19 PATIENT: Here I am recovering, getting out of here finally tomorrow. Am I going to get a vaccine? No.

QUESTION: Why not?

ROE: Because there's too many issues with these vaccines.

QUESTION: If you would have had a chance to get the vaccine and prevent this, would you have taken the vaccine?

ROE: No.

QUESTION: So, you would have gone through this?

ROE: I'd gone through this. Yes, sir. Don't shove it down my throat.

That's what's local, state federal administration is trying to do, is shove it down your throat.

QUESTION: What are they shoving, the science? ROE: No, they're shoving the fact that that's their agenda. The agenda is to get you vaccinated.


CAMEROTA: And so, I mean, look, Doctor, obviously, some people are just dug in.

And I don't know if you, as a doctor, give up on them, or if you have a patient who is dug in like that, what do you, as a doctor, say to that person?

HOTEZ: Well, you have to remember the source of the disinformation, Alisyn.

That's the first time I have heard this, but guess where that came from?That's straight out of the CPAC playbook. You remember the CPAC conference, the conservative conference a few weeks ago, and you had Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene saying that -- on Twitter, that vaccines are nothing more than political instruments of control.

This is not accidental, Alisyn, that this has happened. This is deliberately put on us by the far-right element of the Republican Party. They engineered -- I don't think they realized it, but they basically engineered the return of COVID-19 to the Southern United States.

And this came out of conservative members of the United States Congress. It came out of the cable news channels from the conservative right. This was organized and deliberate, and it's bringing devastation to the nation.

CAMEROTA: I mean, the irony is they're killing off their constituents.

HOTEZ: Well, they're hurting everybody, right, because remember how this works.

In order to protect the kids, the younger kids, in the Northeast, where you have all the adults and adolescents vaccinated, the kids are probably going to do pretty well this school year. But down here in the South, in Houston, the school year's going to begin in a few weeks. We start early.

What that means is, we have got so few adolescents and young adults vaccinated, and now we don't even -- we're not even allowed to have mask mandates in the schools. What makes people think this is going to go well? I mean, we're going to have an enormous amount of transmission. We're going to see a lot of young people and even adolescents and kids get sick. And that is the reality.

CAMEROTA: And how do you brace for that? How are doctors -- I mean, I keep hearing about the spikes in Houston hospitals and how they're even seeing some very small percentage of vaccinated people with breakthrough cases, but, obviously, the vast majority of people hospitalized are unvaccinated. How do you brace yourself if it's only going to get worse in the fall?

HOTEZ: Well, if you want to be productive, the best thing to do is to keep pushing on vaccines.

So, I did a press conference with our county judge, Judge Lina Hidalgo, yesterday to remind people of the low vaccination rates and that the school year is starting.


So we still have a few more weeks before the school year starts, but the door's closing pretty quickly, and that's what I'm worried about, how the school year goes across the Southern states. And I'm worried we're going to see and be in for a really rough time this -- later this summer and into the fall.

CAMEROTA: Judge Hidalgo wants everybody to mask up again in your area. How's that going over?

HOTEZ: Well, right now, it's all voluntary. She does not have executive power to mandate masks in the schools.

And so it's really about public health information, getting the word out and speaking to as many groups as we can. And, by the way, the vaccine hesitancy or whatever you want to call it is not only among conservative groups. We're still seeing low vaccination uptake among BIPOC communities, Hispanic and African-American communities, as well.

So, we still have an enormous amount of work to do. Only about 40 percent, 45 percent of the population of Harris County, which is Houston and some surrounding areas, are vaccinated, and even lower among BIPOC communities.

So -- and we're totally out of time. Delta's here. It's the dominant variant. Schools are starting, and so this is why I'm -- I haven't slept in a few days in order to keep getting that word out.

CAMEROTA: Dr. Peter Hotez, we feel for you. You have your work cut out for you. Try to get some sleep, and we will talk to you again soon.

HOTEZ: Thank you, Alisyn.

All right, the 2020 Tokyo Olympics are finally under way, after being delayed for a year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Opening Ceremony was complete with fireworks, but it was missing a stadium full of spectators because of the rising COVID infections in Tokyo.

Four-time Olympic basketball gold medalist Sue Bird and baseball player Eddy Alvarez carried the flag for Team USA at the opening ceremony as first lady Jill Biden looked on. And tennis champion Naomi Osaka lit the Olympic cauldron.

But amid all the fanfare, protests, people still demanding the Games be canceled. Selina Wang is in Tokyo with more.

So, tell us what's happening with the protests and what the IOC president is saying.

SELINA WANG, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, officials were hoping that, once the Games officially got kicked off and more beautiful athletic performances were shown for the world, that Japanese public sentiment would turn, but, still, intense opposition to these Games.

These protesters were chanting for hours throughout the Opening Ceremony to cancel the Games, that these Games are putting sport and money ahead of the Japanese people's lives.

Still a lot of frustration, Alisyn, on the ground that these Games are going ahead, when COVID-19 cases are surging in Tokyo, the host city is under a state of emergency, and just about 20 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

We are now up to more than 100 COVID-19 cases in Japan that are linked to these Games, as well as a growing history of athletes who are out of the Olympics because of COVID-19.

And I spoke to several bystanders who were just trying to get close to the action at the National Stadium, and they had some mixed feelings. This is what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They might need to control the corona better first, and then think about it. Yes, that's what I feel like.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I had 20 tickets to the Games. All my sisters were supposed to come to Japan to experience it with me. And so it's kind of bittersweet that I can't do it anymore.

Up until two weeks ago, I still thought I was going to go to the Games, and they canceled all of it. So I'm trying to get as close as possible as I can, because I love the Olympics.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes, we are worried. But I think it's just once in a lifetime. So we're here to support it.


WANG: And, Alisyn, there were some memorable moments. From outside the stadium, we could see the stunning fireworks display. There was a drone light show of 1, 800 drones in the sky making the shape of a globe, of the planet.

But, overall, the tone of this ceremony was subdued, somber at times. There was a moment of silence to remember all the people who lost their lives because of COVID-19. And these Games, there's going to be largely no spectators at all of these venues. There's going to be no foreign fans, no foreign tourists. For Japan, which spent years preparing for this and $15 billion, this isn't what they wanted.

CAMEROTA: Yes, for sure.

Let's hope the athletes can still be celebrated for all of their greatness.

Selina Wang, thank you.

So, there are new questions about a close ally of Donald Trump, as Tom Barrack and prosecutors strike a deal at this last-minute bail hearing. We will tell you what happened.

Also, take a look at this, firefighters surrounded by a fast-moving wildfire. The new threat crews face as they rush to try to extinguish the fire.



CAMEROTA: The inspector general at the CIA is reviewing the agency's handling of officers who have gotten sick from that mysterious Havana Syndrome.

Reports are coming in from around the world of agents, diplomats and troops falling ill with a series of painful sensory and physical symptoms, even forcing some into retirement.

CNN's Katie Bo Williams has more on this reporting.

So, what have they found out in the review?

KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: Yes, so, what the CIA inspector general is looking into is how officers who have reported this kind of strange constellation of experiences and symptoms were handled when they came to the agency to report, how were they received, how were they processed, what kind of health care did they receive, what kind of benefits.

And it's important to note that this isn't a full inspector general investigation right now. This is a review to determine if such an investigation is needed.


But it is notable, given the complaints that we have heard from some victims and former officers, who have said that when they came to report to the CIA initially, particularly in the early days of this, they were essentially gaslit by CIA leadership, who were sort of skeptical of these reports that they were receiving.

And, as a result, some of these victims claim they didn't receive the health care that they should have in a timely fashion. CAMEROTA: Katie Bo, when you listen to the symptoms and how

mysterious it is and how weird it is, when it would just hit them out of the blue, it's all so curious.

So is there any idea yet on what is causing this or who might be behind it?

WILLIAMS: The short answer is that the intelligence on this that they have is all still very circumstantial.

They do have kind of a working theory, which is that it's possible that Russia is using some kind of directed energy or microwave device to either collect intelligence on officers in the field or potentially to harm them. But they really don't have any solid conclusions at this point.

One of the things that has made these cases so tricky to diagnose is that because -- even though you have some officers that are reporting these sort of very unique symptoms, like feeling head pressure or hearing a piercing directional noise, there's many officers who are suffering from, sometimes debilitatingly, symptoms that could be associated with a lot of more common illnesses, things like headaches, persistent migraines, vertigo, sleeplessness, depression, that sort of thing.

And so, as a result, it's been really difficult for health professionals who work in the government to definitively say, OK, you have Havana Syndrome. And, as a result, therefore, it's made it even trickier for them to say these are attacks, vs. something else.

CAMEROTA: It is complicated. And we hope, obviously, that they can get to the bottom of it, because it sounds really torturous for the people who have experienced it.

Katie Bo Williams, thank you very much.

WILLIAMS: Thank you.

CAMEROTA: So, Alabama is the least vaccinated state in the country right now, and their Republican governor is not mincing words. She says it is time to start blaming the unvaccinated for the rise in the cases.

We're on the ground in Alabama to see how that message is playing there.



CAMEROTA: Just into CNN, a source says that billionaire businessman and Trump fund-raiser Tom Barrack has struck a bail deal to get out of jail. The judge still has to sign off.

Barrack is charged with acting as an agent of a foreign government, obstruction of justice, and making false statements to federal law enforcement agents.

CNN senior legal affairs correspondent Paula Reid is following all the new developments for us.

So, Paula, prosecutors had called Barrack a serious flight risk because he has access to a private plane. So, why is he granted bail?

PAULA REID, CNN SENIOR LEGAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENT: It's a great question. In addition to that private plane, he has enormous wealth.

And one of his co-defendants in this case fled the U.S. in 2018 shortly after being interviewed by the FBI about this case. Now, a source familiar with the case tells me, though, prosecutors have now reached a deal with Barrack's lawyers to free the 74-year-old from jail, where he has been since he was arrested Tuesday on those criminal charges.

Now, his team, Alisyn, they insist he is not guilty, he will eventually plead not guilty, but they have been really focused for the past few days on getting their client out of jail.

One of the big issues here is that he is physically in California, but this case is being prosecuted in New York, and his lawyers were concerned about their 74-year-old client being on the notorious Con Air. That's the plane that the U.S. Marshals use to move certain defendants in federal custody across the U.S.

Now, as you noted, a judge still needs to approve this deal. I am told the judge is expected to approve it, and it appears Mr. Barrack will be free ahead of his expected trial on these charges.

Now, Alisyn, a few people on Twitter have asked me, have suggested that maybe this bail deal signals that he will cooperate against the former president. But, based on my reporting at this point, talking to sources close to this case, I'm told that Mr. Barrack has no intention of cooperating against the former president or anyone related to the former president in any state or federal investigation, and, in fact, this is just a very significant bail package.

Because of his enormous wealth, of course, he would have to put up significant resources, significant assets to prove that he is not a flight risk.

CAMEROTA: Paula Reid, thank you for all of those new developments.

Alabama has the lowest vaccination rate in the country. Just one-third of its residents are fully vaccinated. Meanwhile, the average number of new COVID cases there have doubled in just the past week.

So, Republican Governor Kay Ivey is extremely frustrated. She says the unvaccinated are to blame for these new spikes.


IVEY: These folks are choosing a horrible lifestyle of self-inflicted pain. QUESTION: What is it going to take to get people to get shots in


IVEY: I don't know. You tell me.

Folks supposed to have common sense. But it's time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks. It's the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.