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Communities Bring Back Safety Measures To Cure New Infections; Olympic Games Officially Underway; CIA Inspector General Investigating "Havana Syndrome" Cases; Biden Attacks Trump At Campaign Rally In Virginia; Climate Crisis Is Melting Roads, Warping Infrastructure In U.S. Aired 11a-12p ET
Aired July 24, 2021 - 11:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Saturday.
I'm Fredericka Whitfield.
Stopping the spread. Officials across the U.S. now working overtime to try to slow the latest coronavirus surge as the Delta variant continues to push new cases in the wrong direction and it's largely being blamed on people who have yet to get vaccination shots. New cases are now spreading upward in 49 states.
And this just in to CNN. The state of Florida reported more than 73,000 new cases this past week alone. That's some 25,000 more new cases than the previous week, according to the state health department.
Discussions between the CDC and FDA are now ongoing over whether to revisit official federal mask guidance but the Delta variant is already reigniting the fight over face coverings as authorities in several cities impose new orders.
The latest battle brewing in Missouri, where the state attorney general is vowing to sue to stop a mask requirement set to take effect in the St. Louis area on Monday.
CNN's Polo Sandoval joining me now from New York. So Polo, what more are you learning?
POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Fred, as you mentioned there with the government now revisiting the potential for these mask mandates. It certainly speaks to just how critical it is getting throughout much of the country, particularly parts of the southeast here.
But just consider alone that right now, every state has an average seven-day -- at least a seven-day average of new COVID cases that is, if it doesn't match what they saw last week, it has exceeded it. We have heard time and time again from experts that the best way to try to get ahead of any potential surge is to get the preemptive vaccination but sadly, according to the latest CDC figures which is showing that those -- many of those efforts continue to slow.
SANDOVAL (voice over): If you happen to be among a third of the nation's population now living in the community considered to have high COVID transmission, you can blame it on the unvaccinated, says Alabama's Republican Governor Kay Ivey.
GOVERNOR KAY IVEY (R-AL): The new cases in COVID are because of unvaccinated folks.
SANDOVAL: the U.S. now averaging more than 43,000 new COVID cases a day, a 65 percent increase over the last week. The dark colored regions on the map showing the highest concentration of cases.
DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: 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.
SANDOVAL: Then there's this. About eight months into U.S. vaccination efforts and still more than half of the nation remains unvaccinated and unprotected. Friday marked one of the lowest daily vaccination averages since January, according to the CDC.
DR. WILLIAM SCHAFNER, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER: There's spillover into vaccinated people. We could all bring this to a close if everyone who were unvaccinated would just come in, get vaccinated tomorrow. Within two weeks to a month, COVID would go way, way down.
SANDOVAL: In Tennessee, Phil Valentine, a conservative radio host, is hospitalized in serious condition with COVID after telling his followers they did not need to get vaccinated.
In a Friday statement, his family wrote, "He regrets not being more vehemently pro-vaccine, and looks forward to being able to more vigorously advocate that position as soon as he's back on the air.
Hoping to curb hospitalizations, the city of St. Louis will be soon requiring masks again in indoor public spaces and on public transportation starting Monday. It's the latest community to revert back to safety measures reminiscent of previous COVID surges.
Health experts warning that breakthrough infections among people who are fully vaccinated can and do happen, especially with the Delta variant spreading. DR. LEANA WEN, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: What the CDC really needs to do is
to start giving us the answers to what is the rate of breakthrough infections? Is it 1 in a thousand? Or is it 1 in 10? Or is it 1 in 2?
I mean we really, literally don't know what is the rate of breakthrough infections and the likelihood of that breakthrough infection ending up in a chain of transmission to others.
SANDOVAL: Despite those lingering questions, Dr. Leana Wen emphasizes the vaccines do work at preventing severe illness.
SANDOVAL: And in a sign the debate over masks is likely to ramp up yet again, Missouri's attorney general actually threatened to sue in order to try to prevent that mask mandate from getting into place here.
He tweeted that the citizens of St. Louis and St. Louis County are not subjects, they are free people. As their attorney general, I'll be filing suit Monday to stop this insanity."
Again, that tweet directly from Missouri's attorney general. Meanwhile, when you hear from the CDC, they still believe, Fred, that ultimately it should be not only up to people, but also communities and municipalities to decide whether or not they want to bring those masks down but when you see -- or bring them back, when you see those numbers continue to rise, you can see why some places are considering doing just that.
WHITFIELD: Yes. A lot at stake still. Incredibly tenuous. And all life-threatening, bottom line.
Polo Sandoval, thank you so very much.
All right. Joining me right now to discuss is Dr. Rob Davidson, an emergency room physician in west Michigan. Dr. Davidson, so good to see you.
WHITFIELD: So you just heard about Missouri state attorney general Eric Schmitt who is pushing back on a local mask mandate issued in St. Louis, tweeting this, "The citizens of St. Louis and St. Louis County are not subjects. They are free people. As their attorney general, I'll be filing suit Monday to stop this insanity."
How concerned are you when you've got a leading law enforcement official who says this is insanity?
DR. ROB DAVIDSON, EMERGENCY ROOM PHYSICIAN: It is so incredibly frustrating. You know, as someone who has been a physician for 20 years, just trying to take care of people, you know, what about the freedoms of those people who have chosen to be vaccinated but now are seeing breakthrough cases because they're living in a sea of unvaccinated people spreading around this highly contagious variant? I want to know where those people's freedoms become protected. Because they are under assault from a virus that they have protected themselves against.
And again the analogy I like is if you go out into a rainstorm with an umbrella, the vaccine is your umbrella. But if you're in a rainstorm that's coming at you sideways in a torrential downpour, you know, some of those raindrops are going to get through and get you. And these folks in unvaccinated areas are in a torrential downpour of Delta.
I wish public officials would get on board with the public health and protect their citizens.
WHITFIELD: And now, let's talk about how the CDC and FDA are exploring multiple options on how to make a third vaccine dose available for particularly immunocompromised people if needed.
So this as reports suggest that the effectiveness of the vaccines may be limited for people with weakened immune systems. So when should that third booster come in, if you're in that category of age 65 and up or immunocompromised?
DR. DAVIDSON: Well, we certainly may be there and for patient to patient, talking with their personal physicians, I think that decision needs to be made on a case-by-case basis, you know, in an off label way.
You know, the CDC is looking at data. And I'm going to trust them to get the data right and to get that information to us and get those recommendations when the data is clear. I think we're probably getting pretty close.
Another issue on the horizon -- vaccine mandates. The president himself says this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. So do you see that the only way to get more people vaccinated is to make it a requirement in order to enter a building or workplace or fly or travel in certain manners?
DR. DAVIDSON: Listen, yes. I think government mandating the vaccine kind of overall is probably impossible. I think businesses mandating it or certain government entities, I know New York is flirting with mandating vaccines for people who want to go into restaurants or public places.
My daughter is a college student in New York, and it is mandated for her to go onto her campus. And gladly, she has done that, and I am grateful that that is the case.
So I do think that is an incentivizing way of getting people to get vaccinated so they can do more things.
WHITFIELD: All right. You made reference to New York City and what's taking place there, an advocacy of the New York city mayor. What about the issue of these breakthrough cases, does this simply add ammunition to those who are reticent about vaccines saying, look, that person was vaccinated but they still ended up testing positive. How do you counter that?
DR. DAVIDSON: I think it's the exact opposite. We say, look, that person is protected from getting intubated. That person is protected from death, getting hospitalized. Those numbers are clear.
And to say to those people, that person would be much more protected if the rest of you would just get vaccinated and stop the spread of this virus in communities so we can all live together and like have those freedoms that we all want.
WHITFIELD: What do you think about now what we're seeing, Fox News now airing a new public service announcement, calling on its viewers to get vaccinated. But one of its main personalities is still questioning the purpose of getting shots all together.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TUCKER CARLSON, FOX NEWS HOST: If vaccines work, why are vaccinated people still banned from living normal lives? Honestly, what is the answer to that? It doesn't make any sense at all.
If the vaccine is effective, there is no reason for people who have received the vaccine to wear masks or avoid physical contact. So maybe it doesn't work, and they're simply not telling you that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. So meantime, you do have a counter message from Fox News and some other personalities who are urging people, no, do get vaccinated. So is this going to make an impact?
DR. DAVIDSON: Listen, I welcome -- we all welcome fox and any other personality getting on board and doing the right thing. But frankly, out here in the real world, I have no use for someone like Tucker Carlson. None of us do.
And his same old schtick is getting frankly quite old. I think he is kind of grasping to some bizarre fairy tale that he lives in. He is probably vaccinated. I know that his network requires vaccinations to, you know, to have certain freedoms.
DR. DAVIDSON: And I think that this is for ratings. So I think if that's the case I think that, you know, advertisers need to pull their advertisements from Tucker Carlson. Fox will get him on board if they start lose revenues because of his ridiculous rhetoric. We just done have any use for it. It's just old, tired, and sad.
WHITFIELD: Overall, especially with the Delta variant and the rising cases, particularly hospitalizations of those who are unvaccinated, are you concerned that it will only get worse before it gets better?
DR. DAVIDSON: Absolutely. I work in an area of about 40 percent vaccinated people. Luckily, we're a rural area. We're naturally socially distanced. People are outside. So we're not seeing massive spikes.
But every single person I'm seeing with COVID, particularly those getting hospitalized, those sick enough to be in the hospital, are unvaccinated people.
The more we let this spread, the more we get variants like Delta, Delta plus, Lambda, you name it. We'll run out of Greek letters before we're through with this, if people just don't get in line and do the right thing.
So yes, that's the fear. I think it is inevitable that by fall into winter, we're going to have more spikes in more areas like mine.
You know, we just have to keep that message. And hopefully people at Fox all get on board together.
WHITFIELD: All right. Dr. Rob Davidson, always good to see you. Thank you so much. Stay well.
DR. DAVIDSON: Thanks. You, too.
WHITFIELD: So the pandemic is also looming very large over the Olympic Games in Tokyo. 17 new infections were reported over the past 24 hours, and it comes after a subdued opening ceremony.
We're live in Tokyo with that -- where that country also just won its first gold medal.
Also ahead, three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers joining me to talk about the athletes to watch including the sprinter who could go down in history yet again.
WHITFIELD: All right. The Tokyo Olympic Games are officially under way. It's the first full day of competition, but there remain growing concerns about the rate of new COVID cases there.
The games kicked off Friday with the opening ceremony. The stadium, however, largely empty and the stands, of course, amid COVID protocols. But it did include a spectacular drone display right there, and the always popular parade of athletes.
Tennis star from Japan, Naomi Osaka, getting the honor of lighting the Olympic cauldron, as you see right there. So the games now under way.
And we already have our first gold medal winner. That honor goes to China who won in the 10-meter air rifle competition.
CNN's Selina Wang is at the games for us.
So Selina, it is great to finally see the kickoff of the events and watch the opening ceremony, even though it was more subdued. It does kind of set the tone for everything, doesn't it?
So what more are you learning about the athletes and how they're feeling today?
SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, it was incredible to watch those fireworks, the drone light display here in person, and see it light up the sky as a globe.
But casting shadow over all of this, including the 11 gold medals already won on day one, is COVID-19 cases. Now organizers announcing just on Friday another 17 COVID-19 cases in Japan linked to these games, bringing the total to 127.
Now more than a dozen athletes who have tested positive inside the Olympic village and just a growing list of athletes whose Olympic dreams are being cut short, cut off entirely because of COVID-19.
Just heartbreaking stories of their journeys, sometimes careers ending after a lifetime of work, including a Dutch rower who said his Olympics were over in quote, "an instant" after testing positive. He's the first instance of an athlete to test positive after already starting competition.
More devastating stories like this expected to come.
And that opening ceremony, as you said, it was subdued and somber. I was actually outside of the national stadium speaking to residents throughout the opening ceremony as protests were ongoing for hours, chanting for the Olympics to be canceled.
But despite that, there were memorable moments in the ceremony for the people of Japan, for the entire world. Including the highlight of Naomi Osaka lighting that Olympic cauldron. She is seen as the perfect choice to play this role.
She sends that message of diversity that the Olympic committee is trying to represent. Her mother is Japanese. Her father is Haitian. She represents a growing generation of mixed race athletes in Japan who are speaking out on a variety of social issues, including race.
This is also a big moment for her after withdrawing from the French Open, citing mental health issues. And in a tweet, Naomi Osaka said the following. She said, quote, "Undoubtedly the greatest athletic achievement and honor I will ever have in my life. I have no words to describe the feelings I have right now, but I do know I am currently filled with gratefulness and thankfulness. Love you guys. Thank you."
And Fred, I think for athletes, the people of Japan, everyone around the world, these Olympics are challenging, anxious, but also some moments of hope.
WHITFIELD: Oh, yes, there's all of that. I mean, it's the whole kit and caboodle, you know.
So tell me about the First Lady, Jill Biden. She was there for the opening ceremonies. And then I understand she had a chance to be in the audience at least at one competition?
WANG: Exactly. She had actually quite a packed schedule. She was there at the opening ceremony. She had a virtual get-together with Team U.S.A. She met with the prime minister, with his wife, as well as Japan's emperor. She also attended several events including basketball and swimming to cheer Team U.S.A. on.
And it was a big deal to have Jill Biden there amid all of the challenges that these Olympics have been up against. A big deal for Japan to have a key U.S. ally there. Also a big deal for these athletes when they don't have their friends and family to cheer them on.
WHITFIELD: Well, it is all so inspirational. So fantastic. And the feeling, I think, really is contagious globally.
Selina Wang, thank you so much.
WHITFIELD: Let's talk more about all of this.
Joining me again, three-time Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters and 4x100 relay in 1992 Barcelona, '96 Atlanta Games. She's a familiar face on the Olympic stage, and now she's our resident expert, as well, here in the studio.
So glad to see you again, Gail Devers.
GAIL DEVERS, FORMER OLYMPIC ATHLETE: I'm glad to be here. Thank you.
WHITFIELD: And I love you have an official Olympian jacket.
DEVERS: I do. And look, I have one for you too because you are a --
WHITFIELD: No way. Holy smokes.
DEVERS: -- we know your dad has, you know -- we know his history.
DEVERS: And he has stuff -- but you have -- this is one of our award jackets. And because you're an award-winning journalist, you have to have an award-winning jacket.
WHITFIELD: Oh, you're so sweet. Thank you. Oh my gosh.
WHITFIELD: I'm going to make -- but now we got to get serious in talking. This is treasured. Thank you so much, Gail. That's --
DEVERS: Oh no. That's true.
WHITFIELD: -- remarkable. Amazing.
So tell me what this has been like to watch the opening ceremonies.
DEVERS: Oh, my gosh.
WHITFIELD: And I mean I cannot turn away, watching everything. I was watching rowing last night, ok? And look forward to the three-person basketball today.
But tell me what this is like for you as an Olympian. You've been -- seen it all. But there's something, you know, that draws you, too, just like the rest of us.
DEVERS: I've been watching like you. I'm up all night watching. I watched every event that I could watch. And you know, I go back to the Olympic -- to the opening ceremony.
DEVERS: What that meant for me was, you know, all of this started under a cloud of uncertainty. You know, we were social distanced but we weren't apart, you know. We were alone -- we're apart but weren't alone. I'll say it that way because everybody was going through the same thing.
And when I saw, you know, the opening ceremonies and, quite fitting for the torch to be lit, I was hoping that everybody -- because I used to do this. Because I didn't go to the opening ceremonies myself because I had to compete. But I take that flame --
WHITFIELD: And track and field is usually a little further into the games?
DEVERS: Well, it used to be the beginning. And that's why I didn't go to it because we were the next day.
WHITFIELD: Oh. I see.
DEVERS: Just like gymnastics.
I take that flame when they light it and I try to say, you know, that's symbolic for me to put that in my soul and never let it go out.
And I think if the world takes that, and regardless of what we've gone through, I think this whole Olympic Games is a celebration, like a relay.
WHITFIELD: That's so nice.
DEVERS: And every athlete, every person who has something to do with the contractors, the builders, the unsung heroes from the volunteers to the essential workers, everyone, what we're going to do, everybody has done their part and got us to this point. And it's a celebration really of hope -- WHITFIELD: Oh, I love that.
DEVERS: -- and a promise.
And if we keep that and keep what the Olympics, what sports does is it takes away the divide.
DEVERS: It brings us together as one. And we've all gone through the same thing. I think we're going to be great from this.
WHITFIELD: It is an amazing global peacekeeper, isn't it?
WHITFIELD: But let's talk about, I mean, the cloud of COVID still hangs.
WHITFIELD: I mean the numbers are extraordinary. There have been 127 cases connected to the games. 17 new cases just in the last 24 hours, you know. And I know we talked a couple of weeks ago about how you said, you know, you're in your zone as an athlete.
WHITFIELD: You don't want to be distracted by the fact that there aren't spectators in the crowd. You don't want to be distracted by the nature of COVID. But they have to get tested every day.
DEVERS: Every day.
WHITFIELD: So it is a potential distraction, I imagine. I mean what do you imagine the athlete is going through every day to maintain their mental and physical fitness, stay healthy, but then keep their head in the game?
DEVERS: Right. You know what, it is something that has to happen every day. And so I tried to put myself in their shoes and say, ok well, how would I think about that? I would think about that like the drug testing.
You have to pee, ok. So you got to come get this, take it and let me just get back to myself, you know.
DEVERS: And I think mentally, they're strong enough to deal with that. It's just the heartbreaking part of this, you know, their test comes up positive and then their Olympic --
WHITFIELD: And that's already happened, right? I mean we know with America's gymnast, Kara Eaker, she's devastated. Her father spoke so eloquently on her behalf. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MARK EAKER, FATHER OF KARA EAKER: It was definitely a disappointment for her and heartbreaking for us. And I'm sure that -- you know, she's kind of already, you know, picked herself up off the floor and started looking forward to getting off to college.
You know, we've all tested here at home negative, as well. So we just -- it's just kind of a mystery as to how she wound up catching it.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh, that is so heartbreaking. How do you pick yourself up? I mean, dad says, that's how she's going to do it.
Also now, U.S. volleyball player Taylor Crabb has also tested positive, and he too is devastated. Just seeing the look of his face earlier today.
There are other Olympians that we're all watching.
WHITFIELD: Who are you watching?
DEVERS: Oh my goodness. Well, all sports. But in track and field particular, I'm looking for world records to be broken. I kid you not. I think the women's and men's 400-meter hurdles, I think the record is going to go.
I look for all these young athletes. What I love about them is what I call beast mode. They don't care if you've been around forever, they're looking to retire you. And veterans are saying, it's not going to happen.
WHITFIELD: I talked to Kenny Selmon, 400-meter hurdler last weekend -- and his spirit is just amazing. So he's very excited. He's definitely one to watch.
DEVERS: That's what I'm saying. You've got to keep -- I would say -- what do we got, Knighton, Erriyon Knighton, 17-year-old. (INAUDIBLE) Mo is 19 years old, and she ran the 400 all year and was dominating.
And then said at the Olympic trials, the 800 called me, so I answered.
WHITFIELD: Oh my God. That's a bear.
DEVERS: I cannot wait to see what she's going to do. And she's going to contend with Ajee Wilson who has the American record.
But I think some records are going to fall there. You've got, you know, Trayvon Bromell who's coming back. You've got -- it's Ryan Crouser, shot put, don't miss it.
WHITFIELD: Ok. I love that.
DEVERS: Don't forget those field events.
WHITFIELD: It's all riveting and exciting.
DEVERS: And as you said that, so since 1912, since Jim Thorpe, there is a young gentleman from LSU. His name is JuVaughn Harrison. He is first time since Jim Thorpe, he's competing in both the high jump and the long jump.
DEVERS: And we won both at the trials.
DEVERS: So there is just so many athletes.
WHITFIELD: Iron men and women out there.
WHITFIELD: Allyson Felix.
DEVERS: Now she has become -- she is already the most decorated.
She and Marlene Atlieb (ph) right. Nine medals.
DEVERS: Right. She's going to take -- she's going to take -- take it over now.
WHITFIELD: Ok. Over the top.
DEVERS: You know. And then we have got 100 meters. I have to give credit to my 100-meter girls because they're going to go out there and they're going to reign supreme.
Some records may fall there. Gabby Thomas, who is on the 4x1, she came in fourth in the 100 but she won the 200.
DEVERS: She is a neurobiologist at Harvard, in addition to all of this other masters. She has got all kinds of stuff going on and she's running PRs.
DEVERS: Running PRs. So we're going to see Olympic records fall for her, too. I just -- I'm excited. I'm excited. (INAUDIBLE) I could --
WHITFIELD: Go on and on -- DEVERS: I love it.
WHITFIELD: We're going to have you back, Gail Devers.
DEVERS: Yes. Yes. I'll have to come back. We love this.
WHITFIELD: So glad to see you.
DEVERS: Every time I come back, I'll wear a different uniform.
WHITFIELD: I'll take it. I'll take it. I'll take it. I just love being in your aura.
DEVERS: No. That's me with you.
WHITFIELD: That's all there is. This is a gold medal moment right here. Thank you, Gail Devers.
DEVERS: Thank you. Love you.
WHITFIELD: Great to see you. Appreciate it. Love you back.
All right. Coming up next, the CIA launches an investigation into a mysterious illness that's affecting the State Department leaders around the world.
I'll talk live with a former CIA agent. And this person has had firsthand experience with this Havana syndrome.
We'll be right back.
WHITFIELD: The inspector general at the CIA is reviewing the agency's handling of officers who have gotten sick from this mysterious Havana syndrome. There have been reports from U.S. State Department workers around the world falling ill with a series of painful sensory and physical symptoms.
The first reports to -- reports back to the U.S. embassy in Havana back in 2016. But more recently, U.S. personnel in Vienna have fallen ill.
CNN's Katie Bo Williams has more on this reporting. So Katie, what more can you tell us about this review now?
KATIE BO WILLIAMS, CNN REPORTER: Yes. So what the inspector general at the agency is looking at is how officers who have reported over the years to the CIA these sort of weird constellation of symptoms that we now understand to be Havana syndrome. How they were handled when they came forward to the agency and in particular what kind of health care they received.
Now, it's important to understand that this is not a full-blown inspector general investigation yet. This is a review to determine whether or not such an investigation is needed. But we do know that the inspector general is speaking to victims as part of this review.
And this is important because one of the things we have heard from some victims and some former officers is that over the years, as they came in to -- as officials came in to report, hey, this weird thing has happened to me, I'm experiencing these symptoms, some of those victims have reported that they were essentially gaslit by CIA leadership who may -- who according to some tellings were spectacle, essentially, that this was a real thing. And as a result, these victims say they didn't get the health care that they should have in a timely fashion.
WHITFIELD: All right. Katie Bo Williams, thank you so much for that.
All right. Let's speak to someone with firsthand experience with this so-called Havana syndrome. Marc Polymeropoulos is a former CIA agent who retired after 26 years due to debilitating health effects similar to the Havana syndrome.
Welcome, Marc. So good to see you.
So can you tell me when you first experienced these symptoms and how, and where were you?
MARC POLYMEROPOULOS, FORMER CIA AGENT: Sure. Well, first of all, it is great to be here today. I really appreciate being able to talk about this.
So I was, you know, affected during a trip to Moscow in December of 2017. I was in a five-star hotel, only several blocks from the U.S. embassy. And I woke up in the middle of the night with incredible case of vertigo, tinnitus ringing in my ears, terrible nausea, and it's led to an incredible health journey where I still have a headache today, three plus years later.
WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness. So then, when you would hear some of your colleagues, whether it be in Havana, in Cuba, in Vienna, and then more recently in the past couple of years we've heard that people close to the White House have experienced very similar symptoms, what were your initial thoughts about that, whether there's some real commonality here? Is it all because of the same influence potentially?
POLYMEROPOULOS: Well, you know, first of all, and I've talked to a large majority of the victims, and there is an incredible, you know, sense of kind of camaraderie amongst us because there is commonality in symptoms.
POLYMEROPOULOS: And really Two things happen. You know, one is something mysterious, you know, something terrible happened and their careers are affected.
But number two, you know, we all started this, just like myself, there's this incredible battle to get health care from the U.S. government which, you know, up until now, has really been a challenge.
Now, new CIA director Bill Burns has taken a new tact. But boy, we went through some really tough times, you know, which caused not only physical pain but a lot of emotional and mental anguish as well.
WHITFIELD: So meaning you reported it and you couldn't get an adequate response to address it, you know, mentally, physically. Was it running into a brick wall, nobody would believe you?
POLYMEROPOULOS: Absolutely. So, you know, the CIA's medical staff, the senior medical staff at the time really did not believe me. and it only took, you know, when I went public on this in October of 2020 to finally put enough pressure on the agency to send me to Walter Reed. But there is a real moral injury here because when, you know, senior officials in the U.S. government, you know, do not believe that you are injured, you know, it's a pretty terrible thing to happen.
And so I really -- you know, I felt for my colleagues, you know, who I saw going down, as well.
And again now, you know, one thing I do is really advocate for health care. That is the key thing now, to make sure, you know, our U.S. officials overseas get treated when this happens.
WHITFIELD: So now what are you hoping the CIA inspector general review will do?
POLYMEROPOULOS: So look, the accountability piece, you know, I think is a necessary evil. This might be a bit unpleasant. But at the end of the day, it was a historic failure of leadership over the last several years.
Now let me say very clearly that Director Bill Burns and his team have taken a different tact. But in the past, you know, we were really treated poorly. And I would say the CIA workforce is watching. So this is a good thing that the inspector general is taking a look at this.
You know, the accountability piece is important, along with, of course, you know, making sure that officers who are afflicted get health care. And that's happening now. That is a good piece of the story.
WHITFIELD: And now with the Senate passing a bill last month that would provide support, including financial support for those who have suffered from these illnesses, how potentially life-changing is this going to be for those who suffered and protection for those potentially if they're exposed to the same thing?
POLYMEROPOULOS: So I give a tremendous amount of credit to, you know, to members on the Hill, both in congress and in the Senate, who have really pushed this. They have been our real allies on this.
And it's a bipartisan group so it's incredible. It's for everyone from Senator Collins, Senator Rubio, Senator Warner. And so there's bipartisan support. So what will this do? It will give financial relief, particularly to junior officers whose careers, you know, in their first or second tours were derailed and, in some cases, destroyed. It is a really big deal.
For myself, I was in the senior intelligence service. This is not designed for me. But much more so for the junior officers who really, you know, suffered life-changing experiences.
So I think this is a fantastic development. And I look forward to this passing.
WHITFIELD: And how are you feeling today?
POLYMEROPOULOS: Look, I'm feeling better. You know, my treatment at Walter Reed's National Intrepid Center of Excellence, their traumatic brain injury program was extraordinary.
It gave me two things. It gave me tools and it gave me hope. So I'm probably feeling 25 percent to 30 percent better. I credit the men and women at Walter Reed for really changing my life. And that's why I always advocate for victims now to get to a facility like Walter Reed, because that's the place they have to go.
WHITFIELD: Yes. I'm hoping for better days ahead for you. Thank you so much. Thank you so much for your service, as well, Marc Polymeropoulos.
I too, I'm State Department brat, meaning my dad was State Department, so I get it. It is life-long service. Thank you so much.
POLYMEROPOULOS: Thank you.
WHITFIELD: All right. Coming up, President Biden attacks his predecessor at a campaign rally in Virginia. Details straight ahead next.
WHITFIELD: All right. Welcome back.
President Biden made a return to the campaign trail last night in Virginia, stumping for a friend who was running for office. And Biden used the rally as an opportunity to take a shot at the man he defeated last November.
In fact, it was Biden who was stumping in Virginia for Terry McAuliffe, who is making another run for Virginia's gubernatorial office. The Virginia Democrat is against a Republican Glenn Youngkin, a businessman turned politician who has the endorsement of former president Trump.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry. And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia, and so will Terry.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WHITFIELD: All right. CNN White House Reporter Jasmine Wright joining us now from Wilmington, Delaware.
So Jasmine, what else did the president have to say last night?
JASMINE WRIGHT, CNN WHITE HOUSE REPORTER: Well Fred, President Biden was out as campaigner-in-chief in full force yesterday, so I think it is safe to say that politicking is back. His first in-person candidate-specific event since taking office.
President Biden really made the case to Virginians of why to elect Terry McAuliffe, not only that it was good for Virginia but that it was good for the country as he tries to maintain his Democratic allies, both inside and outside of D.C.
Now, I think that we can look at his remarks yesterday, Fred, as really him testing his message ahead of the midterm election where we know that it is going to be difficult fight for Democrats to maintain that slim majority.
WRIGHT: So in that message he, as you said, criticized President Trump, former President Trump. And he criticized him pretty often.
But he also spoke to the broader message, really trying to remind folks in the crowd of all the progress that his administration has made thus far on the economy. He mentioned that bipartisan framework on infrastructure. He mentioned the child tax credit.
And of course, the pandemic really as his administration deliberates on how to move forward, how to respond, what actions they need to put in place again as these cases rise across the country and also as they deal with misinformation. Take a listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BIDEN: He knows the line of our very conservative friends have finally had an altar call. They've seen the lord. Whether it's on Fox News or whether it's the most conservative commentators or governors.
Worst of all, the COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations are today among the unvaccinated people. And I know -- I know this has gotten a bit politicized, but I hope it is starting to change.
It's not about red states or blue states or guys like that hollering. It's about life and it's about death.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WRIGHT: So, Fred, that reference to hollering -- that was President Biden talking to the protesters who were at that rally.
But look, we are likely to see more of this version of President Biden as campaigner-in-chief hitting the country as he looks to really test that message ahead of midterm elections in a moment that he called, frankly, a big deal, Fred.
WHITFIELD: Yes. Who could forget that?
All right. Jasmine Wright, thank you so much.
All right. Coming up next, the climate crisis is impacting commuters in more ways than one. We'll take a look at the problems you may see on your drive or ride to work.
WHITFIELD: All right. More states of emergency have been declared throughout California and Nevada as dozens of wildfires continue to burn across the western United States.
Over a million acres have been scorched so far with more than 83 active fires. Some of the fires burning so hot, they're even creating their own weather.
This emergency crew in Nevada was forced to retreat after extreme winds caused a section of the Tamarac fire to burn out of control, engulfing their vehicle as you see right there and really the entire area around it.
In fact, climate change is now melting roads as well and warping critical infrastructure in the U.S. The increasing severe weather is also effecting the Biden administration's infrastructure plan as costly climate resilient infrastructure becomes more necessary.
CNN's Pete Muntean has more.
PETE MUNTEAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): With roads buckling in the Pacific Northwest, a deluge drenching a New York city subway and fatal flooding across Europe, scientists say climate change is here and it is pounding our infrastructure.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The water was up to my eyeballs.
MUNTEAN: Josh DeFlorio heads climate resilience for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. It is beefing up its tunnels, airports and train stations to handle higher temperatures and higher sea levels.
In 2012, Hurricane Sandy left this path (ph) commuter train station in New Jersey entirely underwater.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We needed to realize that climate change was real, sea level rise is real, and we need to make sure that we were accounting for that as we move forward.
MUNTEAN: The Port Authority is even installing flood gates at station entrances -- 7,000 pounds. They are designed to be deployed quickly in case of an unforecasted rush of water.
The latest estimate is water levels worldwide will rise by six feet by the end of this century.
JOSH DEFLORIO, CHIEF OF RESILIENCE AND SUSTAINABILITY, PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY: I think people see it. I'm not sure that they understand how much worse it's going to get and how quickly.
MUNTEAN: During Hurricane Sandy, flood waters here entered through the elevator shaft. So the Port Authority reinforced these structures with aquarium thickness glass. The concern about future floods is so real, the glass stretches nearly 20 feet up.
On the other end of the country, the concern is over the heat that melted some of Seattle's I-5 last month.
Shane Underwood researches asphalt at North Carolina State. He says with the world getting hotter, road crews should start laying down asphalt that is more heat-resistant.
SHANE UNDERWOOD, NORTH CAROLINA STATE UNIVERSITY: If temperatures are greater than we presumed they would exist when the pavement was designed, this can happen more frequently.
MUNTEAN: All of this comes at a cost. The Port Authority spent $2 billion recovering from Hurricane Sandy alone. A new study says climate change intensified the storm, increasing damage costs by an extra $8 billion.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We need to have more climate resilient infrastructure and we need to stop climate change from getting any worse.
MUNTEAN (on camera): Even airlines say this is something they're dealing with. United Airlines Scott Kirby says the entire industry needs to get better at reacting to extreme weather.
The airlines will be (INAUDIBLE) new ways to detect lightning. The goal is to avoid stopping operations on the ground and avoid delays.
Pete Muntean, CNN -- Silver Spring, Maryland.
WHITFIELD: All right. Still to come CNN goes one on one with the new U.S. Capitol police chief. Find out what he had to say about the insurrection and those who are down playing the attack.
(COMMERCIAL BREAK) WHITFIELD: All right. Large crowds are checking out Maine's Acadia National Park this summer. But there are still plenty of ways to find your own space at your own pace. Here's today's "Off the Beaten Path".
CHRISTIE ANASTASIA, PUBLIC AFFAIRS SPECIALIST, ACADIA NATIONAL PARK: Welcome to Acadia National Park. This is a really extraordinary place to visit. When you come to the park, you're in for a treat.
We have an amazing system of carriage roads where there are no cars. And you can have a slow-paced recreational experience.
JOE MINUTOLO, CO-OWNER, BAR HARBOR BICYCLES: It really puts you in touch with nature. Not only just getting away from automobiles and traffic and things like that. It is the beautiful views of lakes and mountains and you get some views of the ocean.
There are so many bridges to see. And there are sights --