Return to Transcripts main page


Delta Variant Of Coronavirus Spreading Rapidly In U.S. Particularly Among Unvaccinated; DOJ Announces It Will Not Investigate Some State Orders Mandating Nursing Homes Allow COVID-19 Positive Residents Admission; President Biden Campaigns For Democratic Virginia Gubernatorial Candidate Terry McAuliffe; President Biden's Defense Of Senate Filibuster Draws Criticism; Massive Wildfires Burning Across U.S. Western States; Supply Shortages Affecting Back To School Shopping. Aired 2-3p ET

Aired July 24, 2021 - 14:00   ET




FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

We begin this hour with the COVID Delta variant raging across the country. Now states and cities are preparing new restrictions to turn the tide of the pandemic. New cases are now trending up in 49 states, many of which are seeing the Delta variant become the dominant strain. In Los Angeles County, daily cases topped 3,000 for the first time since February. The county was forced to return to earlier requirements on masks.

CNN's Paul Vercammen in L.A. Paul, as the Delta variant explodes, what are health officials going to do to try to stop it?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Fred, if you look behind me, they're setting up these pop-up vaccination clinics. That's one of the prongs that they're attacking this with. Look behind me. What they're going to do is they hope that 100 unvaccinated people will come in here today in south Los Angeles and get a needle in their arm. That's because of those alarming numbers you talked about -- 3,058 new cases, 655 hospitalizations, seven new deaths. And now the positivity rate in Los Angeles County, 5.2 percent.

And then go down the road, San Diego County, they have 1,264 new cases. That's the highest since February. And as we're hearing throughout southern California, 98 percent of the hospitalized, partially vaccinated. And we also have human to animal transmission at the San Diego Zoo. There's a snow leopard, Ramil, tested positive twice for COVID-19. You might notice he's missing an eye. That was from a previous disease. But they're telling us he's nine-years-old. He has not transmitted this to any other animal. But they noticed that the snow leopard was coughing and had a runny nose.

So here in southern California, we see the Delta variant spreading around in rapid fashion, and it's going to be clinics like these that they're putting on to try to get at those people who are vaccination stragglers. Back to you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my gosh. The message is out there, just people have to get it. And the availability, we're seeing it right there. All right, Paul Vercammen, thank you so much.

On to Louisiana now. Vaccination rates there are among the lowest in the nation, even as cases there continue to surge. Governor John Bel Edwards is taking new steps as he says his state has entered a fourth wave of COVID infections, and they include requiring masks for all state employees. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux joins me now from Jefferson Parish. So Suzanne, how are those efforts going?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Fred, it really is a dire situation here in the state of Louisiana. Those statistics really mapping it out and saying it all. We're in front of this vaccination site here at the Oakwood Center, and they are really hoping that folks in this popular urban, young area will come out and get vaccinated. In the beginning of the day, we did see a long line that has since dwindled. So they're still really trying with this effort.

But Fred, as you know, Louisiana has the dubious distinction now of having the highest of COVID growth rate per capita than any other state in the country. So we are talking about a perfect storm according to the governor, 208 percent increase in COVID cases just over the last couple of weeks, 80 percent from that highly contagious Delta variant, and 40 percent of Louisiana residents who just got one shot, one dose of a vaccination. And so this is really a critical situation here.

What they are trying to do is what they're calling a hyper-focused, hyperlocal outreach effort. Go to the crawfish boils, go to the fish fries, the churches, the laundry mats and here at the mall and offer those vaccination services and education.

Fred, I had a chance to talk to health officials here about it as well as a bus driver. Her name is Leontine Taylor, and she decided for the first time to get a vaccination. We talked about why it was that she hadn't gotten it before and why she is now trying to be a role model for others.


LEONTINE TAYLOR, SCHOOL BUS DRIVER: But if I go back to work, I definitely need to protect myself. So my daughter and her family, they're skeptical about the shot, too. But once I took it, hopefully I can get them to take it.

DR. SHANTEL HEBERT-MAGEE, LOUISIANA REGIONAL MEDICAL DIRECTOR, GREATER NEW ORLEANS: So we like to see faces in spaces that are familiar to community. So we want the accents. We want the people that have the nice Cajun and creole cadence, so when they walk up to people, we want them to have a response that resonates with them at the core. So our belief is that health care should not be sterile, it should not be foreign.

(END VIDEO CLIP) [14:05:17]

MALVEAUX: And Ms. Taylor, that bus driver, says look, she didn't get it before because essentially she doesn't go anywhere. Now she's going back to work as a bus driver to be exposed to a lot of children. And she also says that she's a news watcher, that she has been listening and paying attention, and it's waking her up. She feels that she really has gotten a warning about this Delta variant and she wants to pass that along to her family and her community to make it safe. Fred?

WHITFIELD: Suzanne Malveaux, thank you so much.

Let's talk more about all of this with Dr. Saju Mathew. He's a primary care physician and public health specialist. And so great to have you in studio for the first time in like a year-and-a-half, we get to see each other in person.

DR. SAJU MATHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: You get vaccinated, and guess what, you get to see Fredricka Whitfield in person. You are real. This is awesome.


WHITFIELD: This is so great. Thank you, really appreciate all that you're doing to try and keep everyone safe.

So you heard Suzanne. Where she is, they're trying to encourage people that this is accessible. Getting a vaccine is easy. And they kept it really local so people feel comfortable. Has that been the barrier as to why so many people have not gotten vaccinated, because they're not convinced that it's accessible and that it's something that's easy to do?

MATHEW: Fred, listen, we're the only country in the world where you have three vaccines that are safe and effective. You and I could walk into a Walmart today and get a shot without an appointment. So I really don't think that it's inaccessibility for most people.

Let's talk about minority communities. There's some places where you don't have access to a place to get vaccinated. That's why I think we need mobile vans. We need to meet the people where they are. But really, to be honest with you, most Americans should not make that as a barrier. This is a dangerous strait. I'm so stressed, Fred, I haven't slept in three days. People are falling sick younger and sooner and quicker.

WHITFIELD: Right. And that's very sad and that's real, but we are at a place where there really are no excuses, right? The messaging is out there. The information is out there. At this point, do you also feel like if you're not vaccinated, and you don't get the message right now, the Alabama governor said, I don't know what else to say. I've said it all. What can you do or say? How do you encourage anyone at this point who hasn't gotten vaccinated who is eligible to do so?

MATHEW: Yes, listen, Fred. This is what I tell people. We are all going to have an encounter with this virus whether we like it or not. And if you have that vaccine on, if you have your vest on, then you have a much better chance of not dying. We're talking about a deadly variant.

And I think we need to change the phrase that this is the pandemic of just the unvaccinated. This is the pandemic of also the vaccinated. And the reason I say that if you don't get the vaccine, you are giving this virus a chance to mutate and develop into dangerous strains, and that is putting pressure on the vaccinated.

I think we are absolutely undercounting the breakthrough infections. There are way more breakthrough infections than we are actually reporting.

WHITFIELD: And this is the case in which people are vaccinated but somehow they're either still testing positive, even if they're not showing symptoms, but that should not be discouragement for people to get vaccinated.

So what about masks? The battles are brewing, once again, about mask mandates. There are certain jurisdictions that say, we're not going to encourage mask mandates at all. Superintendents who are going around what state leadership is saying and saying we're going to make sure that kids have masks. So is this a broken record? Are we back to that again?

MATHEW: I'll tell you what, for our viewers, listen, take this pandemic seriously. Take it in your hands. Every individual has to fight for their own safety. We can't rely on a lot of governors and county officials to tell us what to do or what not to do. This virus hasn't changed --

WHITFIELD: You're saying common sense should prevail.

MATHEW: Common sense should prevail. People ask me all the time, should I wear mask indoors? At this point, Fred, you saw the states dark red. The community transmission is so high, your chance of getting COVID from grocery shopping now, from doing activities that we thought were safer a few weeks ago, is no longer safe. How do you know who's vaccinated if everybody is unmasked in a grocery store?

WHITFIELD: It's really true. I was at the grocery store yesterday, and I felt like I was the only one who was wearing a mask.


They've taken down all the signs, and some of the wipes are not available like they once were, but we really are not out of the woods yet.

Now, let's talk about those who are vaccinated, and now even the White House is trying to encourage these discussions between the FDA and CDC, talking about should a third shot, a booster shot be something to embrace, particularly for those over 65 and immunocompromised. Where are you on that? And when should that happen if indeed that's the case?

MATHEW: Fred, I think we have good information so far to not panic with the booster.

WHITFIELD: What do you mean?

MATHEW: The reason is, if you look at the number of people that are dying, over 99 percent that are hospitalized and dying are in the unvaccinated group. And we are studying these vaccines every month. We have eight months worth of data to show these vaccines work effectively.

Remember, no vaccine is 100 percent. I want to make that clear. But the vaccine needs to do three things -- keep you away from the hospital, prevent you from dying, and falling really, really sick. And these vaccines we have in the U.S., they do that. The problem is --

WHITFIELD: So then is talk about a booster, a third shot, is that just -- is that too much? Is it?

MATHEW: Yes, I think that right now, we're focusing on the wrong aspect of this pandemic. This pandemic is all about people who are not vaccinated getting the shot ASAP. They will protect themselves. They will protect other people as well. We act like we're a country that doesn't have rules. We have to wear seatbelts.

If we drive on the wrong side of the road, you're going to get fined. You might get into an accident. So we are a country of rules. So I'm not sure why people think this is infringing my freedom. It's not. When you're making a decision to not get vaccinated, Fred, you are affecting other people as well.

WHITFIELD: Right. Good point. Saju Matthew, Dr. Saju Matthew, good to see you. So fantastic that you're here in person, appreciate it. Continue to be well and continue to spread great advice and impose safety on all of us. We really appreciate it.

MATHEW: Thank you, Fred.

WHITFIELD: CNN has learned the Justice Department says it will not open a civil rights investigation into nursing home deaths in New York, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. Republican lawmakers, including Congresswoman Steve Scalise, wanted an investigation into nursing home policies in those states that admitted positive COVID-19 patients from hospitals. CNN's Polo Sandoval has been following the developments for us. So Polo, what is the DOJ saying about why they are not moving forward?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Fred, let's very quickly remind our viewers how we got here. It was August of last year that the Civil Rights division within the Department of Justice had announced that it would be seeking important information and data from four states, including New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and right here in New York, and that included any possible executive orders that were issued by chief executives in those states during the previous spikes of the pandemic here.

Basically, what they were doing here, Fred, is that they were trying to determine if state orders are requiring admission of COVID-positive patients into nursing homes played a role in the deaths at those facilities. And what we learned yesterday that the DOJ said that it did review all of that material, and it concluded that it would not be launching said civil rights investigations.

However, this is important, an important distinction here. They are looking into, at least they are investigating at least two facilities in the state of New Jersey. But it is not, obviously, what many Republicans actually wanted to see when it comes specifically to New York, and that is really what is drawing all the criticism, including from Representative Steve Scalise, who called this not only outrageous, but he also, I'll read you a quick portion of the statement that he posted online here.

Again, this is coming from a member of the select committee on the COVID crisis. Representative Scalise writing, "These deadly orders contradicted the CDC's guidance and needlessly endangered the most vulnerable among us to the deadly COVID-19 virus. Even worse, Governor Cuomo in New York intentionally tried to cover up the true death toll resulting from his mandate."

This is really important, Fred. This does not mean that the other separate investigation that's happening right now by the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn, this is completely separate. That is still ongoing. We did reach out to Governor Cuomo's office for comment on that. Haven't heard back yet.

WHITFIELD: Let us know what you do. Polo Sandoval, thank you so much for that.

Coronavirus looming over the Olympics in a very big way. More athletes testing positive as the games go into full swing. We'll take you to Tokyo.

And parents, listen up. With days just ahead before kids head back to class, many of those school essentials may already be gone or in very short supply. Straight ahead on what you need to know.



WHITFIELD: The Tokyo Olympic Games officially here, first full day of competition already in the books. But there are growing concerns about the rate of the new COVID cases there. The games kicked off Friday with the opening ceremony. The stadium there largely empty because of COVID concerns and protocols.

The ceremony included, however, this spectacular drone display. And the always popular parade of nations, it did take place. Team USA has over 600 athletes, but some of them did their own kind of parade of nations outside the stadium because of their own concerns. But back inside, tennis star Naomi Osaka, who is representing Japan, had the honor right there of lighting the Olympic caldron.

CNN's Will Ripley is in Tokyo for the games. So Will, it is great to finally see the events kick off. I know huge disappointments for some athletes who have been testing positive who are there and now can't compete. But tell me, what have you been learning?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: There have been 17 positive cases tied to the Olympics just in the last 24 hours. So the number of total positive COVID cases tied to the games is now 127.


And you actually had a Dutch rower knocked out in the middle of the competition, saying that his Olympic dream was over just like that. So, look, we're all hoping that we don't have a moment where somebody who is a leading contender and a big name, today you have Simone Biles, you have Naomi Osaka.

We're going to see them competing in the coming hours here in Tokyo. Imagine if someone like that, or imagine if a whole team, a huge cluster happens in a team and they test positive. That could be the kind of scenario that the IOC and Olympics organizers were talking about when they were saying they're not going to rule out discussing some sort of cancellation if there were to be a really catastrophic event.

That's not happening yet, but of course, for every athlete who tests positive and has their Olympic dream just gone like that, it's a huge thing.

WHITFIELD: It's devastating.

RIPLEY: Yes, absolutely.

WHITFIELD: And we don't want to jinx anybody by mentioning anybody's names because they certainly, they want to be able to continue to play and continue to compete, and all of them have made it so far, have put all of their life dreams into this moment. And, oh, my gosh, to test positive the day you arrive.

RIPLEY: It would be heartbreaking.

WHITFIELD: Just heartbreaking. So oh, my goodness, we're going to wish the best for all of them, and let the games go on. But what inspiration we're seeing every time someone begins their competition. So Will Ripley, thank you so much for being there in Tokyo for us, bringing us all the action. Thank you so much.

President Biden back on the campaign trail, and not pulling any punches. Hear what he had to say about the state of the GOP. That's next.



WHITFIELD: President Biden made a return to the campaign trail last night in Virginia, stumping for a friend. Biden was in Arlington stumping for Terry McAuliffe, who is making another run at being Virginia's governor. The Virginia Democrat is running against Republican Glenn Youngkin. President Biden also used the rally as an opportunity to encourage more people to get the COVID vaccine, and he took a few shots at former President Trump and those in the Republican Party who continue to downplay the Capital riot of January 6.

For more on all of this, let's bring in Arlette Saenz at the White House. So Arlette, good to see you. Tell us more about the president.

ARLETTE SAENZ, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, President Biden was back in campaign mode, hitting the trail for his longtime friend Terry McAuliffe, that Democratic candidate for governor in Virginia. But it also marks a willingness from the president to try to help Democrats keep their majority heading into these midterm elections.

Multiple presidents have oftentimes seen major losses for their parties in those midterm elections, including former President Obama and former President Donald Trump, and that is something that President Biden is trying to prevent from happening to his own party over the next two years.

And the president did take a few shots at former President Trump, really tying McAuliffe's opponent, Glenn Youngkin, to the former president, and said that McAuliffe will beat Youngkin just like Biden beat Trump. And the president also had some tough words for Republicans as he casts them as this party of fear in lies. Take a listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Just as the Republican Party today offers nothing but fear, lies, and broken promises --


BIDEN: Listen, I mean, think about it. Turn on the television every day and see the replay of what happened on January 6th, and saying I was told there were a lot of peaceful, wonderful people. No, I really mean it. Think about it. It is bizarre.


SAENZ: Aside from those traditional elements of campaigning, the president also had a warning for the unvaccinated in America. As his White House and officials here are really starting to become more and more concerned as this Delta variant has taken hold in the country and there are pockets and areas of the country where vaccination rates remain low. The president really trying to relay to people that if you are unvaccinated, you remain at risk.

And he also had some praise for the Republican governor down in Alabama, Kay Ivey, who recently said that it might be time to start blaming the unvaccinated people. So this White House, of course, growing more and more concerned as they're seeing these COVID-19 cases rising in certain areas of the country, and as there's still a significant number and percentage of this population that remains unvaccinated.

WHITFIELD: Arlette Saenz from the White House, thank you so much for that.

Let's talk further. With me now is CNN senior political analyst Ron Brownstein. He's also a senior editor for "The Atlantic." So good to see you, Ron.


WHITFIELD: So let's talk about being in Virginia, Biden. This was his first in-person candidate specific rally since moving into the White House in January. He threw a punch at the former president. Let's listen.


JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Terry and I share a lot in common. I ran against Donald Trump and so is Terry.


BIDEN: And I whipped Donald Trump in Virginia, and so will Terry.




WHITFIELD: So Ron, what's the symbolism here? Why is this important for the president to be stumping like this right now?

BROWNSTEIN: First of all, they are facing a strong headwind historically. The last four times a president went into a midterm with unified control of the government, that was Trump in 18, Obama in 10, Bush in 06, and Clinton in 94, voters have taken it way. Voters have revoked it. So Biden is pushing uphill in trying to maintain unified Democratic control in 2022.

I think what is really striking about his remarks on Friday night was the degree to which he targeted Donald Trump, because the dominant view in the White House so far has been that the key to 2022 is achieving the agenda that he ran on, delivering primarily on kitchen table concerns like the child tax credit or universal pre-k or infrastructure spending, and minimizing their focus on the Republicans and Trump.

There are many Democratic strategists who think they have a much better chance of turning out their base by sending a message if Republicans regain the House or the Senate in 2022, they will lay the groundwork for a Trump restoration in 2024, whether or not he legitimately wins. So I think you see a step in that direction from Biden that will probably cheer a lot of Democratic strategists this morning.

WHITFIELD: So Ron, in the meantime, President Biden has a big agenda -- infrastructure, police reform, voting rights. And just this week, he was pressed by Don Lemon during the CNN town hall about where he is on the filibuster and why he won't make more aggressive moves potentially about ending it. And this is the conversation, listen.



DON LEMON, CNN HOST, "DON LEMON TONIGHT": If it's a relic of Jim Crow, it's used to fight against civil rights legislation historically, why protect it?

JOE BIDEN, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: There's no reason to protect it other than you're going to throw the entire Congress into chaos and nothing will get done. Nothing at all will get done. And there's a lot at stake.


WHITFIELD: So a couple of things there. Yes, there's a lot at stake, and perhaps he's right and nothing will get done. But then the flipside to that is it doesn't appear that much is going to get done with the current state of play if there isn't an end to the filibuster. So what is the leverage that the president has in this situation?

BROWNSTEIN: Fred, it is difficult to overstate how much his answer on voting rights and the filibuster dismayed civil rights and voting rights advocates. The president, I think, gave a good sense of his deepest true feelings on the issue in the exchange with Don, even more than he did in his speech in Philadelphia last week. And he said three separate things that really unnerved voting rights advocates.

First, he said that he expected he could, quote, bring along Republicans to support a nationwide floor of voting rights. The widespread belief is that is essentially delusional. There is no chance that there will be 10, maybe not even one Republican who will vote for anything like HR-1 or S-1 that would establish a nationwide floor of voting rights.

Second, he said that he believed people would show up and vote in record numbers in 2022 with or without the voter suppression laws, and that infuriates civil rights advocates. It basically implies that black voters in particular should have to make enormous efforts to overcome these restrictive voting laws simply because he won't make more of an effort to pass the nationwide floor of voting rights.

And the third point that you played was this idea that if you end the filibuster, there would be so much chaos in the Senate that nothing else would get done. And he made very clear that at the least, he wants to see his core economic agenda, both the bipartisan infrastructure plan and the reconciliation package, pass before any effort is made to restrict the filibuster, and that means voting rights are being put on the backburner in all likelihood, a big concern for voting rights advocates, because in the middle of August, the census submits the population data to the states.

They start redistricting, and if that process happens before the voting law legislation passes, it may be very difficult to undo gerrymanders in some of the red states.

WHITFIELD: And on that first issue, why and how he is so hopeful that he can bring along Republicans, why does he apparently feel so confident about that, because that really is at the core of his justification, is it not?

BROWNSTEIN: Yes. And it's completely ahistorical, first of all. As I pointed out in a previous piece, in the 1960s, no one assumed that the federal government would only act to secure voting rights for African Americans if Richard Russell and Strom Thurmond and the senators from the affected states in the south agreed to it. In fact, their resistance was overcome. In the 1860s, by the standard that Biden set and that Manchin and Sinema have set in particular that you should only act on voting rights if both parties agree.


If that was the standard in the 1860s, the Lincoln era Republicans never would have passed the 14th and 15th Amendment to the Constitution because every congressional Democrat defending their colleagues in the south who were exercising this reign of terror against African Americans voted against them. They voted against almost all of the reconstruction era civil rights laws. And yet, the Lincoln era Republicans recognized that it was important enough for the country to do this on their own without giving the minority party a veto.

One last point. If you look at what's happening in the states even while Biden is saying there could be cooperation on this, and Manchin and Sinema are saying there could be cooperation, we are seeing these restrictive laws pass in all of these states on a virtually complete party --

WHITFIELD: At record speed.

BROWNSTEIN: Every Republican voting yes, every Democrat voting no, and yet it's a very different standard that they're calling for in Washington.

WHITFIELD: Ron Brownstein, thank you so much. Always appreciate you.

BROWNSTEIN: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: With so much pushback surrounding a mandating of vaccinations, the largest private employer in the state of Arizona, Banner Health is not waiting on the sidelines of this debate. The company says its employees must get a vaccine by November. We'll speak to the chief clinical officer for Banner Health next.



WHITFIELD: This just in. Violence erupting on the streets of Paris. Anti-COVID vaccination protesters are clashing with police. In this new video, you can see protesters throwing objects as police swoop in to stop them. Tens of thousands showed up today for massive protests against France's mandatory vaccination of health workers and an extension of the country's coronavirus health pass.

French President Emmanuel Macron recently announced plans to extend the vaccine requirements to enter restaurants, malls, long train injuries, bars, and planes into August. That proposal has not yet been approved by the French parliament.

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate, that is the question facing employers across the country as they weigh whether to require workers to be vaccinated. Banner Health, a non-profit health service and the largest employer in the state of Arizona, just announced that it will do just that. Employees now have until November 1st to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or they could be terminated.

Joining me right now is the chief clinical officer, Dr. Marjorie Bessel. Dr. Bessel, so good to see you.

DR. MARJORIE BESSEL, CHIEF CLINICAL OFFICER, BANNER HEALTH: It's good to see you also. Thanks for having us here this morning.

WHITFIELD: So what has the reception been like among the employees about whether they like this idea or not?

BESSEL: So we announced this on Tuesday to our leaders, and then subsequently after that to the rest of our organization, and have gotten a lot of responses to that announcement. And the vast majority of those responses have been positive. Just as a reminder, as health care workers, we often have to get vaccinated for other types of highly infectious diseases to protect our patients.

So Banner Health has been mandating influenza vaccine for almost eight years now, and also, measles, mumps, and rubella is part of mandatory vaccination before you join and become an employee of Banner Health. This is all about keeping our patients safe.

WHITFIELD: So you feel the company is transparent about that. You rolled it out, let employees know that they have to be vaccinated and you give them the list, flu among them, in order to be an employee there.

But since this is new, this virus is fairly new, and the vaccine is new, meaning seven months that it's been available to people, are you hearing from any employees that they feel like their privacy, right to privacy is in any way being violated, that HIPAA laws are being challenged here by having to reveal to its employer whether it's had the COVID vaccine or not?

BESSEL: Yes. With anything that we do like this to protect the safety of our patients, we will get some individuals who will have concerns like you highlighted. Our intent has been to make sure that we're a very safe organization to protect our patients and to protect our team members. And this is in alignment with other activities that we spoke about that we've done previously.

In addition to what we announced on Tuesday, the deadline for this will be November 1st, and this gives us lots of time to continue to have ongoing conversations with our team members, make sure that we're addressing their concerns, give them plenty of time to become compliant, and make sure that we're there for them.

Our intent is to keep all of our team members with us because we need each and every one of them. As you know, Arizona has been a hotspot for COVID twice during this pandemic already, and our team members working on the front lines and those supporting them have done a tremendous amount of work to keep our communities as safe as possible. And this is another step of making sure that we're there to serve our communities.

WHITFIELD: Because you are a health service, a health-related company, do you feel like you have an upper hand, so to speak, over other employers, that you're able to impose these kinds of restrictions on your employees because it's in step with the service that you provide? Or do you feel like other companies should be able to easily embrace this method just like you are?

BESSEL: So as we talked about, those that are in health care, we do have a higher calling to safety when it comes to spread of infectious diseases.


And COVID-19, as we all know, is an incredibly infectious disease. And with the Delta variant that is now the predominant variant in the United States, the infectivity of that, the transmissibility of that has only gone up from earlier parts of the pandemic.

So in health care, yes, we do have different criteria that we apply to make sure that we are safe as possible as a work environment so that we don't pass on these potential diseases to those patients who can be really vulnerable. As you can imagine, we take care of patients who are incredibly vulnerable.

Think of those patients that are immunocompromised, those patients that might have undergone a transplant, patients that are just coming out of major surgeries. Those individuals really just cannot afford to get one more thing added on to what they are already are fighting to try and be as healthy as they possibly can.

WHITFIELD: Will there be exceptions for certain employees who might be in that same category? Maybe they're immunocompromised or they wouldn't be able to get the vaccine. Are there exceptions for them so that they could continue to be employees there?

BESSEL: Yes. And again, our intent is to maintain and keep every single one of our team members with our organization. And just very similar to what we've done with influenza vaccination, which we made mandatory a number of years ago, there are exceptions. There are exceptions for medical reasons, some of them we have just spoken about.

And we do have religious exemption as well. This is very similar to what we've done with influenza, and we are beginning to put that process into place, and we'll be communicating that to all of our team members in plenty of time so that everybody can come into compliance by our November 1st deadline.

WHITFIELD: Dr. Marjorie Bessel, thank you so much for sharing with us your plan at your workplace.

BESSEL: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: More states of emergency have been declared throughout California and Nevada as dozens of wildfires continue to burn across the western United States. In fact, video from Nevada shows a crew of firefighters driving through the flames as the Tamarack fire burns out of control, as you see right there. CNN's Lucy Kafanov is in Nevada following the latest on that fire. So Lucy, have firefighters managed to get any more control of that blaze?

LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Still four percent contained. And actually, since we last spoke, it was 58,000 acres more than that that were on fire. In the last few minutes, it is now over 59,000 acres on fire from the Tamarack blaze. And you can see the impact all around me. Take a look from above. You are looking at the city of Reno.

You are supposed to see mountains in the distance. Instead, smoke and thick fog and haze blanketing the air here. This fire in addition to several others has prompted California Governor Gavin Newsom to declare a state of emergency on Friday.

Another concern is the bootleg fire in Oregon. It is one of the largest that the state has seen. More than 401,000 acres burning. And we were able to embed with crews on the front lines of that blaze. Take a listen to how one described the challenges of fighting this fire.


JOE TONE, INCIDENT MANAGER, BOOTLEG FIRE IN OREGON: The fire itself is faster than the firefighters can get control over it. The winds and the trees and the brush that is so dry burns at a rate faster than we can keep up with it. No matter how many people we're throwing at it, it outpaced us for several days.


KAFANOV: And that's the challenge across the west. These drought conditions are prompting these fires to start earlier than ever. It is a difficult uphill battle for the crews on the ground, Fred.

WHITFIELD: It is indeed. That cannot be overstated. All the best to them, and you be safe, as well. Lucy Kafanov, appreciate it. Back to school shopping, well, yes. That's always a nightmare, but

this year a school supply shortage could make it even worse. Details next.


WHITFIELD: All right, many of us are enduring it -- rising prices on everything from food to gas due to supply chain issues and shortages. And now another shortage is looming -- school supplies. It could not come at a worse time with many kids heading back to class. Here now is CNN's Tom Foreman.


TOM FOREMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It's July. August is still a week away, so this is going to hit some parents really hard. In terms of school shopping, you may already be running late. Here's a list of items which analysts say will likely be hard to come by in the next few weeks before all those kids go back to the classes.

Backpacks, stationary, meaning notepads, index cards, things like that, sports equipment, laptops, tablets. In other words, pretty everything that everybody wants.

Why such short supply? Same reason as everything else -- pent-up demand after a year at home and problems in the supply chain. Shipments from all over the globe have been slowed down by lack of labor to make and move the goods. And those shortages are also driving up costs.

The National Retail Federation says school spending should hit a record $71 billion this year, and if you look at year to year spending, that means the average family of a kid in elementary through high school will spend about $850 on supplies. Back to college spending will be up, too.

Don't wait for sales. There's no reason to think that the demand is going to shrink or the supply is going to grow substantially, so there's very few triggers out there for big back to school sales.

And parents really are caught in a vice here. The federation found that the vast majority of K-12 shoppers were still waiting on lists of school supplies as of earlier this month, and only 18 percent have completed their back to school shopping. All of this is a mad dash in the making. So what are you doing this weekend? If you're a parent, the answer should be simple. You're out doing some school supply shopping so you' not picking from the discards in a few weeks.


WHITFIELD: I'm in trouble. I was going to put that off, but now I better do that this weekend. Tom Foreman, thank you.

Our thanks go out to all of you for joining me today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.