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Interview With Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC); House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Appoints GOP Rep Kinzinger To January 6 Select Committee; U.S. Sees Summer Surge In COVID-19 Cases As Vaccinations Stall; Florida Leads U.S. In Infections; Team USA Basketball; COVID In The Olympics; A Woman's COVID Story; CNN Heroes. Aired 4-5p ET

Aired July 25, 2021 - 16:00   ET



RYAN NOBLES, CNN HOST: And you are live in the CNN NEWSROOM. I'm Ryan Nobles in Washington filling in today for Jim Acosta.

Summer 2021 is looking a lot more like summer 2020. See all that orange and red on the map? Well, that's because coronavirus cases are going up in all 50 states. COVID hospitalizations have been rising for the better part of a month. This as the aggressive Delta variant tears through unvaccinated communities. New guidelines could be on the way, even for those of us who are fully vaccinated.



JAKE TAPPER, CNN ANCHOR: Do you think masks should be brought back for vaccinated Americans?

FAUCI: You know, Jake, this is under active consideration. If you're asking am I part of the discussion, yes, I am.


NOBLES: We'll break down the latest COVID headlines for you this hour. But first, major moves in Washington. Two days before hearings begin before the contentious January 6th Select Committee, a second Republican has joined the committee.

And that is GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger. He said this about accepting the appointment from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Kinzinger saying, quote, "I am a Republican dedicated to conservative values, but I swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution. And while this is not the position I expected to be in or sought out, when duty calls, I will answer."

As that committee takes shape, President Biden is working the phones and key lawmakers are meeting as we speak to bring his bipartisan infrastructure deal back from the dead. And it could be wrapped up in a matter of hours. Not days.


SEN. MARK WARNER (D-VA): We're down to the last couple of items. And I think you're going to see a bill Monday afternoon.


NOBLES: All right, let's talk all about these big issues by bringing in the number three Democrat in the House of Representatives, South Carolina Congressman James Clyburn.

Now, Congressman, thank you so much for joining me. We now have two Republicans on the 1/6 committee. What is your reaction to the addition of Congressman Adam Kinzinger? Do you think the speaker made the right move here?

REP. JAMES CLYBURN (D-SC): Well, thank you very much for having me. Yes, I do. I think that this committee should be bipartisan. I think it had already accomplished that with only one Republican but you can't call it a token when you put two Republicans there. So I think that these two Republican members have made it very clear that they put this country's interest ahead of their party's membership. And that's as it should be.

This democracy is teetering. And all you've got to do is listen to the former president every day. He lies, he lies, he lies. And everybody know he is lying. And this is not the way you run a government. And this certainly ought not be the way that you try to preserve the greatest democracy the world has ever known. And it will fall to lies and falsehoods. And that's what this former president is doing.

We've got to get to the root of all of this. We know what happened. We know where it happened. We know when it happened. What we don't know is why it happened and who made it happen. And these are the two things that's got to be done.

NOBLES: Now even though the speaker here is making an attempt to get some bipartisan representation on this committee, obviously Republicans are still going to go to great lengths to try and call it a partisan exercise. And Cheney and Kinzinger, of course, not approved by the minority leader Kevin McCarthy. Two of his picks rejected by the speaker.

So he pulled all of his Republicans off of the panel and then even went as far as to, you know, threaten those who would take these appointments from Speaker Pelosi. How do you respond to McCarthy's attacks that this is just a partisan exercise whether or not Cheney and Kinzinger are part of it or not?

CLYBURN: You know, when this country was trying to give birth to itself, the Revolutionary War, if you please it was Thomas Paine, was not even an American. He wrote in his little book "The Crisis" that these are times that try men's souls. Some are soldiers and sunshine patriots, will shrink from the service of their country.

[16:05:02] And that's what's taking place here. These Republicans are sunshine patriots. McCarthy is demonstrating that he is a summer soldier not to be relied upon when the country is at a test. And so that's what I see here.

I think that Kinzinger, as well as Miss Cheney, are patriots who are standing with this country, who see challenges ahead of us, and they are willing to rise up and meet those challenges.

NOBLES: All right. Let's change gears now and talk about a number of the issues that you in the House of Representatives have passed on to the Senate and have basically been dead on arrival primarily because of the filibuster. And I want you to listen to what moderate Democratic Senator Mark Warner said about the filibuster, suggesting perhaps that he would be open to filibuster reform. Take a listen.


WARNER: We have to do a small carve out on filibuster for voting rights. That is the only area where I've allowed that kind of reform. The idea that somehow to protect the rights of the minority in the Senate were going to cut out rights of minorities and young people all across the country, that's just not right to me.


NOBLES: So, you know, it's somewhat surprising that someone like Warner would take a step like this. It comes after President Biden really refused to go as far as Warner seems to do in this response. Do you think that President Biden needs to lean on these Democratic members of the Senate to do more to undo the filibuster to allow issues like voting rights to get through?

CLYBURN: Well, first of all, I'm not surprised at Warner at all. I know him very well. And this does not surprise me. Secondly, Warner is a senator. The president of the United States, Joe Biden, cannot take the same positions that Warner takes in these kinds of situations. So I don't know that it's necessary for President Joe Biden to get involved in this fray at this moment.

This is a Senate problem and it's got to be done by senators. And I think that Joe Biden can use the telephone to say whatever he wants to say to any individual senator. I don't think he needs to be involved in a public way in this issue at all. He is trying to get a bipartisan deal done so the American people's infrastructure can be made right. And that's where he should concentrate.

And so I congratulate Senator Warner, but I'm not surprised at all. I know him well enough to know that he understands this issue and he understands that voting cannot be subjected to a filibuster.

NOBLES: All right. Let's talk now about the impact that COVID has had on the United States' economy. The eviction moratorium expires in just six days. And that could potentially affect millions of tenants. You've been leading an investigation into wrongful evictions during the pandemic. How do we avoid the crisis on this issue? Because if this moratorium lifts, it could put a lot of people on the streets.

CLYBURN: Yes, it could, and I would hope these corporations, I've written to them. We're going to have hearings. The only hearing Tuesday is not going to be just the 1/6 Committee. We all have hearings on the coronavirus committee. Dealing with these evictions. I've written letters to four corporations that seem to have issued, I think about 80,000 eviction notices, even when we have put, what, $46 billion to assist people with their payments, so they won't have to be put on the street.

I would hope that these corporations will be good corporate citizens. And it's not being a good citizen to put people out on the street as this country is going through the worst pandemic it's had in over a hundred years. And so I want everybody to be good citizens. And that includes these big corporations that's holding people's shelter at bay.

NOBLES: All right, Congressman Jim Clyburn, we covered a lot of topics. We appreciate you being here. I'll see you back on Capitol Hill next week.

CLYBURN: Thank you.

NOBLES: All right, let's bring in now CNN political commentator, Republican strategist Slice Stewart, and former FOX News political editor Chris Stirewalt.

Chris, let's first talk about this January 6th news and, you know, let's reiterate some of what Congressman Kinzinger said in his statement. He said, quote, "This moment requires a serious, clear- eyed, nonpartisan approach." And maybe it will be nonpartisan, at least on paper, right? But what are rank and file Republicans going to say about the make-up of this committee with or without Kinzinger and Cheney on it?

CHRIS STIREWALT, FORMER FOX NEWS POLITICAL EDITOR: You know, I can't help but think back to the week before Memorial Day when Senate Republicans succeeded in blocking the original idea which was based on the 9/11 Commission, a bipartisan, independent commission that would do this work.


And Republicans said, we're going to block it because the Democrats are going to use it to hurt us politically and we'll just have to drag it into 2022. We don't want that so we're going to shut it down here. I think they made a terrible mistake because now what they're going to have is a bipartisan -- it's definitely a bipartisan commission. You can say that it's not bipartisan in spirit or whatever else.

NOBLES: Right.

STIREWALT: But it is a commission with Republicans and Democrats on it. A committee with Republicans and Democrats on it. That's going to do its work and the Republicans will have no control over it and maybe even worse, Kevin McCarthy may let -- what did John Boehner used to call him, the chucklehead caucus? May let them do their own counter investigation.

NOBLES: Right.

STIREWALT: They could be dealing with this for even longer with even worse outcomes. I think the Republicans have made not just an error in not letting this happen but a political error here, too.

NOBLES: Yes. We always forget that that independent commission had a deadline. They had to be done by the end of the year.


NOBLES: This, there's no deadline. It could easily go into November of 2020.

So, Alice, let's talk about Cheney and Kinzinger. One might argue that they've already done so much damage within the base of the party that something like this doesn't matter. But is there still some political risk for them? Both are still flirting with the idea of running for re-election. Are they going to be in big trouble with Trump-based voters, which probably make up a huge part of their primary electorate?

ALICE STEWART, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: They will be in trouble with their colleagues in the House and certainly in the Senate. They are not happy with the fact that they have been so vocal in their opposition to what Trump has been putting forth. But the reality is they don't care. They are truly speaking from their heart with regard to standing up for the Constitution.

You can mark my word in the next few days, if not by workday tomorrow, there will be a conferencewide sentiment by the GOP to remove Kinzinger and Liz Cheney from their committees. She's already been removed from her leadership position, but many are angry. I spoke with many today. They want to remove them from their committees. That's a consequence they'll have to face.

And I think the problem here is, look, I truly support what Nancy Pelosi is doing 100 percent in her commitment to finding answers. But she made a strategical error when she removed Jordan and Banks, and wouldn't let them come on because she felt they were too political. By her doing that, she did make this a political exercise. And it should not be that way. It should be a bipartisan investigation for the truth.

NOBLES: All right, let's shift now and talk about COVID and, Chris, it seems like a bit of whiplash here when you watch conservative media. Not just FOX, Newsmax, others. Now we're seeing a lot of prominent Republican leaders and conservative media sing a much different tune about the vaccine. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: These vaccines are saving lives. They are reducing mortality.

REP. STEVE SCALISE (R-LA): We should be getting the facts out there and encouraging people to take it.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY): Get vaccinated. I want to encourage everybody to do that and to ignore all of these other voices that are giving demonstrably bad advice.

SEAN HANNITY, FOX NEWS HOST: Please take COVID seriously. I can't say it enough. Enough people have died. I believe in science. I believe in the science of vaccination.


NOBLES: So what do you attribute this to, Chris? Did they get polling back? Is it just the rising numbers?

STIREWALT: Well, I think McConnell has been right on this all along. I don't think that's a shift for McConnell, but a lot of Republicans wanted to have their cake and eat it, too. They wanted to experience the benefits of growing numbers of vaccinations.

Folks like DeSantis, other red state governors that were benefiting from the fact that the vaccination regime was working, and it was working for them in their states, and they were going to not say anything about the conspiracy theorists and rumormongers who were out there because they didn't want to face the blowback from their base.

Now the other set of problems and we see a lot of red states. We look at Missouri, we look at Arkansas, we look at other places where you're at 35 percent, 40 percent vaccination rates. We're talking about new mask mandates coming back in. Red state governors don't want to do that.

Republicans don't want to have to deal with that. So they can't enjoy the benefit of ignoring this any longer and not annoying their base. Now they're going to have to ignore their base and say yes, you've got to get vaccinated.

NOBLES: I mean, it did come back with some backlash. Sean Hannity faced some backlash right after he made those comments and he almost started to walk it back a little bit. Were you surprised at his back and forth on this?

STIREWALT: Well, they got one guy at 8:00 on FOX who says one thing. They got another guy at 9:00 on FOX who says another thing. It seems like the network is trying to come to some reasonable place on this. But it ain't easy.

NOBLES: Yes. So, Alice, let's talk about some of these Republican governors. DeSantis being perhaps the best example. A lot of them have been very anti-Fauci, anti-science. Now they are dealing with these massive surges. I just want to specifically talk about Ron DeSantis and listen to how he has handled this over the past week.


DESANTIS: We have a summer season here, just like last year. It started a little later this year. So you're going to have higher prevalence for the rest of July. Probably into August. And then it goes back. These vaccines make it so that your chance of survival is pretty doggone close to 100 percent.


NOBLES: Seems to be all over the place there. If you were advising him, is this the message that you'd want him out there making?


STEWART: No. Mixed messages are misleading. And that's unfortunately how we got to this situation here in the first place. Look, I've been a strong advocate for vaccines from the beginning. I think they're very important. In terms of communications, I'm glad that many in the GOP are coming around. I'm glad other news outlets are getting on the right page.

Here's where I think we missed a huge opportunity to really communicate. Former President Trump, the king of optics, what better optic than for him to show America and the world him getting the vaccine himself. Unfortunately, he missed that. But I'm glad now that he has at least halfheartedly in Arizona last night he did encourage it.

But the most important thing we can do is stop looking back at the mistakes we've made and continue to educate people because it's not really just a GOP-conservative red state thing. There are a lot of rural people that have hesitancy for this, too, and it's all now really about education.

NOBLES: The former president could take credit for it to a certain extent.


NOBLES: Which is kind of baffling that he doesn't.

Chris, just quickly. Our numbers expert, Harry Enten, he analyzed recent polling that showed FOX News viewers are less likely to get vaccinated than CNN or MSNBC viewers by a 20-point margin. Pretty shocking. What do you make of that?

STIREWALT: I admire the great Harry Enten who was my guest this week at my new employers at the Dispatch. Everyone should subscribe, by the way.

NOBLES: Great tease.

STIREWALT: But Harry is right. But there are other overlay factors here. The groups that are the least likely to get vaccinated are those with low income and low levels of education. That has a big red state overlay because, as Alice was talking about, you talk about a lot of poorer folks, you're talking a lot of rural voters. So there are more factors at work here.

NOBLES: A little more nuanced than just that simple. All right, Chris Stirewalt, Alice Stewart, thank you, guys, so much

for being here.

And a quick note about the January 6th Committee, Wolf Blitzer will have special live coverage of Tuesday's hearing beginning at 9:00 a.m. right here on CNN.

And next, every COVID number is trending in the wrong direction. Cases are going up while the average age of those in the hospital goes down. I'll talk to an epidemiologist studying the data in Florida. The state single handedly accounting for 1 in 5 of the new cases.

You're live in the CNN NEWSROOM.



NOBLES: And right now from coast to coast, frustration among health officials is spiking as many Americans continue to opt out of the free and widely available COVID vaccines. Right now less than 50 percent of the country is fully vaccinated as the U.S. is again seeing rising cases and hospitalizations.

Now this as the highly transmissible Delta variant tightens its grip. Nearly every state is reporting more new COVID infections than the week prior.

CNN's Paul Vercammen is in Los Angeles, one of the cities that has already reinstated an indoor mask mandate. And CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in St. Louis where an indoor mask mandate will take effect tomorrow.

Paul, let's start with you. Hospitalizations have more than doubled in the last few weeks where you are. And this is despite that new mandate.

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's exactly right. And the new numbers have just come out here in Los Angeles County. And sometimes on the weekend the numbers will lag but the hospitalization number is most concerning.

I can tell you right now that there have been 2,089 new cases. That's a big drop. Don't forget that lag, however. The new deaths dropped to 4. They were 10 yesterday. But the hospitalizations have now exceeded 700. 716 hospitalizations.

And that means that places like this, USC County Medical Center, they're having an influx of patients. In June, they were down to one COVID-19 case a day. Two COVID-19 cases a day. Now they are ranging between 10 and 15, and the common denominator, the people who are coming into this hospital, decided not to get a COVID-19 shot.


DR. PAUL HOLTOM, EPIDEMIOLOGIST, LACO/USC MEDICAL CENTER: As of right now, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. It's just extraordinarily important. That is the people who are vaccinated now seem to have higher level of protection.

The people we're seeing, the numbers that are increasing, are all among people who have not gotten the vaccine. And moreover, it's changed. We can't say anymore well, it's the old people who are going to die. It's young people now who are coming in very sick.


VERCAMMEN: And so who exactly are they? What reasons do they give for not getting the shot? The epidemiologist told us.


HOLTOM: Everyone has a lot of reasons why they didn't get vaccinated. Either they have vaccine hesitancy. They say they want to wait until the FDA gives full approval. Many of them just say it wasn't important to them right now. They didn't have time. They are younger. They didn't think they were at risk.


VERCAMMEN: And Dr. Holtom telling people who've had only one of two shots, get that second one because you are more vulnerable to the Delta variant if you've only had one of the two shots required.

Back to you now, Ryan.

NOBLES: All right, Paul, you stand by. Let's go to Suzanne now, further east in St. Louis, and residents there are going to be under a new indoor mask mandate starting tomorrow morning. What can you tell us about that?

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, this really is a microcosm of the rest of the country as health officials are struggling and really trying to put into place here methods and strategies that will work to protect the community, and facing pushback on vaccinations and mask wearing. And so you have the mayor of St. Louis, you have the county executive of St. Louis County saying enough is enough. This is a dire situation.

Tomorrow it will go in effect. Mandatory mask wearing, that is in all public spaces, as well as public transportation. This is for 5-year- olds and older. This is for the vaccinated as well as unvaccinated. There are few exceptions. Those exceptions being if you're eating or drinking at a bar and a restaurant you wouldn't have to wear a mask then, or if you had a disability where you could not put on or take off a mask.


But essentially, other than that, it will be required. There is going to be, as well, a very strong recommendation that people wear their mask outdoors and also try to social distance. Ryan, the pushback has been immediate and swift. You had the mayor and

the county executive saying this is a public safety issue, a health issue. There's a crisis that is happening. But you have a number of mayors from various cities who say they're not going to put in the resources to enforce the mask mandate.

You have others who are going to try to challenge this mask mandate in some way. And you have the Missouri attorney general who says that he is going to file a lawsuit tomorrow against this. And so this is a very bitter battle that is already raging before it even begins.

And at the same time, who's caught in the middle of all of this? Well, you've got the restaurant owners, the bar owners, the attendants, the people who work there. This is how they describe what is going to happen -- what it's going to be like.


CORY HAMMERSTON, ST. LOUIS BAR OWNER: Whenever we had the mask mandate, we had to fight a lot of people who didn't want to wear masks. We've had a customer pull a gun. We've had customers like threaten to fight and just go crazy.


MALVEAUX: So there are a lot of people, Ryan, who are not looking forward to this. Nobody really wants to wear a mask. There are those who say, look, I'm willing to do it but at the same time there's a sense of like, hey, you know, I got the vaccine. There's going to be a lot of pushback here. How are we going to manage this? There is going to be a press conference tomorrow. City officials are going to try to explain how all of this is going to be handled.

But I just want to tell you, like this is the situation here. 40 percent of surge of COVID cases within the last week. You have the regional positivity rate now at 10. And African-Americans making up 80 percent of the new cases, reported new cases since May, and low vaccination rates. This is the crisis situation that people in St. Louis are dealing with, and this is what officials are trying to fight back on.

NOBLES: It is hard to believe that we are at this stage thinking that we had gotten past most of this as it relates to COVID.

Suzanne Malveaux, Paul Vercammen, thank you both.

Let's talk about a state that is severely losing the fight against that -- the pandemic and right now that is Florida. The positivity rate there nearly doubled in two weeks' time with more than 73,000 new cases reported in the last week alone.

Jason Salemi is an associate professor at the University of South Florida College of Public Health.

Jason, thank you so much. And you have alerted us to an alarming statistic. Out of those hospitalized with COVID in Florida right now, the majority are actually under the age of 70 years old. And taking it a step further, 1 in 3 are under the age of 50. And that's sobering when you consider that some people cite their age and health as a reason that they're not getting vaccinated. Just break down those numbers for us.

JASON SALEMI, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR, USF COLLEGE OF PUBLIC HEALTH, TAMPA: Yes, absolutely. So it's exactly what you alluded to. The benefit of the vaccination, especially since we see that older people are more likely to get vaccinated, is it's shifting the age distribution of hospitalized patients to younger ages.

So as you pointed out, in January, nearly one in every two hospitalized patients were 70 years of age or older in Florida. Now only one in every four hospitalized parents are 70 or older.

And in January, fewer than one in every five were less than 50 years of age. But now one in three hospitalized patients in Florida are younger than 50. So the good news is, younger people are less likely to die so we should be seeing fewer deaths for the same number of hospitalizations, but the really bad news is, even though we're seeing this age distribution shift, hospitalization rates are increasing dramatically for every age group.

And I want to put some numbers to that because this is really important. Florida, just based on data from the federal government yesterday, had more than 7400 confirmed COVID-19 hospitalizations in the past seven days. That's over 1,000 hospitalizations per day. It's a 141 percent increase from two weeks ago, and it's a quadrupling from just one month ago.

It's the most we've had since January 19th where we didn't have much of a benefit of the vaccinations, and Florida now has the highest seven-day confirmed COVID-19 admission rate in the entire country after adjusting for population size, and we're second highest in pediatric hospitalizations.

So I've heard a lot of the context that Florida makes up only 7 percent or less than 7 percent of the entire population. Yet we make up more than 20 percent of all new cases. Well, we make up 22 percent of all new COVID-19 hospitalizations in the nation. So some stark numbers that we need to do something about.


NOBLES: All right. Well, that's brings us to your governor. He's encouraging people to get vaccinated, but he's made it clear that he will not impose another lockdown. Take a listen.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R), FLORIDA: We have a summer season here, just like last year. It started a little later this year. So, you're going to have higher prevalence for the rest of July. Probably into August. And, then, it goes back.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOBLES: You know, after you outlined all those numbers to us, you know, what is your response to the governor, just saying that this is a fluctuation, no different than last year. It's just a seasonal thing. Is he analyzing the data correctly?

SALEMI: Well, I think this is very different from last summer and the Delta Variant is one of the main differences. We talked about the R0, the degree to which one person who gets infected can infect other people. Last summer, it may have been one or two.

But, now, the Delta Variant is six to eight. So, one infected person can infect another six to eight people. So, it's a very different thing that we had.

And, look, I've seen a lot of painting states or communities with a very broad brush, regarding the actions we're going to take. And it's often based on who our governor or local leader is.

It's important to realize that Florida has never had a statewide mask mandate and still many people throughout the pandemic were wearing masks, socially distancing and making their own decisions to protect themselves, their loved ones and their community.

So, regardless of whether it's mandated or not, when I go into public settings, I choose to wear a mask. That's not to protect me. As a fully vaccinated person, I have peace of mind knowing that even if I get infected, I'm unlikely to get severely ill. But I do know the danger to other people around me, many of whom may be unvaccinated.

And so, I know we need an all-hands on deck approach to tackling the issue in Florida. And so, the good news is we've done it in the past. I feel like people will hunker down.

And, to be honest, I love that people are preaching vaccinations, but it can't just be vaccinations. Even if of the over 8 million people in Florida of vaccine eligible age who have not been fully vaccinated. Let's say 4 million go out and get vaccinated tomorrow. They're still not going to be fully protected for five to six weeks.

So, it can't just be vaccinations. We've got to hunker down. And, especially when in indoor settings, we have to wear a facial covering, socially distance and try and do as many things outdoors as possible, even though I know the Florida heat makes that a big challenge.

NOBLES: OK. Jason Salemi, thank you so much for your perspective. We appreciate you being here.

SALEMI: Absolutely. Thank you,

NOBLES: And, next, a stunning upset at the Olympics. We'll take you live to Tokyo. It's not the Dream Team anymore. You're live in the CNN Newsroom.


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) NOBLES: A stunning upset at the Tokyo Olympic Games. The U.S. men's basketball team lost their opener against France, snapping a 25-game win streak going back to 2004. And that's despite having star power from players like Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Devon Booker. Now, this doesn't mean their hopes for gold medal are completely dashed, but the road to the podium just got a whole lot tougher.

CNN's Will Ripley joins me now live from Tokyo. Will, I have to admit, I turned this game on late in the fourth quarter. I thought I was reading the score incorrectly. I cannot believe that the U.S. lost this game. What are their chances now of being able to turn things around and win any medal of any kind, much less a gold medal?

WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean -- well, and that was an eight-point lead they had that just literally evaporated because of that 16-2 run by the French which, you know, kudos to them.

But I think the chances are getting slimmer that, you know, team USA is going to win Olympic gold, which is, in itself, a headline, because since Olympic basketball became a thing, back in 1936, team USA, I think, has won all but four gold medals. And, you mentioned, they haven't lost since 2004 to Argentina. So, this is, obviously, not the kind of momentum that they want.

They lost three of their past four games. Two of them were exhibition games, and then there was this latest loss on Sunday. They play Iran on Wednesday. But it's a tougher path to climb. And I think we need to talk, Ryan, about the fact that the energy in these venues is incredibly different this time around because of the lack of fans.

And there are certain sports like basketball, like tennis, where the players often really feed on the energy of that crowd. Sometimes gymnastics as well. You know, Simone Biles has been struggling a bit as well. You know, when you don't have that energy coming from the stands, for some athletes, particularly American athletes.

Because I can tell you that team USA's small, socially-distanced cheering squads are still quite large and quite loud. But it's certainly not the same level of support and level of energy that American athletes, in particular, are used to feeding off of at big events like the Olympics.

NOBLES: Yes. Obviously, COVID just hanging over everything in Tokyo. We now have --


NOBLES: -- 10 new games-related COVID cases reported just yesterday. Several dozen athletes from around the world that have been forced to drop out. Just give us an overall view of how COVID is impacting these games on a day-to-day basis.

RIPLEY: Well, you have the number one in the world in golf, Jon Rahm, that tested positive before departing for Japan. And so, he's now out. I mean, you are starting to see the potential for the outcome of these -- of these medals to change because you're losing some of the top players in the world before they even have a chance to compete, or even in the middle of competition which was the case for a Dutch rower.

But what athletes are having to do is they're tested for COVID, either two or three times before they even get into the country. And then, they're tested every single day while they're here. And so, the IOC and the Japan Olympic Committee say they're catching these cases early to prevent that, sort of, major outbreak.


RIPLEY: So, you now have 137 cases tied to the games. Those are still manageable numbers. Not a crisis level. Not a super-spreader level. Even though outside, in Tokyo, there were 1,700 cases reported on Sunday which is almost double what the cases were reported just one week ago -- Ryan.

NOBLES: Wow. You know, the window of opportunity for these Olympic athletes is just so small. And to lose out on it --


NOBLES: -- because of a positive COVID test, that's just got to be heartbreaking.

RIPLEY: Heartbreaking. Yes, absolutely.

NOBLES: Will Ripley, thank you so much for your coverage in Tokyo. We appreciate it.

Next, she opted out of getting vaccinated and then COVID almost took her life. One mom's message, next.


GANEENE STARLING, MOM OF EIGHT WHO NEARLY DIED FROM COVID: It is just a shot. Just get the stupid shot.



NOBLES: Less than half of Americans are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. And one woman in Florida is one of those who said no to getting the shot. But as CNN's Randi Kaye reports, a near-death experience with the virus changed her mind.


STARLING: It was horrifying. I have never in my life felt like I was going to die until that day.

RANDI KAYE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This mother of eight, from Lake Butler, Florida, is opening up about how close she came to dying from COVID-19. Ganeene Starling had chosen not to get the vaccine. Her husband wasn't vaccinated either or their children. (on camera): What was it about the vaccine that concerned you, that made you not want to get it?

GANEENE STARLING: Just that it had not been around long. And, honestly, I think I listened. I think I -- I think I let people influence me. Like saying, oh, you know, that this is the government just trying to fill our bodies with stuff. And, you know -- and, you know, they are trying to push this shot on us.

KAYE (voice-over): But, earlier this month, Ganeene's husband got COVID. Then, it spread to Ganeene and their four kids living at home, including their youngest who is just six. Soon, Ganeene was struggling to breathe, so they rushed her to the hospital.

STARLING: I remember being very desperate, grabbing the mask and then feeling, you know, the oxygen come in.

KAYE: Ganeene spent nine days in the hospital. Six of them in the ICU.

STARLING: In those moments, when you can't breathe like that, even with all the oxygen they were giving me, it feels like you have a Ziploc bag over your head and somebody is holding it. And, I mean, I had oxygen on and I was still feeling that way.

KAYE: At 43, did you ever think that you would get that sick from COVID?

STARLING: No. 100 percent. I had had conversations with my husband and said, we've probably already had it and just didn't even know it. And, honestly, he agreed that we had probably already had it. And there had been times I'd been sick and I was like, oh, it's probably COVID. No big deal.

KAYE: No big deal? Not exactly. Ganeene's oxygen dropped to dangerously low levels. Just 68 percent. She says she was told she had about a 20 percent chance of survival.

STARLING: My youngest baby is six years old. And so, when you're told that and you have a six-year-old, you know, like, he's probably -- if I die, he's not going to remember me.

KAYE: Ganeene is speaking out now because she wants people to know how much she regrets not getting the vaccine. A decision that nearly cost her her life.

STARLING: I was one of those people that was, like, I can't believe people are just going to just inject their body with this medication. There is -- we don't know enough about it.

Now, I'm just, like, it is just a shot. Just get the stupid shot. That vaccine could have stopped all of this. Just one little shot. And I feel foolish that I didn't get it. I wish to God I would have got it.

It could have -- it's not just about what it could have prevented me from experiencing physically in my life right now, but it could have saved my family so much heartache. My children from seeing me go through that. My husband. And, you know, my siblings from seeing it.

KAYE: And you're full of regret?

STARLING: So much regret.

KAYE: Randi Kaye, CNN, Jacksonville, Florida.


NOBLES: Randi, thanks. And with the American vaccination rate under 50 percent, the country is nowhere near herd immunity. But could the number of COVID cases alone help us get there? Coming up, I'll be joined by the former White House senior adviser for President Biden's COVID response team, and I plan to ask him just that.



NOBLES: This week's CNN hero salutes Rodney Smith Jr., who created the 50-yard challenge.


RODNEY SMITH JR.: Now, a 50-yard challenge is a challenge that we have issued to kids nationwide and worldwide to mow 50 free lawns in their community if they'll make a sign saying, I accept the 50-yard challenge.


SMITH: And, in return, we will send them a t-shirt along with safety glasses and ear protection. And once they mow 50 lawns, I drive to wherever they are. I present them a brand-new mower, weed eater and blower.

Today, we have about 2,000 kids nationwide. Kids are responsible for finding their own lawns, so that's another way they can go out in their community and meet people they probably normally wouldn't have met.

At a young age, I used to mow lawns as a chore, and I disliked it. But I took something I disliked and turned it into something that I love to do. And every single day, I get to mow free lawns. And I get to encourage kids around the world to get out there and make a difference, one lawn at a time.


NOBLES: I've got some young people in my house that would be good at mowing lawns. To get the full story Rodney's journey, go to