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Tokyo Olympics 2020; Greece Protests over Required Vaccinations; Hungary Rallies against Homophobic Law; Japan's Underground Skateboarding Goes Mainstream; South Korean TV Network Apologizes for Images, Captions; Global Climate Crisis; Delta Variant Fueling Rise in U.S. Infections; NASA's Mars Rover Collects Rock Sample. Aired 12-1a ET

Aired July 25, 2021 - 00:00   ET



MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR AND CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): And a warm welcome to our viewers all around the world. I'm Michael Holmes, appreciate your company.

Coming up here on CNN NEWSROOM, hard earned medals and the spirit of competition taking center stage in Tokyo. The pandemic though, not far from everyone's mind.

Anger, frustration and calls for freedom from COVID restrictions. But throughout the world, a raging pandemic continues.

And then later, heavy monsoon rains in India triggering landslides. More than 130 are dead.


HOLMES: Well, medals, competitions at the Tokyo Summer Olympics now in full swing. China has now already won 5 medals, 3 gold, 2 bronze. Team USA just claiming 6, one gold, 2 silver and 3 bronze.

On Saturday, skateboarding made its Olympic debut. Besides the pressure, athletes are also battling high temperatures and humidity. It is hot. Of course, COVID remains a serious concern. At least 137 cases linked to the games, including one infected American athlete.

A top draw this Sunday is the Japanese star Naomi Osaka who lit the cauldron. She will be playing her first America Olympic singles match since bowing out of the French Open earlier this.

With speculators banned at most venues, some athletes say they miss the energy and excitement of a live audience. CNN's Blake Essig joins us now from Tokyo.

Blake, good to see you. COVID is still a focus of these games.

But there is some attention turning to the weather, right?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: You know, Michael, the legacy of these Olympic Games will be defined by the global health crisis, I don't think there's any debate around that.

But before COVID-19 turned the world upside down, it was the weather that was supposed to be dominating headlines around these Olympic Games. While cases in Tokyo are surging and Olympic related cases continue to climb, it's the weather that could cause problems for organizers.

A tropical storm could make landfall by Tuesday. The meteorological society says that it is unlikely to strengthen into a typhoon but could bring heavy rains, strong winds and high waves as a result.

Monday's rowing events have been moved up to today as a precaution. Depending on conditions, organizers have also put in 4 backup dates into the schedule and, of course, Olympic organizers say they will be tracking the storm.

Now while surfers have avoided the tropical storm at least for now, other athletes have high temperatures to contend with as the threat of heatstroke will be a constant problem throughout these games. Temperatures are now in the 30ss and will likely get warmer in the coming weeks.

Not only dealing with Tokyo's extreme heat, they also have Japan's oppressive humidity to deal with as well.

HOLMES: There's a lot going on with these games. I wanted to ask you, I'm loving the new sports, surfing and skateboarding.

How are they being received?

ESSIG: As you said, 2 new sports making their Olympic debuts, skateboarding and surfing. I will tell you, while the majority of the people I have talked to remain opposed to these games, given the safety concerns, there's a lot of excitement around these 2 new sports.

I'm most excited for the skateboarding. As far as skateboarding is concerned, there will be 2 disciplines on display, street and park street is held on a course. It looks like a street that has handrails, stairs, curbs and walls.

And the park competition is held on a hollowed out course that looks like a bowl with steep sides. These competitors will be judged on things like speed, originality, difficulty of tricks and it really should be a whole lot of fun to watch. Michael, I'm very excited about it.

HOLMES: Yes, me, too, as an aging surfer, I love that idea. Blake Essig in Tokyo, thank you. We're going to check in with you in about 30 minutes or so. Do stick around for more Blake.



HOLMES: All right now, some Olympic sponsors a little frustrated and worried about how their association with the Tokyo games could impact their bottom line. Not only do they risk losing a return in their investment, some fear consumer backlash for linking their brand to a controversial event during the pandemic. CNN's Selina Wang with that from Tokyo.


SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The Olympics, normally a golden opportunity to boost corporate image. But this year, the fear is brand damage because of intense opposition to the games in Japan.

After Japanese sponsors spent a record of more than $3 billion to be associated with the 5 rings, COVID-19 cases are surging. Spectators largely banned while the Japanese public, just 20 percent of them fully vaccinated, are urged to stay at home during the games. Sponsor plans are falling flat.

WANG: I'm at the top of Tokyo Sky Tree, the world's tallest broadcasting tower. It's one of many Japanese Olympic sponsors that have had to cancel or scale promotional events tied to the games.


WANG (voice-over): "We were planning to hold events to boost the mood for the Olympics but, because of COVID-19, it is not the right time to hold a festival," he tells me.

"We've canceled events, a veiling site in tour trailing al veeling spot (ph)."

Toyota, a top Olympic sponsor, is not airing Olympic related TV commercials. The editorial board of another sponsor, Asahi Shimbun newspaper, called for a cancellation in May.

There is little Olympic spirit in the host city. Tokyo is in a state of emergency and alcohol is banned from restaurants. The CEO of Suntory (ph), one of Japan's biggest beverage makers, says the economic loss from no spectators will be enormous.

TAKESHI NINAMI, CEO, SUNTORY: I've expected that from a lot of spectators from abroad to visit you know, restaurants and bars, where they sell our products and they promote our brands.

So we had a plan to open more than a couple of the bars and restaurants only for products sponsored by us. But we canceled it.

WANG: Do you think that these games could still boost international businesses for Japanese countries?

NINAMI: More and more, I don't think so. I think the Olympics have been losing its value.

WANG: Do you think the game should have been postponed?

NINAMI: Considering the current rollout of vaccines in this country, two months from now should be the ideal timing. WANG (voice-over): According to Robert Mayes (ph), a sports marketing

executive in Japan, several local sponsors were pushing for the Olympics to be delayed.

ROBERT MAYES (PH), SPORTS MARKETING EXECUTIVE: The sponsors were paying a lot of money but basically the return is extremely limited. You have the five rings, then you have what used to be (INAUDIBLE) to the Olympics, which is the spirit of sport, the pleasure, the youth, the sparkling ideas of sport. But that has all gone now.

WANG (voice-over): But sponsor Asics is staying optimistic. It's the official outfitter for the Japanese Olympic team and volunteers. Opening this experience center in central Tokyo, showing us designs all the way back to the 1964 Tokyo games.

"There will be no spectators in the games, we are sure that many people will experience the atmosphere of the Olympics through media like TV," he says.

Some experts say it's too early to say how brands will be impacted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: At some point not sugarcoating, you know, this is not an ideal situation.

Have sponsors been able to get their short term marketing gain?


Will they be able to get a long term marketing gain?

Still possible.

WANG (voice-over): And all that depends on whether the games are held safely without turning into a superspreader event -- Selina Wang, CNN, Tokyo.


HOLMES: We're going to take a quick. Break when we come back, COVID rules are fueling fire and fury in the streets of Athens and Greece is not alone. Coming up, the latest on government protests over government COVID restrictions. Also this.


HOLMES (voice-over): Thousands turning out in Budapest to show their opposition to a new Hungarian law they call homophobic. We'll be right back.




[00:15:00] (MUSIC PLAYING)

HOLMES: Major cities around the world, seeing protests over COVID restrictions. Have a look at this.


HOLMES (voice-over): That was the scene in Paris on Saturday. Some protests turning into violent clashes with police. Across France, tens of thousands of people rallied. They are rejecting mandatory vaccinations for health care workers and a proposed extension of the country's health pass system. France isn't alone.



HOLMES (voice-over): There, you can see Greek police using tear gas, water cannon and stun grenades in Athens on Saturday. This is amid reports that people were using petrol bombs as well. The protesters want the government to back off requiring vaccines for health care workers.



HOLMES (voice-over): And then, in Australia, protesters marching in Sydney, fed up over a month-long lockdown that could get even longer. Officials are warning they may extend the restrictions past next Friday's deadline.


HOLMES: And those are not the only places that COVID fallout is creating backlash.


HOLMES (voice-over): Demonstrations erupting across Brazil on Saturday, with protesters demanding the impeachment of president Jair Bolsonaro over reports of corruption and his handling of the pandemic.

Mr. Bolsonaro being investigated in the senate over corruption allegations, tied to the purchase of an Indian coronavirus vaccine. More than 500,000 people have died from COVID there and many in Brazil have had enough.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): It is very important that all those who feel offended or oppressed by this government come to the streets because we need to fight for the return of democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): Already, half a million people dead in Brazil. This has to stop. Out, genocide.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HOLMES: This is the second month that protesters have taken to the streets to vent their anger against the Brazilian leader. And Brazil is certainly a hot spot in the global resurgence of the coronavirus.

But worldwide, there is an alarming surge in cases. As you can see there on the graphic, experts blaming it on the spread of the Delta variant. But vaccine hesitancy, in places like the U.S., as well as a vaccine shortage in other places, like Latin America and Africa, are enabling the spike among the unvaccinated.


HOLMES: Let's get more perspective now on the growing threat the Delta variant is posing, especially among the unvaccinated, I am joined by epidemiologist and CNN medical analyst, Dr. Larry Brilliant.

Good to see you, Doctor. Let's start with these international reactions. A lot of anger from the Left and the Right about -- the French president, for example, his move to, essentially, make life very difficult in terms of access and movement for anyone not vaccinated.

Italy very similar.

Good idea or an infringement on freedoms?

DR. LARRY BRILLIANT, CNN MEDICAL ANALYST: Michael, thank you for inviting me back. What a poignant and difficult moment, isn't it?

I worry that we will be seeing superspreader events. I am afraid that we are closer to the beginning of this pandemic than the end. And, on top of that, somehow, this little virus has managed to anger people on the Left and the Right.

It is almost inconceivable. The idea of having these vaccine certificates or immune passports, it is one of the ways in which we can reward people for being vaccinated, by giving them access to other parts of the world. I wish we would do more of it. I personally would like to see vaccine mandates.

And I am afraid that we will soon have to reinstall vaccine mask mandates. That is only going to cause more trouble, you know that. We can feel it coming.

HOLMES: Yes, you're right. In the U.S., even with the Delta surge, there is this fact that -- this statistic blows my mind -- 99.7 percent of deaths, 95 percent of hospitalizations are among the unvaccination.

If that is not a message to get vaccinated, I don't know what is. Yet, half the country hasn't done it.

How do you view the landscape in those terms?

BRILLIANT: Let's put a number on it. It's about 125 million Americans who have not been vaccinated. [00:20:00]

BRILLIANT: And 4 states accounting for about 60 percent of all the cases and the deaths. They're all the states that you would expect, Florida, Texas, Missouri, those are the states that have the most number of unvaccinated and they have the mandates that make it illegal for counties to do vaccine mandates or even encourage people to wear masks in a very strong way.

I think they are not paying attention, Michael. This variant, this Delta variant, it creates 1,000 times more viral particles in the nose than anything previously that we've seen. The incubation period is half the time.

It means it spreads faster than almost any disease you and I have seen in our lifetime. It spreads faster and is more infectious than smallpox, maybe twice as infectious as smallpox.

HOLMES: When you put it like that, I also wanted to ask you, Europe's problem similar to that of the United States in some ways. Vaccination levels at or under 60 percent or so. Less than that in the U.S.

It is worrying but not as worrying as entire regions, like Africa, which are more like 2 percent vaccinated. The surges in southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia.

How urgent is the need to get more vaccines to underserved regions?

It is in everyone's interest and yet we have seen thousands of unused vaccines thrown out in the U.S.

BRILLIANT: And the U.S., Canada and the U.K. have ordered 3 times the amount of vaccine that we could conceivably use if we vaccinated everybody twice. I think it's time to get real. I think that the major economic powers need to start figuring out how to export vaccine manufacturing factories, just as we did with smallpox and polio.

I think we need to have multicenter production of vaccines. We have 100 countries right now with less than 1 percent of the population vaccinated. They can't depend on the U.S.; they can't depend on our manufacturers, as good as this magical vaccine has been, they are not getting it.

We need to be able to move factories and move manufacturing all over the world. If we don't do that, then our countries will be importers of all the new variants because, Michael, Delta is not the last letter in the Greek alphabet.

HOLMES: Yes, exactly. A chilling warning there. The more it spreads, the more likely variants will emerge. Dr. Larry Brilliant, as always, appreciate your expertise. Thank you.

BRILLIANT: Thank you for having me.



HOLMES: Some 30,000 people, joining a pride march in Budapest on Saturday, a pushback against a new law in Hungary that has been widely slammed as homophobic. It prohibits any discussion of LGBTQ issues in schools or television and so on.

It even bans gay and trans characters and certain others from appearing on TV for much of the day. But prime minister Viktor Orban says the law is about letting parents decide how their kids should be educated.

Opponents have a very different view. They say the law is part of a standard political playbook by Mr. Orban. As Melissa Bell now reports, they believe, this time, he might be getting more than he bargained for.


MELISSA BELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The gay pride here in Budapest wasn't just the usual celebration this year but also a protest and for the LGBT community a show of force. The organizers say that tens of thousands turned out, despite an atmosphere, that they say, has become increasingly oppressive.

Now legislation that paused that came into effect earlier this month, it is the culmination of what has been a month long, several month long, campaign of demonization essentially, of the LGBT community.

So a lot of people coming out to try and show their support. So far, Viktor Orban, in power now for 11 years, has used what has been a fairly successful playbook of targeting minorities in order to galvanize his base. We see it with migrants, we've seen it with the homeless, we've seen it with transgender people.

This time, the question is really, if he isn't trying to take on minorities, they are simply not small enough to not possibly cancel next year's elections. What they are hoping for is a real show of support to say Hungarian society is not in favor of this referendum he has announced.

It is behind what Brussels has said it's now doing, which is taking on Viktor Orban over this very controversial legislation. In a meeting with a bunch of people these last few, days families, corporates who say that, this time, they're really standing up against the government and against Viktor Orban's populist streak, in order to make themselves heard.

The next big test will be the referendum, that we expect to be held before the end of the year.


BELL: Melissa Bell, CNN, Budapest.

(END VIDEOTAPE) HOLMES: Venezuela's president, is apparently, ready to enter talks with the country's opposition. Nicolas Maduro, saying on Saturday, everything has been prepared to open negotiations with the opposition leader, Juan Guaido, in early August.

And, these talks, including participation from other nations, he said, such as Norway, and the U.S. In an interview with Venezuela's state- run TV, Mr. Maduro said that his government has already discussed a complex agenda with opposition groups.

CNN has reached out to Guaido's team for comment; no response yet.

Floodwaters, damaging communities in India, China and Germany and scientists say that it is going to keep happening, as long as climate change continues unchecked. We have that, when we come back.

Also, why a television network is apologizing for the way it handled some of its opening ceremony coverage for the Olympics. We will be right back.




HOLMES: Welcome back to our, viewers all around the world, I am Michael Holmes, you are watching CNN NEWSROOM.

Competitions at the 2020 Tokyo games are in full swing and the U.S., leading the overall medal count right now, anyway, at 6. It has 1 gold, 2 bronze and 3 silver. China is leading with the most gold medals, they have 3.

Meanwhile, skateboarding makes its Olympic debut in Tokyo. The sport can be traced back to the 1950s along the U.S. West coast and, of course, has flourished across the globe since. CNN's Blake Essig, joining me again at this hour.

You have been looking into this. I can't wait to see some of it.

ESSIG: Michael, absolutely, couldn't be more excited about this Olympic debut. This niche counter culture becoming a global commodity and high fashion obsession. But while skateboarding has increasingly become mainstream, here, in rule of in Japan, not everyone is convinced that perceptions will shift so quickly.


ESSIG (voice-over): At Triangle Park in Osaka, creativity is king. Here, it doesn't matter who you are, where you come from or how much air you can catch. It is all about innovation, art and self expression.

CHOPPER, SKATEBOARDER (through translator): People should feel free when they skateboard. [00:30:00]

CHOPPER (through translator): It is better if there are no rules.

ESSIG (voice-over): For more than 30 years, this park is been home to Japan's underground skateboard scene, the birthplace of alternative skating. And a diverse group of skaters, known around the globe, is the Osaka Daggers.

Taichiro Nakamura, better known as Chopper, is considered by many as its father. He has been skateboarding on the streets of Osaka since he was a teenager.

CHOPPER (through translator): Skateboarding represents freedom and diversity for me, so I'm trying to inspire younger people to value those ideas too. We want to foster an environment where everyone is free to express their own unique style.

ESSIG: The Osaka Daggers are not a team but instead a culture pioneering group that was once considered nothing more than rebels and misfits, now represents the foundation of skateboarding here in Japan.

ESSIG (voice-over): A foundation that Daisuke Hayakawa, coach of the Japanese Olympic skateboard team, says will, in a sense, be on display when skateboarding makes its Olympic debut here at the games in Tokyo.

DAISUKE HAYAKAWA, COACH, JAPANESE OLYMPIC SKATEBOARD TEAM (through translator): At the Olympics, people will be able to see how skaters express their creativity and ideas through skateboarding. While skateboarding became an Olympic sport, it's important to remember the culture around it.

ESSIG (voice-over): A culture that could become more widely accepted as the sport goes mainstream.

HAYAKAWA (through translator): I think the future is bright for skateboarding.

ESSIG (voice-over): Back in Osaka, while the Olympics have already had a big influence on shifting perceptions around skateboarding, these skaters say acceptance and change means a constant struggle, that skating here is still technically against city rules.

CHOPPER (through translator): From the outside, it looks like this park belongs to young people. But when we skateboard here, police always come.

ESSIG (voice-over): But that hasn't stopped Chopper and his crew from doing what they love at Triangle Park and just down the street at the indoor skate park, sharing the passion and the culture embedded in their DNA with the next generation.

HOKUTO YONEMURA, SKATEBOARDER (through translator): I started skateboarding when I was 3. I think it's a really fun sport.

ESSIG (voice-over): Hokuto Yonemura, at 9 years old, is the youngest Osaka Dagger, a talented skater with big aspirations.

YONEMURA (through translator): I want to make it to the Olympics because I really want to win the gold medal.

ESSIG (voice-over): A dream starting this year that could become a reality, as sport and culture collide for the world to see.


ESSIG: And the street final is actually taking place as we speak. Skateboarding is not the only sport making its Olympic debut at the Olympic Games. Surfing, speed climbing, karate will also be debuting and then baseball and softball will be making their return to the Olympics after not being included since 2008 -- Michael.

HOLMES: A lot to look forward to. CNN's Blake Essig there in Tokyo, appreciate it.

Now a South Korean TV network is apologizing for showing inappropriate images and captions during its broadcast of the Olympic Games opening ceremony. The network calls it an inexcusable mistake. CNN's Will Ripley with more from Tokyo.


WILL RIPLEY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Tokyo Olympics opening ceremony, a made for TV spectacle seen around the world. Big names like Naomi Osaka, bulging muscles like the Tongan flag bearer, beaming athletes in the Parade of Nations.

And now, one Olympics broadcaster accused of raining on that parade.

South Korea's MBC is triggering a storm of controversy online, apologizing for airing what they call inappropriate images and expressions Ukrainian athletes pictured alongside an image of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

A graphic describing how Haiti's political situation is fogged by the assassination of the president. Another calling the Marshall Islands once a nuclear test site for the US. When Italy walked on, they showed a pizza, for Norway, a salmon fillet, Team Romania, Dracula.

South Korean social media is blowing up says Seoul-based journalist Raphael Rashid.

RAPHAEL RASHID, FREELANCE JOURNALIST: Everyone is saying that this is extremely embarrassing and has damaged Korea's image abroad.

RIPLEY (voice-over): Rashid's tweet about the cringe worthy captions went viral.

RASHID: Had South Korea being referred to as, say a former colony of Japan, it will be offensive. It will be an insult. And people are asking how could this have happened?

RIPLEY (voice-over): MBC issued a formal apology. "The problematic images and on screen texts were prepared with the intention to introduce each country's team in a short timeframe and make them easily understood. However, it greatly lacked respect."


The broadcaster promising a full review of its editorial process, vowing no more Olympic blunders -- Will Ripley, CNN, Tokyo.


HOLMES: Absolutely incredible.

Well even more problems could be on the way for the Olympics, as we were discussing earlier in the program. A tropical storm is bearing down on Japan. It's one of 2 major storms churning now in the western Pacific Ocean.


HOLMES: Rescue teams are racing to find survivors in the west of India after flooding and landslides caused by heavy monsoon rains left at least 136 people dead. It's some of the heaviest July rain that the region has seen as decades, half a meter of rain in some areas in just 24 hours.

CNN's Vedika Sud joins me live from New Delhi.

Vedika, bring us up to date on the rescue and relief efforts.

VEDIKA SUD, CNN CORRESPONDENT: They're on alkarty (ph) in these areas in the western coast of India, in the state of Maharashtra, Michael, but there are 2 or 3 challenges I foresee after speaking to the people on the ground.

Firstly, there is heavy rainfall in these areas. Home have been submerged in most parts of three districts on the west coast of Maharashtra. There are reports of rain and flooding in two more of these districts.

Along with this you, also have the fact that Maharashtra is heading the states when it comes to the total confirmed cases of COVID. As of now, the active cases stand at almost 100,000, so that's another challenge that the rescue and relief workers are battling at this time.

There are the army personnel, the people from the air force and the navy, as well as the national disaster response force on the ground, trying to evacuate as many people as possible and save lives.

Over 90,000 people have been evacuated from these districts currently. Also at this point of time, landslides are a huge challenge that these rescue relief missions and people are facing because there have been at least 5 landslides and several people have died. Several are still trapped. The other big challenge they face, Michael, is the heavy downpour that is continuing in some of these districts, which obviously does go ahead and hamper rescue missions in these areas -- Michael.

HOLMES: Vedika, thank you for the update.

Now scientists say the devastating floods we are seeing in China, India as we just heard and Germany, while they are not a fluke, they are a result of a warming planet. And of course, it's only going to get worse, as Allison Chinchar reports.


ALLISON CHINCHAR, AMS METEOROLOGIST (voice-over): By raft, by bulldozer, even on the backs of rescuers, people are ferried to safety from the floods that submerged parts of China this week.


CHINCHAR (voice-over): The waterlogged area is now recovering from the equivalent of a year's worth of rain dumped on it in just a few days. But there is more rain in the forecast, compounding the misery of some of the residents.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I would never have thought that my home would have been completely destroyed. All of my belongings were damaged by water.

CHINCHAR (voice-over): It's the latest nexus of extreme weather that has been unleashed across the globe in recent weeks. Monsoon rains continue to deluge parts of India, downpours lasting for days, washing away houses and bursting river banks.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I cannot see anything here. My house, my people and my neighbors, I cannot find anyone.

CHINCHAR (voice-over): Studies show that monsoons in India are getting stronger and more erratic and powered by climate change. The World Meteorological Organization say that water related hazards dominate a list of global disasters over the last 50 years.

One expert explains how warmer air allows for more water to be evaporated into the atmosphere and what goes up eventually comes down.

JOHNNY CHAN, PROFESSOR OF ATMOSPHERIC SCIENCE, CITY UNIVERSITY OF HONG KONG: When you have a wet towel, you squeeze so much water out of it. But if you have a much wetter towel, you squeeze a lot more water out.

So therefore when you have more moisture in the atmosphere and if you can squeeze out the water, which then becomes rain, then you have a lot more water to be squeezed out.

CHINCHAR (voice-over): Scientists say climate change is likely to increase the intensity and the frequency of large flooding events, like the kinds seen in Germany recently. Germany's transport minister estimates the flooding caused more than $2 billion worth of damage to infrastructure in the affected areas.

Many roads, buildings and bridges just not equipped to weather such conditions. Subways particularly vulnerable to flooding, like these scenes in New York City earlier this month. A summer of rain soakers and a warning that the waters will continue to rise if climate change continues to go unchecked -- I'm meteorologist Allison Chinchar, CNN.


HOLMES: Still to come here on the program, we head to Arkansas, where a frontline nurse says she is battling COVID misinformation.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We heard it more than once that we were just fudging the numbers and we were killing people on purpose to make COVID look like it was worse than it was or to make it look real when it wasn't.

HOLMES (voice-over): Well, now she's using social media to fight back. Her story coming up.






HOLMES: COVID-19 cases, rising sharply in the United States, driven by the dangerous and highly transmissible Delta variant. According to Johns Hopkins University, infections, this week have jumped nearly 60 percent from the week before.

And slowing vaccination rates are only making matters worse; 30 states have less than half of the residents fully vaccinated, including Arkansas. CNN's Elle Reeve spoke to a nurse there, who is not only fighting to save people's lives but also fighting misinformation about the vaccine. Here's her story.


SUNNY, HEALTH CARE WORKER: You need some help in?

It was extremely difficult to watch so many people die and then have people tell you on Facebook or in Walmart that you're a liar.

ELLE REEVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Sunny worked on a COVID floor of a hospital at the height of the pandemic. Being a nurse was hard but what made it surreal was living in western Arkansas where many people, even some in her own family, said COVID was overblown -- just the flu. SUNNY: The nurses were really the symbol for this whole pandemic and almost all of the hate has centralized around us. Nurses got PTSD. A lot of us are suffering from it from last year and now we're having people come in and look us in the face and be like no, I didn't get the vaccine and now I'm sick.

REEVE (voice-over): Arkansas has the third-lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the country. Just 36 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. Like many places with low vaccination rates, it's now seeing a spike in cases.

REEVE: Are you going to get the vaccine?

MIKE CLARK, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: I have not and I will not. I'm not a Guinea pig. There's no change.


RONNIE ROGERS, BARBER: I did. That's the reason why I'm getting it. But then after I got over COVID I had a heart attack.

REEVE: So why would you not get the vaccine?

CLARK: I might have a bad reaction to it.

REEVE: I see.

CLARK: Oh, that's good -- that's better.

You know, I believe that it's a freedom issue. And I've worn a mask probably a maximum of one hour in the entire who thing since this COVID came out. If it's so communicable why am I still standing?

SUNNY: We had people accuse us of giving their loved one something else so that they would die and we could report it as COVID. We heard it more than once that we were just fudging the numbers or we were killing people on purpose to make COVID look like it was worse than it was or to make it look real when it wasn't.

For the first majority of the pandemic, we wore the same N95 for like one to two weeks at a time.

REEVE: Tell me what you think about the term "healthcare heroes."

SUNNY: I think it sucks.


SUNNY: When they dubbed us healthcare heroes it just -- it gave the public this really wrong impression that we were sacrificial lambs and willing to die for them. We want to help people, you know. I want to save lives. I want people to get better but not at the expense of my family's lives either.

Then you have the public going well, you signed up for this. No, I didn't. When I was 17 and enlisted in the Army I knew that I might die for my country. When I was 22 and went to nursing school that wasn't on the agenda, you know? Like, I didn't volunteer to die for everybody.

And even with the vaccine now, it's still a highly politicized thing for no good reason.

REEVE (voice-over): Last year, Sunny started venting on TikTok.

SUNNY: You're just trying to spread fear. If that's what it takes to get you to listen to me, sure.

I had avoided posting about COVID for a long time because of the negative reactions I got. Like, it hurts my feelings. But just a couple of weeks ago I had people in my inboxes threatening to kill me, calling me a murderer -- saying I helped kill those people.

I get called a crisis actor all the time.

Is my thing now to respond to hate comments with -- for just $10.00 into my Venmo account and I'll tell you the truth about COVID-19 and crisis acting? I've made about $100.00, so --

REEVE: Like, really?


REEVE: Wait -- and people like send you $10.00 and you're like yes, I'm not a crisis actor?

SUNNY: Well, I'm just like crisis acting isn't real and COVID is real, so surprise. I said I'd tell you the truth. Not the truth you wanted to hear but you know.

REEVE (voice-over): Sunny says dark jokes bring some relief from a darker reality, like that her own health is at risk.

Her fellow nurse, Hazel Bailey, got COVID last August and was on a ventilator for 42 days.

HAZEL BAILEY, FORMER NURSE WHO GOT COVID-19. It's real. COVID's real. I nearly died from it and will probably have issues from it for the rest of my life.

I have family that -- they believe that it's real but they're not concerned with taking the vaccine. They understand some people get it and it's not bad but I got it and it was bad.

And now, we're seeing this new variant hit and it's really hitting Arkansas (crying). I'm sorry -- sorry. My sister doesn't have the vaccine.


REEVE (voice-over): Sunny says that recently, COVID patients have been telling her they got it at church. This week, Arkansas had its biggest spike in cases since February and it has the worst case rate in the country.

The state is offering vaccination incentives like free lottery tickets. It hasn't convinced many.

REEVE: Did anyone you know get COVID? JOY STARR, ARKANSAS RESIDENT: My son had COVID.

REEVE: How old is he?

STARR: Eight.

REEVE: Wow. So that's like pretty rare for like --


REEVE: -- a young kid. What was that like?

STARR: He was sick a lot. He's been sick a lot for a while and he's still sick. So I'm going to have to go get him looked at and see if there's further damage. I don't know. I mean, his -- he got real sick.


STARR: Fever every day for weeks.

REEVE: Are you guys going to get the vaccine?

STARR: No, no vaccine.

REEVE: How come?

STARR: I just don't trust the government.

REEVE: Are you going to get the vaccine?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Absolutely not. Our kids are not going to get it. None of us.

REEVE: How come?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I mean, I figure I'll just let the world work its natural ways.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have taken other vaccines, ever, so --

REEVE: Yes. Are you able to get like religious exemption at school for your kids? Is that how --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I mean, we take the stuff that you have to.

REEVE: So what do you mean when you say you don't usually get vaccines?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We didn't do the pig flu swine thing or whatever that was. We didn't do any of the -- any of the four (ph). It's something that I don't -- I don't believe in. You know, I mean, I haven't ever. It seems it only comes about every presidency and it seems like it's either crowd control or whatever you want to call it.

But I don't want my family to have nothing to do with it. We've always been healthy and it just seems to work better that way.

REEVE (voice-over): Not everyone around here feels this way.

TERRY "COWBOY": I think you need to get it because it's not only helping you, it's going to help your whole family -- everybody around you. It's better to take a chance on the shot than it is to take a chance on the COVID. Cowboy up and go in there and get a shot and come out of there like a grownup, you know?

SUNNY: Come here. Come here.

One of my biggest fears is like this new wave of COVID. We're seeing a lot of nurses with compassion fatigue and I am really scared how that's going to play out because a lot of the cases that we're seeing are in non-vaccinated individuals.

If I had a patient come in that wasn't vaccinated, with COVID, like I have -- like I'm obviously still going to treat them to the best of my ability. But I do know some nurses that had to quit because they just don't have it in them to do that.

A lot of Arkansans would give you the shirt off their back to help you out -- for a stranger, really. I think that a lot of people being anti-COVID and anti-vaccine is just a product of the way that we were raised here. But they're not bad people.


HOLMES: CNN's Elle Reeve there, reporting from western Arkansas.

When we come back, NASA digging up for answers on the Red Planet. The Mars rover will soon collect rock samples to see if life ever existed there. What scientists are already finding out.




HOLMES: NASA's Mars rover beginning its search for life, signs of ancient life. It is about to dig up its first-ever samples of Martian rock. Scientists back on Earth, hoping that it will give them some important clues to the Red Planet's secrets.


HOLMES (voice-over): NASA's rover on Mars is set to begin one of its top missions to search for signs of ancient life. After settling in and testing its gear for nearly seven months, Perseverance will reach out with its robotic arm and pick up some promising rocks.


HOLMES (voice-over): It will begin extracting the samples. Those will help scientists determine if there was once life on the Red Planet.

Like any tourist, Perseverance has been busy taking photos. The crater was created by a meteor impact. The rover has been sending those photos back to NASA headquarters, where scientists have been studying them. According to NASA, the crater contains clay. It's led to the assumption this was once a lake.

KEN FARLEY, NASA PERSEVERANCE MARS ROVER PROJECT SCIENTIST: It was a lake and a lake about 40 kilometers across. So we're not looking for things that would have been growing in the sea. The other important aspect of this is that we are looking very, very far back in the history of the solar system.

And what that means is life would not have had much of a chance to advance very far. And that's why we always say we're looking for evidence of potential microbial life.

HOLMES (voice-over): The robotic arm will dig out samples and store them in cubes and analyze them.

JENNIFER TROSPER, NASA PERSEVERANCE MARS ROVER PROJECT MANAGER: The front of the rover then has another sample handling arm, which manages those tubes and the samples inside of them to do imaging and measure the volume. And then we'll seal those and store those for planned future return to Earth.

HOLMES: Although it's still unclear if Perseverance will be back, its possible its collection of rock samples could be back on Earth in a decade.


HOLMES: For the first time, astronomers have detected a ring around the planet outside of our solar system. What is more, it seems to be able to coalesce into new moons.

The exoplanet is orbiting a star nearly 400 million light years away. It is a gas giant, similar to Jupiter. But its ring is around 500 times larger than the rings of Saturn. And that is equivalent to the distance between Earth and the sun.

You can take a closer look and see a moon starting to form, as it pulls more and more matter from the gigantic ring.

I will be back in an hour or so, with the latest from the Olympics. A reminder before we go, you can follow the games with CNN's instant coverage on our website,

Meanwhile, for spending part of your day with me. I'm Michael Holmes. Stick around, "QUEST'S WORLD OF WONDER" is next and I will see you in an hour. [01:00:00]