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CDC Expected to Update Mask Guidance; Insurrection Hearings Begin. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2021 - 14:00   ET



ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Welcome to NEWSROOM. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

We are following breaking news on COVID. One hour from now, we expect the CDC to issue new mask guidelines for vaccinated Americans. Let me repeat. We expect the CDC will tell you fully vaccinated people, like so many of you watching, like us, to start wearing masks again if we live in communities where the virus transmission rate is high.

The CDC is also expected to recommend that students and teachers wear masks again in K-12 schools, regardless of their vaccination status. So, we will bring you that CDC announcement as soon as it happens.

BLACKWELL: So, according to the CDC, close to two-thirds of counties in the U.S. have high or substantial transmission of COVID-19.

And look at the map on your screen. That's every place you see in red or orange. The Delta variant's spread and the breakthrough cases that we have been talking about among those who have been vaccinated are major reasons behind the expected decision.

CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is here ahead of the announcement.

Sanjay, let's start with just your reaction to what we're expecting to hear from the CDC.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I mean, this is obviously not the news people want to hear right now, because it's going to appear like we're going backwards.

I think, if we rewind back to May 13, when I think I was on your program talking...

CAMEROTA: You were.

GUPTA: ... about the fact that the mask guidance -- yes -- was changing at that time. It was a cause for celebration, certainly, but I will tell you that

there were public health officials even at that time who said, is this the wisest decision at this time, given the potential transmissibility of the Delta variant?

What is driving this decision today -- and I think this is really important -- is new data that has not yet even been published that has been reviewed by this team that's been looking at this guidance that basically says this.

If you are a vaccinated, infected, breakthrough infection individual, you probably could carry around the same viral load as an unvaccinated infected individual. That's what the new data shows. I want to be clear. It doesn't mean that you're likely to get sick.

The vaccines work really, really well at preventing you from getting sick, but you could still carry a substantial amount of virus and potentially transmit to somebody else. And I think that's the biggest new thing that is driving what is likely to be these changes, as you mentioned, recommending masks for everyone indoors.

CAMEROTA: Sanjay, that's incredibly. That's really important new information, because we didn't know if vaccinated people were carrying around the same amount of virus.

GUPTA: That's right.

CAMEROTA: But it does feel like a setback.

BLACKWELL: Yes, it does.

CAMEROTA: I mean, I remember that we were celebrating, Sanjay, you and I were emotional, the idea that we could peel off our masks, that we had gotten to that point. On May 13, it really felt special.

So this does feel like a setback. And I have so many questions. How do if you're in a high transmission area? Is that the same as the positivity rate of your town?

GUPTA: Well, the positivity rate is part of that. But this -- with transmission, they're actually looking at numbers. So, usually, it's some number of infections per 100,000 people, per some predefined amount.

So that map that I think you showed in the beginning -- we can show it again -- that's sort of how that map comes into place. The positivity rate sort of gives you an idea of just how -- are you doing enough testing overall.

But these are -- they're not exact numbers. But I can tell you, where I live, in Atlanta, it's considered high transmission, in New York, substantial -- I'm sorry -- here in Atlanta, substantial. L.A. has high transmission. So it's different.

But you can find this information your own public health site.

BLACKWELL: Do you think this is enough to at least slow this surge that we're seeing?

GUPTA: You know, I think it could. I really do.

And I want to be clear again on something that I think is really important. This is going to seem like a setback, but overall, because the vaccines have been so effective, and because the people who are most vulnerable to this disease are the largest recipients of these vaccines, people who are above 65, the death rate and the hospitalization rate, even if there is a surge, Victor, I don't think will correspond to the surge like we saw last year, right?

We saw the numbers go up. We saw the hospitalizations go right up after that and then death rates. Even if numbers go up, I think hospitalizations and deaths, while they will go up, I think will be flatter.

It's not great news. Don't get me wrong. I'm not trying to sugarcoat this. But the idea that the vaccines are so effective is still a truth in all this.


CAMEROTA: How about the news coming out of the CDC for schoolchildren?

Of course, this will -- they will be disappointed if they have to wear masks this September. I mean, they will get over it. It's not that big of a hardship. But that's not what they were hoping for this September. So, even in schools where all of the kids have been vaccinated, they still have to wear masks, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, I think that in those types of school districts where everyone's been vaccinated, you may be in communities where you don't -- you have lower-than-substantial spread as well.

So the guidelines, strictly interpreted at that point, you might not need to wear masks, although I think what the -- we will see what they say here at 3:00, but they may just say, to be as clear as possible, that they're going to recommend all school-aged children wear masks, because Alisyn, even though there may be some school districts, as you describe, across the country, I think it's about 30 percent, about a third roughly of 12-to-17-year-olds, 12-to-16-year-olds have now been vaccinated.

Vaccines have been out for a long time. But that's the numbers they're sort of at around the country.

BLACKWELL: I remember that day when the vaccinated could take the mask off indoors.


BLACKWELL: And there was a lag time that we were actually talking about that week that I went to the grocery store, I went to a mall, and they had not changed their guidance. There was a lag time there. Do you expect there will be a lag time now with getting the masks back

on? And what does that mean for public health, for the spread, for this variant that is hitting so many people?

GUPTA: That's a really interesting question, Victor. You're right. I mean, I think there are some people who are going -- even when the mask guidance was lifted or came off back in May, there were people who still wore their masks.

I think you had your mask still, Victor, if I remember correctly. And there are people who won't wear the masks, despite the fact that the guidance is going to be changed, looks like, at 3:00.

These are recommendations. These are guidance. So whether large institutions, like large workplaces, schools, as we were talking about, universities, they implement these things, that's different from the CDC itself. It's not a mandate, because they don't really have that power to mandate.

But a lot of people are going to take their cue on this.

CAMEROTA: I remember you were getting the hairy eyeball. You had gone shopping.


CAMEROTA: You had gone into a big department store.


CAMEROTA: And you were getting the hairy eyeball because you weren't wearing a mask.

BLACKWELL: I was not wearing a mask anymore.

CAMEROTA: You were like, CDC guidance, people.

BLACKWELL: And the store policy was you still have to wear the mask. I wonder how long it's going to take to get to the other side.

CAMEROTA: Well, also, Sanjay, another confusing thing is that transmission rates fluctuate.



CAMEROTA: So is this going to be one of these situations where you're in a town and your mayor or the governor of your state every week tells you what the mask guidance is?

GUPTA: Yes, I don't know. I think different communities are going to handle it differently.

But the idea that, metaphorically, this could feel more like the weather, as opposed to this sort of linear sort of story that the weather changes and that you check it on a regular basis is, I think, possible. People have referred to it this way.

And the fact, if you want to take the metaphor even further, that when you have a vaccine, it's like wearing a raincoat. You have the raincoat on all the time. But there's some days when you're going to have really bad showers, where there's a lot of viral spread in your area, and then the umbrella would be the mask.

And so you would carry your umbrella, wear your mask on those days. I don't know. I think everyone's going to handle it differently. I will say this, that just, seasonally, as we have talked about before, in the warmer weather like this, people are largely outside. The virus doesn't like to be outside. This is some of the lower viral transmission times.

Sort of universally, as you go into the fall, the viral transmission does tend to increase. So places that -- and I don't relish saying this at all, but some places that had lower viral transmission, they may increase to substantial and so on.

BLACKWELL: So the local governments will make the decision if they return to mandates. The stores, the corporations will make the decision.

But what should this mean if I'm going to a friend's house? Should I take my mask if I'm going over to watch a movie? Does the new CDC guidance speak to that, do we know?

GUPTA: I think if you are going to a place where everyone around you is vaccinated, you're probably OK. If you're outside, you're probably OK. I don't think it's -- we will see, again, at 3:00. I'm previewing here a bit.

But, at 3:00, we will see if they say anything about outdoors. But my guess is, they won't say that's any different. So I think it depends. If you're around a lot of people, what I would say is, if you're going to an event, big party or whatever, something where there's a lot of people, and the community has a lot of viral spread in there, vaccination rates are low, in those situations, I probably would wear a mask, if I'm indoors.

CAMEROTA: I mean, one silver lining, if that's the right word, of the Delta is that we have seen vaccination rates tick up a little bit this week.

People are scared.


CAMEROTA: People are scared. They are getting the word that the Delta variant is super serious and we are seeing a bit of a tick up in vaccination rate again.

GUPTA: Yes. Yes.

[14:10:00] And I just hope this message doesn't get lost in all this, because, again, people will see today as a little bit of a setback. But that doesn't mean anything about the vaccines in terms of preventing illness has changed. They're still super effective vaccines.

You may have a higher viral load because of this Delta variant. That doesn't necessarily correspond to your severity of illness, if that makes sense. You could have a high viral load, you may be asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic, very few symptoms.

But you could still potentially spread it. That's the concern. Some of this is just based on really early data. It's not yet been published. Ultimately, you would look at large populations of people and trace them and say, oh, yes, that is happening, vaccinated people are spreading it to others. And you would see that over a period of time.

But there's enough evidence now just measuring the amount of virus that people are carrying, even vaccinated people who have these rare, but breakthrough infections, that that's what's driving their concern today.

CAMEROTA: The goal is to stay out of the hospital and to stay alive.


CAMEROTA: And the vaccines have delivered on those promises.

BLACKWELL: They certainly have.

CAMEROTA: The vaccines work to do those things.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, as always, thank you very much.

OK, also other big news, Capitol Police officers testifying about being tortured, being beaten, being subjected to racial slurs all during the insurrection, and they had no doubt about who inspired it that day.


SGT. AQUILINO GONELL, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: All of them, all of them, were telling us: Trump sent us.

Nobody else. It was nobody else. It was not Antifa. It was not Black Lives Matters. It was not the FBI. It was his supporters, that he sent them over to the Capitol that day.


CAMEROTA: More on their powerful testimony next.



CAMEROTA: Riveting testimony on Capitol Hill during the first hearing on the House select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.

BLACKWELL: The committee played new video of the siege. And members listened to four officers, two from the Capitol Police, two from the D.C. Metro Police.

And each told the details and that personal impact of the violence that they survived during the insurrection. Under oath, the officers spoke of the physical and the verbal attacks.


GONELL: But, on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than in my entire deployment to Iraq.

The rioters called me traitor, a disgrace, and shouted that I, I, an Army veteran and a police officer, should be executed.

DANIEL HODGES, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: The man seized the opportunity of my vulnerability, grabbed the front of my gas mask, and used to beat my head against the door.

He switched to pulling it off my head, the straps stretching against my skull and straining my neck. He never uttered any words I recognized, but opted instead for guttural screams. I remember him foaming at the mouth.

MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE OFFICER: As I was swarmed by a violent mob, they ripped off my badge, they grabbed and stripped me of my radio. They seized ammunition that was secured to my body.

They began to beat me with their fists and with what felt like hard metal objects. I had been beaten unconscious and remained so for more than four minutes.

At the hospital, doctors told me that I had suffered a heart attack. And I was later diagnosed with a concussion, a traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.


BLACKWELL: Officer Harry Dunn also described the racial hatred from the rioters after he told them that he voted for Joe Biden.

Now, we're going to play some of his testimony. And we have to warn you that this language is disturbing.


HARRY DUNN, U.S. CAPITOL POLICE OFFICER: That prompted a torrent of racial epithets.

One woman in a pink MAGA shirt yelled: "You hear that, guys? This nigger voted for Joe Biden."

Then the crowd, perhaps around 20 people, joined in screaming: "Boo, fucking nigger." No one had ever, ever called me a nigger while wearing the uniform of a Capitol Police officer.

In the days following the tempting insurrection, other black officers shared with me their own stories of racial abuse on January 6. One officer told me he had never in his entire 40 years of life been called a nigger to his face. And that streak ended on January 6.


CAMEROTA: The four survivors also implored the committee to continue to follow the facts, despite the Trump-supporting members of Congress trying to downplay the attack on democracy that day.


GONELL: There's a continued, shocking attempt to ignore or try to destroy the truth of what truly happened that day, and to whitewash the facts.

FANONE: I feel like I went to hell and back to protect them and the people in this room. But too many are now telling me that hell doesn't exist, or that hell actually wasn't that bad.

The indifference shown to my colleagues is disgraceful!

Truly nothing has prepared me to address those elected members of our government who continue to deny the events of that day.


CAMEROTA: Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney embraced the officers before their testimony.

Later, she asked Sergeant Gonell what he thought of Donald Trump describing the mob as loving and offering officers -- quote -- "hugs and kisses."



GONELL: It's upsetting. It is a pathetic excuse for his behavior, for something that he himself helped to create, this monstrosity.

I'm still recovering from those hugs and kisses that day that he claimed that so many rioters, terrorists were assaulting us that day.

All of them, all of them, were telling us: Trump sent us.

Nobody else. It was nobody else. It was not Antifa. It was not Black Lives Matters. It was not the FBI. It was his supporters, that he sent them over to the Capitol that day.

And he could have done a lot of things. One of them was to tell them to stop. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CAMEROTA: Here to discuss everything that we heard today, CNN's Evan Perez and Manu Raju. We also have CNN legal and national security analyst Asha Rangappa and CNN law enforcement analyst Anthony Barksdale.

Manu, I just want to quickly say we're just getting an alert that Kevin McCarthy, minority leader, says that he did not watch the hearing today. He says he was in back-to-back hearings. And Jim Jordan said he was on the able to watch part of it.

That is so telling, Manu. I mean, this was the most riveting testimony. It's about democracy. And they -- Republicans keep claiming, well, they're never going to get to the bottom of it. This Democratic committee is never going to get to the bottom of it. We need to know what happened that day. We need to know why the Capitol Police weren't prepared.

Why couldn't they tune in, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is going to be the challenge for the Republicans going forward here, because they want to try to undercut the legitimacy of this investigation and try to make it about Nancy Pelosi, try to make it about everything that they believe should be the focus here, why wasn't the Capitol prepared, but not make it about what we heard today.

This riveting testimony that these officers heard -- and that they dealt with that day, and the fact that -- what these officers said, that this was a mob that was inspired by Donald Trump, that came to the Capitol, that viciously attacked them, that they survived this near death experience, and that they want to get to the bottom of exactly what happened here, all of the circumstances around this.

And you have heard the Republican members of Congress not want to move forward on an investigation because of their concerns that it will focus on Donald Trump, it will focus on Republicans, including the conversations that occurred with the White House that day, including with Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader.

Now, I asked Liz Cheney after the hearing whether or not they want to go down this route, because she had alluded to the fact that they should get every communication that happened with the White House that day. And she made very clear that that needs to be central to the investigation going forward, as well as the chairman, Bennie Thompson, made that clear as well.

And then, after the hearing, Thompson told me that they will issue subpoenas soon to get information. They're not going to write letters and ask for voluntary information. They will simply go to the compulsory side. They will see if they get cooperation.

But this investigation, they want to lay out this road map going forward exactly how to dive, how deep to dive, but, undoubtedly, they will look at Donald Trump's role. The question will be, will they get any cooperation if they issue those subpoenas to Trump's associates and potentially Trump himself?

BLACKWELL: Commissioner Barksdale, we have -- we have watched the clips of that day for months now, new video that comes out.

And I have seen the video of Officer Hodges crammed into that door I can't tell you how many times. But hearing him describe it, and what he was feeling and why he did it -- there was a member -- Congresswoman Murphy asked, what were you fighting for? And he said: Democracy. You were 40 feet away.

Your reaction to what you heard from those law enforcement officers today?

ANTHONY BARKSDALE, CNN LAW ENFORCEMENT ANALYST: I thought their testimony was so powerful, a lot of emotion, a lot of pain in what they had to say.

I salute all of them. Based on what we all saw, I am worried about their mental health. And they appear to be still suffering, clearly, to this day. I couldn't even imagine what they went through.

But they went through it. And they're there to tell their story. And everyone needs to listen, Democrat, Republican independent. We need to hear their voices as to what they suffered on that day protecting America.

CAMEROTA: Asha, I mean, it was so gripping to hear these police officers. They are just the best and the bravest among us.

They were so injured. They were so traumatized. And they would go back for more. I mean, you kept hearing about how they would go out and try to regain some strength or take a breath. And then they knew that there weren't enough of them. And they would have to go back to the fight and go back to risk their lives.


And they said repeatedly they thought that they were going to lose their lives that day. And also, interestingly, they knew what they saw. And every single one of them described the bloodthirsty, violent mob as terrorists, domestic terrorists. They saw it that day.

I mean, this is from eyewitnesses that were on the receiving end of the terrorism.

ASHA RANGAPPA, CNN LEGAL AND NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: Yes, for purposes of this investigation, Alisyn, it was really important to start with these officers.

We have seen clips of these videos. But what we heard today was the lived experience, not just isolated clips, and the human experience of having to go through this. And they were testifying not just as law enforcement officers, but as victims and as humans.

And so they -- while they were protecting the Capitol and members of Congress, they were also protecting their own lives, and, in some cases, as we heard, begging for their own lives. So this is the starting point. This is what they saw, what they all witnessed, which was all consistent.

There are two threads here that I think where the investigation goes. The first is that several of them testified that they had no idea that this was going to unfold that day. And so this brings up the intelligence question, which the committee will hopefully investigate on why this was not known. Why was this so unexpected to the people who were on the ground?

And then the other is, how did this come about? We heard several officers say, they had marching orders. They have said that they were sent by Trump, they were sent by a hit man. And so the question of who knew what and when in the Oval Office, in the Trump administration is important.

And on this front, Alisyn, the DOJ has just issued a letter stating that they will not be asserting executive privilege for people who had communications with the president. And so the committee should be able to subpoena those people to testify to the conversations or anything that happened on January 6 or before that.

BLACKWELL: So let's take that to Evan Perez there who's covering, of course, the Justice Department.

We know that subpoenas are coming. We heard that from the chair of this committee, Bennie Thompson. Tell us about that -- actually, your reporting.


I mean, look, I think Asha brings up an important point that was brought up in the hearing. At the end of the hearing, you heard these officers being asked what they want from this committee. And I think it's an important thing that this committee has the ability to go places that perhaps the Justice Department will not go in its criminal investigation, though we have over 550 people already charged with crimes related to January 6.

But there's no sign that the Justice Department is going to try to interview President Trump, Mark Meadows, Kevin McCarthy. At least at this point, there's no indication of that. And so if this committee can do that, they certainly have the power to do that because those are not criminal matters.

And so that's one of the things that I think, as Asha just made reference to, the Justice Department, has now notified some of the witnesses, some potential witnesses who have been called and asked for testimony by some of the committees on Capitol Hill that they're free to talk, that they are not encumbered by executive privilege.

In fact, it says unrestricted testimony, irrespective of potential privilege.

And I will read you just a part of the letter that Asha was referring to. It says: "The extraordinary events in this matter constitute exceptional circumstances warranting an accommodation to Congress in this case."

Again, at this point, there's a couple of committees, the Oversight, the Senate Judiciary Committee, that have asked for testimony from people like Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general who was there right up until January 20.

He saw a lot of the stuff that the president and the White House were doing to push this idea that there was fraud and that the election was stolen, the things that led to January 6. So now Rosen can speak. And we will see who else these committees call, whether this committee in particular asks for Rosen and other people's testimony, because those will be illuminating as to what was going on between the White House and some of the people who were involved in this.

CAMEROTA: Commissioner Barksdale, I want to get back to the police work and what these guys were up against.

We had heard this before, but to hear it from their mouths was chilling, the litany of weapons that they had to defend themselves against. There were rebar, flagpoles, U.S. flagpoles, Trump flagpoles.

There was the stolen shields from other police officers, bear spray, insecticide, like wasp spray, that they kept getting face full of. And I mean, frankly, one of them talked about the possibility of gunfire.