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CDC Updates Mask Guidance; Insurrection Hearings Begin. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired July 27, 2021 - 15:00   ET


DAVID CHALIAN, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: But it was an endorsement he worked really hard to get, despite all the storied history of the Trump-Bush family relationship, or lack thereof.


ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: I know. I keep hearing it being likened to Charlie Brown and Lucy with the football.

It was more like, I thought, the scene from "Animal House." Thank you, sir. May I have another?


CAMEROTA: The humiliating fraternity hazing, which went on.

And then it didn't pay off.

CHALIAN: Right. No, not at all.

CAMEROTA: Not at all.

OK, David Chalian, thank you very much.

CHALIAN: Thanks, guys.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: All right, top of the hour.

And at any moment, we are expecting the CDC to issue new mask guidelines for fully vaccinated Americans. We expect the new guidance will be that fully vaccinated people living in high or substantial transmission areas should now go back to wearing masks.

According to the CDC, close to two-thirds of the counties in the U.S. have high or substantial transmission of COVID-19. Look at the map on your screen. That's every area you see in orange and in red.

CAMEROTA: Also, the CDC is expected to recommend that students and teachers wear masks in K-12 schools this coming semester, regardless of their vaccination status.

So, we will bring you that CDC announcement as soon as it happens.

Let's bring in now CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN chief White House correspondent Kaitlan Collins.

Sanjay, is this -- I'm still, frankly a little confused. And I know that we will it will be clarified when the CDC comes out. But is it your understanding that this is not universal masking, you have to know what the transmission rate is in your own community, and this is for indoor mask-wearing?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, that's the understanding that I have as well, that this is -- we're primarily talking about indoor masking for vaccinated people. That's the big change.

As you know, unvaccinated people have been -- they have been -- the recommendation was that they were masks indoors. This would be for vaccinated people, and, yes, in areas where there is high or substantial viral transmission.

So I think you put up the map, we can just show it again, it's about two-thirds of the country that sort of fall into this higher substantial spreads sort of area here. So you have to sort of know. You're right, Alisyn, I mean, not the whole country, but many parts of the country are going to obviously be affected by this.

BLACKWELL: So, Kaitlan, the White House, the president has said he's going to stay out of the scientific decisions that are made by the CDC.

But we know that there was some pressure certainly on this administration to make a decision, make a call, as we're seeing what we saw in L.A. County and Saint Louis County to bring back masks universally.

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I think also people wanted clarity, because what we are seeing now is not what we had been seeing before, two months ago, when the CDC dropped its recommendations for fully vaccinated people.

That was when they were essentially feeling like they were on the cusp of victory, telling people they could go indoors without a mask if they were fully vaccinated in pretty much every setting. And now, two months later, they are having to make a sharp reversal.

And the Delta variant is the big factor here. That is what is looming over all of this. And that's really expected to be a big explanation that you are going to hear from the CDC director when she does start this briefing any moment from now explaining why they went from saying you didn't have to wear a mask to now saying you should be wearing one if you are indoors in these certain areas.

The other massive change that is coming out of this that is going to be very big and significant for schools that are about to reopen is, the CDC is also going to recommend that everyone in a school setting K-12 wear a mask. That is regardless of vaccination status. I'm told that applies to teachers, educators, other administrative officials in those schools as well when it comes to the CDC guidance. And, of course, that comes as those under 12 still have not gotten

authorization to get the vaccine yet. That is something that the CDC or that the FDA is currently reviewing, but that is certainly significant.


CAMEROTA: OK. Kaitlan, sorry to interrupt you. Sorry to interrupt you.

We understand that the CDC presser is starting now. So let's listen to what their guidance is.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Rochelle Walensky will provide opening remarks, and then be happy to take your questions.

This is an on-the-record briefing and not under embargo.

At this time, I would like to turn the call over to Dr. Walensky.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, CDC DIRECTOR: Thank you all for joining us today.

As you have heard from me previously, this pandemic continues to pose a serious threat to the health of all Americans. I have said throughout my tenure at CDC that our guidance and recommendations will follow the science in our efforts to protect the health of as many Americans as possible.

And, today, we have new science related to the Delta variant that requires us to update the guidance regarding what you can do when you are fully vaccinated.

The Delta variant is showing every day its willingness to outsmart us and to be an opportunist in areas where we have not shown a fortified response against it.

This week, our data shows that Delta remains the predominant variant circulating in the United States. Eight in 10 sequenced samples contains the Delta variant.


In recent days, I have seen new scientific data from recent outbreak investigations showing that the Delta variant behaves uniquely differently from past strains of the virus that cause COVID-19.

Information on the Delta variant from several state and other countries indicate that, in rare occasions, some vaccinated people infected with the Delta variant after vaccination may be contagious and spread the virus to others. This new science is worrisome and, unfortunately, warrants an update to our recommendations.

First, we continue to strongly encourage everyone to get vaccinated. Getting vaccinated continues to prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death even with Delta. It also helps reduce the spread of the virus in our communities.

Vaccinated individuals continue to represent a very small amount of transmission occurring around the country. We continue to estimate that the risk of a breakthrough infection with symptoms upon exposure to the Delta variant is reduced by sevenfold.

The reduction is 20-fold for hospitalizations and deaths. And CDC has recommended for months unvaccinated individuals should get vaccinated and continue masking until they are fully vaccinated.

In areas with substantial and high transmission, CDC recommends fully vaccinated people wear masks in public indoor setting to help prevent the spread of the Delta variant and protect others. This includes school.

CDC recommends that everyone in K-12 schools wear a mask indoors, including teachers, staff, students, and visitors, regardless of vaccination status. Children should return to full-time in person learning in the fall with proper prevention strategies in place.

Finally, CDC recommends community leaders encourage vaccination and universal masking to prevent further outbreaks in areas of substantial and high transmission.

With the Delta variant, vaccinating more Americans now is more urgent than ever. The highest spread of cases is happening in places with low vaccination rates and among unvaccinated people.

This moment and, most importantly, the associated illness suffering and death could have been avoided with higher vaccination coverage in this country. COVID-19 continues to present many challenges and has exacted a tremendous toll on our nation.

We continue to follow the science closely and update the guidance should the science shift again. We must take every step we can to stop the Delta variant and end this pandemic.

And now I'm happy to take your questions. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Dr. Walensky.

Katrina, we're ready for our first question, please.

CAMEROTA: OK, you have just heard there the CDC announcement from the director, Rochelle Walensky, that they -- because of the Delta variant, some fully vaccinated people they have learned in new science can spread the Delta variant or at least spread the virus.

And so they are going back to recommending that even fully vaccinated people in areas of high transmission begin wearing masks again.

BLACKWELL: And if we get to questions from reporters who are listening in on this call, of course, we will go back to that. It seems that they're having some kind of technical issue there.

But, Sanjay, I want to expound on or have you expound on a question I asked earlier, that, if the cases are so rare that vaccinated people may be contagious and they spread the virus, and that vaccinated people represent such a small number of cases -- got to go back to the questions.


Let's listen.

QUESTION: And I guess (INAUDIBLE) question that a lot of people have right now is, what does this mean for vaccinated Americans?

Who are these guidelines trying to protect, if vaccinated Americans are not commonly hospitalized or dying from COVID, and transmission is not as common? Are these guidelines mostly trying to protect them or the unvaccinated? And if it's the latter, then how do these guidelines protect the unvaccinated?

WALENSKY: Thank you for that question, Adriana (ph).

I think the most important thing to understand is, the vaccines continue to do an exceptional job in protecting the individual who is vaccinated from severe illness, hospitalization and death, and even against mild illness, as we have indicated.

But your point is well taken. And what is different with the Delta variant than with the Alpha variant is that, in those cases, though, the rare cases that we have breakthrough infections, we felt it important to for people to understand that they have the potential to transmit virus to others.

Now, importantly to convey in all of this is that, of the transmission that's happening in the country right now, the vast majority of transmission occurring is occurring through unvaccinated individuals. But on that exception they might have a vaccine breakthrough, we want -- we thought it was important for people to understand that they could pass the disease onto someone else.

And that's important in the case, for example, of a vaccinated individual who might be going to visit an immunocompromised family member. We wanted to make sure that they took the precautions necessary to not pass the virus to those.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next question, please.

BLACKWELL: Of, if there's news that breaks during this question-and- answer period, we will, of course, bring it.

Sanjay, the question was, if there are such rare cases where vaccinated people may be contagious and spread the virus, and that vaccinated people represent a small number of cases, as we heard from Dr. Walensky, is this about putting masks on vaccinated people or making sure that unvaccinated people continue to wear masks?

GUPTA: Well, that's a really good question.

But I think what this is specifically about in terms of the science that she's talking about is about the fact that masks should be worn by vaccinated people because I think what the new data is showing is that the amount of virus that an infected vaccinated person can carry, the so-called breakthrough infection, the amount of virus they carry is similar to the amount of virus that an unvaccinated infected person carries.

OK, so this is new, what I'm saying. This is something that is sort of new data that is really informing these this decision. So, if a -- now, while those breakthrough infections are rare, as you point out, they don't -- I mean, you're very well-protected by the vaccine.

But if you do get one of these infections, you may not know it, because you may have no or mild symptoms, because there's no correlation really between viral load -- or there's little correlation between viral load and symptoms. You could have a high viral load and not have much in the way of symptoms, but you could still spread.

That's the real concern here. So, if you are a vaccinated person, you should feel good that you're not likely to get sick. But this is really about the possibility they could still spread.

The Delta variant is what's changed that, as Kaitlan mentioned earlier.

COLLINS: Two questions.

One, you said that you are seeing some people who are...


CAMEROTA: I think Kaitlan is asking a question.

BLACKWELL: Yes, what we're hearing is that Kaitlan's actually listening to the call. So...


CAMEROTA: I think she's asking a question.

BLACKWELL: Yes, she's asking a question.

CAMEROTA: Should we listen?

Yes, let's listen.

COLLINS: ... vaccinated that are spreading this?

And, secondly, when it comes to having everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in school...


CAMEROTA: Sanjay will tell you what the answer is.



BLACKWELL: Our producer is asking to get that question, but I would love to know the answer to that.


WALENSKY: First, with regard to your first question, we are now actively conducting outbreak investigations of what is occurring in places that are having clusters.

And many of you have heard of many of those clusters. What we have learned in that context is that, when we examine the rare or breakthrough infections, and we look at the amount of virus in those people, it is pretty similar to the amount of virus in unvaccinated people.

We are now continuing to follow those clusters to understand the impact of forward transmission of those vaccinated people. But, again, I want to reiterate, we believe the vast majority of transmission is occurring in unvaccinated people and through unvaccinated people.

But unlike the Alpha variant that we had back in May, where we didn't believe that, if you were vaccinated, we could transmit further, this is different now with the Delta variant. And we're seeing now that infection is possible if you're a rare breakthrough infection, that you can transmit further, which is the reason for the change.


With regard to school, when we released our school guidance on July 9, we had less Delta variant in this country, we had fewer cases in this country. And, importantly, we were really hopeful that we would have more people vaccinated, especially in the demographic between 12 to 17 years old.

Next week, we have many school systems that are starting around the country. And I think we all agree that children less than -- 11 and less are not going to be able to be vaccinated. And with only 30 percent of our kids between 12 and 17 fully vaccinated now, more cases in this country and a real effort to try and make sure that our kids can safely get back to full in person learning in the fall, we're recommending that everybody wear masks right now.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Next question, please.

QUESTION: Next question...

CAMEROTA: OK. Let me -- let us get back now.

Kaitlan, we just heard you asking a question there about -- was it about the clusters that we have seen in some places like, say, Cape Cod?

COLLINS: Well, there's two things I think that she just made clear there, that she just expanded on there, which is, one, how rigorously are they monitoring these breakthrough cases? That is when someone who is fully vaccinated tests positive for

coronavirus. And now we are seeing more of that, we have heard from officials, because of the highly contagious Delta variant. I'm sure several people watching now have heard accounts of their friends who are fully vaccinated testing positive.

And so it's raising questions, because how rigorously has the CDC been monitoring this? What we have been told earlier was, it wasn't hyperaggressive monitoring of it. And she says now they are going to be monitoring that moving forward, but didn't say exactly how many people they have seen, and stressed repeatedly that they believe it is the majority of unvaccinated people that are contributing to the spread of coronavirus here in the United States.

However, this new guidance shows that there are some people who are fully vaccinated that may be transmitting this virus. And it's clearly enough that it's raising concern inside the CDC that they are reinstituting this masking guidance for fully vaccinated people indoors in certain areas with high transmission.

The other question was about this idea that they are now going to recommend a mask for everyone in a school setting K-12, regardless of their vaccination status. That is not just applied to children. That is also to teachers, to administrators.

And she was saying that, essentially, the vaccination rate among children who can get the vaccine, which we know is 13 to 17, is so low that they still feel the need that they need to wear a mask in a school setting with the highly contagious Delta variant spreading.

And, of course, that is a major decision that is being made by the CDC and is going to be something that a lot of school districts are dealing with. And it's also significant, we should note, because there are eight states that have banned their districts from requiring masks in schools.

So how do those districts deal with this going forward? What do parents do going forward? That's another big question that's going to be on a lot of parents' plates with their kids set to return to school in just days or weeks from now.

CAMEROTA: Arkansas, Arizona, Iowa, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Vermont, Sanjay.

And we had a parent on from Arizona who is upset that there is a ban on mask mandates there across the state. Hearing this now, I mean, what does she do?

GUPTA: Well, I mean, I wonder how some of these school districts are going to respond.

I mean, obviously, there's been so many collisions between politics and science here. If you look at the science, what the new science is saying -- and this is different than May 13, when the guidance initially changed from the CDC -- what the science is now saying, that the Delta variant, which was 1 percent dominant at that time, is now 83 percent dominant.

And that Delta variant creates a situation where, if someone does develop breakthrough infection, they could spread it. So back when some of these mandates or lack of mandates, against mandates went into place, that was different science. So we will see.

But it's -- I mean, I think there's going to be some fights that are gearing up, I guess, to your point specifically, about this new -- these new recommendations. There are people who are going to openly defy it, for sure.

CAMEROTA: Well, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Kaitlan Collins, thank you for helping us roll through all of this breaking news and the new CDC guidance. It's really helpful to get your expertise.

BLACKWELL: Thank you, guys.

CAMEROTA: OK, now to this: Several officers attacked on January 6 gave this very powerful and emotional testimony on Capitol Hill today.

One said that he could feel himself losing oxygen while he was being crushed. He thought this was the moment he was going to die.

BLACKWELL: And while those who defended the Capitol that day are talking, members of the Republican Party, some of them, are trying to -- now trying to change the topic.

More on the insurrection committee hearing ahead.



BLACKWELL: Well, now to day one of the House select committee's probe into the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

At its first hearing, the committee ran, as you see here, new video of the siege by Trump-inspired radicals. And then, from the same site of the insurrection, officers who survived it gave their accounts, two Capitol Police officers, two from Metro Police Department.

They detailed the beatings and the batons and the knives and fists and shields and Tasers, chemical sprays.

CAMEROTA: Plus, a slew of vile, racist garbage from the pro-Trump violent mob, including one officer repeatedly being called the N-word.


The police officers described this violent mob as terrorists.


SGT. AQUILINO GONELL, UNITED STATES CAPITOL POLICE: But, on January 6, for the first time, I was more afraid to work at the Capitol than in my entire deployment to Iraq. What we were subjected that day was like something from a medieval

battle. We fought hand to hand, inch by inch to prevent an invasion of the Capitol by a violent mob.

MICHAEL FANONE, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: The fighting in the Lower West Terrace tunnel was nothing short of brutal.

Separated from these other officers, who are only trying to defend the Capitol, I no longer posed any type of threat, nor was I an impediment to them going inside of the building.But yet they tortured me, they beat me.

DANIEL HODGES, D.C. METROPOLITAN POLICE DEPARTMENT: To my perpetual confusion, I saw the Thin Blue Line flag, a symbol of support for law enforcement, more than once being carried by the terrorists as they ignored our commands and continued to assault us.

The acrid stings of C.S. gas or tear gas and O.C. spray, which is mace, hung in the air, as the terrorists threw their own C.S. gas -- threw our own C.S. gas canisters back at us.


CAMEROTA: Let's bring in CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju, retired Army General Russel Honore, who led a review of Capitol security right after the riots, and CNN legal analyst Jennifer Rodgers, a former federal prosecutor.

What a day. I mean, their testimony was so riveting. It was so gripping and so disgusting on so many levels.

But, General Honore, I want to start with you, because you reviewed Capitol security. I mean, why -- what is the reason that these four brave officers had to engage in hand-to-hand combat with a medieval crowd, as they described it? Why wasn't there more backup?

LT. GEN. RUSSEL HONORE (RET.), U.S. ARMY: Well, we covered that somewhat in the report, that there were confusions in the chain of command between the police in the Capitol and the Pentagon.

We're looking for answers. And, hopefully, this committee will get to the bottom of what happened, on why the Guard, which could have been prepared, was not there. The other question we got to happen, where was the rest of government?

About thousands offices in the Secret Service, both the president and the vice president within two square miles of each other. Where was the rest of the Secret Service response team? Where were the FBI response team, when both the vice president and the president outside of the protection of the White House compound?

There's some very compelling questions that these people on the committee, who were all victims of this crime -- they saw what happened that day. And that's one of the questions we got to get to the bottom of, Alisyn. BLACKWELL: Yes, Jennifer, it was not only the charge of the committee

to try to get those answers, but members asked the officers, what do you want us to find? What answers do you want?

And one of them -- I believe it was Officer Dunn put it in the metaphor of a hit man, that the hit man came, but when a hit man is arrested, not just that hit man, but the person who hired them, who hired the hit man, getting to those answers -- we heard something from DOJ today that might make that a little easier to get an answer to.


So we heard from DOJ today that there will not be an assertion of executive privilege. So that means that any current or former government employees can testify about the events of January 6, what led to them, what happened on that day, and also anything related to attempts to undermine the election results without an assertion of executive privilege mucking it up.

That's really what has happened over the last couple of years with all the attempts to get to the bottom of things, for example, in the impeachment hearings. We don't have that impediment now. So that really eases the way for this committee to subpoena folks, including people with the president on January 6 as this was all happening, who can maybe tell us the reason why help wasn't sent immediately.

CAMEROTA: Manu, one of the talking points that Republicans, not those two who were on the committee, but those who are not on the committee, including Kevin McCarthy, keep saying is, Nancy -- this is a Nancy Pelosi committee, and she doesn't want to find out why the Capitol was vulnerable that day. She's not going to let them find out why the Capitol was vulnerable. That's what we wanted if we'd been on the committee.

Of course they're going to answer that question. I mean, that's -- isn't that one of the pressing questions of why was the Capitol vulnerable? Is that is that an off-limits question?

RAJU: Yes, that is certainly going to be something they explore.

They are saying this is going to be a deep-dive investigation, not just Nancy Pelosi, but also the other -- on the other side of the Capitol, the Senate. At the time, the majority leader was Mitch McConnell.