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CDC Document Details Variant Threat; Students Quarantined after Positive COVID Tests; Mayor Bill de Blasio is Interviewed about New York City's Vaccine Incentive. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: It's been a gift to all of us. And we thank you so much for being with us today, talking about Prince. And we look forward, hopefully, as we beat this pandemic, to getting to see you perform and preform more and live in person.


BERMAN: Misty Copeland, it's been a real honor.

COPELAND: Thank you.

BERMAN: All right, a lot of news this morning.

CNN's coverage continues right now.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning, everyone. So glad you're with us. I'm Poppy Harlow. Jim is off this week.

And the war against coronavirus has significantly changed. This morning, a leaked CDC document sounding the alarm over the delta variant and explaining why the mask guidance changed so suddenly, even for vaccinated people. The data suggests the latest strain, the delta variant, is one of the most transmissible viruses ever, more contagious than Ebola and chicken pox. The findings appear to show this variant causes more severe illness and that vaccinated and unvaccinated people may be spreading it at the same rate.

Here is what Dr. Robert Wachter, who read the leaked CDC document, told CNN.


DR. ROBERT WACHTER, CHAIR, UCSF DEPARTMENT OF MEDICINE: We can't pussy foot around with this thing. We have to get more people vaccinated because this virus is better at its job than the original. But it's going to take a while to do that, even if we're successful. So, until then, we have to go back to more universal masking than what we have or else this thing is going to spread like wildfire.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HARLOW: Well, this comes ahead of new data expected to be published publicly today by the CDC.

Let's explain all of this to you in the detail you need with our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, I just want to make something really clear here. Even though it says that maybe vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread this delta variant equally, isn't it a tenfold more protection for vaccinated people?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Poppy. And I'm so glad you asked that because we need to be very clear about how we're putting all of this.

Despite all of this terrible news, you are still way better off being vaccinated. If you want to live, get vaccinated. If you want the people in your family to live, get vaccinated. If you care one whit about your community, get vaccinated. It still helps an enormous amount. It is the difference between life and death.

So, let's take a look at exactly this data that came out. This is the data that supports the masking guidance change that the CDC did earlier this week. They said they'd have more data and now they do.

So, what they found -- what they found out is that the delta variant is more transmissible than the common cold or the flu. It is as transmissible as chicken pox. If you're like me and old enough to remember chicken pox, once one person in the family got it, everybody got it. I remember that happened in my family.

Now let's take a look at some other numbers that talk about transmissibility. So, when you take a look at one person who gets COVID, one person, for the original strain, when that one person would get two to three new people sick. So one person would get two to three people sick. With this delta variant, one person gets five to nine people sick.

And if you multiply that out, this is what you get. On the left, the delta variant gets five people sick and you see how quickly -- it takes just a few generations of transmission. And look how quickly you get that huge number of people sick.

With the original variant, yes, it traveled, but nothing like this delta variant. So this is a whole new game, and people really need to play by the rules, which is to get vaccinated, again, if you care about living, if you care about saving other people.

HARLOW: It also gets you a lot sicker, doesn't it?

COHEN: That's right. And this was actually new because we knew that delta was more transmissible. It wasn't clear whether it actually got you sicker as well. So let's take a look at the CDC data behind that.

If you get infected with this delta variant, you are more likely to be hospitalized, get admitted to the ICU or die than if you were infected with the previous strains of this virus. But, again, to be clear, to your point earlier, Poppy, the vaccines overall reduce your risk of infection by three times and reduce your risk of getting severe disease or death by ten times.

So, in other words, if, God forbid, you're vaccinated and you do get infected with the delta variant, the odds are -- first of all, the odds are overwhelming that you won't get infected. But if you do, the odds are overwhelming that you will not get all that sick. It's the unvaccinated people who need to worry about those numbers that we put up earlier, who have to worry about the increased risk of getting hospitalized or dying. The delta variant is just stronger.

HARLOW: For people, Elizabeth, this morning who are vaccinated and really, you know, feel like the rug's been pulled out from under them because now they're being told to wear masks, in addition there is, as I understand it, some new data or an explanation about this outbreak in Massachusetts that helps -- that may help people understand why even if they're vaccinated they're being asked to wear masks.


COHEN: Right. Exactly. So let's first start out with this. When people are vaccinated, if they do get infected, they are much more likely to have mild disease. So if a vaccine keeps you out of the morgue and out of the hospital, the vaccine has won.

The problem here is that with delta, if you are vaccinated and infected, you are still quite contagious. That's a problem for immune compromised people near you. That's a problem for the unvaccinated people near you. So let's take a look at what this data from the Massachusetts outbreak shows us.

So, they looked at 80 vaccinated people who caught COVID in this outbreak and 65 unvaccinated people who caught COVID in this outbreak. And when they swabbed their noses, they found essentially the same levels of virus for each group. That wasn't true of previous strains. So, in other words, if you're vaccinated, you are just as likely to spread it as the person next to you who is unvaccinated.

However, you, yourself, are much less likely to die, much less likely to be hospitalized. So you have saved yourself and from, you know, when you get vaccinated, the problem is you are capable of spreading it, which really is a problem mostly for the unvaccinated.

HARLOW: Right. Thank you, Elizabeth Cohen, very, very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

HARLOW: Let's also bring in Dr. Colleen Kraft. She is an associate chief medical officer at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.

Dr. Kraft, good morning to you.


HARLOW: What's your reaction to what this CDC document lays out?

KRAFT: I think it's highly concerning. You know, we just got to the point where we thought we could sort of, you know, go without masks, that vaccine was potentially a reward for being able to not mask, and I think it's -- it shows us that we need to continue to just focus on stopping transmission at all. So, if we can stop transmission, then that's better for everybody. It's better for the virus to stop mutating.

HARLOW: But how do we do that unless something suddenly changes and a huge swath of America decides to get vaccinated? Because isn't part of the reason this delta variant became so pervasive because more than half the country is unvaccinated?

KRAFT: Yes. If we can figure that out, Poppy, I think we would make a lot of strides in the communication for public health. I don't know what it's going to take and I feel like I said this to you a year ago, probably a year and a half ago, I don't know what it takes for people to just sort of cross over from, you know, looking up sort of unusual sources of information to confirm their, you know, their ideas that may not be based in science or realism. I don't know what it takes.

You know, we've seen death. We've seen hardship. We've seen businesses close. We've seen all these things and it's still not motivating enough to get even, you know, people that are leaders in our country to mask universally. So it is confusing.

And as somebody that sees a lot of death here in the hospital, and then also, you know, is dealing with this some in the public, I am also at a loss to say, you know, I'm -- I don't know how to say it any clearer, please, get vaccinated against COVID.

HARLOW: What happens if large swaths of the country don't get vaccinated in terms of the ability for this virus -- it was COVID, now it's COVID delta variant --to mutate into a more deadly and more contagious variant. That's something that the CDC director warned about earlier this week.

KRAFT: Right. I mean it's a -- it's just -- you know, we talk a lot about numbers and I -- I start to realize like I don't know if numbers mean enough to an individual person because they may see their own statistics and not worry about it. But the more people that get COVID -- and this has been true the whole time, like, if we'd all masked universally in the beginning maybe we wouldn't have even gotten -- needed a vaccine, right? I think I've said that before. But, really, if people continue to spread it and it continues to find ways to live in humans, it's going to change just like it's always changed.

So what I think we're seeing and how -- what the hospital feels like right now is really like we're back in march of 2020 or July of 2020. Like, I feel like we are where we were a year ago. And, yes, maybe -- and half the population is vaccinated-ish, depending on which state you live in. But we're now going to just see all of this rampant disease in people that don't believe in this and don't -- aren't vaccinated. And it is confusing given the last year and a half we've had. HARLOW: Very confusing. Just very sad to be at this point when so much

of it was preventable with vaccine.

Dr. Kraft, thanks for joining us.


KRAFT: Thank you.

HARLOW: The surging number of COVID cases is already interrupting the new school year in Atlanta. More than 100 students at a charter school there in quarantine this morning.

Our Natasha Chen is outside of Atlanta's Drew Charter School.

As a parent of little kids, I mean, this just has us so worried about what is ahead as school districts open.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Poppy, there's a lot of frustration here. We have heard from the head of school who told "The Atlanta Journal-Constitution" that these few positive test cases likely did not stem from campus, but they're still looking into that.

What we do have is a letter from the head of school to families explaining that on Wednesday night they found out about these positive test cases. By Thursday, they had informed families of the students who were in close contact. So now more than 100 of them are in quarantine.

Now, the head of school also told "The AJC" that the staff members who tested positive were not vaccinated. There's no requirement for employees to be vaccinated, but the head of school said that three quarters of them are.

He also told "The AJC" that about a third of the eligible students, 12 and up, are vaccinated at the school.

So there's a frustration here among the parents. One that we talked to said this is happening so fast, he kind of expected it coming. And it's a lot to deal with.


:BRANDON, PARENT OF DREW CHARTER SCHOOL STUDENT: It's too early in the school year for this to be going on. And, you know, we're just going back. So it makes you on edge and not at ease.

We don't have a mandate where you have to get vaccinated, so that's hard to say that, OK, well, the teacher shouldn't have been there, which I figure they shouldn't -- shouldn't be in the school if they're not vaccinated. I mean, that's why they should have held off until we got everything under control.


CHEN: He said he had been very concerned about the delta variant and the uptick in numbers. So he was already nervous about that. He said if he were in charge, he would have asked only vaccinated teachers and students to come back in-person. Of course, that is very difficult to coordinate that kind of policy. This is part of a public school system.

We have reached out to the Drew School for comment and more information, Poppy.

HARLOW: Natasha Chen, thank you very much for your reporting.

Coming up next, the mayor of New York City will join me live as he faces a decision on whether to reinstate an indoor mask mandate in this city. He is also launching a new incentive, $100 cash to people who get vaccinated. A lot to talk about with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Also, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford changes his tune, flirting with 2020 election conspiracies as he faces a tough Republican primary. Hear what CNN asked him ahead.

And I'll speak to a mother ready to sue the state of Arkansas over legislation that prevents local school districts from imposing mask mandates. That fight, ahead.



HARLOW: Welcome back.

President Biden has announced new incentives to get more Americans vaccinated. That comes on the heels of the CDC recommending indoor masking, even for fully vaccinated people in areas seeing spikes. Right here in New York City, COVID cases are up. The daily average over the past seven days is double where it was a month ago. And the community level of transmission in the city is, quote, substantial. New York City's health commissioner says about three-fourths of the COVID cases here are the delta variant.

Let's talk about all of this with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mr. Mayor, good morning and thank you for your time.


HARLOW: So you just announced an incentive, $100 cash for people who decide to get a first dose of the vaccine at this point. Hopefully it works and gets a lot more people vaccinated.

I do want your response, though, to some concern. For example, a resident of Brownsville, Brooklyn, Diane Raymond (ph), told "The New York Times," look, this is a shortcut and it doesn't address the root causes of vaccine hesitancy. As you know, Brownsville is an area where they're facing a lot of that challenge.

What do you say to those who share her concern? DE BLASIO: It's a legitimate concern and that's why for months we've

had health professionals out in communities and trusted messengers, clergy, community leaders talking to people. But there's a huge amount of misinformation out there as well. Let's be blunt.

Unlike any other time in American history, a massive amount, a very cynical misinformation, folks for their own gain bluntly telling people vaccines don't work when you can see with your own eyes, 165 million Americans got vaccinated. That's the only reason that we're doing as well as we are as a country right now. So it's all about vaccination.

Poppy, here's the bottom line. The incentive is going to draw people. I'm proud of having announced something that I think is now gaining a lot of attention and will be picked up around the country. $100 incentive, that's going to be the deal breaker. That's going to move a lot of people. Or deal-maker. You know, it will move a lot of people to come in and get vaccinated.

But the other thing is mandates. What I announced last week were public employees -- and this has now been spreading like wildfire around the country -- we need mandates. Public sector, private sector, we need mandates because the hesitancy is honest and real in so many cases, but it doesn't solve the problem to just, you know, look at the hesitancy, observe it, admire it, as opposed to address it. And mandates are one of the ways to address it.

HARLOW: OK. So you're -- you have the option of requiring/mandating masks indoors for everyone, but you haven't done that yet. You're waiting until Monday. And that's got even, you know, some folks on your city council pretty concerned, saying, you need to act on this right now.

Why are you waiting until Monday to make that decision?

DE BLASIO: First of all, the whole ballgame is vaccination. And that's part of what is crucial to me here as we announce the approach to mask is not to lose the forest for the trees.


The main event is vaccination.

Masks can be helpful. We're going to delineate to New Yorkers the best way to use masks. If they don't change the basic reality, vaccination does. So what we want to make sure is everything we does supports vaccination, focuses people on vaccination, doesn't distract from vaccination or undermine vaccination.

It's kind of amazing, Poppy, we're staring the solution in the face as a nation and yet we're not going aggressively enough at it. That's why mandates, to me, are the answer in so many cases.

HARLOW: So I hear you, but we can -- we can do two things at once, right? We can do hard things. And, as you know, Mark Levine, who chairs the New York City Council Health Committee, called you waiting on another indoor mask mandate outrageous, saying one of the lessons we learned from the pandemic is you have to act fast.

Is he wrong?

DE BLASIO: And we are acting -- listen, we're acting fast on the thing that makes a difference. That's why we put a mandate in place for vaccination of public employees. That's why we created the $100 incentive to get people vaccinated. That's why I called on the private sector in this city to implement vaccine mandates. And, guess what, Danny Meyer, one of the most important entrepreneurs in New York City, just announced yesterday, for his establishment, his restaurants, employees and customers have to be vaccinated if they want to dine or work indoors.

HARLOW: Yes, he -- he did.

DE BLASIO: That's what we have to do. So we will address masks. We will.


DE BLASIO: But we have to make sure everything we do supports vaccination. Yes, you can do more than one thing, but you better make sure the two things support each other, especially the most important piece, which is by far vaccination.

HARLOW: OK. You brought up Danny Meyer. He was on the show with me yesterday.

Listen to what he told me.


DANNY MEYER, FOUNDER AND CEO, UNION SQUARE HOSPITALITY GROUP: When we know that we care deeply about hygiene in every other respect of our restaurants and we know so much about the science of what's happening with the delta variant, especially for people who have not been vaccinated, why in the world would we just stand by and not take action right now?


HARLOW: Again, he's leading the way, just like he did with banning smoking in his restaurants all the way back in 1990 before the city did. But you applaud his move.

Should we take this to mean, Mayor, that you are going to try to move to have all restaurants in New York City do the same to mandate vaccinations?

DE BLASIO: Look, at this point, Poppy, given everything we're learning about the delta variant, all options are on the table.


DE BLASIO: I keep saying we're climbing the ladder in terms of more and more mandates, tougher and tougher measures to make sure that people are vaccinated.

What's going to happen, bluntly, is that folks who are vaccinated are going to be able to experience all the things that they love in the life of this city and this country. And folks who are not going to -- not vaccinated are going to find that too many things that they want to do they can't do unless they are vaccinated. That has to be the reality because people will respond to that. We all understand human nature.


DE BLASIO: Especially younger people who are the group that are the most unvaccinated. If they can't do the things they want to do, they will find their way to vaccination.

HARLOW: Do you have the power -- and forgive me if I don't know this. I'm generally interested -- genuinely interested. Do you have the power to mandate vaccination in all restaurants, like a -- like a liquor license, like a restaurant can't sell liquor if they don't have a liquor license? Could you do that, or the city council?

DE BLASIO: The health department, which in -- especially in an emergency situation like this, has very real powers, can put out a variety of rules, just as you said earlier, there was issues with smoking in the past. Any kind of public health issue can be addressed.


DE BLASIO: And we're looking at all those options.


DE BLASIO: But, listen, it comes down to something very human. We want people to understand, this is -- this is what saves their lives. This is what saves the lives of their loved ones. But we've tried incentives for months and months. We tried being, you know, communicative and open and compassionate and all that was good. But we need something also tough at this point. Incentives, yes, $100 per person, great deal, but we need mandates. We've got to show people, this is the only way forward to get vaccinated. And if you don't get around to getting vaccinated, you're going to miss out on a lot of things that matter in life.

HARLOW: Two very quick, final questions.

One, schools. As a parent, I'm asking you, are you still 100 percent sure that New York City schools open 100 percent in-person this fall?

DE BLASIO: Yes. Our kids have been through too much. If they don't get back to the classroom, they are going to miss out on so much educationally, emotionally, humanly.


DE BLASIO: Yes, every child is coming back to the classroom.


Finally, the concert, big homecoming week coming up here in New York City. It is in the middle of August. Everyone's looking forward to it. But you're going to -- it's gathering a lot of people. I mean CNN is going to air it live. It's going to be huge, filling Central Park. I just wonder, I mean, we just saw St. Louis cancel their welcome back concert. What do you think, Mayor, is it on the table to cancel it given what's happened?

DE BLASIO: No. No, we just announced an incredible lineup for Central Park and for each of the five boroughs. And everyone who attends has to be vaccinated.


So we're sending that message clearly.


DE BLASIO: You want to have a once in a lifetime opportunity, go get vaccinated. Even if they've gotten the first dose, people can attend the concert. So we're saying, there's still time to get vaccinated, but it's -- clearly you want to be rewarded for good behavior, you want an opportunity to see the concert of a lifetime, go get vaccinated.

HARLOW: Mayor Bill de Blasio, thank you and good luck in all these efforts for the people of New York City.

DE BLASIO: Thank you.

HARLOW: All right, ahead, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Lankford facing backlash from Trump supporters in his state for voting to certify the 2020 election results. Now his tune may be changing a bit. We'll have that reporting ahead.



HARLOW: Republican Senator James Lankford is now facing some backlash in his home