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Alarming Internal CDC Document Details Variant's Deadly Threat; CNN Goes Inside Hospital to Speak with Regretful COVID Patients; Biden Urges Congress to Extend Eviction Moratorium. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 10:00   ET




POPPY HARLOW, CNN NEWSROOM: Good morning, top of the hour. So glad you're with me, I'm Poppy Harlow in New York. Jim is off this week.

But we have alarming new developments in the fight against COVID. New data from a leaked CDC document said that it is one of the most transmissible viruses ever now, the delta variant on par with chickenpox and more contagious than Ebola and the common cold.

This document adds some really important context to the CDC recently updating the mask guidance for the vaccinated, even. It implies that vaccinated and unvaccinated people may be spreading COVID at the same rate. I should note though, it says that vaccinated people are ten times more protected against severe illness and death.

Today, the CDC is expected to publish new data noting importantly that vaccines, as I just said, reduce the risk of severe death or disease by ten times and also reduce the risk of even infection threefold.

Dr. Richina Bicette is with me. She is the medical director at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Bicette, good morning, thank you.

What is your top line takeaway that people need to know this morning from this CDC document?

DR. RICHINA BICETTE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, BAYLOR ST. LUKE'S MCNAIR CAMPUS EMERGENCY CENTER: I think the top line takeaway is that the CDC was right when they reissued guidance that vaccinated individuals should still wear masks. Poppy, I am an active emergency medicine physician, I still work shifts, I'm still on the frontlines, and over the last two weeks, not a single shift has gone by where there hasn't been a vaccinated person that I still diagnosed with COVID-19.

Now, luckily, I haven't had to hospitalize any of the patients, put them on ventilators or put them on oxygen, but they are still getting sick. The delta variant is here and it is here to stay.

HARLOW: But it is still critical that people get vaccinated. Can you explain to them why?

BICETTE: Well, when you look at the numbers of people who are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, over 97 percent of them are unvaccinated. That in and of itself tells you that although people who are vaccinated may be contracting the disease, people who are getting severely ill are those who are unvaccinated. The people dying are those who are unvaccinated. 99.5 percent of deaths currently are in unvaccinated individuals.

So, yes, you may still contract the disease but you're not going to get severely ill and you're not going to lose your life. That is the point.

HARLOW: I want your reaction to this coming from Mississippi's governor, Tate Reeves, about the public health guidance from the CDC. This is what he just said.


GOV. TATE REEVES (R-MS): Tuesday's change in the CDC mask guidance is foolish and it is harmful, wreaks of political panic, so as to appear they are in control. It has nothing -- let me say that again, it has nothing to do with rational science.


HARLOW: Nothing to do with rational science. As a physician, what does that do to this country, rhetoric like that?

BICETTE: Rhetoric like that is what's fueling the unprecedented spike in cases right now. Within the last month, we went from an average of about 11,000 cases per day to now 71,000 cases per day. In that particular state, in Mississippi, there has been a 240 percent increase in cases over the last two weeks. Only one-third of the state of Mississippi is vaccinated. Those are the things that the governor of Mississippi needs to worrying about instead of the CDC mandates that are geared to protect Americans.

HARLOW: Dr. Bicette, thank you very much for joining us this morning. Let's hope people are listening to the science here.

Well, right now, Louisiana has the highest seven-day average of new cases per capita in the country. At One Baton Rouge hospital, the nurses say they're seeing the number of patients with COVID increase rapidly.

Our Miguel Marquez joins me now with his reporting. Miguel, I mean, you have seen it all, truly.


You were on the frontlines in these E.R. when the pandemic began, then you were there when people were getting vaccinated. And now you're here now to see people who are unwilling to and facing dire consequences.

MIGUEL MARQUEZ, CNN SENIOR NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Believe me, if I never had to go into another COVID ICU, I would be perfectly happy not to. I am vaccinated. I am wearing a mask again even though I'm vaccinated. And when I travel and I do all of the this stuff, I make sure and do that because places like Louisiana, Arkansas, Missouri, all places I've been in the last several weeks, COVID is everywhere. That delta variant is everywhere.

And while the numbers may not show it, doctors that I speak to say it is not only infecting people in rural and in cities but it's more deadly as well.


MARQUEZ (voice over): Aimee Matzen struggles to breathe.

What does it feel like to have COVID?

AIMEE MATZEN, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Exhausting, extremely frustrating, tiring, and the fact that I am here now, I am furious with myself.


MATZEN: Because I was not vaccinated.

MARQUEZ: Not anti-vaccine, she says she just didn't get around to it. The 44-year-old is now one of dozens of COVID-19 patients in Baton Rouge's Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center. Her oxygen low, her doctor said she might need a ventilator.

MATZEN: Just don't want anyone else winding up like me, especially when the vaccine is so easy to get now.

MARQUEZ: The delta variant now prevalent in the Bayou State. Not only is it enormously infectious --

DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Well, the delta variant is far more contagious, right, but that viral doesn't just mean that I'm going to spread it to more people. It also means that when I inhale somebody else's breath, I am getting a massive amount of virus.

MARQUEZ: It is spreading everywhere, in cities and rural areas.

O'NEAL: There is nowhere safe. If you're interacting in this community, you should be vaccinated and you should have a mask on because we're inundated with COVID.

MARQUEZ: Ronnie Smith, 47, says he think he got it from a friend outdoors, outdoors, at a barbecue. He was planning to get the vaccine when COVID-19 got him.

RONNIE SMITH, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Two days after the event, it just, like, I went down on the floor and I couldn't get up.

MARQUEZ: Nurses here say they've watched the number of critically ill patients grow rapidly, some anti-vaccination patients still in denial COVID-19 is real. MORGAN BABIN, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Some people insist that we're lying to them about their COVID positive diagnosis.

MARQUEZ: Even sick people?

BABIN: Even sick people.

MARQUEZ: Who need oxygen, who might be on the way to death are still denying they have COVID?

BABIN: I have patients that deny that they have COVID all the way up until intubation.

MARQUEZ: What do they think they have?

BABIN: They think that they have a cold.

MARQUEZ: Carsyn Baker, only 21, has a kidney condition. Her doctor has advised against getting vaccinated for now. She thinks she picked it up the coronavirus while in a screened in-porch across the room from someone else who had it.

What does that tell you about how easy it is to pick this variant up?

CARSYN BAKER, LOUISIANA COVID-19 PATIENT: Yes, and it just kind of sucks because people like me with an autoimmune disease, you can't really go anywhere now because just everybody is getting sick and it just doesn't matter what you do.

MARQUEZ: Laurie Douglas has been in nursing for 35 years. The last year her hardest, frustration with sickness, death and the unvaccinated at boiling point.

LAURIE DOUGLAS, NURSE, OUR LADY OF THE LAKES REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: Sometimes praying isn't enough, and yell at Jesus if I need to. It's head-shaking, teeth-grinding, knees tight standing up just wanting to scream from the hilltops frustrating.


MARQUEZ (on camera): So, look, this is a pandemic of the unvaccinated. And as frustrating as it may seem that some people do not want to get vaccinated, health officials say, look, there is a group of people who are never going to get the vaccine but there's a broad swath out there, the people that we saw on that story, they were going to go get it, they were thinking about it, they were ready to get it, but they just didn't get around to it.

So if you knew someone, if you love someone, if there's someone that you want to get that vaccine, just keep applying them with good information and eventually they'll hear it.

HARLOW: I'm so glad you bring us their stories because, hopefully, they convince others. Thank you, Miguel, very much. Let me bring in Dr. Christopher Thomas, he is a critical care physician there at the hospital where Miguel just did all of his reporting in Baton Rouge. Good morning, Doctor, and thank you for your time.


HARLOW: We just heard a number of reasons from folks about why they didn't get vaccinated and we heard the toll that it takes on the staff, your colleagues. How would you get more people vaccinated? What would you do?


THOMAS: I think it is important to recognize that we're becoming victims of the unvaccinated at the current pace. We currently are overwhelming our bed capacity. We're creating burnout for our teams. And, honestly, we're beginning to impact the rest of the health care of the community.

What I would tell people is we've done an experiment here in South Louisiana. In July, a month ago, in June, we prepared to enter the delta season, the delta season of the variant with approximately 35 percent vaccinated and 65 percent not. We did an experiment.

The results are in this morning and the results are very clear. We have 160 patients admitted in our hospital alone, we have over 50 ICU patients, we have 18 patients holding in our emergency department, where, normally, they would have a bed, we have a shortage of nursing. Overall the answer is clear. You cannot avoid delta. It is not possible. So you have a decision and the decision is get vaccinated or not. And the results are telling us, if you're not vaccinated, you have a really poor outcome.

If you look at our ICU patients this morning, 97 percent are unvaccinated and the average age is 48. That means there are children with parents who are now in the hospital. They may not die. But their lives will be changed. They'll suffer from medical bankruptcy, they'll suffer from chronic shortness of breath, they won't be able to go and play with them. That is a problem. And so it is about insurance.

The insurance said please make it so that you don't have to suffer one of these disasters. We do this all of the time. We do it with home insurance, we do it with car insurance. The insurance is the vaccine. If you want to make sure you're not one of those 50, buy the insurance and this insurance is free.

HARLOW: Yes, that is what I was just going to say, and this one is free.

Doctor, you made such a good point in a Politico piece I read this week that you think some are making a big mistake, a deadly mistake, by speaking down to people who have chosen not to get vaccinated or assuming that they are uneducated, that that is really a dangerous and faulty approach.

THOMAS: Yes. I think it is one of the major challenges with this entire pandemic. My patients, our community is smart. We need to have conversations in science. Somehow, we now have begun to ask people on Facebook or someone via Twitter what to do. But if you had gotten cancer, would you go to your doctor and would you ask your doctor, and we would look at best hospitals in the United States and that is where we would get the information.

Unfortunately, the misinformation is creating really, really intelligent people to make bad decisions. So my plea is, they're really smart, have a high-educated kind of conversation that is one- on-one, show them the science. The science I just gave you is ours in Baton Rouge this morning. If you're unvaccinated, you might need to come to the hospital. If you're not, most people are at home.

Are there breakthroughs? Sure. 80 percent of them that we're seeing are above the age of 80. That is what the natural history of vaccination is.

So have a good conversation. Don't start it without being willing to listen. And then once you get the information, make a great decision. Our data is clear. We need to help people understand it.

HARLOW: We had your colleague, Dr. Jagneaux, on this week and she told me, quote, we are at the edge of a crisis where if we push any further, we will not be able deliver the care that we would want for our loved ones. Are you still on the edge of that crisis or have you crossed over?

THOMAS: We're admitting one COVID patient alone per hour, so one per hour. That means that the other patients who need care are being impacted. We are looking over the cliff. I don't see an end in sight. And I think it is fair to say that now the patients who are coming in unvaccinated with COVID are absolutely impacting the overall care that we can deliver.

We're going to be elite. We're going to try to overcome it. But it is true and Dr. Jagneaux was 100 percent correct.

HARLOW: Wow. What do you need from the federal government, from your state leaders? What can they do?

THOMAS: We need an open conversation that returns to great science. We need them to let us have a conversation with our patients and with our families. And we need to let them say, we're going to bring support for you in terms of more nurses, more respiratory therapists, because these patients are coming, we're not going to be able to avoid it and we want to provide outstanding care so we need more help, so we need some resources.


So, nurses, respiratory therapists, if you want to Louisiana and come help us take care of our patients, please do. HARLOW: Wow. Dr. Christopher Thomas, thank you so much for this time but for what your team is all doing on the ground. And I'm so sorry about what you're confronting every day.

THOMAS: Thank you.

HARLOW: Well, still to come, a race against the clock. Millions of people are now at risk of getting kicked out of their homes within just 24 hours when this eviction moratorium expires. President Biden is calling on Congress to act. Will there be an extension?

Also, the first group of Afghan interpreters who risked their lives serving right alongside American troops on ground are arriving in the United States today. This is an important moment. We're live on the ground with their story.



HARLOW: Well, this morning, the Senate is expected to take another major step toward getting the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill to the president's desk.

Our Manu Raju joins me from Capitol Hill. Manu, good morning. Still no final text for this bill. Is it going to hold things up today?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It very well could. We do expect that final text to come out sometime today. But until that bill has been actually officially released, then that is when the amendment process will start. That means that senators could offer potential changes to this bill.

But they can't do that until this text is released, which is one reason why there is an expectation that the Senate is going to be in for at least part of the weekend, which is very rare for the United States Senate. It is rare for them to even be on a Friday, let alone a Saturday or a Sunday.

But it speaks to the urgency of the Democratic leaders are trying to get this done within about a week's time, get this out of the Senate and so they can move on to their larger effort to move forward on a $3.5 trillion package to expand the social safety net and have push through a whole host of Democratic priorities.

But first order of business is getting this bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure package through that would include about $550 billion in new money for so-called hard infrastructure, whether it is broadband, whether it is water systems and the like. They have to get the bill out. They have to go through the amendment process, then they have to eventually get 60 votes to shut down debate and get it out of the Senate. So there are still some hurdles they've got to go through.

Some optimism they'll get there but, of course, they have to get through both chambers of Congress and that ultimately, probably won't happen until sometime this fall.

HARLOW: Okay, we'll watch that closely. There is also a big meeting today. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi meeting with the president on voting rights. What do we know about that?

RAJU: Yes. There is an effort among Democrats to try to unify behind one bill that would overhaul voting laws. Remember, there was that effort to try to pass of the sweeping measure called the For the People Act, but that was blocked by a Republican-led filibuster.

But even so, Democrats don't even have all 50 of their members in line behind that single piece of policy because of Joe Manchin, the West Virginia Democrat, who opposes that bill. They've since talked about trying to scale that back in a certain and try to get all 50 Democrats on board what Joe Manchin has been talking about. And there have been discussions behind the scenes to get the entire party in the line on that.

So they're trying to hammer out a strategy with Democrats leaders and the president to get the entire Democratic Party in line behind the new effort, probably also move sometime this fall to also deal with the issue of the Supreme Court striking down aspects of the Voting Rights Act from 1965. They want to move forward on a narrower version of the larger effort here.

But, again, that still lacks 60 votes to get through the Senate. Joe Manchin told me yesterday he will not change the filibuster to get that through. So it seems it would be an effort to unify, not necessarily an effort to make a law. Poppy?

HARLOW: Okay. All right, Manu, we'll watch that meeting closely. We'll see what happens today on the infrastructure front. Thanks for the reporting from Capitol Hill.

Well, also this on Capitol Hill, and it is urgent. Just one day before it is set to expire, President Biden is calling on Congress to extend the federal eviction moratorium that prohibits landlords nationwide from evicting certain tenants who couldn't pay their rent during the pandemic.

John Harwood joins me at the White House. Is it all on Congress, because Nancy Pelosi said we'll see when asked if she'll bring that moratorium extension to the floor today? If she doesn't, if the Congress doesn't act on this, can the White House do anything executive order-wise?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: I don't think they can, Poppy. I think the entire government has been whipsawed by changing conditions in this pandemic. Remember what happened. You had this eviction moratorium. It was challenged constitutionally. The Supreme Court said in June, when it looked like we were getting past the pandemic, that it could go for one more month when it was due to expire at the end of July, and the Biden administration said, okay, one final month of this eviction moratorium, consistent with things like enhanced federal unemployment benefits, the administration was looking to get past some of the special measures that were taken to protect people under COVID.

Then what happened was we have the delta variant, all of a sudden, people are much more alarmed and it looks like a much graver situation as that moratorium is set to expire. Nancy Pelosi is saying that this is a moral imperative, simple and necessary to respect the dignity of those who have suffered so much.


You've got some finger-pointing with Democrats on the Hill saying the White House should do more, that maybe they could still do it on their own. They should have asked us to act earlier. Senior administration official tells me there is no gray area at all. The Supreme Court ruling was very clear, we can't do anything. So they are left to see if the House can pass it and the Senate can take it up.

The Senate is going to try to do it by unanimous consent, which requires the agreement of all 100 senators. But given the 50/50 split in the Senate and some Republican conservatives not thinking that this is a constitutional and a legal process, it is going to be very difficult to get that done.

Perhaps that situation changes if we continue to deteriorate in terms of the delta variant. But right, now it looks like this is slated to happen and last-ditch effort to stop it in congress, stop the expiration of this moratorium.

HARLOW: Okay. We'll watch this very closely. John Harwood, thanks a lot from the White House this morning.

Well, ahead, superstar Simone Biles withdrew because of a dangerous mental health block that gymnasts call the twisties. Overnight, she posted videos on Instagram showing just how dangerous that can be. More, next.