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Alarming Internal CDC Document Details Variant's Deadly Threat; Florida Governor to Sign Executive Order on School Mask Mandates That will Let Parents Make Decisions for Their Kids on Masks; Justice Department to Treasury, Turn Over Trump Tax Returns. Aired 1-1:30p ET

Aired July 30, 2021 - 13:00   ET



JOHN KING, CNN ANCHOR: Democrats still cling to a slim House majority. Ellzey's win gives the Democrats an eight-seat margin in the House.

I appreciate your time today on Inside Politics today. I hope you have a fantastic weekend. Please stay safe. We'll see you on Monday. Ana Cabrera picks up our coverage right now.

ANA CABRERA, CNN ANCHOR: Hello on this Friday. I'm Ana Cabrera in New York.

And the data is out. The CDC moments ago unveiling publicly its disturbing findings about the delta variant. It explains why mask mandates are back. And it paints the clearest picture yet of just how alarming this variant's threat is to unvaccinated Americans.

Here's what's key. These states are deep red because the delta variant is as transmissible as chickenpox. Meaning, if you have the delta strain, you infect up to nine other people. Look how it spreads like wildfire compared to the original strain. It's dangerous.

If infected, the CDC says you are more likely to be hospitalized, get admitted to the ICU or die. The good news, there's now more proof that vaccinations are working, preventing severe illness and saving lives tenfold.

But here is what we didn't know before. Vaccinated people can spread the delta variant as fast as unvaccinated, hence, masks. But is it enough?

CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta joins us now on the phone. Sanjay, what more does this new data say?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): Well, this gives us a really granular look at a particular outbreak. So it's interesting data. We've been looking at a lot of these datasets in broad populations, but this looked at Barn Stable County, Massachusetts. And I think we can show these numbers here.

So, basically, they found that 469 people, residents were, infected in the month of July, and 74 percent of them had been vaccinated. 79 percent of those vaccinated, people did report some symptoms, and the delta variant, no surprise, because it is the dominant variant in the whole country, was the main culprit of infection.

But it's -- really, you know, this idea that people who have been vaccinated could still carry the virus and that virus could be transmitted. What they showed was that people who were vaccinated and then tested positive had similar viral loads to people who were unvaccinated and became infected. That was something -- that was data that had sort of been percolating for some time out there, Ana, but that was sort of the big thing.

I will tell you that, you know, as you pointed out in your lead, that the idea that people who were vaccinated still were far less likely to develop severe symptoms, hospitalizations, deaths, all the things that we've talked about since the vaccines were first authorized remain true. The vaccines work in that regard. But the idea that someone could still test positive and still develop enough virus in their nose and mouth to transmit is really what this data is showing.

CABRERA: It's disheartening. It's kind of a gut punch, I think, to a lot of people who are vaccinated and thought that it was protection from not only severe illness but also from passing it onto our loved ones. A lot of us from children who can't get vaccinated yet.

So given that we're also learning that the data showing delta is more severe, give us some more perspective here. How much of an impact can the vaccines make?

GUPTA (voice over): Well, I think the vaccines can still make a huge impact. I mean, if you just look at the impact that they have had overall, just in terms of bringing down hospitalizations and deaths, I think it's really important.

You remember, Ana, last year, when we would talk about a rise or surge in cases almost predictably, you would see a certain percentage of hospitalizations that would follow thereafter and a certain percentage of people who would die a few weeks after that.

Even within this new data that's coming out of this CDC report, there were still few hospitalizations, I think less than 1 percent hospitalized in that group. So it's -- I still want to reiterate just how effective the vaccines can be at doing the things that people, I think, looked for them to do the most, prevent severe hospitalization and death.

But it is clear that this delta variant is far more transmissible, and as a result of that, probably even vaccinated people are transmitting this at a higher rate than we thought. And there are some early data.

I still -- we need to, I think, look at this more carefully, and this is not a huge sample size. But the question often is, as a virus becomes more contagious or transmissible, oftentimes, it actually becomes less severe or less virulent, we call it.


It doesn't cause as much disease. And some, oftentimes, you trade transmissibility for virulence.

Here, there's some evidence that maybe this is causing more severe disease, and that's going to be something that I think is going to be really important to look at. It's pretty clear this delta variant is a more serious variant. We've known that for some time. How much more serious? What is that going to mean for us in terms of additional protections? I think those are going to be the big questions.

CABRERA: And now we know also that this data was the reason that the CDC updated its mask guidance, that vaccinated and unvaccinated people need to be wearing masks indoors in particular. I guess the bigger question now is, is that enough?

GUPTA (voice over): Yes. I think that that's -- I think there's two sort of questions here. One is that there's been a lot of talk about booster shots, you know, trying to increase one's own protection in terms of antibodies by taking a booster shot. And I think that this is going to really fuel that conversation, especially for people who are vulnerable.

You know, if the -- if you thought of the vaccine as basically saying, hey, I'm no longer likely to get severely ill or hospitalized, but if I'm a volatile person, I could get sick enough where it's a real problem. Maybe the recommendation will be that people who are older, have underlying conditions, in particular, should be getting a booster shot. It could be that they ultimately say that we all -- everyone needs to have a higher level of antibodies.

But this other question you raise, I think, is really interesting, because what the guidance said before, and I talked to Dr. Walensky about this, who is the head of the CDC, directly. What they said was that if you live in an area of the country where there is a lot of -- there's substantial or high spread of virus, then those areas, even if you're vaccinated, you should wear a mask in indoor public places.

If you read this MMWR, this new report that's coming out of the CDC, they're basically saying, even jurisdictions without substantial or high COVID-19 transmission should be considering expanding their strategies, including masking.

So you look at areas around the country and say, well, look, it's good here, there's not a lot of viral transmission. They're saying this is really, really contagious. So even if there's not a lot of viral transmission now, it's likely to increase because of the contagiousness of this and also because we're going into cooler and dryer weather where we know viruses tend to transmit more easily anyway.

So, I think that there's going to be some changes that came about here with regard to those recommendations, both on boosters and masking throughout the country. Some would say, Ana, and I think you and I talked about this, if you go back to May 13th, when the guidance was changed to say that vaccinated people did not need to mask indoors, some people think that may have been premature given what we know now.

At that time, delta was only 1 to 2 percent of the overall virus load in this country, and now it's over 80 percent. So, that has clearly changed. But I very much get the impression that the CDC is trying to get out ahead of this by releasing this report and starting to make these new recommendations.

CABRERA: Well, it sounds like, when in doubt, put on a mask and take extra precautions. Sanjay Gupta, always good to talk with you, thank you for joining us.

Let me broaden the conversation now and bring in Dr. Saju Matthew, a Primary Care Physician and Public Health Specialist, and Dr. Colleen Kelley, who is the associate professor of infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. It's great to have both of you here on this important day.

Dr. Kelley, the CDC is saying that with this new data, the war has changed. First, your reaction to what we're learning about the delta variant.

DR. COLLEEN KELLEY, ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR OF INFECTIOUS DISEASES, EMORY UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: Well, I think that's exactly what's happened, is that the science has shown us new information and things have changed. CDC is having to go back and say that masks probably are very important in indoor settings for all people, including vaccinated people.

Because of the data coming out of the Barn Stable outbreak that we just heard about and data from other countries as well that things aren't quite as safe to go back to life as we know it, or life as we knew it back in 2019.

We do still have to be careful. But the message is still that the vaccines are the very best tools that we have to prevent hospitalizations and death, and they still work really, really well.

So I think for most people, just take precautions when you're in crowded settings, when you're in places where vaccinated and unvaccinated people may be mixing and put the mask on when you're in those settings, even if you are vaccinated, and you yourself are protected from severe disease and death. And particularly those people that have households with children, like myself, I think you need to be also extra careful until those kids can get vaccinated as well.

CABRERA: Strong reaction from Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.


He's a current board member at Pfizer. And he just said that this leaked CDC document, which has now been made public, that it doesn't change the truth but could change how willing the CDC is to acknowledge the truth. Fair criticism? KELLEY: I mean, I don't -- I think we need to remember that this variant is different, that the guidance that we had from CDC and from the scientific community a few months ago had to change based on this variant. And I don't think anyone predicted that the severity and transmissibility of this variant would hit us so quickly and so severely.

So I think we do need to be a little bit cautious about being critical, because at the time, the science did support those recommendations, and now it's changed. Things are different. And now we need to adjust and adapt. So, this is a new virus that we're talking about and we are not going to be able to predict the future with 100 percent accuracy.

And so I think we need to have some discomfort with that, with those changes and be ready to adapt when we can.

CABRERA: Change is not easy for anybody, I don't think.

Dr. Matthew, let me ask you about this as well. Because, today, we know vaccinated people infected with this delta variant may be able to transmit the virus as easily as unvaccinated people. So, given that, are large crowds, even among fully vaccinated people, really safe?

DR. SAJU MATTHEW, PRIMARY CARE PHYSICIAN: Yes. Ana, I don't think that that will be safe anymore. And I know this comes as really hard news for the vaccinated. It almost feels like all these privileges that you got were just taken away from you overnight. But we have to listen to the science.

I think it's going to be really important for us to be clear that the reason that we are in the boat that we are in today is because we have 80 million people that refuse to get vaccinated. If those 80 million people get vaccinated, it is going to decrease the ability of this virus to develop into these contagious variants.

And, Ana, my concern is to wake up one day and find out that these vaccines don't work at all. Millions of people could potentially die if that happens. So, for people listening to this show, if you have any questions about the vaccine, now is the time to ask a doctor. You don't want to take advice from your golf buddy or from your aunt. You want to listen to the scientists.

I just saw a patient, Ana, a few minutes ago who thought he can get COVID from the vaccine. Another patient yesterday told me that he heard that your legs could be amputated if you get the vaccine. There is so much misinformation out there, and we have to work hard to make sure that we clarify all of that -- I hate to say this -- but just information that is not grounded in science.

CABRERA: Right. And we should then make sure people know that neither of those things are true. You can't get COVID from the vaccine, and it doesn't lead to amputations or need for an amputation.

Dr. Matthew, I mean, back to you for a quick second. At some point, the former surgeon general, Jerome Adams, has said we may need to close down again. What do you think? Are they necessary right now, closures? And what kinds of closures might we foresee?

MATTHEW: Yes. I don't think we need to panic in terms of talking about a lockdown. I think we can do both. We can keep opening up the economy as we vaccinate people. I think that we can do both at the same time.

We have also learned that lockdowns don't necessarily help individuals and people in the long-term. I don't think Americans will ever go for a lockdown again. But I think what we should do is add layers of protection, wearing a mask when you go indoors. And as you asked me that question, I don't think that a whole bunch of people that are vaccinated will be safe with the masks off.

I have stopped hugging my mom and dad, which is really sad, because I'm a doctor and I'm worried that I could potentially, even as a vaccinated person, transmit the infection to them and they're older. But, once again, I think people need to take from the CDC guideline that the problem is the unvaccinated people. If they get vaccinated, then we won't have to be in this situation.

And vaccines still work, Ana. They keep you out of the hospital. Over 99 percent of deaths and hospitalizations are in the unvaccinated.

CABRERA: Important information, and I'm glad we ended on that point. Thank you, Dr. Saju Matthew and Dr. Colleen Kelley, it's great to have both of you to guide us through this challenging time. Thank you.

We this just in to CNN. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is set to sign an executive order that will allow parents to make decisions for their children on mask wearing. We're going to talk live next to a member of the Broward County Florida School Board who has now passed a mask mandate for their district.


Will they back off that mandate or will they go head to head with the governor? That's next live in the CNN Newsroom.


CABRERA: The new school year already being interrupted as COVID cases surge nationwide. In fact, at one charter school in Atlanta, which went back Tuesday, more than 100 students are now in quarantine after multiple students and staff tested positive.

Meantime, it's a battle over masks in schools in Florida, one of the worst hot spots for new cases. And just hours ago, Governor Ron DeSantis announced he will sign an executive order so parents can choose whether their kids wear masks.

And joining us now is Sarah Leonardi.


She is a school board member for the Broward County Public Schools, which just voted this week for a mask mandate this year. Sarah, thank you for being with us.

Governor DeSantis says he's going to direct the Florida Department of Education and the Department of Health to issue emergency rules protecting the rights, he says, of parents to decide if their child wears a mask in class. So what does that mean for your district's mask mandate?

SARAH LEONARDI, SCHOOL BOARD MEMBER, BROWARD COUNTY, FLORIDA: Right. I mean, he is certainly within his purview to sign an executive order. We are in a position where we are thinking about the health and safety of our students and employees. And so if he wants to tie our hands legally, he can do that, and we will find other ways to keep our students and employees safe.

CABRERA: So, would you defy the executive order or go along with it?

LEONARDI: We would legally have to go along with it. I'm not interested in the legality of this executive order. What I am interested in is making a public health decision for our students and our employees rather than the governor's power grab.

CABRERA: You faced strong pushback when you were set to vote on this issue. There were mask-burning protests. How hard was it for you to come to this decision requiring masks?

LEONARDI: I'm guided by organizations, like the CDC and the American Association of Pediatrics, and they recommended mask mandates. We heard overwhelmingly from people who were working rather than attending school board meetings, and they said that they wanted mask mandates. That's what I heard from my constituents. And so that's what I'm focused on, yes.

CABRERA: I want you to listen to something a protester there said about masks. Take a listen.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It is time to pass off this symbol of tyranny, this symbol of child abuse. We will not stand for it anymore.


CABRERA: What's your reaction to that?

LEONARDI: It's disturbing. And I guess what's more disturbing to me is that there is misinformation floating out there around about masks and vaccinations. And I just want to get the message out that vaccines are safe, that masks are safe. Only 21 percent of children aged 12 through 18 in our Broward County have been vaccinated. So, I'm just really imploring our families to get their kids who are eligible to be vaccinated to get vaccinated.

CABRERA: And I do want to just put a finer point on that. We've learned nearly 7,000 children under the age of 12 were infected with COVID just this past week in Florida. So, for those who say children aren't at risk, the number suggests otherwise. Sarah Leonardi, thank you for spending time with us.

LEONARDI: Thank you.

CABRERA: We have breaking news now. A major blow today to former President Trump and his efforts to keep his tax returns private. In a legal opinion released just a few minutes ago, the Justice Department says the Treasury Department must turnover his tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee. That panel first requested these tax returns more than two years ago.

CNN's Lauren Fox joins us on Capitol Hill. What does this mean, Lauren?

LAUREN FOX, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, this decision, of course, two years in the making, Ana. But, look, there had been questions about whether or not the Biden administration would change its position and whether or not it would keep those tax returns from going to the Ways and Means Committee.

After months of discussion, after months of delays, what we are learning now is that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Council has issued an opinion. They, of course, are the arm of the executive branch that gives legal advice as to what the administration should do.

And I want to read it to you. It says, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former president's tax information under Section 6103. Treasury must furnish the information to the committee.

Now, we also are getting a statement from House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal saying, quote, as I have maintained for years, the committee's case is very strong and the law is on our side. I am glad that the Department of Justice agrees and that we can move forward.

Now, there are still questions as to whether or not the former president is going to fight this decision but it is a clear indication that the Biden administration is not going to be standing in the way of releasing these tax returns. We still are awaiting a formal decision from the Treasury Department on what their next steps are going to be. Ana?

CABRERA: Lauren Fox, thank you.

Up next, after scrambling on the final details of the bill's text, the $1 trillion infrastructure deal moves forward in the Senate. One of the 16 GOP senators who voted moments ago for this deal to move forward to the next step joins us live, next.



CABRERA: And moments ago, the Senate took the next step to bring up a roughly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal, a key priority for President Biden.

CNN Chief Congressional Correspondent Manu Raju joins us on the Hill.


What happens now, Manu?

MANU RAJU, CNN CHIEF CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, the big question on Capitol Hill right now is when will the legislative text actually be released of this $1.2 trillion.