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Simone Biles to Compete in Balance Beam Final; Senate Moving Forward on Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill; Interview With Austin, Texas, Mayor Steve Adler; COVID Surging. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2021 - 14:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello. I'm Victor Blackwell. Thank you for joining me. Alisyn is off today.

So, if you need any more proof that the COVID vaccine is saving lives, the CDC is offering more evidence about how well these vaccines work. The agency crunched the numbers and found that 99.99 percent of fully vaccinated Americans have not had a breakthrough infection that's resulted in death or hospitalization, again, 99.99 -- I think there's an additional 9 there -- one-thousandth of a percent.

But cases of coronavirus mainly driven by the unvaccinated continues to grow. The U.S. is now averaging more than 79,000 new infections a day. And more than four out of five Americans live in an area with substantial or high transmission.

The pressure campaign to get vaccinated appears to be working, because, for nearly a week, the U.S. has seen increases in vaccine doses administered.

CNN's Lucy Kafanov has been following the latest developments.


LUCY KAFANOV, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Across the nation, more vaccines are going into arms, as of Sunday, more than 700,000 doses administered daily for five days straight.

The good news? Health experts say rising vaccination rates could help avoid winter lockdowns. The bad news, there may be rough weeks ahead.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, CHIEF MEDICAL ADVISER TO PRESIDENT BIDEN: We're looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we're seeing the cases go up.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: We want to avoid lockdowns at all costs. But that means we're going to have to do some other things that won't necessarily be welcomed by people.

KAFANOV: Across the country, mask mandates going into place even for people fully vaccinated.

New York City's Mayor Bill de Blasio says he's focusing on vaccinations, but is following the CDC and issuing an indoor mask recommendation, but not mandating them.

BILL DE BLASIO (D), MAYOR OF NEW YORK: We want to strongly recommend that people wear those masks indoors even if vaccinated.

KAFANOV: COVID cases are surging, in large part due to the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant. Half the cases last week were reported in just five states, Florida, Texas, California, Louisiana, and Georgia.

COLLINS: Cases have gone up about fourfold in the last couple of weeks. We're pushing up towards 100,000 cases a day now, and particularly so in those hot spots where vaccination rates are still quite low.

KAFANOV: Hospitals in Louisiana and Mississippi overwhelmed, health officials in Austin, Texas, preparing for the worst.

STEVE ADLER (D), MAYOR OF AUSTIN, TEXAS: It's scary what we're seeing right now. We're seeing geometric climbs in our intensive care units. We're literally beginning to question whether we have a capacity to be able to sustain this.

KAFANOV: A new analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that less than 1 percent of fully vaccinated people contracted COVID-19. According to the CDC, less than 1,000th of 1 percent of fully vaccinated people experienced a breakthrough case resulting in death.

FAUCI: here are some breakthrough infections among vaccinated. You expect that because no vaccine is 100 percent effective, but, in the breakthrough infections, they are mostly mild or without symptoms.


KAFANOV: As the United Kingdom prepares to offer a possible third booster shot, American officials are not following suit, at least for now.

While it is being looked at, the director of the National Institutes of Health said that all three approved vaccines are effective in protecting against the Delta variant, and that there's no reason to rush a third booster shot for now -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Lucy Kafanov from Denver for us, thank you so much.

Let's bring in down an epidemiologist. Dr. David Dowdy is an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Doctor, thanks for being with us.

Let's start here with Dr. Fauci, who says that it is going to get worse before it gets better. So what do you expect the apex of this surge to look like? And when do you expect we will hit it?

DR. DAVID DOWDY, JOHNS HOPKINS BLOOMBERG SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes, so I think Dr. Fauci is right. We are going to see things get worse before they get better. We're seeing cases double every 10 or 11 days right now. If other

countries are a forewarning of where we're going to be, probably, we're going to see the peak of this two, three, four weeks from now, but we're in for a bit of a ride before we get there.

BLACKWELL: So, as we see the peak of this, I understand that, of course, we're seeing younger people who are being hospitalized with COVID.

So does this peak that will hit in a few weeks, how does it compare to the peak we saw last fall and winter?

DOWDY: Yes, so I think that we very well could see as many cases as we saw I'm back in the winter.


But, as you say, since the people who are at highest risk also happen to have higher rates of vaccination, I think the toll in terms of hospitalizations and deaths will probably be a little bit lower, not to say that's not insignificant, though.

We could easily be above 1,000 or more deaths per day within a couple of weeks. And so I think we really need to do what we can right now to prevent things from getting worse in the future.

BLACKWELL: And we know that some counties and cities are trying to prevent things from getting worse by instituting mask mandates.

Just today, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, he instituted or, rather, strongly encouraged mask-wearing by vaccinated people in crowded areas. Is that strong enough? Should there be a mandate, not just strong encouragement?

What do you think?

DOWDY: Well, I think that the -- what we're trying to accomplish here is to get people to take this virus seriously, right?

And I think that anything short of a mandate, often, what happens is that people will -- over time, they start to take their masks off, they see other people taking their masks off as well, right? And so it is not essential that we have every single person wearing a mask and every single place, but we all need to be taking this more seriously.

And if we're not willing to back that up with some sort of consequences, then, again, I think we often see that the people get lax in the way they respond.

BLACKWELL: Vaccines, of course, offer strong protection against the virus and the variants. And we're seeing now Israel offering a third shot to those 60 and over. We know that the U.K. could start doing that next month.

I want you to listen here to the director of the NIH, Dr. Francis Collins, on a potential third shot here in the U.S. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

COLLINS: I would say, right now, there is not evidence that we need to go ahead with boosters in the United States. But that's an ongoing debate. So let me just be clear, though, that actually the existing approved vaccines in the U.S., Pfizer, Moderna, J&J, do have high effectiveness against Delta.

There is no reason to rush forward at this president time for a booster decision. But we're going to watch that day by day.


BLACKWELL: You agree with that?

DOWDY: Yes, so 100 percent.

I think that, as you showed already, the percentage of cases happening among the vaccinated is very low. You mentioned this recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis that found that, in most states, well under 5 percent of people who were getting COVID were vaccinated.

And we know that the majority of cases are already the Delta variant. So we know that these vaccines work, work very well against the Delta variants. So I think the number one priority here is to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.

There will come a time when we need to talk about booster doses, but I think right now the key is to get people that first and second dose.

BLACKWELL: All right. And we are seeing the vaccination rate pick up in many parts of the country.

Dr. David Dowdy, thanks so much for being with us.

DOWDY: Thanks so much for having me, Victor.

BLACKWELL: So, the White House says, today, the U.S. has now finally reached the president's July 4 vaccination goal. It's about a month late. The administration says 70 percent of Americans 18 or older have now had at least one shot.

Now, that shortfall in vaccinations, though, and the rapid spike in cases have urged the White House to reconsider its strategy. President Biden is meeting with his coronavirus team in the Oval Office today.

CNN senior White House correspondent Phil Mattingly is here with us.

So, what are we hearing from the White House there about how they plan to tackle this next step?

PHIL MATTINGLY, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, I think it's going to be a recalibration of sorts kind of in the macro level and in a more micro level.

From kind of the broader perspective of things, if you think about what you have seen from the president and his team over the course of the last several weeks, it's largely been a focus on the economy, on trying to push forward on his legislative agenda.

And that has coincided or had coincided with the significant drop-off in cases throughout the country, as vaccines really started to settle in. Obviously, Delta has changed that dramatically. And the White House is now pivoting as well.

This will be a week dominated by events for the president related to the coronavirus. It underscores kind of the new focus, the new emphasis on trying to tackle a very real problem. But there's also a messaging piece of this too, Victor.

As we saw the new data come out over the course of the last week, the new mask guidance come out over the course of the last week, it was really kind of an unsettled, kind of dynamic situation that was going on. and I think White House officials recognized that they needed to be, I think, more forefront about what they were trying to get at, what they were trying to do, given the fact there were surges in cases and hospitalizations and deaths, mostly among the unvaccinated, around the country.

The top-line idea hasn't changed. They need more people to get vaccinated. That has been the president's message since vaccinations became prevalent throughout the course of the country.


What they're hoping is that they can settle on the message that, look, if you are vaccinated, there is a 99.99 percent chance you will not be hospitalized with a breakthrough case. Vaccinations are the answer, even though Delta is surging throughout the country.

And how they're trying to get that message across is obviously continuing what they have been doing about trying to basically grind it out, get as many vaccinations as possible, but also encouraging companies to try and institute vaccine mandates on their employees.

You saw the president put a requirement on federal employees to attest to vaccination status or be subject to stricter testing. So you're going to see a lot of different efforts right now to try and push vaccinations up. You mentioned that 70 percent mark. Obviously, coming a month late is not what the White House wanted.

But if you dig into those numbers a little bit, Victor, there's some encouraging signs. Over the course of the last seven days, there have been more new vaccinations than the White House had seen at any time since the first week of July.

There's some hope that, based on what people are seeing with the Delta virus, based on the shift perhaps in the messaging from some conservatives and some Republicans, based on how companies are operating right now, based on the fact schools are starting in some places today, there may be a shift in some of the reticence that held back vaccinations for so much of the country for so long, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, some good news. A lot of work to do.

Phil Mattingly for us there at the White House.

Phil, thank you so much.

Five states make up for nearly half the new infections over the last week, according to Johns Hopkins' data. And you see Texas is behind only Florida in the number of new infections. And now the Austin region is revealing just how urgent the situation is for hospitals there.

The trauma services in the area say that seven, just seven ICU beds are left for an area that serves 2.3 million people.

Let's bring in now the mayor of Austin, Texas, Steve Adler.

Mr. Mayor, thank you for being with me.

You toured an ICU unit recently. Describe the situation there in Austin.

ADLER: It's scary here in Austin.

It's good to be with you. Thank you.

And it was this weekend when we toured the ICUs. We have doctors and nurses that are already so exhausted, facing now what appears to be a much meaner virus than we have dealt with in the past. We're watching increases in ICU and hospital admissions at a rate faster than what we had seen in the earlier surges.

BLACKWELL: I know that, soon after the CDC recommended that vaccinated people in high transmission areas go back to wearing masks, the governor there doubled down on local mandates for masks.

Let's put up on the screen what Texas Governor Abbott said: "Texans have mastered the safe practices that help to prevent and avoid the spread of COVID-19. They have the individual right and responsibility to decide for themselves and their children whether they will wear masks, open their businesses and engage in leisure activities."

What do you say to that conclusion from the governor?

ADLER: Well, obviously, I disagree.

Our governor, we the believe, is following the science and the data or listening to the doctors. He said two things. First is, it's inappropriate to ask people who've been vaccinated to wear masks. And all the science and data now is showing us that people who have been vaccinated, while protected probably from having to go to an ICU, are transferring this virus at much higher levels than we had anticipated.

Good reason to be wearing a mask. And he further says that people have a right not to get vaccinated. The problem with that is that someone who's choosing not to get vaccinated right now is among the people that are choosing to overload our ICUs. That choice is impacting other people's right to be able to have space in an ICU.

You can't go into a movie theater and scream fire. There is no right of speech in that instance. And what we're seeing now, though, many more people unvaccinated in our hospitals. It's a problem.

BLACKWELL: I have read that you want to require vaccines of city employees. Correct me if I'm wrong there. Do you have the authority to do that?

ADLER: Well, the governor has taken the position that we don't. We take the position that we do.

We're taking a look at what we might need to do. You try to avoid getting into litigation on these issues, because it has already turned into such an incredibly partisan issue and political issue. And, ultimately, the goal is to try to get people to do what is necessary to keep the community safe.

And we will take whatever action it is that looks like it can get us to that place. We have been...


BLACKWELL: Including legal action, if necessary?

ADLER: Yes. If that's what we need to do to protect the community, that's all we will do.


BLACKWELL: Last one here on schools, masks there banned again. The mandates are banned.

Are schools able to offer a virtual option, considering some parents don't want to send their kids to schools where masks are optional, and there's the potential of an outbreak if a case gets into some of those schools?

ADLER: Schools can offer a virtual option.

The problem is, the state won't pay for the teaching of that child. So the schools lose the money they would have gotten to educate that child by putting them into or allowing them to participate in a virtual program.

Again, from the CDC, from the science and the data, kids should be masking in schools. And we're going to do what we need to do to try and help make that happen too.


Austin Mayor Steve Adler, thank you so much for your time, sir.

Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Let's take you to Florida now, where there is a threat from that governor to take away funding from his own state schools if they issue mask mandates, the order deeply dividing parents across that state.

Also, Simone Biles is back. How she's preparing for tomorrow's balance beam final.

Stay with us.



BLACKWELL: Right now on Capitol Hill, the Senate is moving forward on the bipartisan infrastructure bill after weeks of intense negotiations.

This 2, 700-page bill was finalized last night. Now, it's $550 billion in new federal investments.

Let's go to CNN chief congressional correspondent Manu Raju.

Manu, I said finalized but there will be amendments moving forward. Break down what we know about the $550 billion so far.

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, there's a lot in this bill. It is a massive proposal that would spend that much money in new money for a range of measures to bolster infrastructure across the country, everything from electric vehicles to roads and bridges, to waterways, to broadband.

And just some of the line items here to point out, it includes $73 billion to rebuild the electrical grid, another $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. That had actually been a sticking point through the course of the negotiations, $65 billion to expand broadband Internet access, something that's so critical in rural America, and $55 billion for water infrastructure.

That is short of what some Democrats had wanted here. So you mentioned the amendment process. That is going to be the big discussion here in the Senate in the days to come, what amendments will be actually offered for on the floor, which amendments will be allowed to be voted on, and at what point will Democratic leaders say enough is enough, take steps to shut down the amendment process, and move to a final vote.

Republicans have a say in that, because they will need 60 votes ultimately to shut down debate. And you're hearing from top Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and Senator John Thune, who just told me moments ago that they want a robust amendment process.

So this could play out for days. And it'll be a bit of a chess match between the two sides. Schumer will have to decide when it's time to shut down debate. Republicans will decide whether to cooperate, and at the end of the day, they have to see if they have the support to get it passed, Victor. BLACKWELL: We have been through a lot of infrastructure weeks to get to this point. Who got what they wanted thus far and who lost out?

RAJU: Well, you're hearing some complaints from folks on the left that it simply did not go far enough, people like the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee saying it falls short on dealing with climate change.

He contends that this bill is a bill that was meant for the 20th century, not the 21st century, in dealing with the ways of the future. But he believes that they could make some changes or at least provide some additional provisions in the Democrats' larger $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. That comes after the infrastructure package.

But to get that $3.5 trillion plan through, they need to have all Democrats in line going forward. And, at this point, they don't have that. And one other wrinkle here, Victor, is that the president told the senators that he would not renegotiate that infrastructure package as part of that reconciliation deal.

So liberals who want to change this bill on the next bill may not be able to do that. And then also hearing some folks on the right complaining about the price tag, so some concerns on both sides. Ultimately, they have to keep their coalition together to get this through.

BLACKWELL: Manu Raju for us on Capitol Hill, thank you so much.

Let's turn now to this Olympic athlete who's refusing to go home after her competition, and she's asking for asylum in another country.

What's behind this? Next.



BLACKWELL: It's official. Team USA fans will get to see Simone Biles compete for gold in Tokyo.

USA Gymnastics confirmed she will participate in tomorrow's balance beam final. It will be her last opportunity to earn an individual medal.

CNN's Selina Wang is in Tokyo.

So, what changed for Simone?

SELINA WANG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, huge anticipation for her.

This is her last chance to take hold gold. And she had withdrew from many other events, but now coming back for balance beam. Now, as early as Friday, however, she said that she was still dealing with this mental block that gymnasts call the twisties. She said she literally could not tell up from down and that it was

terrifying to try these skills without any synching between her mind and her body.

However, Victor, balance beam requires less twisting. So the hope is that it will be less of a risk. But Simone Biles has certainly not been shying away. She's been cheering on her teammates. I was at the event finals on Sunday. You could literally hear her from across the stadium cheering on her teammates, including Jade Carey, who had a mistake in the vault finals.

And, afterwards, Simone Biles gave her words of encouragement, said to absolutely kill it during floor exercise. And, Victor, that is exactly what Jade Carey did, taking home gold in floor exercises on Monday.

But for the U.S. women's soccer team, a historic loss, narrowly losing to Canada 1-0. This is the first time that the U.S. has lost to Canada in 20 years.

And Megan Rapinoe put it this way. She said -- quote -- "It sucks."

BLACKWELL: I get it.