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Senator Lindsey Graham Tests Positive For COVID-19; 70 Percent of U.S. Adults Now Fully or Partially Vaccinated. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 2, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


BARBARA M. JENKINS, SUPERINTENDENT, ORANGE COUNTY, FLORIDA, PUBLIC SCHOOLS: We actually have a $200 incentive that we just announced on Friday for employees to get vaccinated, if they have not already been vaccinated.

[15:00:03]

If you provide that proof, evidence that you have been fully vaccinated, then we will give you a $200 incentive from ESSER funds, as the president asked that individual districts and areas would consider.

And so that's our number one incentive, our number one initiative to try to have some impact on these numbers. Secondly, in our schools we have cleaning protocols that will remain in place, and we are strongly encouraging -- all of our signage says face masks and face coverings are strongly encouraged.

That is our communications plan over and over again. We are saying strongly encourage face masks, especially for those who have not been vaccinated.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Is there a virtual learning option?

JENKINS: There is not, other than what we have had for years, nothing that is synchronous in nature, where you can be learning with your teacher at the same time as we did on last year.

That is no longer available by the state. But we can have Orange County virtual. That's a completion kind of model that we have had in place for years. You're not in touch with a teacher live every day.

BLACKWELL: So what do you do if there's an outbreak at a school without that live interaction with the teacher, considering you don't offer the state-funded virtual option?

JENKINS: So, Victor, we would actually be similar to what we have done in years past when children are out sick. We have some means of connecting them to the school and to the teacher for makeup work, for homework, for trying to get online and see what assignments have been given. All of that will be in place again. And the teacher can also

voluntarily -- if a teacher is still in the classroom and a few students are out, then they can certainly voluntarily allow those students to listen in. But they cannot actually be instructing them at the same time that they're instructing a class full of students in person.

BLACKWELL: All right.

Barbara Jenkins for us there in Orange County, Florida, thank you.

JENKINS: Pleasure.

BLACKWELL: Brand-new hour, same Victor Blackwell. Good to be with you.

Moments ago, the nation met the president's July 4 vaccine goal, about a month late. The CDC just reported 70 percent of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of COVID vaccination. Overall, 49.7 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

And the milestone comes as the CDC releases data that overwhelmingly shows how lifesaving vaccinations are. The CDC 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 percent.

And for any kind of breakthrough infection, not just severe, under 1 percent of the vaccinated are impacted, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But cases of coronavirus mainly driven by the unvaccinated continue to grow.

The U.S. is now averaging more than 79,000 new infections a day. That's a 54 percent jump from last week. And 88 percent of Americans live in an area with substantial or high transmission.

The pressure campaign to get vaccinated appears to be working. The U.S. is seeing increases in vaccination numbers.

And that brings me to CNN senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. Elizabeth, good to see you.

How much are these vaccinations going up? What are you seeing?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: We are seeing substantial differences exactly where you want to see it, in the states that have had the highest trans mission rates and lowest vaccination rates.

So, something seems to be getting through, whether it's the financial incentives that your guest just talked about, or maybe people are starting to know people who are getting Delta and getting very sick or dying. And as they're seeing that happening around them, they're saying, oh, boy, maybe I should be rolling up my sleeves. So let's take a look. We picked three states that have very high

transmission rates and have had very low vaccination rates. So look at Louisiana. If you look at overall during this entire vaccine rollout, they were 47th in terms of folks getting their first shot. Last week, they were number one in the country.

What a turnaround. That is big. Alabama, they were 46th overall. Last week, they were third. Mississippi, they were at the bottom. They were 50th. And last week, they were eighth. So that is terrific.

Now, does that mean that all of a sudden those states are safe and that they have vast numbers of vaccinations? No, I mean, you can take a look. Look at this graph here. You can see that the number of vaccines since sort of towards the end of last month has gone up pretty steadily, but it's still nothing like what we need to have happen.

But the fact that it's heading up at all, that is a good sign. So things are definitely heading in the right direction. They need to keep heading in that direction. And someone needs to figure out exactly what made that happen, and then emphasize that as part of the public health communications strategy.

As we have learned with this virus, it's hard to fight the virus. It's also kind of hard to fight the human psyche. We need to learn how to communicate these things better, so that people will make the right choices.

[15:05:02]

BLACKWELL: Indeed. Indeed. Whatever they're doing, find out what works and keep doing it.

COHEN: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: Let's talk about the booster shot.

Israel now offering its seniors a booster shot, Germany, the U.K. planning to do the same next month. What about the U.S.? What about here?

COHEN: It's really interesting, because the U.S. has been ahead in so many ways in the vaccine rollout. But this is a way that we haven't quite been ahead. Those countries that you mentioned, seem to be sort of taking a few steps that we haven't taken here in the United States, especially if you look at Israel.

They have been offering a third shot. You can call it a third shot, a booster shot, whatever you like. It's the same as the first two shots, just the third -- third one of it, to immunocompromised people for weeks now, and that community in the U.S. is really just begging to have some guidance about when they can get third shots.

Let's take a look at why these third shots, why these boosters are being offered. When you look -- this is from Pfizer data -- when you look at the effect efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine, you finish up your second shot, you wait a week or two to two months later, 96 percent effective. That's pretty amazing. That's 96 percent effective.

That's the number we have talked a lot about over the months. Now the new data says, well, you look at those same people four to six months later, it's 83.7 percent effective. Now, that is still amazing. A vaccine that is nearly 84 percent effective, that's incredible. If that had been the most effective this vaccine was ever going to get, we would still all be thanking our lucky stars. That's a great vaccine.

But because it's not still at 96 percent, there are some thoughts that we need to have a third booster. And there's another piece of data that's also making scientists think that. Let's take a look at what happened when they did give third shots to people of different ages.

When you look at people between the ages of 18 to 55, when they got a third shot, their antibodies to COVID-19 increased more than five times. When you gave it to people aged 65 to 85, their antibodies went up more than 11 times, because probably theirs started out much lower there. They didn't do as well with those first two shots as younger people did, so all the more reason why a third shot may be necessary.

Again, we keep talking about public health communications and how difficult it can be. We're trying to tell a third of the country, hey, get your first two shots, it's important. And then we're going to try to tell two-thirds of the country, oh, those two shots that you got, there's so good, but they're not as good as they used to be, so get a third shot.

There's going to be some tricky sort of language that needs to be done here. And we hope that they master it.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we do.

Elizabeth Cohen, thank you so much.

COHEN: Thanks.

BLACKWELL: Let's go to New York City now stopping short of issuing a mask mandate.

A short time ago, the mayor said that he was -- quote -- "making a strong recommendation" for people to wear a mask indoors at public places.

CNN's Jason Carroll has been tracking this story.

So, Jason, has the mayor said why he stopped short of that mandate?

JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, it's a good question.

And, basically, what the mayor is saying is, he's following the data. He's following the science in terms of how he's moving forward with whatever guidance he gives and whatever policy he puts out there.

So, even though we're seeing an uptick in cases here, for now, he's strongly urging and, again, strongly recommending, not mandating, but recommending, that if you're in a public place, like a restaurant like this, or a gym or a grocery store, that you wear a mask inside.

And, in fact, one particular gym taking it a step further, Equinox and SoulCycle making an announcement late this afternoon, basically saying that all of its members going forward are going to have to be vaccinated before they're going to be allowed inside those particular facilities.

So, some taking it a step forward. Also, the mayor announcing, when it comes to vaccines that any city worker going forward is going to have to be vaccinated before they're going to be allowed to start that new employment.

But when it comes to mask-wearing and vaccines, basically, the city's health commissioner weighing in on this issue a little earlier today, Victor, and basically saying they're taking a look at what's happening with the Delta variant and making policy and recommendations based on that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DAVE CHOKSHI, NEW YORK CITY HEALTH COMMISSIONER: Today, I'm making a strong recommendation that everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask in public indoor settings.

This is based on our review of the latest scientific evidence showing that the Delta variant of the coronavirus can spread even more easily than was previously thought.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: So, Victor, I'm standing outside Cafeteria restaurant in Chelsea, a very popular restaurant. A lot of folks like to come here.

So I spoke to the owners here to get their sort of sense of, given everything that the mayor is saying, would it change any of the policies that they have here? I want you to listen to what the owner had to say to us just a short while.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MONICA NOVO, OWNER, CAFETERIA RESTAURANT: I think it's a great approach.

Ultimately, as we have all been saying, New York is a resilient city. I mean, I think it's important that everybody takes part and do whatever is needed to try to eradicate as much as we can this virus.

[15:10:07]

If it's just a short little step back and wearing a mask for a little bit longer indoors or any part where there's a high level of amount of people, I think we should do it. I think it's important. We should try to do as much as we can to try to save our city and save our businesses. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CARROLL: And, Victor, New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo also held a briefing earlier today where he again also urged businesses to require folks to be vaccinated before they can come inside, again, strongly urging, not mandating.

The question then becomes, Victor, how much influence that will have on businesses down the line in terms of whether they -- whether they decide to change their policies or not -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: We will see.

Jason Carroll for us, thank you.

In Miami Beach, Florida, a scene from some of the worst days of the pandemic playing out now. Look at this long line of cars to get a COVID test. And we know why this is happening in Florida. It's the nation's top COVID hot spot. It leads the nation in the most new cases a day, the most new reported cases last week, more than 100,000 over the week. One in five new infections in the country comes from Florida.

And the hospital COVID wards are struggling. More than 9,000 are in hospitals there.

Joining me now is Mary Mayhew. She's the president of the Florida Hospital Association.

Mary, thank you for being with us.

I have read that you said that this is -- although we're seeing the returns to the peaks of hospitalizations in Florida, that they're dramatically different. How so?

MARY MAYHEW, PRESIDENT AND CEO, FLORIDA HOSPITAL ASSOCIATION: It is the rapid rate of increase that we have experienced in Florida.

So, last year, it took 60 days to go from 2,000 cases to over 10,000. In the last few weeks, combating the Delta variant, we have gone from 2,000 cases to over 10,000 cases in 27 days, so rapid escalation.

And then it's attacking our younger people. Last year, we knew that our elderly were most vulnerable, most at risk of being hospitalized, and certainly from dying from COVID. Now we're seeing 25-year-olds in our hospitals in the ICU and on ventilators, so clearly a significant change from the last two significant surges.

BLACKWELL: What we remember from the last two surges were the premium placed on space, the ventilators and the staff, the medical staff to take care of those people.

Are you facing those crises this time around?

MAYHEW: Well, and certainly, as you recall, PPE, masks, gloves, gowns, we were in short supply of all of those. That is not the case today.

But staffing remains a critical challenge. We had a shortage, a work force shortage before the pandemic. It has been exacerbated by the pandemic. We have got health care heroes who for 17 months have been at the bedside responding to this crisis. They are exhausted physically, mentally, and we have lost nurses from the bedside as a result.

So, as hospitals are responding to this surge, as they are putting beds into areas of their buildings, in their conference rooms, in their cafeterias, they still need to have the staff who can be at the bedside, our nurses, our respiratory therapists. That remains a critical challenge.

BLACKWELL: Mary, I know you don't like to get involved in politics. So I preface this question with that. This is based on just public health interest.

Would it help to be -- to allow those out-of-state medical professionals to come back in to Florida to help, to allow those retired health professionals to come back through a state of emergency declaration? We will take the political element out of it. But if you had those professionals, would Florida's hospitals be in a better place?

MAYHEW: Well, look, we have been working closely with the governor's office, with the state agencies.

But it's important to remember that the response that occurs to a crisis to emergency happens locally regionally. What we're trying to do is understand what flexibilities exist or could be leveraged to attract licensed health care professionals from other states. The fact of the matter is, every state is combating a work force shortage.

So even getting that flexibility is no guarantee that we will have access to those nurses. But, certainly, we are trying to look at every possible means of attracting nurses, one of the others, visas. Nurses, international nurses are not the top priority to get visas.

We need to see that flexibility created. There are international nurses that we could be recruiting quickly into the United States. That is another area that we are focused on.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

Mary Mayhew, president of the Florida Hospital Association, thank you for being with first.

[15:15:00]

We have got to get to some breaking news.

MAYHEW: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: Republican senator Lindsey Graham has tested positive for COVID-19. Let's go to Manu Raju on Capitol Hill.

Manu, what do you have?

MANU RAJU, CNN SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Senator Lindsey Graham just revealed that he has been informed that he did test positive for COVID-19, despite being vaccinated himself.

He said -- I'm going to read a tweet that he just put out. He said: "I was just informed by the House physician I have tested positive for COVID-19 even after being vaccinated. I started having flu-like symptoms Saturday night and went to the doctor this morning. I feel like I have a sinus infections and at present time I have mild symptoms."

He goes on to say: "I will be quarantined for 10 days. I'm very glad I was vaccinated, because, without vaccination, I am certain I would not be fuel as well as I do now, my symptoms would be far worse."

That last point so important for people who are listening here. Getting vaccinated, according to the CDC, according to public health experts, is almost 100 percent effective in preventing deaths and hospitalizations. And what Lindsey Graham is saying here is, he says he feels like it's a sinus infection. He's under the weather. It would have been far worse had he not been vaccinated.

But this is the first breakthrough case of any senator that we have heard so far of getting reinfect -- getting infected by COVID-19 even after being vaccinated. And it also comes at a key time here, as the Senate is trying to get a massive infrastructure proposal through.

Lindsey Graham is part of a group of more than 20 senators who signed off on that proposal. His vote ultimately could be important if it gets close and if they need to determine whether or not they need his support to move forward on this bill. They could potentially have that vote before he returns, because he says he has quarantined.

He's going to quarantine for 10 days. The question too, Victor, is, who else did he interact with? Most senators in this body right now still are maskless, even after concerns about the Delta variant. There are no rules in the Senate about wearing masks. In the House, they are now required for members to wear masks, but in the Senate they're not.

And Lindsey Graham, like most senators from both sides of the aisle, had been interacting with his colleagues maskless, had been lunching daily maskless. He has been talking, meeting with them as early as this morning and last week.

So it remains to be seen if this has any impact among any of the other members and what they do, whether they decide to quarantine. Those are questions we will have to pursue in the hours ahead here, but an important revelation here. Senator Lindsey Graham says he is now testing positive even after being vaccinated -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, a medical strategy that we don't talk enough about because we haven't been hearing much about it, contact tracing. That will have to be done to find out if there are others in his circle who will test positive.

And the senator points out here, as you said, that his symptoms would be far worse if he had not been vaccinated. As we have been saying, Manu, all the morning and all afternoon, 99.99 percent of those who have been vaccinated do not have hospitalization for their symptoms. They also do not have fatal cases.

Manu Raju with the breaking news on Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

Former President Trump's personal attorney is fighting back against the release of the former president's tax returns. We will tell you what he's saying next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:23:04]

BLACKWELL: Just in to CNN, former President Trump's personal attorney says that they object to the release of the president's tax returns after the Department of Justice determined he must turn them over to Congress.

His attorney says there is no evidence of wrongdoing.

CNN's Kara Scannell is following this for us.

So, first, an objection, but this, we expect, is going to become some formal filing, right?

KARA SCANNELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, absolutely.

I mean, this is the first response to the Department of Justice's decision or legal opinion on Friday saying that the Treasury Department must turn over these tax returns. This is the first response from his attorney, Ron Fischetti.

And in a lengthy statement, he says that they object to this. They say it's his politicization, it's harassment. And he said: "The Democrats are doing this in an attempt to degrade Mr. Trump and it is a disgrace."

Now, as we have seen repeatedly throughout the past several years, Donald Trump fights things and he fights things in court. So this is teeing up what I think will be the next round of litigation over the release of the tax returns. They obviously fought twice to the Supreme Court when it came to the release of his tax returns to the New York grand jury.

Here, they have been fighting this for -- since 2019. And it looks like that they're going to continue this fight now because they don't want these tax returns public.

BLACKWELL: The expectation, though, is that they eventually will be turned over?

SCANNELL: Well, I mean, this is the legal opinion from the Department of Justice, and it says that they must turn them over. And that's also what the statute says.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

SCANNELL: So that has been the question of, why didn't the Department of Justice under then President Donald Trump say that they should furnish these returns?

One of the big questions here has been, does Congress have a legitimate purpose for this? The committee says that they want these returns for their review. They want to review IRS audit practices. The former president has been under an IRS audit for many, many years. So the Department of Justice saying they have a legal reason for it.

Now, the hurdle here will be for Donald Trump's legal team to say that the Department of Justice's legal counsel is incorrect.

[15:25:00]

BLACKWELL: All right, Kara Scannell, thank you.

Let's get back now to the breaking news. Senator Lindsey Graham just tweeted that he has tested positive for COVID.

Let's bring in Dana Bash.

Dana, you spoke with the senator. What did he tell you?

DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: That he is feeling like he has a bad cold. In fact, he said that he has had worse colds than he feels right now and said -- he emphasized very much with me, like he did in the statement he put out, that he would very likely feel much, much worse had he not gotten the vaccine.

That is a really important message for people to hear, particularly in some of the Southern states, where we see the numbers rising. And now that we have seen so much movement with the Delta variant, the numbers are rising across the country. Numbers in some of the Southern states are lower with the vaccination.

So that particular message is important. The other thing that Manu mentioned before the break, Victor, is the question of who else in the United States Senate or in the House may be coming out with a positive diagnosis.

These are people who spend a lot of time together, in particular over the past few weeks, because they have been negotiating this infrastructure bill. Senator Graham was part of those negotiations, and they have been in intense and close quarters.

Hopefully, nobody else does have a positive diagnosis, but it might happen. But, again, the thing to underscore is, Senator Graham was vaccinated, fully vaccinated, has a breakthrough infection and doesn't feel as bad as he said he has felt with other sicknesses in the past because of that.

BLACKWELL: Of course, how best to the senator for his recovery there. Dana, let's move on now to Democrats who are calling on House Minority

Leader Kevin McCarthy to apologize to Speaker Pelosi after he joked -- it was a joke -- that he would assault the speaker with a gavel should he become the next speaker of the House.

Listen.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)

REP. KEVIN MCCARTHY (R-CA): I will make this one promise here. When we win the majority, which I know we're going to, you're all invited.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

MCCARTHY: I want you to watch Nancy Pelosi hand me that gavel.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

MCCARTHY: It will be hard not to hit her with it, but I will bang it down.

(LAUGHTER)

MCCARTHY: Thank you.

(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

(END AUDIO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: I mean, this is getting worse and worse. After she called him a moron, he said that he never learns anything when he speaks to her, it's never beneficial.

What can be done to repair this relationship, if anything?

BASH: To repair this relationship? Unfortunately, I think the answer is not much.

The question is, what does this mean going forward? This is exhibit A of how bad things are. I understand that Republicans are saying, well, wait a minute, she called him a moron. But I think we're both parents. We understand how this works. Just because you have said something or your child has said something or any human in a social setting has said something doesn't mean that responding and doubling down and tripling down makes it any better.

And the context of this is very important. And this is what some of the speaker's Democratic colleagues are saying, that this is a woman who was hunted down by insurrectionists in the United States Capitol, by people who wanted to -- basically, to assassinate her.

And so -- and these are Republicans, including the minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, who in recent weeks and months has refused to speak out against them, even at the -- with the pleas of officers like Officer Fanone, who met with him in private.

So that context is really, really important. And it was would behoove everybody to take the volume down. But it is not the world that we're living in right now. And we will see if he apologizes, as Democrats are calling on him to.

I don't -- I'm guessing we're going to hear: I was joking. Let's move on.

BLACKWELL: Yes. Yes.

But, of course, the jokes in the minds of the logical and the sane are one thing. When those are transferred to people who are not logical--

BASH: Exactly.

BLACKWELL: -- and who are not sane, that's when they become so dangerous.

So let's turn to the January 6 commission and this question, of course, about whether Republican lawmakers, the president, former president himself, will be called to testify. Congressman Adam Kinzinger says that he would expect to see a significant amount of subpoenas, also said this about the former president:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): We may not even have to talk to Donald Trump to get the information. There were tons of people around him. There were tons of people involved in the things that led up to January 6.

Obviously, if you talk to the president, the former president, that's going to have a whole new set of kind of like everything associated with it. So, when I look at that, I'm like, maybe.

But I know that we're going to get to the information. If he has unique information. That's one thing.