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U.S. Ramps Up Vaccination Efforts as Delta Variant Spreads; Louisiana's Largest Hospital Runs Out of Available Beds; Simone Biles Returns in Balance Beam Final; Karsten Warholm Smashes 400m Hurdles World Record; Olympic Officials to Investigate Belarusian Sprinter Case; Taliban Pushing Toward Afghan Provincial Capitals. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 3, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR: Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and all around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: This remains a pandemic of the unvaccinated.


CHURCH: Pandemic refocus, President Biden's push to get more Americans vaccinated has become even more urgent.

We are live in Tokyo where gymnastics star Simone Biles is back on the beam for her comeback performance.

And Iran confirms a new president as another crisis in the Persian Gulf worsens foreign relations.

Good to have you with us. Well, the U.S. once again is ramping up its vaccination efforts as the highly contagious delta variant sends COVID cases soaring. Later today President Biden will deliver a speech about boosting vaccination rates at home and around the world. It comes one day after the U.S. reported that 70 percent of all Americans have received at least one vaccine dose. Meeting the Biden administration's goal about a month late. But even with vaccination rates on the rise, officials say that the danger is hardly over.


JEFF ZIENTS, WHITE HOUSE COVID-19 RESPONSE COORDINATOR: There are still about 90 million eligible Americans who are unvaccinated. And we need them do their part, roll up their sleeves and get vaccinated.

DR. ROCHELLE WALENSKY, DIRECTOR, CENTER FOR DISEASE CONTROL: While we desperately want to be done with this pandemic, COVID-19 is clearly not done with us. And so, our battle must last a little longer. (END VIDEO CLIP)

CHURCH: And it is clear the U.S. is not out of the woods yet. The CDC says daily case counts have gone up more than 40 percent over the last week. And an average of 300 Americans are still dying from COVID each day and with the likelihood that things will get worse. The White House is making an all-out push for vaccinations. CNN's Kaitlan Collins has more.


KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN CHIEF WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: This week you are seeing the White House really try to make this renewed evident to make COVID-19 the focus of President Biden's schedule. It started yesterday when he returned from Camp David, and he had a meeting in the oval office with his COVID-19 team before they later briefed reporters on where they see the lay of the land when it comes to the state of the pandemic.

And that came after of course the CDC led to a lot of confusion when they changed that masking guidance for fully vaccinated people. Today we're going to see President Biden actually address the state of the pandemic and level of vaccinations which we know are going up in recent days, but they are still not at the level that the White House wants to see them in order to reach normal vaccination in the country. Somewhere they thought we were headed but now of course it is changing with the delta variant which they warn is highly aggressive and highly contagious.

Then on Wednesday you're going to actually see President Biden meet with the chief science adviser on how to prepare for future pandemics. So, what should be the play going forward there. Given of course that there should be so much criticism over how the beginning of this pandemic was handled by the last administration.

This all comes as the White House is also battling this eviction moratorium fight with Democrats on Capitol Hill, essentially both pointing the blame to one another for why it expired and what should happen next, and the White House is calling on states and localities to help out there potentially extend their own moratoriums, make sure that they are freeing up aid for those families who need it.

And it really is just as seen this this renewed effort and this focus on the pandemic that we've not seen in several weeks here at the White House. Where they've tried to focus on other priorities as they thought the pandemic was kind of coming to an area where they felt a lot better about the progress. Now you're seeing it is once again their number one priority.


CHURCH: Well, new cases are surging so badly across the U.S. that the federal government is deploying surge teams to help stabilize ten states. One of those being Louisiana where the state's largest hospital needs help treating the highest number of COVID cases they have ever seen due to the delta variant. The Louisiana's governor says the situation may look bad now, but it's going to get much worse.


GOV. JOHN BEL EDWARDS (D-LA): The urgency is that we have the highest case growth rate in the country and the second-place state is quite a way behind us.


That's not a distinction that we're proud of. And the percent positivity is above 13 percent of all tests coming back positive and that seems to be increasing which means that we have not reached the peak and we don't know how much further this is going to go.


CHURCH: The same hospital says that they have no more available beds with more than 20 patients on a wait list to be admitted to the ICU. Now most of their patients are unvaccinated and many are under the age of 50. One local nurse says the virus does not discriminate.


FELICIA CROFT, LOUISIANA ICU NURSE: In the beginning it was sad, we lost a lot of people in the beginning. But mostly it was people that had lived long lives of love and they had seen their families grow and this is just different. This really has made it show that, you know, COVID does not discriminate, and everybody is vulnerable.


CHURCH: And Florida and Texas are also in bad shape. Last week one in every three new COVID infections came from one of those states where vaccination rates are relatively low. But that could be changing. This was a vaccination site in Miami Beach on Monday with dozens lined up to get their shots after hospitals in south Florida announced record- breaking numbers of COVID patients.

The five states shown here accounted for nearly half of all new COVID cases in the U.S. last week. What do they have in common? The CDC says all five have vaccinated less than half of their residents.

Well, Lindsey Graham says he is only experiencing mild symptoms after testing positive for COVID-19. The U.S. Senate Republican was vaccinated, and he credits the shots for keeping him from feeling much worse.

Meantime former President Barack Obama is getting ready to celebrate his 60th birthday with a COVID compliant party in Martha's Vineyard, that's according to a source who says the weekend event will be held outside and will include safety protocols including the testing of guests.

Well, meantime many U.S. states and cities are responding in very different ways to CDC advice on wearing masks indoors. For instance, Georgia's governor says he won't impose a statewide mask rule. But Atlanta public schools will require masks for all students and teachers. A cardiologist I spoke to last hour warns why this could lead to problems.


DR. ERIC TOPOL, PROFESSOR OF MOLECULAR MEDICINE, SCRIPPS RESEARCH: Everyone should be wearing masks as high a quality, as tighter fit, indoors for sure. Because even if you are vaccinated, you are still potentially vulnerable, that is how tough this delta is. And so, the idea that certain states would have a mandate against mandates is just preposterous. And the lack of this consistent plan and strategy across the whole country is another thing that is holding us back.


CHURCH: Dr. Topol went on to say that COVID vaccines remain critical in preventing hospitalizations and serious illness as the delta variant spreads.

The Tokyo Olympics is not over yet for the young woman many consider one of the greatest gymnasts of all-time. Simone Biles is scheduled to compete in the balance beam final later this hour. The 24-year-old American was a favorite to win gold in multiple events before she withdrew last week citing mental health concerns. The balance beam is her final chance for gold in Tokyo. She already has a silver as part of the U.S. women's team final.

World Sport anchor Patrick Snell is standing by here in Atlanta. But first we go to CNN's Blake Essig live in Tokyo. Good to see you, Blake. So, Simone Biles poised to compete later this hour with the world watching her every move. What is the latest on all of this?

BLAKE ESSIG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, you know, Rosemary In less than one hour, Simone Biles, arguably the greatest gymnasts of all time, will make a dramatic return to Olympic competition and she'll do it on the balance beam. While spectators aren't allowed inside the gymnastics center behind me, to watch tonight's competition. A handful of people waited for several hours during the hottest part of the day just for the chance to see the great one in person. And for some of these lucky fans, they were actually able to do that.

It happened a couple hours ago, Simone Biles and Team USA Gymnastics who are staying at a hotel right across the street from the gymnastics center instead of the Olympic village in order to better control the athletes and their safety given the pandemic.


And while they all looked focused, we only saw them briefly as they crossed the street to enter the venue. But Biles and the other gymnasts took the time to acknowledge the crowd and gave them a little wave as they made their way in. I spoke with one person who said that she struggled to hold back a scream and almost cried when Biles waved to her. She said just seeing Biles was the highlight of these Olympic games for her, and she can't wait to see what happens later tonight. Take a listen. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DHALIS BARTLETT-MORRIS, SIMONE BILES' FAN: I know she's going to give it her all. Even if something -- maybe if she loses, in our heart she still won and she did her best and that is all that matters.


ESSIG (on camera): And before these games started, Biles had a chance to win six gold medals and was a heavy favorite to win at least four, but so far, she'll only take a silver after dropping out of several events because of mental health issues. And while she didn't need to win any more gold medals to cement her legacy of the greatest of all time, withdrawing from competition and putting her mental health first will likely mean so much more to her legacy and the sports world as a whole, versus winning a few more gold medals here at these Olympic games. But tonight, the stage is set, Rosemary, and the world will be watching as Simone Biles goes for gold in Tokyo.

CHURCH: Imagine the pressure she is feeling right now. Just incredible. And such an incredible woman and sports woman. Blake Essig joining us there, many thanks. And now we bring in Patrick Snell with the day's other actions. Good to see you, Patrick. So, bring us up to date on all the Olympic highlights.

PATRICK SNELL, CNN WORLD SPORT: Hi, Rosemary. Yes, already so much to talk about. An amazing historic day this Tuesday and it was a pleasure to actually witness, a privilege even. Karsten Warholm of Norway winning gold. This was in the 400-meter hurdles, shattering the world record and I mean shattering it. The 25-year-old not just holding off Rai Benjamin of the United States, to win a -- we were calling it a race for the ages in our office. It was that momentous.

Just for context here, Rosemary, ahead of today's final these are the stats. The world record standing at 46.70 seconds which Warholm himself set on July 1. Well, wait for it because after Tuesday's final both he and Benjamin beating the mark by a wide margin. Warholm becoming the first to run the event in less than 46 seconds finishing in a time of 45.94. Benjamin's time 46.17. Even the bronze medal, that went to Alison Dos Santos of Brazil. His time 46.72, and that by the way, the fourth fastest in the entire history of this event.

Well, after the race Warholm calling it by far the biggest moment of his life. Adding it defines everything, all the hours I put in, everything that my coach has been working for. I dream about it like a maniac, I tell you, I sleep all night on it, I spend all my time thinking about this, so just getting this last medal into my collection, it is complete.

What a day, what an achievement. That image there speaks volumes. All right, we have already been hugely impressed as well by another star, in this case the Dutch competitor Sifan Hassan who suffered that heavy fall during the 1500-meter heat -- that was on Monday. Powers of recovery though, going on to the victory after a photo finish. Well, now we can say it's one down, two to go for the 28-year-old, as she looks to do something never before attempted, trio of track golds. Also including five in the 10,000-meter race as well. Hassan securing

the first of those in the 5,000-meters, that dominant display, as she becomes now the first Dutch woman to win an Olympic medal in a women's long-distance event. Really impressive, and it all goes back to that fall, a real spurring point for her.

And I do want to get to a special piece of history today for Japanese sport, another one, what an Olympic game the host nation is having. The boxer Irie Sena clinching the women's featherweight gold. This now the country's first ever Olympic women's boxing medal, Rosemary. Sena upsetting the reigning world champion as well, Nesthy Petecio of the Philippines in the process. What an achievement for her.

Let's check in on the overall medal situation. China still leading the way, still leading the medals table with 29 golds out of their 63 in total. We've got the United States with the most total medals at 66, 22 of them are gold. The host, as I mentioned, Japan having an historic Olympics, 18 gold medals for them so far, their most ever in a single game. What a Tuesday it has been so far and plenty more to come as well, I can tell you, Rosemary. Back to you.

CHURCH: Patrick Snell, you have been doing such a great job covering all of this.

SNELL: It is exciting, it is such a privilege to be part of this.

CHURCH: You're having a wonderful time. Thank you so much. And we will of course go back to Blake in about 40 minutes when Simone Biles will compete in the balance beam competition. So do stick around for that.

Well, the International Olympic Committee is now investigating why a Belarusian Olympian is seeking refuge at the Polish Embassy after refusing to fly home.


Olympic authorities who spoke with Kristina Timanovskaya, say she described feeling safe and secure after receiving a humanitarian visa from Poland. She may fly to Warsaw as early as tomorrow.


MARK ADAMS, INTERNATIONAL OLYMPIC COMMITTEE SPOKESMAN: Their first concern is for the athlete. In terms of safeguarding, first and foremost I think actually the actions that we've taken together with our partners should hopefully give confidence not just to Belarusian athletes but also that the IOC will take their worries and their concerns seriously and will act on them.


CHURCH: Timanovskaya said she was being forced to return to Belarus against her will and that she feared arrest. She had criticized Belarusian sporting authorities for entering her into a race without her consent. The Belarusian delegation said she was being withdrawn from the games due to her psychological issues. Meanwhile, a U.N. spokesman is defending her saying, quote, I think

what is important is that everyone who asks for protection for refugee status is afforded that opportunity. No one should be forced to go home under threat or under force.

Well, the battle to keep the Taliban at bay, coming up, how close the militants are to taking over major Afghan cities, when we come back.



CHURCH: This giant sculpture now stands in Beirut made from the wreckage of last year's deadly port explosion. The artist says he wanted to pay tribute to the families of the victims. This Wednesday marks one year since the tragedy and critics say it's still too soon for a memorial. Because no one has been brought to justice over what happened. The official investigation is stalled with no answers on how hundreds of tons of ammonium nitrate were left at the port unattended for years. When those chemicals exploded, more than 200 people were killed, thousands injured, and large areas of the Lebanese capital destroyed.

Well, the Taliban are getting closer to taking over the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand Province. Most of the militant's gains have been in rural areas. Now a source says they've seized a TV station in Lashkar Gah. And Afghan security officials says the U.S. has ramped up airstrikes around that city, as well as Herat and Kandahar. Hundreds of Afghan special forces have arrived in Herat, where there's also been heavy fighting. A security official says that Taliban forces had surged toward the city but had been pushed back for now.

Our Nic Robertson is in London, and he joins us now with more. So, Nic, what more are you learning about the recent Taliban advances and where all this might be going?

NIC ROBERTSON, CNN INTERNATIONAL DIPLOMATIC EDITOR: Well, it's not going to a good place right now, Rosemary, that is clear. Civilians are being caught up in the conflict. We're hearing from the U.N., from other humanitarian groups, Doctors Without Borders, saying that in Lashkar Gah, for example, people are too afraid to leave their houses. They're also reporting that many civilians, dozens of civilians are being treated for war injuries. The U.N. is saying that civilians are being killed in both Lashkar Gah and Kandahar for the past couple of days.

And when we look at the Taliban efforts to try to take control of Herat in the west of the country, they're trying to cut the road linking the airport to the city, strategic typical military fighting if you will. They want to cut off any possibility of the Afghan government reinforcing the forces that they've surged into that city.

Why is the airport so strategically important? Because the roads essentially are already cut. The road linking Herat airport to the city of Herat is a relatively remote road, several miles long, relatively straight. And for the Taliban and Afghan government, that will be a key feature of the fight. But what is emerging in this picture as Taliban go after the cities, whether it's trying to capture the whole cities, taking TV stations, et cetera, civilians are getting caught in the crossfire. And this is the emerging picture at the moment in Afghanistan.

The Afghan government believes that the Taliban won't negotiate, that they won't negotiate until they have been fought to a stalemate. Because they believe that the Taliban think that they have militarily they have the upper hand. And really that does seem to be where the conflict is at the moment. There are key cities in the south Herat, Lashkar Gah and Kandahar are vital for the government to maintain control of, to be able to say that it is winning the fight against the Taliban, that it does control the majority of the country, albeit just the provincial capitals in many cases.

CHURCH: All right, Nic Robertson joining us live from London with that sobering report. Many thanks.

Well, thousands of Afghans will soon have another pathway to the U.S. The State Department is expanding it refugee program to Afghans who worked with the U.S. and could face Taliban reprisal. These are people who didn't meet the requirements for a special immigrant visa but may have worked for contractors or as interpreters for the U.S. or NATO. However, there is a catch. These applicants won't be processed as refugees until they're in a third country. And they will have to get themselves out of Afghanistan.


ANTONY BLINKEN, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: So, today the State Department is announcing a new resettlement program for Afghans who assisted the United States but who do not qualify for special immigrant visas. We've created a priority two or P-2 designation granting assess to the U.S. refugee admissions program for many of these Afghans and their family members.



CHURCH: Critics and human rights activists say the fact that applications must be processed outside of Afghanistan will make it much more difficult for desperate Afghans to resettle in the U.S.

Well, still to come here on CNN, China is scrambling to contain a growing COVID-19 outbreak caused by the delta variant. A live report from Hong Kong, next.

And time has run out for many Americans after a federal ban on evictions expired over the weekend. Now some are left with no options and little hope.


NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's this tiny virus that has come along and just -- DASHA KELLY, FAMILY FACING EVICTION: Taken everything.



CHURCH: While vaccinations are a major focus in the U.S. right now, the White House spent the weekend looking for a way to legally stop evictions for those affected by the pandemic. The effort wasn't successful leaving millions of renters with nowhere to go. CNN's Nick Watt reports on one family who could be kicked out of their apartment at any moment.


DASHA KELLY, FAMILY FACING EVICTION: This is the letter. Oh, I owe 1,900.

NICK WATT, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice over): That letter is a 24-hour eviction notice.

KELLY: And you guys honestly freaked me out when you knocked this morning. I'm not going to lie because I'm really thinking they're coming at any moment.

WATT (voice over): To throw Dasha Kelly who goes by Kelly and her little girls, Sharon (ph), Kia (ph) and Domani (ph) onto the street. Talking about it doesn't help.

KELLY: Sorry.

WATT: No, Kelly. Listen, we're sorry to ...

KELLY: Do you know what's happening when we start talking about it?

WATT: Yes.

KELLY: It's like it's bringing all my emotions.

WATT: I'm sorry.

WATT (voice over): Kelly was a casino dealer here in Las Vegas, loved it.

KELLY: Well, I'm automatically come on please win.