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Fauci Hopes for FDA Approval Soon; Delta Variant Accounts for 93 Percent of Cases; Florida Districts Mask Mandates; China Sees Worst Outbreak in Months; Calls for Cuomo's Resignation; Shelley Mayer is Interviewed about Gov. Cuomo. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 09:00   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Crew, break a leg.


BERMAN: Really, I couldn't be happier that this is happening. We wish you all the best.

TAYMOR: Thank you. Thank you so much.

BERMAN: There was nothing for the theater community for the last 17 months.


BERMAN: I mean just nothing.

KEILAR: It's been horrible. Yes.

BERMAN: All right, CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off.

This morning, the race to vaccinate a nation could soon see a major boost. "The New York Times" is reporting that the FDA is aiming to give full approval to the Pfizer vaccine by early next month. And with more than 90 million eligible Americans here in the U.S. still unvaccinated, Dr. Anthony Fauci tells CNN that he hopes that day could come even sooner, which could play a big role in fighting vaccine hesitancy.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATION INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I think there are certain proportion of people who are just waiting for that full approval, even though the data are overwhelming right now that these vaccines are highly effective and are safe.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SCIUTTO: And as the American Academy of Pediatrics warns of, quote, substantial increase in new cases among children, Dr. Fauci also saying that full FDA approval might speed up authorization of the vaccine for children under the age of 12. Critical as we get closer to schools re-opening.

And with the delta variant tightening its grip on parts of the country with low vaccination rates, President Biden made a plea to state governors who have blocked mask and vaccine mandates.


JOE BIDEN, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I say to these governors, please help. But if you're not going to help, at least get out of the way of the people that are trying to do the right thing. Use your power to save lives.


SCIUTTO: Let's begin with CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen.

Elizabeth, first about full FDA approval. To this point we've had emergency approval in effect, which has allowed it -- you know, allowed hundreds of millions of people to be vaccinated. What -- when might full approval come and what difference might that make?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Right. So the hope is that if we move from emergency authorization to full approval that it will make some subset of people who haven't gotten vaccinated say, oh, that makes me feel better that it has full approval, just like all the other medicines I've taken over the course of my life. Now I will roll up my sleeve.

So "The New York Times, as you mentioned, Jim, says that it's looking like this could happen by early next month. A federal official tells CNN that the FDA is moving as fast as it can. Let's take a listen to what Dr. Anthony Fauci told our colleague, Erin Burnett, last night.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATION INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: I do hope it's going to be within the next couple of weeks. They said hopefully by the end of the month. I hope it's even sooner than that.


COHEN: Another reason, Jim, for this -- for this hope that this will happen sooner rather than later is that maybe if there's full approval, that employers would feel better about mandating the vaccine, or that restaurants would feel better about requiring it of its guests. So it gives everyone sort of more confidence, even though, as Dr. Fauci said earlier, the authorization, the emergency authorization, that was done after a lot of scrutiny.


COHEN: So it's not as if the authorization was nothing. It was actually incredibly important and incredibly diligent.

SCIUTTO: No question. And 347 million vaccines administered. That's a pretty good set of data to this point.


SCIUTTO: OK, we've heard a lot of anecdotal evidence from doctors of an increase in COVID infections among children. What is the data showing?

COHEN: Right. So we're seeing more and more children getting infected and ending up in the hospital. And that number has just skyrocketed in the past month.

Let's take a look at what those numbers look like.

So, just in -- from July 22nd through 29th, just in that -- in that one week, we saw more than 70,000 new cases in the U.S. That was an increase of about 84 percent from the previous week. So, in one week, those numbers went up 84 percent. And that's five times as many cases as the end of June.

Now, of course, thank goodness, the vast majority of children, they don't end up in the hospital with COVID. But, still, they can get quite sick. I have heard friends describe their children getting COVID and they are miserable. Very high temperatures, coughing up a storm. Why would you want your child to go through that?


COHEN: If your child is 12 or older, get them vaccinated now.

SCIUTTO: Simple, straight advice. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SCIUTTO: And this is just in to CNN.

The delta variant now accounts for more than 93 percent of COVID infections in the United States. That number even higher in certain parts of the country. We're going to have more on that in a moment.


But, first, to Louisiana, where a statewide mask mandate for all indoor public spaces goes into effect today. That mandate comes as the state is seeing an all-time high in COVID-19 hospitalizations. It's never been worse in this pandemic. Some facilities completely now out of ICU beds. Staff shortages also growing more dire by the day.

CNN's Nadia Romero, she's in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

And, Nadia, the state's largest hospital has just admitted a record number of new COVID-19 patients just in the past 24 hours. I mean tell us what they're seeing there and how they're handling it.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jim, this is another bad sign for the state of Louisiana, but specifically here in Baton Rouge. So at Our Lady of the Lake, this is the largest hospital, and you saw a 32 new COVID cases, patients admitted to the hospital in a 24-hour period. That is a new, dismal record.

And all of that means that they're at 100 percent capacity, between the main hospital and the children's hospital behind me, 100 percent capacity, 175 COVID patients hospitalized. They simply can't take anyone else. They've been turning people away who have non-urgent medical needs. And they also have this long wait list of people who want to be transferred into this hospital.

Now, when we talk about 175 patients, some of them are children. And we just spoke with the president of the children's hospital here. He tells us there was a three week old baby that was in the ICU fighting COVID just this week. Luckily, that baby has survived, as able to fight off COVID-19. But he says seeing that day in and day out has taken a toll on him and his staff. They have a nursing shortage here at this hospital, as they do all across the state of Louisiana. Their number one goal is to keep kids safe. But they can't do that without everyone else' help, the community's help by getting vaccinated. He says kids don't have a choice. It's up to their parents and their community members to protect them.

Listen to his urgent plea.


TREY DUNBAR, PRESIDENT, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: What we know now is that COVID is a preventable disease. It's hard for us as pediatricians to see kids affected by a preventable disease. Children aren't like adults. They don't have the choice to get vaccinated. They're -- they are -- you know, parents are responsible for those choices. So, yes, it makes a big difference when adults make decisions for kids and adults make decisions that, you know, could maybe prevent diseases.


ROMERO: So there's another big concern. This is a pediatric trauma center as well. And he says we really don't have a lot of space. If there was a kid involved in a car crash and they want to come here, where would we put any more children because we're dealing with this high number of COVID-19 patients?

But maybe just a little bit of hope on the horizon here. He says for the first time they saw a line of children waiting outside the children's pharmacy here at the hospital to get vaccinated. The first time they've seen that during this pandemic.


SCIUTTO: That's a change. Nadia Romero, thanks very much. Well, the battle over mask mandates is heating up in the state of Florida. One Florida school district voting that students must opt out to avoid wearing a mask this coming fall. Another district is requiring students wear masks for the first two weeks of school. That follows Republican Governor Ron DeSantis issuing an executive order which prevents mask mandates in Florida schools and threatens to withhold funding from those that implement a mandate anyway.

CNN's Layla Santiago joins us now from Duval County, Florida, with more.

So, in effect, it sounds like you have some schools pushing up against the governor's measure here.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right, some schools like schools here in Duval County and Alachua County trying to find a way to require masks while still being in line with the governor's executive order.

Here in Duval County, they are telling parents that if they don't want their kids to wear masks, they will have to take the opt-out option, which will require more paperwork from them.

In Alachua County, as you mentioned, also in north Florida, Jim, they too are taking a stand requiring masks in the first two weeks of school and they will reassess in a few weeks, in mid-August that decision.

Now, these are school districts that are in north Florida. Two districts, two communities that are in the red with very high transmission in those communities. And as they see cases surging and more hospitalizations, especially among the unvaccinated and the younger population, they are making these decisions.

Now, the governor's office tells us they will be reviewing their decisions. But I've got to tell you, I have been talking to a lot of parents and every single one that I talked to supported the idea of getting kids back into the classroom.


The divide comes in the mask policy. Listen.


MATT HARTLEY, FATHER: I care about your kid as much as I care about my kid. And I don't want any kid to risk being hospitalized or getting long COVID symptoms or just being a part of our community spread.

QUISHA KING, MOTHER: The best and most fair thing to do is to give parents the option of whether they want to -- want their children to wear a mask or not.


SANTIAGO: And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, almost 72,000 cases among children and teens last week. And that is a substantial rise according to the doctors.


SCIUTTO: Layla Santiago, thanks so much.

Overseas now in Wuhan, China, the original epicenter of COVID-19. Officials have identified a cluster of cases linked to the delta variant. This as officials record more new infections throughout many parts of China.

CNN's David Culver is in Beijing with more.


DAVID CULVER, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Jim, Chinese state media is considering this to be the worst outbreak since Wuhan. You've got to put that in context given, in recent months, really over the past year plus, life within this bubble that is China has gone back to near normal, pre-COVID-like, and it's reverting quickly back to lockdown measures, including here in Beijing.

This is considered to be the fortress in many ways. In fact, officials have said that they will protect Beijing at all costs. We've seen that confirmed cases now within this capital city have led to lockdowns within certain communities. Tens of thousands now living with the lockdown communities, unable to leave, sealed inside their homes. It's reminiscent of 2020 and what we saw in Wuhan in particular.

And it's not just Beijing. This has spread countrywide now.

In Wuhan, for example, they are now testing all 11 million residents. They've already had several confirmed cases. And you may look at those numbers and you say, altogether, they've got, since July 20th, several hundred cases. Compare that to the rest of the world. It doesn't even rank. It seems even laughable.

However, here within China, they have this zero case goal. And they are determined to meet that, even if it means reverting to these extreme measures, which are playing out right now. The claim is that this is all coming from an imported case from Russia. They say it is linked in part to the delta variant.

It dates back to July 10th. A plane coming in from Moscow landing in Nanjing. An airport worker getting sick. Then that spread out from there.

And you've got to remember the timing of all this. It's summer travel. You've got people coming together. All of the tour sights for the most part in major cities are starting to shut down. They're taking this very seriously.

And, of course, the timing needs to be noted that we are six months to the day from the start of the Beijing 2022 Olympics. So that is why we are seeing this urgent tone from officials here in China.

Jim. SCIUTTO: Yes. Makes sense.

Our thanks to David Culver in Beijing.

Next, this hour, Governor Cuomo's accusers react to his defiance in the wake of a damning report that found he sexually harassed 11 women, his impeachment and removal. Next, I'm going to speak to a New York state senator.

Plus, a moderate Democrat and a Trump Republican win two special elections in Ohio. What that tells us about the midterms.

And Simone Biles speaking out about what is next for her and if she's closing the door on competing in the 2024 Olympics. We'll have that.



SCIUTTO: This morning, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is under mounting pressure from New York politicians to step down after the release of a damning report from the state attorney general, a Democrat, that says he sexually harassed 11 women and also created a hostile work environment for female colleagues. The evidence includes 179 interviews, 74,000 documents showing the attorney general argues that Cuomo's conduct violated multiple federal and state laws.

Now President Biden and other powerful Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, as well as both of New York's senators, both Democrats, are calling for the governor to resign.

Joining me now is CNN's Erica Hill.

Erica, the mayor of New York today said that there's nowhere for the governor to turn. The governor says he's got no plans to resign. What happens next and how quickly could we move on to an impeachment process in the state assembly?

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, you just talked about all of those people, from President Biden on down, were calling for the governor to step down.


HILL: We're also hearing it from state leaders here. Two-thirds of the New York State Senate. The assembly speaker saying, in his words, that the governor can no longer remain in office. He's lost the confidence of the assembly Democratic majority. And that same speaker saying that this impeachment investigation is now going to move expeditiously.

So what does that mean? The investigation, we're told, could wrap up within the month, then move on from there. That's a lot of the focus.

There are also a lot of questions about just how long he can hold on here with this lack of support from both lawmakers and we're seeing too from New Yorkers. In fact, a survey that was taken just after the report was put out by Marist finds 59 percent of respondents said the governor should resign, as you can see there, and that includes 52 percent of registered Democrats.

They were also asked in this survey about what the governor did.


Did he do something illegal, unethical? Did he do nothing wrong? Just 7 percent said he did nothing wrong. You see the split there, 44 percent say he did something illegal, 29 percent say it was something unethical.

What is clear is that these details have made a lot of people uncomfortable. It has also started a lot of important conversations. One of his accusers, a former press aid, spoke with our colleague Erin Burnett last night. She said in her words that he almost never takes responsibility for his actions.

Here is some of her reaction to what she heard yesterday.


KAREN HINTON, ACCUSED CUOMO OF INAPPROPRIATE CONDUCT, SPOKE TO PROSECUTORS IN PROBE: He's not treating women with respect. He's not treating them as professionals. And that's all these 11 women want is respect, to be treated like a professional. And to not have -- be allowed to be consensual sexual overtures.

The book on the Cuomo era is coming to a close. And he just needs to accept that and resign or he'll be impeached.


HILL: A lot of pushback. Charlotte Bennett, who also after sharing her story back in February with "The New York Times," got a lot of attention, she called that taped statement yesterday a propaganda video, Jim.


And just to be clear, it works similarly in New York state as it does in Congress, right, where the state assembly impeaches, indicts, in effect, and then the senate votes whether to convict and remove.

HILL: Exactly. The senate would vote along with I believe it's seven judges in the New York Court of Appeals. They need two-thirds, right, for that to pass.


HILL: We already know that two-thirds of New York state senators are calling on him to resign.

SCIUTTO: Erica Hill, thanks so much.

Well, as we noted, CNN has confirmed at least 61 members of the New York state assembly want impeachment articles introduced, 43 of them are already prepared to vote in favor of impeaching the governor.

Joining me now to speak about all this is Democratic New York State Senator Shelley Mayer.

So good to have you on this morning. Thanks for taking the time.

SHELLEY MAYER (D), NEW YORK STATE SENATE: Thank you for having me.

SCIUTTO: So let's begin.

You called this report, as presented by the attorney general yesterday, a damning indictment of the conduct and culture of the governor and his executive team. Based on what you saw in the report, does this look to you like criminal behavior by the governor?

MAYER: Well, I think the attorney general was right and she said that the review of the criminal behavior will be by district attorneys and I believe the district attorney of (INAUDIBLE) county has already requested the documents and is going to do a review. I will defer to the district attorneys.

My view, as a legislature, and it was in March and it is even stronger now, is the time for him to resign is right now. This is absolutely unacceptable and we need the business of New York state to move on from this absolute distraction and unacceptable behavior.

SCIUTTO: The governor --

MAYER: So I continue my call for resignation right now.

SCIUTTO: Understood.

The governor has said, and continues to say, he will not resign. If he does not resign and he is impeached in the assembly, will you, as state senator, cast a vote to convict and remove him?

MAYER: Well, I have an obligation under the state constitution to examine the evidence that's presented during the impeachment trial. And, of course, I will do that in a fair and impartial way.

My call for resignation is based on what we know and the distraction and the fact that he has lost the confidence of those of us who have to work with him.

We have COVID running rampant in New York. We need leadership. And this is a distraction.

So I will do my job. I am absolutely committed and sworn to do that. But, for now, we can avoid that. He should step down right now.

SCIUTTO: Is he fit to be governor of New York?

MAYER: Well, I think fitness is a quality that will be reviewed, if I had to guess, during the impeachment. I think the short term point is, you have to work with your colleagues, from the president and majority leader and the speaker of the house, to the leaders of the assembly and senate, both of whom have now indicated their conferences do not support his continued governorship.

SCIUTTO: One of his accusers, Charlotte Bennett, who I believe is a constituent of yours, she reacted to his denial yesterday. I want to play that for you and get your reaction.

Have a listen.


CHARLOTTE BENNETT, ACCUSED GOVERNOR CUOMO OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT: It wasn't an apology and he didn't take accountability for his actions. He can't once apologize and then say he didn't do anything wrong. He blamed me and said that I simply misinterpreted what he had said. But his line of questioning was not appropriate. He was coming on to me. And he insinuated that survivors of trauma and sexual assault can't tell the difference between mentorship and leadership and sexual harassment itself.


SCIUTTO: That was Charlotte Bennett earlier this morning.


I wonder, do you agree with her that the governor, in his response, was, in effect, denigrating his accusers, denigrating these women?

MAYER: I think he's done that from the onset. He's denigrated their authorities (ph). He's minimized their voices. And then he retaliated, according to the report, against those of them who had the courage to step forward.

This is not a person who is easy to take on. Anyone who's been in New York politics knows that. And I know -- have known Governor Cuomo for almost 40 years. He is a challenging person to have the courage to say, you did something that is wrong and I am going to call you on it. These women did that and then he did proceed to denigrate and humiliate and try and intimidate them from telling their stories. That's not acceptable.

SCIUTTO: As you noted, you've worked with him for 40 years. You've known him for decades. Have you ever witnessed or experienced behavior like this with the governor?

MAYER: My experience with him is about fighting about policy. And he and I have fought hard and long and disagreed robustly about New York state policy. As the chair of the education committee, I'm fighting for our public schools. And he hasn't always been on my side. That's my fight with an elected official, policy. But right now we can't fight about policy while this person is totally disgraced by these accusations and by this report. That's why resignation now will put us back on path to deal with the critical issues of New York and the people that I represent are entitled to have a (INAUDIBLE).

SCIUTTO: New York State Senator Shelley Mayer, thanks so much for joining us this morning. MAYER: Thank you so much, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, some senates say they expect a final series of votes for the bipartisan infrastructure bill by this weekend. Are they on track for that? Will this finally get through? We're going to ask Democratic Senator Chris Van Hollen.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. U.S. futures lower this morning. This after stocks closed higher on Tuesday. The Dow and S&P notched fresh, all-time highs, both rebounded from moderate losses at the start of the week. We're going to keep an eye on the markets.

Please stay with us.