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House Insurrection Investigation Continues; Dominant Delta Variant. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 4, 2021 - 15:00   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Start of a new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell.

ALISYN CAMEROTA, CNN HOST: And I'm Alisyn Camerota.

The White House convened a meeting today for all living former surgeon generals to tackle the pandemic, particularly the effort to get more people vaccinated. Current Surgeon General Vivek Murthy said they also talked about combating misinformation.

So, right now, vaccinations against COVID are at the highest level that have been seen in a month. That's the good news. But at the current pace, it would still take six months from now to get all eligible Americans at least one dose. This is according to CNN's analysis of the CDC data.

BLACKWELL: So, in the meantime, the Delta variant continues to spread across the U.S. Almost all of the new cases are among the unvaccinated.

And look at the screen. This is a CDC time lapse. It shows how, in one month, it has taken over. These red areas indicate the parts of the country that see the highest transmission. And the CDC says Delta now makes up more than 90 percent of U.S. cases.

In late May, it was about 3 percent of cases.

Today, for the third day in a row, the average number of infections increased by double digits compared to last week.

CAMEROTA: CNN's Nadia Romero is in Louisiana, which has more people in the hospital with COVID than ever before.

So, tell us what you're seeing in Baton Rouge, Nadia.

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn and Victor, another dismal day, a record-breaking day for the state's largest hospital, Our Lady of the Lake.

And they're reporting that 32 new COVID patients were admitted in a 24-hour period. That's a record, obviously, going in the wrong direction. So, I'm standing at the children's hospital across the street from the

main hospital, altogether, 175 COVID patients. And they're full. They're at capacity. They have no more space for anyone else. Now, of the 175 here at the children's hospital, there are eight kids battling against COVID right now.

But there is one good update I have for you. I told you about a 3- week-old baby over the past couple of days who was here at this hospital in the NICU fighting COVID-19. That baby survived and has been discharged to go home with their family, the best update and outcome you could have asked for in that terrible situation.

But when we spoke with the president of the children's hospital, he says he is concerned about all the other kids and all of the other people who could potentially get COVID and try to come to these hospitals. And they're full, but they're supposed to be trauma centers. So he is worried and concerned about what they're not able to do because they're so consumed with COVID-19. Take a listen.


TREY DUNBAR, PRESIDENT, OUR LADY OF THE LAKE CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: Where the increase in COVID really worries me is, will that make an impact on our other hospital functions?

You know, we're dedicating a lot of time, especially on the adult campus, to taking care of people with COVID. I want to be able to make sure we can take care of people that are in auto accidents, for example. We're a pediatric trauma center. We have seen a lot more trauma over the last year. I don't want to impact our care in trauma because we're kind of inundated with COVID.


ROMERO: So what's the answer?

Well, if you ask the governor, John Bel Edwards, he says, get vaccinated, pleading with people to take the vaccine. He is also saying, you know what, we have a mask mandate again because we can't seem to get it together. That mask mandate officially enacted today.

And it also led to LSU, just around the corner from here, saying that, for the upcoming fall semester, students will have to prove that they're vaccinated or they will have to take a monthly COVID-19 test, that just released today -- Alisyn.

BLACKWELL: All right, I will take it.

Nadia Romero for us, thank you so much.

Let's turn now to Dr. Peter Hotez. He's a professor and dean of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine. He is also the author of "Preventing the Next Pandemic: Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti-Science."

Dr. Hotez, welcome back. Let's start here with the growing percentage of children who are the

new cases of COVID. We're hearing it anecdotally. We're seeing it statistically.


Is that because most kids are not eligible for the vaccine, or is there some increased susceptibility that we're seeing in children?

DR. PETER HOTEZ, BAYLOR COLLEGE OF MEDICINE: Yes, well, we don't really know, Victor.

You know, I think it's probably likely that we're dealing with the fact that -- we're dealing with the fact that many of these kids are getting infected because they're swept up, because so many individuals are becoming infected.

Remember, Delta is basically picking off anyone who hasn't been vaccinated to date. So, I don't think right now the Delta variant is specifically targeting kids. I just think they're getting swept up in this firestorm of Delta COVID-19.

And I think you brought up a very important point, which is we don't have the data nationally on what's happening, especially in the low vaccination rates in the South, in terms of pediatric ICU admissions. Anecdotally, it is looking pretty dire. All of the pediatric ICUs are now filling up with kids.

And this is even before school starts. So the big unknown is, what happens when schools begin? And, unfortunately, the timing is terrible. In many Louisiana parishes, schools are going to open next week, and here in Houston, for instance, August 23. We tend to do this earlier in the South than in the north. Will this be an accelerant?

And the bottom line, I think the most important point is, we have to throw out the ideologies. We have to throw out preconceived notions. And we now have to be all hands on deck in saving our kids and ensuring our kids can get through a safe fall school semester.

And here's what it means. And no one is going to like it, but I don't see a way around it. We have to implement vaccine mandates across schools in the South. There's no other way. It's the safest thing to do to ensure that all of our adolescents in middle schools and high schools can have a good school year, that the teachers are safe.

Teachers have to be vaccinated. The staff has to be vaccinated. The bus drivers have to be vaccinated. And that will have the added benefit of expanding community vaccination rates to lower transmission overall, which will keep the little kids safer. And that has to be the number one priority.

CAMEROTA: But what about the kids 12 and under or under 12, I guess, that can't get vaccinated? Won't the virus have -- weren't we just seeing that then that the virus moves into whatever unvaccinated population it can find?

HOTEZ: That's the risk.

But I think if we have mandatory masks as a backstop, I think that will help a lot. And if we can accelerate community vaccination rates, that can help as well.

So, for instance, Alisyn, if you're sending your kid to school in Vermont or Massachusetts in a few weeks, I think you can feel pretty good, because almost all of the adults, almost all the adolescents are vaccinated, and you're not seeing the steep acceleration or much of an acceleration at all like you're seeing here in the South.

And that is the answer. This virus is taking off in the context of low vaccination rates. And the way it works is, if you look at the differences between the older adults, over the age of 65, there is actually a pretty modest difference between the Southern states and the Northern states.

It's about around 80 percent in the Southern states, but over 95 percent in the Northern states, so a difference, but not a big difference. Where the bottom falls out are among the adolescents and younger adults. You're looking at 15 percent, 16 percent, 17 percent adolescents in the Southern states, over 70 percent in the Northern states.

That's a huge difference, and also a difference between young adults. And that is where the emphasis has to be, so, vaccination mandates in the schools and then using every lever possible to pull and push and get the young adults vaccinated.

BLACKWELL: Control room, if we have the transmission map, let's put it up, because what we're talking about now is the Delta variant. More than 90 percent of the sequenced cases are Delta.

As we saw this variant come about, what's your concern that in these areas where we're seeing high transmission across every county of the state, that there will be the next variant that will be more resistant against the vaccines that are effective now against the Delta variant, specifically Florida?


Well, Florida, what we're seeing now is this new variant that came in from -- it looks like it may have been imported from Colombia in South America. It doesn't even have a Greek letter yet, as far as I know. It's called B.1.621.

And what I worry about that one is, it has the -- it has a mutation in the 681 position that makes it more transmissible, like the U.K. variant and the Delta variant. But it also has some vaccine escape in the 501 and the 481 position.

So, that's really worrisome. And that's starting to go up as well. And, again, this is an unforced error, or self-inflicted wound, whatever metaphor you want to use. We did not have to allow that into the state if we'd fully vaccinated everybody.


And so that has to be the message. You know, the national security of the country depends on this. This is no longer only a public health concern or even an economic concern. The security of the country depends on getting everybody vaccinated. It's as simple as that.

CAMEROTA: But, just to be clear, Dr. Hotez, I want to understand what you're saying. You're seeing a new variant that appears to be possibly as transmissible or more so than the Delta variant and also more resistant to vaccines.

How many cases in Florida already?

HOTEZ: We're seeing different percentages, and not more transmissible than Delta. It looks like -- so both the U.K. variant and Delta variant have a mutation, a different mutation in the 681 position.

This one has the same one as the U.K. one, as far as I can tell. But in addition, it has those vaccine escape mutants, the 501 and the 484 position, which make it more resistant to vaccine, again, not completely resistant, but it looks like the same as the South African variant.

And I don't know if it is going to start outcompeting Delta. Hopefully, it won't. But it's just another reminder that the consequences of allowing widespread transmission as the school year opens are bad enough, but then there's the additional long-term consequence of allowing new variants to continue to come in.

And then, of course, the important other story is, we're doing a terrible job at vaccinating the world. Nobody is vaccinated on the African continent. We're doing terribly in South America, terribly in Southeast Asia, and this is another reminder that the Biden administration needs to step up and go beyond just donating some doses.

They have got to step up and produce vaccine for the world.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Peter Hotez, a lot to think about there with what he's saying in Florida.

CAMEROTA: Yes, none of it comforting. Doctor. I know it's not your job. We appreciate you sounding the alarm on all of this, but that is new information.

BLACKWELL: All right, thank you, Doctor.

HOTEZ: My pleasure. Thanks.

CAMEROTA: OK, on to the epicenter of the pandemic in Florida.

One of every five new cases is reported out of Florida. And the state is also seeing more people in the hospital than ever before, up 13 percent from its previous peak in July of last year.

BLACKWELL: And despite Governor Ron DeSantis' outlawing vaccine and mask mandates, some districts are now moving ahead with what they think is safe.

That includes Duval County, where the board just created some new rules that parents must opt out if they don't want their child to wear a mask in school.

Joining me now is Diana Greene, the superintendent of Duval County public schools.

Thank you for being with me.

I do want to have this mask conversation, but let's start with what we just heard from Dr. Peter Hotez, where he says that there should be a vaccine mandate for all schools across the South to stop this spread. What's your reaction to that?

DIANA GREENE, SUPERINTENDENT, DUVAL COUNTY, FLORIDA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Well, we're actually moving forward with offering vaccines to our secondary students starting August 18, working in collaboration with our Department of Health.

We will be offering vaccine clinics at every single one of our secondary schools and offer it with parent consent for eligible students who meet the criteria for the vaccine.

BLACKWELL: But do you see a possibility? Is it plausible, considering the political environment there in Florida, that there could be a vaccine mandate for all public schools at least across the state?

GREENE: Well, as superintendent, that is not within my authority to mandate vaccines.

If that becomes the case, then we will do our part to ensure that our students have access. Our number one goal is to ensure that we do everything that we possibly can to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, whether that's in our classrooms or offering vaccine clinics.

BLACKWELL: So, let's talk about masks. And semantics here matter, so I'm going to start with some very basic questions.

Do you have a mask mandate in Duval County Public Schools?

GREENE: What we have is a policy that strongly recommends that all students wear facial coverings when they are indoors or attending school events.

We allow parents to opt out of that policy, in that they have to submit in writing that they are choosing for their student not to wear a mask.

BLACKWELL: OK. So I want to go back to that original question. It really is, and I don't want to belabor this, a yes or no. Do you have a mask mandate in Duval County?

GREENE: Well, it's not a yes-or-no answer.

We have a policy that highly recommends... BLACKWELL: Why isn't it?

GREENE: ... that everyone wear a facial covering, and that parents have the opportunity to opt out.



GREENE: It is very clear in our code of conduct, and those are the words that are used.

BLACKWELL: OK. So let me try this a different way. Are masks required for students in Duval County?

GREENE: If parents do not want their child to wear a mask, they need to submit an opt-out, requesting that their student not wear a mask.

BLACKWELL: OK. I feel like those are very simple questions. I didn't get a clear answer to either of those, and maybe that's on me. And maybe you're getting it and the viewer understands as well.

Let me ask you now about the opt-out procedure. What is that? Is that a form that has to be sent home and completed, or does the parent have to write in to say, I do not want my child to wear a mask?

GREENE: Well, the board just approved this last night, and so that procedure will be completed by the end of today.

We have an outstanding system. It is a parent portal for our parents that they can access. This will probably do through our parent portal, so parents can inform our schools, and schools can easily garner that information.


Is there discipline for students who don't wear the mask and don't go through the portal or opt-out? What do you do for a kid who shows up, maybe he is trying to act out, maybe his family is trying to make a point, and they come to school, they're not wearing a mask, or not filling out your opt-out? What happens next?

GREENE: It is not tied to discipline.

Our schools are prepared for when students arrive, whether they are wearing a facial covering or not. They have their procedures that they would follow. They would contact the parent and follow the procedures that are outlined in any situation when we have requirements that students may not meet. Our administrators know how to handle those situations.


Last thing. And you do believe that the governor's ban on mask mandates allows you to discipline a student for not wearing a mask and not following the opt-out procedures? GREENE: The executive order has not -- it's been in its infancy, so

until we get full direction of the executive order, again, we're not applying discipline to students as it relates to wearing facial coverings.


Duval County Superintendent Diana Greene, thank you so much.

GREENE: Thank you.

BLACKWELL: All right.

CAMEROTA: OK, so, House investigators are now speaking with a Justice Department official who considered resigning because of President Trump's attempt to use the Justice Department to push his false election claims.

BLACKWELL: Plus, the Taliban claims responsibility for a car bombing that killed eight people. We are live in Afghanistan.



CAMEROTA: This just into CNN, new details in the investigation of the January 6 Capitol attack.

House investigators interviewing a former DOJ official who planned to resign just days before January 6 over former President Trump's push to use the DOJ to support his false election claims.

CNN senior Justice Department -- Evan Perez is breaking this story for us right now.

Evan, what have you learned?

EVAN PEREZ, CNN SENIOR JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Alisyn, this was a letter, a resignation letter, that was written by Patrick Hovakimian, who was the chief of staff at the time of the then acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen.

And this happened on January 3. He expected that Rosen was probably going to get fired. He went -- Rosen was at a meeting with President Trump where essentially he was fighting to keep his job. And this, of course, came after weeks where the Justice Department had looked into these fraud claims that the president and his lawyers and his allies were pushing and found no merit to them.

Here's what Patrick Hovakimian wrote in his letter that he actually never ended up sending, because Rosen ended up not getting fired.

The letter read -- says in part that Rosen over the course of the last week repeatedly refused the president's direct instructions to utilize the Department of Justice law enforcement powers for improper ends. And, again, the letter was written with the view that -- anticipation that Rosen was going to get fired.

What went down that evening, Victor and Alisyn, was something straight out of a reality TV show. The president brought in Rosen, the -- again, the acting attorney general, and another official, Jeffrey Clark, who had back-channeled his -- essentially his approval, his support for the president's claims that the election was fraudulent.

And he had them essentially sit there and vie for the job. In the end, the president didn't fire Rosen. And we know exactly what happened in the next few days, as you mentioned, on January 6.

But the importance of this is that Hovakimian is among several officials who are now being interviewed by a couple of committees on Capitol Hill, in this case, the House Oversight Committee. He sat for an interview for three hours yesterday.

We anticipate that other officials, including Rosen, are going to be coming in, in the coming days to be interviewed to learn more about the extraordinary events that happened in those opening days of 2021, when I think a lot of people don't really know the president -- what the president was trying to do behind the scenes to try to get some support, something to support his idea that the election was fraudulent, which we know, of course, was false.


CAMEROTA: I mean, what you described sounds like a scene out of "The Apprentice."


PEREZ: Oh, yeah, that's exactly right.


CAMEROTA: Well, the truth is coming out slowly. Thank you very much, Evan.

BLACKWELL: Evan Perez, thank you so much.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's political future is in peril. Four New York district attorneys are now investigating his conduct.

We will talk to the attorney representing one of the women accusing the governor of sexual harassment.