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Moderna Says Booster will be Needed; COVID Hospitalizations up in Florida; Jerry Demings is Interviewed about Delta Surge in Florida; Trump's Attempts to Weaponize DOJ; Cuomo Defiant Ad Democrats Call for Resignation. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 5, 2021 - 09:00   ET



BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN ANCHOR: That and being so alarmed by it.

It's really incredible. But we thank you, Alfredo, for joining us to talk about what you recorded there.


KEILAR: Alfredo Rivera, thank you.


KEILAR: Oh, my gosh.

BERMAN: CNN's coverage continues right now.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: A very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto. Poppy Harlow is off.

This morning, the vaccine maker Moderna has just announced that its COVID-19 vaccine remains 93 percent effective after six months from vaccination. However, the company also saying that a third shot will likely be necessary before the coming winter months because of the steady rise in delta variant infections. It's also important to note Moderna says that data collection for this report was completed before the delta variant emerged here in the U.S.

Delta's rise here due, in part, to the stark number of people who still refuse to get a safe vaccine. Dr. Anthony Fauci is warning if the overwhelming proportion of people do not get the shot, there is ample chance we could see an even more aggressive variant than delta in the future. The virus is always thinking. It's always changing.

The Biden administration is on the verge of taking major steps on mandating COVID-19 vaccines for foreign visitors to the U.S., as well as for all active duty members of the military. We are expecting updates on those new steps in just a few hours. We'll bring them to you when they happen, when the White House COVID-19 response team briefs the media later today. Joining me now to discuss all these developments, Dr. Paul Sax. He's

clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham & Women's Hospital.

Doctor, good to have you back on.


SCIUTTO: First, let's talk about where we stand on vaccines as delta emerges here. I mean these are encouraging numbers. But Moderna acknowledging what a lot of doctors have acknowledged, that it may very well be likely that vaccinated folks, like you and me, may need a third shot, a booster shot down the line.

What's your view?

SAX: Yes, it wouldn't surprise me if we do need a third shot. There's a lot of vaccines that are in use currently that do require three shots. For example, the hepatitis b vaccine that lots of people have received is a three shot vaccine series. We also know that over time the antibody levels in vaccinated people seem to decline. They're not completely unprotected but they may be less protected, especially in the setting of a more contagious variant like delta.

SCIUTTO: And, by the way, like with flu shot, right, I mean we get them every season, right, because the flu virus is different every season.

Tell us, though, just so folks -- because folks are getting bombarded with a lot of information every day about this that raises questions about how long the vaccine is most effective. The numbers, though, still show -- I mean it's just remarkable to me that, you know, 99 percent of the folks are being hospitalized or dying to date are the unvaccinated. Explain to folks how stark that data is and why that is.

SAX: Yes, it's really quite impressive. The vaccines were designed to prevent severe illness in hospitalization and death and they do that extremely well, even in the setting of breakthrough cases which, as you know, we're seeing more of with the delta variant. So I want people to still have a lot of confidence in the vaccines that they're going to keep them healthy.

And one thing that's very encouraging is that in regions where they're seeing a big COVID surge, such as Louisiana, vaccine uptake has been much greater. So I think people seeing this right in their backyard is encouraging them to get vaccinated where they might have been hesitant before. So they still protect against severe illness and death.

SCIUTTO: I want to ask specifically about the delta variant and the track of this virus because we have precedent here. You look at countries like the U.K., the Netherlands, India, all hit by waves, by surges of delta before the U.S. But, interestingly, in each of those countries, very different countries in terms of size, experience, as well as vaccination rates. After that initial surge in delta, infections dropped off a cliff in a way that many public health officials had not expected. Do we -- can we expect something similar to happen here in the U.S. or is it apples and oranges?

SAX: Well, one of the things we learned early on in this pandemic is to have some humility when it comes to trying to make predictions. I will say I'm extremely encouraged by seeing those numbers decline in the United Kingdom and in other regions that had big delta surges. I hope we see the same thing here.

It is too soon to make that prediction for the United States, in part because we have such differences in vaccine uptake in regions that have been less -- less well covered by the vaccine. So though I'm very encouraged by that, I'm hopeful, but I don't want to sort of say, look, it's going to drop automatically. Let's see what happens.

SCIUTTO: No question. I mean the one thing we do know, right, is that vaccination protects people and the more vaccinated people in populations are, the more protected they are from delta.


I do want to ask about an outbreak, this in Wisconsin, connected to 491 positive cases of COVID-19 to people who gathered at Milwaukee's Deer District to cheer on the Bucks. There's a picture of it right there.

I mean, listen, you look at the picture and you're like, well, obviously, that could be a super spreader event. I mean that's really been a consistent thing with this outbreak, has it not been, that super spreader events are really one of the biggest problems.

SAX: Yes, you know, we saw the same thing in Massachusetts, in Province Town. People who are going to gather in bars and restaurants are, unfortunately, still putting themselves at risk of getting exposures. That's why I think one of the interesting safety moves is do what New York City's doing, which is saying, if you're going to dine in a restaurant, you have to have proof of vaccination.

You know, from a public health and infectious disease standpoint, I strongly support such moves. We've known from the beginning of this pandemic that restaurant dining and going to bars is very high risk for COVID-19. Let's make it safer by having everyone there be vaccinated.

SCIUTTO: Yes, in a way that's sort of a positive thing, right, rather than mandating, saying, hey, listen, you could -- you don't have to be vaccinated if that's your choice. But if you want to go to these events, you know, this is your ticket in.

Dr. Paul Sax, thanks so much for joining.

SAX: Thanks for inviting me, Jim.

SCIUTTO: Well, right now, Florida is breaking pandemic records as new infections continue to surge in that state. According to the Florida Hospital Association, COVID-related hospitalizations -- remember, that's severe disease from this -- are up 13 percent from Florida's previous peak. Remember, this is above its previous peak so far in the pandemic go back -- going back to July 2020. The state reported the most new cases in the country between July 27th and August 3rd. Situation so dire that the FHA warns that more than half of hospitals in the state will face a critical staffing shortage in the next seven days. That means they can't take care of all the sick people.

Despite that grim warning, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis says he is finalizing rules this week that won't prohibit masks in school but will give parents the choice to opt out. In effect not making it mandatory.

CNN's Leyla Santiago joins me now live from Miami.

Leyla, I mean it's, you know, it's defying the numbers and the facts on the ground because Florida worse -- at a worst point than it's been throughout the pandemic and yet the politics really interfering in the public health response here.

LEYLA SANTIAGO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. And you are seeing the governor take a little bit of a different tone because if you look back at what he said when he signed the executive order that threatens to cut state funding to schools that implement mask mandates, I mean Friday he said that mask mandates would be a mistake. He has -- he has sort of mocked CDC guidelines in the past week when he speaks in public. But now he's saying, I won't prohibit masks, but I want parents to be able to opt out. Something that we've seen several districts, from Duval County, over to Alachua County implement now.

But, yes, on the ground we are definitely seeing what you were just talking about. I am at a vaccination and testing site, Jim, and I just spoke to Novi (ph) Health, that runs this vaccination and testing site. They are seeing -- they're seeing a 15 percent uptick in testing from last week. Right behind me you see there are two lines, one for testing, one for vaccination. And I have seen more cars going through testing than vaccination.

Leaders here in Miami-Dade County continuing to pretty much plead with the public to get vaccinated, to make sure that they are on testing. They have since opened -- Novi Health has since opened 12 new sites since last week to meet the demands of people needing testing. And, Jim, that might not be enough. They may need to open more testing and vaccination sites just to keep up.

SCIUTTO: Let's hope people take advantage of that opportunity to get vaccinated.

Leyla Santiago, thanks so much.

Next hour I'll speak with a critical nurse in Miami who has seen firsthand just the devastation caused by this latest COVID surge fueled, of course, by the delta variant.

Let's speak now, though, to the mayor of Orange County, Florida, Mayor Jerry Demings.

Mayor, thanks so much for taking the time. I know you've got a lot on your plate here. You have described the situation in Orange County as crisis mode now.

For folks at home who aren't seeing what you're seeing, tell us what kind of numbers of new infections you're seeing coming in and how much local hospitals are having trouble responding to it.

MAYOR JERRY DEMINGS (D), ORLANDO COUNTY, FLORIDA: First let me say thank you for having me on the show this morning.

Here within the metro Orlando area, we are seeing a significant surge in new cases, nearly 1,000 new cases are being reported daily here within our county. And we've been put in the position where we've had to respond to that by increasing the number of individuals who are getting vaccinated, as well as we have done what we could at the local level to put mask mandates in place within our public sector and many of our private corporations are doing the same, such as the Walt Disney Company here.


So we're doing what we can. However, here within the state of Florida, the governor and the Florida legislature has significantly inhibited the ability of local governments to do any type of mandates.

SCIUTTO: You can imagine, I suppose, a different reality where the parties were united in recommending simple public health measures, like masking, et cetera. But that's, of course, not where we are. It's become a political issue and the governor of Florida, as you know, is giving parents the chance to opt out, for instance, of mask mandates in schools.

Are you concerned that the governor is placing politics over public health?

DEMINGS: There's no question that the governor in this case has placed his political future over the life, health and well-being of the residents here within the state of Florida. And I say that because this is the same governor that just last year did put mandates in place that restricted businesses, he did a number of things in that regard. The only thing that has changed now is his polling amongst his base. So he has somehow lost focus on what really is important. The fundamental reason that government exists is to keep the people safe. And somehow our governor has not really been of much assistance to those of us at the local level. We've been left to our own to try to react and respond to the current crisis that we find ourselves within.

SCIUTTO: I imagine you speak to a lot of parents, right, because kids are going back to school. Parents don't want their kids to get infected. What do parents tell you about these rules? Will they prefer to see, for instance, masks mandated in schools?

DEMINGS: Here within the Orange County and the metro Orlando area, absolutely. I think the overwhelming majority of parents want to see some type of mask mandates. Now, that does not mean all. I have four grandchildren who are within the public school system here and I can tell you my sons and their wives are making decisions in the best interest of their children and my grandchildren. And my grandchildren will be wearing facial covering to protect themselves because of the significant uptick that we are seeing now in the number of new cases.

We do see young people, children in the elementary age, who are testing positive, although the majority of those who are testing positive in our community are in that 15 to 24 age range. They are certainly eligible for the vaccine. But many of the younger children aren't. So we have to do something to try to protect them.

The Classroom Teachers Association is overwhelmingly in support of some type of mask mandate. So what our local school district did was mandate that employees and any visitors to the schools have to wear masks. But students, it remains optional based on parental preference.

SCIUTTO: Goodness. Well, just hope the schools can stay open.

Jerry Demings, mayor of Orange County, Florida, thanks so much.

DEMINGS: Thank you very much.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next this hour, two revelations from inside the Justice Department give us a sense of just how far former President Trump took his efforts to weaponize the DOJ. to overturn a free and fair election. You'll want to hear it. It's really remarkable.

Plus, a majority of New York state lawmakers now say they are ready to impeach Governor Cuomo after the state attorney general found that he sexually harassed 11 women. We're going to have details on what's next and how fast. That's coming up.

And terrifying new video of California's largest wildfire. Flames engulfing homes. And across the state, thousands of people have been forced now to evacuate.



SCIUTTO: The big lie laid out in stark fashion and detail. CNN has learned that a former top DOJ official accused then President Trump of trying to weaponize the Justice Department to push his false election fraud claims. That official even drafted a resignation letter assuming that then Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen would be fired for rejecting Trump's baseless claims. Rosen was not fired. That draft was never submitted. The letter, however, is among a trove of DOJ documents turned over to congressional committees investigating the events that led up to the Capitol insurrection on January 6th.

Lawmakers have also obtained a separate letter, now published by ABC News, proving that at least one top DOJ official tried himself to push Trump's election lies, going so far as to circulate a draft letter internally that falsely claimed the department had identified concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election. The response from the deputy attorney general at the time was that it was, quote, not even in the realm of possibility that he would sign it.

Joining me now to discuss is Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. Listen, you know, we learned, Renato, seemingly every other day, week,

more details of Trump's effort to flat-out overturn the election under false pretenses. And there were people willing to go along with him as this -- as we saw in this latest episode.

You're a lawyer. Is this evidence of illegal activity by the former president?

RENATO MARIOTTI, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: It certainly looks like it. I will say it's one of the most outrageous and dastardly things that I have ever seen in my life.


It is something that I think people at home should be able to see on its face as something that's very problematic, which is --


MARIOTTI: You know, an effort by the president of the United States and, in this case, a top DOJ official, really to spread what some people call the big lie. Essentially that letter says that there's irregularities in the election suggests that the legislature should call a special session to effectively overturn the results in Georgia and doesn't cite any real law. It just essentially says there's an (INAUDIBLE) authority (ph). It's very disturbing stuff.

And there are federal laws -- federal criminal laws, actually, that prohibit efforts to try to interfere with an election, an election of the president. There's also laws that prohibit coercing employees in the federal government to engage in political activity. This sure looks a lot like a partisan effort. So very, very concerning stuff.

SCIUTTO: I mean the trouble is, right, is that it just seems there are never any legal consequence for President Trump on a whole host of things, right? I mean you have these laws. The question, are they followed? Are they executed, you know, in a timely fashion? We do have an investigation underway already in the state of Georgia. Does this -- do these letters impact that investigation and firm up the possibility that charges emerge from that?

MARIOTTI: Yes, I do think this is going to be part of the evidence used in the Fulton County investigation. I have to say, this is something DOJ. should be investigating. It's the sort of thing, look, I will be very blunt. I had to look up statutes to relate to this behavior because they're so infrequently charged. I mean this is something that is unprecedented in my knowledge. Never seen something like this before.

And so I think -- but I do think some prosecutors of the Justice Department should be looking closely at this.

I will say, Jim, I think that there's a reluctance right now at the Justice Department and by Attorney General Garland to pursue matters related to former President Trump. And I think there's a concern about looking political, obviously having an investigation of the prior president looks that way. But here the conduct certainly fits.

SCIUTTO: Yes. But, you know, I wonder what you think of that argument, if that's why Garland is not prosecuting. Because, by the way, this involves -- it's not some distant, you know, episode. It involves folks who work for the DOJ. You know, point being, it is not a past issue, right, because the former president is still pushing these big lies. He's using it to fund and carry out, you know, basically fraudulent recounts in places like Arizona, and you have legislatures using this as a pretext to pass -- to pass new laws. I mean, look, you know, it's not really a past issue for this Justice Department, is it?

MARIOTTI: No. In fact, what concerns me is that this could happen again. You essentially had here the DOJ being used to try to carry forward a scheme to undermine confidence in our election.


MARIOTTI: I mean the Justice Department is not supposed to be lying to the American public to try to steal an election. And, frankly -- well, I don't believe that Merrick Garland and his team would do that. And, ultimately, here, to be fair, these -- these particular -- you know, the Justice Department ultimately stopped short of it.


MARIOTTI: And thanks in parts to this effort to resign. We shouldn't be relying on the -- some random person. We need some reform to insure that something like this could never happen again. So I -- it concerns me. We have one political party that isn't taking it seriously. And I do think that -- I do think there seems to be -- I don't know what's going on inside Justice, obviously, but it seems to be a reluctance in justice to take this on because they don't want to look political.

SCIUTTO: Well, we've heard frustration with that prior. We'll see if this evidence moves them.

Renato Mariotti, thanks very much.

MARIOTTI: Thank you.

SCIUTTO: Coming up next, defiant New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is facing growing calls from within his own party to resign as four separate prosecutors now across the state have launched their own criminal probes. We're going to have the latest.

And we're moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Stock futures are set to rebound today. Investors responding to the weekly jobs report that showed another 385,000 Americans filed for unemployment last week. That's a decline, though still unusually high. A new report shows worker shortages are still impacting the economic recovery. Expedia, Zillow, Shake Shack and Virgin Galactic among the companies reporting their earnings today. That's quite a variety. We're going to be on top of all of it.

Stay with us.



SCIUTTO: The head of New York's Democratic Party is just the latest in a long list of powerful Democrats calling for Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign. Jay Jacobs personally advised him to step down, but the governor is showing no sign he has changed his mind and will voluntarily at least leave office.

CNN's Erica Hill is following all of this from New York.

Erica, I mean, you look at this and it's coming from within his own party right up to the president himself. But he's holding his ground.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR AND NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, he really seems to be. You know, you mentioned Jay Jacobs. When that statement came out from Jay Jacobs yesterday, you know, there were a lot of people who sat up and paid attention to that because he's really been a supporter of the governor's for so long.


And in that statement he talked about calling the governor, urging him to resign.