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Florida Schools Reopen as COVID Rates Rise; Dr. Ashish Jha is Interviewed about Vaccine Mandates; NY Lawmakers Meet on Cuomo's Impeachment. Aired 9-9:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 09:00   ET




BERMAN: A lot of news this morning. CNN's coverage continues right now.

ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Good Monday morning. I'm Erica Hill. Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto are off today.

This morning, a warning from Dr. Anthony Fauci as the nation now averages more than 100,000 new cases of COVID-19 a day. That is the highest number in nearly six months. And with the delta variant surging in parts of the country, specifically those with low vaccination rates, Dr. Fauci warning this could lead to an even more dangerous variant in the future if more people don't get vaccinated, and quickly.

Take a listen.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE FOR ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: But if you give the virus a chance to continue to change, you're leading to a vulnerability that we might get a worse variant. And then that will impact not only the unvaccinated, that will impact the vaccinated because that variant could evade the protection of the vaccine.


HILL: Meantime, the delta variant's toll on the unvaccinated is pushing healthcare systems in hard-hit states like Louisiana and Florida to the brink as you see there on your screen. Look at the spike in hospitalizations. Both states shattering records. The situation so dire in Florida, last week the state seeing its highest number of new cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

There is a lot to get to this morning.

Let's begin with CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen, taking a look at this warning now that we're hearing from Dr. Fauci on the risk of new variants.



Dr. Fauci and others warning basically, if you think delta's bad, if you think delta has set us back, there could be even worse ones coming at us, and here's why.

As nearly a third of Americans have refused to get a shot, even though they're eligible, that gives the virus a fabulous opportunity to change and to mutate into something even worse. As the virus moves unabated from person to person to person, the virus is like, wow, this is amazing, look at all this time I have and opportunity I have to learn how to change to be faster and stronger. And then you get the -- you get variants that could be even worse than delta. The only way to solve this is to get people vaccinated.

Now, speaking -- I'm speaking to the people here who are unvaccinated. Even if you don't care if you live or die, even if you don't care if your family lives or dies, even if you don't care about your community, think about the economy. We can finally get everything back on track if we get these variants in check.


HILL: Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

Well, this morning, as many Florida classrooms welcome students back for the start of the school year, that state seeing, as we mentioned, a concerning number of COVID cases. And specifically we're looking at a rise in cases among children and teens. The current positively rate for kids under 12 is 20.5. Look at that. And even higher for ages 12 to 19. More than 24 percent.

Natasha Chen joining us now with the very latest from Orlando.

Natasha, good morning.


And those numbers you just talked about, those kids' positivity rates are higher than the overall average Florida positivity rate. So it is really affecting the young people.

And we're actually seeing some young people in the cars right now that are lined up to get a vaccine here today. That's because a lot of them are returning to school, of course.

This is a huge concern right now because, according to the Florida Department of Health, last week alone there were more than 13,000 new COVID cases among children under 12 years old who are, again, not eligible to get a vaccine. And that is a 28 percent plus increase from the week before. So things seem to be getting worse here.

And we're talking to parents who are a little bit nervous about the varying mask mandates that are happening in different districts. Of course, here in Orange County, public schools, they start class in person tomorrow. They have a mask mandate, but parents are allowed to opt out. And that's because of the state policy where Governor DeSantis has defended parents' choice in this matter. The board of education going so far as to allow parents the choice of a private school voucher if they feel that that school requirement for masks is harassment, Erica.

HILL: Wow.

Meantime, we're learning, Natasha, in just two weeks, six members of the same church in Jacksonville died of COVID. And I understand their pastor is saying they were all unvaccinated. The is speaking out now. What is he saying?

CHEN: Yes. And out of those six people, Erica, four of them were under the age of 35. They're young and healthy and now they're gone. This is a huge loss from that church. The pastor said that he wants to do more than prayer. He wants to take action. So the church hosted a vaccination event over the weekend. Here's a little bit of what he said to the congregation to try to convince him to get the vaccine.



GEORGE DAVIS, PASTOR, IMPACT CHURCH: I just choose to believe that our God is the one who gives us opportunities like this, not that we put our trust in a vaccine, we put our trust in Jesus. But we -- how many know, we put our trust in Jesus to take care of our hearts too, but when your heart starts going bad, you go to the doctor to get it checked out. So there's no reason why medical science and faith cannot work together. We absolutely believe they do.


CHEN: Faith and science working together, he says. He also tweeted over the weekend that he's tired of crying about and burying people he loves. Erica, he asked that everyone put -- take their politics and their religion games somewhere else. Unfortunately, we are seeing a lot of political games being played here in the sunshine state.

HILL: Yes, that may be an understatement.

Natasha, thank you, as always.

Joining me now to discuss Dr. Ashish Jha. He's the dean of the Brown University School of Public Health.

Dr. Jha, always good to have you with us.

Something else we heard from Dr. Fauci over the weekend talking about how he strongly supports vaccine mandates in institutions, colleges, universities, businesses, once there's full FDA approval. There's been a lot of talk about possibly mandating vaccine for teachers and staff in schools. How much of an impact do you think that could have as, you know, we see back-to-school kickoff around the country? DR. ASHISH JHA, DEAN, BROWN UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF PUBLIC HEALTH: Yes,

Erica, thanks for having me back.

I think the answer is, it can have a big impact. And this was why I was thrilled to see Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, call for vaccine mandate of teachers and staff because, especially for kids under 12 who can't get vaccinated, the best way to protect them is making sure that adults around them are vaccinated, not just at home, but at schools.

HILL: And what about a possible mandate for those who are eligible, so, you know, kids starting at age 12?

JHA: Yes, I -- look, we have a little bit less experience with data on 12 to 17 year olds than we do for adults. For adults we have enormous amounts of data on safety. So I would be perfectly in favor of it. I think if school districts say, well, we're still trying to get some data on that, I think it's reasonable. That's a place where I think there's more room for judgment.

For adults, I think it's a no-brainer, mandates for schools really makes a lot of sense to create a safe environment.

HILL: You posted this list of, you know, five things for a back-to- school list you thought could really work well. Number one is vaccinate, masks are on there, ventilating, tests and avoiding indoor crowding.

I was, you know, talking with a fellow mom the other day who's really concerned because there was so much in place in terms of measures heading back to school, you know, when we could finally go back last year. Now, in 2021, it looks a lot different. You may not see the spacing. You may not see the Plexiglas, some other measures in place. So what's most important?

JHA: Yes. So I think spacing and Plexiglas really don't help that much. What is most important in my mind, certainly vaccines. Second is ventilation and filtration. And, my gosh, we've had a year to do this. Schools have gotten billions of dollars from Congress. They should have done this by now. If not, they can do it pretty quickly and cheaply.

And then testing. Testing on an ongoing basis picks up infection. So if we could just do those things, they're not even that controversial. There's no fights about them. It would make an enormous difference.

I do think that mask wearing can be helpful. And then I think spacing is really just about avoiding that super crowded assembly hall, or concerts, things where we get into trouble.

HILL: You know, as we think about life in general, there's so much discussion about protecting those who are not eligible to be vaccinated. I have a kid in that age group. I think if I recall correctly, you may have one, too.

As we look at the risk -- we know there's no such thing as zero risk, but we've always talked about these degrees of risk, and should we start to rethink indoor dining, for example, or even travel at this point?

JHA: Yes, I mean, it just depends a little bit on where you are in the country and how big the surge is. I do have a nine-year-old who, obviously, is not vaccinated. The way I have thought about it with this surge happening, I am holding off on indoor dining with him. I -- we are being a bit more careful about travel. Again, he's not super high risk but at this moment I'm not sure that subjecting him to any meaningful risk is worth it, especially when I think we're going to be able to get through this over the next couple of months .

HILL: I'd like to get your take on this.

Rand Paul weighed in on mask mandates in school.

Take a listen.


SEN. RAND PAUL (R-KY): It's time for us to resist. They can't rest all of us. They can't keep all of your kids home from school. They can't keep every government building closed.

No one should follow the CDC's anti-science mask mandates.


HILL: A couple of things in there. Not sure I've heard of anybody being arrested for not wearing a mask, but also saying, no one should follow the CDC's, in his words, anti-science mask mandates.

How damaging are those -- are those comments?

JHA: You know, I have to tell you, it mostly just makes me really sad. I mean Dr. Paul is a doctor. He's a senator, obviously, as well. And the truth is that we should not be turning these really complex public health issues into sort of political rhetoric.


Look, if you're not a huge fan of mask mandates, like, fine, let's discuss the science. The evidence leaded towards doing it. It is clearly safer. I think we can have a much more reasoned discussion. That kind of rhetoric just, unfortunately, sets us back as a country.

HILL: Dr. Jha, always appreciate you joining us. Thank you .

JHA: Thank you.

HILL: Up next, the woman who filed a criminal complaint against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaking out for the first time this morning. What she says happened.

Plus, stunning testimony about former President Trump's efforts to interfere in the election. Just ahead, why one lawmakers is calling these latest revelations frightening.

And Dr. Anthony Fauci says he's worried a massive biker rally in South Dakota could be a COVID super spreader event. We'll speak with a doctor in that community, ahead.



HILL: New this morning, disturbing new allegations from one of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's accusers. The woman who was identified as executive assistant one in the attorney general's report is now going public with their claims of sexual harassment.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: The governor said, why don't we take a selfie? I then felt, while taking the selfie, his hand go down my back onto my butt and he started rubbing it. Not sliding it, not, you know, quickly brushing over it, rubbing my butt .


HILL: CNN has reached out to the governor's attorneys this morning following this interview. So far they have declined to comment. The governor has denied in testimony that he inappropriately touched Brittany Commisso.

Also new overnight, one of the governor's top aides , Melissa DeRosa, resigned. And moments from now, impeachment investigators in New York will brief the state assembly's judiciary committee.

CNN's Polo Sandoval is following all of this for us. He is live in Albany.

So, Polo, first of all, what more are we learning from this interview?

POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Erica, there have been a lot of new development here just in the last 12 hours alone. But here's where we are right now in terms of those impeachment efforts at the state level.

We can tell you that the states judiciary committee, this morning, they are preparing to meet with independent investigators. They've launched their probe earlier in March. As we heard late last week, that investigation's slowly coming to a close there as the governor is still given about five days to provide any evidence that supports his case here.

But the significance of that, it is one of the first real steps by New York state lawmakers and their effort to impeach the governor.

And, look, even before today's exclusive CBS interview was actually made public with one of the Cuomo accusers, it's important to mention that a majority of those lawmakers here in Albany have indicated to CNN that they would vote to impeach Governor Cuomo if those -- once those articles are completed and presented to them.

But back to that interview that you pointed out a little while ago. It's also important to note, as we've heard before from the governor's personal attorney, Rita Glavin, that they have repeatedly denied those allegations specifically when it comes to that woman that now has come forward and stepped into the public eye and identified herself as Brittany Commisso, as one of those women who are coming forward with these allegations about the governor.

I want you to hear a little bit more about that interview, especially what she told CBS News when she addressed one of those encounters and one of those accusations that she's bringing forward against the chief's -- the state's chief executive.

Take a listen.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: He gets up, and he goes to give me a hug. And I could tell immediately when he hugs me it was in a -- probably the most sexually aggressive manner than any of the other hugs that he had given me. It was then that I said, you know, Governor, you know, my words were, you're going to get us in trouble. And I thought to myself, that probably wasn't the best thing to say, but at that time, I was so afraid that one of the mansion staff, that they were going to come up and see this and think, oh, you know, is that what she comes here for. And that's not what I came there for and that's not who I am. And I was terrified of that.

And when I said that, he walked over, shut the door, so hard, to the point where I thought for sure someone downstairs must think, they must think if they heard that, what is going on, came back to me, and that's when he put his hand up my blouse and cupped my breast over my bra. I exactly remember looking down, seeing his hand, which is a large hand, thinking to myself, oh my God, this is happening. It happened so quick. He didn't say anything. When I stopped it, he just pulled away and walked away.


SANDOVAL: After this interview was made public, CNN reaching back out to the governor's office. Important to point out that they have not commented.

But before it was released, they have denied the allegation. And as we've mentioned, just on Saturday, we actually heard in a very lengthy interview that the governor's attorney actually denied those specific allegations when it comes to Commisso.

Now, as for what her attorney is telling CNN this morning, saying they've waited up until now to share her story because she wanted to wait for that attorney general report to be released, which, Erica, we know was released about a week ago almost.

Commisso is also, we learned, the woman who actually came to law enforcement authorities here in New York and actually filed a criminal complaint initiating a criminal investigation.


So it certainly speaks to now the potential consequences that the governor may face down the road when it comes to that information. And then we also learned this morning that, obviously, one of his closest advisors, as you mentioned a little while ago, did step down, which means that is inner circle grows even smaller as he faces not only the possibility of impeachment, but as we mentioned, the possibility of even criminal charges when it comes to these allegations that Commisso is bringing forward.

HILL: Yes, certainly a lot happening in the six days or so since that report was first released.

Polo Sandoval, on the ground in Albany. Polo, thank you .

Joining me now to discuss further, defense attorney, former federal prosecutor, Shan Wu.

Shan, always good to see you.

There's so much talk now about could the governor be facing any criminal charges. I just want to play a little bit more of what Brittany Commisso had to say in terms of why she decided to file a criminal complaint.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why did you file that criminal complaint with the sheriff's office?

BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: Because it was the right thing to do. The governor needs to be held accountable.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Being held accountable to you means seeing the governor charged with a crime?

COMMISSO: What he did to me was a crime. He broke the law.


HILL: She's very clear there on how she feels about the governor's behavior towards her, which she alleges happened, that she sees it as a crime. It's my understanding this would be a class a here in the state of New York a misdemeanor. From what we know, what are the chances that Governor Cuomo could, in fact, be charged criminally?

SHAN WU, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, Erica, the facts that we do know certainly would meet the elements for the misdemeanor sexual assault. Usually the misdemeanor versus the felonies are distinct by non-genital contact, non-penetration, outside of the clothing or even inside touching as she is describing would certainly fit that.

It's important to remember, many misdemeanor sexual assault convictions are actually plea bargains of felonies. Prosecutors historically are reluctant to bring misdemeanor sexual assault charges on misdemeanor. In fact, they're afraid the juries won't think that it's a severe enough type of conduct to justify a criminal case. And that's wrong . I mean that is, from a legacy of implicit sexual bias against women in the system, prosecutors need to bring cases when they fit the charges. But that's something that's going to be factored in.

HILL: So you say that's going to be factored in. Is that going to be factored in differently because we're dealing with the governor of the state of New York?

WU: I think it will be. Now it can cut both ways. Sometimes prosecutors are particularly interested in the high profile candidate, but they will be worried that bringing it to a jury, the jury may feel that this is a very important person, may be very popular, and they're going to be worried it's a hard case. But prosecutors can't be afraid to try hard cases. And the only way to change this kind of historical bias is by bringing these kinds of cases. If the facts fit the crime, you have to bring the case .

HILL: CNN has reached out to the governor's office, to the governor's attorney as well, after this interview aired. We have not yet heard back.

But we know the governor has repeatedly denied in testimony that he ever touched anyone inappropriately. He denies these events happened.

As for the claim he groped her breast, part of what his defense is -- is laying out is that the visitor logs for the day, when they say this allegedly, you know, was said to have happened in the mansion and also email records, basically point to the fact that this could never happen in their estimation.

Is that enough of a defense?

WU: I think it's the only defense they have. You know, whether it's enough, it's going to ultimately be a jury case. It's not really going to be enough, in my opinion, to convince the prosecution, given the testimony of the completed at this point, the survivor, that seems very strong. She's very certain it was not consented to.

His defense team doesn't really have a choice. I mean if it was someone other than a public official, they might say, this was consensual. You know, she was not telling me no. It was consented to. But in this situation, they have to say it simply didn't happen, deny the fact that it could have happened, people who heard this sort of thing, which is not really believable. I mean this is the sort of thing that she's not claiming she struggled or yelled. So it's not really believable that it didn't happen just because no one heard it.

But they have to just say it didn't happen because any type of admission takes him down the path of no return. So he's got to just deny it .

HILL: Shan Wu, appreciate it. Thank you.

WU: Good to see you. HILL: Just how close did former President Trump come to enlisting the Justice Department to help him overturn the election? Hear what two former top DOJ official told lawmakers about that just ahead.

Plus, we are moments away from the opening bell on Wall Street. Futures mostly lower. This comes as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen is urging Congress to raise or suspend the debt ceiling. If not, Yellen says lawmakers could risk doing irreparable harm to the U.S. economy.


So, will they heed her warning? We have a live report from Capitol Hill, next.


HILL: After months of negotiations, the Senate is poised for a final vote on the massive $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal.


But the legislation still faces an uncertain future in the House, were Speaker Pelosi has yet to agree to take