Return to Transcripts main page


United States Averages 100,00 New COVID Cases a Day; Fauci Calls for Vaccine Mandates; Brittany Commisso Speaks Out Against Gov. Cuomo. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 10:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN ANCHOR: Yes, absolutely. Well Bill, I'm glad you're talking about it and we'll keep talking about it. Baby steps, although we need giant leaps right now. Thank you.

WEIR: Yes. You bet.

HILL: Good morning I'm Erica Hill. Poppy and Jim are off today. Right now the United States is once again averaging more than 100,000 new COVID cases a day. COVID hospitalizations and deaths nearly doubling in the past two weeks.

And as American's children start to go back to school the Delta variant continues to wreak havoc, especially in areas with low vaccination rates.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says now is the time for local entities to start mandating vaccines.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR OF NAIAD: The time has come, as we've got to go the extra step to get people vaccinated. You want to persuade them, that's good. And I believe that some people on their own once it gets approved as a full approval --


FAUCI: -- will go ahead and get vaccinated. But for those who do not want I believe mandates at the local level --

TODD: Right.

FAUCI: -- need to be done.


HILL: Joining me now CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen. So Elizabeth, Dr. Fauci now joining this growing chorus of health experts calling for vaccine mandates.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: That's right Erica. And I want to be clear about something. I think sometimes when people hear vaccine mandates they think, oh the government is going to come in and tell me that I have to get vaccinated or I will go to jail. That is not what we're talking about.

We're talking about mandates usually by, say, an employer or say by your school. Vaccine mandates at that level or a state saying our employees have to be vaccinated. This is not a mandate like you have to get car insurance. It's not that kind of mandate. It would work differently.

So let's take a look. There are actually three states that have already done mandates. Again, it is for some groups. It is not for everybody. It might just be, for example, in New York state employees or healthcare workers or just along those lines. Or Hawaii says county workers. It is not that everyone in those states have to get vaccinated. It's specific groups.

Unfortunately there are also seven states that have said you can't do mandates. So these states have said you can't do mandates. And again, it's for specific groups. One state might say employers you can't do mandated. Another state might say, you know, businesses you can't do mandates.

So, it really depends on the state. But again, all of these mandates or saying you can't have a mandate. They're done for specific groups. There's no sort of across the board here in that way.

HILL: The only thing across the board is that recommendation, right?

COHEN: Right.

HILL: Which is certainly in effect? Elizabeth Cohen, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks.

HILL: This morning as more students across Florida return to the classroom the state is seeing a concerning number of COVID cases among children and teens. The current positivity rate for kids under 12, 20.5 and it's even higher for those ages 12 to 19, more than 24 percent. As you can see, that's more than the state average.

Natasha Chen joining us now with the latest from Orlando. Those are not the kinds of numbers we want to see Natasha.

NATASHA CHEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No Erica and the -- over the last week there were more than 13,000 new COVID positive cases among kids under 12 here in the state. That's a more than 28 percent jump since the week before.

So as kids are starting to go back into class in-person that's a really troubling trend. Orange County Public Schools starts class in- person tomorrow. There is a mask mandate there, though parents can opt out of it.

And of course that's because of the state policy where Governor Ron DeSantis has really doubled down defending the parent's choice to be able to send their kids school masked or not.

The Miami-Dade County superintendent talked about he's going to do in his school district while trying to dance around the state policy.


ALBERTO CARVALHO, SUPERINTENDENT MIAMI-DADE COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS: We have been a system that's absolutely advised and directed and oriented by scientific principles and medical expertise rather than political pronouncements.

And I am one who continues to urge our community to pay less attention to loud, disconnected voices. They are the void of reason. And continue to embrace the advice of those who actually have the best interest of students at heart on the basis of medical expertise.


CHEN: And we met one 12-year-old in line this morning getting vaccinated at this site, but you know, now that it's been about an hour Erica there's no one left in this vaccination line. Yet, the testing site across the street from us, there's at least a two-hour wait to get tested right now.

HILL: Wow. Well, the upside is right people need to get tested to know more about the level of virus in the community.

Meantime, as I understand in just two weeks there are six members from the same Jacksonville church who died of COVID. Their pastor says they were all unvaccinated and he has a message now. What's he saying?


CHEN: Right. Reverend George Davis of Impact Church in Jacksonville, Florida, he said that four out of the six people in their congregation who recently died of COVID-19 were under the age of 35. They were young and healthy people. He knew one of them who was 24-years-old, he had known that person since he was a toddler.

He tweeted this weekend that he's tired of crying about and burring people he loves. He said please take the political and religious games somewhere else. But, of course, there are a lot of political games still being played here in the Sunshine States.

All he could do was have the church host another vaccination event this weekend. He tried to convince his congregation saying, you know, the vaccine is here if you want it. And he believes that faith and science can work together, Erica.

HILL: It's an important message. Natasha thank you.

Our next guest is the Chief Medical Officer at Conway Medical Center in South Carolina. Healthcare facilities seeing such a large increase in COVID-19 patients that it just put its COVID-19 tents back up. The ones you see in those pictures there, after taking them down last May.

Dr. Paul Richardson joins me now.

Seeing those tents go back up, you said it was like a gut punch and this is because you're seeing a rise in COVID patients. And I'm guessing many of them unvaccinated, Doctor?

DR. PAUL RICHARDSON, CHIEF MEDICAL OFFICER CONWAY MEDICAL CENTER: Yes Erica, we sure are. We have seen a tremendous increase over the last just a few -- just a couple of weeks, 10 days, we've gone from basically single digit admitted patients to this morning we have 31 admitted COVID positive patients. So a tremendous increase just over the last 10, 11 or so days.

HILL: That -- seeing that tent again to you -- you said it was like a gut punch. I imagine for your staff, you know, there are so many medical professionals that I have spoken with since the start of this pandemic who were exhausted a year ago. To see those tents again, how are they holding up at this point, your staff?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm going to tell you, the staff at Conway Medical Center have been phenomenal. I mean, every single person on this campus has gone above and beyond and I can't say enough good things about them and I can't say enough how proud I am to be a member of this staff.

But it's tiring. I'm not going to lie. It's very tiring and it's demoralizing to see these numbers go back up and to see those tents go back up. But at the same time we felt like this was the right move for us in order to really be more -- be more efficient taking care of patients but also to try to keep everyone as safe as possible.

HILL: Yes, well that way you're ready. What are you hearing from some of the unvaccinated patients and even from their family and friends?

RICHARDSON: Well, I'm getting a lot of questions to be honest with you. I've had the most questions over the last two weeks that I've had probably in the last several months. So that's a very positive sign I believe.

A lot of folks are asking questions about, you know, which vaccine's the right one for me and that kind of thing. And so that I'm taking as a very positive sign and I'm hoping we'll be building some momentum, because that is our best defense against this.

HILL: It certainly is. Look, masks so important too. Especially when we talk about kids heading back to school. Kids under 12, as we know, are not even eligible for the vaccine.

Education Secretary Cardona actually weighed in on this. Take a listen.


MIGUEL CARDONA, SECRETARY OF EDUCATION: To those who are making policies that are preventing this, don't be the reason why schools are interrupted, why children can't go to extracurricular activities, why games are cancelled. We need to do our part as leaders.

(END VIDEO CLIP) HILL: And talking about mask mandates there. Are you concerned about the messaging surrounding masks? I mean, here we are August of 2021 and they seem to be just as political if not more so.

RICHARDSON: Well, I do hate it that, you know, this whole thing has -- does have a political lean. Listen, this virus doesn't care what your political affiliation is, it doesn't see race, it doesn't see any of that.

And it really bothers me that we've injected, you know, those kind of things into this when the unifying message needs to be us against this virus. And that really is what we need to be focused on and not, you know, not liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat. We need to be focused on getting rid of this virus and stopping what I see as needless deaths.

HILL: You know, so much -- so much depends on where you live in terms of how you're experiencing this virus right now. Give us a sense, what are -- what are you seeing outside the hospital? What are you seeing in the community? How are people reacting to the Delta variant? To, you know calls to maybe start masking indoors again even if you're fully vaccinated?

RICHARDSON: Well, I mean I've seen, and I'm going to be honest I don't like the mask either. I mean, I -- you know -- I don't like doing that but I do realize the science behind it and I do realize that, you know, folks have become a little more -- a little more lax in some of our -- in some of our precautions that people were much more vigilant on early on, with the hand washing, social distancing and that kind of thing.


However, I -- that is contributing to the numbers we're seeing now, no doubt.

HILL: And when you say, I mean look, I think a lot of people can relate to that, right? Once they were told they didn't have to wears masks. Now it's hard to go back to wearing them.


HILL: But the science is there as you point. When it comes to how concerned are you as to whether that message is getting through to older people in the community, that they're actions could direct impact the life of someone who is not eligible to get vaccinated, but the -- a child under 12, somebody who perhaps is, you know, is -- has - is a compromised community.

RICHARDSON: Well I -- and first if all, I mean the data's clear. I mean we do know that younger do, do better overall. We do know that for a fact. However, we are seeing more and more young people severely effected by this virus and we do know that young patients can also transmit virus to let's say in an elderly -- and elderly folk -- folks who may not have ad the opportunity to be vaccinated.

So there really is a couple of different angles here that we need to be concerned about.

HILL: Dr. Paul Richardson appreciate you taking some to join us today. Thank you.

RICHARDSON: Thanks for having me on.

HILL: Still to come, one of the 11 accusers is speaking out now for the first time with disturbing details of how she says new Governor Andrew Cuomo groped and assaulted here. We're going to speak to one of the reporters who broker her story next.

Also a CNN exclusive, chilling new comments from Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Why she feared something other than death as insurrectionists stormed the Capitol.

And other city in Afghanistan falling to the Taliban overnight. Just the latest in a strong of victories for the militant group as the U.S. withdrawals. How is the Pentagon responding?




HILL: New developments in the ongoing investigation into New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. This morning Brittany Commisso the woman first identified as Executive Assistant One in the attorney general's report which was released last week, well she's now speaking out publicly about her claims of sexual harassment.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOVERNOR CUOMO ACCUSER: He gets up and he goes to give me a hug and I could tell immediately when he hugged 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.


HILL: Now CNN has reached out to the governor's attorneys and the governor's office this morning following that interview. So far they have not commented, but the governor has denied in testimony he inappropriately touched Brittany Commisso.

Also, happening overnight one of the governor's top aides Melissa DeRosa announced her resignation and happening right now impeachment investigators in New York State briefing the State's Assembly Judiciary Committee. A lot happening.

I want to go straight now to the Managing Editor for the "Times Union" newspaper in Albany, Brendan Lyons. He oversees the Capitol Bureau and Investigations. Brendan good to have you with us this morning. A lot to cover, as I said.

Let's start just really quickly on what broke overnight. Melissa DeRosa resigning. In that statement that she gave she did not mention the governor. She is mentioned a number of times in the attorney general's report. She has been by the governor's side for some time. Anything to make of this resignation?

BRENDAN LYONS, MANAGING EDITOR OF TIMES UNION: It's a very -- it's like an atom bomb dropping in the -- in the governor's inner circle. To Melissa DeRosa to depart like that in a statement that was issued by her, not by the executive chamber and of course did not mention the governor, did not say anything about her service for the state with him fort he past 10 years.

So, it's very telling and it's arguably one of the biggest defections in his administration to-date.

HILL: And do you think it is a sign of anything else to come? Is there a sense there in Albany?

LYONS: You know, it -- there is. You know, many people are speculating would DeRosa leave before he resigns, you know, to get -- to get a clean break before that. To say I left them and to probably try to salvage her reputation.


But the governor has given all indications that he is digging in, he plans to fight this and his lawyers have tried to counter the attorney general's investigative report to pick apart facts in it that were wrong. I don't -- I don't know that he'll last.

I don't know that he'll keep this up. In a -- in a parallel universe now you have the New York State Assembly moving forward with its impeachment proceeding.

HILL: Yes, and we heard, you know, just last week that they plan to do it expeditiously I believe was the exact word that was used in the wake of the A.G. report. As we talk abut Brittany Commisso who now has come forward publicly. And by publicly we mean she's now using her name. She is no longer Executive Assistant number One as she was referred to in the report.

At the "Times Union" you've actually been in touch with her for some time. She has been sharing her story with you. The fact that she is now comfortable speaking on camera about this, what changed for her?

LYONS: Last week when the attorney general's report was issued and the governor subsequently presented a videotape statement which it -- which was clearly taped prior to the attorney general's report being made public because he made no mention of the state trooper that was also allegedly sexually harassed by him.

But in Brittany's case she has indicated that when he called her out he called her a liar after that and said that his never happened. That's what I think motivated her to finally come out from behind the screen and say, you know, as she did, she said I'm a real person this happened and the governor needs to tell the truth. And she subsequently talked to the sheriff's department as well to move -- you know allow them to do an investigation that would either affirm or refute her allegations.

HILL: Does she believe criminal charges will be brought?

LYONS: I'm not sure if the charges will be brought, but she certainly put herself out there by going to a law enforcement agency that would now have the ability to use search warrants and subpoenas to compel testimony, to gather records, to have (ph) -- you know, she has said it did not happen on November 16, which is what the attorney general's report had said. She said it happened around that time.

And in our story in April where we interviewed her and presented many of these allegations she had told us then it was in late November. And so, she said that there was a text -- she went there to help the governor with a matter on his iPhone. He couldn't text a note. He said -- he claimed not to know how to do that.

So she went there, she did it for him. She sent that note in a text from his phone to his assistant Stephanie Benton. And then she called Ms. Benton from that phone to say did you receive it. And she said yes.

And then it was after that that the incident happened. So, if that's the sequence of events the sheriff's investigators through search warrants and subpoenas should be able to confirm that information.

HILL: And so was we wait to learn about that I think one of the things that has really stood out to a lot of people, myself included, was learning that she is still employed in the executive mansion. So Brittany Commisso is still working there. What is it like for her at work on a daily basis? Is she finding support form her coworkers?

LYONS: Uh, yes and no she said. She's assigned to the executive chamber at the Capitol. And since all of this broke the governor has been there very infrequently. I think maybe once we could confirm that he's was there. He's been largely hold up in his Manhattan office or in his -- in the executive mansion where he also has a private office. And I -- she has spoken to him since then, there's a couple times or at least once where he's called into the chamber to get assistance and she would answer the phone. And I'm sure that had to be very uncomfortable.

But she said that she'd been treated very differently. She's not being given assignments. Other people around here have received raises and she hasn't received a raise. Maybe the optics on that would be bad too if the chamber gave her a raise right now people might not think that looks good. But she said it's very difficult. She gets a lot of people who look at her sideways, but at the same time she's receiving support to from --

HILL: And --

LYONS: -- some of her coworkers.

HILL: And she doesn't want to leave?

LYONS: She's a single mom and needs a job, I'm sure.

HILL: Brendan Lyons really good to have you with us today. Appreciate it. I'm sure we'll be talking again very soon. Thank you.

LYONS: You bet.

HILL: Just ahead, things are getting nasty in Afghanistan. That's according to senior officials in the region. The Taliban talking over yet another key stronghold as American troops get closer to completing their withdrawal.




HILL: Senior Afghan officials sounding the alarm as Taliban fighters gain ground across that country. The militant group has taken control of large parts of Afghanistan since the U.S. began withdrawing forces in May.

This weekend though horrific violence with at least five provincial capitals falling to the Taliban. The U.N. says at least two dozen children were killed in the violence and more than 130 others injured.

CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr joining us now.

So Barbara, what are we hearing at this point from American officials?

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, very little at this point Erica. No indication of any change in U.S. policy.