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Coronavirus Pandemic; Governor Cuomo Accuser Speaks Out. Aired 2-2:30p ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 14:00   ET



JESSICA SCHNEIDER, CNN JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: He was facing Senator Durbin hoping to get it back, Ana.

ANA CABRERA, CNN HOST: And just another reason why this January 6 Select Committee to is so crucial for all of us to get to the facts about what happened, what led up to the insurrection and what was happening behind the scenes. I assume that these people who are interviewing before the Judiciary Committee will also be called to hopefully give testimony to the January 6 Committee. Thank you, Jessica Schneider.

SCHNEIDER: Yes, that's the point.

CABRERA: Appreciate it. Thank you for being with us. See you back here at 1:00 tomorrow afternoon. Victor takes over from here.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Hello, I'm Victor Blackwell, Alisyn is off. Thank you for joining me. We are starting with more proof of just how well vaccines work even with the Delta variant. A new CNN analysis of CDC data reaffirms that more than 99.99 percent of people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 have not had a breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.

Now, this data includes cases up to August 2, after the Delta variant took over the majority of U.S. infections. That is the good news. Here is the troubling news for the third day in a row. The U.S. is averaging more than 100,000 new cases of COVID a day. We've not seen that level of transmission since February and remember, that's when just 3 percent of the country was fully vaccinated.

Now as the cases add up, so do the hospitalizations and the deaths. Today, more than 66,000 people are in hospitals sick with COVID. The nation's top infectious disease experts are now concerned additional variants more dangerous than delta could form.

CNN's Lucy Kavanaugh is following all the latest developments starting with major concerns about what this surge will do to children as they return to schools. (BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

LUCY KAVANAUGH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As children across the nation head back to school, COVID-19 cases are surging. Hospitalizations and deaths have nearly doubled over the last two weeks. The U.S. is now averaging more than 109,000 new COVID-19 cases each day and more than 500 deaths per day.

Florida reported more COVID-19 cases over the last week than any other seven-day period during the pandemic. 50 Florida children admitted to the hospital on Friday alone as many districts returned to class this week. A Jacksonville church saw six members die from COVID-19 in the past 10 days alone.

GEORGE DAVIS, SENIOR PASTOR, IMPACT CHURCH: For them were under the age of 35. All of them were healthy and the only thing they had in common that they were not vaccinated.

KAVANAUGH: Now, the church is pushing to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

Texas cases and hospitalizations have doubled in the last two weeks. Austin Travis County using its emergency notification system to warn people of the dire COVID-19 situation writing, health care facilities are open but resources are limited due to a surge in cases. Everyone needs to wear a mask and stay at home as much as possible. If you have not been vaccinated, do not wait to get one.

An 11-month old baby girl battling COVID-19 had to be airlifted because there were no more beds available in any of the pediatric hospitals in Houston.

ESTEFANI LOPEZ, 11-MONTH-OLD DAUGTHER HOSPITALIZED FROMCOVID: It gives me kind of mad that like everybody taken COVID as a joke, and it's not a joke like it's very, very serious, are babies are in danger.

KAVANAUGH: Louisiana also seeing the sharpest rate of increases in new COVID-19 cases. The head physician of a New Orleans Children's Hospital concerned about a surge in young patients.

DR. MARK KINE, CHIEF PHYSICIAN, NEW ORLEANS CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL: We are hospitalizing record numbers of children, half of the children in our hospital today are under two years of age. And most of the others are between five and 10 years of age so they're too young to be vaccinated just yet.

KAVANAUGH: Health experts are worried about the impact of the Delta variant on children.

DR. FRANCIS COLLINS, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTES OF HEALTH: I certainly am hearing from pediatricians that they're concerned that this time the kids who are in the hospital are both more numerous and more seriously ill. This is a virus it's not only more contagious, but potentially more lethal.

KAVANAUGH: Experts say vaccinations are key to protecting against future variants that could be even more problematic.

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR, NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF ALLERGY AND INFECTIOUS DISEASES: Few 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.


KAVANAUGH: And Victor a big blow for the Big Easy New Orleans Jazz Fest organizers announcing that event is going to be once against cancelled due to Louisiana surge in COVID-19 cases. Victor.

BLACKWELL: Lucy Kavanaugh for us in Denver. Lucy, Thank you. As I told you early the CDC says that nearly everyone who has been fully vaccinated, more than 99.99 percent of those people have not had a severe breakthrough case of coronavirus that put them in the hospital or ended in death. CNN health reporter Jacqueline Howard is watching those numbers and the analysis. What do you know?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: What we know Victor the analysis shows that the vaccines are working the way that they're supposed to health experts really emphasize that the vaccines are reducing the risk of hospitalization and death.


And here's how they came to this analysis, they looked at about 164 million people who've been fully vaccinated. And among those people, they were only 99.99 percent, like you said, Victor, that have had a severe breakthrough case resulting in hospitalization or death.

Also, among those breakthrough cases, 74 percent were among older adults, 65 and older. And again, these data are what you would expect, especially among older adults, their immune systems might be weaker than others. And so you might see more of those breakthrough cases.

But overall, Victor, health experts say this is more reason to get vaccinated, especially because vaccines can help reduce overall the risk of infection as well. And as we know, the lower the risk of infection, the less likely the virus can jump from person to person and lead to variants, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, absolutely. And let's talk about that, because we've talked so much about the Delta variant how it's changed the footing here in the US. And now officials are watching another variant, this lambda variant, tell us about this.

HOWARD: That's right, the lambda variant has been emerging in conversations. There are about 1,000 cases identified here in the United States. But that number of Victor is still very small compared to the many cases that the Delta variant has caused here in the US.

And so the lambda variant is not as of concern. The World Health Organization actually designates it as a variant of interest, not of concern. But the variants of concern, we should have them here. They include the alpha variant that we know originated in the UK, beta, Delta, which is causing more than 83 percent of cases here in the United States. So these are the variants of concern.

The variants of interest include the lambda variant that you mentioned, Victor, which was first identified in Peru among some other variants that are of interest. Overall, we heard from the National Institutes of Health director, Dr. Collins, he said that these variants they are watching them closely. Have a listen.


COLLINS: At NIH, working with FDA and CDC, we have a very vigorous team that looks at every new emerging variant to see what would its effect be in terms of the vaccine? Well, the vaccine work against this one. So far, so good. We don't have anxieties yet about Delta or lambda or any of the others that are sort of lurking out there.


HOWARD: So you see, Victor, he said they don't have anxieties yet. But again, they're watching this closely. Delta again, is the biggest concern for us right now in the US, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Jacqueline Howard for us. Jacqueline, thank you very much. Let's take you to Texas in the Lyndon B. Johnson Hospital in Houston. It's so strapped for space. Look at this. There's a surge of COVID patients there that's now requiring them to put up tents for overflow.

On top of that Texas hospitals are suffering from a severe shortage of nurses. Texas reported more than 95,000 new cases in the last week according to Johns Hopkins -- Johns Hopkins data. This month, only Florida has reported more new infections.

Joining me now is Dr. Esmaeil Porsa. He is the President and CEO of Harris Health Systems, which runs the LBJ hospital. Thank you so much for being with me, doctor. Let me start here, because I read that at the end of June, you had one COVID patient in your hospitals. A couple of weeks later, there were 14, how many do you have today?

DR. ESMAEIL PORSA, PRESIDENT AND CEO, HARRIS HEALTH SYSTEM: Exactly I can tell you, good afternoon, first of all, and thank you for having me. 122, Victor.


PORSA: But if I may, let me start as always to thank all the healthcare staff by doctors and nurses, techs and everybody else who has been dealing with this pandemic for now almost 18 months, not just in Harris Health System, but all the hospitals across the Harris County, the state of Texas and actually in this nation, and everywhere else. They are truly taking the brunt of this punishment, which unfortunately, as we've alluded to, at this moment in time, is very much preventable.

BLACKWELL: Yes, 122 now. So what is -- give us the context? What does that mean for your hospitals, for your staff? And how soon will you likely have to use those tents outside of LBJ?

PORSA: I don't know. We're going to start using those tents as soon as we can put them up. But the context that I like to discuss is, yes, the numbers are very high. Definitely, we're getting very close to the peak of our last surge. But what is intriguing about this surge, the point that I've been trying to make in the conversations that I've had, is not so much the magnitude of the numbers is the speed by which the numbers are going up.

I know you mentioned at the end of June, LBJ hospital got only one patient. My entire system had 11 patients total. Right now 122.


It took me only five weeks to get from that low of 11 to a high of 122 this morning. When I look at the last surge, it took me three months to get from a baseline to a high. So, it's really that rapid rise in the number of COVID patients that is very concerning. And really that the crux of the issue right now.

BLACKWELL: So, as you're seeing the pace increase, I know that there was this letter sent by Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, who represents Houston there to the governor saying that he's got to do something to get some federal resources and talk to me about your personnel that you have. And what a FEMA team, one of the medical teams that like we saw go to Springfield when their hospitals started to fill up. Do you need those?

PORSA: Yes, and let me explain. I'm going to give you a couple of examples. You know, first of all, your question about my staffing. Today, Harris Health System, my hospitals, we are over 250 nurses short. Now they are not all critical area, emergency room, intensive care units, operating room nurses, but all in all 254 nurses short. We have more than 140 nurses from agencies that are working in my hospitals right now.

Just this morning, I was quoted a price for AJC nurse of $286 an hour. What is happening is that because of the extensive nursing shortage, not just in my system, but across the country, the agency nurses unfortunately are able to basically name the price and hospitals left with really no options other than to fork out the money and get the nurses that we need to take care of our patients.

You know, our nurses, our staff are also part of the community. He talked about the number of cases rising in the state of Texas, well my staff are not immune. A month ago, I had a total of four staff being out due to COVID infections. That number today is more than 100. Those are staff are quietly not serving our patients in our hospitals. So the situation is bad and is only getting worse. And I'd really just want to make the point and emphasize the fact that we are not heading toward a crisis. We are in the middle of a crisis.

BLACKWELL: Wow. So let me ask you about vaccinations. We just had Jacqueline Howard on giving us the analysis that 99.99 percent of people who are fully vaccinated do not have the cases that send them to hospitals or end in death. Is that reflected in the numbers that you have? Do you have vaccinated people who are in one of your hospitals?

PORSA: I have vaccinated people are in my hospital. But let me tell you the exact numbers.


PORSA: Since January of this year, Harris Health System, just my two hospitals, my safety net hospitals, they have lost a total of 128 patients due to COVID. 128 lives lost due to COVID. Not a single person was fully vaccinated. That's 0 percent people fully vaccinated have succumbed to COVID-19 in my hospitals.

If that's not enough reason for people to rise up and do the right thing, I am really failing to see how else I can emphasize to folks that these vaccines are safe. These vaccines are effective, these vaccines that keeping people out of the hospital and these vaccines are prevented from dying.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we certainly know that there will be the rare breakthrough case, but as you showed out of 128 their lives lost not a single fully vaccinated person, and your two safety net hospitals they're in Harris County. Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, thank you so much for the information and for the time.

PORSA: My pleasure.

BLACKWELL: All right. New this afternoon, there's a push by the Secretary of Defense to mandate COVID vaccines for all active duty members of the military by mid-September. CNN's Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us with the new reporting. Barbara, the White House just released a statement that strongly supports the mandate shared with us.

BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Well, Victor, the president putting out a statement and in part, saying that he's very supportive of what the Secretary of Defense is doing to make the COVID vaccine mandatory for U.S. troops.

You bet he's supportive of it, because it was several days ago that President Biden ordered the Pentagon to study the issue of how to make the vaccine mandatory and now the Pentagon moving in that direction. Because it was under emergency use authorization as it is for all of us, the Pentagon would have had to have gotten a presidential waiver. Now saying that they will go to President Biden get it made mandatory and begin to implement all of this by mid-September, unless the FDA moves faster on getting that full approval.


But here's the bottom line, the vaccine is moving towards being mandatory for all 1.3 million U.S. active duty troops. They are concerned obviously about the Delta variant. And look, it makes sense in their view because U.S. troops often deployed around the world to places where health conditions may not be what they are in the United States. They have to be prepared to operate in austere environments so they want to get them all vaccinated. Right now, the military running in the 60 to 70 percent range of vaccination levels, but moving very quickly now to make the COVID vaccine mandatory for the U.S. military, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Barbara Starr, thank you.

One of the women accusing New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment is publicly speaking now about those claims hear her calls for accountability. And we have new details about what's happening as the impeachment investigation ramps up.

Plus a former acting Attorney General during the Trump administration reveals what one lawmaker described as frightening activity at the Justice Department after the 2020 election. Stay with us.



BLACKWELL: The woman who was identified as executive assistant number one in the New York Attorney General's report is now publicly detailing her sexual harassment accusations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.


BRITTANY COMMISSO, GOV. CUOMO ACCUSER: 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 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 kept 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.


BLACKWELL: CNN's Brynn Gingras is following this story today. Brynn, we read a lot about the details in the AG report. But it there's certainly a different tone when you hear it directly from the accuser. Tell us more about what she's saying.

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, and Victor, it's different when you actually can see her face when you know her name, which was the point of her coming forward. Brittany Commisso is 32 years old. She's still currently working in the Cuomo administration. She is a single mother, you know, going through a divorce at this moment. And she says all of that mixed with what happened with the governor has taken a serious toll on her. And she did go into even more detail about the allegations she makes against the governor.

In the fact of what you just heard. She said that incident happened back in November, but then also talked about an incident where he -- she allegedly says he groped her butt while taking a selfie on New Year's Eve in 2019. And again, she says she's coming forward now that the attorney general's report is out. And also, in the aftermath of filing a criminal complaint at the Albany County Sheriff's Department, I want you to hear more about that from the interview with CBS News.


JERICKA DUNCAN, CBS NEWS HOST: Why did you file that criminal complaint with the sheriff's office?

COMMISSO: It was the right thing to do. The governor needs to be held accountable.

DUNCAN: And just so I'm clear, again, being held accountable to you mean seeing the governor charged with a crime.

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


GINGRAS: And she says that now she wants to see him resign, although we know that the governor has remained steadfast that he's not going anywhere and has been that way ever since the beginning of the year when most of these allegations surfaced.

We do know about that criminal complaint. It is being investigated by the Albany County Sheriff's Department in conjunction with the district attorney here. So we'll see how that moves forward. But certainly an emotional interview coming out now in the open another accuser against the governor of New York, which we should also mentioned, Victor, of course, the governor has denied all those allegations that have made against him not only by Commisso, but also what was laid out in the AG's report.

BLACKWELL: So Brynn, that's the criminal complaint and that portion of the investigation, that's also the potential impeachment plans. Tell us what's happening there.

GINGRAS: Yes, so we're right now actually hearing from a news conference that happens is happening with the Judiciary Committee who started that investigation, again, not just with what was laid out in the AG's report about the sexual harassment allegations, but a whole number of things, including the possible misuse of resources, state resources to write his pandemic book.

So there's a number of things that this Judiciary Committee is looking into with a investigation team that it hired itself. So they basically are saying that the governor has lost the confidence of the Assembly, and they're ready now to move forward. Timeline, we still are waiting to hear a little bit more detail about that. It won't be very quick, though they say it -- they want to bring this to a conclusion. But we have to note that on Friday, the governor has a chance to basically bring forward the evidence he thinks those attorneys should consider when reviewing possible articles of impeachment.


And so we're going to stay on top of this, but certainly we won't have a conclusion as to that investigation in the very near future, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Brynn Gingras in Albany for us. Thank you, Brynn. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is describing the fear she felt during the January 6 attack on the Capitol what she told our Dana Bash about surviving that experience, next.