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School to Resume in Texas with Ban of Mask Mandates; Canada Begins Allowing Fully Vaccinated Americans into Country; Blinken Touts Infrastructure Investment to Improve National Security; Pentagon Expected to Mandate Vaccines by Mid-September; Allyson Felix Sets Record for Most U.S. Track Medals; Beijing Winter Olympics Just Six Months Away. Aired 3:30-4p ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 15:30   ET



VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: Texas is one of the biggest COVID hot spots in the country. Austin officials sent out an emergency alert via text urging people to stay home as much as possible and of course wear a mask.

Texas area schools are returning to in-person learning in a few days but mask mandates are not allowed to be enforced by superintendents or principals. That's of course thanks to an executive order signed by Governor Greg Abbott back in May.

CNN's Evan McMorris-Santoro Just got back from Austin. So how are the school officials there planning with these bans on plan dates to keep kids safe?

EVAN MCMORRIS-SANTORO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'll tell you, the main thing they are trying to do is work around the spirit of those executive orders, you mentioned, by the governor as much as they possibly can.

When I was in Austin, I spoke with administrators and parents. There's a lot of concern, a lot of fear about these coming days and what's going to happen when school opens up. The superintendent can do some things. She has put into place things that look like school last year, you know, plexiglass in the classrooms. Distancing, air filtration system, things like that. She's even gone ahead and said that masks are mandated on school buses because she says that her lawyers say that they can't -- that the state order doesn't affect school buses, so she's mandated them there.

But the one thing she can't do that the CDC suggests is universal masking in school buildings. I talked about her and you can see that she's emotional and stressed out by the situation as the days get closer to school.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) STEPHANIE ELIZALDE, AISD SUPERINTENDENT: Because I have in my mind what if a child dies on my watch. How do I go say to you, I'm really sorry, we did everything we could, the governor's executive order kept me from -- like what does that do to a parent? Like just thinking about that, like I'm like, I don't want to have that conversation.


SANTORO (on camera): So, Victor, the fight over masks in Texas and schools is not over. We're seeing today that Dallas Independent School District coming out and saying that they're going to go ahead and mandate masks despite the governor's orders. We're hearing that from other districts might do the same thing.

Austin is having a special meeting of its school board tonight. But for now, which is days to go till school, the best that people can hope for is that these mitigation factors that have been put in place will be enough -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: Yes, we're seeing that the same problem that some officials are having in about half dozen states across the country. Evan McMorris-Santoro, thank you so much.

Well, Israel wants parents to test the children before they head back to school. Its health and education ministries will give parents rapid testing kits to be performed at home two days before school starts on September 1st. Also, students will get tested to see if they have antibodies so they don't have to quarantine.

Now here is a look at other coronavirus headlines around the world.


PAULA NEWTON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm Paula Newton on the U.S.-Canada border and this is the first day that Canada has reopened its international borders to nonessential travelers.

Now first up of course, Americans and U.S. residents, those fully vaccinated and those that can prove that they are COVID negative can enter the country for the very first time.

And think about it, this border was closed for just two days during 9/11 and now it's been nearly a year and a half. Many businesses on both sides of the border incredibly relieved.


But what's most important here is there have been a lot of reunions between friends and family, people that have been waiting so long through this pandemic to have that reunion.

JIM BITTERMANN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Jim Bittermann in Paris at a restaurant where they are carding people as they go in. They have to show this either in paper form or on their smart phone. Basically, it is a health pass that proves that they've been vaccinated or they've tested recently negative for COVID. And they've got here -- they've got a machine actually does this. This machine basically scans the QR code on the card or your smartphone, and then either accepts or rejects the person that wants to get in.

And it's working pretty well because the machine actually is what tells people that they're not going to get in. You don't have to have the personnel in the restaurant rejecting a client for instance and the place is pretty well packed today.

DAVID CULVER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I'm David Culver in Beijing. All eyes turning to China's capital for the next Olympic games. In less than six months Beijing will host the 2022 Winter Olympics.

But right now, this country dealing with several cluster outbreaks linked to the Delta variant of COVID-19. It's even led in some areas to some of the local officials being punished or fired just because of handful of cases surfacing in their vicinity.

Now that going forward is going to prove to be troubling if they maintain this zero-tolerance approach. That is to say, they want zero new cases in China. It's something that while perhaps extreme for the rest of the world to imagine, China has been able to maintain it throughout much of the past 12 months and they hope to return to that ahead of the Olympic games and when they welcome the world.


BLACKWELL: Thank you to all of our correspondents for those reports.

Active military members could be required to get a vaccine by the middle of next month. We have new details out of the Pentagon, next.



BLACKWELL: Secretary of State Tony Blinken is urging more U.S. investment in infrastructure. He calls it a critical part of the strategy to protect national security. And Blinken warned of the dangers of the U.S. falling behind other countries now.

We know that the Senate is on the verge of passing a new infrastructure bill. Let's bring in CNN's Kylie Atwood. So why make the comments now?

KYLIE ATWOOD, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY CORRESPONDENT: Well, Secretary of State Tony Blinken took this opportunity to say that investment in infrastructure and innovation are key to U.S. strength globally. Therefore, key to U.S. foreign policy.

Making the argument that the passage of this infrastructure bill therefore is central not only to domestic strength but also to the U.S. standing globally. And as he tried to make this case, he pointed to the fact the U.S. has indeed fallen behind in these two key areas in recent years. Listen to what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) TONY BLINKEN, SECRETARY OF STATE: I'm here to tell you that we could be doing better. That is the hard truth. We're falling behind where we once were in the world. And our rivals slowly but surely are pulling close behind us. In some areas they are already ahead of us and this matters. It matters because if these trends continue, we'll be less competitive in a more competitive world. Most of all, investing in our domestic renewal now will make our future more secure, more prosperous, more free.


ATWOOD (on camera): Now the Secretary of State also didn't beat around the bush when talking about competition specifically with China. He noted that China spends three times what the U.S. does annually on infrastructure. He also talked about how China has really gone very far forward in innovation while the U.S. used to be the number one in innovation globally and is now number nine.

The other important thing to note here is the fact that this speech comes as the Biden administration is doubling down on its military withdrawal from Afghanistan. That is going to be a decision by which President Biden's foreign policy is really looked at and determined as successful or not successful.

And Secretary of State Tony Blinken is also saying that the Biden administration should be judged on how successful they are in this domestic renewal front on innovation and on infrastructure at home, not just what they are doing abroad.

BLACKWELL: Kylie Atwood at the State Department, thank you.

Just into CNN, the Secretary of Defense is working on his plan to mandate COVID vaccines for all active-duty member of the military by mid-September. Secretary Lloyd Austin says he will soon request a waiver from President Biden. Here is Pentagon spokesman John Kirby last hour.


JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: So, the services have a fair but limited amount of time to come back to the secretary with their implementation plans for how they would go about mandatory vaccines for all their personnel. We have to understand of course that they have their own deployment schedules, their own manning constructs, their own differences in unvaccinated numbers.

The second thing that will happen in the meantime is that we are going to be developing policies to comply with the president's direction that the unvaccinated will have to be subjected to certain requirements and restrictions.


BLACKWELL: Rear Admiral Kirby also acknowledged that the delta variant is causing a spike among troops and he said the timeline could change at any moment. All right, turning to the Olympics.


The flame is out. Paralympics up next. But the winners live on in the history books especially Allyson Felix who took the crown for most decorated U.S. track and field athlete passing Carl Lewis.

Well, I will speak to Carl Lewis about that and a whole lot more. That's coming up next.

And join CNN for "We Love New York City -- The Homecoming Concert." This is a once in a lifetime concert event Saturday, August 21st exclusively on CNN.



BLACKWELL: Let's talk 2020 Tokyo Olympics now. Some world records, some Olympic records, history made there. Team USA made a lot of history, winning 39 gold medals, 113 medals overall. More than any other country. American women dominated the games, 66 medals, and delivering many of the most memorable moments.

And then there's the U.S. track and field athlete Allyson Felix. She set a new record for the most U.S. track medals ever won with 11.

I'm joined now by one of the most decorated Olympians in the world, legendary track and field star Carl Lewis. Sir, it is an honor to have you on. Thanks for being with me.

CARL LEWIS, NINE TIME OLYMPIC GOLD MEDALIST: Thank you. I hope you're enjoying your afternoon but I spent many a mornings waking up with you.

BLACKWELL: I appreciate that. I appreciate that. Better hours, I appreciate you staying with me.

Let me start here with Allyson Felix, 11 medals, surpassed your record which held for 25 years. You got your tenth in '96. How do you feel about that?

LEWIS: Oh, I've known Allyson since she was in high school. Matter of fact right after she finished high school and just got her career started, she came and stayed with my mother for a few days because I knew her coaches.

So, I am so proud of her. She has been such a lady throughout. Records are actually borrowed. Medals are owned. So, I don't mind sharing any record and now she passed me so it's hers and I'm looking forward to the next person. You know what, the way it's going it's probably going to be another woman, someday.

BLACKWELL: Yes, let's talk about that because as you said the women, I mean, if they had been their own country, U.S. women would've been fourth in overall medals. They did so well this time around.

U.S. men, especially track and field not as well. You were quite passionate about the 4 x 100 relay. You told this to Christine Brennan of "USA Today."

It's so disheartening to see this because it's people's lives, we're just playing games with people's lives, it's totally avoidable. And America is sitting there rooting for the United States and then they have this clown show. I can't take it anymore, it's just unacceptable. It's not hard to do the relay. Tell us why you're mad, Carl Lewis.

What went wrong?

LEWIS: Yes, well, basically what's happened, there's been a failure of leadership. And I think that the thing about it, I was very passionate and I did my tweets in my discussion. And so now it's around the world and I don't think we can make these same mistakes because it is true. We've got to take this seriously. You're representing someone else. And that's when it's the highest honor.

So, I think that we need a change of leadership of how we put these young people in position. And I think we need also hold the coaches and those people more accountable. Because when it happens, we immediately went to the athletes and ask them, well, let's go ask the coaches why it didn't happen.

But on the women's side, look, Title IX was one of the most important things to ever happen for sports, period. And we are now seeing the benefits of Title IX. The women continue to fight for equality, and they fight for opportunity. And that's why there's so much more grit when you see women run than even sometimes the men now.

BLACKWELL: You know, one of the legacies of the Tokyo games will be the conversation about mental health, as we saw Simone Biles pull out of several events. She came back and earned bronze in that last event. How should we change this conversation about the mental health of the top-level athletes?

LEWIS: Well, I think it's so important that we're having this discussion, because we do go through a lot of challenges. I mean even myself. I went through all kinds of things behind the scenes. But I think what we have to do is open it up and broaden it up. Because a lot of times it doesn't just come from just the pressure of competition. It may be pressure from a country that pushes you or a facility or a person, or maybe you put too many things on your plate you don't realize until afterwards.

So, I think what we need to do is look seriously at the mental health of these young people but broaden it in a way that it's not just the mental health side, but it's also the overextension side. It's just the pressure side. And so, we can look at everyone around these young people and help them get through this situation or their careers in a way that they can be their best.

BLACKWELL: We're about six months out from the opening ceremonies of the Beijing games for the Winter Olympics. David Culver just told us they've got some COVID outbreaks there that they are dealing with, some of the largest they've seen since the start of the pandemic in more than a year. What's your degree of confidence that the Winter Team USA will be safe as we head into the next games?

LEWIS: Well, the one thing about what we're seeing with COVID is it's unfortunate that we don't have everyone on the same page. I was so happy to work with the University of Houston and those athletes. And they got vaccinated, they were in line and they're doing their best. But I think we have to be realistic. We're going to be dealing with COVID for years now.


And so, we're going to be, whether it's 2021 -- or '22 rather, '23 even through 2024 I think we'll still have these issues because we're not having everyone on the same page, especially here in America in a lot of cases.

Number two, you have so many countries that are going to take a long time to get vaccinated. So, I think what we need to do is just understand that and say, OK, what do we need to do to make it as safe as possible, assuming that we're going to have to deal with this in the future?

BLACKWELL: Carl Lewis, thank you for being on with me. I've enjoyed this conversation. It's good to see you, sir.

LEWIS: Great. Thank you very much. It's good seeing you.

BLACKWELL: All right, you know, a lot of colleges and universities are requiring students to get the vaccine. But some are trying to work around it with fake vaccination cards. I have more on that ahead on THE LEAD with Jake Tapper. That's next.