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Soaring COVID Cases in U.S. Erasing Months of Progress; Debates Over Mask, Vaccine Mandates Rage as COVID Spreads; U.N. Releases Critical Climate Change Report; California's Dixie Fire Now Second Largest in State History; Taliban Take Taloqan, Now Control Five Provincial Capitals; New York Lawmakers to Meet with Impeachment Investigators; Former Justice Officials Detail Effort to Undermine 2020 Election Results. Aired 4-4:30a ET

Aired August 9, 2021 - 04:00   ET



ROSEMARY CHURCH, CNN ANCHOR Hello and welcome to our viewers joining us here in the United States and around the world. I'm Rosemary Church. Just ahead on CNN NEWSROOM --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: People are dying in Florida. It's going to get much worse. The hospitals are filling.


CHURCH: The coronavirus pandemic is once again America's biggest nightmare with the new round of surging infections and hospitalizations straining the health system.

Plus, thousands of people displaced in Afghanistan as the Taliban claim more territory.

And from the Western U.S. to southern Europe, raging wildfires force residents to evacuate in regions across the globe while a new United Nations report on the human impact on climate change is set to be released.

Good to have you with us. Well, we begin in the U.S. where month of progress and fighting the coronavirus are quickly being erased by new infections soaring among the unvaccinated. ICU beds are once again filling up across the country as health care resources are stretched to capacity. And even more troubling, what experts call the pandemic of the unvaccinated is creating a frightening opportunity for more variants to emerge.


DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, DIRECTOR U.S. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF 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.


CHURCH: According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. is averaging more than 100,000 cases per day. The highest numbers in nearly six months. COVID hospital admissions are also at their highest point since February with staff and a number of states overwhelmed and space for new patients running out. A number of fully vaccinated Americans is hovering at just over 50 percent. And Dr. Anthony Fauci believes now is the time for local leaders to start requiring vaccinations.


FAUCI: 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 some people on their own once it gets approved as a full approval will go ahead and get vaccinated. But for those that do not want, I believe mandates at the local level need to be done.


CHURCH: The Southern U.S. is home to many hot spots where hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with new infections. States highlighted here along the southern coast all show high transmission rates of the virus. With some logging high rates of COVID deaths, as well. On Sunday a doctor in Houston said his hospital had lost more patients in just 12 hours than the last five to six weeks.

Now much of this is due to low rates of vaccinations, like in Alabama where just 35 percent of residents are fully vaccinated. That is according to Johns Hopkins University

Meantime in Louisiana, the New Orleans Jazz Fest has been cancelled for the second year in a row due to the spike in new cases. Organizers had hoped to hold the festival in October. Louisiana keeps breaking records for COVID hospitalizations. Nearly 2.500 people are being treated in a hospital. A doctor in Baton Rouge spoke with CNN about the types of patients she's seeing most.


DR. CATHERINE O'NEAL, CHIEF MEDICAL OFC. OUR LADY OF THE LAKE REGIONAL MEDICAL CENTER: What really is taxing the system is the 20, 30, 40, and 50-year-oldings. These are people who live their normal life. They're running triathlons. They're going to work every day. They're bringing their kids to school in a couple of days. And instead of thinking about those things, their families are thinking about, how do I get to see them for a few hours today. Are we going to make it? Is today the day they'll be intubated? We're seeing a growing number of that age group intubated in the hospital. Which means that they're in here for the long haul.


(04:05:00) CHURCH: And with a new school here beginning, federal leaders are pleading with officials to tone down the political rhetoric around wearing masks in schools and embrace the importance of vaccines. The U.S. Education Secretary is urging politicians not to interfere with schools reopening safely. And remaining open without disruption.


MIGUEL CARDONA, U.S. 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 go to extracurricular activities, why games are cancelled. We need to do our part as leaders like Governor Hutchinson is doing to make sure they have access to the decisions they need make to get their students safely back in school.


CHURCH: And last hour I spoke with an infectious disease physician Dr. Keith Neal. I asked whether it was time for the U.S. and other parts of the world to consider both mask and vaccine mandates to get the pandemic under control.


DR. KEITH NEAL, INFECTIOUS DISEASE PHYSICIAN: I think mandating a vaccine is actually going a bit further for a number of reasons. People have genuine concerns and also -- but I do think there is a good argument for saying, if you wish to go into certain places, then you must be fully vaccinated. Such as into pubs, restaurants, nightclubs that seems reasonable. I know the pubs in Britain have said, oh, they can't do it. But my question to that is then how do they age check people when they buy drinks.


CHURCH: That's a good point, isn't it? And thanks again to Dr. Keith Neal there.

We've been standing by for the U.N. to deliver its first full update on climate science since 2015. And it has just been released. The warnings from the intergovernmental panel are dire and provide its most conclusive look yet at how human behavior is accelerating global warming. It concludes that the world has warmed faster than previously thought.

And joining me now from New York is CNN's chief client correspondent Bill Weir. Great to have you with us, Bill. So, what are we learning about the U.N.'s first full update on climate science in six years?

BILL WEIR, CNN CHIEF CLIMATE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, well Rosemary, it is delayed a year due to the COVID pandemic and the last one was really meant to inform the legislators, the lawmakers, the policy setters at the Paris Accords. Paris accords. This one now, there is only worse news, unfortunately. It's like going to the doctor and having your worst fears realized by a factor of 5 or 10. Human influence is unequivocally warming the planet causing widespread and severe impacts right now. This according to specialists from every country or 195 countries around the world. You know, reef specialists in Australia, cloud specialists in Europe, all looking at how manmade global warming is affecting this very complicated climate system.

And so much of the impacts are already baked in, they said. Even if were to stop burning fuels today, feels that emits this planet cooking pollution, sea level rise will continue into the year 2100. At the worst point could reach 2200 meters of sea level rise. That's in the worst-case scenarios, over 60 feet, which would, which of course, redraw or remap and upset millions of lives.

Climate whiplash is a big theme. That is going from one extreme to another. An example right now in California, Lake Orville, they had to shut the hydroelectric dam down. There's not enough water to float through it. It's a dead pool. But just a few years ago, that very damn was damaged due to flooding and over spell. So, to go from these pendulum extremes will be more frequent and really ultimately, that this is no longer a physical or scientific debate. It's all political. That we have the means, the humanity does, to power lives in a different way. It just takes will and cooperation that humankind has never really seen before.

CHURCH: Yes, I mean, that is such an important point. Isn't it? Because some leaders just don't appear to share the concern that our world is on the brink of catastrophe despite extreme weather across the globe making it very clear. How do you convince those people that we need to act now?

WEIR: That is the greatest question. Isn't it? Is democracy even equipped to handle a problem of this magnitude because our system right now, as we know, you don't get elected to office. You don't get named to board of directors in a corporation by saying, you know what folks, things are going to get worse, and we need to change the way we build our homes and grow our food and move throughout the world and dramatic ways or else. These are very huge, huge problems to convince people to get behind in a 30-second campaign ad.

But some countries of course are leaning into this and thinking and realizing the trillions of dollars that will be made with a green economy. Not to mention, what would the cost that would come if nothing is done.


We're seeing it play out right now.

CHURCH: It's very important. Bill Weir, a real pleasure to have you with us. Many thanks.

WEIR: My pleasure.

CHURCH: Well, as Bill mentioned there, California is living with the impact of the climate crisis right now. The massive Dixie Fire is now the second largest wildfire in state history and it's still growing. Thousands of people are under evacuation orders and this fire is not just affecting those who live in the path. Smoke from the blaze is blanketing communities from across the region. CNN's Camila Bernal Is in Paradise, California with more.


CAMILA BERNAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: The smoke is thick and it's unhealthy. If you look here behind me, you're normally supposed to see a canyon. Instead, you're seeing it filled with smoke. That smoke coming south from the Dixie Fire. And it's not only flooding this canyon but also the communities nearby. The Dixie Fire has been burning for almost a month. And we're seeing it growing. But we're not seeing much progress on containment. We are also seeing the number of structures destroyed by this fire increasing. It's now at about 400 structures destroyed by this fire. Governor Gavin Newsom using this weekend to visit the town and using the visit to talk about climate change.

GOV. GAVIN NEWSOM (D-CA): The extreme weather conditions, the extreme droughts, leading to extreme conditions and, wildfire challenges the likes of which we've never seen in our history. And as a consequence, we need to acknowledge just straight up, these are climate-induced wildfires. And we have to acknowledge we have the capacity in this country, not just the state, to solve this.

BERNAL: And Governor Gavin Newsom did point to preventions. Talked about things like managing the forest but made it very clear that more needs to be done. He also thanked the 8,500 men and women who are working to stop this fire.

Camila Berna, CNN, Paradise, California.


CHURCH: And wildfires are also raging through parts of southern Europe. Greece is seeing the worst of it. And we will have a live report later in the show on that.

More dangerous weather is on the way for the West Coast of the U.S. The national weather service says states in the Northwest could see record-breaking temperatures this week and they won't be the only ones sweating it out. For more, we're joined by our meteorologist. Pedram Javaheri. So Pedram, what are you seeing?

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Rosemary, you know we talked about how the excessive heat across late June in the Western and Northwestern U.S. where we had the historic 100 plus degree temperatures around Seattle and Portland and something similar setting up. Maybe not quite as expansive and I'll explain why that is the case. But we do have excessive heat watches or big-time heat building in the Western U.S.

And the fire activity across the Western U.S. with a lot of haze, a lot of smoke actually helping keep those temperatures slightly at bay. So, in cities like Seattle where the temperatures should be into the upper 70s this time of year, notice this forecast, takes us up to the middle 90s here. And some models suggest if the smoke and haze wasn't there, maybe we'd touch 100 degrees. It kind of speaks how to things played out in the summer here with the fires and of course, the record heat that has been building back in.

Looking at Portland, of course, when you see 106 degrees forecast on Thursday in Portland, if June 2021 did not happen, this would be the entire territory of all-time record heat. But it is going to push close to it again competing with some of those numbers.

And in Medford. Oregon, temperatures closing in on 110 degrees. Now we know that the fire activity across the state of California and the closer look again a little over 20 percent containment. The concern here is that heat wave here is certainly not going to help fire fighting efforts in California, as well.

And look at the numbers here coming in for the all time greatest, largest fires in state history. And just notice how six of the top seven come in since August of 2020. It speaks to again the widespread coverage of fires in recent months around the Western United States.

Here we go. Here's the amount of land consumed in 2021, over 6,000 fires. Rosemary, in 2020 and all of the year, we had a little over 5,000 fires. A similar number of fires but notice the amount of land consumed significantly higher than 2021 than what has been happening out West.

CHURCH: Incredible, isn't it? Our meteorologist Pedram Javaheri bringing us up to date on all of that. Appreciate it.

Well provincial capitals are falling in Afghanistan. Coming up, the Taliban released video claiming control of Kunduz and they issue a warning to the U.S.

Plus, one of Andrew Cuomo's accusers speaks out and details alleged sexual harassment by the New York governor. Hear her story. That's next.


CHURCH: A fifth provincial capital has fallen to the Taliban as the militants warn the U.S. against more intervention in Afghanistan. A local journalist tells CNN Taloqan is now under Taliban control. U.S. air strikes have ramped up to try to keep the Taliban from entering urban areas. Taliban video, which cannot be verified, reports to show a government compound in Kunduz, after the militants took over. The U.N. refugee agency says the violence has forced nearly 300,000 Afghans to flee their homes since January. In total, more than 3.5 million have been displaced.

And CNN's Nick Paton Walsh has reported from inside Afghanistan for years now. He is tracking these moves by the Taliban and joins us live from London. Good to see you again, Nick. So, what is the latest on these Taliban advances? And what will this mean for Afghan troops and of course, the government there?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN INTERNATIONAL SECURITY EDITOR: Well, make no mistake, Rosemary, this is likely the worst period of days the last four days now that the Afghan government has seen in terms of Taliban advances inside Afghanistan. (04:20:00)

The latest news is the key city of Ghazni to the southwest of Kabul utterly vital, frankly, for the Afghan government. Because it's on the way, on the key roads to two southern strongholds in Kandahar and Helmand that they desperately want to hold on to. Ghazni appears to have insurgents and forces inside of it and possibly as many as half of the districts. Unclear, obviously the situation very fluid and communications with that city hard.

But it is yet another sign of the troubling momentum Taliban appears to have built. Obviously, Afghan security forces are doing their best to repel the attacks and the key plank of the government strategy has been, as in the past, to allow the Taliban, frankly, space in rural Afghanistan to move around as they always have done but try and hold on to the key cities.

As of Friday though, that strategy began to crumble. Zaranj on that day fell to the Taliban. It's near the Iranian border and since then we have seen another four cities fall. The most important of those, of course, Kunduz, where there is still, it seems, fighting continuing. And I should point out, in the past six years, the Taliban have moved in and been kicked out but that's always been with the backing of U.S. air power and the ability for U.S. troops on the ground to direct that accurately in volume.

Both of those things have reduced. U.S. strikes, which we're told are in evidence over the past days in the areas. They weren't so precisely where a simply not at the volume they have been at the path. And that, of course, leads Afghan security forces very vulnerable and dealing with the possibility that as the constant fires spring up around the provincial capitals of Afghanistan, they simply don't have enough of their better trained commanders to hold back.

The insurgency, who have been waiting for, preparing for this moment for a number of years. Startingly bad news coming out of Afghanistan. Exactly what many people thought would happen when the U.S. announced their precipitous withdrawal. But to see it play out life this and to see the true nature possibly of the Taliban that move into the areas deeply troubling. And I think that many policy makers within the beltway and Washington should be paying attention to exactly how fast this begins to unravel and what could possibly be done to reduce the threat on the Afghan capital Kabul -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: All right, Nick Payton Walsh bringing us the very latest from London. Many thanks.

Well, a top aid to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has resigned. Melissa DeRosa stepped down on the heels of a report from the state Attorney General. The report found Cuomo sexually harassed 11 women. He denies the allegations. Later today state lawmakers will hear from impeachment investigation members about the ongoing scandal surrounding Cuomo. CNN's Polo Sandoval picks up the story from here.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) POLO SANDOVAL, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): New York Governor Andrew Cuomo facing what will likely be another trying week. On Monday, legislators on the state's judiciary committee return to Albany where they are expected to meet with independent investigators to review evidence related to the governor's impeachment probe.

With Governor Cuomo's sexual harassment investigation by lawmakers nearing completion, he has until this Friday to offer evidence in his defense. An opportunity Cuomo's personal lawyer insist was not provided by the New York's State A.G. before the release of a scathing report, in which several women accused the governor of unwelcome and non-consensual touching as well as making comments of a suggestive sexual nature.

Adding to the governor's troubles, the possibility of criminal charges. The Albany County sheriff's department confirmed it's investigating a complaint of behavior from Governor Cuomo that was sexual in nature.

CRAIG APPLE, SHERIFF, ALBANY COUNTY, NEW YORK: I had a female victim come forward which had to be the hardest thing she's ever done in her life and make an allegation of criminal conduct against the governor.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Known in the report only as executive assistant number 1, that female victim is speaking publicly for the first time, together with Albany's "Times Union," CBS News previewing their upcoming conversation with Brittany Commisso, one of the governor's current staffers who is coming forward to defend her account without blurring to protect her image.


JERICKA DUNCAN, CBS NEWS: And just so I'm clear again, 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.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Rita Glavin, Governor Cuomo's attorney insists Commisso's claims are untrue. In her Saturday interview with CNN, Glavin did admit the governor may have touched another accuser, a state trooper on the governor's protective detail. The A.G.'s report alleges he ran his fingers down her back while standing behind her in an elevator.

RITA GLAVIN, GOVERNOR CUOMO'S ATTORNEY: One thing I will say about this particular trooper is that I do know that the governor has tremendous respect for her, believe she has been an excellent member of her detail and to the extent that she believes and felt he did anything that violated her or was inappropriate, he feels very, very badly about that.


That I do know, and I know he's going to address this. SANDOVAL (voice-over): Exactly when that will be remains unclear. The governor has, however, apologized to a handful of women who he recognized were made to feel uncomfortable because of behavior he insists was well intentioned.

GLAVIN: He does slip at times. He's not perfect. But yes, I get it.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN HOST: He does slip? When you say he does slip, what do you mean by that?

GLAVIN: Oh, he said it in his video -- he said it in his video statements, which is that, you know, he does make the mistake. He will say darling. He will say sweetheart. He does ask people questions about their personal lives. He didn't think that that was improper.

SANDOVAL (voice-over): Polo Sandoval, CNN, Albany, New York.


CHURCH: The U.S. Senate is closer to passing the massive $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. After months of negotiations the final hurdle to passing the bill was cleared on Sunday when 18 Republican Senators joined Democrats to end debate. A final vote is expected on Tuesday. The bill features $550 billion in new federal spending on roads, bridges, and passenger and fright rail. Along with funding to expand broadband internet access.

Well, two former Trump administration officials testified before Senators this weekend about efforts to use the Department of Justice to promote false voting fraud claims. Crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz has more.


KATELYN POLANTZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE REPORTER: The Senate judiciary committee over the weekend made quick work of getting on the record key leadership at the Justice Department at the end of the Trump administration as they investigation how much President Donald Trump at the time was pressuring the leaders of the DOJ to substantiate his election fraud claims.

So, what we learned was that the number one person and the number two person at the DOJ at the time both sat for very substantial interviews on Friday and Saturday. That's the x-acting deputy Attorney General, Richard Donoghue. He went on Friday for five hours with the Senate Judiciary Committee.

On Saturday the number one person, the x-acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, he spoke for seven hours with the committee and Rosen specifically was talking about five key episodes where a subordinate of the two men, a man who was leading the environment section of law at the DOJ was trying to act out of the chain of command at the Justice Department to push election fraud claims that he held that were in line with Donald Trump's.

Now it's an open question at this time whether Clark, Jeff Clark was acting on his own or if he was taking specific directions from the White House or Trump. That is something that we know that the Judiciary Committee and other committees on The Hill will be asking about. But what we did learn over the weekend after both of those interviews with Donoghue and Rosen, is that the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin spoke to Dana Bash. He didn't provide details about new information that was shared in those interviews, but he did have a key take away. Here's what he told Dana.

SEN. DICK DURBIN (D-IL): Just how directly and personally involved the president was. The pressure he was putting on Jeffrey Rosen, it was real, very real. It was very specific. This president is not subtle when he wants something -- the former president. He isn't subtle when he wants something. And I think it's a good thing for America that we had a person like Rosen in that position who withstood the pressure.

POLANTZ: Durbin also said that the committee does want to talk with Jeff Clark in the coming weeks. And my sources told me over the weekend, that he has been in talks with Capitol Hill about a potential interview. Back to you.


CHURCH: Thanks so much for that report.

Well, when a public health crisis becomes political, the outcome can be deadly. Coming up, the damage from rhetoric and misinformation.

Plus, mass COVID testing is underway in parts of China after an uptick in new cases. A live report from Beijing after the break.