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U.S. Children Head Back to School Amid COVID Surge; Florida School System Defies Governors Order on Masks; Report: Climate Change Transforming Life as We Know It; More Than 100 Fires Burning Across 15 State; Neary 600 Wildfires Burning Across Greece; U.S. Senate to Vote on $1.27 Trillion Infrastructure Bill Today; PSG Fans Await Possible Arrival of Barcelona Legend Lionel Messi. Aired 4:00-4:30a ET

Aired August 10, 2021 - 04:00   ET



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


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Bringing together large numbers of children, congregating them in classrooms with masks being optional, is just a formula for disaster.


CHURCH: Health experts warn children returning to school face bigger risks as states debate whether to make them wear masks.

We're just hours away from a final vote in the Senate that could push forward President Biden's infrastructure bill.

And a disaster of unprecedented proportions, wildfires ravage all corners of Greece forcing hundreds to evacuate.

Good to have you with us. Well, as local officials implement mandates and measures to curb the coronavirus, more Americans are coming to terms with the severity of the delta variant. The CDC says more than 98 percent of the U.S. population now live-in counties with high or substantial transmission. 250 million alone live-in high transmission areas. Barely more than half the total population in the U.S. is vaccinated. That is nowhere near the level required to reach herd immunity. And while vaccinations are the highest, they have been in weeks, nearly a third of the eligible population, that is Americans 12 and older, remain unvaccinated.

Well, all this comes as kids across the U.S. are heading back to the classroom. And while many districts will require them to mask up, that's not the case everywhere. At least seven states have banned any sort of mask mandate in schools. In Florida, an executive order from the governor effectively does the same thing. And one pediatric doctor says we could end up seeing catastrophic consequences.


DR. MARK KLINE, PHYSICIAN-IN-CHIEF, CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL NEW ORLEANS: It is one thing not to care about your own health or to think that COVID is not a threat to you personally, but maybe if you learn that it is a threat to your children, you'll reconsider the idea of not being vaccinated. I think bringing together large numbers of children, congregating them in classrooms with masks being optional or worse yet even forbidden is just a formula for disaster. This virus that we're dealing with now is a game changer and it is just so easily transmitted from person to person that this could truly catalyze an explosion of cases across the region.


CHURCH: Legal experts agree, an executive order from Florida's governor does not actually ban mask mandates it schools, but Ron DeSantis is doubling down yet again this time threatening to withhold the salaries of superintendents and school board members who go against his order. Now, that hasn't stopped schools from finding loopholes. One county is requiring students to wear masks for at least the first two weeks of school, defying the executive order. The superintendent there says DeSantis should focus on saving lives and let her worry about the local schools.


CARLEE SIMON, SUPERINTENDENT, ALACHUA PUBLIC SCHOOLS: I really see this as a distraction because I have work to do. And our community needs to have our schools open. And this is what we believe is needing to happen in order to make sure that I have people in place to run the schools. I need to have bus drivers. I need to have cafeteria workers. I need to have teachers, and then I also need students in schools. So, if they are being quarantined and they are not in school, they are missing out on instructional learning and if they don't have the masks, then what we are doing is we're just increasing their quarantine time. And my goal is to provide the high-quality education and this is the direction I believe I need to go.

I don't think that we should be careless and cavalier about life. The governor should take the conservative step and do everything he can to protect the lives of our community and that is what I'm doing.


CHURCH: Meantime in Texas, independent school districts in both Austin and Dallas will require anyone on school property to wear face masks.


City officials and school board members say it's the best way to keep their students safe and their communities feel the same way.


STEVE ADLER, AUSTIN, TEXAS MAYOR: Things opened up and people could take off their masks and I think everybody celebrated that. And it's hard to go back and it's an absolute travesty that we're having to do that now. But when people see what's happening in our intensive care units, that we're running out of space, people are rallying to the cry. They are doing what it takes for our community to come together, to keep people safe, and it really does focus right now on our kids in schools.



MICHAEL HINOJOSA, SUPERINTENDENT, DALLAS INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT: We can save a few lives, and the health of some kids, it's worth whatever trouble I get in.

This is not something that we're defying the state just because it is willy-nilly. It is because it is a need. And as soon as we get comfortable with the metrics, talking with the health professionals, we will rescind the mask mandate because we don't like it, but we think it's necessary.


CHURCH: The surge of new cases is so bad in Texas that some hospitals are once again setting up tents as COVID wards to create more room for patients. The Linden B. Johnson hospital's ICU is at 100 percent capacity with at least 63 percent of those positive for COVID-19. Two hospitals have also temporarily closed their emergency rooms so staff could be transferred to work with COVID patients. Less than 500 ICU beds are currently available in Texas.

Well, the COVID surge across the south is so bad that Mississippi has no ICU beds available at many of its hospitals. More than 200 patients are stuck in emergency rooms as they wait to get into an ICU. The state's health department also says that there are more than 150 ongoing COVID outbreaks in long term care facilities. And earlier I spoke with family physician Dr. Scott Miscovich about the Florida governor's rejection of mask mandates in schools and he explained the frightening consequences that could possibly come from that policy.


DR. SCOTT MISCOVICH, FAMILY PHYSICIAN: You know, we keep looking at things that we know work. Number one is masks. And the appropriate fitting masks is the number one thing that works. And in the school age children, were we're saying that the CDC puts children three feet apart and this delta variant is so contagious, we're going to have entire classrooms taken out. So, it is going to lead to the hospitals being further pushed to the brink as we saw in the prior piece where we're having children air lifted or children in ICU now are just overwhelming the health system.


CHURCH: He added that the data on the vaccine show that they are work and they are safe. A major new U.N. report says wildfires, droughts and floods are all

being made worse by climate change brought on by human activity. The report says the earth is warming faster than previously thought and could reach the critical threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next decade. And the window is closing to avoid more catastrophic outcomes.


SHYLA RAGHAV, VP. CLIMATE CHANGE CONSERVATIONS INTERNATIONAL: Stopping deforestation, we know one of the largest sources of emissions is the burning and clearing of natural ecosystems, so we need to get serious about transitioning to zero or no carbon energy. We have to get serious about resolving and fixing unsustainable models of growth that assume infinite levels of consumption will be compatible or possible in the future. It means promoting renewable and regenerative materials and economies and most importantly, unleashing the talent of human innovation of our creativity and ingenuity to retool the rules and how our economy is designed.


CHURCH: Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore is warning that everyone needs to listen to the science behind this report. He has of course been sounding the alarm about climate change for decades and now says there is no time left to waste.

Climate change and strong winds are being blamed for winter wildfires in South America. In Bolivia's Eastern Santa Cruz region, flames have consumed some 150,000 hectares so far this year. And according to a recent government statement more than 830 fires have broken out just in August.

The wildfire season in the U.S. is shaking up to be one of the worst yet. There have already been nearly 40,000 wildfires this year, well above average for early August.


The fires have burned through more than 3.5 million acres so far. In California right now, more than 12,000 people are under evacuation orders due to wildfires there. And it is an uphill battle for firefighters as hot and dry conditions in the West fuel the flames.

Meteorologist Pedram Javaheri has more -- Pedram.

PEDRAM JAVAHERI, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Good morning, Rosemary. A lot to tell you about when it comes to the heat and fire situation across the Western United States as a massive dome of high pressure builds across an area with the backdrop of some 108 large active wildfires across 15 states. Of course, we know heat advisory, heat warnings and heat watches, just about any criteria of hot weather you could throw at it, the National Weather Service has put in place around the Western United States.

And this ridge of high pressure, an impressive one for any time of year builds yet again. Recall it about six weeks ago, we had a massive dome of high pressure in the Western U.S., temps soared into the one teens in this region. Gets incredibly hot yet again. In Seattle, it should be 79 time of year. How about we aim for almost 100 degrees on Thursday and Friday. Portland, aiming for 107 where 84 is average for this time of year.

And incredibly, a model suggests if it wasn't for the amount of haze, the amount of smoke in the atmosphere, the temperatures would be even greater. This speaks to the state of climate right now across this region when it comes to the irony involved in the wildfire coverage here such as the Dixie Fire where 2 1/2 times greater than the size of New York City, that's the amount of land consumed. And all off of the smoke present keeping those temperatures a little at bay given the incredible amount of heat in place there.

But take you back across the Atlantic. We do have another tropical system, potential cyclone six here that is poised to become tropical storm Fred later on tonight. And we do have warnings and watches in place around the Caribbean here as this system moves across this region. And right now, models are hinting that this interacts with land quite a bit and will really limit the development of this storm if that is the case. Kind of rains through this region of the Caribbean and potentially by this weekend approaches portions of Florida as a weak tropical storm. So, we'll follow it as it progresses -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: Thank you so much for that, Pedram.

Well, Greece's Prime Minister calls it a disaster of unprecedented proportions. As nearly 600 wildfires force thousands to evacuate their homes and leave behind everything they own. Protestors gathered in Athens on Monday saying the government is not giving enough financial support to emergency crews. The Prime Minister has apologized for any weaknesses in the country's response.

Some of the most devastating wildfires are now burning on the island of Evia and that is where CNN's Eleni Giokos is standing by live. She joins us now. So, Eleni, what is the latest on these efforts to contain the devastating wildfires there on Evia?

ELENI GIOKOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: So, Rosemary, when we woke up this morning, there were no fire fronts, there was just a big fear of a rekindling. Just moments ago, before we spoke now, I mean, we saw enormous fires ravaging this part of the forest. I want you to take a closer look. There are trees that have been deliberately cut down to try and halt the spread. We also have Greek firefighters, Slovenian firefighters that arrived in Evia this morning. And the incredible work that was done, I mean so many hands-on deck to try to get the fire under control. This one has been put out.

Everyone is at this moment on very high alert for rekindling. It is very highly probable that could occur in many parts of Evia because it is extremely hot. There's another heatwave coming and that has been compounding the impacts of the fires that are raging in Evia.

Now importantly, you heard the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis talking about the lapses in efforts on the ground, the international assistance has been vital. 22 countries sending firefighters, fire engines as well as aircraft to help douse the fires. Here in Evia, the official number is that almost half of pristine forest has been burned down. We're talking about hundreds of thousands of hectares of land that has been impacted. Thousands of people evacuated, homes decimated.

The impact has been extraordinary. This is the eighth day that we're seeing efforts to try to get fires under control. We've had incredible efforts. I want you to take a look at what is on the ground at the moment. Fire engines from Greece, from Slovenia, people here are just trying to get the fires under control.

Now importantly, Rosemary, because it's been eight days in a row, the devastation has been enormous. But the international help has been such a vital part in getting the fires under control.


What is encouraging is you're seeing incredible camaraderie from Greek firefighters and Slovenian firefighters. We're seeing hugs. We're seeing people clapping as soon as fires are doused. But the teams here tell us that they still have a lot of work to do and it's far from over.

CHURCH: Yes, a lot of work. But when you have that sort of team effort, that is very encouraging. Eleni Giokos joining us from Evia, Greece, many things as always.

This powerful tornado was caught on camera just west of Chicago Monday. Officials are still assessing the damage and it is not clear yet if anyone was injured or killed in the storm system. We'll keep an eye on that.

Well, a football legend who knows how to win Champions League titles may be on his way to a club that does not. We are watching Lionel Messi's next move. Back in just a moment.


CHURCH: U.S. President Joe Biden is expected to return to Washington in the coming hours ahead of a key vote and possible major victory for his administration.


Senators will vote today on the final passage of a massive infrastructure bill. The bipartisan package is worth an estimated $1.2 trillion. Both parties could claim a win if the bill passes. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praised the bipartisanship and laid out what comes next.


SEN. CHUCK SCHUMER (D-NY) SENATE MAJORITY LEADER: Let me say this, it has taken quite a long time and there have been detours and everything else, but this will do a whole lot of good for America and Senate can be proud it has passed this. And as we move forward, we are proceeding on both tracks, the track of the bipartisan infrastructure proposal and the track of the budget resolution with reconciliation instructions. On our side of the aisle, we know we need both tracks. One dealing with traditional infrastructure, one dealing with climate, and the problems American families face.


CHURCH: The bill faces an uncertain future in the House of Representatives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated the chamber won't take up the bill until Senate Democrats pass their larger package on social and environmental issues.

The woman who first publicly accused New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment is now accusing him of gas lighting his victims. Lindsay Boylan's comments were published Monday for an online site called Medium.

Meantime sources tell CNN some of Cuomo's closest confidants are trying to convince the Democrat to resign. Their efforts come amid fallout from a report that found he sexually harassed multiple women. But the embattled governor vows to weather the storm and his lawyer is helping him fire back at the allegations in the New York Attorney General's report.


RITA GLAVIN, ATTORNEY FOR GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: It was very clear to me that they got some facts wrong. It was clear to me that they did not include information that was exculpatory for the governor or helped to put things into context. Everyone is pushing the governor to resign based on a report that has not been vetted. And that people are taking to be 100 percent true. And the governor should be allowed the opportunity to see that evidence and do a fulsome submission which we're not being allowed to do.


CHURCH: The Speaker of the New York State Assembly says the impeachment investigation process into Cuomo could wrap up within weeks.

Well, U.S. House Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is describing the fear she felt during the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol. She barricaded herself in her office, afraid of what the rioters would do to her if they found her. She told CNN's Dana Bash the past trauma of sexual assault was on her mind as she heard the mob roaming the halls.


REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO-CORTEZ (D-NY): I think one of the reasons why that impact was so double that day is because of the misogyny and the racism that is so deeply rooted and animated that attack on the Capitol. You know, white supremacy and patriarchy are very linked in a lot of ways. There's a lot of sexualizing of that violence. And I didn't think that I was just going to be killed. I thought other things were going to happen to me as well.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: So, what sounds like what you are telling me right now is that you didn't only think that you were going to die, you thought you were going to be raped.

Yes. Yes. I thought I was.


CHURCH: Meanwhile the widow of a Washington, D.C. police officer is pressing the Biden administration for help in declaring her husband's suicide a death in the line of duty. Jeffrey Smith helped fight off rioters during the January 6 insurrection. He fatally shot himself a few days later. His wife says changing the classifications means -- the classification means that she could continue receiving health and financial benefits.


ERIN SMITH, WIDOW OF OFFICER JEFFREY SMITH: When he came home, obviously he explained what happened that day and, you know, that it was the craziest day he's been involved in. You know, they're not trained for hand-to-hand combat and that is what happened that day. After that, his mood changed, he kind of withdrew, he didn't want do anything. He wasn't willing to come with me on walks with the dog. He barely even wanted to watch TV. He was pacing at night, not sleeping. And just kind of became a completely different person.


CHURCH: And the widow of U.S. Capitol police officer Howard Liebengood also wants her husband's suicide declared a death in the line of duty.


Anticipation is building in the French capital for the possible arrival of football superstar Lionel Messi. He has yet to be spotted in Paris, but French media report he could arrive today. Messi tearfully told the world he doesn't want to leave his beloved Barcelona, but Paris Saint-Germain may soon become his new home. Senior producer Saskya Vandoome is live at their stadium. She joins us now. Good to see you, Saskya. So, what is the latest on Messi's big decision, could he possibly head for Paris?

SASKYA VANDOOME, CNN SENIOR PRODUCER: Well, we're still waiting. We haven't seen a contract yet. There's been no news of him leaving Spain or of him arriving in France. But the anticipation as you said Rosemary, is building. We spoke to some of the fans yesterday on the Champ-Elysees and this is what they had to say.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think it's very news for the PSG. Because it's greatest player of the world.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I think that this is very important thing for the city of Paris. And for the football in Paris. Because it's next level for this team. And I think that now it's time for PSG to win the Champions League. Because, yes, it starts to be a lot, I think that now it's time. It's time to win.


VANDOOME (on camera): And I just want to talk about the significance of PSG potentially signing Messi. You know, what this will mean for that global brand, they are one of the only clubs who could really afford to sign Messi. You remember four summers ago, they signed Neymar, they signed Mbappe and now there's going to be this three Neymar, Mbappe and Messi.

They're going to have to be juggled by the manager Mauricio Pochettino, which will -- it'll be a nice problem for him to have. He's of course a fellow Argentine, so Messi will find many other friends here at the club. He's favorite name at Barcelona. But Messi has said that he will be sad to be leaving Spain. You know, he spent two decades playing for Barcelona. He's described his kids as little Argentine-Catalan kids.

But the fans here are very excited about him potentially coming and in fact the stadium behind me on Saturday will be hosting they hope 50,000 fans, that's the first time since the pandemic struck, for their home game. But the big question is, will Messi be here -- Rosemary.

CHURCH: That's a big question. We'll await an answer on that. Saskya Vandoome joining us live from Paris. Many thanks.

Well, London's Tower Bridge isn't falling down, but it was stuck open for almost 12 hours on Monday causing major traffic jams on both sides of the River Thames. It was open so a ship could pass through and then got jammed and just wouldn't budge. But the bridge is working now.

Well, America's fight against COVID is being hampered by lies and denials. Many coming from Republican leaders. More on the messages they are spreading even in states with deadly surges.


I talk to people around the state, how are things going, and they say things are humming. And you have some politicians that say, I'm going to eliminate the virus, I will defeat it. Unfortunately, government can't just end it. You know, we still have 1918 flu floating around.