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More Children in COVID Wards Than Ever Before; Florida Governor Downplays COVID Surge As Cases Spike Statewide; New Obstacles Face Biden's "Build Back Better Plan". Congressman Colin Allred discussed about infrastructure bill. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 11, 2021 - 15:00   ET



SCOTT KIRBY, CEO, UNITED STATES: Companies require vaccinations. I think we're going to get up to that high 80-90% vaccination rate in the country and that's going to allow us to really have COVID behave much like the flu does.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN ANCHOR: All right. United CEO Scott Kirby, thanks for your time.

KIRBY: Thank you.

Start a new hour. Good to be with you. I'm Victor Blackwell. A short time ago California became the first state in the country to mandate vaccines for teachers. They don't get their shot, they must submit to regular testing instead.

The sources tell CNN, most districts and unions have been supportive of this health order. It's the latest move to keep schools safer as classes began its coronavirus continues surging across the country. Daily new cases, the average is now above 116,000. More than 73,000 people are hospitalized.

And take a look at this map, mostly red in orange here. 99% of us live in a county that the CDC says has either substantial or high transmission, and the CDC now forecasts that there will be as many as 662,000 American deaths from COVID by September 4th. As of today, the US death toll stands at 618,457. That means that more than 40,000 people could die from COVID in a month.

CNN Jacqueline Howard is here. Let's focus on hospitalizations. Just how strained are the hospitals and medical facilities across this country?

JACQUELINE HOWARD, CNN HEALTH REPORTER: Victor, It feels like almost deja vu, like we're back to where we started with this pandemic. Because we are hearing of many hospitals many health systems being overwhelmed, their ICU beds filling up. Earlier this week, Victor, in Arkansas, Governor Asa Hutchinson said that they only had eight ICU beds available in the entire state. That's what he tweeted on Monday, eight ICU beds for this state.

So we are seeing big, big surges in cases and hospitalizations, mostly driven by the Delta variant. And if you look at COVID-19 transmission here in the United States, just a month ago, you see there on the map, there were many regions that had moderate to substantial transmission. This was just a month ago, most of it is yellow and orange. Today, we're nearly all red. You see how there -- many residents, more than 98%, now live in an area where there's high transmission.

So that's where we are right now, Victor. And that map, I think really illustrates why we're seeing so many hospitalizations. And sadly, many cases are in children as well, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Such a dramatic shift in such a short amount of time. Let's talk about children now and COVID. I just spoke with a pediatric nurse who says that hospital there in Louisiana is seeing more kids than ever before, what's the latest on vaccines now being available for that 5 to 11, 5 to 12 year old age range?

HOWARD: Right. We're hoping and thinking that vaccinations for ages 5 to 11 might be available by the end of the year. But here is where each vaccine maker is in their trials for young people. So, Pfizer expect to have data on vaccines for ages 5 to 11 by the end of next month, so by the end of September.

Depending on how the data look, they could submit for authorization for those ages at that time. Moderna is still studying the vaccine and ages 6 months to 11. And then Johnson & Johnson is still studying in ages 12 to 17. So that's where each vaccine maker is at this point, Victor. But again, overall, we're hearing that we could see vaccines available for younger children later in the year, by the end of the year.

BLACKWELL: All right. CDC just came out with stronger guidance about pregnant women getting COVID vaccination. Tell us what we've learned there.

HOWARD: That's right. The CDC just made this announcement this afternoon, Victor. And the CDC previously said that pregnant women could you know receive the vaccine after making that decision and talking to their doctor. But now, based on new data, they are strengthening their recommendation and they strongly encourage pregnant women to receive the vaccine. Here's what that recommendation statement says that COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for all people 12 years and older including people who are pregnant, breastfeeding trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future.

The reason why the CDC has decided to strengthen this guidance, they have new data showing the safety of the vaccine, showing that there's no increased risk for miscarriage for instance, so they have more safety data there. And then, of course, COVID-19 in pregnant women is more likely to be more severe. It can lead to more severe illness in this group. And the CDC is really, really encouraging pregnant women to take a close look at the data to get vaccinated because of this increased risk that COVID-19 can cause them, but also because of how transmissible the Delta variant is. [15:05:03]

So again, this is, you know, the time where they are strengthening this recommendation and really encouraging women to follow this guidance, Victor.

BLACKWELL: A lot of good information for us. Jacqueline Howard, thank you. Let's go now to the epicenter of the pandemic in the US, Florida. The state has some of the highest COVID hospitalization rates per capita in the country, pediatric hospitalizations more than four times higher than they were a month ago. That's according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. CNN's Amara Walker is in Fort Lauderdale. Amara, good to see you.

So earlier today, the governor downplayed the increase of children hospitalized with COVID. What can you tell us?

AMARA WALKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes. This was just a few hours ago at a news conference, Victor. Governor Ron DeSantis claiming that the Delta variant has had little impact on children here in Florida. But as you mentioned, the statistics and the data, his statements conflict with that what we're seeing from the Department of Health and Human Services that shows that pediatric hospitalizations due to COVID-19 in Florida, is more than four times higher than it was just a month ago. Here's Ron DeSantis just a few hours ago talking about how all of this is affecting kids.


GOV. RON DESANTIS (R-FL) GOVERNOR: Some people, you hear a lot of stuff, does Delta behave differently vis-a-vis kids than the kind of the previous generations, which fortunately have been -- have a very minor impact particularly on young kids. And the answer is, in terms of the hospitalization percentage, we've not seen any change in that in Florida. Clearly, we're at the top of a wave here. So you're going to see more cases and infections diagnose.


WALKER: All right. So, Victor, there's one thing to keep in mind. Generally speaking, the cumulative rate of hospitalizations, pediatric hospitalizations, or I'm sorry, cumulative hospitalizations due to COVID. Across the country has remained steady at 1%. This is for children. And this is according to the American Academy of Pediatrics since December. However, this doesn't -- this means that the vast majority of children who are getting COVID-19 are not being hospitalized.

But the common narrative that we have been hearing from hospitals in Florida is that they are being overwhelmed, that they're treating a significantly higher number of children with COVID-19. That has been the case that Nemours Children's Hospital in Orlando and also area hospitals here in Miami, Victor.

BLACKWELL: Amara Walker for us there in Fort Lauderdale. Thank you. Talk about this double court win for Texans who want masks worn in classrooms by everyone. Two judges in state have issued restraining orders that will temporarily block the governor's latest emergency order to ban mask mandates including in schools.

One judge granted a restraining order for Dallas County until a hearing later this month. Another judge granted an order for San Antonio and Bear County where local governments they're immediately issued a massive mandate for anyone over the age of two in all public schools. Plus, they're ordering any unvaccinated students or staff exposed to an infected person, they must quarantine for two weeks.

There are also two new polls from the Kaiser Family Foundation. They're giving insight into how parents feel about masks and vaccinations. Let's go to the first poll. That finds that the majority of parents want schools to mandate masks but another found that the majority of parents do not want schools to require vaccines on masks, 63% of parents want -- with kids rather, in all grades support masked mandates for unvaccinated students and staff. On vaccines, 58% of vaccine eligible children oppose a vaccine requirement.

The parents are here (ph). Kristen Thompson is a parent in Alachua County, Florida. That's one of the school districts in Florida requiring masks for students at the start of the school year, defying Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Also we have with us, Dr. Jyotika Kapur. She's a pediatrician in Austin, Texas and a parent. I thank both of you for being with me.

And let me start with you, Dr. Kapur. You are a parent there, you're also petitioning the governor to allow local decisions. Talk to me about the case you're making to Governor Abbott.

DR. JYOTIKA KAPUR, PEDIATRICIAN: Yes. Firstly, thank you for having me. We are a group of physician moms in the Austin Area and all of us are very concerned for our children. The Delta variant is a very different beast and it is very contagious. So a bunch of physician moms came together with the idea of writing a letter.

And we started with a letter and just to get more signatures, we got the petition. And, of course, like the rest of the scientific society, all of the physicians in the Austin Area overwhelmingly supported it and we are at a thousand plus signatures.


So that's a petition basically going out to all the superintendents of all the greater Austin Area and Central Texas, school districts and the Boards of Trustees, and the governor requesting them to listen to science and not overwhelm our children's hospitals. Because we won't be able to take care of the children, even 1% hospitalizations is way too many. We do not have a national capacity to hospitalized 1% of our pediatric population. We have a fraction of that.

BLACKWELL: It's such a unique perspective, physician-mom. The first time I've heard that hyphenated term, by the way, but it's such a valuable part of the conversation. Kristen, let me come to you. And as a mom as well, your concerns for sending your child back with a percentage of the classmates who will not be masked. I understand in this lawsuit, you don't think that the state even has the authority to make this decision over local governments? What's your concern?

KRISTEN THOMPSON, PARENT OF ALACHUA COUNTY STUDENT: Yes, I'm hoping that that is true. That the courts agree with us. My biggest concern is the children who have disabilities or reasons why they can't wear a mask. We need everyone else to wear masks so they can protect those that cannot wear a mask.

For example, my daughter has a tracheotomy and, well, she breathes in through her neck. It wouldn't matter if she wears a mask, because it would, you know, virus could just potentially go through there. So I think that there is a lot of medical and disability reasons why we need other people to mask and it's a social responsibility as well as, you just heard, you know, this Delta variant is different. It's more contagious, it's more dangerous, and we need to protect all the children here.

BLACKWELL: And, of course, in preparing for this conversation with a Florida mom and with a Texas mom, something came up in each of these conversations at town halls interestingly enough. The suggestion that there be a classroom for students who want to be unmasked and the rest of the students who will wear masks, they can be together. Is that something you would support?

THOMPSON: No, absolutely not. Exemptions, any kind of exemption other than for medical reasons is not going to work, because we need everybody masking to prevent the spread. Payton's diagnosis is Trisomy 18, and it is such a diagnosis that I have experienced other families and parents. And I've went to the funerals of children, and you don't want to see your child in a casket.

You don't want to see your child on high flow oxygen or on a ventilator. And ECMO is another thing that they've been using a lot. You don't want to see your child like that, and we just exemptions aren't going to work. It's not going to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

BLACKWELL: We know that some counties in Florida allowing opt-outs, although they're asking for people to wear masks. Let me come to by a physician-mom, Dr. Kapur. Would you support separating unmasked students into other classrooms, maybe their own lunch period? And what's the efficacy of something like that?

KAPUR: I don't think it will be very efficacious. You know, I agree with Kristen there that that is not a practical decision. There are two parts to it. One, you will not be able to stop the spread of the virus because they will be school staff that will be going around. And even if the teacher -- the kids don't meet, firstly, kids will meet. If they're -- if my child's best friend is unmasked, she is going to go and see her. So that is not practical for children.

Number two, is the fact that those unmask children will become at a very high risk of getting the infection and getting into hospital. And we don't want that. I mean, I'm not here just to protect my children. I hate to protect every single child. And that's not an outcome that's acceptable to us as pediatricians.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Kapur, let me get your opinion on one last thing here. JAMA just published this study that shows the global mental health crisis that children are facing, not only because of COVID. What they're seeing in their families, but a lot of these eggs and tamale (ph) that we're seeing over masks and going back or maybe not going back. How do you treat that element of a child which is so important?


KAPUR: So, ever since COVID, started, we have seen a surge of mental health problems in children and most of them are anxiety and depression linked to our society and social isolation, especially teenagers and older children. There is a lot of anxiety even amongst parents every single day in our clinic. We have parents calling, with tears in their eyes, asking what is the solution, how do they make it happen.

And it's a very hard job to tell people that, you know, you just do your best and then pray that your child stays safe. And that's not an outcome people want to hear and that's not an outcome that children want to hear. I can tell my own child that she's going to be safe in school if there is no mask mandate and enhanced safety protocols for COVID.

BLACKWELL: Yes, yes. Dr. Jyotika Kapur, Kristen Thompson, thank you so much for your time and your insight.

THOMPSON: Thank you.

KAPUR: Thank you so much for having us.

BLACKWELL: All right. Right now, President Biden is meeting virtually with governors, mayors and other state and local officials to discuss the importance of the bipartisan infrastructure investment and JOBS Act. CNN is learning of new obstacles facing him on Capitol Hill. I want to speak with Texas Congressman Colin Allred about that. That's next.



BLACKWELL: President Biden is touting big wins on his infrastructure agenda today, Senate Democrats advanced $3.5 trillion budget outline overnight. Now this framework calls for a stork expansion of America's social safety net, including free pre-K, community college, ambitious proposals on climate and immigration.

But there are giant obstacles ahead in both the House and back in the Senate. Progressive Caucus chair, Representative Jamilla -- Pramila Jayapal, I should say, released a statement a short time ago, saying Congress needs to pass that $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill before House progressives will support a vote on the smaller bipartisan infrastructure plan. Joining me now to discuss his Democratic Congressman Colin Allred of Texas. Sir, good to have you. Let's start here with the headline question. You've got what we heard from Chair Jayapal of the Progressive Caucus. We also know that Senators Manchin and Sinema say that 3.5 trillion is far too much. How do you put together the legislation that holds what you'll need is almost all of the Democratic votes there in Congress? How do you do it?

REP. COLIN ALLRED (D-TX): Well, first of all, we have to pass this hard infrastructure bill that the Senate passed, and we're going to, and we really need to stop talking about the top line number here of the reconciliation bill. Because what's more important is what goes into it, the programs that we're creating. Because what we're trying to do here is to stimulate our economy to get our folks back to work. And these two bills work in concert, to support the job creation that's coming from the infrastructure, we need to also support our workers and their families.

And so, the things you mentioned, from childcare, to universal pre-K, to helping with paid family leave, those are all going to help our workers be more productive, which is going to allow our infrastructure to be the better service. So these all work in tandem. We're going to get there. It's going to take some back and forth. That's Congress, right? But we're going to end up passing these two bills.

BLACKWELL: Is there any scenario in which because you were out with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg selling the transportation, that bipartisan bill, all of that -- a historic piece of legislation for sure. Any scenario in which that should be passed, and we don't get from the Democrats that reconciliation bill.

ALLRED: We're going to work at both of these. And it doesn't have to be an either or these work together as I said. So I think that this is a scenario where the bipartisan bill that the Senate passed on the hard infrastructure side is something that I am incredibly supportive of. I think that President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg, and the folks in the Senate did a great job in showing that we can still come together as a country and work on something like infrastructure that we all agree on.

And then this other bill, we're going to try and take care of some of the things that we know need to be done, and that really have been exacerbated in the last year and a half of this pandemic. It's been a hard year for families, we need to support families. I think we've learned that when we support our families, we have better workers who are more productive, and then help our economy overall.

So these work in tandem, and I think we're going to end up with both of them. They may have some changes along the way. That's the legislative process. But I'm confident that we'll get there.

BLACKWELL: All right. So you're there in Dallas, let me ask you some Texas specific questions. And I want to start with the fight over masks and mask mandates. Texas judges, they're allowing Dallas County to move forward for it now with their mandates for schools for masks. We've heard in Florida, Governor DeSantis there threatened funding,

threatened pay for superintendents and for school board members. We've not heard that from Governor Abbott as well. Do you think that there are repercussions coming for the school district there in Dallas?

ALLRED: Well, I'm sure that our governor and our attorney general will try. I'm not sure that they have the legal basis to say to local communities that they can't protect their folks in the midst of a pandemic. I don't know -- I haven't seen any solid legal base that rests upon. So hopefully even, if they do try to enforce it, the courts will do their job and say that's outside of the bounds of their power.


What our local officials are trying to do here just recognize reality, which is that we have a lot of kids in Dallas. My two kids are going to be in school, in daycare, who can't get vaccinated. And we have a Delta variant that is tearing through our community. This is one of the hottest hotspots in the country right here in North Texas. We need to protect those kids. They should be in school. We need them in school. We've learned that it's better for them to be in school, but to be there safely.

So let's allow them to wear masks. Let's do it safely. Let's just have some common sense. It's not a conservative value they're doing this is incredibly radical they're trying to say, which is that local communities can't protect their own citizens.

BLACKWELL: Let me ask you about these ads we're seeing from some Republicans, namely Wyoming Senator John Barrasso, running digital ads tying the pandemic to the border.

We've got it up on the screen here, on Facebook, the CDC and Joe Biden are telling Americans to mask up but are letting thousands of COVID-19 positive illegal immigrants into our country leads to a fundraising page. Now, the US is doing just fine spreading COVID regardless of people coming into the country. What's your reaction, your view, of this type of fundraising and tying it to the border?

ALLRED: Yes. I wish some of these leaders would work as hard on trying to help their folks understand the benefits of getting vaccinated and wearing a mask as they do on demonizing. Because we've seen the results of this in Texas, we had a shooter actually from my area here in North Texas, drive all the way out to El Paso and conduct the worst mask shootings and worst attack on Latino community in American history not long ago, using the same language that we're seeing in some of these ads. And we see some, you know, so called leaders using right now.

They should be doing the responsible thing, which is to say that this is an American problem that we can beat. We have a free and effective vaccine that is available to you at your local corner, grocery store or pharmacy. You can go get it right now and protect yourself and your family. Put your energy that's good for our economy, that's good for our country. Let's do this as Americans. This is an American challenge that we can be. I don't understand this effort to try and use this as a political wedge issue. We're in a pandemic, grow up.

BLACKWELL: Last one here. Texas House Speaker signed 52 arrest warrants, civil arrest warrants for the House Dems who left the state to tank essentially the special session and the voting rights legislation there. One, do you think they will actually be arrested? And second, it's been a month since the President gave that that speech at the National Constitution Center. Is anything going to happen in Washington on voting rights legislation?

ALLRED: I think it is, I think it is. I think you're going to see us come back later this month and into the next month working on HR for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to restore the Voting Rights Act, I think you'll see the Senate moving on a modified version of HR-1 and For The People Act, and I think we'll get there.

I'm still confident that we can convince, you know, 50 of our senators to get on board with the bill and then to find a way to get this passed. To me, this is one of the most important things facing us, not only in this time right now, but for our future, is to try and protect our democracy. Because unfortunately, what's happening in Texas, and in states across the country, is an effort to say that certain people can't be engaged in our democracy. And it's so blatant that it's almost embarrassing.

And so, we have to have federal involvement here. We've seen this before. We've seen this, you know, when we had to have the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965, when certain states in certain areas, in certain communities, were trying to prevent some of their citizens from being involved in their democracy. We tried to put an end to that then we've made a lot of progress since then, but there are efforts to take us back

BLACKWELL: All right. Congressman Colin Allred of Texas, thank you.

ALLRED: Thanks, Victor.

BLACKWELL: US intelligence is nearing the end of a major investigation into the origins of COVID, and whether it originated in a lab or came from animals. We got that. Plus, the mayor of Baltimore has a message to unvaccinated residents upset over his new mask mandate. Look in the mirror. He'll join us live ahead.