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Cuomo Set to Step Down; Afghanistan Crisis; CDC Recommends Third Vaccine Dose For Some. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired August 13, 2021 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:02]

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: So it's still confusing.

They're looking at moderate or severe immunocompromised people. So, people who may be vulnerable because of chronic conditions, such as heart disease or diabetes, as you mentioned, it's not to say that they're not vulnerable. But this is really talking about people who, because of their weakened immune systems, the vaccine did not generate an immune response in the first place.

With vulnerable patients, they may be vulnerable, but typically they are getting an antibody response, so should have protection. Keep in mind, Victor, this population of people that we're talking about, the ones that you just listed on that graphic there, if they're vaccinated, compared to the general population who's vaccinated, they were nearly 500 times more likely to end up in the hospital.

So that is what -- I think what really sort of drove this decision. They are likely to have a weakened immune response to the vaccine. And as a result, they're more likely to get sick as well, significantly so. So, that's the recommendations as they stand now.

But you're right there's. There's -- they're not asking people to go out and get their antibodies checked. This isn't going to require a doctor's prescription. It's basically a self-attestment to the pharmacist or to whomever that you fall into one of these categories, and you should get a third shot.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN HOST: So third shot of which vaccine? If the first two are Pfizer, should they get a Pfizer shot? Same for Moderna? Does it matter?

GUPTA: Well, so, what their official guidance is that you should get the same shot.

But let me explain that, though. The reason that that is the official guidance is because that's what was studied, right? So that's what they can say for certain. But we do know, with plenty of data now from around the world, that it should be OK if you mix and match these shots. And there's even been a few studies, Victor, which have shown it may even be more beneficial to mix and match. It's early data there.

But, basically, by having slightly different responses to the vaccines, you might get even more protection. So what -- the official guidance, get the same shot, but if you mix and get another shot instead, you should be OK.

BLACKWELL: So these new numbers came out today from the CDC. And I'm surprised by them. More than a million people actually skipped the FDA's guidance, and already have this third shot. What do you think about that?

GUPTA: You know, Victor, I think I think what we have been trying to be really steady about and consistent about is to follow the science here.

What we know is that, for this particular group of people, about nine million people, the third shot makes sense. But I know this may sound -- like, for people who are worried about this, I hope this gives them some comfort to remind them how well the vaccines work overall in the general population.

We can show you some of the graphics here. If you received these vaccines, your protection against being hospitalized or dying 90 to 100 percent prevention of dying from this disease. So, they're really effective vaccines. So I wouldn't say that there's necessarily a problem.

I mean, they have studies now to show that there was some similar side effects if you get the third shot as compared to the second shot, but I don't think it's dangerous, per se. It's just a question of whether it's necessary. And I get the idea that, hey, look, I just want to keep improving my antibodies, but that's not necessarily the goal.

There's all sorts of different components to immunity. And right now, the people who have a working immune systems and got the vaccine, they're really well-protected.

BLACKWELL: All right, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, thank you.

Five states are reporting 90 percent of their ICU beds are occupied and hospital staff at Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, they're struggling right now.

CNN's Adrienne Broaddus joins me live from Jackson, Mississippi.

So what's the situation there?

ADRIENNE BROADDUS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Victor, we just got an update from the governor. He's still speaking at this hour on the other side of this door, and he told us new COVID numbers reported today, more than 5,000 new cases.

Among those new cases, he said at least 97 percent were unvaccinated. Now, about two miles or so away from where we are here at the governor's office building, a team of doctors and staff are transforming the lower level of a garage.

That's right. Where cars normally parked, you will now see hospital beds. That's to relieve the strain on the emergency department there. And as these new numbers come out, doctors tell me they're terrifying.

Listen in.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. THOMAS DOBBS, MISSISSIPPI STATE HEALTH OFFICER: We reported the largest number of COVID cases a day that we ever have. We reported 5, 023 cases and 31 deaths today, 166 nursing home outbreaks.

When we look at the deaths that we have had, over the past four days, I want to do a little bit of a dive. We have lost four healthy people in their 20s. Two of them were pregnant, zero vaccinated.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

[15:05:07]

BROADDUS: One-point-three million people vaccinated.

Meanwhile, the governor says he will not institute a mask mandate, but he wanted to make it clear and share with the public that he has received the COVID-19 vaccine. So has his family, and he's encouraging others to do so -- Victor.

BLACKWELL: These numbers are heartbreaking, the numbers of new cases and deaths, and 78 COVID bed, ICU beds there for a state that has a population of three million.

Adrienne Broaddus for us in Jackson, thank you very much.

Let's go to another one of the states with limited ICU capacity, Florida. We're learning that four educators in Broward County have died in a 24-hour span from COVID-19-related complications. That's according to the president of the Broward County teachers union.

Nadia Romero is there for us.

Four educators in one day. What do we know about what happened there?

NADIA ROMERO, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Victor, it's really troubling numbers.

You talk about those four educators who all died within that 24-hour period of one another. And then you also have another two additional teachers from that one Broward County school district that are in the hospital right now fighting for their lives.

In total, that's more than 130 educators who have been contracting COVID-19 since August 1. And it's only August 13. So we're still early on in the month. That is such a high number. And it's the reason why the school board voted again to keep its mask mandate. Schools start there in Broward County next week. And they're already seeing these numbers. They're fearing that it will only get worse as the schools get back into session starting on Monday. So they want that mask mandate for all of their schools throughout the district. But they're going up against their own governor, Governor Ron DeSantis, who is pushing forward with an anti-mask mandate.

He says it should be up to parents. It should be the parents' choice on if their kids should have to wear a mask or not. And he's also threatening to strip funding from those schools that do have mask mandates. Of course, there are several lawsuits challenging if the governor even has the power to do that.

So all of that is happening, while hospitalizations and cases here in Florida are skyrocketing, even when you just compare numbers now to June. We're here in Jacksonville, Florida. We just spoke with an emergency room doctor over at U.F. Health here. And he said they had just about 16 or so hospitalizations from COVID-19 mid-June.

Now they're up to 247. He says they only fear this will get worse as all the schools around here go back to the classroom, those teachers who may have COVID-19, those kids, and they will spread it as they bring it home to their families. He's also concerned because they're seeing it more likely in children now than ever before.

We know how strong, how powerful this Delta variant is. That particular hospital here in Jacksonville is a trauma center. So he's worried about their trauma center operations being impacted by COVID- 19.

Right out front, they have an overflow hospital where they can accommodate about 10 more patients if they run out of room in their hospital building. Now, they're already putting COVID patients in other units that they wouldn't normally be because they just have too many.

Victor, here in Jacksonville right behind me is the governor's rapid response team. It's a mobile unit. They have antibodies there. They're offering that to people who have COVID-19, telling you if you get that they will be able to limit your symptoms of COVID-19. That's the hope here.

But, Victor, we continue to see those hospitalizations skyrocketing all across the state.

BLACKWELL: Nadia Romero reporting there in Jacksonville, thank you.

From the Northeast portion of the state now to the Southwest, bring in my next guest, who's seeing a surge in Florida in that part of the state.

Dr. Larry Antonucci is President and CEO of Lee Health in Fort Myers, Florida.

Dr. Antonucci, thank you for being with me.

You have said that the crisis in Southwest Florida is becoming bleaker by the day. Explain what you mean by that.

DR. LARRY ANTONUCCI, PRESIDENT AND CEO, LEE HEALTH: Well, we're seeing an unprecedented surge in COVID hospitalizations in our region.

In the beginning part of June, we had 30 patients in the hospital, 3- 0, and, today, we have 498. And the slope of that curve continues to go straight up. We have 81 patients in the ICU. Our children's hospital has 13 patients, with six of them in the ICU. And throughout the entire pandemic, we have averaged no more than one or two.

So we're seeing a dramatic increase in COVID hospitalizations. This Delta variant is a different virus, and it's spread rapidly among the unvaccinated.

BLACKWELL: The dramatic surge of patients is clear, from up to 498 now. Are they sicker than they were back in earlier part of the pandemic?

[15:10:05]

ANTONUCCI: This virus seems to be having a more virulent effect, especially on the lungs. Now, let's remember that the population of patients we're seeing now is a little bit younger than we saw a year ago. So, the mortality is lower.

But in those patients, they're very sick.

BLACKWELL: So we learned there in Lee County, where you are, that the school district reports that about 15 percent, roughly one in seven of the students in the school district, have opted out of wearing a mask.

In the context of what you told us about the children's hospital there, what's your reaction to that number?

ANTONUCCI: Well, from the very beginning, we have supported the CDC recommendation to wear masks in school.

And our approach has been education, education, and education. So we're doing everything we can to educate parents on the benefits of wearing masks, especially now that the vaccine is not available to those children under 12.

BLACKWELL: We just heard from Nadia Romero up in Jacksonville about the governor's first -- I believe that's the one in the state at the moment -- the rapid response unit that's offering monoclonal antibodies, that type of therapy for specifically high-risk people when they first see the early signs of -- potentially of COVID.

How important is that in the strategy to fight this virus spreading across the state?

ANTONUCCI: The Regeneron strategy is an important one, because, if given in the first 10 days, you can reduce your need for hospitalization by 70 percent.

So we have been giving Regeneron here, about 50 doses a day, and it requires an I.V. infusion. So that takes up some significant resources in our emergency department. So we welcome these type of strike forces that are coming through the state. And we have applied to do the same here.

BLACKWELL: Dr. Larry Antonucci there in Fort Myers, thank you, sir.

ANTONUCCI: Thanks for having me.

BLACKWELL: From Florida to Texas now.

With fewer than 10 percent of its ICU beds available, this situation is especially dire for children in Dallas County.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUDGE CLAY JENKINS (D), DALLAS COUNTY, TEXAS: In Dallas, we have zero ICU beds left for children. That means, if your child's in a car wreck, if your child has a heart -- congenital heart defect or something, needs an ICU bed, or, more likely, if they have COVID and need an ICU bed, we don't have one.

Your child will wait for another child to die.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: Hospitals in Houston are filling up, creating a bottleneck situation, long delays also for the city's ambulances there.

With me now is Chief Samuel Pena of the Houston Fire Department.

Chief Pena, thank you for being with me.

So it makes sense that, if the beds are full, and the ambulances arrive, that you have got to wait then for some space to open up there. How bad is the problem where you are?

SAM PENA, HOUSTON, TEXAS, FIRE CHIEF: Well, Victor, first of all, thank you for having me on.

And you're correct. We -- here in the fire department, we have seen in almost 20 percent increase in daily call volume from just a few months ago. We were averaging about 1,000 calls per service per day. Now we're up to about 1, 200 calls per service per day.

And, certainly, the surge in hospitalizations here in Houston is placing a significant pressure on the entire medical system. And it's impacting patients who don't even have coronavirus by increasing the response times for our ambulances.

BLACKWELL: That 20 percent, are you attributing that to specifically calls related to COVID symptoms?

PENA: Well, I can tell you that the last -- in the last week, we had the highest percentage increase in COVID-related calls that we had since June of 2020. The majority of the calls that we are getting, the additional calls,

are related to just symptoms of COVID-19. And that is really placing a stress on our ability to deliver our patients to the hospitals. And in some instances, we're waiting over an hour or two just to deliver our patients from our stretcher on to the emergency room waiting rooms.

Just last week, we had an incident where we had a patient on our stretcher for over 5.5 hours.

BLACKWELL: Wow.

PENA: So, look, it's -- it's really placing a stress on the entire system.

And when we run out of resources, we run out of resources for everybody. It doesn't matter who you are or what your injury is. When we run out, we run out. So, what we're recommending to our community is not to wait until you need the emergency care before you take the coronavirus precautions.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

You mentioned that when resources run out, they run out for everybody. I understand that this bottleneck situation is on top of an ambulance shortage too, right?

PENA: Well, look, we have 104 ambulances in our system, and we're our already stretched thin.

[15:15:02]

The firefighters here in Houston have been working, just like all first responders and emergency care workers, for the last 18 months under this incredible stress of coronavirus.

And so, yes, this is just adding to the already stretched-thin resources that we have had for a long time.

BLACKWELL: What's the impact primarily, directly on the members of your department? Are you seeing officers who are now COVID-positive, members of the department, firefighters and the rest, who are now quarantined because of the virus?

PENA: Yes.

So, as of today, we have nearly 60 firefighters that are COVID- positive. We have a total of about 100 that have that are symptomatic, including those 60. And it's placing an additional stressor on our department, because those -- now those people are not available for staffing.

In addition to that, we have had -- we're short several hundred firefighters. So, our folks are battle-weary. As I mentioned, they have been -- they have been at this for the last 18 months. And that places incredible stress on them and their families. And just like anybody else, we're susceptible to this virus as well.

So it's always in the back of their mind as far as getting infected and then taking that to their family. So we're doing everything we can to ensure they have the tools and the equipment and the decontamination that's appropriate for our firefighters to keep them safe, because our primary focus and our primary goal is to ensure that we are available to serve this community.

BLACKWELL: All right, Chief Pena, before we wrap up here, could you just give me the total number of firefighters you have, so we can put that 60 and 100 number into context?

PENA: Sure.

Today, we have approximately 3, 700 firefighters on the Houston Fire Department.

BLACKWELL: OK.

All right, Chief Samuel Pena there of the Houston Fire Department, thank you so much for being with me.

PENA: Yes, sir. Thank you.

(CROSSTALK)

BLACKWELL: You too.

Official date set now for Governor Andrew Cuomo to step down, as the New -- New York state Assembly, I should say, makes a significant announcement about the impeachment investigation.

Plus: Illegal border crossings reached a 21-year high last month. We are live at the border.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:22:03]

BLACKWELL: Just into CNN, the New York state Assembly is suspending its impeachment investigation into Governor Andrew Cuomo, signing his resignation, which will take effect, we now know, on August 25.

CNN's Brynn Gingras is following this.

So, what do you know?

BRYNN GINGRAS, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes, listen, we weren't expecting an update from the Judiciary Committee until Monday, because that's when they were meeting again with their attorneys.

And now we're learning they're not going forward with the impeachment process. We got a news release from the Assembly speaker, Carl Heastie, who essentially said there's two reasons why. They had two objectives with this. The first was to remove Cuomo from office, which he resigned, so he's no longer in office. BLACKWELL: Yes.

GINGRAS: And the second, they say, according to their attorneys, there's really no precedent for this in the Constitution. So to remove him from office, it's never been done before. So they found it hard to apply that to what on the books right now.

And, also, this idea of disqualifying him from future office, because this has never happened before, again, it's hard to go forward with that. So those are the two reasons. But I want to make a point. In his news release, they said that they did receive a lot of evidence about the cases that they were looking into, which we know was not just the sexual harassment allegations against the former -- or the governor, soon-to-be former governor.

And they also had evidence regarding the nursing home issue that we have talked about a lot about at CNN and also the state resources used for his memoir. And he said -- quote -- "This evidence, we believe, could likely have resulted in articles of impeachment, had he not resigned."

Now, here's the thing that's very interesting. We talked to Carl Heastie on Monday. If you remember, he gave us an update. Yes, it was just only on Monday they had that update.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

GINGRAS: And he said there were no deals struck with Cuomo at that time. But it was 24 hours later that we saw Cuomo go in front of the entire world and say that he was going to step down.

Were there conversations happening in between that time about any deals struck about going forward with no impeachment articles? We don't know. That's something we're asking Heastie's office, other people. And we also have reached out to Cuomo's office and Hochul, who's going to be the governor soon, in just less than two weeks.

BLACKWELL: Yes, 12 days. Important developments.

Brynn Gingras, thank you.

GINGRAS: Yes.

BLACKWELL: All right, so now to Afghanistan, where CNN has just learned that Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul are being instructed to destroy sensitive materials.

It's a sign, of course, of the deteriorating conditions there as the Taliban makes significant gains across the country. That group has already captured at least half of the country's 34 provincial capitals. A short time ago, the Pentagon responded to concerns over the speed of the Taliban's takeover four months after the U.S. began withdrawing forces.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN KIRBY, PENTAGON PRESS SECRETARY: We are certainly concerned by the speed with which the Taliban has been moving.

And as we have said from the very beginning that this is a -- and it still is -- a moment for Afghan national security and defense forces, as well as their political leadership.

[15:25:00]

No outcome has to be inevitable here.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: My next guest says that Americans should be alarmed and ashamed about how hastily the U.S. is leaving Afghanistan.

Brett Bruen is the president of the Global Situation Room, a crisis management consultancy. And he served as director of global engagement in the Obama White House.

Brett, welcome back.

Let me start here, because the conversation about speed is, of course, one element that's valid here. But is there any surprise after President Trump and then President Biden announced a date certain of withdrawal that what we're seeing was going to happen, whether it's in August or October?

BRETT BRUEN, FORMER WHITE HOUSE DIRECTOR OF GLOBAL ENGAGEMENT: Victor, you're absolutely right.

This was almost a fait accompli with President Trump's decision to pull out our forces. But it is a question of how and when. My concern, my grave concern at this hour is that President Biden rushed towards a political talking point. He wanted to be able to say, by the 20th anniversary of the attacks on our Pentagon, as well as the World Trade Center and the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania, that we had our troops out.

And that was reckless, it was wrong. And my former colleagues who are now holed up at the embassy in Kabul are unfortunately seeing firsthand the consequences of that decision.

BLACKWELL: So, if you knew this, and many others, analysts we have discussed this with, they say that this was inevitable, then the president's decision was based on what, poor advice from national security advisers, from the State Department? Why did he make this call?

BRUEN: Well, look, I worked alongside President Biden on the National Security Council. And I know this is a position he has long held, but it is a question of how it is executed.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

BRUEN: And I think his advisers did not serve him well.

I think this is a moment where Biden needs to take a long, hard look at his national security team, which I have written about in "Business Insider" in my column that they are too insular. They are not taking enough input, especially from those career staff, those officers who are out in Kabul right now.

They did not have a voice in this process.

BLACKWELL: More than how the withdrawal happens, do you believe that there should be some enduring military presence there in Afghanistan?

BRUEN: Absolutely, I do. We owe it to the people of Afghanistan. We owe it to those women and girls who we said should stand up for their rights and who are now, unfortunately, being left to fend for themselves against the Taliban.

And, Victor, let me emphasize here there is still time. The United States absolutely has to step in now and to shore up the defenses of Kabul to protect the Afghan government, to protect those who stood by us.

And let's not forget those translators, those who worked for American NGOs and American media like CNN. We need to hold Kabul so that those folks have enough time to be processed and to be safe.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

I want you to listen here to Fareed Zakaria, who makes an important point, and then I'm going to get your reaction to it on the other side.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

FAREED ZAKARIA, CNN WORLD AFFAIRS ANALYST: There is no real Afghan army that is able to defend this country. And what you're seeing in many of these African towns, the most telltale sign is the Taliban is taking them over without much of a fight.

The Afghan troops just melt away. Now, if we'd stayed there, could you have kept this all together for another few years, if we stayed in large numbers? Probably. But isn't that telling, 20 years, a trillion dollars, and an army of 300,000 just melts away in town after town?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLACKWELL: It's happening so quickly, it appears that there is no real fight from the Afghan forces. Your reaction to what you heard there?

BRUEN: Well, I have to disagree with Fareed.

I do think that we could have. Look, we had just 2, 500 troops that were in the country and the situation was stable. Those are fewer troops than we have in Spain at the moment. And I think in order to preserve both the rights of the Afghan people, the operation of the government, and let's not forget the reason why we went in there in the first place, to protect our country from places like Afghanistan being used as a safe haven for terrorists. And, Victor, I just want to say a word of thought to my former

colleagues that are in that embassy right now.

BLACKWELL: Yes.

BRUEN: I mean, it is a scary place. I have been in an embassy under siege.

And I know, as you mentioned at the outset of the segment, I mean, they are engaged in processes right now to destroy materials, to destroy equipment, and they're thinking about themselves, their safety. And I hope Americans right now are thinking about them as well. And I hope our commander in chief is doing everything that he can and that his team can to get them out of harm's way.

BLACKWELL: Brett Bruen, thank you very much.

I want -- do want to pass along that Admiral John Kirby at the Defense Department said that Kabul is not in any imminent threat.